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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesStarr, Of The Desert - Chapter 5. A Grease Spot In The Sand
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Starr, Of The Desert - Chapter 5. A Grease Spot In The Sand Post by :jellon Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :1119

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Starr, Of The Desert - Chapter 5. A Grease Spot In The Sand

CHAPTER FIVE. A GREASE SPOT IN THE SAND


Starr, took his cigarette from his lips, sent an oblique glance of mental measurement towards his host, and shifted his saddle-weary person to a more comfortable position on the rawhide covered couch. He had eaten his fill of frijoles and tortillas and a chili stew hot enough to crisp the tongue. He had discussed the price of sheep and had with much dickering bought fifty dry ewes at so much on foot delivered at the nearest shipping point. He had given what news was public talk, of the great war and the supposedly present whereabouts of Villa, and what was guessed would happen if Mexican money went any lower.

On his own part, Estancio Medina, called Estan for short, had talked very freely of these things. Villa, he was a bad one, sure. He would yet make trouble if some_body didn't catch him, yes. For himself, Estan Medina, he was glad to be on this side the border, yes. The American government would let a poor man alone, yes. He could have his little home and his few sheep, and no_body would take them away. Villa, he was a bad one! All Mexicans must sure hate Villa--even the men who did his fighting for him, yes. Burros, that's what they are. Burros, that have no mind for thinking, only to do what is tol'. And if troubles come, all Mexicans in these country should fight for their homes, you bet. All these Mexicans ought to know what's good for them. They got no business to fight gainst these American gov'ment, not much, they don't. They come here because they don't like it no more in Mexico where no poor man can have a home like here. You bet.

Estan Medina was willing to talk a long while on that subject. His mother, sitting just inside the doorway, nodded her head now and then and smiled just as though she knew what her son was saying; proud of his high learning, she was. He could talk with the Americanos, and they listened with respect. Their language he could speak, better than they could speak it themselves. Did she not know? She herself could now and then understand what he was talking about, he spoke so plainly.

"You've got new neighbors, I see," Starr observed irrelevantly, when Estan paused to relight his cigarette. "Over at Johnny Calvert's," he added, when Estan looked at him inquiringly.

"Oh-h, yes! That poor boy and girl! You seen them?"

"I just came from there," Starr informed him easily. "What brought them away out here?"

"They not tell, then? That man Calvert, he's a bad one, sure! He don' stay no more--too lazy, I think, to watch his sheeps from the coyotes, and says they're stole. He comes here telling me I got his sheeps--yes. We quarrel a little bit, maybe. I don' like to be called thief, you bet. He's big mouth, that feller--no brains, aitre. Then he goes some_where_, and he tells what fine rancho he's got in Sunlight Basin. These boy and girl, they buy. That's too bad. They don' belong on these desert, sure. W'at they know about hard life? Pretty soon they get tired, I think, and go back where comes from. That boy--what for help he be to that girl? Jus' boy--not so old my brother Luis. Can't ride horse; goes up and down, up an' down like he's back goes through he's hat. What that girl do? Jus' slim, big-eye girl with soft hand and sickness of lungs. Babes, them boy and girl. Whan Calvert he should be shot dead for let such inocentes be fool like that."

"Where is Johnny Calvert?"

"Him? He's gone, sure! Not come back, I bet you! He's got money--them babes got rancho--" Estan lifted his shoulders eloquently.

"What are they going to do, now they're here?" Starr abstractedly wiped off the ash collar of his cigarette against the edge of the couch.

"_Quien sabe_?" countered Estan, and lifted his shoulders again. "I think pretty quick they go."

Starr looked at his watch, yawned, and rose with much evident reluctance. "Same here," he said. "I've got to make San Bonito in time for that Eastbound. You have the sheep in the stockyards by Saturday, will you? If I'm not there myself, I'll leave the money with Johnson at the express office. Soon as the sheep's inspected, you can go there and get it. _Addios. Mucho gracias, Senora_."

"She likes you fine--my mother," Estan observed, as the two sauntered to the corral where Rabbit was stowing away as much _secate as he could against future hunger. "Sometimes you come and stay longer. We not see so many peoples here. Nobody likes to cross desert when she's hot like this. Too bad you must go now."

Starr agreed with him and talked the usual small talk of the desert Places while he placed the saddle on Rabbit's still sweaty back. He went away down the rocky trail with the sun shining full on his right cheek, and was presently swallowed up by the blank immensity of the land that looked level as a floor from a distance, but which was a network of small ridges and shallow draws and "dry washes" when one came to ride over it.

The trail was narrow and had many inconsequential twists and turns in it, as though the first man to travel that way had gone blind or dizzy and could not hold a straight line across the level. When an automobile, for instance, traveled that road, it was with many skiddings in the sand on the turns, which it must take circumspectly if the driver did not care for the rocky, uneven floor of the desert itself.

