Owen Clancy's Run Of Luck - Burt L. Standish - ebook

This is a true "dime novel" from shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. Written for younger men, it is almost funny today, but well worth the read.

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The Wonderful Adventures of Cap’n Wiley





Honk, h-o-n-k!

“Look out there! Jump—jump!”

High above these sounds there broke a startled yell. Owen Clancy, who was tramping along the road with his coat over his arm, not only heard the yell, but caught one tragic glimpse of a figure soaring through the cloud of dust, dropping in a sprawl on the rocks, and then rolling over the edge of the cliff.

“Great jumping horn toads!” gulped the red-headed chap, coming to an astounded halt, every nerve in a quiver. “Right over the precipice, by thunder! That fellow’s done for, and no mistake. The man behind that steering wheel ought to be pinched! He didn’t give the fellow in the trail any chance at all—just ran him down and made him jump over the edge of the cliff. Now the driver of that car hasn’t the common decency to come back and see how much harm has been done!”

The scene of this reckless automobile driving was a trail leading toward the city of Phoenix, Arizona. It was one of those mountain-and-desert trails which lead for miles over thirsty, sun-scorched plains, and occasionally climb to dizzy heights by narrow, hair-raising spirals clipped from the mountainside.

Clancy, at the high point of the trail, had been crossing a rugged, bowlder-covered uplift. At his left was a blank wall, a hundred feet high; under his feet was a shelf, barely wide enough for the road; and, on his right, was a precipice.

Those heights overlooked a dusty stretch of flat desert, at whose farther edge could be seen the rooftops and spires of Phoenix peeping out of the green treetops. The city, from that distance, presented a most enchanting view, and Clancy had paused to look and to admire.

“Wonder what sort of luck I’m going to have in that town?” he had asked himself. “I’ve got a notion it is going to make or break me. Well,” and he frowned resolutely, “if it breaks me, I’ll make good somewhere else. I’m the head of the family now, and it is up to me to show the folks back East just what sort of a little, red-headed breadwinner I am. I’ll——”

He broke off his reflections abruptly. From behind him, and altogether too close for comfort, came the toot of a motor horn. Accompanying the sound there burst forth the loud run of a motor.

Clancy, always quick to act in an emergency, gave one leap for the blank wall at the trailside, and flattened against it. Not an instant too soon did he accomplish this, for, ere he could draw a full breath, a big, black car lurched past, the mud guards almost brushing his knees.

It was a six-cylinder machine, built to carry seven passengers, but there was only the driver aboard. Lightly ballasted, the huge machine jumped and swayed on that dangerous path in a manner to make the heart jump.

But there was something else that made Clancy’s heart jump. He suddenly became aware of another pedestrian in the road, a fellow he had not seen before.

In the instant of time allowed him for making observation, Clancy saw only that the other foot traveler was a youngish chap, and that he was loitering along unconscious of the speeding car behind him.

The driver of the machine did not slacken gait in the least, but contented himself with merely sounding the horn. Wildly Clancy cried out for the stranger to jump. The stranger, casting one frightened glance over his shoulder, jumped without delay—but in the wrong direction.

Alighting on the edge of the cliff, he fell and rolled—over the edge. The car raced on and vanished behind a shoulder of rock, leaving a cloud of dust to mark its passage. Clancy ran forward, badly shaken by what he firmly believed would turn out to be a tragedy.

The dust was flicked away by the wind, and, as the air cleared, Clancy fell to his knees on the cliff’s edge.

“Hello!” he called, in a voice husky with apprehension.

There was no answer, and the gruesome fears of the red-headed fellow increased. Some of the dust was rolling below the brink of the wall and he could not see clearly. Straining his eyes downward, he shouted again.

This time he was electrified by hearing an answering shout. It came up through the thinning fog of dust and was strong and, apparently, from near at hand. The fellow who had rolled over the edge had not fallen to the bottom of the cliff, after all.

“Where are you?” demanded Clancy.

“I’m where I’m glad to be, but where I wish I wasn’t,” was the rather queer response. “Feller that’s born to be hung or drowned, howsomever, ain’t goin’ to be put out of business by a chug wagon and a bit of up-and-down wall. Pard, do somethin’ for me. I don’t reckon I can do a thing for myself, and the position I’m in is right juberous.”

By then, the dust had entirely cleared away below and a strange spectacle presented itself to the eyes of the lad on the brink.

