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Proofreading Team.









THE GRINGOS


A STORY OF THE OLD CALIFORNIA DAYS IN 1849


BY B.M. BOWER

1913

WIth Illustrations By Anton Otto Fischer


[Illustration: "Gringos are savages and worse than savages."]




AUTHOR'S NOTE


I wish to make public acknowledgment of the assistance I have received
from George W. Lee, a "Forty-niner" who has furnished me with data,
material, and color which have been invaluable in the writing of this
story.




CONTENTS


I. THE BEGINNING OF IT

II. THE VIGILANTES

III. THE THING THEY CALLED JUSTICE

IV. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE OAK

V. HOSPITALITY

VI. THE VALLEY

VII. THE LORD OF THE VALLEY

VIII. DON ANDRES WANTS A MAJORDOMO

IX. JERRY SIMPSON, SQUATTER

X. THE FINEST LITTLE WOMAN IN THE WORLD

XI. AN ILL WIND

XII. POTENTIAL MOODS

XIII. BILL WILSON GOES VISITING

XIV. RODEO TIME

XV. WHEN CAMP-FIRES BLINK

XVI. "FOR WEAPONS I CHOOSE RIATAS"

XVII. A FIESTA WE SHALL HAVE

XVIII. WHAT IS LOVE WORTH?

XIX. ANTICIPATION

XX. LOST! TWO HASTY TEMPERS

XXI. FIESTA DAY

XXII. THE BATTLE OF BEASTS

XXIII. THE DUEL OF RIATAS

XXIV. FOR LOVE AND A MEDAL

XXV. ADIOS




_List of Illustrations_


"Gringos are savages and worse than savages"

He twisted in the saddle and sent leaden answer to the spiteful
barking of the guns

Mrs. Jerry took the señorita's hand and smiled up at her

"An accident it must appear to those who watch"




_The Gringos_




CHAPTER I

THE BEGINNING OF IT


If you would glimpse the savage which normally lies asleep, thank God,
in most of us, you have only to do this thing of which I shall tell
you, and from some safe sanctuary where leaden couriers may not bear
prematurely the tidings of man's debasement, watch the world below.
You may see civilization swing back with a snap to savagery and
worse - because savagery enlightened by the civilization of centuries
is a deadly thing to let loose among men. Our savage forebears were
but superior animals groping laboriously after economic security and
a social condition that would yield most prolifically the fruit of all
the world's desire, happiness; to-day, when we swing back to something
akin to savagery, we do it for lust of gain, like our forebears, but
we do it wittingly. So, if you would look upon the unlovely spectacle
of civilized men turned savage, and see them toil painfully back to
lawful living, you have but to do this:

Seek a spot remote from the great centers of our vaunted civilization,
where Nature, in a wanton gold-revel of her own, has sprinkled her
river beds with the shining dust, hidden it away under ledges, buried
it in deep canyons in playful miserliness and salved with its potent
glow the time-scars upon the cheeks of her gaunt mountains. You have
but to find a tiny bit of Nature's gold, fling it in the face of
civilization and raise the hunting cry. Then, from that safe sanctuary
which you have chosen, you may look your fill upon the awakening of
the primitive in man; see him throw off civilization as a sleeper
flings aside the cloak that has covered him; watch the savages fight,
whom your gold has conjured.

They will come, those savages; straight as the arrow flies they will
come, though mountains and deserts and hurrying rivers bar their way.
And the plodding, law-abiding citizens who kiss their wives and
hold close their babies and fling hasty, comforting words over their
shoulders to tottering old mothers when they go to answer the hunting
call - they will be your savages when the gold lust grips them. And
the towns they build of their greed will be but the nucleus of all the
crime let loose upon the land. There will be men among your savages;
men in whom the finer stuff outweighs the grossness and the greed. But
to save their lives and that thing they prize more than life or gold,
and call by the name of honor or friendship or justice - that thing
which is the essence of all the fineness in their natures - to save
that and their lives they also must fight, like savages who would
destroy them.

* * * * *

There was a little, straggling hamlet born of the Mission which the
padres founded among the sand hills beside a great, uneasy stretch of
water which a dreamer might liken to a naughty child that had run away
from its mother, the ocean, through a little gateway which the land
left open by chance and was hiding there among the hills, listening to
the calling of the surf voice by night, out there beyond the gate, and
lying sullen and still when mother ocean sent the fog and the tides
a-seeking; a truant child that played by itself and danced little wave
dances which it had learned of its mother ages agone, and laughed up
at the hills that smiled down upon it.

