Man to man, p.17

Man to Man, page 17

 

Man to Man
 


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  CHAPTER XVII

  AND CALLS ON STEVE

  Though a tempest brewed in her soul and her blood grew turbulent withit, Terry did not hesitate from the first second. Just the other dayupon a certain historic log had she not said:

  "I hate Blenham worse than a Packard!"

  True, she had gone on to intimate that the youngest of the house ofPackard was scarcely more to her liking than was the detested foreman.But-- Well, if Steve didn't know, at least Terry did, that that remarkwas uttered purely for its rhetorical effect.

  "He's been a pretty decent scout from the jump," Terry admittedserenely to herself as she threw her car into high and went streakingthrough the pale moonlight. Then she smiled, the first quick smile tocome and go since she had hurled a book in Blenham's face. "A prettydecent scout from the jump!"

  He had literally jumped into her life, going after her quite asthough----

  "Oh, shucks!" laughed Terry. "It's the moonlight!"

  There came a certain sharp turn in the road where even she must slowdown. Here Terry came to a dead stop, not so much in hesitation asbecause she was conscious of a departure from the old trails and feltdeeply that the act might be filled with significance. For when shehad made the turn she would have crossed the old dead line, she wouldhave passed the boundary and invaded Packard property.

  "Well," thought Terry, "when you are between the devil and the deep seawhat are you going to do?"

  So she let in her clutch, opened her throttle, sounded her horn purelyby way of defiance, and when next she stopped it was at the very doorof the old ranch-house where Steve Packard should be found at thisearly hour of the evening.

  The men in the bunk-house had heard her coming, and to the last man ofthem pushed to the door to see who it might be. Their first thought,of course, would be that the old mountain-lion, Steve's grandfather,had come roaring down from his place in the north. Terry tossed up herhead so that they might see and know and marvel and speculate and doand say anything which pleased them. Having crossed her Rubicon, shedidn't care the snap of her pretty fingers who knew.

  "I want Steve Packard," she called to them. "Where is he?"

  It was young Barbee who answered, Barbee of the innocent blue eyes.

  "In the ranch-house, Miss Terry," he said. And he came forward,patting his hair into place, hitching at his belt, smiling at her afterhis most successful lady-killing fashion. "Sure I won't do?"

  "You?" Terry laughed. "When I'm looking for a man I'm not going tostop for a boy, Barbee dear!"

  And she jumped down and knocked loudly at Steve's door, while the menat the bunk-house laughed joyously and Barbee cursed under his breath.

  Steve, supposing that it was one of his own men grown suddenly formal,did not take his stockinged feet down from his table or his pipe fromhis lips as he called shortly--

  "Come in!"

  And Terry asked no second invitation. In she went, slamming the doorafter her so that those who gawked at the bunk-house entrance mightgawk in vain.

  And now Steve Packard achieved in one flashing second the removal ofhis feet from the table, the shifting of his pipe from his teeth, theswift buttoning of his shirt across his chest. And as he stared at herhe gasped:

  "I'll be----"

  "Say it!" laughed Terry. "Well, I'm here. Came on business. There'sa hole in the toe of your sock," she ended with a flash of malice, asshe noted how, embarrassed for the first time since she had known him,he was trying to hide a pair of man-sized feet behind his table.

  "Say it!" laughed Terry. "Well, I'm here. Came onbusiness."]

  Steve grew violently red. Terry laughed deliciously.

  "I--I didn't know----"

  "Of course you didn't," she agreed. "Now, I'm in something of a rushof the red streak variety, but in a little book of mine I have readthat a young gentleman receiving a young lady caller after dark shouldhave his hair combed, his shirt buttoned, and at least a pair ofslippers on. I'll give you three minutes."

  Packard looked at her wonderingly. Then, without an answer, he strodeby her and to the window. The shade he flipped up so that anyone whocared to might look into the room. Next he went to the door and called:

  "Bill, oh, Bill Royce. Come up here. Here's some one who wants a wordwith you!"

  Terry Temple's face went a burning, burning red. There came theimpulse to put both arms about this big shirt-sleeved, tousled Packardman and squeeze him hard--and at the end of it pinch him harder. Forin Terry's soul was understanding, and he both delighted her and shamedher.

  But when Steve came back and slipped his feet into his boots and satdown across the table from her, Terry's face told him nothing.

  "You're a funny guy, Steve Packard," she admitted thoughtfully.

  "That's nothing," grinned Steve, by now quite himself again. "So areyou!"

