The Red Book Magazine/Volume 38/Number 5/The Gold Mounted Guns
The Gold-Mounted Guns
EVENING had fallen on Longhorn City and already, to the south, an eager star was twinkling in the velvet sky, when a spare, hard-faced man slouched down the main street and selected a pony from the dozen hitched beside Tim Geogehan’s general store. The town, which in the daytime suffered from an excess of eye-searing light in its open spaces, confined its efforts at artificial lighting to the one store, the one saloon, and its neighbor, the Temple of Chance: so it was from a dusky void that the hard-faced man heard himself called by name.
“Tommy!” a subdued voice accosted him.
The hard-faced man made, it seemed, a very slight movement— a mere flick of the hand at his low-slung belt: but it was a movement perfectly appraised by the man in the shadows.
“Wait a minute!” the voice pleaded.
A moment later, his hands upraised, his pony’s bridle-reins caught in the crook of one arm, a young man moved into the zone of light that shone bravely out through Tim Geogehan’s back window.
“Don’t shoot,” he said, trying to control his nervousness before the weapon unwaveringly trained on him. “I’m—a friend.”
For perhaps fifteen seconds the newcomer and the hard-faced man examined each other with the unwinking scrutiny of those who take chances of life and death. The younger, with that lightning draw fresh in his mind, noted the sinister droop of a gray mustache over a hidden mouth, and shivered a little as his gaze met that of a pair of steel-blue eyes. The man with the gun saw before him a rather handsome face, marred, even in this moment of submission, by a certain desperation.
“What do you want?” he asked tersely.
“Can I put my hands down?” countered the other.
The lean man considered.
All things bein’ equal,” he said, first tell me how you got round to callin’ me Tommy. askin’ people in the street?”
No,” said the boy. “I only got into town this afternoon, an I aint a fool, anyway. I seen you ride in this afternoon, and the way folks backed away from you made me wonder who you was. Then I seen them gold-mounted guns of yourn, an’ of course I knew. Nobody ever had guns like them but Pecos Tommy. I could ha’ shot you while you was gettin’ your horse, if I'd been that way inclined.”
The lean man bit his mustache.
“Put ‘em down. What do you want?”
“I want to join you.”
“You want to what?”
“Veah, I know it sounds foolish to you, mebbe,” said the young man. “But listen—your side-kicker’s in jail down in Roswell. I figured I could take his place—anyway, till he got out. I know I aint got any record, but I can ride, an’ I can shoot the pips out of a ten-spot at ten paces, an’—I got a little job to bring into the firm, to start with.”
The lean man’s gaze narrowed.
“Have, eh?” he asked softly.
“It aint anythin’ like you go in for as a rule,” said the boy apologetically, “but it’s a roll of cash an’-—I guess it’ll show you I’m straight. I only got on to it this afternoon. Kind of providential I should meet you right now.”
The lean man chewed his mustache. His eyes did not shift.
“Yeah,” he said slowly. “What you quittin’ punchin’ for?” “Sick of it.”
“Figurin’ robbin’ trains is easier money?”
“No,” said the young man, “I aint. But I like a little spice in life. They aint none in punchin
“Got a girl?” asked the lean man
The boy shook his head. The hard-faced man nodded reflectively.
“Well, what's the job?” he asked
The light from Geogehan’s window was cut off by the body of a man who, cupping his hands about his eyes, stared out into the night, as if to locate the buzz of voices at the back of the store. ;
“If you're goin’ to take me on,” said the young man, “I can tell you while we're ridin’ toward it. If you aint—why, there’s no need to go no further.”
The elder slipped back into its holster the gold-mounted gun he had drawn, glanced once at the obscured window, and again, piercingly, at the boy whose face now showed white in the light of the rising moon. Then he turned his pony and mounted.
“Come on,” he commanded
FIVE minutes later the two had passed the limits of the town, heading for the low range of hills which encircled it to the south—and Will Arblaster had given the details of his job to the unemotional man at his side
“How do you know the old guy’s got the money?” came a level question.
“I saw him come out of the bank this afternoon, grinnin’ all over his face an’ stuffin’ it into his pants-pocket,” said the boy. “An’ when he was gone, I kind of inquired who he was. His name's Sanderson, an’ he lives in this yer cabin right ahead a mile. Looked kind of a soft old geezer—kind that’d give up without any trouble. Must ha’ been quite some cash there, judgin’ by the size of the roll. But I guess when you ask him for it, he wont mind lettin’ it go.”
“I aint goin’ to ask him,” said the lean man. “This is your job.”
