PARTNERS OF CHANCE
HENRY HERBERT KNIBBS
Author of The Ridin' Kid from Powder River, Sundown Slim, Overland Red, etc.
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, New York
I. LITTLE JIM II. PANHANDLE III. A MINUTE TOO LATE IV. "A LITTLE GREEN RIVER" V. "TOP HAND ONCE" VI. A HORSE-TRADE VII. AT THE WATER-HOLE VIII. HIGH HEELS AND MOCCASINS IX. AT THE BOX-S X. TO TRY HIM OUT XI. PONY TRACKS XII. JIMMY AND THE LUGER GUN XIII. AT AUNT JANE'S XIV. ANOTHER GAME XV. MORE PONY TRACKS XVI. SAN ANDREAS TOWN XVII. THAT MESCAL XVIII. JOE SCOTT XIX. DORRY COMES TO TOWN XX. ALONG THE FOOTHILLS XXI. "GIT ALONG CAYUSE" XXII. BOX-S BUSINESS XXIII. THE HOLE-IN-THE-WALL XXIV. CHEYENNE PLAYS BIG XXV. TWO TRAILS HOME
Little Jim knew that something strange had happened, because Big Jim, his father, had sold their few head of cattle, the work team, and the farm implements, keeping only the two saddle-horses and the pack-horse, Filaree. When Little Jim asked where his mother had gone, Big Jim told him that she had gone on a visit, and would be away a long time. Little Jim wanted to know if his mother would ever come back. When Big Jim said that she would not, Little Jim manfully suppressed his tears, and, being of that frontier stock that always has an eye to the main chance, he thrust out his hand. "Well, I'll stick with you, dad. I reckon we can make the grade."
Big Jim turned away and stood for a long time gazing out of the cabin window toward town. Presently he felt a tug at his coat-sleeve.
"Is ma gone to live in town?"
"Then why don't you go get her?"
"She don't want to come back, Jimmy."
Little Jim could not understand this. Yet he had often heard his mother complain of their life on the homestead, and as often he had watched his father sitting grimly at table, saying nothing in reply to his wife's querulous complainings. The boy knew that his father had worked hard to make a home. They had all worked hard. But, then, that had seemed the only thing to do.
Presently Big Jim swung round as though he had made a decision. He lighted the lamp in the kitchen and made a fire. Little Jim scurried out to the well with a bucket. Little Jim was a hustler, never waiting to be told what to do. His mother was gone. He did not know why. But he knew that folks had to eat and sleep and work. While his father prepared supper, Little Jim rolled up his own shirt-sleeves and washed vigorously. Then he filled the two glasses on the table, laid the plates and knives and forks, and finding nothing else to do in the house, just then, he scurried out again and returned with his small arms filled with firewood.
Big Jim glanced at him. "I guess we don't need any more wood, Jimmy. We'll be leaving in the morning."
"What? Leavin' here?"
His father nodded.
"Goin' to town, dad?"
"Just us two, all alone?"
"Yes. Don't you want to go?"
"Sure! But I wish ma was comin', too."
Big Jim winced. "So do I, Jimmy. But I guess we can get along all right. How would you like to visit Aunt Jane, down in Arizona?"
"Where them horn toads and stingin' lizards are?"
"Yes—and Gila monsters and all kinds of critters."
"Gee! Has Aunt Jane got any of 'em on her ranch?"
Big Jim forced a smile. "I reckon so."
Little Jim's face was eager. "Then I say, let's go. Mebby I can get to shoot one. Huntin' is more fun than workin' all the time. I guess ma got tired of workin', too. She said that was all she ever expected to do, 'long as we lived out here on the ranch. But she never told me she was goin' to quit."
"She didn't tell me, either, Jimmy. But you wouldn't understand."
Jimmy puckered his forehead. "I guess ma kind of throwed us down, didn't she, dad?"
"We'll have to forget about it," said Big Jim slowly. "Down at Aunt Jane's place in—"
"Somethin' 's burnin', dad!"
Big Jim turned to the stove. Little Jim gazed at his father's back critically. There was something in the stoop of the broad shoulders that was unnatural, strange—something that caused Little Jim to hesitate in his questioning. Little Jim idolized his father, and, with unfailing intuition, believed in him to the last word. As for his mother, who had left without explanation and would never return—Little Jim missed her, but more through habit of association than with actual grief.
He knew that his mother and father had not gotten along very well for some time. And now Little Jim recalled something that his mother had said: "He's as much your boy as he is mine, Jim Hastings, and, if you are set on sending him to school, for goodness' sake get him some decent clothes, which is more than I have had for many a year."
Until then Jimmy had not realized that his clothing or his mother's was other than it should be. Moreover, he did not want to go to school. He preferred to work on the ranch with his father. But it was chiefly the tone of his mother's voice that had impressed him. For the first time in his young life, Little Jim felt that he was to blame for something which he could not understand. He was accustomed to his mother's sudden fits of unreasonable anger, often followed by a cuff, or sharp reprimand. But she had never mentioned his need of better clothing before, nor her own need.
As for being as much his father's boy as his mother's—Little Jim felt that he quite agreed to that, and, if anything, that he belonged more to his father, who was kind to him, than to any one else in the world. Little Jim, trying to reason it out, now thought that he knew why his mother had left home. She had gone to live in town that she might have better clothes and be with folks and not wear her fingers to the bone simply for a bed and three meals a day, as Little Jim had heard her say more than once.
But the trip to Aunt Jane's, down in Arizona, was too vivid in his imagination to allow room for pondering. Big Jim had said they were to leave in the morning. So, while supper was cooking, Little Jim slipped into his bedroom and busied himself packing his own scant belongings. Presently his father called him. Little Jim plodded out bearing his few spare clothes corded in a neat bundle, with an old piece of canvas for the covering. His father had taught him to pack.
Big Jim stared. Then a peculiar expression flitted across his face. Little Jim was always for the main chance.
"I'm all hooked up to hit the trail, dad."
In his small blue overalls and jumper, in his alert and manful attitude, Little Jim was a pocket edition of his father.
"Where's your shootin'-iron?" queried Big Jim jokingly.
"Why, she's standin' in the corner, aside of yours. A man don't pack his shootin'-iron in his bed-roll when he hits the trail. He keeps her handy."
"For stingin' lizards, eh?"
"For 'most anything. Stingin' lizards, Injuns, or hoss-thieves, or anything that we kin shoot. We ain't takin' no chances on this here trip."
Big Jim gestured toward the table and pulled up his chair. Little Jim was too heartily interested in the meal to notice that his father gazed curiously at him from time to time. Until then, Big Jim had thought of his small son as a chipper, sturdy, willing boy—his boy. But now, Little Jim seemed suddenly to have become an actual companion, a partner, a sharer in things as they were and were to be.
Hard work and inherent industry had developed in Little Jim an independence that would have been considered precocious in the East. Big Jim was glad that the mother's absence did not seem to affect the boy much. Little Jim seemed quite philosophical about it. Yet, deep in his heart, Little Jim missed his mother, more than his father realized. The house seemed strangely empty and quiet. And it had seemed queer that Big Jim should cook the supper, and, later, wash the dishes.
That evening, just before they went to bed, Big Jim ransacked the bureau, sorting out his own things, and laying aside a few things that his wife had left: a faded pink ribbon, an old pair of high-heeled slippers, a torn and unmended apron, and an old gingham dress. Gathering these things together, Big Jim stuffed them in the kitchen stove. Little Jim watched him silently.
But when his father came from the stove and sat down, Little Jim slipped over to him. "Dad, are you mad at ma for leavin' us?" he queried.
Big Jim shook his head. "No, Jimmy. Just didn't want to leave her things around, after we had gone. Benson'll be movin' in sometime this week. I sold our place to him."
"The stove and beds and everything?"
Little Jim wrinkled his nose and sniffed. "Them things you put in the stove smell just like brandin' a critter," he said, gesturing toward the kitchen.
Big Jim gazed hard at his young son. Then he smiled to himself, and shook his head. "Just like brandin' a critter," he repeated, half to himself. "Just like brandin' a critter."
While his friends and neighbors called Jim Hastings "Big Jim," he was no more than average size—compact, vigorous, reared in the Wyoming cattle lands, and typical of the country. He was called Big Jim simply to distinguish him from Little Jim, who was as well known in Laramie as his father. Little Jim, when but five years of age, rode his own pony, jogging alongside his father when they went to town, where he was decidedly popular with the townsfolk because of his sturdy independence and humorous grin.
Little Jim talked horses and cattle and ranching with the grown-ups and took their good-natured joshing philosophically. He seldom retorted hastily, but, rather, blinked his eyes and wrinkled his forehead as he digested this or that pleasantry, and either gave it the indifferent acknowledgment of "Shucks! Think you can josh me?" or, if the occasion and the remark seemed to call for more serious consideration, he rose to it manfully, and often to the embarrassment of the initial speaker.
Little Jim liked to go to town with his father, yet he considered town really a sort of suburb to his real world, the homestead, which he had seen change from a prairie level of unfenced space to a small—and to him—complete kingdom of pasture lot, hayfield, garden, corrals, stable, and house. Town was simply a place to which you went to buy things, get the mail, exchange views on the weather and grazing, and occasionally help the hands load a shipment of cattle. Little Jim helped by sitting on the top rail of the pens and commenting on the individual characteristics of the cattle, and, sometimes, of the men loading them. In such instances he found opportunity to pay off old scores. Incidentally he kept the men in good humor by his lively comment.
Little Jim was six years of age when his mother left to resume her former occupation of waitress in the station restaurant of Laramie, where she had been popular because of her golden hair, her blue eyes, and her ability to "talk back" to the regular customers in a manner which they seemed to enjoy. Big Jim married her when he was not much more than a boy—twenty, in fact; and during the first few years they were happy together. But homesteading failed to supply more than their immediate needs.
Occasional trips to town at first satisfied the wife's craving for the attention and admiration that most men paid to her rather superficial good looks. But as the years slipped by, with no promise of easier conditions, she became dissatisfied, shrewish, and ashamed of her lack of pretty things to wear. Little Jim was, of course, as blind to all this as he was to his need for anything other than his overalls, shoes, and jumper. He thought his mother was pretty and he often told her so.
