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Title: Curly - A Tale of the Arizona Desert
Author: Pocock, Roger, 1865-1941
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Curly - A Tale of the Arizona Desert" ***

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                                 CURLY

                      A TALE OF THE ARIZONA DESERT

                            By ROGER POCOCK

                    Author of "A Frontiersman," etc.


    Boston
    Little, Brown, and Company

    _Copyright_, 1904,
    BY ROGER POCOCK.

    _Copyright, 1905,_
    BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

    _All rights reserved._

    Published May, 1905.

    Printers
    S. J. PARKHILL & CO., BOSTON, U.S.A.



[Illustration]



CONTENTS


   CHAPTER                                         PAGE

        I. APACHES                                    1

       II. LORD BALSHANNON                            9

      III. HOLY CROSS                                16

       IV. THE RANGE WOLVES                          27

        V. BACK TO THE WOLF PACK                     37

       VI. MY RANGE WHELPS WHIMPERING                44

      VII. AT THE SIGN OF RYAN'S HAND                52

     VIII. IN THE NAME OF THE PEOPLE                 65

       IX. WAR SIGNS                                 69

        X. STORM GATHERING                           78

       XI. THE GUN-FIGHT                             89

      XII. THE CITY BOILING OVER                    106

     XIII. THE MAN-HUNT                             118

      XIV. THE FRONTIER GUARDS                      126

       XV. MOSTLY CHALKEYE                          138

      XVI. ARRANGING FOR MORE TROUBLE               145

     XVII. THE REAL CURLY                           156

    XVIII. THE WHITE STAR                           167

      XIX. A MARRIAGE SETTLEMENT                    184

       XX. THE MARSHAL'S POSSE                      200

      XXI. A FLYING HOSPITAL                        212

     XXII. ROBBERY-UNDER-ARMS                       222

    XXIII. A HOUSE OF REFUGE                        234

     XXIV. THE SAVING OF CURLY                      254

      XXV. A MILLION DOLLARS RANSOM                 272

     XXVI. THE STRONGHOLD                           290

    XXVII. A SECOND-HAND ANGEL                      314



CURLY



CHAPTER I

APACHES


Back in Old Texas, 'twixt supper and sleep time, the boys in camp would
sit around the fire and tell lies. They talked about the Ocean which was
bigger than all the plains, and I began to feel worried because I'd
never seen what the world was like beyond the far edge of the grass.
Life was a failure until I could get to that Ocean to smell and see for
myself. After that I would be able to tell lies about it when I got back
home again to the cow-camps. When I was old enough to grow a little
small fur on my upper lip I loaded my pack pony, saddled my horse, and
hit the trail, butting along day after day towards the sunset, expecting
every time I climbed a ridge of hills to see the end of the yellow grass
and the whole Pacific Ocean shining beyond, with big ships riding herd
like cowboys around the grazing whales.

One morning, somewheres near the edge of Arizona, I noticed my horse
throw his ears to a small sound away in the silence to the left. It
seemed to be the voice of a rifle, and maybe some hunter was missing a
deer in the distance, so I pointed that way to inquire. After a mile or
so I heard the rifle speaking again, and three guns answered, sputtering
quick and excited. That sounded mighty like a disagreement, so I
concluded I ought to be cautious and roll my tail at once for foreign
parts. I went on slow, approaching a small hill. Again a rifle-shot rang
out from just beyond the hill, and two shots answered--muzzle-loading
guns. At the same time the wind blew fresh from the hill, with a whiff
of powder, and something else which made my horses shy. "Heap bad
smell!" they snuffed. "Just look at that!" they signalled with their
ears. "Ugh!" they snorted.

"Get up!" said I; and charged the slope of the hill.

Near the top I told them to be good or I'd treat them worse than a
tiger. Then I went on afoot with my rifle, crept up to the brow of the
hill, and looked over through a clump of cactus.

At the foot of the hill, two hundred feet below me, there was standing
water--a muddy pool perhaps half an acre wide--and just beyond that on
the plain a burned-out camp fire beside a couple of canvas-covered
waggons. It looked as if the white men there had just been pulling out
of camp, with their teams all harnessed for the trail, for the horses
lay, some dead, some wounded, mixed up in a struggling heap. As I
watched, a rifle-shot rang out from the waggons, aimed at the hillside,
but when I looked right down I could see nothing but loose rocks
scattered below the slope. After I watched a moment a brown rock moved;
I caught the shine of an Indian's hide, the gleam of a gun-barrel. Close
by was another Indian painted for war, and beyond him a third lying
dead. So I counted from rock to rock until I made out sixteen of the
worst kind of Indians--Apaches--all edging away from cover to cover to
the left, while out of the waggons two rifles talked whenever they saw
something to hit. One rifle was slow and cool, the other scared and
panicky, but neither was getting much meat.

For a time I reckoned, sizing up the whole proposition. While the
Apaches down below attacked the waggons, their sentry up here on the
hill had forgotten to keep a look-out, being too much interested. He'd
never turned until he heard my horses clattering up the rocks, but then
he had yelled a warning to his crowd and bolted. One Indian had tried to
climb the hill against me and been killed from the waggons, so now the
rest were scared of being shot from above before they could reach their
ponies. They were sneaking off to the left in search of them. Off a
hundred yards to the left was the sentry, a boy with a bow and arrows,
running for all he was worth across the plain. A hundred yards beyond
him, down a hollow, was a mounted Indian coming up with a bunch of
ponies. If the main body of the Apaches got to their ponies, they could
surround the hill, charge, and gather in my scalp. I did not want them
to take so much trouble with me.

Of course, my first move was to up and bolt along the ridge to the left
until I gained the shoulder of the hill. There I took cover, and said,
"Abide with me, and keep me cool, if You please!" while I sighted, took
a steady bead, and let fly at the mounted Indian. At my third shot he
came down flop on his pony's neck, and that was my first meat. The bunch
of ponies smelt his blood and stampeded promiscuous.

The Apaches, being left afoot, couldn't attack me none. If they tried to
stampede they would be shot from the waggons, while I hovered above
their line of retreat considerably; and if they stayed I could add up
their scalps like a sum in arithmetic. They were plumb surprised at me,
and some discouraged, for they knew they were going to have disagreeable
times. Their chief rose up to howl, and a shot from the waggons lifted
him clean off his feet. It was getting very awkward for those poor
barbarians, and one of them hoisted a rag on his gun by way of
surrender.

Surrender? This Indian play was robbery and murder, and not the honest
game of war. The man who happens imprudent into his own bear-trap is not
going to get much solace by claiming to be a warrior and putting up
white flags. The game was bear-traps, and those Apaches had got to play
bear-traps now, whether they liked it or not. There were only two white
folks left in the waggons, and one on the hill, so what use had we for a
dozen prisoners who would lie low till we gave them a chance, then
murder us prompt. The man who reared up with the peace flag got a shot
from the waggons which gave him peace eternal.

Then I closed down with my rifle, taking the Indians by turns as they
tried to bolt, while the quiet gun in the waggon camp arrested fugitives
and the scary marksman splashed lead at the hill most generous. Out of
sixteen Apaches two and the boy got away intact, three damaged, and the
rest were gathered to their fathers.

When it was all over I felt unusual solemn, running my paw slow over my
head to make sure I still had my scalp; then collected my two ponies and
rode around to the camp. There I ranged up with a yell, lifting my hand
to make the sign of peace, and a man came limping out from the waggons.
He carried his rifle, and led a yearling son by the paw.

The man was tall, clean-built, and of good stock for certain, but his
clothes were in the _lo-and-behold_ style--a pane of glass on the off
eye, stand-up collar, spotty necktie, boiled shirt, riding-breeches with
puffed sleeves most amazing, and the legs of his boots stiff like a
brace of stove-pipes. His near leg was all bloody and tied up with a
tourniquet bandage. As to his boy Jim, that was just the quaintest thing
in the way of pups I ever saw loose on the stock range. He was knee-high
to a dawg, but trailed his gun like a man, and looked as wide awake as a
little fox. I wondered if I could tame him for a pet.

"How d'ye do?" squeaked the pup, as I stepped down from the saddle.

I allowed I was feeling good.

"I'm sure," said the man, "that we're obliged to you and your friends on
the hill. In fact, very much obliged."

Back in Texas I'd seen water go to sleep with the cold, but this man was
cool enough to freeze a boiler.

"Will you--er--ask your friends," he drawled, "to come down? I'd like to
thank them."

"I'll pass the glad word," said I. "My friends is in Texas."

"My deah fellow, you don't--aw--mean to say you were alone?"

"Injuns can shoot," said I, "but they cayn't hit."

"Two of my men are dead and the third is dying. I defer to
your--er--experience, but I thought they could--er--hit."

Then I began to reckon I'd been some hazardous in my actions. It made me
sweat to think.

"Well," said I, to be civil, "I cal'late I'd best introduce myself to
you-all. My name's Davies."

"I'm Lord Balshannon," said he, mighty polite.

"And I'm the Honourable Jim du Chesnay," squeaked the kid.

I took his paw and said I was proud to know a warrior with such heap big
names. The man laughed.

"Wall, Mister Balshannon," says I, "your horses is remnants, and the
near fore wheel of that waggon is sprung to bust, and them Apaches has
chipped your laig, which it's broke out bleeding again, so I reckon----"

"You have an eye for detail," he says, laughing; "but if you will excuse
me now, I'm rather busy."

He looked into my eyes cool and smiling, asking for no help, ready to
rely on himself if I wanted to go. A lump came into my throat, for I
sure loved that man from the beginning.

"Mr. Balshannon," says I, "put this kid on top of a waggon to watch for
Indians, while you dress that wound. I'm off."

He turned his back on me and walked away.

"I'll be back," said I, busy unloading my pack-horse. "I'll be back," I
called after him, "when I bring help!"

At that he swung sudden and came up against me. "Er--thanks," he said,
and grabbed my paw. "I'm awfully obliged, don't you know."

I swung to my saddle and loped off for help.



CHAPTER II

LORD BALSHANNON


With all the signs and the signal smokes pointing for war, I reckoned I
could dispense with that Ocean and stay round to see the play. Moreover,
there was this British lord, lost in the desert, wounded some, helpless
as a baby, game as a grizzly bear, ringed round with dead horses and
dead Apaches, and his troubles appealed to me plentiful. I scouted
around until I hit a live trail, then streaked away to find people. I
was doubtful if I had done right in case that lord got massacred, me
being absent, so I rode hard, and at noon saw the smoke of a camp
against the Tres Hermanos Mountains. It proved to be a cow camp with all
the boys at dinner.

They had heard nothing of Apaches out on the war trail, but when I told
what I knew, they came glad, on the dead run, their waggons and pony
herd following. We found the Britisher digging graves for three dead
men, and looking apt to require a fourth for his own use.

"Er--good evening," says he, and I began to wonder why I'd sweated
myself so hot to rescue an iceberg.

"Gentlemen," says he to the boys, "you find some er--coffee ready beside
the fire, and afterwards, if you please, we will bury my dead."

The boys leaned over in their saddles, wondering at him, but the lord's
cool eye looked from face to face, and we had to do what he said. He was
surely a great chief, that Lord Balshannon.

The men who had fallen a prey to the Apaches were two teamsters and a
Mexican, all known to these Bar Y riders, and they were sure sorry. But
more than that they enjoyed this shorthorn, this tenderfoot from the
east who could stand off an outfit of hostile Indians with his lone
rifle. They saw he was wounded, yet he dug graves for his dead, made
coffee for the living, and thought of everything except himself. After
coffee we lined up by the graves to watch the bluff he made at funeral
honours. Lord Balshannon was a colonel in the British Army, and he stood
like an officer on parade reading from a book. His black hair was
touched silver, his face was strong, hard, manful, and his voice
quivered while he read from the little book--

    "For I am a stranger with Thee,
    And a sojourner as all my fathers were;
    O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength
    Before I go hence, and am no more seen."

I reckon that there were some of us sniffing as though we had just
caught a cold, while we listened to that man's voice, and saw the
loneliness of him. Afterwards Dick Bryant, the Bar Y foreman, walked
straight up to Balshannon.

"Britisher," said he, "you may be a sojourner, and we hopes you are, a
whole lot, but there's no need to be a stranger. Shake."

So they shook hands, and that was the beginning of a big friendship.
Then Balshannon turned to the crowd, and looked slowly from face to face
of us.

"Gentlemen," he said kind of feeble, and we saw his face go grey while
he spoke, "I'm much obliged to you all for er--for coming. It seems,
indeed, ah--that my little son Jim and I have made friends and
er--neighbours. I'm sorry that you should find my camp in such aw--in
such a beastly mess, but there's some fairly decent whisky in this
nearest waggon, and er--" the man was reeling, and his eyes seemed
blind, "when we get to my new ranche at Holy Cross I--I hope
you'll--friends--aw--and----"

And he dropped in a dead faint.

So long as I stay alive I shall remember that night, the smell of the
dead horses, the silence, the smoke of our fire going up straight to a
white sky of stars, the Bar Y people in pairs lying wrapped in their
blankets around the waggons, the reliefs of riders going out on guard,
the cold towards dawn. The little boy Jim had curled up beside me
because he felt lonesome in the waggon. Balshannon lay by the fire, his
mind straying away off beyond our range. Often he muttered, but I could
not catch the words, and sometimes said something aloud which sounded
like nonsense. It must have been midnight, when all of a sudden he sat
bolt upright, calling out loud enough to waken half the camp--

"Ryan!" he shouted, "don't disturb him, Ryan! He's upstairs dying. If
you fire, the shock will--Ryan! Don't shoot! Ryan!"

Then with a groan he fell back. I moistened his lips with cold tea. "All
right," he whispered, "thanks, Helen."

For a long time he lay muttering while I held his hands. "You see,
Helen," he whispered, "neither you nor the child could be safe in
Ireland. Ryan killed my father."

He seemed to fall asleep after that, and, counting by the stars, an hour
went by. Then he looked straight at me--

"You see, dear? I turned them out of their farms, and Ryan wants his
revenge, so----"

Towards morning I put some sticks on the fire which crackled a lot. "Go
easy, Jim," I heard him say, "don't waste our cartridges. Poor little
chap!"

Day broke at last, the cook was astir, and the men rode in from herd. I
dropped off to sleep.

It was noon before the heat awakened me, and I sat up to find the fire
still burning, but Lord Balshannon gone. I saw his waggons trailing off
across the desert. Dick Bryant was at the fire lighting his pipe with a
coal.

"Wall," said he, "you've been letting out enough sleep through yo' nose
to run an engine. Goin' to make this yo' home?"

"The camp's moved?"

"Sure. I've sent the Britisher's waggons down to Holy Cross. He bought
the place from a Mexican last month."

"Is it far?"

"About twenty mile. I've been down there this morning. I reckon the
people there had smelt Apaches and run. It was empty, and that's why I'm
making this talk to you. I cayn't spare my men after to-day, and I don't
calculate to leave a sick man and a lil' boy thar alone."

"I'll stay with them," said I.

"That's good talk. If you-all need help by day make a big smoke on the
roof, or if it's night just make a flare of fire. I'll keep my outfit
near enough to see."

"You reckon there'll be Indians?"

"None. That was a stray band, and what's left of it ain't feeling good
enough to want scalps. But when I got to Holy Cross this morning I seen
this paper, and some tracks of the man who left it nailed on the door. I
said nothing to my boys, and the Britisher has worries enough already to
keep him interested, but you ought to know what's coming, in case of
trouble. Here's the paper.

     "'GRAVE CITY, ARIZONA,

     "'_3rd February, 1886_.

     "'MY LORD,

     "'This is to tell you that in spite of everything you could do to
     destroy me, I'm safe in this free country, and doing well. I've
     heard of the horrible crime you committed in driving the poor
     people from your estate in Ireland, from homes which we and our
     fathers have loved for a thousand years. Now I call the holy saints
     to witness that I will do to you as you have done to me, and to my
     people. The time will come when, driven from this your new home,
     without a roof to cover you, or a crust to eat, your wife and boy
     turned out to die in the desert, you will plead for even so much as
     a drink, and it will be thrown in your face. I shall not die until
     I have seen the end of your accursed house.

     "'(Sd.) GEORGE RYAN.'

"These Britishers," said Bryant, "is mostly of two breeds--the lords and
the flunkeys; and you kin judge them by the ways they act. This Mr.
Balshannon is a lord, and thish yer Ryan's a flunk. If a real man feels
that his enemy is some superfluous on this earth, he don't make
lamentations and post 'em up on a door. No, he tracks his enemy to a
meeting; he makes his declaration of war, and when the other gentleman
is good and ready, they lets loose with their guns in battle. This Ryan
here has the morals of a snake and the right hand of a coward."

"Do I give this paper," said I, "to Mr. Balshannon?"

"It's his business, lad, not ours. But until this lord is well enough to
fight, you stands on guard."



CHAPTER III

HOLY CROSS


     EDITOR'S NOTE.--The walls of Holy Cross rise stark from the top of
     a hill on the naked desert; and in all the enormous length and
     breadth of this old fortress there is no door or window to invite
     attack. At each of the four corners stands a bastion tower to
     command the flanks, and in the north wall low towers defend the
     entrance, which is a tunnel through the buildings, barred by
     massive doors, and commanded by loopholes for riflemen. The house
     is built of sun-dried bricks, the ceilings of heavy beams
     supporting a flat roof of earth.

     As one enters the first courtyard one sees that the buildings on
     the right are divided up into a number of little houses for the
     riders and their families; in front is the gate of the stable
     court, on the left are the chapel and the dining-hall, and in the
     middle of the square there is a well. Through the dining-hall on
     the left one enters the little court with its pool covered with
     water-lilies, shaded by palm trees, and surrounded by an arcade
     which is covered by creeping plants, ablaze with flowers. The
     private rooms open upon this cloister, big, cool, and dark, forming
     a little palace within the fortress walls. Such is the old Hacienda
     Santa Cruz which Lord Balshannon had bought from El Señor Don Luis
     Barrios.

From the beginning I saw no sign and smelt no whiff of danger either of
Apaches or of Mr. Ryan. When Balshannon was able to ride I gave him
Ryan's letter, watched him read it quietly, but got nary word from him.
He looked up from the letter, smiling at my glum face.

"Chalkeye," said he, "couldn't we snare a rabbit for Jim to play with?"
He and the kid and me used to play together like babies, and Jim was
surely serious with us men for being too young.

In those days Balshannon took advice from Bryant, our nearest neighbour,
whose ranche was only one day's ride from Holy Cross. Dick helped him to
buy good cattle to stock our range, and two thoroughbred English bulls
to improve the breed. Then he bought ponies, and hired Mexican riders.
So I began to tell my boss and his little son about cows and ponies--the
range-riding, driving, and holding of stock; the roping, branding, and
cutting out; how to judge grass, to find water, to track, scout, and get
meat for the camp. The boss was too old and set in his ways to learn new
play, but Jim had his heart in the business from the first, growing up
to cow-punching as though he were born on the range.

Besides that I had to learn them both the natural history of us cowboys,
the which is surprising to strangers, and some prickly. Being
thoroughbred stock, this British lord and his son didn't need to put on
side, or make themselves out to be better than common folks like me.

After the first year, when things were settled down and the weather
cool, Lady Balshannon came to Holy Cross, and lived in the garden court
under the palm trees. She was a poor invalid lady, enjoying very bad
health, specially when we had visitors or any noise in the house. She
never could stand up straight against the heat of the desert. On the
range I was teacher to Jim; but in the house this lady made the kid and
me come to school for education. We used to race neck and neck over our
sums and grammar of an evening. I guess I was the most willing, but the
kid had much the best brains. He beat me anyways.

Sometimes I got restless, sniffing up wind for trouble, riding around
crazy all night because I was too peaceful and dull to need any sleep.
But then the boss wanted me in his business, the lady needed me for
lessons and to do odd jobs, the kid needed me to play with and to teach
him the life of the stock range; so when I got "Pacific Ocean fever"
they all made such a howl that I had to stay. Stopping at Holy Cross
grew from a taste into a habit, and you only know the strength of a
habit when you try to kill it. That family had a string round my hind
leg which ain't broken yet.

The boss made me foreman over his Mexican cowboys, and major-domo in
charge of Holy Cross. In the house I was treated like a son, with my
own quarters, servants, and horses, and my wages were paid to me in
ponies until there were three hundred head marked with my private brand.
Some people with bad hearts and forked tongues have claimed that I stole
these horses over in Mexico. I treat such with dignified silence and
make no comment except to remark that they are liars. Anyway, as the
years rolled on, and the business grew, Mr. Chalkeye Davies became a big
chief on the range in Arizona.

When the kid was fourteen years old he quit working cows with me, and
went to college. Balshannon missed him some, for he took to straying
then, and would go off in the fall of the year for a bear-hunt, in the
winter to stay with friends, and the rest of the time would hang around
Grave City. I reckon the desert air made him thirsty, because he drank
more than was wise, and the need for excitement set him playing cards,
so that he lost a pile of money bucking against the faro game and monte.
He left me in charge of his business, to round up his calves for
branding, and his beef for sale, to keep the accounts, to pay myself and
my riders, and ride guard for his lady while she prayed for his soul,
alone at Holy Cross. When Jim wanted money at college he wrote to me. In
all that time we were not attacked by Indians, Ryans, or any other
vermin.

Upon the level roof of Holy Cross there was space enough to handle
cavalry, and a wide outlook across the desert. There we had lie-down
chairs, rugs, and cushions; and after dinner, when the day's work was
done, we would sit watching the sunset, the red afterglow, the rich of
night come up in the east, the big stars wheeling slowly until it was
sleep-time. But when the boy was at college, and the boss away from
home, there was only Lady Balshannon and me to share the long evenings.

"Billy," she said once, for she never would call me Chalkeye, "Billy, do
you know that I'm dying?"

"Yes, mum, and me too, but I don't reckon to swim a river till I reach
the brink."

"My feet are in the waters, Billy, now."

"I wouldn't hurry, mum. It may be heaven beyond, or it may
be--disappointing."

"You dear boy," she laughed; "I want to tell you a story."

I lit a cigarette, and lay down at the rugs at her feet. "I can bear it,
mum."

She lay back in her chair, brushing off the warm with her fan.

"Did my husband ever tell you about a man named Ryan?"

"Not to me--no."

"Well, the Ryans were tenant farmers on the Balshannon Estate, at home
in Ireland. They were well-to-do yeomen, almost gentlefolk, and George
Ryan and my husband were at school together. They might have been
friends to-day, but for the terrible Land League troubles, which set the
tenants against their landlords. It was a sort of smouldering war
between the poor folk and our unhappy Irish gentry. It's not for me to
judge; both sides were more or less in the wrong; both suffered, the
landlords ruined, the tenants driven into exile. It's all too sad to
talk about.

"My husband's regiment was in India then; my son was born there. Rex
used to get letters from poor Lord Balshannon, his father, who was all
alone at Balshannon, reduced to dreadful poverty, trying to do his duty
as a magistrate, while the wretched peasants had to be driven from their
homes. His barns were burnt, twice the house was set on fire, his cattle
and horses were mutilated in the fields, and he never went out without
expecting to be shot from behind a hedge. He needed help, and at last my
husband couldn't bear it any longer. He sent in his papers, left the
profession he loved, and went back to Ireland. He was so impatient to
see all his old friends that he wired Mr. George Ryan to meet the train
at Blandon, and drive with him up to Balshannon House for dinner. Nobody
else was told that Colonel du Chesnay was coming. Would you believe it,
Billy, those Land Leaguers tore up the track near Blandon Station,
pointing the broken rails out over the river! Mr. Ryan was their
leader, who knew that my husband was in the train. Nobody else knew. No,
mercifully the train wasn't wrecked. The driver pulled up just in time,
and my husband left the train then, and walked up through Balshannon
Park to the house. He found his father ill in bed; something wrong with
the heart, and sat nursing him until nearly midnight, when the old man
fell asleep. After that he crept down very quietly to the dining-room.
He found cheese and biscuits, and went off in search of some ale. When
he came back he found Mr. Ryan in the dining-room.

"The man was drenched to the skin, and scratched from breaking through
hedges. He said that the police were after him with a warrant on the
charge of attempted train-wrecking. He swore that he was innocent, that
he had come to appeal to Lord Balshannon against what he described as a
police conspiracy. Rex told him that the old man was too ill to be
disturbed, that the least shock might be fatal. 'Surrender to me,' said
Rex, 'and if the police have been guilty of foul play, I'll see that you
get full justice.'

"At that moment they heard footsteps outside on the gravel, and peeping
out through the window, Mr. Ryan found that the police had surrounded
the building. He charged Rex with setting a trap to catch him: he
pointed a pistol in my husband's face. 'Don't fire!' said Rex, 'my
father is upstairs very ill, and if you fire the shock may be fatal.
Don't fire!'

"Mr. Ryan fired.

"The bullet grazed my husband's head, and knocked him senseless. When he
recovered he found that Ryan had escaped--nobody knows how, and a
sergeant of the Royal Irish Constabulary told him that the police were
in hot pursuit. He heard shots fired in the distance, and that made him
frightened for his father. He rushed out of the room, and half-way up
the staircase found the old may lying dead. The shock had killed him."

"Lady," I said, "if I were the boss, I'd shoot up that Ryan man into
small scraps."

"Billy, you've got to save my husband from being a murderer."

"Ryan," said I, "ain't eligible for the grave until he meets up with
Balshannon's gun."

"Promise me to save my husband from this crime."

"But I cayn't promise to shoot up this Ryan myself. He's Balshannon's
meat, not mine."

"You must dissuade my husband."

"I'll dissuade none between a man and his kill."

"Oh, what shall I do!" she cried.

"Is your son safe," I asked, "while Ryan lives?"

"Why do you say that?"

"Didn't your man drive all the people off the Balshannon range, and make
it a desert?"

"Alas! may he be forgiven!"

"Will Ryan forgive? Is your son safe?"

I sat dead quiet while the lady cried. When a woman stampedes that way
you can't point her off her course, or she'd mill round into hysterics;
you can't head her back, for she'd dry up hostile; so it's best to let
her have her head and run. When she's tired running she'll quit
peaceful.

I lit a cigarette and began to round up all the facts in sight, then to
cut the ones I wanted, and let the rest of the herd adrift.

When our Balshannon outfit first camped down in Holy Cross, this Ryan
began to accumulate with his family in the nearest city--this being
Grave City--one hundred miles west. Grave City was new then; a yearling
of a city, but built on silver, and undercut with mines. Ryan took
Chance by the tail and held on, starting a livery stable, then a big
hotel, while he dealt in mines and helped poor prospectors to find
wealth. So Ryan bogged down in riches, the leading man at Grave City,
with daughters in society, and two sons at college. Only this Ryan was
shy of meeting up with Lord Balshannon, and I took notice year after
year that when my boss went to the city Mr. Ryan happened away on
business. Someone was warning Ryan.

"Lady," said I, so sudden that she forgot to go on crying. "You've
warned Ryan again and again."

"How do you know that, Billy?"

"It's a hundred-mile ride to Grave City, but it's only sixty to
Lordsburgh on the railroad. Every time the boss goes to Grave City you
send off a rider swift to Lordsburgh. He telegraphs from there to Grave
City."

"Messages to my husband."

"And warnings to Ryan!"

She was struck silent.

"You're saving up Ryan until he gets the chance--to strike."

"Oh, how can you say such things! Besides, Mr. Ryan's afraid, that's why
he runs away."

"Ryan ain't playing no common bluff with guns. The game he plays ain't
killing. He wants you--all alive--like a cat wants mice; I don't know
how, I don't know when--but here are the words he nailed on to the door
of this house before Lord Balshannon came:--

     "'The time will come when, driven from your home, without a roof to
     cover you or a crust to eat, your wife and boy turned out to die in
     the desert, you----'"

"Stop! Stop!" she screamed.

"Promise me, lady, that you'll send no more messages to Ryan."

"It's murder!"

"No, lady, this is a man's game, called war!"

"I promise," she whispered, "I'll send no more warnings."



CHAPTER IV

THE RANGE WOLVES


That same winter Lord Balshannon came down from Lordsburgh on the
railroad, by way of Bryant's ranche, and tracked my round-up outfit to
our camp at Laguna. That was the spot where the patrone and I fought the
Apache raiders, but since then we had built corrals beside the pool, the
ring-fences which are used for handling livestock. I had twenty Mexican
_vaqueros_ with me, branding calves; and the patrone found us all at
supper.

While we ate he told me the news--how Dick Bryant was elected Sheriff of
the county; how Mr. Ryan's eldest son had left college and gone into
business in New York; how three bad men had been lynched by the
Vigilance Committee at Grave City; and how Low-Lived Joe had shot up two
Mexicans for being too obstreperous at cards. The boss had always some
gossip for me at tea-time.

After supper he passed me a cigar. "Chalkeye," said he, "give these boys
as much sleep as you can. At midnight you pull out of camp for Wolf Gap;
strike in there at the first streak of dawn, gather the whole of our
horses, then run them as hard as you can to Holy Cross, and throw them
into the house."

"Indians?" I asked.

"No, horse rustlers. Bryant gave me the office that some outlaws have
come down from Utah. They've heard of our half-bred ponies, and they're
in need of remounts."

"We've only two days' forage at the house."

"After to-morrow let the herd into the home pasture under a strong guard
by day. Throw them into the house every night, and post a relief of
sentries on the roof. We mustn't--haw, allow the poor robbers to fall
into temptation, so see that the men have--er plenty of ammunition."

"These robbers may round up our cattle."

"If they do they will have to drive slow, and Bryant will hold the
railway-line in force, with troops if necessary, er--Chalkeye!"

"Yessir."

"A friend of mine has turned this gang loose on my stock. There's been
crooked work."

"Ryan work, sir?"

"What makes you think that?"

"The birds. I want leave to go shoot Ryan."

"Indeed, ah! I've promised my wife not to--er shoot Mr. Ryan." He stood
up and grabbed my paw. "Chalkeye, we must try to behave like--er
Christians, for her sake. Now I must be off. You'll find me at Holy
Cross."

At noon next day I brought our herd to Holy Cross, and watered all the
horses at the dam below the house. This dam crossed a small hollow
holding some two or three acres of water, directly under the western
wall of the Hacienda. Some old trees sheltered the water, and one of
these had been blown down by a gust of wind. As I drove the _remuda_ to
the gates, one of the mares got snarled up in the wrecked tree, broke
her leg, and had to be shot. Then I threw the herd into the
stable-court, and went to my quarters.

I reckon that I had been thirty-four hours in the saddle, and used up
five horses, so I wanted much to get my eye down for a little sleep.
While the _peon_ pulled off my boots I gave orders mixed with yawns to
my segundo.

"Take charge, Teniente, and report my obedience to El Señor Don Rex.
Post a guard of four in the gate-house, close the gates, and place a
relief of sentries on the North-west Bastion. If the sentry sees anybody
coming, the guard is to call me at once. See that my riders get sleep
till sundown, then send a couple of them to haul that dead mare from the
water-hole."

I had not slept an hour when a man from the guard-house came running to
wake me up. I jumped into my boots, grabbed my gun, and bolted to the
gates, where Balshannon joined me at the spy-hole.

"Who's coming?" he asked.

"A white man, patrone, and a boy, on the dead run."

"Message from Bryant, eh? Let them in."

I swung the gates wide open, and we stood watching the riders--a
middle-aged stockman and a young cowboy, burning the trail from the
north. As they came surging up the approach I reckon their horses smelt
a whiff of blood from that dead mare beside the water-hole. Horses go
crazy at the smell of blood, and though the man held straight on at a
plunging run for the gates, the boy lacked strength to control his mare.
When she swerved he spurred, then she began to sunfish, throwing one
shoulder to the ground, and then the other, while she bucked. At this
the youngster lost his nerve and tried to dismount, the same being the
shortest way to heaven, for when the mare felt his weight come on one
stirrup she made a side spring, leaving him in the air, then bolted,
dragging him by the foot while she kicked the meat from his bones. He
was surely booked right through to glory but for Balshannon. My boss was
a quick shooter and accurate, so that his first bullet caught the mare
full between the eyes, and dropped her dead in her tracks. I raised the
long yell for my men, as we rushed to get the boy from under her body.

It seemed to me at the time that the elder man never reined, but made a
clear spring from his galloping horse to the ground, reaching the mare
with a single jump before she had time to drop. Grabbing her head, he
swung his full weight, and threw her falling body clear of the boy. When
we reached the spot he was kneeling beside him in the sand.

"Stunned," he said, "that's all! Seh," he looked up at the patrone, and
I saw the tears were starting from his eyes. "Seh, you've saved my son's
life with that shot, I reckon"--his voice broke with a sob--"you've sure
made me yo' friend."

"Nothing broken, I hope?" said Balshannon.

"No, seh. The stirrup seems to have twisted this foot."

I sent some men for a ground sheet in which the boy could be carried
without pain. Balshannon sent for brandy.

Still kneeling beside his son, the stranger looked up into the patrone's
face.

"You are Lord Balshannon?" he asked.

"At your service, my good fellow--well?"

"Do any of yo' greasers speak our language?"

"I fancy not."

"Then I have to tell you, seh, that I am Captain McCalmont, and my
outfit is the Robbers' Roost gang of outlaws." He was bending down over
his son.

"I asked no question, my friend," said Lord Balshannon, "we never
question a guest."

"You make me ashamed, seh. I came with a passel of lies, to prospect
around with a view to doing you dirt."

Balshannon chuckled, and I saw by the glint in his eye that he was
surely enjoying this robber. "You'll dine with me?" said he.

Captain McCalmont looked up sharply to see what game the patrone was
playing.

"You will notice, Captain," said the boss, "that my house is like a
deadfall trap. Indeed--ah, yes, only one door, you see."

For answer the robber unbuckled his belt and let it fall to the ground.
"Take my gun," he said. "Do you suppose I daren't trust you, seh?"

A servant had brought the brandy, and McCalmont rubbed a little on his
son's face, then poured a few drops between his teeth. Presently the lad
stirred, moaning a little.

"Let's take him to the house," said I.

"No, Mistah Chalkeye Davies," answered the robber, "not until this
gentleman knows some more, a whole lot more. Here, Curly," he whispered,
"wake up, bo'."

The lad opened his eyes, clear blue like the sky, and smiled at his
father. "Air you safe, dad?" he whispered.

"Sure safe."

Curly closed his eyes and lay peaceful.

The hold-up was squatting back on his heels, looking out across the
desert. "Don Rex," said he, "I had a warning sent to Sheriff Bryant
that I was coming down to lift all yo' hawsses. My wolves tracked
Bryant's rider to Lordsburgh, where he wired to you. You came running,
and had all yo' hawsses rounded up convenient for me, in the stable-yard
of this house. I thank you, seh."

"My good man, I'll bet you an even thousand dollars," said the patrone,
"that you don't lift a hoof of my haw--_remuda_."

"It's a spawtin' offer, and tempts me," answered the outlaw. "Oblige me
by taking my gun from the ground here and firing three shots in the
air."

The patrone took the gun, and at his third shot saw a man ride out from
behind the bastion on our right. McCalmont waved to him, and he came,
putting a silk mask over his face as he rode, then halted in front of
us, shy as a wolf, gun ready for war.

"Young man," said McCalmont, "repeat to these gentlemen here the whole
of yo' awdehs fo' the day. Leave out the names of the men."

"You're giving us dead away!" said the rider, threatening McCalmont with
his gun. "You mean that?"

"I mean what I say."

"Ah! Excuse me, McCalmont," said the patrone, "your--er--pistol, I
think."

"Thanks, seh." McCalmont took the gun. "Repeat the awdehs!" he said.
"These gentlemen are our friends."

"Well, you knows best," came the voice from behind the mask. "Three men
to cover your approach to Holy Cross, and if there's trouble, to shoot
Balshannon and Chalkeye. They're covered now. The wall of the stable
court by the South-west Bastion to be mined with dynamite, and touched
off at ten p. m. prompt; ten riders to get in through the breach in the
wall, and drive out the bunch of horses; one man with an axe to split
all the saddles in the harness-room, then join the herders."

"Leave out," said McCalmont, "all detail for pointing, swinging, and
driving the herd. Go on."

"At one minute to ten, before the wall is blown away, ten riders are to
make a bluff at attacking the main gate, and keep on amusing the
garrison until the men with the naphtha cans have fired the private
house.

"Rendezvous for all hands at Laguna by midnight, where we catch
remounts, and sleep until daybreak, with a night herd of two, and one
camp guard. At dawn we begin to gather cattle, while the horse wrangler
and two men drive the _remuda_ east. Rendezvous at Wolf Gap."

Lord Balshannon laughed aloud. "And how about poor old Bryant's posse of
men?" he asked.

"Sheriff Bryant," said the Captain, "allows that he's to catch us in a
sure fine trap, five miles due west of Lordsburgh. And now," he called
to the mounted robber, "tell the boys that all awdehs are cancelled,
that I'm supping to-night at Holy Crawss, and that the boys will wait
for me at the place we fixed in case of accidents."

The man rode off hostile and growling aloud, while Balshannon stood
watching to see which way he went.

"McCalmont," said he, and I took note of just one small quiver in his
voice, "may I venture to ask one question?"

"A hundred, seh."

"You seem to know the arrangement of my house--its military weakness.
How did you learn that?"

The outlaw stood up facing him, and took from the breast of his shirt a
folded paper. Balshannon and I spread it open, and found a careful plan
of Holy Cross. At the foot of the paper there was a memorandum signed
"George Ryan."

"I may tell you," said the robber, "that if I succeeded in burning yo'
home, stealing yo' hawsses, and running yo' cattle, Mr. George Ryan
proposed to pay my wolves the sum of ten thousand dollars."

"Carry out your plans," the patrone was pleased all to pieces. "I'd love
to fight your wolves. I've got some dynamite, too! Think of what you're
losing!"

"Lose nothing!" said the robber. "I'll collect fifty thousand dollars
compensation from Ryan!" He stooped down and gathered his son in his
arms.

"And now, will you have us for guests in yo' home? Say the word, and we
go."

Balshannon lifted his hat and made a little bow, much polite. "My
house," he answered in Spanish, "is yours, señor!"



CHAPTER V

BACK TO THE WOLF PACK


Being given to raising fowls, I'm instructed on eggs a whole lot. Killed
young, an egg is a sure saint, being a pure white on the outside, and
inwardly a beautiful yellow; but since she ain't had no chance to go bad
she's not responsible. But when an egg has lingered in this wicked
world, exposed to heat, cold, and other temptations, she succumbs, being
weary of her youth and shamed of virtue. So she participates in vice to
the best of her knowledge and belief. Yes, an old egg is bad every time,
and the more bluff she makes with her white and holy shell, the more
she's rotten inside, a whited sepulchre.

I reckon it's been the same with me, for at Holy Cross I was kept good
and fresh by the family. Shell, white, and yolk, I was a good egg then,
with no special inducements to vice. Now I know in my poor old self what
an uphill pull it is trying to reform a stale egg.

In those days, when I thought I was being good on my own merits, I had
no mercy on bad eggs like poor McCalmont, however much he tried to
reform. Balshannon took me aside, and wanted to know if he could trust
this robber.

"So far as you can throw a dawg," said I.

That night the lady fed alone, and we dined in the great hall, the
patrone at the head of the table, McCalmont and Curly on one side, the
padre and me on the other. Curly's ankle being twisted, and wrapped up
most painful in wet bandages, the priest allowed that he couldn't ride
away with his father, but had better stay with us.

Curly shied at that. "I won't stay none!" he growled.

But McCalmont began to talk for Curly, explaining that robbery was a
poor vocation in life, full of uncertainties. He wanted his son to be a
cowboy.

"If he rides for me," says I, "he'll have to herd with my Mexicans.
They're greasers, but Curly's white, and they won't mix."

"I'd rather," says McCalmont, "for Arizona cowboys are half-wolf
anyways, but this outfit is all dead gentle, and good for my cub."

Then the boss offered wages to Curly, and the priest took sides with
him. So Curly kicked, and I growled, but the boy was left at Holy Cross
to be converted, and taught punching cows.

As to McCalmont, he rode off that night, gathered his wolves, and jumped
down on Mr. George Ryan at the Jim Crow Mine, near Grave City. He wanted
"compensation" for not getting any plunder out of Holy Cross, so he
robbed Mr. Ryan of seventy thousand dollars. The newspapers in Grave
City sobbed over poor Mr. Ryan, and howled for vengeance on McCalmont's
wolves.

Curly read the newspaper account, and was pleased all to pieces. Then he
howled all night because he was left behind.

It took me some time to get used to that small youngster, who was a
whole lot older and wiser than he looked. He had a room next to my
quarters, where he camped on a bed in the far corner, and acted crazy if
ever I tried to come in. Because he insisted on keeping the shutters
closed, that room was dark as a wolf's mouth--a sort of den, where one
could see nothing but his eyes, glaring green or flame-coloured like
those of a panther. If he slept, he curled up like a little wild animal,
one ear cocked, one eye open, ready to start broad awake at the
slightest sound. Once I caught him sucking his swollen ankle, which he
said was a sure good medicine. I have seen all sorts of animals dress
their own wounds that way, but never any human except little Curly. As
to his food, he would eat the things he knew about, but if the taste of
a dish was new to him, he spat as if he were poisoned. At first he was
scared of Lady Balshannon, hated the patrone, and surely despised me;
but one day I saw him limping, attended by four of our dogs and a brace
of cats, across to the stable-yard. I sneaked upstairs to the roof and
watched his play.

There must have been fifty ponies in the yard, and every person of them
seemed to know Curly, for those who were loose came crowding round him,
and those who were tied began whickering. Horses have one call, soft and
low, which they keep for the man they love, and one after another gave
the love-cry for Curly. He treated them all like dirt until he came to
Rebel, an outlaw stallion. Once Rebel tried to murder a Mexican; several
times he had pitched off the best of our broncho busters; always he
acted crazy with men and savage with mares. Yet he never even snorted at
Curly, but let that youngster lead him by the mane to a mounting-block;
then waited for him to climb up, and trotted him round the yard tame as
a sheep.

"Curly!" said I from the roof. And the boy stiffened at once, hard and
fierce. "Curly, that horse is yours."

"I know that!" said Curly; "cayn't you see fo' yo'self?"

The dogs loved Curly first, then the horses, and next the Mexican
cowboys, but at last he seemed to take hold of all our outfit. He thawed
out slowly to me, then to the patrone and the old priest; afterwards
even to Lady Balshannon. So we found out that this cub from the Wolf
Pack was only fierce and wild with strangers, but inside so gentle that
he was more like a girl than a boy. He was rather wide at the hips,
bow-legged just a trace, and when his ankle healed we found he had a
most tremendous grip in the saddle, the balance of a hawk. Yes, that
small, slight, delicate lad was the most perfect rider I've seen in a
world of great horsemen. The meanest horse was tame as a dog with Curly,
while in tracking, scouting, and natural sense with cattle I never knew
his equal. Yet, as I said before, he was small, weak, badly built--more
like a girl than a boy. With strangers he was a vicious young savage;
with friends, like a little child. He did a year's work on the range
with me, and that twelve months I look back to as a sort of golden age
at Holy Cross.

