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THE REHABILITATING OF BUCK
BY WALTER ARCHER FROST
T WAS ABOUT an
hour past sun-up when they reached San Peto and delivered up the herd.
The last three days had been the worst ones in the drive, for the thermometer had stuck around 120, and the desert dust had risen in suffocating clouds from the feet of the 4,000 steers. So, when they were paid off, they made a break for the nearest thirst-morgue and pretty generally went to work.
Buck left them for a moment to get a cup of coffee in a cafe, for, he said, that laid a good foundation, and then he'd join them. They didn't want any foundation, they said, and he told them they didn't need to wait.
At the cafe he got his coffee, and then a man invited him to try a strictly local drink.
Buck said he didn't care how local it was, provided it was wet. It was very wet, and he approved of it. "My name is Buck Smith," he said, as he sat down at one of the tables, "and you can bring me about six of those."
When the six were gone, Buck came to the conclusion that money was worth only what it would buy, and he bought, on that basis, the strictly local drink.
Then he raised himself impressively from the table and three chairs which had supported him, cast one Jove-like glance at the common herd before him, and went loftily out to regard the common herd outside.
Being in absolute possession of the universe, he thought that he ought not to confine his attention to one place, and he therefore moved: and, as he moved, from the almost inconceivable altitude of his superiority Buck Smith looked down. A circus occupied one of the sun-baked squares, and he strode thither, scurging every one and everything with scornful glance.
The largest crowd was before a table, behind which a man was seated, "working" the shells; that is, the operator placed first one shell and then another over a single pea, and the on-lookers bet against him as to the shell which he allowed to stay over it.
Buck Smith observed that, almost invariably, the operator won. At this, he threw back his shoulders until his chest was nearly horizontal with the ground, and frowned even more majestically: poor, dull-witted simpletons that they were, these people could not see the trick. Since all people were his slaves, their loss was his, and he commanded them to de
After an hour, he made the discovery sist. that the whole shop was his.
After another hour he leaned back in his chair, threw more money across the bar, and confessed that he owned the town. And at the end of the third hour he became conscious that he owned the world.
Each acquisition had given him new dignity, and he haughtily turned his back upon the crowd. It occurred to him that, even them, their manner bordered on the familiar; he frowned until he became ut
But they answered him lightly, and some, who had seen him at the cafe, went further: "Shut up! Get out! Go and sleep it off. You're plumb drunk, Buck Smith!"
"Drunk!" And "Buck Smith." That showed him that they were drunk and that their names were Smith. But he was increasingly surprised that no one seemed aware of who or what he was. Then, suddenly he understood it! It was not un
common for rulers now and then to go among their subjects incognito, and that was just what he was doing now. would tell them later, but for a time he would keep his disguise, and it was absolute. As their ruler, he was, however, incensed against the man who was deceiving them, and he decided to expose the operator's foolish game before their eyes.
Striding grandly to the table, he cast down a handful of bills: "The pea is beneath that one," he thundered, regally indicating a certain shell. The operator looked at him. "Are you sure," he laughed. "It is there," decreed Buck Smith. "It can be only there," and he hurled down another roll of bills.
"Any other bets?" asked the operator. Then, no one answering: "It's a pleasant day, but some rain wouldn't hurt a bit." As he spoke he raised the shell Buck Smith had bet on, and there was nothing under it. With a swift but easy motion he gathered in Buck's bills, then, as he threw the shells leisurely, he drawled again: "Come on and make your bets!"
For a moment, Buck Smith stood stunned, and even raised his right hand to his head. He would have spoken, but he didn't know what to say. King though he was, he had bet on the wrong shell; it was astounding, but his eyes had been deceived just as those of his subjects had.
But, though he had been deceived, one defeat did not conquer him, and he decided to remedy his mistake: he would watch the operator's movements carefully, evolve a system, and that perfected, bet once more, and this time make the man's humiliation complete.
Quite on the spur of the moment, he threw his arm around a near-by pole of the main tent, still further supporting it by leaning against it with his chest; this minimized the effort of standing and gave his eye a rock-like steadiness, and from there he followed every pass that the operator made.
He saw that it was quite simple, after all the man pushed the pea to the left with the shell he held in his right hand, and to the right with the shell he held in his left; after every third push with his left hand he caught the pea with the middle shell and made believe that he had rolled it from that to the shell that was at
his right, but it was always left under the middle shell; that is, almost always, for sometimes the operator varied it, and it was in pursuit of this variety that Buck Smith's "system," almost completed, was at work.
