The Mucker by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Part 5 out of 8
seats. The foreman handed the clerk a bit of paper. Even
before it was read Billy knew that he had been found guilty.
He did not care any longer, so he told himself. He hoped that
the judge would send him to the gallows. There was nothing
more in life for him now anyway. He wanted to die. But
instead he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the penitentiary
This was infinitely worse than death. Billy Byrne was
appalled at the thought of remaining for life within the grim
stone walls of a prison. Once more there swept over him all
the old, unreasoning hatred of the law and all that pertained
to it. He would like to close his steel fingers about the fat
neck of the red-faced judge. The smug jurymen roused within
him the lust to kill. Justice! Billy Byrne laughed aloud.
A bailiff rapped for order. One of the jurymen leaned close
to a neighbor and whispered. "A hardened criminal," he said.
"Society will be safer when he is behind the bars."
The next day they took Billy aboard a train bound for
Joliet. He was handcuffed to a deputy sheriff. Billy was calm
outwardly; but inwardly he was a raging volcano of hate.
In a certain very beautiful home on Riverside Drive, New
York City, a young lady, comfortably backed by downy
pillows, sat in her bed and alternated her attention between
coffee and rolls, and a morning paper.
On the inside of the main sheet a heading claimed her
languid attention: CHICAGO MURDERER GIVEN LIFE
SENTENCE. Of late Chicago had aroused in Barbara Harding a
greater proportion of interest than ever it had in the
past, and so it was that she now permitted her eyes to wander
casually down the printed column.
Murderer of harmless old saloon keeper is finally brought
to justice. The notorious West Side rowdy, "Billy" Byrne,
apprehended after more than a year as fugitive from justice, is
sent to Joliet for life.
Barbara Harding sat stony-eyed and cold for what seemed
many minutes. Then with a stifled sob she turned and buried
her face in the pillows.
The train bearing Billy Byrne and the deputy sheriff toward
Joliet had covered perhaps half the distance between Chicago
and Billy's permanent destination when it occurred to the
deputy sheriff that he should like to go into the smoker and
enjoy a cigar.
Now, from the moment that he had been sentenced Billy
Byrne's mind had been centered upon one thought--escape.
He knew that there probably would be not the slightest
chance for escape; but nevertheless the idea was always
uppermost in his thoughts.
His whole being revolted, not alone against the injustice
which had sent him into life imprisonment, but at the thought
of the long years of awful monotony which lay ahead of him.
He could not endure them. He would not! The deputy
sheriff rose, and motioning his prisoner ahead of him,
started for the smoker. It was two cars ahead. The train was
vestibuled. The first platform they crossed was tightly enclosed;
but at the second Billy saw that a careless porter had left
one of the doors open. The train was slowing down for some
reason--it was going, perhaps, twenty miles an hour.
Billy was the first upon the platform. He was the first to see
the open door. It meant one of two things--a chance to
escape, or, death. Even the latter was to be preferred to life
Billy did not hesitate an instant. Even before the deputy
sheriff realized that the door was open, his prisoner had
leaped from the moving train dragging his guard after him.
BYRNE had no time to pick any particular spot to jump
for. When he did jump he might have been directly over a
picket fence, or a bottomless pit--he did not know. Nor did
As it happened he was over neither. The platform chanced
to be passing across a culvert at the instant. Beneath the
culvert was a slimy pool. Into this the two men plunged,
Byrne was the first to regain his feet. He dragged the deputy
sheriff to his knees, and before that frightened and astonished
officer of the law could gather his wits together he had been
relieved of his revolver and found himself looking into its cold
and business-like muzzle.
Then Billy Byrne waded ashore, prodding the deputy sheriff
in the ribs with cold steel, and warning him to silence. Above
the pool stood a little wood, thick with tangled wildwood.
Into this Byrne forced his prisoner.
When they had come deep enough into the concealment of
the foliage to make discovery from the outside improbable
"Now say yer prayers," he commanded. "I'm a-going to
The deputy sheriff looked up at him in wild-eyed terror.
"My God!" he cried. "I ain't done nothin' to you, Byrne.
Haven't I always been your friend? What've I ever done to
you? For God's sake Byrne you ain't goin' to murder me, are
you? They'll get you, sure."
Billy Byrne let a rather unpleasant smile curl his lips.
"No," he said, "youse ain't done nothin' to me; but you
stand for the law, damn it, and I'm going to croak everything
I meet that stands for the law. They wanted to send me up
for life--me, an innocent man. Your kind done it--the cops.
You ain't no cop; but you're just as rotten. Now say yer
He leveled the revolver at his victim's head. The deputy
sheriff slumped to his knees and tried to embrace Billy Byrne's
legs as he pleaded for his life.
"Cut it out, you poor boob," admonished Billy. "You've
gotta die and if you was half a man you'd wanna die like
The deputy sheriff slipped to the ground. His terror had
overcome him, leaving him in happy unconsciousness. Byrne
stood looking down upon the man for a moment. His wrist
was chained to that of the other, and the pull of the deputy's
body was irritating.
Byrne stooped and placed the muzzle of the revolver back
of the man's ear. "Justice!" he muttered, scornfully, and his
finger tightened upon the trigger.
Then, conjured from nothing, there rose between himself
and the unconscious man beside him the figure of a beautiful
girl. Her face was brave and smiling, and in her eyes was trust
and pride--whole worlds of them. Trust and pride in Billy
Billy closed his eyes tight as though in physical pain. He
brushed his hand quickly across his fare.
"Gawd!" he muttered. "I can't do it--but I came awful
close to it."
Dropping the revolver into his side pocket he kneeled
beside the deputy sheriff and commenced to go through the
man's clothes. After a moment he came upon what he
sought--a key ring confining several keys.
Billy found the one he wished and presently he was free.
He still stood looking at the deputy sheriff.
"I ought to croak you," he murmured. "I'll never make my
get-away if I don't; but SHE won't let me--God bless her."
Suddenly a thought came to Billy Byrne. If he could have a
start he might escape. It wouldn't hurt the man any to stay
here for a few hours, or even for a day. Billy removed the
deputy's coat and tore it into strips. With these he bound the
man to a tree. Then he fastened a gag in his mouth.
During the operation the deputy regained consciousness. He
looked questioningly at Billy.
"I decided not to croak you," explained the young man.
"I'm just a-goin' to leave you here for a while. They'll be
lookin' all along the right o' way in a few hours--it won't be
long afore they find you. Now so long, and take care of
yerself, bo," and Billy Byrne had gone.
A mistake that proved fortunate for Billy Byrne caused the
penitentiary authorities to expect him and his guard by a later
train, so no suspicion was aroused when they failed to come
upon the train they really had started upon. This gave Billy a
good two hours' start that he would not otherwise have
had--an opportunity of which he made good use.
Wherefore it was that by the time the authorities awoke to
the fact that something had happened Billy Byrne was fifty
miles west of Joliet, bowling along aboard a fast Santa Fe
freight. Shortly after night had fallen the train crossed the
Mississippi. Billy Byrne was hungry and thirsty, and as the
train slowed down and came to a stop out in the midst of a
dark solitude of silent, sweet-smelling country, Billy opened
the door of his box car and dropped lightly to the ground.
So far no one had seen Billy since he had passed from the
ken of the trussed deputy sheriff, and as Billy had no desire to
be seen he slipped over the edge of the embankment into a
dry ditch, where he squatted upon his haunches waiting for
the train to depart. The stop out there in the dark night was
one of those mysterious stops which trains are prone to make,
unexplained and doubtless unexplainable by any other than a
higher intelligence which directs the movements of men and
rolling stock. There was no town, and not even a switch light.
Presently two staccato blasts broke from the engine's whistle,
there was a progressive jerking at coupling pins, which started
up at the big locomotive and ran rapidly down the length of
the train, there was the squeaking of brake shoes against
wheels, and the train moved slowly forward again upon its
long journey toward the coast, gaining momentum moment by
moment until finally the way-car rolled rapidly past the hidden
fugitive and the freight rumbled away to be swallowed up in
When it had gone Billy rose and climbed back upon the
track, along which he plodded in the wake of the departing
train. Somewhere a road would presently cut across the track,
and along the road there would be farmhouses or a village
where food and drink might be found.
Billy was penniless, yet he had no doubt but that he should
eat when he had discovered food. He was thinking of this as
he walked briskly toward the west, and what he thought of
induced a doubt in his mind as to whether it was, after all,
going to be so easy to steal food.
"Shaw!" he exclaimed, half aloud, "she wouldn't think it
wrong for a guy to swipe a little grub when he was starvin'. It
ain't like I was goin' to stick a guy up for his roll. Sure she
wouldn't see nothin' wrong for me to get something to eat. I
ain't got no money. They took it all away from me, an' I got
a right to live--but, somehow, I hate to do it. I wisht there
was some other way. Gee, but she's made a sissy out o' me!