  She had come from the Temple ranch without any hat; her hair hadtumbled down long ago and now framed her vivacious face most adorably.Adorably, that is, to a man's mind; other women are not always agreedupon such matters. At any rate, Steve watched with both admiration andregret in his eyes as Terry shook out the loose bronze tresses andbegan to bring neat order out of bewilderingly becoming chaos. Hermouth was full of pins when Bill Royce came in. But still she couldwhisper tantalizingly--

  "If you picked on Bill for a chaperon because he's blind----"

  Royce stopped in the doorway.

  "That you, Terry Temple?" he asked. "An' you wanted me? What's up?"

  "I came to have a talk with Steve Packard," answered Terry promptly.

  She got up and took Royce's hands between hers and led him to a chairbefore she relinquished them. And before she went back to her ownplace she had said swiftly:

  "I haven't seen you since you licked Blenham. I--I am glad you gotyour chance, Bill."

  "Thank you, Miss Terry," said Royce quietly. "I sorta evened up thingswith him. Not quite. But sorta. Then you didn't want me?"

  "Not this trip, Bill. It's just a play of Mr. Packard's here. Hedidn't like to have it known that I had him all alone here; afraid itmight compromise him, you know."

  She giggled.

  "Or queer him with his girl, mos' likely!" chuckled Royce.

  Whereat Steve glowered and Terry looked startled.

  "You're both talking nonsense," said Packard. He reached out for hispipe but dropped it again to the table without lighting it. "If thereis anything I can do for you, Miss Temple----"

  He saw how the look in her eyes altered. Nothing less than an errandof transcendent importance could have brought her here and he knew it.And now, in quick, eager words she told him:

  "Blenham has almost put one across on us. Our outfit is mortgaged toyour old thief of a grandfather for a miserable seven thousand dollars.Old Packard sent Blenham over to tell dad he is going to shove us out.Blenham plays foxy and offers dad a thousand dollars for the mortgage.Oh, I don't understand just how to say it, but Blenham has a fewthousand dollars he has saved and stolen here and there, and he meansto grab the Temple ranch for a total of eight thousand dollars; seventhousand to old Packard, one thousand to dad----"

  "But surely----"

  "Surely nothing! Dad's half full of whiskey as usual, and a thousanddollars looks as big to him as a full moon. Besides, he's sure oflosing to old Hell-Fire sooner or later."

  "And you want me----"

  "If you've got any money or can raise any," said Terry crisply, "I'moffering you a good proposition. The same Blenham is after. The ranchis worth a whole lot better than twenty thousand dollars. Myproposition is-- But can you raise eight thousand?"

  Steve regarded her a moment speculatively. Then, quite after the wayof Steve Packard, he slipped his hand into his shirt and brought out asheaf of banknotes and tossed them to her across the table.

  "I'm not a bloodsucker," he said quietly. "Take what you like; I'llstake you to the wad."

  Terry looked, counted--and gasped.

  "Ten tho
usand!" she cried. "Good Lord, Steve Packard! Tenthousand--and you'd lend me----"

  "To pay off a mortgage to my grandfather, yes," he answered soberly,quite conscious of what he was doing and of its recklessness and,perhaps, idiocy. "And to beat Blenham."

  She jumped up and ran around the table to put her two hands on hisshoulders and shake him.

  "You're a God-blessed brick, Steve Packard!" she cried ringingly. "ButI'm not a bloodsucker, either. If you're a dead game sport-- Well,that's what I'd rather be than anything else you can put a name to.Lace your boots, get into a hat, shove that in your pocket." And sheslipped the roll of bills into his hand. "By now dad and Blenham willbe on the road to Red Creek; we'll beat them to it, have a lawyer andsome papers all ready, and when they show up we'll just take dad out ofBlenham's hands."

  "I don't quite get you," said Steve. "If you won't borrow themoney----"

  "I'll make dad sell out to you for eight thousand; he pockets onethousand and with the other seven your money-grabbing, pestiferous oldgranddad is paid off. Then you and I frame a deal between us----"

  "Partners!" ejaculated Bill Royce. "Glory to be! Steve Packard an'Terry Temple pardners----"

  "Don't you see?" Terry was excitedly tugging at Steve's arm. "Comeon; come alive. We're going to play freeze-out with Hell-Fire Packardand his right-hand bower, both. And we're going to keep dad from doinga fool thing. And we're going to-- Oh, come on, can't you?"

  Steve got up and stood looking down at her curiously. Then he laughedand turned away for his coat and hat.

  "Lead on; I'm trailing you," he said briefly.

  Bill Royce rubbed his hands and chuckled.

  "Even if I ain't got eyes," he mused, "there's some things I can seereal clear."

 
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