You may have thought that the cowboy wears his revolver for protection against his human enemies, but it is rather for a protection of the cattle against themselves in that strange panic known as a "stampede." Whitey and Injun, riding near the edge of the herd, and bowing against the fury of the storm, did not need Buck Milton's hoarse shouts of warning to make them swing aside. They were helpless to aid in diverting the mass of maddened animals that swung toward them, and galloping their horses to a point of safety, they turned in their saddles and viewed the strange sight.
Lighted by the almost continuous flashes of the lightning, the bellowing, thundering herd crashed by.... Far behind it, and in safety, were the white figures of the men who had caused the panic, sneaking off into the night. They had been seen by the Star Circle riders, but there was no time to think of them now. At the head of the herd, Whitey could see two men, their horses set at a mad run. Buck Milton was one, and the other a dare-devil young fellow named Tom, who was Buck's closest friend.
And as Buck and Tom rode, Whitey could see them firing their guns almost in the faces of the foremost maddened steers. They were trying to divert the leaders, and thus turn the herd until it would circle in its course, and finally the entire mass of beasts would be running round and round, in a course known as "milling." And there Whitey learned the real use the cowboy has for his gun.
What was going on beyond, Whitey could not see, and he could hear nothing above the uproar of the storm, and the clamor of the stampede, except the faint cracking of the guns of Tom and Buck. As Whitey held the almost fear-maddened Monty in check, the wild-eyed steers, with lowered heads and panting sides, sped by. At their head Whitey saw Tom swing nearer toward the leaders, then he saw Tom no more. There were two dangers to be feared in that mad race; if a steer fell, the others would trip over it, and many of them would die; if a man were caught in the rushing mass, it meant sure death.
Morning came, with the sun graying the low clouds, from which fell a cold drizzle; a setting drear enough for the scene the boys were to witness. A handful of gaunt men, sad but determined, their spent, drooping horses near by, stood facing a shallow grave scooped out of the prairie. Near it lay a blanket-covered figure that the dreaded stampede had crushed into a shape of which Whitey feared to think.
As the cowboys lowered the shape into the grave, Buck Milton turned his head away for a moment. Then he said simply, "Tom was my pardner for nine years." And again, after a pause, "And who's goin' t' tell his gal over on the Little Divide?"
There seemed no need for words just then, for after their grief for their friend the men's faces showed the turn of thought to his murderers, the sheepmen. Whitey never had seen the intent to kill come into men's faces before. It was grim, but not repulsive, for in a way there was justice in it. And poor Tom, who yesterday had been less than a name to Whitey, had now become the central figure in a tragedy.
But no one could have told what Injun thought. He, who came of a race that held vengeance above most things, looked on, seemingly unmoved.
Followed busy days on the Star Circle, during which Walt Lampson probably forgot the existence of Whitey and Injun. It was doubtful to the boys that he even noticed them when they rode back to the ranch house, after the funeral of Buck's friend Tom. Whatever thoughts of revenge were cherished by Walt and Buck had to be held in check while the stampeded herds were rounded up from the many-mile radius of prairie over which they had strayed.
To do this the entire force of the Star Circle was needed. Divided into parties the men rode north, east, south, and west for a distance of about twenty miles. Then they trailed round and round, in a great, narrowing circle that took in that wide radius, and as the cattle were met, in bunches or small herds, they were gathered and driven into a common center until they formed one great herd.
Whitey and Injun managed to go with Buck Milton's men, as Whitey liked Buck better than any of the other punchers, but the death of Tom had left Buck in a gloomy mood, and he spoke but little, either to the men or to the boys. The others were loud in their oaths and threats of vengeance; Buck was silent—and somehow, Whitey could not help feeling that Buck was the most dangerous enemy the sheepmen would have to deal with.
This round-up lasted a full week. During it Walt Lampson had found time to consider his course of action against the stampeders of his herd. So when Whitey and Injun returned, they found that the Star Circle was to be involved in one of the scourges of the time—a range war.
If you had been there would you have wanted to stay and see the thing out? The answer is so simple that you know what Whitey and Injun wanted to do. But Whitey knew that hardened as Walt Lampson was, he would not allow the boys to accompany the coming expedition against the sheepmen, so Injun and Whitey did what you probably would have done, and what Br'er Rabbit did—they lay low. And Walt either forgot to send them home, or thought that they would stay at the Star Circle while the war was on.
For two days after the round-up nothing was done at the ranch, beyond the oiling of guns, and consultations among the men. Walt Lampson seemed to be waiting for something. On the third night there was a meeting in the ranch-house living-room. A meeting which Whitey and Injun attended unseen, by the simple method of hiding. It may have been wrong to listen, but it was worse to die, and Whitey felt that he surely would expire if he didn't know what was going on. Injun had no scruples at all.
A traveler might have thought that all trails led to the Star Circle Ranch, that gloomy night, for from every point of the compass came riders, alone, by twos, and by threes. Desperate, hard men, who had used their bodily strength to conquer the elements and to build up their herds, as mine-owners use machinery to crush the gold out of the ore. For this war of the sheep against the cattle was a common war, and it was to be fought to a finish in that country.
So that was what Walt was waiting for, thought Whitey as he looked into the living-room from a crack in the office door, held slightly ajar. Had Whitey been in a criminal court during the last appeal of opposing counsel, he would have seen in the jury box no more thoughtful, set, and determined faces than those assembled in that ranch-house room.
The decision this court reached was: to catch the culprits and hang them; to drive their sheep over the hills into the deepest canyons to die by thousands; to hunt out the hiding owners, and let Colt guns be both judge and jury. Merciless and hard it seems, doesn't it? But those were merciless and hard days, when "only the strong survived."
"There's just one man I ever knowed who could do this work right," Walt Lampson said. "The greatest two-handed man with a gun that ever was born, an' a fool jury sent him to the pen, five years ago, for brandin' a few calves."
"You mean Mart Cooley," said another ranchman. "There was only one of him. But he done two years at Deer Lodge, an' nobody's ever seen him since."
"Guess again," Walt replied. "I heard o' him. He's been down in the Chinook Country. An' what's more I've got word o' Mart, an' he's comin' here t'night."
Walt's words caused a sensation, and while it is subsiding I may as well explain that in those frontier days there was a vast stretch of mesa or prairie known as the Chinook Country, because of the unseasonable, warm, and soothing winds that blew there. You may have read Bill Jordan's tale about these winds, in the first Injun and Whitey story. They would melt the snow, and cause the cowmen to start out their feeding herds, only to be caught by the northers, that brought the bitter, perishing cold, and killed the stock by thousands. On account of this uncertain condition the Chinook Country was avoided in the early days, save by those who located there for reasons—which no one was ever known to question. And in this desolate place Walt Lampson had heard of Mart Cooley, and from there he had lured him to the Star Circle Ranch.
Whitey waited, almost breathless, for the thrill that was to come at his first sight of the "bad man" of the West; the "two-gun man" who has long since passed into history, but was then a factor of the troublous times.
And you might like to hear a word or two about the ways he handled his gun, for he had more than one way. But first, the way he didn't handle it. Ordinarily, when you are shooting at a mark with a pistol, you cock the weapon, close one eye, and gaze along the barrel with the other until the sight is in line with the mark, and, holding the pistol steady, pull the trigger. That was what the gunman didn't do.
He sighted his weapon much as you throw a stone—by judging with his eye. He filed off the sight, so it wouldn't catch in the holster And he didn't use the trigger at all. That, too, could be taken off. Let us say that he was using both guns. He drew them from their holsters with marvelous speed. As he did so, he flipped back the hammers with his thumbs, and allowed them to fall on the cartridges, thus firing the first shots. The remaining shots were fired by working the hammers in the same way, and the actions caused an up-and-down movement of the guns. Seems a funny way to fire a revolver, doesn't it? But it wasn't funny for the man who was in front of the bad man.
He had another way of not leveling the gun at all, but firing from his hip, the revolver being held there, and the hammer worked with the thumb. Another and very expert way was to fire from the holster, not taking the gun out at all. This was remarkably quick and deadly.
But the strangest way of all, that was sometimes used at close quarters, was called "fanning." The gun was held at the hip, the first shot fired with the thumb-hammer movement. The gunman spread out the thumb and fingers of his other hand, and quickly drawing them across the hammer, one after another, they fired the shots with lightning rapidity. You would be surprised at the speed with which shots can be fired in this way. Try it sometime—with an empty gun.
Whitey, waiting behind the living-room door, had heard in bunk-house talk of these various ways in which the bad man proved himself an artist with his gun—had to prove himself one, if he wanted to remain alive. But when Mart Cooley, the most deadly man of that kind in the West, entered the living-room and faced the ranchmen, Whitey did not get his thrill—at first. For Mart was not a very large, nor a very fierce-looking person, as he stood sidewise to Whitey, and talked to the others.
Not often does crime fail to leave its mark on a man. The mouth, the chin, the forehead; some feature usually shows traces of it. And when Mart Cooley turned and Whitey saw his eyes, he got his thrill. They were a hard, light, steely gray, and they looked out from lowered lids, oh, so steadily. Months of brooding in the prison had helped to harden Mart's eyes, that had needed no help in that way; brooding over imaginary wrongs, for he thought his arrest an injustice. Other men had stolen a few cows, and got away with them, but Mart was made to suffer, and came to think himself a victim.
Out in the barren waste of the Chinook Country, lonely and gloomy, Mart had planned vengeance. But against whom? No one man could fight the Government. Failure was sure to come, and it meant death or worse—further imprisonment. In time Mart had come to regard all humanity as his enemy. Thus does crime and solitude twist the mind of man. Mart was ripe for a killing. And these men were offering him a chance.
THE CATTLE-SHEEP WAR
Next morning before dawn a determined and desperate band of men rode from the Star Circle Ranch, under the leadership of Mart Cooley. Whitey and Injun were wise enough not to show themselves, Whitey fearing not only that they would be forbidden to go, but that they would be sent home. This would be mortifying, to say the least. But if he were not forbidden—well, we all know the kinds of excuses with which we ease our consciences.
