THE RIDIN' KID FROM POWDER RIVER

 

 

_By_

 

HENRY HERBERT KNIBBS

 

 

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS

 

 

BOSTON AND NEW YORK.

 

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

 

1919

 

 

COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY HENRY HERBERT KNIBBS

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

 

 

CONTENTS

 

 

       I.  YOUNG PETE

      II.  FIREARMS AND NEW FORTUNES

     III.  A WARNING

      IV.  JUSTICE

       V.  A CHANGE OF BASE

      VI.  NEW VISTAS

     VII.  PLANS

    VIII.  SOME BOOKKEEPING

      IX.  ROWDY--AND BLUE SMOKE

       X.  "TURN HIM LOOSE!"

      XI.  POP ANNERSLEY'S BOY

     XII.  IN THE PIT

    XIII.  GAME

     XIV.  THE KITTY-CAT

      XV.  FOUR MEN

     XVI.  THE OPEN HOLSTER

    XVII.  A FALSE TRAIL

   XVIII.  THE BLACK SOMBRERO

     XIX.  THE SPIDER

      XX.  BULL MALVEY

     XXI.  BOCA DULZURA

    XXII.  "A DRESS--OR A RING--PERHAPS"

   XXIII.  THE DEVIL-WIND

    XXIV.  "A RIDER STOOD AT THE LAMPLIT BAR"

     XXV.  "PLANTED--OUT THERE"

    XXVI.  THE OLLA

   XXVII.  OVER THE LINE

  XXVIII.  A GAMBLE

    XXIX.  QUERY

     XXX.  BRENT'S MISTAKE

    XXXI.  FUGITIVE

   XXXII.  EL PASO

  XXXIII.  THE SPIDER'S ACCOUNT

   XXXIV.  DORIS

    XXXV.  "CAUGHT IT JUST IN TIME"

   XXXVI.  WHITE-EYE

  XXXVII.  "CLOSE THE CASES"

 XXXVIII.  GETTING ACQUAINTED

   XXXIX.  A PUZZLE GAME

      XL.  THE MAN DOWNSTAIRS

     XLI.  "A LAND FAMILIAR"

    XLII.  "OH, SAY TWO THOUSAND"

   XLIII.  A NEW HAT--A NEW TRAIL

    XLIV.  THE OLD TRAIL

     XLV.  HOME FOLKS

    XLVI.  THE RIDIN' KID FROM POWDER RIVER

 

 

 

 

ILLUSTRATIONS

 

 

THE RIDIN' KID . . . . _Colored Frontispiece_

 

_Drawn by Stanley L. Wood_

 

 

 

"SAY, AIN'T WE PARDNERS?"

 

PETE

 

COTTON HEARD PETE'S HAND STRIKE THE BUTT OF HIS GUN

  AS THE HOLSTER TILTED UP

 

"OF A TRUTH, NO!" SAID BOCA, AND SHE SWUNG THE BOTTLE

 

 

_Drawn by R. M. Brinkerhoff_

 

 

 

 

The Ridin' Kid from Powder River

 

 

CHAPTER I

 

YOUNG PETE

 

With the inevitable pinto or calico horse in his string the

horse-trader drifted toward the distant town of Concho, accompanied by

a lazy cloud of dust, a slat-ribbed dog, and a knock-kneed foal that

insisted on getting in the way of the wagon team.  Strung out behind

this indolently moving aggregation of desert adventurers plodded an

indifferent lot of cayuses, their heads lowered and their eyes filled

with dust.

 

Young Pete, perched on a saddle much too large for him, hazed the tired

horses with a professional "Hi!  Yah!  Git in there, you doggone,

onnery, three-legged pole-cat you!"  A gratuitous command, for the

three-legged pole-cat referred to had no other ambition than to shuffle

wearily along behind the wagon in the hope that somewhere ahead was

good grazing, water, and chance shade.

 

The trader was lean, rat-eyed, and of a vicious temper.  Comparatively,

the worst horse in his string was a gentleman.  Horse-trading and

whiskey go arm-in-arm, accompanied by their copartners, profanity and

tobacco-chewing.  In the right hand of the horse-trader is guile and in

his left hand is trickery.  And this squalid, slovenly-booted, and

sombrero'd gentleman of the outlands lived down to and even beneath all

the vicarious traditions of his kind, a pariah of the waste places,

tolerated in the environs of this or that desert town chiefly because

of Young Pete, who was popular, despite the fact that he bartered

profanely for chuck at the stores, picketed the horses in pasturage

already preempted by the natives, watered the horses where water was

scarce and for local consumption only, and lied eloquently as to the

qualities of his master's caviayard when a trade was in progress.  For

these manful services Young Pete received scant rations and much abuse.

 

Pete had been picked up in the town of Enright, where no one seemed to

have a definite record of his immediate ancestry.  He was quite willing

to go with the trader, his only stipulation being that he be allowed to

bring along his dog, another denizen of Enright whose ancestry was as

vague as were his chances of getting a square meal a day.  Yet the dog,

despite lean rations, suffered less than Young Pete, for the dog

trusted no man.  Consequently he was just out of reach when the trader

wanted to kick something.  Young Pete was not always so fortunate.  But

he was not altogether unhappy.  He had responsibilities, especially

when the trader was drunk and the horses needed attention.  Pete

learned much profanity without realizing its significance.  He also

learned to chew tobacco and realized its immediate significance.  He

mastered the art, however, and became in his own estimation a man

grown--a twelve-year-old man who could swear, chew, and show horses to

advantage when the trader could not, because the horses were not afraid

of Young Pete.

 

When Pete got kicked or cuffed he cursed the trader heartily.  Once,

after a brutal beating, Young Pete backed to the wagon, pulled the

rifle from beneath the seat, and threatened to kill the trader.  After

that the rifle was never left loaded.  In his tough little heart Pete

hated his master, but he liked the life, which offered much variety and

promised no little romance of a kind.

 

Pete had barely existed for twelve years.  When the trader came along

with his wagon and ponies and cajoled Pete into going with him, Pete

gladly turned his face toward wider horizons and the great adventure.

Yet for him the great adventure was not to end in the trading of horses

and drifting from town to town all his life.

 

Old man Annersley held down a quarter-section on the Blue Mesa chiefly

because he liked the country.  Incidently he gleaned a living by hard

work and thrift.  His homestead embraced the only water for miles in

any direction, water that the upland cattlemen had used from time

immemorial.  When Annersley fenced this water he did a most natural and

necessary thing.  He had gathered together a few head of cattle, some

chickens, two fairly respectable horses, and enough timber to build a

comfortable cabin.  He lived alone, a gentle old hermit whose hand was

clean to every man, and whose heart was tender to all living things

despite many hard years in desert and range among men who dispensed

such law as there was with a quick forefinger and an uncompromising

eye.  His gray hairs were honorable in that he had known no wastrel

years.  Nature had shaped him to a great, rugged being fitted for the

simplicity of mountain life and toil.  He had no argument with God and

no petty dispute with man.  What he found to do he did heartily.  The

horse-trader, camped near Concho, came to realize this.

 

Old man Annersley was in need of a horse.  One of his team had died

that winter.  So he unhooked the pole from the buckboard, rigged a pair

of shafts, and drove to Concho, where he heard of the trader and

finally located that worthy drinking at Tony's Place.  Young Pete, as

usual, was in camp looking after the stock.  The trader accompanied

Annersley to the camp.  Young Pete, sniffing a customer, was

immediately up and doing.  Annersley inspected the horses and finally

chose a horse which Young Pete roped with much swagger and unnecessary

language, for the horse was gentle, and quite familiar with Young

Pete's professional vocabulary.

 

"This here animal is sound, safe, and a child could ride him," asserted

Young Pete as he led the languid and underfed pony to the wagon.  "He's

got good action."  Pete climbed to the wagon-wheel and mounted

bareback.  "He don't pitch, bite, kick, or balk."  The horse, used to

being shown, loped a few yards, turned and trotted back.  "He

neck-reins like a cow-hoss," said Pete, "and he can turn in a ten-cent

piece.  You can rope from him and he'll hold anything you git your rope

on."

 

"Reckon he would," said Annersley, and his eyes twinkled.  "'Specially

a hitchin'-rail.  Git your rope on a hitchin'-rail and I reckon that

hitchin'-rail would never git away from him."

 

"He's broke right," reasserted Young Pete.  "He's none of your ornery,

half-broke cayuses.  You ought to seen him when he was a colt!  Say, 't

wa'n't no time afore he could outwork and outrun any hoss in our bunch."

 

"How old be you?" queried Annersley.

 

"Twelve, goin' on thirteen."

 

"Uh-huh.  And the hoss?"

 

"Oh, he's got a little age on him, but that don't hurt him none."

 

Annersley's beard twitched.  "He must 'a' been a colt for quite a

spell.  But I ain't lookin' for a cow-hoss.  What I want is a hoss that

I can work.  How does he go in harness?"

 

"Harness!  Say, mister, this here hoss can pull the kingpin out of a

wagon without sweatin' a hair.  Hook him onto a plough and he sure can

make the ole plough smoke."

 

Annersley shook his head.  "That's a mite too fast for me, son.  I'd

hate to have to stop at the end of every furrow and pour water on that

there plough-point to keep her cool."

 

"'Course if you're lookin' for a _cheap_ hoss," said Young Pete,

nothing abashed, "why, we got 'em.  But I was showin' you the best in

the string."

 

"Don't know that I want him.  What you say he was worth?"

 

"He's worth a hundred, to any man.  But we're sellin' him cheap, for

cash--forty dollars."

 

"Fifty," said the trader, "and if he ain't worth fifty, he ain't worth

puttin' a halter on.  Fifty is givin' him to you."

 

"So?  Then I reckon I don't want him.  I wa'n't lookin' for a present.

I was lookin' to buy a hoss."

 

The trader saw a real customer slipping through his fingers.  "You can

put a halter on him for forty--cash."

 

"Nope.  Your pardner here said forty,"--and Annersley smiled at Young

Pete.  "I'll look him over ag'in for thirty."

 

Young Pete knew that they needed money badly, a fact that the trader

was apt to ignore when he was drinking.  "You said I could sell him for

forty, or mebby less, for cash," complained Young Pete, slipping from

the pony and tying him to the wagon-wheel.

 

"You go lay down!" growled the trader, and he launched a kick that

jolted Pete into the smouldering camp-fire.  Pete was used to being

kicked, but not before an audience.  Moreover, the hot ashes had burned

his hands.  Pete's dog, hitherto asleep beneath the wagon, rose

bristling, anxious to defend his young master, but afraid of the

trader.  The cowering dog and the cringing boy told Annersley much.

 

Young Pete, brushing the ashes from his over-alls, rose and shaking

with rage, pointed a trembling finger at the trader.  "You're a doggone

liar!  You're a doggone coward!  You're a doggone thief!"

 

"Just a minute, friend," said Annersley as the trader started toward

the boy.  "I reckon the boy is right--but we was talkin' hosses.  I'll

give you just forty dollars for the hoss--and the boy."

 

"Make it fifty and you can take 'em.  The kid is no good, anyhow."

 

This was too much for Young Pete.  He could stand abuse and scant

rations, but to be classed as "no good," when he had worked so hard and

lied so eloquently, hurt more than mere kick or blow.  His face

quivered and he bit his lip.  Old man Annersley slowly drew a wallet

from his overalls and counted out forty dollars.  "That hoss ain't

sound," he remarked and he recounted the money.  He's got a couple of

wind-puffs, and he's old.  He needs feedin' and restin' up.  That boy

your boy?"

 

"That kid!  Huh!  I picked him up when he was starvin' to death over to

Enright.  I been feedin' him and his no-account dog for a year, and

neither of 'em is worth what he eats."

 

"So?  Then I reckon you won't be missin' him none if I take him along

up to my place."

 

The horse-trader did not want to lose Young Pete, but he did want

Annersley's money.  "I'll leave it to him," he said, flattering himself

that Pete dare not leave him.

 

"What do you say, son?"--and old man Annersley turned to Pete.  "Would

you like to go along up with me and help me to run my place?  I'm kind

o' lonesome up there, and I was thinkin' o' gettin' a pardner."

 

"Where do you live?" queried Pete, quickly drying his eyes.

 

"Why, up in those hills, which don't no way smell of liquor and are

tellin' the truth from sunup to sunup.  Like to come along and give me

a hand with my stock?"

 

"You bet I would!"

 

"Here's your money," said Annersley, and he gave the trader forty

dollars.  "Git right in that buckboard, son."

 

"Hold on!" exclaimed the trader.  "The kid stays here.  I said fifty

for the outfit."

 

"I'm goin'," asserted Young Pete.  "I'm sick o' gettin' kicked and

cussed every time I come near him.  He licked me with a rawhide last

week."

 

"He did, eh?  For why?"

 

"'Cause he was drunk--that's why!"

 

"Then I reckon you come with me.  Such as him ain't fit to raise young

'uns."

 

Young Pete was enjoying himself.  This was indeed revenge--to hear some

one tell the trader what he was, and without the fear of a beating.

"I'll go with you," said Pete.  "Wait till I git my blanket."

 

"Don't you touch nothin' in that wagon!" stormed the trader.

 

"Git your blanket, son," said Annersley.

 

The horse-trader was deceived by Annersley's mild manner.  As Young

Pete started toward the wagon, the trader jumped and grabbed him.  The

boy flung up his arms to protect his face.  Old man Annersley said

nothing, but with ponderous ease he strode forward, seized the trader

from behind, and shook that loose-mouthed individual till his teeth

rattled and the horizon line grew dim.

 

"Git your blanket, son," said Annersley, as he swung the trader round,

deposited him face down in the sand, and sat on him.  "I'm waitin'."

 

"Goin' to kill him?" queried Young Pete, his black eyes snapping.

 

"Shucks, no!"

 

"Kin I kick him--jest onct, while you hold him down?"

 

"Nope, son.  That's too much like his way.  You run along and git your

blanket if you're goin' with me."

 

Young Pete scrambled to the wagon and returned with a tattered blanket,

his sole possession, and his because he had stolen it from a Mexican

camp near Enright.  He scurried to the buckboard and hopped in.

 

Annersley rose and brought the trader up with him as though the latter

were a bit of limp tie-rope.

 

"And now we'll be driftin'," he told the other.

 

Murder burned in the horse-trader's narrow eyes, but immediate physical

ambition was lacking.

 

Annersley bulked big.  The horse-trader cursed the old man in two

languages.  Annersley climbed into the buckboard, gave Pete the

lead-rope of the recent purchase, and clucked to his horse, paying no

attention whatever to the volley of invectives behind him.

 

"He'll git his gun and shoot you in the back," whispered Young Pete.

 

"Nope, son.  He'll jest go and git another drink and tell everybody in

Concho how he's goin' to kill me--some day.  I've handled folks like

him frequent."

 

"You sure kin fight!" exclaimed Young Pete enthusiastically.

 

"Never hit a man in my life.  I never dast to," said Annersley.

 

"You jest set on 'em, eh?"

 

"Jest set on 'em," said Annersley.  "You keep tight holt to that rope.

That fool hoss acts like he wanted to go back to your camp."

 

Young Pete braced his feet and clung to the rope, admonishing the horse

with outland eloquence.  As they crossed the arroyo, the led horse

pulled back, all but unseating Young Pete.

 

"Here, you!" cried the boy.  "You quit that--afore my new pop takes you

by the neck and the--pants and sits on you!"

 

"That's the idea, son.  Only next time, jest tell him without cussin'."

 

"He always cusses the hosses," said Young Pete.  "Everybody cusses 'em."

 

"'Most everybody.  But a man what cusses a hoss is only cussin'

hisself.  You're some young to git that--but mebby you'll recollect I

said so, some day."

 

"Didn't you cuss him when you set on him?" queried Pete.

 

"For why, son?"

 

"Wa'n't you mad?"

 

"Shucks, no."

 

"Don't you ever cuss?"

 

"Not frequent, son.  Cussin' never pitched any hay for me."

 

Young Pete was a bit disappointed.  "Didn't you never cuss in your

life?"

 

Annersley glanced down at the boy.

 

"Well, if you promise you won't tell nobody, I did cuss onct, when I

struck the plough into a yellow-jacket's nest which I wa'n't aimin' to

hit, nohow.  Had the reins round my neck, not expectin' visitors, when

them hornets come at me and the hoss without even ringin' the bell.

That team drug me quite a spell afore I got loose.  When I got enough

dirt out of my mouth so as I could holler, I set to and said what I

thought."

 

"Cussed the hosses and the doggone ole plough and them hornets--and

everything!" exclaimed Pete.

 

"Nope, son, I cussed myself for hangin' them reins round my neck.  What

you say your name was?"

 

"Pete."

 

"What was the trader callin' you--any other name besides Pete?"

 

"Yes, I reckon he was.  When he is good 'n' drunk he would be callin'

me a doggone little--"

 

"Never mind, I know about that.  I was meanin' your other name."

 

"My other name?  I ain't got none.  I'm Pete."

 

Annersley shook his head.  "Well, pardner, you'll be Pete Annersley

now.  Watch out that hoss don't jerk you out o' your jacket.  This here

hill is a enterprisin' hill and leads right up to my place.  Hang on!

As I was sayin', we're pardners, you and me.  We're goin' up to my

place on the Blue and tend to the critters and git washed up and have

supper, and mebby after supper we'll mosey around so you kin git

acquainted with the ranch.  Where'd you say your pop come from?"

 

"I dunno.  He ain't my real pop."

 

Annersley turned and looked down at the lean, bright little face.  "You

hungry, son?"

 

"You bet!"

 

"What you say if we kill a chicken for supper--and celebrate."

 

"G'wan, you're joshin' me!"

 

"Nope.  I like chicken.  And I got one that needs killin'; a no-account

ole hen what won't set and won't lay."

 

"Then we'll ring her doggone head off, eh?"

 

"Somethin' like that--only I ain't jest hatin' that there hen.  She

ain't no good, that's all."

 

Young Pete pondered, watching Annersley's grave, bearded face.

Suddenly he brightened.  "I know!  Nobody kin tell when you're joshin'

'em, 'cause your whiskers hides it.  Guess I'll grow some whiskers and

then I kin fool everybody."

 

Old man Annersley chuckled, and spoke to the horses.  Young Pete,

happier than he had ever been, wondered if this good luck would

last--if it were real, or just a dream that would vanish, leaving him

shivering in his tattered blanket, and the horse-trader telling him to

get up and rustle wood for the morning fire.

 

The buckboard topped the rise and leveled to the tree-girdled mesa.

Young Pete stared.  This was the most beautiful spot he had ever seen.

Ringed round by a great forest of spruce, the Blue Mesa lay shimmering

in the sunset like an emerald lake, beneath a cloudless sky tinged with

crimson, gold, and amethyst.  Across the mesa stood a cabin, the only

dwelling in that silent expanse.  And this was to be his home, and the

big man beside him, gently urging the horse, was his partner.  He had

said so.  Surely the great adventure had begun.

 

Annersley glanced down.  Young Pete's hand was clutched in the old

man's coat-sleeve, but the boy was gazing ahead, his bright black eyes

filled with the wonder of new fortunes and a real home.  Annersley

blinked and spoke sharply to the horse, although that good animal

needed no urging as he plodded sturdily toward the cabin.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER II

 

FIREARMS AND NEW FORTUNES

 

For a few days the old man had his hands full.  Young Pete, used to

thinking and acting for himself, possessed that most valuable but often

dangerous asset, initiative.  The very evening that he arrived at the

homestead, while Annersley was milking the one tame cow out in the

corral, Young Pete decided that he would help matters along by catching

the hen which Annersley had pointed out to him when he drove into the

yard.  Milking did not interest Young Pete; but chasing chickens did.

 

The hen, a slate-colored and maternal-appearing biddy, seemed to

realize that something unusual was afoot.  She refused to be driven

into the coop, perversely diving about the yard and circling the

out-buildings until even Young Pete's ambition flagged.  Out of breath

he marched to the house.  Annersley's rifle stood in the corner.  Young

Pete eyed it longingly, finally picked it up and stole gingerly to the

doorway.  The slate-colored hen had cooled down and was at the moment

contemplating the cabin with head sideways, exceedingly suspicious and

ruffled, but standing still.  Just as Young Pete drew a bead on her,

the big red rooster came running to assure her that all was well--that

he would protect her; that her trepidation was unfounded.  He blustered

and strutted, declaring himself Lord High Protector of the hen-yard and

just about the handsomest thing in feathers--_Bloom_!  Young Pete

blinked, and rubbed his shoulder.  The slate-colored hen sprinted for

parts unknown.  The big red rooster flopped once or twice and then gave

up the ghost.  He had strutted across the firing line just as Young

Pete pulled the trigger.  The cow jumped and kicked over the milk-pail.

Old Annersley came running.  But Young Pete, the lust of the chase

spurring him on, had disappeared around the corner of the cabin after

the hen.  He routed her out from behind the haystack, herded her

swiftly across the clearing to the lean-to stable, and corralled her,

so to speak, in a manger.  Just as Annersley caught up with him, Pete

leveled and fired--at close range.  What was left of the hen--which was

chiefly feathers, he gathered up and held by the remaining leg.  "I got

her!" he panted.

 

Annersley paused to catch his breath.  "Yes--you got her.

Gosh-A'mighty, son--I thought you had started in to clean out the

ranch!  You downed my rooster and you like to plugged me an' that

heifer there.  The bullit come singin' along and plunked into the

rain-bar'l and most scared me to death.  What in the ole scratch

started you on the war-path, anyhow?"

 

Pete realized that he had overdone the matter slightly.  "Why,

nothin'--only you said we was to eat that hen for supper, an' I

couldn't catch the dog-gone ole squawker, so I jest set to and plugged

her.  This here gun of yourn kicks somethin' fierce!"

 

"Well, I reckon you was meanin' all right.  But Gosh-A'mighty!  You

might 'a' killed the cow or me or somethin'!"

 

"Well, I got her, anyhow.  I got her plumb center."

 

"Yes--you sure did."  And the old man took the remains of the hen from

Pete and "hefted" those remains with a critical finger and thumb.  "One

laig left, and a piece of the breast."  He sighed heavily.  Young Pete

stared up at him, expecting praise for his marksmanship and energy.

The old man put his hand on Pete's shoulder.  "It's all right this

time, son.  I reckon you wasn't meanin' to murder that rooster.  I only

got one, and--"

 

"He jest run right in front of the hen when I cut loose.  He might 'a'

knowed better."

 

"We'll go see."  And Annersley plodded to the yard, picked up the

defunct rooster and entered the cabin.

 

Young Pete cooled down to a realization that his new pop was not

altogether pleased.  He followed Annersley, who told him to put the gun

back in the corner.

 

"Got to clean her first," asserted Young Pete.

 

"You look out you don't shoot yourself," said Annersley from the

kitchen.

 

"Huh," came from the ambitious, young hunter of feathered game, "I know

all about guns--and this here ole musket sure needs cleanin' bad.  She

liked to kicked my doggone head off."

 

They ate what was left of the hen, and a portion of the rooster.  After

supper Annersley sat outside with the boy and talked to him kindly.

Slowly it dawned upon Young Pete that it was not considered good form

in the best families of Arizona to slay law-abiding roosters without

explicit directions and permission from their owners.  The old man

concluded with a promise that if Young Pete liked to shoot, he should

some day have a gun of his own if he, in turn, would agree to do no

shooting without permission.  The promise of a real gun of his own

touched Young Pete's tough little heart.  He stuck out his hand.  The

compact was sealed.

