Waring, who had known the man in Sonora, called him by name. The other's
smile faded, and his eyes narrowed. Waring thrust up his hands and jokingly
offered to toss up a coin to decide the issue. He knew his man; knew that
at the first false move the rural would kill him. He rose and turned sideways
that the other might take his gun. "You win the throw," he said. The Mexican
jerked Waring's gun from the holster and cocked it. Then he whistled.
From below came the faint clatter of hoofs. The rural seemed puzzled
that his call should have been answered so promptly. He knew that his companions
had gone for their horses, picketed some distance from the pocket. He had
volunteered to surprise the gunman single-handed.
Waring, gazing beyond the rural, saw the head of a horse top the rise.
In the saddle sat Ramon, hatless, his black hair flung back from his forehead,
a gun in his hand. Waring drew a deep breath. Would Ramon bungle it by
calling out, or would he have nerve enough to make an end of it on the
Although Waring was unarmed, the rural dared not turn. The gringo had
been known to slip out of as tight a place despite the threat of a gun
almost against his chest. With a despondent shrug, Waring lowered his arms.
"You win the throw," he said hopelessly.
Still the Mexican dared not take his eyes from Waring. He would wait
until his companions appeared.
A few yards behind the rural, Ramon reined up. Slowly he lowered the
muzzle of his gun. The rural called the name of one of his fellows. The
answer came in a blunt crash, which rippled its harsh echoes across the
sounding hills. The rural flung up his arms and pitched forward, rolling
to Waring's feet. The gunman leaped up, and, snatching his carbine from
the rock, swung round and took his six-gun from the rural's limp fingers.
Plunging to the brush beyond the pocket, he swung to the saddle and shot
down the slope. Behind him he could hear Ramon's horse scattering the loose
rock of the hillside. A bullet struck ahead of him and whined across the
silence. A shrill call told him that the pursuers had discovered the body
of their fellow.
Dex, with ears laid back, took the ragged grade in great, uneven leaps
that shortened to a regular stride as they gained the level of the valley.
Glancing back, Waring saw Ramon but a few yards behind. He signaled to
him to ride closer. Together they swung down the valley, dodging the low
brush--and leaping rocks at top speed.
Finally Waring reined in. "We'll make for that ridge,"--and he indicated
the range west. Under cover of the brush they angled across the valley
and began the ascent of the range which hid the western desert.
Halfway up, Waring dismounted. "Lead my horse on up," he told Ramon.
"I'll argue it out with 'em here."
"Senor, I have killed a man!" gasped Ramon.
Waring flung the reins to his companion. "All right! This isn't a fiesta,
hombre; this is business."
Ramon turned and put his horse up the slope, Dex following. Waring curled
behind a rock and swept the valley with his glass. The heads of several
rurales were visible in the brush. They had halted and were looking for
tracks. Finally one of them raised his arm and pointed toward the hill.
They had caught sight of Ramon on the slope above. Presently three riders
appeared at the foot of the grade. It was a long shot from where Waring
lay. He centered on the leading rural, allowed for a chance of overshooting,
and pressed the trigger. The carbine snarled. An echo ripped the shimmering
heat. A horse reared and plunged up the valley, the saddle empty.
Waring rose, and plodded up the slope.
"Three would have trailed us. Two will ride back to the railroad and
report. I wonder how many of them are bushed along the trail between here
In the American custom-house at Nogales sat a lean, lank man gazing
out of a window facing the south. His chair was tilted back, and his large
feet were crossed on the desk in front of him. He was in his shirt-sleeves,
and he puffed indolently at a cigar and blew smoke-rings toward the ceiling.
Incidentally his name was known throughout the country and beyond its southern
borders. But if this distinction affected him in any way it was not evident.
He seemed submerged in a lassitude which he neither invited nor struggled
A group of riders appeared down the road. The lean man brushed a cloud
of smoke away and gazed at them with indifference. They drew nearer. He
saw that they were Mexicans--rurales. Without turning his head, he called
to an invisible somebody in the next room.
"Jack, drift over to the cantina and get a drink."
A chair clumped to the floor, and a stocky, dark-faced man appeared,
rubbing his eyes. "On who?" he queried, grinning.
"On old man Diaz," replied the lean man.
"All right, Pat. But mebby his credit ain't good on our side of the
The lean man said nothing. He continued to gaze out of the window. The
white road ran south and south into the very haze of the beyond. His assistant
picked up a hat and strolled out. A few doors down the street stood several
excellent saddle animals tied to the hitching-rail in front of the cantina.
