Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.


ERNEST HAYCOX

THE ROARING HOUR

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover 2018


Ex Libris

First published in West, 16 Mar 1932

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-12-03
Produced by Colin Choat and Roy Glashan

Only the original raw text of this book is in the public domain.
All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

Click here for more books by this author


Cover Image

West, 16 Mar 1932, with "The Roaring Hour"



I. — CLAY TRAVIS CALLS

IN Buffalo Crossing, Tom Gilliam's White Palace Saloon was as fixed an institution as the courthouse and its reckonings often more final. All news came immediately to it; much news originated from it. For here, within the comfortable and rather luxurious precincts, bets and disputes and business deals were arranged and settled; and here men, loosened by the easy conviviality of the place, spoke things never designed to be spoken. For a fact, Tom Gilliam had grown increasingly silent and powerful because of the confidences whispered over his bar, and many a time he had gently steered into his back room these half- liquored individuals whose careless disclosures might easily have released the trigger-set temper of the district. Always watchful, always listening, it was only natural that this late afternoon he should be standing beside the counter when half a dozen idle men turned to the subject of young Clay Travis, new marshal of the Crossing.

'Lonzo Bates, cattleman from the Peaks, turned his glass casually between his fingers and said:

"Must be gettin' old. My idea of a good time nowadays is to go down and watch the Limited steam through."

"Who got off today?" asked the attending barkeep.

"A drummer," said 'Lonzo Bates, "and Henry Fallis and the Rambeau girl."

"Fallis," explained the barkeep, "will be here to take pay-off money out to his hay crews on the Neversink. Gail Rambeau, she's been to Omaha, shoppin'."

"Shoppin'?" inquired 'Lonzo. "What was it she couldn't buy in the Crossin'?"

"Fixin's for the house she and Clay Travis are goin' to set up in Callahan's old house on Custer Street."

"Oh," mused 'Lonzo. "So they've decided finally to tie up? When's it to be?"

"Day after tomorrow."

"Nice couple," said 'Lonzo. "And I'm mighty glad to hear about it. How's young Travis makin' out as marshal?"

A studied and cautious silence came to the group, the instant reaction of men on the edge of a dangerous topic. The barkeep flicked a glance toward Tom Gilliam and received for answer a faint nod, which was a signal to go ahead. Gilliam liked to use his housemen as pumps to suck out the thoughts of a group such as this one.

"Well," said the barkeep, "he's only been on the job a week. That ain't much time to prove anything."

"Ain't it?" parried 'Lonzo Bates, somewhat ironically. "I'd disagree. In the course of forty years I've seen a good many men go to hell in the sight of sunup and sundown. I've seen these streets turn from peace to bloody war in the space of time it takes to walk between the Longhorn Restaurant and Ray Steptoe's hitch rack. Well, I'm wishin' Clay Travis well. He's square, tough, and full of salt."

Another of the group, a leather-faced hand by the name of Tex Cope, broke in with some evidence of dissatisfaction. "Ever see reform get anywhere in this town? Clay's a sucker for tackling the job."

"Who," put in 'Lonzo shrewdly, "said he was a reform marshal?"

"Nobody said it. It don't have to be said. It's for everybody to see, ain't it? Anybody doubtin' why Lou Walsh appointed him?"

"Guess his honor the mayor had good enough reasons," agreed 'Lonzo, chuckling. "Still, if it is a job Walsh wants done, Clay Travis will do it."

"What job?" asked the barkeep.

The question instantly congealed the run of talk, and even 'Lonzo Bates stared at the barkeep with a sort of gleaming speculation in his wise, old eyes. Presently he said: "Are you tryin' to put somebody on record?"

The barkeep fell to polishing the stainless surface of the counter, poker cheeked and without reply. Tom Gilliam, in the background, scowled at his houseman. Tex Cope spoke again. "Nobody'll ever get anywhere in the reform line around here. Sin has sure got its claws sunk too deep. Clay is a fool to be pullin' somebody else's chestnuts outta the fire. I hate to see him get his fingers burnt. And I'm also thinkin' he ain't so wise to be marryin' right away."

"Something in that," said 'Lonzo Bates quietly. "Things happen quick here. It is a deceivin' country and always full of trouble."

"We'll know more about it inside of a week," prophesied Tex Cope.

"Sure. But don't go layin' any large bets against Clay. I've seen him in action."

"Wouldn't give a lead nickel for his prospects," replied Cope bluntly. And then, conscious that his words were being absorbed by a larger audience, he quit talking, paid his whiskey bill, and turned away. So far, Tom Gilliam had said nothing. Now he moved forward into the circle, his soundly built body creating a pathway, and his florid and well-fed face admirably concealing whatever his mind held.

"Don't you think," he observed casually, "you're all some premature?"

There was no answer. The group dissolved. Tex Cope swung out of the White Palace. 'Lonzo Bates leaned against the bar and studied Gilliam with a curious, intent scrutiny.



Over on Railroad Avenue, the Limited's six open-end coaches rolled out of town and left a banner of dust behind. A girl stood on the plank walk, surrounded by valises—a slim, young woman with a straight, quick body that somehow gave out the air of quiet pride and self-confidence. Seeing her there, Clay Travis came across the street at long strides. He was smiling, and the effect of it was to break up a kind of studious, gray- eyed gravity; quite tall and quite broad of shoulder, his head lay a little forward from the habit of looking down on smaller- statured men. All his bones were large, and there was about him an air of rough-and-tumble strength. Paused before the girl, he lifted his hat to reveal a shock of Indian-black hair.

"How was Omaha, Gail?"

"I missed the sagebrush growing in the middle of the streets, Clay."

"Was sort of afraid you might like it and stay."

"You're a handsome liar," retorted the girl. Sudden light broke across the even features. She took his hand and said, with a light touch of mockery: "Well, glad to see me, or aren't you?"

Clay Travis looked quickly about him, colored a little, and bent toward the grips. "I don't like audiences, Gail."

The girl laughed—a gay, free-running laugh and watched him adjust the heavy valises in his big fists. Side by side they went across Railroad Avenue and through the center of the Crossing. "How has everything been, Clay?"

"Same as usual."

"No trouble?"

"Shucks, no," said Clay Travis. "Why would there be?"

But the girl shook her head and lifted her eyes to him with a return of soberness. "There was a drummer on the train who seemed to know this country pretty well, and he told me some things about the district I never knew before. It even made me wish you were back punching instead of being marshal, Clay."

"What'd he tell you?" asked Clay Travis quickly.

"Something about Nick DePittars and Sheriff Derwent."

"Drummers," said Clay Travis, "are always full of hot air. Forget it, Gail. This job is payin' me twice as much as any I could get on the range. Say, you ought to see the black suit the tailor's turnin' out for me. I look like a high-class gambler in it."

"Well, a man gambles when he marries, doesn't he?"

