The Project Gutenberg eBook of Where Stillwater Runs Deep, by B. M. Bower

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Title: Where Stillwater Runs Deep

Author: B. M. Bower

Release Date: February 22, 2022 [eBook #67475]

Language: English

Produced by: Roger Frank and Sue Clark. This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive.


Where Stillwater Runs Deep

By B. M. Bower
Author of “The Adam Chaser,” “The White Wolf Pack,” Etc.

He was an Irishman and a West Pointer and liked to fight. But he was also Patrick R. O’Neill, ranger of the Yellowstone National Forest, and his mission in Bad Cañon was one of peace. And peace it was, but two-fisted!


At the moment, Ed Murray, supervisor of the Absarokee Division of the Yellowstone National Forest, was peeved. “Read that!” he snorted, shoving a letter from his particular higher-ups in Washington into the hands of his stolid secretary who, by the way, comprised the entire office force of the Absarokee Division.

The secretary obediently began reading in a slightly singsong tone:

“Under separate cover we are mailing you blank township maps. As a measure of economy you are instructed to have some member of your office force sketch in the necessary data, using the inclosed legends which have been made official for all forest-service maps. We——”

“That’s all—never mind the official trimmings,” Murray curtly interrupted. “Point is this: You’re the office force. What’re you going to do about it? Think you can fill in the maps?”

While the secretary calmly ruminated upon the subject of map making, Murray watched her with a twinkle of amusement, though that did not in the least degree soften his resentment against Washington.

“I could do anything on the typewriter if it would fit in the machine,” Christine at length decided. “If they are big maps, I could fold them lengthwise without carbon, but they might slip on the roller, which is too slick. If it is figures, I do not mind so much, but if it is those funny signs for surveying I must copy them with a pen, and that is no joke if I am in a hurry. I think if it is much work, Mr. Murray, I should get more wages.”

“Huh! Well, as you say, making maps on a typewriter is no joke, and I guess you’d earn your money all right!” Her employer noted the clearing of Christine’s placid blue eyes, gave another inarticulate snort and returned to his own problem, knowing that Christine was unlikely to repeat his words.

“Seems like I’ve got troubles enough in this district, fighting every cowman, sheepman, timberman and nester in the State. I’m always short-handed, always got a row on my hands with some one who thinks I ought to turn the reserve over to him just because we used to punch cows together! When I don’t, they think I’m trying to ride them on account of some little argument over brands that might have come up when I was stock inspector.

“Some member of the office force!” he growled, remembering the letter. “Huh! They must think I’m runnin’ two wagons and a regular round-up crew in this office! Far as that goes, I could take my rangers and work the reserve quicker than these darned cow outfits—picked ’em off the range myself, most of them. But when it comes to making maps—— They’re like you, Christine. You could do it on the typewriter, you think; they might tackle it with a branding iron! Some member of my office force! My gosh! Take this letter, Christine. I’ll tell them poker-faced politicians in Washington what——”

“Do you want that in the letter?” Christine lifted her plump white hand to pluck the pencil from her silky blond hair.

“Lord, no! Dog-gone that June 11th Act and its maps and pamphlets and systems and all that bunk! What I’m going to need is a crew of civil engineers and an addition on this office. Washington must think all forest rangers are merely desk men! Why——”

“Should that be incorporated in the body of the letter, Mr. Murray?” Christine was patiently waiting with pencil point on her pad. “I could make a note and beg to inform them in a polite way that you have no office force and your secretary works until six o’clock sometimes——”

“No!” shouted Murray. “What does Washington care how long my secretary works? Take this—verbatim. None of your business-college trimmings—I want it typed the way I say it! I’ll tell them——”

The office door opened, admitting six feet of husky young manhood who saluted Murray and snapped into attention while he took in the entire office force with flicking glances of blue eyes that twinkled habitually. It may go on record that the entire office force instinctively patted its blond hair and modestly cast down its eyes of blue—with sundry furtive inspections when it thought the military visitor was not looking.

“Are you the forest supervisor, sir?” Somehow the habitual twinkle in the stranger’s eyes seemed to match a certain rollicky Irish tone of his voice, as if he had a joke on the tip of his tongue and needed scant encouragement to tell it.

“I am. What can I do for you?”

“You might read these letters of Recommendation, sir, and if they suit you, then you might give me a job.” He grinned as he handed Murray two letters and stepped back.

The first letter came from the national forest service and was signed by the chief. It stated that the bearer, Patrick R. O’Neill, had at his own request been transferred from Arizona to Montana, and was competent to perform all duties pertaining to the forest service. The other was from the supervisor of the Black Mesa National Forest, Arizona, and spoke in highest terms of the qualifications of this same Patrick O’Neill. Murray read both with care before he so much as glanced again at the man. When he did, he saw Patrick O’Neill still standing at attention, still with the twinkle in his eyes.

“Huh! Seen army service, too, haven’t you?”

“Yes, sir. Two years and a half at West Point.”

“Holy mackerel! Two years and a half—you learned how to make maps, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Lock the door, Christine! Quick, before he gets away! Damn it, man, you’re needed in this office! Sit down and let’s talk. Christine, can’t you tell a joke unless it’s labeled? Unlock that door!”

“I was taught obedience to my employer by the business college. You say I am to lock the door and I lock it. I should not read your mind or some day I lose my job.” Christine unlocked the door which she had obediently locked, sat down at her desk and began wiping the speckless old typewriter before her, while she still patiently waited for the letter her boss was going to write.

“Tell me first why you quit West Point,” Murray was saying. “I’d have given my left arm for such a chance when I was a young man.”

“Technically speaking, I quit, Mr. Murray, but it was merely a strategic move on my part. I’d rather walk out than be kicked out.”


“Insubordination, sir. We had a major—an old woman he was, Mr. Murray. Always putting us through our paces in civil engineering. One day he called on me in class to explain just how I would go about raising a hundred-and-fifty-foot flagpole. I said, ‘I would call a sergeant, sir, and I would say to the sergeant, “Sergeant, take a detail of men and raise that hundred-and-fifty-foot flagpole which you see lying there.”’

“The major lost his temper, sir. He accused me of being facetious. I replied that no one ever heard of an officer of the United States army so violating the traditions of his rank as to perform the menial task of raising flagpoles, and that I had clearly stated the method by which I would go about it, just as he had requested me to do. The major further forgot himself, sir. He called me an impudent young puppy. I thereupon saluted and walked out of the classroom. My sojourn at West Point ended shortly thereafter, sir.” Grin and twinkle combined to give Patrick O’Neill a look of personified good humor.

Murray roared with laughter; a circumstance unusual in that office where worry perched like a raven on his file case.

“How about making forest-service maps? Would you call upon the office force and tell them to fill in the blank township maps with the proper data—using a typewriter?”

Patrick O’Neill laughed. “No, I think I’d prefer to make the maps myself. It would be child’s play after the map making at West Point, and help me to familiarize myself with forest boundaries before you assign me to a district. If I can get hold of a couple of surfaced boards and a two-by-four, Mr. Murray, I’ll just knock together a table and set it beside that north window and go to work, sir.”

“Huh! Christine, phone the lumber yard and tell them to let Pat O’Neill have whatever material he wants to pick out, and send it up here immediately. Say it’s for the forest service.”

So this is how Patrick O’Neill, some time of West Point and lately of Black Mesa, Arizona, came into the service of the Yellowstone National Forest.


“Ed, I’m through!” Ranger Cushman tossed his hat onto the pine table where Pat O’Neill had whistled softly over the making of his maps, and where he whistled no more now that the job was beautifully finished. O’Neill was now waiting around the office with an expectant, eager look in his eyes which Murray had studiously ignored while he pondered the problem of keeping the happy Irishman busy.

“Huh! What’s the trouble now? Cushman, I want you to meet Pat O’Neill; been making maps; part of the office force now. Well, what’s wrong with the Stillwater District this time?”

“Ain’t this time, Ed. It’s all the time, and I’m darned good and tired of it. Man was not born to stand the grief I’ve stood with them wild cats. I’m goin’ back to the peaceful life of roughin’ broncs for a livin’. Why, them coyotes over on the Stillwater are so poison mean they won’t even speak to each other, except when they call a convention to devise ways and means of dealin’ me misery, and old Boyce is chairman of the committee.

