Monday, 23 November 2015

Blue Pete: a Short Story

Blue Pete

The Sentimental Half-Breed
By W. Lacey Amy
From The Canadian Magazine, January 1911.
This short story is the precursor and a great introduction, to the Blue Pete series by ‘Luke Allan’ a pseudonym that Lacey Amy chose. The series is 24 or 25 novels published in England between the years 1921 and 1954./drf

NOT a rancher in the Cypress Hills district, but would have thought himself lucky could he have induced Blue Pete, the ugly, cross-eyed half-breed, to join any of his outfits permanently. All kinds of offers had been made to persuade him to settle down, for his dexterity with the rope and branding iron was unrivalled; but the tramp cow-boy preferred to move from outfit to outfit, giving everyone his services for a week or two at a time and picking up by this means a fund of information and knowledge of the country and the ways of the ranchers.
For two years every ranch house in the district was open to him. True it was suspected that the half-breed was doing a little rustling on the side, but this earned him no ill-will from the ranchers, as few of them had a scrupulous regard for the parentage of unbranded colt or calf.
Then, one day Blue Pete and his little yellow-blotched, scrubby-tailed pinto, “Whiskers,” that had carried him to victory in all the roping contests, found themselves unwelcome visitors. The word had gone around that the half-breed was in the pay of the Northwest Mounted Police, and it did not take long to confirm the suspicion.
From the first day he had appeared in the country, whence no one knew, the excitement and danger of the detective’s life had turned him from the cow-puncher’s life, with which he seemed most familiar.
For two years he had been able to keep secret his connection with the police, but when the suspicion was aroused, the information he had acquired in his wandering life hung over the head of every rancher with whom he had worked. They did not know that in all his dealings with the police Blue Pete’s information had been only to prevent rustling or lead to the return of the stolen cattle or horses, and never to apprehend the rustler.
But when the half-breed was driven from his cow-boy life, and complaints of stolen horses kept multiplying, Inspector Parker issued instructions from his quarters in Medicine Hat that the rustlers as well as the stolen bunches were to be taken.
One clear morning in June the loss of eighteen horses from the Seven Bar Y ranch was reported, and Blue Pete was dispatched with Corporal Mahon, a new member of the local force, to round up rustlers and horses.
The half-breed soon picked up the trail, and after a close examination of the tracks of the outriders started in pursuit, the wrinkles on his forehead showing that something he had discovered disturbed him.
The trail led straight towards the Cypress Hills, an odd tract of wildly-wooded hills and valleys, one hundred miles long by ten wide, rising abruptly from the prairie. Lying a dozen miles to the south of where the trail started, the Hills run parallel to the Montana border and are separated from it by a strip of rolling prairie eight or ten miles wide.
Half-way to the Hills Blue Pete left the trail and entered a coulee, following the depression for the remainder of the distance. As the trees of the Hills loomed up in front, the riders dismounted to snatch a hurried lunch before the harder tracking ahead of them. Mahon drew a letter from his pocket, and propping it against a stone, read while he ate.
The half-breed watched curiously.
“What’s that?” he asked bluntly.
“Letter from my mother,” answered the corporal without moving his eyes.
The half-breed stopped his hand half-way to his mouth. “Got a mother?” he demanded almost fiercely.
Mahon looked up in surprise. “Sure I have, the best ever—and I guess she thinks I’m about it, too,” he added, looking dreamily towards the trees, a youthful smile playing around his lips —the smile that had already won him the name of “Boy,” among his companions.
“Shouldn’t be in the p’lice,” growled the half-breed. “Men with mothers ain’t got no right to risk it.”
Mahon did not answer. He was thinking of the dear, old, white-haired mother who had been able to give him little but her blessing when he left his home in England to seek his fortune in the Canadian West. The glamour of the red-coat’s life had caught him before he had considered any other career.
The half-breed reached across and touched the bit of white paper reverently.
“Mind—mind readin’ me somethin’ of it?” he stammered. “Never got a letter myself. Like to hear what it’s like. Never had a mother either, ’t I know of.”
Mahon carefully concealed his surprise. “Why, certainly, Pete,” he answered.
