Dough or Dynamite
ME AND "Muley" Bowles and "Chuck" Warner are putting a saddle on a colt in the Cross J corral, when "Telescope" Tolliver enters the precincts of said ranch, and we gets our first glimpse of Archibald Ames.
Archibald occupies a seat on the buckboard with Telescope, and they soon comes over and climbs on top of the corral fence. Archibald's name fits him—in a way. The length of his first name indicates his girth and his last name his height. He's one of them persons who you'd never invite to set down, 'cause he don't seem to require no such posture.
It takes him quite a long time to negotiate the top-pole of the corral, and when he does get up there he has to balance—his feet won't reach the next pole. He's wearing them dinky little pants, with the seat of a shoplifter and the knees of Lord Fauntleroy. His calves perspire in shiny leggings, and for a hat he wears a libel on the name of Stetson.
Muley gives him a passing glance, yanks up another notch on the cinch, and grunts—
"What'll we do with it?"
"Love it to death or render it out," grunts Chuck. "Looks to me like one of them playthings for kids that yuh can't tip over and make it stay down. Let's give this colt a chance to breathe, while we peers a little closer at this attraction."
We ambles over and looks up at the critter's soles.
"Mister Ames," orates Telescope, "I'm obliged to make yuh used to Muley Bowles. He's the sylph-like critter in woolly chaps. That one with the sad, horse-faced features is Chuck Warner, the anti-George Washington of Yaller Rock County, and the other person down there is Henry Peck. They're all harmless.
"Bunch, this is Mister Archibald Ames, who is to be with us for a spell."
"I'm pleased to meet yuh," smiles Archie.
"You ought to be," agrees Muley. "It ain't often that we shows this much interest in a stranger. What seems to bring yuh hither?"
"I brung him," states Telescope. "Mister Ames is looking for local color. Sabe?"
"What's he done, and is he wanted by Federal, State or county?" asks Chuck, serious-like, wiggling his ears.
Chuck can wiggle his ears just like a mule.
"Done what?" grunts Telescope. "Chuck, you boob, don't yuh know what local color is?"
"I'll bite," grins Chuck. "Go ahead and spring it, Telescope."
Telescope clears his throat, rolls a cigaret and glares at Chuck, who glares right back, and wiggles his ears.
"Look at them ears!" applauds Archibald. "I'd love to get a close-up of them."
"Mister," reproves Chuck, "it ain't seemly that a stranger should set on top of a corral and make remarks about the physical failings of a native son. Keep on at the pace you've started, and that spell that Telescope spoke about can be spelled in four letters: g-o-n-e. Sabe?"
"You got a lot to say about it, now ain't yuh?" reproves Telescope. "You ain't nothing around here but a forty-dollar puncher. You got a lot of chance to tell visitors where to head in. Come on, Mister Ames, and we'll go up and see the man what owns this ranch, and ain't no more sense than to pay forty dollars to a runt like that."
They climbs down and goes up to the ranch-house.
"Haw! Haw! Haw!" whoops Muley, shaking every ounce of his two hundred and forty pounds of bone and lard. "Haw! Haw! 'Come on, Mister Ames, and we go up to see the man'—haw, haw, haw! You will tell folks where to head in at, will yuh?"
Muley is a poet. There might 'a' been as good rhymers as him once upon a time, but they're all dead and departed. Muley is the he-buzzard of the flock right now. He hangs on to the side of the corral and wipes the tears out of his eyes.
"Gosh!" he snorts. "Telescope sure showed his breeding, Chuck. Yuh could tell he's been well raised. Sticks his chin up in the air, like a grouse with a goiter, and proclaims: 'Come on with me, Mister Ames.' Haw! Haw! Haw!"
"Some day I'm going to reach up and hang my fist on his jaw," proclaims Chuck.
"You better catch him in bed or carry a ladder with yuh," says I. "You got ambition, Chuck, but your height ain't noways adequate."
A little later old man Whittaker, who owns the Cross J outfit, comes out with Archibald, and them two goes back to town in the buckboard. Telescope comes down to the bunk-house and sets down in our midst.
Chuck gives him a mean look, and goes on playing solitaire. Telescope admires himself in our cracked shaving-mirror.
"Better fix your features in your mind, Telescope, 'cause you're sure going to need a pattern after Chuck gets through with yuh," laughs Muley.
"That banty little ear-wiggler!" snorts Telescope. "I got a feeling that I ain't going to punch cows much longer."
"Dead men punch no cows," states Chuck. "Your perceptions are getting clearer."
"Where do yuh feel bad, Telescope?" I asks. "Tell papa where it hurts."
"Aw——!" Telescope turns from the mirror and glares at us. "I'm glad I'm going to get away from you half-wits."
"Has the old man been kicking on yuh wasting so much time over at the Bowers ranch, holding hands with Miss Amy, or has that tumble-bug yuh had down to the corral been whispering sweet nothings in your ear?" asks Chuck.
₪ YOU leave Miss Bowers' name out of it!" snaps Telescope. "Mister Ames is a moving-picture man, and I may cease punching the festive cow to play hero parts for him. Me and him have had quite some conversation regarding same, and he assures me that I've got the physique and features for a lead."
