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Two Hearts That Beat As One








From: A Deal In Wheat And Other Stories

"Which I puts it up as how you ain't never heard about that time that
Hardenberg and Strokher--the Englisher--had a friendly go with bare
knuckles--ten rounds it was--all along o' a feemale woman?"

It is a small world and I had just found out that my friend, Bunt
McBride--horse-wrangler, miner, faro-dealer and bone-gatherer--whose
world was the plains and ranges of the Great Southwest, was known of the
Three Black Crows, Hardenberg, Strokher and Ally Bazan, and had even
foregathered with them on more than one of their ventures for Cyrus
Ryder's Exploitation Agency--ventures that had nothing of the desert in
them, but that involved the sea, and the schooner, and the taste of the
great-lunged canorous trades.

"Ye ain't never crossed the trail o' that mournful history?"

I professed my ignorance and said:

"They fought?"

"Mister Man," returned Bunt soberly, as one broaching a subject not to
be trifled with, "They sure did. Friendly-like, y'know--like as how two
high-steppin', sassy gents figures out to settle any little strained
relations--friendly-like but considerable keen."

He took a pinch of tobacco from his pouch and a bit of paper and rolled
a cigarette in the twinkling of an eye, using only one hand, in true
Mexican style.

"Now," he said, as he drew the first long puff to the very bottom of the
leathern valves he calls his lungs. "Now, I'm a-goin' for to relate that
same painful proceedin' to you, just so as you kin get a line on the
consumin' and devourin' foolishness o' male humans when they's a woman
in the wind. Woman," said Bunt, wagging his head thoughtfully at the
water, "woman is a weather-breeder. Mister Dixon, they is three things
I'm skeered of. The last two I don't just rightly call to mind at this
moment, but the first is woman. When I meets up with a feemale woman on
my trail, I sheers off some prompt, Mr. Dixon; I sheers off. An'
Hardenberg," he added irrelevantly, "would a-took an' married this
woman, so he would. Yes, an' Strokher would, too."

"Was there another man?" I asked.

"No," said Bunt. Then he began to chuckle behind his mustaches. "Yes,
they was." He smote a thigh. "They sure was another man for fair. Well,
now, Mr. Man, lemmee tell you the whole 'how.'

"It began with me bein' took into a wild-eyed scheme that that maverick,
Cy Ryder, had cooked up for the Three Crows. They was a row down
Gortamalar way. Same gesabe named Palachi--Barreto Palachi--findin'
times dull an' the boys some off their feed, ups an' says to hisself,
'Exercise is wot I needs. I will now take an' overthrow the blame
Gover'ment.' Well, this same Palachi rounds up a bunch o' insurrectos
an' begins pesterin' an' badgerin' an' hectorin' the Gover'ment; an'
r'arin' round an' bellerin' an' makin' a procession of hisself, till he
sure pervades the landscape; an' before you knows what, lo'n beholt,
here's a reel live Revolution-Thing cayoodlin' in the scenery, an' the
Gover'ment is plum bothered.

"They rounds up the gesabe at last at a place on the coast, but he
escapes as easy as how-do-you-do. He can't, howsomever, git back to his
insurrectos; the blame Gover'ment being in possession of all the
trails leadin' into the hinterland; so says he, 'What for a game would
it be for me to hyke up to 'Frisco an' git in touch with my financial
backers an' conspirate to smuggle down a load o' arms?' Which the same
he does, and there's where the Three Black Crows an' me begin to take a
hand.

"Cy Ryder gives us the job o' taking the schooner down to a certain
point on the Gortamalar coast and there delivering to the agent o' the
gazabo three thousand stand o' forty-eight Winchesters.

"When we gits this far into the game Ryder ups and says:

"'Boys, here's where I cashes right in. You sets right to me for the
schooner and the cargo. But you goes to Palachi's agent over 'crost the
bay for instructions and directions.'

"'But,' says the Englisher, Strokher, 'this bettin' a blind play don't
suit our hand. Why not' says he, 'make right up to Mister Palachi
hisself?'

"'No,' says Ryder, 'No, boys. Ye can't. The Signor is lying as low as a
toad in a wheeltrack these days, because o' the pryin' and meddlin'
disposition o' the local authorities. No,' he says, 'ye must have your
palaver with the agent which she is a woman,' an' thereon I groans low
and despairin'.

