The Project Gutenberg eBook of Law Rustlers

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Title: Law Rustlers

Author: W. C. Tuttle

Release date: December 21, 2021 [eBook #66981]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: The Ridgway Company, 1921

Credits: Roger Frank and Sue Clark


Law Rustlers

by W. C. Tuttle

Author of “The Devil’s Dooryard,” “Sun-Dog Trails,” etc.

Me and “Hashknife” Hartley sets there on our broncs and spells out the old sign, just like it was the first time we ever seen it. The good Lord only knows why we’re back at the old sign. Willer Crick don’t mean nothing to us. Glory Sillman lives, or did live, on Willer Crick, but her name ain’t never figured in any of our conversations since the day we fogged away from Willer Crick.

We kinda left that part of the range in a hurry that day; left a surprised bunch of folks watching our dust, while a couple of enterprising bad-men went home to get patched up and another bunch throwing lead at the wrong parties, just because said parties had a gray and a roan horse.

No, Willer Crick has been a closed incident to us. Not that we’re silent folks, ’cause we ain’t. I can talk the bark off a greasewood, and Hashknife Hartley—man, he’s a conversationalist. It’s kinda funny that we never talked about the Willer Crick folks, ’cause they sure are worth talking about. Sol Vane, who does the lawin’ for the Crick, Jim Sillman, one of the Council of Three, old Ebenezer Godfrey—they’re one goshawful layout.

Of course Ebenezer Godfrey is dead. Jim Albright and Pete Godfrey, his illegal heirs, are dead, we think, but there’s a plenty of that misguided tribe left. Ebenezer was killed by Pete and Jim, ’cause the old man wouldn’t die soon enough for one of them to get visible means of support, in order to marry Glory. The old man was hard-boiled enough to hang on to life until he could will everything he owned to me and Hashknife. Willer Crick, being a closed corporation, didn’t accept me and Hashknife to any great extent.

They stole old Godfrey’s body in order to establish what Sol Vane called “corpus delectable,” but we got it back, or rather hid it again. We buried some dynamite in the front yard and Sol, Pete and Jim dug into it, thinking we had planted the old man there. Sol lost all his hair and all we could find of Jim and Pete was a hat with the crown gone.

Me and Hashknife weathered considerable storm, but there wasn’t no use in defying the lightning too much, so we got out by the skin of our teeth, with a Winchester rifle and a vest-pocket derringer.

Me and Hashknife cut cards to see which of us would marry Glory Sillman, accept five hundred dollars in place of a wife and then leave the country. This was to save Jim Sillman from the law of the Crick, and would also allow Glory to go outside and get educated like a human being. Willer Crick had a peculiar law. It seems that they rules that a girl has to stay on the crick until she gets married. After she’s hooked up she can leave. Of course, they means to make her marry one of their own bunch, but their law don’t specify that. It also seems that the sins of one of the family is visited upon all the rest of that family.

Jim Sillman explains that everything he owns is on the crick, and that if Glory breaks the law they’re liable to take away his property as punishment. Kind of a weak way of looking at things, but we can’t all think alike thataway. He offers us five hundred dollars cash if one of us will marry her. This gives her the right to pull her freight out of there and also saves him from their locoed law.

Glory don’t want a regular husband, and it’s a cinch that me and Hashknife ain’t noways hankering for a wife, but it’s a sporting chance and we takes it. We never collected that five hundred for the simple reason that the “uncle,” who was financing the law-breaking scheme, turned out to be the sheriff of Yolo, who had been trailing me and Hashknife for six months.

Sometimes I’m kinda sorry we didn’t smoke up that bunch and take Glory along with us. I spoke to Hashknife about it the day we left there.

“Easy enough,” says he. “I could ’a’ downed her uncle and her pa—easy. Any girl would whoop with joy to see her uncle and paw full of lead. Maybe she’d ’a’ married you, Sleepy, dang your homely face. Maybe she’d ’a’ married me—me bein’ handsome; but any old way yuh take it, we’d ’a’ busted up—me and you. Yuh can’t keep a wife and a bunkie.”

“Hashknife,” says I, “would yuh rather have me than a wife?”

“You danged porkypine, I don’t have to support you.”

It’s been quite a while since me and Hashknife hit for the open trails. We stayed at the Circle Dot a lot longer than we ever stayed any one place before, but when the snow fades off the hills and the grass shows green on the slopes and you can smell the sunshine—we’re traveling.

“Where?” I asks.

“Anywhere,” says Hashknife, jingling three months’ pay. “We’re follerin’ our noses, cowboy. Maybe we’ll get to Alaska this time.”

I reckon that mostly all human beings have some outlook in life. Some of ’em looks forward to the day when they can set down by the fire and let a hired man herd the sheep, while some looks forward to the day when they can hunt a warm climate in the Winter and know that somebody is at home to do the chores.

Me and Hashknife looks forward to Alaska. What in —— we are going to do up there has nothing to do with it. It’s something to look forward to, as the horse-thief said to the posse when they comes in sight of a limbless tree.

Three days after we leaves the Circle Dot, we cuts a wagon-road and there is that same old sign, sagging a little more and maybe a little more faded, but still showing:


“Still advertisin’, I see,” grins Hashknife. “Them folks sure are a caution to ——, Sleepy. I wonder if Sol Vane’s hair ever growed on his head again. Wonder if Glory—say, Sleepy, there was a reg’lar girl. ’Member how she used to fill the magazine of her rifle after shootin’ once or twice? Reg’lar little he-woman. If I wanted to git married——”

“Which you don’t.”

“No-o-o, but if I did I’d—”

Hashknife squints down the road.

“By the antlers on a desert toad!” he gasps. “Here comes the joker.”

Remember the old playing-cards that had a joker which was a picture of a long-legged old pelican riding a little mule? The feller’s legs are so long he has to spread himself to keep from dragging his feet on the ground, and he’s got kind of a funny old face.

He rides up, insists on shaking hands with us and then reads the old sign.

“I have found it,” says he proud-like.

“You’ve found somethin’,” agrees Hashknife. “You goin’ to visit Willer Crick?”

“Name’s Cobb, Reverend Cobb, and I am God’s pardner. Yes, I am going to visit the place, brother.”

“I’m Hashknife Hartley, and I ain’t got no brother. I’ll say to you that Willer Crick ain’t the healthiest place on this earth, no matter who your pardner is.”

“I’ve come a long ways,” says he, “a long ways on a mule. I’ve heard that it’s kinda ungodly.”

“Ungodly!” snorts Hashknife, “lemme tell yuh somethin’ about that—uh—no, I won’t either. You’ve come a long ways on a mule.”

“Are they as bad as folks has told me?”

“Man,” says Hashknife, “man, there ain’t never been a liar foaled yet that could do that place justice. That there sign is a compliment to that community.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear the worst. Adios, brothers.”

We watches him jog out of sight and then we pilgrims on. Some time in the dim and distant past a colony of men and women and dogs and mules and kids pilgrimed from the South and settled in the Willer Crick hills. Seems that they was kinda anti-everything, and wanted to form a little empire of their own.

Map for "Law Rustlers"
Map for “Law Rustlers”

They picks out this spot, took up their farms and drew sort of a dead-line against the rest of creation. They didn’t want schools—not believing in education, and they made their own queer laws. They intermarried until it took ’em a month to figure out a legal heir in case one of the land owners shuffled off. A few of ’em, called the Council of Three, assisted by Sol Vane, who does the lawin’ for the Crick, had enough education to see that the rest of the colony didn’t get anything that the council and one didn’t want ’em to get. Glory explained the system to us.

“My ——!” snorts Hashknife. “I could shoot once and kill your uncle, a cousin, a half-brother, a brother-in-law and a nephew.”

Which wasn’t true in Glory’s case, being as her dad had busted the law by marrying outside the colony.

This close relationship has bred a fine bunch of chinless horse-thieves, gun-men and hard drinkers. Seems like the men with the least chins always carries the most guns. There had never been a Willer Cricker arrested for anything else. Willer Crick dealt with ’em in their own way, and kept its mouth shut, except when it came to lying about their own innocence.

Me and Hashknife rides along for a while and then Hashknife pulls up his horse and looks back. I looks back too, but there ain’t nothing to see except the hills.

“Sleepy,” says Hashknife, kinda like he was thinking, “what do yuh reckon they’ll do to the Reverend Cobb up there?”

“Well, if Gospel was something they could steal, I’d say they’d entertain him over night.”

“That’s what I was thinkin’, Sleepy. In the words of the immortal George Washington: turn, boys, turn, we’re goin’ back.”

“George never said that,” says I. “It was Bryan.”

