The Project Gutenberg eBook of "A Cathcart or a Riggs?"

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Title: "A Cathcart or a Riggs?"

Author: Roy Norton

Release date: March 24, 2023 [eBook #70360]

Language: English

Original publication: New York, NY: Street & Smith Publications, 1926

Credits: Roger Frank and Sue Clark


“A Cathcart or a Riggs?”

By Roy Norton
Author of “A Reformed Reformer,” “Swords Out for Spain,” Etc.

Just who was that Pearl Brown woman, who was so darned snappy and defiant in that hard-boiled Western mining town? “Circumlocutory” Smith and his friend, Fosdike, were curious enough to make a bet on it, but their speculations had to be abandoned for a time in deference to the amazing developments when Horace Ring, fighting editor of the Weekly Star, carried his reforming campaign into the neighboring town of Placer City.

Shortly after that pleasant and profitable day on which Mrs. Pearl Brown knocked out Mr. Patrick Sheedy with a pair of brass knuckles, called Mr. Horace Ring, “The Reformer,” a chump, and satirically expressed her opinion of Mr. “Trigger” Smith’s celerity and prowess with a gun, she, too, caught the mania for reformation that had contagiously divided the mountain town of Murdock into numerous more or less violent factions.

Pearl Brown wasn’t in the habit of preannouncing her intentions. She was distinctly sudden. She never apologized for her acts, nor explained the reasons therefor. As John Fosdike, the blasé proprietor of the Miners’ Emporium once said: “That Pearl person just does something and then turns the talking part over to other folks. All she does is do.”

When Pearl Brown bought the Alamo Amusement Hall from the sheriff, the purchase included a small row of flimsy, one-story buildings that had the distinction of being appreciably removed from any near-by neighbors. Pearl Brown did not buy the tenants, but she sniffed when they were mentioned in the columns of Mr. Ring’s Weekly Star. He considered the tenants undesirable. As long as the Reformer bestowed printing ink on the row of shacks, Pearl Brown appeared unconcerned; but when Mr. Ring turned his reformatory abilities in other directions, Pearl Brown, as usual, did the unexpected.

She sallied forth to the row shortly after dusk on one calm summer’s evening, and notified her alarmed tenants that they had just one hour in which to pack their small belongings and vacate. Enlightened by previous experience, they bandied no words. They merely got industrious, some of them for the first time in their lives, and packed. Promptly with the turn of the hands of a clock, precisely on time, Pearl Brown set a match to a wad of cotton and kerosene in the first house, did the same to the next, and calmly burned out the whole flimsy row.

“They’re mine and they’re not insured,” she said to the chief of the volunteer fire brigade, when he arrived with his trusty men, a chemical cart, a red helmet, and a blunt ax. “There’s no law against my burning my own things, the same as I’d burn a mattress and a wooden bed in my back yard if I thought they were—well—not fit for further use. So that’s that, and—you can go to hell!”

In the face of such argument, it seemed a pity to waste the water. So none was wasted. Pearl Brown went back to the Alamo, which she owned and ran, climbed up to the top of a sort of lookout chair behind the bar, glared at a beer slinger, and said:

“Casey, you’re not tending to business. There’s a gent over there at No. 5 table that has slipped off his chair and thinks the floor is his boarding house. Chuck him out!”

The town marshal, arriving breathless and solicitous, approached her and began to condole her on her loss.

“Is there anything I can do, Misses Brown?” he asked, with due official courtesy.

“Not unless you wish to clear the ashes away to-morrow morning,” replied Pearl Brown, unsmiling and unmoved. “I may want to build something else there. Maybe it’ll be a nonsectarian church, or a Y. M. C. A. Perhaps the latter would be best. This camp needs one.”

Murdock had not tired of discussing the idiosyncrasies of Pearl Brown before she started another reformation. She had all the curtains and red-plush sofas removed from the boxes in the Alamo and a new sign put over the bar:


Having succeeded in clearing out her only rivals in business worth consideration, by organizing a tar-feather-and-rail party for their benefit which she led in person, the financial losses of her reform movement didn’t exactly hit her bank account, as John Fosdike remarked when he heard of the changes.

