Man to man, p.1

Man to Man, page 1

 

Man to Man



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Man to Man


  Produced by Al Haines

  [Frontispiece: The blazing heat was such that men and horses and steerssuffered terribly.]

  MAN TO MAN

  BY

  JACKSON GREGORY

  AUTHOR OF

  JUDITH OF BLUE LAKE RANCH, THE BELLS OF SAN JUAN, SIX FEET FOUR, ETC.

  ILLUSTRATED BY

  J. G. SHEPHERD

  GROSSET & DUNLAP

  PUBLISHERS -------- NEW YORK

  COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY

  CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

  Published October, 1920

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER

  I. STEVE DIVES INTO DEEP WATERS II. MISS BLUE CLOAK KNOWS WHEN SHE'S BEAT III. NEWS OF A LEGACY IV. TERRY BEFORE BREAKFAST V. HOW STEVE PACKARD CAME HOME VI. BANK NOTES AND A BLIND MAN VII. THE OLD MOUNTAIN LION COMES DOWN FROM THE NORTH VIII. IN RED CREEK TOWN IX. "IT'S MY FIGHT AND HIS. LET HIM GO!" X. A RIDE WITH TERRY XI. THE TEMPTING OF YELLOW BARBEE XII. IN A DARK ROOM XIII. AT THE LUMBER CAMP XIV. THE MAN-BREAKER AT HOME XV. AT THE FALLEN LOG XVI. TERRY DEFIES BLENHAM XVII. AND CALLS ON STEVE XVIII. "IF HE KNOWS--DOES SHE?" XIX. TERRY CONFRONTS HELL-FIRE PACKARD XX. A GATE AND A RECORD SMASHED XXI. PACKARD WRATH AND TEMPLE RAGE XXII. THE HAND OF BLENHAM XXIII. STEVE RIDES BY THE TEMPLE PLACE XXIV. DOWN FROM THE SKY! XXV. THE STAMPEDE XXVI. YELLOW BARBEE KEEPS A PROMISE XXVII. IN HONOR OF THE FAIRY QUEEN!

  ILLUSTRATIONS

  The blazing heat was such that men and horses and steers sufferedterribly . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

  The men about him and Packard withdrew this way and that leaving emptyfloor space.

  Terry's head, her face flushed rosily, her eyes never brighter, poppedup on one side of the log.

  "Say it!" laughed Terry. "Well, I'm here. Came on business."

  MAN TO MAN

  CHAPTER I

  STEVE DIVES INTO DEEP WATERS

  Steve Packard's pulses quickened and a bright eagerness came into hiseyes as he rode deeper into the pine-timbered mountains. To-day he wason the last lap of a delectable journey. Three days ago he had riddenout of the sun-baked town of San Juan; three months had passed since hehad sailed out of a South Sea port.

  Far down there, foregathering with sailor men in a dirty water-frontboarding-house, he had grown suddenly and even tenderly reminiscent ofa cleaner land which he had roamed as a boy. He stared back across thedeparted years as many a man has looked from just some such resort asBlack Jack's boarding-house, a little wistfully withal. Abruptlythrowing down his unplayed hand and forfeiting his ante in a card game,he had gotten up and taken ship back across the Pacific. The house ofPackard might have spelled its name with the seven letters of the word"impulse."

  Late to-night or early to-morrow he would go down the trail intoPackard's Grab, the valley which had been his grandfather's and,because of a burst of reckless generosity on the part of the old man,Steve's father's also. But never Steve's, pondered the man on thehorse; word of his father's death had come to him five months ago andwith it word of Phil Packard's speculations and sweeping losses.

  But never had money's coming and money's going been a serious concernof Steve Packard; and now his anticipation was sufficiently keen. Theworld was his; he had no need of a legal paper to state that the smallfragment of the world known as Ranch Number Ten belonged to him. Hecould ride upon it again, perhaps find one like old Bill Royce, theforeman, left. And then he could go on until he came to the otherPackard ranch where his grandfather had lived and still might be living.

  After all of this--Well, there were many sunny beaches here and therealong the seven seas where he had still to lie and sun himself. Now itwas a pure joy to note how the boles of pine and cedar pointed straighttoward the clear, cloudless blue; how the little streams trickledthrough their worn courses; how the quail scurried to their brushyretreats; how the sunlight splashed warm and golden through thebranches; how valleys widened and narrowed and the thickly timberedravines made a delightful and tempting coolness upon the mountainsides.

  It was an adventure with its own thrill to ride around a bend in thenarrow trail and be greeted by an old, well-remembered landmark: aflat-topped boulder where he had lain when a boy, looking up at the skyand thrilling to the whispered promises of life; or a pool where he hadfished or swum; or a tree he had climbed or from whose branches he hadshot a gray squirrel. A wagon-road which he might have taken heabandoned for a trail which better suited his present fancy since itled with closer intimacy into the woods.