But Clay Travis grinned and drawled out a lazy answer. "Tell you more about that tonight. I..." Then he stopped and looked around. Somebody negligently whistled half a dozen notes of a wedding march and a cool voice said: "Ain't they a pretty pair?"

"Gib," said Clay Travis, swinging around, "a horse should've stepped on you years ago."

Gib Smith lounged in the shade of the Longhorn Restaurant's porch, a little man with a shrewd and reckless face and two greenish, electric eyes. "Wish it had," he affirmed with a spurious show of sorrow. "As is, I grieve and pine away. Gail, when you goin' to throw that big lout over and take me instead?"

"Gib," said Gail Rambeau, "you're drunk again."

"That's the first good idea anybody's give me today," replied Gib Smith.

"If I catch you botherin' any more solid citizens," threatened Travis amiably, "I'll run you in. Come on, Gail. It's not fitting you talk with such trash."

"I knew him when he was just one of the boys," jeered Gib Smith to the departing pair. And then he cleared his throat, and Travis looked swiftly around. Gib Smith, blank cheeked, made one surreptitious motion with his hand and winked. Travis nodded.

"Listen," said the girl, who had seen nothing of this byplay, "I won't be the kind of a wife that meddles. But if there is something in the wind, Clay, I want you to tell me. Promise it."

"What could happen in a sleepy joint such as this?" parried Clay Travis, and swung in at a porch. Gail's mother came out of the door, and Travis put down the grips while the girl ran up the steps. Travis turned from that scene, a little embarrassed, and fell to rolling a cigarette, his eyes running along the street with a sudden narrowness. Presently the girl called, and he swung around.

"Coming in, Clay?"

"No, I've got to go back to the office. But I'll be around for dinner, if I get the proper invitation. Do I hear one?"

"You do," said Gail. "How would you like steak and onions?"

"Lady, the first forty years of this will be just swell." He lifted his hat then and wheeled off, cutting across this street and turning into another. At a corner he paused to sweep the walk leading by the White Palace and to inspect the hitch racks; and afterward he walked to his office hard by the courthouse. When he went in, he found Gib Smith pacing back and forth.

"Tim Stevak's in town," announced Gib Smith abruptly. The last vestige of blandness and carelessness faded from Clay Travis's eyes. Across them appeared a shadow that ran from one high cheekbone to the other. "It's coming," he said quietly, "much sooner than I expected."

"I don't get all this," complained Gib Smith. "Let a fellow in on it. I know he ain't a friend of yours, and I know he's made passes about bracin' you. But, I don't get the caper. What for?"

"I knew it was coming," answered Travis, "but I figured they'd give me a few days to get squared around. Well, they don't mean to. The ball starts now. Gib, keep this under your hat strictly...there's going to be hell to pay."

"Stevak squarin' a common grudge?"

"Stevak's only a white chip. Nick DePittars undoubtedly told him to ride into town."

Gib Smith's homely cheeks wrinkled up with mental effort. "Yeah, I know he's one of DePittars's gang. That's public information. You mean DePittars is sendin' him in to get you?"

"No," said Travis. "Stevak isn't bright enough or fast enough to get me. DePittars knows that. I think Stevak knows it."

"Spill it...spill it," grunted Gib Smith.

"Remember to keep your mouth sewed up, Gib," warned Travis. "Here's the story complete. Mayor Walsh gave me this job and put the proposition up to me plain. He's lost his grip on the town. He's sittin' high and dry without a man to support him. The crooks come and go as they please. They use the Crossing as a supply point and a playground. Nobody stops 'em. The last marshal didn't. Sheriff Dan Derwent won't...for reasons of his own."

"Derwent's crooked," said Gib Smith succinctly.

"Try to prove it," pointed out Travis. "Any warrant for the arrest of DePittars or for any one of DePittars's men dies right in Derwent's office. Sheriff won't serve those warrants. DePittars rides into town, free as air. Nobody does anything. Nobody can prove anything. How does that read? Plain enough...DePittars is boss. So Walsh gives me a job. And DePittars is sendin' Stevak here to see what I'll do about it. Clear to you?"

But Gib Smith remained silent, still puzzling, and so Travis went on. "DePittars sends Stevak in to put it up to me. If I don't arrest Stevak and throw him in the jug, I am admitting I can't do anything and that DePittars can continue to ride free as air in and out of the Crossing, raising all the sin he pleases."

"Then find Stevak and lock him up," said Gib Smith promptly.

"If I do that," explained Travis, "it will mean that I am challenging DePittars's strength. And he will come into the Crossing with his toughs and thresh it out with me. Like I said, hell's going to bust loose around here, but I didn't think it would come quite so soon."

Gib Smith looked curiously at his friend. "What you do is your business, Clay. But I'm going to be in town, if that's any help to you."

"Sit tight and say nothing," said Travis, and turned out of the office. Paused on the sidewalk, he saw Henry Fallis come wheeling along in a rig. Sighting Travis, the cattleman drew in and halted the team.

"Clay," he said, "I heard you took the star. Another good rider ruined. You damn' fool, why?"

"I'm marryin', and I need the hundred and twenty a month," drawled Clay. "Where you heading this late in the day?"

"Going out to pay off my haying crews."

Travis looked up to the westering sun and then out along the sweeping flats to southward. "It's going to be dark before you reach the Neversink, Henry," he said slowly.

"I know...I know," said Fallis. "I've been hearin' plenty lately. But I've done this for fifteen years, and I'm damned if I pull in my horns now for a bunch of alleged sagebrush jumpers." Lifting the reins, he called out—"See you tomorrow."—and drove off.

Travis walked on in the direction of the White Palace. Shadows were crawling across the western side of the street while the second-story fronts on the eastern edge were aflame with the last, long rays of the sun. In front of the Prairie Hotel a stage was loading for its night trip to Pistol Gap, sixty miles yonder in a wild land; and Sheriff Dan Derwent stood by the stage's door, jovially talking to some rancher about to embark—building up his political fences, Travis thought. The sheriff's hat was pushed back, and the play of humor tightened and accentuated the rather slackly shrewd lines of the cheeks. He was a tall man, a rather impressive man, and his voice had a touch of grating command about it that reached out through the sultry air. But Travis studied this scene only momentarily, for he was in front of the White Palace now, and he recognized Tim Stevak's horse along the saloon rack's jaded row of beasts. Gib Smith sauntered nonchalantly by and halted near the saloon door, saying nothing yet making an obvious play out of his move. Clay Travis shook his head, dropped his cigarette, and entered.

It was at that short half hour before the lamps were lit, and the gray, smoke-ridden interior bothered his eyes for a moment. There was a desultory game of stud going on nearby, and the bar was filling with men in for their before-dinner whiskey neat. Tom Gilliam strolled out of his back room, skirted the counter, and saw Travis. Instantly a certain indifference fell from him. Wheeling, he made directly for the marshal. But Travis passed him half a glance, pivoted on his heels, and pinned his eyes on a flatly muscular figure midway along the bar, the figure of Tim Stevak. Tom Gilliam called out with a definite carrying power in his words.