"So soon as he mentions 'feemale' I knowed trouble was in the
atmosphere. An' right there is where I sure looses my presence o' mind.
What I should a-done was to say, 'Mister Ryder, Hardenberg and gents
all: You're good boys an' you drinks and deals fair, an' I loves you all
with a love that can never, never die for the terms o' your natural
lives, an' may God have mercy on your souls; but I ain't keepin' case
on this 'ere game no longer. Woman and me is mules an' music. We ain't
never made to ride in the same go-cart Good-by.' That-all is wot I
should ha' said. But I didn't. I walked right plum into the sloo, like
the mudhead that I was, an' got mired for fair--jes as I might a-knowed
I would.

"Well, Ryder gives us a address over across the bay an' we fair hykes
over there all along o' as crool a rain as ever killed crops. We finds
the place after awhile, a lodgin'-house all lorn and loony, set down all
by itself in the middle o' some real estate extension like a tepee in a
'barren'--a crazy 'modern' house all gimcrack and woodwork and frostin',
with never another place in so far as you could hear a coyote yelp.

"Well, we bucks right up an' asks o' the party at the door if the
Signorita Esperanza Ulivarri--that was who Ryder had told us to ask
for--might be concealed about the premises, an' we shows Cy Ryder's
note. The party that opened the door was a Greaser, the worst looking I
ever clapped eyes on--looked like the kind wot 'ud steal the coppers off
his dead grandmother's eyes. Anyhow, he says to come in, gruff-like, an'
to wait, poco tiempo.

"Well, we waited moucho tiempo--muy moucho, all a-settin' on the edge
of the sofy, with our hats on our knees, like philly-loo birds on a
rail, and a-countin' of the patterns in the wall-paper to pass the time
along. An' Hardenberg, who's got to do the talkin', gets the fidgets
byne-by; and because he's only restin' the toes o' his feet on the
floor, his knees begin jiggerin'; an' along o' watchin' him, my knees
begin to go, an' then Strokher's and then Ally Bazan's. An' there we sat
all in a row and jiggered an' jiggered. Great snakes, it makes me sick
to the stummick to think o' the idjeets we were.

"Then after a long time we hears a rustle o' silk petticoats, an' we all
grabs holt o' one another an' looks scared-like, out from under our
eyebrows. An' then--then, Mister Man, they walks into that bunk-house
parlour the loveliest-lookin' young feemale woman that ever wore hair.

"She was lovelier than Mary Anderson; she was lovelier than Lotta. She
was tall, an' black-haired, and had a eye ... well, I dunno; when she
gave you the littlest flicker o' that same eye, you felt it was about
time to take an' lie right down an' say, 'I would esteem it, ma'am, a
sure smart favour if you was to take an' wipe your boots on my
waistcoat, jus' so's you could hear my heart a-beatin'. That's the kind
o' feemale woman she was.

"Well, when Hardenberg had caught his second wind, we begins to talk
business.

"'An' you're to take a passenger back with you,' says Esperanza after
awhile.

"'What for a passenger might it be?' says Hardenberg.

"She fished out her calling-card at that and tore it in two an' gave
Hardenberg one-half.

"'It's the party,' she says, 'that'll come aboard off San Diego on your
way down an' who will show up the other half o' the card--the half I
have here an' which the same I'm goin' to mail to him. An' you be sure
the halves fit before you let him come aboard. An' when that party comes
aboard,' she says, 'he's to take over charge.'

"'Very good,' says Hardenberg, mincing an' silly like a chessy cat
lappin' cream. 'Very good, ma'am; your orders shall be obeyed.' He sure
said it just like that, as if he spoke out o' a story-book. An' I kicked
him under the table for it.

"Then we palavers a whole lot an' settles the way the thing is to be
run, an' fin'ly, when we'd got as far as could be that day, the
Signorita stood up an' says:

"'Now me good fellows.' 'Twas Spanish she spoke. 'Now, me good fellows,
you must drink a drink with me.' She herds us all up into the
dining-room and fetches out--not whisky, mind you--but a great, fat,
green-and-gold bottle o' champagne, an' when Ally Bazan has fired it
off, she fills our glasses--dinky little flat glasses that looked like
flower vases. Then she stands up there before us, fine an' tall, all in
black silk, an' puts her glass up high an' sings out----

"'To the Revolution!'

"An' we all solemn-like says, 'To the Revolution,' an' crooks our
elbows. When we-all comes to, about half an hour later, we're in the
street outside, havin' jus' said good-by to the Signorita. We-all are
some quiet the first block or so, and then Hardenberg says--stoppin'
dead in his tracks:

"'I pauses to remark that when a certain young feemale party havin'
black hair an' a killin' eye gets good an' ready to travel up the centre
aisle of a church, I know the gent to show her the way, which he is six
feet one in his stocking-feet, some freckled across the nose, an' shoots
with both hands.'

