"Kid" Turner was going
home. In his pocket was a check for eleven hundred odd dollars that represented
the savings from three years' wages. And in his head were the pleasant
dreams of the things that eleven hundred odd dollars would permit him to
do back in the little Illinois village that was home to him.
As his tired pony shuffled down
the dusty trail that led out of the foot hills the "Kid" strained his eyes
for the first glimpse of the shabby cluster of shacks that squatted like
frowzy squaws beneath the shimmering mid-day heat of southern Arizona.
To the boy, though, paradise itself
could have presented no more alluring picture, for past it and stretching
as far as the eye could reach were the twin ribbons of steel that were
to bear him back to Illinois.
As he rode he lolled in his saddle,
for he was very tired. His right leg lay across the pony's withers throwing
the rider's weight to one side. For a while he rode this way, then he switched
to the other side with his left leg around the saddle horn.
He had come a long distance from
Old Man Custis' ranch where he had worked -- this was his third day upon
the road -- and riding alone across Arizona in those days was a lonely
and tiresome task with nothing to break the dull monotony of it.
At least nothing that a man cared to meet.
Far across the valley there emerged
from the opposite hills another horseman -- a tall, straight, grey-eyed
man, a little older than the "kid" perhaps, but still under twenty-five.
He too had ridden far, many times
farther than the "Kid," but there was no check for eleven hundred thousand
dollars in his pocket, nor any alluring prospect of a welcoming home.
There years before he had ridden
into the hills to the south as the "Kid" had ridden into the hills to the
north, and in the heart of each had b been the same triumphant hope, the
same deathless ambition.
To-day they were riding out of the
hills. Back from the cattle country to the north rode one, and success
rode with him, yet he lolled in his saddle and his pony was foot-sore
and tired. From the scorching desert to the south rode the other, from
hunger and thirst and terrible disappointment, from a tortured death beneath
a pitiless sun, and failure staled at his side, yet he rode erect with
both feet in his stirrups and his gaunt mount stepped lightly over the
It was the elder man who first discovered
the moving dot u-pon the opposite side of the valley, and with the instant
of discovery he was off his pony, standing motionless in the trail peering
intently at the tiny object. For several minutes horse and man stood like
graven images; then, evidently satisfied with his careful scrutiny, he
remounted and continued his way down into the valley toward the distant
A few moments later the "kid" caught
sight of the horseman whose trail was converging toward his in the direction
of the wagon road which wound erratically along the parched valley past
the squalid settlement they were approaching.
He stopped his pony for a moment,
but did not dismount. Then he resumed his way, but both feet were in
his stirrups now and he loosened the gun in his holster and kept his eyes
riveted upon the dot he recognized as a horseman, but which he had not
taken the time to scrutinize with sufficient care to determine whether
it were red man or white.
The "Kid" took chances. The older
man was cautious. Possibly the fact that scarcely a week before a little
band of Apaches had come so close to getting him that he had escaped only
through a combination of their poor marksmanship and the fleetness of his
pony tended to accentuate his natural caution at this time.
They had captured his pack animal
on the occasion with all his worldly belongings, and he did not purpose
donating his scalp to them now that he was in sight of civilization.
It was an hour before the two men
met at the wagon road.
"Evening," said the "Kid."
"Evening," replied the other.
"Cactus?" asked the former, nodding
his head up the road toward the settlement.
"Cactus," asseverated he of the
"Prospectin'?" questioned the "Kid."
"I been ridin' for Old Man Custis,"
volunteered the "Kid" after a period of silence.
"Yep. Three years now. Lookee,"
and he drew his check from the breast pocket of his blue shirt, where,
folded many times into a small wad, it reposed with a block of "Hell
sticks," a piece of Climax and some brown papers.
Ha the "Kid" been observant he would
have noted that the keen grey eyes of his companion narrowed as they caught
a glimpse of the figures on the check.
The Prospector was broke. He had
had a long streak of "Rotten" luck, and -- well the kid would probably
blow it all for booze, anyway. Or what the gamblers didn't get to him for
"Goin' to have a h__l of a time,
and you?" he remarked.
"Sure," acquiesced the "Kid," grinning,
for the "Kid" was very young and therefore very jealous of his reputation
as a man among men -- irrespective of the fact that he had no such reputation.
