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The Mule Driver And The Garrulous Mute








From: Pardners

Bill had finished panning the concentrates from our last clean-up,
and now the silver ball of amalgam sizzled and fried on the shovel
over the little chip-fire, while we smoked in the sun before the
cabin. Removed from the salivating fumes of the quicksilver, we
watched the yellow tint grow and brighten in the heat.

"There's two diseases which the doctors ain't got any license to
monkey with," began Bill, chewing out blue smoke from his lungs with
each word, "and they're both fevers. After they butt into your
system they stick crossways, like a swallered toothpick; there ain't
any patent medicine that can bust their holt."

I settled against the door-jamb and nodded.

"I've had them both, acute and continuous, since I was old enough
to know my own mind and the taste of tobacco; I hold them mainly
responsible for my present condition." He mournfully viewed his
fever-ridden frame which sprawled a pitiful six-feet-two from the
heels of his gum-boots to the grizzled hair beneath his white Stetson.

"The first and most rabid," he continued, "is horse-racing--and
t'other is the mining fever, which last is a heap insidiouser in its
action and more lingering in its effect.

"It wasn't long after that deal in the Territory that I felt the
symptoms coming on agin, and this time they pinted most emphatic
toward prospecting, so me and 'Kink' Martin loaded our kit onto the
burros and hit West.

"Kink was a terrible good prospector, though all-fired unlucky and
peculiar. Most people called him crazy, 'cause he had fits of goin'
for days without a peep.

"Hosstyle and ornery to the whole world; sort of bulging out and
exploding with silence, as it were.

"We'd been out in the hills for a week on our first trip before he
got one of them death-watch faces on him, and boycotted the English
langwidge. I stood for it three days, trying to jolly a grin on to
him or rattle a word loose, but he just wouldn't jolt.

"One night we packed into camp tired, hungry, and dying for a good
feed.

"I hustled around and produced a supper fit for old Mr. Eppycure.
Knowing that Kink had a weakness for strong coffee that was simply a
hinge in him, I pounded up about a quart of coffee beans in the
corner of a blanket and boiled out a South American liquid that was
nothing but the real Arbuckle mud.

"This wasn't no chafing-dish party either, because the wood was wet
and the smoke chased me round the fire. Then it blazed up in spurts
and fired the bacon-grease, so that when I grabbed the skillet the
handle sizzled the life all out of my callouses. I kicked the fire
down to a nice bed of coals and then the coffee-pot upset and put it
out. Ashes got into the bacon, and--Oh! you know how joyful it is to
cook on a green fire when you're dead tired and your hoodoo's on
vicious.

"When the 'scoffings' were finally ready, I wasn't in what you might
exactly call a mollyfying and tactful mood nor exuding genialness and
enthusiasms anyways noticeable."

"I herded the best in camp towards him, watching for a benevolent
symptom, but he just dogged it in silence and never changed a hair.
That was the limit, so I inquired sort of ominous and gentle, 'Is
that coffee strong enough for ye, Mr. Martin?'

"He give a little impecunious grunt, implying, 'Oh! it'll do,' and
with that I seen little green specks begin to buck and wing in front
of my eyes; reaching back of me, I grabbed the Winchester and throwed
it down on him.

"'Now, you laugh, darn you,' I says, 'in a hurry. Just turn it out
gleeful and infractious.'

"He stared into the nozzle of that Krupp for a minute, then swallered
twice to tune up his reeds, and says, friendly and perlite, but
serious and wheezy:

"'Why, what in hell ails you, William?'

"'Laugh, you old dong-beater,' I yells, rising gradually to the
occasion, 'or I'll bust your cupola like a blue-rock.'

"'I've got to have merriment,' I says. 'I pine for warmth and genial
smiles, and you're due to furnish the sunshine. You emit a few
shreds of mirth with expedition or the upper end of your spinal-cord
is going to catch cold.'

"Say! his jaws squeaked like a screen door when he loosened, but he
belched up a beauty, sort of stagy and artificial it was, but a great
help. After that we got to know each other a heap better. Yes, sir;
soon after that we got real intimate. He knocked the gun out of my
hands, and we began to arbitrate. We plumb ruined that spot for a
camping place; rooted it up in furrows, and tramped each other's
stummicks out of shape. We finally reached an amicable settlement by
me getting him agin a log where I could brand him with the coffee-pot.

"Right there we drawed up a protoplasm, by the terms of which he was
to laugh anyways twice at meal-times.

