Henry Herbert Knibbs.

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Produced by Al Haines

[Frontispiece: "You!" she exclaimed. "You!"]











Published May 1915






List of Illustrations

"You!" she exclaimed. "You!" . . . " . . . _Frontispiece_

"God A'mighty, sech things is wrong."


Across the wide, sun-swept mesas the steel trail of the railroad runs
east and west, diminishing at either end to a shimmering blur of
silver. South of the railroad these level immensities, rich in their
season with ripe bunch-grass and grama-grass roll up to the barrier of
the far blue hills of spruce and pine. The red, ragged shoulders of
buttes blot the sky-line here and there; wind-worn and grotesque
silhouettes of gigantic fortifications, castles and villages wrought by
some volcanic Cyclops who grew tired of his labors, abandoning his
unfinished task to the weird ravages of wind and weather.

In the southern hills the swart Apache hunts along historic trails o'er
which red cavalcades once swept to the plundering of Sonora's herds.
His sires and their flashing pintos have vanished to other
hunting-grounds, and he rides the boundaries of his scant heritage,
wrapped in sullen imaginings.

The cañons and the hills of this broad land are of heroic mould as are
its men. Sons of the open, deep-chested, tall and straight, they ride
like conquerors and walk - like bears. Slow to anger and quick to act,
they carry their strength and health easily and with a dignity which no
worn trappings, faded shirt, or flop-brimmed hat may obscure. Speak to
one of them and his level gaze will travel to your feet and back again
to your eyes. He may not know what you are, but he assuredly knows
what you are not. He will answer you quietly and to the point. If you
have been fortunate enough to have ridden range, hunted or camped with
him or his kind, ask him, as he stands with thumb in belt and wide
Stetson tilted back, the trail to heaven. He will smile and point
toward the mesas and the mountains of his home. Ask him the trail to
that other place with which he so frequently garnishes his
conversation, and he will gravely point to the mesas and the hills
again. And there you have Arizona.




Sundown Slim, who had enjoyed the un-upholstered privacy of a box-car
on his journey west from Albuquerque, awakened to realize that his
conveyance was no longer an integral part of the local freight which
had stopped at the town of Antelope, and which was now rumbling and
grumbling across the Arizona mesas. He was mildly irritated by a
management that gave its passengers such negligent service. He
complained to himself as he rolled and corded his blankets. However,
he would disembark and leave the car to those base uses for which
corporate greed, and a shipper of baled hay, intended it. He was
further annoyed to find that the door of the car had been locked since
he had taken possession. Hearing voices, he hammered on the door.
After an exchange of compliments with an unseen rescuer, the door was
pushed back and he leaped to the ground. He was a bit surprised to
find, not the usual bucolic agent of a water-plug station, but a belted
and booted rider of the mesas; a cowboy in all the glory of wide
Stetson, wing chaps, and Mexican spurs.

"Thought you was the agent. I couldn't see out," apologized the tramp.

The cowboy laughed. "He was scared to open her up, so I took a chanct,
seein' as I'm agent for the purvention of crulty to Hoboes."

"Well, you got a fine chance to make a record this evening" said
Sundown, estimating with experienced eye the possibilities of Antelope
and its environs. "I et at Albuquerque."

"Ain't a bad town to eat in," commented the puncher, gazing at the sky.

"I never seen one that was," the tramp offered, experimentally.

The cowboy grinned. "Well, take a look at this pueblo, then. You can
see her all from here. If the station door was open you could see
clean through to New Mexico. They got about as much use for a Bo in
these parts as they have for raisin' posies. And this ain't no garden."

"Well, I'm raised. I got me full growth," said Sundown, straightening
his elongated frame, - he stood six-feet-four in whatever he could get
to stand in, - "and I raised meself."

"Good thing you stopped when you did," commented the puncher. "What's
your line?"

"Me line? Well, the Santa Fe, jest now. Next comes cookin'. I been
cook in everything from a hotel to a gradin'-camp. I cooked for
high-collars and swalley-tails, and low-brows and jeans - till it come
time to go. Incondescent to that I been poet select to the T.W.U."


