The Spook Hills Mystery - B.M. Bower - ebook

The Spook Hills Mystery ebook

B.M. Bower

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No writer of „cowboy” stories can equal B. M. Bower. Ever since „Chip” of immortal memory Bower has been easily first among the writers who stage their dramas in the wide spaces of the cattle country. There is something new about this novel. The old legend about the Spook Hills comes to life when the Sunbeam’s newest hand, a young tenderfoot named Shelton C. Sherman, takes a ride in the hills and discovers tracks made by something that seems neither human nor animal. The subsequent sighting of a bear-like creature might explain the brutal murder of a sheep rancher. Or does it? The mystery deepens and already-high stakes become higher! A very fine story.

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Liczba stron: 258

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER I

SINCE every story must begin somewhere, suppose we start with the muggy evening when Shelton C. Sherman arrived at the Sunbeam, convoyed thither in a somewhat wilted and deprecatory condition by one called Spooky. Shelton C. Sherman was handicapped by his name, over which unaccustomed tongues tripped most irritatingly, and by his complete ignorance of things Western; and by a certain frail prettiness; and by a trusting disposition which he was soon to lose. But he was wise, with a wisdom learned in school fights, and he did what he could toward getting a fair running start when he landed. He said his name was Sherman, and let the rest go for the present. He was amiable along with his prettiness, and he listened with avidity to Spooky’s rambling tales of that wonderland to which anxious kinsfolk had sent him.

This, as a beginning, may sound a bit hackneyed. Since the first story was told of the West, innocent young males have arrived in first chapters and have been lied to by seasoned old reprobates of the range, and have attained sophistication by devious paths not always unmarked with violence. But when you stop to consider, life itself is a bit hackneyed.

Never mind then how many trustful youths had looked wide-eyed upon the sage before ever Shelton C. Sherman stared solemn-eyed up into the face of his mother. This was his turn, and this is his story, partly. And it was Spooky’s pleasing privilege to tell him a good deal that was true and more that was not–about the Sunbeam outfit and the sagebrush country that wrapped it close.

“Yuh don’t want to let Burney put you on the fence first thing,” Spooky coached when they were within five miles of the ranch. “Burney’s all right, you bet, oncet you git to know him right well. There ain’t a straighter, whiter man in Idaho than what Aleck Burney is, you take it from me.”

“Well, what’s queer about him? Does he really try to put people on the fence? And if so, why?” You see how green the fellow was! “I don’t quite get the point.”

“Oh, I meant throw a scare into yuh.” Spooky explained with some patience because the very frankness of Shelton’s ignorance disarmed him. Spooky was not such a bad sort. “He scares kids until they git used to him. But if you go at him right he’ll be all right.”

“Do I have to go at him?” Shelton laid hand upon his thigh, and stretched a long, lean leg over the broken dashboard to relieve a cramped muscle. Spooky reserved his pitying reply while he took a more careful inventory of his passenger.

“Say, you’re all there when it comes to measuring lengthways, ain’t yuh?” he observed. “About how high do you stack up alongside a hole in the ground, anyway? Over six feet, ain’t yuh?”

“Two inches over,” Shelton admitted reluctantly. “The folks sent me out here to get some width to go with my length: Dad’s an architect. He said he’d have to use me for a straight edge if something wasn’t done pretty soon.”

“Unh-hunh! Well, she’s shore a great country–I reckon maybe you’ll widen out some if you stay long enough. What’s your age?”

“Twenty-one,” with more reluctance. “Time will help that, of course. If it will also put some meat on my bones and take off this pretty-pretty complexion I’ll be willing to stay ten years.”

Spooky touched up the off horse, which was inclined to “soldier” on the up-grade pull through a stretch of sand. “Oh, you’ll make out all right,” he said finally in a tone of encouragement. “Once you git out after stock–can you ride, any?”

“You mean on a horse?”

“I mean–on a horse, yes.” Spooky sighed in sheer sympathy with such absolute benightment.

“I never was on one except once. I fell off that time,” Shelton confessed cheerfully. “If it was a bike–but this doesn’t look like much of a wheel country. Too rough.”

Spooky made no reply whatever. He drove on for some minutes in deep thought, his eyes upon the trail ahead.

“You were going to say something when I get out after stock,” prompted Shelton C. Sherman, after a silence.

“I changed my mind. In order to git tanned and looking more humanlike, I guess yuh better set on the sunny side of the corral a couple or three hours a day–till your nose peels.”

“I’d rather sit on a horse, if it’s all the same to you,” Shelton objected. “I could learn to ride, don’t you think?”

“Oh, I guess–maybe you could.” Spooky spoke guardedly. “You’re purty old to start in, but–maybe you could learn.”

