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Jan-March, 2009 Issue: Vol 1

Real Goods Solar, Inc.

Marshal Of Canyon Gap

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By Louis L'Amour

He rode down from the hills, a tall rawboned young man with the quiet confidence of one given to hard work and responsibility. He had a shock of rusty brown hair, grey eyes, and a way of moving in which there was no lost motion.

Sitting in the sunlight on the main street of Canyon Gap, I was sorry to see him come. He was a man who looked like he'd been long on the road. He also looked like trouble aplenty, and I was a man who didn't like trouble at all.

He rode into town on a rawboned buckskin and dismounted at Bacon's hitch trail. All the time he was tying that horse, he was looking up and down the street while seeming to be almighty busy with that knot.

By the time he had his horse tied he knew the location of every man on the street, and every window. I'd not seen Jim Melette before, but he was no tenderfoot, no pilgrim. A man isin't marshal of a cow town for ten years without sizing up the men who come to town, and learning to estimate their capacity for trouble.

He stepped up on the boardwalk, a big man in fringed shotgun chaps and a blue wool shirt, wearing a black flat-brimmed hat. For a moment, his eyes caught me with full attention, and then he turned his back on me and went into the store.

That store didn't worry me so much. What I was thinking about was the saloon. Brad Nolan was over there with Pete Jackson and Led Murry.

Brad was a headstrong, troublemaking man who had a way of bulling about that showed he figured he made might big tracks. Trouble was, he'd never done anything to entitle him to that attitude, and he was aching for a chance. Brad was feeling his importance, and for four or five years, I'd been watching him put on muscle and arrogance until I knew trouble couldn't be avoided.

Lately he had been swaggering around and I knew he was wondering how far he'd get trying me on, but he'd seen me shoot holes through too many aces and no man wants to buck that kind of shooting.

Pete Jackson was worse because he was a talker. He never knew when to keep his mouth shut, and never considered the results of his loose talk, and such a man can cause more trouble than three Memphis lawyers.

Led Murry was an unknown quantity. He was new in town, and I hadn't made up my mind what to think about Led...there was something that happened a short while back that had me wondering if he wasn't the worst of the lot, but I wasn't sure. I just knew he never said much and he had crazy eyes, and that worried me.

Brad Nolan seemed the one inclined to start trouble, but he had seen me toss a playing card in the air, draw, and put a hole in it dead center before it hit the ground. It kept him and a lot of others from starting anything.

It was time I had some tobacco. Not that I didn't have some, but Melette was buying supplies and I figured it might be a good thing to know more about him. Also, he was a fine figure of a man and that Ginnie Bacon was working for her pa this morning.

Jim Melette was looking at the trousers when I cam in, and Ginnie was looking at him.

Lizzie Porter was there and she was talking to Ginnie like she'd been put up to it. "Who taking you to the pie supper, Ginnie?

"I don't know." Ginnie said, looking at Melette. "I'm waiting to be asked."

"What about Brad? Isn't he taking you?"

"All I can say is"--Lizzie never said all she could say, but she tried hard enough--"I hope that Ross woman dosen't come." Melette didn't react much but I've watched a good deal of human nature in my time and I could tell he was suddenly on point.

"Oh, she won't come! Who would bring her? Not after the way she was treated last time." Ginne was watching Melette, who was studying some new boots now. "She's pretty enough if you like that snooty type, too good to talk to anyone...and she must be thirty, if she's a day."

Jim Melette went to the counter and took a list from his pocket, and Ginnie gave him one of her dazzling smiles. "What's about his pie supper?" he asked.

"It's tomorrow night." Ginnie was batting her eyes like an owl in a hailstorm and Ginnie was a mighty pretty girl. "We'll all be there. They auction pies, you know, and if you buy a girl's pie you get to sit with her. There's dancing, too. You do dance, don't you?"

"Sometimes...I can hold a girl while she dances. Who's this Ross woman you mentioned?"

"Her?" Ginnie wrinkled her nose. "She's nobody. She moved into the house on Cottonwood Hill a few months ago, and the only visitors she has around seem to come of a night, at least there's lots of horse tracks in and out of her gate. Nobody wants her around, but she came to the last social, bold as brass."

That Ginnie..she could make a sieve out of the truth without half trying. Truth was, nobody did want Hanna Ross, nobody but the men. The women looked down their noses at her because she was a stranger who lived alone, but so far as I'd seen none of them had tried to be neighborly.

Thirty years old, Ginnie said, but Hanna Ross couldn't be a day over twenty-four, and was one of the finest-looking girls I'd seen in a coon's age, and believe me, I've seen aplenty.

Ginnie saw me coming to the counter for my tobacco. It was high time because I'd about worn out that saddle, what with turning it and studying it and picking at the stitching. "Oh! Marshal, have you met Mr. Melette?"

He turned around giving me a straight hard look. "I haven't met the marshal." Melette said. "but I've heard of him."

