Authors: Louis L'amour
Slowly he built a cigarette, studying the Hackamore Saloon over the way. He had to admit he was tempted, and probably he was foolish to think that he would get into trouble or that anyone would know him. Nevertheless, he sat down suddenly on the edge of the boardwalk and lighted his smoke.
He was still sitting there when he heard the immediated of booted heels on the boardwalk and then heard a raucous voice.
"Hey! Lookit here! One of them no "count Three Spokers in town! I didn't think any of them had the sand!"
In spite of himself, he looked up, knowing instantly that this man was Pete Vorys.
He was broad in the shoulder, with narrow hips. He had a swarthy face with dark, brilliant eyes. That he had been drinking was obvious, but he was far from drunk. With him were two tough-looking hands, both grinning cynically at him.
Vorys was spoiling for a fight. He had never been whipped and doubted there lived a man who could whip him in a tooth-and-nail knockdown and drag-out battle. This Three Spoker looked big enough to be fun.
"That's a rawhide outfit, anyway"... Vorys sneered. "I've a mind to ride out there sometime, just for laughs. Wonder where they hooked this ranny?"
Despite himself, Rock was growing angry. He was not wearing a gun, and Vorys was. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and looked at it.
Expecting trouble, a crowd was gathering.
He felt his neck growing red.
"Hey, you"... Vorys booted him solidly in the spine, and the kick hurt. At the same time, he slapped Casady with his sombrero. Few things are more calculated to enrage a man.
Rock came to his feet with a lunge. As he turned, with his right palm he grabbed the ankle of Vorys" boot and with his left fist he smashed him in the stomach, jerking up on the leg. The move was so sudden, so totally unexpected, that there was no chance to spring back. Pete Vorys hit the boardwalk flat on his shoulder blades!
A whoop of delight went up from the crowd, and for an instant, Pete Vorys lay stunned. Then with an oath he came off the walk, lunging to his feet.
Rock sprang back, his hands wide. "I'm not packin' a gun"... He yelled.
"I don't need a gun"... Vorys yelled. It was the first time he had ever hit the ground in a fight and he was furious.
He stepped in, driving a left to the head. Rock was no boxer. Indeed, he had rarely fought except in fun. He took that blow now, a stunning wallop on the cheekbone. At the same moment, he let go with a wicked right swing. The punch caught Vorys on the chin and rocked him to his heels. More astonished than hurt, he sprang in and j threw two swings for Rock's chin, and Casady took them both coming in. A tremendous light! seemed to burst in his brain, but the next instant! he had Pete Vorys in his hands. Grabbing him by the collar and the belt, he heaved him to arm length overhead and hurled him into the street!
Still dazed from the punches he had taken, he sprang after the bigger man, and seizing him be fore he could strike more than an ineffectual punch, swung him to arm's length overhead again, and slammed him into the dust!
Four times he grabbed the hapless bully and hurled him to the ground while the crowd whooped and cheered. The last time, his head clearing, he grabbed Vorys' shirtfront with his left hand and swung three times into his face, smashing his nose and lips. Then he lifted the man and heaved him into the water tank with such force that water showered around him.
Beside himself, Rock wheeled on the two startled men who had walked with Vorys. Before either could make a move, he grabbed them by their belts. One swung on Rock's face, but he merely ducked his head and heaved. The man's feet flew up and he hit the ground on his back.
Promptly, Rock stacked the other atop him.
The man started to get up, and Rock swung on his face, knocking him into a sitting position.
Then grabbing him, he heaved him into the water tank with Vorys, who was scrambling to get out. Then he dropped the third man into the pool and putting a hand in Vorys' face, shoved him back.
For an instant, then, while the street rocked with cheers and yells of delight, he stood, panting and staring. Suddenly, he was horrified. In his rage he had not thought of what this would mean, but suddenly he knew that they would be hunting him now with guns. He must face a Shootout or skip the country!
Wheeling, he shoved through the crowd, aware that someone was clinging to his arm.
