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November 01 , 2009

Wounded Name


The stage coach was invisible in a cloud of its own dust as it lurched and rolled along the alkali flats down the valley, and Sancho, the ranch-keeper, could not make out whether any passengers were on top or not. He had brought a fine binocular to bear just as soon as the shrill voice of Pedro, a swarthy little scamp of a half-breed, announced the dust-cloud sailing over the clump of willows below the bend. Pedro was not the youngster's original name, and so far as could be determined by ecclesiastical records, owing to the omission of the customary church ceremonies, he bore none that the chaplain at old Camp Cooke would admit to be Christian. Itinerant prospectors and occasional soldiers, however, had suggested a change from the original, or aboriginal, title which was heathenish in the last degree, to the much briefer one of Pedro, as fitting accompaniment to that of the illustrious head of the establishment, and Lieutenant Blake, an infantry sub with cavalry aspirations which had led him to seek arduous duties in this arid land, had comprehensively damned the pretensions of the place to being a "dinner ranch," by declaring that a shop that held Sancho and Pedro and didn't have game was unworthy of patronage. Sancho had additional reasons for disapproving of Blake. That fine binocular, to begin with, bore the brand of Uncle Sam, for which reason it was never in evidence when an officer or soldier happened along. It had been abstracted from Blake's signal kit, when he was scouting the Dragoon Mountains, and swapped for the vilest liquor under the sun, at Sancho's, of course, and the value of the glass, not of the whisky, was stopped against the long lieutenant's pay, leaving him, as he ruefully put it, "short enough at the end of the month." Somebody told Blake he would find his binocular at Sancho's, and Blake instituted inquiries after his own peculiar fashion the very next time he happened along that way.

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"Here, you Castilian castaway," said he, as he alighted at Sancho's door, "I am told you have stolen property in the shape of my signal glass. Hand it over instanter!"

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