WHY MIKE HASSELL HIT THE TRAIL

“It was like this, Colonel Cook,” explained the bartender at Joe’s
place, as he leaned over the counter with no great assurance and faced
the Company manager. “This young gent kem in hyar all right. Decent
like he gives me a two-dollar bill to pay fur a meal fur ole Bannin’.
The kid ain’t no sooner gone ’an the ole man up an’ says he ain’t goin’
to eat an’ reckons ’at he’ll fill his hide with liquor. I knowed that
was not the young man’s program, an’ I turned the bum down. I give him
three er four drinks an’ tole him to git. He raised sech a row ’at I
fin’ly guve him the whole two dollars and put ’im out. Bein’ purty
drunk, he fell.”

“Where is he?” asked Mr. Cook, without comment.

“Marshal Wooley drug him home.”

Mr. Cook thought a moment, looking coldly at the bartender.

“Mike,” he said at last, “I hope you didn’t kill him.”

“Colonel,” answered the man, apparently far from being at ease, “I
never laid a hand on the ole man more’n to push him outten the place.”

“Who was in here at the time?” said Mr. Cook, slowly, puffing a cloud
of smoke lazily from his cigar.

“In here?” repeated the man, wiping the perspiration from his face. “I
don’t rickollec’.”

“I wouldn’t, if I was you, Mike,” said Mr. Cook. “Now, you send out and
find Marshal Wooley. Tell him I want him. You don’t need to look at
this young man that way. He didn’t see anything. If the old man’s dead,
it ain’t much loss, I reckon,” added Mr. Cook, flipping his cigar ashes
upon the floor thoughtfully–“not much loss either to him nor to Bluff.
But, Mike,” he added in his low, decided voice, “if he _is_ dead, I’d
get a job in some other part o’ the country.”

Mike’s face was almost white.

“I–” he began in a faltering way, but Mr. Cook raised his hand as if
to stop him and nodded toward a man who had just appeared.

“Wooley,” said Mr. Cook, “let’s go out to old Utah Banning’s place and
see how he’s gettin’ along.”

Marshal Wooley was a man much after the style of Sink Weston. A few
minutes later the two men and Roy were in front of the broken-down
prospector’s hut. It was dark and still inside. The officer of the
law struck a match. Roy was at a sashless window, and the two men
crowded into the half open door. A close, sooty smell greeted the boy’s
nostrils. As the match flared up, he saw a dirty pallet in a far corner
of the room. It was empty. But, in the opposite corner, his head in the
cold ashes of a fireplace, was Banning.

The old man was dead. Another match flared up. But there was little
need for examination. Mr. Cook sank on his knee beside the shriveled
corpse, and in the light of another match, tried to bring the extended
legs and arms together. Then he rose, closed the door and walked away
in silence.

“Bumped hisself on the awnin’ post, I understan’,” suggested the
marshal as the three made their way back toward the center of the town.

“So I’m told,” said Mr. Cook. “Used to be a Mormon, didn’t he?”

The marshal grunted an assent. Then he added:

“Ain’t none o’ his religion ’round hyar to give him no burial, though.”

Mr. Cook had not lost his cigar. It glowed in the darkness and then Roy
heard the smoker say:

“Wooley, accidents will happen. This is the third one that’s happened
to Mike. I think Mike’s goin’ away–to stay. But, before he goes, you
go down to Joe’s and tell Mike I heard he was goin’ to bury the old
man–to-night.”

As Mr. Cook and Roy turned down the street toward Mr. Cook’s house, the
boy sighed.

“Botherin’ about it, are you?” said his companion. “I used to, too. I
was foolish that way. But you’ll get over it. It’s what we call the
‘free life of the west.’”

As they entered the house, Mr. Cook took a book from under his arm.
Standing by the hot lamp, he opened it and looked it over.

“I took it from the old man’s fingers,” he explained. “It’s a Mormon
Bible,” he added a moment later. “Perhaps it will interest you some
time. Take it.” And pressing upon the boy the only thing of value that
old Utah Banning had owned, Mr. Cook dusted his hands and opened the
jar to take a fresh cigar.

Roy didn’t know whether he wanted the book; it seemed gruesome. But
evidently Mr. Cook did not. The volume was small–it would slip
easily into a coat pocket–and when new must have been a sightly
book. Even now, battered and worn, the faded red-brown morocco cover
was gracefully stamped. In gold on the back were the words, “Book of
Mormon.”

The inner cover and the fly leaf were green. On the next blank page, in
brown, indistinct ink, was written: “Heber P. Banning, Salt Lake City,
1856.” The title page began: “The Book of Mormon: An Account Written
by the Hand of Mormon, upon Plates taken from Plates of Nephi….
Translated by Joseph Smith, Junior.” The book had been printed in
London in 1854. Five hundred or more pages of fine print appalled Roy.

