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IF he had had a quarter of an inch of rain a year, Newbold could have raised cattle in Hades. For that matter, we all felt that his range was a little worse than Hades; it averaged only a shade more than a quarter of an inch of rain most of the year.
What saved him, of course, was the western half of the range, where the westerlies piled up clouds at certain times of the year and gave that smaller section of his land a good drenching. When the grass petered out all to the east and south, we had to get the cows started through the teeth of the passes and work them over to the green section. They were a hump-backed lot, all gaunted up with thirst and the grass famine, before we got them to the western range, however. And after they hit the green feed they went at it so hard that a lot of them were sick at once, and a good number always died.
No wonder! Nobody but Newbold could have ranged cattle at all on the remainder of that mangy range. We used to say that he gave his cows a college course in gleaning, and that a Newbold yearling would gallop half a mile for a blade of grass and run three days for a drink. There wasn’t much exaggeration in the second remark, either.
Somebody with a mean nature, plus a sense of humor, gave Newbold his start by making him a donation of his first ledge of the range. That was when he was sixteen. That land raised nothing but coyotes and a few foxes, and even the foxes were out of luck in the district. A bear will dine on anything, from roots to grubs and wasps’ nests, but self-respecting grizzlies simply broke down and cried when they had a look at Newbold’s gift of land.
But Newbold didn’t cry.
He was raised with the silver spoon, at that. Old Man Newbold had made a fortune in lumber, another in cows, another in gold dust, and still another in land. But he used it all on high living and faro. He used to work up a faro system every year or so, and then he would go on a big campaign, but the faro always won. Take it by and large, faro always will. It beats the white men, and it beats the crooks.
So the old man died and left one son and heir; and that boy, who had been raised soft and high, was chucked out into the world with nothing much but hope to fill his poke. Then, as I was saying, an old friend of his father’s gave the kid a wedge of desert that was already overcrowded by a fox, a coyote, and half a dozen rabbits, all sinews and fur.
But Newbold took the gift with thanks. He started with about a cow and a half and a burro, by way of live stock. And when big outfits were driving back and forth across the range, and lost young cows and yearlings going across the boy’s sun-blasted land, he picked up those dying cattle for half the price of their hides, and then, as we all said, nursed them with pain and promises until they could walk.
I think that cows were afraid to die on Newbold’s hands; they had an idea that the earthly paradise was anywhere off his range, and they kept fighting and fixing their sad eyes on the future until they graduated and got to the butcher at last.
Yes, Newbold progressed so rapidly that when he was eighteen he fixed his eyes on more of that range. He took a trip clear to Chicago and walked in on the fellow who happened to own the rest of Hell-on-earth. When this man heard that Newbold wanted to buy, he looked him over and saw that he was all brown steel, like a well-oiled engine. He offered to rent him the range for about a dollar a year, but finally he sold it for something around a dollar an acre, which was sheer robbery, except for the green western valleys, which I have spoken of before.
So Newbold went back west again and got him some more batches of cows that had used up their first chance in life down to the last half-drop. And from year to year he walked his skeletons back and forth across his range, and lost a lot of them, but made a heap of money on the rest.
He took that range when he was sixteen. He expanded it when he was eighteen. And for fifteen years he raked in dollars off the rocks and blow-sands. In a good, fat country, I don’t think he would have done so well. He was one of those geniuses who know best how to make something out of nothing. He was a cactus among men.
At thirty-three, he looked forty-five. He was the hardest heart, and hardest driver, and the meanest boss in the world. He fed worse and paid less than any other outfit. But still he always managed to keep a crew together. In the first place, he was straight; in the second place, he treated himself worse than he treated his men; in the third place, he backed up his boys as though they were his blood brothers when they had a falling out with sheep-herders, or any other poachers; and in the fourth place, and, most important of all, any puncher who could say that he had lasted out a whole year with Newbold was sure to get a job wherever he cared to roll down his blankets and pick out a string.
The fourth reason was the one that brought me to his place. That, and because I had heard of him since I was a youngster, first as “the boy cattle king,” and secondly as “that hard case, Newbold.”
He was a hard case, all right. His only relaxation was a fight, and even in that line he didn’t get much relaxation after a time. He became too well known. Now and then somebody who wanted to make a reputation went up to the ranch and looked for trouble, but that man either turned up his toes on the spot or had to be shipped out for a long list of repairs.
It got so that Newbold would ride sixty miles to wrangle with a neighbor or to take up a remark that somebody else had said somebody else had heard about him. But even these long rides finally began to bring him in very short returns; and all that Newbold could do was to fight the weather, and the prices, and the railroads—three things that even Newbold couldn’t beat. Even so, he just about got a draw, as a rule.
I think it was because he was running out of trouble, except enough to kill five ordinary men, that he finally thought of raising hay in the western valleys of the range.
It was one of those paper schemes. You sit down with a map and draw a lot of lines. You fence in a lot of the best ground, and then you buy mowing machines and rakes, and you cut the crop, and cure it for hay, and you make a road through the passes, and when the eastern range is as bare as grandfather’s red head, then you have a lot of first-rate feed to stuff into the cows and pull them through until the next quarter-inch rain comes along and washes more mud and a little water into the tanks.
That was the scheme of our boss. A good, big scheme. And a scheme that might do wonders. The trouble was, in the first place, that fence building, and road making, and mowing machines, and two-horse rakes, cost money.
However, Newbold struck in on the scheme, and he did it in the true Newbold way. You would think that he would just sit down and write off an order to a big manufacturer of agricultural implements, and pretty soon we would go down to the railroad station and debark, a trainload of everything, covered with shining new blue, and red, and green paint.
But Newbold didn’t do that. He was ten miles too mean for that. First he got a one-legged machinist, and a seventy-year-old blacksmith, both of them willing to work for board and tobacco, so to speak. Then he put up a bow-legged shed, and he went away from the ranch on a three weeks’ trip.
All through the West, now and again a big farmer or rancher dies and his family splits up, and the first thing that is done is to sell off all the implements. As soon as the paint is rubbed off a gang plow or a mowing machine, it’s old. And as soon as it’s old, it’s not wanted. It may have been worked six months or sixteen years. That doesn’t matter. It’s simply old. I’ve seen a hundred-and-twenty-five-dollar mowing machine sell for five dollars, and a forty-dollar subsoil plow sell for one dollar, and a seventy-five-dollar running gear for a wagon auction off for seventy-five cents, and a five-hundred-pound heap of iron junk—chains, hammer-heads, haimes, plowshares—knocked down for a dollar and a quarter. Even junk dealers are not interested when it comes to bidding in on farm wreckage.
Well, Newbold was not proud, in that way. He went out and collected. He attended half a dozen sales, and first of all, up came a forge and a lot of blacksmith’s tools, and that sort of thing. And then we got an order to break mustangs to collar and harness; and we went down to the station and began to haul junk forty miles overland to the ranch. It was a long job, and a mean one, and those mustangs could kick off their harness faster than school kids can shed their clothes on the rim of the swimming pool.
But there was the whole mass and heap of stuff, at last. And first of all, he set to work at the forge under the tutelage of the blacksmith of seventy years; and the more intelligent of us—I was not one—were put under the one-legged machinist. He and the blacksmith, do you see, were to supply the brains, and we punchers were the hand power! It was a mean scheme, but then, Newbold was always mean. It was a cheap scheme, but Newbold was always cheap.
We worked for weeks straightening the knock-knees of wagons that had developed flat feet and rheumatism a generation before. We patched harness with secondhand rivets, rawhide, and baling wire. We took out the mysterious insides of mowing machines, and operated, and put them back again, praying all together. We unrolled miles of knotted, tangled, spliced, and rotten secondhand barbed wire. And a roll of barbed wire can play as many tricks as an outlaw mustang, and buck as high, and hit as hard, and bite as deep. Besides, it never gets tired.
But, to make it short, finally we fenced, and plowed, and sowed, and cut, and raked, and windrowed, that land and the hay crop from it.
And then the boss saw that we could never haul that hay in the loose clear across the passes over the so-called road that he had made. He had to get a machine and bale it.
And that was where the trouble started.
WELL, we got a fourth-hand device called a hay press. The name of it was Little Giant.
But it was misnamed. It wasn’t little. It was a full-grown giant when it came to making trouble. It had to be a giant, because it succeeded where everything else had failed.
Newbold had not really minded the stretch of trouble that he called a cow range. He liked it. The harder the fight, the more he was pleased; the longer it lasted, the better grew his second wind. Climate or no climate, rain or no rain, prices or no prices, he raised cows, he made men herd them, and he coined money.
And that’s why I saw that the hay press was a real giant, because, single-handed, it licked Newbold. It put him on his back. And he was a new man when it got through with him.
I never quite understood the workings of that machine. When he got it, it looked like a cross between a traveling crane and a moving van. It was these things, and something more. It had all the faults of everything, and none of the virtues. It broke the heart of the machinist, and it nearly killed the poor old blacksmith. I shall never forget how he used to sit with his head in one hand, and a broken piece of iron fixture in the other, too tired to swear, and too worried to sleep.
I remember right well the day that we finally hauled the hay press through the worst of the pass, having pried and prayed it over jutting rocks, through tight squeezes, mile after mile. We had chucked stones under the wheels in time to keep it from lurching forward down a slope and crushing the mustangs which hauled it. We had thrown a log under it in time to keep the obstinate fool of a thing from running backward into a ravine. I remember the day for these reasons, and because that was when a pinto beast working in the swing clipped me on the point of the hip with a well-aimed kick just as I was jumping out of range; but most of all, I remember it because that evening a man rode into our camp and sat down to eat with the boys.
He was Dug Waters, whom most people in those days called “White Water,” for a lot of obvious reasons. Mostly because, here and there, he had made as much noise and done as much damage as a river at the flood. He was a tall, gentle-looking man with a good deal of Adam’s apple, and an embarrassed smile. He had a way of crowding into corners and seeming to beg every one not to notice him.
But the boss noticed him, you can bet.
That fellow Newbold always had a good look at any stranger who sat down to eat his meat in our camp. As I said before, it was the worst chuck that ever was put before cow-punchers, and Heaven knows that cow-punchers never got much of the cream, no matter where they hung their bridles and tried to call home. But Newbold could watch a penny in the shape of sour dough as closely as a jeweler could watch a fine diamond.
At the table was where we liked him least.
He hauled up to where Waters was sitting and asked him his name and business, and when he found out that it was White Water himself, the boss almost choked. He told Waters to start for the sky line as soon as possible, and that the shortest road would probably be the smoothest. He said that he had never turned an honest man from his door, but that he would walk ten miles and swim a river to take the hide of a skunk.
Now, our boss was a known man, but so was Waters, for that matter; and the moment we heard his name and saw how quiet he was, we knew that he was really a dangerous fighter. I’ve never seen it fail. A fellow of many words never has so many bullets in his magazine. The quiet fellows who seem to think their way from word to word are the ones who wreck a saloon when the time comes, and shoot the tar out of a whole sheriff’s posse when they’re pursued.
Now, White Water was exactly that sort of a fellow, to judge by the look of him, and to listen to his reputation; but he didn’t pull a gun on Newbold. Yet I’ve never seen more cold poison than there was in the eye that he turned on the boss.
Finally he said:
“Newbold, I’m a sick man. I’m bound on a long journey, and I haven’t eaten a morsel for two days. I’ll tell you one thing more. I’m not begging on my own account, altogether. I’d see you hanged before I’d do that. But I’m asking you to let me sit here and eat a square meal. I haven’t a penny to pay you, but I’ll give you the bridle off my gelding, yonder. I can ride him just as well with a halter.”
We all watched the boss pretty carefully at this. And I think that almost any other man in the world would have thrown up his hands when he heard and saw the straightness with which White Water was speaking. But Newbold was all chilled steel. He was the stuff that they put in the nose of armor-piercing shells.
“Your bridle and you be danged together,” he said. “Get out of this camp before I throw you out! You’re a thug, and a thief, and a gunman, and I hate your breed. If you’re sick, you’re not as sick as I’d like to make you. I’d like to see you and your whole breed drop and the buzzards start on you before your eyes were dark. Now, start along before I use my hands on you!”
I thought that it would be guns, then, and a mighty neat fight, because it made no difference to the boss. Perhaps he preferred fists, but he was just as much at home with knives, or guns, or clubs, even, for that matter. It was a sight to see him there with the red light shaking from the fire over his long, lean, loose-coupled body.
But Dug Waters only looked up at him for a moment as though he were seeing a game bird, away off in the sky. Then he surprised us a good deal by saying:
“You don’t have to throw me out. I’ll go.”
With that he got up and left us, and the amazing part of it was that not one of us, in speaking of the thing afterward, thought that Waters was yellow. We all agreed that he must have had something on his mind. Pete Bramble said that he saw Waters stagger as he raised his foot to the stirrup to go off. And every one of us agreed that he had told the truth and was a sick man. He had the white look of a fellow with very little blood in his body—very little good blood, at least.
And Pete Bramble, after the boss had rolled into his blankets, looked around him at the silent circle of us and said:
“That’s gunna bring us bad luck. That’s going too far. When a man’s sick—” He stopped and puffed at his pipe.
The cook was standing there in his shirt sleeves, the fire shining on his greasy, red arms.
“When a man’s sick?” he echoed. “No, but when he’s hungry! Ay, or even a dog, when it’s gaunted all up!”
I think he was the worst cook in the world, but I loved him for saying that. We all did. For two or three days hardly a man cursed him for the way he made the coffee or burned the beans.
The next day we got the hay press down to its first location and set her up. It’s a hard thing to describe a hay press. In the first place, it’s a job I don’t like. The less I have to think about them, the better pleased I am. In the second place, I never understood them, and I never wanted to.
But I can say that this thing that turned big hay into small, so to speak, was a long box set upon one end, with a beater in it that worked up and down on long irons. The power that worked it came from four sweating mustangs, that scratched their way around and around on a circle, hitched to a beam. Halfway around the circle they were lugging to pull the beater up; the other half they were lugging to jam the feed down. And it was run, run, run for them except when the bale was made, and then the power driver yelled “Bale!” and dropped an anchor board that held the power beam in place until the bale was tied with wire.
The first thing that we did was to start out a fleet of four Jackson bucks. For the benefit of punchers who never saw a Jackson buck, I’ll say that it’s a thing with a lot of iron-shod and pointed wooden spears that stick out in front. Two horses work behind this line of spears with a wooden, open bulwark in front of them, and behind them sits the driver on a seat that has a single plowwheel under it.
It was my job, at first, to drive one of those Jackson bucks. I admired the contraption a good deal, right at first, but I used up my admiration plenty before the day was an hour old. The trick was to start out with the teeth of the machine hoisted, and while running empty, like that, the clumsy brute was sure to start sliding on a down slope where there was no down slope to see, or zigzagging over bumps where there were no bumps to find. And I ask any cow-puncher to imagine what a pair of broncos only half broke to the saddle and a quarter broke to harness would do with that sort of a stall on wheels weaving around them.
They kicked, and bucked, and threw themselves down, and reared to throw themselves backward, and then they started to run away. But the cards were stacked against those broncs. They were tied in front, and they were tied behind, and they were framed in on both sides, and when they tried to bolt, I just lowered the spears into the ground, and after they had plowed an acre or so, they admitted that they were beat.
So was I. I was kind of chafed a little, to tell the truth. I thought that riding for years in a saddle had given me an outside lining as tough as leather, but I was all wrong. That iron seat on top of that jolting, jouncing, jarring plowwheel found all sorts of new and tender places that I didn’t know were on the map.
Finally, the broncs were convinced that it was no good, so I started their work, which was to pick up as many shocks of hay as the buck would hold without spilling and shove them up to the back end of the hay press. The broncs would ram the load home well enough, but when it came to backing up, they couldn’t understand. They simply balked. Pete Bramble lighted matches and burned off their chin whiskers before it dawned on them that there were two ways of going, and one of them was back.
