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   Chapter 22 No.22

The Desert of Wheat By Zane Grey Characters: 16043

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


A dusty motor-car climbed the long road leading up to the Neuman ranch. It was not far from Wade, a small hamlet of the wheat-growing section, and the slopes of the hills, bare and yellow with waving grain, bore some semblance to the Bend country. Four men-a driver and three cowboys-were in the automobile.

A big stone gate marked the entrance to Neuman's ranch. Cars and vehicles lined the roadside. Men were passing in and out. Neuman's home was unpretentious, but his barns and granaries and stock-houses were built on a large scale.

"Bill, are you goin' in with me after this pard of the Kaiser's?" inquired Jake, leisurely stretching himself as the car halted. He opened the door and stiffly got out. "Gimme a hoss any day fer gittin' places!"

"Jake, my regard fer your rep as Anderson's foreman makes me want to hug the background," replied Bill. "I've done a hell of a lot these last forty-eight hours."

"Wal, I reckon you have, Bill, an' no mistake.… But I was figgerin' on you wantin' to see the fun."

"Fun!… Jake, it 'll be fun enough fer me to sit hyar an' smoke in the shade, an' watch fer you to come a-runnin' from thet big German devil.… Pard, they say he's a bad man!"

"Sure. I know thet. All them Germans is bad."

"If the boss hadn't been so dog-gone strict about gun-play I'd love to go with you," responded Bill. "But he didn't give me no orders. You're the whole outfit this round-up."

"Bill, you'd have to take orders from me," said Jake, coolly.

"Sure. Thet's why I come with Andy."

The other cowboy, called Andy, manifested uneasiness, and he said: "Aw, now, Jake, you ain't a-goin' to ask me to go in there?… An' me hatin' Germans the way I do!"

"Nope. I guess I'll order Bill to go in an' fetch Neuman out," replied Jake, complacently, as he made as if to re-enter the car.

Bill collapsed in his seat. "Jake," he expostulated, weakly, "this job was given you because of your rep fer deploomacy.… Sure I haven't none of thet.… An' you, Jake, why you're the smoothest an' slickest talker thet ever come to the Northwest."

Evidently Jake had a vulnerable point. He straightened up with a little swagger. "Wal, you watch me," he said. "I'll fetch the big Dutchman eatin' out of my hand.… An' say, when we git him in the car an' start back let's scare the daylights out of him."

"Thet'd be powerful fine. But how?"

"You fellers take a hunch from me," replied Jake. And he strode off up the lane toward the ranch-house.

Jake had been commissioned to acquaint Neuman with the fact that recent developments demanded his immediate presence at "Many Waters." The cowboy really had a liking for the job, though he pretended not to.

Neuman had not yet begun harvesting. There were signs to Jake's experienced eye that the harvest-hands were expected this very day. Jake fancied he knew why the rancher had put off his harvesting. And also he knew that the extra force of harvest-hands would not appear. He was regarded with curiosity by the women members of the Neuman household, and rather enjoyed it. There were several comely girls in evidence. Jake did not look a typical Northwest foreman and laborer. Booted and spurred, with his gun swinging visibly, and his big sombrero and gaudy scarf, he looked exactly what he was, a cowman of the open ranges.

His inquiries elicited the fact that Neuman was out in the fields, waiting for the harvest-hands.

"Wal, if he's expectin' thet outfit of I.W.W.'s he'll never harvest," said Jake, "for some of them is hanged an' the rest run out of the country."

Jake did not wait to see the effect of his news. He strode back toward the fields, and with the eye of a farmer he appraised the barns and corrals, and the fields beyond. Neuman raised much wheat, and enough alfalfa to feed his stock. His place was large and valuable, but not comparable to "Many Waters."

Out in the wheat-fields were engines with steam already up, with combines and threshers and wagons waiting for the word to start. Jake enjoyed the keen curiosity roused by his approach. Neuman strode out from a group of waiting men. He was huge of build, ruddy-faced and bearded, with deep-set eyes.

"Are you Neuman?" inquired Jake.

"That's me," gruffly came the reply.

"I'm Anderson's foreman. I've been sent over to tell you thet you're wanted pretty bad at 'Many Waters.'"

The man stared incredulously. "What?… Who wants me?"

"Anderson. An' I reckon there's more-though I ain't informed."

Neuman rumbled a curse. Amaze dominated him. "Anderson!… Well, I don't want to see him," he replied.

"I reckon you don't," was the cowboy's cool reply.

The rancher looked him up and down. However familiar his type was to Anderson, it was strange to Neuman. The cowboy breathed a potential force. The least significant thing about his appearance was that swinging gun. He seemed cool and easy, with hard, keen eyes. Neuman's face took a shade off color.

"But I'm going to harvest to-day," he said. "I'm late. I've a hundred hands coming."

"Nope. You haven't none comin'," asserted Jake.

"What!" ejaculated Neuman.

"Reckon it's near ten o'clock," said the cowboy. "We run over here powerful fast."

