Infomotions, Inc.The Ridin' Kid from Powder River / Knibbs, Henry Herbert



Author: Knibbs, Henry Herbert
Title: The Ridin' Kid from Powder River
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): pete; spider; young pete; andy white; steve gary; pete annersley; bill haskins
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Project Gutenberg's The Ridin' Kid from Powder River, by Henry Herbert Knibbs

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Title: The Ridin' Kid from Powder River

Author: Henry Herbert Knibbs

Illustrator: Stanley L. Wood and R. M. Brinkerhoff

Release Date: August 14, 2005 [EBook #16530]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE RIDIN' KID FROM POWDER RIVER ***




Produced by Al Haines










[Frontispiece: The Ridin' Kid]






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.  "Yon 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.  "Yon
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.  Beckon 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.  Beckon
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.  Both 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 mot 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

The 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?"

"Stepped on a nail--er--this mawnin'.  I--I wasn't lookin' where I
stepped."

"What started you out--that way?" queried Mrs. Bailey.

"Why, hell, Ma--I--wasn't meanin' hell, Ma,--but somebody--I reckon I
know who--plants a mountain lion right aside my bunk last night when I
was sleepin'.  Fust thing this mawnin' I heard that bell and jumped out
o' my bunk plumb onto the cuss.  Like to bruk my neck.   That there
lion was a-lookin' right up into my face, kind of sleepy-eyed and
smilin' like he was hungry.  I sure didn't stop to find out.  'Course,
when I got my wind, I knowed it was a joke.  I reckon I ought to kill
somebody--"

"A lion, Bill?  Hev you been drinkin'?"

"Drinkin'!  Why, Ma, I ain't had a drop sence--"

"I reckon I better go see what's in that bunk-house," said Mrs. Bailey,
rising.  "I'll get you that stickin'-plaster when I come back."

Mrs. Bailey realized that something unusual had started Bill Haskins on
his wild career that morning, but she could not quite believe that
there was a mountain lion--alive or dead--in the bunk-house until she
saw the great beast with her own amazed eyes.  And she could not quite
believe that Pete had shot the lion until Bailey himself certified to
Pete's story of the hunt.  Mrs. Bailey, for some feminine reason, felt
that she had been cheated.  Bailey had not told her about the lion.
She had been indignant with Haskins for his apparently unseemly
conduct, and had been still more indignant with Pete when she
appreciated that he was at the bottom of the joke.  But Haskins was
innocent and Pete was now somewhat of a hero.  The good woman turned on
her husband and rebuked him roundly for allowing such "goings-on."
Bailey took his dressing-down silently.  He felt that the fun had been
worth it.  Pete himself was rather proud and obviously afraid he would
show it.  But the atmosphere settled to normal when the men went to
work.  Pete was commissioned to skin and cut up the deer.  Later in the
day he tackled the lion, skinned it, fleshed out the nose, ears, and
eyelids, and salted and rolled the hide.  Roth, the storekeeper at
Concho, was somewhat of a taxidermist and Mrs. Bailey had admired the
lion-skin.

Pete felt that he could have used the twenty dollars bounty, but he was
nothing if not generous.  That afternoon he rode to Concho with the
lion-skin tied behind the cantle.  He returned to the ranch late that
night.  Next morning he was mysteriously reticent about the
disappearance of the hide.  He intended to surprise Ma Bailey with a
real Christmas present.  No one guessed his intent.  Pete was good at
keeping his own counsel.

A few evenings later the men, loafing outside the bunk-house, amused
themselves by originating titles for the chief actors in the recent
range-drama.  Pete, without question, was "The Lion Tamer," Bailey was
"Big-Chief-not-Afraid-of-a-Buck."  Ma Bailey was "Queen of the
Pies"--not analogous to the drama but flattering--and Haskins, after
some argument and much suggestion, was entitled "Claw-Hammer."  Such
titles as "Deer-Foot," "Rail-Hopper," "Back-Flip Bill,"
"Wind-Splitter," and the like were discarded in favor of
"Claw-Hammer"--for the unfortunate Bill had stepped on a rusty nail in
his recent exodus from the lion's den, and was at the time suffering
from a swollen and inflamed foot--really a serious injury, although
scoffed at by the good-natured Bill himself despite Mrs. Bailey's
solicitude and solution of peroxide.

Winter, with its thin shifts of snow, its intermittent sunshiny days,
its biting winds that bored through chaps and heavy gloves, was finally
borne away on the reiterant, warm breezes of spring.  Mrs. Bailey was
the proud and happy possessor of a lion-skin rug--Pete's Christmas
present to her--proud of the pelt itself and happy because Young Pete
had foregone the bounty that he might make the present, which was
significant of his real affection.  Coats and heavy overshoes were
discarded.  Birds sang among sprouting aspen twigs, and lean,
mangy-looking coyotes lay on the distant hillsides soaking in the
warmth.  Gaunt cattle lowed in the hollows and spring calves staggered
about, gazing at this new world with round, staring eyes.

Houck, the T-Bar-T foreman, had discussed with Bailey the advisability
of defining a line between the two big ranches.  They came to an
agreement and both stated that they would send men to roughly survey
the line, fix upon landmarks, and make them known to the riders of both
outfits.  Bailey, who had to ride from Concho to the railroad to meet a
Kansas City commission man, sent word back to the Concho to have two
men ride over to Annersley's old homestead the following day.  Mrs.
Bailey immediately commissioned Young Pete and Andy to ride over to the
homestead, thinking that Pete was a particularly good choice as he knew
the country thereabouts.  She cautioned the boys to behave
themselves--she always did when Andy and Pete set out together--and
giving them a comfortable package of lunch, she turned to her household
work.

"I'm takin' Blue Smoke," stated Pete as Andy packed his saddle to the
corral.

"You're takin' chances then," observed Andy.

"Oh, I got him so he knows which way is north," asserted Pete.  "I been
gittin' acquainted with that cayuse, Chico."

"Yes.  I seen you settin' on the ground watchin' him buck your saddle
off a couple of times," snorted Andy.

"Well, seein' as this here pasear is straight riding I reckon I'll
crawl him and turn him loose.  He needs exercisin'."

"Well, I don't," asserted Andy.  "'Course, some folks has always got to
be showin' off.  If Bailey was here you wouldn't be ridin' that hoss."

"'And up and down and round and 'cross, that top-boss done his best!'"
sang Pete as he lugged his saddle into the corral.

"'All hell can't glue you to that hoss when he gits headed west,'" Andy
misquoted for the occasion.

"You jest swing that gate open when I git aboard," suggested Pete.
"I'm the Ridin' Kid from Powder River."

Andy laughed.

  "The Ridin' Kid from Powder River
  Ain't got no lungs nor ary liver,
  Some says it was a blue cayuse . . ."

"Go git you a sack and gather up the leavin's," laughed Pete, as he
kicked his foot into the stirrup and hit the saddle before Blue Smoke
knew what had happened.  Andy swung the gate open.  The horse headed
for the mesa, pitching as he ran.  This was not half so bad for Pete as
though Blue Smoke had been forced to confine his efforts to the corral.
Pete had long since discovered that when Blue Smoke saw space ahead of
him, he was not apt to pitch hard, but rather to take it out in running
bucks and then settle down to a high-lope--as he did on this occasion,
after he had tried with his usual gusto to unseat his rider.  There is
something admirable in the spirit of a horse that refuses to be ridden,
and there was much to be said for Blue Smoke.  He possessed tremendous
energy, high courage, and strength, signified by the black stripe down
his back and the compact muscles of his flanks and fore legs.  Pete had
coveted the horse ever since that first and unforgettable experience in
the corral.  Bailey had said jokingly that he would give Pete the
outlaw if Pete would break him.  Pete had frequently had it out with
Blue Smoke when the men were away.  He had taken Bailey at his word,
but as usual had said nothing about riding the animal.

Andy watched Pete until he saw that Blue Smoke had ceased to pitch and
was running, when he swung up and loped out after his companion.  He
overtook him a half-mile from the ranch, and loped alongside, watching
Pete with no little admiration and some envy.  It struck Andy that
while Pete never made much of his intent or his accomplishment,
whatever it might be, he usually succeeded in gaining his end.  There
was something about Pete that puzzled Andy; a kind of silent
forcefulness that emanated neither from bulk nor speech; for Pete was
rather lithe and compact than "beefy" and more inclined to silence than
to speech.  Yet there was none of the "do or die" attitude about him,
either.  But whatever it was, it was there--evident in Pete's eye as he
turned and glanced at Andy--an intenseness of purpose, not manifest in
any outward show or form.

"You sure tamed him," said Andy admiringly.

"Only for this mornin'," acknowledged Pete.  "To-morrow mornin' he'll
go to it ag'in.  But I aim to sweat some of it out of him afore we hit
the Blue.  Got the makin's?"




CHAPTER XV

FOUR MEN

Pete grew silent as he rode with Andy toward the hill-trail that led to
his old home on the Blue Mesa, where he finally surveyed the traces of
old man Annersley's patient toil.  The fences had been pulled down and
the water-hole enlarged.  The cabin, now a rendezvous for occasional
riders of the T-Bar-T, had suffered from weather and neglect.  The door
sagging from one hinge, the grimy, cobwebbed windows, the unswept
floor, and the litter of tin cans about the yard, stirred bitter
memories in Pete's heart.  Andy spoke of Annersley, "A fine old man,"
but Pete had no comment to make.  They loafed outside in the afternoon
sunshine, momentarily expecting the two men from the T-Bar-T.
Presently Andy White rose and wandered off toward the spring.  Pete sat
idly tossing pellets of earth at a tin can.  He was thinking of
Annersley, of the old man's unvarying kindliness and quaint humor.  He
wished that Annersley were alive, could know of his success--Pete had
done pretty well for a lad of sixteen--and that they could talk
together as in the old days.  He rose presently and entered the
abandoned cabin.  The afternoon sunlight flickered palely through the
dusty windows.  Several window-panes had been broken out, but the one
marked with two bullet holes, radiating tiny cracks in the glass, was
still there.  The oilcloth on the table was torn and soiled.  The mud
of wet weather had been tracked about the floor.  The stove was rusted
and cracked.  Pete wondered why men must invariably abuse things that
were patently useful, when those things did not belong to any one
especially; for the stove, the windows, the table, the two home-made
chairs showed more than disuse.  They had been wantonly broken, hacked,
or battered.  Some one had pried the damper from the stove, broken it
in two, and had used half of it for a lid-lifter.  A door had been torn
from the wall-cupboard and split into kindling, as a few painted
splinters attested.  And some one had shot several holes in the door,
evidently endeavoring to make the initial "T" with a forty-five.  An
old pair of discarded overalls lay in one corner, a worn and useless
glove in another.  Pete was glad that Annersley would never know of all
this--and yet it seemed as though Annersley _could_ see these
things--and Pete, standing alone in the room, felt as though he were in
some way to blame for this disorder and squalidness.  Time and
occupation had rather dulled Pete's remembrance of the actual detail of
the place, but now its original neatness and orderliness came back to
him vividly.

He was mentally rehabilitating the cabin when a boot-heel crunched on
the ground outside and Andy appeared in the doorway.  "The T-Bar-T boys
are comin'.  Seen 'em driftin' down the Ranger Trail."

"They was to be here this mornin'," said Pete.  "Beckon they aim to
bush here all night and ride to-morrow.  Hope they brought some grub
along."

"We got plenty.  Come on outside.  This here ole room kind o' gits on
my nerves."

Pete strode out.  They stood watching the approaching riders.  Suddenly
Andy White touched Pete's arm.  "One of 'em is Gary!" he said, speaking
low.

Pete stopped and, picking up a clod, jerked it toward a fence-post.
The clod happened to hit the post and was flicked into dust.  "That for
Gary," said Pete.

Andy grinned, but his eyes were grave.  "We'll be right busy," he said
in a sort of tentative way.

Pete nodded and hitched up his chaps.  One of the approaching horsemen
waved a hand.  Andy acknowledged the salute.

The T-Bar-T men rode in and dismounted.  "Where's Bailey?" was Gary's
first word.

"Jim sent us to fix up that line with you," replied Andy.  "He's over
to Enright."

Gary glanced at Pete, who stared at him, but made no gesture of
greeting.  But Pete had read Gary's unspoken thought.  "Bailey had sent
a couple of kids over to the Blue to help survey the line."  And Pete
did not intend to let Gary "get by" with the idea that his attitude was
not understood.

"Where's Houck?" asked Pete, naming the foreman of the T-Bar-T.

Cotton, Gary's companion, a light-haired, amiable but rather dull
youth, stated that Houck was over to the ranch.

"I reckoned he'd come hisself," said Pete.  "He knows this country
better 'n most."

"Oh, I dunno," sneered Gary.  "Some of us been here before."

"They wasn't no line then," said Pete quietly, "but they's goin' to be
one."

"You makin' it?" queried Gary.

Pete smiled.  "I was sent over here with Andy to do that same thing.
But you're sure welcome to hand out any idees you got, seein' your
fo'man ain't here."

Andy, who saw the inevitable end of this kind of talk, nudged Pete.
"Let's eat," he said.  "I reckon we're all willin'."

Gary, like most of his type, was always anticipating an insult,
possibly because his general attitude toward humanity was deliberately
intended to provoke argument and recrimination.  He was naturally
quarrelsome--and a bully because of his unquestioned physical courage.
He was popular in a way with those of his fellows who looked upon a
gunman--a killer--as a kind of hero.  The foreman of the T-Bar-T found
him valuable as a sort of animate scarecrow.  Gary's mere presence
often served to turn the balance when the T-Bar-T riders had occasion
to substantiate a bluff or settle a dispute with some other outfit
riding the high country.  And because Gary imagined that Bailey of the
Concho had deliberately sent such youngsters as Andy White and Young
Pete to the Blue Mesa to settle the matter of a boundary line, Gary
felt insulted.  He was too narrow-minded to reason that Bailey could
hardly know whom Houck of the T-Bar-T would send.  Gary's ill-humor was
not improved by the presence of Young Pete nor by Pete's pugnacious
attitude.  Strangely enough, Gary was nervous because he knew that
Young Pete was not afraid of him.

Andy White was keenly aware of this, and found occasion that evening in
Gary's temporary absence to caution Pete, who immediately called
attention to the fact that they had all hung up their guns except Gary.

"All the better!" asserted Andy.  "That lets you out if he was to start
something."

"Yes.  And it mebby might let me out for good, Andy.  Gary is jest the
kind to shoot a man down without givin' him a chanct.  It ain't like
Gary was scared of me--but he's scared of what I know.  I hung up my
gun 'cause I told Jim I wouldn't set to lookin' for a scrap with Gary,
or any man.  Gary ain't got sand enough to do the same.  But there
won't be no fuss.  I reckon he dassent draw on me with you two fellas
here.  Where 'd he and Cotton go, anyhow?"

"I dunno, Pete.  They moseyed out without sayin' anything."

"Looks like Gary wanted to put Cotton wise."

"Well, if anything starts, I'll sure keep my eye on that Cotton
hombre," said Andy.

"He's easy--and slow," stated Pete.  "He ain't got a fightin' eye."

"Here they come," whispered Andy.  "I kin hear 'em talkin'."

Pete immediately began to whistle.  Andy rose and poked a stick of wood
in the stove.  "She's right cool up here," he remarked.

"We been kind o' sizin' up things," stated Cotton as Gary and he
entered the cabin; an excuse for their absence that was unnecessary and
obviously manufactured.

Pete smiled.  "I got 'em sized up.  Never did cotton to workin' in the
dark."

Gary paused in the act of unsnapping his chaps.

He was about to say something when Andy White interrupted by suggesting
that they turn in early and rise early that they might get the work
done in daylight and not have to spend another night at the cabin.

Gary dragged an old mattress from the bedroom and, dropping it beneath
the window, spread his blanket, rolled up in it, and at Cotton's query
as to sharing half of the mattress told Cotton to "sleep where he dam'
pleased."

"He's a friendly cuss, ain't he?" remarked Pete.

"Who?" asked Gary, half-rising.

"Why, Cotton, there," replied Pete.  "You didn't think I was meanin'
you, did you?"

Andy nudged Pete in the dark.  "All right," said Pete, ignoring Andy's
meaning.  "You git your blanket and we'll bush outside."

They spread their blankets under a cedar, some distance from the cabin,
and lay gazing at the stars.

Presently Andy turned to Pete.  "Pete," he said gravely, "you're
walkin' right into trouble.  Every time Gary starts to lope, yon rein
him up mighty short.  He's fightin' the bit, and first thing you know--"

"I'll git pitched, eh?  Well, mebby you're right.  I done told Bailey
that if I ever did meet Steve Gary I would leave him do the talking but
I sure can't stand for his line o' talk.  He's plumb mean."

"I'll be mighty glad when we git through with this job," said Andy.

"Shucks!  It won't take three hours!  I know every tree and stump on
this flat.  We'll be driftin' home 'long about four to-morrow."




CHAPTER XVI

THE OPEN HOLSTER

If there ever was a morning calculated to inspire good-will and
heartiness in a human being it was that morning.  The dawn came
swiftly, battering through a fleece of clouds and painting the Blue
Mesa in all the gorgeous and utterly indescribable colors of an Arizona
sunrise.  The air was crisp and so clear that it seemed to sparkle,
like water.  Andy White whistled as he gathered up the blankets and
plodded toward the cabin.  Pete felt like whistling, but for some
reason he was silent.  He followed Andy to the cabin and saw that the
cowboy Cotton was making coffee.

"All we got is cold grub," stated Pete, "but we got plenty for
everybody."

"We fetched some coffee and bacon," said Cotton.  But he did not invite
them to eat.

Pete glanced at Andy.  Evidently Cotton had had his instructions or was
afraid to make any friendly overtures.  Gary was still lying on the
mattress by the window, apparently asleep.

Pete stepped to where his own gun hung and buckled it on.  "Let's mosey
over to the spring and wash," he suggested to Andy.  "I ain't no dude,
but I kind o' like to wash before I eat."

"Here, too," said Andy.  "Mebby we can locate the horses on the way."

When they returned to the cabin, Gary and Cotton were eating breakfast.
Pete flung a pair of broken hobbles on the floor.  "Somebody's cayuse
got rid of these," he stated casually.  He knew that they had been on
Gary's horse, as he had seen Gary hobble him.  Pete turned and strode
out.  Andy was unwrapping their lunch.  Presently Gary and Cotton
appeared and picked up their ropes.  Andy White, who had seen his own
easily caught pony, graciously offered the use of it in hunting the
strayed horse, but Gary declined the offer gruffly.

"He's so doggone mean his face hurts him," stated Pete, as Gary and
Cotton set off together.

"We'll lose some time if his hoss has lit out for home," said Andy.

"Gary's doin' all he kin to make a job of it," declared Pete.  "But I
don't wait for him.  Soon's we finish eatin' I'm goin' to locate Blue
Smoke and git to work.  We kin run that line without any help from
them.  Let 'em walk till they're tired."

"And what do you think of a couple of punchers--_punchers_, mind
you--that sit down and eat bacon and drink coffee and don't as much as
say 'come in'?"

"I don't waste time thinkin' about such, Andy.  You finish up the grub.
I got all I want."

"Shucks!  This ain't all.  We ain't touched the grub in your
saddle-pockets yet.  Ma Bailey sure fixed us up right."

"That'll do for noon," said Pete.  "I'll run your hoss in, when I git
Blue Smoke.  Your hoss'll follow, anyway."

"Jest a minute till I git my rope."

"Nope, you stay here.  That Blue Smoke hoss knows me.  If he spots two
of us comin' he's like to git excited and mebby bust his hobbles and
light out.  I'll ketch him all right."

"Jest as you say, Pete."

The sun was warming the air and it was pleasant to sit and watch the
light clouds trail along the far horizon.  Andy leaned back against the
cedar and rolled a cigarette.  He grinned as he recalled how Pete had
called Gary at every turn, and yet had given the other no chance to
find excuse for a quarrel.  Pete was certainly "a cool hand--for a
kid."  White, several years Pete's senior, always thought of him as not
much more than a boy.

Meanwhile Pete, who knew every foot of ground on the homestead, trailed
through the scrub toward the spring.  Down an occasional opening he
could see the distant forest that edged the mesa, and once he thought
he saw a horse's head behind a bush, but it turned out to be the stub
of a fallen tree.  The brush hid the cabin as he worked toward the
timber.  Presently he discovered Blue Smoke's tracks and followed them
down into a shallow hollow where the brush was thick.  He wound in and
out, keeping the tracks in sight and casually noting where the horse
had stopped to graze.  Near the bottom of the hollow he heard voices.
He had been so intent on tracking the horse that he had forgotten Gary
and Cotton.  The tracks led toward the voices.  Pete instinctively
paused and listened, then shrugged his shoulders and stepped forward.
A thick partition of brush separated him from the unseen speaker.  Pete
stopped midway in his stride.

"If you squat down here you can see the winder, right under this bush.
The moon was shinin'.  It was a plumb easy shot.  And it sure stopped
homesteadin' in this end of the country."

Gary was speaking.  Pete drew a step nearer.

"You ain't sayin' who fired that shot,"--and Cotton laughed
obsequiously.

Pete stepped from behind the bush.  Gary was facing toward the cabin.
Cotton was squatting near by smoking a cigarette.

"Tell him," said Pete.  "I want to know myself."

"What's it to you?" snarled Gary, and he stepped back.  Gary's very
attitude was a challenge.  Pete knew that he could not drop his rope
and pull his own gun quick enough to save himself.  He saw Gary's hand
move almost imperceptibly toward his holster.

"I reckon I made a mistake," said Pete slowly--and he let the rope slip
from his hand as though utterly unnerved.  "I--I talked kind o' quick,"
he stammered.

"Well, you won't make no more mistakes," sneered Gary, and he dropped
his hand to his gun.  "You want to know who plugged that old
hoss-thief, Annersley, eh?  Well, what you goin' to say when I tell you
it was me?"

Pete saw that Gary was working himself up to the pitch when he would
kill.  And Pete knew that he had but one chance in a thousand of
breaking even with the killer.  He would not have time to draw--but
Montoya had taught him the trick of shooting through the open
holster . . .  Cotton heard Pete's hand strike the butt of his gun as
the holster tilted up.  Pete fired twice.  Staring as though
hypnotized, Gary clutched at his shirt over his chest with his free
hand.  He gave at the knees and his body wilted and settled down--even
as he threw a desperate shot at Pete in a last venomous effort to kill.

[Illustration: Cotton heard Pete's hand strike the butt of his gun as
the holster tilted up.]

"You seen it was an even break," said Pete, turning to Cotton, who
immediately sank to his knees and implored Pete not to kill him.

"But I reckon you'd lie, anyhow," continued Pete, paying no attention
to the other's mouthings.  "Hunt your cayuse--and git a-movin'."

Cotton understood that.  Glancing over his shoulder at Gary he turned
and ran toward the timber.  Pete stepped to the crumpled figure and
gazed at the bubbling hole in the chest.  Then he stepped hack and
mechanically bolstered his gun which he had pulled as he spoke to
Cotton.  "They'll git me for this," he whispered to himself.  "It was
an even break--but they'll git me."  Pete fought back his fear with a
peculiar pride--the pride that scorned to appear frightened before his
chum, Andy White.  The quarrel had occurred so unexpectedly and
terminated so suddenly, that Pete could not yet realize the full extent
of the tragedy.  While quite conscious of what he was doing and
intended to do, he felt as though he were walking in a horrible dream
from which he would never awaken.  His instincts were as keen as
ever--for he was already planning his next move--but his sensibilities
had suffered a blunt shock--were numb to all external influence.  He
knew that the sun was shining, yet he did not feel its warmth.  He was
walking toward the cabin, and toward Andy.  He stumbled as he walked,
taking no account of the irregularities of the ground.  He could hardly
believe that he had killed Gary.  To convince himself against his own
will he mechanically drew his gun and glanced at the two empty shells.
"Three and two is five," he muttered.  "I shot twict."  He did not
realize that Gary had shot at him--that a shred of his flannel shirt
was dangling from his sleeve where Gary's bullet had cut it.  "Wonder
if Andy heard?" he kept asking himself.  "I got to tell Andy."

Almost before he realized it he was standing under the cedar and Andy
was speaking.  "Thought I heard some one shoot, over toward the woods."

As Pete did not answer, Andy thought that the horse had got away from
him.  "Did you get him?" he queried.

Pete nodded dully.  "I got him.  He's over there--in the brush."

"Why didn't you fetch him in?  Did he get the best of you?  You look
like he give you a tussle."

"I got him--twict," said Pete.

"Twict?  Say, Pete, are you loco?  What's ailin' you, anyhow?"

"Nothin'.  Me and Gary just had it out.  He's over there--in the brush."

"Gary!"

"Yes.  I reckon I got him."

"Hell!"  The ruddy color sank from Andy's face.  He had supposed that
Gary and Cotton were by this time tracking the strayed horses toward
the T-Bar-T.  "Where's Cotton?" he asked.

"I told him to fan it."

"But, Pete--!"

"I know.  They's no use talkin', Andy.  I come back to tell you--and to
git your rope.  Mine's over by Gary."

"What you goin' to do, Pete?"

"Me?  Why, I'm goin' to drift as soon as I can git a saddle on Blue.
Cotton he seen the shootin'--but that don't do me no good.  He'll swear
that I pulled first.  He'd say 'most anything--he was too scared to
know what come off.  Gary's hand was on his gun when I let him have
it--twict."

Andy noticed then Pete's torn sleeve.  "I reckon that's right.  Look at
that!"

Pete turned his head and glanced at his sleeve.  "Never knowed he
shot--it was all done so quick."  He seemed to awaken suddenly to the
significance of his position.  "I'll take your rope and go git Smoke.
Then I'm goin' to drift."

"But where?"

"You're my pardner, Andy, but I ain't sayin'.  Then you won't have to
lie.  You'll have to tell Jim--and tell him it was like I said--_if
Gary come at me, that would be different_.  I'm leavin' it to you to
square me with Jim Bailey."  Pete picked up the rope and started toward
the spring.

"I'm goin' with you," said White, "and ketch my hoss.  I aim to see you
through with this."

In an hour they were back at the cabin with the horses.  Andy White
glanced at his watch.  "Cotton is afoot--for I seen his hoss over
there.  But he can make it to the T-Bar-T in three hours.  That'll give
us a start of two hours, anyhow.  I don't know which way you aim to
ride, but--"

"I'm playin' this hand alone," stated Pete as he saddled Blue Smoke.
"No use your gittin' in bad."

White made no comment, but cinched up his pony.  Pete stepped to him
and held out his hand.  "So-long, Andy.  You been a mighty square
pardner."

"Nothin' doin'!" exclaimed Andy.  "I'm with you to the finish."

"Nope, Andy.  If we was both to light out, you'd be in it as bad as me."

"Then what do you say if we both ride down to Concho and report to the
sheriff?"

"I tried that onct--when they killed Pop Annersley.  I know how that
would work."

"But what you goin' to do?"

"I'm ridin'," and Pete swung to his horse.  Blue Smoke pitched across
the clearing under the spur and rein that finally turned him toward the
south.  Pete's sombrero flew off as he headed for the timber.  Andy,
reining 'round his horse, that fretted to follow, swung down and caught
up Pete's hat on the run.  Pete had pulled up near the edge of the
timber.  Andy, as he was about to give Pete his hat, suddenly changed
it for his own.  "For luck!" he cried, as Pete slackened rein and Blue
Smoke shot down the dim forest trail.

Pete, perhaps influenced by Montoya's example, always wore a
high-crowned black sombrero.  Andy's hat was the usual gray.  In the
excitement of leaving, Pete had not thought of that; but as he rode, he
suspected Andy's motive, and glanced back.  But Andy was not following,
or if he were, he was riding slowly.

Meanwhile Andy cheerfully put himself in the way of assisting Pete to
escape.  He knew the country and thought he knew where Pete was headed
for.  Before nightfall a posse would be riding the high country hunting
the slayer of Gary.  They would look for a cowboy wearing a black
sombrero.  Realizing the risk that he ran, and yet as careless of that
risk as though he rode to a fiesta, Young Andy deliberately turned back
to where Gary lay--he had not yet been to that spot--and, dismounting,
picked up Pete's rope.  He glanced at Gary, shivered, and swung to his
horse.  Riding so that his trail would be easy to read he set off
toward the open country, east.  The fact that he had no food with him,
and that the country was arid and that water was scarce, did not
trouble him.  All he hoped for was to delay or mislead the posse long
enough to enable Pete to reach the southern desert.  There Pete might
have one chance in twenty of making his final escape.  Perhaps it was a
foolish thing to do, but Andy White, inspired by a motive of which
there is no finer, did not stop to reason about it.  "He that giveth
his life for a friend . . ."  Andy knew nothing of such a quotation.
He was riding into the desert, quite conscious of the natural hazards
of the trail, and keen to the possibilities that might follow in the
form of an excited posse not too discriminating, in their eagerness to
capture an outlaw, yet he rode with a light heart.  After all, Pete was
not guilty of murder.  He had but defended his own life.  Andy's heart
was light because of the tang of adventure, and a certain appreciation
of what a disappointed posse might feel and express--and because
Romance ran lightly beside him, heartening him on his way; Romance,
whose ears are deaf to all moral considerations and whose eyes see only
the true adventurer, be he priest or pirate; Romance whose eyes are
blind to those who fear to dare.




CHAPTER XVII

A FALSE TRAIL

"Sure he's dead!" reiterated Cotton.  "Didn't I see them two holes
plumb through him and the blood soakin' his shirt when I turned him
over?  If I'd 'a' had my gun on me that Young Pete would be right side
of Steve, right now!  But I couldn't do nothin' without a gun.  Pete
Annersley was plumb scared.  That's why he killed Steve.  Jest you
gimme a gun and watch me ride him down!  I aim to settle with that Jay."

Cotton was talking to Houck of the T-Bar-T, blending fact and fiction
in a blustering attempt to make himself believe he had played the man.
During his long, foot-weary journey to the ranch he had roughly
invented this speech and tried to memorize it.  Through repetition he
came to believe that he was telling the truth.  Incidentally he had not
paused to catch up his horse, which was a slight oversight, considering
the trail from the Blue to his home ranch.

"What's the matter with the gun you're packin'?" asked Houck.

Cotton had forgotten his own gun.

"I--it was like this, Bill.  After Young Pete killed Gary, I went back
to the shack and got my gun.  At first, Andy White wasn't goin' to
leave me have it--but I tells him to fan it.  I reckon he's pretty nigh
home by now."

"Thought you said you didn't see White after the shooting--that he
forked his horse and rode for the Concho?  Cotton, you're lyin' so fast
you're like to choke."

"Honest, Bill!  If I'd 'a' had my gun . . ."

"Oh, hell!  Don't try to swing that bluff.  Where's your horse?"

"I couldn't ketch him, honest."

"Thought you said you caught him in the brush and tied him to a tree
and Young Annersley threatened to kill you if you went for your saddle."

"That's right--honest, Bill, that's what he said."

"Then how is it that Bobby Lent caught your horse strayin' in more 'n a
hour ago?  Dam' if I believe a word you say.  You're plumb crazy."

"Honest, Bill.  I hope to die if Steve Gary ain't layin' over there
with two holes in him.  He's sure dead.  Do yon think I footed it all
the way jest because I like walkin'?"

Houck frowned and shook his head.  "You say him and Young Pete had come
to words?"

"Yep; about ole man Annersley.  Steve was tellin' me about the raid
when Pete steps up and tells him to say it over ag'in.  Steve started
to talk when Pete cuts down on him--twict.  My God, he was quick!  I
never even seen him draw."

"Did Gary say _he_ was the one that plugged Annersley?"

"Yep.  Said he did it--and asked Pete what he was goin' to do about it."

"Then Steve was drunk or crazy.  You go git a horse and burn the trail
to Concho.  Tell Sutton that Young Pete Annersley killed Gary, up to
the Blue Mesa.  Tell him we're out after Young Pete.  Can you git that
straight?"

"What if the sheriff was to pinch me for bein' in that scrap?"

"You!  In a gun-fight?  No.  He wouldn't believe that if you told him
so.  You jest tell Sutton what I said, and git goin'!  Don't lie to
him--or he'll spot it and pinch you dam' quick."

With Cotton gone, Houck saddled up and rode out to where one of his men
was mending fence.  "Take your horse and git all the boys you can reach
before night.  Young Pete Annersley shot Steve over to the Blue this
mornin'."

The cowboy, unlike Cotton, whistled his surprise, dropped his tools,
mounted, and was off before Houck had reined back toward the
ranch-house.

It was near twelve that night when a quiet band of riders dismounted at
the Annersley cabin, separated, and trailed off in the darkness to look
for Gary.  One of them found him where he had fallen and signaled with
his gun.  They carried Gary to the cabin.  In the flickering light of
the open stove they saw that he was still alive.  There was one chance
in a thousand that he could recover.  They washed his wounds and one of
the men set out toward Concho, to telephone to Enright for a doctor.
The rest grouped around the stove and talked in low tones, waiting for
daylight.  "Chances are the kid went south," said Houck, half to
himself.

"How about young White?" queried a cowboy.

"I dunno.  Either he rode with Pete Annersley or he's back at the
Concho.  Daylight'll tell."

"If Steve could talk--" said the cowboy.

"I guess Steve is done for," said Houck.  "I knew Young Pete was a
tough kid--but I didn't figure he'd try to down Steve."

"Supposin' they both had a hand in it--White and Young Pete?"

Houck shook his head.  "Anybody got any whiskey?" he asked.

Some one produced a flask.  Houck knelt and raised Gary's head, tilting
the flask carefully.  Presently Gary's lips moved and his chest heaved.

"Who was it?  White?" questioned Houck.

Gary moved his head in the negative.

"Young Pete?"  Gary's white lips shaped to a faint whisper--"Yes."

One of the men folded a slicker and put it under Gary's head.

Houck stood up.  "I guess it's up to us to get Pete Annersley."

"You can count me out," said a cowboy immediately.  "Steve was allus
huntin' trouble and it looks like he found it this trip.  They's plenty
without me to ride down the kid.  Young Pete may be bad--but I figure
he had a dam' good excuse when he plugged Steve, here.  You can count
me out."

"And me," said another.  "If young Pete was a growed man--"

"Same here," interrupted the third.  "Any kid that's got nerve enough
to down Steve has got a right to git away with it.  If you corner him
he's goin' to fight--and git bumped off by a bunch of growed men--mebby
four to one.  That ain't my style."

Houck turned to several cowboys who had not spoken.  They were Gary's
friends, of his kind--in a measure.  "How is it, boys?" asked Houck.

"We stick," said one, and the others nodded.

"Then you boys"--and Houck indicated the first group--"can ride back to
the ranch.  Or, here, Larkin, you can stay with Steve till the doc
shows up.  The rest of you can drift."

Without waiting for dawn the men who had refused to go out after Pete
rode back along the hill-trail to the ranch.  But before they left,
Houck took what hastily packed food they had and distributed it among
the posse, who packed it in their saddle-pockets.  The remaining
cowboys lay down for a brief sleep.  They were up at dawn, and after a
hasty breakfast set out looking for tracks.  Houck himself discovered
Andy White's tracks leading from the spot where Gary had been found,
and calling the others together, set off across the eastern mesa.

Meanwhile Andy White was sleeping soundly in a coulee many miles from
the homestead, and just within sight of a desert ranch, to which he had
planned to ride at daybreak, ask for food and depart, leaving the
impression that he was Pete Annersley in haste to get beyond the reach
of the law.  He had stopped at the coulee because he had found grass
and water for his horse and because he did not want to risk being found
at the ranch-house.  A posse would naturally head for the ranch to
search and ask questions.  Fed and housed he might oversleep and be
caught.  Then his service to Pete would amount to little.  But if he
rode in at daybreak, ahead of the posse, ate and departed, leaving a
hint as to his assumed identity, he could mislead them a day longer at
least.  He built all his reasoning on the hope that the posse would
find and follow his tracks.

Under the silent stars he slept, his head on his saddle, and near him
lay Pete's black sombrero.

In the disillusioning light of morning, that which Andy had taken to be
a ranch-house dwindled to a goat-herder's shack fronted by a
brush-roofed lean-to.  Near it was a diminutive corral and a sun-faded
tent.  The old Indian herder seemed in no way surprised to see a young
rider dismount and approach cautiously--for Andy had entered into the
spirit of the thing.  He paused to glance apprehensively back and
survey the western horizon.  Andy greeted the Indian, who grunted his
acknowledgment in the patois of the plains.

"Any vaqueros ride by here this morning?" queried Andy.

The herder shook his head.

"Well, I guess I got time to eat," said Andy.

A faint twinkle touched the old Indian's eyes, but his face was as
expressionless as a dried apple.

"Si," he said.

"But not a whole lot of time," asserted Andy.

The Indian rose and fetched a pail of goat's milk and some tortillas
from the shack.  He shuffled back to his hermitage and reappeared with
a tin cup.  Andy, who meanwhile had consumed one leathery tortilla,
shook his head.  "Never mind the cup, amigo."  He tilted the pail and
drank--paused for breath, and drank again.  He set the pail down empty.
"I was some dry," he said, smiling.  "Got any more of these rawhide
flapjacks?"

The herder nodded, stooped to enter the shack, and came out with a
half-dozen of the tortillas, which Andy rolled and stuffed in his
saddle-pocket.  "Mighty good trail bread!" he said enthusiastically.
"You can't wear 'em out."

Again the herder nodded, covertly studying this young rider who did not
look like an outlaw, whose eye was clear and untroubled.  Well, what
did it matter?--a man must eat.

The old Indian had given unquestioningly from his poverty, with the
simple dignity of true hospitality.  As for who this stranger was, of
what he had done--that was none of his affair.  A man must eat.

"I'm payin' for this,"--and Andy proffered a silver dollar.

The other turned the piece round in his fingers as though hesitating to
accept it.

"Si.  But has not the senor some little money?"

"That's all right, amigo.  Keep it."

The herder shook his head, and held up two fingers.  Andy smiled.  "I
get you!  You don't aim to bank all your wealth in one lump.  Lemme
see?  All I got left is a couple of two-bit pieces.  Want 'em?"  The
herder nodded and took the two coins and handed back the dollar.  Then
he padded stolidly to the shack and reappeared, bearing a purple velvet
jacket which was ornamented with buttons made from silver quarters.  He
held it up, indicating that two of the buttons were missing.
"Muchacha," he grunted, pointing toward the south.

"I get you.  Your girl is out looking after the goats, and you aim to
kind of surprise her with a full set of buttons when she gets back.
She'll ask you right quick where you got 'em, eh?"

A faint grin touched the old Indian's mouth.  The young vaquero was of
the country.  He understood.

"Well, it beats me," said Andy.  "Now, a white man is all for the big
money.  He'd take the dollar, get it changed, and be two-bits ahead,
every time.  But I got to drift along.  Say, amigo, if any of my
friends come a-boilin down this way, jest tell 'em that Pete--that's
me--was in a hurry, and headed east.  Sabe?"

"Si."

"Pete--with the black sombrero."  Andy touched his hat.

"Si.  'Pete.'"

"Adios.  Wisht I could take a goat along.  That milk was sure
comfortin'."

The herder watched Andy mount and ride away.  Then he plodded back to
the shack and busied himself patiently soldering tiny rings on the
silver pieces, that the set of buttons for his daughter's jacket might
be complete.  He knew that the young stranger must be a fugitive,
otherwise he would not have ridden into the desert so hurriedly.  He
had not inquired about water, nor as to feed for his horse.  Truly he
was in great haste!

Life meant but three things to the old Indian.  Food, sleep, and
physical freedom.  He had once been in jail and had suffered as only
those used to the open sky suffer when imprisoned.  The young vaquero
had eaten, and had food with him.  His eyes had shown that he was not
in need of sleep.  Yet he had all but said there would be men looking
for him.

The old Indian rose and picked up a blanket.  In the doorway he paused,
surveying the western horizon.  Satisfied that no one was in sight, he
padded out to where Andy had tied his horse and swept the blanket
across the tracks in the loose sand.  Walking backwards he drew the
blanket after him, obliterating the hoof-prints until he came to a rise
where the ground was rocky.  Without haste he returned and squatted in
the shack.  He was patiently working on a silver piece when some one
called out peremptorily.

The old Indian's face was expressionless as he nodded to the posse of
cowboys.

"Seen anything of a young fella ridin' a blue roan and sportin' a black
hat?" asked Houck.

The Indian shook his head.

"He's lyin'," asserted a cowboy.  "Comes as natural as breathin' to
him.  We trailed a hoss to this here wickiup"--the hot lust of the
man-hunt was in the cowboy's eyes as he swung down--"and we aim to see
who was ridin' him!"

Houck and his three companions sat their horses as the fourth member of
the posse shouldered the old Indian aside and entered the shack.
"Nothin' in there," he said, as he reappeared, "but somebody's been
here this mornin'."  And he pointed to the imprint of a high-heeled
boot in the sand of the yard.

"Which way did he ride?" asked Houck, indicating the footprint.

The old herder shook his head.  "Quien sabe?" he grunted, shrugging his
shoulders.

"Who knows, eh?  Well, you know--for one.  And you're goin' to say--or
there'll be a heap big bonfire right here where your shack is."

Meanwhile one of the men, who had pushed out into the desert and was
riding in a circle, hallooed and waved his arm.

"He headed this way," he called.  "Some one dragged a blanket over his
trail."

The cowboy who was afoot strode up to the herder.  "We'll learn you to
play hoss with this outfit!"  He swung his quirt and struck the Indian
across the face.  The old Indian stepped back and stiffened.  His
sunken eyes blazed with hatred, but he made no sound or sign.  He knew
that if he as much as lifted his hand the men would kill him.  To him
they were the law, searching for a fugitive.  The welt across his face
burned like the sear of fire--the cowardly brand of hatred on the
impassive face of primitive fortitude!  This because he had fed a
hungry man and delayed his pursuers.

Long after the posse had disappeared down the far reaches of the
desert, the old Indian stood gazing toward the east, vaguely wondering
what would have happened to him had he struck a white man across the
face with a quirt.  He would have been shot down--and his slayer would
have gone unpunished.  He shook his head, unable to understand the
white man's law.  His primitive soul knew a better law, "an eye for an
eye and a tooth for a tooth," a law that knew no caste and was as old
as the sun-swept spaces of his native land.  He was glad that his
daughter had not been there.  The white men might have threatened and
insulted her.  If they had . . .  The old herder padded to his shack
and squatted down, to finish soldering the tiny rings on the buttons
for his daughter's jacket.




CHAPTER XVIII

THE BLACK SOMBRERO

When Andy had ridden far enough to feel secure in turning and riding
north--in fact, his plan was to work back to the Concho in a wide
circle--he reined in and dismounted.  From a low ridge he surveyed the
western desert, approximated his bearings, and had his foot in the
stirrup when he saw four tiny dots that bobbed up and down on the
distant sky-line of the west.  He had left an easy trail to follow and
the pursuers were riding hard.  They were still a long distance from
him.  He led his horse down the far side of the ridge and mounted.  He
rode straight east for perhaps a quarter of a mile.  Then he turned and
at right angles to his trail sped north behind the long, low, sandy
ridge.  He could not be seen until the posse had topped it--and even
then it was probable they would fling down the slope, following his
tracks until they came to where he had turned.  Straight ahead of him
the ridge swung to the left.  In half an hour or so he would again
cross it, which he hoped to do before he was discovered.  Once over the
ridge, he would head for the Concho.  To follow him would mean that his
pursuers would be riding directly away from Pete's trail.  Many long
desert miles lay between Andy and the Concho, but he argued that his
horse was as fresh as the horses of his pursuers.  He would give them a
good run.  If they overtook him before they reached the ranch, the most
they could do would be to curse him for misleading them.  He reasoned
that the posse was from the T-Bar-T--that at best the sheriff could not
have been advised of the shooting in time to join them.  They would
have no official right to detain him or interfere with his
progress--once they knew who he was.

A trot, a lope, then back to a swinging trot again--and as yet no
riders had appeared on the hills.  Andy was making good time.  The
crest of the ridge shimmered in the noon sun.  At this pace he would be
over and down the western side before they saw him.

When the posse finally caught sight of the man they were after far out
across the level and riding toward the west, they knew at once that he
was making for the Concho and what protection his fellows might afford
him under the circumstances.  This did not fit into their scheme.  The
man-hunt had tuned their pulses to a high pitch.  They wanted to lay
hands on Gary's slayer--to disarm him and bring him into the town of
Concho themselves--or, if he showed fight, to "get" him.  They forgot
that he was little more than a boy.  He was an enemy--and potently
dangerous.

"It's Young Pete," said a cowboy.  "I know him by that black hat."

Plying quirt and spur the posse flung down the ridge and out across the
plain below.  They would ride their quarry down before he reached the
boundary of the Concho--before he got among his friends.

Andy turned and glanced back.  They were gaining on him.  He knew that
his own horse was doing his best.  Again he glanced back.  The riders
were forcing their horses to a terrific pace that could not last long.
In a mile or so they would be close enough to use their rifles.  But
the harder they rode the better Andy liked it.  They would be in sorry
shape to make the long ride south after Pete, when they realized that
they were chasing the wrong man.  If he could get out of it without
getting shot, he would consider himself lucky.  Ahead of him lay a flat
of brushless land offering no shelter.  He hoped that his horse would
not be killed by a chance shot.  In that event his pride would force
him to retaliate, until he was either killed or captured.  He had about
made up his mind to rein up and surrender when he heard the singing
_whizz-zip_ of a bullet that sprayed sand ahead of him.  Then came the
faint _pop_ of a rifle far behind.  He pulled up, swiftly unbuckled his
belt, and hung his gun on the saddle-horn.  Then he stepped away from
his horse--an unconsciously fine thing to do--and turned toward the
distant posse.  Again came that shrill, sinister _whizz-zip_ and he was
standing bareheaded in the glaring sun as the black sombrero spun round
and settled lightly in the sand beside him.  He wisely thrust up his
hands--arguing that if the posse could see to shoot with such accuracy
they could see and possibly appreciate his attitude.  He felt outraged,
and wanted to fight.  He did not realize at the moment that his
pursuers were acting in good faith according to their viewpoint.

Meanwhile they flung toward him, spreading out fanwise in case of some
possible treachery.  Without moving a muscle Andy stood with his hands
raised, blinkingly trying to identify each individual rider.

There was Houck on his big gray cow-horse.  To the left rode Simpson,
known all over the range as Gary's close friend.  Andy half-expected to
see Cotton with the posse, but Cotton was not there.  He did not
recognize the two riders on the wings of the posse.

"Mornin', fellas!" he called as the cowboys swept up.  "What's the
idea?"

"This!" snarled Simpson as he took out his rope.

"Hold on!" cried Houck, dismounting and covering White.  "This ain't
our man!  It's young Andy White!"

"You might 'a' found that out before you started shootin'," said Andy,
lowering his hands.  "My gun's on the saddle there."

Despite the fact that it was Andy White, Houck took no chances, but
searched him.  Then, "what in hell was _your_ idea?"

"Me?  Why, I was ridin' to the Concho when one of you guys shot my hat
off.  I reckoned it was about time to pull up."

"Ridin' to the Concho, eh?  I suppose you'll say next that you got lost
and thought the Concho was over this way?"

"Nope.  I was ridin' to the Concho to report the shootin' of Steve Gary
to my boss."

Houck, who had imagined that White would disclaim any knowledge of the
shooting until forced to admit it, took a new tack.  "Where's Pete
Annersley?"

"That's jest what I was wonderin'.  Last time I see him he was fannin'
it east.  I took out after him--but I must 'a' missed him."

"That'll do to tell the sheriff.  We want to know what you know about
the shootin'-up of Steve."

"Nothin'.  I was over by the shack waiting for Pete when I thought I
heard a couple of shots.  Didn't pay no attention to that--'cause Pete
was always poppin' his gun at somethin'.  Then pretty soon Pete walks
in, and I go out with him and help him ketch his hoss.  He don't say
much--and I don't.  Then first thing I know he lights on that little
buckskin hoss of his--"

"And forgets his hat," interrupted Houck.

"Nope.  He was wearin' a hat the last I seen of him."

"And ridin' a buckskin cayuse, eh?  Now Cotton says it was a blue roan."

Andy laughed.  "That hombre Cotton's got mighty poor eyesight.  Why, he
couldn't see good enough to ketch up his own hoss.  Pete told me Cotton
set out for home afoot.  I didn't see him, but I'd take Pete's word
against Cotton's any time."

"Mebby you think we're takin' your word about Young Pete--and the
shootin'??

"Why not?"

"We can make you talk!" threatened Simpson.

"I reckon you could," said Andy easily.  "Four to one--and my gun
hangin' over there on the saddle-horn.  But suppose you did?  How are
you goin' to' know I'll talk straight or lie to you?  You ain't throwed
any big scare into me yet"--and Andy stooped and caught up his hat and
thrust his finger through the hole in the crown--"because I ain't done
nothin' to be scared about.  I ain't shot nobody and I ain't seen
nobody get shot.  Cotton could 'a' told you that."

"That's right," asserted Houck reluctantly.  "White here had nothin' to
do with the shootin'.  Cotton said that.  We lost some time trailin'
you"--Houck turned to Andy--"but we don't aim to lose any more.  Which
way did young Pete ride?"

Andy laughed.  "You would say I lied if I told you.  But I'm goin' to
tell you straight.  Young Pete took the old Ranger Trail south, through
the timber.  And I want to tell you gentlemen he was goin' like hell
a-smokin' when I seen him last.  Mebby you don't believe that?  And
there's somethin' else--that old Ranger Trail forks three times this
side of Cienegas--and she forks twice afore she crosses the line.
She's a dim trail when she's doin' her best acrost the rocks, and
they's places in her where she's as blind as a dead ox.  Water is as
scarce as cow-punchers at a camp-meetin' and they ain't no feed this
side of Showdown.  And Showdown never tore its shirt tryin' to be
polite to strangers.  I been there.  'Course, when it comes to rustlers
and cardsharps and killers--but you fellas know how that is.  I--"

"Come on, boys," said Houck, reining round.  "White here is puttin' up
a talk to hold us--and Young Pete's usin' the time."

Andy watched them ride away, a queer expression lighting his face.
"They hate like the Ole Scratch to believe me--and they are hatin'
themselves for havin' to."

He pulled off Pete's hat and turned it over, gazing at the two little
round holes curiously.  "Pete, old scout," he said, smiling
whimsically, "here's hopin' they never come closer to gettin' you than
they did to gettin' me.  Keep a-ridin'--for you sure got to be that
'Ridin' Kid from Powder River' this journey--and then some."

Andy turned the black sombrero round in his hands.  "All this here
hocus comes of the killin' of a old man that never lifted a finger
against nobody--and as game a kid as ever raked a hoss with a spur.
But one killin' always means more.  I ain't no gunman--or no killer.
But, by cracky! some of my ideas has changed since I got that hole in
my hat.  I wisht I'd 'a' rode with Pete.  I wouldn't ask nothin' better
right now than to stand back to back with him, out in the open
somewhere and let 'em come!  Because why?  Because the only law that a
man's got in this country is hisself--and if he's right, why, crossin'
over with his gun explainin' his idees ain't the worst way to go.
Anyhow, it ain't any worse than gettin' throwed from a bronc and
gettin' his neck broke or gettin' stomped out in a stampede.  Them's
just regular, common ways of goin' out.  I just wonder how Pete is
makin' it?"

Andy put on his hat, glanced at the sun, and strode to his pony.  Far
across the eastern desert he saw the posse--a mere moving dot against
the blue.  "Wolf-hungry to make a killin' because they're foolin'
themselves that they're actin' out the law!  Well, come on, Chico, old
hoss, we got to make home before sundown."




CHAPTER XIX

THE SPIDER

Where the old Ranger Trail, crossing the Blue Mesa, leaves the high
mesa and meanders off into the desert, there is a fork which leads
southwest, to the Apache country--a grim and waterless land--and
finally swings south toward the border.  Pete dismounted at this fork,
pulled up his slackened cinches, and making certain that he was leaving
a plain track, rode down the main trail for half a mile.  Then he
reined his pony to a bare spot on the grass-dotted tufa, and again
dismounted.  He looped Blue Smoke's fore feet, then threw him, and
pulled his shoes with a pair of wire nippers, and stowed the shoes in
his saddle-pockets.