“They’ve cut the wires on my pasture fence every night for a month, so every time I want a horse I got to wrangle him afoot. They steal my grub. I ride day an’ night, hazin’ cattle off the reserve, and they drive ’em on faster than I can drive ’em off. Why, even the sheepmen are gettin’ gay! Found two bands of sheep on the reserve, last week, over Trout Creek way. Killed a few sheep and took a shot at the herder, but that won’t stop ’em. They’ll keep a-comin’, now they’ve started.

“Another thing: Them darn timber pirates on Blind Bridger Creek are cuttin’ everything they come to, regardless. Ed, it’d take a hull regiment of rangers with a Gatlin’ gun apiece to keep that country straight! Why, damn it, some of the cowmen even went so far as to hint I was in on the rustlin’ that’s goin’ on over there. If there’s any brand of cussedness they ain’t been up to, they’ll think it up while I’m gone. You can save your breath, Ed. This time you can’t talk me into goin’ back. I’m through! Ab-so-lutely, eternally through!”

“Huh! Guess I’ll have to take your word for it, Cushman. This makes the third time you’ve come in here bellerin’ that you’ve quit the Stillwater.” He whirled his chair around and glared hard at Pat O’Neill, who was making a map case of his own invention. “Now, what’re you lickin’ your chops for, like a dog watchin’ a Christmas dinner? Think there’s a turkey leg comin’ to you outa this?”

“Oh, doctor, but it listens sweet to my fightin’ Irish ears, Mr. Murray!” Pat O’Neill retorted, with the faintest hint of a brogue in his voice.

“Huh! Think I’d give you the best ranger station in the Northwest? Good, three-room log house, good barn, plenty of corrals, thirty acres of alfalfa under ditch and over two hundred acres of good pasture land fenced with a four-wire fence——”

“Cut in two or three places every night,” Ranger Cushman dourly interjected.

“Well, yes, cut occasionally, but a fine pasture for all that. Most important district in the Absarokee Division; settled clear up to the base of the mountains with nesters, cow outfits, sheep ranches, all dead set against the forest service——”

“Puttin’ it mild!” again from Ranger Cushman.

“Well, I admit they’re prejudiced some. Think I’d give that district to a devil-may-care Irishman just because he happened to know how to make up a batch of maps? Huh! What d’you expect me to do, O’Neill? Give you the best and biggest—also the meanest and fightin’est—district I’ve got in my division?”

For answer, Patrick O’Neill with the West Point figure and mien facetiously pantomimed his emotions in a manner that sent the blond secretary into shoulder-heaving convulsions of mirth. That is, he tilted his head to one side, licked his tongue out over one corner of his mouth and waggled a hand behind him like a tail.

Ranger Cushman gave a great snort of laughter. Ed Murray roared and lifted a boot toward the impudent mimic.

“Sick ’em!” he chuckled. “Dog-gone yuh! I was going to send you over to Stillwater to help Cushman whip that district into shape, but now you’ll have to tackle it alone.” He eyed O’Neill thoughtfully, his face gradually settling to a sober look. “I dunno about it, though. Can you ride?”

“Yes, sir.” O’Neill smelled serious business in the air and quit his foolery.

“Huh! That’s what you said when I asked you if you could make maps, but—this is out West, remember. By riding, I mean—well, riding.”

“They ride down in the Black Mesa country, sir.” O’Neill paused, with the twinkle in his eyes. “I mean—they ride.”

“Black Mesa—yeah, that’s right, you’re from that country. Wel-l—you’ll be on your own, so to speak, once you get up there. You heard what Ranger Cushman said about it. On the square, do you think you can handle it?”

“I’d like to try it, Mr. Murray.”

Murray cocked a suspicious eye at him, probably wondering just what lay back of that sudden modesty—coupled with the Irish tone and the twinkle. He glanced at Cushman, caught the pitying smile on his saturnine face and swung back to the desk, perhaps to hide a grin.

“All right, O’Neill, you’ll take over the Stillwater District. You will have charge of the grazing permits and the timber sales, of course. You will find that the stockmen are inclined to resent the grazing fee of thirty-five cents a head for their stock, and if it is possible I should like to see a better feeling between the ranchers and the forest service. The service is really a protection to the stockmen, but as yet they look upon us as oppressors who delight in interfering with their inalienable rights. Boyce, of the Bar B Ranch—which is nearest the Stillwater station—is apparently the bitterest enemy we have.”

“He’s a devil!” growled Cushman.

“He came from Boston, but that don’t make him any the less a cowman. Do the best you can with him and all the rest, and I’ll back you up as far as Washington will let me.”

“That won’t mean a thing to yuh,” Ranger Cushman told O’Neill, with the emphasis born of his late tribulations. “This absent treatment for protection don’t go; not when you’ve got to fight them wild cats over on the Stillwater. I had Washington and Ed Murray to back me up, too—but my fences was cut just the same, I noticed!”

“All in the day’s work!” O’Neill laughed, happy over the prospect. “I learned to mend reserve fences down on the Black Mesa. They cut them there, too—for a while.”

“Meanin’, I reckon, that you tamed ’em down. But I notice you changed your range just the same—and I’m changin’ mine. I ain’t goin’ to Black Mesa, either.”


On a still, sunny day in July, Patrick O’Neill rode whistling down the steep trail that led into Lodgepole Basin. From little openings in the pines he could look down over a vast stretch of hills and valleys which formed a part of his district—a peaceful scene which held him silent for a space. The ranger station which would be his home lay farther down in the basin, a tip of its flagpole showing white above a grove of young pines.

“Looks like heaven, after the jack pines and mesquite of Black Mesa,” he observed to his horse that stood switching flies with philosophic calm. “I’ll stand a lot of grief before I’ll quit. We’ll sure make a home of this place, no foolin’. Cushman wasn’t Irish. Takes the Irish to get a real human slant on folks. He’s a sour cuss—probably tried to lord it over the natives, and they wouldn’t stand for it.

“Don’t blame ’em. I wouldn’t let any iron-visaged ranger dictate much to me, if I were a rancher. The human note—no up-stage attitude—just be one of them, friendlylike and peaceful. That’s the ticket. Like gentling a bronc, this thing is going to be. Treat ’em right and they’ll treat you right.”

Whereupon he resumed his whistling and jogged down to the comfortable log house in the grove of lodgepole pines, opened all the windows and went happily to work at what he called policing camp. After that he got out the files and studied the grazing permits, the brands, owners thereof and the territory assigned to each. It took the rest of the day and most of the evening to memorize the stuff he felt he should have ready behind the tip of his tongue, but he enjoyed it all and repeated his cheerful prophecies concerning the work of gentling Stillwater District.

“That Bar B man, Boyce, seems to be the king-pin of this district,” he mused, as he rode abroad over his domain to familiarize himself with the topography of the country, just as he had made himself acquainted with the records. “Next on the program comes the human contact. Think I’ll just ride down and make friends with our Bostonian neighbor at the Bar B. Must be educated and intelligent—we ought to have a good deal in common. I’m educated, far above the average in intelligence—oh, you Pat O’Neill! When you tell him that, he’ll love you for your modesty if for nothing else!”

So he turned his horse’s head toward the Bar B Ranch.

The Honorable Standish Boyce of Boston was leaning over the front gate as O’Neill rode up, whistling under his breath, as was the carefree habit he had. A pair of field glasses dangled from the old man’s right hand, as if he had been making certain of the horseman’s identity, had recognized him as the new forest ranger and was now waiting to welcome him according to precedent and his general opinion of all forest-service men.

Patrick O’Neill flung a limber leg over the cantle of his stock saddle and stepped down with agile grace, smiling his Irish smile as he strode forward with outstretched hand.

“Mr. Boyce? I’m the new ranger in this district. O’Neill is my name—Pat O’Neill.”

“Well, what of it?” Boyce still stood with his arms folded upon the gate, the field glasses swinging gently from their narrow strap. Cold gray eyes had the Honorable Standish Boyce, set deep and close to a high, thin nose. Beneath the nose, a thin, straight mouth, half hidden beneath a growth of thin, white beard, pointed to match his nose. His eyes had the impersonal glare of the bird he so closely resembled—an Uncle Sam on the warpath, O’Neill thought swiftly.

