I'd Just As Soon Hang For Nine Men As For One





Baumberger climbed heavily out of the rig, and went lurching drunkenly

up the path to the house where the cool shade of the grove was like

paradise set close against the boundary of the purgatory of blazing

sunshine and scorching sand. He had not gone ten steps from the stable

when he met Good Indian face to face.



"Hullo," he growled, stopping short and eying him malevolently with

lowered head.



Good Indian's lips curled silently, and he stepped aside to pursue his

way. Baumberger swung his huge body toward him.



"I said HULLO. Nothin' wrong in that, is there? HULLO--d'yuh hear?"



"Go to the devil!" said Grant shortly.



Baumberger leered at him offensively. "Pretty Polly! Never learned but

one set uh words in his life. Can't yuh say anything but 'Go to the

devil!' when a man speaks to yuh? Hey?"



"I could say a whole lot that you wouldn't be particularly glad to

hear." Good Indian stopped, and faced him, coldly angry. For one thing,

he knew that Evadna was waiting on the porch for him, and could see

even if she could not hear; and Baumberger's attitude was insulting. "I

think," he said meaningly, "I wouldn't press the point if I were you."



"Giving me advice, hey? And who the devil are you?"



"I wouldn't ask, if I were you. But if you really want to know, I'm the

fellow you hired Saunders to shoot. You blundered that time. You should

have picked a better man, Mr. Baumberger. Saunders couldn't have hit

the side of a barn if he'd been locked inside it. You ought to have made

sure--"



Baumberger glared at him, and then lunged, his eyes like an animal gone

mad.



"I'll make a better job, then!" he bellowed. "Saunders was a fool. I

told him to get down next the trail and make a good job of it. I told

him to kill you, you lying, renegade Injun--and if he couldn't, I can!

Yuh WILL watch me, hey?"



Good Indian backed from him in sheer amazement. Epithets unprintable

poured in a stream from the loose, evil lips. Baumberger was a raving

beast of a man. He would have torn the other to pieces and reveled in

the doing. He bellowed forth threats against Good Indian and the Harts,

young and old, and vaunted rashly the things he meant to do. Heat-mad

and drink-mad he was, and it was as if the dam of his wily amiability

had broken and let loose the whole vile reservoir of his pirate mind. He

tried to strike Good Indian down where he stood, and when his blows were

parried he stopped, swayed a minute in drunken uncertainty, and then

make one of his catlike motions, pulled a gun, and fired without really

taking aim.



Another gun spoke then, and Baumberger collapsed in the sand, a

quivering heap of gross human flesh. Good Indian stood and looked down

at him fixedly while the smoke floated away from the muzzle of his own

gun. He heard Evadna screaming hysterically at the gate, and looked over

there inquiringly. Phoebe was running toward him, and the boys--Wally

and Gene and Jack, from the blacksmith shop. At the corner of the stable

Miss Georgie was sliding from her saddle, her riding whip clenched

tightly in her hand as she hurried to him. Peaceful stood beside the

team, with the lines still in his hand.



It was Miss Georgie's words which reached him clearly.



"You just HAD to do it, Grant. I saw the whole thing. You HAD to."



"Oh, Grant--GRANT! What have you done? What have you done?" That was

Phoebe Hart, saying the same thing over and over with a queer, moaning

inflection in her voice.



"D'yuh KILL him?" Gene shouted excitedly, as he ran up to the spot.



"Yes." Good Indian glanced once more at the heap before him. "And I'm

liable to kill a few more before I'm through with the deal." He swung

short around, discovered that Evadna was clutching his arm and crying,

and pulled loose from her with a gesture of impatience. With the gun

still in his hand, he walked quickly down the road in the direction of

the garden.



"He's mad! The boy is mad! He's going to kill--" Phoebe gave a sob, and

ran after him, and with her went Miss Georgie and Evadna, white-faced,

all three of them.



"Come on, boys--he's going to clean out the whole bunch!" whooped Gene.



"Oh, choke off!" Wally gritted disgustedly, glancing over his shoulder

at them. "Go back to the house, and STAY there! Ma, make Vad quit that

yelling, can't yuh?" He looked eloquently at Jack, keeping pace with him

and smiling with the steely glitter in his eyes. "Women make me sick!"

he snorted under his breath.