"He told me that he reckoned he was locoed, and always had been since
a youngster, when the Injuns run in on them down at Frisbee, the time
of the big 'killing.' Kink saw his mother and father both murdered,
and other things, too, which was impressive, but not agreeable for a
growing child. He had formed a sort of antipathy for Injuns at that
time, which he confessed he hadn't rightly been able to overcome.

"Now, he allus found himself planning how to hand Mr. Lo the double
cross and avoid complications.

"We worked down into South Western Arizony to a spot about
thirty-five miles back of Fort Walker and struck a prospect. Sort of
a teaser it was, but worth working on. We'd just got nicely started
when Kink comes into camp one day after taking a passiar around the
butte for game, and says:

"'The queerest thing happened to me just now, Kid.'

"'Well, scream it at me,' I says, sort of smelling trouble in the air.

"'Oh! It wasn't much,' says he. 'I was just working down the big
canyon over there after a deer when I seen two feather-dusters coming
up the trail. I hid behind a rock, watching 'em go past, and I'm
durned if my gun didn't go off accidental and plumb ruin one of 'em.
Then I looks carefuller and seen it wasn't no feather-duster at
all--nothing but an Injun.'

"'What about the other one?'

"'That's the strangest part,' says Kink. 'Pretty soon the other one
turns and hits the back-trail like he'd forgot something; then I seen
him drop off his horse, too, sudden and all togetherish. I'm awful
careless with this here gun,' he says. I hate to see a man laugh
from his tonsils forrard, the way he did. It ain't humorous.

"'See here,' I says, 'I ain't the kind that finds fault with my
pardner, nor saying this to be captious and critical of your play;
but don't you know them Cochises ain't on the warpath? Them Injuns
has been on their reservation for five years, peaceable,
domesticated, and eating from the hand. This means trouble."

"'My old man didn't have no war paint on him one day back at
Frisbee,' whispers Kink, and his voice sounded puckered up and dried,
'and my mother wasn't so darned quarrelsome, either.'

"Then I says, 'Well! them bodies has got to be hid, or we'll have the
tribe and the bluebellies from the fort a scouring these hills till a
red-bug couldn't hide.'

"'To hell with 'em,' says Kink. 'I've done all I'm going to for 'em.
Let the coyotes finish the job.'

"'No, siree,' I replies. 'I don't blame you for having a prejudice
agin savages, but my parents is still robust and husky, and I have
an idea that they'd rather see me back on the ranch than glaring
through the bars for life. I'm going over to bury the meat.'

"Off I went, but when I slid down the gulch, I only found one body.
T'other had disappeared. You can guess how much time I lost getting
back to camp.

"'Kink,' I says, 'we're a straddle of the raggedest proposition in
this country. One of your dusters at this moment is jamming his
cayuse through the horizon between here and the post. Pretty soon
things is going to bust loose. 'Bout to-morrer evening we'll be
eating hog-bosom on Uncle Sam.'

"'Well! Well!' says Kink, 'ain't that a pity. Next time I'll
conquer my natural shyness and hold a post-mortem with a rock.'

"'There won't be no next time, I reckon,' I says, ''cause we can't
make it over into Mexico without being caught up. They'll nail us
sure, seeing as we're the only white men for twenty-five miles
around.'

"'I'd rather put up a good run than a bad stand, anyhow,' says he,
'and I allows, furthermore, there's going to be some hard trails to
foller and a tolable disagreeable fight before I pleads 'not guilty'
to the Colonel. We'll both duck over into the Santa--'

"'Now, don't tell me what route you're going,' I interrupts,' 'cause
I believe I'll stay and bluff it through, rather than sneak for it,
though neither proposition don't appeal to me. I may get raised out
before the draw, but the percentage is just as strong agin your game
as mine.'

"'Boy, if I was backing your system,' says Kink, 'I'd shore copper
this move and play her to lose. You come on with me, and we'll make
it through--mebbe.'

"'No,' I says; 'here I sticks.'

"I made up a pack-strap out of my extry overhalls while he got grub
together, to start south through one hundred miles of the ruggedest
and barrenest country that was ever left unfinished.

"Next noon I was parching some coffee-beans in the frying-pan, when I
heard hoofs down the gully back of me. I never looked up when they
come into the open nor when I heard a feller say 'Halt!'

"'Hello there!' somebody yells. 'You there at the fire.' I kept on
shaking the skillet over the camp-fire.

"'What's the matter with him?' somebody said. A man got off and
walked up behind me.

"'See here, brother,' he says, tapping me on the shoulder; 'this
don't go.'

"I jumped clean over the fire, dropped the pan, and let out a deaf
and dumb holler, 'Ee! Ah!'

