The Kid Of Apache Teju by Florence Finch Kelly

Story type: Literature

Baby, my babe,
What waits you yonder,
Out in the world?
Dear little feet,
There must they wander,
Out in the world?
Soft little hands,
What shall they do there,
Out in the world?
Baby, my babe,
What fate must you dare,
Out in the world?

All around Apache Teju for miles and miles lies the gray, cactus-dotted, heat-devoured plain, weird and fascinating, with its placid, tree-fringed lakes, that are not; its barren, jagged, turquoise-tinted mountain-peaks, born here and there of the horizon and the desert; its whirling, dancing columns of sand, which mount to mid-sky; its lying distances and deceiving levels; its silence and its fierce, white, unclouded sunshine.

And when you draw rein under the cottonwoods at Apache Teju, uncurl the wrinkles of your eyelids in the welcome shade, and cool your eyes in the vivid green of the alfalfa field, it suddenly comes to you that never before did you understand what blessedness there is in a bit of shadow and a patch of green things growing.

From the spring at the top of the slope behind the house a line of noble old cottonwoods files along the acequia halfway down the hill, and there, where the ditch divides, forks into a spreading double row, which incloses the house and stables and comes together again in a little grove beyond the road, where the two ditches empty into a pond. The house lies there in this circlet of trees, a low, whitewashed, flat-roofed adobe, rambling along in apparent aimlessness from cosey rooms through sheds and stables, until the whole connecting structure incloses a large corral.

In front of the house is a tiny square of blue-grass, bordered by beds of geraniums and larkspurs and hollyhocks, inclosed by a low adobe wall, and shaded by a young cottonwood growing in the centre. Beyond, on the slope of the hill below the ditch, where its waters can be spread over all the surface, is the rich, velvety emerald of the alfalfa field. And the fame of that little square of grass and of that little field of alfalfa fills all the land from Deming to Silver City, and from Separ to the Mimbres.

And that is Apache Teju, headquarters for the northern half of a ranch that spreads over seven thousand square miles of the arid hills and plains of southern New Mexico, where for hours and hours you may travel toward a horizon swimming in heat, across the gray, hot, quivering levels, broken only by clumps of gay-flowered cactus and the blanching bones and sun-dried hides of cattle, dead of starvation and thirst.

The superintendent’s wife and I sat in the tiny grass plat enjoying the balmy breath that in the late afternoon steals over and cools this strange, hot land. Texas Bill had just galloped home from the nearest railroad station with a big package of Eastern mail; and the combined attractions of letters, late magazines, and a box of New York candy so engrossed us that we did not see the Kid until the gate clicked and he stood before us, asking,

“Is this the double A, quart circ., bar H outfit?”

“The what?” I gasped, looking at the queer little figure in astonishment. He was perhaps a dozen years old, though the slender, childish figure and the experienced face belied each other and made guessing difficult. He wore a man’s sombrero, old and dirty, which came down to his ears and flopped a wide, unstiffened brim around his face. With tardy recollection of his manners,–learned who knows where,–he doffed his head-gear after he had spoken, and stood with serious face, but unable to repress a smile that twinkled in his great blue child’s eyes at my astonishment. A big rent across one shoulder of his shirt showed a strip of sunburned flesh beneath and sent one sleeve dangling over his hand. His baggy trousers–no, that is not the word, they were “pants”–were held in place by a halter strap buckled tightly about his waist, and his feet were concealed in shoes so much too large for him that his toes were not visible in the mouths gaping at their front ends. And on one foot clanked and jingled the pride and glory of his attire–a huge spur, three inches long, silver-plated and highly polished, and so heavy that that foot dragged as he walked.

He repeated his question, and the superintendent’s wife leaned forward, with a laughing aside to me:

“You tenderfoot! Haven’t you learned our brand yet?” And to the boy: “Yes, this is Apache Teju. Do you want to see any one?”

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“Boss home yet from Deming?”

“Mr. Williams? I expect him this evening.”

The boy threw himself down full length upon the grass and pressed his face against the cool, green blades.

“Well,” he exclaimed, “it’s pretty fine here, ain’t it? That green down there is just out of sight. I heard there was blue-grass and alfalfa here, but who ‘d have thought it would look so nice?”

