Story type: Literature
–mounted wanderer, horseman of the restless heart,
still rides from place to place, contemptuous of gold,
carrying in his parfleche all the vanishing traditions
of the West.
THE TRAIL TRAMP
Kelley was in off the range and in profound disgust with himself, for after serving honorably as line-rider and later as cow-boss for ten years or more, he had ridden over to Keno to meet an old comrade. Just how it happened he couldn’t tell, but he woke one morning without a dollar and, what was worse, incredibly worse, without horse or saddle! Even his revolver was gone.
In brief, Tall Ed, for the first time in his life, was set afoot, and this, you must understand, is a most direful disaster in cowboy life. It means that you must begin again from the ground up, as if you were a perfectly new tenderfoot from Nebraska.
Fort Keno was, of course, not a real fort; but it was a real barracks. The town was an imitation town. The fort, spick, span, in rows, with nicely planted trees and green grass-plats (kept in condition at vast expense to the War Department), stood on the bank of the sluggish river, while just below it and across the stream sprawled the town, drab, flea-bitten, unkempt, littered with tin cans and old bottles, a collection of saloons, gambling-houses and nameless dives, with a few people–a very few–making an honest living by selling groceries, saddles, and coal-oil.
Among the industries of Keno City was a livery-and-sales stable, and Kelley, with intent to punish himself, at once applied for the position of hostler. “You durned fool,” he said, addressing himself, “as you’ve played the drunken Injun, suppose you play valet to a lot of mustangs for a while.”
As a disciplinary design he felicitated himself as having hit upon the most humiliating and distasteful position in Keno. It was understood that Harford of the Cottonwood Corral never hired a real man as hostler. He seemed to prefer bums and tramps, either because he could get them cheaper or else because no decent man would work for him. He was an “arbitrary cuss” and ready with gun or boot. He came down a long trail of weather-worn experiences in the Southwest, and showed it in both face and voice. He was a big man who had once been fatter, but his wrinkled and sour visage seldom crinkled into a smile. He had never been jolly, and he was now morose.
Kelley hated him. That, too, was another part of his elaborate scheme of self-punishment–hated, but did not fear him, for Tall Ed Kelley feared nothing that walked the earth or sailed the air. “You bum,” he continued to say in bitter derision as he caught glimpses of himself of a morning in the little fragment of broken glass which, being tacked on the wall, served as mirror in the office. “You durned mangy coyote, you need a shave, but you won’t get it. You need a clean shirt and a new bandanna, but you won’t get them, neither–not yet awhile. You’ll earn ’em by going without a drop of whisky and by forking manure fer the next six months. You hear me?”
He slept in the barn on a soiled, ill-smelling bunk, and his hours of repose were broken by calls on the telephone or by some one beating at the door late at night or early in the morning; but he always responded without a word of complaint. It was all lovely discipline. It was like batting a measly bronco over the head in correction of some grievous fault (like nipping your calf, for example), and he took a grim satisfaction in going about degraded and forgotten of his fellows, for no one in Keno knew that this grimy hostler was cow-boss on the Perco. This, in a certain degree, softened his disgrace and lessened his punishment, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to the task of explaining just how he had come to leave the range and go into service with Harford.
The officers of the fort, when tired of the ambulance, occasionally took out a team and covered rig, and so Kelley came in contact with the commanding officer, Major Dugan, a fine figure of a man with carefully barbered head and immaculate uniform. In Kelley’s estimation he was almost too well kept for a man nearing fifty. He was, indeed, a gallant to whom comely women were still the fairest kind of game.
In truth, Tall Ed as hostler often furnished the major with a carriage, in which to make some of his private expeditions, and this was another and final disgrace which the cowman perceived and commented upon. To assist an old libertine like the major in concealing his night journeys was the nethermost deep of “self-discipline,” but when the pretty young wife of his employer became the object of the major’s attention Kelley was thrown into doubt.
Anita Harford, part Spanish and part German, as sometimes happens in New Mexico, was a curious and interesting mixture with lovely golden-brown hair and big, dark-brown eyes. She had the ingratiating smile of the senora, her mother, and the moods of gravity, almost melancholy, of her father.
She had been away in Albuquerque during the first week of Kelley’s hostlership, and though he had heard something of her from the men about the corral, he had no great interest in her till she came one afternoon to the door of the stable, where she paused like a snow-white, timid antelope and softly said:
“Are you the new hostler?”
“I am, miss.”
She smiled at his mistake. “I am Mrs. Harford. Please let me have the single buggy and bay Nellie.”
Kelley concealed his surprise. “Sure thing, mom. Want her right now?”
“If you please.”
As she moved away so lightly and so daintily Kelley stared in stupefaction. “Guess I’ve miscalculated somewhere. Old Harf must have more drag into him than I made out. How did the old seed get a woman like that? ‘Pears like he’s the champion hypnotic spieler when it comes to ‘skirts.’”
He hitched-up the horse in profound meditation. For the first time since his downfall his humiliation seemed just a trifle deeper than was necessary. He regretted his filthy shirt and his unshorn cheeks, and as he brought the horse around to the door of the boss’s house he slipped out of the buggy on the off side, hurriedly tethered the mare to the pole, and retreated to his alley like a rat to its burrow. The few moments when Anita’s clear eyes had rested upon him had been moments of self-revelation.
“Kelley, you’re all kinds of a blankety fool,” said he. “You’re causing yourself a whole lot of extra misery and you’re a disgustin’ object, besides. It isn’t necessary fer you to be a skunk in order to give yourself a welting. Go now and get a shave and a clean shirt, and start again.”
This he did, and out of his next week’s pay he bought a clean pair of overalls and a new sombrero, so that when he came back to the barn Harford was disturbed.
“Hope you aren’t going to pull out, Kelley? You suit me, and if it’s a question of pay, I’ll raise you a couple of dollars on a week.”
“Oh no, I’m not leaving. Only I jest felt like I was a little too measly. ‘Pears like I ought to afford a clean shirt. It does make a heap of difference in the looks of a feller. No, I’m booked to stay with you fer a while yet.”
Naturally thereafter little Mrs. Harford filled a large place in Kelley’s gloomy world. He was not a romantic person, but he was often lonesome in the midst of his self-imposed penance. He forbade himself the solace of the saloon. He denied himself a day or even an hour off duty, and Harford, secretly amazed and inwardly delighted, went so far one day as to offer him a cigar.
Kelley waved it away. “No, I’ve cut out the tobacco, too.”
This astounded his boss. “Say, it’s a wonder you escaped the ministry.”
“It’s more of a wonder than you know,” replied Kelley. “I was headed right plumb that way till I was seventeen. My mother had it all picked out fer me. Then I broke away.”
Harford, with the instinctive caution of the plainsman, pursued the subject no further. He was content to know that for a very moderate wage he had secured the best man with horses that the stable had ever known. His only anxiety related to the question of keeping his find.
“Kelley’s too good to be permanent,” he said to his wife that night. “He’ll skip out with one of the best saddle-horses some night, or else he’ll go on a tearing drunk and send the whole outfit up in smoke. I don’t understand the cuss. He looks like the usual hobo out of a job, but he’s as abstemious as a New England deacon. ‘Pears like he has no faults at all.”
Anita had been attracted to Kelley, lowly as he looked, and, upon hearing his singular virtues recounted by her husband, opened her eyes in augmented interest. All the men in her world were rough. Her father drank, her brothers fought and swore and cheated, and her husband was as free of speech in her presence as if she were another kind of man, softening his words a little, but not much. Therefore, the next time she met Kelley she lingered to make conversation with him, rejoicing in his candid eyes and handsome face. She observed also that his shirt was clean and his tie new. “He looks almost like a soldier,” she thought, and this was her highest compliment.
Surrounded as she was by gamblers, horse-jockeys, cattle-buyers, and miners, all (generally speaking) of the same slouchy, unkempt type, she recognized in the officers of the fort gentlemen of highest breeding and radiant charm. Erect, neat, brisk of step, the lieutenants on parade gave off something so alien, yet so sweet, that her heart went out to them collectively, and when they lifted their caps to her individually, she smiled upon them all with childish unconsciousness of their dangerous qualities.
Most of the younger unmarried men took these smiles to be as they were, entirely without guile. Others spoke jestingly (in private) of her attitude, but were inclined to respect Harford’s reputation as a gunman. Only the major himself was reckless enough to take advantage of the young wife’s admiration for a uniform.
Kelley soon understood the situation. His keen eyes and sensitive ears informed him of the light estimation in which his employer’s wife was held by the major; but at first he merely said, “This is none of your funeral, Kelley. Stick to your currycomb. Harford is able to take care of his own.”
This good resolution weakened the very next time Anita met him and prettily praised him. “Mr. Harford says you are the best man he ever had, and I think that must be so, for my pony never looked so clean and shiny.”
Kelley almost blushed, for (as a matter of faithful history) he had spent a great deal of time brushing bay Nellie. She did indeed shine like a bottle, and her harness, newly oiled and carefully burnished, glittered as if composed of jet and gold.
“Oh, that’s all right; it’s a part of my job,” he replied, as carelessly as he could contrive. “I like a good horse”–“and a pretty woman,” he might have added, but he didn’t.
Although Anita lingered as if desiring a word or two more, the tall hostler turned resolutely away and disappeared into the stable.
Bay Nellie, as the one dependable carriage-horse in the outfit of broncos, had been set aside for the use of Anita and her friends, but Kelley had orders from Harford to let the mare out whenever the women did not need her, provided a kindly driver was assured, and so it happened that the wives of the officers occasionally used her, although none of them could be called friends or even acquaintances of little Mrs. Harford.