“Now with young Horace Ring and his Weekly Star,” remarked his long-time friend “Circumlocutory” Smith, “it’s different. Most every reform he undertakes costs him something. Sometimes most of his subscribers, and many times a beating; but does he count the cost? Not he. Just rolls up his sleeves and horns in with hoofs, tail, and mane all flying in different directions. The more I see of that boy, since he got grace and took to carrying a gun that he doesn’t know how to use, the better I like him. By the way, what’s he got to say about Pearl Brown’s latest moves?”

Fosdike laughed through his red beard and his eyes twinkled humorously.

“Haven’t you seen it in his paper? Oh, I forgot that you’d been away for a couple of weeks. Well, he came out with an editorial in which he praised her but wound up with the statement that while this was a step in the right direction, she could earn the higher approval of the better class of citizens by closing the Alamo entirely and taking up some more feminine occupation, like millinery. Pearl got riled when she read it and went to see him. Nobody knows whether she had her brass knuckles in her bag or not, but she met young Ring on the street and told him that when she wanted advice, she’d call on him personally.

“‘I like it,’ says she. ‘It’s so sound and so sweet; because if there’s any town on the Big Divide where a good milliner is needed, it’s Murdock. And while I think of it,’ says she, staring at him, ‘I’m not certain you wouldn’t make a better milliner yourself than you are editor or gunman.’”

Circumlocutory Smith meditated over this for some minutes, and then said: “She’s a Cathcart. That sounds just like Cathcart used to talk.”

“Nope. She’s a Riggs. Don’t you remember what a sarcastic devil he was?”

“So was Cathcart, when drunk. I bet a hundred dollars she’s a Cathcart.”

“It’s a bet. I’ll take it. Shake! You seem to forget that Riggs was sarcastic when he was sober, and this Pearl’s always dead-cold sober.”

“She’s a Cathcart. The bet’s done made. I’ll win your hundred.”

The discussion of the antecedents of the woman known as Pearl Brown was, for these two old frontiersmen, a continuous point of difference. She had let them know that once upon a time in Tucson, in the more reckless days of Trigger Smith, she had known both Smith and Fosdike, and had asserted that in those days there had been but four decent men in the town: Father Wyatt, a priest; Henry Bean, a mail carrier; a saloon keeper named Riggs; and a blacksmith called Cathcart, to one of which she “belonged.” Inasmuch as neither the mail carrier nor the priest had ever married, and in those days she must have been very young, they reasoned that her father had been one of the latter two.

Furthermore, they were annoyed because the knowledge was one-sided, she apparently knowing all their past, while they were ignorant of hers. Also, with characteristic outspokenness she had told them not to ask her any questions.

“A shut mouth catches no flies,” she told Fosdike, “Although, come to consider it, perhaps that’s the reason you are compelled to wear that red fly trap of a beard. Must have been born with your mouth open. Wonder how your mother protected you when you were young?”

That ended all further personal interrogations. The two old friends believed that she was not proud of her ownership of the Alamo, which she ran by sheer fighting strength—most successfully, from a financial viewpoint.

The miner repaired to his favorite loafing place in the saddlery shop with ulterior motives, for the gray-bearded old saddler was a gossip and a philosopher. Smith perched himself on the end of the workbench, dangling his long legs and inhaling the smell of freshly cut leather, and talked of many subjects before broaching the one in his mind—about hand-carved Spanish saddles; silver-mounted Mexican saddles, and cowpuncher “rocking-chairs.” Then he edged closer to home topics until he brought the subject around to the Alamo.

“You know,” he said, “I sort of like that Pearl Brown. Reminds me a lot of a man I used to know down in Tucson named Cathcart, a blacksmith. Dead image of him. And they do say she comes from down in that neck of the woods. Yes, sir, she certainly looks exactly like him, and talks like he used to!”

“Ever ask her if she was any kin?” the old saddler inquired, anything serving to rouse his bump of curiosity.

“No. I’d sort of like it, but you see me and her ain’t very good friends. Just the same, I’d certainly like to know if she wasn’t a Cathcart. Of course without her knowing that I sort of wanted to know.”

And thus having planted a seed that he was confident would bear fruit, Smith diplomatically changed the subject.

On the following day, he entered the saddlery and was greeted with a scowl.

“You got me inter a hell of a mess,” the saddler said, “askin’ me to go and ask that Pearl Brown if her dad’s name wa’n’t Cathcart!”

