A Story of the Earlier Days in British Columbia
IN THE little mountain town general excitement broke looose and ran down the Cairo-like street to meet Sheriff Bob Wallace and his posse of miners and mule-skinners. It was plain to be seen that they had had a hard ride of it. They were covered with dust; their horses were fagged out and the men themselves were saddle weary. But they had made a capture. The prisoner was riding in the centre, hands bound behind, his bare curly head drooped forward in utter dejection and fatigue.
The worthy citizens of Sanderson whooped their welcome. The fact that the prisoner was a mere boy, probably the novice of the gang, in no way affected them. That one member of Dutch McGee’s crowd had been caught, even the most harmless of the road-agents, was a good start towards running the whole gang out of the country. Sanderson was too jealous of its reputation to risk any further depredations. Boom mining camp it might be, flushed with money and liquor, littered with playing-cards, its nights noisy with incessant pianos and loud songs ; but robbery at the point of a gun was a breach of etiquette that must not be permitted. It was not conducive to general prosperity.
Hence the excitement at the prospect of proving to the world that Sanderson was one camp where a man could part with his “poke” in a perfect genteel manner, surrounded by his friends, with plenty of rye to drink, cigars to smoke, music and dancing to make the occasion altogether enjoyable. Assuredly this Kid Carter was going to furnish a convincing example of the folly of robbery on dark and lonesome trails before a man had a chance to reach camp!
T IM FARGEY sat in front of the “Blue ** Light” saloon, quietly smoking, his chair tilted back comfortably on two legs. With languid interest he watched the little cavalcade climbing the street. The thing was no concern of his, of course. Anyway, before the night wa9 very old he would be quite tired listening to repetition of the details. He was a gambler, a wanderer, not a permanent citizen of Sanderson. • He dealt faro in the “Blue Light” by night a#id, when he wasn’t sleeping, he smoked quietly by day; whenever the splits came and the boom burst, as he had seen all the other booms burst, he would drift off with the tide and somewhere else by day smoke quietly and by night deal faro.
For Jim Fargey had been a gambler for twenty-five years or more; Montana, the Mississippi, New Orleans—he had worked them all. One by one the years had climbed slowly up on hi9 straight back to a seat on the breadth of his shoulders— more than fifty of them; somewhere in the pack was the Joker that had whitened his hair, that had sifted the melancholy into the depths of his dark, inscrutable eyes and mingled reserve with the courtesy that gave him manner. But he was still in the game and always he had managed to rise above the yellow of his environment; so that with Fargey behind the case the camp knew it would get a straight run for its money.
Above all else was he a quiet man. He waved languid acknowledgment of the sheriff’s friendly greeting as the posse rode by. Then his gaze returned to the distant peaks, behind which the sun was already dipping, and for a long time he sat where he was, smoking thoughtfully, while the shadows in the gulch deepened rapidly and one by. one the lights of the rough little mining camp glowed out upon the gathering darkrfess.
ON THE evening preceding the day set for young Carter’s trial, the prisoner sat despondently in the little stone jail, watching the last ray of sunlight disappear from the heavy iron bars of the cell window. The mountain shadows crowded in and the hours of gloomier foreboding were upon him with their heavy blanket of useless regrets. The Kid knew that he was in a bad fix; his chances for leniency were too slight for consideration at all. He was lucky that this was Canada where Judge Lynch was frowned upon or by now he might be swaying in the wind from the limb of some tree.
Or was it lucky after all? Better, perhaps, short shrift than a living death in the penitentiary. What an unalloyed young fool he had been to start out on a trail which could end in no other way! Why had he tried to ape the toughs of his home town? Why had he fooled himself into the belief that therein lay fame? After that drunken brawl at Pap’s Place why had he run away and left ’Lissa—? The Kid choked and buried his head in his arms. He dare not think of Melissa now if he hoped to bear up for what was coming.
