Jumping at Conclusions by Will C. Barnes

It certainly seemed good to be back on the old range again after a six months' absence. As we "topped" the last hill I pulled up the team. Down in the Valley below us the white adobe walls of the ranch house, like some desert light house, blazed through the glorious green of the cottonwoods that hovered about it. To its right a brown circle marked the big stockade corral. A smooth mirror-like spot out in the flat in front of the house was the stock-watering reservoir, into which the windmill, seconded by an asthmatic little gas engine, pumped water from the depths. Above it the galvanized iron sails of the great mill glittered and flickered and winked in the bright sunlight as if to welcome us home. A cloud of dust stringing off into the distance marked the trail where a bunch of "broom tails" were scurrying out onto the range after filling themselves at the tank with water and salt.

Suddenly, a gleam of color caught our eyes. It was "Old Glory" at the top of the tall pole, stirred by a little gust of wind that shook out its folds, the green of the trees making a splendid background. Evidently the boys were expecting us, for the flag was only run up on holidays, Sundays, and when guests were due to arrive.

A soft hand slipped quietly into mine. "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home," she sang, and as the words of the homesick, world-tired Payne came from her lips, there came into my throat a great lump, my eyes filled with tears, and to us both, the sage brush plain shimmering and baking in the bright Arizona sunshine, those brown rugged mountains in the distance and that desert oasis in the foreground were by far the loveliest thing we had seen in all our travels. The team, too, seemed to sense our feelings, for they freshened up and took us across the intervening distance as if they had not already made a good forty miles from the railroad.

Old Dad, the ranch cook, was at the "snorting post" to greet us as we pulled up, and we soon were sitting on the broad veranda plying the old rascal with questions about the work, the men, and all the happenings while we had been away; for of all forlorn, unsatisfactory things on earth the worst are the letters written by the average cow-puncher ranch foreman concerning matters upon which his absent boss has requested full and frequent information.

One of the first anxious inquiries on the part of the madam was as to the whereabouts of her Boston terrier, a bench show prize winner sent out to her shortly before we left. The letter accompanying the dog advised us that, barring accidents, the animal should in a few months bring into the world some offspring, which, considering its parentage, ought to bring fancy prices on the dog market.

"Where's Beauty?" she asked.

"I reckon she done went off with the boys this morning. They's down to Walnut Spring, buildin' a new corral."

"But didn't she—er—hasn't she—" She looked at me appealingly.

"Where are her pups?" was my blunt inquiry.

"Them pups?" The old man took his pipe from his jaws. A queer look flashed across his brown face; he chuckled as if the words brought up some rather amusing recollection. Now, old Dad was one of the worst practical jokers in the West. Nor did he count the cost or think of the results as long as he could carry his point, and fool some one with one of his wildly improbable yarns. To "pick a load" into some innocent tenderfoot was his most joyous occupation. I waited patiently for him to recover from the fit of mirth into which my innocent question seemed to have plunged him. There was a look of extreme disgust on the face of the lady sitting nearby.

"Ye 'member that there young kid-like chap what drifted in here last spring after the steer gatherin'?" Again that witless chuckle.

Yes, I remembered. We both did—the madam nodded.

"Well, along about the time them there pups came into this here state of Arizony"—the madam's face lighted; there were some pups after all—"the kid and I was here at the ranch all alone, the whole outfit bein' out on the rodeo, an' we havin' been left behind to watch the pasture fence, where a bunch of yearlin's was bein' weaned. One mornin' the kid busted into the kitchen. 'The mut's got four purps! Come an' look at em; they's all de-formed!' ses he, almost breathless with the news."

(Business of surprise and horror on part of listening lady.)

"'De-formed?'" ses I.

"'That's what I sed,' he snaps back at me."

(More business of S. and H. on part of lady; also friend husband.)

"I follers the kid out to the shed back of the house, where the dog had a pile of ole saddle blankets for a bed, and sure enough she had four white faced brindle purps all right, whinin' an' sniffin' just as purps allers does.

"'What's wrong with 'em?' says I, me not seein' anything de-formed about 'em.

"'Hell' ses he, 'can't you see they's all de-formed?'

"'Search me,' ses I, lookin' 'em all over carefully.

"The kid picked up two of 'em. 'Lookit them tails then.' He turned one of 'em around. Now Beauty ain't got no great shakes of a tail herself, but what she has is straight. 'By Heck!' ses I, seein' a chanst to have some fun with him, 'sure enough, they is sort of de-formed in their little ole colas. Reckon they's no use botherin' to raise 'em, is they—what with their tails all as crooked as a gimlet. Too bad, too bad,' ses I, 'fer the missus will be monstrously disapp'inted over it.'

