The Bandit of Hell’s Bend

Chapter I

Tough Luck

Edgar Rice Burroughs

A HALF-DOZEN MEN sprawled comfortably in back-tilted chairs against the side of the Bar Y bunk-house at the home ranch. They were young men, lithe of limb, tanned of face and clear of eye. Their skins shone from recent ablutions and their slicked hair was still damp, for they had but just come from the evening meal, and meals at the home ranch required a toilet.

One of them was singing.

“In the shade of a tree we two sat, him an’ me,
Where the Haegler Hills slope to the Raft
While our ponies browsed ’round, reins a-draggin’ the ground;
Then he looks at me funny an’ laft.”

“Most anyone would,” interrupted a listener.

“Shut up,” admonished another, “I ain’t only heered this three hundred an’ sixty-five times in the las’ year. Do you think I want to miss anything?”

Unabashed, the sweet singer continued.

“‘Do you see thet there town?’ he inquires, pintin’ down
To some shacks sprawlin’ ’round in the heat.
I opined thet I did an’ he shifted his quid
After drowndin’ a tumble-bug neat.
Then he looks at me square. ‘There’s a guy waitin’ there
Thet the sheep-men have hired to git me.
Are you game to come down to thet jerk-water town
Jest to see what in Hell you will see?’”

One of the group rose and stretched, yawning. He was a tall, dark man. Perhaps in his expression there was something a bit sinister. He seldom smiled and, when not in liquor, rarely spoke.

He was foreman—had been foreman for over a year, and, except for a couple of sprees, during which he had playfully and harmlessly shot up the adjoining town, he had been a good foreman, for he was a thorough horseman, knew the range, understood cattle, was a hard worker and knew how to get work out of others.

It had been six months since he had been drunk, though he had taken a drink now and then if one of the boys chanced to bring a flask back from town. His abstinence might have been accounted for by the fact that Elias Henders, his boss, had threatened to break him the next time he fell from grace.

“You see, Bull,” the old man had said, “we’re the biggest outfit in this part of the country an’ it don’t look good to see the foreman of the Bar Y shootin’ up the town like some kid tenderfoot that’s been slapped in the face with a bar-rag. You gotta quit it, Bull; I ain’t a-goin’ to tell you again.”

And Bull knew the old man wouldn’t tell him again, so he had stayed good for six long months. Perhaps it was not entirely a desire to cling to the foreman’s job that kept him in the straight and narrow path. Perhaps Diana Henders’ opinion had had more weight with him than that of her father.

“I’m ashamed of you, Bull,” she had said, and she refused to ride with him for more than a week. That had been bad enough, but as if to make it worse she had ridden several times with a new hand who had drifted in from the north a short time before and been taken on by Bull to fill a vacancy.

At first Bull had not liked the new man. “He’s too damned pretty to be a puncher,” one of the older hands had remarked, and it is possible that the newcomer’s rather extreme good looks had antagonized them all a little at first, but he had proven a good man and so the others had come to accept Hal Colby in spite of his wealth of waving black hair, his perfect profile, gleaming teeth and laughing eyes.

“So I told him I’d go, fer I liked thet there bo,
And I’d see thet the shootin! was fair;
But says he: ‘It is just to see who starts it fust
Thet I wants anyone to be there.’”

“I’m going to turn in,” remarked Bull.

Hal Colby rose. “Same here,” he said, and followed the foreman into the bunk-house. A moment later he turned where he stood beside his bunk and looked at Bull who was sitting on the edge of his, removing his spurs. The handsome lips were curved in a pleasant smile. “Lookee here, Bull!” he whispered, and as the other turned toward him he reached a hand beneath the bag of clothes that constituted his pillow and drew forth a pint flask. “Wet your whistle?” he inquired.

“Don’t care if I do,” replied the foreman, crossing the room to Colby’s bunk.

Through the open window floated the drawling notes of Texas Pete’s perennial rhapsody.

“When the jedge says: ‘Who drew his gun fust, him or you?’
Then I wants a straight guy on my side,
Fer thet poor puddin’ head, why, he’s already dead
With a forty-five hole in his hide.”

“Here’s lookin’ at you!” said Bull.

“Drink hearty,” replied Colby.

“’Taint so bad at that,” remarked the foreman, wiping his lips on the cuff of his shirt and handing the flask back to the other.

“Not so worse for rot-gut,” agreed Colby. “Have another!”

The foreman shook his head.

“’Twon’t hurt you any,” Colby assured him. “It’s pretty good stuff.”