Kelley observed their distant, if not contemptuous, nods to his employer’s wife as they chanced to meet her on the street, but he said no word, even when some of the town loafers frankly commented on it. He owed nothing to Harford. “It’s not my job to defend his wife’s reputation.” Nevertheless, it made him hot when he heard one of these loafers remark: “I met the old major the other evening driving along the river road with Harf’s wife. Somebody better warn the major, or there’ll be merry hell and a military funeral one of these days.”
“I reckon you’re mistaken,” said Kelley.
“Not by a whole mile! It was dark, but not so dark but that I could see who they were. They were in a top buggy, drivin’ that slick nag the old man is so choice about.”
“When was it?” asked Kelley.
“Night before last. I met ’em up there just at the bend of the river.”
Kelley said no more, for he remembered that Anita had called for the horse on that date just about sundown, and had driven away alone. She returned alone about ten–at least, she drove up to the stable door alone, but he recalled hearing the low tones of a man’s voice just before she called.
It made him sad and angry. He muttered an imprecation against the whole world of men, himself included. “If I hadn’t seen her–if I didn’t know how sweet and kind and pretty she was–I wouldn’t mind,” he said to himself. “But to think of a little babe like her–” He checked himself. “That old cockalorum needs killing. I wonder if I’ve got to do it?” he asked in conclusion.
Harford came home the next day, and for several weeks there was no further occasion for gossip, although Kelley had his eyes on the major so closely that he could neither come nor go without having his action analyzed. He kept close record of Anita’s coming and going also, although it made him feel like a scoundrel whenever she glanced at him. He was sure she was only the thoughtless child in all her indiscretions, with a child’s romantic admiration of a handsome uniform.
“I’ll speak to her,” he resolved. “I’ll hand her out a word of warning just to clear my conscience. She needs a big brother or an uncle–some one to give her a jolt, and I’ll do it!”
The opportunity came one day soon after Harford’s return, but his courage almost failed at the moment of meeting, so dainty, so small, so charming, and so bird-like did the young wife seem.
She complimented him again on the condition of the mare and asked, timidly, “How much does my husband pay you?”
“More than I’m worth,” he replied, with gloomy self-depreciation.
She caught the note of bitterness in his voice and looked at him a moment in surprised silence, her big eyes full of question. “What made you say that?”
Kelley, repenting of his lack of restraint, smiled and said: “Oh, I felt that way–for a minute. You see, I used to lead a high life of ease. I was a nobleman–an Irish lord.”
She smiled and uttered an incredulous word, but he went on:
“Yes, although my name is Kelley, I belong to a long line of kings. I’m working as hostler just to square myself fer having killed a man. You see, my queen was kind o’ foolish and reckless and let a certain English duke hang round her till I got locoed, and, being naturally quick on the trigger, I slew him.”
She was not stupid. She understood, and with quick, resentful glance she took the reins from his hands and stepped into the carriage.
Kelley, silenced, and with a feeling that he had bungled his job, fell back a pace, while she drove away without so much as a backward glance.
“I reckon she got it,” he said, grimly, as he went back to his work. “I didn’t put it out just the way I had it in my head, but she ‘peared to sense enough of it to call me a Piute for butting in. If that don’t work on her I’ll tack a warning on the major which nobody will misread fer a joke.”
As the hours of the afternoon went by he became more and more uneasy. “I hope she’ll turn up before dark, fer Harf is liable to get back any minute,” he said a dozen times, and when at last he saw her coming up the street with a woman in the seat beside her he breathed deeply and swore heartily in his relief. “I guess my parable kind o’ worked,” he said, exultantly. “She’s kept clear of the old goat this trip.”
The little lady stopped her horse at the door of the stable and with a cool and distant nod alighted and walked away.
“I’m the hostler now–sure thing,” grinned Kelley. “No raise of pay fer Tall Ed this week.”
He was in reality quite depressed by the change in her attitude toward him. “Reckon I didn’t get just the right slaunch on that warning of mine–and yet at the same time she ought to have seen I meant it kindly.–Oh well, hell! it’s none o’ my funeral, anyway. Harford is no green squash, he’s a seasoned old warrior who ought to know when men are stealing his wife.” And he went back to his dusty duties in full determination to see nothing and do nothing outside the barn.
Nevertheless, when, thereafter, anybody from the fort asked for bay Nellie, he gave out that she was engaged, and the very first time the major asked for the mare Kelley not only brusquely said, “She’s in use,” but hung up the receiver in the midst of the major’s explanation.
The town gossips were all busy with the delightful report that Mrs. Harford had again been seen driving with the major, whose reputation for gallantry, monstrously exaggerated by the reek of the saloons, made even a single hour of his company a dash of pitch to the best of women. Kelley speculated on just how long it would take Harford to learn of these hints against his wife. Some of his blunt followers were quite capable of telling him in so many words that the major was doing him wrong, and when they did an explosion would certainly take place.
One day a couple of Harford’s horses, standing before the stable, became frightened and ran away up the street. Kelley, leaping upon one of the fleetest broncos in the stalls, went careering in pursuit just as Anita came down the walk. He was a fine figure of a man even when slouching about the barn, but mounted he was magnificent. It was the first time he had ridden since the loss of his own outfit, and the feel of a vigorous steed beneath his thighs, the noise of pounding feet, the rush of air, filled his heart with mingled exultation and regret. He was the centaur again.
Anita watched him pass and disappear with a feeling of surprise as well as of admiration. She was skilled in reading the character of men on horseback, and peculiarly sensitive to such an exhibition of grace and power. Her hostler was transformed into something new and wholly admirable, and she gladly took the trouble to watch for his return, as she could not witness the roping and the skilful subduing of the outlaws.
The picture he made as he tore along, swinging his rope, had displaced that of the dirty, indifferent hostler, and Anita thereafter looked upon him with respect, notwithstanding his presumptuous warning, which still lay heavy in her ears.
She still resented his interference, but she resented it less now that she knew him better. She began to wonder about him. Who was he? Why was he the hostler? Naturally, being wise in certain ways of men, she inferred that strong drink had “set him afoot”; but when she hesitantly approached her husband on this point, his reply was brusque: “I don’t know anything about Kelley, and don’t want to know. So long as he does his work his family vault is safe.”
Still desiring to be informed, she turned to her servants, with no better results; they knew very little about Tall Ed, “but we like him,” they were free to say.
This newly discovered mystery in the life of her hostler accomplished what his warning had failed to do; it caused her to neglect her correspondence with the major. His letter lay in a hollow willow-tree on the river road unread for nearly a week. And when, one afternoon, she finally rode by to claim it, her interest was strangely dulled. The spice of the adventure was gone.
As she was about to deliver her pony to Kelley that night he handed her an envelope, and, with penetrating glance, said: “I found this on the river road to-day. I wouldn’t write any more such–if I was you; it ain’t nice and it ain’t safe.”
It was her own letter, the one she had but just written and deposited in the tree. She chilled and stiffened under the keen edge of Kelley’s contemptuous pity, then burned hot with illogical rage.
“What right–? You spied on me. It’s a shame!”
“So it is!” he agreed, quietly; “but I don’t want any killing done–unless I do it myself.”
“You are a thief,” she accused.
“All right,” he answered, dispassionately. “Spy–keeper–big brother–dog–anything goes–only I don’t intend to let you slide to hell without a protest. You’re nothing but a kid–a baby. You don’t know what you’re going into. I’m an old stager; I know a whole lot that I wish I didn’t know. I’ve known women who said they didn’t care–lots of ’em–but they did; they all cared. They all knew they’d lost out. There’s only one end to the trail you’re starting in on, and it ain’t a pretty one. Harf married you in good faith, and even if he is gettin’ old and slow-footed and skinny, he’s your husband and entitled to a square deal.”
Blinded by her tears, and weak with passionate resentment of his tone, she could scarcely clamber down from the carriage. As soon as her feet touched the ground she started away. Kelley retained her by the force of his hand upon her wrist.
“Wait a moment,” he said, huskily. “You’re mad now and you want to murder me, but think it all over and you’ll see I’m your friend.”
There was something in his voice which caused her to look squarely up into his face, and the tenderness she saw there remained long in her memory.
“You’re too sweet and lovely to be the sport of a cheap skate like that. Don’t throw yourself away on any man. Good-by and God bless ye.”
She walked away with bent head and tear-blinded eyes, her heart filled with weakness and pain. She was like a child justly punished, yet resenting it, and mingled with her resentment was a growing love and admiration for the man whose blunt words had bruised her soul in the hope of her redemption.
* * * * *
Kelley went back to his little office, gathered his small belongings together, and called up Harford on the ‘phone. “I’ll take that blue cayuse and that Denver-brand saddle, and call it square to date…. Yes, I’m leaving. I’ve got a call to a ranch over on the Perco. Sorry, but I reckon I’ve worked out my sentence…. All right. So long.”
Ten minutes later he was mounted and riding out of town. The air was crisp with autumn frost and the stars were blazing innumerably in the sky. A coyote had begun his evening song, and to the north rose the high, dark mass of the Book cliffs. Toward this wall he directed his way. He hurried like one fleeing from temptation, and so indeed he was.
KELLY AS MARSHAL
Along about ’96 Sulphur Springs had become several kinds of a bad town. From being a small liquoring-up place for cattlemen it had taken on successively the character of a land-office, a lumber-camp, and a coal-mine.