"Hello, Clay. Seldom see you here. Step up with me."

The immediate effect was to bring Tim Stevak face about; and then the humming confusion of talk began to drop lower and lower. At that moment Travis knew what he had only hitherto suspected: Buffalo Crossing was aware of what went on beneath the placid surface, Buffalo Crossing understood what his job had to be. The sense of it lay in the deepening silence and on all those cheeks swinging around toward him. Tom Gilliam halted in his tracks and said quickly: "Here, let's have some lights in this dump. Johnny, get busy. It's dismal around here. Have a drink, Clay?"

Clay kept his eyes on Tim Stevak. "Howdy, Tim."

"Hello," muttered Stevak, and rolled his shoulders forward. Yellow hair straggled down from his hat brim, across a rounding forehead. His long arms hung limp, with the hint of corded muscles in them. His answering inspection was flat, without much imagination, yet on guard and a little sullen.

"Didn't expect to see you in the Crossing," said Travis conversationally and stepped nearer.

"I'm here," was Stevak's pointed reply.

"I guess you didn't see the Keep Out sign at the street-end. Let's have your gun, Tim. And come along to the judge with me."

Such small murmur as was left ceased, and a quality of breathlessness came to the White Palace. Stevak remained idle, and he said—"What for?"—in a laconic manner.

"If you've got to have a reason," observed Travis, "I guess disturbin' the peace will do as well as any. The gun, if you please."

"No," said Stevak. "I don't think so."

A harder, more metallic sound filled the marshal's talk. "I wouldn't make that mistake if I was you. This is only a small move in a much bigger game...as you ought to know. It's a sort of formality we've got to get over. Don't mess up your part of it. Nick DePittars might not like that."

Stevak stood dumb, the hulking frame immobile, his eyes flat. Tom Gilliam broke in quickly. "I see no disturbance, Clay. Appears entirely high-handed on your part."

"Why, of course," drawled Travis. "That's what I was appointed to be. Tim, I'll not be asking you another time for the gun."

"No trouble in here," called out Gilliam. There was command in it, a peremptory order to Stevak. "I'll have none of my glassware busted. Get it over with, Tim."

That seemed to settle Stevak's pondered uncertainty. Slowly, very slowly as not to be mistaken in his gesture, he lowered his right arm and lifted his weapon half out of its holster. Then he reached across with his left hand, gripped the piece, and offered it reversed to Travis. Travis accepted it and stepped aside. "We'll go along to Judge Pinkham's," he said.

Stevak went out and turned toward the courthouse, Travis following. Part of a crowd came. At the courthouse door Travis looked around and saw Sheriff Derwent break clear of the stage and advance diagonally across the street with a measure of haste. He threw up an arresting arm, but Travis only shook his head and went on after Stevak who stolidly took the corridor down to the Justice of Peace's room and there entered. Travis smiled somewhat grimly to himself as he came through the same entry. All this went smoothly enough Stevak was performing his part well. For a moment he wondered if the J. P.—old Shad Pinkham—had also been given his lines in advance to read; but, when he saw Pinkham's eyes turn color, he knew it to be otherwise. Pinkham was startled and showed it. He cleared his throat; he rose half out of his chair and settled back again. "Clay," he muttered, "what's this for?"

"Disturbin' the peace," said Clay Travis.

"I heard no sound of trouble," replied Pinkham, at once revealing himself. "Was you disturbin' the peace, Tim?"

"I was drinkin', mindin' my own business," answered Stevak.

Pinkham shook his head at Travis. "That ain't enough, Clay. Mind my advice and don't try to make a reputation too early. There'll be more fittin' occasions later on."

Sheriff Dan Derwent turned in hurriedly, made one brief survey. "What's up, Travis?"

Pinkham looked relieved. "Clay's got Tim here for disturbin' the peace. I find nothin' disorderly about Tim."

Derwent looked long at Travis and was about to speak when Tom Gilliam walked casually in. The sheriff stepped back toward a wall, and Pinkham slowly rose from his chair. Stevak turned with something like a question on his face.

"Now I have no feelings in this one way or another," explained Gilliam. "I'm not hostile at you, Clay. But I think you was high- handed, and I thought I'd just add my word to the judge. As a matter of truth, Tim never turned a hand. It seems all damned funny to me...I'll say that much straight out, Clay."

"You're dismissed, Tim," said Pinkham, as if the case were closed. "You'll get a bad reputation if you go in for this kind of foolishness, Travis."

Stevak turned with a veiled amusement in his eyes and held out his hand. "My gun, Mister Marshal."

"That appears to be the end of that," was Travis's cool answer. "But I'm sorry, Tim. I'll have to arrest you again for carryin' a gun inside the city limits."

"Why, thunder!" exclaimed Pinkham. "Everybody does. What's the matter with you? Sure I know there's an ordinance against it, but that ain't been enforced for twenty years."

"It will be now," stated Travis. "You know the law on it, Pinkham. Slap ten dollars on him."

Pinkham looked his defeat and raised his hands toward Sheriff Derwent. Derwent's eyes took on an odd glow of anger, and the heavy creases of his face sagged downward. "The star seems to've gone to your head, Travis. How long do you expect to get by doin' this tomfoolery?"

"Hit him with a fine, Pinkham," pressed Travis.

"Why, I'm darned if I do!" shouted the judge.

"All right," decided Travis. "If you refuse to do it, I'll arrest Tim every five minutes all night long and drag you out of bed each time. I want this thing settled now."

Derwent muttered under his breath and cast a glance at Tom Gilliam. But Gilliam was silent, his features impressed with a thoughtfulness that was somehow covert and dark. So Derwent swore aloud and let his anger run. "Listen to me, Travis...you'll end up in the junk pile! I know this country better than you do. Somebody will have his feelin's hurt at your confounded heavy fist and pot you. I can't say I'd blame 'em, either."

"That's why you quit arresting anybody?" inquired Travis. Derwent flushed. "None of that sarcasm on me, Travis! Am I to infer you're out to buck me?"

"Use your judgment."

"By God, I can damn' soon crush you!" yelled Derwent. Travis suddenly swung on the silent Gilliam. "What do you think?"

"Me?" asked Gilliam. "No...I'm out of this. I've got no part in it. All I came for was to put in my word for Tim. There's something behind all this monkey business...and it's none of my affair. I'm leaving." And saying so, he turned out of the office. Derwent's eyes followed, jerked back to Travis. "You'd better take my word for it, boy. Play it easy around here. Better marshals than you have been busted."

"Hurry up, Pinkham," said Travis. "Give him the fine."

Pinkham stared at Derwent. But Derwent only glowered and pressed his lips together. So the judge snapped out: "All right. Ten dollars, Tim, and I'm sorry."

