A horseman rode slowly out of a draw and up a steep, lava-covered
ridge, singing “The Cowboy’s Lament,” to the disgust of his horse,
which suddenly arched its back and stopped the song in the twenty-ninth
“Dearly Beloved,” grinned the rider, after he had quelled the trouble,
“yore protest is heeded. ‘Th’ Lament’ ceases, instanter; an’ while you
crop some of that grass, I’ll look around and observe th’ scenery,
which shore is scrambled. Now, them two buttes over there,” leaning
forward to look around a clump of brush, “if they ain’t twins, I’ll
He ducked and dismounted in one swift movement to the vengeful tune
of a screaming bullet over his head, slapped the horse and jerked his
rifle from its scabbard. As the horse leaped down the slope of the
ridge there was no sign of any living thing to be seen on the trail.
A bush rustled near the edge of a draw, a peeved voice softly cursed
the cacti and Mexican locust; and a few minutes later the shadow of
a black lava bowlder grew suddenly fatter on one side. The cause of
this sudden shadow growth lay prone under the bulging side of the
great rock, peering out intently between two large stones; and flaming
curiosity consumed his soul. A stranger in a strange land, who rode
innocently along a free trail and minded his own business, merited no
such a welcome as this. His promptness of action and the blind luck in
that bending forward at the right instant were all that saved his life;
and his celerity of movement spoke well for his reflexes, for he had
found himself fattening the shadow of the bowlder almost before he had
fully realized the pressing need for it.
Minute after minute passed before his searching eyes detected anything
concerned with the unpleasant episode, and then he sensed rather than
saw a slight movement on the mottled, bowlder-strewn slope of a distant
butte. A bush moved gently, and that was all.
To cross the intervening chaos of rocks and brush, pastures and draws
would take him an hour if it were done as caution dictated, and by
that time the chase would be useless. So he waited until the sun was
two hours higher, pleasantly anticipating a stealthy reconnaissance
by his unknown enemy to observe the dead. He had dropped into high
grass and brush when he left the saddle and there was no way that the
marksman could be certain of the results of his shot except by closer
examination. But the man in ambush had no curiosity, to his target’s
regret; and the target, despairing of being honored by a visit, finally
gave up the vigil. After a silent interval a soft whistle from a
thicket, well back in a draw, caused the grazing horse to lift his
head, throw its ears forward and walk sedately toward the sound.
“Dearly Beloved,” said a low voice from the thicket, “come closer. That
was a two-laigged skunk, an’ his eyes are good. Likewise he is one
plumb fine shot.”
Ever since he had listened to the marriage ceremony which had
subjugated his friend Hopalong for the rest of that man’s natural life,
the phrase “Dearly Beloved” had stuck in his memory; and in his use of
it the words took the place of humorous profanity.
Mounting, he rode on again, but kept off all skylines, favored the
rough going away from the trail, and passed to the eastward of all
the obstructions he met; and his keen eyes darted from point to point
unceasingly, not giving up their scrutiny of the surroundings until he
saw in the distance a little town, which he knew was Hastings.
* * * * *
In the little cow-town of Hastings the afternoon sun drove the shadows
of the few buildings farther afield and pitilessly searched out every
defect in the cheap and hastily constructed frame buildings, showed
the hair-line cracks in the few adobes, where an occasional frost
worked insidious damage to the clay, and drew out sticky, pungent beads
of rosin from the sun-bleached and checked pine boards of the two-story
front of the one-story building owned and occupied by “Pop” Hayes,
proprietor of one of the three saloons in the town. The two-story front
of Pop’s building displayed two windows painted on the warped boards
too close to the upper edge, the panes a faded blue, where gummy pine
knots had not stained them yellow; and they were framed by sashes of a
Inside the building Pop dozed in his favorite position, his feet
crossed on a shaky pine table and his chair tipped back against the
wall. Slow hoof-beats, muffled by the sand, sounded outside, followed
by the sudden, faint jingling of spurs, the sharp creak of saddle gear
and the soft thud of feet on the ground. Pop’s eyes opened and he
blinked at the bright rectangle of sunny street framed by his doorway,
where a man loomed up blackly, and slowly entered the room.
“Howd’y, Logan,” grunted Pop, sighing. His feet scraped from the table
and thumped solidly on the floor in time with the thud of the chair
legs, and he slowly arose, yawning and sighing wearily while he waited
to see which side of the room would be favored by the newcomer. Pop
disliked being disturbed, for by nature he was one who craved rest,
and he could only sleep all night and most of the day. Rubbing the
sleep out of his eyes he yawned again and looked more closely at the
stranger, a quick look of surprise flashing across his face. Blinking
rapidly he looked again and muttered something to himself.
The newcomer turned his back to the bar, took two long steps and
peered into the battered showcase on the other side of the room, where
a miscellaneous collection of merchandise, fly-specked and dusty,
lay piled up in cheerful disorder under the cracked and grimy glass.
Staring up at him was a roughly scrawled warning, in faded ink on
yellowed paper: “Lean on yourself.” The collection showed Mexican
holsters, army holsters, holsters with the Lone Star; straps, buckles,
bone rings, star-headed tacks, spurs, buttons, needles, thread, knives;
two heavy Colt’s revolvers, piles of cartridges in boxes, a pair of
mother-of-pearl butt plates showing the head of a long-horned steer;
pipes, tobacco of both kinds, dice, playing cards, harmonicas, cigars
so dried out that they threatened to crumble at a touch; a patented
gun-sight with Wild Bill Hickok’s picture on the card which held
it; oil, corkscrews, loose shot and bullets; empty shells, primers,
reloading tools; bar lead, bullet molds–all crowded together as they
had been left after many pawings-over. Pop was wont to fretfully damn
the case and demand, peevishly, to know why “it” was always the very
last thing he could find. Often, upon these occasions, he threatened
to “get at it” the very first chance that he had; but his threats were
The stranger tapped on the glass. “Gimme that box of .45’s,” he
remarked, pointing. “No, no; not that one. This _new_ box. I’m shore
particular about little things like that.”
Pop reluctantly obeyed. “Why, just th’ other day I found a box of
ca’tridges I had for eleven years; an’ they was better’n them that they
sells nowadays. That’s one thing that don’t spoil.” He looked up with
shrewdly appraising eyes. “At fust glance I thought you was Logan. You
shore looks a heap like him: dead image,” he said.
“Yes? Dead image?” responded the stranger, his voice betraying nothing
more than a polite, idle curiosity; but his mind flashed back to the
trail. “Hum. He must have a lot of friends if he looks like me,” he
Pop grinned: “Well, he’s got some as is; an’ some as ain’t,” he replied
knowingly. “An’ lemme tell you they both runs true to form. You don’t
have to copper no bets on either bunch, not a-tall.”
“Sheriff, or marshal?” inquired the stranger, turning to the bar. “It’s
plenty hot an’ dusty,” he averred. “You have a life-saver with me.”
“Might as well, I reckon,” said Pop, shuffling across the room with
a sudden show of animation, “though my life ain’t exactly in danger.
Nope; he ain’t no sheriff, _or_ marshal. We ain’t got none, ‘though I
ain’t sayin’ we couldn’t keep one tolerable busy while he lived. I’ve
thought some of gettin’ th’ boys together to elect me sheriff; an’
cussed if I wouldn’t ‘a’ done it, too, if it wasn’t for th’ ridin’.”
“Ridin’?” inquired the stranger with polite interest.
“It shakes a man up so; an’ I allus feels sorry for th’ hoss,”
explained the proprietor.
The stranger’s facial training at the great American game was all that
saved him from committing a breach of etiquette. “Huh! Reckon it does
shake a man up,” he admitted. “An’ I never thought about th’ cayuse;
no, sir; not till this minute. Any ranches in this country?”
