Santa Fe's Partner
Being Some Memorials of Events in a
New-Mexican Track-end Town
Thomas A. Janvier
"The Passing of Thomas" "The Uncle of an Angel" "The Aztec Treasure-House" "In the Sargasso Sea" Etc. Etc.
New York and London
Harper & Brothers Publishers
Copyright, 1907, by HARPER & BROTHERS.
All rights reserved.
Published September, 1907.
C. A. J.
I. PALOMITAS 1 II. THE SAGE-BRUSH HEN 15 III. HART'S NEPHEW'S HOLD-UP 44 IV. SANTA FE CHARLEY'S KINDERGARTEN 77 V. BOSTON'S LION-HUNT 127 VI. SHORTY SMITH'S HANGING 163 VII. THE PURIFICATION OF PALOMITAS 208
"'LOOK! LOOK! THERE BY THOSE LITTLE BUSHES!'" Frontispiece "HER LEFT HAND WAS LAYING IN HER LAP, AND THE OLD GENT GOT A-HOLD OF IT" 22 "WROTE OUT A NOTICE THAT WAS TACKED UP ON THE DEEPO DOOR" 84 "'ONE OF THE NEW GERMAN KINDERGARTEN APPLIANCES'" 120 "STARING 'ROUND THE PLACE SAME AS IF HE'D STRUCK A MENAGERIE" 132 "'IT'S HOTTER THAN SAHARA!' SAID THE ENGLISHMAN" 166 "AND DOWN HART WENT IN A HEAP ON THE FLOOR" 196 "'DON'T HANG HIM, SIR!' SHE GROANED OUT" 224
SANTA FE'S PARTNER
SANTA FE'S PARTNER
I've been around considerable in the Western Country—mostly some years back—and I've seen quite a little, one way and another, of the folks living there: but I can't really and truly say I've often come up with them nature's noblemen—all the time at it doing stunts in natural nobility—the story-books make out is the chief population of them parts. Like enough the young fellers from the East who write such sorts of books—having plenty of spare time for writing, while they're giving their feet a rest to get the ache out—do come across 'em, same as they say they do; but I reckon the herd's a small one—and, for a fact, if you could cross the book brand with the kind you mostly meet on the ranges the breed would be improved.
Cow-punchers and prospectors and such don't look like and don't act like what tenderfoots is accustomed to, and so they size 'em up to be different all the way through. They ain't. They're just plain human nature, same as the rest of us—only more so, through not being herded close in. About the size of it is, most folks needs barbed wire to keep 'em from straying. In a rough country—where laws and constables ain't met with frequent—a good-sized slice of the population 's apt to run wild. With them that's white, it don't much matter. The worst you can say against 'em is, they sometimes do a little more shooting than seems really needed; but such doings is apt to have a show of reason at the bottom of 'em, and don't happen often anyhow—most being satisfied to work off their high spirits some other way. With them that's not white, things is different. When the Apache streak gets on top it sends 'em along quick into clear deviltry—the kind that makes you cussed just for the sake of cussedness and not caring a damn; and it's them that has give some parts of the Western Country—like it did New Mexico in the time I'm talking about, when they was bunched thick there—its bad name.
In the long run, of course, the toughs is got rid of—being shoved out or hung out, at first by committees and later on in regular shape by sheriffs and marshals—and things is quieted down. It's the everlasting truth, though, that them kind of mavericks mostly is a blame sight commoner in parts just opened than the story-book kind—that's always so calm-eyed and gentle-natured and generous and brave. What's more, I reckon they'll keep on being commoner, human nature not being a thing that changes much, till we get along to the Day of Judgment round-up—and the goats is cut out and corralled for keeps.
For certain, it was goats was right up at the head of the procession in the Territory in my time—which was the time when the railroads was a-coming in—and in them days things was rough. The Greasers living there to start with wasn't what you might call sand-papered; and the kind of folks found in parts railroads has just got to, same as I've mentioned, don't set out to be extry smooth. Back East they talked about the higher civilization that was overflowing New Mexico; but, for a cold fact, the higher civilization that did its overflowing on that section mostly had a sheriff on its tracks right along up to the Missouri—and the rest of the way done what it blame felt like, and used a gun.
Some of them native Mexicans wasn't bad fighters. When they went to hacking at one another with knives—the way they was used to—they often done right well. But when they got up against the higher civilization—which wasn't usually less 'n half drunk, and went heeled with two Colt's and a Winchester—they found out they'd bit off more'n they could chew. Being sandy, they kept at it—but the civilizers was apt to have the call. And in between times, when the two of 'em—the Greasers and the civilizers—wasn't taking the change out of each other, they both of 'em took it out of anybody who happened to come along.
Yes, sirree!—in them days things was a good deal at loose ends in the Territory. When you went anywheres, if you was going alone, you always felt you'd better leave word what trail you took: that is, if you was fussy in such matters, and wanted what the coyotes left of you brought in by your friends and planted stylish—with your name, and when it happened, painted on a board.
This place where the track got stuck—sticking partly because there was trouble with the Atchison, and partly because the Company couldn't foreclose onto a year jag any more out of the English stockholders to build on with—was up on a bluff right over the Rio Grande and was called Palomitas. Being only mostly Greasers and Indians living in the Territory—leaving out the white folks at Santa Fe and the army posts, and the few Germans there was scattered about—them kind of queer-sounding names was what was mainly used.
It wasn't never meant to be no sort of an American town nohow, Palomitas wasn't—being made to start with of 'dobes (which is Mexican for houses built of mud, and mud they was in the rainy season) spilled around on the bluff anywheres; and when the track come along through the middle of it the chinks was filled in with tents and shingle-shacks and dugouts—all being so mixed up and scattery you'd a-thought somebody'd been packing a town through them parts in a wagon and the load had jolted out, sort of casual over the tail-board, and stuck where it happened to come down. The only things you could call houses was the deepo, and the Forest Queen Hotel right across the track from it, and Bill Hart's store. Them three buildings was framed up respectable; with real windows that opened, and doors such as you could move without kicking at 'em till you was tired. The deepo was right down stylish—having a brick chimney and being painted brown. Aside the deepo was the tank and the windmill that pumped into it. Seems to me at nights, sometimes, I can hear that old windmill going around creaking and clumpetty-clumpetting now!
Palomitas means "little doves"—but I reckon the number of them birds about the place was few. For about a thousand years, more or less, it had been run on a basis of two or three hundred Mexicans and a sprinkling of pigs and Pueblo Indians—the pigs was the most respectable—and it was allowed to be, after the track got there, the toughest town the Territory had to show. Santa Cruz de la Canada, which was close to it, was said to have took the cake for toughness before railroad times. It was a holy terror, Santa Cruz was! The only decent folks in it was the French padre—who outclassed most saints, and hadn't a fly on him—and a German named Becker. He had the Government forage-station, Becker had; and he used to say he'd had a fresh surprise every one of the mornings of the five years he'd been forage-agent—when he woke up and found nobody'd knifed him in the night and he was keeping on being alive!
But when the track come in, and the higher civilization come in a-yelling with it and spread itself, Palomitas could give points to the Canada in cussedness all down the line. Most of it right away was saloons and dance-halls; and the pressure for faro accommodation was such the padre thought he could make money by closing down his own monte-bank and renting. Denver Jones took his place at fifty dollars a week, payable every Saturday night—and rounded on the padre by getting back his rent-money over the table every Sunday afternoon. He'd a-got it back Sunday mornings if the padre hadn't been tied up mornings to his work. (He was a native, that padre was—and went on so extra outrageous his own folks couldn't stand him and Bishop Lamy bounced him from his job.) Pretty much all the time there was rumpusses; and the way they was managed made the Mexicans—being used, same as I've said, to knives mostly—open their eyes wide. It seemed really to jolt 'em when they begun to find out what a live man with his back up could do with a gun! Occurrences was so frequent—before construction started up again, and for a while after—the new cemetery out in the sage-brush on the mesa come close to having as big a population as the town.
What happened—shootings, and doings of all sorts—mostly centred on the Forest Queen. That was the only place that called itself a hotel in Palomitas—folks being able to get some sort of victuals there, and it having bunks in a room off the bar-room where passers-through was give a chance to think (by morning they was apt to think different) they was going to have a night's sleep. Kicking against what you got—and against the throwed-in extras you'd a-been better without—didn't do no good. Old Tenderfoot Sal, who kept the place, only stuck her fat elbows out and told the kickers she done the best she knowed how to, and she reckoned it was as good as you could expect in them parts, and most was suited. If they didn't like the Forest Queen Hotel, she said, they was free to get out of it and go to one that suited 'em better—and as there wasn't none to go to, Sal held the cards.
She was a corker, Sal was! By her own account of herself, she'd learned hotel-keeping through being a sutler's wife in the war. What sutling had had to do with it was left to guess at, and there was opinions as to how much her training in hoteling had done for her; but it was allowed she'd learned a heap of other things—of one sort and another—and her name of Tenderfoot was give her because them fat feet of hers, in the course of her travels, had got that hard I reckon she wouldn't a-noticed it walking on red-hot point-upwards ten-penny nails!
In the Forest Queen bar-room was the biggest bank there was in town. Blister Mike—he was Irish, Blister was, and Sal's bar-keep—had some sort of a share in it; but it was run by a feller who'd got the name of Santa Fe Charley, he having had a bank over in Santa Fe afore Sal give him the offer to come across to Palomitas and take charge. He was one of the blue-eyed quiet kind, Charley was, that's not wholesome to monkey with; the sort that's extra particular about being polite and nice-spoken—and never makes no mistakes, when shooting-time comes, about shooting to kill. When he was sober, though—and he had to keep sober, mostly, or his business would a-suffered—he wasn't hunting after rumpusses: all he did was to keep ready for 'em, and hold his end up when they come along. He had the habit—same as some other of the best card sharps I've met with—of dressing himself in black, real stylish: wearing a long-tail coat and a boiled shirt and white tie, and having a toney wide-brimmed black felt hat that touched him off fine. With them regular fire-escape clothes on, folks was apt to take him for one; and, when they did, he always met 'em half-way by letting on preaching was his business—till he got 'em on the other side of the table and begun to shake down what cards he needed from up inside them black coat-sleeves. Mostly they ended by thinking that maybe preaching wasn't just what you might call his strongest hold.
