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Dick Martin Starts Something

From: Bar-20 Days

Dick Martin slowly turned, leaned his back against the bar, and
languidly regarded a group of Mexicans at the other end of the room.
Singly, or in combinations of two or more, each was imparting all he
knew, or thought he knew about the ghost of San Miguel Canyon. Their
fellow-countryman, new to the locality, seemed properly impressed. That
it was the ghost of Carlos Martinez, murdered nearly one hundred years
before at the big bend in the canyon, was conceded by all; but there was
a dispute as to why it showed itself only on Friday nights, and why it
was never seen by any but a Mexican. Never had a Gringo seen it. The
Mexican stranger was appealed to: Did this not prove that the murder
had been committed by a Mexican? The stranger affected to consider the

Martin surveyed them with outward impassiveness and inward contempt. A
realist, a cynic, and an absolute genius with a Colt .45, he was well
known along the border for his dare-devil exploits and reckless courage.
The brainiest men in the Secret Service, Lewis, Thomas, Sayre, and
even old Jim Lane, the local chief, whose fingers at El Paso felt every
vibration along the Rio Grande, were not as well known--except to those
who had seen the inside of Government penitentiaries--and they were
quite satisfied to be so eclipsed. But the Service knew of the ghost,
as it knew everything pertaining to the border, and gave it no serious
thought; if it took interest in all the ghosts and superstitions
peculiar to the Mexican temperament it would have no time for serious
work. Martin once, in a spirit of savage denial, had wasted the better
part of several successive Friday nights in the San Miguel, but to no
avail. When told that the ghost showed itself only to Mexicans he had
shrugged his shoulders eloquently and laughed, also eloquently.

"A Greaser," he replied, "is one-half fear and superstition, an' the
other half imagination. There ain't no ghosts, but I know the Greasers
have seen 'em, all right. A Greaser can see anything scary if he makes
up his mind to. If I ever see one an' he keeps on being one after
I shoot, I'll either believe in ghosts, or quit drinking." His eyes
twinkled as he added: "An' of the two, I think I'd prefer to see

He was flushed and restless with deviltry. His fifth glass always
made him so; and to-night there was an added stimulus. He believed
the strange Mexican to be Juan Alvarez, who was so clever that the
Government had never been able to convict him. Alvarez was fearless to
recklessness and Martin, eager to test him, addressed the group with the
blunt terseness for which he was famed, and hated.

"Greasers are cowards," he asserted quietly, and with a smile which
invited excitement. He took a keen delight in analyzing the expressions
on the faces of those hit. It was one of his favorite pastimes when
feeling coltish.

The group was shocked into silence, quickly followed by great unrest and
hot, muttered words. Martin did not move a muscle, the smile was set,
but between the half-closed eyelids crouched Combat, on its toes. The
Mexicans knew it was there without looking for it--the tone of his
voice, the caressing purr of his words, and his unnatural languor were
signs well known to them. Not a criminal sneaking back from voluntary
banishment in Mexico who had seen those signs ever forgot them, if he
lived. Martin watched the group cat-like, keenly scrutinizing each face,
reading the changing emotions in every shifting expression; he had this
art down so well that he could tell when a man was debating the pull of
a gun, and beat him on the draw by a fraction of a second.

"De senor ees meestak," came the reply, as quiet and caressing as the
words which provoked it. The strange Mexican was standing proudly and
looking into the squinting eyes with only a grayness of face and a
tigerish litheness to tell what he felt.

"None go through the canyon after dark on Fridays," purred Martin.

"I go tro' de canyon nex' Friday night. Eef I do, then you mak apology
to me?"

"I'll limit my remark to all but one Greaser."

The Mexican stepped forward. "I tak' thees gloove an' leave eet at
de Beeg Ben', for you to fin' in daylight," he said, tapping one of
Martin's gauntlets which lay on the bar. "You geev' me eet befo' I go?"

"Yes; at nine o'clock to-morrow night," Martin replied, hiding his
elation. He was sure that he knew the man now.

The Mexican, cool and smiling, bowed and left the room, his companions
hastening after him.

"Well, I'll bet twenty-five dollars he flunks!" breathed the bartender,
straightening up.

Martin turned languidly and smiled at him. "I'll take that, Charley," he

Johnny Nelson was always late, and on this occasion he was later than
usual. He was to have joined Hopalong and Red, if Red had arrived, at
Dent's at noon the day before, and now it was after nine o'clock at
night as he rode through San Felippe without pausing and struck east
for the canyon. The dropping trail down the canyon was serious enough
in broad daylight, but at night to attempt its passage was foolhardy,
unless one knew every turn and slant by heart, which Johnny did not. He
was thirty-three hours late now, and he was determined to make up what
he could in the next three.

