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WITH HOOPS OF STEEL
BY FLORENCE FINCH KELLY
ILLUSTRATED BY DAN SMITH
"_The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel._"
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Made in the United States of America
THE BOWEN-MERRILL COMPANY
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
"ON AND ON THROUGH THE NIGHT THEY GALLOPED, NECK TONECK AND HEEL TO HEEL."--_p. 63_]
Owen Wister's THE VIRGINIAN and Florence Finch Kelly's WITHHOOPS OF STEEL were the first of the modern cow-boy novels. Twenty-fiveyears have passed since Mrs. Kelly's enthralling story firstappeared--September, 1900. Most of the novels published then andsince, are dead and forgotten. Not so WITH HOOPS OF STEEL. Itwas in continuous demand from its first friendly welcome by the criticsuntil the World War turned public attention to Europe. Even so itsvitality persisted, justified this new edition, and seems to warrantthe belief that the present generation will find its story interest asvivid and as exciting as did the past, and its value even greater, forit presents an authentic portrait of the old southwestern cattlemenand a fascinating picture of a phase of national development now passedinto history.
WITH HOOPS OF STEEL
The soft, muffling dusk settled slowly downward from the darkeningblue sky and little by little smothered the weird gleam that rose fromthe gray-white plain. Away toward the east a range of mountainsgloomed faintly, rimming the distance. Another towered against thewestern horizon. Cactus clumps and bunches of mesquite and greasewoodblotted the whitely gleaming earth. In and out among these dark spotsa man was slowly riding. Now and then he leaned forward and lookedkeenly through the growing darkness as though searching for somefamiliar landmark. The horse lagged across the heavy sand, withdrooping head and ears. The rider patted its neck with a buckskingloved hand and spoke cheerily to the tired animal:
"Hot and tired, ain't you, old fellow? You want your supper and a bigdrink of water. Well, you oughtn't to have wandered off the road whileI was asleep. Now, I sure reckon we've got to bunk on a sand heapto-night and wait till daylight to find out where we are."
Again he peered through the dusk, and a little ray of light cameglimmering from far away toward the right. He knew that it must comefrom either a ranch house or a camp-fire.
"I don't remember any ranch as far up toward the White Sands as thatseems to be," he thought. "It must be a camp-fire. We don't know whoseit is, old pard, but we're goin' to take chances on it."
He rode on in silence, the bridle lying loosely on the horse's neck.All the senses of the plainsman were on the alert, his ears werestrained to catch the faintest sound that might come from thedirection of the fire, while his eyes alternately swept the darkenedplain and fastened themselves on the light. His horse pricked up itsears and gave a loud whinny, which was answered in kind from thedirection of the fire. Presently the man shouted a loud "hello," butthere was no reply. "That's queer!" he thought. "My voice ought tocarry that far, sure!" He waited a few moments, listening intently,then, drawing in a deep breath, he sent out another long, loud callthat bellowed across the plain and sank into the far darkness. Stillthere was no reply, but when his horse neighed again there was instantresponse. The animal had quickened its pace and with head up and earsbent forward was rapidly lessening the distance between them and thelight. The rider could see that it was a camp-fire, and soon coulddistinguish the flickering of the flames, but, in the illuminatedcircle around it there was no sign of human beings nor shadow ofmoving life. He drew rein and again sent a full lunged, far-reaching"hello-o-o" across the distance. The moon, just showing a silver edgeabove the mountain tops, threw a faint glimmer of light across theplain, making visible the nearest clumps of bushes.
"I guess that would mighty near wake a dead man. If there's anybodyalive around that camp they sure heard me this time," he thought, ashe looked and listened with straining eyes and ears. But there was nomovement about the fire, and another whinny was the only sound thatcame from its direction. "Mighty queer!" was his inward comment, ashis hand sought the revolver which hung by his side, while a lightpressure of spurs started his horse forward again. Suddenly there wasa swift rustle of the bushes beside him.
"Stop! Throw up your hands!"
A man had sprung from a tall clump of mesquite, and the traveler sawthe faint light reflected from a gun barrel pointed straight at hisbreast. He stopped his horse, but did not respond to the othersummons; instead, his fingers closed quickly over the butt of hisrevolver.
"Throw up your hands, or I'll blow a hole through you!"
"Well, the drop's yours, stranger, so here goes," and the traveler'shands went straight above his head.
"That's better! Now, what do you want here?"
"I saw your camp-fire and I reckoned I might get some water for myhorse and some supper for myself."
"Who are you?"
"My name is Thomson Tuttle."
"What are you doing here?"
"Attendin' to my own affairs and lettin' other people's alone."
"You allowed just now it was my drop." There was a note of warning inthe man's voice. The traveler hesitated a moment. The click of atrigger quickened his discretion.
"I am on my way from Muletown to Las Plumas, but I lost the road thisafternoon and I've no idea where I am now. As soon as I saw yourcamp-fire I came straight for it, for my horse needs water mightybad."
There was a moment of silence. The moon was well above the mountains,and in its brightening light the form of the traveler stood out inridiculous silhouette, his hands held high above his head. He couldsee plainly the figure of the man and the gun leveled at his breast.
"How long had you been in Muletown?"
"I got in this forenoon, and I guess I stopped an hour. I left aboutnoon."
"I started yesterday morning from Millbank. I had been there two days.I went there from Santa Fe. I've been in New Mexico about ten years,and I was born--"
"Never mind about that. You can have some supper. Unfasten your beltwith your left hand, and be sure to keep your right hand where it is."Tuttle's left hand fumbled a moment with his cartridge belt, andrevolver and belt dropped to the ground.
"Put up your hands again until I fix these things."
