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Title: The Exploits Of Buckner J. Grimes Author: Robert E. Howard * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1304231h.html Language: English Date first posted: Jul 2013 Most recent update: Jul 2013 This eBook was produced by Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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I’M a peaceable man, as law-abiding as I can be without straining myself, and it always irritates me for a stranger to bob up from behind a rock and holler, “Stop where you be before I blow your fool head off !”
This having happened to me I sat still on my brother ’s horse, because that’s the best thing you can do when a feller is p’inting a cocked .45 at your wishbone. This feller was a mean-looking hombre in a sweaty hickory shirt with brass rivets in his leather hat band, and he needed a shave. He said, “Who are you? Where you from? Where you goin’? What you aimin’ to do when you get there?”
I says, “I’m Buckner J. Grimes of Knife River, Texas, and I’m headin’ for Californy.”
“Well, what you turnin’ south for?” he asked.
“Ain’t this here the trail to Piute?” I inquired.
“Naw, ’tain’t,” he answered. “Piute’s due west of here.”
All at once he stopped and seemed to ponder, though his gun muzzle didn’t waver none. I was watching it like a hawk.
Pretty soon he give a kinda forced leer which I reckon he aimed for a smile, and said, “I’m sorry, stranger. I took you for somebody else. Just an honest mistake. This here trail leadin’ off to the west goes to Piute. T’other’n goes south to my claim. I took you for one of them blame claim jumpers.” He lowered his gun but didn’t put it back in the holster, I noticed.
“I didn’t know they was any claims in Arizona,” I says.
“Oh, yes,” says he, “the desert is plumb full of ’em. For instance,” says he, “I got a chunk of quartz in my pocket right now which is just bustin’ with pure ore. Light,” says he, fumbling in his pocket, “and I’ll show you.”
Well, I was anxious to see some ore, because Pap had told me that I was just likely to hit it rich in Californy; he said an idiot was a natural fool for luck, and I wanted to know what ore looked like when I seen some. So I clumb down off of brother Bill’s horse, and the stranger hauled something out of his pocket, but as he poked it out toward me, it slipped off his palm and fell to the ground.
Naturally I leaned over to pick it up, and when I done so, something went bam! and I seen a million stars. At first I thought a cliff had fell on me, but almost simultaneous I realized the stranger had lammed me over the head with his pistol barrel.
The lick staggered me, but I didn’t have to fall like I done. I done that instinctive hit on my side and tumbled over on my back and laid still, with my eyes so near shut he couldn’t tell that I was watching him through the slits. The instant he’d hit me he lifted his gun quick to shoot me if I didn’t drop, but my flop fooled him.
He looked down at me scornful, too proud of his smartness to notice that my limp hand was laying folded over a rock about the size of a muskmelon, and he says aloud to hisself, he says, “Another idiot from Texas! Huh! Think I’m goin’ to let you go on to Piute and tell ’em about bein’ turned back from the south trail, and mebbe give them devils an idee of what’s cookin’ up? Not much, I ain’t. I ain’t goin’ to waste no lead on you, neither. I reckon I’ll just naturally cut your throat with my bowie.”
So saying, he shoved his gun back in its holster and drawed his knife out of his boot, and stooped over and started fumbling with my neck cloth, so I belted him free and hearty over the conk with my rock. I then pushed his limp carcass off me and rose.
“If you’d been raised in Texas like I was,” I says to his senseless hulk more in sorrer than in anger, “you’d know just because a man falls it don’t necessarily mean he’s got his’n.”
He didn’t say nothing because he was out cold; the blood was oozing from his split scalp, and I knowed it would be hours before he come to hisself, and maybe days before he’d remember his own name.
I mounted brother Bill’s horse, which I’d rode all the way from Texas because it was better’n mine, and I paused and ruminated. Right there a narrer trail split off from the main road and turned south through a deep cleft in the cliffs, and the stranger had been lurking there at the turn.
Well, thinks I, something shady is going on down that there trail, else why should he hold me up when he thought I was going down it? I warn’t taking the south trail. I’d just stopped to rest my brother Bill’s horse in the shadder of the cliffs, and this ambushed gent just thought I was going to turn off. That there indicates a guilty conscience. Then, when he was convinced I wasn’t going south, he was going to cut my throat just so’s I couldn’t tell the folks at Piute about him stopping me. And he was lying about a claim. He didn’t have no hunk of quartz; that thing he’d taken out of his pocket was a brass button.
Well, I very naturally turned off down the south trail to see why he didn’t want me to. I went very cautious, with my gun in my right hand, because I didn’t aim to get catched off guard again. The thought occurred to me that maybe he was being hunted by a sheriff’s posse. Well, that wasn’t none of my business, but Pap always said my curiosity would be the ruin of me.
I rode on for about a mile, till I come to a place where the trail went up over a saddleback with dense thickets on each side. I left the trail and pushed through the thickets to see what was on the other side of the ridge; around Knife River they was generally somebody waiting to shoot somebody else.
I looked down into a big holler, and in the middle they was a big cluster of boulders, bigger’n a house. I seen some horses sticking out from behind them boulders, and a horse tied under a tree a little piece away. He was a very bright-colored pinto with a silver-mounted bridle and saddle. I seen the sun flash on the trappings on ’em.
I knowed the men must be on the other side of them rocks, and I counted nineteen horses. Well, nineteen men was more’n I wanted to tackle, in case they proved hostile to strangers, which I had plenty of reason to believe they probably would. So I decided to backtrack.
Anyway, them men was probably just changing brands on somebody else’s cows, or talking over the details of a stagecoach holdup, or some other private enterprise like that which wasn’t nobody’s business but their’n. So I turned around and went back up the trail to the forks again.
When I passed the stranger I had hit with the rock he was still out, and I kinda wondered if he’d ever come to. But that wasn’t none of my business neither, so I just dragged him under bushes where he’d be in the shade in case he did, and rode on down the west trail. I figgered it couldn’t be more’n a few miles to Piute, and I was getting thirsty.
And sure enough, after a few miles I come upon the aforesaid town baking in the sun on a flat with hills on all sides—just a cluster of dobe huts with Mexican women and kids littered all over the place—and dogs, and a store and a little restaurant and a big saloon. It wasn’t much past noon and hotter’n hell.
I tied brother Bill’s horse to the hitching rack alongside the other horses already tied there, in the shade of the saloon, and I went into the saloon myself. They was a good-sized bar and men drinking at it, others playing poker at tables.
Well, I judged it wasn’t very usual that a stranger come to Piute, because when I come in everybody laid down their whisky glass or their hand of cards and stared at me without no expression on their faces, and I got fidgety and drunk five or six fingers of red licker to cover my embarrassment.
They was a kind of restless shuffling of boots on the floor, and spitting into the sawdust, and men tugging at their mustaches, and I wondered am I going to have to shoot my way out of this joint; what kind of a country is this anyway.
Just then a man lumbered up to the bar and the men drinking at the bar kinda surged around me and him, and some of them playing poker rose up from their tables and drifted over behind me, or would have, if I hadn’t quick put my back against the bar. This feller was nigh as tall as me, and a lot heavier. He had a big mustache like a walrus.
“Who be you?” he inquired suspiciously.
“I’m Buckner J. Grimes,” I said patiently. “I’m from Texas, and I’m just passin’ through. I’m headin’ for Californy.”
“What’s the ‘J’ for?” he asked.
“Jeopardy,” I said.
“What’s that mean?” he next demanded.
“I dunno,” I confessed. “It come out of a book. I reckon it means somethin’ pertainin’ to a jeopard.”
“Well, what’s a jeopard?” he asked.
“It’s a spotted critter like a panther,” said one of the men. “I seen one in a circus once in Santa Fe.”
The big feller studied over this for a while, and then he said have a drink, so we all drunk.
“Do you know Swag McBride?” he asked at last.
“I never heard tell of him,” I said. Everybody was watching me when he asked me, and some of them had their hands on their guns. But when I said I didn’t know him they kinda relaxed and went back to playing poker and drinking licker. I reckon they believed me; Pap always said I had a honest face; he said anybody could tell I didn’t have sense enough to think up a lie.
“Set down,” said the big man, easing his bulk ponderously into a chair and sinking his mustaches into a tub of beer. “I’m Navajo Beldon. I’m boss of Piute and all the surroundin’ country, and don’t let nobody tell you no different. Either a man is for me or he’s against me, and if he’s against me he’s for Swag McBride and don’t belong in this town at all.”
“Who’s Swag McBride?” I asked.
“A cross between a rattlesnake and a skunk,” said Beldon, gulping his beer. “But don’t say ‘skunk’ around him les’n you want to get killed. When the vigilantes run him outa Nevada they sent him down the trail with a dead polecat tied around his neck as a token of affection and respect. Skunks has been a sore spot with him ever since. If anybody even mentions one in his hearin’ he takes it as a personal insult and acts accordingly. He’s lightnin’ with a gun, and when souls was handed out, Nature plumb forgot to give him one. He run this town till I decided to take it over.”
He wiped his mustaches with the back of his hand, and said, “We had a showdown last week, and decreases in the population was sudden and generous. But we run them rats into the hills where they’ve been skulkin’ ever since, if they ain’t left the country entirely.”
I thought about them fellers I seen up in the hills, but I didn’t say nothing. I was raised in a country where keeping your mouth shut is an art practiced by everybody which wants to live to a ripe old age.
“This here country has to have a boss of some kind,” says “Navajo,” pouring me a drink. “Ain’t no law here, and somebody’s got to kinda run things. I ain’t no saint, but I’m a lot better man than Swag McBride. If you don’t believe it, go ask the citizens of Piute. Man’s life is safe here with me runnin’ things, long’s he keeps his nose outa my business, and a woman can walk down the street without bein’ insulted by some tough. Honest to gosh, if I was to tell you some of the things McBride and his devils has pulled—”
“Things looks peaceful enough now,” I admitted.
“They are, while I’m in the saddle,” says Beldon. “Say, how would you like to work for me?”
“Doin’ what?” I ask.
“Well,” he says, “I got considerable cattle, besides my interests in Piute. These men you see here ain’t all the boys I got workin’ for me, of course. They’s a bunch now down near Eagle River, drivin’ a herd up from the border, which ain’t so terrible far from you, you know.”
“You buy cattle in Mexico?” I ask.
“Well,” he says, “I gets quite a lot of steers from across the line. I has to have men watchin’ all the time to keep them greasers from comin’ over and stealin’ everything I got. What’s that?”
Outside come a thunder of hoofs and a voice yelled, “Beldon! Beldon!”
“Who’s that?” demanded Beldon, scrambling up and grabbing his gun.
“It’s Richards!” called one of the men, looking out of the winder with a rifle. “He’s foggin’ it up the south trail like the devil was ridin’ behind him.”
Beldon started lumbering toward the door, but about that time the horse slid to a gravel-scattering halt at the edge of the porch, and a man come storming in, all plastered with sweat and dust.
“What’s eatin’ you, Richards?” demanded Navajo.
“The greasers!” yelped Richards. “Early this mornin’ we run a herd of Diego Gonzales’ cattle across the line, and you know what happened? We hadn’t hardly more’n got back across the border when his blame vaqueros overtook us and shot up every man except me, and run them steers back home again!”