Peaceful stared after them, went into the stable, and got a blanket to

throw over Baumberger's inert body, stooped, and made sure that the man

was dead, with the left breast of his light negligee shirt all blackened

with powder and soaked with blood; covered him well, and tied up the

team. Then he went to the house, and got the old rifle that had killed

Indians and buffalo alike, and went quickly through the grove to

the garden. He was a methodical man, and he was counted slow, but

nevertheless he reached the scene not much behind the others. Wally was

trying to send his mother to the house with Evadna, and neither would

go. Miss Georgie was standing near Good Indian, watching Stanley with

her lips pressed together.



It is doubtful if Good Indian realized what the others were doing. He

had gone straight past the line of stakes to where Stanley was sitting

with his back against the lightning-stricken apricot tree. Stanley was

smoking a cigarette as if he had heard nothing of the excitement, but

his rifle was resting upon his knee in such a manner that he had but to

lift it and take aim. The three others were upon their own claims, and

they, also, seemed unobtrusively ready for whatever might be going to

happen.



Good Indian appraised the situation with a quick glance as he came up,

but he did not slacken his pace until he was within ten feet of Stanley.



"You're across the dead line, m' son," said Stanley, with lazy

significance. "And you, too," he added, flickering a glance at Miss

Georgie.



"The dead line," said Good Indian coolly, "is beyond the Point o' Rocks.

I'd like to see you on the other side by sundown."



Stanley looked him over, from the crown of his gray hat to the tips of

his riding-boots, and laughed when his eyes came back to Good Indian's

face. But the laugh died out rather suddenly at what he saw there.



"Got the papers for that?" he asked calmly. But his jaw had squared.



"I've got something better than papers. Your boss is dead. I shot him

just now. He's lying back there by the stable." Good Indian tilted

his head backward, without taking his eyes from Stanley's face--and

Stanley's right hand, too, perhaps. "If you don't want the same

medicine, I'd advise you to quit."



Stanley's jaw dropped, but it was surprise which slackened the muscles.



"You--shot--"



"Baumberger. I said it."



"You'll hang for that," Stanley stated impersonally, without moving.



Good Indian smiled, but it only made his face more ominous.



"Well, they can't hang a man more than once. I'll see this ranch cleaned

up while I'm about it. I'd just as soon," he added composedly, "be

hanged for nine men as for one."



Stanley sat on his haunches, and regarded him unwinkingly for so long

that Phoebe's nerves took a panic, and she drew Evadna away from the

place. The boys edged closer, their hands resting suggestively upon

their gun-butts. Old Peaceful half-raised his rifle, and held it so. It

was like being compelled to watch a fuse hiss and shrivel and go black

toward a keg of gun-powder.



"I believe, by heck, you would!" said Stanley at last, and so long a

time had elapsed that even Good Indian had to think back to know what

he meant. Stanley squinted up at the sun, hitched himself up so that his

back rested against the tree more comfortably, inspected his cigarette,

and then fumbled for a match with which to relight it. "How'd you find

out Baumberger was back uh this deal?" he asked curiously and without

any personal resentment in tone or manner, and raked the match along his

thigh.



Good Indian's shoulders went up a little.



"I knew, and that's sufficient. The dead line is down past the Point

o' Rocks. After sundown this ranch is going to hold the Harts and their

friends--and NO ONE ELSE. Tell that to your pals, unless you've got a

grudge against them!"



Stanley held his cigarette between his fingers, and blew smoke through

his nostrils while he watched Good Indian turn his back and walk away.

He did not easily lose his hold of himself, and this was, with him, a

cold business proposition.



Miss Georgie stood where she was until she saw that Stanley did not

intend to shoot Good Indian in the back, as he might have done easily

enough, and followed so quickly that she soon came up with him. Good

Indian turned at the rustling of the skirts immediately behind him, and

looked down at her somberly. Then he caught sight of something she was

carrying in her hand, and he gave a short laugh.



"What are you doing with that thing?" he asked peremptorily.



Miss Georgie blushed very red, and slid the thing into her pocket.



"Well, every little helps," she retorted, with a miserable attempt at

her old breeziness of manner. "I thought for a minute I'd have to shoot

that man Stanley--when you turned your back on him."



Good Indian stopped, looked at her queerly, and went on again without

saying a word.





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