“Some folks say it’s Hart she’s engaged to,” purred the hatchet-faced tempter. “Maybeso. Looks to me like she’s throwin’ down Hart for this convict. Expect she sees he’s gonna be a big man some day.”
“Big man! Who says so?” exploded Doble.
“That’s the word, Dug. I reckon you’ve heard how the Governor of Colorado pardoned him. This town’s crazy about Sanders. Claims he was framed for the penitentiary. Right now he could be elected to any office he went after.” Steelman’s restless black eyes watched furtively the effect of his taunting on this man, a victim of wild and uncurbed passions. He was egging him on to a rage that would throw away all caution and all scruples.
“He’ll never live to run for office!” the cattleman cried hoarsely.
“They talk him for sheriff. Say Applegate’s no good—too easy-going. Say Sanders’ll round up you an’ Shorty pronto when he’s given authority.”
Doble ripped out a wild and explosive oath. He knew this man was playing on his vanity, jealousy, and hatred for some purpose not yet apparent, but he found it impossible to close his mind to the whisperings of the plotter. He welcomed the spur of Steelman’s two-edged tongue because he wanted to have his purpose of vengeance fed.
“Sanders never saw the day he could take me, dead or alive. I’ll meet him any time, any way, an’ when I turn my back on him he’ll be ready for the coroner.”
“I believe you, Dug. No need to tell me you’re not afraid of him, for—”
“Afraid of him!” bellowed Doble, eyes like live coals. “Say that again an’ I’ll twist yore head off.”
Steelman did not say it again. He pushed the bottle toward his guest and said other things.
FIRE IN THE CHAPARRAL
A carpenter working on the roof of a derrick for Jackpot Number Six called down to his mates:
“Fire in the hills, looks like. I see smoke.”
The contractor was an old-timer. He knew the danger of fire in the chaparral at this season of the year.
“Run over to Number Four and tell Crawford,” he said to his small son.
Crawford and Hart had just driven out from town.
“I’ll shag up the tower and have a look,” the younger man said.
He had with him no field-glasses, but his eyes were trained to long-distance work. Years in the saddle on the range had made him an expert at reading such news as the landscape had written on it.
“Fire in Bear Canon!” he shouted down. “Quite a bit of smoke risin’.”
“I’ll ride right up and look it over,” the cattleman called back. “Better get a gang together to fight it, Bob. Hike up soon as you’re ready.”
Crawford borrowed without permission of the owner the nearest saddle horse and put it to a lope. Five minutes might make all the difference between a winning and a losing fight.