“Oh, nothing much, Mr. Boyce!” he grinned, firm in his purpose. “Nothing, except that I understand you are one of the leading citizens of our little community, as well as the largest user of the National Forest, and I wanted to meet you.”

“Well, you’ve met me. If you’re satisfied, I am. Now get off my ranch and stay off.”

The spirit of a thousand generations of fighting O’Neills rose and looked out through the eyes of young Pat, but he hushed their battle cry and somehow managed to keep his Irish grin.

“You’re a bit hasty, Mr. Boyce. You and I will have a good deal of business to transact together as time goes on. It will be much pleasanter if we are friends, you know.”

“Young man, I transact my business directly with Washington. I have relatives who stand high in official circles, and by virtue of their influence I enjoy privileges quite beyond your petty power to accord me. Now will you do me the favor to leave this place?”

“When the favor becomes mutual, yes. First, I want to tell you that it’s my business to administer the affairs of this district on behalf of the government. Whether you approve or disapprove of that fact is of no concern to the government or to me. You may be twin brother to the President of these United States for all I care, Mr. Boyce, but the fact remains the same. Any business you have to transact with the forest service, you will transact with me, its accredited representative.”

Then the fighting O’Neills in him took a hand. They propelled him forward so that his blazing Irish eyes were within a foot of the cold gray ones.

“Get this straight, old-timer! I’m running this neck of the woods—not your relatives in Washington—and you may as well learn the fact right here as farther down the creek! Your special privileges end right here, you bean-brained old pie eater! From this minute on, you haven’t got one damn privilege beyond what your neighbors enjoy, and if I catch you trying to assume that you have, I’ll arrest you same as I would any one else! Let that sink away down deep in your cosmic consciousness, Mr. Boyce. The sooner you realize that this forest service is not run for the special benefit of any individual, the less grief you are going to have!”

Boyce’s white-bearded jaw sagged in amazement. He swallowed twice, shook a tremulous fist at the man who had the temerity to defy him, and spluttered an epithet.

“Calm yourself, Mr. Boyce,” O’Neill admonished, as he picked up the reins to remount. “I expect that’s pretty hard to swallow, but you needn’t choke over it.”

“I— You— I’ll have you dismissed—kicked out in disgrace, you—you——”

“Oh, go off and lie down! You make me tired,” O’Neill snarled disgustedly from the saddle and loped back up the trail, thinking not of Boyce, but of the girl he had seen walk her horse to the side porch of the house and sit watching them, evidently listening.

How much she had heard, he did not know—nor did he care at the moment. But now he wished that he had thought of something wittily biting to say at the last, instead of that hackneyed retort which any roughneck puncher on the range might have made.

The rasping voice of the Bar B Bostonian followed him, shouting threats and imprecations which the increasing distance blurred to a vague mouthing of rage. Bluster, O’Neill reminded himself, was always a mark of weakness, or so folks said. If the rule held, then the Honorable Standish Boyce was all bark and no bite, and could safely be ignored.

He had ridden a mile along the side of a ridge, taking it easy on the way home, when a horse lunged out through a clump of bushes into the trail ahead of him and wheeled so that the rider faced him. It was the girl he had seen at Boyce’s house, and she had evidently cut across country with the deliberate intention of intercepting him. At any rate, she was waiting for him to ride up. Which Patrick O’Neill did right willingly.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Ranger,” she greeted him coolly, when he drew near. “I’m Isabelle Boyce, and I’m supposed to be a chip off the old block. At least, the neighbors say I am.”

O’Neill laughed as he took off his hat and ran his fingers through his thick, brown hair. “I’d have to prove that for myself, Miss Boyce. Is this a continuation——”

“Oh, no, indeed! It’s an explanation. I heard how father talked to you, and I heard how you talked back to father. So I just thought——”

“If you heard your father, you must admit I had the patience of Job and used it.”

“And left father boiling!” she laughed, flicking the bushes with her quirt. “I was really in hopes, Mr. er—er——”

“Patrick O’Neill, at your service.” Pat reined in alongside her and the horses started on up the trail at a walk.

“Oh, you’re Irish! I was in hopes the new ranger would understand and sympathize with the people of the Stillwater District, but if you’re Irish, I suppose you’ll want to fight over nothing, like all the rest.”

“Not necessarily, Miss Boyce. Your father ordered me off the ranch, when all I wanted to do was give him a cordial shake of the hand and say I hoped we might be friends. I merely expostulated a bit against the discourtesy. I could not fail to understand him, but as for sympathizing—— Well, I’d first like to know what’s wrong with him.”

“The same thing that’s wrong with all the rest of the Stillwater people, Mr. O’Neill. All you rangers seem to have overlooked the fact that this is an isolated country, where it’s very difficult to keep a fine sense of values. This world in here is bounded by cows, horses, crops and kids. The men are only servants to their live stock, and the women are slaves to the men. No one seems able to take a day off, to get out of the rut. They live in shacks, for the most part, and life is a monotonous grind of the very things that have made them so narrow and sordid.

“Even my father,” she continued, “though he is intelligent and educated and can look back upon worth-while things, has grown as narrow as the rest. They are bored to death, and don’t even know it, so they hate themselves and each other, and squabble over trifles that——”

“Well, they needn’t take out their spite on the forest service,” Pat grumbled, just to keep her going.

“Oh, but they do!” she came back at him eagerly, her eyes alight with interest in her subject. “You’re—meaning the forest service—the only thing they can all band together to fight, don’t you see? Once you take that community spirit away from them, I don’t know what would happen. It’s the primitive impulse of self-preservation, working out in a normal, primitive way. It requires a common enemy—hunger, the menace of some terrible creature of the wild, protection against some element that would destroy, and which no one man is strong enough to conquer alone; just as the cave men gathered on the cliffs and rolled rocks down upon the saber-toothed tiger. We call it community spirit, in our psychology classes—that’s where I learned it.

“Here, they have plenty to sustain life according to their standards, and there aren’t any saber-toothed tigers, so—they pretend to themselves that the forest service is a menace, and they band together for the fight. He’s an outlet for their emotions, Mr. O’Neill. A psychological safety valve. Also,” she added, forestalling an Irish rebellion which she may have seen rising in his eyes, “it’s misdirected energy, of course. But it explains my father’s awful conduct, doesn’t it?”

Patrick O’Neill gave her a keen look. “It explains your father,” he admitted, “but sure, and it don’t change the temper of him, divil a bit!” Then he laughed. “So the answer seems to be, Miss Boyce, that since they are bored with the monotony of their existence and must have some excitement, I’m to wallop the livin’ daylights out of the lot of them! And it’s not so sorry a prospect as you might suppose,” he added dryly.

“I don’t mean that at all, and you know it!” she flashed, showing a hint of her father’s temper—though she showed it very prettily, O’Neill thought. “You seem intelligent. Why don’t you use your personality——”

“I will, Miss Boyce, and my fists along with it!”

“Your personality,” she went on, ignoring him, “to give them a pride in the forest service? Make them see that it is really their best friend, that it protects their range and gives each one a fair share of the grazing. If you can win them over to yourself as a man, you can win them over to the forest service as an institution which has their welfare at heart.”

“And force them back to whippin’ pups for excitement, and fightin’ each other. I don’t see——”

“That’s because you won’t see,” she told him impatiently. “I have it all analyzed, but I can’t do anything myself to help Stillwater—they call me ‘Queen Isabelle,’ and say I’m stuck up, and like my father. But you—if you can make them like you, the work is half done. Won’t you try, Mr. O’Neill? I heard how you talked to father, and while I admit he is terribly exasperating, still, that attitude of yours won’t make him love the service any better. If you’d seize every opportunity to make each individual like you personally——”

“I will that!” cried Patrick O’Neill, beaming upon her with the Irish twinkle which she had perhaps noticed. “I grasp the idea, and I find it wonderful! But I shall need encouragement and advice—and might I begin with yourself, Miss Boyce?”

