VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.fictionstories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


A Bargain With Peg-leg








From: A Deal In Wheat And Other Stories

"Hey, youse!" shouted the car-boy. He brought his trundling, jolting,
loose-jointed car to a halt by the face of the drift. "Hey, youse!" he
shouted again.

Bunt shut off the Burly air-drill and nodded.

"Chaw," he remarked to me.

We clambered into the car, and, as the boy released the brake, rolled
out into the main tunnel of the Big Dipple, and banged and bumped down
the long incline that led to the mouth.

"Chaw" was dinner. It was one o'clock in the morning, and the men on the
night shift were taking their midnight spell off. Bunt was back at his
old occupation of miner, and I--the one loafer of all that little world
of workers--had brought him a bottle of beer to go with the "chaw"; for
Bunt and I were ancient friends.

As we emerged from the cool, cave-like dampness of the mine and ran out
into the wonderful night air of the Sierra foothills, warm, dry,
redolent of witch-hazel, the carboy began to cough, and, after we had
climbed out of the car and had sat down on the embankment to eat and
drink, Bunt observed:

"D'ye hear that bark? That kid's a one-lunger for fair. Which ain't no
salubrious graft for him--this hiking cars about in the bowels of the
earth, Some day he'll sure up an' quit. Ought to go down to Yuma a
spell."

The engineer in the mill was starting the stamps. They got under way
with broken, hiccoughing dislocations, bumping and stumbling like the
hoofs of a group of horses on the cattle-deck in a gale. Then they
jumped to a trot, then to a canter, and at last settled down to the
prolonged roaring gallop that reverberated far off over the entire
canon.

"I knew a one-lunger once," Bunt continued, as he uncorked the bottle,
"and the acquaintance was some distressful by reason of its bringing me
into strained relations with a cow-rustlin', hair-liftin',
only-one-born-in-captivity, man-eatin' brute of a one-legged Greaser
which he was named Peg-leg Smith. He was shy a leg because of a shotgun
that the other man thought wasn't loaded. And this here happens, lemme
tell you, 'way down in the Panamint country, where they wasn't no doctor
within twenty miles, and Peg-leg outs with his bowie and amputates that
leg hisself, then later makes a wood stump outa a ole halter and a
table-leg. I guess the whole jing-bang of it turned his head, for he
goes bad and loco thereafter, and begins shootin' and r'arin' up an'
down the hull Southwest, a-roarin' and a-bellerin' and a-takin' on
amazin'. We dasn't say boo to a yaller pup while he's round. I never see
such mean blood. Jus' let the boys know that Peg-leg was anyways
adjacent an' you can gamble they walked chalk.

"Y'see, this Peg-leg lay it out as how he couldn't abide no cussin' an'
swearin'. He said if there was any tall talkin' done he wanted to do it.
And he sure could. I've seed him hold on for six minutes by the watch
an' never repeat hisself once. An' shoot! Say, lemme tell you he did for
two Greasers once in a barroom at La Paz, one in front o' him, t'other
straight behind, him standing between with a gun in each hand, and
shootin' both guns at the same time. Well, he was just a terror,"
declared Bunt, solemnly, "and when he was in real good form there wa'n't
a man south o' Leadville dared to call his hand.

"Now, the way I met up with this skunkin' little dewdrop was this-like
It was at Yuma, at a time when I was a kid of about nineteen. It was a
Sunday mornin'; Peg-leg was in town. He was asleep on a lounge in the
back room o' Bud Overick's Grand Transcontinental Hotel. (I used to
guess Bud called it that by reason that it wa'n't grand, nor
transcontinental, nor yet a hotel--it was a bar.) This was twenty year
ago, and in those days I knowed a one-lunger in Yuma named Clarence. (He
couldn't help that--he was a good kid--but his name was Clarence.) We
got along first-rate. Yuma was a great consumptive place at that time.
They used to come in on every train; yes, and go out, too--by freight.

"Well, findin' that they couldn't do much else than jes' sit around an'
bark and keep their shawls tight, these 'ere chaps kinda drew together,
and lay it out to meet every Sunday morning at Bud's to sorta talk it
over and have a quiet game. One game they had that they played steady,
an' when I drifted into Bud's that morning they was about a dozen of 'em
at it--Clarence, too. When I came in, there they be, all sittin' in a
circle round a table with a cigar box on it. They'd each put four bits
into the box. That was the pot.

"A stranger wouldn't 'a' made nothin' very excitin' out of that game,
nor yet would 'a' caught on to what it were. For them pore yaps jes' sat
there, each with his little glass thermometer in his mouth, a-waitin'
and a-waitin' and never sayin' a word. Then bime-by Bud, who's a-holdin'
of the watch on 'em, sings out 'Time!' an' they all takes their
thermometers out an' looks at 'em careful-like to see where they stand.

"'Mine's ninety-nine,' says one.

"An' another says:

"'Mine's a hundred.'

"An' Clarence pipes up--coughin' all the time:

"'Mine's a hundred 'n one 'n 'alf.'

