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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesStarr, Of The Desert - Chapter 10. The Trail Of Silvertown Cords
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Starr, Of The Desert - Chapter 10. The Trail Of Silvertown Cords Post by :thedude Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :3111

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Starr, Of The Desert - Chapter 10. The Trail Of Silvertown Cords

CHAPTER TEN. THE TRAIL OF SILVERTOWN CORDS


Having wasted a couple of hours more than he intended to spend in delivering the dog, Starr called upon Rabbit to make up those two hours for him. And, being an extremely misleading little gray horse, with a surprising amount of speed and endurance stored away under his hide, Rabbit did not fall far short of doing so.

Starr had planned an unexpected visit to the Medina ranch. In the guise of stock-buyer his unexpectedness would be perfectly plausible, and he would be well pleased to arrive there late, so long as he did not arrive after dark. Just before sundown would do very well, he decided. He would catch Estan Medina off his guard, and he would have the evening before him, in case he wanted to scout amongst the arroyos on the way home.

Starr very much wanted to know who drove an automobile without lights into isolated arroyos and over the desert trails at night. He had not, strange to say, seen any machine with Silvertown cord tires in San Bonito or in Malpais, though he had given every car he saw the second glance to make sure. He knew that such tires were something new and expensive, so much so that they were not in general use in that locality. Even in El Paso they were rarely seen at that time, and only the fact that the great man who gave him his orders had happened to be using them on his machine, and had mentioned the fact to Starr, who was honored with his friendship, had caused Starr to be familiar with them and to recognize instantly the impress they left in soft soil. It was a clue, and that was the best he could say for it. It was just a little better than nothing, he decided. What he wanted most was to see the machine itself at close range, and to see the men who rode in it--and I am going to tell you why.

There was a secret political movement afoot in the Southwest; a movement hidden so far underground as to be practically unnoticed on the surface; but a movement, nevertheless, that had been felt and recorded by that political seismograph, the Secret Service of our Government. It had been learned, no mere citizen may know just how, that the movement was called the Mexican Alliance. It was suspected that the object was the restoration of three of our States to Mexico, their original owner. Suspected, mind you; and when even the Secret Service can do no more than suspect, you will see how well hidden was the plot. Its extent and its ramifications they could only guess at. Its leaders no man could name, nor even those who might be suspected more than others.

But a general uprising in three States, in conjunction with, and under the control of, a concerted, far-sweeping revolution across the border, would not be a thing to laugh over. Uncle Sam smiled tolerantly when some would have had him chastise. Uncle Sam smiled, and watched, and waited and drummed his fingers while he read secret reports from men away out somewhere in Arizona, and New Mexico, and Texas, and urged them to burrow deeper and deeper underground, and to follow at any cost the molelike twistings and blind turnings of this plot to steal away three whole States in a lump.

Now you see, perhaps, why Starr was so curious about that automobile, and why he was interested in Estancio Medina, Mexican-American rancher who owned much land and many herds, and who was counted a power among his countrymen; who spoke English with what passed for fluency, and who had very decided and intelligent opinions upon political matters, and who boldly proclaimed his enthusiasm for the advancement of his own race.

But he did not go to the Medina ranch that evening, for the very good reason that he met his man fair in the trail as it looped around the head of the draw where he had heard the automobile running without lights. As on that other evening, Starr had cut straight across the loop, going east instead of west. And where the trail forked on the farther side he met Estan Medina driving a big, lathery bay horse hitched to a shiny, new covered buggy. He seemed in a hurry, but he pulled up nevertheless to have a word with Starr. And Starr, always observant of details, saw that he had three or four packages in the bottom of the buggy, which seemed to bear out Estan's statement that he had been to town, meaning San Bonito.

Starr rolled a cigarette, and smoked it while he gossiped with Estan of politics, pretty girls, and the price of mutton. He had been eyeing the new buggy speculatively, and at last he spoke of it in that admiring tone which warms the heart of the listener.

"Some turnout, Estan," he summed up. "But you ought to be driving an automobile. All your friends are getting them."

