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Duke of Chimney Butte, The

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<SPAN name="Page_18" id="Page_18">[Pg 18]</SPAN></span> <br /> <h2>CHAPTER II</h2> <h3>WHETSTONE, THE OUTLAW</h3> <br /> <p>When Taterleg roused the camp before the east was light, Lambert noted that another man had ridden in. This was a wiry young fellow with a short nose and fiery face, against which his scant eyebrows and lashes were as white as chalk.</p> <p>His presence in the camp seemed to put a restraint on the spirits of the others, some of whom greeted him by the name Jim, others ignoring him entirely. Among these latter was the black-haired man who had given Lambert his title and elevated him to the nobility of the Bad Lands. On the face of it there was a crow to be picked between them.</p> <p>Jim was belted with a pistol and heeled with a pair of those long-roweled Mexican spurs, such as had gone out of fashion on the western range long before his day. He leaned on his elbow near the fire, his legs stretched out in a <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_19" id="Page_19">[Pg 19]</SPAN></span>way that obliged Taterleg to walk round the spurred boots as he went between his cooking and the supplies in the wagon, the tailboard of which was his kitchen table.</p> <p>If Taterleg resented this lordly obstruction, he did not discover it by word or feature. He went on humming a tune without words as he worked, handing out biscuits and ham to the hungry crew. Jim had eaten his breakfast already, and was smoking a cigarette at his ease. Now and then he addressed somebody in obscene jocularity.</p> <p>Lambert saw that Jim turned his eyes on him now and then with sneering contempt, but said nothing. When the men had made a hasty end of their breakfast three of them started to the corral. The young man who had humorously enumerated the virtues of the All-in-One, whom the others called Spence, was of this number. He turned back, offering Lambert his hand with a smile.</p> <p>"I'm glad I met you, Duke, and I hope you'll do well wherever you travel," he said, with such evident sincerity and good feeling that Lambert felt like he was parting from a friend.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_20" id="Page_20">[Pg 20]</SPAN></span>"Thanks, old feller, and the same to you."</p> <p>Spence went on to saddle his horse, whistling as he scuffed through the low sage. Jim sat up.</p> <p>"I'll make you whistle through your ribs," he snarled after him.</p> <p>It was Sunday. These men who remained in camp were enjoying the infrequent luxury of a day off. With the first gleam of morning they got out their razors and shaved, and Siwash, who seemed to be the handy man and chief counselor of the outfit, cut everybody's hair, with the exception of Jim, who had just returned from somewhere on the train, and still had the scent of the barber-shop on him, and Taterleg, who had mastered the art of shingling himself, and kept his hand in by constant practice.</p> <p>Lambert mended his tire, using an old rubber boot that Taterleg found kicking around camp to plug the big holes in his outer tube. He was for going on then, but Siwash and the others pressed him to stay over the day, to which invitation he yielded without great argument.</p> <p>There was nothing ahead of him but <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_21" id="Page_21">[Pg 21]</SPAN></span>desolation, said Taterleg, a country so rough that it tried a horse to travel it. Ranchhouses were farther apart as a man proceeded, and beyond that, mountains. It looked to Taterleg as if he'd better give it up.</p> <p>That was so, according to the opinion of Siwash. To his undoubted knowledge, covering the history of twenty-four years, no agent ever had penetrated that far before. Having broken this record on a bicycle, Lambert ought to be satisfied. If he was bound to travel, said Siwash, his advice would be to travel back.</p> <p>It seemed to Lambert that the bottom was all out of his plans, indeed. It would be far better to chuck the whole scheme overboard and go to work as a cowboy if they would give him a job. That was nearer the sphere of his intended future activities; that was getting down to the root and foundation of a business which had a ladder in it whose rungs were not made of any general agent's hot air.</p> <p>After his hot and heady way of quick decisions and planning to completion before he even had begun, Lambert was galloping the Bad Lands as superintendent of somebody's ranch, <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_22" id="Page_22">[Pg 22]</SPAN></span>having made the leap over all the trifling years, with their trifling details of hardship, low wages, loneliness, and isolation in a wink. From superintendent he galloped swiftly on his fancy to a white ranchhouse by some calm riverside, his herds around him, his big hat on his head, market quotations coming to him by telegraph every day, packers appealing to him to ship five trainloads at once to save their government contracts.