It helped him in his work more'n a little, sometimes, dressing up that way and talking to suit, like he knowed how to, real high-toned talk; but I do believe for a fact he enjoyed the dollars he got out of it less 'n he did the fun it give him making fools of folks by setting up rigs on 'em—he truly being the greatest hand at rigging I ever seen. Somehow—not having the comfort of being able to get drunk half as often as he wanted to—it seemed like he give himself the let-out he needed in them queer antics; and, for certain, he managed 'em always so they went with a hum. When him and the Sage-Brush Hen played partners in rigging anybody—as they was apt to, the Hen being much such another and so special friends with Charley she'd come on after him from Santa Fe—there mostly was a real down spirited game!
She was what you might call the leading lady in the Forest Queen dance-hall, the Sage-Brush Hen was; and if you wanted fun, and had to choose between her and a basket of monkeys, all I've got to say is—nobody'd ever a-took the monkeys who knowed the Hen! That girl was up to more queer tricks than anybody of her size and shape—she had a powerful fine shape, the Hen had—I've ever laid eyes on; and she'd run 'em in you so slick and quiet—keeping as demure as a cat after birds while she was doing it—you'd never suspicion anything was happening till you found the whole town laughing its head off at you for being so many kinds of a fool!
Things wasn't any time what you might call too extra quiet in Palomitas; but when them two—the Hen and Santa Fe—started in together to run any racket you may bet your life there was a first-class circus from the word go! Grass didn't grow much under their feet, either. The very minute the Hen struck the town—coming on after Santa Fe, same as I've said, and him waiting for her when she got there—they went at their monkey-shining, finishing two-handed what the Hen had started as a lone-hand game. Right along from then on they kept things moving spirited, one way and another, without much of a let-up. And they ended off—the day the two of 'em, owing to circumstances, lit out together—by setting up on all of us what I reckon was the best rig ever set up on anybody anywheres since rigs was begun!
Palomitas was a purer town, Cherry said—it was him led off in the purifying—after we was shut of 'em, and of some others that was fired for company; and I won't say he wasn't right in making out it was a better town, maybe, when we'd got it so blame pure. But they had their good points, the Hen and Santa Fe had—and after they was purified out of it some of us didn't never quite feel as if the place was just the same.
THE SAGE-BRUSH HEN
The Hen blew in one day on Hill's coach, coming from Santa Fe, setting up on the box with him—Hill run his coach all the time the track was stuck at Palomitas, it being quicker for Santa Fe folks going up that way to Pueblo and Denver and Leadville than taking the Atchison out to El Moro and changing to the Narrow Gauge—and she was so all over dust that Wood sung out to him: "Where'd you get your Sage-Brush Hen from?" And the name stuck.
More folks in Palomitas had names that had tumbled to 'em like that than the kind that had come regular. And even when they sounded regular they likely wasn't. Regular names pretty often got lost coming across the Plains in them days—more'n a few finding it better, about as they got to the Missouri, to leave behind what they'd been called by back East and draw something new from the pack. Making some sort of a change was apt to be wholesomer and often saved talk.
Hill said the Hen was more fun coming across from Santa Fe than anything he'd ever got up against; and she was all the funnier, he said, because when he picked her up at the Fonda she looked like as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth and started in with her monkey-shines so sort of quiet and demure. Along with her, waiting at the Fonda, was an old gent with spectacles who turned out to be a mine sharp—one of them fellows the Government sends out to the Territory to write up serious in books all the fool stories prospectors and such unload on 'em: the kind that needs to be led, and 'll eat out of your hand. The Hen and the old gent and Hill had the box-seat, the Hen in between; and she was that particular about her skirts climbing up, and about making room after she got there, that Hill said he sized her up himself for an officer's wife going East.
Except to say thank you, and talk polite that way, she didn't open her head till they'd got clear of the town and begun to go slow in that first bit of bad road among the sandhills; and it was the old gent speaking to her—telling her it was a fine day, and he hoped she liked it—that set her stamps to working a little then. She allowed the weather was about what it ought to be, and said she was much obliged and it suited her; and then she got her tongue in behind her teeth again as if she meant to keep it there—till the old gent took a fresh start by asking her if she'd been in the Territory long. She said polite she hadn't, and was quiet for a minute. Then she got out her pocket-handkerchief and put it up to her eyes and said she'd been in it longer'n she wanted, and was glad she was going away. Hill said her talking that way made him feel kind of curious himself; but he didn't have no need to ask questions—the old gent saving him that trouble by going for her sort of fatherly and pumping away at her till he got the whole thing.
It come out scrappy, like as might be expected, Hill said; and so natural-sounding he thought he must be asleep and dreaming—he knowing pretty well what was going on in the Territory, and she telling about doings that was news to him and the kind he'd a-been sure to hear a lot of if they'd ever really come off. Hill said he wished he could tell it all as she did—speaking low, and ketching her breath in the worst parts, and mopping at her eyes with her pocket-handkerchief—but he couldn't; and all he could say about it was it was better'n any theatre show he'd ever seen. The nubs of it was, he said, that she said her husband had taken out a troop from Fort Wingate against the Apaches (Hill knew blame well up there in the Navajo country was no place to look for Apaches) and the troop had been ambushed in a canon in the Zuni Mountains (which made the story still tougher) and every man of 'em, along with her "dear Captain" as she called him, had lost his hair. "His loved remains are where those fierce creatures left them," she said. "I have not even the sad solace of properly burying his precious bones!" And she cried.
The old gent was quite broke up, Hill said, and took a-hold of her hand fatherly—she was a powerful fine-looking woman—and said she had his sympathy; and when she eased up on her crying so she could talk she said she was much obliged—and felt it all the more, she said, because he looked like a young uncle of hers who'd brought her up, her father being dead, till she was married East to her dear Captain and had come out to the Territory with him to his dreadful doom.
Hill said it all went so smooth he took it down himself at first—but he got his wind while she was crying, and he asked her what her Captain's name was, and what was his regiment; telling her he hadn't heard of any trouble up around Wingate, and it was news to him Apaches was in them parts. She give him a dig in the ribs with her elbow—as much as to tell him he wasn't to ask no such questions—and said back to him her dear husband was Captain Chiswick of the Twelfth Cavalry; and it had been a big come down for him, she said, when he got his commission in the Regulars, after he'd been a Volunteer brigadier-general in the war.
Hill knowed right enough there wasn't no Twelfth Cavalry nowhere, and that the boys at Wingate was A and F troops of the Fourth; but he ketched on to the way she was giving it to the old gent—and so he give her a dig in the ribs, and said he'd knowed Captain Chiswick intimate, and he was as good a fellow as ever was, and it was a blame pity he was killed. She give him a dig back again, at that—and was less particular about making room on his side.
The old gent took it all in, just as it come along; and after she'd finished up about the Apaches killing her dear Captain he wanted to know where she was heading for—because if she was going home East, he said, he was going East himself and could give her a father's care.
She said back to him, pleasant like, that a young man like him couldn't well be fathering an old lady like her, though it was obliging of him to offer; but, anyway, she wasn't going straight back East, because she had to wait awhile at Palomitas for a remittance she was expecting to pay her way through—and she wasn't any too sure about it, she said, whether she'd get her remittance; or, if she did get it, when it would come. Everything bad always got down on you at once, she said; and just as the cruel savages had slain her dear Captain along come the news the bank East he'd put his money in had broke the worst kind. Her financial difficulties wasn't a patch on the trouble her sorrowing heart was giving her, she said; but she allowed they added what she called pangs of bitterness to her deeper pain.
The old gent—he wasn't a fool clean through—asked her what was the matter with her Government transportation; she having a right to transportation, being an officer's widow going home. Hill said he give her a nudge at that, as much as to say the old gent had her. She didn't faze a bit, though. It was her Government transportation she was waiting for, she cracked back to him smooth and natural; but such things had to go all the way to Washington to be settled, she said, and then come West again—Hill said he 'most snickered out at that—and she'd known cases when red-tape had got in the way and transportation hadn't been allowed at all. Then she sighed terrible, and said it might be a long, long while before she could get home again to her little boy—who was all there was left her in the world. Her little Willy was being took care of by his grandmother, she said, and he was just his father's own handsome self over again—and she got out her pocket-handkerchief and jammed it up to her eyes.
Her left hand was laying in her lap, sort of casual, and the old gent got a-hold of it and said he didn't know how to tell her how sorry he was for her. Talking from behind her pocket-handkerchief, she said such sympathy was precious; and then she went on, kind of pitiful, saying she s'posed her little Willy'd have forgot all about her before she'd get back to him—and she cried some more. Hill said she done it so well he was half took in himself for a minute, and felt so bad he went to licking and swearing at his mules.
After a while she took a brace—getting down her pocket-handkerchief, and calling in the hand the old gent was a-holding—and said she must be brave, like her dear Captain'd always been, so he'd see when he was a-looking at her from heaven she was doing the square thing. And as to having to wait around before she went East, she said, in one way it didn't make any matter—seeing she'd be well cared for and comfortable at Palomitas staying in the house of the Baptist minister, who'd married her aunt.
