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Short Stories, June, 1949
Something in Being Shot at by a Lady—Always the
Chance That It Might Lead to Something Better
HE water-hole lay between the Dos
Hermanos peaks, which showed for
vast distances over the desert, so
Rame Larimore had no fear of missing it.
Yet he was sparing with water, and he rode
into sight of it with one of his two canteens
half full. This was fortunate. He found the
hole bone dry.
And that wasn’t all he saw. Just beyond
the depression, in the shade of a boulder, the
figure of a man lay as inert and as silent as
the boulder itself. Larimore rode fast around
to him, dismounted and let the rein fall and
knelt with the heavier canteen open. The
man was tall, but thin; he had very gray
hair, mustaches and goatee. His clothing,
dusty now, was of expensive cut.
“Drink this, amigo,” Rame said. A big
young man and strong, he lifted the
unknown to a sitting posture easily with one
hand. “Come on—drink!”
The oldster took a few swallows. His
eyes of steely-gray blinked upward. He
waved the canteen aside and spoke in tones
that betrayed great weakness:
“Days to water. You’ll need that
yourself. Can’t save me anyway. It’s my
ticker—it’s nearly gone.”
His breathing was tragically short.
Larimore remembered buzzards circling
high, off southward. “I reckon your horse
fell and broke a leg and you had to shoot it.
But I don’t see any gun on you.”
“Couldn’t carry even that—after I’d
shot the horse.” His smile was pale, faint.
“I’ve got only a few minutes. Just who are
you, friend?”
“Nobody much,” Rame said. “A cow
puncheroo who ran with a wild bunch long
enough to pick up a bad black sheep name,
is all. Square with John Law now and
headed out beyond this desert to start over
again and ride ‘er straight from there on out.
I could take you up on my saddle—”
The other interrupted very gently.
“I was a black sheep, too, cowman.
Went clean to tidewater Texas to make—a
new beginning—long time ago. One black
merino ought to do another a favor! But I
want you—to keep my watch as pay for
your trouble. . . . My inside coatpocket;
heavy envelope, with important papers.
Take it—third ranch house—northwest road
out of Ironwood. . . . Santos River valley.
Name of Callahan. . . .”
The voice sank to a mumble, and in this
there was another name. It sounded like
Yulie. But that didn’t seem right. Larimore
had never before heard such a name, except
among Swedes, and this man was not a
Swede. He pushed his buckhorn-handled
six-shooter back out of the way, and bent an
ear close.
“Afraid I didn’t get that last, amigo.
Yulie, did you say, or was it Julie?”
Although the steel-gray eyes were
taking on a glazed look, the voice
strengthened queerly here at the last:
“Alexander Pope said, ‘All men are
brothers, but some are finer clay.’ You’ll be
finer clay and be faithful in doing me this
favor, I know, brother black sheep.”
“I sure will,” promised Rame Larimore,
with feeling that he hadn’t guessed was in
Again the faint, pale smile, and there
were a few words more. Part of this, too,
was something that Alexander Pope had
said, or written, in the long, long ago.
Of thick brown paper, official size,
stuffed full and very carefully sealed, the
envelope was. There’d been a name and
address in ink, but perspiration or rain had
blotted the whole so badly that it was
unreadable. The watch, of gold and with the
head of a horse engraved on the back, was
worth perhaps a hundred dollars.
As for Santos River valley, it lay west of
this desert. Rame had had that particular
cattle country in mind from the start.
E arrived in Ironwood City several
days later. Since crossing the broad
wasteland he’d had water and food in
plenty, and some rest, and now was feeling
himself once more. He turned his sorrel cow
horse over to a livery-stable helper for a
grain feed, then proceeded to make talk with
the grizzled liveryman.
“How far to the Callahan place,
“Callahan place? Never heard of it,”
tugging at his wiry billygoat beard. “Why?”
“You know anybody named Callahan,
or Yulie, or maybe Julie?”
“Cain’t say I know anybody wearing
any of them titles,” answered the stable
man. “Why?”
