There was a tone of half-hearted enthusiasm about this talk which marked it for a prepared "spiel," laboriously devised to speed the new superintendent upon his way; but, not being schooled in social deceit, Creede failed utterly in making it convincing.
"That's good," said Hardy, "but tell me—what has been your custom in the past? Haven't you been in the habit of feeding them when they came in?"
"Feed 'em?" cried Creede, flaring up suddenly. "Did I feed 'em? Well, I should guess yes—I never turned one away hungry in my life. W'y, hell, man," he exclaimed, his anger growing on him, "I slep' in the same blanket with 'em—until I become lousy," he added grimly.
"What!" exclaimed Hardy, aghast. "You don't mean to say—"
"No," interrupted Creede ironically, "I don't mean to say anythin'—not from now on. But while we're on the subject and to avoid any future misunderstandin' I might just as well tell you right now that I can't see nothin' good in a sheepman—nothin'! I'm like my cat Tom when he sees a rattlesnake, my hair bushes up clean over my ears and I see hell, damnation, and sudden death!"
He rose up, frowning, on his mighty horse and gazed at Hardy with eyes that burned deep with passion. "If every sheep and sheepman in Arizona should drop dead at this minute," he said, "it would simply give me a laughin' sensation. God damn 'em!" he added passionately, and it sounded like a prayer.
Half an hour later as they passed through the gloomy silence of the box canyon, picking their way over rocks and bowlders and driftwood cast forty feet above the river level in some terrific glut of waters, he began to talk again, evenly and quietly, pointing out indifferent things along the trail, and when at last they mounted the hill and looked down upon Hidden Water his anger was forgotten.
"Well," he remarked, throwing out a hand, "there's home—how do you like it?"
Hardy paused and looked it over critically—a broad V-shaped valley half a mile in length, beginning at the mouth of a great dry wash and spreading out through trees and hummocks down to the river. A broken row of cottonwoods and sycamores stretched along the farther side, following the broad, twisting bed of the sand wash where the last flood had ripped its way to the Salagua; and on the opposite side, close up against the base of the cliff, a flash of white walls and the shadow of a ramada showed where man had built his puny dwelling high in order to escape its fury. At their feet lay the ranch pasture, a broad elbow of the valley rich with grass and mesquite trees and fenced in with barbed wire that ran from cliff to cliff. Beyond the eastern wall the ground was rough and broken, cut up by innumerable gulches and waterways, and above its ridges there rose the forbidding crags of a black butte whose shoulders ran down to and confined the silvery river. Across the river and to the south the land was even rougher, rising in sheer precipices, above the crests of which towered a mighty needle of rock, standing out against the sky like a cathedral spire, yet of a greater dignity and magnificence—purple with the regal robes of distance.
"That's Weaver's Needle," volunteered Creede, following his companion's eyes. "Every lost mine for a hundred miles around here is located by sightin' at that peak. The feller it's named after was picked up by the Apaches while he was out lookin' for the Lost Dutchman and there's been a Jonah on the hidden-treasure business ever since, judgin' by the results.
"D'ye see that big butte straight ahead? That's Black Butte. She's so rough that even the mountain sheep git sore-footed, so they say—we have to go up there on foot and drive our cattle down with rocks. Old Bill Johnson's place is over the other side of that far butte; he's got a fine rich valley over there—the sheep haven't got in on him yet. You remember that old feller that was drunk down at Bender—well, that's Bill. Calls his place Hell's Hip Pocket; you wait till you try to git in there some day and you'll know why."
He paused and turned to the north.
"Might as well give you the lay of the land," he said. "I'll be too busy to talk for the next month. There's the Four Peaks, northeast of us, and our cows run clean to the rocks. They's more different brands in that forty miles than you saw in the whole Cherrycow country, I bet ye. I've got five myself on a couple hundred head that the old man left me—and everybody else the same way. You see, when the sheep come in down on the desert and around Moreno's we kept pushin' what was left of our cattle east and east until we struck the Peaks—and here we are, in a corner. The old judge has got nigh onto two thousand head, but they's about twenty of us poor devils livin' up here in the rocks that has got enough irons and ear marks to fill a brand book, and not a thousand head among us.
"Well, I started out to show you the country, didn't I? You see that bluff back of the house down there? That runs from here clean to the Four Peaks without a break, and then it swings west in a kind of an ox bow and makes that long ridge up there to the north that we called the Juate. All that high country between our house here and the Peaks—everythin' east of that long bluff—is Bronco Mesa. That's the upper range the judge asked me to point out to you. Everythin' west of Bronco Mesa is The Rolls—all them rollin' hills out there—and they's feed enough out there to keep all the sheep in the country, twice over—but no water. Now what makes us cowmen hot is, after we've give 'em that country and welcome, the sheepmen're all the time tryin' to sneak in on our upper range. Our cows can't hardly make a livin' walkin' ten or fifteen miles out on The Rolls every day, and then back again to water; but them dam' sheep can go a week without drinkin', and as much as a month in the winter-time.
"Why can't they give us a chanst, then? We give 'em all the good level land and simply ask 'em as a favor to please keep off of the bench up there and leave our cows what little cactus and browse they is. But no—seems like as soon as you give one of them Chihuahua Mexicans a gun he wants to git a fight out of somebody, and so they come crowdin' in across our dead line, just to see if they can't git some of us goin'."
Once more his eyes were burning, his breath came hard, and his voice became high and sustained. "Well, I give one of 'em all he wanted," he said, "and more. I took his dam' pistol away and beat him over the head with it—and I moved him, too. He was Jasper Swope's pet, and I reckon he had his orders, but I noticed the rest went round."
He stopped abruptly and sat silent, twisting his horse's mane uneasily. Then he looked up, smiling curiously.
"If you hadn't come up this year I would've killed some of them fellers," he said quietly. "I'm gittin' as crazy as old Bill Johnson—and he hears voices. But now lookee here, Rufe, you don't want to believe a word I say about this trouble. Don't you pay any attention to me; I'm bughouse, and I know it. Jest don't mention sheep to me and I'll be as happy as an Injun on a mescal jag. Come on, I'll run you to the house!"
Throwing his weight forward he jumped his big horse down the rocky trail and went thundering across the flat, whooping and laughing and swinging under mesquite trees as if his whole heart was in the race. Catching the contagion Hardy's sorrel dashed madly after him, and the moment they struck the open he went by like a shot, over-running the goal and dancing around the low adobe house like a circus horse.
"By Joe," exclaimed Creede as he came up, "that caballo of yours can run some. I'm goin' to make a little easy money off of Bill Lightfoot when he comes in. He's been blowin' about that gray of his for two years now and I'll match you ag'inst him for a yearlin'. And don't you forgit, boy, we're going after that black stallion up on Bronco Mesa just as soon as the roder is over."
His face was all aglow with friendliness and enthusiasm now, but as they started toward the house, after turning their horses into the corral, he suddenly stopped short in the trail.
"Gee," he said, "I wonder what's keepin' Tom? Here Tom! Heere Tom! Pussy, pussy, pussy!" He listened, and called again. "I hope the coyotes ain't caught him while I was gone," he said at length. "They treed him a few times last year, but he just stayed up there and yelled until I came—spoiled his voice callin' so long, but you bet he can purr, all right."
He listened once more, long and anxiously, then his face lit up suddenly.
"Hear that?" he asked, motioning toward the bluff, and while Hardy was straining his ears a stunted black cat with a crook in his tail came into view, racing in wildly from the great pile of fallen bowlders that lay at the base of the cliff, and yowling in a hoarse, despairing voice, like a condemned kitten in a sack.
"Hello, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy!" cried Creede, and as the cat stopped abruptly, blinking warily at Hardy, he strode forward and gathered it gently into his arms. "Well, you poor little devil," he exclaimed, stroking its rough coat tenderly, "you're all chawed up again! Did them dam' coyotes try to git you while I was gone?" And with many profane words of endearment he hugged it against his breast, unashamed.
"There's the gamiest cat in Arizona," he said, bringing him over to Hardy with conscious pride. "Whoa, kitten, he won't hurt you. Dogged if he won't tackle a rattlesnake, and kill 'im, too. I used to be afraid to git out of bed at night without puttin' on my boots, but if any old rattler crawls under my cot now it's good-bye, Mr. Snake. Tommy is right there with the goods—and he ain't been bit yet, neither. He killed three side-winders last Summer—didn't you, Tom, Old Socks?—and if any sheep-herder's dog comes snoopin' around the back door he'll mount him in a minute. If a man was as brave as he is, now, he'd—well, that's the trouble—he wouldn't last very long in this country. I used to wonder sometimes which'd go first—me or Tom. The sheepmen was after me, and their dogs was after Tom. But I'm afraid poor Tommy is elected; this is a dam' bad country for cats."
He set him down with a glance of admiring solicitude, such as a Spartan mother might have bestowed upon her fighting offspring, and kicked open the unlocked door.
The Dos S ranch house was a long, low structure of adobe bricks, divided in the middle by the open passageway which the Mexicans always affect to encourage any vagrant breeze. On one side of the corredor was a single large room, half storehouse, half bunk room, with a litter of pack saddles, rawhide kyacks and leather in one corner, a heap of baled hay, grain, and provisions in the other, and the rest strewn with the general wreckage of a camp—cooking utensils, Dutch ovens, canvas pack covers, worn-out saddles, and ropes. On the other side the rooms were more pretentious, one of them even having a board floor. First came the large living-room with a stone chimney and a raised hearth before the fireplace; whereon, each on its separate pile of ashes, reposed two Dutch ovens, a bean kettle, and a frying-pan, with a sawed-off shovel in the corner for scooping up coals. Opening into the living-room were two bedrooms, which, upon exploration, turned out to be marvellously fitted up, with high-headed beds, bureaus and whatnots, besides a solid oak desk.
