ENERTAINING SHORT STORIES

The Youngster

JOHNSTON McCULLEY IN THE RED BOOK April 1 1907
ENERTAINING SHORT STORIES

The Youngster

JOHNSTON McCULLEY IN THE RED BOOK April 1 1907

The Youngster

JOHNSTON McCULLEY IN THE RED BOOK

A young man, at the close of his college year, goes to a western mining town to spend his vacation. His training had been such as to instil in him the highest regard for what was right. He was unaware that in Goldfield might was right. His innocence is mistaken by the citizens for bravery, and thus earns for him a reputation for courage.

HE was twenty-two years of age, with a face as smooth as a baby’s and a mind drilled from infancy in the principles and duties of a high religious life. He dropped into Goldfield for recreation after a hard year in college, and when he arrived he didn’t have as much courage as an ore-wagon mule. Two months later he had a reputation for being a most courageous man.

Just at the moment of The Youngster’s arrival, Pendleton Pete, standing in the middle of the street over a prostrate enemy, his smoking revolver in his hand, was promising what might happen the next time. The enemy was curled up on the yellow sand, a tiny red stream trickling from his breast and coloring the pebbles. He had been unwise enough to intimate that Pendleton Pete occasionally strayed from the truth.

Behind unpainted frame buildings and hitching-i acks and ore-wagons, other citizens of the thriving town of Goldfield made themselves as small as possible and awaited the time when Pendleton Pete would be willing to give them possession of the principal street. With horror, they saw The Youngster turn the corner and come to a dead stop within ten feet of the bad man. As one person, the population of Goldkeld gasped.

The Youngster viewed the scene with alarm. Back in Indiana he had never seen a thing like this. Moreover, he reflected, it was against the laws of God and man. Plis soul rebelled against it, his heart bled because of it. hi« mind refused to conceive it in its full significance. And The Youpngster, suddenly realizing that he alone was facing this blood-thirsty demon, began to be afraid.

If he ran, The Youngster thought, he might attract the attention of the bad man and down in the small of his back receive a bullet and a death wound ; if, on the other hand, he stood still, it was certain that the man would in time discover him and do something unpleasant. Anyway, The Youngster was too frightened to run. And so he stood still— and smiled. He couldn’t help the smile. He always smiled when he was afraid, just as some other people shivered and others fainted and still others made their eyes grow big.

His oration to the vanquished completed, Pendleton Pete stepped away from the prostrate man, looked up, and saw The Youngster before him. In an instant the bad man’s gun was readjT for action, and he stepped forward cautiously. Pendleton Pete never judged a man hastily. He was authority for the statement that you can never tell by a man’s clothes and general appearance just how straight and quick he can shoot.

The Youngster saw him coming, and felt himself growing very weak in the legs. How to deal with this man he did not know. And so he smiled again, foolishly, a wan smile that might easily have been taken for a sneer. Pendleton Pete saw it, and stepped forward more quickly,

“What ye grinnin’ at?” he demanded.

“ Gr-rinning ? ” queried The Youngter. He realized how foolish it was ; but lie couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Ye laughin ’ at me ? ’ ’

Pete snapped the words. At the same time he poised the muzzle of the revolver in the air near his hip, ready to drop

it and send a shot if The Youngster made a move.

“What th’—” he began again.

“Don’t swear!”

The Youngster, too, snapped the words. It relieved the strain on his nerves to say something. He was too frightened to say anything more appropriate.

“Well, if that wouldn’t— Say, kid! Don’t try any of y er funny tricks on me. What th’—?”

“Don’t swear!”

The Youngster was afraid when he said it. He expected to be shot. He realized that it wasn’t at all the proper thing to say at that time. But he couldn’t think of anything else.

Pendleton Pete brought the revolver around in front of him, raised it slowly, and dropped the muzzle directly under The Youngster’s nose. He expected to see a young man go down on his knees and beg for mercy. That was what men usually did when Pete got the drop on them. But The Youngster only smiled his foolish smile.

“Well, if ye aint th’— Say! Ye sure got nerve! Yer th’ nerviest feller ’round this town. Ye suit me, pard. S’pose we shake.”

“Pleased, I’m sure,” murmured The Youngster. The hand which he gave Pendleton Pete was very limp.

“Ye are th’ right kind,” continued Pete. “Hev a drink?”

“I do not drink.”

“Ye what? Ye don’t— Say, don’t ye refuse to drink wid me, kid. I’ll eat ye alive, that’s what I’ll do.

