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The Treasure Trail

The Treasure Trail

Marah Ellis Ryan

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1 KIT AND THE GIRL OF THE LARK CALL

  • In the shade of Pedro Vijil’s little brown adobe on the Granados rancho, _orseman squatted to repair a broken cinch with strips of rawhide, while hi_orse––a strong dappled roan with a smutty face––stood near, the rawhid_ridle over his head and the quirt trailing the ground.
  • The horseman’s frame of mind was evidently not of the sweetest, for to Viji_e had expressed himself in forcible Mexican––which is supposed to be Spanis_nd often isn’t––condemning the luck by which the cinch had gone bad at th_rong time, and as he tinkered he sang softly an old southern ditty:
  • > _Oh––oh! I’m a good old rebel, >  Now that’s just what I am!
  • > For I won’t be reconstructed >  And I don’t care a damn!_
  • He varied this musical gem occasionally by whistling the air as he punche_oles and wove the rawhide thongs in and out through the spliced leather.
  • Once he halted in the midst of a strain and lifted his head, listening.
  • Something like an echo of his own notes sounded very close, a mere shadow of _histle.
  • Directly over his head was a window, unglazed and wooden barred. A fat brow_lla, dripping moisture, almost filled the deep window sill, but the interio_as all in shadow. Its one door was closed. The Vijil family was scattere_round in the open, most of them under the _ramada_ , and after a frownin_oment of mystification the young fellow resumed his task, but in silence.
  • Then, after a still minute, more than the whisper of a whistle came t_im––the subdued sweet call of a meadow lark. It was so sweet it might hav_een mate to any he had heard on the range that morning.
  • Only an instant he hesitated, then with equal care he gave the duplicate call, and held his breath to listen––not a sound came back.
  • “We’ve gone loco, Pardner,” he observed to the smutty-faced roan moving nea_im. “That jolt from the bay outlaw this morning has jingled my brain pans––w_on’t hear birds call us––we only think we do.”
  • If he had even looked at Pardner he might have been given a sign, for the roa_ad lifted its head and was staring into the shadows back of the sweatin_lla.
  • “Hi, you caballero!”
  • The words were too clear to be mistaken, the “caballero” stared across to th_nly people in sight. There was Pedro Vijil sharpening an axe, while Merced, his wife, turned the creaking grindstone for him. The young olive branches o_he Vijil family were having fun with a horned toad under the _ramada_ wher_ourd vines twisted about an ancient grape, and red peppers hung in a gorgeou_plash of color. Between that and the blue haze of the far mountains there wa_o sign of humanity to account for such cheery youthful Americanism as th_one suggested.
  • “Hi, yourself!” he retorted, “whose ghost are you?”
  • There was a giggle from the barred window of the adobe.
  • “I don’t dare say because I am not respectable just now,” replied the voice.
  • “I fell in the ditch and have nothing on but the Sunday shirt of Pedro. I a_he funniest looking thing! wish I dared ride home in it to shock them al_illy.”
  • “Why not?” he asked, and again the girlish laugh gave him an odd thrill o_omradeship.
  • “A good enough reason; they’d take Pat from me, and say he wasn’t safe t_ide––but he is! My tumble was my own fault for letting them put on that foo_nglish saddle. Never again for me!”
  • “They are all right for old folks and a pacing pony,” he observed, and agai_e heard the bubbling laugh.
  • “Well, Pat is not a pacing pony, not by a long shot; and I’m not ol_olks––yet!” Then after a little silence, “Haven’t you any curiosity?”
  • “I reckon there’s none allowed me on this count,” he replied without liftin_is head, “between the wooden bars and Pedro’s shirt you certainly put th_ences up on me.”
  • “I’m a damsel in distress waiting for a rescuing knight with a white banne_nd a milk-white steed––” went on the laughing voice in stilted declamation.
  • “Sorry, friend, but my cayuse is a roan, and I never carried a white flag yet.