"Not exactly. T.W.U. is Tie Walkers' Union. I lost me job account of
a long-hair buttin' in and ramblin' round the country spielin'
high-toned stuff about 'Art for her own sake' - and such. Me pals
selected him animus for poet, seein' as how I just writ things
nacheral; no high-fluted stuff like him. Why, say, pardner, I believe
in writin' from the ground up, so folks can understand. Why, this
country is sufferin' full of guys tryin' to pull all the G strings out
of a harp to onct - when they ought to be practicin' scales on a
mouth-organ. And it's printed ag'in' 'em in the magazines, right
along. I read lots of it. But speakin' of eats and _thinkin_' of
eats, did you ever listen to 'Them Saddest Words,' - er - one of me own

"Not while I was awake. But come on over to 'The Last Chance' and
lubricate your works. I don't mind a little po'try on a full stummick."

"Well, I'm willin', pardner."

The process of lubrication was brief; and "Have another?" queried the
tramp. "I ain't all broke - only I ain't payin' dividen's, bein' hard

"Keep your two-bits," said the puncher. "This is on me. You're goin'
to furnish the chaser, Go to it and cinch up them there 'saddest.'"

"Bein' just two-bits this side of bein' a socialist, I guess I'll keep
me change. I ain't a drinkin' man - regular, but I never was scared of

Sundown gazed about the dingy room. Like most poets, he was not averse
to an audience, and like most poets he was quite willing that such
audience should help defray his incidental expenses - indirectly, of
course. Prospects were pretty thin just then. Two Mexican herders
loafed at the other end of the bar. They appeared anything but
susceptible to the blandishments of Euterpe. Sundown gazed at the
ceiling, which was fly-specked and uninspiring,

"Turn her loose!" said the puncher, winking at the bartender.

Sundown folded his long arms and tilted one lean shoulder as though
defying the elements to blast him where he stood: -

"Lives there a gent who has not heard,
Before he died, the saddest word?

"'What word is that?' the maiden cried;
'I'd like to hear it before I died.'

"'Then come with me,' her father said,
As to the stockyards her he led;

"Where layin' on the ground so low
She seen a tired and weary Bo.

"But when he seen her standin' 'round,
He riz up from the cold, cold ground.

"'Is this a hold-up game?' sez he.
And then her pa laughed wickedly.

"'This ain't no hold-up!' loud he cried,
As he stood beside the fair maiden's side.

"'But this here gal of mine ain't heard
What you Boes call the saddest word.'

"'The Bo, who onct had been a gent,
Took off his lid and low he bent.

"He saw the maiden was fed up good,
So her father's wink he understood.

"'The saddest word,' the Bo he spoke,
'Is the dinner-bell, when you are broke.'"

And Sundown paused, gazing ceilingward, that the moral might seep

"You're ridin' right to home!" laughed the cow-boy. "You just light
down and we'll trail over to Chola Charley's and prospect a tub of
frijoles. The dinner-bell when you are broke is plumb correct. Got
any more of that po'try broke to ride gentle?"

"Uhuh. Say, how far is it to the next town?"

"Comin' or goin'?"


"'Bout seventy-three miles, but there's nothin' doin' there. Worse'n

"Looks like me for a job, or the next rattler goin' west. Any chanct
for a cook here?"

"Nope. All Mexican cooks. But say, I reckon you _might_ tie up over
to the Concho. Hearn tell that Jack Corliss wants a cook. Seems his
ole stand-by Hi Wingle's gone to Phoenix on law business. Jack's a
good boss to tie to. Worked for him myself."

"How far to his place?" queried Sundown.

"Sixty miles, straight south."

"Gee Gosh! Looks like the towns was scared of each other in this here
country. Who'd you say raises them frijoles?"

The cowboy laughed and slapped Sundown on the back. "Come on, Bud!
You eat with me this trip."

Western humor, accentuated by alcohol, is apt to broaden rapidly in
proportion to the quantity of liquor consumed. After a given quantity
has been consumed - varying with the individual - Western humor broadens
without regard to proportion of any kind.