We were raising the best horses and the finest cattle in Arizona; prices
were high, and the patrone was too busy to have time for cards or drink
over at Grave City; and even the lady braced up enough to go for evening
rides.

And then the Honourable James du Chesnay rode home to us from college.

The patrone and his lady were making a feast for their son; the cowboys
were busy as a swarm of bees decorating the great hall; the padre
fluttered about like a black moth, getting in everybody's way; so Curly
and I rode out on the Lordsburgh trail to meet up with the Honourable
Jim.

"I hate him!" Curly snarled.

"Why for, boy?"

"Dunno. I hate him!"

I told Curly about my first meeting with that same little boy Jim, aged
six, and him turning his hot gun loose against hostile Indians, shooting
gay and promiscuous, scared of nothing.

"I hate him," snarled Curly between his teeth. "Last night the lady was
reading to me yonder, on the roof-top."

"Well?"

"There was a big chief on the range, an old long-horn called Abraham,
and his lil' ole squaw Sarah. They'd a boy in their lodge like me,
another woman's kid, not a son, but good enough for them while they was
plumb lonely. That Ishmael colt was sure wild--came of bad stock, like
me. 'His hand,' says the book, 'will be up agin every man, and every
man's hand agin him.' I reckon that colt came of robber stock, same as
me, but I allow they liked him some until their own son came. Then their
own son came--a shorely heap big warrior called Isaac--and the old
folks, they didn't want no more outlaw colts running loose around on
their pasture. They shorely turned that Ishmael out to die in the
desert. Look up thar, Chalkeye, in the north, and you'll see this Isaac
a-coming on the dead run for home."

"Curly," says I, "this young chief won't have no use for old Chalkeye;
he'll want to be boss on his own home range, and it's time he started in
responsible to run Holy Cross. At the month's end I quit from this
outfit, and I'm taking up a ranche five miles on the far side of Grave
City. Thanks to the patrone, I've saved ponies and cattle enough to
stock my little ranche yonder. Will you come at forty dollars a month,
and punch cows for Chalkeye?"

"No, I won't, never. I come from the Wolf Pack, and I'm going back to
the Wolf Pack to be a wolf. That's where I belong--thar in the desert!"

He swept out his hand to the north, and there, over a rise of the
ground, I saw young Jim du Chesnay coming, on the dead run for home.



CHAPTER VI

MY RANGE WHELPS WHIMPERING


Now that I have won through the dull beginning of this story, I've just
got to stop and pat myself before going on any further. There were steep
bits on the trail where I panted for words, rocks where I stumbled,
holes where I bogged down to the hocks, cross-roads where I curved
around lost. At the best I'd a poor eye, a lame tongue, and a heap big
inclination to lie down and quit; so I've done sure fine to keep
a-going. Ride me patient still, for I'm near the beginning of the
troubles which picked up Jim, Curly, and me, to whirl us along like a
hurricane afire. Soon we'll break gait from a limp to a trot, from trot
to canter, then from lope to gallop.

I suppose I had better explain some about Grave City, and how it got to
have such a cheerful name. That was away back in 1878, when two
prospectors, Ed Schieffelin and his brother, pulled out to explore the
desert down by the Mexican boundary. The boys allowed they'd better take
their coffins along with them, because if they missed being scalped by
Apaches, or wiped out by border ruffians, or starved to death, they
would surely perish of thirst. "The only thing you boys will find is
your grave."

Well, they called their discovery Grave City, but it was one of the
richest silver-mines on earth, and a city grew up here in the desert.
For the first few years it was most surely hot, full of artists painting
the town red, and shooting each other up with a quick gun. That was the
time of Mankiller Johnson, Curly Bill, Roosian George, Brazelton of
Tucson, the robber, and a young gentleman aged twenty-two, called Billy
the Kid, who wiped out twenty fellow-citizens and followed them rapid to
a still warmer climate. When these gentlemen had shot each other for
their country's good, and a great many more died a natural death by
being lynched, the city got more peaceful. In the second year it was
burnt, and entirely rebuilt in a fortnight. The first large gambling
joint was called the "Sepulchre," the first weekly paper was the Weekly
Obituary, and in the eighth year Mr. Ryan built his hotel--the
"Mortuary." That was in 1886, the year of the Apache raids, when I went
with the new patrone to Holy Cross. Twelve years I rode for Balshannon,
then, Jim being in his eighteenth year, took charge as foreman and
major-domo of that grand old ranche.

It was the 4th of July, 1900, before I saw that youngster again. We
gathered at Grave City then to celebrate the birthday of our great
republic, and it does me good every time to see our flag Old Glory
waving above the cities of freedom. The Honourable Jim must needs run a
mare of his at the races, the same, as I told him, being suitable meat
to bait traps.

I made him an offer for that mare; ten cents for her tail as a fly
switch, a dollar for her hide, and a five-cent rim-fire cigar if he
would dispose of the other remains. He raced her, lost one thousand
dollars, and came to me humble for the money to pay his debts. I told
him to burn his own paws in his own fire, and be content with his own
howls.

"They're debts of honour!" says he.

"Debts of dishonour, and you're the Dishonourable James du Idiot.
There's your travelling pony been standing saddled all day in the
blazing heat without a feed or a drink. You call yourself a horseman?"

Afterwards we smoothed our fur, and had our supper together. Jim
promised to be good, go home, do his honest cowboy work, and look after
the poor lone lady who was dying by inches at Holy Cross.

Yet I was proud of that boy, keen, fierce, stubborn as a wild ass, with
the air and temper of a thoroughbred, and a laugh which spoiled me for
preaching. He was smart, too, in a new shirt of white silk, a
handkerchief round his neck striped cream and rose colour, Mexican
trousers of yellow leather studded down the seams with lumps of
turquoise stones in silver settings, big silver spurs, and on his belt
a silver-mounted 45-Colt revolver. I've got no earthly use for a boy who
slouches. At supper, while I preached, he called me an old fool for
caring when he was bad. Then he told me good-bye in the dusk, and set
off on his hundred-mile trail for Holy Cross.

I rode home thoughtful, and lay long awake in my little dobe cabin at
Las Salinas, thinking about that boy, whose mother was sick, and his
father riding to sure destruction, a gambler, a drunkard, hopeless,
lost--the best friend I ever had in the world. When I woke the faint
light of dawn shone through the cabin window, and brightened the saddles
on the wall. Something was touching my face, something cold, so I
grabbed it quick--a little small hand. Then I heard Curly's low, queer
laugh. "You, Chalkeye!" he whispered.

He was sitting on the stool beside my bunk, dead weary, covered with
dust from the trail. Somehow the boy seemed to have got smaller instead
of growing up, and he sure looked weak and delicate for such a life as
he led. Twenty years old? He didn't seem fifteen, and yet he spoke
old-fashioned, heaps wise and experienced.

"Whar you from?" says I, yawning.

"Speak low, and no questions," said Curly in a hard voice, for on the
range we never ask a guest his name, or where he comes from, or which
way he goes. When he comes we don't need to tell him any welcome; when
he goes we say, 'Adios!' for he'll sure have need of an Almighty Father
out in the desert.

"Chalkeye," says my wolf, "are you alone?"

"Sure."

"No boys over thar in yo' ram pasture?"

"My riders is wolfing in Grave City, but they'll stray back 'fore noon."

"Hide me up in yo' barn fo' the day, then."

"An yo' horse, Curly?"

"Say you won him last night at cyards. We'll hide the saddle."

"Have coffee first?"

"I surely will," and kneeling stiff, weary by the hearth, he began to
make up a fire.

"There's a notice up for you, Curly. They're offering two thousand
dollars dead or alive."

"For robbing that Union Pacific train?"

"I reckon."

"Chalkeye, did you ever know me to lie?"

"None, Curly."

"Then you'll believe me. I wasn't there when our wolves got that train.
I've never done no robberies, ever yet."

"I hope you never may."

"Sometimes I hope so too." He was holding up his hands before the fire.
"How's the patrone?" he asked, as he put on the coffee-pot to boil.

"Going downhill rapid. He's mortgaged Holy Cross to the last dollar."

"What's his play?"

"Faro and monte--you'll see him bucking the game all night down at the
Sepulchre. He drinks hard now."

"Pore old--er chap, don't you know! And the lady?"

"Dying out down at the Hacienda. The padre sits with her."

"And the young chief?"

"Do you still hate him?"

"Why should I care?"

"Tell me on the dead-thieving Curly, you do care some what happens to
Holy Cross? Don't you remember old Ryan inviting yo' wolves to eat up
the Hacienda?"

"They had stewed Ryan for breakfast afterwards, and he sure squealed!"

"Yesterday I seen a bar keep' who belongs to Ryan go up against young
Jim and rob him of a thousand dollars over a sure-thing horse race. Any
day you'll see Ryan's hired robbers running the crooked faro and monte
games where Balshannon is losing what's left of Holy Cross. Ryan hired
the range wolves, and they went straight for his own throat, but now the
town wolves are eating yo' best friends."

"The only friends I have excep' my gang," said Curly. "Why don't you
shoot up them town scouts, and that Ryan?"

"My gun against a hundred, Curly? No. I tried to get these crooks run
out of the city, but Ryan's too strong for me. If I shoot him up I'd
only get lynched by his friends."

"Show me yo' cyards, old Chalkeye--let me see yo' play."

"I aim to turn the range wolves loose in Grave City."

"The range wolves is some fastidious, Chalkeye, and wants clean meat for
their kill."

"You don't want to save your friends?"

"The boss wolf leads, not me, and he wants good meat. I must point to
good meat, or he ain't hungry none."

"Ryan has lots of wealth."

"We ate some once, and he's got monotonous."

"How about his son, the millionaire?"

"My wolves would shorely enjoy a millionaire, but--shucks! We'll never
get so much as a smell at him."

"Cayn't you suggest some plan for checking Ryan?"

"I'll think that over. I cal'late to spend some weeks in Grave City."

"Two thousand dollars dead or alive! Why, lad, you're crazy."

"When I'm disguised you'll never know it's me."

"Disguised? As how?"

"As a woman perhaps, or maybe as a man. I dunno yet."

I went to sniff the morning, and at the door found Curly's horse, loaded
with an antelope lashed across the saddle.

"I shot you some meat fo' yo' camp," said Curly, throwing coffee into
the boiling pot. "Now let's have breakfast."

I went out and caught some eggs, then we had breakfast.



CHAPTER VII

AT THE SIGN OF RYAN'S HAND


At the time of Curly's visit I was breaking in a bunch of fool ponies,
and along in August sold them to the Lawson Cattle Company. Their Flying
W. Outfit was forming up just then for the fall round-up, so by way of
swift delivery I took my ponies down by rail to Lordsburgh. Their camp
was beside the stock-yard, and the little old cow town was surely alive
with their cowboys, stamping new boots around to get them used, shooting
off their guns to show how good they felt, filling up with chocolate
creams and pickles to while the time between meals, sampling the whisky,
the games, and the druggist's sure-thing medicines, or racing ponies for
trial along the street.

Now I reckon that the sight and smell of a horse comes more natural to
me than anything else on earth, while the very dust from a horse race
gets into my blood, and I can't come near the course without my head
getting rattled. But from the first whiff of that town I caught the
scent of something going wrong, for most of the stock-yard was full of
cattle branded with a cross, and the Holy Cross _vaqueros_ were loading
them into a train. Moreover, by many a sign I gathered fact on fact,
that this delivery of Balshannon's cattle was out of the way of
business, not a shipment of beef to the market, but a sale of
breeding-stock, which meant nothing short of ruin. I strayed through
that town feeling sick, refusing to drink with the punchers, or talk cow
with the cattlemen, or take any interest in life. At the post office I
met up with Jim, face to face, and he tried to pass by short-sighted.

"Boy," said I, as I grabbed him, "why for air you shamed?"

"Leave me go," he snarled.

"For why, son?"

"'Cause I'm shamed."

"Of yo'self?"

"Shamed of my father. Our breeding-stock is gone to pay his gambling
debts."

"All of it?"

"What's left is offal. Now you leave me go!"

"Whar to?"

"To follow Balshannon's trail--drink, gambling, shame, death, and a good
riddance."

"You'll come with me first," says I, "for an oyster stew and some bear
sign. I ain't ate since sun-up."

He came with me for a stew and the doughnuts, which made him feel some
better in his heart, and after that I close-herded him until the cattle
were shipped, through the evening, through the night, and on to
daybreak. Then I rounded up his greaser cowboys from various gambling
joints, and pointed him and them for Holy Cross.

"Boy," says I at parting, "you've been at work on the range for long
months now, and yo' mother is surely sick for the sight of yo' fool
face. Go home."

"You old Chalkeye fraud," says he, with a grin as wide as the sunrise,
"you're getting rid of me because you want to have a howling time on
your lonesome, with all that money you got for your rotten ponies."

It was surely fine sight to see my Jim hit the trail, the silver fixings
of his saddle and cowboy harness bright as stars, his teeth aflash, his
eyes a-shining, as he stooped down to give me cheek at parting, and lit
out with his tail up for home. His riders saluted me as their old chief
in passing, calling, "Buenas dias señor, adios!" Yes, they were good
boys, with all their dark skin and their habit of missing the wash-time;
light-built riders, with big, soft eyes always watchful, grave manners,
gentle voices, gay laughter, and their beautiful Spanish talk like low
thunder rolling. They were brave as lions, they were true as steel, and
foolish only in the head, I reckon. So they passed by me one by one,
saluting with a lift of the cigarette, a glance of the eye, dressed
gorgeous in dull gold leather, bright gold straw sombreros,
rainbow-coloured serapes, spur and gun aflash, reins taut, and horses
dancing, and were gone in a cloud of dust and glitter away across the
desert. I was never to see them again.

It made me feel quite a piece wistful to think of Holy Cross down yonder
beyond the rim of the far grass, for that house had been more than home
to me, and that range was my pasture where I had grazed for twelve good
years. I could just judge, too, how Jim was wanting for home swift,
while the segundo, good old Juan Terrazas, would pray the young lord to
spare the little horses. "'Tis sixty leagues, and these our horses are
but children, señor."

"Confound the horses!" says Jim, "let's burn the trail for home. Roll
your trail, Pedro! _Vamenos!_"

"But the child horses, my lord, grass-fed only, in the hot desert."

    "Roll your tail and roll it high,
    We'll all be angels by-and-by!"

And Jim would lope along with a glad heart, singing the round-up songs--

    "Little black bull came down the hillside,
        Down the hillside, down the hillside,
    Little black bull came down the hillside,
                Long time ago."

Then he would go on some more happy when he thought of the big tune to
"Roll, Powder, Roll!"

As I heard afterwards, the outfit was rounding the shoulder of the hill
about five miles out when, on the ridge beyond, Mr. Jim's bright eye
took note of something alive.

"A vulture only, my lord," says the segundo, "eating a dead horse."

"A quart of kittens!" says my lord, some scornful. "Call that a
vulture?" and off he sailed, clattering down a slope of loose rocks.
"That bird is a man-bird flapping at us for help. Segundo, you've no
more range of sight than a boiled owl."

The segundo came grumbling along behind, and they curved off across the
level. "That man has lost his horse," says Jim; "thirsty, I guess, and
signalling for help. Go back, Terrazas, and tell the men to wait."

"Si, señor," and Terrazas rolled back to the trail.

As Jim got nearer he saw that the man on the hill had signalled nothing,
but his coat tails were a-flutter in the wind. Now he came all flapping
from rock to rock down the hillside. "Hello!" Jim shouted.

The stranger squatted down on a rock to wait for him, and sat wiping his
face on a red handkerchief. He was dressed all in black, a sky-scout of
sorts, but dusty and making signs as though he couldn't shout for
thirst. Jim took his half-gallon canteen, ranged up, and dismounted.
"Curious," he was thinking; "lips not swollen, tongue not black, this
man ain't thirsty much!"

"My deah young friend," says the preacher between drinks, "you're the
means under Heaven of my deliverance"--gulp--"from a shocking end."

"Scared you'd have to go to heaven?" asked Jim.

"I was afraid"--gulp--"that I must give up my labours in this vale
of"--gulp--"for which I was found unworthy."

"Is that so?"

"Seh, I have walked far, and am much exhausted."

Jim looked at the preacher's pants, and saw that a streak of the cloth
from knee to ankle was dusty none--the same being the mark of the
stirrup leathers. He could not have walked a hundred yards from his
horse.

"Stranger," says Jim, "your horse is just on the other side of this
hill."

"Yes, indeed--but it never lets me get any nearer, and I've chased it
for miles!"

"I'll catch your horse." Jim swung to his seat, spurred off, circled the
hilltop, and found the preacher's horse, rein to the ground, unable to
trot without being tripped at once, dead easy to catch at one jump. This
parson man was a liar, anyway.

Then something caught Jim's eye, a sort of winking star on a hill-crest
far to the east. He watched that star winking steady to right and left.
The thing was a heliograph making talk, as it supposed, to the
preacher, and Jim watched harder than ever.

He couldn't read the signs, so wondering most plentiful, he spurred up
to find out if anything more could be seen from the crest of the hill.
Yes, there lay the railroad, and the town of Lordsburgh, plain as a map.
This preacher had been sly, and heaps untruthful, so Jim rode back
leading his horse, but kept the sights he had seen for his own
consumption.

"I suah thank y'u, seh," says the preacher. "Alas! that I should be so
po' a horseman. My sacred calling has given me no chances of learning to
ride like you-all."

Jim watched him swing to the saddle as only a stockman can. You may
dress a puncher in his last coffin, but no disguise short of that will
spoil his riding.

"Mebbe," says the preacher, "you can favour me with a few hints on the
art of settin' a--whoa! hawss! And if you please, we will go more
gradual 'cause the motion is pitching my po' kidneys up through my neck.
Whoa! Yow!"

Jim broke away at a trot, sitting side-saddle to enjoy the preacher, who
jolted beside him like a sack of dogs.

"Stranger," says he, "the trail is where my men are waiting yonder. To
the left it goes to Lordsburgh, to the right it runs straight to
Bryant's and on to Holy Cross. Good morning, sir," and he left on the
dead run.

"My deah young friend," the preacher wailed at him. "Whoa! Whoa, now!
I've got mislaid! I place myself in yo' hands."

Jim reined.

"Well, where do you want to go?"

"I want to find a wild, a sinful young man by the name of du Chesnay.
He's the Honourable James du Chesnay. Perhaps you know him?"

"Partly. Well, what's your business with him?"

"I suffer," says the preacher, "from clergyman's sore throat--ahic!
Permit me, seh, to ride with you while I explain my business."

"As you please." They had gained the trail, and Jim swung into it with
the preacher, calling back to his riders to keep within range astern.

"Besides," says the preacher, coughing behind his hand, "I am somewhat
timid--there are so many robbers that I yearn for yo' company for
protection."

Jim yelled back to his men in Spanish, "Boys, just watch this
stranger--he's no good. Keep your guns handy, and if he tries to act
crooked, shoot prompt!"

"Thank you, seh!" says the preacher.

"And now, your business, quick!"

"It appears," the preacher groaned, "that some wicked men have been
behaving deceitfully in the purchase of a flock of cows from this young
gentleman."

"Eh?"

"Yes, they paid for his flock with a draft made in favour of Lord
Balshannon, on the National Bank at Grave City. What a dreadful name for
a city!--suggestive of----"

"Rats! Go on, man!"

"This draft on the bank from Jabez Y. Stone, who bought yo' cattle, seh,
you forwarded from Lordsburgh yesterday. It will be presented to-day by
Lord Balshannon at the bank in Grave City."

"How do you know?"

"Unhappily, my sacred calling has left me quite unfamiliah with the
carnal affairs of this most wicked country."

"Well, what's wrong? The bank wired yesterday morning that they held
money to meet this draft. Stone showed me the telegram."

"Up to noon," said the preacher, "there was money in the bank; some
forty thousand dollars in the name of Jabez Y. Stone, ready to meet yo'
draft, and pay for the cattle."

"I know that!"

"At noon yesterday that money was withdrawn from the bank."

"Impossible!"

"Jabez Y. Stone had given a previous draft to another man for the money.
The other man got the plunder--the--ahic!--dross, I mean. Oh that we
poh mortals should so crave after the dross which perisheth!"

"Don't preach!"

"Oh, my young brother, the little word in season----"

"I wish it would choke you. Now who drew that money?"

"A carnal man--yo' fatheh's mortal enemy--Misteh Ryan."

"Ryan! Ryan!"

"Misteh George Ryan, yessir. To-day yo' father presents a worthless
paper at the bank in exchange for his breeding cattle. Oh, how grievous
a thing it is that deceitful men should so deceive themselves, preparing
for a sultry hereafter. Think of these poh dumb driven cattle, exchanged
for a bogus draft upon a miserable, miserable bank--how----"

"Luis!" Jim yelled, and his segundo, old Luis Terrazas, came a-flying.
"Luis, take the men home--I've got to go back to Lordsburgh."

"Stay!" The preacher lifted his hand, brushed back the hat from his
face, and stared into Jim's eyes. "Chalkeye Davies is yondeh at
Lordsburgh thar--you can trust him, eh? Send a letter to Chalkeye; ask
him to wire the sheriff at Albuquerque to hold that thar train of cattle
pending inquiries."

"I'm going back myself. You stand aside!"

"Seh, if you don't ride straight for Holy Cross, you ain't goin' to see
yo' mother alive--she's sinking rapid."

"How do you know what's happening at Holy Cross, at Grave City, and at
Lordsburgh, and all these places a hundred miles apart?"

"Have I said anything, boy, that you cayn't believe?"

"You lied when you said you were thirsty, when you claimed to have
walked, when you made out you couldn't catch your horse, and couldn't
ride--you lied, and you're a liar!"

The preacher reached for his hip, and a dozen revolvers covered him
instant.

"Seh," he said, quite gentle, "my handkerchief is in my hip-pocket;
observe me blow my nose at yo' remarks."

He trumpeted into his big red handkerchief.

"Why do you make this bluff," says Jim, "at being a preacher, when
you've been all your life in the saddle?"

"Yo' questions, seh, are personal for a stranger, and the character you
gave me to yo' greasers was some hasty, and the salute of guns you offer
makes me feel unworthy. As to your thanks for an honest warning to save
yo' lost cattle and haste to yo' dying mother----"

Jim flushed with shame.

"I beg your pardon, sir."

"And you accept my warning?"

"If you'll prove you forgive me by shaking hands, Mr.----"

"Misteh? Just call me friend--no more. And Jim, when you've been to Holy
Crawss, yo' natural feelings will call you swift to Grave City, where
you'll find your father in mortal danger, I feah."

"In mortal danger?"

"Unless," said the stranger, "a mere friend can save him."

Jim looked into this stranger's face, at the tanned hide, seamed and
furrowed with trouble, the strong hard lips, twisty with a sort of queer
smile, at the eyes, which seemed to be _haunted_.

"Sir," he said, "I'll do what you tell me."

So he took paper and pencil from his wallet, leaned over the horn of his
saddle, and made it desk enough for what he had to write.

"Will this do?" says he, passing his letter to the stranger.

"Yes, I reckon. Add, sonny, that Misteh Michael Ryan's private cyar is
due from the east to-morrow, with the Pacific Express. It's timed to
reach Grave City at 10:05 p.m. Chalkeye will be thar."

Jim wrote all that down, then looked up, fearful, surprised at this
preacher knowing so much, then glanced all round to see which man had
the best horse for his message.

"Onate!" he called.

"Si señor."

"Take this letter, Onate, to Mr. Chalkeye Davies in Lordsburgh. Then
you'll follow me home."

Onate uncovered, took the letter, and bowed his thanks. "Gracias señor,
adios!" and curved off swift for Lordsburgh.

Then Jim saw the preacher's eyes boring him through.

"You will shake hands?" he asked.

"With a glad hand," said Captain McCalmont. "Put her thar, boy! I hope
when we meet up again you'll remember me as a friend."

So the great robber swung his horse, and spurred up back to his hilltop,
while Jim and the _vaqueros_ burned the trail for home.



CHAPTER VIII

IN THE NAME OF THE PEOPLE


It used to be a great sight down at Holy Cross when the _vaqueros_ came
back from the round-up, serapes flapping in the wind, hats waving, guns
popping, ponies tearing around, and eating up the ground. And then the
house folk came swarming out to meet them, the little boys and dogs in a
shouting heap, the girls bunched together and squealing, the young wives
laughing, the old mothers, the tottering granddads, all plumb joyful to
welcome the riders home. So they would mix up, crowd through the gates,
and on the stable court to see a beef shot for the feast. Presently the
little boys would come out in the dusk of the evening, bareback to herd
the ponies through the pasture gate, and scamper back barefoot to the
house in time for supper. All night long the lamps were alight in the
great hall, the guitars a-strumming, and young feet dancing, and last,
at the break of dawn, the chapel bell would call for early mass.

But this was the last home-coming for the folks at Holy Cross, and far
away across the desert Jim's riders heard the bell--the minute bell
tolling soft for the dead. The people met them at the gates, but all
the boys uncovered, riding slow. No beef would be killed that night, no
lights would shine, no guitars would strum for the dance.

Inside the main gate Jim's servant took his horse, and the lad walked on
with clashing spurs to meet the old padre at the door of the
dining-hall.

"Take off your spurs," said the priest, "come softly."

So he followed the padre across the bare, whitewashed dining-hall, and
on along the cloister of the palm tree court. He heard the death-cry
keening out of the shadows, the bell tolled, and he went on through the
dark rooms, until he came to the señora, with women kneeling about the
bed, and candles lighted at her head and feet.

       *       *       *       *       *

The daybreak was bitter cold when Jim came out into the palm tree court,
shivering while he watched the little, far-up clouds flushed with the
dawn.

He felt that something was all wrong in the house, with the hollow
echoes, every time he moved, crashing back from out of the dark. Then in
the black darkness of the rooms he saw a lighted candle moving, slow
through the air.

"Who's there!" he shouted, and at that the light came straight at him
with something grey behind. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
Then he saw it was Sheriff Bryant.

"Easy, boy, easy!" says Dick in his slow Texan drawl; "I cal'late, Jim,
we may as well have coffee, eh, boy?"

So he led Jim into the dining-hall, where he had cooked some coffee on
the brazier. He set his candle down on the long table, and beside it a
stick of sealing-wax and a bundle of tape.

"Why, sheriff," says Jim, "what do you want with these?"

"Take yo' coffee, son. It's cold this mawnin'."

Jim fell to sipping his coffee, while old Dick sat crouched down over
the brazier.

"My old woman's been here this fortnight past," he said, "and I
collected a doctor of sorts."

"You never sent for father, or for me."

"I had reasons, boy, good reasons. Jim, thar's trouble a-comin', and
you've got to face it manful."

"Oh, speak out!"

"As I says to my ole woman only yesterday, I'd have loaned the money
myself to yo' poh mother, only I don't have enough to lend to a dawg."

"What do you mean?"

"I couldn't turn the po' lady out of her home, so I got a stay of
execution from the Court, to give her time to escape. She's done escaped
now, and I got to act."

"Sheriff!"

"Yes, I'm sheriff, and I'd rather break a laig. But I'm the People's
servant, Jim, and my awdehs is to seize this hull estate, in the name o'
the People."

"To seize this house!"

"To turn you and all yo' servants out of Holy Crawss, and put the
People's seal on the front gate."

"Sheriff, you can't!"

"Boy, take this writ."

Jim took the paper, spread it out, and read--

"Jim," said the sheriff, "we must bury this lady first. Then you want to
take the best hawss you've got, while I'm not looking, and ride to my
home. Yo're mo' than welcome thar."

"Who's done this thing?"

"Yo' father's debts."

"Don't beat about the bush--who's done this thing?"

"George Ryan."



CHAPTER IX

WAR SIGNS


On Tuesday morning, after I headed Jim for Holy Cross, I had to stay
over in Lordsburgh, finish my horse deal with the Lawson Cattle Company,
then get my men back to Grave City by the evening train. I had only
three cowboys, Monte, Custer, and Ute; nice children, too, when they
were all asleep, but fresh that morning, full of dumb yearnings for
trouble, and showing plentiful symptoms of being young. At
breakfast-time I pointed out some items in the local scenery, a doctor's
shambles, a hospital, a mortuary, and an adjacent graveyard.

"Now, you kids," says I, "you may be heap big tigers; but don't you get
wild-catting around too numerous, because I ain't aiming to waste good
money on yo' funerals."

They said they'd be fearful good, and might they have ten dollars apiece
for the church offertory? They set off with three pure hearts, and
thirty dollars.

Now I reckon there were twenty-five Flying W. riders owning the town
that day, and they began politely by asking my boys if Chalkeye's
squint was contagious, and whether that accounted for symptoms of mange
in his ponies.

My boys were dead gentle, and softly answered that Lawson was the worst
horse-thief in Arizona; that Lawson's foreman was three-parts negro and
the rest polecat, and that Lawson's riders had red streaks around their
poor throats because the hang-rope had failed to do them justice.

The Flying W. inquired if my three riders was a case of triplets, or
only an unfortunate mistake. Then my boys produced their six-guns and
allowed they'd been whelped savage, raised dangerous, and turned loose
hostile--and I only arrived just in time to save them from being spoiled
for further use on earth. I challenged the Flying W. to race their best
pets against my "mangy" ponies, and both sides agreed to have a drink
with me, instead of wasting mounted funeral pageants on such a one-horse
town as little Lordsburgh.

So while I was playing nursemaid, herding all those kids, who should
roll up the street but young Onate, of Holy Cross, on the dead run with
a letter from Jim. The more kids, the worse trouble. Well, when I had
swallowed Jim's letter, I fired off a batch of telegrams and soon had a
wire back from the Albuquerque sheriff. "Will impound them cattle," says
he, "pending advices from Bryant." So I sent Onate streaking after
Bryant, and went on playing at nursemaid until I was plumb scared that
I'd be sprouting a cap of ribbons. Anyway, I didn't have time to think
until the evening train pulled into Grave City. By that time my three
babies were dancing a fandango upon the roof of the car. When the train
stopped I hauled them down by the legs, petted them some with my boot,
and told them to go away home. They went, with a bet between them, which
would be first at my ranch.

Just for the sake of peace and quietness I stayed that night in Grave
City, and sat around next morning smoking long cigars while I made my
poor brain think. There were points in Jim's letter, and facts I had
picked up casual at Lordsburgh, and words of gossip dropped in the
hotel; but to put them all together would have puzzled a large-sized
judge. Still, by all the tracks, the signs, the signals, and the little
smells, I reckoned that Mr. Ryan was mighty near reaching a crisis, and
apt to break out sudden as dynamite. First, here was Sheriff Bryant with
two deputies, his wife, and a medicine-man, camped down at Holy Cross.
Now Bryant would scarcely take deputy-sheriffs down there to nurse a
sick lady. Had Holy Cross been seized at last for Balshannon's debts?
That smelt of Ryan.

Secondly, Jim had gone to heaps of trouble gathering all the
breeding-stock of Holy Cross, for a party named Jabez Y. Stone to steal
them convenient. Jabez Y. had once been a bar-tender in Ryan's
hotel--so that smelt of Ryan, too.

Thirdly, here was poor Balshannon being held with a string round his leg
at the Sepulchre saloon, by the two crookedest gamblers in Arizona, the
same being Low-Lived Joe and Louisiana Pete. Once, Joe, being gaoled for
killing a Mexican, Ryan had put up money for a lawyer to get him
released. So if these two thugs were instructed to hold and skin the
Dook, that likewise smelt strong of Ryan.

Fourthly, here was young Michael Ryan in his private car from New York,
burning the rails to reach Grave City by ten o'clock this night. The
smell of Ryan surely tainted the whole landscape. Now just throw back to
the words of Ryan's letter which fourteen long years before he had
nailed upon the door of Holy Cross:--

     "The time will come when, driven from this your new home, without a
     roof to cover you or a crust to eat, your wife and son turned out
     to die in the desert, you will beg for even so much as a drink of
     water, and it will be thrown in your face. I shall not die until I
     have seen the end of your accursed house."

So this was Ryan's plan--the work of fourteen years; industrious a whole
lot, and plenty treacherous, but coming surely true. He had waited until
he knew the lady was mostly dead, then turned her out of Holy Cross to
die in the desert. The cattle were stolen, Balshannon was tied down for
slaughter, and Michael would come to see the finish at ten o'clock
to-night.

I began to reckon up Balshannon's friends, cowboys and robbers mostly,
scattered anyway across the big range of the desert. They would not hear
me if I howled for help.

But Ryan was respectable. He was Chairman of the Committee of Public
Safety which lynched bad men when they became too prevalent with their
guns. Ryan was our leading citizen, heaps rich, and virtuous no end. The
Law would side with him, and as to the officers of the law, judges, and
City Marshal, and the police--they'd got elected because he spoke for
them. He owned the city, could bring out hundreds of men to take his
side. What could I do against this Ryan's friends?

I knew that young Curly was hid in Grave City somewheres, and after a
search I found him. The boy was so disguised he hardly knew himself.

"Chalkeye," says he, "you want a talk?" He looked sort of scared and
anxious.

"I do."

"If Ryan's folk see you making talk with me, they'll think there's some
new plot against the white men. Just you watch where I go, and follow
casual."

He led me to a little room he rented over a barber's shop, and looking
from the window I noticed that Ryan's hotel was just across the street.
Curly left the room door open, because he didn't want any spy to use the
keyhole.

"Now," says he, "make yo' voice tame, or we'll be overheard. Don't show
yo'self off at that window, but keep your eyes skinned thar, while I
watch the stairs. What is yo' trouble?"

"Whar are yo' range wolves?"

"They're a whole lot absent," says Curly.

"Cayn't you trust me?"

"I ain't trusting even myself." He looked fearful worried.

"You know that Ryan has seized Holy Cross?"

"This mawning, yes."

"And that Ryan has stolen all their breeding-stock?"

"Yesterday that was."

"And that yo' father dressed himself up as a preacher, and warned Jim?"

"They met up five mile south of Lordsburgh. Yessir."

"And that Balshannon is tied up here?"

"To be butchered this evening. Well?"

"Curly, I want the range wolves to save Balshannon."

"The range wolves has another engagement, seh."

"You know all about this, Curly! Cayn't you trust me to help?"

"We want no help, I reckon."

I turned my tongue loose then, and surely burned young Curly.

"Don't talk so loud, ole Chalkeye, but say some more!" he laughed. "I
could set around to listen to you all day. Turn yo' wolf loose, for it's
shorely yo' time to howl."

That dried me up cold and sudden, for I had been acting youthful, and
Curly had got responsible, maybe elderly with me, the same being
ridiculous seeing how small the boy was.

"Yo're through with yo' prayers, Chalkeye? Some comforted, eh? You ole
ring-tailed snorter, cayn't you understand? We ain't going to have you
mixed up with us range wolves, and branded for an outlaw. We want you to
keep good, and be a whole lot respectable right along. Then you can stay
around in this man's town, walk in the open with a proud tail, and show
the Ryan outfit that Balshannon has one friend who ain't no robber."

Then I understood.

"Now," says Curly, "hear my lil' voice, for I'm goin' to prophesy. You
know that Ryan reckons to have young Michael here for Balshannon's
funeral? Suppose this Michael don't transpire to-night? Suppose the
train comes in with news of a horrible shocking outrage? Suppose them
mean, or'nary robbers has stole a millionaire? Suppose--well, just you
wait for Ryan's yell when he hears what's done happened to his petted
offspring. He'll surely forget there's any Balshannon to kill. Just you
wait peaceful, and when the town turns out to rescue that poor stolen
maverick you want to ride in and collect Balshannon."

Opposite in the hotel piazza I watched old Ryan and the City Marshal
having a mint julep together at one of the tables.

"You hear that hawss?" says Curly, and far off I heard a horse come
thundering. Soon the rider swung into sight, pitching the dust high,
until he came abreast of my window, and saw the City Marshal in the
piazza.

"Marshal," I heard him calling, "the wire to Bisley has been cut."

"Is that so?"

"The City Marshal at Bisley wants your help."

"What's the trouble?"

"You Ryan, your partner Jim Fiskin has been held up on the Mule Pass by
robbers. Marshal, the message is for you to bring a posse swift to the
nigh end of the pass, so as the Bisley people can drive the robbers
under your guns."

"Good," says the Marshal, belting up his gun, "I'll be thar."

"It would be an awful pity," says Curly behind my shoulder, "if our City
Marshal and his posse of men got called away on a false scent, while
the wicked robbers up north were stealing a millionaire."

That youngster was wiser than me.



CHAPTER X

STORM GATHERING


It's a whole lot interesting to see how different sorts of people put up
a fight. Cat, she spits, and proceeds with claws; dog, he says no
remarks, but opens up with teeth; horse, he's mighty swift to paw; bull,
he hooks; bear, he hugs affectionate while he eats your face; Frenchman,
he pokes with a sword; German, he slashes; Spaniard, he throws his
knife; nigger, he barbers around with a razor: and all of us have the
same feelings to express in some heartfelt sudden way. If you're looking
for trouble with Mr. Cowboy, you want to tame yourself and get pretty
near absent before he shoots. But at present my mind is set on
Britishers, which is a complicated tribe, and they sure fight most
various.

When Mr. Britisher is merely feeling good and wants to loose out his joy
with a little wholesome scrap, he naturally hates to kill his man first
lick--that would spoil future sport. So if he's Irish he turns himself
loose with a club, or if he's Scotch or English he feels for the other
man with a hard paw. That relieves him, and does no harm. But sometimes
he feels real warlike. There's nobody special he wants to kill, his
small home tribe has nothing to spare for burial, and yet he must have
war. That's why his government keeps proper hunting preserves, well
stocked with assorted barbarians over seas. Some of these savages are
sure to be wanting a fight, so Mr. Britisher obliges, and comes along
hot with rifles and Maxim guns. Savages are plenty, so that if a few get
spoilt they'll never be missed. "It's good for them," says Mr.
Britisher, "and it saves the crockery from being smashed at home."

So you see how Mr. Britisher may have his peaceful scrapping with
another boy, or go play with his savages when they want a licking; but
he's serious none--just laughs and shakes hands afterwards. But what
does he do when he feels real awful and dangerous? Civilised folk like
us Americans, feeling as bad as that, turn loose the guns, and wipe each
other out to a finish. Other people may prefer swords or battering-rams,
or a tilt with locomotive engines, or cannon loaded with buffalo horns,
or dynamite at ten paces; but all that would feel too tame for Mr.
Britisher. No, he puts on his war paint--black suit and top hat most
hideous--calls on his lawyer in a frantic passion, and goes to law!

Now look, see how these two families, the du Chesnays and the Ryans,
went to law. They came of the best fighting-stock on earth; they were
whole-blooded Irish, but they went to law. The du Chesnays turned the
Ryans out of their home and country, which was bad. Then the Ryans did
worse: lay low and waited bitter years, gathered their strength, and
struck from behind--the cowards! Old Ryan got his enemy corrupted with
drink and gambling, stole all his cattle, left him helpless to fight,
then seized the home to try and turn a dying lady into the desert. He
kept within the law, but there was not an honest card in his whole game.
It was foul play, and I for one don't blame poor Jim for wanting no more
law in the fight with Ryan.

And yet I reckon that after the first fifty miles of his trail that day
Jim's main thoughts were about the dinner he didn't have, and by sundown
he quit caring who was dead and who was ruined, as he racked on, with
aching bones and a played horse. It was nigh dark when he raised the
Toughnut Mine at Grave City against the red of dusk. Around him lay the
rolling yellow swell of the hot grass, clumps of scorched cactus,
blistered hills of rock; before him the mine-heads and the roofs with
sparkling streaks of blue electric lamps. He jockeyed his worn horse
past the Jim Crow Mine, and the house where my cousins lived, the Misses
Jameson, then on through scattered suburbs, till swinging round the
corner into the main street he rolled at a canter for the stable-yard.

Abreast of the Sepulchre saloon he heard his name called, and reined up
sharp to speak with the small stable-boy from Ryan's "livery," who came
limping out to meet him through the dust.

"Say, kid"--he leaned over in the saddle, well-nigh falling--"where
shall I find the Duke?"

The little one-eyed cripple jerked his thumb back at the Sepulchre
saloon. "The Dook's in thar," he answered.

Jim rolled from the saddle, dropped his rein to the ground, quit his
horse, brushed past the cripple, and went on without a word. He was so
stiff he could hardly walk, so dead weary that he reeled against the
swing-doors trying to get them open. The cripple helped him, and he
staggered in. The place was crowded, but the clash of his spurs along
the floor made several punchers turn round lazy, asking him to drink,
because he belonged to their tribe. Two of the cowboys grabbed him, but
he broke away, and went on.

Beyond the bar on the right were the gambling-tables, each with its
crowd of players, and at the third Jim saw Louisiana on a high seat
watching for Low-Lived Joe, his partner, who dealt the game. Opposite
them he found his father, then pushed his way through the crowd to
Balshannon's side. The ivory chips were piled breast high in front of
him, for play had been high, and the Dook had had a run of luck.

The boy watched his father's face flushed high with excitement, his
feverish eyes, his twitching lips, and restless fingers at play with the
round ivory counters which stood for five thousand dollars won since
supper-time. Opposite he looked up at Louisiana on the high seat, all
bald-faced shirt and diamonds, guarding his stacks of gold coin with a
revolver. Low-Lived Joe faced up a card on the deck, and passed some
chips to Balshannon. The rest of the players had quit to watch the big
game through.

"Father, I want you," says he.

"Well, Jim," says Balshannon, "what's the trouble?" He never looked up.

But the boy was shaking all over. "Father, come, I want you."

The Dook staked, then rolled a cigarette. "Don't bother me, Jim," says
he, "you'll spoil the run. We can't do anything, boy, for we've lost
those cattle."

"Ryan has seized the ranche, the sheriff's there! Come out!"

Balshannon quivered, but Joe shoved him a pile of blue chips.

"So Santa Cruz is gone?" Balshannon drawled, and doubled his stake.
"Well, how's your mother?"

"Dead!"

Balshannon went grey, the cigarette dropped from his fingers. "Dead,"
he muttered, "dead." Then he looked up with a sort of queer smile.
"Anything else?" he asked quite cheerfully.

"Say, Dook," said Louisiana, "I'd hate to see you struck from not
watching yo' game."