“Get along with you!” cried Queen Isabelle. “I told you the Irish——”

She struck her horse with the quirt and galloped away from him, flushed and biting her lip to keep back the laughter. Then she halted and wheeled, a short distance away. “I’ll advise you about the best way to approach father,” she called to him sweetly. “I can get his real opinion of you as a man——”

“Sure, and I had that same by word of mouth, Miss Boyce!”

“And if you really need help or advice at any time, I’ll be glad to have you call on me.”

“It’s a great deal of trouble you are taking, Miss Boyce, just for a lone ranger, but I’ll be delighted to avail myself of the privilege you so kindly ex——”

Queen Isabelle laughed and rode toward him again. “Remember, Mr. O’Neill, that I have lived in this isolated place for more than a year—ever since I finished school. I’m like the rest of the natives—bored to death. Only, I know it and am seizing a small opportunity to direct my energy in some useful channel. You may laugh, but I really mean it. Just living is not enough. I must be doing something. So if I can help you win the Stillwater over to the forest service and make friends of the two, I shall be much more contented with my lot in life; which is staying at home with father and making him as happy as possible.

“That,” she added with dignity, “is my sole reason for waylaying you in this bold manner. I could see that you were getting an entirely erroneous view of the situation in your district, and that you were in a fair way to widen the breach between the settlers and the government. We’d be having regular feuds over the forest reserve in another year, just as some of the mountaineers of Kentucky fight the revenue officers. Oh, I have given the matter careful thought, I assure you! You are not like the other rangers, and if you really have the interests of the service at heart, you will do all in your power to promote a better feeling here.”

“I will that, Miss Boyce! It’s a sweet little task you’ve set me, but with your constant guidance and encouragement I’ll do it.”

She gave him a quick, suspicious glance, refusing to laugh at his slightly exaggerated Irish optimism. “Just meet the people with kindness and courtesy, Mr. O’Neill. When you match temper with temper, as you did just now with father, you merely drop from a superior mental height to the level of—of Gus Peterson, owner of the Box S, who lives to fight and to boast of his brutal victories. Father knows better, and so do you, but he has permitted himself to drop into the ways of the country. There isn’t even that excuse for you at all, don’t you see?”

“Miss Boyce, you have the pitiless logic of a Portia,” Patrick O’Neill sighed. “For the first time in my life, I humbly apologize for my fightin’ Irish temper, and I promise to be a saint from this moment, so that Stillwater mothers shall beg the little ones at their knees to be sweet, loving little gentlemen and ladies, like the kind, forgiving young man at the ranger station, who would not hurt a fly. And for the encouragement to be that same, I shall choose Thursday as the day which I am allowed by a thoughtful government each week for policing camp, and I shall call if I may, and smile if I am kicked out.”

“I ride nearly every day,” returned Isabelle Boyce, with a smile. “Always on Thursday I ride toward Castle Creek. Good-by, and remember that a soft answer turneth away wrath. I shall expect a good report of the week.”

“A sweet little handicap she’s put upon me!” mused Patrick O’Neill, as he jogged homeward across the hills. “I’m to swallow my temper—that’s turned me out of my home and my school and every job I’ve ever held in my life! Pat, me lad, the girl is more dangerous than the old man, and it’s well for you if you face that fact at once!”


Cottonwoods and quaking aspens along the creeks flaunted leaves of golden yellow to prove that fall had come, and Ranger O’Neill whistled a love tune under his breath as he rode down to Bad Cañon post office for his mail. Strange as it may seem, he was at peace with his neighbors—or so he would have told you, with a twinkle in his eye which might mean more than he would care to explain.

No mother of the Stillwater has yet been overheard in lauding the saintliness of Patrick O’Neill, it is true. But neither had he skinned his knuckles to enforce the rules and regulations of the forest service, and Isabelle Boyce thought well of his efforts and was still quite willing to ride out on a Thursday afternoon and give him encouragement and advice.

“But I’ll have a matter or two to tell her next Thursday, I’m thinking,” he broke off his whistling to mutter, speaking to his horse for want of other companionship, as is the way of men who live much alone. “I’ve the small triumph of being asked to sit down with the boss of the Seven L to dinner when I rode up last Saturday to his house. The first ranger who ever did that, I’m sure. It’s something I can boast of to Queen Isabelle.

“Also I held my temper in the matter of the sheep I found trespassing on the Trout Creek Range, and if I told the owner I’d hold the band for damages next time he drove them on, and charge him a full season’s grazing fee to boot, I did it politely and only once called him spawn of the devil and let it go at that.

“Then there’s the timber sale on Blind Bridger Creek—I handled that thief of a Blanding like a diplomat, which same I shall point out to Queen Isabelle. He’d broken his contract with deliberate intent, piling the logs this way and that in the yard, instead of all tops in one direction, according to agreement. I could have quarreled with the man and made a great talk and stir, but I did not. I calmly—and I shall describe how calmly it was done!—I very calmly scaled butts and tops as they came, and let Blanding splutter at the loss and be damned to him. He’ll yard his logs according to contract next time, I’m thinking!

“Pat, me lad, you’ve much to be proud of, and I shall tell her so. I shall likewise point out the fact that I’m aware her respected father, and others as well, are running far more cattle on the forest than their permits call for, but that I am shutting one eye to that, since the season is nearly over anyway, and I’ve no mind to fight the entire Stillwater at this time. But when next the permits are issued, there’ll be no violations without the penalty attached. And for these good deeds perhaps the queen will reward me by consenting to a little fishing trip next Thursday!”

Whereupon Patrick O’Neill resumed his whispered whistling of the love tune he liked best, and rode contentedly into the tiny settlement that was called Bad Cañon post office to distinguish it from the cañon itself, and into an event which spoiled whatever vanity he may have indulged in because of his saintliness.

A small group of rangemen sat dangling spurred heels from the narrow platform in front of the store, smoking and gossiping of this thing and that, when Patrick O’Neill rode jauntily up to the hitch rail and dismounted, still whistling the love tune under his breath. From the tail of his eye he saw them jerk thumbs in his direction, exchange a muttered sentence or two and laugh. Young Patrick O’Neill did not like that—being Irish; but being a saint for the moment as well, he let it pass.

As he approached the store, he nodded casually toward a man or two whom he disliked the least, and would have walked inside quite inoffensively had not Gus Peterson, the owner of the Box S brand, reached out a hairy paw and caught O’Neill by the arm.

“Aw, don’t be in such a damn hurry!” he arrogantly commanded. “I’d like to know what you let them sheep do with my grass. I think you’re one hell of a ranger! You can’t tell cows from sheeps! I paid good money for that grass. And I don’t stand for no damn ranger lettin’ sheep come and eat my grass!”

“Take your dirty claw off me!” snapped the saintly Patrick O’Neill, as he threw off Peterson’s hand. “No sheep are on your grazing ground, and you know it. And I think,” he added meaningly, “if you’d count your cattle, you’d find you were getting your money’s worth of grass, all right!”

“Yes, my cows ate grass before you come here an’, by damn, they eat grass when you go! Maybe you charge money for breathin’ air! Maybe——”

“And if I did, I’d collect the same, remember that! I’m running this proposition, my fine bully, as you’ll find out if you stick around a while. You’re going to pay for the grass your cows eat on the national forest—and you’ll pay for the cows on the range, mind you! As for the sheep—— Well, I’m running that end of it, too.”

“Yes, you’ll be runnin’ out of this country!” Peterson bellowed truculently, his red face thrust close to the blazing eyes of Ranger O’Neill. “We don’t need no damn forest ranger in here as a boss. We can run our cows without help from the government, and we’ll run you out just like we ran out the other damn rangers!”

“And when,” grated Patrick O’Neill, no longer wishing to be counted a saint, “do you expect to start running me out?”

“I’ll start now!” bawled Peterson, as he dived forward with outstretched arms for the grappling hold which was his pet way of crushing an enemy.

Patrick O’Neill stepped backward and waited until the huge arms had all but embraced him. Then he lifted his right knee sharply, grabbed Peterson’s head and jerked it down upon that knee. The impact was terrific. The big rancher staggered back with a roar of pain and baffled rage, and as he straightened, he got a frightfully direct blow in his middle and another on the jaw that snapped his head backward. A second blow found the big jaw, and Peterson of the Box S, bully of the Stillwater District, crumpled down in a heap and lay there.

