'Me--Smith'

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The Project Gutenberg EBook of 'Me-Smith', by Caroline Lockhart This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org Title: 'Me-Smith' Author: Caroline Lockhart Illustrator: Gayle Hoskins Release Date: December 8, 2008 [EBook #27438] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK 'ME-SMITH' *** Produced by Roger Frank and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net “THAT LOOK IN YOUR EYES—THAT LOOK AS IF YOU HADN’T NOTHIN’ TO HIDE—IS IT TRUE?” Page 59 “ME-SMITH” CAROLINE LOCKHART BY WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY GAYLE HOSKINS NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS Copyright 1911 By J. B. Lippincott Company Published February 15, 1911 Second printing, February 25, 1911 Third printing, March 5, 1911 Fourth printing, March 20, 1911 Fifth Printing, June 5, 1911 Sixth Printing, July 1, 1911 Seventh Printing, August 17, 1911 CONTENTS CHAPTER PAGE I. II. III. IV. V. VI. VII. VIII. IX. X. XI. XII. XIII. XIV. XV. XVI. XVII. XVIII. XIX. XX. XXI. XXII. XXIII. “ME—SMITH” ON THE ALKALI H ILL THE EMPTY C HAIR A SWAP IN SADDLE BLANKETS SMITH MAKES MEDICINE WITH THE SCHOOLMARM THE GREAT SECRET C UPID “WINGS” A D EPUTY SHERIFF THE BUG -HUNTER ELUCIDATES SPEAKING OF GRASSHOPPERS—— MOTHER LOVE AND SAVAGE PASSION C ONFLICT THE BEST H ORSE SMITH GETS “H UNKS” SUSIE’ S INDIAN BLOOD THE SLAYER OF MASTODONS WHERE A MAN GETS A THIRST TINHORN FRANK SMELLS MONEY SUSIE H UMBLES H ERSELF TO SMITH A BAD “H OMBRE” WHEN THE C LOUDS PLAYED WOLF THE LOVE MEDICINE OF THE SIOUX THE MURDERER OF WHITE ANTELOPE A MONGOLIAN C UPID IN THEIR OWN WAY 11 18 29 48 58 79 95 110 123 130 142 156 162 169 190 205 213 228 240 248 272 293 303 LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS PAGE “That Look in Your Eyes—That Look as if You Hadn’t Nothin’ to Hide—is it True?” “She’s a Game Kid, All Right,” Said Smith to Himself at the Top of the Hill. It Meant Death—but it was Wet!—it was Water! Smith Reached for the Trailing Rope and They Were Gone! They Quirted Their Horses at Breakneck Speed In the Direction of the Bad Lands. Frontispiece 22 196 284 308 “ME—SMITH” I “ME—SMITH” A man on a tired gray horse reined in where a dim cattle-trail dropped into a gulch, and looked behind him. Nothing was in sight. He half closed his eyes and searched the horizon. No, there was nothing—just the same old sand and sage-brush, hills, more sand and sage-brush, and then to the west and north the spur of the Rockies, whose jagged peaks were white with a fresh fall of snow. The wind was chill. He shivered, and looked to the eastward. For the last few hours he had felt snow in the air, and now he could see it in the dim, gray mist—still far off, but creeping toward him. For the thousandth time, he wondered where he was. He knew vaguely that he was “over the line”—that Montana was behind him—but he was riding an unfamiliar range, and the peaks and hills which are the guide-boards of the West meant nothing to him. So far as he knew, he was the only human being within a hundred miles. His lips drew back in a half-grin and exposed a row of upper teeth unusually white and slightly protruding. He was thinking of the meeting with the last person to whom he had spoken within twenty-four hours. He closed one eye and looked up at the sun. Yes, it was just about the same time yesterday that a dude from the English ranch, a dude in knee breeches and shiny-topped riding boots, had galloped confidently toward him. He had dismounted and pretended to be cinching his saddle. When the dude was close enough Smith had thrown down on him with his gun. “Feller,” he had said, “I guess I’ll have to trade horses with you. And fall off quick, for I’m in kind of a hurry.” The grin widened as he thought of the dude’s surprised eyes and the dude’s face as he dropped out of the saddle without a word. Smith had stood his victim with his hands above his head while he pulled the saddle from his horse and threw it upon his own. The dude rode a saddle with a double cinch, and the fact had awakened in the Westerner a kind of interest. He had even felt a certain friendliness for the man he was robbing. “Feller,” he had asked, “do you come from the Mañana country?” “From Chepstow, Monmouth County, Wales,” the dude had replied, in a shaking voice. “Where did you get that double-rigged saddle, then?” “Texas.” The answer had pleased Smith. “You ain’t losin’ none on this deal,” he had then volunteered. “This horse that you just traded for is a looker when he is rested, and he can run like hell. You can go your pile on him. Just burn out that lazy S brand and run on your own. You can hold him