Part III. The Rawhide
Chapter Three. The Paper a Year Old
 

Sang hurried out for a broom. Senor Johnson sat where he was, his heavy, square brows knit. Suddenly he stooped, seized one of the newspapers, drew near the lamp, and began to read.

It was a Kansas City paper and, by a strange coincidence, was dated exactly a year before. The sheet Senor Johnson happened to pick up was one usually passed over by the average newspaper reader. It contained only columns of little two- and three-line advertisements classified as Help Wanted, Situations Wanted, Lost and Found, and Personal. The latter items Senor Johnson commenced to read while awaiting Sang and the broom.

The notices were five in number. The first three were of the mysterious newspaper-correspondence type, in which Birdie beseeches Jack to meet her at the fountain; the fourth advertised a clairvoyant. Over the fifth Senor Johnson paused long. It reads

"WANTED.-By an intelligent and refined lady of pleasing appearance, correspondence with a gentleman of means. Object matrimony.

Just then Sang returned with the broom and began noisily to sweep together the debris. The rustling of papers aroused Senor Johnson from his reverie. At once he exploded.

"Get out of here, you debased Mongolian," he shouted; "can't you see I'm reading?"

Sang fled, sorely puzzled, for the Senor was calm and unexcited and aloof in his everyday habit.

Soon Jed Parker, tall, wiry, hawk-nosed, deliberate, came into the room and flung his broad hat and spurs into the corner. Then he proceeded to light his pipe and threw the burned match on the floor.

"Been over to look at the Grant Pass range," he announced cheerfully. "She's no good. Drier than cork legs. Th' country wouldn't support three horned toads."

"Jed," quoth the Senor solemnly, "I wisht you'd hang up your hat like I have. It don't look good there on the floor."

"Why, sure," agreed Jed, with an astonished stare.

Sang brought in supper and slung it on the red and white squares of oilcloth. Then he moved the lamp and retired.

Senor Johnson gazed with distaste into his cup.

"This coffee would float a wedge," he commented sourly.

"She's no puling infant," agreed the cheerful Jed.

"And this!" went on the Senor, picking up what purported to be plum duff: "Bog down a few currants in dough and call her pudding!"

He ate in silence, then pushed back his chair and went to the window, gazing through its grimy panes at the mountains, ethereal in their evening saffron.

"Blamed Chink," he growled; "why don't he wash these windows?"

Jed laid down his busy knife and idle fork to gaze on his chief with amazement. Buck Johnson, the austere, the aloof, the grimly taciturn, the dangerous, to be thus complaining like a querulous woman!

"Senor," said he, "you're off your feed."

Senor Johnson strode savagely to the table and sat down with a bang.

"I'm sick of it," he growled; "this thing will kill me off. I might as well go be a buck nun and be done with it."

With one round-arm sweep he cleared aside the dishes.

"Give me that pen and paper behind you," he requested.

For an hour he wrote and destroyed. The floor became littered with torn papers. Then he enveloped a meagre result. Parker had watched him in silence.

The Senor looked up to catch his speculative eye. His own eye twinkled a little, but the twinkle was determined and sinister, with only an alloy of humour.

"Senor," ventured Parker slowly, "this event sure knocks me hell-west and crooked. If the loco you have culled hasn't paralysed your speaking parts, would you mind telling me what in the name of heaven, hell, and high-water is up?"

"I am going to get married," announced the Senor calmly.

"What!" shouted Parker; "who to?"

"To a lady," replied the Senor, "an intelligent and refined lady- -of pleasing appearance."