When A Man's A Man by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter IX. The Tailholt Mountain Outfit.
Phil and Patches were riding that day in the country about Old Camp. Early in the afternoon, they heard the persistent bawling of a calf, and upon riding toward the sound, found the animal deep in the cedar timber, which in that section thickly covers the ridges. The calf was freshly branded with the Tailholt iron. It was done, Phil said, the day before, probably in the late afternoon. The youngster was calling for his mother.
"It's strange, she is not around somewhere," said Patches.
"It would be more strange if she was," retorted the cowboy shortly, and he looked from the calf to the distant Tailholt Mountain, as though he were considering some problem which he did not, for some reason, care to share with his companion.
"There's not much use to look for her," he added, with grim disappointment. "That's always the way. If we had ridden this range yesterday, instead of away over there in the Mint Wash country--I am always about a day behind."
There was something in the manner and in the quiet speech of the usually sunny-tempered foreman that made his companion hesitate to ask questions, or to offer comment with the freedom that he had learned to feel that first day of their riding together. During the hours that followed Phil said very little, and when he did speak his words were brief and often curt, while, to Patches, he seemed to study the country over which they rode with unusual care. When they had eaten their rather gloomy lunch, he was in the saddle again almost before Patches had finished, with seemingly no inclination for their usual talk.
The afternoon, was nearly gone, and they were making their way homeward when they saw a Cross-Triangle bull that had evidently been hurt in a fight. The animal was one of the Dean's much-prized Herefords, and the wound needed attention.
"We've got to dope that," said Phil, "or the screwworms will be working in it sure." He was taking down his riata and watching the bull, who was rumbling a sullen, deep-voiced challenge, as he spoke.
"Can I help?" asked Patches anxiously, as he viewed the powerful beast, for this was the first full-grown animal needing attention that he had seen in his few days' experience.
"No," returned Phil. "Just keep in the clear, that's all. This chap is no calf, and he's sore over his scrap. He's on the prod right now."
It all happened in a few seconds.
The cowboy's horse, understanding from long experience that this threatening mark for his master's riata was in no gentle frame of mind, fretted uneasily as though dreading his part in the task before them. Patches saw the whirling rope leave Phil's hand, and saw it tighten, as the cowboy threw the weight of his horse against it; and then he caught a confused vision--a fallen, struggling horse with a man pinned to the ground beneath him, and a wickedly lowered head, with sharp horns and angry eyes, charging straight at them.
Patches did not think--there was no time to think. With a yell of horror, he struck deep with both spurs, and his startled, pain-maddened horse leaped forward. Again he spurred cruelly with all his strength, and the next bound of his frenzied mount carried him upon those deadly horns. Patches remembered hearing a sickening rip, and a scream of fear and pain, as he felt the horse under him rise in the air. He never knew how he managed to free himself, as he fell backward with his struggling mount, but he distinctly saw Phil regain his saddle while his horse was in the very act of struggling to its feet, and he watched with anxious interest as the cowboy forced his excited mount in front of the bull to attract the beast's wicked attention. The bull, accepting the tantalizing challenge, charged again, and Patches, with a thrill of admiration for the man's coolness and skill, saw that Phil was coiling his riata, even while his frightened horse, with terrific leaps, avoided those menacing horns. The bull stopped, shook his head in anger over his failure, and looked back toward the man on foot. But again that horse and rider danced temptingly before him, so close that it seemed he could not fail, and again he charged, only to find that his mad rush carried him still further from the helpless Patches. And by now, Phil had recovered his riata, and the loop was whirling in easy circles about his head. The cow-horse, as though feeling the security that was in that familiar motion of his master's arm, steadied himself, and, in the few active moments that followed, obedient to every signal of his rider, did his part with almost human intelligence.
When the bull was safely tied, Phil went to the frightfully injured horse, and with a merciful bullet ended the animal's suffering. Then he looked thoughtfully at Patches, who stood gazing ruefully at the dead animal, as though he felt himself to blame for the loss of his employer's property. A slight smile lightened the cowboy's face, as he noticed his companion's troubled thought.
