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   Chapter 3 OPEN TRAIL

Average Jones By Samuel Hopkins Adams Characters: 45784

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"Not good enough," said Average Jones, laying aside a sheet of paper upon which was pasted a newspaper clipping. "We can't afford luxuries, Simpson."

The confidential clerk rubbed his high, pale forehead indeterminately. "But five thousand dollars, Mr. Jones," he protested.

"Would pay a year's office rent, you're thinking. True. Nevertheless I can't see the missing Mr. Hoff as a sound professional proposition."

"So you think it would be impossible to find him?"

"Now, why should I think any such absurd thing? I think, if you choose, that he wouldn't be worth the amount, when found, to lose."

"The ad says different, Sir." Simpson raised the paper and read:

"FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS-The aforesaid sum

will be paid without question to anyone

furnishing information which leads to the

discovery of Roderick Hoff, twenty-four years

old, who left his home in Toledo, 0., on

April 12. Communicate with Dr. Conrad Hoff,

Toledo.

"Surely Doctor Hoff is good for the amount."

"Oh, he's good for millions, thanks to his much advertised quack 'Catarrh-Killer.' The point is, from what I can discover, Mr. Roderick Hoff isn't worth retrieving at any price above one dime."

"Was the information about him that you wished, in the telegram?" asked the confidential clerk.

"Yes; all I wanted. Thanks for looking after it. Have the Toledo reporter, who sent it, forward his bill. And if the old inventor who's been haunted by disembodied voices comes again, bring him to me."

"Yes, sir," said Simpson, going out.

Left to himself, Average Jones again ran over the dispatches, conveying the information as to the lost Toledo youth. They had given a fairly complete sketch of young Hoff's life and character. At twenty-four, it appeared, Roderick Hoff had achieved a career. Emerging, by the propulsive method, from college, in the first term of his freshman year, he had taken a post-graduate course in the cigarette ward of a polite retreat for nervous wrecks. He had subsequently endured two breach-of-promise suits, had broken the state automobile record for number of speed violation arrests, had been buncoed, badgered, paneled, blackmailed and short-carded out of sums varying between one hundred and ten thousand dollars; and now, in the year of grace, 19-, was the horror of the pulpit and the delight of the press of the city which he called his home. For the rest, he was a large, mild, good-humored, pulpy individual, with a fixed delusion that the human organism can absorb a quart of alcoholic miscellany per day and be none the worse for it. The major premise of his proposition was perfectly correct. He proved it daily. The minor premise was an error. Bets were even in the Toledo clubs as to whether delirium tremens or paresis would win the event around young Mr. Hoff's kite-shaped race-track of a brain.

With his tastes the income of twenty-five thousand dollars per annum which his father allowed him from the profits of "Dr. Hoff's Catarrh-Killer," proved sadly insufficient to his needs. He mentioned this fact to his father, so Average Jones' information ran, early in April, and suggested an increase, only to be refused with some acerbity.

"Oh, very well," said he, "I'll go and make it myself."

The amazement inspired in Doctor Hoff's mind by this pronouncement was augmented in the next few days by the fact that Roderick was very busy about town in his motor-car, and was changed to vivid alarm immediately thereafter by the young man's disappearance. To all intents and appearances, Roderick Hoff had dropped off the earth on or about April twelfth. By April fifteenth New York, Pittsburg, Chicago, Washington and other clearing-houses for the distribution of the unspent increment were apprised of the elder Hoff's five thousand-dollar anxiety through the medium of the daily press. This advertisement it was, upon the practical merits of which Average Jones and his confidential clerk had differed.

"If there were any chance of sport in it," mused Average Jones, "I'd go in. But to follow the trail of a spurious young sport from bar-room to brothel and from brothel to gambling hell-" He shook his head. "Not good enough," he repeated.

Simpson's face appeared at the door. His blond forehead was wrinkled with excitement.

"Doctor Hoff is here, Mr. Jones. I told him you couldn't see him, but he wouldn't take no. Says he was recommended to you by a former client."

Following the word, there burst into Average Jones' private sanctum a gross old man, silk-hatted and bediamonded, whose side-whiskers bristled whitely with perturbed self-importance. In his hand was a patchy bundle.

"They tried to stop me!" he sputtered. "Me! I'm worth ten million dollars, an' a ten-dollar-a-week office toad tries to hold me up when I come here myself person'ly, from Toledo to see you."

Analysis of advertising in all its forms had inspired Average Jones with a profound contempt and dislike for the cruelest of all forms of swindling medical quackery. And this swollen, smug-faced intruder looked a particularly offensive specimen of his kind. Therefore the Ad-Visor said curtly:

"I can't take your case. Good day-"

"Not take it! Did you read the reward?"

"Yes. It is interesting as showing the patent medicine faker's touching confidence in the power of advertising. Otherwise it doesn't, interest me. Get some one else to find your young hopeful."

"It ain't no case of findin' now. The boy's dead." His strident voice quavered and broke, but rose again to a snarl. "And, by God, I'll spend a million to get the dogs that murdered him."