"'Which the same observations,' speaks up Strokher, twirlin' his yeller
lady-killer, 'which the same observations,' he says, 'has my hearty
indorsement an' cooperation savin' in the particular of the description
o' the gent. The gent is five foot eleven high, three feet thick, is the
only son of my mother, an' has yeller mustaches and a buck tooth.'

"'He don't qualify,' puts in Hardenberg. 'First, because he's a
Englisher, and second, because he's up again a American--and besides, he
has a tooth that's bucked.'

"'Buck or no buck,' flares out Strokher, 'wot might be the meanin' o'
that remark consernin' being a Englisher?'

"'The fact o' his bein' English,' says Hardenberg, 'is only half the
hoe-handle. 'Tother half being the fact that the first-named gent is all
American. No Yank ain't never took no dust from aft a Englisher, whether
it were war, walkin'-matches, or women.'

"'But they's a Englisher,' sings out Strokher, 'not forty miles from
here as can nick the nose o' a freckled Yank if so be occasion require.'

"Now ain't that plum foolish-like," observed Bunt, philosophically.
"Ain't it plum foolish-like o' them two gesabes to go flyin' up in the
air like two he-hens on a hot plate--for nothin' in the world but
because a neat lookin' feemale woman has looked at 'em some soft?

"Well, naturally, we others--Ally Bazan an' me--we others throws it into
'em pretty strong about bein' more kinds of blame fools than a pup with
a bug; an' they simmers down some, but along o' the way home I kin see
as how they're a-glarin' at each other, an' a-drawin' theirselves up
proud-like an' presumptchoous, an' I groans again, not loud but deep, as
the Good Book says.

"We has two or three more palavers with the Signorita Esperanza and
stacks the deck to beat the harbor police and the Customs people an'
all, an' to nip down the coast with our contraband. An' each time we
chins with the Signorita there's them two locoes steppin' and sidle'n'
around her, actin' that silly-like that me and Ally Bazan takes an'
beats our heads agin' the walls so soon as we're alone just because
we're that pizen mortified.

"Fin'ly comes the last talky-talk an' we're to sail away next day an'
mebbee snatch the little Joker through or be took an' hung by the Costa
Guardas.

"An' 'Good-by,' says Hardenberg to Esperanza, in a faintin', die-away
voice like a kitten with a cold. 'An' ain't we goin' to meet no more?'

"'I sure hopes as much,' puts in Strokher, smirkin' so's you'd think he
was a he-milliner sellin' a bonnet. 'I hope,' says he, 'our delightful
acquaintanceship ain't a-goin' for to end abrupt this-a-way.'

"'Oh, you nice, big Mister Men,' pipes up the Signorita in English, 'we
will meet down there in Gortamalar soon again, yes, because I go down by
the vapour carriages to-morrow.'

"'Unprotected, too,' says Hardenberg, waggin' his fool head. 'An' so
young!'

"Holy Geronimo! I don't know what more fool drivelin' they had, but they
fin'ly comes away. Ally Bazan and me rounds 'em up and conducts 'em to
the boat an' puts 'em to bed like as if they was little--or drunk, an'
the next day--or next night, rather--about one o'clock, we slips the
heel ropes and hobbles o' the schooner quiet as a mountain-lion stalking
a buck, and catches the out-tide through the gate o' the bay. Lord, we
was some keyed up, lemmee tell you, an' Ally Bazan and Hardenberg was at
the fore end o' the boat with their guns ready in case o' bein' asked
impert'nent questions by the patrol-boats.

"Well, how-some-ever, we nips out with the little Jokers (they was writ
in the manifest as minin' pumps) an' starts south. This 'ere pasear
down to Gortamalar is the first time I goes a-gallying about on what the
Three Crows calls 'blue water'; and when that schooner hit the bar I
begins to remember that my stummick and inside arrangements ain't made
o' no chilled steel, nor yet o' rawhide. First I gits plum sad, and
shivery, and I feels as mean an' pore as a prairie-dog w'ich 'as eat a
horned toad back'ards. I goes to Ally Bazan and gives it out as how I'm
going for to die, an' I puts it up that I'm sure sad and depressed-like;
an' don't care much about life nohow; an' that present surroundin's lack
that certain undescribable charm. I tells him that I knows the ship is
goin' to sink afore we git over the bar. Waves!--they was higher'n the
masts; and I've rode some fair lively sun-fishers in my time, but I
ain't never struck anythin' like the r'arin' and buckin' and
high-an'-lofty tumblin' that that same boat went through with those
first few hours after we had come out.