  • You pick the wrong colors.”
  • Whereupon he began the chanting of a war song, with an eye stealthily on th_arred window.
  • > _Hurrah! Hurrah! For southern rights, hurrah!
  • > Hurrah for the bonnie blue flag > That bears the single star!_
  • “Oh! _I_ know that!” the voice was now a hail of recognition. “Cap Pike alway_ings that when he’s a little ‘how-came-ye-so’––and _you’re_ a Johnny Reb!”
  • “Um! twice removed,” assented the man by the wall, “and you are a raiding Yan_ho has been landed in one of our fortresses with only one shirt to her back, and that one borrowed.”
  • He had a momentary vision of two laughing gray eyes beside the olla, and th_irl behind the bars laughed until Merced let the grindstone halt while sh_ast a glance towards the house as if in doubt as to whether three feet o_dobe wall and stout bars could serve instead of a dueña to foolish youn_mericans who chattered according to their foolishness.
  • There was an interval of silence, and then the girlish voice called again.
  • “Hi, Johnny Reb!”
  • “Same to you, Miss Yank.”
  • “Aren’t you the new Americano from California, for the La Partida rancho?”
  • “Even so, O wise one of the borrowed garment.” The laugh came to him again.
  • “Why don’t you ask how I know?” she demanded.
  • “It is borne in upon me that you are a witch of the desert, or the ghost of _ream, that you see through the adobe wall, and my equally thick skull. Far b_t for me to doubt that the gift of second sight is yours, O seventh daughte_f a seventh daughter!”
  • “No such thing! I’m the only one!” came the quick retort, and the young cha_n the shade of the adobe shook with silent mirth.
  • “I see you laughing, Mr. Johnny Reb, you think you caught me that time. Bu_ou just halt and listen to me, I’ve a hunch and I’m going to prophesy.”
  • “I knew you had the gift of second sight!”
  • “Maybe you won’t believe me, but the hunch is that you––won’t––hold––the jo_n these ranches!”
  • “What!” and he turned square around facing the window, then laughed. “That’_he way you mean to get even for the ‘seventh daughter’ guess is it? You thin_ can’t handle horses?”
  • “Nix,” was the inelegant reply, “I know you can, for I saw you handle that ba_utlaw they ran in on you this morning: seven years old and no wrangler i_ima could ride him. Old Cap Pike said it was a damn shame to put you u_gainst that sun-fisher as an introduction to Granados.”
  • “Oh! Pike did, did he? Nice and sympathetic of Pike. I reckon he’s the old- time ranger I heard about out at the Junction, reading a red-fire riot to som_ative sons who were not keen for the cactus trail of the Villistas. That ol_aptain must be a live wire, but he thinks I can’t stick?”
  • “No-o, that wasn’t Cap Pike, that was my own hunch. Say, are you married?”
  • “O señorita! this is so sudden!” he spoke in shy reproof, twisting hi_eckerchief in mock embarrassment, and again Merced looked toward the hous_ecause of peals of laughter there.
  • “You are certainly funny when you do that,” she said after her laughter ha_uieted down to giggles, “but I wasn’t joking, honest Indian I wasn’t! But ho_id you come to strike Granados?”
  • “Me? Well, I ranged over from California to sell a patch of ground I owned i_uma. Then I hiked over to Nogales on a little _pasear_ and offered to pack _un and wear a uniform for this Mexican squabble, and the powers that b_urned me down because one of my eyes could see farther than the other––that’_o joke––it’s a calamity! I spent all the _dinero_ I had recovering from th_hock, and about the time I was getting my sympathetic friends sobered up, Singleton, of Granados, saw us trying out some raw cavalry stock, and bid fo_y valuable services and I rode over. Any other little detail you’d like t_now?”
  • “N-no, only needed to know it wasn’t Conrad the manager hired you, and I aske_f you were married because married men need the work more than single strays.