"The men began to laugh; it seemed to rile the little leftenant.

"'Cut this out,' says he. 'You can talk as well as I can, and you're
a going to tell us about this Injun killin'. Don't try any fake
business, or I'll roast your little heels over that fire like yams.'

"I just acted the dummy, wiggled my fingers, and handed him the
joyful gaze, heliographing with my teeth as though I was glad to see
visitors. However, I wondered if that runt would really give my
chilblains a treat. He looked like a West Pointer, and I didn't know
but he'd try to haze me.

"Well! they 'klow-towed' around there for an hour looking for clues,
but I'd hid all the signs of Kink, so finally they strapped me onto a
horse and we hit back for the fort.

"The little man tried all kinds of tricks to make me loosen on the
way down, but I just acted wounded innocence and 'Ee'd' and 'Ah'd' at
him till he let me alone.

"When we rode up to the post he says to the Colonel:

"'We've got the only man there is in the mountains back there, sir,
but he's playing dumb. I don't know what his game is.'

"'Dumb, eh?' says the old man, looking me over pretty keen. 'Well! I
guess we'll find his voice if he's got one.'

"He took me inside, and speaking of examinations, probably I didn't
get one. He kept looking at me like he wanted to place me, but I
give him the 'Ee! Ah!' till everybody began to laugh. They tried me
with a pencil and paper, but I balked, laid my ears back, and
buck-jumped. That made the old man sore, and he says: 'Lock him up!
Lock him up; I'll make him talk if I have to skin him.' So I was
dragged to the 'skookum-house,' where I spent the night figuring out
my finish.

"I could feel it coming just as plain, and I begun to see that when I
did open up and prattle after Kink was safe, nobody wouldn't believe
my little story. I had sized the Colonel up as a dead stringy old
proposition, too. He was one of these big-chopped fellers with a
mouth set more'n half way up from his chin and little thin lips like
the edge of a knife blade, and just as full of blood--face, big and
rustic-finished.

"I says to myself, 'Bud, it looks like you wouldn't be forced to
prospect for a living any more this season. If that old sport turns
himself loose you're going to get 'life' three times and a holdover.'

"Next morning they tried every way to make me talk. Once in a while
the old man looked at me puzzled and searching, but I didn't know him
from a sweat-pad, and just paid strict attention to being dumb.

"It was mighty hard, too. I got so nervous my mouth simply ached to
let out a cayoodle. The words kept trying to crawl through my
sesophagus, and when I backed 'em up, they slid down and stood around
in groups, hanging onto the straps, gradually filling me with witful
gems of thought.

"The Colonel talked to me serious and quiet, like I had good ears,
and says, 'My man, you can understand every word I say, I'm sure, and
what your object is in maintaining this ridiculous silence, I don't
know. You're accused of a crime, and it looks serious for you."

"Then he gazes at me queer and intent, and says, 'If you only knew
how bad you are making your case you'd make a clean breast of it.
Come now, let's get at the truth.'

"Them thought jewels and wads of repartee was piling up in me fast,
like tailings from a ground-sluice, till I could feel myself getting
bloated and pussy with langwidge, but I thought, 'No! to-morrow Kink
'll be safe, and then I'll throw a jolt into this man's camp that'll
go down in history. They'll think some Chinaman's been thawing out a
box of giant powder when I let out my roar.'

"I goes to the guard-house again, with a soldier at my back.
Everything would have been all right if we hadn't run into a mule
team.

"They had been freighting from the railroad, and as we left the
barracks we ran afoul of four outfits, three span to the wagon, with
the loads piled on till the teams was all lather and the wheels
complainin' to the gods, trying to pass the corner of the barracks
where there was a narrow opening between the buildings.

"Now a good mule-driver is the littlest, orneriest speck in the human
line that's known to the microscope, but when you get a poor one,
he'd spoil one of them cholera germs you read about just by contact.
The leader of this bunch was worse than the worst; strong on
whip-arm, but surprising weak on judgment. He tried to make the
turn, run plump into the corner of the building, stopped, backed,
swung, and proceeded to get into grief.

"The mules being hot and nervous, he sent them all to the loco patch
instanter. They began to plunge and turn and back and snarl. Before
you could say 'Craps! you lose,' them shave-tails was giving the
grandest exhibition of animal idiocy in the Territory, barring the
teamster. He follered their trail to the madhouse, yanking the
mouths out of them, cruel and vicious.

