Good Night, Knight

Good Night, Knight

By W. C. Tuttle

Illustrated by Clyde Forsythe

"AW-W-W-, shucks!" Reddy Brant backed defiantly into the corral fence and glared at big Jim Burns, owner of the X. L. ranch, and Piegan Waugh,the tall, bronzed sheriff of Lehmi. Waugh rubbed his chin and grinned at the freckled boy.

"Y' betcha, you've got to do it Reddy," he stated, and Jim Burns nodded and looked grave.

"Betcha he has, Piegan."

"Aw-w-w!" Reddy dug his heel savagely into the dirt and glared at them with his blue eyes. "School? What for?"

"Learn something," replied Waugh. "Want to be ignorant like us?"

"Stick inside from nine o'clock in the morning 'till four in the afternoon?" shrilled Reddy, "I'd rather be able to do sign talk with a flathead or swing a loop like poor old Baldy Hammond could than to read the biggest hook in the world. Anyway I hired to punch cows—not books."

"Dog-gondest little argufier I ever seen," declared Burns, helplessly. "Reckon we better spank him, Piegan!"

"Spank me?" gasped Reddy, "Me?" His right hand clenched into a knotty fist, and Burns and Waugh looked surprised and startled at his hostile attitude. "Start spanking!" he gritted. "Not while I can fight."

"Cut that out!" yelped Burns, "Dog-gone you, Reddy! You've associated with men too much. Some day you'll git yourself into a fine hot scrap and git a shiner, won't he Piegan?"

Waugh smoothed his mustache to conceal a smile and a quick look of understanding passed between him and the boy. He had taught Reddy how to take care of himself.

"Uh-huh," grunted _Waugh, "Sure will, Jim. He'll go to school, though, cause I want him to."

"Well," Reddy unclenching his fists and grinning a little as he took a deep breath. "Well, if you say so, Piegan. I hate to—honest to gosh!"

Reddy rode to the Lemhi school house the next morning. The one-story shack used as a school house sat a quarter of a mile from the town, as though the inhabitants were ashamed of their seat of learning. Twelve crude benches on either side, a rusty stove and a pine table for the teacher completed the furnishings. A sort of built-in closet was to be used as a dressing room for the teacher.

This was Lemhi's first school, and Reddy arrived early on the opening day. The teacher was the only one there, and she glanced up as Reddy's spurs rattled across the threshold.

"Good morning."

Reddy stared at her, reached up slowly, pulled off his sombrero and held it in his hand. Reddy had seen pictures of women like her in a magazine, but she was the first one he had ever seen in the flesh.

He stared at her, and his first thoughts were that her cheeks were like the sunrise on the Cabinet peaks, sort of pink and gold, and her eyes matched the skies above those snow—clad peaks. She was no taller than he, and likely lighter.

"Good—gosh!" Reddy had started to slide into a seat but had sat on the floor instead. He got up slowly and sat on the bench. Her eyes were laughing at him, when she said:

"Isn't it a lovely morning?"

"Uh—huh," he granted, looking around the room. "Yes'm. I sort of reckon you read the signs right. Is this the school house?"

"Yes. I am Miss Ashton, the teacher. Would you mind telling me your name?"

"Red Brant. Ma named me Robert, but hair like mine won't even let Bob horn in, Ma'am. You been teaching very long?"

"This is my first school, Robert. You've been to school before?" ~

"Seven times eight is fifty-six," grinned Reddy. "I'll start in where I left off."

THE timid entrance of more pupils precluded further conversation, so Reddy sat there and watched them file in.

"Mexicans, Injuns and worse than that!" grunted Reddy to himself.

"Looks more like a council than a school."

Five little girls, one a half-breed, and twelve males completed the enrollment. The Mexican boys, almost grown men, sat sulkily together and scowled at the teacher. Reddy scowled at the Mexicans. Reddy hated Mexicans, although he swore by Miguel Herrera, Waugh's Mexican deputy. "Mig's a Mexican," admitted Reddy, "but he ain't working at it."

The little teacher, visibly nervous, glanced over her flock and tapped on the table. She called the little girls one by one to come up to her, and when she had finished with them she called the nearest one of the big Mexicans, who slouched up to her with a sneer on his dirty face.

"Your name, please," she requested, kindly. The Mexican wet his thick lips and answered her in Spanish. The other two laughed aloud at the cleverness of their swarthy compatriot.

"Please speak English," she requested, "What is your name?"

The Mexican spoke again, and the other two laughed and replied in the same language. Reddy had been taught a smattering of Spanish by Miguel, and he knew what had been said.