While this was going on in Whitey's mind, Bill Jordan was sleeping at the Bar O. But had Bill known whither his joke on Whitey was leading the boys, it is likely that he would not have slumbered so peacefully.
So they waited until the warlike expedition had disappeared on the rolling prairie, and then they followed at a distance. And that was easy, for Injun could have tracked that mass of horses' hoofprints in his sleep.
Most of the time Injun and Whitey were out of sight of the cattlemen. So in order to make this story run right along, it is necessary to tell what happened to the men while the boys were absent, all of which Injun and Whitey heard about afterwards.
It was well along in the forenoon when in the distance a mass of moving dots, with moving specks on its outskirts, indicated a flock of sheep, and spurring their horses to a gallop the men dashed toward it. And I regret to say that when the flock was reached, the gallop did not end. The men rode straight through that bleating, panic-stricken mass, on the edge of which two hysterical collies vainly tried to exert control of their charges. The cattlemen were looking for the shepherd.
Some distance beyond the flock, or where the flock had been, for the sheep were now rushing across the plain, was a two-horse, canvas-topped wagon, with a stove-pipe protruding through the top at the back. For your sheepherder does not sleep on the ground like the cowboy, but prefers a sheltering wagon. When the men reached this shelter, there was no one in sight. As they reined in, one of the leaders called, "Come out of there, you black-hearted dog!"
There was no response. Twenty guns were drawn from their holsters. There was a moment's pause, and the guns were raised. But the curtains of the wagon were drawn, and a figure appeared and descended to the ground. The guns were held suspended in the hands of their surprised owners—for they faced a woman.
The lynching party drew the line at killing the woman—though she did not know that—but they did not draw the line at making her talk. She was a half-breed, and she spoke English very badly, but with a gun thrust in her face, she spoke enough.
And from what the frightened creature gasped out, and from what Mart Cooley figured in his mind, this is what was learned: Knowing that the cattlemen would seek revenge, but would first round up their scattered herd, the sheepmen had had time to act. They had driven almost all their sheep to the home ranch of the big owners, thinking they could be protected better there. They had gathered all the men available, and these were at the ranch, awaiting an attack. The woman's flock was too far away to be driven in, and she had been left in charge because the sheepmen had thought that the cowmen would not harm her.
With this knowledge gained, the party wasted no more time on the woman or on her scattered sheep, but started off for the bigger game. When Injun and Whitey arrived on the spot, the woman had nothing more to say. She possibly felt that she had talked enough. Besides, she was busy smoking a pipe and waiting for the clever dogs to gather the scattered flock. But the ground was like the page of a book to Injun, and he read there, much better than the woman could have told him, that the sheep had been scattered, and the direction in which the men had gone.
Donald Spellman, the manager of the sheep ranch, was a clever, daring, and resourceful man. His ranch house was situated at the head of a narrow canyon, or coulee, that led up into steep, barren hills down which no horse could go. Into this pocket he had the sheep driven by thousands. Across the narrow entrance his men had built a heavy barbed-wire fence that was not visible from the foothills. In the daytime the pass could be defended from the ranch house. At night, with the sheepmen stationed in the hills, an attempt to break through that wire fence would be more than dangerous. And this was the situation against which Mart Cooley led his determined band.
It was at the end of a hard day's ride, and, late afternoon, when the cattlemen arrived in sight of the enemies' stronghold. They had circled the plains to the west, and ridden down in the shelter of the hills, to avoid coming within rifle range of the house. These western hills were rocky, and at their end a growth of firs, scrub oak, and brush gave the lynchers shelter. They were four or five hundred yards from the house, which was in plain view.
Mart Cooley, Walt Lampson, Buck Milton, and a couple of ranchmen stood in this natural screen and took in the situation.
"Sheep must be up in that coulee," said Walt.
"Sure," Mart replied. "They c'n wait. That there house is sure in a good spot. If it'd bin planned for a fort it couldn't be better." He stood and silently regarded the house, his eyes narrowed more than usual. "How many men d'ye s'pose they've got in there?" he asked finally.
"Reck'n they could scrape up 'bout twenty-five, in th' time they've had," Walt answered.
"An' some o' 'em shepherds, an' rotten shots, an' they's fifty o' us," Buck put in. He was eager for action.
"Well, I come here t' fight, an' I'm paid for it," said Mart Cooley. "But if we go after 'em in th' open an' th' daylight, they'll get a lot of us. We'll wait till night."
"Suits me," said Walt Lampson. "I don't want no sheepman t' get me."
There was a puff of smoke from the house, and a bullet whined over the men's heads. They dropped to the ground. The lynchers raised their rifles and emptied them, but not at the house. Back of it and to the left was a raised water tank, and into the lower part of this the shots were directed. As the men wormed their way back through the scrub, and around the hill, thin streams of water began to trickle from the tank.
"If we have t' stick 'round awhile, we'll leave 'em some thirsty, anyhow," said Walt.
Volleys of harmless shots had followed their creeping course, for at five hundred yards it is hard to hit an object on the ground—especially when it is protected by scrub.
Under cover of the steep hills the cattlemen waited for night. There was no sign of attack from the hills. Evidently the sheepmen were keeping their forces in the house during the daylight hours. After a brief twilight the night fell, cloudy and very dark. And Mart Cooley had formed another plan.
One of the men knew the lay of the canyon. Its only practical outlet was that guarded by the sheepmen. But a short way up the canyon there was a spring in the hills, which found its outlet in a narrow stream that ended in a small waterfall at the edge of a cliff. Mart figured on his force entering the canyon, stampeding the sheep, and driving them over this waterfall. It was as simple as it was cruel, but you may have noticed that it takes clever people to think of simple things, and Mart Cooley was proving almost as clever with his mind as he was with his guns. For Mart also figured on the effect on the sheepmen's nerve when they found their herds gone, and their water from the tank giving out.
Under cover of darkness Mart led about fifteen men around the hill, which they skirted, and, giving the ranch house a wide berth, made their way toward the mouth of the canyon. There was only one thing to guide them on their course. Where the western hills raised their heights toward the sky, their outline showed darker than the surrounding night. From this wall of black, Mart's force steered a diagonal course that would lead to the center of the canyon's mouth. Once in the canyon, out of range of the house and among the sheep, lanterns and fires would provide light enough for the men's purpose.
It is not likely that there was an idea of poetic justice in the mind of Mart Cooley; a thought that in stampeding the sheep he was repaying the sheepmen in their own coin for stampeding the cattle, repaying them with the death of the victims added as interest.
The plan seemed to be working out easily—too easily. Then, from one of the foremost rider's mounts, came the shrill neigh of a horse in pain, and the thudding of the animal's hoofs as it shied violently, for it had collided with the barbed wire fence. This was Mart's first intimation that there was a fence, but he had no time to think that he had been matched in cleverness by Donald Spellman, for things began to happen.
First came the sound of a cowbell. At intervals along the lower strands of barbed wire bells had been hung. Next came a volley of shots, from the hills, which had been sought by the sheepmen under the cover of the night. They were firing toward the sound of the bells. The firing was not well-directed, but it was steady and dangerous.
It is doubtful whether the attackers could have cut their way through the fence, handicapped as they were, but they had no chance to try, for just then a third thing happened. A cloud-obscured moon had been climbing the eastern hills, and at that moment the clouds parted and the entire valley was bathed in moonlight.
The light was peaceful and beautiful, but it brought a deadly effect. Not only did it reveal the cattlemen to their enemies in the hills, but to those in the distant ranch house, as well. The cracking of rifles was almost continuous in that fatal triangle, in which the sheepmen formed two points, and the cowmen the tragic third.
As the trapped fifteen rushed their mounts toward the shelter of the western hills, drawing farther away from their eastern enemies, they were forced to a nearer approach to the ranch house, to run the gantlet of its concealed sharp-shooters. A galloping horse, with its rider, does not offer an easy mark; fifteen of them, the objective of twenty rifles, form a better target. And when Mart Cooley's followers reached the shadows of the farther hills, they did not number fifteen, but eight.
It was into this party of flying horsemen that Injun and Whitey were carried bodily. As darkness had come on, the boys had ridden cautiously in the tracks of the advancing party. They had been attracted by the sound of the shots, and approached as near as they dared, to witness the battle. They were near the corner of the hill when the terrified horses dashed toward them, and to avoid being run down they had spurred their ponies ahead and were swept along with the flying riders.
Well, Mart Cooley had made the mistake of not figuring on the cleverness of Donald Spellman, and the result of this was not only to make him furious with himself, but to add to his, and to all the other men's desire for revenge. All thoughts of starving the enemy out were lost, absorbed in a lust for killing. The excited men paid no attention to the boys. It is doubtful if they even saw them.
Mart took his forty-odd men back to the firs and scrub oaks at the lower point of the western hills, and there they stretched out in the brush, and prepared to bombard the ranch house. The moonlight was now Mart's friend instead of his enemy. The sheepmen were divided. Those on the hills would come in range of the cattlemen's rifles if they attempted to cross the moonlit valley, and in the meantime they were harmless.
A number of volleys were fired into the house, not at the windows, but beneath the window ledges. When men are besieged in a house they must fire from the windows, kneeling by them. Several of the cattlemen's bullets tearing through the wooden wall of the house had caught these kneeling figures, and the fire from the place, never accurate, began to weaken. Mart had another purpose in view, but of that he said nothing. Possibly he was mortified by the failure of his sheep raid.
Knowing Injun and Whitey as you do, you can imagine that they got as near to this dangerous situation as they could. No one ordered them back because no one noticed them. But they fired no shots. The wish to kill any man, no matter how vile, filled no part of Whitey's young life. It would be hard to answer for Injun. Hard to tell what the blood of all his fighting forefathers was prompting him to do.