“I didn’t ask you to ask her. I just said⸺”

“Yes, I know; but you oughter heard what she said to me! She said that if people who stuck their bills inter other folks’ business had long noses, I’d have a nose like a pelican. An’ then all the fellers that heard her laughed their fool heads off, when the Lord knows there ain’t anybody that minds his own affairs more’n I do.”

The miner soothed the saddler and left with a sense of bafflement. Smith was still endeavoring to think of other sources of information when he went to the Miners’ Emporium and was hailed by its proprietor.

“I’ve thought of a way to settle that bet,” said Fosdike. “My kid brother is a lawyer down in Phoenix, and she let out one day that she knew him. So I wrote him a description. You’ll see. She’s no Cathcart.”

“We’ll see!” The miner grinned, and made a jest of it when he departed for a two-week stay in the hills.

The next time he appeared in the Emporium, Fosdike met him with a grunt and tossed him a letter. The miner read:

If this woman is about thirty years old or younger, as you say, I’m afraid I can’t help to identify her, although she would be near my own age. Cathcart and Riggs each had two daughters, all good looking, and all with what you call “snappy black eyes.” Also, all were self-reliant. But none of them was named “Pearl,” and I never knew a girl named “Pearl.”

“Humph!” said Smith. “Only way I can think of to find out who she was is to get Ring after her. They’re such good friends!”

Both laughed at this ironic jest, for the feud between The Reformer and the owner of the Alamo had become a classic throughout the entire district; and yet, in the end, it was the editor who first got the information.

For some tranquil weeks, The Reformer blithely went his way without giving any one sufficient cause to try to kill him. Perhaps the widely advertised fact that he had at last yielded to the protective use of firearms deterred the less courageous spirits from taking a chance, while others hoped that this was evidence that he was becoming tolerant to the exigencies of his environment.

Ring had come to Murdock from the highly moral and quiet surroundings of a mid-Western town and mid-Western university, imbued with the idea that his mission in life rested in making a mining camp model itself on the same lines, and—the mining camp couldn’t see it. His indomitable courage had saved him from ridicule, his increasing love for the town had gained him respect, and almost imperceptibly he had begun to wield considerable influence in all ordinary matters not too intimately associated with his ideas of reform.

Even Placer City, Murdock’s rival, admitted this, and Placer City was farther away than it looked. The camps were visible to each other, and on a clear day the residents of one could be observed by those of the other with a pair of field glasses. Because of an enormous cañon, however, that separated them to make way for the river bed, necessitating a day’s journey for one to visit the other, intercourse was of the most meager for all save the most energetic and determined, who could shorten the time to five or six hours by taking a perilous trail down one steep side and up the other.

Ring found the way to Placer City, and Mr. Ring was energetic. He also discovered that there was no adequate job-printing plant in Placer City, and that it offered a rich field for his efforts. Mr. Ring was not one to spare effort.

“That’s one thing that maybe accounts for his sort of taming himself down lately,” observed Fosdike to his friend Circumlocutory Smith. “He sort of works off a lot of surplus steam by making a trip once or twice a week to Placer, and every time he does twelve hours grueling work climbing down one side and up the other, to say nothing of a few miles extra walking drumming up printing jobs after he gets there, it makes him less combative and reformative here at home. Now if business would get good enough over there so he’d move his whole blamed outfit across the gulch and stay there, it’d be mighty big relief to Murdock.”

“I ain’t so sure about that,” the miner objected. “I think he’s doing a heap of good for this camp and⸺”

“Oh, I forgot you was chock-full of admiration for him,” Fosdike interrupted. “Also that he’d been such an all-fired good friend and backer, and so on, of yours.”

“Just because he’s panned me a dozen times ain’t got much to do with it,” Smith insisted. “He’s explained it all to me, and I see his side of it. It’s not me personally he objects to, so much as what I represent. He can’t get it out of his head that I’m a gunman and a danger to the community, instead of being the last man on earth to go looking for trouble.”

Fosdike chuckled, threw up his hands, wagged his head and retired. If the man who had been the terror of some thousand miles of territory before he turned peaceful couldn’t be made to view his past reputation as others viewed it, it wasn’t a friend’s duty to enlighten him. Even Pearl Brown couldn’t be convinced that Smith wasn’t dangerous and had once practically requested him to keep away from the Alamo, after the cold announcement that he was welcome only without his battery.

Pearl Brown again did the unexpected when she met Smith on the street that afternoon, halted him and put out her hand.