At the word "murdered" Average Jones' clean cut, agreeable, but rather stolidly neutral face underwent a subtle transformation. Another personality looked out from the deep-set, somnolent, gray eyes; a personality resolute, forceful and quietly alert. It was apparently belied by the hesitant drawl, which, as all who had ever seen the Ad-Visor at his chosen pursuits well knew, signified awakened or intensified interest in the matter in hand.

"Where-er-is-the-er-body"

"I don't know. It ain't been found."

"Then how do you know he's dead?"

The other tore open the bundle he carried, and spread before Average Jones a white stained shirt with ominous brown splotches.

"It's his shirt. There's the initials. Mailed to my house and got there just after I left. My secretary brought it on, with the note that come pinned to it. Here it is."

He produced a bit of coarse wrapping-paper upon which was this message in rough capital letters:

TWO DAGOES SHOT HIM DASSENT SAY NO MORE FROM A FRIEND IN CINCINNATI. Average Jones examined the wrapper. It was postmarked Cincinnati. He next smoothed out the creased silk and studied minutely the blotches, which were heaviest about the left breast and shoulder.

To the surprise of Doctor Hoff, the young man's glance roved the big desk before him, settling with satisfaction upon a sponge-cup for moistening stamps. Applying this to one of the spots on the shirt, he rubbed the wetted portion vigorously on a sheet of paper which lay near at hand. His lips pursed. He whistled very softly and meditatively. He scratched his chin with a slow movement.

"Is that all?" he shot out suddenly at the older man.

"All! Ain't it enough? He's been murdered; murdered, I tell you, an' you set there an' whistle!"

Average Jones directed a dreamy smile toward a far comer of the room.

"I don't see anything so far," he observed, "to indicate that your son is not alive and well at this moment."

Doctor Hoff struck his fist down heavily on the desk. "What's this you're givin' me? Can't you read? Look at that note there, an' the blood on the shirt."

"Would you mind moderating your voice? My outside office is full of more or less excitable clients," said the Ad-Visor mildly. "Moreover, it's not blood anyway."

"What is it, then?"

"That's beside the question. Dried blood rubs off a faint buff color." He picked up the sheet of paper from his desk. A deep brownish streak showed where he had applied the moistened cloth. "It's the rawest kind of a blind. Why, the idiot who sent the shirt didn't even have the sense to fake bullet holes. Enough to make one lose all interest in the case," he added disgustedly.

Doctor Hoff began tugging at his side-whiskers. "Don't do nothing like that," he pleaded. "Come with me to Cincinnati. If he ain't dead they've kidnapped him for a ransom."

"Then Cincinnati is the last place on the map to look, because there's where they want you to think he is. But it doesn't look like a case of ransom to me. Let's see. Was he particularly drunk the day before he disappeared?"

"No. He was sober."

"Unusually sober, maybe?" suggested the other.

"Yes, he was. Been sober for a week. An' he was studyin', too."

"Ah! Studying what?"

"Spanish."

"Spanish, eh? Ever exhibit any interest in foreign tongues before?"

"Not enough to get him through one term in college," returned the other grimly.

"How did you know about his studying?"

"Seen the perfessor in the house."

"Some one you knew?"

"No. I asked him. Roddy was sore because I found out what he was up to."

Upon that point Average Jones meditated a moment.

"Did you see this Spanish professor again?" he inquired presently.

"Now that you speak of it, I didn't see him but the once."

"Can you leave for Toledo on to-night's train?"

"You're goin' to take the case, then?" the quack clawed nervously at his professional white whiskers. "What's your terms?" he demanded.

"That I'm to have full control and that you're to take orders and not give them."

Doctor Hoff swallowed that with a gulp. "You're on," he said finally.

On the train Doctor Hoff regaled his companion with a strictly paternal view of his son's character and pursuits as he knew them. This served, at least, to enlarge his auditor's ideas as to the average American father's vast and profound ignorance of the life, habits, manners and customs of that common but variable species, the Offspring. Beyond this it had little value. Average Jones gave its author a few specific instructions as to minor lines of home investigation, and retired to map out a tentative campaign.

His first call, on arriving at Toledo, was at the business office of the Daily Saw, in which he inserted the following paragraph on a repeat-until-stopped order:

WANTED-Instructor in Spanish. One with recent

Experience preferred. Apply between 9 and 10

A.M. Doctor Hoff, 360 Fairfield Avenue.

Thence he climbed the stairs to the den of the city editor, to whom he stated his errand openly, being too wise in his day and generation to attempt concealment or evasion with a newspaper man from whom he wanted information. The city editor obligingly furnished further details regarding "Rickey" Hoff, as he called the young man, which, while differing in important respects from Doctor Hoff's, bore the ear-marks of superior accuracy.

"The worst of it is," said the newspaper man, "that there are elements of decency about the young cub, if he'd keep sober. He won't go into the old boy's business, because he hates it. Says it's all rot and lies. He's dead right, of course. But there's nothing else for him to do, so he just fights booze. Better make a few inquiries at Silent Charley's."