"Thanks, Pete." Balshannon staked out the whole of his winnings, then
picked up the cigarette, struck a match, and lighted it slowly.

"Come home!" the boy was whispering. "Come home!"

Jim saw the tears rolling down his father's face, and splashing on the
chips. "What's the use, my boy?" he said very softly. "Would that bring
your mother back?"

"Come home! Come home!"

"I'm winning back our home!"

Then Low-Lived Joe drew a card, and as the boy went staggering away a
great yell went up. Balshannon was winning back his home.

Jim says he felt sick when he quit his father, cold down the back, and
the floor was all aslant and spinning round. Then everything went black,
and he dropped.

When he woke up he felt much better, lying flat on the floor with iced
water trickling over his face. That little one-eyed cripple was feeding
brandy to him.

"Here's luck!" he gulped, "that's all right--where's my hat?"

"Come out," says little Crook, "you need fresh air."

Jim got up, and wriggled loose, because he hated being pawed, then led
the way out past the three fiddlers and the wheezing old harmonium to
the door. Outside there was clear blue moonlight. "Where's my horse?"
says he.

Crook was lighting a cigarette. "Yo' hawss," says he, "is in the stable.
He's unsaddled, rubbed down, watered and fed, befo' now. I reckon you
want to be watered and fed yo'self."

"No, kid, I'm not feeling proud enough for that."

"Come on, then," says Crook, "and watch me eat. I'm just a lil' wolf
inside, and if I cayn't feed I'll howl."

They went to the pie foundry round the corner, and when Jim saw Crook
eat he surely got ravenous. They both fed tree and severe, then strayed
back heavy to the street in front of the Sepulchre saloon.

"Sit on yo' tail," says Crook, "and I'll feed you a cigarette." So they
sat down on the sidewalk, and Jim yawned two yards and a quarter at one
stretch.

"I cal'late," says Crook, "that yo' goin' to be riding to-night, so I
had yo' saddle thrown on my buckskin mare."

"I'll be riding my bed on the sleep-trail."

"Riding a hawss, I reckon"--Crook bent forward, pulling up his boot legs
by the tags--"and me too and the Dook. Our hawsses are waiting for us
at the back door of this saloon. You understand?"

"I don't," says Jim. "Do you know, youngster, that only this morning I
buried my mother, then I rode a hundred miles, and if Arizona freezes
over to-night we'll go skating for all I care."

"Say, if the Dook gets shot up to-night will you be a lord?"

Jim laughed sort of patronising because he liked the youngster's cheek.
"My father isn't pining for any such thing to-night."

"But suppose he went daid, would you be a lord?"

"I'd be Jim du Chesnay, riding for whatever wages I'm worth. A lord!
what's the use of that?"

"But it must be fine!"

"It may be good enough for my father, but he's Irish, and he doesn't
know any better. I'm an American."

"But still you'd be a lord."

"Would my lordship keep my pony from stumbling in front of a stampede of
cattle? Would it save my scalp from Apaches, or help my little calves
when the mountain lions want meat? Does my blood protect me from
rattlesnakes, or Ryans, or skunks?"

"But there's the big land grant yo' people owns over in Ireland."

"It's tied up with entail, whatever that means, and there's no money in
it, anyway. My tail in the old country doesn't save me from being galled
in the saddle here, and I'm awfully tired."

"Same here, seh. I'm weary some myself. Yo' gun is loaded?"

Jim pawed his revolver. "Yes."

"Take some more," said Crook, and passed over a handful of cartridges to
fill Jim's belt. Jim saw that the cripple was armed.

"Why do you talk," says he, "about horses waiting for us, and the need
of guns, and father getting killed? What's the trouble, my lad?"

"The trouble is that Ryan has hired that gambling outfit to skin the
Dook to-night. There's men standing round to see he don't leave that
house alive. Now, look along the street here to the left, across at the
Mortuary Hotel. You see old Ryan settin' there?"

"I do."

"He's waiting for his son, the millionaire, young Michael. He's due with
his private cyar at ten o'clock. If Michael comes--if he comes, I
say--his father reckons to bring him over to call on yo' father here at
the 'Sepulchre.' That's why the Dook is bein' skinned, and that's why
Ryan's men are watching to see he don't escape alive."

"But what does Ryan want? He's got our breeding cattle, he's taken
Holy Cross, my mother's gone--we've nothing left to take."

"You have yo' lives, you and the Dook. Ryan and his outfit allow they'll
wipe you out when Michael comes."

"Is that all?" Jim laughed. "They're thoughtful and painstaking, anyway.
By the way, I don't know that my father and I have been shrieking for
help as yet."

"If you were the kind of people to make a big song when yo're hurt, I
reckon that we-all would jest leave you squeal."

"And who is we-all? You've acted like a white man to-night, looking
after my poor roan and me like a little brother. But why should you
care, young chap? I've never seen you before in my life; I don't even
know your name."

"My name is Crook; I works at the stable."

"But why should you interfere? You may get hurt. I wouldn't like that,
youngster."

"Wall, partner"--Crook shuffled a whole lot nervous--"I got a message
for you from the boys. The Dook's had nothing but greasers working for
him, and that's rough on us white men, but still he's surely good. He's
dead straight, he don't wear no frills, and many a po' puncher, broke,
hungry, half daid of thirst, has been treated like a son at Holy Crawss.
We don't amount to much--'cept when you want an enemy or a friend--but
our tribe is right into this fight a whole heap, for them Ryans is
dirt; and if they comes up agin you to-night I expaict there'll be
gun-play first."

"Well, kid," said Jim, yawning with a big mouth, "I wish they'd put it
off until to-morrow."

"Yo' eyes is like boiled aigs. Try a cigarette to keep you awake."

"Can't we get my father away from this house?"

"Not till the train comes in."

"What's that got to do with me?"

"Ask no more questions--wait."

"You say that Michael Ryan's due at ten?"

"If they lets him come."

"Suppose he comes?"

"Then nothing can save yo' father, nothing on airth."

As he spoke the sharp screech of the engine rang out from behind the
curve, and with all its lights aflash the train rolled in.



CHAPTER XI

THE GUN-FIGHT


Before supper that evening a passing traveller carried a letter to my
ranche, and when my boys found out that there was going to be trouble in
town they surely flirted gravel for fear of arriving too late. I placed
them at a convenient saloon, explained my plans, made them swear that
they would not stray. Then I went to Curly's room, and lay low, showing
no light, but watching the Mortuary Hotel just across the street.

Ryan sat there in his piazza, ruddy and full, broad and bald as a barn,
a ripe man with a grey chin beard. Yes, he was a cheery old soul,
popular with the crowd, a power in local politics, well qualified on the
outside of him for paradise, and in the innards of him for the other
place. I covered him with my gun, and wondered where he would go to when
he died. I expect he would be craving then for some of that lager beer
he sipped so peaceful, and for the palm-leaf fan which he used to brush
off the heat.

Away off to the right I could see Jim sitting on the sidewalk in front
of the "Sepulchre." Little Crook was feeding brandy to him, and
cigarettes to keep him away from sleep. Then the train came rumbling in,
let out a screech, and stopped. It made me laugh to think what a big
hurroar there would be presently when the news got wind of that train
being held up by robbers, and Mr. Michael Ryan led away captive.

Yet there seemed to be no excitement. The usual buses and buggies came
up from the station, the ordinary crowd of loafers, and then our only
cab, which crawled to the "Mortuary" to drop one passenger. He was a fat
young man, dressed most surprising in a stove-pipe hat, a Jew fur coat,
gloves, and a smart valise. If any of our cowboys had happened around,
they would have fired a shot for luck to see if he wasn't some new kind
of bird, but old Ryan came down the steps with a roar of welcome.

"Michael!" he shouted, "where's your palace car? Have you sunk so low as
to come in a mere cab? Oh, Mike!"

I could hear Mr. Michael explaining that something was wrong with the
car, so he'd had to leave her at Lordsburgh for repairs. Of course, the
robbers, not seeing the private car, had concluded that their prey had
failed to arrive and the train was not worth attacking.

Now Michael had arrived, and after a talk and a drink with his father,
these two would stroll over to finish the family vengeance on poor
Balshannon. As far as we had missed getting help from the range wolves,
so matters were getting mighty serious.

I slipped away to my men.

"Boys," says I, "we got to play at robbers to-night, I reckon, but I
don't want you-all to get recognised. We may be bucking up against the
law, and get ourselves disliked if we ain't cautious." So I took a big
black silk handkerchief and cut it up into strips. "When the shooting
begins," says I, "just you tie these round your heads to hide yo' homely
faces. Now get yo' horses and come swift."

I posted the three in the small alley which ran between the "Sepulchre"
saloon and the post office beyond it. Then I went out to guard
Balshannon. Being naturally a timid and cautious man, I had a brace of
revolvers belted on ready for trouble.

Meanwhile young Crook in the front of the house was sitting all doubled
up with grief at the sight of Michael Ryan.

"Boy," says Jim, "what's the matter?"

"Nothin'."

"How is it, young un, that you know all about my father's affairs and
mine?"

"I expaict," says that one-eyed cripple, "that working my job at the
livery I'd oughter know what comes and goes around heah."

"Is that why you're there--to watch?"

Crook went white at that. "You're dreaming," says he, very faint.

"And you're lending me the buckskin running mare for to-night. I've
heard of that mare. Is that the sort of thing to lend to a stranger?"

"Well, seh, even a hired man may have his private feelings."

"Look here, youngster, I've seen you before, and I remember you now.
When I saw you once at Holy Cross you had two eyes in your head, and you
weren't a cripple."

Suddenly Jim snatched away the black pad which was slung over Crook's
disabled eye. Two good eyes shone out, and over one of them the scar of
an old wound. Jim laughed at that, but Crook forgot to be lame, starting
back lithe as a panther and his face dead white.

"Be careful!" he whispered, "there's men passing us! My life ain't worth
a cent if I'm seen heah in town." He had the sling across his eye again
and broke out laughing. "I mean the doctor says I got to keep it
covered, or I'll go blind--and a blind man's life ain't worth one cent
in the dollar."

"Quit lying! You're posted at the stable to see who comes and goes, one
eye in a sling and one game leg for disguise. Come here!"

Jim dragged him by the scruff of the neck to the post office, which
stood next door to the saloon, with only the alley between, and there
was an old poster notice on the wall:--

     "NOTICE.

     "The Northern Pacific and Wells Fargo Express Companies offer
     ($2,000) two thousand dollars,

     DEAD OR ALIVE,

     for the four robbers who held up the Northern Pacific Express train
     at Gold Creek, Deer Lodge County, Montana, on the morning of April
     3rd, 1899. Descriptions:--

     "Peter, _alias_ Bobby Stark, _alias_ Curly McCalmont, supposed to
     be son of Captain McCalmont, is five feet six inches in height,
     slim, fair hair, blue eyes, clean-shaven, soft girlish manner, with
     a scar over left eye, the result of a knife wound. He is about
     twenty years of age, but looks not more than fifteen, and was
     formerly a cowboy, riding for the Holy Cross Outfit in Arizona. He
     was last seen on or about May 5th, at Clay Flat, in the Painted
     Desert, with a flea-bitten grey gelding branded x on the near
     stifle, and two led burros, one of them packed."

Jim turned round sharp on Crook. "You're Curly McCalmont!" says he.

"Come away--yo' risking my neck."

"Do you think I'd sell you for that dirty money?"

"What you seen, others may, and they'd act haidstrong."

"All right, Curly. Don't you forget to walk lame."

"Hist! Heah come the Ryans!"

The two youngsters came hurrying into the saloon, where I stood watching
Balshannon while he lost the last of his money. Jim clutched me by the
arm, whispering something, but I did not catch what he said, for Curly
was making a last play to get Balshannon from the tables.

"You quit," said he, "befo' yo're too late, patrone."

"It's too late now," says Balshannon; "what's the good?"

"It's not too late to save yo' life. Come quick!"

"So," says Balshannon, looking up sort of surprised, "you think you can
er--_frighten_ me?"

Louisiana was leaning forward across the table. "Look a-here, Crook,"
says he, "you can play, or you can get right out, but you don't
interrupt this game." And Curly was hustled aside by Ryan's watchers.

"Now, Joe," the patrone was saying, "let's finish this."

He staked his last chips and lost, then got up with a little sigh,
thinking, I reckon, of his wife, his ranche, his cattle.

"I'm kind of sorry, Dook," says Louisiana.

"So am I, a little," Balshannon chuckled.

"I think," says the gambler, stacking away his great big heaps of gold
and silver coin--"I think that----"

"You are fortunate, Pete," Balshannon answered lightly, "I dare not
think."

"I'm closing the game for to-night," says Louisiana.

"I'm closing the game to-night," says Lord Balshannon.

He took a cigarette-case from his pocket, but found it empty, felt in
his shabby old clothes for money, then turned away with a queer little
laugh of his which made me ache.

Outside in the street I heard a hand-bell clang, and took notice through
the tail of my eye that the room was filling with all the worst men in
that bad town of ours. There was the Alabama Kid, and beside him Shorty
Broach, stage robber and thug, Beef Jones, the horse-thief, Gas, a
tin-horn crook, Thimble-Rig Phipps, and two or three other sure-thing
gamblers, rollers, and thugs. I went over to the front end of the house,
where the orchestra were packing up to quit, and there at the far corner
of the bar were old Ryan and Michael standing drinks to the crowd. Yes,
the game was being set sure enough. I saw Low-Lived Joe hurry past me
and speak in a whisper to Ryan, and at that Balshannon's enemy stood out
to the front of his gang. All the scrubs and skin-game men were
drifting into that corner behind him, until there must have been perhaps
thirty gathered, loosing their guns to be ready.

By the faro tables were Jim and Curly trying to get Balshannon out of
the house, but he broke away, and they followed until he came to the
inner end of the bar. Then they stood back a little, while he waited to
be served.

"Here, Bill!" he called out cheerfully.

A bar-keep quit the Ryans and went to serve him. "Well," says he, heaps
insolent, "what do you want?"

The patrone looked at him smiling. "You seem out of sorts, Bill; have a
drink with me. I'll take a whisky."

The bar-keep glared at him.

"Oh, by the way," says Balshannon, "I'll have to square up for this
to-morrow morning."

"Terms cash," says the bar-keep.

"Really?" Balshannon smiled at his ugly face. "Oh, of course--your
orders, eh? Well, never mind. You're so polite, Bill, that--er--that
just by way of thanks I'll ask you to accept this little token." He
chucked him the silver cigarette-case and turned away from the bar.

But I was bull-roaring mad. "Patrone," says I, "patrone, I owe you heaps
of money. Here, take this!"

But Balshannon laid both his hands upon my shoulders, smiling right into
my eyes. "Dear friend," he said, "you know I could not take money, even
from you."

A thick voice was calling from the other end of the bar: "Here,
bar-keep, you give this man a drink!"

Then the patrone looked round. "Ah, Ryan, eh?" He walked straight up to
his enemy. "I'll drink with you gladly, Ryan. Suppose we forget the
past, and try to be good--er--friends, eh?" He held out his hand, but
Ryan took no notice. "Hello, I see your son is with you, Ryan. Good
evening, Michael."

Michael just stared at him.

The people who had no interest in the trouble must have seen drawn guns
before now, because I heard them breaking rapid for cover. The scrub
which belonged to Ryan was formed up behind him for war, while back of
Balshannon stood only Jim and Curly with the whole rear part of the room
behind them empty. The two youngsters seemed to be having baby troubles,
for Curly was struggling powerful to break away from Jim.

"I got to," he shouted, "I cayn't see to shoot!" Then he jumped clear.
He had disremembered about being a cripple, he had torn the bandage away
from his eye, and over the left brow, clear for all men to see, was his
brand, the knife wound! At that a yell went up from Ryan's crowd, and
some of his men surged forward, Louisiana and Low-Lived Joe in the lead.

I jumped straight at them with my brace of guns.

"Back!" shouted Ryan, holding them back with both arms. "Back! What's
your hurry? Wait!"

"Come on!" came Curly's clear high yell. "Two thousand dollars daid or
alive if you take me! I'm a sure wolf, and it's my night to howl, you
cowards! I'm Curly McCalmont of the Robbers' Roost! Take me who can!"

Curly had gone plumb crazy, throwing his life away to get Balshannon one
more chance of escape, but the crooks only saw that the small boy's team
of guns were quick in his hands to shoot, and felt real glad of Ryan's
outstretched arms. So came the lull, and I heard the bar-keep clashing
down bottle and glass beside Balshannon.

"Whisky," says he in a shaky voice, "and yours, Mr. Ryan?"

"Irish," said Ryan, then whispered to his son, who hauled clumsy,
getting out his silver-plated pop-shooter, a thing more fit for a girl
than a grown man.

I like to think of my old patrone in those last moments of his life, as
he stood at the end of the bar, quiet peaceful, facing Ryan. He was a
tall, straight man, gaunt some, dead weary, but the only clean thing in
sight. The grey moustache raked up against the red tan of his face, his
hair was curling silver, his eyes cool blue. He seemed to be amused with
the Ryans, and as to weapons, he just despised a gun. Then he heard the
clash of his son's spurs just behind him. "Good-bye," I heard him
whisper. "God bless you, Jim."

I reckon Jim was crying.

Ryan had swung forward along the bar, and reached for Balshannon's empty
glass. "Here, take your drink," he shouted, "the drink you begged for!"

Balshannon stepped aside while Ryan filled the glass for him to drink.
"Thank you," he said. But Ryan snatched the full glass, jumped back,
swung out his arm--"Take that!" he yelled, and threw the glass straight
at Balshannon's face.

The patrone took a handkerchief and wiped his face, slow and dainty, but
the blood was starting where the glass had struck. "I'm sorry," he said,
"that it should come to this, but as you are not in condition, Mr. Ryan,
to fight, I must ask you, Mr. Michael Ryan, to oblige me."

"Fight?" yelled Ryan. "Fight a thing like you? Not much! Back, Michael!
My Lord Balshannon," he sneered, "do you think my son would demean
himself to fight you?"

"I observe," said Balshannon kindly, "that he seems to be rather warm in
that fur overcoat."

The crowd broke out laughing, half ready, I felt then to take the
weaker side against a coward. The patrone was so surely great, so much a
man, so helpless--death in his eyes, peace on his smiling lips; and the
Ryans in furs and jewellery looked such curs.

I had stepped back against the wall, facing the middle of the bar. On
the right was the Ryan gang, on the left Balshannon, behind me the row
of windows which looked on the alley-way where my men lay hid. I rapped
soft with my knuckles on the window just at my right hand.

"Say, Chalkeye!" Louisiana was hailing me. "Why don't you stand by the
Dook? Have you gone back on the Dook?"

"I stand here, Pete," said I, "to see fair play."

Then Ryan broke in on me.

"Boys," he said, "we don't need Chalkeye Davies to judge our play. You
know me, all of you; you know my record, and what I've done for our
city. I've not asked you here, citizens, to see murder, or fighting of
any sort, but to witness an act of justice done by this Lord Balshannon
on himself."

The crowd kept still, remembering that our leading citizen had acted
straight for our city, and had a right to be heard.

"Now you shall judge as citizens," said Ryan, "between this man and me.
For a thousand years my people, the Ryans, had land and homes in
Oireland, until the Balshannons came over with bloody Cromwell to steal
our little holdings by force of ar-r-ms. We were overpowered, we were
forced to pay rent to the tyrants, but we were free men, not slaves; we
are free men to-day, and we have fought for liberty.

"Look at this last Balshannon, this man who once tried to get me hung on
a false charge, this cowardly, brutal ruffian, who drove me and all my
people out of our homes to die in the bitter cold. Think of our women
starving to death in the snow-drifts--and, if you doubt me, go and ask
me wife. We were driven, she and I, and all our people, out of the land
we loved, out of Erin, beggared, hopeless, despairing exiles. Out on the
black Atlantic we had to bury one of my little children in the
sea--there stands the murderer! Do you blame me, citizens, for wanting
vengeance?"

"Dook," says the Alabama Kid, "suppose we hear your side?"

"You'll hear my side," says Lord Balshannon, "from Ryan. This is his
court--of--er--justice." Then he wiped the running blood from his cheek,
and yawned behind his hand. Even Ryan's men began to look ashamed of
such a court.

"Vengeance!" Ryan was howling; "vengeance with the Apaches first--I
turned them loose on your camp! Vengeance with McCalmont's robbers--I
turned them loose on your ranche!"

Balshannon swung half round and grasped Curly McCalmont's hand. We saw
his back shaking with laughter, but when he faced Ryan again he
straightened his lips. "Excuse me," he said, "go on."

But the crowd remembered how McCalmont's wolves had breakfasted with
Ryan after that little dinner at Holy Cross. They howled with laughter.

"You may laugh!" yelled Ryan; "laugh, you hounds!" but Balshannon lifted
his hand, and the crowd were silent.

"Yes, I failed," said Ryan. "I had to wait--I waited--but what I
couldn't do you did for yourself; yes, you, Balshannon, drinking and
gambling here while your forsaken wife lay dying yonder! I had only to
find a few friends to lend you me money, and sharpers to be after
rooking you of all you borrowed. Yes, that was me vengeance; can you say
that failed? Where is your big estate? Where are your cattle? Where is
your wife?"

Balshannon's face had gone dead with pain, but he never flinched.

"And now," Ryan shouted at him, "you beggared gambler, you broken,
shaking drunkard, you shall finish this vengeance on yourself, which you
began, which needs no hand of mine! Here!" He ran forward, and jammed a
long knife into Balshannon's hand. "Finish! Kill yourself, and have
done, for shure an' you're not fit to live, ye filthy beast!"

Balshannon was reeling, faint, sick, clinging to the bar for support.

"Boys," I shouted, "if Ryan's a man, let him fight. Stand aside, give
him room, give him a gun. Patrone, take this gun!" I jumped to his side,
jammed one of my revolvers into his hand, then leapt back to my place by
the wall. Ryan's tin-horn pets had deserted him; even his son, scared to
death, had slunk away.

"Help!" Ryan was screaming. "Murther!" But a gun was thrust into his
hand, and his own hired thugs shoved him forward to fight Balshannon.

"When I call 'Three!'" I shouted, and saw Balshannon stand like a man,
cool, steady.

"One, two, three!"

Ryan fired and missed before my second call, but at the "Three"
Balshannon's gun blazed out. I saw a little black hole between Ryan's
eyes, and he fell forward all in a heap, stone dead.

I reckon that for years I'd been heaps virtuous keeping my quick gun off
Balshannon's meat, so now I was full of joy because the patrone had
finished up all the unpleasantness and made peace without loss or
damage. No grown responsible man had any quarrel left.

But then my youngsters weren't grown up a bit, nor responsible, nor
anything else, but rattled with a gun-fight too rich for their blood.
Curly was scared all to pieces, Jim was right off his head, and as to
my three kids outside the window, they had no sense anyways at their
best. I ought to have thought of that before; it was too late now.

What matter if young Michael eased his feelings by empting off his toy
at the patrone? His pellets chipped the ceiling, and did him credit for
a pious son, but only got a laugh from Balshannon. Michael just went on
popping ostentatious, so Balshannon showed he bore no malice by throwing
his own gun on the bar. Then somebody called out for drinks as a sign of
peace.

But Jim only saw his father being attacked, and he surely never had a
sense of humour. He turned his wolf-howl loose, and broke his gun-arm
free from Curly's hold, then started splashing lead at Michael Ryan. I
saw some fur fly off from the Jew coat, and the next shot dispersed
young Michael's hat, but the third struck Low-Lived Joe on the shoulder.

Then there was surely war, for Louisiana loved that Joe more than
anything else on earth, and all his friends lashed out their guns. Curly
knelt quick below the blast of lead, and Jim leapt sudden behind the end
of the bar, but in a blaze of flame and rolling smoke I saw Balshannon
clutch both hands to his heart, then swing half round and fall.

It must have been then that poor Curly fired the two shots which killed
Louisiana and Beef Jones, the horse thief. It must have been then that
the window close beside me fell with a crash of glass upon the floor,
and my three men, all masked, with guns and rifles poured red-hot
slaughter into the Ryan crowd. That was bad, but I felt grateful then,
while one by one I shot out the swinging lamps which lit the smoke.
There were five, making so many shades of deeper gloom, and then dead
blackness pierced by flaming guns, and at the end of that silence, with
a patter of running feet, the groan of a dying man.



CHAPTER XII

THE CITY BOILING OVER


Once I remember seeing an old bear roped in the desert by cowboys, and
dragged by the scruff of his neck into the fierce electric glare of a
Western city. Some female tourists said he looked dreadful rough, a
school ma'am squealed out he was dangerous, a preacher allowed he was
savage, but nobody made excuses for that old bear. Now I reckon that I'm
just like Mr. Bear, dragged sudden off the range into the indecent light
of civilization. Nobody is going to make allowances for me if I look
dreadful rough, and savage, and dangerous. I own up I've no excuse. Bear
and I were raised outside the prickly fences of your laws, beyond the
shelter of your respectable customs, exposed to all the heat and cold,
the light and darkness, the good and the bad of life. Bear, he has teeth
and claws, as I have horse and gun; but both of us fight or go dead, for
that is our business. If you're shocked, quit reading; but if you want
more, read on.

When I knew that Balshannon was due to be shot I set a trap, and all the
desperadoes at Grave City walked right into it. I had the men picked out
who would make a good loss, sent out the invitations to them in Ryan's
name, and had a hand-bell clanged to call them in for the ceremonies. If
Ryan only played fair there would be no killing, but if he acted foul
there was going to be a sure enough massacre. Why, it was only right
that on the death of a great chief like Balshannon servants should go
with him to the other world. That was all known to my three masked men
in ambush, and when Ryan acted foul he was sent with Louisiana, Beef
Jones, and four others, all desperadoes, to wait upon Balshannon--beyond
the flames and smoke of his funeral honours.

For a naturally cautious and timid man I took fool risks in exposing
Curly to that danger; but honest range-raised fighters are more than a
match for the drunken town swabs who had to be dispersed. Besides, my
youngsters were not the kind to stay put in a place of safety. After the
fight, if there was one, I knew that the fire-bell would call up the
whole of the citizens, and the news would spread swifter than flames, of
masked robbers attacking a saloon right in the middle of their peaceful
town. They would be displeased, and rather apt to send in their little
account to me, which made me blush to think of, because I lay myself out
to be a modest man.

When I got through with shooting out all the lights my men quit firing
to haul me through the window. Now all four of us were in the
alley-way, between the saloon and the post office, barred off from the
main street by a high gate, while our line of escape was open to the
rear. Being shy of recognition, I tied on a mask, and reloaded my gun,
planning the next move rapid in my head. Then I called off my men to the
tail end of the house, posting one to kill anybody who tried to get out
by my window. I was scheming a raid into the house to rescue Curly and
Jim, but just for a moment my riders hung back scared.

"Come along, you tigers!" says I. There was no need to risk our lives,
for through the black silence of the house came a sudden blaze of guns
and rush of men. Curly and Jim had broken cover at last, so we had only
to let them come, rolling out head over heels in no end of a hurry. As
soon as they were clear we handed in lead to the crowd, stampeded them,
and sprinkled their tails. They were surely discouraged.

The next thing was to mount our horses and reload guns while we rode off
slow. Jim was shaking all over, Curly was sobbing aloud, Monte, one of
my boys, was groaning because a bullet had burned his cheek, Ute
breathing like a gone horse, and Custer making little yelps of joy--all
of us scary as cats with our nerves on the jump, the same being natural
after a red-hot fight. We pulled out by the south end of the city.

"Now," said I, "you, Curly, and you, Jim, light out ahead and keep
a-flying for old Mexico."

Curly howled, "We ain't goin' to leave you!"

I had to make my meaning quick and plain before he knew I was earnest.
As to Jim, I cut his words dead short--and so they quit me streaking off
to the south.

"Now, you-all!" I turned to my tigers.

Custer let out his yelp, and Ute grinned ugly, and both of them thought
all the world of me for getting them into trouble.

"Monte," says I, "go home and fix that wound."

He circled off.

"Well," says I, "if you other two play any more tiger to-night, I'll rip
your lives out. You got to be plumb good citizens, 'cause them people in
the 'Sepulchre' have seen about ten masked robbers, which they'll surely
hunt. So off with them masks quick," and I threw mine in the road.

"Now," says I, "we'll see if the general public is going to help us to
get them robbers and kill them."

So we three trotted grave and innocent up Main Street, where scores of
citizens were saddling, mounting, and gathering, the swift men calling
the laggards. In the lead rode Deputy-Marshal Pedersen, coming on rapid.

"Hello," he called, "you, Chalkeye!"

I swung in beside him. "What's the delay?" says I.

"How many robbers?"

"Ten masked men, come on! They're McCalmont's gang."

Custer and Ute were calling the rest to hustle. "Ten masked robbers,"
they shouted, "heading down for Naco!"

"Thought you was in the 'Sepulchre'!" says Pedersen.

"I was till I'd shot out the lights," says I; "them crazy idiots there
were handing out lead at me."

"Where did you see them robbers?"

"In the back street. They wounded my boy Monte, so I had to send him
home. Say, look at that!"

Ahead on the white road, plain in the moonlight, lay something black, so
I swung down my arm in passing, and took a grab. "What d'ye make of
this, eh, Pedersen?"

"A silk mask," says he. "Thanks, Chalkeye--you've got us on the right
trail, anyways."

"But watch these tracks," say I; "look there--they're quitting the main
road--swing out!"

Curly and Jim had struck straight south down the road, so I pointed the
whole pursuit well off to the right, south-west for Naco, and made
believe I saw another mask among the stones. If dangerous robbers were
hard to see through the moonshine, that was no fault of mine. If the
citizens wanted to go riding out by moonlight, I surely gave them heaps
good exercise.

Meanwhile that Curly was herding Jim down towards the Mexican boundary;
but both the lads were rattled, and their nerves had gone all to smash.
Jim had dumb yearnings to go back and eat up citizens, Curly was trying
to cry with one lip while he laughed with the other. Then Jim told Curly
not to be a coward, and Curly laughed with the tears rolling down his
face.

"I wisht I was daid," he howled, "I wisht I was daid. I done murdered
Beef Jones, and there's his ole hawss a-waiting to take him home. He
loved that hawss."

"And you a robber!" says Jim, mighty scornful. Jim had only courage, a
thing which is usual to all sorts of men and beasts, but Curly had
something bigger--brains, judgment, the lion heart, the eagle sight, the
woman gentleness, a child's own innocence, and heaven's unselfishness.

"I'm a sure coward," he sobbed.

"Brace up, youngster. I saw you kill both Beef and Louisiana, but now
you're gone all rotten."

"Between the eyes, I got Pete between the eyes! I seen his eyes goin' up
all white--the hole between--oh, how I wisht I was daid!"

"Poor little beggar! And one would think this was the first time you'd
ever seen a gun-fight."

"I never seen one, never until now."

"And you McCalmont's son!"

"You needn't let on to him that y'u seen me--human. Wall," he braced
himself up, "I'm only a range wolf, so what's the odds, Jim?"

"Well, what's wrong now?"

"Do you know you're outlawed too? Old Chalkeye masked his riders, he
played robbers, I showed wolf, and you're done branded with the range
wolves now."

Jim swung round in the saddle, looking back at Grave City, a bad sample
surely among cities, but still entitled to wave Old Glory high, the flag
of honest men, of civilisation.

He set his teeth and swung to his trail again.

"If honesty is _that_," says he determinedly, "I'll herd with thieves."

"I don't like the smell of this trail," says Curly, "none. The City
Marshal is riding up from Bisley with his posse. Let's strike west, then
circle the town, then north, to father's camp."

"Come on," says Jim, and swung his horse to the west along a small dead
trail.

"We got to change ourselves," says McCalmont's son, and began to loose
some parcels tied by the strings to his saddle. "I got some clothes for
we-all. Here," he passed over an old leather jacket, a straw sombrero,
and a bottle. "That's cawffee extract," says he, "mixed with a black
drug. I boiled it strong. You rub it over yo' face and neck and paws,
then rig yo'self."

Our people, at any gait in the saddle, are broke to eat dinner, drink
from a bottle, roll a cigarette, or sing a song without being jarred up
like a tenderfoot. So while they trotted slow Jim stained his hide all
black like a greaser _vaquero_, then slung on the _charro_ clothes of a
poor Mexican cowboy.

"Now," says Curly, "you take this moustache and lick the gummy side,
stick it on yo' lip, and remember yo're a Dago. Say, pull up, they'll
know that buckskin mare of mine for sure. There ain't another in the
United States I reckon with white points like her'n. You empty that
bottle, and black her white stockings, quick."

Curly was changing too, for he pulled up the legs of his overalls, then
wriggled them down over his long boots. Then he took Jim's cowboy hat,
and slouched the brim down front like a hayseed boy. He put on a raggy
old jacket, and bulged his lean cheeks out with pads of wool. He looked
a farm boy, and when they rode on, sat like a sack of oats.

"It won't work," says Jim, "here's a big outfit of people sweeping right
down from the north. Our horses are blown, and their snorting will give
us away."

"Dot vash all righd," says Curly.

"That wouldn't pass for German," says Jim, "not even in a fog."

"Shure," says Curly, "is it me forgettin' me nativity? Amn't I Oirish?"

They had entered the Naco trail by this, and were walking their horses
up the hill for Grave City. If the silly kids had obeyed my orders we
should never have seen a hair of them that night. As it was,
Deputy-Marshal Pedersen and I came with full thirty men on top of them.

I don't profess I knew either the Irish hayseed boy or the _vaquero_,
until the black horse, a melancholy plug called Jones which I'd lent
Curly, began to whicker to the grey mare I rode. Pedersen, too, was
mortal suspicious of that buckskin mare with Jim.

"Black points," says he. "That's so--Crook's had white laigs."

"Shure," says Curly, prompt, "an' is it thim robbers ye'd be afther
hunting?"

Pedersen reined up.

"They've passed you, eh?" he called.

"Didn't they shoot me," says Curly, "till I'm kilt entoirely? There was
elivan av thim agin' me and the young feller that was along with me, the
rapscallions, and thim with black masks on their dirthy faces!"

"How long since?"

"Three minutes gone, yer 'anner; and can any of yez tell me if this is
the road to Misther Chalkeye Davies?"

Pedersen had spurred on, and we swept after him, leaving Mr. Curly
McCalmont howling Irish curses because we hadn't pointed him on his
trail to Las Salinas.

We were scarcely gone when a second outfit of five stragglers came
rolling down the trail, headed by Shorty Broach, one of the men who had
been hurt that night in the gun-fight. He always hated Balshannon's
folks worse than snakes; he was heaps eager now for Curly McCalmont's
blood; and the two thousand dollars which went along with it. But worse
than that, this Shorty was a sure plainsman, who never forgot a horse.
Still he went past with his crowd before he saw anything wrong with that
black horse I'd lent, or the buckskin mare Jim was riding. Then he
swung.

"Hold on, boys! Say, I knows that buckskin. That's Crook's buckskin mare
at the livery--here's Curly McCalmont's mare!"

The riders tried to call Shorty off, told him to soak his head,
remembered that Crook's buckskin had white stockings, whereas this
mare's points were black, which made all the difference.

"Them horses is blown, they're run full hard," says Broach; "they've
been surely chased, and I'm due to inquire more."

On that the riders began to circle around, while Curly slung out Irish
by the yard about running away from the robbers.

"Shure," says he, "and it's the Chief of the Police no less we're
talkin' wid."

"Throw up your hands!" says Broach, pointing his gun on Jim, but the
youngster was busy rolling a cigarette.

"Why is that gringo showing off with a gun?" he asked in Spanish. "He
looks so foolish, too!"

"You got to account for that buckskin mare," says Broach, but Jim set in
the cool moonlight and lit his cigarette, taking no notice.

"This greaser is lately an orphan, sorr," says Curly, "an' he's only
goin' innocent for a dhrunk in Grave City--maning no harr-m at all."

"Where did he get that buckskin?"

"It's the 'pitchfork' mare ye'll be maning, sorr?"

At last Jim knew the brand on the mare he was riding.

"Indade," says Curly, "hasn't she got an Holy Crawss brand on the
shoulder as well, sorr? Maybe he stole her there."

"If you want to live, Mr. Greaser, you'll account for that buckskin
mare," Broach threatened again with his gun.

"I understand," says Jim in Spanish, puffing his cigarette at Shorty's
face. "I took this mare in trade at la Morita Custom House on the Line.
A Vaquero Americano could not pay the hundred per cent. duty on his
horse, so I traded with him my Mexican-branded mustang to oblige,
taking this mare. She's branded 'Holy Cross,' rebranded 'pitchfork.'
Perhaps the gentlemen will stand aside--I have explained."

"All very well," said Broach in Spanish, which sounded rough like a
railroad accident, "how do you account for that saddle, Jim du Chesnay's
silver-mounted saddle?"

"Si Señor, the saddle of my young lord el Señor Don Sant Iago, of Holy
Cross. The caballero ordered me to bring these, that he might play bear
before the house of a beautiful lady in Grave City."

"And your own saddle?"

"Alas! I played poker with the Americanos. They have skinned me." Jim
made a little flourish, twisted the moustache. It came off in his
fingers!

And with a howl the whole crowd closed in. They had captured Jim du
Chesnay and Curly McCalmont!



CHAPTER XIII

THE MAN-HUNT


I reckon that civilised folks are trained to run in a rut, to live by
rule, to do what's expected. If they're chased they'll run, if they're
caught they surrender. That's the proper thing to do.

Our plainsman, he's a much resourceful animal: he never runs in the rut,
and he always does exactly what's not expected. Here were Jim and Curly
surrounded by five men all hot for war. Broach could shoot good, but his
horse was a plumb idiot when it came to firing. He was scared he would
miss Jim, and get the counter-jumper who pranced around behind. Of the
rest, one was a railroad man, and useless at that, one was a carpenter,
and one was a barber--all of them bad shots. Still, they knew that their
prisoners could neither fight nor run.

The prisoners did both most sudden, and heaps surprising. While Jim's
moustache was dropping, Curly's first bullet got Broach's horse in the
eye, sending him backwards over on top of the man. Jim unhorsed the
railroad man, the carpenter disabled the barber, and the counter-jumper
bolted.

That posse was all demoralised, shooting liberal, attracting heaps of
attention. So another belated outfit of citizens came whooping down the
road, while at the first sound of battle, the crowd I was with swung
round at full gallop to share the play. I knew my youngsters were in
foul bad luck.

Yet in a single evening these two had got to feeling each other's
thoughts, acting together without talk, partners like the hands of a
man. They knew that for them it was death to show on the skyline, sure
good scouting to jump for the lowest ground, and keep the dust a-rolling
to hide their movements. They struck a gulley, and Jim led over rock and
cactus, riding slack rein, trusting that buckskin mare. After the first
five minutes, looking round, he saw the belated outfit along the skyline
following, and heard the whoops of our crowd closing in on the left.

"I reckon," says Curly, "they'll get us."

"Very awkward," says Jim.

"Say, Curly," he called out, "there's a fence here somewhere on
Chalkeye's pasture. It's broken where it cuts this arroyo, but just
'ware wire! Here! 'Ware wire!"

The mare took a stumble, but cleared the fallen wire. The black horse
just jumped high. Up on the plain above the pursuit was going to be
checked by my standing fence.

"We're plumb in luck to the lips," says Curly.

And now the rocky hollow widened out, the trail was smooth, the pace
tremendous. While our citizens behind were having a check betwixt rock
and wire, Jim struck the further gate of my pasture, and held it wide
for Curly. Horsemanship had given the partners a mile of gain, but now,
on level ground, where any fool could ride, our posse gained rapidly,
for the youngsters had to go moderate and save their horses.

"Down on yo' hawss," says Curly, "you ride too proud," and a spatter of
blue lead made Jim lie humble. The fool gallopers were right handy for
war, when sudden the winding valley poured out its fan of débris upon
the lower plain towards Mexico. Here just below the mouth of the arroyo
a railroad track swung right across the trail on a high embankment. On
the nigh side of the embankment ran a waggon trail, climbing a hill on
the left to cross the track, and that was sure foul luck for Jim and
Curly, for now they rode out clear against the sky in a storm of lead,
and began to reckon they was due at the big front door of heaven. Jim
was all right in a moment, for the buckskin mare just rose to the
occasion, leapt the rails, and got to cover down the bank beyond; but
Curly's horse was an idiot. At the sight of the gleaming rails, he
stopped dead to show himself off, shied, bucked, pawed the full moon,
fell in heaps, tumbled all over himself, dug a hole in the ground with
his nose, and timed the whole exhibition to get Curly shot. The
gallopers were right on to him before he chose to proceed, with flanks
spurred bloody, down the further bank.

Jim circled back to the rescue. "Hurt?" he called.

Curly lay all of a heap on the saddle. "Shoot!" he howled, and flashed
on across the plain.

Jim got the gallopers stark against the sky at point-blank range, and
just whirled in for battle, piling the track with dead and dying horses,
blocking the passage complete. Then he streaked away to see if Curly had
gone dead on Jones' back.

Five minutes after that, Deputy-Marshal Pedersen and I came blundering
into the wreckage. He jumped through somehow, leading eighteen men, but
I stopped to help a hurt man, and used his rifle to splint his broken
leg. The fool gallopers were mostly wrung out, and gone home, or left
afoot by Jim. The good stayers were on ahead, but weary maybe, it being
late for pleasuring. So I proceeded to have an attack of robbers all to
myself, with the wounded man's revolver and my own, shooting
promiscuous. Sure enough, half a dozen of them bold pursuers came
circling back to find out what was wrong.

When I had turned back with my idiots for home, a ripple spread along
the grass, an air from the south, then a lifting wind, full strong,
steady as ice aflow, cold as the wings of Death. Jim fought up wind,
battling at full gallop until he overtook the little partner, then
ranged abreast and steadied knee to knee, nursing his mare at a trot.
The moon slid down flame-red behind the hills, the wind blew a gale, the
night went black, the sky a sheet of stars.

Jim had quit being tired, for his body was all gone numb and dead, so he
felt nothing except the throb of hoofs astern. Then he heard a popping
of guns faint in the rear, and on that saw flashes of signal firing away
on the right, besides other gun-flames back below Mule Pass. He held his
teeth from chattering to speak.

"Curly, old chap, they've wired for a posse up from Naco, and the City
Marshal's men are coming down from Bisley. They're closing in on three
sides, and we can't escape."

Curly said nothing.

"Say, Curly, you're not hurt?"

"Mosquito bite," said Curly; "look a-here, Jim. If anything goes wrong,
you'll find the captain at La Soledad to-morrow."

"What captain?"

"My father. I made him swear he'd wait. How's yo' buckskin?"

"Flagging."