To these explorations of Hardy's Creede paid but slight attention, he being engaged in cooking a hurried meal and watching Tommy, who had a bad habit of leaping up on the table and stealing; but as Hardy paused by the desk in the front bedroom he looked up from mixing his bread and said:
"That's your room, Rufe, so you can clean it up and move in. I generally sleep outdoors myself—and I ain't got nothin', nohow. Jest put them guns and traps into the other room, so I can find 'em. Aw, go ahead, you'll need that desk to keep your papers in. You've got to write all the letters and keep the accounts, anyhow. It always did make my back ache to lean over that old desk, and I'm glad to git shent of it.
"Pretty swell rooms, ain't they? Notice them lace curtains? The kangaroo rats have chawed the ends a little, but I tell you, when Susie and Sallie Winship was here this was the finest house for forty miles. That used to be Sallie's room, where you are now. Many's the time in the old days that I've rid up here to make eyes at Sallie, but the old lady wouldn't stand for no sich foolishness. Old Winship married her back in St. Louie and brought her out here to slave around cookin' for roder hands, and she wanted her daughters to live different. Nope, she didn't want no bow-legged cow-punch for a son-in-law, and I don't blame her none, because this ain't no place for a woman; but Sal was a mighty fine girl, all the same."
He shook a little flour over his dough, brushed the cat off the table absently, and began pinching biscuits into the sizzling fat of the Dutch oven, which smoked over its bed of coals on the hearth. Then, hooking the red-hot cover off the fire, he slapped it on and piled a little row of coals along the upturned rim.
"Didn't you never hear about the Winship girls?" he asked, stroking the cat with his floury hands. "No? Well, it was on account of them that the judge took over this ranch. Old man Winship was one of these old-time Indian-fightin', poker-playin' sports that come pretty nigh havin' their own way about everythin'. He had a fine ranch up here—the old Dos S used to brand a thousand calves and more, every round-up; but when he got old he kinder speculated in mines and loaned money, and got in the hole generally, and about the time the sheep drifted in on him he hauled off and died. I pulled off a big roder for 'em and they sold a lot of cattle tryin' to patch things up the best they could, but jest as everythin' was lovely the drouth struck 'em all in a heap, and when the Widde' Winship got the estate settled up she didn't have nothin' much left but cows and good will. She couldn't sell the cows—you never can, right after these dry spells—and as I said, she wouldn't let the girls marry any of us cowmen to kinder be man for the outfit; so what does she do but run the ranch herself!
"Yes, sir—Susie and Sallie, that was as nice and eddicated girls as you ever see, they jest put on overalls and climbed their horses and worked them cattle themselves. Course they had roder hands to do the dirty work in the corrals—brandin' and ear-markin' and the like—but for ridin' the range and drivin' they was as good as the best. Well, sir, you'd think every man in Arizona, when he heard what they was doin', would do everythin' in his power to help 'em along, even to runnin' a Dos S on an orehanna once in a while instead of hoggin' it himself; but they's fellers in this world, I'm convinced, that would steal milk from a sick baby!"
The brawny foreman of the Dos S dropped the cat and threw out his hands impressively, and once more the wild glow crept back into his eyes.
"You remember that Jim Swope that I introduced you to down on the desert? Well, he's a good sheepman, but he's on the grab for money like a wolf. He's got it, too—that's the hell of it."
Creede sighed, and threw a scrap of bacon to Tommy.
"He keeps a big store down at Moroni," he continued, "and the widde', not wantin' to shove her cows onto a fallin' market, runs up an account with him—somethin' like a thousand dollars—givin' her note for it, of course. It's about four years ago, now, that she happened to be down in Moroni when court was in session, when she finds out by accident that this same Jim Swope, seein' that cattle was about to go up, is goin' to close her out. He'd 'a' done it, too, like fallin' off a log, if the old judge hadn't happened to be in town lookin' up some lawsuit. When he heard about it he was so durned mad he wrote out a check for a thousand dollars and give it to her; and then, when she told him all her troubles, he up and bought the whole ranch at her own price—it wasn't much—and shipped her and the girls back to St. Louie."
Creede brushed the dirt and flour off the table with a greasy rag and dumped the biscuits out of the oven.
"Well," he said, "there's where I lost my last chanst to git a girl. Come on and eat."
From lonely ranches along the Salagua and Verde, from the Sunflower and up the Alamo, from all the sheeped-out and desolate Four Peaks country the cowboys drifted in to Hidden Water for the round-up, driving their extra mounts before them. Beneath the brush ramada of the ranch house they threw off their canvas-covered beds and turned their pack horses out to roll, strapping bells and hobbles on the bad ones, and in a day the deserted valley of Agua Escondida became alive with great preparations. A posse of men on fresh mounts rode out on Bronco Mesa, following with unerring instinct the trail of the Dos S horses, balking their wild breaks for freedom and rushing them headlong into the fenced pasture across the creek. As the hired hands of the Dos S outfit caught up their mounts and endeavored to put the fear of God into their hearts, the mountain boys got out the keg of horseshoes and began to shoe—every man his own blacksmith.
It was rough work, all around, whether blinding and topping off the half-wild ponies or throwing them and tacking cold-wrought "cowboy" shoes to their flint-like feet, and more than one enthusiast came away limping or picking the loose skin from a bruised hand. Yet through it all the dominant note of dare-devil hilarity never failed. The solitude of the ranch, long endured, had left its ugly mark on all of them. They were starved for company and excitement; obsessed by strange ideas which they had evolved out of the tumuli of their past experience and clung to with dogged tenacity; warped with egotism; stubborn, boastful, or silent, as their humor took them, but now all eager to break the shell and mingle in the rush of life.
In this riot of individuals Jefferson Creede, the round-up boss, strode about like a king, untrammelled and unafraid. There was not a ridge or valley in all the Four Peaks country that he did not know, yet it was not for this that he was boss; there was not a virtue or weakness in all that crowd that he was not cognizant of, in the back of his scheming brain. The men that could rope, the men that could ride, the quitters, the blowhards, the rattleheads, the lazy, the crooked, the slow-witted—all were on his map of the country; and as, when he rode the ridges, he memorized each gulch and tree and odd rock, so about camp he tried out his puppets, one by one, to keep his map complete.
As they gathered about the fire that evening it was Bill Lightfoot who engaged his portentous interest. He listened to Bill's boastful remarks critically, cocking his head to one side and smiling whenever he mentioned his horse.
"Yes, sir," asserted Bill belligerently, "I mean it—that gray of mine can skin anything in the country, for a hundred yards or a mile. I've got money that says so!"
"Aw, bull!" exclaimed Creede scornfully.
"Bull, nothin'," retorted Lightfoot hotly. "I bet ye—I bet ye a thousand dollars they ain't a horse in Arizona that can keep out of my dust for a quarter!"
"Well, I know you ain't got no thousand dollars—ner ten," sneered Creede. "Why don't you bet yearlings? If you'd blow some of that hot air through a tube it'd melt rocks, I reckon. But talk cow, man; we can all savvy that!"
"Well, where's the horse that can beat me?" demanded Lightfoot, bristling.
"That little sorrel out in the pasture," answered Creede laconically.
"I'll bet ye!" blustered Lightfoot. "Aw, rats! He ain't even broke yet!"
"He can run, all right. I'll go you for a yearling heifer. Put up or shut up."
And so the race was run. Early in the morning the whole rodeo outfit adjourned to the parada ground out by the pole corrals, the open spot where they work over the cattle. Hardy danced his sorrel up to the line where the gray was waiting, there was a scamper of feet, a streak of dust, and Bill Lightfoot was out one yearling heifer. A howling mob of cowboys pursued them from the scratch, racing each other to the finish, and then in a yell of laughter at Bill Lightfoot they capered up the canyon and spread out over The Rolls—the rodeo had begun.
As the shadow of the great red butte to the west, around which the wagon road toiled for so many weary miles, reached out and touched the valley, they came back in a body, hustling a bunch of cattle along before them. And such cattle! After his year with the Chiricahua outfit in that blessed eastern valley where no sheep as yet had ever strayed Hardy was startled by their appearance. Gaunt, rough, stunted, with sharp hips and hollow flanks and bellies swollen from eating the unprofitable browse of cactus and bitter shrubs, they nevertheless sprinted along on their wiry legs like mountain bucks; and a peculiar wild, haggard stare, stamped upon the faces of the old cows, showed its replica even in the twos and yearlings. Yet he forbore to ask Creede the question which arose involuntarily to his lips, for he knew the inevitable answer.
Day after day, as they hurriedly combed The Rolls for what few cattle remained on the lower range, the cowmen turned their eyes to the river and to the canyons and towering cliffs beyond, for the sheep; until at last as they sat by the evening fire Creede pointed silently to the lambent flame of a camp fire, glowing like a torch against the southern sky.
"There's your friends, Rufe," he said, and the cowmen glanced at Hardy inquiringly.
"I might as well tell you fellers," Creede continued, "that one reason Rufe come up here was to see if he couldn't do somethin' with these sheepmen."
He paused and looked at the circle of faces with a smile that was almost a sneer.
"You fellers wouldn't back me up when it come to fightin'—none except Ben Reavis and the Clark boys—so I told the old judge we might as well lay down, and to send up some smooth hombre to try and jockey 'em a little. Well, Hardy's the hombre; and bein' as you fellers won't fight, you might as well look pleasant about it. What's that you say, Bill?"
He turned with a sardonic grin to Lightfoot, who had already been reduced to a state of silence by the relentless persecutions of the rodeo boss.
"I never said nawthin'," replied Lightfoot sullenly. "But if you'd've gone at 'em the way we wanted to," he blurted out, as the grin broadened, "instead of tryin' to move the whole outfit by daylight, I'd've stayed with you till hell froze over. I don't want to git sent up fer ten years."
"No," said Creede coolly, "ner you never will."