The padres thought mostly of the savages who lived upon the land, and
strove earnestly to teach them the lessons which, sandal-shod, with
crucifix to point the way, they had marched up from the south to set
before these children of the wild. Also came ships, searching for that
truant ocean-child, the bay, of which men had heard; and so the hamlet
was born of civilization.

Came afterwards noblemen from Spain, with parchments upon which the
king himself had set his seal. Mile upon mile, they chose the land
that pleased them best; and by virtue of the king's word called it
their own. They drove cattle up from the south to feed upon the
hills and in the valleys. They brought beautiful wives and set them
a-queening it over spacious homes which they built of clay and native
wood and furnished with the luxuries they brought with them in the
ships. They reared lovely daughters and strong, hot-blooded sons; and
they grew rich in cattle and in contentment, in this paradise which
Nature had set apart for her own playground and which the zeal of the
padres had found and claimed in the name of God and their king.

The hamlet beside the bay was small, but it received the ships and the
goods they brought and bartered for tallow and hides; and although
the place numbered less than a thousand souls, it was large enough to
please the dons who dwelt like the patriarchs of old in the valleys.

Then Chance, that sardonic jester who loves best to thwart the dearest
desires of men and warp the destiny of nations, became piqued at the
peace and the plenty in the land which lay around the bay. Chance,
knowing well how best and quickest to let savagery loose upon the
land, plucked a handful of gold from the breast of Nature, held it
aloft that all the world might be made mad by the gleam of it, and
raised the hunting call.

Chance also it was that took the trails of two adventurous young
fellows whose ears had caught her cry of "Good hunting" and set their
faces westward from the plains of Texas; but here her jest was kindly.
The young fellows took the trail together and were content. Together
they heard the hunting call and went seeking the gold that was luring
thousands across the deserts; together they dug for it, found it,
shared it when all was done. Together they heeded the warning
of falling leaf and chilling night winds, and with buckskin bags
comfortably heavy went down the mountain trail to San Francisco, that
ugly, moiling center of the savagery, to idle through the winter.

Here, because of certain traits which led each man to seek the thing
that pleased him best, the trail forked for a time. One was caught in
the turgid whirlpool which was the sporting element of the town, and
would not leave it. Him the games and the women and the fighting drew
irresistibly. The other sickened of the place, and one day when all
the grassy hillsides shone with the golden glow of poppies to prove
that spring was near, almost emptied a bag of gold because he had
seen and fancied a white horse which a drunken Spaniard from the San
Joaquin was riding up and down the narrow strip of sand which was a
street, showing off alike his horsemanship and his drunkenness. The
horse he bought, and the outfit, from the silver-trimmed saddle and
bridle to the rawhide riata hanging coiled upon one side of the
narrow fork and the ivory-handled Colt's revolver tucked snugly in
its holster upon the other side. Pleased as a child over a Christmas
stocking, he straightway mounted the beautiful beast and galloped away
to the south, still led by Chance, the jester.

He returned in a week, enamored alike of his horse and of the ranch he
had discovered. He was going back, he said. There were cattle by the
thousands - and he was a cattleman, from the top of his white sombrero
to the tips of his calfskin boots, for all he had bent his back
laboriously all summer over a hole in the ground, and had idled in
town since Thanksgiving. He was a cowboy (vaquero was the name they
used in those pleasant valleys) and so was his friend. And he had
found a cowboy's paradise, and a welcome which a king could not cavil
at. Would Jack stake himself to a horse and outfit, and come to Palo
Alto till the snow was well out of the mountains and they could go
back to their mine?

Jack blew three small smoke-rings with nice precision, watched them
float and fade while he thought of a certain girl who had lately
smiled upon him - and in return had got smile for smile - and said he
guessed he'd stick to town life for a while.

"Old Don Andres Picardo's a prince," argued Dade, "and he's got a
rancho that's a paradise on earth. Likes us gringos - which is more
than most of 'em do - and said his house and all he's got is half mine,
and nothing but the honor's all his. You know the Spaniards; seems
like Texas, down there. I told him I had a partner, and he said he'd
be doubly honored if it pleased my partner to sleep under his poor
roof - red tiles, by the way, and not so poor! - and sit at his table.
One of the 'fine old families,' they are, Jack. I came back after you
and my traps."

