"Thought there was two? Where's the other guy?" queried the policeman.
The man on the floor rose and picked up his gun.
"Well, we got one, anyhow. Bill, 'phone the chief that one of 'em got away. Have 'em send the wagon. This kid here is done for, I guess."
"He went for his gun," said the heavy-shouldered man. "It's a dam' good thing you went down with that door. Gave me a chance to get him."
"Here's their stuff," said an officer, kicking Pete's pack that lay corded on the floor.
"Well, Tim," said the man who had shouldered the door down, "you stay here till the wagon comes. Bill and I will look around when he gets back. Guess the other one made for the line. Don't know how he worked it. Keep the crowd out."
"Is he all in?" queried the officer.
"No; he's breathin' yet. But he ain't got long. He's a young bird to be a killer."
Late that afternoon Pete was taken from the Emergency to the General Hospital. Lights were just being turned on in the surgical ward and the newsboys were shouting an extra, headlining a border raid by the Mexicans and the shooting of a notorious bandit in El Paso.
The president of the Stockmen's Security and Savings Bank bought a paper as he stepped into his car that evening and was driven toward home. He read the account of the police raid, of the escape of one of the so-called outlaws, the finding of the murdered man near Sanborn, and a highly colored account of what was designated as the invasion of the United States territory by armed troops of Mexico.
Four thousand dollars in gold had been delivered to him personally that day by the express company—a local delivery from a local source. "Jim's man," he said to himself as the car passed through the Plaza and turned toward the eastern side of the town. Upon reaching home the president told his chauffeur to wait. Slitting an envelope he wrapped the paper and addressed it to James Ewell, Showdown, Arizona.
"Mail it at the first box," he said. "Then you can put the car up. I won't need it to-night."
The surgeon at the General Hospital was bending over Pete. The surgeon shook his head, then turning he gave the attendant nurse a few brief directions, and passed on to another cot. As the nurse sponged Pete's arm, an interne poised a little glittering needle. "There's just a chance," the surgeon had said.
At the quick stab of the needle, Pete's heavy eyes opened. The little gray-eyed nurse smiled. The interne rubbed Pete's arm and stepped back. Pete's lips moved. The nurse bent her head. "Did—Ed"—Pete's face twitched—"make it?"
"You mustn't talk," said the nurse gently. And wishing with all her heart to still the question that struggled in those dark, anxious eyes, she smiled again. "Yes, he made it," she said, wondering if Ed were the other outlaw that the papers had said had escaped. She walked briskly to the end of the room and returned with a dampened towel and wiped the dank sweat from Pete's forehead. He stared up at her, his face white and expressionless. "It was the coat—my hand caught," he murmured.
She nodded brightly, as though she understood. She did not know what his name was. There had been nothing by which to identify him. And she could hardly believe that this youth, lying there under that black shadow that she thought never would lift again, could be the desperate character the interne made him out to be, retailing the newspaper account of his capture to her.
It was understood, even before the doctor had examined Pete, that he could not live long. The police surgeon had done what he could. Pete had been removed to the General Hospital, as the Emergency was crowded.
The little nurse was wondering if he had any relatives, any one for whom he wished to send. Surely he must realize that he was dying! She was gazing at Pete when his eyes slowly opened and the faintest trace of a smile touched his lips. His eyes begged so piteously that she stepped close to the cot and stooped. She saw that he wanted to ask her something, or tell her something that was worrying him. "What did it matter?" she thought. At any moment he might drift into unconsciousness . . .
"Would you—write—to The Spider—and say I delivered the—goods?"
"But who is he—where—"
"Jim Ewell, Showdown—over in—Arizona."
"Jim Ewell, Showdown, Arizona." she repeated. "And what name shall I sign?"
"Jest Pete," he whispered, and his eyes closed.
Pete's case puzzled Andover, the head-surgeon at, the General. It was the third day since Pete's arrival and he was alive—but just alive and that was all. One peculiar feature of the case was the fact that the bullet—a thirty-eight—which had pierced the right lung, had not gone entirely through the body. Andover, experienced in gun-shot wounds, knew that bullets fired at close range often did freakish things. There had been a man recently discharged from the General as convalescent, who had been shot in the shoulder, and the bullet, striking the collar-bone, had taken a curious tangent, following up the muscle of the neck and lodging just beneath the ear. In that case there had been the external evidence of the bullet's location. In this case there was no such evidence to go by.
The afternoon of the third day, Pete was taken to the operating room and another examination made. The X-ray showed a curious blur near the right side of the spine. To extract the bullet would be a difficult and savage operation, an operation which the surgeon thought his patient in his present weakened condition could not stand. Pete lay in a heavy stupor, his left arm and the left side of his face partially paralyzed.
The day after his arrival at the General two plain-clothes men came to question him. He was conscious and could talk a little. But they had learned nothing of his companion, the killing of Brent, nor how Brevoort managed to evade them. They gathered little of Pete's history save that he told them his name, his age, and that he had no relatives nor friends. On all other subjects he was silent. Incidentally the officials gave his name to the papers, and the papers dug into their back files for reference to an article they had clipped from the "Arizona Sentinel," which gave them a brief account of the Annersley raid and the shooting of Gary. They made the most of all this, writing a considerable "story," which the president of the Stockmen's Security read and straightway mailed to his old acquaintance, The Spider.
The officers from the police station had told Pete bluntly that he could not live, hoping to get him to confess to or give evidence as to the killing of Brent. Pete at once knew the heavy-shouldered man—the man who had shot him down and who was now keen on getting evidence in the case.
"So I'm goin' to cross over?" Pete had said, eying the other curiously. "Well, all I wish is that I could git on my feet long enough—to—get a crack at you—on an even break. I wouldn't wear no coat, neither."
The fact that Pete had bungled seemed to worry him much more than his condition. He felt that it was a reflection on his craftmanship. The plain-clothes man naturally thought that Pete was incorrigible, failing to appreciate that it was the pride of youth that spoke rather than the personal hatred of an enemy.
THE SPIDER'S ACCOUNT
That the news of Pete's serious condition should hit The Spider as hard as it did was as big a surprise to The Spider himself as it could ever have been to his closest acquaintance. Yet it was a fact—and The Spider never quarreled with facts.
The spider of the web-weaving species who leaves his web, invites disaster unless he immediately weaves another, and The Spider of Showdown was only too well aware of this. Always a fatalist, he took things as they came, but had never yet gone out of his way to tempt the possibilities.
Shriveled and aged beyond his natural years, with scarcely a true friend among his acquaintances, weary of the monotony of life—not in incident but in prospect—too shrewd to drug himself with drink, and realizing that the money he had got together both by hook and by crook and banked in El Paso could never make him other than he was, he faced the alternative of binding himself to Pete's dire need and desperate condition, or riding to Baxter and taking the train from thence to El Paso—his eyes open to what he was doing, both as a self-appointed Samaritan and as a much-wanted individual in the town where Pete lay unconscious, on the very last thin edge of Nothingness.
The Spider's preparations for leaving Showdown were simple enough. He had his Mexican bale and cord the choicest of the rugs and blankets, the silver-studded saddle and bridle, the Bayeta cloth—rare and priceless—and the finest of his Indian beadwork. Each bale was tagged, and on each tag was written the name of Boca's mother. All these things were left in his private room, which he locked. Whether or not he surmised what was going to happen is a question—but he did not disregard possibilities.
His Mexican was left in charge of the saloon with instructions to keep it open as usual, tell no one where his master had gone, and wait for further instructions.
The Spider chose a most ordinary horse from his string and wore a most ordinary suit of clothes. The only things in keeping with his lined and weathered face were his black Stetson and his high-heeled boots. He knew that it would be impossible to disguise himself. He would be foolish to make the attempt. His bowed legs, the scar running from chin to temple, his very gait made disguise impossible. To those who did not know him he would be an "old-timer" in from the desert. To those who did know him . . . Well, they were not many nor over-anxious to advertise the fact.
He left at night, alone, and struck south across the desert, riding easily—a shrunken and odd figure, but every inch a horseman. Just beneath his unbuttoned vest, under his left arm, hung the service-polished holster of his earlier days. He had more than enough money to last him until he reached El Paso, and a plentiful stock of cigars. It was about nine o'clock next morning when he pulled up at Flores's 'dobe and dismounted stiffly. Flores was visibly surprised and fawningly obsequious. His chief was dressed for a long journey. It had been many years since The Spider had ridden so far from Showdown. Something portentous was about to happen, or had happened.
Flores's wife, however, showed no surprise, but accepted The Spider's presence in her usual listless manner. To her he addressed himself as she made coffee and placed a chair for him. They talked of Boca—-and once The Spider spoke of Boca's mother, whom the Senora Flores had known in Mexico.
Old Flores fed The Spider's horse, meanwhile wondering what had drawn the chief from the security of his web. He concluded that The Spider was fleeing from some danger—-the law, perhaps, or from some ancient grudge that had at last found him out to harry him into the desert, a hunted man and desperate. The Mexican surmised that The Spider had money with him, perhaps all his money—for local rumor had it that The Spider possessed great wealth. And of course he would sleep there that night . . .
Upon returning to the 'dobe Flores was told by The Spider to say nothing of having seen him. This confirmed the old Mexican's suspicion that The Spider had fled from danger. And Flores swore by the saints that none should know, while The Spider listened and his thin lips twitched.
"You'd knife me in my bed for less than half the money on me," he told Flores.
The Mexican started back, as though caught in the very act, and whined his allegiance to The Spider. Had he not always been faithful?
"No," said The Spider, "but the senora has."
Flores turned and shuffled toward the corral. The Spider, standing in the doorway of the 'dobe, spoke to Flores's wife over his shoulder: "If I don't show up before next Sunday, senora, get your man to take you to Showdown. Juan will give you the money, and the things I left up there."
"You will not come back," said the Mexican woman.
"Don't know but that you are right—but you needn't tell Flores that."
An hour later The Spider had Flores bring up his horse. He mounted and turned to glance round the place. He shrugged his shoulders. In a few minutes he was lost to sight on the trail south which ran along the canon-bed.