Hill said when she went to talking about Baptist ministers and aunts in Palomitas he shook so laughing inside he most fell off the box. Except the Mexican padre who belonged there—the one I've spoke of that made a record, and Bishop Lamy had to bounce—and sometimes the French ones from San Juan and the Canada, who was straight as strings, there wasn't a fire-escape ever showed himself in Palomitas; and as to the ladies of the town—well, the ladies wasn't just what you'd call the aunt kind. It's a cold fact that Palomitas, that year when the end of the track stuck there, was the cussedest town, same as I've said it was, in the whole Territory—and so it was no more'n natural Hill should pretty near bust himself trying to hold in his laughing when the Hen took to talking so off-hand about Palomitas and Baptist ministers and aunts. She felt how he was shaking, and jammed him hard with her elbow to keep him from letting his laugh out and giving her away.
* * * * *
Hill said they'd got along to Pojuaque by the time the Hen had finished telling about herself, and the fix she was in because she had to wait along with her aunt in Palomitas till her transportation come from Washington—and she just sick to get East and grab her little Willy in her arms. And the old gent was that interested in it all, Hill said, it was a sight to see how he went on.
At Pojuaque the coach always made a noon stop, and the team was changed and the passengers got dinner at old man Bouquet's. He was a Frenchman, old man Bouquet was; but he'd been in the Territory from 'way back, and he'd got a nice garden behind his house and things fixed up French style. His strongest hold was his wine-making. He made a first-class drink, as drinks of that sort go; and, for its kind, it was pretty strong. As his cooking was first-class too, Hill's passengers—and the other folks that stopped for grub there—always wanted to make a good long halt.
Hill said it turned out the old gent knowed how to talk French, and that made old man Bouquet extra obliging—and he set up a rattling good dinner and fetched out some of the wine he said he was in the habit of keeping for his own drinking, seeing he'd got somebody in the house for once who really could tell the difference between good and bad. He fixed up a table out in the garden—aside of that queer tree, all growed together, he thought so much of—and set down with 'em himself; and Hill said it was one of the pleasantest parties he'd ever been at in all his born days.
The Hen and the old gent got friendlier and friendlier—she being more cheerful when she'd been setting at table a while, and getting to talking so comical she kept 'em all on a full laugh. Now and then, though, she'd pull up sudden and kind of back away—making out she didn't want it to show so much—and get her pocket-handkerchief to her eyes and snuffle; and then she'd pull herself together sort of conspicuous, and say she didn't want to spoil the party, but she couldn't help thinking how long it was likely to be before she'd see her little boy. And then the old gent would say that such tender motherliness did her credit, and hers was a sweet nature, and he'd hold her hand till she took it away.
Hill said the time passed so pleasant he forgot how it was going, and when he happened to think to look at his watch he found he'd have to everlastingly hustle his mules to get over to Palomitas in time to ketch the Denver train. He went off in a tearing hurry to hitch up, and old man Bouquet went along to help him—the old gent saying he guessed he and Mrs. Chiswick would stay setting where they was, it being cool and comfortable in the garden, till the team was put to. They set so solid, Hill said, they didn't hear him when he sung out to 'em he was ready; and he said he let his mouth go wide open and yelled like hell. (Hill always talked that careless way. He didn't mean no harm by it. He said it was just a habit he'd got into driving mules.) They not coming, he went to hurry 'em, he said—and as he come up behind 'em the Hen was stuffing something into her frock, and the old gent was saying: "I want you to get quickly to your dear infant, my daughter. You can return at your convenience my trifling loan. And now I will give you a fatherly kiss—"
But he didn't, Hill said—because the Hen heard Hill's boots on the gravel and faced round so quick she spoiled his chance. He seemed a little jolted, Hill said; but the Hen was so cool, and talked so pleasant and natural about what a nice dinner they'd been having, and what a fine afternoon it was, he braced up and got to talking easy too.
Then they all broke for the coach, and got away across the Tesuque River and on through the sandhills—with Hill cutting away at his mules and using words to 'em fit to blister their hides off—and when they fetched the Canada they'd about ketched up again to schedule time. After the Mexican who kept the Santa Cruz post-office had made the mess he always did with the mail matter, and had got the cussing he always got from Hill for doing it, they started off again—coming slow through that bit of extra heavy road along by the Rio Grande, but getting to the deepo at Palomitas all serene to ketch the Denver train.
All the way over from Pojuaque, Hill said, he could see out of the corner of his eye the old gent was nudging up to the Hen with his shoulder, friendly and sociable; and he said he noticed the Hen was a good deal less particular about making room. The old gent flushed up and got into a regular temper, Hill said, when Wood sung out as they pulled in to the deepo platform: "Where'd you get your Sage-Brush Hen from?"—and that way give her what stuck fast for her name.
As it turned out, they might a-kept on a-hashing as long as they'd a mind to at Pojuaque; and Hill might a-let his mules take it easy, without tiring himself swearing at 'em, on a dead walk—there being a wash-out in the Comanche Canon, up above the Embudo, that held the train. It wasn't much of a wash-out, the conductor said; but he said he guessed all hands likely'd be more comfortable waiting at Palomitas, where there was things doing, than they would be setting still in the canon while the track-gang finished their job—and he said he reckoned the train wouldn't start for about three hours.
* * * * *
The Hen and the old gent was standing on the deepo platform, where they'd landed from the coach; and Hill said as he was taking his mails across to the express-car he heard him asking her once more if she hadn't better come right along East to her lonely babe; and promising to take a father's care of her all the way. The Hen seemed to be in two minds about it for a minute, Hill said, and then she thanked him, sweet as sugar, for his goodness to her in her time of trouble; and told him it would be a real comfort to go East with such a kind escort to take care of her—but she said it wouldn't work, because she was expected in Palomitas, and not stopping there would be disappointing to her dear uncle and aunt.
It was after sundown and getting duskish, while they was talking; and she said she must be getting along. The old gent said he'd go with her; but she said he mustn't think of it, as it was only a step to the parsonage and she knew the way. While he was keeping on telling her she really must let him see her safe with her relatives, up come Santa Fe Charley—and Charley sung out: "Hello, old girl. So you've got here! I was looking for you on the coach, and I thought you hadn't come."
Hill said he begun to shake all over with laughing; being sure—for all Charley in his black clothes and white tie looked so toney—it would be a dead give away for her. But he said she only give a little jump when Santa Fe sung out to her, and didn't turn a hair.
"Dear Uncle Charley, I am so glad to see you!" she said easy and pleasant; and then round she come to the old gent, and said as smooth as butter to him: "This is my uncle, the Baptist minister, sir, come to take me to the parsonage to my dear aunt. It's almost funny to have so young an uncle! Aunt's young too—you see, grandfather married a second time. We're more like sister and brother—being so near of an age; and he always will talk to me free and easy, like he always did—though I tell him now he's a minister it don't sound well." And then she whipped round to Charley, so quick he hadn't time to get a word in edgeways, and said to him: "I hope Aunt Jane's well, and didn't have to go up to Denver—as she said she might in her last letter—to look after Cousin Mary. And I do hope you've finished the painting she said was going on at the parsonage—so you can take me in there till my transportation comes and I can start East. This kind gentleman, who's going up on to-night's train, has been offering—and it's just as good of him, even if I can't go—to escort me home to my dear baby; and he's been giving me in the sweetest way his sympathy over my dear husband Captain Chiswick's loss."
Hill said he never knowed anybody take cards as quick as Santa Fe took the cards the Hen was giving him. "I'm very happy to meet you, sir," he said to the old gent; "and most grateful to you for your kindness to my poor niece Rachel in her distress. We have been sorrowing over her during Captain Chiswick's long and painful illness—"
"My dear Captain had been sick for three months, and got up out of his bed to go and be killed with his men by those dreadful Apaches," the Hen cut in.
"—and when the news came of the massacre," Charley went right on, as cool as an iced drink, "our hearts almost broke for her. Captain Chiswick was a splendid gentleman, sir; one of the finest officers ever sent out to this Territory. His loss is a bad thing for the service; but it is a worse thing for my poor niece—left forsaken along with her sweet babes. They are noble children, sir; worthy of their noble sire!"
"Oh, Uncle Charley!" said the Hen. "Didn't you get my letter telling you my little Jane died of croup? I've only my little Willy, now!" And she kind of gagged.
"My poor child. My poor child!" said Santa Fe. "I did not know that death had winged a double dart at you like that—your letter never came." And then he said to the old gent: "The mail service in this Territory, sir, is a disgrace to the country. The Government ought to be ashamed!"
Hill said while they was giving it and taking it that way he most choked—particular as the old gent just gulped it all down whole.
Hill said the three of 'em was sort of quiet and sorrowful for a minute, and then Santa Fe said: "It is too bad, Rachel, but your Aunt Jane did have to go up to Denver yesterday—a despatch came saying Cousin Mary's taken worse. And the parsonage is in such a mess still with the painters that I've moved over to the Forest Queen Hotel. But you can come there too—it's kept by an officer's widow, you know, and is most quiet and respectable—and you'll be almost as comfortable waiting there till your transportation comes along as you would be if I could take you home."
Hill said hearing the Forest Queen talked about as quiet and respectable, and Santa Fe's so sort of off-hand making an officer's widow out of old Tenderfoot Sal, set him to shaking at such a rate he had to get to where there was a keg of railroad spikes and set down on it and hold his sides with both hands.
Santa Fe turned to the old gent, Hill said—talking as polite as a Pullman conductor—and told him since he'd been so kind to his unhappy niece he hoped he'd come along with 'em to the hotel too—where he'd be more comfortable, Santa Fe said, getting something to eat and drink than he would be kicking around the deepo waiting till they'd filled in the wash-out and the train could start.