"But Ally Bazan tells me to go downstairs in the boat an' lie up quiet,
an' byne-by I do feel better. By next day I kin sit up and take solid
food again. An' then's when I takes special notice o' the everlastin'
foolishness o' Strokner and Hardenberg.

"You'd a thought each one o' them two mush-heads was tryin' to act the
part of a ole cow which has had her calf took. They goes a-moonin' about
the boat that mournful it 'ud make you yell jus' out o' sheer
nervousness. First one 'ud up an' hold his head on his hand an' lean on
the fence-rail that ran around the boat, and sigh till he'd raise his
pants clean outa the top o' his boots. An' then the other 'ud go off in
another part o' the boat an' he'd sigh an' moon an' take on fit to
sicken a coyote.

"But byne-by--we're mebbee six days to the good o' 'Frisco--byne-by they
two gits kind o' sassy along o' each t'other, an' they has a
heart-to-heart talk and puts it up as how either one o' 'em 'ud stand to
win so only the t'other was out o' the game.

"'It's double or nothing,' says Hardenberg, who is somethin' o' a card
sharp, 'for either you or me, Stroke; an' if you're agreeable I'll play
you a round o' jacks for the chance at the Signorita--the loser to pull
out o' the running for good an' all.'

"No, Strokher don't come in on no such game, he says. He wins her, he
says, as a man, and not as no poker player. No, nor he won't throw no
dice for the chance o' winnin' Esperanza, nor he won't flip no coin, nor
yet 'rastle. 'But,' says he all of a sudden, 'I'll tell you which I'll
do. You're a big, thick, strappin' hulk o' a two-fisted dray-horse,
Hardie, an' I ain't no effete an' digenerate one-lunger myself. Here's
wot I propose--that we-all takes an' lays out a sixteen-foot ring on the
quarterdeck, an' that the raw-boned Yank and the stodgy Englisher strips
to the waist, an' all-friendly-like, settles the question by Queensbury
rules an' may the best man win.'

"Hardenberg looks him over.

"'An' wot might be your weight?' says he. 'I don't figure on hurtin' of
you, if so be you're below my class.'

"'I fights at a hunder and seventy,' says Strokher.

"'An' me,' says Hardenberg, 'at a hunder an' seventy-five. We're
matched.'

"'Is it a go?' inquires Strokher.

"'You bet your great-gran'mammy's tortis-shell chessy cat it's a go,'
says Hardenberg, prompt as a hop-frog catching flies.

"We don't lose no time trying to reason with 'em, for they is sure keen
on havin' the go. So we lays out a ring by the rear end o' the deck, an'
runs the schooner in till we're in the lee o' the land, an' she ridin'
steady on her pins.

"Then along o' about four o'clock on a fine still day we lays the boat
to, as they say, an' folds up the sail, an' havin' scattered resin in
the ring (which it ain't no ring, but a square o' ropes on posts), we
says all is ready.

"Ally Bazan, he's referee, an' me, I'm the time-keeper which I has to
ring the ship's bell every three minutes to let 'em know to quit an'
that the round is over.

"We gets 'em into the ring, each in his own corner, squattin' on a
bucket, the time-keeper bein' second to Hardenberg an' the referee being
second to Strokher. An' then, after they has shuk hands, I climbs up on'
the chicken-coop an' hollers 'Time' an' they begins.

"Mister Man, I've saw Tim Henan at his best, an' I've saw Sayres when he
was a top-notcher, an' likewise several other irregler boxin' sharps
that were sure tough tarriers. Also I've saw two short-horn bulls
arguin' about a question o' leadership, but so help me Bob--the fight I
saw that day made the others look like a young ladies' quadrille. Oh, I
ain't goin' to tell o' that mill in detail, nor by rounds. Rounds! After
the first five minutes they wa'n't no rounds. I rung the blame bell
till I rung her loose an' Ally Bazan yells 'break-away' an' 'time's up'
till he's black in the face, but you could no more separate them two
than you could put the brakes on a blame earthquake.

"At about suppertime we pulled 'em apart. We could do it by then, they
was both so gone; an' jammed each one o' 'em down in their corners. I
rings my bell good an' plenty, an' Ally Bazan stands up on a bucket in
the middle o' the ring an' says:

"'I declare this 'ere glove contest a draw.'

