The following day a young cowboy, mounted upon a singularly noticeable buckskin horse, rode down the main street of Jason and dismounted at the Forestry Office. Torrance was reading a letter when his clerk proffered the young man a chair and notified the supervisor that a Mr. Adams wished to see him.
A few minutes later, Lorry was shown in. The door closed.
Torrance surveyed the strong, young figure with inward approval. "I have your letter. Sit down. I see your letter is postmarked St. Johns."
"Know anything about the Service?"
"Why do you want to get into it?"
"I thought mebby I'd like the work."
"Have you any recommendations?"
"Nothin'--except what you're lookin' at."
Torrance smiled. "Could you get a letter from your last employer?"
"Not the kind of letter that would do any good. I had an argument with the foreman, and he fired me."
Torrance had heard something about the matter, and did not question further at the time.
"Do you drink?" queried Torrance.
"I never monkeyed with it much. I reckon I could if I wanted to."
Torrance drummed on the desk with his long, strong fingers. He reached in a drawer and drew out a letter.
"How about that?"
Lorry glanced at the heading. Evidently the sheriff knew of his general whereabouts. The letter stated that the sheriff would appreciate information leading to the apprehension of Lawrence Adams, wanted for aiding a prisoner to escape and for having in his possession a horse that did not belong to him.
"What he says is right," Lorry asserted cheerfully. "I busted into the jail and turned that hobo loose, and I borrowed the horse I'm riding. I aim to send him back. My own horse is in the corral back at Stacey."
"What was your idea in letting the man go after arresting him?"
Lorry's clear color deepened. "I wasn't figurin' on explainin' that."
"You don't have to explain. But you will admit that the charges in this letter are rather serious. We don't want men in the Service who are open to criticism. You're pretty young to have such a record. It's up to you to explain--or not, just as you like. But anything you tell me will be treated as absolutely confidential, Adams."
"All right. Well, everything I done that day went wrong. I caught the hobo tryin' to rob a couple of wimmin over by the Notch. I was takin' him to Stacey when Bob Brewster butted in. The hobo was sick, and I didn't aim to stand and see him kicked and beat up with a quirt, even if he did steal one of the Starr horses. I told High Chin to quit, but his hearin' wasn't good, so I had to show him. Then I got to thinkin' I wasn't so much--takin' a pore, busted tramp to jail. And it made me sick when everybody round town was callin' me some little hero. Then one of the Starr boys told me High Chin was cinchin' up to ride in and get the hobo, anyhow, so I busted the lock and told him to fan it."
"Why didn't you appeal to the sheriff?"
"Huh! Buck Hardy is all right. But I can tell you one thing; he's not the man to stand up to High Chin when High is drinkin'. Why, I see High shove a gun in Hardy's face once and tell him to go home and go to bed. And Hardy went. Anyhow, that hobo was my prisoner, and I didn't aim to let High Chin get his hands on him."
"I see. Well, you have a strange way of doing things, but I appreciate
why you acted as you did. Of course, you know it is a grave offense to
aid a prisoner to escape."
"Buck Hardy seems to think so."
"So do I. And how about that horse?"
"Well, next day I was fixin' up the machine and foolin' around--that machine belonged to them tourists that the fella stuck up--when along about sundown Buck Hardy comes swellin' up to me and tells me I'm under arrest. He couldn't prove a darned thing if I hadn't said I done the job. But, anyhow, he didn't see it my way, so I borrowed Waring's horse and come down this way. Everybody saw me take the horse. You can't call that stealin'."
"Did Hardy ride after you?"
"Yes, sir. But he was so far behind I couldn't hear what he wanted. That big buckskin is a wonder. I wish I owned him."
Torrance mentally patched the fragments of evidence together. He decided
that a young man who could capture a holdup man, best the notorious High
Chin in a fight, repair a broken automobile, turn a prisoner loose, and make his own escape all within the short compass of forty-eight hours was a rather capable person in a way. And Torrance knew by Lorry's appearance and manner that he was still on the verdant side of twenty. If such a youth chose to turn his abilities in the right direction he might accomplish much. Lorry's extreme frankness satisfied Torrance that the boy had told the truth. He would give him a chance.
"Do you know Bud Shoop?" queried the supervisor.
"No, sir. I know what he looks like. He's been to our hotel."
"Well, you might look him up. He may be out of town. Possibly he is up at his homestead on the Blue Mesa. Tell Mr. Shoop that I sent you to him. He will understand. But you will have to square yourself with the authorities before I can put you to work."
"Yes, sir. But I don't aim to ride back to Stacey just because I know where it is. If they want me, they can find me."
"That is your affair. When your slate is clear--"
"Mr. Waring to see you," said the clerk, poking his head through the doorway.
Torrance stepped out and greeted Waring heartily. Lorry was surprised; both to see his father and to learn that Torrance and he were old friends.
"I saw this horse as I rode up, and I took a fancy to him," said Waring, after having nodded to Lorry. "Sorry to bother you, Torrance."
"Here's the man you'll bother, I think," said Torrance, indicating Lorry. "He's riding that horse."
Lorry grinned. "Want to trade horses?"
"I don't know. Is that your horse?"
"Nope. I borrowed him. Is that your horse?" And he indicated Gray Leg.
"No. I borrowed him."
Torrance laughed. "The buckskin seems to be a pretty fair horse."
"Then I ought to get somethin' to boot," suggested Lorry.
"How much?" laughed Waring.
"Oh, I don't know. You'll find that buckskin a mighty likely rambler."
Waring turned to Torrance. "You'll witness that we made this trade, John?"
"All right. But remember; neither of you owns the horse you are
"But we're goin' to," asserted Lorry.
Waring reached beneath his coat and unbuckled a heavy belt. From buckle to tongue it glittered with cartridges and a service-worn holster bulged with a short-barreled Colt's .45. He handed the belt to Lorry.
"It's a good gun," he said, "and I hope you'll never need to use it."
Lorry stammered his thanks, untied Dex, and gave the reins into Waring's hand. "The trade goes," he said. "But we change saddles."
"Correct," said Waring. "And here's a letter--from your mother."
Lorry slid the letter in his shirt. "How's the Weston folks?"
"They were to leave this morning. Mrs. Weston asked me to pay you for repairing their machine. She gave me the money."
"You can keep it. I wasn't workin' for pay."
"All right. Going to stay down here awhile?"
"I aim to. Did you see anything of Buck Hardy on the way down?"
"Hardy? Why, no. But I rode part way with his deputy. He's due here some time to-day."
"That bein' the case," said Lorry, swinging to the saddle, "I reckon I'll hunt up Bud Shoop. Thanks for my horse. Mebby I'll be back in this town in two, three days." And he was gone.
Waring dropped Dex's reins. "Got a minute to spare, Torrance?"
"Yes, indeed. You're looking well, Jim."
In the office they shook hands again.
"It's a long time," said Torrance, proffering a cigar. "You were punching cattle for the Box S and I was a forest ranger those days. Did Mexico get too hot?"
"Warm. What's the boy doing down here?"
"He seems to be keeping out of the way of the sheriff," laughed Torrance. "Incidentally he applied for a position as ranger."
"Did he? I'm glad of that. I was afraid he might get to riding the high trails. He's got it in him."
"You seem to know him pretty well."
"Not so well as I would like to. I'm his father."
"Why, I had no idea--but, come to think of it, he does resemble you. I didn't know that you were married."
"Yes. I married Annie Adams, of Las Cruces. He's our boy."
Torrance saw that Waring did not care to talk further on the subject of his married life. And Torrance recalled the fact that Mrs. Adams, who lived in Stacey, had been in Mexico.
"He's a live one," said Torrance. "I think I'll take him on."
"I don't ask you to, John. He's got to play the game for himself. He may not always do right, but he'll always do what he thinks is right, if I am any judge. And he won't waste time doing it. I told Hardy's deputy on the way down that he might as well give up running after the boy. Hardy is pretty sore. Did Lorry tell you?"
"Yes. And I can understand his side of it."
"I think that little Weston girl dazzled him," said Waring. "She's clever, and Lorry hasn't seen many of her kind. I think he would have stayed right in Stacey and faced the music if she hadn't been there when Hardy tried to arrest him. Lorry is only eighteen. He had to show off a little."
"Will Hardy follow it up?"
"Not too strong. The folks in Stacey are giving Hardy the laugh. He's not so popular as he might be."
"I can't say that I blame Hardy, either. The boy was wrong."
"Not a bit. Lorry was wrong."
"It will blow over," said Torrance. "I had no idea he was your son."
Waring leaned back in his chair. "John, I had two reasons for coming down here. One was to get my horse. That's settled. Now I want to talk about leasing a few thousand acres down this way, with water-rights. I'm through with the other game. I want to run a few cattle in here, under fence. I think it will pay."
Torrance shook his head. "The Mormons and the Apaches will keep you poor, Jim."
"They might, if I tried it alone. But I have a partner just up from the border. You remember Pat. He's been customs inspector at Nogales for some time."
"I should say I do remember him!"
"Well, he asked me to look around and write to him. I think we could do well enough here. What do you know about the land north of here, on up toward the Santa Fe?"
Torrance pondered the situation. The times were, indeed, changing when men like Waring and Pat ceased to ride the high trails and settled down to ranching under fence. The day of the gunman was past, but two such men as Pat and Waring would suppress by their mere presence in the country the petty rustling and law-breaking that had made Torrance's position difficult at times.
"I'll see what I can do," said he. "About how much land?"
"Ten or twenty thousand, to begin with."
"There's some Government land not on the reservation between here and the railroad. There are three or four families of squatters on it now. I don't know how they manage to live, but they always seem to have beef and bacon. You might have some trouble about getting them off--and about the water. I'll let you know some time next month just what I can do."
"We won't have any trouble," said Waring. "That's the last thing we want. I'll ride over next month. You can write to me at Stacey if anything turns up."
"I'll write to you. Do you ever get hungry? Come on over to the hotel.
I'm as hungry as a bear."
Bud Shoop's homestead on the Blue Mesa lay in a wide level of grassland,
round which the spruce of the high country swept in a great, blue-edged
circle. To the west the barren peak of Mount Baldy maintained a solitary
vigil in sunshine and tempest. Away to the north the timbered plateaus
dropped from level to level like a gigantic stair until they merged with
the horizon-line of the plains. The air on the Blue Mesa was thin and keen;
warm in the sun, yet instantly cool at dusk. A mountain stream, all but
hidden by the grasses, meandered across the mesa to an emerald hollow of
coarse marsh-grass. A few yards from this pool, and on its southern side,
stood the mountain cabin of the Shoop homestead, a roomy building of logs,
its wide, easy-sloping veranda roof covered with home-made shakes. Near
the house was a small corral and stable of logs. Out on the mesa a thin
crop of oats wavered in the itinerant breeze. Round the cabin was a garden
plot that had suffered from want of attention. Above the gate to the door-yard
was a weathered sign on which
was lettered carefully:
"The rose is red; the violet blue;
Please shut this gate when you come through."
And on the other side of the sign, challenging the possible carelessness of the chance visitor, was the legend:--
"Now you've been in and had your chuck,
Please close this gate, just once, for luck."
Otherwise the place was like any mountain homestead of the better sort, viewed from without. The interior of the cabin, however, was unusual in that it boasted of being the only music-room within fifty miles in any direction.
When the genial Bud had been overtaken with the idea of homesteading,
he had had visions of a modest success which would allow him to entertain
his erstwhile cow-puncher companions when they should ride his way. To this end he had labored with more heart than judgment.
The main room was large and lighted by two unusually large windows.
The dimensions of the room were ample enough to accommodate a fair number
dancers. Bud knew that if cowboys loved anything they loved to dance. The phonograph was so common that it offered no distinction in gracing Bud's camp; so with much labor and expense he had freighted an upright piano from the distant railroad, an innovation that at first had stunned and then literally taken the natives off their feet. Riders from all over the country heard of Bud's piano, questioned its reality, and finally made it a point to jog over and see for themselves.
For a time Bud's homestead was popular. A real piano, fifty miles from a settlement, was something worth riding far to see. But respect for the shining veneer of the case was not long-lived. In a moment of inspiration, a cowboy pulled out his jackknife and carved his home brand on the shining case. Bud could have said more than he did when he discovered it. Later another contingent, not to be outdone, followed this cowboy's incisive example and carved its brand on the piano. Naturally it became a custom. No visitor in boots and chaps left the cabin without first having carved some brand.
Bud suffered in silence, consoling himself with the thought that while there were many pianos in the lower country, there were none like his. And "As long as you don't monkey with her works or shoot her up," he told his friends, "I don't care how much you carve her; only leave enough sidin' and roof to hold her together."
Cowboys came, danced long and late as Bud pumped the mechanical player,
and thrilled to the shuffle of high-heeled boots. Contingent after
contingent came, danced, and departed joyously, leaving Bud short on rations, but happy that he could entertain so royally. Finally the
novelty wore off, and Bud was left with his Airedale, his saddle-ponies, and the hand-carved piano.
But Bud had profited by the innovation. An Easterner sojourning with Bud for a season, had taught him to play two tunes--"Annie Laurie" and "Dixie." "Real hand-made music," Bud was wont to remark. And with these tunes at his disposal he was more than content. Many a long evening he sat with his huge bulk swaying in the light of the hanging lamp as he wandered around Maxwelton's braes in search of the true Annie Laurie; or hopped with heavy sprightliness across the sandy bottoms of Dixie, while Bondsman, the patient Airedale, sat on his haunches and accompanied Bud with dismal energy.
Bud was not a little proud of his accomplishment. The player was all right, but it lacked the human touch. Even when an occasional Apache strayed in and borrowed tobacco or hinted at a meal, Bud was not above entertaining the wondering red man with music. And Bud disliked Apaches.
And during these latter days Bud had had plenty of opportunity to indulge
himself in music. For hours he would sit and gently strike the keys, finding
unexpected harmonies that thrilled and puzzled him. The discords didn't
count. And Bondsman would hunch up close with watchful eye and one ear
cocked, waiting for the familiar strains of "Annie Laurie" or "Dixie."
He seemed to consider these tunes a sort of accompaniment to his song.
If he dared to howl when Bud was extemporizing, Bud would rebuke him solemnly,
explaining that it was not considered polite in the best circles to interrupt
a soloist. And an evening was never complete without "Annie Laurie," and
"Dixie," with Bondsman's mournful contralto gaming ascendance as the evening
"That dog bosses me around somethin' scandalous," Bud was wont to remark, as he rose from his labors and prepared for bed. "There I was huntin' around for that chord I lit on the other night and almost findin' it, when he has to howl like a coyote with a sore throat and spile the whole thing. I ought to learned more tunes."
It was almost dusk when Lorry topped the trail that led across the Blue Mesa to Bud's cabin. Gray Leg pricked his ears, and jogged over the wide level, heading straight for the corral. The cabin was dark. Lorry hallooed. A horse in the corral answered, nickering shrilly. Lorry found some loose gramma grass in the stable and threw it to the horse. If this was Shoop's place, Shoop would not be gone long, or he'd have turned the horse to graze on the open mesa.
Lorry entered and lighted the lamp. He gazed with astonishment at the piano. But that could wait. He was hungry. In a few minutes he had a fire going, plates laid for two, had made coffee and cut bacon. He was mixing the dough for hot biscuit when he heard some one ride up. He stepped to the door. A bulky figure was pulling a saddle from a horse. Lorry called a greeting.
"Just a minute, friend," came from the darkness.
Lorry stepped to the kitchen, and put the biscuit pan in the oven. A saddle thumped on the veranda, and Bud Shoop, puffing heavily, strode in. He nodded, filled a basin, and washed. As he polished his bald spot, his glance traveled from the stove to the table, and thence to Lorry, and he nodded approval.
"Looks like you was expectin' comp'ny," he said, smiling.
"Yep. And chuck's about ready."
"So am I," said Bud, rubbing his hands.
"I'm Adams, from Stacey."
"That don't make me mad," said Bud. "How's things over to your town?"
"All right, I guess. Mr. Torrance--"
Bud waved his hand. "Let's eat. Been out since daylight. Them biscuits is just right. Help yourself to the honey."
"There's somebody outside," said Lorry, his arm raised to pass the honey jar.
"That's my dog, Bondsman. He had to size up your layout, and he's through and waitin' to size up you. Reckon he's hungry, too. But business before pleasure is his idea mostly. He's tellin' me to let him in. That there dog bosses me around somethin' scandalous. When did you get in?"
"Uh-uh. I seen that your horse hadn't grazed out far yet. How do you like this country?"
"Good summer country, all right. Too high for stock in winter."
"Yes. Four feet of snow on the mesa last winter. When you say 'Arizona' to some folks, they don't think of snow so deep a hoss can't get from the woods over there to this cabin." Bud Shoop sighed and rose. "Never mind them dishes. Mornin' 'll do."
"Won't take a minute," said Lorry.
Bud's blue eyes twinkled as he waddled to the living-room. Young Adams was handy around a kitchen. He had laid plates for two, knew how to punch dough, was willing to wash the dishes without a hint, and had fed the horse in the corral.
"He trots right along, like he knew where he was goin'," Bud said to himself. "I like his looks--but that ain't always a sign."
Lorry whistled as he dried the dishes. Bud was seated in a huge armchair when Lorry entered the room. Shoop seemed to pay no attention to Bondsman, who whined and occasionally scratched on the door.
"Funny thing happened this mornin'," said Shoop, settling himself in his chair. "I was ridin' down the ole Milk Ranch Trail when I looked up and seen a bobcat lopin' straight for me. The cat didn't see me, but my hoss stopped, waitin' for me to shoot. Well, that kittycat come right along till I could 'a' almost roped him. Bondsman--that's my dog--never seen him, neither, till I hollered. You ought to seen that cat start back without losin' a jump. I like to fell off the hoss, laughin'. Bondsman he lit out--"
"I'll let him in," said Lorry, moving toward the door.
"--After that cat," continued Shoop, "but the cat never treed, I reckon,
for pretty soon back comes Bondsman, lookin' as disgusted as a hen in a
rainstorm. 'We're gettin' too old,' I tells Bondsman--"
"Ain't you goin' to let him in?" queried Lorry.
"--We're gettin' too old to chase bobcats just for fun," concluded Shoop. "What was you sayin'?"
"Your dog wants to come in."
"That's right. Now I thought you was listenin' to me."
"I was. But ain't he hungry?"
Shoop chuckled. "Let him in, son."
Lorry opened the door. Bondsman stalked in, sniffed at Lorry's boots, and padded to the kitchen.
"What do you feed him?" said Lorry, hesitating.