"I suppose I've done it now," said Patches, as though expecting well-merited censure.
Phil's smile broadened. "You sure have," he returned, as he wiped the sweat from his face. "I'm much obliged to you."
Patches looked at him in confused embarrassment.
"Don't you know that you saved my life?" asked Phil dryly.
"But--but, I killed a good horse for the Dean," stammered Patches.
To which the Dean's foreman returned with a grin, "I reckon Uncle Will can stand the loss--considering."
This relieved the tension, and they laughed together.
"But tell me something, Patches," said Phil, curiously. "Why didn't you shoot the bull when he charged me?"
"I didn't think of it," admitted Patches. "I didn't really think of anything."
The cowboy nodded with understanding approval. "I've noticed that the man to tie to, in sudden trouble, is the man who doesn't have to think; the man, I mean, who just does the right thing instinctively, and waits to think about it afterwards when there's time."
Patches was pleased. "I did the right thing, then?"
"It was the only thing you could do to save my life," returned Phil seriously. "If you had tried to use your gun--even if you could have managed to hit him--you wouldn't have stopped him in time. If you had been where you could have put a bullet between his eyes, it might have worked, but"--he smiled again--"I'm mighty glad you didn't think to try any experiments. Tell me something else," he added. "Did you realize the chance you were taking for yourself?"
Patches shook his head. "I can't say that I realized anything except that you were in a bad fix, and that it was up to me to do something quick. How did it happen, anyway?" He seemed anxious to turn the conversation.
"Diamond stepped in that hole there," explained Phil. "When he turned over I sure thought it was all day for me. Believe me, I won't forget this, Patches."
For another moment there was an embarrassed silence; then Patches said, "What puzzles me is, why you didn't take a shot at him, after you were up, instead of risking your neck again trying to rope him."
"Why, there was no use killing a good bull, as long as there was any other way. It's my business to keep him alive; that's what I started in to do, wasn't it?" And thus the cowboy, in a simple word or two, stated the creed of his profession, a creed that permits no consideration of personal danger or discomfort when the welfare of the employer's property is at stake.
When they had removed saddle and bridle from the dead horse and had cleaned the ugly wound in the bull's side, Phil said, "Now, Mr. Honorable Patches, you'd better move on down the wash a piece, and get out of sight behind one of those cedars. This fellow is going to get busy again when I let him up. I'll come along when I've got rid of him."
A little later, as Phil rode out of the cedars toward Patches, a deep, bellowing challenge came from up the wash.
"He's just telling us what he'll do to us the next chance he gets," chuckled Phil. "Hop up behind me now and we'll go home."
The gloom, that all day had seemed to overshadow Phil, was effectually banished by the excitement of the incident, and he was again his sunny, cheerful self. As they rode, they chatted and laughed merrily. Then, suddenly, as it had happened that morning, the cowboy was again grim and silent.
Patches was wondering what had so quickly changed his companion's mood, when he caught sight of two horsemen, riding along the top of the ridge that forms the western side of the wash, their course paralleling that of the Cross-Triangle men, who were following the bed of the wash.
When Patches directed Phil's attention to the riders, the cowboy said shortly, "I've been watching them for the last ten minutes." Then, as if regretting the manner of his reply, he added more kindly, "If they keep on the way they're going, we'll likely meet them about a mile down the wash where the ridge breaks."
"Do you know them?" asked Patches curiously.
"It's Nick Cambert and that poor, lost dog of a Yavapai Joe," Phil answered.
"The Tailholt Mountain outfit," murmured Patches, watching the riders on the ridge with quickened interest. "Do you know, Phil, I believe I have seen those fellows before."
"You have!" exclaimed Phil. "Where? When?"
"I don't know how to tell you where," Patches replied, "but it was the day I rode the drift fence. They were on a ridge, across a little valley from me."
"That must have been this same Horse Wash that we're following now," replied Phil; "it widens out a bit below here. What makes you think it was Nick and Joe?"