But still, it was a hard job. Between pulling my arms out of joint to back my ornery team of nags, and trying to steer that danged sidewheeling invention, and being bumped like a hiccupping rubber ball until my heart and stomach changed places and my liver and lungs got scrambled together, I was ready to quit by noon.
So I went up to the boss to tell him my idea, and there I had my first sight of the kid.
I have to take a new breath before I start talking about him.
THIS kid was about fifteen, I should say, very big for his age, and with a pair of smooth shoulders—the sort you see in a well-made mule. He looked more, but you could see that the bull was only beginning to appear in his neck and the mastiff in his jaw, and the mischief in his eye. His face was covered with bright-red freckles.
“They’re the sparks and the coals of fire that come out of the top of his head,” said Pete Bramble, one day.
For his hair was just the color of fire—red fire. This pug-nosed boy was sitting on a rock chewing a straw and looking like a simpleton, which is a talent that no grown man can divide with a fifteen-year-old brat. He had on about half a hat, with his red hair burning up through the holes in the roof. He had on a shirt that was minus a collar and one sleeve. His trousers were a sawed-off pair that once had fitted a man, and a big man at that. His feet were bare, and so were his calves, with white marks on them where the thorns had scratched.
Take him all in all, he looked like a young mountain lion with the fur peeled off and the hide tanned.
I looked at this young limb for a while, and then I sashayed up to the boss. He gave me the nearest relation to a smile that could be found in his house—about a fifth cousin, say.
“How is things, Joe?” says he.
“Kind of monotonous,” said I.
“Monotonous?” says he.
“Well, chief,” said I, “I came up and hunted for your shindig because I heard that there was some action to be found around your place.”
“Why, Joe,” said he, “I’ve always aimed to keep the boys amused and with enough to do so they won’t have to be rocked to sleep at night. I used to keep minstrels and such to soothe them down, but then I decided that I’d have to look up more for them to do. Matter of fact, I haven’t had no complaint like yours since I can remember.”
“That’s a funny thing,” said I, “and I’ll bet you ain’t been keeping your ear peeled close to the ground. Well, it hasn’t been so bad, mostly. Breaking in ten-twelve trained outlaws that you call range ponies every year was one pleasin’ feature that we all looked forward to, especially me.”
“I always guessed that you did, Joe,” says the boss. “You look so plumb graceful in the air.”
“There was other good features, too,” says I. “Like drinking tank water when the wriggles have to be strained out of it and vinegar mixed in; and eating beans twenty-one times a week; and exercising our jaws like lawyers on beef that we never could convince. And the ship’s biscuit was entertainin’, too, because it was a lot of fun to rap a chunk of it on the edge of the table and see the weevils come out and take notice who was callin’ at the front door of their old home.”
“Why, Joe,” said he, “it seems that I’ve been running a regular vaudeville show to keep you boys amused. I didn’t know that I was laying myself out to do that.”
“A regular college, too,” says I. “Couple of years up here would make a man pretty handy with some of the dead languages, because it’s a cinch that your cows don’t understand no living tongue. There’s some medical trainin’, too, because anybody that can nurse your yearlings through one of these winters ought to be able to set up a ‘first-rate’ practice giving the rich and the old and the feeble another ten years of life.”
“That’s an angle I never thought of,” said he. “I guess that I ought to start to charge admission, and here I’ve been all the time paying out regular wages.”
“It’s been a terrible mistake,” says I. “The boys all been wanting to speak about it, but you know—some fellows, they break right down when they find that they can’t give away a lot of their dough. We all thought that you must be one of that kind.”
“I see how it is,” says he, a lot more patient than I ever expected him to be. “My mistake is being too big-hearted and generous all the time.”
“I hate to tell you,” says I. “I hate to complain, but that’s the truth. Look at the way you put up a roof over the bunk house with the roof all patterned with holes, like an open-work shirt, so’s we could see the stars while we were lying in the bunks. A plain cow-puncher, he don’t expect that much care, and thought and trouble on the part of his boss. Though I must admit that it was handy to know when it was raining, and we could always tell when the cows was likely to freeze to death by the way we felt in the bunk house.”
“I see it all, now,” says he. “I’ve just been too kind!”
“Chief,” says I, “I’m a humble man, and I don’t like to complain, but the hard truth has gotta come out. We’re a rough lot, and a thick-skinned lot, and we have to be treated that way. Still, for the sake of education, and all that, I’ve stuck along on the job, but today is too much. There ain’t enough to do on that Jackson Creek to keep me awake.”
“Joe,” says he, “you fair make my heart bleed. Sitting there on that soft iron seat has sort of culled you.”
“Yes,” says I, feeling my way along, “about half a yard of hide has been culled right off me. And a fellow like me that has been used to riding thoroughbreds out of Thunder and sired by Lightning, you can’t expect him to have his hands full with nothing but a pair of those pets that I’ve been driving all morning.”
“They’ve been too well taught,” said he. “I can see that.”
“Yes, chief,” says I, “the fact is that it ain’t hardly possible to keep them from reciting their lessons all day long. They’ve been marking up a hundred per cent on me all the time!”
“It’s hard to bear,” says he.
“Yes,” says I. “I’m already limping a little. But I’ve been waiting and hoping that I would have something to do to keep my hands full and my mind occupied, but the only other thing that I’ve had has been a three-wheeled cartoon of a wagon that already knows a lot more than I’ll ever learn. It can find its way where I never would guess that there is one. That’s what I call a college-graduate wagon.”
“I’ve been admiring it myself,” said he. “And what’s the conclusion that you’re drifting all these ideas toward, Joe?”
“It’s a sad thing, chief,” says I, “but I’m going to vamose. I’m afraid that you’ve got the wrong kind of man in me. You oughta fill up your bunch with recruits from the old folks’ home, or a hospital, or something like that; the sort of people that wouldn’t ask to be more than just mildly occupied and amused for about twenty hours a day, the way I’ve been. You take old people, and they get childish again, and they don’t mind lying down and sleeping right through the whole of four or five hours a night.”
“Old son,” says he, “I see that you’re giving me the best advice in the world. I thank you, and I’m mighty grateful to you. But I can’t help suggesting that maybe I could shift your berth and give you another job.”
“What job?” said I. “What sort of a job on this Christmas Eve knitting party?”
“Why, there’s the forking and feeding job,” said he. “Pete Bramble has been pretty nearly going to sleep on his feet, over there with the Jackson fork. Why not change with him?”
“I dunno that Pete would want to change,” said I.
“I’ve got kind of an idea,” says he, “that Pete would actually change with anybody. Even the wire cutter, over yonder.”
This wire-cutting was a job that I hadn’t looked into much, so far, but I could hear a good deal from this fellow who was running the outfit there; sometimes the sound of him half a mile away went into my mustang like a whip and made him jump.
Here speaks up the red-headed kid.
“That wire-cutting job was made for me,” says he.
The boss looks him over.
“Ain’t you too old for that kind of active work?” says he.
“I’m getting kind of childish again,” says the kid. “I just want to stand around and play with toys like that all day.”
“You know all about hay presses, I guess?” says the boss.
“No, not all about ’em,” says the boy. “I’ve forgot a lot. But I used to build ’em. That’s all.”
“D’you think,” says the boss, “that you could cut as many wires in three hours as we can use in one?”
“I think,” says the kid, “that I could cut as many wires in one hour as you could use in three.”
“I guess you could,” says the boss, with a sneer. “I guess you could do that. I guess you’re a regular dollar-a-day man, ain’t you?”
“You know the way the saying goes?” said the kid. “Put up or shut up!”
Newbold jumped a little. Then he remembered that he was only talking to a kid. He looked at that boy again, up and down.
“Kid,” said he, “go over and do your stuff. Tell Bosh Miller that he can step down from that wire stretcher.”
The boy still sat where he was and chewed on the straw and twisted it slowly from one side of his mouth to the other.
“At a dollar per?” said he.
“If you can turn out as many wires as we use. Yes!” says the boss. “But if you spoil more than two of those wires—What’s your name?”
“Chip,” says the boy.
“If you spoil more than two of those wires, I’ll make you less than a sliver,” said the boss.
But he was talking to the dust that lad made as he streaked it for the wire cutter.
“Now, Joe, what are you saying?” remarks the boss to me.
“Well,” I said, “if Pete Bramble is chump enough to want to change jobs with me, I suppose that I’m chump enough to want to stay on and see how the thing turns out. That kid’s a whale!”
So I sauntered over to the stack and asked Pete if he wanted to change to my job.
He came blinking to me through a cloud of dust. He took me by both shoulders.
“Boy,” said he, “d’you mean it?”
“Sure,” says I.
He said not a word. He simply turned and climbed for the spot where my buck was standing. I looked down at my shoulders. There was a stain of blood on each of them.
IT’S a strange fish that can swim out of water; and the trouble with the whole business was that while Newbold knew all about cows, he did not know all about hay presses. Not half! He had a theory, and theories have wrecked greater men than Newbold.
A theory is the sort of thing that takes ten dollars, and sells on a margin when the market is climbing, and pyramids all the way, and makes three hundred and twenty dollars the first week, and ten thousand the second, and three hundred and twenty thousand the third, and ten million the fourth, and three hundred and twenty million the fifth, and ten billion the sixth—and there you are!
The seventh week that theory has the multimillionaires and all that small-time crowd asking for introductions; and the eighth week they beg for jobs, and the authorities vote a medal to the Napoleon of finance who kindly didn’t take up the whole of Wall Street and the rest of the country into the bargain.
Right at the beginning, Newbold showed us his theory.
“The shorthorn who sells me this machine, he says that it bales forty-five tons a day, and averages forty, because you gotta waste a little time taking it down, and moving it, and setting it up again. Now, we’ll allow five tons a day of lying to that crook. Still, we’ve got an average of thirty-five tons a day. We’ve cut three thousand acres, and we ought to bale twenty-five hundred or three thousand tons; and we ought to do that in ninety days. Now, ninety days is a lot of time, but so is three thousand tons a lot of feed. It ought to feed five thousand weak head of cows for a hundred days of the worst winter or the worst summer pickings. You see what that would mean to us.”
He always put it that way. He was always talking as though we were a company in which he was no more than the executive officer, say.
This same fellow who sold him the machine had said that the right pay was eighteen cents a ton to the bale roller, seventeen cents a ton to the feeders, and fourteen cents to the power driver.
But the chief did not remember that much of the talk. Only later we found out. What the chief offered us was just half of the right rates. However, even that looked pretty fat to us.
You take eight cents a ton, say, for forty tons a day, and you’ve got three dollars and twenty cents of any man’s money. And that makes close onto a hundred a month if you don’t knock off for Sundays.
And would we knock off? We would not! We lay around in our bunks, that first night, and we bought ourselves new saddles, and picked up thoroughbreds for a song, and won the Kentucky Derby with them, and took trips to New York and Cuba, and just raised heck in general.
Even the kid had done his share, and more than his share. He had hopped around from one end of that machine to the other and actually cut a lot more wires than the machine had managed to use up. He kept the wire fairly jumping off the coil, and the head-twister warm, he hummed it around so fast. We used a big wire for the central part of the bale, and a smaller wire for the ends. He could make the thinner variety fairly hop off the machine of its own volition. The bigger kind he had to strain over, bracing his weight to get down the stretching lever. But he never said no, and his production was steady all afternoon.
At the end of the day he goes up to the chief as fresh as paint and says:
“You gotta be congratulated on having one first-class man, Newbold.”
“Which man is that?” asks Newbold.
“Me,” says the kid. “If you don’t believe it, look at that!”
And he pointed back to a fine little stack of wires which he had cut and laid out. Newbold usually had a word when he wanted one, but this time he was plainly beat. He had to turn around and walk off, and that kid got on at a steady job with a man-sized salary of a dollar a day, which was real pay, in those days.
But I have to leave the kid, for a time, and get back to what was happening to the hay press.
The job of forking from the stack looked all right, and it sounded all right. All you had to do was to grab that three-cornered Jackson fork and plant it in a wad of hay. Then you yelled “Hey!” and the derrick driver started up his horse and jerked that load up into the air. And when it was dangling over the feed platform, you pulled the trip line and the load dumped down where the feeder could get at it. It looked easy. You seemed to be standing around a lot of the time, doing nothing.
But it didn’t turn out so easy.
For a starter, the fork weighed forty pounds, and all those pounds were put in the worst places. There were four long, curved teeth, needle-pointed, and always trying to get at your legs with a down-drop of a side flip, or some other dodge. And the trip iron had a sharp edge and was specially designed to clamp down over your fingers.
Then there was an art in using that fork. On the one hand, you had to dodge the spears of bucks as they came steaming in with all the push of two-mustang power behind them. And then as you side-stepped, you heard the feeder screeching at you for more hay. But you had to put in the fork just so. If you didn’t use the fork so that it divided the big, snarled masses a little, the feeder had to break his back muscling it apart. And if you tried to help the feeder by sending up small forkfuls, you half killed the derrick horse, which had to back up, all the time; and, in addition, you starved the feeder you were trying to help. Add to all this that you worked in a cloud of thick dust and chaff that filled your neck, and your throat, and your eyes, and it makes a pretty picture. But not strong enough for the fact. Nothing is as strong as the facts about a hay press, no matter how words are put together.
Well, I got through that afternoon, and when I came to the end of the working day—which was about dark, and long after sunset—I was almost too tired to wash my hands.
Then I waddled into the cook house along with the rest, and while I was looking at the greasy flapjack and sowbelly which the cook called our supper, and trying to make a start in eating, in came the chief, with hay burs sticking out of his hair and chaff down his back, stuck to his flannel shirt.
He had been adding up the tags of the bale roller, and he was pretty sour.
Then he said: “Nineteen goldarned tons!”
“Nineteen tearin’ wild cats!” said I.
The chief sat down at his plate, and looked at the flapjacks, and turned his head, and opened his mouth to say something to that red-armed clown of a cook. But he seemed to remember in time that he was the man who bought the food the poor cook had to eat, and that stopped his mouth for him a little.
It was right. He showed us the books, and nobody would believe, and everybody took a look. Our bales were averaging about a hundred and eighty pounds, and we had only turned out a little more than two hundred of them. The feeders swore that they had pitched at least a thousand tons of blankety-blank hay down the throat of the what-not press; and the bale roller said they lied like something else, because he, personally, had taken out at least two thousand tons, and had tied, tagged, and rolled, and piled it.
Just then up speaks the kid.
Those greasy flapjacks didn’t bother him a bit. He ate them as though they were sponge cake and the sowbelly was honey. And he floated down his food with the alkali solution which our cook called coffee.
Says the kid:
“You know how it is, boys. You gotta learn. If I was up there on that feeding platform, I’d show you how to build your first feed big, and then taper them off so’s the last one is just a kick of your foot to knock some chaff down the throat of the old lady.”
We all looked at him. For my part I wanted to throttle him. The old man says:
“You know, do you?”
“Sure I know!” says the kid. “I used to build these here machines. You might say I invented ’em.”
“Well,” said the chief, “tomorrow morning you’re gunna climb up there onto the platform and show us. And you ain’t going to come down till noon.”
“Aw, that’s all right,” says the kid.
But he looked a little startled.
We dropped the beater in that mankiller at four sharp in the morning, and sure enough, there was the kid up there, with a pitchfork taller than his head.
And when he had said that he knew, he was right! You could drown him with a forkload of hay that crammed the platform to the far corners, but somehow or other he would manage to clear the feed table, and when it raised its ugly long lower jaw, sure enough there was a full bite for its long, square throat to swallow.
He built the first feed high and thick, and sloped it off, and packed it on top; and when the beater rose to the top of its height, he gave the upper layers of the feed a shove with the fork and started the load sliding even before the table rose. And so he poked a starter that nearly choked the press and got the bale well started.
And he could pick to pieces a tangle of hay that looked like a trail problem built up out of barbed wire. And even when the feed floor looked as bare as the flat of your hand, he seemed able to pick out another feed for the making bale out of the corners, here and there. But, all the time, he was riding me, out there on the stack, and calling down to me to find out if I was asleep, and how long had I been off baby food, and wasn’t I only part of a man, and when was the rest of the sandwich coming?
