It was dark night. The stay-herd bellowed frantically from one of the big corrals; the cow-and-calf-herd from a second. Already the remuda, driven in from the open plains, scattered about the thousand acres of pasture. Away from the conveniences of fence and corral, men would have had to patrol all night. Now, however, everyone was gathered about the camp fire.
Probably forty cowboys were in the group, representing all types, from old John, who had been in the business forty years, and had punched from the Rio Grande to the Pacific, to the Kid, who would have given his chance of salvation if he could have been taken for ten years older than he was. At the moment Jed Parker was holding forth to his friend Johnny Stone in reference to another old crony who had that evening joined the round-up.
"Johnny," inquired Jed with elaborate gravity, and entirely ignoring the presence of the subject of conversation, "what is that thing just beyond the fire, and where did it come from?"
Johnny Stone squinted to make sure.
"That?" he replied. "Oh, this evenin' the dogs see something run down a hole, and they dug it out, and that's what they got."
The newcomer grinned.
"The trouble with you fellows," he proffered "is that you're so plumb alkalied you don't know the real thing when you see it."
"That's right," supplemented Windy Bill drily. "HE come from New York."
"No!" cried Jed. "You don't say so? Did he come in one box or in two?"
Under cover of the laugh, the newcomer made a raid on the dutch ovens and pails. Having filled his plate, he squatted on his heels and fell to his belated meal. He was a tall, slab-sided individual, with a lean, leathery face, a sweeping white moustache, and a grave and sardonic eye. His leather chaps were plain and worn, and his hat had been fashioned by time and wear into much individuality. I was not surprised to hear him nicknamed Sacatone Bill.
"Just ask him how he got that game foot," suggested Johnny Stone to me in an undertone, so, of course, I did not.
Later someone told me that the lameness resulted from his refusal of an urgent invitation to return across a river. Mr. Sacatone Bill happened not to be riding his own horse at the time.
The Cattleman dropped down beside me a moment later.
"I wish," said he in a low voice, "we could get that fellow talking. He is a queer one. Pretty well educated apparently. Claims to be writing a book of memoirs. Sometimes he will open up in good shape, and sometimes he will not. It does no good to ask him direct, and he is as shy as an old crow when you try to lead him up to a subject. We must just lie low and trust to Providence."
A man was playing on the mouth organ. He played excellently well, with all sorts of variations and frills. We smoked in silence. The deep rumble of the cattle filled the air with its diapason. Always the shrill coyotes raved out in the mesquite. Sacatone Bill had finished his meal, and had gone to sit by Jed Parker, his old friend. They talked together low-voiced. The evening grew, and the eastern sky silvered over the mountains in anticipation of the moon.
Sacatone Bill suddenly threw back his head and laughed.
"Reminds me of the time I went to Colorado!" he cried.
"He's off!" whispered the Cattleman.
A dead silence fell on the circle. Everybody shifted position the better to listen to the story of Sacatone Bill.
About ten year ago I got plumb sick of punchin' cows around my part of the country. She hadn't rained since Noah, and I'd forgot what water outside a pail or a trough looked like. So I scouted around inside of me to see what part of the world I'd jump to, and as I seemed to know as little of Colorado and minin' as anything else, I made up the pint of bean soup I call my brains to go there. So I catches me a buyer at Henson and turns over my pore little bunch of cattle and prepared to fly. The last day I hauled up about twenty good buckets of water and threw her up against the cabin. My buyer was settin' his hoss waitin' for me to get ready. He didn't say nothin' until we'd got down about ten mile or so.
"Mr. Hicks," says he, hesitatin' like, "I find it a good rule in this country not to overlook other folks' plays, but I'd take it mighty kind if you'd explain those actions of yours with the pails of water."
"Mr. Jones," says I, "it's very simple. I built that shack five year ago, and it's never rained since. I just wanted to settle in my mind whether or not that damn roof leaked."
So I quit Arizona, and in about a week I see my reflection in the winders of a little place called Cyanide in the Colorado mountains.
Fellows, she was a bird. They wasn't a pony in sight, nor a squar' foot of land that wasn't either street or straight up. It made me plumb lonesome for a country where you could see a long ways even if you didn't see much. And this early in the evenin' they wasn't hardly anybody in the streets at all.
I took a look at them dark, gloomy, old mountains, and a sniff at a breeze that would have frozen the whiskers of hope, and I made a dive for the nearest lit winder. They was a sign over it that just said:
THIS IS A SALOON
I was glad they labelled her. I'd never have known it. They had a fifteen-year old kid tendin' bar, no games goin', and not a soul in the place.