“Shore; lots of ’em. You lookin’ for work?”
“Yes; I reckon so,” answered the stranger.
“Well, if you don’t look out sharp you’ll shore find some.”
“A man’s got to eat more or less regular; an’ cow-punchers ain’t no
exception,” replied the stranger, his soft drawl in keeping with his
slow, graceful movements.
Pop, shrewd reader of men that he was, suspected that neither of those
characteristics was a true index to the man’s real nature. There was an
indefinable something which belied the smile–the eyes, perhaps, steel
blue, unwavering, inscrutable; or a latent incisiveness crouching just
beyond reach; and there was a sureness and smoothness and minimum of
effort in the movements which vaguely reminded Pop of a mountain lion
he once had trailed and killed. He was in the presence of a dynamic
personality which baffled and disturbed him; and the two plain, heavy
Colt’s resting in open-top holsters, well down on the stranger’s
thighs, where his swinging hands brushed the well-worn butts, were
signs which even the most stupid frontiersman could hardly overlook.
Significant, too, was the fact that the holsters were securely tied
by rawhide thongs, at their lower ends, to the leather chaps, this to
hold them down when the guns were drawn out. To the initiated the signs
proclaimed a gunman, a two-gun man, which was worse; and a red flag
would have had no more meaning.
“Well,” drawled Pop, smiling amiably, “as to work, I reckon you can
find it if you knows it when you sees it; an’ don’t close yore eyes.
I’ll deal ’em face up, an’ you can take yore choice,” he offered,
wiping his lips on the edge of the bar towel, both the action and the
towel itself being vociferously described by his saddle-sitting friends
as affectations, for everybody knew that a sleeve or the back of a
hand was the natural thing. “Now, there’s th’ Circle S; but I dunno as
they needs any more men. They could get along with less if them they
has would work. Smith, of th’ Long T, over in th’ southwest, could
easy use more men; but he’s so close an’ all-fired pe-nurious that I
dunno as he’d favor th’ idear. He’s a reg’lar genius for savin’ money,
Smith is. He once saved a dollar out of three cents, an’ borrowed them
of me to start with. Then there’s th’ CL, over east in th’ Deepwater
Valley. You might get something there; an’ Logan’s a nice man to work
for, for a few days. He allus gives his men at least two hours sleep a
night, averagin’ it up; but somehow they’re real cheerful about it, an’
they all swears by him ‘stead of at him. Reckon mebby it’s th’ wages
he pays. He’s got th’ best outfit of th’ three. But, lemme tell you,
it’s a right lively place, th’ CL; an’ you don’t have to copper _that_,
neither. Th’ cards is all spread out in front of you–take yore choice
an’ foller yore nat’ral bend.”
“Logan,” mused the stranger. “Didn’t you say something about him
before?” he asked curiously.
“I did,” grunted Pop. “You’ve got a mem’ry near as bad as Ol’ Hiram
Jones. Hiram, he once–”
“I thought so,” interposed the cow-puncher hastily. “What kind of a
ranch is th’ CL?”
“Well, it was th’ fust to locate in these parts, an’ had its pick;
an’, nat’rally, it picked th’ valley of th’ Deepwater. Funny Logan
ain’t found no way to make th’ river work; it wouldn’t have to sleep at
all, ‘cept once in a while in th’ winter, when it freezes over for a
spell. It’d be a total loss then; mebby that’s why he ain’t never tried.
“But takin’ a second holt,” he continued, frowning with deep thought;
“I dunno as I’d work for him, if I was you. You looks too much like
him; an’ you got a long life of piety an’ bad whiskey ahead of you,
mebby. An’, come to think of it, I dunno as I’d stay very long around
these parts, neither; an’ for th’ same reason. Now you have a drink
with me. It shore is th’ hottest spring I’ve seen in fifty year,” he
remarked, thereby quoting himself for about that period of time. Each
succeeding spring and summer was to him hotter than any which had gone
before, which had moved Billy Atwood to remark that if Pop only lived
long enough he would find hell a cool place, by comparison, when he
eventually arrived there.
“Sic ’em, Towser!” shrilled a falsetto voice from somewhere. “I’ll eat
his black heart!” Then followed whistling, clucking, and a string of
expletives classical in its completeness. “Andy wants a drink! Quick!”
A green object dropped past the stranger’s face, thumped solidly on the
pine bar, hooked a vicious-looking beak on the edge of the counter,
and swore luridly as its crafty nip missed the stranger’s thumb.
The puncher swiftly bent his sinewy forefinger, touched it with his
thumb, and let it snap forward. The parrot got it on an eye and
staggered, squawking a protest.
Pop was surprised and disappointed, for most strangers showed some
signs of being startled, and often bought the drinks to further prove
that the joke was on them. This capable young man carelessly dropped
his great sombrero over Andrew Jackson and went right on talking as
though nothing unusual had occurred. It appeared that the bird was also
surprised and disappointed. The great hat heaved and rocked, bobbed
forward, backward, and sideways, and then slid jerkily along the bar,
its hidden locomotive force too deeply buried in thought and darkness
to utter even a single curse. Reaching the edge of the bar the big
hat pushed out over it, teetered a moment and then fell to the floor,
where Andrew Jackson, recovering his breath and vocabulary at the same
instant, filled the room with shrill and clamorous profanity.
The conversation finished to his satisfaction, the stranger glanced
down at his boot, where the ruffled bird was delivering tentative
frontal and flank attacks upon the glittering, sharp-toothed spur,
whose revolving rowel had the better of the argument. Andrew sensed
the movement, side-stepped clumsily and cocked an evil eye upward.
“You should ‘a’ taught him to swear in th’ deaf an’ dumb alphabet,”
commented the puncher, grinning at the bird’s gravity. “Does he drink?”
“Try him, an’ see,” suggested Pop, chuckling. He reached for a bottle
and clucked loudly.
Andrew shook himself energetically, and then proceeded to go up the
puncher’s chaps by making diligent use of beak and claws. Reaching the
low-hung belt, he hooked his claws into it and then looked evilly and
suspiciously at the strange, suddenly extended forefinger. Deciding to
forego hostilities, he swung himself upon it and was slowly lifted up
to the bar.
Pop was disappointed again, for it was the bird’s invariable custom to
deftly remove a portion of strange forefingers so trustingly offered.
He could crack nuts in his crooked beak. Andy shook himself violently,
craned his neck and hastened to bend it over the rim of the glass.
The stranger watched him in frank disgust and shrugged his shoulders
eloquently. “So all you could teach him was vile cuss words an’ to like
whiskey, huh?” he muttered. “He’s got less sense than I thought he
had,” he growled, and, turning abruptly, went swiftly out to his horse.
Pop stared after him angrily and slapped the bird savagely. Emptying
the liquor upon the floor, he shuffled quickly to the door and shook
his fist at the departing horseman.
“Don’t you tell Logan that _I_ sent you!” he shouted belligerently.
The stranger turned in his saddle, grinning cheerfully, and favored his
late host with a well-known, two-handed nose signal. Then he slapped
the black horse and shot down the street without another backward
Pop, arms akimbo, watched him sweep out of sight around a bend.
“Huh!” he snorted. “Wonder what yo’re doin’ down here? Galivantin’
around th’ country, insultin’ honest, hard-workin’ folks, an’ wearin’
two guns, low down an’ tied! I reckon when you learns th’ lay of th’
country, if you stays long enough, you’ll wind up by joinin’ that
gang up in th’ Twin Buttes country. I allus like to see triggers on
six-shooters, _I_ do.” He had not noticed the triggers, but that was no
bar to his healthy imagination. Shuffling back to his seat, he watched
the indignant Andy pecking at a wet spot on the floor.