Just lately some one had actually preferred to make his own trail, if tracks told anything. Within half a mile of the Medina rancho Starr saw where an automobile had swerved sharply off the trail and had taken to the hard-packed sand of a dry arroyo that meandered barrenly off to the southeast. He turned and examined the trail over which he had traveled, saw that it offered no more discouragement to an automobile than any other bit of trail in that part of the country, and with another glance at the yellow ribbon of road before him, he also swerved to the southeast.

For a mile the machine had labored, twisting this way and that to avoid rocky patches or deep cuts where the spring freshets had dug out the looser soil. So far as Starr could discover there was nothing to bring a machine up here. The arroyo was as thousands of other arroyos in that country. The sides sloped up steeply, or were worn into perpendicular banks. It led nowhere in particular; it was not a short cut to any place that he knew of. The trail to Medina's ranch was shorter and smoother, supposing Medina's ranch were the objective point of the trip.

Starr could not see any sense in it, and that is why he followed the tortuous track to where the machine had stopped. That it had stood there for some time he knew by the amount of oil that had leaked down into the sand. He did not know for certain, since he did not know the oil-leaking habits of that particular car, but he guessed that it had stood there for a couple of hours at least before the driver had backed and turned around to retrace his way to the trail.

In these days of gasoline travel one need not be greatly surprised to meet a car, or see the traces of one, in almost any out-of-the-way spot where four wheels can possibly be made to travel. On the other hand, the man at the wheel is not likely to send his machine over rocks and through sand where the traction is poor, and across dry ditches and among greasewood, just for the fun of driving. There is sport with rod or gun to lure, or there is necessity to impel, or the driver is lost and wants to reach some point that looks familiar, or he is trying to dodge something or somebody.

Starr sat beside that grease spot in the sand and smoked a cigarette and studied the surrounding hills and tried to decide what had brought the car up here. Not sport, unless it was hunting of jack rabbits; and there were more jack rabbits out on the flat than here. There was no trout stream near, at least, none that was not more accessible from another point. To be sure, some tenderfoot tourist might have been told some yarn that brought him up here on a wild-goose chase. You can, thought Starr, expect any fool thing of a tourist. He remembered running across one that was trying between trains to walk across the mesa from Albuquerque to the Sandia mountains. It had been hard to convince that particular specimen that he was not within a mile or so of his goal, and that he would do well to reach the mountains in another three hours or so of steady walking. Compared with that, driving a car up this arroyo did not look so foolish.

But tourists did not invade this particular locality with their overconfident inexperience, and Starr did not give that explanation much serious thought. Instead he followed on up the narrowed gulch to higher ground, to see where men would be most likely to go from there. At the top he looked out upon further knobs and hollows and aimless depressions, just as he had expected. Half a mile or so away there drifted a thin spiral of smoke, from the kitchen stove of the Senora Medina, he guessed. But there was no other sign of human life anywhere within the radius of many miles, or, to be explicit, within the field of Starr's vision.

He looked for footprints, but in a few minutes he gave up in disgust. The ridge he stood on stretched for miles, up beyond Medina's home ranch and down past the Sommers' ranch, five or six miles nearer town, and on to the railroad. And it was a rocky ridge if ever there was one; granite outcroppings, cobblestones, boulders, anything but good loose soil where tracks might be followed. A dog might have followed a trail there before the scent was baked out by blistering heat; but Starr certainly could not.

He stood looking across to where the smoke curled up into the intense Blue of the sky. If a man wanted to reach the Medina ranch by the most obscure route, he thought, this would be one way to get there. He went back to where the automobile had stood and searched there for some sign of those who had ridden this far. But if any man left that machine, he had stepped from the running board upon rock, and so had left no telltale print of his foot.

"And that looks mighty darn queer," said Starr, "if it was just accidental. But if a fellow _wanted to take to the rocks to cover his trail, why, he couldn't pick a better place than this. She's a dandy ridge and a dandy way to get up on her, if that's what's wanted." Starr looked at his watch and gave up all hope of catching the next eastbound train, if that had really been his purpose. He lifted his hat and drew his fingers across his forehead where the perspiration stood in beads, resettled the hat at an angle to shade his face from the glare of the sun, ran two fingers cursorily between the cinch and Rabbit's sweaty body, picked up the stirrup, thrust in his toe and eased himself up into the saddle; and his mind had not consciously directed a single movement.

"Well, they've left one mark behind 'em that fair hollers," he stated, in so satisfied a tone that Rabbit turned his head and looked back at him inquiringly. Starr, you must know, was not given to satisfied tones when he and Rabbit were enduring the burden of heat and long miles. "And you needn't give me that kinda look, neither. Take a look at them tire tracks, you ole knot-head. Them's Silvertown cords, and they ain't equipping jitneys with cord tires--not yet. Why, yo're whole carcass ain't worth the price uh one tire, let alone four, you old sheep. You show me the car in this country that's sportin' Silvertowns all around, and I'll show you--"

Just what he would show, Starr did not say, because he did not know. But there was something there which might be called a mystery, and where there was mystery there was Starr, working tirelessly on the solution. This might be a trivial thing; but until he knew beyond all doubt that it was trivial, Starr pushed other matters, such as a young woman afraid of a horned toad, out of his mind that he might study the puzzle from all possible angles.

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