Stevak hesitated until Travis prompted him. "Pay it." And then Stevak reached into his pocket and threw a handful of silver on the desk. Morose and irritated, he pulled himself about.

"All right...you've got your way this time. Now give me my gun."

Travis broke the gun and kicked out the cartridges. When he handed it back, it was with an accompanying warning. "Don't bring that thing into the Crossing again, Tim, unless you're looking for me. Now go back and tell DePittars this is his answer. He sent you here to get one...and he's got it."

Paused in the doorway, he waited for an answer that never came. The sultry hostility thickened throughout the room, seeming definitely to link those three men together in a common animosity. Stevak only stared out of his dull orbs. Pink-ham would not lift his head. Derwent's lips were thin with wrath, and a heavy, dangerous light flickered in his eyes.

Seeing all this and marking it exactly for what it was worth, Clay Travis went down the courthouse corridor and out into a suddenly arrived dusk. A six o'clock bell rang somewhere over on Railroad Avenue, and its echo rolled through the hush of the town. There was a small crowd waiting curiously at the courthouse door, and, when Travis appeared, it fell silent. He passed on, turned through Hogan's alley, and came into Custer Street. At the porch of Gail's house he found her father waiting. The elder Rambeau rose from the steps, speaking cautiously: "I saw that play, Clay. In case you don't know, you made some mighty powerful enemies, and this ain't the end of the transaction."

"I expect not," agreed Clay. "Now, say nothing about it to the women. Nothing at all.".



Tom Gilliam walked back to his saloon, the florid cheeks more enigmatically set. Instead of going through the front way, he slipped along the side of the building and entered a private door to his office behind the bar. Lighting a lamp, he took up a slow pacing of the room. Once he paused to trim a cigar, and with this dry smoke clamped between his thick jaws he resumed his restless moving. Somebody began picking out a tune on the barroom piano, and there was a freshening sound of activity yonder as the unattached men of the Crossing drifted in for the night's pleasures. Swinging abruptly about, Gilliam went to the wall nearest the bar and slid open a small paneled peep-door.

"Tell Mack Setters to come to me," he said, and pushed the panel shut.

It was a good five minutes before the man came, sliding through the alley doorway with a swift and somehow surreptitious twist of his smallish body. He closed the door and leaned against it, waiting.

"Mack," rumbled Tom Gilliam, "you saw the business in the barroom?"

"Yes."

"Well, he took Tim to Pinkham and forced a ten-dollar fine on Tim. It was a deliberate call, Mack. Travis meant it for a deliberate call."

"Don't underestimate Travis," said Mack Setters. There was a professional tonelessness in the words that was a part of the man's repressed, watchful manner. All that he was showed plainly on him from his white and flexible gambler's fingers to the pinched monotony of a thin face. He was dressed in a broadcloth suit, and a diamond pin flashed out of a white shirt's starched front. And as Gilliam kept on with his endless marching around the room, Mack Setters's eyes followed.

"I'm not," said Gilliam. "I'm not underestimating him. He's wise. He knows exactly how the situation stands, and he's making his position clear. He's called me."

"Called you?"

"Oh, well, he doesn't know it's me. At least, I don't think he does. He lays it on DePittars. But he's smart enough to find out it's me if he continues on the job. I sort of doubted he'd cave in. I know he won't now."

"Walsh picked him," suggested Setters.

Tom Gilliam paused and said heavily: "And Walsh can bury him. Travis has got to go before he does any damage. I'll show Walsh who is master. First, I want you to go see Derwent. Tell Derwent he's exposing his hand. He's a little too careless how he shoots off his face. The whole county knows he's crooked. He might have avoided a great deal of that reputation if he'd played things a little smoother. Tell him I want him to mind his own business strictly and say nothing at all. If the county gets too set in its convictions, it'll vote him out, and then I'll have to go through the trouble of buyin' another man's conscience."

"If," pointed out Setters, "Travis makes a record, he'll be next sheriff."

"Don't you think I see that? Don't worry. He won't make a good record. He goes down before this gets much further. But you tell Derwent to keep out of it strictly. I'll handle it. Nick DePittars will do the job. Go on now."

"Tom," said Setters, "lend me five hundred."

"What for?" challenged Gilliam.

"I've got to have it," answered Setters a little sullenly. "No," said Gilliam. "What's the matter with your luck at the tables?"

"Rotten. Listen, Tom, I've got to have that money."

"Not from me," retorted Gilliam. "Go do what I told you."

Setters started to speak. But he changed his mind and closed his lips tightly. A strange mixture of defeat and moroseness appeared on his thin cheeks, and, as silently as he had entered the office, he left it.

That evening in the White Palace there was some betting that Clay Travis would not last out the week as marshal of the Crossing. Nobody could be found to take the other end.


II. — THE QUICKENING TIDE

AT nine o'clock that night Clay Travis left the Rambeau house and turned down Hogan's alley, bound for the office. Halfway along the thick dark, a shadow unexpectedly detached itself from the massed gloom and idled forward. Travis wheeled around, at once alert and suspicious.

"Just goes to show you," came Gib Smith's casual voice, "what could happen. You blasted idiot, why ram around like this?"

"What are you?" drawled Travis. "My official bodyguard?"

"I'll be around," said Gib Smith grimly. "Now don't ask me how I know this, Clay, but there's a funny thing down Railroad Avenue you ought to look into."

"What?"

"Come with me."

Travis fell beside his partner, and they reached Main Street and crossed it by the courthouse, pressing on through the deserted darkness again. "Don't you know I'm not on duty after six o'clock?"

"Wait," said Gib Smith and led into Railroad Avenue. It was a dismal, gloomy end of town, occupied by gaunt warehouses, stables, and a few frowzy rooming houses. Gib Smith crossed the tracks and turned sharply up the steps of a small, slattern, two- roomed house. Here he stopped. "You go in," he said briefly. "Doc Medal's there. It's a girl, Clay, just a girl."

Puzzled, Travis opened the door and found himself in a miniature hallway, at the far end of which spread a thin glow of light. A man's voice came out, kindly and patient; and, when Clay reached the end of the hallway and stepped inside the back room, he found Medal bending over a bed. The doctor turned and said bluntly: "What are you doing here, Clay?"

"Blessed if I know," answered Clay, and paused astonished. There was a girl of around twenty beneath the shabby covers of an iron bed, a frail, peaked girl with enormous eyes that turned toward him and showed the most lusterless indifference he had ever seen. All the spirit was out of her and most of her vitality. Doc Medal said something, but she only shook her head, at which the doctor straightened and slowly put his instruments back into his case and snapped it shut. "Lie still," he told her. "Even if you can't sleep, don't be getting up. I'll see you have some breakfast brought in. Come on, Clay."

Travis followed Medal back to the street. "What's the matter with her?"