He ought to have known that fellows of Dutch McGee’s calibre were concerned only about saving their own skin. They were over the border by this time probably and damning him for a young fool who deserved all he was going to get. His wild idea that perhaps they would ride in and shoot up the town and rescue him was born of Jesse James’ stories. He realized that now. Jesse would have done that and thought nothing of it. Or Buchanan—that notorious outlaw would have shot down a hundred men to release
» pal. As for Dutch--
The Kid was startled to see something white come skimming in between the bars of the tiny window and drop at his feet. He picked it up and saw that it was a piece of paper, folded into a dart such as he had been wont to send sailing across the schoolroom when the teacher was not looking. fpEVERISHLY he spread it out on his knee ar.d peered close at the clumsy scrawl in the failing light. The note stated briefly certain directions he was to follow along about midnight. He would find his cell door unlocked. If he travelled a certain course up the gulch he would find a cayuse tethered in a cedar grove back amongst the rocks. He was to speak to no man, but make all haste to the old shack at Jackass Mine. The note was signed with three peculiar marks.
At sight of those three little marks Kid Carter stood up and sucked in a great breath, his eyes alight, his jaw set. He had wronged “the boys,” after all; they were going to stand by him, although it might mean death or capture if a hitch occurred. They were going to stand by him just as the notorious Brad Buchanan would have done. He should have remembered that Dutch wa9 the sole survivor of the old Buchanan gang. He should have shown a little more faith in good old Dutch, who was Buchanan trained. Dutch was standing by him— would get him away without a shot being Í red if everything went as they planned, t was great!
* Iv HE NIGHT was hot. The air seemed -*■ pocketed in the gulch and the heat reflected from the rocks which had baked in the sun all day offset the shortness of the twilight and the early in-closing of the mountain shadows. The bit of moon that had hung above the towering Western peaks dropped over on the other side and left the valley to the dim light of the stars.
About two hours’ ride back into the hills and well away from all accustomed trails was Jackass Mine. Here in days gone by some wandering prospectors had burrowed into the mountain-side in search of silver. They had gone so far as to erect a couple of buildings at the place and had sunk considerable money in the mine itself only to find its promise unfulfilled. The holes were still there, the timbers rotting in the shafts. The old cabins were still erect; but the place was frequentec only by the wild creature» that roamed in the night.
Approaching it eagerly, not long after midnight, the Kid was none the less cautious. Rounding a rocky spur, he dismounted and, with the utmost care as to where he stepped, climbed forward and upward until he was peering over the edge of the arroyo. On the opposite side He could make out the darker shadow of the shacks. There was not a spark of light in the place nor any outward sign of life.
Placing his hands on either side of hi9 mouth, the lad emitted a low, tremulous hoot and listened anxiously. An owl answered from the other side, the quavers trembling away in weird melancholy. Hurrying back to the cayuse. it took the Kid but a few minutes to ride down and around to the mouth of the ravine. There he left his horse and excitedly ascended the steep path to the deserted mine.
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As he approached he noted the shadowy figure of a man standing in the nearest ^doorway. It looked like Ghic Yerex. He stepped back as the Kid entered, growling something about a candle on the table and they might as well have a light for a minute—till they mapped out the trail they would take to join the others.
Wondering somewhat at the brusqueness] of his reception, young Carter felt for the matches, struck one and touched it to the candie. As he did so he was conscious of the door being shut behind him; but it was the soft thud of the heavy wooden bolt that made him whirl like lightning. The candlelight was shinning along the barrel of a sixshooter which covered him where he stood and behind it was a man whom he did not remember having seen before in his life—a man who smiled with quiet amusement.]
A FRIGHTENED oath broke from tihe Kid’s lips as he stood there, staring in amazement. It flashed across him that even if he had been armed the fellow had tihe drop on him completely. The Kid swore again and the other continued to smile good-humoredly.
“I aint a-goin’ to hurt you, kid,” he chuckled. “A feller don’t generally help a prisoner to make a getaway so ’t he kin put a bullet in him. If you do git hurt, son, it'll be your own fault, remember. Sit down an’ make yourself comfortable.