“Git him!” yelled a lanky cow-puncher, one of Boyce’s riders, as Patrick O’Neill knew well. The puncher came in with a sideswipe, two others at his heels.

Patrick O’Neill grinned and gave him the neatest uppercut West Point boxers could teach him. A man at his right tried to trip him, while the Boyce man came in again, and it was right then that the spirit of all the wild, fighting O’Neills came into its own.

Young Patrick—no more a saint—lost a sleeve from his coat, which was likewise split up the back to his collar. He barked a knuckle against a man’s teeth—who thereafter grew a mustache to hide the gap in his grin—and his lip was cut where a flailing fist found him. But, oh, how the fighting spirit of all the Irish O’Neills did glory in the fray!

“Cleaned ’em cleaner than a new shotgun!” the postmaster reported the incident to his wife that night.

Ranger Patrick O’Neill did not whistle a love tune as he rode home with his mail, but that was chiefly because of his swollen lip, for the fighting spirit of the O’Neills once aroused was hard to down.

“Pat, me lad, I think you’d better not broach the subject of a fishing trip, next Thursday,” he reflected, as he climbed the steep trail up along the west bank of Limestone Creek. “I think you’ll be better considerin’ how you’re to convince Queen Isabelle that you’re a man of peace.” And then he sighed, and grinned as well as his stiff and puffy lip would permit. “But oh, doctor! It sure was one lovely scrimmage while it lasted, and it did the heart of me good to hear them howl that they’d had enough!” he murmured unrepentantly, and flexed his sore muscles in pleasant retrospection.

With the lip still swollen, and standing askew in a sardonic smile of irony which his twinkling eyes belied, Patrick O’Neill rode with some secret trepidation next Thursday to make his weekly report to the girl whom he had now called “Queen Isabelle” to her face.

She listened in silence to his cheerful account of the manner in which he had taught Blanding a lesson in good pine timber, and when he had stressed his mild demeanor as much as he dared, she looked at him coldly and said:

“I’ve heard another story of how you, representing the government, cheated Mr. Blanding out of more than twenty-five thousand feet of timber by scaling the butts of his logs instead of the tops. According to your version, he brought the loss on himself, so I’ll say nothing about that—except that as a measure of winning the Stillwater to friendship with the forest service, you seem to have made haste backward. The timber men are all up in arms over what they call a government steal, and Blanding says he is going to write to Washington and have you removed. We can’t very well call that a gain in friendly confidence, but I suppose it will straighten out in time. What else, Mr. Ranger?”

Patrick O’Neill thereupon told her of the trespassing sheep and how he had dealt with the owner.

“That’s better,” she praised him, “though if I know anything about old Jensen, you aren’t through with him yet by any means. You’ll have to go carefully there, if you want to avoid trouble. Is that all?” And she looked very meaningly at the swollen lip. “You’ve hurt yourself, I see. Did you fall off your horse, Mr. O’Neill?”

“I did not,” Pat returned, in a distressed tone. “A Bar B man—the long-legged one you call ‘Little Bill’—flung out a hand in his sleep, as it were, and it chanced to graze my lip. It’s no more than a scratch, for the man was unconscious—or nearly so—when he made the gesture. I’m sure he never meant to touch me there, Queen Isabelle. And now I have to tell you that I had dinner at the Seven L Ranch last Saturday——”

“Little Bill didn’t mean to strike you in the mouth, I know,” said Isabelle, disregarding the change of subject. “What he meant to do—what he still means to do, in fact, is to beat your blinkety-blink, do-re-mi-sol-dough brains out and spread them thinly over the entire Stillwater district. Or, at least, that is what I heard him saying as I rode past the bunk house last evening. I suppose he was dreaming while he slept!”

“I think he must have been, Queen Isabelle, and others along with him.”

“I suppose he also dreamed that you swaggered up to him and others at the post office, and boasted that you would show them who was running this country, thereupon attacking them with your loaded quirt.”

Patrick O’Neill stared fixedly into her face, his own a bit pale under his tan. He swung his horse short around in the trail then and started back the way they had come.

“Where away, Mr. Bad Man?” Isabelle’s voice held a note of panic under the raillery.

Ranger O’Neill held his horse to a walk while he looked back at her. “I was going to bring Little Bill to you and hear him admit how the tongue of him lied,” he said grimly. “Or you may come with me, if it pleases you better than to wait.” He looked at her, eyes demanding an answer.

Isabelle laughed as she rode up to him. “I was only teasing you, Mr. Ranger Man,” she said pacifically, perhaps because she understood the look she saw in his eyes. “The postmaster’s wife told me all about it. She saw the whole thing through the window, and heard what was said. I can’t blame you for fighting them, and since you did fight, I’m glad you whipped the bunch. Do please get down off your high horse, you man of peace, and let’s talk seriously. I don’t blame you for fighting—they must learn to respect you, I suppose, before they will ever come to like you, and if you had backed down from Peterson, every cowboy in the country would despise you for it. Not one of them would ever have taken you seriously after that, or given you anything but contempt.

“Little Bill happens to be a great crony of Peterson’s outfit, though why he doesn’t work for the Box S instead of for father I never could tell you. He isn’t so awfully popular with our boys. Most of our riders are pretty good fellows, as you would discover for yourself if there wasn’t this grudge against the forest reserve which keeps you seeing their most disagreeable traits.

“One thing I wanted to tell you, ranger man, is that Peterson and his bunch are going to ‘get’ you, on account of that fight. I heard Little Bill telling the boys so. He wanted them to go in on the scheme, but they wouldn’t do it: or, at least, that’s what I understood from what I overheard.”

“I take it your father would not object to the plan, at any rate.” Patrick O’Neill was not smiling now.

“Father? He never would have anything to do with it! I—I happen to know, ranger, that he has a scheme of his own for getting rid of you.”

“Yes? And if I might ask——”

“I shouldn’t tell you, because it isn’t going to work, anyway. He merely wrote to his brother-in-law—who is my uncle, of course—in Washington, asking him to see that you are removed from this district as your conduct is most obnoxious. But that doesn’t mean anything at all, for I wrote in the very next mail to my uncle, and told him that father is merely prejudiced against the forest service in general, and that—that you are the most competent ranger we have ever had here. I said he must not pay any attention to father. He won’t, either. I lived with Uncle John and Aunt Martha while I was in school, and they know just how cranky and unreasonable father can be. So that’s all right. But Peterson is a different proposition. From what Little Bill said——”

“I think,” said Ranger O’Neill, turning to his horse, “I had better go and have a little talk with our friend Peterson.”

“You will not!” Isabelle caught him by the arm. “That’s exactly what you must not do! I only told you so that you would be on your guard and refuse to be drawn into any argument, as you were at Bad Cañon the other day. Can’t you see? If you know how they feel, you can avoid coming into contact with them until they forget about it. It’s only because they were licked, and Peterson hates that worse than anything else.”

“And would you have me stick close to my station, then?” O’Neill’s eyes held a sparkle it was as well Isabelle did not see. “And what then, if they come after me there?”

“That,” cried Isabelle, “is beside the point! They would never dare attack you at the station. What I think they will do is probably start another quarrel with you, and when you are silly enough to fight, they mean to—to shoot you, for all I know! Little Bill said: ‘We’re goin’ to get him, next time, and get him good! And you’ve got to keep out, I tell you. All this fighting is exactly what they want.’

“And they’ll get what they’re wantin’ or my name is not Patrick O’Neill! Leave go my arm, Queen Isabelle, and let me carry the war to the enemy’s camp—for that’s what they taught me at West Point, and it’s one thing they taught that I thoroughly approve!”

“Oh,” wailed Isabelle, while tears of anger stood in her eyes, “you’re such a blithering fool! All you Irish can think of is fighting! You’re worse than Cushman or Waller or any of the other shoot-’em-up rangers that had to leave or get killed. You promised me you’d win them to you with kindness and courtesy, and if you break that promise, I hope they break your head!”