"You got the physique and features for a funeral if yuh don't quit wearing my red tie," says I. "That's right—throw it on the floor. If yuh wants to make a hit with folks, why don't yuh buy some clothes of your own?"
"Tell us all about it, little one," begs Muley, resting his fat chin on his hands, and squinting at Telescope.
Sing us a song of a locoed man,
Who got stuck on your face and shape—
A form that was built by accident,
And the face of a jungle ape.
Sing us a song of a keeper bold,
Who went sound asleep one day,
A keeper who's going to show up soon,
And lead little Archie away."
"I'll tell yuh nothing!" yelps Telescope. "You fellers are just plumb ignorant."
"Ain't it true?" nods Chuck. "I'd take a job, too, if I was begged."
"You!" snorts Telescope. "Haw, haw, haw! Mister Ames told me that if he wanted something for the public to laugh at he'd sure hire you. No, Chuckie. This is a moving picture—not a sideshow."
"Here's the idea," continues Telescope. "Mister Ames wants something real. He wants real punchers and——"
"Ninety-eight cents in Chicago," nods Chuck. "I seen in a mail-order catalog where yuh could get good ones for——"
"He wants a real hold-up," states Telescope. "He wants a stage held up, and he don't want no fake. Sabe? Somehow he's got the idea that I could do it artistic-like."
"Your experience will help yuh out," nods Chuck. "There was a hold-up over in Mexican Cañon once, and the feller——"
"Sufficient, Chuck!" snorts Muley, and Chuck winks at me.
"Well, of course it wasn't done by one man," murmurs Chuck. "One of the posse shot the horns off a animile and made a muley. Correct me if I appear to be wrong."
"You stand corrected," states Muley. "Desist from historical romance, or I'll remember one Summer afternoon down in Cottonwood, when a certain man went into a bank, and——"
"I accepts the correction," admits Chuck, playing a red queen on a red king, and Telescope continues:
"You fellers keep this under your hats. Sabe? Along about Wednesday afternoon I'm going to hold up the stage from Piperock. Of course after it's over I'll return everything, and all the while this picture will be taken. He wants to advertise it as a real hold-up, and she will be all that."
"Going south, as she drags out of Hell Gate Crossing," orates Chuck.
"That's the designated place," grins Telescope. "You must 'a' been studying the situation, Chuck."
"Suppose somebody takes a shot at yuh?" I suggests. "Art Miller ain't no suckling infant, and if there's a shipment from the Golden Cross aboard there might be a guard."
"Yuh never can tell about them shipments," agrees Chuck. "I've tried several times to find out."
"No wonder yuh know a good place," laughs Telescope. "Never mind, there ain't going to be no shooting. I'll have 'em buffaloed. My shells will all be blanks. If I makes good in this I cinches a job with Archibald Ames, and it's good-by to the Cross J. No more will Mister Tolliver ride the hills and smell of burnt hair and corrals. Poor, eh? I'll be eating breakfast in bed while Chuck Warner is out chopping holes in the ice so the doggies can drink."
"A little more such talk and yuh won't have to be a actor to get breakfast in bed," states Chuck. "Keep it up, and you'll have all your meals in bed. If you wants to hear me say what I think about you being a actor you got to come outside. I got too much respect for the bunk-house to express myself here."
This day being Monday, we has to put up with that kind of conversation until Tuesday afternoon, when Chuck opines that he's going up to Piperock. Chuck can't stand prosperity, and Tuesday is payday. He's a roulette fiend, and he runs into bad luck every time he bucks a wheel in Paradise, so he wearies his bronc with monthly trips to Piperock. Once he won eight dollars up there. It cost him forty but he never figured that side of the ledger.
Anyway we wishes him many happy returns of the day, and he lopes away. As he forks his bronc he grins at Telescope, and says:
"To be a good actor, yuh got to imagine you're the party you're imitating. Just think you're 'Slippery' Silverton, Telescope. He's a good pattern to go by. Sabe?"
Slippery sure ain't no imitation. He's had the Montana officers buffaloed for so long that they think he's more than one man. The accumulated rewards for him look like the weekly clean-up at the U. S. mint.
Me and Muley wishes to see the proceedings, so we rides down to Paradise the next day with Telescope, and has converse with Archibald Ames. He squints at the sky and shakes his head.
"I doubt it," says he. "Too cloudy. Yuh can't get snappy stuff in atmosphere like this, and there can't be no retake. We'll let her go until tomorrow. I may set up after a while and get some character stuff. Lots of local color around here. Good characters, and the background is great. Know what I mean?"
"Perfectly," says I. "Sheep-herders and so forth."
Telescope opines that old man Bowers' ranch is calling him, so a little later on he rides away. Me and Muley horns into a poker game, and about an hour later Archibald Ames invades the place and leans against the bar. Mike Pelly leaves the table to serve him, but Archie ain't dry. He asks a question—
"Can you tell me where I can get some raw beef?"
He turns to us, and we sees the most wonderful black eye yuh ever seen.
"Holy henhawks!" I snorts. "What yuh been doing?"
"I'll tell yuh," snorts "Doughgod" Smith, from the doorway. "He's been exhibiting his danged ignorance. He opines to get a picture of a shepherd and he picked me!"