“Who,” inquired Larimore, “lives in the
third ranch house on the northwest road?”
“Samson Arn,” was the drawled
response. “Big as a grizzly bear, mean as a
pizen snake, more dangerouser’n dynamite.
Rame spoke sharply now.
“If you just got to know why, listen. I
found a powerful nice viejo dyin’ at the dry
Dos Hermanos water-hole, and he asked me
to see Callahan, whoever he is, and it
seemed that this Callahan lived in the third
ranch house on the northwest road. If the
old gentleman told me his name, I didn’t
catch it; he was far gone. I found a deepsandy place and buried him there. How long
has Samson Arn lived in that third ranch
“I been here might’ nigh it a year,” the
stable-owner said, “and Arn was there when
I arrove.”
“When my sorrel is through with his
grain I’ll ride up to that place and see if I
can find out anything,” Rame said. “You
can maybe tell me if the first three houses
are in sight from the road, so’s I won’t miss
the third one, and you might could also tell
me how far it is.”
“Dozen miles, about. All houses above
here is in sight from the road. Valley ain’t
but a few miles wide, but it’s as long as the
river is.—Now wait a minute. I overlooked
something. There is a house, a shanty like,
which ain’t in sight from that northwest
road. Far up the valley, beyant where the
road follers the river into the left hills.
Owned by a widder name of Rensford. Got
a few cows. But this ain’t important to you,
I reckon.”
“No, I reckon not,” absent-mindedly
replied Rame Larimore. “I’m beginnin’ to
wonder if that name, instead of being
Callahan, could be Calhoun, or Lanahan,
“I don’t know any Calhoun or
“Sure adds up to puzzlement,” muttered
He reasoned that the papers he was
carrying probably bore the name, or names,
that he wanted. But the envelope had been
so carefully sealed, he felt, somehow, that
he would be breaking faith if he opened it.
There was a good deal of sentiment hidden
far down in the heart of this big young man.
He wasn’t going to forget, ever, that other
black sheep who had called him brother.
Half an hour later, Larimore asked for
his horse and got it. He called to the
liveryman, as he stepped into the saddle:
“I forgot to ask you. You know any
Alex Pope?”
“No. Why?”
“Well,” said Rame, a little put out in
spite of himself, “damned if I know why.
The old gentleman mentioned him.”
The stable man pointed to Rame’s sixshooter, and the billygoat beard began
bobbing once more: “Don’t forgit what I
told you about Samse Arn. Make sure that
weepon slips easy out o’ leather, is my
Larimore grinned. There’d be no trouble
about that.
The road lay close to the cottonwoodshaded Santos River, which flowed through
the finest grassland he had ever seen, and all
cattle were short-necked, stubby-headed
Herefords with legs almost straight down
FTER the sorrel had kicked off the
dozen miles, its rider pulled leftward
and soon was approaching a comfortablelooking big house of frame and adobe, set in
a grove of liveoaks. He dismounted near the
front gallery steps, flung down the rein and
hallooed. From somewhere deep inside a
heavy bass voice rumbled sourly:
“Come on in!”
A moment afterward, Rame was in the
livingroom. He noted that the furniture was
old but extremely good. As he sat down, a
tall clock on the mantel caught his eye. It
made him think of the watch the desert man
had given him, and he compared the time of
the watch with that of the clock.
More than an hour slow. Much of this
was the difference between time here and
time back in tidewater Texas, but that did
not occur to Rame. He knew how to set a
watch to running faster, unscrewed the
horsehead back, then caught his breath
sharply. Pasted neatly inside there was a
very good bust photo of two women, one
elderly and the other young, both more than
ordinarily handsome.
A staccato rattle of footsteps to his right
took his gaze off the little picture. A man in
range clothes was hurrying in through the
front doorway. With the merest glance
toward Larimore, he began calling, “Samse!
Hey, Samse!”
“Tell it!” came from deep in the house.
“I didn’t even hardly get in talkin’
distance,” the newcomer said, and hastened
on—“they shot at me!”