“What?” bellered Navajo, with his mustaches quivering in righteous wrath. “Why, them thievin’, yeller polecats! Ain’t they got no respect for law and order? What air we a-comin’ to? Ain’t they no honest men left besides me? Does they think they can treat me like that? Does they think we’re in the the cow business for our health? Does they think they can tromple on us after we’ve went to the trouble and expense of stealin’ them steers ourselves?
“Donnelly, take your men and light out! I’ll show them greasers they can’t steal my critters and get away with it. You fetch them cows back if you have to foller ’em right into Diego’s patio—blast his thievin’ soul!”
The feller he called Donnelly got up and told his men to come on, and they took a drink at the bar, and drawed up their gun belts and went stomping out toward the hitching rack. Richards went along to guide ’em.
“Don’t you wanta go?” says Navajo to me, still snorting with his indignation. “The boys may need help, and I can tell from the way you wear your guns that you know how to handle ’em. I’ll pay you well.”
Well, if they is anything I despises it’s a darned thief, so I told Beldon I’d go along and help recover his property. I left him bellering his grievances to the bald-headed old bartender and his Mexican boy helper, which was all that was left in the saloon.
Richards had changed his saddle onto a fresh horse, and as we rode off I looked at the horse which he’d rode in. It was a pinto and it seemed to me like I’d saw it somewheres but I couldn’t remember. It was so sweaty and dusty it was mighty near disguised.
We headed south along the dusty trail, nine or ten of us, Richards leading, and was soon out of sight of Piute. Them fellers was riding like Mexico was right over the next rise, but the miles went past, and I decided they was just reckless, damn fools. I kept trying to remember where I’d seen that pinto of Richards’, and all of a sudden I remembered.
The trail dipped ahead of us down into a tangle of cliffs and canyons, and Richards had drawed ahead of the rest of us. He turned to motion us to hurry, and as he turned, the sun flashed from the silver trappings on his saddle and bridle, and, like a shot, I remembered—I remembered where I’d seen them trappings, and where I’d seen that pinto. It was the horse I’d saw tied near them big rocks away to the east of Piute.
I involuntarily sat brother Bill’s horse back on his haunches. The rest of the gang swept on without noticing, but I sat there and thunk. If Richards was with that gang east, how could he be with the bunch driving cattle acrost the border away to the south of Piute? He come up the south trail into Piute, but what was to prevent him from cutting through the hills and hitting that trail just below the town? Richards had lied to Beldon; and Beldon had said that if a man wasn’t for him, he was for McBride.
I reined up onto a knob, and stared off eastward, and pretty soon I seen what I expected to see—a fog of rolling dust, sweeping from southeast to northwest—toward Piute. I knowed what was raising that dust: men on horses, riding hard.
I looked south for Donnelly and his men. They was just passing out of sight in a big notch with sheer walls on each side. I yelled but they didn’t hear me. Richards had pulled ahead of them by a hundred yards, and was already through the notch and out of sight. They all thundered into the notch and passed out of sight. And then it sounded like all the guns in southern Arizona let go at once. I wheeled and rode for Piute as hard as brother Bill’s horse could leg it.
The dust on the horizon disappeared behind a big boulder that jutted right up into the sky. Then, after a while, ahead of me, I heard a sudden crackle of gunfire, and what sounded like a woman screaming, and then everything was still again.
Ahead of me the trail made the bend that would bring me in sight of Piute. I left the trail and took to the thickets. Brother Bill’s horse was snorting and trembling, nigh done in. The town was awful quiet—not a soul in sight, and all the doors closed. I circled the flat, tied Bill’s horse in a thicket back of the saloon, and stole toward the back door, with my guns in my hands.
They wasn’t no horses tied at the hitching rack. Everything was awful quiet except for the flies buzzing around the blood puddles on the floor. The old bartender was laying across the bar with a gun still in his hand. He’d stopped plenty lead. His Mexican boy was slumped down near the door with his head split open—looked like he’d been hit with an ax. A stranger I’d never saw was stretched out in the dust before the porch, with a bullet hole in his skull. He was a tall, dark, hard-looking cuss. A gun with one empty chamber was laying nigh his right hand.
I believed they’d captured Navajo Beldon alive. His carcass wasn’t nowhere to be seen, and then the tables and chairs was all busted, just like I figgered they’d be after a gang of men had hog tied Beldon. That would be a job that’d wreck any saloon. They was empty cartridges and a broke knife on the floor, and buttons tore offa fellers’ shirts, and a smashed hat, and a notebook, like things gets scattered during a free for all.
I picked up the notebook and on the top of the first page was wrote, “Swag McBride owes me $100 for that there job over to Braxton’s ranch.”
I stuck it in my pocket but I didn’t need no evidence to know who’d raided Piute.
I looked out cautious into the town. Nobody in sight and all doors and winders closed. Then come a sudden rumble of horses’ hoofs and I jumped back out of the doorway and looked through a winder. Seven horsemen swept into the village out of a trail that wound up through the thickets back of the town; but they didn’t stop.
They cantered on down the south trail, with rifles in their hands. They didn’t look toward the saloon, and nobody stuck their head out of a house to tell ’em about me, though somebody must of seen me sneak into town. Evidently the citizens was playing strict neutral, which is wise when two gangs is slaughtering each other—if you can do it.
As soon as the riders was out of town I run back through the saloon and hustled up the hillside, paralleling the trail they’d come down. Who says all this wasn’t none of my business? Beldon had hired me and I’d been a pretty excuse for a man if I’d left him in the lurch.
I hadn’t gone far when I heard men talking—leastways, I heard one man talking. It was Beldon and he was bellering like a bull.
A minute later I come onto a log cabin, plumb surrounded with trees. Five horses was tied outside. The bellering was coming from inside the cabin, and I could hear somebody else talking in a kinda sneery, gloating voice. I snuck up to the rear winder and peered in, well aware that I was risking my life. But the winder was boarded up and I peeked through a crack.
Plenty of light come in through the cracks, though, and I seen Beldon, with blood oozing from a cut in his scalp, setting in a busted chair by a dusty old table, and looking like a trapped grizzly. Four other men was standing acrost the table from him, betwixt him and the door, with their guns leveled at him. One of them was awful tall, and rangy and quick in his motions, like a catamount. He combed his long drooping mustache with one gun muzzle whilst he poked the other’n into Beldon’s ear and screwed it around till Navajo cussed something terrible.
“Huh!” said this gent. “Boss of Piute! Hah! A fine boss you be. First and biggest mistake you made was trustin’ Richards. He was plumb delighted to sell you out. You thought he was with your men on Eagle River, didn’t you? Well, he was with me in the hills east of here all mornin’, whilst we laid our plans to get you.
“He sneaked away from your bunch on Eagle River last night. He brung you that lie about them cattle bein’ stole just so I could get your men out of the way. I knowed you’d send every man you had. You won’t ever see ’em no more. Richards will lead ’em into a trap in Devil’s Gorge where my men done laid an ambush for ’em. Probably they’re sizzlin’ in hell by this time. Them seven fellers I just sent down the trail will join the rest of my men at Devil’s Gorge, and they’ll clean out your outfit on Eagle River. I’m makin’ a clean sweep, Beldon.”
“I’ll get you yet, McBride,” promised Beldon thickly, gnashing his teeth under his heavy mustache.
McBride combed his mustache very superior. I was wondering why they’d taken Beldon alive. He wasn’t even tied up. I seen his fingers clinch and quiver on the table. I knowed he was liable to make a break for it any minute and get shot down, and I was in a stew. I could start shooting through the winder, of course, and snag most of ’em, but one of ’em was bound to get Beldon sure.
I knowed very well that at the first alarm they’d perforate him. I wisht I had a shotgun, because then I mighta got ’em all with one blast—probably including Beldon. But all I had was a couple of .45s and a clear conscience. If I could only let Beldon know that I was on hand, maybe he might get foxy and do something smart to help hisself, instead of busting loose and getting killed like I knowed he was going to do any minute. The veins in his neck swelled and his face got purple and his whiskers bristled.
All at once McBride said, “I’ll let you go, alive, if you’ll tell me where you got your money hid. I know you got several thousand bucks.”
So that was why they taken him alive. I mighta knowed it. But the mention of money reminded me of something and that put a idee into my head. I pulled out the notebook I found and tore out the first page and begun work with a pencil stub I had in my pocket. I didn’t write nothing. What I wanted to do was to slip Beldon a message he could understand, but that wouldn’t mean nothing to McBride, in case he seen it.
I remembered that talk about a Jeopard, when I first met Beldon, so I drawed a picture of a animal like a panther. But I couldn’t remember whether that feller from Santa Fe said a Jeopard had spots or stripes. Seemed like he said stripes, so I put a big un’ down the critter’s back. Beldon would know that pitcher meant that Buckner Jeopardy Grimes was lurking near, ready to help him the first chance I got, and, knowing that, he wouldn’t do nothing reckless.
Whilst I was doing this Beldon was thinking over what McBride had just said to him. He didn’t crave a lead bath no more’n the average man, and he was one of these here trusting critters which believes everybody keeps their word. It’s hard to credit, I know, but it looked like he actually believed McBride would keep his’n, and let him go if he told where he hid his dough.
McBride didn’t fool me none. I knowed very well the instant he told ’em, Beldon would get riddled. I knowed McBride itched to kill him. I seen it in the twist of his thin lips, and the nervous twitch of his hand as he pulled at his mustache. I read the killer’s hunger in his yeller eyes which blazed like a cat’s. But Navajo didn’t seem to recognize them signs. He was awful slow thinking in some ways.
McBride was pulling his mustache and just getting ready to say something, when I took a pebble and throwed it over the shack so it hit the stoop and made a racket. Instantly they all wheeled and covered the door, and I throwed my wadded-up paper through the crack in the winder boards, so it landed on the table right in front of Beldon. But he never seen it.
He’d rose halfway up like he was going to make his break, but quick as a flash McBride wheeled and covered him again, with his lip drawed back so his teeth showed like a wolf’s fang, and his eyes was slits of fire. If it hadn’t been for that dough he wanted, he’d have shot Beldon down right then. I seen his finger quiver on his trigger, and I had him lined over my sights.
But he didn’t shoot. He snapped, “You fools, keep him covered! I’ll see to this!”
The other three turned their guns on Beldon and he sunk back in his chair with a gusty sigh. They was a hard layout—one short, one tall, one with a scarred face. McBride stepped quick to the door and jerked it open and poked his gun out.
“Nothin’ out here,” he snorted. “Must have been a woodpecker.”
I was sweating and shaking like a leaf in my nervousness, waiting for Beldon to see that wad of paper laying right in front of him, but he never noticed it. He hadn’t seen it fall, and a wad of paper didn’t mean nothing to him. He couldn’t think of but one thing at a time. He had nerve and men liked him; that’s the only reason he ever got to be a chief.
McBride turned around and stalked back across the cabin.
“Well,” he said, “are you goin’ to tell me where the dough is?”