He again rode directly down the trail, surmising that the occasional
track of a barefoot horse would appear natural enough should the posse,
whom he knew would follow him, split up and ride both trails.  Farther
on he again swung from the trail to the tufa, never slackening pace,
and rode across the broken ground for several miles.  He had often seen
the unshod and unbranded ponies of the high country run along a trail
for a mile or so and then dash off across the open.  Of course, if the
posse took the direct trail to the border, paying no attention to
tracks, they would eventually overtake him.  Pete was done with the
companionship of men who allowed the wanton killing of a man like
Annersley to go unpunished.  He knew that if he were caught, he would
most probably be hanged or imprisoned for the shooting of Gary--if he
were not killed in being taken.  The T-Bar-T interests ruled the
courts.  Moreover, his reputation was against him.  Ever since the raid
on Annersley's place Pete had been pointed out as the "kid who stood
off the raiders and got two of them."  And Pete knew that the very folk
who seemed proud of the fact would be the first to condemn him for the
killing of Gary.  He was outlawed--not for avenging the death of his
foster-father, but actually because he had defended his own life, a
fact difficult to establish in court and which would weigh little
against the evidence of the six or eight men who had heard him
challenge Gary at the round-up.  Jim Bailey had been right.  Men talked
too much as a usual thing.  Gary had talked too much.

Pete realized that his loyalty to the memory of Annersley had earned
him disrepute.  He resented the injustice of this, and all his old
hatred of the law revived.  Yet despite all logic of justice as against
law--he could see Gary's hand clutching against his chest, his staring
eyes, and the red ooze starting through those tense fingers--Pete
reasoned that had he not been so skilled and quick with a gun, he would
be in Gary's place now.  As it was, he was alive and had a good horse
between his knees.

To ride an unshod horse in the southern desert is to invite disaster.
Toward evening, Pete pulled up at a water-hole, straightened the nails
in the horseshoes and tacked them on again with a piece of rock.  They
would hold until he reached the desert town of Showdown--a place of
ill-repute and a rendezvous for outlawry and crime.

He rode on until he came within sight of the town--a dim huddle of low
buildings in the starlight.  He swung off the trail, hobbled his horse,
fastened his rope to the hobbles, and tied that in turn to a long,
heavy slab of rock, and turned in.  He would not risk losing his horse
in this desert land.  At best a posse could not reach Showdown before
noon the next day, and rather than blunder into Showdown at night and
take unnecessary risks, he decided to rest, and ride in at sunup, when
he would be able to see what he was doing and better estimate the
possibilities of getting food for himself and his horse and of finding
refuge in some out-of-the-way ranch or homestead.  In spite of his
vivid imaginings he slept well.  At dawn he caught up his pony and rode
into town.

Showdown boasted some fifteen or eighteen low-roofed adobes, the most
pretentious being the saloon.  These all faced a straggling road which
ran east and west, disappearing at either end of the town as though
anxious to obliterate itself in the clean sand of the desert.  The
environs of Showdown were garnished with tin cans and trash, dirt and
desolation.  Unlike the ordinary cow-town this place was not sprightly,
but morose, with an aspect of hating itself for existing.  Even the
railroad swung many miles to the south as though anxious to leave the
town to its own pernicious isolation.

The fixed population consisted of a few Mexicans and one white man,
known as "The Spider," who ran the saloon and consequently owned
Showdown body and--but Showdown had no soul.

Men arrived and departed along the several desert trails that led in
and out of the town.  These men seldom tarried long.  And they usually
came alone, perchance from the Blue, the Gila, the T-Bar-T, or from
below the border, for their business was with the border rustlers and
parasites.  Sheriffs of four counties seldom disturbed the place,
because a man who had got as far south as Showdown was pretty hard to
apprehend.  From there to the border lay a trackless desert.  Showdown
was a rendezvous for that inglorious legion, "The Men Who Can't Come
Back," renegades who when below the line worked machine guns for
whichever side of the argument promised the more loot.  Horse- and
cattle-thieves, killers, escaped convicts, came and went--ominous birds
of passage, the scavengers of war and banditry.

The Spider was lean, with legs warped by long years in the saddle.  He
was called The Spider because of his physical attributes as well as
because of his attitude toward life.  He never went anywhere, yet he
accumulated sustenance.  He usually had a victim tangled in his web.
It was said that The Spider never let a wounded outlaw die for lack of
proper attention if he considered the outlaw worth saving--as an
investment.  And possibly this was the secret of his power, for he was
ever ready to grub-stake or doctor any gentleman in need or wounded in
a desert affair--and he had had a large experience in caring for
gun-shot wounds.

Pete, dismounting at the worn hitching-rail, entered the saloon, nodded
casually to The Spider, and called for a drink.  The Spider, who always
officiated at the bar for politic reasons, aside from the selling of
liquor, noticed that the young stranger's eyes were clear and
steady--that he showed no trace of hard night-riding; yet he had
arrived in Showdown at sunup.  As Pete drank, The Spider sized up his
horse--which looked fresh.  He had already noticed that Pete's gun hung
well down and handy, and assumed correctly that it was not worn for
ornament.  The Spider knew that the drink was a mere formality--that
the stranger was not a drinking man in the larger sense.

Neither spoke until a Mexican, quite evidently in haste, rode up and
entered the saloon.  The Mexican bore the strange news that four riders
were expected to reach Showdown that day--perhaps by noon.  Then The
Spider spoke, and Pete was startled by the voice, which was pitched in
a high key yet was little more than a whisper.

The Mexican began to expostulate shrilly.  The Spider had cursed him
for a loud-mouthed fool.  Again came that sinister whisper, like the
rush of a high wind in the reeds.  The Mexican turned and silently left
the room.  When Pete, who had pretended absorption in thought, glanced
up, the Spider's eyes were fixed on Pete's horse, which had swung
around as the Mexican departed.  The Spider's deep-set eyes shifted to
Pete, who smiled.  The Spider nodded.  Interpreted this would have
read: "I see you ride a horse with the Concho brand."  And Pete's eyes
had retorted: "I sure do.  I was waiting for you to say that."

Still The Spider had not addressed his new guest nor had Pete uttered a
word.  It was a sort of cool, deliberate duel of will power.  Pete
turned his head and surveyed the long room leisurely.  The Spider
pushed the bottle toward him, silently inviting him to drink again.
Pete shook his head.  The Spider hobbled from behind the bar and moving
quickly across the room flung open the back door, discovering a patio
set with tables and chairs.  Pete nodded.

They were establishing a tentative understanding without speech.  The
test was hard for Pete.  The Spider was uncanny--though quick of
movement and shifty of eye--intensely alive withal.

As for The Spider himself, he was not displeased.  This was but a
youth, yet a youth who was not unfamiliar with the fine points of a
rendezvous.  The back door opened on a patio and the door in the wall
of the patio opened on a corral.  The corral bars opened to the
desert--Pete had almost sensed that, without seeing farther than the
patio, and had nodded his approval, without speaking.  The Spider
considered this highly commendable.

Pete knew at a glance that The Spider was absolutely without
honor--that his soul was as crooked as his badly bowed legs; and that
he called no man friend and meant it.

And The Spider knew, without other evidence than his own eyes found,
that this young stranger would not hesitate to kill him if sufficient
provocation offered.  Nor did this displease the autocrat of Showdown
in the least.  He was accustomed to dealing with such men.  Yet one
thing bothered him.  Had the stranger made a get-away that would bring
a posse to Showdown--as the Mexican had intimated?  If so the sooner
the visitor left, the better.  If he were merely some cowboy looking
for easy money and excitement, that was a different matter.  Or perhaps
he had but stolen a horse, or butchered and sold beef that bore a
neighbor's brand.  Yet there was something about Pete that impressed
The Spider more deeply than mere horse- or cattle-stealing could.  The
youth's eye was not the eye of a thief.  He had not come to Showdown to
consort with rustlers.  He was somewhat of a puzzle--but The Spider,
true to his name, was silently patient.

Meanwhile the desert sun rolled upward and onward, blazing down on the
huddled adobes, and slowly filtering into the room.  With his back to
the bar, Pete idly flicked bits of a broken match at a knot-hole in the
floor.  Tired of that, he rolled a cigarette with one hand, and
swiftly.  Pete's hands were compact, of medium size, with the finger
joints lightly defined--the hands of a conjuror--or, as The Spider
thought, of a born gunman.  And Pete was always doing something with
his hands, even when apparently oblivious to everything around him.  A
novice at reading men would have considered him nervous.  He was far
from nervous.  This was proven to The Spider's satisfaction when Malvey
entered--"Bull" Malvey, red-headed, bluff and huge, of a gaunt frame,
with large-knuckled hands and big feet.  Malvey tossed a coin on the
bar noisily, and in that one act Pete read him for what he was--a man
who "bullied" his way through life with much bluster and profanity, but
a man who, if he boasted, would make good his boast.  What appeared to
be hearty good-nature in Malvey was in reality a certain blatantly
boisterous vigor--a vigor utterly soulless, and masking a nature at
bottom as treacherous as The Spider's--but in contrast squalid and
mean.  Malvey would steal five dollars.  The Spider would not touch a
job for less than five hundred.  While cruel, treacherous, and a
killer, The Spider had nothing small or mean about him.  And subtle to
a degree, he hated the blunt-spoken, blustering Malvey, but for reasons
unadvertised, called him friend.

"Have a drink?"

"Thanks."  And Pete poured himself a noticeably small quantity.

"This is Malvey--Bull Malvey," said The Spider, hesitating for Pete to
name himself.

"Pete's my name.  I left the rest of it to home."

Malvey laughed.  "That goes.  How's things over to the Concho?"

"I ain't been there since yesterday."

The Spider blinked, which was a sign that he was pleased.  He never
laughed.

Malvey winked at The Spider.  "You ain't ridin' back that way to-day,
mebby?  I'd like to send word--"

Pete shook his head.  "Nope.  I aim to stay right here a spell."

"If you're intendin' to _keep_ that horse out there, perhaps you'd like
to feed him."  And The Spider indicated the direction of the corral
with a twist of the head.

"Which is correct," said Pete.

"Help yourself," said The Spider.

"I get you," said Pete significantly; and he turned and strode out.

"What in hell is he talkin' about?" queried Malvey.

"His horse."

Malvey frowned.  "Some smooth kid, eh?"

The Spider nodded.

Pete appreciated that his own absence was desired; that these men were
quietly curious to find out who he was--and what he had done that
brought him to Showdown.  But Malvey knew nothing about Pete, nor of
any recent trouble over Concho way.  And Pete, unsaddling his pony,
knew that he would either make good with The Spider or else he would
make a mistake, and then there would be no need for further subterfuge.
Pete surveyed the corral and outbuildings.  The whole arrangement was
cleverly planned.  He calculated from the position of the sun that it
lacked about three hours of noon.  Well, so far he had played his hand
with all the cards on the table--card for card with The Spider alone.
Now there would be a new deal.  Pete would have to play accordingly.

When he again entered the saloon, from the rear, The Spider and Malvey
were standing out in the road, gazing toward the north.  "I see only
three of them," he heard The Spider say in his peculiar, high-pitched
voice.  And Pete knew that the speech was intended for his ear.

"Nope.  Four!" said Malvey positively.

Pete leaned his elbow on the bar and watched them.  Malvey was
obviously acting his part, but The Spider's attitude seemed sincere.
"Pete," he called, "Malvey says there are four riders drifting in from
the north.  I make it three."

"You're both wrong and you got about three hours to find it out in,"
said Pete.

Malvey and The Spider glanced at one another.  Evidently Pete was more
shrewd than they had suspected.  And evidently he would be followed to
Showdown.

"It's a killing," whispered The Spider.  "I thought that it was.  How
do you size him up?"

"Pretty smooth--for a kid," said Malvey.

"Worth a blanket?" queried The Spider, which meant, worth hiding from
the law until such time as| a blanket was not necessary.

"I'd say so."

They turned and entered the saloon.  The Spider crept from the middle
of his web and made plain his immediate desire.  "Strangers are welcome
in Showdown, riding single," he told Pete.  "We aren't hooked up to
entertain a crowd.  If you got friends coming--friends that are
suffering to see you--why, you ain't here when they come.  _And you
ain't been here_.  If nobody is following your smoke, why, take your
time."

"I'll be takin' my hoss when he gits done feedin'," stated Pete.

The Spider nodded approval.  Showdown had troubles of its own.

"Malvey, did you say you were riding south?"

"Uh-huh."

"Kind of funny--but I was headin' south myself," said Pete.  "Bein' a
stranger I might git lost alone."

"Which wouldn't scare you none," guffawed, Malvey.

"Which wouldn't scare me none," said Pete.

"But a crowd of friends--riding in sudden--" suggested The Spider.

"I 'd be plumb scared to death," said Pete.

"I got your number," asserted The Spider.

"Then hang her on the rack.  But hang her on the right hook."

"One, two, or three?" queried The Spider.

"Make it three," said Pete.

The Spider glanced sharply at Pete, who met his eye with a gaze in
which there was both a challenge and a confession.  Yet there was no
boastful pride in the confession.  It was as though Pete had stated the
simple fact that he had killed a man in self-defense--perhaps more than
one man--and had earned the hatred of those who had the power to make
him pay with his life, whether he were actually guilty or not.

If this young stranger had three notches in his gun, and thus far had
managed to evade the law, there was a possibility of his becoming a
satellite among The Spider's henchmen.  Not that The Spider cared in
the least what became of Pete, save that if he gave promise of becoming
useful, it would be worth while helping him to evade his pursuers this
once at least.  He knew that if he once earned Pete's gratitude, he
would have one stanch friend.  Moreover, The Spider was exceedingly
crafty, always avoiding trouble when possible to do so.  So he set
about weaving the blanket that was to hide Pete from any one who might
become too solicitous about his welfare and so disturb the present
peace of Showdown.

The Spider's plan was simple, and his instructions to Malvey brief.
While Pete saddled his horse, The Spider talked with Malvey.  "Take him
south--to Flores's rancho.  Tell Flores he is a friend of mine.  When
you get a chance, take his horse, and fan it over to Blake's.  Leave
the horse there.  I want you to set him afoot at Flores's.  When I'm
ready, I'll send for him."

"What do I git out of it?"

"Why, the horse.  Blake'll give you a hundred for that cayuse, if I am
any judge of a good animal."

"He'll give me fifty, mebby.  Blake ain't payin' too much for any
hosses that I fetch in."

"Then I'll give you the other fifty and settle with Blake later."

"That goes, Spider."

The Spider and Malvey stepped out as Pete had it out with Blue Smoke in
front of the saloon.

"We're ridin'," said Malvey, as Pete spurred his pony to the rail.

Pete leaned forward and offered his hand to The Spider.  "I'll make
this right with you," said Pete.

"Forget it," said The Spider.

Showdown dozed in the desert heat.  The street was deserted.  The
Mexican who helped about the saloon was asleep in the patio.  The
Spider opened a new pack of cards, shuffled them, and began a game of
solitaire.  Occasionally he glanced out into the glare, blinking and
muttering to himself.  Malvey and Pete had been gone about an hour when
a lean dog that had lain across from the hitching-rail, rose, shook
himself, and turned to gaze up the street.  The Spider called to the
man in the patio.  He came quickly.  "I'm expecting visitors," said The
Spider in Mexican.  The other started toward the front doorway, but The
Spider called him back with a word, and gestured to the door back of
the bar--the doorway to The Spider's private room.  The Mexican entered
the room and closed the door softly, drew up a chair, and sat close to
the door in the attitude of one who listens.  Presently he heard the
patter of hoofs, the grunt of horses pulled up sharply, and the tread
of men entering the saloon.  The Mexican drew his gun and rested his
forearm across his knees, the gun hanging easily in his half-closed
hand.  He did not know who the men were nor how The Spider had known
that they were coming.  But he knew what was expected of him in case of
trouble.  The Spider sat directly across from the door behind the bar.
Any one talking with him would be between him and the door.

"Guess we'll have a drink--and talk later," said Houck.  The Spider
glanced up from his card-game, and nodded casually.

The sound of shuffling feet, and the Mexican knew that the strangers
were facing the bar.  He softly bolstered his gun.  While he could not
understand English, he knew by the tone of the conversation that these
men were not the enemies of his weazened master.


"Seen anything of a kind of dark-complected young fella wearin' a black
Stetson and ridin' a blue roan?" queried Houck.

"Where was he from?" countered The Spider.

"The Concho, and ridin' a hoss with the Concho brand."

"Wanted bad?"

"Yes--a whole lot.  He shot Steve Gary yesterday."

"Gary of the T-Bar-T?"

"The same--and a friend of mine," interpolated the cowboy Simpson.

"Huh!  You say he's young--just a kid?"

"Yes.  But a dam' tough kid."

"Pete Annersley, eh?  Not the Young Pete that was mixed up in that raid
a few years ago?"

"The same."

"No--I didn't see anything of him," said The Spider.

"We trailed him down this way."

The Spider nodded.

"And we mean to keep right on ridin'--till we find him," blurted
Simpson.

Houck realized that The Spider knew more than he cared to tell.
Simpson had blundered in stating their future plans, Houck tried to
cover the blunder.  "We like to get some chuck--enough to carry us back
to the ranch."

"I'm short on chuck," said The Spider.  "If you men were
deputies--sworn in regular--why, I'd have to give it to you."

Simpson was inclined to argue, but Houck stopped him.

"Guess we can make it all right," he said easily.  "Come on, boys!"

Houck, wiser than his companions, realized the uselessness of searching
farther, a fact obvious even to the hot-headed Simpson when at the edge
of the town they tried to buy provisions from a Mexican and were met
with a shrug and a reiterated "No sabe."

"And that just about settles it," said Houck as he reined his pony
round and faced north.




CHAPTER XX

BULL MALVEY

Malvey, when not operating a machine gun for Mexican bandits, was
usually busy evading a posse on the American side of the border.
Needless to say, he knew the country well--and the country knew him
only too well.  He had friends--of a kind--and he had enemies of every
description and color from the swart, black-eyed Cholas of Sonora to
the ruddy, blue-eyed Rangers of Texas.  He trusted no man--and no man
who knew him trusted him--not even The Spider, though he could have
sent Malvey to the penitentiary on any one of several counts.

Malvey had no subtlety.  He simply knew the game and possessed a
tremendous amount of nerve.  Like most red-headed men, he rode
rough-shod and aggressively to his goal.  He "bulled" his way through,
when more capable men of equal nerve failed.

Riding beside him across the southern desert, Young Pete could not help
noticing Malvey's hands--huge-knuckled and freckled--and Pete surmised
correctly that this man was not quick with a gun.  Pete also noticed
that Malvey "roughed" his horse unnecessarily; that he was a good
rider, but a poor horseman.  Pete wondered that desert life had not
taught Malvey to take better care of his horse.

As yet Pete knew nothing of their destination--nor did he care.  It was
good to be out in the open, again with a good horse under him.  The
atmosphere of The Spider's saloon had been too tense for comfort.  Pete
simply wanted to vacate Showdown until such time as he might return
safely.  He had no plan--but he did believe that Showdown would know
him again.  He could not say why.  And it was significant of Young
Pete's descent to the lower plane that he should consider Showdown safe
at any time.

Pete was in reality never more unsafe than at the present time.  While
space and a swift pony between his knees argued of bodily freedom, he
felt uneasy.  Perhaps because of Malvey's occasional covert glance at
Blue Smoke--for Pete saw much that he did not appear to see.  Pete
became cautious forthwith, studying the lay of the land.  It was a bad
country to travel, being so alike in its general aspect of butte and
arroyo, sand and cacti, that there was little to lay hold upon as a
landmark.  A faint line of hills edged the far southern horizon and
there were distant hills to the east and west.  They journeyed across
an immense basin, sun-smitten, desolate, unpromising.

"Just plain hell," said Malvey as though reading Pete's thought.

"You act like you was to home all right," laughed Pete.

Malvey glanced quickly at his companion, alive to an implied insult,
but he saw only a young, smooth-cheeked rider in whose dark eyes shone
neither animosity nor friendliness.  They jogged on, neither speaking
for many miles.  When Malvey did speak, his manner was the least bit
patronizing.  He could not quite understand Pete, yet The Spider had
seemed to understand him.  As Pete had said nothing about the trouble
that had driven him to the desert, Malvey considered silence on that
subject emanated from a lack of trust.  He wanted to gain Pete's
confidence--for the time being at least.  It would make it that much
easier to follow The Spider's instructions in regard to Pete's horse.
But to all Malvey's hints Pete was either silent or jestingly
unresponsive.  As the journey thinned the possibilities of Pete's
capture, it became monotonous, even to Malvey, who set about planning
how he could steal Pete's horse with the least risk to himself.  Aside
from The Spider's instructions Malvey coveted the pony--a far better
horse than his own--and he was of two minds as to whether he should not
keep the pony for his own use.  The Concho was a long cry from
Showdown--while the horse Malvey rode had been stolen from a more
immediate neighborhood.  As for setting this young stranger afoot in
the desert, that did not bother Malvey in the least.  No posse would
ride farther south than Showdown, and with Pete afoot at Flores's
rancho, Malvey would be free to follow his own will, either to Blake's
ranch or farther south and across the border.  Whether Pete returned to
Showdown or not was none of Malvey's affair.  To get away with the
horse might require some scheming.  Malvey made no further attempt to
draw Pete out--but rode on in silence.

They came upon the canon suddenly, so suddenly that Pete's horse shied
and circled.  Malvey, leading, put his own pony down a steep and
winding trail.  Pete followed, fixing his eyes on a far green spot at
the bottom of the canon, and the thin thread of smoke above the trees
that told of a habitation.

At a bend in the trail, Malvey turned in the saddle: "We'll bush down
here.  Friends of mine."

Pete nodded.

They watered their horses at the thin trickle of water in the canon-bed
and then rode slowly past a weirdly fenced field.  Presently they came
to a rude adobe stable and scrub-cedar corral.  A few yards beyond, and
hidden by the bushes, was the house.  A pock-marked Mexican greeted
Malvey gruffly.  The Spider's name was mentioned, and Pete was
introduced as his friend.  The horses were corralled and fed.

As Pete entered the adobe, a thin, listless Mexican woman--Flores's
wife--called to some one in an inner room.  Presently Flores's daughter
appeared, supple of movement and smiling.  She greeted Malvey as though
he were an old friend, cast down her eyes at Pete's direct gaze, and
straightway disappeared again.  From the inner room came the sound of a
song.  The young stranger with Malvey was good-looking--quite worth
changing her dress for.  She hoped he would think her pretty.  Most men
admired her--she was really beautiful in her dark, Southern way--and
some of them had given her presents--a cheap ring, a handkerchief from
Old Mexico, a pink and, to her, wonderful brush and comb.  Boca
Dulzura--or "pretty mouth" of the Flores rancho--cared for no man, but
she liked men, especially when they gave her presents.

When she came from her room, Malvey laughingly accused her of "fixing
up" because of Pete, as he teased her about her gay rebosa and her
crimson sash.  She affected scorn for his talk--but was naturally
pleased.  And the young stranger was staring at her, which pleased her
still more.

"This here hombre is Pete," said Malvey.  "He left his other name to
home."  And he laughed raucously.

Pete bowed, taking the introduction quite seriously.

Boca was piqued.  This young caballero did not seem anxious to know
her--like the other men.  He did not smile.

"Pete," she lisped, with a tinge of mockery in her voice.  "Pete has
not learned to talk yet--he is so young?"

Malvey slapped his thigh and guffawed.  Pete stood solemnly eying him
for a moment.  Then he turned to the girl.  "I ain't used to talkin' to
women--'specially pretty ones--like you."

Boca clapped her hands.  "There!  'Bool' Malvey has never said anything
so clever as that."

"Bool" Malvey frowned.  But he was hungry, and Flores's wife was
preparing supper.  Despite Boca's pretty mouth and fine dark eyes,
which invited to conversation, Pete felt very much alone--very much of
a stranger in this out-of-the-way household.  He thought of his chum
Andy White, and of Ma Bailey and Jim, and the boys of the Concho.  He
wondered what they were doing--if they were talking about him--and
Gary.  It seemed a long time since he had thrown his hat in the corner
and pulled up his chair to the Concho table.  He wished that he might
talk with some one--he was thinking of Jim Bailey--and tell him just
what there had been to the shooting.  But with these folks . . .

The shadows were lengthening.  Already the lamp on Flores's table was
lighted, there in the kitchen where Malvey was drinking wine with the
old Mexican.  Pete had forgotten Boca--almost forgotten where he was
for the moment, when something touched his arm.  He turned a startled
face to the girl.  She smiled and then whispered quickly, "It is that I
hate that 'Bool' Malvey.  He is bad.  Of what are you thinking, senor?"

Pete blinked and hesitated.  "Of my folks--back there," he said.

Boca darted from him as her mother called her to help set the table.
Pete's lips were drawn in a queer line.  He had no folks "back
there"--or anywhere.  "It was her eyes made me feel that way," he
thought.  And, "Doggone it--I'm livin'--anyhow."

From the general conversation at the table that evening Pete gathered
that queer visitors came to this place frequently.  It was a kind of
isolated, halfway house between the border and Showdown.  He heard the
name of "Scar-Face," "White-Eye," "Sonora Jim," "Tio Verdugo," a rare
assortment of border vagabonds known by name to the cowboys of the high
country.  The Spider was frequently mentioned.  It was evident that he
had some peculiar influence over the Flores household, from the
respectful manner in which his name was received by the whole family.
And Pete, unfamiliar with the goings and comings of those men, their
quarrels, friendships, and sinister escapades, ate and listened in
silence, realizing that he too had earned a tentative place among them.
He found himself listening with keen interest to Malvey's account of a
machine-gun duel between two white men,--renegades and leaders in
opposing factions below the border,--and how one of them, shot through
and through, stuck to his gun until he had swept the plaza of enemy
sharp-shooters and had then crawled on hands and knees to the other
machine gun, killed its wounded operator with a six-shooter, and turned
the machine gun on his fleeing foes, shooting until the Mexicans of his
own company had taken courage enough to return and rescue him.  "And
he's in El Paso now," concluded Malvey, "at the hospital.  He writ to
The Spider for money--and The Spider sure sent it to him."

"Who was he fightin' for?" queried Pete, interested in spite of himself.

"Fightin' for?  For hisself!  Because he likes the game.  You don't
want to git the idea that any white man is down there fightin' just to
help a lot of dirty Greasers--on either side of the scrap."

A quick and significant glance shot from Boca's eyes to her mother's.
Old Flores ate stolidly.  If he had heard he showed no evidence of it.

"'Bull' Malvey!  A darn good name for him," thought Pete.  And he felt
a strange sense of shame at being in his company.  He wondered if
Flores were afraid of Malvey or simply indifferent to his raw talk.
And Pete--who had never gone out of his way to make a friend--decided
to be as careful of what he said as Malvey was careless.  Pete had
never lacked nerve, but he was endowed with considerable caution--a
fact that The Spider had realized and so had considered him worth the
trouble of hiding--as an experiment.

After supper the men sat out beneath the vine-covered portal--Malvey
and Flores with a wicker-covered demijohn of wine between them--and
Pete lounging on the doorstep, smoking and gazing across the canon at
the faint stars of an early evening.  With the wine, old Flores's
manner changed from surly indifference to a superficial politeness
which in no way deceived Pete.  And Malvey, whose intent was plainly to
get drunk, boasted of his doings on either side of the line.  He hinted
that he had put more than one Mexican out of the way--and he slapped
Flores on the back--and Flores laughed.  He spoke of raids on the
horse-herds of white men, and through some queer perversity inspired in
his drink, openly asserted that he was the "slickest hoss-thief in
Arizona," turning to Pete as he spoke.

"I'll take your word for it," said Pete.

"But what's the use of settin' out here like a couple of dam' buzzards
when the ladies are waitin' for us in there?" queried Malvey, and be
leered at Flores.

The old Mexican grunted and rose stiffly.  They entered the 'dobe,
Malvey insisting that Pete come in and hear Boca sing.

"I can listen out here."  Pete was beginning to hate Malvey, with the
cold, deliberate hatred born of instinct.  As for old Flores, Pete
despised him heartily.  A man that could hear his countrymen called "a
dirty bunch of Greasers," and have nothing to say, was a pretty poor
sort of a man.

Disgusted with Malvey's loud talk and his raw attitude toward Boca,
Pete sat in the moon-flung shadows of the portal and smoked and gazed
at the stars.  He was half-asleep when he heard Boca tell Malvey that
he was a pig and the son of a pig.  Malvey laughed.  There came the
sound of a scuffle.  Pete glanced over his shoulder.  Malvey had his
arm around the girl and was trying to kiss her.  Flores was watching
them, grinning in a kind of drunken indifference.

Pete hesitated.  He was there on sufferance--a stranger.  After all,
this was none of his business.  Boca's father and mother were also
there . . .

Boca screamed.  Malvey let go of her and swung round as Pete stepped
up.  "What's the idee, Malvey?"

"You don't draw no cards in this deal," snarled Malvey.

"Then we shuffle and cut for a new deal," said Pete.

Malvey's loose mouth hardened as he backed toward the corner of the
room, where Boca cringed, her hands covering her face.  Suddenly the
girl sprang up and caught Malvey's arm, "No!  No!" she cried.

He flung her aside and reached for his gun--but Pete was too quick for
him.  They crashed down and rolled across the room.  Pete wriggled free
and rose.  In a flash he realized that he was no match for Malvey's
brute strength.  He had no desire to kill Malvey--but he did not intend
that Malvey should kill him.  Pete jerked his gun loose as Malvey
staggered to his feet, but Pete dared not shoot on account of Boca.  He
saw Malvey's hand touch the butt of his gun--when something crashed
down from behind.  Pete dimly remembered Boca's white face--and the
room went black.

Malvey strode forward.

Old Flores dropped the neck of the shattered bottle and stood gazing
down at Pete.  "The good wine is gone.  I break the bottle," said
Flores, grinning.

"To hell with the wine!  Let's pack this young tin-horn out where he
won't be in the way."

But as Malvey stooped, Boca flung herself in front of him.  "Pig!" she
flamed.  She turned furiously on her father, whose vacuous grin faded
as she cursed him shrilly for a coward.

Listless and heavy-eyed came Boca's mother.  Without the slightest
trace of emotion she examined Pete's wound, fetched water and washed
it, binding it up with a handkerchief.  Quite as listlessly she spoke
to her husband, telling him to leave the wine and go to bed.

Flores mumbled a protest.  Malvey asked him if he let the women run the
place.  Boca's mother turned to Malvey.  "You will go," she said
quietly.  Malvey cursed as he stepped from the room.  He could face
Boca's fury, or face any man in a quarrel, but there was something in
the deathlike quietness of the sad-eyed Mexican woman that chilled his
blood.  He did not know what would happen if he refused to go--yet he
knew that something would happen.  It was not the first time that
Flores's wife had interfered in quarrels of the border outlaws
sojourning at the ranch.  In Showdown men said that she would as soon
knife a man as not.  Malvey, who had lived much in Old Mexico, had seen
women use the knife.

He went without a word.  Boca heard him speak sharply to his horse, as
she and her mother lifted Pete and carried him to the bedroom.




CHAPTER XXI

BOCA DULZURA

Just before dawn Pete became conscious that some one was sitting near
him and occasionally bathing his head with cool water.  He tried to sit
up.  A slender hand pushed him gently back.  "It is good that you
rest," said a voice.  The room was dark--he could not see--but he knew
that Boca was there and he felt uncomfortable.  He was not accustomed
to being waited upon, especially by a woman.

"Where's Malvey?" he asked.

"I do not know.  He is gone."

Again Pete tried to sit up, but sank back as a shower of fiery dots
whirled before his eyes.  He realized that he had been hit pretty
hard--that he could do nothing but keep still just then.  The hot pain
subsided as the wet cloth again touched his forehead and he drifted to
sleep.  When he awakened at midday he was alone.

He rose, and steadying himself along the wall, finally reached the
doorway.  Old Flores was working in the distant garden-patch.  Beyond
him, Boca and her mother were pulling beans.  Pete stepped out dizzily
and glanced toward the corral.  His horse was not there.

Pete was a bit hasty in concluding that the squalid drama of the
previous evening (the cringing girl, the drunkenly indifferent father,
and the malevolent Malvey) had been staged entirely for his benefit.
The fact was that Malvey had been only too sincere in his boorishness
toward Boca; Flores equally sincere in his indifference, and Boca
herself actually frightened by the turn Malvey's drink had taken.  That
old Flores had knocked Pete out with a bottle was the one and
extravagant act that even Malvey himself could hardly have anticipated
had the whole miserable affair been prearranged.  In his drunken
stupidity Flores blindly imagined that the young stranger was the cause
of the quarrel.

Pete, however, saw in it a frame-up to knock him out and make away with
his horse.  And back of it all he saw The Spider's craftily flung web
that held him prisoner, afoot and among strangers.  "They worked it
slick," he muttered.

Boca happened to glance up.  Pete was standing bareheaded in the noon
sunlight.  With an exclamation Boca rose and hastened to him.  Young
Pete's eyes were sullen as she begged him to seek the shade of the
portal.

"Where's my horse?" he challenged, ignoring her solicitude.

She shook her head.  "I do not know.  Malvey is gone."

"That's a cinch!  You sure worked it slick."

"I do not understand."

"Well, I do."

Pete studied her face.  Despite his natural distrust, he realized that
the girl was innocent of plotting against him.  He decided to confide
in her--even play the lover if necessary--and he hated pretense--to win
her sympathy and help; for he knew that if he ever needed a friend it
was now.

Boca steadied him to the bench just outside the doorway, and fetched
water.  He drank and felt better.  Then she carefully unrolled the
bandage, washed the clotted blood from the wound and bound it up again.

"It is bad that you come here," she told him.

"Well, I got one friend, anyhow," said Pete.

"Si, I am your friend," she murmured.

"I ain't what you'd call hungry--but I reckon some coffee would kind of
stop my head from swimmin' round," suggested Pete.

"Si, I will get it."

Pete wondered how far he could trust the girl--whether she would really
help him or whether her kindness were such as any human being would
extend to one injured or in distress--"same as a dog with his leg
broke," thought Pete.  But after he drank the coffee he ceased worrying
about the future and decided to take things an they came and make the
best of them.

"Perhaps it is that you have killed a man?" ventured Boca, curious to
know why he was there.

Pete hesitated, as he eyed her sharply.  There seemed to be no motive
behind her question other than simple curiosity.  "I've put better men
than Malvey out of business," he asserted.

Boca eyed him with a new interest.  She had thought that perhaps this
young senor had but stolen a horse or two--a most natural inference in
view of his recent associate.  So this young vaquero was a boy in years
only?--and outlawed!  No doubt there was a reward for his capture.
Boca had lightly fancied Young Pete the evening before; but now she
felt a much deeper interest.  She quickly cautioned him to say nothing
to her father about the real reason for his being there.  Rather Pete
was to say, if questioned, that he had stolen a horse about which
Malvey and he had quarreled.

Pete scowled.  "I'm no low-down hoss-thief!" he flared.

Boca smiled.  "Now it is that I know you have killed a man!"

Pete was surprised that the idea seemed to please her.

"But my father"--she continued--"he would sell you--for money.  So it
is that you will say that you have stolen a horse."

"I reckon he would,"--and Pete gently felt the back of his head.  "So
I'll tell him like you say.  I'm dependin' a whole lot on you--to git
me out of this," he added.

"You will rest," she told him, and turned to go back to her work.  "I
am your friend," she whispered, pausing with her finger to her lips.

Pete understood and nodded.

So far he had done pretty well, he argued.  Later, when he felt able to
ride, he would ask Boca to find a horse for him.  He knew that there
must be saddle-stock somewhere in the canon.  Men like Flores always
kept several good horses handy for an emergency.  Meanwhile Pete
determined to rest and gain strength, even while he pretended that he
was unfit to ride.  When he _did_ leave, he would leave in a hurry and
before old Flores could play him another trick.

For a while Pete watched the three figures puttering about the
bean-patch.  Presently he got up and stepped into the house, drank some
coffee, and came out again.  He sat down on the bench and took mental
stock of his own belongings.  He had a few dollars in silver, his
erratic watch, and his gun.  Suddenly he bethought him of his saddle.
The sun made his head swim as he stepped out toward the corral.  Yes,
his saddle and bridle hung on the corral bars, just where he had left
them.  He was about to return to the shade of the portal when he
noticed the tracks of unshod horses in the dust.  So old Flores had
other horses in the canon?  Well, in a day or so Pete would show the
Mexican a trick with a large round hole in it--the hole representing
the space recently occupied by one of his ponies.  Incidentally Pete
realized that he was getting deeper and deeper into the meshes of The
Spider's web--and the thought spurred him to a keener vigilance.  So
far he had killed three men actually in self-defense.  But when he met
up with Malvey--and Pete promised himself that pleasure--he would not
wait for Malvey to open the argument.  "Got to kill to live," he told
himself.  "Well, I got the name--and I might as well have the game.
It's nobody's funeral but mine, anyhow."  He felt, mistakenly, that his
friends had all gone back on him--a condition of mind occasioned by his
misfortunes rather than by any logical thought, for at that very moment
Jim Bailey was searching high and low for Pete in order to tell him
that Gary was not dead--but had been taken to the railroad hospital at
Enright, operated on, and now lay, minus the fragments of three or four
ribs, as malevolent as ever, and slowly recovering from a wound that
had at first been considered fatal.

Young Pete was not to know of this until long after the knowledge could
have had any value in shaping his career.  Bailey, with two of his men,
traced Pete as far as Showdown, where the trail went blind, ending with
The Spider's apparently sincere assertion that he knew nothing whatever
of Peters whereabouts.

Paradoxically, those very qualities which won him friends now kept Pete
from those friends.  The last place toward which he would have chosen
to ride would have been the Concho--and the last man he would have
asked for help would have been Jim Bailey.  Pete felt that he was doing
pretty well at creating trouble for himself without entangling his best
friends.

"Got to kill to live," he reiterated.

"Como 'sta, senor?"  Old Flores had just stepped from behind the
crumbling 'dobe wall of the stable.

"Well, it ain't your fault I ain't a-furnishin' a argument for the
coyotes."

"The senor would insult Boca.  He was drunk," said Flores.

"Hold on there!  Don't you go cantelopin' off with any little ole idea
like that sewed up in your hat.  _Which_ senor was drunk?"

Flores shrugged his shoulders.  "Who may say?" he half-whined.

"Well, I can, for one," asserted Pete.  "_You_ was drunk and _Malvey_
was drunk, and the two of you dam' near fixed me.  But that don't
count--now.  Where's my hoss?"

"Quien sabe?"

"You make me sick," said Pete in English.  Flores caught the word
"sick" and thought Pete was complaining of his physical condition.

"The senor is welcome to rest and get well.  What is done is done, and
cannot be mended.  But when the senor would ride, I can find a horse--a
good horse and not a very great price."

"I'm willin' to pay," said Pete, who thought that he had already pretty
well paid for anything he might need.

"And a good saddle," continued Flores.

"I'm usin' my own rig," stated Pete.

"It is the saddle, there, that I would sell to the senor."  The old
Mexican gestured toward Pete's own saddle.

Pete was about to retort hastily when he reconsidered.  The only way to
meet trickery was with trickery.  "All right," he said indifferently.
"You'll sure get all that is comin' to you."




CHAPTER XXII

"A DRESS--OR A RING, PERHAPS"

All that day Pete lay in the shade of the 'dobe feigning indifference
to Boca as she brought him water and food, until even she was deceived
by his listlessness, fearing that he had been seriously injured.  Not
until evening did he show any sign of interest in her presence.  With
the shadows it grew cooler.  Old Flores sat in the doorway smoking.
His wife sat beside him, gazing at the far rim of the evening canon.
Presently she rose and stepped round to where Pete and Boca were
talking.  "You will go," said Boca's mother abruptly.  "Boca shall find
a horse for you."

Pete, taken by surprise,--Boca's mother had spoken just when Pete had
asked Boca where her father kept the horses,--stammered an
acknowledgment of her presence; but the Mexican woman did not seem to
hear him.  "To-night," she continued, "Boca will find a horse.  It is
good that you go--but not that you go to Showdown."

"I sure want to thank you both.  But, honest, I wouldn't know where
else to go but to Showdown.  Besides, I got a hunch Malvey was headed
that way."

"That is as a man speaks," said the senora.  "My man was like that
once--but now--"

"I'm broke--no dineros," said Pete.

"It is my horse that he shall have--" Boca began.

But her mother interrupted quietly.  "The young senor will return--and
there are many ways to pay.  We are poor.  You will not forget us.  You
will come again, alone in the night.  And it is not Malvey that will
show you the way."

"Not if I see him first, senora."

"You jest--but even now you would kill Malvey if he were here."

"You sure are tellin' Malvey's fortune," laughed Pete.  "Kin you tell
mine?"

"Again you jest--but I will speak.  You will not kill Malvey, yet you
shall find your own horse.  You will be hunted by men, but you will not
always be as you are now.  Some day you will have wealth, and then it
is that you will remember this night.  You will come again at night,
and alone--but Boca will not be here.  You will grow weary of life from
much suffering, even as I.  Then it is that you will think of these
days and many days to come--and these days shall be as wine in your old
age--"  Boca's mother paused as though listening.  "But like wine--"
and again she paused.

"Headache?" queried Pete.  "Well, I know how that feels, without the
wine.  That fortune sounds good to me--all except that about Boca.
Now, mebby you could tell me which way Malvey was headed?"

"He has ridden to Showdown."

"So that red-headed hoss-thief fanned it right back to his boss, eh?
He must 'a' thought I was fixed for good."

"It is his way.  Men spake truly when they called him the bull.  He is
big--but he is as a child."

"Well, there's goin' to be one mighty sick child for somebody to nurse,
right soon," stated Pete.

"I have said that it is bad that you ride to Showdown.  But you will go
there--and he whom men call The Spider--he shall be your friend--even
with his life."

As quietly as she came the Mexican woman departed, leaving Boca and
Pete gazing at each other in the dusk.  "She makes me afraid
sometimes," whispered Boca.

"Sounds like she could jest plumb see what she was talkin' about.  Kind
of second-sight, I reckon.  Wonder why she didn't put me wise to Malvey
when I lit in here with him?  It would 'a' saved a heap of trouble."

"It is the dream," said Boca.  "These things she has seen in a dream."

"I ain't got nothin' against your ole--your mother, Boca, but by the
way I'm feelin', she's sure due to have a bad one, right soon."

"You do not believe?" queried Boca quite seriously.

"Kind of--half.  I don't aim to know everything."

"She said you would come back," and Boca smiled.

"_That_ dream'll sure come true.  I ain't forgettin'.  But I ain't
goin' to wait till you're gone."

Boca touched Pete's hand.  "And you will bring me a present.  A
dress--or a ring, perhaps?"

"You kin jest bank on that!  I don't aim to travel where they make 'em
reg'lar, but you sure get that present--after I settle with Malvey."

"That is the way with men," pouted Boca.  "They think only of the
quarrel."

"You got me wrong, senorita.  I don't want to kill nobody.  The big
idee is to keep from gittin' bumped off myself.  Now you'd think a
whole lot of me if I was to ride off and forgit all about what Malvey
done?"

"I would go with you," said Boca softly.

"Honest?  Well, you'd sure make a good pardner."  Pete eyed the girl
with a new interest.  Then he shook his head.  "I--you'd sure make a
good pardner--but it would be mighty tough for you.  I'd do most
anything--but that.  You see, Chicita, I'm in bad.  I'm like to get
mine most any time.  And I ain't no ladies' man--nohow."

"But you will come back?" queried Boca anxiously.

"As sure as you're livin'!  Only you want to kind o' eddicate your ole
man to handle bottles more easy-like.  He ought to know what they're
made for."

"Your head--it is cool," said Boca, reaching up and touching Pete's
forehead.

"Oh, I'm feelin' fine, considerin'."

"Then I am happy," said Boca.

Pete never knew just how he happened to find Boca's hand in his own.
But he knew that she had a very pretty mouth, and fine eyes; eyes that
glowed softly in the dusk.  Before he realized what had happened, Boca
was in his arms, and he was telling her again and again that "he sure
would come back."

She murmured her happiness as he kissed her awkwardly, and quickly, as
though bidding her a hasty farewell.  But she would not let him go with
that.  "Mi amor!  Mi corazone!" she whispered, as she clasped her hands
behind his head and gently drew his mouth to hers.

Pete felt embarrassed, but his embarrassment melted in the soft warmth
of her affection and he returned her kisses with all the ardor of
youth.  Suddenly she pushed him away and rose.  Her mother had called
her.

"About twelve," whispered Pete.  "Tell your ole man I'll bush out here.
It's a heap cooler."

She nodded and left him.  Pete heard Flores speak to her gruffly.

"Somebody ought to put that ole side-of bacon in the well,"
soliloquized Pete.  "I could stand for the ole lady, all right, and
Boca sure is a lily . . . but I was forgettin' I got to ride to
Showdown to-night."




CHAPTER XXIII

THE DEVIL-WIND

As Pete lay planning his departure--he wondered if Boca would think to
find him a canteen and food for his long ride--the stars, hitherto
clear-edged and brilliant, became blurred as though an almost invisible
mist had drifted between them and the earth.  He rubbed his eyes.  Yes,
there was no mistake about it.  He was wide awake, and the sky was
changing.  That which had seemed a mist now appeared more like a fine
dust, that swept across the heavens and dimmed the desert sky.  It
occurred to him that he was at the bottom of a fairly deep canon and
that that impalpable dust meant wind, A little later he heard it,--at
first a faint, far-away sound like the whisper of many voices; then a
soft, steady hiss as when wind-driven sand runs over sand.  A hot wind
sprang up suddenly and swept with a rush down the night-walled canon.
It was the devil-wind of the desert, the wind that curls the leaf and
shrivels the vine, even in the hours when there is no sun.  When the
devil-wind drives, men lie naked beneath the sky in sleepless misery.
Horses and cattle stand with heads lowered and flanks drawn in,
suffering an invisible torture from which there is no escape.  The dawn
brings no relief--no freshening of the air.  The heat drives on--three
days--say those who know the southern desert--and no man rides the
trails, but seeks what shade may be, and lies torpid and silent--or if
he speaks, it is to curse the land.

Pete knew that this devil-wind would make old Flores restless.  He
stepped round to the doorway and asked for water.  From the darkness
within the adobe came Flores's voice and the sound of a match against
wood.  The Mexican appeared with a candle.

"My head feels queer," stated Pete, as an excuse for disturbing Flores.
"I can't find the olla--and I'm dead for a drink."

"Then we shall drink this," said Flores, fetching a jug of wine from
beneath the bench.

"Not for mine!  I'm dizzy enough, without that."

"It is the devil-wind.  One may get drunk and forget.  One may then
sleep.  And if one sleeps, it is not so bad."

Pete shook his head, but tasted the wine that Flores poured for him.
If the old man would only get drunk enough to go to sleep . . .  The
Mexican's oily, pock-marked face glistened in the flickering
candle-light.  He drank and smacked his lips.  "If one is to die of the
heat--one might as well die drunk," he laughed.  "Drink, senor!"

Pete sipped the wine and watched the other as he filled and emptied his
glass again.  "It is the good wine," said Flores.  The candle-light
cast a huge, distorted shadow of the Mexican's head and shoulders on
the farther wall.  The faint drone of the hot wind came to them from
the plains above.  The candle-flame fluttered.  Flores reached down for
the jug and set it on the table.  "All night we shall drink of the good
wine, for no man may sleep.",

"I'm with you," said Pete.  "Only I ain't so swift."

"No man may sleep," reiterated Flores, again emptying his tumbler.

"How about the women-folks?" queried Pete.

Flores waved his hand in a gesture indicative of supreme indifference
to what the "women-folks" did.  He noticed that Pete was not drinking
and insisted that he drink and refill his glass.  Pete downed the raw
red wine and presently complained of feeling sleepy.  Flores grinned.
"I do not sleep," he asserted--"not until this is gone"--and he struck
the jug with his knuckles.  Pete felt that he was in for a long
session, and inwardly cursed his luck.  Flores's eyes brightened and he
grew talkative.  He spoke of his youth in Old Mexico; of the cattle and
the women of that land.  Pete feigned a heaviness that he did not feel.
Presently Flores's talk grew disconnected; his eye became dull and his
swarthy face was mottled with yellow.  The sweat, which had rolled down
his cheeks and dripped from hia nose, now seemed to coagulate in tiny,
oily globules.  He put down a half-empty tumbler and stared at Pete.
"No man sleeps," he mumbled, as his lids drooped.  Slowly his chin sank
to his chest and he slumped forward against the table.  Pete started to
get up.  Flores raised his head.  "Drink--senor!" he murmured, and
slumped forward, knocking the tumbler over.  A dark red line streaked
the table and dripped to the floor.

Something moved in the kitchen doorway.  Pete glanced up to see Boca
staring at him.  He gestured toward her father.  She nodded
indifferently and beckoned Pete to follow her.

"I knew that you would think me a lie if I did not come," she told him,
as they stood near the old corral--Pete's impatience to be gone
evident, as he shouldered his saddle.  "But you will not ride tonight.
You would die."

"It's some hot--but I aim to go through."

"But no--not to-night!  For three days will it be like this!  It is
terrible!  And you have been ill."

She pressed close to him and touched his arm.  "Have I not been your
friend?"

"You sure have!  But honest, Boca, I got a hunch that it's time to fan
it.  'T ain't that I'm sore at your old man now--or want to leave
you--but I got a hunch somethin' is goin' to happen."

"You think only of that Malvey.  You do not think of me," complained
Boca.

"I'm sure thinkin' of you every minute.  It ain't Malvey that's
botherin' me now."

"Then why do you not rest--and wait?"

"Because restin' and waitin' is worse than takin" a chanct.  I got to
go."

"You must go?"

Pete nodded.

"But what if I will not find a horse for you?"

"Then I reckon you been foolin' me right along."

"That is not so!"  Boca's hand dropped to her side and she turned from
him.

"'Course it ain't!  And say, Boca, I'll make it through all right.  All
I want is a good hoss--and a canteen and some grub."

"I have made ready the food and have a canteen for you--in my room."

"Then let's go hunt up that cayuse."

"It is that you will die--" she began; but Pete, irritated by argument
and the burning wind that droned through the canon, put an end to it
all by dropping the saddle and taking her swiftly in his arms.  He
kissed her--rather perfunctorily.  "My little pardner!" he whispered.

Boca, although sixteen and mature in a sense, was in reality little
more than a child.  When Pete chose to assert himself, he had much the
stronger will.  She felt that all pleading would be useless.  "You have
the reata?" she queried, and turning led him past the corral and along
the fence until they came to the stream.  A few hundred yards down the
stream she turned, and cautioning him to follow closely, entered a sort
of lateral canon--a veritable box at whose farther end was Flores's
cache of horses, kept in this hidden pasture for any immediate need.
Pete heard the quick trampling of hoofs and the snort of startled
horses.

"We will drive them on into the corral," said Boca.

Pete could see but dimly, but he sensed the situation at once.  The
canon was a box, narrowing to a natural enclosure with the open end
fenced.  He had seen such places--called "traps" by men who made a
business of catching wild horses.

Several dim shapes bunched in the small enclosure, plunging and
circling as Pete found and closed the bars.

"The yellow horse is of the desert--and very strong," said Boca.

"They all look alike to me," laughed Pete.  "It's mighty dark, right
now."  He slipped through the bars and shook out his rope.  The horses
crowded away from him as he followed.  A shape reared and backed.  Pete
flipped the noose and set his heels as the rope snapped taut.  He held
barely enough slack to make the snubbing-post, but finally took a turn
round it and fought the horse up.  "Blamed if he ain't the buckskin,"
panted Pete.