“So you didn’t chaw his finger, huh?” he demanded, in open and frank
admiration of the bird’s astuteness. “Strikes me you got a hull lot of
wisdom, my boy. Some folks says a bird ain’t got no brains; but lemme
tell you that you’ve got a danged good instinct.”
Meanwhile the stranger was loping steadily eastward, and he arrived at
the corral of the CL ranch before sundown, nodding pleasantly to the
man who emerged from it: “Howd’y,” he said. “I’m lookin’ for Logan.”
The CL man casually let his right hand lay loosely near the butt of his
Colt: “Howd’y,” he nodded. “Yo’re lookin’ right at him.”
“Do you need any more punchers?” asked the stranger.
“H’m,” muttered the foreman. “Might use one. If it’s you, we’ll talk
money on pay-day. I’ll know more about you then.”
A puncher, passing the corral, noticed the two guns, frowned slightly
and entered the enclosure, and leaned alertly against the palisade,
where a crack between two logs served him as a loophole.
The two-gun man laughed with genuine enjoyment at the foreman’s way of
hiring men. “That’s fair,” he replied; “but what’s th’ high an’ low
figgers? I like to know th’ limit of any game I sets in.”
Logan shrugged his shoulders. “Forty is th’ lowest I’d offer a white
man; an’ he wouldn’t draw that more’n a month. Any man as ain’t worth
more is in our way. It’s a waste of grub to feed him. Th’ sky is th’
high limit–but you’ve got to work like h–l to pass th’ clouds.”
“I’m some balloon,” laughed the stranger. “Where’s the grub shack?”
“Hold on, young man! We ain’t got that far, yet. Where are you from,
an’ what have you been doin’ with yore sweet young life?”
The stranger’s face grew grave and his eyes narrowed a trifle.
“Some folks allow that’s a leadin’ question. It ain’t polite.”
“I allow that, too. An’ I’m aimin’ to make it a leadin’ question,
‘though I ain’t lackin’ in politeness, nor tryin’ to rile you. You
don’t have to answer. Th’ wide world, full of jobs, is all around you.”
The newcomer regarded him calmly for a moment, and suddenly smiled.
“Yore gall is refreshin’,” he grinned. “I’m from th’ Bar-20, Texas.
I’m five feet ten; weigh a hundred an’ sixty; blue eyes, brown hair;
single an’ sober, now an’ always. I writes left-handed; eat an’ shoot
with both; wears pants, smokes tobacco, an’ I’m as handy a cow-puncher
as ever threw a rope. Oh, yes; modesty is one of my glarin’ faults; you
might say my only glarin’ fault. Some people call me ‘Dearly Beloved’;
others, other things; but I answer to any old handle at grub pile. My
name is Johnny Nelson an’ I never had no other, ‘cept ‘Kid,’ to my
friends. I’m thirty years old, minus some. An’–oh, yes; I’m from th’
Tin Cup, Montanny. I get things twisted at times, an’ this shore looks
like one of ’em.”
“Of course,” grunted Logan, his eyes twinkling. “That’s easy. Th’ two
ranches, bein’ so close together, would bother a man. Sorta wander off
one onto th’ other, an’ have to stop to think which one yo’re workin’
for. They should mark th’ boundaries plainer–or put up a fence.”
Johnny flushed. “I allus say Bar-20 when I speaks off-hand an’ have
more on my mind than my hair. That man in th’ corral divides my
attention. He flusters me. You see, I was cussed near born on th’ old
Bar-20–worked there ever since I was a boy. That crack in th’ wall is
big enough for two men to use. Thank you, friend: you near scared me to
death,” he chuckled as the suspicious watcher emerged and started for
“You look so much like th’ boss, I couldn’t help watchin’ you,” grinned
the puncher over his shoulder.
Logan grunted something, and then nodded at the stranger.
“Cut it loose,” he encouraged. “I don’t get a chance like this every
day, my observant friend. I allus reckoned I could cover ground purty
well, but I’ll be hanged if I can spread myself so I can work in Texas
an’ Montanny at th’ same time. You got me beat from soda to hock. Yo’re
goin’ to be a real valuable man, which I can see plain. Comin’ down to
cases, you ain’t really a cow-puncher; yo’re a whole cussed outfit,
barrin’ th’ chuck waggin an’ th’ cook. I have great hopes for you. Tell
me about it.”
Johnny swung a leg over the pommel and smiled down at the man who was
grinning up at him.
“Of course,” he replied, “it ain’t none of yore business, which we both
admits. We just can’t do any business on any other understandin’. But I
waives that: an’ here goes.
“I worked with the Bar-20 till Buck went up to run th’ Tin Cup.
Cow-thieves kept him so busy that our new foreman went up to help him.
He stayed there. Red got lonesome for Hoppy, and shore follered. Skinny
was lost without th’ pair of ’em, so he up an’ follered Red. Lanky,
missin’ Skinny, got plumb restless an’ takes th’ trail a month later.
Then a railroad crosses our ranch an’ begins layin’ out two towns, so
Pete gets on his hind laigs, licks a section boss, an’ chases after
Lanky. I’m gettin’ lonesomer and lonesomer all th’ time, but I manages
to stick on th’ job by pullin’ leather, because I was drawin’ down a
foreman’s pay. That ranch had five foremen in three months; an’ they
was all good ones, ‘cept, mebby, me. But when I saw barbed wire on th’
sidin’, fence posts along th’ right of way, sheep on th’ hills, an’
plows plumb ruinin’ good grass land, I hunts up that same section boss,
licks him again in mem’ry of Pete, packed my war bag, an’ loped north
after Pete. Th’ old ranch has gone plumb to h–l!”
Logan, a scowl on his face, rubbed the butt of his Colt and swore
softly. “It’ll be that way all over th’ range, some day. Go on.”
“Well, up on th’ Tin Cup, Buck got married. Hoppy had been before he
left Texas. Tex Ewalt’s gettin’ th’ disease now. He quit drinkin’,
card playin’, an’ most everything worth doin’. He ain’t fit company
for a sheep no more. Not knowing he was framin’ up th’ play, I loafed
along an’ didn’t propose quick enough. That’s once more he saved my
life. Th’ air’s plumb full of matrimony on th’ Tin Cup. There was two
black-eyed sisters in Twin River–Lanky takes one an’ Skinny th’ other.
They tossed for choice. Pete, who was matrimony galled, raised such a
ruction at th’ doin’s that there just wasn’t no livin’ with him. His
disposition was full of sand cracks, an’ he’d ruther fight than eat. We
pulled off a couple of hummers, me an’ him.
“Every time I’d try to get some of my friends to go to town for a
regular, old time, quiet evenin’ I found I didn’t have no friends left;
an’ th’ wimmin all joined hands an’ made me feel like a brand-blotter.
I was awful popular, _I_ was! Ever try to argue with a bunch of wimmin?
