Supper was over, and there had fallen upon the camp the silence that
accompanies the rolling of corn-husk cigarettes. The water hole shone
from the dark earth like a patch of fallen sky. Coyotes yelped. Dull
thumps indicated the rocking-horse movements of the hobbled ponies as they
moved to fresh grass. A half-troop of the Frontier Battalion of Texas
Rangers were distributed about the fire.
A well-known sound -- the fluttering and scraping of chaparral against
wooden stirrups -- came from the thick brush above the camp. The rangers
listened cautiously. They heard a loud and cheerful voice call out
"Brace up, Muriel, old girl, we're 'most there now! Been a long ride for
ye, ain't it, ye old antediluvian handful of animated carpet-tacks? Hey,
now, quit a tryin' to kiss me! Don't hold on to my neck so tight -- this
here paint hoss ain't any too shore-footed, let me tell ye. He's liable
to dump us both off if we don't watch out."
Two minutes of waiting brought a tired "paint" pony single-footing into
camp. A gangling youth of twenty lolled in the saddle. Of the "Muriel"
whom he had been addressing, nothing was to be seen.
"Hi, fellows!" shouted the rider cheerfully. "This here's a letter fer
He dismounted, unsaddled, dropped the coils of his stake-rope, and got his
hobbles from the saddle-horn. While Lieutenant Manning, in command, was
reading the letter, the newcomer, rubbed solicitously at some dried mud in
the loops of the hobbles, showing a consideration for the forelegs of his
"Boys," said the lieutenant, waving his hand to the rangers, "this is Mr.
James Hayes. He's a new member of the company. Captain McLean sends him
down from El Paso. The boys will see that you have some supper, Hayes, as
soon as you get your pony hobbled."
The recruit was received cordially by the rangers. Still, they observed
him shrewdly and with suspended judgment. Picking a comrade on the border
is done with ten times the care and discretion with which a girl chooses a
sweetheart. On your "side-kicker's" nerve, loyalty, aim, and coolness
your own life may depend many times.
After a hearty supper Hayes joined the smokers about the fire. His
appearance did not settle all the questions in the minds of his brother
rangers. They saw simply a loose, lank youth with tow-coloured,
sun-burned hair and a berry-brown, ingenuous face that wore a quizzical,
"Fellows," said the new ranger, "I'm goin' to interduce to you a lady
friend of mine. Ain't ever heard anybody call her a beauty, but you'll
all admit she's got some fine points about her. Come along, Muriel!"
He held open the front of his blue flannel shirt. Out of it crawled a
horned frog. A bright red ribbon was tied jauntily around its spiky
neck. It crawled to its owner's knee and sat there, motionless.
"This here Muriel," said Hayes, with an oratorical wave of his hand, "has
got qualities. She never talks back, she always stays at home, and she's
satisfied with one red dress for every day and Sunday, too."
"Look at that blame insect!" said one of the rangers with a grin. "I've
seen plenty of them horny frogs, but I never knew anybody to have one for
a side-partner. Does the blame thing know you from anybody else?"
"Take it over there and see," said Hayes.
The stumpy little lizard known as the horned frog is harmless. He has the
hideousness of the prehistoric monsters whose reduced descendant he is,
but he is gentler than the dove.
The ranger took Muriel from Hayes's knee and went back to his seat on a
roll of blankets. The captive twisted and clawed and struggled vigorously
in his hand. After holding it for a moment or two, the ranger set it upon
the ground. Awkwardly, but swiftly the frog worked its four oddly moving
legs until it stopped close by Hayes's foot.
"Well, dang my hide!" said the other ranger. "The little cuss knows you.
Never thought them insects had that much sense!"
Jimmy Hayes became a favourite in the ranger camp. He had an endless
store of good-nature, and a mild, perennial quality of humour that is well
adapted to camp life. He was never without his horned frog. In the bosom
of his shirt during rides, on h is knee or shoulder in camp, under his
blankets at night, the ugly little beast never left him.
Jimmy was a humourist of a type that prevails in the rural South and
West. Unskilled in originating methods of amusing or in witty
conceptions, he had hit upon a comical idea and clung to it reverently.
It had seemed to Jimmy a very funny thing to have about his person, with
which to amuse his friends, a tame horned frog with a red ribbon around
its neck. As it was a happy idea, why not perpetuate it?
The sentiments existing between Jimmy and the frog cannot be exactly
determined. The capability of the horned frog for lasting affection is a
subject upon which we have had no symposiums. It is easier to guess
Jimmy's feelings. Muriel was his chef _d'oeuvre_ of wit, and as such he
cherished her. He caught flies for her, and shielded her from sudden
northers. Yet his care was half selfish, and when the time came she
repaid him a thousand fold. Other Muriels have thus overbalanced the
light attentions of other Jimmies.
Not at once did Jimmy Hayes attain full brotherhood with his comrades.