Sang Texas Pete:

“And thet wasn’t jest jaw—when it come to a draw
This here guy was like lightnin’ turned loose.
Then we rolls us a smoke an’ not neither one spoke
‘Til he said: ‘Climb aboard your cayuse.’
Then we reined down the hill each a-puffin’ his pill
To the town ’neath its shimmer o’ heat
An’ heads up to the shack that’s a-leanin’ its back
‘Gainst the side o’ The Cowboys’ Retreat.”

Bull took another drink-a longer one this time, and, rolling a cigarette, sat down on the edge of Colby’s bunk and commenced to talk—whiskey always broke the bonds of his taciturnity. His voice was low and not unpleasant.

He spoke of the day’s work and the plans for tomorrow and Hal Colby encouraged him. Perhaps he liked him; perhaps, like others, he felt that it paid to be on friendly terms with the foreman.

While from outside:

“It is Slewfoot’s Good Luck where they hand you out chuck
Thet is mostly sow-belly an’ beans.
Says he: ‘Bub, let’s us feed—I’m a-feelin’ the need
O’ more substance than air in my jeans.’
So of Slewfoot was there, all red freckles an’ hair,
An’ we lined our insides with his grub.
Says Bill, then: ‘Show your gait—let’s be pullin’ our freight,
Fer I’m rarin’ to go,’ says he, ‘Bub.’”

Inside the bunk-house Bull rose to his feet. “That’s damn good stuff, Hal,” he said. The two had emptied the flask.

“Wait a minute,” said the other, “I got another flask,” and reached again beneath his bag.

“No,” demurred the foreman, “I guess I got enough.”

“Oh, hell, you ain’t had none yet,” insisted Colby.

The song of Texas Pete suffered many interruptions due to various arguments in which he felt compelled to take sides, but whenever there was a lull in the conversation he resumed his efforts to which no one paid any attention further than as they elicited an occasional word of banter.

The sweet singer never stopped except at the end of a stanza, and no matter how long the interruption, even though days might elapse, he always began again with the succeeding stanza, without the slightest hesitation or repetition. And so now, as Bull and Colby drank, he sang on.

“’Now we’ll sashay next door to thet hard-Ticker store
Where his nibs is most likely to be
An’ then you goes in first an’ starts drowdin’ your thirst;
But a-keepin’ your eyes peeled fer me.’”

Bull, the foreman, rose to his feet. He stood as steady as a rock, but Colby saw that he was drunk. After six months’ of almost total abstinence he had just consumed considerably more than a pint of cheap and fiery whiskey in less than a half hour.

“Goin’ to bed?” asked Colby.

“Bed, hell,” replied the other. “I’m goin’ to town—it’s my night to howl. Comin’?”

“No,” said Colby. “I think I’ll turn in. Have a good time.”

“I sure will.” The foreman walked to his bunk and strapped his guns about his hips, resumed the single spur he had removed, tied a fresh black silk handkerchief about his neck, clapped his sombrero over his shock of straight black hair and strode out of the bunk-house.

“’Fer I wants you to see thet it’s him draws on me
So the jedge he cain’t make me the goat.’
So I heads fer that dump an’ a queer little lump
Starts a-wrigglin’ aroun’ in my throat.”

“Say, where in hell’s Bull goin’ this time o’ night?” Pete interrupted himself.

“He’s headin’ fer the horse c’rel,” stated another.

“Acts like he was full,” said a third. “Didje hear him hummin’ a tune as he went out? That’s always a sign with him. The stuff sort o’ addles up his brains, like Pete’s always is, an’ makes him sing.”

“Fer I wants you to know thet I likes thet there bo
An’ I’d seen more than one good one kilt,
Fer you cain’t never tell, leastways this side o’ Hell,
When there’s shootin’ whose blood will be spilt.”

“There he goes now,” said one of the men as the figure of a rider shown dimly in the starlight loped easily away toward the south, “an’ he’s goin’ toward town.”

“I wonder,” said Texas Pete, “if he knows the old man is in town tonight.”

“Jest inside o’ the door with one foot on the floor
An’ the other hist up on the rail
Stands a big, raw-boned guy with the orn’riest eye
Thet I ever seen outen a jail.”

“By gollies, I’m goin’ after Bull. I doan b’lieve he-all knows thet the of man’s in town,” and leaping to his feet he walked off toward the horse corral, still singing:

“An’ beside him a girl, thet sure looked like a pearl
Thet the Bible guy cast before swine,
Was a-pleadin’ with him, her eyes teary an’ dim,
As I high-sign the bar-keep fer mine.”

He caught up one of the loose horses in the corral, rammed a great, silver-mounted spade bit between its jaws, threw a heavy, carved saddle upon the animal’s back, stepped one foot into a trailing, tapaderaed stirrup and was off in a swirl of dust. Texas Pete never rode other than in a swirl of dust, unless it happened to be raining, then he rode in a shower of mud.