"Now, one mule can cause a heap of tribulation, and six mules can
break a man's heart, but there wasn't no excuse for that driver to
stand up on his hind legs, close his eyes, and throw thirty foot of
lash into that plunging buckin', white-eyed mess. When he did it,
all the little words inside of me began to foam and fizzle like
sedlitz; out they came, biting, in mouthfuls, and streams, and
squirts, backwards, sideways, and through my nose.

"'Here! you infernal half-spiled, dog-robbing walloper,' I says; 'you
don't know enough to drive puddle ducks to a pond. You quit heaving
that quirt or I'll harm you past healing.'

"He turned his head and grit out something through his teeth that
stimulated my circulation. I skipped over the wheels and put my left
onto his neck, fingering the keys on his blow-pipe like a flute.
Then I give him a toss and gathered up the lines. Say! it was like
the smell of grease-paint to an actor man for me to feel the ribbons
again, and them mules knew they had a chairman who savvied 'em too,
and had mule talk pat, from soda to hock.

"I just intimated things over them with that whip, and talked to them
like they was my own flesh and blood. I starts at the worst words
the English langwidge and the range had produced, to date, and got
steadily and rapidly worse as long as I talked.

"Arizony may be slow in the matter of standing collars and rag-time,
but she leads the world in profanity. Without being swelled on
myself, I'll say, too, that I once had more'n a local reputation in
that line, having originated some quaint and feeling conceits which
has won modest attention, and this day I was certainly trained to the
minute.

"I addressed them brutes fast and earnest for five minutes steady,
and never crossed my trail or repeated a thought.

"It must have been sacred and beautiful. Anyhow, it was strong
enough to soak into their pores so that they strung out straight as a
chalk-line. Then I lifted them into the collars, and we rumbled past
the building, swung in front of the commissary door, cramped and
stopped. With the wheelers on their haunches, I backed up to the
door square as a die.

"I wiped the sweat out of my eyes and looked up into the grinning
face of about fifty swatties, realizing I was a mute--and a prisoner.

"I heard a voice say, 'Bring me that man.' There stood the Colonel
oozing out wrath at every pore.

"I parted from that wagon hesitating and reluctant, but two soldiers
to each leg will bust any man's grip, I lost some clothes, too, after
we hit the ground, but I needed the exercise.

"The old man was alone in his office when they dragged me in, and he
sent my guards out.

"'So you found your voice, did you?' he says.

"'Yes, sir," I answers. 'It came back unexpected, regular miracle.'

"'He drummed on the table for a long time, and then says, sort of
immaterial and irreverent, 'You're a pretty good mule puncher, eh?'

"'It ain't for me to say I'm the best in the Territory,' I says; 'but
I'm curious to meet the feller that claims the title.'

"He continues, 'It reminds me of an exhibition I saw once, back in
New Mexico, long time ago, at the little Flatwater Canyon.'

"'Maybe you've heard tell of the fight there when the Apaches were
up? Yes? Well, I happened to be in that scrimmage.'

"'I was detailed with ten men to convoy a wagon train through to Fort
Lewis. We had no trouble till we came to the end of that canyon,
just where she breaks out onto the flats. There we got it. They
were hidden up on the ridges; we lost two men and one wagon before we
could get out onto the prairie.

"'I got touched up in the neck, first clatter, and was bleeding
pretty badly; still I hung to my horse, and we stood 'em off till the
teams made it out of the gulch; but just as we came out my horse fell
and threw me--broke his leg. I yelled to the boys:

"'"Go on! For God's sake go on!" Any delay there meant loss of the
whole outfit. Besides, the boys had more than they could manage,
Injuns on three sides.

"'We had a young Texan driving the last wagon. When I went down he
swung those six mules of his and came back up that trail into the
gut, where the bullets snapped like grasshoppers.

"'It was the prettiest bit of driving I ever saw, not to mention
nerve. He whirled the outfit between me and the bluff on two wheels,
yelling, "Climb on! Climb on! We ain't going to stay long!" I was
just able to make it onto the seat. In the turn they dropped one of
his wheelers. He ran out on the tongue and cut the brute loose. We
went rattling down the gulch behind five mules. All the time there
came out of that man's lungs the fiercest stream of profanity my ears
ever burned under. I was pretty sick for a few weeks, so I never got
a chance to thank that teamster. He certainly knew the mind of an
army mule, though. His name was--let me see--Wiggins--yes, Wiggins.

"'Oh, no it wasn't,' I breaks in, foolish; 'it was Joyce.'

"Then I stopped and felt like a kid, for the Colonel comes up and
shuts the circulation out of both my hands.