Looking down, he saw Sue beside him. Her eyes were bright with laughter and pride.
"Oh, Rock! That was wonderful. Just wonderful!"
"Let's get out of town"... He said quickly. "Now!"
So pleased was she by the discomfiture of Pete Vorys and his hands by a Three Spoker that she thought nothing of his haste. His eye swelling and his nose still dripping occasional drops of blood, they hit the trail for the home ranch. All the way, Sue babbled happily over his standing up for the Three Spoke and what it meant, and all the while all he could think of was the fact that on the morrow Vorys would be looking for him with a gun.
He could not face him. It was far better to avoid a fight than to prove himself yellow, and if he fled the country now, they would never forget what he had done and always make excuses for him. If he stayed behind and showed his yellow streak, he would be ruined.
Frank Stockman was standing on the steps when they rode in. He took one look at Rock's battered face and tom shirt and came off the steps.
"What happened?" He demanded. "Was it that Pete Vorys again?" tom Bell and two other hands were walking up from the bunkhouse, staring at Rock. But already, while he stripped the saddles from the horses, Sue Landon was telling the story, and it lost nothing in the telling. Rock Casady of the Three Spoke had not only whipped Pete Vorys soundly, but he had ducked Pete and two of his tough hands in the Three Lakes's water tank!
The hands crowded around him, crowing and happy, slapping him on the back and grinning.
Sandy Kane gripped his hand.
"Thanks, pardner"... He said grimly, "I don't feel so bad now!"
Rock smiled weakly, but inside he was sick. It was going to look bad, but he was pulling out.
He said nothing, but after supper he got his own horse, threw the saddle aboard, and then rustled his gear. When he was all packed, he drew a deep breath and walked toward the ranch house.
Stockman was sitting on the wide veranda with Bell and Sue. She got up when he drew near, her eyes bright. He avoided her glance, suddenly aware of how much her praise and happiness meant to him. In his weeks on the Three Spoke, while he had never talked to her before today, his eyes had followed her every move.
"How are you, son?" Stockman said jovially.
"You've made this a red-letter day on the Three Spoke! Come up an' sit down! Bell was just talking here; he says he needs a segundo, an' I reckon he's right. How'd you like the job? Eighty a month?"
He swallowed. "Sorry, Boss. I got to be movin'. I want my time."
Bell took his pipe from his mouth and stared.
"I got to roll my hoop"... He said stiffly. "I don't want trouble."
Frank Stockman came quickly to his feet. "But listen man"... He protested. "You've just whipped the best man around this country! You've made a place for yourself here! The boys think you're great! So do I! So does tom! As for Sue here, all she's done is talk about how wonderful you are!
Why, son, you came in here a drifter, an' now you've made a place for yourself! Stick around!
We need men like you!"
Despite himself, Casady was wavering. This was what he had always wanted and wanted now, since the bleak months of his lonely riding, more than ever. A place where he was at home, men who liked him, and a girl. . . .
"Stay on"... Stockman said more quietly. "You can handle any trouble that comes, and I promise you, the Three Spoke will back any play you make! Why, with you to head "em we can run Pete Vorys and that slick partner of his, that Ben Kerr, clean out of the country"..
Casady's face blanched.
Did you say Ben Kerr?
"Why, sure"... Stockman stared at him curiously, aware of the shocked expression on Rock's face. "Ben Kerr's the hombre who come in here to side Vorys! He's the smart one who's puttin" all those fancy ideas in Pete's head! He's a brother-in-law of Vorys or something"..
Ben Kerr here!
That settled it. He could not stay now. There was no time to stay. His mind leaped ahead.
Vorys would tell his story, of course. His name would be mentioned, or if not his name, his description.
Kerr would know, and he wouldn't waste time. Why, even now. . . .
"Give me my money"... Casady said sharply.
"I'm movin' out right now! Thanks for all you've offered, but I'm ridin'! I want no trouble!"