Hill said the Hen give Santa Fe a queer sort of look at that, as much as to ask him if he was dead sure he had the cards for that lead. Santa Fe give her a look back again, as much as to say he knew what was and what wasn't on the table; and then he went on to the old gent, speaking pleasant, telling him likely it might be a little bit noisy over at the hotel—doing her best, he said, Mrs. Major Rogers couldn't help having noise sometimes, things being so rough and tumble out there on the frontier; but he had a private room for his study, where he wrote his sermons, he said, and got into it by a side door—and so he guessed things wouldn't be too bad.
That seemed to make the Hen easy, Hill said; and away the three of 'em went together to the Forest Queen. Hill knowed it was straight enough about the private room and the side door—Santa Fe had it to do business in for himself, on the quiet, when he didn't have to deal; and Hill'd known of a good many folks who'd gone in that private room by that side door and hadn't come out again till Santa Fe'd scooped their pile. But it wasn't no business of his, he said; and he said he was glad to get shut of 'em so he might have a chance to let out the laughing that fairly was hurting his insides.
As they was going away from the deepo, Hill said, he heard Santa Fe telling the old gent he was sorry it was getting so dark—as he'd like to take him round so he could see the parsonage, and the new church they'd just finished building and was going to put an organ in as soon as they'd raised more funds; but it wasn't worth while going out of their way, he said, because they wouldn't show to no sort of advantage with the light so bad. As the only church in Palomitas was the Mexican mud one about two hundred years old, and as the nearest thing to a parsonage was the Padre's house that Denver Jones had rented and had his faro-bank in, Hill said he guessed Charley acted sensible in not trying to show the old gent around that part of the town.
* * * * *
Hill said after he'd got his supper he thought he'd come down to the deepo and sort of wait around there; on the chance he'd ketch on—when the old gent come over to the train—to what Santa Fe and the Hen'd been putting up on him. Sure enough, he did.
Along about ten o'clock a starting-order come down—the track-gang by that time having the wash-out so near fixed it would be fit by the time the train got there to go across; and Wood—he was the agent, Wood was—sent word over to the Forest Queen to the old gent, who was the only Pullman passenger, he'd better be coming along.
In five minutes or so he showed up. He wasn't in the best shape, Hill said, and Santa Fe and the Hen each of 'em was giving him an arm; though what he seemed to need more'n arms, Hill said, was legs—the ones he had, judging from the way he couldn't manage 'em, not being in first-class order and working bad. But he didn't make no exhibition of himself, and talked right enough—only he spoke sort of short and scrappy—and the three of 'em was as friendly together as friendly could be. Hill said he didn't think it was any hurt to listen, things being the way they was, and he edged up close to 'em—while they stood waiting for the porter to light up the Pullman—and though he couldn't quite make sense of all they was saying he did get on to enough of it to size up pretty close how they'd put the old gent through.
"Although it is for my struggling church, a weak blade of grass in the desert," Santa Fe was saying when Hill got the range of 'em, "I cannot but regret having taken from you your splendid contribution to our parish fund in so unusual, I might almost say in so unseemly, a way. That I have returned to you a sufficient sum to enable you to prosecute your journey to its conclusion places you under no obligation to me. Indeed, I could not have done less—considering the very liberal loan that you have made to my poor niece to enable her to return quickly to her helpless babe. As I hardly need tell you, that loan will be returned promptly—as soon as Mrs. Captain Chiswick gets East and is able to disentangle her affairs."
"Indeed it will," the Hen put in. "My generous benefactor shall be squared with if I have to sell my clothes!"
"Mustn't think of such a thing. Catch cold," the old gent said. "Pleasure's all mine to assist such noble a woman in her unmerited distress. And now I shall have happiness, and same time sorrow, to give her fatherly kiss for farewell."
The Hen edged away a little, Hill said, and Santa Fe shortened his grip a little on the old gent's arm—so his fatherly kissing missed fire. But he didn't seem to notice, and said to Santa Fe: "Never knew a minister know cards like you. Wonderful! And wonderful luck what you held. Played cards a good deal myself. Never could play like you!"
Santa Fe steadied the old gent, Hill said, and said to him in a kind of explaining way: "As I told you, my dear sir, in my wild college days—before I got light on my sinful path and headed for the ministry—I was reckoned something out of the common as a card-player; and what the profane call luck used to be with me all the time. Of course, since I humbly—but, I trust, helpfully—took to being a worker in the vineyard, I have not touched those devil's picture-books; nor should I have touched them to-night but for my hope that a little game would help to while away your time of tedious waiting. As for playing for money, that would have been quite impossible had it not been for my niece's suggestion that my winnings—in case such came to me—should be added to our meagre parish fund. I trust that I have not done wrong in yielding to my impulse. At least I have to sustain me the knowledge that if you, my dear sir, are somewhat the worse, my impoverished church is much the better for our friendly game of chance."
Hill said hearing Santa Fe Charley talking about chance in any game where he had the dealing was so funny it was better'n going to the circus. But the old gent took it right enough—and the Hen added on: "Yes, Uncle Charley can get the organ he's been wanting so badly for his church, now. And I'm sure we'll all think of how we owe its sweet music to you every time we hear it played!"—and she edged up to him again, so he could hold her hand. "It must make you very, very happy, sir," she kept on, speaking kind of low and gentle, but not coming as close as he wanted her, "to go about the world doing such generous-hearted good deeds! I'm sure I'd like to thank you enough—only there aren't any fit words to thank you in—for your noble-hearted generous goodness to me!"
The old gent hauled away on her hand, Hill said, trying to get her closer, and said back to her: "Words quite unnecessary. Old man's heart filled with pleasure obliging such dear child. Never mind about words. Accept old man's fatherly kiss, like daughter, for good-bye."
But he missed it that time too, Hill said—and Hill said, speaking in his careless cuss-word way, it was pretty damn rough on him what poor luck in fatherly kisses he seemed to have—because just then the train conductor swung his lantern and sung out: "All aboard!"
That ended things. Before the old gent knowed what had got him, Santa Fe and the Hen had boosted him up the steps onto the platform of the Pullman—where the Pullman conductor got a grip on him just in time to save him from spilling—and then the train pulled out: with the Pullman conductor keeping him steady, and he throwing back good-bye kisses to the Hen with both hands.
Hill said the Hen and Santa Fe kept quiet till the hind-lights showed beyond the end of the deepo platform: and then the Hen grabbed Santa Fe round the neck and just hung onto him—so full of laugh she was limp—while they both roared. And Hill said he roared too. It was the most comical bit of business, he said, he'd tumbled to in all his born days!
It wasn't till the train got clean round the curve above the station, Hill said, that Charley and the Hen could pull 'emselves together so they could talk. Then the Hen let a-go of Santa Fe's neck and said comical—speaking kind of precise and toney, like as if she was an officer's wife sure enough: "You had better return to your study, dear Uncle Charley, and finish writing that sermon you said we'd interrupted you in that was about caring for the sheep as well as the lambs!"
And then they went off together yelling, Hill said, over to the Forest Queen.
HART'S NEPHEW'S HOLD-UP
Hill always said he counted on coming into Palomitas some day on one of his mules bareback—leaving the other five dead or stampeded, and the coach stalled somewhere—and bringing his hair only because road-agents hadn't no use for hair and his wasn't easy to get anyhow, he being so bald on top there wasn't nothing to ketch a-hold of if anybody wanted to lift what little there was along the sides. Of course that was just Hill's comical way of putting it; but back of his fool talk there was hard sense—as there was apt to be back of Hill's talk every time. He knew blame well what he was up against, Hill did; and if he hadn't been more'n extra sandy he never could a-held down his job.
Till Hill started his coach up, the only way to get across to Santa Fe from Palomitas was to go a-horseback or walk. Both ways was unhealthy; and the coach, being pretty near as liable to hold-ups, wasn't much healthier. It had to go slow, the coach had—that was a powerful mean road after you left Pojuaque and got in among the sandhills—and you never was sure when some of them bunches of scrub-cedar wasn't going to wake up and take to pumping lead into you. Only a nervy man, like Hill was, ever could have took the contract; and Hill said he got so rattled sometimes—when it happened he hadn't no passengers and was going it alone in among them sandhills—he guessed it was only because he had so little hair to turn anything it didn't turn gray.
Hill slept at the Forest Queen, the nights he was in Palomitas—he drove one way one day and the other way the next—and the boys made things cheerfuller for him by all the time rigging him about the poor show he had for sticking long at his job. He'd look well, they said, a-laying out there in the sage-brush plugged full of lead waiting for his friends to call for him; and they asked him how he thought he'd enjoy being a free-lunch counter for coyotes; and they told him he'd better write down on a piece of paper anything he'd like particular to have painted on the board—and they just generally devilled him all round. Hill didn't mind the fool talk they give him—he always was a good-natured fellow, Hill was—and he mostly managed to hit back at 'em, one way or another, so they'd come out about even and end up with drinks for all hands.
The only one who really didn't like that sort of talk, and always kicked when the boys started in on it, was the Sage-Brush Hen. She said it was a mean shame to make a joke about a thing like that, seeing there wasn't a day when it mightn't happen; and it wasn't like an ordinary shooting-match, she said, that come along in the regular way and both of you took your chances; and sometimes she'd get that mad and worried she'd go right smack out of the room.
You see, the Hen always thought a heap of Hill—they having got to be such friends together that first day when he brought her over to Palomitas on the coach and helped her put up her rig on the old gent from Washington; and, back of her liking Hill specially, she really was about as good-natured a woman as ever lived. Except Hart's nephew—she did just hate Hart's nephew, who was a chump if ever there was one—she always was as pleasant as pie with everybody; and if any of the boys was hurt—like when Denver Jones got that jag in his shoulder rumpussing with Santa Fe Charley; and she more friends with Charley, of course, than with anybody else—she'd turn right in and help all she knowed how.