When Johnny left Hopalong at Dent's he had given his word to be back on
time and not to keep his companions waiting, for Red might be on time
and he would chafe if he were delayed. But, alas for Johnny's good
intentions, his course took him through a small Mexican hamlet in which
lived a senorita of remarkable beauty and rebellious eyes; and Johnny
tarried in the town most of the day, riding up and down the streets,
practising the nice things he would say if he met her. She watched
him from the heavily draped window, and sighed as she wondered if her
dashing Americano would storm the house and carry her off like the
knights of old. Finally he had to turn away with heavy and reluctant
heart, promising himself that he would return when no petulant and
sarcastic companions were waiting for him. Then--ah! what dreams youth

Half an hour ahead of him on another trail rode Juan, smiling with
satisfaction. He had come to San Felippe to get a look at the canyon on
Friday nights, and Martin had given him an excuse entirely unexpected.
For this he was truly grateful, even while he knew that the American
had tried to pick a quarrel with him and thus rid the border of a man
entirely too clever for the good of customs receipts; and failing in
that, had hoped the treacherous canyon trail would gain that end in
another manner. Old Jim Lane's fingers touched wires not one whit more
sensitive than those which had sent Juan Alvarez to look over the San
Miguel--and Lane's wires had been slow this time. When Juan had left the
saloon the night before and had seen Manuel slip away from the group and
ride off into the north, he had known that the ghost would show itself
the following night.

But Juan was to be disappointed. He was still some distance from the
canyon when a snarling bulk landed on the haunches of his horse. He
jerked loose his gun and fired twice and then knew nothing. When he
opened his eyes he lay quietly, trying to figure it out with a head
throbbing with pain from his fall. The cougar must have been desperate
for food to attack a man. He moved his foot and struck something soft
and heavy. His shots had been lucky, but they had not saved him his
horse and a sprained arm and leg. There would be no gauntlet found at
the Big Bend at daylight.

When Johnny Nelson reached the twin boulders marking the beginning of
the sloping run where the trail pitched down, he grinned happily at
sight of the moon rising over the low hills and then grabbed at his
holster, while every hair in his head stood up curiously. A wild,
haunting, feminine scream arose to a quavering soprano and sobbed away
into silence. No words can adequately describe the unearthly wail in
that cry and it took a full half-minute for Johnny to become himself
again and to understand what it was. Once more it arose, nearer, and
Johnny peered into the shadows along a rough backbone of rock, his Colt
balanced in his half-raised hand.

"You come 'round me an' you'll get hurt," he muttered, straining his
eyes to peer into the blackness of the shadows. "Come on out, Soft-foot;
the moon's yore finish. You an' me will have it out right here an'
now--I don't want no cougar trailing me through that ink-black canyon on
a two-foot ledge--" he thought he saw a shadow glide across a dim patch
of moonlight, but when his smoke rifted he knew he had missed. "Damn
it! You've got a mate 'round here somewhere," he complained. "Well,
I'll have to chance it, anyhow. Come on, bronc! Yo're shaking like a
leaf--get out of this!"

When he began to descend into the canyon he allowed his horse to pick
its own way without any guidance from him, and gave all of his attention
to the trail behind him. The horse could get along better by itself in
the dark, and it was more than possible that one or two lithe cougars
might be slinking behind him on velvet paws. The horse scraped along
gingerly, feeling its way step by step, and sending stones rattling and
clattering down the precipice at his left to tinkle into the stream at
the bottom.

"Gee, but I wish I'd not wasted so much time," muttered the rider
uneasily. "This here canyon-cougar combination is the worst I ever
butted up against. I'll never be late again, not never; not for all the
girls in the world. Easy, bronc," he cautioned, as he felt the animal
slip and quiver. "Won't this trail ever start going up again?" he
growled petulantly, taking his eyes off the black back trail, where no
amount of scrutiny showed him anything, and turned in the saddle to peer
ahead--and a yell of surprise and fear burst from him, while chills ran
up and down his spine. An unearthly, piercing shriek suddenly rang out
and filled the canyon with ear-splitting uproar and a glowing, sheeted
half-figure of a man floated and danced twenty feet from him and over
the chasm. He jerked his gun and fired, but only once, for his mount had
its own ideas about some things and this particular one easily headed
the list. The startled rider grabbed reins and pommel, his blood
congealed with fear of the precipice less than a foot from his side, and
he gave all his attention to the horse. But scared as he was he heard,
or thought that he heard, a peculiar sound when he fired, and he would
have sworn that he hit the mark--the striking of the bullet was not
drowned in the uproar and he would never forget the sound of that
impact. He rounded Big Bend as if he were coming up to the judge's
stand, and when he struck the upslant of the emerging trail he had made
a record. Cold sweat beaded his forehead and he was trembling from head
to foot when he again rode into the moonlight on the level plain, where
he tried to break another record.

Next: Johnny Arrives

Previous: The Rebound

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