The Cullisons

: Crooked Trails And Straight

Curly was awakened by the sound of the cook beating the call to breakfast

on a triangle. Buck was standing beside the bed.

"How're they coming this glad mo'ning, son?" he inquired with a grin.

"Fine and dandy," grinned back Flandrau.

So he was, comparatively speaking. The pain in his arm had subsided. He

had had a good sleep. And he was lying comfortably in a clean bed instead

f hanging by the neck from the limb of one of the big cottonwoods on the

edge of the creek.

A memory smote him and instantly he was grave again.

"How is Cullison?"

"Good as the wheat, doc says. Mighty lucky for Mr. C. Flandrau that he is.

Say, I'm to be yore valley and help you into them clothes. Git a wiggle on


Buck escorted his prisoner over to the ranch mess house. The others had

finished breakfast but Maloney was still eating. His mouth was full of hot

cakes, but he nodded across at Curly in a casual friendly way.

"How's the villain in the play this mo'ning?" he inquired.

Twenty-one usually looks on the cheerful side of life. Curly had forgotten

for the moment about what had happened to his friend Mac. He did not

remember that he was in the shadow of a penitentiary sentence. The sun was

shining out of a deep blue sky. The vigor of youth flowed through his

veins. He was hungry and a good breakfast was before him. For the present

these were enough.

"Me, I'm feeling a heap better than I was last night," he admitted.

"Came pretty near losing him out of the cast, didn't we?"

"Might a-turned out that way if the stage manager had not remembered the

right cue in time."

Curly was looking straight into the eyes twinkling across the table at

him. Maloney knew that the young fellow was thanking him for having saved

his life. He nodded lightly, but his words still seemed to make a jest of

the situation.

"Enter the heroine. Spotlight. Sa-a-ved," he drawled.

The heart of the prisoner went out to this man who was reaching a hand to

him in his trouble. He had always known that Maloney was true and steady

as a snubbing post, but he had not looked for any kindness from him.

"Kite just got a telephone message from Saguache," the Bar Double M man

went on easily. "Your friends that bought the rustled stock didn't get

away with the goods. Seems they stumbled into a bunch of rurales

unexpected and had to pull their freight sudden. The boys from the ranch

happened along about then, claimed ownership and got possession."

"If the men bought the stock why didn't they stop and explain?" asked


"That game of buying stolen cattle is worn threadbare. The rurales and

the rangers have had their eye on those border flitters for quite some

time. So they figured it was safer to dust."

"Make their getaway?" Curly inquired as indifferently as he could. But in

spite of himself a note of eagerness crept into his voice. For if the men

had escaped that would be two less witnesses against him.


"Too bad. If they hadn't I could have proved by them I was not one of the

men who sold them the stock," Flandrau replied.

"Like hell you could," Buck snorted, then grinned at his prisoner in a

shamefaced way: "You're a good one, son."

"Luck has been breaking bad for me, but when things are explained----"

"It sure will take a lot of explaining to keep you out of the pen. You'll

have to be slicker than Dutch was."

Jake stuck his head in at the door. "Buck, you're needed to help with them

two-year-olds. The old man wants to have a talk with the rustler. Doc says

he may. Maloney, will you take him up to the house? I'll arrange to have

you relieved soon as I can."

Maloney had once ridden for the Circle C and was friendly with all the men

on the place. He nodded. "Sure."

A Mexican woman let them into the chamber where the wounded man lay. It

was a large sunny southeast room with French windows opening upon a long

porch. Kate was bending over the bed rearranging the pillows, but she

looked up quickly when the two men entered. Her eyes were still gentle

with the love that had been shining down from them upon her father.

Cullison spoke. "Sit down, Dick." And to his prisoner: "You too."

Flandrau saw close at hand for the first time the man who had been

Arizona's most famous fighting sheriff. Luck Cullison was well-built and

of medium height, of a dark complexion, clean shaven, wiry and muscular.

Already past fifty, he looked not a day more than forty. One glance was

enough to tell Curly the kind of man this was. The power of him found

expression in the gray steel-chilled eyes that bored into the young

outlaw. A child could have told he was not one to trifle with.

"You have begun early, young fellow," he said quietly.

"Begun what?" Curly asked, having nothing better to say.

"You know what. But never mind that. I don't ask you to convict yourself.

I sent for you to tell you I don't blame you for this." He touched the

wound in his side.

"Different with your boys, sir."

"So the boys are a little excited, are they?"

"They were last night anyhow," Curly answered, with a glimmer of a smile.

Cullison looked quickly at Maloney and then at his daughter.

"I'll listen to what you've been hiding from me," he told them.

"Oh, the boys had notions. Miss Kate argued with them and they saw things

different," the Bar Double M rider explained.

But Cullison would not let it go at that. He made them tell him the whole

story. When Curly and Maloney had finished he buried his daughter's little

hand in his big brown fist. His eyes were dancing with pride, but he gave

her not a word of spoken praise.