"An', no one havin' a higher tempriture than that, Clarence captures the
pot. It was a queer kind o' game.

"Well, on that particular Sunday morning they's some unpleasantness
along o' one o' the other one-lungers layin' it out as how Clarence had
done some monkey-business to make his tempriture so high. It was said as
how Clarence had took and drunk some hot tea afore comin' into the game
at Bud's. They all began to discuss that same p'int.

"Naturally, they don't go at it polite, and to make their remarks
p'inted they says a cuss-word occasional, and Clarence, bein' a
high-steppin' gent as takes nobody's dust, slings it back some forceful.

"Then all at once they hears Peg-leg beller from where's he layin' on
the lounge (they ain't figured on his bein' so contiguous), and he gives
it to be understood, does Peg-leg, as how the next one-lunger that
indulges in whatsoever profanity will lose his voice abrupt.

"They all drops out at that, bar the chap who had the next highest
tempriture to Clarence. Him having missed the pot by only a degree or so
is considerable sore.

"'Why,' says he, 'I've had a reg'lar fever since yesterday afternoon,
an' only just dodged a hem'rage by a squeak. I'm all legitimate, I am;
an' if you-alls misdoubts as how my tempriture ain't normal you kin jes'
ask the doctor. I don't take it easy that a strappin', healthy gesabe
whose case ain't nowheres near the hopeless p'int yet steps in here with
a scalded mouth and plays it low.'

"Clarence he r'ars right up at that an' forgits about Peg-leg an'
expresses doubts, not to say convictions, about the one-lunger's chances
of salvation. He puts it all into about three words, an' just as quick
as look at it we hears ol' Peg-leg's wooden stump a-comin'. We stampedes
considerable prompt, but Clarence falls over a chair, an' before he kin
get up Peg-leg has him by the windpipe.

"Now I ain't billin' myself as a all-round star hero an' general
grand-stand man. But I was sure took with Clarence, an' I'd 'a' been
real disappointed if Peg-leg 'ud a-killed him that morning--which he
sure was tryin' to do when I came in for a few chips.

"I don' draw on Peg-leg, him being down on his knees over Clarence, an'
his back turned, but without sensin' very much what I'm a-doin' of I
grabs holt o' the first part o' Peg-leg that comes handy, which, so help
me, Bob, is his old wooden leg. I starts to pull him off o' Clarence,
but instead o' that I pulls off the wooden leg an' goes a-staggerin'
back agin the wall with the thing in my fist.

"Y'know how it is now with a fightin' pup if you pull his tail while
he's a-chawin' up the other pup. Ye can bat him over the head till
you're tired, or kick him till you w'ars your boot out, an' he'll go
right on chawin' the harder. But monkey with his tail an' he's that
sensitive an' techy about it that he'll take a interest right off.

"Well, it were just so with Peg-leg--though I never knew it. Just by
accident I'd laid holt of him where he was tender; an' when he felt that
leg go--say, lemme tell you, he was some excited. He forgits all about
Clarence, and he lines out for me, a-clawin' the air. Lucky he'd left
his gun in the other room.

"Well, sir, y'ought to have seen him, a-hoppin' on one foot, and banging
agin the furniture, jes' naturally black in the face with rage, an'
doin' his darnedest to lay his hands on me, roarin' all the whiles like
a steer with a kinked tail.

"Well, I'm skeered, and I remarks that same without shame. I'm skeered.
I don't want to come to no grapples with Peg-leg in his wrath, an' I
knows that so long as he can't git his leg he can't take after me very
fast. Bud's saloon backs right up agin the bluff over the river. So what
do I do but heave that same wooden leg through one o' the back windows,
an' down she goes (as I thought) mebbe seventy feet into the canon o'
the Colorado? And then, mister man, I skins out--fast.

"I takes me headlong flight by way o' the back room and on-root
pitches Peg-leg's gun over into the canon, too, an' then whips around
the corner of the saloon an' fetches out ag'in by the street in front.
With his gun gone an' his leg gone, Peg-leg--so long's y'ain't within
arm's reach--is as harmless as a horned toad. So I kinda hangs 'round
the neighbourhood jes' to see what-all mout turn up.

"Peg-leg, after hoppin' back to find that his gun was gone, to look for
his leg, comes out by the front door, hoppin' from one chair to another,
an' seein' me standin' there across the street makes remarks; an' he
informs me that because of this same little turn-up this mornin' I ain't
never goin' to live to grow hair on my face. His observations are that
vigorous an' p'inted that I sure begin to see it that way, too, and I
says to myself:

"'Now you, Bunt McBride, you've cut it out for yourself good and hard,
an' the rest o' your life ain't goin' to be free from nervousness.
Either y'ought to 'a' let this here hell-roarin' maverick alone or else
you should 'a' put him clean out o' business when you had holt o' his
shootin'-iron. An' I ain't a bit happy.' And then jes' at this stage o'
the proceedings occurs what youse 'ud call a diversion.