"Why, those fellows up there look like the two that I saw, one big one and one rather lightweight. They were the same distance from me, you know, and--yes--I am sure those are the same horses."
"Pretty good, Patches, but you ought to have reported it when you got home."
"Why, I didn't think it of any importance."
"There are two rules that you must follow, always," said the cowboy, "if you are going to learn to be a top hand in this business. The first is: to see everything that there is to see, and to see everything about everything that you see. And the second is: to remember it all. I don't mind telling you, now, that Jim Reid found a calf, fresh-branded with the Tailholt iron, that same afternoon, in that same neighborhood; and that, on our side of the drift fence, he ran onto a Cross-Triangle cow that had lost her calf. There come our friends now."
The two horsemen were riding down the side of the hill at an angle that would bring about the meeting which Phil had foreseen. And Patches immediately broke the first of the two rules, for, while watching the riders, he did not notice that his companion loosened his gun in its holster.
Nick Cambert was a large man, big-bodied and heavy, with sandy hair, and those peculiar light blue eyes which do not beget confidence. But, as the Tailholt Mountain men halted to greet Phil, Patches gave to Nick little more than a passing glance, so interested was he in the big man's companion.
It is doubtful if blood, training, environment, circumstances, the fates, or whatever it is that gives to men individuality, ever marked a man with less manhood than was given to poor Yavapai Joe. Standing erect, he would have been, perhaps, a little above medium height, but thin and stooped, with a half-starved look, as he slouched listlessly in the saddle, it was almost impossible to think of him as a matured man. The receding chin, and coarse, loosely opened mouth, the pale, lifeless eyes set too closely together under a low forehead, with a ragged thatch of dead, mouse-colored hair, and a furtive, sneaking, lost-dog expression, proclaimed him the outcast that he was.
The big man eyed Patches as he greeted the Cross-Triangle's foreman. "Howdy, Phil!"
"Hello, Nick!" returned Phil coldly. "Howdy, Joe!"
The younger man, who was gazing stupidly at Patches, returned the salutation with an unintelligible mumble, and proceeded to roll a cigarette.
"You folks at the Cross-Triangle short of horses?" asked Nick, with an evident attempt at jocularity, alluding to the situation of the two men, who were riding one horse.
"We got mixed up with a bull back yonder," Phil explained briefly.
"They can sure put a horse out o' the game mighty quick sometimes," commented the other. "I've lost a few that way myself. It's about as far from here to my place as it is to Baldwin's, or I'd help you out. You're welcome, you know."
"Much obliged," returned Phil, "but we'll make it home all right. I reckon we'd better be moving, though. So long!"
Throughout this brief exchange of courtesies, Yavapai Joe had not moved, except to puff at his cigarette; nor had he ceased to regard Patches with a stupid curiosity. As Phil and Patches moved away, he still sat gazing after the stranger, until he was aroused by a sharp word from Nick, as the latter turned his horse toward Tailholt Mountain. Without changing his slouching position in the saddle, and with a final slinking, sidewise look toward Patches, the poor fellow obediently trailed after his master.
Patches could not resist the impulse to turn for another look at the wretched shadow of manhood that so interested him.
"Well, what do you think of that pair?" asked Phil, breaking in upon his companion's preoccupation.
Patches shrugged his shoulders much as he had done that day of his first experience with the screwworms; then he said quietly, "Do you mind telling me about them, Phil?"
"Why, there's not much to tell," returned the cowboy. "That is, there's not much that anybody knows for certain. Nick was born in Yavapai County. His father, old George Cambert, was one of the kind that seems honest enough, and industrious, too, but somehow always just misses it. They moved away to some place in Southern California when Nick was about grown. He came back six years ago, and located over there at the foot of Tailholt Mountain, and started his Four-Bar-M iron; and, one way or another, he's managed to get together quite a bunch of stock. You see, his expenses don't amount to anything, scarcely. He and Joe bach in an old shack that somebody built years ago, and they do all the riding themselves. Joe's not much force, but he's handier than you'd think, as long as there's somebody around to tell him what to do, and sort of back him up. Nick, though, can do two men's work any day in the year."