"What's that?"

"Quiet little bar kept by a talkative Swede. 'Rickey' Hoff hung out there a lot. Charley even had a room fixed up for him to lay off in when he was too pickled to go home."

"Would-er-young Hoff-er-perhaps keep a few-er-extra clothes there?" asked Average Jones, seemingly struggling with a yawn.

The city editor stared. "Oh, I dare say. He used to end his sprees pretty much mussed up."

"That would perhaps explain where the shirt came from," murmured the Ad-Visor. "Much obliged for the suggestion. I'll just step around."

"Silent Charley" he found ready, even eager to talk. Yes; "Rickey" Hoff had been in his place right along. Drunk? No; not even drinking much lately. Two other gentlemen had met him there quite often. They sat in the back room and talked. No, neither of them was Spanish. One was big and clean-shaven and wore a silk hat. They called him "Colonel." A swell dresser. The other man drank gin, and a lot of it. His name was Fred. He was very tanned. One day there had been a hot discussion over a sheet of paper that lay on the table in front of the three men in the back room. "Rickey" had called a messenger boy and sent him out for a geography. "I told you there wasn't any such thing there," the saloon-keeper heard him say triumphantly, when the geography arrived. Then Fred replied: "To h-ll with you and your schoolbook! I tell you I've waded across it." The colonel smoothed things over and it ended in a magnum of champagne being ordered.

"For which the colonel paid?" asked Average Jones.

"Why, yes, he did," assented the saloon man. "He said, 'Well, it's a go, then. Here's luck to us!' He was a good spender, the colonel."

"And you haven't seen any of them since, I suppose?"

"Nary a one."

On his return to the Hoff mansion the investigator found the head thereof in a state of great excitement.

"Say, I've found out something," he cried. "Roddy's gone to Yurrup."

"Where did you find that out?" asked Average Jones with a smile.

"I been going through his papers like you told me. He's been outfitting for a trip. Bought lots of truck the last few days and I found the duplicate sale-checks that come in the packages. There's stubs for a steamer rug and for a dope for seasickness and for a compass," he concluded triumphantly.

"Compass, eh?" observed Average Jones thoughtfully. "Ship's compass is good enough for most of us going to Europe. Anything else?"

"Lot of clothes."

"What kind of clothes?"

"Cheap stuff mostly. Khaki riding-pants, neglyjee shirts and such-like."

"Not much suggestion of Europe there. What more?"

Doctor Hoff consulted a list. "Colored glasses."

"That looks like desert travel."

"Aneroid barometer."

"Mountain climbing."

"Permanganate of potash outfit."

"Snake country," commented the other.

"Patent water-still."

Average Jones leaned forward. "How big?"

"Don't know. Cost twenty dollars."

"Little one, then. That means about three people. Taken with the compass, it means a small-boat trip on salt water."

"Small boat nothin'!" retorted the other. "His doctor met me this morning an' told me Roddy had sent for him and ast him a lot of questions about eatin' aboard ship and which way to have his berth made up, and all that."

"A small-boat trip following a sea trip, then. What else have you found?"

"Nothin' much. Mosquito nettin', pills, surgeon's plaster and odds and ends of drugs."

"Let me see the drug list."

He ran his eye down the paper. Then he looked at Doctor Hoff with a half smile.

"You didn't notice anything peculiar about this list?"

"Don't know as I did."

"Not the-er-nitric acid, for instance?"

"Nope. What of it?"

"Mr. Hoff, your son has been caught by one of the oldest tricks in the whole bunco list-the lost Spanish mine swindle. That acid, together with the rest of the outfit, means a gold-hunt as plain as if it were spelled out. And the Spanish professor was sent for, not to give lessons, but to translate the fake letter. Where does your son bank?"

"Fifth National."

"Telephone there and find out how much he drew."

Doctor Hoff sat down at the 'phone. "Five hundred dollars," he said presently.

"Is that all?" asked the other, disappointed.

"Yes. Wait. He had six checks certified aggregating ten thousand dollars."

"Then it isn't South America or the West Indies. He'd want, a letter of credit there. Must be some part of the United States, or just across the border. Well, we've done a good day's work, and I've got a hard evening's thinking before me. We might be able to head off the colonel's personally conducted expedition yet, if we could locate it."

The evening's thinking formulated itself into a telegram to Average Jones' club, the Cosmic. It was one among the many distinctions of the modest little club in Gramercy Park, that its membership pretty well comprised the range of available information on any topic. Under the "favored applications clause," a person whose knowledge of any particular subject was unique and authoritative, whether the topic were Esperanto or fistiana, went to the head of the waiting-list automatically and had his initiation fee remitted. Hence, Average Jones was confident of a helpful reply to his message of inquiry, which summed up his conclusions and surmises thus far:

"Cosmic CLUB, NEW YORK CITY:

Refer following to geographical expert: Where is large, shallow, unmapped body of salt water in United States, or near border, surrounded by hot, snake-infested desert and mountainous country, reputed to contain gold? Spanish associations indicated. Wire details and name of best guide, if obtainable.