</p> <p>What is the good of an imagination if a man cannot ride it, and feel the wind in his face as he flies over the world? Even though it is a liar and a trickster, and a rifler of time which a drudge of success would be stamping into gold, it is better for a man than wine. He can return from his wide excursions with no deeper injury than a sigh.</p> <p>Lambert came back to the reality, broaching the subject of a job. Here Jim took notice and cut into the conversation, it being his first word to the stranger.</p> <p>"Sure you can git a job, bud," he said, coming over to where Lambert sat with Siwash and Taterleg, the latter peeling potatoes for a stew, <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_23" id="Page_23">[Pg 23]</SPAN></span>somebody having killed a calf. "The old man needs a couple of hands; he told me to keep my eye open for anybody that wanted a job."</p> <p>"I'm glad to hear of it," said Lambert, warming up at the news, feeling that he must have been a bit severe in his judgment of Jim, which had not been altogether favorable.</p> <p>"He'll be over in the morning; you'd better hang around."</p> <p>Seeing the foundation of a new fortune taking shape, Lambert said he would "hang around." They all applauded his resolution, for they all appeared to like him in spite of his appearance, which was distinctive, indeed, among the somber colors of that sage-gray land.</p> <p>Jim inquired if he had a horse, the growing interest of a friend in his manner. Hearing the facts of the case from Lambert&mdash;before dawn he had heard them from Taterleg&mdash;he appeared concerned almost to the point of being troubled.</p> <p>"You'll have to git you a horse, Duke; you'll have to ride up to the boss when you hit him for a job. He never was known to hire a man off the ground, and I guess if you was to head at <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_24" id="Page_24">[Pg 24]</SPAN></span>him on that bicycle, he'd blow a hole through you as big as a can of salmon. Any of you fellers got a horse you want to trade the Duke for his bicycle?"</p> <p>The inquiry brought out a round of somewhat cloudy witticism, with proposals to Lambert for an exchange on terms rather embarrassing to meet, seeing that even the least preposterous was not sincere. Taterleg winked to assure him that it was all banter, without a bit of harm at the bottom of it, which Lambert understood very well without the services of a commentator.</p> <p>Jim brightened up presently, as if he saw a gleam that might lead Lambert out of the difficulty. He had an extra horse himself, not much of a horse to look at, but as good-hearted a horse as a man ever throwed a leg over, and that wasn't no lie, if you took him the right side on. But you had to take him the right side on, and humor him, and handle him like eggs till he got used to you. Then you had as purty a little horse as a man ever throwed a leg over, anywhere.</p> <p>Jim said he'd offer that horse, only he was <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_25" id="Page_25">[Pg 25]</SPAN></span>a little bashful in the presence of strangers&mdash;meaning the horse&mdash;and didn't show up in a style to make his owner proud of him. The trouble with that horse was he used to belong to a one-legged man, and got so accustomed to the feel of a one-legged man on him that he was plumb foolish between two legs.</p> <p>That horse didn't have much style to him, and no gait to speak of; but he was as good a cow-horse as ever chawed a bit. If the Duke thought he'd be able to ride him, he was welcome to him. Taterleg winked what Lambert interpreted as a warning at that point, and in the faces of the others there were little gleams of humor, which they turned their heads, or bent to study the ground, as Siwash did, to hide.</p> <p>"Well, I'm not much on a horse," Lambert confessed.</p> <p>"You look like a man that'd been on a horse a time or two," said Jim, with a knowing inflection, a shrewd flattery.</p> <p>"I used to ride around a little, but that's been a good while ago."</p> <p>"A feller never forgits how to ride," Siwash put in; "and if a man wants to work on the <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_26" id="Page_26">[Pg 26]</SPAN></span>range, he's got to ride 'less'n he goes and gits a job runnin' sheep, and that's below any man that is a man."</p> <p>Jim sat pondering the question, hands hooked in front of his knees, a match in his mouth beside his unlighted cigarette.</p> <p>"I been thinkin' I'd sell that horse," said he reflectively. "Ain't got no use for him much; but I don't know."