"But it's strange that a man like Nick would have anything to do with such a creature as that poor specimen," mused Patches. "Are they related in any way?"
"Nobody knows," answered Phil. "Joe first showed up at Prescott about four years ago with a man by the name of Dryden, who claimed that Joe was his son. They camped just outside of town, in some dirty old tents, and lived by picking up whatever was lying around loose. Dryden wouldn't work, and, naturally, no one would have Joe. Finally Dryden was sent up for robbing a store, and Joe nearly went with him. They let him off, I believe, because it was proved pretty well that he was only Dryden's tool, and didn't have nerve enough to do any real harm by himself. He drifted around for several months, living like a stray cur, until Nick took him in tow. Nick treats him shamefully, abuses him like a beast, and works him like a slave. The poor devil stays on with him because he doesn't know what else to do, I suppose."
"Is he always like we saw him to-day?" asked Patches, who seemed strangely interested in this bit of human drift. "Doesn't he ever talk?"
"Oh, yes, he'll talk all right, when Nick isn't around, or when there are not too many present. Get off somewhere alone with him, after he gets acquainted a little, and he's not half such bad company as he looks. I reckon that's the main reason why Nick keeps him. You see, no decent cow-puncher would dare work at Tailholt Mountain, and a man gets mighty lonesome living so much alone. But Joe never talks about where he came from, or who he is; shuts up like a clam if you so much as mention anything that looks like you were trying to find out about him. He's not such a fool as he looks, either, so far as that goes, but he's always got that sneaking, coyote sort of look, and whatever he does he does in that same way."
"In other words," commented Patches thoughtfully, "poor Joe must have someone to depend on; taken alone he counts no more than a cipher."
"That's it," said Phil. "With somebody to feed him, and think for him, and take care of him, and be responsible for him, in some sort of a way, he makes almost one."
"After all, Phil," said Patches, with bitter sarcasm, "poor Yavapai Joe is not so much different from hundreds of men that I know. By their standards he should be envied."
Phil was amazed at his companion's words, for they seemed to hint at something in the man's past, and Patches, so far as his reticence upon any subject that approached his own history, was always as silent as Yavapai Joe himself.
"What do you mean by that?" Phil demanded. "What sort of men do you mean?"
"I mean the sort that never do anything of their own free wills; the sort that have someone else to think for them, and feed them, and take care of them and take all the responsibility for what they do or do not do. I mean those who are dependents, and those who aspire to be dependent. I can't see that it makes any essential difference whether they have inherited wealth and what we call culture, or whether they are poverty-stricken semi-imbeciles like Joe; the principle is the same."
As they dismounted at the home corral gate, Phil looked at his companion curiously. "You seem mighty interested in Joe," he said, with a smile.
"I am," retorted Patches. "He reminds me of--of some one I know," he finished, with his old, self-mocking smile. "I have a fellow feeling for him, the same as you have for that wild horse, you know. I'd like to take him away from Nick, and see if it would be possible to make a real man of him," he mused, more to himself than to his companion.
"I don't believe I'd try any experiments along that line, Patches," cautioned Phil. "You've got to have something to build on when you start to make a man. The raw material is not in Joe, and, besides," he added significantly, "folks might not understand."
Patches laughed bitterly. "I have my hands full now."
The next morning the foreman said that he would give that day to the horses he was training, and sent Patches, alone, after the saddle and bridle which they had left near the scene of the accident.
"You can't miss finding the place again," he said to Patches; "just follow up the wash. You'll be back by noon--if you don't try any experiments," he added laughing.
Patches had ridden as far as the spot where he and Phil had met the Tailholt Mountain men, and was thirsty. He thought of the distance he had yet to go, and then of the return back to the ranch, in the heat of the day. He remembered that Phil had told him, as they were riding out the morning before, of a spring a little way up the small side canyon that opens into the main wash through that break in the ridge. For a moment he hesitated; then he turned aside, determined to find the water.