But Injun couldn't fire a shot if he wanted to. You may remember the Winchester that had been presented to Injun at the Bar O Ranch. He had left the gun at home. Injun knew nothing of the modern silencer, but he had one of his own—his bow and arrows. When he had started out in pursuit of the horse-thief, whom he supposed to be Henry Dorgan, Injun had carried these. No explosive gunshots for him. He expected to have to work silently.
While most of the men had their eyes and the sights of their guns fixed on the house, Mart Cooley kept his eyes on the sky. But despite this Mart noticed that no shots came from two figures near him, and looking closer he saw the crouching Whitey and Injun, the latter with his bow and arrows. Mart was about to speak to them, when a cloud crossed the moon. Mart gave vent to an oath of satisfaction and started forward. Then he thought of something, came back, and grasping Injun by the arm, dragged him forward with him.
It was a large cloud that obscured the moon, so there was a long period of darkness. Whitey stayed where he was. He wondered whether Mart Cooley would come and drag him forward, and rather hoped so. He wondered whether this darkness would give the men on the hills a chance to join their fellows in the ranch house. And Whitey also wondered where Buck Milton was. He hadn't seen him with the party. But Buck was lying out there on the plain; that is, the mortal Buck was. The other Buck was probably with his friend Tom.
At last Whitey's curiosity could hold him back no longer, and he crept forward to the front line of men, keeping well to one side. They had ceased firing, the house was dark. And the sheepmen there had ceased firing too. Their only marks had been the flashes of the cattlemen's guns, and those showed no longer.
All the men were hushed, as though in expectancy. Whitey peered into the darkness, as they were doing. The cloud's ragged edge showed at the lower half of the moon, and the ranch house could be dimly seen. From halfway between it and the men a small light appeared, flickered for a moment, then rising in the air described a graceful half-circle and alighted on the ranch house roof. Another, another, and then others followed. Injun was firing lighted arrows.
The moon came forth, and a volley of shots was poured from the ranch house toward the spot from whence the arrows had come. A volley from the cattlemen penetrated the walls of the house. Whitey trembled for Injun, out there in No Man's Land. He need not have trembled, for that young person was safely crouching behind a boulder.
For the first time Whitey noticed that a breeze was stirring. Just as in the night when you light a match a breeze springs up to put it out, so now wind seemed to come to fan those burning arrows on the ranch house roof. Whitey watched, chilled but fascinated. The men around him were in the whirl of a fight. He was a spectator; one who saw other men being forced out of a trap to their deaths. The arrows burned like tinder. Whitey did not know that they were soaked in oil, brought along for the purpose of firing the house.
There had been no rain for a week, so the roof was dry, and soon narrow, snake-like lines of flame began to creep across it. Whitey thought of the feelings of the imprisoned sheepmen, knowing what was going on overhead, but helpless to prevent it. It seemed that they surely must make some effort. Both sides had ceased firing. Then an idea occurred to Whitey. Why did not the sheepmen escape from the back of the house? A volley of shots from the other side of the valley seemed to answer the question. Under cover of the darkness Mart Cooley had sent half his men to a point that commanded the rear of the ranch house. Their shots sounded continuously for a moment and told a plain story. The sheepmen had tried to escape from the back, and had failed.
These shots told another story. Why were they not answered from the hills? Because the hill men had joined their fellows in the ranch house. All were cooped up there, making their choice of deaths; by fire or by bullets. Anything would be better than the fire. Why didn't they do something? Whitey found himself growing impatient with these doomed men whom he never had seen.
Something was stirring on the ranch house roof and glittered occasionally in the moonlight. The cattlemen watched it intently. It was the head of an axe, forcing its way through from beneath. The cattlemen laughed. When the wielded axe had formed a sufficient opening, the head and shoulders of a man appeared in it, and his hands followed, supporting a bucket of water. Twenty of the attackers' rifles were directed toward the roof, but at an order from Mart Cooley they were lowered. Mart raised his rifle, fired a single shot, and the man's figure disappeared through the opening, the bucket falling from his hands and pitching down over the edge of the roof.
"Now they know what kind o' shootin' t' expect when they come out," said Mart.
So Whitey knew why Mart alone had fired. It was to add to the fears of the sheepmen—if that could be done. Anyway, no other man appeared at the opening in the roof.
Whitey watched the flames creep up and down the roof, growing higher as they stole along. He saw them flicker over the eaves, lap the walls of the house, and finally clasp it like a red, flaring robe. But Whitey did not think of the fire in those terms, but as a thing of horror, of death.
You, who have followed the adventures of Whitey, know that he had been in situations in which he was threatened with death. But then he had been upheld by excitement; by the necessity of protecting himself. And he had even faced death, but then he had come on it unexpectedly, in the case of the hanging train robbers. This was a different matter; waiting to see men burned out and shot down. And it is small wonder that Whitey's nerves quivered, that the burning house began to dance before his eyes, and that he buried his face in his arms, to shut out the sight.
It is unlikely that Walt Lampson had thought of Whitey, until he chanced to see this action. Then he spoke, and not unkindly.
"You'd better get back there behind the hill, kid," Walt said. "This ain't no place for you."
And so Whitey rose, and returned to where Monty was tethered, and he was not ashamed of the fact that he stumbled as he walked. But Injun still crouched out behind the boulder. There was no quivering of his nerves. The only fear he might have had was that if he returned he would be sent to the rear; and he was too wily to take a chance. So most of what followed was seen by Injun, and heard about by Whitey.
There came the time when the surviving sheepmen could no longer remain in the house. Like a wise leader, Donald Spellman divided his forces, and ten crouching figures emerged from the front of the house, and ten from the back, and were outlined against the flames, as they scurried away. How they were harried and followed and shot down would not make pleasant reading, and what happened to those who were captured it is not necessary to write, as you will remember what the cattlemen had sworn to do at their meeting.
After this, if there had been any who doubted Mart Cooley's skill as a gunman, they doubted no longer. And it was the misfortune of Donald Spellman to come under Mart's aim. Or perhaps it was his good fortune to be mortally wounded by a bullet, instead of ending his life as did the captives. But Spellman had something to say before he died, and he said it to Walt Lampson.
"You got us," he gasped, "an' you got us right. An' I only got one thing to tell you, an' to tell you quick. I didn't plan that cattle stampede. It was a dirty trick."
"Who did?" Walter asked eagerly.
And Spellman answered that question with the last words he ever spoke.
It was at this time that Injun, still crouching behind his boulder, saw something like a miracle—a dead man coming to life. The man had fallen at the first volley, and the fight had swung past him. And now he rose, and stole hastily on his moonlit way. Injun watched solemnly. He had no mind to give a warning, and probably get shot for his pains. He might even have admired the trick, if he had not had a closer view of the runaway, who was Henry Dorgan.
When Injun discovered this, he was solemn no longer. He reached for his bow, but there was no arrow to fit in it. The last had been shot at the ranch house. Injun watched Dorgan disappear into the night, and said bitter things—in the Injun language.
So ended the last of this engagement in the cattle-sheep war, except for one incident. The cause of it all was still to be dealt with—the sheep. And here was another picture that Whitey fortunately missed. A tragic picture, seen from the hills at dawn, as the white, panic-stricken creatures, crowding, bleating, and complaining, were forced through the canyon to the bed of the narrow, shallow stream, on their way to the opening in the cliffs, through which the brook fell in a tiny waterfall over the edge of the precipice. These innocent instruments and victims of the greed and passions of man!
These things happened, my friends. Let you and me, and all of those who love America and the West, send up a silent prayer to the Creator that they are of the past, that they may never happen again—to leave such harrowing pictures in the minds of men.
The sun was shining on the Star Circle Ranch. Whitey sat in the doorway of the bunk house, and listened to the talk and laughter of two or three idle punchers inside. Two days had passed since the tragedy. Though the laughing cowboys had not forgotten it, it was already a thing of the past; "all in a day's work." For it was like that in the West, in those times—death one day, laughter the next.
Another being sat in the sunshine near the distant Bar O Ranch house; squat, bow-legged, his face wrinkled with anxiety and expectancy, he looked longingly off at the dusty road along which Whitey had gone, waiting and hoping for his friend's return. Thus sat Sitting Bull, forgotten but not forgetting.
Injun approached Whitey, from the direction of the Star Circle Ranch house. In his hand was an object which he regarded gravely as he walked. Two grunted words at a time he used in telling Whitey the meaning of this object.
The ranchmen had thought that Injun's services on the night of the fight deserved some reward. A messenger had been sent to Jimtown, and had returned with the reward, which had just been presented to Injun. It was a stickpin, a large imitation emerald, in a solid gold setting, to be inserted in one's necktie, the latest thing in fashion in a country where few men wore ties. Whitey looked at the pin, and, glad of the chance, he laughed and laughed. Injun did not laugh. He liked the stickpin. He was proud of it.
Louder sounds of merriment in the bunk house attracted Whitey, and, leaving Injun to gloat over his treasure, Whitey joined the men inside. It may have been that they, too, were glad to have laughter help them to forget the dangers and tragedies of the times. One of them had just told a story—which might have been a story in both senses of the word. Knowing that a yarn usually comes with a cowboy, or a cowboy usually comes with a yarn, Whitey sat down and waited.
I have written that most of the mirth on the Star Circle was aroused by the troubles of others, but that was not true of all of it. On a cracker box sat a dreamy-eyed, short, fat puncher; almost too fat for his job. His nickname was "Single." He had been married five times. So you can see that Single was a man of experiences. Furthermore, he was always willing to talk about them. He gazed thoughtfully at Injun, who, out in the sunlight, was still admiring his stickpin.
"The two funniest things in th' world t' me is mules an' Injuns," Single said.
"Injuns don't never say or do nothin' funny," retorted a sour-looking puncher.
"I mean queer, odd," Single replied.
"What do you know 'bout Injuns?" demanded the other.
"What do I know 'bout 'em!" snorted Single. "My third wife was a half-breed."
