Part 5 out of 5
The boy hesitated. "On the bureau at home," he answered.
"Let's have your name, if you please, buddy."
"Robert Lumsden. The picture belongs to my mother. She puts it under
her pillow of nights. And once I saw her kiss it. I wouldn't. But
women are that way."
Cherokee rose and beckoned to Trinidad.
"Keep this boy by you till I come back," he said. "I'm goin' to shed
these Christmas duds, and hitch up my sleigh. I'm goin' to take this
"Well, infidel," said Trinidad, taking Cherokee's vacant chair, "and
so you are too superannuated and effete to yearn for such mockeries as
candy and toys, it seems."
"I don't like you," said Bobby, with acrimony. "You said there would
be a rifle. A fellow can't even smoke. I wish I was at home."
Cherokee drove his sleigh to the door, and they lifted Bobby in beside
him. The team of fine horses sprang away prancingly over the hard
snow. Cherokee had on his $500 overcoat of baby sealskin. The laprobe
that he drew about them was as warm as velvet.
Bobby slipped a cigarette from his pocket and was trying to snap a
"Throw that cigarette away," said Cherokee, in a quiet but new voice.
Bobby hesitated, and then dropped the cylinder overboard.
"Throw the box, too," commanded the new voice.
More reluctantly the boy obeyed.
"Say," said Bobby, presently, "I like you. I don't know why. Nobody
never made me do anything I didn't want to do before."
"Tell me, kid," said Cherokee, not using his new voice, "are you sure
your mother kissed that picture that looks like me?"
"Dead sure. I seen her do it."
"Didn't you remark somethin' a while ago about wanting a rifle?"
"You bet I did. Will you get me one?"
Cherokee took out his watch.
"Half-past nine. We'll hit the Junction plumb on time with Christmas
Day. Are you cold? Sit closer, son."
A CHAPARRAL PRINCE
Nine o'clock at last, and the drudging toil of the day was ended. Lena
climbed to her room in the third half-story of the Quarrymen's Hotel.
Since daylight she had slaved, doing the work of a full-grown woman,
scrubbing the floors, washing the heavy ironstone plates and cups,
making the beds, and supplying the insatiate demands for wood and
water in that turbulent and depressing hostelry.
The din of the day's quarrying was over--the blasting and drilling,
the creaking of the great cranes, the shouts of the foremen, the
backing and shifting of the flat-cars hauling the heavy blocks of
limestone. Down in the hotel office three or four of the labourers
were growling and swearing over a belated game of checkers. Heavy
odours of stewed meat, hot grease, and cheap coffee hung like a
depressing fog about the house.
Lena lit the stump of a candle and sat limply upon her wooden chair.
She was eleven years old, thin and ill-nourished. Her back and limbs
were sore and aching. But the ache in her heart made the biggest
trouble. The last straw had been added to the burden upon her small
shoulders. They had taken away Grimm. Always at night, however tired
she might be, she had turned to Grimm for comfort and hope. Each time
had Grimm whispered to her that the prince or the fairy would come and
deliver her out of the wicked enchantment. Every night she had taken
fresh courage and strength from Grimm.
To whatever tale she read she found an analogy in her own condition.
The woodcutter's lost child, the unhappy goose girl, the persecuted
stepdaughter, the little maiden imprisoned in the witch's hut--all
these were but transparent disguises for Lena, the overworked
kitchenmaid in the Quarrymen's Hotel. And always when the extremity
was direst came the good fairy or the gallant prince to the rescue.
So, here in the ogre's castle, enslaved by a wicked spell, Lena had
leaned upon Grimm and waited, longing for the powers of goodness to
prevail. But on the day before Mrs. Maloney had found the book in her
room and had carried it away, declaring sharply that it would not do
for servants to read at night; they lost sleep and did not work
briskly the next day. Can one only eleven years old, living away from
one's mamma, and never having any time to play, live entirely deprived
of Grimm? Just try it once and you will see what a difficult thing it
Lena's home was in Texas, away up among the little mountains on the
Pedernales River, in a little town called Fredericksburg. They are all
German people who live in Fredericksburg. Of evenings they sit at
little tables along the sidewalk and drink beer and play pinochle and
scat. They are very thrifty people.