 

"Git a thirty-thirty," he suggested.

 

"What do you know about thirty-thirties?"

 

"Huh, I know lots.  My other pop was tellin' me you could git a man

with a thirty a whole heap farther than you could with any ole

forty-four or them guns.  I shot heaps of rabbits with his."

 

"Well, we'll see.  But you want to git over the idee of gettin' a man

with any gun.  That goes with horse-tradin' and liquor and such.  But

we sure aim to live peaceful, up here."

 

Meanwhile, Young Pete, squatting beside Annersley, amused himself by

spitting tobacco juice at a procession of red ants that trailed from

nowhere in particular toward the doorstep.

 

"Makes 'em sick," he chuckled as a lucky shot dissipated the procession.

 

"It's sure wastin' cartridges on mighty small game," remarked Annersley.

 

"Don't cost nothin' to spit on 'em," said Young Pete.

 

"Not now.  But when you git out of chewin'-tobacco, then where you

goin' to git some more?"

 

"To the store, I reckon."

 

"Uh-huh.  But where you goin' to git the money?"

 

"He was givin' me all the chewin' I wanted," said Pete.

 

"Uh-huh.  Well, I ain't got no money for chewin'-tobacco.  But I tell

you what, Pete.  Now, say I was to give you a dollar a week for--for

your wages.  And say I was to git you one of them guns like you said;

you couldn't shoot chewin'-tobacco in that gun, could you?"

 

"Most anybody knows that!" laughed Pete.

 

"But you could buy cartridges with that dollar--an' shoot lots."

 

"Would you lick me if I bought chewin'?"

 

"Shucks, no!  I was jest leavin' it to you."

 

"When do I git that dollar--the first one?"

 

Annersley smiled to himself.  Pete was shrewd and in no way inclined to

commit himself carelessly.  Horse-trading had sharpened his wits to a

razor-edge and dire necessity and hunger had kept those wits keen.

Annersley was amused and at the same time wise enough in his patient,

slow way to hide his amusement and talk with Pete as man to man.  "Why,

you ain't been workin' for me a week yet!  And come to think--that

rooster was worth five dollars--every cent!  What you say if I was to

charge that rooster up to you?  Then after five weeks you was to git a

dollar, eh?"

 

Pete pondered this problem.  "Huh!" he exclaimed suddenly.  "You et

more 'n half that rooster--and some of the hen."

 

"All right, son.  Then say I was to charge you two dollars for what you

et?"

 

"Then, I guess beans is good enough for me.  Anyhow, I never stole your

rooster.  I jest shot him."

 

"Which is correct.  Reckon we'll forgit about that rooster and start

fresh."  The old man fumbled in his pocket and brought up a silver

dollar.  "Here's your first week's wages, son.  What you aim to do with

it?"

 

"Buy cartridges!" exclaimed Pete.  "But I ain't got no gun."

 

"Well, we'll be goin' to town right soon.  I'll git you a gun, and

mebby a scabbard so you can carry it on the saddle."

 

"Kin I ride that hoss I seen out there?" queried Pete.

 

"What about ridin' the hoss you sold me?  From what you said, I reckon

they ain't no hoss can touch him, in this country."

 

Pete hesitated on the thin edge of committing himself, tottered and

almost fell, but managed to retain his balance.  "Sure, he's a good

hoss!  Got a little age on him, but that don't hurt none.  I was

thinkin' mebby you'd like that other cayuse of yours broke right.

Looks to me like he needs some handlin' to make a first-class

saddle-hoss."

 

The old man smiled broadly.  Pete, like a hungry mosquito, was hard to

catch.

 

"You kin ride him," said Annersley.  "'Course, if he pitches you--"

And the old man chuckled.

 

"Pitch me?  Say, pardner, I'm a ridin' son-of-a-gun from Powder River

and my middle name is 'stick.'  I kin ride 'm comin' and goin'--crawl

'm on the run and bust 'm wide open every time they bit the dirt.  Turn

me loose and hear me howl.  Jest give me room and see me split the air!

You want to climb the fence when I 'm a-comin'!"

 

"Where did you git that little song?" queried Annersley.

 

"Why--why, that's how the fellas shoot her over to the round-up at

Magdalena and Flag.  Reckon I been there!"

 

"Well, don't you bust ole Apache too hard, son.  He's a mighty

forgivin' hoss--but he's got feelin's."

 

"Huh!  You're a-joshin' me agin.  I seen your whiskers kind o' wiggle.

You think I'm scared o' that hoss?"

 

"Just a leetle mite, son.  Or you wouldn't 'a' sung that there

high-chin song.  There's some good riders that talk lots.  But the best

riders I ever seen, jest rode 'em--and said nothin'."

 

"Like when you set on my other pop, eh?"

 

"That's the idee."

 

Pete, used to a rough-and-tumble existence, was deeply impressed by the

old man's quiet outlook and gentle manner.  While not altogether in

accord with Annersley's attitude in regard to profanity and chewing

tobacco--still, Young Pete felt that a man who could down the

horse-trader and sit on him and suffer no harm was somehow worth

listening to.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER III

 

A WARNING

 

That first and unforgettable year on the homestead was the happiest

year of Pete's life.  Intensely active, tireless, and resourceful--as

are most youngsters raised in the West--he learned to milk the tame

cow, manipulate the hay-rake, distinguish potato-vines from weeds and

hoe accordingly, and through observation and Annersley's thrifty

example, take care of his clothing and few effects.  The old man taught

Pete to read and to write his own name--a painful process, for Young

Pete cared nothing for that sort of education and suffered only that he

might please his venerable partner.  When it came to the plaiting of

rawhide into bridle-reins and reatas, the handling of a rope, packing

for a hunting trip, reading a dim trail when tracking a stray horse, or

any of the many things essential to life in the hills, Young Pete took

hold with boyish enthusiasm, copying Annersley's methods to the letter.

Pete was repaid a thousand-fold for his efforts by the old man's

occasional:

 

"Couldn't 'a' done it any better myself, pardner."

 

For Annersley seldom called the boy "Pete" now, realizing that

"pardner" meant so much more to him.

 

Pete had his rifle--an old carbine, much scratched and battered by the

brush and rock--a thirty-thirty the old man had purchased from a cowboy

in Concho.

 

Pete spent most of his spare time cleaning and polishing the gun.  He

had a fondness for firearms that almost amounted to a passion.

Evenings, when the work was done and Annersley sat smoking in the

doorway, Young Pete invariably found excuse to clean and oil his gun.

He invested heavily in cartridges and immediately used up his

ammunition on every available target until there was not an unpunctured

tin can on the premises.  He was quick and accurate, finally scorning

to shoot at a stationary mark and often riding miles to get to the

valley level where there were rabbits and "Jacks," that he occasionally

bowled over on the run.  Once he shot a coyote, and his cup of

happiness brimmed--for the time being.

 

All told, it was a most healthful and happy life for a boy, and Young

Pete learned, unconsciously, to "ride, shoot, and Tell the Truth," as

against "Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic," for which he cared nothing.

Pete might have gone far--become a well-to-do cattleman or rancher--had

not Fate, which can so easily wipe out all plans and precautions in a

flash, stepped in and laid a hand on his bridle-rein.

 

That summer occasional riders stopped at the cabin, were fed and housed

and went on their way.  They came chiefly from the T-Bar-T ranch--some

few from Concho, a cattle outfit of the lower country.  Pete

intuitively disliked these men, despite the fact that they rode

excellent horses, sported gay trappings, and "joshed" with him as

though he were one of themselves.  His instinct told him that they were

not altogether friendly to Annersley.  They frequently drifted into

warm argument as to water-rights and nesters in general--matters that

did not interest Young Pete at the time, who failed, naturally, to

grasp the ultimate meaning of the talk.  But the old man never seemed

perturbed by these arguments, declining, in his good-natured way, to

take them seriously, and feeling secure in his own rights, as a

hard-working citizen, to hold and cultivate the allotment he had earned

from the Government.

 

The T-Bar-T outfit especially grudged him the water that they had

previously used to such good advantage.  This water was now under

fence.  To make this water available to cattle would disrupt the

homestead.  It was at this time that Young Pete first realized the

significance of these hard-riding visitors.  He was cleaning his

much-polished carbine, sitting cross-legged round the corner of the

cabin, when two of the chance visitors, having washed and discarded

their chaps, strolled out and squatted by the doorway.  Old man

Annersley was at the back of the cabin preparing supper.

 

One of the riders, a man named Gary, said something to his companion

about "running the old man out of the country."

 

Young Pete paused in his task.

 

"You can't bluff him so easy," offered the companion.

 

"But a thirty-thirty kin talk business," said the man Gary, and he

laughed.

 

Pete never forgot the remark nor the laugh.  Next day, after the riders

had departed, he told his pop what he had heard.  The old man made him

repeat the conversation.  He shook his head.  "Mostly talk," he said.

 

"They dassent to start runnin' _us_ off--dast they?" queried Young Pete.

 

"Mostly talk," reiterated Annersley; but Pete saw that his pop was

troubled.

 

"They can't bluff us, eh, pop?"

 

"I reckon not, son.  How many cartridges you got?"

 

Young Pete thrilled to the question.  "Got ten out of the last box.

You got any?"

 

"Some.  Reckon we'll go to town to-morrow."

 

"To git some cartridges?"

 

"Mebby."

 

This was Young Pete's first real intimation that there might be trouble

that would occasion the use of cartridges.  The idea did not displease

him.  They drove to town, bought some provisions and ammunition, and

incidentally the old man visited the sheriff and retailed the

conversation that Pete had overheard.

 

"Bluff!" said the sheriff, whose office depended upon the vote of the

cattlemen.  "Just bluff, Annersley.  You hang on to what you got and

they won't be no trouble.  I know just how far those boys will go."

 

"Well, I don't," said Annersley.  "So I was jest puttin' what you call

bluff on record, case anything happened."

 

The sheriff, secretly in league with the cattlemen to crowd Annersley

off the range, took occasion to suggest to the T-Bar-T foreman that the

old man was getting cold feet--which was a mistake, for Annersley had

simply wished to keep within the law and avoid trouble if possible.

Thus it happened that Annersley brought upon himself the very trouble

that he had honorably tried to avoid.  Let the most courageous man even

seem to turn and run and how soon his enemies will take up the chase!

 

But nothing happened that summer, and it was not until the following

spring that the T-Bar-T outfit gave any hint of their real intent.  The

anonymous letter was a vile screed--because it was anonymous and also

because it threatened, in innuendo, to burn out a homestead held by one

man and a boy.

 

Annersley showed the letter to Pete and helped him spell it out.  Then

he explained gravely his own status as a homesteader, the law which

allowed him to fence the water, and the labor which had made the land

his.  It was typical of Young Pete that when a real hazard threatened

he never said much.  In this instance the boy did not know just what to

do.  That evening Annersley missed him and called, "What you doin',

pardner?"

 

From the cabin--Annersley, as usual, was seated outside, smoking--came

the reply: "Countin' my cartridges."

 

Annersley knew that the anonymous letter would be followed by some

hostile act if he did not vacate the homestead.  He wasted no time

worrying as to what might happen--but he did worry about Young Pete.

If the cattlemen raided his place, it would be impossible to keep that

young and ambitious fire-eater out of harm's way.  So the old man

planned to take Pete to Concho the next morning and leave him with the

storekeeper until the difficulty should be solved, one way or the other.

 

This time they did not drive to Concho, but saddled up and rode down

the hill trail.  And during the journey Young Pete was unusually

silent, wondering just what his pop planned to do.

 

At the store Annersley privately explained the situation to the

storekeeper.  Then he told Young Pete that he would leave him there for

a few days as he was "goin' over north a spell."

 

Young Pete studied the old man with bright, blinking eyes that

questioned the truth of this statement.  His pop had never lied to him,

and although Pete suspected what was in the wind, he had no ground for

argument.  Annersley was a trifle surprised that the boy consented to

stay without demur.  Annersley might have known that Young Pete's very

silence was significant; but the old man was troubled and only too glad

to find his young partner so amenable to his suggestion.  When

Annersley left the store Young Pete's "So-long, pop," was as casual as

sunshine, but his tough little heart was thumping with restrained

excitement.  He knew that his pop feared trouble and wished to face it

alone.

 

Pete allowed a reasonable length of time to elapse and then approached

the storekeeper.  "Gimme a box of thirty-thirties," he said, fishing up

some silver from his overall pocket.

 

"Where'd you get all that money, Pete?"

 

"Why, I done stuck up the fo'man of the T-Bar-T on pay-day and made him

shell out," said Pete.

 

The storekeeper grinned.  "Here you be.  Goin' huntin'?"

 

"Uh-huh.  Huntin' snakes."

 

"Honest, now!  Where'd you git the change?"

 

"My wages!" said Young Pete proudly.  "Pop is givin' me a dollar a week

for helpin' him.  We're pardners."

 

"Your pop is right good to you, ain't he?"

 

"You bet!  And he can lick any ole bunch of cow-chasers in this

country.  Somebody's goin' to git hurt if they monkey with him!"

 

"Where 'd you get the idea anybody was going to monkey with your dad?"

 

Young Pete felt that he had been incautious.  He refused to talk

further, despite the storekeeper's friendly questioning.  Instead, the

boy roamed about the store, inspecting and commenting upon saddlery,

guns, canned goods, ready-made clothing, and showcase trinkets, his

ears alert for every word exchanged by the storekeeper and a chance

customer.  Presently two cowboys clumped in, joshed with the

store-keeper, bought tobacco and ammunition--a most usual procedure,

and clumped out again.  Young Pete strolled to the door and watched

them enter the adobe saloon across the way--Tony's Place--the

rendezvous of the riders of the high mesas.  Again a group of cowboys

arrived, jesting and roughing their mounts.  They entered the store,

bought ammunition, and drifted to the saloon.  It was far from pay-day,

as Pete knew.  It was also the busy season.  There was some ulterior

reason for so many riders assembling in town.  Pete decided to find out

just what they were up to.

 

After supper he meandered across to the saloon, passed around it, and

hid in an empty barrel near the rear door.  He was uncomfortable, but

not unhappy.  He listened for a chance word that might explain the

presence of so many cowboys in town that day.  Frequently he heard

Gary's name mentioned.  He had not seen Gary with the others.  But the

talk was casual, and he learned nothing until some one remarked that it

was about time to drift along.  They left in a body, taking the mesa

trail that led to the Blue.  This was significant.  They usually left

in groups of two or three, as their individual pleasure dictated.  And

there was a business-like alertness about their movements that did not

escape Young Pete.

 

The Arizona stars were clear and keen when he crept round to the front

of the saloon and pattered across the road to the store.  The

storekeeper was closing for the night.  Young Pete, restlessly anxious

to follow the T-Bar-T men, invented an excuse to leave the storekeeper,

who suggested that they go to bed.

 

"Got to see if my hoss is all right," said Pete.  "The ole fool's like

to git tangled up in that there drag-rope I done left on him.  Reckon

I'll take it off."

 

"Why, your dad was tellin' me you was a reg'lar buckaroo.  Thought you

knew better than to leave a rope on a hoss when he's in a corral."

 

"I forgot," invented Pete.  "Won't take a minute."

 

"Then I'll wait for you.  Run along while I get my lantern."

 

The storekeeper's house was but a few doors down the street, which,

however, meant quite a distance, as Concho straggled over considerable

territory.  He lighted the lantern and sat down on the steps waiting

for the boy.  From the corral back of the store came the sound of

trampling hoofs and an occasional word from Young Pete, who seemed to

be a long time at the simple task of untying a drag-rope.  The

store-keeper grew suspicious and finally strode back to the corral.

His first intimation of Pete's real intent was a glimpse of the boy

astride the big bay and blinking in the rays of the lantern.

 

"What you up to?" queried the storekeeper.

 

Young Pete's reply was to dig his heels into the horse's ribs.  The

storekeeper caught hold of the bridle.  "You git down and come home

with me.  Where you goin' anyhow?"

 

"Take your hand off that bridle," blustered Young Pete.

 

The trader had to laugh.  "Got spunk, ain't you?  Now you git down and

come along with me, Pete.  No use you riding back to the mesa to-night.

Your dad ain't there.  You can't find him to-night."

 

Pete's lip quivered.  What right had the store-keeper, or any man, to

take hold of his bridle?

 

"See here, Pete, where do you think you're goin'?"

 

"Home!" shrilled Pete as he swung his hat and fanned the horse's ears.

It had been many years since that pony had had his ears fanned, but he

remembered early days and rose to the occasion, leaving the storekeeper

in the dust and Young Pete riding for dear life to stay in the saddle.

Pete's hat was lost in the excitement, and next to his rifle, the old

sombrero inherited from his pop was Pete's dearest possession.  But

even when the pony had ceased to pitch, Pete dared not go back for it.

He would not risk being caught a second time.

 

He jogged along up the mesa trail, peering ahead in the dusk,

half-frightened and half-elated.  If the T-Bar-T outfit were going to

run his pop out of the country, Young Pete intended to be in at the

running.  The feel of the carbine beneath his leg gave him courage.  Up

to the time Annersley had adopted him, Pete had had to fight and scheme

and dodge his way through life.  He had asked no favors and expected

none.  His pop had stood by him in his own deepest trouble, and he

would now stand by his pop.  That he was doing anything especially

worthy did not occur to him.  Partners always "stuck."

 

The horse, anxious to be home, took the long grade quickly, restrained

by Pete, who felt that it would be poor policy to tread too closely

upon the heels of the T-Bar-T men.  That they intended mischief was now

only too evident.  And Pete would have been disappointed had they not.

Although sophisticated beyond his years and used to the hazards of a

rough life, _this_ adventure thrilled him.  Perhaps the men would set

fire to the outbuildings and the haystack, or even try to burn the

cabin.  But they would have a sorry time getting to the cabin if his

pop were really there.

 

Up the dim, starlit trail he plodded, shivering and yet elate.  As he

topped the rise he thought he could see the vague outlines of horses

and men, but he was not certain.  That soft glow against the distant

timber was real enough, however!  There was no mistaking that!  The log

stable was on fire!

 

The horse fought the bit as Young Pete reined him into the timber.

 

Pete could see no men against the glow of the burning building, but he

knew that they were there somewhere, bushed in the brush and waiting.

Within a few hundred yards of the cabin he was startled by the flat

crack of a rifle.  He felt frightened and the blood sang in his ears.

But he could not turn back now!  His pop might be besieged in the

cabin, alone and fighting a cowardly bunch of cow-punchers who dare not

face him in the open day.  But what if his pop were not there?  The

thought struck him cold.  What would he do if he made a run for the

cabin and found it locked and no one there?  All at once Pete realized

that it was _his_ home and _his_ stock and hay that were in danger.

Was he not a partner in pop's homestead?  Then a thin red flash from

the cabin window told him that Annersley was there.  Following the

flash came the rip and roar of the old rifle.  Concealed in the timber,

Pete could see the flames licking up the stable.  Presently a long

tongue of yellow shot up the haystack.  "The doggone snakes done fired

our hay!" he cried, and his voice caught in a sob.  This was too much.

Hay was a precious commodity in the high country.  Pete yanked out his

carbine, loosed a shot at nothing in particular, and rode for the cabin

on the run.  "We're coming pop," he yelled, followed by his shrill

"Yip!  Yip!  We're all here!"

 

Several of the outlying cow-punchers saw the big bay rear and stop at

the cabin as Young Pete flung out of the saddle and pounded on the

door.  "It's me, pop!  It's Pete!  Lemme in!"

 

Annersley's heart sank.  Why had the boy come?  How did he know?  How

had he managed to get away?

 

He flung open the door and dragged Pete in.

 

"What you doin' here?" he challenged.

 

"I done lost my hat," gasped Pete.  "I--I was lookin' for it."

 

"Your hat?  You gone loco?  Git in there and lay down!" And though it

was dark in the cabin Young Pete knew that his pop had gestured toward

the bed.  Annersley had never spoken in that tone before, and Young

Pete resented it.

 

Pete was easily led, but mighty hard to drive.

 

"Nothin' doin'!" said Pete.  "You can't boss me 'round like that!  You

said we was pardners, and that we was both boss.  I knowed they was

comin' and I fanned it up here to tell you.  I reckon we kin lick the

hull of 'em.  I got plenty cartridges."

 

Despite the danger, old man Annersley smiled as he choked back a word

of appreciation for Pete's stubborn loyalty and grit.  When he spoke

again Pete at once caught the change in tone.

 

"You keep away from the window," said Annersley.  "Them coyotes out

there 'most like aim to rush me when the blaze dies down.  Reckon

they'll risk settin' fire to the cabin.  I don't want to kill

nobody--but--you keep back--and if they git me, you stay right still in

here.  They won't hurt you."

 

"Not if I git a bead on any of 'em!" said Young Pete, taking courage

from his pop's presence.  "Did you shoot any of 'em yet, pop?"

 

"I reckon not.  I cut loose onct or twict, to scare 'em off.  You keep

away from the window."

 

Young Pete had crept to the window and was gazing out at the sinking

flames.  "Say, ain't we pardners?" he queried irritably.  "You said we

was when you brung me up here.  And pardners stick, don't they?  I

reckon if it was my shack that was gittin' rushed, you 'd stick, and

not go bellyin' under the bunk and hidin' like a dog-gone prairie-dog."

 

[Illustration: "Say, ain't we pardners?"]

 

"That's all right," said Annersley.  "But there's no use takin'

chances.  You keep back till we find out what they're goin' to do next."

 

Standing in the middle of the room, well back from the southern window,

the old man gazed out upon the destruction of his buildings and

carefully hoarded hay.  He breathed hard.  The riders knew that he was

in the cabin--that they had not bluffed him from the homestead.

Probably they would next try to fire the cabin itself.  They could

crawl up to it in the dark and set fire to the place before he was

aware of it.  Well, they would pay high before they got him.  He had

fed and housed these very men--and now they were trying to run him out

of the country because he had fenced a water-hole which he had every

right to fence.  He had toiled to make a home for himself, and the boy,

he thought, as he heard Young Pete padding about the cabin.  The

cattlemen had written a threatening letter hinting of this, yet they

had not dared to meet him in the open and have it out face to face.  He

did not want to kill, yet such men were no better than wolves.  And as

wolves he thought of them, as he determined to defend his home.

 

Young Pete, spider-like in his quick movements, scurried about the

cabin making his own plan of battle.  It did not occur to him that he

might get hurt--or that his pop would get hurt.  They were safe enough

behind the thick logs.  All he thought of was the chance of a shot at

what he considered legitimate game.  While drifting about the country

he had heard many tales of gunmen and border raids, and it was quite

evident, even to his young mind, that the man who suffered attack by a

gun was justified in returning the compliment in kind.  And to this end

he carefully arranged his cartridges on the floor, knelt and raised the

window a few inches and cocked the old carbine.  Annersley realized

what the boy was up to and stepped forward to pull him away from the

window.  And in that brief moment Young Pete's career was

shaped--shaped beyond all question or argument by the wanton bullet

that sung across the open, cut a clean hole in the window, and dropped

Annersley in his tracks.

 

The distant, flat report of the shot broke the silence, fired more in

the hope of intimidating Annersley than anything else, yet the man who

had fired it must have known that there was but one place in the brush

from where the window could be seen--and to that extent the shot was

premeditated, with the possibility of its killing some one in the cabin.

