THE HORSE THIEF
It was a warm summer morning in the town of Farewell. Save a dozen horses tied to the hitching-rail in front of various saloons and the Blue Pigeon Store and Bill Lainey, the fat landlord of the hotel, who sat snoring in a reinforced telegraph chair on the sidewalk in the shade of his wooden awning, Main Street was a howling wilderness.
Dust overlay everything. It had not rained in weeks. In the blacksmith shop, diagonally across the street from the hotel, Piney Jackson was shoeing a mule. The mule was invisible, but one knew it was a mule because Piney Jackson has just come out and taken a two-by-four from the woodpile behind the shop. And it was a well-known fact that Piney never used a two-by-four on any animal other than a mule. But this by the way.
In the barroom of the Happy Heart Saloon there were only two customers and the bartender. One of the former, a brown-haired, sunburnt young man with ingenuous blue eyes, was singing:
“Jog on, jog on, the footpath way, An’ merrily jump the stile O! Yore cheerful heart goes all the day, Yore sad tires in a mile O!”
Mr. Racey Dawson, having successfully sung the first verse, rested both elbows on the bar and grinned at the bartender. That worthy grinned back, and, knowing Mr. Dawson, slid the bottle along the bar.
“Have one yoreself, Bill,” Mr. Dawson nodded to the bartender. “Whu—where’s Swing? Oh, yeah.”
Mr. Dawson, head up, chest out, stepping high, and walking very stiffly as befitted a gentleman somewhat over-served with liquor, crossed the barroom to where bristle-haired Swing Tunstall sat on a chair and slumbered, his head on his arms and his arms on a table.
Mr. Dawson stooped and blew into Mr. Tunstall’s right ear. Mr. Tunstall began to snore gently. Growing irritated by this continued indifference on the part of Mr. Tunstall, Mr. Dawson seized the chair by rung and back and incontinently dumped Mr. Tunstall all abroad on the saloon floor.
Mr. Tunstall promptly hitched himself into a corner and drifted deeper into slumber.
Mr. Dawson turned a perplexed face on the bartender.
“Now what you gonna do with a feller like that?” Mr. Dawson asked, plaintively.
Mr. Jack Richie, manager of the Cross-in-a-box ranch, entering at the moment, temporarily diverted Mr. Dawson’s attention. For Mr. Dawson had once ridden for the Cross-in-a-box outfit. Hence he was moved literally to fall upon the neck of Mr. Richie.
“Lean on yore own breakfast,” urged Mr. Richie, studiously dissembling his joy at sight of his old friend, and carefully steering Mr. Dawson against the bar. “Here, I know what you need. Drink hearty, Racey.”
“’S’on me,” declared Mr. Dawson. “Everythin’s on me. I gug-got money, I have, and I aim to spend it free an’ plenty, ’cause there’s more where I’m goin’. An’ I ain’t gonna earn it punchin’ cows, neither.”