Thriftiest among them was Peter Hildesmuller, Lena's father. And that
is why Lena was sent to work in the hotel at the quarries, thirty
miles away. She earned three dollars every week there, and Peter added
her wages to his well-guarded store. Peter had an ambition to become
as rich as his neighbour, Hugo Heffelbauer, who smoked a meerschaum
pipe three feet long and had wiener schnitzel and hassenpfeffer for
dinner every day in the week. And now Lena was quite old enough to
work and assist in the accumulation of riches. But conjecture, if you
can, what it means to be sentenced at eleven years of age from a home
in the pleasant little Rhine village to hard labour in the ogre's
castle, where you must fly to serve the ogres, while they devour
cattle and sheep, growling fiercely as they stamp white limestone dust
from their great shoes for you to sweep and scour with your weak,
aching fingers. And then--to have Grimm taken away from you!
Lena raised the lid of an old empty case that had once contained
canned corn and got out a sheet of paper and a piece of pencil. She
was going to write a letter to her mamma. Tommy Ryan was going to post
it for her at Ballinger's. Tommy was seventeen, worked in the
quarries, went home to Ballinger's every night, and was now waiting in
the shadows under Lena's window for her to throw the letter out to
him. That was the only way she could send a letter to Fredericksburg.
Mrs. Maloney did not like for her to write letters.
The stump of the candle was burning low, so Lena hastily bit the wood
from around the lead of her pencil and began. This is the letter she
Dearest Mamma:--I want so much to see you. And Gretel and Claus
and Heinrich and little Adolf. I am so tired. I want to see you.
To-day I was slapped by Mrs. Maloney and had no supper. I could
not bring in enough wood, for my hand hurt. She took my book
yesterday. I mean "Grimm's Fairy Tales," which Uncle Leo gave me.
It did not hurt any one for me to read the book. I try to work as
well as I can, but there is so much to do. I read only a little
bit every night. Dear mamma, I shall tell you what I am going to
do. Unless you send for me to-morrow to bring me home I shall go
to a deep place I know in the river and drown. It is wicked to
drown, I suppose, but I wanted to see you, and there is no one
else. I am very tired, and Tommy is waiting for the letter. You
will excuse me, mamma, if I do it.
Your respectful and loving daughter,
Tommy was still waiting faithfully when the letter was concluded, and
when Lena dropped it out she saw him pick it up and start up the steep
hillside. Without undressing she blew out the candle and curled
herself upon the mattress on the floor.
At 10:30 o'clock old man Ballinger came out of his house in his
stocking feet and leaned over the gate, smoking his pipe. He looked
down the big road, white in the moonshine, and rubbed one ankle with
the toe of his other foot. It was time for the Fredericksburg mail to
come pattering up the road.
Old man Ballinger had waited only a few minutes when he heard the
lively hoofbeats of Fritz's team of little black mules, and very soon
afterward his covered spring wagon stood in front of the gate. Fritz's
big spectacles flashed in the moonlight and his tremendous voice
shouted a greeting to the postmaster of Ballinger's. The mail-carrier
jumped out and took the bridles from the mules, for he always fed them
oats at Ballinger's.
While the mules were eating from their feed bags old man Ballinger
brought out the mail sack and threw it into the wagon.
Fritz Bergmann was a man of three sentiments--or to be more accurate--
four, the pair of mules deserving to be reckoned individually. Those
mules were the chief interest and joy of his existence. Next came the
Emperor of Germany and Lena Hildesmuller.
"Tell me," said Fritz, when he was ready to start, "contains the sack
a letter to Frau Hildesmuller from the little Lena at the quarries?
One came in the last mail to say that she is a little sick, already.
Her mamma is very anxious to hear again."
"Yes," said old man Ballinger, "thar's a letter for Mrs.
Helterskelter, or some sich name. Tommy Ryan brung it over when he
come. Her little gal workin' over thar, you say?"
"In the hotel," shouted Fritz, as he gathered up the lines; "eleven
years old and not bigger as a frankfurter. The close-fist of a Peter
Hildesmuller!--some day I shall with a big club pound that man's
dummkopf--all in and out the town. Perhaps in this letter Lena will
say that she is yet feeling better. So, her mamma will be glad. /Auf
wiedersehen/, Herr Ballinger--your feets will take cold out in the
"So long, Fritzy," said old man Ballinger. "You got a nice cool night
for your drive."
Up the road went the little black mules at their steady trot, while
Fritz thundered at them occasional words of endearment and cheer.
