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- The Winning of Barbara Worth - 3/75 -
The teamster laughed softly. "You was sure enjoyin' of it a-plenty."
The other looked at him with quickened interest. "Ye was there?" he asked.
"Some," was the laconic reply.
The Irishman scratched his head again with a puzzled air. "I disremimber entire. Was there some throuble maybe?"
The other grinned. "Things was movin' a few."
Patrick Mooney nodded his head. "Uh-huh: mostly they do under thim circumstances. Av course there'd be a policeman, or maybe two?"
"Five," said the man with the lines, gently.
"Five! Howly Mither! I did mesilf proud. An' did they have the wagon? Sure they wud--five policemen niver walked. Wan av thim might, av ut was handy-like, but five--niver! Tell me, man, who else was at the party? No--howld on a minut!" He interrupted himself, "Thim cops stimulate me mimory a bit. Was there not a bunch av sailor-men from wan av thim big ships?"
The driver nodded.
The other, pleased with the success of his mental effort, continued: "Uh-huh--an' I was havin' a peaceful dhrink wid thim all whin somewan made impedent remarks touchin' me appearance, or ancestors, I disremimber which. But where was you?"
"Well, you see," explained the driver in his slow way, "hit was like this. That there saloon were plumb full of sailor-men all exceptin' you an' me. I was a heap admirin' of the way you handled that big hombre what opened the meetin' and also his two pardners, who aimed to back his play. Hit was sure pretty work. The rest of the crowd sort o' bunched in one end of the room an' when you began addressin' the congregation, so to speak, on the habits, character, customs and breedin' of sailor-men in general an' the present company in particular, I see right there that you was a-bitin' off more 'n you could chaw. It wasn't no way reasonable that any human could handle that whole outfit with only just his bare hands, so I edged over your way, plumb edified by your remarks, and when the rush for the mourners' bench come I unlimbered an' headed the stampede pronto. Then I made my little proposition. I told 'em that, bein' the only individual on the premises not a sailor-man nor an Irishman, I felt it my duty to referee the obsequies, so to speak, and that odds of twenty to one, not to mention knives, was strictly agin my convictions. Moreover, bein' the sole an' only uninterested audience, I had rights. Then I offers to bet my pile, even money, that you could handle the whole bunch, takin' 'em two at a throw. I knowed it were some odds, but I noticed that them three what opened the meetin' was still under the influence. Also I undertook to see that specifications was faithfully fulfilled."
"Mither av Gawd, fwhat a sociable!" broke in the Irishman. "An' me too dhrunk to remimber rightly! Did they take yer bet? Ye sun-burned limb av the divil--did they take ut?"
"They sure did," drawled the driver. "I had my gun on them all the time."
"Hurroo! An' did I do ut? Tell me quick--did I do ut? Sure I could aisy av nothin' happened."
"You laid your first pair on top of the three, then the police called the game and the bets were off."
"They pinched the house?"
"They took you an' me."
"Sure! av course they would take us two. 'Tis thim San Felipe police knows their duty. But how could they do ut?"
"I forget details right here, bein' temporarily incapacitated by one o' them hittin' me with a club from behind. I woke up in a cell with you."
The Irishman rubbed the back of his head. "Come to think av ut, I have a bit av a bump on me own noodle that 'tis like helps to exshplain the cell. But fwhat in the divil's name brung us here in this Gawd-forsaken Nobody's Place? Pass me another pipeful an' tell me that av ye can."
The driver passed over the tobacco sack and, stopping his team for another rest, rolled a cigarette for himself. "That's easy," he said. "This here is Jefferson Worth's outfit. He wanted me to start home this morning, so he got me off. I don't know how he done it; mostly nobody knows how Jefferson Worth does things. There was a man with him who knowed you and, as I was some disinclined to leave you under the circumstances, Mr. Worth fixed it up for you, too, then we all jest throwed you in and fetched you along. Mr. Worth with the other man and his kid are comin' on in a buckboard. They'll catch up with us where we camp to-night. I don't mind sayin' that I plumb admired your spirit and action and--sizin' up that police bunch--I could see your talents would sure be wasted in that San Felipe country for some time to come. There'll be plenty of room in Rubio City for you, leastwise 'till you draw your pay again. If you don't like the accommodations you're gettin' I reckon you'd better make good your talk back there and we'll see whether you takes this outfit back to San Felipe or I takes her on to Rubio City."