But it's a cold fact, for all her being so good-natured and obliging, that wherever that Hen was there was a circus. It was on her account Charley and Denver had their little difficulty; and, one way and another, there was more shooting-scrapes about her than about all the other girls put together in all the dance-halls in town. Why, it got to be so that one corner of the new cemetery out on the mesa was called her private lot. It wasn't her fault, she always said; and, in one way, it wasn't—she always being willing to be sociable and friendly all round. But, all the same, wherever that Sage-Brush Hen was, there was dead sure to be an all-right cyclone.
* * * * *
One night when the boys at the Forest Queen was rigging Hill worse'n usual, and the Hen all the time getting madder and madder, Santa Fe Charley come into the game himself. Knowing how down the Hen was on such doings he usually didn't. I guess he and she'd been having some sort of a ruction that day, and he wanted to get even with her. Anyhow, in he come—and the way he played his hand just got the Hen right up on her ear.
What Charley did was to start a thirty-day pool on Hill as to when it would happen. Chances was a dollar apiece—the dates for thirty days ahead being written on bits of paper, and the bits crumpled up and put into a hat, and you took one—and the pool went to whoever got the right date, with consolation stakes to whoever got the day before and the day after. Charley made a comical speech, after the drawing, telling the boys it was what you might call a quick return investment, and he guessed all of 'em had got left who'd drawed dates more'n a week away. Hill took it all right, same as usual; and just to show 'em he didn't bear no malice he bought a chance himself. He was one of the best-natured fellows ever got born, Hill was. There wasn't no Apache in him nowhere. He was white all the way through. So he bought his chance, that way, and then he give it to the Hen—telling her if he pulled the pot himself it wouldn't be much good to him, and saying he hoped she'd get it if anybody did, and asking her—if she did get it—to have some extry nice touches put on the board.
Well, will you believe it? When Hill give that Hen his chance she begun to cry over it! She knew it wouldn't do to cry hard—seeing what a mess it would make with her color when the tears got running—and so she pulled herself up quick and mopped her eyes dry with her pocket-handkerchief. And then she let out with all four legs at once, like a Colorado mule, and everlastingly gave it to all hands! It was just like the Hen, being so good-hearted, and thinking so much of Hill, to fire up like that about Santa Fe's pool on when he'd get his medicine; and all the boys knowed that beside the address she was making to the whole congregation Santa Fe was going to get another, and a worse one, when she had him off where she could play out to him a lone hand. But the boys didn't mind the jawing she give 'em—except they was a little ashamed, knowing putting such a rig on Hill was a mean thing to do—and I guess the whole business would have ended right there (only for the dressing-down Santa Fe was to get later) if Hart's nephew hadn't taken it into his head to chip in—being drunker'n usual, and a fool anyway—and so started what turned out to be a fresh game.
I do suppose Hart's nephew was about the meanest ever got born. Bill Hart was a good enough fellow himself, and how he ever come to have such a God-forsaken chump for a nephew was more'n anybody could tell. Things must have been powerful bad, I reckon, on his mother's side. He was one of the blowing kind, with nothing behind his blow; and his feet was that tender they wasn't fit to walk on anything harder'n fresh mush. The boys all the time was putting up rigs on him; and he'd go around talking so big about what he meant to do to get even with 'em you'd think he was going to clean out the whole town. But he took mighty good care to do his tall talking promiscuous: after making the mistake of trying it once on a little man he thought he could manage—a real peaceable little feller that looked like he wouldn't stand up to a kitten—and getting his nose and his mouth and his eyes all mashed into one. The little man apologized to the rest for doing it that way, saying he'd a-been ashamed of himself all the rest of his life if he'd gone for a thing like that with his gun.
Well, it was this Hart's nephew—like enough he had some sort of a name that belonged to him, but he wasn't worth the trouble of finding out what it was—who chipped in when the Hen took to her tirading, and so give things a new turn. Standing up staggery, and talking in his drunk fool way, he told her the road across to Santa Fe was as safe as a Sunday-school; and he said he'd be glad to be in Hill's boots and drive that coach himself, seeing what an interest she took in stage-drivers; and he asked her, sort of nasty, how she managed to get along for company when Hill was at the other end of his run. Hart's nephew was drunker'n usual that night, same as I've said, or even he'd a-knowed he'd likely get into trouble talking that way to the Hen.
For about a minute things looked real serious. The Hen straightened right up, and on the back of her neck—where it showed, she not being fixed red there to start with—she got as red as canned tomatoes; and some of the boys moved a little, sort of uneasy; and Santa Fe reached out over the piles of chips for his gun. He didn't get it, because the Hen saw what he was doing and stopped him by looking at him quick—and knowing what Charley was when it come to shooting, you'll know the Hen sent that look at him about as fast as looks can go! The game had stopped right there; and it was so quiet in the room you'd a-thought the snoring of the two drunks asleep on benches in one corner was a thunder-storm coming down the canon!
Of course what we all expected the Hen to do was to wipe up the floor with Hart's nephew by giving him such a talking to—she could use language, the Hen could, when she started in at it—as would make him sorrier'n usual he'd ever been born; and I guess, from the looks of her, that was what at the first jump she meant to do. But she was a quick-thinking one, the Hen was, and she had a way of getting more funny notions into that good-looking head of hers than any other woman that ever walked around on this earth alive—and so she give us all a real jolt by playing out cards we wasn't expecting at all. Just as sudden as a wink, she sort of twitched and twinkled—same as she always did when she was up to some new bit of deviltry—and when she set her stamps to going she talked like as if she was real pleased. She didn't look, though, as good-natured as she talked—keeping on being straightened up, and having a kind of setness in her jaws and a snappiness in them big black eyes of hers that made everybody but Hart's nephew, who was too drunk to know anything, dead sure she still was mad all the way through.
"If he'll lend 'em to you, and I guess he will, why don't you get into Mr. Hill's boots?" she said to Hart's nephew. And then she fetched up a nice sort of smile, and said to him real friendly-sounding: "I do like stage-drivers, and that's a fact—and there's no telling how pleasant I'll make things for you if you'll take the coach across to Santa Fe to-morrow over that Sunday-school road! Will you do it?" And then the Hen give him one of them fetching looks of hers, and asked him over: "Will you do it—to oblige me?"
Now that was more words at one time than the Hen had dropped on Hart's nephew since he struck the camp; and as the few he'd ever got from her mostly hadn't been nice ones, and these sounding to him—he being drunk—like as if they was real good-natured, he was that pleased he didn't know what to do. Of course he was dead set on the Hen, same as everybody else was—she truly was a powerful fine woman—and it just was funny to see how he tried to steady himself on his legs gentlemanly, and was all over fool smiles.
So he said back to the Hen—speaking slow, to keep his words from tumbling all over each other—he'd just drive that coach across to Santa Fe a-hooping if Hill'd lend it to him; and then he asked Hill if he might have it—and told him he could trust him to handle it in good shape, because everybody knowed he was a real daisy at driving mules.
For a fact, Hart's nephew did manage well at mule-driving. It was one of the blame few things that fool knowed how to do. Denver Jones allowed it was because he was related to 'em—on the father's side.
"Just for this once, Mr. Hill," said the Hen, speaking coaxy. And she got her head round a little—so Hart's nephew couldn't see what she was doing—and give Hill a wink to come into the game.
Hill didn't know what in the world the Hen was up to—nobody ever did know what that Hen was up to when once she got started—but he reckoned he could take it back in the morning if he didn't think what she wanted would answer, so in he come: telling Hart's nephew he might have the coach to do anything (Hill was a kind of a careless talker) he damn pleased with; and saying he'd have it hitched up and ready down at the deepo next morning, same as usual, so he could start right off when the Denver train come in.
When things was settled, all quick that way, Hart's nephew took to squirming—he seeing, drunk as he was, he'd bit off a blame sight more'n he cared to chew. But with the Hen right after him—and Hill and all the rest of the boys backing her, they being sure she'd dandy cards up her sleeve for the queer game she was playing—he couldn't make nothing by all his squirms. The boys got at him and told him anybody could see he was afraid; and the Hen got at him and told him anybody could see he wasn't, and she said she knew he was about the bravest man alive; and Hill got at him and told him the road had improved so, lately, the nearest to road-agents you ever seen on it was burros and cotton-tail rabbits; and all of 'em together kept getting more drinks in him right along. So the upshot of it was: first Hart's nephew stopped his squirming; and then he took to telling what a holy wonder he was at mule-driving; and then he went to blowing the biggest kind—till he got so he couldn't talk no longer—about what he'd do in the shooting line if any road-agents come around trying their monkey-shine hold-ups on him! So it ended, good enough, by their getting him fixed tight in his hole.
The boys kept things going with him pretty late that night, and when he showed up in the morning at the deepo—a delegation seeing to it he got there, and Hill having the coach all ready for him—he still had on him a fairly sizable jag. But he'd sobered up enough—having slept quite a little, and soaked his head at the railroad tank—to want to try all he knew how to spill himself out of his job. It took all the Hen could do—the Hen had got up early and come down to the deepo a-purpose to attend to him—and all the boys could do helping her, to get him up on that coach-box and boosted off out of town.
He was that nervous he was shaking all over; and what made him nervouser was having no passengers—nobody for Santa Fe having come in on the Denver train. It was just a caution to see his shooting outfit! The box of the coach looked like it was a gun-shop—being piled up with two Winchesters and a double-barrelled shot-gun (the shot-gun, he said, was to cripple anybody he didn't think it was needful to kill); and beside that he had a machete some Mexican lent him hooked on to his belt, and along with it a brace of derringers and two forty-fives. Hill was the only one who didn't laugh fit to kill himself over that layout. Hill said Hart's nephew done just right to take along all the guns he could get a-hold of; and Hill said he'd attended to the proper loading of every one of them weepons himself.