“Do you want to see Mr. Williams?”

“I guess it ain’t necessary,” and he sat up again, pressing a handful of grass upon each glowing cheek.

I handed him the candy box and he helped himself daintily with the tongs, saying, “Thank you, ma’am,” with a sidelong glance which let me know that his heart was won to my service from that moment. He put a piece in his mouth, and his face beamed with pleasure.

“This just strikes my gait! ‘T ain’t much like Deming candy, is it? I saw the boss last night in Deming,” he added, turning to Mrs. Williams. “You’re his wife, ain’t you? I thought so, soon as I saw you. He was kidding me about coming out here to be a cowboy, and I told him all right, if he wasn’t running a blaze, I ‘d go him on that. I was to have rode out with him in his buggy, but I was up pretty late last night with the boys, doing the town, and when I got up this morning he was gone. I was n’t going to have him think I ‘d backed out of the bargain, so I says to the conductor, ‘I got a job out at Apache–cowboy–gimme a ride to Whitewater.’ And he says, ‘All right, jump on. You ‘re welcome to a ride on my train whenever you want it.’ So I walked over from Whitewater, and I ‘m ready to go to work to-night if the boss says so. He won’t find me no tenderfoot, you hear me.”

The naive bravado of the child’s speech was irresistible. It won my heart as completely as I had won his, and I straightway emptied my candy box into his hands. “Oh!” he breathed, looking at the heap of dainties with infantile delight. And then he fell upon them with avidity and did not speak another word until the last one had disappeared down his throat.

So that was how the Kid came to live at Apache Teju. He said his name was Guy Silvestre Raymond. But whether a mother’s lips had really bestowed that name upon him, or he had appropriated it to himself out of some blood-and-thunder romance, whose hero he had decided to imitate, name and all, is one of the things that nobody but the Kid will ever know. But it did n’t matter much anyway, for he had always been called Kid, and that name followed him to the ranch, much to his disgust. For he had decided, as he told me one day, that the ladies of the household should call him Guy, and that among the men his name should be “Broncho Bob.”

He was a waif of the railroad. All his life had been spent along its line, blacking boots, selling nuts, candy, papers, on the trains or around the depots of the frontier cities and towns. And he had taken care of himself ever since he could remember. He had reached Deming a few days before in a worse but less picturesque state of dilapidation than that in which he presented himself at Apache Teju. After deciding that he would leave the railroad and become a cowboy, he had scraped together, in Heaven knows what devious ways and by what lucky chances, the apparel of state in which he set forth on his new life.

The next morning there was trouble in the corral. Kid had been directed to mount an old and gentle pony whose meek and humble appearance did not at all agree with his ideas of the sort of steed Broncho Bob should bestride. There was in the corral a black horse called Dynamite, a mettlesome young thing whose one specialty was bucking. And of this it never failed to give a continuous performance from the time a rider mounted its back until he was dislodged. Kid was determined to ride Dynamite. Texas Bill and Red Jack were trying to persuade him out of his notion by telling him how dangerous the horse was, and how he once landed Mr. Williams, the best rider on the whole ranch, on top of the house.

“Suppose he did,” blustered the Kid. “He won’t land me on top of the house, nor on top of the ground, neither. I tell you, I ain’t afraid to fork any horse that ever bucked! I can ride anything that wears hair! You hear me shout? Anything that wears hair!”

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“See here, youngster,” said Texas Bill, in his longest and most indifferent drawl, “I ‘ve been ridin’ horses more years than you ‘ve been born, an’ I ‘ve tamed more pitchin’ horses than you ever saw any other kind, an’ I ain’t a little bit afraid of a pitchin’ horse. I ‘m a whole, big, blazin’ lot afraid!”

“What if you are?” retorted Kid. “I don’t have to be a coward ’cause you ‘re one!”

Texas Bill’s eye glared, and his hand jerked toward his hip pocket. Then he grunted and walked over to where I was feeding the two Angora goats out of my hands.

“If he was a man–” he began in an angry voice, and then broke off. “But I ‘m not fightin’ babies. I thought I ‘d keep him from breakin’ his durn fool neck, but he can go it now as fast as he wants to.”

The superintendent came out and told Kid he would have to obey orders or go back to Deming at once. So he sullenly mounted the meek and humble pony and cantered off.