"Sorry to disturb your repose, bub," says I, "but see if you can sort out any rye among them collections of sassapariller of yours."
I took a drink, and then another to keep it company—I was beginnin' to sympathise with anythin' lonesome. Then I kind of sauntered out to the back room where the hurdy-gurdy ought to be.
Sure enough, there was a girl settin' on the pianner stool, another in a chair, and a nice shiny Jew drummer danglin' his feet from a table. They looked up when they see me come in, and went right on talkin'.
"Hello, girls!" says I.
At that they stopped talkin' complete.
"How's tricks?" says I.
"Who's your woolly friend?" the shiny Jew asks of the girls.
I looked at him a minute, but I see he'd been raised a pet, and then, too, I was so hungry for sassiety I was willin' to pass a bet or two.
"Don't you ADMIRE these cow gents?" snickers one of the girls.
"Play somethin', sister," says I to the one at the pianner.
She just grinned at me.
"Interdooce me," says the drummer in a kind of a way that made them all laugh a heap.
"Give us a tune," I begs, tryin' to be jolly, too.
"She don't know any pieces," says the Jew.
"Don't you?" I asks pretty sharp.
"No," says she.
"Well, I do," says I.
I walked up to her, jerked out my guns, and reached around both sides of her to the pianner. I run the muzzles up and down the keyboard two or three times, and then shot out half a dozen keys.
"That's the piece I know," says I.
But the other girl and the Jew drummer had punched the breeze.
The girl at the pianner just grinned, and pointed to the winder where they was some ragged glass hangin'. She was dead game.
"Say, Susie," says I, "you're all right, but your friends is tur'ble. I may be rough, and I ain't never been curried below the knees, but I'm better to tie to than them sons of guns."
"I believe it," says she.
So we had a drink at the bar, and started out to investigate the wonders of Cyanide.
Say, that night was a wonder. Susie faded after about three drinks, but I didn't seem to mind that. I hooked up to another saloon kept by a thin Dutchman. A fat Dutchman is stupid, but a thin one is all right.
In ten minutes I had more friends in Cyanide than they is fiddlers in hell. I begun to conclude Cyanide wasn't so lonesome. About four o'clock in comes a little Irishman about four foot high, with more upper lip than a muley cow, and enough red hair to make an artificial aurorer borealis. He had big red hands with freckles pasted onto them, and stiff red hairs standin' up separate and lonesome like signal stations. Also his legs was bowed.
He gets a drink at the bar, and stands back and yells:
"God bless the Irish and let the Dutch rustle!"
Now, this was none of my town, so I just stepped back of the end of the bar quick where I wouldn't stop no lead. The shootin' didn't begin.
"Probably Dutchy didn't take no note of what the locoed little dogie DID say," thinks I to myself.
The Irishman bellied up to the bar again, and pounded on it with his fist.
"Look here!" he yells. "Listen to what I'm tellin' ye! God bless the Irish and let the Dutch rustle! Do ye hear me?"
"Sure, I hear ye," says Dutchy, and goes on swabbin' his bar with a towel.
At that my soul just grew sick. I asked the man next to me why Dutchy didn't kill the little fellow.
"Kill him!" says this man. "What for?"
"For insultin' of him, of course."
"Oh, he's drunk," says the man, as if that explained anythin'.
That settled it with me. I left that place, and went home, and it wasn't more than four o'clock, neither. No, I don't call four o'clock late. It may be a little late for night before last, but it's just the shank of the evenin' for to-night.
Well, it took me six weeks and two days to go broke. I didn't know sic em, about minin'; and before long I KNEW that I didn't 'know sic 'em. Most all day I poked around them mountains—-not like our'n—too much timber to be comfortable. At night I got to droppin' in at Dutchy's. He had a couple of quiet games goin', and they was one fellow among that lot of grubbin' prairie dogs that had heerd tell that cows had horns. He was the wisest of the bunch on the cattle business. So I stowed away my consolation, and made out to forget comparing Colorado with God's country.
About three times a week this Irishman I told you of—name O'Toole—comes bulgin' in. When he was sober he talked minin' high, wide, and handsome. When he was drunk he pounded both fists on the bar and yelled for action, tryin' to get Dutchy on the peck.
"God bless the Irish and let the Dutch rustle!" he yells about six times. "Say, do you hear?"
"Sure," says Dutchy, calm as a milk cow, "sure, I hears ye!"