These fancies occupied the mind of the mail-carrier until he reached
the big post oak forest, eight miles from Ballinger's. Here his
ruminations were scattered by the sudden flash and report of pistols
and a whooping as if from a whole tribe of Indians. A band of
galloping centaurs closed in around the mail wagon. One of them leaned
over the front wheel, covered the driver with his revolver, and
ordered him to stop. Others caught at the bridles of Donder and
"Donnerwetter!" shouted Fritz, with all his tremendous voice--"wass
ist? Release your hands from dose mules. Ve vas der United States
"Hurry up, Dutch!" drawled a melancholy voice. "Don't you know when
you're in a stick-up? Reverse your mules and climb out of the cart."
It is due to the breadth of Hondo Bill's demerit and the largeness of
his achievements to state that the holding up of the Fredericksburg
mail was not perpetrated by way of an exploit. As the lion while in
the pursuit of prey commensurate to his prowess might set a frivolous
foot upon a casual rabbit in his path, so Hondo Bill and his gang had
swooped sportively upon the pacific transport of Meinherr Fritz.
The real work of their sinister night ride was over. Fritz and his
mail bag and his mules came as gentle relaxation, grateful after the
arduous duties of their profession. Twenty miles to the southeast
stood a train with a killed engine, hysterical passengers and a looted
express and mail car. That represented the serious occupation of Hondo
Bill and his gang. With a fairly rich prize of currency and silver the
robbers were making a wide detour to the west through the less
populous country, intending to seek safety in Mexico by means of some
fordable spot on the Rio Grande. The booty from the train had melted
the desperate bushrangers to jovial and happy skylarkers.
Trembling with outraged dignity and no little personal apprehension,
Fritz climbed out to the road after replacing his suddenly removed
spectacles. The band had dismounted and were singing, capering, and
whooping, thus expressing their satisfied delight in the life of a
jolly outlaw. Rattlesnake Rogers, who stood at the heads of the mules,
jerked a little too vigorously at the rein of the tender-mouthed
Donder, who reared and emitted a loud, protesting snort of pain.
Instantly Fritz, with a scream of anger, flew at the bulky Rogers and
began to assiduously pummel that surprised freebooter with his fists.
"Villain!" shouted Fritz, "dog, bigstiff! Dot mule he has a soreness
by his mouth. I vill knock off your shoulders mit your head--
"Yi-yi!" howled Rattlesnake, roaring with laughter and ducking his
head, "somebody git this here sour-krout off'n me!"
One of the band yanked Fritz back by the coat-tail, and the woods rang
with Rattlesnake's vociferous comments.
"The dog-goned little wienerwurst," he yelled, amiably. "He's not so
much of a skunk, for a Dutchman. Took up for his animile plum quick,
didn't he? I like to see a man like his hoss, even if it is a mule.
The dad-blamed little Limburger he went for me, didn't he! Whoa, now,
muley--I ain't a-goin' to hurt your mouth agin any more."
Perhaps the mail would not have been tampered with had not Ben Moody,
the lieutenant, possessed certain wisdom that seemed to promise more
"Say, Cap," he said, addressing Hondo Bill, "there's likely to be good
pickings in these mail sacks. I've done some hoss tradin' with these
Dutchmen around Fredericksburg, and I know the style of the varmints.
There's big money goes through the mails to that town. Them Dutch risk
a thousand dollars sent wrapped in a piece of paper before they'd pay
the banks to handle the money."
Hondo Bill, six feet two, gentle of voice and impulsive in action, was
dragging the sacks from the rear of the wagon before Moody had
finished his speech. A knife shone in his hand, and they heard the
ripping sound as it bit through the tough canvas. The outlaws crowded
around and began tearing open letters and packages, enlivening their
labours by swearing affably at the writers, who seemed to have
conspired to confute the prediction of Ben Moody. Not a dollar was
found in the Fredericksburg mail.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said Hondo Bill to the mail-
carrier in solemn tones, "to be packing around such a lot of old,
trashy paper as this. What d'you mean by it, anyhow? Where do you
Dutchers keep your money at?"
The Ballinger mail sack opened like a cocoon under Hondo's knife. It
contained but a handful of mail. Fritz had been fuming with terror and
excitement until this sack was reached. He now remembered Lena's
letter. He addressed the leader of the band, asking that that
particular missive be spared.
"Much obliged, Dutch," he said to the disturbed carrier. "I guess
that's the letter we want. Got spondulicks in it, ain't it? Here she
is. Make a light, boys."
Hondo found and tore open the letter to Mrs. Hildesmuller. The others
stood about, lighting twisted up letters one from another. Hondo gazed
with mute disapproval at the single sheet of paper covered with the
angular German script.
"Whatever is this you've humbugged us with, Dutchy? You call this here
a valuable letter? That's a mighty low-down trick to play on your
friends what come along to help you distribute your mail."