“See here,” she said abruptly, when he stared down at her in astonishment, “I try to play a fair game. When I first came here and saw you, I thought—well—I thought you were probably the same as you were when I first knew you by sight, and of you by—by what I heard. I was mistaken. It seems you aren’t the kind of a man you used to be, or that I took you to be.”

His keen eyes, whimsical, curious, appraised her.

“That’s all right,” he said. “I like people who’ve got the stuff to come around and say so when they find out they’ve made a mistake; but⸺ Wonder if you’d mind my asking you what made you change your mind about me?”

To his considerable surprise, she avoided his gaze, fixed her regard on the tip of a neat little shoe she thrust out, and seemed embarrassed by his question.

“You needn’t tell unless you want to,” he said.

As if spurred by this she retorted: “There’s no reason why I shouldn’t tell anything I want to. The last time I met that man Ring I took a little dig at him, and suggested that perhaps he’d better favor you in the Weekly Star for a while, because I was getting more than my share of his attention. Sort of turn about is fair play. And he told me that if I were half as good a woman as you are a man, I’d not need to be ashamed of myself. Said the difference between us was that you at least knew what decency was and are now trying to be decent and—well—the inference was obvious. So I smacked his face for him and went on about my business; but it started me to thinking, got me curious, caused me to ask questions about you, and that’s the whole of it. I’ve said some mean things to your face, and it’s to your face that I make my apology.”

“That’s the way to do it, I reckon,” the miner agreed, with an unusual note of jubilance in his voice, as if at last he was really winning his way to public acceptance of his reformation. “And—you offered to shake hands a moment ago. I didn’t, because I never shake hands with an enemy; but now⸺ Do you mind? We’re friends, aren’t we?”

She took the hand that he suddenly held out to her, and something in its warmth of grasp seemed to soften the habitual defensive hardness of her eyes. It was quite like a reconciliation between two first-class fighters after a feud.

“Needless to say you are welcome in the Alamo whenever you care to come,” she said, moving away.

“I don’t drink,” he answered.

As if this was a reflection on her business, she turned suddenly and left with him a parting shot. “Probably it’s a good thing for the camp that you don’t!”

He believed he caught the faint notes of mocking laughter as she walked away, and wondered what she meant by that. He stood watching her for a moment and thought:

“She walks like Cathcart used to, but she does talk like Riggs. I wish I knew which she is. Humph!”

Almost absently, and pondering over many things, he made his way past the saddler’s and down the somnolent street to the Miners’ Emporium.

“Can’t tell whether Pearl Brown’s a Riggs or a Cathcart,” he said, and, the hour being idle and the storekeeper lounging, retailed his recent encounter.

“Great Scott!” exclaimed Fosdike. “That young woman and you become friends, and young Ring is out sticking up for you! That young man⸺ What do you think of this? He ambled in here a while ago, calm as you please, just as if him and me hadn’t been at cross ends ever since he came to this camp and says:

“‘Fosdike, I’m not a man to bear a grudge. Also you sell good stuff, straight and clean. I’m going to buy anything I need here after this. Here’s an order.’

“Then he throws down a little list and walks out. Can you beat it?”

“Does seem as if folks in this camp were sufferin’ a change of heart,” the miner agreed. “About time one of those revivalist chaps came along, I reckon. Seems too good to last. Ought to be clinched while the going is good, before anybody can backslide. Afraid something mighty bad’s about to happen.”

But nothing did. Save for its occasional brawls and squabbles, all in the natural course of events, Murdock went its peaceful way. From the Placer City side, it looked clean and calm, sprawled in the sunshine, on the afternoon when Circumlocutory Smith and his partner Jim Clarke visited Placer City to inspect some secondhand mining material that they felt they could, in their increasing prosperity, afford.

Their examination had been made and, from the seclusion of a tavern porch where they had dined, they were considering their homeward journey when they saw a group forming in the middle of the road but a short distance away. In the center of it, a tall man held a newspaper in his clenched fist and waved it aloft as if it were a banner of hate. Voices were becoming louder and some one shouted: “Get a rope!” To this, came another shout: “No, no! Tar, feathers and a rail!”

“Looks interesting,” Smith said, with a grin, as he stood by the veranda rail.

“Anyhow, we got a seat in the gallery to watch it,” his partner remarked, as he caught a pillar, jumped upward, and stood on top of the rail, from which vantage point of height he could overlook the excited mob.

