“I’m not tasty,” said Sergeant Smoky, “but I would give the preference this morning to a breakfast of a well-roasted side of ribs of a nice yearling venison over the salt hoss that the Lone Star State furnishes this service. Have we no hunters with us?”
“Let me try,” begged a little man we called “Cushion-foot.” What his real name was none of us knew. The books, of course, would show some name, and then you were entitled to a guess. He was as quiet as a mouse, as reliable as he was quiet and as noiseless in his movements as a snake. One of the boys went with him, making quite a detour from our course, but always remaining in sight. About two miles out from the grove, we sighted a small band of five or six antelope, which soon took fright and ran to the nearest elevation. Here they made a stand about half a mile distant. We signaled to our hunters, who soon spotted them and dismounted. We could see Cushion sneaking through the short grass like a coyote, “Conajo” leading the horses, well hidden between them. We held the antelopes’ attention by riding around in a circle, flagging them. Several times Cushion lay flat, and we thought he was going to risk a long shot. Then he would crawl forward like a cat but finally came to his knee. We saw the little puff, the band squatted, jumping to one side far enough to show one of their number down and struggling in the throes of death.
“Good long shot, little man,” said the sergeant, “and you may have the choice of cuts, just so I get a rib.”
We saw Conajo mount and ride up on a gallop, but we held our course for the grove. We were busy making camp when the two rode in with a fine two-year-old buck across the pommel of Cushion’s saddle. They had only disemboweled him, but Conajo had the heart as a trophy of the accuracy of the shot, though Cushion hadn’t a word to say. It was a splendid heart shot. Conajo took it over and showed it to the two Mexican prisoners. It was an object lesson to them. One said to the other, “Es un buen tirador.”
We put the prisoners to roasting the ribs and making themselves useful in general. One man guarded them at their work, while all the others attended to the hobbling and other camp duties.
It proved to be a delightful camp. We aimed to stay until sunset, the days being sultry and hot. Our appetites were equal to the breakfast, and it was a good one.
“To do justice to an occasion like this,” said Smoky as he squatted down with about four ribs in his hand, “a man by rights ought to have at least three fingers of good liquor under his belt. But then we can’t have all the luxuries of life in the far West; sure to be something lacking.”
“I never hear a man hanker for liquor,” said Conajo, as he poured out a tin cup of coffee, “but I think of an incident my father used to tell us boys at home. He was sheriff in Kentucky before we moved to Texas. Was sheriff in the same county for twelve years. Counties are very irregular back in the old States. Some look like a Mexican brand.
One of the rankest, rabid political admirers my father had lived away out on a spur of this county. He lived a good thirty miles from the county seat. Didn’t come to town over twice a year, but he always stopped, generally overnight, at our house. My father wouldn’t have it any other way. Talk about thieves being chummy; why these two we have here couldn’t hold a candle to that man and my father. I can see them parting just as distinctly as though it was yesterday. He would always abuse my father for not coming to see him. ‘Sam,’ he would say, — my father’s name was Sam, — ‘Sam, why on earth is it that you never come to see me? I’ve heard of you within ten miles of my plantation, and you have never shown your face to us once. Do you think we can’t entertain you? Why, Sam, I’ve known you since you weren’t big enough to lead a hound dog. I’ve known you since you weren’t knee to a grasshopper.’
“‘Let me have a word,’ my father would put in, for he was very mild in speaking; ‘let me have a word, Joe. I hope you don’t think for a moment that I wouldn’t like to visit you; now do you?’
“‘No, I don’t think so, Sam, but you don’t come. That’s why I’m complaining. You have never come in the whole ten years you’ve been sheriff, and you know that we have voted for you to a man, in our neck of the woods.’ My father felt this last remark, though I think he never realized its gravity before, but he took him by one hand and laying the other on his shoulder said, ‘Joe, if I have slighted you in the past, I’m glad you have called my attention to it. Now, let me tell you the first time that my business takes me within ten miles of your place I’ll make it a point to reach your house and stay all night, and longer if I can.’
“‘That’s all I ask, Sam,’ was his only reply. Now I’ve learned lots of the ways of the world since then. I’ve seen people pleasant to each other, and behind their backs, the tune changed. But I want to say to you fellows that those two old boys were not throwing off on each other–not a little bit.
They meant every word and meant it deep. It was months afterward, and father had been gone for a week when he came home. He told us about his visit to Joe Evans. It was winter time, and mother and us boys were sitting around the old fireplace in the evening. ‘I never saw him so embarrassed before in my life,’ said father.
‘I did ride out of my way, but I was glad of the chance. Men like Joe Evans are getting scarce.’ He nodded to us boys. ‘It was nearly dark when I rode up to his gate. He recognized me and came down to the gate to meet me. “Howdy, Sam,” was all he said. There was a troubled expression in his face, though he looked well enough, but he couldn’t simply look me in the face. Just kept his eye on the ground. He motioned for a nigger boy and said to him, “Take his horse.” He started to lead the way up the path when I stopped him. “Look here, Joe,” I said to him. “Now, if there’s anything wrong, anything likely to happen in the family, I can just as well drop back on the pike and stay all night with some of the neighbors. You know I’m acquainted all around here.” He turned in the path, and there was the most painful look in his face I ever saw as he spoke: “Hell, no, Sam, there’s nothing wrong. We’ve got plenty to eat, plenty of beds, no end of horse-feed, but by G—-, Sam, there isn’t a drop of whiskey on the place!”‘