 

Young Pete heard his pop gasp and saw him stagger in the dim light.  In

a flash Pete was at his side.  "You hit, pop?" he quavered.  There came

no reply.  Annersley had died instantly.  Pete fumbled at his chest in

the dark, called to him, tried to shake him, and then, realizing what

had happened threw himself on the floor beside Annersley and sobbed

hopelessly.  Again a bullet whipped across the clearing.  Glass tinkled

on the cabin floor.  Pete cowered and hid his face in his arms.

Suddenly a shrill yell ripped the silence.  The men were rushing the

cabin!  Young Pete's fighting blood swelled his pulse.  He and pop had

been partners.  And partners always "stuck."  Pete crept cautiously to

the window.  Halfway across the clearing the blurred hulk of running

horses loomed in the starlight.  Young Pete rested his carbine on the

window-sill and centered on the bulk.  He fired and thought he saw a

horse rear.  Again he fired.  This was much easier than shooting deer.

He beard a cry and the drumming of hoofs.  Something crashed against

the door.  Pete whirled and fired point-blank.  Before he knew what had

happened men were in the cabin.  Some one struck a match.  Young Pete

cowered in a corner, all the fight oozing out of him as the lamp was

lighted and he saw several men masked with bandannas.  "The old man's

done for," said one of them, stooping to look at Annersley.  Another

picked up the two empty shells from Annersley's rifle.  "Where's the

kid?" asked another.  "Here, in the corner," said a cowboy.  "Must 'a'

been him that got Wright and Bradley.  The old man only cut loose

twict--afore the kid come.  Look at this!"  And dragging Young Pete to

his feet, the cowboy took the carbine from him and pointed to the three

thirty-thirty shells on the cabin floor.

 

The men were silent.  Presently one of them laughed.  Despite Pete's

terror, he recognized that laugh.  He knew that the man was Gary, he

who had once spoken of running Annersley out of the country.

 

"It's a dam' bad business," said one of the men.  "The kid knows too

much.  He'll talk."

 

"Will you keep your mouth shut, if we don't kill you?" queried Gary.

 

"Cut that out!"  growled another.  "The kid's got sand.  He downed two

of us--and we take our medicine.  I'm for fannin' it."

 

Pete, stiff with fear, saw them turn and clump from the cabin.

 

As they left he heard one say something which he never forgot.  "Must

'a' been Gary's shot that downed the o1e man.  Gary knowed the layout

and where he could get a line on the window."

 

Pete dropped to the floor and crawled over to Annersley.  "Pop!" he

called again and again.  Presently he realized that the kindly old man

who had made a home for him, and who had been more like a real father

than his earlier experiences had ever allowed him to imagine, would

never again answer.  In the yellow haze of the lamp, Young Pete rose

and dragging a blanket from the bed, covered the still form and the

upturned face, half in reverence for the dead and half in fear that

those dead lips might open and speak.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER IV

 

JUSTICE

 

Dawn bared the smouldering evidence of that dastardly attack.  The

stable and the lean-to, where Annersley had stored his buckboard and a

few farm implements when winter came, the corral fence, the haystack,

were feathery ashes, which the wind stirred occasionally as a raw red

sun shoved up from behind the eastern hills.  The chicken-coop, near

the cabin, had not been touched by the fire.  Young Pete, who had

fallen asleep through sheer exhaustion, was awakened by the cackling of

the hens.  He jumped up.  It was time to let those chickens out.

Strange that his pop had not called him!  He rubbed his eyes, started

suddenly as he realized that he was dressed--and then he

remembered . . .

 

He trembled, fearful of what he would see when he stepped into the

other room.  "Pop!" he whispered.  The hens cackled loudly.  From

somewhere in the far blue came the faint whistle of a hawk.  A board

creaked under his foot and he all but cried out.  He stole to the

window, scrambled over the sill, and dropped to the ground.  Through

habit he let the chickens out.  They rushed from the coop and spread

over the yard, scratching and clucking happily.  Pete was surprised

that the chickens should go about their business so casually.  They did

not seem to care that his pop had been killed.

 

He was back to the cabin before he realized what he was doing.  From

the doorway he saw that still form shrouded in the familiar old gray

blanket.  Something urged him to lift a corner of the blanket and

look--something stronger held him back.  He tip-toed to the kitchen and

began building a fire.  "Pop would be gettin' breakfast," he whispered.

Pete fried bacon and made coffee.  He ate hurriedly, occasionally

turning his head to glance at that still figure beneath the blanket.

Then he washed the dishes and put them carefully away, as his pop would

have done.  That helped to occupy his mind, but his most difficult task

was still before him.  He dared not stay in the cabin--and yet he felt

that he was a coward if he should leave.  Paradoxically he reasoned

that if his pop were alive, he would know what to do.  Pete knew of

only one thing to do--and that was to go to Concho and tell the sheriff

what had happened.  Trying his best to ignore the gray blanket, he

picked up all the cartridges he could find, and the two rifles, and

backed from the room.  He felt ashamed of the fear that drove him from

the cabin.  He did not want his pop to think that he was a coward.

Partners always "stuck," and yet he was running away.  "Good-bye, pop,"

he quavered.  He choked and sobbed, but no tears came.  He turned and

went to look for the horses.

 

Then he remembered that the corral fence was burned, that there had

been no horses there when he went to let the chickens out.  He followed

horse-tracks to the edge of the timber and then turned back.  The

horses had been stampeded by the flames and the shooting.  Pete knew

that they might be miles from the cabin.  He cut across the mesa to the

trail and trudged down toward Concho.  His eyes burned and his throat

ached.  The rifles grew heavy, but he would not leave them.  It was

significant that Pete thought of taking nothing else from the cabin,

neither clothing, food, nor the money that he knew to be in Annersley's

wallet in the bedroom.  The sun burned down upon his unprotected head,

but he did not feel it.  He felt nothing save the burning ache in his

throat and a hope that the sheriff would arrest the men who had killed

his pop.  He had great faith in the sheriff, who, as Annersley had told

him, was the law.  The law punished evildoers.  The men who had killed

pop would be hung--Pete was sure of that!

 

Hatless, burning with fever and thirst, he arrived at the store in

Concho late in the afternoon.  A friendly cowboy from the low country

joshed him about his warlike appearance.  Young Pete was too exhausted

to retort.  He marched into the store, told the storekeeper what had

happened, and asked for the sheriff.  The storekeeper saw that there

was something gravely wrong with Pete.  His face was flushed and his

eyes altogether too bright.  He insisted on going at once to the

sheriff's office.

 

"Now, you set down and rest.  Just stay right here and keep your eye on

things out front--and I'll go get the sheriff."  And the storekeeper

coaxed and soothed Pete into giving up his rifles.  Promising to return

at once, the storekeeper set out on his errand, shaking his head

gravely.  Annersley had been a good man, a man who commanded affection

and respect from most persons.  And now the T-Bar-T men "had got him."

The storekeeper was not half so surprised as he was grieved.  He had

had an idea that something like this might happen.  It was a cattle

country, and Annersley had been the only homesteader within miles of

Concho.  "I wonder just how much of this the sheriff knows already," he

soliloquized.  "It's mighty tough on the kid."

 

When Sheriff Sutton and the storekeeper entered the store they found

Young Pete in a stupor from which he did not awaken for many hours.  He

was put to bed and a doctor summoned from a distant town.  It would

have been useless, even brutal, to have questioned Pete, so the sheriff

simply took the two rifles and the cartridges to his office, with what

information the storekeeper could give him.  The sheriff, who had

always respected Annersley, was sorry that this thing had happened.

Yet he was not sorry that Young Pete could give no evidence.  The

cattlemen would have time to pretty well cover up their tracks.

Annersley had known the risks he was running when he took up the land.

The sheriff told his own conscience that "it was just plain suicide."

His conscience, being the better man, told him that it was "just plain

murder."  The sheriff knew--and yet what could he do without evidence,

except visit the scene of the shooting, hold a post-mortem, and wait

until Young Pete was well enough to talk?

 

One thing puzzled Sheriff Sutton.  Both rifles had been used.  So the

boy had taken a hand in the fight?  Several shots must have been fired,

for Annersley was not a man to suffer such an outrage in silence.  And

the boy was known to be a good shot.  Yet there had been no news of

anyone having been wounded among the raiders.  Sutton was preparing to

ride to the Blue and investigate when a T-Bar-T man loped up and

dismounted.  They talked a minute or two.  Then the cowboy rode out of

town.  The sheriff was no longer puzzled about the two rifles having

been used.  The cowboy had told him that two of the T-Bar-T men had

been killed.  That in each instance a thirty-thirty, soft-nosed slug

had done the business.  Annersley's rifle was an old forty-eighty-two,

shooting a solid lead bullet.

 

When Sheriff Button arrived at the cabin he found the empty shells on

the floor, noted the holes in the window, and read the story of the

raid plainly.  "Annersley shot to scare 'em off--but the kid shot to

kill," he argued.  "And dam' if I blame him."

 

Later, when Young Pete was able to talk, he was questioned by the

sheriff.  He told of the raid, of the burning of the outbuildings, and

how Annersley had been killed.  When questioned as to his own share in

the proceedings, Pete refused to answer.  When shown the two guns and

asked which was his, he invariably replied, "Both of 'em," nor could he

be made to answer otherwise.  Finally Sheriff Sutton gave it up, partly

because of public opinion, which was in open sympathy with Young Pete,

and partly because he feared that in case arrests were made, and Pete

were called as a witness, the boy would tell in court more than he had

thus far divulged.  The sheriff thought that Pete was able to identify

one or more of the men who had entered the cabin, if he cared to do so.

As it was, Young Pete was crafty.  Already he distrusted the sheriff's

sincerity.  Then, the fact that two of the T-Bar-T men had been killed

rather quieted the public mind, which expressed itself as pretty well

satisfied that old man Annersley's account was squared.  He or the boy

had "got" two of the enemy.  In fact, it was more or less of a joke on

the T-Bar-T outfit--they should have known better.

 

An inquest decided that Annersley had come to his death at the hands of

parties unknown.  The matter was eventually shunted to one of the many

legal sidings along the single-track law that operated in that

vicinity.  Annersley's effects were sold at auction and the proceeds

used to bury him.  His homestead reverted to the Government, there

being no legal heir.  Young Pete was again homeless, save for the

kindness of the storekeeper, who set him to work helping about the

place.

 

In a few months Pete was seemingly over his grief, but he never gave up

the hope that some day he would find the man who had killed his pop.

In cow-camp and sheep-camp, in town and on the range, he had often

heard reiterated that unwritten law of the outlands: "If a man tried to

get you--run or fight.  But if a man kills your friend or your kin--get

him."  A law perhaps not as definitely worded in the retailing of

incident or example, but as obvious nevertheless as was the necessity

to live up to it or suffer the ever-lasting scorn of one's fellows.

 

Some nine or ten months after the inquest Young Pete disappeared.  No

one knew where he had gone, and eventually he was more or less

forgotten by the folk of Concho.  But two men never forgot him--the

storekeeper and the sheriff.  One of them hoped that the boy might come

back some day.  He had grown fond of Pete.  The other hoped that he

would not come back.

 

Meanwhile the T-Bar-T herds grazed over Annersley's homestead.  The

fence had been torn down, cattle wallowed in the mud of the water-hole,

and drifted about the place until little remained as evidence of the

old man's patient toil save the cabin.  That Young Pete should again

return to the cabin and there unexpectedly meet Gary was undreamed of

as a possibility by either of them; yet fate had planned this very

thing--"otherwise," argues the Fatalist, "how could it have happened?"

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER V

 

A CHANGE OF BASE

 

To say that Young Pete had any definite plan when he left Concho and

took up with an old Mexican sheep-herder would be stretching the

possibilities.  And Pete Annersley's history will have to speak for

itself as illustrative of a plan from which he could not have departed

any more than he could have originated and followed to its final

ultimatum.

 

Life with the storekeeper had been tame.  Pete had no horse; and the

sheriff, taking him at his word, had refused to give up either one of

the rifles unless Pete would declare which one he had used that fateful

night of the raid.  And Pete would not do that.  He felt that somehow

he had been cheated.  Even the storekeeper Roth discouraged him from

using fire-arms, fearing that the boy might some day "cut loose" at

somebody without word or warning.  Pete was well fed and did not have

to work hard, yet his ideas of what constituted a living were far

removed from the conventions of Concho.  He wanted to ride, to hunt, to

drive team, to work in the open with lots of elbow-room and under a

wide sky.  His one solace while in the store was the array of rifles

and six-guns which he almost reverenced for their suggestive potency.

They represented power, and the only law that he believed in.

 

Some time after Pete had disappeared, the store-keeper, going over his

stock, missed a heavy-caliber six-shooter.  He wondered if the boy had

taken it.  Roth did not care so much for the loss of the gun as for the

fact that Pete might have stolen it.  Later Roth discovered a crudely

printed slip of paper among the trinkets in the showcase.  "I took a

gun and cartriges for my wagges.  You never giv me Wages."  Which was

true enough, the storekeeper figuring that Pete's board and lodging

were just about offset by his services.  In paying Pete a dollar a

week, Annersley had established a precedent which involved Young Pete's

pride as a wage-earner.  In making Pete feel that he was really worth

more than his board and lodging, Annersley had helped the boy to a

certain self-respect which Pete subconsciously felt that he had lost

when Roth, the storekeeper, gave him a home and work but no pay.  Young

Pete did not dislike Roth, but the contrast of Roth's close methods

with the large, free-handed dealings of Annersley was ever before him.

Pete was strong for utility.  He had no boyish sense of the dramatic,

consciously.  He had never had time to play.  Everything he did, he did

seriously.  So when he left Concho at dusk one summer evening, he did

not "run away" in any sense.  He simply decided that it was time to go

elsewhere--and he went.

 

The old Mexican, Montoya, had a band of sheep in the high country.

Recently the sheep had drifted past Concho, and Pete, alive to anything

and everything that was going somewhere, had waited on the Mexican at

the store.  Sugar, coffee, flour, and beans were packed on the shaggy

burros.  Pete helped carry the supplies to the doorway and watched him

pack.  The two sharp-nosed sheep-dogs interested Pete.  They seemed so

alert, and yet so quietly satisfied with their lot.  The last thing the

old Mexican did was to ask for a few cartridges.  Pete did not

understand just what kind he wanted.  With a secretiveness which

thrilled Pete clear to the toes, the old herder, in the shadowy rear of

the store, drew a heavy six-shooter from under his arm and passed it

stealthily to Pete, who recognized the caliber and found cartridges for

it.  Pete's manner was equally stealthy.  This smacked of adventure!

Cattlemen and sheepmen were not friendly, as Pete knew.  Pete had no

love for the "woolies," yet he hated cattlemen.  The old Mexican

thanked him and invited him to visit his camp below Concho.  Possibly

Pete never would have left the storekeeper--or at least not

immediately--had not that good man, always willing to cater to Pete's

curiosity as to guns and gunmen, told him that old Montoya, while a

Mexican, was a dangerous man with a six-gun; that he was seldom

molested by the cattlemen, who knew him to be absolutely without fear

and a dead shot.

 

"Huh!  That old herder ain't no gun-fighter!" Pete had said, although

he believed the storekeeper.  Pete wanted to hear more.

 

"Most Mexicans ain't," replied Roth, for Pete's statement was half a

challenge, half a question.  "But Jose Montoya never backed down from a

fight--and he's had plenty."

 

Pete was interested.  He determined to visit Montoya's camp that

evening.  He said nothing to Roth, as he intended to return.

 

Long before Pete arrived at the camp he saw the tiny fire--a dot of red

against the dark--and he heard the muffled trampling of the sheep as

they bedded down for the night.  Within a few yards of the camp the

dogs challenged him, charging down the gentle slope to where he stood.

Pete paid no attention to them, but marched up to the fire.  Old

Montoya rose and greeted him pleasantly.  Another Mexican, a slim

youth, bashfully acknowledged Pete's presence and called in the dogs.

Pete, who had known many outland camp-fires, made himself at home,

sitting cross-legged and affecting a mature indifference.  The old

Mexican smoked and studied the youngster, amused by his evident attempt

to appear grown-up and disinterested.

 

"That gun, he poke you in the rib, hey?"--and Montoya chuckled.

 

Pete flushed and glanced down at the half-concealed weapon beneath his

arm.  "Tied her on with string--ain't got no shoulder holster," Pete

explained in an offhand way.

 

"What you do with him?"  The old Mexican's deep-set eyes twinkled.

Pete studied Montoya's face.  This was a direct but apparently friendly

query.  Pete wondered if he should answer evasively or directly.  The

fact was that he did not know just why he had taken the gun--or what he

intended to do with it.  After all, it was none of Montoya's business,

yet Pete did not wish to offend the old man.  He wanted to hear more

about gun-fights with the cattlemen.

 

"Well, seein' it's you, senor,"--Pete adopted the grand air as most

befitting the occasion,--"I'm packin' this here gun to fight

cow-punchers with.  Reckon you don't know some cow-punchers killed my

dad.  I was just a kid then.  [Pete was now nearly fourteen.]  Some day

I'm goin' to git the man what killed him."

 

Montoya did not smile.  This muchacho evidently had spirit.  Pete's

invention, made on the spur of the moment, had hit "plumb center," as

he told himself.  For Montoya immediately became gracious, proffered

Pete tobacco and papers, and suggested coffee, which the young Mexican

made while Pete and the old man chatted.  Pete was deeply impressed by

his reception.  He felt that he had made a hit with Montoya--and that

the other had taken him seriously.  Most men did not, despite the fact

that he was accredited with having slain two T-Bar-T cowboys.  A

strange sympathy grew between this old Mexican and the lean,

bright-eyed young boy.  Perhaps Pete's swarthy coloring and black eyes

had something to do with it.  Possibly Pete's assurance, as contrasted

with the bashfulness and timidity of the old Mexican's nephew, had

something to do with Montoya's immediate friendliness.  In any event,

the visit ended with an invitation to Pete to become a permanent member

of the sheep-camp, Montoya explaining that his nephew wanted to go

home; that he did not like the loneliness of a herder's life.

 

Pete had witnessed too many horse-trades to accept this proposal at

once.  His face expressed deep cogitation, as he flicked the ashes from

his cigarette and shook his head.  "I dunno.  Roth is a pretty good

boss.  'Course, he ain't no gun-fighter--and that's kind of in your

favor--"

 

"What hombre say I make fight with gun?" queried Montoya.

 

"Why, everybody!  I reckon they's mighty few of 'em want to stack up

against you."

 

Montoya frowned.  "I don' talk like that," he said, shrugging his

shoulders.

 

Pete felt that he was getting in deep--but he had a happy inspiration.

"You don't have to talk.  Your ole forty-four does the talking I

reckon."

 

"You come and cook?" queried Montoya, coming straight to the point.

 

"I dunno, amigo.  I'll think about it."

 

"Bueno.  It is dark, I will walk with you to Concho."

 

"You think I'm a kid?" flared Pete.  "If was dark when I come over here

and it ain't any darker now.  I ain't no doggone cow-puncher what's got

to git on a hoss afore he dast go anywhere."

 

Montoya laughed.  "You come to-morrow night, eh?"

 

"Reckon I will."

 

"Then the camp will be over there--in the canon.  You will see the

fire."

 

"I'll come over and have a talk anyway," said Pete, still unwilling to

let Montoya think him anxious.  "Buenos noches!"

 

Montoya nodded.  "He will come," he said to his nephew.  "Then it is

that you may go to the home.  He is small--but of the very great

courage."

 

The following evening Pete appeared at the herder's camp.  The dogs ran

out, sniffed at him, and returned to the fire.  Montoya made a place

for him on the thick sheepskins and asked him if he had eaten.  Yes, he

had had supper, but he had no blankets.  Could Montoya let him have a

blanket until he had earned enough money to buy one?

 

The old herder told him that he could have the nephew's blankets; Pedro

was to leave camp next day and go home.  As for money, Montoya did not

pay wages.  Of course, for tobacco, or a coat or pants, he could have

the money when he needed them.

 

Pete felt a bit taken aback.  He had burnt his bridges--he could not

return to Concho--yet he wanted a definite wage.  "I kin pack--make and

break camp--and sure cook the frijoles.  Pop learned me all that; but

he was payin' me a dollar a week.  He said I was jest as good as a man.

A dollar a week ain't much."

 

The old herder shook his head.  "Not until I sell the wool can I pay."

 

"When do you sell that wool?"

 

"When the pay for it is good.  Sometimes I wait."

 

"Well, I kin see where I don't get rich herdin' sheep."

 

"We shall see.  Perhaps, if you are a good boy--"

 

"You got me wrong, senor.  Roth he said I was the limit--and even my

old pop said I was a tough kid.  I ain't doin' this for my health.  I

hooked up with you 'cause I kinda thought--"

 

"Si?"

 

"Well, Roth was tellin' as how you could make a six-gun smoke faster

than most any hombre a-livin'.  Now, I was figurin' if you would show

me how to work this ole smoke-wagon here"--and Pete touched the huge

lump beneath his shirt--"why, that would kinda be like wages--but I

ain't got no money to buy cartridges."

 

"I, Jose de la Crux Montoya, will show you how to work him.  It is a

big gun for such a chico."

 

"Oh, I reckon I kin hold her down.  When do we start the shootin'

match?"

 

Montoya smiled.

 

"Manana, perhaps."

 

"Then that's settled!"  Pete heaved a sigh.  "But how am I goin' to git

them cartridges?"

 

"From the store."

 

"That's all right.  But how many do I git for workin' for you?"

 

Montoya laughed outright.  "You will become a good man with the sheep.

You will not waste the flour and the beans and the coffee and the

sugar, like Pedro here.  You will count and not say--'Oh, I think it's

so much'--and because of that I will buy you two boxes of cartridges."

 

"Two boxes--a hundred a month?"

 

"Even so.  You will waste many until you learn."

 

"Shake!" said Pete.  "That suits me!  And if any doggone ole brush-cats

or lion or bear come pokin' around this here camp, we'll sure smoke 'em

up.  And if any of them cow-chasers from the mountain or the Concho

starts monkeyin' with our sheep, there's sure goin' to be a cowboy

funeral in these parts!  You done hired a good man when you hired me!"

 

"We shall see," said Montoya, greatly amused.  "But there is much work

to be done as well as the shooting."

 

"I'll be there!" exclaimed Pete.  "What makes them sheep keep a-moanin'

and a-bawlin' and a-shufflin' round?  Don't they never git to sleep?"

 

"Si, but it is a new camp.  To-morrow night they will be quiet.  It is

always so."

 

"Well, they sure make enough noise.  When do we git goin'?"

 

"Pedro, he will leave manana.  In two days we will move the camp."

 

"All right.  I don't reckon Roth would be lookin' for me in any

sheep-camp anyhow."  Young Pete was not afraid of the storekeeper, but

the fact that he had taken the gun troubled him, even though he had

left a note explaining that he took the gun in lieu of wages.  He

shared Pedro's blankets, but slept little.  The sheep milled and bawled

most of the night.  Even before daybreak Pete was up and building a

fire.  The sheep poured from the bedding-ground and pattered down to

the canon stream.  Later they spread out across the wide canon-bottom

and grazed, watched by the dogs.

 

Full-fed and happy, Young Pete helped Pedro clean the camp-utensils.

The morning sun, pushing up past the canon-rim, picked out the details

of the camp one by one--the smouldering fire of cedar wood, the packs,

saddles and ropes, the water-cask, the lazy burros waiting for the sun

to warm them to action, the blankets and sheepskin bedding, and farther

down the canon a still figure standing on a slight rise of ground and

gazing into space--the figure of Jose de la Crux Montoya, the

sheep-herder whom Roth had said feared no man and was a dead shot.