His speed tonight was, therefore, not necessarily an indication of haste. He would have ridden at the same pace to either a funeral or a wedding, or home from either.

But any who knew Texas Pete could have guessed that he was in considerate haste, for he rode without his woolly, sheepskin chaps—one of the prides of his existence. If he had been in too much of a hurry to don them he must have been in a great hurry, indeed.

Texas Pete might be without a job, with not more than two-bits between himself and starvation, but he was never without a fine pair of sheepskin chaps, a silver-encrusted bit, a heavy bridle garnished with the same precious metal, an ornate saddle of hand carved leather and silver conchas, a Stetson, two good six-guns with their belt and holsters and a vivid silk neckerchief.

Possibly his pony cost no more than ten dollars, his boots were worn and his trousers blue denim overalls, greasy and frayed, yet Texas Pete otherwise was a thing of beauty and a joy forever. The rowels of his silver-inlaid Mexican spurs dragged the ground when he walked and the dumb-bells depending from their hubs tinkled merrily a gay accompaniment to his boyish heart beating beneath ragged underclothing.

Texas Pete galloped along the dusty road toward the small cattle-town that served the simple needs of that frontier community with its general store, its restaurant, its Chinese laundry, blacksmith shop, hotel, newspaper office and five saloons, and as he galloped he sang:

“Then the door swings agin an’ my pal he steps in
An’ the light in his eye it was bad,
An’ the raw-boned guy wheels an’ the girl there she squeals:
‘O, fer gawd’s sake don’t shoot, Bill, it’s dad!’”

A mile ahead of Pete another pony tore through the dust toward town—a blazed-face chestnut with two white hind feet—Blazes, the pride of the foreman’s heart.

In the deep saddle, centaurlike, sat the horseman.

Hendersville tinkled softly in the quiet of early evening. Later, gaining momentum, it would speed up a bit under his own power. At present it reposed in the partial lethargy of digestive functionings—it was barely first drink time after supper. Its tinkling was the tinkling of spurs, chips and only very occasional glassware.

Suddenly its repose was shattered by a wild whoop from without, the clatter of swift hoofs and the rapid crack, crack, crack of a six-gun. Gum Smith, sheriff, rose from behind the faro layout and cocked an attentive ear.

Gum guided the destinies of the most lucrative thirst emporium in Hendersville. Being sheriff flattered his vanity and attracted business, but it had its drawbacks; the noises from without sounded like one of them and Gum was pained.

It was at times such as this that he almost wished that someone else was sheriff, but a quick glance at the shiny badge pinned to the left hand pocket of his vest reassured him quickly on that point and he glanced swiftly about the room at its other occupants and sighed in relief—there were at least a dozen husky young punchers there.

Across the street, in the office of the Hendersville Tribune, Elias Henders sat visiting with Ye Editor. As the shouting and the shots broke the quiet of the evening the two men looked up and outward toward the street.

“Boys will be boys,” remarked the editor.

A bullet crashed through the glass at the top of the window. With a single movement the editor extinguished the lamp that burned on the desk before them, and both men, with a celerity that spoke habit, crouched quickly behind that piece of furniture.

“Sometimes they’re damn careless, though,” replied Elias Henders.

Down the road Texas Pete galloped and sang:

“For the thing she had saw was Bill reach for to draw
When the guy she called dad drawed on Bill.
In the door was my pal with his eyes on the gal
An’ his hand on his gun-standin’ still.”

From the distance ahead came, thinly, the sound of shots.

“By gollies!” exclaimed Texas Pete, “the darned son-of-a-gun!”

The men lolling about the barroom of Gum’s Place-Liquors and Cigars-looked up at the sound of the shots and grinned. An instant later a horse’s unshod hoofs pounded on the rough boards of the covered “porch” in front of Gum’s Place, the swinging doors burst in and Blazes was brought to his haunches in the center of the floor with a wild whoop from his rider, who waved a smoking gun above his head.

Bull, the Bar Y foreman, let his gaze run quickly about the room. When his steel-grey eyes alighted upon the sheriff they remained there. Gum Smith appeared to wilt behind the faro table. He shook a wavering finger at the Bar Y foreman.

“Yo’ all’s undah arrest,” he piped in a high, thin voice, and turning toward the men seated about the neighboring tables he pointed first at one and then at another. “Ah depatize yo! Ah depatize yo! Ah depatize yo!” he announced to each as he covered them in turn with his swiftly moving index finger. “Seize him, men!” No one moved. Gum Smith waxed excited. “Seize him, yo’-all! Ah’m sheriff o’ this yere county. Ef Ah depatize yo’-all yo’-all’s got to be depatized.”

