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´╗┐Title: Cow-Country
Author: Bower, B. M.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cow-Country" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



COW-COUNTRY

By B. M. Bower



CHAPTERS:

     1. AN AMBITIOUS MAN-CHILD WAS BUDDY
     2. THE TRAIL HERD
     3. SOME INDIAN LORE
     4. BUDDY GIVES WARNING
     5. BUDDY RUNS TRUE TO TYPE
     6. THE YOUNG EAGLE MUST FLY
     7. BUD FLIPS A COIN WITH FATE
     8. THE MULESHOE
     9. LITTLE LOST
     10. BUD MEETS THE WOMAN
     11. GUILE AGAINST THE WILY
     12. SPORT O\x92 KINGS
     13. THE SINKS
     14. EVEN MUSHROOMS HELP
     15. WHY BUD MISSED A DANCE
     16. WHILE THE GOING\x92S GOOD
     17. GUARDIAN ANGELS ARE RIDING \x93POINT\x94
      18. THE CATROCK GANG
     19. BUD RIDES THROUGH CATROCK AND LOSES MARIAN
     20. \x93PICK YOUR FOOTING!\x94
      21. TRAILS END



COW-COUNTRY



CHAPTER ONE: AN AMBITIOUS MAN-CHILD WAS BUDDY

In hot mid afternoon when the acrid, gray dust cloud kicked up by the
listless plodding of eight thousand cloven hoofs formed the only blot on
the hard blue above the Staked Plains, an ox stumbled and fell awkwardly
under his yoke, and refused to scramble up when his negro driver shouted
and prodded him with the end of a willow gad.

\x93Call your master, Ezra,\x94 directed a quiet woman voice gone weary and
toneless with the heat and two restless children. \x93Don\x92t beat the poor
brute. He can\x92t go any farther and carry the yoke, much less pull the
wagon.\x94

Ezra dropped the gad and stepped upon the wagon tongue where he might
squint into the dust cloud and decide which gray, plodding horseman
alongside the herd was Robert Birnie. Far across the sluggish river of
grimy backs, a horse threw up its head with a peculiar sidelong motion,
and Ezra\x92s eyes lightened with recognition. That was the colt, Rattler,
chafing against the slow pace he must keep. Hands cupped around big,
chocolate-colored lips and big, yellow-white teeth, Ezra whoo-ee-ed the
signal that called the nearest riders to the wagon that held the boss\x92s
family.

Bob Birnie and another man turned and came trotting back, and at the
call a scrambling youngster peered over his mother\x92s shoulder in the
forward opening of the prairie schooner.

\x93O-oh, Dulcie! We gonna git a wile cow agin!\x94

Dulcie was asleep and did not answer, and the woman in the slat
sun-bonnet pushed back with her elbow the eager, squirming body of her
eldest. \x93Stay in the wagon, Buddy. Mustn\x92t get down amongst the oxen.
One might kick you. Lie down and take a nap with sister. When you waken
it will be nice and cool again.\x94

\x93Not s\x92eepy!\x94 objected Buddy for the twentieth time in the past two
hours. But he crawled back, and his mother, relieved of his restless
presence, leaned forward to watch the approach of her husband and the
cowboy. This was the second time in the past two days that an ox had
fallen exhausted, and her eyes showed a trace of anxiety. With the feed
so poor and the water so scarce, it seemed as though the heavy wagon,
loaded with a few household idols too dear to leave behind, a camp
outfit and the necessary clothing and bedding for a woman and two
children, was going to be a real handicap on the drive.

\x93Robert, if we had another wagon, I could drive it and make the load
less for these four oxen,\x94 she suggested when her husband came up. \x93A
lighter wagon, perhaps with one team of strong horses, or even with a
yoke of oxen, I could drive well enough, and relieve these poor brutes.\x94
 She pushed back her sun-bonnet and with it a mass of red-brown hair that
curled damply on her forehead, and smiled disarmingly. \x93Buddy would be
the happiest baby boy alive if I could let him drive now and then!\x94 she
added humorously.

\x93Can\x92t make a wagon and an extra yoke of oxen out of this cactus patch,\x94
 Bob Birnie grinned good humoredly. \x93Not even to tickle Buddy. I\x92ll see
what I can do when we reach Olathe. But you won\x92t have to take a man\x92s
place and drive, Lassie.\x94 He took the cup of water she drew from a keg
and proffered-water was precious on the Staked Plains, that season-and
his eyes dwelt on her fondly while he drank. Then, giving her hand a
squeeze when he returned the cup, he rode back to scan the herd for an
animal big enough and well-conditioned enough to supplant the worn-out
ox.

\x93Aren\x92t you thirsty, Frank Davis? I think a cup of water will do you
good,\x94 she called out to the cowboy, who had dismounted to tighten his
forward cinch in expectation of having to use his rope.

The cowboy dropped stirrup from saddle horn and came forward
stiff-leggedly, leading his horse. His sun-baked face, grimed with the
dust of the herd, was aglow with heat, and his eyes showed gratitude.
A cup of water from the hand of the boss\x92s wife was worth a gallon from
the barrel slip-slopping along in the lurching chuck-wagon.

\x93How\x92s the kids makin\x92 out, Mis\x92 Birnie?\x94 Frank inquired politely when
he had swallowed the last drop and had wiped his mouth with the back of
his hand. \x93It\x92s right warm and dusty t\x92day.\x94

\x93They\x92re asleep at last, thank goodness,\x94 she answered, glancing back
at a huddle of pink calico that showed just over the crest of a pile
of crumpled quilts. \x93Buddy has a hard time of it. He\x92s all man in his
disposition, and all baby in size. He\x92s been teasing to walk with the
niggers and help drive the drag. Is my husband calling?\x94

Her husband was, and Frank rode away at a leisurely trot. Haste had
little to do with trailing a herd, where eight miles was called a good
day\x92s journey and six an average achievement. The fallen ox was unyoked
by the mellow-voiced but exasperated Ezra, and since he would not rise,
the three remaining oxen, urged by the gad and Ezra\x92s upbraiding,
swung the wagon to one side and moved it a little farther after the
slow-moving herd, so that the exhausted animal could rest, and the
raw recruit be yoked in where he could do the least harm and would the
speediest learn a new lesson in discomfort. Mrs. Birnie glanced again
at the huddle of pink in the nest of quilts behind a beloved chest of
drawers in the wagon, and sighed with relief because Buddy slept.

An ambitious man-child already was Buddy, accustomed to certain phrases
that, since he could toddle, had formed inevitable accompaniment to his
investigative footsteps. \x93L\x92k-out-dah!\x94 he had for a long time believed
to be his name among the black folk of his world. White folk had varied
it slightly. He knew that \x93Run-to-mother-now\x94 meant that something he
would delight in but must not watch was going to take place. Spankings
more or less official and not often painful signified that big folks did
not understand him and his activities, or were cross about something.
Now, mother did not want him to watch the wild cow run and jump at the
end of a rope until finally forced to submit to the ox-yoke and help
pull the wagon. Buddy loved to watch them, but he understood that mother
was afraid the wild cow might step on him. Why she should want him to
sleep when he was not sleepy he had not yet discovered, and so disdained
to give it serious consideration.

\x93Not s\x92eepy,\x94 Buddy stated again emphatically as a sort of mental
dismissal of the command, and crawled carefully past Sister and lifted a
flap of the canvas cover. A button--the last button--popped off his pink
apron and the sleeves rumpled down over his hands. It felt all loose and
useless, so Buddy stopped long enough to pull the apron off and throw
it beside Sister before he crawled under the canvas flap and walked down
the spokes of a rear wheel. He did not mean to get in the way of the
wild cow, but he did want action for his restless legs. He thought that
if he went away from the wagon and the herd and played while they were
catching the wild cow, it would be just the same as if he took a nap.
Mother hadn\x92t thought of it, or she might have suggested it.

So Buddy went away from the wagon and down into a shallow dry wash where
the wild cow would not come, and played. The first thing he saw was
a scorpion-nasty old bug that will bite hard-and he threw rocks at it
until it scuttled under a ledge out of sight. The next thing he saw that
interested him at all was a horned toad; a hawn-toe, he called it, after
Ezra\x92s manner of speaking. Ezra had caught a hawntoe for him a few days
ago, but it had mysteriously disappeared out of the wagon. Buddy did
not connect his mother\x92s lack of enthusiasm with the disappearance. Her
sympathy with his loss had seemed to him real, and he wanted another,
fully believing that in this also mother would be pleased. So he took
after this particular HAWN-toe, that crawled into various hiding places
only to be spied and routed out with small rocks and a sharp stick.

The dry wash remained shallow, and after a while Buddy, still in hot
pursuit of the horned toad, emerged upon the level where the herd had
passed. The wagon was nowhere in sight, but this did not disturb Buddy.
He was not lost. He knew perfectly that the brown cloud on his narrowed
horizon was the dust over the herd, and that the wagon was just behind,
because the wind that day was blowing from the southwest, and also
because the oxen did not walk as fast as the herd. In the distance he
saw the \x93Drag\x94 moving lazily along after the dust-cloud, with barefooted
niggers driving the laggard cattle and singing dolefully as they walked.
Emphatically Buddy was not lost.

He wanted that particular horned toad, however, and he kept after it
until he had it safe in his two hands.

It happened that when he pounced at last upon the toad he disturbed
with his presence a colony of red ants on moving day. The close ranks
of them, coming and going in a straight line, caught and held Buddy\x92s
attention to the exclusion of everything else--save the horned toad
he had been at such pains to acquire. He tucked the toad inside his
underwaist and ignored its wriggling against his flesh while he squatted
in the hot sunshine and watched the ants, his mind one great question.
Where were they going, and what were they carrying, and why were they
all in such a hurry?

Buddy had to know. To himself he called trailherd--but father\x92s cattle
did not carry white lumps of stuff on their heads, and furthermore, they
all walked together in the same direction; whereas the ant herd traveled
both ways. Buddy made sure of this, and then started off, following what
he had decided was the real trail of the ants. Most children would have
stirred them up with a stick; Buddy let them alone so that he could see
what they were doing all by themselves.

The ants led him to a tiny hole with a finely pulverized rim just at the
edge of a sprawly cactus. This last Buddy carefully avoided, for even
at four years old he had long ago learned the sting of cactus thorns. A
rattlesnake buzzed warning when he backed away and the shock to Buddy\x92s
nerves roused within him the fighting spirit. Rattlesnakes he knew also,
as the common enemy of men and cattle. Once a steer had been bitten on
the nose and his head had swollen up so he couldn\x92t eat. Buddy did not
want that to happen to HIM.

He made sure that the horned toad was safe, chose a rock as large as he
could lift and heave from him, and threw it at the buzzing, gray coil.
He did not wait to see what happened, but picked up another rock, a
terrific buzzing sounding stridently from the coil. He threw another
and another with all the force of his healthy little muscles. For a
four-year-old he aimed well; several of the rocks landed on the coil.

The snake wriggled feebly from under the rocks and tried to crawl away
and hide, its rattles clicking listlessly. Buddy had another rock in
his hands and in his eyes the blue fire of righteous conquest. He
went close-close enough to have brought a protesting cry from a
grownup-lifted the rock high as he could and brought it down fair on
the battered head of the rattler. The loathsome length of it winced
and thrashed ineffectively, and after a few minutes lay slack, the tail
wriggling aimlessly.

Buddy stood with his feet far apart and his hands on his hips, as he had
seen the cowboy do whom he had unconsciously imitated in the killing.

\x93Snakes like Injuns. Dead\x92ns is good \x91ens,\x94 He observed sententiously,
still playing the part of the cowboy. Then, quite sure that the snake
was dead, he took it by the tail, felt again of the horned toad on his
chest and went back to see what the ants were doing.

When so responsible a person as a grownup stops to watch the orderly
activities of an army of ants, minutes and hours slip away unnoticed.
Buddy was absolutely fascinated, lost to everything else. When some
instinct born in the very blood of him warned Buddy that time was
passing, he stood up and saw that the sun hung just above the edge of
the world, and that the sky was a glorious jumble of red and purple and
soft rose.

The first thing Buddy did was to stoop and study attentively the dead
snake, to see if the tail still wiggled. It did not, though he watched
it for a full minute. He looked at the sun--it had not set but glowed
big and yellow as far from the earth as his father was tall. Ezra had
lied to him. Dead snakes did not wiggle their tails until sundown.

Buddy looked for the dust cloud of the herd, and was surprised to find
it smaller than he had ever seen it, and farther away. Indeed, he could
only guess that the faint smudge on the horizon was the dust he had
followed for more days than he could count. He was not afraid, but he
was hungry and he thought his mother would maybe wonder where he was,
and he knew that the point-riders had already stopped pushing the herd
ahead, and that the cattle were feeding now so that they would bed
down at dusk. The chuckwagon was camped somewhere close by, and old
Step-and-a-Half, the lame cook, was stirring things in his Dutch ovens
over the camp-fire. Buddy could almost smell the beans and the meat
stew, he was so hungry. He turned and took one last, long look at the
endless stream of ants still crawling along, picked up the dead snake by
the tail, cupped the other hand over the horned toad inside his waist,
and started for camp.

After a while he heard someone shouting, but beyond faint relief that he
was after all near his \x93Outfit\x94, Buddy paid no attention. The boys were
always shouting to one another, or yelling at their horses or at the
herd or at the niggers. It did not occur to him that they might
be shouting for him, until from another direction he heard Ezra\x92s
unmistakable, booming voice. Ezra sang a thunderous baritone when the
niggers lifted up their voices in song around their camp-fire, and he
could be heard for half a mile when he called in real earnest. He was
calling now, and Buddy, stopping to listen, fancied that he heard his
name. A little farther on, he was sure of it.

\x93OOO-EE! Whah y\x92all, Buddy? OOO-EEE!\x94

\x93I\x92m a-comin\x92,\x94 Buddy shrilled impatiently. \x93What y\x92 all want?\x94

His piping voice did not carry to Ezra, who kept on shouting. The
radiant purple and red and gold above him deepened, darkened. The whole
wild expanse of half-barren land became suddenly a place of unearthly
beauty that dulled to the shadows of dusk. Buddy trudged on, keeping
to the deep-worn buffalo trails which the herd had followed and scored
afresh with their hoofs. He could not miss his way-not Buddy, son of Bob
Birnie, owner of the Tomahawk outfit-but his legs were growing pretty
tired, and he was so hungry that he could have sat down on the ground
and cried with the gnawing food-call of his empty little stomach.

He could hear other voices shouting at intervals now, but Ezra\x92s voice
was the loudest and the closest, and it seemed to Buddy that Ezra never
once stopped calling. Twice Buddy called back that he was a-comin\x92, but
Ezra shouted just the same: \x93OOO-EE! WHAH Y\x92 ALL, BUDDY? OOO-EE!\x94

Imperceptibly dusk deepened to darkness. A gust of anger swept Buddy\x92s
soul because he was tired, because he was hungry and he was yet a long
way from the camp, but chiefly because Ezra persisted in calling after
Buddy had several times answered. He heard someone whom he recognized
as Frank Davis, but by this time he was so angry that he would not say a
word, though he was tempted to ask Frank to take him up on his horse and
let him ride to camp. He heard others-and once the beat of hoofs came
quite close. But there was a wide streak of Scotch stubbornness in
Buddy--along with several other Scotch streaks--and he continued his
stumbling progress, dragging the snake by the tail, his other hand
holding fast the horned toad.

His heart jumped up and almost choked him when first saw the three
twinkles on the ground which knew were not stars but camp-fires.

Quite unexpectedly he trudged into the firelight where Step-and-a-Half
was stirring delectable things in the iron pots and stopping every
minute or so to stare anxiously into the gloom. Buddy stood blinking and
sniffing, his eyes fixed upon the Dutch ovens.

\x93I\x92m HUNGRY!\x94 he announced accusingly, gripping the toad that had begun
to squirm at the heat and light. \x93I kilt a snake an\x92 I\x92m HUNGRY!\x94

\x93Good gorry!\x94 swore Step-and-a-Half, and whipped out his six-shooter and
fired three shots into the air.

Footsteps came scurrying. Buddy\x92s mother swept him into her arms,
laughing with a little whimpering sound of tears in the laughter. Buddy
wriggled protestingly in her arms.

\x93L\x92kout! Y\x92 all SKUCSH \x91im! I got a HAWN-toe; wight here.\x94 He patted his
chest gloatingly. \x93An\x92 I got a snake. I kilt \x91im. An\x92 I\x92m HUNGRY.\x94

Mother of Buddy though she was, Lassie set him down hurriedly and
surveyed her man-child from a little distance.

\x93Buddy! Drop that snake instantly\x92\x94

Buddy obeyed, but he planted a foot close to his kill and pouted his
lips. \x93\x91S my snake. I kilt \x91im,\x94 He said firmly. He pulled the horned
toad from his waist-front and held it tightly in his two hands. \x93An\x92s my
hawn-toe. I ketche\x92d\x92m. \x91Way ova dere,\x94 he added, tilting his tow head
toward the darkness behind him.

Bob Birnie rode up at a gallop, pulled up his horse in the edge of the
fire glow and dismounted hastily.

Bob Birnie never needed more than one glance to furnish him the details
of a scene. He saw the very small boy confronting his mother with a dead
snake, a horned toad and a stubborn set to his lips. He saw that the
mother looked rather helpless before the combination--and his brown
mustache hid a smile. He walked up and looked his first-born over.

\x93Buddy,\x94 He demanded sternly, \x93where have you been?\x94

\x93Out dere. Kilt a snake. Ants was trailing a herd. I got a HAWN-toe. An\x92
I\x92m hungry!\x94

\x93You know better than to leave the wagon, young man. Didn\x92t you know we
had to get out and hunt you, and mother was scared the wolves might eat
you? Didn\x92t you hear us calling you? Why didn\x92t you answer?\x94

Buddy looked up from under his baby eyebrows at his father, who seemed
very tall and very terrible. But his bare foot touched the dead snake
and he took comfort. \x93I was comin\x92,\x94 he said. \x93I WASN\x92T los\x92. I bringed
my snake and my hawn-toe. An\x92 dey--WASN\x92T--any--woluffs!\x94 The last word
came muffled, buried in his mother\x92s skirts.



CHAPTER TWO: THE TRAIL HERD

Day after day the trail herd plodded slowly to the north, following the
buffalo trails that would lead to water, and the crude map of one who
had taken a herd north and had returned with a tale of vast plains and
no rivals. Always through the day the dust cloud hung over the backs of
the cattle, settled into the clothes of those who followed, grimed the
pink aprons of Buddy and his small sister Dulcie so that they were no
longer pink. Whenever a stream was reached, mother searched patiently
for clear water and an untrampled bit of bank where she might do the
family washing, leaving Ezra to mind the children. But even so the crust
and the wear and tear of travel remained to harass her fastidious soul.

Buddy remembered that drive as he could not remember the comfortable
ranch house of his earlier babyhood. To him afterward it seemed that
life began with the great herd of cattle. He came to know just how low
the sun must slide from the top of the sky before the \x93point\x94 would
spread out with noses to the ground, pausing wherever a mouthful of
grass was to be found. When these leaders of the herd stopped, the
cattle would scatter and begin feeding. If there was water they would
crowd the banks of the stream or pool, pushing and prodding one another
with their great, sharp horns. Later, when the sun was gone and dusk
crept out of nowhere, the cowboys would ride slowly around the herd,
pushing it quietly into a smaller compass. Then, if Buddy were not too
sleepy, he would watch the cattle lie down to chew their cuds in deep,
sighing content until they slept. It reminded Buddy vaguely of when
mother popped corn in a wire popper, a long time ago-before they all
lived in a wagon and went with the herd. First one and two-then there
would be three, four, five, as many as Buddy could count-then the whole
herd would be lying down.

Buddy loved the camp-fires. The cowboys would sit around the one where
his father and mother sat--mother with Dulcie in her arms--and they
would smoke and tell stories, until mother told him it was time little
boys were in bed. Buddy always wanted to know what they said after he
had climbed into the big wagon where mother had made a bed, but he never
found out. He could remember lying there listening sometimes to the
niggers singing at their own campfire within call, Ezra always singing
the loudest,--just as a bull always could be heard above the bellowing
of the herd.

All his life, Ezra\x92s singing and the monotonous bellowing of a herd
reminded Buddy of one mysteriously terrible time when there weren\x92t
any rivers or any ponds or anything along the trail, and they had to be
careful of the water and save it, and he and Dulcie were not asked
to wash their faces. I think that miracle helped to fix the incident
indelibly in Buddy\x92s mind; that, and the bellowing of the cattle. It
seemed a month to Buddy, but as he grew older he learned that it was
three days they went without water.

The first day he did not remember especially, except that mother had
talked about clean aprons that night, and failed to produce any. The
second he recalled quite clearly. Father came to the wagons sometime in
the night to see if mother was asleep. Their murmured talk wakened Buddy
and he heard father say:

\x93We\x92ll hold \x91em, all right, Lassie. And there\x92s water ahead. It\x92s marked
on the trail map. Don\x92t you worry--I\x92ll stay up and help the boys. The
cattle are uneasy--but we\x92ll hold \x91em.\x94

The third day Buddy never forgot. That was the day when mother forgot
that Q stands for Quagga, and permitted Buddy to call it P, just for
fun, because it looked so much like P. And when he said \x93W is water \x93,
mother made a funny sound and said right out loud, \x93Oh God, please!\x94 and
told Buddy to creep back and play with Sister--when Sister was asleep,
and there were still x, y and z to say, let alone that mysterious
And-so-forth which seemed to mean so much and so little and never was
called upon to help spell a word. Never since he began to have lessons
had mother omitted a single letter or cut the study hour down the
teeniest little bit.