"That's Chiny writin'," said Sandy Grundy, peering over Hondo's
"You're off your kazip," declared another of the gang, an effective
youth, covered with silk handkerchiefs and nickel plating. "That's
shorthand. I see 'em do it once in court."
"Ach, no, no, no--dot is German," said Fritz. "It is no more as a
little girl writing a letter to her mamma. One poor little girl, sick
and vorking hard avay from home. Ach! it is a shame. Good Mr.
Robberman, you vill please let me have dot letter?"
"What the devil do you take us for, old Pretzels?" said Hondo with
sudden and surprising severity. "You ain't presumin' to insinuate that
we gents ain't possessed of sufficient politeness for to take an
interest in the miss's health, are you? Now, you go on, and you read
that scratchin' out loud and in plain United States language to this
here company of educated society."
Hondo twirled his six-shooter by its trigger guard and stood towering
above the little German, who at once began to read the letter,
translating the simple words into English. The gang of rovers stood in
absolute silence, listening intently.
"How old is that kid?" asked Hondo when the letter was done.
"Eleven," said Fritz.
"And where is she at?"
"At dose rock quarries--working. Ach, mein Gott--little Lena, she
speak of drowning. I do not know if she vill do it, but if she shall I
schwear I vill dot Peter Hildesmuller shoot mit a gun."
"You Dutchers," said Hondo Bill, his voice swelling with fine
contempt, "make me plenty tired. Hirin' out your kids to work when
they ought to be playin' dolls in the sand. You're a hell of a sect of
people. I reckon we'll fix your clock for a while just to show what we
think of your old cheesy nation. Here, boys!"
Hondo Bill parleyed aside briefly with his band, and then they seized
Fritz and conveyed him off the road to one side. Here they bound him
fast to a tree with a couple of lariats. His team they tied to another
tree near by.
"We ain't going to hurt you bad," said Hondo reassuringly. "'Twon't
hurt you to be tied up for a while. We will now pass you the time of
day, as it is up to us to depart. Ausgespielt--nixcumrous, Dutchy.
Don't get any more impatience."
Fritz heard a great squeaking of saddles as the men mounted their
horses. Then a loud yell and a great clatter of hoofs as they galloped
pell-mell back along the Fredericksburg road.
For more than two hours Fritz sat against his tree, tightly but not
painfully bound. Then from the reaction after his exciting adventure
he sank into slumber. How long he slept he knew not, but he was at
last awakened by a rough shake. Hands were untying his ropes. He was
lifted to his feet, dazed, confused in mind, and weary of body.
Rubbing his eyes, he looked and saw that he was again in the midst of
the same band of terrible bandits. They shoved him up to the seat of
his wagon and placed the lines in his hands.
"Hit it out for home, Dutch," said Hondo Bill's voice commandingly.
"You've given us lots of trouble and we're pleased to see the back of
your neck. Spiel! Zwei bier! Vamoose!"
Hondo reached out and gave Blitzen a smart cut with his quirt.
The little mules sprang ahead, glad to be moving again. Fritz urged
them along, himself dizzy and muddled over his fearful adventure.
According to schedule time, he should have reached Fredericksburg at
daylight. As it was, he drove down the long street of the town at
eleven o'clock A.M. He had to pass Peter Hildesmuller's house on his
way to the post-office. He stopped his team at the gate and called.
But Frau Hildesmuller was watching for him. Out rushed the whole
family of Hildesmullers.
Frau Hildesmuller, fat and flushed, inquired if he had a letter from
Lena, and then Fritz raised his voice and told the tale of his
adventure. He told the contents of that letter that the robber had
made him read, and then Frau Hildesmuller broke into wild weeping. Her
little Lena drown herself! Why had they sent her from home? What could
be done? Perhaps it would be too late by the time they could send for
her now. Peter Hildesmuller dropped his meerschaum on the walk and it
shivered into pieces.
"Woman!" he roared at his wife, "why did you let that child go away?
It is your fault if she comes home to us no more."
Every one knew that it was Peter Hildesmuller's fault, so they paid no
attention to his words.
A moment afterward a strange, faint voice was heard to call: "Mamma!"
Frau Hildesmuller at first thought it was Lena's spirit calling, and
then she rushed to the rear of Fritz's covered wagon, and, with a loud
shriek of joy, caught up Lena herself, covering her pale little face
with kisses and smothering her with hugs. Lena's eyes were heavy with
the deep slumber of exhaustion, but she smiled and lay close to the
one she had longed to see. There among the mail sacks, covered in a
nest of strange blankets and comforters, she had lain asleep until
wakened by the voices around her.