Meanwhile, Big Jim tried to blind himself to his wife's growing dissatisfaction. He was too much of a man to argue her own short-comings as against his inability to do more for her than he was doing. But when she did leave, with simply a brief note saying that she was tired of it all, and would take care of herself, what hit Big Jim the hardest was the fact that she could give up Little Jim without so much as a word about him. Every one liked Little Jim, and the mother's going proved something that Big Jim had tried to ignore for several years—that his wife cared actually nothing for the boy. When Big Jim finally realized this, his indecision evaporated. He would sell out and try his fortunes in Arizona, where his sister Jane lived, the sister who had never seen Little Jim, but who had often written to Big Jim, inviting him to come and bring his family for a visit.
Big Jim had enough money from the sale of his effects to make the journey by train, even after he had deposited half of the proceeds at the local bank, in his wife's name. But being a true son of the open, he wanted to see the country; so he decided to travel horseback, with a pack-animal. Little Jim, used to the saddle, would find the journey a real adventure. They would take it easy. There was no reason for haste.
It had seemed the simplest thing to do, to sell out, leave that part of the country, and forget what had happened. There was nothing to be gained by staying where they were. Big Jim had lost his interest in the ranch. Moreover, there had been some talk of another man, in Laramie, a man who had "kept company" with Jenny Simpson, before she became Mrs. Jim Hastings. Mrs. Hastings was still young and quite good-looking.
It had seemed a simple thing to do—to leave and begin life over again in another land. But Big Jim had forgotten Smiler. Smiler was a dog of vague ancestry, a rough-coated, yellow dog that belonged solely to Little Jim. Smiler stuck so closely to Little Jim that their shadows were veritably one. Smiler was a sort of chuckle-headed, good-natured animal, meek, so long as Little Jim's prerogatives were not infringed upon, but a cyclone of yellow wrath if Little Jim were approached by any one in other than a friendly spirit. Even when Big Jim "roughed" his small son, in fun, Smiler grew nervous and bristled, and once, when the mother had smacked Little Jim for some offense or other, Smiler had taken sides to the extent of jumping between the mother and the boy, ready to do instant battle if his young partner were struck again.
"I'm afraid we can't take Smiler with us," said Big Jim, as Little Jim scurried about next morning, getting ready for the great adventure.
Little Jim stopped as though he had run against a rope. He had not even dreamed but that Smiler would go with them.
Now, Little Jim had not forgathered with punchers and townsfolk for nothing. He was naturally shrewd, and he did not offer or controvert opinions hastily. He stood holding a bit of old tie-rope in his hand, pondering this last unthinkable development of the situation. Smiler was to be left behind. Jimmy wanted to ask why Smiler could not go. He wanted to assure his father that Smiler would be a help rather than a hindrance to the expedition.
Little Jim knew that if he wept, his father might pay some attention to that sort of plea. But Little Jim did not intend to weep, nor ask questions, nor argue. Smiler stood expectantly watching the preparations. He knew that something important was about to happen, and, with the loyalty of his kind, he was ready to follow, no matter where. Smiler had sniffed the floor of the empty house, the empty stables, the corral. His folks were going somewhere. Well, he was ready.
Little Jim, who had been gazing wistfully at Smiler, suddenly strode to his pack and sat down. He bit his lips. Tears welled to his eyes and drifted slowly down his cheeks. He had not intended to let himself weep—but there was Smiler, wagging his thick tail, waiting to go.
"I g-g-guess you better go ahead and hit the trail, dad."
"Why, that's what we're going to do. What—" Big Jim glanced at his boy. "What's the matter?"
Little Jim did not answer, but his attitude spoke for itself. He had decided to stay with Smiler.
Big Jim frowned. It was the first time that the boy had ever openly rebelled. And because it was the first time, Big Jim realized its significance. Yet, such loyalty, even to a dog, was worth while.
Big Jim put his hand on Little Jim's shoulder. "Smiler'll get sore feet on the trails, Jimmy. And there won't be a whole lot to eat."
Little Jim blinked up at his father. "Well, he can have half of my grub, and I reckon I can pack him on the saddle with me if his feet get tender."
"All right. But don't blame me if Smiler peters out on the trip."
"Smiler's tough, he is!" stated Little Jim. "He's so tough he bites barb wire. Anyhow, you said we was goin' to take it easy. And he can catch rabbits, I guess."
"Perhaps he won't want to come along," suggested Big Jim as he pulled up a cincha and slipped the end through the ring.
Little Jim beckoned to Smiler who had stood solemnly listening to the controversy about himself as though he understood. Smiler trotted over to Jimmy.
"You want to take it plumb easy on this trip," said Little Jim, "and not go to chasin' around and runnin' yourself ragged gettin' nowhere. If you get sore feet, we'll just have to beef you and hang your hide on the fence."
Smiler grinned and wagged his tail. He pushed up and suddenly licked Little Jim's face. Little Jim promptly cuffed him. Smiler came back for more.
Big Jim turned and watched the boy and the dog in their rough-and-tumble about the yard. He blinked and turned back to the horses. "Come on, Jimmy. We're all set."
"Got to throw my pack on ole Lazy, dad. Gimme a hand, will you?"
Little Jim never would admit that he could not do anything there was to be done. When he was stuck he simply asked his father to help him.
Big Jim slung up the small pack and drew down the hitch. Little Jim ducked under Lazy and took the rope on the other side, passing the end to his father.
"Reckon that pack'll ride all right," said the boy, surveying the outfit. "Got the morrals and everything, dad?"
"All set, Jimmy."
"Then let's go. I got my ole twenty-two loaded. If we run on to one of them stingin' lizards, he's sure a sconer. Does dogs eat lizards?"
Big Jim swung to the saddle and hazed the old pack-horse ahead. "Don't know, Jimmy. Sometimes the Indians eat them."
"Eat stingin' lizards?"
"Well, I guess Smiler can, then. Come on, ole-timer!"
Suddenly Little Jim thought of his mother. It seemed that she ought to be with them. Little Jim had wept when Smiler was in question. Now he gazed with clear-eyed faith at his father.
"It ain't our fault ma ain't goin' with us, is it?" he queried timidly.
Big Jim shrugged his shoulders.
"Say, dad, we're headed west. Thought you said we was goin' to Arizona?"
"We'll turn south, after a while."
Little Jim asked no more questions. His father knew everything—why they were going and where. Little Jim glanced back to where Smiler padded along, his tongue out and his eyes already rimmed with dust, for he would insist upon traveling tight to Lazy's heels.
Little Jim leaned back. "Stick it out, ole-timer! But don't you go to cuttin' dad's trail till he gets kind of used to seein' you around. Sabe?"
Smiler grinned through a dust-begrimed countenance. He wagged his tail.
Little Jim plunked his horse in the ribs and drew up beside his father. Little Jim felt big and important riding beside his dad. There had been some kind of trouble at home—and they were leaving it behind. It would be a long trail, and his father sure would need help.
Little Jim drew a deep breath. He wanted to express his unwavering loyalty to his father. He wanted to talk of his willingness to go anywhere and share any kind of luck. But his resolve to speak evaporated in a sigh of satisfaction. This was a real holiday, an adventure. "Smiler's makin' it fine, dad."
But Big Jim did not seem to hear. He was gazing ahead, where in the distance loomed an approaching figure on horseback. Little Jim knew who it was, and was about to say so when his father checked him with a gesture. Little Jim saw his father shift his belt round so that his gun hung handy. He said nothing and showed by no other sign that he had recognized the approaching rider, who came on swiftly, his high-headed pinto fighting the bit.
Within twenty yards of them, the rider reined his horse to a walk. Little Jim saw the two men eye each other closely. The man on the pinto rode past. Little Jim turned to his father.
"I guess Panhandle is goin' to town," said the boy, not knowing just what to say, yet feeling that the occasion called for some remark.
"Panhandle" Sears and his father knew each other. They had passed on the road, neither speaking to the other. And Little Jim was not blind to the significant movement of shifting a belt that a gun might hang ready to hand.
Yet he soon forgot the incident in visioning the future. Arizona, Aunt Jane, and stingin' lizards!
Big Jim rode with head bowed. He was thinking of the man who had just passed them. If it had not been for the boy, Big Jim and that man would have had it out, there on the road. And Jenny Hastings would have been the cause of their quarrel. "Panhandle" Sears had "kept company" with Jenny before she became Big Jim's wife. Now that she had left him—
Big Jim turned and gazed back along the road. A far-away cloud of dust rolled toward the distant town of Laramie.
A MINUTE TOO LATE
The Overland, westbound, was late. Nevertheless, it had to stop at Antelope, but it did so grudgingly and left with a snort of disdain for the cow-town of the high mesa. Curious-eyed tourists had a brief glimpse of a loading-chute, cattle-pens, a puncher or two, and an Indian freighter's wagon just pulling in from the spaces, and accompanied by a plodding cavalcade of outriders on paint ponies.
Incidentally the westbound left one of those momentarily interested Easterners on the station platform, without baggage, sense of direction, or companion. He had stepped off the train to send a telegram to a friend in California. He discovered that he had left his address book in his grip. Meanwhile the train had moved forward some sixty yards, to take water. Returning for his address book, he boarded the wrong Pullman, realized his mistake, and hastened on through to his car. Out to the station again—delay in getting the attention of the telegraph operator, the wire finally written—and the Easterner heard the rumble of the train as it pulled out.
Even then he would have made it had it not been for a portly individual in shirt-sleeves who inadvertently blocked the doorway of the telegraph office. Bartley bumped into this portly person, tried to squeeze past, did so, and promptly caromed off the station agent whom he met head on, halfway across the platform. Gazing at the departing train, Bartley reached in his pocket for a cigar which he lighted casually.
The portly individual touched him on the shoulder. "'Nother one, this afternoon."
"Thanks. But my baggage is on that one."
"You're lucky it ain't two sections behind, this time of year. Travel is heavy."