Kate, somewhat embarrassed, changed the subject briskly. "Now you're

talking too much, Dad. Doctor Brown said you might see him for just a few

minutes. But you're not to tire yourself, so I'll do the talking for


He took his orders with the smiling submission of the man who knows his


Kate spoke to Curly. "Father wants me to tell you that we don't blame you

for shooting at him. We understand just how it was. Your friend got

excited and shot as soon as he saw he was surrounded. We are both very

sorry he was killed. Father could not stop the boys in time. Perhaps you

remember that he tried to get you to surrender."

The rustler nodded. "Yes, I heard him holler to me to put my gun down, but

the others blazed away at me."

"And so you naturally defended yourself. That's how we understand it.

Father wants it made clear that he feels you could have done nothing


"Much obliged. I've been sorry ever since I hit him, and not only on my

own account."

"Then none of us need to hold hard feelings." The girl looked at her

father, who answered her appeal with a grim nod, and then she turned again

to the young rustler a little timidly. "I wonder if you would mind if I

asked you a question."

"You've earned the right to ask as many as you like."

"It's about---- We have been told you know the man they call Soapy Stone.

Is that true?"

Flandrau's eyes took on a stony look. It was as if something had sponged

all the boyishness from his face. Still trying to get him to give away his

partners in the rustling, were they? Well, he would show them he could

take his medicine without squealing.

"Maybe it is and maybe it isn't."

"Oh, but you don't see what we mean. It isn't that we want to hurt you."

She spoke in a quick eager voice of protest.

"No, you just want me to squeal on my friends to save my own hide. Nothing

doing, Miss Cullison."

"No. You're wrong. Why are you so suspicious?"

Curly laughed bitterly. "Your boys were asking that question about Soapy

last night. They had a rope round my neck at the time. Nothing unfriendly

in the matter, of course. Just a casual interest in my doings."

Cullison was looking at him with the steel eyes that bored into him like a

gimlet. Now he spoke sharply.

"I've got an account running with Soapy Stone. Some day I'll settle it

likely. But that ain't the point now. Do you know his friends--the bunch

he trails with?"

Wariness still seemed to crouch in the cool eyes of Flandrau.

"And if I say yes, I'll bet your next question will be about the time and

the place I last saw them."

Kate picked up a photograph from the table and handed it to the prisoner.

"We're not interested in his friends--except one of them. Did you ever see

the boy that sat for that picture?"

The print was a snapshot of a boy about nineteen, a good looking handsome

fellow, a little sulky around the mouth but with a pair of straight honest


Curly shook his head slowly. Yet he was vaguely reminded of someone he

knew. Glancing up, he found instantly the clew to what had puzzled him.

The young man in the picture was like Kate Cullison, like her father too

for that matter.

"He's your brother." The words were out before Flandrau could stop them.

"Yes. You've never met him?"


Cullison had been watching the young man steadily. "Never saw him with

Soapy Stone?"


"Never heard Stone speak of Sam Cullison?"

"No. Soapy doesn't talk much about who his friends are."

The ex-sheriff nodded. "I've met him."

Of course he had met him. Curly knew the story of how in one drive he had

made a gather of outlaws that had brought fame to him. Soapy had broken

through the net, but the sheriff had followed him into the hills alone and

run him to earth. What passed between the men nobody ever found out. Stone

had repeatedly given it out that he could not be taken alive. But Cullison

had brought him down to the valley bound and cowed. In due season the

bandits had gone over the road to Yuma. Soapy and the others had sworn to

get their revenge some day. Now they were back in the hills at their old

tricks. Was it possible that Cullison's son was with them, caught in a

trap during some drunken frolic just as Curly had been? In what way could

Stone pay more fully the debt of hate he owed the former sheriff than by

making his son a villain?

The little doctor came briskly into the room.

"Everybody out but the nurse. You've had company enough for one day,

Luck," he announced cheerily.

Kate followed Maloney and his prisoner to the porch.

"About the letters of your friend that was shot," she said to Curly.

"Doctor Brown was telling me what you said. I'll see they reach Miss

Anderson. Do you know in what restaurant she works?"

"No. Mac didn't tell me." The boy gulped to swallow an unexpected lump in

his throat. "They was expecting to get married soon."

"I--I'll write to her," Kate promised, her eyes misty.

"I'd be obliged, Miss. Mac was a good boy. Anyone will tell you that. And

he was awful fond of her. He talked about her that last night before the

camp fire. I led him into this."

"I'll tell her what you say."

"Do. Tell her he felt bad about what he had done. Bad companions got him

going wrong, but he sure would have settled down into a good man. That's

straight goods, too. You write it strong."

The girl's eyes were shiny with tears. "Yes," she answered softly.

"I ain't any Harvard A. B. Writing letters ain't my long suit. I'm always

disremembering whether a man had ought to say have went and have knew.

Verbs are the beatingest things. But I know you'll fix it up right so as

to let that little girl down easy."

"I've changed my mind. I'll not write but go to see her."

Curly could only look his thanks. Words seemed strangely inadequate. But

Kate understood the boy's unspoken wish and nodded her head reassuringly

as he left the room.