“Yeah? Come out here and see this
bullet-hole through my John B. Stetson
Arn growled, ‘‘I’ll take your word for
The newcomer turned and hurried out.
Rame Larimore’s gaze went back to the
photo. After a minute, boot-heels began
pounding in the central hallway, and a man
who must be Samson Arn, wearing a lowsagging heavy gun-belt, appeared within
two yards of the visitor. In his left hand he
carried an empty sotol bottle.
“Who’re you?” he rapped, and tossed
the bottle crashing into the cold fireplace.
The visitor had gone to his feet. His eye
ran fast over Arn. A squat giant, the man
was, with the shoulders and neck of an ox;
long arms, knotted with muscle; tousled
hair, flushed cheeks, blood-shotten mean
“Been on a real bender,” Rame was
telling himself; “sotol, too; the right amount
o’ that, and next thing is to walk head on
into a freight train.”
“You after a job, or what?”
“I’m on the hunt o’ somebody named
Callahan, and a Yulie, or maybe it’s Julie,”
the visitor announced. “I figured that you
might could help me.”
“No,” came instantly from Arn. He
repeated it. “No.”
He was uneasy, Larimore saw. Rame
then held out the little picture in its round
golden frame. “You know these folks?”
“Where’d you get that?” cried Samson
Arn, and his voice was not steady. He had
no answer. With a thick forefinger he
reached to turn the watch-back over, and he
saw the engraving and was even more
concerned. “Where in hell did you get this?”
“So you’ve seen it before.”
“You bet I’ve seen it before. It’s
Fitzhugh’s. You’re leaving that watch with
He made as if to pull his weapon.
Larimore stopped him.
“Don’t try that, Samse.” Indicating the
six-shooter under his own hip, “I could beat
you to it, but there’s no sense in it. I don’t
mind telling you where I got the timepiece.
A man who cashed up on the desert, he gave
it to me the minute before he went. Old like,
gray hair and mustache and goatee, mighty
nice clothes. He asked me to come to this
house and find somebody named Callahan.
You see?”
AMSON ARN smiled queerly. He had
jumped to an idea and a conclusion; the
man was cunning. With neat sarcasm, “Of
course you wouldn’t murder old Fitzhugh
for his watch and whatever else he had on
him, and likely he had plenty!”
Larimore throttled a desire to make a
fight of it. He realized the grim possibility
connected with this thing: the black sheep
name he was running from, that could easily
make big trouble for him here. He spoke,
marking time:
“Fitzhugh a gambler?”
“No. Well—yes, he was a gambler, but
with oil wells instead of cards. Did Fitzhugh
give you anything to take to Callahan?”
Rame said nothing, started a battle of
eyes. He won it. Arn clipped, “So you won’t
answer that. Bueno!”
He turned and vanished in the central
hallway. His boot-heels were soon rattling
across the back gallery, then down the steps,
and a voice that Rame hadn’t heard before
was calling, “You be back for supper,
That would be the ranch house cook.
His question brought no response. Cooks
were likely to know things. Larimore put
the watch together and pocketed it, and
hurried to the kitchen.
“I’m wonderin’,” he said to a squinting
little old-timer, “if you can help me out. I’ll
sure make it worth your while if you’ll tell
me whatever you know about a man named
Fitzhugh and another one named Callahan.”
The cook looked slowly around from the
pan of potatoes he was peeling. He drawled,
“I don’t know no Fitzhugh, i-god, ner yit no
Callahan neither.”
Rame Larimore began scowling at the
He wasn’t throwing down his intention
to make good his promise to the other black
sheep. But it appeared that he had worked
his row to the end, so to speak, unless he
opened the big envelope he was carrying
inside his shirt and found the exact name, or
names, that he wanted. He had a strong
suspicion to the effect that Samson Arn was
even now riding townward for the purpose
of demanding his arrest and imprisonment
charged with robbing and killing old
“That fool wild reputation I built up,”
muttered Rame—“I’ll have to move fast!”