Riding perhaps two hundred yards into that narrow gap In the ridge, he found the way suddenly becoming steep and roughly strewn with boulders, and, thinking to make better time, left his horse tied to a bush in the shadow of the rocky wall, while he climbed up the dry watercourse on foot. He found, as Phil had said, that it was not far. Another hundred yards up the boulder-strewn break in the ridge, and he came out into a beautiful glade, where he found the spring, clear and cold, under a moss-grown rock, in the deep shade of an old gnarled and twisted cedar. Gratefully he threw himself down and drank long and deep; then sat for a few moments' rest, before making his way back to his horse. The moist, black earth of the cuplike hollow was roughly trampled by the cattle that knew the spot, and there were well-marked trails leading down through the heavy growth of brush and trees that clothed the hillsides. So dense was this forest growth, and so narrow the glade, that the sunlight only reached the cool retreat through a network of leaves and branches, in ever-shifting spots and bars of brightness. Nor could one see very far through the living screens.
Patches was on the point of going, when he heard voices and the sound of horses' feet somewhere above. For a moment he sat silently listening. Then he realized that the riders were approaching, down one of the cattle trails. A moment more, and he thought he recognized one of the voices. There was a low, murmuring, whining tone, and then a rough, heavy voice, raised seemingly in anger. Patches felt sure, now, that he knew the speakers; and, obeying one of those impulses that so often prompted his actions, he slipped quietly into the dense growth on the side of the glade opposite the approaching riders. He was scarcely hidden--a hundred feet or so from the spring--when Nick Cambert and Yavapai Joe rode into the glade.
If Patches had paused to think, he likely would have disdained to play the part of a hidden spy; but he had acted without thinking, and no sooner was he concealed than he realized that it was too late. So he smiled mockingly at himself, and awaited developments. He had heard and seen enough, since he had been in the Dean's employ, to understand the suspicion in which the owner of the Four-Bar-M iron was held; and from even his few days' work on the range in company with Phil, he had come to understand how difficult it was for the cattlemen to prove anything against the man who they had every reason to believe was stealing their stock. It was the possibility of getting some positive evidence, and of thus protecting his employer's property, that had really prompted him to take advantage of the chance situation.
As the two men appeared, it was clear to the hidden observer that the weakling had in some way incurred his master's displeasure. The big man's face was red with anger, and his eyes were hard and cruel, while Joe had more than aver the look of a lost dog that expects nothing less than a curse and a kick.
Nick drank at the spring, then turned back to his companion, who had not dismounted, but sat on his horse cringing and frightened, trying, with fluttering fingers, to roll a cigarette. A moment the big man surveyed his trembling follower; then, taking a heavy quirt from his saddle, he said with a contemptuous sneer, "Well, why don't you get your drink?"
"I ain't thirsty, Nick," faltered the other.
"You ain't thirsty?" mocked the man with a jeering laugh. "You're lying, an' you know it. Get down!"
"Hones' to God, Nick, I don't want no drink," whimpered Joe, as his master toyed with the quirt suggestively.
"Get down, I tell you!" commanded the big man.
Joe obeyed, his thin form shaking with fear, and stood shrinking against his horse's side, his fearful eyes fixed on the man.
"Now, come here."
"Don't, Nick; for God's sake! don't hit me. I didn't mean no harm. Let me off this time, won't you, Nick?"
"Come here. You got it comin', damn you, an' you know it. Come here, I say!"
As if it were beyond his power to refuse, the wretched creature took a halting step or two toward the man whose brutal will dominated him; then he paused and half turned, as if to attempt escape. But that menacing voice stopped him.
Whimpering and begging, with disconnected, unintelligible words, the poor fellow again started toward the man with the quirt.
At the critical moment a quiet, well-schooled voice interrupted the scene.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Cambert!"