Bartley's quick glance took in the big man from his high-heeled boots to his black Stetson. A cattleman, evidently well to do, and quite evidently not flustered by the mishaps of other folks.
"There's a right comfortable little hotel, just over there," stated the cattleman. "Wishful runs her. It ain't a bad place to wait for your train."
Bartley smiled in spite of his irritation.
The cattleman's eyes twinkled. "You'll be sending a wire to have 'em take care of your war bag. Well, come on in and send her. You can catch Number Eight about Winslow."
The cattleman forged ahead, and in the telegraph office, got the immediate attention of the operator, who took Bartley's message.
The cattleman paid for it. "'Tain't the first time my size has cost me money," he said, as Bartley protested. "Now, let's go over and get another cigar. Then we can mill around and see Wishful. You'll like Wishful. He's different."
They strode down the street and stopped in at a saloon where the cattleman called for cigars. Bartley noticed that the proprietor of the place addressed the big cattleman as "Senator."
"This here is a dry climate, and a cigar burns up right quick, if you don't moisten it a little," said the cattleman. "I 'most always moisten mine."
Bartley grinned. "I think the occasion calls for it, Senator."
"Oh, shucks! Just call me Steve—Steve Brown. And just give us a little Green River Tom."
A few minutes later Bartley and his stout companion were seated on the veranda of the hotel, gazing out across the mesas. They were both comfortable, and quite content to watch the folk go past, out there in the heat. Bartley wondered if the title "Senator" were a nickname, or if the portly gentleman placidly smoking his cigar and gazing into space was really a politician.
A dusty cow-puncher drifted past the hotel, waving his hand to the Senator, who replied genially. A little later a Navajo buck rode up on a quick-stepping pony. He grunted a salutation and said something in his native tongue. The Senator replied in kind. Bartley was interested. Presently the Navajo dug his heels into his pony's ribs, and clattered up the road.
The Senator turned to Bartley. "Politics and cattle," he said, smiling.
Having learned the Senator's vocation, Bartley gave his own as briefly. The Senator nodded.
"It is as obvious as all that, then?" queried Bartley.
"I wouldn't say that," stated the Senator carefully. "But after you bumped into me, and then stepped into the agent, and then turned around and took in my scenery, noticin' the set of my legs, I says to myself, 'painter-man or writer.' It was kind of in your eye. I figured you wa'n't no painter-man when you looked at the oil paintin' over the bar.
"A painter-man would 'a' looked sad or said somethin', for that there paintin' is the most gosh-awful picture of what a puncher might look like after a cyclone had hit him. I took a painter-man in there once, to get a drink. He took one look at that picture, and then he says, kind of sorrowful: 'Is this the only place in town where they serve liquor?' I told him it was. 'Let's go over and tackle the pump,' he says. But we had our drink. I told him just to turn his back on that picture when he took his."
"I might be anything but a writer," said Bartley.
"That's correct. But you ain't."
"You hit the nail on the head. However, I can't just follow your line of reasoning it out."
"Easy. Elimination. Now a tourist, regular, stares at folks and things. But a painter or writer he takes things in without starin'. There's some difference. I knew you were a man who did things. It's in your eye."
"Well," laughed Bartley, "I took you for a cattleman the minute I saw you."
"Which was a minute too late, eh?"
"I don't know about that. Since I've been sitting here looking at the mesa and those wonderful buttes over there, and watching the natives come and go, I have begun to feel that I don't care so much about that train, after all. I like this sort of thing. You see, I planned to visit California, but there was nothing definite about the plan. I chose California because I had heard so much about it. It doesn't matter much where I go. By the way, my name is Bartley."
"I'm Steve Brown—cattle and politics. I tell you, Mr. Bartley—"
"Suppose you say just Bartley?"
The Senator chuckled. "Suppose I said 'Green River'?"
"I haven't an objection in the world," laughed Bartley.
"Wishful, here, don't keep liquor," explained the Senator. "And he's right about that. Folks that stay at this hotel want to sleep nights."
The Senator heaved himself out of his chair, stood up, and stretched.
"I reckon you'll be wantin' to see all you can of this country. My ranch lays just fifty miles south of the railroad, and not a fence from here to there. Then, there's them Indians, up north a piece. And over yonder is where they dig up them prehistoric villages. And those buttes over there used to be volcanoes, before they laid off the job. To the west is the petrified forest. I made a motion once, when the Legislature was in session, to have that forest set aside as a buryin'-ground for politicians,—State Senators and the like,—but they voted me down. They said I didn't specify dead politicians.
"South of my place is the Apache reservation. There's good huntin' in that country. 'Course, Arizona ain't no Garden of Eden to some folks. Two kinds of folks don't love this State a little bit'—homesteaders and tourists. But when it comes to cattle and sheep and mines, you can't beat her. She sure is the Tiger Lily of the West. But let's step over and see Tom. Excuse me a minute. There's a constituent who has somethin' on his chest. I'll meet you at the station."
The Senator stepped out and talked with his constituent. Meanwhile, Bartley turned to gaze down the street. A string of empty freight wagons, followed by a lazy cloud of dust, rolled slowly toward town. Here and there a bit of red showed in the dun mass of riders that accompanied the wagons. A gay-colored blanket flickered in the sun. The mesas radiated keen dry heat.
Bartley turned and crossed over to the station. He blinked the effects of the white light from his eyes as he entered the telegraph office. The operator, in shirt-sleeves, and smoking a brown-paper cigarette, nodded and handed Bartley a service message stating that his effects would be carried to Los Angeles and held for further orders.
"It's sure hot," said the operator. "Did you want to send another wire?"
Bartley shook his head. "Who is that stout man I bumped into trying to catch my train?"
"That's Senator Steve Brown—State Senator. Thought you knew him."
"No. I just met him to-day."
The operator slumped down in his chair.
Bartley strode to the door and blinked in the Arizona sunshine. "By George!" he murmured, "I always thought they wore those big Stetsons for show. But all day in this sun—guess I'll have to have one."
"A LITTLE GREEN RIVER"
To suddenly stop off at a cow-town station, without baggage or definite itinerary, was unconventional, to say the least. Bartley was amused and interested. Hitherto he had written more or less conventional stuff—acceptable stories of the subway, the slums, the docks, and the streets of Eastern cities. But now, as he strode over to the saloon, he forgot that he was a writer of stories. A boyish longing possessed him to see much of the life roundabout, even to the farthest, faint range of hills—and beyond.
He felt that while he still owed something to his original plan of visiting California, he could do worse than stay right where he was. He had thought of wiring to have his baggage sent back. Then it occurred to him that, aside from his shaving-kit and a few essentials, his baggage comprised but little that he could use out here in the mesa country. And he felt a certain relief in not having trunks to look after. Outing flannels and evening clothes would hardly fit into the present scheme of things. The local store would furnish him all that he needed. In this frame of mind he entered the Blue Front Saloon where he found Senator Steve and his foreman seated at a side table discussing the merits of "Green River."
"Hello!" called the Senator. "Mr. Bartley, meet my foreman, Lon Pelly."
They shook hands.
"Lon says the source of Green River is Joy in the Hills," asserted the Senator, smiling.
The long, lean cow-puncher grinned. "Steve, here, says the source of Green River is trouble."
"Now, as a writin' man, what would you say?" queried the Senator.
Bartley gazed at the label on the bottle under discussion. "Well, as a writer, I might say that it depends how far you travel up or down Green River. But as a mere individual enjoying the blessings of companionship, I should say, let's experiment, judiciously."
"Fetch a couple more glasses, Tom," called the Senator.
After the essential formalities, Bartley pushed back his chair, crossed one leg over the other, and lighted a cigar. "I'm rather inclined toward that Joy in the Hills theory, just now," he asserted.
"That's all right," said Lon Pelly. "Bein' a little inclined don't hurt any. But if you keep on reachin' for Joy, your foot is like to slip. Then comes Trouble."
"Lon's qualified for the finals once or twice," said the Senator. "Now, take me, for a horrible example. I been navigatin' Green River, off and on, for quite a spell, and I never got hung up bad."
"Speaking of rivers, they're rather scarce in this country, I believe," said Bartley.
"Yes. But some of 'em are noticeable in the rainy season," stated Senator Steve. "But you ain't seen Arizona. You've only been peekin' through your fingers at her. Wait till you get on a cayuse and hit the trail for a few hundred miles—that's the only way to see the country. Now, take 'Cheyenne.' He rides this here country from Utah to the border, and he can tell you somethin' about Arizona.
"Cheyenne is a kind of hobo puncher that rides the country with his little old pack-horse, stoppin' by to work for a grubstake when he has to, but ramblin' most of the time. He used to be a top-hand once. Worked for me a spell. But he can't stay in one place long. Wish you could meet him sometime. He can tell you more about this State than any man I know. He's what you might call a character for a story. He stops by regular, at the ranch, mebby for a day or two, and then takes the trail, singin' his little old song. He's kind of a outdoor poet. Makes up his own songs."
"What was that one about Arizona that you gave 'em over to the State House onct?" queried Lon Pelly.
"Oh, that wa'n't Cheyenne's own po'try. It was one he read in a magazine that he gave me. Let's see—
"Arizona! The tramp of cattle, The biting dust and the raw, red brand: Shuffling sheep and the smoke of battle: The upturned face—and the empty hand.
"Dawn and dusk, and the wide world singing, Songs that thrilled with the pulse of life, As we clattered down with our rein chains ringing To woo you—but never to make you wife."
The Senator smiled a trifle apologetically. "There's more of it. But po'try ain't just in my line. Once in a while I bust loose on po'try—that is, my kind of po'try. And I want to say that we sure clattered down from the Butte and the Blue in the old days, with our rein chains jinglin', thinkin'—some of us—that Arizona was ours to fare-ye-well.
"But we old-timers lived to find out that Arizona was too young to get married yet; so we just had to set back and kind of admire her, after havin' courted her an amazin' lot, in our young days." The Senator chuckled. "Now, Lon, here, he'll tell you that there ain't no po'try in this here country. And I never knew they was till I got time to set back and think over what we unbranded yearlin's used to do."