He not only had tongue for me, but he used to stir up the derrick driver, too. That driver was an Irishman by the name of Clive Rooney, and once Rooney started to climb up to the feeding platform and take the boy apart; but the kid stood right there and dared him to come on and told him he would straighten his crooked jaw for him and knock a whole vocabulary down his throat.
This line of talk cleared Rooney’s head a little, and he remembered that he was dealing with a mere kid. So he went back to his single-tree and derrick horse; but with every trip that the horse made out and back, Rooney gave one black look at the kid up there on the table.
It wasn’t Rooney alone, or I, that tasted the boy’s tongue. Sometimes he leaned around the corner of the press and asked the power driver if he had a team of prairie rabbits, or were they just burros; and he got that fellow to raging and throwing the whip into the ponies.
And still the brat had time to lean over the edge of the table and tell the bale roller a few things, and ask him if he thought he was rolling dice, and if he hoped to bale more than he could eat, and who had told him he was old enough to leave home.
He even had a few words for the drivers of the bucks, and the squeak of his voice cut clear and high through all the clangor of the press, and the cursing and shouting of the men.
After a while, he stopped bothering me. I guess he saw that I wasn’t to be made angry. And the fact is that I was too interested in watching his tactics to lose my temper. For he was playing the gadfly and driving the whole set of us, grown men though we were. He wanted us to bale hay, and he was making us do it.
Also, I could not help wondering how long he would last. He could not keep up the pace till noon, I knew. It was very plain that Chip knew all about feeding, and that he knew all the art of handling a pitchfork—for it is an art—but in spite of his craft, and his strength beyond his years, and his wild spirit, he simply could not stand there in the flying dust with the temperature a hundred in the shade—Heaven knows what it was in the sun fire and hay smoke where he was working—and push so many tons into the feed box forever.
We worked from four to six. Then we had breakfast. At breakfast, the kid was as gay as a lark, and taunting all of us; at ten o’clock we had a lunch of stewed prunes, bread, and coffee. The kid was still pretty chipper, but not quite so gay. He didn’t come down from the platform. He simply sang out:
“What’s the matter? You boys think you’re all at school and are getting paid for your recess time?”
He didn’t come down. He just disappeared, and I knew that he had flopped down flat on the table to rest there, in spite of the beating of the sun.
I finished off my lunch before the rest and sneaked a cup of coffee up to the platform. He was dead to the world, his eyes closed, his mouth hanging open. I shook him by the shoulder, and he got up with a start.
He gave me one hard look, tossed off the coffee, handed the cup back to me, and said not a word. He just got up and grabbed his pitchfork again.
I went back to the cook house and threw in the cup.
I said: “You’d best call down the kid from the feed table, chief. Or he’ll kill himself before noon.”
“Let him kill himself, then!” says the boss, and Rooney and a couple more chimed in with the same idea.
So I went back to watch, and to worry. For I began to guess that I’d said more than I knew, and come closer to the truth.
BELIEVE it or not, between four in the morning and eleven, that lad shifted fourteen tons from the feeding table into the feed box.
A whisper of this went around, and even the hard hands on that crew wanted to see the kid let off. Marvel or no marvel, of course he couldn’t keep on at that rate. Not at fifteen years of age. Only, I want to repeat that he didn’t look quite as young as fifteen. I want to say that for us all. We knew that we were doing something bad; we didn’t know really how bad.
But when eleven o’clock came and the boy was still at work up there on the platform, I was outright worried.
He had stopped all of his pestering talk, by this time. Through the rifts of the dust-smoke, I could see his face set and lined like the face of an old man. He was taking his punishment and never making a murmur. I don’t suppose it had occurred to him that there could be a man in the world like our chief, with a mind as small as an arrowhead, and a heart as hard!
The sun went higher, and kept pouring down a billion tons of yellow-white, scalding sunshine. We changed the power horses every hour. We changed the bale rollers every two hours. But the kid was still up there in the swelter of that furnace, never ready to say die!
Then Fate came along and offered him an ace from the bottom of the deck.
I mean, Miss Marian Wray came cantering up on her best saddle horse. It was a good deal of a surprise, though the Wray place was no more than ten miles away, which couldn’t be called any distance at all. But you wouldn’t expect Marian Wray to be that far away from home—not hardly with a company of troops for an escort, to say nothing of being all by herself.
For she was the real silver spoon, Back Bay, how d’you do aristocrat. She made me pretty sick, the way that she went around with her chin in the air.
I don’t mean to say that she snubbed anybody. She was the opposite to that. She was always friendly, and never let anybody go by without saying a few words, and the boys were crazy about her. But for my part, I never liked a peaches-and-cream, picture-book blonde. I never liked them a bit, and I liked Miss Marian Wray the least of the lot, with her democratic manner.
She even used to go to the dances, now and then. But she never stayed more than thirty-one minutes. Thirty minutes to stand around and admire the decorations, and say that things were “too sweet,” and the decoration committee had sure outdone itself, and that sort of rot. And then for one minute she slid out onto the floor with “Tex” Brennan, or somebody like that, that knew how to step, and made all the rest of the girls look like zero minus.
The funny thing about it was that the other girls didn’t seem to see through it, either. And the whole dang countryside, when you mentioned Marian Wray, just broke down and gibbered, and practically wrung its hands over her, and the women were as bad as the men. I suppose that they thought she was so rich and lovely and beautiful and everything that’s to be desired that there was no use in even envying her.
She was all dressed up like a regular range girl, with a broad-brimmed hat and a loose blouse, and divided skirts, and the look of her blowing along in the wind of the gallop was enough, I have to confess, to make a fellow’s heart jump.
But when she came up close, she was a lot more Back Bay than range. She had a tailored and a manicured look, as though three maids had been working all morning to turn her out like this.
Even the boss was staggered a little by the arrival of the girl. All the other men were hanging out their tongues, they were so anxious to hear two words spoken by this queen of the May. And even the chief almost took a few minutes off.
I say “almost,” but not quite. He just used the interval while the power horses were being changed, to chat with her, and all those grown-up fools of men craned their necks at that girl, and admired her, and grinned at her, and looked blushing and stupid, and ready to drop dead if she ever said the word.
“I see that you’re a great natural innovator, Mr. Newbold,” she said.
“Oh, I had a little idea. That’s all,” says Newbold.
And he grinned at her, too, wide and simple as any of the rest.
I bit off a hunk of tobacco from the corner of my plug, and while I worked it into a comfortable spot in the hollow of my face, and felt the cheek muscles pulling soft and easy over the point of the load, I looked that girl over and wondered a little at what soft-heads we men are. Because most days she would have hit me just as hard as she always hit all the rest. But that day I was too worried about the boy, and the perspiration in my eyes and the chaff down my neck. I couldn’t have been romantic for a thousand dollars a minute, paid in advance.
I just looked that girl over and said to myself: “Bunk! Give me something with a commoner look, because you’ll wear old sooner than any of the rest.”
She was going around and admiring everything. It was the first time she ever had seen a hay press in action. I heard her telling the power driver how terribly brave he must be to be out there behind those dashing, crashing horses, because suppose the beam should break, what would happen to him when it kicked back?
And she said to the bale roller how could anybody really do so many things at once, and wasn’t it wonderful how the human hand could work as if an independent brain were operating in it. Then she came back and gave me a look and she said what a frightful peril I was in, handling those four sharp, crooked, lancelike things. She called me Joe, too, because that was her idea. Look at Napoleon. He knew the name of all the men in his army, didn’t he?
Well, that was her trick. So dog-gone queenly that the meanest of her subjects was good enough to get a glad eye from her.
“You bet your boots, if you’re wearing boots,” said I, “that it’s a frightful peril—”
And I was about to add something else, when the dust cloud blew away from the feed platform and she saw the white face of the kid just as he sank his pitchfork into a wad of hay bigger than himself, a good deal.
“Great heavens, Mr. Newbold,” she sings out, with something in her voice that sent the pickled chills even up my back, “do you employ children—at cut wages?”
Did he employ children!
I thought that Newbold wanted the earth to open and swallow him, and I wished that it would, and never let him out again.
IT was not often that one had a chance to see the great Newbold put down. But down he was now. Just then that ornery boy, Chip, leans out from the table, after shoving down the last feed on a bale, and just as the driver yells “Bale!” the kid sings out:
“Hey, Newbold! Is this a dance that we’ve bought tickets for? Or what are all the skirts around for?”
I thought that Rooney would climb up and massacre that kid, when he heard the remark; and the bale roller leaned his head out after he’d jerked the bale out of the press and locked the door behind it, and gave the kid a glare.
But I understood.
Chip wasn’t cashing in on any female sympathy. And it gave my heart a stir. I can tell you, when I saw what an outright man the boy was. I knew that he was sick all the way to the bottom of his boots from the work he had done, but he wasn’t complaining! He was willing to leave the women out of the matter!
He said to Marian Wray:
You can imagine that the chief did not waste any time using the kid’s lead.
“You see—fresh kid that wants to show us how to run the hay press. I’m taking some of the crow out of the little rooster!”
“I know,” says Marian Wray. “Some of them are that way. Gutter ruffians from birth. I suppose one ought to pity the poor little wretches!”
But there wasn’t much pity in her, just then. She gave the kid a look that would have melted a galvanized iron roof; but Chip already had his back to her and was jamming a fresh feed down the throat of that old press. He was as game as they came!
He had given Marian Wray something to think about. She gathered the remnants of her usual smile about her—strange how pretty girls all learn to smile like actresses!—and pretty soon off she went.
As soon as she was hull down, I waited for the boss to call poor Chip off the table, and I even saw the boy give the chief one side glance, but Newbold pretended to have forgotten him. There was no mercy in that heart of his. And having cashed in on the boy’s pluck and spirit of fair play to get the girl out of the way, Newbold just left him up there to work his heart out.
It seemed to me that every minute would be his last one. I could see the boy wabble and shake as he staggered about. But he continued to stick that pitchfork into the hay; and he continued to heave the hay over into the mouth of the press; and his last bale was as fat and firm all the way through as his first one.
And, finally, the last long hour wore away from minute to minute, with the whole crew of us watching nothing but the fight that boy was putting up.
The fact is that he lasted until the sun was right over our heads, and by twelve, noon, he had shoveled sixteen tons of hay off that platform. I have had a lot of grown men who knew the business doubt the thing, but I was there and saw it done, and I added up the pages in the bale-roller’s book with my own fair hand.
It was eighteen pounds over sixteen tons, to be exact. And the boy was fifteen!
As I was saying, he kept right on until the cook banged on a pan at the door of his cook house to show that it was high noon by his stove, no matter what it was by the sun.
So the boys knocked off work, and the derrick and power horses were unhooked, and everybody started wiping chaff out of his shirt collar, and dust out of his eyes. But I watched the kid and saw him start down the side of the press, and then change his mind and come slowly over to the hay dump, which was slanting up to the feed table, half dust, clods, and the rest chaff. He lowered himself over the edge of the table and slid down.
Halfway to the bottom, his body slewed around, like a boat in a running current with nobody at the tiller, and he rolled the rest of the way.
You might have thought that he had given his head an extra hard knock on a lump of sun-fried earth on the way down, but I knew what was the matter.
I ran over and picked him up by the nape of the neck and had a squint at his face. He was blue around the mouth and white around the eyes. He looked like one of those painted monkeys. And he was limp as a dishrag.
So I hauled him over to the drinking water and doused him good and plenty, and dragged him into the shade under the cook house, and hoisted his legs higher than his head, and began to fan him.
The boys came around and helped. They didn’t say anything. Not a one of them had anything to offer. But one man took the fold of newspaper out of my hand and continued the fanning, and I remember how Pete took a soaked rag and squeezed out a steady stream of drops onto the hollow of the kid’s throat. They were an ugly lot of men. They were ashamed of themselves, and nothing is more dangerous than a man who’s ashamed of himself. He wants to get back his self-respect all in one stroke.
Big Newbold came up and said: “Well, the brat’s had his lesson, I guess.”
Nobody spoke, even then, but every man jack of us turned and gave the boss a good, thoughtful look. He said no more. He cleared his throat and pretended to get interested in the making of a cigarette. But I saw a small white spot in both of his cheeks, and I knew that even Newbold, if he couldn’t feel shame, could feel fear, at least.
We worked about a half hour, and still nobody spoke a word, except when one man would call another a chump, with underlinings, and shoulder him out of the way to take up his share of the work. For my part, I had made up my mind that Chip was dying, and that Newbold would be dead soon after, when the kid fluttered his eyelids, and looked at us in a puzzled way, and then sighed and closed his eyes again.
“Mommie!” says he, and turns over on one arm, and sighs again.
It knocked me all in a heap, for some reason. I mean, we didn’t need to see his birth certificate, just then, to see that he was two or three years younger than we’d been rating him. If we felt sick before, you can imagine how we felt when we heard him speak, and saw him turn and sigh, like a child in his bed when his mother kisses him good night.
Newbold took hold of me with an iron hand and moved me out of the way and leaned to have a look. He didn’t say anything. His face was better than a whole book filled with words.
Just then up pipes a quiet, musical voice, as cold as the snow-water in a mountain stream, and says:
“I see that you allowed him to keep right on showing you how to run the press, Mr. Newbold!”
It was the girl.
Her horse had cast a shoe, and she’d come on back at a walk to see what our camp could do about it, because she knew that we had a good blacksmith attached.
Well, it was the very worst thing that could have happened to us. It was the sort of a story that we would not like to have even men repeat. But as for a woman—why, it was a yarn that every woman in the countryside would eat up, and give forth again with embroideries. And every time the yarn was repeated, our crew would be made to seem more and more like cannibals—child-eaters!
Above all, to have Marian Wray talking about us, and starting the thing! For everything she said would be taken as an under-statement. My first thought was to start right then, horse or foot, and climb for the nearest railroad, and put a thousand miles of ’dobe between me and that scene.
I think that the rest had the same idea.
But the first thing we knew, there she was, sitting with the head of the boy in her lap, and not regarding us at all.
She just said: “The poor child! The poor little boy!”
And she ran her thin fingers through his dusty, chaff-filled hair, and brushed it back from his forehead.
This was only a starter. Somehow, she managed to convey that there was a thousand leagues of distance between such a “poor little boy,” and grown-up male brutes like us.
Perhaps she was right.
Then, while the iron was hot—melting hot—she said:
“You might stop pouring on the water. His temperature is already subnormal. We might as well try to save what’s left of his life.” But she added at once: “Though, of course, after the shock of this he’ll never be anything but the wreck of a man!”
We didn’t question her medical wisdom. It was a case where we felt that she had us with a strangle hold, and the less we said, the better for all of us.
I forgot exactly what she did. But I think that she asked us if we had any whisky, and begged our pardon for suggesting that we might be carrying such poison around with us. Poison? She was the poison, just then. She was poisoning us all. I swear that she even kept a little smile at the corners of her lips. And every now and then she raised her glance from the boy and fixed one or two of us, slowly, carefully, as though she wanted to remember our names and faces for future reference.
Altogether, it was a miserable time. I even forgot to feel any sympathy for the boy. I would rather that he had been run over in a stampede and turned into a patch of fertilizer on the ground than that he should have involved us all so deeply.
Now and then I gave Newbold a look, and after the second or third one, I was amazed to see that even the rhinoceros hide which he wore in the place of a skin had been pierced, and that he was suffering a good deal. Rather more than a good deal!
Finally he said: “Miss Wray, I didn’t know—”
She lifted her head, with that ice-cold imitation of a smile.
“You didn’t know what, Mr. Newbold?” she asked.
He faced her. I must say that for him.
“I didn’t know that I could be such a brute!”
I’m sorry to say what followed. She looked him right in the eye and answered:
“Oh, didn’t you?”
It was the wickedest remark I’ve ever heard passed along from one human being to another. And I’ve heard some pretty active tongues inspired with red-eye, at that.