That night he arrived at Baxter, weary and stiff from his long ride. He put his horse in the livery-stable and paid for its keep in advance—"a week," he said, and "I'll be back."
Next morning he boarded the local for El Paso. He sat in the smoking-compartment, gazing out on the hurrying landscape. At noon he got off the train and entered an eating-house across from the station. When he again took his seat in the smoker he happened to glance out. On the platform was a square-built, sombrero'd gentleman, his back to the coach and talking to an acquaintance. There was something familiar in the set of those shoulders. The Spider leaned forward that he might catch a glimpse of the man's face. Satisfied as to the other's identity, he leaned back in his seat and puffed his cigar. The Spider made no attempt to keep from sight. The square-shouldered man was the town marshal of Hermanas. As the train pulled out, the marshal turned and all but glanced up when the brakeman, swinging to the steps of the smoker, reached out and playfully slapped him on the shoulder. The car slid past. The Spider settled himself in his seat.
With the superstition of the gambler he believed that he would find an enemy in the third person to recognize him, and with a gambler's stolid acceptance of the inevitable he relaxed and allowed himself to plan for the immediate future. On Pete's actual condition would depend what should be done. The Spider drew a newspaper clipping from his pocket. The El Paso paper stated that there was one chance in a thousand of Pete recovering. The paper also stated that there had been money involved—a considerable sum in gold—which had not been found. The entire affair was more or less of a mystery. It was hinted that the money might not have been honestly come by in the first place, and—sententiously—that crime breeds crime, in proof of which, the article went on to say; "the man who had been shot by the police was none other than Pete Annersley, notorious as a gunman in the service of the even more notorious Jim Ewell, of Showdown, or 'The Spider,' as he was known to his associates." Followed a garbled account of the raid on the Annersley homestead and the later circumstance of the shooting of Gary, all of which, concluded the item, spoke for itself.
"More than Pete had a chance to do," soliloquized The Spider. "They got the kid chalked up as a crook—and he's as straight as a die." And strangely enough this thought seemed to please The Spider.
Shouldering through the crowd at the El Paso station, The Spider rubbed against a well-dressed, portly Mexican who half-turned, showed surprise as he saw the back of a figure which seemed familiar—the bowed legs and peculiar walk—and the portly Mexican, up from the south because certain financial interests had backed him politically were becoming decidedly uncertain, named a name, not loudly, but distinctly and with peculiar emphasis. The Spider heard, but did not heed nor hurry. A black-shawled Mexican woman carrying a baby blundered into the portly Mexican. He shoved her roughly aside. She cursed him for a pig who robbed the poor—for he was known to most Mexicans—and he so far forgot his dignity and station as to curse her heartily in return. The Spider meanwhile was lost in the crowd that banked the station platform.
El Paso had grown—was not the El Paso of The Spider's earlier days, and for a brief while he forgot his mission in endeavoring mentally to reconstruct the old town as he had known it. Arrived at the Plaza he turned and gazed about. "Number two," he said to himself, recalling the portly Mexican—and the voice. He shrugged his shoulders.
His request to see the president of the Stockmen's Bank was borne hesitatingly to that individual's private office, the messenger returning promptly with instructions to "show the gentleman in."
Contrary to all precedent the president, Hodges, was not portly, but a man almost as lean as The Spider himself; a quick, nervous man, forceful and quite evidently "self-made."
"Sit down, Jim."
The Spider pulled up a chair. "About that last deposit—"
The president thrust his hand into a pigeon-hole and handed The Spider a slip of paper.
"So he got here with the cash before they nailed him?" And The Spidery face expressed surprise.
"The money came by express—local shipment. I tried to keep it out of the papers. None of their dam' business."
"I'm going to close my account," stated The Spider.
"No. I got some business in town. After that—"
"You mean you've got no business in town. Why didn't you write?"
"You couldn't handle it. Figure up my credit—and give me a draft for it, I'll give you my check. Make it out to Peter Annersley," said The Spider.
"One of your gunmen, eh? I see by the papers he's got a poor chance of using this."
"So have I," and The Spider almost smiled.
Hodges pushed back his chair. "See here, Jim. You've got no business in this town and you know it! And you've got enough money to keep you comfortable anywhere—South America, for instance. Somebody'll spot you before you've been here twenty-four hours. Why don't you let me call a taxi—there's a train south at eleven-thirty."
"Thanks, E.H.—but I'm only going over to the hospital."
"You sure will, if you stick around this town long."
"I'm going to see that boy through," said The Spider.
"Then you're not after any one?"
"No, not that way."
"Well, you got me guessing. I thought I knew you."
"Mebby, Ed. Now, if the boy comes through all right, and I don't, I want you to see that he gets this money. There's nobody in town can identify him but me—and mebby I won't be around here to do it. If he comes here and tells you he's Pete Annersley and that The Spider told him to come, hand him the draft. 'Course, if things go smooth, I'll take care of that draft myself."
"Making your will, Jim?"
"Something like that."
"All right. I might as well talk to the moon. I used to think that you were a wise one—"
"Just plain dam' fool, same as you, E.H. The only difference is that you're tryin' to help me out—and I aim to help out a kid that is plumb straight."
"But I have some excuse. If it hadn't been for you when I was down south on that Union Oil deal—"
"Ed, we're both as crooked as they make 'em, only you play your game with stocks and cash, inside—and I play mine outside, and she's a lone hand. This kid, Pete, is sure a bad hombre to stack up against—but he's plumb straight."
"You seem to think a whole lot of him."
"I do," said The Spider simply.
The president shook his head. The Spider rose and stuck out his hand. "So-long, Ed."
"So-long, Jim. I'll handle this for you. But I hate like hell to think it's the last time I can handle a deal for you."
"You can't tell," said The Spider.
The president of the Stockmen's Security sat turning over the papers on his desk. It had been a long while since he had been in the saddle—some eighteen or twenty years. As a young man he had been sent into Mexico to prospect for oil. There were few white men in Mexico then. But despite their vicarious callings they usually stood by each other. The Spider, happening along during a quarrel among the natives and the oil-men, took a hand in the matter, which was merely incidental to his profession. The oil-men had managed to get out of that part of the country with the loss of but two men—a pretty fair average, as things went those days. Years afterwards the president of the Stockmen's Security happened to meet The Spider in El Paso—and he did not forget what he owed him. The Spider at that time had considerable gold which he finally banked with the Stockmen's Security at the other's suggestion. The arrangement was mutually agreeable. The Spider knew that the president of the Stockmen's Security would never disclose his identity to the authorities—and Hodges felt that as a sort of unofficial trustee he was able to repay The Spider for his considerable assistance down in Mexico.
Contrast to the rules of the hospital, the head-surgeon was chatting rather intimately with Pete's nurse. They were in the anteroom of the surgical ward. She was getting ready to go on duty.
"No, Miss Gray," said the surgeon positively, "he can't hold out much longer unless we operate. And I don't think he could stand an operation. He has amazing vitality, he's young, and in wonderful condition—outdoor life and pretty clean living. But he don't seem to care whether he lives or not. Has he said anything to you about—" The surgeon paused and cleared his throat.
"No. He just stares at me. Sometimes he smiles—and, Dr. Andover, I've been here two years—and I'm used to it, but I simply can't help feeling—that he ought to have a chance."
The surgeon studied her wistful face and for a moment forgot that he was the head-surgeon of the General, and that she was a nurse. He liked Doris Gray because of her personality and ability. Two years of hard work at the General had not affected her quietly cheerful manner.
"You're wearing yourself out worrying about this case," said the surgeon presently. "And that won't do at all."
She flushed and her seriousness vanished. "I'm willing to," she said simply.
The doctor smiled and shook his finger at her. "Miss Gray, you know a good nurse—"
"I know, Dr. Andover, but he hasn't a friend in the world. I asked him yesterday if I should write to any one, or do anything for him. He just smiled and shook his head. He doesn't seem to be afraid of anything—nor interested in anything. He—oh, his eyes are just like the eyes of a dog that is hurt and wants so much to tell you something, and can't. I don't care what the newspapers say—and those men from the police station! I don't believe he is really bad. Now please don't smile and tell me I'm silly."
"I thought you just said he didn't have a friend in the world."
"Oh, I don't count—that way." Then hurriedly: "I forgot—he did ask me to write to some one—the first day—a Jim Ewell, in Arizona. He asked me to say he had 'delivered the goods.' I don't know that I should have done it without reporting it, but—well, you said he couldn't live—"
"Some outlaw pal of his, probably," said Andover, frowning. "But that has nothing to do with his—er—condition right now."
"And sometimes he talks when he is half-conscious, and he often speaks to some one he calls 'The Spider,'" asserted Doris.
"Queer affair. Well, I'll think about it. If we do operate, I'll want you—"
The surgeon was interrupted by a nurse who told him there was a man who wanted to see Peter Annersley: that the man was insistent. The head-nurse was having supper, and should the caller be allowed in after visiting hours?
"Send him in," said the surgeon, and he stepped into the superintendent's office. Almost immediately The Spider sidled across the hallway and entered the room. The surgeon saw a short, shriveled, bow-legged man, inconspicuously dressed save for his black Stetson and the riding-boots which showed below the bottom of his trousers. The Spider's black beady eyes burned in his weather-beaten and scarred face—"the eyes of a hunted man"—thought the surgeon. In a peculiar, high-pitched voice, he asked Andover if he were the doctor in charge.
"I'm Andover, head-surgeon," said the other. "Won't you sit down?"
The other glanced round. Andover got up and closed the door. "You wish to see young Annersley, I understand."
"You looking after him?"
"Is he hurt pretty bad?"
"Yes. I doubt if he will recover."
"Can I see him?"
"Well,"—and the surgeon hesitated,—"it's after hours. But I don't suppose it will do any harm. You are a friend of his?"
"About the only one, I reckon."
"Well—I'll step in with you. He may be asleep. If he is—"
"I won't bother him."