Ten or fifteen feet down, the steep, smooth wall was broken by a shelf. The shelf was no more than a foot and a half in width, and a stunted bush was growing at its edge. The stranger’s body had met the obstruction in its fall, and was now lying on the shelf, wedged in between the bush and the face of the cliff.

The stranger lay quietly in his perilous berth, half on his back with face upturned. He could not have been more than seventeen or eighteen years of age, and he wore a faded shirt of blue flannel, corduroy trousers, and tight, high-heeled boots.

Those cowboy boots, constructed for riding rather than for walking, had undoubtedly got him into his dangerous predicament. They had given him no firm foothold in alighting from his sudden jump, and he had fallen and rolled from the edge of the cliff.

“Get up on your feet!” called Clancy, “I’ll lower myself as far as I can and try to take your hand and pull you up.”

“Nary, pard,” came the answer. “I reckon as how I’d better imitate a piece of bloomin’ brick-a-braw on a mantel-shelf. If I get to squirmin’, that bit of brush pulls out and lets me down. See how it is? Throw down a rope.”

“I haven’t a rope.”

“Then, by glory, I opine I was born to be busted in fraggyments at the foot of this here clift. Why ever ain’t you got a rope?”

The stranger seemed composed enough, and certainly he took a very peculiar view of the situation. He wasn’t frightened—at least not so Clancy could notice it.

“You’ve got to up end yourself somehow!” declared Clancy. “Straighten yourself upright along the wall and reach as high as you can. Maybe our hands will meet.”

“Bush is givin’ ’way,” was the answer. “I can feel it pullin’ out. One thing I want you should do for me, friend.”

“What’s that?”

“Find out who that cimiroon was that was drivin’ that gas cart; then scalp him, and say you done it for James Montague Fortune, which is me. Adios, pard. That blamed bush can’t stand the strain much longer.”

“Oh, take a brace, can’t you?” Clancy answered sharply. “If you’ve got to drop anyhow, you might as well do it while trying to save yourself. Here, look!”

With his left arm around a bowlder at the cliff’s edge, Clancy, flat on the ground, was reaching his right hand downward.

“See if you can’t get hold of my hand,” he went on. “Do that, Fortune, and I’ll pull you up. Come on, now. You can make it if you try.”

“You’re the most persistenest person I ever seen!” grumbled James Montague Fortune. “You can’t even let a feller fall down a cliff in peace! Well, if you’re set on it, I’ll make a stagger to get up, but I’m a-tellin’ you it’s a powerful small piece o’ standin’ ground I got, and it tips the wrong way and is smooth, like it was greased. Here’s where I caper. Reckon I might as well shoot off into the dizzy void as to go rollin’ down the face of them rocks with a measly handful of chaparral.”

Slowly, and while Clancy held his breath and waited, Fortune began twisting himself into a sitting posture. The bush gave a sudden heave, and its top bent until it was sticking straight out at right angles to the cliff wall. Clancy whooped in an agony of fear. The other looked up at him calmly.

“Told you!” he called. “Couldn’t even hang a persimmum on that clump o’ brush without givin’ it the wiggle-waggles, and here I’m tryin’ to balance a hundred and forty pounds on it. Don’t take no head for ’rithmatec to figger out what’s goin’ to happen. I’m givin’ myself a minute and a half. How much do you give me?”

“I’d like to give you a punch,” howled Clancy, “for wasting time when you haven’t an instant to spare! Get up! Reach for my hand! Quick!”

“Ain’t you the funny whopper, though! Here’s where I get up and fall off.”

With a quick, wiry contortion, Fortune hoisted himself erect and hugged the smooth, steep wall with both arms. A bushel of rock and débris went bounding downward from the shelf, booming and echoing into the depths. The bush went, too, and Fortune, in his absurd boots, was balanced on a slippery foothold, with a gulf below and a glassy wall overhead.

“Darned if I can savvy this!” he murmured. “I’m here yet, ain’t I?”

“Take my hand!” shouted Clancy.

This was something Fortune could not do. One reached down and the other reached up, but a foot gap separated their groping fingers.

“Splice out that arm about a foot, pard,” said Fortune, “and we’ll make it.”

“I’ll do it!” declared Clancy. “Hang on a minute longer!”

He drew back from the edge, hastily unbuckled the belt about his waist, removed it, buckled it once more, and then, clinging tightly to the leather loop, lowered it over the cliff.