"Well, I don't see what you're pickin' on me fer," bellowed Lightfoot, "the other fellers was there too. Why don't you sass Ensign or Pete a while?"
"For a durned good reason," replied Creede steadily. "They never was for fightin', but you, with that yawp of yours, was always a-hollerin' and ribbin' me on to fight, and then, when the time come, you never said 'Boo!' at 'em. Tucked your young cannon into the seat of your pants and flew, dam' ye, and that's all there was to it. But that's all right," he added resignedly. "If you fellers don't want to fight you don't have to. But, dam' it, keep shut about it now, until you mean business."
As to just who this man Hardy was and what he proposed to do with the sheep the members of the Four Peaks round-up were still in ignorance. All they knew was that he could ride, even when it came to drifting his horse over the rocky ridges, and that Jeff Creede took him as a matter of course. But, for a superintendent, he never seemed to have much to say for himself. It was only when he walked up to his sorrel pony in that gentle, precise way he had, and went through the familiar motions of climbing a "bad one" that they sensed, dimly, a past not without experience and excitement. Even in the preoccupation of their own affairs and doings they could not fail to notice a supple strength in his white hands, a military precision in his movements, and above all a look in his eyes when he became excited—the steady resolute stare with which his militant father had subdued outlaw horses, buck soldiers, and Apaches, even his own son, when all had not gone well. It was this which had inspired Bill Lightfoot to restrain his tongue when he was sore over his defeat; and even though Hardy confessed to being a rider, somehow no one ever thought of sawing off Spike Kennedy's "side winder" on him. The quiet, brooding reserve which came from his soldier life protected him from such familiar jests, and without knowing why, the men of the Four Peaks looked up to him.
Even after his mission was announced, Hardy made no change in his manner of life. He rode out each day on the round-up, conning the lay of the land; at the corral he sat on the fence and kept tally, frankly admitting that he could neither rope nor brand; in camp he did his share of the cooking and said little, listening attentively to the random talk. Only when sheep were mentioned did he show a marked interest, and even then it was noticed that he made no comment, whatever his thoughts were. But if he told no one what he was going to do, it was not entirely due to an overrated reticence, for he did not know himself. Not a man there but had run the gamut of human emotions in trying to protect his ranch; they had driven herders off with guns; they had cut their huddled bands at night and scattered them for the coyotes; they had caught unwary Mexican borregueros in forbidden pastures and administered "shap lessons," stretching them over bowlders and spanking them with their leather leggings; they had "talked reason" to the bosses in forceful terms; they had requested them politely to move; they had implored them with tears in their eyes—and still like a wave of the sea, like a wind, like a scourge of grasshoppers which cannot be withstood, the sheep had come on, always hungry, always fat, always more.
Nor was there any new thing in hospitality. The last bacon and bread had been set upon the table; baled hay and grain, hauled in by day's works from the alfalfa fields of Moroni and the Salagua, had been fed to the famished horses of the very men who had sheeped off the grass; the same blanket had been shared, sometimes, alas, with men who were "crumby." And it was equally true that, in return, the beans and meat of chance herders had been as ravenously devoured, the water casks of patient "camp-rustlers" had been drained midway between the river and camp, and stray wethers had showed up in the round-up fry-pans in the shape of mutton. Ponder as he would upon the problem no solution offered itself to Hardy. He had no policy, even, beyond that of common politeness; and as the menacing clamor of the sheep drifted up to them from the river the diplomat who was to negotiate the great truce began to wonder whether, after all, he was the man of the hour or merely another college graduate gone wrong.
On the opposite side of the river in bands of two and three thousand the cohorts of the sheep gathered to make the crossing—gathered and waited, for the Salagua was still high. At the foot of the high cliffs, from the cleft canyon of which water flowed forth as if some rod had called it from the rock, the leaders of the sheepmen were sitting in council, gazing at the powerful sweep of the level river, and then at the distant sand bar where their charges must win the shore or be swept into the whirlpool below. Ah, that whirlpool! Many a frightened ewe and weakling lamb in years past had drifted helplessly into its swirl and been sucked down, to come up below the point a water-logged carcass. And for each stinking corpse that littered the lower bar the boss sheep owner subtracted five dollars from the sum of his hard-earned wealth. Already on the flats below them the willows and burro bushes were trembling as eager teeth trimmed them of their leaves—in a day, or two days, the river bottom would be fed bare; and behind and behind, clear to the broad floor of the desert, band after band was pressing on to the upper crossing of the Salagua.
As Hardy rode up over the rocky point against which the river threw its full strength and then, flung inexorably back, turned upon itself in a sullen whirlpool, he could see the sheep among the willows, the herders standing impassive, leaning upon their guns as more rustic shepherds lean upon their staves, and above, at the head of the crossing, the group of men, sitting within the circle of their horses in anxious conference. If any of them saw him, outlined like a sentinel against the sky, they made no sign; but suddenly a man in a high Texas hat leaped up from the group, sprang astride his mule and spurred him into the cold water. For the first twenty feet the mule waded, shaking his ears; then he slumped off the edge of a submerged bench into deeper water and swam, heading across the stream but drifting diagonally with the current until, striking bottom once more, he struggled out upon the sand spit. The rider looked eagerly about, glanced up casually at the man on the point below, and then plunged back into the water, shouting out hoarse orders to his Mexicans, who were smoking idly in the shade of overhanging rocks. Immediately they scrambled to their feet and scattered along the hillside. The stroke of axes echoed from the crags above, and soon men came staggering down to the river, dragging the thorny limbs of palo verdes behind them. With these they quickly constructed a brush fence in the form of a wing, running parallel to the cliff and making a chute which opened into the river.
Then with a great braying and bleating a huddle of sheep moved unwillingly along it, led by bold goats with crooked horns and resolute beards, and pushed forward by that same reckless rider on his black mule, assisted by a horde of shouting Mexicans. But at the touch of the cold water, two days from the snow beds of the White Mountains, even the hardy bucks stepped back and shook their heads defiantly. In vain with showers of rocks and flapping tarpaulins the herders stormed the rear of the press—every foot was set against them and the sheep only rushed about along the edge of the herd or crowded in close-wedged masses against the bluff. At last a line of men leaped into the enclosure, holding up a long canvas wagon-cover and, encircling the first section of the leaders, shoved them by main force into the river.
Instantly the goats took water, swimming free, and below them the man on the black mule shouted and waved his broad Texas hat, heading them across the stream. But the timid sheep turned back behind him, landing below the fence against all opposition, and the babel of their braying rose higher and higher, as if in protest against their unlucky fate. Again and again the herders, stripped to their underclothes, pushed the unwilling sheep into the current, wading out to their chins to keep them headed across; each time the sodden creatures evaded them and, drifting with the current, landed far below on the same side, whence they rushed back to join their fellows.
Upon the opposite shore the goats stood shivering, watching the struggle with yellow, staring eyes which showed no trace of fear. Like brave generals of a craven band they were alone in their hardihood and, with their feet upon the promised land, were doomed either to proceed alone or return to their companions. So at last they did, plunging in suddenly, while the man on the mule spurred in below in a vain effort to turn them back.
That night by the camp fire Hardy mentioned the man on a black mule.
"My old friend, Jasp Swope," explained Creede suavely, "brother of Jim, the feller I introduced you to. Sure, Jasp and I have had lo-ong talks together—but he don't like me any more." He twisted his nose and made a face, as if to intimate that it was merely a childish squabble, and Hardy said no more. He was growing wise.
The next morning, and the next, Jasper Swope made other attempts at the crossing; and then, as the snow water from the high mountains slipped by and the warm weather dried up by so much each little stream, he was able at last to ford the diminished river. But first, with that indomitable energy which marked him at every move, he cleared a passage along the base of the cliff to a place where the earth-covered moraine broke off at the edge of the water. Here a broad ledge shot down to the river like a toboggan slide, with a six-foot jump off at the bottom.
Once on this chute, with the strong tug of the canvas wagon-covers behind, there was nothing for the sheep to do but to take the plunge, and as his brawny herders tumbled them head over heels into the deep current Swope and his helpers waded out in a line below, shunting each ewe and wading toward the farther shore. There on the edge of the sand spit they huddled in a bunch, gathering about the hardier bucks and serving as a lure for those that followed. As cut after cut was forced into the stream a long row of bobbing heads stretched clear across the river, each animal striving desperately to gain the opposite bank and landing, spent and puffing, far below. A Mexican boy at intervals drove these strays up the shore to the big bunch and then concealed himself in the bushes lest by his presence he turn some timid swimmer back and the whirlpool increase its toll. So they crossed them in two herds, the wethers first, and then the ewes and lambs—and all the little lambs that could not stem the stream were floated across in broad pieces of tarpaulin whose edges were held up by wading men.
From Lookout Point it was a majestic spectacle, the high cliffs, the silvery river gliding noiselessly out from its black canyon, the white masses of sheep, clustering on either side of the water—and as the work went ahead merrily the Mexicans, their naked bodies gleaming like polished bronze in the ardent sun, broke into a wild refrain, a love song, perhaps, or a cancion of old Mexico. Working side by side with his men Jasper Swope joined in the song himself, and as they returned empty-handed he seized the tallest and strongest of them and ducked him in the water while his retainers roared with laughter. And Hardy, sitting unnoticed upon his horse, began to understand why these low-browed barbarians from Mexico were willing to fight, and if need be to die, for their masters. The age of feudalism had returned—the lords of the sheep went forth like barons, sharing every hardship and leading the way in danger, and their men followed with the same unthinking devotion that the Myrmidons showed for noble Achilles or the Crusaders for their white-crossed knights.
Upon this and many other feats Hardy had ample leisure to meditate, for the sheepmen regarded him no more than if he had been a monument placed high upon the point to give witness to their victory. As the sheep crossed they were even allowed to straggle out along the slopes of the forbidden mesa, untended by their shepherds; and if the upper range was the special reserve of the cowmen the sheep owners showed no knowledge of the fact. For two days the grazing herd crept slowly along the mesquite-covered flat toward Lookout Point, and on the third morning they boiled up over the rocks and spewed down into the valley of the Alamo.
