Robbers’ Roost - Zane Grey - ebook

Robbers’ Roost ebook

Zane Grey

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A classic story of imperiled love on the western frontiers of nineteenth-century America. Jim Tex Wall is searching for three men who killed his wife and stole his horses and finds them working for a gang of cattle rustlers engaged in a turf war with a rival gang of outlaws. Finding his horses he joins the gang that are now riding them. Caught in the battle between the gangs when one double-crosses the other, he now finds the man he is looking for. „Robbers’ Roost” tells the story of their personal struggle to escape the clutches of the murderous outlaws while simultaneously safeguarding their passion, one that is not likely to survive the beautiful, yet deadly, terrain and people of the old American West.

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Liczba stron: 423

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Contents

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 1

One afternoon in the spring of 1877 a solitary horseman rode down the long, ghastly desert slant toward the ford at Green River.

He was a young man in years, but he had the hard face and eagle eye of one matured in experience of that wild country. He bestrode a superb bay horse, dusty and travel-worn and a little lame. The rider was no light burden, judging from his height and wide shoulders; moreover, the saddle carried a canteen, a rifle, and a pack. From time to time he looked back over his shoulder at the magnificent, long cliff wall, which resembled a row of colossal books with leaves partly open. It was the steady, watchful gaze of a man who had left events behind him.

At length he rode into a trail and soon came in sight of the wide band of green cottonwood, willow, and arrowweed, and the shining, muddy river, which had evidently broken through the great wall of stone. On the far side, up on the level, stood a green patch and a cluster of houses, strangely lonely in that environment. This was the town of Green River, Utah.

The rir needed to reach that town before1rk. His food supply had run out two days ago. But unless there was a boat in which he could row across, he would most likely not make it. His horse was too lame to risk in that heavy, swirling, sand-laden river.

He rode on down the trail to enter the zone of green. In the thick dust he noted fresh horse tracks. Dust rose in clouds from under his animal’s hoofs. The arrowweed reached to his saddle and was yellow with it. And when he came to the willows and cottonweeds he found their fresh green similarly powdered. It had not rained for a long time in that section. Yet now the odor of dust appeared to yield to that of fresh, cool water.

Under a cottonwood, some distance ahead, the rider espied a saddled horse, head down, cropping the grass. He proceeded more slowly, his sharp eyes vigilant, and was certain that he saw a man on the river bank before that worthy espied him.

Presently he rode out into an opening from which he could see a place where a ferry touched. A rude cable above his head, attached to a cottonwood, stretched across the river, sagging in the middle. Moored to the opposite bank was the ferryboat.

The rider sat his horse, aware that the man he had observed had stepped behind some willows. Such a move might have been casual. Then the man moved out into plain sight.

“Howdy!” he said, laconically.

“Howdy!” replied the rider. He became aware of a penetrating scrutiny which no doubt resembled his own. Chance meeting at that period was productive of obvious though not offensive curiosity. The rider saw a striking figure of a man, gray with dust, booted and spurred, armed to the teeth. His wide sombrero shadowed a sharp, bold face, the only distinct feature of which was a long, sandy mustache. From the shadow, which resembled a mask, there came a gleam of pale, deep eyes.

“Aimin’ to cross?” he queried.

“Yes. I see a ferryboat over there.” But on the moment the rider was watching his questioner. Then he swept a long leg over the pommel and slid to the ground, without swerving in the slightest from a direct front. “Lucky for me if I can cross on it. My horse is all in.”

“Noticed thet. Fine hoss. Wal, I’ve been hangin’ around for an hour, waitin’ to go over. Reckon he’ll be along soon.”

“Town of Green River, isn’t it?”

“That’s the handle. You’re a stranger hereabouts?”

“I am that.”

“Where you hail from?”

“I suppose I might as well say Wyoming as any place,” returned the rider, casually.

The other man relaxed with a laugh.

“Shore. One place is good as another. Same as a name. Mine is Hank Hays.” He spoke as if he expected it to be recognized, but it caused no reaction in his listener.

“You know this country?” queried the rider, and he too relaxed.

“Tolerable.”

“Maybe you can tell me whether I ought to stop or keep on traveling?” inquired the rider, coolly.

“Haw! Haw! I shore can. But thet depends,” he said, pushing back his sombrero. The action brought into view a bold visage.

To the rider it was like a printed page, with only the narrow, gray, searching eyes presenting any difficulty.

“Depends on what?” he asked.