"Doughgod ain't no shepherd," I explains to Archie.
"This is a —— of a time to tell me," wails Archie, and he goes across the street to a restaurant.
The next we sees of him he's taking a picture of a rackful of broncs and then he goes over and photygrafts a greaser kid and a dog.
₪ ME AND Muley donates as much as we can to Mike's game, and then quits. We wanders down to Art Miller's barn, and sets down in the sun. We haven't been there long, when we sees the stage drive up to the depot. They dumps some stuff off, and then drives down to the barn. Beside Art is old man Warner's son Chuck, and when he sees us he grins all over his homely face. Art sees us, and they both whoops.
"Awful funny," says Muley. "Haw, haw!"
"Any time yuh don't think it was yuh got another think coming," whoops Chuck, hanging on to a front wheel. "Haw! Haw! Haw! Left the danged fool up a—haw, haw, haw—tree!"
Art leans against one of his wheelers, and the tears runs out of his eyes.
"Some—haw, haw, haw—picture!" gargles Art. "I ain't laughed so much in my whole life!"
Him and Chuck looks at each other, and busts out laughing again.
"What seems to be tickling yuh?" asks Muley. "Is it a secret?"
"Oh, glory!" gasps Chuck. "Listen, you fellers. That's going to be some picture. Telescope held up that stage, but nobody will ever see that picture. Haw! Haw! Haw! We drives out of the crossing, and he stops us, just like a regular bandit. Of course we know he's got blanks in his gun, but we elevates our hands to make the play good. He's got a sack over his head, so yuh can't see his face, and I got a false mustache on so he won't know me. I made it myself.
"Well, we kicks the express box off, and sudden-like goes for our guns. He must 'a' been dreaming to let us get the drop thataway. We makes him throw his gun in the river. Haw! Haw! Haw!
"Then we makes him put the box back on the stage," whoops Art. "After he gets that done we makes him walk down to the river, and get a big rock. Then we marches him back and makes him put it on the empty boot. He made ten trips after boulders. Then we makes him dance a while, crawl all the way around the outfit on his hands and knees, and to finish up we made him climb up an old cottonwood snag, and he's there when we drives out of sight, with our thumbs at our noses at him. Haw! Haw!"
"Wait 'till I see Telescope," promises Chuck, weak-like.
"Haw!" says Muley. "He'd admire to hear it, Chuck. He was here until a while ago, and went over to Bowers'."
"Here? Telescope?" squeaks Chuck.
"Uh-huh," says I. "It was too cloudy, so we postponed taking that picture."
Art and Chuck looks foolish-like at each other and then at us.
"Well!" says Chuck "I don't sabe this."
"That's the trouble with you, Chuck," opines Muley. "Art don't have much sabe either. I reckon you fellers had about ten thousand easy dollars crawling around your stage on its hands and knees, and just to show your contempt for it yuh rode away with your thumbs at your nose and your fingers wiggling at it."
"Sus-slippery Silverton!" stutters Chuck. "That sure was Slippery! Ain't we the dangdest fools on earth!"
"By a majority of two," agrees Muley. "Telescope will be delighted."
"My——!" gasps Art. "Slippery Silverton! I think that box had a shipment from the Golden Cross. What a chance I took!"
"All the way from Piperock," says I, but I don't think Chuck got it—he was beyond words.
Me and Muley went up and had a drink, and Muley laughs so hard that he forgot to pay for it. We meets Art a little later on but there ain't much fun joshing him about it.
"It's on Chuck," says he. "He explains the joke to me, and as she's pulled off as per schedule I thinks it's all right."
"But it spoils things for Telescope," says I. "You knowing about it spoils the holdup. It might look like a fake. Sabe?"
"That's right," agrees Art. "Telescope is a friend of mine and—I got it! I'll make out that I don't feel good, and I'll ask 'Ricky' Henderson to drive for me. He wants to come down anyway."
"That's fine," says Muley. "Telescope will make it right with you, and we won't tell him about today."
That night we don't have neither Telescope or Chuck with us. Telescope is just riding away as we come in, and we don't have a chance to talk with him, and Chuck don't come home, 'cause he's too danged ashamed to face Telescope.
The next morning the old man sends me and Muley over to the Triangle to get some cows that Johnny Myers brought out of the Sleeping Crick Hills with some of his, and we misses the picture-taking. We travels as fast as we can, but the stage has gone past when we hits the main road on our way back. There ain't nobody at the Hell Gate crossing, so we pilgrims on to the ranch.
About an hour later Telescope comes in, and a little later Chuck drifts home.
"There seems to be a Jonah on this job," states Telescope.
"What yuh limping about, Telescope?" asks Chuck.
"Hurt my knee. Reckon it's a good thing the stage didn't come down today, 'cause I'd 'a' been a cripple in that picture. Slipped on a rock."
"Stage didn't come down?" I asks, and Telescope shakes his head.
"Nope. Me and Mister Ames was there for two hours after the time, but she don't show up."
"Didn't come down?" wonders Chuck, aloud. "Didn't go to Paradise?"
"She sure didn't. Hadn't been there when I left."
Chuck looks foolish-like, and gets busy reading an old magazine. I notices that he's got it upside down, but his lips are moving, so I reckon it don't matter. He's restless, and don't sleep well that night.
