Painted Rock/Chapter 5

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V

PARTNERS ONCE

It was hot, "mighty hot," in Painted Rock, that city of the north-west Texas plateau, and folks said it was going to be warmer yet. There had been a tornado which struck one end of the "City" and destroyed a dozen houses; the tornado had been followed the week after by a sand-storm which made everything gritty but an egg, and the sand-storm had been succeeded by a thunder-storm which killed a good many steers the other side of the Wolf Creek. As a result of this weather the summer may be said to have commenced, and the heat led to a "difficulty" on Main Street which ended in the death of an unconsidered stranger at the hands of a prominent citizen and hardware merchant. These things will happen in hot weather in places where self-defence is so close to its opposite that it takes some trouble to get the edge of a verdict between the two. Painted Rock did not believe very much in the law. And when after all the storms word came over the wire from Fort Worth that Tom Crowle's appeal against his former partner George Bailey had been dismissed, with costs on appeal, there were some who shook their heads.

"There'll be trouble sure," said Major Simpson, late a corporal in the Confederate Army; "there'll be trouble sartin. Crowle's a mad steer, and it's God's wonder, not to say a Bible and uncontradicted merracle, that he hasn't been disposed of long ago in a nice lonesome cemetery. He makes a specialty of bein' more or less of a bad man in a quiet crowd, and that ain't conducive to longevity in Texas; it ain't conducive."

He drank his cocktail.

"Does Bailey know of this yet, Tom?" he asked the bar-tender.

"Dunno, Major," replied the bar-keeper, "but I seen him go into his office over the way a while back."

"Mix me another, Tom," said the Major, "and I'll walk over and indicate to him in a few well-chosen words what I think he should do. Bailey, for a bloomin', blawsted Englishman, is a good sort, quiet, steady, and goes up into the collar well. How he ever came to jine teams with Crowle licks me! How he parted with him is easy to understand. I think Bailey needs a word in season."

He drank his poison and walked across the sunlit street, which was four inches in dust. Though it was ten o'clock there were few people about, for most of Painted Rock's population had been gambling as usual till two o'clock.

"I don't see no reason why Painted Rock reckons to be a great City," thought the Major; "it's a sand-pit and a hell of a hole, that's what it is. At night we're drunk, and in the mornin' we're sorry, and the trade ain't what it's said to be. I shall move along somewhere, some day. And I guess I'll say so to Bailey, and add briefly and neatly that he had better quit as well."

He walked into Bailey's room, which was behind a store, and found him working in his shirt-sleeves.

"Good-mornin', Bailey," said the Major, as he spread out the tails of his frock-coat and sat on the corner of the table.

"Good-morning, Major," replied the Englishman, who was long and thin and fair, and obviously good-tempered though somewhat worried and anxious.

"Do you carry a pistol now?" asked the Major.

Bailey shook his head.

"Humph," said the Major, "you don't! I reckoned you didn't. Colonel Briggs let on you didn't. Mebbe you've got a knife?"

"No," said Bailey, "certainly not."

"Got a shot-gun?" asked the Major anxiously.

Bailey smiled.

"Why, no. Major, I don't hunt any."

The Major nodded.

"Ever been hunted any?" he asked shortly. "There's this matter between you and Crowle, now. I hear you've won your case over to Fort Worth."

"I knew I should," said Bailey.

"Crowle stated the other night that you and him couldn't live in the same town if you won it."

"I heard that," said Bailey steadily.

"Atkins has a good line of six-shooters on sale, my son. I handled a forty-four Smith and Wesson in his store yestiddy with a balance that made me yearn to buy it."

"Crowle is a talker," said Bailey.

"He chins a lot, I allow," said the Major, "but he gets wild with steady drink. If you don't mean to go heeled I'd quit the town for a while and let him get some used to the verdict."

Bailey set his teeth.

"I'll go when I like and where I like, and I'll stay if the prairie was full of Crowles."

The Major patted him on the shoulder.

"For an Englishman you're all right," said the Major. "But I'd regret some to see you shot up any. Ain't you got legitimate business elsewhere for a day or two?"

"I'm going to Big Springs to-night on business with Jude Harkness," replied Bailey.

"He'll say you've run."

"Let him say," answered Bailey. "If you people can't keep such a man quiet, or shut up, you shouldn't let on that Painted Rock is the City you make out."