"Gosh, Single!" another puncher broke in. "I knew you'd had plenty o' wives, but I never knew you'd had no half wives."
"Th' wa'n't nothin' halfway 'bout her," Single replied bitterly, "'cept th' breed." He seemed lost in gloomy thought, and fearing that he would not talk at all, Whitey spoke.
"That was an inappropriate present to give Injun," he said.
"An inawhat?" asked Single, whose education had been neglected.
"Inappropriate. I mean it was something you wouldn't think he'd like," Whitey explained hastily.
"I dunno," Single answered. "You can't never tell 'bout a Injun. He looks stuck on that there present now," and he nodded toward Injun, who was devouring the stickpin with his eyes. "Mebbe he thinks it's med'cine," Single went on.
"Medicine!" exclaimed Whitey.
"Sure—good luck," said Single. "An' if he does, you couldn't pry it off'n him with a steam dredge."
It had not occurred to Whitey that Injun was superstitious. He never had talked about it—but he never talked much about anything. And an Indian's "medicine" is superstition, pure and simple. He cherishes some object that he has come upon under conditions that make him think it lucky. Sometimes the medicine man of his tribe performs a rite over this object, and that gives a sort of religious flavor to it, making it almost sacred in the owner's view. His belief in it is tribal; has come down from his forefathers. It is very hard to shake an Indian's faith in his medicine.
While Whitey was recalling these facts, which he had heard about, Single's eyes were narrowing—looking inside his head, one might say, to find there a story that fitted in with Injun's interest in his gift.
"Speakin' o' my third wife's half brother," Single broke out, at last.
"What kind o' fambly was that?" interrupted the sour puncher. "Thirds, an' halfs, an' things. Sounds more like 'rithmetic than a fambly."
"It was harder'n 'rithmetic," Single replied darkly. "This here half brother o' my wife's was a Cognowaga" (Caughnawaga).
"Gee, what a fambly!" groaned the other, but Single did not heed him.
"An' his name was Sam Sharp," Single went on. "'Course that wasn't his real name. He was a sportin' gent, an' that was his sportin' name. He was one o' them all-round fellers. Run! Say, he c'd make a jack-rabbit look like a fly in a tub o' butter. He c'd jump higher'n this here roof, an' vault twic't as high. An' them big shots an' weights that they put—I'd hate t' tell you how far he c'd put 'em. You wouldn't b'lieve me."
"We don't b'lieve you, anyhow," muttered one of the boys, but Single didn't seem to hear. He was wrapped up in his story.
"He'd throw th' discus from here down t' th' corral."
"What's a discus?" asked a puncher.
"It doesn't matter, but he c'd throw it," said Single. "An' he was champeen of America; not only that, but champeen of th' whole world."
Now, it didn't make much difference whether Single's story was true or not. One didn't have to believe it to enjoy it. He aimed to astonish, rather than to be truthful. But these statements were too much for the imagination of his hearers—or rather for their lack of it. He was greeted by a chorus of hoots and yells of disbelief, that developed into a volley of boots and spurs and cans and anything that could be thrown, and he was fairly driven from the room.
And the odd part of it was that Single was only a little ahead of his time. For there was an Indian boy living then who afterwards did things as hard to believe, so marvelous that I must tell about him.
His name is Jim Thorpe, and he is a Sac and Fox Indian. His running record for one hundred yards is ten seconds. For one hundred and twenty yards, with three-feet-six-inch hurdles, fifteen seconds; running broad jump, over twenty-three feet; running high jump, over six feet. He put a sixteen-pound shot over forty-three feet, and a fifty-six pound weight in the neighborhood of twenty-eight feet, and made a pole-vault of over twelve feet. He ran a half-mile and a mile at great speed.
When the Olympian Games were held in Sweden, and all the champion athletes of the world took part, it was the ambition of each to win one event, or even to run one-two-three in it. There were five events in the Pentathlon and ten in the Decathlon. Jim Thorpe won them all.
He won the all-round championship of America a couple of times, a feat paled by those he accomplished in the Olympian Games. He is the greatest football player that ever lived, and one of the greatest Major League baseball players, drawing a large salary from one of the clubs, and playing yet. And if you don't believe me, all you have to do is to look at the sporting-records.
Whitey was greatly disappointed when Single was driven out of the bunk house. He wanted to hear the rest of that story about the third wife's half brother. So Whitey went after Single, and tried to coax him to come back.
And the other punchers were sorry that they had been so hasty, for they wanted to see how far Single's imagination would carry him.
Whitey had heard an old yarn about a parrot in a mining camp. A magician was giving a performance at the camp, and after every trick the miners would say, "I wonder what he's going to do next?" One of them was smoking, a spark fell in a keg of powder, and blew the camp away from that place. The parrot landed a quarter of a mile off, most of his feathers gone, his cage was a wreck. And, peering out, he asked, "I wonder what he's going to do next?"
That was the way it was with those cowpunchers, and they joined Whitey, and finally smoothed over Single's feelings, and coaxed him to continue his story—which he wanted to do, anyway.
"Well, this here Sam Sharp had his faults," Single continued, when he was settled again in his seat. "For a feller that c'd move so quick he was s'prisin' lazy; so lazy he'd trip over his feet gettin' out o' his own way. An' drinkin', an' gamblin'!—say, I won't take your time tellin' you all th' things he liked. All you had t' do was t' ast yourself was a thing wrong. If it was, Sam liked it.
"Bein' a champeen, o' course Sam had a manager what made money out o' Sam's stunts, for both o' 'em. This manager was a white man named Gallager, an' his life was made a burden, for he had t' train Sam for them there stunts, an' Sam didn't cotton to trainin' nonesoever. When he oughta be doin' it, he'd be off dancin', or drinkin', or pokerin', or somethin'. An' Gallager got sicker an' sicker of such doin's.
"Well, bein' a Injun, Sam had a med'cine. It was a twig. Where he got it I don't know, but it was firm fixed in Sam's nut that he couldn't run without that there twig was tucked inside his shirt. An' that twig was s'posed t' work both ways. For when Sam was runnin' 'gainst another feller, he'd put th' twig down in one of th' other feller's footprints, an' Sam thought that kept th' other feller back.
"Now, this here twig was one o' Gallager's greatest troubles. For Sam was always losin' it, or leavin' it behind, an' him or Gallager havin' t' go after it, an' races was havin' t' be held back, or put off, for Sam wouldn't run without that twig. So Gallager hated it.
"Along comes a time when Sam is stacked up t' meet a corkin' good runner. An' Sam was off gallivantin' 'round at dances, an' worse things, an' not trainin' none whatever. An' Gallager says t' himself, 'Here's where I cure that Injun of th' twig habit.' You see, Sam was that soft from loafin', he couldn't have beat a mud turtle up a hill, so Gallager figgers Sam'll likely lose th' race, anyway, an' it'll be worth it t' get clear o' that infernal twig. So Gallager lets Sam stay soft.
"Along comes th' day o' th' race, an' Gallager hadn't done nothin' or said nothin', an' Sam runs an' loses, an' after it's all over Gallager goes t' him.
"'Got your twig?' he says.
"'Uh,' grunts Sam.
"'Stick it in th' other feller's footprints?'
"'Got it in your shirt?'
"'Uh huh,' says Sam, an' pulls out th' twig.
"'Well, you didn't win, did you?' says Gallager.
"'Um, um,' says Sam, lookin' at th' twig.
"'Then th' twig's no good, is it?' asks Gallager, lookin' Sam firmly in th' eye, an' Sam returnin' th' look.
"'NO!' says Sam, an' he throws th' twig away."
The cowpunchers did not believe this story. They did not think that an Indian can be cured of his medicine. But I know it is true, for I knew the Indian.
It might not be amiss to state here that there is another Indian alive to-day, who was a baby in arms when Sam Sharp lived, who ran in and won thirty-eight Marathon races, when no one else in the world ever finished first, second, or third in over three. His name is Tom Longboat.
"THE PRIDE OF THE WEST"
Whitey wandered over to the Star Circle Ranch house. He wanted to see Walt Lampson, who had paid little attention to him since the night of the fight. Whitey was getting tired of staying at the Star Circle, and thought Walt might be ready now to ship the cattle to the Bar O, and thus give Whitey something to do.
Walt was not in the living-room, which was a large, untidy place that also served as an office. There was a great, flat desk in one corner, and lying on it—among some dusty papers, reports and stock books—was a six-gun, with its belt and holster, a silver watch, a knife, and other odds and ends. These were the property of poor Buck Milton, waiting till they were claimed, or would be disposed of.
Whitey looked at them sadly. Near the watch lay a crumpled and soiled piece of paper, and as Whitey glanced at it his own name caught his eye. Surprised, he picked the paper up and read it through before he realized what it was—Bill Jordan's letter to Dan Brayton, of the T Up and Down, the letter Whitey had delivered. It ran:
Whitey Sherwood, the kid what fetches this here letter, is tired uv school. He had ruther fish. This here letter is sposed to be on importunt business uv his dads, the owner uv this here ranch. The business is to make Whitey tireder out uv school than what he was in it. I started the ball rollin. Kin you keep it goin?
Hopin this will find you the same
Yours truly Wm Jordan
There were two notations in pencil at the bottom of the letter. One read:
Walt—Im passin the kid along to you. Get busy.
And the other, Buck's:
Dont kill this kid but come as near to it as you kin.
A great light broke in on Whitey. So this was the meaning of it all? the twenty-five mile walk to Cal Smith's house; the singular conduct of the men at the T Up and Down; the nester's lending him that jack Felix, that he knew would run home and leave Whitey alone on the plains; and Walt Lampson's sending him out on the range, in the face of a storm. And as a sort of high peak in his mountain range of troubles Whitey remembered Little Thompson's talk about funerals. Whitey buried his head in his hands and groaned at the thought. He had dreamed of funerals ever since. He determined to make a will and put in it that Little Thompson should not be allowed to come to his (Whitey's) funeral.