He didn't need to be told that they were the picked horses of the rurales,
and that for some strange reason his superior had sent him to find out
just why these same rurales were in town.
He entered the cantina and called for a drink. The lithe, dark riders
of the south, grouped round a table in one corner of the room, glanced
up, answered his general nod of salutation indifferently, and turned to
talk among themselves. Catering to authority, the Mexican proprietor proffered
a second drink to the Americano. The assistant collector toyed with his
glass, and began a lazy conversation about the weather. The proprietor,
his fat, oily face in his hands and his elbows on the bar, grunted monosyllables,
occasionally nodding as the Americano forced his acknowledgment of a highly
And the assistant collector, listening for a chance word that would
explain the presence of armed Mexico on American soil, knew that the proprietor
was also listening for that same word that might explain their unprecedented
visit. Presently the assistant collector of customs began a tirade against
Nogales, its climate, institutions, and citizens collectively and singly.
The proprietor awoke to argument. Their talk grew loud. The assistant collector
thumped the bar with his fist, and ceased talking suddenly. A subdued buzz
came from the corner where the rurales sat, and he caught the name "Waring."
"And the whole town ain't worth the matches to burn it up," he continued.
"If it wasn't for Pat, I'd quit right now." And he emptied his glass and
strode from the room.
Back in the office, he flung his hat on the table and rumpled his hair.
"Those coyotes," he said casually, "are after some one called Waring. Pablo's
whiskey is rotten."
The collector's long legs unfolded, and he sat up, yawning. "Jim Waring
isn't in town," he said as though to himself.
"Pat, you give me a pain," said the assistant, grinning.
"Got one myself," said the collector unsmilingly. "Cucumbers."
"You're the sweetest liar for a thousand miles either side of the line.
There isn't even the picture of a cucumber in this sun-blasted town."
"Isn't, eh? Look here!" And the lank man pulled open a drawer in the
desk. The collector fumbled among some papers and drew out a bulky seed
catalogue, illustrated in glowing tints.
"Oh, I'll buy," laughed the assistant. "I reckon if I asked for a picture
of this man Waring that's wanted by those nickel-plated coyotes, you'd
fish it up and never sweat a hair."
"I could," said the collector, closing the drawer.
"Here, smoke one of mine for a change. About that picture. I met Jim
Waring in Las Cruces. He was a kid then, but a comer. Had kind of light,
curly hair. His face was as smooth as a girl's. He wasn't what you'd call
a dude, but his clothes always looked good on him. Wimmin kind of liked
him, but he never paid much attention to them. He worked for me as deputy
a spell, and I never hired a better man. But he wouldn't stay with one
job long. When Las Cruces got quiet he pulled his freight. Next I heard
of him he was married and living in Sonora. It didn't take Diaz long to
find out that he could use him. Waring was a wizard with a gun--and he
had the nerve back of it. But Waring quit Diaz, for Jim wasn't that kind
of a killer. I guess he found plenty of work down there. He never was one
to lay around living on his reputation and waiting for nothing to happen.
He kept his reputation sprouting new shoots right along--and that ain't
all joke, neither."
"Speakin' in general, could he beat you to it with a gun, Pat?"
"Speaking in general--I reckon he could."
"Them rurales are kind of careless--ridin' over the line and not stoppin'
by to make a little explanation."
The lank man nodded. "There's a time coming when they'll do more than
that. That old man down south is losing his grip. I don't say this for
general information. And if Jim Waring happens to ride into town, just
tell him who you are and pinch him for smuggling; unless I see him first."
"What did I ever do to you?"
Pat laughed silently. "Oh, he ain't a fool. It's only a fool that'll
throw away a chance to play safe."
"You got me interested in that Waring hombre. I'll sure nail him like
you said; but if he goes for his gun I don't want you plantin' no cucumber
seed on my restin'-place. Guess I'll finish those reports."
The lank man yawned, and, rising, strode to the window. The assistant
sauntered to the inner office and drew up to his desk. "Pablo's whiskey
is rotten!" he called over his shoulder. The lank collector smiled.
The talk about Waring and Las Cruces had stirred slumbering memories;
memories of night rides in New Mexico, of the cattle war, of blazing noons
on the high mesas and black nights in huddled adobe towns; Las Cruces,
Albuquerque, Caliente, Santa Fe--and weary ponies at the hitching-rails.
Once, on an afternoon like this, he had ridden into town with a prisoner
beside him, a youth whose lightning-swift hand had snuffed out a score
of lives to avenge the killing of a friend. The collector recalled that
on that day he had ridden his favorite horse, a deep-chested buckskin,
slender legged, and swift, with a strain of thoroughbred.