At last—with all the boys laughing away and firing fool talk at him, and the Hen keeping him up to the collar by going on about how brave he was—he did manage to whip up his mules and start off. Sick was no name for him—and he was so scared stiff he looked like he was about ready to cry. After he'd got down the slope, and across the bridge over the Rio Grande, and was walking his mules on that first little stretch of sandy road on the way to La Canada, we could see him reaching down and fussing over his layout of guns.
For a cold fact, there was a right smart chance that Hart's nephew—and 'specially because his fool luck made most things come to him contrary—really might run himself into a hold-up; and, if he did, it was like as not his chips might get called in. For all Hill's funny talk about meeting nothing worse'n burros and cotton-tail rabbits, that road was a bad road—and things was liable to occur. Hill himself was taking his chances, and he blame well knowed it, every day. But it was the sense of the meeting that if a hold-up of that coach attended by fatalities was coming, it couldn't come at a better time than when Hart's nephew was on the box—the feeling being general that Hart's nephew was one that could be spared. I guess Bill Hart felt just the same about it as the rest of us—leastways, he didn't strain himself any trying to keep his nephew home.
* * * * *
Things went kind of nervous that day at Palomitas. All the boys seemed to have a feeling, somehow, there was going to be happenings; and we all just sort of idled round waiting for 'em—taking more drinks 'n usual, and in spite of the drinks getting every minute lower and lower in our minds. Except the day Hart's aunt spent with him, and Santa Fe Charley run the kindergarten, I reckon it was the quietest day we ever went through—at least till we got along to the clean-up that turned Palomitas into what some of us felt was a blame sight too much of a Sunday-school town.
One reason why we all was so serious was because the Sage-Brush Hen—who started most of what happened—didn't show up as usual; and all hands got a real jolt when some of the boys went off to the Forest Queen to ask about her, and old Tenderfoot Sal told 'em she was laying down in her room and wasn't feeling well. The Hen being always an out-and-out hustler, and hard as an Indian pony, her not being well shook us up bad. Everybody was friends with her, same as she was friends with everybody—even when she got into one of her tantrums, and took to jawing you, you couldn't help liking her—and knowing she wasn't feeling like she ought to feel put a big lot more of a damper on all hands. So we just kept on taking drinks and getting miserabler with 'em—and feeling all the time surer something was coming bouncing out at us from round the corner, and wondering what kind of a stir-up we was likely to have.
It was along about four o'clock in the afternoon the cyclone struck us; and it was such a small-sized one, when we did get it, we didn't know whether to laugh or swear. But the cyclone himself didn't think there was anything small about him: being Hart's nephew—so scared to death all the few wits he ever had was knocked clean out of him—who come into Palomitas, white as white-wash, riding bareback one of the coach mules.
He just sort of rolled off the mule, in front of the Forest Queen, and went in to the bar and got four drinks in him before he could speak a word—and then he said he'd been held up at the Barranca Grande by about two hundred road-agents who'd opened up on him and killed all the mules except the one he'd got away on; and his getting away at all, he said, was only because he'd put up such a fight he'd scared 'em—and after that because they couldn't hit him when once he was off, and had the mule going on a dead run. Then he took two more drinks, and told his story all over again; and as it was about the same story both times—and he so scared, and by the time he told it over again so set up with his drinks, it didn't seem likely he'd sense enough left to be lying—the boys allowed like enough it was true.
What he had to tell—except he piled on more road-agents than was needed—was about reasonable. He said he'd done well enough as far as Pojuaque—where he'd had his dinner and changed mules, same as usual, at old man Bouquet's. And after he'd left Pojuaque he'd got along all right, he said, except he had to go slow through the sandhills, till he come to the Barranca Grande.
It's a bad place, that barranca is. The road goes sharp down into it, and then sharp up out of it—and both banks so steep you want all the brakes you've got to get to the bottom of it, and more mules than you're likely to have to get to the top on the other side.
Well, Hart's nephew said he'd just got the coach down to the bottom of the barranca—he'd took the last of the slope at a run, he said, and was licking away at his mules for all he was worth to start 'em up the far side—when the road-agents opened on him, being hid in among the cedar-bushes, from the top of the bank and from both sides of the trail. You never seen such a blaze of shooting in all your life, Hart's nephew said; and he said before he'd a chance to get a gun up all his mules was hit but one. He said he jumped quick from the box, taking both Winchesters and the shot-gun with him, and having his guns and the derringers in his belt beside, and got behind the one mule that hadn't been downed and opened up on the bushes where the smoke was and let go as hard as he knowed how. He said he must a-killed more'n twenty of 'em, he guessed, judging by the yelling and groaning, and by the way they slacked up on their fire. Their slacking that way give him a chance, he said, and he took it—cutting the mule loose from the harness with one hand, while he kept on blazing away over her back with the other; then letting 'em have it from both hands for a minute, from what guns he had left that wasn't empty, to sort of paralyze 'em; and then getting quick on the mule's back and starting her down the barranca on a dead run.
He had balls buzzing all about him, he said, till he got out of sight around a turn in the barranca; and he said before he made that turn he looked back once and saw a big feller up on top of the bank letting off at him as hard as he could go. Just to show he still had fight in him, he said, he let off back at him with his two derringers—which was all he had left to shoot with—and he was pretty sure, though of course it was only luck did it with the mule bouncing him so, the big feller went down. He was a tremendous tall man, he said; and he guessed he was a Greaser, seeing he had a big black beard and was dressed in Greaser clothes.
He said he didn't mind owning up he was scared bad while he was in it; but he said he guessed anybody would a-been scared with all them fellers shooting away at him—and, as he'd made as good a fight of it as he knowed how, he didn't think he was to be blamed for ending by running from such a crowd. He kept on down the barranca for about two miles, he said, till he struck the cross-trail to Tesuque; and he headed north on that till he got to Pojuaque—where he give the mule a rest, she was blowed all to bits, the mule was, he said; and he got some of old man Bouquet's wine in him, feeling pretty well blowed to bits himself; and then he come along home.
Well, that seemed a straight enough story. The only thing in it you really could pick on—except the number of road-agents, he only having seen one, and the rest being his scared guesswork—was the mule not being hit while he was doing all that firing over the back of her. But all fights has their queer chances in 'em; and that was a chance that might a-happened, same as others. Of course, the one big general thing that didn't seem likely was that such a runt as Hart's nephew should have stood up the way he said he did to as much as one road-agent—let alone to the half-dozen or so that like enough had got at him. But even a thing like Hart's nephew sometimes will put up a fight when it's scared so bad it really don't more'n half know what it's doing—and the boys allowed he might have done his fighting that way.
That the size of his scare had been big enough to make him do a'most anything showed up from the way he kept on being scared after it was all over—he coming into Palomitas looking like a wet white rag when, by his own showing, he'd been out of reach of anybody's hurting him for four or five hours anyway, and had had a chance to cool off at Pojuaque while he was loading in old man Bouquet's wine. And so, taking the story by and large, the boys allowed that likely most of it was true; and some of 'em even went so far as to say maybe Hart's nephew wasn't more'n half rotten, after all.
It was a good story to hear, anyway; and everybody was sorry the Hen wasn't around to hear it. But when some of the boys tried to rout her out, Tenderfoot Sal stood 'em off savage—telling 'em to go about their business, and the Hen's head was aching bad. So the boys had to take it out in making Hart's nephew keep on telling all he had to tell over and over; and he was glad of the chance to, and did—till he got so many drinks in him he couldn't tell anything; and then his uncle, with Shorty Smith helping, took him off home.
* * * * *
Next morning, having pretty much slept himself sober, Hart's nephew went cavorting around Palomitas—that little runt did—like he was about ten foot tall! He had the whole thing over, in the course of the day, a dozen times or more; and as he kept on telling it—now he was sober enough to add things on—it got to be about the biggest fight with road-agents that ever was. The thing that was biggest was the one man he allowed he'd really seen. Why, Goliath of Gath wasn't in it with that fellow, according to Hart's nephew! And he was that desperate and dangerous to look at, he said, not many men would a-had the nerve to try at him with only a derringer—and, what was more, to bring him down. It was well along in the afternoon before we got it for a fact that Hart's nephew really had killed the Greaser. The thing growed that way—from his first telling how he thought he'd hit him—until it ended with the Greaser giving a yell like a stuck pig; and then staggering and throwing his arms up; and then rolling over and over down the side of the barranca to the bottom of it—with his goose cooked all the way through!
We was all down at the deepo waiting for the Denver train to pull out, same as usual, while Hart's nephew was doing his tallest talking—and while he was hard at it somebody jumped up and sung out the Santa Fe coach was coming along on the other side of the river from Santa Cruz. Well, that was about the last thing anybody was expecting—and everybody hustled up off the barrels and boxes where they was a-setting and looked with all their eyes.
Sure enough, there the old coach was—just as it always was, about that time of day—coming along as natural as you please. After a while, it keeping on getting nearer, we could see it was old Hill himself up on the box driving his mules in good shape; and when he got along near the bridge we could hear him swearing at 'em—Hill did use terrible bad language to them mules—in just his ordinary way. Then he rattled the mules over the bridge and brought 'em a-clipping up the slope this side of it; and then in another minute he pulled right up at the deepo platform where we all was. Hill was laughing all over as he come up to us, and so was a Mexican who was setting on the box with him—a nice tidy little chap, with a powerful big black beard on him—and Hill sung out: "Have you boys heard about the hold-up?" And then he and the little Mexican got to laughing so it was a wonder they didn't fall off.
Nobody was thinking nothing about Hart's nephew—till he let off a yell and sung out: "That's the man held the coach up! Get a bead on him with your guns!" And he got his own gun out—and like enough would a-done some fool thing with it if Santa Fe Charley, who was right by him, hadn't smacked him and jerked it out of his hand.