"'They's every dad burned one of 'em got a watch eye too, jist like that there ole Pinto hoss I rides.' The kid's sure worried.

"'Wuss an' more of it,' I comes back at him.

"'What we goin' to do with 'em?' droppin' the animiles back into the blankets.

"'Nothin', I reckon,' lookin' straight down my nose, 'less'n we drownds 'em—said job not bein' one I'm actually hankerin' fer.'"

(image)

 "The galvanized iron sails of the windmill flashed in the sunlight"

(Business of fury, anger and indignation, with signs of approaching tears on part of listening lady.)

"You blithering old idiot!" I shrieked, "do you mean to say that you loaded the kid with that sort of a story till he went off and drowned those valuable pups under the mistaken impression that they were deformed and therefore worthless?" I glared at him as if to wither his old carcass with one look. (More of above mentioned business by lady—with real tears.)

"Well"—and the old renegade emitted that infernal chuckle again—"well, how should I sense that he didn't savvy that crooked tails and a glass eye were sure enough signs of birth an' breedin' with them there Boston terriers?" He looked away; we felt sure he dared not face the wrath in both our eyes.

I stormed up and down the porch for a few moments, speechless. The lady was registering every known phase of indignation. Her voice, however, was silent. Evidently there are times in her life when words fail her. This was one of them.

"Where's that kid?" I finally demanded. "I want to have a little heart to heart talk with that hombre! As for you"—and I tried to look the indignation I knew the madam felt—"it seems to me your fondness for picking loads into idiots green enough to be fooled by such a gabbling old ass as you are has gone just about far enough. After I've seen the kid, I'll talk to you further."

Old Dad was slowly and carefully reloading his pipe. From his shirt pocket he dug a match. With most aggravating deliberation he struck it on the door-post against which he leaned, held it over the bowl, gave several long pulls at the pipe to assure himself it was well lit before he even deigned to raise his keen gray eyes to mine. The madam's face was a study in expression. "Where's the kid?" I really thought he had not heard my first inquiry as to the whereabouts of that individual.

"Where's he at?" with the grandest look of innocent inquiry on his weather beaten face that could possibly be imagined. For mere facial expression he should be a star performer in some big movie company.

"Yes!" I snapped out the words as if to annihilate him. "I want to hold sweet converse with him, muy pronto, sabe?"

"Well, he's vamosed—drifted yonderly" and he waved his pipe towards the eastern horizon.

"Ahead of the sheriff?" I never did have much faith in the young gentleman from Missouri.

"Yep—in a way he was." Once more that devilish chuckle.

I saw the old man evidently had a story concealed about his person and that, with his usual contrariness the more we crowded him the longer he would be in getting it out of his system. I dropped angrily into the porch swing, where I could watch his face, while the madam sat herself down on the steps of the porch apparently utterly oblivious of everything but the sage-dotted prairie spread out before us. Finally the aged provision spoiler began to emit words.

"The last time the outfit shipped steers over at the railroad," he said slowly, "the kid he tanked up pretty consid'able till he's a feeling his oats, an' imaginin' hisself a reg'lar wild man from Borneo, and everything leading up to his gittin' into trouble before he was many hours older. Comes trotting down the sidewalk old man Kates, the Justice of the Peace who, on account of his gittin' the fees in all cases brought up before him, was allers on the lookout for biz. Also he done set into a poker game the night before and lose his whole pile, which didn't tend to make him view this here world through no very rosy specs. The kid comes swaggering along and the two meets up jist in front of the 'Bucket of Blood' saloon. You know Kates he allers wears a plug hat, one of them there old timers of the vintage of '73 or thereabouts, an' the kid he bein' a comparative stranger in these parts, and not knowin' who the judge was nor havin' seen any such headgear for some time, he ses to hisself, 'Right here's where I gits action on that sombrero grande,' and he manages to bump into the judge in such a way as to knock off the tile, and before it hits the ground the kid was filling it so full of holes that it looked like some black colander.

"Every one came pouring out of the saloon and nearby stores to see what was up, and the judge he takes advantage of the kid's having to stop and reload his six pistol, to relieve hisself of some of the most expressive and profane language ever heard in the burg before or since, windin' up by informin' the gent from ole Missou that he was goin' straight to his office and swear out a warrant for him and send him down to Yuma by the next train.