 

Pete knew Spanish--he had heard little else spoken in Concho--and he

thought that "Joseph of the Cross" was a strange name for a recognized

gunman.  "But Mexicans always stick crosses over graves," soliloquized

Pete.  "Mebby that's why he's got that fancy name.  Gee!  But this sure

beats tendin' store!"

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER VI

 

NEW VISTAS

 

Much that Annersley had taught Pete was undone in the lazy, listless

life of the sheep-camp.  There was a certain slow progressiveness about

it, however, that saved it from absolute monotony.  Each day the sheep

grazed out, the distance being automatically adjusted by the coming of

night, when they were bunched and slowly drifted back to the

bedding-ground.  A day or two--depending on the grazing--and they were

bedded in a new place as the herder worked toward the low country

followed by a recurrent crispness in the air that presaged the coming

of winter in the hills.  Pete soon realized that, despite their seeming

independence, sheep-men were slaves of the seasons.  They "followed the

grass" and fled from cold weather and snow.  At times, if the winter

was severe in the lower levels, they even had to winter-feed to save

the band.  Lambs became tired or sick--unable to follow the ewes--and

Pete often found some lone lamb hiding beneath a clump of brush where

it would have perished had he not carried it on to the flock and

watched it until it grew stronger.  He learned that sheep were

gregarious--that a sheep left alone on the mesa, no matter how strong,

through sheer loneliness would cease to eat and slowly starve to death.

Used to horses, Pete looked upon sheep with contempt.  They had neither

individual nor collective intelligence.  Let them once become

frightened and if not immediately headed off by the dogs, they would

stampede over the brink of an arroyo and trample each other to death.

This all but happened once when Montoya was buying provisions in town

and Pete was in charge of the band.  The camp was below the rim of a

canon.  The sheep were scattered over a mile or so of mesa, grazing

contentedly.  The dogs, out-posted on either side of the flock, were

resting, but alert.  To the left, some distance from the sheep, was the

canon-rim and a trail, gatewayed by two huge boulders, man-high, with

about enough space between them for a burro to pass.  A horse could

hardly have squeezed through.  Each night the sheep were headed for

this pass and worked through, one at a time, stringing down the trail

below which was steep and sandy.  At the canon bottom was water and

across the shallows were the bedding-grounds and the camp.  Pete,

drowsing in the sun, occasionally glanced up at the flock.  He saw no

need for standing up, as Montoya always did when out with the band.

The sheep were all right--and the day was hot.  Presently Pete became

interested in a mighty battle between a colony of red ants which seemed

to be attacking a colony of big black ants that had in some way

infringed on some international agreement, or overstepped the

color-line.  Pete picked up a twig and hastily scraped up a sand

barricade, to protect the red ants, who, despite their valor, seemed to

be getting the worst of it.  Black ants scurried to the top of the

barricade to be grappled by the tiny red ants, who fought valiantly.

Pete saw a red ant meet one of the enemy who was twice his size,

wrestle with him and finally best him.  Evidently this particular black

ant, though deceased, was of some importance, possibly an officer, for

the little red ant seized him and bore him bodily to the rear where he

in turn collapsed and was carried to the adjoining ant-hill by two of

his comrades evidently detailed on ambulance work.  "Everybody

scraps--even the bugs," said Pete.  "Them little red cusses sure ain't

scared o' nothin'."  Stream after stream of red ants hastened to

reinforce their comrades on the barricade.  The battle became general.

Pete grew excited.  He was scraping up another barricade when he heard

one of the dogs bark.  He glanced up.  The sheep, frightened by a

buzzard that had swooped unusually close to them, bunched and shot

toward the canon in a cloud of dust.  Pete jumped to his feet and ran

swiftly toward the rock gateway to head them off.  He knew that they

would make for the trail, and that those that did not get through the

pass would trample the weaker sheep to death.  The dog on the canon

side of the band raced across their course, snapping at the foremost in

a sturdy endeavor to turn them.  But he could not.  He ran, nipped a

sheep, and then jumped back to save himself from being cut to pieces by

the blundering feet.  Young Pete saw that he could not reach the pass

ahead of them.  Out of breath and half-sobbing as he realized the

futility of his effort, he suddenly recalled an incident like this when

Montoya, failing to head the band in a similar situation, had coolly

shot the leader and had broken the stampede.

 

Pete immediately sat down, and rested the barrel of his six-shooter on

his knee.  He centered on the pass.  A few seconds--and a big ram,

several feet ahead of the others, dashed into the notch.  Pete grasped

his gun with both hands and fired.  The ram reared and dropped just

within the rocky gateway.  Pete saw another sheep jump over the ram and

disappear.  Pete centered on the notch again and as the gray mass

bunched and crowded together to get through, he fired.  Another sheep

toppled and fell.  Still the sheep rushed on, crowding against the

rocks and trampling each other in a frantic endeavor to get through.

Occasionally one of the leaders leaped over the two dead sheep and

disappeared down the trail.  But the first force of their stampede was

checked.  Dropping his gun, Pete jumped up and footed it for the notch,

waving his hat as he ran.  Bleating and bawling, the band turned slowly

and swung parallel to the canon-rim.  The dogs, realizing that they

could now turn the sheep back, joined forces, and running a ticklish

race along the very edge of the canon, headed the band toward the safe

ground to the west.  Pete, as he said later, "cussed 'em a plenty."

When he took up his station between the band and the canon, wondering

what Montoya would say when he returned.

 

When the old Mexican, hazing the burros across the mesa, saw Pete wave

his hat, he knew that something unusual had happened.  Montoya shrugged

his shoulders as Pete told of the stampede.

 

"So it is with the sheep," said Montoya casually.  "These we will take

away, for the sheep will smell the blood and not go down the trail."

And he pointed to the ram and the ewe that Pete had shot.  "I will go

to the camp and unpack.  You have killed two good sheep, but you have

saved many."

 

Pete said nothing about the battle of the ants.  He knew that he had

been remiss, but he thought that in eventually turning the sheep he had

made up for it.

 

And because Pete was energetic, self-reliant, and steady, capable of

taking the burros into town and packing back provisions promptly--for

Pete, unlike most boys, did not care to loaf about town--the old herder

became exceedingly fond of him, although he seldom showed it in a

direct way.  Rather, he taught Pete Mexican--colloquialisms and idioms

that are not found in books--until Pete, who already knew enough of the

language to get along handily, became thoroughly at home whenever he

chanced to meet a Mexican--herder, cowboy, or storekeeper.  Naturally,

Pete did not appreciate the value of this until later--when his

familiarity with the language helped him out of many a tight place.

But what Pete did appreciate was the old herder's skill with the

six-gun--his uncanny ability to shoot from any position on the instant

and to use the gun with either hand with equal facility.  In one of the

desert towns Pete had traded a mountain-lion skin for a belt and

holster and several boxes of cartridges to boot, for Pete was keen at

bargaining.  Later the old Mexican cut down the belt to fit Pete and

taught him how to hang the gun to the best advantage.  Then he taught

Pete to "draw," impressing upon him that while accuracy was exceedingly

desirable, a quick draw was absolutely essential.  Pete practiced early

and late, more than disgusted because Montoya made him practice with an

empty gun.  He "threw down" on moving sheep, the dogs, an occasional

distant horseman, and even on Montoya himself, but never until the old

herder had examined the weapon and assured himself that he would not be

suddenly bumped off into glory by his ambitious assistant.  As some men

play cards, partly for amusement and partly to keep their hands in, so

Pete and Montoya played the six-gun game, and neither seemed to tire of

the amusement.  Montoya frequently unloaded his own gun and making sure

that Pete had done likewise, the old herder would stand opposite him

and count--"Una, duo, tres," and the twain would "go for their guns" to

see who would get in the first theoretical shot.  At first Pete was

slow.  His gun was too heavy for him and his wrist was not quick.  But

he stuck to it until finally he could draw and shoot almost as fast as

his teacher.  Later they practiced while sitting down, while reclining

propped on one elbow, and finally from a prone position, where Pete

learned to roll sideways, draw and shoot even as a side-winder of the

desert strikes without coiling.  Montoya taught him to throw a shot

over his shoulder, to "roll" his gun, to pretend to surrender it, and,

handing it out butt first, flip it over and shoot the theoretical

enemy.  He also taught him one trick which, while not considered

legitimate by most professional gunmen, was exceedingly worth while on

account of its deadly unexpectedness--and that was to shoot through the

open holster without drawing the gun.  Such practice allowed of only a

limited range, never higher than a man's belt, but as Montoya

explained, a shot belt-high and center was most effective.

 

Pete took an almost vicious delight in perfecting himself in this

trick.  He knew of most of the other methods--but shooting with the gun

in the holster was difficult and for close-range work, and just in

proportion to its difficulty Pete persevered.

 

He was fond of Montoya in an offhand way, but with the lessons in

gunmanship his fondness became almost reverence for the old man's easy

skill and accuracy.  Despite their increasing friendliness, Pete could

never get Montoya to admit that he had killed a man--and Pete thought

this strange, at that time.

 

Pete's lessons were not always without grief.  Montoya, ordinarily

genial, was a hard master to please.  Finally, when Pete was allowed to

use ammunition in his practice, and insisted on sighting at an object,

Montoya reproved him sharply for wasting time.  "It is like this," he

would say; illustrating on the instant he would throw a shot into the

chance target without apparent aim.  Once he made Pete put down his gun

and take up a handful of stones.  "Now shoot," he said.  Pete, much

chagrined, pelted the stones rapidly at the empty can target.  To his

surprise he missed it only once.  "Now shoot him like that," said

Montoya.  Pete, chafing because of this "kid stuff," as he called the

stone-throwing, picked up his gun and "threw" five shots at the can.

He was angry and he shot fast, but he hit the can twice.  From that

minute he "caught on."  Speed tended toward accuracy, premising one was

used to the "feel" of a gun.  And accuracy tended toward speed, giving

one assurance.  Even as one must throw a stone with speed to be

accurate, so one must shoot with speed.  It was all easy enough--like

everything else--when you had the hang of it.

 

How often a hero of fiction steps into a story--or rides into it--whose

deadly accuracy, lightning-like swiftness, appalling freedom from

accident, ostrich-like stomach and camel-like ability to go without

water, earn him the plaudits of a legion of admiring readers.  Apropos

of such a hero, your old-timer will tell you, "that there ain't no such

animal."  If your old-timer is a friend--perchance carrying the

never-mentioned scars of cattle-wars and frontier raids--he may tell

you that many of the greatest gunmen practiced early and late, spent

all their spare money on ammunition, never "showed-off" before an

audience, always took careful advantage of every fighting chance, saved

their horses and themselves from undue fatigue when possible, never

killed a man when they could avoid killing him, bore themselves

quietly, didn't know the meaning of Romance, but were strong for

utility, and withal worked as hard and suffered as much in becoming

proficient in their vocation as the veriest artisan of the cities.

Circumstances, hazard, untoward event, even inclination toward

excitement, made some of these men heroes, but never in their own eyes.

There were exceptions, of course, but most of the exceptions were

buried.

 

And Young Pete, least of all, dreamed of becoming a hero.  He liked

guns and all that pertained to them.  The feel of a six-shooter in his

hand gave him absolute pleasure.  The sound of a six-shooter was music

to him, and the potency contained in the polished cylinder filled with

blunt-nosed slugs was something that he could appreciate.  He was a

born gunman, as yet only in love with the tools of his trade,

interested more in the manipulation than in eventual results.  He

wished to become expert, but in becoming expert he forgot for the time

being his original intent of eventually becoming the avenger of

Annersley.  Pride in his ability to draw quick and shoot straight, with

an occasional word of praise from old Montoya, pretty well satisfied

him.  When he was not practicing he was working, and thought only of

the task at hand.

 

Pete was generally liked in the towns where he occasionally bought

provisions.  He was known as "Montoya's boy," and the townsfolk had a

high respect for the old Mexican.  One circumstance, however, ruffled

the placid tenor of his way and tended to give him the reputation of

being a "bronco muchacho"--a rough boy; literally a bad boy, as white

folks would have called him.

 

Montoya sent him into town for some supplies.  As usual, Pete rode one

of the burros.  It was customary for Pete to leave his gun in camp when

going to town.  Montoya had suggested that he do this, as much for

Pete's sake as for anything else.  The old man knew that slightly older

boys were apt to make fun of Pete for packing such a disproportionately

large gun--or, in fact, for packing any gun at all.  And Montoya also

feared that Pete might get into trouble.  Pete was pugnacious,

independent, and while always possessing enough humor to hold his own

in a wordy argument, he had much pride, considering himself the equal

of any man and quite above the run of youths of the towns.  And he

disliked Mexicans--Montoya being the one exception.  This morning he

did not pack his gun, but hung it on the cross-tree of the pack-saddle.

There were many brush rabbits on the mesa, and they made interesting

targets.

 

About noon he arrived at the town--Laguna.  He bought the few

provisions necessary and piled them on the ground near his burros.  He

had brought some cold meat and bread with him which he ate, squatted

out in front of the store.  Several young loafers gathered round and

held high argument among themselves as to whether Pete was a Mexican or

not.  This in itself was not altogether pleasing to Pete.  He knew that

he was tanned to a swarthy hue, was naturally of a dark complexion, and

possessed black hair and eyes.  But his blood rebelled at even the

suggestion that he was a Mexican.  He munched his bread and meat,

tossed the crumbs to a stray dog and rolled a cigarette.  One of the

Mexican boys asked him for tobacco and papers.  Pete gladly proffered

"the makings."  The Mexican youth rolled a cigarette and passed the

sack of tobacco to his companions.  Pete eyed this breach of etiquette

sternly, and received the sack back, all but empty.  But still he said

nothing, but rose and entering the store--a rambling, flat-roofed

adobe--bought another sack of tobacco.  When he came out the boys were

laughing.  He caught a word or two which drove the jest home.  In the

vernacular, he was "an easy mark."

 

"Mebby I am," he said in Mexican.  "But I got the price to buy my

smokes.  I ain't no doggone loafer."

 

The Mexican youth who had asked for the tobacco retorted with some more

or less vile language, intimating that Pete was neither Mexican nor

white--an insult compared to which mere anathema was as nothing.  Pete

knew that if he started a row he would get properly licked--that the

boys would all pile on him and chase him out of town.  So he turned his

back on the group and proceeded to pack the burros.  The Mexican boys

forgot the recent unpleasantness in watching him pack.  They realized

that he knew his business.  But Pete was not through with them yet.

When he had the burros in shape to travel he picked up the stick with

which he hazed them and faced the group.  What he said to them was

enough with some to spare for future cogitation.  He surpassed mere

invective with flaming innuendos as to the ancestry, habits, and

appearance of these special gentlemen and of Mexicans in general.  He

knew Mexicans and knew where he could hit hardest.  He wound up with

gentle intimation that the town would have made a respectable pigsty,

but that a decent pig would have a hard time keeping his self-respect

among so many descendants of the canine tribe.  It was a beautiful, an

eloquent piece of work, and even as he delivered it he felt rather

proud of his command of the Mexican idiom.  Then he made a mistake.  He

promptly turned his back and started the burros toward the distant

camp.  Had he kept half an eye on the boys he might have avoided

trouble.  But he had turned his back.  They thought that he was both

angry and afraid.  They also made a slight mistake.  The youth who had

borrowed the tobacco and who had taken most of Pete's eloquence to

heart--for he had inspired it--called the dog that lay back of them in

the shade and set him on Pete and the burros.  If a burro hates

anything it is to be attacked by a dog.  Pete whirled and swung his

stick.  The dog, a huge, lean, coyote-faced animal, dodged and snapped

at the nearest burro's heels.  That placid animal promptly bucked and

ran.  His brother burro took the cue and did likewise.  Presently the

immediate half-mile square was decorated with loose provisions--sugar,

beans, flour, a few cans of tomatoes, and chiles broken from the sack

and strung out in every direction.  The burros became a seething cloud

of dust in the distance.  Pete chased the dog which naturally circled

and ran back of the group of the store.  Older Mexicans gathered and

laughed.  The boys, feeling secure in the presence of their seniors,

added their shrill yelps of pleasure.  Pete, boiling internally,

white-faced and altogether too quiet, slowly gathered up what

provisions were usable.  Presently he came upon his gun, which had been

bucked from the pack-saddle.  The Mexicans were still laughing when he

strode back to the store.  The dog, scenting trouble, bristled and

snarled, baring his long fangs and standing with one forefoot raised.

Before the assembly realized what had happened, Pete had whipped out

his gun.  With the crash of the shot the dog doubled up and dropped in

his tracks.  The boys scattered and ran.  Pete cut loose in their

general direction.  They ran faster.  The older folk, chattering and

scolding, backed into the store.  "Montoya's boy was loco.  He would

kill somebody!"  Some of the women crossed themselves.  The

storekeeper, who knew Pete slightly, ventured out.  He argued with

Pete, who blinked and nodded, but would not put up his gun.  The

Mexicans feared him for the very fact that he was a boy and might do

anything.  Had he been a man he might have been shot.  But this did not

occur to Pete.  He was fighting mad.  His burros were gone and his

provisions scattered, save a few canned tomatoes that had not suffered

damage.  The storekeeper started toward him.  Pete centered on that

worthy's belt-buckle and told him to stay where he was.

 

"I'll blow a hole in you that you can drive a team through if you come

near me!" asserted Pete.  "I come in here peaceful, and you doggone

Cholas wrecked my outfit and stampeded my burros; but they ain't no

Mexican can run a whizzer on me twict.  I'm white--see!"

 

"It is not I that did this thing," said the storekeeper.

 

"No, but the doggone town did!  I reckon when Jose Montoya comes in and

wants his grub, you'll settle all right.  And he's comin'!"

 

"Then you will go and not shoot any one?"

 

"When I git ready.  But you kin tell your outfit that the first Chola

that follows me is goin' to run up ag'inst a slug that'll bust him wide

open.  I'm goin'--but I'm comin' back."

 

Pete, satisfied that he had conducted himself in a manner befitting the

occasion, backed away a few steps and finally turned and marched across

the mesa.  They had wrecked his outfit.  He'd show 'em!  Old Montoya

knew that something was wrong when the burros drifted in with their

pack-saddles askew.  He thought that possibly some coyote had stampeded

them.  He righted the pack-saddles and drove the burros back toward

Laguna.  Halfway across the mesa he met Pete, who told him what had

happened.  Montoya said nothing.  Pete had hoped that his master would

rave and threaten all sorts of vengeance.  But the old man simply

nodded, and plodding along back of the burros, finally entered Laguna

and strode up to the store.  All sorts of stories were afloat, stories

which Montoya discounted liberally, because he knew Pete.  The owner of

the dog claimed damages.  Montoya, smiling inwardly, referred that

gentleman to Pete, who stood close to his employer, hoping that he

would start a real row, but pretty certain that he would not.  That was

Montoya's way.  The scattered provisions as far as possible were

salvaged and fresh supplies loaded on the burros.  When Montoya was

ready to leave he turned to the few Mexicans in front of the store:

"When I send my boy in here for flour and the beans and the sugar, it

will be well to keep the dogs away--and to remember that it is Jose de

la Crux that has sent him.  For the new provisions I do not pay.

Adios, senors."

 

Pete thought that this was rather tame--but still Montoya's manner was

decidedly business-like.  No one controverted him--not even the

storekeeper, who was the loser.

 

A small crowd had assembled.  Excitement such as this was rare in

Laguna.  While still in plain sight of the group about the store, and

as Montoya plodded slowly along behind the burros, Pete turned and

launched his parthian shot--that eloquently expressive gesture of

contempt and scorn wherein is employed the thumb, the nose, and the

outspread fingers of one hand.  He was still very much a boy.

 

About a year later--after drifting across a big territory of grazing

land, winter-feeding the sheep near Largo, and while preparing to drive

south again and into the high country--Pete met young Andy White, a

clean-cut, sprightly cowboy riding for the Concho outfit.  Andy had

ridden down to Largo on some errand or other and had tied his pony in

front of the store when Montoya's sheep billowed down the street and

frightened the pony.  Young Pete, hazing the burros, saw the pony pull

back and break the reins, whirl and dash out into the open and circle

the mesa with head and tail up.  It was a young horse, not actually

wild, but decidedly frisky.  Pete had not been on a horse for many

months.  The beautiful pony, stamping and snorting in the morning sun,

thrilled Pete clear to his toes.  To ride--anywhere--what a contrast to

plodding along with the burros!  To feel a horse between his knees

again!  To swing up and ride--ride across the mesa to that dim line of

hills where the sun touched the blue of the timber and the gold of the

quaking-asp and burned softly on the far woodland trail that led south

and south across the silent ranges!  Pete snatched a rope from the pack

and walked out toward the pony.  That good animal, a bit afraid of the

queer figure in the flapping overalls and flop-brimmed sombrero,

snorted and swung around facing him.  Dragging his rope, Pete walked

slowly forward.  The pony stopped and flung up its head.  Pete flipped

the loop and set back on his heels.  The rope ran taut.  Pete was

prepared for the usual battle, but the pony, instead, "came to the

rope" and sniffed curiously at Pete, who patted his nose and talked to

him.  Assured that his strange captor knew horses, the pony allowed him

to slip the rope round his nose and mount without even sidling.  Pete

was happy.  This was something like!  As for Montoya and the

sheep--they were drifting on in a cloud of dust, the burros following

placidly.

 

"You sure caught him slick."

 

Pete nodded to the bright-faced young cowboy who had stepped up to him.

Andy White was older than Pete, heavier and taller, with keen blue eyes

and an expression as frank and fearless as the morning itself.  In

contrast, Young Pete was lithe and dark, his face was more mature, more

serious, and his black eyes seemed to see everything at a glance--a

quick, indifferent glance that told no one what was behind the

expression.  Andy was light-skinned and ruddy.  Pete was swarthy and

black-haired.  For a second or so they stood, then White genially

thrust out his hand.  "Thanks!" he said heartily.  "You sabe 'em."

 

It was a little thing to say and yet it touched Pete's pride.  Deep in

his heart he was a bit ashamed of consorting with a sheep-herder--a

Mexican; and to be recognized as being familiar with horses pleased him

more than his countenance showed.  "Yes.  I handled 'em

some--tradin'--when I was a kid."

 

Andy glanced at the boyish figure and smiled.  "You're wastin' good

time with that outfit,"--and he gestured with his thumb toward the

sheep.

 

"Oh, I dunno.  Jose Montoya ain't so slow--with a gun."

 

Andy White laughed.  "Old Crux ain't a bad old scout--but you ain't a

Mexican.  Anybody can see that!"

 

"Well, just for fun--suppose I was."

 

"It would be different," said Andy.  "You're white, all right!"

 

"Meanin' my catchin' your cayuse.  Well, anybody'd do that."

 

"They ain't nothin' to drink but belly-wash in this town," said Andy

boyishly.  "But you come along down to the store an' I'll buy."

 

"I'll go you!  I see you're ridin' for the Concho."

 

"Uh-huh, a year."

 

Pete walked beside this new companion and Pete was thinking hard.

"What's your name?" he queried suddenly.

 

"White--Andy White.  What's yours?"

 

"Pete Annersley," he replied proudly.

 

They sat outside the store and drank bottled pop and swapped youthful

yarns of the range and camp until Pete decided that he had better go.

But his heart was no longer with the sheep.

 

He rose and shook hands with Andy.  "If you git a chanct, ride over to

our camp sometime.  I'm goin' up the Largo.  You can find us.

Mebby"--and he hesitated, eying the pony--"mebby I might git a chanct

to tie up to your outfit.  I'm sick of the woolies."

