trashy paper as this. What d’you mean by it, anyhow? Where do you Dutchers keep your money at?”
The Ballinger mail sack opened like a cocoon under Hondo’s knife. It contained but a handful of mail. Fritz had been fuming with terror and excitement until this sack was reached. He now remembered Lena’s letter. He addressed the leader of the band, asking that that particular missive be spared.
“Much obliged, Dutch,” he said to the disturbed carrier. “I guess that’s the letter we want. Got spondulicks in it, ain’t it? Here she is. Make a light, boys.”
Hondo found and tore open the letter to Mrs. Hildesmuller. The others stood about, lighting twisted up letters one from another. Hondo gazed with mute disapproval at the single sheet of paper covered with the angular German script.
“Whatever is this you’ve humbugged us with, Dutchy? You call this here a valuable letter? That’s a mighty low-down trick to play on your friends what come along to help you distribute your mail.”
“That’s Chiny writin’,” said Sandy Grundy, peering over Hondo’s shoulder.
“You’re off your kazip,” declared another of the gang, an effective youth, covered with silk handkerchiefs and nickel plating. “That’s shorthand. I see ’em do it once in court.”
“Ach, no, no, no–dot is German,” said Fritz. “It is no more as a little girl writing a letter to her mamma. One poor little girl, sick and vorking hard avay from home.
Ach! it is a shame. Good Mr. Robberman, you vill please let me have dot letter?”
“What the devil do you take us for, old Pretzels?” said Hondo with sudden and surprising severity. “You ain’t presumin’ to insinuate that we gents ain’t possessed of sufficient politeness for to take an interest in the miss’s health, are you? Now, you go on, and you read that scratchin’ out loud and in plain United States language to this here company of educated society.”
Hondo twirled his six-shooter by its trigger guard and stood towering above the little German, who at once began to read the letter, translating the simple words into English. The gang of rovers stood in absolute silence, listening intently.
“How old is that kid?” asked Hondo when the letter was done.
“Eleven,” said Fritz.
“And where is she at?”