THE SHERIFF OFRACTURED JAW
NO, LUCRETIUS.” Miss Phoebe Crew, proprietress of Miss Crew’s Millinery, spoke gently but firmly to the manly figure seated opposite her, a cup of tea balanced neatly on his knee, in the parlor of her flat over her place of business. “My mind is made up. I cannot marry you.” “Now, Phoebe ”
“It is no use, Lucretius. I could not bring myself to marry a man in service. Look at you ! A fine, handsome, spirited man with all your life before you, and how will you spend it? Will it always be ‘Plimsleigh, serve tea,’ or ‘Plimsleigh, fetch me The Times’?”
“Very well, then.” Plimsleigh, fifth generation of his family to serve the Earls of Eggsford, arose and placed his teacup on the table L>eside him, his face inscrutable. “I will trouble you for my hat and bid you a good day, Miss Crew. But you will hear from me and will, I trust, have reason to revise your present decision.” And Ixnving formally, he took his leave.
Oddo, fifth Earl Eggsford, would have been stunned had he been able to peer inside his butler’s mind at that moment, stunned and alarmed, for here was a Plimsleigh who, had he lived five generations before and things had been ordered only slightly differently, might, well have overthrown the House of Eggsford.
The trouble was, Plimsleigh reflected as he walked slowly down the High
Street of Eggsford Parva, the Queen ever since the Crimean thing, when he’d been a mewling infant, she’d kept England peaceful, and a man of humble station stood no chance of rising to fame and glory in a war if there were no wars to fight. Besides which, almost everything worth inventing had been invented, except a really decent silver polish, and there was no getting around the fact that, as he was the first to concede, he lacked the inventive turn of mind. All he knew was the exquisite art of the butler.
But what was it that fat chap from Birmingham had said when he visited Eggsford Manor last year? “Plimsleigh, with your manners you’d make a damned fine commercial traveler, by Godfrey!” Of course, the fat man had been in trade, but on the other hand he was reliably reported to be worth a million pounds and a man worth a million pounds was surely worth heeding . . .
Oddo, Earl Eggsford, took the news hard.
“You know what happens to people who go out to America to seek their fortunes, Plimsleigh. They get scalped. Consider the sad case of my younger son, the Hon. Giles Edgar Frederick William Hackhead . . .” The Earl gnawed his mustaches and his eyes were dim with sorrow.
“A fine lad, m’lord.” Plimsleigh sighed. “He is much missed.”
“Last seen in some God-forsaken village named St. Louis, and that was three years ago. Since then, nothing.”
Exactly thirty-three days later, Plimsleigh walked from the splendidly dignified premises of Threep and Bickhammer, By Appointment Gunsmiths to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, in Oxford Street, London. His expression was one of discreet pleasure. It was, as Mr. Threep had so forcibly expressed it, a glorious opportunity for a young man willing to travel and incur a few, a very few inconveniences.
It was as well that Plimsleigh did not observe the twisted smile on Ephraim Threep’s face as that proud old craftsman watched his newest representative depart upon his way. In the wickerwork basket beside Threep’s desk reposed the crumpled letter from Her Britannic Majesty’s consul at San Francisco, advising Messrs. Threep & Bickhammer of the untimely death of their agent, a Mr. Todhunter, at the hands of a nameless ruffian in the village of Bent Head, N.D. “Burial was private,” the consul’s letter concluded solemnly.
SIXTY DAYS LATER, with the calm of a True Briton in a Tight Spot, Plimsleigh removed his bowler, blew a cloud of yellow trail dust from its beautifully proportioned crown and (hen, with a frown of distaste, carefully removed the arrow which had transfixed it just above the level of his neatly combed hair.
“Just some damn fool Injun kid funnin’,” a hoarse voice howled in his ear. “Don’t let it worry you none, stranger. So long’s the U. S. Cavalry’s close by, them Injuns’ll keep nice and Continued on page 41 peaceful, ’cept for their kids.”
The stage for Fractured Jaw lurched wildly, jolted heavily over a number of small boulders and slowed, only to he caught up in its own cloud of dust. The world became a small yellow blur, full of the screams of grease-hungry axles, pounding hoofs, creaking harness and carriage-work, and the mad cries of the driver and shotgun riding topside.
Plimsleigh sighed bitterly. He hated every single inch of the United States west of the ’Texas border.
