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"Tom Casady felt the sharpness of the glance, and he had a feeling go over him that was like a warning. It was a feeling he knew from the war and a feeling the Apaches had taught him to respect."
Captain Tom Casady stopped his horses on the brow of the hill, wanting to savor every second of his homecoming to the final instant. Below him the lights, now winking on for the first time this night, showed him the outlines of the town, altered but little, and sprawling comfortably along the banks of the Creek. The air of evening was cool on his face, and carried with it the perfume of the sage from the desert to mingle with the freshening tang of the mountain pines, meeting here, as they did, at the town of North Star.
It had been a long war, and he was tired. From this town he had ridden away, a gay, laughing youngster of twenty, off to join the cavalry in '62, and it was this town he had remembered with nostalgia, during the War Between the States and the two years of Indian fighting that followed it. He remembered the friendly smiles, the many doors that opened for him here, and he had remembered the far distances of sage and pine, the rambling adobe ranch house, the dry humor in his father's eyes.
The years between had been bitter, grueling years, but now they were left behind like the dancing heat waves of the border country and he was home at last.
He spoke to the fine appaloosa stallion he rode and started once more, his led horse following willingly, sensing the rest and water that awaited them below in the town. A returning hero. Casady grinned at the thought. He would never grow up, it looked like. Anyway, he would do better just coming in as he was, a stubble of beard on his sun browned face, his worn and faded uniform silvered the dust.
He was a tall man and he rode straight in the saddle as a cavalryman should, and his dark hair curled behind his ears and when his hat was off, fell in an unruly forelock over his brow. His eyes were green, warm and friendly now with anticipation, but they were eyes that could become hard and cold. The War had been bad enough, but fighting Apaches was something to put steel in a man. To meet them and survive one must become sharp eyed as an eagle and wily as a desert wolf.
The first few houses, drew his eyes and he smiled. Some of them were new, and there was the cabin where Doc Tuttle had lived for so long, a light glowing in the window as always. H e was tempted to stop, but now that he was here a fever was on him and he could not wait. The stores were closed, but the windows of the Longhorn Saloon blossomed with light and further down the street were a half dozen other saloon signs. There were new stores, too, and a harness shop he did not recall. The bank was new, but the stage office was still the same old building, one of the first in North Star. Beyond it was the livery stable.
He swung down and whipped some of the dust from him with his hat. A tall man sauntered out from the door. 'Howdy, Stranger! You travelin' far?"
"No further," he smiled quickly, seeing the man was not known to him, "I'm here. This is home for me! I'm Tom Casady."
"Casady?" The man looked puzzled. "I don't reckon I know the name. You say you're from around here?"
"From around here?" Tom as amused and irritated at the same time. "My father started this town1 He owns the C Bar up in the Forks."
The man had taken the bridle of the appaloosa but now he stopped. He rolled his quid in his jaws, then spat. "Well, Casady," he said, "I reckon you better pull up an' take another look. The only ranch up in the Forks is the Sun Dial outfit, an' Jasper Scott owns that."
Captain Tom Casady struck two slow, hard blows at his pant legs, absorbing that. Then he looked up, realizing for the first time that he had been away a long time, and that many things might have changed. His father had written occasionally, and Jim once in a while, but it had been over a year since he had heard from either of them. Uncertain as his own movements had been that did not surprised him; he knew his brother was always a poor hand to write.
"How long have you been here in North Star?" The answer to this might tell him something.
"Two years." The livery man was studying him thoughtfully. "Mister, you must have been away a long time. Things sure do change."
"Yes, I reckon I hadn't realized how much. You don't know the C Bar then? Or my father, Bowe Casady?"
"Sorry, Cap'n," the man shook his head, "I sure don't. come to think of it, though, there's a Casady livin' up on the far slope of Jackson Mesa. But as I recall, his name's Jim. He doesn't come to town very much."
Jim . . . on Jackson Mesa. But what could have happened to the C Bar? And his father?
"All right, put my horses up, if you will. Is there a hotel here?"
"Sure, Cap'n. The Longhorn. Right alongside the saloon of the same name."
He got his war bag from the packhorse and his Winchester. Then he turned and walked up the street to the boardwalk and along it to the Longhorn. As he pushed through the door he heard the jangle of tin panny music from the saloon and saw that swinging doors divided it from the hotel lobby. The lobby was empty now, but a door beyond opened into what was obviously a dining room of sorts. The man behind the desk was likewise a stranger.