“I reckon I gotta,” mumbled Beldon heavily, and I cussed bitterly under my breath. Beldon was a goner. All I could do was start shooting and get as many of ’em as I could. But they was sure to drill him. Then McBride seen that wadded-up paper. He wasn’t like Beldon; he was observant and keen-witted. He remembered that paper hadn’t been there a few minutes before. He grabbed it.
“What’s this?” he demanded, and my heart sunk clean to my boot tops. He wouldn’t know what it meant, but it was gone out of Beldon’s reach for good.
McBride started smoothing it out.
“Why,” says he, “it’s got my name on it, in your handwritin’, Joe.”
“Lemme see,” said the tall feller, getting up and reached toward it. But McBride had straightened the paper all the way out, and all at once his face went livid. For a second you could of heard a pin drop. McBride stood like a froze statue, only his eyes alive and them points of hell fire, whilst the other hombres gaped at him.
Then he give a shriek like a catamount, and throwed that piece of paper into Joe’s face, and his gun jumped and spurted red. Joe flopped to the floor, kicking and twitching. The other two fellers was white and wild-looking, but the short one says, kind of choking, “By Heaven, McBride, you can’t do that to my pal!”
His gun jerked upward, but McBride’s spoke first. Shorty’s gun exploded into the floor and he slumped down on top of Joe. It was at that instant I kicked a board off the winder and shot “Scarface” through the ear. McBride howled in amazement and our guns crashed simultaneous. Or rather, I reckon mine was the split fraction of a second the first, because his lead fanned my ear and mine knocked him down dead on the floor.
I then climbed through the winder into the cabin where the blue smoke was drifting in clouds and the dead men was laying still on the floor. If the fight had been a tornado hitting the shack it couldn’t have been no briefer nor done no more damage. Beldon had had presence of mind enough to fall down behind the table when the fireworks started, and he now rose and glared at me like he thought I was a ghost.
“What the hell!” he inquired lucidly.
“We ain’t got no time to waste,” I told him. “We got to take to the woods. Them seven men McBride sent south ain’t out of hearin’. They’ll hear the shots and be back. They’ll know it wouldn’t take all them shots to cook your goose, and they’ll come back and investigate.”
He lurched up, and I seen he was lame in one leg.
“I got it sprained in the fight,” he grunted. “They was in Piute and stormin’ my saloon before I knowed what was happenin’. Help me back to the saloon. My dough’s hid under the bar. If all my men’s been wiped out, we got to travel, and I got to get my dough. They’s horses in a corral not far from the saloon.”
“All right,” I said, picking up the wad of paper I’d throwed through the winder, but not stopping to discuss it. “Let’s go,” I said, and we went.
If anybody thinks it’s a cinch to help a man as big as Navajo Beldon down a mountain trail with a sprained ankle, he’s loco as hell. He had to kind of hop on one leg and I had to act as his other leg, and before we was halfway down I felt like throwing him the rest of the way down and washing my hands of the whole business. Of course, I didn’t, though.
Piute was just as quiet and empty as before—heads bobbing a little way out of doors to gawp at us, then jerking back quick, and everything still and breathless under the hot sun.
Beldon cussed at the sight of the dead men in the bar, and he sounded sick.
“I feel like a skunk,” he said, “runnin’ out like this and leavin’ Piute to the mercies of them devils which follered McBride. But what else can I do? I—”
“Look out!” I yelped, jumping back out of the doorway and blazing away with my six-gun, as there come a rattle of hoofs up the south trail and them seven devils of McBride’s come storming back into town. They’d already seen me, before I fired, and they howled like wolves and come at a dead run.
At the crack of my six-shooter one of ’em went out of his saddle and laid still, and they swung aside and raced behind a old dobe house right across from the saloon.
Beldon was cussing and hitching hisself to one of the winders with a rifle he’d brung from the cabin, and I took the other winder. The old dobe they’d took cover behind didn’t have no roof and the wall was falling down, but it made a prime fort, and in about a second lead was smacking into the saloon walls, and ripping through the winders and busting bottles behind the bar, and when Beldon seen his licker wasted that way he hollered like a bull with its tail caught in the corral gate.
They’d punched loop holes in the dobe. All we could see was rifle muzzles and the tops of their hats now and then. We was shooting back, of course, but from the vigor of their profanity I knowed we wasn’t doing nothing but knocking dust into their faces.
“They’ve got us,” said Beldon despairingly. “They’ll hold us here till the rest of them devils comes up. Then they’ll rush us from three or four sides at once and finish us.”
“We could sneak out the back way,” I said, “but we’d have to go on foot, and with your ankle we couldn’t get nowheres.”
“You go,” he said, sighting along his rifle barrel and throwing another slug into the dobe. “I’m done. I couldn’t get away on this lame leg. I’ll hold ’em whilst you sneak off.”
This being too ridiculous to answer, I maintained a dignerfied silence and said nothing outside of requesting him not to be a fool.
A minute later he give a groan like a buffler bull with the bellyache.
“We’re sunk now!” says he. “Here come the rest of them!”
And sure enough I heard the drum of more hoofs up the south trail, and the firing acrost the way lulled, as the fellers listened. Then they give a yell of extreme pleasure, and started firing again with wild hilarity.
“I ain’t lived the kind of life I ought to have,” mourned Beldon. “My days has been full of vanity and sin. The fruits of the flesh is sweet to the tongue, Buckner, but they play hell with the belly. I wish I’d given more attention to spiritual things, and less to gypin’ my feller-man—Are you listenin’?”
“Shut up!” I said fretfully. “They is a feller keeps stickin’ his head up behind that dobe, and the next time he does it I aim to ventilate his cranium, if you don’t spoil my aim with your gab.”
“You ought to be placin’ your mind on higher things at a time like this,” he reproved. “We’re hoverin’ on the brink of Eternity, and it’s a time when you should be repentin’ your sinful ways, like me, and shakin’ the dust of the flesh off your feet—Hell fire and damnation!” he roared suddenly, heaving up from behind the winder sill. “That ain’t McBride’s men! That’s Donnelly!”
The fellers behind the dobe found that out just then, but it didn’t do ’em no good. Donnelly and six of the men which had rode out with him come swinging in behind ’em, and they was ten more men with him I hadn’t never saw before. The six men behind the dobe run for their horses, but they didn’t have a chance. They’d been so sure it was their pals they didn’t pay much attention, and Donnelly and his boys was right behind ’em before they realized their mistake.
Of course, we couldn’t see what was happening behind the dobe. We just saw Donnelly and his hombres sweep around it, and then heard the guns roaring and men yelling. But by the time I’d run acrost the street and rounded the corner of the dobe, the McBride gang was a thing of the past, and three of Donnelly’s men was down with more or less lead in ’em.
“Carry ’em over to the saloon, boys,” said Donnelly, who had a broke arm in a blood-soaked sleeve hisself. We done so, whilst Navajo, who had got as far as the porch on his game leg, bellered and waved his smoking rifle like a scepter.
“Lay ’em on the floor and pour licker down ’em,” said Beldon. “What the hell happened?”
“Richards led us into a trap,” grunted Donnelly, taking a deep swig hisself. “They got Bill and Tom and Dick, but I plugged Richards as he took to the brush. They’d have snagged us all though, if it hadn’t been for these boys. They was with the outfit on Eagle River, and when Richards rode off last night they got suspicious and trailed him. They was just south of Devil’s Gorge where the ambush was laid, when they heard the shootin’, and they come up in time to give us a hand.”
“And if it hadn’t been for Grimes, here,” grunted Beldon, “McBride would have been boss of Piute right now. What you lookin’ at?”
“This here paper,” I said. “I’m tryin’ to figger out why a pitcher of a jeopard would start McBride to killin’ his own men.”
“Lemme see,” says he, and he took it and looked at it, and said, “Why, hell, no wonder! It’s got McBride’s name at the top, over that pitcher. He thought that feller Joe had drawed it to insult him.”
“But the pitcher of a jeopard—” I protested.
“You might have meant it for a jeopard,” he said, “but it looks a darn sight more like a striped skunk to me, and I reckon that’s what McBride took it for. I told you he went crazy when the subject of skunks was brung up. Never mind that; a hombre as quick with a gun as you are don’t need no other accomplishments; how about a steady job with me?”
“What for?” I said. “With the McBride gang cleaned out I don’t see what they is for an able-bodied man in these parts. Besides, I see art ain’t appreshiated here. I’m goin’ on to Californy, like Pap told me to.”
I HAD just sot down on my bunk and was fixing to pull off my boots, when Pap come out of the back room and blinked at the candle which was stuck onto the table.
Says he, “Well, Buckner, is they anything new over to Knife River?”
“They ain’t never nothin’ new there,” I says, yawning. “They’s a new gal slingin’ hash in the Royal Grand resternt, but Bill Hopkins has already got hisself engaged to her, and ’lows he’ll shoot anybody which so much as looks at her. They was a big poker game in back of the Golden Steer and Tunk winned seventy bucks and got carved with a bowie.”
“The usual derned foolishness,” grumbled Pap, turning around to go back to bed. “When I was a young buck, they was always excitement to be found in town—pervidin’ you could find a town.”
“Oh, yes,” I says suddenly. “I just happened to remember. I shot a feller in the Diamond Palace Saloon.”
Pap turned around and combed his beard with his fingers.
“Gittin’ a mite absent-minded, ain’t you, Buckner?” says he. “Did they identify the remains?”
“Aw, I didn’t croak him,” says I. “I just kinda shot him through the shoulder and a arm and the hind leg. He was a stranger in these here parts, and I thought maybe he didn’t know no better.”
“No better’n what?” demanded Pap. “What was the argyment?”
“I don’t remember,” I confessed. “It was somethin’ about politics.”
“What you know about politics?” snorted Pap.
“Nothin’,” I says. “That’s why I plugged him. I run out of argyments.”
“Daw-gone it, Buckner,” says Pap, “you got to be a little more careful how you go around shootin’ people in saloons. This here country is gittin’ civilized, what with -loadin’ guns, and stagecoaches and suchlike. I don’t hold with these here newfangled contraptions, but lots of people does, and the majority rules—les’n yo’re quicker on the draw than what they be.
“Now you done got the family into trouble again. You’ll have that ranger, Kirby, onto yore neck. Don’t you know he’s in this here country swearin’ he’s goin’ to bring in law and order if he has to smoke up every male citizen of Knife River County? If any one man can do it, he can, because he’s the fastest gunman between the Guadalupe and the Rio Grande. More’n that, it ain’t just him. He’s got the whole ranger force behind him. The Grimes family has their private feuds as obstreperous as anybody in the State of Texas. But we ain’t buckin’ the rangers. And what we goin’ to do now when Kirby descends on us account of yore action?”
“I don’t think he’s goin’ to descend any time soon, Pap,” I says.
“When I wants yore opinion I’ll ast for it!” Pap roared. “Till then, shut up! Why don’t you think he will?”
“ ’Cause Kirby was the feller I shot,” I says.
Pap stood still a while, combing his whiskers, with a most curious expression; then he laid hold onto my collar and the seat of my britches and begun to walk me toward the door.