“ ‘My dear Boy,’ ” he began.
“Huh! Called yuh ‘Boy,’ too, did she?” interrupted his listener. “Boy—Boy!” he repeated, as if the name had acquired a new significance.
“My dear Boy: I was so glad to get your letter only two days late. I always worry so when they are delayed. Of course, I know you cannot write on the same day of every week; but I live so for your letters that if they are a day late I am fretting. If they should cease to come, if anything should happen to you away out there”—
“Guess—guess that’ll do,” broke in the half-breed, rising suddenly and tightening the cinches on his saddle. “Got to move on now. Mustn’t let ’em get out o’ the Hills ’head of us.”
For hours they led their horses through the wildest country Mahon had ever seen—almost impassable forest and hill, winding through brush, down steep ravines, around miniature lakes, over piles of rock and fallen trees. Blue Pete silently led the way, a frown across his face.
As they were mounting a ridge, the half-breed suddenly stopped and listened a moment. Then, beckoning Mahon to follow he turned on his tracks and hastily led his horse through the trees for a few minutes, until in a dense clump he left the policeman and glided away.
Minutes passed, a half-hour, an hour. A distant rifle shot brought Mahon to a consciousness of the growing darkness. A darker shadow moved into the clump and the “s-s-s” of the half-breed warned him not to shoot.
Quietly Blue Pete led along a ridge, and beside a small lake prepared to spend the night.
Not a word had been said in explanation of the sudden flight or the rifle shot. At last the half-breed spoke.
“Nearly hed yuh,” he said. “Hed to lead ’em away, or yer mother wouldn’t have got her nex’ letter. Can’t fight ’em in the woods.”
Mahon lay back dreaming. In a few hours he had come from the treeless prairie, all sun and barrenness, into another world of shadows and trees and life. The weird calls of the night denizens of the Hills made his blood tingle. Across the lake two owls hooted to each other, a flock of geese honked overhead, a fish leaped in the lake.
Blue Pete spoke again. “Can’t get lost in these hills; jest keep on north or south ’n yuh’ll reach prairie.” Straight back is the nearest way out.”
“Guess there’s not much danger of getting lost with you, Pete.”
“Mebbe, mebbe. Can’t tell what might happen me, though. Keep yer head ’n you’ll be all right. Mother mustn’t miss her letter.”
Mahon took the first watch, and at one o’clock wakened the half-breed and fell asleep almost instantly, scarcely hearing his companion’s, “Don’t forget, straight back’s the nearest way out.”
The policeman awoke the next morning with a feeling of loneliness. Broad daylight glared over the lake and softened into the woods beyond. Close at hand his horse was greedily cropping the long grass, and across the lake two deer were nibbling at the young trees and glancing inquiringly over at his horse between mouthfuls.
But Blue Pete and Whiskers had disappeared; and the half-breed’s lunch parcel tied to the saddle told him that he would not return. Why he had left him he could not determine, but he knew that if he found the horses he would find the halfbreed. In the meantime he would trust him.
It was no use to attempt tracking—his experience in the woods was too limited for that. But Blue Pete had said that straight back was the nearest way out. It was one of the dull days in the Western rainy season, and there was no sun to guide.
About four in the afternoon the prairie opened before him after the hardest travelling he had ever experienced. Fortunately he could see Windy Coulee about four miles to the west, which Blue Pete had pointed out as the probable entrance point of the rustlers to the Hills, and in a short time he had turned in on the trail. For a few yards he could see the tracks of the horses, but hard ground covered all traces as he advanced. Following a clearer space among the trees, he was drifting helplessly along when he was brought up with a jerk by the sound of two rifle shots in rapid succession.
Twilight was settling down in the forest. He urged his horse forward. A volley of revolver shots showed that the battle was at close quarters and just over the ridge.
Slipping from his saddle he hastily climbed upward. On the ridge his heart stood still. There lay Whiskers, the half-breed’s friend, the yellow-blotched pinto, dead. Then he noticed what was of more serious import; beside the pinto was the half-breed’s rifle, and peeping from the holster was the butt of his big revolver.
Blue Pete was surrounded by enemies, and without a gun. Was he still alive?
A welcome voice came from the other side of the ridge.