They had passed him along from one to another, making a fool of him, and laughing behind his back all the time. He knew how rough cowmen often were in their fun, and the only wonder was that they hadn't treated him worse. He supposed that they would have done so had his father not been a ranch-owner. So! they probably thought he was something of a molly-coddle. He was angry enough, but this thought made him angrier—that he hadn't been treated worse. Which goes to show what a reasonable thing anger is!
Whitey went out, sat down behind the cook's shack, and gave way to gloomy reflections. He reviewed his past life for quite a way back, and everything in it seemed to be wrong. He wanted to do big things, and he always was just missing them. If he had been earlier when he followed those train robbers, he might have warned the people on the train, and been a sort of hero. If, if, if—oh, what was the use?
But it certainly is bitter to think you might make yourself a hero, and find that some one else has made a fool of you. Whitey remembered a saying that the first time a fellow is fooled it is the other fellow's fault—and the next time it is his own. They wouldn't fool him again. He'd do something big yet. He'd show them!
The first thing to do was to find Injun. The next thing to do was to leave that Star Circle Ranch. Whitey hated it there, anyway. And the next was a thing not to do—not to go back to the Bar O, and have Bill Jordan and the others laugh at him. The first thing proved easy, and Whitey proceeded to tell Injun his troubles.
"Huh," said Injun. "Better'n him school."
"I know it's better than school," said Whitey, annoyed, as we always are when we seek sympathy and get facts. "I'd rather do 'most anything than go to that awful school. But what I object to is being made a fool of." He was suffering from mortification, which is a sort of ingrowing anger, and the more it sunk in, the angrier he got.
And here was the plan he unfolded to Injun; the plan to get even with Bill Jordan. They would go to Moose Lake, in the foothills of the mountains. You may remember that on the southwestern shore of this lake was a cabin, which had been the scene of some of the boys' former adventures. They would make this cabin their headquarters. Bill Jordan never would suspect that they were there. They would live by fishing and hunting, which were good at that time of year. As for other provisions, Whitey had some money, and they could buy them at Jimtown, on the way. No one knew them there. Whitey even planned getting a message to Bill Jordan that he, Whitey, was dead. Bill would feel pretty sorry then, at the result of his silly trick. And when Whitey thought Bill was sorry enough, he would return, and advise Bill never to be so silly again. You see, he was in a very savage mood. He would get over that, but he didn't realize it then.
As Injun heard these plans, he considered them. He was very well satisfied where he was. There had been fighting there, there might be more, and he liked fighting. Fishing and hunting were all very well, but he'd had a lot of them in his young life, and they were no novelty. It was like asking a sailor to go for a sail, on his day off. And Injun couldn't fully understand Whitey's wanting to do all these things. But do you think he voiced his objections to them? He did not. For in one way Injun was like a faithful dog he accepted things he didn't understand. So one liked his loyalty more than one pitied his ignorance.
No one paid any attention to the boys when they rode away from the Star Circle Ranch. They might be going hunting, or just for a ride, for all the ranchmen knew or cared. They struck off toward the northwest, in which direction lay Jimtown, with Moose Lake far beyond, nestling in the foothills of the Rockies.
It was a beautiful day, with the haze of fall shrouding the distance, a hint of brown tingeing the prairie grass, the sun a bit milder with its rays and paler in its face than in midsummer. And the old sun seemed a trifle lazy, as if lying back awaiting the frost that would nip the rolling mesa, to be followed by the gales that would sweep across it, then by the whirling blizzards that would hold the plains in their frigid grasp. Yes, it was a beautiful day—a day on which it was very hard to stay mad.
Creeping across the northern distance the boys saw two wagons. Evidently they had come from Jimtown. Wagons are as interesting sights on a prairie as they are uninteresting in a city, so the boys shifted their course slightly that they might investigate. And these were the rarest wagons that crawled across the plains, for they carried a show!
During the many months that Whitey had been in the West only one show had come to the Junction, and that at a time when Injun and Whitey had been hunting in the mountains. Lives there a boy with soul so dead that he does not hunger for a show? I leave you to answer that, and to guess how hungry Whitey was for one.
But if you have in your mind any big, gilded wagons, with pictures of beautiful women on their sides, and drawn by many prancing white horses with red plumes on their heads, get that vision right out of your mind. These were "prairie schooners," covered with old, weather-beaten canvas, creaking along on wheels on which mud had long taken the place of paint, and drawn by mules!
And the only things to indicate their character were letters painted on the old canvas sides, where they drooped between the wooden arches that supported them; letters which read: "The Mildini Troupe. Pride of the West." And that was enough. For everybody in that part of Montana knew the Mildinis. They came once a year—if nothing happened to prevent.
There were three in the company—Mr. Mildini, who was short and fat, and had a twinkle in his eye, and had been born Murphy; Mrs. Mildini, who was slim and sharp-featured, and whose eyes were bright, without any twinkle in them; and Signor Antolini, who was of medium height and rather thin, and had a nose like a hawk, and had been born on Mulberry Street, in New York City. Two thirds of this troupe remained the same, year after year, but sometimes Signor Antolini was Signor Somebody Else.
This doesn't seem to offer much chance for entertainment, does it? To Injun it was a wonderful troupe. To Whitey, who had been to all sorts of entertainments in the East, it was a novelty. Perhaps it would be bad enough to be good. Anyway, it was a show. Thoughts of revenge against Bill Jordan could be abandoned for the time being. They would have to wait. Meanwhile, Injun and Whitey would follow the show.
Mr. Mildini, who drove the first wagon, was very friendly, and smoked a pipe. Signor Antolini, who drove the second wagon, was also friendly, and smoked cigarettes. Mrs. Mildini, who slept in the first wagon, expressed no feelings at all. That wagon contained the trunks and chattels of Mildini and wife, and in it they made their home. The other wagon held the instruments and properties of the show, the cooking utensils, and the bed of Signor Antolini. It was all very simple, and very fascinating, when you thought of it, to be traveling around the country in the sunshine, pausing at different places to entertain admiring audiences.
Where were they from? From Jimtown, where they had showed the night before. And where bound? To the Hanley Ranch, a big wheat ranch, about twenty miles east. It was threshing-time there, and there would be plenty of men to make an audience. Mr. Mildini meant plenty from his point of view. A settlement of five houses looked good to him.
Oh, yes, Whitey knew the Hanley Ranch. It was fourteen miles west of the Bar O. Oh, no, Mr. Mildini didn't mind their riding along with the troupe. He was glad of the company. They could have dinner with them, too, if they liked. And perhaps they wouldn't mind helping with the stock, if they didn't make the ranch that day, and had to camp.
Sometimes they had trouble with the wagons; they were old. Sometimes they got stuck in the mud. You never could tell. Yes, the show business was fascinating, but very uncertain. Mr. Mildini was chatty and not a bit stand-offish, as one might think a talented person would be.
So, when that old fall sun sank down toward the west, it outlined two shabby wagons, crawling along the lonely prairie. Near one rode an eager white boy, occasionally leaning over and drinking in the wisdom that fell from the lips of a little Irishman; near the other, a pink-shirted Indian lad, stolid and silent, but in his breast burning the fever that stirs every boy who is going to a show.
Perhaps if you were born in, or have visited, a great Eastern city you have sat in an enormous amphitheater, a fifth of a mile in length, with tiers and tiers of private boxes, and rows and rows of seats. In the sawdust arena you have seen three circus rings, a performance going on in each; acrobats, bare-back riders, trained animals, what not; and around the edge of it all a procession of clowns, doing their merry stunts. And you have craned, strained, and twisted your neck, trying to take it all in. And that is your idea of a show.
In such a place sat Whitey, for that was what a show recalled to his mind, but when he opened his eyes, and came away from that mind circus, he was in a very different place.
Large it was and barren, with rough-boarded sides; with lofts, and stalls, and racks, and farming implements crowded into corners, and an earthen floor, and—well, perhaps you have seen a big Western barn, which answers the purpose of housing many things and animals. Such was the setting in which the Mildini Troupe performed; the Pride of the West!
Each individual of the audience sat on whatever he, or she, could get to sit upon; a saddle, a blanket, a box, a rare chair or two. Perhaps that audience would have proved to you almost as interesting as the performance, for it was made up of many sorts of men that the threshing had brought together—farm-hands, cowpunchers, store-keepers, blacksmiths, bartenders, hold-up men, but no sheepherders. Sheepherders were not welcome among threshers, nor in any other Western community. Of women there were two—the wife of the foreman of the ranch, and one who helped her.
No person on the ranch was absent, for before the performance the Mildinis had given a sort of sample of their talent; of what all were to expect. A tight-rope had been stretched across the Yellowstone River, and on this, clad in pink tights, balance-pole in hand, Signor Antolini had walked, high over the more or less raging flood.
Do you ever tire of shows? I hope you don't. I don't, and offhand I can't think of many people who do. So I'll assume that, with Injun and Whitey, you'd like to see a bit of this poor little troupe's efforts, which were pathetic in a way, though no one thought of that.
Whitey had been wondering what particular talents Mr. Mildini was master of, and he found that they were many. He could and did dance, sing, and tell comic stories in a number of dialects, all convulsing. But tricks were the crowning wonder of Mildini's performance, though he called them "feats of magic."
I'd hesitate to tell you the things he could take out of a silk hat; live rabbits, endless strips of colored paper, jars of imitation goldfish, and many other useless articles. It is true that the silk hat was his, no one in the audience having been able to produce one, when requested to do so but it was passed freely among the crowd to be examined; to convince doubters that there was no "deception." Endless eggs could Mildini take from his mouth, ears, hair, or from the mouth, ears, or hair of any "gent" in the audience.
And every one, from store-keeper to hold-up man, wondered and laughed and was pleasantly deceived. And after one of the most difficult tricks, when a puncher said, "I wonder what he's goin' t' do next?" the people near Whitey were puzzled when he burst into laughter.