"He won't take nothin' from you," said Shoop, heaving himself up. "I've had him since he was a pup. You set down and I'll 'tend to him.
"And I says to him," said Shoop, as he returned to his chair,--"I says,
'Bondsman, that there cat was just passin' the buck to us to see if we
was game.' And he ain't got over it yet."
"I've roped 'em," said Lorry--"roped 'em out of a tree."
"Uh-uh. Where'd you learn to rope?"
"At the Starr Ranch. I worked there once."
"Git tired of it?"
"Nope. I had a argument with the foreman."
"Uh-uh. I reckon it ain't hard to pick a fuss with High Chin."
"I wasn't lookin' for a fuss. It was his funeral."
"So I heard; all but the procession."
"And that's why I came up to see you. Mr. Torrance told me to hunt you up."
"He did, eh? Well, now, John sure gets queer idees. I don't need a man round here."
"I was after a job in the Service."
"And he sends you to me. Why, I ain't ever worked a day for the Service."
"I guess he wanted you to look me over," said Lorry, smiling.
"Well, they's lots of time, 'less you're in a hurry."
"If I can't get in the Service, I'll look up a job punchin'," said Lorry. "I got to get somethin'."
Bondsman stalked in, licking his chops. He nuzzled Shoop's hand. Lorry snapped his fingers. Bondsman strode to him. Lorry patted his knee. The big dog crouched and sprang to Lorry's knees, where he sat, studying him quizzically, his head to one side, his keen eyes blinking in the lamplight. Lorry laughed and patted the dog.
"He's trying to get my number," said Lorry.
"He's got it," said Shoop. "You could 'a' snapped your fingers off afore he'd 'a' come nigh you, 'less he wanted to. And while we're talkin' about it, you can tell John Torrance I said to give you a try."
Lorry sat up quickly. "Guess you didn't know that Buck Hardy is lookin' for me," said Lorry. "Mr. Torrance says I got to square myself with Buck afore I get the job."
"He did, eh? Well, speakin' of Buck, how would you like to hear a little talk from a real music-box?"
Shoop waddled to the piano. "I ain't no reg'lar music sharp," he explained unnecessarily, "but I got a couple of pieces broke to go polite. This here piano is cold-mouthed, and you got to rein her just right or she'll buffalo you. This here piece is 'Annie Laurie.'"
As Bud struck the first note, Bondsman leaped from Lorry's knees and took his place beside the piano. The early dew had just begun to fall when Bondsman joined in. Lorry grinned. The dog and his master were absolutely serious in their efforts. As the tune progressed, Lorry's grin faded, and he sat gazing intently at the huge back of his host.
"Why, he's playin' like he meant it," thought Lorry. "And folks says Bud Shoop was a regular top-hand stem-winder in his day."
Shoop labored at the piano with nervous care. When he turned to Lorry his face was beaded with sweat.
"I rode her clean through to the fence," he said, with a kind of apologetic grin. "How did you like that piece?"
"I always did like them old tunes," replied Lorry. "Give us another."
Shoop's face beamed. "I only got one more that I can get my rope on. But if you can stand it, I can. This here one is 'Dixie.'"
And Bud straightened his broad shoulders, pushed back his sleeves, and waded across the sandy bottoms of Dixie, hitting the high spots with staccato vehemence, as though Dixie had recently suffered from an inundation and he was in a hurry to get to dry land. Bondsman's moody baritone reached up and up with sad persistency.
Lorry was both amused and astonished. Shoop's intensity, his real love for music, was a revelation. Lorry felt like smiling, yet he did not smile. Bud Shoop could not play, but his personality forced its own recognition, even through the absurd medium of an untutored performance on that weird upright piano. Lorry began to realize that there was something more to Bud Shoop than mere bulk.
Bud swung round, puffing. "I got that tune where I can keep her in sight as long as she lopes on the level. But when she takes to jumpin' stumps and makin' them quick turns, I sure have to do some hard ridin' to keep her from losin' herself. Me and Bondsman's been worryin' along behind them two tunes for quite a spell. I reckon I ought to started in younger. But, anyhow, that there piano is right good comp'ny. When I been settin' here alone, nights, and feelin' out her paces, I get so het up and interested that I don't know the fire's out till Bondsman takes to shiverin' and whinin' and tellin' me he'd like to get some sleep afore mornin'."
And Bondsman, now that the music had stopped, stalked to Lorry and eyed him with an expression which said plainly: "It's his weak spot--this music. You will have to overlook it. He's really a rather decent sort of person."
"I got a mechanical player in the bedroom," said Shoop. "And a reg'lar outfit of tunes for dances."
Lorry was tempted to ask to hear it, but changed his mind. "I've heard them players. They're sure good for a dance, but I like real playin' better."
Bud Shoop grinned. "That's the way with Bondsman here. Now he won't
open his head to one of them paper tunes. I've tried 'em all on him. You
can't tell me a dog ain't got feelin's."
The grass on the high mesa was heavy with dew when Lorry stepped from the cabin next morning. His pony, Gray Leg, stood close to the corral, where Shoop's horses were playfully biting at him over the bars. Lorry unhobbled Gray Leg and turned Shoop's horses out to water. The three ponies trotted to the water-hole, sniffed at the water, and, whirling, raced across the mesa, pitching and kicking in the joy of liberation.
After breakfast Bud and Lorry sat out in the sun, enjoying the slow warmth. The morning air was still keen in the shade. Bondsman lay between them, watching the distant horses.
"He won't let 'em get far into the timber," said Shoop. "He sure saves me a lot of steps, roundin' up them hosses."
"I can whistle Gray Leg to me," said Lorry. "Then the other horses'll come."
Shoop nodded. "What you goin' to do to-day?"
"Me? Well, it's so kind of quiet and big up here I feel like settin' around and takin' it all in. I ain't been in the high country much. 'Course I don't aim to camp on you."
"You're sure welcome," said Shoop heartily. "It gets lonesome up here. But if you ain't got no reg'lar plan I was thinkin' of ridin' over to Sheep ccrossin' -- and mebby on down to Jason."
"Suits me fine!"
Shoop heaved himself up. Lorry whistled shrilly. Gray Leg, across the mesa, raised his head. Lorry whistled again. The pony lowered his head and nipped at the bunch-grass as he moved slowly toward the house. Shoop's horses watched him, and finally decided that they would follow. Gray Leg stopped just out of reach.
"Get in the corral, there!" said Lorry, waving his arm.
The pony shied and trotted into the corral, the other horses following.
Bondsman was not exactly disgruntled, but he might have been happier. Shoop had told him to "keep house" until they returned.
"It's a funny thing," said Shoop as he mounted. "Now, if I was to tell that dog he was gettin' too old to ramble with me, he'd feel plumb sick and no account. But when I tell him he's got to do somethin'--like watchin' the house--he thinks it's a reg'lar job. He's gettin' old, but, just like folks, he wants to think he's some use. You can't tell me dogs don't know. Why, I've seen young folks so durned fussy about their grandmas and grandpas, trying to keep 'em from putterin' around, that the old folks just nacherally folded their hands and set down and died, havin' nothin' else to do. And a dog is right proud about bein' able to do somethin'. Bondsman there keeps me so busy thinkin' of how I can keep him busy that I ain't got time to shine my boots. That there dog bosses me around somethin' scandalous."
"That's right," acquiesced Lorry. "I seen a ole mule once that they
turned loose from a freight wagon because he was too old to pull his own
weight. And that mule just followed the string up and down the hills and
across the sand, doin' his best to tell the skinner that he wanted to get
back into the harness. He would run alongside the other mules, and try
to get back in his old place. They would just naturally kick him, and he'd
turn and try to wallop 'em back. Then he'd walk along, with his head hangin'
down and his ears floppin', as if he was plumb sick of bein' free and wanted
to die. The last day he was too stiff to get on his feet, so me and Jimmy
Harp heaved him up while the skinner was gettin' the chains on the other
mules. That ole mule was sure wabblin'
like a duck, but he come aside his ole place and followed along all day. We was freightin' in to camp, back in the Horseshoe Hills. You know that grade afore you get to the mesa? Well, the ole mule pulled the grade, sweatin' and puffin' like he was pullin' the whole load. And I guess he was, in his mind. Anyhow, he got to the top, and laid down and died. Mules sure like to work. Now a horse would have fanned it."
Shoop nodded. "I never seen a animile too lazy to work if it was only gettin' his grub and exercise. But I've seen a sight of folks too lazy to do that much. Why, some folks is so dog-gone no account they got to git killed afore folks ever knowed they was livin'. Then they's some folks so high-chinned they can't see nothin' but the stars when they'd do tol'able well if they would follow a good hoss or a dog around and learn how to live human. But this ain't gettin' nowhere, and the sun's keepin' right along doin' business."
They rode across the beautiful Blue Mesa, and entered the timberlands, following a ranger trail through the shadowy silences. At the lower level, they came upon another mesa through which wound a mountain stream. And along a stream ran the trail, knee-high in grass on either side.
Far below them lay the plains country, its hazy reaches just visible over the tree-tops. Where the mountain stream merged with a deeper stream the ground was barren and dotted with countless tracks of cattle and sheep. This was Sheep Crossing, a natural pass where the cattlemen and sheepmen drifted their stock from the hills to the winter feeding-grounds of the lower country. It was a checking point for the rangers; the gateway to the hills.
The thin mountain air was hot. The unbridled ponies drank eagerly, and
were allowed to graze. The men moved over to the shade of a blue-topped
spruce. As Lorry was about to sit down he picked an empty whiskey bottle
from the grass, turned the label toward Shoop, and grinned. He tossed
the bottle into the edge of the timber.
Shoop rolled a cigarette, and Lorry squatted beside him. Presently Shoop's voice broke the indolent silence of noon: "Just why did you chuck that bottle over there?"
"I don't know. Horse might step on it and cut himself."
"Yes. But you chucked it like you was mad at somethin'. Would you thrun it away if it was full?"
"I don' know. I might 'a' smelt of it to see if it was whiskey or kerosene some herder forgot."
"It's right curious how a fella will smell of a bottle to see what's in it or what's been in it. Most folks does that. I guess you know what whiskey smells like."
"Oh, some; with the boys once or twice. I never did get to like it right well."
Shoop nodded. "I ain't what you'd call a drinkin' man myself, but I started out that way. I been tol'able well lit up at times. But temperance folks what never took a drink can tell you more about whiskey than I can. Now that there empty bottle, a hundred and thirty miles from a whiskey town, kind of set me thinkin'."
Lorry leaned back against the spruce and watched a hawk float in easy circles round the blue emptiness above. He felt physically indolent; at one with the silences. Shoop's voice came to him clearly, but as though from a distance, and as Shoop talked Lorry visualized the theme, forgetting where he was in the vivid picture the old ex-cowboy sketched in the rough dialect of the range.
"I've did some thinkin' in my time, but not enough to keep me awake nights," said Shoop, pushing back his hat. "That there whiskey bottle kind of set me back to where I was about your years and some lively. Long about then I knowed two fellas called 'John' and 'Demijohn.' John was young and a right good cow-hand. Demijohn was old, but he was always dressed up like he was young, and he acted right lively. Some folks thought he was young. They met up at a saloon down along the Santa Fe. They got acquainted, and had a high ole time.
"That evenin', as John was leavin' to go back to the ranch, Demijohn tells him he'll see him later. John remembers that. They met up ag'in. And finally John got to lookin' for Demijohn, and if he didn't show up reg'lar John would set out and chase Demijohn all over the country, afoot and ahorseback, and likin' his comp'ny more every time they met.
"Now, this here Demijohn, who was by rights a city fella, got to takin' to the timber and the mesas, with John followin' him around lively. Ole Demijohn would set in the shade of a tree--no tellin' how he got there--and John would ride up and light down; when mebby Demijohn would start off to town, bein' empty, and John after him like hell wasn't hot enough 'less he sweat runnin'. And that young John would ride clean to town just to say 'How' to that ole hocus. And it come that John got to payin' more attention to Demijohn than he did to punchin' cows. Then come a day when John got sick of chasin' Demijohn all over the range, and he quit.
"But the first thing he knowed, Demijohn was a chasin' him. Every time John rode in and throwed off his saddle there'd be ole Demijohn, settin' in the corner of the corral or under his bunk or out in the box stall, smilin' and waitin'. Finally Demijohn got to followin' John right into the bunk-house, and John tryin' his durndest to keep out of sight.
"One evenin', when John was loafin' in the bunk-house, ole Demijohn crawls up to his bunk and asks him, whisperin', if he ain't most always give John a good time when they met up. John cussed, but 'lowed that Demijohn was right. Then Demijohn took to pullin' at young John's sleeve and askin' him to come to town and have a good time. Pretty soon John gets up and saddles his cayuse and fans it for town. And that time him and Demijohn sure had one whizzer of a time. But come a week later, when John gits back to the ranch, the boss is sore and fires him. Then John gits sore at the boss and at himself and at Demijohn and the whole works. So he saddles up and rides over to town to have it out with Demijohn for losin' a good job. But he couldn't lick Demijohn right there in town nohow. Demijohn was too frequent for him.
"When young John wakes up next mornin' he is layin' under a tree, mighty sick. He sees he is up on the high mesa, but he don' know how he got there; only his pony is grazin' near by, with reins all tromped and the saddle 'way up on his withers. John sets up and rubs his eyes, and there he sees ole Demijohn settin' in the grass chucklin' to hisself, and his back is turned to young John, for he don't care nohow for a fella when he is sick. Ole Demijohn is always feelin' good, no matter how his friends feel. Well, young John thinks a while, and pretty soon he moseys over to a spring and gets a big, cold drink and washes his head, and feels better.
"He never knowed that just plain water tasted so good till that mornin'. Then he sets awhile, smellin' of the clean pine air and listenin' to the wind runnin' loose in the tree-tops and watchin' the clouds driftin' by, white and clean and proud-like. Pretty soon he rares up and walks over to the tree where ole Demijohn sets rockin' up and down and chucklin'. He takes a holt of Demijohn by the shoulder, and he says: 'You darned ole hocus, you, I lost my job, and I'm broke, lopin' around this country with you.'
"'Forget it!' says ole Demijohn. 'Ain't I good comp'ny?'
"'Mebby you be--for some folks,' says young John. 'But not for me. You don't belong up in this here country; you belong back in town, and I reckon you better fan it.'
"Ole Demijohn he laughed. 'You can't run me off the range that easy,' he says.
"'I can't, eh?' says young John, and he pulls his gun and up and busts ole Demijohn over the head. Then, bein' a likely young fella, he shuts his jaw tight and fans it back to the ranch. The fo'man is some surprised to see him come ridin' up, whistlin' like he owned the works. Fellas what's fired mostly looks for work some place else. But young John got the idee that he owed it to hisself to make good where he started as a cow-hand. 'I busted my ole friend Demijohn over the head,' he says to the fo'man. 'We ain't friends no more.'
"The fo'man he grins. 'All right, Jack,' he says. 'But if I see him hangin' round the corrals ag'in, or in the bunk-house, you needn't to wait for me to tell you which way is north.'
"Well, young John had done a good job. 'Course ole Demijohn used to come sneakin' round in the moonlight, once in a spell, botherin' some of the boys, but he stayed clear of young John. And young John he took to ridin' straight and hard and 'tendin' to business. I ain't sayin' he ever got to be president or superintendent of a Sunday School, for this ain't no story-book yarn; but he always held a good job when he wanted it, and he worked for a good boss--which was hisself."
Lorry grinned as he turned to Shoop. "That ole Demijohn never got close enough to me to get busted on the head."
"Them hosses is strayin' down the creek," said Shoop, rising.
They turned and rode north, somewhat to Lorry's surprise. The trail
was ragged and steep, and led from the mesa to the canon bottom of the
River. Before Lorry realized where they were, Jason loomed before them on the mesa below.
"She's a quick trail to town in summer," explained Shoop. "Snow hangs too heavy in the canon to ride it in winter."
At Jason they tied their horses, and entered the ranger's office. Lorry
waited while Shoop talked with Torrance in the private office. Presently
Shoop came to the door and gestured to Lorry.
"Mr. Shoop says he thinks you could qualify for the Service," Torrance said. "We will waive the matter of recommendations from the Starr people. But there is one thing I can't do. I can't hire a man who is wanted by the authorities. There's a deputy sheriff in town with a warrant for you. That is strictly your affair. If you can square yourself with the deputy, I'll put you to work."
"I'll go see what he wants," said Lorry.
"He wants you. Understand, you'll only jeopardize your chances by starting a row."
"They won't be a row," said Lorry.
When he returned he was accompanied by the deputy. Lorry took his stand without parley.
"I want to ask you folks a question, and then I'm through," he asserted. "Will you listen to what he says and what I say, and then say who is right?"
"That might not settle it," said Torrance. "But go ahead."
"Then all I got to say is, was I right or wrong when I turned that hobo loose and saved him from gettin' beat up by High Chin and the boys, and mebby strung up, afore they got through?"
"Morally you were right," said Torrance. "But you should have appealed to Sheriff Hardy to guard his prisoner."
"That's all right, Mr. Torrance. But suppose they wasn't time. And suppose,--now Buck's deputy is here to listen to it,--suppose I was to say that Buck is scared to death of High-Chin Bob. Everybody knows it."
The deputy flushed. He knew that Lorry spoke the truth.
Torrance turned to Shoop. "What do you think, Bud?"
Bud coughed and shrugged his heavy shoulders. "Bein' as I'm drug into this, I say the boy did a good job and he's right about Hardy, which you can tell him," he added, turning to the deputy.
"Then that's all I got to say," and Lorry pushed back his hat and rumpled his hair.
The deputy was not there to argue. He had been sent to get Lorry.
"I don't say he ain't right. But how about my job if I ride back to Stacey with nothin' to show for the trip but my expense card?"
"Buck Hardy isn't a fool," said Torrance.
"Oh, hell!" said Lorry, turning to the deputy. "I'll go back with you. I'm sick of jawin' about the right and the wrong and who's to blame. But I want to say in company that I'll go just as far as the county line of this county. You're south of your county. If you can get me across the line, I'll go on to Stacey."
Bud Shoop mopped his face with a bandanna. He was not overhot, but he wanted to hide the grin that spread over his broad countenance. He imagined he could see the deputy just about the time they arrived at the county line, and the mental picture seemed to amuse him.
"The idee is, the kid thinks he's right," said Shoop presently. "Speakin' personal, I never monkey with a man when he thinks he's right--and he is."
"All I got to go by is the law," asserted the deputy. "As for Adams here sayin' I won't run him in, I got orders to do it, and them orders goes."
"Adams has applied for a position in the Service," said Torrance.