"It seemed that that wood stump didn't go clean to the river as I first
figured, but stuck three-fourths the way down. An' a-course there's a
fool half-breed kid who's got to chase after it, thinkin' to do Peg-leg
a good turn.

"I don't know nothin' about this, but jes' stand there talkin' back to
Peg-leg, an' pre-tendin' I ain't got no misgivings, when I sees this kid
comin' a-cavoortin' an' a-cayoodlin' down the street with the leg in his
hands, hollerin' out:

"'Here's your leg, Mister Peg-leg! I went an' got it for you, Mister
Peg-leg!'

"It ain't so likely that Peg-leg could 'a' caught me even if he'd had
his leg, but I wa'n't takin' no chances. An' as Peg-leg starts for the
kid I start, too--with my heart knockin' agin my front teeth, you can
bet.

"I never knew how fast a man could hop till that mornin', an', lookin'
at Peg-leg with the tail o' my eye as I ran, it seemed to me as how he
was a-goin' over the ground like a ole he-kangaroo. But somehow he gets
off his balance and comes down all of a smash like a rickety table, an'
I reaches the kid first an' takes the leg away from him.

"I guess Peg-leg must 'a' begun to lay it out by then that I held a
straight flush to his ace high, for he sits down on the edge of the
sidewalk an', being some winded, too, he just glares. Then byme-by he
says:

"'You think you are some smart now, sonny, but I'm a-studyin' of your
face so's I'll know who to look for when I git a new leg; an' believe
me, I'll know it, m'son--yours and your friend's too' (he meant
Clarence)--'an' I guess you'll both be kind o' sick afore I'm done with
you. You!' he goes on, tremendous disgustful. 'You! an' them
one-lungers a-swearin' an' a-cussin' an' bedamnin' an' bedevilin' one
a-other. Ain't ye just ashamed o' yourselves ?' (he thought I was a
one-lunger, too); 'ain't ye ashamed--befoulin' your mouths, and
disturbin' the peace along of a quiet Sunday mornin', an' you-alls waist
over in your graves? I'm fair sick o' my job,' he remarks, goin' kind o'
thoughtful. 'Ten years now I've been range-ridin' all this yere ranch,
a-doin' o' my little feeble, or'nary best to clean out the mouths o' you
men an' purify the atmosphere o' God's own country, but I ain't made
one convert. I've pounded 'em an' booted 'em, an' busted 'em an' shot
'em up, an' they go on cussin' each other out harder'n ever. I don't
know w'at all to do an' I sometimes gets plumb discouraged-like.'

"Now, hearin' of him talk that-a-way, an' a-knowin' of his weakness, I
gits a idea. It's a chanst and mebbee it don't pan out, but I puts it up
as a bluff. I don't want, you see, to spend the rest o' my appointed
time in this yere vale o' tears a-dodgin' o' Peg-leg Smith, an' in the
end, after all, to git between the wind and a forty-eight caliber
do-good, sure not. So I puts up a deal. Says I: 'Peg-leg, I'll make a
bargint along o' you. You lays it out as how you ain't never converted
nobody out o' his swearin' habits. Now if you wants, 'ere's a chanst.
You gimmee your word as a gent and a good-man-an'-true, as how you won't
never make no play to shoot me up, in nowise whatsoever, so long as we
both do live, an' promise never to bust me, or otherwise, and promise
never to rustle me or interfere with my life, liberty and pursuit o'
happiness, an' thereunto you set your seal an' may Lord 'a' mercy on
your soul--you promise that, an' I will agree an' covenant with the
party o' the first part to abstain an' abjure, early or late, dry or
drinkin', in liquor or out, out o' luck or in, rangin' or roundin', from
all part an' parcel o' profanity, cuss-words, little or big, several and
separate, bar none; this yere agreement to be considered as bindin' an'
obligatory till the day o' your demise, decease or death. There!' says
I, 'there's a fair bargint put up between man an' man, an' I puts it to
you fair. You comes in with a strong ante an' you gets a genuine,
guaranteed an' high-grade convert--the real article. You stays out, an'
not only you loses a good chanst to cut off and dam up as vigorous a
stream o' profanity as is found between here and Laredo, but you loses a
handmade, copper-bound, steel-riveted, artificial limb--which in five
minutes o' time,' says I, windin' up, 'will sure feed the fire. There's
the bargint.'

"Well, the ol' man takes out time for about as long as a thirsty
horse-rustler could put away half a dozen drinks an' he studies the
proposition sideways and endways an' down side up. Then at last he ups
and speaks out decided-like:

"'Son,' he says, 'son, it's a bargint. Gimmee my leg.'

"Somehow neither o' us misdoubts as how the other man won't keep his
word; an' I gives him his stump, an' he straps her on joyful-like, just
as if he'd got back a ole friend. Then later on he hikes out for Mojave
and I don' see him no more for mebbee three years."

"And then?" I prompted.

