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A Thankless Task








From: Kid Wolf Of Texas

Modoc waited, as if for an answer, and when it did not come, his face
took on an expression of anger, in which cunning seemed to be mingled.

"What's yore message?" he rasped.

It took Kid Wolf several seconds to recover his composure. Was the
wagon train being led to its doom by a madman? What did Modoc mean by
his low-voiced, mysterious query? Or did he mean anything at all? The
Texan put it down as the raving of a mind unbalanced by hardship and
peril.

"I suppose yo'-all know," he drawled loudly enough for them all to
hear, "that yo're on the most dangerous paht of the Llano, and that
yo're off the road to Santa Fe."

"Yo're a liar!" the train commander snarled.

Kid Wolf tried to keep his anger from mounting. This was the thanks he
got for trying to help these people!

"I'll prove it," sighed the kid patiently. "What rivah was that yo'
crossed a few days ago?"

"Why, the Red River; we crossed it long ago," Modoc sneered. "Yo're
either a liar or a fool, Kid! And I'd advise yuh to mind yore own
business."

"Call me 'Wolf,'" said the Texan, a ring of steel in his voice. "I'm
just 'The Kid' to friends. Others call me by mah last name. And
speakin' of the trail, that wasn't the Red Rivah yo' crossed. It was
the Wichita. And yo' must have gone ovah the Wichita Mountains, too."

"The Wichita!" ejaculated one of the other men. "Why, Modoc, yuh told
us----"

"And I told yuh right!" said the leader furiously. "I've been over
this route before, and I know just where we are."

"Yo're in The Terror's territory," drawled The Kid softly. "And I've
heahd from a reliable source that he's planned to raid yo'."

The others paled at the mention of The Terror. But Modoc raised his
voice in fury.

"Who are yuh goin' to believe?" he shouted. "This upstart, or me?
Why, for all we know"--his voice dropped to a taunting sneer--"he might
be a spy for The Terror himself--probably measurin' the strength of our
outfit!"

The other men seemed to hesitate. Then one of them spoke out:

"Reckon we'll believe you, Modoc. We don't know this man, and we've
trusted yuh so far."

Modoc grinned, showing a line of broken and tobacco-stained teeth. He
looked at Kid Wolf triumphantly.

"Now I'll tell you a few things, my fine young fellow," he leered.
"Burn the wind out o' here and start pronto, before yuh get a bullet
through yuh. Savvy?"

Kid Wolf decided to make one last appeal. If Modoc were insane, it
seemed terrible that these others should be led to their doom on that
account. Only the Texan could fully appreciate their peril. The wagon
train was loaded with valuable goods, for these men were traders. The
Terror would welcome such plunder, and it was his custom never to leave
a man alive to carry the tale.

"Men," he said, "yo'-all got to believe me! Yo're in terrible danger,
and off the right road. One man has already given his life to save
yo', and now I'm ready to give mine, if necessary. Let me stay with
yo' and guide yo' to safety, fo' yo' own sakes! Mah two guns are at
yo' service, and if The Terror strikes, I'll help yo' fight."

The advance guard heard him out. Unbelief was written on all their
faces.

"I think yuh'd better take Modoc's advice," one of them said finally,
"and git! We can take care of ourselves."

His heart heavy, Kid Wolf shrugged and turned away. The rebuff hurt
him, not on his own account, but because these blindly trusting men
were being deceived. Modoc, whether purposely or not, had led them
astray.

He was about to ride away when his eyes fell upon the foremost of the
wagons, which was now creaking up, pulled by its straining team. Kid
Wolf gave a start. Thrust out of the opening in the canvas was a
child's head, crowned with golden hair. There were women and children,
then, in this ill-fated outfit!

The Texan rode his horse over to the wagon and smiled at the youngster.
It was a boy of three, chubby-faced and brown-eyed.

"Hello, theah," Kid called. "What's yo' name?"

The baby returned the smile, obviously interested in this picturesque
stranger.

"Name's Jimmy Lee," was the lisped answer. "I'm goin' to Santa Fe.
Where you goin'?"

Kid Wolf gulped. He could not reply. There was small chance that this
little boy would ever reach Santa Fe, or anywhere else. Tears came to
his eyes, and he wheeled Blizzard fiercely.

"Good-by!" came the small voice.

"Good-by, Jimmy Lee," choked the Texan.

When he looked back again at the wagon train, he could still see a
small, golden head gleaming in the first prairie schooner.

"Blizzahd," muttered Kid Wolf, "we've just got to help those people,
whethah they want it or not."

He pretended to head eastward, but when he was out of sight of the
wagon train, he circled back and drummed west at a furious clip. The
only thing he could do, he saw now, was to go to Santa Fe for help.
With the obstinate traders headed directly across the Llano, they were
sure to meet with trouble. If he could bring back a company of
soldiers from that Mexican settlement, he might aid them in time. "If
they won't let me help 'em at this end," he murmured, "I'll have to
help 'em at the othah."


The town of Santa Fe--long rows of flat-topped adobes nestling under
the mountain--was at that day under Spanish rule. Only a few Americans
then lived within its limits.

It was a thriving, though sleepy, town, as it was the gateway to all
Chihuahua. A well-beaten trail left it southward for El Paso, and its
main street was lined with cantinas--saloons where mescal and tequila
ran like water. There were gambling houses of ill repute, an open
court for cockfighting, and other pastimes. The few gringos who were
there looked, for the most part, like outlaws and fugitives from the
States.

It lacked a few hours until sunset when Kid Wolf drummed into the town.
The mountains were already beginning to cast long shadows, and the
sounds of guitars and singing were heard in the gay streets.