"For instance?" queried Bartley.
Senator Steve waved his pudgy hand as though shooing a flock of chickens off a front lawn. "If I was to tell you some of the things that happened, you would think I was a heap sight bigger liar than I am. Seein' some of them yarns in print, folks around this country would say: 'Steve Brown's corralled some tenderfoot and loaded him to the muzzle with shin tangle and ancient history!' Things that would seem amazin' to you would never ruffle the hair of the mavericks that helped make this country."
"This country ain't all settled yet," said the foreman, rising. "Reckon I'll step along, Steve."
After the foreman had departed, Bartley turned to the Senator. "Are there many more like him, out here?"
"Who, Lon? Well, a few. He's been foreman for me quite a spell. Lon he thinks. And that's more than I ever did till after I was thirty. And Lon ain't twenty-six, yet."
"I think I'll step over to the drug-store and get a few things," said Bartley.
"So you figure to bed down at the hotel, eh?"
"Yes. For a few days, at least. I want to get over the idea that I have to take the next train West before I make any further plans."
The Senator accompanied Bartley to the drug-store. The Easterner bought what he needed in the way of shaving-kit and brush and comb. The Senator excused himself and crossed the street to talk to a friend. The afternoon sun slanted across the hot roofs, painting black shadows on the dusty street. Bartley found Wishful, the proprietor, and told him that he would like to engage a room with a bath.
Wishful smiled never a smile as he escorted Bartley to a room.
"I'll fetch your bath up, right soon," he said solemnly.
Presently Wishful appeared with a galvanized iron washtub and a kettle of boiling water. Bartley thanked him.
"You can leave 'em out in the hall when you're through," said Wishful.
Bartley enjoyed a refreshing bath and rub-down. Later he set the kettle and tub out in the dim hallway. Then he sat down and wrote a letter to his friend in California, explaining his change of plan. The afternoon sunlight waned. Bartley gazed out across the vast mesas, lavender-hued and wonderful, as they darkened to blue, then to purple that was shot with strange half-lights from the descending sun.
Suddenly a giant hand seemed to drop a canopy over the vista, and it was night. Bartley lighted the oil lamp and sat staring out into the darkness. From below came the rattle of dishes. Presently Bartley heard heavy, deliberate footsteps ascending the stairway. Then a clanging crash and a thud, right outside his door. He flung the door open. Senator Steve was rising from the flattened semblance of a washtub and feeling of himself tenderly. The Senator blinked, surveyed the wrecked tub and the kettle silently, and then without comment he stepped back and kicked the kettle. It soared and dropped clanging into the hall below.
Wishful appeared at the foot of the stairs. "Did you ring, Senator?"
"Yes, I did! And I'm goin' to ring again."
"Hold on!" said Wishful, "I'll come up and get the tub. I got the kettle."
The Senator puffed into Bartley's room and sat on the edge of the bed. He wiped his bald head, smiling cherubically. "Did you hear him, askin' me, a member of the Society for the Prevention of Progress, if I rang for him! That's about all the respect I command in this community. I sure want to apologize for not stoppin' to knock," added the Senator.
Bartley grinned. "It was hardly necessary. I heard you."
"I just came up to see if you would take dinner with me and my missus. We're goin' to eat right soon. You see, my missus never met up with a real, live author."
"Thanks, Senator. I'll be glad to meet your family. But suppose you forget that author stuff and just take me as a tenderfoot out to see the sights. I'll like it better."
"Why, sure! And while the House is in session, I might rise to remark that I can't help bein' called 'Senator,' because I'm guilty. But, honest, I always feel kinder toward my fellow-bein's who call me just plain 'Steve.'"
"All right. I'll take your word for it."
"Don't you take my word for anything. How do you know but I might be tryin' to sell you a gold mine?"
"I think the risk would be about even," said Bartley.
The Senator chuckled. "I just heard Wishful lopin' down the hall with his bathin' outfit, so I guess the right of way is clear again. And there goes the triangle—sounds like the old ranch, that triangle. You see, Wishful used to be a cow-hand, and lots of cow-hands stop at this hotel when they're in town. That triangle sounds like home to 'em. I'm stoppin' here myself. But I got a real bathroom out to the ranch. Let's go down and look at some beef on the plate."
"TOP HAND ONCE"
Bartley happened to be alone on the veranda of the Antelope House that evening. Senator Brown and his "missus" had departed for their ranch. Mrs. Senator Brown had been a bit diffident when first meeting Bartley, but he soon put her at her ease with some amusing stories of Eastern experiences. The dinner concluded with an invitation from Mrs. Brown that anticipated Bartley visiting the ranch and staying as long as he wished. The day following the Senator's departure Bartley received a telegram from his friend in California, wishing him good luck and a pleasant journey in the Arizona country. The friend would see to Bartley's baggage, as Bartley had forwarded the claim checks in his letter.
The town was quiet and the stars were serenely brilliant. The dusty, rutted road past the hotel, dim gray in the starlight, muffled the tread of an occasional Navajo pony passing in the faint glow of light from the doorway. Bartley was content with things as he found them, just then. But he knew that he would eventually go away from there—from the untidy town, the railroad, the string of box-cars on the siding, and seek the new, the unexpected, an experience to be had only by kicking loose from convention and stepping out for himself. He thought of writing a Western story. He realized that all he knew of the West was from hearsay, and a brief contact with actual Westerners. He would do better to go out in the fenceless land and live a story, and then write it. And better still, he would let chance decide where and when he would go.
His first intimation that chance was in his vicinity was the distant, faint cadence of a song that floated over the night-black mesa from the north. Presently he heard the soft, muffled tread of horses and a distinct word or two of the song. He leaned forward, interested, amused, alert. The voice was a big voice, mellowed by distance. There was a take-it-or-leave-it swing to the melody that suggested the singer's absolute oblivion to anything but the joy of singing. Again the plod, plod of the horses, and then:
I was top-hand once for the T-Bar-T, In the days of long ago, But I took to seein' the scenery Where the barbed-wire fence don't grow.
I was top-hand once—but the trail for mine, And plenty of room to roam; So now I'm ridin' the old chuck line, And any old place is home ... for me ... And any old place is home.
Bartley grinned. Whoever he was, drifting in from the northern spaces, he had evidently lost the pack-horse that bore his troubles. Suddenly, out of the wall of dusk that edged the strip of road loomed a horse's head, and then another. The lead horse bore a pack. The second horse was ridden by an individual who leaned slightly forward, his hands clasped comfortably over the saddle horn. The horses stopped in the light of the doorway.
"Well, I reckon we're here," said a voice. "But hotels and us ain't in the same class. I stop at the Antelope House, take a look at her, and then spread my roll in the brush, same as always. Nobody to home? They don't know what they're missin'."
Bartley struck a match and lighted his cigar. The pack-horse jerked its head up.
"Hello, stranger! Now I didn't see you settin' there."
"Good-evening! But why 'stranger' when you say you can't see me?"
"Why? 'Cause everybody knows me, and you didn't whoop when I rode up. Me, I'm Cheyenne, from no place, and likewise that's where I'm goin'. This here town of Antelope got in the way—towns is always gittin' in my way—but nobody can help that. Is Wishful bedded down for the night or is he over to the Blue Front shootin' craps?"
"I couldn't say. I seem to be the only one around here, just now."
"That sure excuses me and the hosses. Wishful is down to the Blue Front, all right. It's the only exercise he gets, regular." Cheyenne pushed back the brim of his faded black Stetson and sighed heavily. Bartley caught a glimpse of a face as care-free as that of a happy child—the twinkle of humorous eyes and a flash of white teeth as the other grinned. "Reckon you never heard tell of me," said the rider, hooking his leg over the horn.
I just arrived yesterday. I have not heard of you—but I heard you down the road, singing. I like that song."
"One of my own. Yes, I come into town singin' and I go out singin'. 'Course, we eat, when it's handy. Singin' sure keeps a fellow's appetite from goin' to sleep. Guess I'll turn the hosses into Wishful's corral and go find him. Reckon you had your dinner."
"Several hours ago."
"Well, I had mine this mornin'. The dinner I had this mornin' was the one I ought to had day before yesterday. But I aim to catch up—and mebby get ahead a couple of eats, some day. But the hosses get theirs, regular. Come on, Filaree, we'll go prospect the sleepin'-quarters."
Bartley sat back and smiled to himself as Cheyenne departed for the corral. This wayfarer, breezing in from the spaces, suggested possibilities as a character for a story No doubt the song was more or less autobiographical. "A top-hand once, but the trail for mine," seemed to explain the singer's somewhat erratic dinner schedule. Bartley thought that he would like to see more of this strange itinerant, who sang both coming into and going out of town.
Presently Cheyenne was back, singing something about a Joshua tree as he came.
He stopped at the veranda rail. His smile was affable. "Guess I'll go over and hunt up Wishful. I reckon you'll have to excuse me for not refusin' to accompany you to the Blue Front to get a drink."
Bartley was puzzled. "Would you mind saying that again?"
"Sure I don't mind. I thought, mebby, you bein' a stranger, settin' there alone and lookin' at the dark, that you was kind of lonesome. I said I reckoned you'd have to excuse me for not refusin' to go over to the Blue Front and take a drink."
"I think I get you. I'll buy. I'll try anything, once."
Cheyenne grinned. "I kind of hate to drink alone, 'specially when I'm broke."
Bartley grinned in turn. "So do I. I suppose it is all right to leave. The door is wide open and there doesn't seem to be any one in charge.
"She sure is an orphan, to-night. But, honest, Mr.—"
"Mr. Bartley, nobody'd ever think of stealin' anything from Wishful. Everybody likes Wishful 'round here. And strangers wouldn't last long that tried to lift anything from his tepee. That is, not any longer than it would take Wishful to pull a gun—and that ain't long."
"If he caught them."
"Caught 'em? Say, stranger, how far do you think a man could travel out of here, before somebody'd get him? Anyhow, Wishful ain't got nothin' in his place worth stealin'."
"Wishful doesn't look very warlike," said Bartley.
