Fool’s Goal - B.M. Bower - ebook

Fool’s Goal ebook

B.M. Bower



B.M Bower had a gift for writing Westerns, weaving tales of adventure, intrigue, mystery, and romance – often with surprise endings. They are historical reminiscences of pioneers among the sage and bush, clearing the way for a new America. This is one of her stories. A man travels from Montana to San Jose to show a girl how the wide West breeds wider morals. The plot is well constructed with well drawn subsidiary characters and provides a number of interesting twists. Whether you’re a first-time reader or a long-time fan, „Fool’s Goal” will surely please fans of classic Westerns.

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Liczba stron: 325

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The hoarse bellow of noon whistles shattered the cloistered quiet of the vice-president’s office in a certain bank down near the stockyards. Mr. Kittridge cleared his throat and lifted his eye-glasses from his thin nose, the other hand going out to finger certain papers lying before him on the desk.

“If you want to put your money into land and cattle,” he said, “that is your own affair. I can doubtless arrange the matter through some of our Western correspondents. I suppose there isn’t a bank out there that hasn’t been obliged to take in such a property as you apparently want, on foreclosures. I haven’t a doubt that, given the locality you desire, we can find you what you want.”

“But that isn’t the way I want it, Mr. Kittridge. I didn’t want any cut-and-dried arrangement through the banks. I want to knock around through the West and get my information first-hand, through actual personal contact with the conditions I shall have to meet. I want to be in a position to snap up any bargain I might happen to run across, so I’ll take cash–”

“And risk your life doing it,” snapped Mr. Kittridge, stung out of his calm. “You certainly must realize what will happen if you carry a large sum of money around with you.”

“Don’t you think I’m able to take care of it?”

“I certainly do not, Mr. Emery. I do not think any man is safe with a large sum of money on his person. It is absolutely unnecessary to take the risk. Any bank will forward a draft on us, in the event of your making an investment of any kind. We shall be glad to wire payment if you desire. Currency is dangerous, not only to you but to the man who is paid in cash. Murder and robbery follow on the heels of cash money, as you must know, Mr. Emery. Your father, I am sure, never dreamed of such a move as this, or he would have made some provision against it.”

“Yes, I guess he would, all right. Dad thought he dealt in cattle, but he didn’t, really. He dealt in dollars. He sat in an office and juggled train-loads of steers on paper. Everything was done on paper. Why, he never had twenty-five dollars in his pocket at one time in his life, so far as I know. Checks–checks–bank balances–well, I’m going to carry on from a little different angle, Mr. Kittridge.

“I want to see and feel and know the West. All my life I’ve watched trains of cattle unloaded here at the yards; now I’m going to see where they all come from. I know quite a few Westerners too; men that have come in with the cattle. They’re different from any one here, but I don’t know why they should be–barring certain colloquialisms born of their trade. It was all right for Dad to sit in an office and count cattle by car-loads, but I’ve got to watch ‘em grow. And money will talk, when I’m ready to have it speak. It isn’t such a wild notion, when you consider the kind of men I’ll be dealing with. A few thousands in cash will look a heap bigger than a check for the same amount. I–why, I’d take gold coin if I could carry it!”

“There’s really no reason for such a course, and I cannot advise–”

“Well, I didn’t expect you to approve or to advise it,” Dale replied easily. “I realize that there’s no reason on earth for what I’m doing except that I want to do it. I couldn’t expect a banker to see my point of view. You’ve got your burglar-proof vaults and you always see money kept inside those vaults or behind your steelgrilled windows. You like to push it through, a few dollars at a time, and if a man asks for a lot you wonder why. You folks are like Dad; you juggle millions on paper, most of the time, and the cash you want to see locked safely away. You think dollars are dangerous–“ He laughed suddenly and silently, his eyes opening wide and then half closing upon the light of mirth within. “Well, I’ve decided that I’m a gambler at heart,” he chuckled. “I’ve studied psychology in books till I’m pretty well fed up on it. I’m going to take a course of what you might call field work. I’m in the mood to gamble a little with life; with danger, if you want to put it that way.”

