ON THE EDGE OF THE DESERT

At one o’clock Saturday afternoon, when the straining locomotive at
last pulled its weaving, narrow-gauge train into the far western
mountain town of Dolores, Colorado, one passenger did not require the
services of a porter to assist him to alight. Travel-worn but jubilant,
Roy Osborne sprang to the station platform.

“Dolores at last!”

He meant to say it to himself, but the words burst from him.

“Air ye sorry ye come?” exclaimed a voice near by.

Perhaps a half hundred persons were grouped about the station. Leather
belts and plainsmen’s hats distinguished nearly all. Leaning against
the platform rail were three Indians. Roy looked for the speaker. He
proved to be a man just past middle age, wearing tan shoes, a rusty
blue suit much in need of cleaning and pressing, a dust-covered, soft
black hat, a soiled white shirt with a celluloid collar showing a
glassy looking shirt stud and a thin black string necktie. His face,
widened with a smile, was gaunt, red and newly shaven.

Roy glanced at him and smiled.

“I’ve got to get acquainted in Dolores,” he said with boyish
familiarity, “and if you don’t mind, I’ll begin with you. My name’s
Osborne, Roy Osborne, of Newark, New Jersey.”

“Do-_lores_, not _Dol_-ores,” replied the stranger with a still wider
smile. “But that’s neither hyar nor thar, as the feller says alludin’
to the muskeeter. Glad to meet ye, Mr. Osborne. My name is Weston, A.
B. Weston–some o’ the time Colonel Weston. Permit me,” and before Roy
could stop him, Mr. Weston had taken charge of the suit case.

“You don’t run a hotel, do you?” asked Roy, amused at his new friend’s
assurance.

The man took no offense, but pointed across the open ground beyond the
station to a block of frame buildings.

“My office is just over thar–real estate is my line. Don’t git
skeered. As a member o’ the Dolores Commercial Club, ye air welcome to
step over and git yer bearin’s.”

“I don’t know that I have time–” began Roy, thinking of all he wanted
to do at once–“although it’s very good of you.”

But in the meantime they were advancing toward Mr. Weston’s office. Roy
looked again, and was able to make out the sign: Real Estate–A. B.
Weston. Dealer in Ranches, Mines and Farms.

“Ye ain’t a drummer?” exclaimed Mr. Weston.

Roy shook his head.

“I didn’t think ye was. Out fer yer health?”

Again the boy responded in the negative.

“Assumin’ ye didn’t drop off here fur fun, I give it up,” went on
the genial agent. “I’ll bet a ten-spot ye need information. Don’t be
skeered. I got apple land fur sale all right, but I ain’t agoin’ to
chloroform ye. Come in and git started right.”

Unable longer to resist the breezy impulsiveness of the stranger, Roy
climbed the stairs and found himself in a dusty little office scented
with tobacco and littered with papers. Before he sat down and while Mr.
Weston threw off his coat and filled a smoke begrimed cob pipe, Roy saw
a large map of the county in which Dolores was situated hanging on the
wall.

He walked to it at once and, for a few moments gazed at the road
leading southwest down the mountain to Cortez. Then he saw the same
road or trail continue south toward the Ute Indian reservation. At the
northern edge of the reservation, a branch turned west and running off
the map was apparently lost in the sands of Utah.

“Got some folks out hyar, mebbe?” volunteered the affable agent.

Before Roy could speak, his eye fell on an opened envelope lying on the
disordered table. It wasn’t the address that met his gaze–on the upper
left hand corner were the words: “Return in ten days to the Utah Mining
and Development Company, Bluff, Utah.”

It was almost like a letter of introduction to the agent. Picking up
the envelope, Roy exclaimed:

“Do you know Mr. Cook, the manager of this company?”

“Done business with him fur five years or more.”

“I’ve got business with the company. I’m going to Bluff.”

Colonel Weston let his tilted chair drop to the floor.

