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The Delafield Affair By Florence Finch Kelly Characters: 15301

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Dan Tillinghurst and Little Jack Wilder sat under the big cottonwood in front of the court-house, commenting upon things in general, and, presently, more particularly upon Curtis Conrad and his mare, Brown Betty, when they espied him talking with the landlord in front of the hotel across the stream. The town of Golden lay in a gulch among the foot-hills. It had been a thriving silver camp in the older days. Discovered in the heyday of the pale metal, it had yielded so richly that the men flocking thither, in sheer, exultant contempt of the value of its yellow brother, had named the camp "Golden Gulch." The mines had been in the bottom of the gulch, and near them, along the banks of the stream, had been built all the houses of the mining days. The earliest roads had run along each side of the water, and these were still the main streets of the town. Facing one another across the two streets and the bed of the creek were all the public buildings and business houses, the two hotels, some of the best residences, and many of the poorer ones. The Mexican quarter, called "Doby Town" by the Americans, straggled along these thoroughfares and up the hillsides just beyond the heart of the town. Down their entire length cottonwoods of notable girth and majesty spread their branches.

One of the largest and finest of these trees shaded the court-house corner where the Sheriff and his deputy were sprawling their legs and waiting for something to happen. The Sheriff was burly and broad-shouldered, although his legs had not quite been able to keep pace with the growing massiveness of his torso. The occasions were rare when his blue eyes were not twinkling with good humor, while his mouth beneath its absurd little moustache curved in a smile as habitual as his cheerful kindliness and universal optimism. Little Jack Wilder, who owed his descriptive title to his six feet three of height, was slender and lithe. He wasted neither words in talk nor bullets in pistol fights, and he had the reputation of being one of the best shots in the Southwest, as good even as Emerson Mead, over at Las Plumas in the adjoining county.

Curtis Conrad walked across the bridge that spanned the stream, Brown Betty at his heels, and met their "Hello, Curt!" with "Hello! Anything new?"

"Yes," said Wilder, "anyway, there's likely to be."

"What sort?"

"That's what we'd like to know," said Tillinghurst. "Jack's been sashaying around Doby Town for the last two days with his eye on a Mexican horse thief, waitin' for him to do something he can be arrested for; and the darn' fool won't do a thing! He just sits around respectable and behaves himself. Jack's gettin' all out of patience with him."

Little Jack growled a corroborative oath, and took a chew of tobacco.

"Well, if you know he's a horse thief, why don't you arrest him?" asked Conrad.

"We know it all right," said Jack; "but he ain't lifted no critters yet in this county. He's been doin' some chicken-thieving and that sort o' thing around town the last week, but we ain't goin' to arrest him for that."

Wilder shut his jaws with a determined snap, while Tillinghurst went on to explain in answer to Conrad's look of surprise: "If we arrest him for that he'd be taken before a justice of the peace; and you-all know what kind of a mess Diego Vigil would make of it. He'd likely fine the man whose chicken-coop had been raided because he didn't have more stuff in his back-yard to be stolen, and he'd discharge José Maria Melgares with a warning not to wake people up o' nights by letting the chickens squawk!"

The Sheriff's smile broadened and ran down his throat in a chuckle. Little Jack Wilder burst explosively into brief and profane speech that showed his opinion of Mexicans, and especially of Mexican justices of the peace, to be most contemptuous.

"Then why do you give them the office?" Curtis demanded. "Both parties do it, all over the Territory, though you all know that every time they get a chance they make justice look like a bobtailed horse. Up north last week one of 'em fined a man five dollars for committing murder and warned him not to do it again or he'd have to make it ten next time. You folks all knew what you might expect from Vigil when you gave him the place."

"Oh, well, Curt, you-all ain't run for office yet. When you do, you'll appreciate the fact that the greasers have got to be put where they'll do the most good. I'm willin' to give 'em that much, and I'm only too thankful old Vigil and his friends don't strike for the Sheriff's place."

Tillinghurst chuckled, while Wilder smiled grimly and profanely reckoned he wouldn't serve under Vigil or any other Mexican. "Mebbe that pock-marked Melgares has been up to some mischief by this time," he added. "I hain't set eyes on him for nigh two hours. Let's go down to the Blue Front, have a drink, and find out if anything's happened."

They went down the street together, Brown Betty following with the bridle over her neck. A block farther down stream, a good-looking Mexican came out of the First National Bank and passed them. The Sheriff turned a second keen glance upon him. "That looks like Liberato Herrara," he said to his deputy in a hasty aside. Raising his voice he accosted the man in Spanish.