“All right, all right; have it your own way. What I don’t know about geography would make a set of hymn books, but I know somebody said it.”

“Why go back, Hashknife? Willer Crick wouldn’t hurt a preacher.”

“Not while he’s preachin’; but he can’t sermonize all the time. Willer Crick needs reformin’, Sleepy, but it’s got to be done in a language they understand.”

“It’s a fool idea,” I argues, “Willer Crick ain’t forgot us. They may be ignorant, but their memory ain’t weak. They may be shy on literature and art, Hashknife, but they sure as —— can shoot, and they’ll just about put the kibosh on us ever getting to Alaska.”

“You sure do get morbid, Sleepy. If Willer Crick had brains I’d pass ’em by. They can’t think beyond next drink-time.

“If they recognize us they’ll think like this: there’s them two crazy cowpunchers who depleted our community. Wonder who they’ll smoke up this time? That’s the way they’ll think.”

“And then start to shoot in self-defense. A preacher don’t mean nothin’ to me, Hashknife. What do you want to foller him in there for?”

“I dunno, Sleepy. I ain’t been to church since Sittin’ Bull first sat down, but there’s somethin’ kinda helpless about a preacher—and Willer Crick is so —— ornery.”

“Was your folks religious?”

“I don’t reckon they was. Paw and maw split up when I was knee-high to a tall Injun, and paw took me with him. Paw thought he was a two-gun man and I becomes a orphing at a tender age.”

“You helpin’ out folks thataway is goin’ to stop me and you from ever seeing Alaska, Hashknife.”

He turns in his saddle and smiles at me. Hashknife ain’t no beautiful critter. He’s one of them hard-eyed, thin nosed and thin-lipped hombres. His cheek-bones are kinda high and his ears kinda bat out and his hair is roan. He’ll fight at the drop of the hat; fight with a foolish grin on his face, and he ain’t afraid.

That’s why I like Hashknife. I’m kinda scary, myself, and I need moral support as I trail through life. When Hashknife smiles, every dog within half a mile begins to wag its tail. Hashknife calls me and him, “cowpunchers of disaster.”

He turns and smiles at me.

“Sleepy, I see by the almanac that she’s goin’ to be awful cold in Alaska this Winter. Mebbe we better pick out one of their warm Winters.”

“I think,” says I, kinda mean-like, “I think you’re going into Willer Crick to see somebody—and she ain’t no preacher.”

“No-o-o, Sleepy. ’Course I’d like to see her and apologize for not marryin’ her that time. Girl kinda expects a apology in a case like that. Mebbe her uncle told her why, but he’d sure paint us black so that she’d be glad I left her at the altar.”

Them Willer Crick hills sure do look natural. We rides past the old Godfrey ranch, which me and Hashknife owned for a few days. The old ranch-house is still squeegeed from the force of the dynamite, when the “heirs apparently,” as Sol Vane called ’em, dug into the alleged grave of poor old Godfrey. It looks like nobody had ever lived in it since we left.

We rides on past the Sillman ranch, where Hashknife came danged near being a bridegroom and a cash-widower. We don’t see anybody around there, but Willer Crick is a great place for folks to not be in evidence. About a mile farther on we comes to the town.

It sure is some town. There’s a saloon, a store and a blacksmith shop on one side of the street and on the other side is an old shed, a long tie-rack and a pile of old lumber. The saloon is two-stories high, and the upper half has a sign which proclaims it to be the Town Hall.

There’s several saddle horses tied to the rack. The town hall has an outside stairway and around the bottom of this is grouped four men. When we get off our broncs one of the men strolls over to us. It’s Al Bassett. Al was one of those who was very active in seeking our demise when we were in Willer Crick before, but me and Hashknife never figured him much of anything but a talker. He squints at us.

“Howdy, Bassett,” grins Hashknife. “Remember us?”

“Well,” says Bassett, drawing a deep breath, “well, ye-e-s, I do.”

He stares at us like he was kinda wondering why we came back there again. His mouth kinda gaps as he stares.

“Better look out or you’ll get your tonsils sunburned,” says Hashknife.

Them other three fellers moves over closer to us. We never seen them before. Bassett turns and starts to speak to ’em, but just then we hears loud voices, and out of the the door of the store backs a man.

In one hand he’s got a six-gun and in the other is a package. He turns his head away from the open door and just then comes the thump of a pistol-shot. The feller kinda jerks around, drops his gun and package and falls against the side of the building, where he slides to the sidewalk.

He ain’t no more than went flat when out of the store come a man, bareheaded and in his shirt sleeves, with a gun in his hand. He stoops over, picks up the package and then looks down at the man. Bassett steps in past us and says:

“What was the matter, Cale?”

“Well—” the man licks his lips and then wipes the back of his hand across his mouth—“well, I tol’ him I wasn’t ’lowed to sell him nothin’. He gits kinda uppity and drags his gun. Then he he’ps himself to a bottle of medicine, flings the money on the counter and backs out. Yuh notice he didn’t git away with it, don’t yuh?”

Bassett nods and turns the man over. He’s been drilled dead-center. The storekeeper is staring at me and Hashknife.

“Mind tellin’ why yuh killed him?” asks Hashknife soft-like. “Where I came from, buyin’ medicine is a necessity—not a killin’ matter.”

“None o’ yore—” begins the feller, but Bassett stops him.

“Hol’ on, Cale. Lemme tell him.”

“I can run my own——”

“You shut up!” snaps Bassett. “This feller askin’ questions is the feller who inherited the Godfrey ranch that time. This other feller is his pardner.”

The storekeeper stares at us, and kinda grumbles to himself, but goes back inside. Them other three hombres gawps at us considerable but don’t say nothing.

Bassett leads us to the end of the little board sidewalk, and we all sets down.

“What are you fellers doin’ here?” asks Bassett.

“Waitin’ for you to think up a lie to tell us about that killin’,” says Hashknife. “Yuh might as well tell us the truth. Who was the feller what got hit?”

“Eph Sillman.”

“Jim Sillman’s son?”

“Uh-huh—Glory’s brother. He done busted all our laws. Yuh see, he married an outlander about seven year ago.”

“You’re doin’ most of the talkin,” reminds Hashknife.

“Eph brought that woman here, but nobody’s ever had anything’ to do with her. They got a kid about seven year old. On ’count of Jim Sillman we had suffered ’em to live here and trade the same as the rest of us, but not havin’ much truck with him and his. He gets drunk the other day and he talks too much. The council takes action on him and decides to outlaw him. They says he can’t buy nor sell here. He knowed he couldn’t buy that medicine, but he was hard-headed.”

“His woman couldn’t associate with other women?” asks Hashknife.

“Nope. Yuh see, she’s a ——”

“His little kid can’t play with other kids?”

“No. The other——”

“Kinda tough, don’t yuh think, Bassett?”

“When a feller makes his bed he’s got to lay on it.”

Hashknife nods and looks at his toes.

“Bassett, did yuh ever read the Bible?”


“Yuh ought to, Bassett. It tells yuh how to pray.”

“Pray?” says Bassett, kinda queer-like. “Whatcha mean?”

“You could learn some prayers,” says Hashknife soft-like, “and then yuh could teach ’em to the rest of the Crick, ’cause they’re goin’ to need ’em—bad. Who will tell his widder about this?”

“The council, I reckon. Jim Sillman, Sim Sellers and Black Albright.”

“Goin’ to be a nice chore for Jim Sillman—tell her that his own son is dead. Didn’t Glory have nothing’ to do with Eph’s wife?”

“Glory—I dunno,” says Bassett, scratching his head. “Some says she has. There’s been several quarrels about it in the last year. She has been watched close, but nothin’ comes of it, except that ‘Tug’ Williams got a rifle bullet into his shoulder one night.”

“Where does Eph Sillman live?”

Bassett points down the road.

“About two mile down there. Second ranch to the left. House sets back in the cottonwoods. You ain’t goin’ down there.”

“You’ve been misinformed,” says Hashknife. “We’re goin’ down there, I reckon.”

“Better keep away, Hartley. Willer Crick ain’t askin’ yore help. My advice to you would be——”

“Ignored,” finishes Hashknife. “Absolutely, Bassett. You ought to know us better than to give us advice. You ain’t forgot how we acts, has yuh?”

“Willer Crick remember you two.”

“If anybody cares,” grins Hashknife. “Come on, Sleepy.”

We swung back on to our broncs and points off down the road. Bassett joins them other three fellers and they watches us ride away. Outside of the body on the sidewalk, Willer Crick is just the same as when we rode in.

“I hope to see buzzards circlin’ that place,” says Hashknife. “I’d like to be called upon to say a prayer over the whole works.”

“What would you say?” I asks.