“My mother was a wild cat,
My father was a bear,”

announced Bull,

“I picks my teeth with barb-wire.
With cactus combs my hair.”

and I craves drink-pronto!” “Yo’-all’s undah arrest! Seize him, men!” shrilled Gum.

Bull fired into the floor at the foot of the faro table and Gum Smith disappeared behind it. The men all laughed. Bull turned his attention toward the barkeep and fired into the back bar. The bar-keep grinned.

“Be keerful, Bull,” he admonished, “I got a bad heart. My doctor tells me as how I should avoid excitement.”

The front doors swung in again and Bull wheeled with ready six-gun to cover the newcomer, but at sight of the man who entered the room the muzzle of his gun dropped and he was sobered in the instant.

“Oh!” said Elias Henders, “so it’s you agin, Bull, eh?

The two men stood looking at one another in silence for a moment. What was passing in their minds no one might have guessed. It was the older man who spoke again first.

“I reckon I’ll not be needin’ you any more, Bull,” he said, and then, after a moment’s reflection, “unless you want a job as a hand—after you sober up.”

He turned and left the building and as he stepped down into the dust of the road Texas Pete swung from his pony and brushed past him.

Inside, Bull sat his horse at one side of the large room, near the bar. Behind him Gum Smith was slowly emerging from the concealment of the faro table. When he saw the man he feared sitting with his back toward him, a crafty look came into the eyes of the sheriff. He glanced quickly about the room. The men were all looking at Bull. No one seemed to be noticing Gum.

He drew his gun and levelled it at the back of the ex-foreman of the Bar Y Instantly there was a flash from the doorway, the crack of a shot, and the sheriffs gun dropped from his hand. All eyes turned in the direction of the entrance. There stood Texas Pete, his shooting iron smoking in his hand.

“You damn pole-cat!” he exclaimed, his eyes on Gum. “Come on, Bull; this ain’t no place for quiet young fellers like us.”

Bull wheeled Blazes and rode slowly through the doorway, with never a glance toward the sheriff; nor could he better have shown his utter contempt for the man. There had always been bad blood between them. Smith had been elected by the lawless element of the community and at the time of the campaign Bull had worked diligently for the opposing candidate who had been backed by the better element, consisting largely of the cattle owners, headed by Elias Henders.

What Bull’s position would have been had he not been foreman for Henders at the time was rather an open question among the voters of Hendersville, but the fact remained that he had been foreman and that he had worked to such good purpose for the candidate of the reform element that he had not only almost succeeded in electing him, but had so exposed the rottenness of the gang back of Smith’s candidacy that their power was generally considered to be on the wane.

“It’ll be Bull for sheriff next election,” was considered a safe prophecy and even a foregone conclusion, by some.

Gum Smith picked up his gun and examined it. Texas Pete’s shot had struck the barrel just in front of the cylinder. The man looked angrily around at the other occupants of the room.

“Ah wants yo’-all to remember that Ah’m sheriff here,” he cried, “an’ when Ah depatizes yo’-all it’s plum legal, an’ yo’all gotta do what Ah tell yo’ to.”

“Oh, shut up, Gum,” admonished one of the men.

Outside, Texas Pete had mounted his pony and was moving along slowly stirrup to stirrup with Bull, who was now apparently as sober as though he had never had a drink in his life.

“It’s a good thing fer us he didn’t have his gang there tonight,” remarked Pete.

Bull shrugged, but said nothing in reply. Texas Pete resigned himself to song.

“Then thet damned raw-boned guy with the ornery eye
Up an’ shoots my pal dead in the door;
But I’m here to opine with this bazoo o’ mine
Thet he won’t shoot no hombres no more.”

“What was you doin’ up to town, Texas’?” inquired Bull.

“Oh, I jest thought as how I’d ride up an’ see what was doin’—maybe you didn’t know the old man was there tonight—reckon I was a bit late, eh?”

“Yes. Thanks, just the same—I won’t ferget it.”

“Tough luck.”

“How’d you know the old man was goin’ to be in town tonight?”

“Why, I reckon as how everybody exceptin’ you knew it, Bull.”

“Did Colby know it?”

“Why, I recken as how he must of.”

They rode on for some time in silence, which Texas finally broke.

“Jest a moment, an’ where they’d been five o’ us there,
We hed suddenly dwindled to three.
The bar-keep, he was one—the darned son-of-a-gun—
An’ the others, a orphan an’ me.”

When Bull and Texas entered the bunk-house most of the men were asleep, but Hal Colby rolled over on his bunk and smiled at Bull as the latter lighted a lamp.

“Have a good time, Bull?” he inquired.

“The old man was there,” said Bull, “an’ I ain’t foreman no more.”

“Tough luck,” sympathized Colby.

The Bandit of Hell’s Bend - Contents    |     Chapter II - The Holdup

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