December 15, 2010 Leave a comment
by Dane Coolidge
The tidings of war were in the air when into the plaza at Del Norte, where adventurers from all over the world had gathered, there drifted yet another derelict. He was young and straight and dressed in decent black, but the wild look was there in his eyes. Many glanced at him curiously as he sat by the old cannon, his emotional face drawn with pain, his tapering hands clutched before him, and one man turned and looked again at his hands. It was Sergeant Bogan, recruiting agent for Montaño and his Army of Liberation, but he passed on and bided his time. The hands were soft and slender, yet full of supple strength, the signs of a high-grade mechanic, but the man himself was too ﬁne. There were other derelicts, already starved and broken, who would enlist for the price of a meal—the white-handed stranger could wait.
The sun had sunk low behind the Mexican Sierras, where the Army of Liberation lay hidden, when Bruce Whittle roused up from his thoughts. The light of his world had been put out suddenly and night was closing in upon him; there was a great pain in his breast and the memory of a kiss that was driving him to black despair. He rose up suddenly and that evening in Fronteras, across the river in Mexico, Beanie Bogan saw him playing the games and marked him for his own. The games were crooked, and, when a man lost, he was generally ready to enlist. Bogan drew in closer, glancing out from beneath bushy eyebrows like a watchful, rat-catching terrier, and at last the ﬁnal card was turned. Whittle rose up slowly, his eyes on the cheating dealer, a ﬁghting snarl on his lips, and then he clutched at the stakes.
“You can’t rob me!” he cried.
As the dealer reached for his pistol, Whittle slapped him across the face. There was a loud report, a crashing of tables, and a rush of feet for the entrance, and then, as the house was plunged into darkness, strong arms seized Whittle from behind and dragged him out a side door.
“Nix! Nix on that stuff!” panted a hoarse voice in his ear. “The rurales will get you, sure. Stand up…you ain’t hurt…and now beat it for the river or you’ll rot in a Mexican jail.”
Whittle’s knees were trembling, his strength had ﬂed, but at the word jail he shook himself free.
“No, no!” he gasped. “I’d die! I couldn’t stand it!” And led by the resolute Bogan, he ran until they crossed to Del Norte.
“Now,” said Bogan as he led him to a card room and poured out a glass of liquor, “drink that, and tell me what’s the idee.”
“I don’t drink,” answered Whittle, and, sinking down in a chair, he buried his face in his hands. Death had been so near, and yet it had passed, and now he was weak and faint.
“Oh, I see,” observed Bogan, and pulled down his lip.
“You see what?” demanded Whittle.
Bogan evaded the question by raising his glass in the air. “Here’s to ’em,” he said enigmatically.
“To the women, God bless them. If it wasn’t for them, I’d lose many a likely recruit.”
A ﬂush of anger came over Whittle’s pale face and mounted to the roots of his hair. “You take too much for granted,” he answered shortly, but Bogan shook his head.
“Nope,” he said, “when it isn’t booze, it’s always a woman that drives a man to…that.” He jerked his head in the direction of Fronteras, and Whittle reached for his glass.
“You are mistaken,” he said, and drank down the whiskey. “Now who are you and what do you want?”
“That’s the stuff!” Bogan applauded. “Put it down and have another, and I’ll let you in on something good. You’re a mechanic, ain’t you? I knew it by the look of you…and perhaps you’re a pretty good shot? Well, how would you like now to join Montaño’s army and come out and help ﬁx our guns?”
“What? Enlist as a soldier? In the Mexican army?”
“Ah, nah, nah!” burst out Bogan impatiently. “You don’t get the idee at all. I’m Montaño’s agent and I’m raking the town for recruits for the Foreign Legion. He’s got lots of Mexes but it’s Americans he’s after, and he pays ’em two hundred a month. Two hundred dollars gold, and everything found, and a cracking good horse to ride, and, when we take Fronteras, as we will in jig time, you’ll come in for your share of the loot. And when the war is over, if you stand by the chief, you get a nice little Mexican girl and a grant of good land to boot. Nah, listen, now. Didn’t I follow you over to that gambling house and keep you from getting killed? Well, then, where’s your gratitude?”
He sat back and thrust out his jaw belligerently, but Whittle did not reply. He was living in a daze in which some things were clear and others far away and confused, but he felt no obligation of gratitude. Left alone, his troubles would have been over. Not only that but she would be free, with only his memory to haunt her. But now—he regarded his rescuer malevolently.
“Why should I thank you for that,” he asked, “when I did it on purpose to get killed?” Read more of this post