THE REAL WEST

Roy’s idea of a camp at night included a smouldering fire in front of
a tent wherein, on fragrant spruce boughs, carefully sheltered from
the wind and the chill, one went to bed wrapped in blankets. When Sink
Weston scattered the last coals of the little cook fire and pointed to
the sand under the freight wagon as a “likely place to bunk,” the boy
felt a little disappointment. It was one of a number of new things he
learned that summer about life in the “open.”

Another one was, that riding all day on a lively cow pony when you
are not used to it, does not exactly limber up your limbs. When the
boy attempted to jump up early the next morning, he found his legs
bent almost like hoops. The result was, when a breakfast of salt
pork, crackers and coffee had been eaten, Roy complied with Sink’s
good-natured orders and climbed up on the wagon seat along with Dan
Doolin. His pony was tied to the tail board.

The day was perfect. The party was in sterile country–land that could
hardly be called desert, although at that point, it was without water.
There was mesquite and sage, rocks here and there–and now and then a
jack rabbit. The misty blue mountains of New Mexico greeted them over
the top of the gray Mesa Verde; peaks of the far Rockies, white-capped
and cold, lay behind, while in front, beyond pink-tipped Ute mountains,
rose the wall of the Utah Desert.

Before Weston could gallop on ahead, Roy begged of him the mysterious
sheet of hieroglyphics. He wanted to see it in the daylight. Since he
had heard the tale of the Lost Indians, he was able to think of little
else. Sink Weston’s story had taken possession of the boy. He had told
Weston all he knew of his great uncle, and where the Mormon had once
lived. But they had both decided that it availed little to know that
the disciple of Nauvoo had once lived in Parowan.

Even if Willard Banks left children or other relatives, it was certain
that these would know nothing of the hidden Sink Hole. Weston was
positive in his belief that the indecipherable words formed a key
describing the location of the secret Indian city. And he was almost
as positive that the words were beyond reading by any one but their
writer. He had long since ascribed the existence of the paper to the
fact that, before the Mormon elder visited the Lost Indians, he had
learned their secret, probably from other Indians with whom he had
lived in his missionary work. Not trusting to his memory, he had made a
record of his secret in cipher.

As Roy took the paper and Weston rode on, old Dan Doolin smiled grimly.

“So ye got it, too, hev ye?” he said, chuckling.

Roy opened the paper and pointed to the name on it.

“I suppose you’re like the rest of ’em,” the boy answered, with some
satisfaction. “Well, you’ve all laughed too soon. There _was_ a Willard
Banks, and he was my _great uncle_!”

Old Doolin started to smile, but, changing his mind, he turned and
exclaimed:

“W’ot’s that?”

“There was such a man as Willard Banks,” continued Roy, with spirit.
“He was my great uncle. He was a Mormon elder, and he lived at
Parowan.”

“Wal, by hokey!” exclaimed old Doolin, straightening up. “Ef that’s
right, I reckon I been a laughin’ out o’ the wrong side o’ my face.
Say, Kid,” he continued, after a moment’s hard thinking, “I seen
fellers ’at had seen ships asailin’ in the desert. Likewise I seen many
a dockymint o’ them Spanish sharps locatin’ mines an’ sich–mines as
ain’t no one kin find. I never set no more store on Sink’s ramblin’s
an’ I do on Injun tales. An’ nobody else, I reckon. But you listen to
me! Ef thar was a live man o’ that name o’ Banks,” and he shook his
head slowly, “thar’s a many ’at have been makin’ fools o’ theirselves,
an’ Sink ain’t one uv ’em.”

“Did you ever see anything like this?” asked Roy, smiling and opening
the paper on his knee.

“I never did and never expec’ to agin. Ain’t no more sense to it ’an a
snake’s trail in the sand. That writin’ ain’t fur nuthin’, but I reckon
mebbe, ef what you say’s right, Sink seen the hole in the ground. Mebbe
he seen a white man thar–I’ll even stand fur that, now,” continued the
grizzled teamster, “an’ mebbe he seen some dishes o’ copper er clay
er say they wuz even gold and silver; fer argymint sake, I’ll stand
fur that, too, seein’ ye know thar was a man o’ that name. Fur as
_them_ things goes, I’ll take off my hat to Sink; but one thing I won’t
stand fur, not even if the old Mormon was hyar and jined Sink in a
affedavit–that’s them bald-headed Injuns. They ain’t no sich a thing.
They cain’t be. Injuns ain’t made that way.”

The boy laughed outright.

“But what, after all,” he said, “if there _did_ happen to be such a
place and just such Indians?”

“Bald-headed?” snorted the veteran teamster, cracking his whip as if to
emphasize his contempt. “Tell me them plates is studded with diments
an’ I’ll swaller it, but I draw the line at bald-headed Injuns.”

