THE TRAIL AT LAST

“E yawp!”

Roy awoke, rose on his elbow to get his bearings, and then remembering
that he was in Mrs. Weston’s “spare” bed, turned out and rushed to the
window. “Sink Hole” Weston was entering the house.

It was nearly five o’clock and time to be off. The newly awakened boy
lost no time. All his preparations had been made the night before.
After writing letters he had laid out his new togs and packed his
“shore” clothes, as he called them, in the suit-case. As he donned
his gray flannel, his khaki, his new hat, and his boots, his heart
fluttered like that of the youngster with his first long trousers.

Then he paused, in doubt. Hearing Mr. Weston in the adjoining room, he
peeked cautiously through a narrow crack in the door. His heart leaped
again. The one-time real estate agent and now plainsman once more had
made no half way change. Dangling at his right leg was a holster and
revolver. Roy, almost catching his breath for joy, made the finishing
touch to his own get-up. Buckling on his belt, already carefully
stuffed with ammunition, the boy felt the caress of the new automatic
against his hip and leg and his happiness was nearly complete.

But not quite. At a post in front of the little white house stood two
cow ponies, saddled, with ropes at the pommels and blankets cinched
behind. One of these, Roy knew, from its size, must be his mount. He
started for the door and then hesitated. Everything on him felt so new
that he almost had stage fright.

“Waugh!” rang out from the next room. “Chuck’s ready.”

“Waugh!” yelled Roy with assumed boldness and throwing open the door,
he dashed into the room, whirled about in imitation of a ballet dancer
and then, clumsily drawing his new revolver, struck an attitude of
aiming through the window.

“Well, by the great horn spoon,” shouted Weston.

“Land o’ mercy,” added Mrs. Weston, who had just entered with a venison
steak–hot and covered with fried potatoes.

“You shore air the Wild West picter,” laughed the man.

“He’s jist right,” broke in Mrs. Weston. “That’s all right, Mr.
Osborne. Don’t you stand fur no jokin’.”

“Why?” exclaimed Roy, in an alarmed voice. “Aren’t these things all
right?”

“All right?” answered Mr. Weston, “shore they’s all right; but did you’
ever see a city man go into a country town but what the yaps had to
make fun o’ his clothes?”

“Don’t you all wear these?” asked Roy, anxiously.

“They would if they could,” answered Mrs. Weston, depositing the meat
platter and turning to survey the boy. “An’ yo’ ain’t got a thing
on yo’ that ‘Sink’ wouldn’t be tickled to own. Look at him–it’s
reediclus.”

Roy looked. Mr. Weston still wore the same soiled white shirt, or one
like it. A black silk handkerchief encircled his neck. It was knotted
in front, while Roy’s was fastened behind as he had seen in the
pictures. Mr. Weston wore no coat, and his white shirt-sleeves were
held up by blue elastic bands. Never had Roy seen such things in cowboy
pictures. But the man’s blue clothes had been exchanged for a dark vest
and a pair of close fitting black trousers. The vest was unbuttoned,
and one side of it sagged with the weight of a silver watch chain. The
trousers disappeared into a pair of worn, unpolished boots. But here
the shattering of the young tenderfoot’s ideals paused. Those boots!
They were wrinkled and crinkled in true cattleman style; the heels
tapered like a woman’s French slipper and jangling about the insteps
were two as ornate spurs as any artist ever drew.

And, best of all, there was the “gun.” The belt was not as new as Roy’s
and the revolver was not an automatic-carbine, but it was there.

“That sartin must a cost ye quite a bit,” was Mr. Weston’s comment.
“An’ don’t yo’ mind ef some one tries to guy yo’. Yer all O. K. Ye
don’t need nuthin’ but to git the new off. An’ I’ll guarantee to do
that afore we git to Bluff.”

“Where can I get a pair of spurs?” asked the boy.

“Oh, ye kin git ’em anywhar–best place over to the drug store. But
Nigger don’t need no spurs–leastways on a little jant like this.”