 

"Don't blame you, amigo.  If I hear of anything I'll come a-fannin' and

tell you.  So-long.  She's one lovely mornin'."

 

Pete turned and plodded down the dusty road.  Far ahead the sheep

shuffled along, the dogs on either side of the band and old Montoya

trudging behind and driving the burros.  Pete said nothing as he caught

up with Montoya, merely taking his place and hazing the burros toward

their first camp in the canon.

 

It was an aimless life, with little chance of excitement; but riding

range--that was worth while!  Already Pete had outgrown any sense of

dependency on the old Mexican.  He felt that he was his own man.  He

had been literally raised with the horses and until this morning he had

not missed them so much.  But the pony and the sprightly young cowboy,

with his keen, smiling face and swinging chaps, had stirred longings in

Young Pete's heart that no amount of ease or outdoor freedom with the

sheep could satisfy.  He wanted action.  His life with Montoya had made

him careless but not indolent.  He felt a touch of shame, realizing

that such a thought was disloyal to Montoya, who had done so much for

him.   But what sentiment Pete had, ceased immediately, however, when

the main chance loomed, and he thought he saw his fortune shaping

toward the range and the cow-ponies.  He had liked Andy White from the

beginning.  Perhaps they could arrange to ride together if he (Pete)

could get work with the Concho outfit.  The gist of it all was that

Pete was lonely and did not realize it.  Montoya was much older, grave,

and often silent for days.  He seemed satisfied with the life.  Pete,

in his way, had aspirations--vague as yet, but slowly shaping toward a

higher plane than the herding of sheep.  He had had experiences enough

for a man twice his age, and he knew that he had ability.  As Andy

White had said, it was wasting good time, this sheep-herding.  Well,

perhaps something would turn up.  In the meantime there was camp to

make, water to pack, and plenty of easy detail to take up his immediate

time.  Perhaps he would talk with Montoya after supper about making a

change.  Perhaps not.  It might be better to wait until he saw Andy

White again.

 

In camp that night Montoya asked Pete if he were sick.  Pete shook his

head; "Jest thinkin'," he replied.

 

Old Montoya, wise in his way, knew that something had occurred, yet he

asked no further questions, but rolled a cigarette and smoked,

wondering whether Young Pete were dissatisfied with the pay he gave

him--for Pete now got two dollars a week and his meals.  Montoya

thought of offering him more.  The boy was worth more.  But he would

wait.  If Pete showed any disposition to leave, then would be time

enough to speak.  So they sat by the fire in the keen evening air, each

busy with his own thoughts, while the restless sheep bedded down,

bleating and shuffling, and the dogs lay with noses toward the fire,

apparently dozing, but ever alert for a stampede; alert for any

possibility--even as were Montoya and Pete, although outwardly placid

and silent.

 

Next morning, after the sheep were out, Pete picked up a pack-rope and

amused himself by flipping the loop on the burros, the clumps of brush,

stubs, and limbs, keeping at it until the old herder noticed and

nodded.  "He is thinking of the cattle," soliloquized Montoya.  "I will

have to get a new boy some day.  But he will speak, and then I shall

know."

 

While Pete practiced with the rope he was figuring how long it would

take him to save exactly eighteen dollars and a half, for that was the

price of a Colt's gun such as he had taken from the store at Concho.

Why he should think of saving the money for a gun is not quite clear.

He already had one.  Possibly because they were drifting back toward

the town of Concho, Pete wished to be prepared in case Roth asked him

about the gun.  Pete had eleven dollars pinned in the watch-pocket of

his overalls.  In three weeks, at most, they would drive past Concho.

He would then have seventeen dollars.  Among his personal effects he

had two bobcat skins and a coyote-hide.  Perhaps he could sell them for

a dollar or two.  How often did Andy White ride the Largo Canon?  The

Concho cattle grazed to the east.  Perhaps White had forgotten his

promise to ride over some evening.  Pete swung his loop and roped a

clump of brush.  "I'll sure forefoot you, you doggone longhorn!" he

said.  "I'll git my iron on you, you maverick!  I'm the Ridin' Kid from

Powder River, and I ride 'em straight up an' comin'."  So he romanced,

his feet on the ground, but his heart with the bawling herd and the

charging ponies.  "Like to rope a lion," he told himself as he swung

his rope again.  "Same as High-Chin Bob."  Just then one of the dogs,

attracted by Pete's unusual behavior, trotted up.

 

Pete's rope shot out and dropped.  The dog had never been roped.  His

dignity was assaulted.  He yelped and started straightway for Montoya,

who stood near the band, gazing, as ever, into space.  Just as the rope

came taut, Pete's foot slipped and he lost the rope.  The dog,

frightened out of his wits, charged down on the sheep.  The trailing

rope startled them.  They sagged in, crowding away from the

terror-stricken dog.  Fear, among sheep, spreads like fire in dry

grass.  In five seconds the band was running, with Montoya calling to

the dogs and Pete trying to capture the flying cause of the trouble.

 

When the sheep were turned and had resumed their grazing, Montoya, who

had caught the roped dog, strode to Pete.  "It was a bad thing to do,"

he said easily.  "Why did you rope him?"

 

Pete scowled and stammered.  "Thought he was a lion.  He came a-tearin'

up, and I was thinkin' o' lions.  So, I jest nacherally loops him.  I

was praticin'."

 

"First it was the gun.  Now it is the rope," said Montoya, smiling.

"You make a vaquero, some day, I think."

 

"Oh, mebby.  But I sure won't quit you till you get 'em over the range,

even if I do git a chanct to ride for some outfit.  But I ain't got a

job, yet."

 

"I would not like to have you go," said Montoya.  "You are a good boy."

 

Pete had nothing to say.  He wished Montoya had not called him "a good

boy."  That hurt.  If Montoya had only scolded him for stampeding the

sheep. . . .  But Montoya had spoken in a kindly way.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER VII

 

PLANS

 

Several nights later a horseman rode into Montoya's camp.  Pete,

getting supper, pretended great indifference until he heard the

horseman's voice.  It was young Andy White who had come to visit, as he

had promised.  Pete's heart went warm, and he immediately found an

extra tin plate and put more coffee in the pot.  He was glad to see

White, but he was not going to let White know how glad.  He greeted the

young cowboy in an offhand way, taking the attitude of being so

engrossed with cooking that he could not pay great attention to a stray

horseman just then.  But later in the evening, after they had eaten,

the two youths chatted and smoked while Montoya listened and gazed out

across the evening mesa.  He understood.  Pete was tired of the sheep

and would sooner or later take up with the cattle.  That was natural

enough.  He liked Pete; really felt as a father toward him.  And the

old Mexican, who was skilled in working leather, thought of the

hand-carved holster and belt that he had been working on during his

spare time--a present that he had intended giving Pete when it was

completed.  There was still a little work to do on the holster; the

flower pattern in the center was not quite finished.  To-morrow he

would finish it--for he wanted to have it ready.  If Pete stayed with

him, he would have it--and if Pete left he should have something by

which to remember Jose de la Crux Montoya--something to remember him

by, and something useful--for even then Montoya realized that if Young

Pete survived the present hazards that challenged youth and an

adventurous heart, some day, as a man grown, Pete would thoroughly

appreciate the gift.  A good holster, built on the right lines and one

from which a gun came easily, would be very useful to a man of Pete's

inclinations.  And when it came to the fit and hang of a holster,

Montoya knew his business.

 

Three weeks later, almost to a day, the sheep were grazing below the

town of Concho, near the camp where Pete had first visited Montoya and

elected to work for him.  On the higher levels several miles to the

east was the great cattle outfit of the Concho; the home-buildings,

corrals, and stables.  Pete had seen some of the Concho boys--chance

visitors at the homestead on the Blue--and he had been thinking of

these as the sheep drifted toward Concho.  After all, he was not

equipped to ride, as he had no saddle, bridle, chaps, boots, and not

even a first-class rope.  Pete had too much pride to acknowledge his

lack of riding-gear or the wherewithal to purchase it, even should he

tie up with the Concho boys.  So when Andy White, again visiting the

sheep-camp, told Pete that the Concho foreman had offered no

encouragement in regard to an extra hand, Pete nodded as though the

matter were of slight consequence, which had the effect of stirring

Andy to renewed eloquence anent the subject--as Pete had hoped.  The

boys discussed ways and means.  There was much discussion, but no

visible ways and means.  Andy's entire wealth was invested in his own

gay trappings.  Pete possessed something like seventeen dollars.  But

there is nothing impossible to youth--for when youth realizes the

impossible, youth has grown a beard and fears the fire.

 

Both boys knew that there were many poor Mexicans in the town of Concho

who, when under the expansive influence of wine, would part with almost

anything they or their neighbors possessed, for a consideration.  There

were Mexicans who would sell horse, saddle, and bridle for that amount,

especially when thirsty--for seventeen dollars meant unlimited vino and

a swaggering good time--for a time.  Pete knew this only too well.  He

suggested the idea to Andy, who concurred with enthusiasm.

 

"Cholas is no good anyhow," blurted Andy.  "You ain't robbin' nobody

when you buy a Chola outfit.  Let's go!"

 

Montoya, who sat by the fire, coughed.

 

"'Course, I was meanin' some Cholas," said Andy.

 

The old herder smiled to himself.  The boys amused him.  He had been

young once--and very poor.  And he had ridden range in his youthful

days.  A mild fatalist, he knew that Pete would not stay long, and

Montoya was big enough not to begrudge the muchacho any happiness.

 

"I'm goin' over to town for a spell," explained Pete.

 

Montoya nodded.

 

"I'm comin' back," Pete added, a bit embarrassed.

 

"Bueno.  I shall be here."

 

Pete, a bit flustered, did not quite catch the mild sarcasm, but he

breathed more freely when they were out of sight of camp.  "He's sure a

white Mexican," he told Andy.  "I kind o' hate to leave him, at that."

 

"You ain't left him yet," suggested Andy with the blunt candor of youth.

 

Pete pondered.  Tucked under his arm were the two bobcat skins and the

coyote-hide.  He would try to sell them to the storekeeper, Roth.  All

told, he would then have about twenty dollars.  That was quite a lot of

money--in Concho.

 

Roth was closing shop when they entered town.  He greeted Pete

heartily, remarked at his growth and invited him in.  Pete introduced

Andy, quite unnecessarily, for Andy knew the storekeeper.  Pete gazed

at the familiar shelves, boxes and barrels, the new saddles and rigs,

and in fact at everything in the store save the showcase which

contained the cheap watches, trinkets, and six-shooters.

 

"I got a couple o' skins here," he said presently.  "Mebby you could

buy 'em."

 

"Let's see 'em, Pete."

 

Pete unfolded the stiff skins on the counter.

 

"Why, I'll give you two dollars for the lot.  The cat-skins are all

right.  The coyote ain't worth much."

 

"All right.  I--I'm needin' the money right now," stammered Pete--"or

I'd give 'em to you."

 

"How you making it?" queried Roth.

 

"Fine!  But I was thinkin' o' makin' a change.  Sheep is all right--but

I'm sick o' the smell of 'em.  Montoya is all right, too.  It ain't

that."

 

Roth gazed at the boy, wondering if he would say anything about the

six-gun.  He liked Pete and yet he felt a little disappointed that Pete

should have taken him altogether for granted.

 

"Montoya was in--yesterday," said Roth.

 

"Uh-huh?  Said he was comin' over here.  He's back in camp.  Me and

Andy was lookin' for a Chola that wants to sell a hoss."

 

"Mighty poor lot of cayuses round here, Pete.  What you want with a

horse?"

 

"'T ain't the hoss.  It's the saddle an' bridle I'm after.  If I were

to offer to buy a saddle an' bridle I'd git stuck jest as much for 'em

as I would if I was to buy the whole works.  Might jest as well have

the hoss.  I could trade him for a pair of chaps, mebby."

 

"Goin' to quit the sheep business?"

 

"Mebby--if I can git a job ridin'."

 

"Well, good luck.  I got to close up.  Come over and see me before you

break camp."

 

"I sure will!  Thank you for the--for buyin' them hides."

 

Pete felt relieved--and yet not satisfied.  He had wanted to speak

about the six-shooter he had taken--but Andy was there, and, besides,

it was a hard subject to approach gracefully even under the most

favorable auspices.  Perhaps, in the morning . . .

 

"Come on over to Tony's Place and mebby we can run into a Mex that

wants to sell out," suggested Andy.

 

Pete said good-night to Roth.

 

"Don't you boys get into trouble," laughed Roth, as they left.  He had

not even hinted about the six-shooter.  Pete thought that the

storekeeper was "sure white."

 

The inevitable gaunt, ribby, dejected pony stood at the hitching-rail

of the saloon.  Pete knew it at once for a Mexican's pony.  No white

man would ride such a horse.  The boys inspected the saddle, which was

not worth much, but they thought it would do.  "We could steal 'im,"

suggested Andy, laughing.  "Then we could swipe the rig and turn the

cayuse loose."

 

For a moment this idea appealed to Pete.  He had a supreme contempt for

Mexicans.  But suddenly he seemed to see himself surreptitiously taking

the six-shooter from Roth's showcase--and he recalled vividly how he

had felt at the time--"jest plumb mean," as he put it.  Roth had been

mighty decent to him. . . .  The Mexican, a wizened little man,

cross-eyed and wrinkled, stumbled from the saloon.

 

"Want to sell your hoss?" Pete asked in Mexican.

 

"Si!  How much you give?" said the other, coming right to the point.

 

"Ten dollars."

 

"He is a good horse--very fast.  He is worth much more.  I sell him for

twenty dollars."

 

"Si."

 

Andy White put his hand on Pete's shoulder.  "Say, Pete," he whispered,

"I know this hombre.  The poor cuss ain't hardly got enough sense to

die.  He comes into town reg'lar and gits drunk and he's got a whole

corral full of kids and a wife, over to the Flats.  I'm game, but it's

kinda tough, takin' his hoss.  It's about all he's got, exceptin' a

measly ole dog and a shack and the clothes on his back.  That saddle

ain't worth much, anyhow."

 

Pete thought it over.  "It's his funeral," he said presently.

 

"That's all right--but dam' if I want to bury him."  And Andy, the

sprightly, rolled a cigarette and eyed Pete, who stood pondering.

 

Presently Pete turned to the Mexican.  "I was only joshin' you, amigo.

You fork your cayuse and fan it for home."

 

Pete felt that his chance of buying cheap equipment had gone

glimmering, but he was not unhappy.  He gestured to Andy.  Together

they strode across to the store and sat on the rough wood platform.

Pete kicked his heels and whistled a range tune.  Andy smoked and

wondered what Pete had in mind.  Suddenly Pete rose and pulled up his

belt.  "Come on over to Roth's house," he said.  "I want to see him."

 

"He's turned in," suggested Andy.

 

"That's all right.  I got to see him."

 

"I'm on!  You're goin' to pay somethin' down on a rig, and git him to

let you take it on time.  Great idee!  Go to it!"

 

"You got me wrong," said Pete.

 

Roth had gone to bed, but he rose and answered the door when he heard

Pete's voice.  "Kin I see you alone?" queried Pete.

 

"I reckon so.  Come right in."

 

Pete blinked in the glare of the lamp, shuffled his feet as he slowly

counted out eighteen dollars and a half.  "It's for the gun I took," he

explained.

 

Roth hesitated, then took the money.

 

"All right, Pete.  I'll give you a receipt.  Just wait a minute."

 

Pete gazed curiously at the crumpled bit of paper that Roth fetched

from the bedroom.  "I took a gun an' cartriges for Wagges.  You never

giv me Wages."

 

Pete heaved a sigh.  "I reckon we're square."

 

Roth grinned.  "Knowed you'd come back some day.  Reckon you didn't

find a Mexican with a horse to sell, eh?"

 

"Yep.  But I changed my mind."

 

"What made you change your mind?"

 

"I dunno."

 

"Well, I reckon I do.  Now, see here, Pete.  You been up against it

'most all your life.  You ain't so bad off with old Montoya, but I sabe

how you feel about herding sheep.  You want to get to riding.  But

first you want to get a job.  Now you go over to the Concho and tell

Bailey--'he's the foreman--that I sent you, and that if he'll give you

a job, I'll outfit you.  You can take your time paying for it."

 

Pete blinked and choked a little.  "I ain't askin' nobody to _give_ me

nothin'," he said brusquely.

 

"Yes, you be.  You're asking Bailey for a job.  It's all right to ask

for something you mean to pay for, and you'll pay for your job by

workin'.  That there rig you can pay for out of your wages.  I was

always intending to do something for you--only you didn't stay.  I

reckon I'm kind o' slow.  'Most everybody is in Concho.  And seeing as

you come back and paid up like a man--I'm going to charge that gun up

against wages you earned when you was working for me, and credit you

with the eighteen-fifty on the new rig.  Now you fan it back to Montoya

and tell him what you aim to do and then if you got time, come over

to-morrow and pick out your rig.  You don't have to take it till you

get your job."

 

Pete twisted his hat in his hands.  He did not know what to say.

Slowly he backed from the room, turned, and strode out to Andy White.

Andy wondered what Pete had been up to, but waited for him to speak.

 

Presently Pete cleared his throat.  "I'm coming over to your wickiup

to-morrow and strike for a job.  I got the promise of a rig, all right.

Don't want no second-hand rig, anyhow!  I'm the Ridin' Kid from Powder

River and I'm comin' with head up and tail a-rollin'."

 

"Whoopee!" sang Andy, and swung to his pony.

 

"I'm a-comin'!" called Pete as Andy clattered away into the night.

 

Pete felt happy and yet strangely subdued.  The dim road flickered

before him as he trudged back to the sheep-camp.  "Pop would 'a' done

it that way," he said aloud.  And for a space, down the darkening road

he walked in that realm where the invisible walk, and beside him

trudged the great, rugged shape of Annersley, the spirit of the old man

who always "played square," feared no man, and fulfilled a purpose in

the immeasurable scheme of things.  Pete knew that Annersley would have

been pleased.  So it was that Young Pete paid the most honorable debt

of all, the debt to memory that the debtor's own free hand may pay or

not--and none be the wiser, save the debtor.  Pete had "played square."

It was all the more to his credit that he hated like the dickens to

give up his eighteen dollars and a half, and yet had done so.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER VIII

 

SOME BOOKKEEPING

 

While it is possible to approach the foreman of a cattle outfit on foot

and apply for work, it is--as a certain Ulysses of the outlands once

said--not considered good form in the best families in Arizona.  Pete

was only too keenly conscious of this.  There is a prestige recognized

by both employer and tentative employee in riding in, swinging to the

ground in that deliberate and easy fashion of the Western rider, and

sauntering up as though on a friendly visit wherein the weather and

grazing furnish themes for introduction, discussion, and the eventual

wedge that may open up the way to employment.  The foreman knows by the

way you sit your horse, dismount, and generally handle yourself, just

where you stand in the scale of ability.  He does not need to be told.

Nor does he care what you have been.  Your saddle-tree is much more

significant than your family tree.  Still, if you have graduated in

some Far Eastern riding academy, and are, perchance, ambitious to learn

the gentle art of roping, riding them as they come, and incidentally

preserving your anatomy as an undislocated whole, it is not a bad idea

to approach the foreman on foot and clothed in unpretentious garb.

For, as this same Ulysses of the outlands said:

 

  "Rub grease on your chaps and look wise if you will,

  But the odor of tan-bark will cling round you still."

 

This information alone is worth considerably more than twenty cents.

 

Young Pete, who had not slept much, arose and prepared breakfast,

making the coffee extra strong.  Montoya liked strong coffee.  After

breakfast Pete made a diagonal approach to the subject of leaving.

Could he go to Concho?  Montoya nodded.  Would it be all right if he

made a visit to the Concho outfit over on the mesa?  It would be all

right.  This was too easy.  Pete squirmed internally.  If Montoya would

only ask why he wanted to go.  Did Montoya think he could get another

boy to help with the sheep?  The old herder, who had a quiet sense of

humor, said he didn't need another boy: that Pete did very well.  Young

Pete felt, as he expressed it to himself, "jest plumb mean."

Metaphorically he had thrown his rope three times and missed each time.

This time he made a wider loop.

 

"What I'm gittin' at is, Roth over to Concho said last night if I was

to go over to Bailey--he's the fo'man of the Concho outfit--and ask him

for a job, I could mebby land one.  Roth, he said he'd outfit me and

leave me to pay for it from my wages.  Andy White, he's pluggin' for me

over to the ranch.  I ain't said nothin' to you, for I wa'n't sure--but

Roth he says mebby I could git a job.  I reckon I'm gettin' kind of

_old_ to herd sheep."

 

Montoya smiled.  "Si; I am sixty years old."

 

"I know--but--doggone it!  I want to ride a hoss and go somewhere!"

 

"I will pay you three dollars a week," said Montoya, and his eyes

twinkled.  He was enjoying Pete's embarrassment.

 

"It ain't the money.  You sure been square.  It ain't that.  I reckon I

jest got to go."

 

"Then it is that you go.  I will find another to help.  You have been a

good boy.  You do not like the sheep--but the horses.  I know that you

have been saving the money.  You have not bought cartridges.  I would

give you--"

 

"Hold on--you give me my money day before yesterday."

 

"Then you have a little till you get your wages from the Concho.  It is

good."

 

"Oh, I'm broke all right," said Pete.  "But that don't bother me none.

I paid Roth for that gun I swiped--"

 

"You steal the gun?"

 

"Well, it wa'n't jest _stealin'_ it.  Roth he never paid me no wages,

so when I lit out I took her along and writ him it was for wages."

 

"Then why did you pay him?"

 

Pete frowned.  "I dunno."

 

Montoya nodded.  He stooped and fumbled in a pack.  Pete wondered what

the old man was hunting for.

 

Presently, Montoya drew out the hand-carved belt and holster, held it

up, and inspected it critically.  He felt of it with his calloused

hands, and finally gestured to Pete.  "It is for you, muchacho.  I made

it.  Stand so.  There, it should hang this way."  Montoya buckled the

belt around Pete and stepped back.  "A little to the front.  Bueno!

Tie the thong round your leg--so.  That is well!  It is the present

from Jose Montoya.  Sometimes you will remember--"

 

Montoya glanced at Pete's face.  Pete was frowning prodigiously.

 

"Hah!" laughed Montoya.  "You do not like it, eh?"

 

Pete scowled and blinked.  "It's the best doggone holster in the world!

I--I'm goin' to keep that there holster as long as I live!  I--"

 

Montoya patted Pete's shoulder.  "With the sheep it is quiet, so!"--and

Montoya gestured to the band that grazed near by.  "Where you will go

there will be the hard riding and the fighting, perhaps.  It is not

good to kill a man.  But it is not good to be killed.  The hot

word--the quarrel--and some day a man will try to kill you.  See!  I

have left the holster open at the end.  I have taught you that

trick--but do not tie the holster down if you would shoot that way.

There is no more to say."

 

Pete thought so, so far as he was concerned.  He was angry with himself

for having felt emotion and yet happy in that his break with Montoya

had terminated so pleasantly withal.  "I'm goin' to town," he said,

"and git a boy to come out here.  If I can't git a boy, I'll come back

and stay till you git one."

 

Montoya nodded and strode out to where the sheep had drifted.  The dogs

jumped up and welcomed him.  It was not customary for their master to

leave them for so long alone with the flock.  Their wagging tails and

general attitude expressed relief.

