“THE WOMAN’S PICTURE” By GORDON RAY YOUNG (Found in a 1919 newspaper but originally from The CAVALIER – March 22, 1913. Public Domain)
An Unusual Episode of Life on the Border
Copyright by Frank A. Munsey Co.
I raised my hands.
There was no word spoken. The revolver and behind it the masked face of the highwayman were enough.
For the first time in my life I realized how people felt when they gazed at the muzzle of my gun and trembled before the black mask that I wore.
I remember that I wanted to laugh. The humorous side of the situation appealed to me. I was being held up!
I, Hugh Richmond, whose purse did not contain so much as the value of one gold piece, but whose body, dead or alive, was worth $5,000.
I know that I smiled, and I could see that my smile was disconcerting; therefore I knew that I was face to face with an amateur. I cared little for being held up. In fact, I rather enjoyed the situation.
“Pleasant day,” I ventured.
The gun made a terrific report, and the bullet whizzed dangerously close. After such an answer I kept my lips closed.
My highwayman did not seem to know what to do next, and we sat on our horses at a bend in the mountain road and looked at each other. The first motion he made I knew that he wanted me to dismount, but I pretended not to understand and wrinkled my brow as though puzzled.
“Climb off,” came in a faint whisper.
Then I was puzzled. It was not the hoarse whisper of one who had lost his voice. Of a sudden I understood. My amateur highwayman was more frightened than his victim. He could not even manage his voice. I determined to take advantage of him.
In those days I was a good horseman, and I was mounted on the wisest little mare that ever kicked up dust in a sheriff’s face.
Gently I touched Dolly’s flank with a spur and, keeping my hands aloft, made her plunge from side to side, guiding her with my knees until we were several yards away.
I lowered my hands, leaned forward, chirped in Dolly’s ear, and away we flew.
Bang, bang, bang! All of his shots went wild.
An hour later I smiled to myself and tried to imagine the astonishment that would seize Mr. Amateur if he knew that his revolver had caused Hugh Richmond to lift his hands.
There wasn’t a sheriff in Colorado that didn’t want me. I was wanted on so many charges that I had lost track of them myself.
I only knew that no man—”no, nor woman either, though by your smile”—was my friend.
I sprawled in the sunshine, as I often did, and let my thoughts wander.
At such times I would think of the faces of men and women I had known long ago, and of all those faces there was but one I remembered with tenderness, and that dear, sweet little girl believed that I was dead.
I was worse. Society had driven me out.
Solitude is pleasant enough when you grow tired of the city and are wearied by the restless clatter of industry, but I longed—I actually craved the company of a human being.
But I could have no friends. I knew if I made any sooner or later I would be betrayed, and the horror of horrors that oppressed my mind was that l might be taken alive.
From where I was it was not far to Pinon, and in Pinon—well, there were people—a dance hall, music, the clatter of voices and the sound of oaths, a ghastly resemblance of a pleasurable life that I had known long ago and in another section of the world.
It was quiet in the Silver Dollar when I rode up, casually glanced at the men in front of the saloon and entered. There were only two or three people in the place. To sit in that hot saloon, reeking with odors that at other times, would have been offensive, was now a pleasure.
At such a place you meet and see many kinds of people—the vicious and the good gone wrong, who incidentally make up the great percentage of the outcast element; the bad and would like to be bad, the braggart and the hero, faro dealers, rough handed miners and disjointed cowboys.
An hour after I sat down a young man with lily hands entered. I knew him for a gambler or a tenderfoot; and when he placed himself before the tin pan piano and began banging a selection from “II Trovatore” I knew that he was a newcomer and shifted my chair to get a good look at his face. He was a handsome lad, one of the poetic type.
“Hey,” I shouted softly and in ridicule, “desist from such atrocities.”
He looked at me in amazement.
“You know that piece—you—you!”
And his last word had an altogether different inflection. He was startled and from saucer like eyes stared at me. My first thought was that I had been trapped; that he recognized me as Hugh Richmond.