The nurse met them, and put her finger to her lips. Andover nodded and stepped aside as The Spider hobbled to the cot and gazed silently at Pete's white face. Then The Spider turned abruptly and hobbled down the aisle, followed by Andover. "Come in here," said the surgeon as The Spider hesitated.
Andover told him briefly that there was one chance in a thousand of Pete's recovery; that the shock had been terrific, describing just where the bullet was lodged and its effect upon the sensory nerves. Andover was somewhat surprised to find that this queer person knew considerable about gun-shot wounds and was even more surprised when The Spider drew a flat sheaf of bills from his pocket and asked what an operation would cost. Andover told him.
The Spider immediately counted out the money and handed it to Andover. "And get him in a room where he can be by himself. I'll pay for it."
"That's all right, but if he should not recover from the operation—"
"I'm gambling that he'll pull through," said The Spider. "And there's my ante. It's up to you."
"I'll have a receipt made out—"
The Spider shook his bead. "His life'll be my receipt. And you're writing it—don't make no mistake."
Andover's pale face flushed. "I'm not accustomed to having my reputation as a surgeon questioned."
"See here," said The Spider, laying another packet of bills on the surgeon's desk. "Where I come from money talks. And I reckon it ain't got tongue-tied since I was in El Paso last. Here's a thousand. Pull that boy through and forget where you got the money."
"I couldn't do more if you said ten thousand," asserted Andover.
"Gambling is my business," said The Spider. "I raise the ante. Do you come in?"
"This is not a sporting proposition,"—Andover hesitated,—"but I'll come in," he added slowly.
"You're wrong," said The Spider; "everything is a sporting proposition from the day a man is born till he cashes in, and mebby after. I don't know about that, and I didn't come here to talk. My money 'll talk for me."
Andover, quite humanly, was thinking that a thousand dollars would help considerably toward paying for the new car that he had had in mind for some time. He used a car in his work and he worked for the General Hospital. His desire to possess a new car was not altogether professional, and he knew it. But he also knew that he was overworked and underpaid.
"Who shall I say called?" asked Andover, picking up the packet of bills.
"Just tell him it was a friend."
Andover was quite as shrewd in his way as was this strange visitor, who evidently did not wish to be known. "This entire matter is rather irregular," he said,—"and the—er—bonus—is necessarily a confidential matter!"
"Which suits me,"—and The Spider blinked queerly.
Dr. Andover stepped to the main doorway. As he bade The Spider good-night, he told him to call up on the telephone about ten-thirty the next morning, or to call personally if he preferred.
The Spider hesitated directly beneath the arc-light at the entrance. "If I don't call up or show up—you needn't say anything about this deal to him—but you can tell him he's got a friend on the job."
The doctor nodded and walked briskly back to the superintendent's office, where he waited until the secretary appeared, when he turned over the money that had been paid to him for the operation and a private room, which The Spider had engaged for two weeks. He told the secretary to make out a receipt in Peter Annersley's name. "A friend is handling this for him," he explained.
Then he sent for the head-nurse. "I would like to have Miss Gray and Miss Barlow help me," he told her, in speaking of the proposed operation.
"Miss Gray is on duty to-night," said the head-nurse.
"Then if you will arrange to have her get a rest, please. And—oh, yes, we'll probably need the oxygen. And you might tell Dr. Gleason that this is a special case and I'd like to have him administer the anaesthetic."
Andover strode briskly to the surgical ward and stopped at Pete's couch. As he stooped and listened to Pete's breathing, the packet of crisp bills slipped from his inside pocket, and dropped to the floor.
He was in the lobby, on his way to his car, when Doris came running after him. "Dr. Andover," she called. "I think you dropped this,"—and she gave him the packet of bills.
"Mighty careless of me," he said, feeling in his inside pocket. "Handkerchief—slipped them in on top of it. Thank you."
Doris gazed at him curiously. His eyes wavered. "We're going to do our best to pull him through," he said with forced sprightliness.
Doris smiled and nodded. But her expression changed as she again entered the long, dim aisle between the double row of cots. Only that evening, just before she had talked with Andover about Pete, she had heard the surgeon tell the house-physician jokingly that all that stood between him and absolute destitution was a very thin and exceedingly popular check-book—and Andover had written his personal check for ten dollars which he had cashed at the office. Doris wondered who the strange man was that had come in with Andover, an hour ago, and how Dr. Andover had so suddenly become possessed of a thousand dollars.
"CAUGHT IT JUST IN TIME"
At exactly ten-thirty the next morning The Spider was at the information desk of the General Hospital, inquiring for Andover.
"He's in the operating-room," said the clerk.
"Then I'll wait." The Spider sidled across to the reception-room and sat nervously fingering the arm of his chair. Nurses passed and repassed the doorway, going quietly through the hall. From somewhere came the faint animal-like wail of a newly born babe. The Spider had gripped the arm of his chair. A well-gowned woman stopped at the information desk and left a great armful of gorgeous roses wrapped in white tissue paper. Presently a man—evidently a laborer—hobbled past on crutches, his foot bandaged; a huge, grotesque white foot that he held stiffly in front of him and which he seemed to be following, rather than guiding. A nurse walked slowly beside him. The Spider drummed the chair-arm with nervous fingers. His little beady eyes were constantly in motion, glancing here and there,—at the empty chairs in the room, at the table with its neatly piled magazines, at a large picture of the hospital, and a great group of nurses standing on the stone steps, and then toward the doorway. Presently a nurse came in and told him that Dr. Andover would be unable to see him for some time: that the patient just operated on was doing as well as could be expected.
"He—he's come through all right?"
"Yes. You might call up in an hour or so."
The Spider rose stiffly and put on his hat.
"Thanks," he said and hobbled out and across the lobby. A cab was waiting for him, and the driver seemed to know his destination, for he whipped up his horse and drove south toward the Mexican quarter, finally stopping at an inconspicuous house on a dingy side street that led toward the river. The Spider glanced up and down the street before he alighted. Then he gave the driver a bill quite out of proportion to his recent service. "You can come about the same time to-morrow," said The Spider, and he turned and hobbled to the house.
About noon he came out, and after walking several blocks stopped at a corner grocery and telephoned to the hospital, asking for Andover, who informed him that the operation had been successful, as an operation, but that the patient was in a critical condition—that it would be several hours before they would dare risk a definite statement as to his chances of recovery. The surgeon told The Spider that they were using oxygen, which fact in itself was significant.
The Spider crossed the street to a restaurant, drank several cups of coffee, and on his way out bought a supply of cigars. He played solitaire in his room all that afternoon, smoking and muttering to himself until the fading light caused him to glance at his watch. He slipped into his coat and made his way uptown.
Shortly after seven he entered the hospital. Andover had left word that he be allowed to see Pete. And again The Spider stood beside Pete's cot, gazing down upon a face startlingly white in contrast to his dark hair and black eyebrows—a face drawn, the cheeks pinched, and the lips bloodless. "You taking care of him?"—and The Spider turned to Doris. She nodded, wondering if this queer, almost deformed creature were "The Spider" that Pete had so often talked to when half-conscious. Whoever he was, her quick, feminine intuition told her that this man's stiff and awkward silence signified more than any spoken solicitude; that behind those beady black eyes was a soul that was tormented with doubt and hope, a soul that had battled through dark ways to this one great unselfish moment . . . How could one know that this man risked his life in coming there? Yet she did know it. The very fact that he was Pete's friend would almost substantiate that. Had not the papers said that Peter Annersley was a hired gunman of The Spider's? And although this man had not given his name, she knew that he was The Spider of Pete's incoherent mutterings. And The Spider, glancing about the room, gazed curiously at the metal oxygen tank and then at the other cot.
"You staying here right along?" he queried.
"For a while until he is out of danger."
"When will that be?"
"I don't know. But I do know that he is going to live."
"Did the doc say so?"
Doris shook her head. "No, Dr. Andover thinks he has a chance, but I know that he will get well."
"Does Pete know that I been here?"
"No. The doctor thought it best not to say anything about that yet."
"I reckon that's right."
"Is he your son?" asked Doris.
"No. Just a kid that used to—work for me."
And without further word, The Spider hobbled to the doorway and was gone.
Hour after hour Doris sat by the cot watching the faintly flickering life that, bereft of conscious will, fought for existence with each deep-drawn breath. About two in the morning Pete's breathing seemed to stop. Doris felt the hesitant throb of the pulse and, rising, stepped to the hall and telephoned for the house-surgeon.
"Caught it just in time," he said to the nurse as he stepped back and watched the patient react to the powerful heart-stimulant. Pete's breathing became more regular.
The surgeon had been gone for a few minutes when Pete's heavy lids opened.