Again he laughed that silent laugh with the sudden flash of his eyes, and Mr. Kittridge, who had seen the trick in Dale’s father and knew what it meant, gave up all idea of argument; and to prove it he closed his lips in a thin, straight line.

“So many bright young men go West to find their fortune,” Dale added. “It will be interesting to reverse the process and take mine with me.”

He had no expectation of being taken literally, but Mr. Kittridge adjusted his glasses again upon his high, thin nose and picked up a paper.

“Your real estate can hardly be carried off in your pocket, so we will leave that aside, having already disposed of the matter for the present. You have to your credit with us fifty-five thousand, seven hundred dollars. In what denomination do you wish to have the money, Mr. Emery?”

Dale stared for a moment, then laughed and got up.

“Oh, as large as you conveniently can,” he said carelessly. “I’ll call in to-morrow, if you like, Mr. Kittridge. Oh, by the way, give me two or three hundred in small bills, will you? Expense money, you know. See you to-morrow. Good-by.”

Outside the bank he stopped and stood in the shelter of the deep doorway out of the wind while he lighted a cigarette, and his shoulders lifted themselves impatiently.

“Darn fool! Or maybe not, either. Maybe he thought he could scare me out with that bluff. Shot the whole pile at me, and what will I do with all that money?” Dale shrugged again. He had meant to take five thousand, or maybe ten at most. But Kittridge had taken him at his word. “Mad, maybe, because the bank isn’t going to get its usual percentage if I do deal for a ranch. Yes, Kittridge certainly was sore. Threw the whole thing at me when he found he couldn’t run the show!”

His cigarette going to his satisfaction, Dale stepped out into the throng and walked briskly northward. Kittridge had challenged his nerve and his intelligence, and he probably expected Dale to back water and accept a book or two of traveler’s checks and go ambling from town to town like any tourist. Well, Dale didn’t intend to do anything of the sort, though he felt pretty much a fool now that he was away from the presence of the man who had unconsciously egged him into so fantastic a decision. Kittridge was so blamed conservative; that was probably what had started it all. For Dale had been trained to conservatism all his life and he was sick of it. Business conventions had been the breath of life to his dad, but they certainly were not going to be saddled upon the son. Dale had walked a block when of a sudden he laughed.

“All right, we’ll let it ride that way,” he said to himself. “I guess I can handle it–but it sure is a queer way to start out–handicapped with money, instead of with the lack of it. I wonder, now, just how–”

His thoughts broke there when he whistled a yellow cab to the curb. The address he gave was somewhere near the middle of the Loop, and as the cab speeded up, he settled back to smoke and think. It was going to be something of a problem, as he realized now that he faced it squarely. He hardly knew whether to resent Kittridge’s unimaginative interpretation of his little declaration of independence or whether to laugh at the joke on himself. His mood alternated between the two but it is interesting to note that not once did he consider going back and telling Kittridge that he had not meant to be quite so radical in his ranch hunting. Instead of that, he dismissed the cab in front of Brentano’s and started a round of purposeful shopping. He did not intend to take a great deal of luggage with him, but he did mean to take plenty of time in selecting exactly what he wanted.



Dale lifted heavy eyelids and stared stupidly around the room, blinking a good deal over the effect to orientate himself. His lips felt stiff and sore, though for the life of him he could not think why they should. He raised a hand to investigate and felt dully amazed that his whole arm should feel heavy, his fingers awkward. A vile taste was in his mouth–something he ought to recognize, though his inert brain could not at once grasp the elusive quality of familiarity. Sluggishly he pondered, his eyes closing again while he did so, his tongue moving questioningly along his smarting lips.

“Chloroform!” Though he did not make a sound, his brain formed the word with the abrupt clarity of speech. He struggled to an elbow, hung there groggily with his eyes shut, then swung his bare feet out upon the Brussels carpet of the hotel room he occupied. For a full minute he sat slumped upon the side of the bed, staring owlishly, head between pressed palms, elbows propped insecurely upon his knees. Chloroform! He could taste it now to his very toes, and the flavor nauseated him almost past endurance. Once more his fingers passed gently across his lips and a fuller understanding seeped in upon him. He had not lived all his life in a city to be puzzled now by his condition, nor did he need to glance around the room to confirm his suspicion.

