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Zane Grey's KING OF THE ROYAL MOUNTED . . . and the Harper Gang

INSPECTOR Mackenzie called King into his office.

"Here's a peculiar job—I've been holding these clippings for you. Read them, King," he said.

"I can't understand how anyone could print this without proof. These charges are sensational, Inspector," exclaimed King, reading the headlines of a rural newspaper.

"Well, this editor, Niles, may be just a nut or a brave man printing the truth," remarked the inspector.

"Niles hints of night stampedes deliberately calculated, Inspector—of terrorism, and finally murder," said King.

The inspector gave King his orders. "It's far beyond the first great cattle stations, King. Find out about this One-Man Empire."

With the startling newspaper editorials in his pocket, King galloped off.

He had ridden day and night for several days, but finally King saw signs of civilization.

"A storm's coming up—but that town down in the valley must be Broken Bow," he decided.

He rode directly toward the center of town. There he saw a small building which looked like the one he was seeking.

"That's the paper—THE CLARION—and a mob. That looks like trouble," King said.

Riding straight into the midst of the melee, he dismounted, and saw an elderly man standing on the front steps.

"I know you men," he was saying, "you're Harper's thugs! You can smash the press, but you can't keep me from writing the truth."

"Shut up, Niles, or we'll—!" shouted one of them.

King had arrived just in time to prevent a mob of tough-looking men from burning and looting the Clarion.

"No one's going to burn anything! Break up this mob! " he commanded.

The mob dispersed sullenly, seeing the determined set of King's jaw.

King went inside with the editor, anxious to get to the bottom of this mystery.

"You saved the paper, sergeant," said the elderly gentleman, "but you've made a powerful enemy!"

"That can wait," replied King. "I came here to find out who wrote this story about the ‘One-Man Empire.'"

"I wrote it. I'm Jed Niles. But if you're here to investigate—go back! It's a job for an army—not one Mountie!"

"I'll risk that," said King, "but what is the ‘One-Man Empire,' Niles?"

"Broken Bow—the town here and the whole range—are run like a kingdom by Thaddeus Harper and he crushes all men who oppose him," replied Niles.

King nodded for Niles to continue.

"They call Harper the ‘Emperor!' file's driving out the little cow-men with guns, fire and crooked politics! " Niles concluded bitterly.

"But this story that brought me out here charges Thaddeus Harper with murder," exclaimed King. "What about that?"

As the courageous editor was about to answer King, a bundle of dynamite, with fuse lighted and sputtering, crashed in through the window behind King.

"Look out! Dynamite!" shouted Niles. "Proof—in the safe."

"Get back—don't try that!" warned King, as the editor rushed upon the lighted fuse.

Jed Niles failed in his heroic attempt to stamp out the flaming fuse. A deafening explosion instandy shattered the little office of the Broken Bow Clarion.

Battered by the force of the explosion, King dragged himself to his feet in the wrecked office to find that the heroic editor had written his last editorial.

"I'm all right," he muttered, "but Niles has—"

King stepped outside. A crowd had gathered, drawn by the report of the explosion.

"Dynamite!" he explained. "It got Niles. Did you see anyone?"

One of the men replied, "If we did it wouldn't be healthy to say so."

"Somebody better ride for Jed's boy," said a cowboy.

Two of the men mounted their horses and rode away. They went to the Niles ranch and soon returned with Jed Niles's son. He stepped inside and introduced himself to King.

"They told me what happened! I'm Dave Niles. Jed was my father."

"He was a brave man, Niles," said King sympathetically, "and I'm sticking around here until I find his murderer."

Grimly, young Dave Niles told King how Thaddeus Harper, owner of the range's biggest herd, had wiped out all opposition to his power.

"The Emperor tried to run dad out—smashed the presses twice, but dad didn't fear him!" he declared.

"But if Harper is crushing the independent ranchers, why don't they unite against him?" asked King.

"They can't—he owns the water rights," replied Dave.

Suddenly a fusillade of shots sounded from die street.

"Shots! Out in the street! Come on!" shouted King.

He quickly ran outside, Dave following close behind.

"Not a man in sight!" declared King.

"Let's go back inside," suggested Dave. "Dad kept some sort of proof about Harper's crooked deals in his safe!"

"Yes, I remember your father's last words about the Emperor's guilt were ‘proof—the safe!"' King recalled.

A yawning gap confronted their eyes.

"The safe! Someone's been in it!" cried Dave.

"While we were outside—the shots were a trap!" exclaimed King.

"There's a little drawer missing," said Dave, searching the inside of the safe. "The papers telling about the Emperor are gone."

King realized that someone had looted the safe of the proof Jed Niles had spoken about. This was a serious setback.

Dave mounted his horse, saying, "I'm riding back to close up my ranch. I'm going to carry on with the Clarion."

Waiting for Dave Niles's return, King sought a clue in the old Clarion files.

"Stories of men driven off the range by the Emperor—men murdered for their land—but no actual proof of Harper's crookedness!" he thought as he read.

Unbeknown to King, the office door slowly opened. A dark form was outlined against the wall.

Suddenly Dave Niles returned, making a surprising capture.

"King! I've caught—it's a girl—Marlene Harper!" he shouted breathlessly.

King jumped up.

"She's ‘Emperor' Harper's daughter! She was spying through the window when I rode up," said Dave.

"I wasn't spying! I—I came here—to tell you who killed Niles—and to help you get him! " she said earnestly.

"Even if it's the ‘Emperor'?" King asked incredulously.

"Who dynamited Niles as he was about to expose your father's crooked deals?" asked King.

"He is hard and merciless, but my father didn't kill Jed Niles! " she asserted.

"Then who did, Miss Harper?" demanded King.

