XIX: The Fight in the Open
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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.