The Bandit of Hell’s Bend

Chapter XI

“Ride Him, Cowboy!”

Edgar Rice Burroughs

LILLIAN MANILL awoke early and viewed the brilliant light of the new day through the patio windows of her room—the outer windows were securely shuttered against Indians. She stretched languorously and turned over for another nap, but suddenly changed her mind, threw off the covers and arose. It was a hideously early hour for Lillian Manill to arise; but she had recalled that there was to be a riding lesson after breakfast and Diana had explained to her that the breakfast hour was an early one. Dressing, she selected a tailored walking suit—she would change into her riding habit after breakfast—for she wanted to stroll about the yard a bit before breakfast, and she knew that this new walking suit was extremely fetching.

A few minutes later as she stepped into the yard she saw signs of activity in the direction of the horse corrals and thither she bent her steps. Texas Pete, who was helping the chore boy with the morning feeding, saw her coming and looked for an avenue of escape, being in no sense a lady’s man and fully aware of the fact; but he was too late—there was no avenue left, Lillian Manill being already between him and the bunk-house. So he applied himself vigorously to the pitchfork he was wielding and pretended not to see her, a pretense that made no impression whatever upon Lillian Manill. She paused outside the bars and looked in.

“Good morning!” she said.

Texas Pete pretended that he had not heard.

“Mornin’,” replied Pete, pulling at the brim of his hat and immediately resuming the fork. He wished she would move on. The horses were fed and there was no other excuse for him to remain in the corral, but in order to reach the bunkhouse he must pass directly by this disconcerting person. Diana he did not mind—he was used to Diana, and aside from the fact that he was madly in love with her she caused him little embarrassment or concern except upon those few occasions when he had attempted to maintain an extended conversation with her. Dr. Johnson would have found nothing in Pete’s conversational attainments to have aroused his envy.

Pete continued feeding the horses. He fed them twice as much as they could eat in a day, notwithstanding the fact that he knew perfectly well they were to be fed again that evening; but finally he realized that he could defer the embarrassing moment no longer and that the girl had not left. He stuck the fork viciously into the haystack and crossed the corral. He tried to appear unconcerned and to pass her by without looking at her, but in both he failed—first because he was very much concerned and second because she placed herself directly in his path and smiled sweetly at him.

“I don’t believe I had the pleasure of meeting you last night,” she said. “I am Miss Manill—Miss Henders’ cousin.”

“Yes’m,” said Pete.

“And I suppose you are one of the cow-gentlemen,” she added.

Pete turned suddenly and violently purple. A choking sound issued from his throat; but quickly he gained control of himself. Something in that remark of hers removed instantly all of Texas Pete’s embarrassment. He found himself at once upon an even footing with her.

“No’m,” he said, “I hain’t one o’ the cow-gentlemen—I’m on’y a tendershoe.”

“I’m sure you don’t look it,” she told him, “with those leather trousers with the fleece on. But you ride, don’t you?” she added quickly.

“I ain’t larned yit,” he assured her.

“Oh, isn’t that too bad! I thought of course you were a wonderful equestrian and I was going to ask you to teach me to ride; but you’d better come along after breakfast and we’ll get Mr. Colby to teach us both.”

“I reckon he wouldn’t like it,” explained Pete. “You see I’m in his afternoon ridin’ class. He don’t take nothin’ but ladies in the mornin’.”

“Oh, does he teach riding regularly?”

“My, yes, that’s what he’s here fer. He’s larnin’ us all to ride so’s we kin go out on hosses an’ catch the cows ’stid o’ havin’ to hoof-it.”

“I thought he was foreman,” she said.

“Yes’m, but that’s one of his jobs—larnin’ cow-gentlemen to ride”

“How interesting! I’ve learned so much already and I’ve only been in Arizona since day before yesterday. Mr. Bull was so kind and patient, answering all my silly little questions.”

“I reckon Bull could answer most any question,” he told her.

“Yes, indeed; but then he’s been here in Arizona so long, and had so much to do with the development of the country. Why, do you know he planted all the willows along that funny little river we followed for so long yesterday—miles and miles of them?”

“Did he tell you that?” inquired Texas Pete.

“Yes, isn’t it wonderful? I think it shows such an artistic temperament.”

“There’s more to Bull than I ever suspected,” murmured Texas Pete, reverently.