"'I wasn't sure of you, Bill,' he says, 'till I saw you preside over
those mules out there and heard your speech--then I recognized the
gift.' He laughed like a boy, still making free with my hands. 'I'm
darn glad to see you, Bill Joyce. Now then,' he says, 'tell me all
about this killing up in the hills,' and I done so.

"After I finished he never said anything for a long time, just
drummed the desk again and looked thoughtful.

"'It's too bad you didn't speak out, Bill, when you first came in.
Now, you've showed everybody that you can talk--just a little,
anyhow,' and he smiles, 'and they all think you're the man caused the
trouble. I don't see but that you've got to stand trial. I wish I
could help you, Bill.'

"'But see here, Colonel,' I says; 'I couldn't squeal on Kink. We're
pardners. I just had to give him a chance to cut. I played dumb
'cause I knew if I talked at all, being simple and guileless, you all
would twist me up and have the whole thing in a jiffy. That man give
me the last drop of water in his canteen on the Mojave, and him with
his own tongue swelled clean out of his mouth, too. When we was
snowed in, up in the Bitter Roots, with me snow-blind and starving,
he crawled from Sheeps-Horn clean to Miller's--snow twelve foot deep,
too, and nary a snow-shoe in miles, but he brought the outfit in to
where I was lyin' 'bout gone in. He lost some fingers and more toes
wallering through them mountain drifts that day, but he never laid
down till he brought the boys back.

"'Colonel! we've slept on the same blanket, we've et the same grub,
we've made and lost together, and I had to give him a show, that's
all. I'm into this here trouble now. Tell me how I'm going to get
out. What would you do?'

"He turns to the open window and says: 'Partners are partners!
That's my horse out there at that post. If I were you I'd run like
hell.'

"That was the willingest horse I ever rode, and I hated to sell him,
but he was tolable used up when I got across the line."

THE COLONEL AND THE HORSE-THIEF

Those marks on my arm? Oh! I got 'em playin' horse-thief. Yes,
playin'. I wasn't a real one, you know--Well, I s'pose it was sort
of a queer game. Came near bein' my last too, and if Black Hawk
hadn't been the best horse in Texas the old Colonel would've killed
me sure. He chased me six miles as it was--me with one arm full of
his buckshot and anxious to explain, and him strainin' to get in
range again and not wishin' any further particulars.

That was way back in the sixties, when I was as wild a lad as ever
straddled a pony.

You see five of us had gone over into the Crow Nation to race horses
with the Indians, and it was on the way back that the old man and the
bullet holes figger in the story.

At the beginnin' it was Jim Barrett's plan, and it had jest enough
risk and devilment in it to suit a harum-scarum young feller like me;
so we got five of the boys who had good horses, lumped together all
of our money, and rode out to invade the reservation.

You know how an Indian loves to run horses? Well, the Crows had a
good deal of money then, and our scheme was to go over there, get up
a big race, back our horses with all we had, and take down the wealth.

Takin' chances? Don't you believe it. That's where the beauty of
Jim's plan commenced to sort of shine through.

You see, as soon as the money was up and the horses started, every
Indian would be watchin' the race and yellin' at the nags, then, in
the confusion, our boys was to grab the whole pot, Indian's money and
ours too, and we'd make our get away across the river back into Texas.

We figured that we could get a few minutes start of 'em, and, with
the horses we had under us, there wasn't much danger of their gettin'
in range before we crossed back to where they couldn't follow us.

Well, sir! I never see anything work out like that scheme did. Them
Crows was dead anxious to run their ponies and seemed skeered that we
wouldn't let 'em get all their money up.

As we was eatin' supper the night before the race, Donnelly says:
"Boys, I'm sore that we didn't have more coin. If we'd worked 'em
right they'd 'a' give us odds. We could 'a' got five to three
anyhow, and maybe more."

"They shore have got a heap of confidence in them skates of their'n,"
says Kink Martin. "I never see anybody so anxious to play a race in
my life. If it wasn't all planned out the way it is, I'd like to
stick and see which hoss is the best. I'd back Black Hawk agin any
hunk of meat in the Territory, with the Kid here in the saddle."

They'd ribbed it up for me to ride Martin's mare, Black Hawk, while a
little feller named Hollis rode his own horse.

Donnelly's part was to stay in the saddle and keep the other horses
close to Barrett and Martin. They was to stick next to the money,
and one of 'em do the bearin' off of the booty while the other made
the protection play.

We hoped in the excitement to get off without harmin' any of Uncle
Sam's pets, but all three of the boys had been with the Rangers and I
knew if it came to a show down, they wouldn't hesitate to "pot" one
or two in gittin' away.