“I don’t know that I want it,” explained Roy, “but I guess I’ll take
it. My mother’ll be interested in it.”

The work in the aeroplane corral the next day attracted an even larger
audience. But toward evening when it was understood that no flight
of the car was possible before the following day, the spectators
began to withdraw. An early caller was Mike, the bartender in “Joe’s”
restaurant. He had a few moments’ talk with Mr. Cook, and then
disappeared.

“Mike’s tired of Bluff,” said Mr. Cook, sententiously. “He’s hittin’
the trail.”

By noon the rubberized-silk plane coverings were attached to the
32-foot wing-like surfaces–the fore plane, 3 feet 9 inches, and the
rear one, 3 feet 10 inches deep. Then came the bracing of the front
rims of these, which was accomplished with piano wires tightened over
arms extending from the upright section frames. The rear of each wing
surface, left free to move at the will of the operator, was then
attached to the flexing wires, which ended in the controlling stirrups
at the operator’s feet.

While Roy, assisted by Weston–who persisted in giving help–finished
this work, blacksmith Hagerman carefully opened the engine crate. All
were in ecstasies over the engine. It had been mounted on the aeroplane
in the factory, and it was not a difficult job to readjust it. Chris.,
the horseshoer, was enough of a mechanic to be of material assistance.
By ceaseless effort, the engine was in place, the arm holding the two
propellers was attached, the shaft braces and the arm braces were
bolted on and the propeller chain-gears rigged up by supper time.

Mr. Cook was anxious to see the engine tested. So, in the twilight,
the cooling coils and gasoline tanks were quickly mounted and
everything was ready.

“Will the engine go, now?” asked the anxious manager, as this work was
done. The splash lubrication, feed and oil gauges were in place and Roy
had just had the joy of putting the last touch on the magneto-ignition.

“Will she go!” he repeated.

Quickly adjusting his valves and gasoline supply, and testing the
ignition, the proud but nervous boy gave one turn of the fly-wheel
crank. With a buzz and a welcome “spit, spit” the four-cylinder motor
slipped into a smooth whirr that was music to those who understood.

“Connect the fans,” suggested Mr. Cook, exuberantly, referring to the
big propeller wheels.

“Not yet,” laughed Roy. “They’re all right. And now, sir,” he added,
shutting off the engine and grabbing a piece of waste, “we’re ready for
orders.”

“The first one,” answered the manager is, “all hands to supper.”

Although the operations of the Utah Development Company were on a large
scale, the clerical force in the general office was small. In addition
to Mr. Cook, two men were on duty there. Both these men had given more
attention to the work on the aeroplane than to their books during the
day. In fact, they had both been absorbed spectators of the test of the
engine. While Roy and Mr. Cook, leaving the set-up airship in charge of
the corral watchman for the night, made ready to go to supper, the two
clerks preceded them into the office by only a few minutes.

As Mr. Cook entered the rear door of the room he was greeted with a
shout and scurrying feet.

“The safe’s been robbed!”

It was the elder bookkeeper, a middle-aged man with a bent leg, who
came stumbling toward his superior with an empty cash box in his hand.

“Robbed?” exclaimed Mr. Cook. Then he caught up the empty box, one of
the safe compartments.

“All that five thousand dollars,” gasped the bookkeeper, looking
excitedly about, as if he expected to find the missing money on the
floor.

Mr. Cook sprang back to the corral. Weston, Doolin and a dozen other
men were yet grouped about the aeroplane.

“Boys,” he exclaimed, in an authoritative tone, “somebody’s touched us
for our cash. Get busy ’round in front. Stop any one that looks as if
he might have five thousand dollars on him that don’t belong to him.”

There was a flight of armed men to the street in front. Then Mr. Cook
and Roy returned to the office and the manager made a hasty examination.

“Door locked?” he asked first.

Apparently neither employe had thought of that. But the one front door
was bolted. Iron screens covered each window.

“And he couldn’t a’ come in or out the back door, ’cause I stood right
in it,” explained the elder clerk.

After a thorough search, Mr. Cook asked:

“When did you see the money last?”

With a good deal of thinking, both clerks acknowledged that they had
not looked in the safe since it was opened that morning.

“Was the safe locked at noon?” Mr. Cook then asked.

As if greatly relieved, both clerks spoke at once. The safe had not
been locked at noon, but they had not left the office together. The
younger man had waited while the elder went home to dinner.

“Was the front door locked this morning–before dinner?” went on Mr.
Cook.

On that point, the two men were not clear. A few persons had been in on
business and the door had been open at times.

“Who was here?” asked the manager, abruptly.

The elder clerk named a half dozen persons. Mr. Cook seemed to mentally
check off each name.