It’s like a dicky bird chirpin’ in a cyclone; he can’t even hear
“We had a cook once, on th’ Bar-20, that would run an’ grab a gun if
he saw a coyote ten miles away. That’s th’ way they acted about me,
all but Mary, who is Mrs. Hopalong. She had th’ idea she could make me
all over again; an’ I wouldn’t a-cared if she hadn’t kept tryin’ all
th’ time. At first all my ex-friends would sneak around an’ sort of
apologize to me for th’ way their wives acted; an’ then, d–d if they
didn’t get to sidin’ in with th’ wives! Whenever I wandered into sight
th’ wimmin would cluck to their worse halves, an’ scold me like I was
a chicken hawk. An’ I had lots of advice, too. It was just like my
shadow, only it worked nights, too. Nobody called me ‘Kid’ or ‘Johnny’
no more. Them days was past. I was _that_ Johnny Nelson: know what I
“Red did sneak off to town with me twice–an’ drank ginger-ale, an’
acted about as free an’ happy as a calf with a red-hot old brandin’
iron over his flank. He wouldn’t play faro because he only had two
dollars, an’ reckoned he might need it for somethin’ before pay-day
come around again. That was on pay-day, too! An’ that was Red, _Red
Connors_! Great polecats! Why, there was a time when Red–oh, what’s
“Hopalong–you call him that now when his wife’s around!–he was
something on some board, or something; an’ he said he had to set a good
example. Wouldn’t even play penny ante! Think of it! There was a time
when a camel, with all his stummicks, an’ a Gatlin’ gun on his back,
couldn’t a follered th’ example _he_ set. I was just as happy as a
bobcat in a trap–an’ about as peaceful. There wasn’t nothin’ I could
do, if I stayed up there, but get married; an’ that was like hangin’
myself to keep from gettin’ shot. Then, one day, Mrs. Hopalong caught
me learnin’ William, Junior, how to chew tobacco. As if a five-year-old
kid hadn’t ought to get some manly habits! An’, say! You ought to see
that kid! If he won’t bust his daddy’s records for h–l-raisin’ I miss
my guess; unless they plumb spoils him in th’ bringin’ up. Well, she
caught me learnin’ him; but like th’ boundin’ jack rabbit I’m hard to
catch. An’ here I am.”
Logan’s grin threatened his ears. “I’m glad of it,” he laughed.
“There’s something in yore face I like–mebby it’s th’ tobacco. Thanks;
I will; I’m all out of it right now. How did you come to pick us out to
land on? Pop recommend us to you?”
“Now don’t blame me for that,” rejoined Johnny. “Anyhow, he took it
back later. As to stoppin’ in this country, th’ idea suddenly whizzed
my way at them twin buttes north of town. I like this range. Things
sort of start themselves, an’ there’s music in th’ air. It reminds me
of th’ Bar-20, in th’ old days. A man won’t grow lazy down here; he’ll
keep jumpin’. An’ I found a trace of lead at that funny-lookin’ ridge
east of them freak buttes; but I couldn’t find where it come from.
If I had, I’d ‘a’ salted th’ mine with a Sharp’s Special. You see,
I’m ambidextrous–ain’t that a snorter of a word?–an’ when I ain’t
punchin’ cows with one hand, I’m prospectin’ with th’ other. Somebody
down here is plumb careless with his gun–an’ he’s got a good gun, too.
He’s too cussed familiar on short acquaintance. But it’s too bad I look
like you, ‘though that’s why I’m offerin’ you my valuable services.”
“I reckon it’s a cross I got to stagger under,” replied Logan, the
smile gone from his face; “but I’ll try to live it down. An’ somehow my
trusting nature leans toward you, though it shouldn’t. Yo’re a two-gun
man, which acts like yeast in th’ suspicious mind. I’ve seen ’em
before; an’ you looks most disconcertin’ capable. Then you says Bar-20,
an’ Hopalong, an’ Red Connors, an’ th’ others. You talk like you knew
’em intimate. I’ve heard of ’em, all of ’em. Like th’ moon, you shine
in reflected light. I’ve heard of you, too; I’m surprised you ain’t in
jail. Now then: If you are _that_ Johnny Nelson, of _that_ outfit, an’
you can prove it, I yearns to weep on yore bosom; if you ain’t, then
I’ll weep on yore grave. Th’ question of identity is a ticklish one.
It makes me that nervous I want to look under th’ bed. As a two-gun
man, unknown, yo’re about as welcome on this ranch, right now, as a
hydrophoby skunk; but as Johnny Nelson, of that old Bar-20, yo’re worth
fifty a month to me, as a starter, with ten dollars extra for each
six-gun. But I’ve just simply got to have proof about who you are, an’
where you come from. Let’s pause for an inspiration.”
Johnny grinned. “I don’t blame you; for I’ve had a sample of something
already. An’ I’ve got a tail holt on an inspiration. You hunt up that
pen you’ve had since Adam was a boy; find th’ ink that you put away
last summer so you’d know where it was when you wanted it in a hurry;
an’ then, in thirty minutes’ hard labor you’ll have something like this:
“‘Mr. William Cassidy, Senior, Tin Cup, Twin Rivers, Montanny:
Dear Sir: A nice lookin’ young man wants to take seventy dollars a
month away from me, as a starter. His undershirt is red, with th’
initials “WC” worked near th’ top buttonhole in pretty blue silk
thread. He wants Pete to send him that eight dollars that Pete
borrowed to buy William, Junior, a .22 rifle to bust windows with.
Tell Red his pants wear well. Does William, Junior, chew tobacco?
He has been shot at already. What is this young man’s name? Did he
work on th’ old Bar-20 with you? Yours truly, Logan.’
“Exhibit 1: Th’ red undershirt. Hoppy has even more of ’em than
Buck, ‘though Rose is comin’ along fast. Mary branded ’em all so she
could pick ’em out of th’ wash. It helped me pick this one off th’
clothes-line, because me an’ Hoppy wears th’ same size. Exhibit 2:
A scab on my off ear. William, Junior, was shootin’ at a calf an’
I stopped him. He’s a spunky little cuss, all right; but they’ll
spoil him yet. An’ Pete never did have any sense, anyhow. Th’ poor
kid is shootin’ blanks now, an’ blamin’ it on th’ gun. An’ it was a
mean trick, too. That hit about th’ tobacco will get under Hoppy’s
scalp–he’ll answer right quick. You might say to tell William, Junior,
that I ain’t forgot my promise, an’ that I’ll send him a shotgun just
as soon as he gets big enough to tote it around.”
“I’ll shore send it,” laughed Logan, whose imagination was running
wild. “But outside of the identity you suits me right down to the
ground. If Hopalong Cassidy says yo’re all right I’ll back you to my
last dollar. You mentioned hearin’ music in th’ air. It was a tunin’
up. Will you stay for th’ dance?”
“Sweet bells of joy!” exclaimed Johnny, leaving the saddle as though
shot out by a spring. “From wimmin’, barb wire, sheep an’ railroad
towns, to this! I can go to town with th’ boys once more! I can cuss
out loud an’ swagger around regardless! An’ some mangey gent is
careless with his gun! You can lose me just as easy as a cow can lose a
tick. I feel right at home.”
“All right, then. Strip off yore saddle and turn that fine cayuse
loose,” replied Logan, chuckling. He hoped that he might be able to
coax the new man to swap horses. “Th’ cook’s callin’ his hogs, so let’s
For two weeks Johnny rode range with the outfit and got familiar with
the ranch. There was one discovery which puzzled him and seemed to
offer an explanation for the shot on the trail: He had found the ruins
of a burned homestead on the northern end of the ranch and he guessed
that it had been used by “nesters;” and the evicted squatters might
have mistaken him for Logan. His thoughts constantly turned to the man
who had shot at him, and to the country around Twin Buttes; and often
he sat for minutes, stiffly erect in his saddle, staring at the two
great buttes, eager to explore the country surrounding them and to pay
From where he rode, facing westward, he could see the Deepwater, cold
at all seasons of the year. Flowing swiftly, it gurgled and swished
around bowlders of lava and granite and could be forded in but one
place in thirty miles, where it spread out over a rocky, submerged
plateau on the trail between the CL and Hastings, and where it grew
turbulent and frothy with wrath as it poured over the up-thrust ledges.
Along its eastern bank lay the ranch, in the valley of the Deepwater,
and beyond it a short distance stood the Barrier, following it mile
after mile and curving as it curved.