“I’d say, ‘The rest of you ordinary sinners stand back, ’cause there’s goin’ to be one awful fire in ——.’”

We found the place, and tied to the front gate is the Reverend Cobb’s mule.

“Whatcha know about that?” grunts Hashknife. “Leave it to a preacher to smell out things like this.”

We walks around to the back door. Standing in the doorway is Glory Sillman. She’s kinda leaning against the side of the door, looking away from us. Then she turns.

“Howdy,” says Hashknife, taking off his hat. “Nice day.” Glory kinda jerks back when she first sees us, but after the first look she kinda takes a deep breath and stares at us. I reckon she thought we was Willer Crickers at first.

Then she says kinda soft—

“You two!”

“Yes’m,” says I. “Same old two of us ma’am.”

Just then a little kid comes out beside Glory. He’s a little, round-eyed shaver, and he’s been crying dirty tears or has been crying tears on a dirty face, ’cause he sure is streaked.

“That’s his kid,” says Hashknife, kinda whispering.

“Whose kid?” asks Glory, but before Hashknife can answer her the old man comes out.

He brushes his hand across his eyes and stares at us.

“Yuh beat us up here, grampaw,” smiles Hashknife.

“Yes,” says he. “I—I reckon I did.”

Then he puts his hand on Glory’s arm and says to her:

“Girl, I want to thank yuh for your kindness to her. She tol’ me some of it. Yuh see, she never wrote to me and I never knew how things was. I decided to come, yuh see.”

“You’re welcome,” says Glory thoughtful-like.

“Seven year and a few months,” says the old man, like he was talking to himself. “Me wonderin’ why she don’t write, and—and it’s a long ways to Arizony—on a mule.”

“Woman sick?” asks Hashknife.

“Not now,” says Glory sad-like. “Maybe she’s better off, I don’t know. Anything is better than livin’ here like she had to live.”

“Where’s her husband?” asks Hashknife, like he didn’t know.

“Gone to town,” says Glory. “He—he was going to try and get some medicine.”

“Ain’t yuh got no doctor?” I asks.

“Yes, but——”

“He wouldn’t come?” asks Hashknife, and Glory shakes her head.

“She was my daughter,” says the old man, and then he says to Glory, “Will yuh come in with me and he’p me a little?”

The little kid looks at us and then follers them inside. Me and Hashknife looks at each other. We’re kinda hard-boiled, but it’s getting under our hides a little.

Then we hears voices out by the gate, and here comes a lot of men. We figures it’s the council coming to notify Eph’s wife. It ain’t right to feel thataway, but I’m kinda glad she wasn’t able to hear what they has to say. Hashknife touches me and I steps around the corner with him.

This gang trails around to the back door and we hears one of ’em speak to Glory. The old man must ’a’ come to the door, ’cause we hears somebody ask Glory who the old man is. The old man starts to talk, but one of the gang says:

“We jist wants to say that Eph got killed today.”

We hears Glory say:

“Eph Sillman?” kinda strained-like.


“Dad, is this true?” asks Glory, but we don’t hear Jim Sillman answer.

“What or who killed him?” asks Glory.

“Nobody seems to know,” says a voice. “He’s layin’ up there in front of the store. Bassett heard the shot and so did several more folks. Bassett says that two fellers rode through town today, and he’s dead certain that they’re them same two cowboys what tried to steal the Godfrey place. Them two is likely the ones what done it.”

“They better not show up around this country,” states a voice. “I’m lookin’ fer them two, y’betcha.”

Hashknife pinches me on the arm.

“That’s one of the fellers what tried to hold me up for the five hundred dollars I never got. I reckon I shot high.”

“Eph went to see if he could get a little medicine,” says Glory, and her voice is high pitched. Then she adds, “But it wouldn’t ’a’ done any good.”

“Did—did she die?” asks Jim Sillman.

“She was my daughter,” says the old man. “My daughter.”

“This here e-state will need considerin’,” says a voice.

“My gosh, there’s Sol Vane!” gasps Hashknife.

“How about the kid?” asks some one.

“He don’t count,” declares another. “He’s the brat of a outlander. Mebbe we better look around fer them two gun-fighters.”

“I’m lookin’ fer ’em, y’betcha,” states the feller who has promised to dance our hair. “All I needs is one look.”

Hashknife steps away from the side of the building and around the corner, with me on his heels. The folks are grouped in kind of a half-circle around the doorway. Glory and the old man are on the steps, with the kid between ’em. On the left side of the doorway is Jim Sillman. Standing at the rear of the half-circle, looking like a turkey gobbler in a flock of turkeys, stands Sol Vane, craning his long, dirty neck and chewing a mouthful of tobacco that stretches his face all out of shape. They turns and looks at us.

“Yuh might use up that one look right now,” says Hashknife.

The bunch kinda sway away from each other. One cinch, there’s never any chance for pot-shooting on Willer Crick. I sees Sol Vane swaller real hard and the bulge is gone from his skinny cheeks. The rest of the bunch just seem to stare at us.

Hashknife has got his eyes on that big-talker, who is just about in the center of the crowd. He’s sort of round-shouldered, fish-eyed and looks like he ain’t been curried for a year. His eyes are flat, if you know what I mean. They’re like the eyes they put in mounted animals. He’s got a big gun hanging on his hip, but he ain’t made a move toward it yet.

“You, I’m talkin’ to,” says Hashknife. “You dirty centipede. Set your eyes on me, feller. I’m the hombre you spoke about. Reach for your gun, you cross between a polecat and buzzard. Make good, can’t yuh?”

I never seen Hashknife like that before. This is once that he ain’t laughing. Maybe he knows that one shot will spill the whole works, and the odds are all against us.

The feller licks his lips but don’t speak. His face looks kinda funny—like he was scared to breathe. Hashknife walks up to him, slow, but this feller don’t move. The rest of the crowd seems hypnotized, but I wasn’t taking no chances. I sets the butt of my .45 against my hip and waits for the break to come.

Hashknife takes this feller’s gun out of its holster and tries to make him take it in his hand, but all this feller does is look like a dog that has been caught doing wrong. Hashknife takes the feller’s belt off, takes him by the shoulder and turns him around.

“Go home,” says Hashknife kinda hoarse-like. “Go home and be glad you’re alive.” I never seen anything like it. That feller walked away, kinda slouching, and Hashknife turned back to face the bunch.

It was Hashknife’s face and eyes that froze that bad hombre. He was hypnotized, but the minute Hashknife turned his back this feller came to. He swung sideways, grabbed his vest and flashed another gun.

I was looking for just that. He was about fifty feet from me, but I took a chance and shot twice.

Man, I was just in time. His bullet cut the dirt at Hashknife’s feet. He looks down at his pistol and then kinda tosses it away from him, like he was all through with it, and then turned as though he was going away—but he didn’t. I glances at the bunch and then at Hashknife, who was facing them with a gun in his hand.

“Hashknife,” says I, “you do take the worst chances. These Willer Crick rattlers has more than one set of fangs. Little more and that Alaska trip would ’a’ been all off.”

“You’re the little snake-hunter, Sleepy,” he grins. “Much obliged.”

Then he faces the bunch and they’re sure one uneasy crowd. Me downin’ that feller don’t mean nothin’ to them—much. Hashknife glances from face to face, and finally looks straight at Sillman.

“Eph Sillman was your son, wasn’t he?”

Sillman don’t speak: just shifts his feet.

“That dead woman in there was your daughter-in-law, Sillman. You folks denied her a doctor and then yuh killed her husband when he was man enough to try and get medicine for her. We seen that killin’. Bassett and three other men saw it; now yuh tried to throw the deadwood on me and Stevens.”

“You fellers try your dangdest to stir up trouble, don’t yuh?” wails Sol Vane. “I didn’t think you’d ever come back here, I didn’t.”

“I came back to see if your hair growed out, Sol,” says Hashknife. “If yuh want another hair cut, I’ll bury the dynamite.”

Nobody had a word to say, but finally Sol Vane spoke—“The feller you gunned up over there is Lem Sellers. He’s a brother to Sim Sellers.”

“I don’t care if he’s his own uncle and brother-in-law,” says Hashknife. “Who is Sim Sellers?”

“Head of the council,” says Sol, like he’d sprung something on us. “Sim’s the head man of Willer Crick.”

“I hope he’s got more guts than Lem,” says Hashknife. “I like to do my own killin’.”

Just then that little kid kinda sneaks up beside Hashknife and Hashknife looks down at him. The little feller looks up at Hashknife with them big eyes, and then he just slips in closer, like a pup does when he likes yuh.

“Come here, Buddy,” says Glory, but Buddy’s hanging on to a rosette on Hashknife’s chaps and don’t even look at her.