"I ain't got anything against Lorry personal," said the deputy.
"Then just you ride back an' tell Buck Hardy that Bud Shoop says he'll stand responsible for Adams keepin' the peace in Jason County, same as I stood responsible for Buck oncet down in the Panhandle. Buck will remember, all right."
"Can't you give me a letter to Buck, explainin' things?" queried the deputy.
Bud glanced at Torrance. "I think we can," said the supervisor.
Lorry stepped to the door with the deputy. There was no personal feeling evident as they shook hands.
"You could tell ma to send down my clothes by stage," said Lorry.
Shoop and Torrance seemed to be enjoying themselves.
"I put in my say," said Bud, "'cause I kind of like the kid. And I reckon I saved that deputy a awful wallopin'. When a fella like young Adams talks pleasant and chokes his hat to death at the same time you can watch out for somethin' to fall."
"Do you think Adams would have had it out with him?"
"He'd 'a' rode along a spell, like he said. Mebby just this side of the county line he'd 'a' told the deputy which way was north. And if the deputy didn't take the hint, I reckon Adams would 'a' lit into him. I knowed Adams's daddy afore he married Annie Adams and went to live in Sonora."
"Then you knew that his father was Jim Waring?"
"I sure did. And I reckon I kep' somebody from gettin' a awful wallopin'.
I was a kid oncet myself."
The installation of Bud Shoop as supervisor of the White Mountain District was celebrated with an old-fashioned barbecue by the cattlemen and sheepmen leasing on the reserve. While John Torrance had always dealt fairly with them, the natives felt that he was more or less of a theorist in the matter of grazing-leases. Shoop was a practical cowman; one of themselves. Naturally there was some dissatisfaction expressed by disgruntled individuals who envied Shoop's good fortune. But this was overwhelmed by the tide of popular acclaim with which Shoop was hailed as a just administrator of their grazing-rights.
The barbecue was a boisterous success. Although the day of large holdings was past, the event lacked nothing in numbers or enthusiasm. The man who owned a hundred head of cattle was quite as popular as his neighbor who owned perhaps eight hundred or a thousand. Outfits fraternized, ran pony races, roped for prizes, and rode bucking horses, as their predecessors had raced, roped, and "rode 'em" in the days of old.
Lorry, itching to enter the roping contest, was checked by a suggestion from the genial Bud.
"I've heard you was top-hand with a rope. But you're a ranger, by the grace of God and me and John Torrance. Let the boy's play, but don't play with 'em yet. Keep 'em guessin' just how good you are. Let 'em get to know you slow--and solid."
Lorry accepted Bud's advice, and made himself popular with the various outfits by maintaining a silence when questioned as to how he "put High-Chin Bob out of business." The story of that affair had had a wide circulation, and gained interest when it became known that High Chin and his men were present. Their excuse for coming was only legitimate in that a barbecue draws no fine lines of distinction. Any one who has a horse and an appetite is welcome. The Starr riders were from the northern county, but they would have been quite as welcome had they come from Alaska.
Bud Shoop was present in a suit of religiously severe black, his pants outside his boots. He had donned a white shirt and knotted a black silk bandanna round his short neck.
The morning was noisy with pony races, roping contests, and the riding of pitching horses. The events were not tabulated, but evolved through the unwritten law of precedent.
After the noon feast there was talk of a shooting-match. Few of the local men packed guns, and none of them openly. The Starr riders were the only exception. This fact was commented upon by some of the old-timers, who finally accosted Bud with the suggestion that he "show that Starr outfit what a gun was made for." Bud declined.
"I ain't had a gun in my hand, except to clean it, since I quit punchin'," he told them. "And, anyhow, I'm no fancy gun sharp."
"High Chin and his outfit is sure handin' it to us," complained the old-timers. "And you're about the only man here who could show 'em."
"No use provin' it to 'em when they know it," Bud said.
The committee retired and consulted among themselves. Bud was talking with a cattleman when they again accosted him.
"Say, Bud, them Starr boys has cleaned us out on ropin' and racin'. We trimmed 'em on ridin'. Now that makes two to one, and we're askin' you as a old-timer if we're goin' to let them fellas ride north a-tellin' every hay-tosser atween here and Stacey that we're a bunch of jays?"
"Oh, shucks!" was all Bud had to say.
"And that High-Chin Bob says he aims to hang young Adams's scalp on his belt afore he gits through," asserted a townsman.
"I'll set in the game," said Bud.
And he waddled across the street to his office. In a few minutes he came back and mingled with the crowd. The Starr boys were pitching dollars at a mark when Bud and a companion strolled past. High Chin invited Shoop to join in the game. Shoop declined pleasantly.
"Things is runnin' slow," said a Starr man. "Wish I'd 'a' fetched my music along. Mebby I could git somebody to sing me to sleep."
Bud laughed. "Have a good time, boys." And he moved on.
"That was one for you--and yore piano," said his companion.
"Mebby so. We'll let that rest. I'm lookin' for a friend of mine." And Shoop edged along the crowd.
The man that Shoop was looking for was standing alone beneath the shade of an acacia, watching the crowd. He was a tall, heavy man, dark-featured, with a silver-gray beard and brown eyes that seemed to twinkle with amusement even when his lips were grim. The giant sheepman of the south country was known to every one on account of his great physique and his immense holdings in land and sheep. Shoop talked with him for a few minutes. Together they strolled back to the crowd.
The Starr boys were still pitching dollars when Shoop and the sheepman approached.
"Who's top-hand in this game?" queried Shoop genially.
"High Chin--and at any game you got," said a Starr man.
"Any game you got."
Shoop gazed about, saw Lorry, and beckoned to him.
"Here's my candidate," said Shoop. "He kep' out of the ropin' so as to give you fellas a chance." And he turned to Lorry. "Give him a whirl," he said, indicating High Chin. "It's worth a couple of dollars just to find out how good he is."
High Chin surveyed the circle of faces, poised a dollar, and threw it. Lorry threw and lost. High Chin pocketed the two dollars. The Starr boys grinned. High Chin threw again. The dollar slid close to the line. Lorry shied his dollar and knocked the other's coin several feet away from the line.
"Try him ag'in," said Shoop.
Lorry tossed again. His dollar dropped on the line. High Chin threw. His coin clinked squarely on Lorry's, but spun off, leaving it undisturbed.
"You break even--at that game," said Shoop. "It was a good shot."
"Folks been sayin' the same of you," said High Chin, turning to the supervisor.
"Oh, folks will talk. They're made that way," chuckled Shoop.
"Well, I got ten bucks that says High Chin can outshoot any hombre in this crowd," said a Starr boy.
"I'm right glad you got it," said Shoop pleasantly.
"Meanin' I stand to lose it, eh?"
"Oh, gosh, no! You're steppin' on your bridle. I was congratulatin' you on your wealth."
"I ain't seen that you been flashin' any money," said the cowboy.
"Nope. That ain't what money's made for. And I never bet on a sure thing. Ain't no fun in that."
The giant sheepman, whose movements were as deliberate as the sun's, slowly reached in his pocket and drew out a leather pouch. He counted out forty dollars in gold-pieces.
"I'll lay it even," he said, his eyes twinkling, "that Bud Shoop can outshoot any man in the crowd."
"I'll take ten of that," said the Starr man.
"And I'll take ten," said another cowboy.
"John," said Shoop, turning to the sheepman, "you're a perpendicular dam' fool."
Word went forth that High-Chin Bob, of the Starr, and Bud Shoop were to shoot a match for a thousand dollars a side, and some of the more enthusiastic believed it. In a few minutes the street was empty of all save the ponies at the hitching-rails.
In a shallow arroyo back of town the excited throng made wagers and talked of wonderful shots made by the principals. High Chin was known as a quick and sure shot. Shoop's reputation was known to fewer of the crowd. The Starr boys backed their foreman to the last cent. A judge was suggested, but declined as being of the locality. Finally the giant sheepman, despite his personal wager, was elected unanimously. He was known to be a man of absolute fairness, and qualified to judge marksmanship. He agreed to serve, with the proviso that the Starr boys or any of High Chin's friends should feel free to question his decisions. The crowd solidified back of the line, where Shoop and High Chin stood waiting for the test.
The marksmen faced two bottles on a rock some thirty paces away. At the word, each was to "go for his gun" and shoot. High Chin carried his gun in the usual holster. Bud Shoop's gun was tucked in the waistband of his pants.
"Go!" said the sheepman.
High Chin's hand flashed to his hip. His gun jumped and spoke. Shoop's wrist turned. Both bottles were shattered on the instant. A tie was declared.
The men were placed with their backs toward the targets--two empty bottles. The sheepman faced them, with his hands behind his back. When he snapped his fingers they were to turn and fire. Many of the onlookers thought this test would leave High Chin a point ahead.
Both men swung and fired at the signal. Again both bottles were shattered. Although a tie was again declared, the crowd cheered for Shoop, realizing his physical handicap. Yet many asserted that High Chin was the faster man, won to this decision by his lightning speed of movement and his easy manner, suggesting a kind of contemptuous indifference to results.
In contrast to High Chin's swift, careless efficiency, Shoop's solid poise and lack of elbow motion showed in strong relief. Their methods were entirely dissimilar. But it was evident to the old-timers that Shoop shot with less effort and waste motion than his lithe competitor. And High Chin was the younger man by twenty years.
Thus far the tests had not been considered difficult. But when the sheepman stepped off ten paces and faced the competitors with a cigar held at arm's length, the chattering of the crowd ceased. High Chin, as guest, was asked to shoot first. He raised his gun. It hung poised for a second. As it jumped in his hand the ash flirted from the end of the cigar. The crowd stamped and cheered. Shoop congratulated High Chin. The crowd hooted and called to Shoop to make good. Even as they called, his hand flashed up. Hardly had the report of his gun startled them to silence when they saw that his hands were empty. A roar of laughter shook the crowd. Some one pointed toward the sheepman. The laughter died down. He held a scant two inches of cigar in his fingers. Then they understood, and were silent again. They gathered round the sheepman. He held up his arms. Shoop's bullet had nipped the cigar in two before they had realized that he intended to shoot.
"You're havin' the luck," said High.
"You're right," said Shoop. "And luck, if she keeps steady gait, is just as good a hoss to ride as they is."
Still, there were those who maintained that Shoop had made a chance
hit. But High Chin knew that this was not so. He had met his master at
the six-gun game.
Bud Shoop's easy manner had vanished. As solid as a rock, his lips in
a straight line, he waited for the next test while High Chin talked and
joked with the bystanders.
"You'll shoot when you see something to shoot at," was the sheepman's
word. The crowd laughed. He stood behind the marksmen, a tin can in each
hand. Both High Chin and Shoop knew what was coming, and Shoop decided to surprise the assemblage. The main issue was not the shooting contest,
and if High-Chin Bob had not already seen enough of Shoop's work to satisfy him, the genial Bud intended to clinch the matter right there.
Without warning, the sheepman tossed the cans into the air. Shoop and High Chin shot on the instant. But before High Chin's can touched the ground Shoop shot again. It was faster work than any present had ever seen. A man picked up the cans and brought them to the sheepman. One can had a clean hole in it. The other had two holes through it. Those nearest the marksmen wondered why Shoop had not shot twice at his own can. But the big sheepman knew that Shoop had called High Chin's bluff about "any game going."
Even then the match was a tie so far as precedent demanded. Each man had made a hit on a moving target.
The crowd had ceased to applaud.
"How about a try from the saddle?" suggested High Chin.
"I reckon I look just as fat and foolish settin' in a saddle as anywhere," said Shoop.
The crowd shuffled over to a more open spot, on the mesa. Shoop and
High Chin mounted their horses. A tin cracker box was placed on a flat
out in the open.
The men were to reload and shoot at top speed as they rode past the
box. The Starr foreman immediately jumped his pony to a run, and, swaying
easily, threw a shot at the box as he approached it, another and another when opposite, and, turning in the saddle, fired his three remaining shots. The box was brought back and inspected. The six shots had all hit.
Shoop, straight and solid as a statue, ran his pony down the course, but held his fire until almost opposite the box. Then six reports rippled out like the drawing of a stick quickly across a picket fence. It was found that the six shots had all hit in one side of the box. The sheepman was asked for a decision. He shook his head and declared the match a draw. And technically it was a draw. Every one seemed satisfied, although there was much discussion among individuals as to the relative merits of the contestants.
As the crowd dispersed and some of them prepared to ride home, two horsemen appeared on the northern road, riding toward town. As they drew nearer Shoop chuckled. Lorry, standing a few paces away, glanced at him.
The supervisor was talking to Bob Brewster. "High, you're the best I ever stacked up against, exceptin' one, and it's right curious that he is just a-ridin' into this powwow. If you want to see what real shootin' is, get him to show you."
"I don't know your friend," said High, eyeing the approaching horsemen, "but he's a beaut if he can outshoot you."
"Outshoot me? Say, High, that hombre ridin' the big buckskin hoss there could make us look about as fast as a couple of fence-posts when it comes to handlin' a gun. And his pardner ain't what you'd call slow."
High Chin's lean face darkened as he recognized Waring riding beside a gaunt, long-legged man whose gray eyes twinkled as he surveyed the little group.
"Pat--and Jim Waring," muttered Shoop. "And us just finished what some would call a ole-time shootin'-bee!"
"Who's your friend?" queried High Chin, although he knew.
"Him? That's Jim Waring, of Sonora. And say, High, I ain't his advertisin' agent, but between you and me he could shoot the fuzz out of your ears and never as much as burn 'em. What I'm tellin' you is first-class life insurance if you ain't took out any. And before you go I just want to pass the word that young Adams is workin' for me. Reckon you might be interested, seein' as how he worked for you a spell."
High Chin met Shoop's gaze unblinkingly. He was about to speak when Pat and Waring, rode up and greeted the supervisor. High Chin wheeled his horse and loped back to town. A few minutes later he and his men rode past. To Shoop's genial wave of farewell they returned a whoop that seemed edged with a vague challenge.
Pat, who was watching them, asked Shoop who the man was riding the pinto.
"Why, that's High-Chin Bob Brewster, Starr fo'man. He's kind of a wild bird. I reckon he came over here lookin' for trouble. He's been walkin' around with his wings and tail spread like he was mad at somethin'."
"I thought I knew him," said Pat. And he shrugged his shoulders.
Shoop noticed that Waring was gazing at Pat in a peculiar manner. He
attached no significance to this at the time, but later he recalled the
fact that there had been trouble between Pat and the Brewster boys some
years ago. The Brewsters had then openly threatened to "get Pat if he ever
rode north again."
Waring, several miles out from the home shack, on the new range, sat his horse Dexter, watching his men string fence. They ran the barbed wire with a tackle, stringing it taut down the long line of bare posts that twinkled away to dots in the west. Occasionally Waring rode up and tested the wire with his hand. The men worked fast. Waring and Pat had picked their men; three husky boys of the high country who considered stringing fence rather pleasant exercise. There was no recognized foreman. Each knew his work, and Waring had added a foreman's pay to their salaries, dividing it equally among them. Later they would look after the ranch and the cattle.
Twenty thousand acres under fence, with plenty of water, would take care of eight hundred or a thousand head of cattle. And as a provision against a lean winter, Waring had put a mowing-machine in at the eastern end of the range, where the bunch-grass was heavy enough to cut. It would be necessary to winter-feed. Four hundred white-faced Herefords grazed in the autumn sunshine. Riding round and among them leisurely was the Mexican youth, Ramon.
Backed against a butte near the middle of the range was the broad, low-roofed ranch-house. A windmill purred in the light breeze, its lean, flickering shadow aslant the corrals. The buildings looked new and raw in contrast to the huge pile of grayish-green greasewood and scrub cedar gathered from the clearing round them.
In front of the house was a fenced acre, ploughed and harrowed to a dead level. This was to be Pat's garden, wherein he had planned to grow all sorts of green things, including cucumbers. At the moment Pat was standing under the veranda roof, gazing out across the ranch. The old days of petty warfare, long night rides, and untold hardships were past. Next spring his garden would bloom; tiny green tendrils would swell to sturdy vines. Corn-leaves would broaden to waving green blades shot with the rich brown of the ripening ears. Although he had never spoken of it, Pat had dreamed of blue flowers nodding along the garden fence; old-fashioned bachelor's-buttons that would spring up as though by accident. But he would have to warn Waco, the erstwhile tramp, not to mistake them for weeds.
"Peace and plenty," muttered Pat, smiling to himself. "The Book sure knows how to say those things."
The gaunt, grizzled ex-sheriff reached in his vest for a cigar. As he bit the end off and felt for a match, he saw a black speck wavering in the distance. He shaded his eyes with his hand.
"'Tain't a machine," he said. "And it ain't a buckboard. Some puncher lookin' for a job, most likely."
He turned and entered the house. Waco, shaven and in clean shirt and overalls, was "punching dough" in the kitchen.
"Did Jim say when he would ride in?" queried Pat.
"About sundown. I fixed 'em up some chuck this morning. Jim figures they're getting too far out to ride in every noon."
"Well, when you get your bread baked we'll take a whirl at those ditches. How are the supplies holding out?"
"We're short on flour. Got enough to last over till Monday. Plenty bacon and beans and lard."
"All right. We'll hook up to-morrow and drive in."
Waco nodded as he tucked a roll of dough into the pan. Pat watched him for a moment. Waco, despite his many shortcomings, could cook, and, strangely enough, liked to putter round the garden.
Picked up half-starving on the mesa road, near St. Johns, he had been brought to the ranch by Pat, where a month of clean air and industry had reshaped the tramp to something like a man. Both Pat and Waring knew that the hobo was wanted in Stacey. They had agreed to say nothing about the tramp's whereabouts just so long as he made himself useful about the ranch. They would give him a chance. But, familiar with his kind, they were mildly skeptical as to Waco's sincerity of purpose. If he took to drinking, or if Buck Hardy heard of his whereabouts, he would have to go. Meanwhile, he earned his keep. He was a good cook, and a good cook, no matter where or where from, is a power in the land.
As Waco closed the oven door some one hallooed. Pat stepped to the veranda. A cowboy astride a bay pony asked if Waring were around.
"I can take your message," said Pat.
"Well, it's for you, I guess. Letter from Buck Hardy."
"Yes, it's for me," said Pat. "Who sent you?"
"Hardy. Said something about you had a man down here he wanted."
"All right. Stay for chuck?"
"I got to git back. How's things down this way?"
"Running on time. Just tell Buck I'll be over right soon."
Pat's gray eyes hardened. "Buck tell you to ask me that?"
"Well--no. I was just wonderin'."
"Then keep right on wondering," said Pat. "You got your answer."