By twenty minutes after five o’clock breakfast was over, and Roy had
started for the barn, a few blocks away, with his suit case, Mr. Weston
offering to bring Nigger. At five thirty old Dan’s wagon drew out of
the barn. Incidentally, Mrs. Weston found a five-dollar bill under
Roy’s place after her husband left.

Roy was glad enough to find few men on the street when it came time to
mount Nigger.

“Don’t be afeerd,” exclaimed Mr. Weston. “Nigger ain’t no trained
bucker fur no Wild West show. She’s a cow pony. All ye got to do is not
to argey with her. She knows more about sartin things ’an you do, an’
when yo’ an’ she don’t agree, yo’ let her hev her way. Whatever she
does, they’s a reason fur. Don’t be afeerd.”

Roy had ridden horseback a few times in the country, but as he dropped
into Nigger’s saddle he felt as if he were sinking into an arm chair.
Mr. Weston sat astride his pony watching the boy. Seeing him at last
mounted and stirruped, there was a quick yell. “E yawp!” shouted the
elder man, and with a flip of the reins, his pony whirled as if on a
pivot and was off down the main street of Dolores. With a clatter of
hoofs, Nigger bounded forward.

Roy gasped, caught his saddle pommel with one hand and his hat with
the other. Then, remembering instructions, he grasped his reins,
straightened out his legs and threw back his shoulders. Ahead rose a
cloud of dust. It was Doolin’s four horses just crossing the railroad
tracks to take the valley road. They were off at last.

[Illustration: WITH A CLATTER OF HOOFS NIGGER BOUNDED FORWARD]

As the two ponies scampered by the freight wagon and reached the
southern limits of the town, Weston flipped his reins once more and the
two animals slackened into a trot. Beyond the railroad switch yards and
a fringe of adobe houses, the street passed over the brow of a rise and
dropped at once into a road winding down the mountain side.

With a motion of his hand the ex-sheriff called Roy’s attention to the
view. Westward the sloping ground fell gradually into a valley. Beyond
a fringe of pinon timber on the lower slopes, the country ’marked with
farms and ranches like a checkerboard, spread out to make Montezuma
Valley–the last bit of fertility in the southwest. Far beyond these
spots of green rose what seemed to be a yellow barrier.

“What’s the wall?” asked Roy, trying to copy Mr. Weston’s easy loll in
the saddle.

“Wall,” laughed the old plainsman, “we’ll climb that wall to-morrer.
That’s Utah and sand and alkali.”

“The desert?” exclaimed Roy.

“The same,” answered his companion, “an’ a good deal o’ that.”

“What’s the blue wall, then?” added the boy, pointing toward the south.

“Wal, sir, ef it want fur that, ye’d see yaller thar, too. That’s
the Mesa Grande, twenty-five miles from hyar. Mesa is Spanish fur a
tableland o’ rock. That’s whar the ole Aztecs built thar homes. Take
the Mesa away an’ ye’ll see New Mexico from hear.”

“And that?” continued Roy, pointing to the southwest where a gray,
pink-tipped spire rose cloudward.

“Ute Mountain,” answered the westerner, as he urged his pony forward
again. “And frum it ye’ll likely see thieving Utes and murderin’
Navajos a-plenty.”

While old Doolin’s brakes were creaking against the wheels of the big
wagon, Mr. Weston and Roy gave their animals rein, and were off for the
village on the plain below, twelve miles away.

“Kid,” exclaimed his companion, after a time, “we might as well agree
on this. Ain’t no one we’re goin’ to meet ’at’ll call me ‘Mister’ nur
‘Colonel.’ And ain’t no reason why yo’ should. Over thar,” and he
pointed to the Utah alkali–“it’ll be ‘Sink’ Weston. Make her ‘Sink’
an’ let it go at that. Don’t be skeered I’m goin’ to think less o’ you
fur it.”

“All right, I will, if you’ll tell me why they call you ‘Sink.’”

Weston turned sideways in his saddle.

“That’s a considerable yarn, son.”