"She'll live through all right. Don't you talk any mo'."

"You're losing hope?"

"There's allus hope," said Curly, "but them stars seem nearer to
we-all."

They were riding through greasewood bushes and long grass, whilst here
and there stood scattered trees of mesquite. That made bad going for
horses, but, when they swung aside for better ground, they nearly
blundered into an arroyo.

Only the dawn grey saved my boys from breaking both their necks in that
deep gap, but now they had got to lose the sheltering darkness, their
horses were mighty near finished, and three big outfits of riders were
closing down all round them. Jim looked up the sky to see if there were
miracles a-coming, for nothing less was going to be much use. Then the
Naco people came whirling down on the right, and the black arroyo lay
broad across their hopes, so they swung north to look for a crossing,
and were thrown right out of the hunt.

Presently soon my youngsters had another big stroke of luck, because the
Bisley crowd missed aim, and had to swing in behind with the men from
Grave City.

"Jim," says Curly, "has they closed in yet?"

"Our wind is covering all three outfits now."

Then came a yell from behind, for in the dawn the hunters had caught
sight of their meat.

Now close ahead loomed something white like a ghost, and Jim let out a
screech as it reared up against him sudden. As he shied wide and
spurred, he saw the ghost some better--a limewashed monument, the
boundary mark of old Mexico.

"Saved!" he yelled. "They can't follow beyond the Line."

"They cayn't, but they will," says Curly; "fire the grass!"

Jim grabbed a hair from the buckskin's mane, took matches from his
wallet and bound them into a torch, struck a light to the tip, and held
it in his paws against the roaring wind. Then he made shift to swing
himself down till the long grass brushed his fingers. He dropped his
torch beside a greasewood bush, and cantered on with Curly knee to knee.
That flicker in the long grass grew to a blazing star, spread with the
flaws of the wind, swayed its small tongues to lick new clumps and pass
the word to others just beyond. The bush blazed up with a roar as only
greasewood can, and flung its burning sticks upon the storm, so that the
fire spread swift as a man could run over acres of greasewood. To the
east was mesquite bush, which burns like gun-cotton in a gale of wind.
But now the draught of the fire had made that gale a scarlet hurricane
with the stride of a running horse, which flushed the flying cloud wrack
overhead, and made red day along the mountain flanks.

I reckon that if I'd happened with that outfit of hunters, I should have
known enough to bear east and circle round the blaze without loss of
time; but the leaders saw the burning mesquite grove, and tried to
swing west of trouble. There the arroyo barred them, and before they won
to the other horn of the fire their horses had gone loco, refusing to
face the heat. Anyways, they stampeded with their riders, and I reckon
those warriors never stopped to look back until they had thrown
themselves safe beyond the railroad. If they had come out for a
man-hunt, they got that liberal and profuse beyond their wildest
dreams.



CHAPTER XIV

THE FRONTIER GUARDS


Well up to windward of the range fire, that fool horse Jones came to a
finish sudden all a-straddle, swaying, nose down, and blood a-dripping.
So far Curly had just stayed in the saddle from force of habit, but when
the usual motion stopped between his knees he surely forgot to be alive
any more, and dropped like a shot bird to grass. As for Jim, he was too
stiff to dismount, but the buckskin mare lay down with him complete; so
he rolled from the saddle, and managed to stagger around. He uncinched
Jones' saddle, eased his mouth of the bit, loosed the mare's girth as
she lay, then knelt by Curly feeling him over for wounds. He didn't know
until then that Curly had a bullet in the right arm; but all that side
was in a mess of dry blood, and when he cut away the coat it began to
spurt. He plugged up the hole, made a bandage with his handkerchief,
twisted it up with a stick until the blood quit coming, then rolled
himself down, dead asleep beside his partner.

The big gale roared overhead; a haze of flying dust; the country to the
north was a flaming volcano; the sky was a whirl of clouds, all painted
purple and crimson with the daybreak; but my kids and their horses cared
nothing more at all for storm or fire. Then the skyline along the east
began to glow white-hot, burned by the lift of the sun; and stark black
against that rode a bunch of horsemen. They were coming from La Morita
Custom House to find out what sort of felons had set the range on fire.
They were Mexican Frontier Guards.

Their lieutenant told me afterwards that when they saw the played-out
horses and those two poor kids who lay between them, they thought the
whole outfit must be dead. They reckoned up Jim for one of their
countrymen, and surely did everything in their power to act merciful.

Firing the range comes pretty near being a serious thing, causing
inconvenience to cattle, apt to annoy settlers by burning their homes
and cooking their wives and families. Naturally that sort of play is
discouraged, and the Frontier Guards was only acting up to their lights
in arresting my youngsters. Still, they didn't act haughty and
oppressive, but sent a rider off to fetch their waggon for the
prisoners, and meanwhile made camp and boiled them a drink of coffee.

The _teniente_ woke them up, gave them their coffee and told them their
sins, while the rest of the greasers, talking all at once, explained
what their officer meant. As to Jim and Curly, they were interested in
that coffee a whole lot, and ready to excuse the Frontier Guards; but
the worries and troubles of a pack of greasers only made them tired; so
they told them not to fuss, and slept through the rest of the sermon.
When they woke up again, they found themselves in prison.

That calaboose at La Morita is built of the usual adobe, sun-dried
brick, with a ceiling of cactus sticks laid on beams to carry a couple
of feet of solid earth. A 'dobe house is the next thing to comfort in a
climate like ours, where the sun will scorch a man's hide worse than
boiling water. The Frontier Guards had laid clean hay on the dirt floor,
and hung an _olla_ of water to cool in the draught, but when my boys
woke up they were sure puzzled, for the night had fallen, the moon was
not yet stirring, and the place was surely dark as a wolf's mouth. Stiff
and sore from hard riding, Jim got up to grope in the darkness, ravaging
around in search of grub. He found hay and water, but nothing else, so
thought he must have been changed into a horse, and set up a howl for
corn. Then he attracted Curly's notice by tumbling over his bed.

"How many laigs have yo' got?" says Curly, "'cause that's ample. Catch
me some water."

Jim reached down the hanging jar, and Curly drank. "I been waiting hours
for that," says he; "now sluice my arm."

Jim threw cool water on the wound. "Is it very bad?" he asked.

"It's sure attracting my attention, Jim."

"Can I do anything?"

"Yes, next time you're falling around don't use my laigs--they're
private. Whar is this place?"

Jim looked up at a window-gap, high in the 'dobe wall, and saw the
starlight checkered with iron bars; then listening, he heard a muttering
of Spanish talk, and noticed the door of the cell lined out with a
glimmer from the guardroom.

"It smells bad, like a trap," said Curly.

"I wonder," says Jim, "what time they feed the animals? I'm starving."

"My two sides," says Curly, "is rubbing together, and I'm sure
sorrowful. We done got captured somehow."

"I remember now. They gave us coffee. They must have been Frontier
Guards--so this is La Morita."

"Why did they gather us in? We didn't spoil any greasers."

"No, but we fired the grass."

"It was not their grass--we set fire to Arizona."

"I don't think they mind," says Jim, "whose grass we burned. They've got
us, and they won't worry about the details. You see, they've got to make
a play at being useful, old chap, or else their Government would get
tired and forget to send their wages."

"What will they do to us?"

"Keep us three days to cool, then find us guilty, and send us down to
Fronteras."

"I remember," says Curly, "when I was riding that year for Holy Cross I
saw----"

"The little wayside crosses?"

"Yes, everywhere on the Mexican side of the line--the little wooden
grave signs by the trail."

Curly and Jim sat there in the dark, and thought of the wooden crosses.
They understood, but I believe it's up against me to explain for folks
who don't know that country. You see, there used to be only two
industries in old Mexico, silver mining and stealing, but most of the
people made a living by robbing each other. Then the great President
Diaz came along, who had been a robber himself. He called up all the
robbers he'd known in the way of business, and hired them as a sort of
Mounted Rangers and Frontier Guards to wipe out the rest of the thieves.
That made the whole Republic peaceful, but when there were no more
robbers to shoot, the Rangers and Guards began to feel monotonous, the
country being plumb depleted of game.

Well, thanks to Diaz, Mexico has gone so tame that life ain't really
worth living, and the Frontier Guards are scared of being disbanded
because they're obsolete. Likewise the Mexican people are so humane
that they don't allow capital punishment, and the Guards feel a heap
discouraged about what few prisoners they catch. They're fearful pleased
if they get a thief who doesn't happen to be their own cousin, most
especially if he's a white man, real game and in season. That's why they
lash him hands and feet to a horse, trot him off into the desert, and
take pot shots at him by way of practice. Afterwards they report him for
'attempted escape.' His relations are allowed to bury him comfortable,
and put up a cross to his memory. That is why the trails along the
Mexican frontier are all lined with neat little crosses.

"You reckon," says Curly, "that we'll have little crosses?"

"It's beastly awkward," says Jim, "but we've got to take our medicine."

"And yet I dunno," says Curly, thoughtful about those crosses; "if we
get spoilt that way, the United States won't be pleased. You see,
there's a reward out for me, and yo're wanted bad, so Uncle Sam will be
asking Mexico, and say, 'Why did you shoot my meat?'"

The voices in the guardroom had quit muttering, but now a horseman
pulled up at the front door.

"_Buenas noches hombre!_"

And somebody answered: "_Buenas tardes señor!_"

Then talk began in Spanish. "Can a feed of corn be bought here for the
horse? He arrives from Grave City."

"What news of the gringoes?"

"_Muchos._ El Señor Don Rex has been shot."

"Don Rex has been murdered?"

"No, it was a fight. It must be understood that his son, Don
Santiago----"

"What, El Chico?"

"Yes, El Chico 'Jim,' had a feud against the very rich Señor Ryan. He
hired ladrones from the north, the Robbers' Roost Gang it is called, to
murder Señor Ryan. It seems the ladrones wore masks, and they were led
by a young robber named Curly, for whom great rewards are offered--two
thousand pesos d'oro, dead or alive."

"What a reward!"

"Yes, El Chico and this Curly led the robbers, and they attacked Señor
Ryan in the 'Sepulchre' saloon. El Chico killed Señor Ryan himself, and
wounded Miguel his son. There are many witnesses, and a warrant is out
against Don Santiago for that murder. I saw the warrant."

"But you say Don Rex was killed?"

"He also; many others were killed in the battle. Curly shot Louisiana
and another also. Then these ladrones escaped from the city."

"But the population!"

"You judge well, corporal--the population followed. There was riding!"

"And yet these ladrones escaped?"

"So, except El Chico and Curly, the two leaders. The posse caught them
near Las Salinas."

"And got the great reward--two thousand pesos d'oro!"

"But wait. These two caballeros would not submit, but fought and killed
a lot more citizens; yes, even escaped. They reached the iron-way which
runs down towards Bisley, and there again they fought terribly. Then the
big posse chased them clear through to the boundary-line."

"They were not caught!"

"They fired the desert!"

"Car-r-amba!"

"Yes, stampeded a hundred riders! You must have seen the fire at dawn
this morning."

"Todos Santos! That was El Chico Santiago disguised as a _vaquero_?"

"Yes, and Curly as a farm boy--you saw them?"

"Man, we've got them here in chains! Two thousand pesos d'oro! _Por
Dios!_ You have made me rich with your news!"

"In chains, corporal? Then they did not escape after all! They fought
like caballeros, and now they'll be claimed for extradition, taken back,
and hanged! _Hombre_, that's no death for caballeros! How did you ever
take such fighters, corporal?"

"Oh, just arrested them."

"But they fought a hundred Americanos!"

"Yes, yes, but we are Frontier Guards--me and another man; we just
arrested them, that's all. Two thousand pesos!"

"They fought?"

"Oh, yes, we had to disable one of them; in fact I myself shot him
through the pistol arm. Then they surrendered, made their bow to force.
Two thousand golden dollars!"

"Miraculous! Well, señor corporal, may it be permitted to ask where
forage is sold?"

"Certainly, step this way. I, Pablo Juarez, rich! Two thousand! Santa
Catalina, thou shalt have candles, a box of candles!"

The voices faded out, and Jim lay back, wiping the sweat from his face.
"Wheugh"--then he burst out laughing--"the liars," he howled, "the
gentle, earnest liars! Oh, pat me, Curly, for I'm weak--the lop-eared,
spavined, sway-backed, cock-eyed liars!"

But Curly was shy of Spanish, and wanted the news. "What liars?"

"Everybody--they're all liars--the whole world--liars! Liars! They
couldn't leave it to facts, which are bad enough, but they've lied, and
sworn to lies and perjured themselves with oaths, the thugs, the dirty
bar-room toughs, selling their souls to that young Ryan--and made a
remnant sale of themselves for witnesses that I murdered an old man!"

"What, Ryan? It wasn't you who spoiled old Ryan. It was your father in
honest fighting!"

"Who cares for honesty when there's a millionaire to pay for souls in
cash? They swear that I hired you and all your robbers to have old Ryan
murdered, then did the killing myself, and turned loose your gang to
massacre Ryan's friends--the cowards, the lying cowards!"

"But them boys with masks was Chalkeye's riders, and he just covered
their faces, Jim, to save them afterwards."

"And who'll believe that? Here's a millionaire to buy the witnesses, the
lawyers, the judge, the law! The only man who was there and can't be
bribed is that leary old cow-thief Chalkeye, but he's mixed up with us,
and likely enough a prisoner by now. Do you think that a Grave City
court of justice would believe an honest man? No, we're trapped, and
we're sold, and we're going to be butchered now."

"Well," says Curly in that slow, soft way he had, "I allow it's done you
good to turn yo' wolf loose, and you've shorely howled; it done me good
to hear all the cussing said while I lay restin'. That's relieved me a
lot and made me plumb forgetful of being in pain."

Jim began talking haughty, and wanted to know if Curly liked the notion
of being hanged.

"That I shorely do," says Curly very soft. "You see, only a while back
we was going to be taken out sudden and shot--which it was a caution to
yaller snakes only to think of. That didn't make me happy a lil' bit,
but now we got more prospects, a slow trial coming, time to turn around
in, and think out how to escape."

That sobered Jim, but it made him hostile, too. "Youngster, will nothing
scare you?" he asked; "can't get a whimper out of you even for company's
sake--you're so beastly selfish."

Curly rolled over, resting his face on his hand. "I was raised that
way," says he very quiet, "goin' to be shot up or hung most of the time.
It's a risky thing bein' alive when you come to think of it, eh? We-all
is mighty or'nary folks in a trifling sort of world, Jim; but I reckon
it's sure nice being heah. We got sweet range hay to lie on, and hopes
of a feed in the mawning; the place is sure quiet, but we cayn't
complain of being dull. As to our lil' worries, I don't fuss about
crossing a river until I done reached the bank."

"I wish," Jim groaned, "that I'd got half your courage."

"I've suffered some," says Curly, "and I reckon that what you call
courage is just training. Now you, Jim, you lie down, and think about
something to eat, and presently yo're goin' to drop off asleep, dreaming
of good camps where there's feed and water. If that ain't good I'll
wake you up in the night, so's you'll get two sleeps, which is even
better'n one."



CHAPTER XV

MOSTLY CHALKEYE


The loss of my near eye has led to a lot of mistakes on my part,
specially when I mistook the brands on cows and horses, thought they
belonged to me, and adopted the poor lone critters--I've always been
fond of animals, anyway. Again, I argue that a person with two eyes had
ought to see much more truth than I can with only one eye; but I don't
find that folks are liberal in making allowances. They call me hard
names instead.

Now that was specially the case over the Ryan inquest. I testified that
old man Ryan died a natural death, because it would have been completely
unnatural for Balshannon to miss him at five paces. Moreover, as I saw
things, Jim never fired at all until Ryan was dead, and only began to
shoot when he saw young Michael turning loose for battle. Judge
Sprynkes, Acting Assistant Deputy-Coroner, allowed that I had been a
whole lot present at the fight, and was entitled to my one-eyed point of
view; but then, he remarked to the jury that the witness was well known
to have such a defective vision with regard to cows that the evidence
was tarnished on the point at issue.

"Judge," says I, "this is a court of justice, and I'd like to see
everybody getting a fair show. Now, as judge, you're sure incorruptible
and righteous."

"Come to the point," says Sprynkes.

"But," says I, "if Judge Sprynkes finds that the late Mr. Ryan met his
death in a fair duel with Balshannon--then----"

"Well?"

"Then there's a citizen named Mr. Sprynkes who's apt to be reminded by
the Ryan estate that he owes a heap of money!"

On that we had considerable rough house, until the judge called the
meeting to order. Then he remarked, sort of casual, that he knew a
citizen named Sprynkes who was apt to shoot at sight when he met up with
a certain notorious horse-thief called Chalkeye Davies.

So my evidence for Jim was set aside, I was pitched out of the court,
and for the next few days had to keep a wary eye on citizen Sprynkes. He
was an awful poor sportsman, and mostly always missed; but once I got a
bullet through my hat. Afterwards Mr. Sprynkes admitted to his friends
that he preferred a restful landscape and a less bracing climate beyond
the range of my guns--so he pulled out for Yuma, and I saw his kind face
no more.

Now I don't want to say anything unkind about Judge Sprynkes, or his
jury, or his witnesses, in that inquest on Mr. Ryan; but for Jim's sake
it is needful to point out some facts which were remarkable. Of the
people who stayed in the "Sepulchre" saloon to attend the gun-fight,
eight were unable to testify, being dead, three because they had gone to
hospital, two because they were engaged elsewhere at La Morita, and one,
which is me, on account of defective vision. Of the rest, the most part
lit out from Grave City, and totally disappeared. There remained Mr.
Michael, two bar-tenders, and four other citizens, the only people who
gave evidence. These witnesses swore on oath that Jim came to the
gun-fight attended by Curly McCalmont and ten masked robbers. They also
swore on oath that Jim fired the first shot, killing Mr. Ryan.

The Court returned a verdict that George Ryan came to his death at the
hands of James du Chesnay, and recommended his arrest upon the charge of
deliberate wilful murder.

I am not complaining. The Court represented the majesty of the people,
and that august flag, Old Glory, waving above us. It was a right enough
Court, even if justice had strayed out and got itself lost for a while.
I make no complaint, because I reckon that a still mightier Court than
ours is sitting up above the starry sky to watch over fatherless kids
who don't get a fair show on earth, to save them as gets desolate and
oppressed, to vindicate justice upon low-lived swabs, liars, and
cowards.

I said nothing, but just stayed good and acted responsible, being in a
minority of one against the entire city. The only time I ventured on any
remarks was when I happened accidentally to meet up with Mr. Michael.
He, the Mayor, the City Marshal, and a few friends were taking a drink
together at the hotel.

"Good morning, Ryan," says I, but I kept my voice all smooth for fear of
rucking up my temper to no advantage.

"Good morning, sir," says Ryan.

"I come to congratulate you," says I, "on the hearty liberal way you've
been acting."

"I thank you, Mr. Davies," says he, sort of ironic.

"Don't mention it," says I, "for I ain't done no kindness to you, and I
don't aim for cash or thanks in what I say."

He reached for his gun, which was hazardous and apt to get fatal, only
the City Marshal grabbed him before I had to fire.

"Let me be," says Ryan; "this man insults me!"

"No," says I, "that would be impossible. I only congratulate you on the
whole-hearted generous way you assisted a destitute judge, and them poor
hungry witnesses."

"Easy, my friend," says the Marshal, "I'm 'most deaf, but if I hear any
contempts of court----"

"If you're feeling any contempt of court, Mr. City Marshal, you shares
my emotions. And you, gentlemen," I turned on the crowd, "if you feel
any shame for the city and for any of the present company, I can only
say I share that shame most bitter."

The air was getting sultry, with just a faint flicker of guns. "If any
of you gentlemen," says I, "is feeling unwell for pills, just let him
step outside with me, and I'll prescribe. If not, excuse me, for I smell
something dead in this company, and I'm aiming to refresh my nose in the
open." I paced back, step by step, through the door. "My address," says
I, "if I live, will be Las Salinas, and there you'll find a man who
cayn't see to tell the truth, but can see a whole lot to shoot.
Gentlemen, _adios_!"

So I got my horse, swung to the saddle, and walked him backwards until I
was out of range, but nobody offered himself up to serve for my target.

I reckon that the funeral ceremonies in honour of the late Mr. Ryan and
friends made an event in the annals of Grave City. The caskets and
wreaths, the hearses and carriages, the band and procession, made the
people feel uplifted with solemn pride and haughty to strangers for a
full month afterwards. As the Weekly Obituary pointed out in large type,
the occasion was great, and a city which had flourished for twenty-two
prosperous years was able to give points to mere mushroom towns like
Bisley, Benson, and Lordsburgh. The newspapers in those three rival
burghs made light of the affair in a way which displayed mean envy and a
nasty, carping spirit.

As for me, I had got myself disliked a whole lot, so I felt it would be
most decent not to attend the exercises. I had a feeling that if called
upon to reply to any shooting, I might disturb the harmony which should
always attend a scene of public grief. Besides that, it fell to me to
arrange the burial of my old patrone, which it was difficult, the
preachers, coffins, hearses, carriages, and all the funeral fixtures
being engaged that day, and likewise also the graveyard. I had to go
without. Moreover, the cowboys were mostly away at work on the round-up,
so I only caught eight of my tribe to help me. We laid our friend on a
blanket, then four of us gripped the corners up to the horns of our
saddles and rode slow, the other boys coming behind until we got to the
place where we had dug the grave. There was only one man of us all well
educated, and that was Monte, who had been raised for a preacher before
he broke loose to punch cows. Monte was shot in the face, weak, and
feverish, so I had to feed him whiskey before he felt proud enough for
his job. He read the service, the rest of us standing round, and when he
was through we fired a volley before we filled the grave and piled rocks
to keep off wild animals. That was a proper stockman's funeral, away
out on a hilltop in the desert, and I reckon the Great Father in heaven
knew we had done our best in a brave man's honour.



CHAPTER XVI

ARRANGING FOR MORE TROUBLE


See what the geography-book says about Arizona--the same size as
England? Shucks! There's homely ignorance from an office duck who dreams
he can use a tape-measure to size up a desert. In England, if you wander
round after dark, you're apt to fall off and get wet in the ocean. But
you can sure stray off the edge of Arizona without the least chance of a
wet, because the desert just rolls on more continuous than ever, till
you're due to die of thirst. There's a practical difference in size,
which your book theorist wouldn't be apt to survive.

Again, by the books we're a community of sixty thousand pink and white
citizens, all purely yearning for right and justice. By the facts, we're
really split up into two herds--the town men, who use the law, and the
range men, who naturally prefer a six-gun.

I aim politely to say the best I can for the town men. You see, if a
gentleman feels that he's just got to waltz in and rob the graves of his
own parents, one may not understand his symptoms, but one has to try and
think of him charitable. Our town men has mostly been found out acting
self-indulgent, and been chased around by the police. That's why they
flocked to Arizona, which is convenient at the Gates of Hades, with the
Breath of Flame by way of excuse for a climate. There's a sort of
comfortable, smell-your-future-home feeling about old Arizona which
attracts such ducks. Anywhere else they would get their necks stretched,
but in Arizona they can elect judges and police out of their own tribe.
Then if they happen to indulge in a little bigamy, or thieving, or
shooting, the lawyers get them off. They love the law which proves them
up innocent, so you may class them all as law-abiding citizens.

Now as to us plainsmen. The bad side of us is plumb apparent to the
naked eye, and if there's a good side it's known to our friends, not
advertised to strangers. We ain't claiming to be law-abiding citizens
when we know the judge for a sure-thing politician, the lawyers for
runaway gaol-birds, and the jury all for sale at the rate of a dollar a
thief. We're lawless, sure enough, until we see the law dealt out by
honest men.

Are you fed up with one-eyed sermons from a cow-thief? Well, suppose we
apply the facts.

Here was two boys of our tribe bogged down to their withers in trouble.
The town men howled for their blood, young Ryan offered plenty wealth
for their raw scalps, the law claimed them for meat--and every plainsman
on the range got right up on his hind legs for war. To our way of
thinking robbery and killing are bad medicine, but innocent, holy joys
compared with Arizona law. So naturally by twos and threes the punchers
quit work on the round-up to come and smell at old Grave City and find
out why she'd got a swollen head. They hung around saloons, projecting
to see if something had gone wrong with the local breed of whisky; they
gathered and made war-talk in the street; they came around me, wanting
to know whether or not to break out and eat that town.

"Boys," says I, "if you-all stalks round with mean eyes and dangerous
smiles, these here citizens is going to hole up in their cyclone cellars
and send for the army. We don't want the army messing around our game.
Just you whirl in now and play signs of peace, and make good medicine.
Lay low, give yo' ponies a strong feed--and wait for the night."

"Chalkeye," says one of them, "is this to be war?"

"If it was war," I told him, "I'd first send you home to yo' mother. No,
kid, this is going to be smooth peace, but we're going to knock Grave
City cold with astonishment. Get plenty ammunition, feed yo' horse, and
wait my gathering howl for a signal."

It was high noon when Captain McCalmont came straying down into Main
Street on a "painted" horse. At Ryan's livery stable he allowed he was
an unworthy minister, wanting water and feed for the piebald pony. At
the Delmonico pie foundry he let out that he craved for sausages, mashed
potatoes, and green tea. Then he had a basin of bread-and-milk, while he
told the dish-slinger a few solemn truths. Apple-pie, says he, was a
delusion; eating tobacco was a snare; intoxicating drink was only vanity
on the lips, but raging wild-cats to the inward parts. The proper
doctrine, says he, is to eschew all evil, but the wicked man leaves out
that saving syllable _es_, and chews evil all the time.

Then he allowed that a toothpick would do him no harm, paid for his
meal, and strayed out across the street to where I stood dealing peace
among the cowboys.

"Little sinners," says he, "I perceive that you have fallen into evil
company. This Chalkeye man is a pernicious influence, which would
corrupt the morals of a grizzly bear. Flee from this Chalkeye person."

They wanted to take him into the nearest saloon and enjoy him for the
rest of the day.

"Kin you dance?" says one of the boys, aiming a gun at his toes. "Whirl
right in and dance!"

McCalmont walked right at him, eye to eye, and that same cowboy went as
white as death.

"Shall I abate you," says the preacher, "in the midst of yo' sins? You
done wrong--you done ate tobacco and chocolate candy mixed, then poured
on hot cawfee, rye whisky, and an ice-cream soda; and now yo're white as
a corpse with mixed sins. Go take a pill, my son, and repent before
yo're sick."

The boys watched that preacher smiling, and went tame as kittens. The
tone of his voice just froze them up, his smile scraped their young
bones, his eyes looked death.

"Come, Chalkeye," says he, and led me off into the "Spur" saloon. There
he threw a glance to Cranky Joe, the bar-keep, and put his finger on
Mutiny Robertson, a smuggler who sat playing poker. Cranky put someone
in charge of the bar, Mutiny passed his game to a friend of his, and
both of them followed meek as sheep, while the preacher led on into the
backyard. From there we worked round the back street to Ryan's stable,
McCalmont keeping up his baby-talk for the sake of passing strangers.

"Ah," says he, "my young friends, these deleterious pleasures change
peaceful stomachs into seats of war; but the sausage soothes, the milk
assuages, the pie persuades, and b'ar sign is sure good to fill up
corners. Beware of vanities, and when we get to the stable-yard let
Mutiny here stand guard in case I'm attacked, while I expound the
blessedness of simple things. Well, here we are--you Mutiny, fall back,
you lop-eared mongrel; I'm dying for a chew of 'baccy, and I'd give my
off lung for a cocktail."

Mutiny stood guard, Cranky hustled off to get liquor.

"I got a line of retreat from here," says Captain McCalmont, "and a
saddled hawss within reach. No, not that painted plug, but a sure
crackerjack, which can burn the trail if I'm chased. How's things, you
Chalkeye?"

"Clouding for storm," says I; "the air's a-crackling."

"Why for?"

I told him about his son, holed up in gaol with Jim at La Morita.

"I been projecting around thar last night"--the Captain was eating my
plug tobacco like bread. "Was it you sent that doctor to Curly's wound?"

"Sure thing, sir. Why?"

He grabbed my paw. "You're white all through," says he; "that kid is all
I care for in this world."

"Can they escape?"

"I dropped a crowbar through the window-hole."

"The guards will be full curious when they hear the crowbar thumping."

"That's what's the matter. I sent some Holy Crawss greasers to feed them
liquor, games, and music--'specially music."

"Will the Frontier Guards miss the big blood money for the sake of a
flirt at skin games?"

"I reckon they'll watch, and the crowbar's going to be heard. So I made
a run to see you. Here comes Cranky Joe."

"You trust him?"

"The sight of him makes my fur crawl."

"Here, Captain," says Cranky, offering the cocktail; but the outlaw
bored him through with a cool eye.

"My name," says he, "is the Reverend Perkins, and don't you forget. Now
you'll send Mutiny here, and you'll stand on guard yourself. If I get
captured, a friend of mine is to send your present name and address to
the penitentiary, where you're wanted most--so here's to your freedom."
He drank, and we watched the man sneak off. "I turned him out of my
gang," said the robber, "for being dishonest."

Mutiny strolled in and shook hands. "Old friend," says he, "what can we
do to help?"

"Watch Joe, and shoot him up quick if he tries to pass that gate."

So Mutiny pulled his gun. "How's all the boys?" he asked.

"You're honing to come back to being a robber?"

"Cayn't," Mutiny groaned, "I've sure repented and turned smuggler now.
Besides, I'm due to get married, so I'm dead tame and gentle, boss.
What brought you south?"

"You may inquire, seh."

"Ain't you trusting me?"

"Well, Mutiny, since you want to know, I came down to hold up a train."

"Big plunder?"

"I expaict. It was a carload of birds' teeth, cat feathers, and frawgs'
tails; but there's too many inquiry agents around, so I missed the
train."

Mutiny had to laugh, but then he sighed. "If anything goes wrong with my
girl," says he, "I'll come scratch on yo' door."

"Wall"--the outlaw looked mighty serious--"if she happens to get drowned
in the desert--perhaps we'll see you come. Now let's to business. Them
kids at La Morita has to be collected, I reckon."

"Why come to we-all?" says Mutiny,--"ain't the gang handy at rescues?"

"My wolves would jump at the chance; I choked them off."

"For how?"

"Bekase"--the Captain turned his haunted eyes on me--"I don't want them
po' youngsters mixed in with thieves."

"You wanted me mixed again," says Mutiny through his teeth.

"Sonny"--the outlaw laid his hand on Mutiny's shoulder--"you been a bad
aig same as me, and we'd be hard to spoil. But these aigs at La Morita
is new-laid, fresh aigs, so I wan' them to keep."

"You're right, boss."

"Mutiny, I sent you away for yo' good, 'ecause that girl may pull you up
if anything can on airth. As for me, wall, I don't know as I care what
becomes of me. I tried to turn good one't--tried mortal hard to run
straight. I envy every honest man I see. I'm like a crawling snake,
ambitious for bird wings to fly with; but still I'm no more than snake."

"The kids have a chance all right," says Mutiny.

"They have. A year ago I couldn't have drove my Curly away from the
gang, but now he's paired with that du Chesnay youngster. Them colts
won't care for the herd if they can run together, so I've got Curly
weaned from following me to--to damnation."

"Mutiny," says I, "will you help me to gather in these boys?"

"I shorely will," says Mutiny; "but hadn't we ought to wait until
they're moved up this way for trial?"

"Wall," says the outlaw, "if I kin get to fight with a small man, I
don't yearn for anything larger. Whirl in on La Morita, and you're
fighting Mexico; wait for a move, and you're up against the hull United
States. I'd rather have a lick at lil' ole Mexico."

I told him that I had a town full of cowboys hard to hold.

"That kind won't keep," says Mutiny; "what's yo' plan?"

"I aimed," says I, "to steal young Ryan, and throw him into La Morita by
way of consolation for them poor Frontier Guards when they miss their
plunder."

"Now don't you touch my meat," says Captain McCalmont; "I have to feed
my little small lambs on him. Now, Misteh Davies."

"Answers to the name of Chalkeye mostly."

"Wall, Chalkeye, this is the second time we meet," he bored into me with
his eyes; "I understand that Balshannon's will makes you some sort of
guardian of his colt."

"I reckon he needs a friend."

"Will you be a friend to my son?"

"Not more than I been already."

"Mutiny," says he, "you witness that I, Captain McCalmont, thief, and
general manager of the Robbers' Roost gang of outlaws, appoints this
Chalkeye Davies guardian of Curly."

"I witnesses."

"Moreover, I aim to corrupt this Chalkeye by handing him stolen money."
He passed me a heavy roll of notes worth fifty thousand dollars, which
is ten thousand pounds by English reckoning. "My friend," he said, "take
these two kids away out of this country--break them dead gentle, keep
them clean, make them forget." He gave me a letter. "Read this when
you're alone."

"You trust me?" I asked.

"You trust yo'self?"

"Mutiny," says I, "you'll help?"

"Poor Mutiny," said the robber, "might help himself."

"On the dead thieving," says Mutiny, "that's so!" Then he grinned at me.
"Look a-here, Chalkeye, this means that yo' pull out and hit the long
trail. Now I want a home for my girl. How much will yo' take for yo'
ranche?"

"I'll see you later, Mutiny, and talk; and now shake hands, McCalmont.
To-night I'll be on hand like a sore thumb, at La Morita."



CHAPTER XVII

THE REAL CURLY


Throwing back along my trail, I notice that I've mentioned a whole lot
of points about Curly which made him unusual, different from other boys.
Remember how he balked and shied at Holy Cross until we allowed him to
hole up in a den of his own. He was sure wild and scary of railroads,
towns, or a strange house. Except with his own folks, the Balshannon
outfit, and me, he was dumb as a bear, and showed wild-eyed fright when
strangers spoke to him. The meanest horses went tame at a word from him;
no dog ever barked at him except with tail signals of joy; cats followed
him around, and any animal who was hurt or in trouble would run to Curly
for help. Even the deer knew his calls, and would come quite near while
he spoke to them in that low soft voice of his. That voice never broke
gruff with manhood, but just stayed sweet, like the sound of running
water.

He had a strong face, stern as our desert country, tanned, beautiful no
end, so that one caught one's breath at the very sight of him. His smile
turned me weak; his voice went through me, and I'm a sure hard case.
Everybody just had to love that Curly--a born rider, a wonderful scout,
a dead shot, a dangerous fighter, who bore pain like an Indian, and had
heaps more sense and courage than Jim his partner.

Why do I say all this? Well, from the first, I saw that Curly youngster
was undersized and weak, with a narrow chest and wide hips more like a
girl than a boy. A right proper man is strong, rough, hardy; he ought to
have a temper and be master, ready to work and fight for his women folk.
That Curly broke down and sobbed like a girl after the gun-fight, and in
a hundred soft ways was not a proper man. There were often times when I
wanted to turn in and lam his head. Then I didn't, but somehow knew that
Nature had played some scurvy trick on that well-meaning youngster.

Well, Jim was younger than me, so there's some excuse for him. He was
rough on Curly--hostile and contemptuous when the little partner acted
feminine. He owned up afterwards he'd behaved like a brute to that poor
wounded, helpless critter, loving him all the while, but acting coarse;
that humbled Curly, who weakened under his tongue lash, cried at times,
and lay for hours sucking the wound on his arm, dumb like a dying
animal. Both youngsters were surely miserable on the second and third
days they lay together in prison. It was on the second morning that I
sent down a doctor from Bisley to fix up Curly's wound.

Late that evening, towards midnight, a crowbar dropped down through the
window-gap in the wall, and Jim began to labour out a hole for their
escape. He dug out bricks of 'dobe one by one, and while he worked he
made poor Curly sing hour after hour, to hide up the sound of the
crowbar. Shall I tell you one of the songs? It's a cowboy tune for
smoothing the feelings of driven cattle while they bed themselves down
for night.

          "Soh, Bossie, soh!
      The water's handy neah,
      The grass is plenty heah,
    An' all the stars a-sparkle
      Bekase we drive no mo'--
          We drive no mo'!

      The long trail ends to-day,
      The long trail ends to-day,
      The punchers go to play,
    And all you weary cattle
      May sleep in peace for sure--
          Sleep, sleep fo' sure.

      The moon cayn't bite you heah,
      Nor punchers fright you heah,
    And you-all will be beef befo'
      We need you any mo'--
          We need you mo'!"

When morning broke Jim piled hay on the burrow he'd made in the foot of
the wall, and lay on top, dead weary to get some sleep. At ten o'clock
the doctor from Bisley found Curly still singing, light-headed, talking
nonsense. The patient said he was a bear, so the doctor gave sleep
medicine, and sat beside him. At noon he fed the boys their dinner and
went away, but they didn't wake again until supper-time, when the man on
guard came in.

"What's for supper?" says Curly.

"_Tortillas_, _frijoles_, coffee--same as usual."

"Eat it," says Curly, "'cause I'm only a bear holed up for winter. We
don't eat in winter anyways."

"Bears have their coffee," says Jim.

"Oh yes, of course," and Curly fed coffee to the winter bear. That
cleared his head, and he sat up watching Jim at work on the little round
dishes. The food was _frijoles_, the same being beans, and _tortillas_,
which is a thin corn-cake, pretty much the same as brown fly-papers,
warm and damp, but sort of uninteresting to taste. The coffee was in a
brown earthen pot, fresh from the fire, and mighty encouraging. Those
three things make the proper feed for Mexicans, the same being simple,
uninstructed people, knowing no better. When they feast they make a stew
of red pepper, and take a little meat with it; but that dish is a
luxury, and hot enough to burn a hole through a brick.

When Jim had eaten everything in sight he started cigarettes, listening
to a banjo in the guardroom, a growing hum of talk, and the click of
cups, for some Holy Cross riders were there with a jar of cactus spirit,
a deck of cards, and other inducements sent in by Captain McCalmont. Jim
heard them talking war because they'd never been paid off at Holy Cross,
and had six months' wages coming. They allowed that el Chico their young
patrone ought to hang, and the guards agreed that such was probable.
To-morrow the prisoners were going to be collected by the United States
authorities for trial. Jim looked at his partner for comfort, but saw
big tears rolling down Curly's face.

"You ought to be ashamed of that," says he.

"It cayn't be helped." Curly swept his arm across his face. "You Jim, we
got to part to-night."

"You wild ass of the desert! What's the matter now?"

"You're goin' through that hole to find yo' liberty, but I stay here."

"Stay, and be hanged to you."

"I got to. How should I be with this wound out there on the range?"

"I'll see to that, youngster. It's only a little way to La Soledad, and
I'll get you through. It may hurt, but it's not so bad as being hanged."

"I cayn't travel. We're due to be caught and killed. You go alone,
Jim."

"We go together and live, or we stay together and die. Take your choice,
Curly."

"Oh, I cayn't bear it--you don't understand!"

"I understand you're a little coward!"

"That's no dream."

"You own to being a coward?"

"Yes. All these years I've tried to play the game, to be a boy, to live
a boy's life, but now--I'd rather die, and get it finished."

"Why?"

"I've been off my haid last night and all to-day. This pain has
stampeded me, and I'm goin' crazy. To-night the pain is worse. I'll be
making fool talk, giving myself away, and you'll find me out. It's
better to own up than to be found out."

"To own up what?"

"Oh, don't be hard on me, Jim! I tried so hard! I was born for a boy, I
had to be a boy. Don't you see, girls was plumb impossible in a gang of
robbers!"

"Have you gone mad?"

"Oh, you cayn't understand, and it's so hard to say." Curly lay face
downwards, hiding a shamed face. "My mother must have made a mistake--I
wasn't bawn for a boy."

"Good gracious!"

"I had to be raised for a boy--it had to be done. What else was possible
at the Robbers' Roost?"

"And you're not a boy!"

"God help me, I'm only a girl."

"You, a girl?"

"Oh, don't be hard on me--it ain't my fault! I tried so hard to be a
man--but I'm crazy with pain--and I wisht I was daid!"

"But I can't believe--it can't be true. Why, I've seen you ride--the
first horseman in Arizona, scout, cowboy, desperado, wanted for robbery
and murder--you a girl!"

"Have pity! Don't! Don't talk like that--I'm not so bad as you think--I
never robbed--I never----"

"You killed men to save my life. Oh, Curly, I'm so sorry I talked like
that--I take it all back. I must have been _loco_ to call you a
coward--I wish I'd half your courage! I never knew a woman could be
brave; my mother wasn't, and all the girls I've known--they weren't like
you. Oh, the things you've seen me do, the things I've said--treating
you no better than a boy. Can you ever forgive the way I treated you?"

One little hand stole out and touched him: "Stop--talk no more."

A _vaquero_ was singing for all he was worth in the guardroom, to the
strum of a guitar, while hands clapped out the time--

    "I could not be so well content,
          So sure of thee,
              Señorita,
              Lolita;
    But well I know thou must relent
        And come to me,
            Lolita!"

Jim set to work to finish his hole in the wall, prying out the 'dobe
bricks with his crowbar, and he sure wrought furious, timing his strokes
to the clapping hands, the guitar, and the swinging chorus--

    "The caballeros throng to see
        Thy laughing face,
            Señorita,
            Lolita;
    But well I know thy heart's for me,
        Thy charm, thy grace,
            Lolita!

    "I ride the range for thy dear sake,
        To earn thee gold,
            Señorita,
            Lolita;
    And steal the gringo's cows to make
        A ranche to hold
            Lolita!"

The cactus liquor was getting in its work, the guardroom crowded up all
it would hold of soldiers, _vaqueros_, customs men, travellers; then
there was dancing, singing, gambling, squabbling, all the row which
belongs to a general drunk. Curly was fretted up to high fever, riding
herd on a bunch of dream cows, and Jim was pouring in his strength on
the 'dobe bricks. At two in the morning the Frontier Guards began to
make war talk, wanting to turn the prisoners loose, with a prize for
the soldier who got first kill with a gun. On that the Holy Cross
_vaqueros_ proposed to rescue their young patrone, and wipe out the
Frontier Guards. There was considerable rough house with knife and gun,
until the guards subdued the _vaqueros_, jumped on their heads, and
herded them into No. 2 cell as prisoners of war. The _vaqueros_ were
just moaning for blood, the Guards turned loose to celebrate their
victory with more drinks, and while the row was enough to drown
artillery, Jim's crowbar drove a brick which fell outside the wall. Now
he had only to pry 'dobes loose one by one until the hole was big enough
to let out prisoners. Sometimes he had to quit and hold his breath while
the sentry came reeling past along his beat. Once he had to play dead,
because a drunken sergeant rolled into the cell to give him a drink of
_meseal_. The sergeant called him brother, hugged him, kissed him,
cried, and went away. At three o'clock Jim crawled out through the hole
with his crowbar, lay for the sentry, jumped up behind, clubbed him, and
got the rifle. Then he dragged Mr. Sentry into the cell, wrapped him in
Curly's blanket, and made up a dummy to look like himself in case the
sergeant of the guard should remember to call again.