Fritz stared at her with eyes that bulged behind his spectacles.
"Gott in Himmel!" he shouted. "How did you get in that wagon? Am I
going crazy as well as to be murdered and hanged by robbers this day?"
"You brought her to us, Fritz," cried Frau Hildesmuller. "How can we
ever thank you enough?"
"Tell mamma how you came in Fritz's wagon," said Frau Hildesmuller.
"I don't know," said Lena. "But I know how I got away from the hotel.
The Prince brought me."
"By the Emperor's crown!" shouted Fritz, "we are all going crazy."
"I always knew he would come," said Lena, sitting down on her bundle
of bedclothes on the sidewalk. "Last night he came with his armed
knights and captured the ogre's castle. They broke the dishes and
kicked down the doors. They pitched Mr. Maloney into a barrel of rain
water and threw flour all over Mrs. Maloney. The workmen in the hotel
jumped out of the windows and ran into the woods when the knights
began firing their guns. They wakened me up and I peeped down the
stair. And then the Prince came up and wrapped me in the bedclothes
and carried me out. He was so tall and strong and fine. His face was
as rough as a scrubbing brush, and he talked soft and kind and smelled
of schnapps. He took me on his horse before him and we rode away among
the knights. He held me close and I went to sleep that way, and didn't
wake up till I got home."
"Rubbish!" cried Fritz Bergmann. "Fairy tales! How did you come from
the quarries to my wagon?"
"The Prince brought me," said Lena, confidently.
And to this day the good people of Fredericksburg haven't been able to
make her give any other explanation.
THE REFORMATION OF CALLIOPE
Calliope Catesby was in his humours again. Ennui was upon him. This
goodly promontory, the earth--particularly that portion of it known as
Quicksand--was to him no more than a pestilent congregation of
vapours. Overtaken by the megrims, the philosopher may seek relief in
soliloquy; my lady find solace in tears; the flaccid Easterner scold
at the millinery bills of his women folk. Such recourse was
insufficient to the denizens of Quicksand. Calliope, especially, was
wont to express his ennui according to his lights.
Over night Calliope had hung out signals of approaching low spirits.
He had kicked his own dog on the porch of the Occidental Hotel, and
refused to apologise. He had become capricious and fault-finding in
conversation. While strolling about he reached often for twigs of
mesquite and chewed the leaves fiercely. That was always an ominous
act. Another symptom alarming to those who were familiar with the
different stages of his doldrums was his increasing politeness and a
tendency to use formal phrases. A husky softness succeeded the usual
penetrating drawl in his tones. A dangerous courtesy marked his
manners. Later, his smile became crooked, the left side of his mouth
slanting upward, and Quicksand got ready to stand from under.
At this stage Calliope generally began to drink. Finally, about
midnight, he was seen going homeward, saluting those whom he met with
exaggerated but inoffensive courtesy. Not yet was Calliope's
melancholy at the danger point. He would seat himself at the window of
the room he occupied over Silvester's tonsorial parlours and there
chant lugubrious and tuneless ballads until morning, accompanying the
noises by appropriate maltreatment of a jangling guitar. More
magnanimous than Nero, he would thus give musical warning of the
forthcoming municipal upheaval that Quicksand was scheduled to endure.
A quiet, amiable man was Calliope Catesby at other times--quiet to
indolence, and amiable to worthlessness. At best he was a loafer and a
nuisance; at worst he was the Terror of Quicksand. His ostensible
occupation was something subordinate in the real estate line; he drove
the beguiled Easterner in buckboards out to look over lots and ranch
property. Originally he came from one of the Gulf States, his lank six
feet, slurring rhythm of speech, and sectional idioms giving evidence
of his birthplace.
And yet, after taking on Western adjustments, this languid pine-box
whittler, cracker barrel hugger, shady corner lounger of the cotton
fields and sumac hills of the South became famed as a bad man among
men who had made a life-long study of the art of truculence.