The Irishman spat emphatically over the wheel. "An' 'tis a gintleman wid proper instincts ye are, though, as a rule, I howld ut impolite to carry a gun. But afther all, 'tis a matter av opinion an' I'm free to admit that there are occasions. Anyhow ye handle ut wid grace an' intilligence. An', fists er shticks, er knives, er guns, that's the thing that marks the man. 'Tis not Patrick Mooney that'll fault a gintleman for ways that he can't help owin' to his improper bringin' up. Av ye don't mind, will ye tell me fwhat they call ye? I'll not be so indelicate as to ax yer name. Fwhat they call ye will be enough."
The other laughed. "My name is Joe Brannin. They call me Texas Joe-- Tex, for short."
"Good bhoy, Tex! Ye look the divil av a lot like a red herrin', but that's not sich a bad fish, an' ye have the right flavor. How could ye help ut? Brannin an' Texas is handles to pull a man through hell wid. But tell me this--who is this man that says he knows me?"
Texas Joe shook his head and, picking out his lines, called to his team. When they were under way again he said: "I didn't hear his name but I judge from the talk that he is one o' them there civil engineers, an' that he's headin' for Rubio City to build the railroad that's goin' through to the coast. Mr. Worth told me that there would be another man and a kid to go back with us, but I know that Mr. Worth hadn't never seen them before himself."
Pat shifted his heavy bulk to face the driver and, removing his pipe from his mouth, asked with deliberation: "An' do ye mane to tell me that this place we're goin' to is on the new line av the Southwestern an' Continental?"
"Sure. They're buildin' into Rubio City from the East now."
The Irishman became excited. "An' this man that knows me--this engineer--is he a fine, big, up-standin' man wid brown eyes an' the look av a king?"
"I ain't never seen no kings," drawled Tex, "but the rest of it sure fits him."
"Well, fwhat do ye think av that? 'Tis the Seer himsilf, or I'm not the son av me own mither. I was hearin' in Frisco, where I went the last time I drawed me pay, that he was like to be on the S. an' C. extension. 'Twas that that took me to San Felipe, bein' wishful to get a job wid him again. Well, well, an' to think ut's the Seer himsilf!"
"What's that you call him?"
"The Seer. I disremimber his other name but he's got wan all shtraight an' proper. He's that kind. They call him the Seer because av his talk av the great things that will be doin' in this country av no rain at all whin ignorant savages like yersilf learn how to use the wather that's in the rivers for irrigation. I've heard him say mesilf that hundreds av thousands av acres av these big deserts will be turned into farms, an' all that be what he calls 'Reclamation.' 'Twas for that some danged yellow-legged surveyor give him the name, an' ut shtuck. But most av the engineers--the rale engineers do ye mind--is wid him, though they do be jokin' him the divil av a lot about what they calls his visions."
"He didn't _look_ like he was locoed," said Texas Joe thoughtfully, "but he's sure some off on that there desert proposition as you'll see before we lands in Rubio."
"I dunno--I've seen some quare things in me time in the way av big jobs that nobody thought could be done at all. But lave ut go. 'Tis not the likes av me an' you that's qualified to give judgment on sich janiuses as the Seer, who, I heard tell, has the right to put more big-manin' letters afther his name than ye have teeth in yer head."
"All the same it ain't the brand on a horse that makes him travel. A man'll sure need somethin' more hefty than letters after his name when he goes up against the desert."
"Well, lave ut go at that. Wait 'til ye know him. But fwhat's this yer tellin' me about a kid? The Seer has no family at all but himsilf an' his job."
Texas grinned. "Maybe not, pard; but he's sure got together part of a family this trip."
"Is ut a gurl, or a bhoy?"
"Boy--'bout a ten-year-old, I'd say."
The Irishman shook his head doubtfully. "I dunno. 'Tis a quare thing for the Seer. Av it was me, or you, now--but the Seer! It's danged quare! But tell me, fwhat's this man, yer boss? 'Tis a good healthy pull he must have to be separatin' us from thim San Felipe police."
Texas Joe deliberated so long before answering this that Pat glanced at him uneasily several times. At last the driver drawled: "You're right there; Jefferson Worth sure has some pull."
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