He slid out of his seat and walked to the front. "The teacher wants to know your name, Pedro," said Reddy. "You can talk English and you're going to talk it right now, sabe?"

The other two got out of their seats and the one beside the teacher glared up at Reddy, whose red thatch seemed redder than ever.

"Please," said the teacher "Please Robert."

Reddy's hand slid forward and grasped an ink bottle.

"Talk United States, hombre!" he ordered. "Talk it fast. I habla Espano1."

Crash! The Mexican had taken one step towards the boy, and the ink bottle hit him full in the face. He dropped to his knees, eyes full of ink, and the other two, stunned by the accuracy of Red's aim, stopped as though undecided.

Reddy dashed forward, grasped the victim of the ink bottle by the neck and whirled him over his back. He stood over the prostrate body and shook his head at the other two.

"Give me that knife!" he snapped, and there was a determined look in his angry eyes.

They slid hack into the seat and Reddy glanced down at the ink covered victim.

"The teacher asked your name, Mex."

"Pedro Mendoza," he replied evenly, and added in Spanish, "You'll pay for this."

"What did he say, Robert?" asked the frightened teacher.

"Pedro Mendoza, ma'am."

"In Spanish?" she persisted.

"He said he was thinking of . . . committing . . . suicide," replied Reddy, meaningly, and let the abashed Pedro Slink back to his seat.

IN the days that followed Reddy forgot Pedro's threat. He paraded his acquired knowledge at the X. L. ranch, and chided Burns and Milton on their ignorance.

"You fellers better go to school. Great stuff."

And then Jim Burns went to school—not to study, but to see why Reddy rode the ten miles a day so religiously, and moped on Saturday and Sunday. He found out. Big, rough, good-hearted Jim Burns, whose creed was "Play square with a round world," found out when he looked into Mary Ashton's blue eyes, and said:

"No, ma'am, I ain't his dad: I ain't married."

Then Reddy wondered why Burns sat alone on the porch of the ranch house in the evening, or rode alone to Lemhi instead of playing some sort of game with him and Milton, to see who had to do the few chores. He wondered why Burns failed to "bawl out" Sing W'ah, the cook, which had been a three-times-a-day occurrence, until now Sing excelled himself in concocting weird dishes to try and force Burns to wax sarcastic once more.

"No sabe," said Sing Wah, sadly, "Maybeso him sick. Alla time no kick. Whasamalla?"

Reddy told his troubles to his teacher.

"Something is eating that feller—sure," he added.

Miss Ashton patted him on the shoulder, and the act thrilled Reddy to the utter exclusion of other troubles. That evening Reddy rode almost to town before he remembered that the teacher had promised him a book to take to the ranch, so he swung his pinto around and galloped hack. He dropped off at the door and stepped inside.

Miss Ashton was standing hack of her desk, gazing with frightened eyes at Pedro ‘Mendoza, who was standing in the middle of the room. A huge bull-snake was coiled around the Mexican's arm, and he held the serpent's head between thumb and finger.

"Thees is nice snake," Pedro was saying, "You like for pet, eh? I catch heem for you, te—e-cher."

"I've heard that a bull-snake will kill a rattler, but it didn't seem to work out this time," said Reddy.

Pedro whirled and scowled at the boy.

"Throw it out of the window!" snapped Reddy, "You've got a lot of nerve scaring a woman with a snake."

"I—I'm afraid of snakes," faltered Miss Ashton.

"I ain't," replied Reddy, "Not the crawling kind."

"Nobody 'fraid of snakes," leered Pedro, tossing the snake out of the open window, "I sorry."

He slouched towards Reddy, but his was the easy slouch of the panther.

Reddy leaned against the side of the door and watched the Mexican approach. The poise of the body and the half-closed eye spelt treachery, but Reddy made no move.

SUDDENLY, while yet a few steps away, a knife appeared in Pedro's right hand, and he flung himself forward like a cat. The Mexican takes naturally to a knife, preferring stealth and a quick slash to the fair and square, rough and tumble fight of red-blooded men and boys.

Reddy dropped sideways on one hand, and his right foot kicked out and up, came a dull "chuck!" and Pedro collapsed on the threshold. The knife rattled on the stones outside, and Reddy grinned in bewilderment.

"Geemighty!" he grunted, "Frenchy La Farge showed me how to do that, and it must a stuck in my crop. Right on the chin!"

Pedro rolled over, got to his feet, and without a backward glance trotted towards the town, hanging onto his jaw. Then Reddy turned to Miss Ashton. "I forgot that book," he explained, picking it off the desk, "Bullsnakes won't hurt any body."

"Gracious!" Miss Ashton leaned on her desk and stared at the boy.