It had not been so bad at the military posts where the officers were, in so fatas these Americans seemed to be able to manage, gentlemen and observed the amenities of civilization. True, they displayed a provincial fondness for the Colt patent hand guns but sales had been much better than he had dared hope.
“What’s your business, stranger?” the immense and uncouth giant who was the stage’s only other passenger demanded suddenly. “If you don’t mind the question.”
There was really nothing for it but to answer. ’These impetuous people took offense easily and sometimes offered physical violence to indicate their disapproval. “Guns,” said Plimsleigh shortly, and was aware that the ruffian’s eyes were closely inspecting his yellow chamois traveling gloves, his neatly tailored black broadcloth coat and the quietly elegant silken waistcoat.
“Yeah,” the ruffian murmured, an evil leer distorting his bearded face. “Yeah. 1 get the idea, stranger.” He held out a vast and horny paw. “Glad to know you, friend. My name’s Dawson, Sam Dawson. What’s yourn?”
The stage for Fractured Jaw thundered into the ford of the south branch of the Little Bloody with a roar of scattered gravel and rushing water as Plimsleigh opened his mouth to reply. His hand was enclosed in the giant’s ham-like fist.
“Luke Pimsey, eh? Mighty glad to make your acquaintance,” Mr. Dawson shouted jovially as the stage surged up out of the ford, slithered briefly and then lunged forward once more. “You’re gonna like; Fractured Jaw just fine, friend Pimsey. Just fine and dandy.”
Then at last they were slowing and the stage was rumbling down the rutted main street of Fractured Jaw, Texas, a town of which it would be said in a few years that it had seen better days. To Plimsleigh it looked just like the scores of other dusty drab cheaply built hamlets he had visited since leaving St. Louis more than a month before. Here was the dry-goods emporium, there the barber’s shop, there the lawyer’s office, and everywhere saloons. And horses and people in about,equal proportions.
Fifteen minutes afterward, having seen to the disposal of his valise and sample case, a large, japanned tin trunk, Plimsleigh was stretched out in his room on the second floor of the Hotel Webster, Fractured Jaw’s newest, finest and only hostelry. His eyes still smarted and his back ached and he had little hope of a cup of tea before the inevitable Texas supper of ham, corn, beans and potatoes, drenched in a murky gravy. His mind turned to thoughts of rare roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. He slept.
It is as well that he got a bit of sleep before what happened, happened.
To I he Gay White Way Saloon there
was a pregnant silence as Marmaduke Pertwee, known to his associates and law-enforcement officers as the Salinas Kid, paused in the act of refreshing himself with a glass of rye and stared long and hard into the bar mirror, his lean handsome face tensing with sudden wrath. Without turning around he swiftly drew his revolver, aimed it back over his shoulder, sighting down the barrel as it was reflected in the mirror, and calmly shot Rafe Kincaid, the sheriff of Fractured Jaw. It was a masterful performance and the patrons of The Gay White Way were
quick to voice their admiration, several of the hostesses going so far as to blow kisses at the shyly awkward Kid, who blushed prettily at this display.
“Set ’em up for the house,” he murmured, deftly returning his revolver to his holster. “On me.” Several thoughtful men removed Sheriff Kincaid to the offices of the local physician for treatment.
MEANWHILE several blocks away Sam Dawson was enjoying a restorative glass of bourbon in The Luck of the Draw, a prosperous gam-
ing and dicing establishment which catered to the more refined element of Fractured Jaw.
“Just hang on to your shirts and back teeth, gents,” he was saying to a number of friends gathered around him at the bar under the cut-crystal chandeliers. “I ain't seen one of ’em in these parts for years, but if I don’t know a real honest-to-John Mississippi river boat card shark when I see one, you can tan my hide. Slick dresser. Quiet, too. And another thing . . .” Mr. Dawson's voice dropped to an awed whisper.
“Spit it out, Sam,” a bystander urged anxiously.
“He’s a gunman, boys. A fella wouldn’t dare dress like he does, or talk so dudish unless he’s mighty handy with a gun, in case anybody ?ets disrespectful.”
“Hut what’s he doing in Fractured •Jaw?”
“Ah!” replied Sam Dawson mysteriously. “Wouldn’t we all like to know.”
