The trouble began in
Laredo. It was the Llano Kid's fault, for he should have confined
his habit of manslaughter to Mexicans. But the Kid was past twenty;
and to have only Mexicans to one's credit at twenty is to blush
unseen on the Rio Grande border.
It happened in old Justo Valdos's gambling house. There was a
poker game at which sat players who were not all friends, as
happens often where men ride in from afar to shoot Folly as she
gallops. There was a row over so small a matter as a pair of
queens; and when the smoke had cleared away it was found that the
Kid had committed an indiscretion, and his adversary had been
guilty of a blunder. For, the unfortunate combatant, instead of
being a Greaser, was a high-blooded youth from the cow ranches, of
about the Kid's own age and possessed of friends and champions. His
blunder in missing the Kid's right ear only a sixteenth of an inch
when he pulled his gun did not lessen the indiscretion of the
The Kid, not being equipped with a retinue, nor bountifully
supplied with personal admirers and supporters--on account of a
rather umbrageous reputation, even for the border--considered it
not incompatible with his indispensable gameness to perform that
judicious tractional act known as "pulling his freight."
Quickly the avengers gathered and sought him. Three of them
overtook him within a rod of the station. The Kid turned and showed
his teeth in that brilliant but mirthless smile that usually
preceded his deeds of insolence and violence, and his pursuers fell
back without making it necessary for him even to reach for his
But in this affair the Kid had not felt the grim thirst for
encounter that usually urged him on to battle. It had been a purely
chance row, born of the cards and certain epithets impossible for a
gentleman to brook that had passed between the two. The Kid had
rather liked the slim, haughty, brown-faced young chap whom his
bullet had cut off in the first pride of manhood. And now he wanted
no more blood. He wanted to get away and have a good long sleep
somewhere in the sun on the mesquit grass with his handkerchief
over his face. Even a Mexican might have crossed his path in safety
while he was in this mood.
The Kid openly boarded the north-bound passenger train that
departed five minutes later. But at Webb, a few miles out, where it
was flagged to take on a traveller, he abandoned that manner of
escape. There were telegraph stations ahead; and the Kid looked
askance at electricity and steam. Saddle and spur were his rocks of
The man whom he had shot was a stranger to him. But the Kid
knew that he was of the Coralitos outfit from Hidalgo; and that the
punchers from that ranch were more relentless and vengeful than
Kentucky feudists when wrong or harm was done to one of them. So,
with the wisdom that has characterized many great farmers, the Kid
decided to pile up as many leagues as possible of chaparral and
pear between himself and the retaliation of the Coralitos
Near the station was a store; and near the store, scattered
among the mesquits and elms, stood the saddled horses of the
customers. Most of them waited, half asleep, with sagging limbs and
drooping heads. But one, a long-legged roan with a curved neck,
snorted and pawed the turf. Him the Kid mounted, gripped with his
knees, and slapped gently with the owner's own quirt.
If the slaying of the temerarious card-player had cast a cloud
over the Kid's standing as a good and true citizen, this last act
of his veiled his figure in the darkest shadows of disrepute. On
the Rio Grande border if you take a man's life you sometimes take
trash; but if you take his horse, you take a thing the loss of
which renders him poor, indeed, and which enriches you not--if you
are caught. For the Kid there was no turning back now.
With the springing roan under him he felt little care or
uneasiness. After a five-mile gallop he drew it in to the
plainsman's jogging trot, and rode northeastward toward the Nueces
River bottoms. He knew the country well--its most tortuous and
obscure trails through the great wilderness of brush and pear, and
its camps and lonesome ranches where one might find safe
entertainment. Always he bore to the east; for the Kid had never
seen the ocean, and he had a fancy to lay his hand upon the mane of
the great Gulf, the gamesome colt of the greater waters.
So after three days he stood on the shore at Corpus Christi,
and looked out across the gentle ripples of a quiet sea.
Captain Boone, of the schooner /Flyaway/, stood near his
skiff, which one of his crew was guarding in the surf. When ready
to sail he had discovered that one of the necessaries of life, in
the parallelogrammatic shape of plug tobacco, had been forgotten. A
sailor had been dispatched for the missing cargo. Meanwhile the
captain paced the sands, chewing profanely at his pocket
A slim, wiry youth in high-heeled boots came down to the
water's edge. His face was boyish, but with a premature severity
that hinted at a man's experience. His complexion was naturally
dark; and the sun and wind of an outdoor life had burned it to a
coffee brown. His hair was as black and straight as an Indian's;
his face had not yet upturned to the humiliation of a razor; his
eyes were a cold and steady blue. He carried his left arm somewhat
away from his body, for pearl-handled .45s are frowned upon by town
marshals, and are a little bulky when placed in the left armhole of
one's vest. He looked beyond Captain Boone at the gulf with the
impersonal and expressionless dignity of a Chinese emperor.
"Thinkin' of buyin' that'ar gulf, buddy?" asked the captain,
made sarcastic by his narrow escape from a tobaccoless
"Why, no," said the Kid gently, "I reckon not. I never saw it
before. I was just looking at it. Not thinking of selling it, are
"Not this trip," said the captain. "I'll send it to you C.O.D.
when I get back to Buenas Tierras. Here comes that capstanfooted
lubber with the chewin'. I ought to've weighed anchor an hour
"Is that your ship out there?" asked the Kid.
"Why, yes," answered the captain, "if you want to call a
schooner a ship, and I don't mind lyin'. But you better say Miller
and Gonzales, owners, and ordinary plain, Billy-be-damned old
Samuel K. Boone, skipper."
"Where are you going to?" asked the refugee.