At last he solved it: the last six passes that the operator made were only feints, made to mislead the eye. Buck knew it was six, for he had counted them a great many times. That was the number of fake passes, so all he had to do was count back six, and he would have the shell that held the pea. Counting back that way would be confusing, but, after a while, he had solved that, too: all he had to do to get the right count was to stand rigid and shut his eyes.
He could not lose now, and he was just about to bet, when the operator again addressed the crowd: "Just to show you I ain't working a flim-flam game, I'm going to turn my back, and when you've picked your shells, just sing out, and I'll turn around."
Good as his word, the operator turned. As he did so, a wiry man in the regulation cowboy rig slipped through from the outskirts of the crowd to the table's edge, lifted first one and then another shell, until he found where the pea was, then covered it again, and as silently resumed his. place.
A noiseless laugh went up from those who saw it. But there was nothing said.
"All right, pardner," some one called out. The operator faced them again. “I did what I said I would. Now make your bets."
There was no hesitation this time, for every man bet on the shell under which they had seen the pea lying; that is, the second shell to the left.
Buck bet on that one, too, though his "system" had said that the pea was under the third shell to the left. The miscalculation was his own fault, he knew; he had opened his eyes too soon.
"Any more bets?" droned the operator. There was a heavy silence, during which he turned to raise the shell, and a groan of surprise went up, for the pea was discovered not under the second, but under the first shell to the left.
The crowd pressed forward, then sagged speechlessly back, apparently the most puz
zled of them all the wiry man who had slipped through from the outskirts of the crowd.
Buck Smith was baffled; his knees shook and he wondered when his head had begun to ache. He turned away blindly, his senses reeling so that he did not feel them shoulder him this way and that as he staggered through the crowd.
It was not the loss of the money which preyed so upon him; it was the shock to his station and prestige; what sort of a King was he, if he fell by the same trick that had deceived the common herd? Who would do him homage! How would he His elevation was now less lofty, but he still knew who he was.
With no definite direction, he walked down the dusty street. The by-standers jeered him, and he was still further discouraged by the fact that no withering retort occurred to him.
"What's the matter," he wondered, unconscious that he spoke aloud. A cowboy who had been racing toward him forced his horse back upon its haunches, simultaneously anchoring it by throwing its reins forward over its head. "The matter with you, Buck Smith, is just bad alcohol. I've been hunting for you two hours," the big cowboy said.
Buck met the speaker's eyes blankly, then tottered, and the other sprang foreward just in time to catch him in his arms: "Poor old Buck, you don't know even Dead River Colby, your old pardner. Straighten that homely phiz of yours, you damned Greaser," continued Colby to a strolling Mexican, who was looking on amused; "just as he is, he's twice as much man as you. Hide now, or I'll wake him and tell him where you are!" The man obeyed, and in a cloud of dust, Dead River's buckskin carried Buck and his pardner into privacy.
It was three hours later that Buck Smith awoke: "Look here, old horse!" he said to the attendant Dead River, "I've sure had the all-firedest dream."
"Don't bother giving it to me again. I know all about it, for you talked some for about the first hour you was asleep. I know about how it was. Got that way onct myself; it was somewhere round this part of the country, too; comes from the dope they sell down here. You're going to
"You were. It wasn't such a bad game, though, and it seems you wasn't the only one who didn't see through it. Come along. If we get a wiggle on we ought to be able to locate that wiry chap." It was a much-relieved Buck Smith that followed Dead River down the street, and they found the crowd still there, the operator still mechanically encouraging them to "make their bets."
"Presently," said Dead River. Then, in a whisper to Buck: "Just squint your lamps around and point the fellow out!"
"That's him," Buck replied, and in another moment they were beside the operator's ally.
"You're covered," breathed Dead River. "We've got you spotted, and you are going to go up there again, as soon as that fellow's back is turned. You're going now," and as he spoke, he pressed the muzzle of his Colt against the other's side. "Get a move on, and find the pea, but this time you know you're going to let it stay where it is!"
The crowd understood, though they said nothing. As soon as the operator turned his back, the wiry man, now whitefaced, and wearing his cowboy clothes more awkwardly, went to the table and began to lift the shells.
"Go careful," warned Dead River. The man swiftly raised all of them, and not one shell held the pea.