  • Adolf Conrad got rid of two good American men lately, and fetches ove_exicans from away down Hermosillo way.”
  • “’Cause why?” asked the man who had ceased pretense of mending the saddle, an_as standing with back against the adobe.
  • “’Cause I don’t know,” came petulant response. “I only had the hunch when _aw you tame that outlaw in the corral. If he pulls wires to lose _you_ , I’l_top guessing; I’ll know!”
  • “Very interesting, señorita,” agreed the stranger reflectively. “But if I hav_ good job, I can’t see how it will give me aid or comfort to know that you’v_cquired knowledge, and stopped guessing. When’s your time up behind th_ars?”
  • “Whenever my clothes get dry enough to fool the dear home folks.”
  • “You must be a joy to the bosom of your family,” he observed, “also _lessing.”
  • He heard again the girlish laughter and concluded she could not be ove_ixteen. There was silence for a space while only the creak of the grindston_ut the stillness. Whoever she was, she had given him a brief illuminatin_ision of the tactics of Conrad, the manager for the ranches of Granados an_a Partida, the latter being the Sonora end of the old Spanish land grant.
  • Even a girl had noted that the rough work had been turned over to a ne_merican from the first circle of the _rodeo_. He stood there staring ou_cross the sage green to the far purple hills of the Green Springs range.
  • “You’ve fixed that cinch, what you waiting for?” asked the voice at last, an_he young fellow straightened up and lifted the saddle.
  • “That’s so,” he acknowledged. “But as you whistled to me and the call seeme_riendly, it was up to me to halt for orders––from the lady in distress.”
  • Again he heard the soft laughter and the voice.
  • “Glad you liked the friendly call, Johnny Reb,” she confessed. “That’s m_all. If ever you hear it where there are no larks, you’ll know who it is.”
  • “Sure,” he agreed, yanking at the cinch, “and I’ll come a lopin’ with th_onnie blue flag, to give aid and succor to the enemy.”
  • “You will not!” she retorted. “You’ll just whistle back friendly, and b_hums. I think my clothes are dry now, and you’d better travel. If you mee_nyone looking for a stray maverick, you haven’t seen me.”
  • “Just as you say. _Adios!_ ”
  • After he had mounted and passed along the corral to the road, he turned in th_addle and looked back. He could see no one in the window of the bars, bu_here came to him clear and sweet the field bugle of the meadow lark.
  • He answered it, lifted his sombrero and rode soberly towards the Granado_orrals, three miles across the valley. Queer little trick she must be.
  • American girls did not usually ride abroad alone along the border, an_ertainly did not chum with the Mexicans to the extent of borrowing shirts.
  • Then as he lifted the bridle and Pardner broke into a lope, he noted a_lderly horseman jogging along across trail on a little mule. Each eyed th_ther appraisingly.
  • “Hello, Bub!” hailed the older man. “My name’s Pike, and you’re the new ma_rom California, hey? Glad to meet you. Hear your name’s Rhodes.”
  • “I reckon you heard right,” agreed the young chap. “K. Rhodes at your service, sir.”
  • “Hello! K? K? Does that K stand for Kit?”
  • “Center shot for you,” assented the other.
  • “From Tennessee?”
  • “Now you’re a sort of family historian, I reckon, Mr. Pike,” suggested K.
  • Rhodes. “What’s the excitement?”
  • “Why you young plantation stray!” and the older man reached for his hand an_ade use of it pump-handle fashion with a sort of sputtering glee. “Grea_uns, boy! there was just one K. Rhodes a-top of God’s green earth and we wer_ardners here in Crook’s day. Hurrah for us! Are you cousin, son, or nephew?”
  • “My grandfather was with Crook.”
  • “Sure! I knew it soon as I laid eyes on you and heard your name; that was i_he corral with the outlaw Conrad had driven in for you to work, it wa’n’t _quare deal to a white man. I was cussin’ mad.”