I was plumb sorry for O'Toole. I'd like to have given him a run; but, of course, I couldn't take it up without makin' myself out a friend of this Dutchy party, and I couldn't stand for that. But I did tackle Dutchy about it one night when they wasn't nobody else there.
"Dutchy," says I, "what makes you let that bow-legged cross between a bulldog and a flamin' red sunset tromp on you so? It looks to me like you're plumb spiritless."
Dutchy stopped wiping glasses for a minute.
"Just you hold on" says he. "I ain't ready yet. Bimeby I make him sick; also those others who laugh with him."
He had a little grey flicker in his eye, and I thinks to myself that maybe they'd get Dutchy on the peck yet.
As I said, I went broke in just six weeks and two days. And I was broke a plenty. No hold-outs anywhere. It was a heap long ways to cows; and I'd be teetotally chawed up and spit out if I was goin' to join these minin' terrapins defacin' the bosom of nature. It sure looked to me like hard work.
While I was figurin' what next, Dutchy came in. Which I was tur'ble surprised at that, but I said good-mornin' and would he rest his poor feet.
"You like to make some money?" he asks.
"That depends," says I, "on how easy it is."
"It is easy," says he. "I want you to buy hosses for me."
"Hosses! Sure!" I yells, jumpin' up. "You bet you! Why, hosses is where I live! What hosses do you want?"
"All hosses," says he, calm as a faro dealer.
"What?" says I. "Elucidate, my bucko. I don't take no such blanket order. Spread your cards."
"I mean just that," says he. "I want you to buy all the hosses in this camp, and in the mountains. Every one."
"Whew!" I whistles. "That's a large order. But I'm your meat."
"Come with me, then," says he. I hadn't but just got up, but I went with him to his little old poison factory. Of course, I hadn't had no breakfast; but he staked me to a Kentucky breakfast. What's a Kentucky breakfast? Why, a Kentucky breakfast is a three-pound steak, a bottle of whisky, and a setter dog. What's the dog for? Why, to eat the steak, of course.
We come to an agreement. I was to get two-fifty a head commission. So I started out. There wasn't many hosses in that country, and what there was the owners hadn't much use for unless it was to work a whim. I picked up about a hundred head quick enough, and reported to Dutchy.
"How about burros and mules?" I asks Dutchy.
"They goes," says he. "Mules same as hosses; burros four bits a head to you."
At the end of a week I had a remuda of probably two hundred animals. We kept them over the hills in some "parks," as these sots call meadows in that country. I rode into town and told Dutchy.
"Got them all?" he asks.
"All but a cross-eyed buckskin that's mean, and the bay mare that Noah bred to."
"Get them," says he.
"The bandits want too much," I explains.
"Get them anyway," says he.
I went away and got them. It was scand'lous; such prices.
When I hit Cyanide again I ran into scenes of wild excitement. The whole passel of them was on that one street of their'n, talkin' sixteen ounces to the pound. In the middle was Dutchy, drunk as a soldier-just plain foolish drunk.
"Good Lord!" thinks I to myself, "he ain't celebratin' gettin' that bunch of buzzards, is he?"
But I found he wasn't that bad. When he caught sight of me, he fell on me drivellin'.
"Look there!" he weeps, showin' me a letter.
I was the last to come in; so I kept that letter—here she is. I'll read her.
Dear Dutchy:—I suppose you thought I'd flew the coop, but I haven't and this is to prove it. Pack up your outfit and hit the trail. I've made the biggest free gold strike you ever see. I'm sending you specimens. There's tons just like it, tons and tons. I got all the claims I can hold myself; but there's heaps more. I've writ to Johnny and Ed at Denver to come on. Don't give this away. Make tracks. Come in to Buck Canon in the Whetstones and oblige.
Somebody showed me a handful of white rock with yeller streaks in it. His eyes was bulgin' until you could have hung your hat on them. That O'Toole party was walkin' around, wettin' his lips with his tongue and swearin' soft.
"God bless the Irish and let the Dutch rustle!" says he. "And the fool had to get drunk and give it away!"
The excitement was just started, but it didn't last long. The crowd got the same notion at the same time, and it just melted. Me and Dutchy was left alone.
I went home. Pretty soon a fellow named Jimmy Tack come around a little out of breath.
"Say, you know that buckskin you bought off'n me?" says he, "I want to buy him back."
"Oh, you do," says I.
"Yes," says he. "I've got to leave town for a couple of days, and I got to have somethin' to pack."