Funny how a feller can change. Why I almost like bein' a
sissy," and Billy Byrne grinned at the almost inconceivable
Before Billy came to a road he saw a light down in a little
depression at one side of the track. It was not such a light as
a lamp shining beyond a window makes. It rose and fell,
winking and flaring close to the ground.
It looked much like a camp fire, and as Billy drew nearer
he saw that such it was, and he heard a voice, too. Billy
approached more carefully. He must be careful always to see
before being seen. The little fire burned upon the bank of a
stream which the track bridged upon a concrete arch.
Billy dropped once more from the right of way, and
climbed a fence into a thin wood. Through this he approached
the camp fire with small chance of being observed.
As he neared it the voice resolved itself into articulate words,
and presently Billy leaned against a tree close behind the
speaker and listened.
There was but a single figure beside the small fire--that of
a man squatting upon his haunches roasting something above
the flames. At one edge of the fire was an empty tin can from
which steam arose, and an aroma that was now and again
wafted to Billy's nostrils.
Coffee! My, how good it smelled. Billy's mouth watered.
But the voice--that interested Billy almost as much as the
preparations for the coming meal.
** We'll dance a merry saraband from here to drowsy Samarcand.
Along the sea, across the land, the birds are flying South,
And you, my sweet Penelope, out there somewhere you wait
With buds, of roses in your hair and kisses on your mouth.
The words took hold of Billy somewhere and made him
forget his hunger. Like a sweet incense which induces pleasant
daydreams they were wafted in upon him through the rich,
mellow voice of the solitary camper, and the lilt of the meter
entered his blood.
But the voice. It was the voice of such as Billy Byrne
always had loathed and ridiculed until he had sat at the feet
of Barbara Harding and learned many things, including love.
It was the voice of culture and refinement. Billy strained his
eyes through the darkness to have a closer look at the man.
The light of the camp fire fell upon frayed and bagging
clothes, and upon the back of a head covered by a shapeless,
and disreputable soft hat.
Obviously the man was a hobo. The coffee boiling in a
discarded tin can would have been proof positive of this
without other evidence; but there seemed plenty more. Yes,
the man was a hobo. Billy continued to stand listening.
The mountains are all hid in mist, the valley is like amethyst,
The poplar leaves they turn and twist, oh, silver, silver green!
Out there somewhere along the sea a ship is waiting patiently,
While up the beach the bubbles slip with white afloat between.
"Gee!" thought Billy Byrne; "but that's great stuff. I
wonder where he gets it. It makes me want to hike until I find
that place he's singin' about."
Billy's thoughts were interrupted by a sound in the wood to
one side of him. As he turned his eyes in the direction of the
slight noise which had attracted him he saw two men step
quietly out and cross toward the man at the camp fire.
These, too, were evidently hobos. Doubtless pals of the
poetical one. The latter did not hear them until they were
directly behind him. Then he turned slowly and rose as they
halted beside his fire.
"Evenin', bo," said one of the newcomers.
"Good evening, gentlemen," replied the camper, "welcome
to my humble home. Have you dined?"
"Naw," replied the first speaker, "we ain't; but we're goin'
to. Now can the chatter an' duck. There ain't enough fer one
here, let alone three. Beat it!" and the man, who was big and
burly, assumed a menacing attitude and took a truculent step
nearer the solitary camper.
The latter was short and slender. The larger man looked as
though he might have eaten him at a single mouthful; but the
camper did not flinch.
"You pain me," he said. "You induce within me a severe
and highly localized pain, and furthermore I don't like your
With which apparently irrelevant remark he seized the matted
beard of the larger tramp and struck the fellow a quick,
sharp blow in the face. Instantly the fellow's companion was
upon him; but the camper retained his death grip upon the
beard of the now yelling bully and continued to rain blow
after blow upon head and face.
Billy Byrne was an interested spectator. He enjoyed a good
fight as he enjoyed little else; but presently when the first
tramp succeeded in tangling his legs about the legs of his
chastiser and dragging him to the ground, and the second
tramp seized a heavy stick and ran forward to dash the man's
brains out, Billy thought it time to interfere.
Stepping forward he called aloud as he came: "Cut it out,
boes! You can't pull off any rough stuff like that with this
here sweet singer. Can it! Can it!" as the second tramp raised
his stick to strike the now prostrate camper.
As he spoke Billy Byrne broke into a run, and as the stick
fell he reached the man's side and swung a blow to the
tramp's jaw that sent the fellow spinning backward to the
river's brim, where he tottered drunkenly for a moment and
then plunged backward into the shallow water.
Then Billy seized the other attacker by the shoulder and
dragged him to his feet.
"Do you want some, too, you big stiff?" he inquired.
The man spluttered and tried to break away, striking at
Billy as he did so; but a sudden punch, such a punch as Billy
Byrne had once handed the surprised Harlem Hurricane, removed
from the mind of the tramp the last vestige of any
thought he might have harbored to do the newcomer bodily
injury, and with it removed all else from the man's mind,
As the fellow slumped, unconscious, to the ground, the
camper rose to his feet.
"Some wallop you have concealed in your sleeve, my
friend," he said; "place it there!" and he extended a slender,
Billy took it and shook it.
"It don't get under the ribs like those verses of yours,
though, bo," he returned.
"It seems to have insinuated itself beneath this guy's thick
skull," replied the poetical one, "and it's a cinch my verses,
nor any other would ever get there."
The tramp who had plumbed the depths of the creek's foot
of water and two feet of soft mud was crawling ashore.
"Whadda YOU want now?" inquired Billy Byrne. "A piece
"I'll get youse yet," spluttered the moist one through his
"Ferget it," admonished Billy, "an' hit the trail." He pointed
toward the railroad right of way. "An' you, too, John L," he
added turning to the other victim of his artistic execution, who
was now sitting up. "Hike!"
Mumbling and growling the two unwashed shuffled away,
and were presently lost to view along the vanishing track.
The solitary camper had returned to his culinary effort, as
unruffled and unconcerned, apparently, as though naught had
occurred to disturb his peaceful solitude.
"Sit down," he said after a moment, looking up at Billy,
"and have a bite to eat with me. Take that leather easy chair.
The Louis Quatorze is too small and spindle-legged for comfort."
He waved his hand invitingly toward the sward beside
For a moment he was entirely absorbed in the roasting fowl
impaled upon a sharp stick which he held in his right hand.
Then he presently broke again into verse.
Around the world and back again; we saw it all. The mist and rain
In England and the hot old plain from Needles to Berdoo.
We kept a-rambling all the time. I rustled grub, he rustled rhyme--
Blind-baggage, hoof it, ride or climb--we always put it through.
"You're a good sort," he broke off, suddenly. "There ain't
many boes that would have done as much for a fellow."
"It was two against one," replied Billy, "an' I don't like
them odds. Besides I like your poetry. Where d'ye get it--
make it up?"
"Lord, no," laughed the other. "If I could do that I wouldn't
be pan-handling. A guy by the name of Henry Herbert
Knibbs did them. Great, ain't they?"
"They sure is. They get me right where I live," and then,
after a pause; "sure you got enough fer two, bo?"
"I have enough for you, old top," replied the host, "even if
I only had half as much as I have. Here, take first crack at
the ambrosia. Sorry I have but a single cup; but James has
broken the others. James is very careless. Sometimes I almost
feel that I shall have to let him go."
"Who's James?" asked Billy.
"James? Oh, James is my man," replied the other.
Billy looked up at his companion quizzically, then he tasted
the dark, thick concoction in the tin can.
"This is coffee," he announced. "I thought you said it was
"I only wished to see if you would recognize it, my friend,"
replied the poetical one politely. "I am highly complimented
that you can guess what it is from its taste."
For several minutes the two ate in silence, passing the tin
can back and forth, and slicing--hacking would be more
nearly correct--pieces of meat from the half-roasted fowl. It
was Billy who broke the silence.
"I think," said he, "that you been stringin' me--'bout
James and ambrose."
The other laughed good-naturedly.
"You are not offended, I hope," said he. "This is a sad old
world, you know, and we're all looking for amusement. If a
guy has no money to buy it with, he has to manufacture it."
"Sure, I ain't sore," Billy assured him. "Say, spiel that part
again 'bout Penelope with the kisses on her mouth, an' you
can kid me till the cows come home."
The camper by the creek did as Billy asked him, while the
latter sat with his eyes upon the fire seeing in the sputtering
little flames the oval face of her who was Penelope to him.
When the verse was completed he reached forth his hand
and took the tin can in his strong fingers, raising it before his
"Here's to--to his Knibbs!" he said, and drank, passing the
battered thing over to his new friend.