And now there occurred a third incident which was to affect Lucretius Plimsleigh, as Cato, the Hotel Webster’s cook, handyman and porter, misjudged a corner of the hotel’s narrow staircase. The large black tin sample case of Lucretius Plimsleigh slipped from his grasp and rocketed back down the stairs, its lid flying open in the descent. From the case there erupted exactly thirteen beautiful handguns of every variety, four magnificent shotguns, and one superb -arbine. Here flew the exact replica of the exquisite little derringer built expressly for Lady Mary Shaw-Hewlitt’s purse and there soared a duplicate of the six-shot revolver designed at the command of HUH the Crown Prince of Saxony. Cato stared and was appalled.
St retched upon his couch Plimsleigh slept on, blissfully ignorant of these momentous events. He was dreaming now of very thin cucumber sandwiches.
In the office of the local physician, that learned man was finishing the bandaging of Sheriff Kincaid. “You ve got to get used to drawing with your left hand, Rafe,” he said gruffly. “He got you fair and square in your right shoulder; be six months before you'll be able to lean on a bar.”
“ ’Twas a fluke shot,” Kincaid Snumbled, flushing miserably with humiliation. “The Salinas Kid’s one of the worst shots ever got this far west and lived to tell about it. 1 can t understand it.”
“This means we’ll need a new sheriff,” «aid T. Hamilton Parks, president of the Fractured Jaw State Bank & Trust Co., and a pillar of the community. “Otherwise the town lies at the mercy tof outlaws, gamblers, fancy women and the state bank examiners.
"On the other hand,” he added kindly, “maybe it’s just as well. Those bank examiners were beginning to wonder why you always mistook them for the Dorsey Gang.”
“It kept them out of town, Ham.” •the sheriff answered, his pride stung. “And that’s what I got paid for.”
“I’ll see that you’re taken care of, Kincaid. Right now, we’ve got to locate a new sheriff.”
It was surely Fate which guided the footsteps of T. Hamilton Parks into The Luck of the Draw for a revivatory glass of brandy before assembling the town council, of which he was the chairman, to discuss the problem of securing a new sheriff. He was just in time to hear Sam Dawson finish his narrative of the stirring stage ride to Fractured Jaw.
“Hmmmm,” said Mr. Parks. His manner was thoughtful. “Hmmmm,” he said again. “Where did you say this man was to be found?”
PLIMSLEIGH was awakened by someone shaking the bed and the confused babble of rough voices. He opened one eye. Then he opened the other and sat bolt upright.
“We’re not asking you, Pimsey, we’re telling you,” T. Hamilton Parks was saying a few moments later. “Aren’t we, boys?” To this rhetorical question there was a low, animal growl of assent and a certain amount of gun-fingering. “We need a sheriff,” Parks went on from his position at the foot of Plimsleigh’s bed, “and you’re it.”
“Or else,” added Mr. Claude Witherspoon, the genial host of The Gay White Way, beetling his brows in a significant fashion.
“Or else what?” Plimsleigh demanded, his wits returning slowly after the rude awakening he had suffered at the hands of the citizens’ deputation.
“There’s about five hundred of us and only one of you. You figure it out,” Mr. Witherspoon grated. “Come on, Pimsey. On your feet; you got work to do. The Salinas Kid’s in town and spoiling for a fight.”
Plimsleigh was aghast . To be awaked without tea by a gang of desperadoes and told he was to be sheriff . . . And then a new thought struck him . . . Sheriff of Fractured Jaw. True, it had not quite the pomp and ring of Nottingham but then it was unlikely that Miss Phoebe Crew would know that Fractured Jaw was less than one-hundredth of the size of Nottingham, smaller even than Eggsford Parva. Lucretius Plimsleigh, Lord High Sheriff of Fractured Jaw . . .
Then too he seemed to have no choice in the matter.
“Very well, gentlemen,” he said in the same firm tones he had once used to announce dinner. “I accept the honor.”
He would, he thought quickly as his visitôrs uttered a hoarse bellow of approval, write that evening to Messrs. Threep & Bickhammer explaining that he had been unavoidably detained for a few days. Then when the hysteria which appeared to have seized upon these rude fellows had blown over he would quietly take the next stage to Fort Worth. It would make an amusing story to tell his grandchildren.
It was indicative of his tealess and therefore blank-minded state that it was not until he was being carried down the stairs on the shoulders of his wildly cheering temporary fellowtownsmen that he remembered the remark about the Salinas Kid.
But Fate was being kinder than he wotted to Lucretius Plimsleigh.