"They look something like rattlers, ma'am."

"He—he wanted to give it to me."

"Yes'm. He knowed you wouldn't take it. Wanted to scare you."

"Robert, you must be careful," seriously, "Pedro is very angry at you, don't you think?"

"Well," grinned Reddy, "if he ain't, he ought to be. Good-night."

He rode back towards Lemhi, and guided his horse straight towards the Mexican quarter. In his heart smoldered a hatred for Mexicans. "Scaring a woman with a snake!" he muttered to the pinto, "Ain't that a sneaking trick, Paint?"

He felt that something must be done about Pedro and his ilk. The school was doing them no good. They went when they felt like it, and their own ignorance was a source of amusement among themselves. If he could only find a way to make them leave of their own free will.

As he swung across the street he saw Jose Pablo, a small Mexican of unsavory reputation, cross the street with Tony Mendoza, brother of Pedro, and the two entered the Mendoza shack. Reddy felt that there would be conversation concerning him in that shack, so he dismounted. walked around an old corral and walked in behind the Mendoza home.

A broken pane of glass in a rear window afforded him a chance to hear the conversation, and he chuckled at the first remark, evidently from Pablo: "You will not bite anybody soon, Pedro. The red-head must kick like a burro." Reddy inwardly thanked Miguel for the lessons in Spanish, and leaned closer to the wall.

Finally he drew back, walked swiftly to his pinto, and rode home in deep thought. He rubbed his freckled nose in wonderment, and below his breath he muttered: "Daw—gone!"

He spent half the night poring over the pages of that book. Hour after hour he read a tale of the days of chivalry—days when armored knights fought to save beautiful princesses.

Reddy drank in every word and only stopped when his candle burned out, and Milton swore sleepily at him for being a night—hawk. Then he rolled into bed and dreamed of Robert Brant, dressed in shining armor, storming single-handed the walls of a castle to rescue a princess who seemed to look like his teacher.

THE next morning she asked him if he liked the story.

"Great!" he grinned, "Do you reckon it's true? About them hombres saving the princess, and then she—uh——"

"Bless your heart, yes, Robert. Of course they married and lived happily ever afterwards."

"Well," demurred Reddy, "mostly anybody could get up nerve to fight if they had on a tin coat and iron pants. Still, I reckon it was a fifty-fifty on the hardware."

That day the three Mexicans did not come to school. The day was hot. Flies buzzed up and down the windows, and the monotonous drawl of a little Indian girl, who persisted in repeating the alphabet aloud, added to the general discomfort.

About three o'clock Miss Ashton wiped her damp forehead for the fiftieth time, and announced that school was dismissed. The children filed out, but Reddy still sat there humped over a book.

"Aren't you going home, Robert?" asked Miss Ashton.

"Yes'm, but I wanted to ask if you'd do something for me, and not ask any questions?"

Miss Ashton glanced up from her desk, as Reddy continued: "Will you write me a note and ask me to come down to your house tonight? Give it to Pedro if you can and ask him to bring it out to the ranch."

"Why, Robert, that's a queer request. I am not going to be home this evening, and—"

"I know," grinned Roddy, "that don't matter, ma-am."

"Tell me why, Robert?"

"No, ma'am, not now. Maybe it won‘t work like I think. Will you do it?"

"Well," Miss Ashton hesitated for a moment, and then nodded. "Yes, I will, Robert. Just say to come to my home tonight?"

"Uh-huh. And get Pedro to bring it to me, if you can. Any one of them three Mexicans will do. I ain't particular."

"Pedro dislikes you so much that perhaps he wouldn't do it," objected Miss Ashton.

"Yes'm, I reckon he hates me a little, but maybe he'll do that much for you. Try it anyway. Good-night."

"I wish I knew what it was all about," mused Miss Ashton, as she watched Reddy disappear down the road in a cloud of I dust. "Oh, well, it must be all right or Reddy wouldn't be doing it."

REDDY sat alone on the porch of the ranch house that night. Jim had left right after supper, and Milton was busy at the bunk-house. It was dark when a horseman rode up to the porch and swung off his horse. It was Pablo.

"A letter to you," he announced, handing Reddy an unsealed envelope.

Reddy glanced at the address on the envelope, and smiled at the "Kindness of Pedro" written across the bottom.

"Pedro hees seek," explained Pablo, grinning. Pablo was about Reddy's size, and Reddy looked him over speculatively.

"Much obliged, Pablo," said Reddy. "You going back to town?"

"Si. We weel ride together, eh?"

"Uh-huh," and then to himself, "He knew what the note said. Dog-gone it, I think I've got the scheme."