"That fellow you bought the white caballo from got shot that same
night," Jack observed irrelevantly. "He was weeping all over me part
of the evening, because he'd sold the horse and you had pulled out so
he couldn't buy him back. Then he came into Billy Wilson's place and
sat into a game at the table next to mine; and some kind of a quarrel
started. He'd overlooked that gun on the saddle, it seems, and so he
only had a knife. He whipped it out, first pass, but a bullet got him
in the heart. The fellow that did it - " Jack blew two more rings and
watched them absently - "the Committee rounded him up and took him out
to the oak, next morning. Trial took about fifteen minutes, all
told. They had him hung, in their own minds, before the greaser quit
kicking. I _know_ the man shot in self-defense; I saw the Spaniard
pull his knife and start for him with blood in his eye. But some of
the Committee had it in for Sandy, and so - it was adios for him, poor
devil. They murdered him in cold blood. I told them so, too. I told
them - "

"Yes, I haven't the slightest doubt of that!" Dade flung away a
half-smoked cigarette and agitatedly began to roll another one.
"That's one reason why I want you to come down to Palo Alto, Jack. You
know how things are going here, lately; and Perkins hates you since
you took the part of that peon he was beating up, - and, by the way,
I saw that same Injun at Don Andres' rancho. Now that Perkins is
Captain, you'll get into trouble if you hang around this burg without
some one to hold you down. This ain't any place for a man that's got
your temper and tongue. Say, I heard of a horse - "

"No, you don't! You can't lead me out like that, old boy. I'm all
right; Bill Wilson and I are pretty good friends; and Bill's almost as
high a card as the Committee, if it ever came to a show-down. But it
won't. I'm not a fool; I didn't quarrel with them, honest. They had
me up for a witness and I told the truth - which didn't happen to jibe
with the verdict they meant to give. The Captain as good as said so,
and I just pleasantly and kindly told him that in my opinion Sandy
was a better man than any one of 'em. That's all there was to it. The
Captain excused me from the witness chair, and I walked out of the
tent. And we're friendly enough when we meet; so you needn't worry
about me."

"Better come, anyway," urged Dade, though he was not hopeful of
winning his way.

Jack shook his head. "No, I don't want anything of country life
just yet. I had all the splendid solitude my system needs, this last
summer. You like it; you're a kind of a lone rider anyway. You never
did mix well. You go back and honor Don Andres with your presence - and
he is honored. If the old devil only knew it! Maybe, later on - So you
like your new horse, huh? What you going to call him?"

Dade grinned a little. "Remember that picture in Shakespeare of 'White
Surry'? Or it was in Shakespeare till you tore it out to start a fire,
that wet night; remember? The arch in his neck, and all? I hadn't
gone a mile on him till I was calling him Surry; and say, Jack, he's a
wonder! Come out and take a look at him. Can't be more than four
years old, and gentle as a kitten. That poor devil knew how to train
a horse, even if he didn't have any sense about whisky. I'll bet money
couldn't have touched him if the man had been sober."

He stopped in the doorway and looked up and down the street with open
disgust. "Come on down to Picardo's, Jack; what the deuce is there
here to hold you? How a man that knows horses and the range, can
stand for this - " he waved a gloved hand at the squalid street - "is
something I can't understand. To me, it's like hell with the lid off.
What's holding you anyway? Another señorita?"

"I'm making more money here lately than I did in the mine." Jack
evaded smoothly. "I won a lot last night. Whee-ee! Say, you played in
some luck yourself, old man, when you bought that outfit. That saddle
and bridle's worth all you paid for the whole thing. White Surry, eh?
He has got a neck - and, Lord, look at those legs!"

"Climb on and try him out once!" invited Dade guilefully. If he could
stir the horseman's blood in Jack's veins, he thought he might get him
away from town.

"Haven't time right now, Dade. I promised to meet a friend - "

Dade shrugged his shoulders and painstakingly smoothed the hair tassel
which dangled from the browband. The Spaniard had owned a fine eye for
effect when he chose jet black trappings for Surry, who was white to
his shining hoofs.

"All right; I'll put him in somewhere till after dinner. Then I'm
going to pull out again. I can't stand this hell-pot of a town - not
after the Picardo hacienda."

