“Well, I set down and lit up, and Jimmy done likewise, about ten feet away.
“’I’ve come back a long ways to talk to one of you boys, and I’ve shore hung around this road some few hours waitin’ for some of you terrapins to come along. Ever found out who done those two hold-ups?’
“‘Nope,’ said I, ‘and don’t expect to.’
“‘Well, I done it,’ says he.
“I looked him in the eye mighty severe.
“‘You’re one of the funniest little jokers ever hit this trail,’ I told him. ’If that’s your general line of talkee-talkee I don’t wonder you don’t want me to have no gun.’
“‘Never_the_less,’ he insists, ’I done it. And I’ll tell you just how it was done. Here’s yore old express crawlin’ up the road. Here I am behind this little old rock. You know what happened next I reckon—from experience.’
“‘I reckon I know that,’ says I, ’but how did you get behind that rock without leavin’ no tracks?’
“I climbed up the cliff out of the canon, and I just walked up the canon from the Lost Dog through the brush.’
“‘Yes,’ says I, ’that might be: a man could make out to shinny up. But how——’
“’One thing to a time. Then I ordered them dust sacks throwed out, and the driver to ‘bout-face and retreat.’
“‘Sure,’ says I, ’simple as a wart on a kid’s nose. There was you with a half ton of gold to fly off with! Come again.’
“’I then dropped them sacks off the edge of the cliff where they rolled into the brush. After a while I climbed down after them, and was on hand when your posse started out. Then I carried them home at leisure.’
“‘What did you do with your hoss?’ I asked him, mighty sarcastic. ’Seems to me you overlook a few bets.’
“‘I didn’t have no hoss,’ says he.
“’But the real hold-up——
“’You mean them tracks. Well, just to amuse you fellows, I walked in the dust up to that flat rock. Then I clamped a big pair of horseshoes on hind-side before and walked back again.’”
California John’s audience had been listening intently. Now it could no longer contain itself, but broke forth into exclamations indicative of various emotions.
“That’s why them front and back tracks was the same size!” someone cried.
“Gee, you’re bright!” said California John. “That’s what I told him. I also told him he was a wonder, but how did he manage to slip out near a ton of dust up that road without our knowing it?
“‘You did know it,’ says he. ’Did you fellows really think there was any gold-bearing ore in the Lost Dog? We just run that dust through the mill along with a lot of worthless rock, and shipped it out open and above board as our own mill run. There never was an ounce of dust come out of the Lost Dog, and there never will.’ Then he give me back my gun—emptied—we shook hands, and here I be.”
After the next burst of astonishment had ebbed, and had been succeeded by a rather general feeling of admiration, somebody asked California John if Jimmy had come back solely for the purpose of clearing up the mystery. California John had evidently been waiting for this question. He arose and knocked the ashes from his pipe.