At nine the next morning Calliope was fit. Inspired by his own
barbarous melodies and the contents of his jug, he was ready primed to
gather fresh laurels from the diffident brow of Quicksand. Encircled
and criss-crossed with cartridge belts, abundantly garnished with
revolvers, and copiously drunk, he poured forth into Quicksand's main
street. Too chivalrous to surprise and capture a town by silent
sortie, he paused at the nearest corner and emitted his slogan--that
fearful, brassy yell, so reminiscent of the steam piano, that had
gained for him the classic appellation that had superseded his own
baptismal name. Following close upon his vociferation came three shots
from his forty-five by way of limbering up the guns and testing his
aim. A yellow dog, the personal property of Colonel Swazey, the
proprietor of the Occidental, fell feet upward in the dust with one
farewell yelp. A Mexican who was crossing the street from the Blue
Front grocery carrying in his hand a bottle of kerosene, was
stimulated to a sudden and admirable burst of speed, still grasping
the neck of the shattered bottle. The new gilt weather-cock on Judge
Riley's lemon and ultramarine two-story residence shivered, flapped,
and hung by a splinter, the sport of the wanton breezes.
The artillery was in trim. Calliope's hand was steady. The high, calm
ecstasy of habitual battle was upon him, though slightly embittered by
the sadness of Alexander in that his conquests were limited to the
small world of Quicksand.
Down the street went Calliope, shooting right and left. Glass fell
like hail; dogs vamosed; chickens flew, squawking; feminine voices
shrieked concernedly to youngsters at large. The din was perforated at
intervals by the /staccato/ of the Terror's guns, and was drowned
periodically by the brazen screech that Quicksand knew so well. The
occasions of Calliope's low spirits were legal holidays in Quicksand.
All along the main street in advance of his coming clerks were putting
up shutters and closing doors. Business would languish for a space.
The right of way was Calliope's, and as he advanced, observing the
dearth of opposition and the few opportunities for distraction, his
ennui perceptibly increased.
But some four squares farther down lively preparations were being made
to minister to Mr. Catesby's love for interchange of compliments and
repartee. On the previous night numerous messengers had hastened to
advise Buck Patterson, the city marshal, of Calliope's impending
eruption. The patience of that official, often strained in extending
leniency toward the disturber's misdeeds, had been overtaxed. In
Quicksand some indulgence was accorded the natural ebullition of human
nature. Providing that the lives of the more useful citizens were not
recklessly squandered, or too much property needlessly laid waste, the
community sentiment was against a too strict enforcement of the law.
But Calliope had raised the limit. His outbursts had been too frequent
and too violent to come within the classification of a normal and
sanitary relaxation of spirit.
Buck Patterson had been expecting and awaiting in his little ten-by-
twelve frame office that preliminary yell announcing that Calliope was
feeling blue. When the signal came the city marshal rose to his feet
and buckled on his guns. Two deputy sheriffs and three citizens who
had proven the edible qualities of fire also stood up, ready to bandy
with Calliope's leaden jocularities.
"Gather that fellow in," said Buck Patterson, setting forth the lines
of the campaign. "Don't have no talk, but shoot as soon as you can get
a show. Keep behind cover and bring him down. He's a nogood 'un. It's
up to Calliope to turn up his toes this time, I reckon. Go to him all
spraddled out, boys. And don't git too reckless, for what Calliope
shoots at he hits."
Buck Patterson, tall, muscular, and solemn-faced, with his bright
"City Marshal" badge shining on the breast of his blue flannel shirt,
gave his posse directions for the onslaught upon Calliope. The plan
was to accomplish the downfall of the Quicksand Terror without loss to
the attacking party, if possible.
The splenetic Calliope, unconscious of retributive plots, was steaming
down the channel, cannonading on either side, when he suddenly became
aware of breakers ahead. The city marshal and one of the deputies rose
up behind some dry-goods boxes half a square to the front and opened
fire. At the same time the rest of the posse, divided, shelled him
from two side streets up which they were cautiously manoeuvring from a
The first volley broke the lock of one of Calliope's guns, cut a neat
underbit in his right ear, and exploded a cartridge in his crossbelt,
scorching his ribs as it burst. Feeling braced up by this unexpected
tonic to his spiritual depression, Calliope executed a fortissimo note
from his upper register, and returned the fire like an echo. The
upholders of the law dodged at his flash, but a trifle too late to
save one of the deputies a bullet just above the elbow, and the
marshal a bleeding cheek from a splinter that a ball tore from the box
he had ducked behind.
And now Calliope met the enemy's tactics in kind. Choosing with a
rapid eye the street from which the weakest and least accurate fire
had come, he invaded it at a double-quick, abandoning the unprotected
middle of the street. With rare cunning the opposing force in that
direction--one of the deputies and two of the valorous volunteers--
waited, concealed by beer barrels, until Calliope had passed their
retreat, and then peppered him from the rear. In another moment they
were reinforced by the marshal and his other men, and then Calliope
felt that in order to successfully prolong the delights of the
controversy he must find some means of reducing the great odds against
him. His eye fell upon a structure that seemed to hold out this
promise, providing he could reach it.