We rode out from camp the next mornin' to where we'd staked out a
mile track on the prairie and it seemed as if the whole Crow Nation
was there, and nary a white but us five.

They'd entered two pretty good-lookin' horses and had their jockeys
stripped down to breech-clouts, while Hollis and me wore our whole
outfits on our backs, as we didn't exactly figger on dressin' after
the race, leastways, not on that side of the river.

Just before we lined up, Jim says: "Now you ---- all ride like ----,
and when you git to the far turn we'll let the guns loose and
stampede the crowd. Then jest leave the track and make a break fer
the river, everybody fer himself. We'll all meet at them cottonwoods
on the other side, so we can stand 'em off if they try to swim across
after us."

That would have been a sure enough hot race if we had run it out, for
we all four got as pretty a start as I ever see and went down the
line all together with a-bangin' of hoofs and Indian yells ringin' in
our ears.

I had begun to work Black Hawk out of the bunch to get a clear start
across the prairie at the turn, when I heard the guns begin snappin'
like pop-corn.

"They've started already," yelled Hollis, and we turned the rearin'
horses toward the river, three miles away, leavin' them two savages
tearin' down the track like mad.

I glanced back as I turned, but, instead of seein' the boys in the
midst of a decent retreat, the crowd was swarmin' after 'em like a
nest of angry hornets, while Donnelly, with his reins between his
teeth, was blazin' away at three reds who were right at Barrett's
heels as he ran for his horse. Martin was lashin' his jumpin' cayuse
away from the mob which sputtered and spit angry shots after him.
Bucks were runnin' here and there and hastily mountin' their
ponies--while an angry roar came to me, punctuated by the poppin' of
the guns.

Hollis and I reached the river and swam it half a mile ahead of the
others and their yellin' bunch of trailers, so we were able to
protect 'em in their crossin'.

I could see from their actions that Bennett and Martin was both hurt
and I judged the deal hadn't panned out exactly accordin' to
specifications.

The Crows didn't attempt to cross in the teeth of our fire, however,
being satisfied with what they'd done, and the horses safely brought
our three comrades drippin' up the bank to where we lay takin'
pot-shots at every bunch of feathers that approached the opposite
bank.

We got Barrett's arm into a sling, and, as Martin's hurt wasn't
serious, we lost no time in gettin' away.

"They simply beat us to it," complained Barrett, as we rode south.
"You all had jest started when young Long Hair grabs the sack and
ducks through the crowd, and the whole bunch turns loose on us at
once. We wasn't expectin' anything so early in the game, and they
winged me the first clatter. I thought sure it was oft with me when
I got this bullet in the shoulder, but I used the gun in my left hand
and broke for the nearest pony."

"They got me, too, before I saw what was up," added Martin; "but I
tore out of there like a jack-rabbit. It was all done so cussed
quick that the first thing I knew I'd straddled my horse and was
makin' tracks. Who'd a thought them durned Indians was dishonest
enough fer a trick like that?"

Then Donnelly spoke up and says: "Boys, as fur as the coin goes,
we're out an' injured; we jest made a 'Mexican stand-off'--lost our
money, but saved our lives--and mighty lucky at that, from
appearances. What I want to know now is, how we're all goin' to get
home, clean across the State of Texas, without a dollar in the
outfit, and no assets but our guns and the nags."

That was a sure tough proposition, and we had left it teetotally out
of calculations. We'd bet every bean on that race, not seein' how we
could lose. In them days there wasn't a railroad in that section,
ranches were scatterin', and people weren't givin' pink teas to every
stranger that rode up--especially when they were as hard-lookin' as
we were.

"We've got to eat, and so's the horses," says Hollis, "but no rancher
is goin' to welcome with open arms as disreputable an outfit as we
are. Two men shot up, and the rest of us without beddin', grub,
money, or explanations. Them's what we need--explanations. I don't
exactly see how we're goin' to explain our fix to the honest
hay-diggers, either. Everybody'll think some sheriff is after us,
and two to one they'll put some officer on our trail, and we'll have
more trouble. I believe I've had all I want for awhile."

"I'll tell you how we'll work it," I says. "One of us'll be the
sheriff of Guadalupe County, back home, with three deputies, bringin'
back a prisoner that we've chased across the State. We'll ride up to
a ranch an' demand lodgin' for ourselves and prisoner in the name of
the State of Texas and say that we'll pay with vouchers on the county
in the morning."