“You shouldn’t let your temper get beyond your control,” said The Youngster, sweetly. “ You have committed a mortal sin this morning by shooting and perhaps slaying a man. Your better self is hidden while the beast in you exerts itself.”

Pendleton Pete, disregarding all rules of the desert, let the hand which held his revolver drop to his side. Likewise, his jaw dropped, and his neck craned

forward until his bulging eyes were within a few inches of the calm, blue ones of The Youngster.

“Well, of all th’— Ye sure hev got nerve!” lie concluded. “Ye sure hev’ —to hand out a bunch like that. Say, I like ye, kid ! I don’t care whether ye drink or not. Ye c’n eat sand if ye want to.”

“I trust you will think over what I have said,” replied The Youngster, as Pete backed away. “We should always control our likes and dislikes ; we should—”

“That’s all right, kid; ye c’n control anything ye want to. If ye can’t control it alone, I’m wid ye. So long, kid; ye sure hev’ got nerve.”

Pendleton Pete backed away. He still held the revolver in his hand and he watched The Youngster. He didn’t want to be caught asleep.

And then from behind the buildings, the hitching-racks, and the ore-wagons there flocked a crowd of men. They suriounded The Youngster and expressed an unanimous desire to shake his hand. They didn’t see a man stand up before Pendleton Pete every day, they stated. Seldom had Goldfield seen such an exhibition of courage. The town was glad to welcome The Youngster as a citizen. Did he intend to prospect? Was he ready to invest? Could they do anything for him? A man with a nerve like that—there wasn’t anything in town quite good enough for him. So declared the populace.

Before noon, The Youngster had received offers of five positions on the house side of a roulette wheel. All of them he respectfully declined. He didn’t believe in gambling, he said; it was vice of the lowest form. No conscientious man, no man with morals, would ever think of such a thing as becoming a gambler. It led to drink and to reckless expenditure, and even to robbery and greater crimes. He was sorry to hear that the authorities tolerated gambling in Goldfield. And also, he

stated, there were by far too mr saloons in the town.

Within three hours, The Youngster had unknowingly insulted eveiy man in the camp. And yet, remembering how he had stood before Pendleton Pete with that smile upon his lips, the insulted ones swallowed their wrath and were contented to let the words of The Youngster pass.

This sudden reputation for bravery The Youngster could not understand. He had never thought he was brave. He had, indeed, been called a coward at college. He didn’t want to exist under a wrong impression, but then—maybe he was brave. Was he really a courageous man ? Goldfield said so, and Goldfield certainly ought to know, he mused.

This reputation for bravery traveled along until it reached the ears of one Jimmy Simpson.

“Brave?” said Jimmy. “He aint as brave as an ore-wagon mule. I c’n bunco him in an hour. I c’n scare the life half outen him. Anyone like to bet a hundred I can’t?”

A dozen men rushed forward to get in on this good thing. Hadn’t they seen The Youngster perform before Pendleton Pete? Couldn’t they see straight? They guessed they knew who had nerve and who didn’t. Would Simpson kindly make it two hundred? Simpson said he would, and he did.

“I got twenty-four hours, ye understand,” he said. “That’ll be ’bout all I’ll need.”

At dusk The Youngster walked out past the ’dobe houses and along the trail into the desert. He wanted to be alone and think over the surprising events of the day. The last hour he had passed in the company of Pendleton Pete, who had insisted that The Youngster was his private discovery and his pard and under the protection of his trigger finger. He had again refused an offer of a position in a gambling house. The belated offer came from

Dick Simon, proprietor of the gilded Palace of Chance. To him The Youngster addressed an oration on gambling which caused Simon to return to his office with a very red face, and with anger surging in his heart.

“I’ll git square wid that kid preacher if it takes ten years,” he declared. ‘I’ll break him and make him gamble. No kid’s goin’ to talk to me like that,”

And then, as if destined to fate, there walked into the office Jimmy Simpson, with the tale of The Youngster’s reputation for bravery and the bets that had resulted therefrom. Simon closed the office door quickly and grew confidential. ’ ’

“Th’ kid says he’s too good to gamble,” he stated. “Now he’s got five hundred dolíais on him. Green enough to tell me that. Ye git th’ five hundred so lie’ll be broke. Then he’ll hev’ to gamble or. else starve. Nobody’s goin’ to give him a job in this town if I pass ’round th’ word not to. Well, I’ll pass th’ word, all right. Ye break him an’ I’ll give ye a hundred on th’ side. I’ll show that kid! He’ll gamble, all right, all right.”