“Ye don’t say,” he exclaimed. “Mr. Cook was in hyar last week a
pesterin’ me agin to go over thar.”

“You?” Roy asked. “Are you goin’?”

“I been a tryin’ to hold out agin it. I sorter reckoned I was through
with Injuns an’ alkali, but–” looking around the room with a sorry
grin, “I ain’t makin’ no fortune here.”

“I don’t understand. Does Mr. Cook want you to join him in business?”

“Hardly,” the stranger answered. “But nacherly, ye don’t know me. They
call me ‘colonel’ here in town. I used to be ‘Sink Hole’ Weston–‘Sink’
Weston fur short.”

Roy dropped into a chair in open perplexity. The agent lit his pipe
again.

“It’s only a job headin’ a gang o’ prospectors,” he volunteered
immediately. “Don’t stand to reason I keer much fur it, but–well,
mebbe I am worth more at that than selling somepin’ I don’t own.”

“You are an old timer out here, then?” suggested Roy, as he began to
understand.

“Went ‘to Texas’ in ’ninety from Louisiany,” answered ‘Colonel’
Weston. “Rustled cattle till ’ninety-five. Guided railroad gangs in
the mountains round hyar till nineteen hundred; United States Deputy
Marshal fur a spell, and then I was sheriff o’ this county a term. Five
years ago, I civilized–put on this white shirt,” he added, with a
grin, “an’ been bluffin’ ever since at business.”

“Were you what they call a plainsman?” asked Roy.

“I see what you mean,” exclaimed the man. “Well, they never did feel
comfortable. These togs air a part o’ ‘Colonel’ A. B. Weston. ‘Sink’
Weston’s outfit is over home–I git into it sometimes when I want to
feel free and easy like.”

“Are you familiar with the Indians?” asked Roy, already much interested
in his new found friend.

“Familiar?” repeated the agent. “If you mean hev I seen much uv ’em,
I kin say I’ve seen enough uv ’em so’s I kin cut out their society
without cryin’.”

“Well, I’m sure, Mr. Weston, that it was good of you to pick me out
and bring me here. I haven’t any doubt but what you can give me good
advice. I’ve got to go to Bluff, and I’ve got a wagon load of stuff to
take with me. I don’t know anything about the country, or how to get
there. I’m goin’ to ask you to tell me.”

“Say,” said the real estate agent suddenly. “If your business is none
o’ mine, keep it to yourself; but I got a reason fur askin’ ye what it
is.”

“No secret,” answered Roy. “You’ve heard of aeroplanes?”

“Flyin’ machines?”

Roy nodded his head.

“I’ve got an aeroplane over at the express office, or should have, and
about two hundred gallons of gasoline. I’m under contract to deliver
the aeroplane and gasoline to Mr. Cook, in Bluff. After that, I’m going
to work for the company communicating with its prospectin’ parties. I
want to know the best way to get there.”

“They ain’t no best way–fur a team.”

“But I must find a way.”

Colonel Weston had grown strangely sober, and seemed lost in thought.

“I see the route leads along the Ute reservation,” continued Roy. “Is
it safe to go that way?”

“It’s as safe goin’ as comin’. Either way ’tain’t what ye might call no
Lovers’ Lane fur peace and quiet.”

“Do you know a good guide?” continued Roy, a little surprised. He had
rather imagined that Indian apprehension existed mainly in the east.

“Yes,” said Colonel Weston suddenly. He was about to say more when
his sober face took on a smile. Stepping to a desk, he searched in
the mess of odds and ends until he found a reasonably clean sheet of
paper. On this he printed something and then stepped into the hall and
attached the sheet to the outside of the door.

This done, he picked up Roy’s suit case and exclaimed:

“Ye ain’t had no dinner, hev ye?”

The lad remembered that he had not, and that he was suddenly ravenously
hungry.

“I got a wife,” added Colonel Weston; “’tain’t fur. We’ll go home an’
git some chuck.”