"I think Painted Rock is very small pertaters," said the Major, "Give me San Antone or Dallas. But I recommend you to buy a gun."

Bailey shook his head again.

"I'll not buy a gun."

"So long," said the Major, and Bailey returned to work. About noon Tom the bar-tender at the American House slipped over to him.

"Mr. Bailey, Crowle hez bin in and he allowed he'll shoot more holes in you than a colander."

"Oh, I guess not," said Bailey.

"I'll lend you a gun, Mr. Bailey. I know you don't carry one."

"Thank you, no," said Bailey.

"Then if you must, keep mighty close to him if you run agin him," advised the bar-tender. "You kin grab him and take his gun away likely."

"I don't think he'll do anything at all," said Bailey. At one o'clock he had dinner at the hotel. A dozen men offered him advice, which he received civilly. Cool as he was, and he was cool and obstinate, the steady insistence of the town that Crowle would kill him told a little on his nerves. He was rather glad than otherwise that he had to go to Big Springs that night. And it is certain that he was glad when night came, and he walked down to the railroad depôt in the dark.

It was curious how dark it was.

"Another thunderstorm, I suppose," said Bailey. But he hadn't been long in north-west Texas, and had not yet learnt that obvious looking thunder-weather rarely brought a storm. He ran in the darkness right up against a man.

"Is that you, Mr. Bailey?" asked a voice that belonged, as he knew, to Mat Dunmore, a man who ran cattle on the cars from Painted Rock to Chicago and St. Louis.

"Yes, Mat,"

"I'm glad to collide with you," said Mat. "The Major asked me to tell you that Crowle knows you are leaving for Big Springs, and he is braggin' you're goin' by his orders."

"I shall be back the day after to-morrow, Mat."

"I'm real glad to hear it, sir," said Mat. "And furthermore, Mr. Bailey, Crowle has gone down to the depôt to see you go, he says, and he allows he'll ride with you as far as Jatan to make sure he hezn't to kill you."

"Damn him!" said Bailey.

"Take this, sir," said Mat. Bailey felt a six-shooter thrust into his hand. But he refused it.

"No, Mat, I'm obliged to you, but I won't. There are too many guns in this town already."

"You may need it mighty bad, sir. Crowle's mad drunk."

"I'll chance it," said Bailey. He shook hands with Mat and went on to the depôt, and came on a small crowd waiting for the passing of the East-bound express. After that had passed through, the accommodation train for Big Springs and El Paso was to start. He saw Crowle, who stood a head and shoulders above the others, first of all. Crowle and Bailey were the two tallest men, they said, in western Texas.

"Here comes my man," said Crowle. But he said no more, for Gillett the City Marshal, a man not to be trifled with personally, was close to him. Bailey went by him and got to the side-tracked accommodation train just as the express came thundering through the depôt with its bell upon the toll. "Stop," said Crowle, "I'm coming with you!"

He went by Bailey's side to the train and climbed up after him. The rest of the men stood back. Bailey hoped that the passenger car would be full. It was empty save for an old woman, who belonged to Big Springs, and two nondescript Westerners come from Heaven knows where and going to the same place. He sat down, and Crowle sat down opposite him.

Crowle was drunk, but steady, and his eyes were full of peculiar and devilish malignity. Bailey and he had worked together for two years in Kootenay. They had mined together in Colorado and Arizona, and had drifted together to Painted Rock. There were a thousand memories in common to both of them. They had been "partners," and partners in the Western as well as in the commercial sense. Now the law stood between them, and the decision of the law, and one had taken to drink, while the other was climbing up again in the great struggle of the West.

"I wish I'd bought a gun," said Bailey. That was his recurrent thought, "I wish I'd bought a gun."

He felt sure that if there had been no one in the jolting, swaying car that Crowle would have shot him then and there.

"I hear you brag you're comin' back," said Crowle.

"Yes, I'm coming back."

"You'll not come back," said Crowle; "you'll stay away from Painted Rock."

"I shall come back to Painted Rock the day after to-morrow," said Bailey.

And Crowle pulled his gun suddenly and had it pointed straight at Bailey's heart.

"If you want death, Bailey, you'll come back. I'll not be put out of them town lots by you or any court. You'll reckon it wisest to stay away."

"I'll come back," said Bailey.