Santa Fe smacked so's to hurt him; and he put his hand up to his face and said, kind of whimpery: "What are you hitting me like that for, Charley? I ain't done nothing. I tell you that man on the box with Hill is the one I was held up by yesterday. He's dangerous. If we don't get a-hold of him quick he'll be doing something to us with his gun!" And Hart's nephew a'most broke out crying—being all worked up, and Santa Fe having smacked him blame hard.
At that, Denver Jones cut in with: "I thought you said the one you was held up by was more'n fourteen foot high, and you killed him? This man ain't big enough to hold up a baby-carriage with you in it—and he's sure enough alive. What are you giving us—you blame fool?"
There's no telling what kind of an answer Denver would a-got from Hart's nephew—for he hadn't a chance to give him no answer at all. Just then Hill did the talking, and what Hill said was: "Boys, he's dead right about it. This here's the bad man that held the coach up—and as I was there, and seen it done, and drove the coach on with five mules to Santa Fe afterwards, I guess I know!" And Hill, and the little Mexican with him, just roared.
When Hill could talk for laughing, he went on: "I'll own up right now, boys, I was extry over-precautious when I fixed up with empty shells that gun-shop Hart's nephew took along on the coach when he started out with it. For all the harm he done with them guns, I might just as well a-left 'em loaded the usual way. He was that scared when this here gigantic ruffian stopped him—I just happened to be a-setting in among the cedar-bushes at the time, smoking a seegar and looking on sort of casual—he couldn't do nothing more'n yell out he wasn't going to shoot, and not to murder him; and then down he jumped from the box—me a-smoking away looking at him, and this here ruffian a-shooting his Winchester across the top of the coach to where he said he thought he seen a jack-rabbit—and cut out the near wheeler; and then he scrambled up anyhow on that mule's back, and away he went down the barranca as hard as hell!" (Hill oughtn't to have said that word. But he was careless in his talk, Hill was, and he did).
"But Hart's nephew being scared that way," Hill went on, a'most choking, "don't count one way or the other when you get down to the facts. It was this here dangerous devil that done that wicked deed, and he done it all alone by his dangerous self. At the risk of my life, gentlemen, I've got a-hold of him to bring him to justice, and here he is. And I guess the sooner we yank him up to the usual telegraph-pole, and so get shut of him, the sooner it'll be safe for folks to travel these roads. He's the most dangerous I ever see," said Hill, and by that time Hill was so near busted with his laughing he was purple; "and what makes him such a particular holy terror is he goes disguised!" And then—choking so he could hardly speak plain—Hill whipped round to the little Mexican and says to him: "Get your disguise off of you, you murdersome critter! Get it off, I say, and give these gentlemen a look at the terrible wicked face of you—before you and that telegraph-pole gets to being friends!"
And then the little Mexican switched his big black beard off—and right smack there before us was the Sage-Brush Hen! You never heard such a yell as the boys give in all your born days!
* * * * *
And you never in all your born days saw such goings on as there was that night at the Forest Queen! Everybody in Palomitas was right there. The other banks and bars hadn't a soul left in 'em but the dealers and the drink-slingers—and they, not having nothing to do at home, just shut up shop and come along too. All the girls from all the dance-halls showed up, the Hen being real down popular with 'em—which told well for her—and they wanting to see the fun. Cherry happened to be down from his ranch that night; and Becker got wind of what was up and footed it across from Santa Cruz de la Canada; and word was sent to the Elbogen brothers—they was real clever young fellows, them two Germans—and over they come a-kiting on their buck-board from San Juan. I guess it was about the biggest jam the Forest Queen ever had.
Hart's nephew was the only one around the place who hung back a little, but he got there all right—being fished out of an empty flour-barrel, where he'd hid under the counter in his uncle's store, and brought along by the invitation committee sent to look for him all dabbed over with flour.
Some thought the way they used Hart's nephew that night was just a little mite too hard lines—he not being let to have as much as a single drink in him, and so kept plumb sober while the Hen give him his medicine; but all hands allowed—after his sassy talk to her—he didn't get no more'n she'd a right to give. She just went at him like a blister, the Hen did; and she blistered him worse because she did it in her own funny way—telling him she did just dote on stage-drivers, and if he really wanted to please her he'd take Hill's job regular; and leading the boys up to him and introducing him, lady-like, as "the hold-up hero"; and asking him to please to tell her all about that fourteen-foot road-agent he'd killed; and just rubbing the whole thing in on him every way she knowed how. Before the Hen got done with him he was about the sickest man, Hart's nephew was, you ever seen! But I guess it learned him quite a little about how when he talked to ladies he'd better be polite.
Fun wasn't no name that night for that Hen! She kept on wearing her Mexican clothes, and she did look real down cute in 'em; and she'd got a God-forsaken old rusty pepper-box six-shooter from somewheres, and went flourishing it about saying it was what she'd held up the coach with; and in between times, when she wasn't deviling Hart's nephew, she'd go round the room drawing beads on the boys with her pepper-box, and making out she was dangerous by putting her big black beard on, and standing up in attitudes so the boys might see, she said, how road-agenty she looked and bad and bold! Why, the Hen did act so comical that night all hands pretty near died with their laugh!
SANTA FE CHARLEY'S KINDERGARTEN
When Bill Hart, who was a good fellow and kept the principal store in Palomitas, got word his aunt in Vermont was coming out to pay him a visit—it being too late to stop her, and he knowing he'd have to worry the thing through somehow till he could start her back East again—he was the worst broke-up man you ever seen.
"Great Scott! Joe," Hart said, when he was telling Cherry about it, "Palomitas ain't no sort of a town to bring aunts to—and it's about the last town I know of where Aunt Maria'll fit in! She's the old-fashioned kind, right up to the limit, Aunt Maria is. Sewing-societies and Sunday-schools is the hands she holds flushes in; and she has the preacher once a week to supper; and when it comes to kindergartens—Hart was so worked up he talked careless—she's simply hell! What's a woman like that going to do, I want to know, in a place like this—that's mainly made up of saloons and dance-halls and faro-banks, and everybody mostly drunk, and shooting-scrapes going on all the time? It just makes me sick to think about it." And Hart groaned.
Cherry swore for a while, sort of friendly and sociable—he was a sympathetic man, Cherry was, and always did what he could to help—and as Hart was too far gone to swear for himself, in a way that amounted to anything, hearing what Cherry had to say seemed to do him good.
"I'd stop her, if there was any stop to her," he went on, in a minute or two, speaking hopeless and miserable; "but there ain't. She says she's starting the day after she writes—having a chance to come sudden with friends—and that means she's most here now. And there's no heading her off—because she says the friends she's hooked fast to may be coming to Pueblo and may be coming to Santa Fe. But it don't make any difference, she says, as she's told she can get down easy by the railroad from Pueblo, or she can slide across to Palomitas by 'a short and pleasant coach-ride'—that's what she calls it—from Santa Fe.
"That's all she tells about her coming. The rest of what's in her letter is about how glad she'll be to see me, and about how glad she knows I'll be to see her—being lonely so far from my folks, and likely needing my clothes mended, and pleased to be eating some of her home-made pies. It's just like Aunt Maria to put in things like that. You see, she brought me up—and she's never got out of her head I'm more'n about nine years old. What I feel like doing is going out in the sage-brush and blowing the top of my fool head off, and letting the coyotes eat what's left of me and get me out of the way!"
Hart really did look as if he meant it, Cherry said afterwards. He was the miserablest-looking man, he said, he'd ever seen alive.
Cherry said he begun to have a notion, though, while Hart was talking, how the thing might be worked so there wouldn't be no real trouble if it could be fixed so Hart's aunt wouldn't stay in Palomitas more'n about a day; and he come right on down to the Forest Queen to see if he could get the boys to help him put it through. He left Hart clearing out the room he kept flour and meal in—being the cleanest—trying to rig up for his aunt some sort of a bunking-place. He was going to give her his own cot and mattress, he said; and he could fit her out with a looking-glass and a basin and pitcher all right because he kept them sort of things to sell; and he said he'd make the place extra tidy by putting a new horse-blanket on the floor. Seeing his way to getting a grip on that much of the contract, Cherry said, seemed to make him feel a little less bad.
Cherry waited till the deal was over, when he got to the Forest Queen; and then he asked Santa Fe Charley if he'd let him speak to the boys for a minute before the game went on. He was always polite and obliging, Santa Fe was, and he said of course he might; and he rapped on the table with his derringer for order, and said Mr. Cherry had the floor. Charley was old-fashioned in his ways of fighting. He always had a six-shooter in his belt, same as other folks; but he said he kept it mainly for show. Derringers, he said, was better and surer—because you could work 'em around in your pocket while the other fellow was getting his gun out, and before he was ready for business you could shoot him right through your pants. Later on, it was that very way Santa Fe shot Hart. But he always was friendly with Hart till he did shoot him; and it was more his backing than anything else—'specially when it come to the kindergarten—that made Cherry's plan for helping Hart out go through.
When the game was stopped, and the boys was all listening, Cherry told about the hole Hart was in and allowed it was a deep one; and he said it was only fair—Hart having done good turns for most everybody, one time and another—his friends should be willing to take some trouble to get him out of it. Hart's aunt, he said, come from a quiet part of Vermont, and likely would be jolted bad when she struck Palomitas if things was going the ordinary way—she being elderly, and like enough a little set in her ways, and not used much to crazy drunks, and shooting-matches, and such kinds of lively carryings-on. But she'd only stay one day, or at most a day and a half—Hart having agreed to take her right back East himself, if she couldn't be got rid of no other way—and that gave 'em a chance to fix things so her feelings wouldn't be hurt, though doing it was going to be hard on all hands. And then, having got the boys worked up wondering what he was driving at, Cherry went ahead and said he wanted 'em to agree—just for the little while Hart's aunt was going to stay there—to run Palomitas like it was a regular back-East Sunday-school town. He knew he was asking a good deal, he said, but he did ask it—and he appealed to the better feelings of the gentlemen assembled around that faro-table to do that much to get Bill Hart out of his hole. Then Cherry said he wasn't nobody's orator, but he guessed he'd made clear what he wanted to lay before the meeting; and he said he was much obliged, and had pleasure in setting up drinks for the crowd.