He dropped his warbag and put his rifle across the end of the desk while he wrote his hand in a swift, flowing signature. "Welcome," the clerk agreed, he spun the register and glanced at the name. "Take Number Ten at the back of the hotel. We're almost full up, due to that auction tomorrow. Lots of folks in town for the free lunch and the show. Big square dance tomorrow evenin'. Looks like you got here right on time for the shindig, Cap'n Casady."
A man had come through the swinging doors of the saloon, but at the name he drew up sharply and took a cigar from his pocket. For an instant, he stared at Casady, taking him in, head to foot. Then he brought the cigar to his mouth and bit off the end. He was a thin faced man with gray, hard eyes and a quick, nervous way of moving. He spat out the cigar tip and made a move as if to approach the desk. Casady glanced round and their eyes met, briefly.
Tom Casady felt the sharpness of the glance, and he had a feeling go over him that was like a warning. It was a feeling the Apaches had taught him to respect. It had often been his only warning that they were near. Yet the glance passed and he picked up his warbag and rifle and walked up the steps, not looking back.
"Tom went back inside and
three of them tried to gun him."
"Three of them? Tried?"
"oh! I forgot you didn't know Tom.
He's some handy with a gun."
Jasper Scott stepped over to the desk and spun the register. Then he looked up. "What did he say? Ask any questions?"
"No, he sure didn't . . . " But his voice dwindled off for Scott had turned and gone outside. Scott hesitated briefly, but seeing no horse at the hitch rail that he did not know, he walked swiftly toward the livery stable. When he returned, his face was serious.
He hesitated outside the Longhorn, then pushed through the door and glanced over the room, probing it for a face he wanted. A freckled faced young man with dull red hair was just rising from a poker table, obviously broke. "Pink!" Scott called sharply. "Come here!"
Pinky Darrell turned with irritation at the sharpness of the voice, then sauntered slowly over.
Scott looked at him for a moment, then he said, "you've been around here a long time. What do you know about Captain Tom Casady? Is that Jim's brother?"
"Tom?" Pink's face lightened up, this was the first he had heard of Tom Casady in years. "Sure thing! I didn't know he was a captain, though. The army must have treated him all right. What about him?"
Jasper Scott ignored the question. "What sort of man is he? I mean, what's he like? A trouble maker?"
Pink shrugged. "Well, that depends," he admitted, "I never did know Tom to start anything. He was full of the old Ned often enough as a youngster, but he got to readin' a lot as he got older. Before he went to the Army, that was. I never knew him to have much trouble outside of that business over to Weaver, but then he was pushed mighty hard."
"What business? What happened?"
"Why, five of us had gone over there after some cows. We stopped in Weaver and got into a poker game. There was a slick card boy in that other outfit and Tom caught him slidin' one off the bottom. He nearly beat him to death.
"When we were fixin' to ride out of town, Tom went back inside and three of them tried to gun him."
"Three of them?"
"Yeah," Pink looked up, "oh! I forgot you didn't know Tom. He's some handy with a gun. Sort of good with both hands you know. Born with it, I guess. Anyway, these three card sharks tried to gun him and he nailed two of them an' shot the other to doll rags. He pulled through, though."
Scott drew deep on his cigar, then nodded. "Thanks, Pink."
He stood with his feet wide apart and his hands in his coat pockets, thinking. There probably would be no trouble at this late date, but it might pay to talk to the sheriff. This was no time for anything to happen, especially with the auction tomorrow. There was small possibility anything would come of this now, and a little sober council would convince Casady nothing was to be gained by starting anything. Probably he had come back to see his brother, but that was the worst of it ... the boys were already gone to take care of that.
Jasper Scott bit down hard on the cigar. To have this happen now! A few days later and all would have been fine, or better still, a few weeks later. This would mess everything up. For a minute he debated riding after his men and telling them to hold off, but he had planned so long for this moment. And after all this time Casady was almost a stranger. Let's see . . . he left in '62.
Scott nodded. The sheriff and judge had come to town since then, and neither one of them had known Rowe Casady at all. Anyway, it was all legal, fully legal. He had done nothing for which the law could touch him. Nevertheless, as he walked away remembering the tall, straight man who walked up the stairs at the hotel he realized that such a man could be dangerous if he chose to be. It was the face of a
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