Medal shook his head and seemed impatient with himself "I don't know. Half starved for one thing. On the edge of tuberculosis for another. But that isn't all. She's quit cold. Doesn't care. Something on her mind."

"Leila Vale... old Henry Vale's girl," said Clay Travis, profoundly regretful. "A pretty kid and a wild one...and here she is now."

"Don't blame it all on her," put in Gib Smith quickly. "She's had a tough run of luck. A certain fellow in this town made a fool out of her. After that, she had to eat and she didn't care. But if she was as bad as the rest of her class, she'd be over in Lu Hannigan's place."

"No," said Doc Medal, "that's not her style, boys. Nor is her present life. It's on her mind pretty hard. She's quitting. You know, it might help that girl if some decent woman would only talk to her a little. But..."—and Doc Medal said it somewhat bitterly—"decent women don't do those things. Well, that's all. Good night."

"I'll go along," said Gib Smith, and walked off with the doctor, leaving Travis alone. Somebody came around the railroad depot and paused momentarily in the light. Half interested, he recognized the gambler, Mack Setters—and then forgot him. For he was thinking of the barrenness of the girl's room and the tragedy, stark and staring, that pervaded it. And thinking of it, he turned slowly across the tracks and went on to Custer Street. When he tapped on the Rambeau door, Gail came out.

"This is out of my line," explained Travis, having difficulty with the words. "But there's a girl in some sort of trouble, and Doc Medal thought if some other woman...."

"Why, yes," broke in Gail. "Where?"

"Across the tracks," said Travis quite slowly.

The girl murmured a faint—"Oh."—and looked intently at his face. A moment later her small shoulders squared. "Certainly I'll go."

He waited till she got her coat and led her silently back along the deserted side street. In front of that shabby little house he halted. "I'll wait out here. It's Leila Vale. You knew her."

"We're too late. Clay," said Gail Rambeau sadly. "Two years too late. But wait for me."

After she had gone in, Travis rolled a cigarette and lit it abstractedly. The prairie air bit crisply through his clothing, and the shadows along Railroad Avenue seemed deeper and grimier than before. Nothing lovely lived on this edge of town; the wreckage of objects and animals and people gravitated here and soon or late were junked. He heard the women talking in the house, and he heard the Vale girl cough and cry. It made him swear under this breath. Somebody walked slowly along the rough boardwalk, came abreast, and stopped. Mack Setters's sharp face became definite above an upturned coat collar—definite and strained.

"You're a long ways from a poker table, Mack," drawled Travis.

"What's up?" asked Setters roughly.

"Sick girl."

"She's in bad shape?" questioned Setters and bent nearer.

A small suspicion crossed the marshal's mind. "Who?"

"Leila Vale lives there, doesn't she?" parried Setters. "She's bad off? What did Medal say?"

"Not encouragin'," was Travis's brief answer. He was watching the gambler's face closely through that woven screen of darkness, and he distinctly observed the thinning of the other's features. Setters said something under his breath and went on, idling along the loose boards. His steps died out for a while and then came tramping back. Once more abreast Travis, he grumbled: "I can't sleep. Asthma or something."

"Or something," said Travis dryly. The door opened, and Gail Rambeau walked down the steps, pulling her coat more tightly about her. She was on the point of speaking when she discovered Setters. The phrase died in her throat, and she slipped one hand inside Travis's crooked elbow and pulled him gently away. Halfway up Custer Street she uttered the checked thought.

"She fell asleep... that sad, little girl. But I think I helped. I think I did, Clay. What did the doctor say?"

"Starvation, maybe tuberculosis, and something on her mind."

"Medal is a wiser man than I thought. There is something on her mind. A man."

"Who?"

"Do you suppose she'd tell, Clay?"

"There's been a lot of men, as far as she's concerned," observed Travis bluntly.

"She's still woman enough to want one particular man," said Gail and turned on the porch of her house. Both hands caught the marshal's coat lapels. "When I see a thing like that, I think how lucky I am! Clay, there must be a chance for her."

"Maybe," said Travis gently. "Cold out here. Good night."

He went back towards Railroad Avenue, but saw Mack Setters come quickly out of it into Main Street, and so he turned and intercepted the gambler within the glow of the jail's office door. "Mack," he said, "I want to see you. Come in here."

Setters followed through and stood with his back to a wall, all emotion pinched out of his face.

"You must be the man," challenged Travis.

Setters's eyes widened a little, and after a long pause he said wearily: "What of it?"

"When did you talk to her last?"

"I've had nothing to do with her for a couple years, if it is any of your business."

"A lot of things appear to be my business now that I've got a star. Something's bothering her pretty bad. Something's bothering you... or you wouldn't be trampin' the street in front of her door. What's the matter... are you ashamed of her?"

Setters said angrily: "She's common property!"

"Who was first responsible for that?" asked Travis.

"My God, man," cried Setters, "don't you think I think of that! We made a serious mistake, long ago. Then we quarreled. When I came around to the point of makin' up, it was too late. She went bad."

"But still she's got you fast enough," pointed out Travis relentlessly, "to make you walk up and down in front of her door."

"Yes," admitted Setters doggedly. "But I've got some pride left."

"What for?" grunted Travis. "You're no better than she is. Well, I can do nothing about it. But you know what I think, Mack... you'd be pretty dull if you didn't. Good night."

Setters turned through the doorway, halted, and swung around. "Travis, it may seem funny to you, but I'm in your debt for doin' what you did tonight." He let the phrase sink into silence, then added bitterly: "Kindness is not such a frequent thing around here. So I'm remembering it...and maybe I'll be able to pay back before long."

Travis watched the man disappear. A little later he rose, walked to the street, and looked along it to where the lights of the White Palace brilliantly blazed. Revelry flooded from the saloon; all the life of the Crossing seemed concentrated there. Travis studied the scene thoughtfully for a short while and afterward went on to his lodgings.

As soon as he was gone from the street, Gib Smith made his appearance from a nearby obscure angle of the buildings and limped back to Ray Steptoe's stable, meaning to make a bed in the hay. Gib had forty dollars and might have afforded the comforts of a hotel room, but to him the idea seemed silly; he was more accustomed to the hay. Dragging out the last of his cigarette, he loitered in the stable's entry and presently saw a fellow come out of the alley that ran beside the White Palace, mount a pony, and canter from town. At that, Gib tossed the cigarette to the dust. "I'm too old a party," he grumbled, "not to recognize the smell of immediate trouble."


III. — THE ROARING HOUR

AT eleven o'clock of the following morning, Henry Fallis drove into Main Street as far as the courthouse, thrust the brake handle forward, and wrapped the reins around it. He sat a moment, looking straight ahead of him, appearing troubled; and then he got down stiffly, one hand clinging to the buggy. Here again he paused, his big body swinging from side to side. Dropping his hand, he started across the walk. Two paces onward he buckled at all his joints, as if a heavy weight had struck him from above, and pitched head first to the boards without a word.