"Nope. That's right. He looks kind of like he'd been hit on the roof and hadn't come to, yet. But did you ever see him shoot craps?"
"Then you've got somethin' comin', besides buyin' me a drink."
Bartley laughed as he stepped down to the road. Bartley, a fair-sized man, was surprised to realize that the other was all of a head taller than himself. Cheyenne had not looked it in the saddle.
"Are you acquainted with Senator Brown?" queried Bartley as he strode along beside the stiff-gaited outlander.
Cheyenne stopped and pushed back his hat. "Senator Steve Brown? Say, pardner, me and Steve put this here country on the map. If kings was in style, Steve would be wearin' a crown. Why, last election I wore out a pair of jeans lopin' around this here country campaignin' for Steve. See this hat? Steve give me this hat—a genuwine J.B., the best they make. Inside he had printed on the band, in gold, 'From Steve to Cheyenne, hoping it will always fit.' Do I know Steve Brown? Next time you see him just ask him about Cheyenne Hastings."
"I met the Senator, yesterday. Come to think of it, he did mention your name—'Cheyenne—and said you knew the country."
"Was you lookin' for a guide, mebby?"
"Well, not exactly. But I hope to see something of Arizona."
"Uh-huh. Well, I travel alone, mostly. But right now I'm flat broke. If you was headin' south—"
"I expect to visit Mr. and Mrs. Brown some day. Their ranch is south of here, I believe."
"Yep. Plumb south, on the Concho road. I'm ridin' down that way."
"Well, we will talk about it later," said Bartley as they entered the saloon.
With a few exceptions, the men in the place were grouped round a long table, in the far end of the room, at the head of which stood Wishful evidently about to make a throw with the dice. No one paid the slightest attention to the arrival of Bartley and his companion, with the exception of the proprietor, who nodded to Bartley and spoke a word of greeting to Cheyenne.
Bartley did the honors which included a sandwich and a glass of beer for Cheyenne, who leaned with his elbow on the bar gazing at the men around the table. Out of the corner of his eye Bartley saw the proprietor touch Cheyenne's arm and, leaning across the bar, whisper something to him. Cheyenne straightened up and seemed to be adjusting his belt. Bartley caught a name: "Panhandle." He turned and glanced at Cheyenne.
The humorous expression had faded from Cheyenne's face and in its stead there was a sort of grim, speculative line to the mouth, and no twinkle in the blue eyes. Bartley stepped over to the long table and watched the game. Craps, played by these free-handed sons of the open, had more of a punch than he had imagined possible. A pile of silver and bills lay on the table—a tidy sum—no less than two hundred dollars.
Wishful, the sad-faced, seemed to be importuning some one by the name of "Jimmy Hicks" to make himself known, as the dice rattled across the board. The players laughed as Wishful relinquished the dice. A lean outlander, with a scarred face, took up the dice and made a throw. He evidently did not want to locate an individual called "Little Joe," whom he importuned incessantly to stay away.
Side bets were made and bills and silver withdrawn or added to the pile with a rapidity which amazed Bartley. Hitherto craps had meant to him three or four newsboys in an alley and a little pile of nickels and pennies. But this game was of robust proportions. It had pep and speed.
Bartley became interested. His fingers itched to grasp the dice and try his luck. But he realized that his amateurish knowledge of the game would be an affront to those free-moving sons of the mesa. So he contented himself with watching the game and the faces of the men as they won or lost. Bartley felt that some one was close behind him looking over his shoulder. Cheyenne's eyes were fixed on the player known as "Panhandle," and on no other person at that table. Bartley turned back to the game.
Just then some one recognized Cheyenne and spoke his name. The game stopped and Bartley saw several of the men glance curiously from Cheyenne to the man known as "Panhandle." Then the game was resumed, but it was a quieter game. One or two of the players withdrew.
"Play a five for me," said Bartley, turning to Cheyenne.
"I'll do that—fifty-fifty," said Cheyenne as Bartley stepped back and handed him a bill.
Cheyenne straightway elbowed deeper into the group and finally secured the dice. Wishful, for some unknown reason, remarked that he would back Cheyenne to win—"shootin' with either hand," Wishful concluded. Bartley noticed that again one or two players withdrew and strolled to the bar. Meanwhile, Cheyenne threw and sang a little song to himself.
His throws were wild, careless, and lucky. Slowly he accumulated easy wealth. His forehead was beaded with sweat. His eyes glistened. He forgot his song. Bartley stepped over to the bar and chatted for a few minutes with the proprietor, mentioning Senator Steve and his wife.
When Bartley returned to the game the players had dwindled to a small group—'Wishful, the man called "Panhandle," a fat Mexican, a railroad engineer, and Cheyenne.
Bartley turned to a bystander.
"Cheyenne seems to be having all the luck," he said.
"Is he a friend of yours?"
"Never saw him until to-night."
"He ain't as lucky as you think," stated the other significantly.
"How is that?"
"Panhandle, the man with the scar on his face, ain't no friend of Cheyenne's."
"Oh, I see."
Bartley turned from the man, and watched the players. Wishful had withdrawn from the game, but he stood near the table, watching closely. Presently the fat Mexican quit playing and left. Cheyenne threw and won. He played as though the dice were his and he was giving an exhibition for the benefit of the other players. Finally the engineer quit, and counted his winnings. Cheyenne and the man, Panhandle, faced each other, with Bartley standing close to Cheyenne and Wishful, who had moved around the table, standing close to Panhandle.
Panhandle took up the dice. There was no joy in his play. He shot the dice across the table viciously. Every throw was a, sort of insidious insult to his competitor, Cheyenne. Bartley was more interested in the performance than the actual winning or losing, although he realized that Cheyenne was still a heavy winner.
Presently Wishful stepped over to Bartley and touched his arm. Panhandle and Cheyenne were intent upon their game.
"You kin see better from that side of the table," said Wishful mildly, yet with a peculiar significance.
Bartley glanced up, his face expressing bewilderment.
"I seen you slip Cheyenne a bill," murmured Wishful. "Accordin' to that, you're backin' him. Thought I'd just mention it."
"I don't understand what you're driving at," said Bartley.
"That's just why I spoke to you." And Wishful's face expressed a sort of sad wonder. But then, the Easterner had not been in town long and he did not know Panhandle.
Wishful turned away casually. Bartley noticed that he again took up his position near Panhandle.
This time Panhandle glanced up and asked Wishful if he didn't want to come into the game.
Wishful shook his head. "No use tryin' to bust his luck," he said, indicating Cheyenne.
"Oh, I don't know," said Panhandle.
"And he's got good backin'," continued Wishful.
Panhandle slanted a narrow glance toward Bartley, and Bartley felt that the other had somehow or other managed to convey an insult and a challenge in that glance, which suggested the contempt of the tough Westerner for the supposedly tender Easterner.
Bartley did not know just what was on the boards, aside from dice and money, but he took Wishful's hint and moved around to Panhandle's side of the table, leaving Cheyenne facing his competitor alone. Bartley happened to catch Cheyenne's eye. The happy-go-lucky expression was gone. Cheyenne's face seemed troubled, yet he played with his former vigor and luck.
Panhandle posed insolently, his thumb in his belt, watching the dice. He was all but broke. Cheyenne kept rolling the bones, but now he evoked no aid from the gods of African golf. His lips were set in a thin line.
Suddenly he tossed up the dice, caught them and transferred them to his right hand. Hitherto he had been shooting with his left. "I'll shoot you, either hand," he said.
"And win," murmured Wishful.
Panhandle whirled and confronted Wishful. "I don't see any of your money on the table," he snarled.
"I'll come in—on the next game," stated Wishful mildly.
Panhandle's last dollar was on the table. He reached forward and drew a handful of bills from the pile and counted them. "Fifty," he said; "fifty against the pot that you don't make your next throw."
"Suits me," said Cheyenne, picking up the dice and shaking them.
Cheyenne threw and won on the third try. Panhandle reached toward the pile of money again.
Cheyenne, who had not picked up the dice, stopped him. "You can't play on that money," he stated tensely. "Half of it belongs to Mr. Bartley, there."
"What have you got to say about it," challenged Panhandle, turning to Bartley.
"Half of the money on the table is mine, according to agreement. I backed Cheyenne to win."
"No dam' tenderfoot can tell me where to head in!" exclaimed Panhandle. "Go on and shoot, you yella-bellied waddie!" And Panhandle reached toward the money.
"Just a minute," said Bartley quietly. "The game is finished."
"Take your mouth out of this, you dam' dude!"
"Put your gun on the table—and then tell me that," said Bartley.
Panhandle lowered his hand to his gun, hesitated, and then whirling, slapped Bartley's face.
Wishful, the silent, jerked out his own gun and rapped Panhandle on the head. Panhandle dropped in a heap.
It had happened so quickly that Bartley hardly realized what had happened. Panhandle was on the floor, literally down and out. Bartley was surprised that such an apparently light tap on the head should put a man out.
"Get him out of here," said Tom, the proprietor. "I don't want any rough stuff in here. And if I were in your boots, Cheyenne, I'd leave town for a while."
"I'm leavin' to-morrow mornin'." Cheyenne was coolly counting his winnings.
Wishful, the silent, doused a glass of water in Panhandle's face. Presently Panhandle was revived and helped from the saloon. His former attitude of belligerency had entirely evaporated. Wishful followed him to the hitch-rail and saw him mount his horse.
"Your best bet is to fan it back where you come from, and stay there," said Wishful softly. "You don't belong in this town, and you can't go slappin' any of my guests in the face and get away with it. And when you git so you can think it over, just figure that if I hadn't 'a' slowed you down, Cheyenne would 'a' killed you."
Panhandle did not feel like discussing the question just then. He left without even turning to glance back. If he had glanced back, he would have seen that Wishful had disappeared. Wishful, familiar with the ways of Panhandle and his kind, immediately sought the shadows, leaving the lighted doorway a blank. He entered the saloon from the rear.
Cheyenne was endeavoring to make Bartley take half of the winnings. "You staked me—and it's fifty-fifty, pardner," insisted Cheyenne.
