H. Bedford-Jones’ “Arizona Argonauts” was originally printed in the May 1920 edition of Short Stories magazine while the front cover, rendered beautifully by Nick Eggenhofer, appeared on the 10 April 1922 issue. Sadly, the cover, once again, has zero to do with the contents within. There are no wild horse scenes within.
That doesn’t mean that the novelette isn’t any good. In fact, far from it. Personally, I have not read much H. B.-J., however, what I have read amounts mostly to his Oriental output, and those stories have been humdingers, for sure! I’ve never been fond of sea stories by any author. But, I digress.
This tale is very convoluted. We have a corrupt businessman whom is on the lam from his worries, looking to start a new life. The last of his possessions include his automobile, anything tucked therein, and a $500 wad stuffed down his sock. Skirting along the back roads of Arizona, he spots two hitchhikers. Never one to shy away from giving a free lift, he makes them the offer, only to find himself at the wrong end of a cylinder chambered with death. The pair are robbing him, but he learns that they are only looking for eats, not really money. The situation becomes mock-ridiculous, absurd, what-have-you, when one of the hikers turns out to be a famous surgeon that once operated on the corrupt driver, name of Sandy.
Sandy is shocked to see the surgeon, Murray, in such a condition. Murray confesses that he was run out of his profession once it was learned that he was a morphine addict. He has been free of the addiction since, but, can’t find work, so it is the road for him. His companion is an ex-safecracker, name of Bill. Both confess that they can’t now rob Murray, since they are all essentially of the same ilk.
Sandy offers them the ride anyway, as the one thing he has never had in life, is friends. They agree to be friends, and join forces. Sandy confesses his $500 wad and the pair confess they have more than that, even. They drive on to the (fictitious) town Meteorite. Here, they learn of a mining town further on in the middle of nowhere called Two Palms (I’ll spare you the time looking that one up, too. It’s also fictitious). While in the prior town, they openly remark to one fellow their interest in potentially buying a mine. This proves somewhat to be their undoing.
This rank fellow quickly writes and posts a letter to an unscrupulous denizen in Two Palms, and that person, Piute, along with another, name of Deadoak, jointly trick Sandy, a first-rank professional miner, into buying the mine and properties.
Sandy knows the whole thing is a sham, and quickly sends Bill to Meteorite anyway, to secure the deed and mortgage, proper. Piute and Deadoak intend on the same task, but are beat.
To mix things up, our wonderful author throws in some Oriental mystery. Arriving before our trio in an automobile was an Oriental man and his daughter, Claire, whom for all intents and purposes, is extremely beautiful, but, mystifying, appears to be wholly white! The town are flabbergasted by the pair, whom go out into the desert and take photographs.
As Sandy and his team arrive, they comically crash and wreck their flivvers. Bill is thrown threw the abandoned shop of a newspaper printer, and decides Fate tossed him in. Asking permission of the mayor, he is given to take over the facilities. He accepts.
Then the girl comes driving back into town, asking for a doctor. Murray jumps in and off they race, out into the desert. Her father, Lee, broke his leg. We later learn that he is interested in the same property that Sandy bought, so that he can establish a sanitarium and free the Chinese peoples of San Francisco from their opium habit.
Claire confesses she was (unofficially) adopted by Lee during the famous San Francisco fires. Her parents were missing, nobody disputed the adoption, and there you have it. Now Murray has zero racial tension to keep him from courting the girl. (sigh, so sad that authors were forced to insert all this racism, whether they believed in it or not).
Sandy is framed later into fighting a contractor whom recalls his criminal activities, and Murray is nearly equally railroaded into the pen on a charge of morphine and opium possession and distribution. However, Bill is on the scene and whips out his hideaway, demands the sheriff drop his gun and take him, alias “Shifty” Bill, in, on the wanted charge. The sheriff takes him instead as bigger game.
However, the whole thing unravels in the sheriff’s face. Lee informs the contractor to either drop the charges or lose his contract in building the sanitarium. Further, Bill had already done served time for that three-year-old wanted-poster in the sheriff’s office. Bill thinks it funny that he tricked the sheriff. And Murray? Well, turns out Lee’s private doctor had the drugs. Lee confronts him, is shot but does not die, however, Lee’s doctor dies from a rattler bite.