"Well, I'll tell you," continued Bunt, between mouthfuls of pie, "I'll
tell you. This yere prejudice agin profanity is the only thing about
this yere Peg-leg that ain't pizen bad, an' that prejudice, you got to
know, was just along o' his being loco on that one subjeck. 'Twa'n't as
if he had any real principles or convictions about the thing. It was
just a loco prejudice. Just as some gesabes has feelin's agin cats an'
snakes, or agin seein' a speckled nigger. It was just on-reasonable. So
what I'm aimin' to have you understand is the fact that it was extremely
appropriate that Peg-leg should die, that it was a blame good thing, and
somethin' to be celebrated by free drinks all round.

"You can say he treated me white, an' took my unsupported word. Well, so
he did; but that was in spite o' what he really was hisself, 'way on the
inside o' him. Inside o' him he was black-bad, an' it wa'n't a week
after we had made our bargint that he did for a little Mojave kid in a
way I don't like to think of.

"So when he took an' died like as how I'm a-going to tell you of, I was
plumb joyful, not only because I could feel at liberty to relieve my
mind when necessary in a manner as is approved of and rightful among
gents--not only because o' that, but because they was one less bad egg
in the cow-country.

"Now the manner o' Peg-leg's dying was sure hilarious-like. I didn't git
over laughin' about it for a month o' Sundays--an' I ain't done yet. It
was sure a joke on Peg-leg. The cutest joke that ever was played off on
him.

"It was in Sonora--Sonora, Arizona, I mean. They'd a-been a kind o' gold
excitement there, and all the boys had rounded up. The town was
full--chock-a-block. Peg-leg he was there too, drunk all the time an'
bullyin' everybody, an' slambangin' around in his same old way. That
very day he'd used a friend o' his--his best friend--cruel hard: just
mean and nasty, you know.

"Well, I'm sitting into a little game o' faro about twelve o'clock at
night, me an' about a dozen o' the boys. We're good an' interested, and
pretty much to the good o' the game, an' somebody's passin' drinks when
all at once there's a sure big rumpus out in the street, an' a gent
sticks his head thro' the door an' yells out:

"'Hi, there, they's a fire! The Golden West Hotel is on fire!'

"We draws the game as soon as convenient and hikes out, an', my word,
you'd 'a' thought from the looks o' things as how the whole town was
going. But it was only the hotel--the Golden West, where Peg-leg was
stayin'; an' when we got up we could hear the ol' murderer bellerin' an'
ragin', an' him drunk--of course.

"Well, I'm some excited. Lord love you, I'd as soon 'a' seen Peg-leg
shot as I would eat, an' when I remembers the little Mojave kid I'm glad
as how his time is at hand. Saved us the trouble o' lynchin' that sooner
or later had to come.

"Peg-leg's room was in the front o' the house on the fourth floor, but
the fire was all below, and what with the smoke comin' out the
third-story winders he couldn't see down into the street, no more'n the
boys could see him--only they just heard him bellerin'.

"Then some one of 'em sings out:

"'Hey, Peg-leg, jump! We got a blanket here.'

"An' sure enough he does jump!"

Here Bunt chuckled grimly, muttering, "Yes, sir, sure enough he did
jump."

"I don't quite see," I observed, "where the laugh comes in. What was the
joke of it?"

"The joke of it was," finished Bunt, "that they hadn't any blanket."




THE PASSING OF COCK-EYE BLACKLOCK


"Well, m'son," observed Bunt about half an hour after supper, "if your
provender has shook down comfortable by now, we might as well jar loose
and be moving along out yonder."

We left the fire and moved toward the hobbled ponies, Bunt complaining
of the quality of the outfit's meals. "Down in the Panamint country," he
growled, "we had a Chink that was a sure frying-pan expert; but this
Dago--my word! That ain't victuals, that supper. That's just a'
ingenious device for removing superfluous appetite. Next time I
assimilate nutriment in this camp I'm sure going to take chloroform
beforehand. Careful to draw your cinch tight on that pinto bronc' of
yours. She always swells up same as a horned toad soon as you begin to
saddle up."

We rode from the circle of the camp-fire's light and out upon the
desert. It was Bunt's turn to ride the herd that night, and I had
volunteered to bear him company.

Bunt was one of a fast-disappearing type. He knew his West as the
cockney knows his Piccadilly. He had mined with and for Ralston, had
soldiered with Crook, had turned cards in a faro game at Laredo, and had
known the Apache Kid. He had fifteen separate and different times driven
the herds from Texas to Dodge City, in the good old, rare old, wild old
days when Dodge was the headquarters for the cattle trade, and as near
to heaven as the cowboy cared to get. He had seen the end of gold and
the end of the buffalo, the beginning of cattle, the beginning of wheat,
and the spreading of the barbed-wire fence, that, in the end, will take
from him his occupation and his revolver, his chaparejos and his
usefulness, his lariat and his reason for being. He had seen the rise of
a new period, the successive stages of which, singularly enough, tally
exactly with the progress of our own world-civilization: first the nomad
and hunter, then the herder, next and last the husband-man. He had
passed the mid-mark of his life. His mustache was gray. He had four
friends--his horse, his pistol, a teamster in the Indian Territory
Panhandle named Skinny, and me.