“Buddy kinda inherits this ranch, don’t he?” I asks.

“That’s a question,” says Sol Vane. “A question for the council to decide.”

“And they’ve already decided,” says Glory.

Hashknife looks down at Buddy and then at the bunch of men.

“The kid’s goin’ to get a square deal, ain’t he, Sillman? He’s your grandson.”

The men all looked at Sillman, but Sillman don’t speak.

“Your grandpaw’s goin’ to see that you gets a square deal, Buddy,” says Hashknife, patting the kid on the head.

One of the men kinda snickers and then turns away.

“Who’s goin’ to keep the kid now?” I asks. “His family ain’t in no shape to take care of him.”

Sol Vane clears his throat. The son-of-a-gun looks like a gobbler with something stuck in his neck.

“Well that’s a question. He ain’t a Sillman and he ain’t nothin’ else—much. It’s a question, I reckon. Nobody on the Crick is beholdin’ to his folks that I knows on.”

Sol Vane swallers hard and begins to chaw again.

“He’s your kid, Sillman,” says Hashknife soft-like.

“I’d like to—” begins Glory, but Sillman stops her.

Then he says to Hashknife:

“Hartley, you ain’t got no business hornin’ in like this. Willer Crick can handle its own affairs, and Willer Crick will decide what is to become of the kid.”

“And you’re his gran’paw,” says Hashknife, “gran’paw to a nice little harmless kid like this. And you say that Willer Crick will tend to him. Why—” Hashknife teeters on his toes and hooks his thumb over the belt above his gun—“why, you herd of mangy curs! You pack of gutter pups! Go ahead, you chinless maverick—reach for your gun! No? Then listen to me, you lousy cowards! You, Sillman! I thought you was an inch or two above this carrion, but you ain’t. You’re all alike. You’ve married your own relations until your brains are warped and shrunk so badly that you ain’t above eatin’ your own kind. The cannibal will protect its own blood, but you coyotes won’t.”

Them Willer Crickers never made a false move. Maybe they’d ’a’ nailed us, bein’ about five to one and all armed, but we’d ’a’ sure give the buzzards a feed, and them men knowed we would.

“I wish,” says Hashknife, “I wish I had education enough to tell folks what I think of yuh. There’s a lot of words I don’t know, dang the luck.”

The old man steps down from the doorway and moves in beside Hashknife.

“Brother,” says he, “you’ve done well. If I can help yuh out in any way, I’d be plumb willin’. I’m a preacher of the gospel, but there is times when a good cuss word does come in handy.”

“Are yuh through?” asks Sillman meek-like.

“No, I ain’t!” snaps Hashknife. “I’ve got to think of somethin’ new to call yuh. Ain’t there nothin’ I can say that will make yuh mad? Ain’t yuh got enough decency left to accept a insult?”

“Mebbe,” says Sol Vane, “mebbe you’ll find out—later.”

“Thanks,” says Hashknife dry-like. “I’m glad to have somethin’ to look forward to. I had a open, runnin’ shot at you once, Sol, and I was fool enough to shoot low. Next time I’m goin’ to cut you off above the collar.”

“You cain’t threaten me, Hartley!”

“I ain’t threatenin’ yuh. No, you buzzard, I’m statin’ a fact.”

“There’s fifty men on Willer Crick,” states another one of the bunch.

“Pass the word,” says Hashknife. “There’s just that much difference between us and you. Me and Sleepy are square shooters and we’d love to have yuh come and bring all your friends. Only twenty-five apiece. Sleepy, there don’t seem to be much chance for us to get action here.”

“Who’s goin’ to take the kid?” I asks.

“I am,” says Hashknife. “He’s too good to live with Willer Crickers.”

“He, he, he,” cackles Sol Vane. “He, he, he.”

“Sol Vane, you’re goin’ to choke to death some day,” states Hashknife. “Right in the middle of one of them laughs you’re goin’ to quit seein’ the funny side of serious things. Now, you snake-hunters, pick up that would-be assassin and drift. I don’t want him clutterin’ up the scenery. Tell your friends that we’re receivin’ company at any time.”

They files past us and picks up Lem Seller. I don’t reckon Lem’s plumb dead, but he ain’t in no shape to help himself much. They loads him up and drifts, while me and Hashknife and the little kid stands there and watches ’em go.

Glory is inside the house. After they drifts out of sight I steps up to the door and peers inside. I see Glory standing by the front window. Then she turns and leans a Winchester rifle against the wall. Hashknife looks over my shoulder and sees her place the gun, and then he looks at me kinda queer-like.

Glory wasn’t takin’ no chances on Willer Crick smoking us up. The little kid hangs on to Hashknife.

“I like you,” says the little jigger, looking up at Hashknife.

“Well, for gosh sakes!” gasps Hashknife. “Whatcha know about that. Buddy, me and you are goin’ to bunk together for quite a spell.”

“You play wit’ me?” he asks.

“Well, my gosh!” says Hashknife foolish-like. “Well, whatcha know about that?”

“Brother,” says the old man, “was you serious about takin’ Buddy?”

“You’re a preacher,” says Hashknife, “and I admire preachers a heap, but just you try takin’ him away from me. Ain’t nobody sayin’ I can’t take him, is there?”

Glory looks at Hashknife and then down at the kid.

“I’m glad for Buddy,” says she.

“Buddy glad,” says the kid.

“Well, my gosh!” gasps Hashknife. “Don’t this beat —— and high water?”

Willer Crick never made no foolish breaks when we went up with Eph Sillman’s old wagon and team and brought Eph’s body back with us. Me and Hashknife went up there and took it—that’s all. They’d moved him off behind the sidewalk and put a old blanket over him. The store was closed and there wasn’t man, woman nor child in sight.

Glory said they wouldn’t bury him, and I reckon she was right. Me and Hashknife dug two graves and Hashknife built two boxes. It’s awful to have to plant folks thataway, but we done our dangdest to make it look right.

The old man kind a broke down over the sermon, which was natural, and Hashknife finished it up. Glory was there. It was her brother, and I reckon she thought a lot of him. Buddy didn’t know what it meant, but he bawled anyway, which made a real pleasant party all the way around. I reckon the old man was kinda loco over it all, ’cause he went out, got on his mule and pulled his freight.

Glory didn’t have much to say after it was over. She kissed the kid, and then got on her horse.

“I ain’t had much chance to talk to you two,” says she, “but I want you both to know I’m obliged to you. Maybe they won’t let me see you again, but I hope you’ll take Buddy and get away—which I know you won’t do.”

“Glory Sillman,” says Hashknife, “you’re welcome—and we won’t.”

She smiled at us and rode away, and we stood there with our hats in our hands, like a pair of fools until she’s out of sight.

“Well,” says I, “we’ve met Willer Crick.”

“Not all, Sleepy; there’s forty more, so they say. Glory left her rifle. It’s standin’ in there, and hangin’ to it is a belt plumb full of shells. She likely didn’t know we had a pair of rifles.”

“She did,” says I, “but she wanted to have an extra one here when she showed up.”

We cooks supper, but neither of us has any appetite. Buddy wants to get on Hashknife’s knee all the time, and Hashknife ain’t got no conversation in his system, except, “My gosh!” They’ve got the house fixed up kinda nice inside. There ain’t much furniture, but it’s clean, which is something in Willer Crick.

“Don’t yuh never have no little boys to play with?” I asks.

“Li’l boys?” says Buddy, “I’m li’l boy.”

“This country ain’t human, Sleepy,” says Hashknife. “This here family must ’a’ been ignored complete, the same of which would drive anybody loco. Honest, I thought Jim Sillman was half-human, but he ain’t. Glory’s a humdinger, but she’s sure handicapped. Think of these hombres spyin’ on her to see if she ever comes to see her sister-in-law. Ain’t they the meanest, sneakinest bunch of pariah dogs yuh ever seen? It ain’t hard to see who slammed that bullet into Tug Wilson. Too bad she shot high.”

I’m leaning against one of the front windows, looking down the road, and I sees a man coming. It’s almost dark, but I sabe that pelican.

“Here comes Sol Vane,” says I.

He rides up to the front gate, gets off his horse, takes out a white rag. I opens the front door.

“Can yuh see me?” he asks, waving the rag.

“Come ahead,” I yells back at him, and he shuffles up to the door.

“I packed a flag,” says he, masticating real fast and looking at Hashknife with the kid on his lap, “I ain’t got no gun on me.”

“Yuh didn’t need to deprive yourself of a gun,” says Hashknife.

“I ain’t comin’ to talk mean,” explains Sol. “We held a council uptown, and I just comes down here to let yuh know some of the things we argued out.

