A Bear Trap
: Crooked Trails And Straight
The winding trail led up to the scrub pines and from there north into the
hills. Curly had not traveled far when he heard the sound of a gun fired
three times in quick succession. He stopped to listen. Presently there
came a faint far call for help.
Curly cantered around the shoulder of the hill and saw a man squatting on
the ground. He was stooped forward in an awkward fashion with his back to
At the question the man looked over his shoulder. Pain and helpless rage
burned in the deep-set black eyes.
"Nothing at all. Don't you see I'm just taking a nap?" he answered
Curly recognized him now. The man was Soapy Stone. Behind the straight
thin-lipped mouth a double row of strong white teeth were clamped tightly.
Little beads of perspiration stood out all over his forehead. A glance
showed the reason. One of his hands was caught in a bear trap fastened to
a cottonwood. Its jaws held him so that he could not move.
The young man swung from the back of Keno. He found the limb of a
cottonwood about as thick as his forearm below the elbow. This he set
close to the trap.
"Soon as I get the lip open shove her in," he told Stone.
The prisoner moistened his dry lips. It was plain that he was in great
The rescuer slipped the toes of his boots over the lower lip and caught
the upper one with both hands. Slowly the mouth of the trap opened. Stone
slipped in the wooden wedge and withdrew his crushed wrist. By great good
fortune the steel had caught on the leather gauntlet he was wearing.
Otherwise it must have mangled the arm to a pulp.
Even now he was suffering a good deal.
"You'll have to let a doc look at it," Curly suggested.
Stone agreed. "Reckon I better strike for the Bar 99." He was furious at
himself for having let such an accident happen. The veriest tenderfoot
might have known better.
His horse had disappeared, but Curly helped him to the back of Keno.
Together they took the trail for the Bar 99. On the face of the wounded
man gathered the moisture caused by intense pain. His jaw was clenched to
keep back the groans.
"Hard sledding, looks like," Curly sympathized.
"Reckon I can stand the grief," Stone grunted.
Nor did he speak again until they reached the ranch and Laura London
looked at him from a frightened face.
"What is it?"
"Ran a sliver in my finger, Miss Laura. Too bad to trouble you," Soapy
answered with a sneer on his thin lips.
A rider for the Bar 99 had just ridden up and Laura sent him at once for
the doctor. She led the way into the house and swiftly gathered bandages,
a sponge, and a basin of water. Together she and Curly bathed and wrapped
the wound. Stone did not weaken, though he was pretty gray about the
Laura was as gentle as she could be.
"I know I'm hurting you," she said, her fingers trembling.
"Not a bit of it. Great pleasure to have you for a nurse. I'm certainly in
luck." Curly did not understand the bitterness in the sardonic face and he
"If the doctor would only hurry," Laura murmured.
"Yes, I know I'm a great trouble. Too bad Curly found me."
She was busy with the knots of the outer wrapping and did not look up. "It
is no trouble."
"I'm too meddlesome. Serves me right for being inquisitive about your
"He'll be sorry you were caught."
"Yes. He'll have to climb the hill and reset it."
That something was wrong between them Curly could see. Soapy was very
polite in spite of his bitterness, but his hard eyes watched her as a cat
does a mouse. Moreover, the girl was afraid of him. He could tell that by
the timid startled way she had of answering. Now why need she fear the
man? It would be as much as his life was worth to lift a hand to hurt
After the doctor had come and had attended to the crushed wrist Curly
stepped out to the porch to find Laura. She was watering her roses and he
went across the yard to her.
"I'm right sorry for what I said, Miss Laura. Once in a while a fellow
makes a mistake. If he's as big a chump as I am it's liable to happen a
little oftener. But I'm not really one of those smart guys."
Out came her gloved hand in the firmest of grips.
"I know that now. You didn't think. And I made a mistake. I thought you
were taking advantage because I had been friendly. I'm glad you spoke
about it. We'll forget it."
"Then maybe we'll be friends after all, but I sha'n't tell you what my
friends call me," he answered gaily.
She laughed out in a sudden bubbling of mirth. "Take care."
"Oh, I will. I won't even spell it."
He helped her with the watering. Presently she spoke, with a quick look
toward the house.
"There's something I want to say."
"Something I want you to do for me."
"I expect maybe I'll do it."
She said nothing more for a minute, then the thing that was troubling her
burst from the lips of the girl as a flame leaps out of a pent fire.
"It's about that boy he has up there." She gave a hopeless little gesture
toward the hills.
"What about him?"
"He's bent on ruining him, always has been ever since he got a hold on
him. I can't tell you how I know it, but I'm sure---- And now he's more
set on it than ever."