Not far away was the little railroad station, its building a strong
box house, ten by twenty feet, resting upon a platform four feet above
ground. Windows were in each of its walls. Something like a fort it
might become to a man thus sorely pressed by superior numbers.
Calliope made a bold and rapid spurt for it, the marshal's crowd
"smoking" him as he ran. He reached the haven in safety, the station
agent leaving the building by a window, like a flying squirrel, as the
garrison entered the door.
Patterson and his supporters halted under protection of a pile of
lumber and held consultations. In the station was an unterrified
desperado who was an excellent shot and carried an abundance of
ammunition. For thirty yards on either side of the besieged was a
stretch of bare, open ground. It was a sure thing that the man who
attempted to enter that unprotected area would be stopped by one of
The city marshal was resolved. He had decided that Calliope Catesby
should no more wake the echoes of Quicksand with his strident whoop.
He had so announced. Officially and personally he felt imperatively
bound to put the soft pedal on that instrument of discord. It played
Standing near was a hand truck used in the manipulation of small
freight. It stood by a shed full of sacked wool, a consignment from
one of the sheep ranches. On this truck the marshal and his men piled
three heavy sacks of wool. Stooping low, Buck Patterson started for
Calliope's fort, slowly pushing this loaded truck before him for
protection. The posse, scattering broadly, stood ready to nip the
besieged in case he should show himself in an effort to repel the
juggernaut of justice that was creeping upon him. Only once did
Calliope make demonstration. He fired from a window, and some tufts of
wool spurted from the marshal's trustworthy bulwark. The return shots
from the posse pattered against the window frame of the fort. No loss
resulted on either side.
The marshal was too deeply engrossed in steering his protected
battleship to be aware of the approach of the morning train until he
was within a few feet of the platform. The train was coming up on the
other side of it. It stopped only one minute at Quicksand. What an
opportunity it would offer to Calliope! He had only to step out the
other door, mount the train, and away.
Abandoning his breastwork, Buck, with his gun ready, dashed up the
steps and into the room, driving upon the closed door with one heave
of his weighty shoulder. The members of the posse heard one shot fired
inside, and then there was silence.
At length the wounded man opened his eyes. After a blank space he
again could see and hear and feel and think. Turning his eyes about,
he found himself lying on a wooden bench. A tall man with a perplexed
countenance, wearing a big badge with "City Marshal" engraved upon it,
stood over him. A little old woman in black, with a wrinkled face and
sparkling black eyes, was holding a wet handkerchief against one of
his temples. He was trying to get these facts fixed in his mind and
connected with past events, when the old woman began to talk.
"There now, great, big, strong man! That bullet never tetched ye! Jest
skeeted along the side of your head and sort of paralysed ye for a
spell. I've heerd of sech things afore; cun-cussion is what they names
it. Abel Wadkins used to kill squirrels that way--barkin' 'em, Abe
called it. You jest been barked, sir, and you'll be all right in a
little bit. Feel lots better already, don't ye! You just lay still a
while longer and let me bathe your head. You don't know me, I reckon,
and 'tain't surprisin' that you shouldn't. I come in on that train
from Alabama to see my son. Big son, ain't he? Lands! you wouldn't
hardly think he'd ever been a baby, would ye? This is my son, sir."
Half turning, the old woman looked up at the standing man, her worn
face lighting with a proud and wonderful smile. She reached out one
veined and calloused hand and took one of her son's. Then smiling
cheerily down at the prostrate man, she continued to dip the
handkerchief, in the waiting-room tin washbasin and gently apply it to
his temple. She had the benevolent garrulity of old age.
"I ain't seen my son before," she continued, "in eight years. One of
my nephews, Elkanah Price, he's a conductor on one of them railroads
and he got me a pass to come out here. I can stay a whole week on it,
and then it'll take me back again. Jest think, now, that little boy of
mine has got to be a officer--a city marshal of a whole town! That's
somethin' like a constable, ain't it? I never knowed he was a officer;
he didn't say nothin' about it in his letters. I reckon he thought his
old mother'd be skeered about the danger he was in. But, laws! I never
was much of a hand to git skeered. 'Tain't no use. I heard them guns
a-shootin' while I was gettin' off them cars, and I see smoke a-comin'
out of the depot, but I jest walked right along. Then I see son's face
lookin' out through the window. I knowed him at oncet. He met me at
the door, and squeezes me 'most to death. And there you was, sir,
a-lyin' there jest like you was dead, and I 'lowed we'd see what might
be done to help sot you up."