Suddenly the crowd began to mill wildly as if its center were a seat of disturbance and just as suddenly Jim yelled:

“Hey, pardner! I see a flaming redhead in the middle of that muss and—yes⸺ It’s that fellow Ring from Murdock and oh, boy! But isn’t he putting up some fight!”

“Ring? Ring? Come on, Jim! We got to help him out. It’s too one-sided. Come on! Into this bunch we go!” The miner vaulted the rail as he spoke, and charged.

Close at his heels, with all the wild abandonment of fealty, youth, and the love of a good mix-up came his six-foot partner. They were side by side when they hit the outskirts of the crowd like a twin battering-ram, and men taken unawares from behind were hurled right and left as if they were but twigs in the path of a cyclone.

The younger man yelled as he charged, the elder went voicelessly and with shut teeth and jaw, a hard, veteran fighting man who wasted neither breath nor motion. The younger man struck with the quick, timed precision of a trained boxer, the elder with forethought to inflict the most damage.

They gained the center before they met any resistance, and there in the vortex they fought above the prone body of The Reformer, who was down and out. One man reached around and kicked at the fallen man with a heavy boot, despite Smith’s endeavor to bring a truce, and not until then did the miner become angry. With cold malice, he knocked the man down, picked him up, battered his face again and then, exercising his enormous strength, seized him and threw him at the heads and faces of his friends.

Two or three of the man’s supporters started an angry charge when abruptly a loud voice shouted:

“Don’t! Don’t! Stop! Look out, or he’ll shoot! Don’t you see who it is, you fools! It’s Smith, the killer!”

And such was the dread reputation of the miner and ex-gunman that the charge melted into a withdrawal. Smith and his partner, back to back, stood in a clear space above the fallen editor. They breathed heavily from their efforts, and the younger man, grinning as if not half satisfied, exposing his fine white teeth, wiped a cut on his temple, and called:


“You know who that red-headed stiff you’re fightin’ for is, don’t you, Smith? That’s the pup that abused you in his newspaper.” The man who had shouted the warning restraint which had quelled the fight pointed at the fallen Ring.

“Yep. I know,” the miner answered. “But I don’t know what the fight’s about and why it took twenty men to jump him.”

“We didn’t jump him. He jumped us,” the man declared.

“About the time you were going to gang him, and tar and feather him, I reckon,” Smith retorted dryly, and then, as if the matter were ended, he suddenly moved toward them waving his arms and shouted: “Clear out of this. Get! We’ll take care of Ring. It looks like you’ve damaged him enough, even if it did take twenty of you to do it. Get!”

Some of the men, regaining their sober senses and perhaps a little shamed by the scorn in the rugged old gun fighter’s tones, shrugged their shoulders and walked. Others moved somewhat sullenly, as if reluctant to end the matter, until they met Smith’s stare, which decided them that it was well enough to drop the matter. Only one or two remained when the miner knelt down beside the unconscious reformer, tried to rouse him, failed, and then said:

“Here, Jim. Give us a hand. We’ll get him to that drug store across the street.”

No one dared interfere with them as they carried out their purpose. They laid Ring out on a prescription table and stripped him when a doctor arrived, and Smith scowled at the mass of bruises exposed while the doctor made an examination. He looked up through his spectacles and shook his head doubtfully.

“Lot of ribs broken in,” said the physician. “Frightfully bruised. Looks to me as if a dozen men must have taken turns in trying to kick him to death. Don’t know whether he has any internal injuries, but—he’s in bad shape. Serious, I’m afraid. It’s a hospital case, really, and—the nearest is down at Georgeville, as you probably know—a dozen miles.”

“All right! Hospital it is. Out you go, somebody, and hire the best carriage or buggy there is in the town. Quick! Never mind the price. That goes for you too, doctor. You’re coming along!” Smith snapped his orders impatiently and said to his partner: “Jim, you go with whoever knows where that rig can be hired, and see that it comes back on the run, too. Hurry up now!”

The doctor tried to protest that he could be of no assistance, but the miner silenced him with:

“Can’t tell. However, you’re going. Anything we can do to make him comfortable on the trip?”

“May have to use morphia on the road. I’ll get my special case. There’s a broken wrist here that we’ll bandage first. You might get some blankets from the hotel.”