We’re goin’ to have a little chat, all to ourselves out here, you an’ me, where ijt’s nice an’ quiet, no interruptions an’ all that. Sit down, I said.”
The Kid sat down. There was nothing else to do.
“Who are you?” he gasped.
The other had lowered the weapon and was eyeing him speculatively. The Kid continued to watch him closely with growing wonder.
“Thought you'd find Dutch here, eh?” chuckled the stranger. “Or was it that wall-eyed son of Satan, Chic Yerex? Or mebbe you was expectin’ to see Bat Olsen or shake hands with the Preacher. Eh, son? Wonderful strong oh shakin’ hands, the Preacher, aint he?—rollin' his gun while he’s (join’ it an’ partin’ with a bit of lead all at one an’ the same time to demonstrate kind feelin’ for enemies! Clever trick, that, eh?”
“Who—who—?” began the Kid weakly. “OnV it aint the Preacher’s own trick, that,” the other went on with the same amused smile. “Dutch McGee taught it to him an’ Dutch got it years ago from Buchanan^Ah, so you’ve heard tell of Buchanan! Well, it was from him Dutch likewise got the three little marks for signin’ to notes afore shootin’ same into jails an’ such like—sit down!”
The Kid sank back, nervously drawing his shirt-sleeve across his forehead.
“But this is wastin’ time, son,” said the stranger with sudden briskness. “We’ve got to make our little talk much shorter'n what I’d like, for you’ve got to be a long ways from here by sun-up an’ I’ve got to git back to where I come from.”
A S HE spoke he deliberately laid his six-shooter on the deal table beside the candle, turned his back and walked across the little room to the shelves in the corner.
“ ‘Mebbe the kid’ll need a drink,’ I told myself. So I just brought along a scoot or two,” explained the man pleasantly as he went to get it.
Carter stared after him as if he could scarcely believe his eyes. Then he sprang
for the gun. He uttered an exultant cry as his fingers closed on the grip of it. Turning slowly, the stranger gazed at him with a flicker of amusement. He laughed outright.
A flash of flame that seemed to come from nowhere at all! When the smoke had thinned, the gun was lying on the far, side of the cabin and the amazed young man was nursing an arm which was benumber by a thousand needle-prickings.
“You young fool !’ the man cried angrily as he came towards him. “Want to let everybody within range know where they kin find you? Sit down. Now, don’t try that again!”
He crossed over, picked up the gun, laid it again upon the table. Then without a look he went over coolly to the shelves once more and came back with a bottle and a tin cup.
“You look as if you needed a bracer. Down with it, son. There aint no ’casion to git scared.”
The Kid’s hand shook in spite of himself as he raised the cup and when he had put it back on the table, he sat inert, staring and breathing hard.
“Bu—Buchanan !” he muttered. “They tol’ me Buchanan was shot—years ago, they said—somewhere in the Kentucky hills!”
“Sure. Thigd daÿ o’ September it was, long about evenin’, twenty-five years ago. What’s matter with you?”
“That gun-play — where’d you learn that frun-play?” demanded the Kid hoarsely. “Who are you that knows so many secrets? An’ what d’you want with me?”
“Softly, son. I'll tell you. Yes, I rather reckon you're due to be told a few things,” and the stranger’s manner altered swiftly with his words. * He drew the candle across the table so that the light fell full upon the young, unlined face of the man opposite.
44 f ’LL have to cut the story short, for * time’s gettin’ everlastin’ precious. It’s about Buchanan. I knew him. liiere was a woman-. He went wrong because of a woman. But she was a good woman an’ didn’t know she drove him to it. He loved her—how he loved her ! She wasn't for the likes o’ him, though. He was nacherally a wild sort, I reckin, an' she wouldn't have anythin’ to do with him. He was drinkin’ his share afore she turned him down an’ after that he took on worse’n ever.
