“What’s the matter with having a talk with Phil? Why not shove this thing right home to him?”
The nester shook his head. “Let’s wait a while. We don’t want to drive Healy away yet. If the kid’s in it he would go right to Healy with the whole story.”
Yeager swore softly. “It’s all Brill’s fault. He’s been leading Phil into devilment for two years now.”
“And all the time been playing himself for the leader of us fellows that are against the rustlers and that Bear Creek outfit,” continued Jim bitterly. “Why, we been talking of electing him sheriff. Durn his forsaken hide, he’s been riding round asking the boys to vote for him on a promise to clean out the miscreants.”
“You can oppose him, of course. But we have no absolute proof against him yet. We must have proof that nobody can doubt.”
“I reckon. And’ll likely have to wait till we’re gray.”
“I don’t think so. My guess is that he’s right near the end of his rope. We’re going to make a clean-up soon as I get solid on my feet.”
“And Phil? What if we catch him in the gather, and find him wearing the bad-man brand?”
Keller’s eyes met those of his friend. “There never was a rodeo where some cattle didn’t slip through unnoticed, Jim.”
The weeks slipped away and brought with them healing to the wounded man at Seven Mile. He moved from the bed where at first he had spent his days to a lounge in the living room, and there, from the bay window, he could look out at the varied life of the cattle country. Men came and went in the dust of the drag drive, their approach heralded by the bawl of thirsty cattle. Others cantered up and bought tobacco and canned goods. The stage arrived twice a week with its sack of mail, and always when it did Public Opinion gathered upon the porch of the store, as of yore. Phil Sanderson he saw often, Yeager sometimes, and once or twice he caught a glimpse of Healy’s saturnine face.
A scarcity of beef and a sharp rise in prices brought the round-up earlier than usual. Every spare man was called upon to help comb the hills for the wild steers that ran the wooded water-sheds, as untamed as the deer and the lynx. Even the storekeeper, Benwell, was pressed into the service. ’Rastus and the nester were the only men about the place, the deputy sheriff having been recalled to Noches on the collapse of Healy’s story.
The removal to a distance of the rest of her admirers did not have the effect of throwing Keller alone with Phyllis more often. The young mistress of the ranch invited Bess Purdy to visit her, and now he never saw her except in the presence of her other guest.
Bess took him in at once, evidencing her approval of him by entering upon a spirited war of repartee with him. She had not been in the house twenty-four hours before she had unbosomed herself of a derisive confidence.