The maneuver was successful. Fortune gripped the band of stout leather and Clancy, exerting a surprising amount of strength, dragged the chap below back over the brink and to safety.

“Blamed if you didn’t make it!” exclaimed Fortune, in a tone of surprise, as he squatted on the edge of the precipice. “Wouldn’t ’a’ believed it possible nohow. What’s your handle, pard?”

Clancy gave him the “handle,” and the two shook hands.

“Now that you’ve pulled me out o’ that diffukilty,” remarked James Montague Fortune, “what do you opine to do with me, huh?”


Fortune had the sort of good-natured face that reflects an easy-going disposition. He was about as handsome as Owen Clancy, which is the same as saying that he would never be hung for his good looks, but his face was attractive for all that. His nose was a “snub,” and his eyes were narrow, and crinkled all around where a perennial smile had puckered them and left its marks.

Handsome is as handsome does, always, and it was safe to say that James Montague Fortune, while a peculiar chap in some respects, possessed a cheerful soul and a nature most companionable.

“What am I going to do with you?” repeated Clancy, studying Fortune with humorous eyes. “That’s not my business, is it? This is a free country, and you’re your own boss.”

“Sure,” was the reply, “but I’m tired of bein’ my own boss. It’s too big a job and I ain’t able to swing it. I’m right smart of a feller, Clancy, and husky and able more’n I can tell, but I’ll be dad-binged if I’m much of a success. How’d you like to sign me on for my board and keep and, say, fifty plunks a month? Huh?”

Clancy threw back his red head and burst into a laugh.

“Where’s the joke?” asked Fortune.

“What use have I got for a chap like you?” Clancy returned. “Why, I’m looking for a job myself. That’s why I’m going to Phoenix, Fortune. And I’m walking to save stage fare from Mesa.”

“Didn’t know but you might be a Vandefeller, or a Rockybilt in disguise,” grinned Fortune. “I’ve worked for purty nigh everybody in southern Arizona, and I jest wanted to add you to my list of employers. I don’t seem able to hold a job long. Shortest time I was ever hired and fired was fifteen minutes, and the longest time was two days. Fortune! That’s a bully name, ain’t it? Never done me no good, though. If you can’t hire me, mebby you’d like me for a pard? I’ll be your compadre jest for my board and keep. How about it?”

Clancy shook his head.

“I’m going to have all I can do to corral my own board and keep, Jimmie,” he answered.

“H’m,” mused Fortune, rubbing his chin. “You’re the blamedest feller! While I was on that ledge, down there, you said somethin’ about punchin’ my head. Reckon you could get away with it?”

“I don’t know,” said the surprised Clancy. “If you’re as good as you look I’d probably have a handful.”

Fortune got his feet under him, stepped into the road, and put up his hands.

“Come on!” he called.

“What do you mean?”

“Can’t you tell what I mean jest by lookin’?” was the cheerful response. “Take holt o’ me and slam me down. Bet you can’t.”

“You want to fight?”

“One or t’other of us goes on his back in about two minutes.” Fortune began hopping around in his high-heeled boots. “Hit me in the eye!” he begged, sawing the air with his fists.

For a few moments Clancy was astounded. Fortune’s grin was wide and inviting—in fact, he was about the pleasantest slugger Clancy had ever seen.

“Cut out the foolishness,” said Owen. “What reason have I got to fight with you?”

“Shucks! You got to have a reason for every blame’ thing? Climb my neck—if you got the sand! Ain’t I beggin’ hard enough?”

Abruptly Clancy made up his mind to enter heartily into the spirit of the affair. So he sprang erect and sailed into Jimmie Fortune, whom he had just saved from being dashed to pieces at the bottom of the cliff.

Thump, thump, thump!

The sodden fall of fists was heard during a sharp give-and-take. Clancy, who had forgotten more of the “science” than Fortune ever knew, had all the best of it. Fortune clinched; and then Clancy, with a fine exemplification of the old reliable “double grapevine,” laid his antagonist on his back in the middle of the road.

Fortune got up with a joyous laugh, caressing a bruise on his chin with one hand, and, with the other, wiping the dust out of his eyes.