“What’s the matter?” I demanded.
“Tell me. What is the matter?” There was a ring in my voice that he did not disregard, and he answered in a whisper, “Nothing.”
That whisper! He was the amateur highwayman.
We had met again, and I liked the boy. My impressions are not always correct, but they are positive, and if I take a dislike to a man at first sight I would distrust him though we were seated side by side in heaven.
But this lad, this mere youth, this unsophisticated child of the east, who had no better sense than to attempt highway robbery and three hours later inflict music on his victim, touched my sympathy.
“Well?” I spoke half defiantly because I wanted to make him talk.
“We never met before,” he stammered, coming toward me with the reluctance of one approaching a judgment seat.
“Never,” I answered emphatically.
As he sat down I pushed the bottle toward him, and he grasped it eagerly.
“Good stuff,” he lied politely.
“Damnable,” I rejoined.
“But I think it is good,” he insisted and took another glass of the liquid fire.
“Three weeks,” he replied, embarrassed.
“I am a tenderfoot, the rawest kind and well blistered.”
“How long?” I queried again.
“God knows. I don’t want to stay any longer than I can help.”
His tongue had been loosened. Three large jolts of whisky—such whisky as comes over the bar of the Sliver Dollar would have loosened the tongue of the Sphinx—and before I realized what was happening he was rapidly whispering into my ears his tale of sorrow.
“I was in a social set that was too high for my purse,” he said. “My family was proud, my name was an open sesame to the exclusive set, but my income was small. My employer trusted me. There is a woman in the case.
“Heaven, such a woman! I am not worthy of her. It was not her fault. And I wish that I could get a start over again, but I’ve hit the trail for hell, and yet she loves me. I couldn’t let her know that I was poor, and I showered her with presents, just as the other fellows did that wanted her to love them, but she turned them away.
“She loved me, do you hear? I gave her everything that money could buy, and then the crash came.
“My own father turned me out of the house. My own mother wouldn’t let me kiss her goodbye. My employer—he was an old friend of the family—said he wouldn’t prosecute, but I was disgraced. The papers had it.
“And then she—she of all women—said that she loved me and always would and said that she was as much to blame as I because she had allowed me to spend money on flowers and take her to the theater—most of the money went for that; but, of course, there was a ring.
“She told me to go west, to go out where money was dug from the ground and fortunes made in a day and to get enough to settle my accounts, and then we would go to some place else and begin life all over again.
“And here I am. But what can I do? How can I dig gold out of the ground? I know nothing about it. There’s nothing I can do. I’m bad—bad all the way through. My father told me I was. So what’s the use? I don’t care for myself, but for her—for her.”
Tears rose in his eyes, and he cried: “If I could only get a start again for her! I’d slave my life away just to make her happy, for she loves me even after all that.”
He drew a small picture from his pocket, kissed it again and again, then laid it on the table and gazed intently at the sweet, childish face.
I glanced at the picture casually, rose, gripped the table, then sank back, staring into the face of the boy, who failed to notice. I knew her—oh, how well I knew her! And all that he said was true. I glanced around the saloon. It was early. Men were just beginning to drop in. There we sat, the boy and I, men from the far, far east, and each had been driven out, he as the result of a faithlessness to a trust and I—no matter why I came.
There we sat together, he a youth and I a man, and before us lay the picture of a woman whom we both loved.
The boy had fallen across his arms on the table. At first he sighed, and then his heavy breathing told me that he was sleeping. I fell into a reverie.
I had no money. All that I could get hold of went east, passed through the hands of a lawyer and then to— But she never knew whence it came. She believed what the lawyer told her, and he didn’t know the truth.
Still the boy slept.
I speculated on the amount he needed and glanced about the room. I touched him on the shoulder. No answer. I shook him, and he raised his head drowsily.
“How much do you need?”
He was not fully awake.
