“Keep still, Tom,” Sanderson ordered, and went on with his grievance. “You try to run this valley as if you were God Almighty. By your way of it, a man has to come with hat in hand to ask you if he may take up land here. The United States says we may homestead, but Buck Weaver says we shan’t. Uncle Sam says we may lease land to run sheep. Buck Weaver has another notion of it. We’re to take orders from him. If we don’t he clubs our sheep and drives off our cattle.”
“Cattle were here first,” retorted Weaver. “The range is overstocked, and they’ve got a prior right. Nesters in the hills here are making money by rustling Twin Star calves. That’s another thing.”
“Some of them. You’ll not find any rustled calves with the Seven Mile brand on them. And we don’t recognize any prior right. We came here legally. We intend to stay. Every time your riders club a bunch of our sheep, we’ll even up on Twin Star cattle. You take my daughter captive; I hold you prisoner.”
“You’ll be in luck if you get away from here with a whole skin,” broke out Phil. “You came here to please yourself, but you’ll stay to please us.”
“So?” Buck smiled urbanely. He was staying because he wanted to, though they never guessed it.
“Unbuckle his gun belt, Tom,” ordered the old man.
“Save you the trouble.” Weaver unbuckled the belt and tossed it, revolver and all, to Yeager.
“Now, Mr. Weaver, we’ll adjourn to the house.”
“Anything to oblige.”
“What about Mr. Keller?” Phyllis asked, in a low voice, of her father.
The old man’s keen, hard eyes surveyed the stranger. “Who is he? What do you know about him?”
As shortly as she could, she told what she knew of Keller, and how he had rescued her from captivity.
Her father strode forward and shook hands with the young man.
“Make yourself at home, seh. We’ll be glad to have you stay with us as long as you can. What you have done for my daughter puts us everlastingly in your debt.”
“Not worth mentioning. And, to be fair, I think Weaver was going to bring her home, anyhow.”
“The way the story reached me, he didn’t mention it until you had the drop on him,” answered Sanderson dryly.
“That’s right,” nodded the cattleman ironically, from the porch. “You’re the curly-haired hero, Keller, and I’m the red-headed villain of this play. You want to beware of the miscreant, Miss Sanderson, or he’ll sure do you a meanness.”
Tom Dixon eyed him frostily. “I expect you’ll not do her any meanness, Buck Weaver. From now on, you’ll go one way and she’ll go another. You’ll be strangers.”
“You don’t say!” Buck answered, looking him over derisively, as he passed into the house. “You’re crowing loud for your size. And don’t you bet heavy on that proposition, my friend.”