The jovial puncher, having enjoyed Sundown's society to the extent of
six-bits' worth of Mexican provender, suggested a return to "The Last
Chance," where the tramp was solemnly introduced to a newly arrived
coterie of thirsty riders of the mesas. Gaunt and exceedingly tall, he
loomed above the heads of the group in the barroom "like a crane in a
frog-waller," as one cowboy put it. "Which ain't insinooatin' that our
hind legs is good to eat, either," remarked another. "He keeps right
on smilin'," asserted the first speaker. "And takin' his smile," said
the other. "Wonder what's his game? He sure is the lonesomest-lookin'
cuss this side of that dead pine on Bald Butte, that I ever seen." But
conviviality was the order of the evening, and the punchers grouped
together and told and listened to jokes, old and new, talked sagebrush
politics, and threw dice for the privilege of paying rather than
winning. "Says he's scoutin' for a job cookin'," remarked a young
cowboy to the main group of riders. "Heard him tell Johnny."

Meanwhile, Sundown, forgetful of everything save the congeniality of
the moment, was recounting, to an amused audience of three, his
experiences as assistant cook in an Eastern hotel. The rest of the
happy and irresponsible punchers gravitated to the far end of the bar
and proposed that they "have a little fun with the tall guy." One of
them drew his gun and stepped quietly behind the tramp. About to fire
into the floor he hesitated, bolstered his gun and tiptoed clumsily
back to his companions. "Got a better scheme," he whispered.

Presently Sundown, in the midst of his recital, was startled by a roar
of laughter. He turned quickly. The laughter ceased. The cowboy who
had released him from the box-car stated that he must be going, and
amid protests and several challenges to have as many "one-mores," swung
out into the night to ride thirty miles to his ranch. Then it was, as
has been said elsewhere and oft, "the plot thickened."

A rider, leaning against the bar and puffing thoughtfully at a cigar of
elephantine proportions, suddenly took his cigar from his lips, held it
poised, examined it with the eye of a connoisseur - of cattle - and
remarked slowly: "Now, why didn't I think of it? Wonder you fellas
didn't think of it. They need a cook bad! Been without a cook for a
year - and everybody fussin' 'round cookin' for himself."

Sundown caught the word "cook" and turned to, face the speaker. "I was
lookin' for a job, meself," he said, apologetically. "Did you know of

"You was!" exclaimed the cowboy. "Well, now, that's right queer. I
know where a cook is needed bad. But say, can you honest-to-Gosh

"I cooked in everything from a hotel to a gradin'-camp. All I want is
a chanct."

The cowboy shook his head. "I don' know. It'll take a pretty good man
to hold down this job."

"Where is the job?" queried Sundown.

Several of the men grinned, and Sundown, eager to be friendly, grinned
in return.

"Mebby you _could_ hold it down," continued the cowboy. "But say, do
you eat your own cookin'?"

"Guess you're joshin' me." And the tramp's face expressed
disappointment. "I eat my own cookin' when I can't get any better," he
added, cheerfully.

"Well, it ain't no joke - cookin' for that hotel," stated the puncher,
gazing at the end of his cigar and shaking his head. "Is it, boys?"

"Sure ain't," they chorused.

"A man's got to shoot the good chuck to hold the trade," he continued.

"Hotel?" queried Sundown. "In this here town?"

"Naw!" exclaimed the puncher. "It's one o' them swell joints out in
the desert. Kind o' what folks East calls a waterin'-place. Eh, boys?"

"That's her!" volleyed the group.

"Kind o' select-like," continued the puncher.

"Sure is!" they chorused.

"Do you know what the job pays?" asked Sundown.

"U-m-m-m, let's see. Don't know as I ever heard. But there'll be no
trouble about the pay. And you'll have things your own way, if you can
deliver the goods."

"That's right!" concurred a listener.

Sundown looked upon work of any kind too seriously to suspect that it
could be a subject for jest. He gazed hopefully at their hard, keen
faces. They all seemed interested, even eager that he should find
work. "Well, if it's a job I can hold down," he said, slowly, "I'll
start for her right now. I ain't afraid to work when I got to."

"That's the talk, pardner! Well, I'll tell you. You take that road at
the end of the station and follow her south right plumb over the hill.
Over the hill you'll see a ranch, 'way on. Keep right on fannin' it
and you'll come to a sign that reads 'American Hotel.' That's her.
Good water, fine scenery, quiet-like, and just the kind of a place them
tourists is always lookin' for. I stopped there many a time. So has
the rest of the boys."

"You was tellin' me it was select-like - " ventured Sundown.