  It was late afternoon when he came to the gentle rise which gave firstglint of the little lake so like a blue jewel set in the dusty green ofthe wooded slopes. As he rose in his stirrups to gaze down a vistathrough the tree-trunks, he saw the bright, vivid blue of a cloak.

  "Now, there's a woman," thought Packard without enthusiasm. "The woodswere quite well enough alone without her. As I suppose Eden was. Butalong she comes just the same. And of course she must pick out the onedangerous spot on the whole lake shore to display herself on."

  For he knew how, just yonder where the blue cloak caught the sunlight,there was a sheer bank and how the lapping water had cut into it,gouging it out year after year so that the loose soil above was alwaysready to crumble and spill into the lake. The wearer of the brightgarment stirred and stood up, her back still toward him.

  "Young girl, most likely," he hazarded an opinion.

  Though she was too far from him to be at all certain, he had sensedsomething of youth's own in the very quality of her gesture.

  Then suddenly he clapped his spurs to his horse's sides and went racingdown the slope toward the spot where an instant ago she had made such agay contrast to dull verdure and gray boulders. For he had glimpsedthe quick flash of an up-thrown arm, had heard a low cry, had guessedrather than seen through the low underbrush her young body falling.

  As he threw himself from his horse's back, his spur caught in the bluecloak which had dropped from her shoulders; he kicked at it savagely.He jerked off his boots, poised a moment looking down upon thedisturbed surface of the water which had closed over her head, made outthe sweep of an arm under the widening circles, and dived straight down.

  And so deep down under water they met for the first time, Steve Packardwith a sense of annoyance that was almost outright irritation, the girlstruggling frantically as his right arm closed tight about her. Aquick suspicion came to him that she had not fallen but had thrownherself downward in some passionate quarrel with life; that she wantedto die and would give him scant thanks for the rescue.

  This thought was followed by the other that in her access of terror shewas doing what the drowning person always does--losing her head,threatening to bind his arms with her own and drag him down with her.

  Struggling half blindly and all silently they rose a little toward thesurface. Packard tightened his grip about her body, managed toimprison one of her arms against her side, beat at the water with hisfree hand, and so, just as his lungs seemed ready to burst, he broughthis nostrils into the air.

  He drew in a great breath and struck out mightily for the shore,seeking a less precipitous bank at the head of a little cove. As hedid so, he noted how her struggles had suddenly given over, how shefloated quietly with him, her free arm even aiding in their progress.

  A little later he crawled out of the clear, cold water to a pebblybeach, drawing her after him.

  And now he understood that his destiny and his own headlong nature hadagain made a consummate fool of him. The same knowledge was offeredhim freely in a pair of gray eyes which fairly blazed at him. Nogratitude there of a maiden heroically succored in the hour of hersupreme distress; just the leaping anger of a girl with a temper likehot fire who had been rudely handled by a stranger.

  He
r scanty little bathing-suit, bright blue like the discarded cloak,the red rubber cap binding the bronze hair--she must have donned theridiculous thing with incredible swiftness while he batted aneye--might have been utterly becoming in other eyes than those of StevePackard. Now that they merely told him that he was a blundering ass,he was conscious solely of a desire to pick her up and shake her.

  "Gee!" she panted at him with an angry scornfulness which made himwince. "You're about the freshest proposition I ever came across!"

  Later, perhaps, he would admit that she was undeniably and mostamazingly pretty; that the curves of her little white body weredelightfully perfect; that she had made an armful that at another timewould have put sheer delirium into a man's blood.

  Just now he knew only that in his moment of nothing less than stupidityhe had angered her and that his own anger though more unreasonable wasscarcely less heated; that he had made and still made but a sorryspectacle; that he was sopping wet and cold and would be shivering in amoment like a freezing dog.

  "Why did you want to yell like a Comanche Indian when you went in?" hedemanded rudely, offering the only defense he could put mind or tongueto. "A man would naturally suppose that you were falling."

  "You didn't suppose any such thing!" she retorted sharply. "You saw medive; if you had the brains of a scared rabbit, you'd know that when agirl had gone to the trouble to climb into a bathing-suit and thenjumped into the water she wanted a swim. And to be left alone," sheadded scathingly.

  Packard felt the afternoon breeze through the wet garments which stuckso close to him, and shivered.

  "If you think," he said, as sharply as she had spoken, "that I justjumped into that infernal ice-pond, clothes and all, for the pure joyof making your charming acquaintance in some ten feet of water, all Ican say is that you are by no means lacking a full appreciation of yourown attractiveness."

  She opened her eyes widely at him, lying at his feet where he haddeposited her. She had not offered to rise. But now she sat up,drawing her knees into the circle of her clasped arms, tilting her headback as she stared up at him.

  "You've got your nerve, Mr. Man," she informed him coolly. "Any timethat you think I'll stand for a fool man jumping in and spoiling my funfor me and then scolding me on top of it, you've got another good-sizedthink coming. And take it from me, you'll last a good deal longer inthis neck of the woods if you 'tend to your own business after this andkeep your paws off other folks' affairs. Get me that time?"