easy, then. I like a feller that rides a double-rigged saddle in a single-rigged country. S’long, and keep your hands up till I’m out of range.” “Thank you,” the dude had replied feebly. When Smith had ridden for a half a mile he had turned to look behind him. The dude was still standing with his hands high above his head. “I wonder if he’s there yet?” The man on horseback grinned. He reached in the pocket of his mackinaw coat and took out a handful of sugar. “You can travel longer on it nor anything,” he muttered. He congratulated himself that he had filled his pocket from the booze-clerk’s sugar-bowl before the mix came. The act was characteristic of him, as was the forethought which had sent him to the door to pick the best saddle-horse at the hitching-post, before the lead began to fly. The man suddenly realized that the mist in the east was denser, and spreading. He jabbed the spurs into his horse and sent the jaded animal sliding on its fetlocks down the steep and rocky trail that led into the dry bed of a creek which in the spring flowed bank high. In the bottom he pulled his horse to its haunches and leaned from his saddle to look at a foot-print in a little patch of smooth sand no larger than his two hands. The print had been made by a moccasined foot, and recently; otherwise the wind would have wiped it out. He threw his leg over the cantle of the saddle and stepped softly to the ground. Dropping the reins, he looked up and down the gulch. Then he drew his rifle from the scabbard and began to hunt for more tracks. As he searched, his movements were no longer those of a white man. His pantomime, stealthy, cautious, was the pantomime of the Indian. He crept up the gulch to a point where it turned sharply. His stealth became the stealth of the coyote. In spite of the leather soles and exaggerated high heels of the boots he wore his movements were absolutely noiseless. An Indian of middle age, in blue overalls, moccasins, a limp felt hat coming far down over his braided hair, a gaily striped blanket drawn about his shoulders, stood in an attitude of listening, carelessly holding a cheap, single-barrelled shotgun. He had heard the horse sliding down the trail and was waiting for it to appear on the bench above. The stranger took in the details of the Indian’s costume, but his eye rested longest upon the gay blanket. He might need a blanket with that snow in the air. It looked like a good blanket. It seemed to be thick and was undoubtedly warm. The Indian saw him the instant he rose from his hiding-place behind a huge sage-brush. Startled, the red man instinctively half raised his gun. The stranger gave the sign of attention, then, touching his breast and lifting his hand slightly, told him in the sign language used by all tribes that “his heart was right”—he was a friend. The Indian hesitated and lowered his gun, but did not advance. The stranger then asked him where he would find the nearest house, and whether it was that of a white or a red man. In swift pantomime, the Indian told him that the nearest house was the home of a “full-blood,” a woman, a fat woman, who lived five miles to the southeast, in a log cabin, on running water. Before he turned to go, the stranger again touched his breast and raised his hand above his heart to reiterate his friendship. He took a half-dozen steps, then whirled on his heel. As he did so, he brought his rifle on a line with the Indian’s back, which was toward him. Simultaneously with the report, the Indian fell on his back on the side of the gulch. He drew up his leg, and the stranger, thinking he had raised it for a gun-rest, riddled him with bullets. The white man’s bright blue eyes gleamed; the pupils were like pin-points. The grin which disclosed his protruding teeth was like the snarl of a dog before it snaps. The expression of the man’s face was that of animal ferocity, pure and simple. He edged up cautiously, but there was no further movement from the Indian. He had been dead when he fell. The white man gave a short laugh when he realized that the raising of the leg had been only a muscular contraction. To save the blanket from the blood which was soiling it, he tore it from the limp, unresisting shoulders, and rubbed it in the dirt to obliterate the stain. He cursed when he saw that a bullet had torn in it two jagged, tell-tale holes. He glanced at the Indian’s moccasins, then, stooping, ripped one off. He examined it with interest. It was a Cree moccasin. The Indian was far from home. He examined the centre seam: yes, it was sewed with deer-sinew. “The Crees can tan to beat the world,” he muttered, “but I hates the shape of the Cree moccasin. The Piegans make better.” He tossed it