Then there was Mrs. Mildini, who, it seemed, was "Mademoiselle Therese," who not only could draw enchanting melodies from a violin, but could make it speak in the language of various barnyard creatures, such as geese, chickens, pigs—oh, almost anything. And the music she could extract from one string—"one string, mind you, ladees and gentlemun!" It was marvelous.
It is true that she introduced an element of sadness in the evening when she played "Home, Sweet Home," and "Way Down upon the Swanee River," reducing even the bartenders and hold-up men almost to tears. But possibly a touch of the serious lends a pleasant contrast to merriment.
There remained Signor Antolini, who was the "World's Greatest Contortionist," and who certainly could contort in a manner to shame an angleworm: could twist his slim body into knots that it would seem almost impossible to untie; and could pass it through a hoop through which any sensible person would be willing to bet it couldn't go.
Whitey had cause to remember this talent of the Signor's, for in after days when Whitey tried to pass his body through a small hoop, it didn't pass. It held Whitey firmly, in a very painful position, all twisted up like that. And as no one happened to be near, it was some time before Whitey's yells brought Bill Jordan, who cut the hoop in two, and instead of applauding, laughed.
And last of all came a little play in which the "entire company" took part, a comic little play, in which Signor Antolini was a professor who was going to teach Mrs. Mildini to be an actress. But they were constantly interrupted by Mr. Mildini, who was a funny darky, all blacked up. And then it appeared that Mr. Mildini could play on many instruments; one of them a long spoon, which he used as a flute. There was no end to that man's talents. And to think he had been so friendly and chatty with Whitey on the plains!
Well, once in a while it's a good thing to forget that you ever were a "city fellow," and saw wonderful performances, and to be able to enjoy a simple show like this. And I suppose the world is a better place for the Mildinis in it, who travel through rough countries, and for a little while make people forget the hardships of their lives; lives sometimes touched by tragedy.
That's the way Whitey felt about it when, for the last time, the troupe had left the small raised platform that had been built at one end of the barn to represent a stage, and had retired to the stalls, which served as dressing-rooms.
The men of the audience were leaving, and most of their faces held traces of the pleasure the Mildinis' efforts had given them; others had returned to their usual hardness. Among the last was one the sight of whom caused Injun to grip Whitey's arm so forcibly that he almost cried out with pain as he was drawn back into the shadows and Injun pointed out Henry Dorgan.
Injun was a being who ran more to feelings, or instincts, than to reasons, and like many persons of that kind his instincts often ran truer to form than the reasons of others. While Dorgan was not a likable man, he was not one whom everybody would distrust; he did not have the word "villain" printed on his face. Yet Injun thought he was one, and if asked for his reasons probably could not have told them.
You know that Injun suspected Dorgan of taking Whitey's pony, and now Whitey learned for the first time that Injun had seen Dorgan stealing away from the sheep ranch on the night of the war. Whitey wondered why Injun had not told him this before, but it was not Injun's way to tell everything he knew, even to Whitey. That was one of Injun's charms.
No one ever had suspected Dorgan of being a sheepman. He might have been at that ranch as a mere visitor. Injun thought he went there on foot, after Monty had been taken away from him. It is well known that in the Old West horse-stealing was considered about the worst crime a man could commit, not only because of the value of the horse, and a man's being so dependent on it, but because the horse helped to steal itself, as all one had to do was to get on it and ride away. It never would do to accuse Dorgan of the crime without pretty good proof.
Of course, it made Whitey wild to think of any one's stealing Monty, and as he and Injun stood in a corner of the barn, and talked the matter over, they decided on the following course: they would stay at the Hanley Ranch for a while; Dorgan had not seen them. If he ran away when he did see them, that would be an indication of guilt, but no proof. But if Dorgan stayed on, the boys might be able to get some proof of his guilt. He was a dangerous man to deal with; that made it all the more interesting. If they had known how dangerous Dorgan really was, they might have considered the matter more seriously.
The next morning the Mildini Troupe went on its way across the lonely prairie, and Whitey watched the departure with regret. He would have liked to travel farther with that troupe.
The owner of the Hanley Ranch seldom came there. He lived in the East, leaving the affairs of the place entirely in the hands of a manager named Gilbert Steele. It was a common saying in that part of the country that "Gil Steele was as hard as his name." He was an ambitious and an active man, and regarded every dollar wrung out of the ranch for its owner as a sort of triumph for himself.
There are men who are successful only when working for others; whose every independent effort is a failure. Steele was such a man, and that made him bitter, but none the less energetic. He acted not only as manager, but as foreman of the ranch, which included two sections, twelve hundred and eighty acres. And he had many enemies.
Perhaps you have wondered at that queer audience in the barn, and why threshing-time should bring it together. In those days in the West threshing-time was an era of prosperity, and twenty-five or thirty men would band together and buy a threshing-machine. They owned plenty of horses, and they would go from ranch to ranch with this machine, and thresh the grain. Now, this threshing-time being of short duration, it drew into it men whose occupations were entirely different at other times of the year. Hence, the bartenders, hold-up men, cowpunchers—whom it would be fatal to ask where they came from—the blacksmiths, and the store-keepers.
Gil Steele had been at the Bar O, so Whitey was known to him, and he supposed that the boy had come merely to see the show. So Gil was rather surprised, the next morning, when Whitey asked for a job for himself and for Injun.
"What do you want to work for?" Steele demanded. "Your father's got plenty o' money."
Whitey's real reason was that he wanted to be among the men to watch Dorgan, but he equivocated—which is a pretty way of saying that he told a white lie.
"Bill Jordan thinks I'm a softy," Whitey replied. "He's trying to make it so hard for me that I'll be glad to go back to school. And I want to show Bill that I'm not afraid of work." You see, there was enough truth in this to keep Whitey's conscience from aching.
"All right," said Steele. "More hands mean quicker work and more money. But I never heard of an Injun wanting to work before."
"Tame Injun," Injun said solemnly, which was as near a joke as he ever came in the years Whitey knew him.
This work came under the head of what a fellow doesn't really have to do, and everybody knows the difference between that and labor that a fellow does have to do—about the same difference that there is between work and fun. The threshing-machine was run by horse power. You remember Felix, the jack that Whitey rode across the prairie, and Felix's job of turning the little grinding-mill? The horses had the same sort of job, except that there were teams of them, revolving around a central pivot, that furnished the power that worked the great machine in whose maw sheaves of wheat were fed, to come out as grain.
Injun and Whitey's jobs were to hold the sacks into which the grain fell. And there they worked, from sunup to sundown, in the heat, and the dust from the chaff, with never a murmur. They were happy because it wasn't work, it was an adventure, with expectancy and danger in it. And Gil Steele was happy, because he was practically getting the work of two men for the pay of two boys.
The sleeping quarters in the Hanley Ranch were altogether taken up by the extra help required to feed the threshers. So the threshers themselves occupied tents, and it was in one of these that Whitey and Injun were bedded, much to their joy. It fitted in with their plans to watch Dorgan, and see if they could learn something that would confirm their suspicions of him.
So far Dorgan had been an utter disappointment. Not only had he refrained from beating it, but he had greeted the boys pleasantly when they met. As far as outward appearances went, Dorgan might have been a Sunday school superintendent. Had he been one at heart, there would be no more story for me to tell.
But there were times when Dorgan could be forgotten. With a crowd like that gathered on the Hanley Ranch, you can imagine the yarns there were to spin in the long evenings, with nothing to do but spin them. Perhaps some of the tales those men didn't dare to tell—the secrets hidden behind their hardened faces, the faults, the crimes, the horrors that could have been revealed—these might have proved more thrilling than the stories that came forth; but that is something that neither you, nor Whitey, nor I will ever know.
The tales that were told there had the proper setting, and if you have thought much about stories you know what that means. You tell a ghost story late at night, seated before a fireplace in an old country house. The only light comes from the flames of the dying fire logs that flicker as the wind howls down the chimney; the only sounds, the beating of the rain on the walls and roof, and—during the creepy pauses in the yarn—the creakings that a lonely house gives out in the night hours. Tell that same story on a sun-lighted June morning, in the orchard, when the trees are all in blossom. Oh, boy! you know the difference.
One night when Whitey had been to the ranch house on an errand, he returned to the tent to find a disturbance going on. Dorgan, who slept in another tent, was a visitor. Somewhere he had obtained liquor; under its influence his pleasant manner had fled, and he was picking on Injun. The dislike that Dorgan concealed during his sober moments had reached the point at which he demanded that Injun be put out of the tent. It was a place for white men, not for Injuns. Injun was not afraid of Dorgan, and had no idea of leaving, so Dorgan was going to put him out. Injun wasn't going to let Dorgan put him out.
At this moment Whitey arrived. What would have happened to an unarmed boy against a drunken, armed man or to two unarmed boys, for Whitey started to interfere, is something else we never shall know, for a cowboy put in his oar.
You know that a cowboy remains a "boy" until he is old enough to die. This one was sixty, he wasn't a typical puncher at all. He had a thin, hawk-like face, steady gray eyes, rather long hair which also was gray like his moustache and goatee. He had been a soldier and an Indian fighter, and he looked it. As Dorgan lurched toward the boys, who stood tense, with flashing eyes, and prepared for resistance, this cowboy stepped between, and spoke to Dorgan.
"I wouldn't do that if I was you," he said, and he spoke in a sort of drawl, but there didn't seem to be any drawl in his cool, gray eyes. In spite of his condition Dorgan appeared to realize this, for he paused uncertainly. "I don't hold myself up as no defender o' Injuns," the old puncher went on calmly, "but I've had a bit o' truck with 'em, fer an' ag'inst, I'm some judge of 'em, an' I reck'n this one c'n stay right here."
Dorgan began to stiffen a little and his fingers clutched, as one's will when one thinks of reaching for a gun. The other man had a gun, too, but he made not the slightest movement toward it, and he spoke even more quietly than before.
"If I was you," he repeated, "bein' in th' c'ndition you're in, I'd beat it. You may have objections for t' state, thinkin' this ain't none o' my business, an' you c'n state 'em now—or f'rever hold your peace."