"It—was gittin'—mighty dark—down there," he whispered. And Pete stared up at her, his great dark eyes slowly brightening under the artificial stimulant. Doris bent over him and smoothed his hair back from his forehead. "I'm the—the Ridin' Kid—from—Powder River," he whispered hoarsely. "I kin ride 'em comin' or goin'—but I don't wear no coat next journey. My hand caught in the pocket." He glanced toward the doorway. "But we fooled 'em. Ed got away, so I reckon I'll throw in with you, Spider." Pete tried to lift himself up, but the nurse pressed him gently back. Tiny beads of sweat glistened on his forehead. Doris put her hand on the back of his. At the touch his lips moved. "Boca was down there—in the dark—smilin' and tellin' me it was all right and to come ahead," he whispered. "I was tryin' to climb out—of that there—canon . . . Andy throwed his rope . . . Caught it just in time . . . And Andy he laughs. Reckon he didn't know—I was—all in . . ." Pete breathed deeply, muttered, and drifted into an easy sleep. Doris watched him for a while, fighting her own desire to sleep. She knew that the crisis was past, and with that knowledge came a physical let-down that left her worn and desperately weary: not because she had been on duty almost twenty-four hours without rest—she was young and could stand that—but because she had given so much of herself to this case from the day Pete had been brought in—through the operation which was necessarily savage, and up to the moment when he had fallen asleep, after having passed so close to the border of the dark Unknown. And now that she knew he would recover, she felt strangely disinterested in her work at the hospital. But being a rather practical young person, never in the least morbid, she attributed this unusual indifference to her own condition. She would not allow herself to believe that the life she had seen slipping away, and which she had drawn back from the shadows, could ever mean anything to her, aside from her profession. And why should it? This dark-eyed boy was a stranger, an outcast, even worse, if she were to believe what the papers said of him. Yet he had been so patient and uncomplaining that first night when she knew that he must have been suffering terribly. Time and again she had wiped the red spume from his lips, until at last he ceased to gasp and cough and lay back exhausted. And Doris could never forget how he had tried to smile as he told her, whispering hoarsely, "that he was plumb ashamed of makin' such a doggone fuss." Then day after day his suffering had grown less as his vitality ebbed. Following, came the operation, an almost hopeless experiment . . . and that strange creature, The Spider . . . who had paid for the operation and for this private room . . . Doris thought of the thousand dollars in bills that she had found and returned to Andover; and while admiring his skill as a surgeon, she experienced a sudden dislike for him as a man. It seemed to her that he had been actually bribed to save Pete's life, and had pocketed the bribe . . . again it was The Spider . . . What a name for a human being—yet how well it fitted! The thin bow-legs, the quick, sidling walk, the furtive manner, the black, blinking eyes . . . Doris yawned and shivered. Dawn was battling its slow way into the room. A nurse stepped in softly. Doris rose and made a notation on the chart, told the nurse that her patient had been sleeping since two o'clock, and nodding pleasantly left the room.
The new nurse sniffed audibly. Miss Gray was one of Dr. Andover's pets! She knew! She had seen them talking together, often enough. And Andover knew better than to try to flirt with her. What a fuss they were making about "Miss Gray's cowboy," as Pete had come to be known among some of the nurses who were not "pets." Her pleasant soliloquy was interrupted by a movement of Pete's hand. "Kin I have a drink?" he asked faintly.
"Yes, dearie," said the nurse, and smiled a large, and toothful smile as she turned and stepped out into the hall. Pete's listless, dark eyes followed her. "Fer Gawd's sake!" he muttered. His eyes closed. He wondered what had become of his honest-to-Gosh nurse, Miss Gray.
The third time that The Spider called at the hospital, and, as usual, in the evening, he was told by the young house-doctor, temporarily in charge, that he could not see the patient in room 218 without permission from the physician in charge of the case, as it was after visiting hours, and, moreover, there had been altogether too much freedom allowed visitors as it was. This young doctor knew nothing of The Spider's connection with the Annersley case, and was altogether unimpressed by The Spider's appearance, save that he mentally labeled him a "rough-neck" who was evidently pretty badly crippled by rheumatism.
The Spider felt tempted to resort to bribery, but there was something so officious and aggressively professional in the manner of this "straw-boss"—as The Spider mentally labeled him—that The Spider hesitated to flatter his egotism by admitting that he held the whip-hand.
"Then mebby you can find out how he's getting along?" queried The Spider, in his high-pitched voice.
"No objection to that," said the young doctor, reaching for the desk 'phone. "Two-eighteen, please. Two-eighteen? How is your patient to-night? That so? H-m-m! Oh, this is Miss Gray talking? H-m-m! Thanks." And he hung up the receiver.
"The patient is doing very well—exceptionally well. Would you care to leave any message?"
"You might tell Doc Andover to leave word that when I call, I get to see the folks I come to see—and I reckon he'll set you straight."
"Oh, I didn't—er—know you were a friend of Dr. Andover's. What is the name, please?"
"'T wouldn't interest you none, little man. Thanks for the information." And The Spider hobbled out and clumped stiffly down the wide stone stairway.
The young doctor adjusted his glasses and stared into vacancy. "H-m-m! And he had the nerve to call me 'little man.' Now I should call him a decidedly suspicious character. Looks something like an overgrown spider. Birds of a feather," he added sententiously, with an air of conscious rectitude, and a disregard for the propriety of the implied metaphor. It is not quite certain whether he had Andover or Pete in mind. But it is most probable that had he allowed The Spider to see Pete that evening and talk with him, The Spider would have left El Paso the next day, as he had planned, instead of waiting until the following evening, against his own judgment and in direct opposition to that peculiar mental reaction called "a hunch" by those not familiar with the niceties of the English language, and called nothing really more expressive by those who are.
So far as The Spider knew, he had not been recognized by any one. Yet with that peculiar intuition of the gunman and killer he knew that he was marked. He wondered which of his old enemies had found him out—and when and how that enemy would strike.
That night he wrote a short letter to Pete, stating that he was in town and would call to see him the following evening, adding that if he failed to call Pete was to go to the Stockmen's Security and ask for the president when he was able to be about. He mailed the letter himself, walking several blocks to find a box. On his way back a man passed him who peered at him curiously. The Spider's hand had crept toward his upper vest-pocket as the other approached. After he passed, The Spider drew out a fresh cigar and lighted it from the one he was smoking. And he tossed the butt away and turned and glanced back. "I wonder what White-Eye is doing in El Paso?" he asked himself. "He knew me all right." The Spider shrugged his shoulders. His hunch had proved itself. There was still time to leave town, but the fact that White-Eye had recognized him and had not spoken was an insidious challenge, the kind of a challenge which a killer never lets pass. For the killer, strangely enough, is drawn to his kind through the instinct of self-preservation, a psychological paradox to the layman, who does not understand that peculiar pride of the gunman which leads him to remove a menace rather than to avoid it. Curiosity as to a rival's ability, his personal appearance, his quality of nerve, the sound of his voice, has drawn many noted killers together—each anxious to prove conclusively that he was the better man. And this curiosity, driven by the high nervous tension of the man who must ever be on the alert, is insatiable, and is assuaged only by insanity or his own death. The removal of a rival does not satisfy this hunger to kill, but rather creates a greater hunger, until, without the least provocation, the killer will shoot down a man merely to satisfy temporarily this inhuman and terrible craving. The killer veritably feeds upon death, until that universal abhorrence of the abnormal, triumphant in the end, adjusts the quivering balance—and Boot Hill boasts one more wooden cross.
The Spider, limping up the stairway to his room, knew that he would not leave El Paso, knew that he could not leave the town until satisfied as to what White-Eye's silence meant. And not only that, but he would find out. He lighted the oil-lamp on the dresser and gazed at himself in the glass. Then he took off his coat, shaved, washed, and put on a clean shirt and collar. He took some gold and loose silver from his money-belt, put on his hat and coat, and hobbled downstairs. He thought he knew where he could get word of White-Eye's whereabouts, stopped at a cigar-stand and telephoned for his cab—and his regular driver. In a few minutes the cab was at the corner. He mentioned a street number to the driver, who nodded knowingly. Pony Baxter's place—where the game ran big. No place for a tin-horn. Only the real ones played at Pony's. So this old-timer who paid so well was going to take a whirl at the game? The cabby thought he saw a big tip coming. Being somewhat of a sportsman in his way, and grateful for what The Spider had already done for him, he drew up within a block of his destination and, stepping down, told The Spider that Pony's place was being watched—and had been for more than a week: that the bulls were out for some strangers who were wanted bad.
The Spider showed no sign of surprise. "Suppose I was one of 'em, eh?" he queried.
"That's none of my business, Captain. I ain't workin' for the force; I'm workin' for myself."
"All right. I'll walk down to Pony's place. After I go up, you can drive down there and wait. I may be five minutes—or a couple of hours. Here's something to make you forget who you're waiting for if anybody should ask you."
The cabby tucked the money in his pocket and climbed back to his seat. "Don't know if somebody was to ask me," he said to himself, as he watched The Spider hobble down the next block. "Lemme see," he continued as he drove slowly along. "Some guy comes up and asks me for a match and starts talkin' friendly, and mebby asks me to have a drink, and I get friendly and tell him about that young sport from the East that's been seein' the town and how somebody over to his hotel must 'a' told him about the game at Pony's—and how he's upstairs, gettin' his hair cut—short. Oh, I guess I ain't been in this business eight years for nothin'."
But the inquisitive stranger did not appear and the cabby's invention was wasted.
The Spider entered the first door to the left of the long hallway. The room was fitted up as an office, with huge leather-upholstered chairs, a mahogany center table, and a mahogany desk. In one corner stood a large safe. On the safe-door was lettered "A. L. Baxter & Co."
A man with a young, smooth face and silver-white hair was sitting at the desk. He turned and nodded pleasantly.
"I want to see Pony," said The Spider.
"You're talking to him," said the other. "What can I do for you?"
"You can tell Pony that I want to see him, here," said The Spider. "And don't worry, he knows me."
"The name, please."
"Never mind that. Just take a good look at me—and tell him. He'll come."
The other rose and, stepping to the inner door, beckoned to some one in the room beyond. The Spider seated himself, lighted a cigar, and leaned back as though thoroughly at home. Presently a big man came in briskly: a full-bodied, smooth-cheeked man who looked like the prosperous manager of some legitimate business enterprise, save for the large diamond horseshoe scintillating in his gray silk tie.
"Why, hello, Jim!" he cried, evidently surprised. He told his partner casually that he could go on inside and look after things for a few minutes. When the other had gone he turned to The Spider. "What can I do for you, Jim?"
"Tell me where I can find White-Eye."
"White-Eye? He hasn't been in here for three or four years. I didn't know he was in town."
"That might go with the bulls, Pony. I know White-Eye doesn't hang out reg'lar here—ain't his kind of a joint. But you can tell me where he does hang out. And I want to know."
"You looking for him, Jim?"
"No. But I've got a hunch he's looking for me."
"Just how bad do you think he wants to see you?" queried Baxter, tilting back his swing-chair and glancing sideways at The Spider.
"About as bad as I want to see him," said The Spider.
"You haven't been in town for quite a while, Jim."
"No. Fifteen years, I reckon."
"You don't change much."