</p> <p>He looked off over the chuck wagon, through the tops of the scrub pines in which the camp was set, drawing his thin, white eyebrows, considering the case.</p> <p>"Winter comin' on and hay to buy," said Siwash.</p> <p>"That's what I've been thinkin' and studyin' over. Shucks! I don't need that horse. I tell you what I'll do, Duke"&mdash;turning to Lambert, brisk as with a gush of sudden generosity&mdash;"if you can ride that old pelter, I'll give him to you for a present. And I bet you'll not git as cheap an offer of a horse as that ever in your life ag'in."</p> <p>"I think it's too generous&mdash;I wouldn't want to take advantage of it," Lambert told him, <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_27" id="Page_27">[Pg 27]</SPAN></span>trying to show a modesty in the matter that he did not feel.</p> <p>"I ain't a-favorin' you, Duke; not a dollar. If I needed that horse, I'd hang onto him, and you wouldn't git him a cent under thirty-five bucks; but when a man don't need a horse, and it's a expense on him, he can afford to give it away&mdash;he can give it away and make money. That's what I'm a-doin', if you want to take me up."</p> <p>"I'll take a look at him, Jim."</p> <p>Jim got up with eagerness, and went to fetch a saddle and bridle from under the wagon. The others came into the transaction with lively interest. Only Taterleg edged round to Lambert, and whispered with his head turned away to look like innocence:</p> <p>"Watch out for him&mdash;he's a bal'-faced hyeeny!"</p> <p>They trooped off to the corral, which was a temporary enclosure made of wire run among the little pines. Jim brought the horse out. It stood tamely enough to be saddled, with head drooping indifferently, and showed no deeper interest and no resentment over the operation <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_28" id="Page_28">[Pg 28]</SPAN></span>of bridling, Jim talking all the time he worked, like the faker that he was, to draw off a too-close inspection of his wares.</p> <p>"Old Whetstone ain't much to look at," he said, "and as I told you, Mister, he ain't got no fancy gait; but he can bust the middle out of the breeze when he lays out a straight-ahead run. Ain't a horse on this range can touch his tail when old Whetstone throws a ham into it and lets out his stren'th."</p> <p>"He looks like he might go some," Lambert commented in the vacuous way of a man who felt that he must say something, even though he didn't know anything about it.</p> <p>Whetstone was rather above the stature of the general run of range horses, with clean legs and a good chest. But he was a hammer-headed, white-eyed, short-maned beast, of a pale water-color yellow, like an old dish. He had a beaten-down, bedraggled, and dispirited look about him, as if he had carried men's burdens beyond his strength for a good while, and had no heart in him to take the road again. He had a scoundrelly way of rolling his eyes to watch all that went on about him without turning his head.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_29" id="Page_29">[Pg 29]</SPAN></span>Jim girthed him and cinched him, soundly and securely, for no matter who was pitched off and smashed up in that ride, he didn't want the saddle to turn and be ruined.</p> <p>"Well, there he stands, Duke, and saddle and bridle goes with him if you're able to ride him. I'll be generous; I won't go half-way with you; I'll be whole hog or none. Saddle and bridle goes with Whetstone, all a free gift, if you can ride him, Duke. I want to start you up right."</p> <p>It was a safe offer, taking all precedent into account, for no man ever had ridden Whetstone, not even his owner. The beast was an outlaw of the most pronounced type, with a repertory of tricks, calculated to get a man off his back, so extensive that he never seemed to repeat. He stood always as docilely as a camel to be saddled and bridled, with what method in this apparent docility no man versed in horse philosophy ever had been able to reason out. Perhaps it was that he had been born with a spite against man, and this was his scheme for luring him on to his discomfiture and disgrace.</p> <p>It was an expectant little group that stood by to witness this greenhorn's rise and fall. <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_30" id="Page_30">[Pg 30]</SPAN></span>According to his established methods, Whetstone would allow him to mount, still standing with that indifferent droop to his head. But one who was sharp would observe that he was rolling his old white eyes back to see, tipping his sharp ear like a wildcat to hear every scrape and creak of the leather. Then, with the man in the saddle, nobody knew what he would do.