“Some was in favor of bustin’ down here and puttin’ yuh on the run, but I’m plumb in favor of goin’ kinda soft.”

Sol grins and takes a fresh chew.

“They wasn’t hard to convince that your way was the best, was they?” I asks.

“I does the lawin’ fer Willer Crick, and they accepts my judgment—mostly. I comes to talk to yuh about th’ brat.”

“Boy, yuh mean,” says Hashknife. “In speakin’ of this offspring, Sol, use the boy’s name or just speak of him as ‘the boy.’”

The little jigger knows that Hashknife is sticking up for him, I can see that, and he kinda leans back against Hashknife.

“This here ranch,” says Sol, “belongs to—well, I reckon it’s a question. Jim Sillman owns part of it and the rest of it’s to be settled by the council.”

“Meanin’ that Buddy gets gipped out of his ranch, eh?” asks Hashknife.

“Under the circumstances, the br—Buddy don’t own nothin’. His folks was just suffered to kinda live here.”

“Suffered,” nods Hashknife. “Go ahead.”

“I reckon that’s all.”

“All for you,” amends Hashknife, “but I ain’t started yet. For one thing, Sol Vane, I’m goin’ to do this: I’m goin’ to the county seat, find a regular lawyer and make Willer Crick jump over the moon. I’m goin’ to see that this here baby gets a square deal and I’m goin’ to——”

“Now, now,” grunts Sol Vane. “Don’t git excited. Willer Crick ain’t goin’ to beat nobody out of nothin’—not if they owns anythin’, y’understand.”

“This here Buddy is exhibit A,” says Hashknife. “Willer Crick took away his folks but they don’t take away nothin’ more. This ranch ain’t much, but it’ll be somethin’ for him to live on.”

Hashknife gets up and steps over beside Sol Vane.

“You tell your —— council that Buddy owns this ranch, will yuh?”

“’Pears to me,” says Sol, “that you’re kinda anxious to—the kid bein’ a minor and you grabbin’ him thataway, it kinda looks like you was sort of——”

Sol Vane made one awful mistake when he hinted that Hashknife was trying to feather his own nest. I seen Hashknife swing his body sideways, and Sol Vane landed flat on his face on the little dirt walk. It was a beautiful smash. We stands there and watches him twitch back to life, like one of them animated toy things. He managed to get to his feet and start for the gate, but ran into a tree and fell down again.

Then he got up and found his horse, but he didn’t take time to mount; just went staggering down the road, leading the horse.

“Good!” says Buddy, and his eyes were like saucers. “Sol Vane bad mans, my daddy says.”

“My gosh!” gasps Hashknife. “Did yuh hear that? He said it was good. This feller ain’t no Willer Cricker, y’betcha.”

Not bein’ wishful to take any chances of a night attack, the three of us slept in the open. We took bedding from the house and rolled up under the trees. Buddy thought it was a picnic. The next morning we finds a notice on the front door, which reads:


“Well,” observes Hashknife, “we’ll just about take that advice. Not that Willer Crick is runnin’ any whizzer on us, Sleepy, but we’ve got to kinda look out for this little Buddy, eh, Bud?”

“Betcha,” nods Buddy. “But we ain’t scared, are we?”

“It’s a wonder to me that this here kid ain’t cleaned up on that bunch before this, Sleepy. He’s got plenty of nerve. Did yuh ever shoot a gun, Buddy?”

“No, but I betcha I could.”

“He’s got it, Sleepy,” grins Hashknife. “Natcheral born terrier. Let’s pack up.”

We saddled our broncs and packed up all the clothes we can for the kid, which ain’t much. We took a little grub and then pulled out, with the kid riding in front of Hashknife. We took Glory’s rifle and belt with us, figuring on going past Sillman’s place and leaving it there.

There’s another road angling off the one to town, and the kid tells us that it goes past Glory’s place. We ain’t got nothin’ to take us through town; so we swings off onto this road. About a mile farther on Hashknife pulls up his horse and squints off down into a brushy coulee.

“Sleepy, there’s the old’ man’s mule there, ain’t it?”

“It’s the mule all right; feeding around in the brush.”

We swings our horses around and rides along the edge of the coulee, which leads down a deeper ravine.

“Anybody live around here—close, Buddy?” asks Hashknife.

“Mitch Ames lives down there,” says Buddy, pointing down the ravine.

“Fine!” grins Hashknife. “I dunno Mitch, but we’ll go down and see him.”

“You seen him yesterday,” says Buddy. “He was to my house with them men.”

“Oh, is that a fact? Well, he called on us, Buddy, and it ain’t no more than fair that we calls on him. Sleepy, did yuh notice that the mule was wearin’ a piece of pocket-rope. Likely broke loose.”

Mitch Ames’ cabin was cached away in that ravine, like he was scared somebody would find it, but Buddy knowed right where it was. We swung down the hill above it. Setting beside the cabin, tilted back in a chair, is two men. One of the horses steps on a round rock and sends it bumping down the hill and it hops into the bushes right near ’em.

Jump? Man I’d say they jumped! One of ’em had a rifle across his knee, and when he seen us he started to throw it to his shoulder, but the other feller grabbed him and yanked him around the corner.

Me and Hashknife drops out of our saddles and slips our rifles loose. We didn’t come there hunting for trouble, but if it showed up we’d be ready.

“Buddy, you get down in the brush,” orders Hashknife, pointing to a thick clump. “You get down low and wait for us.”

“Betcha,” says Buddy. “Me wait.”

The little jigger dives down into the brush like a rabbit and then me and Hashknife separates a few feet apart and slips down to the cabin—or rather toward the cabin, ’cause just about the time we hit the flat ground a hunk of lead whispers so close to my head that I heard what it said. We flops down and waits awhile.

The brush is kinda thick and we can only see one side of the cabin. We lay there quite a while, but there ain’t no more shots. We kinda snakes along until we works up beside the cabin, where we listens for a while, but can’t hear a thing. Hashknife gets to his feet, takes out his six-shooter for close work and walks to the door end of the cabin, with me on his heels. The door is shut. Hashknife gives it a kick and it swings open. Inside it is dark, being as there’s only one window, and that dirty.

We steps inside, and looks around, and as soon as our eyes gets used to the dusk we sees that there’s a man laying on the bed.

It’s the old preacher that rode the mule, and he’s sure hog-tied to a fare-thee-well, and has a rag shoved between his teeth.

Hashknife takes out his knife and starts to cut the ropes, but stops and listens. Then he jumps for the door, with me behind him.

“The horses!” gasps Hashknife. “I heard them rollin’ rocks. There they go!”

Up over the peak of a hogback goes our two horses, with a man in each saddle, and one of ’em is packing Buddy. Hashknife throws up his .45-70 Winchester.

“Buddy’s on that bay!” I yelps. “Look out, Hashknife!”

The rifle cracked and the gray horse swung sideways as the bullet fanned past its ear and the rider throws himself kinda sideways. It’s only a jump more to get out of sight and the range is about two hundred yards. I glances at Hashknife just as he shoots again.

I seen the rider of the gray horse slump sideways and go down on the left side of the gray. I reckon he must ’a’ tangled in the reins, ’cause it swung the gray plumb around on the hogback and it stops with its head down.

We went up there as fast as we could, but the bay horse and its two riders were out in the breaks. That bay horse could outrun anything in the cow-country, even packing weight; so we know it ain’t going to do us any good to try and run him down with that hammer-headed gray.

This feller has got one foot twisted in the stirrup and has the reins twisted around his hand and elbow. That big bullet had lifted part of his scalp and the top of his right ear, but he wasn’t dead.

“Worst shootin’ I’ve done in a age,” complains Hashknife. “Kinda had buck-fever, I reckon. Shame to waste two shots thataway.”

We hung the feller over the saddle and went back down to the cabin, where we cut the old man loose. It took him quite a while to recognize us and also to get his vocal cords to working again.

“How did yuh happen to be in this shape, old-timer?” asks Hashknife.

He shakes his head.

“I don’t know, brother. I went to the town, after I left you, and I—I asked a man where I could find the sheriff. He wanted to know what I wanted him for and I said I wanted to talk to him on business. I left there, and in a few minutes some men overtook me and brought me here. They tied me up and left two men to guard me. One of the men told me that if I ever seen the sheriff it would be after the sheriff had died and joined me.”

We led the old man outside and showed him the wounded man.

“He’s the one what told me that,” says he. “What happened to him?”

“He stayed too long,” grins Hashknife. “We’ll tie him up in your place.”

This hombre has commenced to talk to himself, so we ties him to the bunk, where he won’t get loose for a while.