"Yes," said the other; "here's to his Knibbs, and--
"Drink hearty," returned Billy Byrne.
The poetical one drew a sack of tobacco from his hip
pocket and a rumpled package of papers from the pocket of
his shirt, extending both toward Billy.
"Want the makings?" he asked.
"I ain't stuck on sponging," said Billy; "but maybe I can
get even some day, and I sure do want a smoke. You see I
was frisked. I ain't got nothin'--they didn't leave me a sou
Billy reached across one end of the fire for the tobacco and
cigarette papers. As he did so the movement bared his wrist,
and as the firelight fell upon it the marks of the steel bracelet
showed vividly. In the fall from the train the metal had bitten
into the flesh.
His companion's eyes happened to fall upon the telltale
mark. There was an almost imperceptible raising of the man's
eyebrows; but he said nothing to indicate that he had noticed
anything out of the ordinary.
The two smoked on for many minutes without indulging in
conversation. The camper quoted snatches from Service and
Kipling, then he came back to Knibbs, who was evidently his
favorite. Billy listened and thought.
"Goin' anywheres in particular?" he asked during a
momentary lull in the recitation.
"Oh, south or west," replied the other. "Nowhere in
particular--any place suits me just so it isn't north or east."
"That's me," said Billy.
"Let's travel double, then," said the poetical one. "My
"And mine's Billy. Here, shake," and Byrne extended his
"Until one of us gets wearied of the other's company," said
"You're on," replied Billy. "Let's turn in."
"Good," exclaimed Bridge. "I wonder what's keeping
James. He should have been here long since to turn down my
bed and fix my bath."
Billy grinned and rolled over on his side, his head uphill
and his feet toward the fire. A couple of feet away Bridge
paralleled him, and in five minutes both were breathing deeply
in healthy slumber.
"FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD"
"'WE KEPT a-rambling all the time. I rustled grub, he rustled
rhyme,'" quoted Billy Byrne, sitting up and stretching himself.
His companion roused and came to one elbow. The sun
was topping the scant wood behind them, glinting on the
surface of the little creek. A robin hopped about the sward
quite close to them, and from the branch of a tree a hundred
yards away came the sweet piping of a song bird. Farther off
were the distance-subdued noises of an awakening farm. The
lowing of cows, the crowing of a rooster, the yelping of a
happy dog just released from a night of captivity.
Bridge yawned and stretched. Billy rose to his feet and
"This is the life," said Bridge. "Where you going?"
"To rustle grub," replied Billy. "That's my part o' the
The other laughed. "Go to it," he said. "I hate it. That's the
part that has come nearest making me turn respectable than
any other. I hate to ask for a hand-out."
Billy shrugged. He'd done worse things than that in his life,
and off he trudged, whistling. He felt happier than he had for
many a day. He never had guessed that the country in the
morning could be so beautiful.
Behind him his companion collected the material for a fire,
washed himself in the creek, and set the tin can, filled with
water, at the edge of the kindling, and waited. There was
nothing to cook, so it was useless to light the fire. As he sat
there, thinking, his mind reverted to the red mark upon Billy's
wrist, and he made a wry face.
Billy approached the farmhouse from which the sounds of
awakening still emanated. The farmer saw him coming, and
ceasing his activities about the barnyard, leaned across a gate
and eyed him, none too hospitably.
"I wanna get something to eat," explained Billy.
"Got any money to pay for it with?" asked the farmer
"No," said Billy; "but me partner an' me are hungry, an'
we gotta eat."
The farmer extended a gnarled forefinger and pointed
toward the rear of the house. Billy looked in the direction
thus indicated and espied a woodpile. He grinned good naturedly.
Without a word he crossed to the corded wood, picked up
an ax which was stuck in a chopping block, and, shedding his
coat, went to work. The farmer resumed his chores. Half an
hour later he stopped on his way in to breakfast and eyed the
growing pile that lay beside Billy.
"You don't hev to chop all the wood in the county to get a
meal from Jed Watson," he said.
"I wanna get enough for me partner, too," explained Billy.
"Well, yew've chopped enough fer two meals, son," replied
the farmer, and turning toward the kitchen door, he called:
"Here, Maw, fix this boy up with suthin' t'eat--enough fer a
couple of meals fer two on 'em."
As Billy walked away toward his camp, his arms laden with
milk, butter, eggs, a loaf of bread and some cold meat, he
grinned rather contentedly.
"A year or so ago," he mused, "I'd a stuck 'em up fer this,
an' thought I was smart. Funny how a feller'll change--an' all
fer a skirt. A skirt that belongs to somebody else now, too.
Hell! what's the difference, anyhow? She'd be glad if she
knew, an' it makes me feel better to act like she'd want. That
old farmer guy, now. Who'd ever have taken him fer havin' a
heart at all? Wen I seen him first I thought he'd like to sic
the dog on me, an' there he comes along an' tells 'Maw' to
pass me a hand-out like this! Gee! it's a funny world. She used
to say that most everybody was decent if you went at 'em
right, an' I guess she knew. She knew most everything, anyway.
Lord, I wish she'd been born on Grand Ave., or I on
As Billy walked up to his waiting companion, who had
touched a match to the firewood as he sighted the numerous
packages in the forager's arms, he was repeating, over and
over, as though the words held him in the thrall of fascination:
"There ain't no sweet Penelope somewhere that's longing
much for me."
Bridge eyed the packages as Billy deposited them carefully
and one at a time upon the grass beside the fire. The milk was
in a clean little graniteware pail, the eggs had been placed in a
paper bag, while the other articles were wrapped in pieces of
As the opening of each revealed its contents, fresh, clean,
and inviting, Bridge closed one eye and cocked the other up
"Did he die hard?" he inquired.
"Did who die hard?" demanded the other.
"Why the dog, of course."
"He ain't dead as I know of," replied Billy.
"You don't mean to say, my friend, that they let you get
away with all this without sicing the dog on you," said Bridge.
Billy laughed and explained, and the other was relieved--
the red mark around Billy's wrist persisted in remaining
uppermost in Bridge's mind.
When they had eaten they lay back upon the grass and
smoked some more of Bridge's tobacco.
"Well," inquired Bridge, "what's doing now?"
"Let's be hikin'," said Billy.
Bridge rose and stretched. "'My feet are tired and need a
change. Come on! It's up to you!'" he quoted.
Billy gathered together the food they had not yet eaten, and
made two equal-sized packages of it. He handed one to
"We'll divide the pack," he explained, "and here, drink the
rest o' this milk, I want the pail."
"What are you going to do with the pail?" asked Bridge.
"Return it," said Billy. "'Maw' just loaned it to me."
Bridge elevated his eyebrows a trifle. He had been mistaken,
after all. At the farmhouse the farmer's wife greeted them
kindly, thanked Billy for returning her pail--which, if the
truth were known, she had not expected to see again--and
gave them each a handful of thick, light, golden-brown cookies,
the tops of which were encrusted with sugar.
As they walked away Bridge sighed. "Nothing on earth like
a good woman," he said.
"'Maw,' or 'Penelope'?" asked Billy.
"Either, or both," replied Bridge. "I have no Penelope, but
I did have a mighty fine 'maw'."
Billy made no reply. He was thinking of the slovenly,
blear-eyed woman who had brought him into the world. The
memory was far from pleasant. He tried to shake it off.
"'Bridge,'" he said, quite suddenly, and apropos of nothing,
in an effort to change the subject. "That's an odd name.
I've heard of Bridges and Bridger; but I never heard Bridge
"Just a name a fellow gave me once up on the Yukon,"
explained Bridge. "I used to use a few words he'd never heard
before, so he called me 'The Unabridged,' which was too long.
The fellows shortened it to 'Bridge' and it stuck. It has always
stuck, and now I haven't any other. I even think of myself,
now, as Bridge. Funny, ain't it?"
"Yes," agreed Billy, and that was the end of it. He never
thought of asking his companion's true name, any more than
Bridge would have questioned him as to his, or of his past.
The ethics of the roadside fire and the empty tomato tin do
not countenance such impertinences.
For several days the two continued their leisurely way
toward Kansas City. Once they rode a few miles on a freight
train, but for the most part they were content to plod joyously
along the dusty highways. Billy continued to "rustle grub,"
while Bridge relieved the monotony by an occasional burst of
"You know so much of that stuff," said Billy as they were
smoking by their camp fire one evening, "that I'd think you'd
be able to make some up yourself."
"I've tried," admitted Bridge; "but there always seems to be
something lacking in my stuff--it don't get under your belt--
the divine afflatus is not there. I may start out all right, but I
always end up where I didn't expect to go, and where nobody
wants to be."