As a cow town it had been hardly more than a hamlet. As a mining center it rose to the dignity of possessing (as Judge Pulfoot was accustomed to boast) nearly two thousand souls, not counting Mexicans and Navajos. It lay in the hot hollows between pinyon-spotted hills, but within sight spread the grassy slopes of the secondary mountains over whose tops the snow-lined peaks of the Continental Divide loomed in stern majesty.
The herders still carried Winchesters on their saddles and revolvers strung to their belts, and each of them strove to keep up cowboy traditions by unloading his weapon on the slightest provocation. The gamblers also sustained the conventions of their profession by killing one another now and again, and the average citizen regarded these activities with a certain approval, for they all denoted a “live town.”
“The boys need diversion,” said the mayor, “and so long as they confine their celebrations to such hours as will not disturb the children and women–at least, the domestic kind of women–I won’t complain.”
And really, it is gratifying to record that very few desirable citizens were shot. Sulphur continued to thrive, to glow in the annals of mountain chivalry, until by some chance old Tom Hornaby of Wire Grass was elected Senator. That victory marked the beginning of the decline of Sulphur.
Hornaby was Pulfoot’s candidate, and the judge took a paternal pride in him. He even went up to the capital to see him sworn in, and was there, unfortunately, when the humorous member from Lode alluded to Hornaby as “my esteemed colleague from ‘Brimstone’ Center, where even the judges tote guns and the children chew dynamite”–and what was still more disturbing, he was again in the capital when the news came of the shooting and robbing of a couple of coal-miners, the details of which filled the city papers with sarcastic allusions to “Tom Hornaby’s live town on The Stinking Water.”
Hornaby, being a heavy owner of land in and about Sulphur, was very properly furious, and Judge Pulfoot–deeply grieved–was, indeed, on the instant, converted. A great light fell about him. He perceived his home town as it was–or at least he got a glimpse of it as it appeared to the timid souls of civilized men. He cowered before Hornaby.
“Tom, you’re right,” he sadly agreed. “The old town needs cleaning up. It sure is disgraceful.”
Hornaby buttered no parsnips. “You go right back,” said he, “and kick out that bonehead marshal of yours and put a full-sized man into his place, a man that will cut that gun-play out and distribute a few of those plug-uglies over the landscape. What chance have I got in this Legislature as the ‘Senator from Brimstone Center’? I’ll never get shet of that fool tag whilst I’m up here.”
“You certainly have a right to be sore,” the judge admitted. “But it ain’t no boy’s job, cleaning up our little burg. It’s going to be good, stiff work. I don’t know who to put into it.”
“My foreman, Ed Kelley.”
“I don’t know him.”
“Well, I do. He’s only been with me a few months, but I’ve tried him and he’s all right. He’s been all over the West, knows the greasers and Injuns, and can take care of himself anywhere. The man don’t live that can scare him. You notice his eyes! He’s got a glare like the muzzle of a silver-plated double-barrel shotgun. He don’t know what fear is. I’ve seen him in action, and I know.”
The judge was impressed. “Will the board accept him?”
“They’ve got to accept him or go plumb to the devil down there. These articles and speeches have put us in wrong with the whole state. This wild West business has got to be cut out. It scares away capital. Now you get busy!”
The judge went back resolved upon a change of administration. The constituent who held the office of marshal was brave enough, but he had grown elderly and inert. He was, in truth, a joke. The gamblers laughed at him and the cowboys “played horse” with him. The spirit of deviltry was stronger than it had ever been in the history of the county.
“Something religious has got to be done,” the judge argued to the city fathers, and, having presented Hornaby’s message, demanded the installation of Kelley.
The board listened attentively, but were unconvinced. “Who is this Kelley? He’s nothing but a tramp, a mounted hobo. Who knows him?”
“Hornaby knows him and wants him, and his order goes. Let’s have him in and talk with him, anyhow.”
Kelley was called in. He showed up a tall, composed young fellow of thirty, with weather-worn face and steady gray eyes in which the pupils were unusually small and very dark blue. His expression was calm and his voice pleasant. He listened in amused silence while the judge told him what the program was. Then he said:
“That’s a whale of a job you’ve laid out for me; but Hornaby’s boss. All is, if I start in on this, you fellows have got to see me through. It’s a right stiff program and I need some insurance. ‘Pears to me like there should be a little pot for Tall Ed at the end of this game–say, three dollars a day and a couple of hundred bones when everything is quiet.”
To this the judge agreed. “You go in and clean up. Run these gunmen down the valley. Cut out this amatoor wild West business–it’s hurting us. Property is depreciating right along. We certainly can’t stand any more of this brimstone business. Go to it! We’ll see that you’re properly reimbursed.”
“All right, Judge. But you understand if I go into this peacemaking war I draw no political lines. I am chief for the time being, and treat everybody alike–greasers, ‘Paches, your friends, my friends, everybody.”
“That’s all right. It’s your deal,” said the judge and the aldermen.
Tall Ed had drifted into Sulphur from the Southwest some six months before, and although fairly well known among the ranchers on the Wire Grass, was not a familiar figure in town. The news of his appointment was received with laughter by the loafers and with wonder by the quiet citizens, who coldly said:
“He appears like a full-sized man, but size don’t count. There’s Clayt Mink, for instance, the worst little moth-eaten scrap in the state, and yet he’ll kill at the drop of a hat. Sooner or later he’s going to try out this new marshal same as he did the others.”
This seemed likely, for Mink owned and operated the biggest gambling-house in Sulphur, and was considered to be (as he was) a dangerous man. He already hated Kelley, who had once protected a drunken cattleman from being almost openly robbed in his saloon. Furthermore, he was a relentless political foe to Hornaby.
He was indeed a mere scrap of a man, with nothing about him full-sized except his mustache. And yet, despite his unheroic physique, he was quick and remorseless in action. In Italy he would have carried a dagger. In England he would have been a light-weight rough-and-tumble fighter. In the violent West he was a gunman, menacing every citizen who crossed his inclination, and he took Kelley’s appointment as a direct affront on the part of Hornaby and Pulfoot.
“He’d better keep out of my way,” he remarked to his friends, with a malignant sneer.
Kelley was not deceived in his adversary. “He’s a coward at heart, like all these hair-hung triggers,” he said to Pulfoot. “I’m not hunting any trouble with him, but–” It was not necessary to finish his sentence; his voice and smile indicated his meaning.
The town was comparatively quiet for the first month or two after Kelley took office. It seemed that the rough element was reflectively taking his measure, and Hornaby’s herders, as they rode in and out of town, told stories of Tall Ed’s rough and ready experiences, which helped to establish official confidence in him.
“I reckon we’ve done the right thing this time,” wrote Pulfoot to Hornaby. “The boys all seem to realize we’ve got a man in office.”
This calm, this unnatural calm, was broken one night by Mink himself, who shot and all but killed the livery-stable keeper in a dispute over roulette. Knowing that his deed would bring the new marshal down upon him at once, the gambler immediately declared determined war.
“The man who comes after me will need a wooden overcoat,” he promulgated. “I won’t stand being hounded. That hostler was pulling his gun on me. I got him first, that’s all. It was a fair fight, and everybody knows it.”
The liveryman was, in fact, armed at the time, and the disposition of many citizens was to “let him learn his lesson.” But Judge Pulfoot, fearing Hornaby’s temper, ordered Kelley to get his man.
“Tom wants that weasel disciplined,” he said. “He’s a damage to the community.”
Kelley received his orders with calmness. “Well, Judge,” he said, after a little pause, “I’ll get him, but I’d like to do it in my own way. To go after him just now gives him the inside position. He’ll hear of me the minute I start and will be backed up into the corner somewhere with his gun all poised.”
“Are you afraid?”
“You can call it that,” the young marshal languidly replied. “I don’t believe in taking fool chances. Mink is a dead shot, and probably wire-edged with whisky and expecting me. My plan is to wait until he’s a little off his guard–then go in quick and pull him down.”
To this the judge gave reluctant consent. But when, a few hours later, he heard that Mink had disappeared he was indignant. “You get that devil or we’ll let you out,” he said, and showed a telegram from Hornaby protesting against this new outbreak of violence. “The old man’s red-headed over it.”
“I know it,” said Kelley. “I heard from him to that effect. If the hostler dies we won’t see Mink no more. If he’s in town I’ll get him. Good night.”
A few days later, as he was walking up the street, half a dozen men successively spoke to him, saying, “Mink’s at home, loaded–and looking for you!” And each of them grinned as he said it, joyously anticipating trouble.
Without a word, other than a careless, “That so?” Kelley passed on, and a thrill of excitement ran through the hearts of the loafers.
It was about sunset of a dusty autumn afternoon, and the cowboys and miners (gathered in knots along the street), having eaten their suppers, were ready to be entertained. Upon seeing Kelley approach with easy stride they passed the joyous word along. Each spectator was afraid he might miss some part of the play.
Kelley was fully aware that his official career and perhaps his life hung in the balance. To fail of arresting the desperado was to brand himself a bungler and to expose himself to the contempt of other sure-shot ruffians. However, having faced death many times in the desert and on the range, he advanced steadily, apparently undisturbed by the warnings he had received.
Just before reaching Mink’s saloon he stepped into Lemont’s drug-store, a cheap little shop where candy and cigars and other miscellaneous goods were sold. The only person in the place was Rosa Lemont, a slim, little maid of about fifteen years of age.
“Hello, Rosie,” he said, quietly. “I want to slip out your back door.” He smiled meaningly. “The street is a trifle crowded just now.”
With instant comprehension of his meaning she led the way. “Don’t let them kill you,” she whispered, with scared lips.
“I’ll try not to,” he answered, lightly.