He should have hated to admit that he intended boarding the first eastbound
passenger, and that the desire to load up on poor whiskey was far from
As the two jogged along toward town
the "Kid" talked almost incessantly. He recounted, with the assistance
of a naturally vivid imagination, countless instances of his past life
which he considered most essential to the establishment of his position
as a gun-man, card-sharp and Sybarite.
The Prospector was a good listener
and because it eased his conscience he accepted the "Kid" at the "Kid's"
"I reckon there aint no trouble
about you takin' care of yourself," he remarked.
The "Kid" swelled visibly.
"There don't nobody monkey with
"Kid" Turner." said the "kid."
They loped into Cactus a little
after noon, and after putting their ponies in Sidwell's corral, went to
the "hotel" for dinner.
There they met Sidwell, and "Gum"
Jones, the sheriff, as well as two or three other local celebrities. As
both the newcomers were strangers in cactus, The Prospector never having
honored the village with his presence before and the "Kid" but twice in
three years, they were accorded the dignified suspicious silence which
is the lot of recent arrivals in a frontier settlement.
The formality of dining over, the
men drifted out about their various ways. The Prospector squatted in the
shade of the hotel porch and rolled a cigarette, while the "Kid" strolled
across the tracks to the dingy little red box of a station to inquire into
the matter of trains, time tables and railroad fares.
As he went the keen grey eyes of
The Prospector watched him furtively from beneath the dropping brim of
"There aint no use," he soliloquized,
"that there kid sure is a bad man but if I don't get his roll first
that tin-horn party I seen at dinner will, and he don't look like as if
he needed it near as bad as I do. I sure hate for to go and do it -- yes,
I sure do. But there aint no way out of it -- I just can't let that tin-horn
When the "Kid" had discovered that
No. 2 was due east-bound at 10:34 that evening and that his ticket would
put a large i zed hole in a hundred dollar bill, he had exhausted the entire
stack of railroad knowledge possessed by the agent. So he strolled back
across the tracks to Sidwell's store, which leaned confidingly against
"What's your hurry?" asked The Prospector,
despite the fact that the "Kid" was not hurrying at all.
"Goin' to get my check cashed,"
said the "Kid."
The Prospector rose and joined him.
"I got to buy some little tricks
myself," he said, and together they entered the store.
Sidwell had seen the "Kid" on his
two previous visits to Cactus, and there was no trouble in the matter of
cashing the check. The boy made a few purchases, and then suggested that
they go and have a drink.
In the saloon three or four men
were drinking. Among them as he whom The Prospector had rightly dubbed
a tinhorn. He was standing at the bar as the "Kid" flashed his big roll
to pay for the drinks he and The Prospector had had. The Prospector saw
the look in the man's eyes as they rested for an instant on the the money.
The single drink acted immediately
upon the "Kid," who, notwithstanding his tales of wild dissipation, was
unaccustomed to whiskey and could stand but little.
"Come on boys," he cried, as the
fumes went to his head, "every ____ __ _ _____ in the house has got to
have a drink on "Kid" Turner."
It was unnecessary to repeat the
invitation; in fact before the round was poured a half-dozen others lounged
in from the back room and front porch as though sensing intuitively a drink
at someone's else expense.
"Here's how," said the "Kid."
"How," echoed his guests.
Penwell, the tin-horn, slapped the
"Kid" affectionately on the back.
"You all remind me of Texas Pete,"
he said. "He sure could kill the booze too."
The "Kid" had nearly choked to death
in a Herculean effort to down the fiery liquid without the customary chaser,
and this eulogium filled his soul with pride.
The Prospector noted the advances
of Penwell with misgivings. He had staked out this claim for himself and
he did not purpose permitting anyone to jump it. He saw the two moving
away from the bar together toward a back room where there was a large round
table covered with soiled green cloth.
Quietly he stepped across the room
to the "Kid's" side, and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"You better come out and water your
cayuse, son," he said softly, and though he spoke to the boy he looked
straight into the eyes of the gambler.
"I guess this gent is old enough
to get along without a wet nurse," growled Penwell. "You better go water
your own cayuse, stranger. without a-tryin' for to run off other gents'
"You come along with me, son," continued
The Prospector, and then he added very gently, "this tin-horn person aint
good company for a nice boy like you."
The men at the bar had heard Penwell's
speech, but The Prospector's low toned rejoinder did not reach their ears.
They had turned a the first words of altercation, and now they saw the
gambler whip out his gun and level it at the tall, broad-shouldered, grey-eyed
"There don't no ___ _____ ___ __
_ _____ call me that," he shouted with a stream of oaths.