The Barrier, well named, was a great ledge of limestone, up-flung
like a wall, sheer, smooth and only occasionally broken by narrow
crevices which ran far back and sloped gradually upward, rock-strewn,
damp, cool, and wild. It stretched for miles to Johnny’s right and
left, a wall between the wild tumble of the buttes and the smooth,
gently rolling, fertile plain, which, beginning at the river, swept
far to the eastward behind him, where it eventually became lost in the
desert wastes. On one side of the rampart lay the scurrying river and
the valley of the Deepwater, rolling, sparsely timbered and heavily
grassed, placid, peaceful, restful; on the other, seeming to leap
against the horizon, lay the grandeur of chaos, wild and forbidding.
Highest above all that jagged western skyline, shouldering up above
all other buttes and plateaus, Twin Buttes peremptorily challenged
attention. Remarkably alike from all sides, when viewed from the CL
ranch-house they seemed to have been cast in the same mold; and the two
towering, steep-sided masses with their different colored strata stood
high above the Barrier and the chaos behind it like concrete examples
Twin Buttes were the lords of their realm, and what a realm it was!
Around them for miles great buttes rose solidly upward, naked on their
abrupt sides except for an occasional, straggling bush or dwarfed pine
or fir which here and there held precarious footholds in cracks and
crevices or on the more secure placement of a ledge. Deep draws choked
with brush lay between the more rolling hills along the eastern edge
of the watershed where the Barrier stood on guard, and rich patches of
heavy grass found the needed moisture in them. On the slopes of the
hills were great forests of yellow pine, a straggling growth of fir
crowning their tops. Farther west, where the massive buttes reared
aloft, the deep canyons were of two kinds. The first, wide, with
sloping banks of detritus, were covered with pine forests and torn with
draws; the second, steep-walled, were great, narrow chasms of wind-
and water-swept rock, bare and awe inspiring. They sloped upward to
the backbone of the watershed and had humble beginnings in shallow,
basin-like arroyos, which gradually became boxes in the rock formation
as the level sloped downward.
But the chaos stopped at the Barrier, which marked the breaking of
stratum upon stratum of the earth’s crust. Ages ago there had been a
mighty struggle here between titanic forces. To the west the earth’s
crust, battered into buttes, canyons, draws, and great plateaus,
had held out with a granite stubbornness and strength defying the
seething powers below it; but the limestone and the sandstone, weaker
brothers, betrayed by the treachery of the shales, had given under the
great strain and parted. The western portion had held its own; but the
eastern section had dropped down into the heaving turmoil and formed
the floor of the valley of the Deepwater. And as if in compensation,
the winds of the ages, still battling with the stubborn buttes, had
robbed them of soil and deposited it in the valley.
One evening, when Johnny rode in for supper, Logan met him at the
corral and held out his hand.
“Shake, Nelson,” he smiled. “Crosby went to town today and brought me a
letter from th’ Tin Cup. After you have fed up, come around to my room
an’ see me. I want to hold a right lively pow-wow with you.”
“Shore enough!” laughed Johnny, an expectant grin on his face. “Bet he
laid me out from soda to hock, tail to bit, th’ old pirate!”
“Well, you’ve got a terrible reputation, young man. Go an’ feed.”
Johnny was the first at the table that night, and the first away from
it by a wide margin. Rolling a cigarette, he lit it and hastened to
Logan’s quarters, where he found the foreman contentedly smoking.
“Come in an’ set down,” invited the foreman. “We’re goin’ to do a lot
of talkin’; it’s due to be a long session. There’s th’ letter.”
Johnny read it:
“Mr. John C. Logan. Dear Sir: I take my pen in hand to answer your
letter of recent date. Pete paid Red the 8 dollars to even up for
the pants, but nobody paid me for the shirt, ask him why he took
the best one. William, Junior, hates tobacco. We was scared hed
die. He swears most suspicious like Johnny Nelson. I hid the gun
in the storeroom. It cost me $12 damages the first week, besides
a calf. Can you use Pete Wilson? I’ll pay 1/2 his wages the first
6 months. I’d ruther have boils than him. He’s worse since Johnny
left. Don’t let Johnny come north again, and God have mercy on your
soul. He’s easy worth $70, if you are in trouble. If you ain’t
in trouble he’ll get you there. Excuse pensil. Yours truly, Wm.
Cassidy, Senior. P. S. His old job is waiting for him and he can
have the shirt. It must be near wore out anyhow. Tell him it only
costs 2 cents to write me a letter, but I bet hell freezes before I
get one. William, Junior, raised the devil when he missed Johnny.
Yes, he worked on the Bar-20. If he sends the kid a shotgun, I’ll
come down and bust his neck. Excuse pensil.”
Johnny looked steadily out of the door, ashamed to let Logan see his
face, for homesickness is no respecter of age. He gulped and felt like
a sick calf. Logan smiled at him through the gloom and chuckled, and at
the sound the puncher stiffened and turned around with a fine attempt
The foreman nodded at the letter. “Keep it if you wants. They must be
a purty fine bunch, them fellers. I never knowed any of ’em, but I’ve
heard a lot about ’em. ‘Youbet’ Somes used to drop in here once in a
while, an’ he knowed ’em all. I ain’t seen Youbet for quite a spell
Johnny managed to relax his throat. “Finest outfit that ever
wore pants,” he blurted. “Youbet’s dead. Went out fightin’ seven
sheep-herders in a saloon, but he got three of ’em. Hoppy met up with
two of th’ others th’ next summer an’ had words with ’em. Th’ other
two are still livin’, I reckon.” He thought for a moment and growled:
“It’s th’ wimmin that done it. You wouldn’t believe how that crowd has
changed! D–n it, why can’t a man keep his friends?”
The foreman puffed slowly and made no answer beyond a grunt of
understanding. Johnny folded the letter carefully and put it in his
pocket. “What’s th’ cow business comin’ to, anyhow?” he demanded.
“Wimmin, railroads, towns, sheep, wire–” he despaired of words and
glared at the inoffensive corral.
“An’ rustlers,” added Logan.
“They’re only an incident,” retorted Johnny. “They can be licked, like
a disease; but th’ others–oh, what’s th’ use!”
“Yo’re right,” replied Logan; “but it’s the rustlers that have got me
worried. I ain’t thinkin’ about th’ others very much, yet.”
Johnny turned like a flash. He wanted action, action that would take
his thoughts into other channels. The times were out of joint and he
wanted something upon which to vent his spleen. He had been waiting for
that word to come from Logan, waiting for days. And he had a score of
his own to pay, as well.
“Rustlers!” he exulted. “I knowed it! I’ve knowed it for a week, an’
I’m tired of ridin’ around like a cussed fool. I know th’ job _I_ want!
What about ’em?”
Logan closed the door by a push of his foot, refilled and lit his
pipe, and for two hours the only light the room knew was the soft
glow of the pipe and the firey ends of the puncher’s cigarettes,
while Logan unfolded his troubles to eager ears. The cook sang in the
kitchen as he wrestled his dishes and pans, and then the noise died
out. Laughter and words and the thumping of knuckles on a card table
came from the bunkroom, and grew silent. A gray coyote slid around the
corral, sniffing suspiciously, and at some faint noise faded into the
twilight, and from a distant rise howled mournfully at the moon. From a
little pond in the corral came the deep-throated warning of the frogs,
endless, insistent, untiring: “Go ’round! Go ’round! Knee deep! Knee
deep! Go ’round! Go ’round! Go ’round!”
The soft murmur of voices in the foreman’s room suddenly ceased, and a
chair scraped over the sandy floor. The door creaked a protest as it
swung slowly inward and a gray shape suddenly took form against the
darkness of the room, paused on the threshold and then Logan stepped
out into the moonlight and knocked his pipe against his boot heel. A
second figure emerged and joined him, tossing away a cigarette.