Once in the alley, he swung his revolver to a handy spot on his thigh and entered the saloon abruptly from the rear.
The back room, a rude dance-hall, was empty, but the door into the barroom was open, and he slipped through it like a shadow. Mink was not in sight, but the barkeeper stood rigidly on duty.
“Hello, Jack!” called Kelley, as he casually approached the bar. “Where’s the boss?”
Before he had finished his question he detected his man reflected in the mirror behind the bar. The gambler imagined himself to be hidden behind the screen which separated the women’s drinking-place from the main room, and did not know that Kelley had seen him in the glass. His revolver was in his hand and malignant purpose blazed in his eyes–and yet he hesitated. Lawless as he was, it appeared that he could not instantly bring himself to the point of shooting an officer in the back.
Kelley, realizing his disadvantage, and knowing that any attempt to forestall the action of his enemy would be fatal, cheerily called out to an acquaintance who stood in a stupor of fear, farther up the bar: “Howdy, Sam! Come and have a drink.” His jovial tone and apparent ignorance of danger prolonged Mink’s moment of indecision. The third man thought Kelley unaware of his danger, but did not have the courage to utter a sound.
The marshal, perceiving certain death in the assassin’s eyes, was about to whirl in a desperate effort to get at least one shot at him, when something happened! Some one caromed against the screen. It toppled and fell upon the gambler, disconcerting his aim. His bullet went wide, and Kelley was upon him like a tiger before he could recover control of his weapon, and they both went to the sawdust together.
Now came a singular revelation of the essential cowardice of the desperado. Deprived of his revolver and helpless in Kelley’s great hands, he broke down. White, trembling, drooling with terror, he pleaded for his life. “Don’t shoot–don’t kill me!” he repeated over and over.
“I ought to kill you,” argued Kelley, with a reflective hesitation which wrought his captive to a still greater frenzy of appeal.
“I beg–I beg,” he whined. “Don’t shoot!”
Amazed and disgusted with the man’s weakness, Kelley kicked him in the ribs. “Get up!” he said, shortly.
Mink arose, but no sooner was he on his feet than his courage returned. “I’ll have your heart for this,” he said, venomously. Then his mind took a sudden turn. “Who pushed that screen onto me?” he asked. “I’ll kill the man who did that.”
“You’ll have time to figure out that problem in the quiet of ‘the jug,’” said Kelley. “Come along.”
At the door of the calaboose the gambler braced himself. “I won’t go in there!” he declared. “I won’t be jugged–I’ll die right here–“
Kelley’s answer was a jerk, a twist, and a sudden thrust, which landed the redoubtable boaster in the middle of his cell. “You can die inside if you want to,” he said, and turned the key on him. “My responsibility ends right here.”
The street was crowded with excited men and women as Kelley came back up the walk. One or two congratulated him on his escape from sudden death, but the majority resented him as “the hired bouncer” of the land-boomers in the town.
“Who pushed that screen?” was the question which everybody asked of Kelley.
“I didn’t see,” he responded. “I was busy just about that time.”
In truth he had only glimpsed a darting figure, but one he knew! Who else but Rosa Lemont could have been so opportune and so effective in her action? She alone knew of his presence in the alley.
She was only a plain little hobbledehoy, half Mexican and half French, and not yet out of short dresses, and Kelley had never paid her any attention beyond passing the time of day, with a kindly smile; and yet with the fervid imagination of her race she had already conceived a passionate admiration for Kelley. Knowing that he was entering Mink’s death-trap, she had followed him like a faithful squire, eager to defend, and, understanding his danger to the full, had taken the simplest and most effective means of aiding him. From the doorway she had witnessed his victory; then flying through the rear door, had been in position at the store window as he passed with his prisoner on his way to the calaboose.
When Kelley came back to her door, with intent to thank her for what she had done, he found the room full of excited men, and with instinctive delicacy passed on his way, not wishing to involve her in the story of the arrest.
It appeared that all the men of the town who thrived by lawlessness and vice now decided to take up Mink’s case and make his discharge an issue. A sudden demonstration of their political power brought the judge to terms. He weakened. The gambler was released with a fine of one hundred dollars and a warning to keep the peace, and by noon of the following day was back in his den, more truculent than ever.
Kelley was properly indignant. “But the man tried to kill me!” he protested to the court.
“He swears not,” replied the justice. “We have punished him for resisting an officer. That is the best we can do.”
“What about Jake?”
“Oh, well! That was ‘war.’ Jake had a gun, and Mink is able to prove that he shot in self-defense. Furthermore, he has settled with Jake.”
Kelley argued no more. He could have called Rosa in as a witness to the attempt upon his life, but to do so would expose her to public comment, and her big, solemn, worshipful eyes had already produced in him a vague pity. Without understanding fully her feeling, he knew that she looked up to him, and he perceived that she was born to sorrow in larger measure than she deserved. Sallow, thin, boyish, she gave promise of a kind of beauty which would sometime make her desired of both white men and brown.
“Poor little mongrel!” he said to himself. “She’s in for misery enough without worrying over me.”
* * * * *
“Well, I’m up against it now,” Kelley remarked to Dad Miller, Hornaby’s foreman, the next time he met him. “Mink’s friends have thrown a scare into the judge and he has turned that coyote loose against me. Looks like I had one of two things to do–kill the cuss or jump the town.”
“Shoot him on sight,” advised Miller.
“If I do that I’m ‘in bad’ with the court,” Kelley argued. “You see, when I took him before, I had the law on my side. Now it’s just man to man–until he commits another crime. Killing me wouldn’t be a crime.”
“That’s so,” mused his friend. “You’re cinched any way you look at it.”
Kelley went on: “Moreover, some of my greaser friends have started a line of fool talk about making me sheriff, and that has just naturally set the whole political ring against me. They’d just as soon I got killed as not–a little sooner. I’ve a right to resign, haven’t I? Nobody has a license to call me a coward after what I’ve done, have they?”
“No license; but I reckon they will, all the same,” responded his friend.
Kelley’s face hardened. “Well, I’ll disappoint ’em. I’m going to stay with it.” However, he went to the mayor and voiced his resentment of the court’s action.
His Honor pretended to be greatly concerned. “Now, don’t quit on us, Ed. Hornaby expects you to stay put. You’re the only man who can clean up the town. You’ve done great work already, and we appreciate it. In fact, we’re going to raise your pay.”
“Pay to a corpse don’t count,” retorted Kelley. “It’s a question of backing. You fellows have got to stand behind me.”
“We’ll do it, Ed. Only, Hornaby thinks you’d better put a card in the paper saying that you have no intention of going into politics.”
“Oh, hell!” said Kelley, disgustedly. “Is Hornaby suspicious of me, too? Well, for that I’ve a mind to run,” and he went out in deep disgust.
As the days went by and no open movement against him took place, his vigilance somewhat relaxed. Mink kept to his lair like some treacherous, bloodthirsty animal, which was a bad sign.
At heart Tall Ed was restless and discontented. Each day he walked the streets of the fly-bit town; dreaming of the glorious desert spaces he had crossed and of the high trails he had explored. He became more and more homesick for the hills. Far away to the north gleamed the snowy crest of the Continental Divide, and the desire to ride on, over that majestic barrier into valleys whose purple shadows allured him like banners, grew stronger. Each night he lifted his face to the stars and thought of his glorious moonlit camps on the Rio Perco sands, and the sound of waterfalls was in his dreams.
“What am I here for?” he asked himself. “Why should I be watch-dog–me, a wolf, a free ranger! Why should I be upholding the law? What’s the law to a tramp?”
Had it not been for a curious sense of loyalty to Hornaby, added to a natural dislike of being called a quitter, he would have surrendered his star and resumed his saddle. He owned a good horse once more and had earned nearly two hundred dollars. “With my present outfit I can amble clear across to Oregon,” he assured himself, wistfully.
As he stood with uplifted face, dreaming of the mountains, Rosa Lemont came down the street, and as she passed him said in a low voice: “Mink’s on the plaza–crazy drunk. Watch out!”
Kelley straightened and cast an unhurried glance around him. No one was in sight but a group of cow-punchers tying their horses in front of a saloon, and a few miners seated on the edge of the walk. Nevertheless, he knew the girl had good reason for her warning, and so, after walking a block or two in the opposite direction, he turned and came slowly back up the main street till he reached Lemont’s doorway, where he paused, apparently interested in something across the street.
Rosa came from within and with equally well-simulated carelessness leaned against the door-frame. “Mink’s bug-house,” she explained, “and got a Winchester. He’s just around the corner, waiting for you. He says he’s going to shoot you on sight.” She stammered a little with excitement, but her voice was low.
“Much obliged, Rosie,” he replied, feelingly. “Don’t worry. I may see him first. And listen; while I have a chance I want to thank you for pushing that screen onto him. It was a good job.”
“That’s all right,” she answered, hastily. “But please be careful.”
“Don’t worry,” he gravely replied. “I’ve beat him once and I can do it again.” And after a pause he added: “I reckon you’re the only one that cares what happens to me–but don’t mix in this game, little one. Don’t do it.”
A crowd had gathered in the street, with attention concentrated as if for a dog-fight, and Kelley, pushing his way through the circle, suddenly confronted Mink, who, as the object of interest, was busied in rolling a cigarette, while his Winchester leaned against a post. To this fact Kelley probably owed his life, for in the instant between the gambler’s recognition and the snatching up of his rifle Kelley was able to catch and depress the muzzle of the gun before it was discharged. The bullet passed low, entering the wooden sidewalk close to his foot. “I’ll take that gun,” he said, and would have immediately overpowered his adversary had not several of the by-standers furiously closed in upon him. Single-handed he was forced to defend himself against these, his fellow-citizens, as well as against Mink, who struggled like a wildcat for the possession of his gun. One man seized the marshal from behind, pinioning his arms. Another hung upon his neck. A third dogged at his knees, a fourth disarmed him.