“Gee! I was afraid I’d be too young for all the things I wanted to learn. It’s a relief to hear I’m too old for something. What’s that line of hills called over there?”

“Them! Us Sunbeamers call them the Spook Hills. That’s where–”

Spooky stopped, spat over the wheel into the sand, and neglected to finish the sentence. He stared morosely at the jagged black sky line, and touched up old Blinker again more viciously than was needful.

“Why are they called Spook Hills? Are there spooks?” Shelton C. Sherman was gifted–or afflicted, as you choose to consider it–with the frank curiosity of a child.

Spooky meditated upon the advisability of answering the young man truthfully. After a space of silence he said seriously: “There is; leastways they’s one. They’re called that, same as I’m called it. All over the country they call me Spooky, and them the Spook Hills. Do you believe in ’em?”

Shelton stuck both legs out over the dashboard, gazed at the hills, and thought a minute. “I never have,” he said simply. “But I expect I could. I came out here into this country prepared to believe almost anything.”

Whereupon Spooky regarded him warily, gave a snort, and topped it off with a chuckle. He was not a bad sort, though he was an awful liar when the mood seized him and he could find a pair of credulous ears. Again he spat over the wheel, pointed with his whip toward a certain low ridge blocked at either end by high buttes, and by devious conversational bypaths he proceeded to tell a very creditable ghost story.

“Gee!” was Shelton’s tribute, and turned to stare with a new interest at the jagged peaks and gloomy hollows. “I wonder if I could get a sight of it some time? You say it sank into the ground with a low, pitiful moan?”

Spooky squinted at him sidewise. “It went into the ground, yes. I never said it done any moaning. The danged thing hollered so my back hair never settled for four days.” He went at Blinker with the whip, set him into a gallop, and then slowed the horses into a heavy-footed trot again. “Maybe you got your doubts about it being true?” he challenged. “Lemme tell you something, young feller. You ain’t the first to doubt it. Spider, he didn’t believe it, either, when I told about it at the ranch. ‘N’ about two months back, Spider he was prognosticating around over there, trailin’ a mountain lion, and he heard it. And he was so danged scairt he dropped his rifle and come foggin’ home without it. That’s a fact. You can ask any of the Sunbeam boys. You ask Spider what he seen over in Spook Hills. That’s all–you ask him.”

“I will,” Shelton promised obligingly. “I wonder if it would scare me if I saw it.”

“Hunh!” grunted Spooky. “Don’t yuh know?”

“No,” averred the newcomer. “You see, I’ve never been scared. I was in a train wreck once–when two elevated trains smashed together–and that didn’t scare me. And I was in a theatre panic, and I stood upon a seat and watched the people fighting like wild cats to get to the door, and that didn’t scare me. And I’ve been held up and robbed, and upset in a canoe before I’d learned to swim very well. And I was hazed good and plenty at school, of course–but I’ve never been scared. Not scared like some fellows get, you know. I was wondering–”

Spooky twisted his body around in the seat and looked Shelton C. Sherman over carefully. Shelton took in his legs, gave two perfectly unconscious pulls at his trousers–after the manner of a man who hates baggy knees–and returned the stare with clear-eyed candor.

“I was wondering if that spook thing could scare me,” he finished deprecating.

“I–Blinker! I’ll cut the everlastin’ hide offen you if you don’t straighten out them trace chains!”

“Was it the looks of it, or do you think it was the noise that scared you?”

Spooky shifted uncomfortably on the seat. “I dunno. I’ll take you over there some day and let yuh find out for yourself.”

“Oh, would you? Thanks!” The tone of him was so absolutely honest that Spooky withdrew into his shell of taciturnity, and gave over his half-formed plan of mental bedevilment, and drove on in silence save when common decency wrung from him a yes or a no, or his one safe bet, “I dunno.”

He took the young man to the house and left him standing there in the heavy dusk with his baggage stacked beside him and bewilderment in his eyes. The Sunbeam, like many another ranch, did not run to artistic housing, and it is very probable that the young man experienced a keen sensation of disappointment when he stood before the low, dirt-roofed cabin that sprawled upon a sun- baked area of sand, and realized that this was the official headquarters of the Sunbeam Ranch.

Spooky lifted up his head and yelled a summons, and a door opened to let out a huge figure that loomed monsterlike in the dusk. Spooky went to the head of Blinker and stood there fumbling with the harness–which was his way of masking the curious stare he fixed upon Shelton C. Sherman.

The gigantic figure came closer and closer until he towered above his visitor; towered, though Shelton owned to six feet two. Spooky grinned in anticipation, and moved closer in the pretense of looping up Blinker’s line.

Shelton C. gave one surprised look and went forward, smiling.

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