"When the boys tells the kid who he's been tamperin' with he gits onto his hoss and tears outa town like hell a-beatin' tanbark, he havin' no particular likin' for court proceedin's, owing to several little happenin's in that line down on the Pecos in Texas. About a week later the sheriff he gits a tip that the kid's probably hangin' out at Deafy Morris's sheep camp up on Wild Cat, so he saunters up that a-way and nabs the young gent as he's a helpin' Deafy fix up his shearin' pens. Sheriff he sort of throws a skeer into the kid, tellin' him Kates is liable to send him up for ten years for assaultin' the honor and dignity of a J. P., but the kid's mighty foxy and also plumb sober by that time, and he tells the sheriff he's willing to go back to town and take his medicine.

"Next morning Deafy he ses as how he's a-goin' down to town, and the sheriff, havin' got track of somebody else he's a wantin' up on the mountain, and believin' the kid's story about bein' willing to go to town, he deputizes Deafy to take him in and deliver him at the 'Hoosgow.'[D]

 Jusgado—The prisoner's dock in a Spanish criminal court.

"Deafy he tells the sheriff he's not a goin' clean through to town that day, but is a-goin' to camp at the Jacob's Well, a place about half way down, on the edge of the pines, where he's arranged to meet up with the camp rustler of one of his bands of sheep grazin' in that section. Ever been at that there Jacob's Well?" And the old man looked at me inquiringly. I nodded affirmatively.

The Jacob's Well was located in the center of a very large level mass of sandstone covering perhaps three or four acres, with a dense thicket of cedar and piņon trees all about it. It was a fairly round hole about five feet wide and perhaps ten deep, bored down into the sandstone formation either by human agency or some peculiar action of nature. The lay of the rocks all about it was such as to form a regular watershed, so that the natural drainage from the rain and snow kept it nearly filled almost all the year round.

Just what made this well was a moot question in the country. A scientific investigator promptly put it down to the action of hard flint rocks lying in a small depression and rolled about by the wind until they dug a little basin in the rock, then the water collecting in it continued the attrition until, finally, after what may have been ages, the well was the result. My private opinion was that it was the work of prehistoric or even modern Indians who, wishing to secure a supply of water at this particular point, possibly for hunting purposes, formed the hole by fire. A large fire was built upon the rock, then when at a white heat water was thrown upon it, causing the stone to flake and crack so it could easily be removed. This was a slow process, of course, but having myself once seen a party of Apache squaws by the same primitive means remove over half of a huge boulder that lay directly in the line of an irrigating ditch they were digging, and which they otherwise could not get around, I am convinced the scientific person missed the true methods employed to excavate the hole.

However, without regard to its origin, the well was a fine camping place, for water was scarce in that region and there was always good grass for the horses near it. The old man rambled on.

"Deafy he gits a poor start next mornin' 'count of a pack mule what insisted on buckin' the pack off a couple of times and scatterin' the load rather promisc'ous-like over the landscape, an' by the time they reached the well it was plumb dark. They unsaddles and hobbles their hosses out, and then Deafy he sets to work buildin' a fire, tellin' the kid to take his saddle rope and the coffee pot and git some water. The kid he's never been there afore, but Deafy tells him the well's only about a hundred feet from where they unpacked, so he moseys out into the dark lookin' for the well, his rope in one hand, the camp coffee pot in 'tother, the idee bein' to let the pot down into the well with the rope.

"It were sure dark in them trees, and the kid he's a blunderin' and stumblin' along, a-cursin' the world by sections, when all to once he stepped off into fresh air, and the next thing he knows he's a standin' at the bottom of the well in about four or five feet of ice-cold water, and him a-still hangin' onto the rope and pot with a death grip. Took him about five minutes to git his breath and realize he done found the well all rightee, and then he sets up a squall like a trapped wildcat. He ain't forgot, neither, that Deafy ain't likely to hear him, the ole man bein' deafer than a rock; so after hollerin' a while and gittin' no results he stops it and begins cussin' jist to relieve his mind and help keep him from shakin' all his teeth outen his head account o' shiverin' so blamed hard.