"An' draw it sure was. They fit for two hours stiddy an' never a one got
no better o' the other. They give each other lick for lick as fast an'
as steady as they could stand to it. 'Rastlin', borin' in, boxin'--all
was alike. The one was just as good as t'other. An' both willin' to the
very last.

"When Ally Bazan calls it a draw, they gits up and wobbles toward each
other an' shakes hands, and Hardenberg he says:

"'Stroke, I thanks you a whole lot for as neat a go as ever I mixed in.'

"An' Strokher answers up:

"'Hardie, I loves you better'n ever. You'se the first man I've met up
with which I couldn't do for--an' I've met up with some scraggy
propositions in my time, too.'

"Well, they two is a sorry-lookin' pair o' birds by the time we runs
into San Diego harbour next night. They was fine lookin' objects for
fair, all bruises and bumps. You remember now we was to take on a party
at San Diego who was to show t'other half o' Esperanza's card, an'
thereafterward to boss the job.

"Well, we waits till nightfall an' then slides in an' lays to off a
certain pile o' stone, an' shows two green lights and one white every
three and a half minutes for half a hour--this being a signal.

"They is a moon, an' we kin see pretty well. After we'd signaled about a
hour, mebbee, we gits the answer--a one-minute green flare, and
thereafterward we makes out a rowboat putting out and comin' towards us.
They is two people in the boat. One is the gesabe at the oars an' the
other a party sitting in the hinder end.

"Ally Bazan an' me, an' Strokher an' Hardenberg, we's all leanin' over
the fence a-watchin'; when all to once I ups an' groans some sad. The
party in the hinder end o' the boat bein' feemale.

"'Ain't we never goin' to git shut of 'em?' says I; but the words ain't
no more'n off my teeth when Strokher pipes up:

"'It's she,' says he, gaspin' as though shot hard.

"'Wot!' cries Hardenberg, sort of mystified, 'Oh, I'm sure a-dreamin'!
he says, just that silly-like.

"'An' the mugs we've got!' says Strokher.

"An' they both sets to swearin' and cussin' to beat all I ever heard.

"'I can't let her see me so bunged up,' says Hardenberg, doleful-like,
'Oh, whatever is to be done?'

"'An' I look like a real genuine blown-in-the-bottle pug,' whimpers
Strokher. 'Never mind,' says he, 'we must face the music. We'll tell her
these are sure honourable scars, got because we fit for her.'

"Well, the boat comes up an' the feemale party jumps out and comes up
the let-down stairway, onto the deck. Without sayin' a word she hands
Hardenberg the half o' the card and he fishes out his half an' matches
the two by the light o' a lantern.

"By this time the rowboat has gone a little ways off, an' then at last
Hardenberg says:

"'Welkum aboard, Signorita.'

"And Strokher cuts in with----

"'We thought it was to be a man that 'ud join us here to take command,
but you,' he says--an' oh, butter wouldn't a-melted in his mouth--'But
you he says, 'is always our mistress.

"'Very right, bueno. Me good fellows,' says the Signorita, 'but don't
you be afraid that they's no man is at the head o' this business.' An'
with that the party chucks off hat an' skirts, and I'll be Mexican if
it wa'n't a man after all!

"'I'm the Signor Barreto Palachi, gentlemen,' says he. 'The gringo
police who wanted for to arrest me made the disguise necessary.
Gentlemen, I regret to have been obliged to deceive such gallant
compadres; but war knows no law.'

"Hardenberg and Strokher gives one look at the Signor and another at
their own spiled faces, then:

"'Come back here with the boat!' roars Hardenberg over the side, and
with that--(upon me word you'd a-thought they two both were moved with
the same spring)--over they goes into the water and strikes out hands
over hands for the boat as hard as ever they kin lay to it. The boat
meets 'em--Lord knows what the party at the oars thought--they climbs in
an' the last I sees of 'em they was puttin' for shore--each havin' taken
a oar from the boatman, an' they sure was makin' that boat hum.

"Well, we sails away eventually without 'em; an' a year or more
afterward I crosses their trail again in Cy Ryder's office in 'Frisco."

"Did you ask them about it all?" said I.

"Mister Man," observed Bunt. "I'm several kinds of a fool; I know it.
But sometimes I'm wise. I wishes for to live as long as I can, an' die
when I can't help it. I does not, neither there, nor thereafterward,
ever make no joke, nor yet no alloosion about, or concerning the
Signorita Esperanza Palachi in the hearin' o' Hardenberg an' Strokher.
I've seen--(ye remember)--both those boys use their fists--an' likewise
Hardenberg, as he says hisself, shoots with both hands."





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Previous: A Memorandum Of Sudden Death



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