“You take the horse and round up the mule, Sleepy,” says Hashknife.

That wasn’t no job, being as the mule had sore feet. I took it back to the cabin and turned it over to the old man. Me and Hashknife doubles up on the bay horse and the three of us cut back to the main road again.

About a mile or so farther on we comes to the Sillman ranch. Hashknife points down the road and says to the old man:

“Keep on this road, pardner, until yuh come to the sign where we first met yuh, then yuh turn to the left. Silverton is about twenty miles.”

“I wants to thank yuh, son,” says he. “Wants to thank both of yuh for what yuh done fer me. I’m gettin’ kinda old and so forth—but——”

“A man ain’t no older than he feels,” says I.

“Then I’m a million. Got rheumatics and them ropes didn’t he’p it none. Adios.

“Now,” says Hashknife, “I hope he gets out free of charge, ’cause I ain’t got no more time to monkey with him.”

We swung into Sillman’s gate and rode up to the house. I reckon Glory seen us ride into the place, ’cause she comes out the front door to meet us and the first thing she says is—

“Where’s Buddy?”

It don’t take Hashknife long to tell her what happened to Buddy and how we found the old preacher.

“Where’s your pa?” I asks.

“In town, I reckon. Council meeting called, I think. They met here last night, but I didn’t get any chance to hear what was said. They’re all suspicious of me. Sim Sellers wants me to be punished for assisting Eph’s wife, and him and dad had a run-in over it. Sim growled at me when they came and I told him that Lem was a growler and look what he got.

“Sim ain’t no better than a savage, and he said he’d eat your heart out if he got a chance. I told him he better get some extra teeth ’cause he might lose what he’s got. I thought that dad would give me —— for sayin’ it, but he didn’t. He asked me where I left my rifle, and I told him I left it in a good cause.”

“Glory,” says Hashknife, “do yuh know why I didn’t marry yuh that time?”

“No, I—I don’t,” says Glory, turning red, “but it wouldn’t ’a’ worked any way, ’cause Willer Crick showed up in force. Me and Dad and uncle Luke thought you seen ’em coming.”

“Your Uncle Luke was the sheriff of Yolo, wasn’t he, Glory?”

“He was once—yes.”

“When he was here?”

“No-o-o—not hardly. He got in bad with the Vigilantes down there.”

Hashknife looked at me and I looks at him, but neither of us says a word. Then Glory says:

“What do you reckon they’ll do with poor Buddy? What did they steal him for? Nobody wanted the little feller.”

“They want to get him away from me so there won’t be no heir to that ranch,” says Hashknife. “They’re goin’ to hoodie that poor little kid out of the way, Glory.”

Hashknife eases himself in his saddle and looks off across the hills. “I never had nothin’ like him—nothin’ in my life. The little jigger liked me, and kinda depended on me, I reckon. I said I was goin’ to keep him, didn’t I?”

Hashknife turns and looks at us.

“I said that, didn’t I? Well, that goes as she lays. Somebody on Willer Crick has got Buddy, and I’m goin’ to start in at the foot and work my way up, and I’m goin’ to git that kid if I have to fill —— with Willer Crickers.”

Glory nods like she knowed Hashknife meant it.

“Loan me a horse and saddle?” I asks.

“No,” says Glory, “I won’t loan you a horse, but there’s several out in the corral and there’s a couple of saddles hanging in the shed. I can’t stop you from taking what you want, can I?”

Me and Hashknife starts for the corral.

“That roan out there can run all day,” yells Glory. “He don’t look it, but he’s the best bronc in this country.”

“I hate to take things like this by force,” says Hashknife serious-like. “It ain’t right to intimidate a lady thataway.”

“You’re a pair of brutes,” says Glory. “Pick on somebody your own size.”

I don’t know whether Glory was kidding about that bronc or not. It bucked over the corral fence with me, bucked for half a mile faster than Hashknife’s animal could run. After that it was a pretty good animal. We headed straight for town.

“Willer Crick will be looking for us, Hashknife,” says I.

“I hope so, Sleepy. I hopes they forms a holler square and hauls out their cannon.”

“Mebbe,” says I, “mebbe we ought to let Willer Crick dispose of their own business. They ain’t got no sense, but maybe they’ll give the kid a square deal, if we give ’em a chance.”

“Maybe the devil could skate—if he had ice—but we know he ain’t.”

There’s at least twenty-five saddled horses in town, but not a person in sight as we swung down the street, but as we swung past the store a man came out. He gave us one look and then started for the outside stairs of the town hall. He showed speed, but not enough. Hashknife jumped his bronc across the sidewalk and into that feller, just short of the bottom step.

The bronc’s shoulder hit that feller, and he went spinning away like a tumble-weed in a wind; then Hashknife’s bronc hit the flimsy railing of the stairs and went down. Out of the tangle comes Hashknife and he’s got his Winchester. The bronc gets to its feet and limps away, while Hashknife runs along the side of the building and around to the front.

“Get off and under cover, you danged fool!” he yelps at me. “Willer Crick is all upstairs!”

I jumps my horse out of line with the windows and gets off. I hears somebody yelp a question, and then I follers Hashknife across the street, where we ducks in behind that old shed. I reckon that Willer Crick was too excited to take a shot at us when we went across the street.

Extending out from the side of the shed is a pile of old lumber, which we proceeds to get behind. It’s about three feet high and ten feet long. Between us and the other side of the street is the tie-rack, full of saddle-horses.

The feller who got knocked down is crawling out of sight behind the saloon, and Hashknife’s bronc is just wandering around between the saloon and the store.

“There’s our bay horse,” says I, pointing at the tie-rack.

Then a bullet dusted the top of the lumber pile and sent some splinters into my face.

“Keep low,” advises Hashknife. “They’re a-shooting from the windows. We’ve got to be careful that we don’t hit Buddy.”

Then Willer Crick starts in to make a lead mine out of our lumber pile, but them old boards sure do stop bullets. One feller gets cocky and looks out of the door. I lifts his hat and I think a part of his scalp, cause he yelps like a bee had stung him.

“Don’t shoot until you’re sure,” grins Hashknife. “We can’t take any chances of hittin’ our little jigger.”

“Think a lot of that kid, don’t yuh,” says I.

“’Thout a doubt in the world, Sleepy.”

“It ain’t noways reasonable for you to adopt him,” says I.

Hashknife recovers his hat, with a hole in the crown, and nudges in closer to the lumber pile, while Willer Crick sifted lead across the street.

“Nobody wants him but me, Sleepy, and I ain’t goin’ to let the little jigger go to no orphing home, y’betcha. Maybe I ain’t no fittin’ person to bring up a kid, but—oh, oh-h-h!”

Hashknife slips his rifle-barrel into a slot between two boards and then twists over almost on his shoulder, in order to look down the sights. A feller has slipped out of the doorway, thinking that we didn’t dare to expose ourselves enough to shoot.

Hashknife’s rifle cracked, and the feller’s feet slipped and he sat down hard. I don’t know where it hit him, but it made him either brave or sick, ’cause he just sets there, until a arm sticks out of the door and hauls him back inside. Then the shooting seemed to ease up.

“What do you fellers want?” yells a voice.

“This is a —— of a time to ask questions!” yells Hashknife. “Don’t stop shootin’ on our account.”

Just then a bullet nicked a piece of meat off the point of my jaw, and splatted into the wood beside my head. Before we can move, another bullet hit Hashknife’s hat.

“Behind us!” I yelps. “Look out!”

Hashknife flips off his hat and yanks his gun out of the slot.

“Look out yourself! That son-of-a-gun I knocked down has circled us.”

Willer Crick woke up to the fact that something is wrong, and they sure hammered our fort.

Zowie! A bullet spinged off my rifle-barrel and almost knocked it out of my hands.

“Watch the hall,” says I. “I’ll tend to our neighbor before he spoils our Alaska trip for good.”

I crawls in behind the old shed. Behind us is nothing but mesquite brush, which don’t make very good cover, especially for the first fifty yards.

Willer Crick is still trying to annihilate that pile of lumber, so I takes a chance and crawls like a snake. None of ’em seen me and I reached the heavy brush in safety. I hears this feller shoot again, and all to once I see him. He ain’t over fifty feet from me. There’s kind of a high piece of ground, with some rocks on it and a lot of mesquite clumps.

He’s having quite a nice time all by his lonesome and ain’t expecting visitors. He has to lift up real high to send his lead anywhere near Hashknife. He’s shooting one of them old 1876 models of Winchester, the kind we calls “grasshopper” action.

He rises up on his toes, squints down the sights, but seems to kinda get dissatisfied and relaxes. I could almost throw my gun and hit him, and shooting him thataway would be murder; so I waits until he lines up his sights again and then I slams a bullet into the loading-gate of his rifle.