Buddy was afraid of something, but he could not think what it was that
frightened him. He began to think seriously about water, and to listen
uneasily to the constant lowing of the herd. The increased shouting
of the niggers driving the lagging ones held a sudden significance. It
occurred to him that the niggers had their hands full, and that they had
never driven so big a \x93Drag.\x94 It was hotter than ever, too, and they had
twice stopped to yoke in fresh oxen. Ezra had boasted all along that
ole Bawley would keep his end up till they got clah to Wyoming. But ole
Bawley had stopped, and stopped, and at last had to be taken out of the
yoke. Buddy began to wish they would hurry up and find a river.

None of the cowboys would take him on the saddle and let him ride, that
day. They looked harassed--Buddy called it cross--when they rode up to
the wagon to give their horses a few mouthfuls of water from the barrel.
Step-and-a-Half couldn\x92t spare any more, they told mother. He had
declared at noon that he needed every drop he had for the cooking, and
there would be no washing of dishes whatever. Later, mother had studied
a map and afterwards had sat for a long while staring out over the backs
of the cattle, her face white. Buddy thought perhaps mother was sick.

That day lasted hours and hours longer than any other day that Buddy
could remember. His father looked cross, too, when he rode back to them.
Once it was to look at the map which mother had studied. They talked
together afterwards, and Buddy heard his father say that she must not
worry; the cattle had good bottom, and could stand thirst better than a
poor herd, and another dry camp would not really hurt anyone.

He had uncovered the water barrel and looked in, and had ridden straight
over to the chuck-wagon, his horse walking alongside the high seat where
Step-and-a-Half sat perched listlessly with a long-lashed oxwhip in his
hand. Father had talked for a few minutes, and had ridden back scowling.

\x93That old scoundrel has got two ten-gallon kegs that haven\x92t been
touched!\x94 he told mother. \x93Yo\x92 all mustn\x92t water any more horses out of
your barrel Send the boys to Step-and-a-Half. Yo\x92 all keep what you\x92ve
got. The horses have got to have water--to-night it\x92s going to be hell
to hold the herd, and if anybody goes thirsty it\x92ll be the men, not the
horses But yo\x92 all send them to the other wagon, Lassie Mind, now! Not a
drop to anyone.\x94

After father rode away, Buddy crept up and put his two short arms around
mother. \x93Don\x92t cry. I don\x92t have to drink any water,\x94 he soothed her. He
waited a minute and added optimistically, \x93Dere\x92s a BI--IG wiver comin\x92
pitty soon. Oxes smells water a hunerd miles. Ezra says so. An\x92 las\x92
night Crumpy was snuffin\x92 an\x92 snuffin\x92. I saw \x91im do it. He smelt a BIG
wiver. THAT bi-ig!\x94 He spread his short arms as wide apart as they would
reach, and smiled tremulously.

Mother squeezed Buddy so hard that he grunted.

\x93Dear little man, of course there is. WE don\x92t mind, do we? I-was
feeling sorry for the poor cattle.\x94

\x93De\x92re firsty,\x94 Buddy stated solemnly, his eyes big. \x93De\x92re bawlin\x92 fer
a drink of water. I guess de\x92re AWFUL firsty. Dere\x92s a big wiver comin\x92
now Crumpy smelt a big wiver.\x94

Buddy\x92s mother stared across the arid plain parched into greater
barrenness by the heat that had been unremitting for the past week.
Buddy\x92s faith in the big river she could not share. Somehow they had
drifted off the trail marked on the map drawn by George Williams.

Williams had warned them to carry as much water as possible in barrels,
as a precaution against suffering if they failed to strike water each
night. He had told them that water was scarce, but that his cowboy
scouts and the deep-worn buffalo trails had been able to bring him
through with water at every camp save two or three. The Staked Plains,
he said, would be the hardest drive. And this was the Staked Plains--and
it was hard driving!

Buddy did not know all that until afterwards, when he heard father talk
of the drive north. But he would have remembered that day and the night
that followed, even though he had never heard a word about it.
The bawling of the herd became a doleful chant of misery. Even the
phlegmatic oxen that drew the wagons bawled and slavered while they
strained forward, twisting their heads under the heavy yokes. They
stopped oftener than usual to rest, and when Buddy was permitted to walk
with the perspiring Ezra by the leaders, he wondered why the oxen\x92s eyes
were red, like Dulcie\x92s when she had one of her crying spells.

At night the cowboys did not tie their horses and sit down while they
ate, but stood by their mounts and bolted food hurriedly, one eye always
on the restless cattle, that walked around and around, and would neither
eat nor lie down, but lowed incessantly. Once a few animals came close
enough to smell the water in a bucket where Frank Davis was watering
his sweat-streaked horse, and Step-and-a-Half\x92s wagon was almost upset
before the maddened cattle could be driven back to the main herd.

\x93No use camping,\x94 Bob Birnie told the boys gathered around
Step-and-a-Half\x92s Dutch ovens. \x93The cattle won\x92t stand. We\x92ll wear
ourselves and them out trying to hold \x91em-they may as well be hunting
water as running in circles. Step-and-a-Half, keep your cooked grub
handy for the boys, and yo\x92 all pack up and pull out. We\x92ll turn the
cattle loose and follow. If there\x92s any water in this damned country
they\x92ll find it.\x94

Years afterwards, Buddy learned that his father had sent men out to
hunt water, and that they had not found any. He was ten when this was
discussed around a spring roundup fire, and he had studied the matter
for a few minutes and then had spoken boldly his mind.

\x93You oughta kept your horses as thirsty as the cattle was, and I bet
they\x92d a\x92 found that water,\x94 he criticized, and was sent to bed for his
tactlessness. Bob Birnie himself had thought of that afterwards, and had
excused the oversight by saying that he had depended on the map, and had
not foreseen a three-day dry drive.

However that may be, that night was a night of panicky desperation.
Ezra walked beside the oxen and shouted and swung his lash, and the
oxen strained forward bellowing so that not even Dulcie could sleep,
but whimpered fretfully in her mother\x92s arms. Buddy sat up wide-eyed and
watched for the big river, and tried not to be a \x91fraid-cat and cry like
Dulcie.

It was long past starry midnight when a little wind puffed out of the
darkness and the oxen threw up their heads and sniffed, and put a new
note into their \x93M-baw-aw-aw-mm!\x94 They swung sharply so that the wind
blew straight into the front of the wagon, which lurched forward with a
new impetus.

\x93Glo-ory t\x92 Gawd, Missy! dey smells watah, sho \x91s yo\x92 bawn!\x94 sobbed Ezra
as he broke into a trot beside the wheelers. \x93\x91Tain\x92t fur--lookit dat-ah
huhd a-goin\x92 it! No \x91m, Missy, DEY ain\x92t woah out--dey smellin\x92 watah
an\x92 dey\x92m gittin\x92 TO it! \x91Tain\x92t fur, Missy.\x94

Buddy clung to the back of the seat and stared round-eyed into the
gloom. He never forgot that lumpy shadow which was the herd, traveling
fast in dust that obscured the nearest stars. The shadow humped here
and there as the cattle crowded forward at a shuffling half trot, the
click--awash of their shambling feet treading close on one another. The
rapping tattoo of wide-spread horns clashing against wide-spread horns
filled him with a formless terror, so that he let go the seat to clutch
at mother\x92s dress. He was not afraid of cattle-they were as much a
part of his world as were Ezra and the wagon and the camp-fires-but he
trembled with the dread which no man could name for him.

These were not the normal, everyday sounds of the herd. The herd had
somehow changed from plodding animals to one overwhelming purpose that
would sweep away anything that came in its path. Two thousand parched
throats and dust-dry tongues-and suddenly the smell of water that would
go gurgling down two thousand eager gullets, and every intervening
second a cursed delay against which the cattle surged blindly. It was
the mob spirit, when the mob was fighting for its very existence.

Over the bellowing of the cattle a yelling cowboy now and then made
himself heard. The four oxen straining under their yokes broke into
a lumbering gallop lest they be outdistanced by the herd, and Dulcie
screamed when the wagon lurched across a dry wash and almost upset,
while Ezra plied the ox-whip and yelled frantically at first one ox and
then another, inventing names for the new ones. Buddy drew in his breath
and held it until the wagon rolled on four wheels instead of two, but he
did not scream.

Still the big river did not come. It seemed to Buddy that the cattle
would never stop running. Tangled in the terror was Ezra\x92s shouting
as he ran alongside the wagon and called to Missy that it was \x93Dat ole
Crumpy actin\x92 the fool\x94, and that the wagon wouldn\x92t upset. \x93No\x92m, dey\x92s
jest in a hurry to git dere fool haids sunk to de eyes in dat watah. Dey
ain\x92t aimin\x92 to run away--no\x92m, dish yer ain\x92t no stampede!\x94

Perhaps Buddy dozed. The next thing he remembered, day was breaking,
with the sun all red, seen through the dust. The herd was still going,
but now it was running and somehow the yoked oxen were keeping close
behind, lumbering along with heads held low and the sweat reeking from
their spent bodies. Buddy heard dimly his mother\x92s sharp command to
Ezra:

\x93Stand back, Ezra! We\x92re not going to be caught in that terrible trap.
They\x92re piling over the bank ahead of us. Get away from the leaders. I
am going to shoot.\x94

Buddy crawled up a little higher on the blankets behind the seat, and
saw mother steady herself and aim the rifle straight at Crumpy. There
was the familiar, deafening roar, the acrid smell of black powder smoke,
and Crumpy went down loosely, his nose rooting the trampled ground for
a space before the gun belched black smoke again and Crumpy\x92s yoke-mate
pitched forward. The wagon stopped so abruptly that Buddy sprawled
helplessly on his back like an overturned beetle.

He saw mother stand looking down at the wheelers, that backed and
twisted their necks under their yokes. Her lips were set firmly
together, and her eyes were bright with purple hollows beneath. She held
the rifle for a moment, then set the butt of it on the \x93jockey box\x94 just
in front of the dashboard. The wheelers, helpless between the weight of
the wagon behind and the dead oxen in front, might twist their necks off
but they could do no damage.

\x93Unyoke the wheelers, Ezra, and let the poor creatures have their chance
at the water,\x94 she cried sharply, and Ezra, dodging the horns of the
frantic brutes, made shift to obey.

Fairly on the bank of the sluggish stream with its flood-worn channel
and its treacherous patches of quicksand, the wagon thus halted by the
sheer nerve and quick-thinking of mother became a very small island in a
troubled sea of weltering backs and tossing horns and staring eyeballs.
Riders shouted and lashed unavailingly with their quirts, trying to
hold back the full bulk of the herd until the foremost had slaked
their thirst and gone on. But the herd was crazy for the water, and
the foremost were plunged headlong into the soft mud where they mired,
trampled under the hoofs of those who came crowding from behind.

Someone shouted, close to the wagon yet down the bank at the edge of the
water. The words were indistinguishable, but a warning was in the voice.
On the echo of that cry, a man screamed twice.

\x93Ezra!\x94 cried mother fiercely. \x93It\x92s Frank Davis--they\x92ve got him down,
somehow. Climb over the backs of the cattle--There\x92s no other way--and
GET HIM!\x94

\x93Yas\x92m, Missy!\x94 Ezra called back, and then Buddy saw him go over the
herd, scrambling, jumping from back to back.

Buddy remembered that always, and the funeral they had later in the day,
when the herd was again just trail-weary cattle feeding hungrily on the
scanty grass. Down at the edge of the creek the carcasses of many dead
animals lay half-buried in the mud. Up on a little knoll where a few
stunted trees grew, the negroes dug a long, deep hole. Mother\x92s eyes
were often filled with tears that day, and the cowboys scarcely talked
at all when they gathered at the chuckwagon.

After a while they all went to the hole which the negroes had dug, and
there was a long Something wrapped up in canvas. Mother wore her best
dress which was black, and father and all the boys had shaved their
faces and looked very sober. The negroes stood back in a group by
themselves, and every few minutes Buddy saw them draw their tattered
shirtsleeves across their faces. And father--Buddy looked once and saw
two tears running down father\x92s cheeks. Buddy was shocked into a stony
calm. He had never dreamed that fathers ever cried.

Mother read out of her Bible, and all the boys held their hats in front
of them, with their hands clasped, and looked at the ground while she
read. Then mother sang. She sang, \x93We shall meet beyond the river\x94,
which Buddy thought was a very queer song, because they were all there
but Frank Davis; then she sang \x93Nearer, My God, to Thee.\x94 Buddy sang
too, piping the notes accurately, with a vague pronunciation of the
words and a feeling that somehow he was helping mother.

After that they put the long, canvas-wrapped Something down in the hole,
and mother said \x93Our Father Who Art in Heaven \x93, with Buddy repeating it
uncertainly after her and pausing to say \x93TRETHpatheth\x94 very carefully.
Then mother picked up Dulcie in her arms, took Buddy by the hand and
walked slowly back to the wagon, and would not let him turn to see what
the boys were doing.

It was from that day that Buddy missed Frank Davis, who had mysteriously
gone to Heaven, according to mother. Buddy\x92s interest in Heaven was
extremely keen for a time, and he asked questions which not even mother
could answer. Then his memory of Frank Davis blurred. But never his
memory of that terrible time when the Tomahawk outfit lost five hundred
cattle in the dry drive and the stampede for water.



CHAPTER THREE: SOME INDIAN LORE

Buddy knew Indians as he knew cattle, horses, rattlesnakes and
storms--by having them mixed in with his everyday life. He couldn\x92t tell
you where or when he had learned that Indians are tricky. Perhaps his
first ideas on that subject were gleaned from the friendly tribes who
lived along the Chisolm Trail and used to visit the chuck-wagon, their
blankets held close around them and their eyes glancing everywhere while
they grinned and talked and pointed--and ate. Buddy used to sit in the
chuck-wagon, out of harm\x92s way, and watch them eat.

Step-and-a-Half had a way of entertaining Indians which never failed
to interest Buddy, however often he witnessed it. When Step-and-a-Half
glimpsed Indians coming afar off, he would take his dishpan and dump
into it whatever scraps of food were left over from the preceding meal.
He used to say that Indians could smell grub as far as a buzzard can
smell a dead carcase, and Buddy believed it, for they always arrived at
meal time or shortly afterwards. Step-and-a-Half would make a stew, if
there were scraps enough. If the gleanings were small, he would use the
dishwater--he was a frugal man--and with that for the start-off he would
make soup, which the Indians gulped down with great relish and many
gurgly sounds.

Buddy watched them eat what he called pig-dinner. When Step-and-a-Half
was not looking he saw them steal whatever their dirty brown hands could
readily snatch and hide under their blankets. So he knew from very early
experience that Indians were not to be trusted.

Once, when he had again strayed too far from camp, some Indians riding
that way saw him, and one leaned and lifted him from the ground and rode
off with him. Buddy did not struggle much. He saved his breath for the
long, shrill yell of cow-country. Twice he yodled before the Indian
clapped a hand over his mouth.

Father and some of the cowboys heard and came after, riding hard and
shooting as they came. Buddy\x92s pink apron fluttered a signal flag in the
arms of his captor, and so it happened that the bullets whistled close
to that particular Indian. He gathered a handful of calico between
Buddy\x92s shoulders, held him aloft like a puppy, leaned far over and
deposited him on the ground.

Buddy rolled over twice and got up, a little dizzy and very indignant,
and shouted to father, \x93Shoot a sunsyguns!\x94

From that time Buddy added hatred to his distrust of Indians.

From the time when he was four until he was thirteen Buddy\x92s life
contained enough thrills to keep a movie-mad boy of to-day sitting on
the edge of his seat gasping enviously through many a reel, but to Buddy
it was all rather humdrum and monotonous.

What he wanted to do was to get out and hunt buffalo. Just herding
horses, and watching out for Indians, and killing rattlesnakes was what
any boy in the country would be doing. Still, Buddy himself achieved now
and then a thrill.

There was one day, when he stood heedlessly on a ridge looking for a
dozen head of lost horses in the draws below. It was all very well to
explain missing horses by the conjecture that the Injuns must have got
them, but Buddy happened to miss old Rattler with the others. Rattler
had come north with the trail herd, and he was wise beyond the wisdom of
most horses. He would drive cattle out of the brush without a rider to
guide him, if only you put a saddle on him. He had helped Buddy to mount
his back--when Buddy was much smaller than now--by lowering his head
until Buddy straddled it, and then lifting it so that Buddy slid down
his neck and over his withers to his back. Even now Buddy sometimes
mounted that way when no one was looking. Many other lovable traits had
Rattler, and to lose him would be a tragedy to the family.

So Buddy was on the ridge, scanning all the deep little washes and
draws, when a bullet PING-G-GED over his head. Buddy caught the bridle
reins and pulled his horse into the shelter of rocks, untied his rifle
from the saddle and crept back to reconnoitre. It was the first time he
had ever been shot at--except in the army posts, when the Indians
had \x93broken out\x94,--and the aim then was generally directed toward his
vicinity rather than his person.

An Indian on a horse presently appeared cautiously from cover, and
Buddy, trembling with excitement, shot wild; but not so wild that the
Indian could afford to scoff and ride closer. After another ineffectual
shot at Buddy, he whipped his horse down the ridge, and made for Bannock
creek.

Buddy at thirteen knew more of the wiles of Indians than does the
hardiest Indian fighter on the screen to-day. Father had warned him
never to chase an Indian into cover, where others would probably be
waiting for him. So he stayed where he was, pretty well hidden in the
rocks, and let the bullets he himself had \x93run\x94 in father\x92s bullet-mold
follow the enemy to the fringe of bushes. His last shot knocked the
Indian off his horse--or so it looked to Buddy. He waited for a long
time, watching the brush and thinking what a fool that Indian was to
imagine Buddy would follow him down there. After a while he saw the
Indian\x92s horse climbing the slope across the creek. There was no rider.

Buddy rode home without the missing horses, and did not tell anyone
about the Indian, though his thoughts would not leave the subject.

He wondered what mother would think of it. Mother\x92s interests seemed
mostly confined to teaching Buddy and Dulcie what they were deprived of
learning in schools, and to play the piano--a wonderful old square piano
that had come all the way from Scotland to the Tomahawk ranch, the very
frontier of the West.

Mother was a wonderful woman, with a soft voice and a slight Scotch
accent, and wit; and a knowledge of things which were little known in
the wilderness. Buddy never dreamed then how strangely culture was mixed
with pure savagery in his life. To him the secret regret that he had not
dared ride into the bushes to scalp the Indian he believed he had shot,
and the fact that his hands were straining at the full chords of
the ANVIL CHORUS on that very evening, was not even to be considered
unusual. Still, certain strains of that classic were always afterward
associated in his mind with the shooting of the Indian--if he had really
shot him.

While he counted the time with a conscientious regard for the rests, he
debated the wisdom of telling mother, and decided that perhaps he had
better keep that matter to himself, like a man.



CHAPTER FOUR: BUDDY GIVES WARNING

Buddy swung down from his horse, unsaddled it and went staggering to the
stable wall with the burden of a stock-saddle much too big for him. He
had to stand on his boot-toes to reach and pull the bridle down over the
ears of Whitefoot, which turned with an air of immense relief into the
corral gate and the hay piled at the further end. Buddy gave him
one preoccupied glance and started for the cabin, walking with the
cowpuncher\x92s peculiar, bowlegged gait which comes of wearing chaps and
throwing out the knees to overcome the stiffness of the leather. At
thirteen Buddy was a cowboy from hat-crown to spurs-and at thirteen
Buddy gloried in the fact. To-day, however, his mind was weighted with
matters of more importance than himself.

\x93The Utes are having a war-dance, mother,\x94 he announced when he had
closed the stout door of the kitchen behind him. \x93They mean it this
time. I lay in the brush and watched them last night.\x94 He stood looking
at his mother speculatively, a little grin on his face. \x93I told you, you
can\x92t change an Injun by learning him to eat with a knife and fork,\x94 he
added. \x93Colorou ain\x92t any whiter than he was before you set out to learn
him manners. He was hoppin\x92 higher than any of \x91em.\x94

\x93Teach, Buddy, not learn. You know better than to say \x91learn him
manners.\x92\x94

\x93Teach him manners,\x94 Buddy corrected himself obediently. \x93I was thinking
more about what I saw than about grammar. Where\x92s father? I guess I\x92d
better tell him. He\x92ll want to get the stock out of the mountains, I
should think.\x94

\x93Colorou will send me word before they take the warpath,\x94 mother
observed reassuringly. \x93He always has. I gave him a whole pound of tea
and a blue ribbon the last time he was here.\x94

\x93Yes, and the last time they broke out they got away with more \x91n a
hundred head of cattle. You got to Laramie, all right, but he didn\x92t
tell father in time to make a roundup back in the foothills. They\x92re
DANCING, mother!\x94

\x93Well, I suppose We\x92re due for an outbreak,\x94 sighed mother. \x93Colorou
says he can\x92t hold his young men off when some of the tribe have been
killed. He himself doesn\x92t countenance the stealing and the occasional
killing of white men. There are bad Indians and good ones.\x94

\x93I know a couple of good ones,\x94 Buddy murmured as he made for the wash
basin. \x93It\x92s the bad ones that were doing the dancing, mother,\x94 he flung
over his shoulder. \x93And if I was you I\x92d take Dulcie and the cats and
hit for Laramie. Colorou might get busy and forget to send word!\x94

\x93If I WAS you?\x94 Mother came up and nipped his ear between thumb and
finger. \x93Robert, I am discouraged over you. All that I teach you in the
winter seems to evaporate from your mind during the summer when you go
out riding with the boys.\x94

Buddy wiped his face with an up-and-down motion on the roller towel and
clanked across to the cupboard which he opened investigatively. \x93Any
pie?\x94 he questioned as he peered into the corners. \x93Say, if I had the
handling of those Utes, mother, I\x92d fix \x91em so they wouldn\x92t be breaking
out every few months and making folks leave their homes to be pawed over
and burnt, maybe.\x94 He found a jar of fresh doughnuts and took three.