"Of course not," said Dead River, "but you've got half a dozen in your pocket. Get busy now and stick one under each one of the shells. There, you can trot back now, and stand in front of my pardner. He'll cover you, remember. I'm going to stay here and keep an eye on your brother in the chair."
The operator turned slowly; he may or may not have guessed, but there was little color in his face.
"Have you all picked your shells, gentlemen ?"
"I guess so," replied Dead River, pointing to the table, which was covered with bags of dust and rolls of bills. "Yes, we're all ready. It's up to you. Now go ahead!"
It is not likely that the "shell" game was ever worked with such results before. Even then the operator might have balked, but after one look at Dead River, who stood directly before him, grim, clear
eyed and truculent, the man lifted each shell and every bet was paid.
"It's just that I 'saw' you and went you two or three better," Dead River Colby explained. "And now it ain't necessary for you to stay here any longer, as I look at it. But say, don't never come up into Arizona, for that boy," indicating Buck Smith, "and I'll be there!"
Buck turned. "Back to Arizona, is it. Dead River ?"
"Yes. You see I've got some money, and it looks like this deal had rehabilertated you. And they's a nice, tidy ranch up there I happen to know's for sale."
BY MYRTLE CONGER
Of all the plans I've ever made,
E'en though I feast the merry horde,
I never yet a hope have held
IN DAYS OF GUN PLAYS
BY WILL F. GRIFFIN
T WAS DOWN in
"When it comes to rapid gun plays, I makes just two exceptions to my old friend and bunkie, Bill Cummings," said the Major, as he dropped a pinch of tobacco in a slip of brown paper and deftly rolled a cigarette. "Them two are Wild Bill Hickok and the Apache Kid.
"Of course," went on the Major, "there may have been others, but if so I never met up with them. Gun plays ain't fashionable nowadays, so I reckon you-all don't know much about them. But it don't require no mental effort on my part to recall the time when a man had to be mighty careful what pocket he carried his tobacco in. To reach for tobacco in a hip pocket looked suspicious, leastwise in the midst of an argument. I recalls more than one man who had to quit the trail from an overdose of cold lead because of just such carelessness.
"In the old days of Abilene and Dodge a man wasn't expected to do much with his hands in a bar-room outside of reachin' in his front pocket for the price of his obligation at the bar. Beyond that he was looked on with suspicion, unless, of course, he was known as a peaceful character, as was my friend Bill Cummings, drunk or sober. Sober, Bill would sit quietly in a corner of a dance hall and take in the proceedings with all the enjoyment of a tenyear-old kid. Somehow, the scratching of the fiddles always had a peculiar influence on Bill. He didn't want to dance, didn't want to drink, and didn't care for no rough house. He just wanted to sit in an cut-of-the-way corner and let the music soak into his soul. And as for talkin', Bill was a second cousin to a clam. I used
to think sometimes he was But he wasn't. Not a bit. his way.
tongue-tied. It was just
"In his cups he differed from the sober Bill just in one respect. He always imagined somebody was insulting his friends. He would take all sorts of insults about himself and smile 'em off in a weak-fashioned way; but the minute Bill imagined any of his friends were gettin' the worst of it, his eyes would begin to glisten. Likewise his trigger finger would get itchy. Trigger finger' ain't quite appropriate in this case, because there wasn't any trigger on Bill's gun. To have to pull a trigger in a quick gun play was too slow work, bo Bill had that obstacle removed. You-all recalls that the Apache Kid got wise to that time-saving scheme some time before the sheriff caught him with his guard down. You know how it works, don't you? You merely pulls the hammer back at the same time you pulls your gun, then when you get your bead you let her flicker. And right here let me say that Bill's long suit was in having the hammer back before the muzzle of his gun was out of the holster.
"Bill was what you-all from the East would call a bad man, but he never picked a fight in his life. None whatever. And as I before remarked he would go to the limit before making any resentment, especially sober. And then if he made a gun play, nine times out of ten it was in behalf of his friends.
"Him and me drifted into Dodge one night just about the time when the evening was getting ripe. We had been on the round-up with the Circle Bar outfit, and had two months' pay in our pockets. Like all self-respecting cow-punchers whose throats had become clogged with alkalai dust, we had a wild yearning to let our lips slip over five fingers of the villainous stuff that was supposed to make a man feel like a mine owner and forget his troubles. We ties our cayuses in front of the Green Light dance hall, and