I reckon a .45-70 hits kinda hard, cause it knocked him loose from that gun and he sat down hard. Some of the busted mechanism must ’a’ dented the primer of one of the shells in the magazine, ’cause that rifle sure raised —— for a few seconds. The owner of the gun wagged his head and looks down at the barrel of my rifle, which was poking into his belt.

“Get up!” says I.

He got up kinda slow-like, shaking his head and then he grabbed for his six-gun. I’m too close to him to shoot with the rifle, so I uppercuts him under the chin with the barrel, and he lost interest in everything.

I took his belt and six-gun back with me. Willer Crick seen me as I came back, but they must ’a’ hurried their aim. I got back to the shed, with my eyes, ears and nose full of dirt and a hole in my sleeve. Hashknife is doubled up, covering the doorway from that slot in the lumber pile.

“You’re a fine friend,” says I. “You let ’em all come to the window and shoot at me.”

“They had Buddy with ’em, Sleepy. Dang it, I was afraid to shoot.”

Somebody yells at Hashknife, but I don’t hear what he said.

“No yuh don’t,” answers Hashknife. “You let us have Buddy and we’ll call it square.”

Hashknife motions for me to stay behind the shed. I seen him settle down and line up his rifle again. He lifts his head and says:

“Sleepy, for ——’s sake, look! He’s usin’ Buddy for a shield. The rotten coward!”

I jumps to the corner of the building and looks. There’s a big feller coming down the stairs, with Buddy held in front of him. He’s got his arms wrapped around the kid, and there ain’t a chance in the world for us to shoot him.

“Take that bay hoss, Sim,” yells a voice from the hall. “He can outrun anythin’ around here.”

“He, he, he!” cackles Sol Vane. “He, he, he!”

Hashknife empties his rifle through the windows of the hall and Sol quit laughing.

“Yuh can’t git the best of Sim Sellers,” whoops a voice.

Sim comes on to the horses, which are plumb nervous. One of ’em ripped its bridle loose and went down the street and another threw itself, trying to get loose. Sellers is kinda between us and the windows, which stops their shooting.

“Don’t get scared, Buddy,” says Hashknife.

“I ain’t,” shrills Buddy. “Betcha I ain’t.”

“Sim,” says Hashknife, “you better think up a prayer, ’cause you’re goin’ to need one —— bad.”

Sellers cursed us and carried Buddy in close to that bay horse, which has anchored itself with its left side against the tie-rack and refuses to budge. It’s easy enough to use a kid for a shield against bullets, but it’s another thing to get on to a scared bronc with the kid in your arms and still keep covered.

Willer Crick are liable to hit Sellers if they shoot at us, so we takes things easy.

“You’re in a hole, Sim,” says Hashknife. “One bad move and you’re a goner.”

“You’ll have to get on Injun side,” says I, “and that bronc will sure love you for that.”

Sim Sellers sure is up against it. I reckon he seen what he was up against—seen that he had to take a chance; so he threw Buddy into the saddle, intending, I reckon, to throw himself sideways on that bronc and make a getaway like an Injun, but Hashknife was looking for that move.

As Buddy went into the saddle it left Sim’s legs exposed under the bronc’s belly. Hashknife shot twice with his six-shooter and Sim went down, like something had cut his legs out from under him. The horse plunged against the rack, throwing Buddy between us and the hitch-rack, but he lit on his hands and knees.

“Come a-runnin’, Buddy!” yells Hashknife, and if you ever seen a rabbit, that kid sure imitated one.

He dived around the corner of that lumber pile and landed between us, where he sets and puffs the wind back into his lungs.

“Hurt yuh any?” asks Hashknife.

“Na-a-a-w! Sim Sellers like to busted my ribs, though. Did yuh kill him?”

“Cut him loose from the ground,” says Hashknife, watching the windows.

“Set still, Sim. Don’t forget that both ends of yuh are exposed now.”

Sim Sellers is setting there in the dust, with a pair of legs that don’t seem to work.

“They stole me,” says Buddy. “After you left me with the horses, Mitch Ames and ‘Poky’ Vane swiped me. I kicked Mitch in the knee and he swore he’d kill me. He brought me here. Say, they’re goin’ to kill you—honest. They ain’t goin’ to let you tell the sheriff on Cale Ames. They sent men to get the old man.”

“Where were they goin’ to take you, Buddy?” asks Hashknife.

“Me dunno,” Buddy shakes his head. “Sim Sellers says he’s takin’ me where you fellers never will find me.”

“Hey!” yells a voice from the hall, which we recognizes as belonging to Sol Vane. “Can yuh hear me?”

“If yuh don’t yell too loud,” answers Hashknife.

“Now listen; that shed beside you is containin’ about five hundred pounds of dinnamite, caps and fuses. Come out and hold up your hands or we’ll shoot into it until we blows yuh up. Do yuh hear that?”

Me and Hashknife looks at each other. It’s a good bluff. I don’t care a whoop who says nay, I’m here to state that dynamite might go off under them conditions. Some of them hombres are shooting .50-110 rifles, which carries a explosive bullet, and that might make things plumb audible around us.

“Talk to ’em, Sleepy,” grunts Hashknife. “Keep talking, for ——’s sake!”

“You mean, you’d blow us up, Sol?” I asks, as Hashknife slides past me and gets against the building.

“He, he, he! Think we’d let ye off after what you’ve done? Naw, sir, your goin’ to git all that’s comin’ to yuh. When I give the word we start shootin’.”

Of course they never thought that we had a chance to sneak away into the mesquite, and if they did they knew we’d never leave on foot as long as there’s a chance to get horses.

“We’re willin’ to go now,” says I. Hashknife rips one of the boards loose and crawls inside.

“Ready to go, are yuh?” chuckles Sol Vane. “Jist try startin’, will yuh. There’s twenty rifles ready to give yuh a sendoff.”

“Think I ought to put Sim Sellers out of his misery?” I asks.

Sim Sellers quits crawling and looks back at me. He thought we had forgot him.

“Throw away your gun!” I yells at him, and he threw it away.

“Well, what have yuh got to say?” yells Sol Vane.

“Give me a chance to think it over.”

“Two minutes,” says Sol. “Two minutes will be all.”

“That’s enough,” grunts Hashknife, forcing his way out past the loose board.

He’s got a fifty-pound box of dynamite in his arms, a box of blasting caps and a coil of fuse.

“Whatcha goin’ to do?” I asks.

“Give ’em a taste of their own medicine, Sleepy. When I get around the corner here start shooting. Empty your rifle and then empty mine. Sabe? Fan them windows to a fare-thee-well, and I’ll do the rest. Buddy, keep down low. Ready?”

I takes both rifles, nods to him and starts throwing lead. I sure did send hot hunks of sudden death into that place. I emptied both rifles and then sent six shots from the .45 I borrowed out in the mesquite.

Two or three shots was all that answered, but they never came towards me.

“Good work, Sleepy,” yells Hashknife.

I slammed shells into the loading-gates of them two rifles and then took a look. Hashknife is flat up against the front of that building, and is fussing with a fuse.

I hears a bunch of argument in the hall, and I takes a snap-shot at somebody who got too close at the window.

“Keep ’em back, Sleepy,” yells Hashknife, cheerful-like, reeling out fuse from the box of dynamite.

“Sol Vane!” he yells.

“That’s me,” squeaks Sol.

“I’ve got fifty pounds of dynamite against the front of your building, Sol. There’s a two-minute fuse on a loaded stick, and the box of powder is settin’ on a box of primers. I can either fire the fuse or shoot the primers. If you fire a shot toward that shed I’ll upset Willer Crick. Do you sabe?”

There ain’t a word said for a while, and then Sol says—

“You—what do yuh want us to do?”

“I want you to bring down every gun up there, Sol. Load up and bring ’em all down here and lay ’em in the street.”

“Like —— he will!” roars a voice.

“You’ll never get my guns!”

“Nor mine!” howls another.

“Better do it,” advises Sellers. “He’s got just what he says he has.”

“I’m countin’ to ten,” states Hashknife. “Countin’ in my own rapid way, Sol.”

“I’m comin’,” says Sol. “For gosh sakes give me a little time.”

Sol Vane looked like a hardware store when he made that first trip. I never seen so many guns outside the army. He lays ’em in the street and then goes back for more. It took him four trips to bring ’em.

“Now what?” he whines.

“Have ’em all come down, one at a time,” says Hashknife, and then he yells over at me: “Watch ’em, Sleepy. If they look like they’re holdin’ out on us, don’t give ’em a chance.”

