Weaver noticed with delight that his captive’s eye met his steadily, with the defiant fierceness of some hunted wild thing. Here was a woman worth taming, even though she was still a girl in years. His exultant eye, returning from the last glimpse of the lissom figure as it disappeared, met the gaze of Keller. That young man was watching him with an odd look of challenge on his usually impassive face.
The cattleman felt the spur of a new antagonism stirring his blood. There was something almost like a sneer on his lips as he spoke:
“Sorry to lose your company, Mr. Keller. But if you’re homesteading, of course, we’ll have to let you go back to the hills right away. Couldn’t think of keeping you from that spring plowing that’s waiting to be done.”
“You’re putting up a different line of talk from what you did. How about that charge of rustling against me, Mr. Weaver? Don’t you want to hold me while you investigate it?”
“No, I reckon not. Your lady friend gives you a clean bill of health. She may or may not be lying. I’m not so sure myself. But without her the case against you falls.”
Keller knew himself dismissed cavalierly, and, much as he would have liked to stay, he could find no further excuse to urge. He could hardly invite himself to be either the guest or the prisoner of a man who did not want him.
“Just as you say,” he nodded, and turned carelessly to his pony.
Yet he was quite sure it would not be as Weaver said if he could help it. He meant to take a hand in the game, no matter what the other might decree. But for the present he acquiesced in the inevitable. Weaver was technically within his rights in holding her until he had communicated with the sheriff. A generous foe might not have stood out for his pound of flesh, but Buck was as hard as nails. As for the reputation of the girl, it was safe at the Twin Star ranch. Buck’s sister, a maiden lady of uncertain years, was on hand to play chaperone.
Larrabie swung to the saddle. His horse’s hoofs were presently flinging dirt toward the Twin Star as he loped up to the hills.
Time had been when the range was large enough for all, when every man’s cattle might graze at will from horizon to horizon. But with the push of settlement to the frontier had come a change. The feeding ground became overstocked. One outfit elbowed another, and lines began to be drawn between the runs of different owners. Water holes were seized and fenced, with or without due process of law.
With the establishment of forest reserves a new policy dominated the government. Sanderson had been one of the first to avail himself of it by leasing the public demesne for his stock. Later, learning that the mountain parks were to be thrown open as a pasturage for sheep, he had bought three thousand and driven them up, having first arranged terms with the forestry service.