It was a long time before Circumlocutory Smith forgot that ride in the only semicomfortable conveyance that could be obtained, a disused stagecoach that swayed and swung as if its springs and leathers had become limber through long neglect, and whose woodwork creaked dismally, like the bones of an aged man driven to painful effort. Smith sat and watched the crusader, who lay motionless on the floor of the vehicle, the young man who had once been his enemy, whom he had once before saved from a mob, and for whom he had a strange affection.

“Right or wrong—always brave!” Smith thought admiringly. “Too brave. Foolishly brave. Never cared about the odds or how they came, one or a hundred, with fists, clubs or guns. All the same to Ring! And—always ready to fight for what he thought was right! Be a pity if he’s got his by being kicked to death by a mob of boneheads, not one of whom had the courage to go after him single-handed. Wonder what it was all about?”

This curiosity grew within him until, when they stopped the horses pulling the stage, he got out and changed places with Jim who had been sitting beside the driver.

“You got any idea what started all that fuss back there?” Smith asked the man, when they were once more on the road.

“Reckon I have,” the driver returned. “I heard most of it, and seen most of it—out of my haymow winder.”

“Well?” demanded the miner.

“Looky here. I ain’t lookin’ for no trouble with you, and somehow it seems you’re a friend of his, although why the hell you should be, beats me! But⸺ He got too damn fresh. He’s taken to comin’ over to Placer from Murdock lately, to try to drum up business. And he got a lot of it, too, folks say. Then he gets a nettle in his brain blankets that Placer City’s a wicked place, and he comes out in his Murdock rag and has a whole column tellin’ how rotten things are run over in our town, and among other things he hits ‘undesirable tenants’ in certain houses in Placer City. He hops the mayor for it and says the mayor owns the houses. That was the mayor you fixed up with a busted nose, a few front teeth knocked out, a pair of black eyes and a tin ear. Humph! And the way it started!”

He grunted and, when urged to proceed, said, half turning in his seat: “You see, it was this way. Ring stood for all the mayor had to say to him and what one or two others had to offer until the mayor says:

“‘You got a hell of a right to talk, you or any other Murdock man, when you’ve got a thing like that Pearl Brown runnin’ your most decent dump—a place like that Alamo.’

“Then the mayor called this Pearl Brown person a name or two, but hadn’t got through when this Ring—the red-headed, cantankerous cuss!—yells:

“‘Whatever her business is, Pearl Brown’s a straight, square, decent woman personally, and I’ll teach you to keep your tongue off her!’ And with that he hauls off and lams our mayor. Little fool! Why, the mayor could lick him with both hands tied behind him!

“Then it just seemed as if everybody that had it in for Ring, as well as them that tries to stand in with the mayor, all want a piece of Ring for a souvenir. And I reckon they’d have got it, too, if you and that big pardner of yours hadn’t butted in. You sure did knock seven kinds of hell out of the mayor, and if it was anybody but you, you can bet you’d not have got away with it. Folks do say that you got a habit of fillin’ up cemeteries when you get riled, and so— well—you got away with it.”

Smith sat hunched forward in his seat, his stare fixed on the working haunches of the wheel horses, his mind rambling over what he had heard. There was no use in trying to avoid a past reputation as a killer, no sense in striving to be a man of peace who wished for nothing more than nonmolestation, quietude, comfort, security. He was and would be, so far as he could foresee, wherever he went, Trigger Smith who “fanned” his gun from the hollow of his side and who traveled in a cloak of security because men were afraid of him.

But this other matter was of more interest and puzzled him. This matter of that red-headed firebrand Ring, the Reformer, always striving to reform something that had neither inclination nor intent to be reformed, getting mauled and kicked and beaten, perhaps to death, defending that young woman, Pearl Brown, who had defied him and his efforts until it had become a feud. Why should Ring fight for her when he himself had always fought her?

Smith at last gave it up as a problem insolvable, inexplicable. His brain wasn’t slow when it came to analysis of human motives, but it was bewildered by this situation. It was beyond his experience. And he was still pondering perplexedly, over this when the old vehicle pulled into Georgeville, rocked through its unpaved streets in a cloud of summer dust, and drew up at the two-story, veranda-fronted frame building, white-painted, with green blinds, that was then the only hospital within a wide radius.