The cowboy swung up and rode off. "To hell with him!" he said. "Thinks he can throw a scare into me because he's got a name for killin'. To hell him!"
Pat climbed the hill back of the house and surveyed the glimmering levels.
"Wish Jim would ride in. Funny thing--Hardy sending a Starr boy with word for me. But perhaps the kid was riding this way, anyhow."
Pat shook his head, and climbed slowly down to the house. Waco was busy in the kitchen when he came in.
After the noon meal, Pat again climbed the hill. He seemed worried about something. When he returned he told Waco to hitch the pintos to the buckboard.
"Get your coat," he told Waco. "We're going over to Stacey."
Waco's hands trembled. "Say, boss, if you don't mind--"
"Get your coat. I'll talk to Buck. You needn't to worry. I'll square you with Buck. We can use you here."
Waco did as he was told. They drove out of the yard. Waco leaped down and closed the gate.
The pintos shook themselves into the harness and trotted down the faintly marked new road. The buckboard swayed and jolted. Something rubbed against Waco's hip. He glanced down and saw Pat's gun on the seat between them. Pat said nothing. He was thinking hard. The cowboy messenger's manner had not been natural. The note bore the printed heading of the sheriff's office. Perhaps it was all right. And if it were not, Pat was not the man to back down from a bluff.
Several miles out from the ranch ran the naked posts of the line fence. Pat reined in the ponies and gazed up and down the line. A mile beyond, the ranch road merged with the main-traveled highway running east and west. He spoke to the horses. They broke into a fast trot. Waco, gripping the seat, stared straight ahead. Why had Pat laid that gun on the seat?
A thin, gray veil drifted across the sun. From the northwest a light wind sprang up and ran across the mesa, whipping the bunch-grass. The wind grew heavier, and with it came a fine, dun-colored dust. An hour and the air was thick with a shifting red haze of sand. The sun glowed dimly through the murk.
Waco turned up his coat-collar and shivered. The air was keen. The ponies fought the bit, occasionally breaking into a gallop. Pat braced his feet and held them to a trot. A weird buzzing came down the wind. The ponies reared and took to the ditch as a machine flicked past and drummed away in the distance.
To Waco, rigid and staring, the air seemed filled with a kind of hovering terror, a whining threat of danger that came in bursts of driving sand and dwindled away to harsh whisperings. He stood it as long as he could. Pat had not spoken.
[Illustration: A huddled shape near a boulder]
Waco touched his arm. "I got a hunch," he said hoarsely,--"I got a hunch we oughta go back."
Pat nodded. But the ponies swept on down the road, their manes and tails whipping in the wind. Another mile and they slowed down in heavy sand. The buckboard tilted forward as they descended the sharp pitch of an arroyo. Unnoticed, Pat's gun slipped to the floor of the wagon.
In the arroyo the wind seemed to have died away, leaving a startled quietness. It still hung above them, and an occasional gust filled their eyes with grit. Waco drew a deep breath. The ponies tugged through the heavy sand.
Without a sound to warn them a rider appeared close to the front wheel of the buckboard. Waco shrank down in sodden terror. It was the Starr foreman, High-Chin Bob. Waco saw Pat's hand flash to his side, then fumble on the seat.
"I'm payin' the Kid's debt," said High Chin, and, laughing, he threw shot after shot into the defenseless body of his old enemy.
Waco saw Pat slump forward, catch himself, and finally topple from the seat. As the reins slipped from his fingers the ponies lunged up the arroyo. Waco crouched, clutching the foot-rail. A bullet hummed over his head. Gaining the level, the ponies broke into a wild run. The red wind whined as it drove across the mesa. The buckboard lurched sickeningly. A scream of terror wailed down the wind as the buckboard struck a telegraph pole. A blind shock--and for Waco the droning of the wind had ceased.
Dragging the broken traces, the ponies circled the mesa and set off at a gallop toward home. At the side of the road lay the splintered buckboard, wheels up. And Waco, hovering on the edge of the black abyss, dreamed strange dreams.
Waring, riding in with the crew, found the ranch-house deserted and the pinto ponies dragging the shreds of a broken harness, grazing along the fence. Waring sent a man to catch up the team. Ramon cooked supper. The men ate in silence.
After supper Waring changed his clothes, saddled Dex, and packed some food in the saddle-pockets. "I am going out to look for Pat," he told one of his men. "If Waco shows up, keep him here till I get back. Those horses didn't get away from Pat. Here's a signed check. Get what you need and keep on with the work. You're foreman till I get back."
"If there's anything doing--" began the cowboy.
"I don't know. Some one rode in here to-day. It was along about noon that Pat and Waco left. The bread was baked. I'd say they drove to town for grub; only Pat took his gun--without the holster. It looks bad to me. If anything happens to me, just send for Lorry Adams at the Ranger Station."
Waring rode out, looking for tracks. His men watched him until he had disappeared behind a rise. Bender, the new foreman, turned to his fellows.
"I'd hate to be the man that the boss is lookin' for," he said, shaking his head.
"Why, he's lookin' for Pat, ain't he?" queried one of the men.
"That ain't what I mean," said the foreman.
The wind died down suddenly. The sun, just above the horizon, glowed
like a disk of burnished copper. The wagon ruts were filled with fine sand.
Waring read the trail. The buckboard had traveled briskly. It had stopped
at the line. The tracks of the fretting ponies showed that clearly. Alongside
the tracks of the ponies were the half-hidden tracks of a single horse.
Waring glanced back at the sun, and put Dex to a lope. He swung into the
main road, his gaze following the half-obliterated trail of the single
horseman. Suddenly he reined up. The horseman had angled away from the
road and had ridden north across the open country. He had not gone to Stacey.
Waring knew that the horseman had been riding hard. Straight north from
where Waring had
stopped was the Starr Ranch.
He rode on, his heart heavy with a black premonition. The glowing copper disk was now half-hidden by the western hills.
At the brink of the arroyo he dismounted. He could see nothing distinctly in the gloom of its depths. Stooping, he noted the wagon tracks as he worked on down. His foot struck against something hard. He fumbled and picked Pat's gun from the sand. Every chamber was loaded.
"He didn't have a chance." Waring was startled by his own voice. He thrust the gun in his waistband. The twilight deepened rapidly. Rocks and ridges in the arroyo assumed peculiar shapes like those of men crouching; men prone; men with heads up, listening, watching, waiting. Yet Waring's instinct for hidden danger told him that there was no living thing in the arroyo--unless--Suddenly he sprang forward and dropped to his knees beside a huddled shape near a boulder.
"Pat!" he whispered.
Then he knew; saw it all as clearly as though he had witnessed it -- the ambushment in the blinding sandstorm; the terror-stricken Waco; the frightened ponies; the lunging and swaying buckboard. And Pat, left for dead, but who had dragged himself from the roadway in dumb agony.
The dole of light from the sinking sun was gone. Waring's hands came away from the opened shirt shudderingly. He wiped his hands on the sand, and, rising, ran back to Dex. He returned with a whiskey flask. Pat was of tough fiber and tremendous vitality. If the spark were still unquenched, if it could be called back even for a breath, that which Waring knew, yet wanted to confirm beyond all doubt, might be given in a word. He raised Pat's head, and barely tilted the flask. The spirit of the mortally stricken man, perchance loath to leave such a brave hermitage, winged slowly back from the far shore of dreams. In the black pit of the arroyo, where death crouched, waiting, life flamed for an instant.
Waring felt the limp body stir. He took Pat's big, bony hand in his.
"Pat!" he whispered.
A word breathed heavily from the motionless lips. "You, Jim?"
"Yes! For God's sake, Pat, who did this thing?"
"Brewster--Bob. Letter--in my coat."
"I'll get him!" said Waring.
"Shake!" exclaimed the dying man, and the grip of his hand was like iron. Waring thought he had gone, and leaned closer. "I'm--kind of tired--Jim. Reckon -- I'll -- rest."
Waring felt the other's grip relax. He drew his hand from the stiffening fingers. A dull pain burned in his throat. He lighted a match, and found the message that had lured Pat to his death in the other's coat-pocket. He rose and stumbled up the arroyo to his horse.
Halfway back to the ranch, and he met Ramon riding hard. "Ride back," said Waring. "Hook up to the wagon and come to the arroyo."
"Have you found the Senor Pat?"
"Yes. He is dead."
Ramon whirled his pony and pounded away in the darkness.
Out on the highway two long, slender shafts of light slid across the mesa, dipped into an arroyo, and climbed skyward as a machine buzzed up the opposite pitch. The lights straightened again and shot on down the road, swinging stiffly from side to side. Presently they came to a stop. In the soft glow of their double radiance lay a yellow-wheeled buckboard, shattered and twisted round a telegraph pole. The lights moved up slowly and stopped again.
A man jumped from the machine and walked round the buckboard. Beneath
it lay a crumpled figure. The driver of the machine ran a quick hand over
the neck and arms of Waco, who groaned. The driver lifted him and carried him to the car. Stacey lay some twenty miles behind him. He was bound south. The first town on his way was thirty miles distant. But the roads were good. He glanced back at the huddled figure in the tonneau. The car purred on down the night. The long shafts of light lifted over a rise and disappeared.
In about an hour the car stopped at the town of Grant. Waco was carried from the machine to a room in the hotel, and a doctor was summoned. Waco lay unconscious throughout the night. In the morning he was questioned briefly. He gave a fictitious name, and mentioned a town he had heard of, but had never been in. His horses had run away with him.
The man who had picked him up drove away next morning. Later the doctor
told Waco that through a miracle there were no bones broken, but that he
would have to keep to his bed for at least a week. Otherwise he would never recover from the severe shock to his nervous system.
And Waco, recalling the horror of the preceding day, twisted his head round at every footstep in the hall, fearing that Waring had come to question him. He knew that he had done no wrong; in fact, he had told Pat that they had better drive back home. But a sense of shame at his cowardice, and the realization that his word was as water in evidence, that he was but a wastrel, a tramp, burdened him with an aching desire to get away--to hide himself from Waring's eyes, from the eyes of all men.
He kept telling himself that he had done nothing wrong, yet fear shook him until his teeth chattered. What could he have done even had he been courageous? Pat had had no chance.
He suffered with the misery of indecision. Habit inclined him to flee
from the scene of the murder. Fear of the law urged him. Three nights after
he had been brought to Grant, he dressed and crept down the back stairs,
and made his way to the railroad station. Twice he had heard the midnight
freight stop and cut out cars on the siding. He hid in the shadows until
the freight arrived. He climbed to an empty box-car and waited. Trainmen
crunched past on the cinders. A jolt and he was swept away toward the west.
He sank into a half sleep as the iron wheels roared and droned beneath
In the little desert hotel at Stacey, Mrs. Adams was singing softly to herself as she moved about the dining-room helping Anita clear away the breakfast dishes. Mrs. Adams had heard from Lorry. He had secured a place in the Ranger Service. She was happy. His letter had been filled with enthusiasm for the work and for his chief, Bud Shoop. This in itself was enough to make her happy. She had known Bud in Las Cruces. He was a good man. And then--Jim had settled down. Only last week he had ridden over and told her how they were getting on with the work at the ranch. He had hinted then that he had laid his guns away. Perhaps he had wanted her to know _that_ more than anything else. She had kissed him good-bye. His gray eyes had been kind. "Some day, Annie," he had said. Her face flushed as she recalled the moment.
A boot-heel gritted on the walk. She turned. Waring was standing in the doorway. His face was set and hard. Involuntarily she ran to him.
"What is it, Jim? Lorry?"
He shook his head. She saw at once that he was dressed for a long ride and that--an unusual circumstance--a gun swung at his hip. He usually wore a coat and carried his gun in a shoulder holster. But now he was in his shirt-sleeves. A dread oppressed her. He was ready on the instant to fight, but with whom? Her eyes grew big.
"What is it?" she whispered again.
"The Brewster boys got Pat."
"Not--they didn't kill him!"
"In the Red Arroyo on the desert road. I found him. I came to tell you."
"And you are going--"
"Yes. I was afraid this would happen. Pat made a mistake."
"But, Jim! The law--the sheriff--you don't have to go."
"No," he said slowly.
"Then why do you go? I thought you would never do that again. I--I--prayed for you, Jim. I prayed for you and Lorry. I asked God to send you back to me with your two hands clean. I told Him you would never kill again. Oh, Jim, I wanted you--here! Don't!" she sobbed.
He put his arm round her shoulders. Stooping, he kissed her.
"You are going?" she asked, and her hands dropped to her sides.
"Yes; I told Pat I would get Brewster. Pat went out with his hand in mine on that word. My God, Annie, do you think I could ride back to the ranch and face the boys or sleep nights with Pat's hand reaching for me in the dark to remind me of my word? Can't you see where I stand? Do you think I could look Lorry in the face when he knew that I sat idle while the man that murdered Pat was riding the country free?"
"Pat was your friend. I am your wife," said Mrs. Adams.
Waring's lips hardened. "Pat's gone. But I'm calling myself his friend yet. And the man that got him is going to know it."
Before she could speak again Waring was gone.
She dropped to a chair and buried her face in her arms. Anita came to her and tried to comfort her. But Mrs. Adams rose and walked to the office doorway. She saw Waring riding down the street. She wanted to call out to him, to call him back. She felt that he was riding to his death. If he would only turn! If he would only wave his hand to show that he cared--But Waring rode on, straight and stern, black hate in his heart, his free hand hollowed as though with an invisible vengeance that was gone as he drew his fingers tense.
He rode north, toward the Starr Ranch. He passed a group of riders drifting some yearlings toward town. A man spoke to him. He did not reply.
And as he rode he heard a voice--the Voice of his desert wanderings, the Voice that had whispered to him from the embers of many a night fire in the Southern solitudes. Yet there, was this difference. That voice had been strangely dispassionate, detached; not the voice of a human being. But now the Voice was that of his friend Pat softly reiterating: "Not this way, Jim."
And Waring cursed. His plan was made. He would suffer no interference. If Brewster were at the Starr Ranch, he would question him first. If he were not, there would be no questioning. Waring determined to trail him. If Brewster had left that part of the country, that would prove his guilt.
Waring knew that Hardy and his men had ridden south, endeavoring to find some clue to the murderer's whereabouts. Waring, guided by almost absolute knowledge, rode in the opposite direction and against a keen instinct that told him High-Chin Bob was not at the ranch. Yet Waring would not overlook the slightest chance. Brewster was of the type that would kill a man in a quarrel and ride home, depending on his nerve and lack of evidence to escape punishment.
The Voice had said, "Not this way, Jim." And Waring knew that it had been the voice of his own instinct. Yet a stubborn purpose held him to his course. There was one chance in a thousand that Bob Brewster was at the ranch and would disclaim all knowledge of the shooting.
Starr was away when Waring arrived. Mrs. Starr made Waring welcome,
and told him that her husband would be in that evening. He was out with
of his men running a line for a new fence. The old days of open range were past. And had Mr. Waring heard that Pat had been killed? Buck Hardy was out searching for the murderer. Did Mr. Waring know of a likely foreman? Bob Brewster had left suddenly. Jasper--her husband--was not well: had the rheumatics again. He could hardly walk--and his foreman had left. "Things always happened that way."
Mrs. Starr paused for lack of breath.
"When did Brewster leave, Mrs. Starr?"
"Why, the last Jasper seen of him was Wednesday morning. Jasper is worried. I'm right glad you rode over. He'll be glad to see you."
"Do you mind if I look over the horses in your corral?"
"Goodness, no! I'll have Sammy go with you--"
"Thanks; but I'd rather you said nothing to the boys."
"You don't think that Bob--"
"Mrs. Starr, I wouldn't say so if I knew it. Bob Brewster has friends up here. I'm looking for one of them."
"Goodness, Mr. Waring, I hope you don't think any of our boys was mixed up in that."
"I hope not. Have you seen Tony or Andy Brewster lately?"
"Why, no. I--why, yes! Tony and Andy rode over last Sunday. I remember
it was Sunday because Bob was out to the line shack. Tony and Andy hung
around for a while, and then rode out to look for Bob."
"Well, I'll step over and look at the horses. You say Jasper will be in this evening?"
"If he ain't too stiff with rheumatics to ride back."
Waring walked round the corrals, looking for a pony lame forward and with half a front shoe gone. Finally he noticed a short-coupled bay that had not moved when he had waved his arm. Waring climbed through the bars and cornered the horse. One front shoe was entirely gone, and the pony limped as Waring turned him loose.
Mrs. Starr was getting supper when Waring returned to the house.
"Any of the boys coming in with Jasper?" he queried.
"Why, nobody except Pete. Pete's been layin' off. He claims his horse stepped in a gopher hole and threw him. Jasper took him along, feelin' like he wanted some one on account of his rheumatics. Jasper gets so stiff ridin' that sometimes he can hardly get on his horse. Mebby you noticed Pete's pony, that chunky bay in the corral--lame forward."
"Yes, I noticed that. But that pony didn't step in a gopher hole. He was ridden down by some one in a hurry to get somewhere. He cast a shoe and went tender on the rocks."
Mrs. Starr stared at Waring.
He shook his head and smiled. "I don't know. I can only guess at it."
"Well, you'll stay for supper--and you can talk to Jasper. He's worried."
"Thank you. And would you mind asking this man Pete in to supper with us?"
"I figured to, him being with Jasper and not feeling right well."
About sundown Starr rode in. Waring helped him from his horse. They shook hands in silence. The old cattleman knew at once why Waring had come, but he had no inkling of what was to follow.
The cowboy, Pete, took care of the horses. A little later he clumped into the house and took a seat in a corner. Waring paid no attention to him, but talked with Starr about the grazing and the weather.
Just before supper Starr introduced Waring.
The cowboy winced at Waring's grip. "Heard tell of you from the boys," he said.
"You want to ride over to our place," said Waring pleasantly. "Pat and I will show you some pretty land under fence."
The cowboy's eyelids flickered. How could this man Waring speak of Pat that way, when he must know that Pat had been killed? Everybody knew that. Why didn't Mrs. Starr or Starr say something? But Starr was limping to the table, and Mrs. Starr was telling them to come and have supper.
In the glow of the hanging lamp, Starr's lined, grizzled features were as unreadable as carved bronze. Waring, at his left, sat directly opposite the cowboy, Pete. The talk drifted from one subject to another, but no one mentioned the killing of Pat. Waring noted the cowboy's lack of appetite.
"I looked over your saddle-stock this afternoon," said Waring. "Noticed you had a bay out there, white blaze on his nose. You don't want to sell that pony, do you?"
"Oh, that's Pete's pony, Baldy," said Mrs. Starr.