Battered, bruised, covered with blood and dirt, the marshal fought like a panther weighed down with hounds. Twice he went to earth smothered, blinded, gasping, but rose again almost miraculously, still unconquered, until at last, through the sudden weakening of the men on his right arm he gained possession of the rifle, and with one furious sweep brought it down on the gambler’s head. Another circling stroke and his assailants fell away. With blazing eyes he called out: “Get back there now! Every man of you!”
Breathing hard, he looked them over one by one. “You’re a pretty bunch of citizens,” he said, with cutting contempt. “You ought to be shot–every man jack of you!” Then glancing down at the wounded gambler at his feet, he added: “Some of you better take this whelp to a doctor. He needs help.”
Lemont and another of Mink’s friends took up the unconscious man and carried him into the drug-store, and Kelley followed, with a feeling that all the town was against him, and that he must re-arm himself for a night of warfare. His revolver was gone, and to replace it and to gain a breathing-space he retreated to his room, his endurance all but exhausted.
He had no regret for what he had done. On the contrary, he took a savage satisfaction in having at last ended Mink, but as he hurriedly buckled on his cartridge-belt, he foresaw the danger ahead of him in Mink’s friends, who, he knew, would get him if they could.
The patter of feet in the hall and a knock at the door startled him. “Who’s there?” he demanded, catching up his rifle.
“It’s Rosa,” called a girlish voice. “Let me in.”
“Are you alone?”
“Yes. Open! Quick!”
He opened the door, gun in hand. “What is it, Rosie?” he gently asked.
“They’re coming!” she answered, breathlessly.
“That saloon crowd. They’re almost here!”
Other footsteps sounded on the stairs. “Run away, girl,” said Kelley, softly. “There’s going to be trouble–“
Rosie pushed him back into the room. “No, no! Let me stay! Let me help you fight!” she pleaded.
While still he hesitated, Mrs. Mink, a short, squat woman with eyes aflame with hate, rushed through the doorway and thrust a rifle against Kelley’s breast. Quick as a boxer Rosa pushed the weapon from the woman’s hands and with desperate energy shoved her backward through the door and closed it.
“Run–run!” she called to the marshal.
But Kelley did not move, and something in his face turned the girl’s face white. He was standing like a man hypnotized, every muscle rigid. With fallen jaw and staring eyes he looked at the weapon in his hand. At last he spoke huskily:
“Girl, you’ve saved my soul from hell. You surely have!” He shivered as if with cold, rubbing his hands stiffly. “Yes,” he muttered, “a second more and I’d ‘a’ killed her–killed a woman!”
The sound of a fierce altercation came up the hall. Cautious footsteps were heard approaching, and at last a voice called out, “Hello, Kelley! You there?”
“I am. What’s wanted of me?”
“It’s the mayor. Let me speak with you a minute.”
Kelley considered for a breath or two; his brain was sluggish. “Open the door, Rosie,” he finally said and backed against the wall.
The girl obeyed, and the mayor entered, but his hands were open and raised. “Don’t shoot, Ed. We’re friends.” He was followed by the judge and a couple of aldermen.
“It’s all right, Ed,” said the judge. “Mink’s coming to life. Put up your gun. We don’t blame you. He had no call to attack an officer like that–“
At the word “officer” Kelley let his rifle slip with a slam to the floor and began to fumble at the badge on his coat. “That reminds me, your Honor,” he said, at last. “Here’s a little piece of tin that belongs to you–or the city.”
He tossed the loosened badge to the mayor, who caught it deftly, protesting: “Oh, don’t quit, Ed. You’ve just about won the fight. Stay with it.”
A wry smile wrinkled one side of the trailer’s set face. “I’m no fool, your Honor. I know when I’ve got enough. I don’t mind being shot in the back and mobbed and wallered in the dirt–that’s all in the day’s work; but when it comes to having women pop in on me with Winchesters I must be excused. I’m leaving for the range. I’ll enjoy being neighbor to the conies for a while. This civilized life is a little too busy for me.”
Rosa, who had been listening, understood his mood much better than the men, and with her small hands upon his arm she pleaded: “Take me with you! I hate these people–I want to go with you.”
He turned a tender, pitying, almost paternal glance upon her. “No, girl, no. I can’t do that. You’re too young. It wouldn’t be right to snarl a grown woman’s life up with mine–much less a child like you.” Then, as if to soften the effect of his irrevocable decision, he added: “Perhaps some time we’ll meet again. But it’s good-by now.” He put his arm about her and drew her to his side and patted her shoulder as if she were a lad. Then he turned. “Lend me a dollar, Judge! I’m anxious to ride.”
The judge looked troubled. “We’re sorry, Ed–but if you feel that way, why–“
“That’s the way I feel,” answered the trailer, and his tone was conclusive.
* * * * *
Dusk was falling when, mounted on his horse, with his “stake” in his pocket, Kelley rode out of the stable into the street swarming with excited men. The opposition had regained its courage. Yells of vengeance rose: “Lynch him! Lynch the dog!” was the cry.
Reining his bronco into the middle of the road, with rifle across the pommel of his saddle, Kelley advanced upon the crowd, in the shadowy fringes of which he could see ropes swinging in the hands of Mink’s drunken partisans.
“Come on, you devils!” he called. “Throw a rope if you dare.”
Awed by the sheer bravery of the challenge, the crowd slowly gave way before him.
The block seemed a mile long to Kelley, but he rode it at a walk, his horse finding his own way, until at last he reached the bridge which led to the high-line Red Mountain road. Here he paused, faced about, and sheathed his Winchester, then with a wave of his hand toward Rosa Lemont, who had followed him thus far, he called out:
“Good-by, girl! You’re the only thing worth saving in the whole dern town. Adios!”
And, defeated for the first time in his life, Tall Ed turned his cayuse’s head to the San McGill range, with only the memory of a worshipful child-woman’s face to soften the effect of his hard experience as the Marshal of Brimstone Basin.
PARTNERS FOR A DAY
Cinnebar was filled with those who took chances. The tenderfoot staked his claim on the chance of selling it again. The prospector toiled in his overland tunnel on the chance of cracking the apex of a vein. The small companies sank shafts on the chance of touching pay ore, the big companies tunneled deep and drifted wide in the hope of cutting several veins. The merchants built in the belief that the camp was a permanent town, and the gamblers took chances of losing money if their game was honest, and put their lives at hazard if they cheated.
Only the saloon-keepers took no chances whatever. They played the safe game. They rejoiced in a certainty, for if the miners had good luck they drank to celebrate it, and if they had bad luck they drank to forget it–and so the liquor-dealers prospered.
Tall Ed Kelley, on his long trip across “the big flat,” as he called the valley between the Continental Divide and the Cascade Range, stopped at Cinnebar to see what was going on. In less than three days he sold his horse and saddle and took a chance on a leased mine. At the end of a year he was half owner in a tunnel that was yielding a fair grade of ore and promised to pay, but he was not content. A year in one place was a long time for him, and he was already meditating a sale of his interest in order that he might take up the line of his march toward the Northwest, when a curious experience came to him.
One night as he drifted into the Palace saloon he felt impelled to take a chance with “the white marble.” That is to say, he sat in at the roulette-table and began to play small stakes.
The man who rolled the marble was young and good-looking. Kelley had seen him before and liked him. Perhaps this was the reason he played roulette instead of faro. At any rate, he played, losing steadily at first–then, suddenly, the ball began to fall his way, and before the clock pointed to ten he had several hundred dollars in winnings.
“This is my night,” he said, on meeting the eyes of the young dealer.
“Don’t crowd a winning horse,” retorted the man at the wheel; and Kelley caught something in his look which checked his play and led him to quit the game. In that glance the gambler had conveyed a friendly warning, although he said, as Kelley was going away: “Be a sport. Give the wheel another show. See me to-morrow.”
Kelley went away with a distinct feeling of friendliness toward the youngster, whose appearance was quite unlike the ordinary gambler. He seemed not merely bored, but disgusted with his trade, and Kelley said to himself: “That lad has a story to tell. He’s no ordinary robber.”
The next afternoon he met the youth on the street. “Much obliged for your tip last night. The game looked all right to me.”
“It was all right,” replied the gambler. “I didn’t mean that it was crooked. But I hate to see a good man lose his money as you were sure to do.”
“I thought you meant the wheel was ‘fixed.’”
“Oh no. It’s straight. I call a fair game. But I knew your run of luck couldn’t last and”–he hesitated a little–“I’d kinda taken a fancy to you.”
“Well, that’s funny, too,” replied Kelley. “I went over to play your machine because I kind of cottoned to you. I reckon we’re due to be friends. My name’s Kelley–Tall Ed the boys call me.”
“Mine is Morse–Fred Morse. I came out here with a grub-stake, lost it, and, being out of a job, fell into rolling the marble for a living. What are you–a miner?”
“I make a bluff at mining a leased claim up here, but I’ll admit I’m nothing but a wandering cow-puncher–a kind of mounted hobo. I have an itch to keep moving. I’ve been here a year and I’m crazy to straddle a horse and ride off into the West. I know the South and East pretty well–so the open country for me is off there where the sun goes down.” His voice had a touch of poetry in it, and the other man, though he felt the bigness of the view, said:
“I never was on a horse in my life, and I don’t like roughing it. But I like you and I wish you’d let me see something of you. Where are you living?”