The herd--I suppose all told there were some two thousand head--we found
not far from the water-hole. We relieved the other watch and took up our
night's vigil. It was about nine o'clock. The night was fine, calm.

There was no cloud. Toward the middle watches one could expect a moon.
But the stars, the stars! In Idaho, on those lonely reaches of desert
and range, where the shadow of the sun by day and the courses of the
constellations by night are the only things that move, these stars are a
different matter from those bleared pin-points of the city after dark,
seen through dust and smoke and the glare of electrics and the hot haze
of fire-signs. On such a night as that when I rode the herd with Bunt
anything might have happened; one could have believed in fairies then,
and in the buffalo-ghost, and in all the weirds of the craziest Apache
"Messiah" that ever made medicine.

One remembered astronomy and the "measureless distances" and the showy
problems, including the rapid moving of a ray of light and the long
years of its travel between star and star, and smiled incredulously.
Why, the stars were just above our heads, were not much higher than the
flat-topped hills that barred the horizons. Venus was a yellow lamp hung
in a tree; Mars a red lantern in a clock-tower.

One listened instinctively for the tramp of the constellations. Orion,
Cassiopeia and Ursa Major marched to and fro on the vault like cohorts
of legionaries, seemingly within call of our voices, and all without a
sound.

But beneath these quiet heavens the earth disengaged multitudinous
sounds--small sounds, minimized as it were by the muffling of the night.
Now it was the yap of a coyote leagues away; now the snapping of a twig
in the sage-brush; now the mysterious, indefinable stir of the
heat-ridden land cooling under the night. But more often it was the
confused murmur of the herd itself--the click of a horn, the friction of
heavy bodies, the stamp of a hoof, with now and then the low,
complaining note of a cow with a calf, or the subdued noise of a steer
as it lay down, first lurching to the knees, then rolling clumsily upon
the haunch, with a long, stertorous breath of satisfaction.

Slowly at Indian trot we encircle the herd. Earlier in the evening a
prairie-wolf had pulled down a calf, and the beasts were still restless.

Little eddies of nervousness at long intervals developed here and there
in the mass--eddies that not impossibly might widen at any time with
perilous quickness to the maelstrom of a stampede. So as he rode Bunt
sang to these great brutes, literally to put them to sleep--sang an old
grandmother's song, with all the quaint modulations of sixty, seventy, a
hundred years ago:

"With her ogling winks
And bobbling blinks,
Her quizzing glass,
Her one eye idle,
Oh, she loved a bold dragoon,
With his broadsword, saddle, bridle.
Whack, fol-de-rol!"

I remember that song. My grandmother--so they tell me--used to sing it
in Carolina, in the thirties, accompanying herself on a harp, if you
please:

"Oh, she loved a bold dragoon,
With his broadsword, saddle, bridle."

It was in Charleston, I remembered, and the slave-ships used to
discharge there in those days. My grandmother had sung it then to her
beaux; officers they were; no wonder she chose it--"Oh, she loved a bold
dragoon"--and now I heard it sung on an Idaho cattle-range to quiet two
thousand restless steers.

Our talk at first, after the cattle had quieted down, ran upon all
manner of subjects. It is astonishing to note what strange things men
will talk about at night and in a solitude. That night we covered
religion, of course, astronomy, love affairs, horses, travel, history,
poker, photography, basket-making, and the Darwinian theory. But at last
inevitably we came back to cattle and the pleasures and dangers of
riding the herd.

"I rode herd once in Nevada," remarked Bunt, "and I was caught into a
blizzard, and I was sure freezing to death. Got to where I couldn't keep
my eyes open, I was that sleepy. Tell you what I did. Had some
eating-tobacco along, and I'd chew it a spell, then rub the juice into
my eyes. Kept it up all night. Blame near blinded me, but I come
through. Me and another man named Blacklock--Cock-eye Blacklock we
called him, by reason of his having one eye that was some out of line.
Cock-eye sure ought to have got it that night, for he went bad
afterward, and did a heap of killing before he did get it. He was a
bad man for sure, and the way he died is a story in itself."

There was a long pause. The ponies jogged on. Rounding on the herd, we
turned southward.

"He did 'get it' finally, you say," I prompted.

"He certainly did," said Bunt, "and the story of it is what a man with
a' imaginary mind like you ought to make into one of your friction
tales."

"Is it about a treasure?" I asked with apprehension. For ever since I
once made a tale (of friction) out of one of Bunt's stories of real
life, he has been ambitious for me to write another, and is forever
suggesting motifs which invariably--I say invariably--imply the
discovery of great treasures. With him, fictitious literature must
always turn upon the discovery of hidden wealth.

"No," said he, "it ain't about no treasure, but just about the origin,
hist'ry and development--and subsequent decease--of as mean a Greaser as
ever stole stock, which his name was Cock-eye Blacklock.