Estan lifted his shoulders in true Spanish fashion and smiled. "No, amigo. Me, I can take pleasure yet from horses. And the madre, she's so 'fraid of them automobiles. She cries yet when she knows I ride in one a little bit. Now she's so proud, when I drive the new buggy home! She folds so pretty her best mantilla over her head and rides with me to church, and she bows so polite--to all the senoras from the new buggy! And her face shines with the happiness in her heart. Oh, no, not me for the big automobile!" He smiled and shrugged and threw out his hands. "I like best to see my money walking around with wool on the back! Excuse, senor. I go now to bring the new buggy home and to see the smile of my mother." Then he bethought him of the tradition of his house. "You come and have a soft bed and the comfort of my house," he urged. "It is far to San Bonito, and it is not so far to my house."

Starr explained plausibly his haste, sent a friendly message to the mother and Luis, and rode on thoughtfully. Now and then he turned to glance behind him at the dust cloud rolling rapidly around the head of the draw.

Since Estan had been to town himself that day, Starr reasoned that there would not be much gained by scouting through the arroyos that led near the Medina ranch. Estan would have seen in town the men he wanted to see. He could do so easily enough and without exciting the least suspicion; for San Bonito had plenty of saloons that were popular, and yet unobtrusive, meeting places. No need for the mysterious automobile to make the long journey through the sand to-day, if Estan Medina were the object of the visit, and Starr knew of no other Mexican out that way who would be important enough to have a hand in the mixing of political intrigue.

He rode on, letting Rabbit drop into his poco-poco trail trot. He carried his head bent forward a little, and his eyebrows were pulled into a scowl of concentrated thought. It was all very well to suspect Estan Medina and to keep an eye upon him, but there were others who came nearer to the heart of the plot. He wanted to know who these were, and he believed that if he could once identify the four Mexicans whom Helen May had seen, he would be a long step ahead. He considered the simple expedient of asking her to describe them as closely as she could. But since secrecy was the keynote of his quest, he did not want to rouse her curiosity, and for purely personal reasons he did want to shield her as far as possible from any uneasiness or any entanglement in the affair.

Thinking of Helen May in that light forced him to consider what would be her plight if he and his co-workers failed, if the plan went on to actual fulfillment, and the Mexican element actually did revolt. Babes, they were, those two alone there in Sunlight Basin, with a single-shot "twenty-two" for defense, when every American rancher in three States considered high-power rifles and plenty of ammunition as necessary in his home as flour and bacon!

Starr shivered a little and tried to pull his mind away from Helen May and her helplessness. At any rate, he comforted himself, they had the dog for protection, the dog who had been trained to jump the corral fence at any hour of the night if a stranger, and especially a Mexican came prowling near.

But he and his co-workers must not fail. If intrigue burrowed deep, then they must burrow deeper.

So thinking, he came just after sundown to where the trail branched in three directions. One was the direct road to San Bonito, another took a roundabout way through a Mexican settlement on the river and so came to the town from another angle, and the third branch wound over the granite ridge to Malpais. Studying the problem as a whole, picturing the havoc which an uprising would wreak upon those vast grazing grounds of the southwest, and how two nations would be embroiled in spite of themselves, he was hoping that his collaborators, scattered here and there through the country, men whose names even he did not know, were making more headway than he seemed to be making here.

He would not know, of course, unless he were needed to assist or to supplement their work in some way. But he hoped they had found out something definite, something which the War Department could take hold of; a lever, as it were, to pry up the whole scheme. He was thinking of these things, but his mind was nevertheless alert to the little trail signs which it had become second nature to read. So he saw, there in the dust of the trail, where a buggy had turned around and gone back whence it had come. He saw that it had been traveling toward town but had turned and come back. And looking more closely, he saw that one horse had pulled the buggy.

He stopped to make sure of that and to search for footprints. But those he found were indistinct, blurred partly by the looseness of the sand and partly by the sparse grass that grew along the trail there, because the buggy had turned in a hollow. He went on a couple of rods, and he saw where an automobile had also come to this point and had turned and gone back toward town, or rather, it had swung sharply around and taken the trail which led through the Mexican settlement; but he guessed that it had gone back to town, for all that. And the tire marks were made by Silvertown cords.

Starr stopped and looked back to where the buggy tracks were faintly outlined in the dust of the hollow, and he spoke aloud his thought: "You'd think, just to see him and talk to him, that Estan Medina assays one hundred per cent, satisfied farmer. He's sure some fox--that same greaser!" After that he shook Rabbit into a long, distance-eating lope for town.