"I wonder," grinned Jack slyly, "if there isn't a señorita at Palo
Alto?"

He got no answer of any sort. Dade was combing with his fingers the
crinkled mane which fell to the very chest of his new horse, and if he
heard he made no betraying sign.




CHAPTER II

THE VIGILANTES


Bill Wilson came to the door of his saloon and stood with his hands
on his hips, looking out upon the heterogeneous assembly of virile
manhood that formed the bulk of San Francisco's population a year or
two after the first gold cry had been raised. Above his head flapped
the great cloth sign tacked quite across the rough building, heralding
to all who could read the words that this was BILL WILSON'S PLACE.
A flaunting bit of information it was, and quite superfluous; since
practically every man in San Francisco drifted towards it, soon or
late, as the place where the most whisky was drunk and the most gold
lost and won, with the most beautiful women to smile or frown upon the
lucky, in all the town.

The trade wind knew that Bill Wilson's place needed no sign save its
presence there, and was loosening a corner in the hope of carrying it
quite away as a trophy. Bill glanced up, promised the resisting cloth
an extra nail or two, and let his thoughts and his eyes wander
again to the sweeping tide of humanity that flowed up and down the
straggling street of sand and threatened to engulf the store which men
spoke of simply as "Smith's."

A shipload of supplies had lately been carted there, and miners
were feverishly buying bacon, beans, "self-rising" flour, matches,
tea - everything within the limits of their gold dust and their
carrying capacity - which they needed for hurried trips to the hills
where was hidden the gold they dreamed of night and day.

To Bill that tide meant so much business; and he was not the man to
grudge his friend Smith a share of it. When the fog crept in through
the Golden Gate - a gate which might never be closed against it - the
tide of business would set towards his place, just as surely as the
ocean tide would clamor at the rocky wall out there to the west. In
the meantime, he was not loath to spend a quiet hour or two with an
empty gaming hall at his back.

His eyes went incuriously over the familiar crowd to the little forest
of flag-foliaged masts that told where lay the ships in the bay below
the town. Bill could not name the nationality of them all; for the
hunting call had reached to the far corners of the earth, and
strange flags came fluttering across strange seas, with pirate-faced
adventurers on the decks below, chattering in strange tongues of
California gold. Bill could not name all the flags, but he could name
two of the bonds that bind all nations into one common humanity. He
could produce one of them, and he was each night gaining more of the
other; for, be they white men or brown, spoke they his language or
one he had never heard until they passed through the Golden Gate, they
would give good gold for very bad whisky.

Even the Digger Indians, squatting in the sun beside his door and
gazing stolidly at the town and the bay beyond, would sell their
souls - for which the gray-gowned padres prayed ineffectively in the
chapel at Dolores - their wives or their other, dearer possessions for
a very little bottle of the stuff that was fast undoing the civilizing
work of the Mission. The padres had come long before the hunting cry
was raised, and they had labored earnestly; but their prayers and
their preaching were like reeds beneath the tread of elephants, when
gold came down from the mountains, and whisky came in through the
Golden Gate.

Jack Allen, coming lazily down through the long, deserted room, edged
past Bill in the doorway.

"Hello," Bill greeted with a carefully casual manner, as if he had
been waiting for the meeting, but did not want Jack to suspect the
fact. "Up for all day? Where you headed for?"

"Breakfast - or dinner, whichever you want to call it. Then I'm going
to take a walk and get the kinks out of my legs. Say, old man, I'm
going to knock a board off the foot of that bunk, to-night, or else
sleep on the floor. Was wood scarce, Bill, when you built that bed?"

"Carpenter was a little feller," chuckled Bill, "and I guess he
measured it by himself. Charged a full length price, though, I
remember! I meant to tell you when you hired that room, Jack, that
you better take the axe to bed with you. Sure, knock a board off;
two boards, if you like. Take _all_ the boards off!" urged Bill, in
a burst of generosity. "You might better be making that bunk over,
m'son, than trying to take the whole blamed town apart and put it
together again, like you was doing last night." In this way Bill
tactfully swung to the subject that lay heavy on his mind.

Jack borrowed a match, cupped his fingers around his lips that wanted
to part in a smile, and lighted his before-breakfast cigarette - though
the sun hung almost straight overhead.

"So that's it," he observed, when the smoke took on the sweet aroma
of a very mild tobacco. "I saw by the back of your neck that you had
something on your mind. What's the matter, Bill? Don't you think the
old town needs taking apart?"