 

Pete, topping the rise that hides the town of Concho from the northern

vistas, turned and looked back.  Far below, on a slightly rounded knoll

stood the old herder, a solitary figure in the wide expanse of mesa and

morning sunlight.  Pete swung his hat.  Montoya raised his arm in a

gesture of good-will and farewell.  Pete might have to come back, but

Montoya doubted it.  He knew Pete.  If there was anything that looked

like a boy available in Concho, Pete would induce that boy to take his

place with Montoya, if he had to resort to force to do so.

 

Youth on the hilltop!  Youth pausing to gaze back for a moment on a

pleasant vista of sunshine and long, lazy days--Pete brushed his arm

across his eyes.  One of the dogs had left the sheep, and came frisking

toward the hill where Pete stood.  Pete had never paid much attention

to the dogs, and was surprised that either of them should note his

going, at this time.  "Mebby the doggone cuss knows that I'm quittin'

for good," he thought.  The dog circled Pete and barked ingratiatingly.

Pete, touched by unexpected interest, squatted down and called the dog

to him.  The sharp-muzzled, keen-eyed animal trotted up and nosed

Pete's hand.  "You 're sure wise!" said Pete affectionately.  Pete was

even more astonished to realize that it was the dog he had roped

recently.  "Knowed I was only foolin'," said Pete, patting the dog's

head.  The sheep-dog gazed up into Pete's face with bright, unblinking

eyes that questioned, "Why was Pete leaving camp early in the

morning--and without the burros?"

 

"I'm quittin' for good," said Pete.

 

The dog's waving tail grew still.

 

"That's right--honest!"--and Pete rose.

 

The sheep-dog's quivering joy ceased at the word.  His alertness

vanished.  A veritable statue of dejection he stood as though pondering

the situation.  Then he lifted his head and howled--the long,

lugubrious howl of the wolf that hungers.

 

"You said it all," muttered Pete, turning swiftly and trudging down the

road.  He would have liked to howl himself.  Montoya's kindliness at

parting--and his gift--had touched Pete deeply, but he had fought his

emotion then, too proud to show it.  Now he felt a hot something

spatter on his hand.  His mouth quivered.  "Doggone the dog!" he

exclaimed.  "Doggone the whole doggone outfit!"  And to cheat his

emotion he began to sing, in a ludicrous, choked way, that sprightly

and inimitable range ballad;

 

  "'Way high up in the Mokiones, among the mountain-tops,

  A lion cleaned a yearlin's bones and licked his thankful chops,

  When who upon the scene should ride, a-trippin' down the slope,"

 

"Doggone the slope!" blurted Pete as he stubbed his toe on a rock.

 

But when he reached Concho his eyes had cleared.  Like all good

Americans he "turned a keen, untroubled face home to the instant need

of things," and after visiting Roth at the store, and though sorely

tempted to loiter and inspect saddlery, he set out to hunt up a

boy--for Montoya.

 

None of the Mexican boys he approached cared to leave home.  Things

looked pretty blue for Pete.  The finding of the right boy meant his

own freedom.  His contempt for the youth of Concho grew apace.  The

Mexicans were a lazy lot, who either did not want to work or were loath

to leave home and follow the sheep.  "Jest kids!" he remarked

contemptuously as his fifth attempt failed.  "I could lick the whole

bunch!"

 

Finally he located a half-grown youth who said he was willing to go.

Pete told him where to find Montoya and exacted a promise from the

youth to go at once and apply for the place.  Pete hastened to the

store and immediately forgot time, place, and even the fact that he had

yet to get a job riding for the Concho outfit, in the eager joy of

choosing a saddle, bridle, blanket, spurs, boots and chaps, to say

nothing of a new Stetson and rope.  The sum total of these unpaid-for

purchases rather staggered him.  His eighteen-odd dollars was as a

fly-speck on the credit side of the ledger.  He had chosen the best of

everything that Roth had in stock.  A little figuring convinced him

that he would have to work several months before his outfit was paid

for.  "If I git a job I'll give you an order for my wages," he told

Roth.

 

"That's all right, Pete; I ain't worryin'."

 

"Well--I be, some," said Pete.  "Lemme see--fifty for the saddle, seven

for the bridle---and she's some bridle!--and eighteen for the

chaps--fifteen for the boots--that's ninety dollars.  Gee whizz!  Then

there's four for that blanket and ten for them spurs.  That's a hundred

and four.  'Course I _could_ git along without a new lid.  Rope is

three-fifty, and lid is ten.  One hundred and seventeen dollars for

four bits.  Guess I'll make it a hundred and twenty.  No use botherin'

about small change.  Gimme that pair of gloves."

 

Roth had no hesitation in outfitting Pete.  The Concho cattlemen traded

at his store.  He had extended credit to many a rider whom he trusted

less than he did Pete.  Moreover, he was fond of the boy and wanted to

see him placed where he could better himself.  "I've got you on the

books for a hundred and twenty," he told Pete, and Pete felt very proud

and important. "Now, if I could borrow a hoss for a spell, I'd jest

fork him and ride over to see Bailey," he asserted.  "I sure can't pack

this outfit over there."

 

Roth grinned.  "Well, we might as well let the tail go with the hide.

There's old Rowdy.  He ain't much of a horse, but he's got three good

legs yet.  He starched a little forward, but he'll make the trip over

and back.  You can take him."

 

"Honest?"

 

"Go ahead."

 

Pete tingled with joyful anticipation as he strode from the store, his

new rope in his hand.  He would rope that cayuse and just about burn

the ground for the Concho!  Maybe he wouldn't make young Andy White sit

up!  The Ridin' Kid from Powder River was walking on air when--

 

"Thought you was goin' over to see Montoya!" he challenged as he saw

the Mexican youth, whom he had tentatively hired, sitting placidly on

the store veranda, employed solely in gazing at the road as though it

were a most interesting spectacle.  "Oh, manana," drawled the Mexican.

 

"Manana, nothin'!" volleyed Pete.  "You're goin' now!  Git a-movin'--if

you have to take your hands and lift your doggone feet off the ground.

Git a-goin'!"

 

"Oh, maybe I go manana."

 

"You're dreamin', hombre."  Pete was desperate.  Again he saw his

chance of an immediate job go glimmering down the vague vistas of many

to-morrows.

 

"See here!  What kind of a guy are you, anyhow?  I come in here

yesterday and offered you a job and you promised you'd git to work

right away.  You--"

 

"It was _to-day_ you speak of Montoya," corrected the Mexican.

 

"You're dreamin'," reiterated Pete.  "It was _yesterday_ you said you

would go manana.  Well, it's to-morrow, ain't it?  You been asleep an'

don't know it."

 

An expression of childish wonder crossed the Mexican youth's stolid

face.  Of a certainty it was but this very morning that Montoya's boy

had spoken to him!  Or was it yesterday morning?  Montoya's boy had

said it was yesterday morning.  It must be so.  The youth rose and

gazed about him.  Pete stood aggressively potent, frowning down on the

other's hesitation.

 

"I go," said the Mexican.

 

Pete heaved a sigh of relief.  "A fella's got to know how to handle

'em," he told the immediate vicinity.  And because Pete knew something

about "handlin' 'em," he did not at once go for the horse, but stood

staring after the Mexican, who had paused to glance back.  Pete waved

his hand in a gesture which meant, "Keep goin'."  The Mexican youth

kept going.

 

"I ain't wishin' old Jose any hard luck," muttered Pete, "but I said

I'd send a boy--and that there walkin' dream _looks_ like one, anyhow.

'Oh, manana!'" he snorted.  "Mexicans is mostly figurin' out to-day

what they 're goin' to do to-morrow, and they never git through

figurin'.  I dunno who my father and mother was, but I know one

thing--they wa'n't Mexicans."

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER IX

 

ROWDY--AND BLUE SMOKE

 

It has been said that Necessity is the mother of Invention--well, it

goes without saying that the cowboy is the father, and Pete was closely

related to these progenitors of that most necessary adjunct of success.

Moreover, he could have boasted a coat of arms had he been at all

familiar with heraldry and obliged to declare himself.

 

[Illustration: Pete.]

 

A pinto cayuse rampant; a longhorn steer regardant; two sad-eyed,

unbranded calves couchant--one in each corner of the shield to kind of

balance her up; gules, several clumps of something representing

sagebrush; and possibly a rattlesnake coiled beneath the sagebrush and

described as "repellent" and holding in his open jaws a streaming motto

reading, "I'm a-comin'."

 

Had it been essential that Pete's escutcheon should bear the bar

sinister, doubtless he would have explained its presence with the easy

assertion that the dark diagonal represented the vague ancestry of the

two sad-eyed calves couchant.  Anybody could see that the calves were

part longhorn and part Hereford!

 

Pete rode out of Concho glittering in his new-found glory of shining

bit and spur, wide-brimmed Stetson, and chaps studded with

nickel-plated conchas.  The creak of the stiff saddle-leather was music

to him.  His brand-new and really good equipment almost made up for the

horse--an ancient pensioner that never seemed to be just certain when

he would take his next step and seemed a trifle surprised when he had

taken it.  He was old, amiable, and willing, internally, but his legs,

somewhat of the Chippendale order, had seen better days.  Ease and good

feeding had failed to fill him out.  He was past taking on flesh.  Roth

kept him about the place for short trips.  Roth's lively team of pintos

were at the time grazing in a distant summer pasture.

 

Rowdy--the horse--seemed to feel that the occasion demanded something

of him.  He pricked his ears as they crossed the canon bottom and

breasted the ascent as bravely as his three good legs would let him.

At the top he puffed hard.  Despite Pete's urging, he stood stolidly

until he had gathered enough ozone to propel him farther.  "Git along,

you doggone ole cockroach!" said Pete.  But Rowdy was firm.  He turned

his head and gazed sadly at his rider with one mournful eye that said

plainly, "I'm doing my level best."  Pete realized that the ground just

traveled was anything but level, and curbed his impatience.  "I'll jest

kind o' save him for the finish," he told himself.  "Then I'll hook the

spurs into him and ride in a-boilin'.  Don't care what he does after

that.  He can set down and rest if he wants to.  Git along, old

soap-foot," he cried--"soap-foot" possibly because Rowdy occasionally

slipped.  His antique legs didn't always do just what he wanted them to

do.

 

Topping the mesa edge, Pete saw the distant green that fringed the

Concho home-ranch, topped by a curl of smoke that drifted lazily across

the gold of the morning.  Without urging, Rowdy broke into a stiff

trot, that sounded Pete's inmost depths, despite his natural good seat

in the saddle.  "Quit it!" cried Pete presently.  "You'll be goin' on

crutches afore night if you keep that up.--And so'll I," he added.

Rowdy immediately stopped and turned his mournful eye on Pete.

 

If the trot had been the rhythmic _one, two, three, four_, Pete could

have ridden and rolled cigarettes without spilling a flake of tobacco;

but the trot was a sort of _one, two--almost three_, then, whump!

_three_ and a quick _four_, and so on, a decidedly irregular meter in

Pete's lyrical journey toward new fields and fairer fortune.  "I'll

sure make Andy sit up!" he declared as the Concho buildings loomed

beneath the cool, dark-green outline of the trees.  He dismounted to

open and close a gate.  A half-mile farther he again dismounted to open

and close another gate.  From there on was a straightaway road to the

ranch-buildings.  Pete gathered himself together, pushed his hat down

firmly--it was new and stiff--and put Rowdy to a high lope.  This was

something like it!  Possibly Rowdy anticipated a good rest, and hay.

In any event, he did his best, rounding into the yard and up to the

house like a true cow-pony.  All would have been well, as Pete realized

later, had it not been for the pup.  The pup saw in Rowdy a new

playfellow, and charged from the door-step just as that good steed was

mentally preparing to come to a stop.  The pup was not mentally

prepared in any way, and in his excitement he overshot the mark.  He

caromed into Rowdy's one recalcitrant leg--it usually happens that

way--and Rowdy stepped on him.  Pete was also not mentally prepared to

dismount at the moment, but he did so as Rowdy crashed down in a cloud

of dust.  The pup, who imagined himself killed, shrieked shrilly and

ran as hard as he could to the distant stables to find out if it were

not so.

 

Pete picked up his hat.  Rowdy scrambled up and shook himself.  Pete

was mad.  Over on the edge of the bunk-house veranda sat four or five

of the Concho boys.  They rocked back and forth and slapped their legs

and shouted.  It was a trying situation.

 

The foreman, Bailey, rose as Pete limped up.  "We're livin' over here,"

said Bailey.  "Did you want to see some one?"

 

Pete wet his lips.  "The fo'man.  I--I--jest rid over to see how you

was makin' it."

 

"Why, we 're doin' right fair.  How you makin' it yourself?"

 

"I'm here," said Pete succinctly and without a smile.

 

"So we noticed," said the foreman mildly, too mildly, for one of the

punchers began to laugh, and the rest joined in.

 

"Wisht I had a hoss like that," said a cowboy.  "Always did hate to

climb offen a hoss.  I like to have 'em set down and kind o' let me

step off easy-like."

 

Pete sorely wanted to make a sharp retort, but he had learned the

wisdom of silence.  He knew that he had made himself ridiculous before

these men.  It would be hard to live down this thing.  He deemed

himself sadly out of luck, but he never lost sight of the main chance

for an instant.

 

Bailey, through young Andy White, knew of Pete and was studying him.

The boy had self-possession, and he had not cursed the horse for

stumbling.  He saw that Pete was making a fight to keep his temper.

 

"You lookin' for work?" he said kindly.

 

"I was headed that way," replied Pete.

 

"Can you rope?"

 

"Oh, some.  I kin keep from tanglin' my feet in a rope when it's

hangin' on the horn and I'm standin' off a piece."

 

"Well, things are slack right now.  Don't know as I could use you.

What's your name, anyhow?"

 

"I'm Pete Annersley.  I reckon you know who my pop was."

 

Bailey nodded.  "The T-Bar-T," he said, turning toward the men.  They

shook their heads and were silent, gazing curiously at the boy, of whom

it was said that he had "bumped off" two T-Bar-T boys in a raid some

years ago.  Young Pete felt his ground firmer beneath him.  The men had

ceased laughing.  If it had not been for that unfortunate stumble . . .

 

"You're sportin' a right good rig," said the foreman.

 

"I aim to," said Pete quickly.  "If I hadn't gone broke buyin' it, I'd

ride up here on a real hoss."

 

"Things are pretty slack right now," said Bailey.  "Glad to see

you--but they won't be nothin' doin' till fall.  Won't you set down?

We're goin' to eat right soon."

 

"Thanks.  I ain't a-missin' a chanct to eat.  And I reckon ole Rowdy

there could do somethin' in that line hisself."

 

Bailey smiled.  "Turn your horse into the corral.  Better pack your

saddle over here.  That pup will chew them new latigos if he gets near

it."

 

"That doggone pup come mighty nigh bustin' me,"--and Pete smiled for

the first time since arriving.  "But the pup was havin' a good time,

anyhow."

 

"Say, I want to shake with you!" said a big puncher, rising and

sticking out a strong, hairy hand.

 

Pete's face expressed surprise.  "Why--sure!" he stammered, not

realizing that his smiling reference to the pup had won him a friend.

 

"He's sure a hard-boiled kid," said one of the men as Pete unsaddled

and led Rowdy to the corral.  "Did you catch his eye?   Black--and

shinin'; plumb full of deviltry--down in deep.  That kid's had to hit

some hard spots afore he growed to where he is."

 

"And he can take his medicine," asserted another cowboy.  "He was mad

enough to kill that hoss and the bunch of us--but he held her down and

bellied up to us like a real one.  Looks like he had kind of a Injun

streak in him."

 

Bailey nodded.  "Wish I had a job for the kid.  He would make good.

He's been driftin' round the country with old man Montoya for a couple

of years.  Old man Annersley picked him up down to Concho.  The kid was

with a horse-trader.  He would have been all right with Annersley, but

you boys know what happened.  This ain't no orphan asylum, but--well,

anyhow--did you size up the rig he's sportin'?"

 

"Some rig."

 

"And he says he went broke to buy her."

 

"Some kid."

 

"Goin' to string him along?" queried another cowboy.

 

"Nope," replied Bailey.  "The pup strung him plenty.  Mebby we'll give

him a whirl at a real horse after dinner.  He's itchin' to climb a real

one and show us, and likewise to break in that new rig."

 

"Or git busted," suggested one of the men.

 

"By his eye, I'd say he'll stick," said Bailey.  "Don't you boys go to

raggin' him too strong about ridin', for I ain't aimin' to kill the

kid.  If he can stick on Blue Smoke, I've a good mind to give him a

job.  I told Andy to tell him there wa'n't no chanct up here--but the

kid comes to look-see for hisself.  I kind o' like that."

 

"You 're gettin' soft in your haid, Bud," said a cowboy affectionately.

 

"Mebby, but I don't have to put cotton in my ears to keep my brains

in," Bailey retorted mildly.

 

The cowboy who had spoken was suffering from earache and had an ear

plugged with cotton.

 

Pete swaggered up and sat down.  "Who's ridin' that blue out there?" he

queried, gesturing toward the corral.

 

"He's a pet," said Bailey.  Nobody rides him."

 

"Uh-huh.  Well, I reckon the man who tries 'll be one of ole Abraham's

pets right off soon after," commented Pete.  "He don't look good to me."

 

"You sabe 'em?" queried Bailey and winked at a companion.

 

"Nope," replied Pete.  "I can't tell a hoss from a hitchin'-rail, 'less

he kicks me."

 

"Well, Blue Smoke ain't a hitchin'-rail," asserted Bailey.  "What do

you say if we go over and tell the missis we're starvin' to death?"

 

"Send Pete over," suggested a cowboy.

 

Bailey liked a joke.  As he had said, things were dull, just then.

"Lope over and tell my missis we're settin' out here starvin' to

death," he suggested to Pete.

 

Pete strode to the house and entered, hat in hand.  The foreman's wife,

a plump, cheery woman, liked nothing better than to joke with the men.

Presently Pete came out bearing the half of a large, thick, juicy pie

in his hands.  He marched to the bunkhouse and sat down near the

men--but not too near.  He ate pie and said nothing.  When he had

finished the pie, he rolled a cigarette and smoked, in huge content.

The cowboys glanced at one another and grinned.

 

"Well," said Bailey presently; "what's the answer?"

 

Pete grinned.  "Misses Bailey says to tell you fellas to keep on

starvin' to death.  It'll save cookin'."

 

"I move that we get one square before we cross over," said Bailey,

rising.  "Come on, boys.  I can smell twelve o'clock comin' from the

kitchen."

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER X

 

"TURN HIM LOOSE!"

 

Blue Smoke was one of those unfortunate animals known as an outlaw.  He

was a blue roan with a black stripe down his back, a tough, strong

pony, with a white-rimmed eye as uncompromising as the muzzle of a

cocked gun.  He was of no special use as a cow-pony and was kept about

the ranch merely because he happened to belong to the Concho caviayard.

It took a wise horse and two good men to get a saddle on him when some

aspiring newcomer intimated that he could ride anything with hair on

it.  He was the inevitable test of the new man.  No one as yet had

ridden him to a finish; nor was it expected.  The man who could stand a

brief ten seconds' punishment astride of the outlaw was considered a

pretty fair rider.  It was customary to time the performance, as one

would time a race, but in the instance of riding Blue Smoke the man was

timed rather than the horse.  So far, Bailey himself held the record.

He had stayed with the outlaw fifteen seconds.

 

Pete learned this, and much more, about Blue Smoke's disposition while

the men ate and joked with Mrs. Bailey.  And Mrs. Bailey, good woman,

was no less eloquent than the men in describing the outlaw's unenviable

temperament, never dreaming that the men would allow a boy of Pete's

years to ride the horse.  Pete, a bit embarrassed in this lively

company, attended heartily to his plate.  He gathered, indirectly, that

he was expected to demonstrate his ability as a rider, sooner or later.

He hoped that it would be later.

 

After dinner the men loafed out and gravitated lazily toward the

corral, where they stood eying the horses and commenting on this and

that pony.  Pete had eyes for no horse but Blue Smoke.  He admitted to

himself that he did not want to ride that horse.  He knew that his rise

would be sudden and that his fall would be great.  Still, he sported

the habiliments of a full-fledged buckaroo, and he would have to live

up to them.  A man who could not sit the hurricane-deck of a pitching

horse was of little use to the ranch.  In the busy season each man

caught up his string of ponies and rode them as he needed them.  There

was neither time nor disposition to choose.

 

Pete wished that Blue Smoke had a little more of Rowdy's equable

disposition.  It was typical of Pete, however, that he absolutely hated

to leave an unpleasant task to an indefinite future.  Moreover, he

rather liked the Concho boys and the foreman.  He wanted to ride with

them.  That was the main thing.  Any hesitancy he had in regard to

riding the outlaw was the outcome of discretion rather than of fear.

Bailey had said there was no work for him.  Pete felt that he had

rather risk his neck a dozen times than to return to the town of Concho

and tell Roth that he had been unsuccessful in getting work.  Yet Pete

did not forget his shrewdness.  He would bargain with the foreman.

 

"How long kin a fella stick on that there Blue Smoke hoss?" he queried

presently.

 

"Depends on the man," said Bailey, grinning.

 

"Bailey here stayed with him fifteen seconds onct," said a cowboy.

 

Pete pushed hack his hat.  "Well, I ain't no bronco-twister, but I

reckon I could ride him a couple o' jumps.  Who's keepin' time on the

dog-gone cayuse?"

 

"Anybody that's got a watch," replied Bailey.

 

Pete hitched up his chaps.  "I got a watch and I'd hate to bust her.

If you'll hold her till I git through"--and he handed the watch to the

nearest cowboy.  "If you'll throw my saddle on 'im, I reckon I'll walk

him round a little and see what kind of action he's got."

 

"Shucks!" exclaimed Bailey; "that hoss would jest nacherally pitch you

so high you wouldn't git back in time for the fall round-up, kid.  He's

bad."

 

"Well, you said they wa'n't no job till fall, anyhow," said Pete.

"Mebby I'd git back in time for a job."

 

Bailey shook his head.  "I was joshin'--this mornin'."

 

"'Bout my ridin' that hoss?  Well, I ain't.  I'm kind of a stranger up

here, and I reckon you fellas think, because that doggone ole soap-foot

fell down with me, that I can't ride 'em."

 

"Oh, mebby some of 'em," laughed Bailey.

 

Pete's black eyes flashed.  To him the matter was anything but a joke.

"You give me a job if I stick on that hoss for fifteen seconds?  Why,

I'm game to crawl him and see who wins out.  If I git pitched, I lose.

And I'm taking all the chances."

 

"Throw a saddle on him and give the kid a chanct," suggested a cowboy.

 

Bailey turned and looked at Pete, whose eyes were alight with the hope

of winning out--not for the sake of any brief glory, Pete's compressed

lips denied that, but for the sake of demonstrating his ability to hold

down a job on the ranch.

 

"Rope him, Monte," said Bailey.  "Take the sorrel.  I'll throw the

kid's saddle on him."

 

"Do I git the job if I stick?" queried Pete nervously.

 

"Mebby," said Bailey.

 

Now Pete's watch was a long-suffering dollar watch that went when it

wanted to and ceased to go when it felt like resting.  At present the

watch was on furlough and had been for several days.  A good shake

would start it going--and once started it seemed anxious to make up for

lost time by racing at a delirious pace that ignored the sun, the

stars, and all that makes the deliberate progress of the hours.  If

Pete could arrange it so that his riding could be timed by his own

watch, he thought he could win, with something to spare.  After a wild

battle with the punchers, Blue Smoke was saddled with Pete's saddle.