A sudden, clamorous, metallic din shattered the quiet of the cool Arizona morning. The girl gave a little scream and sprang for Texas Pete, throwing both arms about his neck.

“O-o-h!” she cried; “what is it—Indians?”

“No’m,” said Pete, striving to disengage himself, for he saw the malevolent eyes of several unholy cow-gentlemen gloating upon the scene from the doorway of the bunk-house. “No’m, that ain’t Injuns—that’s the breakfast bell.”

“How silly of me!” she explained. “Now I suppose I must be going. I’m so glad to have met you, Mr,—”

“My name’s Texas Pete.”

“Mr. Pete, and I do hope you learn to ride quickly. I am sure we could have some lovely excursions, picnicking among the beautiful hills. Oh, wouldn’t it be divine just you and I, Mr. Pete?” and she let her great, lovely eyes hang for a moment on his in a fashion that had turned more sophisticated heads than Texas Pete’s.

When she had gone and Pete was making his way toward the cook-house he ran his fingers through his shock of hair. “By gollies!” he muttered. “The outside o’ her head’s all right, anyway.”

As he entered the cook-house Shorty seized him and threw both arms about his neck. “Kiss me darlin’!” he cried. “I ain’t had a single kiss before breakfast.”

“Shet up, you long-legged walrus,” replied Pete, grinning, as he shoved the other aside.

He ate in silence despite the gibes of his companions, who quickly desisted, realizing the futility of attempting to arouse Texas Pete’s ire by raillery. He was quick enough of temper and quicker still with his guns when occasion warranted; but no one could arouse his anger so long as their thrusts were shod with fun.

“Lookee here, cook,” he called promptly to that individual; “you’re the best eddicated bloke in this bunch o’ long-horns—what’s a questreen?”

“Somethin’ you puts soup in,” replied the cook.

Texas Pete scratched his head. “I thought all along that I didn’t like her,” he muttered, “an’ now I knows it.”


Diana Henders greeted her guests with a cheery smile and a word of welcome as they entered the dining room for breakfast. “I hope you slept well,” she said.

“Oh, I did,” exclaimed Lillian Manill. “I never knew a thing from the time my head touched the pillow until broad daylight this morning. I had a perfectly wonderful night.”

“I didn’t,” said Corson, and Diana noticed then that he looked tired and haggard. “What happened last night?” he asked.

“Why, nothing, that I know of,” replied Diana. “Why do you ask?”

“Have you seen any of your men this morning—or any of the neighbors?” he continued.

“I have seen a couple of the men to talk with-we have no neighbors.”

“How many women are there on this place?” he went on.

“Just Lillian and I.”

“Well, something terrible happened last night,” said Corson. “I never spent such a hideous night in my life. It’s funny you didn’t hear it.”

“Hear what?” asked Diana.

“That woman—my God! I can hear her screams yet.”

“Oh, Maurice! what do you mean?” cried Miss Manill.

“It was about midnight,” he explained. “I had been rather restless just dozing a little—when all of a sudden the dogs commenced to bark and then a woman screamed—it was the most awful, long-drawn, agonized wail I ever heard—some one must have been torturing her. I’ll bet the Indians were out last night and the first thing you know you’ll hear about a terrible massacre. Well, it stopped all of a sudden and pretty soon the dogs commenced to yap again—there must have been fifty of ’em—and then that woman shrieked again—I’ll hear that to my dying day. I don’t think you ought to let any of the men go away today until you find out just what happened last night. The Indians may just be waiting for ’em to go and then they’ll rush down on us and kill us all.”

A faint smile had slowly curved Diana’s lips and brought little wrinkles to the corners of her eyes.

“What are you smiling about, Miss Henders?” demanded Corson. “If you’d heard that woman you wouldn’t feel like smiling—not for a long time.”

“That wasn’t a woman you heard, Mr. Corson—they were coyotes.”

He looked at her blankly. “Are you sure?” he asked, presently.

“Of course I’m sure,” she told him.

Corson breathed a sigh of relief. “I’d like to believe it,” he said. “I’d sleep better tonight.”

“Well, you can believe it, for that is what you heard.”

“I’d hate to be caught out after dark by ’em,” he said. “A pack of fifty or a hundred such as there was last night would tear a fellow to pieces in no time.”

“They are perfectly harmless,” Diana assured him, “and the chances are that there were no more than two or three of them—possibly only one.”