from him contemptuously and picked up the shotgun. “No good.” He threw it down and straightened the Indian’s head with the toe of his boot. “I despises to lie cramped up, myself.” Returning to his horse, he removed his saddle, and folded the Indian’s blanket inside of his own. Then he recinched his saddle, and turned his horse’s head to the southeast, where “the full-blood—the woman, the fat woman—lived in a log cabin by running water.” He glanced over his shoulder as he spurred his horse to a gallop. “I’m a killer, me—Smith,” he said, and grinned. II ON THE ALKALI HILL There was at least an hour and a half of daylight left when Smith struck a wagon-road. He looked each way doubtfully. The woman’s house was quite as likely to be to the right as to the left; there was no way of telling. While he hesitated, his horse lifted its ears. Smith also thought he heard voices. Swinging his horse to the right, he rode to the edge of the bench where the road made a steep and sudden drop. At the bottom of the hill he saw a driver on the spring-seat of a round-up wagon urging two lean-necked and narrow-chested horses up the hill. They were smooth-shod, and, the weight of the wagon being out of all proportion to their strength, they fell often in their futile struggles. At the side of the road near the top of the hill the water oozed from an alkali spring, which kept the road perpetually muddy. The horses were straining every nerve and muscle, their eyes bulging and nostrils distended, and still the driver, loudmouthed and vacuously profane, lashed them mercilessly with the stinging thongs of his leather whip. Smith, from the top of the hill, watched him with a sneer on his face. “He drives like a Missourian,” he muttered. He could have helped the troubled driver, knowing perfectly well what to do, but it would have entailed an effort which he did not care to make. It was nothing to him whether the round-up wagon got up the hill that night—or never. Smith thought the driver was alone until he began to back the team to rush the hill once more. Then he heard angry exclamations coming from the rear of the wagon—exclamations which sounded not unlike the buzzing of an enraged bumble-bee. He stretched his neck and saw that which suggested an overgrown hoop-snake rolling down the hill. At the bottom a little mud-coated man stood up. The part of his face that was visible above his beard was pale with anger. His brown eyes gleamed behind mud-splashed spectacles. “Oscar Tubbs,” he demanded, “why did you not tell me that you were about to back the wagon?” “I would have did it if I had knowed myself that the team were goin’ to back,” replied Tubbs, in the conciliatory tone of one who addresses the man who pays him his wages. The man in spectacles groaned. “Three inexcusable errors in one sentence. Oscar Tubbs, you are hopeless!” “Yep,” replied that person resignedly; “nobody never could learn me nothin’. Onct I knowed——” “Stop! We have no time for a reminiscence. Have you any reason to believe that we can get up this hill to-night?” “No chanst of it. These buzzard-heads has drawed every poun’ they kin pull. But I has some reason to believe that if you don’t hist your hoofs out’n that mud-hole, you’ll bog down. You’re up to your pant-leg now. Onct I knowed—— ” The little man threw out his hand in a restraining gesture, and Tubbs, foiled again, closed his lips and watched his employer stand back on one leg while he pulled the other out of the mud with a long, sucking sound. “What for an outfit is that, anyhow?” mused Smith, watching the proceedings with some interest. “He looks like one of them bug-hunters. He’s got a pair of shoulders on him like a drink of water, and his legs look like the runnin’-gears of a katydid.” So intently were they all engaged in watching the man’s struggles that no one observed a girl on a galloping horse until she was almost upon them. She sat her sturdy, spirited pony like a cowboy. She was about sixteen, with a suggestion of boyishness in her appearance. Her brown hair, worn in a single braid, was bleached to a lighter shade on top, as if she rode always with bared head. Her eyes were gray, in curious contrast to a tawny skin. She was slight to scrawniness, and, one might have thought, insufficiently clad for the time of year. “Bogged down, pardner?” she inquired in a friendly voice, as she rode up behind and drew rein. “I’ve been in that soap-hole myself. Here, ketch to my pommel, and I’ll snake you out.” Smiling dubiously he gripped the pommel. The pony had sunk to its knees, and as it leaped to free itself the little man’s legs fairly snapped in the air. “I thank you, Miss,” he said, removing his plaid travelling cap as he dropped on solid ground. “That was really quite an adventure.” “This mud is like grease,” said the girl. “Onct I knowed some mud——” began the driver, but the little man, ignoring him, said: “We are in a dilemma, Miss. Our horses seem unable to pull our wagon up the hill. Night is almost upon us, and our next camping spot is several miles beyond.” “This is the worst grade in the country,” replied the girl. “A team that can haul a load up here can go anywhere. What’s the matter with that fellow up there? Why don’t he help?”