“No one else?”

Both men hesitated.

“One er two ’at come in from the corral–mostly fur a drink o’ water,”
answered the chief clerk. But, as to the identity of these, neither
clerk was clear. Mr. Cook seemed thinking deeply. He idly handed the
cash drawer to the distracted elder clerk and motioned him to close the
safe. Then, without any of the agitation that was disconcerting his
employes, and even Roy, he said calmly to the younger clerk:

“Go and find Marshal Wooley. You can tell him what’s happened, if he
wants to know, but tell him not to get excited over it. I want him to
find out when Mike Hassell left town, and how he was mounted.”

Both clerks shouted together:

“Hassell? He was in here.”

“Sure,” remarked Mr. Cook. “I know that–about nine o’clock. An’ he
came in the back way. As he didn’t come out again, he must have left by
the front door. He’s got about nine hours the start of us.”

While Mr. Cook, Roy and Weston were at supper, Marshal Wooley appeared
in a state of some concern.

“Yer right, Colonel, I reckon,” he said looking at Mr. Cook in a
knowing way. “He lit out to-day up the river–’bout a quarter after
nine. Took his own pony–’tain’t much. I got a couple o’ boys on the
trail a’ready. They’d ought to overhaul him afore to-morrey night. He’s
headin’ fur Dolores.”

Mr. Cook smiled.

“All right, Wooley. Have a cigar. Much obliged.”

“I reckon he got it,” went on the marshal sagely. “But he’s got a
nerve. He took an awful chanct.”

Sink Weston ventured an opinion.

“He’s sure got sense enough to know he can’t go to Dolores with no
bundle like that on him. I reckon he’ll hit the first hard ground
he comes to fur the mountains. Mr. Cook,” he added, “I’d ruther go
lookin’ fur Mike than measurin’ timber.”

He pushed back his chair as if he would like to begin the quest at once.

“Them two ponies I got air ’bout as likely to ketch up with him as any
hoss flesh ’round hyar.”

Mr. Cook smiled again.

“Wooley’s on the trail,” he answered. “That’s enough. How about a game
of pinochle, gentlemen?”

That was the apparent interest Mr. Cook had in his five-thousand-dollar
loss. But, two hours later, when Weston and Marshal Wooley had retired
from the card game and Mr. Cook and Roy had repaired to the front
gallery or porch where the manager lit a fresh cigar, he said:

“I’m thinkin’ o’ putting your airship to a test. Will it carry two?”

“Certainly,” exclaimed Roy, with enthusiasm. “What is it?”

“Well,” said Mr. Cook, leaning back in a big rustic chair, “I don’t
like to get excited over five thousand dollars. But I don’t enjoy
having a man of Mike Hassell’s kind put the joke on me. And there don’t
seem much doubt but what he’s done it–so far.”

“Don’t you think the marshal’ll get him?” asked Roy.

Mr. Cook laughed.

“Hassell ain’t a westerner. I know him. He’s what you call a ‘bank
sneak.’ He’s an eastern criminal. I’ve had him spotted ever since he
came here. Wooley’s chase would be all right for a stage robber who
rides a pony to death and then steals another. But Hassell ain’t agoin’
to do that. Couldn’t do it if he wanted to. He’d give out before the
horse would. He’ll hide just like a city thief.”

“Hide?” repeated Roy. “Out in the desert?”

“A likely place would be the rocky banks of the San Juan as soon as
he got out of sight of the town. I make a guess,” went on the cool,
philosophic Mr. Cook. “If I was Mike, I’d go as far as Montezuma Creek.
Where the Montezuma enters the San Juan, we’ve got a raft of mountain
pine. Wouldn’t be no trick to kill your horse and hide it under
the raft till night. And when it’s dark, the way I’d go _on_ would
be _back_. With about three of them logs for a boat, I’d light out
down the San Juan–if I wanted to save my skin and the five thousand
dollars.”

“That’d bring him right by here to-night, wouldn’t it?” asked Roy,
excitedly.

“Might,” responded his companion. “Anyway, if he figured out to do
this, he won’t go further than he has to. He’ll land before he gets too
far. He knows the Colorado’s below him. And then, like enough, he’ll
take a chance among the Navajos.”

“Why didn’t you tell Marshal Wooley that?” asked Roy.

“Because,” laughed Mr. Cook, “he hasn’t any imagination. I saved the
idea to test the aeroplane.”

Roy straightened up.

“At daylight,” said Mr. Cook, taking a long draw on his cigar, “you and
I are going to get up steam and make a little flight over the desert
south of the San Juan down toward the Calabasa Mountains. If we don’t
scent our game, there won’t be any one to give us the laugh. Can we do
it?”

The boy chuckled.

“At the rate of fifty miles an hour,” he answered.