They loved him for his simplicity and drollness, but there hung above him
a great sword of suspended judgment. To make merry in camp is not all of
a ranger's life. There are horse-thieves to trail, desperate criminals to
run down, bravos to battle with, bandits to rout out of the chaparral,
peace and order to be compelled at the muzzle of a six-shooter. Jimmy had
been "'most generally a cow-puncher," he said; he was inexperienced in
ranger methods of warfare. Therefore the rangers speculated apart and
solemnly as to how he would stand fire. For, let it be known, the honour
and pride of each ranger company is the individual bravery of its members.
For two months the border was quiet. The rangers lolled, listless, in
camp. And then -- bringing joy to the rusting guardians of the frontier
-- Sebastiano Saldar, an eminent Mexican desperado and cattle-thief,
crossed the Rio Grande with his gang and began to lay waste the Texas
side. There were indications that Jimmy Hayes would soon have the
opportunity to show his mettle. The rangers patrolled with alacrity, but
Saldar's men were mounted like Lochinvar, and were hard to catch.
One evening, about sundown, the rangers halted for supper after a long
ride. Their horses stood panting, with their saddles on. The men were
frying bacon and boiling coffee. Suddenly, out of the brush, Sebastiano
Saldar and his gang dashed upon them with blazing six-shooters and
high-voiced yells. It was a neat surprise. The rangers swore in annoyed
tones, and got their Winchesters busy; but the attack was only a
spectacular dash of the purest Mexican type. After the florid
demonstration the raiders galloped away, yelling, down the river. The
rangers mounted and pursued; but in less than two miles the fagged ponies
laboured so that Lieutenant Manning gave the word to abandon the chase and
return to the camp.
Then it was discovered that Jimmy Hayes was missing. Some one remembered
having seen him run for his pony when the attack began, but no one had set
eyes on him since. Morning came, but no Jimmy. They searched the country
around, on the theory that he had been killed or wounded, but without
success. Then they followed after Saldar's gang, but it seemed to have
disappeared. Manning concluded that the wily Mexican had recrossed the
river after his theatric farewell. And, indeed, no further depredations f
rom him were reported.
This gave the rangers time to nurse a soreness they had. As has been
said, the pride and honour of the company is the individual bravery of its
members. And now they believed that Jimmy Hayes had turned coward at the
whiz of Mexican bullets. There was no other deduction. Buck Davis
pointed out that not a shot was fired by Saldar's gang after Jimmy was
seen running for his horse. There was no way for him to have been shot.
No, he had fled from his first fight, and afterward he would not return,
aware that the scorn of his comrades would be a worse thing to face than
the muzzles of many rifles.
So Manning's detachment of McLean's company, Frontier Battalion, was
gloomy. It was the first blot on its escutcheon. Never before in the
history of the service had a ranger shown the white feather. All of them
had liked Jimmy Hayes, and that made it worse.
Days, weeks, and months went by, and still that little cloud of
unforgotten cowardice hung above the camp.
Nearly a year afterward -- after many camping grounds and many hundreds of
miles guarded and defended -- Lieutenant Manning, with almost the same
detachment of men, was sent to a point only a few miles below their old
camp on the river to look after some smuggling there. One afternoon,
while they were riding through a dense mesquite flat, they came upon a
patch of open hog-wallow prairie. There they rode upon the scene of an
In a big hog-wallow lay the skeletons of three Mexicans. Their clothing
alone served to identify them. The largest of the figures had once been
Sebastiano Saldar. His great, costly sombrero, heavy with gold
ornamentation -- a hat famous all along the Rio Grande -- lay there
pierced by three bullets. Along the ridge of the hog-wallow rested the
rusting Winchesters of the Mexicans -- all pointing in the same direction.
The rangers rode in that direction for fifty yards. There, in a little
depression of the ground, with his rifle still bearing upon the three, lay
another skeleton. It had been a battle of extermination. There was
nothing to identify the solitary defender. His clothing -- such as the
elements had left distinguishable -- seemed to be of the kind that any
ranchman or cowboy might have worn.
"Some cow-puncher," said Manning, "that they caught out alone. Good boy!
He put up a dandy scrap before they got him. So that's why we didn't hear
from Don Sebastiano any more!"
And then, from beneath the weather-beaten rags of the dead man, there
wriggled out a horned frog with a faded red ribbon around its neck, and
sat upon the shoulder of its long quiet master. Mutely it told the story
of the untried youth and the swift "paint" pony -- how they had
outstripped all their comrades that day in the pursuit of the Mexican
raiders, and how the boy had gone down upholding the honour of the company.
The ranger troop herded close, and a simultaneous wild yell arose from
their lips. The outburst was at once a dirge, an apology, an epitaph, and
a paean of triumph. A strange requiem, you may say, over the body of a
fallen, comrade; but if Jimmy Hayes could have heard it he would have