"Curly," he shook his partner out of sleep. "Curly, the spring time is
coming--it's time for little bears to come out of hole."

"Yo' gawn all foolish," says Curly, "callin' me a bear. I done forget
who I am, but I'm too sure sick to be a bear."

"Let's play bear," says Jim, mighty shy; "I'll bet you I'm first through
this hole!"

The guardroom had gone quiet, the men there being just sober enough not
to fall off the floor, but the sergeant was droning with the guitar,
sobbing out the tail end of the old Lolita song--

    "I ride the range for thy dear sake,
          To win thee gold,
              S'rita,
              Lolita,
    To steal the gringo's cow-ow-ow----"

Curly was first out through the hole, chasing dream bears. "The wind's
in the west," she said, looking at the big stars above.

"Crawl up the wind," Jim whispered. "We want our horses; where are
they?"

Curly sat up snuffing at the wind, then pointed. "The hawss smell's
thar," she said, "but there's a scent of pony-soldiers too--many
soldiers."

Jim trailed over cat-foot to the stable and looked in through the door.
A lantern hung in the place, and some of the Frontier Guards sat round a
box on the hay gambling earnest. If he went off to a distance, and
handed out a few shots to draw the guard away searching, he reckoned
there might be time to sneak round and steal a horse before they began
to stray back. But then there was Curly all delirious with fever, and
whimpering small wolf calls, so that every dog in the place had started
to bark. The wolf calls had to be stopped, and a new dream started which
would keep the little partner good and silent. That is why Jim took a
handful of dust which he said was salt.

"Come along, Curly," he whispered, "we're going to stalk the buffalo; to
still hunt the buffalo; we must be fearfully quiet, or we'll never put
the salt on their tails. Don't you see?"

"But the buffalo's all gawn extinct!"

"Oh, that's all right; it's not their fault, poor things. Come on, and
we'll salt their tails."

"I'm sort of tired," says Curly right out loud, and Jim went cold with
fright. He could hear the soldiers squabbling over their game not fifty
feet away, then the sound of somebody's footsteps rambling over from the
guard-house. A soldier staggered drunk within two yards of him, and
rolled in at the stable door.

"Come on, old chap," Jim whispered; "I'm your horse, so climb on my
back, and we'll travel."

So he put the little partner on his back, and staggered away into the
desert. He had one cartridge in the gun, no water, only the stars to
guide him, and at sunrise the Frontier Guards would see his tracks.
There was no hope.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE WHITE STAR


As soon as Captain McCalmont was clear of the city I meandered in a
casual way around the saloons, taking a drink here, a cigar there,
passing the word for a meeting of cowboys only. They were to ride out by
twos and threes for home in the usual way, but the time for the meeting
was sunset, and the place a slope of hillside beyond Balshannon's grave.
There we gathered to the number of thirty head, and Mutiny rode into the
bunch to cut out any strangers who might have strayed with the herd.
There being no strays, I spoke--

"Boys, you-all knows who was buried here on the hilltop. He was my
friend, and a sure friend of all range men." Some of the boys uncovered,
one called--

"Spit it out, ole Chalkeye! When you starts up yo' church, rent me a
stall!"

"I'll hire yo' ruddy scalp," says I, "instead of lamps. Wall, boys,
these town toughs has shot out El Señor Don, and they're proposing to
play their pure fountain of law on two more of our tribe, the same being
young Jim his son, and little Curly McCalmont."

"Say, Chalkeye, when do you get yo' dividends from Messrs. Robbers,
Roost, and Co.?"

"Why, Buck, it's on them days when I trusts you with loans of money."

The crowd knew Buck's habit of not paying his debts, and proposed to
divide up his shirt and pants if he got too obvious with remarks.

"Boys," I went on, "we been letting these town citizens get too much
happy and animated, throwing dirt in our face. Why, here's down east
newspapers sobbing obituary notices over the poor cowboy species
departed. Seems that we-all, and the mammoth, and the dodo, and the
bison is numbered with the past, and our bones is used to manure the
crops of the industrious farmer. Does that splash you?

"Dear departed, I appeals to you most sorrowful--ain't it time to show
signs of being alive? Not being a worker of miracles, I don't aim to
corrupt yo' morals, I ain't proposing to obliterate the town which
provides us with our liquor and groceries, I ain't a party to acts of
violence; but I do propose that we just whirl in to-night and rescue
them po' kids at La Morita. Of course, in busting the calaboose we may
have to shoot up a few Mexicans--but it does them good to be taken
serious at times, and they'd sure hate to be ignored while we stole
their captives."

Mutiny called out, "Say, now you've got yo' tail up, you ain't
forgetting to talk."

And on that the boys got riotous--"Rair up some more, ole Chalkeye;
let's see you paw the moon!"

"You tell the lies, we'll stick to 'em!"

"Who stole Ryan's cows, eh, Chalkeye?"

"Let the old horse-thief turn his wolf loose! Ki-yi-yeou-ou-ou!"

"Loo-loo-loo-Yip! Yow!"

"Girls," says I, "you're gettin' plenty obstreperous. Come on--let's
roll our tails for old Mexico!"

The boys came yelping, and we trotted the night through, throwing the
miles behind us.

At three o'clock, to judge by the stars of Orion, we rested our ponies
near the boundary, at the streak of dawn loped on, and just as the day
broke hurricaned in a gun-blaze down on La Morita.

I regret to state for your information that the Mexican Frontier Guards
were too sleepy to play up their side of the game, but surrendered
abject before they had time to get hurt. Moreover, our youngsters had
vamoosed through a hole in the wall. So there were no captives to
liberate, except four measly _vaqueros_, which gave us a red-hot cussing
at being waked too early for coffee time. We had a sickening miserable
picnic, a waste of sweat and oratory.

Slow and solemn we gaoled up those soldiers in the calaboose, and
mounted the sulky _vaqueros_ for a guard to hold them, feeling all the
time like a batch of widows.

In the stable I found Curly's buckskin mare and my fool horse Jones, the
pair of which I took when we started for home. As to Jim and Curly, we
held a council smoke, debating on their fate. The crowd agreed that
these kids had been my pupils, and would be sure horse-thieves
naturally. I felt they had gone afoot, but scouting around, I failed to
find their sign. There was a track of a man with cowboy heels, going
east, but it seemed to wiggle drunk. I never thought of Jim rolling
along as he did with Curly on his back, but searched for the tracks of
the pair running side by side. If I had only been a better scout I might
have understood the lone track, and followed with horses to mount my
youngsters for flight. We could have made an easy escape from the
country, ending all our troubles--but I was a fool.

So soon as my tribe pulled out for home I knew that the Frontier Guards
would be loose at once like burned-out hornets. To linger in their way
would be unhealthy, and I had no tracks to follow anyway. So I pulled
out with the rest, taking all guns and horses, leaving the Guards
disarmed and afoot lest they should try to act warlike. Further north
the guns were thrown away, except some retained as mementos, and we used
the Mexican herd of ponies to cover our tracks where we scattered.

This episode is alluded to by the foolish cowboys as "Chalkeye's
victory--all talk and run."

A couple of miles to the eastward of La Morita Jim found that his little
partner weighed a ton. After working all night, and struggling to the
limit of his strength, he could go no further. The day was breaking; to
move by daylight meant an extra risk of being seen, and there was
nothing to be gained by travelling. So he staggered to the nearest
hilltop, found a good look-out point, then smashed up some local
rattlesnakes, and laid Curly to rest under a sheltering rock. From there
he watched what the _Weekly Obituary_ described as "an infamous outrage,
perpetrated at La Morita by a gang of cowardly ruffians." Not that Jim
was shocked--indeed, I reckon the lad put up signs of depraved joy. He
said to the little partner--

"We're sure saved, Curly, from being tracked down by the Guards and
murdered."

I calculate that one ordinary Arizona day without food and water would
have finished Curly, but as it happened this was a desert Sabbath, when
the clouds had a round-up for prayer. I ain't religious; it's no use for
a poor devil like me to make a bluff at being holy, and if I went to
church the Big Spirit would say: "Look at this Chalkeye person playing
up at Me in a boiled shirt--ain't this plumb ridiculous?"

It's no use, because I'm bad, but yet it humbles me down low to watch
the clouds when they herd together for prayers, flirting their angel
wings against the sun, lifting their gruff voices in supplication,
tearing up the sky with their lightnings, sending down the rain of mercy
to us poor desert creatures. The respectable people hire preachers to
tell the Big Spirit of their wants, but it's the white clouds of the sky
that says prayers for us ignorant range folks, for the coyotes, the deer
and panthers, the bears and cows, the ponies and the cowboys. Then the
rain comes to save us from dying of thirst, and we cusses around
ungrateful because it makes us wet.

When the storm broke that morning, the rain roared, the ground splashed,
the hills ran cataracts, and Jim and Curly got washed out of their camp,
the same becoming a pool all of a sudden, and were much too wet to go to
sleep again. Moreover, the fever had left off prancing around in Curly's
brain, and the cold had eased her wound like some big medicine.

Jim had found a corner under the rock ledge which was perfectly dry. His
leather Mexican clothes were shrunk tight with rain, the staining ran in
streaks on his face, his teeth played tunes with the cold.

"El Señor Don Santiago," says Curly, "yo' face has all gawn pinto, and
it don't look Mexican that a-way in stripes. Maybe yo're changing into
a sort of half-breed."

"I'm beastly cold," says Jim, grave as a funeral.

"Same here," she laughed. "Don't you think yo' disguise would pass for
something in the way of striped squir'ls? With a rat in yo' paws you'd
do for a chipmunk."

"Let me be," says Jim. "How's your wound?"

"Not aching to hurt, just to remind me it's there. How did we get to
this rock?"

Jim told her about the escape, and how the Frontier Guards had been left
afoot, and how the storm had come convenient to wash out the raiders'
tracks as well as his own.

The rain had quit, and the plain was shining like a sea of gold which
ran in channels between the island groups of purple mountains. So one
could sure see range after range melting off into more than a hundred
miles of clear distance, to where the sunshine was hot beyond the
clouds. That clearness after rain is a great wonder to see, and makes
one feel very good.

"Talk some more," says Curly, "then I won't be encouraging this wound by
taking notice of it."

"Shall I lift you here to this dry corner?"

"No; it's sure fighting, moving. Leave me be."

"Curly, how did you get that scar above your eye?"

"Buck handed me that. He's shorely fretful at times. Who's Buck? Why,
he's second in command of our gang. No, he's a sure man. I'm plenty fond
of Buck."

"The brute! I'll wring his beastly neck! You love him?"

"Wouldn't you love all yo' brothers, Jim?"

"Oh, brothers--that's all right. But why did the rotten coward make that
scar?"

"You see, Buck's plenty fond of me, and his emotions is r'aring high,
specially when--wall, I refused to be Mrs. Buck. It sounded so funny
that I had to laugh. Then he got bucking squealing crazy, and when he's
feeling that a-way he throws knives, which it's careless of him."

"He wounded you with a knife? The cur!"

"Oh, but Buck was remorseful a whole lot afterwards, and father shot him
too. Father always shoots when the boys get intimate. Poor Buck! I
nursed him until he was able to get around again, and he loves me worse
than ever. It cayn't be helped."

"So these robbers know that you--that you're a girl?"

"They found me out last year. Yes, it's at the back of their haids that
I'm their lil sister, and they're allowed to be brothers to me, Jim. Now
don't you snort like a hawss, 'cause they're all the brothers I've got."

"You're not afraid of them?"

"You cayn't think what nice boys they are. Of course, being robbers,
they claims to have been hatched savage, and brung up dangerous, pore
things. Father tells 'em that they has no occasion for vain-glorious
pride, 'cause their vocation is mean."

"He's dead right, and I'm glad he shoots them!"

"Generally in the laigs. He says he reckons that a tender inducement to
being good is better than a bullet through the eye. Of co'se thar has to
be some discipline to chasten they'r hearts, or they'd get acting
bumptious."

"Humph!"

"But you don't savvy. Father has to press his views on the boys, but
they'd be much worse if it wasn't for him. He says he's a heaps
indulgent parent to 'em, and I reckon he shorely is. Father's the best
man in the whole world. Do you know he only kills when he has to, and
not for his own honour and glory? Why, he won't rob a man unless he's
got lots of wealth. Once he was a bad man, but that's a long while ago,
before I remember."

"Were you always raised as a boy?"

"Allus. He made me learn to ride, and rope, and shoot, from--ever since
I was weaned. When I got old enough he learned me scouting, cooking,
packing a hawss, tending wounds, hunting--all sorts of things. I been
well educated shore enough, more than most boys."

"It's all beastly rot calling him good--McCalmont good!"

"A hawss or a dawg, or a lil' child will run from a bad man, but they
love my father. Oh, but you don't know how good he is!"

"Well, let it go at that. You wanted to be a robber?"

"Shorely, yes, but he never would let me. It ain't true what that
sign-paper says up in the city yonder, that I robbed a train. I wasn't
there at all. You see, father picked up on the home trail with a
starving man, and helped him. That mean, or'nary cuss went and told Joe
Beef, the sheriff, that I was in the gang which held up the train.
That's why I'm due to be hunted and roped, or shot at by any citizen who
wants two thousand dollars. Of co'se, it's nacheral there should be a
bounty offered on wolf haids, but I'd like to have a nice wolf-time
before I'm killed. I never had a chance to get my teeth in, 'cept only
once. Yes, we stole six hundred head of cattle from the Navajos, and you
should just have seen the eager way they put out after us. They was
plenty enthoosiastic, and they came mighty near collecting our wigs."

"It makes me sick to think of you with a gang of thieves."

"Father says that the worst crimes is cowardice, meanness, and cheating.
The next worse things is banks, railroad companies, lawyers; and that
young Ryan--'specially Ryan--he says that us robbers is angels compared
with trash like that."

"That's no excuse."

"Father says that robbery is a sign that the law is rotten, and a proof
that the Government's too pore and weak to cast a proper shadow. He
allows we're a curse to the country, and it serves the people right."

"It's bad--you know it's bad!"

"Shore thing it's bad. Do you know what made us bad? All of our tribe
was cowboys and stockmen once; not saints, but trying to act honest, and
only stealing cows quite moderate, like ole Chalkeye. Then rich men came
stealing our water-holes, fencing in our grass, driving our cattle
away."

"Why didn't you get a lawyer--wasn't there any law?"

"There shorely was. My father's farm was way back in Kansas. His
neighbour was a big cattle company, which hadn't any use for farms or
settlers. They turned their cattle into his crops, they shot my brother
Bill, they wounded father. Then father went to law, and the lawyers
skinned him alive, and the judge was a shareholder in the Thomas Cattle
Company--he done gave judgment that we-all was in the wrong. Then father
appealed to the big Court at Washington, which says he had the right to
his land and home. So the cattle company set the grass on fire and
burned our home. Mother was burned to death, and father he went bad. I
was the only thing he saved from the fire."

"Poor beggar! No wonder he turned robber. I'd have done the same, by
Jove!"

"He shot Judge Thomson first, then he killed Mose Thomson, and the
sheriff put out to get him. He got the sheriff. Then he went all through
Kansas and Colorado, gathering pore stockmen what had been robbed and
ruined by the rich men's law. They held up pay-escorts, stage coaches,
banks, the trains on the railroad. That was the beginning of the
Robbers' Roost."

Jim sat heaps thoughtful looking away across the desert. "Our breeding
cattle," says he, tallying on his fingers, "then Holy Cross, then
mother, then father, and now I'm being hunted for a murder I didn't
commit."

"Now you know," says Curly, "why we robbers played a hand in yo' game."

"I understand. Say, Curly, I take back all I said about it being
bad--this robbery-under-arms. It's the only thing to do."

"Don't you get dreaming," says Curly, "we-all ain't blind; our eyes is
open a whole lot wide to truth, and we make no bluff that robbery and
murder is forms of holiness."

"It's all right for me. I'm a man, and I'm not a coward, either. But,
Curly, you're not fit for a game like this. I'm going to take you
away--where you'll be safe."

"And whar to?"

Jim looked at the desert steaming after the rain, hot as flame, reaching
away all round for ever and ever. He looked at Curly's wound all swollen
up, her face which had gone gaunt with pain and weakness. They were
afoot, they were hunted, they had no place to hide.

"Whar do you propose to take me?" says Curly.

"I don't know," says Jim; "perhaps your people aren't so bad after
all--anyway, they tried to keep you clean."

"And what's the use of that? D'ye think I want to be alone in the hull
world--clean with no folks, no home? Why should I want to be different
from my father, and all my tribe? Would I want to be safe while they're
in danger? Would I want to play coward while they fight? Shucks! Father
turned me out to grass onced at the Catholic Mission, and them priests
was shorely booked right through to heaven. What's the use of my being
thar, while the rest of my tribe is in hell? I dreamt last night I was
in hell, carrying water to feed it to my wolves; I couldn't get a drop
for myself--never a drop."

"Curly, I've got to save you--I must--I shall!"

She laughed at him. "You! Do you remember me at Holy Crawss when I
punched cows for Chalkeye? I might ha' been thar still but for you."

"What on earth do you mean?"

"Jim, I met up with yo' mother, and I didn't want to be bad any more
when I seen her."

"She thought the world of you."

The poor child broke out laughing, "Oh, shucks!" Then her face went
bitter. "She said she loved me, eh?"

"She said I was a beastly little cad compared with you. When I got home
from college she held you up for a holy example, and rubbed my nose in
it. She was right--but how I cursed you!"

Curly laughed faint and lay back moaning, for the sun had come hot from
the clouds, and she was burning with pain. "So yo' mother claimed she
loved me. Well, I know better!"

"Why didn't you stay with her, Curly?"

"I seen her face when she waited for you to come home--you, Jim, and she
looked sure hungry. What was I to her, when she seen her own son
a-coming? I waited to see you, Jim; I jest had to see you 'cause you was
pizen to me. Then I went away 'cause I'd have killed you if I'd seen you
any mo'."

"Where did you go?"

"Whar I belong, back to the wolf pack. What had I to do with a home, and
a mother, with shelter, and livin' safe, and bein' loved? I'm only a
wolf with a bounty on my hide, to be hunted down and shot."

"And you--a girl!"

"No, a mistake!"

Jim pawed out, and grabbed her small brown hand. "You came back," he
whispered.

"I came back to see if that Ryan was goin' to wipe you out, you and yo'
people. I came to see you die."

"And saved my life!"

"I reckon," says Curly, "I ain't quite responsible anyways for my
life--'cause I'm only a mistake--jest a mistake. I feels one way, and
acts the contrary; I whirl in to kill, and has to rescue; I aims to
hate--and instead of that I----"

"What?"

"I dunno," she laughed. "Up home at Robbers' Roost we got a lil' book on
etiquette what tells you how ladies and gentlemen had ought to act in
heaps big difficulties. It shorely worries me to know whether I'm a lady
or a gentleman, but it's mighty comfortin' the way that book is wrote. I
done broke all my wolves outer that book to set up on their tails and
act pretty. Now, if I had the book I'd know how I'd ought to act in
regard to you-all."

Jim looked mighty solemn, being naturally about as humorous as a
funeral. "Am I nothing to you?" he asked, feeling hurt; but she just
opened one eye at him, smiling, and said nothing.

Presently the pain got so bad that she began to roll from side to side,
scratching with her free hand at the face of the rock overhead.

"Can't I do something?" says Jim. "It's awful to sit and watch that
pain. I must do something."

"If you climb to the top of this rock," she said between her teeth,
"you'd see La Soledad. My father's thar."

"I'll run."

"Why run?" She snatched a small round looking-glass out of the breast of
her shirt. "You've only to get the sun on this glass and flash the light
three times upon La Soledad. The man on look-out will see the flash."

"Give me the glass, then."

"No."

"Why not?"

"Do you know what it means, Jim, if you flash that signal?"

"Rescue for you."

"And for you, Jim? It means that you quit bein' an honest man, it means
shame, it means death. Us outlaws don't die in our beds, Jim."

"Give me the glass."

"No, Jim. Some time soon, when you and me is riding with the outfit, or
camped at our stronghold, the army is goin' to come up agin' us--pony
soldiers, and walk-a-heaps, and twice guns, to take our water-holes, to
drive away our _remuda_, to block our escape trails, to close in on us.
Our fires are goin' to be put out, our corpses left to the coyotes and
the eagles."

"Give me that glass!"

"And my father says that beyond that is the Everlastin' Death."

"Do you think you can frighten me? Give me that glass!" He snatched the
glass from her hand, scrambled to the top of the rocks, and flashed the
light three times upon La Soledad.

A white star answered.



CHAPTER XIX

A MARRIAGE SETTLEMENT


McCalmont was hid up at the _ranchita_ La Soledad, with a sentry out to
the south-west watching La Morita, a sentry out to the west to keep tab
on the Bisley trail, a sentry out to the north on the Grave City road,
and Buck Hennesy, his segundo, riding from point to point with feed and
water. When anything happened the sentries flashed a signal to Buck, who
warned the chief. At sunrise McCalmont had news of our raid on La
Morita, and that made him think for sure that the kids were rescued.
He'd been riding all night, so he got his eye down quick for a big
sleep. The storm rolled up, burst, and trailed off to the eastward; the
sun shone out, lifting white steam from the desert; then came the heat.
At two o'clock, away southward through the quivering haze, Buck sighted
the three-flash signal, which means "Help!" He threw back the two-flash,
"Coming."

So he and the chief loped out, taking a canteen of cold tea, which is
the proper medicine for thirst, and a led horse each, to bring the
youngsters in to the little ranche. By four o'clock they had Curly
bedded down in the shack, supposing herself to be a prairie-dog, and
wanting to know who'd come and stole her tail. McCalmont nursed her,
Buck went off to spoil the trail from the hill, and Jim squatted down on
the doorstep for a feed of pork and beans, with lashings of coffee.

The main outfit of the robbers was camped at Las Aguas, some miles to
the north-east, and three of them came in at dusk to get their supper
and relieve the sentries around La Soledad. They were heaps shy when
they saw what looked like a greaser _vaquero_ sitting in the doorway of
the cabin. One of them rode right at him.

"Here, you," he shouted. "Git out 'er here _pronto_! Vamoose!"

"_Poco tiempo_," says Jim.

"Who are you, anyways?"

"_Quien sabe?_"

"Wall, ye cayn't stay here, so ye'd best get absent." He pulled his gun
on Jim's feet. "Now jest you prance!"

Jim laughed at him.

"_Mañana_," he said. Then in English, "You bark a lot, my friend. Whose
dog are you?"

Then he heard McCalmont's slow, soft drawl. "I sure enjoy to see the
sire's grit show out in the young colt. Spoke like a man, Jim! And as to
you, Crazy Hoss, I want you to understand that if you don't learn
deportment I'll politely lam yo' haid, you, you double-dealing
foogitive, low-flung, sheep-herdin' son of a lop-eared thug! Hain't you
got no more sense than a toorist, you parboiled, cock-eyed, spavined,
broken-down, knock-kneed wreck o' bones? You----!"

With such genteel introductions McCalmont sure spouted burning wrath
into that robber, scorching holes until he lost his breath.

"The evil communications of this young polecat," says he to Jim, "is
shorely spoiling my manners. And now, you--you turtle-doves, you'll jest
get away out of here and cook your supper thar by the barn. You want to
be mighty quiet too, 'cause my Curly is lying in here wounded. Git over
now!"

The robbers trailed off grinning, while the chief sat down on the
doorstep next to Jim.

"The children make me peevish," he said, and began to roll a cigarette
in his fingers. "Wall, do you remember, Jim? I allowed we'd be better
friends when we met again."

Jim looked round sharp and sat there studying McCalmont. He didn't look
bad or dangerous, but just a middle-aged cattle-man of the old long-horn
desert breed. Our folks are rough and homely; we've got a hard name,
too, but we stay alive in a country which kills off all but the
fighters. McCalmont had a cool blue eye, humorous and kind, and grey
hair straggling down over a face that was tanned to leather. The
stiff-brimmed cowboy hat was jammed on the back of his head, the white
silk handkerchief hung loose about his shoulders. He wore a grey army
shirt, blue overalls, stuffed anyhow into his boots, and a loose belt of
cartridges, slinging the Colt revolver on his hip. Somehow the youngster
felt drawn to him, knowing he'd found a friend of the kind that lasts.

"And you were that sky-scout?" says he.

"A most unworthy shepherd! Jest you look at my sheep," says McCalmont.

Jim asked how long it was since they met that day on the range.

"It seems a year to you, eh, lad? That was six days ago, the way I
reckon time."

"So much has happened--sir--can it be less than a week? I was only a boy
then--and Curly----"

"My son has struck you serious."

"She has told me everything, sir."

"Yo' goin' to remember to speak of Curly as a boy. He is allooded to as
a boy, or I get hawstile. You understand that?"

"I understand."

"And now," says McCalmont, "we'll have that buckboard ready in case we
need to pull out."

There was a buckboard standing in the yard, the same being a four-wheel
dogtrap, with a springy floor of boards, easy for travel. Jim helped
McCalmont to stow some cases and a keg of water, fill sacks with sweet
range hay for Curly's bed, and then cover the whole with a canvas
ground-sheet.

"You think," says Jim, "that we'll be chased to-night?"

"I dunno, Jim, but it looks to me as that's how the herd is grazing."

When supper was ready they strayed across to the fire and joined issue
with beef, hot bread, and coffee, the same being taken serious without
waste of time or talk. We range-folk don't interrupt our teeth with
aimless discourse. By smoke-time Buck loped off in the dusk to find the
_remuda_ of ponies out at grass, and the boys had a cigarette while he
gathered, watered, and drove the ponies home. Then the team for the
buckboard was caught, harnessed, and tied up with a feed of corn; each
man roped and saddled his night horse; and Buck, with the three relief
men, rode out slow, curving away into the starlight.

McCalmont roped a sorrel mare for Jim, then found him a spare saddle, a
bridle, a blanket, belt, gun, and spurs.

"Now," says he, "jest bed yo'self down, but don't undress. Keep yo'
hawss to hand, sleep rapid, and in case of alarm jump quick. An outlaw's
bed, my son, ain't feathered for long sleeps."

Jim lay awake and watched until the day guard came loping in with Buck.
He saw them rope and saddle their remounts, catch their supper, bed
down, and smoke the final cigarette. It all felt homely and good to be
with cowboys again, to have his blanket on the dust, his horse and gun
beside him, to know he was free and moderately safe, to look up drowsy
at a great white sky of stars. Jim was a plainsman in those days sure
enough, content, range fashion, to have the whole earth for a bed, the
night for a bedroom, and the starry palace of the Great Spirit to
shelter him while he slept. Kings and emperors and such have to hole up
at night in mean quarters compared with that.

Somewhere out on the range McCalmont's guard-camp kept a sentry alert
through the night, and when Jim woke up he saw the day guard swarming
off in the grey of dawn to relieve them. He washed himself in the
horse-trough, and helped McCalmont to cook breakfast.

"Now don't you make too much fire," says the chief, "'cause the less
smoke we show the better for our health. We want no strangers projecting
around to pay us mawning visits."

"Colonel," says Jim, "how's Curly?"

"Right peart, and chirping for breakfast."

The boys came rolling in from night guard. "Now you, Crazy Hoss," says
McCalmont, "rope the day hawsses, and put the herd to grass befo' you
feed. You, Buck, is all secure?"

"Wall, boss, there's United States pony-soldiers, three hundred haid of
'em, comes trailing down out of the Mule Pass."

"Heading this way?"

"No, seh; they're pointing for La Morita."

"I see. It's because of the shockin' outrage yesterday on them pore
Mexican Guards at La Morita. I expaict that ole Mexico is up on its ear
for war, and they'll be sending their army to eat the United States.
Jest take yo' glasses, Buck, and see if that Mexican army is coming
along."

Buck rode to the nearest hill and looked over the top without showing
himself on the skyline; then he came sailing back, and rolled up to the
chief, all snorting.

"There's the dust of an army on the Fronteras trail."

"Them rival armies," McCalmont drawled, "will talk theyrselves into
fits, and the rival Governments will talk theyrselves into fits; and all
the newspapers will talk theyrselves into fits; then they'll agree that
La Morita was raided, and they'll agree that it was the acts of wicked
robbers, and they'll agree it was _me_. 'Spose we have our coffee."

All through the night McCalmont had been sitting up with Curly, treating
her wound to a course of cold wet bandages once in five minutes to
reduce the swelling. After breakfast he went back again to her side, and
his teeth were sure set hard, because he had made up his mind to dig for
the bullet, which caused her more pain than was needful. As for Jim, he
squatted on the doorstep outside, with time at last to think. His
affairs had been some hurried and precipitous in this one week, which
cost him his parents, his home, his business as master of a tribe of
cowboys, his friends, his prospects, his reputation as an honest man.
And now the whirlwind had dropped him on the doorstep of a 'dobe shack
to think the matter over quietly and have a look at himself. He was an
orphan now, poor as a wolf, hunted, desperate, herded with thieves. What
was the use of trying to earn an honest living when the first
respectable person he met would begin the conversation by shooting him
all to pieces?

Then he heard McCalmont calling him: "Say, can yo' lawdship oblige me
with the loan of a pin?"

His lordship! The poor chap remembered now that he was Viscount
Balshannon, Baron Blandon, and several different sorts of baronets.

"Yo' lawdship!"

"McCalmont," he howled, "you brute!"

Then he heard Curly telling her father to behave himself, and his mind
went off grazing again over the range of his troubles. There was that
Curly, the famous desperado, the fighting frontiersman, the man who had
saved his life--and all of a sudden he had to think of him--of her--as a
poor girl crazy with pain. Jim had to face a fact which had hit his very
soul, turned the world upside down, and left him wriggling. It was no
use being hostile or disappointed; he couldn't make believe he was
glad. Curly didn't feel like a chum or a partner now; he couldn't
imagine her as any sort of sister or friend. She just filled his life
until there was nothing else to care for on earth, and it made his bones
ache.

Then McCalmont began to work with some sort of surgical instruments,
probing her wound for the bullet. He heard her make little moans,
whimpers, and stopped his ears with his fingers. Then she screamed.

Jim was shaking all over, but with that scream he knew what had happened
to himself. He had fallen head over ears in love with that same Curly.

After a long time McCalmont came out of the shack and sat down alongside
of Jim. The robber was white as a ghost; he was trembling and gulping
for breath.

"Here," he cried, "you take this."

Jim took the thing in his hand--a flattened bullet, all torn around the
edges and streaked with blood.

For some time he just sat staring at that bullet, scared by his own
thoughts. "Captain," says he at last, "Curly's not dying?"

"Why, not to any great extent, my son." McCalmont lay back on a dirt
floor, and yawned. "He's sleeping a whole lot now, and if you'll stay
around in case he wakes, I'll take a few myself; I'm kinder tired."

The robber dropped off to sleep, and Jim sat watching beside him. At
noon the boys off duty in the yard called him to dinner, but McCalmont
slept far into the afternoon. Then of a sudden he started broad awake,
his hand on his gun, staring out at the blazing heat of the desert.

"That's all right," says he; "three hours' rest is enough for hawsses
and robbers, so I reckon I've took more'n my share."

"Curly's still sleeping," says Jim.

"I'll catch some lunch, then."

Jim watched him ranging about the yard, bread in one hand, meat in the
other, eating his dinner while he hustled his men to work. He kept three
young robbers busy until the camp gear was stowed for travel, and all
the litter was hid away out of sight. Then he made them bury the ashes
of the camp fire, and smooth over all the tracks until the ground looked
as though there had been no visitors for a week.

After that he brought a pencil and notebook for Jim.

"I want you to write," he said; "scrawl yo' worst, and put down all the
spellin' ignorant. Write:--'Dere Bill, I'm gawn with the buckboard for
grub. Back this even.'--B. Brown.' Yes, that will do."

He took the book from Jim, tore out the leaf, and hung it on the door
conspicuous.

"Thar's times," he said, "when sheriffs and marshals, and posses of
virtuous citizens gets out on the warpath in pursuit of robbers. They
comes pointing along mighty suspicious, and reads the tracks on the
ground, and notes the signs, and sniffs the little smells, and in they'r
ignorant way draws false concloosions. Meanwhile the robbers has
adjourned."

Jim's face was as long as a coffin. "Captain," says he, "I've been
thinking."

"I'm sorry yo're took bad, my son." The robber sat down beside him. "Let
me see yo' tongue."

"Don't laugh at me. Will you mind, Captain McCalmont--if--if I speak of
Curly--just this once--as--as a woman?"

"Turn yo' wolf loose, my son, I'm hearing."

"I love her, sir."

"Same here, Jim."

"Do you mind, though?"

"My boy, when I wanted to marry her mother, I jest up an' asked her."

"I'm not good enough for her."

"That's so, and yet I reckon Curly's been dead gentle with you-all. Why,
she sure sits on all our haids."

"I'm afraid she doesn't care for me yet."

"I expaict, Jim, that an eye-doctor is what you need."

"And you'll consent?"

"If Curly consents, on one condition. You get her safely out of this
country, you take her to civilised life, whar she can stay good, away
from us--thieves. Take her to the Old Country."

"To starve!"

"I'll see to that. I've left enough wealth with Chalkeye to give you a
start in life. He came down yesterday mawning to see you-all at La
Morita--you were out."

"Do you suppose," says Jim, getting hot, "that I'd take your money?"

"If you take my child, yo're not above taking my money, Lord
Balshannon!"

Jim pawed his gun--"I take no stolen money!"

"Yo're speaking too loud," says McCalmont, "come over by the corral."

He walked over to the bars of the corral, Jim following.

"And now," McCalmont's voice went softer than ever, "I may allude to the
fact that if any cur insults my daughter or me, there is apt to be some
unpleasantness."

"Don't you think," says Jim, his hand on his gun, "that we had better go
a little further off--so that Curly won't be disturbed when we fire?"

"Why, boy, air you proposin' to dispense yo' gun at me?"

"As you please! You called me a cur--and you'll eat your words or
fight!"

"And you only called me a thief? Wall, I shorely am for a fact, and
you're not a cur--no. I reckon I was some impulsive in saying that.
Come, we won't quar'l, for I like you a whole lot for yo' playing up
against me that-a-way. What are yo' plans?"

Jim was breathing hard and acting defiant still. "I want to join your
gang!"

"Which I accepts you glad, for I ain't refusing shelter to any hunted
man."

"And I may marry Curly?"

"Not if you join my outfit. None of my wolves are invited to offer theyr
paws in mar'iage with my Curly. Two or three of them young persons
proposed theyrselves, and found my gun a whole lot too contagious for
comfort."

Jim unbuckled his belt, and let it fall with holster and gun to the
ground.

"I cannot accept the loan of that gun," he said, "or any favour from
you. I've been hunted, I'm afoot, I'm unarmed, but now, by thunder! look
out for yourself, because I'm going to hunt. I shall rob you if I can;
I'm at war with you and every man on the stock range, until I've won
back my house, my lands, my cattle. Then I'll come for your daughter,
but I won't ask for her!"

McCalmont leaned his shoulder against the corral, and laughed at him.

"Wade in!" says he; "good luck, my boy. I mustn't ask you to divulge yo'
plans, but I'm heaps interested."

"My father told me, Captain McCalmont, that all the first Balshannon won
he got with the sword. Well, times are changed--we use revolvers now!"

"Only for robbery, my lad, and for murder. I thought as you do once, and
reckoned I'd get even with the world. I started with a lone gun, I sure
got even, but see the price I paid. My wife was--I cayn't talk of that.
My lil' son was shot. My daughter is herding with thieves--and she's the
only thing that I've got left on airth. Come, lad, if I can bear to part
with her, and give her up to you, cayn't you give up a little of yo'
fool pride and accept her dowry jest to save the child? Take her away to
whar she can stay good--I ask no more of you."

"You want me to run away from Ryan, and let him keep Holy Cross? You
want me to live in Ireland on a woman's money? You want to hire Lord
Balshannon, with stolen money, to keep your daughter?" Jim spat on the
ground. "If you want to give Curly to a filthy blackguard, why don't you
marry her to Ryan?"

"You use strong words, seh."

"And mean them!"

McCalmont lowered his eyes, and pawed in the dust with his foot. Just
for a moment he stood scratching the dust, then he looked up.

"Onced," he said, very quiet, "I aimed at being a gentleman. I beg yo'
pardon, seh."

"You are a gentleman," says Jim, "that's just the worst of it--you
understand things. What on earth makes you want to insult me?"

"It seems to me, Jim, that you might understand, more than you do, that
I'm aiming to be yo' friend. Yo're at war with this yere Ryan to get
back Holy Crawss, or a fair equivalent, eh, for what you've lost?"

"Go on, sir."

"I'm at war, too, with the breed of swine he belongs to. Would you be
satisfied if Ryan paid in cash for yo' home, yo' land, and yo' cattle?
You being an outlaw now, it wouldn't be healthy to live there to any
great extent. Will you take cash?"

"Or blood!"

"I have no speshul use fo' blood. I reckon I'd as soon bleed a polecat
as a Ryan, if I yearned for blood. What d'you reckon you could buy with
blood--sections of peace, chunks of joy? I'd take mine in cash."

"You'll help, sir?"

"For all young Ryan's worth, and then"--McCalmont laid his hands on
Jim's shoulders--"you'll take Curly home as yo' wife, eh, partner?"

"If she is willing, sir."

McCalmont's ears went back against his head, he lifted his nose to the
west, pointing up wind. There was a sound like the thud of raindrops on
dust, a soft pattering which came nearer and stronger. He loosed off
the long yell to rouse the three men who were resting by the barn, he
told Jim to pick up his gun and help, he jumped for the team horses and
led them to the buckboard.

The pattering had grown up out of the distance to a steady rush of
sound, the ground had begun to quiver, then to shake, then with a yell
of warning, Buck and his sentries came thundering in from the desert.



CHAPTER XX

THE MARSHAL'S POSSE


McCalmont backed his team to the buckboard, lifted the waggon tongue to
the ring of the yoke bar, and jumped to hitch on the traces, just as
Buck reined all standing to report.

"There's a strong posse," says Buck, "coming out from the Mule
Pass--maybe sixty riders, and they're shorely burning the trail straight
for this ranche."

"Were you seen?"

"No, seh!"

"Bowlaigs, Johnny, Steve, yo're mounted, so you'll collect the herd,
drive north, and keep wide of the trail! Crazy Hoss, hold this team!
Doc, throw my saddle on that sorrel, and lead north; Buck, make the camp
search, and follow, closing all signs 'cept the wheel-track! Jim, help
the herders! Git a move on!"

McCalmont had got through with the harnessing while he slung his orders;
now he went to work smooth and quiet, pulling on his shaps (leather
leg-armour) and buckling his spurs while his cool eye searched the
yard.

"Buck," he called, "let the water drain out of that hoss trough. That
water wouldn't look natural on an empty ranche."

McCalmont brought Curly in his arms, bedded her down in the rig, drew
the ground-sheet over to keep off the sun and dust, and passed a lashing
across.

After that he locked the door of the cabin, and hung the key on its
nail. It was just that thoughtfulness in little plays which made
McCalmont loom up great in his business. Two minutes after the first
alarm he grabbed the reins, jumped to his seat, and drove off slow from
the yard, aiming to show by the tracks that Cocky Brown's old buckboard
had not pulled out in a hurry. Buck and Crazy Hoss stayed to brush out a
few spare tracks, put up the slip rails and follow. For all one could
see at the little _ranchita_ La Soledad, the owner, Cocky Brown, had
trailed off for supplies to the city, then a couple of riders had
happened along shortly after, and read the notice which was left for
"Dere Bill" on the door.

McCalmont just poured his whip into the team as Buck came up abreast.

"All set?" he asked.

"All set, seh."

"Can we get behind them hills befo' we're seen by the posse?"

Buck looked back to the boys who were sweating the herd astern. "Yes,"
he shouted, "I reckon. You done right smart, seh, to get Curly out 'n
that mess."

"You'll be pleased to know, Buck, that my Curly is engaged to be mar'ied
to this du Chesnay colt."

Buck's face went white, but he just spurred along saying nothing. A fold
of the ground shut out the ranche behind, a hill barred off the country
to the left, and, if the posse could see the dust of the flying outfit,
they might well mistake that for one of the whirlwinds which curve
around the desert wherever the sun burns strong.

"Buck," says McCalmont, "reach back to the skyline, and see if that
posse puts out on our trail from the ranche. At dusk I quit this Grave
City road, and strike due east. If yo're delayed, jest roll yo' trail
right east for Holy Crawss. In the mawning we round up all the stock we
can find thar, and pull out for home. You understand?"

"I understand," says Buck, and swung off for the skyline.

       *       *       *       *       *

The breaking out of evil passions between the cowboys and the Grave City
citizens opened my eye to the fact that this city was getting a whole
lot obsolete since the mines began to peter out. Its population of
twelve thousand assorted criminals had shrunken away to mere survivals
living to save the expense of funeral pomps. Counting in tramps,
tourists, and quite a few dogs, expected visitors and the dear departed,
these ruins claimed a population of one thousand persons, mostly escaped
from penitentiary. It made me feel lonesome to think of such a tribe
with its mean ways, distorted intellects, and narrow views about me.

On the other hand, there was Bisley, a sure live mining town in the Mule
Pass, where the people were youthful, happy, and sympathetic. After that
melancholy victory of mine at La Morita I came butting along to Bisley,
where I reckoned I could have a glass of lager beer without being shot
to any great extent. Besides that, United States Marshal Hawkins lives
there, who's always been a white man and a good friend to me. I found
his house away up the gulch, above Bisley City, and he being to home,
just whirled right in, telling him how sick my heart was, and how my fur
was all bristles.

He said he was disgusted with me for getting mixed up with local
politics and robbers.

Naturally I explained how I'd only been acting as second in a duel
between Balshannon and that Ryan.

He agreed I was modest in the way I put my case, and that I ought to be
hanged some in the public interest.

"How about the robbers?" says he.

"Is there robbers about?" says I. "Is thar really now?"

He snapped out news of the La Morita raid that very morning, and I own
up I was shocked all to pieces when he told me what had happened to
those fragile guards.

"Why, man," says he, "it's all your doing, and I had to wire for the
dog-gone cavalry."

"Cavalry?" says I. "Pore things; d'you reckon they'll get sore feet?"

"I opine," says the Marshal, "that you'll get a sore neck soon and
sudden, you double-dealing, cattle-stealing, hoss thief. Whar do you
think you'll go to when you're lynched?"