About mid-forenoon, when there was no one at home but little Madge, the ten-year-old daughter of the house, the cook, and myself, Kid galloped back alone. Madge came dancing from the corral to where I sat in the front yard, her eyes blazing and her hands quivering with excitement.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, “He’s going to ride Dynamite! He ‘s run off from them and come back to ride Dynamite!”

“He must not do it! I must not let him!” And I started for the corral. Madge grasped my skirt with both hands.

“Dynamite won’t hurt him! I know he won’t!”

“What do you know about it?”

“I know he won’t because–don’t you tell mamma–I was on him myself one day, and he never bucked a bit!”

“You! How did you dare?”

“I wanted to see if I could, and there was nobody in the corral, and I climbed on his back, and he was just lovely!”

And just then, with Kid astride him, Dynamite pranced and curveted down the road. With a beaming face Kid waved his hat at us and galloped off. Dynamite making not even the sign of a desire to buck. After that the boy could not be persuaded to ride any other horse. And as long as Kid bestrode him, or Madge, with Kid’s connivance and help, surreptitiously mounted him, Dynamite’s behavior was perfect. But he worked woe upon any grown person that made the attempt.

The black horse’s life was not an easy one under Kid’s mastership. The boy never rode at a less pace than a gallop, and even in that dry, hot air Dynamite was always reeking with sweat when they came home.

Just how the Kid put in his time out on the plains was a mystery. The cowboys with whom and for whose assistance he was sent out good-naturedly swore that he was “not worth a whoop in h–l.” If they needed him, he was nowhere in sight, and if they particularly did not want him he was sure to come charging over the plain, straight upon the cattle they had bunched, and scatter the frightened creatures to the four winds. But mostly they said he managed to get lost; which was only their kindly way of putting the fact that he slipped away from them and pursued his own amusements at a sufficient distance not to be disturbed by their need of him.

What he did with himself all day long Mrs. Williams and I discovered one day when driving to Whitewater. Out on the plain we saw the Kid yelling like a wild man, with Dynamite at his highest speed, chasing a jack-rabbit. That evening I heard him giving Madge a thrilling account of how he had chased a gray wolf, which, after running many miles, had turned on him and viciously sprung at his throat, and how he had made Dynamite jump on the beast and trample its life out. And I recognized in the tale merely Kid’s version for Madge’s ears of his chase of the jackrabbit.

For by that time he had become, in her eyes, the exemplar of all that is inspiringly bold and daring, and he felt it necessary to keep up his reputation. For her he was a knight of prowess who could do anything he wished and against whom nothing could prevail. So he told her wonderful tales of what he had seen and done and been through, and of his daily adventures, and brought to her the occasional results of his single-handed combats with birds and beasts. He offered to dig up a tarantula’s nest for her and to catch and tame for her pleasure a side-winder rattlesnake, or, if she preferred, a golden oriole or a mocking-bird. It did n’t make any difference to him whether she chose a rattlesnake or an oriole; whatever she wanted him to do, he was ready to attempt. And Madge looked and listened and worshipped; and Kid, basking in the warmth of her adoration, swaggered about in ever increasing pride and importance.

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One day, just after he had returned from a two days’ trip out on the range, I heard him telling her a blood-curdling tale of an adventure with a mysterious and villainous looking Mexican, who, he said, had shot off the end of one of his fingers. Then, the Kid declared, he had made Dynamite rear and strike the Mexican to the ground with his forefeet and then trample him until he was so dead that he ‘d never shoot anybody else’s finger off.

Madge was filled with horror and admiration and pity, and begged to be allowed to see and bind up the mutilated finger. But he refused with superior indifference, clinched his bleeding finger in his fist and said it was n’t anything and did n’t hurt, anyway. Madge’s mother called her away, and straightway there appeared at my door a boy with pale face, quivering lips, and tear-filled eyes, holding up a bloody hand. I bound up the wound, which was a clean cut chipping off the end of one finger, and he buried his face in my lap and cried. Soothing and cuddling him, for somehow I felt that was what the child needed, I asked:

“How did you hurt yourself, Kid?”

“I was making a peg to hang my saddle on, and I chopped my finger with the hatchet.”