Dorgan looked around the tent, as if for moral support, but didn't find any. A singular quiet had fallen on the place; a sort of disconcerting quiet. A warning ray of sense must have come into Dorgan's fuddled brain as he looked again at the old puncher, for without a word he stumbled out into the darkness.
"That was mighty fine of you," Whitey said warmly, but the old man didn't seem to hear him.
He sat down and built a cigarette, and when it was lighted began to drawl between puffs. "There's a lot o' folks that don't know nothin' 'bout Injuns, that has a lot o' 'pinions concernin' 'em," he said. "They say you've got t' live with a feller t' know him, but that ain't so. You c'n find out a lot by fightin' him. That's how I got my feelin' for Injuns, an' it's th' kind you have for a good fighter."
The incident with Dorgan seemed to have passed from his mind, though Whitey had lived long enough in the West to know that tragedy had lurked near. The old puncher leaned back, his hands behind his head, and puffed clouds of smoke into the air. He looked at the smoke as though he saw pictures in it. Then he carefully threw the cigarette down and ground his heel into it. As the other men had remained silent while he was talking to Dorgan, they remained silent now.
He was a product of an epic time in the West, a time when the others had been boys. Naturally a quiet man, he had had little to say. He also was known as a dangerous man, and when a quiet and dangerous man seems inclined to talk, it is sometimes worth while to wait. Instead of speaking, he rolled another cigarette, and again looked into the smoke.
But presently the old puncher awoke from his dream and looked at the surrounding faces, some coarse, some wicked, but all attentive, all plainly inviting him to talk.
"Yes, sir, a feller that was in th' Seventh Cavalry, in th' old days, got a good many lessons 'bout Injuns," he began. "An' if you like, I c'n tell you some things 'bout th' biggest Injun fight that ever happened in these parts, 'cause I was there."
So he told the story, and I shall leave out the questions with which it was interrupted.
THE STORY OF THE CUSTER FIGHT
"You know my bein' with Major Reno is why I'm able t' tell this story, 'cause all th' Old Man's outfit—'Old Man' bein' what we called General Custer—was wiped out.
"Us soldiers didn't know all th' ins an' outs o' what was goin' on, but we did know that th' Old Man was a whole lot dissatisfied. There'd bin a lot o' talk 'bout him havin' gone t' Washington, an' havin' a talk with President Grant, at which interview, so 'twas said, th' President'd told him th' first duty of a soldier was obedience, but we didn't know nothin' 'bout that—whether 'twas true or 'twasn't true. All we knowed was that he was away a long time, an' when he come back he sure had fire in his eye.
"General Terry was in command at old Fort Buford, an' when th' Injuns broke out, he was in command of all th' soldiers in that part of th' country. General Phil Sheridan was his chief, but we never seen him.
"Well, when the Injuns broke loose, Terry he thought as it was th' spring o' th' year, it was a good time t' get 'em. So 'bout th' first o' June, '76, all th' get-ready stuff was gone over, an' all th' good-byes was said with them as had famblies, an' we was loaded onto th' steamer Far West, an' headed down th' old Missouri.
"When we got to th' mouth o' th' Yellowstone it was June twenty-first. We unloaded. An' General Terry says t' our Old Man—don't forget we just called him that; General Custer was only thirty-eight years old—Terry says, 'You take your Seventh men an' scout ahead an' let Charlie Reynolds go ahead o' you.' 'Cause everybody knowed that Charlie Reynolds savvied Injuns an' Injun ways better'n any white man that ever lived—him that was known as 'Lonesome Charlie.'
"An' Terry he says t' Custer, our Old Man, 'When you get t' th' Little Big Horn country you wait for me, as I'm travelin' heavy. I'll be four days makin' it.'
"An' again says Terry t' our Old Man: 'If you see any Injuns in force, halt an' stay there till I come up, but don't start any fight unless they force it on you, an' if they do force it on you, fight on th' defensive'—which, as you all know, is backin' up. 'Fight on th' defensive till I come up with you, an' then we'll give 'em hell.'
"Our Old Man he said, 'You bet,' an' we left.
"General Custer he was in command, and Colonel Benteen an' Major Reno was his officers. After doin' twenty or thirty miles in th' saddle, we was sure a s'prised bunch o' rookies when we didn't stop. We didn't stop. No, siree! We kep' right on a-goin'. We didn't stop when we hit forty miles, nor sixty miles, nor eighty miles. It was ninety miles from where we left Terry when th' Old Man said, 'Coffee an' biscuits,' an' believe me, we wanted 'em bad.
"We'd bin in th' saddle for twenty-two hours, an' if you don't think that's ridin', try it sometime. The hosses was all in. My hoss—'Long Tom' I called him—he layed down as soon as I off-saddled him, an' stuck his face into his nose-bag an' eat layin' down. First time I ever seen a hoss do that.
"Charlie Reynolds, he was ahead, an' he come back an' had a pow-wow with th' Old Man an' Reno an' Benteen, an' we seen 'em workin' th' field glasses overtime. 'Course, we didn't know what was bein' said, or what was goin' on. All we c'd see was that they was mighty excited like. All except Charlie. He musta had his say an' then stopped—Injun like. 'Cause Charlie, he was just a white Injun.
"I got Lieutenant Hodgson to let me have a peep through his glasses. After a ride like that, in a Injun country, a regular c'n be quite on speakin' terms with his officers, an' when I looked through them glasses what I seed didn't mean much t' me. 'Way off, down by th' river, was some tepees an' stuff layin' 'round, just like it was a Injun camp. That's what it looked like t' me, an' that's what I found out afterwards was what it looked like t' th' Old Man.
"Benteen an' Reno, they wasn't expressin' much opinion, as they was expectin' t' stay right where they was an' wait devel'pments, like Terry said they was t' do, but th' Old Man, he said, 'Attack!' An' right there was where Charlie Reynolds come in.
"He says that th' Injun village was a decoy; that he c'd tell by th' stuff, th' buffalo robes an' all, that was layin' 'round; that there was eight thousand fightin' Injuns in that part of th' country, an' that it was a safe bet that seven thousand nine hundred an' ninety-nine was layin' right in behind them hog-backs—low hills—a-waitin' for us.
"But th' Old Man was mad. He was out t' do somethin' an' he was a-goin' t' do it. An' he says, 'You're all wrong, but we're goin' t' attack, anyhow.'
"An' Charlie he says somethin', an' walks away, an' I seen th' Old Man starin' an' glarin', an' I says t' m'self, 'When we git back t' th' Fort it's a court-martial for Charlie, sure.' An' then it all happened.
"Boots an' saddles, an' we that was so all-in we c'd just stretch out an' groan with tiredness, was up an' on th' move. My hoss, Long Tom,—an' he was as game a animal as ever lived,—just wavered an' swayed when I hit th' saddle. Gee, boys! we was sure an all-in bunch!
"Why did th' Old Man do it? How in thunder do I know? He just done it. I'm supposin' he was sort o' smartin' under them stay-back orders he had, an' such like, an' just nachally cut th' cable; same as Admiral Dewey done at Manila Bay, only Dewey, he won out, an' our Old Man—well, that's th' story.
"But just to digress or switch off, or whatever that big word is, for a minute. I want t' say that our Old Man, whatever his faults was,—an' I guess he had a-plenty,—he was game. He was a fighter. He said, 'Come ahead,' every time: he never said, 'Go ahead,' An' if all th' boys layin' out there on th' prairie in their graves c'd tell, I'm bettin' my six-shooter ag'in' what you all know about th' Rooshian langwidge that they'd say as how th' Old Man died with a sword in one hand an' a gun in th' other, a-lookin' right into th' sun.
"Well, we made a wide circle—a detower—an' come up ag'in 'way behind th' village, an' right there th' Old Man made his great mistake. I ain't blamin' him none, but it sure shows how a big man c'n lose his head just by bein' crazy mad an' wantin' t' fight. Even th' rookies, what had seen a lot o' service, knowed that he was makin' himself liable—an' him a general—t' be called up on a drumhead court-martial.
"There he was, a thousand miles from anywhere, dividin' his force in th' face of a superior enemy. An' that enemy th' greatest fighters that ever th' sun shined on. You know we men that fighted Injuns knows what they was made of. All this talk 'bout Injuns not bein' fighters, an' not bein' game, an' one white man bein' as good as ten Injuns, makes me feel like th' organ-grinder Dago what said, 'It makes me sick, an' makes th' monkey sick, too!'
"Well, to git back. Gee, you fellers'll think I'm a Williams J. Bryant runnin' f'r President. Notice I said runnin'! No, I ain't tryin' t' be funny. I just wish I could be. It'd sort o' take th' weight off th' awfulness of what I remember as what happened, an' what I can't tell right 'cause I ain't got eddication an' brains enough.
"Th' Old Man, he split us up, him takin' companies C, E, F, I, and L, givin' Benteen four companies an' Reno three companies. He ordered Reno t' go t' th' left an' cross th' Little Big Horn an' attack, th' Injuns from th' rear. Benteen he told t' go straight ahead, an' he himself took th' right. I was with Reno, an' I saw personal what he was up ag'inst. We crossed th' Little Big Horn an' went right into what seemed a million warriors.
"I was right alongside of Lieutenant Hodgson, Lieutenant McIntosh, an' Doctor De Wolf when they fell, an' I see Charlie Reynolds—he'd refused t' go with th' Old Man—put up a fight that if I was a artist, an' c'd draw pictures, I c'd make a fortune puttin' it on paper. He started with a Springfield, then went to his six-shooter, an' wound up with a knife before he went down with a bullet through his heart an' at least a dozen Injuns piled all 'round him. Suicide, I reck'n it was. He knowed he was right, but he also knowed he'd disobeyed orders, an' he just kept pilin' right in till he got his.