"Well," observed Creede, as he watched the slow creeping of the flock, "here's where I have to quit you, Rufe. In a week this ground around here will be as level as a billiard table and they won't be enough horse feed in the valley to keep a burro. The town herd pulls out for Bender this mornin' and the rest of us will move up to Carrizo Creek."
He hurried away to oversee the packing, but when all was ready he waved the boys ahead and returned to the conversation.
"As I was sayin' a while ago, you won't see nothin' but sheep around here now for the next two weeks—and all I want to say is, keep 'em out of the pasture, and f'r God's sake don't let 'em corral in the brandin' pens! They're dirty enough already, but if you git about six inches of sheep manure in there and then mill a few hundred head of cattle around on top of it, the dust would choke a skunk. Our cows ain't so over-particular about that sheep smell, but if we poor cowboys has got to breathe sheep and eat sheep and spit up sheep every time we brand, it's crowdin' hospitality pretty strong. But if they want grub or clothes or tabac, go to it—and see if you can't keep 'em off the upper range."
He paused and gazed at Hardy with eyes which suggested a world of advice and warning—then, leaving it all unsaid, he turned wearily away.
"I look to find you with a sprained wrist," he drawled, "when I come back—throwin' flapjacks for them sheepmen!" He made the quick motion of turning a pancake in midair, smiled grimly, and galloped after the long line of horses and packs that was stringing along up the Bronco Mesa trail. And, having a premonition of coming company, Hardy went in by the fireplace and put on a big kettle of beef. He was picking over another mess of beans when he heard the clatter of hoofs outside and the next moment the door was kicked violently open.
It was Jasper Swope who stood on the threshold, his high Texas hat thrust far back upon his head—and if he felt any surprise at finding the house occupied he gave no expression to it.
"Hello, there!" he exclaimed. "I thought you folks was all gone!"
"Nope," replied Hardy, and continued his work in silence.
"Cookin' for the outfit?" queried Swope, edging in at the door.
"Nope," replied Hardy.
"Well, who the hell air ye cookin' fer then?" demanded Swope, drawing nearer. "'Scuse me if I pry into this matter, but I'm gittin' interested." He paused and showed a jagged set of teeth beneath his bristling red mustache, sneeringly.
"Well, I'll tell you," answered Hardy easily. "I thought some white man might come along later and I'd ask him to dinner." He fixed his eyes upon the sheepman with an instant's disapproval and then resumed his cookery. As for Swope, his gray eyes flashed sudden fire from beneath bushy eyebrows, and then a canny smile crept across his lips.
"I used to be a white man, myself," he said, "before I lost my soap. What's the chance to git a bite of that bymeby?" He threw his hand out toward the pot of beef, which was sending out odors of a rich broth, flavored with onions and chili.
Hardy looked at him again, little shrimp of a man that he was, and still with disapproval.
"D'ye call that a white man's way of entering another man's house?" he inquired pointedly.
"Well," temporized Swope, and then he stopped. "A man in my line of business gits in a hurry once in a while," he said lamely. "But I'm hungry, all right," he remarked, sotto voce.
"Yes," said Hardy, "I've noticed it. But here—sit down and eat."
The sheepman accepted the dish of beef, dipped out a spoonful of beans, broke off a slab of bread, and began his meal forthwith, meanwhile looking at Hardy curiously.
"What's that you say you've noticed?" he inquired, and a quizzical smile lurked beneath his dripping mustache as he reached over and hefted the coffeepot.
"I've noticed," replied Hardy, "that you sheepmen get in a hurry once in a while. You can't stop to knock on a door so you kick it open; can't stop to go around a ranch, so you go through it, and so on."
"Ah," observed Swope slyly, "so that's what's bitin' you, eh? I reckon you must be that new superintendent that Jim was tellin' about."
"That's right," admitted Hardy, "and you're Mr. Swope, of course. Well, I'll say this for you, Mr. Swope, you certainly know how to get sheep across a river. But when it comes to getting along with cowmen," he added, as the sheepman grinned his self-approval, "you don't seem to stack up very high."
"Oh, I don't, hey?" demanded Swope defiantly. "Well, how about the cowmen? Your friend Creede gets along with sheepmen like a house afire, don't he? Him and a bunch of his punchers jumped on one of my herders last Fall and dam' nigh beat him to death. Did you ever hear of a sheepman jumpin' on a cowboy? No, by Gad, and you never will! We carry arms to protect ourselves, but we never make no trouble."
He paused and combed the coffee grounds out of his heavy red mustache with fingers that were hooked like an eagle's talons from clutching at sheep in the cold water.
"I don't doubt, Mr. Superintendent," he said, with sinister directness, "that these cowmen have filled you up about what bad hombres we are—and of course it ain't no use to say nothin' now—but I jest want to tell you one thing, and I want you to remember it if any trouble should come up; we sheepmen have never gone beyond our legal rights, and we've got the law behind us. The laws of the United States and the statutes of this Territory guarantee us the right to graze our sheep on public lands and to go where we dam' please—and we'll go, too, you can bank on that."
He added this last with an assurance which left no doubt as to his intentions, and Hardy made no reply. His whole mind seemed centred on a handful of beans from which he was picking out the rocks and little lumps of clay which help to make up full weight.
"Well!" challenged Swope, after waiting for his answer, "ain't that straight?"
"Sure," said Hardy absently.
Swope glared at him for a moment disapprovingly.
"Huh, you're a hell of a cowman," he grunted. "What ye goin' to do about it?"
"About what?" inquired Hardy innocently.
"Aw, you know," replied Swope impatiently. "How about that upper range?" He shoved back his chair as he spoke, and his eyes lit up in anticipation of the battle.
"Well," responded Hardy judicially, "if you've got the legal right to go up there, and if you're goin' where you dam' please, anyhow, it don't look like I could do anything." He paused and smiled patiently at the sheepman.
"You know very well, Mr. Swope," he said, "that if you want to go up on that mesa and sheep off the feed we haven't got any legal means of preventing you. But you know, too, that there isn't more than enough feed for what cows the boys have left. If you want to go up there, that's your privilege—and if you want to go out over The Rolls, that's all right, too."
"Of course you don't give a dam'!" said Swope satirically.
"I guess you know how I feel, all right," returned Hardy, and then he lapsed into silence, while Swope picked his teeth and thought.
"Where'd you come from?" he said at last, as if, forgetting all that had passed, his mind had come back from a far country, unbiassed by the facts.
"Over the mountains," replied Hardy, jerking his thumb toward the east.
"Don't have no sheep over there, do they?" inquired Swope.
"Nope, nothing but cattle and horses."
"Ump!" grunted the sheepman, and then, as if the matter was settled thereby, he said: "All right, pardner, bein' as you put it that way, I reckon I'll go around."
HELL'S HIP POCKET
In the days of Ahaz, king of Judah, Isaiah the son of Amoz is reported to have seen in a vision a wolf which dwelt with a lamb, while a lion ate straw like an ox, and a weaned child put his hand in the cockatrice's den. Equally beautiful, as a dream, was the peace at Hidden Water, where sheepman and cattleman sat down together in amity; only, when it was all over, the wolf wiped his chops and turned away with a wise smile—the millennium not having come, as yet, in Arizona.
Hardy's wrist was a little lame, figuratively speaking, from throwing flapjacks for hungry sheep herders, and the pile of grain and baled hay in the storehouse had dwindled materially; but as the sheep came through, band after band, and each turned off to the west, stringing in long bleating columns out across The Rolls, he did not begrudge the hard labor. After Jasper Swope came Jim, and Donald McDonald, as jolly a Scottish shepherd as ever lived, and Bazan, the Mexican, who traced his blood back to that victorious general whom Maximilian sent into Sonora. There were Frenchmen, smelling rank of garlic and mutton tallow; Basques with eyes as blue and vacant as the summer skies; young Mormons working on shares, whose whole fortune was wrapped up in the one huddle of sheep which they corralled and counted so carefully; and then the common herders, fighting Chihuahuanos, with big round heads and staring eyes, low-browed Sonorans, slow and brutal in their ways, men of all bloods and no blood, lumped together in that careless, all-embracing Western term "Mexicans."
But though they were low and primitive in mental processes, nearer to their plodding burros than to the bright-eyed sensitive dogs, they were the best who would consent to wander with the sheep through the wilderness, seeing nothing, doing nothing, knowing nothing, having before them nothing but the vision of a distant pay day, a drunk, the calabozo, and the kind boss who would surely bail them out. Ah, that was it—the one love and loyalty of those simple-minded creatures who, unfit for the hurry and competition of the great world, sold their lives by spans of months for twenty dollars and found; it was always to the boss that they looked for help, and in return they did his will.
When the great procession had drifted past, with its braying clamor, its dogs, its men on muleback and afoot, the herders with their carbines, the camp rustlers with their burros, belled and laden with water casks and kyacks of grub, the sheep owners hustling about with an energy that was almost a mania, Hardy sat beneath the ramada of the ranch house with dog-fighting Tommy in his lap and pondered deeply upon the spectacle. A hundred thousand sheep, drifting like the shadows of clouds across the illimitable desert, crossing swift rivers, climbing high mountains, grazing beneath the northern pines; and then turning south again and pouring down through the passes like the resistless front of a cloudburst which leaves the earth bare and wasted in its wake. For this one time he had turned the stream aside and the tall grass still waved upon the upper range; but the next time, or the next—what then?