So he went on denouncing around until it was time to eat, then asked me
to dinner. After that Mrs. Hawkins was plenty abusive, too,
close-herding me until supper, when the Marshal came home. Hawkins,
thoughtful to keep me out of mischief, made me bed down for the night in
his barn; and I made no howl because here at Bisley, close to the
boundary, I would get the first news of Jim and Curly. It made me sick
to think how helpless I was to find them. In the morning a squadron of
cavalry arrived by rail, had coffee in town, and trailed off in their
harmless way to patrol the boundary for fear of somebody stealing
Mexico. I lay low, but mended a sewing machine which had got the
fan-tods, according to Mrs. Hawkins. I treated the poor thing for
inflammation of the squeam until it got so dead I couldn't put it
together any more. My mind was all set on my lost kids out yonder in
the desert, but Mrs. Hawkins grieved for the dead machine, and chased me
out of the house.

Just then came the Marshal swift back from Bisley town on a bicycle.

"Say, Chalkeye," he yelled, "I want you to saddle my mare, and get
mounted yourself! _Pronto!_"

When I came out with the horses I found him fondling his shot-gun, so I
buckled on my guns, and inquired for the name of my enemy.

"You know Cocky Brown?" he asked, as we rode down street.

"I know he makes a first-rate stranger," says I.

"His dog-gone son is here in Bisley drunk, and lets out that old Cocky
is getting rent for La Soledad."

"Who is the locoed tenant--some poor tourist?"

"It's that dog-gone McCalmont and his robbers!"

"And yet, Mr. Hawkins, you laid the blame on me for raiding La Morita!
It makes me sick!"

"For raiding La Morita? Why, of course--McCalmont's robbers--the same
gang which shot up the 'Sepulchre' crowd at Grave City. That explains
everything! Wall, I'm sure sorry, old friend, that I laid the blame on
you."

"Mr. Hawkins," says I, "hadn't you better tell the pony-soldiers that
they're barking up the wrong tree?"

"I will, and get their help in surprising that dog-gone McCalmont at La
Soledad. A good idea."

That was his idea, not mine, and I disown it. Suppose that Jim and Curly
were hid up there at La Soledad?

"We can get them or'nary hold-ups," says I indignant, "without being
cluttered with a heap of military infants. Why, your half-fledged,
moulting cavalry would just get right in our way by tumbling all over
theirselves."

In the town we found the citizens surging around for encouraging liquors
before they hit the trail. They were all bristling with pocket-flasks
and artillery, some on mules, some on sore-back plugs from the livery
stable. Besides that there were heroes in sulkies, and dog-traps, and
buckboards, warriors on bicycles, and three on a pioneer motor-car,
which blew up with a loud explosion in front of the Turkish Divan. Mixed
in with that milling herd were seven of my La Morita raiders, howling
for robbers' blood, and gassing about the disgracefulness of molesting
frontier guards. Then they circled round a tenderfoot on a pinto horse,
and told him how the robbers fed red-hot coals to a prisoner.

"Wall, I admire!" says the shorthorn.

"Oh, you needn't believe me," says Lying Ike, "ask Chalkeye here. He's
truthful."

"Stranger," says I, "allow me to introduce you to Mr. Lying Ike. He has
an impediment in his truth, but otherwise will survive until he's
lynched. Now, seh, the Marshal over yonder says that he yearns for your
advice."

That tenderfoot loped off joyful to teach the United States Marshal,
while I spoke to my cowboys like a father.

"You moth-eaten bookworms," says I, "your stories is prehistoric, and
your lies is relics. Now you want to encourage them pore toorists,
'cause we needs them. Toorists graze out slothful on the trail, they're
noisy to warn their prey, and they flit like bats as soon as a robber
shoots. Send all the toorists you can to tell good advice to Marshal
Hawkins quick. As to the real folks who kin ride and shoot, beguile 'em
to feed, lead 'em up against the fire-water, scatter 'em, delay! This
Marshal needs our help, you blighted sufferers. Do you want the Marshal
to get Jim and pore Curly McCalmont, you idiots?"

So we scattered to help the Marshal, sending him earnest talkers while
his fighting-men went off and lost themselves.

Did I act mean? I wonder sometimes whether I done right for Jim, for
Curly.

Dog-gone Hawkins was as mad as a wet hen, too hoarse for further
comments when, after a couple of hours, he rode off alone to hunt
robbers; so we had to follow to save the old man from being shot. I
came up abreast as soon as I could, and in a voice all hushed into
whispers, he just invoked black saints and little red angels to comfort
me on a grid.

I reckon it was four o'clock when our circus, all hot and dusty after a
ten-mile ride, charged down upon La Soledad. The place looked so blamed
peaceful that the Marshal stared pop-eyed.

"Wall, I'll be dog-goned!" says he, and let us riders traffick around
innocent, trampling out all the ground sign. When he saw Cocky's
memorandum on the door of the shack he couldn't bear it any longer.

"Chalkeye," says he, "I'll be dog-goned if that ain't--'Gawn with the
buckboard for grub.' If that ain't enough to scorch a yaller dawg!"

"And yet," says I, "you blamed us for hanging back!"

"Wall," he groaned, "the drinks is on me this time. Let's go home."

But I knew Jim's handwriting, I knew that he and Curly were with the
buckboard, I knew that the brains of McCalmont himself were behind a
play like this.

I looked up the Grave City trail, the way to my ranche, the way that the
buckboard had gone with my kids.

"You may go home, sir," says I, "but I'm off to my home before you
leads me any more astray, corrupting my pure morals."

Dog-gone Hawkins froze me with his eyes. "Ef your soul," he says, "were
to stray out on to your dog-goned cheek it would get lost!"

I'm always getting misunderstood like that by people who ought to know
better. You see, I had to shock old Hawkins, or he would notice at once
that I aimed to follow the buckboard.

"Cyclists," says I, "dawg-traps, sulkies, buggies, waggons, sore-back
horses, mules, tenderfoot--look at yo' circus and say if that ain't
enough to corrupt a long-horn's mortals. Hello, look at that!"

A man was coming down from the north, lickety-split on a roan with a
rangy stride. He wore sombrero, shirt, shaps with streaming fringes, a
brace of guns to his belt. He rode with a cowboy swing to his broad
shoulders, and his face was black with rage as he pulled up facing our
crowd--guns drawn for war.

"Boys," he shouted, "whar's yo' sheriff?"

I followed Hawkins as he rode up to confront the stranger.

"I'm United States Marshal Hawkins. What's your dog-goned business that
needs drawn guns?"

"I'm Buck Hennesy, segundo to the Robbers' Roost gang of outlaws, and my
guns are to shoot if I see you flirt that smoothbore."

"Your business?"

"State's evidence--take it or leave it!"

"And who's your dog-goned evidence against?"

"Against Captain McCalmont, Curly his--his son, and six others, robbers,
and that polecat Jim du Chesnay, of Holy Crawss."

"Wall, throw down your dog-goned guns, throw up your dog-goned hands,
and say 'Sir' when you dare to address an honest man. Now you get off'n
that horse!"

"Dog-goned Hawkins," says the robber, "I ain't no prisoner, I ain't yo'
meat, I don't propose to hole up in yo' flea-trap calaboose, and I quit
this hawss when I'm daid. Take my talk for State's evidence, or go
without!"

"Chalkeye," says the Marshal aside, "is he covered?"

"Say the word, and I drop him."

"All right. Now, Hennesy, at the first break you die. You may talk."

"McCalmont's outfit," says Buck, "is breaking for Holy Crawss. To-morrow
mawning they round up cattle, and then they drive right home to Robbers'
Roost."

"You're going to guide us, Mr. dog-goned Robber, or get plugged as full
of holes as a dog-goned sieve."

"Guide you?" says Buck, and spat at him. "Guide you? I wouldn't be seen
daid with yo' tin-horn crowd of measly, bedridden toorists. I cayn't
insult you worse than saying that yo' mother was a sport, yo' father
hung, and their offspring a skunk. Now all you deck of cowards----"

He let drive with both his guns, but I shot first, and only just in
time. One bullet grazed my ear, the other killed a horse; but my shot
had done its work and spoiled his aim. His eyes rolled up white, his
face went dead, he sat there a corpse in the saddle for maybe a minute,
until I yelled, and the horse shied, and the body lurched forward,
crashing to the ground, splashing a cloud of dust which was red with the
sunset.



CHAPTER XXI

A FLYING HOSPITAL


Captain McCalmont, away north on the trail, pulled up at a bend of the
hill.

"Doc," he called out to the man with the led horse astern, "jest you
hitch that sorrel of mine to the tail of this rig. That's right, my son;
now find out if Buck stays at the skyline or goes buttin' straight back
to the ranche."

"All right, Cap."

When he was gone, Curly rucked up the canvas ground-sheet, climbed out
of bed, and nestled against her father's side on the seat.

"Havin' a bad time?" he asked, as he drove on.

"Sure."

"You heard what I told to Buck?"

"Buck's gawn back to betray the outfit."

"So I reckon."

Curly got her father's near arm around her, shivering while she looked
all round at the dusky hills, up to the red of the sunset. Then she
listened to the thud of Doc's horse as he galloped back to report.

"Cap," says the man, "Buck's gawn straight away to the ranche."

"That's good," McCalmont chuckled; "you see, Doc, I've sent Buck to lead
that sheriff's posse to Holy Crawss. We've got to work to-night, and
ain't hungering none for their company. D'you know the Jim Crow Mine?"

"I guess that's the old shaft a mile this side of Grave City?"

"Correct. Now you lope off to the boys we left in camp at Las Aguas.
Tell Stanley he's second in command now. He's to round up his boys, herd
'em close, and drive 'em swift to the Jim Crow Mine. Now repeat my
awdehs."

Doc repeated the orders.

"Now," said the Captain, "ride!"

Doc started off on the dead run, and for a while Curly watched his
figure flopping away into the blue mists of dusk. The night was falling
fast.

"Po' Buck," she whispered.

"I'm sorry, too," says McCalmont; "sooner or later he had to be a skunk,
and behave as such."

"He's daid," says Curly. "I heard him die just now, and he did love me
so hard."

"The trail is clearing ahead for you, my girl."

"I'm sort of tired," she answered.

"You'll rest to-night."

"Father when you was talking with Jim outside the shack I was awake; I
heard all what was said, but couldn't understand. Jim wanted suthin'
fearful bad. What was it he wanted, dad?"

"Wall, now, if that don't beat all! You jest got ears like a lil' fox!
And didn't I act plumb good and tame with that Jim boy?"

"Which you shorely did. Fancy, you taking all that war-talk, and never
even shooting his laigs. Yo're getting better'n better every day."

"I was good, that's a fact. You see, I nacherally couldn't lose my
temper without disturbing you with my gun-talk. Besides, I jest cayn't
help loving that Jim. You want him, Curly?"

"Sure, I don't know what's coming over me the way I feels at that man.
It seems as though my heart was pitchin' and buckin' like a mean hawss
to get at Jim. D'you think it's this wound that tears my heart--is it
'cause I'm so sick?"

"It's worse nor that, my girl. You've fallen in love."

"Does that mean I got to marry him?"

"That's the only cure."

"But I don't want to be cured. I like it, dad, and when it hurts I like
it all the more."

"A sure bad symptom that. You'll go with Jim?"

"To the end of the world, and over the edge--I cayn't help that."

"You don't love me any more?"

"Oh, you're allus the same, like the climate--but he's come buttin'
along like the weather, so that I feel as if I was just whirled up in
the air."

"I was an idiot to think I could fool old Nature, and make you into a
man. Wall, it cayn't be helped."

"Daddy, I never was fit to ride with the gang, and I doubt I'll never be
fit for a woman, either, now. I'm shorely tired, and my haid goes round
and round."

McCalmont stopped the team and laid Curly down in her nest. He told me
after that he felt lonesome and scared, with all his nerves a-jumping
for fear there was something worse than usual wrong. He felt Curly's
bandages, and his hand got wet; then listened, and heard a drip, drip,
drip, on the dust, then struck a match and saw the running blood, for
her wound had opened. He had to light a lantern, no matter what the
risk, while he stopped that bleeding.

Meanwhile the Marshal had started his circus east toward Holy Cross, and
he was having troubles most plentiful with all his warriors. He held us
in the name of the Republic for special service in pursuit of robbers,
but his tenderfoot outfit was badly in want of supper, and the cowboy
people got plumb disgusted at having to ride, point, swing, and drive on
a herd of shorthorns. I'd shown my hand in this game by shooting Buck,
the same being needful to save the old Marshal's life, and I sure helped
him all I knew in getting the posse on towards Holy Crawss. At the same
time my private feelings called me off to quite a different lay-out, and
I knew, all to myself, that Buck might have been mistaken a whole lot
in his way of reckoning up McCalmont's plans. So I fell back to give a
push to some stragglers, then fell back again to see if there was any
more belated pilgrims behind. The light had faded, the stars were
beginning to ride herd on the Milky Way, and I felt a sort of dumb
yearning to find McCalmont. An hour later, scouting swift and cautious
up the Grave City road, I saw a lantern bobbing high up among the hills.
That must be a bait, I thought, to lure the Marshal's posse into some
robbers' deadfall, so I rode slow, and sang my simple range songs to
show it was only me, one harmless person.

    "Ip-e-la-go, go 'long little doggie,
    You'll make a beef steer, by-and-by."

That's the rear song for driving a herd. This is nonsense:--

    "Two little niggers upstairs in bed--
    One turned ober to de oder and said:
    'How 'bout dat short'nin' bread?
    How 'bout dat short'nin' bread?'"

A voice called out of the dark, "Throw up yo' hands!"

Up went my paws. "Hello, boys," I shouted, "is this the inquiry office?
I wants my visitin' cyard sent up to Cap McCalmont."

Somebody laughed, and then I heard Jim's voice. "Why, it's Chalkeye!"

"Well, if he don't want to be shot he'd better turn right back."

"Jest you tell yo' hold-ups, Jim," says I, "that them leaden go-through
pills don't suit my delicate health." I dropped my hands, and the first
robber asked Jim if he would answer for me.

Jim said he would.

"Take this man through," said the robber, and Jim led me, mighty
pleased, to where the lantern shone.

"Captain," says he, "here's old Chalkeye!"

McCalmont jumped down from the buckboard, holding out his lantern.
"Wall," says he, "I'm glad to see ye, Misteh Davies, I certainly
am--shake hearty. Whar you from?"

"Is Curly with you?"

"Here's me," came a faint chirp out of the bedding.

"Her wound broke out agin," says McCalmont.

"_Her_ wound?" I howled.

"Wall, that cat is shorely spilled," says McCalmont, and so I knew for
the first time that my Curly wasn't a boy, but come of a different breed
of people altogether. I slid from my horse and sat down on a rock to
unravel my mixed emotions.

"If that's the truth," I says, "I spose I may turn out to be a widow,
the same being some confusing to the mind."

"Wall, Mrs. Davies," says McCalmont, "I was goin' to propose that you
act as a sort of chaperon to Curly."

"I rise to inquire," says I, "if that's some new kind of mountain
sheep." The name was new to me, and I felt suspicious.

"A mountain sheep," says McCalmont, "is a cimarron, but a chaperon's
defined as a party which rides herd on girls to proteck them in
society."

"Meaning that this carousing around in a waggon ain't good for wounds?"

"Not when the hawspital has to gallop over rocks."

"Seems to me," says I, "that right apart from bullet holes in a lady,
he'll need home comforts more'n an or'nary robber."

"Kin you take Curly home, then?"

"I'm getting unpopular," says I. "My home ain't fortified much." I
rolled a cigarette to think with. "Whereas I got some cousins which is
ladies, the Misses Jameson. Their home is just the other side of the Jim
Crow Mine, between that and Grave City, and they has a fancy for stray
cats, dawgs, and outcasts generally. Seems to me, though, they'd be
mighty near surprised if I played a wounded robber on them, calling the
same a female. They ain't broke in to lady outlaws damaged in gun-fights
yet. They're plumb respectable, and frequents the Episcopal Church. The
bishop boards thar when he happens around, and they'll take up with any
litter of passing curates."

"I'm scart," says Curly. "Cayn't you bed me down in yo' barn?"

"You'll go whar yo' told," says McCalmont, "and stay put until yo're
well enough to fight."

"If you're scared, Curly," says I, "these same ladies is due to have
fits at the sight of yo' present costume. Now, if I could show them a
case like you in the Bible they'd think it right natural, and all
correct."

"Absalom," says Curly, "had long ha'r."

"So does Buffalo Bill, Texas Bob, and other old longhorns, but the same
ain't lady robbers. Besides, yo' ha'r is short, and you're plumb
unusual."

"I got a trunk full of female plunder," says McCalmont, "and it's right
here in the buckboard, in case he needs to dress respectable."

"It's all tawn to rags," said Curly, "from that last b'ar hunt when I
was treed by a grizzly. And the wig got stuck full of pine gum."

"These details of female dress and depawtment"--McCalmont was getting
restive--"seems to me to be some frivolous. The question is, Do these
yere ladies run much to tongue?"

"Wall, no; the fashionable society of Grave City has struck them
reticent. Miss Blossom says she'd rather mix up with bears, and Miss
Pansy she allows our crowd lacks tone. No, these ladies don't go
henning around to cackle."

"That settles it," said McCalmont. "Now you, Jim, you go back and tell
these boys to join the herders in front, and I'll be with you presently.
It ain't decent, my boy, for you to behold what's going to happen in the
way of costume. So you jest tell Curly good-bye, and we'll proceed with
disguisin' her as a womern."

"When shall I see Curly again?" asks Jim in a fright.

"At such time when he's fit to ride. Now tell yo' good-bye."

So Jim and Curly had a minute together while I helped McCalmont to get
out the trunk of clothes. Then Jim rode off for the sake of decency, and
I turned my back. There was arguments between McCalmont and Curly about
how the female costume should be fixed, the parent wanting one side to
the front, and the dutiful child insisting otherwise. When I was told to
look, there was Curly grinning in surroundings of yellow wig, the same
being bunched up behind like a clump of prickly pear. McCalmont rigged
himself out in his preacher clothes, cinched up his sorrel horse at the
tail of the buckboard, and tied his cowboy gear to the strings of the
saddle. He turned to watch Jim and the robbers file past on their way to
the front, then gave me his lantern.

"My friend," says he, "when you go to the home of them ladies, drive
straight acrost the open range to the back door, be thar befo' midnight,
and if you love yo' life, don't stray out on the waggon road between the
Jim Crow Mine and Grave City. If you do you'll get killed for sure."

"What shall I do with the buckboard?"

"Lose it somewheres whar it ain't apt to be found. Turn them team
hawsses loose and let them break for their home, as they shorely will."

"And when Curly is well of this wound?"

"Then Jim will join you, and you'll take them children to some safe
country, so that they get mar'ied and forget this life. We planned all
that befo'."

"You trust me still?"

"It looks that way, my friend, and I don't trust by halves."

He gripped my hand, and went loping away into the night.



CHAPTER XXII

ROBBERY-UNDER-ARMS


In those days of our little unpleasantness in Arizona there was another
discussion proceeding along in South Africa. The Boers had their tail
up, and the British Army was indulging itself in "regrettable incidents"
about once a week. Which I allude to here because the word "regrettable
incident" is good; it's soothing, and it illustrates exactly what
happened on the night when I delivered Curly, damaged but cheerful,
among my cousins, the Misses Jameson.

Just to the east of the home inhabited by these ladies occurs the Jim
Crow Mine, the same being the very place where the robbers once had
breakfast with old man Ryan, making him pay the bill, as aforesaid,
which was seventy-five thousand dollars, and annoying.

On this further occasion which I now unfold, there were only four men
working the Jim Crow claim. It seems they were in the bunk house playing
poker until eleven p. m., when their foreman uprose with regrets to
surrender his hat, boots, and pants to an avaricious person holding
three aces and a pair of jacks. The foreman's warm communications on
the subject of cheating were then cut off short by a masked robber
standing in the doorway with guns. This robber proposed that all
gentlemen present should throw up their hands, and allowed they had a
fervent invitation to die unless they stepped out pretty soon to the
head of the Jim Crow shaft. Accordingly the sad procession trailed away
to the shaft, and one by one the mourners went down in a bucket to a
total depth of one hundred and four feet. Then the robber hauled up the
bucket to keep them from straying out, and promised faithful that if he
heard any noise he would just drop in a few sticks of dynamite. There
was not much noise.

Meanwhile other earnest young robbers were collecting every citizen who
passed the mine, and inviting him to join their surprise-party down at
the foot of the shaft. The citizens all accepted, and when some candles,
a deck of cards, and a few bottles of nose paint were sent to assist,
the levée underground began to get quite a success.

Mixed in with these proceedings, and other hold-ups various and swift,
was the Chinese cook with a robber holding his tail while he fixed
supper for twenty-five men. Afterwards he likewise was handed down the
shaft. I should also mention a preacher in a black suit, and a white tie
up under his ear, projecting around among the store shed for cases of
dynamite.

At 12:30 a bunch of cowboys numbering eighteen head, with a cavvyard of
ponies, trailed in off the range. After each man had roped and saddled a
fresh horse, and fed corn to the same, their reverend pastor put out a
relief of sentries, and told the crowd to line up in the rampasture for
supper.

Naturally these people had to get the provisions off their minds before
there was any talk, but then the preacher reared up to address the
meeting.

"Brethren----" says he.

"Look a-here," the new segundo, Black Stanley, started in obstreperous,
backed by a dozen men, all seething. "I represents this outfit in
starting to buck right now!"

"Turn yo'self loose."

"We-all has come to an understanding that we ain't agoin' to fool around
here any more. These is mean pastures, and we breaks for home."

"That's what's the matter!" A lot of robbers began to come to a crisis.

"Misteh Stanley, seh," says McCalmont, "you air a judge of rye whisky,
and a natural bawn leader of men."

The boys began to laugh.

"Now," says McCalmont, "all you boys who yearns to get quit of me, and
have this judge of rye and natural bawn leader of men to be they'r
chief, will arise and join his herd. Yo' hawsses are at the door, so
trail yo' spurs along the floor and go!"

Not a man moved.

"You, Black Stanley, take yo'self and yo' followers, and get absent
quick from this camp, 'cause the rest of us has business."

Stanley, getting to feel a whole lot lonesome, just dropped his tail,
and submitted. "Chief," says he, "I take it all back."

"I made you my segundo, Stanley, and you've proved yo'self mighty
sudden. I reduce you to the ranks. You, Bowlaigs, act as second in
command. And now to business.

"First, I want to instil into yo' dim and clouded intellecks that when a
member of the gang is captured he has to be rescued. The captured man
was my son, and seventeen skunks of you hung fire when I asked for his
rescue. These seventeen said skunks is fined half theyr shares of
plunder in the next raiding, the same to be paid to those who do most
work. Second, the man who rescued my son is Jim du Chesnay here." The
Captain laid his hand upon Jim's shoulder. "He is my guest, and as he's
not a member of this or'nary low-flung herd, you don't want to tell him
awdehs, or oppress him, or stuff his haid with any of yo' dreams. I've a
mind to muzzle a few pet liars right now. The speshul liars I see
grinning is the ones I allude to particular.

"Now you-all is a mighty sight wide of bein' perfect thieves; you has
weaknesses, some for bad liquor, some for small mean thefts, most for
showin' yo'selves off 'sif you was buck-devils, which you shorely ain't.
To-night I propose you fast from such-like vanities, and attend strictly
to business. Moreover, as some of you ain't got no more sense than a
poached cat, I now explains this warpath, lest you get wandering around
after the wrong scalp. The objec' of this virtuous night is to steal a
millionaire which goes by the name of Michael Ryan, and holes up in a
palace cyar on the railroad sidings. If you get him in reasonable
preservation, we realise lots of wealth for his ransom; but any blamed
fool who spoils him with loose ammunition is robbing his partners of
theyr lawful dues."

And so, having tamed his wolves, McCalmont gave the orders for the
night.

Right here I bubble over with remarks on the art of being a villain.

Now this Captain McCalmont wasn't a good man exactly, it being his
humble vocation to steal everything in sight, and shoot any party who
happened to get in the way. He was a sure enough scoundrel, and yet
Curly just loved him frantic. Jim trusted him body and soul. I was
mighty proud of having his friendship. All his wolves were tame as
little children when he led them; every cowboy on the range would have
shared his last drop of water with old McCalmont, and even the victims
he robbed would speak of him mostly as a perfect gentleman. When he
laid a trap that same deadfall looked a whole lot attractive and
comforting. "'Scuse me," says McCalmont, springing the steel jaws on his
victim. I hope yo're not feeling hurt?"

Now if McCalmont had looked like one of them villains I see at the
theatre, scowling, threatening, lurid, mean-eyed scareheads, he wouldn't
have seen the victim's tail for dust. No, he wasn't like a villain, he
was like a man--a white man at that--and when he gave a show it was
worth any man's money to see. Just watch his play.

Grave City was a plenty big city to attack; it could turn out three
hundred riders, anyway, and that mighty sudden, too, in case of robbers.
McCalmont had to attack with twenty-four outlaws, and get them away
without any holes through their hides.

Along towards one in the morning the stable-man at Ryan's livery met
with an accident, being clubbed. Then a couple of men walked round the
stalls, loosed all the horses, and drove the whole outfit away through
the back gate. The same proceedings occurred at the Spur livery, and in
all the large stables, until two hundred head of good stock were
gathered and run off to the northward.

In Main Street, hitched to the snubbing posts, stood a score of saddled
horses, a waiting patient to take their drunkards home. These poor
creatures were cared for tender by a young man who went along casual,
feeding them each a bunch of dry herbs, the same being _loco_ weed, and
a heaps powerful medicine. Now we turn to the railroad station, where
the main game was being played.

At one a. m. the night operator in the depôt remembered all of a sudden
that the lady clerk, Miss Brumble, at Contention, had wired him to send
on a parcel of stockings by Number 4. The night freight train was
pulling out at the time, so he ran across the platform and pitched the
parcel into the caboose as the cars went rolling past him. "Miss
Brumble's socks!" says he.

"All correct!" says the conductor; and the train went rumbling off into
the desert. Then the night operator--which his name was Bowles--turned
round to point back for his office, and suddenly trod on a preacher.

"Pardon me," says the reverend stranger.

"Oh, don't mention it," says the clerk, some sarcastic.

"'Scuse me, seh, may I venture to--"

"Well, what's the matter with you?"

"My poor lost brother, I am wishful to be infawmed if Misteh Michael
Ryan----"

"He's in his car. I'm busy."

"Oh, but my deah young friend, these profane cowboys are using such
feahful language, because Misteh Ryan refuses to see them, being gawn to
bed----"

The operator turned on his heel, and turned off growling.

"You see," the preacher wailed after him, "they've got a robber."

The operator began to nibble the bait.

"Robber!" He swung round sudden. "What robber?"

"The erring young person is called James du Chesnay."

"They've got him? Great snakes!"

"Yes, in bondage. They want to be rewarded with earthly dross, instead
of seeking for the blessings and comfort which alone----"

"And Ryan won't come out?"

"I think, seh, that Misteh Ryan is timid, bekase of the shocking
profanity of these misguided men, breaking his windows, too. Let me
admonish you, my brother, to eschew the company of all----"

"I'll fix him," says the operator, and charged along down the platform
with the preacher suffering after him.

That night operator, Mr. Mose Bowles, surging along the platform to
Ryan's car, would have bet his last dollar that the facts were true. He
saw three sure-enough cowboys sitting their horses easy in front of the
private car, and the preacher was plumb correct about the way they
talked. Bowles saw the prisoner, bound hand and foot, on a led horse,
and that was Jim beyond all doubt, looking plenty discouraged. Bowles
knew that Ryan had offered rewards most bounteous for Jim's body; he
hungered for a portion of the plunder, and when he swung himself up the
platform on the end of the car his batterings on the door was full of
enthusiasm.

"I feah," says the preacher, "that yo're spoiling the paint. Take
thought, my friend, how expensive is paint like that!"

The cowboys were backing their horses away beyond range of the car
lamps, out of sight.

"Mr. Ryan!" Bowles shouted, "urgent telegrams! Come out!"

A nigger porter slid open an inch of the door. "You go way," says he;
"Mass' Ryan he plumb distrackful. Go 'way."

"Let me in, you fool!"

Bowles wrenched the door wide open, and jumped into the car; then there
were mutterings and voices, the lighting up of the far end of the
Pullman; and after a while came a fat young man bustling out on the
platform. He wore a fur coat, bare legs, and slippers, cussing around
most peevish.

"'Scuse me," says the preacher, "I am an unworthy minister, a 'Ticular
Baptist, and I could not heah the feahful profanity of these rude men
without shedding tears. May I esco't you, seh, to see this prisoner?"

Bowles and the negro stood on the car platform watching, while the
preacher led Ryan off into starlight.

"My heart quakes at the feah that these cowboys have gawn away. Please
step this way--and 'ware stumbling on these sidings--this way, Misteh
Ryan--this way----"

The voice died away, and Bowles was putting out to follow, when all of a
sudden he and the negro were seized from behind, gagged, roped, and
generally detained. Off among the sidings Mr. Ryan had a gag in his
mouth, a rope round his elbows; then felt himself caught up into the
starlight and thrown on a horse while his feet were hobbled under the
animal's belly. In the station a robber was playing tunes with an axe on
the keys of the telegraph, and the wires were being lopped with a pair
of shears. Speaking generally, a whole lot of silence was being
procured, and from a robber point of view things worked harmonious until
the first bunch of riders went thundering away into the desert.

As it happened, the City Marshal and his deputy, Shorty Broach, straying
into these premises to send off a telegram, found the operator and the
negro lying gagged and bound on the platform; so when they heard the
robbers loping off they sized up the whole situation. They were just too
late to get robbers, but plenty swift in turning out the town.

This news of a fresh outrage hit old Grave City sudden, surprising,
right in the middle of sleep time, and the whole town swarmed out
instant like a hornets' nest for war. Some of the people were full of
sleep, others were full of whisky; some had their war-paint, some had a
blanket; but all of them felt they were spat on, all of them howled for
vengeance. For a whole week the town tribe and the range tribe had been
at war, and here was some idiot making a howl about robbers! This was
certainly another case of cowboys in town, and the verdict was
sudden--to lynch the cowboy leader, Mr. Chalkeye Davies.

It being some expedient first to catch this Chalkeye, these warriors
began to make haste and get mounted for pursuit. But from the first
things seemed to go wrong, for one after another the horses which had
been standing in the street went jumping roaring crazy, pulling back
till their reins broke, bucking off their saddles, whirling around the
town, and stampeding away to the desert. The people saw that _loco_ weed
had been prevailing over the plain sense of these animals; then they
found the stables an aching solitude, and the telegraph wrecked to
prevent them calling for help, and everything done thoughtful and
considerate by felonious parties unknown who had stolen the only
millionaire in Arizona. Soon they remembered there had been a whole lot
of unpleasantness between Mr. Ryan and Chalkeye. Thus the more they
considered, the more their noses went sideways of the truth, smelling
the poisonous iniquities of this Chalkeye outlaw.

The town was left afoot, and yet from private stables horses were raked
up, enough to mount a posse of thirty men. By this time it was too late
to chase, but the Marshal reckoned that, with a shine of bicycle lamps,
he could track until daylight, and keep on the robbers' trail until he
got more help. He never ruminated on the thoughtful, prophetic way in
which these motions were foreseen. Just abreast of the Jim Crow Mine the
leading horse of that posse blew up with a loud bang, and Shorty Broach
was projected into a prickly-pear bush. That is how he got his new
pseudonym, which is Pincushion Shorty to the present day. On the whole
that posse concluded to go home rather than face a pavement of live
dynamite.



CHAPTER XXIII

A HOUSE OF REFUGE


Looking back upon the whole discussion between the du Chesnay and Ryan
families, I see myself sitting around meek and patient, shy, timid,
cautious, and fearfully good, and yet I got all the blame. Of course, I
ought to have shot old man Ryan, just as an early precaution, so it's
best to own up that I was all in the wrong for dallying. But after that,
there was the massacre of the leading Grave City felons; I got the
blame. Next came the hunting and escape of Curly and Jim; I got the
blame. Furthermore, there was the flight of Curly and Jim from La Morita
prison, followed by business transactions with the Frontier Guards; I
got the blame. And, moreover, there was the sliding out of Curly, Jim,
and the robbers from Cocky Brown's ranche at La Soledad, with certain
vain pursuits by a posse of citizens; I got the blame. Lastly, there was
the stealing of all the horses and a millionaire out of Grave City; I
got the blame. Whatever happened, I always got the blame. It's plumb
ridiculous.

Now, taking this last case, what ground is there for supposing that I
helped McCalmont's robbers? My movements all that night were innocent
and unobtrusive travels. When Dog-gone Hawkins went off with his
tenderfoot posse to hunt ghosts, I naturally slid out for home. So I met
up with McCalmont, took charge of Cocky Brown's old buckboard, and
delivered Curly at the back door of my cousins, the Misses Jameson.
These ladies had to hear a whole lot which was pretty near true about
poor Curly, and that consumed some time. Afterwards they got scared all
to fits by rushes of horsemen, dynamite explosions, and such diverting
incidents, ending with the arrival of Shorty Broach to have his prickles
pulled. Through this disturbance I hid up with Curly in a cellar, and
when there was peace drove off alone, with my saddled horse tied behind
the buckboard. After an hour's search, I found the old Coeur d'Alene
Mine shaft, and tipped the buckboard in, turning the team horses loose
to graze their way back to La Soledad. My duties being all performed, I
rode back just before dawn to my own home pasture at Las Salinas. There
is the whole annals of a virtuous night, and yet these Grave City idiots
defamed my character, which it makes me sick.

There's a habit which I caught from the old patrone at Holy Cross, the
same being to have a cold bath. Our Arizona water is mostly too rich for
bathing, being made of mud, cow-dung, alkali, and snakes; but at Las
Salinas I owned a little spring, quite good for washing and such
emergencies. After my bath I felt skittish, a whole lot younger than
usual, full of aching memories about getting no supper last night, and
pleased all to pieces to hear the breakfast-howl. These symptoms being
observed, Custer proposed at once that I pay up the overdue wages, and
Ute backed his play, grinning ugly. As for Monte, he was chipped in the
face with a recent bullet, and squatted heaps thoughtful over his pork
and beans.

"So you-all wants yo' pay?"

They agreed that they did, and Custer passed me the biggest cup for my
coffee.

"All right, you tigers," says I, "after this grub-pile we'll cyclone
into town and catch what I've got in the bank."

"I ain't no tiger this time," says Ute. "Why, yesterday I just rode up
street to collect my washing, and the weather was a lot too prevalent."

"Rain?" says I. "You shorely didn't have rain!"

"Wall, it splashed up the dust all around me, it did that," says Ute,
"but I sorter mistook it for bullets."

Then those boys allowed that we was getting some unpopular in town, but
they had a gnawing awful pain in their pants pockets, and nothing would
cure that but wages. They were sure good boys, and it made me ache
inside to see them want.

"You boys," says I, "spose you collect these here wages yo'selves and
make yo're own settlement?"

"As how?" this Ute inquires, his homely face twisting around into
strange new species of grins.

"Why, you-all knows every hawss I got, and has yo' notions of value.
Jest you whirl right in, boys, and take what's coming to you in hawsses
instead of cash. Pay yo'selves liberal, and I'll sign the bills."

"Shame!" says Monte. "D'ye think we'd take yo' pets?"

In the end we agreed to go into partnership, the which we did, for those
boys were as good as brothers from the moment I got into trouble. Monte
is my partner still.

Now, in course of these details, while we sat smoking cigarettes around
the door of the cabin, we saw a sort of dust-cloud come rolling along
out of the city.

"Which reminds me," says Ute, "that the Grave City stranglers was
proposing yesterday to come and hold a social gathering here. Mr.
Davies, they's aiming to hang you some."

We rolled the rain-barrels into the house, we toted bales of hay for
barricades, and led our saddle-horses into cover; then put in the rest
of our time filling the water-butts. In all we had forty minutes to
prepare for our guests, but wanted a whole lot more.

"You, Chalkeye," says young Monte in his thoughtful way, "you can talk
the hind leg off a mule. Spose you make big war medicine to these here
strangers until we're ready."

Custer had got joyful, as he always did when there was trouble coming,
making little yelps of bliss.

"Don't talk them off the range," says he, "or we'll get no fight."

Ute, he lay low, saying nothing, but he sure grinned volumes while he
whirled in with his axe, cutting twelve loopholes through the 'dobe
walls. I told Custer to break a hole in the roof and get up there quick,
because the parapet had rain-spouts most convenient for shooting. Monte
was laying out the ammunition, I was spreading wet blankets over the hay
barricade in the front doorway, and then the Vigilance Committee came
slanting down for battle.

Seeing that Grave City was shy of horseflesh that morning, these people
had done their best with thirty head, using them to haul waggons and
buckboards full of men. Only the chairman was in the saddle, he being
old Mutiny Robertson, who wanted to buy my ranche and not to burn it. I
ought to mention that this gentleman was a Cherokee Indian by birth, a
white man by nature, and some time a robber himself. He knew what sort
of lightning had struck Grave City during the night, but his feelings
did him credit and kept his mouth shut. As chief of the Vigilantes he
had to go against all his natural instincts, but still he acted hostile
and looked dangerous, leading his men until he came up against my door.

"You, Chalkeye!" he shouted.

I put up my head behind the barricade in the doorway.

"Wall," says I, "this compliment, gentlemen, throws my tail high with
pride. Put yo' hawsses in the barn while I fix the breakfast."

"These barricades," says Mutiny, "is intended hawspitable--eh,
Chalkeye?"

"Which," says I, "they're raised in celebration of my thirty-third
birthday as a token of innocent joy."

"Seems to me," he responds, "that this yere day is apt to be remembered
hereaways as the anniversary of yo' quitting out of from this mortal
life."

"These predictions of yours," says I "is rude."

"You're due to die some, right now"--he poked his gun. "Come out!"

"I remarks," says I, "on general principles that you all has come to
mourn at the wrong funeral. My obsequies is postponed indefinite."

"Now, Chalkeye," says he, "it's no use arguing, so you want to come out
like a man. We're full prepared to give you a decent turn-off, and a
handsome funeral."

"I'm sorry to disappoint you, gentlemen, but I has other engagements,
and this is my busy day."

I listened to my boys getting ready. "Keep them amused," says Monte;
"we need three more loopholes."

"If you don't come out," says Mutiny, "there's going to be trouble,
'cause we're gettin' tired."

"Wall, Mutiny, I'd shorely admire to know some trifling details first,
'cause you've aroused my interest in this yere celebration. Why for is
my neck so much in need of stretching?"

"This yere is frivolous argument," says he; "we-all is here to hang you,
not to waste time in debates."

"You has my sympathy," says I, "and I shares yo' poignant feelings about
not wasting time. What's the use of a necktie social without an
appropriate victim? Now thar's young Mose Bowles beside you--which I
don't like the look of his neck, the same being much too short for a
stand-off collar. What's the matter with hanging Moses Bowles?"

"Come out," says Mose, "or we'll burn your den, you horse-thief!"

"Bein' possessed of genius, Moses, you'll now proceed to set my 'dobe
home in flames. The glare of yo' fierce eye is enough to burn brick
walls."

A bullet whizzed past my ear, and I got mad.

"Ready!" yelled Monte. "Give the word, and we fire."

"And now," says I, "you innocent pilgrims, you've given me heaps of time
to get my twelve men ready. You've got three men in yo' posse who could
hit a house from inside, the rest being as gun-shy as a school of girls.
I've got a bullet-proof fort with the twelve best shots in Arizona, and
if you don't get absent quick I'll splash yo' blood as high as the
clouds. I give you two minutes to get out of range."

The weaker men began to rabbit, the best of them saw a whole row of
loopholes with projecting guns, the leaders were holding a council of
war.

"One minute!" says I, then turned to shout to my garrison. "Men on the
roof, pick out the leaders to kill when I give the word! Men on the
right, shoot all hawsses you can, or them reptiles is due to escape! Men
on the left, attend to Mutiny! Ninety seconds! Ninety-five seconds!"

Half the Grave City crowd was stampeding for the waggons, the rest were
scared of getting left afoot.

"One hundred seconds!" Mutiny's counsellors were breaking for cover.
"One hundred'n five! ten--ten more seconds----" Mutiny turned and
bolted. "One--two--three--when I give the word--ready--Fire!"

We sprinkled the tails of the Stranglers until there was nothing to see
but smoke and dust. Nobody stayed to get hurt.

My cousins the two Misses Jameson admit right free and candid that my
past life is plumb deplorable, that my present example would corrupt
the morals of a penitentiary, and that my future state is due to be
disagreeable in a place too hot to be mentioned. They remark that my
face is homely enough to scare cats, that my manners and customs are
horrid, that my remarks are a whole lot inaccurate, and that most of my
property is stolen goods. At the same time, they say that I'm nice, and
there I agree with them. My face may not amount to being pretty, my
virtues haven't reached the level of bigotry, but I feel in my bones
that I'm a sure nice man. Being nice, I aim to be liked, I hunger for
popularity, and that is just where I blame the Grave City Stranglers.
I've been misunderstood, I've not been appreciated, but why should I be
taken out and lynched? It's plumb ridiculous!

Now I don't claim that I had any mission to reform the morals of the
Vigilance Committee--which they have none--or to correct their views,
the same being a whole lot steeped in error; neither would it be right
for me to encourage them in the evil work of stretching my neck on a
rope, or to lead them into the temptation of shooting me any more. When
one gets disliked and discouraged by the hostile acts of mean people,
one needs to have presence of mind and plenty absence of body. Wherefore
I did right in rounding up all my livestock, and quitting a locality
where my peace of mind was disturbed with ropes, gunfire, and other evil
communications. I took my riders and my herd away north, to where we
could graze peaceful and virtuous amid the untroubled solitudes of the
Superstitious Mountains.

There was work to do, a drive of a hundred and seventy miles with
slow-moving stock, then scouting for water and feed on the new pasture,
a permanent camp to make, and much besides which filled up four good
weeks. Afterwards I tracked a mountain sheep up to the bare heights,
where all the rock was glazed with lightning, and the desert lay below
me. I sat on my tail to think, feeling lonesome then, looking east
toward Texas and wondering if my poor old mother was still alive.
Westward the sun was setting, and that way lay the great Pacific Ocean,
bigger than all the plains, where the ships rode herd upon their drove
of whales--I wanted to see that too. But then I looked south-east, the
way I had come, through valleys of scrub and cactus; there, somewheres
beyond the hills, was my little ranch, and all the good pasture away to
Holy Cross. My heart was crying inside me, but I didn't know what I
wanted until I thought of Curly. Sure enough I wanted her most of all.