The next morning, right after breakfast, up rides Bill McFee, our unworthy sheriff; Ricky Henderson, Art Miller and Al McGuire, who manages the ground work of the Golden Cross. Telescope limps over to greet them, and they seems a heap interested in Telescope's walk.
"What do yuh think, Ricky?" asks McFee.
"I'd hate to swear to it, Bill, but he limped."
"I arrests yuh in the name of the law for robbing the Piperock stage yesterday, Telescope," states Bill.
Telescope looks foolish-like at Bill, and then laughs.
"Yesterday, Bill? Why, it never——"
"The description covers yuh," states Bill. "I got your pardner, who calls himself Archibald Ames, in jail. He's already admitted the intent to rob it, but says if you robbed it he don't know nothing about it. Said he was late meeting yuh, so he don't know what yuh might 'a' done."
"Whoever done it got seven thousand in that box," states McGuire.
"Seven thousand!" wonders Telescope. "I thought the clean-up was brought down yesterday."
"Some folks did," grins McGuire. "We figured to double-cross some wise folks."
I hears a deep breath, and Chuck sets down hard on the step. Old man Whittaker comes out, and they has to chaw the whole thing over again.
"Well," says the old man, "I don't think that Telescope done it, but under the circumstances I reckon he'll have to go to jail."
"At least yuh can have breakfast in bed," consoles Muley, and then he recites:
"A man in jail don't have no cares;
The flight of time don't bother him,
There ain't no place for him to go,
The passing hours lightly skim.
The judge may say, 'A year or two,
In places where they don't need clocks,'
But you should care—when you get loose,
You've seven thousand in that box."
"Muley, when I get loose I'm going to cut your rhymer square in two," proclaims Telescope, and just then the old man leads Telescope's bronc up, and he rides away with the posse.
₪ WE'RE sad. Doggone, it sure is Kjajj a sad sight to see our compatriot in the hands of the law. We smokes a while, and then I turns to Chuck—
"Where is that seven thousand, Chuck?"
He looks, queer-like, at me for a moment, and shakes his head.
"Danged if I know, Hen."
"You had it, didn't yuh?"
"Nope. Listen; I held up that stage before it got to the ford. Sabe? I was going to chase Ricky away and drive it myself. Figured I'd have some fun with Telescope. Sabe? Well, I scared —— out of Ricky. He ain't got no nerves anyway, and——"
"Wait!" yelps Muley. "Do you mean to set there and tell us that you scared Ricky so bad that he didn't know your physique from Telescope's? How about the limp?"
"Don't rush me!" snaps Chuck. "Telescope was so cocky about that picture stuff that I figured to have some fun. Did yuh ever walk on stilts? Well, I did when I was a kid. I made me a pair that just filled my boots, and pulled a flour sack over my head. Limp?
"Of course I'd limp. I danged near fell on my face when I yelled for him to stop. I made him get out and walk back up the road, and told him if he stopped I'd perforate him. I took the box off the seat, which I figured was that shipment, and looks her over. On it in big letters she proclaims to be dynamite. I lays that box back on the seat, gets my stilt tangled in a wheel, and fell plumb off the grade.
"Well, the team ran away, that's all I know. I figured that Ricky would stop 'em—they wasn't running fast."
"What kind of a looking box?" asks Muley.
"Wooden box with two ends and four sides. Regular dynamite box."
"Well described," applauds Muley. "All we got to find is a wooden box, with two ends and four sides."
Art Miller comes back in about an hour for some things of Telescope's, and we talks it over with him.
"Must 'a' been Telescope or the party what held her up that other time," says he. "The feller that me and Chuck fussed around with didn't have no limp."
"Maybe the exercise that you and Chuck gave him made him stiff and sore," I suggests, and Art grins. "Maybe. Funny thing about that hold-up. After that feller helps himself he must 'a' scared that team, 'cause they runs away and scatters things all the way up to 'Mighty' Jones' place, where they smashes a front wheel on a stump and stops.
"Ricky says there was a box of dynamite from the Golden Cross, the same of which he holds careful in the seat. He said that he was meek when held up, 'cause he was afraid that feller might shoot into that box. That box is a goner, and it's a wonder it didn't blow that outfit to thunder—unless that's the treasure-box."
Art pilgrims back towards town, and we all starts for the corral.
"Where yuh going?" asks Muley.
"After some dynamite dough," says all three of us together.
We rides up and down that road from the ford to Mighty's place, but we don't find nothing. We stops at the old Soda Springs trail, which shows fresh tracks. By mutual consent we turns up the trail. About half a mile up the crick we discovers a camp.
We recognizes old "Frenchy" Timmons as the party humped over the fire, tossing flapjacks, so we rides up and greets him. He's got a couple of moth-eaten burros nosing around his little tent. Frenchy is so crooked that he's suspicious of himself. He's one of them kind of prospectors what goes around with the feeling that every man what speaks kindly to him is laying to beat him out of the next strike he makes. He looks up through a decade of whiskers and grunts a greeting.
"How's your stock of location notices holding out, Frenchy?" asks Muley. "For a man with only two burros you can make more 'discoveries' than any sourdough I ever seen."