Nick whirled with an oath of surprise and astonishment, to face Patches, who was coming leisurely toward him from the bushes above the spring.
"What are you doin' here?" demanded Nick, while his victim slunk back to his horse, his eyes fixed upon the intruder with dumb amazement.
"I came for a drink," returned Patches coolly. "Excellent water, isn't it? And the day is really quite warm--makes one appreciate such a delightfully cool retreat, don't you think?"
"Heard us comin' an' thought you'd play the spy, did you?" growled the Tailholt Mountain man.
Patches smiled. "Really, you know, I am afraid I didn't think much about it," he said gently. "I'm troubled that way, you see," he explained, with elaborate politeness. "Often do things upon impulse, don't you know--beastly embarrassing sometimes."
Nick glared at this polite, soft-spoken gentleman, with half-amused anger. "I heard there was a dude tenderfoot hangin' 'round the Cross-Triangle," he said, at last. "You're sure a hell of a fine specimen. You've had your drink; now s'pose you get a-goin'."
"I beg pardon?" drawled Patches, looking at him with innocent inquiry.
"Vamoose! Get out! Go on about your business."
"Really, Mr. Cambert, I understood that this was open range--" Patches looked about, as though carefully assuring himself that he was not mistaken in the spot.
The big man's eyes narrowed wickedly. "It's closed to you, all right." Then, as Patches did not move, "Well, are you goin', or have I got to start you?" He took a threatening step toward the intruder.
"No," returned Patches easily, "I am certainly not going--not just at present--and," he added thoughtfully, "if I were you, I wouldn't try to start anything."
Something in the extraordinary self-possession of this soft-spoken stranger made the big man hesitate. "Oh, you wouldn't, heh?" he returned. "You mean, I s'pose, that you propose to interfere with my business."
"If, by your business, you mean beating a man who is so unable to protect himself, I certainly propose to interfere."
For a moment Nick glared at Patches as though doubting his own ears. Then rage at the tenderfoot's insolence mastered him. With a vile epithet, he caught the loaded quirt in his hand by its small end, and strode toward the intruder.
But even as the big man swung his wicked weapon aloft, a hard fist, with the weight of a well-trained and well-developed shoulder back of it, found the point of his chin with scientific accuracy. The force of the blow, augmented as it was by Nick's weight as he was rushing to meet it, was terrific. The man's head snapped back, and he spun half around as he fell, so that the uplifted arm with its threatening weapon was twisted under the heavy bulk that lay quivering and harmless.
Patches coolly bent over the unconscious man and extracted his gun from the holster. Then, stepping back a few paces, he quietly waited.
Yavapai Joe, who had viewed the proceedings thus far with gaping mouth and frightened wonder, scrambled into his saddle and reined his horse about, as if to ride for his life.
"Wait, Joe!" called Patches sharply.
The weakling paused in pitiful indecision.
"Nick will be all right in a few minutes," continued the stranger, reassuringly. "Stay where you are."
Even as he spoke, the man on the ground opened his eyes. For a moment he gazed about, collecting his shocked and scattered senses. Then, with a mad roar, he got to his feet and reached for his gun, but when his hand touched the empty holster a look of dismay swept over his heavy face, and he looked doubtfully toward Patches, with a degree of respect and a somewhat humbled air.
"Yes, I have your gun," said Patches soothingly. "You see, I thought it would be best to remove the temptation. You don't really want to shoot me, anyway, you know. You only think you do. When you have had time to consider it all, calmly, you'll thank me; because, don't you see, I would make you a lot more trouble dead than I could possibly, alive. I don't think that Mr. Baldwin would like to have me all shot to pieces, particularly if the shooting were done by someone from Tailholt Mountain. And I am quite sure that 'Wild Horse Phil' would be very much put out about it."
"Well, what do you want?" growled Nick. "You've got the drop on me. What are you after, anyway?"
"What peculiar expressions you western people use!" murmured Patches sweetly. "You say that I have got the drop on you; when, to be exact, you should have said that you got the drop from me--do you see? Good, isn't it?"