Name's McLane." I said. "Folks call me Mac."

Seems to me I remember you, Melette said. "You've walked the boards of this town quite some time, haven't you Marshal?"

Inside I stiffened up...that there phrase "walked the boards" might have been an accident, but from the smile around his eyes it seemed to me there was something behind it.

Ten years," I admitted, "and we've had less trouble than most towns. The way I figure is to anticipate trouble and take steps."

"Good idea. Jim Melette gathered his supplies. "What do you do when trouble comes that you can't avoid?"

When he said that I had a chill...for ten years that had been my mightmare,   that trouble might come that I couldn't sidetrack or outsmart, and I wasn't as young as I used to be.

"Don't ever worry about that," Lizzie said. "Ben McLane had killed fourteen outlaws before he came to Canyon Gap. Many a time I"ve seen him toss a card in the air and shoot the spots out."

"That's shooting." Melette agreed. "I've only seen one man who could do that. Of course, I was just a youngster then, must have been thirteen, fourteen years ago."

He picked up the rest of his supplies and walked out and I stood there looking at my hole card, and it had suddenly became a mighty small deuce. After all these years, while things shaped up mighty fine I'd came to believe I was set for life in Canyon Gap. The town liked me and I liked the town, and one way or another, I'd kept the peace. Now it looked like the whole show was going to bust up right in my face.

Walking to the door, I watched Melette stow his stuf in his saddlebags and a sack he had tied behind his saddle. Then he dusted off his hands and started across the street.

A man can only keep the peace by working at it, so I stepped out on the walk. "Melette!" He turned slowly when I spoke his name. "I wouldn't go over there if I were you. There's trouble over there."

Figured first off he'd tell me to mind my own affairs, but instead he walked back to me, and then I was really scared because I thought he'd have something personal to say, and one thing I did not want to do was talk about myself. Not to him.

"All right, McLane, I won't," he said. "Will you tell me where Hanna Ross lives?"

He had called her Hanna, although her first name had not been mentioned inside, so my hunch was right. Trouble was coming to Canyon Gap in the person of Jim Melette. He knew more than he was letting on. I pointed the way up the street to her house.

"For a stranger." I said, "You seem to know a lot about folks. Why do you want to see Hanna Ross?"

He was steping into the saddle. "Why, Mac, I think I used to know her, so I sort've figured I'd stick around for that pie supper and if Hanna Ross will go with me, I'll take her. You keep the peace, Mac!" And he trotted his horse off toward Cottonwood Hill.

Standing there in the street I knew I was scared. For ten years nobody had come to Canyon Gap who knew me, and I'd begun to believe no one ever would. The days of gun battles were about over, tapering off, anyway, and I'd begun to feel that I had it made, as we used to say in the goldfields.

It seemed to me that I was going to get it from two directions unless I was very careful. Ginnie Bacon had been flirtin' around Brad Nolan for the past several months trying to see what kind of trouble she could help him get into. He was spoiling for a fight, and from the way she'd acted toward Jim Melette there in the store, it seemed like she might try to get the two of them to go at it.

The other thing that had me worried was that I knew who'd been leaving all those tracks around Hanna Ross's house...it was that crazy eyed Led Murry. I didn't know what that meant, but I was afraid. Nolan and Murry were some trouble separately, but together they were downright dangerous.

Something like this had happened a time or two before, but I'd been able to break up the dangerous combinations before they realized their strength.

Divde and rule, that was my motto, and I made it a point to know about people, and whenever I saw fellers getting together who might cause trouble, I get a girl betwixt'em or jealousy about something else, and usually I'd managed to split 'em up.

There's more ways to keep the peace than with a gun, and I'd proved it in Canyon Gap, where there hadn't been a gunfight in ten years...and in the month before I took over there had been three. Not in all that time had I drawn a gun on a man.

Cottonwood Hill was right up there in plain sight at the edge of town, and from town everybody could see who came or went from the place, so Lizzie Porter saw Jim Melette ride through the gate up there, and she went right back in to tell Ginnie.

No need for me to read the playscript to know Ginnie would get mad...she had practicaly offered herself to Melette for the pie supper and he had walked away and gone to see Hanna Ross.

Things were bunching up on me

Ten years it had been and I'm a man likes a quiet life. When I rode into this town on the stage and saw the snow-capped mountains' round about, and the shaded streets and pine forests on the hills around, and that stream running right through town, I decided this was the place to spend my declining years. The fact that they mistook me for a gunfighter and offerd me the marshal's job had provided me with a living.

Now, between Hanna Ross, Ginnie Bacon, the Nolan outfit, and Jim Melette, I could see the whole ting blowing up in my face. It was too late for me to hunt up a new town, and I liked this one. And I never had been able to put by much in the way of money.

Worst of all, suppose Jim Melette told around town what he knew about me?

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT ISSUE

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