“Mostly up at my mine–but I have a room down here at the Boston House. I pick up my meals anywhere.”
The young man’s voice grew hesitant. “Would you consider taking me in as a side partner? I’m lonesome where I am.”
Kelley was touched by the gambler’s tone. “No harm trying,” he said, with a smile. “We couldn’t do more than kill each other. But I warn you I’m likely any day to buy an old cayuse and pull out. I’m subject to fits like that.”
“All right–I’ll take the chance. I’m used to taking chances.”
Kelley laughed. “So am I.”
In this informal way they formed a social partnership, and the liking they mutually acknowledged deepened soon into a friendship that was close akin to fraternal love.
Within a week each knew pretty accurately the origin and history of the other, and although they had but an hour or two of an afternoon for talk, they grew to depend upon each other, strangely, and when one day Morse came into the room in unwonted excitement and said, “Ed, I want you to do something for me,” Kelley instantly replied: “All right, boy. Spit it out. What’s wanted?”
“I’m in a devil of a hole. My mother and my little sister are coming through here on their way to the Coast. They’re going to stop off to see me. I want you to let me in on a partnership in your mine just for a day. They’ll only stay a few hours, but I want to have them think I’m making my living in a mine. You get me?”
“Sure thing, Fred. When are they due?”
“All right. You get a lay-off from your boss and we’ll pull the deal through. I’ll tell my old partner I’ve taken you in on my share and he’ll carry out his part of it. He’s a good deal of a bonehead, but no talker. But you’ll have to put on some miner’s duds and spend to-day riding around the hills to get a little sunburn. You don’t look like a miner.”
“I know it. That worries me, too.”
Having given his promise, Kelley seemed eager to carry the plan through successfully. He was sorry for the youth, but he was sorrier for the mother who was coming with such fond pride in the success of her son–for Morse confessed that he had been writing of his “mine” for a year.
He outfitted his new partner with a pair of well-worn miner’s boots and some trousers that were stained with clay, and laughed when Fred found them several inches too long.
“You’ve got to wear ’em. No! New ones won’t work. How would it do for you to be so durn busy at the mine that I had to come down and bring your people up?”
“Good idea!” Then his face became blank. “What would I be busy about?”
“That’s so!” grinned Kelley. “Well, let’s call it your day off and I’ll be busy.”
“No, I want you to come with me to the train. I need you. You must do most of the talking–about the mine, I mean. I’ll say you’re the practical miner and I’ll refer all questions about the business to you. And we must keep out of the main street. I don’t want mother to even pass the place I’ve been operating in.”
“What if they decide to stay all night?”
“They won’t. They’re going right on. They won’t be here more than five or six hours.”
“All right. We’ll find ’em dinner up at Mrs. Finnegan’s. If they’re like most tourists they’ll think the rough-scuff ways of the Boston House great fun. By the way, how old is this little sister?”
“Oh, she must be about twenty-two.”
“Good Lord!” Kelley was dashed. He thought a minute. “Well, you attend to her and I’ll keep the old lady interested.”
“No, you’ve got to keep close to Flo. I’m more afraid of her than I am of mother. She’s sharp as tacks, and the least little ‘break’ on my part will let her in on my ‘stall.’ No, you’ve got to be on guard all the time.”
“Well, I’ll do my best, but I’m no ‘Billie dear,’ with girls. I’ve grew up on the trail, and my talk is mostly red-neck. But I mean well, as the fellow says, even if I don’t always do well.”
“Oh, you’re all right, Kelley. You look the real thing. You’ll be part of the scenery for them.”
“Spin the marble! It’s only for half a day, anyway. They can call me a hole in the ground if they want to. But you must get some tan. I tell you what you do. You go up on the hill and lay down in the sun and burn that saloon bleach off your face and neck and hands. That’s got to be done. You’ve got the complexion of a barber.”
Morse looked at his white, supple hands and felt of his smooth chin. “You’re right. It’s a dead give-away. I’ll look like a jailbird to them if I don’t color up. If I’d only known it a few days sooner I’d have started a beard.”
“You’ll be surprised at what the sun will do in two hours,” Kelley said, encouragingly. “You’ll peel afterward, but you’ll get rid of the bleach.”
In truth Morse looked very well the next morning as he stood beside Kelley and watched the High Line train come in over the shoulder of Mogallon and loop its cautious way down the mine-pitted slopes. His main uneasiness was caused by the thought that his mother might ask some man on the train if he knew her son, and he was disturbed also by a number of citizens lounging on the platform. Some of them were curious about the change in him: “Hello, Fred! Going fishing, or been?”
The boy was trembling as he laid his hand on Kelley’s arm. “Ed, I feel like a coyote. It’s a dang shame to fool your old mother like this.”
“Better to fool her than to disappoint her,” answered Tall Ed. “Stiffen up, boy! Carry it through.”
The little train drew up to the station and disgorged a crowd of Italian workmen from the smoker and a throng of tourists from the observation-car, and among these gay “trippers” Kelley saw a small, plain little woman in black and a keen-eyed, laughing girl who waved her hand to Fred. “Why, she’s a queen!” thought Kelley.
Mrs. Morse embraced her son with a few murmured words of endearment, but the girl held her brother off and looked at him. “Well, you do look the part,” she said. “What a glorious sunburn–and the boots–and the hat, and all! Why, Fred, you resemble a man.”
“I may resemble one,” he said, “but here’s the real thing. Here’s my partner, Tall Ed Kelley.” He pulled Kelley by the arm. “Ed, this is my mother–“
“Howdy, ma’am,” said Kelley, extending a timid hand.
“And this is my sister Florence.”
“Howdy, miss,” repeated Kelley.
Florence laughed as she shook hands. “He says ‘Howdy’ just like the books.”
Kelley stiffened a bit. “What should a feller say? Howdy’s the word.”
“I told you she’d consider you part of the scenery,” put in Fred. “Well, now, mother, we’re going to take you right up to our mine. It’s away on top of that hill–“
“Oh, glorious!” exclaimed Florence. “And is it a real mine?”
“It is. But Kelley is boss, so I’m going to let him tell you all about it. He’s the man that found it.”
Mrs. Morse looked up at the towering hill. “How do we get there?”
“A trolley-car runs part way, and then–we’ll take a cab. Come on,” he added, anxiously, for he could see some of his saloon friends edging near.
The trolley came down almost to the station, and in a few moments they were aboard with Kelley seated beside Florence and Mrs. Morse fondly clinging to her son, who seemed more boyish than ever to Kelley. The old trailer was mightily embarrassed by his close contact with a sprightly girl. He had never known any one like her. She looked like the pictures in the magazines–same kind of hat, same kind of jacket and skirt–and she talked like a magazine story, too. Her face was small, her lips sweet, and her eyes big and bright.
She was chatty as a camp bird, and saw everything, and wanted to know about it. Why were there so many empty cabins? What was the meaning of all those rusty, ruined mills? Weren’t there any gardens or grass?
“Why, you see, miss, the camp is an old busted camp. I’m working a lease–I mean, we are–“
“What do you mean by a lease?”
“Well, you see, a lot of men have got discouraged and quit, and went back East and offered their claims for lease on royalty, and I and another feller–and Fred–we took one of these and it happened to have ore in it.”
“How long has Fred been with you?–he never mentioned you in his letters.”
“Why, it’s about a year since we took the lease.” Kelley began to grow hot under her keen eyes.
“Strange he never wrote of you. He seems very proud of you, too.”
Kelley looked out of the window. “We get along first rate.”
The girl studied his fine profile attentively. “I’m glad he fell in with a strong man like you–an experienced miner. He might have made a mistake and lost all his small fortune. My! but it’s fine up here! What’s that wonderful snowy range off there?”
“That’s the Sangre de Cristo Range.”
“Sangre de Cristo–Blood of Christ! Those old Spaniards had a lot of poetry in them, didn’t they?”
“I reckon so–and a whole lot of stiffening, too. You go through the Southwest and see the country they trailed over–the hot, dry places and the quicksands and canyons and all that. They sure made them Injuns remember when they passed by.”
“You know that country?”
“I may say I do. It was my parade-ground for about fifteen years. I roamed over most of it. It’s a fine country.”
“Why did you leave it? Do you like this better?”
“I like any new country. I like to explore.”
“But you’re settled for a while?”
“Well, I don’t know–if my partner will take my interest, I think I’ll shift along. I want to get into Alaska finally. I’d like to climb one of them high peaks.”
Fred, who was seated in front, turned. “Mother wants to know what the mine paid last year–you tell her.”
“It didn’t pay much,” replied Kelley, cautiously. “You see, we had some new machinery to put in and some roads to grade and one thing or another–I reckon it paid about”–he hesitated–“about three hundred a month. But it’s going to do better this year.”
Florence, who was studying the men sharply, then said, “You wrote you were getting about five dollars a day.”
Fred’s face showed distress. “I meant net,” he said. “I didn’t want to worry you about details of machinery and all that.”
Kelley began to feel that the girl’s ears and eyes were alert to all discrepancies, and he became cautious–so cautious that his pauses revealed more than his words. But the mother saw nothing, heard nothing, but the face and voice of her son, who pointed out the big mines that were still running and the famous ones that were “dead,” and so kept her from looking too closely at the steep grades up which the car climbed.
At length, on the very crest of the high, smooth hill, they alighted and Fred led the way toward a rusty old hack that looked as much out of place on that wind-swept point as a Chinese pagoda.