"'Member any of it?" asked Billy.
"There was one I wrote about a lake where I camped
once," said Bridge, reminiscently; "but I can only recall one
"Let's have it," urged Billy. "I bet it has Knibbs hangin' to
Bridge cleared his throat, and recited:
Silver are the ripples,
Solemn are the dunes,
Happy are the fishes,
For they are full of prunes.
He looked up at Billy, a smile twitching at the corners of
his mouth. "How's that?" he asked.
Billy scratched his head.
"It's all right but the last line," said Billy, candidly. "There
is something wrong with that last line."
"Yes," agreed Bridge, "there is."
"I guess Knibbs is safe for another round at least," said
Bridge was eying his companion, noting the broad shoulders,
the deep chest, the mighty forearm and biceps which the
other's light cotton shirt could not conceal.
"It is none of my business," he said presently; "but from
your general appearance, from bits of idiom you occasionally
drop, and from the way you handled those two boes the night
we met I should rather surmise that at some time or other you
had been less than a thousand miles from the w.k. roped
"I seen a prize fight once," admitted Billy.
It was the day before they were due to arrive in Kansas
City that Billy earned a hand-out from a restaurant keeper in
a small town by doing some odd jobs for the man. The food
he gave Billy was wrapped in an old copy of the Kansas City
Star. When Billy reached camp he tossed the package to
Bridge, who, in addition to his honorable post as poet laureate,
was also cook. Then Billy walked down to the stream,
near-by, that he might wash away the grime and sweat of
honest toil from his hands and face.
As Bridge unwrapped the package and the paper unfolded
beneath his eyes an article caught his attention--just casually
at first; but presently to the exclusion of all else. As he read
his eyebrows alternated between a position of considerable
elevation to that of a deep frown. Occasionally he nodded
knowingly. Finally he glanced up at Billy who was just rising from
his ablutions. Hastily Bridge tore from the paper the article
that had attracted his interest, folded it, and stuffed it into one
of his pockets--he had not had time to finish the reading and
he wanted to save the article for a later opportunity for
That evening Bridge sat for a long time scrutinizing Billy
through half-closed lids, and often he found his eyes wandering
to the red ring about the other's wrist; but whatever may
have been within his thoughts he kept to himself.
It was noon when the two sauntered into Kansas City. Billy
had a dollar in his pocket--a whole dollar. He had earned it
assisting an automobilist out of a ditch.
"We'll have a swell feed," he had confided to Bridge, "an'
sleep in a bed just to learn how much nicer it is sleepin' out
under the black sky and the shiny little stars."
"You're a profligate, Billy," said Bridge.
"I dunno what that means," said Billy; "but if it's something
I shoudn't be I probably am."
The two went to a rooming-house of which Bridge knew,
where they could get a clean room with a double bed for fifty
cents. It was rather a high price to pay, of course, but Bridge
was more or less fastidious, and he admitted to Billy that he'd
rather sleep in the clean dirt of the roadside than in the breed
of dirt one finds in an unclean bed.
At the end of the hall was a washroom, and toward this
Bridge made his way, after removing his coat and throwing it
across the foot of the bed. After he had left the room Billy
chanced to notice a folded bit of newspaper on the floor
beneath Bridge's coat. He picked it up to lay it on the little
table which answered the purpose of a dresser when a single
word caught his attention. It was a name: Schneider.
Billy unfolded the clipping and as his eyes took in the
heading a strange expression entered them--a hard, cold
gleam such as had not touched them since the day that he
abandoned the deputy sheriff in the woods midway between
Chicago and Joliet.
This is what Billy read:
Billy Byrne, sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet
penitentiary for the murder of Schneider, the old West Side saloon
keeper, hurled himself from the train that was bearing him to
Joliet yesterday, dragging with him the deputy sheriff to whom
he was handcuffed.
The deputy was found a few hours later bound and
gagged, lying in the woods along the Santa Fe, not far from
Lemont. He was uninjured. He says that Byrne got a good
start, and doubtless took advantage of it to return to Chicago,
where a man of his stamp could find more numerous and
safer retreats than elsewhere.
There was much more--a detailed account of the crime for
the commission of which Billy had been sentenced, a full and
complete description of Billy, a record of his long years of
transgression, and, at last, the mention of a five-hundred-dollar
reward that the authorities had offered for information
that would lead to his arrest.
When Billy had concluded the reading he refolded the
paper and placed it in a pocket of the coat hanging upon the
foot of the bed. A moment later Bridge entered the room.
Billy caught himself looking often at his companion, and
always there came to his mind the termination of the article he
had found in Bridge's pocket--the mention of the five-hundred-dollar
"Five hundred dollars," thought Billy, "is a lot o' coin. I
just wonder now," and he let his eyes wander to his companion
as though he might read upon his face the purpose which
lay in the man's heart. "He don't look it; but five hundred
dollars is a lot o' coin--fer a bo, and wotinell did he have
that article hid in his clothes fer? That's wot I'd like to know.
I guess it's up to me to blow."
All the recently acquired content which had been Billy's
since he had come upon the poetic Bridge and the two had
made their carefree, leisurely way along shaded country roadsides,
or paused beside cool brooklets that meandered lazily
through sweet-smelling meadows, was dissipated in the instant
that he had realized the nature of the article his companion
had been carrying and hiding from him.
For days no thought of pursuit or capture had arisen to
perplex him. He had seemed such a tiny thing out there
amidst the vastness of rolling hills, of woods, and plain that
there had been induced within him an unconscious assurance
that no one could find him even though they might seek for
The idea of meeting a plain clothes man from detective
headquarters around the next bend of a peaceful Missouri
road was so preposterous and incongruous that Billy had
found it impossible to give the matter serious thought.
He never before had been in the country districts of his
native land. To him the United States was all like Chicago or
New York or Milwaukee, the three cities with which he was
most familiar. His experience of unurban localities had been
gained amidst the primeval jungles of far-away Yoka. There
had been no detective sergeants there--unquestionably there
could be none here. Detective sergeants were indigenous to
the soil that grew corner saloons and poolrooms, and to none
other--as well expect to discover one of Oda Yorimoto's
samurai hiding behind a fire plug on Michigan Boulevard, as
to look for one of those others along a farm-bordered road.
But here in Kansas City, amidst the noises and odors that
meant a large city, it was different. Here the next man he met
might be looking for him, or if not then the very first
policeman they encountered could arrest him upon a word
from Bridge--and Bridge would get five hundred dollars.
Just then Bridge burst forth into poetry:
In a flannel shirt from earth's clean dirt,
Here, pal, is my calloused hand!
Oh, I love each day as a rover may,
Nor seek to understand.
To enjoy is good enough for me;
The gypsy of God am I.
Then here's a hail to--
"Say," he interrupted himself; "what's the matter with going
out now and wrapping ourselves around that swell feed you
were speaking of?"
Billy rose. It didn't seem possible that Bridge could be
going to double-cross him.
In a flannel shirt from earth's clean dirt,
Here, pal, is my calloused hand!
Billy repeated the lines half aloud. They renewed his
confidence in Bridge, somehow.
"Like them?" asked the latter.
"Yes," said Billy; "s'more of Knibbs?"
"No, Service. Come on, let's go and dine. How about the
Midland?" and he grinned at his little joke as he led the way
toward the street.
It was late afternoon. The sun already had set; but it still
was too light for lamps. Bridge led the way toward a certain
eating-place of which he knew where a man might dine
well and from a clean platter for two bits. Billy had been
keeping his eyes open for detectives. They had passed
no uniformed police--that would be the crucial test, thought
he--unless Bridge intended tipping off headquarters on the
quiet and having the pinch made at night after Billy had gone
As they reached the little restaurant, which was in a
basement, Bridge motioned Billy down ahead of him. Just for an
instant he, himself, paused at the head of the stairs and looked
about. As he did so a man stepped from the shadow of a
doorway upon the opposite side of the street.
If Bridge saw him he apparently gave no sign, for he turned
slowly and with deliberate steps followed Billy down into the
ON THE TRAIL
AS THEY entered the place Billy, who was ahead, sought a
table; but as he was about to hang up his cap and seat
himself Bridge touched his elbow.
"Let's go to the washroom and clean up a bit," he said, in
a voice that might be heard by those nearest.
"Why, we just washed before we left our room," expostulated Billy.
"Shut up and follow me," Bridge whispered into his ear.
Immediately Billy was all suspicion. His hand flew to the
pocket in which the gun of the deputy sheriff still rested. They
would never take him alive, of that Billy was positive. He
wouldn't go back to life imprisonment, not after he had tasted
the sweet freedom of the wide spaces--such a freedom as the
trammeled city cannot offer.
Bridge saw the movement.