A. JONES."

The reply was disappointing:

"Cyrus C. Allen absent from town. Will forward your wire.

"COSMIC CLUB."

Well poised as Average Jones normally was, he chafed over the ensuing delay of four days, each of which gave the colonel's expedition just so much start upon its unknown course. The only relief was a call from the Spanish instructor who answered Jones' advertisement. He was the same who had served young Hoff. As the Ad-Visor surmised, his former employment had been merely the translation of a letter. The letter was in base Spanish, he said. He didn't remember much of it, but there was something about a lost gold mine. Yes; there was reference to a map. No; no geographical names were mentioned, but in several places the capital letters B. C. seemed to indicate a locality. He hadn't noted the date or the signature. That was all he could tell.

Doctor Hoff, who had been ramping with impatience over the man's lack of definite memory, now rushed to the atlas and began to study the maps.

"You needn't trouble," said Average Jones coolly. "You won't find it there."

"I'll find that B. C. if I have to go over every map in the geography."

"Then you'll have to get a Spanish edition. For a guess, B. C. is Baja California, the Mexican peninsula of California."

Jones sent a supplementary wire to this effect to Cyrus C. Allen, of the Cosmic Club, and within a few hours received a reply from that eminent cartographer, who had been located in a remote part of Connecticut:

"Probably Laguna Salada, not on map. Seventy miles long; four to eight wide. Between Cocopah and Sierra Gigantica ranges. Country very wild and arid. Can be reached by water from Yuma, or pack train from Calexico. White, who has hunted there, says Captain Funcke, Calexico, best guide.

"ALLEN."

Average Jones tossed this over to the father.

"As I figure it," he said, "your son's two friends had this all mapped out beforehand for him. One went west direct. He was the imbecile who stopped in Cincinnati and mailed you the bloody shirt to throw you off the scent. Meantime the colonel took Roderick around by a sea route, probably New York and New Orleans."

"That'd explain the steamer rug and the seasickness," admitted Doctor Hoff; "but I don't know what he'd want to go that long way for."

"Simple enough, when you reckon with this colonel person as having brains in his head. He would foresee a hue and cry as soon as the young man disappeared. So he cooks up this trip to keep his prey out of touch with the newspapers for the few days when the news of the disappearance would be fresh enough to be spread abroad in the Associated Press dispatches. From New Orleans they'd go on west by train."

"What I don't see is how they caught Roddy on such an old game. He's easy, but I didn't s'pose he was that easy."

"To do him justice, he isn't-quite. They put it up on him rather cleverly. In the period of waiting to hear from the geographical expert I've put in some fairly hard work, going over your son's effects. And, in the room over Silent Charley's bar, I found a newspaper with this in it."

He handed to Doctor Hoff a thin clipping, marked "Daily Saw, March 29":

LOST-Spanish letter and map.

Of no value except to owner, Return

to No. 16, this office, and receive

heartfelt thanks.

"Well," said Doctor Hoff, after reading it over twice, "that don't tell me nothing."

"No? Yet it's pretty plain. The two crooks 'planted' the letter and map on your son. Probably slipped them into a pocket of his coat while he was drunk. Then they inserted their little ad, waited until he had time to find the letter, and casually called the advertisement to his attention. The rest would be easy. But I'll have something to say to my clerk, who failed to clip that ad."

"You're workin' for me, now," half blustered, half whined the old quack. "Whatche goin' to do next?"

"Pack for the night train."

"Where to?"

"Yuma or Calexico. Don't know which till I get a reply to two telegrams. I'll need five hundred dollars expense money."

"Say, you don't want much, do ye?" snarled the quack, his avaricious soul in revolt at the prospect of immediate outlay. "When I hire a man I expect him to pay his own expenses and send me the bill."

"Quite so," agreed the other blandly. "But, you see, you aren't hiring me. I'm doing this on spec. And I don't propose to invest anything in a dubious proposition, myself. It isn't too late to call it off, you know."

"No, I do' wanta do that," said the other with contorted face. "I'll get the five hundred here for' you in an hour."

"And about the five thousand dollars reward? I think I'd better have a word of writing on that."

"You mean you don't trust me?" snapped the other. "I'm good for five million dollars to-morrow in this town."

"I know you are-in writing," agreed the other equably. "That's why I want your valued signature. You see, to be quite frank, I haven't the fullest confidence in gentlemen in your line of business."

"I'll have my lawyer draw up a form of contract and mail it after you to-morrow," promised the quack with a crafty look.

"No, you wo-" began Average Jones; but he broke off with a smile. "Very well," he amended. "If things work out as I figure them, that will do. And," he added, dropping into his significant drawl and looking the quack flatly in the eye, "don't you-er-bank on my-er-not understanding your offer-and-er-you."