Curly thought he could guess why, but he wanted to make sure. "Because you
are Sam's friend?"
The pink flooded her cheeks. "Yes."
"And because you won't be Soapy Stone's friend?"
She flashed a startled look at him. "How do you know?"
"Jealous, is he?"
Her face, buried in the blooms she had been cutting, was of the same tint
as the roses.
"And so he wants to hurt you through him?" Flandrau added.
"Yes. If he can drag Sam down and get him into trouble he'll pay off two
grudges at once. And he will too. You'll see. He's wily as an Indian. For
that matter there is Apache blood in him, folks say."
"What about young Cullison? Can't he make a fight for himself?"
"Oh, you know how boys are. Sam is completely under this man's influence."
Her voice broke a little. "And I can't help him. I'm only a girl. He won't
listen to me. Besides, Dad won't let me have anything to do with him
because of the way he's acting. What Sam needs is a man friend, one just
as strong and determined as Soapy but one who is good and the right sort
of an influence."
"Are you picking me for that responsible friend who is to be such a
powerful influence for good?" Curly asked with a smile.
"Yes--yes, I am." She looked up at him confidently.
"Haven't you forgotten that little piece in the Sentinel? How does it
go? An example had ought to be made of the desperadoes, and all the rest
"I don't care what it says. I've seen you."
"So had the editor."
She waved his jests aside. "Oh, well! You've done wrong. What of that?
Can't I tell you are a man? And I don't care how much fun you make of me.
You're good too."
Curly met her on the ground of her own seriousness. "I'll tell you
something, Miss Laura. Maybe you'll be glad to know that the reason I'm
going to the horse ranch is to help Sam Cullison if I can."
He went on to tell her the whole story of what the Cullisons had done for
him. In all that he said there was not one word to suggest such a thing,
but Laura London's mind jumped the gaps to a knowledge of the truth that
Curly himself did not have. The young man was in love with Kate Cullison.
She was sure of it. Also, she was his ally in the good cause of romance.
When Curly walked back into the house, Stone laid down the paper he had
"I see the Sentinel hints that Mr. Curly Flandrau had better be
lynched," he jeered.
"The Sentinel don't always hit the bull's-eye, Soapy," returned the
young man evenly. "It thinks I belong to the Soapy Stone outfit, but we
know I haven't that honor."
"There's no such outfit--not in the sense he means," snapped the man on
the lounge. "What are your plans? Where you going to lie low? Picked a
"I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on the way," Curly assured him
Soapy frowned at him under the heavy eyebrows that gave him so menacing an
"Better come back with me to the ranch till you look around."
"Suits me right down to the ground if it does you."
Someone came whistling into the house and opened the door of the room. He
was a big lank fellow with a shotgun in his hands. "From Missouri" was
stamped all over his awkward frame. He stood staring at his unexpected
guests. His eyes, clashing with those of Stone, grew chill and hard.
"So you're back here again, are you?" he asked, looking pretty black.
Stone's lip smile mocked him. "I don't know how you guessed it, but I sure
"Didn't I tell you to keep away from the Bar 99--you and your whole cursed
"Seems to me you did mention something of that sort. But how was I to know
whether you meant it unless I came back to see?"
Laura came into the room and ranged herself beside her father. Her hand
rested lightly on his forearm.
"He got caught in one of your bear traps and this young man brought him
here to wait for the doctor," she explained.
The Missourian stared without civility at his guest, turned on his heel,
and with his daughter beside him marched out of the room. He could not
decently tell Stone to leave while he was under the care of a doctor, but
he did not intend to make him welcome. London was a blunt grizzled old
fellow who said what he thought even about the notorious Soapy Stone.
"We'll pull our freights right away, Curly," Stone announced as soon as
his host had gone.
The young man went to the stable and saddled Keno. While he was tightening
the cinch a shadow fell across his shoulder. He did not need to look round
to see whose it was.
"I'm so glad you're going to the horse ranch. You will look out for Sam. I
trust you. I don't know why, but I have the greatest confidence in you,"
the owner of the shadow explained sweetly.
Curly smiled blandly over his shoulder at her. "Fine! That's a good
uplifting line of talk, Miss Laura. Now will you please explain why you're
feeding me this particular bunch of taffy? What is it I'm to do for you?"
She blushed and laughed at the same time. Her hand came from behind her
back. In it was a letter.
"But I do mean it, every word of it."
"That's to be my pay for giving Master Sam his billy doo, is it?"
"How did you guess? It is a letter to Sam."
"How did I guess it? Shows I'm sure a wiz, don't it?"
She saw her father coming and handed him the letter quickly.
"Here. Take it." A spark of mischief lit her eye and the dimples came out
on her cheeks. "Good-by, Curly."