“I’m particular,” I yells back. “Send ’em down, Mr. Lawyer.”

Then they begins to file out and down the stairs. Sol lines ’em up in the street, and they sure are a sore crowd. Finally they quit coming.

“Is that all?” asks Hashknife.

“That’s all of ’em,” says Sol.

I starts to get up, but Buddy grabs me by the belt and yanks so hard that we both went over backwards. With his heels in the air, Buddy yelps—

“Mitch Ames and Cale Ames ain’t out yet!”

That’s all that saved us, I reckon. I rolled over, shoved my rifle across the lumber pile and took a snap-shot at Cale Ames, as he threw down on Hashknife from one of the windows. I seen Cale’s gun fall outside and he fell down past the window-sill. Hashknife jumps back around the corner and covers the crowd with his six-shooter.

I reckon that Mitch Ames figured that Hashknife would explode that dynamite, and he also figured that we wouldn’t let him surrender; so he ran out of the door, and vaulted over the top of the railing. I ain’t no wing shot with a rifle, but Mitch Ames didn’t get up after he hit the ground.

“Got him!” I yells at Hashknife.

Buddy follers me out into the street and we meets Hashknife near the crowd.

“Sol,” says Hashknife, “I ought to kill you for lyin’. If it hadn’t been for Buddy your scheme would ’a’ worked. I reckon them Ameses are your best shots, eh?”

Sol masticates real fast for a while, and then says—

“What do yuh want now?”

“Watch ’em, Sleepy,” grins Hashknife.

Hashknife takes a sheet of paper and a pencil from his pocket and holds the paper against the side of the building, while he writes. He finally finishes and goes over to Sol Vane and hands him the paper.

“Have your council sign that, Sol; and then you put your name at the bottom.”

“What is it?” asks Sillman.

“To whom it may concern,” reads Sol Vane kinda slow-like. “The undersigned hereby declares that Buddy Sillman is sole owner of the ranch where his folks lived and he owns everything on that ranch. His dad’s name was Eph Sillman and he was killed by Cale Ames on June 3, when Eph was trying to get medicine for his sick wife.

“We also admits that the folks of Willer Crick wouldn’t let Eph Sillman have a doctor for his wife and that they ain’t no better than murderers, ’cause she died. We hereby agree to see that the ranch is run right and the money turned over to Buddy. We hereby agree to abolish all our old laws and live like the rest of the world. We hereby sign our names.”

“You’re crazy!” wails Sim Sellers from where he sets in the street. “We’ll never sign that.”

The rest of ’em shake their heads.

“Yuh can’t get away with nothin’ like that,” says Sol. “We aims to live as we please. Yuh can’t set there and keep us rounded up forever.”

“Sleepy,” says Hashknife, “go up into the hall and see if yuh can’t find some Willer Crick records.”

They has that room fixed up like a court-room, with kind of a place for the judges and all that kind of thing. Cale Ames is setting on the floor near a window, holding onto the side of his head. I looked him over for weapons, but he’s harmless.

On the judge’s desk is a pile of books and papers. I takes a look at the biggest book, and it’s labeled—


I takes all the books and papers, and then I makes Cale get to his feet and go down ahead of me. Our bullets sure have carved our trade-marks in their furniture and walls. Willer Crick wails when they see me with their books.

“Good stuff!” grunts Hashknife. “Now, maybe they’ll sign my little paper.”

I never seen folks so anxious to sign anything. Hashknife held the paper on the brim of his hat so that Sim Sellers can sign. I unloads all them guns and then throws the whole works under the sidewalk, where nobody can get one quick.

“Rope the books together so we can carry ’em, Sleepy,” says Hashknife.

“Them is our records!” wails Sol.

“That’s why we need ’em,” grins Hashknife. “You and your council are the only ones what can read and write, and I’m thinkin’ that your law and records will make hy-iu readin’ for the county attorney.”

Willer Crick is stuck. They shuffles their feet and swallers hard.

“Your home-made law is a thing of the past,” observes Hashknife. “I’ll send the sheriff in here after Cale Ames, and mebbe Cale won’t be the only one he rounds up.”

I got the horses, while Hashknife holds the crowd. Hashknife takes Buddy with him, while I take the law of Willer Crick. We starts away, with the crowd watching us, but all to once they makes a dive across the street toward the hitch-rack. I thinks they’re going to try to foller us, but it comes to me in a flash that I seen two or three rifles hanging to those saddles.

I seen a feller drop flat and slide under the sidewalk, and I know it won’t take ’em long to get their guns loaded.

We ain’t over a hundred yards from the crowd, and I can see that we can’t scatter ’em much with two guns. I yells at Hashknife to look out. He turned in his saddle, keeping himself between Buddy and the crowd. I saw him throw up his rifle and take deliberate aim. I was trying to shift them books on to the horn of my saddle, so I could shoot. A bullet splatted into the books, but before I could lift my gun, Hashknife’s shot was echoed by a crash that shook up the whole country.

I seen the front of that building jump off the ground and dissolve into smoke.

“Come on, you law rustler!” yelps Hashknife.

I ducked a piece of two-by-four and set my spurs into that hammer-headed gray. Hashknife had been lucky enough to send a bullet into that box of giant caps under the fifty pounds of dynamite.

I looks back as we hammers down the road, but there ain’t a soul on our trail. We swings across a high bridge over Willer Crick, and Hashknife stops.

“Get a couple of heavy rocks, Sleepy,” says he. “Rope one on each side of that bunch of books, and drop the whole works over the side.”

“Ain’t yuh going to turn these over to the law?” I asks.

“No-o-o, I reckon not. I don’t believe in rubbin’ anybody raw. They’ll never know but what we did, and we’ve sure amended the constitution of Sol Vane and his bunch.”

We sunk their law in six feet of swift water and then rode on. About half a mile from the forks of the road we swings around a curve and almost runs over Al Bassett and another man. Bassett’s right arm is out of commission and the other feller is kinda sick from too much lead.

“They were sent after that old man,” says Buddy.

“It’s been a hard day for Willer Crick,” observes Hashknife.

Bassett can’t hang onto himself any longer. Hashknife takes off his hat and holds it in his hand until Bassett stops.

“Sleepy,” says Hashknife, “did yuh ever hear the like. I wish I could cuss like that. Bassett, you’re one of the fellers who was sent down here to stop the old man, ain’t yuh? Did the mule kick yuh or did the old man bite yuh?”

Bassett refuses to talk, and the other feller is too sick to remember.

“A feller by the name of Poky Vane is tied up in Mitch Ames’ cabin,” says Hashknife. “I reckon you’ll see that he gets loose.”

“Willer Crick will git you yet!” snarls Bassett.

“I refuse to argue,” grins Hashknife.

“Home won’t never seem the same to you fellers. Adios.

We left ’em there in the road.

“Why didn’t we take Cale Ames out with us, Hashknife?” I asks. “Mebbe the sheriff won’t be able to find him.”

“It would be our word against a hundred, Sleepy. Me and you ain’t so danged lily-white that a jury’d take our word against a hundred; and besides, hangin’ ain’t half as bad as thinkin’ about it.”

At the forks of the road, where the old sign-board hangs, we found the old preacher and Glory Sillman with a rifle.

“I had a escort,” says the old man, nodding at Glory. “She—she saw that I got out safe.”

“She did,” nods Hashknife. “I seen that a mile or so ago.”

Glory starts to swing her horse around.

“I—I reckon I better be going back,” says she.

“You come wit’ us,” says Buddy. “We licked ’em.” Glory looks at Buddy and then at Hashknife.

“I’m goin’ to adopt him,” says Hashknife. “Yuh might come with us, Glory. There ain’t no more Willer Crick law to stop yuh now. The trail’s wide open.”

Glory and Hashknife sets there and looks at each other. I looks at the old man and he looks at me. I turns and points down the valley and says to the old man:

“Do yuh see that peak ’way down there, old-timer?”

“I do. What about it, son?”

“I never climbed it in my life.”

“Well, well!” says he. “Ain’t that queer?”

We sets there like a pair of danged fools and admires that peak, which don’t mean a thing to either of us.

“You comin’?” shrills Buddy, and we turns to see Hashknife and Glory riding down the road side by side, while Buddy leans out past Hashknife and yells at us.

The old man looks at me and says—

“Son, if you’ll ride slow, mebbe I can make my mule keep up.”

I turns in my saddle, grabs that old sign and tears it off the tree, after which I throws it into the brush. Then I turns back to the old man.

“I ain’t in no hurry, ’cause I know I’ll never get there anyway,” says I.

“Where?” he asks.


Transcriber’s Note: This story appeared in the September 3, 1921 issue of Adventure magazine.