Uncomfortably pondering this reply, Doctor Hoff set about the matter of the expense money. Mean time a telegram came which settled the matter of immediate destination. It apprised Average Jones that, a fortnight previous, this paragraph had appeared in the paid columns of the Yuma Yucca:

WANTED-Small,

flat-bottomed sailboat.

Centerboard type preferred. Hasty,

care this office.

Average Jones bought a ticket for Yuma.

Disembarking at the Yuma station three days later, Average Jones blinked in the harsh sunlight at a small, compactly built, keen-eyed man, roughly dressed for the trail.

"I'm Captain Funcke," said the stranger. His speech was gentle, slow, even hesitant; but there was something competent and reliable in his bearing which satisfied the shrewd young reader of men's characters from the outset. "Your wire got me two days since and I came right up."

"Any trace?"

"Left here two days ago."

"Three of them?"

"Yes. Flat-bottomed, narrow-beamed boat, sloop-rigged pretty light."

"Know anything of the men?"

"Only the big one. Calls himself Colonel Richford. Had a fake copper outfit in the mountains east of Alamo."

"Where do you think they're headed for?"

"Probably the wildest country they can find, if they want to get rid of young Hoff," said the other, who had been apprised of the main points of the situation. "That would likely be the Pinto range, to the southwest of the Laguna. Richford knows that country a little. He was in there two years ago."

"They would probably want to get rid of him without obvious murder;" said Average Jones. "You see, his money is in certified checks which they'd have to get cashed. If some one should find his body with a bullet-hole in it, they'd have some explaining to do."

"Nobody'd be likely to find it. Only about two parties a year get' down there. Still, somebody might trail him. And I guess old Richford is too foxy to do any killing when he turns the trick just as well without it."

"Suppose it's the Pintos, then. How do we get there?"

"Hard-ash breeze," returned the other succinctly. "Our rowboat is outfitted and waiting."

"Good work!" said Jones heartily. "How far is it?"

"Sixty miles to the turn of the Laguna. There's a four-mile current to help. They've a scant two days' start, and we'll catch up some, for their boat is heavier and their sail is no good with the wind in this direction. If we don't catch up some," he added grimly, "I wouldn't want to insure our young friend's life. So it's all aboard, if you're ready."

For the first time since embarking upon the strange seas of advertising in his quest of the Adventure of Life, Average Jones now met the experience of grilling physical toil. All that day and all the night the two men swung at the oars; swung until every muscle in the young Easterner's back had turned to live nerve-fiber, and the flesh had begun to strip from the palms of his hands. Even so, the hardy captain had done most of the work. Aided by the current, they turned the shoulder of the Cocopah range as the dawn shone lurid in the east, and the captain swung the boat's head to the southern shore of the lake. Meantime, between spells at the oars, Average Jones had outlined the case in full to Funcke. He could have found no better coadjutor:

By nature and equipment every really expert hunter and tracker is a detective. The subtleties of the trail sharpen both physical and mental sensibility. Captain Funcke was, by instinct, a student of that continuous logic which constitutes the science of the chase, whether the prize of pursuit be a mountain sheep's horns or the scholar's need of praise for the interpreting of some half-obliterated inscription on a pre-Hittite tomb. After long and silent consideration the captain gave his views.

"It isn't bunco. It's a hold-up. If Richford had wanted to stick young Hoff, he'd never have brought him here. There isn't 'color' enough within eighty miles to gild a cigar band. It looks to me like the scheme is this: They get him off in the mountains, out of sight of the lake, so he'll have no landmark to go by. Then they scare him into signing co-partnership papers, and make him turn over those certified checks to them. With the papers to show for it, they go out by Calexico and cash the checks in Los Angeles. They could put up the bluff that their partner was guarding the mine while they bought machinery and outfitted. That'd be good enough to cash certified checks by."

"Yes; that's about the way I figure it out. You spoke of Richford's being able to get rid of young Hoff effectually, without actual murder."

"All he'd have to do would be to quit the boy while he was asleep. A tenderfoot would die of thirst over there in a short time."

"Is there no water?"

"There's a tenaja they're depending on. But I doubt if they find any water there now. It's been an extra dry season."

"A tenaja?" queried the Ad-Visor.

"Rock-basin holding rainwater," explained the hunter. "There's been no rainfall since August. If they find the tenaja empty they'll, have barely enough in the canteens they pack to get them to the next water, the Tenaja Poquita, around behind the mountains and across the desert into the next range."

"What's the next water to that?"

"The Stream of Palms. That's a day and a half on foot."

For the space of a hundred oar-strokes Average Jones ruminated.

"Suppose-er-they didn't-er-find any water in the Tenaja Poquita, either?" he drawled.

"Then they would be up against it."

"And there's no other water in the Pintos?"

"Yes, there is," said the captain. "There's a tenaja that's so high up and so hidden that it's only known to one other man besides me, and he's an Indian. It's less than an hour from the tenaja that Richford will take his party to. And we're sure of finding water there. It never dries up this early."

"Get me to young Hoff, then, Captain. You're in command from the moment we land."