"Cut it," he whispered, "and follow me, as I tell you. I just
saw a Chicago dick across the street. He may not have seen
you, but it looked almighty like it. He'll be down here in
about two seconds now. Come on--we'll beat it through the
rear--I know the way."
Billy Byrne heaved a great sigh of relief. Suddenly he was
almost reconciled to the thought of capture, for in the instant
he had realized that it had not been so much his freedom that
he had dreaded to lose as his faith in the companion in whom he
Without sign of haste the two walked the length of the
room and disappeared through the doorway leading into the
washroom. Before them was a window opening upon a squalid
back yard. The building stood upon a hillside, so that while
the entrance to the eating-place was below the level of the
street in front, its rear was flush with the ground.
Bridge motioned Billy to climb through the window while
he shot the bolt upon the inside of the door leading back into
the restaurant. A moment later he followed the fugitive, and
then took the lead.
Down narrow, dirty alleys, and through litter-piled back
yards he made his way, while Billy followed at his heels. Dusk
was gathering, and before they had gone far darkness came.
They neither paused nor spoke until they had left the
business portion of the city behind and were well out of the
zone of bright lights. Bridge was the first to break the silence.
"I suppose you wonder how I knew," he said.
"No," replied Billy. "I seen that clipping you got in your
pocket--it fell out on the floor when you took your coat off
in the room this afternoon to go and wash."
"Oh," said Bridge, "I see. Well, as far as I'm concerned
that's the end of it--we won't mention it again, old man. I
don't need to tell you that I'm for you."
"No, not after tonight," Billy assured him.
They went on again for some little time without speaking,
then Billy said:
"I got two things to tell you. The first is that after I seen
that newspaper article in your clothes I thought you was
figurin' on double-crossin' me an' claimin' the five hun. I
ought to of known better. The other is that I didn't kill
Schneider. I wasn't near his place that night--an' that's straight."
"I'm glad you told me both," said Bridge. "I think we'll
understand each other better after this--we're each runnin'
away from something. We'll run together, eh?" and he extended his
hand. "In flannel shirt from earth's clean dirt, here, pal,
is my calloused hand!" he quoted, laughing.
Billy took the other's hand. He noticed that Bridge hadn't
said what HE was running away from. Billy wondered; but
asked no questions.
South they went after they had left the city behind, out into
the sweet and silent darkness of the country. During the night
they crossed the line into Kansas, and morning found them in
a beautiful, hilly country to which all thoughts of cities, crime,
and police seemed so utterly foreign that Billy could scarce
believe that only a few hours before a Chicago detective had
been less than a hundred feet from him.
The new sun burst upon them as they topped a grassy hill.
The dew-bespangled blades scintillated beneath the gorgeous
rays which would presently sweep them away again into the
nothingness from which they had sprung.
Bridge halted and stretched himself. He threw his head back
and let the warm sun beat down upon his bronzed face.
There's sunshine in the heart of me,
My blood sings in the breeze;
The mountains are a part of me,
I'm fellow to the trees.
My golden youth I'm squandering,
Sun-libertine am I,
Until the day I die.
And then he stood for minutes drinking in deep breaths of
the pure, sweet air of the new day. Beside him, a head taller,
savagely strong, stood Billy Byrne, his broad shoulders
squared, his great chest expanding as he inhaled.
"It's great, ain't it?" he said, at last. "I never knew the
country was like this, an' I don't know that I ever would have
known it if it hadn't been for those poet guys you're always
"I always had an idea they was sissy fellows," he went on;
"but a guy can't be a sissy an' think the thoughts they musta
thought to write stuff that sends the blood chasin' through a
feller like he'd had a drink on an empty stomach.
"I used to think everybody was a sissy who wasn't a tough
guy. I was a tough guy all right, an' I was mighty proud of it.
I ain't any more an' haven't been for a long time; but before I
took a tumble to myself I'd have hated you, Bridge. I'd a-hated
your fine talk, an' your poetry, an' the thing about you
that makes you hate to touch a guy for a hand-out.
"I'd a-hated myself if I'd thought that I could ever talk
mushy like I am now. Gee, Bridge, but I was the limit! A
girl--a nice girl--called me a mucker once, an' a coward. I
was both; but I had the reputation of bein' the toughest guy
on the West Side, an' I thought I was a man. I nearly poked
her face for her--think of it, Bridge! I nearly did; but something
stopped me--something held my hand from it, an' lately
I've liked to think that maybe what stopped me was something
in me that had always been there--something decent
that was really a part of me. I hate to think that I was such a
beast at heart as I acted like all my life up to that minute. I
began to change then. It was mighty slow, an' I'm still a
roughneck; but I'm gettin' on. She helped me most, of course,
an' now you're helpin' me a lot, too--you an' your poetry
stuff. If some dick don't get me I may get to be a human
bein' before I die."
"It IS odd," he said, "how our viewpoints change with
changed environment and the passing of the years. Time was,
Billy, when I'd have hated you as much as you would have
hated me. I don't know that I should have said hate, for that
is not exactly the word. It was more contempt that I felt for
men whom I considered as not belonging upon that intellectual
or social plane to which I considered I had been born.
"I thought of people who moved outside my limited sphere
as 'the great unwashed.' I pitied them, and I honestly believe
now that in the bottom of my heart I considered them of
different clay than I, and with souls, if they possessed such
things, about on a par with the souls of sheep and cows.
"I couldn't have seen the man in you, Billy, then, any more
than you could have seen the man in me. I have learned much
since then, though I still stick to a part of my original articles
of faith--I do believe that all men are not equal; and I know
that there are a great many more with whom I would not pal
than there are those with whom I would.
"Because one man speaks better English than another, or
has read more and remembers it, only makes him a better
man in that particular respect. I think none the less of you
because you can't quote Browning or Shakespeare--the thing
that counts is that you can appreciate, as I do, Service and
Kipling and Knibbs.
"Now maybe we are both wrong--maybe Knibbs and
Kipling and Service didn't write poetry, and some people will
say as much; but whatever it is it gets you and me in the same
way, and so in this respect we are equals. Which being the
case let's see if we can't rustle some grub, and then find a nice
soft spot whereon to pound our respective ears."
Billy, deciding that he was too sleepy to work for food,
invested half of the capital that was to have furnished the
swell feed the night before in what two bits would purchase
from a generous housewife on a near-by farm, and then,
stretching themselves beneath the shade of a tree sufficiently
far from the road that they might not attract unnecessary
observation, they slept until after noon.
But their precaution failed to serve their purpose entirely. A
little before noon two filthy, bearded knights of the road
clambered laboriously over the fence and headed directly for
the very tree under which Billy and Bridge lay sleeping. In the
minds of the two was the same thought that had induced
Billy Byrne and the poetic Bridge to seek this same secluded
There was in the stiff shuffle of the men something rather
familiar. We have seen them before--just for a few minutes it
is true; but under circumstances that impressed some of their
characteristics upon us. The very last we saw of them they
were shuffling away in the darkness along a railroad track,
after promising that eventually they would wreak dire vengeance
upon Billy, who had just trounced them.
Now as they came unexpectedly upon the two sleepers they
did not immediately recognize in them the objects of their
recent hate. They just stood looking stupidly down on them,
wondering in what way they might turn their discovery to
their own advantage.
Nothing in the raiment either of Billy or Bridge indicated
that here was any particularly rich field for loot, and, too, the
athletic figure of Byrne would rather have discouraged any
attempt to roll him without first handing him the "k.o.", as
the two would have naively put it.
But as they gazed down upon the features of the sleepers
the eyes of one of the tramps narrowed to two ugly slits while
those of his companion went wide in incredulity and surprise.
"Do youse know dem guys?" asked the first, and without
waiting for a reply he went on: "Dem's de guys dat beat us
up back dere de udder side o' K. C. Do youse get 'em?"
"Sure?" asked the other.
"Sure, I'd know dem in a t'ous'n'. Le's hand 'em a couple
an' beat it," and he stooped to pick up a large stone that lay
near at hand.
"Cut it!" whispered the second tramp. "Youse don't know
dem guys at all. Dey may be de guys dat beats us up; but dat
big stiff dere is more dan dat. He's wanted in Chi, an' dere's
half a t'ou on 'im."
"Who put youse jerry to all dat?" inquired the first tramp,
"I was in de still wit 'im--he croaked some guy. He's a
lifer. On de way to de pen he pushes dis dick off'n de rattler
an' makes his get-away. Dat peter-boy we meets at Quincy
slips me an earful about him. Here's w'ere we draws down de
five hundred if we're cagey."
"Whaddaya mean, cagey?"
"Why we leaves 'em alone an' goes to de nex' farm an' calls
up K. C. an' tips off de dicks, see?"