He still fought the men.  There was no time for discussion if Pete

intended to ride.

 

"Go to 'im!" cried Bailey.

 

Pete hitched up his chaps and crawled over the bars.  "Jest time him

for me," said Pete, turning to the cowboy who held his watch.

 

The cowboy glanced at the watch, put it to his ear, then glanced at it

again.  "The durn thing's stopped!" he asserted.

 

"Shake her," said Pete.

 

Pete slipped into the saddle.  "Turn 'im loose!" he cried.

 

The men jumped back.  Blue Smoke lunged and went at it.  Pete gritted

his teeth and hung to the rope.  The corral revolved and the buildings

teetered drunkenly.  Blue Smoke was not a running bucker, but did his

pitching in a small area--and viciously.  Pete's head snapped back and

forth.  He lost all sense of time, direction, and place.  He was jolted

and jarred by a grunting cyclone that flung him up and sideways, met

him coming down and racked every muscle in his body.  Pete dully hoped

that it would soon be over.  He was bleeding at the nose.  His neck

felt as though it had been broken.  He wanted to let go and fall.

Anything was better than this terrible punishment.

 

He heard shouting, and then a woman's shrill voice.  Blue Smoke gave a

quick pitch and twist.  Pete felt something crash up against him.

Suddenly it was night.  All motion had ceased.

 

When he came to, Mrs. Bailey was kneeling beside him and ringed around

were the curious faces of the cowboys.

 

"I'm the Ridin' Kid from Powder River," muttered Pete.  "Did I make it?"

 

"That horse liked to killed you," said Mrs. Bailey.  "If I'd 'a' knew

the boys was up to this . . . and him just a boy!  Jim Bailey, you

ought to be ashamed of yourself!"  Ma Bailey wiped Pete's face with her

apron and put her motherly arm beneath his head.  "If he was my boy,

Jim Bailey, I'd--I'd--show you!"

 

Pete raised on his elbow.  "I'm all right, mam.  It wa'n't his fault.

I said I could ride that hoss.  Did I make it?"

 

"Accordin' to your watch here," said the puncher who held Pete's

irresponsible timepiece, "you rid him for four hours and sixteen

minutes.  The hands was a-fannin' it round like a windmill in a

cyclone.  But she's quit, now."

 

"Do I git the job?" queried Pete.

 

"You get right to bed!  It's a wonder every bone in your body ain't

broke!" exclaimed Ma Bailey.

 

"Bed!" snorted Pete.  He rose stiffly.  His hat was gone and one spur

was missing.  His legs felt heavy.  His neck ached; but his black eyes

were bright and blinking.

 

"Goodness!" exclaimed Mrs. Bailey.  "Why, the boy is comin' to all

right!"

 

"You bet!" said Pete, grinning, although he felt far from all right.

He realized that he rather owed Mrs. Bailey something in the way of an

expression of gratitude for her interest.  "I--you, you sure can make

the best pie ever turned loose!" he asserted.

 

"Pie!" gasped the foreman's wife, "and him almost killed by that blue

devil there!  You come right in the house, wash your face, and I'll fix

you up."

 

"The kid's all right, mother," said Bailey placatingly.

 

Mrs. Bailey turned on her husband.  "That's not your fault, Jim Bailey.

Such goin's-on!  You great, lazy hulk, you, to go set a boy to ridin'

that hoss that you dassent ride yourself.  If he was my boy--"

 

"Well, I'm willin'," said Pete, who began to realize the power behind

the throne.

 

"Bless his heart!"  Mrs. Bailey put her arm about his shoulders.  Pete

was mightily embarrassed.  No woman had ever caressed him, so far as he

could remember.  The men would sure think him a softy, to allow all

this strange mothering; but he could not help himself.  Evidently the

foreman's wife was a power in the land, for the men had taken her

berating silently and respectfully.  But before they reached the house

Pete was only too glad to feel Mrs. Bailey's arm round his shoulders,

for the ground seemed unnecessarily uneven, and the trees had a strange

way of rocking back and forth, although there was no wind.

 

Mrs. Bailey insisted that he lie down, and she spread a blanket on her

own white bed.  Pete did not want to lie down.  But Mrs. Bailey

insisted, helping him to unbuckle his chaps and even to pull off his

boots.  The bed felt soft and comfortable to his aching body.  The room

was darkened.  Mrs. Bailey tiptoed through the doorway.  Pete gazed

drowsily at a flaming lithograph on the wall; a basket of fruit such as

was never known on land or sea, placed on a highly polished table such

as was never made by human hands.  The colors of the chromo grew dimmer

and dimmer.  Pete sighed and fell asleep.

 

Mrs. Bailey, like most folk in that locality, knew something of Pete's

earlier life.  Rumor had it that Pete was a bad one--a tough kid--that

he had even killed two cowboys of the T-Bar-T.  Mrs. Bailey had never

seen Pete until that morning.  Yet she immediately formed her own

opinion of him, intuition guiding her aright.  Young Pete was simply

unfortunate--not vicious.  She could see that at a glance.  And he was

a manly youngster with a quick, direct eye.  He had come to the Concho

looking for work.  The men had played their usual pranks, fortunately

with no serious consequences.  But Bailey should have known better, and

she told him so that afternoon in the kitchen, while Pete slumbered

blissfully in the next room.  "And he can help around the place, even

if it is slack times," she concluded.

 

That evening was one of the happiest evenings of Pete's life.  He had

never known the tender solicitude of a woman.  Mrs. Bailey treated him

as a sort of semi-invalid, waiting on him, silencing the men's

good-natured joshing with her sharp tongue, feeding him canned

peaches--a rare treat--and finally enthroning him in her own ample

rocking-chair, somewhat to Pete's embarrassment, and much to the

amusement of the men.

 

"He sure can ride it!" said a cowboy, indicating the rocking-chair.

 

"Bill Haskins, you need a shave!" said Mrs. Bailey.

 

The aforesaid Bill Haskins, unable to see any connection between his

remark and the condition of his beard, stared from one to another of

his blank-faced companions, grew red, stammered, and felt of his chin.

 

"I reckon I do," he said weakly, and rising he plodded to the

bunk-house.

 

"And if you want to smoke," said Mrs. Bailey, indicating another of the

boys who had just rolled and lighted a cigarette, "there's all outdoors

to do it in."

 

This puncher also grew red, rose, and sauntered out.

 

Bailey and the two remaining cowboys shuffled their feet, wondering who

would be the next to suffer the slings and arrows of Ma Bailey's

indignation.  _They_ considered the Blue Smoke episode closed.

Evidently Ma Bailey did not.  Bailey himself wisely suggested that they

go over to the bunk-house.  It would be cooler there.  The cowboys rose

promptly and departed.  But they were cowboys and not to be silenced so

easily.

 

They loved Ma Bailey and they dearly loved to tease her.  Strong,

rugged, and used to activity, they could not be quiet long.  Mrs.

Bailey hitched a chair close to Pete and had learned much of his early

history--for Pete felt that the least he could do was to answer her

kindly questions--and he, in turn, had been feeling quite at home in

her evident sympathy, when an unearthly yell shattered the quiet of the

summer evening.  More yells--and a voice from the darkness stated that

some one was hurt bad; to bring a light.  Groans, heartrending and

hoarse, punctuated the succeeding silence.  "It's Jim," the voice

asserted.  "Guess his leg's bruk."

 

The groaning continued.  Mrs. Bailey rose and seized the lamp.  Pete

got up stiffly and followed her out.  One of the men was down on all

fours, jumping about in ludicrous imitation of a bucking horse; and

another was astride him, beating him not too gently with a quirt.  As

Ma Bailey came in sight the other cowboys swung their hats and shouted

encouragement to the rider.  Bailey was not visible.

 

"Stay with 'im!" cried one.  "Rake 'im!  He's gittin' played out!  Look

out!  He's goin' to sunfish!  Bust 'im wide open!"

 

It was a huge parody of the afternoon performance, staged for Ma

Bailey's special benefit.  Suddenly the cowboy who represented Blue

Smoke made an astounding buck and his rider bit the dust.

 

Ma Bailey held the lamp aloft and gazed sternly at the two sweating,

puffing cowboys.  "Where's Bailey?" she queried sharply.

 

One of the men stepped forward and doffing his hat assumed an attitude

of profound gravity.  "Blue there, he done pitched your husband, mam,

and broke his leg.  Your husband done loped off on three laigs, to git

the doctor to fix it."

 

"Let me catch sight of him and I'll fix it!" she snorted.  "Jim, if

you're hidin' in that bunk-house you come out here--and behave

yourself.  Lord knows you are old enough to know better."

 

"That's right, mam.  Jim is sure old enough to know better 'n to behave

hisself.  You feed us so plumb good, mam, that we jest can't set still

nohow.  I reckon it was the pie that done it.  Reckon them dried apples

kind of turned to cider."

 

Mrs. Bailey swung around with all the dignity of a liner leaving

harbor, and headed for the house.

 

"Is she gone?" came in a hoarse whisper.

 

"You come near this house to-night and you'll find out!" Mrs. Bailey

advised from the doorway.

 

"It's the hay for yours, Jim," comforted a cowboy.

 

Pete hesitated as to which course were better.  Finally he decided to

"throw in" with the men.

 

Bailey lighted the hanging lamp in the bunk-house, and the boys

shuffled in, grinning sheepishly.  "You're sure a he-widder to-night,"

said Bill Haskins sympathetically.

 

Bailey grinned.  His good wife was used to such pranks.  In fact the

altogether unexpected and amusing carryings on of the boys did much

toward lightening the monotony when times were dull, as they were just

then.  Had the boys ceased to cut up for any length of time, Ma Bailey

would have thought them ill and would have doctored them accordingly.

 

Pete became interested in watching Bill Haskins endeavor to shave

himself with cold water by the light of the hanging lamp.

 

Presently Pete's attention was diverted to the cowboy whom Mrs. Bailey

had sent outdoors to smoke.  He had fished up from somewhere a piece of

cardboard and a blue pencil.  He was diligently lettering a sign which

he eventually showed to his companions with no little pride.  It read:

 

"NO SMOKING ALOUD."

 

Pete did not see the joke, but he laughed heartily with the rest.  The

laughter had just about subsided when a voice came from across the way:

"Jim, you come right straight to bed!"

 

Bailey indicated a bunk for Pete and stepped from the bunk-house.

 

Presently the boys heard Mrs. Bailey's voice.  "Good-night, boys."

 

"Good-night, Ma!" they chorused heartily.

 

And "Good-night, Pete," came from the house.

 

"Good-night, Ma!" shrilled Pete, blushing.

 

"I'm plumb sore!" asserted Haskins.  "'Good-night, boys,' is good

enough for us.  But did you hear what come after!  I kin see who gits

all the extra pie around this here ranch!  I've half a mind to quit."

 

"What--eatin' pie?"

 

"Nope!  Joshin' Ma.  She allus gits the best of us."

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER XI

 

POP ANNERSLEY'S BOY

 

Several days after Pete's arrival at the Concho ranch, Andy White rode

in with a companion, dusty, tired, and hungry from a sojourn over near

the Apache line.  White made his report to the foreman, unsaddled, and

was washing with a great deal of splutter and elbow-motion, when some

one slapped him on the back.  He turned a dripping face to behold Pete

grinning at him.

 

Andy's eyes lighted with pleasure.  He stuck out a wet hand.  "Did you

land a job?"

 

"With both feet."

 

"Good!  I was so darned tired I clean forgot you was livin'.  Say, I

saw ole Jose this afternoon.  We was crossin' the bottom and rode into

his camp.  He said you had quit him.  I asked him if you come up here,

but he only shook his head and handed me the usual 'Quien sabe?'  He'll

never git a sore throat from talkin' too much.  Say, wait till I git

some of this here alkali out of my ears and we'll go and eat and then

have a smoke and talk it out.  Gee!  But I'm glad you landed!  How'd

you work it?"

 

"Easy.  I rid that there Blue Smoke hoss--give 'em an exhibition of

real ridin' and the fo'man sure fell for my style."

 

"Uh-huh.  What kind of a fall did _you_ make?"

 

"Well, I wasn't in shape to know--till I come to.  The fellas said I

done all right till ole Smoke done that little double twist and left me

standin' in the air--only with my feet up.  I ain't jest lovin' that

hoss a whole lot."

 

Andy nodded sagely.  "I tried him onct.  So Bailey give you a job, eh?"

 

"Kind of a job.  Mostly peelin' potatoes and helpin' round the house.

Ma Bailey says I'm worth any two of the men helpin' round the house.

And I found out one thing--what Ma Bailey says round here goes."

 

"You bet!  She's the boss.  If Ma don't like a guy, he don't work long

for the Concho.  I recollect when Steve Gary quit over the T-Bar-T and

come over here lookin' for a job.  Ma she sized him up, but didn't say

nothin' right away.  But Gary he didn't stay long enough to git a

saddle warm.  Ma didn't like him, nohow.  He sure was a top-hand--but

that didn't help him none.  He's over to the T-Bar-T now.  Seen him the

other day.  He's got some kind of a drag there, for they took him back.

Folks says--say, what's bitin' you?"

 

"Nothin'.  You said Gary?"

 

"Yes.  Why?"

 

"I was jest thinkin'."

 

Young Andy dried his face on the community towel, emptied the basin

with a flourish which drenched the pup and sent him yelping toward the

house, attempted to shy the basin so that it would land right-side up

on the bench--but the basin was wet and soapy and slipped.  It sailed

through the door of the bunk-house and caromed off Bill Haskins's head.

Andy saw what had happened and, seizing Pete's arm, rushed him across

the clearing and into the house, where he grabbed Ma Bailey and kissed

her heartily, scrambled backward as she pretended to threaten him with

the mammoth coffee-pot, and sat down at the table with the remark that

he was "powerful tired."

 

"You act like it," scoffed Mrs. Bailey.

 

Bill Haskins, with a face like black thunder, clumped in and asked Mrs.

Bailey if she had any "stickin'-plaster."

 

"Cut you, Bill?"

 

"Bad!" said Bill, exhibiting a cut above the ear--the result of Andy's

basin-throwing.

 

"Oh, you go 'long!" said Mrs. Bailey, pushing him away.  "Askin' for

stickin'-plaster for a scratch like that!"

 

Bill Haskins growled and grumbled as he took his place at the table.

He kept shaking his head like a dog with a sore ear, vowing that if he

found out "who thrun that basin" there would be an empty chair at the

Concho board before many days had passed.

 

Andy White glanced at Pete and snickered.  Bill Haskins glowered and

felt of his head.  "Liked to skelp me," he asserted.  "Ma, I jest ask

you what you would do now, if you was settin' peaceful in the

bunk-house pawin' over your war-bag, lookin' for a clean shirt, and all

of a sudden _whing_! along comes a warsh-basin and takes you right over

the ear.  Wouldn't you feel like killin' somebody?"

 

"Lookin' for a clean shirt!" whispered Andy to Pete.  "Did you git

that?"

 

Bill "got" it--and flushed amazingly.  "I was meanin' a clean--clean

dress, Mrs. Bailey.  A clean dress or stockin's, mebby."

 

"Bill was lookin' for a clean dress," snickered Andy.  Pete grinned.

 

"Bill, I reckon it ain't your ear that needs that sticking-plaster.  A

clean shirt, indeed!  I'm surprised at you, William."

 

"Gee, Ma called him Willum!" whispered Andy.  "Bill better fade."

 

The men tramped in, nodded to Mrs. Bailey, and sat down.  Eating was a

serious matter with them.  They said little.  It was toward the end of

the meal, during a lull in the clatter of knives and forks, that Andy

White suggested, _sotto voce_, but intended for the assemblage, "That

Bill always was scared of a wash-basin."  This gentle innuendo was lost

on the men, but Bill Haskins vowed mighty vengeance.

 

It was evident from the start that Pete and Andy would run in double

harness.  They were the youngsters of the outfit, liked each other, and

as the months went by became known--Ma Bailey had read the book--as

"The Heavenly Twins."  Bailey asked his good wife why "heavenly."  He

averred that "twins was all right--but as for 'heavenly'--"

 

Mrs. Bailey chuckled.  "I'm callin' 'em 'heavenly,' Jim, to kind of

even up for what the boys call 'em.  I don't use that kind of language."

 

Pete graduated from peeling potatoes and helping about the house to

riding line with young Andy, until the fall round-up called for all

hands, the loading of the chuck-wagon and a farewell to the lazy days

at the home ranch.  The air was keen with the tang of autumn.  The

hillside blue of spruce and pine was splashed here and there with the

rich gold of the quaking asp.  Far vistas grew clearer as the haze of

summer heat waned and fled before the stealthy harbingers of winter.

In the lower levels of the distant desert, heat waves still pulsed

above the grayish brown reaches of sand and brush--but the desert was

fifty, sixty, eighty miles away, spoken of as "down there" by the

riders of the high country.  And Young Pete, detailed to help "gather"

in some of the most rugged timberland of the Blue, would not have

changed places with any man.  He had been allotted a string of ponies,

placed under the supervision of an old hand, entered on the pay-roll at

the nominal salary of thirty dollars a month, and turned out to do his

share in the big round-up, wherein riders from the T-Bar-T, the Blue,

the Eight-O-Eight, and the Concho rode with a loose rein and a quick

spur, gathering and bunching the large herds over the high country.

 

There was a fly in Pete's coffee, however.  Young Andy White had been

detailed to ride another section of the country.  Bailey had wisely

separated these young hopefuls, fearing that competition--for they were

always striving to outdo each other--might lead to a hard fall for one

or both.  Moreover, they were always up to some mischief or other--Andy

working the schemes that Pete usually invented for the occasion.  Up to

the time that he arrived at the Concho ranch, Young Pete had never

known the joy of good-natured, rough-and-tumble horseplay, that

wholesome diversion that tries a man out, and either rubs off the

ragged edges of his temper or marks him as an undesirable and

to-be-let-alone.  Pete, while possessing a workable sense of humor, was

intense--somewhat quick on the trigger, so to speak.  The frequent

roughings he experienced served to steady him, and also taught him to

distinguish the tentative line between good-natured banter and the

veiled insult.

 

Unconsciously he studied his fellows, until he thought he pretty well

knew their peculiarities and preferences.  Unrealized by Pete, and by

themselves, this set him apart from them.  They never studied him, but

took him for just what he seemed--a bright, quick, and withal

industrious youngster, rather quiet at times, but never sullen.

Bailey, whose business it was to know and handle men, confided to his

wife that he did not quite understand Pete.  And Mrs. Bailey, who was

really fond of Pete, was consistently feminine when she averred that it

wasn't necessary to understand him so long as he attended to his work

and behaved himself, which was Mrs. Bailey's way of dodging the issue.

She did not understand Pete herself.  "He does a heap of thinking--for

a boy," she told Bailey.  "He's got something' besides cattle on his

mind," Bailey asserted.  Mrs. Bailey had closed the question for the

time being with the rather vague assertion, "I should hope so."

 

The first real inkling that Andy White had of Pete's deeper nature was

occasioned by an incident during the round-up.

 

The cutting-out and branding were about over.  The Concho men, camped

round their wagon, were fraternizing with visitors from the Blue and

T-Bar-T.  Every kind of gossip was afloat.  The Government was going to

make a game preserve of the Blue Range.  Old man Dobson, of the

Eight-O-Eight, had fired one of his men for packing whiskey into the

camp: "Dobson was drunk hisself!" was asserted.  One sprightly and

inventive son-of-saddle-leather had brought a pair of horse-clippers to

the round-up.  Every suffering puncher in the outfit had been thrown

and clipped, including the foreman, and even the cattle inspector.

Rumor had it that the boys from the Blue intended to widen their scope

of operation and clip everybody.  The "gentleman [described in the

vernacular] who started to clip my [also described] head'll think he's

tackled a tree-kitty," stated a husky cowboy from the T-Bar-T.

 

Old Montoya's name was mentioned by another rider from the T-Bar-T.

Andy who was lying beside Pete, just within the circle of firelight,

nudged him.

 

"We run every nester out of this country; and it's about time we

started in on the sheep," said this individual, and he spoke not

jestingly, but with a vicious meaning in his voice, that silenced the

talk.

 

Bailey was there and Houck, the T-Bar-T foreman, Bud Long, foreman of

the Blue, and possibly some fifteen or eighteen visiting cowboys.  The

strident ill-nature of the speaker challenged argument, but the boys

were in good-humor.

 

"What you pickin' on Montoya for?" queried a cowboy, laughing.  "He

ain't here."

 

Pete sat up, naturally interested in the answer.

 

"He's lucky he ain't," retorted the cow-puncher.

 

"_You're_ lucky he ain't," came from Pete's vicinity.

 

"Who says so?"

 

Andy White tugged at Pete's sleeve.  "Shut up, Pete!  That's Steve Gary

talkin'.  Don't you go mixin' with Gary.  He's right quick with his

gun.  What's a-bitin' you, anyhow?"

 

"Who'd you say?" queried Pete.

 

"Gary--Steve Gary.  Reckon you heard of him."

 

"Who says I'm lucky he ain't here?" again challenged Gary.

 

"Shut up, Steve," said a friendly cowboy.  "Can't you take a josh?"

 

"Who's lookin' for a row, anyhow?" queried another cowboy.  "I ain't."

 

The men laughed.  Pete's face was somber in the firelight.  Gary!  The

man who had led the raid on Pop Annersley's homestead.  Pete knew that

he would meet Gary some day, and he was curious to see the man who was

responsible for the killing of Annersley.  He had no definite plan--did

not know just what he would do when he met him.  Time had dulled the

edge of Pete's earlier hatred and experience had taught him to leave

well enough alone.  But that strident voice, edged with malice, had

stirred bitter memories.  Pete felt that should he keep silent it would

reflect on his loyalty to both Montoya and Annersley.  There were men

there who knew he had worked for Montoya.  They knew, but hardly

expected that Pete would take up Gary's general challenge.  He was but

a youth--hardly more than a boy.  The camp was somewhat surprised when

Pete got to his feet and stepped toward the fire.

 

"I'm the one that said you was lucky Montoya wasn't here," he asserted.

"And I'm leavin' it to my boss, or Bud Long, or your own boss"--and he

indicated Houck with a gesture--"if I ain't right."

 

"Who in hell are you, anyhow?" queried Gary,

 

"Me?  I'm Pop Annersley's boy, Pete.  Mebby you recollec' you said

you'd kill me if I talked about that shootin'.  I was a kid then--and I

was sure scared of the bunch that busted into the shack--three growed

men ag'in' a kid--a-threatenin' what they'd do to the man that bumped

off two of their braves.  You was askin' who talked up awhile back.  It

was me."

 

Gary was on his feet and took a step toward Pete when young Andy rose.

Pete was his bunkie.  Andy didn't want to fight, but if Gary pulled his

gun . . .

 

Bailey got up quietly, and turning his back on Gary told Pete and Andy

to saddle up and ride out to relieve two of the boys on night-herd.

 

It was Bud Long who broke the tension.  "It's right late for young

roosters to be crowin' that way," he chuckled.

 

Everybody laughed except Gary.  "But it ain't too late for full-growed

roosters to crow!" he asserted.

 

Long chuckled again.  "Nope.  I jest crowed."

 

Not a man present missed the double-meaning, including Gary.  And Gary

did not want any of Long's game.  The genial Bud had delicately

intimated that his sympathies were with the Concho boys.  Then there

were Bailey and Bill Haskins and several others among the Concho outfit

who would never see one of their own get the worst of it.  Gary turned

and slunk away toward his own wagon.  One after another the T-Bar-T

boys rose and followed.  The Annersley raid was not a popular subject

with them.