Long and seriously he contemplated the matter, dwelling now upon the rough good nature of the sheepmen and this almost miraculous demonstration of their good will; then remembered with vague misgivings their protestations against the unlawful violence which presumed to deny them what was their legal right—free grazing on all government lands. And in the end he wrote a brief note to Judge Ware, telling him that while the sheepmen had accepted his hospitality in a most friendly spirit and had respected the upper range, it was in his opinion only a question of time until they would take the whole country, unless they were restrained by law. He therefore recommended that the judge look up the status of the bill to set aside the watershed of the Salagua as a National Forest Reserve, and in case the opposition to it indicated any long delay it would be well either to sell out or reduce his stock. This note he sent out by Rafael, the Mexican roustabout, who was still hauling in supplies from Bender, and then with a glad heart he saddled up his horse, left a bait of meat on the floor for Tommy, and struck out over the mesa for Carrizo Creek.
After his long confinement in the pasture the sorrel galloped along the rocky trail with the grace and swiftness of an antelope, the warm dry wind puffed little whirls of dust before them, and once more Hardy felt like a man. If for the best interests of his employer it was desirable that he cook beef and bread for sheepmen, he could do so with good grace, but his spirit was not that of a man who serves. Since he had left home he had taken a great deal from the world, patiently accepting her arrogance while he learned her ways, but his soul had never been humbled and he rode forth now like a king.
Upon that great mesa where the bronco mustangs from the Peaks still defied the impetuosity of men, the giant sahuaros towered in a mighty forest as far as the eye could see, yet between each stalk there lay a wide space, studded here and there with niggerheads of bristling spines, and fuzzy chollas, white as the backs of sheep and thorny beyond reason. Nor was this all: in the immensity of distance there was room for sahuaros and niggerheads and chollas, and much besides. In every gulch and sandy draw the palo verdes, their yellow flowers gleaming in the sun, stood out like lines of fire; the bottoms of the steep ravines which gashed the mesa were illuminated with the gaudy tassels of mesquite blossoms; gray coffee-berry bushes clumped up against the sides of ridges, and in every sheltered place the long grass waved its last-year's banners, while the fresh green of tender growth matted the open ground like a lawn. Baby rabbits, feeding along their runways in the grass, sat up at his approach or hopped innocently into the shadow of the sheltering cat-claws; jack-rabbits with black-tipped ears galloped madly along before him, imagining themselves pursued, and in every warm sandy place where the lizards took the sun there was a scattering like the flight of arrows as the long-legged swift-jacks rose up on their toes and flew. All nature was in a gala mood and Rufus Hardy no less. Yet as he rode along, gazing at the dreamy beauty of this new world, the old far-away look crept back into his eyes, a sad, brooding look such as one often sees in the faces of little children who have been crossed, and the stern lines at the corners of his mouth were deeper when he drew rein above Carrizo Creek.
Below him lay the panorama of a mountain valley—the steep and rocky walls; the silvery stream writhing down the middle; the green and yellow of flowers along the lowlands; and in the middle, to give it life, a great herd of cattle on the parada ground, weaving and milling before the rushes of yelling horsemen, intent on cutting out every steer in the herd. Beyond lay the corrals of peeled cottonwood, and a square house standing out stark and naked in the supreme ugliness of corrugated iron, yet still oddly homelike in a land where shelter was scarce. As he gazed, a mighty voice rose up to him from the midst of the turmoil, the blatting of calves, the mooing of cows and the hoarse thunder of mountain bulls:
From his place on the edge of the herd Hardy saw Jefferson Creede, almost herculean on his tall horse, waving a large black hat. Instantly he put spurs to his sorrel and leaped down the narrow trail, and at the edge of the herd they shook hands warmly, for friends are scarce, wherever you go.
"Jest in time!" said Creede, grinning his welcome, "we're goin' over into Hell's Hip Pocket to-morrow—the original hole in the ground—to bring out Bill Johnson's beef critters, and I sure wanted you to make the trip. How'd you git along with Jasp?"
"All right," responded Hardy, "he didn't make me any trouble. But I'm glad to get away from that sheep smell, all the same."
The big cowboy fixed his eyes upon him eagerly.
"Did they go around?" he asked incredulously. "Jasp and all?"
"Sure," said Hardy. "Why?"
For a long minute Creede was silent, wrinkling his brows as he pondered upon the miracle.
"Well, that's what I want to know," he answered ambiguously. "But say, you've got a fresh horse; jest take my place here while me and Uncle Bill over there show them ignorant punchers how to cut cattle."
He circled rapidly about the herd and, riding out into the runway where the cattle were sifted, the beef steers being jumped across the open into the hold-up herd and the cows and calves turned back, he held up his hand for the work to stop. Then by signals he sent the galloping horsemen back to the edge of the herd and beckoned for old Bill Johnson.
For a few minutes he sat quietly on his horse, waiting for the harassed cattle to stop their milling. Then breaking into a song such as cowboys sing at night he rode slowly in among them, threading about at random, while old Bill Johnson on his ancient mare did likewise, his tangled beard swaying idly in the breeze. On the border of the herd they edged in as if by accident upon a fat steer and walked him amiably forth into the open. Another followed out of natural perversity, and when both were nicely started toward the beef cut the two men drifted back once more into the herd. There was no running, no shouting, no gallant show of horsemanship, but somehow the right steers wandered over into the beef cut and stayed there. As if by magic spell the outlaws and "snakes" became good, and with no breaks for the hills the labor of an afternoon was accomplished in the space of two dull and uneventful hours.
"That's the way to cut cattle!" announced Creede, as they turned the discard toward the hills. "Ain't it, Bill?"
He turned to Johnson who, sitting astride a flea-bitten gray mare that seemed to be in a perpetual doze, looked more like an Apache squaw than a boss cowboy. The old man's clothes were even more ragged than when Hardy had seen him at Bender, his copper-riveted hat was further reinforced by a buckskin thong around the rim, and his knees were short-stirruped almost up to his elbows by the puny little boy's saddle that he rode, but his fiery eyes were as quick and piercing as ever.
"Shore thing," he said, straightening up jauntily in his saddle, "that's my way! Be'n doin' it fer years, while you boys was killin' horses, but it takes Jeff hyar to see the p'int. Be gentle, boys, be gentle with um—you don't gain nawthin' fer all yer hard ridin'."
He cut off a chew of tobacco and tucked it carefully away in his cheek.
"Jeff hyar," he continued, as the bunch of cowboys began to josh and laugh among themselves, "he comes by his savvy right—his paw was a smart man before him, and mighty clever to his friends, to boot. Many's the time I hev took little Jeffie down the river and learned him tracks and beaver signs when he wasn't knee-high to a grasshopper—hain't I, Jeff? And when I tell him to be gentle with them cows he knows I'm right. I jest want you boys to take notice when you go down into the Pocket to-morrer what kin be done by kindness; and the first man that hollers or puts a rope on my gentle stock, I'll sure make him hard to ketch.
"You hear me, naow," he cried, turning sharply upon Bill Lightfoot, who was getting off something about "Little Jeffie," and then for the first time he saw the face of the new cowboy who had ridden in that afternoon. Not since the day he was drunk at Bender had Bill Johnson set eyes upon the little man to whom he had sworn off, but he recognized him instantly.
"Hello thar, pardner!" he exclaimed, reining his mare in abruptly. "Whar'd you drop down from?"
"Why howdy do, Mr. Johnson!" answered Hardy, shaking hands, "I'm glad to see you again. Jeff told me he was going down to your ranch to-morrow and I looked to see you then."
Bill Johnson allowed this polite speech to pass over his shoulder without response. Then, drawing Hardy aside, he began to talk confidentially; expounding to the full his system of gentling cattle; launching forth his invective, which was of the pioneer variety, upon the head of all sheepmen; and finally coming around with a jerk to the subject that was uppermost in his mind.
"Say," he said, "I want to ask you a question—are you any relation to the Captain Hardy that I served with over at Fort Apache? Seems's if you look like 'im, only smaller."
His stature was a sore point with Hardy, and especially in connection with his father, but making allowance for Mr. Johnson's ways he modestly admitted his ancestry.
"His son, eh!" echoed the old man. "Waal—now! I tell you, boy, I knowed you—I knowed you the minute you called down that dog-robber of a barkeep—and I was half drunk, too. And so you're the new superintendent down at the Dos S, eh? Waal, all I can say is: God help them pore sheepmen if you ever git on their trail. I used to chase Apaches with yore paw, boy!"
It was Bill Johnson's turn to talk that evening and like most solitaries who have not "gone into the silence," he availed himself of a listener with enthusiasm.
Stories of lion hunts and "b'ar fights" fell as trippingly from his lips as the words of a professional monologist, and when he had finished his account of the exploits of Captain Samuel Barrows Hardy, even the envious Lightfoot regarded Rufus with a new respect, for there is no higher honor in Arizona than to be the son of an Indian fighter. And when the last man had crawled wearily into his blankets the old hermit still sat by the dying fire poking the charred ends into the flames and holding forth to the young superintendent upon the courage of his sire.
Hardly had the son of his father crept under the edge of Creede's blankets and dropped to sleep before that huge mountain of energy rose up and gave the long yell. The morning was at its blackest, that murky four A. M. darkness which precedes the first glimmer of light; but the day's work had to be done. The shivering horse-wrangler stamped on his boots and struck out down the canyon after the remuda, two or three cooks got busy about the fire which roared higher and higher as they piled on the ironwood to make coals, and before the sun had more than mounted the southern shoulder of the Four Peaks the long line of horsemen was well on the trail to Hell's Hip Pocket.
The frontier imagination had in no wise overleaped itself in naming this abyss. Even the tribute which Facilis Descensus Vergil paid to the local Roman hell could hardly be said of the Pocket—it is not even easy to get into it. From the top of the divide it looks like a valley submerged in a smoky haze through which the peaks and pinnacles of the lower parks rise up like cathedral spires, pointing solemnly to heaven. As the trail descends through washed-out gulches and "stone-patches," now skating along the backbone of a ridge and now dropping as abruptly into some hollow waterway, the cliffs and pinnacles begin to loom up against the sky; then they seem to close in and block the way, and just as the canyon boxes in to nothing the trail slips into a gash in the face of the cliff where the soft sandstone has crumbled away between two harder strata, and climbs precariously along through the sombre gloom of the gorge to the bright light of the fair valley beyond.