"Up on top Deafy he's busy startin' a fire and openin' up the packs gittin' ready to cook supper. The kid not bein' back with the water yit, and he bein' obliged to have water fer bread makin' purposes, Deafy finally decides the kid's gone and got hisself lost out there in the dark, and so he takes a pasear out that a-way huntin' fer him. The ole man's a hollerin' and a trompin' through the cedars an' rocks, thinkin' more how much his wool's a-goin' to fetch than anything else, when he thinks he hears someone a-callin'. He turns to listen, gits a little more sound in his ears, takes a step or two in its direction, and, kerslop, he's into that there well hole, square on top of the young gent from 'ole Missou'. Say, the things them two fellers sed to each other, an' both at the same time, most cracked the walls of the hole."

Dad wiped his eyes with the heel of his fat hand.

"Talk about your Kilkenny cats," he continued, "they wan't in it with them two pore devils down in that cold water. Finally, they both run out of mouth ammunition an' set to work to figger out how they was goin' to git outen the well. It was too wide to climb out of by puttin' a foot on each side and coonin' up the walls like a straddle bug, an' it was mostly too deep for either of 'em to reach the top with their hands. So they mighty soon agrees between 'em that there's but one way to git out, an' that's fer one of 'em to stand on 'tother's shoulder so's to git a grip on the edge, pull hisself out, an' then help his shiverin', shakin' amigo what's down in the hole onto terry firmy. Bein' a foot taller than Deafy, Bob agrees that the old man can climb onto his shoulders an' git out first. But Deafy, he's heavy on his feet, an' bein' sixty years old an' none too spry, he cain't seem to make the riffle to git onto the kid's back, so he finally gives it up, an' lets the kid have a try at it. The kid he's soon on Deafy's shoulders, an' one jump an' he's on top.

"Meantime the kid he's been doin' some powerful hard thinkin'. He ain't hankerin' after a close-up view of that there indignant judge down in town. The sheep man he's got a monstrous fine hoss, a new Heiser saddle, an' a jim dandy pack mule and outfit, while his own hoss an' saddle ain't nothin' much to brag on. He knows the sheep man's dead safe where he's at till some one comes to help him out, which will be when his camp rustler arrives on the scene, which may be in an hour an' may be in ten minutes. Meantime, bein' a cow-puncher bred and born on the Pecos, he ain't lovin' a sheep person any too well, so he makes up his mind he jist as well die for an 'ole sheep as a lamb, and within ten minutes he's hittin' the trail for New Mexico a straddle of Deafy's hoss an' saddle, leadin' his pack mule, with a bully good pack rig onto his back.

"Also the pore old feller down in the well is a holdin' up his hands expectin' every minute the kid will reach down an' help him out; incidentally, as far as his chatterin' teeth will let him, doin' some mighty fancy cussin' along broad an' liberal lines."

Dad stopped a moment to light his pipe. My curiosity could wait no longer.

"What happened to Deafy and how did he get out?" burst from my eager lips.

Once again that chuckle. "Seems he tole the camp rustler to meet him there that night, but the paisano was late gittin' his sheep bedded down on account of a bear skeerin' of 'em just about sundown, so he didn't git round till the kid had done been gone for two hours. Even then he might not 'a' found him, for the fire was all out an' it was too dark to see much, but the ole man he had his six shooter with him when he started in to bathe, also about forty beans in his catridge belt. Knowin' mighty well his only hope was in drawin' some one's attention with his shootin', he was mighty economical with his beans, only shootin' about onc't every five minutes. The herder he hears him, runs the sound down, an' finds his ole boss a soakin' in the well, him bein' jist about ready to cash in his chips, he's that numbed and chilled."

"And the kid?" gasped the lady listener.

"Oh, he done got clean away over the line into New Mexico and they ain't never got no track of him to this very yit."

We heard a raucous squeak from the corral back of the house, indicating the opening of one of the heavy pole gates. Evidently the boys had come in. I was just rising from my seat in the swing, when from around the corner of the house dashed a brindle Boston terrier, followed by four crazy pups about two months old. The mother barked a joyous welcome to the madam, to whom she flew and in whose arms she found a warm reception. I turned to the cook. That same aggravating chuckle again.

"But you told us they were drowned" was the only thing the amazed and perplexed woman could find words to utter.

The old reprobate was gazing into the bowl of his pipe as if in its depths he had found something extremely interesting. I began to see a light.

"You miserable old hot air artist!" I said. "You picked a load into us the very first hour after we landed on the ranch, didn't you? You've been humbugging us all this time, haven't you?" I tried hard to be fiercely indignant.

"You fooled your own selves," he snickered, "fer I never tole you them there pups was drownded; you jist nachelly jumped at it of your own accord, an' seein' as how you'd find it out anyhow when the boys came in, I jist let it run along."