A Walk In The Park





June was the first to speak. "So you're here. You didn't get away."



"I'm here," Houck growled. "No chance for a getaway. I ran out the back

door of the bank an' ducked into the hotel. This was the first door I

come to, an' I headed in."



She was not afraid of him. The power he had once held over her was gone

forever. The girl had found resources within herself that refused him

dominance. He was what he always had been, but she had changed. Her

vision was clearer. A game and resourceful bully he might be, but she

knew one quiet youth of a far finer courage.



"They're lookin' for you along the river," she said.



The muscles of his jaw hardened. "They'd better hope they don't find me,

some of 'em," he bragged.



"So had you," she said significantly.



He took her meaning instantly. The temper of Bear Cat was on edge for a

lynching. "Did they die, either o' those fellows I shot?" the bandit

demanded.



"Not yet."



"Fools, the pair of 'em. If that bank teller hadn't grabbed for his gun

we'd 'a' got away with it fine."



She looked at him with disgust, not untouched with self-scorn because she

had ever let him become an overpowering influence in her life. He could

no more help boasting than he could breathing.



"As it is, you've reached the end of your rope," the girl said steadily.



"Don't you think I'm at the end of a rope. I'm a long ways from there."



"And the men with you are gone."



"How gone? Did they get 'em?"



"Neither of them ever moved out of his tracks."



"When I heard the shootin' I figured it would be thataway," Houck said

callously.



She could see in him no evidence whatever of regret or remorse for what

he had done. This raid, she guessed, was of his planning. He had brought

the others into it, and they had paid the penalty of their folly. The

responsibility for their deaths lay at his door. He was not apparently

giving a thought to that.



"You can't stay here," she told him coldly. "You'll have to go."



"Go where? Can you get me a horse?"



"I won't," June answered.



"I got to have a horse, girl," he wheedled. "Can't travel without one."



"I don't care how far you travel or what becomes of you. I want you out

of here. That's all."



"You wouldn't want me shootin' up some o' yore friends, would you? Well,

then. If they find me here there'll be some funerals in Bear Cat. You can

bet heavy on that."



She spoke more confidently than she felt. "They can take care of

themselves. I won't have you here. I'll not protect you."



The outlaw's eyes narrowed to slits. "Throw me down, would you? Tell 'em

I'm here, mebbe?" His face was a menace, his voice a snarl.



June looked at him steadily, unafraid. "You needn't try to bully me. It's

not worth wasting your time."



To look at her was to know the truth of what she said, but he could not

help trying to dominate the girl, both because it was his nature and

because he needed so badly her help.



"Sho! You're not so goshalmighty. You're jes' June Tolliver. I'm the same

Jake Houck you once promised to marry. Don't forget that, girl. I took

you from that white-livered fellow you married--"



"Who saved you from the Utes when nobody else would lift a finger for

you. That comes well from you of all men," she flung out.



"That ain't the point. What I'm sayin' is that I'll not stand for you

throwin' me down."



"What can you do?" She stood before him in her stockings, the heavy black

hair waving down to her hips, a slim girl whose wiry strength he could

crush with one hand.



Her question stopped him. What could he do if she wanted to give him up?

If he made a move toward her she would scream, and that would bring his

enemies upon him. He could shoot her afterward, but that would do no

good. His account was heavy enough as it stood without piling up

surplusage.



"You aimin' for to sell me out?" he asked hoarsely.



"No. I won't be responsible for your death." June might have added

another reason, a more potent one. She knew Jake Houck, what a game and

desperate villain he was. They could not capture him alive. It was not

likely he could be killed without one or two men at least being shot by

him. Driven into a corner, he would fight like a wild wolf.



"Tha's the way to talk, June. Help me outa this hole. You can if you're a

mind to. Have they got patrols out everywhere?"



"Only on the river side of the town. They think you escaped that way."



"Well, if you'll get me a horse--"



"I'll not do it." She reflected a moment, thinking out the situation. "If

you can reach the foothills you'll have a chance."



He grinned, wolfishly. "I'll reach 'em. You can gamble on that, if I have

to drop a coupla guys like I did this mornin'."



That was just the trouble. If any one interfered with him, or even

recognized him, he would shoot instantly. He would be a deadly menace

until he was out of Bear Cat.



"I'll go with you," June said impulsively.



"Go with me?" he repeated.



"Across the park. If they see me with you, nobody'll pay any attention to

you. Pull your hat down over your eyes."



He did as she told him.