The sweat dripped from his face as he bridled and saddled the half-wild
animal.  It was doubly hard work in the dark.  Then he came to the
corral bars where Boca stood.  "I'm all hooked up, Boca."

"Then I shall go back for the cantina and the food."

"I'll go right along with you.  I'll wait at the other corral."

Pete followed her and sat a nervous horse until she reappeared, with
the canteen and package of food.  The hot wind purred and whispered
round them.  Above, the stars struggled dimly through the haze.  Pete
reached down and took her hand.  She had barely touched his fingers
when the horse shied and reared.

"If Malvey he kill you--I shall kill him!" she whispered fiercely.

"I'm comin' back," said Pete.

A shadow flung across the night; and Boca.  was standing gazing into
the black wall through which the shadow had plunged.  Far up the trail
she could hear quick hoofbeats, and presently above the drone of the
wind came a faint musical "Adios!  Adios!"

She dared not call back to him for fear of waking her father, in spite
of the fact that she knew he was drugged beyond all feeling and sound.
And she had her own good reason for caution.  When Flores discovered
his best horse gone, there would be no evidence that would entangle her
or her mother in wordy argument with him for having helped the young
vaquero to leave--and against the direct commands of The Spider, who
had sent word to Flores through Malvey that Pete was to remain at the
rancho till sent for.


At the top of the canon trail Pete reined in and tried to get his
bearings.  But the horse, fighting the bit, seemed to have a clear idea
of going somewhere and in the general direction of Showdown.  "You
ought to know the trail to Showdown," said Pete.  "And you ain't tryin'
to git back home, so go to it!  I'll be right with you."

The heavy, hot wind seethed round him and he bent his head, tying his
bandanna across his nose and mouth.  The buckskin bored into the night,
his unshod hoofs pattering softly on the desert trail.  His first "fine
frenzy" done, he settled to a swinging trot that ate into the miles
ceaselessly.  Twice during the ride Pete raised the canteen and
moistened his burning throat.  Slowly he grew numb to the heat and the
bite of the whipping sand, and rode as one in a horrible dream.  He had
been a fool to ride from comparative safety into this blind furnace of
burning wind.  Why had he done so?  And again and again he asked
himself this question, wondering if he were going mad.  It had been
years and years since he had left the Flores rancho.  There was a girl
there--Boca Dulzura--or had he dreamed of such a girl?  Pete felt the
back of his head.  "No, it wa'n't a dream," he told himself.


A ghastly dawn burned into Showdown, baring the town's ugliness as it
crept from 'dobe to 'dobe as though in search of some living thing to
torture with slow fire.  The street was a wind-swept emptiness, smooth
with fine sand.  Pete rode to the hitching-rail.  The Spider's place
was dumb to his knocking.  He staggered round to the western side of
the saloon and squatted on his heels.  "Water that pony after a while,"
he muttered.  Strange flashes of light danced before his eyes.  His
head pained dully and he ached all over for lack of sleep.  A sudden
trampling brought him to his feet.  He turned the corner of the saloon
just in time to see the buckskin lunge back.  The reins snapped like a
thread.  The pony shook its head and trotted away, circling.  Pete
followed, hoping that the tangle of dragging rein might stop him.

Half-dazed, Pete followed doggedly, but the horse started to run.  Pete
staggered back to the hitching-rail, untied the end of the broken rein
and tossed it across the street.  He did not know why he did this; he
simply did it mechanically.

He was again afoot, weak and exhausted from his night's ride.  "I
reckon that ole Mexican woman--was right," he muttered.  "But I got one
pardner yet, anyhow," and his hand slid to his holster.  "You and me
ag'in' the whole dam' town!  God, it's hot."

He slumped to the corner of the saloon and squatted, leaning against
the wall.  He thought of Boca.  He could hear her speak his name
distinctly.  A shadow drifted across his blurred vision.  He glanced
up.  The Spider, naked to the waist, stood looking down at him, leanly
grotesque in the dawn light.

"You 're going strong!" said The Spider.

"I want Malvey," whispered Pete.

The Spider's lips twitched.  "You'll get some coffee and beans first.
Any man that's got enough sand to foot it from Flores here--can camp on
me _any_ time--coming or going."


"I'm workin' this case myself," stated Pete sullenly.

"You play your own hand," said The Spider.  And for once he meant it.
He could scarcely believe that Young Pete had made it across the desert
on foot--yet there was no horse in sight.  If Young Pete could force
himself to such a pace and survive he would become a mighty useful tool.

"Did Malvey play you?" queried The Spider.

"You ought to know."

"He said you were sick--down at Flores's rancho."

"Then he's here!" And Pete's dulling eyes brightened.  "Well, I ain't
as sick as he's goin' to be, Spider."




CHAPTER XXIV

"A RIDER STOOD AT THE LAMPLIT BAR"

Pete was surprised to find the darkened saloon cooler than the open
desert, even at dawn; and he realized, after glancing about, that The
Spider had closed the doors and windows during the night to shut out
the heat.

"In here," said The Spider, opening the door back of the bar.

Pete followed, groping his way into The Spider's room.  He started back
as a match flared.  The Spider lighted a lamp.  In the sudden soft glow
Pete beheld a veritable storehouse of plunder: gorgeous serapes from
Old Mexico--blankets from Tehuantepec and Oaxaca, rebosas of woven silk
and linen and wool, the cruder colorings of the Navajo and Hopi
saddle-blankets, war-bags and buckskin garments heavy with the beadwork
of the Utes and Blackfeet, a buffalo-hide shield, an Apache bow and
quiver of arrows, skins of the mountain lion and lynx, and hanging from
the beam-end a silver-mounted saddle and bridle and above it a Mexican
sombrero heavy with golden filigree.

"You've rambled some," commented Pete.

"Some.  What's the matter with your head?"

"Your friend Flores handed me one--from behind," said Pete.

The Spider gestured toward a blanket-covered couch against the wall.
"Lay down there.  No, on your face.  Huh!  Wait till I get some water."

Pete closed his eyes.  Presently he felt the light touch of fingers and
then a soothing coolness.  He heard The Spider moving about the room.
The door closed softly.  Pete raised his head.  The room was dark.  He
thought of Malvey and he wondered at The Spider's apparent solicitude.
He was in The Spider's hands--for good or ill . . .  Sleep blotted out
all sense of being.

Late that afternoon he awoke to realize that there was some one in the
room.  He raised on his elbow and turned to see The Spider gazing down
at him with a peculiar expression--as though he were questioning
himself and awaiting an answer from some outside source.

Pete stretched and yawned and grinned lazily.  "Hello, pardner!  I was
dreamin' of a friend of mine when I come to and saw"--Pete hesitated,
sat up and yawned again--"another friend that I wa'n't dreamin' about,"
he concluded.

"What makes you think I'm your friend?" queried The Spider.

"Oh, hell, I dunno," said Pete, rubbing the back of his head and
grinning boyishly.  "But there's no law ag'in' my feelin' that way, is
there?  Doggone it, I'm plumb empty!  Feel like my insides had been
takin' a day off and had come back just pawin' the air to git to work."

"Malvey's in town."

Pete's mouth hardened, then relaxed to a grin.

"Well, if he's as hungry as I am he ain't worryin' about me."

"He's got your horse."

"That don't worry me none."

"I told Malvey to get your horse from you and set you afoot at Flores'."

"And he sure made a good job of it, didn't he?  But I don't sabe your
game in hog-tyin' me down to Flores's place."

"I figured you'd be safer afoot till you kind of cooled down."

Pete tried to read The Spider's face, but it was as impersonal as the
desert itself.  "Mebby you figured to hold me there till you was good
and ready to use me," said Pete.

The Spider nodded.

"Well, there's nothin' doin'.  I ain't no killer or no hoss-thief
lookin' for a job.  I got in bad up north--but I ain't lookin' for no
more trouble.  If Malvey and me lock horns--that's my business.  But
you got me wrong if you reckon I'm goin' to throw in with your outfit.
I kin pay for what I eat a couple of times, anyhow.  But I ain't hirin'
out to no man."

"Go back in the patio and Juan will get you some chuck," said The
Spider abruptly.

"Which I'm payin' for," said Pete.

"Which you're paying for," said The Spider.

Following its usual course, the devil-wind died down suddenly at dusk
of the third day.  A few Mexicans drifted into the saloon that evening
and following them several white men up from the border.  Pete, who sat
in the patio where he could watch the outer doorway of the saloon,
smoked and endeavored to shape a plan for his future.  He was vaguely
surprised that a posse had not yet ridden into Showdown; for The Spider
had said nothing of Houck and his men, and Pete was alert to that
contingency, in that he had planned to slip quietly from the patio to
the corral at the back, in case they did ride in, estimating that he
would have time to saddle a horse and get away before they could search
the premises, even if they went that far; and he doubted that they
would risk that much without The Spider's consent.  Would The Spider
give such consent?  Pete doubted it, not because he trusted The Spider
so much, but rather because the deliberate searching of premises by a
posse would break an established precedent, observed in more than one
desert rendezvous.  That simple and eloquent statement, "Go right ahead
and search--but you'll search her in smoke," had backed down more than
one posse, as Pete knew.

Already the monotony of loafing at The Spider's place had begun to wear
on Pete, who had slept much for two days and nights, and he was itching
to do something.  He had thought of riding down and across the border
and had said so to The Spider, who had advised him against it.  During
their talk Malvey's name was mentioned.  Pete wondered why that
individual had chosen to keep from sight so long, not aware that The
Spider had sent word to Malvey, who was at Mescalero's ranch, a few
miles east of Showdown, that a posse from the Blue had ridden in and
might be somewhere in the vicinity.

Little by little Pete began to realize that his present as well as his
future welfare depended on caution quite as much as upon sheer courage.
Insidiously The Spider's influence was working upon Pete, who saw in
him a gambler who played for big stakes with a coldness and
soullessness that was amazing--and yet Pete realized that there was
something hidden deep in The Spider's cosmos that was intensely human.
For instance, when Pete had given up the idea of crossing the border
and had expressed, as much by his countenance as his speech, his
imperative need to be out and earning a living, The Spider had offered
to put him to work on his ranch, which he told Pete was of considerable
extent, and lay just north of the national boundary and well out of the
way of chance visitors.  "Cattle"--The Spider had said--"and some
horses."

Pete thought he knew about how that ranch had been stocked, and why it
was located where it was.  But then, cattle-stealing was not confined
to any one locality.  Any of the boys riding for the Blue or the Concho
or the T-Bar-T were only too eager to brand a stray calf and consider
that they were but serving their employer's interests, knowing that
their strays were quite as apt to be branded by a rival outfit.  So it
went among men supposed to be living under the law.

The Spider's proffer of work was accepted, but Pete asserted that he
would not leave Showdown until he had got his horse.

"I'll see that you get him," said The Spider.

"Thanks.  But I aim to git him myself."

And it was shortly after this understanding that Pete sat in the patio
back of the saloon--waiting impatiently for Malvey to show up, and
half-inclined to go out and look for him.  But experience had taught
Pete the folly of hot-headed haste, so, like The Spider, he withdrew
into himself, apparently indifferent to the loud talk of the men in the
saloon, the raw jokes and the truculent swaggering, with the
implication, voiced loudly by one half-drunken renegade, that the
stranger was a short-horn and naturally afraid to herd in with "the
bunch."

"He's got business of his own," said The Spider.

"That's different.  I 'poligish."

The men laughed, and the bibulous outlaw straightway considered himself
a wit.  But those who carried their liquor better knew that The
Spider's interruption was significant.  The young stranger was playing
a lone hand, and the rules of the game called for strict attention to
their own business.

Presently a Mexican strode in and spoke to The Spider.  The Spider
called to a man at one of the tables.  The noisy talk ceased suddenly.
"One," said The Spider.  "From the south."

Pete heard and he shifted his position a little, approximating the
distance between himself and the outer doorway.  Card-games were
resumed as before when a figure filled the doorway.  Pete's hand slid
slowly to his hip.  His fingers stiffened, then relaxed, as he got to
his feet.

It was Boca--alone, and smiling in the soft glow of lamplight.  The
Spider hobbled from behind the bar.  Some one called a laughing
greeting.  "It's Boca, boys!  We'll sure cut loose to-night!  When Boca
comes to town the bars is down!"

Pete heard--and anger and surprise darkened his face.  These men seemed
to know Boca too well.  One of them had risen, leaving his card-game,
and was shaking hands with her.  Another asked her to sing "La Paloma."
Even The Spider seemed gracious to her.  Pete, leaning against the
doorway of the patio, stared at her as though offended by her presence.
She nodded to him and smiled.  He raised his hat awkwardly.  Boca read
jealousy in his eye.  She was happy.  She wanted him to care.  "I
brought your saddle, senor," she said, nodding again.  The men laughed,
turning to glance at Pete.  Still Pete did not quite realize the
significance of her coming.  "Thanks," he said abruptly.

Boca deliberately turned her back on him and talked with The Spider.
She was hurt, and a little angry.  Surely she had been his good friend.
Was Pete so stupid that he did not realize why she had ridden to
Showdown?

The Spider, who had just learned why she was there, called to his
Mexican, who presently set a table in the patio.  Slowly it dawned on
Pete that Boca had made a long ride--that she must be tired and hungry.
He felt ashamed of himself.  She had been a friend to him when he
sorely needed a friend.  And of course these men knew her.  No doubt
they had seen her often at the Flores rancho.  She had brought his
saddle back--which meant that she had found the buckskin, riderless,
and fearing that something serious had happened, had caught up the pony
and ridden to Showdown, alone, and no doubt against the wishes of her
father and mother.  It was mighty fine of her!  He had never realized
that girls did such things.  Well, doggone it! he would let her know
that he was mighty proud to have such a pardner!

The Spider hobbled to the patio and placed a chair for Boca, who
brushed past Pete as though he had not been there.

"That's right!" laughed Pete.  "But say, Boca, what made _me_ sore was
the way them hombres out there got fresh, joshin' you and askin' you to
sing, jest like they had a rope on you--"

"You think of that Malvey?"

"Well, I ain't forgittin' the way he--"

Boca's eyes flashed.  "Yes!  But here it is different.  The Spider, he
is my friend.  It is that when I have rested and eaten he will ask me
to sing.  Manuelo will play the guitar.  I shall sing and laugh, for I
am no longer tired.  I am happy.  Perhaps I shall sing the song of 'The
Outlaw,' and for you."

"I'll be listenin'--every minute, Boca.  Mebby if I ain't jest
_lookin'_ at you--it'll be because--"

"Si!  Even like the caballero of whom I shall sing."  And Boca hummed a
tune, gazing at Pete with unreadable eyes, half-smiling, half-sad.  How
young, smooth-cheeked, and boyish he was, as he glanced up and returned
her smile.  Yet how quickly his face changed as he turned his head
toward the doorway, ever alert for a possible surprise.  Boca pushed
back her chair.  "The guitar," she called, nodding to The Spider.

Manuelo brought the guitar, tuned it, and sat back in the corner of the
patio.  The men in the saloon rose and shuffled to where Boca stood,
seating themselves roundabout in various attitudes of expectancy.
Pete, who had risen, recalled The Spider's terse warning, and stepped
over to the patio doorway.  Manuelo had just swept the silver strings
in a sounding prelude, when The Spider, behind the bar, gestured to
Pete.

"No, it ain't Malvey," said The Spider, as Pete answered his abrupt
summons.  "Here, take a drink while I talk.  Keep your eye on the
front.  Don't move your hands off the bar, for there's three men out
there, afoot, just beyond the hitching-rail.  There was five, a minute
ago.  I figure two of 'em have gone round to the back.  Go ahead--drink
a little, and set your glass down, natural.  I'm joshin' with you,
see!"--and The Spider grinned hideously.  "Smile!  Don't make a break
for the patio.  The boys out there wouldn't understand, and Boca might
get hurt.  She's goin' to sing.  You turn slow, and listen.  When your
back's turned, those hombres out there will step in."  The Spider
laughed, as though at something Pete had said.  "You're mighty
surprised to see 'em and you start to talk.  Leave the rest to me."

Pete nodded and lifted his glass.  From the patio came the sound of
Boca's voice and the soft strumming of the guitar.  Pete heard but
hardly realized the significance of the first line or two of the
song--and then:

  "A rider stood at the lamplit bar,
      tugging the knot of his neckscarf loose,
  While some one sang to the silver strings,
      in the moonlight patio."

It was the song of "The Outlaw."  Pete turned slowly and faced the
patio.  Manuelo swept the strings in a melodious interlude.  Boca, her
vivid lips parted, smiled at Pete even as she began to sing again.
Pete could almost feel the presence of men behind him.  He knew that he
was trapped, but he kept his gaze fixed on Boca's face.  The Spider
spoke to some one--a word of surprised greeting.  In spite of his hold
on himself Pete felt the sweat start on his lip and forehead.  He was
curious as to what these men would look like; as to whether he would
know them.  Perhaps they were not after him, but after some of the men
in the patio--

"Annersley!"

Pete swung round, his hands up.  He recognized two of the men--deputies
of Sheriff Sutton of Concho.  The third man was unknown to him.

"You're under arrest for the killing of Steve Gary."

"How's that?" queried The Spider.

"Steve Gary.  This kid shot him--over to the Blue.  We don't want any
trouble about this," continued the deputy.  "We've got a couple of men
out back--"

"There won't be any trouble," said The Spider.

"No--there won't be any trouble," asserted Pete.  "Gimme a drink,
Spider."

"No, you don't!" said the deputy.  "You got too many friends out
there," and he gestured toward the patio with his gun.

"Not my friends," said Pete.

Boca's song ended abruptly as she turned from her audience to glance in
Pete's direction.  She saw him standing with upraised hands--and in
front of him three men--strangers to Showdown.

Came the shuffling of feet as the men in the patio turned to see what
she was staring at.

"Sit still!" called The Spider.  "This ain't your deal, boys.  They got
the man they want."

But Boca, wide-eyed and trembling, stepped through the doorway.

"That's close enough!" called a deputy.

She paused, summoning all of her courage and wit to force a laugh.
"Si, senor.  But you are mistaken.  It is not that I care what you do
with _him_.  I do but come for the wine for which I have asked, but
there was no one to bring it to me,"--and she stepped past the end of
the bar into The Spider's room.  She reappeared almost instantly with a
bottle of wine.

"I will open that for you," said The Spider.

"Never mind!" said one of the deputies; "the lady seems to know how."

Boca took a glass from the counter.  "I will drink in the patio with my
friends."  But as she passed round the end of the bar and directly
beneath the hanging lamp, she turned and paused.  "But no!  I will
drink once to the young vaquero, with whom is my heart and my life."
And she filled the glass and, bowing to Pete, put the glass to her lips.

The deputy nearest Pete shrugged his shoulder.  "This ain't a show."

"Of a truth, no!" said Boca, and she swung the bottle.  It shivered
against the lamp.  With the instant darkness came a streak of red and
the close roar of a shot.  Pete, with his gun out and going, leapt
straight into the foremost deputy.  They crashed down.  Staggering to
his feet, Pete broke for the outer doorway.  Behind him the room was a
pit of flame and smoke.  Boca's pony reared as Pete jerked the reins
loose, swept into the saddle, and down the moonlit street.  He heard a
shot and turned his head.  In the patch of moonlight round The Spider's
place he saw the dim, hurrying forms of men and horses.  He leaned
forward and quirted the pony with the rein-ends.

[Illustration: "Of a truth, no!" said Boca, and she swung the bottle.]

Back in The Spider's place men grouped round a huddled something on the
floor.  The Spider, who had fetched a lamp from his room, stooped and
peered into the upturned face of Boca.  A dull, black ooze spread and
spread across the floor.

"Boca!" he shrilled, and his face was hideous.

"Did them coyotes git her?"

"Who was it?"

"Where's the kid?"

The Spider straightened and held the lamp high.  "Take her in there,"
and he gestured toward his room.  Two of the men carried her to the
couch and covered her with the folds of the serape which had slipped
from her shoulders as she fell.

"Say the word, Spider, and we'll ride 'em down!"  It was "Scar-Face"
who spoke, a man notorious even among his kind.

The Spider, strangely quiet, shook his head.  "They'll ride back here.
They were after Young Pete.  She smashed the lamp to give him a chance
to shoot his way out.  They figured he'd break for the back--but he
went right into 'em.  They don't know yet that they got her.  And he
don't know it."  He hobbled round to the back of the bar.  "Have a
drink, boys, and then I'm going to close up till--" and he indicated
his room with a movement of the head.

Young Pete, riding into the night, listened for the sound of running
horses.  Finally he pulled his pony to a walk.  He had ridden north--up
the trail which the posse had taken to Showdown, and directly away from
where they were searching the desert for him.  And as Pete rode, he
thought continually of Boca.  Unaware of what had happened--yet he
realized that she had been in great danger.  This worried him--an
uncertainty that became an obsession--until he could no longer master
it with reason.  He had ridden free from present hazard, unscratched
and foot-loose, with many hours of darkness before him in which to
evade the posse.  He would be a fool to turn back.  And yet he did,
slowly, as though an invisible hand were on his bridle-rein; forcing
him to ride against his judgment and his will.  He reasoned, shrewdly,
that the posse would be anywhere but at The Spider's place, just then.

In an hour he had returned and was knocking at the door, surprised that
the saloon was closed.

At Pete's word, the door opened.  The Spider, ghastly white in the
lamplight, blinked his surprise.

"Playin' a hunch," stated Pete.  And, "Boca here?" he queried, as he
entered.

"In there," said The Spider, and he took the lamp from the bar.

"What's the use of wakin' her?" said Pete.  "I come back--I got a
hunch--that somethin' happened when I made my get-away.  But if she's
all right--"

"You won't wake her," said The Spider, and his voice sounded strange
and far-away.  "You better go in there."

A hot flash shot through Pete.  Then came the cold sweat of a dread
anticipation.  He followed The Spider to where Boca lay on the couch,
as though asleep.  Pete turned swiftly, questioning with his eyes.  The
Spider set the lamp on the table and backed from the room.  Breathing
hard, Pete stepped forward and lifted a corner of the serape.  Boca's
pretty mouth smiled up at him--but her eyes were as dead pools in the
night.

The full significance of that white face and those dull, unseeing eyes,
swept through him like a flame.  "Pardner!" he whispered, and flung
himself on his knees beside her, his shadow falling across her head and
shoulders.  In the dim light she seemed to be breathing.  Long he gazed
at her, recalling her manner as she had raised her glass: "I drink to
the young vaquero, with whom is my heart--_and my life_."

Dully Pete wondered why such things should happen; why he had not been
killed instead of the girl, and which one of the three deputies had
fired the shot that had killed her.  But no one could ever know
that--for the men had all fired at him when the lamp crashed down--yet
he, closer to them than Boca, had broken through their blundering
fusillade.  He knew that Boca had taken a great risk--and that she must
have known it also.  And she had taken that risk that he might win free.

Too stunned and shaken to reason it out to any definite conclusion,
Pete characteristically accepted the facts as they were as he thrust
aside all thought of right or wrong and gave himself over to tearless
mourning for that which Boca had been.  That dead thing with dark,
staring eyes and faintly smiling lips was not Boca.  But where was she
then?

Slowly the lamplight paled as dawn fought through the heavy shadows of
the room.  The door swung open noiselessly.  The Spider glanced in and
softly closed the door again.

The Spider, he of the shriveled heart and body, did the most human
thing he had done for years.  At the little table opposite the bar he
sat with brandy and a glass and deliberately drank until he felt
neither the ache of his old wounds nor the sting of this fresh thrust
of fate.  Then he knew that he was drunk, but that his keen, crooked
mind would obey his will, unfeelingly, yet with no hesitation and no
stumbling.

He rose and hobbled to the outer door.  A vagrant breeze stirred the
stale air in the room.  Back in the patio his Mexican, Manuelo, lay
snoring, wrapped in a tattered blanket.  The Spider turned from the
doorway and gazed at the sanded spot on the floor, leaning against the
bar and drumming on its edge with his nervous fingers.  "He'll see her
in every night-fire when he's alone--and he'll talk to her.  He will
see her face among the girls in the halls--and he'll go cold and speak
her name, and then some girl will laugh.  He will eat out his heart
thinking of her--and what she did for him.  He's just a kid--but when
he comes out of that room . . . he won't give a damn if he's bumped off
or not.  He'll play fast--and go through every time!  God!  I ought to
know!"

The Spider turned and gazed across the morning desert.  Far out rode a
group of men.  One of them led a riderless horse.  The Spider's thin
lips twisted in a smile.




CHAPTER XXV

"PLANTED--OUT THERE"

Malvey, loafing at the ranch of Mescalero, received The Spider's
message about the posse with affected indifference.  He had Pete's
horse in his possession, which in itself would make trouble should he
be seen.  When he learned from the messenger that Young Pete was in
Showdown, he fumed and blustered until evening, when he saddled Blue
Smoke and rode south toward the Flores rancho.  From Flores's place he
would ride on south, across the line to where he could always find
employment for his particular talents.  Experience had taught him that
it was useless to go against The Spider, whose warning, whether it were
based on fact or not, was a hint to leave the country.

The posse from Concho, after circling the midnight desert and failing
to find any trace of Pete, finally drew together and decided to wait
until daylight made it possible to track him.  As they talked together,
they saw a dim figure coming toward them.  Swinging from their course,
they rode abruptly down a draw.  Four of them dismounted.  The fifth,
the chief deputy, volunteered to ride out and interview the horseman.
The four men on foot covered the opening of the draw, where the trail
passed, and waited.

The deputy sat his horse, as though waiting for some one.  Malvey at
once thought of Young Pete--then of The Spider's warning--and finally
that the solitary horseman might be some companion from below the
border, cautiously awaiting his approach.  Half-inclined to ride wide,
he hesitated--then loosening his gun he spurred his restless pony
toward the other, prepared to "bull" through if questioned too closely.

Within thirty feet of the deputy Malvey reined in.  "You're ridin'
late," he said, with a forced friendliness in his voice.

"This the trail to Showdown?" queried the deputy.

"This is her.  Lookin' for anybody in particular?"

"Nope.  And I reckon nobody is lookin' for me.  I'm ridin my own horse."

It was a chance shot intended to open the way to a parley--and identify
the strange horseman by his voice, if possible.  It also was a
challenge, if the unknown cared to accept it as such.  Malvey's slow
mind awakened to the situation.  A streak of red flashed from his hand
as he spurred straight for the deputy, who slipped from his saddle and
began firing over it, shielded by his pony.  A rifle snarled in the
draw.  Malvey jerked straight as a soft-nosed slug tore through him.
Another slug shattered his thigh.  Cursing, he lunged sideways, as Blue
Smoke bucked.  Malvey toppled and fell--an inert bulk in the dim light
of the stars.

The chief deputy struck a match and stooped.  "We got the wrong man,"
he called to his companions.

"It's Bull Malvey," said one of the deputies as the match flickered
out.  "I knew him in Phoenix."

"Heard of him.  He was a wild one," said another deputy.

"Comin' and goin'!  One of The Spider's bunch, and a hoss-thief right!
I reckon we done a good job."

"He went for his gun," said the chief.

"We had him covered from the start," asserted a deputy.  "He sure won't
steal no more hosses."

"Catch up his cayuse," commanded the chief deputy.

Two of them, after a hard ride, finally put Blue Smoke within reach of
a rope.  He was led back to where Malvey lay.

"Concho brand!" exclaimed the chief.

"Young Pete's horse," asserted another.

"There'll be hell to pay if Showdown gets wise to what happened to Bull
Malvey," said the deputy, who recognized the dead outlaw.

Dawn was just breaking when the chief deputy, disgusted with what he
termed their "luck," finally evolved a plan out of the many discussed
by his companions.  "We got the cayuse--which will look good to the
T-Bar-T boys.  We ain't down here for our health and we been up against
it from start to finish--and so far as I care, this is the finish.  Get
it right afore we start.  Young Pete is dead.  We got his horse."  He
paused and glanced sharply at Blue Smoke.  "He's got the Concho brand!"
he exclaimed.

"Young Pete's horse was a blue roan," said a deputy.  "I guess this is
him--blue roan with a white blaze on his nose--so Cotton told me."

"Looks like it!" said the chief deputy.  "Well, say we got his horse,
then.  We're in luck for once."

"Now it's easy diggin' down there in the draw.  And it's gettin'
daylight fast.  I reckon that's Malvey's saddle and bridle on the blue
roan.  We'll just cover up all evidence of who was ridin' this hoss,
drift into Showdown and eat, and then ride along up north and collect
that reward.  We'll split her even--and who's goin' to say we didn't
earn it?"

"Suits me," said a deputy.  His companions nodded.

"Then let's get busy.  The sand's loose here.  We can drag a blanket
over this--and leave the rest to the coyotes."

They scraped a long, shallow hole in the arroyo-bed and buried Malvey
along with his saddle and bridle.


The Spider smiled as he saw them coming.  He was still smiling as he
watched them ride up the street and tie their tired ponies to the
hitching-rail.  He identified the led horse as the one Malvey had
stolen from Pete.

"I see you got him," he said in his high-pitched voice.

The chief deputy nodded.  "He's planted--out there."

"I meant the horse," said The Spider.

Ordinarily, The Spider was a strange man.  The posse thought him
unusually queer just then.  His eyes seemed dulled with a peculiar
faint, bluish film.  His manner was over-deliberate.  There was
something back of it all that they could not fathom.  Moreover, the
place was darkened.  Some one had hung blankets over the windows.  The
deputies--four of them--followed The Spider into the saloon.

"I guess you boys want to eat," said The Spider.

"We sure do."

"All right.  I'll have Manuelo get you something."  And he called to
the Mexican, telling him to place a table in the private room--The
Spider's own room, back of the bar.  While the Mexican prepared
breakfast, the posse accepted their chief's invitation to have a drink,
which they felt they needed.  Presently The Spider led the way to his
room.  The deputies, somewhat suspicious, hesitated on the threshold as
they peered in.  A lamp was burning on the table.  There were plates,
knives and forks, a coffee-pot, a platter of bacon . . .  Beyond the
lamp stood Young Pete, his back toward the couch and facing them.  His
eyes were like the eyes of one who walks in his sleep.

The Spider held up his hand.  "You're planted--out there.  These
gentlemen say so.  So you ain't here!"

Pete's belt and gun lay on the floor.  The Spider was in his
shirt-sleeves and apparently unarmed.

The chief deputy sized up the situation in a flash and pulled his gun.
"I guess we got you--this trip, Pete."

"No," said The Spider.  "You're wrong.  He's planted--out there.  What
you staring at, boys?  Pete, stand over there.  Come right in, boys!
Come on in!  I got something to show you."

"Watch the door, Jim," said the chief.  "Ed, you keep your eye on The
Spider."  The chief deputy stepped to the table and peered across it at
a huddled something on the couch, over which was thrown a shimmering
serape.  He stepped round the table and lifted a corner of the serape.
Boca's sightless eyes stared up at him.

"Christ!" he whispered.  "It's the girl!"  And even as he spoke he knew
what had happened--that he and his men were responsible for this.  His
hand shook as he turned toward The Spider.

"She--she ran into it when she--  It's pretty tough, but--"

"Your breakfast is waiting," said The Spider.

"This was accidental," said the deputy, recovering himself, and
glancing from one to another of his men.  Then he turned to Pete.
"Pete, you'll have to ride back with us."

"No," said The Spider with a peculiar stubborn shrug of his shoulders.
"He's planted out there.  You said so."

"That's all right, Spider.  We made a mistake.  This is the man we
want."

"Then who is planted out there?" queried The Spider in a soft,
sing-song voice, high-pitched and startling.

"That's our business," stated the deputy.

"No--mine!"  The Spider glanced past the deputy, who turned to face a
Mexican standing in the doorway.  The Mexican's hands were held belt
high and they were both "filled."

"Get the first man that moves," said The Spider in Mexican.  And as he
spoke his own hand flashed to his armpit, and out again like the stroke
of a snake.  Behind his gun gleamed a pair of black, beady eyes, as
cold as the eyes of a rattler.  The deputy read his own doom and the
death of at least two of his men should he move a muscle.  He had Young
Pete covered and could have shot him down; Pete was unarmed.  The
deputy lowered his gun.

Pete blinked and drew a deep breath.  "Give me a gun, Spider--and we'll
shoot it out with 'em, right here."

The Spider laughed.  "No.  You're planted out there.  These gents say
so.  I'm working this layout."

"Put up your gun, Ed," said the chief, addressing the deputy who had
The Spider covered.  "He's fooled us, proper."

"Let 'em out, one at a time," and The Spider gestured to the Mexican,
Manuelo.  "And tell your friends," he continued, addressing the chief
deputy, "that Showdown is run peaceful _and that I run her_."

When they were gone The Spider turned to Pete.  "Want to ride back to
Concho?"

Pete, who had followed The Spider to the saloon, did not seem to hear
the question.  Manuelo was already sweeping out with a broom which he
had dipped in a water-bucket--as casually busy as though he had never
had a gun in his hand.  Something in the Mexican's supreme indifference
touched Pete's sense of humor.  He shrugged his shoulders.

"Who's goin' to tell her father?" he queried, gesturing toward the
inner room.

"He knows," said The Spider, who stood staring at the Mexican.

"You're drunk," said Pete.

"Maybe I'm drunk," echoed The Spider.  "But I'm her father."

Pete stepped forward and gazed into The Spidery scarred and lined face.
"Hell!"  Then he thrust out his hand.  "Spider, I reckon I'll throw in
with you."




CHAPTER XXVI

THE OLLA

The Spider's system of bookkeeping was simple, requiring neither pen
nor paper, journal nor day-book.  He kept a kind of mental loose-leaf
ledger with considerable accuracy, auditing his accounts with
impartiality.  For example, Scar-Face and three companions just up from
the border recently had been credited with twenty head of Mexican
cattle which were now grazing on The Spider's border ranch, the Olla.
Scar-Face had attempted to sell the cattle to the leader of a Mexican
faction whose only assets at the time were ammunition and hope.
Scar-Face had met this chieftain by appointment at an abandoned
ranch-house.  Argument ensued.  The Mexican talked grandiloquently of
"Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality."  Scar-Face held out for cash.  The
Mexican leader needed beef.  Scar-Face needed money.  As he had rather
carelessly informed the Mexican that he could deliver the cattle
immediately, and realizing his mistake,--for he knew that the Mexican
would straightway summon his retainers and take the cattle in the name
of "Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality,"--Scar-Face promptly shot this
self-appointed savior of Mexico, mortally wounded one of his two
companions, and finally persuaded the other to help drift the cattle
north with a promise of a share of the profits of the enterprise.

The surviving Mexican rode to Showdown with Scar-Face and his
companions, received his share of the sale in cash,--which he
squandered at The Spider's place,--and straightway rode back across the
border to rejoin his captainless comrades and appoint himself their
leader, gently insinuating that he himself had shot the captain whom he
had apprehended in the treachery of betraying them to a rival
aggregation of ragged Liberties, Fraternities, and Equalities.

The Spidery mental ledger read: "Scar-Face--Debit, chuck, liquor, and
lodging"--an account of long standing--"and forty dollars in cash.
Credit--twenty head of cattle, brand unknown."

Scar-Face's account was squared--for the time being.

Pete was also on The Spider's books, and according to The Spider's
system of accounts, Pete was heavily in debt to him.  Not that The
Spider would have ever mentioned this, or have tried to collect.  But
when he offered Pete a job on his ranch he shrewdly put Pete in the way
of meeting his obligations.

Cattle were in demand, especially in Mexico, so ravaged by lawless
soldiery that there was nothing left to steal.  One outlaw chieftain,
however, was so well established financially that his agents were able
to secure supplies from a mysterious source and pay for them with gold,
which also came from an equally mysterious source--and it was with
these agents that The Spider had had his dealings.  His bank account in
El Paso was rolling up fast.  Thus far he had been able to supply beef
to the hungry liberators of Mexico; but beef on the hoof was becoming
scarce on both sides of the border.  Even before Pete had come to
Showdown, The Spider had perfected a plan to raid the herds of the
northern ranches.  Occasional cowboys drifting to Showdown had given
him considerable information regarding the physical characteristics of
the country roundabout these ranches, the water-holes, trails, and
grazing.

The Spider knew that he could make only one such raid, with any chance
of success.  If he made a drive at all, it would be on a big scale.
The cattlemen would eventually trail the first stolen herd to his
ranch.  True, they would not find it there.  He would see to it that
the cattle were pushed across the border without delay.  But a second
attempt would be out of the question.  The chief factor in the success
of the scheme would be the prompt handling of the herd upon its
arrival.  He had cowboys in his employ who would steal the cattle.
What he needed was a man whom he could rely upon to check the tally and
turn the herd over to the agents of the Mexican soldiery and collect
the money on the spot, while his cowboys guarded the herd from a
possible raid by the Mexicans themselves.  He knew that should the
northern ranchmen happen to organize quickly and in force, they would
not hesitate to promptly lynch the raiders, burn his buildings, take
all his horses worth taking, and generally put the ranch out of
business.

Thus far the ranch had paid well as a sort of isolated clearing-house
for The Spider's vicarious accounts.  The cowboys who worked there were
picked men, each of whom received a straight salary, asked no
questions, and rode with a high-power rifle under his knee and a keen
eye toward the southern ranches.

Pete, riding south, bore an unsigned letter from The Spider, with
instructions to hand it to the foreman of "The Olla" and receive
further instructions from that gentleman.  Pete knew nothing of the
contemplated raid, The Spider shrewdly surmising that Pete would balk
at the prospect of stealing cattle from his own countrymen.  And it was
because of this very fact that The Spider had intrusted Pete--by letter
to the foreman--with the even greater responsibility of receiving the
money for the cattle and depositing it in a certain bank in El Paso.
Heretofore, such payments had been made to The Spider's representative
in that city--the president of the Stockmen's Security and Savings
Bank--who had but recently notified The Spider that he could no longer
act in the capacity of agent on account of local suspicion, already
voiced in the current newspapers.  Hereafter The Spider would have to
deal directly with the Mexican agents.  And The Spider unhesitatingly
chose Pete as his representative, realizing that Pete was shrewdly
capable, fearless, and to be trusted.

Toward evening of the third day out of Showdown, Pete came upon a most
unexpected barrier to his progress--a wire fence stretching east and
west; a seemingly endless succession of diminishing posts.  He
estimated that there must he at least forty thousand acres under fence.
According to location, this was The Spider's ranch--the Olla--Pete
reined around and rode along the fence for a mile or so, searching for
a gateway; but the taut barbed wire ran on and on, toward a sun that
was rounding swiftly down to the western horizon.  He dismounted and
pulled the staples from several lengths of wire until he had enough
slack to allow the top wire to touch the ground.  He stood on the wires
and jockeyed Blue Smoke across, tied him to a post, and tacked the wire
back in place.

Headed south again, he had just passed a clump of chaparral when up
from the draw came a tall, muscular cowboy, riding a big horse--and a
fast one, thought Pete.

"Evenin'," drawled the cowboy--a slow-speaking Texan, who was evidently
waiting for Pete to explain his presence.

"How!--Is this here the Olla ranch?"

"One end of her."

"I'm lookin' for the foreman."

"What name did you say?"

"I didn't say."

"What's your business down this way?" queried the cowboy.

"It's mine.  I dunno as it's any of yours."

"So?  Now, that's mighty queer!  Lookin' for the fo'man, eh?  Well, go
ahead and look--they's plenty of room."

"Too much," laughed Pete.  "Beckon I got to bush here and do my huntin'
in the mornin'--only"--and Pete eyed the other significantly--"I kind
of hate to bush on the ground.  I was bit by a spider onct--"

"A spider, eh?  Now that's right comical.  What kind of a spider was it
that bit you?"

"Trap-door spider.  Only this here one was always home."

"So?" drawled the Texan.  "Now, that's right funny.  I was bit by a
rattler once.  Got the marks on my arm yet."

"Well, if it comes to a showdown, that there spider bite--"

"The ranch-house is yonder," said the Texan.  "Just you ride along the
way you're headed.  That's a pretty horse you're settin' on.  If it
wa'n't so dark I'd say he carried the Concho brand."

"That's him," said Pete.

"He's a long jump from home, friend."

"And good for twice that distance, neighbor."

"You sure please me most to death," drawled the Texan.

"Then I reckon you might call in that there coyote in the brush over
there that's been holdin' a gun on me ever since we been talkin',"--and
Pete gestured with his bridle hand toward the clump of chaparral.

"Sam," called the Texan, "he says he don't like our way of welcomin'
strangers down here.  He's right friendly, meetin' one man at a
time--but he don't like a crowd, nohow."

A figure loomed in the dusk--a man on foot who carried a rifle across
his arm.  Pete could not distinguish his features, but he saw that the
man was tall, booted and spurred, and evidently a line-rider with the
Texan.

"This here young stinging-lizard says he wants to see the fo'man, Sam.
Kin you help him out?"

"Go ahead and speak your piece," said the man with the rifle.

"She's spoke," said Pete.

"I'm the man you're huntin'," asserted the other.

"You foreman?"

"The same."

"Thought you was jest a hand--ridin' fence, mebby."  And as Pete spoke
he rolled a cigarette.  His pony shied at the flare of the match, but
Pete caught an instant glimpse of a lean-faced, powerfully built man of
perhaps fifty years or more who answered The Spider's description of
the foreman.  "I got a letter here for Sam Brent, foreman of the Olla,"
said Pete.

"Now you're talkin' business."

"His business," laughed the Texan.

"Nope--The Spider's," asserted Pete.

"Your letter will keep," said the foreman.  "Ed, you drift on along
down the fence till you meet Harper.  Tell him it's all right."  And
the foreman disappeared in the dusk to return astride a big cowhorse.
"We'll ride over to the house," said he.

Pete estimated that they had covered three or four miles before the
ranch-buildings came in sight--a dim huddle of angles against the
starlit sky.  To his surprise the central building was roomy and
furnished with a big table, many chairs, and a phonograph, while the
floor was carpeted with Navajo blankets, and a big shaded hanging lamp
illumined the table on which were scattered many dog-eared magazines
and a few newspapers.  Pete had remarked upon the stables while turning
his own horse into the corral.  "We got some fast ones," was all that
the foreman chose to say, just then.

Pete and the foreman had something to eat in the chuck-house, and
returned to the larger building.  Brent read The Spider's letter,
rolled the end of his silver-gray mustache between his thumb and
forefinger, and finally glanced up.  "So, you're Pete Annersley?"

"That's my name."

"Have a chair.  You're right young to be riding alone.  How did you
come to throw in with The Spider?"

Pete hesitated.  Why should he tell this man anything other than that
he had been sent by The Spider with the letter which--he had been
told--would explain his presence and embody his instructions?

"Don't he say in that letter?" queried Pete.

"He says you were mixed up in a bank robbery over to Enright," stated
the foreman.

"That's a dam' lie!" flared Pete.

"I reckon you'll do," said Brent, as he folded the letter.  The Spider
had made that very statement in his letter to Brent for the purpose of
finding out, through the foreman, whether or not Pete had taken it upon
himself to read the letter before delivering it.  And Brent, aware of
The Spider's methods, realized at once why his chief had misstated the
facts.  It was evident that Pete had not read the letter, otherwise he
would most probably have taken his cue from The Spider's assertion
about the bank robbery and found himself in difficulties, for directly
after the word "Enright" was a tiny "x"--a code letter which meant
"This is not so."

"Reckon I'll do what?" queried Pete.  "Let The Spider or anybody like
him run a whizzer on me after I run a good hoss ragged to git here with
his doggone letter--and then git stuck up like I was a hoss-thief?  You
got another guess, uncle."

The old cowman's eyes twinkled.  "You speak right out in meetin', don't
you, son?"  His drawl was easy and somehow reminded Pete of Pop
Annersley.  "Now there's some wouldn't like that kind of talk--even
from a kid."

"I'd say it to The Spider as quick as I would to you," asserted Pete.

"Which might be takin' a chance, both ways."

"Say"--and Pete smiled--"I guess I been talkin' pretty fast, I was some
het up.  The Spider used me as white as he could use anybody, I reckon.
But ever since that killin' up to his place, I been sore at the whole
doggone outfit runnin' this here world.  What does a fella git, anyhow,
for stickin' up for himself, if he runs against a killer?  He gits
bumped off--or mebby he kills the other fella and gits run out of the
country or hung.  Pardners stick, don't they?  Well, how would it git
you if you had a pardner that--well, mebby was a girl and she got
killed by a bunch of deputies jest because she was quick enough to
spoil their game?  Would you feel like shakin' hands with every doggone
hombre you met up with, or like tellin' him to go to hell and sendin'
him there if he was lookin to argue with you?  I dunno.  Mebby I'm
wrong--from the start--but I figure all a fella gits out of this game
is a throwdown, comin' or goin'--'for the deck is stacked and the wheel
is crooked."

"I was fifty-six last February," said Brent.

"And how many notches you got on your gun?" queried Pete.

"Oh, mebby two, three," drawled the foreman.

"That's it!  Say you started in callin' yourself a growed man when you
was twenty.  Every ten years you had to hand some fella his finish to
keep from makin' yours.  'Got to kill to live,' is right!"

"Son, you got a good horse, and yonder is the whole State of Texas,
where a man can sure lose himself without tryin' hard.  There's plenty
of work down there for a good cow-hand.  And a man's name ain't printed
on his face.  Nobody's got a rope on you."

"I git you," said Pete.  "But I throwed in with The Spider--and that
goes."

"That's your business--and as you was sayin' your business ain't mine.
But throwin' a fast gun won't do you no good round here."

"Oh, I don't claim to be so doggone fast," stated Pete.

"Faster than Steve Gary?"

Pete's easy glance centered to a curious, tense gaze which was fixed on
the third button of Brent's shirt.  "What about Steve Gary?" asked
Pete, and even Brent, old hand as he was, felt the sinister
significance in that slow question.  The Spider's letter had said to
"give him a try-out," which might have meant almost anything to a
casual reader, but to Brent it meant just what he had been doing that
evening--seeking for a weak spot in Pete's make-up, if there were such,
before hiring him.

"My gun is in the bedroom," said Brent easily.

"Well, Gary's wasn't," said Pete.

"We ain't had a gun-fight on this ranch since I been foreman," said
Brent.  "And we got some right fast men, at that.  Seein' you're goin'
to work for me a spell, I'm goin' to kind of give you a line on things.
You can pick your own string of horses--anything that you can get your
rope on that ain't branded 'J.E.', which is pet stock and no good at
workin' cattle.  You met up with Ed Brevoort this evenin'.  Well, you
can ride fence with Ed and he'll show you the high spots and
hollows--and the line--south.  If you run onto any strangers ridin' too
close to the line, find out what they want.  If you can't find out, get
word to me.  That goes for strangers.  But if you get to arguin' with
any of my boys--talk all you like--but don't start a smoke--_for you
won't get away with it_.  The Spider ain't payin' guns to shoot up his
own outfit.  If you're lookin' for real trouble, all you got to do is
to ride south acrost the line--and you'll find it.  And you're gettin'
a straight hundred a month and your keep as long as you work for the
Olla."

"Which is some different from takin' my hoss and fannin' it easy for
Texas," said Pete, grinning.

"Some different," said Brent.




CHAPTER XXVII

OVER THE LINE

Few cattle grazed across the Olla's well-fenced acres--and these cattle
were of a poor strain, lean Mexican stock that would never run into
weight as beef.  Pete had expected to see many cattle--and much work to
be done.  Instead, there were few cattle; and as for work--he had been
put to riding line with big Ed Brevoort.  For two weeks he had done
nothing else.  Slowly it dawned upon Pete that The Spider's ranch was
little more than a thoroughfare for the quick handling of occasional
small bands of cattle from one questionable owner to another.  He saw
many brands, and few of them were alike, and among them none that were
familiar.  Evidently the cattle were from the south line.  The
saddle-stock was branded "J.E." and "The Olla."  These brands appeared
on none of the cattle that Pete had seen.  About a month after his
arrival, and while he was drifting slowly along the fence with
Brevoort, Pete caught sight of a number of horsemen, far out beyond the
ranch-line, riding slowly toward the north.  He spoke to Brevoort, who
nodded.  "We're like to be right busy soon."

Brevoort and Pete rode to the ranch-house that evening to get supplies
for their line shack.  The place was all but deserted.  The cook was
there--and the Mexican Jose who looked after the "fast ones" in the
stables; but Brent, Harper, Sandy Bell, and the rest of the men were
gone.  Pete thought of the horsemen that he had seen--and of Brevoort's
remark, that they would "be right busy soon."  Pete wondered how soon,
and how busy.

The day after the departure of the men, Brevoort told Pete that they
would take turn about riding the north line, in an eight-hour shift,
and he cautioned Pete to be on the lookout for a messenger riding a bay
horse--"Not a cow-horse, but a thoroughbred."

This was at the line shack.

Several nights later, as Pete was riding his line, he noticed that Blue
Smoke occasionally stopped and sniffed, and always toward the north.
Near the northwestern angle of the fence, Pete thought he could hear
the distant drumming of hoofs.  Blue Smoke fretted and fought the bit.
Pete dismounted and peered into the darkness.  The rhythmic stride of a
running horse came to him--not the quick patter of a cow-pony, but the
long, sweeping stride of a racer.

Then out of the night burst a rider on a foam-flecked horse that reared
almost into the gate, which Pete unlooped and dragged back.

"That you, Brevoort?" called the horseman.

"He's at the shack," Pete shouted, as the other swept past.

"Looks like we're goin' to be right busy," reflected Pete as he swung
to the saddle.  "We'll jest jog over to the shack and report."

When he arrived at the line shack, Brevoort was talking with the
hard-riding messenger.  Near them stood the thoroughbred, his flanks
heaving, his neck sweat-blackened, his sides quivering with fatigue.
He had covered fifty miles in five hours.

"--and countin' the Concho stuff--I'd say something like two hundred
head," the messenger was saying.  "Brent'll be in to-morrow, long 'bout
noon.  So far, she worked slick.  No trouble and a show of gettin'
through without any trouble.  Not much young stock, so they're drivin'
fast."

Brevoort turned to Pete.  "Take this horse over to the corral.  Tell
Moody that Harper is in, and that the boys will be here in a couple of
days.  He'll know what to do."

Pete rode at a high lope, leading the thoroughbred, and wondering why
the messenger had not gone on to the corral.  Moody, the cook, a
grizzled, heavy-featured man, too old for hard riding, expressed no
surprise at Pete's message, but awakened the Mexican stableman and told
him to fetch up a "real one," which the Mexican did with alertness,
returning to the house leading another sleek and powerful thoroughbred.
"Take him over to the shack," said Moody.  "Harper wants him."  And he
gave Pete a package of food which he had been preparing while the
Mexican was at the stable.

When Pete returned to the line shack he found Brevoort sitting in the
doorway smoking, and the messenger asleep on the ground, his head on
his saddle.

"Here's your horse," said Brevoort, "and some chuck."

Harper sat up quickly, too quickly for a man who had ridden as far as
he had.  Pete wondered at the other's hardihood and grit, for Harper
was instantly on his feet and saddling the fresh horse, and
incidentally cursing the Olla, Brent, and the universe in general, with
a gusto which bespoke plenty of unspoiled vigor.

"Tell Brent the coast is clear," said Brevoort as Harper mounted.

They could hear his horse getting into his stride long before the sound
of his hoofbeats was swallowed up in the abyss of the night.

Pete turned in.  Brevoort rode out to drift along the line fence until
daylight.