“Come out, come out! Gol dang yuh! Come into the open, just onct.” Then in an entreating voice: “Won’t please, someone jest show me the tip of yer ear.”
A shot flashed from the darkness of the ravine, and Mahon, lying flat on the ground and peering down, noted whence it came. Sliding his rifle forward he fired towards the flash.
There was a moment’s silence. Then five spots of light leaped at him from the darkness. He ducked, but two holes in his Stetson showed how close his escape had been. A scurry in the ravine, and Blue Pete shouted to him to “scoot.”
Leaping on his horse he ploughed up the bank, passing the half-breed, who had already uncoiled his rope from the saddle of the dead pinto and was shouting something at him. His horse gave a few bounds forward, then stopped suddenly, almost throwing the policeman over his head. A small, gray rope had settled over his shoulders, and it knew the lassoo too well to rush to a fall.
“What ’n hell are you doing, Pete?” yelled the angry policeman, reaching for his knife.
“Cut it ’n I’ll drop yer horse,” answered the half-breed quietly. “Yuh dang fool! Yuh ain’t got no show with them five coyotes. Want yer mother to get her nex’ letter?”
Mahon saw the point and turned reluctantly back.
Blue Pete was standing looking down at the dead pinto. He had forgotten everything else.
“Poor Whiskers!” he said in a voice new to the corporal. “Dan got yuh for keeps that time. . . Yer ragged little tail won’t whistle behind me in the wind any more. . . . Won’t be together any more at all, will we, ol’ gal?”
He straightened up. “Dan, yuh low-down cuss!” he said in a voice of restrained passion. “Yuh won’t outlive her long, or my eye ain’t straight.”
He knelt and stroked the bony nose. “Yuh fell bad, ol’ gal, ’n I couldn’t get my rifle clear. But yuh threw me clear o’ the second shot, even if yuh had a bullet in yer heart. . . . Guess yuh won’t feel the wolves to-night . . . Like to give you a decent burial, but yuh’ll know I’m after Slippery Dan. . . . S’ long, ol’ gal. . . . s’ long.”
He rose and, without looking at his companion, struck off into the woods. After a short walk he suddenly disappeared from view, and Mahon, rounding a rock, saw him push his way through some dense foliage and a moment later a light spattered through. Mahon followed with his horse and found himself in a large cave. The half-breed had lit a candle from a hidden store and was sitting on a box, his head in his hands.
Mahon could stand the silence no longer.
“How did they get you, Pete?” he asked.
Blue Pete looked vacantly at him a moment. Then intelligence came into his eyes. “Ambushed me, damn ’em! Goin’ to look fer you. Might a got lost, ’thout the sun. Wasn’t think- in’ o’ them at all, but of you—of something else. Guess yuh fitted in there all right, Boy.”
“But why did you leave me last night, Pete?”
The half-breed frowned, looked confused, and, with a shrug of his huge shoulders, answered: “Yer mother, Boy, yer mother. Durn it! This ain’t no game for boys with mothers. Kind o’ reckoned yer mother’d want that nex’ letter. . . ’n the next. . . . ’n the next.”
Mahon listened in surprise. Then he reached inside his coat and drew out the letter.
“Would you like to hear the rest now,” he asked gently.
Blue Pete stopped his hand, while his eyes sought the letter longingly. “No, no,” he answered. “Reckon I got to get yuh through this first. . . . I’m goin’ to get another horse. Goin’ over to the Post. Back ’fore morning.”
He glided into the darkness. A wolf howled, and the foliage parted again.
“Don’t be feared,” the half-breed said, “’f yuh hear shootin’ over there. They’ve found the ol’ gal.”
Mahon blew out the candle and as the moonlight flickered through the leafy covering at the mouth of the cave he heard the weird howl of one, then of another wolf. As he listened two rifle shots came close together. A short yelp after each and all was silence. “Poor old Whiskers hasn’t died alone,” he muttered.
In the early dawn the half-breed returned with two horses, and after a bite, the chase was resumed, Blue Pete leading the extra horse. He seemed to know where to pick up the trail of the stolen horses, for in a short time they were almost clear of the trees and hot on the track.