The foreman yawned and shook his head. “I didn’t know how to get ’em,
Nelson,” he said again. “I wasn’t satisfied to stop th’ rustlin’. I
wanted to wipe ’em out an’ get back my cows; but I didn’t have men
enough to go about it right, an’ that cussed Barrier spoiled every
“Yes,” said the puncher. “But it’s funny that none of th’ boys,
watchin’ nights, never got a sign of them fellers. They must be slick.
Well, all right; there’ll have to be another plan tried, an’ that’ll be
_my_ job. I told you that I found traces of lead over near Twin Buttes?
Well, I’m goin’ prospectin’, an’ try to earn that seventy dollars a
month. Any time you see a green bush lyin’ at th’ foot of th’ Barrier,
just north of Little Canyon, keep th’ boys from ridin’ near there that
same night. I may have some business there an’ I shore don’t want to be
shot at when I can’t shoot back. It’s too cussed bad Hoppy an’ Red are
Logan laughed: “Then don’t you make that mistake some day! But what
about that feller Pete Wilson that Cassidy wants to get rid of?”
“Don’t you worry about me gettin’ married!” snorted Johnny. “I saw too
much of it. An’ as for Pete, he’s too happy wallerin’ in his misery.
Anyhow, he wouldn’t leave Hoppy an’ th’ boys; an’ they wouldn’t let
him go. You couldn’t drag him off the Tin Cup with a rope. Then we’ve
settled it, huh? I’m to leave you tomorrow, with hard words?”
“Hard words ain’t necessary. I know every man that works for me an’
they’ll stick, an’ keep their mouths shut. Now, I warn you again: I
wouldn’t give a dollar, Mex., for yore life if you go through with your
scheme. An’ it’ll be more dangerous because you look like me, an’ have
worked for me. You can give it up right now an’ not lose anythin’ in my
opinion. Think it over tonight.”
Johnny laughed and shook his head.
“Well,” said the foreman, “I’m lettin’ you into a bad game, with th’
cards stacked against you; but I’ll come in after you when you say th’
word; an’ th’ outfit’ll be at my back.”
“I know that,” smiled Johnny. “I’ll be under a handicap, keepin’ under
cover an’ not doin’ any shootin’; but If I make a gun-play they’ll
begin to do some figgerin’. Gosh, I’m sleepy. Reckon I’ll hunt my bunk.
“No gun-play,” growled Logan. “You know what I want. How many they are,
where they round up my cows, an’ when they will be makin’ a raid, so I
can get ’em red-handed. _We_’ll do the fightin’. Good night.”
They shook hands and parted, Johnny entering the house, Logan wandering
out to the corral, where he sat on a stump for an hour or more and
slowly smoked his pipe. When he finally arose he found that it was out,
and cold, much to his surprise.
“Go ’round! Go ’round!” said the pond. “Better go ’round! Go ’round!”
Logan turned and sighed with relief at a problem solved. “Yo’re a right
smart frog, Big Mouth,” he grinned. “‘Go ’round’ is th’ medicine; an’
I’ve got th’ doctor to shove it down their throats! There’s a roundup
due in th’ Twin Buttes, an’ it’s started now.”
Pop Hayes sighed, raised his head and watched the door as hoof-beats
outside ceased abruptly.
“Dearly Beloved!” said an indignant voice. “If you tries any more
of yore tricks I’ll gentle you with th’ butt of a six-gun, you
barrel-bellied cow! Oh, _that’s_ it, huh? I savvy. You yearns for that
shade. Go to it, Pepper.”
“‘Dearly Beloved’!” snorted Pop in fine disgust. “You’d think it was a
weddin’ tower! Who th’ devil ever heard a cayuse called any such a name
as that?” he indignantly demanded of Andrew Jackson; but Andrew paid no
attention to him. The bird’s head was cocked on one side and he sidled
deliberately toward the door.
A figure jumped backward past the door, followed by a pair of hoofs,
which shot into sight and out again. Andy stopped short and craned his
neck, his beady eyes glittering with quick suspicion.
“I can shore see where you an’ me has an argument,” said the voice
outside. “If you make any more plays like that I’ll just naturally kick
yore ribs in. G’wan, now; I ain’t got no sugar, you old fool!” And the
smiling two-gun man stepped into the room, with a wary and affectionate
backward glance. “Hello, Pop!” he grinned. “You old Piute, you owes me
“Like h–l I do!” retorted Pop with no politeness, sitting up very
straight in his chair.
“You shore do!” rejoined Johnny firmly. “Didn’t you tell me that th’ CL
was a nice ranch to work for?”
“Yo’re loco! I didn’t say nothin’ of th’ kind!” snapped Pop
indignantly. “I said they’d work you nigh to death; _that’s_ what I
“Oh; was that it?” asked Johnny dubiously. “I ain’t nowise shore about
it; but we’ll let it go as it lays. Then I owe you a drink; so it’s all
th’ same. Yo’re a real prophet.”
Pop hastily shuffled to his appointed place and performed the honors
gracefully. “So you went an’ got a job over there, huh?” he chuckled.
“An’ now yo’re all through with ’em? Well, I _will_ say that you stuck
it out longer than some I knows of. Two weeks with Logan is a long
“It’s so long that I’ve aged considerable,” admitted Johnny, smiling
foolishly. “But I’m cured. I’m cured of punchin’ cows for anybody,
for a while. Seems to me that all I’ve done, all my life, was to play
guardian, to fool cows. I’ve had enough for a while. Th’ last two weeks
plumb cured me of punchin’.”
He looked down and saw Andy, feathers ruffled, squaring off for
another go at the spur, stooped suddenly, scooped the squawking bird
into his hand, tossed it into the air, caught it, and quickly shoved it
headfirst into a pocket. Andy swore and backed and wriggled, threatened
to eat his black heart and to do other unkind and reprehensible things.
Giving a desperate heave he plopped out of the pocket and struck the
floor with a thud. Shaking himself, he screamed profane defiance at
the world at large and then made his clumsy and comical way up the
chaps and finally roosted on the butt of one of the six-guns, where he
clucked loudly and whistled.
Johnny gave a peculiar whistle in reply, and almost instantly Pop let
out a roar and jumped toward the door to drive back a black horse that
was coming in.
“Get out of here!” he yelled pugnaciously. Pepper bared her teeth and
slowly backed out again. Turning, Pop glared at the puncher. “Did you
see that? Mebby Andy ain’t th’ only animal that drinks,” he jabbed,
remembering a former conversation.
Johnny laughed and scratched the bird, which stood first on one foot
and then on the other, foolish with ecstatic joy.
Pop regarded the bird with surprise. “Well, if that don’t beat all!” he
marveled. “There ain’t another man can do that, ‘cept me, an’ get off
with a whole hand. Andy’ll miss you, I reckon.”
“He won’t miss me much,” responded Johnny, comfortably seating himself
in Pop’s private chair. “I ain’t leavin’ th’ country.”
“You won’t have to. There’s other ranches, where they treats punchers
better’n cows. There’s another chair, over there.”
“No more ranches for me,” replied Johnny, ignoring the hint. “I’m
through punchin’, I tell you. I’m goin’ to play a while for a change.”
“Gamblin’s bad business,” replied Pop, turning to get the cards.
“Mebby some gamblin’ is; but there’s some as ain’t,” grinned Johnny. “I
ain’t meanin’ cards.”
“Oh,” said Pop, disappointed. “What you mean–shootin’ craps?”
“Nope; I’m goin’ prospectin’; an’ if that ain’t gamblin’ then I never
saw anythin’ that was.”
Pop straightened up and stared. “Prospectin?” he demanded,
incredulously. “Regular prospectin’? Well, I’ll be cussed! If yo’re
goin’ to do it around here, lemme tell you it won’t be no gamble. It’ll
be a dead shore loss. A flea couldn’t live on what you’ll earn on that
game in this country.”