Starr glanced at Waring. The horse Baldy was good enough as cow-ponies went, but Waring had not ridden over to buy horses.
"I aim to keep that cayuse," said Pete, swallowing hard.
"But every man has his price,"--and Waring smiled. "I'll make my offer; a hundred, cash."
"Not this evenin'," said the cowboy.
Waring felt in the pocket of his flannel shirt. "I'll go you one better. I'll make it a hundred, cash, and this to boot." And his arm straightened.
Pete started back. Waring's hand was on the table, the fingers closed. His fingers slowly opened, and a crumpled piece of paper lay in his palm. The cowboy's lips tightened. His eyes shifted from Waring to Starr, and then back again.
Mrs. Starr, who could not understand the strange silence of the men, breathed hard and wiped her forehead with her apron.
"Read it!" said Waring sharply.
The cowboy took the piece of paper, and, spreading it out, glanced at it hurriedly.
"This ain't for me," he asserted.
"Did you ever see it before?"
"This? No. What have I got to do with the sheriff's office?"
"Pete," said Waring, drawing back his hand, "you had better read that note again."
"Why, I--Pete can't read," said Mrs. Starr. "He can spell out printed reading some, but not writing."
"Then how did you know this paper was from the sheriff's office?" queried Waring.
The cowboy half rose.
"Sit down!" thundered Waring. "Who sent you with a note to Pat last Wednesday?"
"Who said anybody sent me?"
"Don't waste time! I say so. That broken shoe your cayuse cast says so, for I trailed him from my ranch to the line fence. And you have said so yourself. This paper is not from the sheriff's office. It's a tax receipt."
The cowboy's face went white.
"Honest, so help me, Mr. Waring, I didn't know the Brewster boys was after Pat. Bob he give me the paper. Said it was from the sheriff, and I was to give it to Pat if you weren't around."
"And if I happened to be around?"
"I was to wait until you was out with the fence gang--"
"How did you know I would be out with them?"
"Bob Brewster told me you would be."
Waring folded the piece of paper and tore it across.
"Starr," he said, turning to the old cattleman, "you have heard and seen what has happened since we sat down." And Waring turned on the cowboy. "How much did Bob Brewster give you for this work?"
"I was to get fifty dollars if I put it through."
"And you put it through! You knew it was crooked. And you call yourself a man! And you took a letter to Pat that called him out to be shot down by that coyote! Do you know that Pat's gun was loaded when I found it; that he didn't have a chance?"
Waring's face grew suddenly old. He leaned back wearily.
"I wonder just how you feel?" he said presently. "If I had done a trick like that I'd take a gun and blow my brains out. God, I'd rather be where Pat is than have to carry your load the rest of my life! But you're yellow clean through, and Bob Brewster knew it and hired you. Now you will take that lame cayuse and ride north just as quick as you can throw a saddle on him. And when you go,"--and Waring rose and pointed toward the doorway,--"forget the way back to this country."
The cowboy shuffled his feet and picked up his hat. Starr got up stiffly and limped to his room. He came out with a check, which he gave to the cowboy.
Waring pushed back his chair as though to step round the table and follow the cowboy, but he hesitated, and finally sat down.
"I'm sorry it happened this way, Mrs. Starr," he said.
"It's awful! And one of our men!"
"That's not your fault, Mrs. Starr."
Starr fumbled along the clock shelf, found his pipe, and lighted it. He sat down near Waring as Mrs. Starr began to clear away the dishes.
"If I can do anything to help run down that white-livered skunk--"
"You can, Jasper. Just keep it to yourself that I have been here. Pete left of his own accord. I don't want the Brewster boys to know I'm out on their trail."
Starr nodded and glanced at his wife. "I looked to see you kill him," he said, gesturing toward the doorway.
"What! That poor fool? I thought you knew me better, Jasper."
Starr was awakened at midnight by the sound of boot-heels on the ranch-house veranda. He lighted a lamp and limped to the door. The lamplight shone on the smooth, young face of a Mexican, whose black sombrero was powdered with dust.
"What do you want?" queried Starr.
"I am look for the Senor Jim. I am Ramon, of his place. From the rancho I ride to Stacey. He is not there. Then I come here."
"And you ain't particular about wakin' folks up to tell 'em, either."
"I would find him," said Ramon simply.
"What's your business with Jim Waring?"
"It is that I am his friend. I know that he is ride looking for the men who killed my patron the Senor Pat. I am Ramon."
"Uh-uh. Well, suppose you are?"
"It is not the suppose. I am. I would find Senor Jim."
"Who said he was here?"
"The senora at the hotel would think that he was here."
Starr scratched his grizzled head. Waring had said nothing about the Mexican. And Starr did not like Mexicans. Moreover, Waring had said to tell no one that he had been at the Starr Ranch.
"I don't know where Jim Waring is," said Starr, and, stepping back, he closed the door.
Ramon strode to his horse and mounted. All gringos were not like the Senor Jim. Many of them hated Mexicans. Ah, well, he would ride back to Stacey. The senora at the cantina was a pleasant woman. She would not shut the door in his face, for she knew who he was. He would ask for a room for the night. In the morning he would search for Senor Jim. He must find him.
Mrs. Adams answered his knock at the hotel door by coming down and letting him in. Ramon saw by the office clock that it was past three. She showed him to a room.
No, the senor had not been at the Starr Rancho. But he would find him.
Ramon tiptoed to the open window, and knelt with his arms on the sill. A falling star streaked the night.
"And I shall as soon find him as I would find that star," he murmured. "Yet to-morrow there will be the sun. And I will ask the Holy Mother to help me. She will not refuse, knowing my heart."
Without undressing, he flung himself on the bed. As he slept he dreamed; a strange, vivid dream of the setting sun and a tiny horseman limned against the gold. The horseman vanished as he rose to follow. If he were only sure that it was the Senor Jim! The dream had said that the senor had ridden into the west. In the morning--
With the dawn Ramon was up. Some one was moving about in the kitchen below. Ramon washed and smoothed his long black hair with his hands. He stepped quietly downstairs. Breakfast was not ready, so he walked to the kitchen and talked with Anita.
To her, who understood him as no gringo could, he told of his quest. She knew nothing of the Senor Jim's whereabouts, save that he had come yesterday and talked with the senora. Anita admired the handsome young Mexican, whose face was so sad save when his quick smile lightened the shadow. And she told him to go back to the ranch and not become entangled in the affairs of the Americanos. It would be much better for him so.
Ramon listened patiently, but shook his head. The Senor Jim had been kind to him; had given him his life down in the Sonora desert. Was Ramon Ortego to forget that?
Mrs. Adams declined to take any money for Ramon's room. He worked for her husband, and it was at Ramon's own expense that he would make the journey in search for him. Instead she had Anita put up a lunch for Ramon.
He thanked her and rode away, taking the western trail across the morning desert.
Thirty miles beyond Stacey, he had news of Waring. A Mexican rancher had seen the gringo pass late in the evening. He rode a big buckskin horse. He was sure it must be the man Ramon sought. There was not another such horse in Arizona.
Ramon rode on next day, inquiring occasionally at a ranch or crossroad store. Once or twice he was told that such a horse and rider had passed many hours ago. At noon he rested and fed his pony. All that afternoon he rode west. Night found him in the village of Downey, where he made further inquiry, but without success.
Next morning he was on the road early, still riding west. No dream had come to guide him, yet the memory of the former dream was keen. If that dream were not true, all dreams were lies and prayer a useless ceremony.
For three days he rode, tracing the Senor Jim from town to town, but never catching up with him. Once he learned that Waring had slept in the same town, but had departed before daybreak. Ramon wondered why no dream had come to tell him of this.
That day he rode hard. There were few towns on his way. He reined in when he came to the fork where the southern highway branches from the Overland Road. The western road led on across the mountains past the great canon. The other swept south through cattle land and into the rough hills beyond which lay Phoenix and the old Apache Trail. He hailed a buck-board coming down the southern road. The driver had seen nothing of a buckskin horse. Ramon hesitated, closing his eyes. Suddenly in the darkness glared a golden sun, and against it the tiny, black silhouette of a horseman. His dream could not lie.
Day by day the oval of his face grew narrower, until his cheek-bones showed prominently. His lips lost their youthful fullness. Only his eyes were the same; great, velvet-soft black eyes, gently questioning, veiled by no subtlety, and brighter for the deepening black circles beneath them.
The fifth day found him patiently riding west, despite the fact that all trace of Waring had been lost. Questioned, men shook their heads and watched him ride away, his lithe figure upright, but his head bowed as though some blind fate drew him on while his spirit drowsed in stagnant hopelessness.
To all his inquiries that day he received the same answer. Finally, in the high country, he turned and retraced his way.
A week after he had left Stacey he was again at the fork of the highway. The southern road ran, winding, toward a shallow valley. He took this road, peering ahead for a ranch, or habitation of any kind. That afternoon he stopped at a wayside store and bought crackers and canned meat. He questioned the storekeeper. Yes, the storekeeper had seen such a man pass on a big buckskin cayuse several days ago. Ramon thanked him and rode on. He camped just off the road that evening. In the morning he set out again, cheered by a new hope. His dream had not lied; only there should have been another dream to show him the way before he had come to the fork in the road.
That afternoon three men passed him, riding hard. They were in their shirt-sleeves and were heavily armed. Their evident haste caused Ramon to note their passing with some interest. Yet they had thundered past him so fast, and in such a cloud of dust, that he could not see them clearly.
Waring, gaunt as a wolf, unshaven, his hat rimmed with white dust, pulled up in front of the weathered saloon in the town of Criswell on the edge of the desert.
He dismounted and stepped round the hitching-rail. His face was lined and gray. His eyes were red-rimmed and heavy. As he strode toward the saloon door, he staggered and caught himself. Dex shuffled uneasily, knowing that something was wrong with his master.
Waring drew his hand across his eyes, and, entering the saloon, asked for whiskey. As in a dream, he saw men sitting in the back of the place. They leaned on their elbows and talked. He drank and called for more. The loafers in the saloon glanced at each other. Three men had just ridden through town and down into the desert, going over-light for such a journey. And here was the fourth. They glanced at Waring's boots, his belt, his strong shoulders, and his dusty sombrero. Whoever he was, he fitted his clothes. But a man "going in" was a fool to take more than one drink. The three men ahead had not stopped at the saloon. One of them had filled a canteen at the tank near the edge of the town. They had seemed in a great hurry for men of their kind.
Waring wiped his lips and turned. His eyes had grown bright. For an instant he glanced at the men, the brown walls spotted with "Police Gazette" pictures, the barred window at the rear of the room. He drew out his gun, spun the cylinder, and dropped it back into the holster.
The stranger, whoever he was, seemed to be handy with that kind of tool. Well, it was no affair of theirs. The desert had taken care of such affairs in the past, and there was plenty of room for more.
From the saloon doorway they saw Waring ride to the edge of town, dismount, and walk out in the desert in a wide circle. He returned to his horse, and, mounting, rode at right angles to the course the three riders had taken.
One of the men in the doorway spoke. "Thought so," he said with finality.
The others nodded. It was not their affair. The desert would take care of that.
About the middle of the afternoon, Waring rode down a sandy draw that deepened to an arroyo. Near the mouth of the arroyo, where it broke off abruptly to the desert level, he reined up. His horse stood with head lowered, his gaunt sides heaving. Waring patted him.
"Not much longer, old boy," he said affectionately.
With his last burst of strength, the big buckskin had circled the course taken by the three men, urged by Waring's spur and voice. They were heading in a direct line across the level just beyond the end of the arroyo where Waring was concealed. He could not see them, but as usual he watched Dex's ears. The horse would be aware of their nearness without seeing them. And Waring dared not risk the chance of discovery. They must have learned that he was following them, for they had ridden hard these past few days. Evidently they had been unwilling to chance a fight in any of the towns. And, in fact, Waring had once been ahead of them, knowing that they would make for the desert. But that night he had overslept, and they had passed him in the early hours of morning.
Slowly Dex raised his head and sniffed. Waring patted him, afraid that he would nicker. He had dismounted to tighten the cinches when he thought he heard voices in argument. He mounted again. The men must have ridden hard to have made such good time. Again he heard voices. The men were near the mouth of the arroyo. Waring tossed his hat to the ground and dropped his gauntlets beside his hat. Carefully he wiped his sweating hands on his bandanna. Dex threw up his head. His nostrils worked. Waring spoke to him.
A shadow touched the sand at the mouth of the arroyo. Waring leaned forward and drove in the spurs. The big buckskin leaped to a run as he rounded the shoulder of the arroyo.
The three horsemen, who had been riding close together, spread out on the instant. Waring threw a shot at the foremost figure even as High Chin's first shot tore away the front of his shirt. Waring fired again. Tony Brewster, on the ground, emptied his gun as Waring spurred over him. Turning in the saddle as he flashed past High Chin, Waring fired at close range at the other's belt buckle. Out on the levels, Andy Brewster's horse was running with tail tucked down. Waring threw his remaining shot at High Chin, and, spurring Dex, stood in his stirrups as he reloaded his gun.
The rider ahead was rocking in the saddle. He had been hit, although Waring could not recall having shot at him. Suddenly the horse went down, and Andy Brewster pitched to the sand. Waring laughed and reined round on the run, expecting each instant to feel the blunt shock of a bullet. High Chin was still sitting his horse, his gun held muzzle up. Evidently he was not hard hit, or, if he were, he was holding himself for a final shot at Waring. Behind him, almost beneath his horse, his brother Tony had raised himself on his elbow and was fumbling with his empty gun.
Waring rode slowly toward High Chin. High Chin's hand jerked down. Waring's wrist moved in answer. The two reports blended in a blunt, echoless roar. Waring felt a shock that numbed his thigh. High Chin sat stiffly in the saddle, his hand clasping the horn. He turned and gazed down at his brother.
"Thought you got him," said Tony Brewster from the ground. "Sit still and I'll get him from under your horse."
Waring knew now that High Chin was hit hard. The foreman had let his gun slip from his fingers. Waring saw a slight movement just beneath High Chin's horse. A shock lifted him from the saddle, and he dropped to the ground as Tony Brewster fired. But there was no such thing as quit just so long as Waring could see to shoot. Dragging himself to his gun, he shook the sand from its muzzle. He knew that he could not last long. Already flecks of fire danced before his eyes. He bit his lip as he raised himself and drew fine on that black figure beneath High Chin's horse. The gun jumped in his hand. Waring saw the black figure twitch and roll over. Then his sight grew clouded. He tried to brush away the blur that grew and spread. For an instant his eyes cleared. High Chin still sat upright in the saddle. Waring raised his gun and fired quickly. As his hand dropped to the sand, High Chin pitched headlong and lay still.
Then came a soft black veil that hid the glimmering sun and the wide desert reaches.
High Chin, his legs paralyzed by a slug that had torn through his abdomen and lodged in his spine, knew that he had made his last fight. He braced himself on his hands and called to his brother Tony. But his brother did not answer. High Chin's horse had strayed, and was grazing up the arroyo. The stricken man writhed round, feeling no pain, but conscious of a horrible numbness across his back and abdomen.
"When it hits my heart I'm done," he muttered. "Guess I'll go over and keep Tony company."
Inch by inch he dragged himself across the sand. Tony Brewster lay on his back. High Chin touched him; felt of the limp arm, and gazed curiously at the blue-edged hole in his brother's chest. With awful labor that brought a clammy moisture to his face, he managed to drag himself close to his brother and writhe round to a position where he could sit up, braced against the other's body. He gazed out across the desert. It had been a fast fight. Waring was done for. High Chin wondered how long he would last. The sun was near the horizon. It seemed only a few minutes ago that the sun had been directly overhead and he and his brothers had been cursing the heat. It was growing cold. He shivered. A long shadow reached out toward him from the bank of the arroyo. In a few minutes it would touch him. Then would come night and the stars. The numbness was creeping toward his chest. He could not breathe freely. He moved his arms. _They_ were alive yet. He opened and closed his fingers, gazing at them curiously. It was a strange thing that a man should die like this; a little at a time, and not suffer much pain. The fading flame of his old recklessness flared up.
"I'm goin' across," he said. "But, by God, I'm takin' Jim Waring with me!"
He glanced toward the buckskin horse that stood so patiently beside that silent figure out there. Waring was done for. High Chin blinked. A long shaft of sunlight spread across the sand, and in the glow High Chin saw that the horse was moving toward him. He stared for a few seconds. Then he screamed horribly.
Waring, his hand gripping the stirrup, was dragging across the sand beside the horse that stepped sideways and carefully as Waring urged him on. Dex worked nearer to High Chin, but so slowly that High Chin thought it was some horrible phantasy sent to awaken fear in his dulled brain. But that dragging figure, white-faced and terrible--that was real! Within a few paces of High Chin, Dex stopped and turned his head to look down at Waring. And Waring, swaying up on his hands, laughed wildly.
"I came over--to tell you--that it was Pat's gun--" He collapsed and lay still.
High Chin sat staring dully at the gunman's uncovered head. The horse sniffed at Waring. High Chin's jaw sagged. He slumped down, and lay back across the body of his brother.
A pathway of lamplight floated out and across the main street of Criswell. A solitary figure lounged at the saloon bar. The sharp barking of a dog broke the desert silence. The lounger gazed at the path of lamplight which framed the bare hitching-rail. His companions of the afternoon had departed to their homes. Again the dog barked shrilly. The saloon-keeper moved to a chair and picked up a rumpled paper.
The lounger, leaning on his elbow, suddenly straightened. He pointed toward the doorway. The saloon-keeper saw the motion from the corner of his eye. He lowered his paper and rose. In the soft radiance a riderless horse stood at the hitching-rail, his big eyes glowing, his ears pricked forward. Across the horse's shoulder was a ragged tear, black against the tawny gold of his coat. The men glanced at each other. It was the horse of the fourth man; the man who had staggered in that afternoon, asked for whiskey, and who had left as buoyantly as though he went to meet a friend.
"They got him," said the saloon-keeper.
"They got him," echoed the other.
Together they moved to the doorway and peered out. The man who had first seen the horse stepped down and tied the reins to the rail. He ran his hand down the horse's shoulder over muscles that quivered as he examined the wound. He glanced at the saddle, the coiled rope, the slackened cinches, and pointed to a black stain on the stirrup leather.
[Illustration: I came over--to tell you--that it was Pat's gun]
"From the south," he said. "Maguey rope, and that saddle was made in Mexico."
"Mebby he wants water," suggested the saloon-keeper.
"He's had it. Reins are wet where he drug 'em in the tank."
"Wonder who them three fellas was?"