</p> <p>That uncertainty was what made Whetstone valuable and interesting beyond any outlaw in the world. Men grew accustomed to the tricks of ordinary pitching broncos, in time, and the novelty and charm were gone. Besides, there nearly always was somebody who could ride the worst of them. Not so Whetstone. He had won a good deal of money for Jim, and everybody in camp knew that thirty-five dollars wasn't more than a third of the value that his owner put upon him.</p> <p>There was boundless wonder among them, then, and no little admiration, when this stranger who had come into that unlikely place on a bicycle leaped into the saddle so quickly that old Whetstone was taken completely by surprise, and held him with such a strong hand and <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_31" id="Page_31">[Pg 31]</SPAN></span>stiff rein that his initiative was taken from him.</p> <p>The greenhorn's next maneuver was to swing the animal round till he lost his head, then clap heels to him and send him off as if he had business for the day laid out ahead of him.</p> <p>It was the most amazing start that anybody ever had been known to make on Whetstone, and the most startling and enjoyable thing about it was that this strange, overgrown boy, with his open face and guileless speech, had played them all for a bunch of suckers, and knew more about riding in a minute than they ever had learned in their lives.</p> <p>Jim Wilder stood by, swearing by all his obscene deities that if that man hurt Whetstone, he'd kill him for his hide. But he began to feel better in a little while. Hope, even certainty, picked up again. Whetstone was coming to himself. Perhaps the old rascal had only been elaborating his scheme a little at the start, and was now about to show them that their faith in him was not misplaced.</p> <p>The horse had come to a sudden stop, legs stretched so wide that it seemed as if he surely must break in the middle. But he gathered his <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_32" id="Page_32">[Pg 32]</SPAN></span>feet together so quickly that the next view presented him with his back arched like a fighting cat's. And there on top of him rode the Duke, his small brown hat in place, his gay shirt ruffling in the wind.</p> <p>After that there came, so quickly that it made the mind and eye hasten to follow, all the tricks that Whetstone ever had tried in his past triumphs over men; and through all of them, sharp, shrewd, unexpected, startling as some of them were, that little brown hat rode untroubled on top. Old Whetstone was as wet at the end of ten minutes as if he had swum a river. He grunted with anger as he heaved and lashed, he squealed in his resentful passion as he swerved, lunged, pitched, and clawed the air.</p> <p>The little band of spectators cheered the Duke, calling loudly to inform him that he was the only man who ever had stuck that long. The Duke waved his hat in acknowledgement, and put it back on with deliberation and exactness, while old Whetstone, as mad as a wet hen, tried to roll down suddenly and crush his legs.</p> <p>Nothing to be accomplished by that old trick. The Duke pulled him up with a wrench that <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_33" id="Page_33">[Pg 33]</SPAN></span>made him squeal, and Whetstone, lifted off his forelegs, attempted to complete the backward turn and catch his tormentor under the saddle. But that was another trick so old that the simplest horseman knew how to meet it. The next thing he knew, Whetstone was galloping along like a gentleman, just wind enough in him to carry him, not an ounce to spare.</p> <p>Jim Wilder was swearing himself blue. It was a trick, an imposition, he declared. No circus-rider could come there and abuse old Whetstone that way and live to eat his dinner. Nobody appeared to share his view of it. They were a unit in declaring that the Duke beat any man handling a horse they ever saw. If Whetstone didn't get him off pretty soon, he would be whipped and conquered, his belly on the ground.</p> <p>"If he hurts that horse I'll blow a hole in him as big as a can of salmon!" Jim declared.</p> <p>"Take your medicine like a man, Jim," Siwash advised. "You might know somebody'd come along that'd ride him, in time."</p> <p>"Yes, <i>come</i> along!" said Jim with a sneer.</p> <p>Whetstone had begun to collect himself out <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_34" id="Page_34">[Pg 34]</SPAN></span>on the flat among the sagebrush a quarter of a mile away. The frenzy of desperation was in him. He was resorting to the raw, low, common tricks of the ordinary outlaw, even to biting at his rider's legs. That ungentlemanly behavior was costly, as he quickly learned, at the expense of a badly cut mouth. He never had met a rider before who had energy to spare from his efforts to stick in the saddle to slam him a big kick in the mouth when he doubled himself to make that vicious snap. The sound of that kick carried to the corral.