  • “So I heard,” and the blue eyes of the other smiled at the memory of th_irl’s glib repetition of his discourse. “What’s the great idea? Aside fro_he fact that he belongs to the white dove, anti-military bunch of sisters, Singleton seems quite white, a nice chap.”
  • “Yeh, but he’s noways wise at that. He sort of married into the horse gam_ere, wasn’t bred to it. Just knows enough to not try to run it solo. Now thi_olf Conrad does know horses and the horse market, and Granados rancho. He’_hipped more cavalry stock to France than any other outfit in this region.
  • Yes, Conrad knows the business end of the game, but even at that he might no_ssay as high grade ore. He is mixed up with them too-proud-to-fight cliqu_rganized by old maids of both sexes, and to show that he is above al_rejudice, political or otherwise, he sure is corraling an extra lot of Me_elp this year. I’ve _companeros_ I’d go through hell for, but Conrad’_reed––well, enough said, Bub, but they’re different!” Mr. Pike bit off a che_f black plug, and shook his head ruminatively.
  • Rhodes looked the old man over as they rode along side by side. He was lean, wiry and probably sixty-five. His hair, worn long, gave him the look of th_ld-time ranger. He carried no _reata_ and did not look like a ranchman. H_ad the southern intonation, and his eyes were wonderfully young for th_lmost snowy hair.
  • “Belong in the valley, Captain?”
  • “Belong? Me belong anywhere? Not yet, son,” and he smiled at his own fancy.
  • “Not but what it’s a good enough corner when a man reaches the settlin’ dow_ge. I drift back every so often. This ranch was Fred Bernard’s, and him an_e flocked together for quite a spell. Singleton married Bernard’_idow––she’s dead now these seven years. I just drift back every so often t_eep track of Bernard’s kid, Billie.”
  • “I see. Glad to have met you, Captain. Hope we can ride together often enoug_or me to hear about the old Apache days. This land has fetched out thre_enerations of us, so it surely has some pull! My father came at the end o_is race, but I’ve come in time to grow up with the country.”
  • Captain Pike looked at him and chuckled. K. Rhodes was about twenty-three, tall, almost boyish in figure, but his shoulders and hands suggested strength, and his mouth had little dents of humor at the corners to mitigate th_quareness of jaw and the heavy dark brows. His black lashes made the dee_lue of his eyes look purple. Young he was, but with a stature and self- reliant manner as witness of the fact that he was fairly grown up already.
  • “Where’d you learn horses, Bub?”
  • “Tennessee stock farm, and southern California ranges. Then this neck of th_oods seemed calling me, and I trailed over to look after a bit of land i_uma. I wasted some time trying to break into the army, but they found som_ye defect that I don’t know anything about––and don’t more than half believe!
  • I had some dandy prospecting plans after that, but there was no jingling in m_ockets––no outfit money, so I hailed Singleton as an angel monoplaned dow_ith the ducats. Yes sir, I had all the dream survey made for a try at som_old trails down here, going to take it up where the rest of the family quit.”
  • “You mean that, boy?” The old man halted his mule, and spat out the tobacco, staring at Rhodes in eager anticipation.
  • “I sure do. Reckon I’ve inherited the fever, and can’t settle down to an_ther thing until I’ve had one try at it. Did do a little placer working i_he San Jacinto.”
  • “And you’re broke?” Mr. Pike’s voice betrayed a keen joy in the prospect.
  • “Flat,” stated K. Rhodes, eyeing the old gentleman suspiciously, “my horse, saddle, field glass, and gun are the only belongings in sight.”
  • “Ki-yi!” chirruped his new acquaintance gleefully, “I knew when I got out o_he blankets this morning I was to have good luck of some sort, had a ‘hunch.’ You can bet on me, Bub; you’ve struck the right rail, and I’m your friend, your desert _companero_!”
  • “Yes, you sound real nice and friendly,” agreed K. Rhodes. “So glad I’m fla_roke that you’re having hysterics over it. Typical southern hospitality.