"I was thinking the same of you; always playing safe. You ought to know better than to pull a bluff like that on me. But if that is your game, I call. I want White-Eye."
Pony Baxter had plenty of nerve. But he knew The Spider. "I haven't seen White-eye for over three years," he said, turning to his desk. He tore a memorandum slip from a pad and wrote something on it and handed it to The Spider. It was simply a number on Aliso Street. The Spider glanced at it and tore the slip in two.
"He's stayin' with friends?" queried The Spider.
"Yes. And I think you know most of them."
"Thanks for the tip, Pony."
"You going down there alone, Jim?"
"I wouldn't," said Baxter.
"I know dam' well you wouldn't," laughed The Spider.
Scarcely had The Spider stepped into the cab when four men slouched from a dark stairway entrance a few doors down the street and watched the cab turn a distant corner.
"Well, you missed a good chance," said one of the men, as they moved slowly toward the entrance to Pony Baxter's.
"How about you? If you ain't forgetting it was the first one of us that seen him was to get him."
"And White-Eye, here, seen him first, when he crawled out of that rig. If we'd 'a' gone up, instead of standin' here lettin' our feet git cold—"
"He must 'a' had his roll with him," said Pino, one of White-Eye's companions and incidentally a member of that inglorious legion, "The Men Who Can't Come Back."
"'T ain't his roll I want," said White-Eye.
"Too dam' bad about you not wantin' his roll. Any time—"
"Any time you git The Spider's roll, you got to git him," asserted another member of this nocturnal quartette, a man whose right arm and shoulder sagged queerly.
"The Spider ain't no kid, neither,"—and White-Eye paused at the dimly lighted stairway entrance.
The man with the deformed shoulder cursed White-Eye. The others laughed.
"Let's go git a drink—and then we'll have a talk with Pony. Come on, Steve."
They turned and drifted on up the street. Presently they were back at the stairway entrance. "Pony won't stand for no rough stuff," advised White-Eye as they turned and climbed the stair. "I'll do the talkin'."
"I reckon he'll stand for anything we hand him," said Pino. "Fancy clothes don't cut any figure with me."
"Nobody that ever got a good look at you would say so," asserted White-Eye. He paused at the head of the stairs. "I aim to find out what The Spider wanted up here."
"Go to it!"—and Pino grinned.
As they entered the "office," Baxter was talking with his partner, with whom he exchanged a significant glance as he realized who his visitors were. The partner excused himself and stepped into the room beyond.
"Well, boys, what can I do for you?" Baxter's manner was suavely affable.
"We're lookin' for a friend," declared White-Eye.
"I don't think he's here." And Baxter smiled his professional smile.
"But he's been here," asserted White-Eye. "We ain't here to make a noise. We jest want to know what The Spider was doin' up here a spell ago."
"Oh, Jim? Why, he dropped in to shake hands. I hadn't seen him for several years. Didn't know he was in town."
"Feed that soft stuff to the yearlins'," snarled White-Eye. "The Spider ain't chousin' around El Paso for his health, or yours."
Baxter was about to say something when Pino stooped and picked up the pieces of paper which The Spider had torn in two just before he left. Pino had no special motive in picking up those torn bits of paper. He simply saw them, picked them up, and rolled them nervously in his fingers. White-Eye, watching Baxter, saw him blink and in turn watch Pino's fingers as he twisted and untwisted the bits of paper.
"He can't keep his hands still," said White-Eye, shrugging his shoulder toward Pino. "Ever meet Pino. No? Well, he's a artist—when it comes to drawin'—"
Pino dropped the bits of paper, rose, and shook hands indifferently with Baxter. As Pino sat down again, Baxter stooped and casually picked up the torn pad-leaf on which he had written White-Eye's address. He turned to his desk and taking a box of cigars from a drawer passed it around. White-Eye's pin-point pupils glittered. Pony Baxter seemed mighty anxious to get those two bits of paper out of sight. White-Eye had seen him drop them in the drawer as he opened it.
"Where did you send The Spider?" asked White-Eye quickly.
"Send him! Didn't send him anywhere. He said he was going back to his hotel."
White-Eye blinked. He knew that The Spider was not stopping at a hotel. For some reason Baxter had lied.
"How's the game to-night?" queried White-Eye.
"Quiet," replied Baxter.
"Any strangers inside?"
"No—not the kind of strangers you mean."
"Then I reckon we'll take a look in. Don't mind takin' a whirl at the wheel myself."
"Come right in," said Baxter, as though relieved, and he opened the door and stood aside to let them pass.
A quiet game of poker was running at a table near the door. Farther down the room, which was spacious and brilliantly lighted, a group were playing the wheel. At the table beyond the usual faro game was in progress. All told there were some fifteen men in the room, not counting the dealers and lookout. One or two men glanced up as White-Eye and his companions entered and sauntered from table to table. To the regular habitues of the place, White-Eye and his companions were simply "rough-necks" to whom Baxter was showing "the joint."
Presently Baxter excused himself and, telling his visitors to make themselves at home, strode back to his office. White-Eye and Pino watched the wheel, while the man with the deformed shoulder and his companion stood watching the faro game. The room was quiet save for the soft click of the chips, the whirring of the ball, an occasional oath, and the monotonous voice of the faro-dealer.
Pino nudged White-Eye and indicated the little pile of gold that was stacked before a player at the faro table. White-Eye shook his head and stepped casually back. Pino sauntered over to him.
"Chanct for a clean-up?" whispered Pino.
"No show. The lookout's a gun. I know him. So is that guy at the wheel. Pony's pardner packs a gat; and that guy standin' over by the wall, smoking is drawin' down reg'lar pay for jest standin' there, every night. 'Sides, they ain't enough stuff in sight to take a chanct for. We ain't organized for this kind of a deal."
"Then what's the use of hangin' around?"
"'Cause they was somethin' on that piece of paper you picked up out there that Pony didn't want us to see—and I aim to find out what it was."
"The number of some dame, most like," said Pino, grinning.
"Did you hear him say The Spider went back to his hotel? Well, Pony is double-crossin' somebody. Jest stick around and keep your eye on the door."
Meanwhile The Spider had arrived at the address given him—an empty basement store in the south end of town. The place was dark and evidently abandoned. Back of the store was a room in which were two cheap iron beds, a washstand, and two chairs. The rear door of this room opened on an alley, and it was through this door that White-Eye and his companions entered and left the premises, which they had rented at a low rate from the lessee of the place who now ran a grocery on the street level, near the corner.
The Spider had no means of knowing of the back room and thought that Baxter had sent him to a chance number to get rid of him; or that the latter would possibly suggest that White-Eye must have left the neighborhood.
"Is there a back stairs to Pony's place?" queried The Spider as he stood by the cab.
"No. But there's a fire-escape in the alley back of the block. The last time they raided Pony the bulls got six gents comin' down the iron ladder."
"Just drive round that way." The Spider stepped into the cab.
"You ain't a Government man, are you?" queried cabby.
"No. I play a lone hand," said The Spider.
"CLOSE THE CASES"
Pony Baxter's place, located near the middle of what is commonly termed a "business block," embraced the space once occupied by a number of small offices, one of which he had retained as a sort of reception-room, near the head of the stairway. That he might have a spacious room for his business, the partitions of the former offices had been removed, with the exception of those enclosing his office, and a room at the extreme end of the building which opened on the hall, near the end window, just over the fire-escape. This room was expensively fitted up as a lavatory, with marble panels, basins, and tiling. A uniformed negro with the inevitable whisk-broom was always in attendance, quite as keen at "getting the dust" as was his employer. The door to this room was fitted with a spring lock which allowed it to be opened only from the inside, except with a pass-key.
The Spider's cab, swinging into the alley, stopped directly beneath the lower extension of the fire-escape. "Pull over closer to the wall," he told the driver. Then he climbed to the driver's seat and stepped onto the iron ladder. "You can drive round to the front and wait," he told the cabby, who lost no time in getting out of the alley. Like most nocturnal cabmen, he was quite willing to drive anywhere; but he sincerely preferred to do his waiting for his fare in a more open street.
The window at the rear end of the hall was fastened. The Spider broke the glass just below the catch with the butt of his gun. He raised the window and slid into the hallway.
"Who dat?" came from the lavatory.
"It's me, Sam," said The Spider thickly, imitating the voice of a man overcome by drink. "I cut my hand on the window. Want to get in—wash up—blood—"
"I ask Misto Baxtuh, suh."
"Lemme in—quick—or you lose a five-spot. Bleeding bad—want to wash up—"
The spring lock clicked softly. Before Sam knew what had happened, The Spider was in the lavatory and between him and the door to the main room. "Get going," said The Spider. The amazed negro backed away from that eloquent menace in The Spider's right hand. "M-m-m-misto—misto—Captain— Ah ain't done nuffin!"
"Git!"—and The Spider indicated the rear window.
The negro backed into the hall, saw the open window, and vanished through it without parley. He dropped from the last step of the fire-escape and picking himself up started to run, with no definite destination in mind save space.
As Baxter had said, things were quiet that night. The poker table had been deserted and the players had left. A few "regulars" still hung about the faro layout and the wheel. The hired "bouncer" had stepped into the office to speak to Baxter. It was past twelve. There were no strangers present save the four roughly dressed men. Baxter was just telling the bouncer that he knew them, and that he surmised they were after a certain party, but that that party would not be back there. As he talked Baxter stepped to the outer door and locked it. It was too late to expect any worth-while business.
The Spider, who was in reality looking for Baxter, whom he suspected of trickery, opened the lavatory door far enough to see into the main room. In a flash he had placed three of the four men who "wanted" him.
White-Eye and Longtree were standing near a player at the faro table, evidently interested for the moment in the play. Near White-Eye, Pino was rolling a cigarette. Beyond them, at the next table, stood a man with a deformed shoulder—and The Spider recognized Gary of the T-Bar-T, watching the few players at the wheel. . . . A film of cigar smoke eddied round the lamps above the tables. Presently the players at the faro table rose and left. The dealer put away his cases. The lookout yawned and took off his green eye-shade. The man with the deformed shoulder and his companion were moving toward White-Eye when The Spider slipped through the doorway and sidled toward the middle of the room. His hat was pushed back. He fumbled at his tie with his right hand. "White-Eye!" he called.