"Yah-h-h-h!" gurgles Frenchy, way back in the whiskers. "I find heem sometame, Mooley."
"You dang well know yuh—yuh sure have, Frenchy. Look!"
Muley points behind Frenchy, and there one end sticking out of the brush, is a wooden box, and the word "DYNAMITE" fairly yelps at us in big letters.
Frenchy turns to see what we're looking at, and the son-of-a-gun reaches for his six-shooter. He was years too late. Me and Chuck have him covered before he can touch his gun, and he stands there like a lamb, while Muley balances that box in front of him on the saddle-horn.
"Next time yuh better find out who owns things before yuh picks 'em up for yourself," advises Chuck. "Throw that gun over in the brush! That's the stuff. Now keep your mouth shut! Sabe?"
Frenchy didn't say a word, but we can see that he's a heap annoyed. We strings out down the trail, and when we're about two hundred yards from the camp, comes a splintering noise, and the report of a big rifle. Me and Chuck throws our broncs off the trail and gets down. We can hear Muley complaining about things, and we asks him why he feels so cross.
"Danged old pelican!" he wails. "That bullet cut the corner off our box!"
"You still got it, ain't yuh?" I asks.
"Uh-huh, I got her, Hen, but she almost met her Waterloo on a rock. Reckon it loosened all the nails. Shall we go back and smoke up that old coot?"
"Next Christmas," replies Chuck. "That old coot has got a Sharps .45-70, and the Warners don't care for that style of death. He's crazy, Muley, and we'd put ourselves in his class if we went back."
We lifts that box back on Muley's saddle, and went on.
We hits the road, and makes good time for a mile or two, when we meets Mighty Jones. He stops and we exchanges pleasantries. We comments on the weather, the crops—which theer ain't none—and the general wear and tear on the human race. Muley switches the position of that box, and the next second we're covered by Mighty Jones. I starts to grin, but when I sees that Mighty is in earnest I irons my face out flat again.
"Hands up!" he snaps, and Muley lets that box slip. She hits the ground and rolls over. I glances at Mighty, and he's got the look on his face of a man who has seen all there is in life, but ain't ready to go blind.
"My——!" he gasps, whirls his bronc around and gallops off down the road like a crazy man, holding on to his hat with one hand and fanning his bronc with the other.
We watches him fade away in the dust, and puts our hands down.
"Of all the locoed actions on earth that's the sharp end of the limit," proclaims Muley, sliding off his bronc.
That last shock was almost too much for that box, 'cause when Muley essays to lift her she sort 'a' opened on one end.
₪ MULEY HOLDS his position for a moment, straightens up and gets on his bronc without taking his eyes off the box. He spurs his bronc, easy-like, until he's a few feet away from that box, and then he imitates Mighty Jones.
Me and Chuck puffs away on our cigarets and watches Muley depart.
"I'll likely get scared, too, but I'm taking a chance," states Chuck, and walks over to the box.
He sighs deep-like, and takes off his hat.
"Henry Peck, there must be a Supreme Being what watches over fools and cowpunchers. This box is full of eighty per cent. dynamite. Come and take a look."
"Your word is as good as gold, Chuck. That stuff must have a good disposition to stand all that grief. Let's go home before something happens to irritate it."
We finds Muley at the ford, but he ain't got much to say. He asks Chuck if he saw what was in that box, and Chuck said that he did.
"Wonderful!" exclaims Muley. "It stood rough handling but I never thought a face like yours could look upon eighty per cent. dynamite and not explode it. That's why I went away so rapid."
The old man is home when we gets there, and he announces that Telescope and Archibald Ames are still in jail.
"What does Archibald have to say about it?" I asks.
"That fat four-flusher!" yelps the old man. "He says that Telescope might 'a' done it. Of course this Ames feller don't fit the description, but he might at least—aw——"
"I'm going down to see Telescope," announces Muley.
"He lies down there in durance vile
Behind the bolts and locks,
With prison staring in his face
'Cause we can't find that box,
That held a little bunch of gold,
Which was labeled dynamite.
Will we let our pal wear striped clothes?"
"Not by a gol-danged sight!" I finishes, being somewhat of a poet myself.
Muley shakes my hand and invites me to join the Perverted Order of Paradise Poets, of which he's the only living member.
"Don't tell too much down there, Muley," advises Chuck. "If you runs off at the mouth I might get eased into jail, and that would cut down the number of detectives on the case. Sabe?"
"Fear not," says Muley. "I go but to bring cheer to the needy. I will be back anon."
About three hours later Doughgod Smith rides in, and we walks out to where him and the old man are greeting each other.
"If this keeps on, Whittaker, you're going to be short of men," states Doughgod.
"Huh!" grunts the old man. "One man don't make no difference this time of year. Three punchers is enough to set around and play cards, and eat up good grub."
"You only got two left now," says Doughgod. "Muley's in jail, too."
"Muley!" snorts the old man. "What's he in for?"
"Stealing dynamite from Mighty Jones."
Chuck had started to set down on his heels, but when Doughgod's information hits his ears he sprawls flat on his back and blinks at the sky. I starts to lean on a buckboard wheel that is ten feet away, and I ends up on my back with my feet over the tongue.