It is a kind of fairy land, that hidden pocket in the hills, always covered by a mystic haze, for which the Mexicans give it the name Humada. Its steep canyon comes down from the breast of the most easterly of the Four Peaks, impassable except by the one trail; it passes through the box and there widens out into a beautiful valley, where the grass lies along the hillsides like the tawny mane of a lion, and tender flowers stand untrampled in the rich bottoms. For three miles or more it spreads out between striated cliffs where hawks and eagles make their nests; then once more it closes in, the creek plunges down a narrow gorge and disappears, writhing tortuously on its way to the Salagua whose fire-blasted walls rise in huge bulwarks against the south, dwarfing the near-by cliffs into nothingness by their majestic height.
In the presence of this unearthly beauty and grandeur old Bill Johnson—ex-trapper, ex-soldier, ex-prospector, ex-everything—had dwelt for twenty years, dating from the days when his house was his fortress, and his one desire was to stand off the Apaches until he could find the Lost Dutchman.
Where the valley narrowed down for its final plunge into the gorge the old trapper had built his cabin, its walls laid "square with the world" by sighting on the North Star. When the sun entered the threshold of the western door it was noon, and his watch never ran down. The cabin was built of shaly rocks, squared and laid in mud, like bricks; a tremendous stone chimney stood against the north end and a corral for his burros at the south. Three hounds with bleared eyes and flapping ears, their foreheads wrinkled with age and the anxieties of the hunt, bayed forth a welcome as the cavalcade strung in across the valley; and mild-eyed cattle, standing on the ridges to catch the wind, stared down at them in surprise. Never, even at San Carlos, where the Chiricahua cattle fatten on the best feed in Arizona, had Hardy seen such mountains of beef. Old steers with six and seven rings on their horns hung about the salting places, as if there were no such things as beef drives and slaughter houses in this cruel world, and even when the cowboys spread out like a fan and brought them all in to the cutting grounds there was hardly a calf that bawled.
As the three or four hundred head that made up his entire earthly possession drifted obediently in, the old man rode up to Creede and Hardy and waved his hand expansively.
"Thar, boys," he said, "thar's the results of peace and kindness. Nary a critter thar that I heven't scratched between the horns since the day his maw brought him down to the salt lick. I even git Jeff and the boys to brand and earmark 'em fer me, so they won't hev no hard feelin' fer the Old Man. D'ye see that big white-faced steer?" he asked, pointing with pride to the monarch of the herd. "Waal, how much ye think he'll weigh?" he demanded, turning to Creede. "Fifteen hundred?"
"Um, more 'n that," responded Creede, squinting his eyes down judicially. "Them Herefords are awful solid when they git big. I reckon he'll run nigh onto seventeen hundred, Bill." He paused and winked furtively at Hardy. "I kin git fifty dollars fer that old boy, jest the way he stands," he said, "and bein' as he can't carry no more weight nohow, I'll jest cut him into the town herd right now, and—"
"Hyar!" shouted Johnson, grabbing the cowboy's bridle, "who's doin' this, anyhow?"
"W'y you, Bill," answered Creede innocently, "but—"
"That's all right, then," said the old man shortly, "you leave that steer alone. I'll jest cut this herd to suit myself."
Over at the branding pen the irons were on the fire and the marking was progressing rapidly, but out in the open Mr. Bill Johnson was making slow work of his cut.
"He gets stuck on them cows, like an Irishman with his pig," observed Creede, as the old man turned back a prime four-year-old. "He'd rather be barbecued by the Apaches than part with that big white-faced boy. If I owned 'em I'd send down a lot of them big fat brutes and buy doggies; but Bill spends all the money he gits fer booze anyhow, so I reckon it's all right. He generally sends out about twenty runts and roughs, and lets it go at that. Say! You'll have to git a move on, Bill," he shouted, "we want to send that beef cut on ahead!"
The old man reined in his mare and surveyed the big herd critically.
"Waal," he drawled, "I reckon that'll do fer this trip, then. Take 'em along. And the fust one of you punchers that hits one of them critters over the tail with his hondu," he shouted, as the eager horsemen trotted over to start them, "will hev me to lick!"
He placed an order for provisions with Creede, asked him to keep the supplies at Hidden Water until he came over for them with the burros, and turned away contentedly as the cowboys went upon their way.
Down by the branding pen the mother cows licked the blood from their offsprings' mangled ears and mooed resentfully, but the big white-faced steer stood in brutish content on the salting grounds and gazed after the town herd thoughtfully.
A bunch of burros gathered about the doorway of the cabin, snooping for bacon rinds; the hounds leaned their heavy jowls upon his knees and gazed up worshipfully into their master's face; and as the sun dipped down toward the rim of the mighty cliffs that shut him in, the lord of Hell's Hip Pocket broke into the chorus of an ancient song:
"Oh, o-ver the prairies, and o-ver the mountains, And o-ver the prairies, and o-ver the mountains, And o-ver the prairies, and o-ver the mountains, I'll go till I find me a home."
A YEAR'S MAIL
The beef herd was safely delivered at Bender, the feeders disposed of at Moroni, and the checks sent on to the absentee owner, who did not know a steer from a stag; the rodeo hands were paid off and successfully launched upon their big drunk; bills were paid and the Summer's supplies ordered in, and then at last the superintendent and rodeo boss settled down to a little domesticity.
Since the day that Hardy had declined to drink with him Creede had quietly taken to water, and he planted a bag of his accumulated wages in a corner of the mud floor, to see, as he facetiously expressed it, if it would grow. Mr. Bill Johnson had also saved his "cow money" from Black Tex and banked it with Hardy, who had a little cache of his own, as well. With their finances thus nicely disposed of the two partners swept the floor, cleaned up the cooking dishes, farmed out their laundry to a squaw, and set their house in order generally. They were just greasing up their reatas for a run after the wild horses of Bronco Mesa when Rafael pulled in with a wagon-load of supplies and destroyed their peaceful life.
It was late when the grinding and hammering of wheels upon the boulders of the creek-bed announced his near approach and Creede went out to help unload the provisions. A few minutes later he stepped into the room where Hardy was busily cooking and stood across the table from him with his hands behind his back, grinning mischievously.
"Rufe," he said, "you've got a girl."
Hardy looked up quickly and caught the significance of his pose, but he did not smile. He did not even show an interest in the play.
"How do you figure that out?" he asked, indifferently.
"Oh, I know," drawled Creede. "Got a letter from her."
A single hawk-like glance was the only answer to this sally.
"She says: 'Why the hell don't you write!'" volunteered the cowboy.
"'S that so!" commented Hardy, and then he went on with his cooking.
For a minute Creede stood watching him, his eyes keen to detect the slightest quaver, but the little man seemed suddenly to have forgotten him; he moved about absently, mechanically, dropping nothing, burning nothing, yet far away, as in a dream.
"Huh!" exclaimed Creede, disgusted with his own make-believe, "you don't seem to care whether school keeps or not. I'll excuse you from any further work this evenin'—here's your mail."
He drew a bundle of letters from behind his back and dropped it heavily upon the table, but even then Hardy did not rise.
"Guess the Old Man must've forwarded my mail," he remarked, smiling at the size of the pack. "I've been knocking around so, I haven't received a letter in a year. Chuck 'em on my desk, will ye?"
"Sure," responded Creede, and stepping across the broad living-room he threw the bundle carelessly on the bed.
"You're like me," he remarked, drawing his chair up sociably to supper, "I ain't got a letter fer so long I never go near the dam' post office."
He sighed, and filled his plate with beans.
"Ever been in St. Louis?" he inquired casually. "No? They say it's a fine burg. Think I'll save up my dinero and try it a whirl some day."
The supper table was cleared and Creede had lit his second cigarette before Hardy reverted to the matter of his mail.
"Well," he said, "I might as well look over those letters—may be a thousand-dollar check amongst them."
Then, stepping into his room, he picked up the package, examined it curiously, and cut the cords with his knife.
A sheaf of twenty or more letters spilled out and, sitting on the edge of the bed, he shuffled them over in the uncertain light of the fire, noting each inscription with a quick glance; and as he gathered up the last he quietly tucked three of them beneath the folds of his blankets—two in the same hand, bold and dashing yet stamped with a certain feminine delicacy and grace, and each envelope of a pale blue; the third also feminine, but inscribed in black and white, a crooked little hand that strayed across the page, yet modestly shrank from trespassing on the stamp.
With the remainder of his mail Hardy blundered over to the table, dumping the loose handful in a great pile before the weak glimmer of the lamp.
"There," he said, as Creede blinked at the heap, "I reckon that's mail enough for both of us. You can read the advertisements and I'll see what the judge has to say for himself. Pitch in, now." He waved his hand towards a lot of business envelopes, but Creede shook his head and continued to smoke dreamily.
"Nope," he said briefly, "don't interest me."
He reached out and thumbed the letters over dumbly, spelling out a long word here and there or scrutinizing some obscure handwriting curiously, as if it were Chinese, or an Indian sign on a rock. Then, shoving back his chair, he watched Hardy's face as he skimmed rapidly through the first letter.
"Good news in the first part of it and bad in the last," he remarked, as Hardy put it down.
"That's right," admitted Hardy, "but how'd you know?"
He gazed up at his complacent partner with a look of innocent wonder, and Creede laughed.
"W'y, hell boy," he said, "I can read you like a book. Your face tells the whole story as you go along. After you've been down here in Arizona a few seasons and got them big eyes of yourn squinched down a little—well, I may have to ast you a few questions, then."
He waved his hand in a large gesture and blew out a cloud of smoke, while a twinkle of amusement crept into Hardy's unsquinched eyes.