“Did he tell ye th’ laws of th’ town are not properly enforced, an’ that ye’ll

sure go to perdition if ye fuss wid th’ cards? Did he tell ye that?” Simpson asked sweetly.

“Don’t make any difference what he told me,” said Simon, angrily. “He told me enough. Here’s what I told him. I says: ‘Ye are one of these guys wid all soul an’ no heart; ye may git to heaven, son, but ye’ll never make much of a hit on earth; yer too damn religious.” That’s what I told him.”

“An’ he didn’t shoot ye up?”

“Pie didn’t shoot me up,” said Simon. “That’s what made me mad. If th’ kid had cut loose an’ started somethin’ I wouldn’t hev’ cared. But he refused to start. Treated me jus’ like I was a little feller too innocent to play wid a gun. I’ll fix him, all right; I reckon he’ll gamble some.”

The Youngster, of course, was innocent of the fact that he had wounded Simon, deeply, else he might have apologized and explained his motives. And so, as he sat on a ledge of rock and watched the sun go down and the desert take on its myriad of tints, he was wondering at the prosperity of this small town where a man was offered half a dozen positions in a day. Perhaps, thought The Youngster, it was difficult to get men bad enough to work in a gambling hell. Why had they asked him? Did he look like a gambler? Or, was it because they thought he was brave and ready to fight and rob men of their money?

As night fell and The Youngster started to retrace his steps toward the town, he observed a man approaching along the trail. His head was down and

there was a soft hat tilted over his eyes. The Youngster wondered if the man was going to walk out into the desert, and if there was a gold mine where he was going, and whether it was fabulously rich.

Within a few paces of The Youngster the stranger paused suddenly, straightened up, and covei ed The Youngster with a revolver.

“Hands up!” he said.

“My good friend—” began The Youngster.

“Hands up!” The man growled the words and stepped closer. The

Youngster thought it best to obey. He stood perfectly still while the man went through his pockets and took from one of them the wallet containing his money. Pie noticed that the man was of medium height and weight, had on ordinary clothes and wore a black mask. The Youngster determined to remember these details and tell the authorities when he returned to the town.

“Now ye git!” said the robber, and pointed down the trail. “An’ don’t try anything funny unless ye want it straight an’ hot. Ye aint so damn K ave, are ye ? Now, ye git ! ’ ’

Trembling with fear, The Youngster took his way toward the town. Half a hundred yards away he glanced back over his shoulder and saw the robber sitting on the ground, doubled up as if in pain. For a moment The Youngster thought of going back. Then he changed his mind and staited down the trail again. Soon lie began to run.

When he dashed into the gilded Palace of Chance he was out of breath.

“Where’s Mr. Pendleton Pete?” he cried. “I want Mr. Pendleton Pete.” Men standing near the bar noted The Youngster’s appearance and grinned. Some one notified Pete that he had a caller, and the bad man of the morning hurried from the faro room.

“What’s tli’ matter, son?” he demanded.

“I’ve been robbed,” gasped The Youngster. “1 was held up on the trail. All my money—”

“What? Y7e let someone git th’ drop on ye? YTe let— An’ to think I shook hands wid a feller like you.”

“Please, Mr. Pete—”

“Shut up!” Pendleton Pete’s eyes were blazing. Men were smiling at him and doing it openly. He didn’t pull a gun, because he felt that they had a right to smile. “Come wid me,” he continued, and took The Youngster by the arm, to lead him into the street and away from the crowd. Then lie demanded the story. He got it. He learnhow The Youngster had been an easy victim, that he didn’t even carry a guv. And then he turned away disgusted.

The Youngster began to plead. He never said he was brave. He didn’t want anyone to think he was brave. He had stood up before Pete’s revolver in the morning because he didn’t know what else to do. Wouldn’t Mr. Pete have some compassion and tell him how to recover the money and have the robber punished.

“Kid,” said Pete, earnestly, nye simply got to be brave. I won’t stand fer ye bein’ anything else. See? Ye

hev to live up to yer reputation. An’ ye got to carry a gun. Take this one, son; I’ve got plenty. I say, ye hev to carry it. I’m goin’ to stick by ye, ’cause I want ye to git square. Ye gor to be brave. Jus’ remember that!”

t

For two w’eeks The Youngster lived on money loaned him by Pendleton Pete. He had accepted it only after an argument wherein Pete expressed his mind in no uncertain terms. At the end of the two weeks The Youngster was confronted by the bad man one evening in his room at the hotel.