Reddy saddled his pinto, and the two of them rode away together. Just as they approached the lights of Lemhi, Reddy pulled up his horse.

"Loose cinch!" he grunted and swung to the ground. He stepped over to Pablo, and the astonished Mexican looked down into the muzzle of a big caliber pistol.

"Get down!" snapped Reddy, "Hit the dirt and keep your hands in the air, hombre! I heard that talk in the Mendoza shack yesterday. Sabe?"

MISS ASHTON lived with Miss McKay, who owned a little cottage near the outskirts of Lemhi. Just before reaching the house the road dipped into a deep arroya. and through a small thicket of mesquite. At the fringe of this mesquite, screened from the moonlight, sat three figures, Suddenly one of them gave a short exclamation in Spanish, and the one behind him grunted: "They come! Get ready!"

One of them picked up a big blanket and stepped back into the brush beside the road, while another swiftly coiled a long rope. The third crouched close to the road, balancing a club, about the size of a baseball bat in his hands. Down the narrow road swung two horsemen, a pinto, easily distinguished from the bay horse in the moonlight, in the lead. Almost in a single file they came down the little hill, their horses walking heavily in the sand, and as they neared the mesquite clump the bay horse seemed to drop further behind.

Suddenly figures seemed to rise out of the ground beside the pinto, came a dull thud, and its rider swayed from the saddle. Hands caught and held the frightened pinto, while others swiftly rolled the body of its rider in the blanket and the roped figure was fastened securely to another horse, and then the Mexicans mounted their horses, which had been tied on the further side of the brush.

One of them spurred up to the man on the bay, and handed him an envelope. "Nobody see, Pablo?" he asked.

"Nobody," answered the other in Spanish, and the voice of Pedro broke into a sneering laugh.

"You pose' that letter to Jim Burns, Pablo. That letter say if he ever see redhead again he mus' pay beeg price. You stay here and see how things go, Pablo, and you get your share. Come to us in week in Poison Springs and we watch for you. Adios, Pablo. The red-head never kick nobody any more."

"Adios, Pablo," called another. "Fine scheme, eh? You will hear from us later." The three riders with their extra horse, filed out of the arroya and faded out in the moonlight.

"Yes, I will—not!" chuckled Reddy Brant, throwing his sombrero off into the mesquite. "Ugh! Pablo's sombrero was lousy, I'll bet!"

"I hope he don't work that gag loose before they hit the Springs, and I'm betting them four Mexicans will never show their faces in Lemhi again," and he added, "to bother the princess.

He swung into his saddle and turned the pinto towards home.

"Paint, they said they'd wait their chance to get me, and I gave 'em the chance," he chuckled to the pinto, "I've got a_note to Jim Burns, asking him to ransom my carcass, and there wasn't nobody hurt."

Next morning Jim Burns sang at the breakfast table. He swore happily at Sing Wah, who grinned delightedly and piled flap-jacks on Burns' plate.

"Second childhood!" snorted Wilton. "Get him a rattle next time he has a birthday. Cut it out, you dog-gone leaf-lard totem pole!" he yelped, when Burns attempted taking him across his knee.

Milton drifted out, grumbling about having to work for a half-grown grizzly with a perverted idea of humor, and Burns grinned and put his arm around Reddy's shoulders.

"Red feller," he said, softly, "they're going to get a new teacher for the Lemhi school."

Reddy dropped his fork and stared at Burns.

"Goin' to—what for?" he stammered, "Where is Miss Ashton going?"

"Not going, red feller—coming. She's coming out here . . . to . . . boss . . . the X. L. Sabe?"

"Coming out here to——" Reddy's voice trailed off to a whisper as the truth of it dawned upon him. She was going to marry Jim Burns!

He nodded, dully, picked up his fork and tried to eat. His mouth seemed dry, and he swallowed with difficulty.

"Well," grinned Burns, "ain't you got nothing to say? We're going to get married tomorrow night, Reddy. I'm going down there this morning, and I'd like to tell her something you said when you heard. She thinks a lot of you, red feller."

"Well," Reddy gulped and wrinkled his nose. "Well, Jim, you—you might tell her this: if them darn knights with their iron pants had lived in a half-breed country they'd all died bachelors."

"What do you mean, Reddy?" asked Burns.

"They'd a been too danged busy saving her for somebody else."

And Reddy_walked straight to the bunkhouse, got that hook and went out to the corral. He stood in front of Julius Caesar, the old, gray, broken-cared burro, and showed him the book.

"Julius," he said, "take a look at the label on this book. See it? Well, it's all bunk, mule all . . . bunk."

And the gray burro nodded in agreement, and ate the pages of the book as fast as Reddy tore them out.