"Mighty spoke of some folks being accessory to the fact, too," states Doughgod, offhand-like.
"Stealing dynamite!" yelps the old man. "Where, when and what for?"
"I don't know. Mighty comes to town and acts like a man what has had delirious delight scared out of him. He anchors to Pelly's bar until he's gained normal again, and then he speaks knowingly of powder-thieves. Mighty's half-loco, and what ain't loco is absent-mindness, but just the same he has Muley arrested, and he hints of more arrests as soon as certain persons hit town. I seen Muley, and he said if I came this way to have Chuck and Hen come to see him."
"That's right," agrees the old man. "We'll all go down."
"Not me," says I. "I got rheumatic pains in my knees. Notice how I fell over that buckboard handle? I ain't myself today, and I simply couldn't stand it to ride."
"Neither could I," says Chuck. "I'm sore all over. Let's wait until tomorrow. Muley will be there just the same."
"We'll go in the buckboard," says the old man. "In a case like this I'd go if I had to walk."
"I'd admire to walk," says Chuck, but the old man goes after the team, and me and Chuck helps each other limp to the bunk-house.
"Shake hands with a murderer, Henry," says Chuck, offering his hand. "I've killed the old man and crippled Doughgod for life—in my mind. You and me will spend the evening and night in the Paradise jail, Henry. Clay Peck."
"Can't yuh think of nothing cheerful to sing?" I asks. "If we're in jail we never will find that box. Think!"
"Think——!" yelps Chuck, going to the door. "I'm going to enjoy the untainted air as long as I can."
I rustles out my war-sack and puts on clean clothes. It's liable to be some time before I gets a chance to change again. Chuck comes back after a while and sets down on the bunk, disconsolate-like, and plays "Just Before the Battle, Mother" on his mouth-organ. Pretty soon the old man yells to us.
We walks out, slow-like, and I climbs, painfully, into the seat with the old man. Chuck holds the team by the bits until we're all set. Then he lets loose and hops aboard as we goes past. We whirls out of the yard and hits the road on the run. Sudden-like that equipage does a high dive on one side, and yours truly stands on his head in a mesquite bush.
When I gets through making a cactus pincushion of my cranium, I riseth up and looks around.
Down the road about fifty yards sets the old man, gazing off down the road, and cussing at a piece of line he's still got in one hand. I hears a groan across the road, and Chuck's head sticks up out of the brush.
The old man gets up out of the road and painfully dusts off the seat of his pants. He plods up to us and looks us over.
"By cripes!" he snorts. "I ain't suspicious of nobody on earth. I'm a man among men, and I don't suspicion nobody, but if that wasn't foul play I'll eat the whole ranch. Now, I'll haul you hombres to town in a lumber wagon."
He plods on to the house, while I extracts cactus spines and cuss words from my carcass. Chuck limps over and rubs his hip.
"Light on a rock?" I asks, and he feels of his hip some more.
He reaches into his hip pocket, takes out an object and tosses it on the ground.
"Lit right on the darned thing!" he groans.
It's the nut off a front wheel of that buckboard. I kicks it off into the brush, and rolls a smoke.
"Well," says he, after a while, "you can give me credit for blocking the wheels of progress for a minute, can't yuh? I'll likely have to stand up all the way to town."
"We'll get plenty of time to rest," says I.
₪ WE GOT to Paradise, but it wasn't WIC no pleasure-ride, and the first person we see is Mighty Jones.
Mighty seems to have drowned his feelings, and he's spending his afternoon trying to hold up the hitch-rack. The old man goes in the saloon, but me and Chuck goes over to have a interview with our enemy. He nods at us like an owl.
"Tut-tut-tried to bub-blow me up," he stutters. "Tha's mean thing to-to-to do."
"Tell us all about it, old-timer, " says Chuck, helping the old boy let loose of the rack, and leading him over to the sidewalk. "What's all this dynamite stuff I'm hearing about?"
Mighty gets very deliberate in his language:
"Eighty pershent. Tha's good powder. Sabe? Good powder but too ener-zhetic. Know what I mean? Mine's eighty per shent. Stage runs away and schtops at my place. I find box of shixty per shent. Sabe? Eighty too dangeroush to pack, so I exchanges. Sabe. Same price. Eighty per shent. too easy on trigger. Know what I mean? Lissen; shomebody mus' 'a' stole that eighty from the stage, and I can' fin' mine. Sabe?"
"Think!" yelps Chuck. "Think where yuh put it, Mighty!"
Mighty bobs his head and screws up his face:
"I know. Tha's the box Muley tried to assassinate me with."
"That was eighty per cent.!" yells Chuck. "Do yuh get that? It was eighty per cent.!"
"Zas so? Fool to drop eighty per shent. Awful careless."
"Where did you put that box you took off the stage?" I asks, pronouncing every word distinct and separate.
Mighty is so danged absent-minded that yuh got to make him remember.
"You took it out of the stage, and then what did you do with it?"
"Somebody must 'a' stole—whoa! I know! In the woodshed. I thought I put it in the barn. Ain' that the limit? Mus' go and turn poor old Muley loosh. Yes, sir. He never stole nothing."