The miner stood by with hands thrust into his pockets when a nurse, assisted by his mining partner, carried The Reformer in on a stretcher, and, still with hands in pockets, walked to and fro outside while awaiting the verdict.

“We can tell you nothing about it, except that his injuries aren’t fatal unless something internal shows up,” the doctor from Placer told Smith, after an hour’s wait. “There was no use in your making me come here with you, and I’m off for home again. Now about my fee⸺”

“Make it whatever it’s worth and take it out of that,” Smith said, thrusting a well-filled wallet toward the medical man.

The physician selected a twenty-dollar bill and handed the leather back. The miner extracted an additional ten-dollar bill and pushed it out.

“To have you with us has been worth that to me,” he said. “Now I’ll go in and powwow with these hospital folks. I want Ring to pull through. I don’t agree with him on much of anything, but—well—he’s too good to lose. Also he’s from my own town—a Murdock man. Guess that’s reason enough. Good-by. Thanks.”

Ring was still unconscious when the partners, mounted in a mountain buckboard hired from the livery stable, turned toward the Big Divide and Murdock, and heard the driver’s whip crack and his voice bawl: “Gid-dap!”

It was long after dark when the big miner trudged down the quiet street of Murdock and gained the front of the flamboyantly lighted Alamo. He had never passed through its doors since that night when its proprietress had humiliated him by telling him that no gunman was welcomed or wanted in her place; but now he entered stolidly, and walked across to the bar with its high seat and cash till at the end, behind which sat Pearl Brown.

No one paid attention to his entrance. A so-called vaudeville act was in progress and, had Smith taken time to heed, he might have observed that the performer was a camp favorite. He was oblivious to the big floor, crowded with tables and chairs, the wreaths of smoke climbing upward toward the electric light clusters, the sobbing sentimentality of the orchestra maundering an accompaniment to some sobbingly sentimental ballad about “A violet I plucked from dear old mother’s grave.”

The calm, defensive-eyed young woman in the high seat appeared equally oblivious and unmoved by it, but her interest seemed invoked when she discovered Smith standing at her elbow and heard him say:

“I come here to tell you something I think you ought to know. I don’t know why I think you ought to know, only—there’s something about it I can’t understand. That boy Ring—you know—the crazy guy that runs the Star—was all beat up, hammered and kicked to a pulp, this afternoon in Placer City, because he stuck up for you and wouldn’t let that bunch of hairy-heels headed by their mayor call you names that maybe you deserve, and maybe you don’t.

“I gave the mayor what Ring wasn’t strong enough to give him,” the miner went on, “then took Ring to the hospital in Georgeville. What’s left of him! He’s there now. They don’t know whether he’s goin’ to pull through or not. But I thought you ought to know that he got it for fighting for you and so, if you’ve got anything against him, any old grudge, any hurt, you’d better forget it and forgive it. Just as I’ve forgiven all he ever said about me after I learned that, right or wrong, he’s a brave and honest boy.

“I been thinking over a lot of things this afternoon,” he continued, “and I remembered that whenever Ring thought it was his duty to go and tell somebody something, he went and did it, regardless of what might come after. That’s why I got to thinking it my duty to come and tell you, and it’s all I could think of to make myself feel that I was as good as him in some ways. I think if he lives, he’d like me a little better for it, and if he dies, well—maybe he’ll know and appreciate what I feel, anyhow. So that’s that. I’m telling you this so that if you’ve got any grudge against him, you’ll kind of square the books by giving him credit for making a good finish on your account. For he fought well!”

The proprietress of the Alamo sat apparently unmoved, emotionless, unblinking, and watching him with her direct, inscrutable stare while he talked. In that recital of his, there had been nothing of that circumlocution which he was wont to practice when he considered it wise, and which had earned him his new sobriquet. He had told her all of the episode, its results and his motives for telling, in one terse speech. There was no need to ask questions, or if so she seemed to neglect them.

“Much obliged for telling me,” she said, and turned to give attention to the changing of a bill.

When she had made the change, he was walking out through the door, his broad, square shoulders swinging heavily as if wearied by long effort.

“Tom!” she called sharply to her head bartender. “Tom, you look after this thing here. I—I don’t feel very good. I’m—I’m going out to-night and—I’m not coming back.”

And the head barman, astounded by any sign of weakness in this employer of his, was still blinking when she walked into her little private office in front of the building, slowly entered and slowly closed the door behind her.