Just then the boy stirs and groans.
“It’s all right,” said she. “It’s all right now, poor dear!”
At that, the kid sits bolt upright, with a start. He gives a look around, and stares at the girl.
“What’s all this kindergarten bunk?” says he. “Cut it out!”
And he got right up on his feet!
WELL, I must say that it did me a lot of good to see the boy fetch himself up to his feet again. He made a sort of wabbling first step, but he caught hold of himself again and leaned a hand against the rim of a cook-wagon wheel.
“Gimme the makings, Joe, will you?” says he.
I knew by the green of his gills that he didn’t want a cigarette. But I fished out the makings and began to roll one for him. I could see that he was making a play to kill time. The rest of the men could see the same thing.
But the girl did not understand. She followed the boy and says to him:
“Don’t you think that you’d better lie down again? You really are not as well as you think. Something has happened, my poor boy—”
He gives her a mean look. Then he turns to the rest of us.
“How does she get that way?” says he. “Lead me away from it, Joe, because it might be catching.”
It set Miss Wray back quite a few steps to hear these cracks.
But she kept on. When a woman has made up her mind that she’s being good, and that she’s on the right track, hardly anything will stop her.
“As a matter of fact,” says she, “hadn’t you better come home with me? My father has need of such a—man—as you are.”
She set off that word “man” as a concession, between a couple of her sweetest smiles.
Says the kid: “Who’s your old man, ma’am?”
“He’s Judge Arthur Wray,” says the girl gently, so as not to swamp the poor kid with the full glory of the name.
“Judge Arthur Wray? Judge Arthur Wray?” says the kid, cocking up one eye, as though he had to think hard to remember a name that everybody in the West knew as well as they knew the Tetons. “Oh, yeah. I remember, now. He’s the fellow who roped and hog tied the Injuns in that land deal, ain’t he?”
Well, it was true, some people said, that old Judge Wray had used more corn whisky than cash to get out of the Indians some of the best rangeland that cows ever grazed.
If it was not a tender point with the Wray family, at least it was plain that the girl had heard about it. She got a sunset-red into her face in no time at all. Perhaps she could have answered, but that terrible kid didn’t give her time.
He went right on:
“It might be that your old man wants a good hand on his place. But you tell him I’m mighty grateful, but that I don’t talk Injun good enough to be much use to him. And I do talk hay press.”
“Of all—” began the girl.
Then she stopped herself. Perhaps she remembered that she was about to say something trite. Perhaps she only cut off something always old but always new.
She just takes a fresh breath, however, and goes ahead. As I was saying, you can’t stop a woman when she thinks that she’s carrying the flag. She’ll keep on carrying it even while she’s walking over a thousand faces, grinding in her high heels.
“You’d better think it over. I left my father a few miles back, but we can pick him up on the way. And when I tell him—well, I’m sure that he’ll want to employ you. You know that there’s room for young—men—to rise with him. He had to go out on a hunt this morning, but I think we’ll find him on the way back.”
“Hunting Injuns?” asked the boy, who seemed to be all calluses and no tender places.
The girl was patient, and sweet as pie.
“Hunting a thing worse than Indians,” says she. “A real criminal, mankiller. A desperado,” she winds up. And shakes her head, and smiles again, as though the courage of old Judge Wray staggered her a little.
“What might his monicker be?” says Chip, the tough kid. “What’s his name?”
“My father’s name?” says she, as patient and angelic as ever.
“No. This here desperado’s,” says the boy.
“His name,” she said, “is Douglas Waters.”
“Hold on!” says the boy. “I didn’t know you played with a joker in the pack.”
“Joker?” says she, a little bewildered.
“You mean,” says Chip, “that your old man is out man hunting the squarest shooter, and the best bunkie, and the rightest puncher that ever rode the range? Is that what you mean? Then if I see him, I wouldn’t talk about a job, I guess. I’d talk something stronger.”
He turns to me:
“Joe,” says he, “come on over here and lemme show you something about the way to throw a Jackson fork, will you?”
“Sure,” said I.
I got hold of him under the elbow, and he gave me plenty of his weight to pack. And so we walked right out on the well-meaning Miss Wray!
She seemed to be lagging to leeward with most of the wind out of her sails, and I must say that our chief seemed to be swallowing a smile that would have choked a sperm whale.
I didn’t talk about Jackson forks. I just rushed the boy over to the shady side of the pile of bales and sat him down there, and then, with my hat, I fanned him.
He leaned back with his arms and legs sprawling, like a hopeless drunk. And his lips kept twitching in and out and up to the sides, like a man who is wondering whether he can last it out or not.
The first thing he said was: “Keep your eye peeled. Don’t let ’em see me—like this!”
“You’re as right as a trivet,” says I. I never knew what a trivet was. But so the saying goes. “Don’t you worry,” said I. “I’m keeping my eye peeled. If anybody shows, you’ll be drawing a design on the ground and teaching me something.”
His lips twitched a couple of more times before he managed to smile. And then he took my advice and began to draw lines in the dust. But he put his eye on me for a minute.
“You’re a partner, Joe,” he gasped. “You’re an old partner!”
I wanted him to lie down, until the sick fit passed. But I didn’t make the suggestion, because I knew that he wasn’t the kind that lies down. You find men like that, one in a million; and boys like that—one in the world.
He preferred to sit up and take his medicine that way. He would rather have been on his feet, I knew.
And, while I watched him fighting out his fight, and beating the game, I looked the boy over, and admired him a good deal more than I know how to say.
And I wondered at him, too, and thought to myself that, after all, boys are foolish when they wish to grow up. If they’re strong enough to sight a rifle and ride a horse, they can do most of what men can do. And if they can do these things, they’re about as good as men, take it all in all.
Besides that, they have advantages all their own. They’re all by themselves. A woman is a woman from the time she is old enough to take a baby doll by the scruff of the neck and call it hers. And a man is a poor, weak, sentimental, sickly servant of the grown woman, their house-builder, jack-of-all-trades, supporter, and royal jester. They reward him by putting a cap and bells on his head, and they give him, as a bauble or scepter, a pretense of admiration for the muscles and the brain power which is always used merely to support the wife and the brats.
A grown man is a grown idiot. That’s all. But a boy is different. That’s why a boy is the only four-square-to-all-the-winds creature in the world. He goes his own way. He hews to a mark and a line, and lets the chips fall where they may—and he generally hopes that they’ll fall in your eye.
And as I sat there, fanning Chip, and admiring him, I couldn’t help wondering at the ease with which he had settled beautiful Marian Wray.
She was beautiful. She was lovely enough to take off the top of a man’s head. One of her smiles was enough to keep a poor puncher awake at night, turning from side to side, for a month on end. She was so charming that she had taken the crew of the hay press into the hollow of her hand in no time at all. Just a look around had been enough.
But she couldn’t take Chip into the hollow of her hand. Not into the hollow of two hands, even. Indeed, she was helpless.
What was all her beauty to him? He would rather have had a shiny new .22 than all of her, ten times over. He would have traded a gross of Marian Wrays for a three-year-old mustang with a kink in its tail and fire in its eye.
So where the rest of the men had been paralyzed, he had walked right in and used his fists, so to speak, on the thin china of which she was made, and he had wrecked her, and blamed her father, and given her something to think about that would keep her turning from side to side for months on end.
Well, boys are a weakness with me. They always have been, and they always will be. I admire them. But when it comes to a show-down, I envy them more than I admire.
But as I sat there and looked at Chip, and thought of his power, and of what he had done that day, and might do again, I couldn’t help sighing when I remembered that, within a couple of years, he would be like all the rest of us. The arrow would strike him in the heel; the sweet poison would run through flesh and bone; he would become the same sort of maundering sentimentalist that we all know so well and understand so intimately, because we’re the same woman-ridden, adoring, despising caricatures of Samson.
The glory of Chip was sure to pass. He would come to his mortal doom, sooner or later.
But just then, he was complete, independent, sure as a fortified Rock of Gibraltar. And I looked at him as at a sort of super-creature.
Then he began to talk about the Jackson fork.
THE next three weeks I don’t like to think about, and I don’t like to write about.
First, the weather got hotter every day, and the hay press broke down every day.
Second, the chief fell in love with Marian Wray, and the hay press broke down every day.
Third, inside of forty-eight hours everybody on that crew hated everybody else, and the hay press broke down every day.
Fourth, and most important of all, the hay press broke down every day.
Taking the things one by one, I have to admit that the middle of the Nevada desert is about as hot as you can wish; but it was cool and crisp compared to the heat that we had out there on that pressing job. The last moisture was sucked out of the hay. You could break the stalks across as though they had been the stalks of straw, after the harvest. And the last moisture was drawn out of the men, also. We were all dry powder, and any word was likely to drop like a spark into a mine. Gun fights were not in order, quite; but I had two fist fights on my own account. The first one was all right; but the second was with Pete Bramble, and we beat each other to a pulp. I got an eye on me that looked like a leather patch, and poor Pete had to talk and eat on one side of his face for days afterward.
But somehow the worst thing that happened, next to the hay press, was the way that the chief fell in love.
“Fell” is the only word for it. He dropped about a mile, straight over the edge, and he landed so hard you could hear the splash.
You see, it appeared that old Judge Wray himself was thinking about buying a hay press, for reasons unlike those of Newbold. Wray’s land was so good that his cows simply couldn’t eat all the grass that grew, and so he wanted to fence off some sections and raise hay on them. There was plenty of sale for it. So he came over a number of times, and Marian came along with him.
Poor Newbold hardly ever looked at her, but you could tell at a glance what he was thinking about. He was out of his head about half of the time.
I heard them, for instance, talking together one day, and the judge says:
“A coat of paint would save that machine a lot. Put on a good wearing coat of heavy paint and the timbers wouldn’t crack in the sun so much. I’ve got some heavy gray stuff at home—”
“Dark gray,” says Newbold, “looking kind of blue in the evening light—”
“Who the deuce cares what it looks like in the evening light?” says Wray. “The bale this turns out—what would you say the weight is?”
“About a hundred and thirty-five, I’d say,” says Newbold dreamily.
“What?” says Wray. “I thought you said they’d average closer to two hundred!”
“Oh, you mean the bales,” said Newbold.
“What did you think I meant?” asked the judge.
Yes, Newbold was completely knocked over by the pretty face of that girl. Perhaps he was most attracted by his very sense of the impossibility of the thing. For after she knew how he had treated young Chip, her lip curled every time she looked at Newbold.
Not that Chip asked for sympathy from any one. She was scared to death of his active young tongue and never tried anything more than a smile with him after that first day when he let her down so hard.
But the weather, and the wrangling among the crew, and Newbold’s stunned look when the girl was around, were all nothing compared to that danged press.
Never could tell what would happen.
Sometimes it would be in the red-hot middle of the day when the only way to escape wishing to die was to keep working and perspiring, so that the oven-blast of the air would have something more than your hide to burn up. But usually it was in the dewy cool of the mornings, or in the evenings when the sun was not so full of sledge hammers—yes, usually it was when work was almost a pleasure that the press would give a groan, or a squeak, or a crack, and you could tell that something was sprained, or a bone broken somewhere.
Twice we had to spend half a day taking out the whole side of the box so as to work on the vitals of the affair. And again, something went wrong with the gears of the power beam, and we were a whole day out of pocket.
Yes, instead of averaging forty tons a day, we were averaging only about fifteen. It was sickening to think of!
But the only thing that kept us going and turning out even that much was the kid. He seemed to be able to read the mind of that machine, and he could tell in a moment just exactly what was wrong with it. He saved us time that way, and also he saved us a good deal by what he taught us about doing the work.
Before I was through, like the rest of the boys, I had tried my hand at everything on the job, from Jackson bucking to bale rolling and power driving. The bale rolling was the hardest and the most interesting.
All you had to do, when the driver yelled “Bale!” was to knock open the door with an iron bar, drop the bar, grab the five stiff wires as the wire-puncher shoved them through, cinch up and tie those wires with a fast figure eight—and if you were fast enough, you took the last wire right off the needle of the puncher—and then you hollered: “Tied!” And as the power driver started his team, the heater floated up, and as soon as it was clear of the table, the big first feed began to shoot down.
You had to get the bale out of the way and the door shut before that feed started to descend, and to do this meant grabbing the hay hook off the beam overhead, sinking it in the top edge of the bale, and while with one hand you jerked the bale out and broke it to the right across your knee, with the left hand you caught hold of the door, slammed it, and disengaging the hook from the bale you used that hook to pull over the locking bar.
After that, you simply had to roll the bale onto the scales, weigh it, write out its weight on a tag of redwood, and again on the page of your checking book, trundle the bale out to its place in the growing stack, and lift it into its berth, perhaps three feet high. Just as you were breaking your back to get that bale up, the power driver was sure to yell “Bale!” again, and back you sprinted for the dog-house to do the whole thing over again.
Well, it was a pretty hot business, but it was a thing full of knacks from the tying of those infernal wires to the rolling and lifting of the bale itself. Little Chip knew all about the tricks. He could fair make the bales walk along the ground, and nobody in the outfit could punch the wires through fast enough to keep Chip from waiting for the last one to come.
Of course, he couldn’t last long at it; but while he worked, he made things hum, and he showed us how to do it, and how to step so that not an inch was wasted. Sometimes it almost seemed as though he had built the first hay press in the world, he knew so much about the job!
But even the kid could not ward off the bad luck that followed that machine. And every day, what between the girl and the press, Newbold got blacker and blacker, and stared more and more at the ground, and not even Chip dared to sass him any longer.
Newbold used to walk out in the evening to the top of the nearest roll in the ground, and there he would stand as gaunt and melancholy as a scarecrow, staring over the surrounding acres, and weeping tears of blood in his heart because he knew that he would never have enough time, at this rate, to bale all the hay that he had cut. And to think of it lying there to first dry to powder, and then to be rotted by the winter rains, was enough to nearly kill him. He wasn’t tight, I suppose; but it was a torture to him to see any wastage.
The atmosphere around that place grew more and more charged, and pretty soon all of us knew that it was only a question of time before the sparks would begin to jump—sparks that might burn the life out of some one!
The trouble was that, even if things had gone smoothly, we were cow-punchers, not mechanics. To do the same thing hour after hour was worse than a gun play on us!
That was about the time when Sheriff Murphy came out to visit us, and with his visit came the beginning of the end. It was just after dusk. We all lay around on our blankets, which we had rolled out on shocks of hay, the head end higher than the feet. Now we lay on our stomachs, our chins in our hands. Some of us smoked cigarettes. Some of the boys smoked pipes, but, for one reason or another, every few seconds there was a faint glow, and the face of some one stood out in rosy dimness at one part or other of the circle.
I remember that big Cash Logan was talking, at the time, and telling about how he once had a fight with a Canuck lumberman, a regular log-driver; and how the Canuck, being a little pressed, had pulled a knife to help out; and how he, Cash Logan, had used a trick he had learned when he was a boy, turning a handspring and whanging the soles of both shoes fairly and squarely into the face of the other fellow.
So he did that thing now, and the fellow he used as an example dropped with a groan, and half woke up and thought that he had been killed by a bullet through the brain, and then felt his sore and swelling face and roared out that he had been shot all full of holes.
“That’s pretty good, Cash,” said Pete Bramble, rubbing his sore face tenderly. “That’s good enough to be written down, pretty near. Where did you read about it?”
“Read about it? Read about it?” yells Cash.
“That’s what I said,” remarked Bramble.
There might have been a fight on the spot, because neither of them were men likely to give ground on any subject, but just then we heard the jingle and the tramp of a horse coming up to the place, and then the sheriff’s voice hailed us loudly.
He made quite a sensation.
For there were a number of the fellows working for the chief who preferred the misery of sticking to a job with him rather than the wretchedness of continually dodging the police.
IT was an amusing but rather a nervous thing to see the way the boys of our outfit were shifting about a little, from side to side, and acting strained, and beginning to sift back away from the sheriff, picking themselves up from their shocks of hay, and going through all of the movements of dogs when they see a wolf in their midst.