It was broad day when the keel pushed softly into the muddy bottom of a long, shallow arm of the lake. Captain Funcke rose, stretched the kinks out of his back, and jumped ashore.

"You say I'm in command?" he inquired.

"Absolute."

"Then you roll up under that mesquite and fall asleep. I'm going to cast about for their trail."

To the worn-out oarsman, it seemed only a few moments later that an insistent grip on his shoulder aroused him. But the overhead sun, whose direct rays were fairly boiling the sweat out of him, harshly corrected this impression.

"I've found their boat," said Captain Funcke. "The trail heads for the Pintos. They're traveling heavy. I don't believe they're twenty-four hours ahead of us."

Average Jones stumbled to his feet. "I'm ready," he said.

"It's a case of travel light." The hunter handed over a small bag of food and a large canteen full of water. He himself packed a much larger load, including two canteens and a powerful field-glass. Taking a shotgun from the boat, he shouldered it, and set out at a long, easy stride.

To Average Jones the memory of that day has never been wholly clear. Sodden with weariness, dazzled and muddled by the savage sun-glare, he followed, with eyes fixed, the rhythmically, monotonously moving feet of his leader, through an interminable desert of soft, clogging sand; a desert which dropped away into parched arroyos, and rose to scorched mesas whereon fierce cacti thrust at him with thorns and spikes; a desert dead and mummified in the dreadful heat; a lifeless Inferno wherein moved neither beast, bird nor insect. He remembers, dimly, lying as he fell, when the indefatigable captain called a halt, and being wakened in the chill breeze of evening, to see a wall of mountains blocking the advance. Food brought him to his normal self again, and in the crisp air of night he set his face to the task of climbing. Severe as this was upon his unaccustomed muscles, the firm rocks were still a welcome relief after the racking looseness of sand that interminably sank away from foothold. At midnight the wearied pursuers dropped down from a high plateau to a narrow arroyo. Here again was sand. Fortunately, this time, for in it footprints stood out clear, illuminated by the white moonlight. They led direct to a side barranca. There the pursuers found the camp. It was deserted.

Like a hound on the trail, Captain Funcke cast about him.

"Here's where they came in. No-yes-this is it. Confound the cross-tracks!.. Here one of them cuts across the ridge to the tenaja for water.

"Wait!... What's this? Coyote trail? Yes, but... Trail brushed over, by thunder! They didn't do it carefully enough... Straight for the rocky mesa.... That's it! They made their sneak while Hoff was asleep, probably covering trail behind them, and struck out for the inside desert route to the Tenaja Poquita." He took a quick look about the camp and picked up an empty canteen. "Of course, they wouldn't leave him any water."

"Then he's gone to hunt it," suggested Average Jones. "Which way?"

"You can't tell which way a tenderfoot will go," said the hunter philosophically. "If he had any savvy at all he'd follow the old beaten track around by the arroyo to the water-hole. We'll try it."

On the way, Average Jones noticed his companion stop frequently to examine the sand for something which he evidently didn't find.

"These are fresh footsteps we're following, aren't they?" he asked.

"Yes. It isn't that. He went this way all right. But the tenaja's gone dry."

"How can you tell that?"

"No fresh sign of animals going this way. Must have been dry for weeks. Our mining friends have taken what little water there was and left young Hoff to die of thirst," said the other grimly. "Well, that explains the empty canteen all right."

He turned and renewed his quick progress, leaping from boulder to boulder, between narrowing walls of gray-white rock. Just as Average Jones was spent and almost ready to collapse the leader checked.

"Hark!" he whispered.

Above the beating of the blood in his ears, Jones heard an irregular, insistent scuffing sound. He crouched in silence while the captain crept up to a ledge and cautiously peered over, then went forward in response to the other's urgent beckoning. They looked down into a rock-basin of wild and curious beauty. To this day Average Jones remembers the luminous grace and splendor of a Matilija poppy, which, rooted between two boulders, swayed gently in the white moonlight above a figure of dread. The figure, naked from the waist up, huddled upon the hard-baked mud, digging madly at the earth. A sharp exclamation broke from Average Jones. The digger half-rose, turned, collapsed to his knees, and pointed with bleeding fingers to his open mouth, in which the tongue showed black and swollen.

They went down to him.

An hour later, "Rickey" Hoff was sleeping the sleep of utter exhaustion in camp. Average Jones felt amply qualified to join him. But it was not in the Ad-Visor's character to quit an enterprise before it was wholly completed. So long as the two bandits were on their way to cash the young spendthrift's checks-Jones had heard from the victim a brief account of the extortion-success was not fully won.

"We've got to get that money back," he said to Captain Funcke with conviction.

The hunter made no reply in words. He merely leaned his shotgun against his thigh, reached around beneath his coat and produced a forty-five caliber revolver. This he held out toward Jones.