The boy hesitated
“Well, if I do it right,” he asked, with a trace of tremor in his voice, “will you take me along with you sure?”
“Yeah—I'll take you along.”
The two ponies rounded a shoulder of the hill: before the riders there loomed, in the moonlight, the dark shape of a cabin, its windows unlighted. The lean man chuckled.
Will Arblaster swung off his horse.
“Maybe,” he said, “but likely the money aint. He started off home, an’ if he’s had to go out again, likely he’s hid the money some place. Folks know you're about. I’m goin’ to see.”
Stealthily he crept toward the house. The moon went behind a cloud-bank, and the darkness swallowed him. The lean man, sitting his horse, motionless, heard the rap of knuckles on the door —then a pause, the rattle of the latch. A moment later there came the heavy thud of a shoulder against wood—a cracking sound, and a crash as the door went down. The lean man’s lips tightened. From within the cabin came the noise of one stumbling over furniture; then the fitful fire of a match illumined the windows. In the quiet, out there in the night, the man on the horse, twenty yards away, could hear the clumping of the other's boots on the rough board floor, and every rustle of the papers that he fumbled in his search. Another match scratched and sputtered, and then, with a hoarse cry of triumph, was flung down. Running feet padded across the short grass and Will Arblaster drew up, panting
“Got it!” he gasped. “The old fool! Put it in a tea-canister right on the mantelshelf. Enough to choke a horse! Feel it!”
The lean man, unemotional as ever, reached down and took the roll of money
“Got another match?” he asked.
Willie struck one, and panting, watched while his companion, moistening a thumb, ruffled through the bills
“Fifty tens,” said the lean man. “Five hundred dollars. Guess I'll carry it.”
His cold blue eyes turned downward, and focused again with piercing attention on the younger man’s upturned face. The bills were stowed in a pocket of the belt right next one of those gold-mounted guns which, earlier in the evening, had covered Willie Arblaster’s heart. For. a moment, the lean man’s hand seemed to hesitate over its butt: then, as Willie smiled and nodded, it moved away. The match burned out.
“Let’s get out of here,” the younger urged; whereupon the hand vows had hovered over the gun-butt grasped Will Arblaster’s shoulder.
“No, not yet,” he said quietly, “not just yet. Get on your hawss, an’ set still awhile "
The young man mounted. “What’s the idea?”
“Why!” said the level voice at his right. “This is a kind of novelty to me. Robbin’ trains, you aint got any chance to se¢ results, like: this here’s different. Figure this old guy'll be back pretty soon. I'd like to see what he does when he finds his wad’s gone. Ought to be amusin’!”
Arblaster chuckled uncertainly.
“Aint he liable to—”
“He can't see us,’ said the lean man with a certain new cheerfulness in his tone. ‘An’ besides, he'll think we'd naturally b miles away; an’ besides that, we’re mounted, all ready.”
“What's that?” whispered the young man, laying a hand on his companion’s arm.
The other listened.
“Probably him,” he said. ‘Now stay still.”
There were two riders—by their voices, a man and a girl: the: were laughing as they approached the rear of the house. wher: roughly made of old boards, stood Pa Sanderson’s substitute fo a stable. They put up the horses; then their words came cleare to the ears of the listeners, as they turned the corner of the building, walking toward the front door.
“I feel mean about it, anyhow,” said the girl’s voice. ‘\ going on living here, Daddy, while—”
- Tut-tut-tut!” said the old man. ‘What’s five hundred to m
I aint never had that much in a lump, an’ shouldn't know wha to do with it if I had. ‘Sides, your aunt Elviry didn’t give it you for nothin’. ‘If she wants to go to college,’ says she, ‘let her prove it by workin’. I'll pay half, but she’s got to pay t’othe: half.’ Well, you worked, an— Where on earth did I put tha key?”
There was a silence, broken by the grunts of the old man as he contorted himself in the search of his pockets: and then the girl spoke: the tone of her voice was the more terrible for the restraint she was putting on it.
“Daddy—the—the—did you leave the money in the house?
“Yes. What is it?” cried the old man.
“Daddy—the door’s broken down, and—”
There was a hoarse cry; boot-heels stumbled across the boards and again a match flared. Its pale light showed a girl standing ir the doorway of the cabin, her hands clasped on her bosom—while beyond the wreckage of the door a bent figure with silver hair tottered away from the mantelshelf. In one hand Pa Sanderson held the flickering match, in the other a tin box.
“Gone!” he cried in his cracked voice. ‘Gone!”’