The faro-dealer and the lookout jerked round—then slowly backed toward the side of the room. The man at the wheel paused with his hand in the air. The players, intent upon the game, glanced up curiously. Pino, who stood near White-Eye and almost in front of him, dropped his cigarette. The room became as still as the noon desert. Three of the four men who bore ancient grudge against The Spider, knew that there would be no parley—that talk would be useless. The fourth, the man whom they had addressed as Steve, had but recently associated himself with them, and had no quarrel with The Spider. In that tense moment, Gary wished himself well out of it.
"Lost your nerve, Pino?" laughed The Spider, in his queer, high voice. "You dropped your cigarette."
One of the roulette players giggled hysterically. At the sound of that laugh, White-Eye jerked Pino in front of him. The Spider's gun appeared as though he had caught it from the air. As it roared, Pino staggered sideways and fell. White-Eye fired as The Spider, throwing shot after shot, walked slowly toward him. Suddenly White-Eye coughed and staggered against the table. With his last shot The Spider dropped White-Eye, then jerked a second gun from his waistband. Gary, kneeling behind the faro table, fired over its top. The Spider whirled half-round, recovered himself, and, sidling toward the table, threw down on the kneeling man, who sank forward coughing horribly. Within eight feet of him The Spider's gun roared again. Gary's body jerked stiff at the shock and then slowly collapsed. The fourth man, Longtree, with his hands above his head, begged The Spider not to kill his old pal! The Spider's face, horribly distorted, venomous as a snake's, colorless and glistening with sweat, twisted queerly as he spoke: "Kill you, you damned coyote?" And he shot Longtree down as a man would shoot a trapped wolf.
Framed in the office doorway stood Pony Baxter, a blue automatic in his hand. The Spider, leaning against the roulette table, laughed. "Gave me the double-cross, eh, Pony? How do you like the layout?" He swayed and clutched at the table. "Don't kill me, Pony!" he cried, in ghastly mimickry of Longtree's voice. "Don't kill an old pal, Pony!" And the sound of his voice was lost in the blunt roar of a shot that loosened Baxter's fingers from the automatic. It clattered to the floor. Baxter braced himself against the door-frame and, turning, staggered to the desk 'phone.
The Spider nodded to the faro-dealer. "Close your cases," he said, and he hiccoughed and spat viciously. "Get me downstairs—I'm done."
The dealer, who possessed plenty of nerve himself, was dumb with wonder that this man, who had deliberately walked into a fight against three fast guns, was still on his feet. Yet he realized that The Spider had made his last fight. He was hard hit. "God, what a mess!" said the dealer as he took The Spider's arm and steadied him to the office. "You better lay down," he suggested.
"Got a cab downstairs. General Hospital."
The driver, who had been taking a nap inside the cab, heard the sound of shooting, started up, threw back the lap-robe, and stepped to the sidewalk. He listened, trying to count the shots. Then came silence. Then another shot. He was aware that his best policy was to leave that neighborhood quickly. Yet curiosity held him, and finally drew him toward the dimly lighted stairway. He wondered what had happened.
"Cab?" somebody called from above. The cabby answered.
"Give us a hand here," cried a voice from the top of the stairs. "A man's been shot—bad."
The cabby clumped up and helped get The Spider to the street. "Where'll I take him?" he stammered nervously, as he recognized the shrunken figure.
"He said something about the General Hospital. He's going—fast."
"He used to call there, regular," asserted the cabby. "Anybody else git hurt?"
"Christ, yes! It's a slaughter-pen up there. Beat it, or he'll cash in before you can get him to the hospital."
The cabby pulled up at the General Hospital, leapt down, and hastened round to the garage. He wakened the night ambulance-driver, stayed until the driver and an interne had carried The Spider into the hospital, and then drove away before he could be questioned.
The house-doctor saw at once that The Spider could not live, administered a stimulant, and telephoned to the police station, later asking the ambulance-driver for the cabman's number, which the other had failed to notice in the excitement. As he hung up the receiver a nurse told him that the patient was conscious and wanted to speak to Dr. Andover. The house-doctor asked The Spider if he wished to make a statement.
The Spider moved his head in the negative. "I'm done," he whispered, "but I'd like to see Pete a minute."
"Room 218," said the nurse.
"Oh, you mean young Annersley. Well, I don't know."
"He's my boy," said The Spider, using the last desperate argument—an appeal difficult to ignore.
"Take him to 218," said the doctor, gesturing toward the stretcher.
The nurse, who went with them, roused Pete out of a quiet sleep and told him that they were bringing some one to see him. "Your father," she said, "who has been seriously injured. He asked to see you."
Pete could not at first understand what she meant. "All right," he said, turning his head and gazing toward the doorway. The nurse stepped into the hall and nodded to the attendants and the doctor.
They were about to move forward when The Spider gestured feebly to the doctor. "Get me to my feet." "I won't bother you much after that." And The Spider, who felt that his strength was going fast, tried to raise himself on the stretcher. This effort brought the internes to his side. They lifted him to his feet and shuffled awkwardly through the doorway.
Swaying between the internes, his shriveled body held upright by a desperate effort of will, he fought for breath.
Pete raised on his elbow, his dark eyes wide. "Spider!" he exclaimed.
The internes felt The Spider's slackened muscles grow tense as he endeavored to get closer to the cot. They helped him a step forward. He pulled his arm free and thrust out his hand. Pete's hand closed on those limp, clammy fingers.
"I come ahead of time, pardner. Come to see how—you was—gettin' along." The Spider's arm dropped to his side.
"Take him to the other bed there," said the doctor.
The Spider shook his head. "Just a minute." He nodded toward Pete. "I want you to do something for me. Go see that party—in letter—fix you up—he's played square with me—same as you done."
"But who was it—" began Pete.
"Old bunch. Trailed me—too close. Got 'em—every dam' one. A mas ver. Tengo que marcharme, compadre." And then, "Close the cases," said The Spider.
The internes helped him to the cot on which Doris had rested as she watched Pete through those dark hours, refusing to leave him till she knew the great danger had passed.
Pete lay back staring at the ceiling. He was, stunned by this sudden calamity. And all at once he realized that it must have been The Spider who had called to see him several times. Doris had hinted to Pete that some friend asked after him daily. So The Spider had come to El Paso to find out if the money had been delivered—risking his life for the sake of a few thousand dollars! Pete turned and glanced at the other cot. The doctor was bending over The Spider, who mumbled incoherently. Presently brisk footsteps sounded in the hallway, and two men entered the room and stepped to where The Spider lay. They spoke in low tones to the doctor, who moved back. One of the men—a heavy-shouldered, red-faced man, whom Pete recognized—asked The Spider who had shot him, and if he had been in Pony Baxter's place that night. The Spider's lips moved. The other leaned closer. Dimly The Spider realized that this was the Law that questioned him. Even at the last moment his old enemy had come to hunt him out. The Spider's beady black eyes suddenly brightened. With a last vicious effort he raised his head and spat in the officer's face.
The doctor stepped quickly forward. The Spider lay staring at the ceiling, his sightless eyes dulled by the black shadow of eternal night.
It was Pony Baxter who gave the names of the dead gunmen to the police, confirming the records of White-Eye, Pino, Longtree, and Jim Ewell—known as The Spider. The identity of the fourth man, he of the deformed shoulder and shriveled arm, was unknown to Baxter. The police had no record of him under any alias, and he would have been entered on their report of findings as "unknown," had not the faro-dealer and the lookout both asserted that The Spider had called him Gary—in fact had singled him out unmistakenly, asking him what be had to do with the quarrel, which evidently concerned but three of the four men whom The Spider had killed. Pony Baxter, slowly recovering from an all but fatal gun-shot wound, disclaimed any knowledge of a "frame-up" to get The Spider, stating that, while aware that the gunmen and The Spider were enemies, The Spider's sudden appearance was as much of a surprise to him as it evidently was to the gunmen—and Baxter's serious condition pretty well substantiated this statement. Baxter's negro was also questioned—concerning Baxter's story and explaining the circumstances under which he had admitted The Spider to the back room.
When confronted with the torn slip of paper on which was written the address of White-Eye, Baxter admitted that he knew of the rendezvous of the gunmen, but refused to explain why he had their address in his possession, and he put a quietus on that phase of the situation by asking the police why they had not raided the place themselves before the shooting occurred, as they seemed to have known of it for several months. Eventually Baxter and the police "fixed it up." The gambler did a thriving business through the notoriety the affair had given him. Many came to see the rooms where The Spider had made his last venomous fight, men who had never turned a card in their lives, and who doubted the rumors current in the sporting world until actually in the room and listening to the faro-dealer's cold and impassive account of the men and the battle. And more often than not these curious souls, who came to scoff, remained to play.
Pete, convalescing rapidly, had asked day after day if he might not be allowed to sit with the other patients who, warmly blanketed, enjoyed the sunshine on the wide veranda overlooking the city. One morning Andover gave his consent, restricting Pete's first visit to thirty minutes. Pete was only too glad of a respite from the monotony of back-rest and pillow, bare walls, and the essential but soul-wearying regularity of professional attention.
Not until Doris had helped him into the wheel-chair did he realize how weak he was.
Out on the veranda, his weakness, the pallid faces of the other convalescents, and even Doris herself, were forgotten as he gazed across the city and beyond to the sunlit spaces softly glowing beneath a cloudless sky. Sunlight! He had never known how much it meant, until then. He breathed deep. His dark eyes closed. Life, which he had hitherto valued only through sheer animal instinct, seemed to mean so much more than he had ever imagined it could. Yet not in any definite way, nor through contemplating any definite attainment. It was simply good to be alive—to feel the pleasant, natural warmth of the sun—to breathe the clear, keen air. And all his curiosity as to what the world might look like—for to one who has come out of the eternal shadows the world is ever strange—was drowned in the supreme indifference of absolute ease and rest. It seemed to him as though he were floating midway between the earth and the sun, not in a weird dream wherein the subconscious mind says, "This is not real; I know that I dream"; but actual, in that Pete could feel nothing above nor beneath him. Being of a very practical turn of mind he straightway opened his eyes and was at once conscious of the arm of the wheel-chair beneath his hand and the blanket across his knees.