And Pete dreamed strange dreams of night-riders who came and went
swiftly and mysteriously; and of a dusty, shuffling herd that wound its
slow way across the desert, hazed by a flitting band of armed riders
who continually glanced back as though fearful of pursuit.  Suddenly
the dream changed.  He was lying on a bed in a long, white-walled room,
dimly lighted by a flickering gas-jet, and Boca stood beside him gazing
down at him wistfully.  He tried to speak to her, but could not.  Nor
did she speak to him, but laid her hand on his forehead, pressing down
his eyelids.  Her hand was dry and hot.  Pete tried to open his
eyes--to raise his hand, to speak.  Although his eyes were closed and
Boca's hot hand was pressed down on them, Pete knew that round-about
was a light and warmth of noonday . . .  Boca's hand drew back--and
Pete lay staring straight into the morning sun which shone through the
open doorway.  In the distance he could see Brevoort riding slowly
toward him.  Pete raised on his elbow and threw back the blankets.  As
he rose and pulled on his overalls he thought of the messenger.  He
knew that somewhere back on the northern trail the men of the Olla were
pushing a herd of cattle slowly south,--cattle from the T-Bar-T, the
Blue, and . . . he suddenly recalled Harper's remark--"And countin' the
Concho stuff . . ."  Pete thought of Jim Bailey and Andy White, and of
pleasant days riding for the Concho.  But after all, it was none of his
affair.  He had had no hand in stealing the cattle.  He would do well
enough to keep his own hide whole.  Let the cattlemen who lived under
the law take care of their own stock and themselves.  And curiously
enough, Pete for the first time wondered what had become of Malvey--if
the posse had actually shot him, or if they had simply taken the horse
and let Malvey go.  The arrival of Brevoort put an end to his pondering.

"Brent will be in to-day," said Brevoort.  "You stick around here; and
call me about noon."

"The old man ain't takin' chances," remarked Pete.

"You're wrong there," asserted Brevoort.  "He's takin' the long chance
every time, or he wouldn't be foreman of this outfit.  You'll find that
out if you stick round here long enough.  If you don't call it takin' a
chance pullin' off a trick like this one that's comin', jest try it
yourself."

"He handles men easy," asserted Pete, recalling Brent's rather fatherly
advice in regard to Texas and the opportunity for a young man to go
straight.

"You sure please me most to death," drawled Brevoort.  "You been a
right quiet little pardner, and smilin', so I'm going to tell you
somethin' that you can keep right on bein' quiet about.  Sam Brent
would send you or me or any man into a gun-fight, or a posse, or a
jail, and never blink his eye, if he thought it was good business for
him.  He'd do it pleasant, too, jest like he was sendin' you to a
dance, or a show.  But he'd go jest as quick hisself, if he had to."

"Then I guess we got no kick," said Pete.

"I ain't kickin'.  I'm jest puttin' you wise."

"I ain't forgittin', Ed."

Pete turned, following Brevoort's gaze.  The man they were talking
about was in sight and riding hard.  Presently Brent was close enough
to nod to them.  Although he had ridden far and fast, he was as casual
as sunshine.  Neither in his voice nor his bearing was the least trace
of fatigue.

"I'm goin' to need you," he told Pete.  "We're short of hands right
now.  If you need anything over in the line shack, go git it and come
along down after Ed and me."

Pete took the hint and left Brevoort and Brent to ride to the house
together while he rode over to the shack and warmed up some coffee and
beans.  In an hour he was at the house.  A thoroughbred stood at the
hitching-rail.  Pete noticed that the animal carried Brevoort's saddle.
Evidently there was to be more hard riding.  As Pete entered the big
room, he also noticed that Brevoort was heavily armed, and carried an
extra belt of cartridges.  Brent was examining a rifle when Pete
stepped in.  "You may need this," said Brent, handing the rifle and
scabbard to Pete.  "Go over to the bunk-house and get another belt and
some shells."

When Pete returned, Blue Smoke was in the corral and his own saddle was
on a big bay that looked like a splendid running-mate for Brevoort's
mount.  Pete busied himself slinging the rifle, curious as to what his
new venture would or could be, yet too proud to show that he was
interested.

Brevoort, hitching up his belt, swung to his horse.  Without hesitation
Pete followed.  Well-fed, eager and spirited, the horses lunged out
into the open and settled into a long, swinging stride--a gait that was
new to Pete, accustomed as he was to the shorter, quick action of the
cow-pony.

They rode south, across the sunlit expanse of emptiness between the
hacienda and the line.  A few hundred yards beyond the fence, Brevoort
reined in.  "Mexico," he said, gesturing round about.  "Our job is to
ride to the Ortez rancho and get that outfit movin' up this way."

"Goin' to turn the cattle over to 'em?" queried Pete.

"Yes--and that quick they won't know they got 'em.  It's a big deal, if
she goes through.  If she don't, it's like to be the finish of the
Olla."

"Meanin' if the T-Bar-T and the Concho gits busy, there's like to be
some smoke blowin' down this way?"

"The same.  Recollect what I was tellin' you this mornin'."

"About Brent sendin' a man into a fight?"

"Yes.  But I wasn't figurin' on provin' it to you so quick," drawled
the Texan.  "Hold your horse down to a walk.  We'll save speed for a
spell.  No, I wasn't figurin' on this.  You see, when I hired out to
Brent, I knew what I was doin'--so I told him I'd jest earn my pay on
the white side of the border--but no Mexico for mine.  That was the
understandin'.  Now he goes to work and sends you and me down into this
here country on a job which is only fit for a Greaser.  I'm goin' to
see it through, but I done made my last ride for the Olla."

"Brent was sayin' he was short of hands," suggested Pete.

"Which is correct.  But there's that Jose who knows every foot of the
dry-spot clean to the Ortez--and he knows every hoss-thief in this
sun-blasted country.  Does he send Jose?  No.  He sends two white men,
tellin' me that it is too big a deal to trust the Mexican with."

"And a fine chance of gittin' bumped off by a lousy bunch of Cholas
callin' themselves soldiers, eh?"

"You said it."

"Well, we got good hosses, anyway.  And I sabe the Mexican talk."

"Guess that's why Brent sent you along.  He knows I talk mighty little
Mexican."  And Brevoort gazed curiously at Pete.

"Seein' as you feel that way about it, Ed, I got somethin' I been
millin' over in my head.  Now, when The Spider sent me down here he
said he had some important business he wanted me to handle.  Brent was
to tell me.  Now I don't see anything important about ridin' line or
chasin' into Mexico to wake up a bunch of Greasers and tell 'em to get
busy.  Uncle Sammy Brent's got somethin' hid up his sleeve, Ed."

Brevoort, riding slowly beside Pete, turned from gazing across the
desert and looked Pete over from spur to sombrero with a new interest.
He thought he knew now why The Spider had sent Pete to the ranch and
why Brent, in turn, had sent Pete on this dangerous mission.  "Is The
Spider much of a friend of yours?" queried Brevoort suddenly.

"Why, I dunno.  'Course he acted like he was--but you can't tell about
him.  He--he helped me out of a hole onct."

"Did you ever help him out?"

"Me?  No, I never had the chanct."

"Uh-huh.  Well, just you pull in your hoss and run your good eye over
this a minute."  And Brevoort drew a folded slip of paper from his
shirt-pocket and handed it to Pete.  It was a brief note addressed to
Brevoort and signed "J.E."  It instructed Brevoort to accompany Pete
Annersley to El Paso after the sale of the cattle and to see to it that
the money which Annersley would have with him was deposited to the
credit of James Ewell in the Stockmen's Security and Savings Bank.

Pete had difficulty in reading the note and took some time to read it,
finally handing it back to Brevoort in silence.  And then, "Where did
you git it?  Who is 'J.E.'?"

"From Harper.  'J.E.' is Jim Ewell--The Spider."

"So Harper rode to Showdown and back?"

"He took word from Brent to The Spider that the boys had started," said
Brevoort.

"And Brent--" Pete hesitated for fear of committing himself even though
he trusted Brevoort.  But Brevoort had no hesitation.  He anticipated
Pete's thought and spoke frankly.

"Brent figured it fine.  I knew why he sent you and me on this
ride--but I was tryin' to find out if you was wise--or ridin' blind.
If we come back, Brent won't show his hand.  If we don't come back
he'll collect the dough and vamoose.  Kin you see a hole in the fence?"

"You're whistlin', Ed!  It's one crook tryin' to git the best of
another crook.  But I would 'a' said Brent was straight.  I say The
Spider's money goes into that there bank."

"Same here.  I ain't so dam' honest that it hurts me, but I quit when
it comes to stealin' from the man that's payin' my wages."

"Then I reckon you and me is pardners in this deal," and Pete, boyishly
proffered his hand.

Big Ed Brevoort grasped Pete's hand, and held it till the horses shied
apart.  "To the finish," he said.

"To the finish," echoed Pete, and with one accord they slackened rein.
The thoroughbreds reached out into that long, tireless running stride
that brought their riders nearer and nearer to the Ortez rancho and the
Mexican agent of the guerilla captain whose troops were so sadly in
need of beef.




CHAPTER XXVIII

A GAMBLE

On either side of a faint trail rose the dreary, angling grotesques of
the cactus, and the dried and dead stalks of the soapweed.  Beyond, to
the south, lay a sea of shimmering space, clear to the light blue that
edged the sky-line.  The afternoon sun showed copper-red through a
faint haze which bespoke a change of weather.  The miles between the
Olla and that tiny dot on the horizon--the Ortez hacienda--seemed
endless, because of no pronounced landmarks.  Pete surmised that it
would be dark long before they reached their destination.  Incidentally
he was amazed by the speed of the thoroughbreds, who ran so easily, yet
with a long, reaching stride that ate into the miles.  To Pete they
seemed more like excellent machines than horses--lacking the pert
individuality of the cow-pony.  Stall-fed and groomed to a satin-smooth
glow, stabled and protected from the rains--pets, in Pete's
estimation--yet he knew that they would run until they dropped, holding
that long, even stride to the very end.  He reached out and patted his
horse on the neck.  Instantly the sensitive ears twitched and the
stride lengthened.  Pete tightened rein gently.  "A quirt would only
make him crazy," he thought; and he grinned as he saw that Brevoort's
horse had let out a link or two to catch up with its mate.

The low sun, touching the rim of the desert, flung long crimson shafts
heavenward--in hues of rose and amethyst, against the deep umber and
the purple of far spaces.  From monotonous and burning desolation the
desert had become a vast momentary solitude of changing beauty and
enchantment.  Then all at once the colors vanished, space shrank, and
occasional stars trembled in the velvet roof of the night.  And one
star, brighter than the rest, grew gradually larger, until it became a
solitary camp-fire on the level of the plain.

"Don't like the looks of that," said Brevoort, as he pulled up his
horse.  "It's out in front of the 'dobe--and it means the Ortez has got
company."

"Soldiers?"

"Looks like it."

"Arguilla's men?"

"I reckon so.  And they're up pretty clost to the line--too clost to
suit me.  We'll ride round and do our talkin' with Ortez."

"Ain't they friendly?" queried Pete.

"Friendly, hell!  Any one of 'em would knife you for the hoss you're
ridin'!  Hear 'em sing!  Most like they're all drunk--and you know what
that means.  Just follow along slow; and whatever you run into don't
get off your hoss."

"Ain't them there coyotes friendly to Ortez?"

"S' long as he feeds 'em.  But that don't do us no good.  Ought to be
some of the Ortez riders hangin' round somewhere.  They don't mix much
with Arguilla's men."

"She's a lovely lay-out," said Pete.  "But I'm with you."

Circling the ranch, Brevoort and Pete rode far out into the desert,
until the camp-fire was hidden by the ranch-buildings.  Then they
angled in cautiously, edging past the 'dobe outbuildings and the
corrals toward the hacienda.  "Don't see anybody around.  Guess they
're all out in front drinkin' with the bunch," whispered Brevoort.
Just as Pete was about to make a suggestion, a figure rose almost
beneath the horse's head, and a guttural Mexican voice told him to
halt.  Pete complied, telling the Mexican that they were from the Olla,
that they had a message for Ortez.

"No use arguin'," said Brevoort--and Pete caught Brevoort's meaning as
another man appeared.

"Ask him if Arguilla is here," said Brevoort.  And Pete knew that these
were Arguilla's men, for none of the Ortez vaquero's carried
bolt-action rifles.

The sentry replied to Pete's question by poking him in the ribs with
the muzzle of his rifle, and telling his to get down muy pronto.

"Tell him our message is for Arguilla--not Ortez," suggested Brevoort.
"There's something wrong here.  No use startin' anything," he added
hastily, as he dismounted.  "Ortez is agent for Arguilla's outfit.  If
you get a chance, watch what they do with our horses."

"We came to see El Comandante," said Pete as the sentries marched them
to the house.  "We're his friends--and you'll be coyote-meat before
mornin' if you git too careless with that gun."

The sentry grunted and poked Pete in the back with his rifle, informing
him in that terse universal idiom that he could "tell it to El
Comandante."

From the outer darkness to the glare of the light in the 'dobe was a
blinding transition.  Pete and Brevoort blinked at the three figures in
the main room: Arguilla, who sat at the long table, his heavy features
glistening with sweat, his broad face flushed to a dull red, had his
hand on a bottle of American whiskey, from which he had just filled his
glass.  Near him sat the owner of the rancho, Ortez, a man much older,
bearded and lean, with face lined and interlined by weather and age.
At the closed door stood a sentry.  From without came raucous laughter
and the singing of the soldiers.  The sentry nearest Pete told Arguilla
that the Gringoes had been caught sneaking in at the back of the
hacienda.

Pete briskly corrected this statement.  "We're from the Olla--about the
cattle--for your army," added Pete, no whit abashed as he proffered
this bit of flattery.

"Si!  You would talk with the patron then?"--and Arguilla gestured
toward Ortez.

"We got orders from Brent--he's our boss---to make our talk to you,"
said Pete, glancing quickly at Brevoort.

"How did you know that I was here with my army?" queried Arguilla.

"Shucks!  That's easy.  It's in all the papers," asserted Pete, rather
proud of himself, despite the hazard of the situation.

Arguilla's chest swelled noticeably.  He rose and strutted up and down
the room, as though pondering a grave and weighty question.  Presently
he turned to Ortez.  "You have heard, senor?"

Ortez nodded.  And in that nod Brevoort read the whole story.  Ortez
was virtually a prisoner on his own ranch.  The noble captain of
Liberty had been known to use his best friends in this way.

"When will the cattle arrive at the Olla?" asked Arguilla, seating
himself.

"To-morrow, Senor Comandante.  That is the word from Sam Brent."

"And you have come for the money, then?"

Pete barely hesitated.  "No.  Brent said there ain't no hurry about
that.  He said you could figure on two hundred head"--Pete recalled
Harper's statement--"and that you would send your agent over to the
Olla with the cash."

Arguilla glanced at Ortez.  "You have heard, senor?"

Ortez nodded dejectedly.  He had heard, but he dare not speak.  As the
trusted agent of the financiers backing Arguilla, he had but recently
been given the money for the purchase of these supplies, and almost on
the heels of the messenger bearing the money had come Arguilla, who at
once put Ortez under arrest, conveyed the money to his own coffers, and
told the helpless Ortez that he could settle with the Gringo Brent
according to the understanding between them.

Brevoort, silently eying Arguilla, saw through the scheme.  Arguilla
had determined to have both the money and the cattle.  This explained
his unwonted presence at the Ortez hacienda.

Arguilla took a stiff drink of whiskey, wiped his mustache and turned
to Brevoort.  "You have heard?" he said.

Brevoort knew enough Mexican to understand the question.  "We'll tell
Brent that everything is all right," he said easily.  "But he's a dam'
liar," he added in an undertone to Pete.  Brevoort had made the mistake
of assuming that because he did not understand Mexican, Arguilla did
not understand English.  Arguilla did not hear all that Brevoort said,
but he caught the one significant word.  His broad face darkened.
These Gringoes knew too much!  He would hold them until the cattle had
been delivered--and then they could join his army--or be shot.  A mere
detail, in either event.

"Put these men under arrest!" he commanded the sentries.  "If they
escape--you are dead men."

"What's the idee--" began Pete, but the noble captain waved his hand,
dismissing all argument, along with the sentries, who marched their
prisoners to the stable and told them plainly that they had much rather
shoot them than be bothered with watching them; a hint that Pete
translated for Brevoort's benefit.

One of the sentries lighted a dusty lantern and, placing it on the
floor of a box stall, relieved his captives of their belts and guns.
The sentries squatted at the open end of the stall and talked together
while Brevoort and Pete sat each in a corner staring at the lantern.

Presently Brevoort raised his head.  "Find out if either of 'em sabe
American talk," he whispered.

"You sabe my talk?" queried Pete.

One of the sentries turned to stare at Pete.  The Mexican shook his
head.

"You're a liar by the watch--and your father was a pig and the son of a
pig, wasn't he?" asked Pete, smiling pleasantly.

"Si!" said the Mexican, grinning as though Pete had made a friendly
joke.

"And the other fella there, with ears like the barndoor in a wind, he's
jest nacherally a horn-toad that likes whiskey and would jest as soon
knife his mother as he would eat a rattlesnake for supper, eh?"  And
Pete smiled engagingly.

"Si.  It is to laugh."

"You sabe whiskey?"

The Mexican shook his head.

"You sabe dam' fool?"  Pete's manner was serious as though seeking
information.

Again the Mexican shook his head.

"He sure don't," said Pete, turning to Brevoort--"or he'd 'a' jest
nacherally plugged me.  If a Chola don't know what whiskey or dam' fool
means, he don't know American."

Meanwhile the two guards had turned to the natural expedient of
gambling for Pete's belt and gun.  The elaborately carved holster had
taken their fancy.  Pete and his companion watched them for a while.

Presently Pete attracted Brevoort's attention by moving a finger.
"Hear anything?" he whispered.

"I hear 'em eatin'," said Brevoort.  He was afraid to use the word
"horses."

Pete nodded.  "Speakin' of eatin'--you hungry, Ed?"

"Plumb empty.  But I didn't know it till you asked me."

"Well, I been feelin' round in the hay--and right in my corner is a
nest full of eggs.  There's so doggone many I figure that some of 'em
is gettin' kind of ripe.  Did you ever git hit in the eye with a ripe
egg?"

"Not that I recollect'."

"Well, you would--if you had.  Now I don't know what that swelled up
gent in there figures on doin' with us.  And I don't aim to hang around
to find out.  These here Cholas is gamblin' for our hosses, right now.
It kind of looks to me like if we stayed round here much longer we
ain't goin' to need any hosses or anything else.  I worked for a
Mexican onct--and I sabe 'em.  You got to kind of feel what they mean,
and never mind what they are sayin'.  Now I got a hunch that we don't
get back to the Olla, never--'less we start right now."

"But how in--"

"Wait a minute.  I'm goin' to dig round like I was goin' to take a
sleep--and find these here eggs.  Then I'm goin' to count 'em nacheral,
and pile 'em handy to you.  Then we rig up a deal like we was gamblin'
for 'em, to kind of pass the time.  If that don't git them two coyotes
interested, why, nothin' will.  Next to gamblin' a Chola likes to
_watch_ gamblin' better 'n 'most anything.  When you git to win all my
eggs, I make a holler like I'm mad.  You been cheatin'.  And if them
two Cholas ain't settin' with their mouths open and lookin' at us, why,
I don't know Cholas.  They're listenin' right now--but they don't sabe.
Go ahead and talk like you was askin' me somethin'."

"What's your game after we start beefin' about the eggs?"

"You pick up a couple--and I pick up a couple.  First you want to move
round so you kin swing your arm.  When I call you a doggone bald-face
short-horn, jest let your Chola have the eggs plumb in his eye.  If
they bust like I figure, we got a chanct to jump 'em--but we got to
move quick.  They's a old single-tree layin' right clost to your elbow,
kind of half under the hay.  Mebby it'll come handy.  I figure to kick
my friend in the face when I jump.  Do I find them eggs?"

"Dig for 'em," drawled the Texan.

"If we miss the first jump, then they shoot, and that'll be our finish.
But that's a heap better 'n gittin' stood up against a 'dobe wall.  I
jest found them eggs."

And Pete uttered an exclamation as he drew his hand from the straw
behind him, and produced an egg.  The Mexicans glanced up.  Pete dug in
the straw and fetched up another egg--and another.  Brevoort leaned
forward as though deeply interested in some sleight-of-hand trick.  Egg
after egg came from the abandoned nest.  The Mexicans laughed.  The
supply of eggs seemed to be endless.

Finally Pete drew out his hand, empty.  "Let's count 'em," he said, and
straightway began, placing the eggs in a pile midway between himself
and his companion.  "Twenty-eight.  She was a enterprisin' hen."

"I'll match for 'em," said Brevoort, hitching round and facing Pete.

"I'll go you!"  And straightway Brevoort and Pete became absorbed in
the game, seemingly oblivious to the Mexicans, who sat watching, with
open mouths, utterly absorbed in their childish interest.  Two Gringoes
were gambling for bad eggs.

Pete won for a while.  Then he began to lose.  "They're ripe all right.
I can tell by the color.  Plumb ready to bust.  The Cholas sabe that.
Watch 'em grin.  They 're waitin' for one of us to bust a egg.  That'll
be a big joke, and they'll 'most die a-laughin'--'cause it's a
joke--and 'cause we're Gringoes."

"Then here's where I bust one," said Brevoort.  "Get a couple in your
hand.  Act like you was chokin' to death.  I'll laugh.  Then I'll kind
of get the smell of that lame egg and stand up quick.  Ready?"

"Shoot," said Pete.

Brevoort tossed an egg on the pile.  Several of the eggs broke with a
faint "plop."  Pete wrinkled his nose, and his face expressed such
utter astonishment, disgust, even horror, as the full significance of
the age of those eggs ascended to him, that he did not need to act his
part.  He got to his feet and backed away from those eggs, even as
Brevoort rose slowly, as though just aware that the eggs were not
altogether innocent.  The two Mexicans had risen to their knees and
rocked back and forth, laughing at the beautiful joke on the Gringoes.
Plop!--Plop!--Plop! and three of the four eggs targeted an accurate
twelve o'clock.  Pete leaped and kicked viciously.  His high heel
caught one choking Mexican in the jaw just as Brevoort jumped and swung
the single-tree.  Pete grabbed up his belt and gun.

Brevoort had no need to strike again.

"You go see if the horses are saddled.  I'll watch the door," said
Brevoort.

Arguilla was awakened from a heavy sleep by the sound of a shot and the
shrill yelp of one of his men.  A soldier entered and saluted.  "The
Americans have gone," he reported.

Arguilla's bloated face went from red to purple, and he reached for his
gun which lay on the chair near his bed.  But the lieutenant who had
reported the escape faced his chief fearlessly.

Arguilla hesitated.  "Who guarded them?" he asked hoarsely.

The lieutenant named the men.

"Take them out and shoot them--at once."

"But, Senor Comandante, they may not stand.  The Americans have beaten
them so that they are as dead."

"Then shoot them where they lay--which will be easier to do."




CHAPTER XXIX

QUERY

Far out across the starlit gloom the two thoroughbreds raced side by
side.  They seemed to know what was required of them.  A mile, two
miles, three miles, and the night-fire of Arguilla's men was a
flickering dot against the black wall of the night.

Brevoort pulled his horse to a walk.  "We done left 'em looking at each
other," he drawled.

"Two of 'em ain't," said Pete succinctly.

Brevoort chuckled.  "I was tryin' that hard not to laugh when you
smelled them aigs, that I come nigh missin' my chanct.  You sure are
some play-actor."

"Play-actor nothin'!  I was doggone near sick.  I kin smell 'em yet.
Say, I'd like to know what'll happen to them two Cholas."

"Ain't you satisfied with what we done to 'em?"

"Yep.  But Arguilla won't be.  I'd hate to be in their boots--"  From
the south came the faint, sinister "pop! pop!" of rifle shots.  Pete
turned quickly toward his companion.  "Right now," he concluded,
shrugging his shoulders.

"We got trouble of our own," said Brevoort.  "Brent tried to run his
iron on us--but he got hold of the wrong iron.  Now the deal will have
to go through like The Spider figured.  Mebby Brent knows that
Arguilla's men are at the Ortez--and mebby he don't.  But we don't say.
We ride in and repo't that Ortez says O.K.--that his vaqueros are
comin' for the cattle and that he is comin' with the cash.  Brent won't
bat an eye.  I know him.  He'll jest tell you to take the dough and
ride to Sanborn and take the train for El Paso.  Then he'll vamose."

"How's that?"

"'Cause he knows that this is the finish.  When he was handlin' stock
from south of the line,--in small bunches, and pushin' it through
fast,--we was all right.  The Mexican punchers was doin' the stealin',
sellin' the stuff to Brent.  And Brent was sellin' to Arguilla's
agent--which is Ortez.  All Ortez did was pay for it and turn it over
to Arguilla.  Mexicans was stealin' from Mexicans and sellin' to Brent
cheap, 'cause he paid cash, and Brent was sellin' it to Mexicans.  The
fellas that stole the stuff knew better 'n to try to sell to Arguilla.
All they would 'a' got would 'a' been a promise.  So they sells to
Brent, who bought mighty cheap, but paid real money.  That worked fine.
But when Brent starts stealin' from white men on his side of the
line--why, he knows that it is the finish--so he figures on a big
haul--or The Spider does--kind of takes them ranchers up north by
surprise and gets away with a couple of hundred head.  But he knows, as
sure's he's a foot high, that they'll trail him--so he forgets that The
Spider said you was to collect from Ortez and bank the dough--and
figures on collectin' it himself."

"Kind of a cold deal, eh, Ed?"

"All crooked deals is cold."

"But I wonder why Brent didn't send me down to the Ortez alone.  What
did he ring you in for?"

"Brent figured that I'd get wise to his scheme.  You see, the
understandin' with The Spider is, that I'm fo'man of the Olla, case
Brent gets bumped off.  Mebby The Spider thinks I'm square.  Mebby he
jest plays me against Brent to keep us watchin' each other.  I dunno."

"You figure Arguilla will send old man Ortez over the line with the
cash?"

"Yes.  He will now.  We done spoiled his game by gittin' loose.  But I
don't say that Arguilla won't try to raid the Olla and get that money
back, after he's got the cattle movin' south.  You see the
high-steppers that are backin' Arguilla ain't trustin' him with a whole
lot of cash, personal.  'Course, what he loots is his.  But their money
is goin' for grub and ammunition.  They figure if he gets enough cash,
he'll quit.  And they don't want him to quit.  He thinks he's the big
smoke--but all he is is hired man to big money."

"He's been played, right along--same as us, eh?"

"Same as us."

"Well, Ed, I don't mind takin' a long chanct--but I sure don't aim to
let any man make a monkey of me."

"Then you want to quit this game," said Brevoort.  "Why don't you kind
of change hosses and take a fresh start?  You ain't been in the game so
long but what you can pull out."

"I was thinkin' of that.  But what's a fella goin' to do?  Here we be,
ridin' straight for the Olla.  Right soon the sun'll be shinin' and the
hosses millin' round in the corral and gittin' warmed up, and Brent'll
be tellin' us he can use us helpin' push them cattle through to the
south end: and I reckon we'll change our saddles and git right to work,
thinkin' all the time of quittin', but keepin' along with the job jest
the same.  A fella kind of hates to quit any job till it's done.  And I
figure this here deal ain't even started to make trouble--yet.  Wait
till the T-Bar-T outfit gits a-goin'; and mebby the Concho, and the
Blue Range boys."

"Hand over your canteen a minute," said Brevoort.  "I lost mine in the
get-away."

Dawn found them inside the south line fence.  In an hour they were at
the 'dobe and clamoring for breakfast.  The cook told them that Brent
was at the north line camp, and had left no word for them.

Brevoort glanced quickly at Pete.  Evidently Brent had not expected
them to return so soon, if at all.

After breakfast they sauntered to the bunk-house, and pulled off their
boots and lay down.

It was about noon when the cook called them.  "The bunch is back," he
said.  "Harper just rode in.  He says the old man is sore about
somethin'."

"The Spider?" queried Brevoort.

"Nope, Sam."

"Goin' to ride over?" asked Pete, after the cook had left.

"No.  But I'm goin' to throw a saddle on one of the never-sweats and
I'm goin' to pick a good one."

"I reckon Blue Smoke'll do for me.  You goin' to pull your freight, Ed?"

"We got our runnin' orders.  The minute old man Ortez hands over that
cash, there'll be a hole in the scenery where we was."

"That's my idee.  But suppose we make it through to El Paso all right.
What do we do next?"

"That's kind of like jumpin' off the aidge of the Grand Canon and
askin' yourself what you're goin' to do while you're in the air.  We
ain't lit yet."




CHAPTER XXX

BRENT'S MISTAKE

Following the trail that Brevoort and Pete had taken from the Ortez
rancho, Arguilla and his men rode north and with them rode Ortez and
several of his vaqueros.  Within a few miles of the Olla the ragged
soldiery swung west to the shelter of the low hills that ran parallel
to the Olla line, while Ortez and his men rode directly to the Olla
fence and entered a coulee near the big gate, where they waited the
arrival of Brent and the herd.

About two hours before sundown one of Arguilla's lieutenants appeared
on the edge of the coulee where he could overlook the country.  At his
signal the soldiers were to join the Ortez riders, but not until Brent
and his men had the cattle delivered.

Arguilla, who was to keep out of sight, had told Ortez to pay the
amount stipulated by Brent--and at the old established rate of twenty
dollars a head--which meant that upon receipt of the cattle Ortez would
give the foreman of the Olla four thousand dollars in gold.  Ortez knew
that Arguilla contemplated killing Brent and his men and recovering the
money.  Although his sympathies were with his own people, Ortez felt
that such treachery was too black, even for a leader of guerillas.

He realized that the first word of warning to Brent would mean his own
doom and the death of his men in the battle which would follow, for he
knew the Gringo cowboys would fight to the last man.  Against this he
weighed the probability of a fight if he did not speak.  In either
event he would be dishonored in the eyes of the powers who had trusted
him with handling the finances of the cause.  It was in this state of
mind that he waited for the arrival of the men whom he considered
doomed, never imagining for a moment that Brent himself anticipated
treachery.

The sun had almost touched the western sky-line when a solitary rider
spurred out from the great gate of the Olla and up to Ortez, who
recognized in him one of the young vaqueros that had escaped from
Arguilla's guards the preceding night.

"Here's our tally."  Pete handed Ortez a slip of paper.  "Two hundred
and three head.  My patron says to call it two hundred even, and to
give you a receipt for the money when you turn it over to me."

Arguilla's lieutenant had expected to see the herd turned over to Ortez
before the payment of any moneys.  He hesitated as to whether or not he
should ride to the rim of the coulee and signal his company to
interfere with the transaction then and there in the name of his
superior officer.  The lieutenant did not believe that Ortez would turn
over the money for a mere slip of paper.  But Ortez, strangely enough,
seemed only too eager to close the transaction.  Stepping to his horse,
he took two small canvas sacks from his saddle-pockets.  Still the
lieutenant hesitated.  He had had no instructions covering such a
contingency.

"I await your receipt, senor," said Ortez as he handed the money to
Pete.

Pete drew a folded slip of paper from his pocket and gave it quickly to
Ortez.  "Brent'll push the cattle through muy pronto."  And whirling
his horse round under spur, he was halfway back to the Olla gate before
the lieutenant thought of signaling to Arguilla.

From the vantage of the higher ground the lieutenant could see that the
gate was already open--that the Gringos were slowly pushing the cattle
through, and out to the desert.  He waved his serape.  Almost on the
instant Arguilla's men appeared in the distance, quirting their ponies
as they raced toward the coulee.  The lieutenant turned and gazed at
the herd, which, from bunching through the gateway, had spread out
fanwise.  Already the Ortez vaqueros were riding out to take charge.
But something was happening over near the Olla gate.  The American
cowboys had scattered and were riding hard, and behind them faint
flashes cut the dusk and answering flashes came from those who fled.
The lieutenant shouted and spread his arms, signaling Arguilla to stop
as he and his men swung round the mouth of the coulee below.  Some
thirty riders from the T-Bar-T, the Blue Range, and the Concho swept
through the gateway and began shooting at the Ortez vaqueros.  Arguilla
saw that his own plan had gone glimmering.  Ortez had in some way
played the traitor.  Moreover, they were all on American territory.
The herd had stampeded and scattered.  In the fading light Arguilla saw
one after another of the Ortez vaqueros go down.  Did this noble
captain of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity rush to the rescue of his
countrymen?  He did not.  Cursing, he swung his horse toward the south,
followed by his amazed and altogether uncomprehending soldiery.  There
had been too many Gringoes in that wild, shrilling cavalcade to suit
his fancy.  Meanwhile the Mexican lieutenant wisely disappeared down
the western edge of the coulee and rode wide until he deemed it safe to
change his course and follow in the dusty wake of his noble leader's
"strategic retreat."

Only one of the Ortez riders escaped the sudden and furious visitation
of the northern cattlemen, and he escaped because his horse, mortally
wounded, had fallen upon him.  In the succeeding darkness he was passed
unnoticed by the returning Americans.

The Olla men, also taken by surprise, had acted quickly.  Better
mounted than most of their pursuers, who rode tired horses, the Olla
riders spread at the first warning shout.  Familiar with the country,
they were able to get away unscathed, partly because the attention of
the pursuers was centered chiefly on the herd.

It had been a case of each man for himself with the Olla riders, the
exceptions to this being Brevoort and Pete, who had ridden together
from the moment that Pete had shouted that sudden warning to his
companions at the gateway, where they had sat their horses waiting for
him to return from his mission to Ortez.  Brent himself had posted a
lookout at the northern gateway of the ranch, with instructions to
watch for any possible pursuit.  This cowboy, wise in his generation,
had caught sight of a large body of riders bearing down from the north.
He knew by the way they rode that they meant business.  He knew also
that they were too many for the Olla men.  He focused his glass on
them, got one good look, and calmly turned his horse and rode along the
line fence to an arroyo, where he dismounted and waited until the
visiting gentlemen had got well onto the Olla territory.  Then he
mounted and took his leisurely way toward space.  He knew that the
Olla, as a safe and paying proposition, had ceased to exist.

Brent, mounted on one of the thoroughbreds, lost no time in heading for
Sanborn and the railroad, once he had ridden clear of the running
skirmish with the northerners.  He surmised that Pete and Brevoort
would make for Sanborn--and they had The Spider's money.  Brent also
knew that he had a faster horse than either of them.  If he could reach
Sanborn ahead of them, he would have the advantage of cover--and of
taking them by surprise . . .

The country was fairly open from the eastern boundary of the Olla to
within a few miles of Sanborn, where a veritable forest of cacti had
sprung up--one of those peculiar patches of desert growth, outlined in
a huge square as definitely as though it had been planted by man.  The
wagon-road passed close to the northern edge of this freakish forest,
and having passed, swung off toward the railroad, which it finally
paralleled.  It was in this vantage-ground of heavy shadow that Brent
had planned to waylay Brevoort and Pete.  To avoid chance discovery,
Brent had ridden considerably out of his way to keep clear of the
regular trail from the Olla to Sanborn, and had lost more time than he
realized.  Brevoort, on the contrary, had taken the regular trail,
which joined the main wagon-road.

Pete and Brevoort rode easily, as the local made the Sanborn stop at
six in the morning.  Moreover, they did not care to spend any great
length of time in Sanborn.  They had planned to leave their horses at
the livery stable--to be called for later.

At first they talked of the raid, the probable fate of Ortez and his
men, and of Arguilla's flight.  And from that they came to considering
their own plans which, if successful, would find them in El Paso with
several thousand dollars which belonged in reality to Arguilla's
backers.  There was an unvoiced but evident understanding between them
that they would keep together so long as safety permitted.  Pete had
made up his mind to look for work on some southern ranch--and have done
with the high trails of outlawry.  Brevoort, falling into his mood, as
much because he liked Pete as anything else, had decided to "throw in"
with him.  Had Pete suggested robbing a bank, or holding up a train,
the big, easy-going Texan would have fallen in with the suggestion
quite as readily, not because Pete had any special influence over him,
but purely because Pete's sprightliness amused and interested him.
Moreover, Pete was a partner that could be depended upon in fair
weather or foul.

Their plan once made, they became silent, each busy with his own more
intimate thoughts: Brevoort wondering what Pete would say if he were to
suggest dividing the money and making for the coast and Alaska--and
Pete endeavoring to reconcile himself to the idea that The Spider was
actually Boca's father.  For Pete had been thinking of Boca, even while
he had been talking with Brevoort.  It seemed that he always thought of
her just before some hidden danger threatened.  He had been thinking of
her--even aside from her presence in the patio--that night when the
posse had entered Showdown.  He had thought of her while riding to the
Ortez rancho--and now he was thinking of her again . . .  He raised his
head and glanced around.  The starlit desert was as soundless as the
very sky itself.  The soft creak of the saddles, the breathing of the
horses, the sand-muffled sound of their feet . . .  Directly ahead
loomed a wall of darkness.  Pete touched Brevoort's arm and gestured
toward it.

"They call it the Devil's Graveyard," said Brevoort.  "A sizable bunch
of cactus alongside the road.  We're closer to Sanborn than I figured."

"Well, we can't go any slower 'less we git off and set down," Pete
remarked.  "Blue Smoke here is fightin' the bit.  He ain't no graveyard
hoss."

"I notice he's been actin' nervous--and only jest recent."

"He always runs his fool head off--if I let him," asserted Pete.  And
he fell silent, thinking of Boca and the strange tricks that Fate plays
on the righteous and wicked alike.  He was startled out of his reverie
by Brevoort.  "Mebby I'm dreamin'," whispered the Texan, "but I'm plumb
certain I seen somethin' drift into that cactus-patch."

"Cattle," said Pete.

"No.  No cattle in these parts."

"Stray--mebby."

"I dunno.  Jest sit light in your saddle and watch your hoss's ears.
He'll tell you right quick if there's another hoss in there."

Pete knew that the Texan would not have spoken without some pertinent
reason.  They were drawing close to the deeper shadow of the cacti,
which loomed strangely ominous in the faint light of the stars.
Brevoort's horse, being the faster walker, was a little ahead and
seemingly unconscious of anything unusual in the shadows, when Blue
Smoke, range-bred and alert, suddenly stopped.

"Put 'em up--quick!" came from the shadows.

Pete's hand dropped to his holster, but before he could jerk out his
gun, Brevoort had fired at the sound--once, twice, three times . . .
Pete heard the trampling of a frightened horse somewhere in the brush.

"I got him," Brevoort was saying.

Pete's face was cold with sweat.  "Are you hit, Ed?" he said.

"No, he missed me.  He was right quick, but I had him lined against
that openin' there before he said a word.  If he'd 'a' stood back and
kept still he could have plugged us when we rode past.  He was too sure
of his game."

"Who was it, Ed?"

"I got one guess.  We got the money.  And he got what was comin' to
him."  Brevoort swung down and struck a match.  "I owed you that,
Brent," he said as the match flared up and went out.

"Brent!" exclaimed Pete.

Brevoort mounted and they rode on past the sinister place, in the chill
silence of reaction from the tense and sudden moment when death had
spoken to them from the shadows where now was silence and that
voiceless thing that had once been a man.  "Got to kill to live!"  Pete
shivered as they swung from the shadows and rode out across the open,
and on down the dim, meandering road that led toward the faint,
greenish light glimmering above the desert station of Sanborn.




CHAPTER XXXI

FUGITIVE

Rodeo, Hachita, Monument--long hours between each town as the local did
its variable thirty-five miles an hour across the southern end of New
Mexico.  It was Pete's first experience in traveling by rail, and true
to himself he made the most of it.  He used his eyes, and came to the
conclusion that they were aboard a very fast train--a train that "would
sure give a thoroughbred the run of its life"--Pete's standard of speed
being altogether of the saddle--and that more people got on and off
that train than could possibly have homes in that vast and uninhabited
region.  The conductor was an exceedingly popular individual.  Every
one called him by his "front name," which he acknowledged pleasantly in
like manner.  Pete wondered if the uniformed gentleman packed a gun;
and was somewhat disappointed when he discovered that that protuberance
beneath the conductor's brass-buttoned coat was nothing more deadly
than a leather wallet, pretty well filled with bills and loose
silver--for that isolated railroad did a good cash business and
discriminating conductors grew unobtrusively wealthy.  And what was
still more strange to Pete was the fact that the conductor seemed to
know where each person was going, without having to refer to any
penciled notation or other evident data.

The conductor was surprisingly genial, even to strangers, for, having
announced that the next station was El Paso, he took the end seat of
the combination baggage and smoking car, spread out his report sheet,
and as he sorted and arranged the canceled tickets, he chatted with
Pete and Brevoort, who sat facing him.  Had they heard the news?
Brevoort shook his head.  Well, there had been a big fight down along
the line, between the northern cattlemen and Arguilla's soldiers.  It
was rumored that several American cowboys had been killed.  He had
heard this from the agent at Hermanas, who had "listened in" on the
wire to El Paso.  Perhaps they had heard about it, though, as they had
come up from that way.  No?  Well, the El Paso papers already had the
news, by wire.  How was the cattle business going, anyway?

Brevoort said that it was pretty fair.

The conductor knew of a nice little hotel near the station--in fact he
stopped there himself.  El Paso was the end of his run.  If the boys
were going to see the town, they couldn't do better than to stop at
this hotel.  Clean beds, good food, quiet, and reasonable as to rates.

Pete was about to say something when Brevoort touched him gently with
his knee.

"We was lookin' for a place like that," said Brevoort, suddenly
loquacious.  "We sure aim to see this town.  We just been paid off--we
was workin' for the Bar-Cross--and we figured on seein' a little high
life a-fore we went to punchin' again.  Is that hotel you was speakin'
about open all night?"

The conductor chuckled.  "Ain't been closed a minute for six years that
I know.  Mostly railroad men.  And say, if you figure on being in town
more than a couple of days, you can save money by taking your room by
the week."

"Thanks," said Brevoort.  "We aim to stay a week, anyhow."

"Well, they'll use you all right," asserted the conductor.  "And if
you're looking for a place to buy anything--clothes or collars or
shirts--why, right across from the hotel there's as fine a little
clothing-store as you can find in town.  The man that runs is a friend
of mine, and he'll use you white.  Just tell him I sent you.  Stokes is
his name--Len Stokes."

"Thanks, neighbor," said Brevoort, and Pete thought that Brevoort's
tone was the least bit sarcastic.

"That's all right," said the genial conductor.  "I always like to see
the boys have a good time."

Pete himself was a trifle suspicious of the conductor's solicitude as
to their welfare, naturally unaware that that worthy official got a
rake-off on all customers mentioning his name at the hotel and
clothing-store.

He gathered up his reports and tickets, snapped a rubber band round
them, and dropped them in his capacious pocket.  "We're eight minutes
late," he remarked, glancing at his watch.  "Now what--"  He rose and
made for the end door as the train slowed up and stopped at an isolated
siding.  Pete glanced out and saw a little red box of a building, four
or five empty freight cars, and a curve of rail that swung off south
from the main line.  No passengers got on or off the train, but Pete
noticed that the conductor was talking earnestly with a hollow-cheeked,
blue-overalled man who had just handed him a slip of paper.

The conductor waved his arm.  The train pulled out.  A little later he
came and took his seat opposite Pete.  Conductor Stokes seemed even
more genial than ever, elaborating on the opportunities for "a good
time" in El Paso, and reiterating the hope that they would make
themselves at home at his hotel.  He joked and talked familiarly about
the more notorious sections of the town, warned them to be on the
lookout for thugs, and finally excused himself and entered the baggage
compartment.

Pete saw Brevoort lean forward and hastily snatch up a crumpled slip of
paper which had dropped from the conductor's pocket as he got up.
Brevoort scanned the paper, crumpled it, and tossed it out in the aisle.

"We didn't see that," he told Pete.

"What was it?"

"Forget it," said Brevoort, as the door opened and the conductor,
glancing about, finally saw and recovered the service wire.  "Running
orders," he said, as he stuffed it in his pocket and moved on down the
aisle.  Pete gazed out of the window, apparently absorbed in looking at
the desert.  Brevoort rolled a cigarette, and nodded casually.

The door in the far end of the car slammed.  Brevoort turned to Pete.
"Look straight ahead and--listen.  That paper you saw was a telegraph
from the agent at Sanborn sayin' a man had been found shot, and to
watch out for two cow-punchers that bought tickets for El Paso--which
is us.  That's how we came to stop at the junction back there, which
ain't a regular stop.  It means there'll be a marshal waitin' for us at
El Paso."

"Then let's git off this doggone thing," suggested Pete.

"She stops onct before we git in," said Brevoort.  "It's gittin'
dark--and we got one chanct.  When she slows down, we go into the
baggage-car there and tell the boss we're lookin' for our war-bag,
which we didn't have.  Jest about the time she stops, we drop off.  The
side door's open."

"We'll be plumb afoot," said Pete.

"Yes.  And we'll have to hole up somewhere till we git some
store-clothes--and change our looks--and mebby our luck, which is
runnin' bad right now."

"Do we split up when we hit town?" queried Pete.

"We got to: and you want to git rid of that there cash just as quick as
you kin.  Got any of your own money on you?"

"Got a couple of month's pay.  Yon got the tickets.  I'll give you
that."

"Forget it!  Small change don't count right now.  Awhile back I was
thinkin' of puttin' it up to you that we split the big money and take a
little pasear up to Alaska, where it ain't so warm.  The Spider dassent
squeal to the law, bein' in bad hisself.  We could sure make a get-away
with it.  But that there telegraph done settled that deal."

"It was settled afore that, Ed."

"Meanin' you wouldn't split, anyhow?"

"That's what."

"But it's crooked money, Pete.  And it ain't lucky.  Supposin' we get
caught?  Who gits the money?  The Spider, or Arguilla's bunch, or you
or me?  Not on your life!  The cops get it--and keep it."

"That's all right.  But if I git through, these here pesos goes to that
bank.  Anyhow, you said it ain't lucky money.  So I aim to git away
from it pronto.  Then I'm square with The Spider--and I quit."

"You can't shake the game that easy, Pete.  I quit when we started for
Sanborn--and what did we run into?  And you bein' with me gits you in
bad, likewise."

"If that's what's botherin' you, why, I'll take the chanct, and stick,"
said Pete.

"Nope.  Right now I'm lookin' out for myself, and nobody else.  If they
kin hang that last deal onto me--and you know what I mean--why, your
Uncle Ed'll sure have to take the long trail.  And I aim to keep
a-ridin' in the sun for a spell yet.  We're gittin' clost to town.
Mebby we can drop off easy and sift out of sight without any fuss.
Then we got a chanct to change our clothes and git rid of that dough.
They'll be lightin' the lamps right soon.  Them saddle-bags buckled?"

"They sure are."

"All right.  When you hear 'em whistle for the crossin' jest stand up
and drop 'em out of the window.  Nobody kin see you from behind.  Then
we mosey into the baggage-car and tell the agent in there we're lookin'
for our war-bag.  Bein' express messenger, he packs a gun.  You want to
step lively for that side door."

"I git you, Ed.  What's all them lights out there?"

"That's the town.  She's jest whistlin' for the crossin'.  Dump your
freight--easy, like you was lookin' out at the scenery.  That's her.
Now, stretch your arms and kind of look round.  The conductor is out on
the back platform.  Come on!"

The express messenger was leaning from the side door in the act of
swinging a parcel to the local agent at the Grossing, when Brevoort and
Pete entered.  With his back toward them and absorbed in launching the
package he did not see them as they angled quickly to the other door
and dropped off into the night.  The train slowed almost to a stop, the
grinding brakes eased, and it drew away, leaving Pete and Brevoort
squatting behind a row of empty oil barrels along the track.




CHAPTER XXXII

EL PASO

As the tail-lights of the train disappeared, Pete and Brevoort rose and
walked down the track several hundred yards.  Pete was certain that
they had retraced too far, but Brevoort assured him that he knew about
where to look for the saddle-bags.  "I noticed that we passed a pile of
new ties, jest after you dropped 'em," said the Texan.

Pete insisted that they had come too far until they almost walked into
the ties.  They searched about in the darkness, feeling along the
ground with their feet, until finally Brevoort stumbled over the
saddle-bags at the bottom of the ditch along the right-of-way.  He
picked them up.  Pete was still rummaging around as Brevoort
straightened.  For an instant the Texan was tempted to keep up the
pretense of searching and so drift farther from Pete, until under cover
of darkness he could decamp with the money--across the border and make
a fresh start with it--as he told himself, "something to start on."

But suddenly, and most absurdly alien to his present mood, came the
vivid recollection of Pete's face when he had smelled those
unforgettable eggs in the box-stall of the Ortez stables.  Why this
should have changed Brevoort's hasty inclination is explainable,
perhaps, through that strange transition from the serious to the
humorous; that quick relief from nervous tension that allows a man to
readjust himself toward the universe.  Brevoort cursed softly to
himself as he strode to Pete.  "Here they are.  Found them back there a
piece.  Now we got to foot it acrost this end of the town and drift
wide of the white-lights.  Down to the south end we kin get somethin'
to eat, and some new clothes.  Them Jew stores is open late."

Following the river road they skirted the town until opposite the
Mexican quarter, where, Brevoort explained, they would be comparatively
safe, so long as they attended to their own business.

Pete was amazed by the lights and the clamor--a stringed orchestra
playing in this open front, and a hot-dog vender declaiming in this
open front; a moving-picture entrance brilliantly illuminated, and a
constant movement of folk up and down the streets in free-and-easy
fashion, and he almost forgot the cumulative hazards of their
companionship in experiencing his first plunge into city life.
Brevoort, who knew the town, made for a Mexican lodging-house, where
they took a room above the noisy saloon, washed, and after downing a
drink of vile whiskey, crossed the street to a dingy restaurant.  Later
they purchased some inconspicuous "town-clothes" which they carried
back to their room.

Pete was for staying right where they were until morning, but Brevoort,
naturally restless, suggested that they go to a moving-picture theater.
They changed their clothes.  Pete felt decidedly uncomfortable in the
coat, and was only persuaded to wear it when Brevoort pointed out that
it was a case of either leave their guns in the room or wear something
to cover them.  Then came the question of what they were to do with the
money.  Pete was for taking it along with them, but Brevoort vetoed the
suggestion.  "It's as safe here as in a bank," he said, and taking the
two sacks from the saddle-pockets he lowered each one gently into the
big water-pitcher.  "Nothin' in there but water, which don't interest a
Chola nohow.  But I'll cinch it."  Which he did downstairs, as he drew
a handful of gold pieces from his pocket, counted them carefully, and
left something like fifty dollars with the proprietor, asking him to
take care of the money for them, as they did not want to get "plumb
broke" the first night in town.  The Mexican grinned understandingly.
He was familiar with the ways of cowboys.  Their money would be safe
with him.

Outside Pete asked Brevoort if he had not "jest about made a present of
fifty to that Mex."

"Not any.  He figures he'll get his share of it when we git to hittin'
the high-spots--which we don't aim to hit, this journey.  That Mexican
sure thinks he's got all the money we own except what's on us right
now.  So he won't ever think of goin' through our stuff upstairs.  That
fifty was insurance on the big money.  Let's go where we kin git a real
drink--and then we'll have a look at a show."

The "real drink" was followed by another.  When Brevoort suggested a
third, Pete shook his head.  "It's all right, if you want to hit it,
Ed--but it's takin' a big chanct.  Somethin' might slip.  'T ain't the
drinkin'--but it's the drinkin' right now."

"Reckon you 're right," concurred Brevoort.  "But I ain't had a drink
for so long--let's go see that show."

They crowded into a cheap and odoriferous nickel theater, and
straightway Pete forgot where he was and all about who he was in
watching the amazing offerings of the screen.  The comedy feature
puzzled him.  He thought that he was expected to laugh--folks all round
him were laughing--but the unreality of the performance left him
staring curiously at the final tangle of a comedy which struggled to be
funny to the bitter end.  His attention was keen for the next picture,
a Western drama, entitled "The Battle of the Border," which ran swiftly
to lurid climax after climax, until even Pete's unsophisticated mind
doubted that any hero could have the astounding ability to get out of
tight places as did the cowboy hero of this picture.  This sprightly
adventurer had just killed a carload of Mexicans, leaped from the roof
of an adobe to his horse, and made off into the hills--they were real
hills of the desert country, sure enough--as buoyantly as though he had
just received his pay-check and was in great haste to spend it, never
once glancing back, and putting his horse up grades at a pace that
would have made an old-timer ashamed of himself had he to ride sixty
miles to the next ranch before sundown--as the lead on the picture
stated.  Still, Pete liked that picture.  He knew that kind of
country--when suddenly he became aware of the tightly packed room, the
foul air laden with the fumes of humanity, stale whiskey, and tobacco,
the shuffling of feet as people rose and stumbled through the darkness
toward the street.  Pete thought that was the end of the show, but as
Brevoort made no move to go, he fixed his attention on the screen
again.  Immediately another scene jumped into the flickering square.
Pete stiffened.  Before him spread a wide canon.  A tiny rider was
coming down the trail from the rim.  At the bottom was a Mexican 'dobe,
a ramshackle stable and corral.  And there hung the Olla beneath an
acacia.  A saddle lay near the corral bars.  Several horses moved about
lazily . . .  The hero of the recent gun-fight was riding into the yard
. . .  Some one was coming from the 'dobe.  Pete almost gasped as a
Mexican girl, young, lithe, and smiling, stepped into the foreground
and held out her hands as the hero swung from his horse.  The girl was
taller and more slender than Boca--yet in the close-up which followed,
while her lover told her of the tribulations he had recently
experienced, the girl's face was the face of Boca--the same sweetly
curved and smiling mouth, the large dark eyes, even the manner in which
her hair was arranged . . .

