The stage coach was invisible in a cloud of its own dust as it lurched and rolled along the alkali flats down the valley, and Sancho, the ranch-keeper, could not make out whether any passengers were on top or not. He had brought a fine binocular to bear just as soon as the shrill voice of Pedro, a swarthy little scamp of a half-breed, announced the dust-cloud sailing over the clump of willows below the bend. Pedro was not the ...
The stage coach was invisible in a cloud of its own dust as it lurched and rolled along the alkali flats down the valley, and Sancho, the ranch-keeper, could not make out whether any passengers were on top or not. He had brought a fine binocular to bear just as soon as the shrill voice of Pedro, a swarthy little scamp of a half-breed, announced the dust-cloud sailing over the clump of willows below the bend. Pedro was not the youngster's original name, and so far as could be determined by ecclesiastical records, owing to the omission of the customary church ceremonies, he bore none that the chaplain at old Camp Cooke would admit to be Christian. Itinerant prospectors and occasional soldiers, however, [Pg 6]had suggested a change from the original, or aboriginal, title which was heathenish in the last degree, to the much briefer one of Pedro, as fitting accompaniment to that of the illustrious head of the establishment, and Lieutenant Blake, an infantry sub with cavalry aspirations which had led him to seek arduous duties in this arid land, had comprehensively damned the pretensions of the place to being a "dinner ranch," by declaring that a shop that held Sancho and Pedro and didn't have game was unworthy of patronage. Sancho had additional reasons for disapproving of Blake. That fine binocular, to begin with, bore the brand of Uncle Sam, for which reason it was never in evidence when an officer or soldier happened along. It had been abstracted from Blake's signal kit, when he was scouting the Dragoon Mountains, and swapped for the vilest liquor under the sun, at Sancho's, of course, and the value of the glass, not of the whisky, was stopped against the long lieutenant's pay, leaving him, as he ruefully put it, "short enough at [Pg 7]the end of the month." Somebody told Blake he would find his binocular at Sancho's, and Blake instituted inquiries after his own peculiar fashion the very next time he happened along that way.
"Here, you Castilian castaway," said he, as he alighted at Sancho's door, "I am told you have stolen property in the shape of my signal glass. Hand it over instanter!"
And Sancho, bowing with the grace of a grandee of Spain, had assured the Señor Teniente that everything within his gates was at his service, without money and without price, had promptly fetched from an adjoining room a battered old double-barreled lorgnette, that looked as though it might have been dropped in the desert by Kearny or Fauntleroy, or some of the dragoons who made the burning march before the Gadsden purchase of 1853 made us possessors of more desert sand and desolate range than we have ever known what to do with.
"This thing came out of the ark," said Blake, rightfully wrathful. "What I want is the signal glass that deserter sold you for whisky last Christmas."[Pg 8]
Whereat Sancho called on all the saints in the Spanish calendar to bear witness to his innocence, and bade the teniente search the premises.
"He's got it in that bedroom yonder," whispered old Sergeant Feeney, "and I know it, sir."
And Blake, striding to the door in response to the half-challenge, half-invitation of the gravely courteous cutthroat owner, stopped short at the threshold, stared, whipped off his scouting hat, and, bowing low, said: "I beg your pardon, señora, señorita; I did not know—" and retired in much disorder.
"Why didn't you tell me your family had come, you disreputable old rip?" demanded he, two minutes later, "or is that too—stolen property?"
"It is the wife of my brother and his daughter," responded the ranchman with unruffled suavity.
Nothing could equal Sancho's equanimity in the presence of those he desired to placate; nothing exceed the frenzy of his wrath when[Pg 9] angered by those whom he could harm without fear of reprisals. Blake was backed by a troop of horse and the conviction that Sancho was an unmitigated rascal; therefore were his palpable allusions to be accepted as mere pleasantries or deprecated as unmerited injustice. Blake had blackened the character of the ranch cuisine, even if he had been unequal to the task of blackening that of the owner. Blake had declared Sancho's homestead to be a den of thieves, and the repast tendered the stage passengers a Barmecide feast—the purport of which was duly reported to Sancho, who declared he would ultimately carve his opinion of Blake on that officer's elongated carcass, and until he could find opportunity so to do it behooved him to lull the suspicions of the prospective victim by elaborate courtesy of manner, and of this is the Spaniard or his Mexican half-brother consummate master. Blake left without a glimpse of his glass, but not without another of "the daughter of my brother" but recently arrived, and that peep made him[Pg 10] desirous of a third. Riding away, he waved his hand.