 

Bailey turned to Long.  "Thanks, Bud."

 

"'Mornin', Jim," said Long facetiously.  "When 'd you git here?"

 

Two exceedingly disgruntled young cowboys saddled up and rode out to

the night-herd.  They had worked all day, and now they would have to

ride herd the rest of the night, for it was nearing twelve.  As relief

men they would have to hold their end of the herd until daybreak.

 

"I told you to shut up," complained Andy.

 

"I wasn't listenin' to you," said Pete,

 

"Yes!  And this is what we git for your gittin' red-headed about a ole

Mexican sheep-herder.  But, honest, Pete, you sure come clost to

gittin' yours.  Gary mebby wouldn't 'a' pulled on you--but he'd 'a'

sure trimmed you if Bailey hadn't stepped in."

 

"He'd never put a hand on me," stated Pete.

 

"You mean you'd 'a' plugged 'im?"

 

"I'm meanin' I would."

 

"But, hell, Pete, you ain't no killer!  And they's no use gettin'

started that way.  They's plenty as would like to see Gary bumped

off--but I don't want to be the man to do it.  Suppose Gary did lead

that raid on ole man Annersley?  That's over and done.  Annersley is

dead.  You're livin'--and sure two dead men don't make a live one.

What's the good o' takin' chances like that?"

 

"I dunno, Andy.  All I know is that when Gary started talkin' about

Montoya I commenced to git hot inside.  I knowed I was a fool--but I

jest had to stand up and tell him what he was.  It wa'n't me doin' it.

It was jest like somethin' big a-pullin' me onto my feet and makin' me

talk like I did.  It was jest like you was ridin' the edge of some

steep and bad goin' and a maverick takes over and you know you got no

business to put your hoss down after him.  But your saddle is

a-creakin' and a-sayin', 'Go git 'im!'--and you jest nacherally go.

Kin you tell me what makes a fella do the like of that?"

 

"I dunno, Pete.  But chasin' mavericks is different."

 

"Mebby.  But the idee is jest the same."

 

"Well, I'm hopin' you don't git many more of them idees right soon.

I'm sure with you to the finish, but I ain't wishful to git mine that

way."

 

"I ain't askin' you to," said Pete, for he was angry with himself

despite the logic of his own argument.

 

They were near the herd.  Andy, who had flushed hotly at Pete's rather

ungenerous intimation, spurred his pony round and rode toward a dim

figure that nodded in the starlight.  Pete whirled his own pony and

rode in the opposite direction.

 

Toward dawn, as they circled, they met again.

 

"Got the makin's?" queried Pete.

 

"Right here," said Andy.

 

As Pete took the little sack of tobacco, their hands touched and

gripped.  "I seen you standin' side of me," said Pete, "when I was

talkin' to Gary."

 

"You was dreaming" laughed Andy.  "That was your shadow."

 

"Mebby," asserted Pete succinctly.  "But I seen out of the corner of my

eye that that there shadow had its hand on its gun.  And _I_ sure

didn't."

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER XII

 

IN THE PIT

 

The round-up was over.  A trainload of Concho steers was on its way

East, accompanied by four of the Concho boys.  The season had been a

good one and prices were fair.  Bailey was feeling well.  There was no

obvious reason for his restlessness.  He had eaten a hearty breakfast.

The sky was clear, and a thin, fragrant wind ran over the high mesa, a

wind as refreshing as a drink of cold mountain water on a hot day.

Suddenly it occurred to Bailey that the deer season was open--that "the

hunting winds were loose."  Somewhere in the far hills the bucks were

running again.  A little venison would be a welcome change from a

fairly steady diet of beef.

 

Bailey saddled up, and hung his rifle under the stirrup-leather.  He

tucked a compact lunch in his saddle-pockets, filled a _morral_ with

grain and set off in the direction of the Blue Range.

 

Once on the way and his restlessness evaporated.  He did not realize

that deer-hunting was an excuse to be alone.

 

Jim Bailey, however, was not altogether happy.  He was worried about

Young Pete.  The incident at the round-up had set him thinking.  The

T-Bar-T and the Concho men were not over-friendly.  There were certain

questions of grazing and water that had never been definitely settled.

The Concho had always claimed the right to run their cattle on the Blue

Mesa with the Blue Range as a tentative line of demarcation.  The

T-Bar-T always claimed the Blue as part of their range.  There had been

some bickering until the killing of Annersley, when Bailey promptly

issued word to his men to keep the Concho cattle north of the

homestead.  He had refused to have anything to do with the raid, nor

did he now intend that his cattle should be an evidence that he had

even countenanced it.

 

Young Pete had unwittingly stirred up the old enmity.  Any untoward act

of a cowboy under such circumstances would be taken as expressive of

the policy of the foreman.  Even if Pete's quarrel was purely a

personal matter there was no telling to what it might lead.  The right

or wrong of the matter, personally, was not for Bailey to decide.  His

duty was to keep his cattle where they belonged and his men out of

trouble.  And because he was known as level-headed and capable he held

the position of actual manager of the Concho--owned by an Eastern

syndicate--but he was too modest and sensible to assume any such title,

realizing that as foreman he was in closer touch with his men.  They

told him things, as foreman, that as manager he would have heard

indirectly through a foreman--qualified or elaborated as that official

might choose.

 

As he jogged along across the levels Bailey thought it all over.  He

would have a talk with Young Pete when he returned and try to show him

that his recent attitude toward Gary militated against the Concho's

unprinted motto: "The fewer quarrels the more beef."

 

Halfway across the mesa there was what was known as "The Pit "; a

circular hole in the plain; rock-walled, some forty or fifty yards in

diameter and as many yards deep.  Its bottom was covered with fine,

loose sand, a strange circumstance in a country composed of tufa and

volcanic rock.  Legend had it that the Pit was an old Hopi tank, or

water-hole--a huge cistern where that prehistoric tribe conserved the

rain.  Bits of broken pottery and scattered beads bore out this theory,

and round the tank lay the low, crumbling mounds of what had once been

a village.

 

The trail on the Blue ran close to the Pit, and no rider passing it

failed to glance down.  Cattle occasionally strayed into it and if weak

were unable to climb out again without help from horse and rope.  As

Bailey approached, he heard the unmistakable bark of a six-shooter.  He

slipped from his horse, strode cautiously to the rim, and peered over.

 

Young Pete had ridden his horse down the ragged trail and was at the

moment engaged in six-gun practice.  Bailey drew back and sat down.

Pete had gathered together some bits of rock and had built a target

loosely representing a man.  The largest rock, on which was laid a

small round, bowlder for a head, was spattered with lead.  Pete, quite

unconscious of an audience, was cutting loose with speed and accuracy.

He threw several shots at the place which represented the vitals of his

theoretical enemy, punched the shells from his gun, and reloaded.  Then

he stepped to his horse and led him opposite the target and some twenty

feet from it.  Crouching, he fired under the horse's belly.  The horse

bucked and circled the enclosure.  Pete strode after him, caught him

up, and repeated the performance.  Each time Pete fired, the horse

naturally jumped and ran.  Patiently Pete caught him up again.  Finally

the animal, although trembling and wild-eyed, stood to the gun.  Pete

patted its neck.  Reloading he mounted.  Bailey was curious to see what

the boy would do next.  Pete turned the horse and, spurring him, flung

past the target, emptying his gun as he went.  Then he dismounted and

striding up to within ten yards of the man-target, holstered his gun

and stood for a moment as still as a stone itself.  Suddenly his hand

flashed to his side.  Bailey rubbed his eyes.  The gun had not come

from the holster, yet the rock target was spattered with five more

shots.  Bailey could see the lead fly as the blunt slugs flattened on

the stone.

 

"The young son-of-a-gun!" muttered Bailey.  "Dinged if he ain't

shootin' through the open holster!  Where in blazes did he learn that

bad-man trick?"

 

Thus far Pete had not said a word, even to the horse.  But now that he

had finished his practice he strode to the rock-target and thrust his

hand against it.  "You're dead!" he exclaimed.  "You're plumb

salivated!"  He pushed, and the man-target toppled and fell.

 

"Ain't you goin' to bury him?" queried Bailey.

 

Pete whirled.  The color ran up his neck and face.  "H'lo, Jim."

 

"How'd you know it was me?"  Bailey stood up.

 

"Knowed your voice."

 

"Well, come on up.  I was wonderin' who was down there settin' off the

fireworks.  Didn't hear you till I got most on top of you.  You sure

got some private shootin'-gallery."

 

Pete led his pony up the steep trail and squatted beside Bailey.  "How

long you been watching me, Jim?"

 

"Oh, jest since you started shooting under your hoss.  What's the idea?"

 

"Nothin', jest practicin'."

 

"You must 'a' been practicin' quite a' spell.  You handle that

smoke-wagon like an ole-timer."

 

"I ain't advertisin' it."

 

"Well, it's all right, Pete.  Glad I got a front seat.  Never figured

you was a top-hand with a gun.  Now I'm wise.  I know enough not to

stack up against you."

 

Pete smiled his slow smile and pushed back his hat.  "I reckon you're

right about that.  I never did no shootin' in company.  Ole Jose

Montoya always said to do your practicin' by yourself, and then nobody

knows just how you would play your hand."

 

Bailey frowned and nodded.  "Well, seein' as I'm in on it, Pete, I'd

kind of like to know myself."

 

"Why, I'm jest figurin' that some day mebby somebody'll want to hang my

hide on the fence.  I don't aim to let him."

 

"Meanin' Gary?"

 

"The same.  I ain't _lookin'_ for Gary--even if he did shoot down Pop

Annersley--nor I ain't tryin' to keep out of his way.  I'm ridin' this

country and I'm like to meet up with him 'most any time.  That's all."

 

"Shucks, Pete!  You forget Gary.  He sure ain't worth gettin' hung for.

Gary ain't goin' to put you down so long as you ride for the Concho.

He knows somebody 'd get him.  You jest practice shootin' all you

like--but tend to business the rest of the time and you'll live longer.

You can figure on one thing, if Gary was to get you he wouldn't live to

get out of this country."

 

"You're handin' me your best card," said Pete.  "Gary killed Annersley.

The law didn't get Gary.  And none of you fellas got him.  He's ridin'

this here country yet.  And you was tellin' me to forget him."

 

"But that's different, Pete.  No one saw Gary shoot Annersley.  It was

night.  Annersley was killed in his cabin--by a shot through the

window.  Anybody might have fired that shot.  Why, you were there

yourself--and you can't prove who done it."

 

"I can't, eh?  Well, between you and me, Jim, I _know_.  One of Gary's

own men said that night when they were leavin' the cabin, 'It must 'a'

been Steve that drilled the ole man because Steve was the only puncher

who knowed where the window was and fired into it.'"

 

"I didn't know that.  So you aim to even up, eh?"

 

"Nope.  I jest aim to be ready to even up."

 

Bailey strode back to his horse.  "I'm goin' up in the hills and look

for a deer.  Want to take a little pasear with me?"

 

"Suits me, Jim."

 

"Come on, then."

 

They mounted and rode side by side across the noon mesa.

 

The ponies stepped briskly.  The air was like a song.  Far away the

blue hills invited exploration of their timbered and mysterious

silences.

 

"Makes a fella feel like forgettin' everything and everybody--but jest

this," said Pete, gesturing toward the ranges.

 

"The bucks'll be on the ridges," remarked Bailey.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIII

 

GAME

 

They got their buck--a big six-point--just before the sun dipped below

the flaming sky-line.  In order to pack the meat in, one or the other

would have to walk.  Pete volunteered, but Bailey generously offered to

toss up for the privilege of riding.  He flipped a coin and won.

"Suits me," said Pete, grinning.  "It's worth walkin' from here to the

ranch jest to see you rope that deer on my hoss.  I reckon you'll

sweat."

 

It took about all of the foreman's skill and strength, assisted by

Pete, to rope the deer on the pony, who had never packed game and who

never intended to if he could help it.  And it was a nervous horse that

Pete led down the long woodland trail as the shadows grew distorted and

grim in the swiftly fading light Long before they reached the mesa

level it was dark.  The trail was carpeted with needles of the pine and

their going was silent save for the creak of the saddles and the

occasional click of a hoof against an uncovered rock.  Pete's horse

seemed even more nervous as they made the last descent before striking

the mesa.  "Somethin' besides deer is bother'n' him," said Pete as they

worked cautiously down a steep switchback.  The horse had stopped and

was trembling.  Bailey glanced back.  "Up there!" he whispered,

gesturing to the trail above them.  Pete had also been looking round,

and before Bailey could speak again, a sliver of flame split the

darkness and the roar of Pete's six-gun shattered the eerie silence of

the hillside.  Bailey's horse plunged off the trail and rocketed

straight down the mountain.  Pete's horse, rearing from the hurtling

shape that lunged from the trail above, tore the rope from his hand and

crashed down the hillside, snorting.  Something was threshing about the

trail and coughing horribly.  Pete would have run if he had known which

way to run.  He had seen two lambent green dots glowing above him and

had fired with that quick instinct of placing his shot--the result of

long practice.  The flopping and coughing ceased.  Pete, with cocked

gun poked ahead of him, struck a match.  In its pale flare he saw the

long gray shape of a mountain lien stretched across the trail.

Evidently the lion had smelled the blood of the deer, or the odor of

the sweating horses--a mountain lion likes horse-flesh better than

anything else--and had padded down the trail in the darkness, following

as close as he dared.  The match flamed and spluttered out.  Pete

wisely backed away a few paces and listened.  A little wind whispered

in the pines and a branch creaked, but there came no sound of movement

from the lion.  "I reckon I plugged him right!" muttered Pete.  "Wonder

what made Jim light out in sech a hurry?"  And, "Hey, Jim!" he called.

 

From far below came a faint _Whoo_!  _Halloo_!  Then the words separate

and distinct: "I--got--your--horse."

 

"I--got--a--lion," called Pete shrilly.

 

"Who--is lyin'--?" came from the depths below.

 

Pete grinned despite his agitation.  "Come--on--back!" shouted Pete.

He thought he heard Bailey say something like "damn," but it may have

been, "I am."  Pete struck another match and stepped nearer the lion

this time.  The great, lithe beast was dead.  The blunt-nose forty-five

at close range had torn away a part of its skull.  "I done spiled the

head," complained Pete.  In the succeeding darkness he heard the faint

tinkle of shod feet on the trail.

 

Presently he could distinctly hear the heavy breathing of the horse and

the gentle creak of the saddle.  Within speaking distance he told the

foreman that he had shot a whopper of a lion and it looked as though

they would need another pack-horse.  Bailey said nothing until he had

arrived at the angle of the switchback, when he lighted a match and

gazed at the great gray cat of the rocks.

 

"You get twenty dollars bounty," he told Pete.  "And you sure stampeded

me into the worst piece of down timber I've rode for a long time.

Gosh! but you're quick with that smoke-wagon of yours!  Lost my hat and

liked to broke my leg ag'in' a tree, but I run plumb onto your horse

draggin' a rope.  I tied him down there on the flat.  I figure you've

saved a dozen calves by killin' that kitty-cat.  Did you know it was a

lion when you shot?"

 

"Nope, or I'd 'a' sure beat the hosses down the grade.  I jest cut

loose at them two green eyes a-burnin' in the brush and _whump_! down

comes Mr. Kitty-cat almost plumb atop me.  Mebby I wasn't scared!  I

was wonderin' why you set off in sech a hurry.  You sure burned the

ground down the mountain."

 

"Just stayin' with my saddle," laughed Bailey.  "Old Frisco here ain't

lost any lions recent."

 

"Will he pack?"

 

"I dunno.  Wish it was daylight."

 

"Wish we had another rope," said Pete.  "My rope is on my hoss and

yours is cinchin' the deer on him.  And that there lion sure won't

lead.  _He's_ dead."

 

"'Way high up in the Mokiones,'" chanted Bailey.

 

"'A-trippin' down the slope'!" laughed Pete.  "And we ain't got no

rope.  But say, Jim, can't we kind of hang him acrost your saddle and

steady him down to the flats?"

 

"I'll see what I can do with the tie-strings.  I'll hold Frisco.  You

go ahead and heave him up."

 

Pete approached the lion and tried to lift it, but it weaved and

slipped from his arms.  "Limper 'n wet rawhide!" asserted Pete.

 

"Are you that scared?  Shucks, now, I'd 'a' thought--"

 

"The doggone lion, I mean.  Every time I heave at him he jest folds up

and lays ag'in' me like he was powerful glad to see me.  You try him."

 

The horse snorted and shied as the foreman slung the huge carcass

across the saddle and tied the lion's fore feet and hind feet with the

saddle-strings.  They made slow progress to the flats below, where they

had another lively session with Pete's horse, who had smelled the lion.

Finally with their game roped securely they set out on foot for the

ranch.

 

The hunting, and especially Pete's kill, had drawn them close together.

They laughed and talked, making light of high-heeled boots that pinched

and blistered as they plodded across the starlit mesa.

 

"Let's put one over on the boys!" suggested Pete.  "We'll drift in

quiet, hang the buck in the slaughter-house, and then pack the

kitty-cat into the bunk-house and leave him layin' like he was asleep,

by Bill Haskins's bunk.  Ole Bill allus gits his feet on the floor

afore he gits his eyes open.  Mebby he won't step high and lively when

he sees what he's got his feet on!"

 

Bailey, plodding ahead and leading Frisco, chuckled.  "I'll go you,

Pete, but I want you to promise me somethin'."

 

"Shoot!"

 

Bailey waited for Pete to come alongside.  "It's this way, Pete--and

this here is plain outdoor talk, which you sabe.  Mrs. Bailey and me

ain't exactly hatin' you, as you know.  But we would hate to see you

get into trouble on account of Gary or any of the T-Bar-T boys.  And

because you can shoot is a mighty good reason for you to go slow with

that gun.  'T ain't that I give two whoops and a holler what happens to

Gary.  It's what might happen to you.  I was raised right here in this

country and I know jest how those things go.  You're workin' for the

Concho.  What you do, the Concho's got to back up.  I couldn't hold the

boys if Gary got you, or if you got Gary.  They'd be hell a-poppin' all

over the range.  Speakin' personal, I'm with you to the finish, for I

know how you feel about Pop Annersley.  But you ain't growed up yet.

You got plenty time to think.  If you are a-hankerin' for Gary's scalp,

when you git to be twenty-one, why, go to it.  But you're a kid yet,

and a whole lot can happen in five or six years.  Mebby somebody'll git

Gary afore then.  I sure hope they do.  But while you're worldly for

me--jest forget Gary.  I ain't tellin' you you _got_ to.  I'm talkin'

as your friend."

 

"I'll go you," said Pete slowly.  "But if Steve Gary comes at me--"

 

"That's different.  Let him talk--and you keep still.  Keepin' still at

the right time has saved many a man's hide.  Most folks talk too much."

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIV

 

THE KITTY-CAT

 

Pete and Bailey took off their boots just before they entered the

bunk-house.  They lugged the defunct mountain lion in and laid it by

Bill Haskins's bunk.

 

Pete propped the lion's head up with one of Haskin's boots.  The effect

was realistic enough.  The lion lay stretched out in a most natural

way, apparently gazing languidly at the sleeping cow-puncher.  This was

more or less accidental, as they dare not light the lamp for fear of

waking the men.  Bailey stole softly to the door and across to the

house.  Pete undressed and turned in, to dream of who knows what

ghostly lions prowling through the timberlands of the Blue Range.  It

seemed but a few minutes when he heard the clatter of the pack-horse

bell that Mrs. Bailey used to call the men to breakfast.  The chill

gray half-light of early morning discovered him with one cautious eye,

gazing across at Haskins, who still snored, despite the bell.  "Oh,

Bill!" called Pete.  Haskins's snore broke in two as he swallowed the

unlaunched half and sat up rubbing his eyes.  He swung his feet down

and yawned prodigiously.  "Heh--hell!" he exclaimed as his bare feet

touched the furry back of the lion.  Bill glanced down into those

half-closed eyes.  His jaw sagged.  Then he bounded to the middle of

the room.  With a whoop he dashed through the doorway, rounded into the

open, and sprinted for the corral fence, his bare legs twinkling like

the side-rods of a speeding locomotive and his shirt-tail fluttering in

the morning breeze.  Andy White leaped from his bunk, saw the dead

lion, and started to follow Haskins.  Another cowboy, Avery, was

dancing on one foot endeavoring to don his overalls.

 

Hank Barley, an old-timer, jumped up with his gun poised, ready for

business.  "Why, he's daid!" he exclaimed, poking the lion with the

muzzle of his gun.

 

Pete rose languidly and began to dress.  "What's all the hocus, fellas?

Where's Haskins?"

 

"Bill he done lit out like he'd lost somethin'," said Barley.  "Now I

wonder what young ijjut packed that tree-cat in here last night?  Jim

said yesterday he was goin' to do a little lookin' round.  Looks like

he sure seen somethin'."

 

"Yes," drawled Pete.  "Jim and me got a buck and this here lion.  We

didn't have time to git anything else."

 

"Too bad you didn't git a bear and a couple of bob-cats while you was

at it."

 

"Hey, boys!" called Andy from the doorway.  "Come see Bill!"

 

The men crowded to the door.  Perched on the top rail of the corral

fence sat Bill Haskins shivering and staring at the house.  "We killed

your bed-feller!" called Barley.  "He done et your pants afore we

plugged him, but I kin lend you a pair.  You had better git a-movin'

afore Ma Bailey--"

 

"Ssh!" whispered Andy White.  "There's Ma standin' in the kitchen door

and--she's seen Bill!"

 

Bill also realized that he had been seen by Mrs. Bailey.  He shivered

and shook, teetering on the top rail until indecision got the better of

his equilibrium.  With a wild backward flip he disappeared from the

high-line of vision.  Ma Bailey also disappeared.  The boys doubled up

and groaned as Bill Haskins crawled on all fours across the corral

toward the shelter of the stable.

 

"Oh, my Gosh!" gasped Barley.  "S-s-ome--body--sh-shoot me and put me

out of my m-misery!"

 

A few seconds later Bailey crossed the yard carrying an extra pair of

those coverings most essential to male comfort and equanimity.

 

It was a supernaturally grave bevy of cow-punchers that gathered round

the table that morning.  Ma Bailey's silence was eloquent of suppressed

indignation.  Bailey also seemed subdued.  Pete was as placid as a

sleeping cherub.  Only Andy White seemed really overwrought.  He seemed

to suffer internally.  The sweat stood out on Bill Haskins's red face,

but his appetite was in no way impaired.  He ate rapidly and drank much

coffee.  Ma Bailey was especially gracious to him.  Presently from

Pete's end of the table came a faint "Me-e-ow!"  Andy White put down

his cup of coffee and excusing himself fled from the room, Pete stared

after him as though greatly astonished.  Barley the imperturbable

seemed to be suffering from internal spasms, and presently left the

table.  Blaze Andrews, the quietest of the lot, also departed without

finishing his breakfast.

 

"Ain't you feelin' well, Ma?" queried Pete innocently.

 

Bailey rose and said he thought he would "go see to the horses"--a very

unusual procedure for him.  Pete also thought it was about time to

depart.  He rose and nodded to Bill.  "Glad to see you back, Bill."

Then he went swiftly.

 

Haskins heaved a sigh.  "I--doggone it--I--You got any

sticking-plaster, Ma?"

 

"Yes, William"--and "William" because Ma Bailey was still a bit

indignant, although she appreciated that Bill was more sinned against

than sinning.  "Yes, William.  Did you hurt yourself?"