Pete nudged Brevoort.  "I reckon we better drift," he whispered.

"How's that, Pete?"

"The girl there in the picture.  Mebby you think I'm loco, but there's
somethin' always happens every time I see her."

"You got a hunch, eh?"

"I sure got one."

"Then we play it."  And Brevoort rose.  They blinked their way to the
entrance, pushed through the crowd at the doorway, and started toward
their room.  "I didn't want to say anything in there," Brevoort
explained.  "You can't tell who's sittin' behind you.  But what was you
gettin' at, anyhow?"

"You recollect my tellin' you about that trouble at Showdown?  And the
girl was my friend?  Well, I never said nothin' to you about it, but I
git to thinkin' of her and I can kind of see her face like she was
tryin' to tell me somethin', every doggone time somethin's goin' to go
wrong.  First off, I said to myself I was loco and it only happened
that way.  But the second time--which was when we rode to the Ortez
ranch--I seen her again.  Then when we was driftin' along by that
cactus over to Sanborn I come right clost to tellin' you that I seen
her--not like I kin see you, but kind of inside--and I knowed that
somethin' was a-comin' wrong.  Then, first thing I know--and I sure
wasn't thinkin' of her nohow--there is her face in that picture.  I
tell you, Ed, figuring out your trail is all right, and sure wise--but
I'm gettin' so I feel like playin' a hunch every time."

"Well, a drink will fix you up.  Then we'll mosey over to the room.
Our stuff'll be there all right."

"'T ain't the money I'm thinkin' about.  It's you and me."

"Forget it!"  Brevoort slapped Pete on the shoulder.  "Come on in here
and have something."

"I'll go you one more--and then I quit," said Pete.  For Pete began to
realize that Brevoort's manner was slowly changing.  Outwardly he was
the same slow-speaking Texan, but his voice had taken on a curious
inflection of recklessness which Pete attributed to the few but
generous drinks of whiskey the Texan had taken.  And Pete knew what
whiskey could do to a man.  He had learned enough about that when with
the horse-trader.  Moreover, Pete considered it a sort of weakness--to
indulge in liquor when either in danger or about to face it.  He had no
moral scruples whatever.  He simply viewed it from a utilitarian angle.
A man with the fine edge of his wits benumbed by whiskey was apt to
blunder.  And Pete knew only to well that they would have need for all
of their wits and caution to get safely out of El Paso.  And to blunder
now meant perhaps a fight with the police--for Pete knew that Brevoort
would never suffer arrest without making a fight--imprisonment, and
perhaps hanging.  He knew little of Brevoort's past record, but he knew
that his own would bulk big against him.  Brevoort had taken another
drink after they had tacitly agreed to quit.  Brevoort was the older
man, and Pete had rather relied on his judgment.  Now he felt that
Brevoort's companionship would eventually become a menace to their
safety.

"Let's get back to the room, Ed," he suggested as they came out of the
saloon.

"Hell, we ain't seen one end of the town yet."

"I'm goin' back," declared Pete.

"Got another hunch?"--and Brevoort laughed.

"Nope.  I'm jest figurin' this cold.  A good gambler don't drink when
be's playin'.  And we're sure gamblin'--big."

"Reckon you're right, pardner.  Well, we ain't far from our blankets.
Come on."

The proprietor of the rooming-house was surprised to see them return so
soon and so unauspiciously.  He counted out Brevoort's money and gave
it back to him.

"Which calls for a round before we hit the hay," said Brevoort.

The room upstairs was hot and stuffy.  Brevoort raised the window,
rolled a cigarette and smoked, gazing down on the street, which had
become noisier toward midnight.  Pete emptied the pitcher and stowed
the wet sacks of gold in his saddle-pockets.

"Told you everything was all right," said Brevoort, turning to watch
Pete as he placed the saddlebags at the head of the bed.

"All right, so far," concurred Pete.

"Say, pardner, you losin' your nerve?  You act so dam' serious.  Hell,
we ain't dead yet!"

"No, I ain't losin' my nerve.  But I'm tellin' you I been plumb scared
ever since I seen that picture.  I don't feel right, Ed."

"I ain't feelin' so happy myself," muttered Brevoort, turning toward
the window.

Pete, sitting on the edge of the bed, noticed that Brevoort's face was
tense and unnatural.  Presently Brevoort tossed his cigarette out of
the window and turned to Pete.  "I been thinkin' it out," he began
slowly.  "That hunch of yours kind of got me goin'.  The best thing we
kin do is to get out of this town quick.  We got to split--no way round
that.  We're all right so far, but by to-morrow they'll be watchin'
every train and every hotel, and doggin' every stranger to see what
he's doin'.  What you want to do is to take them sacks, wrap 'em up in
paper, put ole E. H. Hodges's name on it--he's president of the
Stockmen's Security Bank here, and a ole pal of The Spider's--and pack
it over to the express company and git a receipt.  _They'll_ sure git
that money to the bank.  And then you want to fan it.  If you jest was
to walk out of town, no'th, you could catch a train for Alamogordo,
mebby, and then git a hoss and work over toward the Organ Range, which
is sure open country--and cattle.  You can't go back the way we
come--and they'll be watchin' the border south."

"Where is that express outfit, anyhow?"

"You know that street where we seen the show?  Well, if you keep right
on you'll come to the Square and the express company is right on the
corner."

"All right, Ed.  But what you goin' to do?"

"I'm goin' to git a soogun to-morrow mornin', roll my stuff and head
for the border, afoot.  I'm a ranch-hand lookin' for work.  I know
where I kin get acrost the river.  Then I aim to hit for the dry spot,
bush out, and cross the line where they won't be lookin' for a man
afoot, nohow."

"Why don't you git to movin' right now?" Brevoort smiled curiously.
"They's two reasons, pardner; one is that I don't want to git stood up
by a somebody wantin' to know where I'm goin' at night with my
war-bag--and I sure aim to take my chaps and boots and spurs and stuff
along, for I'm like to need 'em.  Then you ain't out of town yet."

"Which is why you're stickin' around."

"If we only had a couple of hosses, Pete.  It's sure hell bein' afoot,
ain't it?"

"It sure is.  Say, Ed, we got to split, anyhow.  Why don't you git to
goin'?  It ain't like you was quittin' me cold."

"You're a mighty white kid, Pete.  And I'm goin' to tell you right now
that you got a heap more sense and nerve than me, at any turn of the
game.  You been goin' round to-night on cold nerve and I been travelin'
on whiskey.  And I come so clost to gittin' drunk that I ain't sure I
ain't yet.  It was liquor first started me ridin' the high trail."

Brevoort had seated himself on the bed beside Pete.  As the big Texan
rolled a cigarette, Pete saw that his hands trembled.  For the first
time that evening Pete noticed that his companion was under a high
tension.  He could hardly believe that Brevoort's nerve was really
shaken.

The street below had grown quieter.  From below came the sound of a
door being closed.  Brevoort started, cursed, and glanced at Pete.
"Closin' up for the night," he said.  Pete quickly shifted his gaze to
the open window.  He did not want Brevoort to know that he had noticed
the start, or those hands that trembled.

They rose early, had breakfast at the restaurant across the street, and
returned to the room, Brevoort with a sogun in which he rolled and
corded his effects and Pete with some brown paper in which he wrapped
the sacks of gold.  Brevoort borrowed a pencil from the proprietor and
addressed the package.

"But how's the bank goin' to know who it's from?" queried Pete,

"That's right.  I'll put The Spider's name here in the corner.  Say, do
you know we're takin' a whole lot of trouble for a man that wouldn't
lift a hand to keep us from bein' sent up?"  And Brevoort weighed the
package thoughtfully.  "By rights we ought to hang onto this dough.  We
earned it."

"I sure don't want any of it, Ed.  I'm through with this game."

"I reckon you're right.  Well, next off, you git it to that express
office.  I'll wait till you git back."

"What's the use of my comin' back, anyhow?" queried Pete.  "We paid for
our room last night."

"Ain't you goin' to take your stuff along?  You can pack it same as
mine.  Then when you git to a ranch you are hooked up to ride."

"Guess you're right, Ed.  Well, so-long."

"See you later."

Brevoort, who seemed to have recovered his nerve, added, "I aim to
light out jest as quick as you git back."

Pete was so intent on his errand that he did not see Conductor Stokes,
who stood in the doorway of the El Paso House, talking to a man who had
a rowdy rolled under his arm, wore overalls, and carried a dinner-pail.
The conductor glanced sharply at Pete as he passed, then turned
abruptly, and stepped to a man who stood talking to the clerk at the
desk.

"I jest saw one of 'em," said the conductor.  "I never forget a face.
He was rigged out in town-clothes--but it was him--all right."

"You sure, Len?"

"Pretty darned sure."

"Well, we can find out.  You set down over there in the window and be
reading a paper.  I'll go out and follow him.  If he comes back this
way, you take a good look at him and give me the high sign if it's one
of 'em.  And if it is, he'll be connectin' up with the other one,
sooner or later.  I'll jest keep my eye on him, anyway.  You say he had
on a dark suit and is dark-complexioned and young?"

"Yes--that one.  The other was bigger and taller and had light hair and
gray eyes.  Both of 'em were in their range clothes on number three."

"All right."  And the plain-clothes man hastened out and up the street
until he had "spotted" Pete, just entering the doorway of the express
office.

Pete came out presently, glanced about casually, and started back for
the room.  Half a block behind him followed the plain-clothes man, who
glanced in as he passed the hotel.  The conductor nodded.  The
plain-clothes man hastened on down the street.  He saw Pete turn a
corner several blocks south.  When the detective arrived at the corner
Pete was just entering the door of the little clothing-store next to
the restaurant.  Presently Pete came out and crossed to the saloon.
The detective sauntered down the opposite walk and entering the
restaurant telephoned to headquarters.  Then he called for coffee and
sat watching the saloon across the way.

Brevoort, who had been sitting on the bed gazing down at the street,
saw Pete turn the corner and enter the store.  He also saw the
plain-clothes man enter the restaurant and thought nothing of it until
presently he saw another man enter the place.  These two were talking
together at the table near the front window.  Brevoort grew suspicious.
The latest arrival had not ordered anything to eat, nor had he greeted
the other as men do when they meet.  And they did not seem quite the
type of men to dine in such a place.  Pete, cording his belongings in
the new sogun, heard Brevoort muttering something, and turned his head.

"I'm watchin' a couple of fellas acrost the street," explained
Brevoort.  "Keep back out of sight a minute."

Pete, on his knees, watched Brevoort's face.  "Anything wrong, Ed?" he
queried presently.

"I dunno.  Jest step round behind me.  Kin you see that eatin'-place?"

"Yes."

"Did you see either of them guys when you was out on the street?"

"Why, no.  Hold on a minute!  That one with the gray clothes was
standin' on the corner by the express office when I come out.  I
recollec' now.  He was smokin' a cigar."

"Yes.  And he thrun it away when he went in there.  I seen him at the
telephone there on the desk--and pretty soon along comes his friend.
Looks kind of queer that he was up at the Square when you was, and then
trails down here where we be."

"You think mebby--"

"I dunno.  If it is we better drift out at the back afore any of 'em
gits round there."

"And leave our stuff, eh?"

"Yes.  We got to move quick.  They 're sizin' up this buildin' right
now.  Don't show yourself.  Wait!  One of 'em is comin' out and he's
headed over here."

Brevoort drew back, and stepping to the door opened it and strode
swiftly down the dim hall to a window at its farther end.  Below the
window was a shed, and beyond the farther edge of the shed-roof was an
alley.  He hastened back to the room and closed and locked the door.
"You loco?" he growled.  Pete had drawn a chair to the window and was
sitting there, looking out as casually as though there was no danger
whatever.

"I thought you made your get-away," said Pete, turning.  "I was jest
keepin' that hombre interested in watchin' me.  Thought if he seen
somebody here he wouldn't make no quick move to follow you."

"So you figured I quit you, eh?  And you go and set in that winda so
they'd think we was in the room here?  And you done it to give me a
chanct?  Well, you got me wrong.  I stick."

"Then I reckon somebody's goin' to git hurt," said Pete, "for I'm goin'
to stick too."

Brevoort shook his head.  "The first guy most like come over to ask the
boss who's up here in this room.  The boss tells him about us.  Now,
them coyotes sure would like it a heap better to git us out on the
street--from behind--than to run up against us holed up here, for they
figure somebody'll git hurt.  Now you slip down that hall, easy, and
drop onto the shed under the winda and fan it down the alley back
there.  You got a chanct.  I sized up the layout."

"Nothin' doin'.  Why don't you try it yourself?"

"'Cause they'll git one of us, anyhow, and it'll be the fella that
stays."

"Then I'll flip a dollar to see which stays," said Pete.

Before Brevoort could speak, Pete drew a dollar from his pocket and
flipped it toward his companion.  It fell between them.  "I say heads,"
said Pete.  And he glanced at the coin, which showed tails.  "The
dollar says you go, Ed.  You want to git a-movin'!"

Brevoort hesitated; Pete rose and urged him toward the door.  "So-long,
Ed.  If you'd 'a' stayed we'd both got shot up.  I'll set in the winda
so they'll think we 're both here."

"I'll try her," said Brevoort.  "But I'd 'a' stayed--only I knowed you
wouldn't go.  So-long, pardner."  He pulled his gun and softly unlocked
the door.  There was no one in the hall--and no one on the narrow
stairway to the right.  He tiptoed to the window, climbed out, and let
himself down to the shed-roof.  From the roof he dropped to the alley,
glanced round, and then ran.

Pete locked the door and went back to his chair in front of the window.
He watched the man in the restaurant, who had risen and waved his hand,
evidently acknowledging a signal from some one.  It was the man Pete
had seen near the express office--there was no doubt about that.  Pete
noticed that he was broad of shoulder, stocky, and wore a heavy gold
watch-chain.  He disappeared within the doorway below.  Presently Pete
heard some one coming up the uncarpeted stairway--some one who walked
with the tread of a heavy person endeavoring to go silently.  A brief
interval in which Pete could hear his own heart thumping, and some one
else ascended the stairway.  The boards in the hallway creaked.  Some
one rapped on the door.

"I guess this is the finish," said Pete to himself.  Had he been
apprehended in the open, in a crowd on the street, he would not have
made a fight.  He had told himself that.  But to be run to earth this
way--trapped in a mean and squalid room, away from the sunlight and no
slightest chance to get away . . .  He surmised that these men knew
that the men that they hunted would not hesitate to kill.  Evidently
they did not know that Brevoort was gone.  How could he hold them that
Brevoort might have more time?  He hesitated.  Should he speak, or keep
silent?

He thought it better to answer the summons.  "What do you want?" he
called.

"We want to talk to your partner," said a voice.

"He's sleepin'," called Pete.  "He was out 'most all night."

"Well, we'll talk with you then."

"Go ahead.  I'm listenin'."

"Suppose you open the door."

"And jest suppose I don't?  My pardner ain't like to be friendly if
he's woke up sudden."

Pete could hear the murmuring of voices as if in consultation.  Then,
"All right.  We'll come back later."

"Who'll I say wants to see him?" asked Pete.

"He'll know when he sees us.  Old friends of his."

Meanwhile Pete had risen and moved softly toward the door.  Standing to
one side he listened.  He heard footsteps along the hall--and the sound
of some one descending the stairs.  "One of 'em has gone down.  The
other is in the hall waitin'," he thought.  "And both of 'em scared to
bust in that door."

He tiptoed back to the window and glanced down.  The heavy-shouldered
man had crossed the street and was again in the restaurant.  Pete saw
him step to the telephone.  Surmising that the other was telephoning
for reinforcements, Pete knew that he would have to act quickly, or
surrender.  He was not afraid to risk being killed in a running fight.
He was willing to take that chance.  But the thought of imprisonment
appalled him.  To be shut from the sun and the space of the
range--perhaps for life--or to be sentenced to be hanged, powerless to
make any kind of a fight, without friends or money . . .  He thought of
The Spider, of Boca, of Montoya, and of Pop Annersley; of Andy White
and Bailey.  He wondered if Ed Brevoort had got clear of El Paso.  He
knew that there was some one in the hall, waiting.  To make a break for
liberty in that direction meant a killing, especially as Brevoort was
supposed to be in the room.  "I'll keep 'em guessin'," he told himself,
and went back to his chair by the window.  And if there was supposed to
be another man in the room, why not carry on the play--for the benefit
of the watcher across the street?  Every minute would count for or
against Brevoort's escape.

Thrusting aside all thought of his own precarious situation, Pete began
a brisk conversation with his supposed companion.  "How does your head
feel?" he queried, leaning forward and addressing the empty bed.  He
nodded as if concurring in the answer.

Then, "Uh-huh!  Well, you look it, all right!"

"You don't want no breakfast?  Well, I done had mine."

  ....................

"What's the time?  'Bout ten.  Goin' to git up?"

  ....................

Pete gestured as he described an imaginative incident relative to his
supposed companion's behavior the preceding night.  "Some folks been
here askin' for you."  Pete shook his head as though he had been asked
who the callers were.  He had turned sideways to the open window to
carry on this pantomimic dialogue.  He glanced at the restaurant across
the street.  The heavy-shouldered man had disappeared.  Pete heard a
faint shuffling sound in the hall outside.  Before he could turn the
door crashed inward.  He leapt to his feet.  With the leap his hand
flashed to his side.  Unaccustomed to a coat, his thumb caught in the
pocket just as the man who had shouldered the flimsy door down, reeled
and sprawled on the floor.  Pete jerked his hand free, but in that lost
instant a gun roared in the doorway.  He crumpled to the floor.  The
heavy-shouldered man, followed by two officers, stepped into the room
and glanced about.

"Thought there was two?  Where's the other guy?" queried the policeman.

The man on the floor rose and picked up his gun.

"Well, we got one, anyhow.  Bill, 'phone the chief that one of 'em got
away.  Have 'em send the wagon.  This kid here is done for, I guess."

"He went for his gun," said the heavy-shouldered man.  "It's a dam'
good thing you went down with that door.  Gave me a chance to get him."

"Here's their stuff," said an officer, kicking Pete's pack that lay
corded on the floor.

"Well, Tim," said the man who had shouldered the door down, "you stay
here till the wagon comes.  Bill and I will look around when he gets
back.  Guess the other one made for the line.  Don't know how he worked
it.  Keep the crowd out."

"Is he all in?" queried the officer.

"No; he's breathin' yet.  But he ain't got long.  He's a young bird to
be a killer."


Late that afternoon Pete was taken from the Emergency to the General
Hospital.  Lights were just being turned on in the surgical ward and
the newsboys were shouting an extra, headlining a border raid by the
Mexicans and the shooting of a notorious bandit in El Paso.

The president of the Stockmen's Security and Savings Bank bought a
paper as he stepped into his car that evening and was driven toward
home.  He read the account of the police raid, of the escape of one of
the so-called outlaws, the finding of the murdered man near Sanborn,
and a highly colored account of what was designated as the invasion of
the United States territory by armed troops of Mexico.

Four thousand dollars in gold had been delivered to him personally that
day by the express company--a local delivery from a local source.
"Jim's man," he said to himself as the car passed through the Plaza and
turned toward the eastern side of the town.  Upon reaching home the
president told his chauffeur to wait.  Slitting an envelope he wrapped
the paper and addressed it to James Ewell, Showdown, Arizona.

"Mail it at the first box," he said.  "Then you can put the car up.  I
won't need it to-night."


The surgeon at the General Hospital was bending over Pete.  The surgeon
shook his head, then turning he gave the attendant nurse a few brief
directions, and passed on to another cot.  As the nurse sponged Pete's
arm, an interne poised a little glittering needle.  "There's just a
chance," the surgeon had said.

At the quick stab of the needle, Pete's heavy eyes opened.  The little
gray-eyed nurse smiled.  The interne rubbed Pete's arm and stepped
back.  Pete's lips moved.  The nurse bent her head.  "Did--Ed"--Pete's
face twitched--"make it?"

"You mustn't talk," said the nurse gently.  And wishing with all her
heart to still the question that struggled in those dark, anxious eyes,
she smiled again.  "Yes, he made it," she said, wondering if Ed were
the other outlaw that the papers had said had escaped.  She walked
briskly to the end of the room and returned with a dampened towel and
wiped the dank sweat from Pete's forehead.  He stared up at her, his
face white and expressionless.  "It was the coat--my hand caught," he
murmured.

She nodded brightly, as though she understood.  She did not know what
his name was.  There had been nothing by which to identify him.  And
she could hardly believe that this youth, lying there under that black
shadow that she thought never would lift again, could be the desperate
character the interne made him out to be, retailing the newspaper
account of his capture to her.

It was understood, even before the doctor had examined Pete, that he
could not live long.  The police surgeon had done what he could.  Pete
had been removed to the General Hospital, as the Emergency was crowded.

The little nurse was wondering if he had any relatives, any one for
whom he wished to send.  Surely he must realize that he was dying!  She
was gazing at Pete when his eyes slowly opened and the faintest trace
of a smile touched his lips.  His eyes begged so piteously that she
stepped close to the cot and stooped.  She saw that he wanted to ask
her something, or tell her something that was worrying him.  "What did
it matter?" she thought.  At any moment he might drift into
unconsciousness . . .

"Would you--write--to The Spider--and say I delivered the--goods?"

"But who is he--where--"

"Jim Ewell, Showdown--over in--Arizona."

"Jim Ewell, Showdown, Arizona." she repeated.  "And what name shall I
sign?"

"Jest Pete," he whispered, and his eyes closed.


Pete's case puzzled Andover, the head-surgeon at, the General.  It was
the third day since Pete's arrival and he was alive--but just alive and
that was all.  One peculiar feature of the case was the fact that the
bullet--a thirty-eight--which had pierced the right lung, had not gone
entirely through the body.  Andover, experienced in gun-shot wounds,
knew that bullets fired at close range often did freakish things.
There had been a man recently discharged from the General as
convalescent, who had been shot in the shoulder, and the bullet,
striking the collar-bone, had taken a curious tangent, following up the
muscle of the neck and lodging just beneath the ear.  In that case
there had been the external evidence of the bullet's location.  In this
case there was no such evidence to go by.

The afternoon of the third day, Pete was taken to the operating room
and another examination made.  The X-ray showed a curious blur near the
right side of the spine.  To extract the bullet would be a difficult
and savage operation, an operation which the surgeon thought his
patient in his present weakened condition could not stand.  Pete lay in
a heavy stupor, his left arm and the left side of his face partially
paralyzed.

The day after his arrival at the General two plain-clothes men came to
question him.  He was conscious and could talk a little.  But they had
learned nothing of his companion, the killing of Brent, nor how
Brevoort managed to evade them.  They gathered little of Pete's history
save that he told them his name, his age, and that he had no relatives
nor friends.  On all other subjects he was silent.  Incidentally the
officials gave his name to the papers, and the papers dug into their
back files for reference to an article they had clipped from the
"Arizona Sentinel," which gave them a brief account of the Annersley
raid and the shooting of Gary.  They made the most of all this, writing
a considerable "story," which the president of the Stockmen's Security
read and straightway mailed to his old acquaintance, The Spider.

The officers from the police station had told Pete bluntly that he
could not live, hoping to get him to confess to or give evidence as to
the killing of Brent.  Pete at once knew the heavy-shouldered man--the
man who had shot him down and who was now keen on getting evidence in
the case.

"So I'm goin' to cross over?" Pete had said, eying the other curiously.
"Well, all I wish is that I could git on my feet long enough--to--get a
crack at you--on an even break.  I wouldn't wear no coat, neither."

The fact that Pete had bungled seemed to worry him much more than his
condition.  He felt that it was a reflection on his craftmanship.  The
plain-clothes man naturally thought that Pete was incorrigible, failing
to appreciate that it was the pride of youth that spoke rather than the
personal hatred of an enemy.




CHAPTER XXXIII

THE SPIDER'S ACCOUNT

That the news of Pete's serious condition should hit The Spider as hard
as it did was as big a surprise to The Spider himself as it could ever
have been to his closest acquaintance.  Yet it was a fact--and The
Spider never quarreled with facts.

The spider of the web-weaving species who leaves his web, invites
disaster unless he immediately weaves another, and The Spider of
Showdown was only too well aware of this.  Always a fatalist, he took
things as they came, but had never yet gone out of his way to tempt the
possibilities.

Shriveled and aged beyond his natural years, with scarcely a true
friend among his acquaintances, weary of the monotony of life--not in
incident but in prospect--too shrewd to drug himself with drink, and
realizing that the money he had got together both by hook and by crook
and banked in El Paso could never make him other than he was, he faced
the alternative of binding himself to Pete's dire need and desperate
condition, or riding to Baxter and taking the train from thence to El
Paso--his eyes open to what he was doing, both as a self-appointed
Samaritan and as a much-wanted individual in the town where Pete lay
unconscious, on the very last thin edge of Nothingness.

The Spider's preparations for leaving Showdown were simple enough.  He
had his Mexican bale and cord the choicest of the rugs and blankets,
the silver-studded saddle and bridle, the Bayeta cloth--rare and
priceless--and the finest of his Indian beadwork.  Each bale was
tagged, and on each tag was written the name of Boca's mother.  All
these things were left in his private room, which he locked.  Whether
or not he surmised what was going to happen is a question--but he did
not disregard possibilities.

His Mexican was left in charge of the saloon with instructions to keep
it open as usual, tell no one where his master had gone, and wait for
further instructions.

The Spider chose a most ordinary horse from his string and wore a most
ordinary suit of clothes.  The only things in keeping with his lined
and weathered face were his black Stetson and his high-heeled boots.
He knew that it would be impossible to disguise himself.  He would be
foolish to make the attempt.  His bowed legs, the scar running from
chin to temple, his very gait made disguise impossible.  To those who
did not know him he would be an "old-timer" in from the desert.  To
those who did know him . . .  Well, they were not many nor over-anxious
to advertise the fact.

He left at night, alone, and struck south across the desert, riding
easily--a shrunken and odd figure, but every inch a horseman.  Just
beneath his unbuttoned vest, under his left arm, hung the
service-polished holster of his earlier days.  He had more than enough
money to last him until he reached El Paso, and a plentiful stock of
cigars.  It was about nine o'clock next morning when he pulled up at
Flores's 'dobe and dismounted stiffly.  Flores was visibly surprised
and fawningly obsequious.  His chief was dressed for a long journey.
It had been many years since The Spider had ridden so far from
Showdown.  Something portentous was about to happen, or had happened.

Flores's wife, however, showed no surprise, but accepted The Spider's
presence in her usual listless manner.  To her he addressed himself as
she made coffee and placed a chair for him.  They talked of Boca---and
once The Spider spoke of Boca's mother, whom the Senora Flores had
known in Mexico.

Old Flores fed The Spider's horse, meanwhile wondering what had drawn
the chief from the security of his web.  He concluded that The Spider
was fleeing from some danger---the law, perhaps, or from some ancient
grudge that had at last found him out to harry him into the desert, a
hunted man and desperate.  The Mexican surmised that The Spider had
money with him, perhaps all his money--for local rumor had it that The
Spider possessed great wealth.  And of course he would sleep there that
night . . .

Upon returning to the 'dobe Flores was told by The Spider to say
nothing of having seen him.  This confirmed the old Mexican's suspicion
that The Spider had fled from danger.  And Flores swore by the saints
that none should know, while The Spider listened and his thin lips
twitched.

"You'd knife me in my bed for less than half the money on me," he told
Flores.

The Mexican started back, as though caught in the very act, and whined
his allegiance to The Spider.  Had he not always been faithful?

"No," said The Spider, "but the senora has."

Flores turned and shuffled toward the corral.  The Spider, standing in
the doorway of the 'dobe, spoke to Flores's wife over his shoulder: "If
I don't show up before next Sunday, senora, get your man to take you to
Showdown.  Juan will give you the money, and the things I left up
there."

"You will not come back," said the Mexican woman.

"Don't know but that you are right--but you needn't tell Flores that."

An hour later The Spider had Flores bring up his horse.  He mounted and
turned to glance round the place.  He shrugged his shoulders.  In a few
minutes he was lost to sight on the trail south which ran along the
canon-bed.

That night he arrived at Baxter, weary and stiff from his long ride.
He put his horse in the livery-stable and paid for its keep in
advance--"a week," he said, and "I'll be back."

Next morning he boarded the local for El Paso.  He sat in the
smoking-compartment, gazing out on the hurrying landscape.  At noon he
got off the train and entered an eating-house across from the station.
When he again took his seat in the smoker he happened to glance out.
On the platform was a square-built, sombrero'd gentleman, his back to
the coach and talking to an acquaintance.  There was something familiar
in the set of those shoulders.  The Spider leaned forward that he might
catch a glimpse of the man's face.  Satisfied as to the other's
identity, he leaned back in his seat and puffed his cigar.  The Spider
made no attempt to keep from sight.  The square-shouldered man was the
town marshal of Hermanas.  As the train pulled out, the marshal turned
and all but glanced up when the brakeman, swinging to the steps of the
smoker, reached out and playfully slapped him on the shoulder.  The car
slid past.  The Spider settled himself in his seat.

With the superstition of the gambler he believed that he would find an
enemy in the third person to recognize him, and with a gambler's stolid
acceptance of the inevitable he relaxed and allowed himself to plan for
the immediate future.  On Pete's actual condition would depend what
should be done.  The Spider drew a newspaper clipping from his pocket.
The El Paso paper stated that there was one chance in a thousand of
Pete recovering.  The paper also stated that there had been money
involved--a considerable sum in gold--which had not been found.  The
entire affair was more or less of a mystery.  It was hinted that the
money might not have been honestly come by in the first place,
and--sententiously--that crime breeds crime, in proof of which, the
article went on to say; "the man who had been shot by the police was
none other than Pete Annersley, notorious as a gunman in the service of
the even more notorious Jim Ewell, of Showdown, or 'The Spider,' as he
was known to his associates."  Followed a garbled account of the raid
on the Annersley homestead and the later circumstance of the shooting
of Gary, all of which, concluded the item, spoke for itself.

"More than Pete had a chance to do," soliloquized The Spider.  "They
got the kid chalked up as a crook--and he's as straight as a die."  And
strangely enough this thought seemed to please The Spider.

Shouldering through the crowd at the El Paso station, The Spider rubbed
against a well-dressed, portly Mexican who half-turned, showed surprise
as he saw the back of a figure which seemed familiar--the bowed legs
and peculiar walk--and the portly Mexican, up from the south because
certain financial interests had backed him politically were becoming
decidedly uncertain, named a name, not loudly, but distinctly and with
peculiar emphasis.  The Spider heard, but did not heed nor hurry.  A
black-shawled Mexican woman carrying a baby blundered into the portly
Mexican.  He shoved her roughly aside.  She cursed him for a pig who
robbed the poor--for he was known to most Mexicans--and he so far
forgot his dignity and station as to curse her heartily in return.  The
Spider meanwhile was lost in the crowd that banked the station platform.

El Paso had grown--was not the El Paso of The Spider's earlier days,
and for a brief while he forgot his mission in endeavoring mentally to
reconstruct the old town as he had known it.  Arrived at the Plaza he
turned and gazed about.  "Number two," he said to himself, recalling
the portly Mexican--and the voice.  He shrugged his shoulders.

His request to see the president of the Stockmen's Bank was borne
hesitatingly to that individual's private office, the messenger
returning promptly with instructions to "show the gentleman in."

Contrary to all precedent the president, Hodges, was not portly, but a
man almost as lean as The Spider himself; a quick, nervous man,
forceful and quite evidently "self-made."

"Sit down, Jim."

The Spider pulled up a chair.  "About that last deposit--"

The president thrust his hand into a pigeon-hole and handed The Spider
a slip of paper.

"So he got here with the cash before they nailed him?"  And The Spidery
face expressed surprise.

"The money came by express--local shipment.  I tried to keep it out of
the papers.  None of their dam' business."

"I'm going to close my account," stated The Spider.

"Going south?"

"No.  I got some business in town.  After that--"

"You mean you've got _no_ business in town.  Why didn't you write?"

"You couldn't handle it.  Figure up my credit--and give me a draft for
it, I'll give you my check.  Make it out to Peter Annersley," said The
Spider.

"One of your gunmen, eh?  I see by the papers he's got a poor chance of
using this."

"So have I," and The Spider almost smiled.

Hodges pushed back his chair.  "See here, Jim.  You've got no business
in this town and you know it!  And you've got enough money to keep you
comfortable anywhere--South America, for instance.  Somebody'll spot
you before you've been here twenty-four hours.  Why don't you let me
call a taxi--there's a train south at eleven-thirty."

"Thanks, E.H.--but I'm only going over to the hospital."

"You sure will, if you stick around this town long."

"I'm going to see that boy through," said The Spider.

"Then you're not after any one?"

"No, not that way."

"Well, you got me guessing.  I thought I knew you."

"Mebby, Ed.  Now, if the boy comes through all right, and I don't, I
want you to see that he gets this money.  There's nobody in town can
identify him but me--and mebby I won't be around here to do it.  If he
comes here and tells you he's Pete Annersley and that The Spider told
him to come, hand him the draft.  'Course, if things go smooth, I'll
take care of that draft myself."

"Making your will, Jim?"

"Something like that."

"All right.  I might as well talk to the moon.  I used to think that
you were a wise one--"

"Just plain dam' fool, same as you, E.H.  The only difference is that
you're tryin' to help _me_ out--and I aim to help out a kid that is
plumb straight."

"But I have some excuse.  If it hadn't been for you when I was down
south on that Union Oil deal--"

"Ed, we're both as crooked as they make 'em, only you play your game
with stocks and cash, inside--and I play mine outside, and she's a lone
hand.  This kid, Pete, is sure a bad hombre to stack up against--but
he's plumb straight."

"You seem to think a whole lot of him."

"I do," said The Spider simply.

The president shook his head.  The Spider rose and stuck out his hand.
"So-long, Ed."

"So-long, Jim.  I'll handle this for you.  But I hate like hell to
think it's the last time I _can_ handle a deal for you."

"You can't tell," said The Spider.

The president of the Stockmen's Security sat turning over the papers on
his desk.  It had been a long while since he had been in the
saddle--some eighteen or twenty years.  As a young man he had been sent
into Mexico to prospect for oil.  There were few white men in Mexico
then.  But despite their vicarious callings they usually stood by each
other.  The Spider, happening along during a quarrel among the natives
and the oil-men, took a hand in the matter, which was merely incidental
to his profession.  The oil-men had managed to get out of that part of
the country with the loss of but two men--a pretty fair average, as
things went those days.  Years afterwards the president of the
Stockmen's Security happened to meet The Spider in El Paso--and he did
not forget what he owed him.  The Spider at that time had considerable
gold which he finally banked with the Stockmen's Security at the
other's suggestion.  The arrangement was mutually agreeable.  The
Spider knew that the president of the Stockmen's Security would never
disclose his identity to the authorities--and Hodges felt that as a
sort of unofficial trustee he was able to repay The Spider for his
considerable assistance down in Mexico.




CHAPTER XXXIV

DORIS

Contrast to the rules of the hospital, the head-surgeon was chatting
rather intimately with Pete's nurse.  They were in the anteroom of the
surgical ward.  She was getting ready to go on duty.

"No, Miss Gray," said the surgeon positively, "he can't hold out much
longer unless we operate.  And I don't think he could stand an
operation.  He has amazing vitality, he's young, and in wonderful
condition--outdoor life and pretty clean living.  But he don't seem to
care whether he lives or not.  Has he said anything to you about--"
The surgeon paused and cleared his throat.

"No.  He just stares at me.  Sometimes he smiles--and, Dr. Andover,
I've been here two years--and I'm used to it, but I simply can't help
feeling--that he ought to have a chance."

The surgeon studied her wistful face and for a moment forgot that he
was the head-surgeon of the General, and that she was a nurse.  He
liked Doris Gray because of her personality and ability.  Two years of
hard work at the General had not affected her quietly cheerful manner.

"You're wearing yourself out worrying about this case," said the
surgeon presently.  "And that won't do at all."

She flushed and her seriousness vanished.  "I'm willing to," she said
simply.

The doctor smiled and shook his finger at her.  "Miss Gray, you know a
good nurse--"

"I know, Dr. Andover, but he hasn't a friend in the world.  I asked him
yesterday if I should write to any one, or do anything for him.  He
just smiled and shook his head.  He doesn't seem to be afraid of
anything--nor interested in anything.  He--oh, his eyes are just like
the eyes of a dog that is hurt and wants so much to tell you something,
and can't.  I don't care what the newspapers say--and those men from
the police station!  I don't believe he is really bad.  Now please
don't smile and tell me I'm silly."

"I thought you just said he didn't have a friend in the world."

"Oh, I don't count--that way."  Then hurriedly: "I forgot--he did ask
me to write to some one--the first day--a Jim Ewell, in Arizona.  He
asked me to say he had 'delivered the goods.'  I don't know that I
should have done it without reporting it, but--well, you said he
couldn't live--"

"Some outlaw pal of his, probably," said Andover, frowning.  "But that
has nothing to do with his--er--condition right now."

"And sometimes he talks when he is half-conscious, and he often speaks
to some one he calls 'The Spider,'" asserted Doris.

"Queer affair.  Well, I'll think about it.  If we do operate, I'll want
you--"

The surgeon was interrupted by a nurse who told him there was a man who
wanted to see Peter Annersley: that the man was insistent.  The
head-nurse was having supper, and should the caller be allowed in after
visiting hours?

"Send him in," said the surgeon, and he stepped into the
superintendent's office.  Almost immediately The Spider sidled across
the hallway and entered the room.  The surgeon saw a short, shriveled,
bow-legged man, inconspicuously dressed save for his black Stetson and
the riding-boots which showed below the bottom of his trousers.  The
Spider's black beady eyes burned in his weather-beaten and scarred
face--"the eyes of a hunted man"--thought the surgeon.  In a peculiar,
high-pitched voice, he asked Andover if he were the doctor in charge.

"I'm Andover, head-surgeon," said the other.  "Won't you sit down?"

The other glanced round.  Andover got up and closed the door.  "You
wish to see young Annersley, I understand."

"You looking after him?"

Andover nodded.

"Is he hurt pretty bad?"

"Yes.  I doubt if he will recover."

"Can I see him?"

"Well,"--and the surgeon hesitated,--"it's after hours.  But I don't
suppose it will do any harm.  You are a friend of his?"

"About the only one, I reckon."

"Well--I'll step in with you.  He may be asleep.  If he is--"

"I won't bother him."

The nurse met them, and put her finger to her lips.  Andover nodded and
stepped aside as The Spider hobbled to the cot and gazed silently at
Pete's white face.  Then The Spider turned abruptly and hobbled down
the aisle, followed by Andover.  "Come in here," said the surgeon as
The Spider hesitated.

Andover told him briefly that there was one chance in a thousand of
Pete's recovery; that the shock had been terrific, describing just
where the bullet was lodged and its effect upon the sensory nerves.
Andover was somewhat surprised to find that this queer person knew
considerable about gun-shot wounds and was even more surprised when The
Spider drew a flat sheaf of bills from his pocket and asked what an
operation would cost.  Andover told him.

The Spider immediately counted out the money and handed it to Andover.
"And get him in a room where he can be by himself.  I'll pay for it."

"That's all right, but if he should not recover from the operation--"

"I'm gambling that he'll pull through," said The Spider.  "And there's
my ante.  It's up to you."

"I'll have a receipt made out--"

The Spider shook his bead.  "His life'll be my receipt.  And you're
writing it--don't make no mistake."

Andover's pale face flushed.  "I'm not accustomed to having my
reputation as a surgeon questioned."

"See here," said The Spider, laying another packet of bills on the
surgeon's desk.  "Where I come from money talks.  And I reckon it ain't
got tongue-tied since I was in El Paso last.  Here's a thousand.  Pull
that boy through and forget where you got the money."

"I couldn't do more if you said ten thousand," asserted Andover.

"Gambling is my business," said The Spider.  "I raise the ante.  Do you
come in?"

"This is not a sporting proposition,"--Andover hesitated,--"but I'll
come in," he added slowly.

"You're wrong," said The Spider; "everything is a sporting proposition
from the day a man is born till he cashes in, and mebby after.  I don't
know about that, and I didn't come here to talk.  My money 'll talk for
me."

Andover, quite humanly, was thinking that a thousand dollars would help
considerably toward paying for the new car that he had had in mind for
some time.  He used a car in his work and he worked for the General
Hospital.  His desire to possess a new car was not altogether
professional, and he knew it.  But he also knew that he was overworked
and underpaid.

"Who shall I say called?" asked Andover, picking up the packet of bills.

"Just tell him it was a friend."

Andover was quite as shrewd in his way as was this strange visitor, who
evidently did not wish to be known.  "This entire matter is rather
irregular," he said,--"and the--er--bonus--is necessarily a
confidential matter!"

"Which suits me,"--and The Spider blinked queerly.

Dr. Andover stepped to the main doorway.  As he bade The Spider
good-night, he told him to call up on the telephone about ten-thirty
the next morning, or to call personally if he preferred.

The Spider hesitated directly beneath the arc-light at the entrance.
"If I don't call up or show up--you needn't say anything about this
deal to him--but you can tell him he's got a friend on the job."

The doctor nodded and walked briskly back to the superintendent's
office, where he waited until the secretary appeared, when he turned
over the money that had been paid to him for the operation and a
private room, which The Spider had engaged for two weeks.  He told the
secretary to make out a receipt in Peter Annersley's name.  "A friend
is handling this for him," he explained.

Then he sent for the head-nurse.  "I would like to have Miss Gray and
Miss Barlow help me," he told her, in speaking of the proposed
operation.

"Miss Gray is on duty to-night," said the head-nurse.

"Then if you will arrange to have her get a rest, please.  And--oh,
yes, we'll probably need the oxygen.  And you might tell Dr. Gleason
that this is a special case and I'd like to have him administer the
anaesthetic."

Andover strode briskly to the surgical ward and stopped at Pete's
couch.  As he stooped and listened to Pete's breathing, the packet of
crisp bills slipped from his inside pocket, and dropped to the floor.

He was in the lobby, on his way to his car, when Doris came running
after him.  "Dr. Andover," she called.  "I think you dropped
this,"--and she gave him the packet of bills.

"Mighty careless of me," he said, feeling in his inside pocket.
"Handkerchief--slipped them in on top of it.  Thank you."

Doris gazed at him curiously.  His eyes wavered.  "We're going to do
our best to pull him through," he said with forced sprightliness.

Doris smiled and nodded.  But her expression changed as she again
entered the long, dim aisle between the double row of cots.  Only that
evening, just before she had talked with Andover about Pete, she had
heard the surgeon tell the house-physician jokingly that all that stood
between him and absolute destitution was a very thin and exceedingly
popular check-book--and Andover had written his personal check for ten
dollars which he had cashed at the office.  Doris wondered who the
strange man was that had come in with Andover, an hour ago, and how Dr.
Andover had so suddenly become possessed of a thousand dollars.




CHAPTER XXXV

"CAUGHT IT JUST IN TIME"

At exactly ten-thirty the next morning The Spider was at the
information desk of the General Hospital, inquiring for Andover.

"He's in the operating-room," said the clerk.

"Then I'll wait."  The Spider sidled across to the reception-room and
sat nervously fingering the arm of his chair.  Nurses passed and
repassed the doorway, going quietly through the hall.  From somewhere
came the faint animal-like wail of a newly born babe.  The Spider had
gripped the arm of his chair.  A well-gowned woman stopped at the
information desk and left a great armful of gorgeous roses wrapped in
white tissue paper.  Presently a man--evidently a laborer--hobbled past
on crutches, his foot bandaged; a huge, grotesque white foot that he
held stiffly in front of him and which he seemed to be following,
rather than guiding.  A nurse walked slowly beside him.  The Spider
drummed the chair-arm with nervous fingers.  His little beady eyes were
constantly in motion, glancing here and there,--at the empty chairs in
the room, at the table with its neatly piled magazines, at a large
picture of the hospital, and a great group of nurses standing on the
stone steps, and then toward the doorway.  Presently a nurse came in
and told him that Dr. Andover would be unable to see him for some time:
that the patient just operated on was doing as well as could be
expected.

"He--he's come through all right?"

"Yes.  You might call up in an hour or so."

The Spider rose stiffly and put on his hat.

"Thanks," he said and hobbled out and across the lobby.  A cab was
waiting for him, and the driver seemed to know his destination, for he
whipped up his horse and drove south toward the Mexican quarter,
finally stopping at an inconspicuous house on a dingy side street that
led toward the river.  The Spider glanced up and down the street before
he alighted.  Then he gave the driver a bill quite out of proportion to
his recent service.  "You can come about the same time to-morrow," said
The Spider, and he turned and hobbled to the house.

About noon he came out, and after walking several blocks stopped at a
corner grocery and telephoned to the hospital, asking for Andover, who
informed him that the operation had been successful, as an operation,
but that the patient was in a critical condition--that it would be
several hours before they would dare risk a definite statement as to
his chances of recovery.  The surgeon told The Spider that they were
using oxygen, which fact in itself was significant.

The Spider crossed the street to a restaurant, drank several cups of
coffee, and on his way out bought a supply of cigars.  He played
solitaire in his room all that afternoon, smoking and muttering to
himself until the fading light caused him to glance at his watch.  He
slipped into his coat and made his way uptown.

Shortly after seven he entered the hospital.  Andover had left word
that he be allowed to see Pete.  And again The Spider stood beside
Pete's cot, gazing down upon a face startlingly white in contrast to
his dark hair and black eyebrows--a face drawn, the cheeks pinched, and
the lips bloodless.  "You taking care of him?"--and The Spider turned
to Doris.  She nodded, wondering if this queer, almost deformed
creature were "The Spider" that Pete had so often talked to when
half-conscious.  Whoever he was, her quick, feminine intuition told her
that this man's stiff and awkward silence signified more than any
spoken solicitude; that behind those beady black eyes was a soul that
was tormented with doubt and hope, a soul that had battled through dark
ways to this one great unselfish moment . . .  How could one know that
this man risked his life in coming there?  Yet she did know it.  The
very fact that he was Pete's friend would almost substantiate that.
Had not the papers said that Peter Annersley was a hired gunman of The
Spider's?  And although this man had not given his name, she knew that
he was The Spider of Pete's incoherent mutterings.  And The Spider,
glancing about the room, gazed curiously at the metal oxygen tank and
then at the other cot.

"You staying here right along?" he queried.

"For a while until he is out of danger."

"When will that be?"

"I don't know.  But I do know that he is going to live."

"Did the doc say so?"

Doris shook her head.  "No, Dr. Andover thinks he has a chance, but I
_know_ that he will get well."

"Does Pete know that I been here?"

"No.  The doctor thought it best not to say anything about that yet."

"I reckon that's right."

"Is he your son?" asked Doris.

"No.  Just a kid that used to--work for me."

And without further word, The Spider hobbled to the doorway and was
gone.

Hour after hour Doris sat by the cot watching the faintly flickering
life that, bereft of conscious will, fought for existence with each
deep-drawn breath.  About two in the morning Pete's breathing seemed to
stop.  Doris felt the hesitant throb of the pulse and, rising, stepped
to the hall and telephoned for the house-surgeon.


"Caught it just in time," he said to the nurse as he stepped back and
watched the patient react to the powerful heart-stimulant.  Pete's
breathing became more regular.

The surgeon had been gone for a few minutes when Pete's heavy lids
opened.

"It--was gittin'--mighty dark--down there," he whispered.  And Pete
stared up at her, his great dark eyes slowly brightening under the
artificial stimulant.  Doris bent over him and smoothed his hair back
from his forehead.  "I'm the--the Ridin' Kid--from--Powder River,"  he
whispered hoarsely.  "I kin ride 'em comin' or goin'--but I don't wear
no coat next journey.  My hand caught in the pocket."  He glanced
toward the doorway.  "But we fooled 'em.  Ed got away, so I reckon I'll
throw in with you, Spider."  Pete tried to lift himself up, but the
nurse pressed him gently back.  Tiny beads of sweat glistened on his
forehead.  Doris put her hand on the back of his.  At the touch his
lips moved.  "Boca was down there--in the dark--smilin' and tellin' me
it was all right and to come ahead," he whispered.  "I was tryin' to
climb out--of that there--canon . . .  Andy throwed his rope . . .
Caught it just in time . . .  And Andy he laughs.  Reckon he didn't
know--I was--all in . . ."  Pete breathed deeply, muttered, and drifted
into an easy sleep.  Doris watched him for a while, fighting her own
desire to sleep.  She knew that the crisis was past, and with that
knowledge came a physical let-down that left her worn and desperately
weary: not because she had been on duty almost twenty-four hours
without rest--she was young and could stand that--but because she had
given so much of herself to this case from the day Pete had been
brought in--through the operation which was necessarily savage, and up
to the moment when he had fallen asleep, after having passed so close
to the border of the dark Unknown.  And now that she knew he would
recover, she felt strangely disinterested in her work at the hospital.
But being a rather practical young person, never in the least morbid,
she attributed this unusual indifference to her own condition.  She
would not allow herself to believe that the life she had seen slipping
away, and which she had drawn back from the shadows, could ever mean
anything to her, aside from her profession.  And why should it?  This
dark-eyed boy was a stranger, an outcast, even worse, if she were to
believe what the papers said of him.  Yet he had been so patient and
uncomplaining that first night when she knew that he must have been
suffering terribly.  Time and again she had wiped the red spume from
his lips, until at last he ceased to gasp and cough and lay back
exhausted.  And Doris could never forget how he had tried to smile as
he told her, whispering hoarsely, "that he was plumb ashamed of makin'
such a doggone fuss."  Then day after day his suffering had grown less
as his vitality ebbed.  Following, came the operation, an almost
hopeless experiment . . . and that strange creature, The Spider . . .
who had paid for the operation and for this private room . . .  Doris
thought of the thousand dollars in bills that she had found and
returned to Andover; and while admiring his skill as a surgeon, she
experienced a sudden dislike for him as a man.  It seemed to her that
he had been actually bribed to save Pete's life, and had pocketed the
bribe . . . again it was The Spider . . .  What a name for a human
being--yet how well it fitted!  The thin bow-legs, the quick, sidling
walk, the furtive manner, the black, blinking eyes . . .  Doris yawned
and shivered.  Dawn was battling its slow way into the room.  A nurse
stepped in softly.  Doris rose and made a notation on the chart, told
the nurse that her patient had been sleeping since two o'clock, and
nodding pleasantly left the room.

The new nurse sniffed audibly.  Miss Gray was one of Dr. Andover's
pets!  She knew!  She had seen them talking together, often enough.
And Andover knew better than to try to flirt with her.  What a fuss
they were making about "Miss Gray's cowboy," as Pete had come to be
known among some of the nurses who were not "pets."  Her pleasant
soliloquy was interrupted by a movement of Pete's hand.  "Kin I have a
drink?" he asked faintly.

"Yes, dearie," said the nurse, and smiled a large, and toothful smile
as she turned and stepped out into the hall.  Pete's listless, dark
eyes followed her.  "Fer Gawd's sake!" he muttered.  His eyes closed.
He wondered what had become of his honest-to-Gosh nurse, Miss Gray.