Along the whole of that drowsing street there was no single soul to see him fall; and it was Clay Travis, turning in front of an alley, who first found Fallis lying there unconscious with his arms outstretched as if he were trying to crawl. The cattleman's hat was knocked off, and the bent-over Travis looked straight at a head bruised and blood clotted. At that moment Gib Smith ambled into view, discovered the scene, and ran forward.

"Dead to the world," said Travis. "It's lucky he's alive. I was afraid of it. He was carryin' a couple of thousand out of here last night. Pick up his feet, Gib."

They got him into the marshal's office and propped him up in a chair. Gib Smith hauled a pint flask out of a hind pocket and nursed a stiff drink into the cattleman who came strangling out of his stupor and began to swear. He made an ineffectual effort to fight off Clay's restraining hand, but, when he saw who it was, he relaxed and closed his eyes. "Well," he groaned, "I should have minded your advice, Clay. They ran into me five miles out of town. Jumped me before I could make a move. But they wasn't satisfied with robbin' me. They beat me over the skull till the lights went out. I been lyin' out there ever since."

"Who?" asked Clay Travis.

"Didn't catch sight of but one man, and he wore his neckpiece over his nose."

"You've got some ideas about it?" pressed Travis.

"Who would you think?" grunted Fallis, trying to work the stiffness out of his neck. "Give me that liquor, Gib. And, Clay, send for Sheriff Derwent. Those tracks are fresh enough to follow."

A considerable crowd had collected by the marshal's door. Travis relayed the order to one of the bystanders, but the fellow only moved aside. Derwent had heard. He came through now with a shouldering impatience and absorbed the situation at a glance. "Henry," he boomed out, "this is tough on you."

"Save that for those hounds," growled Fallis. "You get a posse and move out on the trail. It'll be fresh to follow."

"They got your money?"

"What the hell else do you suppose they was after?"

"Careless on your part to ride onto the prairie with so much coin," said the sheriff.

"Look here, Derwent," snapped Fallis, "I've done it for twenty years, and nothing ever happened before. The trouble is, you've let a bunch of toughs get the upper hand. The country is wilder now than it was when I was a young man. You don't do anything."

"What do you want me to do?" inquired Derwent with an air of repressed anger.

"Follow that trail."

"Hell, don't you know it'll peter out in the rocks inside of fifteen miles? Then what'd I have for my trouble but the horse laugh?"

"Find Nick DePittars and bring him in," said Fallis.

But the sheriff shook his head. "After I bring him in, what proof have you got? No, you were an easy mark, and that's about the story."

Fallis got to his feet, full of hard temper. "It's about what I expected from you, Derwent! And there's only one of two things the matter... either it's more profitable for you to stand idle, or else you're composed of yellow soap!"

"Be careful!" boomed Derwent. "I won't take that from you!"

"You took it," said Fallis grimly. "Now I'll tell you something else. I've got fifty hands in the Neversink. Tomorrow mornin' I'll put 'em on this trail, and I'll follow it. If it runs out, I'll keep on till I locate DePittars and his toughs. And that'll be the end of DePittars!"

The sheriff's slack face tightened. "You start any vigilante stuff in this county, Henry, and I'll slam you behind the bars for the rest of your life. Put that in your pipe." Then he swung on Travis and stared at him with a scowling, contemptuous disfavor. "Too bad our young marshal can't go out for you, Henry. He'd just rip the land wide open and make a name for himself."

"With a clear conscience," said Travis quietly.

Derwent's under jaw shot forward. "What's that mean?" he ripped out. But Travis only stood against the office wall and let the silence ride. Derwent visibly struggled for control. After a while he said—"You won't last long."—and shouldered his way to the street.

"Bought out... body and britches," grunted Henry Fallis.

Travis said casually: "What else did you expect, Henry? Now, hear me. Don't you leave the Crossing today. Don't try to reach your haying crews. Send a man to bring them in."

"Why?"

"It's a lonely prairie for one man," observed Travis. "I'll get Doc Medal for that head of yours."

Meanwhile Mack Setters detached himself from the group about the marshal's office and went idling back to the White Palace. After a moment or two at the bar, he slipped unobtrusively around it and entered the back room. Tom Gilliam was waiting for him.

"Well?"

"Fallis asked Derwent to line out. Derwent put up excuses. Said it was no use. Fallis got mad. Derwent lost his head and spoke like a fool."

"He never had much of a head to lose," observed Gilliam, frowning. "Remember this as a lesson in human nature, Mack. When you buy out a man, you always buy trash. If he wasn't trash, he wouldn't sell."

Gilliam was ruthless with his tongue. The remark applied to others besides the sheriff, and Gilliam knew it. Mack Setters's mouth thinned, but he stood in silence. Gilliam lit a cigar, turned about the room. "I want Derwent out of town tonight. He'd only be in the way for what is coming up."

"What's that?"

"I said I'd take care of Travis, didn't I? Well, Nick DePittars and his boys will be in after dark tonight to do what I want done. You go tell Derwent to gather a posse and ride. Tell him not to come back until morning. Tell him to get a big posse... couple dozen. The more he takes, the fewer there'll be around tonight to interfere with DePittars."

"Think of a great deal, don't you?" remarked Setters. He said it more or less idly, but there was a certain inflection that drew Tom Gilliam's cool, hard glance swiftly to him.

"That's why I'm boss," said Gilliam shortly. "What of it?"

"Nothing. Gilliam, I've got to have that five hundred."

"Not from me." Then the saloonkeeper's attention grew sharper. "Look here, Mack, are you tryin' to shake me down?"

Setters shook his head. "No. But I need that money."

"You live," pointed out Gilliam, "in the hollow of my hand. If I close it, you're done. Go do what I tell you and don't bother me any more about money."

Setters left the room, closing the door softly behind.

After noon Clay Travis came out of Railroad Avenue to see Sheriff Derwent leaving town with a string of men behind him, bound southward, and, when he reached his office, he found Henry Fallis sitting perplexed at the desk.

"He changed his mind," said Fallis. "He's going out to look at that trail. Came here and told me."

Travis said thoughtfully: "Something behind that, Henry."

"I know. But what?"

Travis shook his head. "Something. Every act of Derwent's is another move in the game."

"What game?"

"The game of gettin' me, Henry."

Fallis straightened. "I'll have my hands in here tomorrow. They'll stay in here as long as you want 'em."

"Better lie down on that couch till you feel organized," admonished Travis and returned to the street. The full, blazing sun crossed westward, and heat layers began to cushion the street. Men moved more slowly; the vitality of this town seemed to withdraw back into the darker and cooler recesses. A high cloud of dust drifted across the building tops from the direction of the loading pens. Doc Medal, looking more tired than usual, emerged from the drug store.

"They've arranged at the restaurant," said Travis, "to take the girl her meals. So that's settled."