\x93They\x92ll tromp around on your flower-beds--it just makes me SICK when
I think how they\x92ll muss things up around here! I wish now,\x94 He blurted
unthinkingly, \x93that I hadn\x92t killed the Injun that stole Rattler.\x94

\x93Buddy! Not YOU.\x94 His mother made a swift little run across the kitchen
and caught him on his lean, hard-muscled young shoulders. \x93You--you
baby! What did you do? You didn\x92t harm an Indian, did you, laddie?\x94

Buddy tilted his head downward so that she could not look into his eyes.
\x93I dunno as I harmed him--much,\x94 he said, wiping doughnut crumbs from
his mouth with one hasty sweep of his forearm. \x93But his horse came
outa the brush, and he never. I guess I killed him, all right. Anyway,
mother, I had to. He took a shot at me first. It was the day we lost
Rattler and the bronks,\x94 He added accurately.

Mother did not say anything for a minute, and Buddy hung his head lower,
dreading to see the hurt look which he felt was in her eyes.

\x93I have to pack a gun when I ride anywhere,\x94 he reminded her
defensively. \x93It ain\x92t to balance me on the horse, either. If Injuns
take in after me, the gun\x92s so I can shoot. And a feller don\x92t shoot
up in the air--and if an Injun is hunting trouble he oughta expect that
maybe he might get shot sometime. You--you wouldn\x92t want me to just run
and let them catch me, would you?\x94

Mother\x92s hand slipped up to his head and pressed it against her breast
so that Buddy heard her heart beating steady and sweet and true. Mother
wasn\x92t afraid--never, never!

\x93I know--it\x92s the dreadful necessity of defending our lives. But you\x92re
so young--just mother\x92s baby man!\x94

Buddy looked up at her then, a laugh twinkling in his eyes. After all,
mother understood.

\x93I\x92m going to be your baby man always if you want me to, mother,\x94 He
whispered, closing his arms around her neck in a sturdy hug. \x93But I\x92m
father\x92s horse-wrangler, too. And a horse-wrangler has got to hold
up his end. I--I didn\x92t want to kill anybody, honest. But Injuns are
different. You kill rattlers, and they ain\x92t as mean as Injuns. That one
I shot at was shooting at me before I even so much as knew there was one
around. I just shot back. Father would, or anybody else.\x94

\x93I know--I know,\x94 she conceded, the tender womanliness of her sighing
over the need. In the next moment she was all mother, ready to fight for
her young. \x93Buddy, never, never ride ANYWHERE without your rifle! And a
revolver, too--be sure that it is in perfect condition. And--have you
a knife? You\x92re so LITTLE!\x94 she wailed. \x93But father will need you, and
he\x92ll take care of you--and Colorou would not let you be hurt if he
knew. But--Buddy, you must be careful, and always watching--never let
them catch you off your guard. I shall be in Laramie before you and
father and the boys, I suppose, if the Indians really do break out. And
you must promise me--\x94

\x93I\x92ll promise, mother. And don\x92t you go and trust old Colorou an inch.
He was jumping higher than any of \x91em, and shaking his tomahawk and
yelling--he\x92d have scalped me right there if he\x92d seen me watching \x91em.
Mother, I\x92m going to find father and tell him. And you may as well be
packing up, and--don\x92t leave my guitar for them to smash, will you,
mother?\x94

His mother laughed then and pushed him toward the door. She had an idea
of her own and she did not want to be hindered now in putting it into
action. Up the creek, in the bank behind a clump of willows, was a
small cave--or a large niche, one might call it--where many household
treasures might be safely hidden, if one went carefully, wading in the
creek to hide the tracks. She followed Buddy out, and called to Ezra
who was chopping wood with a grunt for every fall of the axe and many
rest--periods in the shade of the cottonwood tree.

At the stable, Buddy looked back and saw her talking earnestly to Ezra,
who stood nodding his head in complete approval. Buddy\x92s knowledge of
women began and ended with his mother. Therefore, to him all women
were wonderful creatures whom men worshipped ardently because they were
created for the adoration of lesser souls. Buddy did not know what his
mother was going to do, but he was sure that whatever she did would be
right; so he hoisted his saddle on the handiest fresh horse, and loped
off to drive in the remuda, feeling certain that his father would move
swiftly to save his cattle that ranged back in the foothills, and that
the saddle horses would be wanted at a moment\x92s notice.

Also, he reasoned, the range horses (mares and colts and the unbroken
geldings) would not be left to the mercy of the Indians. He did not
quite know how his father would manage it, but he decided that he would
corral the REMUDA first, and then drive in the other horses, that fed
scattered in undisturbed possession of a favorite grassy creek-bottom
farther up the Platte.

The saddle horses, accustomed to Buddy\x92s driving, were easily corralled.
The other horses were fat and \x93sassy\x94 and resented his coming among them
with the shrill whoop of authority. They gave him a hot hour\x92s riding
before they finally bunched and went tearing down the river bottom
toward the ranch. Even so, Buddy left two of the wildest careening up
a narrow gulch. He had not attempted to ride after them; not because he
was afraid of Indians, for he was not. The war-dance held every young
buck and every old one in camp beyond the Pass. But the margin of safety
might be narrow, and Buddy was taking no chances that day.

When he was convinced that it was impossible for one boy to be in half a
dozen places at once, and that the cowboys would be needed to corral the
range bunch, Buddy whooped them all down the creek below the home ranch
and let them go just as his father came riding up to the corral.

\x93They\x92re war-dancing, father,\x94 Buddy shouted eagerly, slipping off his
horse and wiping away the trickles of perspiration with a handkerchief
not much redder than his face. \x93I drove all the horses down, so they\x92d
be handy. Them range horses are pretty wild. There was two I couldn\x92t
get. What\x92ll I do now?\x94

Bob Birnie looked at his youngest rider and smoothed his beard with one
hand. \x93You\x92re an ambitious lad, Buddy. It\x92s the Utes you\x92re meaning--or
is it the horses?\x94

Buddy lifted his head and stared at his father disapprovingly.

\x93Colorou is going to break out. I know. They\x92ve got their war paint all
on and they\x92re dancing. I saw them myself. I was going after the gloves
Colorou s squaw was making for me,--but I didn\x92t get \x91em. I laid in the
brush and watched \x91em dance.\x94 He stopped and looked again doubtfully at
his father. \x93I thought you might want to get the cattle outa the way,\x94 he
added. \x93I thought I could save some time--\x94

\x93You\x92re sure about the paint?\x94

\x93Yes, I\x92m sure. And Colorou was just a-going it with his war bonnet on
and shaking his tomahawk and yelling--\x94

\x93Ye did well, lad. We\x92ll be leaving for Big Creek to-night, so run away
now and rest yourself.\x94

\x93Oh, and can I go?\x94 Buddy\x92s voice was shrill with eagerness.

\x93I\x92ll need you, lad, to look after the horses. It will give me one more
hand with the cattle. Now go tell Step-and-a-Half to make ready for a
week on the trail, and to have supper early so he can make his start
with the rest.\x94

Buddy walked stiffly away to the cook\x92s cabin where Step-and-a-Half sat
leisurely gouging the worst blemishes out of soft, old potatoes with a
chronic tendency to grow sprouts, before he peeled them for supper His
crippled leg was thrust out straight, his hat was perched precariously
over one ear because of the slanting sun rays through the window, and
a half-smoked cigarette waggled uncertainly in the corner of his mouth
while he sang dolefully a most optimistic ditty of the West:

\x93O give me a home where the buff-alo roam, Where the deer and the
antelope play, Where never is heard a discouraging word And the sky is
not cloudy all day.\x94

\x93You\x92re going to hear a discouraging word right now,\x94 Buddy broke in
ruthlessly upon the song. Whereupon, with a bit of importance in
his voice and in his manner, he proceeded to spoil Step-and-a-Half\x92s
disposition and to deepen, if that were possible, his loathing of
Indians. Too often had he made dubious soup of his dishwater and the
leavings from a roundup crew\x92s dinner, and watched blanketed bucks
smack lips over the mess, to run from them now without feeling utterly
disgusted with life. Step-and-a-Half\x92s vituperations could be heard
above the clatter of pots and pans as he made ready for the journey.

That night\x92s ride up the pass through the narrow range of high-peaked
hills to the Tomahawk\x92s farthest range on Big Creek was a tedious
affair to Buddy. A man had been sent on a fast horse to warn the nearest
neighbor, who in turn would warn the next,--until no settler would
be left in ignorance of his danger. Ezra was already on the trail to
Laramie, with mother and Dulcie and the cats and a slat box full of
chickens, and a young sow with little pigs.

Buddy, whose word no one had questioned, who might pardonably have
considered himself a hero, was concerned chiefly with his mother\x92s
flower garden which he had helped to plant and had watered more or
less faithfully with creek water carried in buckets. He was afraid the
Indians would step on the poppies and the phlox, and trample down the
four o\x92clocks which were just beginning to branch out and look nice and
bushy, and to blossom. The scent of the four o\x92clocks had been in his
nostrils when he came out at dusk with his fur overcoat which mother had
told him must not be left behind. Buddy himself merely liked flowers:
but mother talked to them and kissed them just for love, and pitied them
if Buddy forgot and let them go thirsty. He would have stayed to fight
for mother\x92s flower garden, if it would have done any good.

He was thinking sleepily that next year he would plant flowers in boxes
that could be carried to the cave if the Indians broke out again, when
Tex Farley poked him in the ribs and told him to wake up or he\x92d fall
off his horse. It was a weary climb to the top of the range that divided
the valley of Big Creek from the North Platte, and a wearier climb down.
Twice Buddy caught himself on the verge of toppling out of the saddle.
For after all he was only a thirteen-year Old boy, growing like any
other healthy young animal. He had been riding hard that day and half of
the preceding night when he had raced back from the Reservation to
give warning of the impending outbreak. He needed sleep, and nature was
determined that he should have it.



CHAPTER FIVE: BUDDY RUNS TRUE TO TYPE

One never could predict with any certainty how long Indians would dance
before they actually took the trail of murder and pillage. So much
depended upon the Medicine, so much on signs and portents. It was even
possible that they might, for some mysterious reason unknown to their
white neighbors, decide at the last moment to bide their time. The
Tomahawk outfit worked from dawn until dark, and combed the foothills
of the Snowies hurriedly, riding into the most frequented, grassy basins
and wide canyons where the grass was lush and sweet and the mountain
streams rushed noisily over rocks. As fast as the cattle were gathered
they were pushed hastily toward the Platte, And though the men rode
warily with rifles as handy as their ropes, they rode in peace.

Buddy, proud of his job, counting himself as good a man as any of them,
became a small riding demon after rebellious saddle horses, herding them
away from thick undergrowth that might, for all he knew, hold Indians
waiting a chance to scalp him, driving the REMUDA close to the cabins
when night fell, because no man could be spared for night herding,
sleeping lightly as a cat beside a mouse hole. He did not say much,
perhaps because everyone was too busy to talk, himself included.

Men rode in at night dog-weary, pulled their saddles and hurried stiffly
to the cabin where Step-and-a-Half was showing his true worth as a cook
who could keep the coffee-pot boiling and yet be ready to pack up and
go at the first rifle-shot. They would bolt down enormous quantities of
bannock and boiled beef, swallow their coffee hot enough to scald a hog,
and stretch themselves out immediately to sleep.

Buddy would be up and on his horse in the clear starlight before dawn,
with a cup of coffee swallowed to hearten him for the chilly ride after
the remuda. Even with the warmth of the coffee his teeth would chatter
just at first, and he would ride with his thin shoulders lifted and a
hand in a pocket. He could not sing or whistle to keep himself company.
He must ride in silence until he had counted every dark, moving shape
and knew that the herd was complete, then ease them quietly to camp.

On the fourth morning he rode anxiously up the valley, fearing that the
horses had been stolen in the night, yet hoping they had merely strayed
up the creek to find fresh pastures. A light breeze that carried the
keen edge of frost made his nose tingle. His horse trotted steadily
forward, as keen on the trail as Buddy himself; keener, for he would be
sure to give warning of danger. So they rounded a bend in the creek and
came upon the scattered fringe of the remuda cropping steadily at the
meadow grass there.

Bud circled them, glancing now and then at the ridge beyond the valley.
It seemed somehow unnatural--lower, with the stars showing along its
wooded crest in a row, as if there were no peaks. Then quite suddenly he
knew that the ridge was the same, and that the stars he saw were little,
breakfast camp-fires. His heart gave a jump when he realized how many
little fires there were, and knew that the dance was over. The Indians
had left the reservation and had crossed the ridge yesterday, and had
camped there to wait for the dawn.

While he gathered his horses together he guessed how old Colorou had
planned to catch the Tomahawk riders when they left camp and scattered,
two by two, on \x93Circle.\x94 He had held his band well out of sight and
sound of the Big Creek cabin, and if the horses had not strayed up the
creek in the night he would have caught the white men off their guard.

Buddy looked often over his shoulder while he drove the horses down the
creek. It seemed stranger than luck, that he had been compelled to ride
so far on this particular morning; as if mother\x92s steadfast faith in
prayer and the guardianship of angels was justified by actual facts.
Still, Buddy was too hard-headed to assume easily that angels had driven
the horses up the creek so that he would have to ride up there and
discover the Indian fires. If angels could do that, why hadn\x92t they
stopped Colorou from going on the warpath? It would have been simpler,
in Buddy\x92s opinion.

He did not mention the angel problem to his father, however. Bob Birnie
was eating breakfast with his men when Buddy rode up to the cabin and
told the news. The boys did not say anything much, but they may have
taken bigger bites by way of filling their stomachs in less time than
usual.

\x93I\x92ll go see for myself,\x94 said Bob Birnie. \x93You boys saddle up and
be ready to start. If it\x92s Indians, we\x92ll head for Laramie and drive
everything before us as we go. But the lad may be wrong.\x94 He took the
reins from Buddy, mounted, and rode away, his booted feet hanging far
below Buddy\x92s short stirrups.

Speedily he was back, and the scowl on his face told plainly enough that
Buddy had not been mistaken.

\x93They\x92re coming off the ridge already,\x94 he announced grimly. \x93I heard
their horses among the rocks up there. They think to come down on us at
sunrise. There\x92ll be too many for us to hold off, I\x92m thinking. Get ye a
fresh horse, Buddy, and drive the horses down the creek fast as ye can.\x94

Buddy uncoiled his rope and ran with his mouth full to do as he was
told. He did not think he was scared, exactly, but he made three throws
to get the horse he wanted, blaming the poor light for his ill luck;
and then found himself in possession of a tall, uneasy brown that Dick
Grimes had broken and sometimes rode. Buddy would have turned him loose
and caught another, but the horses had sensed the suppressed excitement
of the men and were circling and snorting in the half light of dawn; so
Buddy led out the brown, pulled the saddle from the sweaty horse that
had twice made the trip up the creek, and heaved it hastily on the
brown\x92s back. Dick Grimes called to him, to know if he wanted any help,
and Buddy yelled, \x93No!\x94

\x93Here they come--damn \x91em--turn the bunch loose and ride!\x94 called Bob
Birnie as a shrill, yelling war-whoop, like the yapping of many coyotes,
sounded from the cottonwoods that bordered the creek. \x93Yuh all right,
Buddy?\x94

\x93Yeah--I\x92m a-comin\x92,\x94 shrilled Buddy, hastily looping the latigo. Just
then the sharp staccato of rifle-shots mingled with the whooping of the
Indians. Buddy was reaching for the saddle horn when the brown horse
ducked and jerked loose. Before Buddy realized what was happening the
brown horse, the herd and all the riders were pounding away down the
valley, the men firing back at the cottonwoods.

In the dust and clamor of their departure Buddy stood perfectly still
for a minute, trying to grasp the full significance of his calamity.
Step-and-a-Half had packed hastily and departed ahead of them all. His
father and the cowboys were watching the cottonwood grove many rods to
Buddy\x92s right and well in the background, and they would not glance his
way. Even if they did they would not see him, and if they saw him it
would be madness to ride back--though there was not a man among them who
would not have wheeled in his tracks and returned for Buddy in the very
face of Colorou and his band.

From the cottonwoods came the pound of galloping hoofs. \x93Angels
NOTHING!\x94 Cried Buddy in deep disgust and scuttled for the cabin.

The cabin, he knew as he ran, was just then the worst place in the
world for a boy who wanted very much to go on living. Through its gaping
doorway he saw a few odds and ends of food lying on the table, but he
dared not stop long enough to get them. The Indians were thundering down
to the corral, and as he rounded the cabin\x92s corner he glanced back
and saw the foremost riders whipping their horses on the trail of the
fleeing white men. But some, he knew, would stop. Even the prospect of
fresh scalps could not hold the greedy ones from prowling around a white
man\x92s dwelling place. There might be tobacco or whiskey left behind,
or something with color or a shine to it. Buddy knew well the ways of
Indians.

He made for the creek, thinking at first to hide somewhere in the brush
along the bank. Then, fearing the brightening light of day and the wide
space he must cross to reach the first fringe of brush, he stopped at a
dugout cellar that had been built into the creek bank above high-water
mark. There was a pole-and-dirt roof, and because the dirt sifted down
between the poles whenever the wind blew--which was always--the place
had been crudely sealed inside with split poles overlapping one another.
The ceiling was more or less flat; the roof had a slight slope. In the
middle of the tiny attic thus formed Buddy managed to worm his body
through a hole in the gable next to the creek.

He wriggled back to the end next the cabin and lay there very flat and
very quiet, peeping out through a half-inch crack, too wise in the ways
of silence to hold his breath until he must heave a sigh to relieve
his lungs. It was hard to breathe naturally and easily after that swift
dash, but somehow he did it. An Indian had swerved and ridden behind the
cabin, and was leaning and peering in all directions to see if anyone
had remained. Perhaps he suspected an ambush; Buddy was absolutely
certain that the fellow was looking for him, personally, and that he had
seen, Buddy run toward the creek.

It was not a pleasant thought, and the fact that he knew that buck
Indian by name, and had once traded him a jackknife for a beautifully
tanned wolf skin for his mother, did not make it pleasanter.
Hides-the-face would not let past friendliness stand in the way of a
killing.

Presently Hides-the-face dismounted and tied his horse to a corner log
of the cabin, and went inside with the others to see what he could find
that could be eaten or carried off. Buddy saw fresh smoke issue from the
stone chimney, and guessed that Step-and-a-Half had left something that
could be cooked. It became evident, in the course of an hour or so, that
his presence was absolutely unsuspected, and Buddy began to watch them
more composedly, silently promising especial forms of punishment to this
one and that one whom he knew. Most of them had been to the ranch many
times, and he could have called to a dozen of them by name. They had sat
in his father\x92s cabin or stood immobile just within the door, and had
listened while his mother played and sang for them. She had fed them
cakes--Buddy remembered the good things which mother had given these
despicable ones who were looting and gobbling and destroying like a
drove of hogs turned loose in a garden, and the thought of her wasted
kindness turned him sick with rage. Mother had believed in their
friendliness. Buddy wished that mother could see them setting fire
to the low, log stable and the corral, and swarming in and out of the
cabin.

Painted for war they were, with red stripes across their foreheads,
ribs outlined in red which, when they loosened their blankets as the
sun warmed them, gave them a fantastic likeness to the skeletons Buddy
wished they were; red stripes on their arms, the number showing their
rank in the tribe; open-seated, buckskin breeches to their knees where
they met the tightly wrapped leggings; moccasins laced snugly at the
ankle--they were picturesque enough to any eyes but Buddy\x92s. He saw the
ghoulish greed in their eyes, heard it in their voices when they shouted
to one another; and he hated them even more than he feared them.

Much that they said he understood. They were cursing the Tomahawk
outfit, chiefly because the men had not waited there to be surprised and
killed. They cursed his father in particular, and were half sorry that
they had not ridden on in pursuit with the others. They hoped no white
man would ride alive to Laramie. It made cheerful listening to Buddy,
flat on his stomach in the roof of the dugout!

After a while, when the cabin had been gutted of everything it contained
save the crude table and benches, a few Indians brought burning brands
from the stable and set it afire. They were very busy inside and out,
making sure that the flames took hold properly. Then, when the dry logs
began to blaze and flames licked the edges of the roof, they stood back
and watched it.

Buddy saw Hides-the-face glance speculatively toward the dugout, and
slipped his hand back where he could reach his six-shooter. He felt
pretty certain that they meant to demolish the dugout next, and he
knew exactly what he meant to do. He had heard men at the posts talk of
\x93selling their lives dearly \x93, and that is what he intended to do.