"Better leave your guns here. If anyone sees them--"



"Nothin' doing. My guns go right with me. What are you trying to pull

off?" He shot a lowering, suspicious look at her.



"Keep them under your coat, then. We don't want folks looking at us too

curiously. We'll stroll along as if we were interested in our talk. When

we meet any one, if we do, you can look down at me. That'll hide your

face."



"You going with me clear to the edge of town?"



"No. Just across the square, where it's light an' there are liable to be

people. You'll have to look out for yourself after that. It's not more

than two hundred yards to the sagebrush."



"I'm ready whenever you are," he said.



June put on her shoes and did up her hair.



She made him wait there while she scouted to make sure nobody was in the

corridor outside the room.



They passed out of the back door of the hotel.



Chung met them. He grunted "Glood-eveling" with a grin at June, but he

did not glance twice at her companion.



The two passed across a vacant lot and into the park. They saw one or two

people--a woman with a basket of eggs, a barefoot boy returning home from

after-supper play. June carried the burden of the talk because she was

quicker-witted than Houck. Its purpose was to deceive anybody who might

happen to be looking at them.



It chanced that some one was looking at them. He was a young man who

had been lying on the grass stargazing. They passed close to him and he

recognized June by her walk. That was not what brought him to his feet a

moment later with a gasp of amazement. He had recognized her companion,

too, or he thought he had. It was not credible, of course. He must be

mistaken. And yet--if that was not Jake Houck's straddling slouch his

eyes were playing tricks. The fellow limped, too, just a trifle, as he

had heard the Brown's Park man did from the effects of his wounds in the

Ute campaign.



But how could Houck be with June, strolling across the park in intimate

talk with her, leaning toward her in that confidential, lover-like

attitude--Jake Houck, who had robbed the bank a few hours earlier and was

being hunted up and down the river by armed posses ready to shoot him

like a wolf? June was a good hater. She had no use whatever for this

fellow. Why, then, would she be with him, laughing lightly and talking

with animation?



Bob followed them, as noiselessly as possible. And momentarily the

conviction grew in him that this was Houck. It was puzzling, but he could

not escape the conclusion. There was a trick in the fellow's stride, a

peculiarity of the swinging shoulders that made for identification of the

man.



If he could have heard the talk between them, Bob would have better

understood the situation.



Ever since that memorable evening when Bear Cat had driven him away in

disgrace, Houck had let loose the worse impulses of his nature. He had

gone bad, to use the phrase of the West. Something in him had snapped

that hitherto had made him value the opinions of men. In the old days he

had been a rustler and worse, but no crime had ever been proved against

him. He could hold his head up, and he did. But the shock to his pride

and self-esteem that night had produced in him a species of

disintegration. He had drunk heavily and almost constantly. It had been

during the sour temper following such a bout that he had quarreled with

and shot the Ute. From that hour his declension had been swift. How far

he had gone was shown by the way he had taken Dillon's great service to

him. The thing rankled in his mind, filled him with surging rage whenever

he thought of it. He hated the young fellow more than ever.



But as he walked with June, slender, light-swinging, warm with young,

sensuous life, the sultry passion of the man mounted to his brain and

overpowered caution. His vanity whispered to him. No woman saved a man

from death unless she loved him. She might give other reasons, but that

one only counted. It was easy for him to persuade himself that she always

had been fond of him at heart. There had been moments when the quality of

her opposition to him had taken on the color of adventure.



"I'll leave you at the corner," she said. "Go back of that house and

through the barbed-wire fence. You'll be in the sage then."



"Come with me to the fence," he whispered. "I got something to tell

you."



She looked at him, sharply, coldly. "You've got nothing to tell me that I

want to hear. I'm not doing this for you, but to save the lives of my

friends. Understand that."



They were for the moment in the shadow of a great cottonwood. Houck

stopped, devouring her with his hungry eyes. Bad as the man was, he had

the human craving of his sex. The slim grace of her, the fundamental

courage, the lift of the oval chin, touched a chord that went vibrating

through him. He snatched her to him, crushing his kisses upon the

disturbing mouth, upon the color spots that warmed her cheeks.



She was too smothered to cry out at first. Later, she repressed the

impulse. With all her strength she fought to push him from her.



A step sounded, a cry, the sound of a smashing blow going home. Houck

staggered back. He reached for a revolver.



June heard herself scream. A shot rang out. The man who had rescued her

crumpled up and went down. In that horrified moment she knew he was Bob

Dillon.





A Villon Of The Desert A War Of Wits facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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