"Good thing to have," conceded the other. "But-well, no; not in this case. They got the booty with a show of legality, since Hoff signed the copartnership agreement and turned over the checks. It was under duress and threats, it's true, but who's to prove that, they being two to one, and this being Mexico? No; they're within the law, and I've a notion that we can get the swag back by straight sale and barter. Provided, always, we can catch them in time."

"They'll want to make pretty good time to the Tenaja Poquita," pointed out the captain. "They're shy on water."

"On wind, too. They've traveled hard, and they can't be in the pink of condition. According to Hoff, they deserted him while he was taking a nap, about four o'clock in the afternoon. It's a fair bet they'd camp for the night, as you say it's an eight hour hike to the tenaja."

"Eight, the way they'd go."

"Then-er-there's a-er-shorter way?" drawled Average Jones, removing some sand from a wrinkle in his scarified and soiled trousers as carefully as if that were the one immediate and important consideration in life.

"Yes. Across the Padre Cliffs. It cuts off about four hours, and it takes us almost to the secret tenaja I spoke of. We can fill up there. But it's not what you'd call safe, even in daylight."

"But to a hunter, wouldn't it be well worth the risk for a record pair of horns-even if they were only tin horns?" queried Average Jones suggestively.

Captain Funcke relaxed into a grin. He nodded.

"What'll we do with him?" he asked, jerking his head toward the sleeper.

"Leave him water, food and a note. Now, about this Tenaja Poquita we're headed for. How much water do you think there is in it?"

"If there's a hundred gallons it's doing well, this dry season."

Average Jones got painfully to his feet. Looking carefully over the scattered camp outfit, he selected from it a collapsible pail. Captain Funcke glanced at it with curiosity, but characteristically forebore to ask any questions. He himself shouldered the largest canteen.

"This'll be enough for both until we reach the supply," he said. "Don't need so much water at night."

But the tenderfoot hung upon his own shoulder, not only the smallest of their three canteens, but also the empty one which they had found in the camp. Their own third tin, almost full, they left beside Hoff, with a note.

"I've a notion," said Jones, "that I'll need all these receptacles for water in my own peculiar business."

"All right," assented the other patiently. He took one of them and the pail from Jones and skillfully disposed them on his own back. "Ready? Hike, then."

Two hours of the roughest kind of climbing brought them to a landslide. These sudden shiftings of the slopes are a frequent feature of travel in the Lower California mountains, often obliterating trails and costing the wayfarer painful and perilous search for a new path. On the Padre Cliffs, however, had occurred that rare phenomenon, a benevolent avalanche, piling up a safe and feasible embankment around the angle of an impracticable precipice, and thus saving an hour of the most ticklish going of the journey. Thanks to this dispensation, the two men reached the Tenaja Poquita before dawn. Scouting ahead, the captain reported no fresh trail except coyotes and mule deer, and not more than seventy-five gallons of water in the basin. Of this they both drank deeply. Then after they had filled all the canteens, Average Jones unfolded his scheme to the captain.

"If any one caught us at it," commented that experienced hunter, "we'd be shot without warning. However, the water would be evaporated in a few days anyhow, and I'll post notices at the next watercamps. I'm with you."

Taking turn and turn about with the pail, they bailed out the rock-basin, scattering the water upon the greedy sand. What little moisture remained in the sticky mud at the bottom they blotted up with more sand. They then rolled in boulders. Average Jones looked down into the hollow with satisfaction, and moved his full canteens into a grotto.

"This company," he said, "is now open for business."

At eight o'clock there was a clatter of boots upon the rocks and two men came staggering up the defile. Colonel Richford and his partner did not look to be in good repair. The colonel's face was drawn and sun-blotched. His companion, the "Fred" of Silent Charley's bar, was bloated and shaken with liquor. Both panted with the hard, dry, open-lipped breath of the first stage of thirst-exhaustion. The colonel, who was in the lead, checked and started upon discovering astride of a rock a pleasant visaged young man of a familiar American type, whose appearance was in nowise remarkable except as to locality. With a grunt that might have been greeting, but was more probably surprise, the newcomer passed the seated man. Captain Funcke he did not see at all. That astute hunter had dropped behind a boulder.

At the brink of the tenaja the colonel stopped dead. Then with an outburst of flaming language, he leaped in, burrowing among the rocks.

"Dry!" he yelled, lifting a furious and appalled face to his companion.

Fred stood staring from Average Jones to his three canteens. There was a murderous look on his sinister face.

"Got water?" he growled.

"Yes," replied the young man.

"Here, Colonel," said Fred. "Here's drink for us."

"For sale," added Average Jones calmly.

"People don't buy water in this country."

"You're not people," returned Average Jones cheerfully. "You're a corporation; a soulless corporation. The North Pinto Gold Mining Company."

"What's that!" cried the colonel thickly.

His hand flew back to his belt. Then it dropped, limp at his side, for he was gazing into the two barrels of a shotgun, which, materializing over a rock, were pointing accurately and disconcertingly at the pit of his stomach. From behind the gun Captain Funcke's quiet voice remarked:

"I wouldn't, Colonel. As for you," he added, turning to the other wayfarer, who carried a rifle, "you want to remember that a shotgun has two barrels, usually both loaded."