He was not going to be in too much of a hurry; he would wait until they
actually began on the dugout--and when they were on the bank within a
few feet of him, and he saw that there was no getting away from death,
he meant to shoot five Indians, and himself last of all.

Tentatively he felt of his temple where he meant to place the muzzle
of the gun when there was just one bullet left. It was so nice and
smooth--he wondered if God would really help him out, if he said Our
Father with a pure heart and with faith, as his mother said one must
pray. He was slightly doubtful of both conditions, when he came to think
of it seriously. This spring he had felt grown-up enough to swear a
little at the horses, sometimes--and he was not sure that shooting the
Indian that time would not be counted a crime by God, who loved all
His creatures. Mother always stuck to it that Injuns were God\x92s
creatures--which brought Buddy squarely against the incredible
assumption that God must love them. He did not in the least mean to be
irreverent, but when he watched those painted bucks his opinion of God
changed slightly. He decided that he himself was neither pure nor full
of faith, and that he would not pray just yet. He would let God go ahead
and do as He pleased about it; except that Buddy would never let those
Indians get him alive, no matter what God expected.

Hides-the-face walked over toward the dugout. Buddy crooked his left arm
and laid the gun barrel across it to get a \x93dead rest\x94 and leave nothing
to chance. Hides-the-face stared at the dugout, moved to one side--and
the muzzle of the gun followed, keeping its aim directly at the left
edge of his breastbone as outlined with the red paint. Hides-the-face
craned, stepped into the path down the bank and passed out of range.
Buddy gritted his teeth malevolently and waited, his ears strained
to catch and interpret the meaning of every soft sound made by
Hides-the-face\x92s moccasins.

Hides-the-face cautiously pushed open the door of the cellar and looked
in, standing for interminable minutes, as is the leisurely way of
Indians when there is no great need of haste. Ruddy cautiously lowered
his face and peered down like a mouse from the thatch, but he could not
handily bring his gun to bear upon Hides-the-face, who presently turned
back and went up the path, his shoulder-muscles moving snakishly under
his brown skin as he climbed the bank.

Hides-the-face returned to the others and announced that there was a
place where they could camp. Buddy could not hear all that he said, and
Hides-the-face had his back turned so that not all of his signs were
intelligible; but he gathered that these particular Indians had chosen
or had been ordered to wait here for three suns, and that the cellar
appealed to Hides-the-face as a shelter in case it stormed.

Buddy did not know whether to rejoice at the news or to mourn. They
would not destroy the dugout, so he need not shoot himself, which was of
course a relief. Still, three suns meant three days and nights, and the
prospect of lying there on his stomach, afraid to move for that length
of time, almost amounted to the same thing in the end. He did not
believe that he could hold out that long, though of course he would try
pretty hard.

All that day Buddy lay watching through the crack, determined to take
any chance that came his way. None came. The Indians loitered in the
shade, and some slept. But always two or three remained awake; and
although they sat apparently ready to doze off at any minute, Buddy knew
them too well to hope for such good luck. Two Indians rode in toward
evening dragging a calf that had been overlooked in the roundup; and
having improvidently burned the cabin, the meat was cooked over the
embers which still smouldered in places where knots in the logs made
slow fuel.

Buddy watched them hungrily, wondering how long it took to starve.

When it was growing dark he tried to keep in mind the exact positions
of the Indians, and to discover whether a guard would be placed over
the camp, or whether they felt safe enough to sleep without a sentinel.
Hides-the-face he had long ago decided was in charge of the party, and
Hides-the-face was seemingly concerned only with gorging himself on
the half-roasted meat. Buddy hoped he would choke himself, but
Hides-the-face was very good at gulping half-chewed hunks and finished
without disaster.

Then he grunted something to someone in the dark, and there was movement
in the group. Buddy ground his growing \x93second\x94 teeth together, clenched
his fist and said \x93Damn it!\x94 three times in a silent crescendo of rage
because he could neither see nor hear what took place; and immediately
he repented his profanity, remembering that God could hear him.
In Buddy\x92s opinion, you never could be sure about God; He bestowed
mysterious mercies and strange punishments, and His ways were past
finding out. Buddy tipped his palms together and repeated all the
prayers his mother had taught him and then, with a flash of memory,
finished with \x93Oh, God, please!\x94 just as mother had done long ago on the
dry drive. After that he meditated uncomfortably for a few minutes
and added in a faint whisper, \x93Oh, shucks! You don\x92t want to pay any
attention to a fellow cussing a little when he\x92s mad. I could easy make
that up if you helped me out some way.\x94

Buddy believed afterwards that God yielded to persuasion and decided to
give him a chance. For not more than five minutes passed when a far-off
murmur grew to an indefinable roar, and the wind whooped down off the
Snowies so fiercely that even the dugout quivered a little and rattled
dirt down on Buddy through the poles just over his head.

At first this seemed an unlucky circumstance, for the Indians came down
into the dugout for shelter, and now Buddy was afraid to breathe in
the quiet intervals between the gusts. Just below him he could hear the
occasional mutters of laconic sentences and grunted answers as the bucks
settled themselves for the night, and he had a short, panicky spell of
fearing that the poles would give way beneath him and drop him in upon
them.

After a while--it seemed hours to Buddy--the wind settled down to a
steady gale. The Indians, so far as he could determine, were all asleep
in the cellar. And Buddy, setting his teeth hard together, began to
slide slowly backward toward the opening through which he had crawled
into the roof. When he had crawled in he had not noticed the springiness
of the poles, but now his imagination tormented him with the sensation
of sagging and swaying. When his feet pushed through the opening he had
to grit his teeth to hold himself steady. It seemed as if someone were
reaching up in the dark to catch him by the legs and pull him out.
Nothing happened, however, and after a little he inched backward until
he hung with his elbows hooked desperately inside the opening, his head
and shoulders within and protesting with every nerve against leaving the
shelter.

Buddy said afterwards that he guessed he\x92d have hung there until
daylight, only he was afraid it was about time to change guard, and
somebody might catch him. But he said he was scared to let go and drop,
because it must have been pretty crowded in the cellar, and he knew
the door was open, and some buck might be roosting outside handy to be
stepped on. But he knew he had to do something, because if he ever went
to sleep up in that place he\x92d snore, maybe; and anyway, he said, he\x92d
rather run himself to death than starve to death. So he dropped.

It was two days after that when Buddy shuffled into a mining camp on
the ridge just north of Douglas Pass. He was still on his feet, but
they dragged like an old man\x92s. He had walked twenty-five miles in two
nights, going carefully, in fear of Indians. The first five miles he had
waded along the shore of the creek, he said, in case they might pick up
his tracks at the dugout and try to follow him. He had hidden himself
like a rabbit in the brush through the day, and he had not dared shoot
any meat, wherefore he had not eaten anything.

\x93I ain\x92t as hungry as I was at first,\x94 He grinned tremulously. \x93But I
guess I better--eat. I don\x92 want--to lose the--habit--\x94 Then he went
slack and a man swearing to hide his pity picked him up in his arms and
carried him into the tent.



CHAPTER SIX: THE YOUNG EAGLE MUST FLY

\x93You\x92re of age,\x94 said Bob Birnie, sucking hard at his pipe. \x93You\x92ve had
your schooling as your mother wished that you should have it. You\x92ve
got the music in your head and your fingers and your toes, and that\x92s as
your mother wished that you should have.

\x93Your mother would have you be all for music, and make tunes out of your
own head. She tells me that you have made tunes and written them down on
paper, and that there are those who would buy them and print copies to
sell, with your name at the top of the page. I\x92ll not say what I think
of that--your mother is an angel among women, and she has taught you the
things she loves herself.

\x93But my business is with the cattle, and I\x92ve had you out with me since
you could climb on the back of a horse. I\x92ve watched you, with the rope
and the irons and in the saddle and all. You\x92ve been in tight places
that would try the mettle of a man grown--I mind the time ye escaped
Colorou\x92s band, and we thought ye dead \x91til ye came to us in Laramie.
You\x92ve showed that you\x92re able to hold your own on the range, lad. Your
mother\x92s all for the music--but I leave it to you.

\x93Ten thousand dollars I\x92ll give ye, if that\x92s your wish, and you can go
to Europe as she wishes and study and make tunes for others to play. Or
if ye prefer it, I\x92ll brand you a herd of she stock and let ye go your
ways. No son of mine can take orders from his father after he\x92s a man
grown, and I\x92m not to the age where I can sit with the pipe from morning
to night and let another run my outfit. I\x92ve talked it over with your
mother, and she\x92ll bide by your decision, as I shall do.

\x93So I put it in a nutshell, Robert. You\x92re twenty-one to-day; a man
grown, and husky as they\x92re made. \x91Tis time you faced the world and
lived your life. You\x92ve been a good lad--as lads go.\x94 He stopped there
to rub his jaw thoughtfully, perhaps remembering certain incidents
in Buddy\x92s full-flavored past. Buddy--grown to plain Bud among his
fellows--turned red without losing the line of hardness that had come to
his lips.

\x93You\x92re of legal age to be called a man, and the future\x92s before ye.
I\x92ll give ye five hundred cows with their calves beside them--you can
choose them yourself, for you\x92ve a sharp eye for stock--and you can go
where ye will. Or I\x92ll give ye ten thousand dollars and ye can go to
Europe and make tunes if you\x92re a mind to. And whatever ye choose it\x92ll
be make or break with ye. Ye can sleep on the decision, for I\x92ve no wish
that ye should choose hastily and be sorry after.\x94

Buddy--grown to Bud--lifted a booted foot and laid it across his other
knee and with his forefinger absently whirled the long-pointed rower on
his spur. The hardness at his lips somehow spread to his eyes, that were
bent on the whirring rower. It was the look that had come into the face
of the baby down on the Staked Plains when Ezra called and called after
he had been answered twice; the look that had held firm the lips of the
boy who had lain very flat on his stomach in the roof of the dugout and
had watched the Utes burning the cabin.

\x93There\x92s no need to sleep on it,\x94 he said after a minute. \x93You\x92ve raised
me, and spent some money on me--but I\x92ve saved you a man\x92s wages ever
since I was ten. If you think I\x92ve evened things up, all right. If you
don\x92t, make out your bill and I\x92ll pay it when I can. There\x92s no reason
why you should give me anything I haven\x92t earned, just because you\x92re my
father. You earned all you\x92ve got, and I guess I can do the same. As you
say, I\x92m a man. I\x92ll go at the future man fashion. And,\x94 he added with a
slight flare of the nostrils, \x93I\x92ll start in the morning.\x94

\x93And is it to make tunes for other folks to play?\x94 Bob Birnie asked after
a silence, covertly eyeing him.

\x93No, sir. There\x92s more money in cattle. I\x92ll make my stake in the
cow-country, same as you\x92ve done.\x94 He looked up and grinned a little.
\x93To the devil with your money and your she-stock! I\x92ll get out all
right--but I\x92ll make my own way.\x94

\x93You\x92re a stubborn fool, Robert. The Scotch now and then shows itself
like that in a man. I got my start from my father and I\x92m not ashamed of
it. A thousand pounds--and I brought it to America and to Texas, and got
cattle.\x94

Bud laughed and got up, hiding how the talk had struck deep into the
soul of him. \x93Then I\x92ll go you one better, dad. I\x92ll get my own start.\x94

\x93You\x92ll be back home in six months, lad, saying you\x92ve changed your
mind,\x94 Bob Birnie predicted sharply, stung by the tone of young Bud.
\x93That,\x94 he added grimly, \x93or for a full belly and a clean bed to crawl
into.\x94

Bud stood licking the cigarette he had rolled to hide an unaccountable
trembling of his fingers. \x93When I come back I\x92ll be in a position to buy
you out! I\x92ll borrow Skate and Maverick, if you don\x92t mind, till I get
located somewhere.\x94 He paused while he lighted the cigarette. \x93It\x92s the
custom,\x94 He reminded his father unnecessarily, \x93to furnish a man a horse
to ride and one to pack his bed, when he\x92s fired.\x94

\x93Ye\x92ve horses of yer own,\x94 Bob Birnie retorted, \x93and you\x92ve no need to
borrow.\x94

Bud stood looking down at his father, plainly undecided. \x93I don\x92t know
whether they\x92re mine or not,\x94 he said after a minute. \x93I don\x92t know what
it cost you to raise me. Figure it up, if you haven\x92t already, and count
the time I\x92ve worked for you. Since you\x92ve put me on a business basis,
like raising a calf to shipping age, let\x92s be businesslike about it. You
are good at figuring your profits--I\x92ll leave it to you. And if you find
I\x92ve anything coming to me besides my riding outfit and the clothes I\x92ve
got, all right; I\x92ll take horses for the balance.\x94

He walked off with the swing to his shoulders that had always betrayed
him when he was angry, and Bob Birnie gathered his beard into a handful
and held it while he stared after him. It had been no part of his plan
to set his son adrift on the range without a dollar, but since Bud\x92s
temper was up, it might be a good thing to let him go.

So Bob Birnie went away to confer with his wife, and Bud was left alone
to nurse his hurt while he packed his few belongings. It did hurt him to
be told in that calm, cold-blooded manner that, now he was of legal age,
he would not be expected to stay on at the Tomahawk. Until his father
had spoken to him about it, Bud had not thought much about what he would
do when his school days were over. He had taken life as it was presented
to him week by week, month by month. He had fulfilled his mother\x92s hopes
and had learned to make music. He had lived up to his father\x92s unspoken
standards of a cowman. He had made a \x93Hand\x94 ever since his legs were
long enough to reach the stirrups of a saddle. There was not a better
rider, not a better roper on the range than Bud Birnie. Morally he
was cleaner than most young fellows of his age. He hated trickery, he
reverenced all good women; the bad ones he pitied because he believed
that they sorrowed secretly because they were not good, because they
had missed somehow their real purpose in life, which was to be wife and
mother. He had, in fact grown up clean and true to type. He was Buddy,
grown to be Bud.

And Buddy, now that he was a man, had been told that he was not expected
to stay at home and help his father, and be a comfort to his mother. He
was like a young eagle which, having grown wing-feathers that will bear
the strain of high air currents, has been pecked out of the nest. No
doubt the young eagle resents his unexpected banishment, although in
time he would have felt within himself the urge to go. Leave Bud alone,
and soon or late he would have gone--perhaps with compunctions against
leaving home, and the feeling that he was somehow a disappointment to
his parents. He would have explained to his father, apologized to his
mother. As it was, he resented the alacrity with which his father was
pushing him out.

So he packed his clothes that night, and pushed his guitar into its case
and buckled the strap with a vicious yank, and went off to the bunkhouse
to eat supper with the boys instead of sitting down to the table where
his mother had placed certain dishes which Buddy loved best--wanting to
show in true woman fashion her love and sympathy for him.

Later--it was after Bud had gone to bed--mother came and had a long talk
with him. She was very sweet and sensible, and Bud was very tender with
her. But she could not budge him from his determination to go and make
his way without a Birnie dollar to ease the beginning. Other men had
started with nothing and had made a stake, and there was no reason why
he could not do so.

\x93Dad put it straight enough, and it\x92s no good arguing. I\x92d starve before
I\x92d take anything from him. I\x92m entitled to my clothes, and maybe a
horse or two for the work I\x92ve done for him while I was growing up. I\x92ve
figured out pretty close what it cost to put me through the University,
and what I was worth to him during the summers. Father\x92s Scotch--but
he isn\x92t a darned bit more Scotch than I am, mother. Putting it all
in dollars and cents, I think I\x92ve earned more than I cost him. In the
winters, I know I earned my board doing chores and riding line. Many a
little bunch of stock I\x92ve saved for him by getting out in the foothills
and driving them down below heavy snowline before a storm. You remember
the bunch of horses I found by watching the magpies--the time we tied
hay in canvas and took it up to them \x91til they got strength enough to
follow the trail I trampled in the snow? I earned my board and more,
every winter since I was ten. So I don\x92t believe I owe dad a cent, when
it\x92s all figured out.

\x93But you\x92ve done for me what money can\x92t repay, mother. I\x92ll always be
in debt to you--and I\x92ll square it by being the kind of a man you\x92ve
tried to teach me to be. I will, mother. Dad and the dollars are a
different matter. The debt I owe you will never be paid, but I\x92m going
to make you glad I know there\x92s a debt. I believe there\x92s a God, because
I know there must have been one to make you! And no matter how far away
I may drift in miles, your Buddy is going to be here with you always,
mother, learning from you all there is of goodness and sweetness.\x94 He
held her two hands against his face, and she felt his cheeks wet beneath
her palms. Then he took them away and kissed them many times, like a
lover.

\x93If I ever have a wife, she\x92s going to have her work cut out for her,\x94
 He laughed unsteadily. \x93She\x92ll have to live up to you, mother, if she
wants me to love her.\x94

\x93If you have a wife she\x92ll be well-spoiled, young man! Perhaps it is
wise that you should go--but don\x92t you forget your music, Buddy--and be
a good boy, and remember, mother\x92s going to follow you with her love and
her faith in you, and her prayers.\x94

It may have been that Buddy\x92s baby memory of going north whenever the
trail herd started remained to send Bud instinctively northward when he
left the Tomahawk next morning. It had been a case of stubborn father
and stubborn son dickering politely over the net earnings of the son
from the time when he was old enough to leave his mother\x92s lap and climb
into a saddle to ride with his father. Three horses and his personal
belongings had been agreed upon between them as the balance in Bud\x92s
favor; and at that, Bob Birnie dryly remarked, he had been a better
investment as a son than most young fellows, who cost more than they
were worth to raise.

Bud did not answer the implied praise, but roped the Tomahawk\x92s best
three horses out of the REMUDA corralled for him by his father\x92s riders.
You should have seen the sidelong glances among the boys when they
learned that Bud, just home from the University, was going somewhere
with all his earthly possessions and a look in his face that meant
trouble!

Two big valises and his blankets he packed on Sunfish, a deceptively
raw-boned young buckskin with much white showing in his eyes--an ornery
looking brute if ever there was one. Bud\x92s guitar and a mandolin in
their cases he tied securely on top of the pack. Smoky, the second
horse, a deep-chested \x93mouse\x94 with a face almost human in its
expression, he saddled, and put a lead rope on the third, a bay
four-year-old called Stopper, which was the Tomahawk\x92s best rope-horse
and one that would be missed when fast work was wanted in branding.

\x93He sure as hell picked himself three top hawses,\x94 a tall puncher
murmured to another. \x93Wonder where he\x92s headed for? Not repping--this
late in the season.\x94

Bud overheard them, and gave no sign. Had they asked him directly he
could not have told them, for he did not know, except that somehow
he felt that he was going to head north. Why north, he could not have
explained, since cow-country lay all around him; nor how far north,--for
cow-country extended to the upper boundary of the States, and beyond
into Canada.

He left his horses standing by the corral while he went to the house to
tell his mother good-by, and to send a farewell message to Dulcie,
who had been married a year and lived in Laramie. He did not expect to
strike Laramie, he told his mother when she asked him.

\x93I\x92m going till I stop,\x94 He explained, with a squeeze of her shoulders
to reassure her. \x93I guess it\x92s the way you felt, mother, when you left
Texas behind. You couldn\x92t tell where you folks would wind up. Neither
can I. My trail herd is kinda small, right now; a lot smaller than it
will be later on. But such as it is, it\x92s going to hit the right range
before it stops for good. And I\x92ll write.\x94

He took a doughnut in his hand and a package of lunch to slip in his
pocket, kissed her with much cheerfulness in his manner and hurried out,
his big-rowelled spurs burring on the porch just twice before he stepped
off on the gravel. Telling mother good-by had been the one ordeal he
dreaded, and he was glad to have it over with.

Old Step-and-a-Half hailed him as he went past the chuck-house, and came
limping out, wiping his hands on his apron before he shook hands and
wished him good luck. Ezra, pottering around the tool shed, ambled up
with the eyes of a dog that has been sent back home by his master.
\x93Ah shoah do wish yo\x92 all good fawtune an\x92 health, Marse Buddy,\x94 Ezra
quavered. \x93Ah shoah do. It ain\x92 goin\x92 seem lak de same place--and Ah
shoah do hopes yo\x92 all writes frequent lettahs to yo\x92 mothah, boy!\x94

Bud promised that he would, and managed to break away from Ezra without
betraying himself. How, he wondered, did everyone seem to know that he
was going for good, this time? He had believed that no one knew of it
save himself, his father and his mother; yet everyone else behaved as
if they never expected to see him again. It was disconcerting, and Bud
hastily untied the two led horses and mounted Smoky, the mouse-colored
horse he himself had broken two years before.

His father came slowly up to him, straight-backed and with the gait of
the man who has ridden astride a horse more than he has walked on his
own feet. He put up his hand, gloved for riding, and Bud changed the
lead-ropes from his right hand to his left, and shook hands rather
formally.

\x93Ye\x92ve good weather for travelling,\x94 said Bob Birnie tentatively. \x93I
have not said it before, lad, but when ye own yourself a fool to take
this way of making your fortune, ten thousand dollars will still be
ready to start ye right. I\x92ve no wish to shirk a duty to my family.\x94

Bud pressed his lips together while he listened. \x93If you keep your ten
thousand till it\x92s called for, you\x92ll be drawing interest a long time on
it,\x94 He said. \x93It\x92s going to be hot to-day. I\x92ll be getting along.\x94

He lifted the reins, glanced back to see that the two horses were
showing the proper disposition to follow, and rode off down the
deep-rutted road that followed up the creek to the pass where he had
watched the Utes dancing the war dance one night that he remembered
well. If he winced a little at the familiar landmarks he passed,
he still held fast to the determination to go, and to find fortune
somewhere along the trail of his own making; and to ask help from no
man, least of all his father who had told him to go.