He got up presently and tottered to the dresser, leaning against it while he inspected his mouth. Lips seared and swollen with the stuff used upon him, eyes bloodshot and hair tousled, he presented so unlovely a sight that he turned away in disgust, languidly flapping a hand back at his reflection. On the bed again, with the covers pulled over him to shut out the chill of a crisp Wyoming morning, he battled with the aftermath of the anæsthetic and in time overcame it sufficiently to do a little coherent thinking.

Of course he had been robbed. He wondered how the thieves had managed to get in, then decided that they had entered by way of the window. He remembered that he had lowered the upper sash a foot or so for ventilation and had left the lower sash closed, and now the flapping curtains proclaimed the fact that the lower sash had been pushed up as far as it would go and the upper sash was closed. Perfectly simple, and very fortunate for him; that breeze blowing in had probably done much to call him back from the final sleep. They had used enough chloroform to kill an elephant, it seemed to him. His system was clogged with it. He could smell it on every breath he exhaled; the sweetish taste of it was in his mouth.

“Made a good job of it,” his brain said distinctly, and somehow the sentence removed the obligation of immediate action. He pulled the covers higher over his shoulder, closed his eyes and let himself slide back into oblivion.

When he woke again, the breeze was still and the room was warm. From the way the sun was shining full across the foot of his bed he knew it must be nearly noon, and though the sweet, furry taste of chloroform was still in his mouth, it was not so pronounced and his body did not feel quite so heavy. But his head ached and his lips still felt puffed and sore, and altogether he was in no happy frame of mind as he sat up in bed, glowering at the room.

Everything he possessed had been ransacked. His clothes lay just where they had been dropped from the hands of the thieves. Though it was only a guess, Dale had no doubt there had been more than two men in his room; he did not believe one man alone would have tackled the job. His wallet he had pushed down between the sheets when he got in last night, and now he turned the sheet back over the foot of the bed for a complete search. From the look of the room he at first thought they must have missed the wallet, but they had been more thorough than he would have believed possible. The wallet was gone.

He leaned and picked up the coat he had worn the day before–a gray shadow-plaid with a thread of lavender. It lay on the chair beside the bed, though he had hung it in the closet with the rest of his suits which he had unpacked, thinking he would probably spend some days in Cheyenne. The lining of the coat had been slit down each under-arm seam, and the interlining on the shoulders and under the arms had been pulled loose. Dale frowned when he saw that, and got out of bed to make a more systematic examination of his other garments.

Every coat he had was cut in exactly the same fashion, and so were his vests, which he seldom wore. Even the one dinner coat he had brought with him had been searched. His suit case and big Gladstone bag showed slitted linings, his steamer trunk had been likewise examined. His few books sprawled open on the floor, where they had been flung in spite.

Dale picked them up one by one, straightened the creased leaves with careful fingers and laid them on the dresser. Shelley, three volumes of Shakespeare, Browning and two books of Kipling’s poems. The assortment was not what one would expect a young fellow like Dale Emery to be carrying, and a somewhat unusual feature of the little collection was that they were uniformly bound in red morocco with his name stamped in gold in the lower righthand corner; a booklover’s indulgence, one knew at a glance. As Dale recovered them one by one, his face brightened a little. His books, at least, had escaped the general mutilation.

With Browning held absently in his hand, he sat down on the bed to consider the situation. They couldn’t have been hunting his wallet in the lining of his luggage, even granting that they had not looked in the bed until after they had searched the room. They had taken his watch and his tie pin, a fire opal of exceptional beauty, but it was undoubtedly his money they were after, and not only the money he carried in the wallet, though it had contained a couple of hundred or so; enough to justify the chloroform, perhaps, but not enough to account for the painstaking search they had made.