CHAPTER XXXVI

WHITE-EYE

The third time that The Spider called at the hospital, and, as usual,
in the evening, he was told by the young house-doctor, temporarily in
charge, that he could not see the patient in room 218 without
permission from the physician in charge of the case, as it was after
visiting hours, and, moreover, there had been altogether too much
freedom allowed visitors as it was.  This young doctor knew nothing of
The Spider's connection with the Annersley case, and was altogether
unimpressed by The Spider's appearance, save that he mentally labeled
him a "rough-neck" who was evidently pretty badly crippled by
rheumatism.

The Spider felt tempted to resort to bribery, but there was something
so officious and aggressively professional in the manner of this
"straw-boss"--as The Spider mentally labeled him--that The Spider
hesitated to flatter his egotism by admitting that he held the
whip-hand.

"Then mebby you can find out how he's getting along?" queried The
Spider, in his high-pitched voice.

"No objection to that," said the young doctor, reaching for the desk
'phone.  "Two-eighteen, please.  Two-eighteen?  How is your patient
to-night?  That so?  H-m-m!  Oh, this is Miss Gray talking?  H-m-m!
Thanks."  And he hung up the receiver.

"The patient is doing very well--exceptionally well.  Would you care to
leave any message?"

"You might tell Doc Andover to leave word that when I call, I get to
see the folks I come to see--and I reckon he'll set you straight."

"Oh, I didn't--er--know you were a friend of Dr. Andover's.  What is
the name, please?"

"'T wouldn't interest you none, little man.  Thanks for the
information."  And The Spider hobbled out and clumped stiffly down the
wide stone stairway.

The young doctor adjusted his glasses and stared into vacancy.  "H-m-m!
And he had the nerve to call _me_ 'little man.'  Now I should call him
a decidedly suspicious character.  Looks something like an overgrown
spider.  Birds of a feather," he added sententiously, with an air of
conscious rectitude, and a disregard for the propriety of the implied
metaphor.  It is not quite certain whether he had Andover or Pete in
mind.  But it is most probable that had he allowed The Spider to see
Pete that evening and talk with him, The Spider would have left El Paso
the next day, as he had planned, instead of waiting until the following
evening, against his own judgment and in direct opposition to that
peculiar mental reaction called "a hunch" by those not familiar with
the niceties of the English language, and called nothing really more
expressive by those who are.

So far as The Spider knew, he had not been recognized by any one.  Yet
with that peculiar intuition of the gunman and killer he knew that he
was marked.  He wondered which of his old enemies had found him
out--and when and how that enemy would strike.

That night he wrote a short letter to Pete, stating that he was in town
and would call to see him the following evening, adding that if he
failed to call Pete was to go to the Stockmen's Security and ask for
the president when he was able to be about.  He mailed the letter
himself, walking several blocks to find a box.  On his way back a man
passed him who peered at him curiously.  The Spider's hand had crept
toward his upper vest-pocket as the other approached.  After he passed,
The Spider drew out a fresh cigar and lighted it from the one he was
smoking.  And he tossed the butt away and turned and glanced back.  "I
wonder what White-Eye is doing in El Paso?" he asked himself.  "He knew
me all right."  The Spider shrugged his shoulders.  His hunch had
proved itself.  There was still time to leave town, but the fact that
White-Eye had recognized him and had not spoken was an insidious
challenge, the kind of a challenge which a killer never lets pass.  For
the killer, strangely enough, is drawn to his kind through the instinct
of self-preservation, a psychological paradox to the layman, who does
not understand that peculiar pride of the gunman which leads him to
remove a menace rather than to avoid it.  Curiosity as to a rival's
ability, his personal appearance, his quality of nerve, the sound of
his voice, has drawn many noted killers together--each anxious to prove
conclusively that he was the better man.  And this curiosity, driven by
the high nervous tension of the man who must ever be on the alert, is
insatiable, and is assuaged only by insanity or his own death.  The
removal of a rival does not satisfy this hunger to kill, but rather
creates a greater hunger, until, without the least provocation, the
killer will shoot down a man merely to satisfy temporarily this inhuman
and terrible craving.  The killer veritably feeds upon death, until
that universal abhorrence of the abnormal, triumphant in the end,
adjusts the quivering balance--and Boot Hill boasts one more wooden
cross.

The Spider, limping up the stairway to his room, knew that he would not
leave El Paso, knew that he could not leave the town until satisfied as
to what White-Eye's silence meant.  And not only that, but he would
find out.  He lighted the oil-lamp on the dresser and gazed at himself
in the glass.  Then he took off his coat, shaved, washed, and put on a
clean shirt and collar.  He took some gold and loose silver from his
money-belt, put on his hat and coat, and hobbled downstairs.  He
thought he knew where he could get word of White-Eye's whereabouts,
stopped at a cigar-stand and telephoned for his cab--and his regular
driver.  In a few minutes the cab was at the corner.  He mentioned a
street number to the driver, who nodded knowingly.  Pony Baxter's
place--where the game ran big.  No place for a tin-horn.  Only the real
ones played at Pony's.  So this old-timer who paid so well was going to
take a whirl at the game?  The cabby thought he saw a big tip coming.
Being somewhat of a sportsman in his way, and grateful for what The
Spider had already done for him, he drew up within a block of his
destination and, stepping down, told The Spider that Pony's place was
being watched--and had been for more than a week: that the bulls were
out for some strangers who were wanted bad.

The Spider showed no sign of surprise.  "Suppose I was one of 'em, eh?"
he queried.

"That's none of my business, Captain.  I ain't workin' for the force;
I'm workin' for myself."

"All right.  I'll walk down to Pony's place.  After I go up, you can
drive down there and wait.  I may be five minutes--or a couple of
hours.  Here's something to make you forget who you're waiting for if
anybody should ask you."

The cabby tucked the money in his pocket and climbed back to his seat.
"Don't know if somebody was to ask me," he said to himself, as he
watched The Spider hobble down the next block.  "Lemme see," he
continued as he drove slowly along.  "Some guy comes up and asks me for
a match and starts talkin' friendly, and mebby asks me to have a drink,
and I get friendly and tell him about that young sport from the East
that's been seein' the town and how somebody over to his hotel must 'a'
told him about the game at Pony's--and how he's upstairs, gettin' his
hair cut--short.  Oh, I guess I ain't been in this business eight years
for nothin'."

But the inquisitive stranger did not appear and the cabby's invention
was wasted.

The Spider entered the first door to the left of the long hallway.  The
room was fitted up as an office, with huge leather-upholstered chairs,
a mahogany center table, and a mahogany desk.  In one corner stood a
large safe.  On the safe-door was lettered "A. L. Baxter & Co."

A man with a young, smooth face and silver-white hair was sitting at
the desk.  He turned and nodded pleasantly.

"I want to see Pony," said The Spider.

"You're talking to him," said the other.  "What can I do for you?"

"You can tell Pony that I want to see him, here," said The Spider.
"And don't worry, he knows me."

"The name, please."

"Never mind that.  Just take a good look at me--and tell him.  He'll
come."

The other rose and, stepping to the inner door, beckoned to some one in
the room beyond.  The Spider seated himself, lighted a cigar, and
leaned back as though thoroughly at home.  Presently a big man came in
briskly: a full-bodied, smooth-cheeked man who looked like the
prosperous manager of some legitimate business enterprise, save for the
large diamond horseshoe scintillating in his gray silk tie.

"Why, hello, Jim!" he cried, evidently surprised.  He told his partner
casually that he could go on inside and look after things for a few
minutes.  When the other had gone he turned to The Spider.  "What can I
do for you, Jim?"

"Tell me where I can find White-Eye."

"White-Eye?  He hasn't been in here for three or four years.  I didn't
know he was in town."

"That might go with the bulls, Pony.  I know White-Eye doesn't hang out
reg'lar here--ain't his kind of a joint.  But you can tell me where he
does hang out.  And I want to know."

"You looking for him, Jim?"

"No.  But I've got a hunch he's looking for me."

"Just how bad do you think he wants to see you?" queried Baxter,
tilting back his swing-chair and glancing sideways at The Spider.

"About as bad as I want to see him," said The Spider.

"You haven't been in town for quite a while, Jim."

"No.  Fifteen years, I reckon."

"You don't change much."

"I was thinking the same of you; always playing safe.  You ought to
know better than to pull a bluff like that on me.  But if that is your
game, I call.  I want White-Eye."

Pony Baxter had plenty of nerve.  But he knew The Spider.  "I haven't
seen White-eye for over three years," he said, turning to his desk.  He
tore a memorandum slip from a pad and wrote something on it and handed
it to The Spider.  It was simply a number on Aliso Street.  The Spider
glanced at it and tore the slip in two.

"He's stayin' with friends?" queried The Spider.

"Yes.  And I think you know most of them."

"Thanks for the tip, Pony."

"You going down there alone, Jim?"

"I might."

"I wouldn't," said Baxter.

"I know dam' well _you_ wouldn't," laughed The Spider.

Scarcely had The Spider stepped into the cab when four men slouched
from a dark stairway entrance a few doors down the street and watched
the cab turn a distant corner.

"Well, you missed a good chance," said one of the men, as they moved
slowly toward the entrance to Pony Baxter's.

"How about you?  If you ain't forgetting it was the first one of us
that seen him was to get him."

"And White-Eye, here, seen him first, when he crawled out of that rig.
If we'd 'a' gone up, instead of standin' here lettin' our feet git
cold--"

"He must 'a' had his roll with him," said Pino, one of White-Eye's
companions and incidentally a member of that inglorious legion, "The
Men Who Can't Come Back."

"'T ain't his roll I want," said White-Eye.

"Too dam' bad about you not wantin' his roll.  Any time--"

"Any time you git The Spider's roll, you got to git him," asserted
another member of this nocturnal quartette, a man whose right arm and
shoulder sagged queerly.

"The Spider ain't no _kid_, neither,"--and White-Eye paused at the
dimly lighted stairway entrance.

The man with the deformed shoulder cursed White-Eye.  The others
laughed.

"Let's go git a drink--and then we'll have a talk with Pony.  Come on,
Steve."

They turned and drifted on up the street.  Presently they were back at
the stairway entrance.  "Pony won't stand for no rough stuff," advised
White-Eye as they turned and climbed the stair.  "I'll do the talkin'."

"I reckon he'll stand for anything we hand him," said Pino.  "Fancy
clothes don't cut any figure with me."

"Nobody that ever got a good look at you would say so," asserted
White-Eye.  He paused at the head of the stairs.  "I aim to find out
what The Spider wanted up here."

"Go to it!"--and Pino grinned.

As they entered the "office," Baxter was talking with his partner, with
whom he exchanged a significant glance as he realized who his visitors
were.  The partner excused himself and stepped into the room beyond.

"Well, boys, what can I do for you?"  Baxter's manner was suavely
affable.

"We're lookin' for a friend," declared White-Eye.

"I don't think he's here."  And Baxter smiled his professional smile.

"But he's been here," asserted White-Eye.  "We ain't here to make a
noise.  We jest want to know what The Spider was doin' up here a spell
ago."

"Oh, Jim?  Why, he dropped in to shake hands.  I hadn't seen him for
several years.  Didn't know he was in town."

"Feed that soft stuff to the yearlins'," snarled White-Eye.  "The
Spider ain't chousin' around El Paso for his health, or yours."

Baxter was about to say something when Pino stooped and picked up the
pieces of paper which The Spider had torn in two just before he left.
Pino had no special motive in picking up those torn bits of paper.  He
simply saw them, picked them up, and rolled them nervously in his
fingers.  White-Eye, watching Baxter, saw him blink and in turn watch
Pino's fingers as he twisted and untwisted the bits of paper.

"He can't keep his hands still," said White-Eye, shrugging his shoulder
toward Pino.  "Ever meet Pino.  No?  Well, he's a artist--when it comes
to drawin'--"

Pino dropped the bits of paper, rose, and shook hands indifferently
with Baxter.  As Pino sat down again, Baxter stooped and casually
picked up the torn pad-leaf on which he had written White-Eye's
address.  He turned to his desk and taking a box of cigars from a
drawer passed it around.  White-Eye's pin-point pupils glittered.  Pony
Baxter seemed mighty anxious to get those two bits of paper out of
sight.  White-Eye had seen him drop them in the drawer as he opened it.

"Where did you send The Spider?" asked White-Eye quickly.

"Send him!  Didn't send him anywhere.  He said he was going back to his
hotel."

White-Eye blinked.  He knew that The Spider was not stopping at a
hotel.  For some reason Baxter had lied.

"How's the game to-night?" queried White-Eye.

"Quiet," replied Baxter.

"Any strangers inside?"

"No--not the kind of strangers you mean."

"Then I reckon we'll take a look in.  Don't mind takin' a whirl at the
wheel myself."

"Come right in," said Baxter, as though relieved, and he opened the
door and stood aside to let them pass.

A quiet game of poker was running at a table near the door.  Farther
down the room, which was spacious and brilliantly lighted, a group were
playing the wheel.  At the table beyond the usual faro game was in
progress.  All told there were some fifteen men in the room, not
counting the dealers and lookout.  One or two men glanced up as
White-Eye and his companions entered and sauntered from table to table.
To the regular habitues of the place, White-Eye and his companions were
simply "rough-necks" to whom Baxter was showing "the joint."

Presently Baxter excused himself and, telling his visitors to make
themselves at home, strode back to his office.  White-Eye and Pino
watched the wheel, while the man with the deformed shoulder and his
companion stood watching the faro game.  The room was quiet save for
the soft click of the chips, the whirring of the ball, an occasional
oath, and the monotonous voice of the faro-dealer.

Pino nudged White-Eye and indicated the little pile of gold that was
stacked before a player at the faro table.  White-Eye shook his head
and stepped casually back.  Pino sauntered over to him.

"Chanct for a clean-up?" whispered Pino.

"No show.  The lookout's a gun.  I know him.  So is that guy at the
wheel.  Pony's pardner packs a gat; and that guy standin' over by the
wall, smoking is drawin' down reg'lar pay for jest standin' there,
every night.  'Sides, they ain't enough stuff in sight to take a chanct
for.  We ain't organized for this kind of a deal."

"Then what's the use of hangin' around?"

"'Cause they was somethin' on that piece of paper you picked up out
there that Pony didn't want us to see--and I aim to find out what it
was."

"The number of some dame, most like," said Pino, grinning.

"Did you hear him say The Spider went back to his _hotel_?  Well, Pony
is double-crossin' somebody.  Jest stick around and keep your eye on
the door."

Meanwhile The Spider had arrived at the address given him--an empty
basement store in the south end of town.  The place was dark and
evidently abandoned.  Back of the store was a room in which were two
cheap iron beds, a washstand, and two chairs.  The rear door of this
room opened on an alley, and it was through this door that White-Eye
and his companions entered and left the premises, which they had rented
at a low rate from the lessee of the place who now ran a grocery on the
street level, near the corner.

The Spider had no means of knowing of the back room and thought that
Baxter had sent him to a chance number to get rid of him; or that the
latter would possibly suggest that White-Eye must have left the
neighborhood.

"Is there a back stairs to Pony's place?" queried The Spider as he
stood by the cab.

"No.  But there's a fire-escape in the alley back of the block.  The
last time they raided Pony the bulls got six gents comin' down the iron
ladder."

"Just drive round that way."  The Spider stepped into the cab.

"You ain't a Government man, are you?" queried cabby.

"No.  I play a lone hand," said The Spider.




CHAPTER XXXVII

"CLOSE THE CASES"

Pony Baxter's place, located near the middle of what is commonly termed
a "business block," embraced the space once occupied by a number of
small offices, one of which he had retained as a sort of
reception-room, near the head of the stairway.  That he might have a
spacious room for his business, the partitions of the former offices
had been removed, with the exception of those enclosing his office, and
a room at the extreme end of the building which opened on the hall,
near the end window, just over the fire-escape.  This room was
expensively fitted up as a lavatory, with marble panels, basins, and
tiling.  A uniformed negro with the inevitable whisk-broom was always
in attendance, quite as keen at "getting the dust" as was his employer.
The door to this room was fitted with a spring lock which allowed it to
be opened only from the inside, except with a pass-key.

The Spider's cab, swinging into the alley, stopped directly beneath the
lower extension of the fire-escape.  "Pull over closer to the wall," he
told the driver.  Then he climbed to the driver's seat and stepped onto
the iron ladder.  "You can drive round to the front and wait," he told
the cabby, who lost no time in getting out of the alley.  Like most
nocturnal cabmen, he was quite willing to drive anywhere; but he
sincerely preferred to do his waiting for his fare in a more open
street.

The window at the rear end of the hall was fastened.  The Spider broke
the glass just below the catch with the butt of his gun.  He raised the
window and slid into the hallway.

"Who dat?" came from the lavatory.

"It's me, Sam," said The Spider thickly, imitating the voice of a man
overcome by drink.  "I cut my hand on the window.  Want to get in--wash
up--blood--"

"I ask Misto Baxtuh, suh."

"Lemme in--quick--or you lose a five-spot.  Bleeding bad--want to wash
up--"

The spring lock clicked softly.  Before Sam knew what had happened, The
Spider was in the lavatory and between him and the door to the main
room.  "Get going," said The Spider.  The amazed negro backed away from
that eloquent menace in The Spider's right hand.
"M-m-m-misto--misto--Captain--  Ah ain't done nuffin!"

"Git!"--and The Spider indicated the rear window.

The negro backed into the hall, saw the open window, and vanished
through it without parley.  He dropped from the last step of the
fire-escape and picking himself up started to run, with no definite
destination in mind save space.

As Baxter had said, things were quiet that night.  The poker table had
been deserted and the players had left.  A few "regulars" still hung
about the faro layout and the wheel.  The hired "bouncer" had stepped
into the office to speak to Baxter.  It was past twelve.  There were no
strangers present save the four roughly dressed men.  Baxter was just
telling the bouncer that he knew them, and that he surmised they were
after a certain party, but that that party would not be back there.  As
he talked Baxter stepped to the outer door and locked it.  It was too
late to expect any worth-while business.

The Spider, who was in reality looking for Baxter, whom he suspected of
trickery, opened the lavatory door far enough to see into the main
room.  In a flash he had placed three of the four men who "wanted" him.

White-Eye and Longtree were standing near a player at the faro table,
evidently interested for the moment in the play.  Near White-Eye, Pino
was rolling a cigarette.  Beyond them, at the next table, stood a man
with a deformed shoulder--and The Spider recognized Gary of the
T-Bar-T, watching the few players at the wheel. . . .  A film of cigar
smoke eddied round the lamps above the tables.  Presently the players
at the faro table rose and left.  The dealer put away his cases.  The
lookout yawned and took off his green eye-shade.  The man with the
deformed shoulder and his companion were moving toward White-Eye when
The Spider slipped through the doorway and sidled toward the middle of
the room.  His hat was pushed back.  He fumbled at his tie with his
right hand.  "White-Eye!" he called.

The faro-dealer and the lookout jerked round--then slowly backed toward
the side of the room.  The man at the wheel paused with his hand in the
air.  The players, intent upon the game, glanced up curiously.  Pino,
who stood near White-Eye and almost in front of him, dropped his
cigarette.  The room became as still as the noon desert.  Three of the
four men who bore ancient grudge against The Spider, knew that there
would be no parley--that talk would be useless.  The fourth, the man
whom they had addressed as Steve, had but recently associated himself
with them, and had no quarrel with The Spider.  In that tense moment,
Gary wished himself well out of it.

"Lost your nerve, Pino?" laughed The Spider, in his queer, high voice.
"You dropped your cigarette."

One of the roulette players giggled hysterically.  At the sound of that
laugh, White-Eye jerked Pino in front of him.  The Spider's gun
appeared as though he had caught it from the air.  As it roared, Pino
staggered sideways and fell.  White-Eye fired as The Spider, throwing
shot after shot, walked slowly toward him.  Suddenly White-Eye coughed
and staggered against the table.  With his last shot The Spider dropped
White-Eye, then jerked a second gun from his waistband.  Gary, kneeling
behind the faro table, fired over its top.  The Spider whirled
half-round, recovered himself, and, sidling toward the table, threw
down on the kneeling man, who sank forward coughing horribly.  Within
eight feet of him The Spider's gun roared again.  Gary's body jerked
stiff at the shock and then slowly collapsed.  The fourth man,
Longtree, with his hands above his head, begged The Spider not to kill
his old pal!  The Spider's face, horribly distorted, venomous as a
snake's, colorless and glistening with sweat, twisted queerly as he
spoke: "Kill you, you damned coyote?"  And he shot Longtree down as a
man would shoot a trapped wolf.

Framed in the office doorway stood Pony Baxter, a blue automatic in his
hand.  The Spider, leaning against the roulette table, laughed.  "Gave
me the double-cross, eh, Pony?  How do you like the layout?"  He swayed
and clutched at the table.  "Don't kill me, Pony!" he cried, in ghastly
mimickry of Longtree's voice.  "Don't kill an old pal, Pony!"  And the
sound of his voice was lost in the blunt roar of a shot that loosened
Baxter's fingers from the automatic.  It clattered to the floor.
Baxter braced himself against the door-frame and, turning, staggered to
the desk 'phone.

The Spider nodded to the faro-dealer.  "Close your cases," he said, and
he hiccoughed and spat viciously.  "Get me downstairs--I'm done."

The dealer, who possessed plenty of nerve himself, was dumb with wonder
that this man, who had deliberately walked into a fight against three
fast guns, was still on his feet.  Yet he realized that The Spider had
made his last fight.  He was hard hit.  "God, what a mess!" said the
dealer as he took The Spider's arm and steadied him to the office.
"You better lay down," he suggested.

"Got a cab downstairs.  General Hospital."

The driver, who had been taking a nap inside the cab, heard the sound
of shooting, started up, threw back the lap-robe, and stepped to the
sidewalk.  He listened, trying to count the shots.  Then came silence.
Then another shot.  He was aware that his best policy was to leave that
neighborhood quickly.  Yet curiosity held him, and finally drew him
toward the dimly lighted stairway.  He wondered what had happened.

"Cab?" somebody called from above.  The cabby answered.

"Give us a hand here," cried a voice from the top of the stairs.  "A
man's been shot--bad."

The cabby clumped up and helped get The Spider to the street.
"Where'll I take him?" he stammered nervously, as he recognized the
shrunken figure.

"He said something about the General Hospital.  He's going--fast."

"He used to call there, regular," asserted the cabby.  "Anybody else
git hurt?"

"Christ, yes!  It's a slaughter-pen up there.  Beat it, or he'll cash
in before you can get him to the hospital."

The cabby pulled up at the General Hospital, leapt down, and hastened
round to the garage.  He wakened the night ambulance-driver, stayed
until the driver and an interne had carried The Spider into the
hospital, and then drove away before he could be questioned.

The house-doctor saw at once that The Spider could not live,
administered a stimulant, and telephoned to the police station, later
asking the ambulance-driver for the cabman's number, which the other
had failed to notice in the excitement.  As he hung up the receiver a
nurse told him that the patient was conscious and wanted to speak to
Dr. Andover.  The house-doctor asked The Spider if he wished to make a
statement.

The Spider moved his head in the negative.  "I'm done," he whispered,
"but I'd like to see Pete a minute."

"Pete?"

"Room 218," said the nurse.

"Oh, you mean young Annersley.  Well, I don't know."

"He's my boy," said The Spider, using the last desperate argument--an
appeal difficult to ignore.

"Take him to 218," said the doctor, gesturing toward the stretcher.

The nurse, who went with them, roused Pete out of a quiet sleep and
told him that they were bringing some one to see him.  "Your father,"
she said, "who has been seriously injured.  He asked to see you."

Pete could not at first understand what she meant.  "All right," he
said, turning his head and gazing toward the doorway.  The nurse
stepped into the hall and nodded to the attendants and the doctor.

They were about to move forward when The Spider gestured feebly to the
doctor.  "Get me to my feet."  "I won't bother you much after that."
And The Spider, who felt that his strength was going fast, tried to
raise himself on the stretcher.  This effort brought the internes to
his side.  They lifted him to his feet and shuffled awkwardly through
the doorway.

Swaying between the internes, his shriveled body held upright by a
desperate effort of will, he fought for breath.

Pete raised on his elbow, his dark eyes wide.  "Spider!" he exclaimed.

The internes felt The Spider's slackened muscles grow tense as he
endeavored to get closer to the cot.  They helped him a step forward.
He pulled his arm free and thrust out his hand.  Pete's hand closed on
those limp, clammy fingers.

"I come ahead of time, pardner.  Come to see how--you was--gettin'
along."  The Spider's arm dropped to his side.

"Take him to the other bed there," said the doctor.

The Spider shook his head.  "Just a minute."  He nodded toward Pete.
"I want you to do something for me.  Go see that party--in letter--fix
you up--he's played square with me--same as you done."

"But who was it--" began Pete.

"Old bunch.  Trailed me--too close.  Got 'em--every dam' one.  A mas
ver.  Tengo que marcharme, compadre."  And then, "Close the cases,"
said The Spider.

The internes helped him to the cot on which Doris had rested as she
watched Pete through those dark hours, refusing to leave him till she
knew the great danger had passed.

Pete lay back staring at the ceiling.  He was, stunned by this sudden
calamity.  And all at once he realized that it must have been The
Spider who had called to see him several times.  Doris had hinted to
Pete that some friend asked after him daily.  So The Spider had come to
El Paso to find out if the money had been delivered--risking his life
for the sake of a few thousand dollars!  Pete turned and glanced at the
other cot.  The doctor was bending over The Spider, who mumbled
incoherently.  Presently brisk footsteps sounded in the hallway, and
two men entered the room and stepped to where The Spider lay.  They
spoke in low tones to the doctor, who moved back.  One of the men--a
heavy-shouldered, red-faced man, whom Pete recognized--asked The Spider
who had shot him, and if he had been in Pony Baxter's place that night.
The Spider's lips moved.  The other leaned closer.  Dimly The Spider
realized that this was the Law that questioned him.  Even at the last
moment his old enemy had come to hunt him out.  The Spider's beady
black eyes suddenly brightened.  With a last vicious effort he raised
his head and spat in the officer's face.

The doctor stepped quickly forward.  The Spider lay staring at the
ceiling, his sightless eyes dulled by the black shadow of eternal night.




CHAPTER XXXVIII

GETTING ACQUAINTED

It was Pony Baxter who gave the names of the dead gunmen to the police,
confirming the records of White-Eye, Pino, Longtree, and Jim
Ewell--known as The Spider.  The identity of the fourth man, he of the
deformed shoulder and shriveled arm, was unknown to Baxter.  The police
had no record of him under any alias, and he would have been entered on
their report of findings as "unknown," had not the faro-dealer and the
lookout both asserted that The Spider had called him Gary--in fact had
singled him out unmistakenly, asking him what be had to do with the
quarrel, which evidently concerned but three of the four men whom The
Spider had killed.  Pony Baxter, slowly recovering from an all but
fatal gun-shot wound, disclaimed any knowledge of a "frame-up" to get
The Spider, stating that, while aware that the gunmen and The Spider
were enemies, The Spider's sudden appearance was as much of a surprise
to him as it evidently was to the gunmen--and Baxter's serious
condition pretty well substantiated this statement.  Baxter's negro was
also questioned--concerning Baxter's story and explaining the
circumstances under which he had admitted The Spider to the back room.

When confronted with the torn slip of paper on which was written the
address of White-Eye, Baxter admitted that he knew of the rendezvous of
the gunmen, but refused to explain why he had their address in his
possession, and he put a quietus on that phase of the situation by
asking the police why they had not raided the place themselves before
the shooting occurred, as they seemed to have known of it for several
months.  Eventually Baxter and the police "fixed it up."  The gambler
did a thriving business through the notoriety the affair had given him.
Many came to see the rooms where The Spider had made his last venomous
fight, men who had never turned a card in their lives, and who doubted
the rumors current in the sporting world until actually in the room and
listening to the faro-dealer's cold and impassive account of the men
and the battle.  And more often than not these curious souls, who came
to scoff, remained to play.

Pete, convalescing rapidly, had asked day after day if he might not be
allowed to sit with the other patients who, warmly blanketed, enjoyed
the sunshine on the wide veranda overlooking the city.  One morning
Andover gave his consent, restricting Pete's first visit to thirty
minutes.  Pete was only too glad of a respite from the monotony of
back-rest and pillow, bare walls, and the essential but soul-wearying
regularity of professional attention.

Not until Doris had helped him into the wheel-chair did he realize how
weak he was.

Out on the veranda, his weakness, the pallid faces of the other
convalescents, and even Doris herself, were forgotten as he gazed
across the city and beyond to the sunlit spaces softly glowing beneath
a cloudless sky.  Sunlight!  He had never known how much it meant,
until then.  He breathed deep.  His dark eyes closed.  Life, which he
had hitherto valued only through sheer animal instinct, seemed to mean
so much more than he had ever imagined it could.  Yet not in any
definite way, nor through contemplating any definite attainment.  It
was simply good to be alive--to feel the pleasant, natural warmth of
the sun--to breathe the clear, keen air.  And all his curiosity as to
what the world might look like--for to one who has come out of the
eternal shadows the world is ever strange--was drowned in the supreme
indifference of absolute ease and rest.  It seemed to him as though he
were floating midway between the earth and the sun, not in a weird
dream wherein the subconscious mind says, "This is not real; I know
that I dream"; but actual, in that Pete could feel nothing above nor
beneath him.  Being of a very practical turn of mind he straightway
opened his eyes and was at once conscious of the arm of the wheel-chair
beneath his hand and the blanket across his knees.

He was not aware that some of the patients were gazing at him
curiously--that gossip had passed his name from room to room and that
the papers had that morning printed a sort of revised sequel to the
original story of "The Spider Mystery"--as they chose to call it.

Doris glanced at her watch.  "We'll have to go in," she said, rising
and adjusting Pete's pillow.

"Oh, shucks!  We jest come out!"

"You've been asleep," said Doris.

Pete shook his head.  "Nope.  But I sure did git one good rest.  Doc
Andover calls this a vacation, eh?  Well, then I guess I got to go back
to work--and it sure is work, holdin' down that bed in there--and
nothin' to do but sleep and eat and--but it ain't so bad when you're
there.  Now that there cow-bunny with the front teeth--"

"S-sh!" Doris flushed, and Pete glanced around, realizing that they
were not alone.

"Well, I reckon we got to go back to the corral!" Pete sighed heavily.

Back in bed he watched Doris as she made a notation on the chart of his
"case."  He frowned irritably when she took his temperature.

"The doctor will want to know how you stood your first outing," she
said, smiling.

Pete wriggled the little glass thermometer round in his mouth until it
stuck up at an assertive angle, as some men hold a cigar, and glanced
mischievously at his nurse.  "Why don't you light it?" he mumbled.

Doris tried not to laugh as she took the thermometer, glanced at it,
and charted a slight rise in the patient's temperature.

"Puttin' it in that glass of water to cool it off?" queried Pete.

She smiled as she carefully charted the temperature line.

"Kin I look at it?" queried Pete.

She gave the chart to him and he studied it frowningly.  "What's this
here that looks like a range of mountains ?" he asked.

"Your temperature."  And she explained the meaning of the wavering line.

"Gee!  Back here I sure was climbin' the high hills!  That's a
interestin' tally-sheet."

Pete saw a peculiar expression in her gray eyes.  It was as though she
were searching for something beneath the surface of his superficial
humor; for she knew that there was something that he wanted to
say--something entirely alien to these chance pleasantries.  She all
but anticipated his question.

"Would you mind tellin' me somethin'?" he queried abruptly.

"No.  If there is anything that I can tell you."

"I was wonderin' who was payin' for this here private room--and reg'lar
nurse.  I been sizin' up things--and folks like me don't get such fancy
trimmin's without payin'."

"Why--it was your--your father."

Pete sat up quickly.  "My father!  I ain't got no father.  I--I reckon
somebody got things twisted."

"Why, the papers"--and Doris bit her lip--"I mean Miss Howard, the
nurse who was here that night . . ."

"When The Spider cashed in?"

Doris nodded.

"The Spider wasn't my father.  But I guess mebby that nurse thought he
was, and got things mixed."

"The house-doctor would not have had him brought up here if he had
thought he was any one else."

"So The Spider said he was my father--so he could git to see me!"  Pete
seemed to be talking to himself.  "Was he the friend you was tellin' me
called regular?"

"Yes.  I don't know, but I think he paid for your room and the
operation."

"Don't they make those operations on folks, anyhow, if they ain't got
money?"

"Yes, but in your case it was a very difficult and dangerous operation.
I saw that Dr. Andover hardly wanted to take the risk."

"So The Spider pays for everything!"  Pete shook his head.  "I don't
just sabe."

"I saw him watching you once--when you were asleep," said Doris.  "He
seemed terribly anxious.  I was afraid of him--and I felt sorry for
him--"

Pete lay back and stared at the opposite wall.  "He sure was game!" he
murmured.  "And he was my friend."

Pete turned his head quickly as Doris stepped toward the door.  "Could
you git me some of them papers--about The Spider?"

"Yes," she answered hesitatingly, as she left the room.

Pete closed his eyes.  He could see The Spider standing beside his bed
supported by two internes, dying on his feet, fighting for breath as he
told Pete to "see that party--in the letter"--and "that some one had
trailed him too close."  And "close the cases," The Spider had said.
The game was ended.

When Doris came in again Pete was asleep.  She laid a folded newspaper
by his pillow, gazed at him for a moment, and stepped softly from the
room.

At noon she brought his luncheon.  When she came back for the tray she
noticed that he had not eaten, nor would he talk while she was there.
But that evening he seemed more like himself.  After she had taken his
temperature he jokingly asked her if he bit that there little glass
dingus in two what would happen?"

"Why, I'd have to buy a new one," she replied, smiling.

Pete's face expressed surprise.  "Say!" he queried, sitting up, "did
The Spider pay you for bein' my private nurse, too?"

"He must have made some arrangement with Dr. Andover.  He put me in
charge of your case."

"But don't you git anything extra for--for smilin' at
folks--and--coaxin' 'em to eat--and wastin' your time botherin' around
'em most all day?"

"The hospital gets the extra money.  I get my usual salary."

"You ain't mad at me, be you?"

"Why, no, why should I be?"

"I dunno.  I reckon I talk kind of rough--and that mebby I said
somethin'--but--would you mind if I was to tell you somethin'.  I been
thinkin' about it ever since you brung that paper.  It's somethin'
mighty important--and--"

"Your dinner is getting cold," said Doris.

"Shucks!  I jest got to tell somebody!  Did you read what was in that
paper?"

Doris nodded.

"About that fella called Steve Gary that The Spider bumped off in that
gamblin'-joint?"

"Yes."

"Well, if that's right--and the papers ain't got things twisted, like
when they said The Spider was my father--why, if it _was_ Steve Gary--I
kin go back to the Concho and kind o' start over ag'in."

"I don't understand."

"'Course you don't!  You see, me and Gary mixed onct--and--"

Doris' gray eyes grew big as Pete spoke rapidly of his early life, of
the horse-trader, of Annersley and Bailey and Montoya, and young Andy
White--characters who passed swiftly before her vision as she followed
Pete's fortunes up to the moment when he was brought into the hospital.
And presently she understood that he was trying to tell her that if the
newspaper report was authentic he was a free man.  His eagerness to
vindicate himself was only too apparent.

Suddenly he ceased talking.  The animation died from his dark eyes.
"Mebby it wa'n't the same Steve Gary," he said.

"If it had been, you mean that you could go back to your friends--and
there would be no trouble--?"

Pete nodded.  "But I don't know."

"Is there any way of finding out--before you leave here?" she asked.

"I might write a letter and ask Jim Bailey, or Andy.  They would know."

"I'll get you a pen and paper."

Pete flushed.  "Would you mind writin' it for me?  I ain't no reg'lar,
professional writer.  Pop Annersley learned me some--but I reckon Jim
could read your writin' better."

"Of course I'll write the letter, if you want me to.  If you'll just
tell me what you wish to say I'll take it down on this pad and copy it
in my room."

"Can't you write it here?  Mebby we might want to change somethin'."

"Well, if you'll eat your dinner--"  And Doris went for pen and paper.
When she returned she found that Pete had stacked the dishes in a
perilous pyramid on the floor, that the bed-tray might serve as a table
on which to write.

He watched her curiously as she unscrewed the cap of her fountain pen
and dated the letter.

"Jim Bailey, Concho--that's over in Arizona," he said, then he
hesitated.  "I reckon I got to tell you the whole thing first and mebby
you kin put it down after I git through."  Doris saw him eying the pen
intently.  "You didn't fetch the ink," he said suddenly.

Doris laughed as she explained the fountain pen to him.  Then she
listened while he told her what to say.

The letter written, Doris went to her room.  Pete lay thinking of her
pleasant gray eyes and the way that she smiled understandingly and
nodded--"When most folks," he soliloquized, "would say something or ask
you what you was drivin' at."

To him she was an altogether wonderful person, so quietly cheerful,
natural, and unobtrusively competent . . .  Then, through some queer
trick of memory, Boca's face was visioned to him and his thoughts were
of the desert, of men and horses and a far sky-line.  "I got to get out
of here," he told himself sleepily.  And he wondered if he would ever
see Doris Gray again after he left the hospital.




CHAPTER XXXIX

A PUZZLE GAME

Dr. Andover, brisk and professionally cheerful, was telling Pete that
so far as he was concerned he could not do anything more for him,
except to advise him to be careful about lifting or straining--to take
it easy for at least a month--and to do no hard riding until the
incision was thoroughly healed.  "You'll know when you are really fit,"
he said, smiling, "because your back will tell you better than I can.
You're a mighty fortunate young man!"

"You sure fixed me up fine, Doc.  You was sayin' I could leave here
next week?"

"Yes, if you keep on improving--and I can't see why you should not.
And I don't have to tell you to thank Miss Gray for what she has done
for you.  If it hadn't been for her, my boy, I doubt that you would be
here!"

"She sure is one jim-dandy nurse."

"She is more than that, young man."  Andover cleared his throat.
"There's one little matter that I thought best not to mention until you
were--pretty well out of the woods.  I suppose you know that the
authorities will want to--er--talk with you about that shooting
scrape--that chap that was found somewhere out in the desert.  The
chief of detectives asked me the other day when you would be around
again."

"So, when I git out of here they're goin' to arrest me?"

"Well, frankly, you are under arrest now.  I thought it best that you
should know it now.  In a general way I gathered that the police
suspect you of having had a hand in the killing of that man who was
found near Sanborn."

"Well, they can wait till hell freezes afore I'll tell 'em," said Pete.

"And, meanwhile, you'll also have to--er--wait, I imagine.  Have you
any friends who might--er--use their influence?  I think you might get
out on bail.  I can't say."

"Nope."

"Then the best thing that you can do is to tell a straight story and
hope that the authorities will believe you.  Well, I've got to go.  By
the way, how are you fixed financially?  Just let me know if you want
anything?"

"Thanks, Doc.  From what you say I reckon the county will be payin' my
board."

"I hope not.  But you'll need some clothing and underwear--the things
you had on are--"

Pete nodded.

"Don't hesitate to ask me,"--and Andover rose.  "Your
friend--er--Ewell--arranged for any little contingency that might
arise."

"Then I kin go most any time?" queried Pete.

"We'll see how you are feeling next week.  Meanwhile keep out in the
sun--but wrap up well.  Good-bye!"

Pete realized that to make a fresh start in life he would have to begin
at the bottom.

He had ever been inclined to look forward rather than backward--to put
each day's happenings behind him as mere incidents in his general
progress--and he began to realize that these happenings had accumulated
to a bulk that could not be ignored, if the fresh start that he
contemplated were to be made successfully.  He recalled how he had felt
when he had squared himself with Roth for that six-gun.  But the
surreptitious taking of the six-gun had been rather a mistake than a
deliberate intent to steal.  And Pete tried to justify himself with the
thought that all his subsequent trouble had been the result of mistakes
due to conditions thrust upon him by a fate which had slowly driven him
to his present untenable position--that of a fugitive from the law,
without money and without friends.  He came to the bitter conclusion
that his whole life had been a mistake--possibly not through his own
initiative, but a mistake nevertheless.  He knew that his only course
was to retrace and untangle the snarl of events in which his feet were
snared.  Accustomed to rely upon his own efforts--he had always been
able to make his living--he suddenly realized the potency of money;
that money could alleviate suffering, influence authority, command
freedom--at least temporary freedom--and even in some instances save
life itself.

Yet it was characteristic of Pete that he did not regret anything that
he had done, in a moral sense.  He had made mistakes--and he would have
to pay for them--but only once.  He would not make these mistakes
again.  A man was a fool who deliberately rode his horse into the same
box canon twice.

Pete wondered if his letter to Jim Bailey had been received and what
Bailey's answer would be.  The letter must have reached Bailey by this
time.  And then Pete thought of The Spider's note, advising him to call
at the Stockmen's Security; and of The Spider's peculiar insistence
that he do so--that Hodges would "use him square."

Pete wondered what it all signified.  He knew that The Spider had money
deposited with the Stockmen's Security.  The request had something to
do with money, without doubt.  Perhaps The Spider had wished him to
attend to some matter of trust--for Pete was aware that The Spider had
trusted him, and had said so, almost with his last breath.  But Pete
hesitated to become entangled further in The Spider's affairs.  He did
not intend to make a second mistake of that kind.

Monday of the following week Pete was out on the veranda--listening to
little Ruth, a blue-eyed baby patient who as gravely explained the
mysteries of a wonderful puzzle game of pasteboard cows and horses and
a farmyard "most all cut to pieces," as Ruth said, when Doris stepped
from the hall doorway and, glancing about, finally discovered Pete in
the far corner of the veranda--deeply absorbed in searching for the
hind leg of a noble horse to which little Ruth had insisted upon
attaching the sedate and ignoble hind quarters of a maternal cow.  So
intent were they upon their game that neither of them saw Doris as she
moved toward them, nodding brightly to many convalescents seated about
the veranda.

"Whoa!" said Pete, as Ruth disarranged the noble steed in her eagerness
to fit the bit of pasteboard Pete had handed to her.  "Now, I reckon
he'll stand till we find that barn-door and the water-trough.  Do you
reckon he wants a drink?"

"He looks very firsty," said Ruth.

"Mebby he's hungry, too,"--and Pete found the segment of a mechanically
correct haystack.

"No!" cried Ruth positively, taking the bit of haystack from Pete;
"wet's put some hay in his house."

"Then that there cow'll git it--and she's plumb fed up already."

"Den I give 'at 'ittle cow his breakfuss,"--and the solicitous Ruth
placed the section of haystack within easy reach of a wide-eyed and
slightly disjointed calf--evidently the offspring of the well-fed cow,
judging from the paint-markings of each.

But suddenly little Ruth's face lost its sunshine.  Her mouth quivered.
Pete glanced up at her, his dark eyes questioning.

"There's lots more hay," he stammered, "for all of 'em."

"It hurted me," sobbed Ruth.

"Your foot?" Pete glanced down at the child's bandaged foot, and then
looked quickly away.

"Ess.  It hurted me--and oo didn't hit it."

"I'll bet it was that doggone ole cow!  Let's git her out of this here
corral and turn her loose!"  Pete shuffled the cow into a disjointed
heap.  "Now she's turned loose--and she won't come back."

Ruth ceased sobbing and turned to gaze at Doris, who patted her head
and smiled.  "We was--stockin' up our ranch," Pete explained almost
apologetically.  "Ruth and me is pardners."

Doris gazed at Pete, her gray eyes warm with a peculiar light.  "It's
awfully nice of you to amuse Ruth."

"Amuse her!  My Gosh!  Miss Gray, she's doin' the amusin'!  When we're
visitin' like this, I plumb forgit--everything."

"Here's a letter for you," said Doris.  "I thought that perhaps you
might want to have it as soon as possible."

"Thanks, Miss Gray.  I reckon it's from Jim Bailey.  I--" Pete tore off
the end of the envelope with trembling fingers.  Little Ruth watched
him curiously.  Doris had turned away and was looking out across the
city.  A tiny hand tugged at her sleeve.  "Make Pete play wif me," said
Ruth.  "My cow's all broke."

Pete glanced up, slowly slid the unread letter back into the envelope
and tucked it into his shirt.  "You bet we'll find that cow if we have
to comb every draw on the ranch!  Hello, pardner!  Here's her ole head.
She was sure enough investigatin' that there haystack."

Doris turned away.  There was a tense throbbing in her throat as she
moved back to the doorway.  Despite herself she glanced back for an
instant.  The dark head and the golden head were together over the
wonderful puzzle picture.  Just why Pete should look up then could
hardly be explained by either himself or Doris.  He waved his hand
boyishly.  Doris turned and walked rapidly down the hallway.  Her
emotion irritated her.  Why should she feel so absolutely silly and
sentimental because a patient, who really meant nothing to her aside
from her profession, should choose to play puzzle picture with a
crippled child, that he might forget for a while his very identity and
those terrible happenings?  Had he not said so?  And yet he had put
aside the letter that might mean much to him, that he might make Little
Ruth forget her pain in searching for a dismembered pasteboard cow.

Doris glanced in as she passed Pete's room.  Two men were standing
there, expressing in their impatient attitudes that they had expected
to find some one in the room.  She knew who they were--men from the
police station--for she had seen them before.

"You were looking for Mr. Annersley?" she asked.

"Yes, mam.  We got a little business--"

"He's out on the veranda, playing puzzle picture with a little girl
patient."

"Well, we got a puzzle picture for him--" began one of the men, but
Doris, her eyes flashing, interrupted him.

"Dr. Andover left word that he does not want Mr. Annersley to see
visitors without his permission."

"Reckon we can see him, miss.  I had a talk with Doc Andover."

"Then let me call Mr. Annersley, please.  There are so many--patients
out there."

"All right, miss."

Doris took Pete's place as she told him.  Little Ruth entered a
demurrer, although she liked Doris.  "Pete knew all about forces and
cows.  He must come wight back . . ."

"What a beautiful bossy!" said Doris as Ruth rearranged the slightly
disjointed cow.

"Dat a _cow_," said Ruth positively.  "Pete says dat a _cow_!"

"And what a wonderful pony!"

"Dat a _force_, Miss Dowis.  Pete say dat a force."

It was evident to Doris that Pete was an authority, not without honor
in his own country, and an authority not to be questioned, for Ruth
gravely informed Doris that Pete could "wide" and "wope" and knew
everything about "forces" and "cows."

Meanwhile Pete, seated on the edge of his cot, was telling the
plain-clothes men that he was willing to go with them whenever they
were ready, stipulating, however, that he wanted to visit the
Stockmen's Security and Savings Bank first, and as soon as possible.
Incidentally he stubbornly refused to admit that he had anything to do
with the killing of Brent, whom the sheriff of Sanborn had finally
identified as the aforetime foreman of the Olla.

"There's nothing personal about this, young fella," said one of the men
as Pete's dark eyes blinked somberly.  "It's our business, that's all."

"And it's a dam' crawlin' business," asserted Pete.  "You couldn't even
let The Spider cross over peaceful."

"I reckon he earned all he got," said one of the men.

"Mebby.  But it took three fast guns to git him--and he put _them_ out
of business first.  I'd 'a' liked to seen some of you rubber-heeled
heifers tryin' to put the irons on him."

"That kind of talk won't do you no good when you're on the stand, young
fella.  It ain't likely that Sam Brent was your first job.  Your record
reads pretty strong for a kid."

"Meanin' Gary?  Well, about Gary"--Pete fumbled in his shirt.  "I got a
letter here" . . .  He studied the closely written sheet for a few
seconds, then his face cleared.  "Jest run your eye over that.  It's
from Jim Bailey, who used to be my fo'man on the Concho."

The officers read the letter, one gazing over the other's shoulder,
"Who's this Jim Bailey, anyhow?"

"He's a white man--fo'man of the Concho, and my boss, onct."

"Well, you're lucky if what he says is so.  But that don't square you
with the other deal."

"There's only one man that could do that," said Pete.  "And I reckon he
ain't ridin' where you could git him."

"That's all right, Annersley.  But even if you didn't get Brent, you
were on that job.  You were running with a tough bunch."

"Who's got my gun?" queried Pete abruptly.

"It's over to the station with the rest of your stuff."

"Well, it wa'n't a forty-five that put Brent out of business.  My gun
is."

"You can tell that to the sheriff of Sanborn County.  And you'll have a
hard time proving that you never packed any other gun."

"You say it's the sheriff of Sanborn County that'll be wantin' to know?"

"Yes.  We're holding you for him."

"That's different.  I reckon I kin talk to _him_."

^Well, you'll get a chance.  He's in town---waiting to take you over to
Sanborn."

"I sure would like to have a talk with him," said Pete.  "Would you
mind tellin' him that?"

"Why--no.  We'll tell him."

"'Cause I aim to take a little walk this afternoon," asserted Pete,
"and mebby he'd kind o' like to keep me comp'ny."

"You'll have company--if you take a walk," said one of the detectives
significantly.




CHAPTER XL

THE MAN DOWNSTAIRS

Pete did not return to the veranda to finish his puzzle game with
little Ruth.  He smiled rather grimly as he realized that he had a
puzzle game of his own to solve.  He lay on the cot and his eyes closed
as he reviewed the vivid events in his life, from the beginning of the
trail, at Concho, to its end, here in El Paso.  It seemed to spread out
before him like a great map: the desert and its towns, the hills and
mesas, trails and highways over which men scurried like black and red
ants, commingling, separating, hastening off at queer tangents, meeting
in combat, disappearing in crevices, reappearing and setting off again
in haste, searching for food, bearing strange burdens, scrambling
blindly over obstacles--collectively without seeming purpose--yet
individually bent upon some quest, impetuous and headstrong in their
strange activities.  "And gittin' nowhere," soliloquized Pete, "except
in trouble."

He thought of the letter from Bailey, and, sitting up, re-read it
slowly.  So Steve Gary had survived, only to meet the inevitable end of
his kind.  Well, Gary was always hunting trouble . . .  Roth, the
storekeeper at Concho, ought to have the number of that gun which Pete
packed.  If the sheriff of Sanborn was an old-timer he would know that
a man who packed a gun for business reasons did not go round the
country experimenting with different makes and calibers.  Only the
"showcase" boys in the towns swapped guns.  Ed Brevoort had always used
a Luger.  Pete wondered if there had been any evidence of the caliber
of the bullet which had killed Brent.  If the sheriff were an old-timer
such evidence would not be overlooked.

Pete got up and wandered out to the veranda.  The place was deserted.
He suddenly realized that those who were able had gone to their noon
meal.  He had forgotten about that.  He walked back to his room and sat
on the edge of his cot.  He was lonesome and dispirited.  He was not
hungry, but he felt decidedly empty.  This was the first time that
Doris had allowed him to miss a meal, and it was her fault!  She might
have called him.  But what did she care?  In raw justice to her--why
_should_ she care?

Pete's brooding eyes brightened as Doris came in with a tray.  She had
thought that he had rather have his dinner there.  "I noticed that you
did not come down with the others," she said.

Pete was angry with himself.  Adam-like he said he wasn't hungry anyhow.

"Then I'll take it back," said Doris sweetly,

Adam-like, Pete decided that he was hungry.  "Miss Gray," he blurted,
"I--I'm a doggone short-horn!  I'm goin' to eat.  I sure want to square
myself."

"For what?"

Doris was gazing at him with a serene directness that made him feel
that his clothing was several sizes too large for him.  He realized
that generalities would hardly serve his turn just then.

"I was settin' here feelin' sore at the whole doggone outfit," he
explained.  "Sore at you--and everybody."

"Well?" said Doris unsmilingly.

"I'm askin' you to forgit that I was sore at you."  Pete was not
ordinarily of an apologetic turn, and he felt that he pretty thoroughly
squared himself.

"It really doesn't matter," said Doris, as she placed his tray on the
table and turned to go.

"I reckon you're right."  And his dark eyes grew moody again.

"There's a man in the reception-room waiting to see you," said Doris.
"I told him you were having your dinner."