“And thank you for that same, Miss Boyce,” said Patrick O’Neill, with icy politeness, as he sprang to the saddle. “It’s a fine example of kindness and courtesy you’re setting me now—as like your father as one white bean is like another! So I’ll pass it along to Peterson and Little Bill, and crack their heads as you so sweetly wish them to do by me!”

He lifted his hat from his thick brown hair and gave her a courtly bow that left her furiously stamping her foot and gritting her teeth at him as he galloped away, headed north to the Box S Range that lay along Bad Cañon Creek, between Lodgepole Basin and Trout Creek where the sheep had entered. That the trail led homeward as well never once occurred to Isabelle, who saw him going foolhardily to place his head in the jaws of the lion that roared for his bones to crunch; in other words, to fight on their own ground Peterson and his crowd that had boasted how they would get him.

“She’ll do me the favor to be thinking of me now,” said Patrick O’Neill to himself, though he never once looked back.


As the valley of the Stillwater River—so named because of its swiftness—approaches the high Rockies, it is divided into many sections by the streams that go rushing down to join the larger river; so that the valley resembles a giant hand with outstretched fingers pointing toward the higher peaks to the westward.

Each branch bears a name which grew out of its most conspicuous characteristic, and little timber grows in the valley but crowds close to the base of the mountains. So the broad plateaus that lie between the tributaries of the Stillwater make wonderful grazing ground, while the creeks running down the cañons are bordered with willows and quaking aspen groves that give shelter to the cattle and horses that tread down the trails from higher ground to water.

Before the national forest reserve brought this fine cattle country under its supervision and allotted to each settler certain well-defined grazing grounds for which he must pay an annual fee based upon the number of animals which feed thereon, Stillwater Valley saw many a range battle waged between rival ranchers. Now that the national forest service held all the range—or at least the best of it next the mountains—the fight went much the same, except that the policing of the forest injected a new factor into the struggle. Isabelle Boyce was right, and Ranger Cushman also summed up the situation rather accurately. The stockmen were ready to fly at each other’s throats for little cause, but they stood as one man against the forest service.

“And it’s man by man that I must take them and make them see sense, if I have to crowd it down the throats of them with my fist!” mused Patrick O’Neill, as he reined his horse into the trail that led with steep and devious turnings down into Bad Cañon, which he must cross in order to reach Peterson’s home ranch.

“I’ll talk to him fair,” Pat promised himself. “No man shall ever say that Ranger O’Neill rushed into a fight for the pure love of the scrimmage, without first giving the enemy a chance to eat his words and go in peace. I’ll first reason with the big bully—should it so happen that I have time enough for that. Then if he comes at me—which he will!—I’ll use the fists God gave me for the purpose, and drive my meaning home to the point of his jaw.

“For to teach a dog new tricks you must first convince him that you’re the master of him—and faith, I shall point that out to Queen Isabelle, should some rumors of what is to take place to-day reach her before next Thursday. They’ll likely be out riding, since it’s the round-up time, and he’ll have his friends about him, so that none can say I took an unfair advantage of the man.”

So, thinking piously of his duty to Peterson, he rode splashing into Bad Cañon Creek. A mountain trout the length of his forearm slid from under the very feet of his horse and, with one flip of his tail, darted into the shadow of a still pool sheltered by a mossy boulder, and Ranger O’Neill forgot the duty which brought him there and pulled back to the gravelly bank, dismounting in haste. For fishing stood close to fighting in his Irish heart, and there were other trout lying like slaty, living shadows in the depth of that pool.

To cut a short, pliable willow row and take a white miller from the fine assortment of flies hooked into his hatband was the work of two minutes, with another spent in unwinding trout line and leader from a small card in his breast pocket, where he kept his book of cigarette papers. Then O’Neill led his horse into the shade and tied him there against wandering, pulled his hat low over his eyes to shield them from whipping brush and sun glare alike, and stepped catwise to the brink of the pool.

His tutelage of Peterson could wait, while the trout stream called to the sporting blood of him. He got two trout from that small pool, threaded their panting gills on a bit of line which he tied to his gun belt—on the left side of him, since he was no fool after all—and began fishing upstream, going stealthily from riffle to pool, oblivious to all else for the time being, like all born anglers held entranced with the whipping of a fly out over a mountain stream, skittering it above the water to tempt the king of all wiliness from his dusky retreat beneath a rock.

Any trout fisherman knows the lure of the next pool above, and the next, and yet another. Patrick O’Neill crept warily upstream, parting the bushes with care, landing each trout in silence and putting back all but the largest of his catch. Just one more pool would he whip before he turned back, he promised himself, and stole up to a willow-bordered spot, where the slack water lay enticingly under a high bank grown thick with bushes.

He stopped to reach forward, poised for the cast, then froze in his tracks as some one beyond the bushes spoke his name. He turned his head and stared upward, but could see nothing save the yellow-leaved thicket.

“Aw, that damn ranger!” came Peterson’s drawling voice. “Forget him! Plenty of time for gettin’ him outa the way. Now we’ll settle about the cattle for Whiskers. When will he be through gatherin’ ’em?”

“We’re through now with the bunch I told yuh about,” the voice of Little Bill made reply. “All you can git away with safe. They was throwed in on Castle Creek yesterday. That’s the reason the old man’s been keepin’ cattle outa Castle Creek, so the feed’ll be good to hold his beef steers on till he gits ready to trail ’em out.”

“Somebody’ll stay with ’em, perhaps. Will you be the one, Bill?”

“Aw, they don’t need herdin’, Gus. The drift fence holds ’em from crossin’ to Drew’s range and they won’t work back up over the ridge the other way—not with the feed like it is in there. That’s the way old Boyce figures on savin’ men’s wages. He’ll throw all the beef in there fast as we gather, and make one drive out. I’m s’posed to be huntin’ strays over here, Gus.”

Peterson grunted, and another voice which O’Neill did not recognize spoke up, offering a few choice remarks on the subject of Boyce’s stinginess. He was answered by yet another, and when Peterson spoke again, a third man’s voice was raised in protest.

“If you take ’em up around Lodgepole Basin and across Squaw Gulch and that way—why, hell! You might just as well ride up to Boyce and tell ’em you got his steers—and what’ll he do to yuh! He’s goin’ to miss the bunch first time any one rides to Castle Creek, an’ a blind man could foller their trail.

“Now, what yuh want to do is take ’em out on Drew’s range, on Limestone. We can break the drift fence there and make it look like the cattle done it, and take the bunch out that way, on Drew’s range, and haze some of Drew’s cattle back through the fence onto Castle Creek. That way, old Boyce won’t miss his cattle for a week, maybe. Neither will Drew, because he ain’t half through with his round-up yet. When they’re ready to make their drive out, it’ll look like the cattle got mixed up, is all. And if Boyce don’t find his steers over on Drew’s range, let ’em lock horns over it if they want to! They’re always fighting, anyway, over the line or some darn thing.

“That way, there ain’t any mysterious tracks across Myers Creek and up Squaw Gulch way, and it’s about as close to where you want to hold ’em, Gus. Time the brands is healed and you get ’em down outa that high basin, winter’ll be on and you’re dead safe. You’ll make a late drive this year with your beef, that’s all, and you’ll have all Box S brands—see? If that damn O’Neill don’t go prowling around up there-”

“Aw, what’s goin’ to take him up there? That basin is hemmed in on all sides with young lodgepole pines, and the chances are he don’t even know it’s there. Yeah, that scheme oughta work fine, Gus. We’ll see yuh as far as the hideout, for five dollars a head, and from then on you’ll have to handle it alone.”

“You fellows should help change the brands, too, for five dollars,” Peterson objected. “A five-spot just for drivin’ the cattle is too much. I won’t pay five dollars for just to-night’s work.”

While they wrangled over the money, Patrick O’Neill went down the creek to where his horse was tied, mounted and urged the animal across the creek and up the farther side of the cañon, taking a trail that led sharply away from his objective, which was the trail up from Bad Cañon to the Box S Ranch. He wanted very much to see the three men whose voices he failed to recognize.

Little Bill and Peterson, the ranger could swear to, if it came to a court trial for cattle stealing, but he would feel much easier in his mind if he had the added evidence of meeting the group riding up the cañon where he had heard them planning the details of the crime.