"Youse don't tink we'll get any o' dat five hun, do youse,
wit de dicks in on it?"
The other scratched his head.
"No," he said, rather dubiously, after a moment's deep
thought; "dey don't nobody get nothin' dat de dicks see first;
but we'll get even with dese blokes, annyway."
"Maybe dey'll pass us a couple bucks," said the other
hopefully. "Dey'd orter do dat much."
Detective Sergeant Flannagan of Headquarters, Chicago,
slouched in a chair in the private office of the chief of
detectives of Kansas City, Missouri. Sergeant Flannagan was
sore. He would have said as much himself. He had been sent
west to identify a suspect whom the Kansas City authorities
had arrested; but had been unable to do so, and had been
preparing to return to his home city when the brilliant aureola
of an unusual piece of excellent fortune had shone upon him
for a moment, and then faded away through the grimy entrance
of a basement eating-place.
He had been walking along the street the previous evening
thinking of nothing in particular; but with eyes and ears alert
as becomes a successful police officer, when he had espied two
men approaching upon the opposite sidewalk.
There was something familiar in the swing of the giant
frame of one of the men. So, true to years of training,
Sergeant Flannagan melted into the shadows of a store entrance
and waited until the two should have come closer.
They were directly opposite him when the truth flashed
upon him--the big fellow was Billy Byrne, and there was a
five-hundred-dollar reward out for him.
And then the two turned and disappeared down the stairway
that led to the underground restaurant. Sergeant Flannagan
saw Byrne's companion turn and look back just as
Flannagan stepped from the doorway to cross the street after
That was the last Sergeant Flannagan had seen either of
Billy Byrne or his companion. The trail had ceased at the
open window of the washroom at the rear of the restaurant,
and search as he would he had been unable to pick it up
No one in Kansas City had seen two men that night
answering the descriptions Flannagan had been able to give--
at least no one whom Flannagan could unearth.
Finally he had been forced to take the Kansas City chief
into his confidence, and already a dozen men were scouring
such sections of Kansas City in which it seemed most likely an
escaped murderer would choose to hide.
Flannagan had been out himself for a while; but now he
was in to learn what progress, if any, had been made. He had
just learned that three suspects had been arrested and was
waiting to have them paraded before him.
When the door swung in and the three were escorted into
his presence Sergeant Flannagan gave a snort of disgust,
indicative probably not only of despair; but in a manner
registering his private opinion of the mental horse power and
efficiency of the Kansas City sleuths, for of the three one was
a pasty-faced, chestless youth, even then under the influence of
cocaine, another was an old, bewhiskered hobo, while the
third was unquestionably a Chinaman.
Even professional courtesy could scarce restrain Sergeant
Flannagan's desire toward bitter sarcasm, and he was upon
the point of launching forth into a vitriolic arraignment of
everything west of Chicago up to and including, specifically,
the Kansas City detective bureau, when the telephone bell at
the chief's desk interrupted him. He had wanted the chief to
hear just what he thought, so he waited.
The chief listened for a few minutes, asked several questions
and then, placing a fat hand over the transmitter, he wheeled
about toward Flannagan.
"Well," he said, "I guess I got something for you at last.
There's a bo on the wire that says he's just seen your man
down near Shawnee. He wants to know if you'll split the
reward with him."
Flannagan yawned and stretched.
"I suppose," he said, ironically, "that if I go down there I'll
find he's corraled a nigger," and he looked sorrowfully at the
three specimens before him.
"I dunno," said the chief. "This guy says he knows Byrne
well, an' that he's got it in for him. Shall I tell him you'll be
down--and split the reward?"
"Tell him I'll be down and that I'll treat him right," replied
Flannagan, and after the chief had transmitted the message,
and hung up the receiver: "Where is this here Shawnee,
"I'll send a couple of men along with you. It isn't far across
the line, an' there won't be no trouble in getting back without
nobody knowin' anything about it--if you get him."
"All right," said Flannagan, his visions of five hundred
already dwindled to a possible one.
It was but a little past one o'clock that a touring car rolled
south out of Kansas City with Detective Sergeant Flannagan
in the front seat with the driver and two burly representatives
of Missouri law in the back.
ONE TURN DESERVES ANOTHER
WHEN the two tramps approached the farmhouse at which
Billy had purchased food a few hours before the farmer's wife
called the dog that was asleep in the summer kitchen and took
a shotgun down from its hook beside the door.
From long experience the lady was a reader of character--
of hobo character at least--and she saw nothing in the
appearance of either of these two that inspired even a modicum
of confidence. Now the young fellow who had been there
earlier in the day and who, wonder of wonders, had actually
paid for the food she gave him, had been of a different stamp.
His clothing had proclaimed him a tramp, but, thanks to the
razor Bridge always carried, he was clean shaven. His year of
total abstinence bad given him clear eyes and a healthy skin.
There was a freshness and vigor in his appearance and carriage
that inspired confidence rather than suspicion.
She had not mistrusted him; but these others she did
mistrust. When they asked to use the telephone she refused
and ordered them away, thinking it but an excuse to enter the
house; but they argued the matter, explaining that they had
discovered an escaped murderer hiding near--by--in fact in her
own meadow--and that they wished only to call up the
Kansas City police.
Finally she yielded, but kept the dog by her side and the
shotgun in her hand while the two entered the room and
crossed to the telephone upon the opposite side.
From the conversation which she overheard the woman
concluded that, after all, she had been mistaken, not only
about these two, but about the young man who had come
earlier in the day and purchased food from her, for the
description the tramp gave of the fugitive tallied exactly with
that of the young man.
It seemed incredible that so honest looking a man could be
a murderer. The good woman was shocked, and not a little
unstrung by the thought that she had been in the house alone
when he had come and that if he had wished to he could
easily have murdered her.
"I hope they get him," she said, when the tramp had
concluded his talk with Kansas City. "It's awful the carryings
on they is nowadays. Why a body can't never tell who to
trust, and I thought him such a nice young man. And he paid
me for what he got, too."
The dog, bored by the inaction, had wandered back into
the summer kitchen and resumed his broken slumber. One of
the tramps was leaning against the wall talking with the
farmer woman. The other was busily engaged in scratching his
right shin with what remained of the heel of his left shoe. He
supported himself with one hand on a small table upon the
top of which was a family Bible.
Quite unexpectedly he lost his balance, the table tipped, he
was thrown still farther over toward it, and all in the flash of
an eye tramp, table, and family Bible crashed to the floor.
With a little cry of alarm the woman rushed forward to
gather up the Holy Book, in her haste forgetting the shotgun
and leaving it behind her leaning against the arm of a chair.
Almost simultaneously the two tramps saw the real cause of
her perturbation. The large book had fallen upon its back,
open; and as several of the leaves turned over before coming
to rest their eyes went wide at what was revealed between.
United States currency in denominations of five, ten, and
twenty-dollar bills lay snugly inserted between the leaves of the
Bible. The tramp who lay on the floor, as yet too surprised to
attempt to rise, rolled over and seized the book as a football
player seizes the pigskin after a fumble, covering it with his
body, his arms, and sticking out his elbows as a further
protection to the invaluable thing.
At the first cry of the woman the dog rose, growling, and
bounded into the room. The tramp leaning against the wall
saw the brute coming--a mongrel hound-dog, bristling and
The shotgun stood almost within the man's reach--a step
and it was in his hands. As though sensing the fellow's
intentions the dog wheeled from the tramp upon the floor,
toward whom he had leaped, and sprang for the other ragged
The muzzle of the gun met him halfway. There was a
deafening roar. The dog collapsed to the floor, his chest torn
out. Now the woman began to scream for help; but in an
instant both the tramps were upon her choking her to silence.
One of them ran to the summer kitchen, returning a moment
later with a piece of clothesline, while the other sat
astride the victim, his fingers closed about her throat. Once he
released his hold and she screamed again. Presently she was
secured and gagged. Then the two commenced to rifle the
Eleven hundred dollars in bills were hidden there, because
the woman and her husband didn't believe in banks--the
savings of a lifetime. In agony, as she regained consciousness,
she saw the last of their little hoard transferred to the pockets
of the tramps, and when they had finished they demanded to
know where she kept the rest, loosening her gag that she
She told them that that was all the money she had in the
world, and begged them not to take it.
"Youse've got more coin dan dis," growled one of the men,
"an' youse had better pass it over, or we'll find a way to
But still she insisted that that was all. The tramp stepped
into the kitchen. A wood fire was burning in the stove. A pair
of pliers lay upon the window sill. With these he lifted one of
the hot stove-hole covers and returned to the parlor, grinning.
"I guess she'll remember she's got more wen dis begins to
woik," he said. "Take off her shoes, Dink."
The other growled an objection.