“Well, I ain’t aimin’ to support no flea, unless Andy leaves me one,”
laughed Johnny, again scratching the restless bird. “But I’m tired of
cows, an’ I might as well amuse myself prospectin’ as any other way.
I like this country an’ I’m goin’ to stay a while. Besides, when I
was a kid I shore wanted to be a pirate; then when I got older I saw a
prospector an’ hankered to be one. I can’t be a pirate, but I’m goin’
to be a prospector. When my money is gone I’ll guard cows again.”
“Lord help us!” muttered Pop. “Yo’re plumb loco.”
“How can I be plumb an’ loco at th’ same time?”
“Andy!” snapped Pop. “Come away from there! Lord knows you ain’t got no
sense, but there ain’t no use riskin’ yore instinct!”
Johnny laughed. “Leavin’ jokes aside, me an’ Pepper are goin’ off by
ourselves an’ poke around pannin’ th’ streams an’ bustin’ nuggets off
th’ rocks till we get a fortune or our grub runs out. We can have a
good time, an’–hey! You got any fishhooks?”
“Fishhooks nothin’!” snorted Pop. “Lot of call _I_ got for fishhooks.
Why, I ain’t heard th’ word for ten years. Say!” he grinned sheepishly.
“Mebby you’ll get lonesome. Now, if we went off together, with some
fishhooks–but, shucks! I can’t leave this here business.”
Johnny hid his relief. “That’s th’ worst of havin’ a business. You
certainly can’t go off an’ let everythin’ go to smash.”
“Cuss th’ luck!” growled Pop. “Gosh, I’m all het up over it! I ain’t
done no fishin’ since I was a kid, an’ there must be lots of trout in
these streams.” Then he brightened a little. “But I dunno. You look
too cussed much like Logan to be real comfortable company for _me_. I
reckon I’ll pay attention to business.”
Johnny showed a little irritation. “There you go again! You do a lot
of worryin’ about my looks. If they don’t suit you, start right in an’
“There _you_ go!” snapped Pop disgustedly. “On th’ prod th’ first
thing! You’d show more common sense if _you_ did some of th’ worryin’.
But then, I reckon it’ll be all right if you does yore prospectin’ an’
fishin’ south of here.”
“No, sir! I’m goin’ to do it north of here, in th’ Twin Buttes country.”
Pop’s expression baffled description, and his Adam’s apple bobbed up
and down like a monkey on a stick. “Good Lord! You stick to Devil’s
Gap, an’ south of there!”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed and he sat up very straight. “This is a free
country an’ I goes where I please. It’s a habit of mine. I said north,
an’ that’s where I’m goin’. I wasn’t so set on it before; but now I’m
as set as a Missouri mule.”
Pop growled. “There ain’t no chance of you havin’ _my_ company; an’ you
leave th’ name an’ address of yore next of kin before you starts.”
Johnny laughed derisively. “I ain’t worryin’. An’ now let’s figger
out what a regular prospector needs. Bein’ new at th’ game I reckon I
better get some advice. What I’m dubious about are th’ proper things to
pry th’ nuggets loose with, an’ hoist ’em on my cayuse,” he grinned.
“Ought to have a pick, shovel, gold pan for placer fussin’–‘gold pan’
sounds regular, don’t it?–an’ some sacks to tie it up in. A dozen’ll
do for a starter. I can allus come back for more.”
“Or you can borrow a chuck waggin; that would be handy because it would
make it easy to get yore body out, ‘though I reckon they’ll just bury
you an’ let it go that way.”
“They? Meanin’ who?”
“I ain’t got a word to say.”
“There’s some consolation in that,” jeered Johnny.
“Yo’re a fool!” snorted Pop heatedly.
“An’ so that’s went an’ follered me down here, too,” sighed Johnny.
“A man can’t get away from some things. Well, let’s get back on th’
trail. All th’ prospectors I ever saw wore cowhide boots, with low,
flat heels. Somehow I can’t see myself trampin’ around with these I’m
wearin’; an’ they’re too expensive to wear ’em out that way. What else?
Need any blastin’ powder?”
“Cussed if I wouldn’t grub-stake you if you wasn’t goin’ up there,”
grinned Pop. “It takes a fool for luck; an’ it’ll be just like you to
fall down a canyon an’ butt th’ dirt off’n a million dollar nugget. I
got a notion to do it anyhow.”
“You needn’t get no notions!” retorted Johnny. “I’m goin’ to hog it.
Prospectors never get grub-staked unless they’re busted; an’ I ain’t
got there yet. Oh, yes; I got to get them fishhooks–you see, I ain’t
aimin’ to cripple my back workin’ hard _all_ th’ time. I’ll fill a
sack in th’ mornin’, eat my dinner an’ rest all afternoon. Next day
I’ll fill another sack, an’ so on. Now, what am I goin’ to get for my
outfit? I’ll need a lot of things.”
“Go see Charley James, acrost th’ street. He keeps th’ general store;
an’ he’s got more trash than anybody I ever saw.”
“Mebby he can tell me what I need,” suggested Johnny, hopefully.
As Pop started to answer, the doorway darkened and a man stepped into
the room. Pop’s face paled and he swiftly moved to one side, out of
range. The newcomer glanced at Johnny, swore under his breath and his
hand streaked to his holster. It remained there, for he discovered that
he was glaring squarely down a revolver barrel.
“Let loose of it!” snapped Johnny. “Now, then: What’s eatin’ you?”
“Why–why, I mistook you for somebody else!” muttered the other.
“Comin’ in from th’ sunlight, sudden like, I couldn’t see very well.
My mistake, Stranger. What’ll you have?”
Johnny grunted skeptically. “Yo’re shore you can see all right now?”
“It’s all right, Nelson,” hastily interposed the anxious proprietor,
nodding emphatic assurance. “It’s all right!”
“My mistake, Mr. Nelson,” smiled the stranger. “I shouldn’t ‘a’ been so
hasty–but I was fooled. Yore looks are shore misleadin’.”
“They suits me. What’s wrong about ’em?” demanded Johnny.
“There you go again!” snorted Pop in quick disgust. “A gent makes a
mistake, says he didn’t mean no harm in it, an’ you goes on th’ prod!
Didn’t I _tell_ you that yore looks would get you into trouble? Didn’t
“Oh! Is _that_ it?” He arose and slipped the gun back into its holster.
“I’ll take th’ same, Stranger.”
“Now yo’re gettin’ some sense,” beamed Pop, smiling with relief. “Mr.
Nelson, shake han’s with Tom Quigley. Here’s luck.”
“Fill ’em again,” grinned Johnny. “Not that I hankers for th’ kind of
liquor you sells, but because we has to do th’ best we can with what’s
“Pop’s sellin’ better liquor than he used to,” smiled Quigley. “Am I to
thank you for th’ improvement?”
“I refuse to accept th’ responsibility,” laughed Johnny.
“Well, he had some waggin varnish last year, an’ for a long time we was
puzzled to know what he did with it. One day, somebody said his whiskey
tasted like a pine knot: an’ then we knew th’ answer.”
“You both can go to th’ devil,” grinned Pop.
“Aimin’ to make a long stay with us, Mr. Nelson?” asked Quigley.
“That all depends on how soon I gets all th’ gold out of this country.”
“Startin’ tomorrow, I am: if this varnish don’t kill me.
“There ain’t never been none found around here, ‘though I never could
understand why. There was a couple of prospectors here some years
ago, an’ they worked harder for nothin’ than anybody I ever saw. They
covered th’ ground purty well, but they was broke about th’ time they
started south of town, an’ had to clear out. They claimed there was pay
dirt down there, but they couldn’t get a grub-stake on th’ strength of
that, so they just had to quit.”