Finally Bartley accepted his share of the money and stuffed it into his pocket.
"Now I can get back at you," stated Cheyenne, gesturing toward the bar.
His gesture included both Wishful and Bartley. Bartley, a bit shaken, accepted the invitation. Wishful, not at all shaken, but rather a bit more silent and melancholy than heretofore, also accepted.
Alone in his room at the hotel, Bartley wondered what would have happened if Wishful had not rapped Panhandle on the head. Bartley recalled the fact that he had drawn back his arm, intending to take one good punch at Panhandle, even if it were his last. But Panhandle had crumpled down suddenly, silently, and Wishful had stood over him, gazing down speculatively and swinging his gun back and forth before he returned it to the holster. "They move quick, in this country," thought Bartley. "And speaking of material for a story—" Then he smiled.
Somewhere out on the mesa Cheyenne had spread his bed-roll and was no doubt sleeping peacefully. Bartley shook his head. He had been in Antelope but two days and yet it seemed that months had passed since he had stepped from the westbound train to telegraph to his friend in California. Incidentally, he decided to purchase an automatic pistol.
When Bartley came down to breakfast next morning he noticed two horses tied at the hitch-rail in front of the hotel. One of the horses, a rather stocky gray, bore a pack. The other, a short-coupled, sturdy buckskin, was saddled. Evidently Cheyenne was trying to catch up with his dinner schedule, for as Bartley entered the dining-room he saw him, sitting face to face with a high stack of flapjacks, at the base of which reposed two fried eggs among some curled slivers of bacon.
Two railroad men, a red-eyed Eastern tourist who looked as though he had not slept for a week, a saturnine cattleman in from the mesas, and two visiting ladies from an adjacent town comprised the tale of guests that morning. As Bartley came in the guests glanced at him curiously. They had heard of the misunderstanding at the Blue Front.
Cheyenne immediately rose and offered Bartley a chair at his table. The two women, alone at their table, immediately became subdued and watchful. They were gazing their first upon an author. Wishful had made the fact known, with some pride. The ladies, whom Cheyenne designated as "cow-bunnies,"—-or wives of ranchers,—were dressed in their "best clothes," and were trying to live up to them. They had about finished breakfast, and shortly after Bartley was seated they rose. On their way out they stopped at Cheyenne's table.
"Don't forget to stop by when you ride our way," said one of the women.
Bartley noticed the toil-worn hands, and the lines that hard work and worry had graven in her face. Her "best clothes" rather accentuated these details. But back of it all he sensed the resolute spirit of the West, resourceful, progressive, large-visioned.
"Meet Mr. Bartley," said Cheyenne unexpectedly.
Which was just what the two women had been itching to do. Bartley rose and shook hands with them.
"A couple of lady friends of mine," said Cheyenne when they had gone.
Cheyenne made no mention of the previous evening's game, or its climax. Yet Bartley had gathered from Wishful that Panhandle Sears and Cheyenne had an unsettled quarrel between them.
In the hotel office Cheyenne purchased cigars and proffered Bartley a half-dozen. Bartley took one. Cheyenne seemed disappointed. When cigars were going round, it seemed strange not to take full advantage of the circumstance. As they stepped out to the veranda, the horses recognized Cheyenne and nickered gently.
"Going south?" queried Bartley.
"That's me. I got the silver changed to bills and some of the bills changed to grub. I reckon I'll head south. Kind of wish you was headed that way."
Bartley bit the end from his cigar and lighted it, as he gazed out across the morning mesa. A Navajo buck loped past and jerked his little paint horse to a stop at the drug-store.
Cheyenne, pulling up a cinch, smiled at Bartley.
"That Injun was in a hurry till he got here. And he'll be in a hurry, leavin'. But you notice how easy he takes it right now. Injuns has got that dignity idea down fine."
"Did he come in for medicine, perhaps?"
"Mebby. But most like he's after chewin'-gum for his squaw, and cigarettes for himself, with a bottle of red pop on the side. Injuns always buy red pop."
"Cigarettes and chewing-gum?"
"Sure thing! Didn't you ever see a squaw chew gum and smoke a tailor-made cigarette at the same time? You didn't, eh? Well, then, you got somethin' comin'."
"Romance!" laughed Bartley.
"Ever sleep in a Injun hogan?" queried Cheyenne as he busied himself adjusting the pack.
"No. This is my first trip West."
"I was forgettin'. Well, I ain't what you'd call a dude, but, honest, if I was prospectin' round lookin' for Injun romance I'd use a pair of field-glasses. Injuns is all right if you're far enough up wind from 'em."
"When do you start?" asked Bartley.
"Oh, 'most any time. And that's when I'll get there."
"Well, give my regards to Senator Brown and his wife, if you happen to see them."
"Sure thing! I'm on my way. You know—
"I was top-hand once—but the trail for mine: Git along, cayuse, git along! But now I'm ridin' the old chuck line, Feedin' good and a-feelin' fine: Oh, some folks eat and some folks dine, Git along, cayuse, git along!"
Bartley smiled. Here was the real hobo, the irrepressible absolute. Cheyenne stepped up and swung to the saddle with the effortless ease of the old hand. Bartley noticed that the pack-horse had no lead-rope, nor had he been tied. Bartley did not know that Filaree, the pack-horse, would never let Joshua, the saddle-horse, out of his sight. They had traveled the Arizona trails together for years.
In spite of his happy-go-lucky indifference to persons and events, Cheyenne had a sort of intuitive shrewdness in reading humans. And he read in Bartley's glance a half-awakened desire to outfit and hit the trail himself. But Cheyenne departed without suggesting any such idea. Every man for himself was his motto. "And as for me," he added, aloud:
Seems like I don't git anywhere, Git along, cayuse, git along; But we're leavin' here and we're goin' there: Git along, cayuse, git along!
With little ole Josh that steps right free, And my ole gray pack-hoss, Filaree, The world ain't got no rope on me: Git along, cayuse, git along!
Bartley watched him as he crossed the railroad tracks and turned down a side street.
Back in his room Bartley paced up and down, keeping time to the tune of Cheyenne's trail song. The morning sun poured down upon the station roof opposite, and danced flickering across the polished tracks of the railroad. Presently Bartley stopped pacing his room and stood at the window. Far out across the mesa he saw a rider, drifting along in the sunshine, followed by a gray pack-horse.
"By George!" exclaimed Bartley. "He may be a sort of wandering joke to the citizens of this State, but he's doing what he wants to do, and that's more than I'm doing. Just fifty miles to Senator Brown's ranch. Drop in and see us. As the chap in Denver said when he wrote to his friend in El Paso: 'Drop into Denver some evening and I'll show you the sights.' Distance? Negligible. Time? An inconsequent factor. Big stuff! As for me, I think I'll go downstairs and interview the pensive Wishful."
Wishful had the Navajo blankets and chairs piled up in the middle of the hotel office and was thoughtfully sweeping out cigar ashes, cigarette stubs, and burned matches. Wishful, besides being proprietor of the Antelope House, was chambermaid, baggage-wrangler, clerk, advertising manager, and, upon occasion, waiter in his own establishment. And he kept a neat place.
Bartley walked over to the desk. Wishful kept on sweeping. Bartley glanced at the signatures on the register. Near the bottom of the page he found Cheyenne's name, and opposite it "Arizona."
"Where does Cheyenne belong, anyway?" queried Bartley.
Wishful stopped sweeping and leaned on his broom. "Wherever he happens to be." And Wishful sighed and began sweeping again.
"What sort of traveling companion would he make?"
Wishful stopped sweeping. His melancholy gaze was fixed on a defunct cigar. "Never heard either of his hosses object to his company," he replied.
Bartley grinned and glanced up and down the register. Wishful dug into a corner with his broom. Something shot rattling across the floor. Wishful laid down the broom and upon hands and knees began a search. Presently he rose. A slow smile illumined his face. He had found a pair of dice in the litter on the floor. He made a throw, shook his head, and picked up the dice. His sweeping became more sprightly. Amused by the preoccupation of the lank and cautiously humorous Wishful, Bartley touched the bell on the desk. Wishful promptly stood his broom against the wall, rolled down his sleeves, and stepped behind the counter.
"I think I'll pay my bill," said Bartley.
Wishful promptly named the amount. Bartley proffered a ten-dollar bill.
Wishful searched in the till for change. He shook his head. "You got two dollars comin'," he stated.
"I'll shake you for that two dollars," said Bartley.
Wishful's tired eyes lighted up. "You said somethin'." And he produced the dice.
Just then the distant "Zoom" of the westbound Overland shook the silence. Wishful hesitated, then gestured magnificently toward space. What was the arrival of a mere train, with possibly a guest or so for the hotel, compared with a game of craps?
While they played, the train steamed in and was gone. Wishful won the two dollars.
Bartley escaped to the veranda and his reflections. Presently he rose and strolled round to the corral. Wishful's three saddle-animals were lazying in the heat. Bartley was not unfamiliar with the good points of a horse. He rejected the sorrel with the Roman nose, as stubborn and foolish. The flea-bitten gray was all horse, but he had a white-rimmed eye. The chestnut bay was a big, hardy animal, but he appeared rather slow and deliberate. Yet he had good, solid feet, plenty of bone, deep withers, and powerful hindquarters.
Bartley stepped round to the hotel. "Have you a minute to spare?" he queried as Wishful finished rearranging the furniture of the lobby.
Wishful had. He followed Bartley round to the corral.
"I'm thinking of buying a saddle-horse," stated Bartley.
Wishful leaned his elbows on the corral bar. "Why don't you rent one—and turn him in when you're through with him."
"I'd rather own one, and I may use him a long time."
"I ain't sufferin' to sell any of my hosses, Mr. Bartley. But I wouldn't turn down a fair offer."
"Set a price on that sorrel," said Bartley.
Now, Wishful was willing to part with the sorrel, which was showy and looked fast. Bartley did not want the animal. He merely wanted to arrive at a basis from which to work.
"Well," drawled Wishful, "I'd let him go for a hundred."
"What will you take for the gray?"
"Him? Well, he's the best hoss I got. I don't think he's your kind of a hoss."