As they stepped into the hall, Roy looked at the sign on the door. It
read:

“Back when I git here. Address Sink Weston, Bluff, Utah.”

Roy whirled about in sudden amazement.

“I’m tired o’ town,” the agent exclaimed, “an’ sick o’ things I don’t
know nothin’ about–an’ these,” he added with a laugh, pointing to his
tan shoes and town clothes. “I’ll take ye to Bluff myself.”

This was Roy’s introduction to the new life he was just entering. Over
his protest, Colonel Weston, now “Sink” Weston once more, at least
temporarily, insisted that the boy should go to his home for dinner.

Mr. Weston’s explanation to his wife that business called him to Bluff
was received with no great joy, Roy could see, but Mrs. Weston was
probably used to her husband’s lapses into his old life.

“I don’t know how I’m goin’ to thank you folks for takin’ me in this
way and helpin’ me,” said Roy, as he sat down to fresh biscuits, fried
ham, potatoes, warmed-over baked beans, and a pot of fresh coffee.

“Don’t take on about that,” answered Mr. Weston. “All we ask is ye
don’t offer to pay nuthin’.”

That night Roy wrote a letter to his mother. Ten days later, from
Mrs. Osborne came to Mrs. Weston a fashionable shopping bag of tanned
sealskin. For years to come it will be the pride of Mrs. Weston’s heart.

It had already been agreed that the start for Bluff was to be made at
five o’clock the next morning. Mr. Weston, despite his long face in
recounting his town experience, in reality owned a freight teaming
business. He maintained a sort of livery stable and sent a freight
wagon each day to Cortez, twelve miles down the mountain.

While Roy went to the express office at the railway station, his new
friend and host began making arrangements for a wagon and horses. When
the boy reached the depot and made modest inquiry for his freight, the
agent looked at him open mouthed.

“Is all that plunder yourn?” he began.

“Do you want me to identify myself?” asked Roy with a laugh. “Colonel
Weston knows me.”

“I reckon it’s all right who ye air, but why in the name uv all that’s
good and holy, didn’t ye send it by freight?”

“It’s all here, is it?” Roy asked anxiously.

“All here? I should say not.”

The boy’s heart sank.

“It’s nigh all over town. That gasoline is over thar by the water
tank–an’ by _express, too_,” the agent repeated, looking at Roy as if
he were a Rockefeller. “An’ the big boxes is over in the freight house.
Some o’ the bundles is in the baggage room.”

“Well,” said Roy laughing and greatly relieved, “I had this left out of
the express money,” and he handed the agent a two-dollar bill.

“Say, kid,” the agent said, a little embarrassed, “where do you want
that stuff took?”

When the boy explained that, at present, he only meant to check it up,
the mollified official offered his assistance with alacrity. Within an
hour Roy was joined by Colonel Weston, who had a look at the freight he
was to transport.

“Fine,” he exclaimed, “all but the gasoline. But we’ll make it on one
wagon. Old Dan Doolin is goin’ to drive fur us.”

About five o’clock the big, canvas-covered freight wagon was drawn over
to the depot that the crates, boxes and gasoline cans might be loaded
that night. The teamster, Colonel Weston, Roy and the depot agent were
not long in doing this.

Roy looked at the big, crowded wagon and wrinkled his brows:

“Goin’ to be a kind of close fit for us, isn’t it?” he remarked to Mr.
Weston.

“How’s that?” asked the ex-sheriff.

“All three of us on that wobbly seat for nearly a hundred miles.”

Colonel Weston exploded with laughter.

“You don’t reckon I’m goin’ to ride on the wagon?”

Roy looked at him, mystified. Then suddenly he understood.

“Of course,” he answered, “you’ll ride horseback.”

“Naturally,” remarked his companion. “And I’m goin’ to give you a cow
pony thet’s about as slick a piece o’ horse flesh as they is in these
parts.”

Roy stopped. That was a dream of his life.

“Colonel Weston,” he almost shouted, “you’re a brick.”