For a long time, Roy studied the enigmatic words while the wagon
bumped along the rough and rocky trail. But it was no use. The first
line had in it ten characters or signs; the second seven; the last
eight. Not one of them resembled a letter of any alphabet that Roy
knew. Some of them seemed patterned after certain Greek letters, and
a few were not dissimilar to “shorthand” or stenographic marks. But
neither of these were familiar to Roy. Naturally, they did not suggest
Greek or “shorthand” to Weston. The arrow might mean anything; death,
the chase, or, as was generally agreed by those who had studied the
writing, a point of the compass, which would be south.

When the party stopped at noon, Roy returned the paper to Weston.

“I give it up,” he said, “but if I ever get near Parowan, and I hope to
be there before I go back, I’ll send you word of all that I learn about
my relative.”

Secretly, he was longing for the guide to make some overtures to him
regarding a sort of partnership in a new quest for the Sink Hole. Of
course, that could not be at once, but he was a boy, and as full of the
spirit of adventure as he was of energy.

“Are you going to make any more attempts to find your Lost Indians?” he
asked, while Doolin was preparing the noonday meal.

“Well,” answered Weston, with a peculiar smile, “I promised my wife I
wouldn’t. I promised her purty strong, too. That is, I jist told her
positive I wouldn’t lessen somepin happened wharby I kin read that
writin’.”

“Maybe we could find the Sink Hole with the aeroplane,” suggested Roy,
voicing an idea that he had been nursing all day.

Weston shook his head.

“I don’t know much about yer sky machines,” he replied, “but ye could
look down into them sink holes all over Utah, an’ ye wouldn’t know _my_
sink hole frum a thousan’ others. I done that aplenty. No, sir. Ye got
to read it right thar on the paper. Ain’t no other way, as I kin see.”

That afternoon Roy mustered up courage to return to his mount. And
as the hours went by and they came nearer the mountains lying to the
south, the tale of the Lost Indians began to drift into the background.
They were hastening through a corner of the Ute Indian reservation,
where the trail ran, and this was excuse enough for the opening of
Weston’s book of reminiscences. The guide had Indian tales of all
kinds–narratives covering their lives and crimes.

Toward dusk, Weston, riding not far ahead of the wagon, called Roy’s
attention to a dark mark ahead. It was the unmarked chasm of the San
Juan River. And on the banks of this swift stream, flowing at the
bottom of its open tunnel bed, the second camp was made. A place had
been selected where an Indian trail afforded access to the water below.
And after the horses were cared for Doolin celebrated the crossing of
the Utah line by making a batch of biscuits baked in a skillet.

“The advantage o’ them biscuits over woman’s bread,” explained old Dan,
smiling, “is ’at they’ll stick to yer innards. Ye won’t need no more uv
’em till ye git to Bluff.”

“An’ not then,” said Weston, without a smile, “ef I kin get kitchen
bread.”

That evening, despite what Weston had told the boy about Doolin’s habit
of never sitting by the campfire, Roy noted that the teamster did not
leave the camp. On the contrary, he turned in and was snoring long
before the boy was sleepy. The next day he was told the reason. They
were camping on the Ute Indian land. To a Ute horse stealing is a minor
crime. Doolin slept until one o’clock and Weston kept watch. Then the
guide turned in and Doolin kept an eye open for unannounced visitors.

Just when the stars began to show the next evening, the aeroplane
cavalcade raised the lights of Bluff, and at ten o’clock entered the
town. Roy was tired but happy. So far no accident had marred his
expectation. Because of the lateness of the hour, Roy had planned to
stop at a boarding house frequented by Weston at times and to report
to Mr. Cook, of the Development Company, in the morning. The wagon,
therefore, did not proceed to the center of the town, but was stopped
at the “San Juan Stables.” The “stables” were little more than a horse
corral. There being no one in charge, Doolin was left with the wagon,
the teamster and cook appropriating horse provender with western
freedom. When Weston and the boy left him, he was preparing to make a
fire and boil some coffee, after which he was to sleep near the wagon
and its valuable freight.

Unencumbered with baggage, Roy and his companion made their way along
the main street toward the center of the wilderness city. The boy
discovered at once that the brilliant lights came, not from stores,
but from a dozen or more saloons. Adobe sidewalks soon gave way to a
board passageway–timber swept down the San Juan from the far away
mountains–and in the center of the town these were covered by roofs
reaching to the street.

For what would have been a block, had there been any cross streets,
each door under the wooden awning on each side of the street opened
into either a saloon or a gambling resort. And each door was wide open
as were the windows. Men were coming and going at each place, but few
were loafing on the walk. Among them Weston and the boy strode without
attracting a great deal of attention and speaking to none.

Near the end of the row, Weston slackened his pace and said: “Ye don’t
mind, do ye, ef I stop at the ‘Crater’ fur a drink? Ye kin see I don’t
drink but a little–ain’t had a drop sence I left home.”