Nick's effort at self-control was heroic.
Patches watched him with an insolent, taunting smile that goaded the man to reckless speech.
"If you didn't have that gun, I'd--" the big man began, then stopped, for, as he spoke, Patches placed the weapon carefully on a rock and went toward him barehanded.
"You would do what?"
At the crisp, eager question that came in such sharp contrast to Patches' former speech, Nick hesitated and drew back a step.
Patches promptly moved a step nearer; and his words came, now, in answer to the unfinished threat with cutting force. "What would you do, you big, hulking swine? You can bully a weakling not half your size; you can beat a helpless incompetent like a dog; you can bluster, and threaten a tenderfoot when you think he fears you; you can attack a man with a loaded quirt when you think him unable to defend himself;--show me what you can do now."
The Tailholt Mountain man drew back another step.
Patches continued his remarks. "You are a healthy specimen, you are. You have the frame of a bull with the spirit of a coyote and the courage of a sucking dove. Now--in your own vernacular--get a-goin'. Vamoose! Get out! I want to talk to your superior over there."
Sullenly Nick Cambert mounted his horse and turned away toward one of the trails leading out from the little arena.
"Come along, Joe!" he called to his follower.
"No, you don't," Patches cut in with decisive force. "Joe, stay where you are!"
Nick paused. "What do you mean by that?" he growled.
"I mean," returned Patches, "that Joe is free to go with you, or not, as he chooses. Joe," he continued, addressing the cause of the controversy, "you need not go with this man. If you wish, you can come with me. I'll take care of you; and I'll give you a chance to make a man of yourself."
Nick laughed coarsely. "So, that's your game, is it? Well, it won't work. I know now why Bill Baldwin's got you hangin' 'round, pretendin' you're a tenderfoot, you damned spy. Come on, Joe." He turned to ride on; and Joe, with a slinking, sidewise look at Patches, started to follow.
Again Patches called, "Wait, Joe!" and his voice was almost pleading. "Can't you understand, Joe? Come with me. Don't be a dog for any man. Let me give you a chance. Be a man, Joe--for God's sake, be a man! Come with me."
"Well," growled Nick to his follower, as Patches finished, "are you comin' or have I got to go and get you?"
With a sickening, hangdog look Joe mumbled something and rode after his master.
As they disappeared up the trail, Nick called back, "I'll get you yet, you sneakin' spy."
"Not after you've had time to think it over," answered Patches cheerfully. "It would interfere too much with your real business. I'll leave your gun at the gate of that old corral up the wash. Good-by, Joe!"
For a few moments longer the strange man stood in the glade, listening to the vanishing sounds of their going, while that mirthless, self-mocking smile curved his lips.
"Poor devil!" he muttered sadly, as he turned at last to make his way back to his horse. "Poor Joe! I know just how he feels. It's hard--it's beastly hard to break away."
"I'm afraid I have made trouble for you, sir," Patches said ruefully to the Dean, as he briefly related the incident to his employer and to Phil that afternoon. "I'm sorry; I really didn't stop to think."
"Trouble!" retorted the Dean, his eyes twinkling approval, while Phil laughed joyously. "Why, man, we've been prayin' for trouble with that blamed Tailholt Mountain outfit. You're a plumb wonder, young man. But what in thunder was you aimin' to do with that ornery Yavapai Joe, if he'd a' took you up on your fool proposition?"
"Really, to tell the truth," murmured Patches, "I don't exactly know. I fancied the experiment would be interesting; and I was so sorry for the poor chap that I--" he stopped, shamefaced, to join in the laugh.
But, later, the Dean and Phil talked together privately, with the result that during the days that followed, as Patches and his teacher rode the range together, the pupil found revolver practice added to his studies.
The art of drawing and shooting a "six-gun" with quickness and certainty was often a useful part of the cowboy's training, Phil explained cheerfully. "In the case, for instance, of a mixup with a bad steer, when your horse falls, or something like that, you know."