Down Country Roads May June 2018 DCR MayJune 2018 web - Page 53

Chapter 32 In Which There is Some Shooting B Billy sat in a chair and boiled. He did not calm down until after daylight, and then he found that his depression had van- ished. He was full of vigor. He went out and looked over the property very carefully. The entire lay-out, he found, had weighed on his spirits, and this last ungrateful episode had made him sick of the whole miserable business. He ought never to be tied down. He could see his mistake clearly enough now. If he was going to stick to gold hunting, it ought to be as a prospector, not as a miner. A prospector enjoyed the delight of new country, of wilderness life, of the chase, and then, when civilization came too near, he could sell his claims to the miner and move on to a virgin country. A miner, on the other hand, had to settle down in one place and attend to all manner of vex- atious details. Billy felt a great impatience to shake himself free. With the thought came a wave of anger against the men of the town. After all, what had he to gain by staying? This outfit was a fizzle; nothing could be done with it in the future. He might save something of the wreck by grubbing about in the debris, but grubbing was exactly what he wanted to get away from. He looked over the works again. He was astonished to find how little of it he cared for personally. There remained not much more than the Westerner’s outfit, when it was winnowed — four good horses, the buckboard, his saddle, clothes, his weapons, and the beautiful trotting horse. Billy could not let that go. The camp outfit they could have and welcome. He kicked the rubber stamper into space, scattering potential lit- erature about the landscape. Many things he hesitated over, but finally discarded. The heap was not very large when all was told. He began to experiment with the buckboard. Billy was a master of the celebrated diamond hitch. After an hour’s earnest work, he drew back triumphantly to observe to himself that all he wished to take with him was securely packed on the vehi- cle. Then he coupled in his grays, and led out the beautiful trot- ting horse. He was glad that he had lately paid the English groom his wages; which individual he remembered seeing, the night before, dead drunk in a corner. Billy made himself some coffee in the empty cookee’s shack, and was ready to start. He did not know exactly where he would go; that was a mat- ter of detail, but somewhere West in all probability — some- where in Wyoming, where Jim Buckley was hidden up in the mountains, living a sane sort of a life, removed from the cor- roding influences of civilization. He did not realize that in this impatient shaking off of responsibility, he was little better than a moral coward. Even Billy’s worst enemies would have de- nied the justice of that epithet. He climbed in, deliberately unwound the reins from the long brake handle, clucked to the horses, and took his way, whistling, down the narrow trail. The beautiful trotting horse followed gingerly, tossing his head. At the entrance to town, Billy’s whistling suddenly ceased. The street was quite bare and silent. Not even from the Little Nugget saloon or the new dance hall came the faintest sound of human occupancy. A ten- derfoot might have argued that this was indicative of deep sleep after last night’s festivities, but Billy knew better. At seven o’clock in the morning, after excitement such as that of a few hours before, the normal ensuing pow-wow would still be rag- ing unabated. He reached under the seat for his Winchester, the new 40-82 model of his prosperous days, and laid it softly across his lap, and caught the end of the long lash in his whip hand. Then he resumed his tune exactly where it had been bro- ken off, looking neither to right nor left, and jogging along without the slightest appearance of haste or uneasiness. No one could have called Billy Knapp a coward at that moment. Near the first cabin the whistling broke off again. A little figure stumbled out into the deserted street, weeping and afraid. Billy pulled up. It was the Kid. “They’re goin’ to shoot you,” he sobbed, “from behind the Little Nugget, without givin’ you a chanst! I had to tell you, an’ they’ll most kill me!” he wailed. Billy’s eyes began to sparkle. The Kid tried to hold within the other’s reach his little .22 calibre rifle, his most precious possession. “Here, take this!” he begged. Billy laughed outright, a generous, hearty laugh with just a shade of something serious in it. “Thank ye,” said he. “I got one. And let me tell ye right yere, you Kid. Yore a white man, you are, and yore jest about the only white man in the place.” He cast his eyes about him in the buckboard at his feet. “Yere ye be,” he said, tugging at a pair of huge silver-ornamented Mexican spurs and leaning over to give them to the boy. “Jest remember me by them thar; they has my name in ‘em; and, look yere,” he went on with a sudden inspiration, “you-all gets up gulch to my camp, and takes what grub you finds and lies low until yo’ paw an’ th’ rest gits over bein’ mad. I don’t know but what they does kill you, if you shows up afore that.” And he laughed again to see the boy’s face brighten at this prospect of escaping the immediate wrath to follow. DOWN COUNTRY ROADS 53