“I guess I heard ’em,” he insisted.

“They have a way of sounding like a whole lot more than they really are.”

He shook his head. “I guess I know what I heard.”

“I’ll have to show that cook of yours how to make coffee,” remarked Corson a few minutes later.

Diana flushed. “I suppose we don’t get the best coffee out here,” she said, “but we are accustomed to it and learn to like it first rate. I think Wong does the best he can with what he has to do with.”

“Well, it won’t hurt him any to learn how to make coffee,” said Corson.

“He has been with us a great many years and is very faithful. I think he would be terribly hurt if a stranger criticized his coffee,” said Diana.

“Maurice is very particular about his food,” said Miss Manill. “It is really an education to hear him order a dinner at Delmonico’s, and the way he does flay the waiters if everything isn’t just so. I always get such a thrill—you can see people at the nearby tables listening to him, whispering to one another.”

“I can imagine,” said Diana, sweetly, but she did not say just what she could imagine.

Corson swelled visibly. “Call the Chink in, Miss Henders,” he said, “and I’ll give him a lesson now—you might learn something yourself. Way out here, so far from New York, you don’t get much chance, of course. There’s really nothing quite like the refining influences of the East to take the rough edges off of people.”

“I think I prefer to speak to Wong privately and in person, if I find it necessary,” said Diana.

“Well. just so I get some decent coffee hereafter,” said Corson, magnanimously.

Lillian Manill, having finished her breakfast, rose from the table.

“I’m going to put on my riding habit now, Maurice,” she said. “Go out and tell Mr. Colby to wait for me.”

Diana Henders bit her lip, but said nothing as Corson rose and walked toward the door. He was garbed in a New York tailor’s idea of the latest English riding mode, and again Diana bit her lip, but not in anger. Corson, setting his hat jauntily over one eve, stalked into the open and down toward the corrals where the men were saddling up for the day’s work.

He lighted a big, black cigar and puffed contentedly. As he hove in sight work in the corral ceased spontaneously.

‘’My Gawd!” moaned Texas Pete.

“Who left the bars down?” inquired Idaho.

“Shut up,” cautioned Colby. “That feller’s likely to be boss around here.”

“He won’t never boss me,” said Shorty, “not with thet funny hat on. I wonder could I crease it?” and he reached for his gun.

“Don’t git funny, Shorty. They’s friends o’ Miss Henders,” whispered Colby. “It’d only make her feel bad.”

He could not have hit upon a stronger appeal to these men. Shorty lowered his hand from the butt of his gun and almost at once work was resumed. When Corson joined them he could not have guessed that he was the object either of ridicule or pity, though he was—of both.

“Say, Colby,” he said. “Saddle up a couple of safe horses for Miss Manill and me, and wait around until she comes out. I want you to give her a few lessons in riding.”

“Did Miss Henders say that it would be all right?” he asked. “You know the work is pretty well laid out an’ we ain’t got none too many hands.”

“Oh, that’s all right, my man,” Corson assured him. “You’ll be safe to do anything that I say. I’m handling Miss Manill’s interests and looking after everything in general until the estate is closed. Just trot along and saddle up a couple of horses, and see to it that they are gentle. I haven’t ridden for a number of years, although I was pretty good at it when I was a boy.”

Hal Colby eyed Mr. Maurice B. Corson for a long minute. What was transpiring in his mind it would have been difficult to guess from the expression on his face; though what should have been going on within the convolutions of his brain the other men knew full well, and so they lolled around, their faces immobile, waiting for the fun to begin, but they were doomed to disappointment, for there was no gunplay—Colby, they thought, might have at least “made the dude dance.” Instead he turned away without a word to Corson, gave some final directions for the day’s work, swung into the saddle and rode toward the office, utterly ignoring the Easterner’s instructions. Corson flushed angrily.

“Here you, one of you men,” he snapped, turning toward the punchers, most of whom had already mounted their ponies, “I want two horses saddled immediately—one for Miss Manill and one for me.”

Silently, ignoring him as completely as though he had not existed, the riders filed out of the corral past him. At a little distance they drew rein, waiting for Colby.

“I’ve saw gall before,” remarked Texas Pete in an undertone, “but thet there dude tenderfoot’s got more’n a brass monkey.”