The men roared. Even Sundown's informant relaxed and grinned. But he
became grave again, flicked the ashes from his cigar and waved his
hand. "It's this way, pardner. That there hotel is run on the
American style; if you got the price, you can have anything in the
house. And tourists kind o' like to see a bunch of punchers settin'
'round smokin' and talkin' and tellin' yarns. Why, they was a lady
onct - "

"But she went back East," interrupted a listener.

"That's the way with them," said the cowboy. "They're always stickin'
their irons on some other fella's stock. Don't you pay no 'tention to

Sundown shook hands with his informant, crossed to the corner of the
room, and slung his blanket-roll across his back. "Much obliged to you
fellas," he said, his lean, timorous face beaming with gratitude. "It
makes a guy feel happy when a bunch of strangers does him a good turn.
You see I ain't got the chanct to get a job, like you fellas, me bein'
a Bo. I had a pal onct - but He crossed over. He was the only one that
ever done me a good turn without my askin'. He was a college guy. I
wisht he was here so he could say thanks to you fellas classy-like.
I'm feeling them kind of thanks, but I can't say 'em."

The grins faded from some of the faces. "You ain't goin' to fan it
to-night?" asked one.

"Guess I will. You see, I'm broke, now. I'm used to travelin' any old
time, and nights ain't bad - believe me. It's mighty hot daytimes in
this here country. How far did you say?"

"Just over the hill - then a piece down the trail. You can't miss it,"
said the cowboy who had spoken first.

"Well, so-long, gents. If I get that job and any of you boys come out
to the hotel, I'll sure feed you good."

An eddy of smoke followed Sundown as he passed through the doorway. A
cowboy snickered. The room became silent.

"Call the poor ramblin' lightnin'-rod back," suggested a kindly puncher.

"He'll come back fast enough," asserted the perpetrator of the "joke."
"It's thirty dry and dusty miles to the water-hole ranch. When he gets
a look at how far it is to-morrow mornin' he'll sure back into the
fence and come flyin' for Antelope with reins draggin'. Set 'em up
again, Joe."



Owing to his unaccustomed potations Sundown was perhaps a trifle
over-zealous in taking the road at night. He began to realize this
after he had journeyed along the dim, starlit trail for an hour or so
and found no break in the level monotony of the mesa. He peered ahead,
hoping to see the blur of a hill against the southern stars. The air
was cool and clear and sweet. He plodded along, happy in the prospect
of work. Although he was a physical coward, darkness and the solitudes
held no enemies for him. He felt that the world belonged to him at
night. The moon was his lantern and the stars were his friends.
Circumstance and environment had wrought for him a coat of cheerful
effrontery which passed for hardihood; a coat patched with slang and
gaping with inconsistencies, which he put on or off at will. Out on
the starlit mesas he had metaphorically shed his coat. He was at home.
Here there were no men to joke about his awkwardness and his ungainly
height. A wanderer by nature, he looked upon space as his kingdom.
Great distances were but the highways of his heritage, each promising
new vistas, new adventuring. His wayside fires were his altars, their
smoke the incense to his gods. A true adventurer, albeit timid, he
journeyed not knowing why, but rather because he knew no reason for not
journeying. Wrapped in his vague imaginings he swung along, peering
ahead from time to time until at last he saw upon the far background of
the night a darker something shaped like a tiny mound. "That's her!"
he exclaimed, joyously, and quickened his pace. "But Gee Gosh! I
guess them fellas forgot I was afoot. That hill looks turruble far
off. Mebby because it's dark." The distant hill seemed to keep pace
ahead of him, sliding away into the southern night as he advanced.
Having that stubbornness so frequently associated with timidity, he
plodded on, determined to top the hill before morning. "Them fellas as
rides don't know how far things are," he commented. "But, anyhow, the
folks at that hotel will sure know I want the job, walkin' all night
for it."

Gradually the outline of the hill became bolder. Sundown estimated
that he had been traveling several hours, when the going stiffened to a
slow grade. Presently the grade became steep and rocky. Thus far the
road had led straight south. Now it swung to the west and skirted the
base of the hill in a gradual ascent. Then it swung back again
following a fairly easy slope to the top. His optimism waned as he saw
no light ahead. The night grew colder. The stars flickered as the
wind of the dawn, whispering over the grasses, touched his face. He
paused for a moment on the crest of the hill, turned to look back, and
then started down the slope. It was steep and rutted. He had not gone
far when he stumbled and fell. His blanket-roll had pitched ahead of
him. He fumbled about for it and finally found it. "Them as believes
in signs would say it was about time to go to roost," he remarked,
nursing his knee that had been cut on a fragment of ragged tufa. A
coyote wailed. Sundown started up. "Some lonesome. But she sure is
one grand old night! Guess I'll turn in."

