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Riders of the Purple Sage

7. The Daughter Of Withersteen
"Lassiter, will you be my rider?" Jane had asked him.
"I reckon so," he had replied.
Few as the words were, Jane knew how infinitely much they implied. She wanted
him to take charge of her cattle and horse and ranges, and save them if that
were possible. Yet, though she could not have spoken aloud all she meant, she
was perfectly honest with herself. Whatever the price to be paid, she must keep
Lassiter close to her; she must shield from him the man who had led Milly Erne to
Cottonwoods. In her fear she so controlled her mind that she did not whisper this
Mormon's name to her own soul, she did not even think it. Besides, beyond this
thing she regarded as a sacred obligation thrust upon her, was the need of a
helper, of a friend, of a champion in this critical time. If she could rule this gun-
man, as Venters had called him, if she could even keep him from shedding
blood, what strategy to play his flame and his presence against the game of
oppression her churchmen were waging against her? Never would she forget the
effect on Tull and his men when Venters shouted Lassiter's name. If she could
not wholly control Lassiter, then what she could do might put off the fatal day.
One of her safe racers was a dark bay, and she called him Bells because of the
way he struck his iron shoes on the stones. When Jerd led out this slender,
beautifully built horse Lassiter suddenly became all eyes. A rider's love of a
thoroughbred shone in them. Round and round Bells he walked, plainly
weakening all the time in his determination not to take one of Jane's favorite
racers.
"Lassiter, you're half horse, and Bells sees it already," said Jane, laughing. "Look
at his eyes. He likes you. He'll love you, too. How can you resist him? Oh,
Lassiter, but Bells can run! It's nip and tuck between him and Wrangle, and only
Black Star can beat him. He's too spirited a horse for a woman. Take him. He's
yours."
"I jest am weak where a hoss's concerned," said Lassiter. "I'll take him, an' I'll
take your orders, ma'am."
"Well, I'm glad, but never mind the ma'am. Let it still be Jane."
From that hour, it seemed, Lassiter was always in the saddle, riding early and
late, and coincident with his part in Jane's affairs the days assumed their old
tranquillity. Her intelligence told her this was only the lull before the storm, but her
faith would not have it so.
She resumed her visits to the village, and upon one of these she encountered
Tull. He greeted her as he had before any trouble came between them, and she,
responsive to peace if not quick to forget, met him halfway with manner almost
cheerful. He regretted the loss of her cattle; he assured her that the vigilantes
which had been organized would soon rout the rustlers; when that had been
accomplished her riders would likely return to her.
"You've done a headstrong thing to hire this man Lassiter," Tull went on,
severely. "He came to Cottonwoods with evil intent."
 
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