"Buenas Tierras, coast of South America--I forgot what they
called the country the last time I was there. Cargo--lumber,
corrugated iron, and machetes."
"What kind of a country is it?" asked the Kid--"hot or
"Warmish, buddy," said the captain. "But a regular Paradise
Lost for elegance of scenery and be-yooty of geography. Ye're
wakened every morning by the sweet singin' of red birds with seven
purple tails, and the sighin' of breezes in the posies and roses.
And the inhabitants never work, for they can reach out and pick
steamer baskets of the choicest hothouse fruit without gettin' out
of bed. And there's no Sunday and no ice and no rent and no
troubles and no use and no nothin'. It's a great country for a man
to go to sleep with, and wait for somethin' to turn up. The bananys
and oranges and hurricanes and pineapples that ye eat comes from
"That sounds to me!" said the Kid, at last betraying interest.
"What'll the expressage be to take me out there with you?"
"Twenty-four dollars," said Captain Boone; "grub and
transportation. Second cabin. I haven't got a first cabin."
"You've got my company," said the Kid, pulling out a buckskin
With three hundred dollars he had gone to Laredo for his
regular "blowout." The duel in Valdos's had cut short his season of
hilarity, but it had left him with nearly $200 for aid in the
flight that it had made necessary.
"All right, buddy," said the captain. "I hope your ma won't
blame me for this little childish escapade of yours." He beckoned
to one of the boat's crew. "Let Sanchez lift you out to the skiff
so you won't get your feet wet."
* * * * *
Thacker, the United States consul at Buenas Tierras, was not
yet drunk. It was only eleven o'clock; and he never arrived at his
desired state of beatitude--a state wherein he sang ancient maudlin
vaudeville songs and pelted his screaming parrot with banana
peels--until the middle of the afternoon. So, when he looked up
from his hammock at the sound of a slight cough, and saw the Kid
standing in the door of the consulate, he was still in a condition
to extend the hospitality and courtesy due from the representative
of a great nation. "Don't disturb yourself," said the Kid, easily.
"I just dropped in. They told me it was customary to light at your
camp before starting in to round up the town. I just came in on a
ship from Texas."
"Glad to see you, Mr.--" said the consul.
The Kid laughed.
"Sprague Dalton," he said. "It sounds funny to me to hear it.
I'm called the Llano Kid in the Rio Grande country."
"I'm Thacker," said the consul. "Take that cane-bottom chair.
Now if you've come to invest, you want somebody to advise you.
These dingies will cheat you out of the gold in your teeth if you
don't understand their ways. Try a cigar?"
"Much obliged," said the Kid, "but if it wasn't for my corn
shucks and the little bag in my back pocket I couldn't live a
minute." He took out his "makings," and rolled a cigarette.
"They speak Spanish here," said the consul. "You'll need an
interpreter. If there's anything I can do, why, I'd be delighted.
If you're buying fruit lands or looking for a concession of any
sort, you'll want somebody who knows the ropes to look out for
"I speak Spanish," said the Kid, "about nine times better than
I do English. Everybody speaks it on the range where I come from.
And I'm not in the market for anything."
"You speak Spanish?" said Thacker thoughtfully. He regarded
the kid absorbedly.
"You look like a Spaniard, too," he continued. "And you're
from Texas. And you can't be more than twenty or twenty-one. I
wonder if you've got any nerve."
"You got a deal of some kind to put through?" asked the Texan,
with unexpected shrewdness.
"Are you open to a proposition?" said Thacker.
"What's the use to deny it?" said the Kid. "I got into a
little gun frolic down in Laredo and plugged a white man. There
wasn't any Mexican handy. And I come down to your parrot-and-monkey
range just for to smell the morning-glories and marigolds. Now, do
Thacker got up and closed the door.
"Let me see your hand," he said.
He took the Kid's left hand, and examined the back of it
"I can do it," he said excitedly. "Your flesh is as hard as
wood and as healthy as a baby's. It will heal in a week."
"If it's a fist fight you want to back me for," said the Kid,
"don't put your money up yet. Make it gun work, and I'll keep you
company. But no barehanded scrapping, like ladies at a tea-party,
"It's easier than that," said Thacker. "Just step here, will
Through the window he pointed to a two-story white-stuccoed
house with wide galleries rising amid the deep-green tropical
foliage on a wooded hill that sloped gently from the sea.
"In that house," said Thacker, "a fine old Castilian gentleman
and his wife are yearning to gather you into their arms and fill
your pockets with money. Old Santos Urique lives there. He owns
half the gold-mines in the country."
"You haven't been eating loco weed, have you?" asked the
"Sit down again," said Thacker, "and I'll tell you. Twelve
years ago they lost a kid. No, he didn't die--although most of 'em
here do from drinking the surface water. He was a wild little
devil, even if he wasn't but eight years old. Everybody knows about
it. Some Americans who were through here prospecting for gold had
letters to Senor Urique, and the boy was a favorite with them. They
filled his head with big stories about the States; and about a
month after they left, the kid disappeared, too. He was supposed to
have stowed himself away among the banana bunches on a fruit
steamer, and gone to New Orleans. He was seen once afterward in
Texas, it was thought, but they never heard anything more of him.
Old Urique has spent thousands of dollars having him looked for.
The madam was broken up worst of all. The kid was her life. She
wears mourning yet. But they say she believes he'll come back to
her some day, and never gives up hope. On the back of the boy's
left hand was tattooed a flying eagle carrying a spear in his
claws. That's old Urique's coat of arms or something that he
inherited in Spain."
The Kid raised his left hand slowly and gazed at it