I said nothing, but soothed and cuddled him the more, and he sobbed at my knee in sheer enjoyment of the luxury of being babied. After that I think he took occasion to hurt himself upon every possible opportunity in order that he might come to my room to be taken care of and petted and comforted. He left all his swagger and bluster and bravado outside, and I babied him to his heart’s content, feeling sure that it was the first time in all his dozen years that this child’s right had come to him. But he did not allow these private seasons of relaxation, which he trusted me not to betray, to interfere with his double character of knight of prowess with Madge, and of Broncho Bob with the men.

Excitement did not lack at the ranch-house whenever Kid was at home. If he was sent to help with the milking, one of the cows was sure to kick over a full milk-pail, knock him over with her hoof, or break loose from her restraining ropes, charge around the corral like a wild beast, and crash through one of the house windows or plunge in at an open door. If he was told to house the geese and chickens for the night, such a commotion ensued as brought the whole household to see if coyotes had broken into the chicken yard. At sight of him the pet Angora goats fled on their swiftest legs, with a running leap mounted one of the corral sheds, and then sped to what they had learned was the only place of safety, the roof of the house. And when he was not stirring up the animals, he was playing jokes on the cowboys. Holy John, a middle-aged, thick-witted fellow, who never knew what had happened to him until the rest were roaring with laughter, was the special butt of his tricks.

One evening the boys were sitting around the kitchen door talking quietly, for Kid was off with Madge, helping her to bury a dead kitten. Holy John sat in a slouching attitude on the doorsteps, his new sombrero, with a stiff, curled brim, tipped far back on his head. Kid came in through the corral and stood in the kitchen for a few minutes. Then he seized the molasses jug and, tiptoeing very softly behind Holy John, filled the brim of his brand-new sombrero with the sticky liquid. It flowed out over his back and down into his trousers, and Holy John lifted a wondering and bewildered face to see his companions breaking into uproarious mirth. Then his long-enduring patience was smothered in wrath, and he laid violent hands upon Kid and spanked him before Madge’s eyes.

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This was too much for a knight of prowess tamely to endure, and the boy blustered around in his most vigorous impersonation of the character of Broncho Bob.

“This ranch ain’t big enough to hold Holy John and me too. Him or me, one or the other, has sure got to ask for his time, and it won’t be me either, you hear me shout. I ‘ll get him sure buffaloed, and if he don’t pull his freight before he ‘s a day older, there ‘ll be the biggest killing here that Apache Teju ever heard of.”

It was very quiet the next day at the ranch. Mr. and Mrs. Williams and Madge had driven to Silver City, the cowboys were all on the range, and I kept in my room with some work. After a time I heard a noise at the end of the house, just outside my room, and I went to see what it was. Kid was there with a pick and shovel, toilsomely digging a hole in the hard adobe soil.

“What are you doing, Kid?”

“Nothing much. Just digging a hole.”

“Isn’t that where the old Apache chief is buried?”

He looked up with interest. “Is this the place? Do you know right where it is?”

“They told me it is there where you are digging. Those rocks that you can barely see, outline his grave. Are you going to dig him up?”

“Me? What would I want to dig him up for? I ain’t lost no Injun! I ‘m just digging a hole–for Madge. She wants to plant a tree. What did they bury him here for? Did they kill him here on the ranch?”

“This was a fort once, before there was any ranch here, and there was a war with the Apaches, and they were getting beaten, and so they sent this old chief down to the fort to make terms for them. The commander received him and put him in a tent and set a guard over him. In the night the guard fell asleep, and when he wakened he was frightened lest the Indian might have escaped. So he punched into the tent with his bayonet to see if he was still there, and hit the chief in the foot. That made him angry and he came out and killed the guard. The noise roused the soldiers, and they killed the chief, and they buried him here, inside the stockade, so that the Indians would n’t suspect that he was dead until they could get reinforcements.”

“The Injun killed the guard, did he? Good enough for him! I wish it had been Holy John!”

He fell to work again with more vigor than ever, but presently he stopped and growled:

“I ‘d like to run a blaze on that ornery galoot that he ‘d remember all the rest of his life!”

After a while I chanced to see Kid carrying a bundle done up in a gunny sack down to the acequia and hide it among the currant bushes. I noticed that he had carefully filled up the hole he had been digging, and I asked,

“Aren’t you going to plant the tree?”