“Wal, on you. Have you got any money?”

“About ten dollars.”

“Huh! You can’t go in the ranch business with thet. Not regular ranchin’. Lots of cattle between here an’ the breaks of the Dirty Devil. Henry Mountains, too. Some outfit over there.”

“Mormons?”

“About half an’ half. This is Utah, but not strong on Mormons over here. Air you a cattleman?”

“No,” replied the rider, thoughtfully.

“Wal, thet’s straight talk from a stranger,” replied Hays, who evidently took the blunt denial as something significant. “Hullo! Another rider… Shore the desert is full of strangers today.”

Back up the trail appeared a short, heavy man astride a horse and leading two pack-animals.

“I saw him awhile back. And here comes our ferryman. Looks like a boy.”

“Huh! You haven’t them eyes for nothin’. Wal, we’ll get across now.”

The rider, after another glance at the approaching man with the horses, took note of the ferry. The boy had pushed the boat off, and was rowing it into the current. Soon it came gliding across on the pulley. Boat and third traveler arrived at the bank about the same time. Hays appeared interested in the newcomer, and addressed him civilly. He got but a short answer.

Meanwhile the rider led his horse down the sandy bank and on to the big flat boat. It was crudely thrown together, out of rough-hewn planks, but apparently was safe enough. The bay horse appeared nervous.

Hays, after a sharp look at the man with the three horses, led his animal aboard. The ferry-boy grinned all over his freckled face, in recognition of Hays.

“How much is the fare?” queried the newcomer. He was a bearded man under fifty, rather abrupt and authoritative.

“Two bits.”

“For man or beast?”

“Well, sir, the regular fare is two bits for each man an’ horse. But travelers usually give me more.”

Whereupon the stout man threw the packs off his horses and carried them up on the boat.

“Wal now, whatinhell is this fussy old geezer about?” queried Hays, much interested.

It was soon manifest. He tied the halter of his lead pack-horse to the tail of his saddle-horse. The second pack-animal was similarly attached to the first. Then, bridle in hand, he stepped aboard.

“All right, boy. Go ahead.”

“But, sir, ain’t you fetchin’ your hosses on, too?”

“Yes, but I’ll swim them over behind the boat. Get a move on now.”

The ferry-boy pushed off with his pole, and dropping that for the big oar he worked the boat out into the current, which caught it and moved it across quite readily into the slack water on that side. The rider had to hold his impatient horse to keep him from jumping before the boat was beached.

“Didn’t like that, did you, Bay?” the rider said, as he led the animal ashore.

Hays slapped his mount, driving him off the ferry, while he watched the stout man lead his three horses along the gunwale of the boat, until they could touch bottom. Heaving and splashing, they waded out, and their owner followed, carrying one pack.

“Fetch my other pack, boy,” he called.

“Johnny, don’t do nothin’ of the kind,” observed Hays.

“I reckon I didn’t intend to,” said the boy, resentfully.

“Many travelers lately?”

“Nope. First I’ve had for three days. Then a couple of cowpunchers. We’ve only had the boat in about two weeks. River too high. Dad reckons Green River will boom this summer.”

Puffing hard, the stout man carried his second pack ashore.

“You’re not very–obliging,” he said, gruffly, as he felt in his pocket for loose change. The ferry-boy came ashore, followed by Hays.

Presently the stout man, grumbling, and evidently annoyed at the necessity of producing a fat pocketbook, took out a one-dollar bill.

“Here. Give me seventy-five cents change.”

The boy produced it like a flash, and replied, disgustedly, “I’ll bet you don’t play thet trick on me if you ever come back.”

The rider, amused and interested from his stand on the bank, saw something that made him start. Hays whipped out a gun.

“Hands up!” he ordered.

The stout man stared aghast.

“Throw up your hands!” suddenly yelled Hays, harshly. “I’m not in the habit of sayin’ thet twice.” And he stuck the gun square into the plump abdomen before him. The stout man, gasping and turning livid of face, hastily complied by lifting hands that shook palpably.

“Wha-at’s this? R-robbers!” he gulped. Hays reached inside the man’s coat, for his wallet, and extracted it. Then he stepped back, but still with gun extended.

“Get the hell out of here now,” he ordered. And apparently he paid no more heed to his frightened victim. But the rider had his idea that Hays watched him, nevertheless.

“Pretty well heeled, thet old bird,” observed the robber, squeezing the fat wallet…

“If there’s law in this–country–you’ll pay for this,” burst out the traveler, working like a beaver to repack his horses.