"Who's payin' for them?" demanded the doctor. And when Travis said nothing, Medal went on rather gruffly. "Don't interest yourself too much in the grief of this sinful town, Clay. It'll make you old before your time. Only a doctor is supposed to work for charity."

Travis moved on, chuckling. He wheeled into the tailor shop, tried out his new suit, and found it satisfactory. But as he looked in the mirror, it appeared clear to him he was changed—that something reckless and impulsive and carefree had gone for good. The glance returning to him was measured and infinitely watchful and imbedded in deep gravity; it was, he realized, the face of a hunter alert and listening for an unexpected break. Going out, he made his rounds while he pondered over it. All town marshals, he reflected, seem to look the same, but I never understood till now why that was. Well, for me the old, easy days are gone. I can say good bye to that. I guess I've grown up.

When he roused himself from this line of thought, he found his feet had carried him to the neater side of the Crossing. He was standing now in front of a trim, little house surrounded by white pickets, the Callahan house he had rented against his marriage. The windows were freshly washed, and new curtains hung over them. On the point of going in, he caught sight of Gail moving from one room to another, and he was stricken by an odd sense of confusion that turned him about and put him on the tramp again from one street to another while a tension slowly increased within him. And, as the day gradually settled, he watched Buffalo Crossing go through its changes. The Pistol Gap stage rolled out of town. At five, men came slowly from various buildings and walked toward the White Palace, marking the turn of the day. The heat diminished by degrees. Around six, the sun went down, and past seven the long dusk came off the prairie with an accompanying touch of breeze. He met old man Rambeau walking homeward.

"Come along," said Rambeau. "It's your last supper as a free man."

Travis looked down Main Street, wondering what it was that he missed—and the next moment he knew. So he said: "I'll be a little late. Ask Gail to keep something warm for me."

Rambeau studied Travis's concern in the glance. "It's to be tonight?"

"I don't know," answered Travis. But he did know. For Rambeau's question was the same question all Buffalo Crossing asked—and the answer lay along the street in the shape of emptiness. At this hour the streets should have been alive; instead, they were abandoned, and there was little show of traffic except the passage of men in and out of the White Palace. The word was published; the wise ones knew. It would be tonight, in one manner or another.

"Wish you didn't have this job," murmured Rambeau.

"Say nothing about it to the women," warned Travis and started down Main Street as dusk collapsed beneath darkness. Sudden light lanes passed out of the windows into the dusty roadway.

One lamp burned dimly on the center table of Gilliam's office, and the saloon-man stood away from it, half obscured in the shadows. Mack Setters retreated from the glow until he, too, was only a blurred form in a dismal corner. A pair of men went down the alleyway, boots scraping the packed dirt; the grate and murmur of the saloon crowd sifted through the thin bar wall. There was a faint, spaced tattoo on the office's side door, and Setters moved toward it, only to be checked by Gilliam's quick word.

"Leave it alone. It's only a signal. DePittars and his boys are in."

"Got it all arranged, I see," muttered Setters with a sort of dry-throated effort.

"When I want a thing done, I arrange it myself," rumbled Gilliam and took a pace toward the light. His burly shoulders rolled forward; the full face slowly took on a mask of impenetrable hardness. Unlovely angles of light refracted from the pale, blue eyes. "Now, Setters, go find Travis."

"What for?"

"To bring him into circulation, you fool. He may be inside for the night. He may be where nobody can see him. Find him. Fix up your own story, but lead him into Main Street for DePittars to see. When you have done that, get out of the way."

"A public execution," said Setters tonelessly.

"What's that?" rapped out Gilliam.

"Nothing."

But Gilliam came nearer to the light and stared over to his henchman, seeking to read Setters's face. "If you are gettin' soft. Setters, I'll have to drop you. I've got no place in my affairs for misfits. Go do what I tell you."

The courthouse clock struck eight as Clay Travis left Custer, crossed Main, and went on as far as Railroad Avenue. All the darkness here seemed more pronounced; the barren angles had a quality of dripping gloom at once dense and suggestive. He went as far as the loading pens on the extreme eastern margin of town, retraced his way. Abreast a lightless stable he heard the muted whisper of men inside and caught the shift of a body. But what he looked for was not to be found—the evidence of DePittars's men being in town. That they would come, he no longer doubted. His reasoning had arrived at that conclusion half an hour ago, and all his instincts subsequently had verified the thought-out belief. The feel of it was in the air; the sense of it lay on men's faces as they passed him, stepped away from him. Off Railroad Avenue a few paces he went into another gridironing alley of the Crossing and found it to be twenty minutes past the hour. Going over, he entered the saloon.

He realized then all Buffalo Crossing was sitting expectant. His entry did something to that heavy crowd. There was a reaction that reminded him of dropping a stone into still water. All those men watched him—slowly turned and watched him. At the tables the games stopped, but he had the feeling that those games were all this while being fitfully played, without attention. Gilliam was not to be seen. Nor was Gib Smith. The inspection completed, he swung about and left the White Palace, heading for his office. The disappearance of Gib puzzled him. He had not seen his partner since noon, and, as unimportant as the fact was, it somehow added mystery to this evening so full of threat and secret scheming. Between the White Palace and the courthouse only one man besides himself walked abroad. When he reached his office, he found Mack Setters waiting.

For the moment Setters said nothing, but Travis got the hint of a troubled, confused mind behind the fixity of the gambler's expression. Setters stared up, his body motionless against the wall. His clothes, Travis noted, were marked by bits of hay chaff. Setters lowered his eyes.

"I am going back to her, Travis."

Travis nodded gravely: "I'd hoped you'd work it out that way, Setters."

"But we can't stay here in the Crossing," muttered Setters. "We'd never live it down."

"Go far enough away so that Buffalo Crossing and your mistakes won't ever catch up," said Travis.

"I wish," went on Setters, "you'd walk to Railroad Avenue with me."

"Sure."

Travis went out ahead of the gambler. They swung abreast and followed the walk back towards the White Palace, entirely alone on the street. Across from them a second-story window fell with a report that was like a gunshot, and Setters flung up his head with an accompanying sharp intake of breath. Close-eyed, all his nerves cool within him, Travis saw a woman pass behind the window and then lower a shade. Setters whispered something, looked straight ahead, and spoke rapidly.

"I was told to bring you out here. I'm going through with it for the sake of appearances. Listen... DePittars is in the alley behind Ray Steptoe's stable. It's the best I can do for you...and Tom Gilliam's behind all this. Derwent and DePittars are nothin' more than monkeys on his chain. I'm leaving. Get out of sight in a hurry."

Saying it, he stepped back and aside. When Travis looked around, Setters was gone—vanished down a narrow runway between the Buffalo Hotel and the Longhorn Restaurant.

