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The Texan Part 37

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"I have been looking for Tex, and I couldn't find him anywhere. Then I went to the stable across the street. His horse is gone."

For some moments both were silent. "He never even said good-bye,"

faltered the girl, and in her voice was a note of real hurt.

"No," answered Endicott, softly, "he should have said good-bye."

Alice rose and put on her hat: "Come on, let's get out of this hateful stuffy little room. Let's walk and enjoy this wonderful air while we can. And besides, we must find some flowers--wild flowers they must be for our wedding, mustn't they, dear? Wild flowers, right from G.o.d's own gardens--wild, and free, and uncultivated--untouched by human hands. I saw some lovely ones, blue and white, and some wild-cherry blossoms, too, down beside that little creek that crosses the trail almost at the edge of the town." Together they walked to the creek that burbled over its rocky bed in the shadow of the bull-pine forest from which Timber City derived its name. Deeper and deeper into the pines they went, stopping here and there to gather the tiny white and blue blossoms, or to break the bloom-laden twigs from the low cherry bushes. As they rounded a huge upstanding rock, both paused and involuntarily drew back. There, in the centre of a tiny glade that gave a wide view of the vast sweep of the plains, with their background of distant mountains, stood the Texan, one arm thrown across the neck of his horse, and his cheek resting close against the animal's glossy neck. For a moment they watched as he stood with his eyes fixed on the far horizon.

"Go back a little way," whispered Endicott. "I want to speak with him." The girl obeyed, and he stepped boldly into the open.

"Tex!"

The man whirled. "What you doin' here?" his face flushed red, then, with an effort, he smiled, as his eyes rested upon the blossoms.

"Pickin' posies?"

"Yes," answered Endicott, striving to speak lightly, "for a very special occasion. We are to be married at half-past four, and we want you to be there--just you, and Bat, and the parson. I hunted the town for you and when I found your horse gone I--we thought you had ridden away without even saying good-bye."

"No," answered the cowboy slowly, "I didn't do that. I was goin'

back--just for a minute--at stage time. But, it's better this way. In rooms--like at dinner, I ain't at home, any more. It's better out here in the open. I won't go to your weddin'. d.a.m.n it, man, I _can't_!

I'm more than half-savage, I reckon. By the savage half of me, I ought to kill you. I ought to hate you--but I can't. About a lot of things you're green as h.e.l.l. You can't shoot, nor ride, nor rope, nor do hardly any other d.a.m.n thing a man ought to do. But, at that, you whirl a bigger loop than I do. You've got the nerve, an' the head, an' the heart. You're a man. The girl loves you. An' I love her. My G.o.d, man! More than all the world, I love the woman who is to be your wife--an' I have no right to! I tell you I'm half-savage! Take her, an' go! Go fast, an' go a long time! I never want to hear of you again. But--I can still say--good luck!" he extended his hand and Endicott seized it.

"I shall be sorry to think that we are never to meet again," he said simply.

The shadow of a smile flickered on the Texan's lips: "After a while, maybe--but not soon. I've got to lick a savage, first--and they die hard."

Endicott turned to go, when the other called to him: "Oh, Win!" He turned. "Is she here--anywhere around? I must tell her good-bye."

"Yes, she is down the creek a way. I'll send her to you."

The Texan advanced to meet her, Stetson in hand: "Good-bye," he said, "an' good luck. I can't give you no regular weddin' present--there's nothin' in the town that's fit. But, I'll give you this--I'll give you your man clean-handed. He ain't wanted. There's no one wants him--but you. He didn't kill Purdy that night. It's too bad he didn't--but he didn't. We all thought he did, but he only creased him. He came to, after we'd pulled out. I heard it from the puncher I had the fight with in the coulee--an' it's straight goods." He paused abruptly, and the girl stared wide-eyed into his face. The wild flowers dropped from her hands, and she laid trembling fingers upon his arm.

"What are you saying?" she cried, fiercely. "That Purdy is not dead?

That Win didn't kill him? That----"

"No. Win didn't kill him," interrupted the Texan, with a smile.

"Have you told Win?"

"No. Weddin' presents are for the bride. I saved it for you."

Tears were streaming from the girl's eyes: "It's the most wonderful wedding present anybody ever had," she sobbed. "I know Win did it for me, and if he had killed him it would have been justifiable--right.

But, always, we would have had that thing to think of. It would have been like some hideous nightmare. We could have put it away, but it would have come again--always. I pretended I didn't care. I wouldn't let him see that it was worrying me, even more than it worried him."