“No,” he replied carelessly, “it would n’t grow there. The soil’s too hard.”

The cowboys spread their beds every night under the cottonwoods beside the lower acequia, and that night we heard them in earnest discussion long after they had gone to bed. Mr. Williams was with them for a short time and came back, saying that they were talking about ghosts, and that Kid had declared emphatically that the old Apache chief walked o’ nights and that he had both seen and heard him.

“He gave a vivid description,” Mr. Williams went on, “of waking up one night and seeing the Indian’s skeleton rise up out of the ground and pounce on a soldier who stood near and kill him outright. He will have Holy John so terrified that the poor fellow will want his time at once. For John believes everything that is impossible, and he will see ghosts all night long and be afraid of his own shadow in the daytime.”

That night, just as morning broke, the whole household was awakened by a loud, piercing yell, followed by another and another, and all rushed from their beds in time to see Holy John leap over the fence and dart down the road, still shrieking as if fiends were after him. And beside his deserted bed under the cottonwoods lay some grisly thing, shining in the gray light with streaks and patches of white. Kid looked after the flying figure and said, in a tone of extremest satisfaction,

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“He’s sure buffaloed!”

Holy John had awakened in the dim, early dawn and found the skeleton of the Apache chief cuddling against him.

That morning, as I sat in the yard reading, the voices of Kid and Madge came to me from around the corner of the house, and I heard a snatch of their conversation.

“Madge, I ‘m going to pull my freight. I won’t work on the same ranch with such a coward as that Holy John.”

“Truly, Guy, are you going away?”

“Yes, I am. I ain’t going to stop to ask for my time. I ‘m going to-day, before the boss comes home.”

“Well, then, what am I going to do? You ‘re not going off to leave me?”

Silence for the space of ten seconds.

“Jiminy! Tell you what, you come too!”

“I can’t! Mamma wouldn’t let me!”

“Don’t ask her. Come right along with me! We ‘ll elope! That’s more fun than anything! Girls that is anything always elopes!”

Then they wandered off to the alfalfa field, and soon I saw them throwing stones at the prairie dogs with which it was infested. So I concluded that what I had heard was merely some of the Kid’s braggadocio, and, smiling at the sentimental turn he had taken, I went on with my book and thought no more of it.

But when lunch time came neither Madge nor Kid appeared for the meal. Much calling failed to bring a response. Then I remembered and gave account of the conversation I had heard. It was found that Dynamite was gone from the corral. Evidently the little scapegrace had meant what he said and had carried Madge off. Mrs. Williams ordered the cart and at once we started after the fugitives.

“He has most probably gone toward Deming,” she said. “I will send Red Jack to Whitewater to stop them if they are there, but I think we had better drive toward Deming as fast as possible.”

About ten miles out we caught sight of the runaways. They were mounted on Dynamite, Madge holding fast behind. Kid was urging the horse furiously back and forth among a flock of carrion crows, and practising with his lasso upon them as they rose and flapped about in short and heavy flight. They seemed to be having great sport, for Kid was shouting and yelling at the birds, and Madge screaming with laughter at their clumsy efforts to escape. So absorbed were they in their play that they did not see us until we were almost beside them. At first Kid made as if he would start Dynamite off on the gallop, but Mrs. Williams called to him sternly, and he turned and trotted back to us, smiling and looking amazingly innocent.

Madge sat still and stared at us with big, frightened eyes, until Mrs. Williams had twice spoken to her, and then she slipped quickly down, to be folded in her mother’s arms and sob upon her bosom all the way home. I persuaded the Kid to sit between us in the cart and drive us back, tying Dynamite behind.

“He was awful mad at first,” the boy confidingly said, “to have to carry double. But I made him sure hump himself right along.”

At home we found the superintendent just returned. He gave the Kid a paternal lecture, which probably did him as much good as if it had been in Chinese, and then, in cattle-ranch parlance, gave him his time–paid him to date and discharged him.

And a few minutes later we saw the last of the Kid, as the forlorn little figure, with the wide, flopping sombrero, and the big, dragging spur, walked out of the gate and down the road toward Whitewater, and was soon swallowed in the shimmering heat of the plain.

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