Florence spoke of it. “Looks like Huckleberry Springs. Whom does its owner find to carry up here?”
“Mostly it carries the minister and undertaker at funerals,” replied Kelley.
“Cheerful lot!” exclaimed the girl. “It smells morbific.”
“You can’t be particular up here,” responded Fred. “You’ll find our boarding-place somewhat crude.”
“Oh, I don’t mind crudeness–but I hate decayed pretensions. If this were only a mountain cart now!”
“It was the only kerridge with springs,” explained Kelley.
The little mother now began to take notice of her son’s partner. “My son tells me you have been very good to him–a kind of big brother. I am very grateful.”
“Oh, I’ve done no more for him than he has for me. We both felt kind of lonesome and so rode alongside.”
“It’s wonderful to me how you could keep Mr. Kelley out of your letters,” said Florence. “He looks exactly like a Remington character, only his eyes are honester and his profile handsomer.”
Kelley flushed and Fred laughed. “I never did understand why Remington made all his men cross-eyed.”
Mrs. Morse put her small, cold hand on Kelley’s wrist. “Don’t mind my daughter. She’s got this new fad of speaking her mind. She’s a good daughter–even if she does say rude things.”
“Oh, I don’t mind being called ‘a good-looker,’” said Kelley, “only I want to be sure I’m not being made game of.”
“You needn’t worry,” retorted Fred. “A man of your inches is safe from ridicule.”
“Ridicule!” exclaimed Florence, with a glance of admiration. “You can’t ridicule a tall pine.”
“I told you she’d have you a part of the landscape,” exulted Fred. “She’ll have you a mountain peak next.”
Kelley, who felt himself at a disadvantage, remained silent, but not in a sulky mood. The girl was too entertaining for that. It amused him to get the point of view of a city-bred woman to whom everything was either strange or related to some play or story she had known. The cabins, the mills, the occasional miners they met, all absorbed her attention, and when they reached the little shaft-house and were met by old Hank Stoddard, Kelley’s partner, her satisfaction was complete, for Hank had all the earmarks of the old prospector–tangled beard, jack-boots, pipe, flannel shirt, and all. He was from the South also, and spoke with a drawl.
“Oh, but he is a joy!” Florence said, privately, to Kelley. “I didn’t know such Bret Harte types existed any more. How did you find him?”
“I used to know him down on the Perco. He had a mine down there that came just within a hair-line of paying, and when I ran across him up here he had a notion the mine would do to lease. I hadn’t much, only a horse and saddle and a couple of hundred dollars, but we formed a partnership.”
“That was before my brother came into the firm.”
Kelley recovered himself. “Yes; you see, he came in a little later–when we needed a little ready cash.”
She seemed satisfied, but as they went into the mine she listened closely to all that Kelley and Stoddard said. Stoddard’s remarks were safe, for he never so much as mentioned Kelley’s name. It was all “I” with old Hank–“I did this” and “I did that”–till Florence said to Kelley:
“You junior partners in this mine don’t seem to be anything but ‘company’ for Mr. Stoddard.”
“Hank always was a bit conceited,” admitted Kelley. “But then, he is a real, sure-enough miner. We are only ‘capitalists.’”
“Where did Fred get all the signs of toil on his trousers and boots?” she asked, with dancing eyes.
“Oh, he works–part of the time.”
She peered into his face with roguish glance. “Does it all with his legs, I guess. I notice his hands are soft as mine.”
Kelley nearly collapsed. “Good Lord!” he thought. “You ought to be a female detective.” He came to the line gamely. “Well, there’s a good deal of running to be done, and we let him do the outside messenger work.”
“His sunburn seems quite recent. And his trousers don’t fit as his trousers usually do. He used to be finicky about such things.”
“A feller does get kind of careless up here in the hills,” Kelley argued.
They did not stay long in the mine, for there wasn’t much to see. It was a very small mine–and walking made the mother short of breath. And so they came back to the office and Hank arranged seats on some dynamite-boxes and a keg of spikes, and then left them to talk things over.
“I’m so glad you’re up here–where it’s so clean and quiet,” said the mother. “I’m told these mining towns are dreadful, almost barbaric, even yet. Of course they’re not as they were in Bret Harte’s time, but they are said to be rough and dangerous. I hope you don’t have to go down there often.”
“Of course I have to go, mother. We get all our supplies and our mail down there.”
“I suppose that’s true. But Mr. Kelley seems such a strong, capable person”–here she whispered–“but I don’t think much of your other partner, Mr. Stoddard.”
“Who? Old Hank? Why, he’s steady as a clock. He looks rough, but he’s the kindest old chap on the hill. Why, he’s scared to death of you and Flo–“
“He has the appearance of a neglected old bachelor.”
“Well, he isn’t. He has a wife and seven children back in Tennessee–so he says.”
“Fred,” said Florence, sharply, “I hope you aren’t playing off on these partners of yours.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean–letting them do all the hard and disagreeable work.”
Kelley interposed. “Don’t you worry about us, miss. We aren’t complaining. We can’t do the part he does. He does all the buying and selling–and–correspondence–and the like of that. But come, it’s pretty near noon. I reckon we’d better drift along to Mrs. Finnegan’s. The first table is bad enough in our boarding-place.”
Again Fred took his mother and left Kelley to lead the way with Florence.
“Now, Mr. Kelley,” began the girl, “I must tell you that I don’t believe my brother has a thing to do with this mine except to divide the profits. Furthermore, you are trying to cover something up from me. You’re doing it very well, but you’ve made one or two little ‘catches’ which have disturbed me. My brother has never mentioned you or Hank in his letters, and that’s unnatural. He told us he was interested in a mine which was paying one hundred and fifty dollars a month. Now, why did he say that? I’ll tell you why. It’s because you pay him a salary and he’s not really a partner.” She paused to watch his face, then went on. “Now what does he do–what can he do to earn five dollars per day? His palms are as soft as silk–the only callous is on his right forefinger.”
Kelley’s face, schooled to impassivity, remained unchanged, but his eyes shifted. His astonishment was too great to be entirely concealed. “There’s a whole lot of running–and figuring–and so on.”
“Not with that little mine. Why, you can’t employ more than five men!”
“Six,” corrected Kelley, proudly.
“Well, six. You can’t afford to pay my brother five dollars a day just to run errands and keep accounts for these six men. You’re fooling him. You’re paying him a salary out of sheer good nature because you like him. Deny it if you can!”
Kelley looked back to see that Fred was well out of earshot. “He is mighty good company,” he admitted.
“There!” she exclaimed, triumphantly. “You can’t fool me. I knew there was something queer about this whole arrangement.” Then her voice changed. “It’s very, very kind of you, Mr. Kelley, and I deeply appreciate it, and if you don’t want me to do it–I will not let mother into our secret.”
“What’s the use? He’s happier being called a partner.”
“Very well–we’ll let it go that way.”
Thereafter her manner changed. She was more thoughtful; she looked at him with softer eyes. It seemed to her very wonderful, this friendship between a rough, big man and her brother, who had always been something of a scapegrace at home. Her own regard for Kelley deepened. “Men aren’t such brutes, after all.”
Her smile was less mocking, her jests less pointed, as she sat at Mrs. Finnegan’s long table and ate boiled beef and cabbage and drank the simmered hay which they called tea. She was opposite Kelley this time, and could study him to better advantage.
Kelley, on his part, was still very uneasy. The girl’s uncanny penetration had pressed so clearly to the heart of his secret that he feared the hours which remained. “I’m at the end of my rope,” he inwardly admitted. “She’ll catch me sure unless I can get away from her.”
Nevertheless, he wondered a little and was a trifle chagrined when the girl suddenly turned from him to her brother. He was a little uneasy thereat, for he was certain she would draw from the youngster some admissions that would lead to a full confession.
As a matter of fact, she sought her brother’s knowledge of Kelley. “Tell me about him, Fred. Where did you meet him first? He interests me.”
“Well,” Morse answered, cautiously, “I don’t know exactly. I used to see him come down the hill of an evening after his mail, and I kind of took a shine to him and he did to me. At least that’s what he said afterward. He has had a wonderful career. He’s been all over Arizona and New Mexico alone. He’s been arrested for a bandit and almost killed as city marshal, and he has been associated with a band of cattle-rustlers. Oh, you should get him talking. He nearly died of thirst in the desert once, and a snake bit him in the Navajo country, and he lay sick for weeks in a Hopi town.”
“What a singular life! Is he satisfied with it?”
“He says he is. He declares he is never so happy as when he is leading a pack-horse across the range.”
“I don’t wonder you like him,” she said, thoughtfully. “But you should do your part. Don’t let him be always the giver and you the taker. I’m afraid you shirk on him a little, Fred.”
“Why? What makes you think that?”
“Well, your hands are pretty soft for a working miner.”
He met her attack bravely. “You don’t suppose we do all the pick work in the mine, do you?”
“No. I don’t see how you could possibly do any of it. Come now, Freddy, ”fess up.’ You’ve been playing the gentleman in this enterprise and all this make-up is for our benefit, isn’t it?”
Young Morse saw that the safest plan was to admit the truth of her surmise. “Oh, well, I never did have any hand in the actual mining, but then there is plenty of other work to be done.”
Her answer was sharp and clear: “Well, then, do it! Don’t be a drone.”
Something very plain and simple and boyish came out in the young gambler as he walked and talked with his mother and sister, and Kelley regarded him with some amazement and much humor. It only proved that every man, no matter how warlike he pretends to be in public, is in private a weak, sorry soul, dependent on some one; and this youth, so far from being a desperado, was by nature an affectionate son and a loyal brother.