"Another one, eh?  Oh, I was forgittin'.  I got a letter from Jim
Bailey"--Pete fumbled in his shirt--"and I thought mebby--"

"I hope it's good news."

"It sure is!  Would you mind readin' it--to yourself--sometime?"

"I--think I'd rather not," said Doris hesitatingly.

Pete's face showed so plainly that he was hurt that Doris regretted her
refusal to read the letter.  To make matters worse--for himself--Pete
asked that exceedingly irritating and youthful question, "Why?" which
elicits that distinctly unsatisfactory feminine answer, "Because."
That lively team "Why" and "Because" have run away with more chariots
of romance, upset more matrimonial bandwagons, and spilled more beans
than all the other questions and answers men and women have uttered
since that immemorial hour when Adam made the mistake of asking Eve why
she insisted upon his eating an apple right after breakfast.

Doris was not indifferent to his request that she read the letter, but
she was unwilling to let Pete know it, and a little fearful that he
might interpret her interest for just what it was--the evidence of a
greater solicitude for his welfare than she cared to have him know.

Pete, like most lusty sons of saddle-leather, shied at even the shadow
of sentiment--in this instance shying at his own shadow.  He rode wide
of the issue, turning from the pleasant vista of who knows what
imaginings, to face the imperative challenge of immediate necessity,
which was, first, to eat something, and then to meet the man who waited
for him downstairs who, Pete surmised, was the sheriff of Sanborn
County.

"If you don't mind tellin' him I'll come down as soon as I eat," said
Pete as he pulled up a chair.

Doris nodded and turned to leave.  Pete glanced up.  She had not gone.
"Your letter,"--and Doris proffered the letter which he had left on the
cot.  Pete was about to take it when he glanced up at her.  She was
smiling at him.  "You don't know how funny you look when you frown and
act--like--like a spoiled child," she laughed.  "Aren't you ashamed of
yourself?"

"I--I reckon I am," said Pete, grinning boyishly.

"Ashamed of yourself?"

"Nope!  A spoiled kid, like you said.  And I ain't forgittin' who
spoiled me."

The letter, the man downstairs and all that his presence implied, past
and future possibilities, were forgotten in the brief glance that Doris
gave him as she turned in the doorway.  And glory-be, she had taken the
letter with her!  Pete gazed about the room to make sure that he was
not dreaming.  No, the letter had disappeared--and but a moment ago
Doris had had it.  And she still had it.  "Well, she'll know I got one
or two friends, anyhow," reflected Pete as he ate his dinner.  "When
she sees how Jim talks--and what he said Ma Bailey has to say to
me--mebby she'll--mebby--Doggone it!  Most like she'll just hand it
back and smile and say she's mighty glad--and--but that ain't no sign
that I'm the only guy that ever got shot up, and fixed up, and turned
loose by a sure-enough angel . . .  Nope!  She ain't a angel--she's
real folks, like Ma Bailey and Andy and Jim.  If I ain't darned careful
I'm like to find I done rid my hoss into a gopher-hole and got throwed
bad."

Meanwhile "the man downstairs" was doing some thinking himself.  That
morning he had visited police headquarters and inspected Pete's gun and
belongings--noting especially the hand-carved holster and the
heavy-caliber gun, the factory number of which he jotted down in his
notebook.  Incidentally he had borrowed a Luger automatic from the
miscellaneous collection of weapons taken from criminals, assured
himself that it was not loaded, and slipped it into his coat-pocket.
Later he had talked with the officials, visited the Mexican
lodging-house, where he had obtained a description of the man who had
occupied the room with Pete, and stopping at a restaurant for coffee
and doughnuts, had finally arrived at the hospital prepared to hear
what young Annersley had to say for himself.

Sheriff Jim Owen, unofficially designated as "Sunny Jim" because of an
amiable disposition, which in no way affected his official
responsibilities, was a dyed-in-the-wool, hair-cinched, range-branded,
double-fisted official, who scorned nickel-plated firearms, hard-boiled
hats, fancy drinks, and smiled his contempt for the rubber-heeled
methods of the city police.  Sheriff Owen had no rubber-heeled
tendencies.  He was frankness itself, both in peace and in war.  It was
once said of him, by a lank humorist of Sanborn, that Jim Owen never
wasted any time palaverin' when _he_ was flirtin' with death.  That he
just met you with a gun in one hand and a smile in the other, and you
could take your choice--or both, if you was wishful.

The sheriff was thinking, his hands crossed upon his rotund stomach and
his bowed legs as near crossed as they could ever be without an
operation.  He was pretty well satisfied that the man upstairs, who
that pretty little nurse had said would be down in a few minutes, had
not killed Sam Brent.  He had a few pertinent reasons for this
conclusion.  First, Brent had been killed by a thirty-caliber,
soft-nosed bullet, which the sheriff had in his vest-pocket.  Then,
from what he had been told, he judged that the man who actually killed
Brent would not have remained in plain sight in the lodging-house
window while his companion made his get-away.  This act alone seemed to
indicate that of the two the man who had escaped was in the greater
danger if apprehended, and that young Annersley had generously offered
to cover his retreat so far as possible.  Then, from the lodging-house
keeper's description of the other man, Jim Owen concluded that he was
either Ed Brevoort or Slim Harper, both of whom were known to have been
riding for the Olla.  And the sheriff knew something of Brevoort's
record.

Incidentally Sheriff Owen also looked up Pete's record.  He determined
to get Pete's story and compare it with what the newspapers said and
see how close this combined evidence came to his own theory of the
killing of Brent.  He was mentally piecing together possibilities and
probabilities, and the exact evidence he had, when Pete walked into the
reception-room.

"Have a chair," said Sheriff Owen.  "I got one."

"I'm Pete Annersley," said Pete.  "Did you want to see me?"

"Thought I'd call and introduce myself.  I'm Jim Owen to my friends.
I'm sheriff of Sanborn County to others."

"All right, Mr. Owen," said Pete, smiling in spite of himself.

"That's the idea--only make it Jim.  Did you ever use one of these?"
And suddenly Sheriff Owen had a Luger automatic in his hand.  Pete
wondered that a man as fat as the little sheriff could pull a gun so
quickly.

"Why--no.  I ain't got no use for one of them doggone stutterin'
smoke-wagons."

"Here, too," said Owen, slipping the Luger back into his pocket.
"Never shot one of 'em in my life.  Ever try one?"

"I--"  Pete caught himself on the verge of saying that he had tried Ed
Brevoort's Luger once.  He realized in a flash how close the sheriff
had come to trapping him.  "I never took to them automatics," he
asserted lamely.

Pete had dodged the question.  On the face of it this looked as though
Pete might have been trying to shield himself by disclaiming any
knowledge of that kind of weapon.  But Owen knew the type of man he was
talking to--knew that he would shield a companion even more quickly
than he would shield himself.

"Sam Brent was killed by a bullet from a Luger," stated Owen.

Pete's face expressed just the faintest shade of relief, but he said
nothing.

"I got the bullet here in my pocket.  Want to see it?"  And before Pete
could reply, the sheriff fished out the flattened and twisted bullet
and handed it to Pete, who turned it over and over, gazing at it
curiously.

"Spreads out most as big as a forty-five," said Pete, handing it back.

"Yes--but it acts different.  Travels faster--and takes more along with
it.  Lot of 'em used in Texas and across the line.  Ever have words
with Sam Brent?"

"No.  Got along with him all right."

"Did he pay your wages reg'lar?"

"Yes."

"Ever have any trouble with a man named Steve Gary?"

"Yes, but he's--"

"I know.  Used to know the man that got him.  Wizard with a gun.
Meaner than dirt--"

"Hold on!" said Pete.  "He was my friend."

"--to most folks," continued the rotund sheriff.  "But I've heard said
he'd do anything for a man he liked.  Trouble with him was he didn't
like anybody."

"Mebby he didn't," said Pete indifferently.

"Because he couldn't trust anybody.  Ever eat ice-cream?"

"Who--me?"

The sheriff smiled and nodded.

"Nope.  Ma Bailey made some onct, but--"

"Let's go out and get some.  It's cooling and refreshing and
it's--ice-cream.  Got a hat?"

"Up in my room."

"Go get it.  I'll wait."

"You mean?"--and Pete hesitated.

"I don't mean anything.  Heard you was going for a walk this afternoon.
Thought I'd come along.  Want to get acquainted.  Lonesome.  Nobody to
talk to.  Get your hat."

"Suppose I was to make a break--when we git outside?" said Pete.

Sheriff Owen smiled and shrugged his shoulders.  "That little nurse,
the one with the gray eyes--that said you were having dinner--is she
your reg'lar nurse?"

Pete nodded.

"Well, you won't," said the sheriff.

"How's that?" queried Pete.

"I talked with her.  Sensible girl.  Break _her_ all up if her patient
was to make a break:--because"--and the sheriff's eyes ceased to
twinkle, although he still smiled--"because I'd have to break _you_ all
up.  Hate to do it.  Hate to make her feel bad."

"Oh, shucks," said Pete.

"You're right--shucks.  That's what you'd look like.  I pack a
forty-five--same as you.  We can buy a hat--"

"I'll get it."  And Pete left the room.

He could not quite understand Sheriff Owen.  In fact Pete did not come
half so close to understanding him as the sheriff came to understanding
Pete.  But Pete understood one thing--and that was that Jim Owen was
not an easy proposition to fool with.

"Now where do we head for?" said Owen as they stood at the foot of the
hospital steps.

"I was goin' to the bank--the Stockmen's Security."

"Good bank.  You couldn't do better.  Know old E.H. myself.  Used to
know him better--before he got rich.  No--this way.  Short cut.  You
got to get acquainted with your legs again, eh?  Had a close call.  A
little shaky?"

"I reckon I kin make it."

"Call a cab if you say the word."

"I--I figured I could walk," said Pete, biting his lips.  But a few
more steps convinced him that the sheriff was taking no risk whatever
in allowing him his liberty.

"Like to see old E.H. myself," stated the sheriff.  "Never rode in a
cab in my life.  Let's try one."

And the sprightly sheriff of Sanborn County straightway hailed a
languorous cabby who sat dozing on the "high seat" of a coupe to which
was attached the most voluptuous-looking white horse that Pete had ever
seen.  Evidently the "hospital stand" was a prosperous center.

"We want to go to the Stockmen's Security Bank," said the sheriff, as
the coupe drew up to the curb.  The driver nodded.

Pete leaned back against the cushions and closed his eyes.  Owen
glanced at him and shook his head.  There was nothing vicious or brutal
in that face.  It was not the face of a killer.

Pete sat up suddenly.  "I was forgittin' I was broke," and he turned to
Owen.

"No.  There's sixty-seven dollars and two-bits of yours over at the
station, along with your gun and a bundle of range clothes."

"I forgot that."

"Feel better?"

"Fine--when I'm settin' still."

"Well, we're here.  Go right in.  I'll wait."

Pete entered the bank and inquired for the president, giving the
attendant his name in lieu of the card for which he was asked.  He was
shown in almost immediately, and a man somewhat of The Spider's type
assured him that he was the president and, as he spoke, handed Pete a
slip of paper such as Pete had never before seen.

"You're Peter Annersley?" queried Hodges.

"Yes.  What's this here?"

"It's more money than I'd want to carry with me on the street," said
Hodges.  "Have you anything that might identify you?"

"What's the idee?"

"Mr. Ewell had some money with us that he wished transferred to you, in
case anything happened to him.  I guess you know what happened."  Then
reflectively, "Jim was a queer one."

"You mean The Spider wanted me to have this?"

"Yes.  That slip of paper represents just twenty-four thousand dollars
in currency.  If you'll just endorse it--"

"But it ain't my money!" said Pete.

"You're a fool if you don't take it, young man.  From what I have heard
you'll need it.  It seems that Jim took a fancy to you.  Said you had
played square with him--about that last deposit, I suppose.  You don't
happen to have a letter with you, from him, I suppose, do you?"

"I got this,"--and Pete showed President Hodges The Spider's note,
which Hodges read and returned.  "That was like Jim.  He wouldn't
listen to me."

"And this was his money?"  Pete was unable to realize the significance
of it all.

"Yes.  Now it's yours.  You're lucky!  Mighty lucky!  Just endorse the
draft--right here.  I'll have it cashed for you."

"Write my name?"

"Yes, your full name, here."

"And I git twenty-four thousand dollars for this?"

"If you want to carry that much around with you.  I'd advise you to
deposit the draft and draw against it."

"If it's mine, I reckon I'd like to jest git it in my hands onct,
anyhow.  I'd like to see what that much money feels like."

Pete slowly wrote his name, thinking of The Spider and Pop Annersley as
he did so.  Hodges took the draft, pressed a button, and a clerk
appeared, took the draft, and presently returned with the money in gold
and bank-notes of large denomination.

When he had gone out, Hodges turned to Pete.  "What are you going to do
with it?  It's none of my business--now.  But Jim and I were
friends--and if I can do anything--"

"I reckon I'll put it back in--to my name," said Pete.  "I sure ain't
scared to leave it with you--for The Spider he weren't."

Hodges smiled grimly, and pressed a button on his desk.  "New account,"
he told the clerk.

Pete sighed heavily when the matter had been adjusted, the
identification signature slips signed, and the bank-book made out in
his name.

Hodges himself introduced Pete at the teller's window, thanked Pete
officially for patronizing the bank, and shook hands with him.  "Any
time you need funds, just come in--or write to me," said Hodges.
"Good-bye, and good luck."

Pete stumbled out of the bank and down the steps to the sidewalk.  He
was rich--worth twenty-four thousand dollars!  But why had The Spider
left this money to him?  Surely The Spider had had some other
friend--or some relative . . . ?

"Step right in," said Sheriff Owen.  "You look kind of white.  Feeling
shaky?"

"Some."

"We want to go to the General Hospital," said the sheriff.

Pete listened to the deliberate plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk of the white
mare's large and capable feet as the cab whirred softly along the
pavement.  "I suppose you'll be takin' me over to Sanborn right soon,"
he said finally.

"Well, I expect I ought to get back to my family," said the sheriff.

"I didn't kill Sam Brent," asserted Pete.

"I never thought you did," said the sheriff, much to Pete's surprise.

"Then what's the idee of doggin' me around like I was a blame coyote?"

"Because you have been traveling in bad company, son.  And some one in
that said company killed Sam Brent."

"And I got to stand for it?"

"Looks that way.  I been all kinds of a fool at different times, but
I'm not fool enough to ask you who killed Sam Brent.  But I advise you
to tell the judge and jury when the time comes."

"That the only way I kin square myself?"

"I don't say that.  But it will help."

"Then I don't say."

"Thought you wouldn't.  It's a case of circumstantial evidence.  Brent
was found in that cactus forest near the station.  The same night two
men rode into Sanborn and left their horses at the livery-stable.
These men took the train for El Paso, but jumped it at the crossing.
Later they were trailed to a rooming-house on Aliso Street.  One of
them--and this is the queer part of it--got away after shooting his
pardner.  The rubber heels in this town say these two men quarreled
about money--"

"That's about all they know.  Ed and me never--"

"You don't mean Ed Brevoort, do you?"

"There's more 'n one Ed in this country."

"There sure is.  Old E.H. Hodges--he's Ed; and there's Ed Smally on the
force here, and Ed Cummings, the preacher over to Sanborn.  Lots of
Eds.  See here, son.  If you want to get out of a bad hole, the
quickest way is for you to tell a straight story.  Save us both time.
Been visiting with you quite a spell."

"Reckon we're here," said Pete as the cab stopped.

"And I reckon you're glad of it.  As I was saying, we been having quite
a visit--getting acquainted.  Now if you haven't done anything the law
can hold you for, the more I know about what you have done the better
it will be for you.  Think that over.  If you can prove you didn't kill
Brent, then it's up to me to find out who did.  Get a good sleep.  I'll
drift round sometime to-morrow."

Back in his room Pete lay trying to grasp the full significance of the
little bank-book in his pocket.  He wondered who would stop him if he
were to walk out of the hospital that evening or the next morning, and
leave town.  He got up and strode nervously back and forth, fighting a
recurrent temptation to make his escape.

He happened to glance in the mirror above the washstand.  "That's the
only fella that kin stop me," he told himself.  And he thought of Ed
Brevoort and wondered where Brevoort was, and if he were in need of
money.

Dr. Andover, making his afternoon rounds, stepped in briskly, glanced
at Pete's flushed face, and sitting beside him on the cot, took his
pulse and temperature with that professional celerity that makes the
busy physician.  "A little temperature.  Been out today?"

"For a couple of hours."

Andover nodded.  "Well, young man, you get right into bed."

The surgeon closed the door.  Pete undressed grumblingly.

"Now turn over.  I want to look at your back.  M-mm!  Thought so.  A
little feverish.  Did you walk much?"

"Nope!  We took a rig.  I was with the sheriff."

"I see!  Excitement was a little too much for you.  You'll have to go
slow for a few days."

"I'm feelin' all right," asserted Pete.

"You think you are.  How's your appetite?"

"I ain't hungry."

Andover nodded.  "You'd better keep off your feet to-morrow."

"Shucks, Doc!  I'm sick of this here place!"

Andover smiled.  "Well, just between ourselves, so am I.  I've been
here eight years.  By the way, how would you like to take a ride with
me, next Thursday?  I expect to motor out to Sanborn."

"In that machine I seen you in the other day?"

"Yes.  New car.  I'd like to try her out on a good straightaway--and
there's a pretty fair road up on this end of the mesa."

"I'd sure like to go!  Say, Doc, how much does one of them automobiles
cost?"

"Oh, about three thousand, without extras."

"How fast kin you go?"

"Depends on the road.  My car is guaranteed to do seventy-five on the
level."

"Some stepper!  You could git to Sanborn and back in a couple of hours."

"Not quite.  I figure it about a four-hour trip.  I'd be glad to have
you along.  Friend of mine tells me there's a thoroughbred saddle-horse
there that is going to be sold at auction.  I've been advertising for a
horse for my daughter.  You might look him over and tell me what you
think of him."

"I reckon I know him already," said Pete.

"How's that?"

"'Cause they's no thoroughbred stock around Sanborn.  If it's the one
I'm thinkin' about, it was left there by a friend of mine."

"Oh--I see!  I remember, now.  Sanborn is where you--er--took the train
for El Paso?"

"We left our hosses there--same as the paper said."

"H-mm!  Well, I suppose the horse is to be sold for charges.  Sheriff's
sale, I understand."

"Oh, you're safe in buyin' _him_ all right.  And he sure is a good one."

"Well, I'll speak to the chief.  I imagine he'll let you go with me."

Pete shook his head.  "Nope.  He wouldn't even if he had the say.  But
the sheriff of Sanborn County has kind of invited me to go over there
for a spell.  I guess he figured on leavin' here in a couple of days."

"He can't take you till I certify that you're able to stand the
journey," said Andover brusquely.

"Well, he's comin' to-morrow.  I'm dead sick of stayin' here.  Can't
you tell him I kin travel?"

"We'll see how you feel to-morrow.  Hello!  Here's Miss Gray.  What,
six o'clock!  I had no idea . . .  Yes, a little temperature, Miss
Gray.  Too much excitement.  A little surface inflammation--nothing
serious.  A good night's rest and he'll be a new man.  Good-night."

Pete was glad to see Doris.  Her mere presence was restful.  He sighed
heavily, glanced up at her and smiled.  "A little soup, Miss Gray.
It's awful excitin'.  Slight surface inflammation on them boiled beets.
Nothin' serious--they ain't scorched.  A good night's rest and the
cook'll be a new man tomorrow.  Doc Andover is sure all right--but I
always feel like he was wearin' kid gloves and was afraid of gittin'
'em dirty, every time he comes in."

Doris was not altogether pleased by Pete's levity and her face showed
it.  She did not smile, but rearranged the things on the tray in a
preoccupied manner, and asked him if there was anything else he wanted.

"Lemme see?"  Pete frowned prodigiously.  "Got salt and pepper and
butter and sugar; but I reckon you forgot somethin' that I'm wantin' a
whole lot."

"What is it?"

"You're forgittin' to smile."

"I read that letter from Mr. Bailey."

"I'm mighty glad you did, Miss Gray.  I wanted you to know what was in
that letter.  You'd sure like Ma Bailey, and Jim and Andy.  Andy was my
pardner--when--afore I had that trouble with Steve Gary.  No use tryin'
to step round it now.  I reckon you know all about it."

"And you will be going back to them--to your friends on the ranch?"

"Well--I aim to.  I got to go over to Sanborn first."

"Sanborn?  Do you mean--?"

"Jest what you're thinkin', Miss Gray.  I seen a spell back how you was
wonderin' that I could josh about my grub, and Doc Andover.  Well, I
got in bad, and I ain't blamin' nobody--and I ain't blamin' myself--and
that's why I ain't hangin' my head about anything I done.  And I ain't
kickin' because I got started on the wrong foot.  _I'm_ figurin' how I
kin git started on the other foot--and keep a-goin'."

"But why should you tell me about these things?  I can't help you.  And
it seems terrible to think about them.  If I were a man--like Dr.
Andover--"

"I reckon you're right," said Pete.  "I got no business loadin' you up
with all my troubles.  I'm goin' to quit it.  Only you been kind o'
like a pardner--and it sure was lonesome, layin' here and thinkin'
about everything, and not sayin' a word to nobody.  But I jest want you
to know that I didn't kill Sam Brent--but I sure would 'a' got him--if
somebody hadn't been a flash quicker than me, that night.  Brent was
after the money we was packin', and he meant business."

"You mean that--some one killed him in self-defense?"

"That's the idee.  It was him or us."

"Then why don't you tell the police that?"

"I sure aim to.  But what they want to know is who the fella was that
got Brent."

"But the papers say that the other man escaped."

"Which is right."

"And you won't tell who he is?"

"Nope."

"But why not--if it means your own freedom?"

"Mebby because they wouldn't believe me anyhow."

"I don't think that is your real reason.  Oh, I forgot to return your
letter.  I'll bring it next time."

"I'll be goin' Thursday.  Doc Andover he's goin' over to Sanborn and he
ast me to go along with him."

"You mean--to stay?"

"For a spell, anyhow.  But I'm comin' back."

Doris glanced at her wrist watch and realized that it was long past the
hour for the evening meal.  "I'm going out to my sister's to-morrow,
for the day.  I may not see you before you leave,"

Pete sat up.  "Shucks!  Well, I ain't sayin' thanks for what you done
for me, Miss Gray.  'Thanks' sounds plumb starvin' poor and rattlin',
side of what I want to tell you.  I'd be a'most willin' to git shot
ag'in--"

"Don't say that!" exclaimed Doris.

"I would be shakin' hands with you," said Pete.  "But this here is just
'Adios,' for I'm sure comin' back."




CHAPTER XLI

"A LAND FAMILIAR"

The following day Pete had a long talk with Sheriff Owen, a talk which
resulted in the sheriff's accompanying Andover and Pete on their desert
journey to Sanborn.

Incidentally Pete gave his word that he would not try to escape.  It
was significant, however, that the little sheriff expressed a
preference for the back seat, even before Andover, who had invited him
to make the journey, asked him if he cared to ride in front.  The
sheriff's choice was more a matter of habit than preference, for, alone
upon the ample seat of the touring-car, he was shuttled ignominiously
from side to side and bounced and jolted until, during a stop for
water, he informed Andover that "he sure would have to pull leather to
stay with the car."

The surgeon, a bit inclined to show off, did not hesitate to "step on
her," when the going was at all good.  And any one familiar with the
road from El Paso to Sanborn is aware of just how good even the best
going is.  Any one unfamiliar with that road is to be congratulated.

Pete enjoyed the ride, as it brought him once more into the open
country.  The car whirred on and on.  It seemed to him as though he
were speeding from a nightmare of brick and stone and clamor into the
wide and sun-swept spaces of a land familiar and yet strange.

They reached Sanborn about noon, having made about one hundred and
fifty miles in something like four hours.

After a wash and a meal at the hotel, they strolled over to the
livery-stable to inspect the horse that Andover thought of buying.  A
small crowd had collected at the stables, as the auction was advertised
to take place that afternoon.  The sheriff himself started the bidding
on the thoroughbred, followed by the liveryman, who knew about what he
could get for the horse in El Paso.  Andover raised his bid, which was
quickly raised in turn by the sheriff.  Pete realized that Andover
really wanted the horse and told him quietly to drop out when the
bidding reached two hundred, shrewdly estimating that neither the
liveryman nor the sheriff would go beyond that figure, as neither of
them really wanted the horse save as a speculation.  "Then, if you want
him, raise twenty-five, and you get a mighty good horse for a hundred
less than he's worth.  I know him.  He's no good workin' cattle--but
he's one fine trail horse for straight goin'.  And he's as gentle as
your gran'-mother."

The bidding ran to one hundred and seventy-five, when there was a
pause.  The sheriff had dropped out.  The liveryman, conferring with
his partner, was about to bid when Andover jumped the price to two
hundred and fifty.

"I'm through," said the liveryman.

"Sold to--name, please--sold to Doctor John Andover for two hundred and
fifty dollars," said the auctioneer.  Then, after a facetious
dissertation on thoroughbreds as against cow-ponies, Blue Smoke was led
out.  Pete's face went red.  Then he paled.  He had not forgotten that
Blue Smoke was to be sold, but he had taken it for granted that he
would be allowed to reclaim him.  Pete stepped over to the sheriff and
was about to enter a protest--offer to pay the board-bill against Blue
Smoke, when the bidding began with an offer of twenty-five dollars.
This was quickly run up to seventy-five when Pete promptly bid one
hundred, which was a fair auction price, although every man there knew
that Blue Smoke was worth more.

"I'm bid one hundred twenty-five," cried the auctioneer, as a young,
bow-legged cowboy raised Pete's bid.

"One-fifty," said Pete without hesitation.

The sheriff glanced at Pete, wondering if he would borrow the money
from Andover to make good his bid.  But Pete was watching the
auctioneer's gavel--which happened to be a short piece of rubber
garden-hose.  "Third and last chance!" said the auctioneer.  "Nobody
want that pony as a present?  All right--goin', I say!  Goin', I say
_ag'in_!  Gone!  B' Gosh! at one hundred an' fifty dollars, to that
young gent over there that looks like he could ride him.  What's the
name?"

"Pete Annersley."

Several in the crowd turned and gazed curiously at Pete.  But Pete's
eyes were upon Blue Smoke--his horse--the horse that had carried him
faithfully so many desert miles--a cow-pony that could "follow a
mountain trail all day and finish, a-steppin' high."

"Much obliged for your advice about the thoroughbred," said Andover as
he stepped close to Pete.  "Is that the pony you used to ride?"

"He sure is.  Say, Doc, I got the money to pay for him, but would you
mind writin' out a check.  I ain't wise to this bankin' business yet."

"Why--no.  I'll do that.  I--er--of course--I'm a little short myself.
New car--and this horse for my daughter.  But I think I can manage.
You want to borrow a hundred and fifty?"

"Say, Doc, you got me wrong!  I got the makin's all right, but I don't
jest sabe rollin' 'em."  Pete dug into his coat-pocket and fetched up a
check-book.  "Same as you paid for your hoss with."

"This is Stockmen's Security.  You have an account there?"

"That's what the president was callin' it.  I call it dough.  I got the
book."  And Pete dug into his pocket again, watching Andover's face as
that astonished individual glanced at the deposit to Pete's credit.

"Well, you're the limit!"--and the doctor whistled.  "What will you
spring next?"

"Oh, it's _mine_, all right.  A friend was leavin' it to me.  He's
crossed over."

"I s-e-e.  Twenty-four thousand dollars!  Young man, that's more money
than I ever had at one time in my life."

"Same here,"--and Pete grinned.  "But it don't worry me none."

"I'll make out the check for you."  And Andover pulled out his fountain
pen and stepped over to the auctioneer's stand.  Pete signed the check
and handed it to the auctioneer.

"Don't know this man," said the auctioneer, as he glanced at the
signature.

"I'll endorse it," volunteered Andover quickly.

"All right, Doc."

And Andover, whose account was as close to being overdrawn as it could
be and still remain an account, endorsed the check of a man worth
twenty-four thousand-odd dollars, and his endorsement was satisfactory
to the auctioneer.  So much for professional egoism and six-cylinder
prestige.

Sheriff Owen, who had kept a mild eye on Pete, had noted this
transaction.  After Blue Smoke had been returned to the stables, he
took occasion to ask Pete if he were still a partner to the
understanding that he was on his honor not to attempt to escape.

"I figured that deal was good till I got here," said Pete bluntly.

"Just so, son.  That's where my figuring stopped, likewise.  Too much
open country.  If you once threw a leg over that blue roan, I can see
where some of us would do some riding."

"If I'd been thinkin' of leavin' you, it would 'a' been afore we got
here, sheriff."

"So it's 'sheriff' now, and not Jim, eh?"

"It sure is--if you're thinkin' o' lockin' me up.  You treated me white
back there in El Paso--so I'm tellin' you that if you lock me up--and I
git a chanct, I'll sure vamose."

Pete's assertion did not seem to displease the sheriff in the least.
To the contrary, he smiled affably.

"That's fair enough.  And if I _don't_ lock you up, but let you stay
over to the hotel, you'll hang around town till this thing is settled,
eh?"

"I sure will."

"Will you shake on that?"

Pete thrust out his hand.  "That goes, Jim."

"Now you're talking sense, Pete.  Reckon you better run along and see
what the Doc wants.  He's waving to you."

Andover sat in his car, drawing on his gloves.  "I've arranged to have
the horse shipped to me by express.  If you don't mind, I wish you
would see that he is loaded properly and that he has food and water
before the car leaves--that is"--and Andover cleared his throat--"if
you're around town tomorrow.  The sheriff seems to allow you a pretty
free hand--possibly because I assured him that you were not physically
fit to--er--ride a horse.  Since I saw that bank-book of yours, I've
been thinking more about your case.  If I were you I would hire the
best legal talent in El Paso, and fight that case to a finish.  You can
pay for it."

"You mean for me to hire a lawyer to tell 'em I didn't kill Sam Brent?"

"Not exactly that--but hire a lawyer to _prove_ to the judge and jury
that you didn't kill him."

"Then a fella's got to pay to prove he didn't do somethin' that he's
arrested for, and never done?"

"Often enough.  And he's lucky if he has the money to do it.  Think it
over--and let me know how you are getting along.  Miss Gray will be
interested also."

"All right.  Thanks, Doc.  I ain't forgittin' you folks."

Andover waved his hand as he swung the car round and swept out of town.
Pete watched him as he sped out across the mesa.

Sheriff Owen was standing in the livery-stable door across the street
as Pete turned and started toward him.  Midway across the street Pete
felt a sharp pain shoot through his chest.  It seemed as though the air
had been suddenly shut from his lungs and that he could neither speak
nor breathe.  He heard an exclamation and saw Owen coming toward him.
Owen, who had seen him stop and sway, was asking a question.  A dim
blur of faces--an endless journey along a street and up a narrow
stairway--and Pete lay staring at yellow wall-paper heavily sprinkled
with impossible blue roses.  Owen was giving him whiskey--a sip at a
time.

"How do you feel now?" queried the sheriff.

"I'm all right.  Somethin' caught me quick--out there."

"Your lungs have been working overtime.  Too much fresh air all at
once.  You'll feel better tomorrow."

"I reckon you won't have to set up and watch the front door," said
Pete, smiling faintly.

"Or the back door.  You're in the Sanborn House--room 11, second floor,
and there's only one other floor and that's downstairs.  If you want
any thing--just pound on the floor.  They'll understand."

"About payin' for my board--"

"That's all right.  I got your money--and your other stuff that I might
need for evidence.  Take it easy."

"Reckon I'll git up," said Pete.  "I'm all right now."

"Better wait till I come back from the office.  Be back about six.  Got
to write some letters.  Your case--called next Thursday."  And Sheriff
Owen departed, leaving Pete staring at yellow wallpaper sprinkled with
blue roses.




CHAPTER XLII

"OH, SAY TWO THOUSAND"

Just one week from the day on which Pete arrived in Sanborn he was
sitting in the witness chair, telling an interested judge and jury, and
a more than interested attorney for the defense, the story of his
life--"every hour of which," the attorney for the defense shrewdly
observed in addressing the court, "has had a bearing upon the case."

Pete spoke quietly and at times with considerable unconscious humor.
He held back nothing save the name of the man who had killed Brent,
positively refusing to divulge Brevoort's name.  His attitude was
convincing--and his story straightforward and apparently without a
flaw, despite a spirited cross-examination by the State.  The trial was
brief, brisk, and marked by no wrangling.  Sheriff Owen's testimony,
while impartial, rather favored the prisoner than otherwise.

In his address to the jury, Pete's attorney made no appeal in respect
to the defendant's youth, his struggle for existence, or the
defendant's willingness to stand trial, for Pete had unwittingly made
that appeal himself in telling his story.  The attorney for the defense
summed up briefly, thanking the jury for listening to him--and then
suddenly whirled and pointed his finger at the sheriff.

"I ask you as sheriff of Sanborn County why you allowed the defendant
his personal liberty, unguarded and unattended, pending this trial."

"Because he gave his word that he would not attempt to escape," said
Sheriff Owen.

"That's it!" cried the attorney.  "The defendant _gave his word_.  And
if Sheriff Owen, accustomed as he is to reading character in a man, was
willing to take this boy's word as a guarantee of his presence here, on
trial for his life, is there a man among us who (having heard the
defendant testify) is willing to stand up and say that he doubts the
defendant's word?  If there is I should like to look at that man!  No!

"Gentlemen, I would ask you to recall the evidence contained in the
letter written by former employers of the defendant, substantiating my
assertion that this boy has been the victim of circumstances, and not
the victim of perverse or vicious tendencies.  Does he look like a
criminal?  Does he act like a criminal?  I ask you to decide."

The jury was out but a few minutes, when they filed into court and
returned a verdict of "Not guilty."

The attorney for the defense shook hands with Pete, and gathered up his
papers.

Outside the courtroom several of the jury expressed a desire to make
Pete's acquaintance, curiously anxious to meet the man who had known
the notorious Spider personally.  Pete was asked many questions.  One
juror, a big, bluff cattleman, even offered Pete a job--"in case he
thought of punchin' cattle again, instead of studyin' law"--averring
that Pete "was already a better lawyer than that shark from El Paso, at
any turn of the trial."

Finally the crowd dwindled to Owen, the El Paso lawyer, two of Owen's
deputies, and Pete, who suggested that they go over to the hotel until
train-time.

When Pete came to pay the attorney, whom Andover had secured following
a letter from Pete, the attorney asked Pete how much he could afford.
Pete, too proud to express ignorance, and feeling mightily impressed by
the other's ability, said he would leave that to him.

"Well, including expenses, say two thousand dollars," said the attorney.

Pete wrote the check and managed to conceal his surprise at the amount,
which the attorney had mentioned in such an offhand way.  "I'm thankin'
you for what you done," said Pete.

"Don't mention it.  Now, I'm no longer your legal adviser, Annersley,
and I guess you're glad of it.  But if I were I'd suggest that you go
to some school and get an education.  No matter what you intend to do
later, you will find that an education will be extremely useful, to say
the least.  I worked my way through college--tended furnaces in winter
and cut lawns in summer.  And from what Andover tells me, you won't
have to do that.  Well, I think I'll step over to the station; train's
due about now."

"You'll tell Doc Andover how it come out?"

"Of course.  He'll want to know.  Take care of yourself.  Good-bye!"

Owen and his deputies strolled over to the station with the El Paso
attorney.  Pete, standing out in front of the hotel, saw the train pull
in and watched the attorney step aboard.

"First, Doc Andover says to hire a good lawyer, which I done, and good
ones sure come high."  Pete sighed heavily--then grinned.  "Well, say
two thousand--jest like that!  Then the lawyer says to git a education.
Wonder if I was to git a education what the professor would be tellin'
me to do next.  Most like he'd be tellin' me to learn preachin' or
somethin'.  Then if I was to git to be a preacher, I reckon all I could
do next would be to go to heaven.  Shucks!  Arizona's good enough for
me."

But Pete was not thinking of Arizona alone--of the desert, the hills
and the mesas, the canons and arroyos, the illimitable vistas and the
color and vigor of that land.  Persistently there rose before his
vision the trim, young figure of a nurse who had wonderful gray
eyes . . .  "I'm sure goin' loco," he told himself.  "But I ain't so
loco that she's goin' to know it."

"I suppose you'll be hitting the trail over the hill right soon," said
Owen as he returned from the station and seated himself in one of the
ample chairs on the hotel veranda.  "Have a cigar."

Pete shook his head.

"They're all right.  That El Paso lawyer smokes 'em."

"They ought to be all right," asserted Pete.

"Did he touch you pretty hard?"

"Oh, say two thousand, jest like that!"

The sheriff whistled.  "Shooting-scrapes come high."

"Oh, I ain't sore at him.  What makes me sore is this here law that
sticks a fella up and takes his money--makin' him pay for somethin' he
never done.  A poor man would have a fine chance, fightin' a rich man
in court, now, wouldn't he?"

"There's something in that.  The _Law_, as it stands, is all right."

"Mebby.  But she don't stand any too steady when a poor man wants to
fork her and ride out of trouble.  He's got to have a morral full of
grain to git her to stand--and even then she's like to pitch him if she
gits a chanct.  I figure she's a bronco that never was broke right."

"Well,"--and Owen smiled,--"we got pitched this time.  We lost our
case."

"You kind o' stepped up on the wrong side," laughed Pete.

"I don't know about that.  _Somebody_ killed Sam Brent."

"I reckon they did.  But supposin'--'speakin' kind o' offhand'--that
you had the fella--and say I was witness, and swore the fella killed
Brent in self-defense--where would he git off?"

"That would depend entirely on his reputation--and yours."

"How about the reputation of the fella that was killed?"

"Well, it was Brent's reputation that got you off to-day, as much as
your own.  Brent was foreman for The Spider, which put him in bad from
the start, and he was a much older man than you.  He was the kind to do
just what you said he did--try to hold you up and get The Spider's
money.  It was a mighty lucky thing for you that you managed to get
that money to the bank before they got you.  You were riding straight
all right, only you were on the wrong side of the fence, and I guess
you knew it."

"I sure did."

"Well, it ain't for me to tell you which way to head in.  You know what
you're doing.  You've got what some folks call Character, and plenty of
it.  But you're wearin' a reputation that don't fit."

"Same as clothes, eh?"--and Pete grinned.

"Yes.  And you can change _them_--if you want to change 'em."

"But that there character part stays jest the same, eh?"

"Yes.  You can't change that."

"Don't know as I want to.  But I'm sure goin' to git into my other
clothes, and take the trail over the hill that you was talkin' about."

"There are six ways to travel from here,"--and the sheriff's eyes
twinkled.

"Six?  Now I figured about four."

"Six.  When it comes to direction, the old Hopis had us beat by a
couple of trails.  They figured east, west, north, and south, straight
down and straight up."

"I git you, Jim.  Well, minin' never did interest me none--and as for
flyin', I sure been popped as high as I want to go.  I reckon I'll jest
let my hoss have his head.  I reckon him and me has got about the same
idee of what looks good."

"That pony of yours has never been in El Paso, has he?" queried the
sheriff.

"Nope.  Reckon it would be mighty interestin' for him--and the folks
that always figured a sidewalk was jest for folks and not for
hosses--but I ain't lookin' for excitement, nohow."

"Reckon that blue roan will give you all you want, any way you ride.
He hasn't been ridden since you left him here."

"Yes--and it sure makes me sore.  Doc Andover said I was to keep off a
hoss for a week yet.  Sanborn is all right--but settin' on that hotel
porch lookin' at it ain't."

"Well, I'd do what the Doc says, just the same.  He ought to know."

"I see--he ought to.  He sure prospected round inside me enough to know
how things are."

"You might come over to my office when you get tired of sitting around
here.  There ain't anything much to do--but I've got a couple of old
law books that might interest you--and a few novels--and if you want
some real excitement I got an old dictionary--"

"That El Paso lawyer was tellin' me I ought to git a education.  Don't
know but what this is a good chanct.  But I reckon I'll try one of them
novels first.  Mebby when I git that broke to gentle I can kind o' ride
over and fork one of them law books without gittin' throwed afore I git
my spurs hooked in good.  But I sure don't aim to take no quick
chances, even if you are ridin' herd for me."

"That lawyer was right, Pete.  And if I had had your chance, money, and
no responsibilities--at your age, I wouldn't have waited to pack my
war-bag to go to college."

"Well, I figured _you_ was educated, all right.  Why, that there lawyer
was sayin' right out in court about you bein' intelligent and
well-informed, and readin' character."

"He was spreading it on thick, Pete.  Regular stuff.  What little I
know I got from observation--and a little reading."

"Well, I aim to do some lookin' around myself.  But when it comes to
readin' books--"

"Reckon I'll let you take 'Robinson Crusoe'--it's a bed-rock story.
And if you finish that before you leave, I'll bet you a new Stetson
that you'll ask for another."

"I could easy win that hat,"--and Pete grinned.

"Not half as easy as you could afford to lose it."

"Meanin' I could buy one 'most any time?"

"No.  I'll let you figure out what I meant."  And the sturdy little
sheriff heaved himself out of a most comfortable chair and waddled up
the street, while Pete stared after him trying to reconcile bow-legs
and reading books, finally arriving at the conclusion that education,
which he had hitherto associated with high collars and helplessness,
might perhaps be acquired without loss of self-respect.  "It sure
hadn't spoiled Jim Owen," who was "as much of a real man as any of
'em"--and could handle talk a whole lot better than most men who
boasted legs like his.  Why, even that El Paso lawyer had complimented
Owen on his "concise and eloquent summary of his findings against the
defendant."  And Pete reflected that his lawyer had not thrown any
bouquets at any one else in that courtroom.

Just how much a little gray-eyed nurse in El Paso had to do with Pete's
determination to browse in those alien pastures is a matter for
speculation--but a matter which did not trouble Pete in the least,
because it never occurred to him; evident in his confession to Andy
White, months later: "I sure went to it with my head down and my ears
laid back, takin' the fences jest as they come, without stoppin' to
look for no gate.  I sure jagged myself on the top-wire, frequent, but
I never let that there Robinson Crusoe cuss git out of sight till I run
him into his a home-corral along with that there man-eatin' nigger of
his'n."

So it would seem that not even the rustle of skirts was heard in the
land as Pete made his first wild ride across the pleasant pastures of
Romance--for Doris had no share in this adventure, and, we are told,
the dusky ladies of that carnivorous isle did not wear them.




CHAPTER XLIII

A NEW HAT--A NEW TRAIL

The day before Pete left Sanborn he strolled over to the sheriff's
office and returned the old and battered copy of "Robinson Crusoe,"
which he had finished reading the night previous.  "I read her, clean
through," asserted Pete, "but I'd never made the grade if you hadn't
put me wise to that there dictionary.  Gosh!  I never knowed there was
so many ornery words bedded down in that there book."

"What do you think of the story?" queried the sheriff.

"If that Robinson Crusoe guy had only had a hoss instead of a bunch of
goats, he sure could have made them natives ramble.  And he sure took a
whole lot of time blamin' himself for his hard luck--always a-settin'
back, kind o' waitin' for somethin'--instead of layin' out in the brush
and poppin' at them niggers.  He wa'n't any too handy at readin' a
trail, neither.  But he made the grade--and that there Friday was sure
one white nigger."

"Want to tackle another story?" queried Owen, as he put the book back
on the shelf.

"If it's all the same to you, I'd jest as soon read this one over
ag'in.  I was trailin' that old Crusoe hombre so clost I didn't git
time to set up and take in the scenery."

In his eagerness to re-read the story Pete had forgotten about the
wager.  Owen's eyes twinkled as he studied Pete's face.  "We had a
bet--" said Owen.

"That's right!  I plumb forgot about that.  You said you bet me a new
hat that I'd ask you for another book.  Well--what you grinnin' at,
anyhow?  'Cause you done stuck me for a new lid?  Oh, I git you!  You
said _another_ book, and I'm wantin' to read the same one over again.
Shucks!  I ain't goin' to fore-foot you jest because you rid into a
loop layin' in the tall grass where neither of us seen it."

"I lose on a technicality.  I ought to lose.  Now if I had bet you a
new hat that you would want to keep on reading instead of that you'd
ask for _another_ book--"

"But this ain't no law court, Jim.  It was what you was meanin' that
counts."

"Serves me right.  I was preaching to you about education--and I'm game
to back up the idea--even if I did let my foot slip.  Come on over to
Jennings's with me and I'll get that hat."

"All right!"  And Pete rolled a smoke as the sheriff picked up several
addressed letters and tucked them in his pocket.  "I was goin' over to
the post-office, anyway."

They crossed to the shady side of the street, the short, ruddy little
sheriff and the tall, dark cowboy, each more noticeable by contrast,
yet neither consciously aware of the curious glances cast at them by
occasional townsfolk, some of whom were small enough to suspect that
Pete and the sheriff had collaborated in presenting the evidence which
had made Pete a free man; and that they were still collaborating, as
they seemed very friendly toward each other.

Pete tried on several hats and finally selected one.  "Let's see how it
looks on you," he said, handing it to the sheriff.  "I don't know how
she looks."

Owen tried the hat on, turning to look into the mirror at the end of
the counter.  Pete casually picked up the sheriff's old hat and glanced
at the size.

"Reckon I'll take it," said Pete, as Owen returned it.  "This here one
of mine never did fit too good.  It was Andy's hat."

Certain male gossips who infested the groceries, pool-halls, and
post-office of Sanborn, shook their heads and talked gravely about
bribery and corruption and politics and what not, when they learned
that the sheriff had actually bought a hat for that young outlaw that
he was so mighty thick with.  "And it weren't no fairy-story neither.
Bill Jennings sold the hat hisself, and the sheriff paid for it, and
that young Annersley walked out of the store with said hat on his
_head_.  Yes, sir!  Things looked mighty queer."

"Things would 'a' looked a mighty sight queerer if he'd 'a' walked out
with it on his foot," suggested a friend of Owen's who had been
buttonholed and told the alarming news.

Meanwhile Pete attended to his own business, which was to get his few
things together, pay his hotel-bill, settle his account with the
sheriff--which included cab-hire in El Paso--and write a letter to
Doris Gray--the latter about the most difficult task he had ever faced.
He thought of making her some kind of present--but his innate good
sense cautioned him to forego that pleasure for a while, for in making
her a present he might also make a mistake--and Pete was becoming a bit
cautious about making mistakes, even though he did think that that
green velvet hat with a yellow feather, in the millinery store in
Sanborn, was about the most high-toned ladies' sky-piece that he had
ever beheld.  Pete contented himself with buying a new Stetson for
Sheriff Owen--to be delivered after Pete had left town.

Next morning, long before the inhabitants of Sanborn had thrown back
their blankets, Pete was saddling Blue Smoke, frankly amazed that the
pony had shown no evidence of his erstwhile early-morning activities.
He wondered if the horse were sick.  Blue Smoke looked a bit fat, and
his eye was dull--but it was the dullness of resentment rather than of
poor physical condition.  Well fed, and without exercise, Blue Smoke
had become more or less logy, and he looked decidedly disinterested in
life as Pete cautiously pulled up the front cinch.

"He's too doggone quiet to suit me," Pete told the stable-man.

"He's thinkin'," suggested that worthy facetiously.

"So am I," asserted Pete, not at all facetiously.

Out in the street Pete "cheeked" Blue Smoke, and swung up quickly,
expecting the pony to go to it, but Smoke merely turned his head and
gazed at the livery with a sullen eye.

"He's sad to leave his boardin'-house,"--and Pete touched Smoke with
the spur.  Smoke further surprised Pete by striking into a mild
cow-trot, as they turned the corner and headed down the long road at
the end of which glimmered the far brown spaces, slowly changing in
color as the morning light ran slanting toward the west.

"Nothin' to do but go," reflected Pete, still a trifle suspicious of
Blue Smoke's gentlemanly behavior.  The sun felt warm to Pete's back.
The rein-chains jingled softly.  The saddle creaked a rhythmic
complaint of recent disuse.

Pete, who had said good-bye to the sheriff the night before, turned his
face toward the open with a good, an almost too good, horse between his
knees and a new outlook upon the old familiar ranges and their devious
trails.

Past a somber forest of cacti, shot with myriad angling shadows,
desolate and forbidding, despite the open sky and the morning sun, Pete
rode slowly, peering with eyes aslant at the dense growth close to the
road, struggling to ignore the spot.  Despite his determination, he
could not pass without glancing fearsomely as though he half-expected
to see something there--something to identify the spot as that shadowy
place where Brent had stood that night . . .

Blue Smoke, hitherto as amiably disposed to take his time as was Pete
himself, shied suddenly.  Through habit, Pete jabbed him with the spur,
to straighten him back in the road again.  Pete had barely time to
mutter an audible "I thought so!" when Blue Smoke humped himself.  Pete
slackened to the first wild lunge, grabbed off his hat and swung it as
Blue Smoke struck at the air with his fore feet, as though trying to
climb an invisible ladder.  Pete swayed back as the horse came down in
a mighty leap forward, and hooking his spurs in the cinch, rocked to
each leap and lunge like a leaf caught up in a desert whirlwind.  When
Pete saw that Smoke's first fine frenzy had about evaporated, he urged
him to further endeavors with the spurs, but Blue Smoke only grunted
and dropped off into a most becoming and gentlemanly lope.  And Pete
was not altogether displeased.  His back felt as though it had been
seared with a branding-iron, and the range to the west was heaving most
indecorously, cavorting around the horizon as though strangely excited
by Blue Smoke's sudden and seemingly unaccountable behavior.

"I reckon we're both feelin' better!" Pete told the pony.  "I needed
jest that kind of a jolt to feel like I was livin' ag'in.  But you
needn't be in such a doggone hurry to go and tell your friends how good
you're feelin'.  Jest come down off that lope.  We got all day to git
there."

Blue Smoke shook his head as Pete pulled him to a trot.  The cactus
forest was behind them.  Ahead lay the open, warm brown in the sun, and
across it ran a dwindling grayish line, the road that ran east and west
across the desert,--a good enough road as desert roads go, but Pete,
despite his satisfaction in being out in the open again, grew somewhat
tired of its monotonously even wagon-rutted width, and longed for a
trail--a faint, meandering trail that would swing from the road, dip
into a sand arroyo, edge slanting up the farther bank, wriggle round a
cluster of small hills, shoot out across a mesa, and climb slowly
toward those hills to the west, finally to contort itself into
serpentine switchbacks as it sought the crest--and once on the crest
(which was in reality but the visible edge of another great mesa),
there would be grass for a horse and cedar-wood for a fire, and water
with which to make coffee.

Pete had planned that his first night should be spent in the open, with
no other companions than the friendly stars.  As for Blue Smoke, well,
a horse is the best kind of a pal for a man who wishes to be alone, a
pal who takes care of himself, never complains of weariness, and eats
what he finds to eat with soulful satisfaction.

Pete made his first night's camp as he had planned, hobbled Blue Smoke,
and, having eaten, he lay resting, his head on his saddle and his gaze
fixed upon the far glory of the descending sun.  The sweet, acrid
fragrance of cedar smoke, the feel of the wind upon his face, the
contented munching of his pony, the white radiance of the stars that
came quickly, and that indescribable sense of being at one with the
silences, awakened memories of many an outland camp-fire, when as a boy
he had journeyed with the horse-trader, or when Pop Annersley and he
had hunted deer in the Blue Range.  And it seemed to Pete that that had
been but yesterday--"with a pretty onnery kind of a dream in between,"
he told himself.

As the last faint light faded from the west and the stars grew big,
Pete thanked those same friendly stars that there would be a
To-morrow--with sunlight, silence, and a lone trail to ride.  Another
day and he would reach old Flores's place in the canon--but Boca would
not be there.  Then he would ride to Showdown.--Some one would be at
The Spider's place . . .  He could get feed for his horse . . .  And
the next day he would ride to the Blue and camp at the old cabin.
Another day and he would be at the Concho . . .  Andy, and Jim, and Ma
Bailey would be surprised . . .  No, he hadn't come back to stay . . .
Just dropped in to say "Hello!" . . .