On the cookstove a kettle boiled. He
stepped quickly to the stove and held the
back of the envelope over the steam. The
old cook watched out of the corners of his
squinted eyes.
In the time of three minutes, Larimore
had quite the greatest surprise of his life.
The big envelope contained important
papers; no possible doubt of that.
There were nineteen one-thousanddollar bills and a fistful of fifties!
And no name, except for those on the
heavy currency.
The cook saw too. He sprang up,
dropping potatoes and pan and knife to the
floor, and creaked, “Hey, amigo!” His voice
was vibrant with cupidity so rank that it
would have shamed swine. “Let me in on
that, amigo, and I’ll ferget all o’ Samse’s
rules and regulations about not talkin’ none
about nothin’ and tell you where Callahan
is, i-god, and—will it supprise you to
Rame crammed the bills back into the
envelope, thrust the envelope back inside
his shirt. He was pale now under his range
tan. If the law caught him with all that
money in his possession it was going to be
too bad for him and he knew it. The money
must be delivered. Only this would clear
him. He barked:
“Listen, you old cabron! The dinero is
not mine to give, but just the same you’re
going to tell me where to find Callahan! I
wouldn’t admire to choke you plumb to
death, but I sure might could if I have to.
All right, where is he?”
Since it was not in him to hurt the
wizened little man seriously, he had to put
on an act, and he did and he made it a
“Out with it, or by the lord I’ll—”
The old-timer broke fast. He chuttered,
“Y’won’t never tell Samse I tole you?”
“Sure won t!”
“Well, Callahan is at the Rensford
ARIMORE decided that the little Arn
man was not lying. He hadn’t forgotten
the Ironwood City liveryman’s telling him
that an elderly Widow Rensford owned a
small cow outfit far up the valley.
“And who,” Rame asked, “is Fitzhugh?”
“I don’t know. Hope to die I don’t.”
“Ever heard o’ any Yulie, or Julie?”
“No,” the cook said. “I jest happened to
find out they was a Callahan at Rensford’s
by overhearin’ some o’ Samse’s talk. He
sent a rider up there yesterday and when he
comes back Samse asts him what message
he brang from Callahan, and he says to
Samse, ‘I ain’t brang no message ‘cept that
the next jigger who goes up there will be
shot at!”
“I get it,” Larimore said. “Arn sent a
man up there again today, and he was shot
at. Fast, now—what else can you tell me,
old coot?”
“I ain’t been here long, amigo. They
ain’t another thing I know to tell you, i-god,
not nary thing ay-tall.”
Rame ran out of the house, very soon
was in his saddle and riding hard up the
The liveryman had said that Mrs.
Rensford’s little place wasn’t in sight from
the road. It was not, therefore, on the river.
Then it would be on a creek, beyond a
doubt. So Larimore kept an eye out for
smaller streams, and within a few miles he
found one that led off northeastward.
He lost a good two hours on that stream.
There should be another creek, he kept
telling himself, over northwestward.
There was.
It ran through upper valley narrows,
which were crossed by wire fences above
and below a quarter section; the Widow
Rensford was saving herself the expense of
hiring a rider or so. Larimore remembered
that an Arn man had been shot at here, and
he rode toward the Rensford two-roomed
shanty with his right hand high, the palm
frontward, ancient sign of peace.
He had ridden to a point within two
hundred yards of the cheap little ranch
house when there was the shattering keen
thunder of an old Sharps rifle. He wilted off
his sorrel cow horse with the sunlight
growing swiftly more and more dim to him.
And then all the light was gone. It was very
like the snuffing of a candle in a high wind.
There were the shaken cries and hurried
footfalls of women, the women of the photo
in the watch that Fitzhugh had given to his
brother black sheep.
Larimore came to half sitting, half lying,
in a propped-back old rocker. There was a
bandage about his temples. The upper left
side of his shirt had been ripped open, and
his shoulder had been bandaged also. A
voice came from back of him, the Widow
Rensford’s; it was low, and not quite steady.