Night came with its flaring forerunners of purple and crimson and all the gorgeous blendings of the two. By the time he reached San Bonito, the stars were out, and the electric lights were sputtering on certain street corners. Starr had rented a small adobe cabin and a corral with a shed on the outskirts of town where his movements might be unobserved. He did not always use these, but stopped frequently at a hotel with a garrulous landlord, and stabled his horse at a certain livery which he knew to be a hotbed of the town's gossip. In both places he was a privileged patron and was the recipient of many choice bits of scandal whispered behind a prudent palm, with a wink now and then to supply the finer shades of meaning. But to-night he chose the cabin and the corral sandwiched between a transfer company's warehouse and a steam laundry that had been closed by the sheriff. The cabin fronted on a street that was seldom used, and the corral ran back to a dry arroyo that was used mainly as a dump for the town's tin cans and dead cats and such; not a particularly attractive place but secluded.

He turned Rabbit into the corral and fed him, went in and cooked himself some supper, and afterwards, in a different suit and shoes and a hat that spoke loudly of the latest El Paso fad in men's headgear, he strolled down to the corner and up the next street to the nearest garage. Ostensibly he was looking for one Pedro Miera, who had a large sheep ranch out east of San Bonito, and who always had fat sheep for sale. Starr considered it safe to look for Miera, whom he had seen two or three days before in El Paso just nicely started on a ten-day spree that never stopped short of the city jail.

Since it was the dull hour between the day's business and the evening's pleasure, Starr strolled the full length of the garage and back again before any man spoke to him. He made sure that no car there had the kind of tires he sought, so he asked if Miera and his machine had showed up there that day, and left as soon as the man said no.

San Bonito was no city and it did not take long to make the round of the garages. No one had seen Miera that day, and Starr's disappointment was quite noticeable, though misunderstood. Not a car in any of the four garages sported Silvertown cords.

At the last garage an arc light flared over the wide doorway. Starr, feeling pretty well disgusted, was leaving when he saw a tire track alongside the red, gasoline filling-pump. He stopped and, under cover of lighting his cigarette, he studied the tread. Beyond all doubt the car he wanted had stopped there for gas. But the garage man was a Mexican, so Starr dared not risk a question or show any interest whatever in the car whose tires left those long-lined imprints to tell of its passing. He puffed at his cigarette until he had studied the angle of the front-wheel track and decided that the car must have been headed south, and that it had made a rather short turn away from the pump.

This was puzzling for a while. The driver might have been turning around to go back the way he had come. But it was more likely that he had driven into the cross street to the west. He strolled over that way, but the light was too dim to trace automobile tracks in the dust of the street so he went back to the adobe cabin and put in the next hour oiling and cleaning and polishing a 25-35 carbine which he meant to give Helen May, and in filling a cartridge belt with shells.

He sat for some time turning two six-shooters over in his hands, trying to decide which would please her most. One was lighter than the other, with an easier trigger action; almost too easy for a novice, he told himself. But it had a pearl handle with a bulldog carved on the side that would show when the gun was in its holster. She'd like that fancy stuff, he supposed. Also he could teach her to shoot straighter with that light "pull." But the other was what Starr called a sure-enough go-getter.

He finally decided, of course, to give her the fancy one. For Vic he would have to buy a gun; an automatic, maybe. He'd have to talk coyotes pretty strong, in order to impress it upon them that they must never go away anywhere without a gun. Good thing there was a bounty on coyotes; the money would look big to the kid, anyway. It occurred to him further that he could tell them there was danger of running into a rabid coyote. Rabies had caused a good deal of trouble in the State, so he could make the danger plausible enough.

He did not worry much over frightening the girl. She had nerve enough. Think of her tackling that ranch proposition, with just that cub brother to help! When Starr thought of that slim, big-eyed, smiling girl in white fighting poverty and the white plague together out there on the rim of the desert, a lump came up in his throat. She had nerve enough--that plucky little lady with the dull-gold hair, and the brown velvet eyes!--more nerve than he had where she was concerned.

He went to bed and lay for a long time thinking of Helen May out there in that two-roomed adobe cabin, with a fifteen-year-old boy for protection and miles of wilderness between her and any other human habitation. It was small comfort then to Starr that she had the dog. One bullet can settle a dog, and then--Starr could not look calmly at the possibility of what might happen then.

"They've no business out there like that, alone!" he muttered, rising to an elbow and thumping his hard pillow viciously. "Good Lord! Haven't they got any folks?"

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