Pete smiled faintly as a coyote shrilled his eternal plaint.  This was
something like it.  The trembling Pleiades grew blurred.




CHAPTER XLIV

THE OLD TRAIL

The following afternoon Pete, stiff and weary from his two days' ride,
entered the southern end of Flores's canon and followed the trail along
the stream-bed--now dry and edged with crusted alkali--until he came
within sight of the adobe.  In the half-light of the late afternoon he
could not distinguish objects clearly, but he thought he could discern
the posts of the pole corral and the roof of the meager stable.  Nearer
he saw that there was no smoke coming from the mud chimney of the
adobe, and that the garden-patch was overgrown with weeds.

No one answered his call as he rode up and dismounted.  He found the
place deserted and he recalled the Mexican woman's prophecy.

He pushed open the sagging door and entered.  There was the
oilcloth-covered table and the chairs--a broken box in the middle of
the room, an old installment-house catalogue, from which the colored
prints had been torn, an empty bottle--and in the kitchen were the
rusted stove and a few battered and useless cooking-utensils.  An odor
of stale grease pervaded the place.  In the narrow bedroom--Boca's
room---was a colored fashion-plate pinned on the wall.

Pete shrugged his shoulders and stepped out.  Night was coming swiftly.
He unsaddled Blue Smoke and hobbled him.  The pony strayed off up the
stream-bed.  Pete made a fire by the corral, ate some beans which he
warmed in the can, drank a cup of coffee, and, raking together some
coarse dried grass, turned in and slept until the sound of his pony's
feet on the rocks of the stream-bed awakened him.  He smelt dawn in the
air, although it was still dark in the canon, and having in mind the
arid stretch between the canon and Showdown, he made breakfast.  He
caught up his horse and rode up the trail toward the desert.  On the
mesa-edge he re-cinched his saddle and turned toward the north.


Flores, who with his wife was living at The Spider's place, recognized
him at once and invited him in.

"What hit this here town, anyhow?" queried Pete.  "I didn't see a soul
as I come through."

Flores shrugged his shoulders.  "The vaqueros from over there"--and he
pointed toward the north--"they came--and now there is but this
left"--and he indicated the saloon.  "The others they have gone."

"Cleaned out the town, eh?  Reckon that was the T-Bar-T and the boys
from the Blue and the Concho.  How'd they come to miss you?"

"I am old--and my wife is old--and after they had drank the
wine--leaving but little for us--they laughed and said that we might
stay and be dam': that we were too old to steal cattle."

"Uh-huh.  Cleaned her out reg'lar!  How's the senora?"

Flores touched his forehead.  "She is thinking of Boca--and no one else
does she know."

"Gone loco, eh?  Well, she ain't so bad off at that--seein' as _you're_
livin' yet.  No, I ain't comin' in.  But you can sell me some
tortillas, if you got any."

"It will be night soon.  If the senor--"

"Go ask the Senora if she has got any tortillas to sell.  I wouldn't
bush in there on a bet.  Don't you worry about my health."

"We are poor, senor!  We have this place, and the things--but of the
money I know nothing.  My wife she has hidden it."

"She ain't so crazy as you think, if that's so.  Do you run this
place--or are you jest starvin' to death here?"

"There is still a little wine--and we buy what we may need of
Mescalero.  If you will come in--"

"So they missed old Mescalero!  Well, he's lucky.  No, I don't come in.
I tried boardin' at your house onct."

"Then I will get the tortillas."  And Flores shuffled into the saloon.
Presently he returned with a half-dozen tortillas wrapped up in an old
newspaper.  Pete tossed him a dollar, and packing the tortillas in his
saddle-pockets, gazed round at the town, the silent and deserted
houses, the empty street, and finally at The Spider's place.

Old Flores stood in the doorway staring at Pete with drink-blurred
eyes.  Pete hesitated.  He thought of dismounting and going in and
speaking to Flores's wife.  But no!  It would do neither of them any
good.  Flores had intimated that she had gone crazy.  And Pete did not
want to talk of Boca--nor hear her name mentioned.  "Boca's where she
ain't worryin' about anybody," he reflected as he swung round and rode
out of town.

Once before he had camped in the same draw, a few miles west of
Showdown, and Blue Smoke seemed to know the place, for he had swung
from the trail of his own accord, striding straight to the water-hole.

"And if you keep on actin' polite," Pete told the pony as he hobbled
him that evening, "you'll get a good reputation, like Jim Owen said;
which is plumb necessary, if you an' me's goin' to be pals.  But if
gettin' a good reputation is goin' to spoil your wind or legs any--why,
jest keep on bein' onnery--which Jim was tellin' me is called
'Character.'"

As Pete hardened to the saddle and Blue Smoke hardened to the trail,
they traveled faster and farther each day, until, on the Blue Mesa,
where the pony grazed and Pete squatted beside his night-fire in the
open, they were but a half-day's journey from the Concho.  Pete almost
regretted that their journey must come to an end.  But he could not go
on meandering about the country without a home and without an object in
life: _that_ was pure loafing.

Pete might have excused himself on the ground that he needed just this
sort of thing after his serious operation; but he was honest with
himself, admitting that he felt fit to tackle almost any kind of hard
work, except perhaps writing letters--for he now thought well enough of
himself to believe that Doris Gray would answer his letter to her from
Sanborn.  And of course he would answer her letter--and if he answered
that, she would naturally answer . . .  Shucks!  Why should she write
to him?  All he had ever done for her was to make her a lot of bother
and hard work.  And what good was his money to him?  He couldn't just
walk into a store and buy an education and have it wrapped up in paper
and take it to her and say, "Here, Miss Gray.  I got a education--the
best they had in the outfit.  Now if you'll take it as a kind of
present--and me along with it . . ."

Pete was camping within fifty yards of the spot where old Pop Annersley
had tried to teach him to read and write--it seemed a long time ago,
and Annersley himself seemed more vague in Pete's memory, as he tried
to recall the kindly features and the slow, deliberate movements of the
old man.  It irritated Pete that he could not recall old man
Annersley's face distinctly.  He could remember his voice, and one or
two characteristic gestures--but his face--

Pete stared into the camp-fire, dreaming back along that trail over
which he had struggled and fought and blundered; back to the time when
he was a waif in Enright, his only companion a lean yellow dog . . .
Pete nodded and his eyes closed.  He turned lazily and leaned back
against his saddle.

The mesa, carpeted with sod-grass, gave no warning of the approaching
horseman, who had seen the tiny fire and had ridden toward it.  Just
within the circle of firelight he reined in and was about to call out
when that inexplicable sense inherent in animals, the Indian, and in
some cases the white man, brought Pete to his feet.  In that same
lightning-swift, lithe movement he struck his gun from the holster and
stood tense as a buck that scents danger on the wind.

Pete blinked the sleep from his eyes.  "Keep your hands right where
they be and step down off that hoss--"

The rider obeyed.  Pete moved from the fire that his own shadow might
not fall upon the other.  "Pete!" exclaimed the horseman in a sort of
choking whisper.

The gun sagged in Peters hand.  "Andy!  For God's sake!--I come clost
to killin' you!"  And he leaped and caught Andy White's hand, shook it,
flung his arm about his shoulders, stepped back and struck him
playfully on the chest, grabbed him and shook him--and then suddenly he
turned and walked back to the fire and sat down, blinking into the
flames, and trying to swallow nothing, harder than he had ever tried to
swallow anything in his life.

He heard Andy's step behind him, and heard his own name spoken again.
"It was my fault, Pete.  I ought to 'a' hollered.  I saw your fire and
rode over--"  Andy's hand was on Pete's shoulder, and that shoulder was
shaking queerly.  Andy drew back.  "There goes that dam' cayuse," cried
Andy.  "I'll go catch him up, and let him drag a rope."

When Andy returned from putting an unnecessary rope on a decidedly
tired horse that was quite willing to stand right where he was, Pete
had pulled himself together and was rolling a cigarette.

"Well, you ole sun-of-a-gun!" said Pete; "want to swap hats?  Say,
how'll you swap?"

Andy grinned, but his grin faded to a boyish seriousness as he took off
his own Stetson and handed it to Pete, who turned it round and
tentatively poked his fingers through the two holes in the crown.  "You
got my ole hat yet, eh?  Doggone if it ain't my ole hat.  And she's
ventilated some, too.  Well, I'm listenin'."

"And you sure are lookin' fine, Pete.  Say, is it you?  Or did my hoss
pitch me--and I'm dreamin'--back there on the flat?  No.  I reckon it's
you all right.  I ain't done shakin' yet from the way you come at me
when I rode in.  Say, did you git Jim's letter?  Why didn't you write
to a guy, and say you was comin'?  Reg'lar ole Injun, same as ever.
Quicker 'n a singed bob-cat gittin' off a stove-lid.  That Blue Smoke
'way over there?  Thought I knowed him.  When did they turn you loose
down to El Paso?  Ma Bailey was worryin' that they wasn't feedin' you
good.  When did you get here?  Was you in the gun-fight when The Spider
got bumped off?"

Pete was still gazing at the little round holes in Andy's hat.  "Andy,
did you ever try to ride a hoss down the ole mesa trail backwards?"

"Why, no, you sufferin' coyote!  What you drivin' at?"

"Here's your hat.  Now if you got anything under it, go ahead and talk
up.  Which way did you ride when we split, over by the timber there?"

Andy reached over and put a stick of wood on the fire.  "Well, seein'
it's your hat, I reckon you got a right to know how them holes come in
it."  And he told Pete of his ride, and how he had misled the posse,
and he spoke jestingly, as though it had been a little thing to do;
hardly worth repeating.  Then he told of a ride he had made to Showdown
to let Pete know that Gary would live, and how The Spider had said that
he knew nothing of Pete--had never seen him.  And of how Ma Bailey
upheld Pete, despite all local gossip and the lurid newspaper screeds.
And that the boys would be mighty glad to see him again; concluding
with an explanation of his own presence there--that he had been over to
the T-Bar-T to see Houck about some of his stock that had strayed
through some "down-fence"--"She's all fenced now," he explained--and
had run into a bunch of wild turkeys, chased them to a rim-rock and had
managed to shoot one, but had had to climb down a canon to recover the
bird, which had set him back considerably on his home journey.  "And
that there bird is hangin' right on my saddle now!" he concluded.  "And
I ain't et since mornin'."

"Then we eat," asserted Pete.  "You go git that turkey, and I'll do the
rest."

Wild turkey, spitted on a cedar limb and broiled over a wood fire, a
bannock or two with hot coffee in an empty bean-can (Pete insisted on
Andy using the one cup), tastes just a little better than anything else
in the world, especially if one has ridden far in the high country--and
most folk do, before they get the wild turkey.

It was three o'clock when they turned in, to share Pete's one blanket,
and then Andy was too full of Pete's adventures to sleep, asking an
occasional question which Pete answered, until Andy, suddenly recalling
that Pete had told him The Spider had left him his money, asked Pete if
he had packed all that dough with him, or banked it in El Paso.  To
which Pete had replied drowsily, "Sure thing, Miss Gray."  Whereupon
Andy straightway decided that he would wait till morning before asking
any further questions of an intimate nature.

Pete was strangely quiet the nest morning, in fact almost taciturn, and
Andy noticed that he went into the saddle a bit stiffly.  "That--where
you got hurt botherin' you, Pete?" he asked with real solicitude.

"Some."  And realizing that he had scarcely spoken to his old chum
since they awakened, he asked him many questions about the ranch, and
the boys, as they drifted across the mesa and down the trail that led
to the Concho.

But it was not the twinge of his old wound that made Pete so silent.
He was suffering a disappointment.  He had believed sincerely that what
he had been through, in the past six months especially, had changed
him--that he would have to have a mighty stern cause to pull a gun on a
man again; and at the first hint of danger he had been ready to kill.
He wondered if he would ever lose that hunted feeling that had brought
him to his feet and all but crooked his trigger-finger before he had
actually realized what had startled him.  But one thing was
certain--Andy would never know just _how_ close he had come to being
killed; Andy, who had joked lightly about his own ride into the desert
with an angry posse trailing him, as he wore Pete's black Stetson,
"that he might give them a good run for their money," he had laughingly
said.

"You're jest the same ornery, yella-headed, blue-eyed singin'-bird you
always was," declared Pete as they slithered along down the trail.

Andy turned in the saddle and grinned at Pete.  "Now that you've give
the blessing parson, will you please and go plumb to hell?"

Pete felt a lot better.

A loose rock slipped from the edge of the trail, and went bounding down
the steep hillside, crashing through a thicket of aspens and landing
with a dull clunk amid a pile of rock that slid a little, and grumbled
sullenly.  Blue Smoke had also slipped as his footing gave way
unexpectedly.  Pete felt still better.  This was something like it!




CHAPTER XLV

HOME FOLKS

Noon found them within sight of the ranch-house.  In an hour they were
unsaddling at the corral, having ridden in the back way, at Andy's
suggestion, that they might surprise the folks.  But it did not take them
long to discover that there were no folks to surprise.  The bunk-house
was open, but the house across from it was locked, and Andy knew
immediately that the Baileys had driven to town, because the pup was
gone, and he always followed the buckboard.

Pete was not displeased, for he wanted to shave and "slick up a bit"
after his long journey.  "They'll see my hoss and know that I'm back,"
said Andy, as he filled the kettle on the box-stove in the bunk-house.
"But we can put Blue Smoke in a stall and keep him out of sight till you
walk in right from nowhere.  I can see Ma Bailey and Jim and the boys!
'Course Ma's like to be back in time to get supper, so mebby you'll have
to hide out in the barn till you hear the bell."

"I ain't awful strong on that conquerin' hero stuff, Andy.  I jest as
soon set right here--"

"And spoil the whole darn show!  Look here, Pete,--you leave it to me and
if we don't surprise Ma Bailey clean out of her--specs, why, I'll quit
and go to herdin' sheep."

"A11 right.  I'm willin'.  Only you might see if you kin git in the back
way and lift a piece of pie, or somethin'."  Which Andy managed to do
while Pete shaved himself and put on a clean shirt.

They sat in the bunk-house doorway chatting about the various happenings
during Pete's absence until they saw the buckboard top the distant edge
of the mesa.  Pete immediately secluded himself in the barn, while Andy
hazed Blue Smoke into a box stall and hid Pete's saddle.

Ma Bailey, alighting from the buckboard, heard Andy's brief explanation
of his absence with indifference most unusual in her, and glanced sharply
at him when he mentioned having shot a wild turkey.

"I suppose you picked it and cleaned it and got it all ready to roast,"
she inquired.  "Or have you just been loafing around waiting for me to do
it?"

"I et it," asserted Andy.

Ma Bailey glared at him, shook her head, and marched into the house while
Andy helped Bailey put up the horses.

"Ma's upset about somethin'," explained Bailey.  "Seems a letter came for
Pete--"

"Letter from Pete!  Why, he ain't comin' back, is he?"

"A letter for Pete.  Ma says it looks like a lady's writin' on the
envelope.  She says she'd like to know what female is writin' to Pete,
and him goodness knows where, and not a word to say whether he's sick or
broke, or anything."

"I sure would like to see him," said Andy fervently.

"Well, if somebody's writin' to him here at the Concho, looks like he
might drift in one of these days.  I'd sure like to know how the kid's
makin' it."

And Bailey strode to the house, while Andy led the team to the corral.

Later Andy appeared in the kitchen and asked Mrs. Bailey if he couldn't
help her set the table, or peel potatoes, or something.  Ma Bailey gazed
at him suspiciously over her glasses.  "I don't know what's ailin' you,
Andy, but you ain't actin' right.  First you tell me that you had to camp
at the Blue last night account o' killin' a turkey.  Then you tell me
that you et the whole of it.  Was you scared you wouldn't get your share
if you fetched it home?  Then you want to help me get supper.  You been
up to something!  You just keep me plumb wore out worrying about you.
You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

"For why, Ma?  What have I done?"

"I don't know, but it'll come to the top.  There's the boys now--and me
a-standing here--  Run along and set the table if you ain't so full of
whatever is got into you that you can't count straight.  Bill won't be in
to-night.  Leastwise, Jim don't expect him."  And Ma Bailey flapped her
apron at him and shooed him out as though he were a chicken that had
dared to poke its inquisitive neck into the kitchen.

"Count straight!" chuckled Andy.  "Mebby I know more about how many's
here than Ma does."

Meanwhile Ma Bailey busied herself preparing supper, and it was evident
to the boys in the bunkhouse that Ma had something on her mind from the
sounds which came from the kitchen.  Ma scolded the potatoes as she tried
them, rebuked the biscuits because they had browned a little too soon,
censured the stove for its misbehavior in having scorched the biscuits,
accused the wood of being a factor in the conspiracy, reprimanded the
mammoth coffee-pot that threatened to deluge the steak, and finally
chased Andy from the premises when she discovered that he had laid the
table with her best set of dishes.

"Ma's steamin' about somethin'," remarked Andy as he entered the
bunk-house.

This information was received with characteristic silence as each and
every cowboy mentally straightened up, vowing silently that he wasn't
goin' to take any chances of Ma b'ilin' over on him.

The clatter of the pack-horse bell brought the men to their feet and they
filed across to the house, a preternaturally silent aggregation that
confirmed Ma Bailey's suspicion that there was something afoot.

Andy, loitering behind them, saw Pete coming from the stables, tried to
compose himself, but could not get rid of the boyish grin, which provoked
Ma Bailey to mutter something which sounded like "idiot," to which the
cowboys nodded in cheerful concurrence, without other comment.

Hank Barley, the silent, was gazing surreptitiously at Ma's face when he
saw her eyes widen, saw her rise, and stand staring at the doorway as
Andy clumped in, followed by Pete.

Ma Bailey sat down suddenly.

"It's all right, Ma," laughed Andy, alarmed at the expression on her
face.  "It's just Pete."

"Just Pete!" echoed Ma Bailey faintly.  And then, "Goodness alive, child,
where you been?"

Pete's reply was lost in the shuffle of feet as the men rose and shook
hands with him, asking him a dozen questions in as many seconds,
asserting that he was looking fine, and generally behaving like a crowd
of schoolboys, as they welcomed him to their midst again.

Pete sat in the absent Bill Haskins's place.  And "You must 'a' knowed he
was coming" asserted Avery.  "Bill is over to the line shack."

"I got a _letter_," asserted Ma Bailey mysteriously.

"And you jest said nothin' and sprung him on us!  Well, Ma, you sure
fooled me," said Andy, grinning.

"You go 'long."  Mrs. Bailey smiled at Andy, who had earned her
forgiveness by crediting her--rather wisely--with having originated the
surprise.

They were chatting and joking when Bill Haskins appeared in the door-way,
his hand wrapped in a handkerchief.

Ma Bailey glared at him over her spectacles.  "Got any stickin'-plaster?"
he asked plaintively, as though he had committed some misdemeanor.  She
rose and placed a plate and chair for him as he shook hands with Pete,
led him to the kitchen and inspected and bandaged his hand, which he had
jagged on a wire gate, and finally reinstated him at the table, where he
proved himself quite as efficient as most men are with two hands.  "Give
Bill all the coffee he wants and plenty stickin'-plaster, and I reckon he
never would do no work," suggested Hank Barley.

Bill Haskins grinned good-naturedly.  "I see Pete's got back," he
ventured, as a sort of mild intimation that there were other subjects
worth discussing.  He accompanied this brilliant observation by a modest
request for another cup of coffee, his fourth.  The men rose, leaving
Bill engaged in his favorite indoor pastime, and intimated that Pete
should go with them.  But Ma Bailey would not bear of it.  Pete was going
to help her with the dishes.  Andy could go, however, and Bill Haskins,
as soon as he was convinced that the coffee-pot was empty.  Ma Bailey's
chief interest in life at the moment was to get the dishes put away, the
men out of the way, and Pete in the most comfortable rocking-chair in the
room, that she might hear his account of how it all happened.

And Pete told her--omitting no circumstance, albeit he did not accentuate
that part of his recital having to do with Doris Gray, merely mentioning
her as "that little gray-eyed nurse in El Paso"--and in such an offhand
manner that Ma Bailey began to suspect that Pete was keeping something to
himself.  Finally, by a series of cross-questioning, comment, and
sympathetic concurrence, she arrived at the feminine conclusion that the
gray-eyed nurse in El Paso had set her cap for Pete--of course Pete was
innocent of any such adjustment of headgear--to substantiate which she
rose, and, stepping to the bedroom, returned with the letter which had
caused her so much speculation as to who was writing to Pete, and why the
letter had been directed to the Concho.

Pete glanced at the letter, and thanked Ma Bailey as he tucked it in his
pocket.

"I don't mind if you open it, Pete," she told him.  "Goodness knows how
long it's been laying in the post-office!  And it, mebby, is
important--from that doctor, or that lawyer, mebby.  Oh, mebby it's from
the bank.  Sakes alive!  To think of that man leaving you all that money!
Mebby that bank has failed!"

"Well, I'd be right where I started when I first come
here--broke--lookin' for a job."

"And the boys'll worry you most to death if you try to read any letters
in the bunk-house to-night.  They're waitin' to hear you talk."

"Guess the letter can wait.  I ain't such a fast reader, anyhow."

"And you're like to lose it, carryin' it round."

"I--I--reckon I better read it," stammered Pete helplessly.

He felt somehow that Ma would feel slighted if he didn't.  Ma Bailey
watched his face as he read the rather brief note from Doris, thanking
him for his letter to her and congratulating him on the outcome of his
trial, and assuring him of her confidence in his ultimate success in
life.  "Little Ruth," wrote Doris, "cried bitterly when I told her that
you had gone and would not come back.  She said that when you said
'good-bye' to her you promised to come back--and of course I had to tell
her that you would, just to make her happy.  She has lost all interest in
the puzzle game since you left, but that queer watch that you gave her,
that has to be shaken before taken--and then not taken seriously--amuses
her quite a bit.  She gets me to wind it up--her fingers are not strong
enough--and then she laughs as the hands race around.  When they stop she
puts her finger on the hour and says, 'Pitty soon Pete come back.'
Little Ruth misses you very much."

Pete folded the letter and put it in his pocket.  "From a friend of
mine," he said, flushing slightly.

Ma Bailey sighed, smiled, and sighed again.  "You're just itching to go
see the boys.  Well, run along, and tell Jim not to set up all night." Ma
Bailey rose, and stepping to the bedroom returned with some blankets.
"You'll have your old bunk.  It's yours just as long as you want to stay,
Pete.  And--and I hope that girl in El Paso--is a--a nice--sensible--"

"Why, Ma!  What's the matter?--" as Mrs. Bailey blinked and showed
unmistakable signs of emotion.

"Nothing, Pete.  I reckon your coming back so sudden and all you been
through, and that letter, kind of upset me.  D-does she powder her face,
Pete?"

"Who?  You mean Miss Gray?  Why, what would she do that for?"

"Does she wear clothes that--that cost lots of money?"

"Great snakes, Ma!  I dunno.  I never seen her except in the hospital,
dressed jest like all the nurses."

"Is--is she handsome?"

"Say, Ma, you let me hold them blankets.  They're gittin' you all sagged
down.  Why, she ain't what I'd say was _handsome_, but she sure got
pretty eyes and hair--and complexion--and the smoothest little hands--and
she's built right neat.  She steps easy--like a thoroughbred filly--and
she's plumb sensible, jest like you folks."

This latter assurance did not seem to comfort Ma Bailey as much as the
implied compliment might intimate.

"And there's only one other woman I ever saw that made me feel right to
home and kind o' glad to have her round, like her.  And she's got gray
eyes and the same kind of hair, and--"

"Sakes alive, Pete Annersley!  Another?"

"Uh-huh.  And I'm kissin' her good-night--right now."  And Pete grabbed
the blankets and as much of Ma Bailey as could be included in that large
armful, and kissed her heartily.

"He's changed," Ma Bailey confided to herself, after Pete had
disappeared.  "Actin' like a boy--to cheer me up.  But it weren't no boy
that set there readin' that letter.  It was a growed man, and no wonder.
Yes, Pete's changed, bless his heart!"

Ma Bailey did not bless Pete's heart because he had changed, however, nor
because he had suffered, nor yet because he was unconsciously in love
with a little nurse in El Paso, nor yet because he kissed her, but
because she liked him: and because no amount of money or misfortune,
blame or praise, could really change him toward his friends.  What Ma
Bailey meant was that he had grown a little more serious, a little more
gentle in his manner of addressing her--aside from saying good-night--and
a little more intense in a quiet way.  To sum it all up, Pete had just
begun to think--something that few people do on the verdant side of
forty, and rather dread having to do on the other side of that mile-post.

A week later, as they sat at table asking one another whether Ma Bailey
had took to makin' pies ag'in jest for practice or for Pete, and plaguing
that good woman considerably with their good-natured banter, it occurred
to Bill Haskins to ask Pete if he were going to become a permanent member
of the family or if he were simply visiting; only Bill said, "Are you
aimin' to throw in with us--or are you goin' to curl your tail and drift,
when the snow flies?"

"I reckon I'll drift," said Pete.

This was news.  Andy White demurred forcibly.  Bailey himself seemed
surprised, and even old Hank Barley, the silent, expressed himself as
mildly astonished.

"We figured you'd stay till after the round-up, anyhow," said Bailey.

"Beckon it's too tame for Pete here," growled Andy.

"That's no fault of yours, Andrew," observed Ma Bailey.

"You're always peckin' at me," grumbled Andy, who detested being called
"Andrew" quite as much as that robust individual known to his friends as
Bill detests being called "Willie"--and Ma Bailey knew it.

"So you aim to leave us," said Haskins, quite unaware of Ma Bailey's eye
which glared disapproval of the subject.

"Pete's going--next Tuesday--and just to set your mind at rest and give
you a chance to eat your supper"--Bill had been doing scarcely anything
else since he sat down--"Pete has a right good reason to go."

"Kin I have another cup of coffee?" queried Bill.

"Sakes alive, yes!  I reckon that's what's ailing you."

"I only had three, Ma."

"Pete is going away _on business_," asserted Ma Bailey.

"Huh," snorted Andy.

Bailey glanced at his wife, who telegraphed to him to change the subject.
And that good man, who had been married twenty-five years, changed the
subject immediately.

But Andy did not let it drop.  After supper he cornered Pete in the
bunk-house, and following some wordy fencing, ascertained that Pete was
going to Tucson for the winter to get an education.  Pete blushingly
admitted that that was his sole intent, swore Andy to secrecy, and told
him that he had discussed the subject with Ma Bailey, who had advised him
to go.

"So you're quittin' the game," mourned Andy.

"Nope, jest beginnin'."

"Well, you might 'a' said somethin', anyhow."

Pete put his hand on Andy's shoulder.  "I wa'n't sure--till yesterday.  I
_was_ goin' to tell _you_, Andy.  Shucks!  Didn't I tell you about the
money and everything--and you didn't say a word to the boys.  I ain't
forgittin'."

"Oh, I knowed havin' money wouldn't swell you up.  It ain't that.  Only,
I was wonderin'--"

"So was I, Andy.  And I been wonderin' for quite a spell.  Come on out
and let's go set on the corral bars and smoke and--jest smoke."

But they did more than just smoke.  The Arizona stars shot wondrous
shafts of white fire through the nipping air as the chums sensed the
comfortable companionship of horses moving slowly about the corral; and
they heard the far, faint call of the coyote as a drift of wind brought
the keen tang of the distant timberlands.  They talked together as only
youth may talk with youth, when Romance lights the trail, when the heart
speaks from itself to heart in sympathy.  Yet their chat was not without
humor or they would not have been Pete and Andy.

"You always was a wise one," asserted Andy; "pickin' out a professional
nurse for _your_ girl ain't a bad idee."

"I had a whole lot to do with pickin' her out, didn't I?"

"Well, you can't make me believe that she did the pickin', for you was
tellin' me she had good eyes."

"I reckon it was the Doc that did the pickin',"' suggested Pete.

"Well, I suppose the next thing you'll be givin' the preacher a chanct."

"Nope.  Next thing I'll be givin' Miss Gray a chanct to tell me I'm a
doggone idiot--only she don't talk like that."

"Then it'll be because she don't know you like I do.  But you're lucky--
No tellin'--"  Andy climbed down from the bars.

"No tellin' what?" queried Pete.

"No tellin' you how much I sure want you to win, pardner--because you
know it."

Pete leapt from the top rail square on to Andy, who, taken off his guard,
toppled and fell.  They rolled over and over, not even trying to miss the
puddle of water beside the drinking-trough.  Andy managed to get his free
hand in the mud and thought of feeding some of it to Pete, but Pete was
too quick for him, squirming loose and making for the bunkhouse at top
speed.

Pete entrenched himself in the far corner of the room where Bill Haskins
was reading a novel,--exceedingly popular, if the debilitated condition
of the pages and covers were any criterion,--when Andy entered, holding
one hand behind him in a suspicious manner.  Pete wondered what was
coming when it came.  Andy swung his arm and plugged a fair-sized
mud-ball at Pete, which missed him and hit the innocent and unsuspecting
Bill on the ear, and stayed there.  Bill Haskins, who was at the moment
helping the hero hold a spirited pair of horses while the heroine climbed
to a seat in the romantic buckboard, promptly pulled on the reins and
shouted "Whoa!" and the debilitated novel came apart in his hands with a
soft, ripping sound.  It took Bill several seconds to think of something
to say, and several more to realize just what had happened.  He opened
his mouth--but Andy interrupted with "Honest, Bill, I wasn't meanin' to
hit you.  I was pluggin' at Pete, there.  It was his fault; he went and
hid out behind you.  Honest, Bill--wait and I'll help you dig that there
mud out of your ear."

Bill shook his head and growled as he scraped the mud from his face and
neck.  Andy, gravely solicitous, helped to remove the mud and
affectionately wiped his fingers in Bill's hair.

"Here--what in hell you doin'!" snorted Bill.

"That's right!  I was forgittin'!  Honest, Bill!"

"I'll honest you!  I'll give you somethin' to forgit."  But Andy did not
wait.

A little later Bill appeared at the kitchen door and plaintively asked Ma
Bailey if she had any sticking-plaster.

"Sakes alive!  Now what you done to yourself, William?"

"Nothin' this time, Miss Bailey.  I--I done tore a book--and jest want to
fix it."

When Bill returned to the bunk-house with the "sticking-plaster," Pete
and Andy both said they were sorry for the occurrence, but Bill was
mighty suspicious of their sincerity.  They were silent while Bill
laboriously patched up the book and settled himself to take up the reins
where he had dropped them.  The heroine had just taken her seat beside
the driver--when--  "It's a darned shame!" said a voice, Pete's voice.

"It sure is--and Bill jest learnin' to read.  He might 'a' spelled out a
whole page afore mornin'."

"I wa'n't meanin' Bill," asserted Pete.

"Oh, you won't bother Bill none.  He can't hear you.  His off ear is full
of mud.  Go on and say anything you like about him."

Bill slowly laid down his book, stepped to his bunk, and drew his
six-shooter from its holster.  He marched back to the table and laid the
gun quite handy to him, and resumed his chair.

Bill Haskins was long-suffering--but both Andy and Pete realized that it
was high time to turn their bright particular talents in some other
direction.  So they undressed and turned in.  They had been asleep an
hour or two before Bill closed his book regretfully, picked up his gun,
and walked to his bunk.  He stood for a moment gazing at Andy, and then
turned to gaze at Pete.  Then he shook his head--and a slow smile lighted
his weathered face.  For despite defunct mountain lions, bent nails, and
other sundries, Bill Haskins liked Andy and Pete--and he knew if it came
to a test of friendship that either of them would stand by him to the
last dollar, or the last shot even, as he would have gladly done to help
them.




CHAPTER XLVI

THE RIDIN' KID FROM POWDER RIVER

The first thing Pete did when he arrived in Tucson was to purchase a
suit as near like that which he had seen Andover wear as possible.
Pete's Stetson was discarded for a soft felt of ordinary dimensions.
He bought shoes, socks, and some underwear, which the storekeeper
assured him was the latest thing, but which Pete said "looked more like
chicken-wire than honest-to-Gosh cloth," and fortified by his new and
inconspicuous apparel, he called on the principal of the high school
and told him just why he had come to Tucson.  "And I'd sure look queer
settin' in with all the kids," Pete concluded.  "If there's any way of
my ketchin' up to my size, why, I reckon I kin pay."

The principal thought it might be arranged.  For instance, he would be
glad to give Pete--he said Mr. Annersley--an introduction to an
instructor, a young Eastern scholar, who could possibly spare three or
four evenings a week for private lessons.  Progress would depend
entirely upon Pete's efforts.  Many young men had studied that
way--some of them even without instruction.  Henry Clay, for instance,
and Lincoln.  And was Mr. Annersley thinking of continuing with his
studies and entering college, or did he merely wish to become
conversant with the fundamentals?

"If I kin git so I can throw and hog-tie some of them fundamentals
without losin' my rope, I reckon I'll be doin' all I set out to do.
No--I guess I'd never make a top-hand, ridin' for you.  But my rope is
tied to the horn--and I sure aim to stay with whatever I git my loop
on."

"I get your drift--and I admire your purpose.  Incidentally and
speaking from a distinctly impersonal--er--viewpoint" (no doubt a
high-school principal may speak from a viewpoint, or even sit on one if
he cares to), "your colloquialisms are delightful--and sufficiently
forceful to leave no doubt as to your sincerity of purpose."

"Meanin' you sabe what I'm gittin' at, eh?"

The principal nodded and smiled.

"I thought that was what you was tryin' to say.  Well, professor--"

"Dr. Wheeler, if you please."

"All right, Doc.  But I didn't know you was a doc too."

"Doctor of letters, merely."

Pete suspected that he was being joked with, but the principal's manner
was quite serious.  "If you will give me your address, I will drop a
line to Mr. Forbes," said the principal.

Pete gave his name and address.  As Principal Wheeler wrote them down
in his notebook he glanced up at Pete curiously.  "You don't happen to
be the young man--er--similarity of names--who was mixed up in that
shooting affair in El Paso?  Name seemed familiar.  No doubt a
coincidence."

"It wa'n't no coincidence--it was a forty-five," stated Pete.

The principal stared at Pete as though he half-expected to see him pull
a gun and demand an education instanter.  But Pete's smile helped the
principal to pull himself together.  "Most extraordinary!" he
exclaimed.  "I believe the courts exonerated you?"

"That ain't all they did to me," Pete assured him.  "Nope.  You got
that wrong.  But I reckon they would 'a' done it--if I hadn't 'a' hired
that there lawyer from El Paso.  He sure exonerated a couple o'
thousand out o' me.  And the judge turned me loose."

"Most extraordinary!"

"It was that lawyer that told me I ought to git a education," exclaimed
Pete.

"Of course!  Of course!  I had forgotten it for the moment.  Well, here
is Mr. Forbes's address.  I think you will find him at his room almost
any evening."

"I'll be there!"

"Very good!  I suppose you are aware that it is illegal to carry
concealed weapons inside the city limits?"

"I get you, Doc, but I ain't packin' a gun, nohow."

As the weeks went by and the winter sun swung farther south, Mr.
Forbes, the young Eastern scholar, and Pete began to understand each
other.  Pete, who had at first considered the young Easterner affected,
and rather effeminate, slowly realized that he was mistaken.  Forbes
was a sincere and manly fellow, who had taken his share of hard knocks
and who suffered ill health uncomplainingly--an exile of his chosen
environment, with little money and scarce a companion to share his
loneliness.

As for Forbes, he envied Pete his abundant health and vigor and admired
his unspoiled enthusiasm.  Pete's humor, which somehow suggested to
Forbes the startling and inexplicable antics of a healthy colt, melted
Forbes's diffidence, and they became friends and finally chums.  Pete
really learned as much through this intimacy as he did from his books:
perhaps more.  It was at Pete's suggestion that Forbes took to riding a
horse, and they spent many afternoons on the desert, drifting slowly
along while they discussed different phases of life.

These discussions frequently led to argument, sincere on Pete's part,
who never realized that Forbes's chief delight in life was to get Pete
started, that he might enjoy Pete's picturesque illustration of the
point, which, more often than not, was shrewdly sharp and convincing.
No amount of argument, no matter how fortified by theory and example,
could make Pete change his attitude toward life; but he eventually came
to see life from a different angle, his vision broadening to a wider
perspective as they climbed together, Forbes loitering on familiar
ground that Pete might not lose the trail and find himself entangled in
some unessential thicket by the way.


Forbes was not looking well.  His thin face was pinched; his eyes were
listless.  Pete thought that Forbes stayed indoors too much.  "Why
don't you go get a cayuse and ride?" he suggested.

"Never was on a horse in my life."

"Uh-huh.  Well, you been off one too long."

"I'd like to.  But I can't afford it."

"I don't mean to buy a horse--jest hire one, from the livery.  I was
thinkin' of gettin' out on the dry-spot myself.  I'm plumb sick of
town."

"You would have to teach me."

"Shucks!  There's nothin' to learn.  All you got to do is to fork your
cayuse and ride.  I'd sure be glad to go with you."

"That's nice of you.  Well, say to-morrow afternoon, then.  But what
about horses?"

"We got a session to-morrow.  What's the matter with this afternoon?
The sun's shinin', and there ain't much wind, and I can smell the ole
desert, a-sizzlin'.  Come on!"

They were in Forbes's room.  The Easterner laid his book aside and
glanced down at his shoes.  "I haven't a riding-costume."

"Well, you can get one for a dollar and four-bits--copper-riveted, and
sure easy and comfortable.  I'll lend you a pair of boots."

"All right.  I'll try it once, at least."

Forbes felt rather conspicuous in the stiff new overalls, rolled up at
the bottom, over Pete's tight high-heeled boots, but nobody paid any
attention to him as he stumped along beside Pete, on the way to the
livery.

Pete chose the horses, and a saddle for Forbes, to whom he gave a few
brief pointers anent the art of swinging up and dismounting.  They set
out and headed for the open.  Forbes was at first nervous; but as
nothing happened, he forgot his nervousness and gave himself to gazing
at the great sun-swept spaces until the horses broke into a trot, when
he turned his entire attention to the saddle-horn, clinging to it
affectionately with his free hand.

Pete pulled up.  "Say, amigo, it's ag'inst the rules to choke that
there horn to death.  Jest let go and clamp your knees.  We'll lope 'em
a spell."

Forbes was about to protest when Pete's horse, to which he had
apparently done nothing, broke into a lope.  Forbes's horse followed.
It was a rough experience for the Easterner, but he enjoyed it until
Pete pulled up suddenly.  Forbes's own animal stopped abruptly, but
Forbes, grabbing wildly at the horn, continued, and descended in a
graceful curve which left him sitting on the sand and blinking up at
the astonished animal.

"Hurt you?" queried Pete.

"I think not--  But it was rather sudden.  Now what do I do?"

"Well, when you git rested up, I'd say to fork him ag'in.  He's sure
tame."

"I--I thought he was rather wild," stammered Forbes, getting to his
feet.

"Nope.  It was you was wild.  I reckon you like to scared him to death.
Nope!  Git on him from this side."

"He seems a rather intelligent animal," commented Forbes as he prepared
for the worst.

"Well, we kin call him that, seein' there's nobody round to hear us.
We'll walk 'em a spell."

Forbes felt relieved.  And realizing that he was still alive and
uninjured, he relaxed a bit.  After they had turned and headed for
town, he actually enjoyed himself.

Next day he was so stiff and sore that he could scarcely walk, but his
eye was brighter.  However, he begged off from their proposed ride the
following afternoon.  Pete said nothing; but when the next riding
afternoon arrived, a week later, Forbes was surprised to see Pete,
dressed in his range clothes.  Standing near the curb were two horses,
saddled and bridled.  "Git on your jeans and those ole boots of mine.
I fetched along a extra pair of spurs."

"But, Annersley--"

"I can't ride 'em both."

"It's nice of you--but really, I can't afford it."

"Look here, Doc, what you can't afford is to set in that room a-readin'
all day.  And the horse don't cost you a cent.  I had a talk with the
old-timer that runs the livery, and when he seen I was onto my job, he
was plumb tickled to death for me to exercise the horses.  One of 'em
needs a little educatin'."

"That's all right.  But how about my horse?"

"Why, I brought him along to keep the other horse company.  I can't
handle 'em both.  Ain't you goin' to help me out?"

"Well, if you put it that way, I will this time."

"Now you're talkin' sense."

Several weeks later they were again riding out on the desert and
enjoying that refreshing and restful companionship which is best
expressed in silence, when Pete, who had been gazing into the distance,
pulled up his restive horse and sat watching a moving something that
suddenly disappeared.  Forbes glanced at Pete, who turned and nodded as
if acknowledging the other's unspoken question.  They rode on.

A half-hour later, as they pulled up at the edge of the arroyo, Forbes
was startled by Pete's "Hello, neighbor!" to an apparently empty world.

"What's the joke?" queried Forbes.

The joke appeared suddenly around the bend in the arroyo--a big,
weather-bitten joke astride of a powerful horse.  Forbes uttered an
exclamation as the joke whipped out a gun and told them to "Put 'em
up!" in a tone which caused Forbes's hands to let go the reins and rise
head-high without his having realized that he had made a movement.
Pete was also picking invisible peaches from the air, which further
confirmed Forbes's hasty conclusion that they were both doing the right
thing.

"_I ain't got a gun on me, Ed._"  Pete had spoken slowly and
distinctly, and apparently without the least shadow of trepidation.
Forbes, gazing at the grim, bronzed face of the strange horseman,
nervously echoed Pete's statement.  Before the Easterner could realize
what had actually happened, Pete and the strange rider had dismounted
and were shaking hands: a transition so astonishing that Forbes forgot
to lower his hands and sat with them nervously aloft as though
imploring the Rain-God not to forget his duty to mankind.

Pete and the stranger were talking.  Forbes could catch an occasional
word, such as "The Spider--El
Paso--White-Eye--Hospital--Sonora--Sanborn--Sam Brent--"

Pete turned and grinned.  "I reckon you can let go the--your holt, Doc.
This here is a friend of mine."

Forbes sighed thankfully.  He was introduced to the friend, whom Pete
called Ed, but whose name had been suddenly changed to Bill.  "We used
to ride together," explained Pete.

Forbes tactfully withdrew, realizing that whatever they had to talk
about was more or less confidential.

Presently Pete approached Forbes and asked him if he had any money with
him.  Forbes had five dollars and some small change.  "I'm borrowin'
this till to-morrow," said Pete, as he dug into his own pocket, and
without counting the sum total, gave it to the stranger.

Brevoort stuffed the money in his pocket and swung to his horse.  "You
better ride in with us a ways," suggested Pete.  "The young fella don't
know anything about you--and he won't talk if I pass the word to him.
Then I kin go on ahead and fetch back some grub and some more dineros."

Forbes found the stranger rather interesting as they rode back toward
Tucson; for he spoke of Mexico and affairs below the line--amazing
things to speak of in such an offhand manner--in an impersonal and
interesting way.

Within two miles of the town they drew up.  "Bill, here," explained
Pete, "is short of grub.  Now, if you don't mind keepin' him company,
why, I'll fan it in and git some.  I'll be back right soon."

"Not at all!  Go ahead!"  Forbes wanted to hear more of first-hand
experiences south of the line.  Forbes, who knew something of Pete's
history, shrewdly suspected that the stranger called "Bill" had a good
reason to ride wide of Tucson--although the Easterner did not quite
understand why Pete should ride into town alone.  But that was merely
incidental.

It was not until Pete had returned and the stranger had departed,
taking his way east across the desert, that Pete offered an
explanation--a rather guarded explanation, Forbes realized--of the
recent happenings.  "Bill's keepin' out on the desert for his health,"
said Pete.  "And, if anybody should ask us, I reckon we ain't seen him."

"I think I understand," said Forbes.

And Forbes, recalling the event many months later, after Pete had left
Tucson, thought none the less of Pete for having helped an old friend
out of difficulties.  Forbes was himself more than grateful to
Pete--for with the riding three times a week and Pete's robust
companionship, he had regained his health to an extent far beyond his
hopes.

Pete rejected sixteen of the seventeen plans he had made that winter
for his future, often guided by what he read in the occasional letters
from Doris, wherein he found some rather practical suggestions--for he
wrote frankly of his intent to better himself, but wisely refrained
from saying anything that might be interpreted as more than friendship.


Pete had not planned to go to El Paso quite as soon as he did; and it
was because of an unanswered letter that he went.  He had written early
in March and it was now May--and no reply.

If he had waited a few days longer, it is possible that he would not
have gone at all, for passing him as he journeyed toward Texas was a
letter from Doris Gray in which she intimated that she thought their
correspondence had better cease, and for the reason--which she did not
intimate--that she was a bit afraid that Pete would come to El Paso,
and stay in El Paso until she had either refused to see him--it was
significant that she thought of refusing to see him, for he was
actually worth looking at--or until he had asked her a question to
which there was but one answer, and that was "no."  Just why Doris
should have taken it for granted that he would ask her that question is
a matter which she never explained, even to herself.  Pete had never
made love to her in the accepted sense of the term.  He had done much
better than that, although he was entirely unconscious of it.  But that
psychological moment--whatever that may mean--in the affairs of Doris
and Pete was rapidly approaching,--a moment more often anticipated by
the female of the species than by the male.

Just what kept Pete from immediately rushing to the hospital and
proclaiming his presence is another question that never can be
answered.  Pete wanted to do just that thing--but he did not.  Instead,
he took a modest room at a modest hotel, bought himself some
presentable clothing, dropped in to see Hodges of the Stockmen's
Security, and spent several days walking about the streets mentally
preparing himself to explain just why he _had_ come to El Paso, finally
arriving at the conclusion that he had come to see little Ruth.  Doris
had said that Ruth had missed him.  Well, he had a right to drop in and
see the kid.  And he reckoned it was nobody's business if he did.

He had avoided going near the General Hospital in his strolls about
town, viewing that building from a safe distance and imagining all
sorts of things.  Perhaps Miss Gray had left.  Perhaps she was ill.  Or
she might have married!  Still, she would have told him, he thought.

Doris never knew what a struggle it cost Pete--to say nothing of hard
cash--to purchase that bottle of perfume.  But he did it, marching into
a drug-store and asking for a bottle of "the best they had," and paying
for it without a quiver.  Back in his room he emptied about half of the
bottle on his handkerchief, wedged the handkerchief into his pocket,
and marched to the street, determination in his eye, and the fumes of
half a vial of Frangipanni floating in his wake.

Perhaps the Frangipanni stimulated him.  Perhaps the overdose deadened
his decision to stay away from the hospital.  In any event, that
afternoon he betook himself to the hospital, and was fortunate in
finding Andover there, to whom he confided the obvious news that he was
in town--and that he would like to see little Ruth for a minute, if it
was all right.

Andover told him that little Ruth had been taken to her home a month
ago--and Pete wondered how she could still miss him, as Miss Gray had
intimated in her last letter.  And as he wondered he saw light--not a
great light, but a faint ray which was reflected in his face as he
asked Andover when Miss Gray would be relieved from duty, and if it
would be possible to see her then.

Andover thought it might be possible, and suggested that he let Miss
Gray know of Pete's presence; but some happy instinct caused Pete to
veto that suggestion.

"It ain't important," he told Andover.  "I'll jest mosey around about
six, and step in for a minute.  Don't you say I'm in town!"

Andover gazed curiously after Pete as the latter marched out.  The
surgeon shook his head.  Mixed drinks were not new to Andover, but he
could not for the life of him recognize what Pete had been drinking.

Doris, who had not been thinking of Pete at all,--as she was not a
spiritualist, and had always doubted that affinities were other than
easy excuses for uneasy morals,--came briskly down the hospital steps,
gowned in a trim gray skirt and a jacket, and a jaunty turban that hid
just enough of her brown hair to make that which was visible the more
alluring.  She almost walked into Pete--for, as it has been stated, she
was not thinking of him at all, but of the cozy evening she would spend
with her sister at the latter's apartments on High Street.
Incidentally Doris was thinking, just a little, of how well her gown
and turban became her, for she had determined never to let herself
become frowsy and slipshod--Well--she had not to look far for her
antithesis.

"Why, Mr. Annersley!"

Pete flushed, the victim of several emotions.  "Good-evenin', Miss
Gray.  I--I thought I'd jest step in and say 'Hello' to that little
kid."

"Oh!  Ruth?"  And Doris flushed just the least bit herself.  "Why,
little Ruth is not here now."

"Shucks!  Well, I'm right glad you are!  Was you goin' somewhere?"

"Yes.  Out to my sister's on High Street."

"I only been in town two or three days, so I don't know jest where High
Street is, but I reckon I could find my way back all right."  And Pete
so far forgot the perfume as to smile in his old, boyish way.

Doris did some rapid mental calculation and concluded that her
latest--or rather her last--letter had just about arrived in Tucson,
and of course Pete had not read it.  That made matters a little
difficult.  But there was no reason in the world why he should not walk
with her to her sister's.

Pete saw no reason why he should not, either, but rather a very
attractive reason why he should.

Without further word they turned and walked down the street, Doris
wondering what in the world had induced Pete to immerse himself in
Frangipanni, and Pete wondering if there was ever a prettier girl in
the world than Doris Gray.

And because Pete wanted to talk about something entirely impersonal, he
at once began to ask her what she thought of his latest plan, which was
to purchase an interest in the Concho, spend his summers working with
the men and his winters in Tucson, studying with Forbes about whom he
had written to her.

Doris thought it was a splendid plan.  She was sure--quite
impersonally--that he would make a success of anything he attempted.

Pete was not so sure, and he told her so.  She joked him for doubting
himself.  He promptly told her that he didn't doubt himself for a
minute, but that he did doubt the willingness of the person whom he
hoped to make a partner in the venture.

"Not Mr. Forbes?" she queried, glancing quickly at Pete's serious face.

"Nope.  It's you."

They walked another block without speaking; then they walked still
another.  And they had begun to walk still another when Pete suddenly
pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and threw it in the gutter.
"That doggone perfume is chokin' me to death!" he blurted.  And Doris,
despite herself, smiled.

They were out where the streets were more open and quiet now.  The sun
was close to the edge of the desert, far in the west.  Doris's hand
trembled just the least bit as she turned to say "good-night."  They
had stopped in front of a house, near the edge of town.  Pete's face
was a bit pale; his dark eyes were intense and gloomy.

Quite unconscious of what he was doing, he pulled out his watch--a new
watch that possessed no erratic tendencies.  Suddenly Doris thought of
Pete's old watch, and of little Ruth's extreme delight in its
irresponsible hands whirling madly around, and of that night when Pete
had been brought to the hospital.  Suddenly there were two tears
trembling on her lashes, and her hand faltered.  Then, being a sensible
person, she laughed away her emotion, for the time being, and invited
Pete in to supper.

Pete thought Doris's sister a mighty nice girl, plumb sensible and not
a bit stuck up.  And later, when this "plumb sensible" person declared
that she was rather tired and excused herself and disappeared, after
bidding Pete good-night, he knew that she was a sensible person.  He
couldn't see how she could help it, being the sister of Doris.

"So I'll be sayin' good-night," stated Pete a few minutes later, as he
stood by the door, proud and straight and as vital as a flame.

But he didn't say it, at least coherently.  Doris's hand was on his
sleeve.  Pete thought she had a mighty pretty hand.  And as for her
eyes--they were gray and misty and warm . . . and not at all like he
had ever seen them before.  He laughed happily, "You look plumb
lonesome!" he said.

"I--I was."

Pete dropped his hat, but he did not know it until, well--several
minutes later, when Doris gave it to him.


It was close to midnight when a solitary policeman, passing down a side
street, heard a nocturnal singer inform dark and empty High Street that
he was

  "The Ridin' Kid from Powder River,"--

with other more or less interesting details.

Pete felt a hand on his shoulder.  "You better cut that out!" said the
officer.

Pete whirled and his hand flickered toward his hip.  "You go plumb
to--" Pete hesitated.  The officer sniffed suspiciously.   Pete
grinned--then proffered his hand with irresistible enthusiasm.

"Sure I'll cut it out."




THE END






The Riverside Press

Cambridge, Massachusetts

U.S.A.











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