"No, sir! not fer me," says Martin. "I'm not goin' in fer forgery.
It's all right to practice a little mild deception on our red
brothers, as we figgered on doing, but I'm not goin' to try to
flimflam the State of Texas. Our troubles 'd only be startin' if we
began that game."

"Your plan's all right, Kid," says Bennett to me. "You be the
terrible desperado that I'm bringin' home after a bloody fight, where
you wounded Martin and me, and 'most escaped. You'll have ev'ry
rancher's wife givin' you flowers and weepin' over your youth and
kissin' you good-bye. In the mornin', when we're ready to go and I'm
about to fix up the vouchers for our host, you break away and ride
like the devil. We'll all tear off a few shots and foller in a
hurry, leavin' the farmer hopin' that the villain is recaptured and
the girls tearfully prayin' that the gallunt and misguided youth
escapes."

It seemed to be about our only resort, as the country was full of bad
men, and we were liable to get turned down cold if we didn't have
some story, so we decided to try it on.

We rode up to a ranch 'bout dark, that night, me between the others,
with my hands tied behind me, and Jim called the owner out.

"I want a night's lodgin' fer my deputies and our prisoner," he says.
"I'm the sheriff of Guadalupe County, and I'll fix up the bill in the
mornin'."

"Come in! Come in!" the feller says, callin' a man for the horses.
"Glad to accommodate you. Who's your prisoner?"

"That's Texas Charlie that robbed the Bank of Euclid single-handed,"
answers Jim. "He give us a long run clean across the State, but we
got him jest as he was settin' over into the Indian Territory.
Fought like a tiger."

It worked fine. The feller, whose name was Morgan, give us a good
layout for the night and a bully breakfast next morning.

That desperado game was simply great. The other fellers attended to
the horses, and I jest sat around lookin' vicious, and had my grub
brought to me, while the women acted sorrowful and fed me pie and
watermelon pickles.

When we was ready to leave next morning, Jim says: "Now, Mr. Morgan,
I'll fix up them vouchers with you," and givin' me the wink, I let
out a yell, and jabbin' the spurs into Black Hawk, we cleared the
fence and was off like a puff of dust, with the rest of 'em shootin'
and screamin' after me like mad.

Say! It was lovely--and when the boys overtook me, out of sight of
the house, Morgan would have been astonished to see the sheriff, his
posse, and the terrible desperado doubled up in their saddles
laughin' fit to bust.

Well, sir! we never had a hitch in the proceedings for five days, and
I was gettin' to feel a sort of pride in my record as a bank-robber,
forger, horse-thief, and murderer, accordin' to the way Bennett
presented it. He certainly was the boss liar of the range.

He had a story framed up that painted me as the bloodiest young tough
the Lone Star had ever produced, and it never failed to get me all
the attention there was in the house.

One night we came to the best lookin' place we'd seen, and, in answer
to Jim's summons, out walked an old man, followed by two of the
prettiest girls I ever saw, who joined their father in invitin' us in.

"Glad to be of assistance to you, Mr. Sheriff," he said. "My name is
Purdy, sir! Colonel Purdy, as you may have heard. In the Mexican
War, special mention three times for distinguished conduct. These
are my daughters, sir! Annabel and Marie." As we went in, he
continued: "You say you had a hard time gettin' your prisoner? He
looks young for a criminal. What's he wanted for?"

Somehow, when I saw those girls blushin' and bowin' behind their
father, I didn't care to have my crimes made out any blacker'n
necessary and I tried to give Jim the high-sign to let me off
easy--just make it forgery or arson--but he was lookin' at the
ladies, and evidently believin' in the strength of a good impression,
he said: "Well, yes! He's young but they never was a old man with
half his crimes. He's wanted for a good many things in different
places, but I went after him for horse-stealin' and murder. Killed a
rancher and his little daughter, then set fire to the house and ran
off a bunch o' stock."

"Oh! Oh! How dreadful!" shuddered the girls, backin' off with
horrified glances at me.

I tried to get near Jim to step on his foot, but the old man was
glarin' at me somethin' awful.

"Come to observe him closely, he has a depraved face," says he. "He
looks the thorough criminal in every feature, dead to every decent
impulse, I s'pose."

I could have showed him a live impulse that would have surprised him
about then.

In those days I was considered a pretty handsome feller too, and I
knew I had Jim beat before the draw on looks, but he continues makin'
matters worse.

"Yes, and he's desperate too. One of the worst I ever see. We had
an awful fight with him up here on the line of the Territory. He
shot Martin and me before we got him. Ye see, I wanted to take him
alive, and so I took chances on gettin' hurt.