TO UNDERSTAND just how kind Fate was being, it is necessary to return for a moment to The Gay White Way whose proprietor had been so instrumental in the appointment of the new sheriff. There Marmaduke Pertwee was indeed master of the revels, having enjoyed an extraordinarily prosperous week at the expense of the Wells Fargo Express Company, and the company gathered around him were loud in their praise of his generosity, marksmanship and general nobility of character. None of them had so much as a glance for the porter of the Hotel Webster who had come in to procure his employer’s regular evening pint of rye from the jovial barman. None of them saw the barman’s lantern jaw sag as Cato related the circumstances of the fallen tin sample trunk, and the arsenal within it. Until the Kid himself staggered to the bar to demand yet further drink for his friends . . .
“Eighteen guns.” the barman muttered as if to himself, pouring out the requisite number of refreshments.
“Howzhat?” enquired Marmaduke Pertwee, paling beneath his tan.
“All of a sudden, Salinas, you don’t scare me no more,” the barman said, smirking maliciously. “If I was you, Kid, I’d make tracks. Eighteen-gun Pimsey’s in town.”
“Eighteen guns,” the barman said, his voice flat, his eyes beady with contempt.
“Oy!” cried Marmaduke Pertwee. And thereafter he was seen no more in Fractured Jaw, for coward and bully though he was he had wit enough to appreciate the wisdom of Voltaire’s remark concerning the heaviest artillery and whose side God was on.
In this wise Lucretius Plimsleigh entered upon his semi-involuntary office. He was given a large silverplated star, the keys to the town jail, a month’s salary in advance and unlimited credit at The Gay White Way, The Luck of the Draw, and Burke’s Big Cash Store.
The week that followed saw Fractured Jaw become one of the most law-abiding communities in west Texas. There was even talk of establishing a church and arrangements were made to secure a replacement for the schoolteacher, who had abandoned education for art and was at the moment a featured songstress at The Crystal Palace, a dancing hall of low repute on the edge of town. Ammunition sales at Burke’s Big Cash Store dropped to an all-time low a,s the rattle and crash of small arms and the whine of ricochets silenced.
And Eighteen-gun Pimsey remained a man of mystery, an austere figure in a frock coat and bowler hat, haunted by what thoughts no man could say.
IN THE MAIN he was haunted by the thought of what might have happened had the Salinas Kid elected to stick around. He worried also of what Messrs. Threep & Bickhammer would say when the orders stopped coming through. And there was the ever-present knowledge that he could not shoot. Sooner or later the psychological value of his nickname would tempt some bravo to match skills . . . who would not be proud to say that he had faced down Eighteen-gun Pimsey?
That week saw the arrival of Miss Ellen Bishop, who was to be the new schoolteacher. She took up her residence at the Hotel Webster while she hunted for more suitable lodgings. Miss Bishop was petite, red-haired and of firm character. She had dimples and her nose tilted slightly heavenward.
She it was who saw the limit of Lucretius Plimsleigh’s patience reached a few mornings afterward at breakfast when Elveena, the Hotel Webster’s slatternly maid, slammed a potful of alleged tea before him, sniggering evilly.
Plimsleigh’s voice was distinct and deadly. “Will you please to remove this, Miss.” His expression was that of a man battling terrible urges and his knuckles were white with the effort of self-restraint. Miss Bishop smiled gently and disappeared into the kitchen behind the shambling Elveena. Some minutes later she reappeared, bearing the teapot. She set it on the table.
“There,” she said, her voice musical and pleasant. “Try that.”
He poured himself a cup. It was steaming and tawny and had been brewed with boiling water in a heated teapot and Plimsleigh’s soul expanded within him. He gazed upon this girl with admiration.
They introduced themselves.
“And you’re the sheriff?” Miss Bishop asked incredulously.
Plimsleigh dusted his fingernails on the lapel of his coat and glanced modestly into his teacup. “Perhaps,” he ventured politely, “you would care to join me at dinner this evening, Miss Bishop?” Surely, he thought, Miss Phoebe Crew would prefer him to associate with a lady of impeccable moral standing rather than risk the questionable attentions of the dubious young women in The Gay White Way.
“Thank you, sir,” she said. “I’d be delighted.”
t B THE MORNING was crisp and 1 beautiful and even Fractured Jaw looked almost habitable as Plimsleigh, full of tea and bonhommie, strolled
down its single broad street to hi office. Sooner or later, he told himselj he would have to think about makin a few sales; T. Hamilton Parks ough to be good for an engraved pistol, an possibly Witherspoon, the innkeepei and that chap Dawson. His mediti tions were interrupted by a bull-lib bellow.