“I reckon you’ll do,” said he. “You’re as good as you look, Clancy, and then some. Let’s be pards, huh? We’ll travel together, and I’ll look after my own board and keep. I’m for Phoenix to find a livin’, same as you. Why not make a stab at the old burg in double harness? I could jest love a feller that slammed me down like that!”

Fortune was so delighted that his mirth was infectious. Clancy saw no occasion for all that abandon of happiness, and yet it was impossible not to join in his companion’s rollicking mirth.

“All right, Jimmie,” said he, “we’ll be pards, and we’ll go on together. Suppose we travel?”

“I allow we’ll have to travel if we ever reach Phoenix. Pasear it is, Reddy!”

Side by side they continued on along the treacherous trail.

“I got to uncork,” remarked Fortune, “and tell you more about myself. Some folks calls me a desert rat, but that there’s a libel. I’m jest a rollin’ stone, but I’d stop rollin’ blame’ quick if anybody ’u’d hire me and keep me hired.”

“Why don’t you stay hired?”

“Mainly because I do the wrong thing while ketchin’ onto a new line o’ work. An assayer gave me a chanst in Prescott, and set me to grindin’ at a muller board. I tipped over the table and busted a carboy o’ sulphuric acid, and got run out o’ the place. That’s where I lasted fifteen minutes. ’Nother time I took a throw at a general store in Tempe, and believe me, I was busy-izzy for one hull day. Store was crowded and I had to be in about six places to oncet. The boss reckoned he had a prize, from the way I flew around; but he changed his mind when he diskivered I’d left the spigot o’ the molasses bar’l open. The floor o’ the back room was ankle deep in sweet stuff, and the old man made a pass at me with his foot. I dodged the foot and he slipped and went down in the black strap. He rolled over and over, and when he chased me through the front door of the ‘Emporium’ he had gathered up purty nigh everythin’ in the store like a piece o’ fly paper. A bolt o’ calico, a couple o’ feather dusters, fifteen or twenty pounds o’ crackers—oh, I can’t begin to tell all the stuff that was stickin’ to him. The damage was right considerable, and I ain’t had the nerve to go back to Tempe since.”

Clancy enjoyed Fortune’s reminiscences. There was no doubt that the wanderer drew heavily on his imagination, but that merely made his recital the more interesting.

“It’s been a year since I tackled Phoenix,” went on Jimmie. “I worked that bunch of adobes up and down and across, but maybe some of ’em have kind of forgot me, and I’ll get another show. What field of industry are you aimin’ to hit, Brick Top?”

“Want to get a job in a garage,” said Owen.

The other looked at him with quickened interest.

“You bug on the motors?”

“Well, you might call it that,” laughed Owen.

“Never tried ’em myself. Looks like a promisin’ field. Wonder if we couldn’t get jobs in the same garage?”

“Maybe we could; and then, again, maybe there isn’t a garage in Phoenix that has a place for us. I have a note for a thousand dollars that I want to collect from the proprietor of a garage in—— What’s the matter with you?” demanded Clancy, breaking off suddenly.

Fortune had come to a dead stop in the trail. He stared at his new “pard,” then craned his head forward and put a hand behind his ear.

“Otra vez!” he murmured. “Come again with that, Red. A note for—how much?”

“Thousand dollars.”

“Gee-wollops! I didn’t know there was that much dinero in the world. And here you tune up and allow you couldn’t hire me at fifty plunks a month!”

“The note doesn’t belong to me,” Clancy explained, “but to my father. The folks need the money—and I may have a hard time collecting it. You say you have been in Phoenix, Jimmie?”

“I was there good and plenty for six months.”

“Ever hear of a man named Rockwell—Silas Rockwell?”

Jimmie gave a startled jump. “Wow!” he yelled.

“Know Rockwell?” continued Clancy.

“He’s my Uncle Si, but he never had no use for any the rest of the fambly. Sort of an even thing, Red, ’cause none of the rest of the fambly ever had much use for him. He runs the Red Star Garage, on First Avenue, and he was never knowed to pay a cent if he could dodge or run away. If he owes your folks money, then you better forget it. You can get blood out of a turnip quicker’n you can get cold cash out of Uncle Si. My people knows him by the lovin’ name of ‘Old Rocks,’ and——”

Fortune’s voice trailed off into silence. He and Clancy were standing on the slope of the mountain, near the place where the trail left the uplift and straightened out across the flat desert. Fortune’s eyes were fixed on something at the foot of the descent—something which seemed to hold him spellbound.