—pointing to Smith. “He has made no offer of assistance.” “He must be some Scissor-Bill from Missouri. They all act like that when they first come out.” “Onct some Missourians I knowed——” “Oscar Tubbs, if you attempt to relate another reminiscence while in my employ, I shall make a deduction from your wages. I warn you—I warn you in the presence of this witness. My overwrought nerves can endure no more. Between your inexpiable English and your inopportune reminiscences, I am a nervous wreck!” The little man’s voice ended on high C. “All right, Doc, suit yourself,” replied Tubbs, temporarily subdued. “And in Heaven’s name, I entreat, I implore, do not call me ‘Doc’!” “Sorry I spoke, Cap.” The little man threw up both hands in exasperation. “Say, Mister,” said the girl curtly to Tubbs, “if you’ll take that hundred and seventy pounds of yourn off the wagon and get some rocks and block the wheels, I guess my cayuse can help some.” As she spoke, she began uncoiling the rawhide riata which was tied to her saddle. “I appreciate the kindness of your intentions, Miss, but I cannot permit you to put yourself in peril.” The little man was watching her preparations with troubled eyes. “No peril at all. It’s easy. Croppy can pull like the devil. Wait till you see him lay down on the rope. That yap up there at the top of the hill could have done this for you long ago. Here, Windy”—addressing Tubbs—“tie this rope to the X, and make a knot that will hold.” “SHE’S A GAME KID, ALL RIGHT,” SAID SMITH TO HIMSELF AT THE TOP OF THE HILL. The girl’s words and manner inspired confidence. Interest and relief were in the face of the little man standing at the side of the road. “Now, Windy, hand me the rope. I’ll take three turns around my saddle-horn, and when I say ’go’ you see that your team get down in their collars.” “She’s a game kid, all right,” said Smith to himself at the top of the hill. When the sorrel pony at the head of the team felt the rope grow taut on the saddle-horn, it lay down to its work. The grit and muscle of a dozen horses seemed concentrated in the little cayuse. It pulled until every vein and cord in its body appeared to stand out beneath its skin. It lay down on the rope until its chest almost touched the ground. There was a look of determination that was almost human in its bright, excited eyes as it strained and struggled on the slippery hillside with no word of urging from the girl. She was standing in one stirrup, one hand on the cantle, the other on the pommel, watching everything with keen eyes. She issued orders to Tubbs like a general, telling him when to block the wheels, when to urge the exhausted team to greater efforts, when to relax. Nothing escaped her. She and the little sorrel knew their work. As the man at the roadside watched the gallant little brute struggle, literally inch by inch, up the terrible grade he felt himself choking with excitement and making inarticulate sounds. At last the rear wheels of the wagon lurched over the hill and stood on level ground, while the horses, with spreading legs and heaving sides, gasped for breath. “Awful tired, ain’t you, Mister?” the girl asked dryly, of the stranger on horseback, as she recoiled her rope with supple wrist and tied it again to the saddle by the buckskin thongs. “Plumb worn to a frazzle,” Smith replied with cool impudence, as he looked her over in much the same manner as he would have eyed a heifer on the range. “I was whipped for working when I was a boy, and I’ve always remembered.” “It must be quite a ride—from the brush back there in Missouri where you was drug up.” “I ranges on the Sundown slope,” he replied shortly. “They have sheep-camps over there, then?” Again the slurring insinuation pricked him. “Oh, I can twist a rope and ride a horse fast enough to keep warm.” “So?”—the inflection was tantalizing. “Was that horse gentled for your grandmother?” He eyed her angrily, but checked the reply on his tongue. “Say, girl, can you tell me where I can find that fat Injun woman’s tepee who lives around here?” “You mean my mother?” He looked at her with new interest. “Does she live in a log cabin on a crick?” “She did about an hour ago.”