“Come on; wake up.” And I shook him again.
“What do you want?”
“Come on outside. The fresh air will do you good,” I said.
We went out. “Look here, laddie, I came out west several years ago and struck it rich. I like you, and I know that there is not a streak of bad in you. Now, if I lend you the money will you go back and be a man? When you get on your feet you can pay it back; no hurry, though ”
“Would I—would I? Oh, heavens! Then I could go back like a man and be a man. You must be an angel in disguise!”
“Have you a horse here?”
“Well, take mine—over there.” I selected the best one in sight—that is next to Dolly. Explanations at that stage of the game would have been embarrassing.
Then I gave him directions as to how to ride, and told him to make haste.
“I’ll be along pretty soon—in about an hour—but I want you to go now. I will have to go back and find a couple of friends and borrow a few dollars to make up the amount I could get it tomorrow, but I want to see you started back east tomorrow morning. It will be a long ride, but I guess you are good for it, even if you are a tenderfoot.”
He wanted to wait and come with me, but I made him ride off.
Then I went back in. It was a risky proposition, and such a desperate chance that even now I have strange twitching about my heart when I think of it.
There were noise and laughter. The tin pan piano was going its utmost; excited gamblers were plunging heavily at faro bank, and several men were at the bar, when I placed my back to the wall, drew both guns instantly and roared: “Hands up!”
The confusion became silent.
Some turned to the door, bent on taking a chance, but thought better of it, and up went their hands. The bartender hesitated for a moment, debating whether or not to drop behind the bar, but be caught my eye and obeyed.
In less time than it takes to tell I had plundered the faro bank—and a goodly roll it was—and asked the bartender to step aside while I emptied the till. He gave me a smile, and I knew by that smile that he was a dangerous man.
I backed to the door, knowing that the moment I stepped outside a fusillade of shots would be sent in my direction. I turned, made two jumps and was astride of Dolly and pounding down the road while the wicked crack of a Winchester troubled my ears. I glanced over my shoulder and could see the white apron about the shadowy form that stood in the doorway. The bartender was a dangerous man, but I had been born under a lucky star.
“What’s all that shooting about?” the boy asked when I overtook him couple of miles farther on.
“A little altercation over a poker game. Come on; we’ll have to ride fast if we make that station in time to catch the morning train.”
After pushing our horses hard and talking but little; we arrived at the station the following morning just as the train whistled in the distance. It’s faint roar grew nearer and nearer until, with a mighty rush it was upon us and the brakes were grinding and creaking.
“If I only knew how I could repay you—I will, but I would like to express my thanks now, and words won’t do it,” he said earnestly as he gripped my hand.
“You can—and fully—for all time.”
“How? Tell me how. I will do anything.”
“Give me that picture of—” and I called the sweet face girl by name.
He reached in his pocket and handed it to me. Again we shook hands. He stepped on the train, and slowly it moved off, and then faster and faster until it was out of sight.
I stood staring after the train and wondering what he would think when he remembered that he had never told me her name—for she was my daughter. (As if you didn’t see that coming a long time ago ! – DLS)
ENJOY PULPS – David Lee Smith
(“The Woman’s Picture” was Gordon Young’s very first story, which is kind of generic in my opinion, and it’s a good thing that he got much better to write the classic “Tall in the Saddle. The story was made into the classic 1944 John Wayne movie. However, the story doesn’t have the ol’ timey 1920s and up, hayseed/cowpokin’ Western drawls (“Ye all vermit, I’ze gonna shoot ya full-a lead for callin’ me lovely hause a gosh dern, rangy mule”), which is a plus.
I thought that the story was going to go one of two ways. He was going to turn himself in for the reward on the condition that it went to the boy (probably thinking about escaping later down the line) or he would have borrowed the other guy little bit of money (if he had any) and win big in a poker game. But it went for the quick and lame “I’ll rob the saloon” ending instead. The poker game is also a used-up plot too, but slightly better.)