CHAPTER SEVEN: BUD FLIPS A COIN WITH FATE

\x93I don\x92t think it matters so much where we light, it\x92s what we do when
we get there,\x94 said Bud to Smoky, his horse, one day as they stopped
where two roads forked at the base of a great, outstanding peak that was
but the point of a mountain range. \x93This trail straddles the butte and
takes on up two different valleys. It\x92s all cow-country--so what do yuh
say, Smoke? Which trail looks the best to you?\x94

Smoky flopped one ear forward and the other one back, and switched at a
pestering fly. Behind him Sunfish and Stopper waited with the patience
they had learned in three weeks of continuous travel over country that
was rough in spots, barren in places, with wind and sun and occasional,
sudden thunderstorms to punctuate the daily grind of travel.

Bud drew a half dollar from his pocket and regarded it meditatively.
\x93They\x92re going fast--we\x92ll just naturally have to stop pretty soon, or
we don\x92t eat,\x94 He observed. \x93Smoke, you\x92re a quitter. What you want to
do is go back--but you won\x92t get the chance. Heads, we take the right
hand trail. I like it better, anyway--it angles more to the north.\x94

Heads it was, and Bud leaned from the saddle and recovered the coin,
Smoky turning his head to regard his rider tolerantly. \x93Right hand
goes--and we camp at the first good water and grass. I can grain the
three of you once more before we hit a town, and that goes for me, too.
G\x92wan, Smoke, and don\x92t act so mournful.\x94

Smoky went on, following the trail that wound in and out around the
butte, hugging close its sheer sides to avoid a fifty-foot drop into the
creek below. It was new country--Bud had never so much as seen a map
of it to give him a clue to what was coming. The last turn of the
deep-rutted, sandy road where it left the river\x92s bank and led straight
between two humpy shoulders of rock to the foot of a platter-shaped
valley brought him to a halt again in sheer astonishment.

From behind a low hill still farther to the right, where the road forked
again, a bluish haze of smoke indicated that there was a town of
some sort, perhaps. Farther up the valley a brownish cloud hung low-a
roundup, Bud knew at a glance. He hesitated. The town, if it were a
town, could wait; the roundup might not. And a job he must have soon, or
go hungry. He turned and rode toward the dust-cloud, came shortly to a
small stream and a green grass-plot, and stopped there long enough to
throw the pack off Sunfish, unsaddle Smoky and stake them both out to
graze. Stopper he saddled, then knelt and washed his face, beat the
travel dust off his hat, untied his rope and coiled it carefully,
untied his handkerchief and shook it as clean as he could and knotted it
closely again. One might have thought he was preparing to meet a girl;
but the habit of neatness dated back to his pink-apron days and beyond,
the dirt and dust meant discomfort.

When he mounted Stopper and loped away toward the dust-cloud, he rode
hopefully, sure of himself, carrying his range credentials in his eyes,
in his perfect saddle-poise, in the tan on his face to his eyebrows, and
the womanish softness of his gloved hands, which had all the sensitive
flexibility of a musician.

His main hope was that the outfit was working short-handed; and when he
rode near enough to distinguish the herd and the riders, he grinned his
satisfaction.

\x93Good cow-country, by the look of that bunch of cattle,\x94 He observed
to himself. \x93And eight men is a small crew to work a herd that size. I
guess I\x92ll tie onto this outfit. Stopper, you\x92ll maybe get a chance to
turn a cow this afternoon.\x94

Just how soon the chance would come, Bud had not realized. He had no
more than come within shouting distance of the herd when a big, rollicky
steer broke from the milling cattle and headed straight out past him,
running like a deer. Stopper, famed and named for his prowess with just
such cattle, wheeled in his tracks and lengthened his stride to a run.

\x93Tie \x91im down!\x94 someone yelled behind Bud. And \x93Catch \x91im and tie \x91im
down!\x94 shouted another.

For answer Bud waved his hand, and reached in his pocket for his knife.
Stopper was artfully circling the steer, forcing it back toward the
herd, and in another hundred yards or so Bud must throw his loop He
sliced off a saddle-string and took it between his teeth, jerked his
rope loose, flipped open the loop as Stopper raced up alongside, dropped
the noose neatly, and took his turns while Stopper planted his forefeet
and braced himself for the shock. Bud\x92s right leg was over the cantle,
all his weight on the left stirrup when the jerk came and the steer fell
with a thump. By good luck--so Bud afterwards asserted--he was off and
had the steer tied before it had recovered its breath to scramble up.
He remounted, flipped off the loop and recoiled his rope while he went
jogging up to meet a rider coming out to him.

If he expected thanks for what he had done, he must have received a
shock. Other riders had left their posts and were edging up to hear
what happened, and Bud reined up in astonishment before the most amazing
string of unseemly epithets he had ever heard. It began with: \x93What\x92d
you throw that critter for?\x94--which of course is putting it mildly--and
ended in a choked phrase which one man may not use to another\x92s face and
expect anything but trouble afterwards.

Bud unbuckled his gun and hung the belt on his saddle horn, and
dismounted. \x93Get off your horse and take the damnedest licking you ever
had in your life, for that!\x94 He invited vengefully. \x93You told me to
tie down that steer, and I tied him down. You\x92ve got no call to
complain--and there isn\x92t a man on earth I\x92ll take that kinda talk
from. Crawl down, you parrot-faced cow-eater--and leave your gun on the
saddle.\x94

The man remained where he was and looked Bud over uncertainly. \x93Who are
you, and where\x92d yuh come from?\x94 he demanded more calmly. \x93I never saw
yuh before.\x94

\x93Well, I never grew up with your face before me, either!\x94 Bud snapped.
\x93If I had I\x92d probably be cross-eyed by now. You called me something!
Get off that horse or I\x92ll pull you off!\x94

\x93Aw, yuh don\x92t want to mind--\x94 began a tall, lean man pacifically; but
he of the high nose stopped him with a wave of the hand, his eyes still
measuring the face, the form and the fighting spirit of one Bud Birnie,
standing with his coat off, quivering with rage.

\x93I guess I\x92m in the wrong, young fellow--I DID holler \x91Tie \x91im down.\x92
But if you\x92d ever been around this outfit any you \x91d have known I didn\x92t
mean it literal.\x94 He stopped and suddenly he laughed. \x93I\x92ve been yellin\x92
\x91Tie \x91im down\x92 for two years and more, when a critter breaks outa the
bunch, and nobody was ever fool enough to tackle it before. It\x92s just a
sayin\x92 we\x92ve got, young man. We--\x94

\x93What about the name you called me?\x94 Bud was still advancing slowly, not
much appeased by the explanation. \x93I don\x92t give a darn about the steer.
You said tie him, and he\x92s tied. But when you call me--\x94

\x93My mistake, young feller. When I get riled up I don\x92t pick my words.\x94
 He eyed Bud sharply. \x93You\x92re mighty quick to obey orders,\x94 He added
tentatively.

\x93I was brought up to do as I\x92m told,\x94 Bud retorted stiffly. \x93Any
objections to make?\x94

\x93Not one in the world. Wish there was more like yuh. You ain\x92t been in
these parts long?\x94 His tone made a question of the statement.

\x93Not right here.\x94 Bud had no reason save his temper for not giving
more explicit information, but Bart Nelson--as Bud knew him
afterwards--continued to study him as if he suspected a blotched past.

\x93Hunh. That your horse?\x94

\x93I\x92ve got a bill of sale for him.\x94

\x93You don\x92t happen to be wanting a job, I s\x92pose?\x94

\x93I wouldn\x92t refuse to take one.\x94 And then the twinkle came back to Bud\x92s
eyes, because all at once the whole incident struck him as being rather
funny. \x93I\x92d want a boss that expected to have his orders carried out,
though. I lack imagination, and I never did try to read a man\x92s mind.
What he says he\x92d better mean--when he says it to me.\x94

Bart Nelson gave a short laugh, turned and sent his riders back to their
work with oaths tingling their ears. Bud judged that cursing was his
natural form of speech.

\x93Go let up that steer, and I\x92ll put you to work,\x94 he said to Bud
afterwards. \x93That\x92s a good rope horse you\x92re riding. If you want to use
him, and if you can hold up to that little sample of roping yuh gave
us, I\x92ll pay yuh sixty a month. And that\x92s partly for doing what you\x92re
told,\x94 he added with a quick look into Bud\x92s eyes. \x93You didn\x92t say where
you\x92re from----\x94

\x93I was born and raised in cow-country, and nobody\x92s looking for me,\x94
 Bud informed him over his shoulder while he remounted, and let it go at
that. From southern Wyoming to Idaho was too far, he reasoned, to make
it worth while stating his exact place of residence. If they had never
heard of the Tomahawk outfit it would do no good to name it. If they had
heard of it, they would wonder why the son of so rich a cowman as Bob
Birnie should be hiring out as a common cowpuncher so far from home. He
had studied the matter on his way north, and had decided to let people
form their own conclusions. If he could not make good without the name
of Bob Birnie behind him, the sooner he found it out the better.

He untied the steer, drove it back into the herd and rode over to where
the high-nosed man was helping hold the \x93Cut.\x94

\x93Can you read brands? We\x92re cuttin\x92 out AJ and AJBar stuff; left
ear-crop on the AJ, and undercut on the AJBar.\x94

Bud nodded and eased into the herd, spied an AJ two-year-old and urged
it toward the outer edge, smiling to himself when he saw how Stopper
kept his nose close to the animal\x92s rump. Once in the milling fringe of
the herd, Stopper nipped it into the open, rushed it to the cut herd,
wheeled and went back of his own accord. From the corner of his eye, as
he went, Bud saw that Bart Nelson and one or two others were watching
him. They continued to eye him covertly while he worked the herd with
two other men. He was glad that he had not travelled far that day,
and that he had ridden Smoky and left Stopper fresh and eager for his
favorite pastime, which was making cattle do what they particularly did
not want to do. In that he was adept, and it pleased Bud mightily to see
how much attention Stopper was attracting.

Not once did it occur to him that it might be himself who occupied the
thoughts of his boss. Buddy--afterwards Bud--had lived his whole life
among friends, his only enemies the Indians who preyed upon the cowmen.
White men he had never learned to distrust, and to be distrusted had
never been his portion. He had always been Bud Birnie, son and heir of
Bob Birnie, as clean-handed a cattle king as ever recorded a brand. Even
at the University his position had been accepted without question. That
the man he mentally called Parrotface was puzzled and even worried about
him was the last thing he would think of.

But it was true. Bart Nelson watched Bud, that afternoon. A man might
ride up to Bart and assert that he was an old hand with cattle, and Bart
would say nothing, but set him to work, as he had Bud. Then he would
know just how old a \x93Hand\x94 the fellow was. Fifteen minutes convinced
him that Bud had \x93growed up in the saddle\x94, as he would have put it. But
that only mystified him the more. Bart knew the range, and he knew every
man in the country, from Burroback Valley, which was this great valley\x92s
name, to the Black Rim, beyond the mountain range, and beyond the Black
Rim to the Sawtooth country. He knew their ways and he knew their past
records.

He knew that this young fellow came from farther ranges, and he would
have been at a loss to explain just how he knew it. He would have said
that Bud did not have the \x93earmarks\x94 of an Idaho rider. Furthermore, the
small Tomahawk brand on the left flank of the horse Bud rode was totally
unknown to Bart. Yet the horse did not bear the marks of long riding.
Bud himself looked as if he had just ridden out from some nearby
ranch--and he had refused to say where he was from.

Bart swore under his breath and beckoned to him a droopy-mustached,
droopy-shouldered rider who was circling the herd in a droopy,
spiritless manner and chewing tobacco with much industry.

\x93Dirk, you know brands from the Panhandle to Cypress Hills. What d\x92 yuh
make of that horse? Where does he come from?\x94 Bart stopped abruptly and
rode forward then to receive and drive farther back a galloping AJBar
cow which Bud and Stopper had just hazed out of the herd. Dirk squinted
at Stopper\x92s brand which showed cleanly in the glossy, new hair of early
summer. He spat carefully with the wind and swung over to meet his boss
when the cow was safely in the cut herd.

\x93New one on me, Bart. They\x92s a hatchet brand over close to Jackson\x92s
Hole, somewhere. Where\x92d the kid say he was from?\x94

\x93He wouldn\x92t say, but he\x92s a sure-enough cowhand.\x94

\x93That there horse ain\x92t been rode down on no long journey,\x94 Dirk
volunteered after further scrutiny. And he added with the unconscious
impertinence of an old and trusted employee, \x93Yuh goin\x92 to put him on?\x94

\x93Already done it--sixty a month,\x94 Bart confided. \x93That\x92ll bring out
what\x92s in him; he\x92s liable to turn out good for the outfit. Showed he\x92ll
do what he\x92s told first, and think it over afterwards. I like that there
trait in a man.\x94

Dirk pulled his droopy mustache away from his lips as if he wanted to
make sure that his smile would show; though it was not a pretty smile,
on account of his tobacco-stained teeth.

\x93\x91S your fun\x92ral, Bart. I\x92d say he\x92s from Jackson\x92s Hole, on a rough
guess--but I wouldn\x92t presume to guess what he\x92s here fur. Mebby he come
across from Black Rim. I can find out, if you say so.\x94

Bud was weaving in and out through the herd, scanning the animals
closely. While the two talked he singled out a yearling heifer, let
Stopper nose it out beyond the bunch and drove it close to the boss.

\x93Better look that one over,\x94 He called out. \x93One way, it looks like AJ,
and another way I couldn\x92t name it. And the ear looks as if about half
of it had been frozen off. Didn\x92t want to run it into the cut until you
passed on it.\x94

Bart looked first at Bud, and he looked hard. Then he rode over and
inspected the yearling, Dirk close at his heels.

\x93Throw \x91er back with the bunch,\x94 He ordered.

\x93That finishes the cut, then,\x94 Bud announced, rubbing his hand along
Stopper\x92s sweaty neck. \x93I kept passing this critter up, and I guess the
other boys did the same. But it\x92s the last one, and I thought I\x92d run
her out for you to look over.\x94

Bart grunted. \x93Dirk, you take a look and see if they\x92ve got \x91em all. And
you, Kid, can help haze the cut up the Flat--the boys\x92ll show you what
to do.\x94

Bud, remembering Smoky and Sunfish and his camp, hesitated. \x93I\x92ve got
a camp down here by the creek,\x94 He said. \x93If it\x92s all the same to you,
I\x92ll report for work in the morning, if you\x92ll tell me where to head
for. And I\x92ll have to arrange somehow to pasture my horses; I\x92ve got a
couple more at camp.\x94

Bart studied him for a minute, and Bud thought he was going to change
his mind about the job, or the sixty dollars a month. But Bart merely
told him to ride on up the Flat next morning, and take the first trail
that turned to the left. \x93The Muleshoe ranch is up there agin that pine
mountain,\x94 he explained. \x93Bring along your outfit. I guess we can take
care of a couple of horses, all right.\x94

That suited Bud very well, and he rode away thinking how lucky he was to
have taken the right fork in the road, that day. He had ridden straight
into a job, and while he was not very enthusiastic over the boss, the
other boys seemed all right, and the wages were a third more than he
had expected to get just at first. It was the first time, he reminded
himself, that he had been really tempted to locate, and he certainly had
struck it lucky.

He did not know that when he left the roundup his going had been
carefully noted, and that he was no sooner out of sight than Dirk Tracy
was riding cautiously on his trail. While he fed his horses the last bit
of grain he had, and cooked his supper over what promised to be his last
camp-fire, he did not dream that the man with the droopy mustache was
lying amongst the bushes on the other bank of the creek, watching every
move he made.

He meant to be up before daylight so that he could strike the ranch
of the Muleshoe outfit in time for breakfast, wherefore he went to bed
before the afterglow had left the mountain-tops around him. And being
young and carefree and healthfully weary, he was asleep and snoring
gently within five minutes of his last wriggle into his blankets. But
Dirk Tracy watched him for fully two hours before he decided that the
kid was not artfully pretending, but was really asleep and likely to
remain so for the night.

Dirk was an extremely cautious man, but he was also tired, and the cold
food he had eaten in place of a hot supper had not been satisfying to
his stomach. He crawled carefully out of the brush, stole up the creek
to where he had left his horse, and rode away.

He was not altogether sure that he had done his full duty to the
Muleshoe, but it was against human nature for a man nearing forty to
lie uncovered in the brush, and let a numerous family of mosquitoes feed
upon him while he listened to a young man snoring comfortably in a good
camp bed a hundred feet away.

Dirk, because his conscience was not quite clear, slept in the stable
that night and told his boss a lie next morning.



CHAPTER EIGHT: THE MULESHOE

The riders of the Muleshoe outfit were eating breakfast when Bud rode
past the long, low-roofed log cabin to the corral which stood nearest
the clutter of stables and sheds. He stopped there and waited to see if
his new boss was anywhere in sight and would come to tell him where to
unpack his belongings. A sandy complexioned young man with red eyelids
and no lashes presently emerged from the stable and came toward him,
his mouth sagging loosely open, his eye; vacuous. He was clad in faded
overalls turned up a foot at the bottom and showing frayed, shoddy
trousers beneath and rusty, run-down shoes that proved he was not a
rider. His hat was peppered with little holes, as if someone had fired a
charge of birdshot at him and had all but bagged him.

The youth\x92s eyes became fixed upon the guitar and mandolin cases roped
on top of Sunfish\x92s pack, and he pointed and gobbled something which had
the sound speech without being intelligible. Bud cocked an ear toward
him inquiringly, made nothing of the jumble and rode off to the cabin,
leading Sunfish after him. The fellow might or might not be the idiot he
looked, and he might or might not keep his hands off the pack. Bud was
not going to take any chance.

He heard sounds within the cabin, but no one appeared until he shouted,
\x93Hello!\x94 twice. The door opened then and Bart Nelson put out his head,
his jaws working over a mouthful of food that seemed tough.

\x93Oh, it\x92s you. C\x92m awn in an\x92 eat,\x94 he invited, and Bud dismounted,
never guessing that his slightest motion had been carefully observed
from the time he had forded the creek at the foot of the slope beyond
the cabin.

Bart introduced him to the men by the simple method of waving his hand
at the group around the table and saying, \x93Guess you know the boys.
What\x92d yuh say we could call yuh?\x94

\x93Bud--ah--Birnie,\x94 Bud answered, swiftly weighing the romantic idea of
using some makeshift name until he had made his fortune, and deciding
against it. A false name might mean future embarrassment, and he was so
far from home that his father would never hear of him anyway. But his
hesitation served to convince every man there that Birnie was not his
name, and that he probably had good cause for concealing his own. Adding
that to Dirk Tracy\x92s guess that he was from Jackson\x92s Hole, the sum
spelled outlaw.

The Muleshoe boys were careful not to seem curious about Bud\x92s past.
They even refrained from manifesting too much interest in the musical
instruments until Bud himself took them out of their cases that evening
and began tuning them. Then the half-baked, tongue-tied fellow came over
and gobbled at him eagerly.

\x93Hen wants yuh to play something,\x94 a man they called Day interpreted.
\x93Hen\x92s loco on music. If you can sing and play both, Hen\x92ll set and
listen till plumb daylight and never move an eyewinker.\x94

Bud looked up, smiled a little because Hen had no eyewinkers to move,
and suddenly felt pity because a man could be so altogether unlikeable
as Hen. Also because his mother\x92s face stood vividly before him for
an instant, leaving him with a queer tightening of the throat and
the feeling that he had been rebuked. He nodded to Hen, laid down the
mandolin and picked up the guitar, turned up the a string a bit, laid
a booted and spurred foot across the other knee, plucked a minor chord
sonorously and began abruptly:

\x93Yo\x92 kin talk about you coons a-havin\x92 trouble--Well, Ah think Ah have
enough-a of mah oh-own--\x94

Hen\x92s high-pointed Adam\x92s apple slipped up and down in one great gulp of
ecstasy. He eased slowly down upon the edge of the bunk beside Bud and
gazed at him fascinatedly, his lashless eyes never winking, his jaw
dropped so that his mouth hung half open. Day nudged Dirk Tracy, who
parted his droopy mustache and smiled his unlovely smile, lowering his
left eyelid unnecessarily at Bud. The dimple in Bud\x92s chin wrinkled as
he bent his head and plunked the interlude with a swing that set spurred
boots tapping the floor rhythmically.

\x93Bart, he\x92s went and hired a show-actor, looks like.\x94 Dirk confided
behind his hand to Shorty McGuire. \x93That\x92s real singin\x92, if yuh ask me!\x94

\x93Shut up!\x94 grunted Shorty, and prodded Dirk into silence so that he
would miss none of the song.

Since Buddy had left the pink-apron stage of his adventurous life behind
him, singing songs to please other people had been as much a part of his
life as riding and roping and eating and sleeping. He had always sung or
played or danced when he was asked to do so--accepting without question
his mother\x92s doctrine that it was unkind and ill-bred to refuse when he
really could do those things well, because on the cattle ranges indoor
amusements were few, and those who could furnish real entertainment were
fewer. Even at the University, coon songs and Irish songs and love songs
had been his portion; wherefore his repertoire seemed endless, and if
folks insisted upon it he could sing from dark to dawn, providing his
voice held out.