Wise dogs, I mean, that have been wolf-stung once, and know enough to multiply every wolf by three or four when it comes to a fight. So these rough fellows, every one of whom, I suppose, had fallen foul of the law at some time or other, edged away from the sheriff.
The chief, however, started right up from his place and went to meet the man of the law. That was the good thing about Newbold. He always stood by and for his men in every pinch. They knew it. That was the chief reason that they kept in their hearts some kindness for him.
Now, as Newbold fronted up to the sheriff, the latter heaved himself down from his saddle with a grunt. His horse grunted, too, as though it was dead tired. And I remember how the reek of the mustang came sharply and clearly to my nostrils, and how, after a moment, I heard the steady dripping of the sweat that ran down from his belly to the ground.
The sheriff growled out a greeting of some sort to Newbold. Then he made and lighted a cigarette, and I had a good look at his face.
His name was Tug Murphy, and in those days he was quite a celebrity. The Tug stood for “tugboat,” and the nickname was a fair one, because he was a fellow of broad beam and noisy ways, but a great deal of steady power always applied to the business of the county. I suppose he rode ten thousand miles a year, or even more than that. He galloped a good deal of crime out of that rough country, and a good deal of fear into the hearts of the crooks, so that every honest person in the district slept more soundly because of Tug Murphy, universal watchdog. He has finished his riding, now. One day he leaned into a cloud of dust that had a .45-caliber chunk in it, and the lead cut through Tug and carried away all of him except two hundred pounds of useless weight. Tug is forgotten now, but at the time of which I speak he had a name that worked miracles.
He was bow-legged and wide-shouldered. He had the look of a man always grinding his teeth and holding himself in. Anger seemed to be working up to a high head in him, day and night, and one waited to see him explode.
That was the look he had, red-faced, scowling, as he lighted the cigarette. The flame fairly shone on his face, it was so running with perspiration.
He said in his rough, direct, brutal manner: “Hey, Newbold, why don’t you feed your crew?”
“I feed my crew,” said Newbold.
“You don’t feed ’em enough to keep ’em from half starving,” insisted the sheriff.
“Who told you that?” asked Newbold.
“They’ve been going over to the Seaton place lately, and slipping away with a few of the best chickens that they could lay their hands on,” said the sheriff, “and old Seaton is a little tired of it. He didn’t take the trouble to come over here and complain, but he took the trouble to come all the way to town, to tell me about it. Now, you look here, Newbold. You may not step over the traces yourself, but you’re makin’ trouble for others. And I ain’t going to have it!”
Newbold said nothing. I thought that he was going to swallow these disagreeable remarks.
The sheriff, having made his first point, went on steadily:
“I’ll tell you, Newbold, that they is some that approve of lynchin’ hoss thieves. But my idea is that a man that would steal a hoss is a regular hero and a giant alongside of the poor, sneakin’ skunk that goes and robs a henroost—”
Newbold said: “What you’re doing is to call me a poor, sneakin’ skunk, I think.”
The sheriff answered: “You can put on the shoe, if it fits you.”
“Peel off your coat and your badge,” suggested Newbold, “and I’ll see what your size is!”
“You wanta fight, do you?” said the sheriff. “And you think that I’ll go around wasting my time fighting with fellows like you that don’t mean anything to me? If I have to come and get you, Newbold, then I’ll fight you, but I won’t work over you for nothing.”
I was surprised by this speech. I had thought that the sheriff really lived from day to day on the sweet prospect of the trouble he could find along the way. And here he was, nevertheless, avoiding a whole harvest field of it!
The rest of the boys picked up some spirit, when they heard the sheriff shutting down a little, as it were.
Pete Bramble said: “Nobody in this outfit is a chicken thief, sheriff. You’ve got this wrong.”
“It wasn’t a fox, and it wasn’t a coyote, that got into the Seaton hen house and lifted chickens twelve nights running! A chicken every night. A fox or a coyote wouldn’t work that way. It wasn’t any of Seaton’s own men, neither. He watched them for a week and they was always there; and the thievin’ went on while the whole pack of them were under his eye. Now, where would the thief be likely to come from?”
“Out of the hills,” said Pete Bramble. “Some Mexican who’s lying up in the hills and don’t want to waste ammunition for his meat.”
“No,” said the sheriff. “This ain’t a Mexican.”
“Why don’t you give us a description of the crook?” said Newbold, with a sneer.
“I’ll tell you a description of him,” said the sheriff. “He’s small enough to go through a window that a full-sized man couldn’t wriggle his stomach through. And he’s quick enough to catch a chicken and dodge the load of a shotgun that he’s touched off with his own hand. That handful of buckshot, it ought to have blown him in two, but the crook dodged fast enough to get away, it seems, and there was no blood on his back trail. He’s a small, fast, tricky feller. He’s probably got a face like a fox, because that’s what he is—a regular fox on two legs. Old Seaton has taken three shots at him, and never had no luck, and set a dozen different kind of traps, and still he keeps right on stealin’. He’s a mean, hardy feller. And you’ve got a whole pack of mean, hardy fellers here, Newbold.”
I was a good deal interested by this account of the persistent chicken thief; and, to be sure, the fare in our cook house was enough to drive any man to drink—or chicken stealing!
“You figger that I’ve starved out my boys,” said Newbold, “and when they passed the plate the second time, I’ve poured hot water into it. That’s the way that you’ve figgered. And then they got hold of an inspired chicken thief and they sent him out and he raided the coop every night, eh? But I’ll tell you what, sheriff. You’re barking up the wrong tree altogether.”
“I’m gunna have a look, just the same,” said the sheriff.
“Take your look, and be danged, then,” said the boss. “But if this outfit started to stealing chickens, they wouldn’t stop with one a night. Lemme tell you something, sheriff. The kind of men that I keep out here, there’s nothing but real men among ’em. The kind of men that I’ve got around here, they would eat a chicken each just to sort of get their appetites limbered up. If they got going on the Seaton chickens, they’d carry off half a dozen apiece; and when they got through crunching up the chickens, they’d eat the Seatons, bones and all. You can tell Pa Seaton that, from me, and tell Ned and Harry Seaton, too. I’ve gotta mind to saddle and ride right now over to see the Seatons! Chicken thieves, eh? That’s the kind of men I hire, is it? Chicken thieves!”
He was furious.
Said the sheriff: “You cool yourself off a little, will you? The fact is that I’ve made up my mind to it. One of your men has been doin’ it!”
“That would mean,” suggested Newbold, “a trip of about five miles each way. And I tell you what, after my boys have finished wrestling with this here hay press all the day long, there’s dang little energy left in ’em. They don’t even cuss at the cook any more. Speakin’ personal, I’d rather be sentenced to a prison for sixteen years than to a darned hay press for sixteen days!”
And he snorted like a horse, as he spoke, and from his circle of men there came a deep-throated murmur of sympathetic understanding.
“Let’s get down to business,” suggested the sheriff.
“That’s what I’ve been standing here waiting for,” answered Newbold.
“How many men you got out here with you?”
“That doesn’t count you?”
“Does it count the cook?”
“Lemme see them seven line up,” said the sheriff.
“You line ’em up yourself,” said the chief, more and more angry. “You can see the cook over there in the cook house working at his stove. I wish he’d cook himself, dang him! And here’s the rest of the boys.”
“There’s five here,” said the sheriff.
I counted the same number, including myself.
“Oh, that leaves the kid out,” said the chief. “And he’s turned in and gone to sleep.”
“What kid?” said the sheriff. “Where does he sleep?”
“Right yonder. You can see his hat, there. He sleeps with his hat on. He’s a tough kid for you!”
“Lemme have a look at him,” said the sheriff. “Hey, kid!”
“Leave him be,” suggested the chief. “He’s tired. He does the work of two men all day long.”
“And gets the pay for half a man, I suppose,” suggested the other. “Hey, kid, stand up and lemme look at you.”
Chip did not stir. The sheriff walked over to him, and I grinned to myself, thinking of the fine flow of language with which the boy would certainly drench down the sheriff, when the officer arrived.
The sheriff leaned. Then he straightened up, holding Chip at arm’s length, dangling.
Not Chip, after all, but only Chip’s hat, and his blanket attached to his hat, and out of the blanket streamed down the hay which the kid had twisted up inside, so as to give the effect of being a boy asleep there.
The sheriff let the stuff drop. It collapsed on the ground as he turned to Newbold.
“Your men ain’t chicken thieves, eh?” said he. “Then your boys are!”
I SAW Newbold turn a little to one side and then to another.
“Leave the boy be,” said he. “You’ve got nothing on him.”
“Not yet,” said the sheriff, “but I’m going to have!”
“He’s right around here,” said Newbold miserably. “He’s sure to be right around here. He was here just a minute ago. I saw him.”
“You don’t see him now,” answered the sheriff, “and you won’t see him later on, either, until he’s got some extra filling inside of his stomach, I guess. Oh, he’s a bright lad, all right!”
“You’re wrong,” said Newbold. “The kid’s the best kid that I ever saw.”
A sort of a rumbling chorus came from all of us. He was the best kid. He was also the meanest, most cantankerous, sassiest, most trouble-brewing kid.
He would as soon steal chickens as play marbles or go shooting. The minute the idea was suggested, we could all feel that stealing chickens would be worth a five-mile ride to the boy. Simple enough, too. He would merely catch up one of the horses that was wandering around near the house and he would jog away, and the rest of us would be asleep in two shakes after we had turned in.
It would take a man made of steel to work all day the way Chip worked and then go off for half the night. But boys can do what men never could do. If they begin to run down, they can wind themselves up and go right on ticking again.
“All right,” said the sheriff. “I’ve found out what I want to know. Of course, he’s a good kid. He’d have to be good to steal chickens so well. So long, boys.”
He mounted his horse again and started off at a jog, lining out across country in the direction of the Seaton place.
“That’s the dickens!” said the chief, and began to swear.
“We ought to send somebody out to cut in ahead of the sheriff and warn the kid,” said Pete Bramble.
“The kid would never let you get up close enough to give him a warning,” said Newbold. “He rides like a dang jockey.”
That was a fact. We wouldn’t be likely to get up close to the boy.
But, at any rate, I felt that I couldn’t stay away from the trouble. I was nervous, and I just wanted to be on hand to see what was what. So I saddled up a horse and left the rest of them discussing what a mean chap the sheriff was, and cut across country on his line.
I hadn’t gone very far when I saw the loom of him before me.
He turned around, pulled up his horse, and waited for me with a gun in his hand.
“It’s all right,” I sang out to him. “I’m just your posse, sheriff. I’ve come up from Newbold’s camp to help you out.”
“A lot of help anybody from Newbold’s camp will be to me!” grunted Tug. “But come along, if you want to. I wish that we could get close enough to see the little rat doing his tricks in that hen house! It’s a caution!”
A trace of enthusiasm came into his voice.
“Seaton has been pretty worried,” I suggested.
The sheriff actually laughed.
“Seaton’s an old-timer, a trapper,” he said. “He thinks that he knows how to catch everything that walks and breathes. Well, he can’t catch this kid. Maybe we can’t. It’s going to be a hunt and a chase. That’s what it is!”
He laughed again.
I never had dreamed that Tug Murphy could show such a trace of good humor as he was showing now. It was a surprise. A thing not to be dreamed of. I played him along on this line. I told him that the boy was wild and tough, but the gamest that ever stepped, and the best sport, and the rightest kind of a lad.
He listened to me and seemed to believe that what I said might have some truth in it.
We rode along at a good clip. Then the sheriff admitted to me that he was a little worried.
“I never had to play against a kid before,” he said. “Yes, against what we call kids—boys of nineteen or so that are as strong as a man and as fast with a gun, and sometimes a good deal straighter in their shooting. I’ve had those lads to handle, and some tough times they’ve given me. But suppose I take into jail a brat of fifteen or so—Well, how old is this Chip?”
“Fifteen,” said I.
He let out a small-sized shout.
“Fifteen!” said he. “And Seaton has dragged me out here on this rotten business? I’ll tell him what I think of him.”
“You tell him that Newbold is going to call on him, too,” said I, grinning in the dark.
“He wanted to fight me, that Newbold,” said the sheriff, and chuckled again. “He’s all right. Anybody’s all right—anybody that’s always ready to fight when he’s dead sober! You bet he’s all right. Newbold is all right!”
I thought that Tug Murphy, for that matter, was all right, too. He was climbing up in my estimation all the time. I never had talked with any one exactly like him, and the more he said, the more I wanted to hear.
I told him that he was dead right about Newbold.
“Sure I’m right,” said the sheriff. “He wanted to fight me because of the kid. What’s the kid to him? Nothing! No kin! But he wanted to fight me because of the kid. Anybody’s all right that will fight for kids that don’t belong to them.”
I agreed again. The sheriff kept chuckling.
“Here I’ve gone and used up one of my best nags,” he said. “Look at that! All on account of a dang kid.”
And he laughed aloud once more. He had a strange sense of humor, which this case appealed to.
“I’ll bet the kid is Irish,” he said.
“He has the reddest hair you ever saw,” said I.
“Sure he’s Irish,” said Tug Murphy. “I knew it right off. Something told me. He’s all right, too. The kid is all right. He’s stealing those chickens every night. That’s what makes him all right.”
I did not understand this. I failed so completely to understand that I admitted I did not follow his line of thought.
He explained to me: “Well, you look at here. If he stole just for stealing, he would’ve cleaned out the chicken house the first trip, wouldn’t he?”
I admitted that he would.
“And if he stole because he was just hungry, he’d quit as soon as he found out there were dogs watching for him, and men, and rifles, and shotgun traps all set to blow the tar out of him. He’d quit when he found out those things, wouldn’t he? You certainly can’t digest very good when you’ve got a hole blowed clean through your stomach, can you?”
“No,” I admitted. “You couldn’t do that.”
“You see how it is,” went on the sheriff, getting more and more enthusiastic. “He kept going back because there was the shotgun traps and everything and everybody all set to catch him. That’s why he went back. It was a game. He liked it. He even liked having the dogs run him.”
“Have the dogs run him?” I asked.
“Sure they have! And he threw them off the trail. Right when they had a clear view of him. The dogs had, I mean, and they started to run with their heads up. But he chucked them. He got among some rocks and he chucked them. And he goes back every night and plays the game again. Because he’s Irish, see? That’s the way an Irishman would do. I knew he was Irish right off.”
He continued to chuckle and to be very pleased. It gradually dawned on me that Tug Murphy was Irish himself.
“You take a kid like that,” went on the sheriff, “if he don’t get hanged, he grows up and makes a real man. That’s the kind of men that you need to have. The real ones. They raise a little trouble, but when they settle down, there’s something to them.”
“There’s something to the kid,” I agreed very heartily.
“How often have you missed him away at night?” asked the sheriff.
“Never have missed him at all, till tonight,” I said.
“Not till an Irishman came there and showed you he was gone,” chuckled Tug Murphy. “It takes a thief—”
He stopped himself short, and hurried on, rather embarrassed: “He’s Irish. He’s smart, you never missed him away. Not for more’n two weeks, and he’s been gone every night. He’s a fox. He’s smart. You never would’ve guessed, except that I came out there and gave you a lead.”
Now, as we went along at a good gallop through the hills, we saw the loom of something far before us, going over a hill and disappearing into the sky line among the stars.
“That’s the kid,” said the sheriff. “He’s going slow. He’s traveling dead easy. That’s a mistake. But the best of ’em get overconfident at times. And he don’t know that an Irishman is after him. He don’t have any idea of that. But maybe he’s going slow so’s he can be thinking out the way he’ll turn the trick tonight.”
I agreed that that really might be the idea.
We continued to gain on the rider before us, and presently we were so close that we could clearly distinguish that the rider was very small.
“No saddle,” said the sheriff, who had amazingly good eyes at night. “You see how it is with him? He don’t take no saddle along, because he don’t want to leave no easy signs behind him. You take a saddle, the blanket of it would still be wet in the morning and give him away. He goes bareback. Yeah, he’s Irish, all right.”