"Don' know. From up north, by their rig. I'm wonderin' who the fourth fella was--and where he is."
"Why, he's out there, stiff'nin' on the sand. They's been a fight. And, believe me, if the others was like him--she was a dandy!"
"I guess it's up to us to do somethin'," suggested the lounger.
"Not to-night, Bill. You don't ketch me ridin' into a flash in the dark before I got time to tell myself I'm a dam' fool. In the mornin', mebby--"
Their heads came up as they heard a horse pounding down the road. A lean pony, black with sweat, jumped to a trembling stop.
A young Mexican swung down and walked stiffly up to Dex.
"Where is Senor Jim?" he queried, breathing hard.
"Don' know, hombre. This his hoss?"
"Si! It is Dex."
'Well, the hoss came in, recent, draggin' the reins."
"Then you have seen him?"
"Seen who? Who are you, anyway?"
"Me, I am Ramon Ortego, of Sonora. The Senor Jim is my friend. I would find him."
"Well, if your friend sports a black Stetson and a dam' bad eye and performs with a short-barreled .45, he rode in this afternoon just about a hour behind three other fellas. They lit out into the dry spot. Reckon you'll find your friend out there, if the coyotes ain't got to him."
Ramon limped to the rail and untied Dex. Then he mounted his own horse.
"Dex," he said softly, riding alongside, "where is the Senor Jim?"
The big buckskin swung his head round and sniffed Ramon's hand. Then he plodded down the street toward the desert. At the tank Ramon let his horse drink. Dex, like a great dog, sniffed the back trail on which he had come, plodding through the night toward the spot where he knew his master to be.
Ramon, burdened with dread and weariness, rode with his hands clasped round the saddle-horn. The Senor Jim, his Senor Jim, had found those whom he sought. He had not come back. Ramon was glad that he had filled the canteen. If the man who had killed his Senor Jim had escaped, he would follow him even as he had followed Waring. And he would find him. "And then I shall kill him," said Ramon simply. "He does not know my face. As I speak to him the Senor Jim's name I shall kill him, and the Senor Jim will know then that I have been faithful."
The big buckskin plodded on across the sand, the empty stirrups swinging. Ramon's gaze lifted to the stars. He smiled wanly.
"I follow him. Wherever he has gone, I follow him, and he will not lose the way."
His bowed head, nodding to the pace of the pony, seemed to reiterate in grotesque assertion his spoken word. Ramon's tired body tingled as Dex strode faster. The horse nickered, and an answering nicker came from the night. His own tired pony struck into a trot. Dex stopped. Ramon slid down, and, stumbling forward, he touched a black bulk that lay on the sand.
Waring, despite his trim build, was a heavy man. Ramon was just able to lift him and lay him across the saddle. A coyote yipped from the brush of the arroyo. As Ramon started back toward town his horse shied at something near the arroyo's entrance. Ramon did not know that the bodies of Tony and Bob Brewster formed that low mound half-hidden by the darkness.
A yellow star, close to the eastern horizon, twinkled faintly and then disappeared. The saloon at Criswell had been closed for the night.
Next morning the marshal of Criswell sent a messenger to the telegraph office at the junction. There was no railroad entering the Criswell Valley. The messenger bore three telegraph messages; one to Sheriff Hardy, one to Bud Shoop, and one to Mrs. Adams.
Ramon, outside Waring's room in the marshal's house, listened as the local doctor moved about. Presently he heard the doctor ask a question. Waring's voice answered faintly. Ramon stepped from the door and found his way to the stable. Dex, placidly munching alfalfa, turned his head as Ramon came in.
"The Senor Jim is not dead," he told the horse.
And, leaning against Dex, he wept softly, as women weep, with a happiness
too great to bear. The big horse nuzzled his shoulder with his velvet-smooth
nose, as though he would sympathize. Then he turned to munching alfalfa
again in huge content. He had had a weary journey. And though his master
had not come to feed him, here was the gentle, low-voiced Ramon, whom he
knew as a friend.
Bud Shoop's new duties kept him exceedingly busy. As the days went by he found himself more and more tied to office detail. Fortunately Torrance had left a well-organized corps of rangers, each with his own special work mapped out, work that Shoop understood, with the exception of seeding and planting experiments, which Lundy, the expert, attended to as though the reserve were his own and his life depended upon successful results along his special line.
Shoop had long since given up trying to dictate letters. Instead he wrote what he wished to say on slips of paper which his clerk cast into conventional form. The genial Bud's written directions were brief and to the point.
Among the many letters received was one from a writer of Western stories, applying for a lease upon which to build a summer camp. His daughter's health was none too good, and he wanted to be in the mountains. Shoop studied the letter. He had a vague recollection of having heard of the writer. The request was legitimate. There was no reason for not granting it.
Shoop called in his stenographer. "Ever read any of that fella's books?"
"Who? Bronson? Yes. He writes bang-up Western stories."
"He does, eh? Well, you get hold of one of them stories. I want to read it. I've lived in the West a few minutes myself."
A week later Shoop had made his decision. He returned a shiny, new volume to the clerk.
"I never took to writin' folks reg'lar," he told the clerk. "Mebby I got the wrong idee of 'em. Now I reckon some of them is human, same as you and me. Why, do you know I been through lots of them things he writes about. And, by gollies, when I read that there gun-fight down in Texas, I ketched myself feelin' along my hip, like I was packin' a gun. And when I read about that cowboy's hoss,--the one with the sarko eye and the white legs,--why, I ketched myself feelin' for my ole bandanna to blow my nose. An' I seen dead hosses a-plenty. But you needn't to say nothin' about that in the letter. Just tell him to mosey over and we'll talk it out. If a man what knows hosses and folks like he does wa'n't raised in the West, he ought to been. Heard anything from Adams?"
"He was in last week. He's up on Baldy. Packed some stuff up to the lookout."
"Uh-uh. Now, the land next to my shack on the Blue ain't a bad place for this here writer. I got the plat, and we can line out the five acres this fella wants from my corner post. But he's comin' in kind of late to build a camp."
"It will be good weather till December," said the clerk.
"Well, you write and tell him to come over. Seen anything of Hardy and his men lately?"
"Not since last Tuesday."
"Uh-uh. They're millin' around like a lot of burros--and gettin' nowhere. But Jim Waring's out after that bunch that got Pat. If I wasn't so hefty, I'd 'a' gone with him. I tell you the man that got Pat ain't goin' to live long to brag on it."
"They say it was the Brewster boys," ventured the stenographer.
"They say lots of things, son. But Jim Waring _knows_. God help the man that shot Pat when Jim Waring meets up with him. And I want to tell you somethin'. Be kind of careful about repeatin' what 'they say' to anybody. You got nothin' to back you up if somebody calls your hand. 'They' ain't goin' to see you through. And you named the Brewster boys. Now, just suppose one of the Brewster boys heard of it and come over askin' you what you meant? I bet you a new hat Jim Waring ain't said Brewster's name to a soul--and he _knows_. I'm goin' over to Stacey. Any mail the stage didn't get?"
"Letter for Mrs. Adams."
"Uh-uh. Lorry writes to his ma like he was her beau--reg'lar and plenty. Funny thing, you can't get a word out of him about wimmin-folk, neither. He ain't that kind of a colt. But I reckon when he sees the gal he wants he'll saddle up and ride out and take her." And Bud chuckled.
Bondsman rapped the floor with his tail. Bondsman never failed to express a sympathetic mood when his master chuckled.
"Now, look at that," said Shoop, grinning. "He knows I'm goin' over to Stacey. He heard me say it. And he says I got to take him along, 'cause he knows I ain't goin' on a hoss. That there dog bosses me around somethin' scandalous."
The stenographer smiled as Shoop waddled from the office with Bondsman at his heels. There was something humorous, almost pathetic, in the gaunt and grizzled Airedale's affection for his rotund master. And Shoop's broad back, with the shoulders stooped slightly and the set stride as he plodded here and there, often made the clerk smile. Yet there was nothing humorous about Shoop's face when he flashed to anger or studied some one who tried to mask a lie, or when he reprimanded his clerk for naming folk that it was hazardous to name.
The typewriter clicked; a fly buzzed on the screen door; a beam of sunlight flickered through the window. The letter ran:--
Yours of the 4th inst. received and contents noted. In answer would state that Supervisor Shoop would be glad to have you call at your earliest convenience in regard to leasing a camp-site on the White Mountain Reserve.Essentially a business letter of the correspondence-school type.
But the stenographer was not thinking of style. He was wondering what the girl would be like. There was to be a girl. The writer had said that he wished to build a camp to which he could bring his daughter, who was not strong. The clerk thought that a writer's daughter might be an interesting sort of person. Possibly she was like some of the heroines in the writer's stories. It would be interesting to meet her. He had written a poem once himself. It was about spring, and had been published in the local paper. He wondered if the writer's daughter liked poetry.
In the meantime, Lorry, with two pack-animals and Gray Leg, rode the hills and canons, attending to the many duties of a ranger.
And as he caught his stride in the work he began to feel that he was his own man. Miles from headquarters, he was often called upon to make a quick decision that required instant and individual judgment. He made mistakes, but never failed to report such mistakes to Shoop. Lorry preferred to give his own version of an affair that he had mishandled rather than to have to explain some other version later. He was no epitome of perfection. He was inclined to be arbitrary when he knew he was in the right. Argument irritated him. He considered his "Yes" or "No" sufficient, without explanation.
He made Shoop's cabin his headquarters, and spent his spare time cording wood. He liked his occupation, and felt rather independent with the comfortable cabin, a good supply of food, a corral and pasture for the ponies, plenty of clear, cold water, and a hundred trails to ride each day from dawn to dark as he should choose. Once unfamiliar with the timber country, he grew to love the twinkling gold of the aspens, the twilight vistas of the spruce and pines, and the mighty sweep of the great purple tides of forest that rolled down from the ranges into a sheer of space that had no boundary save the sky.
He grew a trifle thinner in the high country. The desert tan of his cheeks and throat deepened to a ruddy bronze.
Aside from pride in his work, he took special pride in his equipment, keeping his bits and conchas polished and his leather gear oiled. Reluctantly he discarded his chaps. He found that they hindered him when working on foot. Only when he rode into Jason for supplies did he wear his chaps, a bit of cowboy vanity quite pardonable in his years.
If he ever thought of women at all, it was when he lounged and smoked by the evening fire in the cabin, sometimes recalling "that Eastern girl with the jim-dandy mother." He wondered if they ever thought of him, and he wished that they might know he was now a full-fledged ranger with man-size responsibilities. "And mebby they think I'm ridin' south yet," he would say to himself. "I must have looked like I didn't aim to pull up this side of Texas, from the way I lit out." But, then, women didn't understand such things.
Occasionally he confided something of the kind to the spluttering fire, laughing as he recalled the leg of lamb with which he had waved his hasty farewell.
"And I was scared, all right. But I wasn't so scared I forgot I'd get hungry." Which conclusion seemed to satisfy him.
When he learned that a writer had leased five acres next to Bud's cabin,
he was skeptical as to how he would get along with "strangers." He liked
elbow-room. Yet, on second thought, it would make no difference to him.
He would not be at the cabin often nor long at a time. The evenings were
But when camped at the edge of the timber on some mountain meadow, with his ponies grazing in the starlit dusk, when the little, leaping flame of his night fire flung ruddy shadows that danced in giant mimicry in the cavernous arches of the pines; when the faint tinkle of the belled pack-horse rang a faery cadence in the distance; then there was no such thing as loneliness in his big, outdoor world. Rather, he was content in a solid way. An inner glow of satisfaction because of work well done, a sense of well-being, founded upon perfect physical health and ease, kept him from feeling the need of companionship other than that of his horses. Sometimes he sat late into the night watching the pine gum ooze from a burning log and swell to golden bubbles that puffed into tiny flames and vanished in smoky whisperings. At such times a companion would not have been unwelcome, yet he was content to be alone.
Later, when Lorry heard that the writer was to bring his daughter into the high country, he expressed himself to Shoop's stenographer briefly: "Oh, hell!" Yet the expletive was not offensive, spoken gently and merely emphasizing Lorry's attitude toward things feminine.
While Lorry was away with the pack-horses and a week's riding ahead
of him, the writer arrived in Jason, introduced himself and his daughter,--a
rather slender girl of perhaps sixteen or eighteen,--and later, accompanied
by the genial Bud, rode up to the Blue Mesa and inspected the proposed
camp-site. As they rode, Bud discoursed upon the climate, ways of building
a log cabin, wild turkeys, cattle, sheep, grazing, fuel, and water, and
concluded his discourse with a dissertation upon dogs in general and Airedales
in particular. The writer was fond of dogs and knew something about Airedales.
appealed to Shoop even more than had the writer's story of the West.
Arrived at the mesa, tentative lines were run and corners marked. The next day two Mormon youths from Jason started out with a load of lumber and hardware. The evening of the second day following they arrived at the homestead, pitched a tent, and set to work. That night they unloaded the lumber. Next morning they cleared a space for the cabin. By the end of August the camp was finished. The Mormon boys, to whom freighting over the rugged hills was more of a pastime than real work, brought in a few pieces of furniture--iron beds, a stove, cooking-utensils, and the hardware and provisions incidental to the maintenance of a home in the wilderness.
The writer and his daughter rode up from Jason with the final load of supplies. Excitement and fatigue had so overtaxed the girl's slender store of strength that she had to stay in bed for several days. Meanwhile, her father put things in order. The two saddle-horses, purchased under the critical eye of Bud Shoop, showed an inclination to stray back to Jason, so the writer turned them into Lorry's corral each evening, as his own lease was not entirely fenced.
Riding in from his long journey one night, Lorry passed close to the new cabin. It loomed strangely raw and white in the moonlight. He had forgotten that there was to be a camp near his. The surprise rather irritated him. Heretofore he had considered the Blue Mesa was his by a kind of natural right. He wondered how he would like the city folks. They had evidently made themselves at home. Their horses were in his corral.
As he unsaddled Gray Leg, a light flared up in the strange camp. The door opened, and a man came toward him.
"Good-evening," said the writer. "I hope my horses are not in your way."
"Sure not," said Lorry as he loosened a pack-rope.
He took off the packs and lugged them to the veranda. The tired horses rolled, shook themselves, and meandered toward the spring.
"I'm Bronson. My daughter is with me. We are up here for the summer."
"My name is Adams," said Lorry, shaking hands.
"The ranger up here. Yes. Well, I'm glad to meet you, Adams. My daughter and I get along wonderfully, but it will be rather nice to have a neighbor. I heard you ride by, and wanted to explain about my horses."
"That's all right, Mr. Bronson. Just help yourself."
"Thank you. Dorothy--my daughter--has been under the weather for a few
days. She'll be up to-morrow, I think. She has been worrying about our
using your corral. I told her you would not mind."
"Sure not. She's sick, did you say?"
"Well, over-tired. She is not very strong."
"Lungs?" queried Lorry, and immediately he could have kicked himself for saying it.
"I'm afraid so, Adams. I thought this high country might do her good."
"It's right high for some. Folks got to take it easy at first; 'specially wimmin-folk. I'm right sorry your girl ain't well."
"Thank you. I shouldn't have mentioned it. She is really curious to know how you live, what you do, and, in fact, what a real live ranger looks like. Mr. Shoop told her something about you while we were in Jason. They became great friends while the camp was building. She says she knows all about you, and tries to tease me by keeping it to herself."
"Bud--my boss--is some josher," was all that Lorry could think of to say at the time.
Bronson went back to his cabin. Lorry, entering his camp, lighted the lamp and built a fire. The camp looked cozy and cheerful after a week on the trail.
When he had eaten he sat down to write to his mother. He would tell her all about the new cabin and the city folks. But before he had written more than to express himself "that it was too darned bad a girl had to stay up in the woods without no other wimmin-folks around," he became drowsy. The letter remained unfinished. He would finish it to-morrow. He would smoke awhile and then go to bed.
A healthy young animal himself, he could not understand what sickness meant. And as for lungs--he had forgotten there were such things in a person's make-up. And sick folks couldn't eat "regular grub." It must be pretty tough not to be able to eat heartily. Now, there was that wild turkey he had shot near the Big Spring. He tiptoed to the door. The lights were out in the other cabin. It was closed season for turkey, but then a fellow needed a change from bacon and beans once in a while.
He had hidden the turkey in a gunny-sack which hung from a kitchen rafter. Should he leave it in the sack, hang it from a rafter of their veranda, out of reach of a chance bobcat or coyote, or--it would be much more of a real surprise to hang the big bird in front of their door in all his feathered glory. The sack would spoil the effect.
He took off his boots and walked cautiously to the other cabin. The first person to come out of that cabin next morning would actually bump into the turkey. It would be a good joke.
"And if he's the right kind of a hombre he won't talk about it," thought
Lorry as he returned to his camp. "And if he ain't, I am out one fine bird,
and I'll know to watch out for him."
When Bronson opened his door to the thin sunlight and the crisp chill of the morning, he chuckled. He had made too many camps in the outlands to be surprised by an unexpected gift of game out of season. His neighbor was a ranger, and all rangers were incidentally game wardens. Bronson believed heartily in the conservation of game, and in this instance he did not intend to let that turkey spoil.
He called to his daughter.
Her brown eyes grew big. "Why, it's a turkey!"
Bronson laughed. "And to-day is Sunday. We'll have a housewarming and invite the ranger to dinner."
"Did he give it to you? Isn't it beautiful! What big wings--and the
breast feathers are like little bronze flames! Do wild turkeys really
"Well, rather. It's a fine sight to see them run to a rim rock and float off across a canon."
"Did you tell him about our horses? Is he nice? What did he say? But I could never imagine a turkey like that flying. I always think of turkeys as strutting around a farmyard with their heads held back and all puffed out in front. This one is heavy! I can't see how he could even begin to fly."
"They have to get a running start. Then they usually flop along and sail up into a tree. Once they are in a tree, they can float off into space easily. They seem to fly slowly, but they can disappear fast enough. The ranger seems to be a nice chap."
"Did he really give the turkey to us?"
"It was hanging right here when I came out. I can't say that he gave it to us. You see, it is closed season for turkey."
"But we must thank him."
"We will. Let's ask him to dinner. He seems to be a pleasant chap; quite natural. He said we were welcome to keep our horses in his corral. But if you want to have him for a real friendly neighbor, Dorothy, don't mention the word 'turkey.' We'll just roast it, make biscuits and gravy, and ask him to dinner. He will understand."
"Then I am going to keep the wings and tail to put on the wall of my room. How funny, not to thank a person for such a present."
"The supervisor would reprimand him for killing game out of season, if he heard about it."