Morenci, the horse, was sweating to his ears when O’Neill finally reached the trail he wanted and loped along it to Bad Cañon. The detour had been made in record time, but even so he was too late, as he was forced to admit when he rode down to the creek at the point where he had heard the discussion, and found the men gone. A windowless log hut set back from the creek bank beyond the willow thicket had been their meeting place, he discovered. There were signs enough of their presence—cigarette stubs on the dirt floor, burned matches, boot tracks, while farther back from the creek he found the place where they had tied their horses.

“They went down the creek, and I missed them entirely,” he decided ruefully, at last. “Rode straight away from them as if the devil was after me, when all I had to do was stop where I was, at the creek with my fishing tackle, and they’d have been atop of me before they knew I was there—and me with the best and most peaceful excuse any man could want! Pat, me lad, you should be well booted for that blunder!”

That night they would make the drive, they had said. They were wise to hurry the job, since there was little time to spare before the winter snows would send the stolen herd down from the high basin; and the altered brands would take some time to heal so that the theft would not be apparent. Furthermore, it was only a matter of days until Boyce or Drew would discover the broken drift fence and begin to search for strayed cattle.

Ranger O’Neill rode with a cigarette gone cold from neglect between his lips while he pondered the best manner of protecting Boyce. He could ride to the Bar B and warn them——

“But what if those strange men are Bar B riders?” he argued the point with himself. “Or what if Boyce is not at home, or more likely starts his tongue wagging at me and stirs the Irish before I get out the news? I’d ride away and let Peterson put through the steal—if Boyce makes me mad enough. And the time is short for a ride to the Bar B and back again to Castle Creek soon enough to stop them.

“Morenci, you’ve the mark of a good cow pony in the way you handle yourself on range inspection, and if you work fast enough, I’m thinking we can handle this little matter alone; though it’s little encouragement I’ve lately received for playing the patron saint to old Boyce. Still, there’s a way to work it that appeals to my sense of humor, and it’s that we’re going to do. So shake a leg, Morenci! You’ve a lot of violent exercise between you and your feed box to-night.”

And Patrick O’Neill, for the first time that day, whistled under his breath, as he galloped, to show how content he was with his mission.


Later Pat O’Neill did not whistle, though he still rode in haste. The afternoon was older than he had suspected when he rode up out of Bad Cañon and across the high grazing ground that lay between his fishing place and Lodgepole Basin. He had a plan which he felt would work beautifully, if only he had time for it; but now with the sinking of the sun, he was not so sure. A great deal depended upon his horse, and he had not spared the animal in his roundabout ride to cut the homeward trail of Peterson and his men.

“First, I must be sure that Boyce’s steers are safe,” he decided, and crossed Limestone Creek with a splash and a clatter of hoofs on the stones. “It’s a new range the Bar B cattle are on, and if I can read the mind of cow brutes, they have traveled as far down the creek as they can go. They will not be satisfied to stay at the upper end of the bottom where the grass is quite as good, but must range farther in the vain hope of finding range that pleases them better. At any rate, it’s worth the gamble.”

As he opened the wire gate in the drift fence which separated Drew’s range from Boyce’s on Castle Creek just above its junction with Limestone, the parklike basin was dusky with the coming of night, but as he led his horse through, closed the gate and remounted, a steer snorted dew from its nostrils not far away. O’Neill turned and rode that way, peering down satisfiedly at the dark forms of the Bar B beef steers bedded down on a rise of ground just back from the creek and the mosquitoes and close to the fence.

“What did I tell you, Morenci? Now, rout them up and we’ll haze them on down the fence toward Picket Pin. If it’s through a fence they want to travel, they may try the other side of the fence on Picket Pin and welcome—and the farther they drift, the safer they’ll be, though it will make more work for the Bar B riders.”

When he had finished that job and the Bar B steers were plodding in the dark to find another bed ground on Picket Pin, Patrick O’Neill cautiously lighted a match in the crown of his hat and looked at his watch.

“Eight o’clock and our work only begun! Get away from here, Morenci, and show the stuff that’s in you!” And striking into a cow path that wound through thickets of aspen and across little open glades, he pelted away up Castle Creek to the steep trail where the rim rock broke down in a great slide of boulders on the divide between Myers Creek and Castle.

When he reached Lodgepole Basin, his watch said ten o’clock and Ranger O’Neill had a deep crease between his eyebrows, for Morenci was wet to his ears—and that not from splashing through creeks, though he had crossed two—and there were more cattle to be moved.

But these were Peterson’s and Ranger O’Neill was not so gentle. Across Lodgepole Basin, he galloped, to where a hundred head or more of Box S cattle ranged happily enough and had for their bed ground a knoll not far from Squaw Gulch, which was not very distant from the Myers Creek divide. For the Stillwater Forest Reserve, you must know, is a network of streams and their cañons, once you are back in the hills.

So Ranger O’Neill made a hasty gathering of Peterson’s cattle and hazed them along at a lumbering gallop to the fenced gap in the rim rock and so down into the Castle Creek pasture which was leased to Boyce. Just for good measure he rode after them and threw a hastily gathered rock or two, and the cattle went down the creek as if a full crew rode hard at their heels.

Ranger O’Neill pulled up and listened until the last sound of whipping brush and the clicking of cloven feet against the rocks had died to silence. The cattle were tired after that headlong drive up Myers Creek to the rim. It had been steep in places and only the manner in which he had rushed them along had held them to the trail. Morenci was standing with his feet slightly braced—the mark of a tired horse—and his flanks palpitating with exhaustion. O’Neill listened while the horse caught his wind, then suddenly he leaned forward and gave the reeking neck a grateful slap.

“Not a dozen horses in the district could have done it, and that’s the truth, Morenci!” Then he fell silent, though his thoughts went on quite as definitely as if he were actually speaking them.

“No sound of riders down below there, so the cattle will quiet down before Peterson comes for them—he chooses late hours for his stealing, thank the Lord! So now let him steal his own stock, though what he’ll think or what he’ll say when he sees their brands in the morning, I sure would like to know. I’d like to go and collect a bit of gratitude from Queen Isabelle and the Honorable Standish Boyce for this night’s work, but that will have to wait until Thursday, for I’m due at Blind Bridger to-morrow. But when I do see her, she will admit I’m doing much to promote peace and quiet along the Stillwater, I’m thinking.”

Wherefore Ranger Patrick O’Neill was a contented young man although a weary one as he rode home under the cool stars of midnight. Morenci got an extra rubdown as well as his supper before O’Neill went away to the cabin to fill his own empty stomach. The fish he had caught were far past their fresh toothsomeness and he threw them away and dined upon what happened to stand ready cooked in the cupboard. But it was a good night’s work and he grinned over it frequently.

“Murray would appreciate that!” O’Neill chuckled, as he pulled off his boot. He was thinking of Peterson’s slack-jawed amazement when he recognized the cattle he had stolen away from Castle Creek that night.

The ranger’s last thought as he put his head on the pillow was of the peppery Bar B owner and his probable mystification when he found his beef herd over on the Picket Pin. Some one would catch a tongue lashing, O’Neill suspected.

“But I’ll ride over and tell him about it before he has time to discover the change of pasture,” he comforted himself. “Peterson was counting on a week or so before the rustling would be suspected, and I’ll see Boyce before then. And Isabelle,” he added sleepily, and then began to dream of all that he would have to say.


“Sure and a most loyal subject bows before the queen this day!” cried Patrick O’Neill, with his best brogue and a somewhat self-satisfied grin on his face. “I was scarce hoping you’d ride out to meet me, and that’s why I was taking the short cut to the Bar B this morning. I’ve things to report that——”

“I should think you would have,” Isabelle Boyce told him sharply. “With all this mix-up over the cattle, and the trouble it’s making, I should think you would have something to say on the subject! Do you know how Tod Drew’s cattle came to be on father’s best range, and father’s beef herd over on that barren ground that wouldn’t furnish grazing for a sheep? And the drift fence down——”

“Do I know? It’s a night’s sleep I lost in getting full knowledge of the mystery, Queen Isabelle! I drove your father’s cattle to the Picket Pin——”

“Indeed?” So much meaning may be crowded into one word with a rising inflection that Patrick O’Neill felt a momentary panic. “I hope, Mr. O’Neill, you will oblige me with your reasons for so astounding a piece of trouble making. I am frankly curious to know what possessed you to commit such a deed.”