He still continued to chuckle. He seemed the most contented man in the world. But now he reined in his horse a little.
“There’s no use crowding the kid too much,” said he. “We might as well see how he does the trick, if we can. I’ll pay for the chicken he catches.”
“Maybe he’ll only catch a load of buckshot,” I suggested.
“You can’t shoot an Irishman with buckshot,” he declared. “It takes a slug out of a Colt or a rifle to stop an Irishman. No, the boy will come through, all right. He’ll get the chicken again. A fellow like that Seaton, he never could catch an Irish kid like Chip. He has red hair, didn’t you say? I sort of guessed that he had red hair, like that.”
It seemed that there was to be no argument between us about the qualities and the importance of Chip. And now we came up through the hills to the gap from which we could look out and down toward the house of Seaton.
THE boy was not there.
At least, the silhouette of the small rider no longer appeared, and, instead, we had only the dim sweep of the hollow, with two higher hills beyond, square-topped, like two raised fists. In the midst of the hollow, two lights shone from the Seaton ranch house. We made out the shoulders and the roof line of it by degrees, and then the staggered lines of corral fencing, the outhouses, and a lantern walking across the picture toward the house.
“We’d better ride straight in, if we’re to warn Seaton,” I suggested.
The officer of the law only grunted.
“Seaton be danged!” he said. “Let Seaton take his chance! We’re too late and too far behind to watch the kid at his work. We’d only scare him away. And it’s a lot better if we just cut him off when he tries to retreat. We’ll catch him with the goods on him. That’ll teach him a lesson. That’ll learn him to be a decent boy and man—”
The sheriff began his laughter once more.
He dismounted; he lighted a cigarette; he whistled, and he hummed to himself.
I got down in turn. It was hot, there in the gap. The rocks on either hand were still throwing off the heat which the sun had poured thickly over them during the day. There was a sticky smell, like new varnish in a closed house, that came from the weeds that grew about us, and now and then there was a small rustling from the clumps of shrubbery which gave a false promise of a wind that never came.
The walking lantern reached the house and passed inside. A moment later, we heard the far-away sound of the jingling slam of the screen door.
“Now, the last man’s back into the ranch house,” said the sheriff. “The last man’s back inside, and the trap’s all set for the kid, and the dogs, and the guns, and the hunters, are all ready. And here we are, to cut off his retreat. And all on account of one red-headed brat of an Irish kid! That’s the kind of men they breed, the Irish! They’ve got more glory and stretched more rope than any two other nations. That’s the kind they are.”
I could not help saying: “This sounds to me like a queer sort of law enforcement, sheriff. But you’re the boss. Only one thing I’m really bothered about—Suppose that trap closes on the kid and breaks his back! There’ll be some pretty angry men back there with the hay press, beginning with the boss.”
“Shut up!” said the sheriff. “What do you think I’m worried about, myself? But he’s gotta pull through and I—”
Just then, in the middle of his words, as a wave breaks over a rock at the entrance and floods all over a cave with roaring, and dashings, and echoes, just so out of the hollow there broke a clamor that had in it guns exploding, men shouting, dogs yelling and howling, and even the neighing of horses.
“There they go!” yipped the sheriff.
“Poor Chip!” I said to myself, and hardly dared to think of what might have happened.
That uproar might have been the blasting away of a mountainside, or a half regiment of soldiers!
It did not die down, all at once, but stretched out into a point, as it were, running in a long arm from the ranch house, and straight toward us!
“He’s gone away!” I shouted.
“I told you he would!” answered the sheriff.
And he struck me between the shoulder blades and bruised me to the heart.
“They can’t catch the tricky little rabbit!” I said, and smote the sheriff’s shoulder, and felt it sag beneath the stroke.
“Not in ten million years!” said the sheriff. “Not now that he’s begun to run. But look! Look!”
We could see them very clearly. It looked as though a dozen riders were galloping out from the house, the starlight fingering very faintly the sweating horses. In the dust of their raising, a fog closed over the house, and only its lights glittered through. But what made my heart stand still was the yelling of the dogs.
“They’ve got hounds there that’ll chew man-meat as easy as venison,” I suggested to the sheriff.
“They’ve got Butch Wafer’s pack,” said the sheriff. “But they won’t find that brat! He’ll—he’ll fade right out away from under their noses!”
However, the sheriff was not as confident as his words: There was a tremor in his voice, and a hesitation in his speech.
I strained my eyes into the darkness; I could see the hunted swerving a little from this side to that; and then a new note came into the chanting of the hounds.
“They’ve got him under their teeth!” I told the sheriff. “You and your fool ideas—those man-eaters are right onto his heels—and they’re running in full view! That’s what they’re doing! You and your ideas—both are not worth a cent!”
The sheriff gripped me by the arm.
“If I thought—” he began. “Come on, son. We’ll run our horses down there and take a chance at them. We’ll stop them. If they’ve so much as touched the hide of the brat, I’ll—”
He stopped. There was a good reason. For the dogs no longer yelled so confidently. The sound of their voices split apart and traveled to both sides.
“They’ve lost again!” declared the sheriff, instantly confident. “They’ve lost again, and the kid has won.”
“You’re Irish, too,” said I. “Wait a minute! But the dogs sure seemed to lose that trail—but then—they were plumb running on his heels, to hear the yap of ’em, and I’ve heard that pack singing before!”
“Aw, they’re beat! They’re beat!” said the sheriff.
We could hear the hunters shouting and cursing, and casting the hounds ahead, now here, now there.
Presently the hounds strung out in a long line on a scent which one of them had picked up. The men whooped them on. Out of the dust of their own raising we saw that hunt streaming through the night. Still, I could not feel that there was any real confidence in the voice of the pack. It had not the ring that keeps dwelling in the backbone of the strongest man.
Then the roar struck a hollow in the hills beside us, and turned at once to a remote music, and floated upward, and away.
“They’ll never get the kid tonight,” I could not help saying.
“You’ve been talking like a fool,” the sheriff gasped, with a long, long breath. “This is the first sensible thing you’ve said. What’ve I been tellin’ you all the time about—”
He stopped clicking his teeth together with surprise.
For a small whistle wavered up from the dark of the hollow before us, and it was answered by a whinny from among the rocks near by.
A small whistle, and a small nicker of a horse, mind you! And then the sheriff began to curse softly beneath his breath. I was swearing, too. From not ten yards away from us, a mustang trotted out of a patch of shrubbery. Not ten yards away from us, mind you!
And down it went into the hollow, and there we made out faintly the small form of the boy.
We saw him meet the horse. We saw him carrying something in his hand. We saw him slick onto the back of the horse and go jogging away at a slant from the place where we waited.
He began to laugh; and it seemed to me that that laughter was the blood-brother to the sound of the sheriff’s mirth that I had listened to so much during this dark ride. The very same, but a little thinner, and farther away.
“Now we climb after him!” said the sheriff to me.
That was what we did. We rode out of the gap, and swinging to the left, we just kept the loom of the rider within our eyes.
He took an odd course, considering that he was due back to the hay-press camp before so very long. I mean, our sleeping hours were always too short for me, and if the kid insisted on having his fun every evening after dark, one would think that, once the game was played, he’d strike out in a bee line for the camp.
But he didn’t travel as a bird flies. He was rounding away off to the right of the line, and heading under a junk heap of naked hills so bare and polished by the palming of the wind that the rocks gleamed even under the stars.
Under the side of these rocks, the boy dismounted, and leaving the mustang behind him, he disappeared among the big stones.
The sheriff was worried, and shook his head.
“Why should he do that?” he asked. “Why should he ride away over here to this spot to cook his chicken?”
Inspiration struck me dumb, all in a moment.
“There’s somebody inside those rocks waiting for him, Tug!” said I.
“Maybe so,” said he. “Maybe there is a brain or two can be rounded up inside of that head of yours.”
We left our horses near the mustang from which Chip had dismounted, and cut in at the spot where he had entered. We went as softly, you can be sure, as though we were walking up on the camp fire of a batch of red Indians. For what might it not be that the boy was heading toward in there in the rocks?
Well, we had the glint, and then the gleam of fire before us, after a few moments; and after that, the stir of voices to help us along.
We had taken a good many minutes to follow the trail, but we arrived in time, after all. For when we came up through the rocks to a point where we could lie low and see the flicker and waning of the fire, and then the big leap of the blaze when the breeze touched it—when we came to this point, I say, and stretched out to see what we could see, we were just in time to catch the kid come out of the dark gap between two rocks, and with him, leaning an arm across his shoulders and looming mighty pale and thin, there was a grown man.
That was why the lad stole food every night!
But the way that Chip supported that tall, lank form was the strangest thing to see; even his voice had changed and turned tender.
“I heard a lot of racket down there,” the man was saying. “I thought that they were after me again!”
“Naw,” said the boy. “They haven’t got the brains to hunt up here for you. I told you that you’d be safe here, Mr. Waters!”
Hai! How the sound of that name jumped through me! For there was White Water, and the kid beside him, and the sheriff lying ready in the dark to take them both!
IT was White Water, well enough, but a good deal faded since I last saw him.
He was thinner, leaner, lankier. And he was so weak that Chip had to steady him a little as he sat down near the fire. Still, there was the old grip about his jaws, and the look in his eyes.
“It’s better out here, ain’t it?” asked Chip.
Waters sighed. He stretched his arms and then let his head fall back against the rock that was behind him.
“Better? It’s worlds better!” said he. “By Heaven, son, the shake and the flare of that little fire warms up the soul of me. And then to have the sight of the stars is worth more than I can tell you.”
“Yeah,” said the boy. “I bet there was days when you never thought that you’d have a look at those stars again.”
“Yeah, there was days like that, all right,” said the outlaw. “You know how it is, son. Lying there flat, with the fever in me, and the strength out—that was sort of tough.”
The boy was sitting down cross-legged, and was busily pulling away the feathers of the chicken. He stopped his work for a moment, and he looked at the crook.
“Jiminy, Mr. Waters,” said he, “I bet it was bad! And the water that I set in there beside you, I bet it got pretty warm during the end of the day, didn’t it?”
“It got a little soupy,” said Waters.
He turned his head and smiled at the boy, and there was love in his eyes.
Well, he had reason to love Chip.
“But the nights,” said Waters. “They were the times when I would have given up, and let go all holds, and then I would have sunk into water as dark as any ocean, Chip, and just a little deeper than the sea.”
“Ay,” said the boy, “I disremember when it was that I woke up kind of sick and dizzy in the middle of one night, and I was sort of choking with a bad dream. And all at once, I remembered that I was alone in the house, and that there was nobody to bring a hand to me—I was pretty sick, I’ll tell you.”
He stripped the chicken white and clean beneath its feathers and began to cut it up. He was a regular little butcher. I never saw neater work done.
“But when those bad times came, Chip,” said the outlaw, “I could always remember that you had been there to see me; and that you’d surely come the next night, too; and that some way or other, I ought to fight it out—after all the work you’d put in on me.”
“Hey! It’s been no work,” said Chip. “It’s been fun.”
He chuckled as he said it. His eyes danced as he looked at the other.
“Yeah,” said Waters. “You seem to like it, all right. Don’t your uncle get tired of losing a chicken a night?”
“He hasn’t noticed yet,” said that little liar. “He’s gotta lot of chickens. He’s got near thousands of ’em, pretty near.”
“I’ll pay him double for every one, Chip,” said Waters earnestly.
“Aw, sure you will,” answered Chip. “You don’t have to worry about that. It don’t make no real difference.”
“No real difference,” said Waters. “Only life or death, to me. But I’ve wondered if you haven’t been in danger, Chip, stealing this meat and getting it out to me.”
“Danger?” said Chip, yawning a little. “What sort of danger would there be in picking up a chicken? Or ten chickens at a time? You know the way that it is on a big old ranch. You know how! Aw, they roost everywhere. On a fence, or on the shoulder of a stack, or on the woodpile under the roof of the woodshed. All you gotta do is to walk along and put out a hand, on that farm of my uncle’s, and you’re sure to run into a chicken before very long.”
“I imagine that you have a guiding instinct, son, as the preachers say,” remarked Waters.
“Maybe,” grinned the boy.
He was cutting up the chicken and putting it on small, sharpened sticks. He gave two of these to the outlaw, and he took two himself. They began to turn the spits, and the smell of that good, roasting meat made my mouth water, after the fare we’d been having at the cook house.
“Tell me something, Chip,” said Waters. “There were a few days, back there, when you only pretended to think I was better. You really thought that I was worse!”
Chip sat up straight, with a jerk and a start.
“I’ll tell you, Mr. Waters, tonight,” said he. “There was never a time when I was sure that you were going to pull through. Never a time, I mean, until tonight! You always looked kind of slipping, night after night. It used to make me sick, to look at you. Aw, you were mighty sick, Mr. Waters!”
“Stop calling me that,” said the other. “Call me Joe, or Bill, or Ed, or Nick, or anything. It doesn’t matter.”
The boy was lost in thought, slowly turning the roasting meat, while the fumes of the cooking arose from it.
“I might call you ‘Chief,’” he suggested. “I couldn’t call you nothing small. You know that I was there when the three of them cornered you, and the three went down, and you got out. After that, I couldn’t call you nothing small.”
“Because I’m a thug and know how to fight with guns,” said Waters, rather sadly, “you look up to me a little. Well, I—”
“It ain’t that,” insisted the boy. “It’s just because when the pinch comes, you don’t lie down. Look at anybody else, with three slugs through him, he would’ve gone in and given himself up.”
“And be hanged, Chip?” suggested the outlaw.
“Yeah,” drawled the boy, still thinking fiercely. “Hanging ain’t so bad, either. First, they get out a lot of newspaper writing. And then everybody talks of the trial. And then there’s a female league of something or other’s daughters, or something like that, that comes along and gets up a petition for a pardon. And the governor gets gray-headed saying ‘no’; and somebody writes a book about you; and then there’s a lot of fun before the end, and maybe it’s only life imprisonment; and then the boss of the prison, he makes you his confidential secretary and guard, and you don’t do nothing but sit in leather chairs, and hang your heels on the edge of a desk, and smoke fat cigars, and write your reminiscences, and everybody looks up to you a lot and says there goes the guy that killed eleven men—or how many men have you really killed, Chief?”
“Four,” said the outlaw, “and Heaven help me for doing it. Where did you pick up all this about prisons and such?”
“You know,” said the boy. “You can’t help readin’ the interestin’ part of the newspaper and listenin’ to the interestin’ talk in the bunk houses. You see me, Chief? Well, when I grow up, I’m gunna be free, too.”
“Free?” asked the outlaw.
“Yeah. You know.”
“No, I don’t know. What do you mean by ‘being free’?”
“I mean—puttin’ up your own hoss into somebody else’s barn. That’s what I call bein’ free.”
Waters smiled, but his smile was wan.
The chicken was now ready for eating, but before Waters began on it, he said:
“I’ll tell you the truth, old son. Being free means chilblains in winter and sun-scalding in summer; and one meal or none a day; and the life of a wolf; and no friend you can trust; and no home, no wife, no children. Or if you have ’em, they’re raised by somebody else. Being free means living on the outside of about everything that’s worth while.”
“Except freedom?” questioned Chip.
“Yes,” said Waters slowly. “Except that, perhaps. Here you, Chip. You take my advice. I know about that stuff. You go and get it out of your mind. That’s the only way to do.”
“I’m gunna watch and make up my own mind,” said Chip. “Look at me. I wouldn’t be your friend, Chief, if it wasn’t that I had seen you livin’ free. Everybody looks up to free things. Who minds a tame duck more’n a pig in the mud? But a wild duck looks pretty fine, and the wild geese honking south or north, they give you the prickles up your backbone, and you want to break away. You know that’s true.”
“That’s true,” said Waters. Then he changed the subject. “You’ve gotta eat part of this chicken tonight, son,” said he, quickly.