“Hey! Pimsey!” Mr. Sam Dawsa himself appeared in the door of Th Gay White Way and hurried to joi the sheriff. “You heard the bad newt sheriff?” he asked breathlessly. “Ya better get you a posse, son. Blad Hands McGinty and his gang hav crossed the border from Mexico an they’re headin’ this way!”
“Black Hands McGinty?” Plin sleigh’s voice carried a note of mil bewilderment. “Heading this way?” “He’s also known as the Maske Terror of Monterrey; never come thi far north across the border before s he must be on a real hell-raiser. Bu you’ll have to excuse me, son. I go important business in Hallsburg, dow the road a ways. Good luck.” An with a friendly pat on the back c Lucretius Plimsleigh, Sam Dawso: returned to The Gay White Way fo a glass of breakfast before leaving towr In his office Plimsleigh found frayed and worn poster buried in ; desk drawer announcing that the Re public of Mexico would pay $5,000 fo Black Hands McGinty, dead or alive There was another crudely-printa poster announcing that Black Hand McGinty would pay $10,000 for th Republic of Mexico, dead or alive, bu this Plimsleigh dismissed as braze: bravado. He glanced at the list o crimes with which Black Hands Me Ginty was accused and noted that onl; barratry and socage in fief appearet to have escaped the villain’s attention A lesser man might have stolen quietly back to the Hotel Webst« and hidden under a bed but Lucretia Plimsleigh was a man of honor and he had accepted a month’s salary. He would, he decided, recruit a posse and when it had been assembled, return the money, confess that he had never fired a shot in anger in his life and suggest to them that they elect one of their number to replace him. It should bí simple once the facts were placed squarely before them.
OUTSIDE his office he heard the muted thunder of hoofs and glancing from his single, fly-specked window he observed what seemed to be a troop of irregular cavalry passing along the dusty street. He strolled to the door the better to see this curious procession even as the pace of the horses increased from canter to gallop, and he wat shocked to recognize some of the sterr set faces of those aboard the now flying mustangs.
The able-bodied male population o¡ Fractured Jaw was taking its departure “Give ’em hell, Pimsey,” shouted one among them. “You look after the women and children or we’ll hunt you down and cut you up in little bittj pieces, you hear?”
“I got a dentist’s appointment aí Centerville, sheriff,” another callee shamefacedly. “Sorry.”
In a few moments a swirling ejouc of yellow dust was all that remainec to be seen of the retiring equestrians This, Plimsleigh thought bitterly was the price of vanity; how he’e smirked at the title: Lord High Sherif of Fractured Jaw. Now he would pa} dear for his folly.
It was a silent and frightenec community upon which the sun bea mercilessly down. Alone and erec Plimsleigh walked gravely back to th' Hotel Webster. As he passed The Ga} White Way he saw the fear-striekei faces of several dancing girls, white beneath their rouge and mascara. At Burke’s Big Cash Store they were nailing heavy boards over the windows, Mrs. Burke handing nails and hammer to her ten-year-old son. Already the heavy steel doors of the Fractured Jaw State Bank & Trust Co. had been slammed shut and padlocked from the inside.
“] demand protection, Pimsey,” came the muffled voice of T. Hamilton Parks from behind the bank’s barred windows.
At the Hotel Webster the proprietor was supervising the removal of furniture and other frangible objects to the second floor. Miss Ellen Bishop stood just inside the bare lobby, her normally pert and cheerful face drawn with anxiety.
“Oh, Mr. Pimsey,” she cried as Lucretius turned into the hotel, “how could those men have been such cowards? Running like a pack of frightened rabbits just because some ruffian’s name is mentioned and leaving you alone to face—.” She gasped as the implications of what she was hinting struck her and her expression became one of pretty dismay. “I’m so terribly sorry,” she murmured.
“Thank you, Miss Bishop,” Plimsleigh said sombrely. “1 trust that all will be well when this McGinty person is apprised of the fact that the town contains naught of value and that his presence here is undesirable. Doubtless he and his band will move on to other, more remunerative fields of endeavor.”
HE WENT upstairs to his room and selected a duplicate of the fine target revolver with pearl-inlaid butt and warranted accurate at sixty yards, constructed at the wish of the Seventh Duke of Rutledge. Thoughtfully he inserted the cartridges into their chambers and then wrapped the gleaming blue-steel weapon in its chamois carrying bag and stuffed it into his coat pocket. It would be as well to be prepared for any eventuality, he reflected as he descended again to the street.