  • Hearty welcome to our city, and so forth, and so forth!”
  • The old man grinned at him appreciatively. “Lord boy!––I reckon I’ve bee_aiting around for you about ten year, though I didn’t know what your nam_ould be when you come, and it couldn’t be a better one! We’ll outfit firs_or the Three Hills of Gold in the desert, and if luck is against us ther_e’ll strike down into Sonora to have a try after the red gold of El Alisal.
  • I’ve covered some of that ground, but never had a pardner who would stick.
  • They’d beat it because of either the Mexicans or the Indians, but _you_ ––sa_oy! It’s the greatest game in the world and we’ll go to it!”
  • His young eyes sparkled in his weathered desert face, and more than ten year_ere cast aside in his enthusiasm. K. Rhodes looked at him askance.
  • “If I did not have a key to your sane and calm outlining of prospects for th_uture, I might suspect loco weed or some other dope,” he observed. “But th_act is you must have known that my grandfather in his day went on the trai_f the Three Hills of Gold, and left about a dozen different plans on pape_or future trips.”
  • “Know it? Why boy, I went in with him!” shrilled Captain Pike. “Know it? Why, we crawled out half starved, and dried out as a couple of last year’s gourds.
  • We dug roots and were chewing our own boot tops when the Indians found us.
  • Sure, I know it. He went East to raise money for a bigger outfit, but neve_ot back––died there.”
  • “Yes, then my father gathered up all the plans and specifications and came ou_ith a friend about fifteen years ago,” added Rhodes. “They never go_nywhere, but he sort of worked the fever off, bought some land and hit th_rail back home. So I’ve been fairly well fed up on your sort of dope, Captain, and when I’ve mended that gone feeling in my pocketbook I may ‘call’ you on the gold trail proposition. Even if you’re bluffing there’ll be no com_ack; I can listen to a lot of ‘lost mine’ vagaries. It sounds like home swee_ome to me!”
  • “Bluff nothing! we’ll start next week.”
  • “No we won’t, I’ve got a job and made a promise, got to help clean up the wor_ere for the winter. Promised to take the next load of horses East.”
  • “That’s a new one,” observed his new friend. “Conrad himself has always gon_ast with the horses, or sent Brehmen, his secretary. But never mind, Bub, th_astern trip won’t take long. I’ll be devilin’ around getting our outfit an_hen the chance comes––us for the Three Hills of Gold!”
  • “It listens well,” agreed K. Rhodes, “cheeriest little _pasear_ I’ve struck i_he county. We’ll have some great old powwows, even if we don’t make a cent, and some day you’ll tell me about the mental kinks in the makeup of ou_russian friend, Conrad. He sounds interesting to me.”
  • Captain Pike uttered a profane and lurid word or two concerning Mr. Conrad, and stated he’d be glad when Billie was of age. Singleton, and therefor_onrad, would only have the management up to that time. Billie would kno_orses if nothing else, and––Then he interrupted himself and stared back th_ay he had come.
  • “I’m a forgetful old fool!” he stated with conviction. “I meandered out t_ake a look around for her, and I didn’t like the looks of that little dab o_ saddle Conrad had put on Pat. You didn’t see anything of her, did you?”
  • “What does she look like?”
  • “A slip of a girl who rides like an Indian, rides a black horse.”
  • “No, I’ve seen no one,” said the young chap truthfully enough. “But who di_ou say your girl was?”
  • “You’ll find out if you hold your job long enough for her to be of age,” sai_ike darkly. “She’ll be your boss instead of Conrad. It’s Billie Bernard, th_wner of Granados and La Partida.”
  • “Billie?”
  • “Miss Wilfreda, if you like it better.”
  • But K. Rhodes said he didn’t. Billie seemed to fit the sort of girl who woul_arb herself in Pedro’s shirt and whistle at him through the bars of th_ittle window.