"You see, this same Blacklock went bad about two summers after our
meet-up with the blizzard. He worked down Yuma way and over into New
Mexico, where he picks up with a sure-thing gambler, and the two begin
to devastate the population. They do say when he and his running mate
got good and through with that part of the Land of the Brave, men used
to go round trading guns for commissary, and clothes for ponies, and
cigars for whisky and such. There just wasn't any money left anywhere.
Those sharps had drawed the landscape clean. Some one found a dollar in
a floor-crack in a saloon, and the barkeep' gave him a gallon of
forty-rod for it, and used to keep it in a box for exhibition, and the
crowd would get around it and paw it over and say: 'My! my! Whatever in
the world is this extremely cu-roos coin?'

"Then Blacklock cuts loose from his running mate, and plays a lone hand
through Arizona and Nevada, up as far as Reno again, and there he stacks
up against a kid--a little tenderfoot kid so new he ain't cracked the
green paint off him--and skins him. And the kid, being foolish and
impulsive-like, pulls out a peashooter. It was a twenty-two," said
Bunt, solemnly. "Yes, the kid was just that pore, pathetic kind to carry
a dinky twenty-two, and with the tears runnin' down his cheeks begins to
talk tall. Now what does that Cockeye do? Why, that pore kid that he had
skinned couldn't 'a' hurt him with his pore little bric-a-brac. Does
Cock-eye take his little parlour ornament away from him, and spank him,
and tell him to go home? No, he never. The kid's little tin pop-shooter
explodes right in his hand before he can crook his forefinger twice, and
while he's a-wondering what-all has happened Cock-eye gets his two guns
on him, slow and deliberate like, mind you, and throws forty-eights into
him till he ain't worth shooting at no more. Murders him like the
mud-eating, horse-thieving snake of a Greaser that he is; but being
within the law, the kid drawing on him first, he don't stretch hemp the
way he should.

"Well, fin'ly this Blacklock blows into a mining-camp in Placer County,
California, where I'm chuck-tending on the night-shift. This here camp
is maybe four miles across the divide from Iowa Hill, and it sure is
named a cu-roos name, which it is Why-not. They is a barn contiguous,
where the mine horses are kep', and, blame me! if there ain't a
weathercock on top of that same--a golden trotting-horse--upside down.
When the stranger an' pilgrim comes in, says he first off: 'Why'n snakes
they got that weathercock horse upside down--why?' says he. 'Why-not,'
says you, and the drinks is on the pilgrim.

"That all went very lovely till some gesabe opens up a placer drift on
the far side the divide, starts a rival camp, an' names her Because. The
Boss gets mad at that, and rights up the weathercock, and renames the
camp Ophir, and you don't work no more pilgrims.

"Well, as I was saying, Cock-eye drifts into Why-not and begins
diffusing trouble. He skins some of the boys in the hotel over in town,
and a big row comes of it, and one of the bed-rock cleaners cuts loose
with both guns. Nobody hurt but a quarter-breed, who loses a' eye. But
the marshal don't stand for no short-card men, an' closes Cock-eye up
some prompt. Him being forced to give the boys back their money is
busted an' can't get away from camp. To raise some wind he begins
depredating.

"He robs a pore half-breed of a cayuse, and shoots up a Chink who's
panning tailings, and generally and variously becomes too pronounced,
till he's run outen camp. He's sure stony-broke, not being able to turn
a card because of the marshal. So he goes to live in a ole cabin up by
the mine ditch, and sits there doing a heap o' thinking, and hatching
trouble like a' ole he-hen.

"Well, now, with that deporting of Cock-eye comes his turn of bad luck,
and it sure winds his clock up with a loud report. I've narrated special
of the scope and range of this 'ere Blacklock, so as you'll understand
why it was expedient and desirable that he should up an' die. You see,
he always managed, with all his killings and robbings and general and
sundry flimflamming, to be just within the law. And if anybody took a
notion to shoot him up, why, his luck saw him through, and the other
man's shooting-iron missed fire, or exploded, or threw wild, or such
like, till it seemed as if he sure did bear a charmed life; and so he
did till a pore yeller tamale of a fool dog did for him what the law of
the land couldn't do. Yes, sir, a fool dog, a pup, a blame yeller pup
named Sloppy Weather, did for Cock-eye Blacklock, sporting character,
three-card-monte man, sure-thing sharp, killer, and general bedeviler.

"You see, it was this way. Over in American Canon, some five miles maybe
back of the mine, they was a creek called the American River, and it was
sure chock-a-block full of trouts. The Boss used for to go over there
with a dinky fish-pole like a buggy-whip about once a week, and scout
that stream for fish and bring back a basketful. He was sure keen on it,
and had bought some kind of privilege or other, so as he could keep
other people off.

"Well, I used to go along with him to pack the truck, and one Saturday,
about a month after Cock-eye had been run outen camp, we hiked up over
the divide, and went for to round up a bunch o' trouts. When we got to
the river there was a mess for your life. Say, that river was full of
dead trouts, floating atop the water; and they was some even on the
bank. Not a scratch on 'em; just dead. The Boss had the papsy-lals. I
never did see a man so rip-r'aring, snorting mad. I hadn't a guess
about what we were up against, but he knew, and he showed down. He said
somebody had been shooting the river for fish to sell down Sacramento
way to the market. A mean trick; kill more fish in one shoot than you
can possibly pack.