Hen sat with his big-jointed hands hanging loosely over his knees and
listened, stared at Bud and grinned vacuously when one song was done,
gulped his Adam\x92s apple and listened again as raptly to the next one.
The others forgot all about having fun watching Hen, and named old
favorites and new ones, heard them sung inimitably and called for more.
At midnight Bud blew on his blistered fingertips and shook the guitar
gently, bottom-side up.

\x93I guess that\x92s all the music there is in the darned thing to-night,\x94 he
lamented. \x93She\x92s made to keep time, and she always strikes, along about
midnight.\x94

\x93Huh-huh!\x94 chortled Hen convulsively, as if he understood the joke. He
closed his mouth and sighed deeply, as one who has just wakened from a
trance.

After that, Hen followed Bud around like a pet dog, and found time
between stable chores to groom those astonished horses, Stopper and
Smoky and Sunfish, as if they were stall-kept thoroughbreds. He had them
coming up to the pasture gate every day for the few handfuls of grain he
purloined for them, and their sleekness was a joy to behold.

\x93Hen, he\x92s adopted yuh, horses and all, looks like,\x94 Dirk observed one
day to Bud when they were riding together. And he tempered the statement
by adding that Hen was trusty enough, even if he didn\x92t have as much
sense as the law allows. \x93He sure is takin\x92 care of them cayuses of
your\x92n. D\x92you tell him to?\x94

Bud came out of a homesick revery and looked at him inquiringly. \x93No, I
didn\x92t tell him anything.\x94

\x93I believe that, all right,\x94 Dirk retorted. \x93You don\x92t go around tellin\x92
all yuh know. I like that in a feller. A man never got into trouble
yet by keepin\x92 his mouth shut; but there\x92s plenty that have talked
themselves into the pen. Me, I\x92ve got no use for a talker.\x94

Bud sent him a sidelong glance of inquiry, and Dirk caught him at it and
grinned.

\x93Yuh been here a month, and you ain\x92t said a damn word about where you
come from or anything further back than throwin\x92 and tyin\x92 that critter.
You said cow-country, and that has had to do some folks that might be
curious. Well, she\x92s a tearin\x92 big place--cow-country. She runs from
Canady to Mexico, and from the corn belt to the Pacific Ocean, mighty
near takes in Jackson\x92s Hole, and a lot uh country I know.\x94 He parted
his mustache and spat carefully into the sand. \x93I\x92m willin\x92 to tie to a
man, specially a young feller, that can play the game the way you been
playin\x92 it, Bud. Most always,\x94 he complained vaguely, \x93they carry
their brand too damn main. They either pull their hats down past their
eyebrows and give everybody the bad eye, or else they\x92re too damn ready
to lie about themselves. You throw in with the boys just fine--but you
ain\x92t told a one of \x91em where you come from, ner why, ner nothin\x92.\x94

\x93I\x92m here because I\x92m here,\x94 Bud chanted softly, his eyes stubborn even
while he smiled at Dirk.

\x93I know--yuh sung that the first night yuh come, and yuh looked straight
at the boss all the while you was singin\x92 it,\x94 Dirk interrupted, and
laughed slyly. \x93The boys, they took that all in, too. And Bart, he
wasn\x92t asleep, neither. You sure are smooth as they make \x91em, Bud. I
guess,\x94 he leaned closer to predict confidentially, \x93you\x92ve just about
passed the probation time, young feller. If I know the signs, the boss
is gittin\x92 ready to raise yuh.\x94

He looked at Bud rather sharply. Instantly the training of Buddy rose
within Bud. His memory flashed back unerringly to the day when he had
watched that Indian gallop toward the river, and had sneered because the
Indian evidently expected him to follow into the undergrowth.

Dirk Tracy did not in the least resemble an Indian, nor did his rambling
flattery bear any likeness to a fleeing enemy; yet it was plain enough
that he was trying in a bungling way to force Bud\x92s confidence, and for
that reason Bud stared straight ahead and said nothing.

He did not remember having sung that particular ditty during his first
evening at the Muleshoe, nor of staring at the boss while he sung. He
might have done both, he reflected; he had sung one song after another
for about four hours that night, and unless he sang with his eyes shut
he would have to look somewhere. That it should be taken by the
whole outfit as a broad hint to ask no questions seemed to him rather
farfetched.

Nor did he see why Dirk should compliment him on keeping his mouth
shut, or call him smooth. He did not know that he had been on probation,
except perhaps as that applied to his ability as a cow-hand. And he
could see no valid reason why the boss should contemplate \x93raising\x94 him.
So far, he had been doing no more than the rest of the boys, except
when there was roping to be done and he and Stopper were called upon
to distinguish themselves by fast rope-work, with never a miss. Sixty
dollars a month was as good pay as he had any right to expect.

Dirk, he decided, had given him one good tip which he would follow at
once. Dirk had said that no man ever got into trouble by keeping his
mouth shut. Bud closed his for a good half hour, and when he opened it
again he undid all the good he had accomplished by his silence.

\x93Where does that trail go, that climbs up over the mountains back of
that peak?\x94 he asked. \x93Seems to be a stock trail. Have you got grazing
land beyond the mountains?\x94

Dirk took time to pry off a fresh chew of tobacco before he replied.
\x93You mean Thunder Pass? That there crosses over into the Black Rim
country. Yeah--There\x92s a big wide range country over there, but we don\x92t
run any stock on it. Burroback Valley\x92s big enough for the Muleshoe.\x94

Bud rolled a cigarette. \x93I didn\x92t mean that main trail; that\x92s a wagon
road, and Thunder Pass cuts through between Sheepeater peak and this one
ahead of us--Gospel, you call it. What I referred to is that blind trail
that takes off up the canyon behind the corrals, and crosses into the
mountains the other side of Gospel.\x94

Dirk eyed him. \x93I dunno \x91s I could say, right offhand, what trail yuh
mean,\x94 he parried. \x93Every canyon \x91s got a trail that runs up a ways, and
there\x92s canyons all through the mountains; they all lead up to water, or
feed, or something like that, and then quit, most gen\x92rally; jest peter
out, like.\x94 And he added with heavy sarcasm, \x93A feller that\x92s lived
on the range oughta know what trails is for, and how they\x92re made.
Cowcritters are curious-same as humans.\x94

To this Bud did not reply. He was smoking and staring at the brushy
lower slopes of the mountain ridge before them. He had explained quite
fully which trail he meant. It was, as he had said, a \x93blind\x94 trail;
that is, the trail lost itself in the creek which watered a string of
corrals. Moreover, Bud had very keen eyes, and he had seen how a panel
of the corral directly across the shale-rock bed of a small stream was
really a set of bars. The round pole corral lent itself easily to hidden
gateways, without any deliberate attempt at disguising their presence.

The string of four corrals running from this upper one--which,
he remembered, was not seen from nearer the stables-was perhaps a
convenient arrangement in the handling of stock, although it was
unusual. The upper corral had been built to fit snugly into a rocky
recess in the base of the peak called Gospel. It was larger than some
of the others, since it followed the contour of the basin-like recess.
Access to it was had from the fourth corral (which from the ranch
appeared to be the last) and from the creekbed that filled the narrow
mouth of the canyon behind.

Dirk might not have understood him, Bud thought. He certainly should
have recognized at once the trail Bud meant, for there was no other
canyon back of the corrals, and even that one was not apparent to one
looking at the face of the steep slope. Stock had been over that canyon
trail within the last month or so, however; and Bud\x92s inference that the
Muleshoe must have grazing ground across the mountains was natural; the
obvious explanation of its existence.

\x93How \x91d you come to be explorin\x92 around Gospel, anyway?\x94 Dirk quizzed
finally. \x93A person\x92d think, short-handed as the Muleshoe is this spring,
\x91t you\x92d git all the ridin\x92 yuh want without prognosticatin\x92 around
aimless.\x94

Now Bud was not a suspicious young man, and he had been no more than
mildly inquisitive about that trail. But neither was he a fool; he
caught the emphasis which Dirk had placed on the word aimless, and his
thoughts paused and took another look at Dirk\x92s whole conversation.
There was something queer about it, something which made Bud sheer off
from his usual unthinking assurance that things were just what they
seemed.

Immediately, however, he laughed--at himself as well as at Dirk.

\x93We\x92ve been feeding on sour bread and warmed-over coffee ever since the
cook disappeared and Bart put Hen in the kitchen,\x94 he said. \x93If I were
you, Dirk, I wouldn\x92t blister my hands shovelling that grub into myself
for a while. You\x92re bilious, old-timer. No man on earth would talk the
way you\x92ve been talking to-day unless his whole digestive apparatus were
out of order.\x94

Dirk spat angrily at a dead sage bush. \x93They shore as hell wouldn\x92t talk
the kinda talk you\x92ve been talkie\x92 unless they was a born fool or else
huntin\x92 trouble,\x94 he retorted venomously.

\x93The doctor said I\x92d be that way if I lived,\x94 Bud grinned, amiably,
although his face had flushed at Dirk\x92s tone. \x93He said it wouldn\x92t hurt
me for work.\x94

\x93Yeah--and what kinda work?\x94 Dirk rode so close that his horse
shouldered Bud\x92s leg discomfortingly. \x93I been edgin\x92 yuh along to see
what-f\x92r brand yuh carried. And I\x92ve got ye now, you damned snoopin\x92
kioty. Bart, he hired yuh to work-and not to go prowling around lookin\x92
up trails that ain\x92t there--\x94

\x93You\x92re a dim-brand reader, I don\x92t think! Why you--!\x94

Oh, well--remember that Bud was only Buddy grown bigger, and he had
never lacked the spirit to look out for himself. Remember, too, that
he must have acquired something of a vocabulary, in the course
of twenty-one years of absorbing everything that came within his
experience.

Dirk reached for his gun, but Bud was expecting that. Dirk was not quite
quick enough, and his hand therefore came forward with a jerk when he
saw that he was \x93covered.\x94 Bud leaned, pulled Dirk\x92s six-shooter from
its holster and sent it spinning into a clump of bushes. He snatched a
wicked-looking knife from Dirk\x92s boot where he had once seen Dirk slip
it sheathed when he dressed in the bunk-house, and sent that after the
gun.

\x93Now, you long-eared walrus, you\x92re in a position to play fair. What are
you going to do about it?\x94 He reined away, out of Dirk\x92s reach, took his
handkerchief and wrapped his own gun tightly to protect it from sand,
and threw it after Dirk\x92s gun and the knife. \x93Am I a snooping coyote?\x94
 he demanded watching Dirk.

\x93You air. More \x91n all that, you\x92re a damned spy! And I kin lick yuh an\x92
lass\x92 yuh an\x92 lead yuh to Bart like a sheep!\x94

They dismounted, left their horses to stand with reins dropped, threw
off their coats and fought until they were too tired to land another
blow. There were no fatalities. Bud did not come out of the fray
unscathed and proudly conscious of his strength and his skill and the
unquestionable righteousness of his cause. Instead he had three bruised
knuckles and a rapidly swelling ear, and when his anger had cooled a
little he felt rather foolish and wondered what had started them off
that way. They had ridden away from the ranch in a very good humor, and
he had harbored no conscious dislike of Dirk Tracy, who had been one
individual of a type of rangemen which he had known all his life and had
accepted as a matter of course.

Dirk, on his part, had some trouble in stopping the bleeding of his
nose, and by the time he reached the ranch his left eye was closed
completely. He was taller and heavier than Bud, and he had not expected
such a slugging strength behind Bud\x92s blows.

He was badly shaken, and when Bud recovered the two guns and the knife
and returned his weapons to him, Dirk was half tempted to shoot. But he
did not--perhaps because Bud had unwrapped his own six-shooter and
was looking it over with the muzzle slanting a wicked eye in Dirk\x92s
direction.

Late that afternoon, when the boys were loafing around the cabin waiting
for their early supper, Bud packed his worldly goods on Sunfish and
departed from the Muleshoe--\x93by special request\x94, he admitted to
himself ruefully--with his wages in gold and silver in his pocket and no
definite idea of what he would do next.

He wished he knew exactly why Bart had fired him. He did not believe
that it was for fighting, as Bart had declared. He thought that perhaps
Dirk Tracy had some hold on the Muleshoe not apparent to the outsider,
and that he had lied about him to Bart as a sneaking kind of revenge
for being whipped. But that explanation did not altogether satisfy him,
either.

In his month at the Muleshoe he had gained a very fair general idea of
the extent and resources of Burroback Valley, but he had not made any
acquaintances and he did not know just where to go for his next job. So
for want of something better, he rode down to the little stream which he
now knew was called One Creek, and prepared to spend the night there.
In the morning he would make a fresh start--and because of the streak of
stubbornness he had, he meant to make it in Burroback Valley, under the
very nose of the Muleshoe outfit.



CHAPTER NINE: LITTLE LOST

Little Lost--somehow the name appealed to Bud, whose instinct for
harmony extended to words and phrases and, for that matter, to
everything in the world that was beautiful. From the time when he first
heard Little Lost mentioned, he had felt a vague regret that chance had
not led him there instead of to the Muleshoe. Brands he had heard all
his life as the familiar, colloquial names for ranch headquarters. The
Muleshoe was merely a brand name. Little Lost was something else,
and because Buddy had been taught to \x93wait and find out\x94 and to ask
questions only as a last resort, Bud was still in ignorance of the
meaning of Little Lost. He knew, from careless remarks made in his
presence, that the mail came to Little Lost, and that there was some
sort of store where certain everyday necessities were kept, for which
the store-keeper charged \x93two prices.\x94 But there was also a ranch, for
he sometimes heard the boys mention the Little Lost cattle, and speak of
some man as a rider for the Little Lost.

So to Little Lost Bud rode blithely next morning, riding Stopper and
leading Smoky, Sunfish and the pack following as a matter of course.
Again his trained instinct served him faithfully. He had a very good
general idea of Burroback Valley, he knew that the Muleshoe occupied a
fair part of the south side, and guessed that he must ride north, toward
the Gold Gap Mountains, to find the place he wanted.

The trail was easy, his horses were as fat as was good for them. In
two hours of riding at his usual trail pace he came upon another stream
which he knew must be Sunk Creek grown a little wider and deeper in its
journey down the valley. He forded that with a great splashing, climbed
the farther bank, followed a stubby, rocky bit of road that wound
through dense willow and cottonwood growth, came out into a humpy meadow
full of ant hills, gopher holes and soggy wet places where the water
grass grew, crossed that and followed the road around a brushy ridge and
found himself squarely confronting Little Lost.

There could be no mistake, for \x93Little Lost Post Office\x94 was unevenly
painted on the high cross-bar of the gate that stood wide open and
permanently warped with long sagging. There was a hitch-rail outside the
gate, and Bud took the hint and left his horses there. From the wisps
of fresh hay strewn along the road, Bud knew that haying had begun at
Little Lost. There were at least four cabins and a somewhat pretentious,
story-and-a-half log house with vines reaching vainly to the high window
sills, and coarse lace curtains. One of these curtains moved slightly,
and Bud\x92s sharp eyes detected the movement and knew that his arrival was
observed in spite of the emptiness of the yard.

The beaten path led to a screen door which sagged with much slamming,
leaving a wide space at the top through which flies passed in and out
quite comfortably. Bud saw that, also, and his fingers itched to reset
that door, just as he would have done for his mother--supposing his
mother would have tolerated the slamming which had brought the need. Bud
lifted his gloved knuckles to knock, saw that the room within was
grimy and bare and meant for public use, very much like the office of a
country hotel, with a counter and a set of pigeon-holes at the farther
end. He walked in.

No one appeared, and after ten minutes or so Bud guessed why, and went
back to the door, pushed it wide open and permitted it to fly shut with
a bang. Whereupon a girl opened the door behind the counter and came in,
glancing at Bud with frank curiosity.

Bud took off his hat and clanked over to the counter and asked if there
was any mail for Bud Birnie--Robert Wallace Birnie.

The girl looked at him again and smiled, and turned to shuffle a handful
of letters. Bud employed the time in trying to guess just what she meant
by that smile.

It was not really a smile, he decided, but the beginning of one. And if
that were the beginning, he would very much like to know what the whole
smile would mean. The beginning hinted at things. It was as if she
doubted the reality of the name he gave, and meant to conceal her doubt,
or had heard something amusing about him, or wished to be friends with
him, or was secretly timorous and trying to appear merely indifferent.
Or perhaps----

She replaced the letters and turned, and rested her hands on the
counter. She looked at him and again her lips turned at the corners in
that faint, enigmatical beginning of a smile.

\x93There isn\x92t a thing,\x94 she said. \x93The mail comes this noon again. Do you
want yours sent out to any of the outfits? Or shall I just hold it?\x94

\x93Just hold it, when there is any. At least, until I see whether I land a
job here. I wonder where I could find the boss?\x94 Bud was glancing often
at her hands. For a ranch girl her hands were soft and white, but her
fingers were a bit too stubby and her nails were too round and flat.

\x93Uncle Dave will be home at noon. He\x92s out in the meadow with the boys.
You might sit down and wait.\x94

Bud looked at his watch. Sitting down and waiting for four hours did not
appeal to him, even supposing the girl would keep him company. But he
lingered awhile, leaning with his elbows on the counter near her; and by
those obscure little conversational trails known to youth, he progressed
considerably in his acquaintance with the girl and made her smile often
without once feeling quite certain that he knew what was in her mind.

He discovered that her name was Honora Krause, and that she was called
Honey \x93for short.\x94 Her father had been Dutch and her mother a Yankee,
and she lived with her uncle, Dave Truman, who owned Little Lost ranch,
and took care of the mail for him, and attended to the store--which
was nothing more than a supply depot kept for the accommodation of the
neighbors. The store, she said, was in the next room.

Bud asked her what Little Lost meant, and she replied that she did not
know, but that it might have something to do with Sunk Creek losing
itself in The Sinks. There was a Little Lost river, farther across the
mountains, she said, but it did not run through Little Lost ranch, nor
come anywhere near it.

After that she questioned him adroitly. Perversely Bud declined to
become confidential, and Honey Krause changed the subject abruptly.

\x93There\x92s going to be a dance here next Friday night. It\x92ll be a good
chance to get acquainted with everybody--if you go. There\x92ll be good
music, I guess. Uncle Dave wrote to Crater for the Saunders boys to come
down and play. Do you know anybody in Crater?\x94

The question was innocent enough, but perverseness still held Bud. He
smiled and said he did not know anybody anywhere, any more. He said that
if Bobbie Burns had asked him \x93Should auld acquaintance be forgot,\x94 he\x92d
have told him yes, and he\x92d have made it good and strong. But he added
that he was just as willing to make new acquaintance, and thought the
dance would be a good place to begin.

Honey gave him a provocative glance from under her lashes, and Bud
straightened and stepped back.

\x93You let folks stop here, I take it. I\x92ve a pack outfit and a couple of
saddle horses with me. Will it be all right to turn them in the corral?
I hate to have them eat post hay all day. Or I could perhaps go back to
the creek and camp.\x94

\x93Oh, just turn your horses in the corral and make yourself at home till
uncle comes,\x94 she told him with that tantalizing half-smile. \x93We keep
people here--just for accommodation. There has to be some place in the
valley where folks can stop. I can\x92t promise that uncle will give you a
job, but There\x92s going to be chicken and dumplings for dinner. And the
mail will be in, about noon--you\x92ll want to wait for that.\x94

She was standing just within the screen door, frankly watching him as
he came past the house with the horses, and she came out and halted him
when she spied the top of the pack.

\x93You\x92d better leave those things here,\x94 she advised him eagerly. \x93I\x92ll
put them in the sitting-room by the piano. My goodness, you must be a
whole orchestra! If you can play, maybe you and I can furnish the music
for the dance, and save Uncle Dave hiring the Saunders boys. Anyway, we
can play together, and have real good times.\x94

Bud had an odd feeling that Honey was talking one thing with her lips,
and thinking an entirely different set of thoughts. He eyed her covertly
while he untied the cases, and he could have sworn that he saw her
signal someone behind the lace curtains of the nearest window. He
glanced carelessly that way, but the curtains were motionless. Honey was
holding out her hands for the guitar and the mandolin when he turned, so
Bud surrendered them and went on to the corrals.

He did not return to the house. An old man was pottering around a
machine shed that stood backed against a thick fringe of brush, and when
Bud rode by he left his work and came after him, taking short steps and
walking with his back bent stiffly forward and his hands swinging limply
at his sides.

He had a long black beard streaked with gray, and sharp blue eyes set
deep under tufted white eyebrows. He seemed a friendly old man whose
interest in life remained keen as in his youth, despite the feebleness
of his body. He showed Bud where to turn the horses, and went to work
on the pack rope, his crooked old fingers moving with the sureness of
lifelong habit. He was eager to know all the news that Bud could tell
him, and when he discovered that Bud had just left the Muleshoe, and
that he had been fired because of a fight with Dirk Tracy, the old
fellow cackled gleefully,

\x93Well, now, I guess you just about had yore hands full, young man,\x94 he
commented shrewdly. \x93Dirk ain\x92t so easy to lick.\x94

Bud immediately wanted to know why it was taken for granted that he had
whipped Dirk, and grandpa chortled again. \x93Now if you hadn\x92t of licked
Dirk, you wouldn\x92t of got fired,\x94 he retorted, and proceeded to relate
a good deal of harmless gossip which seemed to bear out the statement.
Dirk Tracy, according to grandpa, was the real boss of the Muleshoe, and
Bart was merely a figure-head.