The Mexican turned and replied in precise English with grave courtesy, "Did the se?or speak to me?"

"Yes; ain't you Liberato Herrara?"

"No, se?or. My name is José Gonzalez."

The Sheriff apologized, and the other bowed politely, fell behind, and crossed to the other side of the stream. Conrad asked Tillinghurst if he did not believe Herrara guilty of the murder of which he had been acquitted several months before.

"Of course he was. And it's likely that ain't the only one either. I'm glad this man ain't him. If he was down here it would be on some business for Baxter, and it wouldn't do for me to find out too much about it."

Conrad snorted contemptuously, and Wilder said, "Dan, you're talkin' too damn much."

"Oh, Curt's all right," replied the Sheriff, placidly. "He couldn't hate Baxter any more than he does if he tried, but he don't go back on his friends. This man Melgares," he went on, "that we're hopin' will make up his mind to do somethin' worth while, tells a queer yarn. He says he used to have a good ranch in the Rio Grande valley, between Socorro and Albuquerque, but he borrowed money on it from Baxter. Of course he couldn't pay, Dell foreclosed, and Melgares had to get out."

"Yes; I heard the other day about Baxter's operations up there," Conrad broke in hotly. "I understand he's got hold of a lot of land in just that way. It's a cursed, low-down, dirty piece of business."

"Oh, well, better men than Baxter have done the same sort of thing," the Sheriff responded. "From all I can find out about Melgares I reckon he was honest enough up to that time; but he's been goin' it pretty lively ever since. I think he's aimin' to work down to the border, where he can do the crisscross act."

Conrad turned with an exclamation of sudden remembrance. "By the way! Bill Williams told me just now that Rutherford Jenkins is here, at his hotel. Have you seen him? Do you know what he's here for?"

"I haven't talked with him, but I reckon he's here on some deal for Johnny Martinez."

Curtis tied the mare to the hitching-post on the corner. "I've heard," he said cautiously, "that he has a venomous tongue and uses it recklessly. Do you know whether he's been doing any outrageous talking lately?"

"Well, I reckon nobody would believe anything Jenkins said, anyway. But I haven't heard anything. Have y

ou, Jack?"

Some other men came along, and they all stopped to talk together. Curtis leaned against the mare and stroked her glossy neck. She poked her nose into his coat pocket and found a lump of sugar, which she ate with much dainty tossing of her head. It was some minutes before they entered the saloon.

The "Blue Front" was a two-roomed shanty on the edge of the Mexican quarter. Gambling games of various sorts occupied the back room; and there, too, political deals were arranged and votes bargained and paid for between the American politicians and the leaders of the Mexicans. When Conrad and his friends came down the street a number of men were in the rear room, some talking and others busy at cards. At a table near a side window men of both races were engaged in a poker game. One of the players, a pock-marked Mexican with a defective eye, frequently glanced down the street. When he saw the Sheriff and his two companions approach, he rose and watched them. The others wanted to know what he was looking at, and he asked who was the man with the brown mare. A tall, dark American, with slightly stooping shoulders, looked up with interest as he heard them give Conrad's name, and joined the group at the window. Several of the men spoke with enthusiasm about Brown Betty, and one, who said he had once worked at Socorro Springs ranch, told them that Conrad thought more of her than of anything else he owned. When the men in front entered the saloon, the pock-marked Mexican cashed in his chips and slipped out through the rear door.

The sound of Conrad's voice in the bar-room caught the attention of the tall, dark American. An angry flush reddened his face, his beady eyes snapped, and the tip of his tongue licked his lips. Then something amusing seemed to occur to him, for his features relaxed into a smile and he glanced briskly around the room.

"See if you can find Melgares, will you?" he asked the Mexican with whom he had been talking. "Tell him I'll wait for him outside the back door."

He stepped out into the bright sunshine, smiling and rubbing his hands together. Back of the shanty was a high adobe wall surrounding the corral of the Mexican houses fronting on the next street. A wooden door in the wall opened cautiously, and the pock-marked face looked out.

"You sent for me, Se?or Jenkins?" the Mexican asked.

"Yes. It's all right. You needn't be afraid. I want you to do something, Melgares."

They stepped inside the corral and Melgares bolted the door. "You saw Conrad's mare just now?" Jenkins began. "Fine creature, isn't she?"