“If he don’t c’ral thet jaw o’ his pronto,” growled Shorty, “I ain’t a-goin’ to be responsible fer what happens—I cain’t hold myself much longer.”

“I wouldn’t a-took what Colby did,” said Idaho.

“Some blokes’ll take a lot to hold their jobs,” said Shorty.

“They c’n hev mine right now,” stated Texas Pete, “ef I gotta take thet dude’s lip.”

“Here comes the boss now,” said Idaho. “She’ll settle things, dum her pretty little hide,” he added affectionately.

Diana had stopped just below the house to listen to Colby, whom the men could see was talking earnestly to her.

“Look here, Di,” he sas saying, “I want to know ef I gotta take orders from thet tin-horn lawyer feller. Is he boss round these diggin’s, or is you?”

“Why, I supposed I was, Hal,” she replied, “though I must admit there appears to be a suspicion of doubt on the subject in Mr. Corson’s mind. What has he said to you?”

Colby told her, repeating Corson’s words as nearly as he could, and the girl could not suppress a laugh.

“Oh, I reckon it’s funny, all right,” he said, testily, “but I don’t see the joke—hevin’ a paper-collared cracker-fed dude like that-un callin’ me ‘my man’ an’ orderin’ me to saddle up a hoss fer him, right in front o’ all the boys. ‘Trot along,’ he says, ‘an saddle up a couple o’ hosses, an’ see to it thet they’re plumb gentle.’ My Gawd, Di! you don’t expect me to take thet sort o’ jaw, do you?”

Diana, by this time, was frankly in tears from laughter, and finally Colby himself was unable to longer repress a smile.

“Don’t mind him, Hal,” she said, finally. “He is just one of those arrogant, conceited, provincial New Yorkers. They are mighty narrow and disagreeable, but we’ve got to put up with him for a short time and we might as well make the best of it. Go and ask Willie to saddle up two horses for them, and be sure that the one for Miss Manill is plumb gentle.” She accompanied her last instructions with the faintest trace of a wink.

Colby wheeled his pony and loped off to the corral, where he imparted the boss’s orders to the chore boy, Willie, lank, raw-boned and pimply. Willie, who always thought of himself as Wild Bill, swaggered off to catch up the two ponies, grinning inwardly as he roped Gimlet for Mr. Maurice B. Corson.

Corson, seeing Diana approaching, had gone to meet her. He was still red and angry.

“Look here, Miss Henders,” he exclaimed. “You’ve got to tell those fellows who I am. I asked them to saddle up a couple of horses and they absolutely ignored me. You tell them that when I give orders they are to be obeyed.”

“I think it will be less confusing if the orders come from me, Mr. Corson,” she replied. “It is never well to have too many bosses, and then, you see, these men are peculiar. They are unlike the sort of men you have apparently been accustomed to dealing with. You cannot talk to them as you would to a Delmonico waiter—unless you are tired of life, Mr. Corson. They are accustomed to me—we are friends—and they will take orders from me without question, so I think that it will be better all around if you will explain your wants to me in the future. Colby told me what you wanted just now and the horses are being saddled.”

He started to speak and then, evidently reconsidering, caught himself with a palpable effort. “Very well,” he said, presently, “we’ll let it pass this time.”

Together they walked toward the corral where Willie was saddling a quiet, old horse for Miss Manill. Beside him stood Gimlet with drooping head and dejected mien.

“Which one is for me, sonny?” demanded Corson.

Wild Bill glanced up in sullen scorn, eyed Mr. Corson for a brief moment and then jerked a soiled thumb in the direction of Gimlet.

“What! that old crow-bait?” exclaimed the New Yorker.

“You said you wanted a gentle hoss,” explained Colby, lolling in his saddle nearby, “an’ Gimlet won’t pitch.”

“I don’t want to ride a skate,” growled Corson. “When I’m on a horse I want to know I’m on something.”

“You’ll know you’re on Gimlet,” Colby assured him, sweetly, “he ain’t so dumb as he looks. Jest stick your spurs into him an’ he’ll act quite lively.”

“All right,” said Corson, glumly; “tell him to hurry—I see Miss Manill coming now.”

There were others who saw her coming, too. Texas Pete was only one of them.

“By gollies!” he exclaimed. “Look what’s got loose!”