Galloping past the plazas, the Texan at once went to the presidio--the
palace of the governor. It was of adobe, like the rest of the
buildings, but the thick walls were ornately decorated with stone. It
was a fortress as well as a dwelling place, and it contained many
rooms. Several dozen rather ragged soldiers were loafing about the
presidio when Kid Wolf reached it, for a regiment was stationed in the
town.

Kid Wolf sought an interview with the governor at once, but in spite of
his pleading, he was told to return in two hours. "The most honored
and respected Governor Manuel Quiroz," it seemed, was busy. If the
senor would return later, Governor Quiroz would be highly pleased to
see him.

There was nothing to do but wait, and the Texan decided to be patient.
He spent an hour in caring for his horse and eating his own hasty meal.
Then, finding some time on his hands, he walked through the plaza,
watching the crowds with eyes that missed nothing.

He found himself in a street where frijoles, peppers, and other foods
were being offered for trade or barter. Cooking was even being done in
open-air booths, and the air was heavy with seasoning and spice. Here
and there was a drinking place, crowded with revelers. It was
evidently some sort of feast day in Santa Fe.

In front of one of the wine shops a little knot of men and soldiers had
gathered. All were flushed with drink and talking loudly in their own
tongue. One of them--a captain in a gaudy uniform--saw the Texan and
made a laughing remark to his companions.

Kid Wolf's face flushed under its tan. His eyes snapped, but he
continued his walk. He had too much on his mind just then to resent
insults.

But the captain had noticed his change of expression. The gringo,
then, knew Spanish. His remarks became louder, more offensive. More
than half intoxicated, he called jeeringly:

"I was just saying, senor, that many men who wear two guns do not know
how to use even one. You understand, senor? Or perhaps the senor does
not know the Spanish?"

Kid Wolf turned quietly.

"The senor knows the Spanish," he said softly.

The captain turned to his companions with a knowing wink. Then he
addressed the Texan.

"Then, amigo, that is well," he mocked. "Perhaps the senor can shoot
also. Perhaps the senor could do this."

A peon stood near by, and the captain pulled off the fellow's straw
sombrero and tossed it into the street. The wind caught it and the hat
sailed for some distance. With a quick movement the Spanish captain
drew a pistol from his belt and fired. With a sharp report, a round,
black hole appeared in the hat, low in the crown.

The crowd murmured its admiration at this feat. The captain stroked
his thin black mustache and smiled proudly.

"Perhaps the senor might find that difficult to do," he mocked.

"Quien sabe?" Kid Wolf shrugged and started to pass on. He did not
care to make a public exhibition of his shooting, especially when he
had graver matters on his mind. But the jeers and taunts that broke
loose from the half-drunken assembly were more than any man could
endure, especially a Texan with fiery Southern blood in his veins. He
turned, smiling. His eyes, however, were as cold as ice.

"Why," he asked calmly, "should I mutilate this po' man's hat?" His
words were spoken in perfectly accented Spanish.

"The hat? Ah," mocked the captain, "if the senor hits it, I will pay
for it with gold."

Kid Wolf drew his left-hand Colt so quickly that no man saw the motion.
Before they knew it, there was a sudden report that rolled out like
thunder--six shots, blended into one stuttering explosion. He had
emptied his gun in a breath!

A gust of wind blew away the cloud of black powder smoke, and the crowd
stared. Then some one began to laugh. It was taken up by others.
Even the customers in the booths chuckled at Kid Wolf's discomfiture.
The captain's laugh was the loudest of all.

"Six shots the senor took," he guffawed, "and missed with them all!
Ah, didn't I tell you that the Americans are bluffers, like their game
of poker? This one carries two guns and cannot use even one!"

Kid Wolf smiled quietly. A faint look of amusement was in his eyes.

"Maybe," he drawled, "yo'-all had bettah look at that hat."

Curiously, and still smiling, some of the loiterers went over to
examine the target. When they had done so, they cried out in
amazement. It was true that just one bullet hole showed in the front
of the sombrero. The captain's shot had drilled that one. Naturally
all had supposed that the gringo had missed. Such was not the case.
All of Kid Wolf's six bullets had passed through the captain's bullet
mark! For the back of the hat was torn by the marks of seven slugs!
Some one held the sombrero aloft, and the excited crowd roared its
approval and enthusiasm. Never had such shooting been seen within the
old city of Santa Fe.

The Spanish captain, after his first gasp of surprise, had nothing to
say. Chagrin and disgust were written over his face. If ever a man
was crestfallen, the captain was. He hated to be made a fool of, and
this quiet man from Texas had certainly accomplished it.

He was about to slink off when Kid Wolf drawled after him:

"Oh, captain! Pahdon, but haven't yo' forgotten somethin'?"

"What do you mean?" snapped the other.

"Yo' were goin' to pay for this man's sombrero, I believe," said Kid
Wolf softly, "in gold."

"Bah!" snarled the officer. "That I refuse to do!"

The Texan's hand snapped down to his right Colt. A blaze of flame
leaped from the region of his hip. Along with the crashing roar of the
explosion came a sharp, metallic twang.

The bullet had neatly clipped away the captain's belt buckle! A yell
of laughter rang out on all sides. For the captain's trousers,
suddenly unsupported, slipped down nearly to his knees. With a cry of
dismay, the disgruntled officer seized them frantically and held them
up.

"Reach down in those," drawled the Texan, "and see if yo' can't find
that piece of gold!"

The officer, white with rage in which hearty fear was mingled, obeyed
with alacrity, pulling out a gold coin and handing it, with an oath, to
the peon whose hat he had ruined.

"Muchas gracias," murmured Kid Wolf, reholstering his gun. "And now,
if the fun's ovah, I must bid yo' buenas tardes. Adios!"

And doffing his big hat, the Texan took his departure with a sweeping
bow, leaving the captain glaring furiously after him.





Next: The Governor's Answer

Previous: The Living Dead



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