“The time has come, Buckner,” says he, “for you to go forth and tackle the world on yore own. Yo’re growed in height, if not in bulk and mentality, and anyway, as I remarked while ago, the welfare of the majority has got to be considered. The Grimes family is noted for its ability to soak up punishment, but they’s a limit to everything. When I recalls the family feuds, gunfights and range wars yore mental incapacity and lack of discretion has got us into ever since you was big enough to sight a gun, I looks with no enthusiasm onto a pitched battle with the rangers and probably the State milishy. No, Buckner, I think you better hit out for foreign parts.”
“Where you want me to go, Pap?” I inquired.
“Californy,” he answered, kicking the door open.
“Why Californy?” I asked.
“Because that’s the fartherest-off place I can think of,” he says, lifting me through the door with the toe of his boot. “Go with my blessin’!”
I pulled my nose out of the dirt and got up and hollered through the door which Pap had locked and bolted on the inside, “How long I oughta stay?”
“Not too long,” says Pap. “Don’t forgit yore pore old father and yore other relatives which will grieve for you. Come back in about forty or fifty years.”
“Where ’bouts is Californy?” I asked.
“It’s where they git gold,” he says. “If you ride straight west long enough yo’re bound to git there eventually.”
I went out to the corral and saddled my horse—or rather, I saddled my brother Jim’s horse—because his’n was better’n mine—and I hit out, feeling kinda funny, because I hadn’t never been away from home no farther’n the town of Knife River. I couldn’t head due west on account of that route would ’a’ took me across “Old Man” Gordon’s ranch, and he had give his punchers orders to shoot me on sight, account of me smoking up his three boys at a dance a few months before.
So I swung south till I got as near the Donnellys’ range as I felt like I oughta, what with Joe Donnelly still limping on a crutch from a argyment him and me had in Knife River. So I turned west again and hit straight through the settlement of Broken Rope. None of the nine or ten citizens which was gunning for me was awake, so I rode peacefully through and headed into unknown country just as the sun come up.
Well, for a long time I rode through country which was inhabited very seldom. After I left the settlements on Knife River, there was a long stretch in which about the only folks I seen was Mexican sheep-herders which I was ashamed to ask ’em where I was, for fear they’d think I was ignerunt. Then even the sheep-herders played out, and I crossed some desert that me and Brother Jim’s horse nearly starved on, but I knowed that if I kept heading west I’d fetch Californy finally.
So I rode for days and days and finally got into better-looking country again, and I decided I must be there, because I didn’t see how anything could be any further from anything else than what I’d come. I was homesick and low in my spirits, and would ’a’ sold my hopes of the future for ten cents.
Well, finally one day, along about the middle of the morning, I found myself in a well-watered, hilly country, a little like that around Knife River, only with the hills bigger, and they was right smart rocks. So I thought to myself, “I’m good and tired of this here perambulatin’; I’m goin’ to stop right here and mine me some gold.” I’d heard tell they found gold in rocks. So I tied brother Jim’s horse to a tree, and I located me a likely boulder beside the trail, about as big as a barn, and begun knocking chips off it with a hunk of flint.
I was making so much noise I didn’t hear the horses coming up the trail, and the first thing I knowed I wasn’t alone.
Somebody said, “What in tarnation are you doin’?”
I turned around and there was a gang of five men on horses, hard-looking gents with skins about the color of old leather, and the biggest one was nigh as dark as a Indian with drooping whiskers. He twist these whiskers and scowled, and says, “Didn’t you hear me? What you bustin’ chunks off that rock for?”
“I’m prospectin’ for gold,” I says. He kinda turned purple, and his eyes got red and he snorted through his whiskers and says, “Don’t you try to make no fool outa William Hyrkimer Hawkins! The boundless prairies is dotted with the bones of such misguided idjits. I ast you a civil question—”
“I done told you,” I said. “I’m huntin’ me some gold. I heard tell they git it outa rocks.”
He looked kinda stunned, and the men behind him haw-hawed and said, “Don’t shoot him, Bill, the blame hillbilly is on the level.”
“By golly,” he said, twisting his mustash, “I believe it. But he ain’t no hillbilly. Who’re you, and where you from, and where you goin’?”
“I’m Buckner Jeopardy Grimes,” I says. “I’m from Knife River County, Texas, and I’m on my way to the gold fields of Californy.”
“Well,” says he, “you still got a long way to go.”
“Ain’t this Californy?” I says.
He says, “Naw, this here is New Mexico. Come on. We’re ridin’ to Smokeville. Climb on yore cayuse and trail with us.”
“What you want this gangle-legged waddy grazin’ around with us for?” demanded one of the fellers.
“He’s good for a laugh,” said Hawkins.
“If you like yore humor mixed up with gun smoke,” opined a bald-headed old cuss which looked like a pessimistic timber wolf. “I’ve seen a lot of hombres outa Texas, and some was smart and some was dumb, but they was all alike in one respect: they was all pizen.”
Hawkins snorted and I mounted onto my brother Jim’s horse and we started for Smokeville, wherever that was. They was four men and Hawkins, and they called thereselves “Squint” and “Red” and “Curly” and “Arizona,” and next to some of my relatives on Knife River, they was the toughest-looking gang of thugs I ever seen in my life.
Then after a while we come in sight of Smokeville. It wasn’t as big as Knife River, but it had about as many saloons. They rode into town at a dead run, hollering and shooting off their pistols. I rode with ’em because I wanted to be polite, but I didn’t celebrate none, because I was a long ways from home and low in my spirits.
All the folks taken to cover, and Hawkins rode his horse up on the porch of a saloon. There was a piece of paper tacked on the wall.
His men says, “What does it say, Bill? Read it to us!”
So he spit his tobaccer out on the porch, and read:
Us citizens of Smokeville has passed the follerin’ laws which we aims to see enforced to the full extent of fines and imprisonment and being plugged with a .45 for resistin’ arrest. It’s agin’ the law to shoot off pistols in saloons and resternts; it’s agin’ the law for gents to shoot each other inside the city limits; it’s agin’ the law to ride horses into saloons and shoot buttons off the bartender’s coat.
Signed: Us citizens of Smokeville and Joe Clanton, sheriff.
Hawkins roared like a bull looking at a red bandanner.
“What air we a-comin’ to?” he bellered. “What kind of a government air we livin’ under? Air we men or air we jassacks? Is they no personal liberty left no more?”
“I dunno,” I said. “I never heered of no such laws back in Texas.”
“I warn’t talkin’ to you, you long-legged road- runner!” he snorted, ripping the paper off the wall. “Foller me, boys. We’ll show ’em they can’t tromple on the rights of free-born white men!”
So they surged into the saloon on their horses and the bartender run out the back way hollering, “Run, everybody! Hawkins is back in town!”
So the feller they called Squint got behind the bar and started servin’ the drinks. They all got off of their cayuses so’s they could drink easier, and Hawkins told me to take the horses out and tie ’em to the hitching rack.
I done it, and when I got back they’d dragged the sheriff out from under the bar where he was hiding, and was making him eat the paper Hawkins had tore off the wall. He was a fat man with a bald head and a pot belly, and they’d tooken his gun away, which he hadn’t tried to use.
“A fine specimen you be!” said Hawkins fiercely, sticking his gun muzzle outa sight in the sheriff ’s quivering belly. “I oughta shoot you! Tryin’ to persecute honest men! Tryin’ to crush human liberty under the mailed fist of oppressive laws! Sheriff ! Bah! We impeaches you!” He jerked off Clanton’s star and kicked him heartily in the pants. “Git out! You ain’t sheriff no more’n a jack rabbit.” Clanton made for the door like he had wasps in his britches, and they shot the p’ints off his spurs as he run.
“The nerve of these coyotes!” snorted Hawkins, downing about a quart of licker at a snort and throwing the bottle through the nearest glass winder. “Sheriff ! Ha!” He glared around till he spied me. Then he grinned like a timber wolf, and says, “Come here, you! I make you sheriff of Smokeville!” And he stuck the badge on my shirt, and everybody haw-hawed and shot their pistols through the roof.
I said, “I ain’t never done no sheriffin’ before. What am I supposed to do?”
“The first thing is to set up drinks for the house,” said Red.
I said, “I ain’t got but a dollar.”
And Hawkins said, “Don’t be a sap. None of my men ever pays for anything they get in Smokeville. I got a pocketful of money right now, but you don’t see me handin’ out none to these sissies, does you?”
So I said, “Oh, all right then, the drinks is on me.”
And everybody yelled and hollered and shot holes in the mirror behind the bar and guzzled licker till it was astonishing to behold. After a while they scattered up and down the street, some into other saloons, and some into a dance hall.
So I taken brother Jim’s horse down to the wagon yard and told the man to take care of him.
He looked at my badge very curious, but said he’d do it.
So I said, “I understand none of Mr. Hawkins’ men has to pay for nothin’ in Smokeville. Is that right?”
He kinda shivered and said that Mr. Hawkins was such a credit to the country that nobody had the heart to charge him for anything, and them which had was not now in the land of the living.
Well, this all seemed very strange to me, but Pap once told me that when I got outa Texas I would find folks in other parts had different customs. So I went back up the street. Hawkins’ gang was still raising hell and very few folks was in sight. I never seen people so scared of five men in my life. I seen a resternt up toward the east end of the street, and I was hungry and went in. They was a awful purty gal in there.
I would ’a’ beat a retreat, because I was awful bashful and scared of gals, but she seen me and kinda turned pale, and said, “What—what do you want?”
So I taken off my hat, and said, “I would like a steak and some aigs and ’taters and a few molasses if it ain’t too much trouble, please, ma’am.”
So I sot down and she went to work and slung the stuff together, and purty soon she looked at me kinda apprehensive, and says, “How—how long are you men going to stay in Smokeville?”
I said I jedged the gents would stay till all the whisky was gone, which wouldn’t be long at the rate they was demolishing it, and I says, “You’re a foreigner, ain’t you, miss?”
And she says, “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” I says, “I ain’t never hear nobody talk like that before.”
“I am from New York,” she says.
So I says, “Where at is that?”
She says, “It’s away back East.”
“Oh,” I says, “it must be somewheres on t’other side of the Guadalupe.”
She just hove a sigh and shaken her head like she wished she was back there, and just then in come a old codger, with whiskers, which sot down and likewise hove a sigh, clean up from his boot tops. He said, “T’ain’t no use, Miss Joan. I can’t raise the dough. Them thievin’ scoundrels has stole me plumb out. They got the last bunch the other night. All I got on my ranch is critters too old or too sorry for Bill Hawkins to bother to steal—”
She turned pale and whispered, “For Heaven’s sake, be careful, Mr. Garfield; that’s one of Hawkins’ men sitting right there!”
He turned around and seen me, and he turned pale, too, under his whiskers, but he riz up and shaken his fist at me, and said, “Well, you heered what I said, and I ain’t takin’ it back! Bill Hawkins is a thief, and all his men air thieves! Everybody in this country knows they’re thieves, only they’re too skeered to say so! Now, go ahead and shoot me! You and yore gang of outlaws has stole me out and ruined me till I might as well be dead. Well, what you goin’ to do?”
“I’m goin’ to eat this here can of cling peaches if you’ll quit yellin’ at me,” I said, and him and Miss Joan looked astonished, and he sot down and mumbled in his beard and she looked sorry for him and for herself, and I et my peaches.