For an instant there was tense silence
in the room as the men waited for the shot that experience told them must
follow such an outbreak.
The Prospector took a step nearer
Penwell, and then in the same low, even tones he spoke again, and on his
lips was a smile of contemptuous unconcern.
"You come along with me, son," he
said, "this cheap tin-horn person aint good company for a nice boy like
Then he turned and walked out of
the bar-room, and the "Kid" went with him.
Neither spoke until they had reached
the corral, then The Prospector drew a flask from his pocket and handed
it to the "Kid."
"Let's we," he said.
The boy took a long pull, wiped
the mouth of the flask on his sleeve and passed it back to his companion,
who took a drink from it and returned the bottle to his pocket.
After they had watered their horses
they sat a moment on an empty packing box outside the corral while they
rolled their inevitable cigarettes. The shock of the near-tragedy of the
bar-room had left the boy, and now the drinks he had taken commenced to
reveal themselves in a growing loquacity.
"A few more drinks," thought The
Prospector "and he won't know whether he spent his money, or donated it
to an old ladies' home. All he'll know when he comes to tomorrow is that
he aint got it no more."
"Say," said the "Kid," "I like you.
I'm goin' home and I'd like you to come along. I got a mother and a sister
back in Illinois and I'm hitting the trail for there on No. 2 this evenin'.
They'll be mighty glad to see any friend of mine, and they'll be mighty
glad to see me too, for I got the money now that'll buy the little place
where we live.
"Say, I can hardly wait to get back
there and peel off that bank roll one at a time, and watch the eyes of
Mother and Sis when they see the size of it. And then I'll pass it over
to Mother, and I'll say, 'Here you are; this's all yours. It's to buy the
That's what I been working three
solid years for, and now that I can most do it I can't believe it. It seems
like it was too good to be true.
"Say, will come along? I can get
you a bully job there."
A strange expression came into the
grey eyes and something into the man's throat that had not been there before
for many years.
"You run along, "Kid," he said,
"you don't know what you're talkin' about."
"Aw come on," insisted the "Kid."
"Now you trot right back to the
hotel and stay there, son," replied The Prospector, "until you hear No.
2 whistle, and don't you go near that saloon again -- savvy?"
"Then you won't come?" asked the
boy in an aggrieved tone.
"No, son, I'm goin' to hike right
now," and The Prospector turned back into the corral and commenced to saddle
The "Kid" stood there urging him
to reconsider until the lithe form bent from the saddle and grasped his
hand in a hearty farewell shake.
"S'long, 'Kid'; take care of yourself,"
said the man, "and remember what I said about keeping away from that there
The "Kid" stood in silence watching
the retreating horseman until he passed out of sight behind a little cluster
of buildings on the outskirts of the town. Then he shook his head sadly
and started toward the hotel.
Penwell, from the back window of
the saloon had seen The Prospector ride away, and as the "Kid" reached
the hotel porch the gambler came from the saloon door and accosted him.
"Where's that ___ ___ ___ ___?"
he yelled. "I'm lookin' for him, and when I find him I aint a-goin' to
let him off as easy as I did last time. The reason I didn't shoot him up
then was because he was standin' in front of you, and I didn't want to
take no chances of hittin' you. I've taken a powerful shine to you , "Kid."
"He's hit the trail," said the "Kid."
"I thought the sneakin' coyote'd
do that," roared the gambler. "He knows me all right and he knew better
than to stay in the same town with "Bud" Penwell when he was on the kill;
that's what he did -- the ______ cur."
"Do you think he was afraid?" asked
the "Kid," a doubt commencing to creep into his mind.
"Afraid! He was scared stiff," replied
Penwell. "Let's go have a drink."
On the instant the wise counsel
of The Prospector was forgotten and the "Kid" accompanied his new friend
to the bar.
About five miles from Cactus a little
ranch nestled in a depression in the valley and here The Prospector turned
in and asked for a night's lodging.
Many had been the pull that the
man had taken from the flask as he rode slowly away from Cactus, and as
he slipped from his pony in the ranch yard his eyes were bloodshot and
his gait unsteady. There was only an old man on the ranch and company was
so scarce that he welcomed even a drunk.