"Splendid, se?or. The finest I have seen in a long time."

"I'll warrant it! I never saw a better myself. Looks like a good traveller, doesn't she?"

"Si, se?or."

"And a stayer, too, I guess! It wouldn't be hard to get to the Mexican border on her back, would it?"

Melgares grinned, then shook his head. "But my family-I could not take them with me."

"Well-see here, Melgares. Here's fifty dollars. If you'll get away with Conrad's mare you can have it for your trouble. It will take your family down there all right."

"But you, se?or,-where do you come in?" He looked suspiciously at Jenkins.

"Oh, never mind me. Conrad did me a bad turn a while ago, and I'm evening up the score. That's all I want out of it."

"But now, se?or?"

"Yes; now's your chance. He's in the saloon, and the mare's tied at the corner."

"The Sheriff is in there, too. The risk is great."

"Well, I'll go in and keep them busy. I'll raise excitement enough inside so that nobody will even look out of the windows. Get out there in five minutes, be quick about it, and ride off down the valley road."

"Give me the money, se?or. I'll take the chance."

Jenkins returned, and entered the bar-room with his former companion without attracting the attention of Conrad and his friends. The other spoke of the report about the Castleton money and mentioned Curtis Conrad's name. Jenkins raised his voice in angry reply:

"Oh, damn Conrad! Martinez don't want his help!"

Curtis heard the words and turned sharply around, his face flushing. Jenkins appeared not to see him, and went on:

"The Castletons are all right, but Conrad's help would be a disgrace to any party. Martinez don't want it!" His voice rang loud and shrill above the silence that had fallen suddenly upon the room.

Curtis's face paled, even under its ruddy tan, and his eyes blazed. With head up he strode forward. "Jenkins," he said, without raising his voice, although it shook with a warning tremor, "I advise you to be careful. You may have your opinion about me, as I have mine about you-and you know what that is. But don't you say that again, nor anything else of the sort!"

Jenkins turned toward him with an ugly sneer. Recollection of former indignities at Conrad's tongue and hands blazed up in his heart and carried him farther than he had meant to go. With an oath and a vile name he flung his glass in Conrad's face. In an instant the young man's arms were around his body. The others crowded in and tried to stop the quarrel.

"Let us alone!" shouted Curtis, pushing his way toward the back room. "Wilder, take his gun, will you? Get mine out of my pocket, too. This won't be a gun play."

Tillinghurst took Conrad's pistol, and Wilder succeeded in getting Jenkins's revolver, at the cost of a kick on the shin, which he repaid in kind. With Jenkins almost helpless in his grasp, Curtis struggled into the rear room. The others were all crowding after him. He turned back a face still pale and set with anger, although a twinkle of amusement was creeping into his eyes.

"Dan," he called, "shut that door and keep out the crowd!"

Instantly there were cries of disapproval.

"Fair play!" "You're bigger than him!" "We want to see it's on the square!"

Curtis scowled. "If any of you think it won't be on the square, just wait for me till I get through with him," he shouted.

The Sheriff slammed the door, and set his bulk against it, saying with smiling cheerfulness: "Well, gentlemen, I reckon Mr. Jenkins won't get any more than is comin' to him, and as Sheriff I call on all of you to keep the peace and not interfere."

Alone in the back room with his prisoner, Conrad dropped into a chair, dragged the other over his knees, face downward, then threw out one sinewy leg and caught under it Jenkins's two unruly limbs. Still keeping a firm grip with his left arm, he raised his right hand.

"Now," he said grimly, "you're going to get the sort of spanking your mother didn't give you enough of."

One after another the resounding smacks came down, while Jenkins, his strength spent in futile struggle, could do nothing but writhe helplessly under the smarting blows. The sound of them penetrated to the front room. As the men there realized what was happening they broke into laughter so uproarious that it smote upon Jenkins's ears and forced a hysterical shriek from between his gritted teeth. In Conrad's heart it inspired compassion and he desisted.

"I guess that'll do for this time," he said, releasing his hold and standing the culprit on his feet. "I don't want to have to hurt you, but let me tell you, you damned skunk," and he seized Jenkins's shoulders and gave him a vigorous shake, "if you ever dare talk about me again in that way, or tell another human being what you told me about Bancroft, I'll make you wish you'd never been born."

With a parting shake he let Jenkins fall back into the chair, sobbing aloud. Then he stalked to the door, not even doing his enemy the slight honor of going out backward.

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