"The best, eh? And a hundred for the sorrel." Bartley appeared to reflect.
Wishful really wanted to sell the gray, describing him as the best horse he owned to awaken Bartley's interest. The best horse in the corral was the big bay cow-horse; but Wishful had no idea that Bartley knew that.
"Would you put a price on the gray?" queried Bartley.
"Why, sure! You can have him, for a hundred and twenty-five."
"A hundred for the sorrel—and a hundred and twenty-five for the gray; is that correct?"
"And you say the gray is the best horse in the corral?"
"He sure is!"
"All right. I'll give you a hundred for that big bay, there. I don't want to rob you of your best horse, Wishful."
Wishful saw that he was cornered. He had cornered himself, premising that the Easterner didn't know horses. "That bay ain't much account, Mr. Bartley. He's slow—nothin' but a ole cow-hoss I kind of keep around for odd jobs of ropin' and such."
"Well, he's good enough for me. I'll give you a hundred for him."
Wishful scratched his head. He did not want to sell the bay for that sum, yet he was too good a sport to go back on his word.
"Say, where was you raised?" he queried abruptly.
"Hell, I thought you was from New York?"
"I lived in Kentucky until I was twenty-five."
"Was your folks hoss-traders?"
"Not exactly," laughed Bartley. "My father always kept a few good saddle-horses, however."
"Uh-huh? I reckon he did. And you ain't forgot what a real hoss looks like, either." Wishful's pensive countenance lighted suddenly. "You'll be wantin' a rig—saddle and bridle and slicker and saddle-bags. Now I got just what you want."
Bartley stepped to the stable and inspected the outfit. It was old and worn, and worth, Bartley estimated, about thirty dollars, all told.
"I'll let you have the whole outfit—hoss and rig and all, for two hundred," stated Wishful unblushingly.
"I priced a saddle, over in the shop across from the station, this morning," said Bartley.
"With bridle and blanket and saddle-pockets it would only stand me ninety dollars. If the bay is the poorest horse you own, then at your figure this outfit would come rather high."
"I might 'a' knowed it!" stated Wishful. "Say, Mr. Bartley, give me a hundred and fifty for the hoss and I'll throw in the rig."
"No. I know friendship ceases when a horse-trade begins; but I am only taking you at your word."
"I sure done overlooked a bet, this trip," said Wishful. "Say, I reckon you must 'a' cut your first tooth on a cinch-ring. I done learnt somethin' this mornin'. Private eddication comes high, but I'm game. Write your check for a hundred—and take the bay. By rights I ought to give him to you, seein as how you done roped and branded me for a blattin' yearlin' the first throw; and you been out West just three days! You'll git along in this country."
"I hope so," laughed Bartley. "Speaking of getting along, I plan to visit Senator Brown. How long will it take me to get there, riding the bay?"
"He's got a runnin' walk that is good for six miles an hour. He's a walkin' fool. And anything you git your rope on, he'll hold it till you're gray-headed and got whiskers. That ole hoss is the best cow-hoss in Antelope County—and I'm referrin' you to Steve Brown to back me up. I bought that hoss from Steve. Any time you see the Box-S brand on a hoss, you can figure he's a good one."
"I suppose I'd have to camp on the mesa two or three nights," said Bartley.
"Nope! Ole Dobe'll make it in two days. He don't look fast, but the trail sure fades behind him when he's travelin'. I'm kind of glad you didn't try to buy the Antelope House. You'd started in pricin' the stable, and kind of milled around and ast me what I'd sell the kitchen for, and afore I knowed it, you'd 'a' had me selling the hotel for less than the stable. I figure you'd made a amazin' hand at shootin' craps."
"Let's step over and buy that saddle, and the rest of it. Will you engineer the deal? I don't know much about Western saddlery."
"Shucks! You can take that ole rig I was showin' you. She ain't much on looks, but she's all there."
"Thanks. But I'd rather buy a new outfit."
"When do you aim to start?"
"Right away. I suppose I'll need a blanket and some provisions."
"Yes. But you'll catch up with Cheyenne, if you keep movin'. He won't travel fast with a pack-hoss along. He'll most like camp at the first water, about twenty-five miles south. But you can pack some grub in your saddle-bags, and play safe. And take a canteen along."
Wishful superintended the purchasing of the new outfit, and seemed unusually keen about seeing Bartley well provided for at the minimum cost. Wishful's respect for the Easterner had been greatly enhanced by the recent horse-deal. When it came to the question of clothing, Wishful wisely suggested overalls and a rowdy, as being weather and brush proof. Incidentally Wishful asked Bartley why he had paid his bill before he had actually prepared to start on the journey. Bartley told Wishful that he would not have prepared to start had he not paid the bill on impulse.
"Well, some folks git started on impulse, afore they pay their bills, and keep right on fannin' it," asserted Wishful.
An hour later Bartley was ready for the trail. With some food in the saddle-pockets, a blanket tied behind the cantle, and a small canteen hung on the horn, he felt equipped to make the journey. Wishful suggested that he stay until after the noon hour, but Bartley declined. He would eat a sandwich or two on the way.
"And ole Dobe knows the trail to Steve's ranch," said Wishful, as he walked around horse and rider, giving them a final inspection. "And you don't have to cinch ole Dobe extra tight," he advised. "He carries a saddle good. 'Course that new leather will stretch some."
"How old is Dobe?" queried Bartley. "You keep calling him 'old.'"
"I seen you mouthin' him, after you had saddled him. How old would you say?"
"Seven, going on eight."
"Git along! And if anybody gits the best of you in a hoss-trade, wire me collect. It'll sure be news!"
Bartley settled himself in the saddle and touched Dobe with the spurs.
"Give my regards to Senator Steve—and Cheyenne," called Wishful.
Wishful stood gazing after his recent guest until he had disappeared around a corner.
Then Wishful strode into the hotel office and marked a blue cross on the big wall calendar. A humorous smile played about his mouth. It was a mark to indicate the day and date that an Eastern tenderfoot had got the best of him in a horse-deal.
AT THE WATER-HOLE
Before Bartley had been riding an hour he knew that he had a good horse under him. Dobe "followed his head" and did not flirt with his shadow, although he was grain-fed and ready to go. When Dobe trotted—an easy, swinging trot that ate into the miles—Bartley tried to post, English style. But Dobe did not understand that style of riding a trot. Each time Bartley raised in the stirrups, Dobe took it for a signal to lope. Finally Bartley caught the knack of leaning forward and riding a trot with a straight leg, and to his surprise he found it was a mighty satisfactory method and much easier than posting.
The mesa trail was wide—in reality a cross-country road, so Bartley had opportunity to try Dobe's different gaits. The running walk was a joy to experience, the trot was easy, and the lope as regular and smooth as the swing of a pendulum. Finally Bartley settled to the best long-distance gait of all, the running walk, and began to enjoy the vista; the wide-sweeping, southern reaches dotted with buttes, the line of the far hills crowded against the sky, and the intense light in which there was no faintest trace of blur or moisture. Everything within normal range of vision stood out clean-edged and definite.
Unaccustomed to riding a horse that neck-reined at the merest touch, and one that stopped at the slightest tightening of the rein, Bartley had to learn through experience that a spade bit requires delicate handling. He was jogging along easily when he turned to glance back at the town—now a far, huddled group of tiny buildings. Inadvertently he tightened rein. Dobe stopped short. Bartley promptly went over the fork and slid to the ground.
Dobe gazed down at his rider curiously, ears cocked forward, as though trying to understand just what his rider meant to do next. Bartley expected to see the horse whirl and leave for home. But Dobe stood patiently until his rider had mounted. Bartley glanced round covertly, wondering if any one had witnessed his impromptu descent. Then he laughed, realizing that it was a long way to Central Park, flat saddles and snaffles.
A little later he ate two of the sandwiches Wishful had thoughtfully provided, and drank from the canteen. Gradually the shadows of the buttes lengthened. The afternoon heat ebbed away in little, infrequent puffs of wind. The western reaches of the great mesa seemed to expand, while the southern horizon drew nearer.
Presently Bartley noticed pony tracks on the road, and either side of the tracks the mark of wheels. Here the wagon had swung aside to avoid a bit of bad going, yet the tracks of two horses still kept the middle of the road. "Senator Brown—and Cheyenne," thought Bartley, studying the tracks. He became interested in them. Here, again, Cheyenne had dismounted, possibly to tighten a cinch. There was the stub of a cigarette. Farther along the tracks were lost in the rocky ground of the petrified forest. He had made twenty miles without realizing it.
Winding in and out among the shattered and fallen trunks of those prehistoric trees, Bartley forgot where he was until he passed the bluish-gray sweep of burned earth edging the forest. Presently a few dwarf junipers appeared. He was getting higher, although the mesa seemed level. Again he discovered the tracks of the horses in the powdered red clay of the road.
He crossed a shallow arroyo, sandy and wide. Later he came suddenly upon a red clay cutbank, and a hint of water where the bank shadowed the mud-smeared rocks. He rode slowly, preoccupied in studying the country. The sun showed close to the rim of the world when he finally realized that, if he meant to get anywhere, he had better be about it. Dobe promptly caught the change of his rider's mental attitude and stepped out briskly. Bartley patted the horse's neck.
It was a pleasure to ride an animal that seemed to want to work with a man and not against him. The horse had cost one hundred dollars—a fair price for such a horse in those days. Yet Bartley thought it a very reasonable price. And he knew he had a bargain. He felt clearly confident that the big cow-pony would serve him in any circumstance or hazard.
As a long, undulating stretch of road appeared, softly brown in the shadows, Bartley began to look about for the water-hole which Wishful had spoken about. The sun slipped from sight. The dim, gray road reached on and on, shortening in perspective as the quick night swept down.
Beyond and about was a dusky wall through which loomed queer shapes that seemed to move and change until, approached, they became junipers. Bartley's gaze became fixed upon the road. That, at least, was a reality. He reached back and untied his coat and swung into it. An early star flared over the southern hills. He wondered if he had passed the water-hole. He had a canteen, but Dobe would need water. But Dobe was thoroughly familiar with the trail from Antelope to the White Hills. And Dobe smelled the presence of his kind, even while Bartley, peering ahead in the dusk, rode on, not aware that some one was camped within calling distance of the trail. A cluster of junipers hid the faint glow of the camp-fire.