Stepping forward, Average Jones "lifted" the financier's weapon. Then he deprived Fred of his rifle amid a surprisingly brilliant outburst of verbal pyrotechnics.

"Now we can talk business comfortably," he observed.

"I can't talk at all pretty quick if I don't git a moistener," said Fred piteously.

Pouring out a scant cupful of water into his hat, Average Jones handed it over. "Drink slowly," he advised. "You've got about a hundred dollars' worth there at present quotations."

Colonel Richford's head went up with a jerk.

"Hundred dollars' worth!" he croaked, his eyes fiery with suspicion. "Are you going to hold up two men dying of thirst?"

"There's been only one man in danger of that death around here. His name is Hoff."

The redoubtable colonel gasped, and leaned back against a rock.

"You'll be relieved to learn that he's safe. Now, to answer your question: No, I don't propose to hold up two men for anything. I propose to deal with the president and treasurer of the North Pinto Gold Mining Company. As a practical mining man you will appreciate the absolute necessity of water in your operations. The nearest available supply is some ten hours distant. Before you could reach it I fear that-er-your company would-er-have gone out of existence. Therefore I am fortunate in being able to offer you a small supply which I will put on the market at the low rate of ten thousand dollars. I may add that-er-certified checks will-er-be accepted."

For two hours the colonel, with the occasional objurgatory assistance of his partner, talked, begged argued, threatened, and even wept. By the end of that time his tongue was making sounds like a muffled castanet, and his resolution was scorched out of him.

"You've got us," he croaked. "Here's your checks. Give me the water."

"In proper and legal form, please," said Average Jones.

He produced a contract and a fountain-pen. The contract was duly signed and witnessed. It provided for the transfer of the water, in consideration of one revolver and ten thousand dollars in checks. These checks were endorsed over to A. V. R. E. Jones, whereupon he turned over the pail of water and the largest canteen to the parched miners. Then, sorting out the checks, he pocketed two aggregating five thousand dollars, tore up three, and holding the other in his hand, turned to Captain Funcke.

"Will five hundred dollars pay you for keeping young Hoff down here a couple of months and making the beginning of a man of him?" he asked.

"Yes, and more," replied the captain.

"It's a go," said Average Jones. "I'd like to make the job complete."

Then, courteously bidding the North Pinto Gold Mining Company farewell, the two water-dealers clambered up the rocks and disappeared beyond the abrupt sky-line.

Once again Doctor Conrad Hoff sat in the private office of Average Jones, Ad-Visor. The young man was thinner, browner and harder of fiber than the Jones of two weeks previous. Doctor Hoff looked him over with shrewd eyes.

"Say, your trip ain't done you no harm, has it?" he exclaimed with a boisterous and false good nature. "You look like' a fightin'-cock. Hope the boy comes out as good. You say he's all right?"

"You've got his letter, in which he says so himself. That's enough proof, isn't it?"

"Oh, I've got the letter all right. An' it's enough as far as it goes. But it ain't proof; not the kind of proof a man pays out reward money on," he added, cunningly. "You say you left Roddy down there with that Funcke feller, hey?"

"Yes. It'll make a man of him, if anything will. I threw that in as an extra."

"Yes; but what about them two crooks that goldbricked him? What's become of them?"

"On their way to Alaska or Bolivia or Corea, or anywhere else, for all I know-or care," said Average Jones indifferently.

"Is that so?" The quack's voice had taken on a sneering intonation. "You come back here with your job not half done, with the guilty fellers loose an' runnin', an' you expect me to pay over, the five thousand dollars to you. Huh!"

"No, I-er-don't expect-er-anything of the sort," said Average Jones slowly.

Doctor Hoff's little, restless eyes puckered at the corners. He was puzzled. What did the young fellow mean?

"Don't, eh?" he said, groping in his mind for a solution.

"No. You forgot to send me that promised form of agreement, didn't you? Thought you'd fooled me, perhaps. Well, I wouldn't be so foolish as to expect anything in the way of fair and honorable dealing when I contract to do up a mining swindler for the benefit of the only meaner creature on God's earth-a patent medicine poisoner. So I took precautions."

"Say, be careful of what you say, young man," blustered the quack.

"I am-quite particular. And, before you leave, wouldn't you like to hear about the five thousand dollars I got for my little job?"

Doctor Hoff blinked rapidly.

"What didje say?" he finally inquired.

"Five-er-thousand-er-dollars."

"You got it?"

"In the bank."

"Where dje get it?"

"From you, through your son's check, duly certified."

Doctor Hoff blinked more rapidly and moistened his lips with an effortful tongue.

"H-h-how dje work it?" he asked in a die-away voice.

"By a forced sale of water rights to the North Pinto Gold Mining Company, dissolved, in which Mr. Roderick Hoff was vice-president and silent partner," replied Average Jones with an amiable smile, as he opened the door significantly.

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