“That’s where it is if it’s any place,” said Pop hurriedly. “Th’
river’s workin’ day an’ night, pilin’ it ag’in them rock ledges above
th’ ford; an’ it’s been doin’ it since th’ world began.”
Johnny shook his head. “Mebby; but there ain’t no way to get it, unless
you can drain th’ river. I want shallow water–little streams, where
there’s sand an’ gravel bars an’ flats. I’m aimin’ to work north of
Quigley forced a smile and shook his head. “I’m afraid you’ll waste
yore time. I’ve been all through that section, in fact I live up there,
an’ some of my men have fooled around lookin’ for color. There ain’t a
sign of it anywhere.”
“Well, I’m aimin’ to go back north when I get tired of prospectin’,”
replied Johnny, grinning cheerfully; “an’ I figgers I can prospect
around an’ gradually work up that way, toward Hope. I’ll drop in an’
see you if I run acrost yore place. I reckon prospectin’ is a lonesome
“Didn’t you ever try it before?” asked Quigley in surprise.
“This is my first whirl at it,” reluctantly admitted Johnny. “I’m a
cow-puncher, got tired of th’ north ranges an’ drifted down here. An’ I
might ‘a’ stayed a cow-puncher, only I got a job on th’ CL an’ worked
there for th’ last two weeks; an’ I got a-plenty. It soured me of
punchin’. Outside of bein’ cussed suspicious, that man Logan is loco. I
don’t mind bein’ suspected a little at first; but I ain’t goin’ to work
like a fool when there ain’t no call for it. I might ‘a’ stuck it out,
at that, only for a fool notion of his. That’s where I cut loose.”
Quigley looked curious. “New notion?”
“Yes,” laughed Johnny contemptuously. “He got th’ idea that th’ night
air, close to th’ river, ain’t healthy for th’ cows! Told us to drive
all of ’em back from th’ river every evenin’ before we rode in. I
said as how we ought to blanket ’em, an’ build fires under ’em. I
reckon mebby I was a mite sarcastic, at that. Well, anyhow; we had an
argument, an’ I drew my pay an’ quit.”
Pop let out a howl. “Good Lord!” he snorted. “Evenin’ air too wet for
cows! Drive ’em back every night! An’ lemme tell you that outfit’s just
foolish enough to do it, too. He-he-he!”
Quigley laughed, and then looked at the proprietor: “Pop, we ain’t
forgettin’. We both has bought, an’ it usually goes th’ rounds before
“Oh, I’ll set ’em up,” growled Pop.
“You ranchin’, Mr. Quigley?” asked Johnny.
“Well, I am, an’ I ain’t,” answered Quigley. “I’m farmin’ an’ ranchin’
both, on a small scale. I got a few head, but not enough to give me
much bother. We sort of let ’em look after themselves.”
“Oh,” said Johnny regretfully. “I thought mebby if I got tired of
prospectin’, an’ short of cash, that I might get a job with you.”
“I ain’t got cows enough to keep me busy,” explained Quigley. “We let
’em wander, an’ get ’em as we need ’em. Well,” he said, turning as if
to leave, “I’m sorry about that fool break of mine, Mr. Nelson; an’ to
prove it I’m goin’ to give you some real good advice: Keep away from
th’ Twin Buttes country. So long, boys.”
Johnny looked after him, and then faced Pop, shrugging his shoulders.
“I don’t quite get th’ drift of that,” he said slowly; “but he ought to
know th’ country he lives in. I’ll try Devil’s Gap first; but I got a
cussed strong notion not to!”
Pop sighed with relief. “Let’s go over an’ see what Charley’s got for
yore kit,” he suggested.
Charley James was playing solitaire on a box laid across a nail keg and
he smiled a welcome as they entered.
“Charley,” said Pop. “This cow-puncher’s aimin’ to change his spots.
He’s a amatchure prospector an’ wants us to pick out his outfit.”
“I can believe that he’s an amatchure if he’s goin’ to try it in this
part of th’ country,” smiled Charley. “Nobody’s ever tried it down here
Johnny was about to mention the two prospectors referred to by Mr.
Quigley, but thought better of it.
“Oh, it’s been tried,” said Pop casually. “But they didn’t stay long.
What you got in that line, Charley?”
“I ain’t shore; but first you want an axe. Come on; we’ll saunter
aroun’ an’ pick things out as they hit our eye. Here’s th’ axe–double
“Too big,” chuckled Pop. “There ain’t none of them there redwood trees
out here; they’re in Californy.”
“Huh!” grunted Charley. “Mebbyso; but that’s a good axe.”
“Pop’s right; it’s too heavy,” decided Johnny. “An’ I don’t want it
double bitted because I may want to drive stakes with it.”
“All right,” said Charley, who had hoped to at last get rid of the big
axe. “Here’s a three-pounder–‘Little Gem’–an’ it shore is. All right;
now for th’ next article.”
In half an hour the outfit was assembled and they were turning to leave
the store when Johnny suddenly grabbed his companions. “What about some
fishhooks?” he demanded anxiously.
Charley rubbed his head reflectively. “I think mebby I got some; don’t
remember throwin’ ’em away. There was some with feathers, an’ some
without; plain hooks, an’ flies. Brought ’em with me when I first came
out here, an’ never used ’em. Ought to have some line, too; an’ a reel
somewheres. I’ll hunt ’em up an’ put ’em with yore duffle. You can cut
yoreself a pole. They’ll be a little present from me.”
“Thank you,” beamed Johnny, and forthwith Pop dragged them to his place
Johnny left the following morning, and one week later he returned,
trudging along beside his loaded horse, and he was the owner of a
generous amount of gold, the treasure of a “pocket” upon which he had
blundered. He determined to keep this a secret, for if he let it be
known that he had found “color,” what excuse could he offer for leaving
that field? It fit too well into his plans to be revealed.
Pop grinned a welcome: “Have any luck?”
“Fishin’, yes,” laughed Johnny. “Bet I moved ten acres of gravel. I
wasted a week; now I’m goin’ north.”
Pop frowned. “I reckon you’ll have yore own way; but put in yore time
fishin’ an’ prospectin’, an’ mind yore own business.”
“Shore,” said Johnny. “Look here,” unrolling a bundle and producing
two of the gold sacks, which were heavy and bulging. Pop stared,
speechless, until his new friend opened one of them and dumped four
dressed trout on the bar.
“Slip ’em in a fryin’ pan with some bacon,” grinned Johnny.
“Get ’em in th’ river?” demanded Pop incredulously.
“You know that draw runnin’ east from th’ Gap–th’ one with them two
dead pines leanin’ against each other?”
“Yes; ’tain’t more’n a mile from th’ ford!”
“I found ’em up there, hidin’ in a bush.”
“Reckon you think that’s funny,” grunted Pop. “Why them’s _brook_
trout! I ain’t had any since I was a boy. Th’ devil with business! I’m
goin’ fishin’ one day a week. Now where you goin’?”
“Got some for Charley,” laughed Johnny from the door.
Charley looked up from his eternal solitaire: “Hello, Nelson!”
“Look what I got,” exulted Johnny, extending the bag.
“God help us!” exclaimed Charley. “Did you–did you–”
“I did. Brook trout, Pop says. Prospectin’ ain’t nothin’ compared to
fishin’. Pop’s goin’ one day a week, an’ after you eat these mebby
you’ll be with him.”
“Pop can’t put on no airs with me,” chuckled Charley. “If he can afford
to close up, so can I. But you shouldn’t ‘a’ poked no bulgin’ gold sack
at me like that! It was a shock. Come on; let’s take somethin’ for it.”
He grabbed the fish and led the way across the street; and for the
rest of the afternoon three happy men discussed prospecting and trout
fishing, but the latter was by far the more important.