Faster they rode, and, as they topped a roll on the prairie, a big white horse plunged up a slope far ahead, and behind it followed a bunch of horses and seven riders. The pursuers were seen at the same time. One of the rustlers detached himself from the rest and waited, rifle ready. With cool deliberation, he fired. The bullet fell short.
“Must be losin’ his nerve. Got to get that ’un, though, or he’ll get us,” said Blue Pete, looking to Mahon for instructions. The latter considered a moment. Another shot struck the ground close beside his horse.
“All right, Pete,” he assented, “wing him.”
Blue Pete wheeled to the left where the rustler had disappeared in a coulee. His rifle spoke, and in a few minutes he was back at Mahon’s side, and took the extra horse.
“Scare him off?” asked the policeman.
Mahon looked suddenly at him.
The half-breed nodded. “Slippery Dan,” he said laconically; and Mahon knew the rest.
Ahead of them the rustlers were urging the bunch of horses towards a line of wooded hills that marked the border of Montana and safety. All the horsemen veered off and left two men alone, whose superb horsemanship seemed to bespeak successful escape.
Blue Pete raised his rifle and a bullet hissed through the gloom. The white leader leaped into the air and fell. The remainder of the bunch broke wildly away.
“Now I want those men—but alive.” The corporal added the last words hastily.
“Can’t get ’em,” answered the half-breed, swerving to head off the scattering horses.
“I will get them,” Mahon hissed.
“Two good men gone,” muttered the half-breed as he drew away.
Taking careful aim the policeman fired. The leading horse fell. The other, following closely, attempted to turn aside too quickly, stumbled and fell, picked itself up riderless, limped a few steps and stood still, one leg hanging limp. The unseated rustler sent a bullet into its head, and from behind the two horses the rustlers covered the oncoming policeman. A puff from the nearest horse and Mahon had to throw himself free of his falling horse.
Only a hundred yards lay between him and the rustlers. Without a moment’s hesitation he advanced—not hastily, but deliberately. Two rifles covered him.
“You’ll save a lot of trouble if you surrender quietly,” he shouted advancing with his rifle in the hollow of his arm.
“You’ll save more trouble if you stop where you are,” a voice answered.
Mahon walked on. A Mounted Policeman never hesitates.
“You fool!” continued the voice excitedly. “You can’t take us. We’ll fill you full of lead if you come five yards further.”
Mahon kept on. But sixty yards intervened.
“Can you shoot him, Jim?” came to the astonished ears of the corporal.
“Can’t do it, Joe,” answered another voice. “I guess it’s all up with us this time. Sorry, Joe. This was my fault. Too big a coup to pull off. I’m not going to be taken. Good-bye, Joe!”
“What! Wait a minute, Jim!”
A figure darted from the nearest horse and sank behind the other. Two revolver shots rang out almost as one. Mahon stopped, dazed that he had escaped. Then he rushed forward.
The sun struggled through a rift in the low west and shone upon the upturned faces of the two rustlers—dead.
There they lay, their left hands clasped, revolvers still smoking, a small hole in each forehead. Only one looked up and smiled feebly. Mahon covered his face with his hands and sat down limply on the dead horse. The rustlers were brothers, big ranchers whom he had often met at their ranch north of the Hills—well educated, kindly, proud, humane, so humane that they had spared his life and taken their own, so proud that they preferred death to disgrace.
Something touched him. He looked up to see Blue Pete standing beside him, cap in hand. The stolen horses were loping back towards the Hills, led by the extra horse Pete had brought.
“Knew—knew yuh wouldn’t get ’em.” The half-breed’s voice was low and tender. “Poor Jim! Poor Joe! Knew it was you. Didn’t want to be in at the death.
As they were riding back towards the Hills, the half-breed broke a long silence.
“Guess—guess I can have the rest o’ yer mother’s letter now, can’t I, Boy? Yuh left off where she said ‘if anythin ’ should happen yuh away out there ’—start there.”
Mahon read the letter through.
“Read it again.”
Mahon did so.

“’Spose yuh’ll be writin’ home again soon, won’t yuh, Boy? Well, tell yer mother Blue Pete’s lookin’ after yuh.”

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.