“Me?” said the boy, with an air of surprise. “Sure, I ain’t gonna eat any of it. I’m full.”
I thought of the sort of food and portions that Chip enjoyed along with the rest of us in the cook house, and smiled a little.
“When I was your age, I was never full,” said the outlaw.
“You know how it is around a farm,” said Chip. “You know there’s always something lying around to eat. And if you get a pang, you can go and snitch something out of the pantry.”
“Whatcha have for supper tonight?” asked the other.
“Me? Oh, we had venison steaks. They’d been hung a little too long, but I’m used to ’em that way; and they was prime and tender. And we had hominy, and corn bread with heaps of butter onto it, and ras’berry jam, and bread pudding full of raisins, and mashed potatoes, and baked sweet potatoes, too, and string beans, and pork chops for them that didn’t want the venison. So I had some of both. Outside of that we didn’t have nothing much but some hard candy, and coffee and cream, and doughnuts. My aunt, she makes the primest doughnuts that you ever seen. That’s about all I had to eat, but what made you ask?”
I thought of the cook-house dinner, and grinned again.
Waters was looking hard at the boy, and I could see that he was thoroughly doubting what he had heard, but he said nothing, for a moment.
At last he remarked: “Chip, your job is getting me on my feet, and you’re doing it mighty well. I’ve got no right to question you about how and where you manage all this, but I reckon that your back trail would be pretty hard to follow and pretty interesting, too. Well, here’s my regards!”
And, with that, he started in on a quarter of chicken and began to reduce it to a white bone.
“You’re looking a lot better,” said the boy. “You’ll be fit to ride, pretty quick.”
“I could ride right now,” said the outlaw. “Only I’d like to wait a while till there’s a little grip and strength in my knees. You know how it is, Chip.”
“You bet I know. You’d be crazy to try to ride now,” said Chip.
“I guess he’ll try, though,” said the sheriff, and stepped into the firelight with a pair of guns.
IT staggered me.
There was something in that scene between the boy and the outlaw that had prevented me from even thinking about the sheriff’s presence. But there he stood, with his two guns looking as large and a lot more deadly than cannons.
The boy got up and reached for a stone. Waters simply stretched across and knocked the stone out of his hand.
“When a game’s finished,” he said, gravely, “there’s only one thing for it, and that’s to give up your chair. I’ll qualify, now, for all that newspaper publicity that you were talking about, Chip!”
He was dead game, was poor Waters. He could smile as he said it.
I thought that Chip had colic, he was so bent and twisted with rage and pain, but the sheriff unquestionably had the upper hand.
I said to him:
“Look here, Tug. The fact is that you could give a man a chance when—”
The sheriff favored me with a glint out of one eye.
“Give a low hound a second chance?” he roared. “Give a low, sneakin’ hound a second chance? A gent that goes out and lets a poor kid risk his neck every night to bring him food? He ain’t a man. If he was half a man, I’d let him. I’d give him my own hoss to start him on the way, just because Chip, the crooked little chicken thief, thinks so much of him. But he ain’t a man. I’d like to grind him under my heel to show him what I think of him. That’s what I’d like to do.”
Now, that ended the argument on the spot, as far as I was concerned. Because I saw that the Irish was up in Tug, and when the rage is in the head of an Irishman, there’s no making him see reason, or kindness, or humor.
Then the kid came up and gave me a nudge.
“You could make a play, Joe!” he said. “Now you got your chance. You just trip up Tug from behind, and me and the Chief will do the rest!”
Yes, he would have tackled the sheriff, single-handed. That was the Irish in him!
But poor Waters went off to jail, holding himself erect in the saddle, for the benefit of Chip; but I could see by the tremor in his shoulders how weak he was.
Chip stood beside him, and watched the two ride off. And as he watched them, he talked in a way that curdled my blood to hear. For a boy should not know all the words and the ideas that Chip was master of, and the description he gave of the sheriff’s probable end was brilliant and entirely too incandescent.
Well, we stood and watched them go out of sight, and then we went back toward the camp, and got to the hay press in a dead silence.
There was only one speech from the boy, and that was when we were about to turn in.
“How much would a dog-gone good lawyer want to defend a man?” he asked. “Would he want as much as thirty dollars?”
That, you see, was about what Chip must have saved from his wages!
It gave me a lump in the throat. I told him that I thought thirty would be plenty, and if it wasn’t I’d help him out, and so would some of the other boys.
“No,” said Chip, as he slid into his blankets. “He wouldn’t like it. The Chief wouldn’t, I mean—if the hat was passed for him.”
So I fell asleep, and they had to fairly drag me out of my blankets when the dawn broke on the next wretched day. I looked about me for Chip, but Chip was nowhere to be seen. And he didn’t turn up later. He was gone, and I knew where. He was gone to find, hire, or beg a lawyer to defend his hero.
I forgot all about Waters, though, before the day was very old. So did all of us. I told the boys at breakfast the story of the night before, and what they said about the sheriff was not a pleasant thing to hear.
Only the boss sat still, leaning over his coffee cup and stirring in the so-called sugar, and no doubt snarling silently, but never saying a word. I thought that he looked pleased, rather than otherwise.
But he forgot about Waters. So did I. So did all the rest as the day wore along, and we not only saw but felt that the kid was no longer among us!
I say that we felt it, because everything went wrong from the start.
When the wires were used up, the cook was brought out and started in twisting and cutting at the machine which the kid had made to hum. But it didn’t hum now. Those wires came off one at a time, lamely. And there was a flow of music from that wire-cutting machine that darkened the sky and yet made the day a lot hotter.
Finally, the cook came over to the dog-house, where the boss was tying a bale, and that cook stood up on the weighing machine and made a speech that was worth listening to; and he said that the cook house had been a lot worse than misery to him from the start; and that he hoped he’d made us suffer some; and that he wished he’d made us suffer more; and that of all the lot of greasy hobos he ever had seen we were the worst, and that the boss was the cheapest of the lot; and he hoped that we’d all go to blazes and each of us be stationed at a wire-cutting machine, but that for his part, he was through with the outfit, then and there!
In fact, he quit on the spot, with the boss’s hay hook sailing after him and whizzing past his ear.
We were all sorry to see that hay hook miss its mark.
Then I was dragged off the feeding table and put at the wire cutter. Well, a wire cutter is not such a complicated machine, but this one was mean. It was secondhand, like all the rest of the outfit, and it was loose in its joints, and could not be tightened. It was sprained here, and had rheumatism there, and how the kid had made it jump so fast was a mystery to me. I couldn’t turn out wires of the same length and the same strength. Either they were stretched so much that they broke where the beater rose and let the bale stretch, or else they were so slack that they twisted like long, thin, black snakes.
But worst of all, I couldn’t make the cutting lever work well, and there were twists and turns on nearly every wire end. The wire puncher almost went mad over them; and the chief cursed me with every bale that he rolled to the pile.
It was a bad day.
By the time it came for the morning lunch, I was getting so many black looks that I went off by myself and ate my prunes and hard tack and swallowed my coffee and didn’t have the courage to go back for a second cup.
The wire puncher was given the job as cook on the understanding that the first man to complain would have to take his place. He said that he guaranteed complaints, too!
It was a pretty black morning, and the lunch that waited for us at the end of it did not help our humor along, very much.
Just to cap everything, along came the girl.
I mean, Marian Wray came riding up, and first off we were glad to see her; but the first thing that she asked for was Chip. And while we were waiting to find an answer, she went on to say that he was the finest boy in the world, and that her father was riding over specially to see him and try to persuade him to take up a civilized existence.
Then everybody looked at me, so I had to come out with the story of what had happened the night before. I knew that it was going to be bad, but none of us guessed how bad it would be.
When I had finished, she said coldly:
“And you stood there, and let one man, one brutal so-called officer of the law, take away that poor, sick fellow?”
I stammered. I didn’t find any words. I felt pretty sick, and must have looked sicker.
She saw that she had sunk me with all on board, and she turned and gave her heavier guns to Newbold. Her smile was a thing of beauty.
“But if Chip has gone off to save his friend,” said she, “I know that you’re going to help him, and nothing can stop you!”
Newbold stood up and pointed to the hay press. A wind was puffing at it, and knocking off the chaff and the dust, so that it seemed to be smoking.
“If there was a silver-trimmed angel came down from heaven, Marian,” says he, “and blew his trumpet in my ear, I wouldn’t leave this here job until I’d finished it! That’s a fact!”
She only shook her head.
“Ah,” says she, “I know the real tenderness of heart under the hard exteriors of men like you! You know perfectly well that poor little Chip—the darling!—will be trying to break into that jail to get his hero out—and he’ll land in the reform school trying to do it. But I know you won’t let it come to that! I simply know!”
She gave Newbold a shining look. His face pinched as though he had been hit on the chin. He took two strides that brought him away from us and right up to her. He was as dusty as the hay press. The shoulders of his flannel shirt were white with dried, caked perspiration.
“Marian,” he said, “don’t talk to me like that. What’s that fellow Waters to me—or to you? You know where I stand. But what’s Waters to me, I ask you?”
He was serious. The rest of us looked down at our hands. We saw that Newbold was pleading with her, and it was a funny thing to hear Newbold pleading.
“What do I care about Waters?” says the girl, quick as a flash. “Not a snap of the fingers—except that he’s sick. Not a breath—except that poor little Chip loves him. And I trust a man that such a boy loves. But I know that you’ll change your mind and do something about it. I’ve thought that you’re the biggest sort of man that I ever laid eyes on, and I know that I’m not wrong. I can’t be wrong!”
Newbold pointed at her a finger like a leveled gun.
“You want me to go and leave this job and pry a thug out of jail?” says he, quietly.
“Ex-act-ly!” says she, as precise as a school-teacher.
“This is my job!” says Newbold. “And I won’t quit it. Not for Waters. Not for the kid.” He had worked himself up to the climax. “Not for you,” he wound up.
She made a step back from him.
“Now I understand,” said she, nodding at him. “I ought to thank you. You let me see you for the first time. I thought there was something grand and heroic about you. I see that you’re only—a farm hand!”
I HAD a big brother once. I spent most of my time hating him, because he was bigger and stronger than I, and he could tease me until I was frantic, and there was nothing that I could do about it. I used to pray that something would happen to him, and one day it came about so. He was having a fight with a smaller boy than himself, after school, in the vacant lot. That smaller boy was a newcomer. He was freckled, and had dusty-colored hair, and his eyes were a little crooked, and he grinned and was white about the mouth as he fought.
But he knew how to box. He was knocked down three times; but he kept coming up, and finally he learned how to duck under my brother’s arms, and gave him a fair pasting. He blacked my brother’s eyes for him, and cut his mouth, and punched him in the stomach till he groaned, and on the jaw till he whined.
And at first I liked it, but afterward I began to grow sick, and sicker. And finally I prayed for the skies to drop on all of us, just to end that picture of my brother’s shame.
And that was the way I felt, for one, when I stood by and saw Newbold take his licking from that girl.
She simply got into the saddle and rode off again. But Newbold stood still, as though he had dropped anchor in a harbor of thought.
He had bullied and beaten us all, at his pleasure, but still it was a horrible thing to see a fellow like him so hurt by the unjustifiable words of a mere slip of a girl. For what right had she to talk so to him? What business was it of his, whether Waters was hanged or not? What business was it of any of us?
He recovered, after a time, and all through the rest of that afternoon he worked silently at his job—the hardest job of all—rolling bales. He said not a word. He was strong as two lions. And we knew it was the fire and the anger inside him that gave him the power.
But it was a miserable business. About four o’clock something happened to the beater. It stuck halfway down the box, and the power driver, after he had tried to lift it up or beat it down, gave up and yelled out:
“Chip! Hey, Chip!”
The feeder stuck his head around and says with a sort of scared, glad look:
“Is Chip coming? Where’s Chip?”
The boss stepped out from the dog-house and gave the two of them a black look. Then he climbed up there and took a look at the jam.
He fumbled here, and he fumbled there, while the rest of us just sat around in what shade we could find, and the drops oozed slowly down our faces and the backs of our necks.
We sort of knew that the boss could do nothing with the mess. And we knew just as well that Chip, if he had been there, could have fixed the thing in a jiffy.
He would have been down there in the box, swearing a good deal, and then singing out for tools of one kind or another, and pretty soon the business would have been done. Ten minutes, and the press would have been going again.
But Chip was not there! What a hole that left in our organization, and right between wind and water!
The chief did not talk. He just got big monkey wrenches and began to unscrew the nuts in order to take out the side of the machine.
We all helped him. We worked until dark, hardly making headway, though it was a job that we used to get through fast enough, when Chip was there to sting us with a wasp word now and again, and call us empty heads, and duffers, and what-not. Finally we got enough of the thing dismantled to see that we were all wrong.
The beater was stuck on the other side!
When we discovered this, we gave up with a groan. We turned around and went off for the cook house, though there was still a working hour left to the day. But, somehow, a general and a sudden disgust struck all of us, and we just walked off.
I looked over my shoulder and saw Newbold staring after us, with an eight-pound wrench in his big grip.
Ordinarily, he would have come after us like a tiger, but the tiger was gone out of Newbold. Something had happened to him—and I knew what it was! His heart was aching, and so was his soul, and his pride was burning him to a smoke, a red smoke.
I made note, then, not to cross that fellow in word or deed for a month, at least! He was poison now.
Even with the rest of us gone, there was no giving up for Newbold. No, sir. He stuck to his guns, and presently we could hear how he was working away at the farther side of the machine.
There he worked on and on, the two big bolts groaning and yelling out as he struggled with them. And then there were creaking, and jarring, and crashing sounds, as he struggled.
We went in for supper. The cook banged the pan three times, but Newbold, working out there by lantern light, did not seem to hear.
I felt a pang of pity, but I said nothing. Nobody else spoke, either, except Bramble, who started to tell one of his best stories, about a wrangle he got into down in Veracruz, in the middle of a revolution. But nobody even pretended to listen to Bramble. He was a good fellow, was Pete, and he talked mighty well; but the point was that we all felt something extraordinarily important was happening right at our elbows, and we wanted to pay attention to that thing!
Poor old Newbold!
The memories of his hard-headedness, and harder hands, his stingy portions, his slave-driving, all began to disappear from my mind. All I could remember was that he never deserted us in a pinch, that he was a roof over us and a shield before us, in a time of danger, and that he never asked from another man one half of what he demanded from himself. Well, I had all these things in mind, and I was amazed to feel the way that my heart was softening toward him.
After supper, the racket out at the hay press stopped. The boys were lying around and smoking, and taking things easy, when one of them sang out that the hay was on fire near the press.
He’d no sooner said that, than flames ran up that press from the bottom to the top, and wagged their heads far in the sky above it. And not a man ran out to stop the conflagration, because we understood in one flash.
Newbold had tried to make the repairs, and he had failed.
And, having failed, he finally was taken by a great disgust, and he had simply doused the whole machine with oil and laid a match to it.
I ran out, with the others. They looked for the fire, but I looked for a hotter thing than that. Newbold, I mean. I couldn’t see him. He was out of the way.
Then, far off on the rounding cheek of the world, I saw a glint of the dancing firelight that fell on the shadow of a rider heading off away from us.
“Newbold,” said I to my heart. And my heart gave a jump and a boom that I could hear as plain as a drumbeat. “Newbold!”
I snaked out the best horse I could lay my hands on, and I sloped across that country as fast as I could go. I didn’t try to follow the trail of Newbold. I knew where he was heading, and I streaked for that.
He was going to Manorville, because that was where the jail stood; and in that jail would be Waters; and near that jail would be Chip; and toward the same spot the thoughts of Marian Wray would be turning.
I had cotton in my throat, I tell you, and couldn’t swallow. I was dizzy. There was something biblical about the whole affair. Like the ruin of Lot. I mean to say—an accumulation of thunderstrokes.
Why, Newbold had been the pillar of the law. Newbold had fought with that hay press as if with a sword. Newbold had hated women—or not even thought of them. Newbold never had gone from his way an inch except when one of his own men was in trouble. But now for a girl’s sake he junked the press and was riding to break jail for an outlaw he despised!