"Yes, it's near ten," bellowed Neuman, on the verge of a rage.… "I haven't harvest-hands coming!… What's this talk?"

"Wal, about nine-thirty I seen all your damned I.W.W.'s, except what was shot an' hanged, loaded in a cattlecar an' started out of the country."

A blow could not have hit harder than the cowboy's biting speech. Astonishment and fear shook Neuman before he recovered control of himself.

"If it's true, what's that to me?" he bluffed, in hoarse accents.

"Neuman, I didn't come to answer questions," said the cowboy, curtly. "My boss jest sent me fer you, an' if you bucked on comin', then I was to say it was your only chance to avoid publicity an' bein' run out of the country."

Neuman was livid of face now and shaking all over his huge frame.

"Anderson threatens me!" he shouted. "Anderson suspicions me!… Gott in Himmel!… Me he always cheated! An' now he insults-"

"Say, it ain't healthy to talk like thet about my boss," interrupted Jake, forcibly. "An' we're wastin' time. If you don't go with me we'll be comin' back-the whole outfit of us!… Anderson means you're to face his man!"

"What man?"

"Dorn. Young Dorn, son of old Chris Dorn of the Bend.… Dorn has some things to tell you thet you won't want made public.… Anderson's givin' you a square deal. If it wasn't fer thet I'd sling my gun on you!… Do you git my hunch?"

The name of Dorn made a slack figure of the aggressive Neuman.

"All right-I go," he said, gruffly, and without a word to his men he started off.

Jake followed him. Neuman made a short cut to the gate, thus avoiding a meeting with any of his family. At the road, however, some men observed him and called in surprise, but he waved them back.

"Bill, you an' Andy collect yourselves an' give Mr. Neuman a seat," said Jake, as he opened the door to allow the farmer to enter.

The two cowboys gave Neuman the whole of the back seat, and they occupied the smaller side seats. Jake took his place beside the driver.

"Burn her up!" was his order.

The speed of the car made conversation impossible until the limits of a town necessitated slowing down. Then the cowboys talked. For all the attention they paid to Neuman, he might as well not have been present. Before long the driver turned into a road that followed a railroad track for several miles and then crossed it to enter a good-sized town. The streets were crowded with people and the car had to be driven slowly. At this juncture Jake suggested.

"Let's go down by the bridge."

"Sure," agreed his allies.

Then the driver turned down a still more peopled street that sloped a little and evidently overlooked the railroad tracks. Presently they came in sight of a railroad bridge, around which there appeared to be an excited yet awestruck throng. All faces wer

e turned up toward the swaying form of a man hanging by a rope tied to the high span of the bridge.

"Wal, Glidden's hangin' there yet," remarked Jake, cheerfully.

With a violent start Neuman looked out to see the ghastly placarded figure, and then he sank slowly back in his seat. The cowboys apparently took no notice of him. They seemed to have forgotten his presence.

"Funny they'd cut all the other I.W.W.'s down an' leave Glidden hangin' there," observed Bill.

"Them vigilantes sure did it up brown," added Andy. "I was dyin' to join the band. But they didn't ask me."

"Nor me," replied Jake, regretfully. "An' I can't understand why, onless it was they was afeared I couldn't keep a secret."

"Who is them vigilantes, anyhow?" asked Bill, curiously.

"Wal, I reckon nobody knows. But I seen a thousand armed men this mornin'. They sure looked bad. You ought to have seen them poke the I.W.W.'s with cocked guns."

"Was any one shot?" queried Andy.

"Not in the daytime. Nobody killed by this Citizens' Protective League, as they call themselves. They just rounded up all the suspicious men an' herded them on to thet cattle-train an' carried them off. It was at night when the vigilantes worked-masked an' secret an' sure bloody. Jest like the old vigilante days! … An' you can gamble they ain't through yet."

"Uncle Sam won't need to send any soldiers here."

"Wal, I should smile not. Thet'd be a disgrace to the Northwest. It was a bad time fer the I.W.W. to try any tricks on us."

Jake shook his lean head and his jaw bulged. He might have been haranguing, cowboy-like, for the benefit of the man they feigned not to notice, but it was plain, nevertheless, that he was angry.

"What gits me wuss 'n them I.W.W.'s is the skunks thet give Uncle Sam the double-cross," said Andy, with dark face. "I'll stand fer any man an' respect him if he's aboveboard an' makes his fight in the open. But them coyotes thet live off the land an' pretend to be American when they ain't-they make me pisen mad."

"I heerd the vigilantes has marked men like thet," observed Bill.

"I'll give you a hunch, fellers," replied Jake, grimly. "By Gawd! the West won't stand fer traitors!"

All the way to "Many Waters," where it was possible to talk and be heard, the cowboys continued in like strain. And not until the driver halted the car before Anderson's door did they manifest any awareness of Neuman.

"Git out an' come in," said Jake to the pallid, sweating rancher.