“They was both livin’ in a little town down in Kaintucky. There was a garden in front o* her place an’ it was full o’ hollyhocks an’ petuniers an’ she used to wear a pretty pink dress an’ an ol’ sunbonnet with the strings flappin’ down on each side o' her curls—brown curls, they were. * For she was pretty !
“One day there come along a slickdressed feller from the city an’ he seen her in the. garden an’ took a fancy to her. She took to him, too, an’ after awhile they goes an’ gits married an' starts livin’ in a little place with roses creepin’ over the front. An’ all the time this here Buchanan was drinkin’ himself to death, ^understand.
“By an’ by the folks begun to take voetice that Mis’ Porter warn’t quite like she used to be—color all gone out o’ the cheeks o’ her an’ she was gitting* powerful thin an’ worrit-lookin’ an’ went around with a scared look in her eyes almost. She’d been so all-fired happy afore that— singin’ an’ spry as a kitten—folks couldn’t help noticin’ the difTrence. There’d been a baby girl come an’ she’d been happy as the day was long up till the little one was nigh on to a year old.
“Then the change come over her, as I’ve told you, an’ the neighbors begun to talk about him. Used to go ’way an’ leave her fer months at a time, an’ whenever he was home he used to be quarrellin’ all day till I reckon life was scarce worth livin’ for her.
“Well, ’course Buchanan heard 'bout the way things was goin’ an’ he took it on himself to hang around. He talked to the feller that had married the girl from him an’ he talked all-fired straight. But it didn’t seem to do no good an’ things on’y got worse after that.
“Then one day Buchanan was passin’ their place an’ he heard screams cornin’ from back of the house an’ he just vaults over the pickets alongside the road an’ goes around back to see what’s up. What he seen was the feller beatin’ his wife. So Buchanan just nacherally pulls out a gun an’ fires it off.
“He had to skip out o’ the country mighty quick after that took place, certain parties bein’ hot on his trail; the dead man’s relatives an’ friends had lots o’ money an’ they sure meant business. Now, that’s how Buchanan come to run from the law—just like I’m tellin’ you. He saw the way things was shapin’ for him an’ he come to the conclusion he might’s well play the game through to the finish. So he made for the hills an’ took to buckin’ the law as a reglar business.
44 p ’RAPS you know some o’ the things he done. He went bad complete an’ it warn’t long afore they had a price on his head an’ men was huntin’ him everywheres. He got to be pretty cute at dodgin’ around an’ he got a gang about him that kep’ the whole blame country in hot water for goin’ on two years.
“But you can’t keep that kind o’ game up indefinite, son. One day, back in the hills, they cornered the gang an’ wiped ’em out—all but a couple that got away. No, son, you can’t keep that kind o’ game up forever.”
“An’ Buchanan?” whispered the Kid breathlessly at last as the other sat silent. “Buchanan was shot?”
“Buchanan was shot,” repeated the other slowly. "Twenty-five years ago, it was, third day o’ September, long about evenin’. That’s the story—all o’it, 'cept that Mis’ Porter on’y lived about a year after Buchanan was wiped out — just about a year.”
The Kid wiped the moisture from his forehead.
“An’ the kid—the little kid girl?” he ventured.
“Grew up into a pretty young woman, just like her mother used to be afore her. She was adopted by a maiden lady with a kind heart, God bless her, an’ come by an’ by to call her ‘Auntie’ an’ never knew no difTrent. An’ she used to tend to a garden, just like her mother done afore her.”
^I ' HE MAN leaned forward suddenly. The candlelight fell on a face so full of menace that the younger man shrank before the look that had leapt into the eyes which searched his own.
“She used to tend a garden like her mother done. Hear that? An’ one day •there come along a young feller as fell in love with her, like her father done with her mother. They got married an’ went to live in a little home with a garden o’ their own. An’ the girl was happy enough till her fool husband got shiftless an’ took to chummin’ in with a bad crowd down to Pap’s Place — got some crazy notion into his empty head that it was a smart thing to get drunk and sass the law, to carry a gun an’ shoot same off promisc’ous and frequent.