Furthermore, Kelley himself felt very much less the tramp and much more “like folks” than at any time since leaving home ten or fifteen years before. He was careful to minimize all his hobo traits and to correspondingly exalt his legitimate mining and cattle experiences, although he could see that Morse had made Florence curious about the other and more adventurous side of his career.
Florence was now determined to make a study of the town. “I like it up here,” she said, as she looked down over the tops of the houses. “It interests me, Fred; I propose that you keep us all night.”
“Oh, we can’t do that!” exclaimed her brother, hastily. “We haven’t room.”
“Well, there’s a hotel, I should hope.”
“A hotel–yes. But it is a pretty bad hotel. You see, it’s sort of run down–like the town.”
This did not seem to disturb her. Rather, it added to her interest. “No matter. We can stand it one night. I want to see the place. I would like to see a little of its street life to-night. It’s all so new and strange to me.”
Kelley, perceiving that she was determined upon this stop-over, and fearing that the attempt to railroad her out of town on the afternoon train might add to her suspicions, then said:
“I think we can find a place for you if you feel like staying.”
Morse was extremely uneasy, and Florence remarked upon it. “You don’t seem overflowing with hospitality, Fred. You don’t seem anxious to have us stay on for another day.”
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Well, it’s a pretty rough old village, Flo–a pretty rough place for you and mother.”
“We are not alarmed so long as we have you and Mr. Kelley as our protectors,” she replied, smiling sweetly upon Tall Ed.
They had reached the car-line by this time, and were standing looking down the valley, and Fred, pulling out his watch, remarked: “You just have time to make that three-o’clock train. That will connect you with the night express for Los Angeles.”
“Fred, what’s the matter with you?” queried his sister, sharply. “You seem absolutely determined to get rid of us at once.” Then, seeing that she had perhaps gone a little too far, she said, with a smile, “Mother, isn’t he the loving son?”
The youth surrendered to her will and dropped all opposition. He appeared to welcome their decision to wait over another day; but Kelley busied himself with thinking how he could ward off any undesired information which might approach the two women–the mother especially. It would be quite wonderful if, with another twenty-four hours to spend, Florence did not get Fred’s secret from him.
He decided to put the matter squarely before her, and when they took the car arranged to have her sit beside him in a seat across the aisle from the mother and son, and almost immediately began his explanation by saying, very significantly:
“I reckon the boy is right, Miss Morse. You had better take that three-o’clock train.”
She faced him with instant appreciation of the change in his tone. “Why so?” she asked, fixing a clear and steady glance upon his face.
“It will be easier for him and better for–for all of us if you go. He wants to spare your mother from–“
She was quick to perceive his hesitation. “From what?” she asked. And as he did not at once reply she went on, firmly: “You might just as well tell me, Mr. Kelley. Fred’s been up to some mischief. He’s afraid, and you’re afraid, we’ll find out something to his disadvantage. Now tell me. Is it–is it–a woman?”
“No,” said Kelley as decisively as he could. “So far as I know Fred’s not tangled up that way.”
Quick as a flash she took him up on his emphasized word. “In what way is he tangled up?”
Kelley, more and more amazed at her shrewdness and directness, decided to meet it with blunt candor. “Well, you see, it’s like this. When he first came out here he struck a streak of hard luck and lost all he had. He was forced to go to work at anything he could get to earn money, and–you see, when a feller is down and out he’s got to grab anything that offers–and so, when Dutch Pete took a liking to him and offered him a job, he just naturally had to take it.”
“You mean he has been working at something we wouldn’t like to know about?”
“That’s the size of it.”
“What is this job? It isn’t working for you. You wouldn’t ask him to do anything that would be disgraceful.”
Kelley did not take time to appreciate this compliment. He made his plunge. “No. He has been working for–a saloon.”
She showed the force of the blow by asking in a horrified tone, “You don’t mean tending bar!”
“Oh no! Not so bad as that,” replied Kelley. “Leastways it don’t seem so bad to me. He’s been rolling the marble in a roulette wheel.”
She stared at him in perplexity. “I don’t believe–I–I don’t believe I understand what that is. Just tell me exactly.”
“Well, he’s been taking care of a roulette layout.”
“You mean he has been gambling?”
“Well, no. He hasn’t been gambling. At least, not lately. But he represents the house, you see. He is something like a dealer at faro and is on a salary.”
She comprehended fully now–at least she comprehended enough to settle back into her seat with a very severe and somber expression on her face. “That’s where his five per day comes from.” She mused for a little while on this, and then suddenly another thought came to her: “What about his being your partner?”
Kelley saw that it was necessary to go the whole way, and he said, quietly: “That was all fixed up yesterday. You see, he wanted to save your mother and you, and he came to me–and wanted me to take him in as a partner, and–I did it.”
“You mean a partner for a day?”
“Yes. He was mighty nervous about your coming, and I told him I would help him out. Of course, it didn’t worry me none, and so I concluded I would do it.”
Her face softened as she pondered upon this. “That was very good of you, Mr. Kelley.”
“Oh no! You see, I kinda like the boy. And then we’ve been partners–side partners. We room together.”
She looked out of the window, but she saw nothing of the landscape now. “I understand it all. You want me to take mother away before she finds out.”
“‘Pears like that is the best thing for you to do. It would hit her a good deal harder than it does you.”
“It hits me hard enough,” she replied. “To think of my brother running a gambling-machine in a saloon is not especially reassuring. You say he went into it to carry him over a hard place. I’m afraid you were saving my feelings in saying that, Mr. Kelley. How long has he been in this business?”
“A little less than a year.”
“And you want me to go away without trying to get him out of this awful trade?”
“I don’t see how you could safely try it. I think he is going to quit it himself. Your coming has been a terrible jolt to him. Now I’ll tell you what you do. You take the old lady and pull out over the hill and I’ll undertake to get the boy out of this gambling myself.”
She was deeply affected by his quiet and earnest manner, and studied him with reflective glance before she said: “You’re right. Mother must never know of this. She was brought up to believe that saloons and gambling were the devil’s strongest lure for souls, and it would break her heart to know that Fred has become a gambler. I will do as you say, Mr. Kelley. I will take this train. But you must write me and tell me what you do. You will write, won’t you?”
“Yes,” replied Kelley, hesitatingly. “I’ll write–but I ain’t much of a fist at it. Of course, I may not make a go of my plan, but I think it will work out all right.”
She reached her hand to him, as if to seal a compact, and he took it. She said: “I don’t know who you are or what you are, Mr. Kelley. But you’ve been a loyal friend to my brother and very considerate of my mother and me, and I appreciate it deeply.”
Kelley flushed under the pressure of her small fingers, and replied as indifferently as he could: “That’s all right, miss. I’ve got a mother and a sister myself.”
“Well, they’d be proud of you if they could know what you have done to-day,” she said.
His face took on a look of sadness. “They might. But I’m glad they don’t know all I’ve been through in the last ten years.”
Morse was surprised, almost delighted, when his sister announced her decision to take the afternoon train. “That’s right,” he said. “You can stop on your way back in the spring. Perhaps Kelley and I will have our own house by that time.”
The train was on the siding, nearly ready to start, and there was not much chance for further private conference, but Florence succeeded in getting a few final words with Kelley.
“I wish you would tell me what your plan is,” she said. “You needn’t if you don’t want to.”
Kelley seemed embarrassed, but concluded to reply. “It is very simple,” said he. “I’m going to make him an actual partner in the mine. I’m going to deed him an interest, so that when you come back in the spring he won’t have to lie about it.”
Her glance increased his uneasiness. “I don’t understand you, Mr. Kelley. You must love my brother.”
He could not quite meet her glance as he answered. “Well, I wouldn’t use exactly that word,” he said, slowly, “but I’ve taken a great notion to him–and then, as I say, I have an old mother myself.”
The bell on the engine began to ring, and she caught his hand in both of hers and pressed it hard. “I leave him in your hands,” she said, and looked up at him with eyes that were wet with tears, and then in a low voice she added: “If I dared to I’d give you a good hug–but I daren’t. Good-by–and be sure and write.”
As they stood to watch the train climb the hill, Morse drew a deep sigh and said: “Gee! but Flo is keen! I thought one while she was going to get my goat. I wonder what made her change her mind all of a sudden?”
Kelley looked down at him somberly. “I did.”
“You did? How?”
“I told her what you had really been working at.”
The boy staggered under the force of this. “Holy smoke! Did you do that?”
“Sure I did. It was the only way to save that dear old mother of yours. I told your sister also that I was going to stop your white-marble exercise, and I’m going to do it if I have to break your back.”
There was no mistaking the sincerity and determination of Kelley’s tone, and the young man, so far from resenting these qualities, replied, meekly: “I want to get out of it, Ed. I’ve been saying all day that I must quit it. But what can I do?”
“I’ll tell you my plan,” said Kelley, with decision. “You’ve got to buy my interest in the mine.”
Morse laughed. “But I haven’t any money. I haven’t three hundred dollars in the world.”
“I’ll take your note, provided your sister will indorse it, and she will.”
The young fellow looked up at his tall friend in amazement which turned at last into amusement. He began to chuckle. “Good Lord! I knew you’d made a mash on Flo, but I didn’t know it was mutual. I heard her say, ‘be sure and write.’” He slapped Kelley on the back. “There’ll be something doing when she comes back in the spring, eh?”
Kelley remained unmoved. “There will be if she finds you rolling that white marble.”
“She won’t. I’ll take your offer. But what will you be doing?”
“Climbing some Alaska trail,” replied Kelley, with a remote glance.