All of this did not matter to Bud, but grandpa was garrulous. A good
deal of information Bud received while the two attended to the horses
and loitered at the corral gate.

Grandpa admired Smoky, and looked him over carefully, with those
caressing smoothings of mane and forelock which betray the lover of good
horseflesh.

\x93I reckon he\x92s purty fast,\x94 he said, peering shrewdly into Bud\x92s face.
\x93The boys has been talking about pulling off some horse races here next
Sunday--we got a good, straight, hard-packed creek-bed up here a piece
that has been cleaned of rocks fer a mile track, and they\x92re goin\x92 to
run a horse er two. Most generally they do, on Sunday, if work\x92s slack.
You might git in on it, if you\x92re around in these parts.\x94 He pushed his
back straight with his palms, turned his head sidewise and squinted at
Smoky through half-closed lids while he fumbled for cigarette material.

\x93I dunno but what I might be willin\x92 to put up a few dollars on that
horse myself,\x94 he observed, \x93if you say he kin run. You wouldn\x92t go an\x92
lie to an old feller like me, would yuh, son?\x94

Bud offered him the cigarette he had just rolled. \x93No, I won\x92t lie to
you, dad,\x94 he grinned. \x93You know horses too well.\x94

\x93Well, but kin he run? I want yore word on it.\x94

\x93Well-yes, he\x92s always been able to turn a cow,\x94 Bud admitted
cautiously.

\x93Ever run him fer money?\x94 The old man began teetering from his toes to
his heels, and to hitch his shoulders forward and back.

\x93Well, no, not for money. I\x92ve run him once or twice for fun, just
trying to beat some of the boys to camp, maybe.\x94

\x93Sho! That\x92s no way to do! No way at all!\x94 The old man spat angrily
into the dust of the corral. Then he thought of something. \x93Did yuh BEAT
\x91em?\x94 he demanded sharply.

\x93Why, sure, I beat them!\x94 Bud looked at him surprised, seemed about to
say more, and let the statement stand unqualified.

Grandpa stared at him for a minute, his blue eyes blinking with some
secret excitement. \x93Young feller,\x94 he began abruptly, \x93lemme tell yuh
something. Yuh never want to do a thing like that agin. If you got a
horse that can outrun the other feller\x92s horse, figure to make him bring
yuh in something--if it ain\x92t no more\x92n a quarter! Make him BRING yuh a
little something. That\x92s the way to do with everything yuh turn a hand
to; make it bring yuh in something! It ain\x92t what goes out that\x92ll do
yuh any good--it\x92s what comes in. You mind that. If you let a horse run
agin\x92 another feller\x92s horse, bet on him to come in ahead--and then,\x94
 he cried fiercely, pounding one fist into the other palm, \x93by Christmas,
make \x91im come in ahead!\x94 His voice cracked and went flat with emotion.

He stopped suddenly and let his arms fall slack, his shoulders sag
forward. He waggled his head and muttered into his beard, and glanced at
Bud with a crafty look.

\x93If I\x92da took that to m\x92self, I wouldn\x92t be chorin\x92 around here now for
my own son,\x94 he lamented. \x93I\x92d of saved the quarters, an\x92 I\x92d of had a
few dollars now of my own. Uh course,\x94 he made haste to add, \x93I git holt
of a little, now and agin. Too old to ride--too old to work--jest manage
to pick up a dollar er two now and agin--on a horse that kin run.\x94

He went over to Smoky again and ran his hand down over the leg muscles
to the hocks, felt for imperfections and straightened painfully, slapped
the horse approvingly between the forelegs and laid a hand on his
shoulder while he turned slowly to Bud.

\x93Young feller, there ain\x92t a man on the place right now but you an\x92
me. What say you throw yore saddle on this horse and take \x91im up to the
track? I\x92d like to see him run. Seems to me he\x92d ought to be a purty
good quarter-horse.\x94

Bud hesitated. \x93I wouldn\x92t mind running him, grandpa, if I thought I
could make something on him. I\x92ve got my stake to make, and I want to
make it before all my teeth fall out so I can\x92t chew anything but the
cud of reflection on my lost opportunities. If Smoky can run a few
dollars into my pocket, I\x92m with you.\x94

Grandpa teetered forward and put out his hand. \x93Shake on that, boy!\x94 he
cackled. \x93Pop Truman ain\x92t too old to have his little joke--and make it
bring him in something, by Christmas! You saddle up and we\x92ll go try him
out on a quarter-mile--mebby a half, if he holds up good.\x94

He poked a cigarette-stained forefinger against Bud\x92s chest and
whispered slyly: \x93My son Dave, he \x91s got a horse in the stable that\x92s
been cleanin\x92 everything in the valley. I\x92ll slip him out and up the
creektrail to the track, and you run that horse of yourn agin him. Dave,
he can\x92t git a race outa nobody around here, no more, so he won\x92t run
next Sunday. We\x92ll jest see how yore horse runs alongside Boise. I
kin tell purty well how you kin run agin the rest--Pop, he ain\x92t s\x92
thick-headed they kin fool him much. What say we try it?\x94

Bud stood back and looked him over. \x93You shook hands with me on it,\x94 he
said gravely. \x93Where I came from, that holds a man like taking oath on
a Bible in court. I\x92m a stranger here, but I\x92m going to expect the same
standard of honor, grandpa. You can back out now, and I\x92ll run Smoky
without any tryout, and you can take your chance. I couldn\x92t expect you
to stand by a stranger against your own folks--\x94

\x93Sho! Shucks a\x92mighty!\x94 Grandpa spat and wagged his head furiously. \x93My
own forks\x92d beat me in a horse race if they could, and I wouldn\x92t hold
it agin \x91em! Runnin\x92 horses is like playin\x92 poker. Every feller fer
himself an\x92 mercy to-ward none! I knowed what it meant when I shook with
yuh, young feller, and I hold ye to it. I hold ye to it! You lay low if
I tell ye to lay low, and we\x92ll make us a few dollars, mebby. C\x92m on and
git that horse outa here b\x92fore somebuddy comes. It\x92s mail day.\x94

He waved Bud toward his saddle and took himself off in a shuffling kind
of trot. By the time Bud had saddled Smoky grandpa hailed him cautiously
from the brush-fringe beyond the corral. He motioned toward a small gate
and Bud led Smoky that way, closing the gate after him.

The old man was mounted on a clean-built bay whose coat shone with
little glints of gold in the dark red. With one sweeping look Bud
observed the points that told of speed, and his eyes went inquiringly to
meet the sharp blue ones, that sparkled under the tufted white eyebrows
of grandpa.

\x93Do you expect Smoky to show up the same day that horse arrives?\x94 he
inquired mildly. \x93Pop, you\x92ll have to prove to me that he won\x92t run
Sunday--\x94

Pop snorted. \x93Seems to me like you do know a speedy horse when you see
one, young feller. Beats me\x92t you been overlookin\x92 what you got under
yore saddle right now. Boise, he\x92s the best runnin\x92 horse in the
valley--and that\x92s why he won\x92t run next Sunday, ner no other Sunday
till somebuddy brings in a strange horse to put agin him. Dave, he won\x92t
crowd ye fur a race, boy. You kin refuse to run yore horse agin him,
like the rest has done. I\x92ll jest lope along t\x92day and see what yours
kin do.\x94

\x93Well, all right, then.\x94 Bud waited for the old man to ride ahead down
the obscure trail that wound through the brush for half a mile or so
before they emerged into the rough border of the creek bed. Pop reined
in close and explained garrulously to Bud how this particular stream
disappeared into the ground two miles above Little Lost, leaving the
wide, level river bottom bone dry.

Pop was cautious. He rode up to a rise of ground and scanned the country
suspiciously before he led the way into the creek bed. Even then he kept
close under the bank until they had passed two of the quarter-mile posts
that had been planted in the hard sand.

Evidently he had been doing a good deal of thinking during the ride;
certainly he had watched Smoky. When he stopped under the bank opposite
the half-mile post he dismounted more spryly than one would have
expected. His eyes were bright, his voice sharp. Pop was forgetting his
age.

\x93I guess I\x92ll ride yore horse m\x92self,\x94 he announced, and they exchanged
horses under the shelter of the bank. \x93You kin take an\x92 ride Boise-an\x92
I want you should beat me if you kin.\x94 He looked at Bud appraisingly.
\x93I\x92ll bet a dollar,\x94 he cried suddenly, \x93that I kin outrun ye, young
feller! An\x92 you got the fastest horse in Burroback Valley and I don\x92t
know what I got under me. I\x92m seventy years old come September--when I\x92m
afoot. Are ye afraid to bet?\x94

\x93I\x92m scared a dollar\x92s worth that I\x92ll never see you again to-day unless
I ride back to find you,\x94 Bud grinned.

\x93Any time you lose ole Pop Truman--shucks almighty! Come on, then--I\x92ll
show ye the way to the quarter-post!\x94

\x93I\x92m right with you, Pop. You say so, and I\x92m gone!\x94

They reined in with the shadow of the post falling square across the
necks of both horses. Pop gathered up the reins, set his feet in the
stirrups and shrilled, \x93Go, gol darn ye!\x94

They went, like two scared rabbits down the smooth, yellow stretch of
packed sand. Pop\x92s elbows stuck straight out, he held the reins high
and leaned far over Smoky\x92s neck, his eyes glaring. Bud--oh, never worry
about Bud! In the years that lay between thirteen and twenty-one Bud
had learned a good many things, and one of them was how to get out of a
horse all the speed there was in him.

They went past the quarter-post and a furlong beyond before either could
pull up. Pop was pale and triumphant, and breathing harder than his
mount.

\x93Here \x91s your dollar, Pop--and don\x92t you talk in your sleep!\x94 Bud
admonished, smiling as he held out the dollar, but with an anxious
tone in his voice. \x93If this is the best running horse you\x92ve got in the
valley, I may get some action, next Sunday!\x94

Pop dismounted, took the dollar with a grin and mounted Boise--and that
in spite of the fact that Boise was keyed up and stepping around and
snorting for another race. Bud watched Pop queerly, remembering how
feeble had been the old man whom he had met at the corral.

\x93Say, Pop, you ought to race a little every day,\x94 he bantered. \x93You\x92re
fifteen years younger than you were an hour ago.\x94

For answer Pop felt of his back and groaned. \x93Oh, I\x92ll pay fer it, young
feller! I don\x92t look fer much peace with my back fer a week, after this.
But you kin make sure of one thing, and that is, I ain\x92t goin\x92 to talk
in my sleep none. By Christmas, We\x92ll make this horse of yours bring
us in something! I guess you better turn yore horses all out in the
pasture. Dave, he\x92ll give yuh work all right. I\x92ll fix it with Dave.
And you listen to Pop, young feller. I\x92ll show ye a thing or two
about runnin\x92 horses. You\x92n me\x92ll clean up a nice little bunch of
money-HE-HE!-beat Boise in a quarter dash! Tell that to Dave, an\x92 he
wouldn\x92t b\x92lieve ye!\x94

When Pop got off at the back of the stable he could scarcely move,
he was so stiff. But his mind was working well enough to see that Bud
rubbed the saddle print off Boise and turned his own horses loose in the
pasture, before he let him go on to the house. The last Bud heard from
Pop that forenoon was a senile chuckle and a cackling, \x93Outrun Boise
in a quarter dash! Shucks a\x92mighty! But I knew it--I knew he had the
speed--sho! Ye can\x92t fool ole Pop--shucks!\x94



CHAPTER TEN: BUD MEETS THE WOMAN

A woman was stooping at the woodpile, filling her arms with crooked
sticks of rough-barked sage. From the color of her hair Bud knew that
she was not Honey, and that she was therefore a stranger to him. But he
swung off the path and went over to her as naturally as he would go to
pick up a baby that had fallen.

\x93I\x92ll carry that in for you,\x94 he said, and put out his hand to help her
to her feet.

Before he touched her she was on her feet and looking at him. Bud could
not remember afterwards that she had done anything else; he seemed to
have seen only her eyes, and into them and beyond them to a soul that
somehow made his heart tremble.

What she said, what he answered, was of no moment. He could not have
told afterwards what it was. He stooped and filled his arms with wood,
and walked ahead of her up the pathway to the kitchen door, and stopped
when she flitted past him to show him where the wood-box stood. He was
conscious then of her slenderness and of the lightness of her steps.
He dropped the wood into the box behind the stove on which kettles
were steaming. There was the smell of chicken stewing, and the odor of
fresh-baked pies.

She smiled up at him and offered him a crisp, warn cookie with sugared
top, and he saw her eyes again and felt the same tremor at his heart.
He pulled himself together and smiled back at her, thanked her and went
out, stumbling a little on the doorstep, the cookie untasted in his
fingers.

He walked down to the corral and began fumbling at his pack, his
thoughts hushed before the revelation that had come to him.

\x93Her hands--her poor, little, red hands!\x94 he said in a whisper as the
memory of them came suddenly. But it was her eyes that he was seeing
with his mind; her eyes, and what lay deep within. They troubled him,
shook him, made him want to use his man-strength against something that
was hurting her. He did not know what it could be; he did not know that
there was anything--but oddly the memory of his mother\x92s white face back
in the long ago, and of her tone when she said, \x93Oh, God, please!\x94 came
back and fitted themselves to the look in this woman\x92s eyes.

Bud sat down on his canvas-wrapped bed and lifted his hat to rumple his
hair and then smooth it again, as was his habit when worried. He looked
at the cookie, and because he was hungry he ate it with a foolish
feeling that he was being sentimental as the very devil, thinking how
her hands had touched it. He rolled and smoked a cigarette afterwards,
and wondered who she was and whether she was married, and what her first
name was.

A quiet smoke will bring a fellow to his senses sometimes when
nothing else will, and Bud managed, by smoking two cigarettes in rapid
succession, to restore himself to some degree of sanity.

\x93Funny how she made me think of mother, back when I was a kid coming up
from Texas,\x94 he mused. \x93Mother\x92d like her.\x94 It was the first time he had
ever thought just that about a girl. \x93She\x92s no relation to Honey,\x94 he
added. \x93I\x92d bet a horse on that.\x94 He recalled how white and soft were
Honey\x92s hands, and he swore a little. \x93Wouldn\x92t hurt her to get out
there in the kitchen and help with the cooking,\x94 he criticised. Then
suddenly he laughed. \x93Shucks a\x92mighty, as Pop says! with those two girls
on the ranch I\x92ll gamble Dave Truman has a full crew of men that are
plumb willing to work for their board!\x94

The stage came, and Bud turned to it relievedly. After that, here came
Dave Truman on a deep-cheated roan. Bud knew him by his resemblance to
the old man, who came shuffling bent-backed from the machine-shed as
Dave passed.

Pop beckoned, and Dave reined his horse that way and stopped at the shed
door. The two talked for a minute and Dave rode on, passing Bud with a
curt nod. Pop came over to where Bud stood leaning against the corral.

\x93How are you feeling, dad?\x94 Bud grinned absently.

\x93Purty stiff an\x92 sore, boy--my rheumatics is bad to-day.\x94 Pop winked
solemnly. \x93I spoke to Dave about you wantin\x92 a job, and I guess likely
Dave\x92ll put you on. They\x92s plenty to do--hayin\x92 comin\x92 on and all that.\x94
 He lowered his voice mysteriously, though there was no man save Bud
within a hundred feet of him. \x93Don\x92t ye go \x91n talk horses--not yet.
Don\x92t let on like yore interested much. I\x92ll tell yuh when to take \x91em
up.\x94

The men came riding in from the hayfield, some in wagons, two astride
harnessed work-horses, and one long-legged fellow in chaps on a mower,
driving a sweaty team that still had life enough to jump sidewise when
they spied Bud\x92s pack by the corral. The stage driver sauntered up and
spoke to the men. Bud went over and began to help unhitch the team from
the mower, and the driver eyed him sharply while he grinned his greeting
across the backs of the horses.

\x93Pop says you\x92re looking for work,\x94 Dave Truman observed, coming up.
\x93Well, if you ain\x92t scared of it, I\x92ll stake yuh to a hayfork after
dinner. Where yuh from?\x94

\x93Just right now, I\x92m from the Muleshoe. Bud Birnie\x92s my name. I was
telling dad why I quit.\x94

\x93Tell me,\x94 Dave directed briefly. \x93Pop ain\x92t as reliable as he used to
be. He\x92d never get it out straight.\x94

\x93I quit,\x94 said Bud, \x93by special request.\x94 He pulled off his gloves
carefully and held up his puffed knuckles. \x93I got that on Dirk Tracy.\x94

The driver of the mower shot a quick, meaning glance at Dave, and
laughed shortly. Dave grinned a little, but he did not ask what had been
the trouble, as Bud had half expected him to do. Apparently Dave felt
that he had received all the information he needed, for his next remark
had to do with the heat. The day was a \x93weather breeder\x94, he declared,
and he was glad to have another man to put at the hauling.

An iron triangle beside the kitchen door clamored then, and Bud, looking
quickly, saw the slim little woman with the big, troubled eyes striking
the iron bar vigorously. Dave glanced at his watch and led the way to
the house, the hay crew hurrying after him.

Fourteen men sat down to a long table with a great shuffling of feet and
scraping of benches, and immediately began a voracious attack upon the
heaped platters of chicken and dumplings and the bowls of vegetables.
Bud found a place at the end where he could look into the kitchen,
and his eyes went that way as often as they dared, following the swift
motions of the little woman who poured coffee and filled empty dishes
and said never a word to anyone.

He was on the point of believing her a daughter of the house when a
square-jawed man of thirty, or thereabout, who sat at Bud\x92s right hand,
called her to him as he might have called his dog, by snapping his
fingers.

She came and stood beside Bud while the man spoke to her in an arrogant
undertone.

\x93Marian, I told yuh I wanted tea for dinner after this. D\x92you bring me
coffee on purpose, just to be onery? I thought I told yuh to straighten
up and quit that sulkin\x92. I ain\x92t going to have folks think----\x94

\x93Oh, be quiet! Shame on you, before everyone!\x94 she whispered fiercely
while she lifted the cup and saucer.

Bud went hot all over. He did not look up when she returned presently
with a cup of tea, but he felt her presence poignantly, as he had never
before sensed the presence of a woman. When he was able to swallow his
wrath and meet calmly the glances of these strangers he turned his head
casually and looked the man over.

Her husband, he guessed the fellow to be. No other relationship could
account for that tone of proprietorship, and there was no physical
resemblance between the two. A mean devil, Bud called him mentally,
with a narrow forehead, eyes set too far apart and the mouth of a brute.
Someone spoke to the man, calling him Lew, and he answered with rough
good humor, repeating a stale witticism and laughing at it just as
though he had not heard others say it a hundred times.

Bud looked at him again and hated him, but he did not glance again at
the little woman named Marian; for his own peace of mind he did not
dare. He thought that he knew now what it was he had seen in the depth
of her eyes, but there seemed to be nothing that he could do to help.

That evening after supper Honey Krause called to him when he was
starting down to the bunk-house with the other men. What she said
was that she still had his guitar and mandolin, and that they needed
exercise. What she looked was the challenge of a born coquette. In the
kitchen dishes were rattling, but after they were washed there would be
a little leisure, perhaps, for the kitchen drudge. Bud\x92s impulse to make
his sore hands an excuse for refusing evaporated. It might not be wise
to place himself deliberately in the way of getting a hurt--but youth
never did stop to consult a sage before following the lure of a woman\x92s
eyes.

He called back to Honey that those instruments ought to have been put in
the hayfield, where there was more exercise than the men could use. \x93You
boys ought to come and see me safe through with it,\x94 he added to the
loitering group around him. \x93I\x92m afraid of women.\x94

They laughed and two or three went with him. Lew went on to the corral
and presently appeared on horseback, riding up to the kitchen and
leaving his horse standing at the corner while he went inside and talked
to the woman he had called Marian.

Bud was carrying his guitar outside, where it was cooler, when he heard
the fellow\x92s arrogant voice. The dishes ceased rattling for a
minute, and there was a sharp exclamation, stifled but unmistakable.
Involuntarily Bud made a movement in that direction, when Honey\x92s voice
stopped him with a subdued laugh.

\x93That\x92s only Lew and Mary Ann,\x94 she explained carelessly. \x93They have a
spat every time they come within gunshot of each other.\x94

The lean fellow who had driven the mower, and whose name was Jerry
Myers, edged carelessly close to Bud and gave him a nudge with his
elbow, and a glance from under his eyebrows by way of emphasis. He
turned his head slightly, saw that Honey had gone into the house, and
muttered just above a whisper, \x93Don\x92t see or hear anything. It\x92s all the
help you can give her. And for Lord\x92s sake don\x92t let on to Honey like
you--give a cuss whether it rains or not, so long \x91s it don\x92t pour too
hard the night of the dance.\x94

Bud looked up at the darkening sky speculatively, and tried not to hear
the voices in the kitchen, one of which was brutally harsh while the
other told of hate and fear suppressed under gentle forbearance. The
harsh voice was almost continuous, the other infrequent, reluctant to
speak at all. Bud wanted to go in and smash his guitar over the fellow\x92s
head, but Jerry\x92s warning held him. There were other ways, however, to
help; if he must not drive off the tormentor, then he would call him
away. He ignored his bruised knuckles and plucked the guitar strings as
if he held a grudge against them, and then began to sing the first song
that came into his mind--one that started in a rollicky fashion.