Beyond the little square of window through which he gazed lay the same
kind of a road--dusty, sun-white, edged with low brush. And down the road,
pace for pace with his thoughts, strode a buckskin horse, ridden by a man
road-weary, gray with dust. Beside him rode a youth, his head bowed and
his hands clasped on the saddle-horn as though manacled.
The assistant shoved back his chair and came to the window.
"There's the rest of your picture," said the collector.
As the assistant gazed at the riders, the collector stepped to his desk
and buckled on a gun.
"Want to meet Waring?" he queried.
"I'm on for the next dance, Pat."
The collector stepped out. Waring reined up. A stray breeze fluttered
the flag above the custom-house. Waring gravely lifted his sombrero.
"You're under arrest," said the collector.
Waring gestured toward Ramon.
"You, too," nodded Pat. "Get the kid and his horse out of sight," he
told the assistant.
Ramon, too weary to expostulate, followed the assistant to a corral
back of the building.
The collector turned to Waring. "And now, Jim, what's the row?"
"Down the street--and coming," said Waring, as the rurales boiled from
"We'll meet 'em halfway," said the collector.
And midway between the custom-house and the cantina the two cool-eyed,
deliberate men of the North faced the hot-blooded Southern haste that demanded
Waring as prisoner. The collector, addressing the leader of the rurales,
suggested that they talk it over in the cantina. "And don't forget you're
on the wrong side of the line," he added.
The Captain of rurales and one of his men dismounted and followed the
Americans into the cantina. The leader of the rurales immediately exhibited
a warrant for the arrest of Waring, signed by a high official and sealed
with the great seal of Mexico. The collector returned the warrant to the
"That's all right, amigo, but this man is already under arrest."
"By whose authority?"
"Mine--representing the United States."
"The warrant of the Presidente antedates your action," said the captain.
"Correct, Senor Capitan. But my action, being just about two jumps ahead
of your warrant, wins the race, I reckon."
"It is a trick!"
"Si! You must have guessed it."
"I shall report to my Government. And I also demand that you surrender
to me one Ramon Ortego, of Sonora, who aided this man to escape, and who
is reported to have killed one of my men and stolen one of my horses."
"He ought to make a darned good rural, if that's so," said the collector.
"But he is under arrest for smuggling. He rode a horse across the line
without declaring valuation."
"Juan," said the captain, "seize the horse of the Americano."
"Juan," echoed Waring softly, "I have heard that Pedro Salazar seized
the horse of an Americano--in Sonora."
The rural stopped short and turned as though awaiting further instructions
from his chief. The collector of customs rose and sauntered to the doorway.
Leaning against the lintel, he lighted a cigar and smoked, gazing at Waring's
horse with an appreciative eye. The captain of rurales, seated opposite
Waring, rolled a cigarette carefully; too carefully, thought Waring, for
a Mexican who had been daring enough to ride across the line with armed
men. Outside in the fading sunlight, the horses of the rurales stamped
and fretted. The cantina was strangely silent. In the doorway stood the
collector, smoking and toying with his watch-charm.
Presently the assistant collector appeared, glanced in, and grinned.
"The kid is asleep--in the office," he whispered to the collector.
Waring knew that the flicker of an eyelid, an intonation, a gesture,
might precipitate trouble. He also knew that diplomacy was out of the question.
He glanced round the room, pushed back his chair, and, rising, stepped
to the bar. With his back against it, he faced the captain.
"Miguel," he said quietly, "you're too far over the line. Go home!"
The captain rose. "Your Government shall hear of this!"
"Yes. Wire 'em to-night. And where do you get off? You'll get turned
back to the ranks."
"Si, Senor Capitan, and because--you didn't get your man."
The collector of customs stood with his cigar carefully poised in his
left hand. The assistant pushed back his hat and rumpled his black hair.
All official significance set aside, Waring and the captain of rurales
faced each other with the blunt challenge between them: "You didn't get
The captain glanced at the two quiet figures in the doorway. Beyond
them were his own men, but between him and his command were two of the
fastest guns in the Southwest. He was on alien ground. This gringo had
Waring waited for the word that burned in the other's eyes.
The collector of customs drew a big silver watch from his waistband.
"It's about time--to go feed the horses," he said.
With the sound of his voice the tension relaxed. Waring eyed the captain
as though waiting for him to depart. "You'll find that horse in the corral--back
of the customs office," he said.
The Mexican swung round and strode out, followed by his man.
The rurales mounted and rode down the street. The three Americans followed
a few paces behind. Opposite the office, they paused.