"But just one turkey?"
"That isn't the idea. If it came to Mr. Shoop that one of his men was breaking the game laws, Mr. Shoop would have to take notice of it. Not that Shoop would care about one of his men killing a turkey to eat, but it would hurt the prestige of the Service. The natives would take advantage of it and help themselves to game."
"Of course, you know all about those matters. But can't I even say 'turkey' when I ask him to have some?"
"Oh," laughed Bronson, "call it chicken. He'll eat just as heartily."
"The ranger is up," said Dorothy. "I can hear him whistling."
"Then let's have breakfast and get this big fellow ready to roast. It will take some time."
An hour later, Lorry, fresh-faced and smiling, knocked on the lintel of their open doorway.
Bronson, in his shirt-sleeves and wearing a diminutive apron to which clung a fluff of turkey feathers, came from the kitchen.
"Good-morning. You'll excuse my daughter. She is busy."
"I just came over to ask how she was."
"Thank you. She is much better. We want you to have dinner with us."
"Thanks. But I got some beans going--"
"But this is chicken, man! And it is Sunday."
Lorry's gray eyes twinkled. "Chickens are right scarce up here. And chicken sure tastes better on Sunday. Was you goin' to turn your stock out with mine?"
They turned Bronson's horses out, and watched them charge down the mesa toward the three animals grazing lazily in the morning sunshine.
"Your horses will stick with mine," said Lorry. "They won't stray now."
"Did I hear a piano this morning, or did I dream that I heard some one playing?"
"Oh, it was me, foolin' with Bud's piano in there. Bud's got an amazin' music-box. Ever see it?"
"No. I haven't been in your cabin."
"Well, come right along over. This was Bud's camp when he was homesteadin'. Ever see a piano like that?"
Bronson gazed at the carved and battered piano, stepping close to it to inspect the various brands. "It is rather amazing. I didn't know Mr. Shoop was fond of music."
"Well, he can't play reg'lar. But he sure likes to try. You ought to hear him and Bondsman workin' out that 'Annie Laurie' duet. First off, you feel like laughin'. But Bud gets so darned serious you kind of forget he ain't a professional. 'Annie Laurie' ain't no dance tune--and when Bud and the dog get at it, it is right mournful."
"I have seen a few queer things,"--and Bronson laughed,--"but this beats them all."
"You'd be steppin' square on Bud's soul if you was to josh him about that piano," said Lorry.
"I wouldn't. But thank you just the same. You have a neat place here, Adams."
"When you say 'neat' you say it all."
"I detest a fussy camp. One gets enough of that sort of thing in town. Is that a Gallup saddle or a Frazier?"
"I used a Heiser when I was in Mexico. They're all good."
"That's what I say. But there's a hundred cranks to every make of saddle and every rig. You said you were in Mexico?"
"Before I was married. As a young man I worked for some of the mines. I went there from college."
"I reckon you've rambled some." And a new interest lightened Lorry's eyes. Perhaps this man wasn't a "plumb tenderfoot," after all.
"Oh, not so much. I punched cattle down on the Hassayampa and in the Mogollons. Then I drifted up to Alaska. But I always came back to Arizona. New Mexico is mighty interesting, and so is Colorado. California is really the most wonderful State of all, but somehow I can't keep away from Arizona."
"Shake! I never been out of Arizona, except when I was a kid, but she's the State for me."
A shadow flickered in the doorway. Lorry turned to gaze at a delicate slip of a girl, whose big brown eyes expressed both humor and trepidation.
"My daughter Dorothy, Mr. Adams. This is our neighbor, Dorothy."
"I'm right glad to meet you, miss."
And Lorry's strong fingers closed on her slender hand. To his robust sense of the physical she appealed as something exceedingly fragile and beautiful, with her delicate, clear coloring and her softly glowing eyes. What a little hand! And what a slender arm! And yet Lorry thought her arm pretty in its rounded slenderness. He smiled as he saw a turkey feather fluttering on her shoulder.
"Looks like that chicken was gettin' the best of you," he said, smiling.
"That's just it," she agreed, nothing abashed. "Father, you'll have to help."
"You'll excuse us, won't you? We'll finish our visit at dinner."
Lorry had reports to make out. He dragged a chair to the table. That man Bronson was all right. Let's see--the thirtieth--looked stockier in daylight. Had a good grip, too, and a clear, level eye. One mattock missing in the lookout cabin--and the girl; such a slender whip of a girl! Just like a young willow, but not a bit like an invalid. Buckley reports that his man will have the sheep across the reservation by the fourth of the month. Her father had said she was not over-strong. And her eyes! Lorry had seen little fawns with eyes like that--big, questioning eyes, startled rather than afraid.
"Reckon everything she sees up here is just amazin' her at every jump. I'll bet she's happy, even if she _has_ got lungs. Now, a fella couldn't help but to like a girl like that. She would made a dandy sister, and a fella would just about do anything in the world for such a sister. And she wouldn't have to ask, at that. He would just naturally want to do things for her, because--well, because he couldn't help feeling that way. Funny how some wimmin made a man feel like he wanted to just about worship them, and not because they did anything except be just themselves. Now, there was that Mrs. Weston. She was a jim-dandy woman--but she was different. She always seemed to know just what she was going to say and do. And Mrs. Weston's girl, Alice. Reckon I'd scrap with her right frequent. She was still--"
Dog-gone it! Where was he drifting to? Sylvestre's sheep were five days crossing the reserve. Smith reported a small fire north of the lookout. The Ainslee boys put the fire out. It hadn't done any great damage.
Lorry sat back and chewed the lead pencil. As he gazed out of the window across the noon mesa a faint fragrance was wafted through the doorway. He sniffed and grinned. It was the warm flavor of wild turkey, a flavor that suggested crispness, with juicy white meat beneath. Lorry jumped up and grabbed a pail as he left the cabin. On his way back from the spring, Bronson waved to him. Lorry nodded. And presently he presented himself at Bronson's cabin, his face glowing, his flannel shirt neatly brushed, and a dark-blue silk bandanna knotted gracefully at his throat.
"This is the princess," said Bronson, gesturing toward his daughter. "And here is the feast."
"And it was a piano," continued Bronson as they sat down.
"Really? 'Way up here?"
"My daughter plays a little," explained Bronson.
"Well, you're sure welcome to use that piano any time. If I'm gone, the door is unlocked just the same."
"Thank you, Mr. Adams, I only play to amuse myself now."
Lorry fancied there was a note of regret in her last word. He glanced at her. She was gazing wistfully out of the window. It hurt him to see that tinge of hopelessness on her young face.
"This here chicken is fine!" he asserted.
The girl's eyes were turned to him. She smiled and glanced roguishly at her father. Lorry laughed outright.
"What is the joke?" she demanded.
"Nothin'; only my plate is empty, Miss Bronson."
Bronson grabbed up carving-knife and fork. "Great Caesar! I must have
been dreaming. I _was_ dreaming. I was recalling a turkey hunt down in
Virginia with Colonel Stillwell and his man Plato. Plato was a good caller--but we didn't get a turkey. Now, this is as tender as--as it ought to be. A little more gravy? And as we came home, the colonel, who was of the real mint-julep type, proposed as a joke that Plato see what he could do toward getting some kind of bird for dinner that night. And when Plato lifted the covers, sure enough there was a fine, fat roast chicken. The colonel, who lived in town and did not keep chickens, asked Plato how much he had paid for it. Plato almost dropped the cover.'Mars' George,' he said with real solicitude in his voice,' is you sick?' And speaking of turkeys--"
"Who was speaking of turkeys?" asked Dorothy.
"Why, I think this chicken is superior to any domestic turkey I ever tasted," concluded Bronson.
"Was you ever in politics?" queried Lorry. And they all laughed heartily.
After dinner Lorry asked for an apron.
Dorothy shook her finger at him. "It's nice of you--but you don't mean it."
"Now, ma wouldn't 'a' said that, miss. She'd 'a' just tied one of her
aprons on me and turned me loose on the dishes. I used to help her like
that when I was a kid. Ma runs the hotel at Stacey."
"Why, didn't we stop there for dinner?" asked Dorothy.
"Yes, indeed. All right, Adams, I'll wash 'em and you can dry 'em, and Dorothy can rest."
"It's a right smilin' little apron," commented Lorry as Dorothy handed it to him.
"And you do look funny! My, I didn't know you were so big! I'll have to get a pin."
"I reckon it's the apron looks funny," said Lorry.
"I made it," she said, teasing him.
"Then that's why it is so pretty," said Lorry gravely.
Dorothy decided to change the subject. "I think you should let me wash the dishes, father."
"You cooked the dinner, Peter Pan."
"Then I'll go over and try the piano. May I?"
"If you'll play for us when we come over, Miss Bronson."
Bronson and Lorry sat on the veranda and smoked. Dorothy was playing a sprightly melody. She ceased to play, and presently the sweet old tune "Annie Laurie" came to them. Lorry, with cigarette poised in his fingers, hummed the words to himself. Bronson was watching him curiously. The melody came to an end. Lorry sighed.
"Sounds like that ole piano was just singin' its heart out all by itself," he said. "I wish Bud could hear that."
Almost immediately came the sprightly notes of "Anitra's Dance."
"And that's these here woods--and the water prancin' down the rocks, and a slim kind of a girl dancin' in the sunshine and then runnin' away to hide in the woods again." And Lorry laughed softly at his own conceit.
"Do you know the tune?" queried Bronson.
"Nope. I was just makin' that up."
"That's just Dorothy," said Bronson.
Lorry turned and gazed at him. And without knowing how it came about,
Lorry understood that there had been another Dorothy who had played and
sung and danced in the sunshine. And that this sprightly, slender girl
was a bud of that vanished flower, a bud whose unfolding Bronson watched
with such deep solicitude.
Lorry had ridden to Jason, delivered his reports to the office, and received instructions to ride to the southern line of the reservation. He would be out many days. He had brought down a pack-horse, and he returned to camp late that night with provisions and some mail for the Bronsons.
The next day he delayed starting until Dorothy had appeared. Bronson told him frankly that he was sorry to see him go, especially for such a length of time.
"But I'm glad," said Dorothy.
Lorry stared at her. Her face was grave, but there was a twinkle of mischief in her eyes. She laughed.
"Because it will be such fun welcoming you home again."
"Oh, I thought it might be that piano--"
"Now I shan't touch it!" she pouted, making a deliberate face at him.
He laughed. She did such unexpected things, did them so unaffectedly. Bronson put his arms about her shoulders.
"We're keeping Mr. Adams, Peter Pan. He is anxious to be off. He has been ready for quite a while and I think he has been waiting till you appeared so that he could say good-bye."
"Are you anxious to be off?" she queried.
"Yes, ma'am. It's twenty miles over the ridge to good grass and water."
"Why, twenty miles isn't so far!"
"They's considerable up and down in them twenty miles, Miss Bronson. Now, it wouldn't be so far for a turkey. He could fly most of the way. But a horse is different, and I'm packin' a right fair jag of stuff."
"Well, good-bye, ranger man. Good-bye, Gray Leg,--and you two poor horses that have to carry the packs. Don't stay away all winter."
Lorry swung up and started the pack-horses. At the edge of the timber
he turned and waved his hat. Dorothy and her father answered with a hearty
Good-bye that echoed through the slumbering wood lands.
One of Bronson's horses raised his head and nickered. "Chinook is saying
'Adios,' too. Isn't the air good? And we're right on top of the world.
There is Jason, and there is St. Johns, and 'way over there ought to be the railroad, but I can't see it."
Bronson smiled down at her.
She reached up and pinched his cheek. "Let's stay here forever, daddy."
"We'll see how my girl is by September. And next year, if you want to come back--"
"Come back! Why, I don't want to go away--ever!"
"But the snow, Peter Pan."
"I forgot that. We'd be frozen in tight, shouldn't we?"
"I'm afraid we should. Shall we look at the mail? Then I'll have to go to work."
"Mr. Adams thinks quite a lot of his horses, doesn't he?" she queried.
"He has to. He depends on them, and they depend on him. He has to take good care of them."
"I shouldn't like it a bit if I thought he took care of them just because he had to."
"Oh, Adams is all right, Peter. I have noticed one or two things about him."
"Well, I have noticed that he has a tremendous appetite," laughed Dorothy.
"And you're going to have, before we leave here, Peter Pan."
"Then you'd better hurry and get that story written. I want a new saddle and, oh, lots of things!"
Bronson patted her hand as she walked with him to the cabin. He sat down to his typewriter, and she came out with a book.
She glanced up occasionally to watch the ponies grazing on the mesa.
She was deeply absorbed in her story when some one called to her. She jumped
up, dropping her book.
Bud Shoop was sitting his horse a few paces away, smiling. He had ridden up quietly to surprise her.
"A right lovely mornin', Miss Bronson. I reckon your daddy is busy."
"Here I am," said Bronson, striding out and shaking hands with the supervisor. "Won't you come in?"
"About that lease," said Shoop, dismounting. "If you got time to talk business."
"Most certainly. Dorothy will excuse us."
"Is Adams gone?"
"He left this morning."
"Uh-uh. Here, Bondsman, quit botherin' the young lady."
"He isn't bothering. I know what he wants." And she ran to the kitchen.
Shoop's face grew grave. "I didn't want to scare the little lady, Bronson, but Lorry's father--Jim Waring--has been shot up bad over to Criswell. He went in after that Brewster outfit that killed Pat. I reckon he got 'em--but I ain't heard."
"Yes, Jim Waring. Here comes the little missy. I'll tell you later. Now Bondsman is sure happy."
And Bud forced a smile as Dorothy gave the dog a pan of something that looked suspiciously like bones and shreds of turkey meat.
A little later Bud found excuse to call Bronson aside to show him a good place to fence-in the corral. Dorothy was playing with Bondsman.
"Jim's been shot up bad. I was goin' to tell you that Annie Adams, over to Stacey, is his wife. She left him when they was livin' down in Mexico. Lorry is their boy. Now, Jim is as straight as a ruler; I don't know just why she left him. But let that rest. I got a telegram from the marshal of Criswell. Reads like Jim was livin', but livin' mighty clost to the edge. Now, if I was to send word to Lorry he'd just nacherally buckle on a gun and go after them Brewster boys, if they's any of 'em left. He might listen to me if I could talk to him. Writin' is no good. And I ain't rigged up to follow him across the ridge. It's bad country over there. I reckon I better leave word with you. If he gets word of the shootin' while he's out there, he'll just up and cut across the hills to Criswell a-smokin'. But if he gets this far back he's like to come through Jason--and I can cool him down, mebby."
"He ought to know; if his father is--"
"That's just it. But I'm thinkin' of the boy. Jim Waring's lived a big chunk of his life. But they ain't no use of the kid gettin' shot up. It figures fifty that I ought to get word to him, and fifty that I ought to keep him out of trouble--"
"I didn't know he was that kind of a chap: that is, that he would go out after those men--"
"He's Jim Waring's boy," said Bud.
"It's too bad. I heard of that other killing."
"Yes. And I've a darned good mind to fly over to Criswell myself. I knowed Pat better than I did Jim. But I can't ride like I used to. But"--and the supervisor sighed heavily--"I reckon I'll go just the same."
"I'll give your message to Adams, Mr. Shoop."
"All right. And tell him I want to see him. How's the little lady these days?"
"She seems to be much stronger, and she is in love with the hills and canons."
"I'm right glad of that. Kind of wish I was up here myself. Why, already they're houndin' me down there to go into politics. I guess they want to get me out of this job, 'cause I can't hear crooked money jingle. My hands feels sticky ever' time I think of politics. And even if a fella's hands ain't sticky--politics money is. Why, it's like to stick to his feet if he ain't right careful where he walks!"
"I wish you would stay to dinner, Mr. Shoop."
"So I'll set and talk my fool notions--and you with a writin' machine handy? Thanks, but I reckon I'll light a shuck for Jason. See my piano?"
"Yes, indeed. Dorothy was trying it a few nights ago."
"Then she can play. Missy," and he called to Dorothy, who was having
an extravagant romp with Bondsman, "could you play a tune for your Uncle
"Of course." And she came to them.
They walked to the cabin. Bondsman did not follow. He had had a hard play, and was willing to rest.
Dorothy drew up the piano stool and touched the keys. Bud sank into
his big chair. Bronson stood in the doorway. By some happy chance Dorothy
played Bud's beloved "Annie Laurie."
When she had finished, Bud blew his nose sonorously. "I know that tune,"
he said, gazing at Dorothy in a sort of huge wonderment. "But I never
knowed all that you made it say."
He rose and shuffled to the doorway, stopping abruptly as he saw Bondsman. Could it be possible that Bondsman had not recognized his own tune? Bud shook his head. There was something wrong somewhere. Bondsman had not offered to come in and accompany the pianist. He must have been asleep. But Bondsman had not been asleep. He rose and padded to Shoop's horse, where he stood, a statue of rugged patience, waiting for Shoop to start back toward home.
"Now, look at that!" exclaimed Bud. "He's tellin' me if I want to get back to Jason in time to catch the stage to-morrow mornin' I got to hustle. That there dog bosses me around somethin' scandalous."
When Shoop had gone, Dorothy turned to her father. "Mr. Shoop didn't ask me to play very much. He seemed in a hurry."
"That's all right, Peter Pan. He liked your playing. But he has a very important matter to attend to."
"He's really just delicious, isn't he?"
"If you like that word, Peter. He is big and sincere and kind."
"Oh, so were some of the saints for that matter," said Dorothy, making
a humorous mouth at her father.
Bondsman sat in the doorway of the supervisor's office, gazing dejectedly
at the store across the street. He knew that his master had gone to St.
Johns and would go to Stacey. He had been told all about that, and had
followed Shoop to the automobile stage, where it stood, sand-scarred, muddy,
and ragged as to tires, in front of the post-office. Bondsman had watched
the driver rope the lean mail bags to the running-board, crank up the sturdy
old road warrior of the desert, and step in beside the supervisor. There
had been no other passengers. And while Shoop had told Bondsman that he
would be away some little time, Bondsman would have known it without the
telling. His master had worn a coat--a black coat--and a new black Stetson.
Moreover, he had donned a white shirt and a narrow hint of a collar with
a black "shoe-string" necktie. If Bondsman had lacked any further proof
master's intention to journey far, the canvas telescope suitcase would have been conclusive evidence.
The dog sat in the doorway of the office, oblivious to the clerk's friendly assurances that his master would return poco tiempo. Bondsman was not deceived by this kindly attempt to soothe his loneliness.
Toward evening the up-stage buzzed into town. Bondsman trotted over to it, watched a rancher and his wife alight, sniffed at them incuriously, and trotted back to the office. That settled it. His master would be away indefinitely.