"Reno done th' only thing he could do. He retreated back across th' river, an' got up ag'in a bluff 'bout three hunderd feet high. Reno Hill, they call it now. An' there we fought for five or six hours, when Benteen, who'd bin fightin' in th' center, heard heavy firin' over on his right where Custer was. An' Benteen, he bein' a honest-t'-God Injun fighter, he knowed that Custer was gone, so he fought his way through to us, knowin' that we had th' hill behind us.
"An' for three days we kept goin'—not runnin', just standin' an' layin' down there fightin'. Sure, we stopped firin' at night, but we didn't stop work. We dug all night long, usin' knives, tin cups, an' plates instead o' spades an' picks, makin' breast-works; an' then we started fightin' all over ag'in in th' mornin'.
"Say, boys, I ain't strong f'r prohibition. It'd take me ten years t' git up nerve enough t' put my foot on a brass rail an' order sody-water in a drug store, but let me tell you somethin'. On th' afternoon o' that second day's fightin' there was nothin' on earth to us like water. Th' wounded was beggin' for it. Oh, boys, they was beggin' for it somethin' pitiful, an' we that wasn't wounded, our tongues was all swollen an' our lips was parched till they cracked open. So some of th' boys volunteered t' go to th' river, an' we took canteens an' camp kettles an' started.
"One of us never come back, an' a lot of us got shot up, but we got water. Not much, but we got water. I never will forget how I wanted t' wet my hoss, Long Tom's, tongue, but a wounded bunkie he needed it. That night we went ag'in an' got some for th' stock, an' it was just in time, for they sure was dyin' for it.
"Th' fightin' opened ag'in next mornin', an' kept goin' till th' afternoon. It was th' twenty-seventh o' June, when all at once we seen a panic start among th' Injuns, an' they began t' stampede, leavin' their dead all over th' hills. An' Terry come into sight, an' strong men cried on each other's necks—an' I ain't a bit ashamed t' say that I was one of 'em.
"When Terry got in, an' congratulatin' an' hand-shakin' was all over, Lieutenant Bradley he come in, sayin' he'd found Custer, an' we all dragged ourselves to th' spot.
"There they was, all dead, two hunderd an' sixty-one of 'em. Not one lived t' tell th' tale. Them that'd bin deployed as skirmishers lay as they fell, havin' bin entirely surrounded in an open plain. The men in th' companies fell in platoons, an', like them on th' skirmish line, lay just as they fell, with their officers behind 'em in th' right places.
"Th' Old Man, General Custer, was in th' middle, an' round him lay th' bodies of Captain Tom Custer an' Boston Custer, his brothers, Colonel Calhoun, his brother-in-law, an' young Reed, his nephew. An' right near was Mark Kellogg, th' Bismarck Tribune's newspaper man. He wasn't scalped or touched; just lay as he fell.
"Kellogg savvied Injuns, an' used t' say in his paper, 'Hold on a minute, let's talk this over,' when all th' long-whiskered grangers, what had come in from Illinois, would raise a holler, an' want th' United States soldiers t' kick th' Injuns off th' land what they owned. An' th' Injuns remembered, even when they was crazy with fightin'. An' just th' same as they didn't touch th' White Chief, Custer, just th' same they didn't touch th' feller what shoved a lead pencil an' once in a while said, 'Give 'em a chance.'
"Did they ever find out how many Injuns was there? Not def'nite, but near enough. On th' tenth annivers'ry of th' fight th' survivors held a reunion on th' battle-field, an' bein' as I was line-ridin' for Tracy's Tumble H outfit at th' time, I sneaked off an' went over.
"They'd done a wonderful thing; somethin' that'd never bin done before, an' most likely never'll be done ag'in. Dave Barry—him as th' Injuns called 'th' Shadow Catcher'—was a great friend o' Charlie Reynolds, Barry speakin' Injun talk, an' bein' adopted into th' tribe, an' savvyin' Injun ways just th' same as Charlie did. An' Dave wanted t' get the real dope on th' fight on Charlie's account, an' him bein' also a close friend of old John Gall, th' chief what led th' Injuns in th' big fight.
"Now, Barry he persuaded—nobody knows how he done it—he persuaded John Gall t' go along t' this reunion. An' then, as if one miracle wasn't enough, he pulled another. By golly, he got th' old man t' make a talk. Boys, it sure was some picture, on that June evenin', t' see that Injun when th' blanket fell off his shoulders, standin' like one o' them bronze statutes, with th' settin' sun a-hittin' him. I sure never will forget it. Old Gall, he pointed here an' there, showin' where Rain-in-th'-Face was, an' where Crazy Hoss was, an' where Crow King was—an' all th' rest of th' other chiefs.
"An' then Barry, who was interpretin' for th' old Injun, asked him quiet-like, in th' Injun lingo, 'How many of you was there, John?' An' th' old Injun he paused like, while every one waited t' hear, an' then he pointed to th' ground, an' said some Injun words. An' Barry, he said in that quiet, firm, even voice o' his'n, 'We were like the blades of grass on the ground.' So you see what th' old Seventh was up ag'inst, boys.
"A mighty funny thing happened after th' talk. You all know Will Curley. He's s'posed t' be th' only survivor of Custer's men. No, I ain't sure he is. How should I know? I wasn't there, I was with Reno, two miles away. Well, th' bunch sorta interduced, or tried t' interduce, Old John t' Will Curley.
"Will Curley had somehow got himself a brand-new Stetson, in celebration of th' occasion, an' when Barry said, in Injun talk, 'John, this is Will Curley,' Old John he never moved a muscle, but his eyes looked like forked lightnin'. You know, Curley is a Crow—th' perpetual enemy of th' Sioux—an' in addition t' that, Curley he was a scout for th' whites. Old Gall he walked slowly over t' Curley, with a walk that made me think o' nothin' else on earth but a painter, an' when he got t' Will he paused, with everybody holdin' their breath t' see what'd happen, an' then it did happen!
"Th' old man reached out an' took that brand-new Stetson off Will Curley's head, an' shook it an' knocked it on all sides, an' put it on his own head an' walked away. Insultin'!—all I c'n say is, if it ever happened t' me, it'd be my dyin' wish that I'd have a gun in each hand."
* * * * *
A few moments of silence followed the old cow-puncher's story. In reciting this page from the book of his life he had lost thought of his surroundings, but now he remembered, and seemed startled at having talked so much. He retired within himself, his eyes taking on an introspective look as though, as one of the boys expressed it, "he was tellin' stories t' himself."
He paid no heed to the comments the men made on his story of the Custer fight. It had impressed them because it had rung true. The comments were made in murmurs or whispers. As Injun had sat during the tale he sat now; stolid, expressionless. Now and then Whitey stole a look at him. In his mind Whitey was connecting the old puncher's story with the one Injun had told in the bunk house at the Bar O, and with what Bill Jordan had said afterwards; that Injun had revealed the start or source of the greatest Indian fight the country ever knew.
It had been a hard day, and one by one the men dropped off to sleep, until only Whitey and the old puncher were left, he rolling an occasional cigarette, and living in that past which the events of the night had brought back to him. Whitey realized this, and had to admit that it was a pretty exciting place in which to live. And he wondered if the old puncher would like to have another page in his book of life; a sort of explanatory page, like the key in an arithmetic.
It was almost dark in the tent. Only one lighted lantern hung from a pole. And in low tones, so as not to disturb the sleepers, Whitey told the old man the story of Injun's mamma's brother and his friend the scout; and of the White Chief, and the dance, and the arrest and the escape; and of Injun's father's resolve that "we fight heap!"
The old puncher didn't know who these Indians were of whom Whitey was talking, but he listened politely at first and interestedly at last. And when Whitey had finished the story, he added, "Injun's uncle was old Rain-in-the-Face, and he was a great friend of Charlie Reynolds, the scout."
Then Whitey crept off to bed, and allowed the old man to figure out in his mind—as Bill Jordan had done—the start of "the doggonedest Injun fight this country ever knowed!" And far into the night the old cowpuncher thought of this other page, added to the book that was to entertain him as he went down the steeper side of the hill of life.
The second and last week of the threshing at the Hanley Ranch was well on its way, and nothing had occurred to break the routine of hard work in the daytime and nights spent in a tent, in an atmosphere laden with tobacco smoke and the yarns of rough men.
The boys had not succeeded in confirming their suspicions against Henry Dorgan, and if Dorgan felt any resentment against them, or against the old cowpuncher who had defended them, he failed to show it.
Whitey now discovered a new trait in his friend Injun—persistence. Injun was very determined in his efforts to get something on Dorgan. He had made up his mind that Dorgan had stolen Monty, and his mind was not like a bed that could be unmade easier than it could be made up. At first Whitey thought that this was a phase of the Indian's well-known desire for vengeance, but Injun didn't seem to be vindictive in the matter. He didn't even mention Dorgan's attempt to put him out of the tent. Whitey was interested in this trait of Injun's and liked him the more for it. If Injun was a stick-to-itive fellow, so was Whitey. He would show Bill Jordan that he couldn't make a fool of him and get away with it.
And finally, as a reward of perseverance, Injun did get something on Dorgan, though it didn't amount to much. Injun averred, and it may have been true, that Monty had a deadly fascination for Dorgan; that when Monty was around, Dorgan couldn't keep his eyes off him. And Injun said that he saw Dorgan approach Monty in the corral, probably to admire him more closely, and that Monty showed great hatred for Dorgan; laid back his ears and bit and kicked at Dorgan.
"Him no like um. Him must know um," declared Injun, being firmly convinced that Monty's actions indicated a close acquaintance with Dorgan.
However, Monty couldn't give any spoken evidence that Dorgan had stolen him, so there the matter rested. And there was something else to occupy the boys' minds. There seemed to be a vague feeling of unrest at the ranch. There always had been bad blood between Gil Steele and the workers. He not only was a hard taskmaster, getting the last ounce of work out of the men, but he was close in money matters, and had all sorts of fines and penalties he imposed when the men were late or neglected their work. There was continual wrangling and haggling.