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Volume 5359

For the Fool's Mother
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
October 3-6, 1912

"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 rocky trail. 

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 shacks.

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 grey eyes.

"Prospectin'?" questioned the "Kid."


"Any luck?"


"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 first.

"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  his mind. 

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" own valuation.

"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 his Stetson.

"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 get it. 

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 Sidwell's hotel. 

"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' business.

"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 stranger.

"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 you."

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 place with.'"

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 his pony.

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 saloon."

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 back room.

"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 man.

"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 town.

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 building.

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 Penwell!

"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. Savvy?"

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. 

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