“Haw! Haw! You ain’t lookin’ for law, air you, granpaw?… Wal, the only law is what you see here in my hand–an’ I don’t mean your money.”

Hays slipped the wallet in his inside vest pocket. Then, with the same hand–and all the while covering the traveler with his gun–he drew a bill from his pocket.

“Thar, Johnny, thet’s for all of us,” he said.

“But, I–Oh, sir, I oughtn’t take so much,” faltered the boy, who was somewhat scared himself.

“Shore you ought. It’s not his money, you noticed,” drawled the robber, forcing the bill upon the reluctant youth. Then he addressed the traveler. “Say, Mormon, when you get uptown, or wherever you’re goin’–jest say Hank Hays paid you his respects.”

“You’ll hear from me, you glib-tongued robber,” replied the other, furiously, as he rode away.

Hays sheathed his gun. He did not need to turn to face the rider, for, singularly enough, he had not done anything else.

“How’d thet strike you, stranger?”

“Pretty neat. It amused me,” replied the rider.

“Is thet all?”

“I guess so. The stingy old skinflint deserved to be touched. Wasn’t that a slick way to beat the boy here out of six bits?”

“It shore was. An’ thet’s what r’iled me. Reckon, though, if he hadn’t flashed the wallet I’d been a little more circumspect.”

“Is there a sheriff at Green River?”

“I never seen him, if there is. Wal, I’ll be ridin’ along. Air you comin’ with me, stranger?”

“Might as well,” returned the other. “But if you don’t mind, I’ll walk.”

“It’s only a little way. Good lodgin’s, though I never do nothin’ but eat an’ drink in town.”

“That’ll suit me for more than one reason.”

“Stranger, what’d you say your name was?”

“I didn’t say.”

“Ex-cuse me. I’m not curious. But it’s more agreeable, you know, when a feller has a handle.”

“Call me Wall–Jim Wall,” rejoined the rider, presently.

“Wall?–Wal, thet’s enough fer me. Kinda hard to get over. Haw! Haw!”

They went up the slow-ascending, sandy lane between the cottonwoods toward the town, while the ferry-boy watched.

Hays’ nonchalance reassured Wall as to the status of Green River. They came, at length, into a wide space, which was more of a square than a street, upon the far side of which stood several low, wide buildings, some of which sought the dignity of height with false wooden fronts rising above their single story. The hitching rails and posts were vacant. There was not a vehicle in sight, and only a few men, lounging in doorways. Above and beyond this town of Green River stood the great cliff wall, not close, by any means, and now red in the sunset flare, except for the mantle of snow on the top.

“Any dance-hall in this burg?” asked Wall.

“Nary dance-hall, worse luck. Any weakness for such?”

“Can’t say it’s a weakness, but the last two I bumped into make me want to steer clear of more.”

“Women?” queried the robber, with a leer.

“It wasn’t any fault of mine.”

“Haw! Haw! Reckon you might take the eye of women, at thet. Wal, you’re out of luck here, ‘cause the only women in Green River air old hags an’ a couple of young wives thet you can’t git within a mile of.”

“Not out of luck for me. But you talk as if you regretted it.”

“Wal, women ruined me,” returned Hays, sententiously.

“You don’t look it.”

“Men never look what they air.”

“Don’t agree with you, Hays. I can always tell what men are by their looks.”

“How’d you figure me?” demanded Hays, a little more gruffly than humorously.

“I don’t want to flatter you on such short acquaintance.”

“Humph!–Wal, here we air,” replied the robber, halting before a red stone building.

“What do you suppose became of the fat fellow you relieved of cash?” inquired Wall, who kept this personage in mind.

“I reckon he’s gone on his way to Moab,” replied Hays. “Thet’s a Mormon settlement down on the Green. An’ there’s a Mormon ranch out here a ways. We won’t run into thet geezer here, I’ll gamble.”

“Quiet town,” murmured Wall, as if talking to himself.

A red-bewhiskered man appeared in the doorway that led into a saloon and lodging-house. A rude sign in letters, faded and indistinct, attested to this.

“Howdy, Red!”

“Howdy, Hank!”

“See anythin’ of a fat party, sort of puffy in the face? He was ridin’ a roan an’ leadin’ two packs.”

“Oh, him? Sure. He rode through town yellin’ he’d been robbed,” returned the man called Red, grinning.