  "I get you all right," grunted Packard. "And I find your gratitude toa man who has just risked his life for you quite touching."

  "Gratitude? Bah!" she told him, leaping suddenly to her feet. "Riskedyour life for me, did you?" She laughed jeeringly at that. "Why, youbig lummox, I could have yanked you out as easy as turn a somersault ifyou started to drown. And now suppose you hammer the trail while it'sopen."

  He bestowed upon her a glance whose purpose was to wither her. Itfailed miserably, partly because she was patently not the sort to bewithered by a look from a mere man, and partly because a violent andinopportune shiver shook him from head to foot.

  Until now there had been only bright anger in the girl's eyes.Suddenly the light there changed; what had begun as a sniff at himaltered without warning into a highly amused giggle.

  "Golly, Mr. Man," she taunted him. "You're sure some swell picture asyou stand there, hand on hip and popping your eyes out at me! Like aking in a story-book, only he'd just got a ducking and was trying tostare the other fellow down. Which is one thing you can't do with me."

  Her eyes had the adorable trick of seeming to crinkle to a mirth whichwould have been an extremely pleasant phenomenon to witness had shebeen laughing with him instead of at him. As matters stood, Packardwas quite prepared to dislike her heartily.

  "I'd add to your kind information that the trail is open at both ends,"he told her significantly. "I'm going to find a sunny spot and dry myclothes. No objection, I suppose?"

  He clambered up the bank and made his way to the spot whence he haddived after her, bent on retrieving his boots and spurs. Her eyesfollowed him interestedly. He ignored her and set about extricating aspur rowel from the fabric of the bright blue cloak. Her voice floatedup to him then, demanding:

  "What in the world are you up to now? Not going to swipe my clothes,are you?"

  "I'd have the right," he called back over his shoulder, "if I happenedto need a makeshift dressing-gown. As it is, however, I am trying toget my spur out of the thing."

  "You great big brute!" she wailed at him, and here she came runningalong the bank. "You just dare to tear my cloak and I'll hound you outof the country for it! I drove forty miles to get it and this is thefirst time I ever wore it. Stupid!" And she jerked both the garmentand the spur from him.

  The lining was silken, of a deep, rich, golden hue. And already it wastorn, although but the tiniest bit in the world, by one of the sharpspikes. Her temper, however, ever ready it seemed, flared out again;the crinkling merriment went from her eyes, leaving no trace; the colorwarmed in her cheeks as she cried:

  "You're just like all of the rest of your breed, big and awkward,crowding in where you don't belong, messing up the face of the earth,spoiling things right and left. I wonder if the good Lord Himselfknows what he made men for, anyway!"

  The offending spur, detached by her quick fingers, described a brightarc in the late sunlight, flew far out, dipped in a little leapingspurt of spray, and went down quietly in the lake.

  "Go jump in and get that, if you are so keen on saving things," shemocked him. "There's only, about fifteen feet of water to dig through."

  "You little devil!" he said.

  For the spur with its companion had cost him twenty dollars down on theMexican border ten days ago and he had set much store by it.

  "Little devil, am I?" she retorted readily. "You'll know it if youdon't keep on your side of the road. Look at that tear! Just look atit!"

  She had stepped quite close to him, holding out the cloak, her eyeslifted defiantly to his. He put out a sudden hand and laid it on herwet shoulder. She opened her eyes widely again at the new look in his.But even so her regard was utterly fearless.

  "Young lady," he said sternly, "so help me God, I've got the biggestnotion in the world to take you across my knee and give you thespanking of your life. If I did crowd in where I don't belong, as youso sweetly put it, it was at least to do you a kindness. Another timeI'd know better; I'd sooner do a favor for a wildcat."

  "Take your dirty paws off of me," she cried, wrenching away from him."And--spank me, would you?" The fire leaped higher in her eyes, thered in her cheeks gave place to an angrier white. "If you ever so muchas dare touch me again----"

  She broke off, panting. Packard laughed at her.

  "You'd try to scratch me, I suppose," he jeered; "and then, after thefashion of your own sweet sex when you don't have the strength to put athing across, you'd most likely cry!"

  "I'd blow your ugly head off your shoulders with a shot-gun," sheconcluded briefly.

  And despite the extravagance of the words it was borne in uponPackard's understanding that she meant just exactly what she said.

  He was getting colder all the time and knew that in a moment his teethwould chatter. So a second time he turned his back on her, gathered uphis horse's reins, and moved away, seeking a spot in the woods where hecould get dry and sun his clothes. And since Packard rage comesswiftly and more often than not goes the same way, within five minutesover a comforting cigarette he was grinning widely, seeing in a flashall of the humor of the situation which had successfully concealeditself from him until now.

  "And I don't blame her so much, after all," he chuckled. "Taking anice, lonely dive, to have a fool of a man grab her all of a suddenwhen she was enjoying herself half a dozen feet under water! It'senough to stir up a good healthy temper. Which, by the Lord, she has!"

 
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