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The Trail Tramp
by [?]

–mounted wanderer, horseman of the restless heart,
still rides from place to place, contemptuous of gold,
carrying in his parfleche all the vanishing traditions
of the West.



Kelley was in off the range and in profound disgust with himself, for after serving honorably as line-rider and later as cow-boss for ten years or more, he had ridden over to Keno to meet an old comrade. Just how it happened he couldn’t tell, but he woke one morning without a dollar and, what was worse, incredibly worse, without horse or saddle! Even his revolver was gone.

In brief, Tall Ed, for the first time in his life, was set afoot, and this, you must understand, is a most direful disaster in cowboy life. It means that you must begin again from the ground up, as if you were a perfectly new tenderfoot from Nebraska.

Fort Keno was, of course, not a real fort; but it was a real barracks. The town was an imitation town. The fort, spick, span, in rows, with nicely planted trees and green grass-plats (kept in condition at vast expense to the War Department), stood on the bank of the sluggish river, while just below it and across the stream sprawled the town, drab, flea-bitten, unkempt, littered with tin cans and old bottles, a collection of saloons, gambling-houses and nameless dives, with a few people–a very few–making an honest living by selling groceries, saddles, and coal-oil.

Among the industries of Keno City was a livery-and-sales stable, and Kelley, with intent to punish himself, at once applied for the position of hostler. “You durned fool,” he said, addressing himself, “as you’ve played the drunken Injun, suppose you play valet to a lot of mustangs for a while.”

As a disciplinary design he felicitated himself as having hit upon the most humiliating and distasteful position in Keno. It was understood that Harford of the Cottonwood Corral never hired a real man as hostler. He seemed to prefer bums and tramps, either because he could get them cheaper or else because no decent man would work for him. He was an “arbitrary cuss” and ready with gun or boot. He came down a long trail of weather-worn experiences in the Southwest, and showed it in both face and voice. He was a big man who had once been fatter, but his wrinkled and sour visage seldom crinkled into a smile. He had never been jolly, and he was now morose.

Kelley hated him. That, too, was another part of his elaborate scheme of self-punishment–hated, but did not fear him, for Tall Ed Kelley feared nothing that walked the earth or sailed the air. “You bum,” he continued to say in bitter derision as he caught glimpses of himself of a morning in the little fragment of broken glass which, being tacked on the wall, served as mirror in the office. “You durned mangy coyote, you need a shave, but you won’t get it. You need a clean shirt and a new bandanna, but you won’t get them, neither–not yet awhile. You’ll earn ’em by going without a drop of whisky and by forking manure fer the next six months. You hear me?”

He slept in the barn on a soiled, ill-smelling bunk, and his hours of repose were broken by calls on the telephone or by some one beating at the door late at night or early in the morning; but he always responded without a word of complaint. It was all lovely discipline. It was like batting a measly bronco over the head in correction of some grievous fault (like nipping your calf, for example), and he took a grim satisfaction in going about degraded and forgotten of his fellows, for no one in Keno knew that this grimy hostler was cow-boss on the Perco. This, in a certain degree, softened his disgrace and lessened his punishment, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to the task of explaining just how he had come to leave the range and go into service with Harford.