Roy hesitated. He had been in saloons–out of curiosity. But his
curiosity had been satisfied. In his own town and in the drinking
resorts he knew, the only persons to be found therein were those who
should have been somewhere else, or loafers and drunkards. But, while
he hesitated, he decided that circumstances were different. In that
community of rough men, cut off, almost, from all civilization and
refinement, saloons were common meeting points.

“I’ll wait for you,” answered Roy, stepping just inside the door.
Instantly he was sorry he had done so. The place was aglow with light
from a half dozen oil chandeliers; the air was heavy with tobacco
smoke and odors from the sloppy bar, and the room was well filled with
men. Almost tempted to return to the street, for his companion at once
hurried toward the bar, Roy was held for a moment by the fascinating
picture afforded by the occupants of the place.

Above all rose the clink of spurs. Here at last was the “real thing.”
Almost lost in the desert and hanging on the precipitous banks of the
deep San Juan as if to prevent being swept away and buried in the sandy
plains, the town of Bluff, the last echo of civilization, was the
rendezvous of miner, prospector, cow puncher, sheep herder and outcast.
And within Roy’s sight were examples of each.

Confused, bewildered, and wholly out of place, Roy attempted to
withdraw. But something seemed to hold him–the silver bands on an
Indian, the gaudy color of a cowboy’s handkerchief, the set angle of
another’s hat and everywhere the oaths, the racy slang of the plains
and the always present, swaying firearms. Here were the men of whom he
had read, whose freedom–as a boy–he had often envied.

In the moment that Roy hesitated there was a familiar “E yawp!” and a
half dozen answering yells. The boy knew at once that Sink Weston had
found old friends. Then he made out Weston’s big, black, dust-covered
hat making its way toward the bar in the midst of a group of white
sombreros, and he turned and left. At the door, an arm intercepted him.
He drew back somewhat alarmed. It was a man who had lunged forward from
the end of the bar near the door.

“Fur the love o’ God, Kid, buy me a drink.”

The mumbling speaker was a man who might have been eighty years old.
Age and whisky had wrecked him. An unkempt, white beard, covered a
worn, red flannel shirt. His ragged boots, into which greasy pants
were stuffed, were not those of a horseman, and his gnarled, trembling
fingers fell on the boy’s arm like talons. His hair, dropping from
under a limp, grease-banded, ragged hat, lay on his shoulders in
yellow-white, knotted locks. Almost toothless, he repeated, huskily:

“Jist one, Kid, jist one!”

Roy was shocked, and attempted to pass on. But the man, almost in
collapse, held to him and dragged himself to the walk outside.

“Jist one drink’ll brace me up fur to-night. Mebbe to-morrer, I won’t
need none.”

“Won’t anything else help you?” said Roy, at last. “Are you hungry?”

“Hungry?” almost moaned the broken being. “Yes, I’m hungry. But I got
to hev liquor er die.”

“Why don’t you try eatin’ first?” asked the boy, not knowing what else
to say. “I’ll buy you food.”

“Gimme a drink an’ I’ll eat. I ain’t et in two days.”

The boy was puzzled. His sympathetic heart was touched. Next door to
the “Crater,” the usual saloon sign was surmounted by the words, “Joe’s
Imperial Palace Restaurant.” In the window was a display of canned
goods: sardines, asparagus, pepper sauce and bologna sausage. Grasping
the old man by the shoulder, he half led and half pushed him into the
eating resort. A man at the bar scowled at sight of the decrepit man,
but smiled as he saw the brisk looking lad.

Three tables were lined up on one side of the room. Leading the whisky
supplicant to one of these, Roy almost dropped him into a chair
and then stepped over to the bar. Handing a two-dollar bill to the
barkeeper, he said:

“The old man wants whisky. Looks to me as is he needs something to eat
a good deal worse.”

The barkeeper grunted:

“To be decent he’d orter to eat, sure. But, as fur liquor, he’ll sartin
die without it.”

“Well,” said Roy, “fill him up with somethin’ to eat. Then, give him
his drink.”

The old man was stumbling toward the bar as Roy hurried from the place.
Outside the “Crater” he waited some minutes for Weston. Apparently,
more than one drink was demanding the Colorado man’s attention. And the
boy grew nervous. From time to time he peered into the glaring resort,
and at last had about concluded to make his way to the corral and spend
the night with Doolin when the waited-for Weston suddenly appeared.

“That’s part o’ the game out here, Son,” he began by way of apology,
“but I’m sorry to keep ye waitin’. Now we’ll turn in.”

They had scarcely started along the walk when there was a sudden
commotion in the adjoining restaurant. With what seemed to be the crash
of chairs overturning, there was an oath and a scuffle and a shrunken
figure was hurled across the plank walk. Instantly, a dozen men seemed
to spring up. Several hands grasped a senseless red-shirted body and
straightened it out on the dust-covered walk. A smear of red covered
the prostrate man’s yellow-white uncovered hair. His eyes were closed
and he was breathing heavily.

“Humph,” exclaimed Weston, as he pushed Roy around the onlookers. “Old
Utah Banning–an’ all in.”