Willie Arblaster drew a breath through his teeth and move uneasily in his saddle. Instantly a lean, strong hand, with a grip like steel, fell on his wrist and grasped it. The man behind the hand chuckled
“Listen!” he said.
“Daddy—Daddy—don’t take on so—please don’t,” came the girl’s voice, itself trembling with repressed tears. There was scrape of chair-legs on the floor as she forced the old man int his seat by the fireplace. He hunched there, his face in his hands, while she struck a match and laid the flame to the wick of the lamp on the table. As it burned up, she went back her father, knelt by him, and threw her arms about his neck
“Now, now, now!” she pleaded. “Now, Daddy, it’s all right Don't take on so. It’s all right.”
But he would not be comforted.
“I can't replace it!” cried Pa Sanderson, dropping trembling hands from his face. “It’s gone! Two years you've been away from me; two years you've slaved in a store; and now I’ve
“Hush, hush!” the girl begged. “Now, Daddy—it’s all right. I can go on working, and—”’
WITH a convulsive effort, the old man got to his feet
“Two years more slavery, while some skunk drinks your money, gambles it—throws it away!” he cried. “Curse him! Whoever it ‘is, curse him! Where’s God’s justice? What’s a man goin’ to believe when years of scrapin’ like your aunt done, an years of slavin’ like yours in Laredo there, an’ all our happiness today can be wiped out by a damned thief in a minute?”
The girl put her little hand over her father’s mouth.
“Don’t, Daddy,” she choked. “It. only makes it worse. Come and lie down on your bed, and I'll make you some coffee. Don’t cry, Daddy darling. Please.”
Gently, like a mother with a little child, she led the heart- broken old man out of the watchers’ line of vision, out of the circle of lamplight. More faintly, but still with heartrending distinctness, the listeners could hear the sounds of weeping.
The lean man sniffed, chuckled, pulled his bridle.
“Some circus!” he said appreciatively. “C'mon, boy.”
His horse moved a few paces, but Will Arblaster’s did not. The lean man turned in his saddle
“Aint you comin’?” he asked
For ten seconds, perhaps, the boy made no answer. Then he urged his pony forward until it stood side by side with his companion’s
“No,” he said. “An’—an’ I aint goin’ to take that money, neither.”
The voice and was slow and meditative.
“Don’t know as ever I figured what this game meant.” he said. “Always seemed to me that all the hardships was on the stick-up man’s side—gettin’ shot at an’ chased and so on. Kind of fun, at that. Never thought ‘bout—old men cryin’.”
“That aint my fault,” said the lean man.
“No,” said Will Arblaster, still very slowly. “But I’m goin’ to take that money back. You didn’t have no trouble gettin’ it, so you don't lose nothin’.”
“Suppose I say I wont let go of it?” suggested the lean man with a sneer.
“Then,” snarled Arblaster, “I'll blow your damned head off an’ take it! Don't you move, you! I’ve got you covered. I'll take the money out myself.”
His revolver-muzzle under his companion’s nose, he snapped open the pocket of the belt and extracted the roll of bills. Then, regardless of a possible shot in the back, he swung off his horse and hambled, with the mincing gait of the born horseman, into the lighted doorway of the cabin. The lean man, unemotional as ever, sat perfectly still, looking alter nately at the cloud-dappled sky, and at the cabin, from which now came a murmur of voices which seemed to harmonize, with a strange effect of joy, to the half-heard bass of the night-wind.
It was a full ten minutes before Will Arblaster reappeared in the doorway Arblaster reappeared in the doorway the light, a quick movement of his hand the light, a quick movement of his hand through the darkness toward his horse. Still the lean man did not move.
“I’m—sorry,” said the boy as he mounted. “But—”
“I aint,” said the lean man quietly. “What do you think I made you stay an watch for, you young fool?”
The boy made no reply. Suddenly the hair prickled on the back of his neck and his jaw fell.
“Say,” he demanded hoarsely at last. “Aint you Pecos Tommy?”
The lean man’s answer laugh
“But you got his guns, an’ the people in Longhorn all kind of fell back!” the boy cried. “If you aint him, who are you?”
The moon had drifted from behind a cloud and flung a ray of light across the face of the lean man as he turned it, narrow-eyed, toward Arblaster. The pallid light picked out with terrible distinctness the grim lines of that face—emphasized the cluster of sun-wrinkles about the corners of the piercing eyes and marked as if with underscoring black lines the long sweep of the fighting jaw.
“Why,” said the lean man dryly, “I’m the sheriff that killed him yesterday. Let’s be ridin’ back.”