Next morning I told all my boys good-bye, and streaked off to go see
Curly. I rode till dusk and camped with Texas Bob, a friend of mine who
told me I was sure enough idiot for getting outlawed. Next evening I
came to the house where my cousins lived, and crept in the dusk to
scratch at their back door.

I found Miss Blossom Jameson all in a bustle as usual, which looked
mighty natural. She was in the backyard feeding supper to her horse, and
that poor victim leaned up against the fence to groan. There were
cornstalks in it, cabbage-leaves, lettuce-leaves, tea-leaves, and some
relics of ham and eggs.

"Now jest you sail right in, Mr. Hawss, and don't act wasteful, or
you'll go without!"

Mr. Horse took a snuff at the mess, then backed away disgusted.

"Well, if that don't beat all! Now, you Hawss, you don't want to eat the
flower-beds, or you'll get murdered!"

Mr. Horse turned his back and sulked.

"There! That's what I call a mean spirit, and I'm goin' to lock you up,
you and your supper, till one of the two gets eaten--I don't care
which!" So the lady chased Mr. Horse into the barn, and threw the
pig-feed in after him. "I'll larn you to know what's good," says she,
and slammed the door on his tail.

"Well!"--she stood with her back to the door, and threw up her nose at
the sight of me--"I du wonder," says she, "that you dare to show yo'
wicked face!"

I allowed that my good face was getting a bit mended since our last
encounter. "How's my kid?" says I.

"Yo' savage, you mean. Now don't you say you've brought pet tigers this
time, or tame dragons, 'cause I'll have no more strays at all."

"I've got a roan hawss here who's run a hundred miles since daybreak."

"Bring him in, then."

"He says he's a vegetarian, and cayn't eat ham and eggs."

"I don't care," says Miss Blossom; "we killed our pig to-day, and the
slops has just got to be eaten. Waste is ruin."

"My hawss says he'll eat the slops, ma'am, if he can have a drink of
whisky along with supper."

"Huh! so you want your vile debaucheries in spite of all I've told you
against drink. Well, I 'spose you'll have it."

She ran off to fetch the liquor, which gave me time to bury her salad in
the manure heap, and get a decent feed of cornstalks down from the loft.
Then I used the whisky to rub down my weary horse, the same being
medicine both for man and beast. I had some myself, while Miss Blossom
stood by, talking of wicked waste, and how Curly had been neglected.

"Why, she's mo' like a man than a girl!"

"'Spose, ma'am," says I, "that you'd been working in a stable and got
shot, then run into gaol, and pulled out through a hole in the wall, and
doctored by a robber, and chased around the hills----"

"My habits are set," says Miss Blossom, "so I cayn't suppose any such
thing. But that wig of Curly's, that skirt, those--now did yo' robber
baron steal those things off a scarecrow, or did they grow by
themselves?"

Then she grabbed my hands. "Thar," says she, "that's off my mind, so
don't look worried. The dear little soul, she's the bravest, sweetest
thing--and the way she bore all that pain! Why, you or any other man
would have set around cursing all day and groaning all night, but
Curly--why, she never even whimpered. Now I ask you, is it possible she
shot those two men? I cayn't believe a word, so it's no use your
talking."

"Was Miss Pansy very much scart with Curly's talk?"

"Miss Pansy, my good man, is a fool, although I say it. Of all the
romantic nonsense and sentimental--but thar, she writes poetry, my dear,
and that accounts for her. Why, if I hadn't locked her up in her room,
that woman would have sent off a poem, all about lady outlaws, to the
New York _Sunday Companion_. I burned the stuff, and she had to go off
in hysterics. Shucks! She puts Curly off to sleep every night with her
fool poems--and such trash! Now there she is, with her glue-glue harp
singing to Curly. If she don't beat cats! You listen."

Away off in the house I could hear Miss Pansy's thin little voice and
glue-glue harp; I thought it sounded fine.

    "Lost, stole, or strayed on Tuesday night,
      The finder tries to hide it--
    A woman's heart--he has no right,
      For there's a Love inside it.

    "The owner fears 'twas snatched away,
      But this is a reminder,
    That she is quite prepared to pay
      One half, with thanks, to finder."

Miss Blossom led me to the house. "You come right into the
settin'-room," says she, "and keep yo' tearing spurs off my new carpet."

I did my best about the spurs, but it would take an Indian scout to find
a safe trail across that parlour floor, the same being cluttered up with
little fool tables. These same tables were of different breeds,
three-legged, two-legged, one-legged, tumble-over, all-to-pieces,
trip-you-up, and smash-the-crockery, so it was a sure treat to watch
Miss Pansy curving around without the slightest accident. Her paws were
folded in front, her tail came swishing behind, her head came pecking
along hen-fashion, and her smile was sweet enough to give me toothache.

"Oh," she bubbled, "I'm so glad you didn't get lynched by those horrid
men who never wash themselves, or think of serious things; and it's so
nice to see you looking so brown with that beautiful cherry silk
kerchief round yo' neck, and the wonderful leather leggings, and that
dreadful revolver, so picturesque, so----"

"You're making a fool of yo'self," says Miss Blossom, "and the man wants
feeding. Picturesque! Bosh! Shoo!" She chased Miss Pansy out of the
room.

As to Curly, she lay on the sofa kicking high with joy. "Chalkeye," she
howled, "you ole hoss-thief, keep yo' tearin' spurs off my new cyarpet.
You picturesque, beautiful, leather-faced, cock-eyed robber! 'Ware
tables, or they'll bite yo' laigs! Oh, gimme yo' paw to shake, and throw
me a cigarette. Look out--that chair's goin' to buck!"

I sat on the edge of the chair, and grabbed her hand while she called me
all sorts of pet names. Then it seems that Miss Pansy broke loose from
Miss Blossom, and came surging back, for she heard the pet names, and
shrieked--

"Oh! oh! Stop! What frightful language! Oh, please, if you're a
lady--remember! Oh, Misteh Davies, you mustn't let her smoke!"

"Curly," says I, "you're shot, and you got to be good in a small voice,
or----"

"Good," says Curly; "I'm a wolf. I come from Bitter Creek. The higher
up, the worse the waters, and I'm from the source, and it's my night to
how-w-l. Yow-ow-ow!"

"Well," Miss Pansy shrieked, "I call it disgraceful, so there!"

"I don't care," says Curly. "I won't be good in a small voice, and I'll
call this dear ole hoss-thief all the names I please. Why, Chalkeye and
me punched cows at Holy Cross! Say, Chalkeye, d'you remember when I
stuck burrs in under yo' saddle, and you got pitched to glory? Why,
that's the very old hat I shot full of holes, and oh, I do enjoy to see
you so much, you dear ole villain!"

Then Miss Blossom dragged Miss Pansy away to cook supper, and Curly
settled down with her little paw in my fist.

"My habits," says she, "is a sure scandal, and I ain't got no more
manners nor a bear. My language ain't becoming to a young gentlewoman,
and my eating would disgrace a pinto hawss. They cayn't refawm me a lil'
bit, and when I tries to set up on my tail, and look pretty, they tell
me rebukes for crossin' my laigs like a cowboy. Oh, take me away, ole
Chalkeye, take me away to the range and the camps, to feel the
night-frosts agin, to sleep with the stars, to see the sun come up, to
ride in the heat. This roof sets down on me at night. I cayn't see for
walls; I cayn't get air to breathe. These ladies has roped me, and
thrown me, tied down for branding, ears in the dust. Oh, take me away
from this!"

"When that bandage is off yo' arm I'll take you, Curly."

"Not till then?"

She had scarcely strength yet to travel, and yet if she fretted like
this at being shut up in a house, would she ever get well at all?

When I reflect what Curly looked like then it makes me wonder what sort
of raging lunatic I had been to leave her in that house. By way of
disguise she had a wig all sideways, and female clothes which she'd
never learned to wear. They made her look like a man. Her skin had the
desert tan; she moved and talked like a cowboy. But most of all, her
eyes gave her dead away--the steel-blue eyes of a scout, more used to
gun-fights than to needlework, which bored right through me. Only a
frontiersman has eyes like that; only the outlaw has the haunted look
which comes with slaying of men, and Curly was branded that way beyond
mistake.

This poor child was wanted as McCalmont's son, hunted like a wild beast,
with a price on her head for murder and for robbery under arms. And yet
she was a woman!

"Say, Curly," I asked, "what has these ladies done to account for yo'
being here in theyr home?"

She reached to a table, and gave me cuttings from the _Weekly Obituary_.
I fell to reading these:--

The burial of Buck Hennesy at La Soledad.

Dog-gone Hawkins' report of not finding robbers.

The rescue of McCalmont's prisoners out of the Jim Crow shaft, and the
story of the posse which tracked the robbers north until the signs
scattered out all over the country and every trace was lost.

The attempt of the Stranglers to lynch a horse-thief at Las Salinas, the
same being me.

Then came a paragraph about a young lady staying at the home of the
Misses Jameson.

     "We are informed that Miss Hilda Jameson, of Norfolk, Va., arrived
     last week on a visit to her aunts, the Misses Jameson. We regret to
     hear that on her journey westward this young lady met with an
     unfortunate accident, being severely bruised on the arm by the fall
     of a valise out of an upper bunk in the sleeping-car. This bruise
     has developed a formidable abscess, which the Misses Jameson are
     treating by the peculiar methods of Christian Science, of which
     craze they are well-known exponents. For our part we would suggest
     the calling in of a doctor; but as these ladies are way-up experts
     at nursing, we trust that their efforts will be successful, and
     that in a few days more we shall see the young lady around,
     enjoying all the pleasures of Grave City society. In the meantime
     Miss Blossom Jameson wishes us to say that the patient needs
     absolute quiet, and friends are requested not to call at the house
     until further notice."

"As to the pleasures of Grave City sassiety," says Curly, "I'm plumb fed
up already. 'Spose they dream that I'll go back to shoveling manure in
that stable?"

I asked her if there had been any visitors at the house.

"They came every day to inquire, and Miss Blossom insulted them regular
in the front yard. Now they've quit."

"But nobody saw these ladies meeting a guest at the train."

"No, but you should hear Miss Blossom telling lies out thar in the yard!
She's surely an artist."

"Curly," says I, "pull that wig straight, and hide up that scar on yo'
brow. Cayn't you even pretend to act like a lady?"

"Like a woman, you mean."

"You're not safe--you'll be seen by some gossip through the window.
You'd ought to hole up in the bedroom."

"And choke? I'd as lief get choked with a rope."

"Think of the risk!"

"I reckon a little excitement keeps me from feelin' dull. Now don't you
look so solemn--with yo' eye like a poached aig, or I'll throw my wig at
you-all. Say, Chalkeye, d'you cal'late the Lawd made them two old ladies
vicious?"

"Why for?"

"Looks to me 'sif they was bawn broke in, and raised gentle, with lil'
lace caps on they'r haids, and mittens on they'r pasterns. I been
thinking fearful hard, tryin' to just imagine Miss Pansy bad; spose she
was to kick, or strike, or rair up, or buck, or pitch, or sunfish around
to kill! And Miss Blossom, she only makes-believe to be dangerous to
hide up her soft ole heart. Are real ladies all like that?"

"Well, usual they don't bite."

"I was raised wild"--Curly lay back tired--"my tribe are the young
wolves, and I reckon when the Lawd was serving out goodness, He was sort
of 'shamed lest we'd claim our share. He must be plumb busy, too, with
His own people telling Him they'r prayers. Why, these two ladies
requires whole heaps of attention. I allow theyr souls must have got out
of order a lot, 'cause they has to put in enough supplications to save a
whole cow camp entire. They're so plumb talkative that a-way that I
cayn't get a prayer in edgeways."

She was getting tired and sleepy, so I sat quiet, watching. Then
somebody came outside, hammering the front door, and I pulled my gun to
be ready in case of trouble.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE SAVING OF CURLY


Miss Blossom was at the front door having great arguments with a man.

"If you got baby carriages to sell," says she, "I claim to be a
spinster, and if it's lightning-rods, I don't hold with obstructing
Providence. If it's insurance, or books, or pianolas, or dress patterns,
or mowing machines, you'd better just go home. I'm proof against agents
of all sorts, I'm not at home to visitors, and I don't feed tramps. Thar
now, you just clear out."

"'Scuse me, ma'am, I----"

"No, you mayn't."

"Allow me to introduce----"

"No you don't. You come to the wrong house for that."

"Wall, I'm blessed if----"

"Yo're much more apt to get bit by my dawg, 'cause yo' breath smells of
liquor, and I'm engaged."

"Glad to hear it, ma'am. I congratulate the happy gentleman you've
chosen."

"Well, of all the impudence!"

"That's what my wife says--impudence. Will the dawg bite if I inquire
for Misteh Curly McCalmont?"

My blood went to ice, and I reckon Miss Blossom collapsed a whole lot to
judge by the bang where she lit.

"Wall, since yo're so kind, ma'am, I'll just step in."

I heard him step in.

"This way!" the lady was gasping for breath.

"The dining-room? Wall, now, this is shorely the purtiest room, and I do
just admire to see sech flowers!"

Miss Blossom came cat-foot to shut the parlour door, and I heard no
more.

Curly was changing the cartridges in her revolver, as she always did
every evening.

"Scared?" she inquired, sort of sarcastic about the nose.

"Shut yo' haid. D'you want to be captured?"

"It would be a sort of relief from being so lady-like."

Then a big gust of laughter shook the house, and I knew that Miss
Blossom's guest was the whitest man on the stock-range, Sheriff Bryant.
Naturally I had to go and see old Dick, so I told Curly to keep good,
quit the parlour, crossed the passage, and walked right into the
dining-room, one hand on my gun and the other thrown up for peace.

Dick played up in the Indian sign talk: "Long time between drinks."

"Thirsty land," says my hand.

"Now may I inquire?" says Miss Blossom.

"Wall, ma'am"--old Dick cocked his grey eye sideways--"this Chalkeye
person remarked that he languished for some whisky, upon which I rebuked
him for projecting his drunken ambitions into a lady's presence."

The way he subdued Miss Blossom was plenty wondrous, for she lit out to
find him the bottle.

"Sheriff," says I, as we shook hands, "yo' servant, seh."

"I left the sheriff part of me in my own pastures." Dick wrung my hand
limp. "I don't aim to ride herd on the local criminals heah, so the
hatchet is buried, and the chiefs get nose-paint. Miss Blossom, ma'am,
we only aspire to drink to the toast of beauty." He filled up generous.
"I look towards you, ma'am."

"I du despise a flatterer," says Miss Blossom, but I saw her blush.

"Wall, to resume," said Dick, "this lady's guest, Miss Hilda Jameson, of
Norfolk, in old Virginie, is entitled to her own habits. She is wounded
most unfortunate all day, but all night she's entitled to bulge around
in a free country studying moonlight effects."

"She's due to be whipped," says Miss Blossom, mighty wrathful.

"On scenes of domestic bliss it is not my purpose, ma'am, to intrude. I
only allude to the fact that this young lady was pervading Main Street
late last night, happy and innocent, in a gale of wind, which it blew
off her hat."

"Good gracious!"

"Yes, ma'am; and naturally the hat being pinned, her hair was blown off
too."

"It blew off!"

"Perhaps, ma'am, this ha'r doesn't fit, and the best thing would be to
shoot the party who made--the ornament. The young lady, of co'se, was in
no way to blame if it flew down the street and she after it. I rise to
observe that Deputy-Marshal Pedersen, being a modest man, was shocked
most dreadful, and----"

"Oh! Oh!" Miss Blossom went white as the tablecloth.

"Go on," said I, "let's know the worst at once."

"And he couldn't stay to help the young lady, 'cause he was running to
catch the midnight train."

"Thank goodness!"

"Yes, ma'am, he was due in Lordsburgh this mawning to collect a
hoss-thief."

"And nobody else saw the wig?"

"No, ma'am, only Pedersen. He came whirling down on me this mawning at
Lordsburgh with dreams and visions about a robber chasing a wig, and a
lady holed up in yo' home, and the same being disguised as a woman, but
really a man, and wanting two thousand dollars daid or alive for the wig
which its name was Curly. He seemed a heap confused and unreliable."

"This Pedersen man," says Miss Blossom, "is coming here to arrest
_her_--I mean _him_! Oh, what's the use of talking! Speak, man! Speak!"

"Deputy-Marshal Pedersen, ma'am, is now in prison."

"Arrested!"

"Why, sheriff," says I, "what has he done to get arrested?"

"I dunno." Dick shook his grey head mournful. "I forget. I had to exceed
my authority a whole lot, so the first thing I thought of was 'bigamy
and confusion of mind.' I reckon I'll have to apologise, and he's a
low-flung crawler to beg pardon to."

"You'll have to let him out?"

"I shorely will; meanwhile he's thinking of all his sins, and he
certainly looks like a Mormon. He never combs his ha'r. But then, you
see, I had to keep his paws off these honourable ladies until I could
bring some sort of warning heah. Besides if this pusson with a wig is
really pore Curly McCalmont, I feel that I done right."

"What makes you think that, Bryant?"

"Wall, I happen to know that them witnesses in the Ryan inquest here
was bribed to swear away the life of old Balshannon's son. The hull
blamed business stinks of perjury. I may be wrong, you one-eyed fraud,
but when Curly punched cows with you at Holy Crawss I sort of hungered
for him. You see, my missus and me couldn't compass a son of our own,
and we just wanted Curly. When he quit out from you-all, we tried to
catch him, but he broke away. Then came the big shooting-match, six
weeks ago, and it broke my ole woman's heart. Thar was the lady gawn
daid, and Balshannon quits out in the gun smoke, and you and the two
youngsters outlawed for trying to save him. That's how I reads the signs
on this big war-trail, and being only a crazy old plainsman, I takes the
weaker side."

He reached out his paw.

"Put her thar, you one-eyed hoss-thief, and you'll know that there's one
official in this hull corrupt and filthy outfit who cares for justice
more'n he cares for law."

With warrants out against me on various charges, and the Grave City
Stranglers yearning to make me a corpse, I had come on this visit
feeling plenty bashful, so it was good to have a genuine county sheriff
acting chaperon. The ladies gave us a great sufficiency of supper, and
then we made Curly swear faithfully not to go hunting wigs in the
moonlit streets. Afterwards the ladies went to roost, and we two men,
having tracked out to tend the horses, made down our beds in the barn
loft.

Next morning my natural modesty, and certain remarks from the sheriff,
made me hide up out of sight, but Bryant went to town and did my
shopping. He bought me an iron-grey gelding, which I'd always longed to
steal, because he was much too good for the tenderfoot doctor who owned
him. It shocked my frugal mind to pay a hundred dollars cash, but Bryant
was liberal with my money, and the horse was worth a hundred and fifty,
anyhow. He got me a second-handed saddle, snaffle, rope, blanket, a
dandy pair of shaps (leather armour for the legs), spurs, belt, shirt,
overalls, boots, sombrero, and all cowboy fixings. If I was to take
young Curly back to Robbers' Roost, she needed a proper trousseau,
specially being due to meet Jim.

I hate to put up dull particulars, but I ought to mention that Mutiny
Robertson had located a good showing of silver, the second east
extension of the Contention Mine, on my land at Las Salinas. That is why
for he put up six thousand dollars cash for my water-spring, fencing,
and adobe house, getting clear title to the land which held his mineral
rights. It grieves me to think of Mutiny grabbing all his present wealth
because I couldn't hold down that place without being lynched. Such is
the fruits of getting unpopular, and I might preach a plenty improving
sermon on the uncertainties of business, the immorality of being found
out, the depravity of things in general, the cussedness of fate. Mutiny
waited sly, while I plunged around conspicuous, so now he's rich,
setting a good example, while I'm as poor as a fox.

What with my bank deposit and the sale of my home, Dick brought me back
nine thousand dollars in cash. Likewise I had in my warbags the money
which McCalmont had trusted to my care for Curly's dowry. I gave Dick
charge of all this wealth, taking only a thousand dollars for present
expenses, and stuffed the same in the treasure-belt which I carry next
my skin. These proceedings were a comfort to me, for I'm here to remark,
and ready to back my statements with money, arguments, or guns, that the
handling of wealth is more encouraging to the heart than such lonesome
games as the pursuit of virtue.

Besides the plunder and Curly's trousseau, Dick brought me chocolate
creams, a new breed of rim-fire cigars just strong enough to buck, a
quart of pickles, and some medicine for our thirst. The old drunkard
knows what is good, and before supper we sat in the barn with these
comforts talking business.

It needs such surroundings of luxury to get my thoughts down to any
manner of business, for I hold that office work is adapted to town
sharps only, and not to men. Bryant and I had the misfortune to be
named in Lord Balshannon's will as his executors, to ride herd on his
Jim until such time as the colt could run alone. In this business my
co-robber had taken action already, annexing the trainload of breeding
cattle which had been stolen by Jabez Y. Stone. These cattle were sold
by auction, and Dick held the money, swearing that nobody else but Jim
should get so much as a smell.

With regard to Holy Cross, Dick, as sheriff, had seized the old
hacienda, and the same must be sold to pay Balshannon's debts to the
Ryan estate. It seems that Michael Ryan claimed this plunder, and that
Jim, the natural heir, had stolen Michael. "Thar it stands," says Dick,
who has a legal mind, "until Jim skins his meat."

That set me thinking of Michael. He was not likely to be special fat
after his ride with the robbers.

"I doubt," says Bryant, "that so shorely as Jim does the skinning, that
Ryan duck ain't got a tail feather left."

With these remarks he slanted away back to town, having agreed to sup
with the City Marshal. As for me, I lay in the corn-shucks full of dim
wonderings about that Pedersen person cramped in the cooler at Lordsburg
on Bryant's charge of "bigamy and confusion of mind." The question was,
would he stay put? The arrangement made with Pedersen was only
temporary, not permanent like a proper funeral. Moreover, in his place I
should have felt mournful and ill used. I should have put up objections
and struggles to find my way out. Suppose this person escaped, or got
loosed by his lawyer, or sent Curly's address to the Grave City police?
I was afflicted with doubts about said Pedersen, and my mind began to
gloat on the joys of absence. So I saddled the horses, got ready for the
warpath, and watching until it was dark enough, made a break for the
back door of the house, carrying Curly's outfit.

To judge by the clatter in the house, something had happened, and when I
broke in on the ladies, I found them having hysterics over their copy of
the _Weekly Obituary_. I slung the cowboy gear to Curly, and bade her
change herself quick because we must hit the trail. On that the clatter
got to a crisis, as it does in a hen-roost in the case of fox. Miss
Blossom called me all the names she could think of; Miss Pansy sobbed at
having to part with her little private robber; Miss Curly whirled in
telling the news in the paper. All of them wanted to talk, so I surely
played fox to that hen-roost, chasing Miss Pansy out to pack us a lunch
for the trail, grabbing the paper from Curly, and scaring Miss Blossom
with bad words until she got tame enough to attend to business. She took
Curly into the bedroom, and there was a sort of lull, while I got my
ears to work at the back door.

It's a true fact that I have a sort of sense which warns me if danger is
coming. It makes my hands tingle as if they were full of prickles, and
my heart beats loud, so I can scarcely hear. That minute I stood at the
back door felt like whole hours of waiting, so that I wanted to howl.
Close by me in the kitchen Miss Pansy was sobbing about the bad words
she had heard, and through the mosquito netting I could hear Miss
Blossom oppressing Curly while she changed her clothes. I folded the
newspaper and jammed it into my pocket, studied the lay of the stable
door to see how quick I could get the horses out, and pulled my gun
loose for war.

Away towards the town I could hear the rumble of wheels half a mile,
coming on rapid.

"Miss Pansy!" I called.

She quit crying.

"This Curly's in danger," says I. "Brace up; act brave, and when this
waggon stops at the door, meet the men who try to break in. Tell them
you're not to home, and give 'em some Christian Science."

She went quite cool to wait by the front door, and now I could see the
dust of a waggon come up against the afterglow in the sky.

"Miss Blossom," I called, "roll Curly out through that window just as
she is. Quick!"

"Oh, but----"

"Curly," I shouted, "come out!"

"Coming!"

"Fix that bed, Miss Blossom; lay in it with Curly's wig, and prepare to
play daid!"

Curly came tumbling through the mosquito bar in the window, dropped on
her feet like a cat. "Horses!" I whispered, and she ran, her spurs
clattering outrageous along the gravel-path.

The waggon had pulled up to the front gate, somebody shouted, I heard
Miss Pansy screeching like a cougar, and a man came surging past the
side of the house, lifting his gun to draw a bead on Curly as she ran. I
jumped behind, felled him with my gun-butt, and bolted.

What with Miss Pansy's shrieks, and the shouting of men, the clatter had
got to be a whole disturbance, rousing a quiet neighborhood. As I ran I
could hear Miss Blossom calling, "Go 'way, you rude men! Scat!"

It seemed to me that time was worth a million dollars a second while I
held the back gate by the stable, and Curly rode through with the horses
straight on to the open range. As I swung to the saddle, I heard the
house door battered in with a crash of breaking glass.

"Hold on," said Curly, reining in her horse, "I was forgettin'."

The searchers were swarming through the house, and for my part I was
full content to depart without telling them any good-bye.

"You're scart," says Curly. "You coward! You stay heah!"

Then feeling for blood with her spurs, she sailed at full gallop along
the outer side of the garden fence. At the first shot from the yard she
ducked, throwing herself until she hung Indian fashion along the off
side of her horse. A bullet trimmed my back hair as I followed, gun
flames blazed from the back porch and the windows, as we shot past the
house. The bullets were singing all round us, our horses were crazy with
fright, but then we swung round the end of the garden fence, running
full tilt against the standing team of horses which the police had left
in the road. The shock stampeded them, but Curly swerved clear of their
rush, rolled back into the saddle, raced abreast, and shot both horses
down. A minute more, and the firing died away behind us, for we were
racing neck-and-neck across the desert. Curly had left the police to
follow afoot, but now she began to weaken, for, because she had played
the man, she broke down and sobbed--a woman.

We had been running maybe two hours when we pulled up on the top of a
hill to rest our horses. Far down to southward the electric lights in
the city made a silver haze of small specks glistening as though a scrap
of sky had fallen there. High in the south Orion rode guard upon the
star herds, and the night was so still that we were scared to speak. I
wanted to smoke, but on a night like that the striking of a match may be
seen for miles around, so I took a bite at my plug and ate tobacco
instead. Then as Curly and I sat on a rock together listening, I heard a
bear cough because his nose got dusty, grubbing for ants; a coyote was
singing the hunger-song, and miles away to the east a ranche dog
answered him. Then Curly's horse scrunched up a tuft of grass, and my
beast pawing, startled a rattlesnake. The little woman beside me
whispered then--

"Shorely the Lawd makes His big medicine for us, for snakes and robbers,
wolves and b'ars. Only the folk down tha cayn't see Him, 'cause they got
electric lights instead of stars."

"Which them two pore ladies," says I, "gets gun-flame by way of lamps to
cheer them up to-night."

"I hate to think how we-all stirred theyr peace. Still, Bryant has
stroked theyr fur by now," she sighed. "Them visitors rumpled me too,
and all my brussles is pointing the wrong way still."

"D'you reckon, Curly," I asked, "that the City Marshal is hoping to
trail us by starlight?"

"Not to hurt," she yawned, "'cept maybe he's got smell-dogs guidin' his
posse. Yes, I remember a while back the Marshal bought a team of
blood-hounds."

She didn't seem to take much interest, so I proposed that we roll our
tails.

"I see his lantern," said Curly; "thar it is agin. We got a ten-mile
start."

I saw the glimmer then. "Come on," said I.

"_Poco tiempo_," says Curly. "I'm fearful sorry for them pore ladies
yondeh."

I dragged her away, and we rode on, throwing the miles astern. Every two
hours or so Curly would give the horses a rest and a taste of grass--a
trick she had learned from Indians, which kept them fresh for a trail.

The night was cold, with a little "lazy wind," as Curly called it, too
tired to go round, so it went right through us. Just before dawn we
crossed a clay flat holding a slough of mud, and found it hard with
frost.

"When water goes to sleep with cold," says Curly, "a smell-dog's nose
ain't goin' to guide his laigs. This frost is due to send the posse
home."

"At dawn they'll see our tracks."

Dawn broke, and we were rising a slope of sand-drift, with acres of
naked rock ahead of us.

"Haw!" said Curly, leading me to the left until we entered the rock
field. "Gee," she called, and we crossed the rocks to the right. "Follow
the rocks--shy wide of any sand." I followed for a mile, until a little
hill shut off the route we had come by. "Dismount," she said, and I
stepped down by the edge of the sands. She made me take the saddle
blankets, the oilskin coats, and a serape (Mexican blanket), and make a
pathway of them across the sand, on which she rode, leading my horse,
while I renewed the track in front of her for a couple of hundred feet.
So we left horse sign on the sand which looked a whole fortnight old.
Then, gathering the clothes, I mounted, and we curved away among
sandhills for half an hour, sailing along at a lope until we came to a
patch of gramma grass. "Let the hawsses graze," said Curly, and sat
side-saddle, resting while she smoked a cigarette. I did the same, and
the tracks we left now were those of grazing horses, not those of
travellers. Then I resaddled, and all set, we rode off again to the
north. The frost had spoiled our scent; the blanket play and grazing
play had sure discouraged trackers.

"Curly," says I, "you heap big Injun!"

"I lil' small robber," she answered, "givin' away trade secrets."

A few miles northward we circled up beyond a ridge of hills, to a good
look-out point. From there we could see the Marshal's posse small as
ants in the distance, ranging around on the rock flat, from whence they
presently crawled off south, looking a lot subdued. Then I unsaddled,
while Curly killed out a few centipedes, scorpions, rattlers, and other
local vermin, to make our sleep comfy under the rocks.

At noon, when the heat awoke us, we rode on to Texas Bob's big spring,
reaching his camp by sundown. There we made up for lost meals by taking
in four at once. Mrs. Bob gave us jerked beef, spiced bread and coffee;
her wild range kids rubbed down our horses, watered them and fed; the
old gentleman himself poured in his best advice until Curly crept off to
sleep. As for me, I felt good, sitting there in the hut of cactus sticks
watching the gold grass slowly change to grey, and great big stars come
out above the hills.

The long hair lay like silver around the old man's shoulders; the white
beard, pointed short, wagged over his deerskin shirt; his kind eyes
wrinkled with fun, and all his words were wisdom absolute. I reckon he's
the wisest man in all the southern desert, and when I told him the
things I ought not to have done, he showed me better how to act in
future.

"Stealin' a womern," says he, "is different from stealin' hawsses. You
can make the hawsses forget theyr home range in a month, but a womern
will sure break fences to quit back to the man she wants. This Curly
will run to her mate, and whar they graze there ain't room for you in
the pasture. The good Book says: 'No man shall put them asunder,' and
the rules of Right and Wrong ain't got exceptions. Don't you try to
steal Curly."

In all my life I never needed a friend so much as I did that night, but
when Curly and I hit the trail the old scout reached me his hand.

"Put her right thar, Chalkeye," says he; "it's mighty hard at times to
stick to the rules of the game. It's so easy to go crooked that it takes
a man to play straight--and you'll play straight. _Adios!_"

All night my mind was at ease, and when day broke again we were into the
Superstitious Mountains. So I led Curly down towards Echo Spring, and
gave the long yell to my boys where they lay in camp.



CHAPTER XXV

A MILLION DOLLARS RANSOM


In giving my own account of this unpleasantness which happened between
the Du Chesnay and Ryan families I've just grabbed Truth by the tail and
tried to stay right with her. But Truth runs swift, and raises plenty
dust of lies around her heels, so, maybe, whirling along I missed good
facts. Happens I've been poorly provided with one eye and a lot of
prejudice to see the trail ahead; likely I've not been the only party
interested. Anyways, outsiders could watch the stampede without getting
choked with dust.

Now these conclusions struck me abrupt like a bat in the eye when I sat
down to rest in camp at Echo Spring. Before leaving Grave City, while
thinking of other worries, I had caught a copy of a local paper, stuffed
the same in my rear pocket, and disremembered having such possessions. I
never thought of it until my tigers, hungering for news, caught sight of
the bulging paper and rushed my camp to grab. Then I unfolded the
_Weekly Obituary_ to these boys, all setting around on their tails and
pointing their ears for instruction. I read to them about a certain
Chalkeye Davies, who seemed to be a most astonishing outrageous villain,
performing simultaneous crimes in several places at once. My tigers
purred for more.

Then came a whole page of revelations concerning "the kidnapped
Croesus," otherwise styled "the stolen millionaire" and the "brigands'
prey." It was clearly proved that the Chalkeye villain, Jim du
Chesnay--described as "a broken-down swell"--and Captain McCalmont had
joined together in purloining Michael Ryan and hiding him up in a cave,
the place being well known to the authorities. This cave was
inaccessible by land and water, guarded with machine-guns, and supplied
with all modern conveniences, especially searchlights. "Our special
representative" had been there, "but declined to give particulars for
fear of driving the bandits to still more desperate measures."

Then came the _Weekly Obituary_ gallery of fine portraits. We knew them
all well, because they were served up frequent to represent murderers,
politicians, actresses, preachers, scandalous British duchesses, and
other notorious persons. Now they represented McCalmont, Curly,
Chalkeye, Jim, Michael Ryan, Mrs. Michael, and old Mrs. Ryan. The
_Weekly Obituary_ said it was wishful with these identifications to
assist the ends of justice.

After this the next page was all quotations from leading papers
throughout the Republic, proving how plumb depraved the robbers were,
how wicked it was to purloin the rich and good out of their private
cars, and how the Federal Government ought to act in this shocking
catastrophe. The New York papers just burned themselves with wrath
because Michael's present engagements prevented him a whole lot from
attending to railroad business. His financial combine was due to
collapse complete unless he took hold at once.

Last came "our special supplement," with the very latest news. It seems
that Michael had written to his wife in New York; likewise that somebody
stole the letter from her and sold it to the New York _Megaphone_. Then
all the papers copied Michael's letter and laid the blame on the
_Megaphone_. Here is the letter:--

     "_September 8th, 1900._

     "DEAR KATHLEEN,

     "On 28th ult. I was abducted at Grave City out of my car by
     brigands and carried blindfold, lashed on to the back of a horse,
     for several hundred miles through frightful country, arriving here
     4th instant. When I got here I weighed ninety-eight pounds! Indeed
     I was nearly dead; but now the robbers are feeding me up, so that
     I'm gaining flesh, although I'm still kept prisoner in close
     confinement.

     "I don't know the whereabouts of this house, but it's a large
     ranche building of logs in the middle of pine woods. At nights I'm
     almost frozen, so it must be high up in some range of mountains.
     The country looks flat from the window. A robber told me once that
     the place is in California.

     "Now, dearest, you will take this as my authority, and raise the
     sum of one million dollars to pay my ransom, and save me from being
     murdered. You know who to go to, and offer securities for the loan,
     getting the best terms you can. This money must be paid one-tenth
     in U. S. gold currency, and the balance in notes of ($50) fifty
     dollars and under. Bring it to Flagstaff, in Arizona, and ask for
     military escort. There you will charter a waggon, and have the
     treasure delivered at the point where the Tuba trail from Flagstaff
     crosses the Little Colorado River, right in the middle of the
     Painted Desert. The waggon must then be abandoned, and the escort
     to withdraw to Cañon Diablo, leaving no spies behind. The chief of
     the robbers tells me that the man he sends with a team to get this
     waggon will be a perfectly innocent farmer, and that any parties
     attempting to molest, join, or follow him will be killed so quick
     they'll never know what struck them.

     "I must earnestly warn you, as you value my life, to prevent any
     attempt whatever to watch or track the waggon; or prior to my
     release to permit any hostile movement against the robbers; or to
     deliver any money short of the full ransom; or to mark any coin or
     note for future identification. If the terms are not absolutely
     complied with in every detail, within forty days from date--that
     is, by noon of 18th October, I shall be murdered. If the ransom is
     delivered as per instructions by 18th October and found correct,
     the robbers will then disperse, and have no further use for me.
     They promise then to deliver me at the nearest ranche or farm on or
     before 1st November.

     "_Private._--Now, dearest, of my own free will, and without
     compulsion from the robbers, I want to ease my mind of a great
     burden, by confessing to you as I shall to Holy Church if ever I
     get the chance. Under this dreadful visitation I see things in
     their true light which before were hid.

     "I guess there's not the slightest doubt that Lord Balshannon was
     one of the blackest scoundrels that ever disgraced this earth.
     Apart from his odious crimes in Ireland, his later life was steeped
     in villainy. For years at Holy Cross ranche he was in open league
     with this gang of robbers who have captured me. One of them,
     Chalkeye Davies, the notorious horse-thief, was his foreman, and
     Captain McCalmont's son went there to get educated in crime. Once
     Balshannon actually hired the gang to rob my father of $75,000.

     "Under such circumstances I am awed by the sublime courage of my
     father in this single-handed war against Balshannon and his
     outlaws. I stood at father's side in the last fight when Balshannon
     murdered him; I fired first in the fusillade which avenged the old
     man's death; and untrained as I am to such wild warfare of the
     Frontier, I tried to be worthy of my blood.

     "But when I think of Balshannon's son, I realize now that he fought
     for his father as I fought for mine. Afterwards, blinded with
     passion, I brought a charge against him, and swore that he alone
     was guilty of my father's death. I had no right to do that; the
     young chap was innocent, the charge was a put-up job. But the evil
     one must have possessed me entirely, for when several witnesses
     thought they could please me by swearing Jim's life away, I was a
     party to their perjuries. More, I was induced to help them with
     money to leave the country, and so escape arrest.

     "If I sinned, I am punished, for as the robbers were Balshannon's
     partners, so they took sides with his son. Because I attacked the
     lad they abducted me. That is my punishment, Kathleen, and it is
     just.

     "In one thing I am puzzled, because I expected to find Balshannon's
     son with the robbers. I have not seen him, and McCalmont swears
     that Jim du Chesnay took no part in this outrage.

     "Kathleen, we've got to do right in this business. I want the
     charge against James du Chesnay withdrawn right now. When I am free
     I shall give him back his home and lands, all that father seized,
     and ask him to forget that there was ever a quarrel between our
     families.

     "Dear love, it breaks my heart to think of your anxiety. As for my
     business interests, I dare not think of what may be involved by my
     long absence. Mavourneen, you must save me quick, or worse will
     happen yet.

     "Your distracted lover,

     "MICHAEL."

It made me sorry to think of that poor devil. You see, he tended strict
to business first, then strutted awhile to show himself off to his
woman, before he unfolded his crooked little soul in the part marked
"Private." His letter gave me plenty to think about.

Still, I had my own concerns to worry me, for Monte took me round our
herd, which had grown in surprising ways during my absence. The mares,
it seemed, had gotten more prolific than usual, giving birth to
full-grown horses, ready branded. On the whole I concluded that if any
of the neighbours happened around, my boys would find that pasture
unhealthy with symptoms of lead poisoning. I advised them to quit, so
they agreed to shift the herd along eastward, and sell out in Texas.
Meanwhile, I cut out Curly's buckskin mare, and a few of my own pet
runners who knew how to show their tails to any pursuers. We took twelve
good stayers from the herd, and a little wall-eyed pack mule who had
fallen dead in love with Curly's mare. So Curly and I were ready for our
march.

As to that young person, from the moment she hit the trail out of Grave
City the wound in her arm healed rapid, and she sure forgot to be an
invalid. Two days we fed and rested her, but then she began to act
warlike, oppressing me for sloth. On the third morning I loaded the pack
mule, told the boys good-bye, and trailed off with Curly, pointing for
Robbers' Roost.

When water won't cure thirst, but the juice in your mouth turns to slime
caking in lumps on your lips, when the skin dries up because there's no
more sweat, when your eyes ache and your brain mills round--that's
Arizona. The air shakes in waves like a mist of cobwebs, and through
that quiver the landscape goes all skeweye, for some of the mountains
float up clear of the land, and some turn upside down standing on rows
of pillars along the skyline. Then the hollows of the land fill with
blue mist--blue lakes and cactus bushes change into waving palm trees by
the waterside. How can a man keep his head when the world goes raving
crazy all round him? You have just to keep on remembering that your eyes
have quit being responsible, that your nose is a liar, that your ears
are fooled, then keep a taut rein on yourself for fear your wits
stampede, and your legs go chasing visions down the trail to death.

That Valley of Central Arizona got me plumb bewildered; a country of
bare earth and mesquite brush like mist, with huge big trees of cactus
standing in one grove a hundred miles across. Then came a hillside of
black cinders lifting a hundred miles; but the top was a level mesa,
surely the first place I ever seen with good grass under pine trees. I
had never seen woods before, and this coconino forest is the sort of
pasture I'd want to go to after this present life. I hunger none for
golden pavements or any desert lay-out, nor am I wishful for a
harp--having a taste for guitars--nor for flopping around on wings, nor
a crown of glory--the same being ostentatious a whole lot. Pasture like
this, a horse, a camp, a spring--such promises as them would lure me to
being good.

Right in the heart of this forest there's a bunch of dead volcanoes
called the San Francisco peaks, lifting their frosty heads into the sky,
and round the skirts of lava at their feet lies broken country. Curly
showed good judgment in making camps, but hereabouts I thought she had
lost her wits, for she led me over broken lava flows, heart-breaking
ground for the horses, where we had to dismount and climb. Then all of a
sudden we dropped down, hid from all the world, into a meadow walled
around with lava. This tract had escaped when the rest was overflowed;
so happened there was grass among the bull pines, and right at the head
of the field a little cave with space of floor for camping beside a
bubbling spring. We struck the place at noon and camped, my partner
concluding to lie over until she could make a night scout in search of
news. She slept through the afternoon while I stood guard outside.

Up to that time we had been scared to make a fire at night or show a
smoke by day, except for the minutes we needed boiling coffee. Besides
that, we could never camp within ten miles of a water-hole, but had to
ride on after drinking to win the nearest grass, this country being all
ate up around the pools. Here we had grass and water, the cave to hide
our fire, and certainty besides of not being caught without warning. It
was mighty fine to set around the fire after supper.

"You Chalkeye"--Curly lit up a cigarette and broke into silence which
had lasted days--"what does it feel like, being safe?"

"We're safe enough here, lil' partner."

"Till I hit the trail for this scouting. But I mean, to live safe day
after day without nobody ever wanting to kill you. Ain't it some
monotonous?"

"Not to hurt."