He was not aware that some of the patients were gazing at him curiously—that gossip had passed his name from room to room and that the papers had that morning printed a sort of revised sequel to the original story of "The Spider Mystery"—as they chose to call it.
Doris glanced at her watch. "We'll have to go in," she said, rising and adjusting Pete's pillow.
"Oh, shucks! We jest come out!"
"You've been asleep," said Doris.
Pete shook his head. "Nope. But I sure did git one good rest. Doc Andover calls this a vacation, eh? Well, then I guess I got to go back to work—and it sure is work, holdin' down that bed in there—and nothin' to do but sleep and eat and—but it ain't so bad when you're there. Now that there cow-bunny with the front teeth—"
"S-sh!" Doris flushed, and Pete glanced around, realizing that they were not alone.
"Well, I reckon we got to go back to the corral!" Pete sighed heavily.
Back in bed he watched Doris as she made a notation on the chart of his "case." He frowned irritably when she took his temperature.
"The doctor will want to know how you stood your first outing," she said, smiling.
Pete wriggled the little glass thermometer round in his mouth until it stuck up at an assertive angle, as some men hold a cigar, and glanced mischievously at his nurse. "Why don't you light it?" he mumbled.
Doris tried not to laugh as she took the thermometer, glanced at it, and charted a slight rise in the patient's temperature.
"Puttin' it in that glass of water to cool it off?" queried Pete.
She smiled as she carefully charted the temperature line.
"Kin I look at it?" queried Pete.
She gave the chart to him and he studied it frowningly. "What's this here that looks like a range of mountains ?" he asked.
"Your temperature." And she explained the meaning of the wavering line.
"Gee! Back here I sure was climbin' the high hills! That's a interestin' tally-sheet."
Pete saw a peculiar expression in her gray eyes. It was as though she were searching for something beneath the surface of his superficial humor; for she knew that there was something that he wanted to say—something entirely alien to these chance pleasantries. She all but anticipated his question.
"Would you mind tellin' me somethin'?" he queried abruptly.
"No. If there is anything that I can tell you."
"I was wonderin' who was payin' for this here private room—and reg'lar nurse. I been sizin' up things—and folks like me don't get such fancy trimmin's without payin'."
"Why—it was your—your father."
Pete sat up quickly. "My father! I ain't got no father. I—I reckon somebody got things twisted."
"Why, the papers"—and Doris bit her lip—"I mean Miss Howard, the nurse who was here that night . . ."
"When The Spider cashed in?"
"The Spider wasn't my father. But I guess mebby that nurse thought he was, and got things mixed."
"The house-doctor would not have had him brought up here if he had thought he was any one else."
"So The Spider said he was my father—so he could git to see me!" Pete seemed to be talking to himself. "Was he the friend you was tellin' me called regular?"
"Yes. I don't know, but I think he paid for your room and the operation."
"Don't they make those operations on folks, anyhow, if they ain't got money?"
"Yes, but in your case it was a very difficult and dangerous operation. I saw that Dr. Andover hardly wanted to take the risk."
"So The Spider pays for everything!" Pete shook his head. "I don't just sabe."
"I saw him watching you once—when you were asleep," said Doris. "He seemed terribly anxious. I was afraid of him—and I felt sorry for him—"
Pete lay back and stared at the opposite wall. "He sure was game!" he murmured. "And he was my friend."
Pete turned his head quickly as Doris stepped toward the door. "Could you git me some of them papers—about The Spider?"
"Yes," she answered hesitatingly, as she left the room.
Pete closed his eyes. He could see The Spider standing beside his bed supported by two internes, dying on his feet, fighting for breath as he told Pete to "see that party—in the letter"—and "that some one had trailed him too close." And "close the cases," The Spider had said. The game was ended.
When Doris came in again Pete was asleep. She laid a folded newspaper by his pillow, gazed at him for a moment, and stepped softly from the room.
At noon she brought his luncheon. When she came back for the tray she noticed that he had not eaten, nor would he talk while she was there. But that evening he seemed more like himself. After she had taken his temperature he jokingly asked her if he bit that there little glass dingus in two what would happen?"
"Why, I'd have to buy a new one," she replied, smiling.
Pete's face expressed surprise. "Say!" he queried, sitting up, "did The Spider pay you for bein' my private nurse, too?"
"He must have made some arrangement with Dr. Andover. He put me in charge of your case."
"But don't you git anything extra for—for smilin' at folks—and—coaxin' 'em to eat—and wastin' your time botherin' around 'em most all day?"
"The hospital gets the extra money. I get my usual salary."
"You ain't mad at me, be you?"
"Why, no, why should I be?"
"I dunno. I reckon I talk kind of rough—and that mebby I said somethin'—but—would you mind if I was to tell you somethin'. I been thinkin' about it ever since you brung that paper. It's somethin' mighty important—and—"
"Your dinner is getting cold," said Doris.
"Shucks! I jest got to tell somebody! Did you read what was in that paper?"
"About that fella called Steve Gary that The Spider bumped off in that gamblin'-joint?"
"Well, if that's right—and the papers ain't got things twisted, like when they said The Spider was my father—why, if it was Steve Gary—I kin go back to the Concho and kind o' start over ag'in."
"I don't understand."
"'Course you don't! You see, me and Gary mixed onct—and—"
Doris' gray eyes grew big as Pete spoke rapidly of his early life, of the horse-trader, of Annersley and Bailey and Montoya, and young Andy White—characters who passed swiftly before her vision as she followed Pete's fortunes up to the moment when he was brought into the hospital. And presently she understood that he was trying to tell her that if the newspaper report was authentic he was a free man. His eagerness to vindicate himself was only too apparent.
Suddenly he ceased talking. The animation died from his dark eyes. "Mebby it wa'n't the same Steve Gary," he said.
"If it had been, you mean that you could go back to your friends—and there would be no trouble—?"
Pete nodded. "But I don't know."
"Is there any way of finding out—before you leave here?" she asked.
"I might write a letter and ask Jim Bailey, or Andy. They would know."
"I'll get you a pen and paper."
Pete flushed. "Would you mind writin' it for me? I ain't no reg'lar, professional writer. Pop Annersley learned me some—but I reckon Jim could read your writin' better."
"Of course I'll write the letter, if you want me to. If you'll just tell me what you wish to say I'll take it down on this pad and copy it in my room."
"Can't you write it here? Mebby we might want to change somethin'."
"Well, if you'll eat your dinner—" And Doris went for pen and paper. When she returned she found that Pete had stacked the dishes in a perilous pyramid on the floor, that the bed-tray might serve as a table on which to write.
He watched her curiously as she unscrewed the cap of her fountain pen and dated the letter.
"Jim Bailey, Concho—that's over in Arizona," he said, then he hesitated. "I reckon I got to tell you the whole thing first and mebby you kin put it down after I git through." Doris saw him eying the pen intently. "You didn't fetch the ink," he said suddenly.
Doris laughed as she explained the fountain pen to him. Then she listened while he told her what to say.
The letter written, Doris went to her room. Pete lay thinking of her pleasant gray eyes and the way that she smiled understandingly and nodded—"When most folks," he soliloquized, "would say something or ask you what you was drivin' at."
To him she was an altogether wonderful person, so quietly cheerful, natural, and unobtrusively competent . . . Then, through some queer trick of memory, Boca's face was visioned to him and his thoughts were of the desert, of men and horses and a far sky-line. "I got to get out of here," he told himself sleepily. And he wondered if he would ever see Doris Gray again after he left the hospital.
A PUZZLE GAME
Dr. Andover, brisk and professionally cheerful, was telling Pete that so far as he was concerned he could not do anything more for him, except to advise him to be careful about lifting or straining—to take it easy for at least a month—and to do no hard riding until the incision was thoroughly healed. "You'll know when you are really fit," he said, smiling, "because your back will tell you better than I can. You're a mighty fortunate young man!"
"You sure fixed me up fine, Doc. You was sayin' I could leave here next week?"
"Yes, if you keep on improving—and I can't see why you should not. And I don't have to tell you to thank Miss Gray for what she has done for you. If it hadn't been for her, my boy, I doubt that you would be here!"
"She sure is one jim-dandy nurse."
"She is more than that, young man." Andover cleared his throat. "There's one little matter that I thought best not to mention until you were—pretty well out of the woods. I suppose you know that the authorities will want to—er—talk with you about that shooting scrape—that chap that was found somewhere out in the desert. The chief of detectives asked me the other day when you would be around again."
"So, when I git out of here they're goin' to arrest me?"
"Well, frankly, you are under arrest now. I thought it best that you should know it now. In a general way I gathered that the police suspect you of having had a hand in the killing of that man who was found near Sanborn."
"Well, they can wait till hell freezes afore I'll tell 'em," said Pete.
"And, meanwhile, you'll also have to—er—wait, I imagine. Have you any friends who might—er—use their influence? I think you might get out on bail. I can't say."
"Then the best thing that you can do is to tell a straight story and hope that the authorities will believe you. Well, I've got to go. By the way, how are you fixed financially? Just let me know if you want anything?"
"Thanks, Doc. From what you say I reckon the county will be payin' my board."
"I hope not. But you'll need some clothing and underwear—the things you had on are—"
"Don't hesitate to ask me,"—and Andover rose. "Your friend—er—Ewell—arranged for any little contingency that might arise."
"Then I kin go most any time?" queried Pete.
"We'll see how you are feeling next week. Meanwhile keep out in the sun—but wrap up well. Good-bye!"
Pete realized that to make a fresh start in life he would have to begin at the bottom.