</p> <p>"I'll fix you for that!" Jim swore.</p> <p>He was breathing as hard as his horse, sweat of anxiety running down his face. The Duke was bringing the horse back, his spirit pretty well broken, it appeared.</p> <p>"What do you care what he does to him? It ain't your horse no more."</p> <p>It was Taterleg who said that, standing near Jim, a little way behind him, as gorgeous as a bridegroom in the bright sun.</p> <p>"You fellers can't ring me in on no game like that and beat me out of my horse!" said Jim, redder than ever in his passion.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_35" id="Page_35">[Pg 35]</SPAN></span>"Who do you mean, rung you in, you little, flannel-faced fiste?"<SPAN name="FNanchor_1_1" id="FNanchor_1_1"></SPAN><SPAN href="#Footnote_1_1" class="fnanchor">[1]</SPAN> Siwash demanded, whirling round on him with blood in his eye.</p> <p>Jim was standing with his legs apart, bent a little at the knees, as if he intended to make a jump. His right hand was near the butt of his gun, his fingers were clasping and unclasping, as if he limbered them for action. Taterleg slipped up behind him on his toes, and jerked the gun from Jim's scabbard with quick and sure hand. He backed away with it, presenting it with determined mien as Jim turned on him and cursed him by all his lurid gods.</p> <p>"If you fight anybody in this camp today, Jim, you'll fight like a man," said Taterleg, "or you'll hobble out of it on three legs, like a wolf."</p> <p>The Duke was riding old Whetstone like a feather, letting him have his spurts of kicking and stiff-legged bouncing without any effort to restrain him at all. There wasn't much steam in the outlaw's antics now; any common man could have ridden him without losing his hat.</p> <p>Jim had drawn apart from the others, <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_36" id="Page_36">[Pg 36]</SPAN></span>resentful of the distrust that Taterleg had shown, but more than half of his courage and bluster taken away from him with his gun. He was swearing more volubly than ever to cover his other deficiencies; but he was a man to be feared only when he had his weapon under his hand.</p> <p>The Duke had brought the horse almost back to camp when the animal was taken with an extraordinarily vicious spasm of pitching, broken by sudden efforts to fling himself down and roll over on his persistent rider. The Duke let him have it his way, all but the rolling, for a while; then he appeared to lose patience with the stubborn beast. He headed him into the open, laid the quirt to him, and galloped toward the hills.</p> <p>"That's the move&mdash;run the devil out of him," said one.</p> <p>The Duke kept him going, and going for all there was in him. Horse and rider were dim in the dust of the heated race against the evil passion, the untamed demon, in the savage creature's heart. It began to look as if Lambert never intended to come back. Jim saw it that way. He came over to Taterleg as hot as a hornet.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_37" id="Page_37">[Pg 37]</SPAN></span>"Give me that gun&mdash;I'm goin' after him!"</p> <p>"You'll have to go without it, Jim."</p> <p>Jim blasted him to sulphurous perdition, and split him with forked lightning from his blasphemous tongue.</p> <p>"He'll come back; he's just runnin' the vinegar out of him," said one.</p> <p>"Come back&mdash;hell!" said Jim.</p> <p>"If he don't come back, that's his business. A man can go wherever he wants to go on his own horse, I guess."</p> <p>That was the observation of Siwash, standing there rather glum and out of tune over Jim's charge that they had rung the Duke in on him to beat him out of his animal.</p> <p>"It was a put-up job! I'll split that feller like a hog!"</p> <p>Jim left them with that declaration of his benevolent intention, hurrying to the corral where his horse was, his saddle on the ground by the gate. They watched him saddle, and saw him mount and ride after the Duke, with no comment on his actions at all.</p> <p>The Duke was out of sight in the scrub timber at the foot of the hills, but his dust still <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_38" id="Page_38">[Pg 38]</SPAN></span>floated like the wake of a swift boat, showing the way he had gone.</p> <p>"Yes, you will!" said Taterleg.</p> <p>Meaningless, irrelevant, as that fragmentary ejaculation seemed, the others understood. They grinned, and twisted wise heads, spat out their tobacco, and went back to dinner.</p> <h4>FOOTNOTE:</h4> <div class="footnote"><p class="noin"><SPAN name="Footnote_1_1" id="Footnote_1_1"></SPAN><SPAN href="#FNanchor_1_1"><span class="label">[1]</span></SPAN> Fice&mdash;dog.</p></div> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
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