"Yeh poor boob," he said. "De dicks'll be here in a little
while. We'd better be makin' our get-away wid w'at we got."
"Gee!" exclaimed his companion. "I clean forgot all about
de dicks," and then after a moment's silence during which his
evil face underwent various changes of expression from fear to
final relief, he turned an ugly, crooked grimace upon his
"We got to croak her," he said. "Dey ain't no udder way.
If dey finds her alive she'll blab sure, an' dey won't be no
trouble 'bout gettin' us or identifyin' us neither."
The other shrugged.
"Le's beat it," he whined. "We can't more'n do time fer dis
job if we stop now; but de udder'll mean--" and he made a
suggestive circle with a grimy finger close to his neck.
"No it won't nothin' of de kind," urged his companion. "I
got it all doped out. We got lots o' time before de dicks are
due. We'll croak de skirt, an' den we'll beat it up de road AN'
MEET DE DICKS--see?"
The other was aghast.
"Wen did youse go nuts?" he asked.
"I ain't gone nuts. Wait 'til I gets t'rough. We meets de
dicks, innocent-like; but first we caches de dough in de
woods. We tells 'em we hurried right on to lead 'em to dis
Byrne guy, an' wen we gets back here to de farmhouse an'
finds wot's happened here we'll be as flabbergasted as dey be."
"Oh, nuts!" exclaimed the other disgustedly. "Youse don't
tink youse can put dat over on any wise guy from Chi, do
youse? Who will dey tink croaked de old woman an' de ki-yi?
Will dey tink dey kilt deyreselves?"
"Dey'll tink Byrne an' his pardner croaked 'em, you simp,"
Dink scratched his head, and as the possibilities of the
scheme filtered into his dull brain a broad grin bared his
"You're dere, pal," he exclaimed, real admiration in his
tone. "But who's goin' to do it?"
"I'll do it," said Crumb. "Dere ain't no chanct of gettin' in
bad for it, so I jest as soon do the job. Get me a knife, or an
ax from de kitchen--de gat makes too much noise."
Something awoke Billy Byrne with a start. Faintly, in the
back of his consciousness, the dim suggestion of a loud noise
still reverberated. He sat up and looked about him.
"I wonder what that was?" he mused. "It sounded like the
report of a gun."
Bridge awoke about the same time, and turned lazily over,
raising himself upon an elbow. He grinned at Billy.
"Good morning," he said, and then:
Says I, "Then let's be on the float. You certainly have got my goat;
You make me hungry in my throat for seeing things that's new.
Out there somewhere we'll ride the range a-looking for the new and strange;
My feet are tired and need a change. Come on! It's up to you!"
"Come on, then," agreed Billy, coming to his feet.
As he rose there came, faintly, but distinct, the unmistakable
scream of a frightened woman. From the direction of
the farmhouse it came--from the farmhouse at which Billy
had purchased their breakfast.
Without waiting for a repetition of the cry Billy wheeled
and broke into a rapid run in the direction of the little cluster
of buildings. Bridge leaped to his feet and followed him,
dropping behind though, for he had not had the road work
that Billy recently had been through in his training for the
battle in which he had defeated the "white hope" that time in
New York when Professor Cassidy had wagered his entire pile
upon him, nor in vain.
Dink searched about the summer kitchen for an ax or
hatchet; but failing to find either rummaged through a table
drawer until he came upon a large carving knife. This would
do the job nicely. He thumbed the edge as he carried it back
into the parlor to Crumb.
The poor woman, lying upon the floor, was quite conscious.
Her eyes were wide and rolling in horror. She struggled
with her bonds, and tried to force the gag from her mouth
with her tongue; but her every effort was useless. She had
heard every word that had passed between the two men. She
knew that they would carry out the plan they had formulated
and that there was no chance that they would be interrupted
in their gruesome work, for her husband had driven over to a
farm beyond Holliday, leaving before sunrise, and there was
little prospect that he would return before milking time in the
evening. The detectives from Kansas City could not possibly
reach the farm until far too late to save her.
She saw Dink return from the summer kitchen with the
long knife. She recalled the day she had bought that knife in
town, and the various uses to which she had put it. That very
morning she had sliced some bacon with it. How distinctly
such little things recurred to her at this frightful moment. And
now the hideous creature standing beside her was going to use
it to cut her throat.
She saw Crumb take the knife and feel of the blade,
running his thumb along it. She saw him stoop, his eyes
turned down upon hers. He grasped her chin and forced it
upward and back, the better to expose her throat.
Oh, why could she not faint? Why must she suffer all these
hideous preliminaries? Why could she not even close her eyes?
Crumb raised the knife and held the blade close above her
bared neck. A shudder ran through her, and then the door
crashed open and a man sprang into the room. It was Billy
Byrne. Through the window he had seen what was passing in
His hand fell upon Crumb's collar and jerked him backward
from his prey. Dink seized the shotgun and turned it
upon the intruder; but he was too close. Billy grasped the
barrel of the weapon and threw the muzzle up toward the
ceiling as the tramp pulled the trigger. Then he wrenched it
from the man's hands, swung it once above his head and
crashed the stock down upon Dink's skull.
Dink went down and out for the count--for several counts,
in fact. Crumb stumbled to his feet and made a break for the
door. In the doorway he ran full into Bridge, winded, but
ready. The latter realizing that the matted one was attempting
to escape, seized a handful of his tangled beard, and, as he
had done upon another occasion, held the tramp's head in
rigid position while he planted a series of blows in the fellow's
face--blows that left Crumb as completely out of battle as
was his mildewed comrade.
"Watch 'em," said Billy, handing Bridge the shotgun. Then
he turned his attention to the woman. With the carving knife
that was to have ended her life he cut her bonds. Removing
the gag from her mouth he lifted her in his strong arms and
carried her to the little horsehair sofa that stood in one corner
of the parlor, laying her upon it very gently.
He was thinking of "Maw" Watson. This woman resembled
her just a little--particularly in her comfortable, motherly
expansiveness, and she had had a kind word and a cheery
good-bye for him that morning as he had departed.
The woman lay upon the sofa, breathing hard, and moaning
just a little. The shock had been almost too much even for
her stolid nerves. Presently she turned her eyes toward Billy.
"You are a good boy," she said, "and you come just in the
nick o' time. They got all my money. It's in their clothes," and
then a look of terror overspread her face. For the moment she
had forgotten what she had heard about this man--that he
was an escaped convict--a convicted murderer. Was she any
better off now that she had let him know about the money
than she was with the others after they discovered it?
At her words Bridge kneeled and searched the two tramps.
He counted the bills as he removed them from their pockets.
"Eleven hundred?" he asked, and handed the money to
"Eleven hundred, yes," breathed the woman, faintly, her
eyes horror-filled and fearful as she gazed upon Billy's face.
She didn't care for the money any more--they could have it
all if they would only let her live.
Billy turned toward her and held the rumpled green mass
"Here," he said; "but that's an awful lot o' coin for a
woman to have about de house--an' her all alone. You ought
not to a-done it."
She took the money in trembling fingers. It seemed incredible
that the man was returning it to her.
"But I knew it," she said finally.
"Knew what?" asked Billy.
"I knew you was a good boy. They said you was a
Billy's brows contracted, and an expression of pain crossed
"How did they come to say that?" he asked.
"I heard them telephonin' to Kansas City to the police," she
replied, and then she sat bolt upright. "The detectives are on
their way here now," she almost screamed, "and even if you
ARE a murderer I don't care. I won't stand by and see 'em get
you after what you have done for me. I don't believe you're a
murderer anyhow. You're a good boy. My boy would be
about as old and as big as you by now--if he lives. He ran
away a long time ago--maybe you've met him. His name's
Eddie--Eddie Shorter. I ain't heard from him fer years.
"No," she went on, "I don't believe what they said--you
got too good a face; but if you are a murderer you get out
now before they come an' I'll send 'em on a wild-goose chase
in the wrong direction."
"But these," said Billy. "We can't leave these here."
"Tie 'em up and give me the shotgun," she said. "I'll bet
they don't come any more funny business on me." She had
regained both her composure and her nerve by this time.
Together Billy and Bridge trussed up the two tramps. An
elephant couldn't have forced the bonds they placed upon
them. Then they carried them down cellar and when they had
come up again Mrs. Shorter barred the cellar door.
"I reckon they won't get out of there very fast," she said.
"And now you two boys run along. Got any money?" and
without waiting for a reply she counted twenty-five dollars
from the roll she had tucked in the front of her waist and
handed them to Billy.
"Nothin' doin'," said he; "but t'anks just the same."
"You got to take it," she insisted. "Let me make believe I'm
givin' it to my boy, Eddie--please," and the tears that came
to her eyes proved far more effective than her generous words.