Again the traveler lifted his hands above his head, while the otherbuckled the belt around his own body, which it circled above anotheralready heavy with cartridges and revolver. This latter weapon he drewfrom his holster, and, coming close beside Tuttle, held it at cockwhile he passed his hand lightly over the rider's person.
"I guess you spoke the truth," he said, returning the pistol to hisbelt, and again leveling the shot-gun. "Now, Mr. Thomson Tuttle,you've been a gentleman so far, and as long as you keep up that playyou'll be all right. You won't be hurt if you don't make any breaks.Take down your hands and we'll go into camp and have some supper."
Tuttle held his hands motionless in the air a moment longer as hesaid:
"Any objection to my askin' who you are?"
"You said yourself that the drop's mine."
"All right, pard."
As they neared the camp, the man called to him to dismount, walkforward and sit down in a wagon seat near the fire. Tuttle could seethe wagon from which the seat had been taken, a small, light affair,standing back in the shadow, and near it two horses feeding. Anotherman stood a little way off with leveled gun, apparen
tly relievingguard for the first. He was in the shade of a tall mesquite bush, butTuttle could see that he was of medium height and build and wasdressed in a Mexican suit of closely fitting, braided trousers andjacket. The wide brim of his Mexican sombrero was pulled low over hiseyes, so that only the lower part of his face could be seen, and thatdimly. But it was evidently dark-skinned, and the mouth was shaded bya black mustache. "Some Greaser scalawag," was Tuttle's immediatedecision. The other unsaddled, watered and fed the horse, and thenreturned to the fire and began making coffee.
Soon he put beside Tuttle a supper of hot coffee, fried bacon, cannedbaked beans, and a loaf of bread. Then he sat on the ground near byand talked cheerfully while Tuttle ate, now and then urging him, inhospitable fashion, to eat heartily. But all the time he held hisrevolver in his hand, and the other man stood in the shadow with hisWinchester ready to fire at a second's notice. Tuttle and his captortalked on in a friendly way for half an hour after supper, while theother still kept guard from the shadow of the mesquite bush. At lastthe first man got up leisurely, took a flask from his pocket andhanded it to Tuttle with the request, "Drink hearty, pard." With alittle flourish and a kindly "Here's luck," he took a long pullhimself, then, telling Tuttle he could use his saddle for a pillow andlie down near the fire, he picked up his shot-gun and sat down on thewagon seat and the man who had stood beside the mesquite walked awayinto the bushes.
"Now," said the man with the shot-gun, "you can sleep just as sound asa baby in its cradle, for I'm going to watch here and see that thecoyotes don't bite you. You'll be safe," and the note of warningfilled his voice again, "as long as you don't make any breaks."
"I'm not a fool," responded Tuttle, stretching out on the ground andresting his head against the saddle. Whenever he awoke during thenight he saw his guard keeping alert watch, gun in hand and revolverby his side. Just before daybreak the other man returned and heldguard while the first watered and saddled Tuttle's horse and preparedbreakfast. The captive was dimly conscious of the change, and thenslept again until he was awakened at sunrise.
"I had a mind to wake you by shooting a button off your coat, just tosee if that would do the business," said his host, smiling pleasantly,as he handed Tuttle the flask which had done duty the night before. "Ireckon you're about the soundest sleeper I ever saw."
By daylight Tuttle saw that the man was well along in middle life andthat his face was smoothly shaven. Tuttle himself looked to be lessthan thirty years old. He was tall, broad of shoulder and big ofgirth, with large hands and great, round, well-muscled wrists thattold of arms like limbs of oak and of legs like iron pillars.
The young man ate his breakfast alone, his captor standing near by andtalking pleasantly with him, but holding alertly a shot-gun at halfcock, while crouching behind a bunch of greasewood was the Mexicanwith a drawn pistol in his hands. As Tuttle mounted, the tall mancalled out sternly:
"Hold up your hands!"
Tuttle hesitated for a moment, looking at him in surprise.
"I mean it!" and the trigger of his shot-gun clicked to full cock.Tuttle's hands went up quickly. The man came beside him and buckled onhis cartridge belt, with the revolver in its holster. Then he backedto his own horse, mounted it, and leveled his shot-gun at Tuttle'sbreast.
"Now you can take down your hands and go," he said. "But remember thatI'm ridin' behind you, ready to bang a hole through your head if youmake the first motion toward your gun, or anything happens that ain'tstraight. I'll put you on the road to Plumas, and then I want you tomake tracks, for we've got no time to waste."
As they rode away, Tuttle could hear the hoof beats of two horses andknew that both men were following. After a few miles the tall mancalled to Tuttle to halt and said, pointing to a road that wound awhite line across the distance:
"That's your road over there, and you can go on, now alone. But I wantyou to remember that I'm here watchin' you, with two loads of buckshotand six of lead, and every one of them is goin' plumb through you ifyou ain't square. You've been a gentleman so far, and dead game, andI'm proud to've met you, Mr. Thomson Tuttle. If it ever comes my wayto treat you whiter than I have this time, I'll be glad to do it.Good-bye, sir."
As Tuttle rode away, he saw, from the corner of his eye, the tall man,shot-gun in hand, sitting motionless on his horse, and the other,watchful, holding a rifle, a little distance behind him. The young manput spurs to his horse and rode several miles with his eyes steadilyin front of him, discreetly holding curiosity in check. He did notlook back until he reached the highroad, and then he saw his twocaptors galloping across the plain toward their camp. He took out hispistol and examined it carefully. It was just as he had left it thenight before.
"They might have put every bullet into my head," was his mentalcomment, "but they didn't, and they might have emptied 'em all out andleft me in a box. But they didn't do that, either. I guess they playedas square as they could."