No, they had wanted more. They wanted all of it–all he had drawn from the bank. But how had they known about that? His bank in Chicago surely would not peddle the news, and he doubted whether any one save Kittridge and the assistant cashier who had given him the money would know about it. On second thought he decided that the paying out of so much cash would probably show on the books, but if any one in that conservative institution had wanted to rob him he wouldn’t have waited all this while, surely. Dale hadn’t left Chicago for some days after he got the money, and for two days he had kept it at home in one of his grips, just as if it weren’t money at all but a package of little value. It had worried him so little that he had decided that since no one knew he had it, there was no reason whatever for being afraid of it. Now he was faced with the fact that some one had known.

Before leaving home he had disposed of the money in the safest way he could think of. Looking at the garment-strewn room he thought of the exact manner of its concealment and grinned. No, it was certain that while they must have known he was carrying it, they did not know how he had hidden it. No one, not even Kittridge, would ever guess that. On the way out to Cheyenne he had talked with one or two of the passengers casually, as men do while smoking, but he had not discussed his own affairs, or given his name, or told any one his business. He was very certain of that. Most of the time he had read, or looked out at the reeling landscape and dreamed of the cattle ranch he would one day own.

It was the Pullman conductor who had recommended this hotel, the Rocky Mountain, when he had arrived in Cheyenne yesterday. He had wandered around the town a bit, had eaten a good dinner and had sat in the lobby until bedtime talking with a tall, lean, handsome old fellow with a soft voice and a pleasant manner and the inimitable vernacular which proclaimed him range-bred. They had talked of the early days in Wyoming, and of the men who had flourished for a time in the West and died as they had lived. They had discussed cattle and range conditions, and the old fellow had seemed a gold mine of information. Dale had regretted that he was not a story writer so that he could use some of the stuff.

Had he mentioned to this man–Quincy Burnett was his name–that he had come prepared to invest in a cattle ranch? Dale tried to remember just what he had said; surely not that he had a large sum of money with him. He was not that big a fool. He had asked about the chance of getting hold of a good place, and Burnett had told him it ought to be easy, and had explained in great detail just why. Cattle raising wasn’t what it used to be, he had said. Although cattle were “up”, most of the ranchers were poor and saddled with debt. Some had gone broke and had to quit, because they had not been able to weather the black time when cattle had suddenly “dropped.” Dale knew something of that too, from hearing his father talk prices.

No, he did not believe Burnett had anything to do with the robbery. If he had, then Dale did not know anything at all about human nature. Yet Burnett was the only man with whom he had talked in Cheyenne.

His thoughts swung back to Kittridge and the bank that handled his inheritance. He didn’t believe they had anything to do with it either, and yet they were the only ones who had known about the money. No bystander could have seen him receive it, for he had gone into the cashier’s office and the assistant cashier had brought the money in a neat package, had counted it there on the desk and had received Dale’s check for the amount. Why, for all the people outside knew, he might have been in there borrowing or paying back a loan. He had carried a brief case; so far as appearances went he might even have been an agent for something.

Kittridge–had old Kittridge wanted to scare him out? Had he framed a practical joke just to show him what a fool he was? Dale felt his sore lips and shook his head. He couldn’t imagine Kittridge doing anything of the kind; he was too old-fashioned, too conservative. It was a mystery, and he couldn’t solve it sitting there in his pajamas thinking about it.

He got up and called the office on the phone, and said that he wanted to see the manager at once. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed again and held his head while he waited. When the manager tapped on the door, Dale let him in and went back to bed.

The manager, a neat little man with a round, boyish face and blond hair parted just off center and combed back in two little waves, glanced surprisedly around the room and approached the bed warily, one hand clasping the other.

“Well, you see what happened, don’t you?” Dale demanded, with mild reproach. “I’ve been robbed. They pickled me in chloroform and gutted the room.”

“I’d better get the police,” said the manager, eyeing the disorder. “Did you lose anything of value, Mr. Emery?”

“Oh, no!” Dale snorted. “Didn’t I tell you they cleaned me out? Something over two hundred dollars in my wallet, to say nothing of–what else they took.”

“Papers?” the manager was staring at the suit case and empty trunk.

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