“I’m expectin’ results in th’ bravery line,” Pete declared. “Ye aint deliverin’ th’ goods. Ye are th’ laughin’ stock of th’ town. Ye can’t go on th’ street without bein’ insulted. Why don’t ye git square?”

“How?” inquired The Youngster.

“Make th’ skunk that robbed ye back down. Go after him strong. Make him look like a rag. Ye c’n turn th’ laugh on him. if ye got th’ nerve.”

“I don’t understand—” began The Youngster.

“Do ye mean ye don’t know who robbed ye?”

“Why, certainly not. If I did 1 would inform the officers of the law.”

“Ye disgust me. This aint any job 1er th’ officers of th’ law. This is a case of gettin’ square. Simpson robbed ye. He did it ’cause someone bet a couple of hundred he couldn’t. An’ Simon put him up to it, ’cause he was sore an ’wanted to git ye broke an’ make ye gamble. Are ye wise now?”

The Youngster had risen from his chair. Into his eyes there had come a sudden flash of anger.

“Kindly explain that again,” he said.

“If ye wasn’t so green ye would hev’ known it a week ago. It’s all over th’ town. Th’ boys are jus’ dyin’ laughin’ at ye. An’ ye got to get square. Simon says ye are docile an’ religious. He says ye aint got as much nerve as a horned toad. He says he’d run ye outen

town, only ye amuse th’ citizens, free of charge.”

“He says those things?” demanded The YYungster.

“An’ then some,” added Pendleton Pete.

The YYungster walked over to the window and looked out at tire street. Lights flashed in the saloons and gambling rooms. Men crowded the walks. But The YYungster did not see these things. He w7as passing through a mental battle. And when he turned around again his jaws were set like a vise and his eyes were narrowed and seemed to send forth flakes of steel.

“He says those things, does he?” he

said. “YYu want me to make good, you call it? You want me to get square? I’ll tell you this, Pete. When I came

here I didn’t have the smallest particle of bravery. I don’t believe I have now.

But I tell you right here, that no man can rob me and then crow over it. No man can insult me as you say Simon has done without answering to me. YYu want me to make good. Well, you pick up your hat and come with me.”

“YY don’t want to get reckless, son, when you are mad. YY better take it cool an’ watch fer yer chance.”

The YYungster wheeled around.

“I’ll wait for no chance. I’ll have it out this very night. And I want another gun. Give me yours.”

“Sure,” said Pete. He handed me of his guns over. “But ye want to be careful, son. Simpson’s a bad man, ye know. Fie may—”

“See.here!” The YYungster spoke angrily. “ YYu said you wanted me to make good. YYu said you wanted me to get even. YYu told me Simon made those remarks, that Simpson got my money and had bet he could do it. And now you ask me to go slow. YYu wanted me to be brave, and now7, damn you, I’m going to be brave. There—I swore. Pardon me. You want me to make good. Well, I’m going to do it, Pete.

if they have to plant me to-morrow. You follow me.”

“Yer gettin’ plumb reckless,” said Pete, as they hurried out of the hotel and down the street, “but I’m backin’ ye up, son, an’ I’ll guarantee fair play. I’m beginnin’ to like ye more than ever, kid.”

During the short journey from the hotel to the Palace of Chance, the teeth of The Youngster were grinding together and over them his lips met firmly. He had put the revolvers in his pockets, and his hands, dropped beside him, were opening and closing nervously. He led Pendleton Pete to Simon’s resort and threw open the door. Pete followed him through the bar-room and to Simon’s office. The gambler was not there.

“Lookin’ fer Simon?” inquired a bartender. “Ye’ll find him in tli’ faro room. He’s skinnin’ a sucker.”

The Youngster flushed at the remark. He felt that it was directed at him. But instead of replying he passed quickly through the throng of men, Pete close behind him, and made his way to the faro room in the rear.

“Now, ye be careful, kid,” warned Pete. “They won’t be expectin’ ye to make any trouble, so it’ll be easy to git th ’ drop. on ’em. They don’t think ye got nerve enough, son.”

Then he stepped behind The Youngster again and followed him into the room. He gave a gasp as they entered. Simpson and Simon were together, the former dealing, the latter watching the play. Pete had not figured on the boy having to deal with them both at once.

“Better wait until ye c’n git one of them at a time,” he suggested.

No answer came from The Youngster. He approached the faro table slowly, and stood for a few moments looking on. He waited until Simon, desiring to speak to the dealer, leaned over the table to catch Simpson’s ear. Then The Youngster pushed through the

crowd, drew his two revolvers, and spoke in a firm voice.