"Aw, all right," said Billy. "I'll take it an' pass it along to
Eddie if I ever meet him, eh?"
"Now please hurry," she urged. "I don't want you to be
caught--even if you are a murderer. I wish you weren't
"I'm not," said Billy; "but de law says I am an' what de
law says, goes."
He turned toward the doorway with Bridge, calling a goodbye
to the woman, but as he stepped out upon the veranda the
dust of a fast-moving automobile appeared about a bend in
the road a half-mile from the house.
"Too late," he said, turning to Bridge. "Here they come!"
The woman brushed by them and peered up the road.
"Yes," she said, "it must be them. Lordy! What'll we do?"
"I'll duck out the back way, that's what I'll do," said Billy.
"It wouldn't do a mite of good," said Mrs. Shorter, with a
shake of her head. "They'll telephone every farmer within
twenty mile of here in every direction, an' they'll get you sure.
Wait! I got a scheme. Come with me," and she turned and
bustled through the little parlor, out of a doorway into something
that was half hall and half storeroom. There was a
flight of stairs leading to the upper story, and she waddled up
them as fast as her legs would carry her, motioning the two
men to follow her.
In a rear room was a trapdoor in the ceiling.
"Drag that commode under this," she told them. "Then
climb into the attic, and close the trapdoor. They won't never
find you there."
Billy pulled the ancient article of furniture beneath the
opening, and in another moment the two men were in the
stuffy atmosphere of the unventilated loft. Beneath them
they heard Mrs. Shorter dragging the commode back to its
accustomed place, and then the sound of her footsteps descending
Presently there came to them the rattling of a motor without,
followed by the voices of men in the house. For an
hour, half asphyxiated by the closeness of the attic, they waited,
and then again they heard the sound of the running engine,
diminishing as the machine drew away.
Shortly after, Mrs. Shorter's voice rose to them from below:
"You ken come down now," she said, "they've gone."
When they had descended she led them to the kitchen.
"I got a bite to eat ready for you while they was here," she
explained. "When you've done you ken hide in the barn 'til
dark, an' after that I'll have my ol' man take you 'cross to
Dodson, that's a junction, an' you'd aughter be able to git
away easy enough from there. I told 'em you started for
Olathe--there's where they've gone with the two tramps.
"My, but I did have a time of it! I ain't much good at
story-tellin' but I reckon I told more stories this arternoon
than I ever tole before in all my life. I told 'em that they was
two of you, an' that the biggest one hed red hair, an' the little
one was all pock-marked. Then they said you prob'ly wasn't
the man at all, an' my! how they did swear at them two
tramps fer gettin' 'em way out here on a wild-goose chase; but
they're goin' to look fer you jes' the same in Olathe, only they
won't find you there," and she laughed, a bit nervously
It was dusk when Mr. Shorter returned from Holliday, but
after he had heard his wife's story he said that he'd drive
"them two byes" all the way to Mexico, if there wasn't any
"Dodson's far enough," Bridge assured him, and late that
night the grateful farmer set them down at their destination.
An hour later they were speeding south on the Missouri
Bridge lay back, luxuriously, on the red plush of the smoker seat.
"Some class to us, eh, bo?" asked Billy.
The tide-hounds race far up the shore--the hunt is on! The breakers roar!
Her spars are tipped with gold, and o'er her deck the spray is flung,
The buoys that frolic in the bay, they nod the way, they nod the way!
The hunt is up! I am the prey! The hunter's bow is strung!
IT WAS twenty-four hours before Detective Sergeant Flannagan
awoke to the fact that something had been put over on
him, and that a Kansas farmer's wife had done the putting.
He managed to piece it out finally from the narratives of
the two tramps, and when he had returned to the Shorter
home and listened to the contradictory and whole-souled
improvisations of Shorter pere and mere he was convinced.
Whereupon he immediately telegraphed Chicago headquarters
and obtained the necessary authority to proceed upon the
trail of the fugitive, Byrne.
And so it was that Sergeant Flannagan landed in El Paso a
few days later, drawn thither by various pieces of intelligence
he had gathered en route, though with much delay and consequent vexation.
Even after he had quitted the train he was none too sure
that he was upon the right trail though he at once repaired to
a telegraph office and wired his chief that he was hot on the
trail of the fugitive.
As a matter of fact he was much hotter than he imagined,
for Billy and Bridge were that very minute not two squares
from him, debating as to the future and the best manner of
meeting it before it arrived.
"I think," said Billy, "that I'll duck across the border. I
won't never be safe in little old U. S., an' with things hoppin'
in Mexico the way they have been for the last few years I
orter be able to lose myself pretty well.
"Now you're all right, ol' top. You don't have to duck
nothin' for you ain't did nothin'. I don't know what you're
runnin' away from; but I know it ain't nothin' the police is
worryin' about--I can tell that by the way you act--so I
guess we'll split here. You'd be a boob to cross if you don't
have to, fer if Villa don't get you the Carranzistas will, unless
the Zapatistas nab you first.
"Comin' or goin' some greasy-mugged highbinder's bound
to croak you if you cross, from what little I've heard since we
landed in El Paso.
"We'll feed up together tonight, fer the last time. Then I'll
pull my freight." He was silent for a while, and then: "I hate
to do it, bo, fer you're the whitest guy I ever struck," which
was a great deal for Billy Byrne of Grand Avenue to say.
Bridge finished rolling a brown paper cigarette before he
"Your words are pure and unadulterated wisdom, my
friend," he said. "The chances are scarcely even that two
gringo hoboes would last the week out afoot and broke in
Viva Mexico; but it has been many years since I followed the
dictates of wisdom. Therefore I am going with you."
Billy grinned. He could not conceal his pleasure.
"You're past twenty-one," he said, "an' dry behind the
ears. Let's go an' eat. There is still some of that twenty-five
Together they entered a saloon which Bridge remembered
as permitting a very large consumption of free lunch upon the
purchase of a single schooner of beer.
There were round tables scattered about the floor in front
of the bar, and after purchasing their beer they carried it to
one of these that stood in a far corner of the room close to a
Here Bridge sat on guard over the foaming open sesame to
food while Billy crossed to the free lunch counter and appropriated
all that a zealous attendant would permit him to carry
When he returned to the table he took a chair with his
back to the wall in conformity to a habit of long standing
when, as now, it had stood him in good stead to be in a
position to see the other fellow at least as soon as the other
fellow saw him. The other fellow being more often than not a
large gentleman with a bit of shiny metal pinned to his left
"That guy's a tight one," said Billy, jerking his hand in the
direction of the guardian of the free lunch. "I scoops up about
a good, square meal for a canary bird, an' he makes me
cough up half of it. Wants to know if I t'ink I can go into the
restaurant business on a fi'-cent schooner of suds."
"Well, you didn't do so badly at that," he said. "I know
places where they'd indict you for grand larceny if you took
much more than you have here."
"Rotten beer," commented Billy.
"Always is rotten down here," replied Bridge. "I sometimes
think they put moth balls in it so it won't spoil."
Billy looked up and smiled. Then he raised his tall glass
"Here's to," he started; but he got no further. His eyes
traveling past his companion fell upon the figure of a large
man entering the low doorway.
At the same instant the gentleman's eyes fell upon Billy.
Recognition lit those of each simultaneously. The big man
started across the room on a run, straight toward Billy Byrne.
The latter leaped to his feet. Bridge, guessing what had
happened, rose too.
"Flannagan!" he exclaimed.
The detective was tugging at his revolver, which had stuck
in his hip pocket. Byrne reached for his own weapon. Bridge
laid a hand on his arm.
"Not that, Billy!" he cried. "There's a door behind you.
Here," and he pulled Billy backward toward the doorway in
the wall behind them.
Byrne still clung to his schooner of beer, which he had
transferred to his left hand as he sought to draw his gun.
Flannagan was close to them. Bridge opened the door and
strove to pull Billy through; but the latter hesitated just an
instant, for he saw that it would be impossible to close and
bar the door, provided it had a bar, before Flannagan would
be against it with his great shoulders.
The policeman was still struggling to disentangle his revolver
from the lining of his pocket. He was bellowing like a
bull--yelling at Billy that he was under arrest. Men at the
tables were on their feet. Those at the bar had turned around
as Flannagan started to run across the floor. Now some of
them were moving in the direction of the detective and his
prey, but whether from curiosity or with sinister intentions it is
difficult to say.
One thing, however, is certain--if all the love that was felt
for policemen in general by the men in that room could have
been combined in a single individual it still scarcely would
have constituted a grand passion.
Flannagan felt rather than saw that others were closing in
on him, and then, fortunately for himself, he thought, he
managed to draw his weapon. It was just as Billy was fading
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