"Thank ye, Miss; my arm does ache considerable; of course, if you'd
jest as soon dress it--Oh, no! I'm no braver'n anybody else, I
guess. Nice of ye to say so, anyhow," and he went grinnin' out into
the kitchen with the girls to fix up his arm.

The old man insisted on havin' my feet bound together and me fastened
to a chair, and said: "Yes, yes, I know you can watch him, but you're
in my house now, and I feel a share of the responsibility upon me.
I've had experience with desperate characters and I'm goin' to be
sure that this young reprobate don't escape his just punishment. Are
you sure you don't need more help gettin' him home? I'll go with you
if--"

"Thank ye," interrupted Hollis. "We've chased the scoundrel four
hundred miles, and I reckon, now we've got him, we can keep him."

At supper, Jim with his arm in a new sling, sat between the two girls
who cooed over him and took turns feedin' him till it made me sick.

The old man had a nigger move my chair up to the foot of the table
and bring me a plate of coarse grub after they all finished eatin'.

He had tied my ankles to the lower rung of the chair himself, and
when I says to the nigger, "Those cords have plum stopped my
circulation, just ease 'em up a little," he went straight up.

"Don't you touch them knots, Sam!" he roared. "I know how to secure
a man, and don't you try any of your games in my house, either, you
young fiend. I'd never forgive myself if you escaped."

I ate everything I could reach, which wasn't much, and when I asked
for the butter he glared at me and said: "Butter's too good for
horse-thieves; eat what's before you."

Every time I'd catch the eye of one of the girls and kind of grin and
look enticing, she'd shiver and tell Jim that the marks of my
depravity stood out on my face like warts on a toad.

Jim and the boys would all grin like idiots and invent a new crime
for me. On the square, if I'd worked nights from the age of three I
couldn't have done half they blamed me for.

They put it to the old man so strong that when he turned in he
chained me to Sam, the cross-eyed nigger that stood behind me at
supper, and made us sleep on the floor.

I told Sam that I cut a man's throat once because he snored, and that
nigger never closed an eye all night. I was tryin' to get even with
somebody.

After breakfast, when it came time to leave, Donnelly untied my feet
and led me out into the yard, where the girls were hangin' around the
Colonel and Jim, who was preparin' to settle up.

As we rode up the evening before, I had noticed that we turned in
from the road through a lane, and that the fence was too high to
jump, so, when I threw my leg over Black Hawk, I hit Donnelly a swat
in the neck, and, as he did a stage-fall, I swept through the gate
and down the lane.

The old man cut the halter off one of his Mexican war-whoops, and
broke through the house on the run, appearin' at the front door with
his shot-gun just as I checked up to make the turn onto the main road.

As I swung around, doubled over the horse's neck, he let drive with
his old blunderbuss, and I caught two buckshot in my right arm where
you see them marks.

I had sense enough to hang on and ride for my life, because I knew
the old fire-eater would reckon it a pleasure to put an end to such a
wretch as me, if he got half a chance.

I heard him howl, "Come on boys! We'll get him yet," and, over my
shoulder, I saw him jump one of his loose horses standin' in the yard
and come tearin' down the lane, ahead of the befuddled sheriff and
posse, his white hair streamin' and the shot-gun wavin' aloft, as
though chargin' an army of greasers at the head of his regiment.

From the way he drew away from the boys, I wouldn't have placed any
money that he was wrong either.

I've always wondered how the old man ever got through that war with
only three recommendations to the government.

He certainly kept good horses too, for in five minutes we'd left the
posse behind, and I saw him madly urgin' his horse into range,
reloadin' as he came.

As I threw the quirt into the mare with my good arm, I allowed I'd
had about all the horse-stealin' I wanted for a while.

The old devil finally saw he was losin' ground in spite of his best
efforts, and let me have both barrels. I heard the shot patter on
the hard road behind me, and hoped he'd quit and go home, but I'm
blamed if he didn't chase me five miles further before turnin' back,
in hopes I'd cast a shoe or something would happen to me.

I believe I was on the only horse in Texas that could have outrun the
Colonel and his that mornin'.

About noon I stopped at a blacksmith's shop, half dead with pain, and
had my arm dressed and a big jolt of whiskey.

As the posse rode up to me, sittin' in the sun by the lathered flanks
of my horse and nursin' my arm, Jim yells out: "Here he is! Surround
him, boys! You're our prisoner!"

"No! I'm blamed if I am," I says. "You'll have to get another
desperado. After this, I'm the sheriff!"





Next: The Thaw At Slisco's

Previous: Pardners



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