“An’ the time come when this young fool got tanked up too tight, got mixed up in a fight an’ skipped out, leavin’ one o’ the best little women that ever walked God’s earth to shift for herself, ’stead o’ stayin’ by her an’ backin’ her up as he’d sworn to do. Are you listenin’?” cried the man fiercely.
“Who are you?” gasped the Kid in terror.
“Never mind that!” snapped the man. “You listen to me. That aint here nor it aint there. You’ve asked me that afore an’ you’ve been wonderin’ w’hy’n blue blazes I got you out o’ the hole you were in back there to-night an’ brought you out here to talk to you.
“I’ll tell you why. You’re goin’ backback to that little woman as is waitin’ for you—back home to be a man ’stead o’ a blitherin’ young fool. You’re goin’ back because you owe it to her an’ because if you don’t do it by Heaven ! I’ll know the reason !
“You’re nothin’ but a kid, Carter—yes, I know all about you! I’ve made that my business. I was a kid once myself— made a wreck o’ my own life an’ I aint aimin’ to let you do the same with yours. I’m tellin’ you straight a man can't buck the law anywheres—an’ up here in Canader in particlar. It can’t be played that way to anythin’ but a cold finish. You’ve got to go back and live straight for the little girl’s sake if noWfor your own. An’ that goes! If you ever play her dirt like her father done her mother I’ll find you out an’ by G-d! I’ll put a bullet in you same as I-”
“Buchanan!” breathed the Kid, cringing away.
“Buchanan was shot, I tell you!” cried the man savagely. “Twenty-five years ago in the Kentucky hills. Buchanan’s dead. An’ it’s on’y a question o’ a short while afore Dutch McGee an’ his pals will all pass in their checks the same way. You can’t play that game to any other finish. If it hadn’t been for me, you’d be in the discard JJOW. AS ’tis, I’m givin’ you one more chance an’ it’s up to you to cinch it mighty quick.
"You’ll find my horse picketed down below. He’s the best hereabout an’ I’m givin’ him to you here an’ now. He'll carry you out safely. Carter, if you mind yourself. Keep to the old trail that runs around back of Toad Mountain an’ stop for nothin’. Come, we’ll find the horse.”
SILENTLY the Kid stood up and followed the other outside. The two men scrambled down the steep declivity to the bottom of the ravine without exchanging another word. The Kid was in the saddle before he could find his tongue, and even then he could do no more than lean down to grasp the other’s hand, blurting his thanks. The stranger was peering up at him in the shadow, his hand on the candle.
“Remember, Carter, what I said,” he admonished slowly. “She’s worth the very best of you an’ you’re goin’ to quit makin’ a fool of yourself.”
“Yes,” promised the Kid fervently. “She’s—worth it,” he echoed and there was a break in the voice that brought a satisfied smile to the stranger’s face that was lost in the darkness. Abruptly he caught the young man’s hand and squeezed it hard. “I forgot to say that there’s a little curly-headed boy waitin’ for his daddy, too. Carter.”
“Great Pelican!” breathed the Kid. He slapped the flank of the horse and with a rattle of gravel the darkness swallowed him. “S’long, old man!” came back brokenly.
The stranger smiled again. He stood there, listening until all sound of the hoof-beats had died away. It did not take long; for the boy was riding faster than he had ever ridden before in all his life.
Continued On page 66
Continued from page 22
'T' HERE was wild excitement in San-*■ derson and untold mystery. The prisoner had escaped in the most unaccountable manner. The Sheriff hastily got together a new posse of députies and they rode away to hunt the trail of Hie fugitive, leaving behind them excited groups in the dusty street.
Jim Fargey sat in front of the saloon, quietly smoking. He wa9 a gambler; he was a wanderer. He dealt faro in the “Blue Light” by night and, when he was not sleeping, smoked quietly by day. And whenever the splits came and the boom burst, as he had seen all the other booms burst, he would drift off with the tide and somewhere else by day smoke quieHy and by night deal faro.