They sold the stamp-mill for almost nothing; packed eight animals with heavy things they had accumulated; and departed up the steep white road, over the rim to the outer world whence came no word of them more. The camp went on prospering. Old Man Bright died. The heavily guarded express continued to drag out yellow gold by the hundredweight.
About six weeks after the departure of the Babes, California John saddled up his best horse, put on his best overalls, strapped about him his shiny worn Colt’s .45 and departed for his semi-annual visit to the valleys and the towns. A week later he returned. It was about dusk. At the water trough he dismounted.
“Boys,” said he, quietly, “I’ve been held up.” He eyed them quizzically. “Up by the slide rock,” he continued, “and by the spook.”
“Who was he?” “What was it?” they cried, starting to their feet.
“It was Jimmy Gaynes,” replied California John.
“The Babe?” someone broke the stunned silence at last.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” cried Tibbetts.
“Did he get much off you?” asked a miner after another pause.
“He never took a thing.”
And on that, being much besieged, California John sat him down and told of his experience.
California John was discursive and interested and disinclined to be hurried. He crossed one leg over the other and lit his pipe.
“I was driftin’ down the road busy with my own idees—which ain’t many,” he began, “when I was woke up all to once by someone givin’ me advice. I took the advice. Wasn’t nothin’ else to do. All I could see was a rock and a gun barrel. That was enough. So I histed my hands as per commands and waited for the next move.” He chuckled. “I wasn’t worryin’. Had to squeeze my dust bag to pay my hotel bill when I left the city.”
“‘Drop yore gun in the road,’ says the agent.
“I done so.
“I climbed down. And then Jimmy Gaynes rose up from behind that rock and laughed at me.
“‘The joke’s on me!’ said I, and reached down for my gun.
“‘Better leave that!’ said Jimmy pretty sharp. I know that tone of voice, so I straightened up again.
“‘Well, Jimmy,’ said I, ’she lays if you say so. But where’d you come from: and what for do you turn road agent and hold up your old friends?’
“‘I’m holdin’ you up,’ Jimmy answered, ’because I want to talk to you for ten minutes. As for where I come from, that’s neither here nor there.’
“‘Of course,’ said I, ’I’m one of these exclusive guys that needs a gun throwed on him before he’ll talk with the plain people like you.’
“‘Now don’t get mad,’ says Jimmy. ’But light yore pipe, and set down on that rock, and you’ll see in a minute why I preferred to corner the gatling market.’