"I think I'll sit up now," said the concussion patient. "I'm feeling
pretty fair by this time."
He sat, somewhat weakly yet, leaning against the wall. He was a rugged
man, big-boned and straight. His eyes, steady and keen, seemed to
linger upon the face of the man standing so still above him. His look
wandered often from the face he studied to the marshal's badge upon
the other's breast.
"Yes, yes, you'll be all right," said the old woman, patting his arm,
"if you don't get to cuttin' up agin, and havin' folks shooting at
you. Son told me about you, sir, while you was layin' senseless on the
floor. Don't you take it as meddlesome fer an old woman with a son as
big as you to talk about it. And you mustn't hold no grudge ag'in' my
son for havin' to shoot at ye. A officer has got to take up for the
law--it's his duty--and them that acts bad and lives wrong has to
suffer. Don't blame my son any, sir--'tain't his fault. He's always
been a good boy--good when he was growin' up, and kind and 'bedient
and well-behaved. Won't you let me advise you, sir, not to do so no
more? Be a good man, and leave liquor alone and live peaceably and
goodly. Keep away from bad company and work honest and sleep sweet."
The black-mitted hand of the old pleader gently touched the breast of
the man she addressed. Very earnest and candid her old, worn face
looked. In her rusty black dress and antique bonnet she sat, near the
close of a long life, and epitomised the experience of the world.
Still the man to whom she spoke gazed above her head, contemplating
the silent son of the old mother.
"What does the marshal say?" he asked. "Does he believe the advice is
good? Suppose the marshal speaks up and says if the talk's all right?"
The tall man moved uneasily. He fingered the badge on his breast for a
moment, and then he put an arm around the old woman and drew her close
to him. She smiled the unchanging mother smile of three-score years,
and patted his big brown hand with her crooked, mittened fingers while
her son spake.
"I says this," he said, looking squarely into the eyes of the other
man, "that if I was in your place I'd follow it. If I was a drunken,
desp'rate character, without shame or hope, I'd follow it. If I was in
your place and you was in mine I'd say: 'Marshal, I'm willin' to swear
if you'll give me the chance I'll quit the racket. I'll drop the
tanglefoot and the gun play, and won't play hoss no more. I'll be a
good citizen and go to work and quit my foolishness. So help me God!'
That's what I'd say to you if you was marshal and I was in your
"Hear my son talkin'," said the old woman softly. "Hear him, sir. You
promise to be good and he won't do you no harm. Forty-one year ago his
heart first beat ag'in' mine, and it's beat true ever since."
The other man rose to his feet, trying his limbs and stretching his
"Then," said he, "if you was in my place and said that, and I was
marshal, I'd say: 'Go free, and do your best to keep your promise.'"
"Lawsy!" exclaimed the old woman, in a sudden flutter, "ef I didn't
clear forget that trunk of mine! I see a man settin' it on the
platform jest as I seen son's face in the window, and it went plum out
of my head. There's eight jars of home-made quince jam in that trunk
that I made myself. I wouldn't have nothin' happen to them jars for a
Away to the door she trotted, spry and anxious, and then Calliope
Catesby spoke out to Buck Patterson:
"I just couldn't help it, Buck. I seen her through the window a-comin'
in. She never had heard a word 'bout my tough ways. I didn't have the
nerve to let her know I was a worthless cuss bein' hunted down by the
community. There you was lyin' where my shot laid you, like you was
dead. The idea struck me sudden, and I just took your badge off and
fastened it onto myself, and I fastened my reputation onto you. I told
her I was the marshal and you was a holy terror. You can take your
badge back now, Buck."
With shaking fingers Calliope began to unfasten the disc of metal from
"Easy there!" said Buck Patterson. "You keep that badge right where it
is, Calliope Catesby. Don't you dare to take it off till the day your
mother leaves this town. You'll be city marshal of Quicksand as long
as she's here to know it. After I stir around town a bit and put 'em
on I'll guarantee that nobody won't give the thing away to her. And
say, you leather-headed, rip-roarin', low-down son of a locoed
cyclone, you follow that advice she give me! I'm goin' to take some of
it myself, too."
"Buck," said Calliope feelingly, "ef I don't I hope I may--"
"Shut up," said Buck. "She's a-comin' back."