Lillian Manill was approaching jauntily, clothed in a black riding habit, with a long, voluminous skirt, a man’s collar and tie and black silk hat, with a flowing veil wound around it. Shorty eyed her for a long minute, then he let his gaze wander to Mr. Corson.

“It wouldn’t never be safe fer me to go to New York,” he confided to Idaho. “I’d shore laugh myself to death.”

By the time Miss Manill joined the group the two horses were saddled and Willie had led them out of the corral.

“Mercy!” exclaimed Miss Manill. “Haven’t you a side-saddle? I could never ride one of those horrid things.”

“I’m sorry,” said Diana, “but we haven’t one. I doubt if there is a side-saddle in the county. I think you can work it though, if you will put your leg around the horn. Next time I’ll fix you up with a skirt like mine and then you can ride astride.”

“Are you sure the horse is perfectly safe?” inquired Lillian. “I’ll have to have a few lessons before I can ride one of those bouncing ones. Oh, Mr. Colby, good morning! Here I am all ready for my first lesson.”

Her eyes took in the punchers grouped a few yards away. “I see you are going to have quite a class this morning. Mr. Pete told me, though, that you taught the cow-gentlemen in the afternoon.”

Colby shot a quick glance at Pete, who had just been overcome by a violent fit of coughing, and knowing Texas Pete, as he did, grasped the situation at once.

“Oh, I had to give up the afternoon class,” he told her, “after I found they was a few like Mr. Pete who wouldn’t never larn to ride.”

“Isn’t that too bad,” she said, politely. Then she turned toward Corson. “I think you’d better try it first, Maurice. I’ll watch how you do it.”

“All right,” said he. “It’s been a long time since I have ridden, but I guess it’ll come back to me quick enough. I might be able to give you a few pointers at that.”

He walked up to Gimlet’s off side and took hold of the saddlehorn, neglecting the reins, which Willie still held. Gimlet eyed him sadly. When he essayed to place a foot in the stirrup the pony side-stepped rapidly in the opposite direction.

“You’d better mount from the other side, Mr. Corson,” advised Diana. “These horses are not broken to work with from the off side.”

“I knew all along he was a damn Injun,” remarked Idaho.

“An’ you better take the reins, you may need ’em,” supplemented Willie, who, at bottom, had a kind heart and shrank from bloodshed.

Corson walked to the near side of Gimlet, gathered the reins loosely in his right hand, stuck a foot into the stirrup, took hold of the horn with both hands and pulled himself laboriously into the saddle. Gimlet stood quietly.

“Giddap!” said Mr. Corson, but Gimlet moved not.

“Throw the hooks into him!” shouted Willie, gleefully.

“Why don’t the old skate go?” demanded Corson, shaking the reins.

“Use your spurs!” called one of the cowboys. “That’s what you bought ’em fer, ain’t it?”

Mr. Corson used his spurs. The result was electrical, galvanizing Gimlet into instant and surprising action—action which glowingly elucidated the derivation of his name. He wheeled dizzily round and round upon the same spot, and with lightning rapidity.

Mr. Corson’s funny hat flew off. He clawed at the horn in intervals that he was not clawing at the loose reins in a mad effort to gather them. Then Gimlet stopped and commenced wheeling again. Mr. Corson lost a stirrup. Then he let go both reins and seized the horn with two hands.

“Stop him!” he yelled. “Stop him! Whoa! Whoa!”

“Rip him open!” shrieked Willie. “Spur him in the eyes!”

“Ride him, cowboy!” yelled Idaho.

Again Gimlet bolted and this time Mr. Corson commenced to slip dangerously to one side. A hundred-yard sprint back to where he had started and Gimlet paused to wheel once more. It was the end. Mr. Corson spun off, alighting on his back. He rolled over with surprising agility and on his hands and knees crawled rapidly away from this man eater that he was sure was pursuing him. But Gimlet was only standing dejectedly, with drooping ears.

Corson came to his feet. The men about him—rough fellows with none of the finer sensibilities of New Yorkers—were laughing rudely.

“It was a put-up job,” he spluttered. “It was a put-up job. You’ll suffer for this, Colby! You told me that animal was gentle.”

“I told you he wouldn’t pitch mister!” snapped Colby. “An’ he didn’t pitch.”

Miss Manill had started back toward the house. “I think I’ll not ride this morning,” she said.

The Bandit of Hell’s Bend - Contents    |     Chapter XII - Corson Speaks

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