“Pray keep to the upper floor, Miss Bishop,” he urged as he prepared to return to his office. “In the event of small arms fire . . .”
“You are a brave man, sir,” she said, her green eyes full of admiration.
“Letter for you, sheriff,” Cato the porter wheezed as he shuffled in from the kitchen. “It come by this mornin’s stage.” He handed Lucretius a dogeared creased envelope, scribbled over ts back and face with forwarding
addresses. The stamp was British and the postmark that of Eggsford Parva. Plimsleigh stuffed it in his pocket along with his gun and strode from the hotel, his face a taut mask beneath the brim of his bowler.
Alone in his office he read Miss Phoebe Crew’s short note.
”... can wait no longer, 1 have consented to become the wife of Alfred Higgins, the draper,” Miss Crew’s note explained coolly.
But somehow the shock was not so great as it might have been; indeed, it was probably a good thing, Plimsleigh told himself. He would leave no women to mourn his passing. Now there was nothing to deter him from facing Black Hands McGinty. Besides there had always been the faint suggestion that Miss Phoebe Crew’s eyes were set too close together, a certain narrowness, a kind of pinched beetling . . . not a bit like Miss Ellen Bish—. He put the thought from his mind.
By three o’clock that afternoon the sound of a pin dropping would have echoed hollowly in the single street of Fractured Jaw. By three-thirty the sound of a pin dropping would have been a welcome relief from the ghastly tension, the unearthly silence, the dreadful waiting. No mote stirred.
Plimsleigh sat in his office and attempted to relax by arranging in his mind the silverware and seating for a nine-course dinner to include the younger son of a viscount and the eldest daughter of a baronet. He did not dare to let his mind wander into the wild maze of thoughts that crowded in upon him.
At precisely four o’clock he heard the sound of horses cantering easily up the street, heard their whickering as they stopped and the heavy thuds of riders dismounting.
“. . . fish knives and soups,” Plimsleigh murmured to himself and stood up. He adjusted his bowler until it sat straight upon his head and straightened the silver star of his office on the lapel of his coat. Then he patted his coat pocket to ensure that his gun was in place, still wrapped in its chamois bag. His face set in the steely glare he had so often and with such immense effect employed upon impertinent second foot men he walked from his office into the sun-drenched street, his shadow’ long in front of him.
HE SAW by the tethered horses that the riders had entered The Gay White Way and thither he directed his firm steady steps. Six horses. Six men. From behind a score of curtained windows, he was well-aware, awed and stricken eyes followed his implacable progress as the women and children and the lame, the halt and the blind waited for all hell to break loose in Fractured Jaw.
Now he was in front of ‘The Gay White Way. Beneath the swinging doors he saw a dozen roughly-booted feet planted along the bar. He heard rude guffaws and several loud oaths.
“So your sheriff calls himself Eighteen-gun Pimsey, does he?” shouted one of the desperadoes, laughing like a fiend from the Inferno. “They tell me he’s an eastern dude.”
“Where is this boy wonder?” howled an even more repulsive voice. “We’ll chaw him up and spit him in the crick.” Plimsleigh inhaled deeply, took a last look at the bright world of sunshine and life and stalked through the swinging doors into the saloon. The doors squeaked once and swung shut. There was a mighty shout.
There was a fusillade of gunfire and the sound of the mirror behind ’The Gay White Way’s bar shattering into a thousand splinters.
And then silence.
1-1HE COLLECTIVE soul of Fractured Jaw sighed. Crouched by the window of her room in the Hotel Webster Miss Ellen Bishop sobbed brokenly for she had come to admire the silent courteous man who had just given his all in the cause of peace and justice.
Then from The Gay White Way strolled the sheriff of Fractured Jaw arm in arm with Black Hands McGiYity, their faces wreathed in smiles. From behind them came suddenly the clangor of the mechanical piano and for the first, time in hours the tinkle of girlish glee, the clomp of dancing boots.
“Gad, Plimsleigh, you gave me quite a start,” chuckled Black Hands MeGinty, his youthful face alight with pleasure. “I thought pater’d sent you to fetch me back.”
“On the contrary, sir, it was you who startled me,” Plimsleigh said, his voice jovial, almost paternal. “My, how you’ve grown, sir. Another stone, I’ll be bound.”