When I got through, I said, “How much I owe you, miss?”
She looked like she’d just saw a ghost and said, “What?”
“How much, please, ma’am,” I said.
She said, “I never heard of one of Hawkins’ men paying for anything—but it’s a dollar, if yo’re not kidding me.”
I laid down my dollar, and just then somebody shot off their gun outside. In come Hawkins’ man Curly. He was drunk and weaving and he shot his pistol into the roof and yelled, “Gimme some grub and be quick about it!”
Old man Garfield turned white under his whiskers and doubled his fists like he yearned to do somebody vi’lence, and Miss Joan looked scared and started fixing the grub.
Curly seen me and he guffawed, “Howdy, sheriff, you long-legged Texas sage-rooster! Haw! Haw! Haw! That there was the funniest one Bill ever pulled!” So he sot down and breathed whisky fumes all over the place, and when Miss Joan brung his vittles, he grabbed her arm and leered like a cat eating prickly pears, and says, “Gimme a kiss, gal!”
She says, quick and scared, “Let me go! Please let me go!”
I got up then and says, “What you mean by such actions? I never heered of such doins in my life! You release go of her and apolergize!”
“Why, you long, ganglin’ Texas lunkhead!” he yelped, reaching for his gun. “Set down and shet up before I pistol-whips the livin’ daylights outa you!”
So I split open his scalp with my gun barrel, and he fell onto the floor and kicked a few times and layed still. I hauled him to the back door and throwed him down the steps. He fell, head first, into a garbage can which upsot and spilled garbage all over him. He laid there like a hawg in its trough, which was the proper place for him.
“Pap told me other places was different from Texas,” I says fretfully, “but I never had no idee they was this different.”
“I’m getting used to it,” she says with a kinda hard laugh. “The people that live here are good folks, but every time Hawkins and his gang come into town I have to put up with such things as you just saw.”
“How come you ever come out here in the first place?” I asked, because it was just dawning on me that she must be one of them Eastern tenderfoots I’d heard tell of.
“I was tired of slaving in a city,” she said. “I saved my money and came West. When I got to Denver I read an advertisement in a newspaper about a man offering a restaurant for sale in Smokeville, New Mexico. I came here and spent every penny I had on it. It was all right, until Hawkins and his gang started terrorizing the town.”
“I was all set to buy her out,” said old man Garfield mournfully. “I used to be a cook before I was blame fool enough to go into the cattle business. A resternt in Smokeville for my declinin’ years is my idee of heaven—exceptin’ Hawkins and his gang. But I can’t raise the dough. Them thieves has stole me out. Five hundred buys her, and I can’t raise it.”
“Five hundred would get me out of this place and back to some civilized country,” said Miss Joan, with a kind of sob.
I was embarrassed because it always makes me feel bad to see a woman cry. I feel like a yaller dawg, even when it ain’t my fault. I looked down, and all to onst my gaze fell onto the badge which Hawkins had pinned onto my shirt.
“Wait here!” I said suddenly, and I taken old man Garfield by the neck and shoved him down in a chair. “You all stay here till I get back,” I says. “Don’t go no place. I’ll be back right away.”
As I went out the front door, Curly come weaving around the building with egg shells in his ears and ’tater peelings festooned on him, and he was mumbling something about cuckoo clocks and fumbling for his gun. So I hit him under the jaw for good measure and he coiled up under a horse trough and layed there.
I heard a gun banging in the Eagle Saloon, which was about a block west of the resternt, and I went in. Sure enough, Bill Hawkins was striding up and down in solitary grandeur, amusing hisself shooting bottles off the shelves behind the bar.
“Where’s the rest of the fellers?” I asked.
“In the Spanish Bar at the west end of town,” he said. “What’s it to you?”
“Nothin’,” I says.
“Well,” says he, “I’m goin’ to the resternt and make that gal cook me some grub. I’m hungry.”
“I reckon that’s what’s sp’ilin’ yore aim,” I says.
He jumped like he was stabbed and cussed. “What you mean, sp’ilin’ my aim?” he roared.
“Well,” I said, “I seen you miss three of them bottle tops. Back in Texas—”
“Shet up!” he bellered. “I don’t want to hear nothin’ about Texas. You say ‘Texas’ to me just once more and I’ll blow yore brains out.”
“All right,” I said, “but I bet you can’t write yore initials in that mirror behind the bar with yore six-guns.”
“Huh!” he snorted, and begun blazing away with both hands.
“What you quittin’ for?” I asked presently.
“My guns is empty,” he said. “I got to reload.”
“No, you don’t,” I says, shoving my right-hand gun in his belly. “Drop them empty irons!”
He looked as surprised as if a picture had clumb off the wall and bit him.
“What you mean?” he roared. “Is this here yore idee of a joke?”
“Drop them guns and h’ist yore hands,” I commanded.
He turned purple, but he done so, and then dipped and jerked a bowie out of his boot, but I shot it outa his hand before he could straighten. He was white and shaking with rage.
“I arrests you for disturbin’ the peace,” I said.
“What you mean, you arrests me?” he bellered. “You ain’t no sheriff!”
“I am, too,” I said. “You gimme this here badge yoreself. They’s a law against shootin’ holes in saloon mirrors. I tries you and I finds you guilty, and I fines you a fine.”
“How much you fines me?” he asked.
“How much you got?” I asked.
“None of yore cussed business!” he howled.
So I made him turn around with his hands in the air, and I pulled a roll outa his hip pocket big enough to choke a cow.
“This here dough,” I said, “is the money you got from sellin’ the steers you stole from pore old man Garfield. I know, from the remarks yore men let drop while we was ridin’ to Smokeville. Stand still whilst I count it, and don’t try no monkey business.”
So I kept him covered with one hand and counted the dough with the other, and it was slow work, because I hadn’t never seen that much money. But finally I announced, “I fines you five hundred bucks. Here’s the rest.” And I give him back a dollar and fifteen cents.
“You thief !” he howled. “You bandit! You robber! I’ll have yore life for this.”
“Aw, shet up,” I says. “I’m goin’ to lock you up in jail for the night. Some of yore gang can let you out after I’m gone. If I was to let you go now, I’d probably have some trouble with you before I could git outa town.”
“You would!” he asserted bloodthirstily.
“And bein’ a peaceful critter,” I says, jabbing my muzzle into his back, “I takes this here precaution. Git goin’ before I scatters yore remnants all over the floor.”
The jail was a short distance behind the stores and things. I marched him out the back door, and his cussing was something terrible every step of the way. The jail was a small, one-roomed building and a big fat egg was sleeping in the shade. I give him a kick in the pants to wake him up.
He throwed up his hands and yelled, “Don’t shoot! The key’s hangin’ on that nail by the door!” before he got his eyes open.
When he seen me and my prisoner his jaw fell down a foot or so.
“Be you the jailer?” I asked.
“I’m Reynolds, Clanton’s deperty,” he said in a small voice.
“Well,” I says, “onlock that door. We got a prisoner.”
“Wait a minute,” he said. “Ain’t that Bill Hawkins?”
“Sure it is,” I said impatiently. “Hustle, will you?”
“But, gee whiz!” says he. “You ain’t lockin’ up Bill Hawkins!”
“Will you onlock that door and stop gabblin’?” I hollered in exasperation. “You want me to ’rest you for obstructin’ justice?”
“It’s agin’ my better jedgment,” he said, shaking his head as he done my bidding. “It’ll cost us all our lives.”
“And that ain’t no lie!” agreed Hawkins bitterly. But I booted him into the jug, paying no attention to his horrible threats. I told Reynolds to guard him and not let him out till next morning, not on no conditions whatever. Then I headed back up the street for the resternt. Noises of revelry was coming from the Spanish Bar, way down at the west end of the street, and I figgered Hawkins’ braves was still down there.
When I come into the resternt, Miss Joan and old man Garfield was still setting there where I left ’em, looking sorry. I shoved the wad I had took from Hawkins into old man Garfield’s hands, and I says, “Count it!”
He looked dumfounded, but he done so, kind of mechanical, and I says, “How much is they?”
“Five hundred bucks even,” he stuttered.
“That there is right,” I said, yanking the roll out of his hands, and giving it to Miss Joan. “Old man Garfield is now owner of this here hash house. And you got dough enough to go back East.”
“But I don’t understand,” said Miss Joan, kinda dazedly. “Whose money is this?”
“It’s yourn,” I said.
“Hold on,” says old man Garfield. “Ain’t them Bill Hawkins’ ivory-handled guns you got stuck in yore belt?”
“Uh-huh,” I says, laying ’em on the counter. “Why?”
He turned pale and his whiskers curled up and shuddered. “Is that Hawkins’ dough?” he whispered. “Have you croaked him?”
“Naw,” I says. “I ain’t croaked him. He’s in the jail house. And it wasn’t his dough. He just thought it was.”
“I’m too young to die,” quavered old man Garfield. “I knowed they was bound to be a catch in this. You young catamount, don’t you realize that when Hawkins gits outa jail, and finds me ownin’ this resternt, he’ll figger out that I put you up to robbin’ him? He knows I ain’t got no money. You mean well, and I’m plumb grateful, but you done put my aged neck in a sling. He’ll tear this resternt j’int from rafter, and shoot me plumb full of holes.”
“And me!” moaned Miss Joan, turning the color of chalk. “My Lord, what will he do to me?”
I was embarrassed and hitched my gun belt.
“Dawg-gone it,” I says bitterly, “Pap was right. Everything I does is wrong. I never figgered on that. I’ll just have to—”
“Sheriff !” hollered somebody on the outside. “Sheriff!”
Reynolds staggered in with blood streaming from a gash in his head.
“Run, everybody!” he bawled. “Hawkins is out! He pulled the bars outa the winder with his bare hands and hit me on the head with one, and he taken my gun, and he’s headin’ for the Spanish Bar to git his pards and take the town apart! He’s nigh loco he’s so mad, and ravin’ and swearin’ that he’ll burn the town and kill every man in it!”
At that old man Garfield let out a wail of despair, and Miss Joan sank down behind the counter with a moan.
“Le’s take to the hills,” babbled Reynolds. “Clanton’s hidin’ out there somewhere, and—”
“Aw, shet up,” I grunted. “You all stay here. I’m sheriff of this here town, and it’s my job to pertect the citizens. Shet up and set down.”
And, so saying, I hurried out the back door and turned west. As I passed the corner of the building I noticed that Curly was still laying where I left him, being overcome with licker and swats on the dome, though he was showing some signs of life.
I run along behind the backs of the buildings, dodging from one to the other. The Spanish Bar was on the same side of the street as the resternt, so I didn’t have to cross the street to get to it. Evidently, word of the impending massacre must have spread, because the town was perfectly still and tense, except the racket that was goin’ on in the Spanish Bar, where evidently the bold bandits was priming on raw licker and blasphemy for wholesale murder.
I ducked into the back door and was in the saloon before they knowed it, with a gun in each hand. They all whirled away from the bar and glared at me; there was Red, Squint, and Arizona. Hawkins wasn’t there; I heard him bellering out in the street for Curly.
“Don’t move,” I cautioned ’em.
But as if my remark was a fuse to set off a explosion, they all yelled and went for their guns.