“Hands up, gentlemen,” he said. Simon sprang around, saw the gleaming weapon and quailed before it. Simpson raised his hands and looked at The Youngster with an expression of amusement on his face: The crowd

about the table fell back.

“What do you mean-—” began Simon. “Put up your hands!” The Youngster spoke in a commanding tone. “Don’t move, or I’ll finish you. Now, I’ll tell you what I mean. You—” he indicated Simpson, “held me up on the trail and stole five hundred dollars from me. Don’t lie! You’ve admitted it a dozen times. You bet two hundred you’d do it. And you” he turned to Simon, “gave him a hundred extra to rob me, because I had angered you and you wanted to force me to take a position in your gambling hell.”

“It’s a lie!” cried Simon.

“Don’t say that again,” hissed The Youngster. “It’s the truth, and you know it. You came to me the first day I was in town. You offered me a job. You said your wheels were not straight, that I could make all I wanted to on the side if I was careful about it. I want you to tell these men here the truth. I want you to tell them you haven’t a wheel in the shop that can’t be stopped where you want it stopped, that every faro box is crooked, that you are robbing them. Tell them! Are

your games square ? ’ ’

“You can’t—”

“Tell the truth.”

The Youngster stepped closer and looked at Simon intently.

“I-—I guess none of them is square,” faltered Simon.

“Now—you,” continued The Youngster, turning to Simpson, ”mav tell them whether or not you robbed me.” The Youngster’s words, and the tone in which they were spoken were very courteous. But Simpson did not like the look in The Youngster’s eyes.

“I was—jus’ havin’ some—fun wid ye,” he said.

“You robbed me, then?”

“Reckon I did.”

“Step forward, Pete,” called The Youngster. “Just finger that money on the table and count out five hundred of it. Put it in your pocket for me. And I owe you about fifty, too. Just count that out.”

“But that money’s all mine,” protested the paling Simon. “I didn’t rob you.” >

“You paid to have me robbed, you know,” said The Youngster, sweetly. “Got it all right, Pete? Well, there’s a thing or two more. You remarked once, Simpson, I believe, that I ‘wasn’t so—ahem—damn brave.’ You’re not so very brave just now, are you? Do you think you are:” que! led The Youngster, narrowing his eyes.

“Reckon I aint so very brave,” assented Simpson, quickly.

“Thank you,” said The Youngster. “And now, Mr. Simon, if you will kindly pray—”

“You aint goin’ to murder me?” screamed Simon. “Don’t let him, men. Don’t ye see lie’s crazy?”

“Steady there!” cried Tlie Youngster in warning. “Pray, I said. Close your eyes—thank you. Now repeat after me: ‘Lord, I confess I am a thief and a very great sinner.” Say it! Say it, Simon, or you’ll never live to say anything else.”

“ ‘Lord, I confess’—”

“Yes”

“-—‘and a very great sinner,’ ” repeated Simon.

Then lie opened his eyes. Before him was the countenance of The Youngster, wreathed in smiles. Before him were

the countenances of a hundred other men, and they, too, were wreathed in smiles. Even Simpson looked upon his employer with disgust.

“You have prayed,” said The Youngster, ‘ ‘ and now listen to the sermon. ‘Yrou may get to heaven, Simon, but you’ll never make a hit on earth; you ’re too—ahem—damn religious. ’

Remember the words? I thought you did. Now, we will go to the bar-room, please. These gentlemen would like drinks. ’ ’

Into the bar-room they went, Simon and Simpson heading the procession with their hands held above their heads. The Youngster, a foot behind them, holding a ievolver to the back of either man ’s head, promised them sudden death if treachery occurred.

“Th drinks all around,” said The Youngster. And as the bartenders got busy he added: “These drinks are on the house.”

Then a cheer startled The YYungster.

“Here’s to th’ kid” cried someone holding a glass above his head.

“To th’ kid!” came the answer from a hundred throats.

And as they drank, The Youngster, grown suddenly weak, his arms limp, his face pale, his eyes half-closed, slipped quietly away and into the street, hanging to the arm of Pendleton Pete as a baby clings to its mother’s skirt.

“I guess—I made good—for you, didn’t I?” he gasped.

Tenderly and without speaking, Pendleton Pete put a strong arm around him and started down the street toward the hotel.

And from the gilded Palace of Chance came the echo :

“To th’ kid!-”