Stockman's face stiffened. "Why, sure"... He said, "if you feel that way about it"... He took a roll of bills from his pocket and coolly paid over the money; then abruptly he turned his back and walked inside.
Casady wheeled, his heart sick within him, and started for the corral. He heard running steps behind him and then a light touch on his arm.
He looked down, his eyes miserable, into Sue's face.
"Don't go, Rock"... She pleaded gently.
"Please don't go! We all want you to stay!"
He shook his head. "I can't, Sue! I can't stay. I want no gun trouble!"
There it was out.
She stepped back, and slowly her face changed. Girl that she was, she still had grown up in the tradition of the West. A man fought his battles with gun or fist; he did not run away.
"Oh?" Her amazed contempt cut him like a whip. "So that's it? You're afraid to face a gun?
Afraid for your life?" She stared at him. "Why, Rock Casady"... Her voice lifted as realization broke over her, "you're yellow!"
Hours later, far back in the darkness of night in the mountains, her words rang in his ears. She had called him yellow! She had called him a coward!
Rock Casady, sick at heart, rode slowly into the darkness. At first he rode with no thought but to escape, and then as his awareness began to return, he studied the situation. Lee's Ferry was northeast, and to the south he was bottled by the Colorado Canyon. North it was mostly Vorys' range, and west lay Three Lakes and the trails leading to it. East, the Canyons fenced him off also, but east lay a lonely, little-known country, ridden only by Cat McLeod in his wanderings after varmints that preyed upon Three Spoke cattle. In that wilderness he might find someplace to hole up. Cat still had plenty of supplies, and he could borrow some from him. . . . Suddenly he remembered the canyon Cat had mentioned, the Pleasant Valley Outlet.
He would not go near Cat. There was game enough, and he had packed away a few things in the grub line when he had rolled his soogan. He found an intermittent stream that trailed down a ravine toward Kane Canyon and followed Pleasant Valley Outlet was not far south of Kane.
It would be a good hideout. After a few weeks, when the excitement was over, he could slip out! In a lonely canyon that opened from the south wall into Pleasant Valley Canyon, he found a green and lovely spot. There was plenty of driftwood and a cave hollowed from the Kaibab sandstone by wind and water. There he settled down. Days passed into weeks, and he lived on wild game, berries, and fish. Yet his mind kept turning north westward toward the Three Spoke, and his thoughts gave him no rest.
On an evening almost three weeks after his escape from the Three Spoke, he was putting his coffee on when he heard a slight sound. Looking up, he saw old Cat McLeod grinning at him.
"Howdy, son"... He chuckled. "When you head for the tall timber you sure do a job of it! My land! I thought I'd never find you! No more trail'n trout swimmin' upstream!"
Rock arose stiffly. "Howdy, Cat. Just put the coffee on."... He averted his eyes and went about the business of preparing a meal.
Cat seated himself, seemingly unhurried and undisturbed by his scant welcome. He got out his pipe and stuffed it full of tobacco. He talked calmly and quietly about game and fish and the mountain trails.
"Old Mormon crossin' not far from here"... He said. "I could show you where it is."
After they had eaten, McLeod leaned back against a rock. "Lots of trouble back at the Three Spoke. I reckon you was the smart one, pullin' out when you did."
Casady made no response, so McLeod continued. "Pete Vorys was some beat up. Two busted ribs, busted nose, some teeth gone.
Feller name of Ben Kerr came out to the Three Spoke huntin' you. Said you was a yella dog an' he knowed you of old. He laughed when he said that, an' said the whole Three Spoke outfit was yella. Stockman, he wouldn't take that, so he went for his gun. Kerr shot him."
Rock's head came up with a jerk. "Shot Stockman? He killed him?" There was horror in his voice. This was his fault his!
"No, he ain't dead. He's sure bad off, though.
Kerr added injury to insult by runnin' off a couple of hundred head of Three Spoke stock.
Shot one hand doin' it."
A long silence followed in which the two men smoked moodily. Finally, Cat looked across the fire at Rock.