Wednesday, July 20, 2005





THE manager of the Big Bear reined in and grinned ingratiatingly at June, who was still sitting on the ground. He was dressed in much the same manner as Robbins had recently seen him, immaculate save for the dust of travel, dapper. Across his saddle lay a rifle. He dismounted slowly, giving barely a glance at Robbins.
“Howdy, Miss June,” he greeted the girl. “I'm awfully glad I happened along when I did. I saw the fight from the ridge, but didn't know who was who or which was which until I saw you running across that open space. I waited until I saw your opponents rushing you, and then I took a hand. Scared them off, didn't I?”
He came forward. Robbins noticed that he limped slightly, but thought nothing of it other than supposing he had slipped in climbing among the rocks. June nodded.
“Yes, and both of us thank you, Mr. Kurtz. We were about done for when you fired.”
“Don't mention thanks, Miss June. I only did what any man would have done, seeing a band of cowardly scoundrels shooting at a woman. You're not badly hurt, I'd judge.”
“No. They didn't hit me. I stumbled and fell, wrenching my ankle. It's sprained badly, I'm afraid.”
“That's unfortunate. I saw a dead bear as I rode up. I don't quite grasp the meaning of that.”
June told him briefly of the trailing of the bear and of the battle with the huge grizzly. When she had finished the tale Kurtz darted a glance of venom at the silent cowboy.
“Didn't you have any more sense than to endanger the life of this girl in that manner, Robbins?” he demanded hotly. “What kind of a man are you, anyhow, to bring Miss June on such a trip? It certainly isn't your fault she wasn't killed! First by the grizzly, and then by those men who shot at her. I didn't think you had much brains when I first saw you!”
Robbins stiffened. His fists clenched angrily. The instinctive antagonism he had felt for the smirking, pompous Easterner flamed anew in his breast.
“Bill!” June said sharply. “Stay right where you are! Let's not have any trouble. If you must know, Mr. Kurtz, I insisted upon coming, despite Bill's protests. So you see it isn't his fault at all. I think you ought to apologize to him for what you have said!”
Kurtz scowled at the cowboy, undecided what to do. It was plain he had no liking whatever for Robbins, but it was just as plain to the latter that he did not want to do anything to offend the girl, even to the extent of humbling himself before the man he hated.
“Very well,” he gritted, controlling his temper with evident effort. “I'm sorry, Robbins.”
He turned away before the cowboy could answer, ignoring him completely. June bit her lip and frowned slightly. She did not like the way Kurtz acted.
“Bill, will you see if my boot will go on?” she asked. “The swelling seems to have gone down a little, and possibly it won't be too painful. We'd better be starting back to the ranch, too, I presume.”
Kurtz turned to her.
“I noticed that one of your horses is dead,” he said. “Will you ride mine back to the C Bar, Miss June? I'll be glad to have you.”
June hesitated. She did not want to offend Kurtz because of common decency and his position as a neighbor and manager of the Big Bear, yet she did not want to accept his offer, either.
“I'm afraid I'll have to decline, Mr. Kurtz. My own horse is around somewhere, and he'll carry both of us. Thanks a lot, anyway.”
Kurtz glanced at Robbins and found the cowboy grinning at him. Glaring malevolently, he slapped his leg savagely with his quirt.
“Very well, then,” he rasped. “There's no need of my waiting around any longer. I'll see you later, and you too, Mr. Cowboy Robbins.”
He climbed into his saddle without a backward look and rode off.
“Our friend is sorta peeved, isn't he?” said Robbins. “I dunno whether you want to see him again or not, but as for me, if I never see him again it'll be too soon. He gives me a pain in the neck, he does. What does he think he is, anyway, a king?”
“Oh, don't mind him,” June said. “That's just his way. He's harmless.”
“Yeah, but so is a rattler—until you stir him up,” returned the puncher. “And I'm thinkin' he's one rattler that won't wait to rattle before he strikes. Every time he's behind me, my back gets to crawlin' somethin' terrible. Ain't he got snaky eyes, though?”
“Well, they're not what you'd call exactly attractive in a beauty sense, the girl agreed, “but they're certainly eyes you'll never forget. They do seem to give one the creeps at times, I admit.”
“That's what I say. Let's see if we can get that boot on, now, and then I'll catch Tommy. I suppose he's still hangin' around somewhere, though I saw him scamperin' into a draw when Whortle made that last rush.
“Easy now. Think how hot it is on the sun, and yore ankle won't hurt so much. There. Now see if yuh can stand.”
June got to her feet with his aid and leaned against him. She could not bear to rest her whole weight on the injured foot. so he carried her to what remained of the fire and placed her in a comparatively comfortable position against a rock.
“I'll collect the hardware first,” he said. “It don't do to be minus yore artillery in this country, I can see that. I hope my Winchester isn't bunged up any. Tried my best to wrap it around the neck of the gent I heaved it at, but I don't think it got hurt. Yore rifle is probably 0. K.”
He hurried around, picking up June's rifle, the Winchester, the two revolvers belonging to the T Square men, and his own empty one. The last be reloaded with live cartridges from his belt.
“The Winchester seems to be little the worse for wear,” he said, handing the .250-3000 to the girl. Yores is all right, too, only it's a little bit scratched up where it slid along the stones. Do yuh want to keep one of these six-guns as a souvenir of today's fracas, or shall I throw them away?”
“Throw them away if you wish,” June answered. “I don't want one of them. It wouldn't be as much of a souvenir as my memory, and that's enough.”
“Yeah, I suppose. Well, I'll round up Tommy if he's anywhere he can be rounded up, and we'll hit the trail. Gosh, I'm sure hungry enough to eat that bear raw. Loco will be awful peeved because somebody scattered our lunch. Maybe we'd better not tell him, or he'll go on another still hunt and run into a whole tribe of grizzlies.”
He left her with a nod and strode swiftly to the draw where he had recently seen June's horse. On the way he tossed the two captured revolvers into a thicket. Tommy was nowhere in sight. The tracks of his passage were plainly visible in the sandy bed of the draw, however, so he followed them until he discovered the horse looking innocently at him from behind an abutment, reins caught in a mesquite tree.
“Yuh needn't think yuh can pull the wool over my eyes, lookin' innocent that way,” Robbins laughed. “You know dang well yuh had no business chasin' off like that and leavin' us in the lurch. Whoa, now! Come on out here where I can have room to straddle yuh.”
He led the animal clear of the brush, and mounting, rode back to June. There he carried the girl to the horse and lifted her into the saddle. When he had again gathered up the “artillery” he swung up behind her.
“All set? Then let's amble along. Loco will probably skin us for comin' back without any bear meat, but Tommy's got enough to carry without that. I'll have to leave that saddle and bridle, too.”
[End of chapter]
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