“Tell it,” exclaimed Roy, enthusiastically. “I’ve been waitin’ for
years to hear a real story that ain’t been in a book.”

“Ye kin be sure this ain’t been in no book. As fur bein’ real–see
that?”

He loosened the shirt-sleeve of the left arm and revealed a long white
furrow on the back of his arm just below the elbow.

“Thar’s whare the boss o’ the Sink Hole, the white High Mucky-Muck o’
the Lost Injuns plugged me. It’s real all right.”

“The Lost Indians?” Roy exclaimed. “You mean the Indians no white man
has ever seen?”

“Sink” Weston shook his head with a half smile.

“I seen ’em. An’ _he_ seen ’em.”

“He? Who?” persisted Roy.

“Who?” repeated “Sink,” with a strange laugh that startled the boy.
“Tell me? I been aching fur more’n ten years to learn that. To say
nothin’ o’ the hole in the bowels o’ the airth where he took me and
plugged me and kep’ me fur–well, I never knowed jist how long–”

“Mr. Weston, or ‘Sink,’” broke in Roy, “you’re getting me all mixed up.
I don’t seem to follow you.”

“O’ course not. But I’ll make it straight jist as soon as I git a
chanst. Then ye kin understand. Till then, call me ‘Sink.’ When I git
around to the yarn, ye’ll say mebbe as how it’s a good enough name fur
me, ‘Sink Hole’ Weston!”

“We’ll be in camp to-night. It’ll make a campfire tale,” suggested Roy.

The leader of Roy’s cavalcade nodded his head and for some time rode
silently ahead, as if in thought. The pace brought them to Cortez about
nine o’clock. Here they had agreed to wait for the wagon to overtake
them.

From Cortez you might strike on a bee line to the southwest and
never strike another white man’s village until you entered southern
California. Its bank, stores, cement buildings and telephones were the
last signposts of civilization on the edge of the desert.

Roy was to pay Weston a dollar a mile for transporting the aeroplane
to Bluff. That meant a cost of about ninety dollars. Weston, for this,
furnished the wagon, the six horses, the services of both Dan Doolin
and himself, and the feed for all animals. Roy was to provision the
party. Food supplies were to be laid in at Cortez.

When the boy asked about a tent, Weston laughed. He explained that
tents were a superfluity. The weather was ideal.

“It’s your saddle fur a piller, and blanket fur a mattress. As fur a
coverin’ above ye–ye jist want to try the sky. It beats houses er
tents.”

Roy was eager enough to try it. The freight wagon carried frying pans,
tin dishes and a coffee pot in the tail box. The food bought was
simple–salt pork, bacon, flour, baking powder, crackers, coffee, and a
variety of canned goods in the way of beans, meats, and fruits. These
articles purchased, packed and paid for, Weston left the lad for a time.

Roy was glad enough to do a little sight-seeing. He visited all the
stores and at last found himself in a half drug and half general store
in one corner of which was a stock of unique Indian relics. In a few
moments the boy was on familiar terms with the proprietor–an old
doctor. And in the next half hour he had selected a real Navajo blanket
for his mother and an equally interesting turquoise set, silver ring
for his father, although he knew that the latter parent would never
wear it.

As the doctor curio-dealer was preparing the purchases for shipment by
express to Newark, he said:

“Aren’t you the young man who came in this morning with Sink Weston?”

Roy answered that he was.

“Going back to-day?” continued the doctor.

“Going on,” he replied. “We’re goin’ to Bluff with a wagon of freight.”

“To Bluff?” exclaimed the storekeeper in apparent surprise. “With Sink
Weston?”

“Yes,” retorted Roy, a little indignant. “Why not? Any reason why I
shouldn’t travel with Mr. Weston?”

“No,” faltered the storekeeper. “No real reason, I guess. But–”

“But what?” added Roy sharply.

The curio-dealer puckered his lips. Then, significantly, he touched his
head with his finger.

“He’s honest enough. But, hereabouts, we all kind o’ consider him a
little off–cracked in the upper story.”