"Well, we didn't do much fishing that day--couldn't get a bite, for that
matter--and took on home about noon to talk it over. You see, the Boss,
in buying the privileges or such for that creek, had made himself
responsible to the Fish Commissioners of the State, and 'twasn't a week
before they were after him, camping on his trail incessant, and wanting
to know how about it. The Boss was some worried, because the fish were
being killed right along, and the Commission was making him weary of
living. Twicet afterward we prospected along that river and found the
same lot of dead fish. We even put a guard there, but it didn't do no
manner of good.

"It's the Boss who first suspicions Cock-eye. But it don't take no
seventh daughter of no seventh daughter to trace trouble where
Black-lock's about. He sudden shows up in town with a bunch of
simoleons, buying bacon and tin cows [Footnote: Condensed milk.] and
such provender, and generally giving it away that he's come into money.
The Boss, who's watching his movements sharp, says to me one day:

"'Bunt, the storm-centre of this here low area is a man with a cock-eye,
an' I'll back that play with a paint horse against a paper dime.'

"'No takers,' says I. 'Dirty work and a cock-eyed man are two heels of
the same mule.'

"'Which it's a-kicking of me in the stummick frequent and painful,' he
remarks, plenty wrathful.

"'On general principles,' I said, 'it's a royal flush to a pair of
deuces as how this Blacklock bird ought to stop a heap of lead, and I
know the man to throw it. He's the only brother of my sister, and tends
chuck in a placer mine. How about if I take a day off and drop round to
his cabin and interview him on the fleetin' and unstable nature of human
life?'

"But the Boss wouldn't hear of that.

"'No,' says he; 'that's not the bluff to back in this game. You an' me
an' 'Mary-go-round'--that was what we called the marshal, him being so
much all over the country--'you an' me an' Mary-go-round will have to
stock a sure-thing deck against that maverick.'

"So the three of us gets together an' has a talky-talk, an' we lays it
out as how Cock-eye must be watched and caught red-handed.

"Well, let me tell you, keeping case on that Greaser sure did lack a
certain indefinable charm. We tried him at sun-up, an' again at sundown,
an' nights, too, laying in the chaparral an' tarweed, an' scouting up
an' down that blame river, till we were sore. We built surreptitious a
lot of shooting-boxes up in trees on the far side of the canon,
overlooking certain an' sundry pools in the river where Cock-eye would
be likely to pursue operations, an' we took turns watching. I'll be a
Chink if that bad egg didn't put it on us same as previous, an' we'd
find new-killed fish all the time. I tell you we were fitchered; and
it got on the Boss's nerves. The Commission began to talk of withdrawing
the privilege, an' it was up to him to make good or pass the deal. We
knew Blacklock was shooting the river, y' see, but we didn't have no
evidence. Y' see, being shut off from card-sharping, he was up against
it, and so took to pot-hunting to get along. It was as plain as red
paint.

"Well, things went along sort of catch-as-catch-can like this for maybe
three weeks, the Greaser shooting fish regular, an' the Boss b'iling
with rage, and laying plans to call his hand, and getting bluffed out
every deal.

"And right here I got to interrupt, to talk some about the pup dog,
Sloppy Weather. If he hadn't got caught up into this Blacklock game, no
one'd ever thought enough about him to so much as kick him. But after it
was all over, we began to remember this same Sloppy an' to recall what
he was; no big job. He was just a worthless fool pup, yeller at that,
everybody's dog, that just hung round camp, grinning and giggling and
playing the goat, as half-grown dogs will. He used to go along with the
car-boys when they went swimmin' in the resevoy, an' dash along in an'
yell an' splash round just to show off. He thought it was a keen stunt
to get some gesabe to throw a stick in the resevoy so's he could paddle
out after it. They'd trained him always to bring it back an' fetch it to
whichever party throwed it. He'd give it up when he'd retrieved it, an'
yell to have it throwed again. That was his idea of fun--just like a
fool pup.

"Well, one day this Sloppy Weather is off chasing jack-rabbits an' don't
come home. Nobody thinks anything about that, nor even notices it. But
we afterward finds out that he'd met up with Blacklock that day, an'
stopped to visit with him--sorry day for Cockeye. Now it was the very
next day after this that Mary-go-round an' the Boss plans another scout.
I'm to go, too. It was a Wednesday, an' we lay it out that the Cockeye
would prob'ly shoot that day so's to get his fish down to the railroad
Thursday, so they'd reach Sacramento Friday--fish day, see. It wasn't
much to go by, but it was the high card in our hand, an' we allowed to
draw to it.

"We left Why-not afore daybreak, an' worked over into the canon about
sun-up. They was one big pool we hadn't covered for some time, an' we
made out we'd watch that. So we worked down to it, an' clumb up into our
trees, an' set out to keep guard.