“It’s the outdoor life, Plimsleigh. Gives you an appetite,” said the Hon. Giles Edgar Frederick William Hackhead, younger son of the fifth Earl Eggsford. He glanced at the deserted streets. “I take it we’re a trifle unpopular in these parts?”
Plimsleigh coughed discreetly behind his hand. “There is a certain amount of antagonism, sir. The, —er, natives have heard reports relevant to your activities in Mexico and—”
“Exaggerated, Plimsleigh, vastly exaggerated. Just having a bit of fun and games before I have to go back to Cambridge and settle down to respectability. Ah, here’s Tubby Wingate; you remember Sir Algernon Wingate, Bart., Plimsleigh.” And the Hon. Giles turned to introduce one of the booted and spurred members of his band who had just emerged from the bar with a blonde on each arm.
“Ah, there, Plimsleigh,” cried the young baronet genially.
“Where’s the nearest railroad east, Plimsleigh?” the Hon. Giles demanded. “We’re bound back for England, home, beauty and dullness, dammit!”
“There isa railroad near Fort Worth,” Plimsleigh responded quickly. “I am not advised of their timetables but accommodations are doubtless to be obtained. I may say, sir, that your return will be a great satisfaction to your parents; they were, at the time of my departure from their employ, under the unfortunate impression that you were dead.”
“Far from it, Plimsleigh,” the Hoi. Giles said, grinning broadly. Then the import of his former butler’s words struck him. “You mean you quit? Good man! 1 always knew you had too much spirit to buttle away the rest of your life. This is the place for you, Plimsleigh; lots of space and opportunity. Stay and prosper. Marry some nice girl and raise a family. I shall send a fish server and follow your progress with interest.”
“As will I,” declared Sir Algernon Wingate emotionally, much moved. “I shall stand godfather to your firstborn.”
“To horse, gentlemen,” shouted the Hon. Giles Hackhead, springing to his saddle. “Let us leave Fractured Jaw in peace, secure in the hands of its brave sheriff. As we say in Mexico, Plimsleigh, adios!" And with a brave flourish of their broad-brimmed hats the erstwhile Black Hands McGintv Gang rode off into the twilight.
THE GRAND ball and square dance which took place that very night in The Gay White Way was to become part of the legend and lore of Fractured Jaw and there were reliable reports that the shouting and merriment were heard as far away as Sandy Ditch, some ten miles to the south. Toasts were drunk and the red-eye flowed like water and one of the dancing girls knifed her fiance in the exuberance of t he occasion.
The cry, “Pimsey for Congress!” began in The Gay White Way and spread like a brush fire to The Last Chance, The Silver Dollar, The Luck of the Draw and all the other places of entertainment throughout the town, growing in strength and power with each passing minute. T. Hamilton Parks himself led the great torchlight procession to the Hotel Webster where the hero of the hour was just finishing a dinner of rare roast beef and Yorkshire pudding prepared by the skilled and affectionate hands of Miss Ellen Bishop who was laughing and crying with delight.
“Pimsey for Congress!” the mighty chorus arose to the moonlit heavens again and again. “The reward for valor, the prize for bravery!”
It was not until some hours later that Plimsleigh was enabled to be alone with Miss Ellen Bishop. They strolled slowly through the deserted street at the edge of town, away from the ribald gaiety of the saloons, Plimsleigh tall and erect in his frock coat and bowler, Miss Bishop demure and lovely in the pale glow of the moon shining down on Fractured Jaw.
“It’s a thought,” Plimsleigh conceded, breathlessly aware that he had seized Miss Bishop’s small soft hand and that it was not withdrawn from his grasp. “I hate guns anyway and I’m not a very good salesman.” His hand was abruptly squeezed.
“You are, too,” came the gentle whisper from the girl beside him.
“An unemployed butler,” Plimsleigh mused, “isn’t much use to anybody. Maybe congress would be the ideal solution. If it’s anything like parliament back home you don’t have to know anything . . .”
They had reached a towering old cottonwood tree by the edge of the cemetery. The shadows beneath it were dark and inviting.
“I’d need a hostess,” Plimsleigh said goftly. “Living in Washington, you
know. It would be expected.”
“I know,” said Miss Ellen Bishop, catching her breath.
There was a soft hollow plunk. The two dim figures in the shadows beneath the cottonwood tree seemed not to notice it, clasped as they were in a tight embrace.
Plimsleigh’s bowler had fallen off. ★