It was three weeks later when Circumlocutory Smith rode into Georgeville. He had taken a direct trail that had not necessitated a ride through his beloved camp of Murdock, and felt slightly ashamed of his solicitude, a sentiment that he felt was rather womanish, not at all what a man should really feel about anybody; but—Ring had been pretty badly manhandled, and—also, he’d taken Ring to that hospital and said he’d be responsible for all bills, and—a man ought to pay his bills when they came due and maybe hospitals wanted their money every week and⸺ Hang it all⸺ How was that boy coming along, anyhow? Was he going to pull through? And if not—well—some of those murderers over there in Placer would have cause to remember him, Trigger Smith, if young Ring didn’t pull through. They would! You could bet on that! Damn ’em!

The miner saw some one sitting on the veranda of the second story, back in the shade, but paid no attention. He dismounted, tied his horse and, with a feeling of profound awkwardness, climbed the broad front steps and walked on tiptoe through the open doors into the clean, hard-wood corridor. Should a feller ring a bell, or yell, or—what did anybody do, anyhow, when they came to visit some one who was a patient in a hospital?

If you rang a bell, you might disturb some poor cuss, and if you yelled, maybe they’d come and throw you out. Further perplexities were spared by the opportune entrance of a cool young person in immaculately clean clothes and a funny cap and apron who had addressed him, heard and answered his question before he recovered presence of mind sufficient to drag off his weather-beaten and dust-covered hat.

“Oh, yes. Mr. Ring is all right now. No complications. Will be out in a week or two. He is sitting in the top veranda. You can go right up those stairs and out front to see him, if you wish.”

He tiptoed up the smooth wooden stairs and down the hallway, feeling that, despite his efforts, he was making noise enough to wake the dead, blinked in the sunlight that seemed intent on invading the wide porch, and then stopped, gasping, with widely opened eyes and mouth.

Two were sitting there in chairs drawn as closely as they could be drawn, one a man whose flaring red head was half covered with bandages, the other a woman whose arm was thrust protectingly about his neck and shoulders, as if to shield him from any or everything in an inimical world. The woman saw him first and, springing to her feet, came to meet him with both hands outstretched.

“Brown! Pearl Brown!” Trigger Smith exclaimed in a voice of amazement.

“Wrong, Smith. You’re wrong,” she said, catching his hand and looking up at him with a warmth that never before had he seen in her eyes, a warmth that told that she was still young, still had recesses in her heart that were unhardened, was still a woman well worth while.

He couldn’t get it all. Surely she was Brown—Pearl Brown who owned the Alamo up there in Murdock and yet—Pearl Brown hadn’t ever looked like this. His gaze swept over her head to that young fellow with the red head, that fellow Ring, and that fellow had a grin as wide as all outdoors and was trying to make signs with bandaged arms and, putting his feet on the floor in the first efforts to rise, come forward and greet him. Her voice came as a positive interruption.

“I am Mrs. Ring—Mrs. Horace Ring, now,” she said. “We were married four days ago. And the name Brown was all right, too, because that fellow I married after my uncle, Father Wyatt, who you knew, died, was named Brown. I’ve sold the Alamo. I’m through with it and everything like it. I’ve reformed. You see, I had to. It couldn’t be helped. I had to take care of Ring. He needed somebody to put some sense in his head. It couldn’t be pounded there. You know that, because you’re really his friend.

“I had to take on the job and—we’re happy. Very happy. He’ll tell you so now, Trigger Smith, and if it rests with me, he’ll still tell you so when you are dying. I don’t know what you’ll think about it. But I care. So does he—Ring. The trouble with a lot of us in this world is that we don’t understand what makes others do certain things, the necessities that have driven, that have made us do this or that, that have kept us from doing perhaps better. But I think there’s three of us who understand one another now—my husband, you, and I. Can we hope for that?”

“I lose a hundred because I bet old John Fosdike that you were a Cathcart,” said Smith, “and I can’t see why I never thought about Father Wyatt having a niece; but—as for a few understanding—yes—they can. We do.”

And he had to disengage himself to take hold of Ring, The Reformer, who had succeeded in struggling from his chair and was coming toward them totteringly, with hands that, though bandaged from battling were still clean and unafraid.

Transcriber’s Note: This story appeared in the October 20, 1926 issue of The Popular Magazine.