“Hell he did? Who was he, Red?”

“I dunno. Mormon, most likely. Leastways thet’s what Happy said. He was standin’ out here, an’ when the feller stopped bellerin’ thet he wanted the sheriff ‘cause he’d been robbed, why, Happy up an’ says, ‘Hey, my Latter Day friend, did he leave anythin’ on you?’ Then the feller up an’ rode off to beat hell.”

It was this pregnant speech of Red’s that decided several things for Jim Wall.

“I want to look after my horse,” was all he said.

“Take him round back to the barn. If Jake ain’t there, you can find water, feed, an’ beddin’ yourself.”

Hays dismounted laboriously, indicating that he had ridden far that day.

“Wal, I’m dog-tired. Send thet lazy Jake after my hoss.”

This edifice was the last one on the street. Wall made note of the grove of cottonwoods just down the slope a few hundred yards. The barn mentioned was some distance back, at the end of a pole fence. Upon turning a corner to enter the corral he encountered a loose- jointed young man.

“Say, are you Jake?” he asked.

“You bet. Want your hoss looked after?” returned the other. His protruding teeth were his salient feature.

“Yes. But I’ll take care of him. There’s a man out in front who calls himself Hank Hays. He wants you to come get his horse. Do you know him?”

The stable-boy’s reply to that was to rush off, his boots thudding.

“Enough said,” muttered Wall to himself as he looked round the place for what he required. “Mr. Hays stands well in Green River, as far as THIS outfit is concerned.”

Wall’s mind was active while he ministered to his horse. It had long been a familiar thing for him to ride into a strange camp or town; and judging men quickly had become a matter of habit, if not self-preservation. Utah, however, was far west and a wilder country than that he had roamed for years. He liked the looks of it, the long reaches of wasteland, the vast bulge and heave of the ranges, the colored walls of stone, the buttes standing alone, and the red and black mystery of the mountains.

“Bay, old boy, you haven’t had a stall for a coon’s age,” he said to his horse. “Enjoy it while you can, for it may not be long.”

When Wall sauntered back the whole west was one magnificent blaze of red and gold. He would have enjoyed being high up on the cliffs behind, just to gaze out toward those Henry Mountains he had seen all day. But the houses and trees blocked that view. Eastward across the river he could discern the speckled slope of yellow that climbed up to the book-cliff wall, now fading in the dusk.

Jim Wall never turned street corners without knowing what was ahead of him. So that before Hank Hays and the two individuals with whom he was talking were aware of his presence he had seen them. They turned at his slow clinking step. Neither of the two with Hays was the man called Red.

“Hullo! here you air,” spoke up Hays. “I was speakin’ of you. Meet Happy Jack an’ Brad Lincoln… Fellers, this stranger to Green River answers to the handle Jim Wall.”

Greetings were exchanged, but not one of the three offered a hand. Their glances meant infinitely more than the casual few words. To Wall the man called Happy Jack fitted his name. The only contradictory feature lay in his guns, which it was not possible to overlook. Like Hank Hays, he packed two. This, however, signified little to Wall. The other, Lincoln, was some one to look at twice–a swarthy, dark, restless-eyed man, who, like Hays and his companion, had nothing of the cowboy stripe in his make-up.

“Let’s have a drink,” suggested Hays.

“Don’t care if I do,” responded Wall. “But I haven’t had anything to eat for two days.”

“Red’s havin’ supper cooked for us,” said Hays, pushing open the door.

The interior, bright with lamplight, proved to be more pretentious than the outside of the saloon. It had a flagstone floor, a bar with garish display of mirrors, paintings of nude women, bottles and glasses. Several roughly clad men were drinking, and ceased talking as Hays and his companion approached. In the back of the big room three cowboys lounged before an open fireplace where some fagots burned. There were several tables, unoccupied except for a man who lay face down on one. From an open door came the savory odor of fried bacon.

The men lined up at the bar, to be served drinks by Red, who was evidently bartender as well as proprietor. Wall missed nothing. Hays took his whisky straight and at a gulp; Happy Jack said, “Here’s lookin’ at you,” and Lincoln sipped lingeringly. Whisky was not one of Wall’s weaknesses; in fact, he could not afford to have any weakness. But he drank on politic occasions, of which this was more than usually one.

“Cow-puncher?” queried Lincoln, who stood next to Wall.

“Yes. But I’ve not ridden the range much of late years,” replied Wall.

“You’ve the cut of it. Where you from?”