After supper the two sat on the
porch and smoked. The old man did most of the talking. The Prospector was
thinking. The meal had removed slightly the traces of liquor from his brain,
but it had left him ugly and morose. He commenced to wonder what the "Kid"
was doing, and to speculate on the chance that he had returned to the saloon
and was being rapidly fleeced of his roll at the large round table in the
"It's a____ shame," said The Prospector.
"What?" asked the old man.
The Prospector laughed.
"I must be gettin' batty," he said,
"talking to myself out loud like that."
Finally he rose.
"Where you goin'?" asked the old
"To town," replied The Prospector.
"I want to get another bottle."
A few minutes later he clattered
out of the ranch yard and melted into the dusk of evening.
"I need the money," he soliloquized,
"and that's all there is about it. If I don't get it some ____tin-horn
will between here and Illinois. Why that kid aint fit to carry no such
amount of money as that around loose on his person now how," and he dug
his spurs into his horse for fear his resolve would weaken before he reached
It was dark when he entered Cactus,
and as it wasn't anybody's business anyway whether he was in town or not,
he rode cautiously in toward the rear of Sidwell's hotel. Then he drew
up behind the saloon and, dismounting, he threw the reins over his pony's
head and left him standing in the darkness about fifty yards away from
The rear door of the saloon was
open and as he approached he saw two men sitting in the back room at the
large round table. His intuition told him who they were before he came
close enough to distinguish their features.
The grey eyes narrowed to two nasty
slits -- a firm hand dropped to the butt of a forty-four, and The Prospector,
sober but with murder in his heart, stepped lightly to the rear porch and
the open door.
"I'm goin' to have it," he muttered,
"if I have to kill someone to get it."
Just as he reached the door several
things happened in quick succession within the room.
Penwell laid down a hand of cards
upon the table, and as the "Kid" threw his, face down on the deck the gambler
raked in a great pile of gold and silver and chips.
Then the "Kid" leaned forward across
the table and stared at something in the gambler's lap. Both men sprang
to their feet.
"You've robbed me, you _____ cheat,"
cried the "Kid." There was a flash, a puff of smoke, the bark of a gun,
and then The Prospector sprang into the room in time to see Penwell crumple
to the floor, as the boy cowered back -- a smoking revolver in his hand.
"He robbed me," sobbed the "Kid."
He cheated and robbed me of all my money and now I can't go back and buy
the little place for Mother and Sis."
The Prospector, like many strong
men, sometimes acted on impulse. Who may say that he did now?
The sound of running feet was audible
beyond the closed door that led to the bar-room. The men were coming!
Whatever was to be done must be
done quickly. Like a great cat he leaped to the door and shot the bolt.
"Put up your gun!" he whispered
to the "Kid." Then he ran to the dead man and rifled his pockets of the
money they contained, following this by sweeping up the gold and silver
from the table.
The men were at the door now and
pounding for admittance. Someone was even trying to force the lock.
"Open," commanded a voice, "open
in the name of the law." It was "Gum" Jones, the sheriff.
"Here! quick!" whispered The Prospector,
and grabbing the "Kid" he poured the money into the hat which he had swept
from the boy's head.
The door was giving beneath the
combined assaults of many men.
The Prospector grabbed the "Kid"
roughly by the shoulder and hustled him to the door of a room at the right
of the card room.
"Now duck," he said in a low voice.
"Run around to the front and come in in back of the gang and they won't
know you was here. You're all right if you can keep your fool mouth shut.
No. 2 will be through in half an hour -- see that you make it." and he
shoved the "Kid into the little bedroom and closed the door.
A second later the other door swung
in with a might crash, and "Gum" Jones, Sheriff, and a dozen others saw
the stranger who had quarreled with Penwell that afternoon standing with
his back to the open door opposite them and two nasty looking forty-fours
leveled at their faces, while on the floor at his feet lay the body of
"Hands up!" admonished The Prospector
gently. "Ill shoot the first shallot that moves."
Very slowly he backed out ot the
open door, while the sheriff and his companions stood, with raised hands,
across the room.
"I am goin' to linger for quite
some few minutes outside here," said The Prospector, "an' whoever
gets framed in the light of this open door will make quite some target.
So you gents had better remain right quiet for about five or ten minutes.
They "savvied" and so they stood
in mute and baffled rage while the tall, broad-shouldered, grey-eyed stranger
back out into the night and was swallowed up by the shadows thereof, nor
did they venture to follow until they heard the receding sound of pounding
hoofs on the hard-baked Arizona trail beyond the village.