"Someone who works for father is double-crossing him into situations like this! And I think I know who it is and why he is doing it," she declared.

"Well—who is it?" asked Dave.

"King, I can't prove who did kill Niles, but if you and Dave would come to the Harper range—" she said.

"It's a trap, King. They never come back from Harper's range!" shouted Dave.

But King of the Royal Mounted disregarded young Niles's warning. He was willing to take the risk if there was a chance of getting information. He and Dave mounted their horses and started toward the Harper range with the girl.

"Why don't you trust me, Dave?" asked Marlene.

"How can I trust you, Marlene?" he asked.

Too many doubts assailed the young man's mind, doubts he could not shake.

The party of three rode until dark.

They rode along in silence for a few paces, going over the mountain trail which led from Broken Bow to the Harper range, when suddenly a group of armed men blocked the way.

"Halt! Throw down your guns!" cried one of the men.

"It's a trap, King. Marlene's doublecrossed us," shouted Dave.

"I can't make out who you are with, Miss Harper," cried the same voice again, "but only Harper's men ride this trail. Turn off into the woods!"

King and the others dismounted and strode up to the men who blocked the road. The light of their campfire fell on King's red coat.

"Why—you're a Mountie!" said one.

"That's right," said King. "Now talk fast with an explanation."

"Wait a minute, King," interrupted Dave. "These men are all right. They're all independent ranchers—my friends!"

"I'm Ben Dodds," said an elderly man, who was spokesman for the group. "We thought you were Harper's men. But what's his girl doing here?"

"We have accepted her offer to help you ranchers," explained King. "She is sure that one of her father's own men is double-crossing Mr. Harper, making it appear that all the dirty work is being done by her father, and if that is so, I shall bring him to justice! "

The men were relieved to hear this, for they had intended to go after Harper's gang, and not wait any longer.

"You're in the right, Dodds, but you men can't take the law into your own hands," said King.

"We didn't know the Mounties had been sent in," said Dodds.

"If you don't clean 'em up in a hurry, Mountie, we will!" declared another.

These ranchers, angered and nearly bankrupt by years of battling the "OneMan Emperor," Thaddeus Harper, were ready for a showdown.

"I can't hold them back," said Dodd desperately, "and I won't!"

"Men, if you make trouble now, it may mean war on the range for years—let the law handle this!" said King.

"We're not fighting for a principle, King, but for our very lives! " asserted the rancher.

"Dodds, even though you're right, I'll arrest anyone who breaks the law," declared King.

Then he turned to Niles and the girl.

"Dave, Marlene Harper will ride home ahead of us, learn what she can, and meet us here late tonight."

"Right, King. I will be here, and thanks for believing in me!" she said gratefully.

After Marlene had gone, King turned to Niles. "It's risky, Dave, but we'll ride straight into Harper's range and see if we can find cattle belonging to the independents," he said.

King and Niles turned their horses in the direction Marlene had taken and rode into the heart of the One-Man Empire.

After riding hard for nearly an hour, they turned off into a narrow road which led to Elarper's cattle range. The place appeared to be deserted.

Expertly, they rode in and out among the cattle.

"Here's a brand belonging to one of the independent ranchers," Dave exclaimed.

King examined the cattle and could see that Dave's discovery was correct.

"This is pretty definite proof," he said.

"Here are some more," said Dave, continuing his search.

"It would seem that almost half of these cattle are stolen property," surmised King, an hour later.

Just then a voice called, "Hands up, and no arguments."

Quickly they both put up their hands. That menacing voice meant business.

"Now follow me," said the voice again. The captives could do nothing but obey.

They were soon at the ranch house.

"This way, you two," said their captor. They entered a well-biult ranch house, and were taken to the library. A man was seated at the desk.

"Here, Harper, I saw these two guys snoopin' around the cattle range. I thought you might like to see 'em."

"Thanks, Red. I'd like to meet these gentlemen," replied Harper courteously, but with a cold note in his voice.

"We'd like to meet you, too, Harper," said King. "We want to know what all those stolen cattle are doing in your range, and we also want to know what you know about the murder of Jed Niles."

"Stolen cattle—murder—Jed Niles—did you say?" Harper repeated, stunned.

"Yes. You had something to do with that, Harper," cried Dave.

Marlene had entered the room, immediately followed by a hard, ugly rancher.

"Snead, those cattle that are out in the range," said Harper, addressing the newcomer, "I paid you for them. You told me you bought them. These men say they are stolen cattle."

Snead looked sullen but made no reply.

"Well, what about them? And what about the murder of Jed Niles, a man whom I always respected, even if he did resent my ambition," said Harper again.

"Monty Snead is the one who murdered Niles. I'm sure of that," said Marlene looking at him accusingly.

Dave strode over and landed a powerful blow on Snead's jaw.

Snead staggered, and then made a lunge for Dave. They were with difficulty separated by King.

"All right. I'll tell you what happened," said Snead, barely able to stand. "I asked Marlene to marry me, and she told me to get out of her sight. Then I went to Harper and asked him to make Marlene change her mind. He wouldn't do anything to help me." Here he stopped.

But King said, "Go on, we're listening." "Finally, I thought I'd get Harper into a spot where he'd be accused of stealing cattle, and other things, and maybe even murder, and then when he wanted my help, maybe he'd listen to reason."

"Then you killed Jed Niles!" said King accusingly.

Snead had an ugly leer on his face, but did not deny it.

"All right, Snead, come along with me," said King, taking hold of the cringing rancher.

"King, I'm ever so grateful to you for clearing up these terrible thefts and murders," said the girl, her eyes shining.

"I am, too, King, and I hope I can show it some day," said Harper.