"Go along with 'em and see that they get the right horse," said the
The assistant hesitated.
The collector laughed. "Shake hands with Jim Waring, Jack."
When the assistant had gone, the collector turned to Waring. "That's
Jack every time. Stubborn as a tight boot, but good leather every time.
Know why he wanted to shake hands? Well, that's his way of tellin' you
he thinks you're some smooth for not pullin' a fight when it looked like
nothing else was on the bill."
Waring smiled. "I've met you before, haven't I?"
Pat pretended to ignore the question. "Say, stranger," he began with
slow emphasis, "you're makin' mighty free and familiar for a prisoner arrested
for smuggling. Mebby you're all right personal, but officially I got a
case against you. What do you know about raising cucumbers? I got a catalogue
in the office, and me and Jack has been aiming to raise cucumbers from
it for three months. I like 'em. Jack says you can't do it down here without
water every day. Now--"
"Where have you planted them, Pat?"
"Oh, hell! They ain't planted yet. We're just figuring.
Now, up Las Cruces way--"
"Let's go back to the cantina and talk it out. There goes Mexico leading
a horse with an empty saddle. I guess the boy will be all right in the
"Was the kid mixed up in your getaway?"
"Yes. And he's a good boy."
"Well, he's in dam' bad company. Now, Jack says you got to plant 'em
in hills and irrigate. I aim to just drill 'em in and let the A'mighty
do the rest. What do you think?"
"I think you're getting worse as you grow older, Pat. Say, did you ever
get track of that roan mare you lost up at Las Cruces?"
"Yes, I got her back."
"Speaking of horses, I saw a pinto down in Sonora--"
Just then the assistant joined them, and they sauntered to the cantina.
Dex, tied at the rail, turned and gazed at them. Waring took the morral
of grain from the saddle, and, slipping Dex's bridle, adjusted it.
The rugged, lean face of the collector beamed. "I wondered if you thought
as much of 'em as you used to. I aimed to see if I could make you forget
to feed that cayuse."
"How about those goats in your own corral?" laughed Waring.
"Kind of a complimentary cuss, ain't he?" queried Pat, turning to his
assistant. "And he don't know a dam' thing about cucumbers."
"You old-timers give me a pain," said the assistant, grinning.
"That's right! Because you can't set down to a meal without both your
hands and feet agoing and one ear laid back, you call us old because we
chew slow. But you're right. Jim and I are getting kind of gray around
"Well, you fellas can fight it out. I came over to say that them rurales
got their hoss. But one of 'em let it slip, in Mexican, that they weren't
"So?" said Pat. "Well, you go ahead and feed the stock. We'll be over
to the house poco tiempo."
Waring and the collector entered the cantina. For a long time they sat
in silence, gazing at the peculiar half-lights as the sun drew down. Finally
the collector turned to Waring.
"Has the game gone stale, Jim?"
Waring nodded. "I'm through. I am going to settle down. I've had my
share of trouble."
"Here, too," said the collector. "I've put by enough to get a little
place up north--cattle--and take it easy. That's why I stuck it out down
here. Had any word from your folks recent?"
"Not for ten years."
"And that boy trailing with you?"
"Oh, he's just a kid I picked up in Sonora. No, my own boy is straight
American, if he's living now."
"You might stop by at Stacey, on the Santa Fe," said the collector casually.
"There's some folks running a hotel up there that you used to know."
Waring thanked him with a glance. "We don't need a drink and the sun
is down. Where do you eat?"
"We'll get Jack to rustle some grub. You and the boy can bunk in the
office. I'll take care of your horse."
"Thanks, Pat. But you spoke of going north. I wouldn't if I were you.
They'll get you."
"I had thought of that. But I'm going to take that same chance. I'm
plumb sick of the border."
"If they do--" And Waring rose.
The collector's hard-lined face softened for an instant. He thrust out
his bony hand. "I'll leave that to you, Jim."
And that night, because each was a gunman unsurpassed in his grim profession,
they laughed and talked about things trivial, leaving the deeper currents
undisturbed. And the assistant collector, eating with them in the adobe
back of the office, wondered that two such men found nothing more serious
to talk about than the breeding of horses and the growing of garden truck.
Late that night the assistant awoke to find that the collector was not
in bed. He rose and stalked to the window. Across from the adobe he saw
the grim face of the collector framed in the office window. He was smoking
a cigar and gazing toward the south, his long arm resting on the sill and
his chin in his hand.
"Ole fool!" muttered the assistant affectionately. "That there Jim Waring
must sure be some hombre to make Pat lose any sleep."