As was to be expected of 'em, all the boys—knowing Hart for a square-acting man, and liking him—tumbled right off to Cherry's plan. Santa Fe said—this was after they'd had their drinks—he s'posed he was chairman of the meeting, and he guessed he spoke the sense of the meeting when he allowed Mr. Cherry's scheme was about the only way out for their esteemed fellow-citizen, Mr. Hart, and it ought to go through. But as it was a matter that seriously affected the comfort and convenience of everybody in Palomitas, he said, it was only square to take a vote on it—and so he'd ask all in favor of Mr. Cherry's motion to say "Ay." And everybody in the room—except the few that was asleep, or too drunk to say anything—said "Ay" as loud as they knowed how.
"Mr. Cherry's motion is carried, gentlemen," Santa Fe said; "and I will now appoint a committee to draught a notice to be posted at the deepo, and to call around at the other banks and saloons in the town and notify verbally our fellow-citizens of the action we have taken—and I will ask the Hen here kindly to inform the other ladies of Palomitas of our intentions, and to request their assistance in realizing them. She had better tell them, I reckon, that the way they can come to the front most effectively in this crisis is by keeping entirely out of sight in the rear."
The Sage-Brush Hen, along with some of the other girls, had come in from the back room—where the dancing was—to find out what the circus was about; and when they caught on to what Palomitas was going to be like when Hart's aunt struck it they all just yelled.
"You've come out well once as the Baptist minister, Charley," the Hen said, shaking all over; "and I reckon you can do it again—only it won't be so easy showing off the new church and the parsonage by daylight as it was in the dark. About us girls laying low, maybe you're right and maybe you're not right. Anyway, don't you worry about us. All I'll say is, it won't be the ladies in this combine that'll give anything away!" And she and the other girls got so to laughing over it they all of 'em had to set down.
Cherry was more pleased than a little the way things had gone—and he said so to the boys, and set up drinks all round again. Then he and Abe Simons—they was the committee to do it—wrote out a notice that was tacked up on the deepo door and read this way:
TO THE CITIZENS OF PALOMITAS
Mr. William Hart's aunt is coming to pay him a visit, and will strike this town either by the Denver train to-morrow morning or the Santa Fe coach to-morrow afternoon.
She is a perfect lady, and it is ordered that during her stay in Palomitas this town has got to behave itself so her feelings won't be hurt. She is to be took care of and given a pleasant impression. All fights and drunks must be put off till she's gone. Persons neglecting to do so will be taken out into the sage-brush by members of the committee, and are likely to get hurt.
Mr. Hart regrets this occurrence as much as anybody, and agrees his aunt's visit sha'n't last beyond a day and a half if she comes down from Denver, and only one day if she comes in from Santa Fe.
(Signed) THE COMMITTEE.
When Cherry got a-hold of Hart and told him what the town had agreed to do for him he was that grateful—being all worked up, anyway—he pretty near cried.
As it turned out, Hart's aunt come in on Hill's coach from Santa Fe—her friends having gone down that way by the Atchison—and as Hill had been at the meeting at the Forest Queen he was able to give things a good start. Hill always was a friendly sort of a fellow, and—except he used terrible bad language, which he said come of his having to drive mules—he was a real first-class ladies' man.
Hill said he spotted Hart's aunt the minute he set his eyes on her waiting for the coach at the Fonda, there not being likely to be more'n one in the Territory of that kind. She was a trig little old lady, dressed up in black clothes as neat as wax, he said, with a little black bonnet setting close to her head; and she wore gold specs and had a longish nose. But she'd a real friendly look about her, he said; and while she spoke a little precise and particular she wasn't a bit stuck-up, and seemed to be taking things about as they happened to come along. When he asked her if she wouldn't set up on the box with him, so she could see the country, she said that was just what would suit her; and up she come, he said, as spry as a queer little bird. Then he whipped up his mules—being careful not to use any language—and got the coach started, and begun right off to be agreeable by telling her he guessed he had the pleasure of knowing her nephew, and asking her if she wasn't the aunt of Mr. William Hart.
Well, of course that set things to going pleasant between 'em; and when she'd allowed she was Hart's aunt, and said she was glad to meet a friend of his, she started in asking all the questions about Bill and about Palomitas she knowed how to ask.
Hill said he guessed that day they had to lay off the regular recording angel and put a hired first-class stenographer on his job—seeing how no plain angel, not writing shorthand, could a-kept up with all the lies he felt it his duty to tell if he was going to bring Bill through in good shape and keep up the reputation of the town. It wasn't square to charge them lies up to him, anyway, Hill said, seeing he only was playing Cherry's hand for him; and he said he hoped they was put in Cherry's bill. By the time he'd got through with his fairy tales, he said, he'd give Hart such a character he didn't know him himself; and he'd touched up Palomitas till he'd got it so it might a-been a town just outside Boston—only he allowed they was sometimes troubled with hard cases passing through; and he told her of course she'd find things kind of half-baked and noisy out there on the frontier. And she must remember, he told her, that all the folks in the town was young—young men who'd brought their young wives with 'em, come to hustle in a new country—and she mustn't mind if things went livelier'n the way she was used to back East.
Hill said she said she wasn't expecting to find things like they was at home, and she guessed she'd manage all right—seeing she always got on well with young people, and wasn't a bit set in her own ways. And she said she was as pleased as she was surprised to find out the kind of a town Palomitas was—because her nephew William's letters had led her to think it had a good many bad characters in it; and he'd not mentioned any church but the Catholic one where the natives went; and as to the Bible Class and the Friendly Aid Society, he'd never said a word about 'em at all. She went on talking so cheerful and pleasant, Hill said, it give him creeps in his back; and he got so rattled the last half of the run—coming on from Pojuaque, where they'd had dinner at old man Bouquet's—he hardly knowed what he'd told and what he hadn't, and whether he was standing on his head or his heels.
Being that way, he made the only break that gave trouble afterwards. She asked him if there was a school in Palomitas, and he told her there wasn't, because all the folks in town was so young—except the natives, who hadn't no use for schools—they hadn't any children big enough to go to one. And then she said sudden, and as it seemed to him changing the subject: "Isn't there a kindergarten?" Hill said he'd never heard tell of such a concern; but he sized it up to be some sort of a fancy German garden—like the one Becker'd fixed up for himself over to Santa Cruz—and he said he allowed, from the way she asked about it, it was what Palomitas ought to have. So he told her there was, and it was the best one in the Territory—and let it go at that. He said she said she was glad to hear it, as she took a special interest in kindergartens, and she'd go and see it the first thing.
Hill said he knowed he'd put his foot in it somehow; but as he didn't know how he'd put his foot in it, he just switched her off by telling her about the Dorcas Society. He had the cards for that, he said, because his mother'd helped run a Dorcas Society back East and he knowed what he was talking about. The Palomitas one met Thursdays, he told her, at the Forest Queen. That was the principal hotel, he told her, and was kept by Mrs. Major Rogers, who was an officer's widow and had started the society to make clothes for some of the Mexican poor folks—and he said it was a first-rate charity and worked well. It tickled him so, he said, thinking of any such doings at the Forest Queen—with old Tenderfoot Sal, of all people, bossing the job!—he had to work off the laugh he had inside of him by taking to licking his mules.
But it went all right with the little old lady; and she was that interested he had to strain himself, he said, making up more stories about it—till by good luck she took to telling him about the Dorcas Society she belonged to herself, back home in Vermont; and was so full of it she kept things going easy for him till they'd crossed the bridge over the Rio Grande and was coming up the slope into the town at a walk.
Up at the top of the slope Santa Fe Charley stood a-waiting for 'em—looking, of course, in them black clothes and a white tie on, like he was a sure-enough preacher—and as the coach come along he sung out, pleasant and friendly: "Good-afternoon, Brother Hill. I missed you at the Bible Class last evening. No doubt you were detained unavoidably, and it's all right. But be sure to come next Friday. We don't get along well without you, Brother Hill." And Santa Fe took his hat off stylish and made the old lady the best sort of a bow.
Hill caught on quick and played right up to Santa Fe's lead. "That's our minister, Mr. Charles, ma'am. The one I've been telling you about," he said. "He's just friendly and sociable like that all the time. He looks after the folks in this town closer'n any preacher I ever knowed." A part of that, Hill said, was dead certain truth—seeing as Santa Fe had his eyes out straight along for everybody about the place who'd a dollar in his pocket, and wasn't satisfied till he'd scooped in that dollar over his table at the Forest Queen.
"There's the new church we're building," Hill went on, as they got to the top of the slope and headed for the deepo. "It ain't much to look at yet, the spire not being put on; and it won't show up well, even when it gets its spire on it, with churches East. But we're going to be satisfied with it, seeing it's the best we can do. You'll be interested to know, ma'am, your nephew give the land."
"William hasn't let on anything about it," Hart's aunt said, looking pleased all over. "But what in the world is a church doing with a railroad track running into it, Mr. Hill?"
Hill said he'd forgot about the track when he settled to use the new freight-house for church purposes; but he said he pulled himself together quick and told her the track was temp'ry—put in so building material could unload right on the ground. And then he took to talking about how obliging the railroad folks had been helping 'em—and kept a-talking that way till he got the coach to the deepo, and didn't need to hustle making things up any more. He said he never was so thankful in his life as he was when his stunt was done. He was just tired out, he said, lying straight ahead all day over thirty miles of bad road and not being able once to speak natural to his mules.