Dobe stopped suddenly. Bartley urged him on. For the first time the big horse showed an inclination to ignore the rein. Bartley gazed round, saw nothing in particular, and spoke to the horse, urging him forward. Dobe turned and marched deliberately away from the road, heading toward the west, and nickered. From behind the screen of junipers came an answering nicker. Bartley hallooed. No one answered him. Yet Dobe seemed to know what he was about. He plodded on, down a slight grade. Suddenly the soft glow of a camp-fire illumined the hollow.
A blanket-roll, a saddle, a coil of rope, and a battered canteen and the fire—but no habitant of the camp.
"Hello!" shouted Bartley.
Dobe shied and snorted as a figure loomed in the dusk, and Cheyenne was peering up at him.
"Is this the water-hole?" Bartley asked inanely.
"This is her. I'm sure glad to see you! I feel like a plumb fool for standin' you up that way—but I didn't quite get you till I seen your face. I thought I knowed your voice, but I never did see you in jeans, and ridin' a hoss before. And that hat ain't like the one you wore in Antelope."
"Then you didn't know just what to expect?"
"I wa'n't sure. But say, I got some coffee goin'—and some bacon. Light down and give your saddle a rest."
"I'll just water my horse and stake him out and—"
"I'll show you where. I see you're ridin' Dobe. Wishful rent him to you?"
"No. I bought him."
"If you don't mind tellin' me—how much?"
"Was Wishful drunk?"
"Well, you got a real hoss, there. The water is right close. Old Dobe knows where it is. Just lift off your saddle and turn him loose—or mebby you better hobble him the first night. He ain't used to travelin' with you, yet."
"I have a stake-rope," said Bartley.
"A hoss would starve on a stake-rope out here. I'll make you a pair of hobbles, pronto. Then he'll stick with my hosses."
"Where are they?"
"Runnin' around out there somewhere. They never stray far from camp."
Bartley watched Cheyenne untwist a piece of soft rope and make a pair of serviceable hobbles.
"Now he'll travel easy and git enough grass to keep him in shape. And them hobbles won't burn him. Any time you're shy of hobbles, that's how to make 'em."
Later, as Bartley sat by the fire and ate, Cheyenne asked him if Panhandle had been seen in town since the night of the crap game. Bartley told him that he had seen nothing of Panhandle.
"He's ridin' this country, somewhere," said Cheyenne. "You're headed for Steve's ranch?"
"Well, Steve'll sure give you the time of your life."
"I think I'll stay there a few days, if the Senator can make room for me."
"Room! Wait till you see Steve's place. And say, if you want to get wise to how they run a cattle outfit, just throw in with the boys, tell 'em you're a plumb tenderfoot and can't ride a bronc, nohow, and that you never took down a rope in your life, and that all you know about cattle is what you've et, and then the boys will use you white. There's nothin' puts a fella in wrong with the boys quicker than for him to let on he is a hand when he ain't. 'Course the boys won't mind seem' you top a bronc and get throwed, just to see if you got sand."
Meanwhile Cheyenne manipulated the coffee-pot and skillet most effectively. And while Bartley ate his supper, Cheyenne talked, seemingly glad to have a companion to talk to.
"You see," he began, apropos of nothing in particular, "entertainin' folks with the latest news is my long suit. I'm kind of a travelin' show, singin' and packin' the news around to everybody. 'Course folks read the paper and hear about somebody gettin' married, or gettin' shot or leavin' the country, and then they ask me the how of it. I been ramblin' so long that I know the pedigrees of 'most everybody down this way.
"Newspapers is all right, but folks get plumb hungry to git their news with human trimmin's. I recollec' I come mighty near gettin' in trouble, onct. Steve had some folks visitin' down to his ranch. They was new to the country, and seems they locked horns with a outfit runnin' sheep just south of Springerville. Now, I hadn't been down that way for about six months, but I had heard of that ruckus. So after Steve lets me sing a couple of songs, and I got to feelin' comfortable with them new folks, I set to and tells 'em about the ruckus down near Springerville. I guess the fella that told me must 'a' got his reins crossed, for pretty soon Steve starts to laugh and turns to them visitors and says: 'How about it, Mr. Smith?'
"Now, Smith was the fella that had the ruckus, and I'd been tellin' how that sheep outfit had run him out of the country. He was a young, long, spindlin' hombre from Texas—a reg'lar Whicker-bill, with that drawlin' kind of a voice that hosses and folks listen to. I knowed he was from Texas the minute I seen him, but I sure didn't know he was the man I was talkin' about.
"Everybody laughed but him and his wife. I reckon she was feelin' her oats, visitin' at the Senator's house. I don't know what she said to her husband, but, anyhow, afore I left for the bunk-house that evenin', he says, slow and easy, that if I was around there next mornin', he would explain all about that ruckus to me, when the ladies weren't present, so I wouldn't get it wrong, next time. I seen I had made a mistake for myself, and I didn't aim to make another, so I just kind of eased off and faded away, bushin' down that night a far piece from Senator Steve's ranch. I know them Whicker-bills and I didn't want to tangle with any of 'em."
"Afraid you'd get shot?" queried Bartley, laughing.
"Shot? Me? No, pardner. I was afraid that Texas gent would get shot. You see, he was married—and I—ain't."
Bartley lay back on his saddle and gazed up at the stars. The little fire had died down to a dot of red. A coyote yelped in the far dusk. Another coyote replied. Cheyenne rose and threw some wood on the fire. Then he stepped down to the water-hole and washed the plates and cups. Bartley could hear the peculiar thumping sound of hobbled horses moving about on the mesa. Cheyenne returned to the fire, picked up his bed-roll, and marched off into the bushes. Bartley wondered why he should take the trouble to move his bed-roll such a distance from the water-hole.
"Pack your saddle and blanket over, when you feel like turnin' in," said Cheyenne. "And you might throw some dirt on that fire. I ain't lookin' for visitors down this way, but you can't tell."
Bartley carried his saddle out to the distant clump of junipers.
"Just shed your coat and boots and turn in," invited Cheyenne.
Bartley was not sleepy, and for a long time he lay gazing up at the stars. Presently he heard Cheyenne snore. The Big Dipper grew dim. Then a coyote yelped—a shrill cadence of mocking laughter. "I wonder what the joke is?" Bartley thought drowsily.
Sometime during the night he was awakened by the tramping of horses, a sound that ran along the ground and diminished in the distance.
Cheyenne was sitting up. He touched Bartley. "Five or six of 'em," whispered Cheyenne.
"Too many. Mebby some strays."
"Or cowboys," suggested Bartley.
"Night-ridin' ain't so popular out here."
Bartley turned over and fell asleep. It seemed but a moment later that he was wide awake and Cheyenne was standing over him. It was daylight.
"They got our hosses," said Cheyenne.
"What? Our horses? Great Scott, how far is it to Senator Brown's ranch?"
"About twenty-five miles, by road. I know a short cut."
Bartley jumped up and pulled on his boots. From the far hills came the faint yelp of a coyote, shrill and derisive.
"The joke is on us," said Bartley.
"This here ain't no joke," stated Cheyenne.
HIGH HEELS AND MOCCASINS
Bartley suggested that, perhaps, the horses had strayed.
Cheyenne shook his head. "My hosses ain't leavin' good feed, or leavin' me. They know this here country."
"Perhaps Dobe left for home and the rest followed him," said Bartley.
"Nope. Our hosses was roped and led south."
Bartley stared at Cheyenne, whose usually placid countenance expressed indecision and worry. Cheyenne seemed positive about the missing horses. Then Bartley saw an expression in Cheyenne's eyes that indicated more sternness of spirit than he had given Cheyenne credit for.
"Roped and led south," reiterated Cheyenne.
"How do you know it?"
"I been scoutin' around. The bunch that rode by last night was leadin' hosses. I could tell by the way the hosses was travelin'. They was goin' steady. If they'd been drivin' our hosses ahead, they would 'a' gone faster, tryin' to keep 'em from turnin' back. I don't see nothin' around camp to show who's been here."
"I'll make a fire," said Bartley.
"You got the right idea. We can eat. Then I aim to look around."
Cheyenne was over in the bushes rolling his bed when Bartley called to him, and he found Bartley pointing at a pair of dice on a flat rock beside the fire.
Cheyenne stooped and picked up the dice. "Was you rattlin' the bones to see if you could beat yourself?"
"I found them here. Are they yours?"
"Nope. And they weren't here last evenin'."
Cheyenne turned and strode out to the road while Bartley made breakfast. Cheyenne was gone a long time, examining the tracks of horses. When he returned he squatted down and ate.
Presently he rose. "First off, I thought they might 'a' been some stray Apaches or Cholas. But they don't pack dice. And the bunch that rode by last night was ridin' shod bosses."
Bartley turned slowly toward his companion. "Panhandle?" he queried.
"And these here dice? Looks like it. It's like him to leave them dice for us to play with while he trails south with our stack. I reckon it was that Dobe hoss he was after. But he must 'a' knowed who was campin' around here. You see, when Wishful kind of hinted to Panhandle to leave town, Panhandle figured that meant to stay out of Antelope quite a spell. First off he steals some hosses. Next thing, he'll sell 'em or trade 'em, down south of here. He'll travel nights, mostly."
"I can't see why he should especially pick us out as his victims," said Bartley.
"I don't say he did. But it would make no difference to him. He'd steal any man's stock. Only, I figure some of his friends must 'a' told him about you—that seen you ridin' down this way. He would know our camp would be somewhere near this water-hole. What kind of matches you got with you?"
"Why—this kind." And Bartley produced a few blue-top matches.
"This here is a old-timer sulphur match, cut square. It was right here, by the rock. Somebody lit a match and laid them dice there—sixes up. No reg'lar hoss-thief would take that much trouble to advertise himself. Panhandle done it—and he wanted me to know he done it."