“My daughter—Ellen—didn’t mean to
shoot you. She had aimed over your head, to
scare you off. She’s gone for the doctor.
Arn has so persecuted us! You do work for
Arn, don’t you?”
He moved himself a little and saw her,
the older woman of the photo, tall and
slightly thin, rough-handed from work, and
burned by sun and wind. But there was
something exquisite about her. He answered
her question in one word.
His head pounded. So did his shoulder.
To save him he could not think dearly.
Awkwardly then he drew out the gold watch
and passed it to her, and told her, haltingly,
about—the desert. There was silence that
seemed long to Rame Larimore. He missed
the thick envelope, and mentioned it. She
explained that the envelope had fallen out
when she’d ripped his shirt open to bandage
his shoulder, assured him that it was safe.
She said then, speaking very softly:
“Fitzhugh was my brother. His middle
name was Lee. We called him Hugh Lee,
and that’s the ‘Yulie’ that puzzled you. So
he told you of being the family’s black
sheep, God love him! He thought there was
money in oil, and we backed his
investments; borrowed the money from
Samson Arn, on notes with the ranch as
security. When we owed Arn eleven
thousand he’d got so mean that we moved
off up here and let him have the place. He’d
kept tormenting us—wanted me to make
Ellen marry him!”
This filtered slowly through Larimore’s
consciousness. “You say it’s your place,
where Arn lives? Big house, and so many
white-faced cows, on the best range I ever
She nodded. Her eyes were dim.
“And so you buried Hugh Lee in the
“Yes,” breathed Rame. “He asked me
to, and he said part of it in somethin’ that
sounded like poetry, which was this:
“ ‘Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.’ ”
After a silence, Mrs. Rensford said,
“That’s from Pope. He liked Pope very
much. I hear hoofs and wheels: Ellen with
the doctor; please, don’t blame her too
CCOMPANYING Ellen Rensford and
the bespectacled practitioner were
Samson Arn and a tall, hard-eyed man who
wore a sheriff star over his heart like a
target and a dare. Arn had seen his cook,
who’d been unable to keep the secret of the
Fitzhugh envelope.
“There’s the thief and killer,” blared that
worse than thief and killer, stabbing a finger
toward the wounded big young man in the
propped-back rocker. “Right there!”
“I take it, Samson,” at once said Mrs.
Rensford, “that you’d have us think you’re
doing us a great favor. You’re very wrong.
This fine boy—” pointing to Larimore—
“brought us a fortune in cash when he might
easily have run off with it. Hugh Lee sent it
to us; was lucky, in oil, at last. And now I’ll
ask you to present my notes for payment,
and then get out of that house just as fast as
you possibly can!”
“I’d sure like to shoot me a rattlesnake,”
Rame heard his own voice telling all and
sundry. The sheriff said:
“Samse, I’ve heard a lot about how
you’ve worried these ladies. There is, I’m
afeared, some likelihood of a necktie party
in your immediate vicinity. Now gallop
after the notes so’s we can witness the
transaction. Scat!”
Arn blinked, paled, and scatted.
The doctor was already at work, Miss
Rensford helping. He took a bullet from
Larimore’s shoulder and dressed the wound,
looked after the temple that had hit rock
when Rame fell from his horse. Although
there was still a link missing, the patient had
recovered sufficiently to look at the
Rensford girl for the fifth time. A really
handsome filly, he had to admit.
“This boy will soon be all right, Callie,”
the doctor assured Mrs. Rensford; and
Larimore cried:
“Callie—Callahan!” His head now was
all clear. “So that was you, Miz Rensford!”
An old family name, of course. Arn
returned with the notes, got his money and
left with the sheriff. An hour later, when the
doctor had gone, Rame Larimore picked his
time and half whispered to Ellen Rensford,
“Thanks for shootin’ me, ma’am. I’m
wonderin’—you recken it might could lead
to somethin’ a heap better for the both of
They must have known, even then. Her
eyes held a fine twinkle as she answered,
also half whispering:
“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.”

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