The cowboy stooped and recovered the flowers from the ground. As Alice took them from him, her hand met his: "Good-bye," she faltered, "and--may G.o.d bless you!"

At the rock she turned and saw him still standing, hat in hand, as she had left him. Then she pa.s.sed around the rock, and down the creek, where her lover waited with his arms laden with blossoms.

AN EPILOGUE

At exactly half-past four the Texan galloped to the door of the Red Front Saloon, and swinging from his horse, entered. Some men were playing cards at a table in the rear, but he paid them no heed. Very deliberately he squared himself to the bar and placed his foot upon the bra.s.s rail: "Give me some red liquor," he ordered. And when the bartender set out the bottle and the gla.s.s the cowboy poured it full and drank it at a gulp. He poured out another, and then a third, and a fourth. The bartender eyed him narrowly: "Ain't you goin' it a little strong, pardner?" he asked. The Texan stared at him as if he had not heard, and answered nothing. A smile bent the white ap.r.o.ned one's lips as he glanced into his customer's eyes still black from the blow Curt had dealt him in the coulee.

"Them lamps of yourn was turned up too high, wasn't they?" he asked.

The cowboy nodded, thoughtfully: "Yes, that's it. They was turned up too high--a d.a.m.n sight too high for me, I reckon."

"Git bucked off?"

The blackened eyes narrowed ever so slightly: "No. A guard done that."

"A guard?"

"Yes, a guard." The Texan poured out his fifth drink. "In the pen, it was."

"In the pen!" The bartender was itching with curiosity. "You don't look like a jail-bird. They musta got the wrong guy?" he suggested.

"No. I killed him, all right. I shot his ears off first, an' then plugged him between the eyes before he could draw. It was fun. I can shoot straight as h.e.l.l--an' quick! See that mouse over by the wall?"

Before the words were out of his mouth his Colt roared. The bartender stared wide-eyed at the ragged bit of fur and blood that was plastered against the base-board where a moment before a small mouse had been nibbling a bit of cheese. The men at the card table paused, looked up, and resumed their game.

"Man, that's shootin'!" he exclaimed. "Have one on me! This geezer that you b.u.mped off--self defence, I s'pose?"

"No. He was a bar-keep over on the Marias. He made the mistake of takin' ondue notice of a pair of black eyes I'd got--somehow they looked mirthful to him, an'--" The Texan paused and gazed reproachfully toward a flick of a white ap.r.o.n as the loquacious one disappeared through the back door.

A loud shouting and a rattling of wheels sounded from without. The card game broke up, and the players slouched out the door. Through the window the Texan watched the stage pull up at the hotel, watched the express box swung off, and the barn-dogs change the horses; saw the exchange of pouches at the post office; saw the stage pull out slowly and stop before a little white cottage next door to the steepleless church. Then he reached for the bottle, poured another drink, and drank it very slowly. Through the open door came the far-away rattle of wheels. He tossed some money onto the bar, walked to the door, and stood gazing down the trail toward the cloud of grey dust that grew dimmer and dimmer in the distance. At last, it disappeared altogether, and only the trail remained, winding like a great grey serpent toward the distant black b.u.t.tes of the Judith Range. He started to re-enter the saloon, paused with his foot on the threshold and stared down the empty trail, then facing abruptly about he swung into the saddle, turned his horse's head northward, and rode slowly out of town. At the little creek he paused and stared into the piney woods. A tiny white flower lay, where it had been dropped in the trail, at the feet of his horse, and he swung low and recovered it. For a long time he sat holding the little blossom in his hand. Gently he drew it across his cheek. He remembered--and the memory hurt--that the last time he had reached from the saddle had been to s.n.a.t.c.h _her_ handkerchief from the ground, and he had been just the fraction of a second too late.

"My luck's runnin' mighty low," he muttered softly, and threw back his shoulders, as his teeth gritted hard, "but I'm still in the game, an'

maybe this will change it." Very carefully, very tenderly, he placed the blossom beneath the band inside his hat. "I must go an' hunt for Bat, the old renegade! If anything's happened to him--if that d.a.m.ned Long Bill has laid for him--I will kill a man, sure enough." He gathered up his reins and rode on up the trail, and as he rode the shadows lengthened. Only once he paused and looked backward at the little ugly white town. Before him the trail dipped into a wide valley and he rode on. And, as the feet of his horse thudded softly in the grey dust of the trail, the sound blended with the low, wailing chant of the mournful dirge of the plains:

"O bury me not on the lone prairie Where the wild coyotes will howl o'er me, Where the rattlesnakes hiss and the crow flies free, O bury me not on the lone prairie."

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The Texan Part 37 summary

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