When the clerk locked up that evening, Bondsman had disappeared.
As Bronson stepped from his cabin the following morning he was startled
to see the big Airedale leap from the veranda of Shoop's cabin and bound
toward him. Then he understood. The camp had been Bondsman's home. The
supervisor had gone to Criswell. Evidently the dog preferred the lonely
freedom of the Blue Mesa to the monotonous confines of town.
Bronson called to his daughter. "We have a visitor this morning, Dorothy."
"Why, it's Bondsman! Where is Mr. Shoop?"
"Most natural question. Mr. Shoop had to leave Jason on business. Bondsman couldn't go, so he trotted up here to pay us a visit."
"He's hungry. I know it. Come, Bondsman."
From that moment he attached himself to Dorothy, following her about that day and the next and the next. But when night came he invariably trotted over to Shoop's cabin and slept on the veranda. Dorothy wondered why he would not sleep at their camp.
"He's very friendly," she told her father. "He will play and chase sticks and growl, and pretend to bite when I tickle him, but he does it all with a kind of mental reservation. Yesterday, when we were having our regular frolic after breakfast, he stopped suddenly and stood looking out across the mesa, and it was only my pony, just coming from the edge of the woods. Bondsman tries to be polite, but he is really just passing the time while he is waiting for Mr. Shoop."
"You don't feel flattered, perhaps. But don't you admire him all the more for it?"
"I believe I do. Poor Bondsman! It's just like being a social pet, isn't it? Have to appear happy whether you are or not."
Bondsman knew that she proffered sympathy, and he licked her hand lazily, gazing up at her with bright, unreadable eyes.
Bud Shoop wasted no time in Stacey. He puffed into the hotel, indecision behind him and a definite object in view.
"No use talkin'," he said to Mrs. Adams. "We got to go and take care of Jim. I couldn't get word to Lorry. No tellin' where to locate him just now. Mebby it's just as well. They's a train west along about midnight. Now, you get somebody to stay here till we get back--"
"But, Mr. Shoop! I can't leave like this. I haven't a thing ready. Anita can't manage alone."
"Well, if that's all, I admire to say that I'll set right down and run this here hotel myself till you get back. But it ain't right, your travelin' down there alone. We used to be right good friends, Annie. Do you reckon I'd tell you to go see Jim if it wa'n't right? If he ever needed you, it's right now. If he's goin' to get well, your bein' there'll help him a pow'ful sight. And if he ain't, you ought to be there, anyhow."
"I know it, Bud. I wish Lorry was here."
"I don't. I'm mighty glad he's out there where he is. What do you think he'd do if he knowed Jim was shot up?"
"He would go to his father--"
"Go ahead. You wa'n't born yesterday."
"He would listen to me," she concluded weakly.
"Yep. But only while you was talkin'. That boy is your boy all right, but he's got a lot of Jim Waring under his hide. And if you want to keep that there hide from gettin' shot full of holes by a no-account outlaw, you'll just pack up and come along."
Bud wiped his forehead, and puffed. This sort of thing was not exactly in his line.
"Here's the point, Annie," he continued. "If I get there afore Lorry, and you're there, he won't get into trouble. Mebby you could hold him with your hand on the bridle, but he's runnin' loose right where he is. Can't you get some lady in town to run the place?"
"I don't know. I'll see."
Bud heaved a sigh. It was noticeably warmer in Stacey than at Jason.
Bud's reasoning, while rough, had appealed to Mrs. Adams. She felt that she ought to go. She had only needed some such impetus to send her straight to Waring. The town marshal's telegram had stunned her. She knew that her husband had followed the Brewsters, but she had not anticipated the awful result of his quest. In former times he had always come back to her, taking up the routine of their home life quietly. But this time he had not come back. If only he had listened to her! And deep in her heart she felt that old jealousy for the lure which had so often called him from her to ride the grim trails of his profession. But this time he had not come back. She would go to him, and never leave him again.
Anita thought she knew of a woman who would take charge of the hotel during Mrs. Adams's absence. Without waiting for an assurance of this, Bud purchased tickets, sent a letter to his clerk, and spent half an hour in the barber shop.
"Somebody dead?" queried the barber as Bud settled himself in the chair.
"Not that I heard of. Why?"
"Oh, nothing, Mr. Shoop. I seen that you was dressed in black and had on a black tie--"
Later, as Bud surveyed himself in the glass, trying ineffectually to dodge the barber's persistent whisk-broom, he decided that he did look a bit funereal. And when he appeared at the supper table that evening he wore an ambitious four-in-hand tie of red and yellow. There was going to be no funeral or anything that looked like it, if he knew it.
Aboard the midnight train he made Mrs. Adams comfortable in the chair car. It was but a few hours' run to The Junction. He went to the smoker, took off his coat, and lit a cigar. Around him men sprawled in all sorts of awkward attitudes, sleeping or trying to sleep. He had heard nothing further about Waring's fight with the Brewsters. They might still be at large. But he doubted it. If they were--Shoop recalled the friendly shooting contest with High-Chin Bob. If High Chin were riding the country, doubtless he would be headed south. But if he should happen to cross Shoop's trail by accident--Bud shook his head. He would not look for trouble, but if it came his way it would bump into something solid.
Shoop had buckled on his gun before leaving Jason. His position as supervisor made him automatically a deputy sheriff. But had he been nothing more than a citizen homesteader, his aim would have been quite as sincere.
It was nearly daylight when they arrived at The Junction. Shoop accompanied Mrs. Adams to a hotel. After breakfast he went out to get a buck-board and team. Criswell was not on the line of the railroad.
They arrived in Criswell that evening, and were directed to the marshal's house, where Ramon met them.
"How's Jim?" was Shoop's immediate query.
"The Senor Jim is like one who sleeps," said Ramon.
Mrs. Adams grasped Shoop's arm.
"He wakens only when the doctor is come. He has spoken your name, senora."
The marshal's wife, a thin, worried-looking woman, apologized for the untidy condition of her home, the reason for which she wished to make obvious. She was of the type which Shoop designated to himself as "vinegar and salt."
"Reckon I better go in first, Annie?"
"No." And Mrs. Adams opened the door indicated by the other woman.
Shoop caught a glimpse of a white face. The door closed softly. Shoop turned to Ramon.
"Let's go take a smoke, eh?"
Ramon led the way down the street and on out toward the desert. At the edge of town, he paused and pointed across the spaces.
"It was out there, senor. I found him. The others were not found until the morning. I did not know that they were there."
"The others? How many?"
"Three. One will live, but he will never ride again. The others, High of the Chin and his brother, were buried by the marshal. None came to claim them."
"Were you in it?"
"No, senor. It was alone that Senor Jim fought them. He followed them out there alone. I come and I ask where he is gone. I find him that night. I do not know that he is alive."
"What became of his horse?"
"Dex he come back with no one on him. It is then that I tell Dex to find for me the Senor Jim."
"And he trailed back to where Jim went down, eh? Uh-uh! I got a dog myself."
"Will the Senor Jim ride again?" queried Ramon.
"I dunno, boy, I dunno. But if you and me and the doc and the senora--and mebby God--get busy, why, mebby he'll stand a chance. How many times was he hit?"
"Two times they shot him."
"Two, eh? Well, speakin' from experience, they was three mighty fast guns ag'in' him. Say five shots in each gun, which is fifteen. And he had to reload, most-like, for he can empty a gun quicker than you can think. Fifteen to five for a starter, and comin' at him from three ways to once. And he got the whole three of 'em! Do you know what that means, boy? But shucks! I'm forgettin' times has changed. How they been usin' you down here?"
"I am sleep in the hay by Dex."
"Uh-uh. Let that rest. Mebby it's a good thing, anyhow. Got any money?"
"No, senor. I have use all."
"Where d' you eat?"
"I have buy the can and the crackers at the store."
"Can and crackers, eh? Bet you ain't had a square meal for a week. But we'll fix that. Here, go 'long and buy some chuck till I get organized."
"Gracias, senor. But I can pray better when I do not eat so much."
"Good Lord! But, that's some idee! Well, if wishin' and hopin' and such is prayin', I reckon Jim'll pull through. I reckon it's up to the missus now."
"Lorry is not come?"
"Nope. Couldn't get to him. When does the mail go out of this bone-hill?"
"I do not know. To-morrow or perhaps the next day."
"Uh-uh. Well, you get somethin' to eat, and then throw a saddle on Dex and I'll give you a couple of letters to take to The Junction. And, come to think, you might as well keep right on fannin' it for Stacey and home. They can use you over to the ranch. The missus and me'll take care of Senor Jim."
"I take the letter," said Ramon, "but I am come back. I am with the Senor Jim where he goes."
"Oh, very well, amigo. Might as well give a duck a bar of soap and ask
him to take a bath as to tell you to leave Jim. Such is wastin' talk."
"And just as soon as he can be moved, his wife aims to take him over to Stacey."
So Bud told the Marshal of Criswell, who, for want of better accommodations, had his office in the rear of the general store.
The marshal, a gaunt individual with a watery blue eye and a soiled goatee, shook his head. "The law is the law," he stated sententiously.
"And a gun's a gun," said Shoop. "But what evidence you got that Jim Waring killed Bob Brewster and his brother Tony?"
"All I need, pardner. When I thought Andy Brewster was goin' to pass over, I took his antimortim. But he's livin'. And he is bound over to appear ag'in' Waring. What you say about the killin' over by Stacey ain't got nothin' to do with this here case. I got no orders to hold Andy Brewster, but I'm holdin' him for evidence. And I'm holdin' Waring for premeditated contempt and shootin' to death of said Bob Brewster and his brother Tony. And I got said gun what did it."
"So you pinched Jim's gun, eh? And when he couldn't lift a finger or say a word to stop you. Do you want to know what would happen if you was to try to get a holt of said gun if Jim Waring was on his two feet? Well, Jim Waring would pull said trigger, and Criswell would bury said city marshal."
"The law is the law. This town's payin' me to do my duty, and I'm goin' to do it."
"Speakin' in general, how much do you owe the town so far?"
"Look-a-here! You can't run no whizzer like that on me. I've heard tell of you, Mr. Shoop. No dinky little ole forest ranger can come cantelopin' round here tellin' me my business!"
"Mebby I'm dinky, and mebby, I'm old, but your eyesight wants fixin' if you callin' me little, old hoss. An' I ain't tryin' to tell you your business. I'm tellin' you mine, which is that Jim Waring goes to Stacey just the first minute he can put his foot in a buck-board. And he's goin' peaceful. I got a gun on me that says so."
"The law is the law. I can run you in for packin' concealed weapons, Mr. Shoop."
"Run me in!" chuckled Shoop. "Nope. You'd spile the door. But let me tell you. A supervisor is a deputy sheriff--and that goes anywhere they's a American flag. I don't see none here, but I reckon Criswell is in America. What's the use of your actin' like a goat just because you got chin whiskers? I'm tellin' you Jim Waring done a good job when he beefed them coyotes."
The marshal's pale-blue eyes blinked at the allusion to the goat. "Now, don't you get pussonel, neighbor. The law is the law, and they ain't no use you talkin'."
Bud's lips tightened. The marshal's reiterated reference to the law was becoming irksome. He would be decidedly impersonal henceforth.
"I seen a pair of walkin' overalls once, hitched to a two-bit shirt with a chewin'-tobacco tag on it. All that held that there fella together was his suspenders. I don't recollec' whether he just had goat whiskers or chewed tobacco, but somebody who had been liquorin' up told him he looked like the Emperor Maximilian. And you know what happened to Maxy."
"That's all right, neighbor. But mebby when I put in my bill for board of said prisoner and feed for his hoss and one Mexican, mebby you'll quit talkin' so much, 'less you got friends where you can borrow money."
"Your bill will be paid. Don't you worry about that. What I want to know is: Does Jim Waring leave town peaceful, or have I got to hang around here till he gets well enough to travel, and then show you? I got somethin' else to do besides set on a cracker barrel and swap lies with my friends."
"You can stay or you can go, but the law is the law--"
"And a goat is a goat. All right, hombre, I'll stay."
"As I was sayin'," continued the marshal, ignoring the deepening color
of Shoop's face, "you can stay. You're too durned fat to move around
safe, anyhow. You might bust."
Shoop smiled. He had stirred the musty marshal to a show of feeling. The marshal, who had keyed himself up to make the thrust, was disappointed. He made that mistake, common to his kind, of imagining that he could continue that sort of thing with impunity.
"You come prancin' into this town with a strange woman, sayin' that
she is the wife of the defendant. Can you tell me how her name is Adams
his'n is Waring?"
"I can!" And with a motion so swift that the marshal had no time to
help himself, Bud Shoop seized the other's goatee and yanked him from the
cracker barrel. "I got a job for you," said Shoop, grinning until his teeth showed.
And without further argument on his part, he led the marshal through
the store and up the street to his own house. The marshal back-paddled
struggled, but he had to follow his chin. Mrs. Adams answered Bud's knock. Bud jerked the marshal to his knees.
"Apologize to this lady--quick!"
"Why, Mr. Shoop!"
"Yes, it's me, Annie. Talk up, you pizen lizard!"
"But, Bud, you're hurting him!"
"Well, I didn't aim to feed him ice-cream. Talk up, you Gila monster--and talk quick!"
"I apologize," mumbled the marshal.
Bud released him and wiped his hand on his trousers.
"Sticky!" he muttered.
The marshal shook his fist at Bud. "You're under arrest for disturbin' the peace. You're under arrest!"
"What does it mean?" queried Mrs. Adams.
"Nothin' what he ain't swallowed, Annie. Gosh 'mighty, but I wasted a lot of steam on that there walkin' clothes-rack! The blamed horn toad says he's holdin' Jim for shootin' the Brewsters."
"But he can't," said Mrs. Adams. "Wait a minute; I'll be right out. Sit down, Bud. You are tired out and nervous."
Bud sat down heavily. "Gosh! I never come so clost to pullin' a gun in my life. If he was a man, I reckon I'd 'a' done it. What makes me mad is that I let him get me mad."
When Mrs. Adams came out to the porch she had a vest in her hand. Inside the vest was pinned the little, round badge of a United States marshal. Bud seized the vest, and without waiting to listen to her he plodded down the street and marched into the general store, where the town marshal was talking to a group of curious natives.
"Can you read?" said Bud, and without waiting for an answer shoved the little silver badge under the marshal's nose. "The law is the law," said Bud. "And that there vest belongs to Jim Waring."
Bud had regained his genial smile. He was too full of the happy discovery to remain silent.
"Gentlemen," he said, assuming a manner, "did your honorable peace officer
here tell you what he said about the wife of the man who is layin' wounded
and helpless in his own house? And did your honorable peace officer tell
you-all that it is her money that is payin' for the board and doctorin'
of Tony Brewster, likewise layin' wounded and helpless in your midst? And
did your honorable peace officer tell you that Jim Waring is goin' to leave
comfortable and peaceful just as soon as the A'mighty and the doc'll turn
him loose? Well, I seen he was talkin' to you, and I figured he might 'a'
been tellin' you these
things, but I wa'n't sure. Was you-all thinkin' of stoppin' me? Such doin's! Why, when I was a kid I used to ride into towns like this frequent, turn 'em bottom side up, spank 'em, and send 'em bawlin' to their--to their city marshal, and I ain't dead yet. Now, I come peaceful and payin' my way, but if they's any one here got any objections to how I wear my vest or eat my pie, why, he can just oil up his objection, load her, and see that she pulls easy and shoots straight. I ain't no charity organization, but I'm handin' you some first-class life insurance free."
That afternoon Buck Hardy arrived, accompanied by a deputy. Andy Brewster
again made deposition that without cause Waring had attacked and killed
his brothers. Hardy had a long consultation with Shoop, and later notified
Brewster that he was under arrest as an accomplice in the murder of Pat
and for aiding the murderer to escape. While circumstantial evidence pointed
directly toward the Brewsters, who had threatened openly from time to time
to "get" Pat, there was valuable evidence missing in Waco, who, it was
almost certain, had been an eye-witness of the tragedy. Waco had been traced
to the town of Grant, at which place Hardy and his men had lost the
trail. The demolished buckboard had been found by the roadside. Hardy had
automobile to Grant.
Shoop suggested that Waco might have taken a freight out of town. Despite Hardy's argument that Waco had nothing to fear so far as the murder was concerned, Shoop realized that the tramp had been afraid to face the law and had left that part of the country.
Such men were born cowards, irresolute, weak, and treacherous even to their own infrequent moments of indecision. There was no question but that Waring had acted within the law in killing the Brewsters. Bob Brewster had fired at him at sight. But the fact that one of the brothers survived to testify against Waring opened up a question that would have to be answered in court. Shoop offered the opinion that possibly Andy Brewster, the youngest of the brothers, was not directly implicated in the murder, only taking sides with his brother Bob when he learned that he was a fugitive. In such a premise it was not unnatural that his bitterness toward Waring should take the angle that it did. And it would be difficult to prove that Andy Brewster was guilty of more than aiding his brother to escape.
The sheriff and Shoop talked the matter over, with the result that Hardy dispatched a telegram from The Junction to all the Southern cities to keep a sharp watch for Waco.
Next morning Shoop left for Jason with Hardy and his deputy.
Several days later Waring was taken to The Junction by Mrs. Adams and
Ramon, where Ramon left them waiting for the east-bound. The Mexican
rode the big buckskin. He had instructions to return to the ranch.
Late that evening, Waring was assisted from the train to the hotel at
Stacey. He was given Lorry's old room. It would be many weeks before he
would be strong enough to walk again.
For the first time in his life Waring relinquished the initiative. His wife planned for the future, and Waring only asserted himself when she took it for granted that the hotel would be his permanent home.
"There's the ranch, Annie," he told her. "I can't give that up."
"And you can't go back there till I let you," she asserted, smiling.
"I'll get Lorry to talk to you about that. I'm thinking of making him an offer of partnership. He may want to set up for himself some day. I married young."
"I'd like to see the girl that's good enough for my Lorry."
Waring smiled. "Or good enough to call you 'mother.'"
"Jim, you're trying to plague me."
"But you will some day. There's always some girl. And Lorry is a pretty live boy. He isn't going to ride a lone trail forever."
Mrs. Adams affected an indifference that she by no means felt.
"You're a lot better to-day, Jim."
"And that's all your fault, Annie."
She left the room, closing the door slowly. In her own room at the end of the hall, she glanced at herself in the glass. A rosy face and dark-brown eyes smiled back at her.
But there were many things to attend to downstairs. She had been away
more than a week. And there was evidence of her absence in every room in