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Vaughn Steele and Russ Sittell
In the morning, after breakfasting early, I took a turn up and down the main street of Sanderson, made observations and got information likely to serve me at some future day, and then I returned to the hotel ready for what might happen.
The stage-coach was there and already full of passengers. This stage did not go to Linrock, but I had found that another one left for that point three days a week.
Several cowboy broncos stood hitched to a railing and a little farther down were two buckboards, with horses that took my eye. These probably were the teams Colonel Sampson had spoken of to George Wright.
As I strolled up, both men came out of the hotel. Wright saw me, and making an almost imperceptible sign to Sampson, he walked toward me.
"You're the cowboy Russ?" he asked.
I nodded and looked him over. By day he made as striking a figure as I had noted by night, but the light was not generous to his dark face.
"Here's your pay," he said, handing me some bills. "Miss Sampson won't need you out at the ranch any more."
"What do you mean? This is the first I've heard about that."
"Sorry, kid. That's it," he said abruptly. "She just gave me the money--told me to pay you off. You needn't bother to speak with her about it."
He might as well have said, just as politely, that my seeing her, even to say good-by, was undesirable.
As my luck would have it, the girls appeared at the moment, and I went directly up to them, to be greeted in a manner I was glad George Wright could not help but see.
In Miss Sampson's smile and "Good morning, Russ," there was not the slightest discoverable sign that Iwas not to serve her indefinitely.
It was as I had expected--she knew nothing of Wright's discharging me in her name.
"Miss Sampson," I said, in dismay, "what have I done? Why did you let me go?"
She looked astonished.
"Russ, I don't understand you."
"Why did you discharge me?" I went on, trying to look heart-broken. "I haven't had a chance yet. I wanted so much to work for you--Miss Sally, what have I done? Why did she discharge me?"
"I did not," declared Miss Sampson, her dark eyes lighting.
"But look here--here's my pay," I went on, exhibiting the money. "Mr. Wright just came to me--said you sent this money--that you wouldn't need me out at the ranch."
It was Miss Sally then who uttered a little exclamation. Miss Sampson seemed scarcely to have believed what she had heard.
"My cousin Mr. Wright said that?"
I nodded vehemently.
At this juncture Wright strode before me, practically thrusting me aside.
"Come girls, let's walk a little before we start," he said gaily. "I'll show you Sanderson."
"Wait, please," Miss Sampson replied, looking directly at him. "Cousin George, I think there's a mistake--perhaps a misunderstanding. Here's the cowboy I've engaged--Mr. Russ. He declares you gave him money--told him I discharged him."
"Yes, cousin, I did," he replied, his voice rising a little. There was a tinge of red in his cheek. "We--you don't need him out at the ranch. We've any numbers of boys. I just told him that--let him down easy--didn't want to bother you."
Certain it was that George Wright had made a poor reckoning. First she showed utter amaze, then distinct disappointment, and then she lifted her head with a kind of haughty grace. She would have addressed him then, had not Colonel Sampson come up.
"Papa, did you instruct Cousin George to discharge Russ?" she asked.
"I sure didn't," declared the colonel, with a laugh. "George took that upon his own hands."
"Indeed! I'd like my cousin to understand that I'm my own mistress. I've been accustomed to attending to my own affairs and shall continue doing so. Russ, I'm sorry you've been treated this way. Please, in future, take your orders from me."
"Then I'm to go to Linrock with you?" I asked.
"Assuredly. Ride with Sally and me to-day, please."
She turned away with Sally, and they walked toward the first buckboard.
Colonel Sampson found a grim enjoyment in Wright's discomfiture.
"Diane's like her mother was, George," he said. "You've made a bad start with her."
Here Wright showed manifestation of the Sampson temper, and I took him to be a dangerous man, with unbridled passions.
"Russ, here's my own talk to you," he said, hard and dark, leaning toward me. "Don't go to Linrock."
"Say, Mr. Wright," I blustered for all the world like a young and frightened cowboy, "If you threaten me I'll have you put in jail!"
Both men seemed to have received a slight shock. Wright hardly knew what to make of my boyish speech. "Are you going to Linrock?" he asked thickly.
I eyed him with an entirely different glance from my other fearful one.
"I should smile," was my reply, as caustic as the most reckless cowboy's, and I saw him shake.
Colonel Sampson laid a restraining hand upon Wright. Then they both regarded me with undisguised interest. I sauntered away.
"George, your temper'll do for you some day," I heard the colonel say. "You'll get in bad with the wrong man some time. Hello, here are Joe and Brick!"
Mention of these fellows engaged my attention once more.
I saw two cowboys, one evidently getting his name from his brick-red hair. They were the roistering type, hard drinkers, devil-may-care fellows, packing guns and wearing bold fronts--a kind that the Rangers always called four-flushes.
However, as the Rangers' standard of nerve was high, there was room left for cowboys like these to be dangerous to ordinary men.
The little one was Joe, and directly Wright spoke to him he turned to look at me, and his thin mouth slanted down as he looked. Brick eyed me, too, and I saw that he was heavy, not a hard-riding cowboy.
Here right at the start were three enemies for me--Wright and his cowboys. But it did not matter; under any circumstances there would have been friction between such men and me.
I believed there might have been friction right then had not Miss Sampson called for me.
"Get our baggage, Russ," she said.
I hurried to comply, and when I had fetched it out Wright and the cowboys had mounted their horses, Colonel Sampson was in the one buckboard with two men I had not before observed, and the girls were in the other.