"Maybe I'm smoother than I look," he suggested dryly. "You big, fat fellows get so self-satisfied sometimes that you let lots of things go by you."
"Well, I'll take my chances on you," answered Creede placidly. "What did the old judge say?"
"He says you did fine with the cattle," said Hardy, "and sold 'em just in time—the market fell off within a week after we shipped."
"Um-huh," grunted Creede. "And what's the bad bunch of news at the end?"
The bad bunch of news was really of a personal nature, stirring up unpleasant memories, but Hardy passed it off by a little benevolent dissimulation.
"He says he's mighty glad I steered the sheep away, but there is something funny going on back in Washington; some combine of the sheep and lumber interests has got in and blocked the whole Forest Reserve business and there won't be any Salagua Forest Reserve this year. So I guess my job of sheep-wrangler is going to hold; at least the judge asked me to stay with it until Fall."
"Well, you stay then, Rufe," said Creede earnestly, "because I've kinder got stuck on you—I like your style," he added half apologetically.
"All right, Jeff," said Hardy. "Here's another letter—from my father. See if you can guess what it is like."
He set his face rigidly and read the short letter through without a quaver.
"You and the Old Man have had a fallin'-out," observed Creede, with a shrewd grin, "and he says when you git good and tired of bein' a dam' fool you might as well come home."
"Well, that's about the size of it," admitted Hardy. "I never told you much about my father, did I?"
"Never knew you had one," said Creede, "until Bill Johnson began to blow about what an Injun-fighter he was. I reckon that's where you git your sportin' blood, ain't it?"
"Well, I'll tell you," began Hardy. "The Old Man and I never did get along together. He's used to commanding soldiers and all that, and I'm kind of quiet, but he always took a sneaking pride in me when I was a boy, I guess. Anyway, every time I'd get into a fight around the post and lick two or three Mexican kids, or do some good work riding or shooting, he'd say I'd be a man before my mother, or something like that—but that was as far as he got. And all the time, on the quiet, he was educating me for the Army. His father was a captain, and he's a colonel, and I can see now he was lotting on my doing as well or better—but hell, that only made matters worse."
He slid down in his chair and gazed into the fire gloomily. It was the first time Creede had heard his partner use even the mildest of the range expletives, for in that particular he was still a tenderfoot, and the word suddenly conveyed to him the depths of the little man's abandonment and despair.
"Why—what was the matter?" he inquired sympathetically. "Couldn't you git no appointment?"
"Huh!" growled Hardy. "I guess you know, all right. Look at me!" he exclaimed, in a sudden gust of passion and resentment. "Why, damn it, man, I'm an inch too short!"
"Well—I'll—be—dogged!" breathed Creede. "I never thought of that!"
"No," rejoined Hardy bitterly, "nor the Old Man, either—not until I stopped growing! Well, he hasn't had a bit of use for me since. That's the size of it. And he didn't take any pains to conceal the fact—most army men don't. There's only one man in the world to them, and that's a soldier; and if you're not a soldier, you're nothing."
He waved a hand as if dismissing himself from the universe, and sank moodily into his seat, while Creede looked him over in silence.
"Rufe," he said quietly, "d'ye remember that time when I picked you to be boss sheep-wrangler, down at Bender? Well, I might as well tell you about that now—'t won't do no harm. The old judge couldn't figure out what it was I see in you to recommend you for the job. Like's not you don't know yourself. He thought I was pickin' you because you was a peaceful guy, and wouldn't fight Black Tex; but that's where he got fooled, and fooled bad! I picked you because I knew dam' well you would fight!"
He leaned far over across the table and his eyes glowed with a fierce light.
"D'ye think I want some little suckin' mamma's-joy of a diplomat on my hands when it comes to a show-down with them sheepmen?" he cried. "No, by God, I want a man, and you're the boy, Rufe; so shake!"
He rose and held out his hand. Hardy took it.
"I wouldn't have sprung this on you, pardner," he continued apologetically, "if I didn't see you so kinder down in the mouth about your old man. But I jest want you to know that they's one man that appreciates you for a plain scrapper. And I'll tell you another thing; when the time comes you'll look jest as big over the top of a six-shooter as I do, and stand only half the chanst to git hit. W'y, shucks!" he exclaimed magnanimously, "my size is agin' me at every turn; my horse can't hardly pack me, I eat such a hell of a lot, and, well, I never can git a pair of pants to fit me. What's this here letter?"
He picked one up at random, and Hardy ascertained that his tailor some six months previously had moved to a new and more central location, where he would be pleased to welcome all his old customers. But the subject of diminutive size was effectually dismissed and, having cheered up his little friend as best he could, Creede seized the occasion to retire. Lying upon his broad back in his blankets, with Tommy purring comfortably in the hollow of his arm, he smoked out his cigarette in speculative silence, gazing up at the familiar stars whose wheelings mark off the cowboy's night, and then dropped quietly to sleep, leaving his partner to brood over his letters alone.
For a long time he sat there, opening them one by one—the vague and indifferent letters which drift in while one is gone; and at last he stole silently across the dirt floor and brought out the three letters from his bed. There in a moment, if he had been present, Creede might have read him like a book; his lips drawn tight, his eyes big and staring, as he tore open one of the pale blue envelopes with trembling hands. The fragments of a violet, shattered by the long journey, fell before him as he plucked out the note, and its delicate fragrance rose up like incense as he read. He hurried through the missive, as if seeking something which was not there, then his hungry eyes left the unprofitable page and wandered about the empty room, only to come back to those last words: "Always your Friend, Kitty Bonnair."
"Always your friend," he repeated bitterly—"always your friend. Ah, God!" He sighed wearily and shook his head. For a moment he lapsed into dreams; then, reaching out, he picked up the second letter, postmarked over a year before, and examined it idly. The very hour of its collection was recorded—"Ferry Sta. 1.30 A. M."—and the date he could never forget. Written on that very same day, and yet its message had never reached him!
He could see as in a vision the shrouded form of Kitty Bonnair slipping from her door at midnight to fling a final word after him, not knowing how far he would flee; he could see the lonely mail collector, half obscured in the San Francisco fog, as he scooped the letter from the box with many others and boarded the car for the ferry. It was a last retort, and likely bitter, for he had spoken in anger himself, and Kitty was not a woman to be denied. There was an exaggerated quirk to the square corners of her letters, a brusque shading of the down strokes—undoubtedly Kitty was angry. But for once he had disarmed her—it was a year after, now, and he had read her forgiveness first! Yet it was with a strange sinking of the heart that he opened the blue envelope and stared at the scribbled words:
DEAR FRIEND THAT WAS: My heart is very sore to-night—I had trusted you so—I had depended upon you so—and now you have deliberately broken all your faith and promises. Rufus, I had thought you different from other men—more gentle, more considerate, more capable of a true friendship which I fondly hoped would last forever—but now, oh, I can never forgive you! Just when life was heaviest with disappointments, just when I was leaning upon you most as a true friend and comrade—then you must needs spoil it all. And after I had told you I could never love any one! Have you forgotten all that I told you in the balcony? Have you forgotten all that I have risked for the friendship I held so dear? And then to spoil it all! Oh, I hate you—I hate you!
He stopped and stiffened in his chair, and his eyes turned wild with horror; then he gathered his letters together blindly and crept away to bed. In the morning he arose and went about his work with mouse-like quietness, performing all things thoroughly and well, talking, even laughing, yet with a droop like that of a wounded creature that seeks only to hide and escape.
Creede watched him furtively, hung around the house for a while, then strode out to the pasture and caught up his horse.
"Be back this aft," he said, and rode majestically away up the canyon, where he would be out of the way. For men, too, have their instincts and intuitions, and they are even willing to leave alone that which they cannot remedy and do not understand.
As Creede galloped off, leaving the ranch of a sudden lonely and quiet, Tommy poked his head anxiously out through a slit in the canvas bottom of the screen door and began to cry—his poor cracked voice, all broken from calling for help from the coyotes, quavering dismally. In his most raucous tones he continued this lament for his master until at last Hardy gathered him up and held him to his breast.
"Ah, Kitty, Kitty," he said, and at the caressing note in his voice the black cat began to purr hoarsely, raising his scrawny head in the ecstasy of being loved. Thief and reprobate though he was, and sadly given to leaping upon the table and flying spitefully at dogs, even that rough creature felt the need of love; how much more the sensitive and high-bred man, once poet and scholar, now cowboy and sheep-wrangler, but always the unhappy slave of Kitty Bonnair.
The two letters lay charred to ashes among the glowing coals, but their words, even the kindest meant, were seared deep in his heart, fresh hurts upon older scars, and as he sat staring at the gaunt sahuaros on the hilltops he meditated gloomily upon his reply. Then, depositing Tommy on the bed, he sat down at his desk before the iron-barred window and began to write.
DEAR FRIEND THAT WAS: Your two letters came together—the one that you have just sent, and the one written on that same night, which I hope I may some day forget. It was not a very kind letter—I am sorry that I should ever have offended you, but it was not gently done. No friend could ever speak so to another, I am sure. As for the cause, I am a human being, a man like other men, and I am not ashamed. Yet that I should so fail to read your mind I am ashamed. Perhaps it was my egotism, which made me over-bold, thinking that any woman could love me. But if what I offered was nothing to you, if even for a moment you hated me, it is enough. Now for all this talk of friendship—I am not your friend and never will be; and if, after what has passed, you are my friend, I ask but one thing—let me forget. For I will never come back, I will never write, I will never submit. Surely, with all that life offers you, you can spare me the humiliation of being angry with you.
I am now engaged in work which, out of consideration for Judge Ware, I cannot leave; otherwise I would not ask you not to write to me.