And then the conductor came in. Crowle whipped his "gun" under his coat, and by that Bailey knew the man was not so utterly mad as he seemed. For the conductor was a man called George White, with whom he had once had trouble; and White, though he was little, had by no means got the worst of it. He eyed Crowle with malevolence, and Crowle knew well that if Bailey was "un-heeled" White carried a gun and could use it. The conductor looked at the tickets in silence, and gave Bailey a curious glance, which was a little consolation to the man who was saying "I wish I'd bought a gun." Then White went out, and once more Crowle covered Bailey with his pistol. "I'm more'n half a mind to kill you now," said Crowle, "you damn English robber, sneaking to courts and robbin' honest men! I've more'n half a notion to blow holes in you, you dog! If I don't on the train, I'll hev you off of the cars at Jatan and make you swear to quit for ever."

The slaver ran down his jaws from the angles of his mouth.

"The man's mad," said Bailey. "I wish, I wish I'd not refused a gun."

But if he had made a motion he would have been a dead man before he could draw any weapon. Nothing but the steady strength of quiet endurance saved him. He heard Crowle talk and never took in what he said.

"I'm to get off the cars at Jatan and swear," he said to himself. "I'll not get off. I'll swear nothing. The day after to-morrow I'll go back to Painted Rock, and—and I'll buy a gun."

White came through the car from the caboose at the end of the train three times, and each time the madman opposite Bailey hid his weapon and grinned hideously.

"It's the darkest night I ever saw," said White, "it's as black as the inside of blackness."

"By God, it's black for me," said Bailey's mind. "I wonder whether White has a gun to lend?"

He heard himself say there would be a thunderstorm. He heard White deny it. He heard Crowle's teeth grinding like a madman's, and underneath, and yet above all things, he heard the rolling of the cars and the click of the wheels as they passed the joints of the rails. He said to himself that the road-beds of the railroads of the United States were very bad. "Especially in the West."

Then they heard the locomotive go "hoot, hoot," and White went out.

"We're coming to Jatan, you dog," said Crowle, "and I'll get out there, and you'll follow me or I'll come back and drag you out."

"What for?" said Bailey.

"Because I say it. I'll have you on your knees, swearin' you'll not go to the court agin', and not come back to Painted Rock."

"I'll go back," said Bailey in a queer, tired voice.

They heard the grinding of the brake blocks, and the train slackened down.

Are you gettin' down?" said White, looking in the car.

"When she stops we are gettin' down," said Crowle.

They heard a voice outside. Bailey listened, and the words came to him, but not to Crowle.

"The East-bound express cracked a rail," said the voice, "my gang is puttin' in another."

"Ain't it dark?" said White.

"Never knew it so black," answered the section boss, who had been speaking. "You want one lantern to find another. 'Tis a night for two niggers to lose touch of each other, ain't it?"

And the car stopped dead.

"Ain't we goin' to draw up a bit farther?" asked White. "Why, my caboose and half the passenger car's on it still."

"Waal, you won't go through, I reckon," said the section boss. "The boys won't be long."

White came into the car where Bailey and Crowle were. Crowle was on his legs.

"I reckoned you were getting off, Mr. Crowle," said White.

Bailey saw a strange look in his face, and heard a strange intonation in his voice.

"Is this Jatan?" asked Crowle.

"It's—it's Jatan," said White.

"I don't see no lights."

"There ain't none just here," said White.

Crowle moved to the door, and White went out.

"You come," said Crowle, and somehow Bailey followed.

"Here you are," said White, and holding a lantern he flashed it in Crowle's face.

"Damn your lantern!" said Crowle. He thrust White aside and got upon the step.

"You come off," he said to Bailey, and Bailey's eyes were good enough to see what Crowle did not see.

"Good God!" said Bailey as the other went down one step. White grabbed him by the collar.

"Don't jump, Crowle!" said Bailey. They had been partners for years in Kootenay.

But Crowle jumped, and uttered a hideous shriek and turned over and over before he reached the rocky ground a hundred feet below him. The tail end of the train was on Jatan trestle, but Jatan itself was miles away. Bailey heard his body reach the rocks with a hideous crash.

"He's dead," said White.

"You—" stammered Bailey—"you——"

"I've saved your life, Mr. Bailey."

The engineer whistled "off brakes," and White left him peering over into the depths beneath. But he saw nothing, and went back into the car.

"The day after to-morrow I'm going back to Painted Rock," said Bailey. White came in presently and sat down beside him. He was very pale.

"Have you got a drink on you?" asked White.