I knew it, from a distance. I did not have to have his voice to tell me so. So I took a short cut, and I burned up that mustang humping across the flat, and soaring over the hills, till at last I got to a small hummock and could look down onto the widening main road to Manorville; and there below me, coming along at a singing gallop, was a horseman so tall that he made his horse look small.
Newbold, I knew!
I jabbed the spurs into the tired sides of that horse of mine and gave it pain or courage to take the slide. Down it went, and we slid out onto the road in a shower of gravel, and small stones, and sand, and I ranged alongside of Newbold.
He didn’t even glance at me. No, you might have thought that he was alone, and that nothing had happened worth seeing or hearing, until we came to an up-pitch in the grade, and he said to me, as the horses fell to a walk:
“Ay?” said I.
“What do you gain out of this?” he asked me. “What do you buy?”
“Me? Nothing,” I said.
He nodded. I could see him nodding in the dark.
“You go home,” said he.
“That’s all right,” said I. “I’ll stay along, I guess!”
He didn’t argue. He wasn’t a fellow to argue, except with his fists.
But, after a while, we topped that rise, and we saw the scattering lights of Manorville with blank darkness between them, here and there, like bald spots on the head of a bleak old man.
There he reined his horse to a stop, and I thought he was changing his mind. At last he said:
“Look how many years I’ve been!”
“Been what?” said I.
“A hound!” said he.
ONE cannot make an answer to a remark like that. So I didn’t try, and we rode on into Manorville. It was a strange feeling that I had. A feeling, you see, of guilt; but of a prospective rather than present guilt. For the moment, no one could say to me that I had violated the law. Never in my life! It was a sweet feeling, too, to be able to walk along the streets and know that I was the honest peer of every man I faced. And yet, was I the honest peer, after all? No, because the guilt was already in my heart!
Well, we decided that the first thing to do was to look things over. In case there was any action, it would be better to have our horses out of sight. So we put up our mustangs on the edge of the town that was nearest to the jail. Then we walked in. We’d left the horses in a scrub of small trees, where they could smell out the grass that grew in between, and that grass grew thick enough to content them, of course. It doesn’t take much to content a range-bred mustang.
We went in past the jail itself. There was only one window that showed light on our side, and it was a gloomy flickering light.
Said the boss:
“That’s a lantern, and a smoking lantern, that’s inside. And it’s fouling the air a good deal with its smoking old wick.”
I knew he didn’t care a rap what sort of a lantern was burning in yonder. He was only interested in the job that he had before him, but he took it out on small things. His heart was aching a good deal, I suppose. At last I couldn’t hold in, and I said:
“Newbold, you’re making this play for the girl. What’s your surety that she’ll do anything for you if you win?”
I expected him to grow angry at this remark, but he merely said:
“Shut up, and keep out of my business. I’m not sure about anything. And I’m doing it for Chip, more’n the girl. Chip—he’s worth more than any ten men I ever saw!”
I was half inclined to agree with this remark, but still I knew, of course, that he was lying. Poor Newbold!
We wanted to pick up what information we could, and so we sauntered on together into the lighted part of town—there was only two blocks of it. I saw “Pie” Lafferty of the Crippled Star outfit. I never knew where they got that name for their brand. Any name would have done for the wicked scroll they used. Pie was half tight and shining like a full moon. He insisted on coming along with us, until he luckily met another friend in the next half block and switched to him.
So I went on with the boss. We passed the hotel, and just as we passed it, down the steps came—Who do you think? Why, down those steps came Marian Wray and Chip!
When Chip saw us, he grabbed the arms of the girl and she turned, too, and the pair of them gave us a stare. I would have stopped, but Newbold walked straight on, as though he had not seen a thing. His jaw was locked hard. He was looking before him, and seeing nothing—as I knew by the way he stumbled.
Then a hand touched my arm, and it was Chip, saying:
“Good old Joe! I knew that you would figger into this, somehow. You wouldn’t go and leave him lay!”
“Chip,” said I, “what’s the deal, so far?”
“Here comes Marian,” said Chip. “Whatcha think? She ain’t just a fool girl. She’s all right! She’s about a hundred per cent. Here she comes!”
She came up. And she was shining brighter than Pie Lafferty, and almost the same red. She didn’t say a word, that girl. She just looked!
No, sir, there was the most chipper and cock-sure girl I ever saw in my life, and the wordiest, and the most free and easy, and the most on top of the world, but all that she did was to stand there like a fifteen-year-old sweetheart and blush, by thunder, and widen her eyes, and look up, and smile at Newbold!
Yes, and that leather-necked, hard-headed, iron-hearted Newbold—why, he fairly shook in his boots! He weakened right then and there so far that I knew he never would recover. He would go ahead and be a hero and get himself busted in the face with a load of buckshot, or some such thing. But a hero he would certainly be.
Chip grabbed my arm again.
“Newbold’s gone nutty,” said he, “and so’s the girl. Look at her, now. That’s the effect that a woman has even on a man like him. Kind of softening. It’s a sad thing, Joe, the way that a girl with her fool smiling soaks right through the outside lining of a man and gets at the inners of him. Now, you and me have gotta plan something and put our heads together. Newbold, he’ll just be a pair of hands, and no more.”
I nodded. The blank look on Newbold’s face promised nothing at all. I would as soon have asked advice from a flounder as a word from him. He was just looking at that girl and seeing heaven in Manorville.
Chip and I went back up the street.
“If he comes far enough to find us,” said Chip, “all right. But if he don’t, he’d only be a burden on us.”
“Look here, Chip,” said I. “You don’t think that I’m going to take a main hand in this without the boss, do you? I’m only the second assistant. I’m not the straw boss, here.”
“Oh, I know you, old Joe,” said Chip. “You’re a lot bigger hoss than you give yourself the credit of being. I know you pretty well, old son. You’d win a mighty lot of races, if only you’d enter yourself in ’em!”
He had a cheerful way about him, that brat. It started a man’s circulation along to hear him talk. Then he started planning what we ought to do.
He had looked over the place pretty thoroughly, he said. And the best way that he could figure out was to try through the roof. For there was a tree to the rear of the jail that extended a branch over the top of the jail, and by climbing out upon the branch, he could easily drop or slip down onto the roof, probably without making a sound.
Then he could work on the skylight, and with any sort of a small jimmy he could pry the skylight loose; and, after that, it ought to be easy to get down to the block of the cells.
“But what’ll be done when you get there?” asked I. “There still would be cell doors to open, wouldn’t there?”
“Sure there would,” said he.
“And guards with guns, and everything?” I suggested, more blankly than ever.
“There’s one guard,” said the boy confidently, “and that’s what I’m counting on. He’ll have the keys to the cells. You and me, we sneak down in there, and I make a noise and get the guard’s eye on me. He asks me what the deuce I’m doing there; and while he’s asking, you slip up behind and get him with a strangle hold, and I ram a gun into his stomach and ask him to come to time. He’ll come to time, all right. I’ve seen him, and he’s one of those fellows that’s got himself a big, rough reputation by shooting some poor stiff that was already blind in both eyes with whisky. Now he lives on what he’s done, and looks black, and gives three chaws to his quid before he answers a word from anybody except the sheriff. But he’s yaller, or I never seen yaller.”
I nodded. But I wasn’t convinced.
Chip kept insisting:
“What you think, Joe? If that ain’t a good plan, what plan is good? You name one, and it’ll do for me! But we gotta do something quick. There’s a lot of interest taken in this town about the poor Chief. And there’s a lot of things that’s been blamed on him, from burglary to dog stealin’, that he never done in his lifetime. They’re standin’ together, the boys down there in the street, like a lot of chickens on a cold day, and they’re workin’ up a lot of heat about Waters. It’s a handy thing to have a man ready for lynchin’, in a cheap town like this. And pretty soon they’re gunna come and stretch Waters’s neck for him, unless we look sharp.”
“We’d better wait for Newbold,” said I.
“There’s no use waiting,” sighed the boy. “He’s gone and paralyzed himself looking at the girl. And she’s gone and paralyzed herself admirin’ of how Newbold has come into town. How come he to bust away from the hay press as long as this, tell me?”
“There’s no hay press any more,” said I. “The boss burned it before we started for town.”
“Burned it?” exclaimed Chip. “He burned that press? Why, it was a mighty good little old press, only it needed some understanding. That was all it needed. You gotta favor a Little Giant press, sometimes, but they turn out the boss bales and the handiest in the world. You can break ’em over the knees, because they stand the highest.”
He was very indignant.
He was still pressing me to suggest a new plan or else to offer one of my own, when a man walked down the street with a long, stalking stride and headed straight for the jail.
At the same time, there was a sudden yipping from the direction of the hotel, and looking down that way, we could see a couple of dozen men spill out into the lighted part of the street; and every one of those men was carrying a gun!
Then I could see that the boy was right. Lynching was what the rascals intended. And the thought took my breath like a jump into ice-cold water.
“Now—quick!” said Chip, and tugged at my arms.
I hardly knew what to do, but I started vaguely along with him. At the same time, the silhouette of the tall man with the long step went up to the front door of the jail and banged on it.
“By Jiminy,” said Chip, “ain’t that Newbold?”
I stopped and stared.
“It can’t be,” said I. “There’s not even a mask on his face. He wouldn’t go and tap on the door of the jail, like that, without a mask on his face!”
“Wouldn’t he?” snarled Chip, with a whine of joy in his voice. “I’ve seen whisky drunks do worse than that, and a girl drunk is worse than a whisky one! It’s Newbold!”
It was Newbold. I could see the labor-stoop of his shoulders, and the long swing of his arms at his sides.
The door of the jail opened a crack; then Newbold jerked it wide with a single thrust and dived into the inside darkness. We heard some one yell.
And in the meantime, Chip was streaking it for the danger point, and I had to lumber along behind, trying to swallow down my heart and not managing to do it.
Well, we got to that jail door just as the crowd down the street near the hotel marshaled itself and let out a few whoops, and then started marching to make trouble; every minute it was getting bigger, as men, and boys, and even women, ran out from their houses to join in the main body or the flanks. Nobody in Manorville wanted to miss fun as good as this.
But Chip and I, as we entered the jail, heard scuffling and cursing on the pitch-dark floor of the jail, and not a thing except a sense of touch to show us what was happening.
I WOULD not have known what to do, but Chip did not hesitate. He simply dived into the darkness of the floor as though it were water, and I heard the voice of big Newbold greeting him with a growl of satisfaction.
Evidently, Chip was already helping.
I got a match lighted, and the glimpse which it gave me showed that same jailer, the one whom Chip disapproved of as a brute and a bully, with red running from several cuts on his bulldog face, trying, like a bulldog, to snap at his annoyers with his teeth, since his arms were imprisoned and anchored.
Newbold held him. Chip vainly threatened him with a gun, but the fellow was regardless, fearless, heroic. I suppose Chip had known very well beforehand just what he would be, but had wanted to encourage me as much as he could.
A lantern was rolling with a jangle on the floor, and I picked it up and lighted it. At the same time, there was a wail and a yell of joy from half a dozen voices inside that jail.
Waters was not the only prisoner, d’you see, and the others were tuning up like roosters that think the day has come.
Newbold was free, now, for he had twisted a length of cord around the wrists of the jail guard and turned him face down on the floor.
“Keep your eyes shut. Don’t turn your head,” said Newbold, “or you’ll be slammed!” He beckoned to me.
So I took my place there and just tapped the muzzle of my revolver against the base of the guard’s skull.
“Look here, brother,” I told him truthfully. “I’m not one of those heroes that won’t take an advantage. You try to turn your head and get a look at me or the others, and I’ll just slam a bullet right through your brain.”
It was a wonderful thing to watch that fellow. I never saw more natural fighting instinct, for as he lay there, he whined and whimpered, on my word of honor, exactly like a dog that wants to fight and is held on a leash. So I kept talking to him, gently, and tapping him with that gun to keep him quiet.
All the while he gritted his teeth, and his big shoulder muscles worked. He cursed and whined and cursed again. He was fairly trembling with a desire to get up and resume the fight. It was no wonder that this fellow had opened the door of the jail at the first summons. For he didn’t care a rap if there were trouble waiting outside the door. Why should he? He would welcome it; and the more trouble, the more welcome!
I never saw such a man. He gave my flesh the creeps!
In the meantime, Chip had got hold of the keys from the guard; and he was flinging down the corridor of the little cells until he came to the farthest one in the corner, and he started to try them in the lock, one after the other.
I thought he was taking until the end of the world to do this, because all the time I could hear the moan and the roar of the crowd which was coming up the street. Have you ever heard that murmur of rising human tides? It’s not so easy to listen to. It keeps creeping higher and higher in the throat, until the back of your tongue is glued against the roof of your mouth.
But finally the right key was found, and the iron hinges of the cell door groaned as it swung open.
Through it came Waters. The lantern light gleamed on his face. One high light lay like a ghostly finger on his temple, and his sunken cheek was marked by shadow as by soot.
Big Newbold took him under the armpits and fairly swept him through the doorway. Chip was dancing before them. And the rest of the thugs in the jail, seeing that they were not going to be turned free in the jail break, howled like rabid wolves. Hai! How their voices went through me!
I was the last to go through the door of the jail, pulling it shut with a slam behind me, and with the others before me, and the crowd breaking into a run straight at us, from down the street, I circled around toward the corner of the jail.
I knew that we were goners. Or at least, I thought that we were goners, because certainly we could not run fast enough, with Waters for a hand-burden, to keep away from the stretching hands of that rabble of man hunters.
But then little Chip, at the corner of the building, whirled around, and he let out a screech like a wild cat that’s had its tail stepped on, and at the same time he snatches out a man-sized Colt and lets fly at that crowd!
Right at them, I thought at the moment, though I was wrong. He was only shooting for the ground at their feet. However, the crowd was even more convinced than I, by that maniacal screech from the boy, and I suppose that when the bullets kicked the dust up into the faces of the leaders, they had enough on the spot.
For they stopped. Mind you, that young split of Satan stopped the whole crowd with three bullets; and with three more he scattered them yelling to either side, hunting for safety, convinced that the desperadoes meant murder!
That was how we got to the horses, and with the horses we went out of Manorville in one direction; and the man hunt went roaring, and shouting, and gloriously whooping in another direction.
So everybody was happy!
I was about the least happy of the lot. There was one thing that I specially hated, and that thing was the shadow of the law. I didn’t want any part or parcel of it. I wanted to be clean free from it. And here I was with tar on the tips of my fingers!
BY the next day, however, we knew that the lay of the land was unbelievably good:
Waters and Chip faded off through the hills in one direction, and the boss and I went home in another; and by noon of the next day came the story about the jail break—but no warrant for our arrest along with it!
And then over to the camp comes the girl with the final word. Yes, I’ve got to say that Marian Wray lived up to any unspoken promise that she had given to the boss. She came right over, where we were cleaning up happily the wreck of that danged hay press, and she went up to Newbold and kissed him—bang!—right in front of everybody. And she came over and kissed me, too, though any one could see the difference.
She took us each under her arm, so to speak, and while the rest of the boys gaped after us, pretty enviously, she walked off with us and told us what had happened. And that was this: That everybody in Manorville knew Newbold, and, therefore, everybody in the town knew that he could not have been the wild man of the jail break! Nobody dreamed of recognizing him as the great desperado.
Nobody noticed me, either, I suppose, because my part was so small. Only it was known that two tall men, and one short one—they called Chip a man!—had turned the trick. And there you are! And the shadow of the law slipped right off my shoulders!
And I saw before me a good break, and a chance at a happy life once more, and that sun-flaming, sun-wrecked cow range, it looked to me like cool blue heaven, you can bet.
I stepped aside and let the boss go on, slowly, with Marian Wray at his side, half turning, looking up to him, laughing.
Only Chip—what would become of him and his outlaw?
Well, nothing bad, at least. Because only good can come out of good in the end.
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