"That's right," applauds Chuck. "Go right over and tell the sheriff to turn him loose."
"I got to shee Ricky firsht," states the old pelican, wise as a barn owl. "Mus' shee if Ricky wants to hold him for stealing that eighty per shent. Mighty Jones is law-abiding pershon. Know what I mean?"
We watches Mighty weave down the street, and Chuck grins all over his face—
"We'll find Telescope's and Muley's broncs, and we'll go up to Mighty Jones' woodshed and rescue that money."
We finds both broncs in Pelly's barn, so we saddles up and fares forth. We don't fare far until we meets Bill McFee. We stops and asks Bill if there's anything new.
"Nope," says he. "I reckon we got 'em in jail."
"So?" says Chuck. "Bill, how would you like to take a ride with us and bring back that seven thousand?"
Bill grins like it was a good joke:
"Uh-huh. I'd admire that. What's the joke?"
"Ain't no joke, Sheriff," says I. "You go with us and bring the gold back. Is that satisfactory?"
"I'd admire to know a little more."
"Not at all necessary," says Chuck. "Election is only three months away, and the credit ain't going to hurt yuh none, Bill."
"That's sensible," agrees Bill. "I'm with yuh."
Bill attempts to find out things, but we don't talk much, and it's dark when we climbs off at Mighty 's place. We hikes right over to the woodshed. Bill lights a match and looks inside, drops the match and don't stop running for a hundred yards. Me and Chuck gallops with him for a ways, sort of sympathetic-like.
"Bobcats!" whistles Bill. "Shed's full of 'em!"
Yuh never can tell what kind of a pet a nut like Mighty is liable to have, so we ain't surprised a lot.
"I ain't afraid of no cat what ever lived," states Chuck. "I'm going to get that box in spite of anything."
We pilgrims up close again, with our guns ready. Chuck finds an old newspaper, which he lights, and we peeks around the corner of the door, and looks right into the shiny eyes of two big cats. Three guns goes off at the same time, and three men went away. There ain't a sound from the shed, so we sneaks back.
"That's good shooting," applauds Bill. "Two shots killed 'em both, 'cause I shot in the ground."
"Sure was," I agrees, "I did, too."
"Wonderful!" agrees Chuck. "They must 'a' jumped high, 'cause mine went through the roof."
Chuck tosses in that burning paper. Them cats are still there but don't move.
"Rugs!" snorts Chuck. "Mighty is sort of a taxidermist, and he put them eyes in himself. They sure look natural."
We found that box. Chuck makes a presentation speech to the minion of the law, who recites a few appropriate words in return. Bill takes the box on his saddle-horn, and we goes back to Paradise.
We gets McGuire and all the rest of Paradise's population to see the grand opening.
We assembles in Pelly's saloon and Mike furnishes the hammer.
"Gents," states Bill, "this ain't a complete exoneration of Telescope and Ames, but I reckon it clears 'em a plenty. The law recovers said stolen property, but I'll let Mister Warner and Mister Peck tell the story. I can hunt lost things but I can't tell a interesting story like some folks."
"You better superintend this, McGuire," he continues. "It's a lot of wealth to look upon."
He tears the top boards off, and Paradise gazes a plenty.
Me and Chuck takes one gaze, and slips loose. We meets at the door, ambles around the corner and forks our broncs. I follers Chuck's lead, and about a mile from town we stops and looks back.
"Henry," says he, sad-like, "who do you suppose put them rocks in that box?"
"If I knew I'd be a murderer," says I, and then it strikes me funny. "Box of scab-rock guarded by two mounted bobcats! Haw! Haw! Haw! Mister McFee, we hereby puts in your care and custody one box, the value of same being problematical. You being a duly elected officer of the law, and, we having faith in your integrity and sense of duty, turneth over said box to be dealt with as yuh see fit," says I, quoting Chuck's woodshed speech.
"Value being problematical takes the curse off anyway, Hen," says he.
It's about midnight when we arrives at the Cross J. The old man is in the bunkhouse, and he looks us over, sad-like.
"What are you fellers trying to do?" he asks. "The sheriff sure is one sore person. Says he can prove that one or both of you was mixed up in that robbery."
"Aw!" snorts Chuck. "I thought it was the right box."
"It was. McGuire identified it. The question is this: you knowed where the box was—where are the contents? That's what Paradise wants to know."
"Paradise ain't got nothing on us, eh, Chuck?" says I. "If they wanted to know any worse than we do they'd all be sick."
Me and Chuck talks it all over and decides that the longer we're out of jail the more they'll have against us when we do get in, so we decide to give ourself up before we're liable to capital punishment.
₪ THE next morning we rides away to be locked up in self-defense. Just outside of Paradise we overtakes an Injun. He's jogging along on a glass-eyed pinto, and he grins when he sees Chuck. Chuck stands in with all the aborigines.
"Hello, Tenas Charley," grins the buck.
"Hello, Hiawatha," grins Chuck. "Where you go so early?"
"You sabe Doc Milliken?"
"You bet. Why you wantum?"
"Givum letter. Me got letter. White man hurtum leg. No walk. Me go to Doc Milliken. Sabe?"
He fusses around in his blanket and produces a piece of paper. Chuck takes the paper and reads the few words. He hands me the letter and grins. It reads like this:
Hurt my leg. Follow the Injun to me.