He had ever been inclined to look forward rather than backward—to put each day's happenings behind him as mere incidents in his general progress—and he began to realize that these happenings had accumulated to a bulk that could not be ignored, if the fresh start that he contemplated were to be made successfully. He recalled how he had felt when he had squared himself with Roth for that six-gun. But the surreptitious taking of the six-gun had been rather a mistake than a deliberate intent to steal. And Pete tried to justify himself with the thought that all his subsequent trouble had been the result of mistakes due to conditions thrust upon him by a fate which had slowly driven him to his present untenable position—that of a fugitive from the law, without money and without friends. He came to the bitter conclusion that his whole life had been a mistake—possibly not through his own initiative, but a mistake nevertheless. He knew that his only course was to retrace and untangle the snarl of events in which his feet were snared. Accustomed to rely upon his own efforts—he had always been able to make his living—he suddenly realized the potency of money; that money could alleviate suffering, influence authority, command freedom—at least temporary freedom—and even in some instances save life itself.
Yet it was characteristic of Pete that he did not regret anything that he had done, in a moral sense. He had made mistakes—and he would have to pay for them—but only once. He would not make these mistakes again. A man was a fool who deliberately rode his horse into the same box canon twice.
Pete wondered if his letter to Jim Bailey had been received and what Bailey's answer would be. The letter must have reached Bailey by this time. And then Pete thought of The Spider's note, advising him to call at the Stockmen's Security; and of The Spider's peculiar insistence that he do so—that Hodges would "use him square."
Pete wondered what it all signified. He knew that The Spider had money deposited with the Stockmen's Security. The request had something to do with money, without doubt. Perhaps The Spider had wished him to attend to some matter of trust—for Pete was aware that The Spider had trusted him, and had said so, almost with his last breath. But Pete hesitated to become entangled further in The Spider's affairs. He did not intend to make a second mistake of that kind.
Monday of the following week Pete was out on the veranda—listening to little Ruth, a blue-eyed baby patient who as gravely explained the mysteries of a wonderful puzzle game of pasteboard cows and horses and a farmyard "most all cut to pieces," as Ruth said, when Doris stepped from the hall doorway and, glancing about, finally discovered Pete in the far corner of the veranda—deeply absorbed in searching for the hind leg of a noble horse to which little Ruth had insisted upon attaching the sedate and ignoble hind quarters of a maternal cow. So intent were they upon their game that neither of them saw Doris as she moved toward them, nodding brightly to many convalescents seated about the veranda.
"Whoa!" said Pete, as Ruth disarranged the noble steed in her eagerness to fit the bit of pasteboard Pete had handed to her. "Now, I reckon he'll stand till we find that barn-door and the water-trough. Do you reckon he wants a drink?"
"He looks very firsty," said Ruth.
"Mebby he's hungry, too,"—and Pete found the segment of a mechanically correct haystack.
"No!" cried Ruth positively, taking the bit of haystack from Pete; "wet's put some hay in his house."
"Then that there cow'll git it—and she's plumb fed up already."
"Den I give 'at 'ittle cow his breakfuss,"—and the solicitous Ruth placed the section of haystack within easy reach of a wide-eyed and slightly disjointed calf—evidently the offspring of the well-fed cow, judging from the paint-markings of each.
But suddenly little Ruth's face lost its sunshine. Her mouth quivered. Pete glanced up at her, his dark eyes questioning.
"There's lots more hay," he stammered, "for all of 'em."
"It hurted me," sobbed Ruth.
"Your foot?" Pete glanced down at the child's bandaged foot, and then looked quickly away.
"Ess. It hurted me—and oo didn't hit it."
"I'll bet it was that doggone ole cow! Let's git her out of this here corral and turn her loose!" Pete shuffled the cow into a disjointed heap. "Now she's turned loose—and she won't come back."
Ruth ceased sobbing and turned to gaze at Doris, who patted her head and smiled. "We was—stockin' up our ranch," Pete explained almost apologetically. "Ruth and me is pardners."
Doris gazed at Pete, her gray eyes warm with a peculiar light. "It's awfully nice of you to amuse Ruth."
"Amuse her! My Gosh! Miss Gray, she's doin' the amusin'! When we're visitin' like this, I plumb forgit—everything."
"Here's a letter for you," said Doris. "I thought that perhaps you might want to have it as soon as possible."
"Thanks, Miss Gray. I reckon it's from Jim Bailey. I—" Pete tore off the end of the envelope with trembling fingers. Little Ruth watched him curiously. Doris had turned away and was looking out across the city. A tiny hand tugged at her sleeve. "Make Pete play wif me," said Ruth. "My cow's all broke."
Pete glanced up, slowly slid the unread letter back into the envelope and tucked it into his shirt. "You bet we'll find that cow if we have to comb every draw on the ranch! Hello, pardner! Here's her ole head. She was sure enough investigatin' that there haystack."
Doris turned away. There was a tense throbbing in her throat as she moved back to the doorway. Despite herself she glanced back for an instant. The dark head and the golden head were together over the wonderful puzzle picture. Just why Pete should look up then could hardly be explained by either himself or Doris. He waved his hand boyishly. Doris turned and walked rapidly down the hallway. Her emotion irritated her. Why should she feel so absolutely silly and sentimental because a patient, who really meant nothing to her aside from her profession, should choose to play puzzle picture with a crippled child, that he might forget for a while his very identity and those terrible happenings? Had he not said so? And yet he had put aside the letter that might mean much to him, that he might make Little Ruth forget her pain in searching for a dismembered pasteboard cow.
Doris glanced in as she passed Pete's room. Two men were standing there, expressing in their impatient attitudes that they had expected to find some one in the room. She knew who they were—men from the police station—for she had seen them before.
"You were looking for Mr. Annersley?" she asked.
"Yes, mam. We got a little business—"
"He's out on the veranda, playing puzzle picture with a little girl patient."
"Well, we got a puzzle picture for him—" began one of the men, but Doris, her eyes flashing, interrupted him.
"Dr. Andover left word that he does not want Mr. Annersley to see visitors without his permission."
"Reckon we can see him, miss. I had a talk with Doc Andover."
"Then let me call Mr. Annersley, please. There are so many—patients out there."
"All right, miss."
Doris took Pete's place as she told him. Little Ruth entered a demurrer, although she liked Doris. "Pete knew all about forces and cows. He must come wight back . . ."
"What a beautiful bossy!" said Doris as Ruth rearranged the slightly disjointed cow.
"Dat a cow," said Ruth positively. "Pete says dat a cow!"
"And what a wonderful pony!"
"Dat a force, Miss Dowis. Pete say dat a force."
It was evident to Doris that Pete was an authority, not without honor in his own country, and an authority not to be questioned, for Ruth gravely informed Doris that Pete could "wide" and "wope" and knew everything about "forces" and "cows."
Meanwhile Pete, seated on the edge of his cot, was telling the plain-clothes men that he was willing to go with them whenever they were ready, stipulating, however, that he wanted to visit the Stockmen's Security and Savings Bank first, and as soon as possible. Incidentally he stubbornly refused to admit that he had anything to do with the killing of Brent, whom the sheriff of Sanborn had finally identified as the aforetime foreman of the Olla.
"There's nothing personal about this, young fella," said one of the men as Pete's dark eyes blinked somberly. "It's our business, that's all."
"And it's a dam' crawlin' business," asserted Pete. "You couldn't even let The Spider cross over peaceful."
"I reckon he earned all he got," said one of the men.
"Mebby. But it took three fast guns to git him—and he put them out of business first. I'd 'a' liked to seen some of you rubber-heeled heifers tryin' to put the irons on him."
"That kind of talk won't do you no good when you're on the stand, young fella. It ain't likely that Sam Brent was your first job. Your record reads pretty strong for a kid."
"Meanin' Gary? Well, about Gary"—Pete fumbled in his shirt. "I got a letter here" . . . He studied the closely written sheet for a few seconds, then his face cleared. "Jest run your eye over that. It's from Jim Bailey, who used to be my fo'man on the Concho."
The officers read the letter, one gazing over the other's shoulder, "Who's this Jim Bailey, anyhow?"
"He's a white man—fo'man of the Concho, and my boss, onct."
"Well, you're lucky if what he says is so. But that don't square you with the other deal."
"There's only one man that could do that," said Pete. "And I reckon he ain't ridin' where you could git him."
"That's all right, Annersley. But even if you didn't get Brent, you were on that job. You were running with a tough bunch."
"Who's got my gun?" queried Pete abruptly.
"It's over to the station with the rest of your stuff."
"Well, it wa'n't a forty-five that put Brent out of business. My gun is."
"You can tell that to the sheriff of Sanborn County. And you'll have a hard time proving that you never packed any other gun."
"You say it's the sheriff of Sanborn County that'll be wantin' to know?"
"Yes. We're holding you for him."
"That's different. I reckon I kin talk to him."
"Well, you'll get a chance. He's in town—-waiting to take you over to Sanborn."
"I sure would like to have a talk with him," said Pete. "Would you mind tellin' him that?"
"Why—no. We'll tell him."
"'Cause I aim to take a little walk this afternoon," asserted Pete, "and mebby he'd kind o' like to keep me comp'ny."
"You'll have company—if you take a walk," said one of the detectives significantly.
THE MAN DOWNSTAIRS
Pete did not return to the veranda to finish his puzzle game with little Ruth. He smiled rather grimly as he realized that he had a puzzle game of his own to solve. He lay on the cot and his eyes closed as he reviewed the vivid events in his life, from the beginning of the trail, at Concho, to its end, here in El Paso. It seemed to spread out before him like a great map: the desert and its towns, the hills and mesas, trails and highways over which men scurried like black and red ants, commingling, separating, hastening off at queer tangents, meeting in combat, disappearing in crevices, reappearing and setting off again in haste, searching for food, bearing strange burdens, scrambling blindly over obstacles—collectively without seeming purpose—yet individually bent upon some quest, impetuous and headstrong in their strange activities. "And gittin' nowhere," soliloquized Pete, "except in trouble."