Trusting that you will remember me kindly to your mother, I remain, sincerely,
He signed his name at the bottom, folded the sheet carefully, and thrust the sealed envelope into an inner pocket. Then for the first time, he drew out the third letter and spread its pages before him—a long letter, full of news, yet asking no questions. The tense lines about his lips relaxed as he read, he smiled whimsically as he heard of the queer doings of his old-time friends; how these two had run away and got married in order to escape a church wedding, how Tupper Browne had painted a likeness of Mather in Hades—after the "Dante" of Dore—and had been detected in the act; and then this little note, cued in casually near the end:
Kitty Bonnair has given up art for the present on account of her eyes, and has gone in for physical culture and riding lessons in the park. She dropped in at the last meeting of The Circle, and I told her how curiously father had encountered you at Bender. We all miss you very much at The Circle—in fact, it is not doing so well of late. Kitty has not attended a meeting in months, and I often wonder where we may look for another Poet, Philosopher, and Friend—unless you will come back! Father did not tell me where you had been or what you intended to do, but I hope you have not given up the Muse. To encourage you I will send down a book, now and then, and you may send me a poem. Is it a bargain? Then good-bye.
With best wishes, LUCY WARE.
P. S.—I met your father on the street the other day, and he seemed very much pleased to hear how well you were getting along.
Hardy put the letter down and sighed.
"Now there's a thoroughly nice girl," he said. "I wonder why she doesn't get married." Then, reaching for a fresh sheet of paper, he began to write, describing the beauty of the country; the noble qualities of his horse, Chapuli, the Grasshopper; the march of the vast army of sheep; Creede, Tommy, and whatnot, with all the pent-up enthusiasm of a year's loneliness. When it was ended he looked at the letter with a smile, wondering whether to send it by freight or express. Six cents in stamps was the final solution of the problem, and as his pocketbook contained only four he stuck them on and awaited his partner's return.
"Say, Jeff," he called, as Creede came in from the pasture, "have you got any stamps?"
"Any which?" inquired Creede suspiciously.
"Any postage stamps—to put on letters."
"Huh!" exclaimed Creede. "You must think I've got a girl—or important business in the States. No, I'll tell you. The only stamp I've got is in a glass frame, hung up on the wall—picture of George Washington, you know. Haven't you never seen it? W'y, it's right there in the parler—jest above the pianney—and a jim-dandy piece of steel engraving she is, too." He grinned broadly as he concluded this running fire of jest, but his partner remained serious to the end.
"Well," he said, "I guess I'll go down to Moroni in the morning, then."
"What ye goin' down there for?" demanded Creede incredulously.
"Why, to buy a stamp, of course," replied Hardy, "it's only forty miles, isn't it?" And early in the morning, true to his word, he saddled up Chapuli and struck out down the river.
From the doorway Creede watched him curiously, his lips parted in a dubious smile.
"There's something funny goin' on here, ladies," he observed sagely, "something funny—and I'm dogged if I savvy what it is." He stooped and scooped up Tommy in one giant paw. "Well, Tom, Old Socks," he said, holding him up where he could sniff delicately at the rafters, "you've got a pretty good nose, how about it, now—can you smell a rat?" But even Tommy could not explain why a man should ride forty miles in order to buy a stamp.
The Mormon settlement of Moroni proved to belong to that large class of Western "cities" known as "string-towns"—a long line of stores on either side of a main street, brick where fires have swept away the shacks, and wood with false fronts where dynamite or a change of wind has checked the conflagration; a miscellaneous conglomeration of saloons, restaurants, general stores, and livery stables, all very satisfying to the material wants of man, but in the ensemble not over-pleasing to the eye.
At first glance, Moroni might have been Reno, Nevada; or Gilroy, California; or Deming, New Mexico; or even Bender—except for the railroad. A second glance, however, disclosed a smaller number of disconsolate cow ponies standing in front of the saloons and a larger number of family rigs tied to the horse rack in front of Swope's Store; there was also a tithing house with many doors, a brick church, and women and children galore. And for twenty miles around there was nothing but flowing canals and irrigated fields waving with wheat and alfalfa, all so green and prosperous that a stranger from the back country was likely to develop a strong leaning toward the faith before he reached town and noticed the tithing house.
As for Hardy, his eyes, so long accustomed to the green lawns and trees of Berkeley, turned almost wistful as he gazed away across the rich fields, dotted with cocks of hay or resounding to the whirr of the mower; but for the sweating Latter Day Saints who labored in the fields, he had nothing but the pitying contempt of the cowboy. It was a fine large country, to be sure, and produced a lot of very necessary horse feed, but Chapuli shied when his feet struck the freshly sprinkled street, and somehow his master felt equally ill at ease.
Having purchased his stamp and eaten supper, he was wandering aimlessly up and down the street—that being the only pleasure and recourse of an Arizona town outside the doors of a saloon—when in the medley of heterogeneous sounds he heard a familiar voice boom out and as abruptly stop. It was evening and the stores were closed, but various citizens still sat along the edge of the sidewalk, smoking and talking in the semi-darkness. Hardy paused and listened a moment. The voice which he had heard was that of no ordinary man; it was deep and resonant, with a rough, overbearing note almost military in its brusqueness; but it had ceased and another voice, low and protesting, had taken its place. In the gloom he could just make out the forms of the two men, sitting on their heels against the wall and engaged in a one-sided argument. The man with the Southern drawl was doing all the talking, but as Hardy passed by, the other cut in on him again.
"Well," he demanded in masterful tones, "what ye goin' to do about it?" Then, without waiting for an answer, he exclaimed:
"Hello, there, Mr. Hardy!"
"Hello," responded Hardy. "Who is this, anyway?"
"Jim Swope," replied the voice, with dignified directness. "What're you doing in these parts?"
"Came down to buy a postage stamp," replied Hardy, following a habit he had of telling the truth in details.
"Huh!" grunted Swope. "It's a wonder you wouldn't go to Bender for it—that Jew over there might make you a rate!"
"Nope," responded Hardy, ignoring the too-evident desire of the Moroni storekeeper to draw him into an argument. "He couldn't do it—they say the Government loses money every time it sells one. Nice town you've got down here," he remarked, by way of a parting compliment; but Swope was not satisfied to let him escape so easily.
"Hold on, there!" he exclaimed, rousing up from his place. "What's your bloody hurry? Come on back here and shake hands with Mr. Thomas—Mr. Thomas is my boss herder up in Apache County. Thinking of bringing him down here next Fall," he added laconically, and by the subtle change in his voice Hardy realized intuitively that that move had been the subject of their interrupted argument. More than that, he felt vaguely that he himself was somehow involved in the discussion, the more so as Mr. Thomas balked absolutely at shaking hands with him.
"I hope Mr. Thomas will find it convenient to stop at the ranch," he murmured pleasantly, "but don't let me interfere with your business."
"Well, I guess that's all to-night, Shep," remarked Swope, taking charge of the situation. "I jest wanted you to meet Hardy while you was together. This is the Mr. Hardy, of the Dos S outfit, you understand," he continued, "and a white cowman! If you have to go across his range, go quick—and tell your men the same. I want them dam' tail-twisters up in that Four Peaks country to know that it pays to be decent to a sheepman, and I'm goin' to show some of 'em, too, before I git through! But any time my sheep happen to git on your range, Mr. Hardy," he added reassuringly, "you jest order 'em off, and Mr. Thomas here will see to it that they go!"
He turned upon his boss herder with a menacing gesture, as if charging him with silence, and Thomas, whose sole contribution to the conversation had been a grunt at the end, swung about and ambled sullenly off up the street.
"Feelin' kinder bad to-night," explained Swope, as his mayordomo butted into the swinging doors of a saloon and disappeared, "but you remember what I said about them sheep. How do things look up your way?" he inquired. "Feed pretty good?"
"It's getting awfully dry," replied Hardy noncommittally. "I suppose your sheep are up on the Black Mesa by this time."
"Ump!" responded the sheepman, and then there was a long pause. "Sit down," he said at last, squatting upon the edge of the sidewalk, "I want to talk business with you."
He lit a short black pipe and leaned back comfortably against a post.
"You seem to be a pretty smooth young feller," he remarked, patronizingly. "How long have you been in these parts? Two months, eh? How'd Judge Ware come to get a-hold of you?"
"Just picked me up down at Bender," replied Hardy.
"Oh, jest picked you up, hey? I thought mebby you was some kin to him. Ain't interested in the cattle, are you? Well, I jest thought you might be, being put in over Jeff that way, you know. Nice boy, that, but hot-headed as a goat. He'll be making hair bridles down in Yuma some day, I reckon. His old man was the same way. So you ain't no kin to the judge and've got no int'rest in the cattle, either, eh? H'm, how long do you figure on holding down that job?"
"Don't know," replied Hardy; "might quit to-day or get fired to-morrow. It's a good place, though."
"Not the only one, though," suggested the sheepman shrewdly, "not by a dam' sight! Ever investigate the sheep business? No? Then you've overlooked something! I've lived in this country for nigh onto twenty years, and followed most every line of business, but I didn't make my pile punching cows, nor running a store, neither—I made it raising sheep. Started in with nothing at the time of the big drought in '92, herding on shares. Sheep did well in them good years that followed, and first thing I knew I was a sheepman. Now I've got forty thousand head, and I'm making a hundred per cent on my investment every year. Of course, if there comes a drought I'll lose half of 'em, but did you ever sit down and figure out a hundred per cent a year? Well, five thousand this year is ten next year, and ten is twenty the next year, and the twenty looks like forty thousand dollars at the end of three years. That's quite a jag of money, eh? I won't say what it would be in three years more, but here's the point. You're a young man and out to make a stake, I suppose, like the rest of 'em. What's the use of wasting your time and energy trying to hold that bunch of half-starved cows together? What's the use of going into a poor business, man, when there's a better business; and I'll tell you right now, the sheep business is the coming industry of Arizona. The sheepmen are going to own this country, from Flag to the Mexican line, and you might as well git on the boat, boy, before it's too late."