There ain't no name signed.
"Heap scared," informs the Injun. "Hurtum leg on tree."
"Where you camp?" asks Chuck, and we gets informed that it's on Little Beaver Crick. Chuck gives him back the letter, and swings around. "So long, Setting Bull," says he, and the Injun grins and bobs off down the road.
"Now where?" I asks, and Chuck grins.
"Slippery Silverton!" he whoops. "If it was anybody around here they'd 'a' signed their name. He's hived up with that Injun, and we're going to land him, Henry. Maybe he's got the gold, too."
It didn't take us long to find that camp. We advances on foot. There's a white man setting on the sunny side of that teepee, and he's in blissful ignorance until me and Chuck lands on his shoulders like two playful bears. He gets energetic, but Chuck taps him on the head with his gun, and we hog-ties him proper. When he opens his eyes Chuck grins at him an' says—
He don't say a word.
"Don't talk," advises Chuck. "Yuh might wear out your teeth."
The feller looks at us, foolish-like, so we hoists him up on Chuck's bronc, and Chuck rides behind him. Once he opened his mouth and spoke one line:
"You fellers are an hour late."
That's all he said. I reckon Chuck hit him pretty hard.
We pilgrims right into Paradise, and up to Pelly's saloon. There ain't a soul in sight, but we observes signs of life down where we holds our court. We takes our captive down there, cuts the ropes off his legs and takes him inside.
The place is crowded and Telescope is on the stand. We gets in just in time to hear the judge ask Telescope if he can think of any earthly reason why he shouldn't be held for the next term of court.
"A lot of reason, Judge!" yells Chuck, pushing our prisoner up to the front.
"Here's the main reason. Gents, I makes yuh used to Slippery Silverton!"
"Silverton——!" I hears McGuire yelp. "That's the owner of the Golden Cross mine, Mister Warde." And then he horns his way over to our prisoner and snorts—
"What does this all mean?"
"I don't know," says the feller. "I I must 'a' got hurt. Unless I'm mistaken I came part-way from the mine with Joe Allerton. We had that gold shipment. We sent out two decoy boxes on account of so many robberies. We rode across the hills. Joe figured on just making that train. He went to Helena. I wanted a pair of moccasins, and Joe left me at that Indian teepee. The owner wasn't there, so I waited. That's all, I guess. Somebody jumped on to me and—here I am."
"The—the gold didn't come down yesterday?" gasps McGuire, and Warde shakes his head, painful-like. "No. Just a box of rocks."
Just then in comes Doc Milliken.
"Say!" he yells. "Will one of you strong men come and help me set a man's leg? Mighty Jones cut a tree the wrong way and it lit on him. Lucky he was found by an Injun, who came for help. He was able to send a note but fainted before he could sign his name. All I want is somebody to hold him down. He's so absent-minded that he's liable to run away. He says to tell Ricky Henderson that his box of dynamite is either in the hay-loft or under his cabin floor. He can't remember which."
Art Miller is standing close to Chuck, and Chuck grabs him by the arm and whispers—
"What does a new wheel for your stage cost, Art?"
"About eight dollars, Chuck—why?"
"Here's ten. Don't ask me."
While there is plenty of talk me and Chuck backs out and rides out of town. We're in the bunk-house when Telescope and Muley and the old man comes home. Telescope and Muley comes in and looks us over, solemn-like. Pretty soon Muley climbs up on the bunk and recites, with appropriate gestures and feeling:
"Let me sing yuh a song of four danged fools,
Four punchers whose brains are nix,
Who done some things they ought not to do,
And got in —— a of a fix.
One was stuck on himself and wanted to be
Admired at ten cents a throw.
Another wore stilts so he'd look like a man,
When he went out after the dough.
Three of the fools fooled with dynamite,
One beat up an innocent man.
The price of a wheel was all that it cost.
You may beat it—I don't think yuh can."
"Beautiful," says I. "You've got a soul, Muley. There's still that box of dynamite of Mighty's to account for."
"He picked it up on his way home," says Muley. "That's settled."
"Did Archibald Ames get his local color?" I asks, and Telescope shakes his head. "Archibald Ames didn't wait for nothing. He even hired somebody to drive him to Silver Bend. I asked him what he wanted me to do, and he told me to go to a place where they don't cut holes in the ice.
"You'll miss them meals in bed," sympathizes Chuck, wiggling his ears, and ducks outdoors just in time.
A boot-jack splintered on the door behind him.
"Well, it ended all right anyway," grunts Muley. "How'd yuh say yuh hurt that leg, Telescope?"
Telescope peeks out of the door, and then limps back to me and Muley.
"I didn't go to Bowers' that first day the stage was robbed," he whispers. "Don't breathe it to a soul. I wouldn't have Chuck hear it for a million."
We holds up our right hands.
"Well," says he, "that cottonwood snag they made me climb didn't have no bark on it, and when I started down I slid too fast. Sabe?"
"Chuck was right!" I snorts. "He sure told the truth that time."
Telescope hops to his feet and grabs me by the arms.
"What do yuh mean, Hen? What did Chuck say?"
"He said it sure was slippery," says I.