Travis walked on with an unvaried stride for another dozen paces. At that point the black mouth of Steptoe's stable opened on his flank, and, still holding a tight rein on his acts, he swung deliberately and went in. He was at once plunged in pure darkness. Sidestepping, he placed himself in a corner of the opening and looked down the street. At once he saw the mark of the trap out of which he had just moved. By the courthouse stood a man, obviously posted and waiting. Another figure idled forward from a different angle and came openly on until he had reached the hotel porch, and here he made his stand.

"Cold killing," said Travis, and felt a first warm stream of anger break through the chill tightness of his body. He faced about, cat-footed the length of the stable, and paused at the back doorway. Horses moved in the rear compound, but, as he loitered, he concluded all of DePittars's gang had spread to other points for the ensuing play; and, acting on that belief, he stepped out, circled the little compound, and followed the consequent alley to Custer Street. Facing back toward Main, he saw the loose, shackling form of a man leaning against the exact corner of a building and obviously waiting for something to show up on Main. Light came across from the White Palace sufficiently strong to identify him. This was Nick DePittars.

The anger died out of Clay Travis, and some chemical change passed through his veins to leave him isolated and cool and indifferent. It were as if part of him went away and left only the essentials of the fighting machine behind. He stepped soundlessly over the tricky boards and traveled down the silent dust until he had come within forty feet of the turned and waiting Nick DePittars. And at that point he stopped, drew his muscles together, and sent his call ahead.

"All right, DePittars."

DePittars hurled himself about with a terrific leap, a great gust of air pouring out of his mouth. All his features were away from the light and so obscured—and he broke for the center of the street at a dead run. He yelled: "Travis!" He stopped dead. He emitted one black curse, and afterward his lank body seemed to break in the middle. Clay Travis remained rooted, but his nerves and his muscles answered the warning of that fractional moment. His broad palm slapped the protruding gun butt and wove it upward and forward. A wisp of wind touched his cheek, and a detonating roar smashed the thin-drawn silence to fragments; and then his own tardy shot roared out deeply and found its fair mark. DePittars's broken cry went wailing along the street and high over the housetops, and DePittars fell with some short effort to keep his feet. He called again, but it was a small and despairing cry that died in his throat.

Of a sudden another gun began beating up the disturbed echoes from a place across Main. Dust rolled in Travis's face as the bullet ploughed its way beside him. A second was higher, wider, and he heard it hit the wood of the adjacent building. After that, he located the marksman in the White Palace alley and went forward on the run, seeing the man's gun muzzle spew out a crimson-purple bloom. His own reply went aside of its mark, yet the slash of the lead along the saloon wall obviously shook the DePittars henchman, for he faded into the depths of the alley and fired no more.

Travis meant to follow but never did. Out there in the center of the street he was halted by a sudden burst of guns all along the walls. One crashing echo and another went bounding upward to the sky. House lights flashed on; house lights winked out. Bodies wove from black aperture to still blacker aperture with a spider- like swiftness; and five of the outlaw's crew, elbow to elbow and bracketed by the glow of the hotel, slowly gave ground. One stumbled and dropped. Doggedly the others closed that gap and kept the deliberate backward pacing. Men's voices were rising in full halloo; the fusillade was catching on. Something had happened to the town. The taste of blood was in its mouth, and now it rose and spoke with a more deafening accent of fury. Standing silent, all the action out of his hands, and nothing needed of him now, Travis felt a profound pity sweep over him for those raggedly retreating four, hemmed in by an increasing wall of townsmen to either side. An end outlaw fell; a moment later the middle man of the remaining trio seemed to be bodily punched off his feet. There was nothing left for the last two then but to break and make a try for the near darkness. And motionless, Travis saw them make the try. One made it; the other lunged to the earth with his fingers touching those shadows that meant safety.

It was over as swiftly as that. The firing fell to a sporadic challenging beyond the courthouse, and that way a whirling, confused group of men rushed. There was a long cry from the distance; the doors of the White Palace came open and were held thus while the golden lamp beams gushed out. Gib Smith flashed across that puddled illumination with Mack Setters behind him. Gib came up, breathing hard, words roughened.

"We've broken their backs, Clay! By God, there's no more DePittars and no more DePittars gang!"

Mack Setters came within arm's length of Travis and said slowly: "I said I'd maybe pay off my debt to you someday soon." And, holding up a gun, he added: "I had my part in this."

"Setters," said Travis, "how much of that little talk you spilled before the fight did you mean?"

"All of it."

"Gilliam pulled the strings?" pressed Travis.

"Yes."

"Then," cried Gib Smith, "let's go get him!"

"No," interrupted Travis. "Say nothing about it. This is my affair."

"I'm through with him now," muttered Setters. "I'll never get inside of the White Palace again, and I'll never dare stay within reach of Gilliam. Travis, I tried to borrow five hundred from him to send the girl out of the country... and he wouldn't give it to me."

Travis moved forward, saying: "Come with me." He shouldered through the crowd at the saloon door and went inside. Gilliam was not in sight, but he knew where to find the man. Rounding the counter, he kicked open the inner office door and faced the saloon-man. Gilliam stood with his back to a wall, a brooding watchfulness etching his florid cheeks. Part of the crowd started to come in, but Travis motioned those urgent ones back, and shut the door in their faces.

"Gilliam," he said, "these things you'll do. Tell Derwent in the morning to resign. And pay this man the five hundred he wants... now."

Gilliam's hard face seemed to set. The silence went on. Travis repeated patiently: "Now, Gilliam." And Gilliam walked to his safe and knelt beside it. When he rose, he threw five folded bills on the table, and he said contemptuously: "It's you I'm buyin' from now on, Travis?"

"Open the door," called Gib Smith, "and tell the crowd what you know about this monkey, Clay."

"No," said Clay. "If Gilliam goes, another crook would take his place. I'd as soon have you to watch as any other, Tom. And I'll watch you. I'm going to be next sheriff of this county, and you won't be buying me. You've lost your gang. Maybe you'll get another... but I'll break it up. Maybe you'll try again for me, for no crook ever learns better. But I'll know where the try comes from, and that will make it interesting. Remember it, Tom, next time you get ambitious."

Gilliam had nothing to say, nor was Travis waiting for a reply. He moved to the side door with the sense of haste in him, and he went down Hogan's alley into Custer Street and across to the Rambeau house. Rambeau was there on the porch, a straining anxiety on his cheeks; and Gail stood at the top of the steps, straight and silent and queerly rigid. When she saw him, she said, slowly: "I have kept your supper hot for you, Clay." But the next moment she walked down to him and put her hands against his chest, and he felt the trembling of her body.

"What's this?" he murmured, puzzled by the laconic words.

"I'm training myself to be a peace officer's wife," said Gail. "And I guess I might as well start now. There'll be no crying, Clay."

"Never think of fear," said Clay quietly. "What's written is written."

Rambeau, turning through the doorway, called over his shoulder. "Still, it's comfortin' to know that story's closed. Supper's waitin'."<


THE END