I killed Red before he could unleather his irons, and Squint only got in one shot which chipped my ear before I perforated his anatomy in three important places. Arizona missed me with his left-hand gun, but planted a slug in my thigh with his right, before giving up the ghost, hot lead proving harder than even his skull. It was short and deadly as a concentrated cyclone—guns roaring at close range—bullets spatting into flesh—men falling through the smoke. And just as Arizona dropped, Hawkins loomed in the door with Reynolds’ gun in his hand.
He was big as a house anyhow, and he looked even bigger through the curling smoke, with his eyes blazing and his mustaches bristling. He roared like a hurricane through the mesquite, and we fired simultaneous. His bullet lodged in my shoulder, and the last slug in my right-hand gun knocked his pistol out of his hand, along with a finger or so.
He then give a maddened roar and come plunging at me bare-handed. I planted the last three bullets of my other gun in various necessary parts of his carcass as he come, but they just seemed to irritate him. The last shot went into his belly so close the powder burned his shirt. Every other man I ever shot that way imejitately bent double and dropped, but this New Mexican grizzly merely give a enraged beller, jerked the gun outa my hand, fell on me and started beating my brains out with the butt.
He derned near scalped me with that .45 stock. We rolled over and over across the bloodstained floor, bumping over corpses and splintering chairs and tables, him bellering like a bull and choking me with one hand and bashing my head with the gun handle in the other one, and me feeding my bowie to him free and generous in the groin, breast, neck, and belly. I fed it to him sixteen times before he stiffened and went limp. I could hardly believe I’d won. I’d begun to think he couldn’t be croaked. I rize up groggily and shaken some of the blood outa my eyes, and pulled back a loose flap of scalp, and stared dizzily at that shambles—
Presently the awed citizens of Smokeville crept out of their refuges and looked in pallidly to where I sot amidst the ruins, with my bloody head in my hands, weeping bitterly. Old man Garfield was there, and Miss Joan, and Clanton and Reynolds, and a lot of others.
“G-good gosh!” hollored Clanton, wild-eyed. “Are we seein’ things?”
“I reckon you want yore badge,” I says sadly, pulling it off my shirt.
He waved it away with a shaking hand. “You keep it!” he says. “I think Smokeville has found herself a real sheriff at last! Hey, boys?”
“You bet!” they hollered. “Keep the badge and be our regular sheriff!”
“Naw,” I gulped, wiping away some tears. “This ain’t my game. I just mixed in to help some folks. You keep that dough, Miss Joan, and you keep the resternt, Mr. Garfield. It was yore dough by rights. I ain’t no sheriff. I appreshiates yore trust, but if you all would just be so kind as to dig some of this here lead outa me, and sew my scalp back onto my skull in nine or ten places, I’ll be on my way. I got to go to Californy. Pap told me to.”
“But what you cryin’ about?” they asked in awe.
“Aw, I’m just homesick,” I sobbed, glancing around at the blood-smeared ruins. “This here reminds me so much of Knife River, way back in Texas!”
I HEAR the citizens of War Whoop has organized theirselves into a committee of public safety which they says is to pertect the town agen me, Buckner J. Grimes. Sech doings as that irritates me. You'd think I was a public menace or something.
I'm purty dern tired of their slanders. I didn't tear down their cussed jail; the buffalo-hunters done it. How could I when I was in it at the time?
As for the Silver Boot saloon and dance hall, it wouldn't of got shot up if the owner had showed any sense. It was Ace Middleton's own fault he got his hind laig busted in three places, and if the city marshal had been tending to his own business instead of persecuting a pore, helpless stranger, he wouldn't of got the seat of his britches full of buckshot.
Folks which says I went to War Whoop a-purpose to wreck the town, is liars. I never had no idea at first of going there at all. It's off the railroad and infested with tinhorn gamblers and buffalo-hunters and sech-like varmints, and no place for a trail-driver.
My visit to this lair of vice come about like this: I'd rode p'int on a herd of longhorns clean from the lower Pecos to Goshen, where the railroad was. And I stayed there after the trail-boss and the other boys headed south, to spark the belle of the town, Betty Wilkinson, which gal was as purty as a brand-new bowie knife. She seemed to like me middling tolerable, but I had rivals, notably a snub-nosed Arizona waddy by the name of Bizz Ridgeway.
This varmint's persistence was so plumb aggravating that I come in on him sudden-like one morning in the back room of the Spanish Mustang, in Goshen, and I says:
"Lissen here, you sand-burr in the pants of progress, I'm a peaceable man, generous and retirin' to a fault. But I'm reachin' the limit of my endurance. Ain't they no gals in Arizona, that you got to come pesterin' mine? Whyn't yuh go on back home where you belong anyhow? I'm askin' yuh like a gent to keep away from Betty Wilkinson before somethin' onpleasant is forced to happen to yuh."
He kind of r'ared up, and says: "I ain't the only gent which is sparkin' Betty. Why don't you make war-talk to Rudwell Shapley, Jr.?"
"He ain't nothin' but a puddin'-headed tenderfoot," I responded coldly. "I don't consider him in no serious light. A gal with as much sense as Betty wouldn't pay him no mind. But you got a slick tongue and might snake yore way ahead of me. So I'm tellin' you—"
He started to git up in a hurry, and I reached for my bowie, but then he sunk back down in his chair and to my amazement he busted into tears.
"What in thunder's the matter with you?" I demanded, shocked.
"Woe is me!" moaned he. "Yuh're right, Breck. I got no business hangin' around Betty. But I didn't know she was yore gal. I ain't got no matrimonial intentions onto her. I'm jest kind of consolin' myself with her company, whilst bein' parted by crooel Fate from my own true love."
"Hey," I says, pricking up my ears and uncocking my pistol. "You ain't in love with Betty? You got another gal?"
"A pitcher of divine beauty!" vowed he, wiping his eyes on my bandanner. "Gloria La Venner, which sings in the Silver Boot, over to War Whoop. We was to wed—"
Here his emotions overcome him and he sobbed loudly.
"But Fate interfered," he moaned. "I was banished from War Whoop, never to return. In a thoughtless moment I kind of pushed a bartender with a clawhammer, and he had a stroke of apperplexity or somethin' and died, and they blamed me. I was forced to flee without tellin' my true love where I was goin'.
"I ain't dared to go back because them folks over there is so prejudiced agen' me they threatens to arrest me on sight. My true love is eatin' her heart out, waitin' for me to come and claim her as my bride, whilst I lives here in exile!"
Bizz then wept bitterly on my shoulder till I throwed him off in some embarrassment.
"Whyn't yuh write her a letter, yuh dad-blamed fool?" I ast.
"I can't write, nor read, neither," he said. "And I don't trust nobody to send word to her by. She's so beautiful, the critter I'd send would probably fall in love with her hisself, the lowdown polecat!" Suddenly he grabbed my hand with both of his'n, and said, "Breck, you got a honest face, and I never did believe all they say about you, anyway. Whyn't you go and tell her?"
"I'll do better'n that if it'll keep you away from Betty," I says. "I'll bring this gal over here to Goshen."
"Yuh're a gent!" says he, wringing my hand. "I wouldn't entrust nobody else with sech a sacred mission. Jest go to the Silver Boot and tell Ace Middleton you want to see Gloria La Venner alone."
"All right," I said. "I'll rent a buckboard to bring her back in."
"I'll be countin' the hours till yuh heaves over the horizen with my true love!" declaimed he, reaching for the whiskey bottle.
So I hustled out, and who should I run into but that pore sapified shrimp of a Rudwell Shapley Joonyer in his monkey jacket and tight riding pants and varnished English boots. We like to had a collision as I barged through the swinging doors and he squeaked and staggered back and hollered: "Don't shoot!"
"Who said anything about shootin'?" I ast irritably, and he kind of got his color back and looked me over like I was a sideshow or something, like he always done.
"Your home," says he, "is a long way from here, is it not, Mister Grimes?"
"Yeah," I said. "I live on Wolf Mountain, 'way down near whar the Pecos runs into the Rio Grande."
"Indeed!" he says kind of hopefully. "I suppose you'll be returning soon?"
"Naw, I ain't," I says. "I'll probably stay here all fall."
"Oh!" says he dejectedly, and went off looking like somebody had kicked him in the pants. I wondered why he should git so down-in-the-mouth jest because I warn't goin' home. But them tenderfoots ain't got no sense and they ain't no use wasting time trying to figger out why they does things, because they don't generally know theirselves.
For instance, why should a object like Rudwell Shapley Jr. come to Goshen, I want to know? I ast him once p'int blank and he says it was a primitive urge so see life in the raw, whatever that means. I thought maybe he was talking about grub, but the cook at the Laramie Restaurant said he takes his beefsteaks well done like the rest of us.
Well, anyway, I got onto my hoss Cap'n Kidd and pulled for War Whoop which laid some miles west of Goshen. I warn't wasting no time, because the quicker I got Gloria La Venner to Goshen, the quicker I'd have a clear field with Betty. Of course it would of been easier and quicker jest to shoot Bizz, but I didn't know how Betty'd take it. Women is funny that way.
I figgered to eat dinner at the Half-Way House, a tavern which stood on the prairie about half-way betwix Goshen and War Whoop, but as I approached it I met a most pecooliar-looking object heading east.
I presently recognized it as a cowboy name Tump Garrison, and he looked like he'd been through a sorghum mill. His hat brim was pulled loose from the crown and hung around his neck like a collar, his clothes hung in rags. His face was skint all over, and one ear showed signs of having been chawed on long and earnestly.
"Where was the tornado?" I ast, pulling up.
He give me a suspicious look out of the eye he could still see with.
"Oh, it's you Breck," he says then. "My brains is so addled, I didn't recognize you at first. In fact," says he, tenderly caressing a lump on his head the size of a turkey aig, "It's jest a few minutes ago that I managed to remember my own name."
"What happened?" I ast with interest.
"I ain't shore," says he, spitting out three or four loose tushes. "Leastways I ain't shore jest what happened after that there table laig was shattered over my head. Things is a little foggy after that. But up to that time my memory is flawless.
"Briefly, Breck," says he, rising in his stirrups to rub his pants where they was the print of a boot heel, "I diskivered that I warn't welcome at the Half-Way House, and big as you be, I advises yuh to avoid it like yuh would the yaller j'indus."
"It's a public tavern," I says.
"It was," says he, working his right laig to see if it was still in j'int. "It was till Moose Harrison, the buffalo-hunter, arrove there to hold a private celebration of his own. He don't like cattle nor them which handles 'em. He told me so hisself, jest before he hit me with the bung-starter.
"He said he warn't aimin' to be pestered by no dern Texas cattle-pushers whilst he's enjoyin' a little relaxation. It was jest after issuin' this statement that he throwed me through the roulette wheel."
"You ain't from Texas," I said. "Yuh're from the Nations."
"That's what I told him whilst he was doin' a war-dance on my brisket," says Tump. "But he said he was too broadminded to bother with technicalities. Anyway, he says cowboys was the plague of the range, irregardless of where they come from."
"Oh, he did, did he?" I says irritably. "Well, I ain't huntin' trouble. I'm on a errand of mercy. But he better not shoot off his big mouth to me. I eats my dinner at the Half-Way House, regardless of all the buffler-hunters north of the Cimarron."