He led Neuman into the hall and knocked upon Anderson's study door. It was opened by Dorn.

"Wal, hyar we are," announced Jake, and his very nonchalance attested to pride.

Anderson was standing beside his desk. He started, and his hand flashed back significantly as he sighted his rival and enemy.

"No gun-play, boss, was your orders," said Jake. "An' Neuman ain't packin' no gun."

It was plain that Anderson made a great effort at restraint. But he failed. And perhaps the realization that he could not kill this man liberated his passion. Then the two big ranchers faced each other-Neuman livid and shaking, Anderson black as a thunder-cloud.

"Neuman, you hatched up a plot with Glidden to kill me," said Anderson, bitterly.

Neuman, in hoarse, brief answer, denied it.

"Sure! Deny it. What do we care? … We've got you, Neuman," burst out Anderson, his heavy voice ringing with passion. "But it's not your low-down plot thet's r'iled me. There's been a good many men who've tried to do away with me. I've outplayed you in many a deal. So your personal hate for me doesn't count. I'm sore-an' you an' me can't live in the same place, because you're a damned traitor. You've lived here for twenty years. You've grown rich off the country. An' you'd sell us to your rotten Germany. What I think of you for that I'm goin' to tell you."

Anderson paused to take a deep breath. Then he began to curse Neuman. All the rough years of his frontier life, as well as the quieter ones of his ranching days, found expression in the swift, thunderous roll of his terrible scorn. Every vile name that had ever been used by cowboy, outlaw, gambler, leaped to Anderson's stinging tongue. All the keen, hard epithets common to the modern day he flung into Neuman's face. And he ended with a profanity that was as individual in character as its delivery was intense.

"I'm callin' you for my own relief," he concluded, "an' not that I expect to get under your hide."

Then he paused. He wiped the beaded drops from his forehead, and he coughed and shook himself. His big fists unclosed. Passion gave place to dignity.

"Neuman, it's a pity you an' men like you can't see the truth. That's the mystery to me-why any one who had spent half a lifetime an' prospered here in our happy an' beautiful country could ever hate it. I never will understand that. But I do understand that America will never harbor such men for long. You have your reasons, I reckon. An' no doubt you think you're justified. That's the tragedy. You run off from hard-ruled Germany. You will not live there of your own choice. You succeed here an' live in peace an' plenty.… An', by God! you take up with a lot of foreign riffraff an' double-cross the people you owe so much!… What's wrong with your mind?… Think it over.… An' that's the last word I have for you."

Anderson, turning to his desk, took up a cigar and lighted it. He was calm again. There was really sadness where his face had shown only fury. Then he addressed Dorn.

"Kurt, it's up to you now," he said. "As my superintendent an' some-day partner, what you'll say goes with me.… I don't know what bein' square would mean in relation to this man."

Anderson sat down heavily in his desk chair and his face became obscured in cigar smoke.

"Neuman, do you recognize me?" asked Dorn, with his flashing eyes on the rancher.

"No," replied Neuman.

"I'm Chris Dorn's son. My father died a few days ago. He overtaxed his heart fighting fire in the wheat … Fire set by I.W.W. men. Glidden's men! … They burned our wheat. Ruined us!"

Neuman showed shock at the news, at the sudden death of an old friend, but he did not express himself in words.

"Do you deny implication in Glidden's plot to kill Anderson?" demanded Dorn.

"Yes," replied Neuman.

"Well, you're a liar!" retorted Dorn. "I saw you with Glidden and my father. I followed you at Wheatly-out along the railroad tracks. I slipped up and heard the plot. It was I who snatched the money from my father."

Neuman's nerve was gone, but with his stupid and stubborn process of thought he still denied, stuttering incoherently.

"Glidden has been hanged," went on Dorn. "A vigilante band has been organized here in the valley. Men of your known sympathy will not be safe, irrespective of your plot against Anderson. But as to that, publicity alone will be enough to ruin you.… Americans of the West will not tolerate traitors.… Now the question you've got to decide is this. Will you take the risks or will you sell out and leave the country?"

"I'll sell out," replied Neuman.

"What price do you put on your ranch as it stands?"

"One hundred thousand dollars."

Dorn turned to Anderson and asked, "Is it worth that much?"

"No. Seventy-five thousand would be a big price," replied the rancher.

"Neuman, we will give you seventy-five thousand for your holdings. Do you accept?"

"I have no choice," replied Neuman, sullenly.

"Choice!" exclaimed Dorn. "Yes, you have. And you're not being cheated. I've stated facts. You are done in this valley. You're ruined now! And Glidden's fate stares you in the face.… Will you sell and leave the country?"

"Yes," came the deep reply, wrenched from a stubborn breast.

"Go draw up your deeds, then notify us," said Dorn, with finality.

Jake opened the door. Stolidly and slowly Neuman went out, precisely as he had entered, like a huge man in conflict with unintelligible thoughts.

"Send him home in the car," called Anderson.

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