“It was a good deed, of which I am proud to tell,” he informed her, secretly pleased at the dramatic change he would presently produce in her mood. “On last Friday afternoon I chanced to hear a plan to steal your father’s gathering of beef steers which he was holding on Castle Creek. Peterson was the leader, and they meant to tear down the drift fence between your father’s range and Drew’s, and drive out the steers that way. They would then drive as many of Drew’s cattle as they could handily gather through the fence and onto Castle Creek, so that it would look as though the cattle had broken down the drift fence and were trespassing of their own accord, and it would not be suspected at once that the beef herd was stolen. Castle Creek Basin being brushy in the hollows, the plan had a fair chance of success.

“I failed to see the men—and that was a bit of bad guessing, of which I am not proud. But I recognized the voice of a Bar B rider, among others. It was late, and though I could have waited at the drift fence and held them up when they came, I could bring no charge against them unless they had actually stolen the cattle. So I thought I would play a trick on Peterson.

“I went to Castle Creek and moved the Bar B steers out of harm’s way—regretting the poor pasturage but having little time to choose a range for them. Then I rode back to Lodgepole, where a bunch of Peterson’s cattle grazed, took them across Squaw Gulch to the head of Myer’s Creek, and up over the divide and through the gap to Castle Creek Basin. It was fast work and it was pretty work, Miss Boyce, and I repeat that I am proud of it!”

With lips slightly parted and eyes wider than usual, Isabelle stared at him and did not speak. So presently the grin smoothed itself from his lips and the twinkle died in his eyes and left a puzzled look there, which could easily turn hostile.

“Would you rather I had let them take your father’s whole beef herd and run the fat off them getting them into some hidden place in the mountains? Or perhaps you think I should have confronted Peterson and fought the lot of them!”

“Of course I don’t think you should do anything so insane! But it couldn’t be much worse. Why didn’t you come and tell father? Why did you let days go by without saying a word? Is it possible you don’t know that father and Tod Drew are always at sword’s points over something, and jump at the least excuse for quarreling? You’ve managed to stir up a pretty mess, Mr. O’Neill. You may have saved father’s beef herd—but what is that when he and Drew have sent each other warning that it will be shoot on sight from now on? I’ve had all I could do to keep father from riding over and killing Drew deliberately!”

“It couldn’t be for what I did the other night,” O’Neill protested. “What if the fence is down and Drew’s cattle were found on your father’s range? That’s not a shooting matter, with sane men.”

Isabelle gave him a withering look. “Oh, how can you be so dense! Do you suppose for one minute that father could ride to Castle Creek and discover Tod Drew’s cattle there, and his own driven over on Picket Pin—because there was no fence broken down there to lay the blame on the cattle!—without doing something about it? He drove Drew’s cattle off with his six-shooter. He killed one and crippled another so Drew had to have it shot. If Tod Drew had been at that drift fence, Mr. O’Neill, there would have been murder! There will be yet, if something isn’t done to stop them, for Tod Drew shot our cattle with a shotgun! For a man who was going to do such great things in psychology,” she cried distractedly, “and instill both liking and respect for the forest service into the hearts of the Stillwater men, you have promoted as bloodthirsty a feud as ever happened anywhere! The only difference is that it is confined to two men, so far—though the cowboys are just as likely to take it up as not, just for the excitement of it!”

“I have received no instructions, Miss Boyce, for guarding the morals of other men,” Patrick O’Neill said somewhat stiffly. “But since your respected parent has not yet committed a murder as well as a felony against his neighbor’s property, I have time enough perhaps to curb his homicidal tendencies. A bit of an explanation will clear the air, I’m thinking.” And he reached for Morenci’s dragging bridle reins.

“You’re never going to face them now and tell them you did it?” Isabelle’s voice rose to a high note of protest. “They’ll kill you!”

But Ranger O’Neill was in the saddle and away, pelting along to Drew’s place, since that was closer than the Bar B. Isabelle watched him out of sight, then mounted and galloped up the road in the dust cloud he left behind him, her heart beating queerly, away up in her throat.

It is strange how training oft will drop away from a man like a garment of winter grown uncomfortable as summer approaches, yet fall into place when the need of it arises again. So with Ranger Patrick O’Neill when he pulled up his horse at Drew’s gate. In the years since West Point he had put aside much of his military bearing in everyday life, and he had gone rather irresponsibly out to meet life, with his rollicky Irish manner to the front because it was easy to wear.

Yet when he dismounted and walked up the path to the house, his back was straight and his step was alert, his chest was out and his belt was in and his eyes looked with keen discernment straight into the leathery countenance of Tod Drew, who glanced cautiously out of a near-by window before he opened the door to his insistent knocking.

“Mr. Drew, I came to report what I know of the drift fence being broken between your range and the Bar B lease on Castle Creek last Friday night.” And Ranger O’Neill forthwith explained, with malice toward none and naming no names, but making himself perfectly clear for all that.

“I have no direct evidence upon which to convict these men, for I failed to get a sight of them. There was little time to forestall them, Mr. Drew, but I did what seemed to me best as a measure of precaution. Since there has been a misunderstanding in the matter of the cattle, I stand ready to make a fair adjustment of whatever damages may have resulted from my removal of the Bar B herd without due notice. I want you to go with me to call upon Mr. Boyce, and I feel sure we can arrive at a friendly understanding.” Then, and not until then, Drew had a glimpse of the grin that was so much a part of Patrick O’Neill.

Drew gave O’Neill a peculiar, squinting look. “Say, me and that old he-wolf has promised to swap lead however and wherever we meet up with each other!” he stated emphatically, at last. “I’ll have to ride up a-shootin’, or he’ll likely think I’m scared and plug me fer a sheep!”

“Not if I ride with you,” urged Patrick O’Neill.

“Dern that ole pelican! he shot two steers fer me——”

“And you killed one or two for him, but if necessary I can arrange to pay for the damages. There’s nothing like going straight out toward trouble, Mr. Drew. Nine times in ten it backs out of sight as you ride toward it. If you’re willing to take a chance——”

“Oh, I was goin’ to ride over there and have it out with him,” Drew told him, with dark meaning. “I’m willin’ to meet the old coot halfway, whether it’s shootin’ or shakin’ hands!”

“I’ve had it in mind to get you two together and see what can be done about clearing out this rustling. You may be the next to suffer, you know. I’m here to do whatever you two think best——”

“Well, I got an idea we might set some kinda trap——”

Shortly thereafter, Isabelle Boyce reined her horse out of the trail to let the two riders pass. Her heart was still beating heavily in her throat, but she would not acknowledge the smiling salute she received from Ranger O’Neill. They were headed for her father’s ranch, but she refused to hurry after them; instead, she waited a while before she turned her horse toward home. Of course, with Tod Drew talking and gesticulating in his usual manner, she could not think that he was going to do murder. Ranger O’Neill would put a stop to all that. But her father would rave and threaten and she doubted whether he would stop long enough to listen to the story which Ranger O’Neill had to tell, or believe it when it was told.

But when she rode up to the house, there stood the two horses tied to the fence, and there were no high voices to be heard. She stood for a minute on the porch, looking and listening. A murmur of conversational tones floated out from the living room, and she went in and stood just outside the closed door, eavesdropping with no compunction whatever.

“If one of my men is involved in this nefarious spoilation of the range,” her father’s rasping voice was saying, “I see no way of exculpating the others until such time as the thieves are apprehended. Mr. O’Neill, I must concur in one statement which you have made, and that is the statement that leasers of government property are entitled to government protection. I shall write to my relative, who stands very close to the head of the department of forestry in Washington——”

Isabelle gave a relieved little laugh which caught in her throat like a strangled sob, and ran upstairs to choose a dainty dress—just in case Ranger O’Neill was invited to stay for supper.

Transcriber’s Note: This story appeared in the June 7, 1926 issue of The Popular magazine.

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