"In about an hour we heard a shoot some mile or so up the creek. They's
no mistaking dynamite, leastways not to miners, an' we knew that shoot
was dynamite an' nothing else. The Cock-eye was at work, an' we shook
hands all round. Then pretty soon a fish or so began to go by--big
fellows, some of 'em, dead an' floatin', with their eyes popped 'way out
same as knobs--sure sign they'd been shot.

"The Boss took and grit his teeth when he see a three-pounder go by, an'
made remarks about Blacklock.

"''Sh!' says Mary-go-round, sudden-like. 'Listen!'

"We turned ear down the wind, an' sure there was the sound of some one
scrabbling along the boulders by the riverside. Then we heard a pup yap.

"'That's our man,' whispers the Boss.

"For a long time we thought Cock-eye had quit for the day an' had
coppered us again, but byne-by we heard the manzanita crack on the far
side the canon, an' there at last we see Blacklock working down toward
the pool, Sloppy Weather following an' yapping and cayoodling just as a
fool dog will.

"Blacklock comes down to the edge of the water quiet-like. He lays his
big scoop-net an' his sack--we can see it half full already--down behind
a boulder, and takes a good squinting look all round, and listens maybe
twenty minutes, he's that cute, same's a coyote stealing sheep. We lies
low an' says nothing, fear he might see the leaves move.

"Then byne-by he takes his stick of dynamite out his hip pocket--he was
just that reckless kind to carry it that way--an' ties it careful to a
couple of stones he finds handy. Then he lights the fuse an' heaves her
into the drink, an' just there's where Cock-eye makes the mistake of his
life. He ain't tied the rocks tight enough, an' the loop slips off just
as he swings back his arm, the stones drop straight down by his feet,
and the stick of dynamite whirls out right enough into the pool.

"Then the funny business begins.

"Blacklock ain't made no note of Sloppy Weather, who's been sizing up
the whole game an' watchin' for the stick. Soon as Cock-eye heaves the
dynamite into the water, off goes the pup after it, just as he'd been
taught to do by the car-boys.

"'Hey, you fool dog!' yells Blacklock.

"A lot that pup cares. He heads out for that stick of dynamite same as
if for a veal cutlet, reaches it, grabs hold of it, an' starts back for
shore, with the fuse sputterin' like hot grease. Blacklock heaves rocks
at him like one possessed, capering an' dancing; but the pup comes right
on. The Cock-eye can't stand it no longer, but lines out. But the pup's
got to shore an' takes after him. Sure; why not? He think's it's all
part of the game. Takes after Cock-eye, running to beat a' express,
while we-all whoops and yells an' nearly falls out the trees for
laffing. Hi! Cock-eye did scratch gravel for sure. But 'tain't no manner
of use. He can't run through that rough ground like Sloppy Weather, an'
that fool pup comes a-cavartin' along, jumpin' up against him, an' him
a-kickin' him away, an' r'arin', an' dancin', an' shakin' his fists, an'
the more he r'ars the more fun the pup thinks it is. But all at once
something big happens, an' the whole bank of the canon opens out like a
big wave, and slops over into the pool, an' the air is full of trees an'
rocks and cart-loads of dirt an' dogs and Blacklocks and rivers an'
smoke an' fire generally. The Boss got a clod o' river-mud spang in the
eye, an' went off his limb like's he was trying to bust a bucking bronc'
an' couldn't; and ol' Mary-go-round was shooting off his gun on general
principles, glarin' round wild-eyed an' like as if he saw a' Injun
devil.

"When the smoke had cleared away an' the trees and rocks quit falling,
we clumb down from our places an' started in to look for Black-lock. We
found a good deal of him, but they wasn't hide nor hair left of Sloppy
Weather. We didn't have to dig no grave, either. They was a big enough
hole in the ground to bury a horse an' wagon, let alone Cock-eye. So we
planted him there, an' put up a board, an' wrote on it:

Here lies most
of
C. BLACKLOCK,
who died of a'
entangling alliance with
a
stick of dynamite.

Moral: A hook and line is good enough
fish-tackle for any honest man.

"That there board lasted for two years, till the freshet of '82, when
the American River--Hello, there's the sun!"

All in a minute the night seemed to have closed up like a great book.
The East flamed roseate. The air was cold, nimble. Some of the
sage-brush bore a thin rim of frost. The herd, aroused, the dew
glistening on flank and horn, were chewing the first cud of the day, and
in twos and threes moving toward the water-hole for the morning's drink.
Far off toward the camp the breakfast fire sent a shaft of blue smoke
straight into the moveless air. A jack-rabbit, with erect ears, limped
from the sage-brush just out of pistol-shot and regarded us a moment,
his nose wrinkling and trembling. By the time that Bunt and I, putting
our ponies to a canter, had pulled up by the camp of the Bar-circle-Z
outfit, another day had begun in Idaho.





Next: A Memorandum Of Sudden Death

Previous: The Wife Of Chino



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 489