"I'd give a dollar to see the fun," says Tump. "But my other eye is closin' fast and I got to git amongst friends."
So he pulled for Goshen and I rode on to the Half-Way House, where I seen a big bay hoss tied to the hitch-rack. I watered Cap'n Kidd and went in. "Hssss!" the bartender says. "Git out as quick as yuh can! Moose Harrison's asleep in the back room!"
"I'm hongry," I responded, setting down at a table which stood nigh the bar. "Bring me a steak with pertaters and onions and a quart of coffee and a can of cling peaches. And whilst the stuff's cookin' gimme nine or ten bottles of beer to wash the dust out of my gullet."
"Lissen!" says the barkeep. "Reflect and consider. Yuh're young and life is sweet. Don't yuh know that Moose Harrison is pizen to anything that looks like a cowpuncher? When he's on a whiskey-tear, as at present, he's more painter than human. He's kilt more men—"
"Will yuh stop blattin' and bring me my rations?" I requested.
He shakes his head sad-like and says: "Well, all right. After all, it's yore hide. At least, try not to make no racket. He's swore to have the life blood of anybody which wakes him up."
I said I didn't want no trouble with nobody, and he tiptoed back to the kitchen and whispered my order to the cook, and then brung me nine or ten bottles of beer and slipped back behind the bar and watched me with morbid fascination.
I drunk the beer and whilst drinking I got to kind of brooding about Moose Harrison having the nerve to order everybody to keep quiet whilst he slept. But they're liars which claims I throwed the empty bottles at the door of the back room a-purpose to wake Harrison up.
When the waiter brung my grub I wanted to clear the table to make room for it, so I jest kind of tossed the bottles aside, and could I help it if they all busted on the back-room door? Was it my fault that Harrison was sech a light sleeper?
But the bartender moaned and ducked down behind the bar, and the waiter run through the kitchen and follered the cook in a sprint acrost the prairie, and a most remarkable beller burst forth from the back room.
The next instant the door was tore off the hinges and a enormous human come bulging into the barroom. He wore buckskins, his whiskers bristled, and his eyes was red as a drunk Comanche's.
"What in tarnation?" remarked he in a voice which cracked the winder panes. "Does my gol-blasted eyes deceive me? Is that there a cussed cowpuncher settin' there wolfin' beefsteak as brash as if he was a white man?"
"You ride herd on them insults!" I roared, rising sudden, and his eyes kind of popped when he seen I was about three inches taller'n him. "I got as much right here as you have."
"Name yore weppins," blustered he. He had a butcher knife and two six- shooters in his belt.
"Name 'em yoreself," I snorted. "If you thinks yuh're sech a hell-whizzer at fist-and-skull, why, shuck yore weppin-belt and I'll claw yore ears off with my bare hands!"
"That suits me!" says he. "I'll festoon that bar with yore innards," and he takes hold of his belt like he was going to unbuckle it—then, quick as a flash, he whipped out a gun. But I was watching for that and my right-hand .45 banged jest as his muzzle cleared leather.
The barkeep stuck his head up from behind the bar.
"Heck," he says wild-eyed, "you beat Moose Harrison to the draw, and him with the aidge! I wouldn't of believed it was possible if I hadn't saw it! But his friends will ride yore trail for this!"
"Warn't it self-defence?" I demanded.
"A clear case," says he. "But that won't mean nothin' to them wild and woolly buffalo-skinners. You better git back to Goshen where yuh got friends."
"I got business in War Whoop," I says. "Dang it, my coffee's cold. Dispose of the carcass and heat it up, will yuh?"
So he drug Harrison out, cussing because he was so heavy, and claiming I ought to help him. But I told him it warn't my tavern, and I also refused to pay for a decanter which Harrison's wild shot had busted. He got mad and said he hoped the buffalo-hunters did hang me. But I told him they'd have to ketch me without my guns first, and I slept with them on.
Then I finished my dinner and pulled for War Whoop.
It was about sundown when I got there, and I was purty hongry again. But I aimed to see Bizz's gal before I done anything else. So I put my hoss in the livery stable and seen he had a big feed, and then I headed for the Silver Boot, which was the biggest j'int in town.
There was plenty hilarity going on, but I seen no cowboys. The revelers was mostly gamblers, or buffalo-hunters, or soldiers, or freighters. War Whoop warn't popular with cattlemen. They warn't no buyers nor loading pens there, and for pleasure it warn't nigh as good a town as Goshen, anyway. I ast a barman where Ace Middleton was, and he p'inted out a big feller with a generous tummy decorated with a fancy vest and a gold watch chain about the size of a trace chain. He wore mighty handsome clothes and a diamond hoss-shoe stick pin and waxed mustache.
So I went up to him. He looked me over with very little favor.
"Oh, a cowpuncher, eh? Well, your money's as good as anybody's. Enjoy yourself, but don't get wild."
"I ain't aimin' to git wild," I says. "I want to see Gloria La Venner."
When I says that, he give a convulsive start and choked on his cigar. Everybody nigh us stopped laughing and talking and turned to watch us.
"What did you say?" he gurgled, gagging up the cigar. "Did I honestly hear you asking to see Gloria La Venner?"
"Shore," I says. "I aim to take her back to Goshen to git married—"
"You $&*!" says he, and grabbed up a table, broke off a laig and hit me over the head with it. It was most unexpected and took me plumb off guard.
I hadn't no idee what he was busting the table up for, and I was too surprised to duck. If it hadn't been for my Stetson it might of cracked my head. As it was, it knocked me back into the crowd, but before I could git my balance three or four bouncers grabbed me and somebody jerked my pistol out of the scabbard.
"Throw him out!" roared Ace, acting like a wild man. He was plumb purple in the face. "Steal my girl, will he? Hold him while I bust him in the snoot!"
He then rushed up and hit me very severely in the nose, whilst them bouncers was holding my arms. Well, up to that time I hadn't made no resistance. I was too astonished. But this was going too far, even if Ace was loco, as it appeared.
Nobody warn't holding my laigs, so I kicked Ace in the stummick and he curled up on the floor with a strangled shriek. I then started spurring them bouncers in the laigs and they yelled and let go of me, and somebody hit me in the ear with a blackjack.
That made me mad, so I reched for my bowie in my boot, but a big red- headed maverick kicked me in the face when I stooped down. That straightened me up, so I hit him on the jaw and he fell down acrost Ace which was holding his stummick and trying to yell for the city marshal.
Some low-minded scoundrel got a strangle-holt around my neck from behind and started beating me on the head with a pair of brass knucks. I ducked and throwed him over my head. Then I kicked out backwards and knocked over a couple more. But a scar-faced thug with a baseball bat got in a full-armed lick about that time and I went to my knees feeling like my skull was dislocated.
Six or seven of them then throwed theirselves onto me with howls of joy, and I seen I'd have to use vi'lence in spite of myself. So I drawed my bowie and started cutting my way through 'em. They couldn't of let go of me quicker if I'd been a cougar. They scattered every which-a-way, spattering blood and howling blue murder, and I riz r'aring and rampacious.
Somebody shot at me jest then, and I wheeled to locate him when a man run in at the door and p'inted a pistol at me. Before I could sling my knife through him, which was my earnest intention, he hollered:
"Drap yore deadly weppin! I'm the city marshal and yuh're under arrest!"
"What for?" I demanded. "I ain't done nothing."
"Nothing!" says Ace Middleton fiercely, as his menials lifted him onto his feet. "You've just sliced pieces out of five or six of our leading citizens! And there's my head bouncer, Red Croghan, out cold with a busted jaw. To say nothing of pushing my stomach through my spine. Ow! You must have mule blood in you, blast your soul!"
"Santry," he ordered the marshal, "he came in here drunk and raging and threatening, and started a fight for nothing. Do your duty! Arrest the cussed outlaw!"
Well, pap always tells me not to never resist no officer of the law, and anyway the marshal had my gun, and so many people was hollering and cussing and talking it kind of confused me. When they's any thinking to be did, I like to have a quiet place to do it and plenty of time.
So the first thing I knowed Santry had handcuffs on me and he hauls me off down the street with a big crowd follering and making remarks which is supposed to be funny. They come to a log hut with bars on the back winder, take off the handcuffs, shove me in and lock the door. There I was in jail without even seeing Gloria La Venner. It was plumb disgustful.
The crowd all hustled back to the Silver Boot to watch them fellers git sewed up which had fell afoul of my bowie, all but one fat cuss which said he was a guard, and he sot down in front of the jail with a double-barreled shotgun acrost his lap and went to sleep.
Well, there warn't nothing in the jail but a bunk with a hoss blanket on it, and a wooden bench. The bunk was too short for me to sleep on with any comfort, being built for a six foot man, so I sot down on it and waited for somebody to bring me some grub.
So after a while the marshal come and looked in at the winder and cussed me.
"It's a good thing for you," he says, "that yuh didn't kill none of them fellers. As it is, maybe we won't hang yuh."
"Yuh won't have to hang me if yuh don't bring me some grub purty soon," I said. "Are yuh goin' to let me starve in this dern jail?"
"We don't encourage crime in our town by feedin' criminals," he says. "If yuh want grub, gimme the money to buy it with."
I told him I didn't have but five bucks and I thought I'd pay my fine with that. He said five bucks wouldn't begin to pay my fine, so I gave him the five-spot to buy grub with, and he took it and went off.
I waited and waited, and he didn't come. I hollered to the guard, but he kept on snoring. Then purty soon somebody said: "Psst!" at the winder. I went over and looked out, and they was a woman standing behind the jail. The moon had come up over the prairie as bright as day, and though she had a cloak with a hood throwed over her, by what I could see of her face she was awful purty.
"I'm Gloria La Venner," says she. "I'm risking my life coming here, but I wanted to get a look at the man who was crazy enough to tell Ace Middleton he wanted to see me."
"What's crazy about that?" I ast.
"Don't you know Ace has killed three men already for trying to flirt with me?" says she. "Any man who can break Red Croghan's jaw like you did must be a bear-cat—but it was sheer madness to tell Ace you wanted to marry me."
"Aw, he never give me time to explain about that," I says. "It warn't me which wants to marry yuh. But what business is it of Middleton's? This here's a free country."
"That's what I thought till I started working for him," she says bitterly. "He fell in love with me, and he's so insanely jealous he won't let anybody even speak to me. He keeps me practically a prisoner and watches me like a hawk. I can't get away from him. Nobody in town dares to help me. They won't even rent me a horse at the livery stable.
"You see Ace owns most of the town, and lots of people are in debt to him. The rest are afraid of him. I guess I'll have to spend the rest of my life under his thumb," she says despairfully.
"Yuh won't, neither," I says. "As soon as I can git word to my friends in Goshen to send me a loan to pay my fine and git me out of this fool jail, I'll take yuh to Goshen where yore true love is pinin' for yuh."
"My true love?" says she, kind of startled-like. "What do you mean?"
"Bizz Ridgeway is in Goshen," I says. "He don't dare come after yuh hisself, so he sent me to fetch yuh."
She didn't say nothing for a spell, and then she spoke kind of breathless.