He rolled in his blankets. Hardly had he adjusted his length of limb
to the unevenness of the ground when he fell asleep. He had come
twenty-five miles across the midnight mesas. Five miles below him was
his destination, shrouded by the night, but visioned in his dreams as a
palatial summer resort, aglow with lights and eagerly awaiting the
coming of the new cook.

The dawn, edging its slow way across the mesas, struck palely on the
hillside where he slept. A rabbit, huddled beneath a scrub-cedar,
hopped to the middle of the road and sat up, staring with moveless eyes
at the motionless hump of blanket near the road. In a flash the wide
mesas were tinged with gold as the smouldering red sun rose, to march
unclouded to the western sea.

Midway between the town of Antelope and the river Concho is the
water-hole. The land immediately surrounding the water-hole is
enclosed with a barb-wire fence. Within the enclosure is a ranch-house
painted white, a scrub-cedar corral, a small stable, and a lean-to
shading the water-hole from the desert sun. The place is altogether
neat and habitable. It is rather a surprise to the chance wayfarer to
find the ranch uninhabited. As desolate as a stranded steamer on a mud
bank, it stands in the center of several hundred acres of desert,
incapable, without irrigation, of producing anything more edible than
lizards and horned toads. Why a homesteader should have chosen to
locate there is a mystery. His reason for abandoning the place is
glaringly obvious. Though failure be written in every angle and nook
of the homestead, it is the failure of large-hearted enterprise, of
daring to attempt, of striving to make the desert bloom, and not the
failure of indolence or sloth.

Western humor like Western topography is apt to be more or less rugged.
Between the high gateposts of the yard enclosure there is a great,
twelve-foot sign lettered in black. It reads: "American Hotel." A
band of happy cowboys appropriated the sign when on a visit to
Antelope, pressed a Mexican freighter to pack it thirty miles across
the desert, and nailed it above the gateway of the water-hole ranch.
It is a standing joke among the cattle- and sheep-men of the Concho

Sundown sat up and gazed about. The rabbit, startled out of its
ordinary resourcefulness, stiffened. The delicate nostrils ceased
twitching. "Good mornin', little fella! You been travelin' all night
too?" And Sundown yawned and stretched. Down the road sped a brown
exclamation mark with a white dot at its visible end. "Guess he don't
have to travel nights to get 'most anywhere," laughed Sundown. He
kicked back his blankets and rose stiffly. The luxury of his yawn was
stifled as he saw below him the ranchhouse with some strange kind of a
sign above its gate. "If that's the hotel," he said as he corded his
blankets, "she don't look much bigger than me own. But distances is
mighty deceivin' in this here open-face country." For a moment he
stood on the hillside, a gaunt, lonely figure, gazing out across the
limitless mesas. Then he jogged down the grade, whistling.

As he drew near the ranch his whistling ceased and his expression
changed to one of quizzical uncertainty. "That's the sign, all
right, - 'American Hotel,' - but the hotel part ain't livin' up to the
sign. But some hotels is like that; mostly front."

He opened the ranch-house gate and strode to the door. He knocked
timidly. Then he dropped his blanket-roll and stepped to a window.
Through the grimy glass he saw an empty, board-walled room, a slant of
sunlight across the floor, and in the sunlight a rusted stove. He
walked back to the gateway and stood gazing at the sign. He peered
round helplessly. Then a slow grin illumined his face. "Why," he
exclaimed, "it's - it's a joke. Reckon the proprietor must be out
huntin' up trade. And accordin' to that he won't be back direct."

He wandered about the place like a stray cat in a strange attic,
timorous and curious. Ordinarily he would have considered himself
fortunate. The house offered shelter and seclusion. There was clear
cold water to drink and a stove on which to cook. As he thought of the

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Online LibraryHenry Herbert KnibbsSundown Slim → online text (page 1 of 18)