Mas Alla del Rio Bravo
FURTHER DOWN the river, in the Judge Roy Bean country, another old-timer found himself in similar precarious circumstances, only worse. He was deeper in Old Mexico than John Pool was, at a time by no means conducive to a gringo’s health, diplomatic relations having been shattered at all levels. The gravity of the situation called for much riding under cover of darkness, and as much of that as possible in a long lope.
He’d made a long stretch of it already, but Texas was still muy lejos, a powerful ways off. It was a long spell yet till daylight and he was still honing for miles. So was his brave little pony, who had the heart but not the strength.
Ordinarily a man in a hurry would have left his pony “all saddled, all bridled and ready to ride,” as the Scottish border ballad went, but not this old-timer of the Texas border. Once he struck good grass he unsaddled and staked out. Then he stretched out under his slicker with his .30-.30 at the ready. Amore deliberate survey of the land made him wish he’d pushed on. He hadn’t realized the canyon was so narrow. It was like sleeping in the barrel of a cabin with the fuse lit.
But there were advantages too. For one thing fog had slid down the mountain sides to make it good and dark. And he was far enough off the trail. What’s more, that cannon barrel — his bedroom— was pointed straight at Texas, so he wouldn’t be be tempted to ride his poor little pony to death, trying to take roundance.
Thus reassured, he dropped off to sleep. Some time later he came wide awake staring straight at a squatting form not fifteen feet away. They’d posted a guard to watch him—that was the only way he could figure it. A lifetime along the Rio Bravo didn’t make for long pondering and deliberate deliberations. Shoot first and then ponder decisions only after your were horseback and spurring like hell for home.
Easing the .30-.30 on target he pulled the trigger. Because of the extra-deep silence it ripped open, or the tension, or the narrowness of the canyon, that shot was the loudest explosion ever heard by man. What’s more, it brought at least fifteen answering shots from both sides of the canyon, one hard on the heels of the other. But, oddly enough, none from the squatting sentinel, though the sentinel hadn’t gone down. He was still sitting there, though a little shorter than before, it seemed. Then it dawned on Old Timer. The hulk looming there so human-like in the fog was his saddle—and he’d shot the cantle off. And those answering shots were just echoes bouncing off the canyon walls.
The fact that his saddle was not in sad repair didn’t keep him from slapping it on the faded pony and getting to hell and gone out of there. The more he thought of it, he said, the funnier it got. But not funny enough to laugh about for another seventy or eighty miles, certainly not out loud.