"Wait and I'll see," says I.
Outside the door I met another fellow.
"Look here," he stops me with. "How about that bay mare I sold you? Can you call that sale off? I got to leave town for a day or two and—"
"Wait," says I. "I'll see."
By the gate was another hurryin' up.
"Oh, yes," says I when he opens his mouth. "I know all your troubles. You have to leave town for a couple of days, and you want back that lizard you sold me. Well, wait."
After that I had to quit the main street and dodge back of the hog ranch. They was all headed my way. I was as popular as a snake in a prohibition town.
I hit Dutchy's by the back door.
"Do you want to sell hosses?" I asks. "Everyone in town wants to buy."
Dutchy looked hurt.
"I wanted to keep them for the valley market," says he, "but—How much did you give Jimmy Tack for his buckskin?"
"Twenty," says I.
"Well, let him have it for eighty," says Dutchy; "and the others in proportion."
I lay back and breathed hard.
"Sell them all, but the one best hoss," says he—"no, the TWO best."
"Holy smoke!" says I, gettin' my breath. "If you mean that, Dutchy, you lend me another gun and give me a drink."
He done so, and I went back home to where the whole camp of Cyanide was waitin'.
I got up and made them a speech and told them I'd sell them hosses all right, and to come back. Then I got an Injin boy to help, and we rustled over the remuda and held them in a blind canon. Then I called up these miners one at a time, and made bargains with them. Roar! Well, you could hear them at Denver, they tell me, and the weather reports said, "Thunder in the mountains." But it was cash on delivery, and they all paid up. They had seen that white quartz with the gold stickin' into it, and that's the same as a dose of loco to miner gents.
Why didn't I take a hoss and start first? I did think of it—for about one second. I wouldn't stay in that country then for a million dollars a minute. I was plumb sick and loathin' it, and just waitin' to make high jumps back to Arizona. So I wasn't aimin' to join this stampede, and didn't have no vivid emotions.
They got to fightin' on which should get the first hoss; so I bent my gun on them and made them draw lots. They roared some more, but done so; and as fast as each one handed over his dust or dinero he made a rush for his cabin, piled on his saddle and pack, and pulled his freight on a cloud of dust. It was sure a grand stampede, and I enjoyed it no limit.
So by sundown I was alone with the Injin. Those two hundred head brought in about twenty thousand dollars. It was heavy, but I could carry it. I was about alone in the landscape; and there were the two best hosses I had saved out for Dutchy. I was sure some tempted. But I had enough to get home on anyway; and I never yet drank behind the bar, even if I might hold up the saloon from the floor. So I grieved some inside that I was so tur'ble conscientious, shouldered the sacks, and went down to find Dutchy.
I met him headed his way, and carryin' of a sheet of paper.
"Here's your dinero," says I, dumpin' the four big sacks on the ground.
He stooped over and hefted them. Then he passed one over to me.
"What's that for?" I asks.
"For you," says he.
"My commission ain't that much," I objects.
"You've earned it," says he, "and you might have skipped with the whole wad."
"How did you know I wouldn't?" I asks.
"Well," says he, and I noted that jag of his had flew. "You see, I was behind that rock up there, and I had you covered."
I saw; and I began to feel better about bein' so tur'ble conscientious.
We walked a little ways without sayin' nothin'.
"But ain't you goin' to join the game?" I asks.
"Guess not," says he, jinglin' of his gold. "I'm satisfied."
"But if you don't get a wiggle on you, you are sure goin' to get left on those gold claims," says I.
"There ain't no gold claims," says he.
"But Henry Smith—" I cries.
"There ain't no Henry Smith," says he.
I let that soak in about six inches.
"But there's a Buck Canon," I pleads. "Please say there's a Buck Canon."
"Oh, yes, there's a Buck Canon," he allows. "Nice limestone formation—make good hard water."
"Well, you're a marvel," says I.
We walked together down to Dutchy's saloon.
We stopped outside.
"Now," says he, "I'm goin' to take one of those hosses and go somewheres else. Maybe you'd better do likewise on the other."
"You bet I will," says I.
He turned around and taked up the paper he was carryin'. It was a sign. It read:
THE DUTCH HAS RUSTLED
"Nice sentiment," says I. "It will be appreciated when the crowd comes back from that little pasear into Buck Canon. But why not tack her up where the trail hits the camp? Why on this particular door?"
"Well," said Dutchy, squintin' at the sign sideways, "you see I sold this place day before yesterday—to Mike O'Toole."