"Oh, it needs it, all right. But it's too big a job for one man to
tackle. You leave that to Daddy Time; he's the only reformer - "

"Say, Bill, I never attempted to reform anybody or anything in my
life; I'd hate to begin with a job the size of this." He waved his
cigarette toward the shifting crowd. "But I do think - "

"And right there's where you make a big mistake. You don't want to
think! Or if you do, don't think out loud; not where such men as Swift
and Rawhide and the Captain can hear you. That's what I mean, Jack."

Jack eyed him with a smile in his eyes. "Some men might think you were
afraid of that bunch," he observed with characteristic bluntness. "I
know you aren't, and so I don't see why you want me to be. You know,
and I know, that the Vigilance Committee has turned rotten to the
core; every decent man in San Francisco knows it. You know that Sandy
killed that Spaniard in self-defense - or if you didn't see the fracas,
I tell you now that he did; I saw the whole thing. You know, at any
rate, that the Vigilantes took him out and hung him because they
wanted to get rid of him, and that came the nearest to an excuse they
could find. You know - "

"Oh, I know!" Bill's voice was sardonic. "I know they'll be going
around with a spy-glass looking for an excuse to hang you, too, if you
don't quit talking about 'em."

Jack smiled and so let a thin ribbon of smoke float up and away from
his lips.

Bill saw the smile and flushed a little; but he was not to be laughed
down, once he was fairly started. He laid two well-kept fingers upon
the other's arm and spoke soberly, refusing to treat the thing as
lightly as the other was minded to do.

"Oh, you'll laugh, but it's a fact, and you know it. Why, ain't
Sandy's case proof enough that I'm right? I heard you telling a crowd
in there last night - " Bill tilted his head backward towards the room
behind them - "that this law-and-order talk is all a farce. What if it
is? It don't do any good for you to bawl it out in public and get the
worst men in the Committee down on you, does it?

"What you'd better do, Jack, is go on down to Palo Alto where your
pardner is. He's got some sense. I wouldn't stay in the darned town
overnight, the way they're running things now, if it wasn't for my
business. Ever since they made Tom Perkins captain there's been hell
to pay all round. I can hold my own; I'm up where they don't dare
tackle me; but you take a fool's advice and pull out before the
Captain gets his eagle eye on you. Talk like you was slinging around
last night is about as good a trouble-raiser as if you emptied both
them guns of yours into that crowd out there."

"You're asking me to run before there's anything to run away from."
Jack's lips began to show the line of stubbornness. "I haven't
quarreled with the Captain, except that little fuss a month ago, when
he was hammering that peon because he couldn't talk English; I'm
not going to. And if they did try any funny work with me, old-timer,
why - as you say, these guns - "

"Oh, all right, m'son! Have it your own way," Bill retorted grimly.
"I know you've got a brace of guns; and I know you can plant a bullet
where you want it to land, about as quick as the next one. I haven't
a doubt but what you're equal to the Vigilantes, with both hands tied!
Of course," he went on with heavy irony, "I have known of some mighty
able men swinging from the oak, lately. There'll likely be more,
before the town wakes up and weeds out some of the cutthroat element
that's running things now to suit themselves."

Jack looked at him quickly, struck by something in Bill's voice that
betrayed his real concern. "Don't take it to heart, Bill," he said,
dropping his bantering and his stubbornness together. "I won't air my
views quite so publicly, after this. I know I was a fool to talk quite
as straight as I did last night; but some one else brought up the
subject of Sandy; and Swift called him a name Sandy'd have smashed him
in the face for, if he'd been alive and heard it. I always liked the
fellow, and it made me hot to see them hustle him out of town and hang
him like they'd shoot a dog that had bitten some one, when I _knew_ he
didn't deserve it. You or I would have shot, just as quick as he did,
if a drunken Spaniard made for us with a knife. So would the Captain,
or Swift, or any of the others.

"I know - I've got a nasty tongue when something riles me, and I lash
out without stopping to think. Dade has given me the devil for that,
more times than I can count. He went after me about this very thing,
too, the other day. I'll try and forget about Sandy; it doesn't make
pleasant remembering, anyway. And I'll promise to count a hundred
before I mention the Committee above a whisper, after this - nine
hundred and ninety-nine before I take the name of Swift or the Captain


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