"It must feel sort of--neglected. I read a book onced about folks in
England, which I kep' on readin' and readin' to see if anythin' happened
'cept meals and go-to-bed and get-up-in-the-mawning. The girl was a sure
enough fool, and as to the boy--well, he wore government socks, and
didn't love the Lawd. Then he mar'ied a widow by mistake, which she had
a forked tongue, a bad eye, and parted her ha'r on one side lookin'
rather cute. That boy just aimed to cut his throat for seventy-three
pages, then didn't after all, which was plumb discouraging. 'Stead of
that he got a government job inspectin' the clouds and drawin' salary.
Then the widdy she talked herself to death, and quit out. Afterwards
that boy took sixty-one pages to get a kiss from the heroine. Thar was a
deanery in it and a funny parrot--I reckon that's all the story."

"They mar'ied?"

"Sure, and nothin' happened ever afterwards, 'cept kids. Them characters
was awful safe from gettin' excited. Will it be that a-way when I get
tame enough to mar'y Jim?"

Feeling that said Jim was a lot unworthy of her, I strayed out to study
how much our camp was visible. It seemed like we couldn't be attacked
without our visitors cussing around first in the lava. They'd bark their
shins, and we'd hear gentle protests.

When I came back, Curly was brooding still about her Jim.

"He'll be a dook like the old patrone," says she, "and sure as I'm a
lady I'll be tired of life. Robes goes with that job, and a golden crown
such as the angels wear."

"I reckon that's only for Sunday best," I told her.

"To go to church? Wall, now, ain't that jest fine? And how my wolves
would laugh to see!" She stood up swaggering before the fire, her hand
on her revolver, her laugh ringing echoes round the cave. "Jest you
think," says she, "of me--a lady! Footman at the church door to
announce us 'Lord and Lady Balshannon!' and Jim and me goes buttin'
along to our pew. Then the preacher he rears up to talk his sermon. 'My
lord, my lady, and you common or'nary brethren.' Cayn't you see Jim spit
on his crown and give it a rub with his sleeve, and me snarled up in my
robe like a roped hawss? Then we ride off home to the castle, and Jim
says, 'Be-shrew thee! go to, thou varlet, and wrastle the grub pile
'fore I shoot the cook!' Then the valet says there's a deputy-marshal
come to arrest us both for stealin' cows, so Jim has him hung in the
moat. Afterwards we put in the hull afternoon shootin' foxes, and other
British sports until it's time for supper, then play stud poker beside
the parlour stove. You're to come and stop with us, Chalkeye."

"Sing to me, Curly," says I, because her voice was sweet enough to
gentle a grizzly bear, and it always smoothed my fur. It seems to me I
can see her now, her eyes green and flame in the firelight, her face--I
can't describe her face.

    "Here's a moccasin track in the drifts,
      It's no more than the length of me hand,
    An' her instep--just see how it lifts--
      If that ain't jest the best in the land!
    For the maid ran as free as the wind,
      And her foot was as light as the snow,
    Why, as sure as I follow, I'll find
      Me a kiss whar her red blushes grow.

    "Here's two small little feet and a skirt,
      Here's a soft little heart all aglow;
    See me trail down the dear little flirt
      By the sign which she left in the snow!
    Did she run? 'Twas a hint to make haste,
      An' why, bless her!--I'm sure she won't mind!
    If she's got any kisses to waste,
      Why, she knew that a man was behind!

    "Did she run 'cause she's only afraid?
      No, for sure 'twas to set me the pace!
    And I've fallen in love with a maid
      When I ain't had a sight of her face.
    There she is! And I knew she was near;
      Will she pay me a kiss to be free?
    Will she hate? will she love? will she fear?
      Why, the darling! she's waiting to see!"

In all the thousands of camp fires dotted along the trail of my life,
that one is best to think of. Surely I believe that the Big Spirit sent
us poor little spirits loose on the earth to be kicked and educated, not
to have nice times. Looking around at present facts, we see how Life is
a cold, hard, business proposition, so we have to keep a mighty sharp
look-out for fear of being kicked off the premises. The future glows
with hope gay as a sunrise, the past is full of memories shining
glorious like the setting sun. Seems to me that in Eternity, when the
cold present is mixed up with all the rainbow colours of Past and
Future--why, then I'll hear Curly's voice come soft through the pines,
and see her face in the fire where I camp.

So in my poor way I dream in this lone camp where I sit at present.
Perhaps, says you, I'd better wake up right now and tend to my story.

At midnight Curly rode into the town of Flagstaff. Afterwards, following
the Grand Cañon trail at daybreak, she happened by accident on a
stage-coach broken down with a load of tourists. The driver chanced to
be a retired robber, gone tame with rheumatism, so she helped him to fix
his linch pin which had snapped. As to the tourists, they were plumb
content to find a "real live cowboy" who would talk to them. Most
punchers steer shy of tourists, but Curly enjoyed them. She was always
curious as a young antelope at anything unusual in the way of game, so
she borrowed all their newspapers "to read to her dying mother"--which
was me. Then she told them good advice about keeping alert at night to
watch for robbers. On that the teamster cheered them up by divulging how
robbers drink human blood to keep their courage boiling, and how they
like a baby when they are staled on pork. Curly imparted a few
particulars and rode away with a high tail.

I was still asleep when she came whirling into camp, whooping for
breakfast ravenous.

"Show a laig," says she, "and set out the grub pile swift while I go
wrangle the hawsses. We get a move on ourselves right after breakfast!"

There was something unusual, I thought, about the way she talked, a
sort of high-strung excitement. As to her face, that was pale as ashes.
By the time I'd cooked bacon and slapjacks she had the horses in, and
fresh mounts saddled.

"How's Flagstaff?" I asked, while she washed herself at the spring.

"Ain't this just purty?" she said to the bubbling water. "Flagstaff?
Why, it sure is the craziest town I ever seen." Her laugh was harsh to
hear.

"You been showin yo' face in the street?"

"Wall partly, but I covered up half my complexion to look like the
toothache--so!" She stuffed a ball of a handkerchief into her near
cheek, bound the towel around her jaw, and looked most miserable. "Oh,
throw me a dentist!" she howled, then broke out laughing. "I shorely did
act pitiful."

"And why for is this town locoed?" I felt the girl was laughing so as
not to cry.

"Well," says she, "there's Joe Beef, the Utah sheriff, and a lot of lil'
no-account sheriffs, there's a fat United States Marshal with a chin
whisker and a heap of deputies, there's cowboys, scouts, and trackers,
reporters, ambulances, dawgs, pony-soldiers----"

"Has the Navajos broke out?"

"No, the pale-face has broke out; it's a hull epidemic, and there's an
outfit on the war trail in Utah, another on the San Juan in
Colorado--and they're going to eat up Robbers' Roost--and you,
Chalkeye, lookin' glum as a new-laid widow! Scat, you!"

"Has they gawn mad?" I asked. "The moment they make a break for Robbers'
Roost, McCalmont will kill this Ryan, scatter his wolves, and vanish.
This must be only the escort for Ryan's ransom."

"It's plumb ridiculous, but--there ain't no ransom."

"Yo're dreaming, Curly. This projeck of troops is sure death to Ryan.
They'd risk the killin' of a common or'nary man--but a millionaire!"

"That's where the joke comes--he ain't a millionaire!"

I saw her quit her breakfast all untasted.

"Cayn't you be serious, child, for once?" I asked, but it made me ache
to see her face that way.

"I daren't be serious, I daren't think, I daren't. Just you look at them
papers."

I snatched at the nearest paper, opened it, and thought I must have been
locoed. There were the headlines:--

"Ryan Combine Smashed. Collapse of the Trust."--"Panic on 'Change. The
Kidnapped Millionaire, a Confessed Perjurer and Corrupter of Witnesses,
admits that He swore away the Life of an Innocent Man."--"Behold thy
Financial Gods, O Israel!"

I read on, dazed with the news. "Public Confidence at an
End."--"Investors jump from Under."--"Ryan Debentures a Frost."--"Shares
thrown on the Ash-heap."--"Petition in Bankruptcy."--"Mrs. Ryan
abandons all Hope of a Ransom."--"Federal Government pledged to wipe out
the Bandits."--"Movement of Troops."--"Sheriff Joe Beef interviewed on
the Situation."--"Forces taking the Field."--"One of the Robbers offers
Himself as a Guide."

Curly was pulling my sleeve. "Come here," she said, and there was surely
something awful in her voice. "Look, see that dragon-fly," she
whispered, "and all them flowers usin' the spring for a mirror, bendin'
low. And hear the bull pines whisper, smell the great strong scent, look
thar at the blue sky, and the cloud herds grazin'. That's like my home,
ole Chalkeye--sech sounds, sech good smells, sech woods, and sech a
heaven overhead. The boys air gentlin' hawsses in the big corral, or
ridin' out to get a deer for supper. My fatheh sets in the doorway
strummin' hymns on his old guitar, his dawgs around him, his lil' small
cat pawin' around to help. And Jim is thar, my Jim--cayn't I be serious?
Don't I think? Ain't I seein' that, all blackened ruins--bloody
ground--daid corpses rotting down by the corrals--shadows of black wings
acrost the yard? Oh, God of Mercy, spare 'em, spare my wolves, my home,
my fatheh! And Jim is thar!"

She turned against me raging. "What air you waiting for? Has you jest
got to stand round all day? Yo're scart--that's what's the matter with
you-all--afraid to even carry a warning! What d'ye want to pack the
kitchen for? I'm shut of you. Stay thar!"

She jumped to her horse, she sprang to the saddle, she lashed her spurs
for blood, and whirled away to the northward.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE STRONGHOLD


My words are only crawling for lack of wings; my brain's like ashes when
it needs to be live fire. I have no brains or words to talk of what I've
seen, and I reckon I'm a lot incompetent. The men who wrote the Bible
ought to be turned loose on this earth again to make another book. Then
folks who have not seen might understand such places as the Painted
Desert, the Rock City, and the Grand Cañon of the Colorado.

What with delays in packing and driving I had to track Curly for maybe
thirty miles before I caught her up at Clay Flat by the edge of the
forest. Her horse was dead, and she sat beside him, her stone-white face
set cold, staring straight ahead. Below us lay the Painted Desert, so
wide that the further edge was lost in mist. We rode down to the trickle
of water at the bottom, then up the further side, and all the rock lay
in belts red as flame, yellow as gold, purple as violets, which seemed
to shine of their own light, burning us. The men who stop in that
country mostly go mad, the which is natural. Beyond we came out on a
mesa of naked rock and sand-drifts, where we found a pool between high
cliffs, splashed through it, and maybe a dozen miles beyond found after
nightfall a few plants of grass. We had covered a hundred and ten miles
at a tearing pace that day, changing horses, robber fashion, at every
halt we made.

Next morning we met up with small bunches of Navajo Indians, a strange
breed of people, dressed up in their private brown skins, with great
plenty of turquoise necklace, silver harness, and a wisp of breech
clout, riding with bows and arrows to hunt rabbits. They handed a few
arrows after us; but their ponies could not run, so we quit their
company.

Then we came to the City of Rocks, flaming red, and high as mountains;
their thousand-foot walls sheer to the desert, all carved in needle
spires, towers, castles, palaces. The street was six miles wide, I
reckon, and we rode along it maybe fifty miles, like crawling flies in
the sand.

Beyond the city we curved around by a gap in the desert, a sort of crack
half a mile deep, with a river along the bottom. It swung about like a
snake, getting deeper and deeper; but we kept to the level desert, until
we reached a little side cañon, where there was feed and water. We
resaddled there, taking Curly's buckskin and my pet horse Sam. The rest
of our bunch we turned down into that pasture, and left them, riding on
along the rim rock.

Just after sundown we came abrupt to what looked like the end of the
world, a gulf so deep that we couldn't see to the bottom. That mighty
gash in the earth is six hundred miles in length, it's usually ten miles
wide; it's more than a sheer mile deep, and full of mountain ranges all
shaped like gigantic buildings. Dead weary as I was from riding more
than two hundred miles in forty-eight hours, I forgot about being tired
when I saw that place, the most tremendous thing in the whole earth, the
Grand Cañon of the Colorado.

There was no rest for us, but seven miles of such a break-neck trail as
I'd never imagined possible, for it overhung black death from start to
finish, looping round the face of outrageous cliffs which seemed to have
no bottom. Midnight was past before we got to camp beside the river,
flung off the harness, turned the horses loose, and dropped in our
tracks to sleep.

A gunshot roused me, and starting broad awake I heard the echoes
crashing from wall to wall.

"It's only me," said Curly, "signalling."

Dark banks of fog were driving over our heads, and I shivered with the
dawn cold. Then I looked up, and more than a mile in the air saw scarlet
cliffs ablaze in the sunlight. The river rolled beside our camp, wide as
the Thames in London, grey water so thick that splashes of it harden
into mud. A gunshot answered from the further bank, then Curly gave the
cougar war-howl. The yelp of a wolf came back.

"Both boats," said Curly, "are on this side of the river--something gawn
wrong. Cook breakfast while I cross."

She took a little crazy boat and towed it upstream, scrambling over
boulders a quarter-mile or so. From there she pulled the boat across the
great grey sluice, fetching the other bank after a half-mile drift
downstream. There was a strong backwater along that further bank, and
she pulled easy, drifting past the camp up to a rocky headland. The man
who had answered the signals was waiting there to throw his saddle into
the boat, and follow, leading two horses so they could swim behind. By
the time they crossed again I had our two horses to camp, and breakfast
waiting.

It was not until after he fed, and he laid in provisions generous, that
this robber--his name was Pieface--had a word to say. He took no more
notice of me than if I was dead, and when he talked with Curly he sat
close beside her whispering. I hearing nothing; but allow I thought a
heap, for this man's face was bad, the very look of him was poison. My
gun was plenty ready while I watched.

"Chalkeye," says Curly out aloud, but her eyes were set on this ladrone
all the while. "This Pieface says that ten of our boys were sent down to
wait for the ransom. They were camped at Clay Flat, you remember?"

"I ain't much forgetful," says I, for this meant that all the cowards
had deserted! We had seen no men at Clay Flat.

"The chief," says Curly, "is right on his ear, and sends this Pieface to
find out what's wrong at Clay Flat."

When this Pieface person had hit the trail, we took both boats across
the river and swam our horses. From the far bank our way turned sharp to
the left into the side Cañon of Dirty Devil Creek. There we rode along
some miles in the water, so as to leave no trail; then, quitting the
bottom, turned sharp back up a ledge, threading the face of the cliffs.
The heat was blinding; it seemed as if we were being baked alive, and
even my tanned hide broke out in blisters. Curly allowed this cliff was
over six thousand feet high, and the trail kept circling round red
buttresses, flanks of broken rock, to one sheer cape where nothing lay
below us but blue space. Then we swung into a little arroyo with
trickling water, shady trees, and a gentle glade until we reached the
summit. At the rim rock a robber halted us, until Curly pushed her
hat-brim up, showing her face. She answered for me, and we rode on
through level pine woods. I noticed horse tracks scattering everywhere,
but no trail whatever; and then even the horse-tracks petered out. I
looked back, and there was not a sign to show the way we had come. For
the first mile we headed towards where the sun would set, now we swung
around on a long curve until we pointed north-east. I might just as well
have been blindfold.

"Curly," I asked, "is this Main Street?"

"I reckon," she laughed. "Could you find the way back?"

Once before she had told me that no trails led to the stronghold.

Then away to the left I saw a big corral, with a dust of horses inside,
and men sitting round on the top rail, maybe a dozen of them. Beyond it
lay a streak of open water, and right in front loomed a house, set in
the standing woods, where one could hardly see a hundred paces. It was a
ranche house of the usual breed, log-built, low-pitched, banked up
around with earth as high as the loopholes, and at each end against the
gable stood a dry stone chimney. Two or three men stood in the doorway
smoking, and but for the fact that they packed their guns when at home,
they looked like the usual cowboys. The dogs were plenty exuberant, but
Curly might have been out shooting rabbits for all the fuss that these
men made about her coming.

We unsaddled and set our horses loose.

"Wall, Curly," asked one of the robbers, "got any liquor along?"

"Nary a smell."

Then McCalmont came round the end of the house, dusty after some
argument with a broncho, trailing his rope while he coiled it.

"So, home at last," says he, shaking a paw with me right hearty. "Wall,
I'm sure pleased at you, Curly."

"Come to repawt," says Curly, mighty cool, but I saw that her eyes were
ranging around for Jim. An _olla_ of water hung from the eave by the
door, and McCalmont passed the dipper to me first. Then while Curly
drank he introduced me to Crazy Hoss, Black Stanley, and his brother
Dave, who made out that they were glad to see me, though their looks
said different.

Then the Captain asked me in, and we followed Curly through the
mess-house door. The log walls were hung with antlers, skins lay on the
floor before the big hearth at the end, and down the middle, with
benches on either side, ran the long table with its oilcloth cover, the
tinware set out for supper, and netting to keep off flies. That cow camp
looked good to me, home-like and soothing. Off to the left of the
messroom opened a little lean-to house--McCalmont's den--with a cubby
hole beyond it for Curly. We found her sitting on the bunk, gun and
spurs unbuckled, and holding her legs out for the old man to pull off
her shaps. I unharnessed myself, and he fed me a cigar, bidding me to
settle in a cow-hide chair. I felt right to home then.

"Dad," says Curly abrupt, "whar's my Jim?"

"What, you ain't met him?" says McCalmont. "He's gone to look for you."

Curly went pale under the tan, and gulped. "How long?" she asked.

"Oh, quite a time. Why, child, what's scart you? Perhaps he's with my
boys at Painted Desert."

"Daddy, I've brought bad news."

"I reckon"--McCalmont spoke very low--"I been thar before a few times,
and yet we've worried along. Lie down, so you'll get mo' rest."

He sat on the edge of the bunk, his hand on hers, as she lay loosing out
bit by bit the story of the ransom lost, the Federal Government on the
warpath, ten good men deserted. He was all crouched up when she
finished, the stub of a cigarette burning his fingers, and he looked
very old.

I went to get the newspapers which I'd kept in my warbags for him, and
when I came back he turned loose a volley of questions, searching me to
the bones until he had all the truth.

"Well, well," he said at last, with a queer smile, "these yere official
parties seem to be takin' quite an interest, eh? I thank you, seh, and
I'm full satisfied." Then he stood up. "You must be kinder hungry,
Misteh Davies. Spose you jest interview my cook. I think that you and
him has met before, and won't need introducin'. My son and I will join
you presently."

I strayed out through the messroom and found the kitchen beyond. Sure
enough the cook and I were acquainted, although I had not expected to
see this particular person in shirt and overalls, and his bare arms
white with flour. He was plenty absorbed too, dipping balls of chopped
meat into a pan full of mess.

"How air you, seh?"

He shied right off his feet and turned to face me, looking as guilty as
a caught fox.

"I guessed as much," he gasped; "all blackguards are bound to flock
together here."

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Ryan," says I.

Then he collected himself for war. "State your business, and get right
out of here. I'm engaged!"

"I'm engaged likewise"--I sat down on a box, and a dog came fawning to
me--"wharas this dog is polite, and sets an example. He's plumb full of
decorum and depawtment."

I hardly know what possessed me. Ryan's looks perhaps, or the way he
guarded those meat balls. I grabbed the nearest, and fed it to the dog
so quick that Ryan had only time enough to give himself dead away.

"Leave that dawg alone!" says I. He quit resisting me then, backed to
the log wall, and stood glaring.

"I've noticed," says I, "in dawgs that the smaller the dawg, the larger
the bark. I knew one onced so small that he hadn't room to hold his
bark--and the recoil tharfrom threw him back three dawg lengths. You
seem to suffer a whole lot from yo' recoil, Mr. Ryan."

"I guess," he said in his harsh Yankee twang, "that you're a low-down
coward--torturing me because you know I'm helpless."

"That dawg," says I, "is acting sort of queer, eh? As to my being a
coward, Mr. Ryan, you'll remember the last time we met I came buttin'
along to yo' hotel in Grave City commenting on yo' proceedings with a
straight tongue, and guns to back the same."

"Come to the point," says he.

"Now this yere is what I'm trailin's up to, seh, that I bears neither
guns nor malice, calls no names, bridles my tongue severe, treats you
with plenty and gentle inquiries, whar do you keep yo' manners?"

"Where you keep your honesty," says he, sort of sarcastic. "You know I
can't escape, so I've got to listen. Talk, my good man, and when you're
through you can go."

The town scout still had his office manners, a lot contemptuous. He
climbed up on top of his vanity--like a frog on a ladder--to call me "my
good man." And yet I had tamed him enough for business.

"I take notice," says I, "that on the shelf above yo' haid there's a tin
of rough-on-rats. This condiment is maybe unusual in meat balls, and it
seems to affect yo' dawg some poignant, with wiggles and froth on the
jaws. He's swelling up, too. I likewise remarks that thar's enough of
these high-flavored meat balls to go through McCalmont and all his
riders. May I politely ask how long you been cook for this ranche?"

"Mind your own business."

"Which is to further test these same delicacies by trying a meat ball on
you."

He grabbed a long butcher-knife from the table.

"Try it," says he.

"Maybe I'd better call in Captain McCalmont. Shall I shout for him?"

Ryan dropped the knife.

"What do you want to know?"

"How long you have been cook?"

"Since yesterday. I've been helping a man named Pieface."

"Why did he quit?"

"Got a note by carrier pigeon. He was in charge of McCalmont's pigeons."

"You found the note after he left?"

"Yes."

"Hand it over."

He said bad words.

"I notice," says I, "that the meat ball has finished with yo' dawg."

He took a slip of paper from his hip-pocket.

"No ransom," I read. "Warn the boys."

"Were the boys warned?"

"No."

"The news made you sort of desperate?"

"They'll kill me when they know!"

"So you took precautions first?"

"Why do you torture me?"

"Prefer a meat-ball?"

"Go on, sir."

"I might be induced to hide away these delicacies. Also this"--I kicked
the dog's carcass--"in fact to help you some. You could bury the past,
and resign yo' post as cook."

"The news will come out, and I'll be murdered anyway. What's the good?"

"There being no ransom," says I, "the use for you here ain't much
conspicuous. As a cook you're precarious, too. Suppose I get you turned
loose?"

"I'll pay one hundred thousand dollars the day you set me free in the
nearest town."

How could I tell the poor brute that he had not a dollar left in the
whole world?

"Two hundred thousand," says he, "and that's my last word."

A man came to the door behind me, which opened on the yard. There hung a
long iron crowbar, bent up in the form of a triangle. The man began to
beat this with a horseshoe, and the sound would carry maybe a
quarter-mile.

"Name your own terms," says Ryan. "Come, name your price!"

"You does me too much honour," says I, for how could I tell him the
facts?

"What do I care for your honour?" Ryan had played like a sneaking coyote
before, but now he talked out like a man. "I've bought better men than
you with a hundred dollars, and now I'm going to insult you with hard
cash. Your price, you thief!"

The sound of the gong must have been a gathering signal, for men were
straying in from the corrals, and there was soon a tramping of feet and
buff of talk from the messroom at my back.

"D'ye think," says Ryan, "that I'd be under any obligations to such as
you? I ask no favours. I only try to make it worth your while to do
what's right for once. Come, have you any manhood in you? I appeal to
your manhood to save me. Oh, turn your back, you hound!"

I ran to my saddle in the yard, opened my warbags, grabbed out a pad of
paper and fountain-pen, then pushed my way through the growing crowd
about the messroom doors, until I won back to the kitchen.

"Ryan," says I, "set down on that meat block, and write down what I say
in yo' own words."

"What new treachery is this?" he asked.

"If you want to live," I answered, "you'd best get a move on, and
write."

The row in the messroom made it hard for him to hear, so I drew up
close.

"Memorandum," says I, and he began to scribble; "date it 'Robbers'
Roost, Utah.'"

"But this is California!"

"Write what I say, 'October 13th, 1900.'"

Michael Ryan confessed on oath how he had aided and abetted George Ryan
in a plot to destroy Balshannon. He confessed to perjury at the Ryan
inquest, naming the witnesses and the amounts he paid to each. He
released the Holy Cross estate from all claims on the ground of debt,
restoring the same to Jim. He swore that Jim, Curly, and I were not
among the brigands who captured him, and he believed all three of us to
be innocent.

As to these facts, I had to convince him with a meat ball, but in the
end he signed.

Then I got in a brace of independent robbers to sign as witnesses, so
the thing looked mighty legal and satisfying. Meanwhile in the messroom
I could hear McCalmont calling his wolves to order, and my witnesses
went away to hear his talk.

"Ryan," says I, sitting down beside him, "you know the points of the
compass?"

"I guess."

"I'm going to explain the trail to the nearest settlement; see here." So
I began to scribble out a map showing the lie of the Cañons, the route
to where we had left the boats, the signs to guide him beyond. "When
you see this big butte towering high on the right----" I looked up, and
found he was not listening, for he pointed his ears to the messroom
where McCalmont talked.

"Yo're due to understand," the Captain was saying, "that this yere Ryan
made a letter which he sent to his wife. He showed me the letter, and it
was sure fine scholarship, telling her plain and clear how to scare up
his ransom at once, how to deliver the same, and not make crooked plays
to get us trapped. Mrs. Ryan she got the letter all right, but then some
low-lived swab stole it away from her, and sold it to the N' York
_Megaphone_."

Ryan let out a sudden cry.

"That's what's the matter," says McCalmont, "and all the private part of
the letter got into print; whar Ryan confesses how he acted foul to pore
young Jim du Chesnay. He confesses to perjury and bribing witnesses, an'
sech-like acts of rotten treachery, which the general public havin'
entrusted millions of money to this Ryan to hold and invest the same,
ain't pleased when they larns his private manners and customs, or how
his manhood proves itself up when tested. The public thinks it's been
too trustful in confiding big wealth to a felon who is due to be gaoled
for his sins and gathered into the penitentiary."

"Escape," says I to Ryan, "or you ain't got five minutes to live."

"Escape!" says he--"to penitentiary! Oh, Kathleen, Kathleen!" He covered
his face with his hands, while McCalmont went on--

"So you see, boys, that the public closes down on this Ryan, and grabs
theyr money, and jumps from under sudden, stampeding before the crash.
This pore swab we got in the kitchen, which he cayn't even cook, ain't a
millionaire any mo', but a bankrupt, due to get five years' grief for
his acts, which is plumb felonious."

It seemed as if all the robbers were stunned with the news, for they
made no move or sound. Only poor Ryan groaned, and I felt sick, because
I knew it was too late for him even to run.

"Boys," says McCalmont, "this news is bad medicine for we-all, 'cause we
done attracted too much attention, we made ourselves plenty conspicuous,
and the United States has awoke to a smell of robbers. The nation has
got a move on at last, and it's coming up again on us on every side to
put our fires out. Ten of our men has deserted, and likewise the Pieface
animal, so there'll be plenty guides to lead the attack on this place. I
reckon our trails are blocked, our water-holes are held, our time is
pretty near expired in this world. I tharfore propose that we divide up
what plunder we got in store--the same being considerable--and all share
alike, and after that we scatter as best we can. Those of us who win
out of this trap is due to live, and those who don't will get a sure
good fight."

I heard a voice call out, "Who brung this news?"

"The man who risked his life to bring this news is my friend Chalkeye
Davies."

At that I whirled right in through the crowd in the messroom and won to
McCalmont's side.

"I got to speak," says I.

The Captain grabbed my hand. "Boys, will you hear him?" he called.

"Spit it out!" says Crazy Hoss. "Yo're a sure enough man, and we'll
hear."

"Boys," says I, "if you hold it good to have this warning in time to
save yo' lives, I has to say that Curly McCalmont done it. He acted
faithful when ten men and a swab deserted you complete, and Curly is
shorely braver than any man I ever seen in this world. I speaks for
Curly and me, and for the Captain, when I says that it's a hull lot
pitiful to see the way this Ryan person has acted straight to own up the
wrong he done, and played his cyards honest in the matter of ransom. We
asks you to spare the life of this yere Ryan."

Crazy Hoss reared up swift to open war against me.

"I'll spare him!" he shouted. "I'll spare him a gunload of lead! What's
yo' game, stranger? Show down yo' hand, and let's see this hull crooked
lay-out. I stood at the loophole thar to watch yo' play, I seen you
workin over this yere prisoner until he's plumb subdued, and offering
bribes. You catch him with a can full of wolf-bait pizen, preparin' the
same for our supper; you feed his meat ball to his dawg, which dies on
the floor between you; you threatens to stuff another down Ryan's
throat; then you makes him good talk till he signs a paper, and now you
arises here to recite his virtues, playin' to save his life. Show down
yo' game!"

By this time I was facing a matter of twenty revolvers, all a-quiver to
drive holes through my poor old hide. Some yelled that Ryan had bribed
me, some that I was projecting the death of the whole gang by Ryan's
poison.

I threw up my hand, showing the peace sign quick.

"After you!" I called, always willing to oblige--"after you. Shoot
first, and hear me afterwards, eh? That's right, boys. You see, I pack
no gun, 'cause I'm yo' guest."

The guns were put away.

"You've heard," says I, "from Misteh Crazy Hoss how I subdued this Ryan
and got a quittance for Jim du Chesnay from the charge of murder. I'm
his guardian, boys. Furthermore, you heard from Misteh Crazy Hoss a
plumb truthful account of how I saved this whole crowd from being
wolf-bait fed to us for our supper--the same being considered
unwholesome. Now, as to this pore little felon, he put up the only play
he knew to save hisself from being murdered. He ain't a lion to fight
with teeth, or a man to distribute gunfire on his enemies; but his
back's to the wall and he puts up the best little fight he knows about.
He, bein' a sure snake, uses poison, whereat, having drawn his fangs, I
takes his side, and begs the critter's life. I want to have him for a
curio to put in my collection, and I offers ten cents for the
same--which is more'n he's worth."

"Boys," said McCalmont, "if this yere Chalkeye didn't allus take the
weaker side, he'd be a rich man still, instead of an outlaw herdin' with
our gang as his last refuge."

The robbers seemed to like me some better now, and a feeling of
popularity began to glow on my skin.

"But," says McCalmont, "in the matter of this yere snake, he acts plumb
erroneous. If the snake escapes to give evidence, he can identify the
entire gang, Chalkeye included. Go--kill that snake!"

Crazy Hoss rushed to the kitchen. "Gawn!" he yelled. "Escaped! So this
is yo' game, Mr. Chalkeye!"

"Kill him! kill him!"

"Halt!" McCalmont faced the rush against me--outroared the shouting.
"Back, or I fire! Back, you curs! Deal with this business afterwards--we
want the snake first! Whar's them smell-dawgs? Here, Powder! Powder!
Here, you Rip; come on, lil' dawg! Crazy Hoss, you put on them dawgs to
the scent, track down this Ryan, and kill him. Then come back."

The dogs were put on Ryan's trail. "Go, get 'im, Rip! Sick 'im, Powder!
Tear 'im and eat 'im! Come along, boys!" So the whole crowd poured away
to track Ryan.

McCalmont grabbed me by the arm to hold me back.

"You fool," he hissed through his teeth, "come on--there's not a moment
to lose--or them wolves will get you! Curly! Curly, come out, you, and
fetch Chalkeye's gun. Chalkeye, you come quick."

Curly came running from the little hind room with our guns, while
McCalmont rushed me to the kitchen. "Here," he said, "hold this sack for
grub!"

"Not them meat balls," says I; "meat balls is out of season."

"All right," he laughed, pitching a half-sack of flour into the bag
which I held, then a side of bacon, and such other truck as was handy.
"Curly, you knows whar to take this man?"

"Come along," says Curly. And I followed tame, with the sack on my
shoulder until we gained the woods.

"Back!" says Curly sudden, and dodged for cover, while I dropped flat
behind a fallen tree. Looking from under, I saw Ryan come surging past
in front of us, screeching like all possessed, the smell-dogs at his
tail, and the robbers swarming close behind.

"A near thing that," says Curly, when they had passed; "creep through
under the log."

I crept through with my sack, and she followed.

"Lie low," she said; "we're hidden here from the ranche until we can run
some more. Get out yo' gun."

They say that we white men, using our right hands mostly, is strongest
on that side, and apt to bear to the left when we don't take note how we
run. Anyway, Ryan, instead of circling south, had circled to the left
and lost himself, then, when he found he was hunted, went off his head
complete. He was back in the yard now, close beside the house, where
McCalmont headed him off with a shot from the door, while the robbers
spread out half circling. They laughed and shouted.

"My turn first!" says Crazy Hoss.

"Take his off ear, Crazy!"

The shot took Ryan's right ear; then Spotty fired, lopping off the left.
The poor brute tried to bolt, but a bullet swung him around. He lifted
his hands for mercy, but the next shot smashed his wrist. He screamed,
and a bullet caught his teeth. Curly was yelling now, but nobody
noticed, for Ryan was down on his knees, and his face was being ripped
to pieces. Then I saw McCalmont fire, and one of his dogs dropped dead.
He fired again, and killed the other hound. He had saved me from being
tracked.

"Quit firing!" he shouted, and the robbers threatened him. "Now," he
yelled at them, "who wants to talk war agin my friend Davies and me?"

"Come away," says Curly; and I crept after her.

A man's legs are naturally forked to fit onto a horse, and mine have
never been broke to walking afoot. Fact is my legs act resentful when I
walk, making me waddle all the same as a duck; which it humbles me to
think of, because that Curly person loaded a sack on my withers, and
herded me along like a pack mule until I felt no better than a spavined,
groaning wreck. We must have gone afoot more than two whole miles before
we came out at last on the edge of the Grand Cañon.

At this place, right in under the rim rock, there was a hidden cavern--a
fine big place when you got down there, but a scary climb to reach.
Half-way down the rock ladder I grabbed a root, which turned out to be a
young rattlesnake, and was so surprised that I pretty near took flight.
Curly saved me that time from being an angel--which leads me to remark
that there's lots of people better adapted to that holy vocation than
me.

It was dark when we got to the cavern, but next morning I saw that it
was a sure fine hiding-place, the floor being covered with a whole
village of old stone houses. There are thousands of cliff villages like
this in the cañon country, made by some breed of Indians long gone dead,
but this one had special conveniences, because you could spit from the
outer wall into sheer eternity. Seeing how the robbers were warped in
their judgments of me, and the authorities likewise prejudiced, my
health required plenty seclusion then. We stayed in that hole for a
week.

Curly was restive, quitting me at night to range the woods and visit the
ranche, collecting everything useful which was small enough and loose
enough to pull. She got four horses into a hidden pasture, with saddles
for the same, and chuck to feed us when we should hit the trail. The
plunder was good, but the news she brought smelt bad of coming trouble,
for the robbers stayed to quarrel over their shares of past thievings.
When they broke to scatter, the trails were all blocked with troops, and
then they were herded back into the ranche. On the fourth day I had to
make Curly prisoner, while from noon to dusk the battle raged at the
stronghold, and she wanted to go and die at her father's side. All that
night and the day that followed I kept the poor girl quiet with my gun,
then when the darkness came I let her free.

I don't like to think of what happened next, because I reckon that if I
wash my outside I ought likewise to keep my inside clean and tidy with
nice thoughts. Getting our horses, Curly and I rode back to Robbers'
Roost, pulling up at the edge of the clearing just as the new moon
lifted above the pines. The stench of death, black ruins, white ashes,
dark patches where blood had dried upon the dust, everywhere broken
corpses--coyotes creeping to cover, eagles flapping heavily away--my
soul felt small and humble in that place. Black it was and silver under
the moon, with something moving slow from corpse to corpse in search--a
live man counting the dead. Something in the way he moved reminded me I
must have known that man, but the little partner called to him all at
once--

"Jim!" Her voice went low and clear across the silence. "Jim!"



CHAPTER XXVII

A SECOND-HAND ANGEL


Scouting cautious, and shying wide of settlements except when we had to
buy chuck, I herded my youngsters up the long trail north. We took no
count of the distance, we lost all tab of dates, but camped where game
was plenty, pushed on when the sun was shining, holed up when the wind
was too cold, and mostly lived by hunting. So we rode the winter through
and came to the spring beyond, catching maybe more happiness than was
good to have all at once.

One day, the snow being gone, and the prairie one big garden of spring
flowers reaching away to the skyline, we happened to meet up sudden with
a pony-soldier which he was lying under the shadow of his horse and
playing tunes on a mouth-organ, heaps content with himself. His coat was
red, his harness all glittering fine, his boots were shiny, his spurs
had small cruel rowels. He said his chief was His Imperial Majesty
Edward VII., that his tribe was the North-West Mounted Police, and his
camp was called Medicine Hat, the same being close adjacent. We sounded
him on robbers, but he seemed plumb ignorant, and said there was quite
a few antelope if we cared for hunting.

Telling the youngsters to camp, I went butting along into Medicine Hat
to prospect the same alone. It felt mighty strange to be in a town
again, see the people walking around who belonged there, women and
children especially, but the whisky I sampled felt right natural, and
for all my snuffing and snorting I smelt nothing suspicious in the way
of wolf-trap. So I traded with a lady who kept store for woman's
clothing, such as she used herself, enough to load up my pack-horse. She
certainly selected liberal to judge by the money I paid.

When I got back to camp expecting supper, I found the kids had been
quarrelling, so that they weren't on speaking terms, and I had to
introduce them. Jim was special haughty, but Curly got heaps interested
in the clothes I'd bought, crowing and chuckling over everything. Her
favorite game was playing at being a lady, but now she shied at
committing herself.

"Shucks!" she flirted across to the far side of the fire. "I cayn't
oppress Jim in them things--I'd get so tame and weak he'd sit on my
haid!"

"You're due to get mar'ied," says I, "as sure as sunrise to-morrow."

"So! Jim ain't caught me yet!"

Jim started in to catch her, but she jumped the fire to clear him.

"Now!" she deified him complete; "don't you rush my corral with one of
yo' fool kisses, or I'll shorely bat yo' haid. I ain't laid down my arms
yet!"

So she swaggered with her little brown hand on her gun, the firelight
glowing on her leather clothes and gold bright hair, on the flush of her
sunburnt skin, on milk-white teeth, and laughing, flashing eyes. Jim's
heart was burning, I reckon, for he went down on one knee and reached
out his arms to her. There was only the fire between them.

"Say you love me, Curly?"

"It cayn't be helped, Jim," she whispered, and her face went grave, "but
I shorely love you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Riding the ranges of the world and grazing in life's pastures, I've got
to be plumb content with things present, which I can grab the same with
my teeth, instead of hungering after that heaven above which seems a lot
uncertain, and apt to prove disappointing. Here I've got horses for
sure, plenty cows, and Monte, one of my old riders, for my partner. Bear
Hole is the name of our new ranche, with the bull pines of the coconino
forest all around us, the hoary old volcanoes towering above, and the
lava-beds fencing our home pasture. Back of the cabin is the spring
where Curly used to splash me when she washed, the cave where she sang
to me beside our camp fire. The bubble spring, the wind in the pines,
the chatter of the birds, and the meadow flowers remind me of her
always. She has put away her spurs and gun never to ride any more with
free men on God's grass, because, poor soul! she's only a lady now and
gone respectable.

Last summer--it sure makes me sweat to think of that scary business--I
went to Ireland. First came civilisation--which I'd never seen it
before--cities all cluttered up with so various noises and smells that I
got lost complete. When you stop to study the trail you get killed by a
tramcar. Then there was the ocean, a sure great sight and exciting to
the stomach--mine got plumb dissolute, pitching and bucking around like
a mean horse, so that I was heaps glad to dismount at Liverpool. That
Old Country is plenty strange, too, for a plain man to consider, for I
seen women drunk and children starving, and had to bat a white man's
head for shining a nigger's shoes. It beats me how such a tribe can ride
herd on a bunch of empires as easy as I drive cows, but if I proceed to
unfold all I don't know, I'll be apt to get plumb talkative.

When I came up against Balshannon Castle, I found it a sure enough
palace, which was no place for me, so I pawed around outside inquiring.
Her ladyship was to home, and I found her setting in a fold-up chair on
the terrace. It made me feel uplifted to see her there nursing a small
baby, crooning fool talk to the same, which she patted and smacked and
nuzzled all at once.

"Wall," says she, as I came looming up accidental, "ef it ain't ole
Chalkeye! Didn't I tell you awdehs to come long ago? Now don't you talk,
or you'll spoil my kid's morals, 'cause he ain't broke to hawss-thieves.
Yes, you may set on that stool."

"Curly," says I, feeling scared, "is that yo' kid?"

"Sort of. I traded for him. He's a second-hand angel. Now jest ain't he
cute?"

He was a sure cunning little person, and thought me great medicine to
play with.

"Whar is his lawdship?" says I.

"Jim's down to the pasture, breaking a fool colt, and Chalkeye--oh, you
ole felon, how I enjoy to see yo' homely face! I got good news. Father's
alive, yes, in New York. He writes to say he's got a job at a theatre,
giving shows of roping and shooting. He's the Cowboy Champion, and"--her
voice dropped to a whisper--"planning enormous robberies. He'll steal
New York, I reckon."

"Curly," says I, "spose I give you good news. May I hold that kid just
to try?"

"Now you tame yo'self, and don't get ra'ring up too proud. Then maybe
you shall--to-morrow. Tell me yo' news."

I handed her the documents, which the governor of Arizona had made for
me himself. Curly was pardoned, the charge against Jim was withdrawn,
and I was to come up for trial when called upon. I shall not be called
upon so long as I stay good.

I saw the tears in Curly's eyes as she read, and her lips went twisty as
if she were due to cry.

"Shorely," she said, "this comes of tellin' our prayers to God. So Jim
and me is free to go back to Holy Crawss?"

"You're free."

"Old friend," she whispered, "you must be first to tell Jim. Leave me
awhile."

I walked away into the house as if to look for Jim, then crept back
behind a curtain watching her. She looked away to the west, and I knew
she was longing for the desert. Then she kissed her baby on the nose,
and once again, as in the old days, I heard her singing:--

        "Whar y'u from, little stranger--little boy?
    Y'u was riding a cloud on that star-strewn plain,
    But y'u fell from the skies like a drop of rain,
    To this wo'ld of sorrow and long, long pain--
        Will y'u care fo' yo' motheh, lillie boy?"

Far off I could hear the footfall of a horse.

        "When y'u grows, little varmint, lillie boy,
    Y'u'll be ridin' a hawss at yo' fatheh's side,
    With you' gun and yo' spurs and yo' haidstrong pride:
    Will y'u think of yo' home when the world rolls wide--
        Will y'u wish fo' yo' motheh, lillie boy?"

The horse was coming nearer up the drive.

        "When y'u love in yo' manhood, little boy,
    When y'u dream of a girl who is angel fair,
    When the stars are her eyes, and the winds her hair,
    When the sun is her smile, and yo' heaven's there,
        Will y'u care fo' yo' motheh, lillie boy?"

The horseman, brought up half-rearing, stepped from the saddle, then
threw his rein in the old range way, and Balshannon hurried to his
wife.

       *       *       *       *       *



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