“Wyoming.”

“Long ways. Don’t know thet country. Where you aimin’ for?”

“No place in particular,” replied Wall, guardedly. “Might try riding here, if I can get on some outfit.”

“On the dodge?” queried Lincoln, after a pause.

Wall set down his glass and turned to his interrogator. Their glances locked.

“Are you getting personal?” returned Wall, coldly.

“Not at all. I ain’t curious, neither. Just askin’ you.”

“Ahuh. Well, what might you mean by ‘on the dodge’?”

“Anybody particular lookin’ for you?”

“I dare say. More than one man.”

“Are you movin’ along, dodgin’ them?”

“Not them,” retorted Wall, contemptuously.

“So I thought. Friend, you have the cut, the eye, the movement, the hand of a gun-fighter. I happen to know the brand.”

“Yes? Well, if that’s so, I hope it isn’t against me in Utah.”

Here Hays, who had heard this bit of dialogue, interposed both with personal speech.

“Wall, thet’s ag’in’ a man anywhere in the West, generally. So many damn fools wantin’ to try you out! But I reckon it’s a ticket for my outfit.”

“Your outfit,” declared, rather than questioned Wall, as if to corroborate the robber’s direct statement of something definite.

“Shore. Don’t mind Brad. He’s a curious, blunt sort of cuss. Let’s go an’ eat… Feller’s, we’ll see you later.”

Wall followed Hays into a back room, where a buxom woman greeted them heartily and waved them to seats at a table.

“Red’s woman, an’ she shore can cook,” said Hays. “Wal, fall to.”

No more was said during the meal. At its conclusion Jim Wall had to guard himself against the feeling of well-being, resulting from a full stomach.

“Have a cigar?” offered Hays. “They shore come high and scarce out here.”

“Don’t care if I do.”

“Wal, let’s go out an’ talk before we join the other fellers,” suggested Hays. They returned to the big room. It was empty except for Red, who was filling a lamp.

“They’ve all gone down to meet the stage. It’s overdue now.”

“Stage!–From where?”

“West, so set easy,” laughed Hays. “Thet one from East won’t git in till –wal, now, let me see what day this is.”

“Saturday.”

“Wal, so it is. THEN NEXT WEDNESDAY. By thet time you won’t be here.”

“No? Where will I be, since you seem to know?”

“You may be in the Garden of Eden, eatin’ peaches,” retorted Hays. “See here, Wall, you’re a testy cuss. Any reason why you can’t be a good feller?”

“Come to think of thet, yes, there is,” returned Wall, thoughtfully.

“All right. Thanks for thet much. I reckon I understand you better. An’ I don’t want to know why,” he said, with deliberation. He kicked the smoldering fire, and picking up a chip, he lighted his cigar, puffing clouds of smoke. “Aahh! Makes me think of a store I used to run in West Virginia, years ago… What were you, Wall, once upon a time?”

Wall laughed musingly. “A country-school teacher once, for a while, before I was twenty.”

“Wal, I’ll be dog-goned! You ain’t serious?” ejaculated Hays, incredulously.

“Yes, I am. It’s funny. I wouldn’t have remembered that before supper.”

“It do beat hell what a man can be, at different times in his life. But I’m concerned with now. An’ I’d like to ask you some questions.”

“Fire away.”

“You didn’t hold it ag’in’ me thet I held up the old geezer at the ferry?”

“No. He was about the stingiest man I ever ran across.”

“All right. Would you have done thet yourself?”

“Possibly.”

“All right. I’d have done it without provocation. Does thet make any particular difference to you?”

“Not any–in particular. It’s none of my business.”

“Wal, make it your business.”

“Hays, you’re beating around the bush,” returned Wall, deliberately. “Come clean with it.”

“I reckoned so,” mused Hays, eying his cigar and flicking off the ashes with a slow finger. Then he veered his gaze to the brightening embers in the fire.

Wall felt that this was the first really unguarded moment Hays had shown, although he had appeared nothing if not sincere. It somehow defined his status, if not his caliber.

“You said you was broke?” Hays began again.

“I will be when I pay for this night’s lodging.”

“Thet’s on me. I’ll stake you to some money. You’ll want to set in the game with us?”

“Any strings on a loan?”

“Hardly thet. With me, it’s come easy, go easy.”

“Thanks then. I’ll take fifty dollars. That’ll do me until I can get located.”

“Wal, friend, the string is thet I want to locate you.”

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