"All right, I must get back to the Silver Boot now, or Ace will miss me and start looking for me. I'll find Santry and pay your fine tonight. When he lets you out, come to the back door of the Silver Boot and wait in the alley. I'll come to you there as soon as I can slip away."
So I said all right, and she went away. The guard setting in front of the jail with his shotgun acrost his knees hadn't never woke up. But he did wake up about fifteen minutes after she left. A gang of men came up the street, whooping and cussing, and he jumped to his feet.
"Curses! Here comes Brant Hanson and a mob of them buffler-hunters, and they got a rope! They're headin' for the jail!"
"Who do yuh reckon they're after?" I inquired.
"They ain't nobody in jail but you," he suggested p'intedly. "And in about a minute they ain't goin' to be nobody nigh it but you and them. When Hanson and his bunch is in licker they don't care who they shoots!"
He then laid down his shotgun and lit a shuck down a back alley as hard as he could leg it.
So about a dozen buffalo-hunters in buckskins and whiskers come surging up to the jail and kicked on the door. They couldn't get the door open so they went around behind the shack and looked in at the winder.
"It's him, all right," said one of 'em. "Let's shoot him through the winder."
But the others said, "Naw, let's do the job in proper order," and I ast them what they wanted.
"We aims to hang yuh!" they answered enthusiastically.
"You cain't do that," I says. "It's agen the law."
"You kilt Moose Harrison!" said the biggest one, which they called Hanson.
"Well, it was a even break, and he tried to git the drop on me," I says.
Then Hanson says: "Enough of sech quibblin'. We made up our mind to hang yuh, so le's don't hear no more argyments about it. Here," he says to his pals, "tie a rope to the bars and we'll jerk the whole winder out. It'll be easier'n bustin' down the door. And hustle up, because I'm in a hurry to git back to that poker game in the R'arin' Buffalo."
So they tied a rope onto the bars and all laid onto it and heaved and grunted, and some of the bars come loose at one end. I picked up the bench aiming to bust their fool skulls with it as they clumb through the winder, but jest then another feller run up.
"Wait, boys," he hollered, "don't waste yore muscle. I jest seen Santry down at the Topeka Queen gamblin' with the money he taken off that dern cowboy, and he gimme the key to the door."
So they abandoned the winder and surged arount to the front of the jail, and I quick propped the bench agen the door, and run to the winder and tore out them bars which was already loose. I could hear 'em rattling at the door, and as I clumb through the winder one of 'em said: "The lock's turned but the door's stuck. Heave agen it."
So whilst they hev I run around the jail and picks up the guard's shotgun where he'd dropped it when he run off. Jest then the bench inside give way and the door flew open, and all them fellers tried to crowd through. As a result they was all jammed in the door and cussin' something fierce.
"Quit crowdin'," yelled Hanson. "Holy catamount, he's gone! The jail's empty!"
I then up with my shotgun and give 'em both barrels in the seat of their britches, which was the handiest to aim at, and they let out a most amazing squall and busted loose and fell headfirst into the jail. Some of 'em kept on going head-down like they'd started and hit the back wall so hard it knocked 'em stiff, and the others fell over 'em.
They was all tangled in a pile cussing and yelling to beat the devil, so I slammed the door and locked it and run around behind the jail house. Hanson was trying to climb out the winder, so I hit him over the head with my shotgun and he fell back inside and hollered.
"Halp! I'm mortally injured!"
"Shet up that unseemly clamor," I says sternly. "Ain't none of yuh hurt bad. Throw yore guns out the winder and lay down on the floor. Hustle, before I gives you another blast through the winder."
They didn't know the shotgun was empty, so they throwed their weppins out in a hurry and laid down, but they warn't quiet about it. They seemed to consider they'd been subjected to crooel and onusual treatment, and the birdshot in their sterns must of been a-stinging right smart, because the language they used was plumb painful to hear. I stuck a couple of their pistols in my belt.
"If one of you shows his head at that winder within a hour," I said, "he'll git it blowed off."
I then snuck back into the shadders and headed for the livery stable.
The livery stable man was reading a newspaper by a lantern, and he looked surprised and said he thought I was in jail. I ignored this remark, and told him to hitch me a fast hoss to a buckboard whilst I saddled Cap'n Kidd.
"Wait a minute!" says he. "I hear tell yuh told Ace Middleton yuh aimed to elope with Gloria La Venner. Yuh takin' this rig for her?"
"Yes, I am," I says.
"Well I'm a friend of Middleton's," he says, "and I won't rent yuh no rig under no circumstances."
"Then git outa my way," I said. "I'll hitch the hoss up myself."
He then drawed a bowie so I clinched with him, and as we was rasseling around he sort of knocked his head agen a swingletree I happen to have in my hand at the time, and collapses with a low gurgle. So I tied him up and rolled him under a oats bin. I also rolled out a buckboard and hitched the best-looking harness hoss I could find to it, but them folks is liars which is going around saying I stole that there outfit. It was sent back later.
I saddles my hoss and tied him on behind the buckboard and got in and started for the Silver Boot, wondering how long it would take them fool buffalo-hunters to find out I was jest bluffing, and warn't lying out behind the jail to shoot 'em as they climb out.
I turnt into the alley which run behind the Silver Boot and then tied the hosses and went up to the back door and peeked in. Gloria was there. She grabbed me and I could feel her trembling.
"I thought you'd never come!" she whispered. "It'll be time for my singing-act again in just a few minutes. I've been waiting here ever since I paid Santry your fine. What kept you so long? He left the Silver Boot as soon as I gave him the money."
"He never turned me out, the low-down skunk," I muttered. "Some— er—friends got me out. Come on, git in the buckboard."
I helped her up and gave her the lines.
"I got a debt to settle before I leave town," I said. "You go on and wait for me at that clump of cottonwoods east of town. I'll be on purty soon."
So she pulled out in a hurry and I got onto Cap'n Kidd. I rode him around to the front of the Silver Boot, tied him to the hitch-rack and dismounted. The Silver Boot was crowded. I could see Ace strutting around chawing a big black cigar, and joking and slapping folks on the back.
Everybody was having sech a hilarious time nobody noticed me as I stood in the doorway, so I pulled the buffalo-hunters' .45's, and let bam at the mirror behind the bar. The barman yelped and ducked the flying glass, and everybody whirled and gaped, and Ace jerked his cigar out of his mouth and bawled:
"It's that dern cowpuncher again! Get him!"
But them bouncers had seen my guns, and they was shying away, all except the scar-faced thug which had hit me with the bat, and he whipped a gun from under his vest. So I shot him through the right shoulder, and he fell over behind the monte table.
I begun to spray the crowd with hot lead free and generous and they stampeded every which-a-way. Some went through the winder, glass and all, and some went out the side doors, and some busted down the back door in their flight.
I likewise riddled the mirror behind the bar and shot down some of the hanging lamps and busted most of the bottles on the shelves.
Ace ducked behind a stack of beer kaigs and opened fire on me, but he showed pore judgement in not noticing he was right under a hanging lamp. I shot if off the ceiling and it fell down on his head, and you ought to of heard him holler when the burning ile run down his wuthless neck.
He come prancing into the open, wiping his neck with one hand and trying to shoot me with the other'n, and I drilled him through the hind laig. He fell down and bellered like a bull with its tail cotched in a fence gate.
"You dern murderer!" says he passionately. "I'll have yore life for this!"
"Shet up!" I snarled. "I'm jest payin' yuh back for all the pain and humiliation I suffered in this den of iniquity—"
At this moment a bartender riz up from behind a billiard table with a sawed-off shotgun, but I shot it out of his hands before he could cock it, and he fell over backwards hollering: "Spare my life!" Jest then somebody yelled: "Halt, in the name of the law!" and I looked around and it was that tinhorn marshal named Santry with a gun in his hand.
"I arrests you again!" he bawled. "Lay down yore weppins!"
"I'll lay yore carcase down," I responded. "Yuh ain't fitten for to be no law-officer. Yuh gambled away the five dollars I give yuh for grub, and yuh took the fine-money Miss La Venner give yuh, and didn't turn me out, and yuh give the key to them mobsters which wanted to hang me. You ain't no law. Yuh're a dern outlaw yoreself. Now yuh got a gun in yore hand same as me. Either start shootin' or throw it down!"
Well, he hollered, "Don't shoot!" and throwed it down and h'isted his hands. I seen he had my knife and pistol stuck in his belt, so I took them off of him, and tossed the .45's I'd been using onto the billiard table and said, "Give these back to the buffalo-hunters."
But jest then he whipped out a .38 he was wearing under his arm, and shot at me and knocked my hat off, and then he turnt and run around the end of the bar, all bent over to git his head below it. So I grabbed the bartender's shotgun and let bam with both barrels jest as his rear end was going out of sight.
He shrieked blue ruin and started having a fit behind the bar, so I throwed the shotgun through the roulette wheel and stalked forth, leaving Ace and the bouncer and the marshal wailing and wallering on the floor. It was plumb disgustful the way they wept and cussed over their trifling injuries.
I come out on the street so sudden that them cusses which was hiding behind the hoss trough to shoot me as I come out, was took by surprise and only grazed me in a few places, so I throwed a few slugs amongst 'em and they took to their heels.
I got on Cap'n Kidd and headed east down the street, ignoring the shots fired at me from the alleys and winders. That is, I ignored 'em except to shoot back at 'em as I run, and I reckon that's how the mayor got the lobe of his ear shot off. I thought I heard somebody holler when I answered a shot fired at me from behind the mayor's board fence.
Well, when I got to the clump of cottonwoods there warn't no sign of Gloria, the hoss, or the buckboard, but there was a note stuck up on a tree which I grabbed and read by the light of the moon.
Your friend must have been kidding you. I never even knew anybody named Bizz Ridgeway. But I'm taking this chance of getting away from Ace. I'm heading for Trevano Springs, and I'll send back the buckboard from there. Thank you for everything.
Gloria La Venner.
I got to Goshen about sunup, having loped all the way. Bizz Ridgeway was at the bar of the Spanish Mustang, and when he seen me he turned pale and dived for the winder, but I grabbed him.
"What you mean by tellin' me that lie about you and Gloria La Venner?" I demanded wrathfully. "Was you tryin' to git me kilt?"
"Well," says he, "to tell the truth, Breck, I was. All's fair in love or war, yuh know. I wanted to git yuh out of the way so I'd have a clear field with Betty Wilkinson, and I knowed about Ace Middleton and Gloria, and figgered he'd do the job if I sent yuh over there. But yuh needn't git mad. It didn't do me no good. Betty's already married."
"What?" I yelled.
He ducked instinctively.
"Yeah!" he says. "He took advantage of yore absence to pop the question, and she accepted him, and they're on their way to Kansas City for their honeymoon. He never had the nerve to ast her when you was in town, for fear yuh'd shoot him. They're goin' to live in the East because he's too scairt of you to come back."
"Who?" I screamed, foaming slightly at the mouth.
"Rudwell Shapley Jr.," says he. "It's all yore fault—"
It was at this moment that I dislocated Bizz Ridgeway's hind laig. I likewise defies the criticism which has been directed at this perfectly natural action. A Grimes with a busted heart is no man to trifle with.
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