Men came straggling up from the bunk-house before he had finished the
first chorus, and squatted on their heels to listen, their cigarettes
glowing like red fingertips in the dusk. But the voice in the kitchen
talked on. Bud tried another--one of those old-time favorites, a
\x93laughing coon\x94 song, though he felt little enough in the mood for it.
In the middle of the first laugh he heard the kitchen door slam, and
Lew\x92s footsteps coming around the corner. He listened until the song
was done, then mounted and rode away, Bud\x92s laugh following him
triumphantly--though Lew could not have guessed its meaning.

Bud sang for two hours expectantly, but Marian did not appear, and Bud
went off to the bunk-house feeling that his attempt to hearten her had
been a failure. Of Honey he did not think at all, except to wonder if
the two women were related in any way, and to feel that if they were
Marian was to be pitied. At that point Jerry overtook him and asked for
a match, which gave him an excuse to hold Bud behind the others.

\x93Honey like to have caught me, to-night,\x94 Jerry observed guardedly.
\x93I had to think quick. I\x92ll tell you the lay of the land, Bud, seeing
you\x92re a stranger here. Marian\x92s man, Lew, he\x92s a damned bully and
somebody is going to draw a fine bead on him some day when he ain\x92t
looking. But he stands in, so the less yuh take notice the better.
Marian, she\x92s a fine little woman that minds her own business, but she\x92s
getting a cold deck slipped into the game right along. Honey\x92s jealous
of her and afraid somebody\x92ll give her a pleasant look. Lew\x92s jealous,
and he watches her like a cat watches a mouse it\x92s caught and wants to
play with. Between the two of \x91em Marian has a real nice time of it. I\x92m
wising you up so you won\x92t hand her any more misery by trying to take
her part. Us boys have learned to keep our mouths shut.\x94

\x93Glad you told me,\x94 Bud muttered. \x93Otherwise----\x94

\x93Exactly,\x94 Jerry agreed understandingly. \x93Otherwise any of us would.\x94

He stopped and then spoke in a different tone. \x93If Lew stays off the
ranch long enough, maybe you\x92ll get to hear her sing. Wow-ee, but that
lady has sure got the meadow-larks whipped! But look out for Honey,
old-timer.\x94

Bud laughed unmirthfully. \x93Looks to me as if you aren\x92t crazy over
Honey,\x94 he ventured. \x93What has she done to you?\x94

\x93Her?\x94 Jerry inspected his cigarette, listened to the whisper of
prudence in his ear, and turned away. \x93Forget it. I never said a word.\x94
 He swept the whole subject from him with a comprehensive gesture, and
snorted. \x93I\x92m gettin\x92 as bad as Pop,\x94 he grinned. \x93But lemme tell yuh
something. Honey Krause runs more \x91n the post-office.\x94



CHAPTER ELEVEN: GUILE AGAINST THE WILY

Bud liked to have his life run along accustomed lines with a more or
less perfect balance of work and play, friendships and enmities. He
had grown up with the belief that any mystery is merely a synonym for
menace. He had learned to be wary of known enemies such as Indians
and outlaws, and to trust implicitly his friends. To feel now, without
apparent cause, that his friends might be enemies in disguise, was a new
experience that harried him.

He had come to Little Lost on Tuesday, straight from the Muleshoe
where his presence was no longer desired for some reason not yet
satisfactorily explained to him. You know what happened on Tuesday. That
night the land crouched under a terrific electric storm, with crackling
swords of white death dazzling from inky black clouds, and ear-splitting
thunder close on the heels of it. Bud had known such storms all his
life, yet on this night he was uneasy, vaguely disturbed. He caught
himself wondering if Lew Morris\x92s wife was frightened, and the
realization that he was worrying about her fear worried him more than
ever and held him awake long after the fury of the storm had passed.

Next day, when he came in at noon, there was Hen, from the Muleshoe,
waiting for dinner before he rode back with the mail. Hen\x92s jaw dropped
when he saw Bud riding on a Little Lost hay-wagon, and his eyes bulged
with what Bud believed was consternation. All through the meal Bud had
caught Hen eyeing him miserably, and looking stealthily from him to the
others. No one paid any attention, and for that Bud was rather thankful;
he did not want the Little Lost fellows to think that perhaps he had
done something which he knew would hang him if it were discovered,
which, he decided, was the mildest interpretation a keen observer would
be apt to make of Hen\x92s behavior.

When he went out, Hen was at his heels, trying to say something in his
futile, tongue-tied gobble. Bud stopped and looked at him tolerantly.
\x93Hen, It\x92s no use--you might as well be talking Chinese, for all I
know. If it\x92s important, write it down or I\x92ll never know what\x92s on your
mind.\x94

He pulled a note-book and a pencil from his vest-pocket and gave them
to Hen, who looked at him dumbly, worked his Adam\x92s apple violently and
retreated to his horse, fumbled the mail which was tied in the bottom of
a flour sack for safe keeping, sought a sheltered place where he could
sit down, remained there a few minutes, and then returned to his horse
He beckoned to Bud, who was watching him curiously; and when Bud went
over to him said something unintelligible and handed back the note-book,
motioning for caution when Bud would have opened the book at once.

So Bud thanked him gravely, but with a twinkle in his eyes, and waited
until Hen had gone and he was alone before he read the message. It was
mysterious enough, certainly. Hen had written in a fine, cramped, uneven
hand:

\x93You bee carful. bern this up and dent let on like you no anything but
i warn you be shure bern this up.\x94

Bud tore out the page and burned it as requested, and since he was not
enlightened by the warning he obeyed Hen\x92s instructions and did not \x93let
on.\x94 But he could not help wondering, and was unconsciously prepared to
observe little things which ordinarily would have passed unnoticed.

At the dance on Friday night, for instance, there was a good deal of
drinking and mighty little hilarity. Bud had been accustomed to loud
talk and much horseplay outside among the men on such occasions, and
even a fight or two would be accepted as a matter of course. But though
several quart bottles were passed around during the night and thrown
away empty into the bushes, the men went in and danced and came out
again immediately to converse confidentially in small groups, or to
smoke without much speech. The men of Burroback Valley were not running
true to form.

The women were much like all the women of cow-country: mothers with
small children who early became cross and sleepy and were hushed under
shawls on the most convenient bed, a piece of cake in their hands;
mothers whose faces were lined too soon with work and ill-health, and
with untidy hair that became untidier as the dance progressed. There
were daughters--shy and giggling to hide their shyness--Bud knew their
type very well and made friends with them easily, and immediately became
the centre of a clamoring audience after he had sung a song or two.

There was Honey, with her inscrutable half smile and her veiled eyes,
condescending to graciousness and quite plainly assuming a proprietary
air toward Bud, whom she put through whatever musical paces pleased her
fancy. Bud, I may say, was extremely tractable. When Honey said sing,
Bud sang; when she said play, Bud sat down to the piano and played
until she asked him to do something else. It was all very pleasant for
Honey--and Bud ultimately won his point--Honey decided to extend her
graciousness a little.

Why hadn\x92t Bud danced with Marian? He must go right away and ask her
to dance. Just because Lew was gone, Marian need not be slighted--and
besides, there were other fellows who might want a little of Honey\x92s
time.

So Bud went away and found Marian in the pantry, cutting cakes while the
coffee boiled, and asked her to dance. Marian was too tired, and\x92 she
had not the time to spare; wherefore Bud helped himself to a knife
and proceeded to cut cakes with geometrical precision, and ate all
the crumbs. With his hands busy, he found the courage to talk to her a
little. He made Marian laugh out loud and it was the first time he had
ever heard her do that.

Marian disclosed a sense of humor, and even teased Bud a little about
Honey. But her teasing lacked that edge of bitterness which Bud had half
expected in retaliation for Honey\x92s little air of superiority.

\x93Your precision in cutting cakes is very much like your accurate
fingering of the piano,\x94 she observed irrelevantly, surveying his
work with her lips pursed. \x93A pair of calipers would prove every piece
exactly, the same width; and even when you play a Meditation? I\x92m
sure the metronome would waggle in perfect unison with your tempo. I
wonder--\x94 She glanced up at him speculatively. \x93--I wonder if you think
with such mathematical precision. Do you always find that two and two
make four?\x94

\x93You mean, have I any imagination whatever?\x94 Bud looked away from her
eyes--toward the uncurtained, high little window. A face appeared there,
as if a tall man had glanced in as he was passing by and halted for a
second to look. Bud\x92s eyes met full the eyes of the man outside, who
tilted his head backward in a significant movement and passed on. Marian
turned her head and caught the signal, looked at Bud quickly, a little
flush creeping into her cheeks.

\x93I hope you have a little imagination,\x94 she said, lowering her voice
instinctively. \x93It doesn\x92t require much to see that Jerry is right. The
conventions are strictly observed at Little Lost--in the kitchen, at
least,\x94 she added, under her breath, with a flash of resentment. \x93Run
along--and the next time Honey asks you to play the piano, will you
please play Lotusblume? And when you have thrown open the prison windows
with that, will you play Schubert\x92s Ave Maria--the way you play it--to
send a breath of cool night air in?\x94

She put out the tips of her fingers and pressed them lightly against
Bud\x92s shoulder, turning toward the door. Bud started, stepped into the
kitchen, wheeled about and stood regarding her with a stubborn look in
his eyes.

\x93I might kick the door down, too,\x94 he said. \x93I don\x92t like prisons
nohow.\x94

\x93No-just a window, thank you,\x94 she laughed.

Bud thought the laugh did not go very deep. \x93Jerry wants to talk to
you. He\x92s the whitest of the lot, if you can call that--\x94 she stopped
abruptly, put out a hand to the door, gave him a moment to look into her
deep, troubled eyes, and closed the door gently but inexorably in his
face.

Jerry was standing at the corner of the house smoking negligently. He
waited until Bud had come close alongside him, then led the way slowly
down the path to the corrals.

\x93I thought I heard the horses fighting,\x94 he remarked. \x93There was a noise
down this way.\x94

\x93Is that why you called me outside?\x94 asked Bud, who scorned subterfuge.

\x93Yeah. I saw you wasn\x92t dancing or singing or playing the piano--and
I knew Honey\x92d likely be looking you up to do one or the other, in a
minute. She sure likes you, Bud. She don\x92t, everybody that comes along.\x94

Bud did not want to discuss Honey, wherefore he made no reply, and they
walked along in silence, the cool, heavy darkness grateful after the oil
lamps and the heat of crowded rooms. As they neared the corrals a stable
door creaked open and shut, yet there was no wind. Jerry halted, one
hand going to Bud\x92s arm. They stood for a minute, and heard the swish of
the bushes behind the corral, as if a horse were passing through. Jerry
turned back, leading Bud by the arm. They were fifty feet away and the
bushes were still again before Jerry spoke guardedly.

\x93I guess I made a mistake. There wasn\x92t nothing,\x94 he said, and dropped
Bud\x92s arm.

Bud stopped. \x93There was a man riding off in the brush,\x94 he said bluntly,
\x93and all the folks that came to the dance rode in through the front
gate. I reckon I\x92ll just take a look where I left my saddle, anyway.\x94

\x93That might have been some loose stock,\x94 Jerry argued, but Bud went
back, wondering a little at Jerry\x92s manner.

The saddle was all right, and so was everything else, so far as Bud
could determine in the dark, but he was not satisfied. He thought he
understood Jerry\x92s reason for bringing him down to the corrals, but he
could not understand Jerry\x92s attitude toward an incident which any man
would have called suspicious.

Bud quietly counted noses when he returned to the house and found that
supper was being served, but he could not recall any man who was missing
now. Every guest and every man on the ranch was present except old Pop,
who had a little shack to himself and went to bed at dark every night.

Bud was mystified, and he hated mysteries. Moreover, he was working for
Dave Truman, and whatever might concern Little Lost concerned him also.
But the men had begun to talk openly of their various \x93running horses\x94,
and to exchange jibes and boasts and to bet a little on Sunday\x92s races.
Bud wanted to miss nothing of that, and Jerry\x92s indifference to the
incident at the stable served to reassure him for the time being. He
edged close to the group where the talk was loudest, and listened.

A man they called Jeff was trying to jeer his neighbors into betting
against a horse called Skeeter, and was finding them too cautious for
his liking. He laughed and, happening to catch Bud\x92s eyes upon him,
strode forward with an empty tin cup in his hand and slapped Bud
friendliwise on the shoulder.

\x93Why, I bet this singin\x92 kid, that don\x92t know wha I got ner what you
fellers has got, ain\x92t scared to take, a chance. Are yuh, kid? What d\x92
yuh think of this pikin\x92 bunch here that has seen Skeeter come in second
and third more times \x91n what he beat, and yet is afraid to take a chance
on rosin\x92 two bits? Whatd\x92 yuh think of \x91em? Ain\x92t they an onery bunch?\x94

\x93I suppose they hate to lose,\x94 Bud grinned.

\x93That\x92s it--money \x91s more to \x91em than the sport of kings, which is
runnin\x92 horses. This bunch, kid belly-ached till Dave took his horse
Boise outa the game, and now, by gosh, they\x92re backin\x92 up from my
Skeeter, that has been beat more times than he won.\x92

\x93When you pulled him, Jeff!\x94 a mocking voice drawled. \x93And that was when
you wasn\x92t bettin\x92 yourself.\x94

Jeff turned injuredly to Bud. \x93Now don\x92t that sound like a piker?\x94 he
complained. \x93It ain\x92t reason to claim I\x92d pull my own horse. Ain\x92t that
the out doinest way to come back at a man that likes a good race?\x94

Bud swelled his chest and laid his hand on Jeff\x92s shoulder. \x93Just
to show you I\x92m not a piker,\x94 he cried recklessly, \x93I\x92ll bet you
twenty-five dollars I can beat your Skeeter with my Smoky horse that I
rode in here. Is it a go?\x94

Jeff\x92s jaw dropped a little, with surprise. \x93What fer horse is this here
Smoky horse of yourn?\x94 he wanted to know.

Bud winked at the group, which cackled gleeful!, \x93I love the sport of
kings,\x94 he said. \x93I love it so well I don\x92t have to see your Skeeter
horse till Sunday. From the way these boys sidestep him, I guess he\x92s a
sure-enough running horse. My Smoky\x92s a good little horse, too, but he
never scared a bunch till they had cramps in the pockets. Still,\x94
 he added with a grin, \x93I\x92ll try anything once. I bet you twenty-five
dollars my Smoky can beat your Skeeter.\x94

\x93Say, kid, honest I hate to take it away from yuh. Honest, I do. The way
you can knock the livin\x92 tar outa that pyanny is a caution to cats. I
c\x92d listen all night. But when it comes to runnin\x92 horses--\x94

\x93Are you afraid of your money?\x94 Bud asked him arrogantly. \x93You called
this a bunch of pikers--\x94

\x93Well, by golly, it\x92ll be your own fault, kid. If I take your money away
from yuh, don\x92t go and blame it onto me. Mebbe these fellers has got
some cause to sidestep--\x94

\x93All right, the bet\x92s on. And I won\x92t blame you if I lose. Smoky\x92s
a good little horse. Don\x92t think for a minute I\x92m giving you my hard
earned coin. You\x92ll have to throw up some dust to get it, old-timer. I
forgot to say I\x92d like to make it a quarter dash.\x94

\x93A quarter dash it is,\x94 Jeff agreed derisively as Bud turned to answer
the summons of the music which was beginning again.

The racing enthusiasts lingered outside, and Bud smiled to himself while
he whirled Honey twice around in an old-fashioned waltz. He had them
talking about him, and wondering about his horse. When they saw Smoky
they would perhaps call him a chancey kid. He meant to ask Pop about
Skeeter, though Pop seemed confident that Smoky would win against
anything in the valley.

But on the other hand, he had seen in his short acquaintance with Little
Lost that Pop was considered childish--that comprehensive accusation
which belittles the wisdom of age. The boys made it a point to humor him
without taking him seriously. Honey pampered him and called him Poppy,
while in Marian\x92s chill courtesy, in her averted glances, Bud had read
her dislike of Pop. He had seen her hand shrink away from contact with
his hand when she set his coffee beside his plate.

But Bud had heard others speak respectfully of Boise, and regret that
he was too fast to run. Pop might be childish on some subjects, but
Bud rather banked on his judgment of horses--and Pop was penurious and
anxious to win money.

\x93What are you thinking about?\x94 Honey demanded when the music stopped.
\x93Something awful important, I guess, to make you want to keep right on
dancing!\x94

\x93I was thinking of horse-racing,\x94 Bud confessed, glad that he could tell
her the truth.

\x93Ah, you! Don\x92t let them make a fool of you. Some of the fellows would
bet the shirt off their backs on a horse-race! You look out for them,
Bud.\x94

\x93They wouldn\x92t bet any more than I would,\x94 Bud boldly declared. \x93I\x92ve
bet already against a horse I\x92ve never seen. How \x91s that?\x94

\x93That\x92s crazy. You\x92ll lose, and serve you right.\x94 She went off to dance
with someone else, and Bud turned smiling to find a passable partner
amongst the older women--for he was inclined to caution where strange
girls were concerned. Much trouble could come to a stranger who danced
with a girl who happened to have a jealous sweetheart, and Bud did
not court trouble of that kind. He much preferred to fight over other
things. Besides, he had no wish to antagonize Honey.

But his dance with some faded, heavy-footed woman was not to be. Jerry
once more signalled him and drew him outside for a little private
conference. Jerry was ill at ease and inclined to be reproachful and
even condemnatory.

He wanted first to know why Bud had been such a many kinds of a fool as
to make that bet with Jeff Hall. All the fellows were talking about it.
\x93They was asking me what kind of a horse you\x92ve got--and I wouldn\x92t put
it past Jeff and his bunch to pull some kind of a dirty trick on you,\x94
 he complained. \x93Bud, on the square, I like you a whole lot. You seem
kinda innocent, in some ways, and in other ways you don\x92t. I wish you\x92d
tell me just one thing, so I can sleep comfortable. Have you got some
scheme of your own? Or what the devil ails you?\x94

\x93Well, I\x92ve just got a notion,\x94 Bud admitted. \x93I\x92m going to have some
fun watching those fellows perform, whether I win or lose. I\x92ve spent as
much as twenty-five dollars on a circus, before now, and felt that I got
the worth of my money, too. I\x92m going to enjoy myself real well, next
Sunday.\x94

Jerry glanced behind him and lowered his voice, speaking close to Bud\x92s
ear. \x93Well, there\x92s something I\x92d like to say that it ain\x92t safe to say,
Bud. I\x92d hate like hell to see you get in trouble. Go as far as you like
having fun--but--oh, hell! What\x92s the use?\x94 He turned abruptly and went
inside, leaving Bud staring after him rather blankly.

Jerry did not strike Bud as being the kind of a man who goes
around interfering with every other man\x92s business. He was a quiet,
good-natured young fellow with quizzical eyes of that mixed color which
we call hazel simply because there is more brown than gray or green. He
did not talk much, but he observed much. Bud was strongly inclined
to heed Jerry\x92s warning, but it was too vague to have any practical
value--\x93about like Hen\x92s note,\x94 Bud concluded. \x93Well-meaning but hazy.
Like a red danger flag on a railroad crossing where the track is torn
up and moved. I saw one, once and my horse threw a fit at it and almost
piled me. I figured that the red flag created the danger, where I was
concerned. Still, I\x92d like to oblige Jerry and sidestep something or
other, but...\x94

His thoughts grew less distinct, merged into wordless rememberings and
conjectures, clarified again into terse sentences which never reached
the medium of speech.

\x93Well, I\x92ll just make sure they don\x92t try out Smoke when I\x92m not
looking,\x94 he decided, and slipped away in the dark.

By a roundabout way which avoided the trail he managed to reach the
pasture fence without being seen. No horses grazed in sight, and he
climbed through and went picking his way across the lumpy meadow in the
starlight. At the farther side he found the horses standing out on a
sandy ridge where the mosquitoes were not quite so pestiferous. The
Little Lost horses snorted and took to their heels, his three following
for a short distance.

Bud stopped and whistled a peculiar call invented long ago when he was
just Buddy, and watched over the Tomahawk REMUDA. Every horse with the
Tomahawk brand knew that summons--though not every horse would obey
it. But these three had come when they were sucking colts, if Buddy
whistled; and in their breaking and training, in the long trip north,
they had not questioned its authority. They turned and trotted back to
him now and nosed Bud\x92s hands which he held out to them.

He petted them all and talked to them in an affectionate murmur which
they answered by sundry lipnibbles and subdued snorts. Smoky he singled
out finally, rubbing his back and sides with the flat of his hand from
shoulder to flank, and so to the rump and down the thigh to the hock
to the scanty fetlock which told, to those who knew, that here was an
aristocrat among horses.

Smoky stood quiet, and Bud\x92s hand lingered there, smoothing the slender
ankle. Bud\x92s fingers felt the fine-haired tail, then gave a little
twitch. He was busy for a minute, kneeling in the sand with one knee,
his head bent. Then he stood up, went forward to Smoky\x92s head, and stood
rubbing the horse\x92s nose thoughtfully.

\x93I hate to do it, old boy--but I\x92m working to make\x92s a home--we\x92ve got
to work together. And I\x92m not asking any more of you than I\x92d be willing
to do myself, if I were a horse and you were a man.\x94

He gave the three horses a hasty pat apiece and started back across
the meadow to the fence. They followed him like pet dogs--and when Bud
glanced back over his shoulder he saw in the dim light that Smoky walked
with a slight limp.



CHAPTER TWELVE: SPORT O\x92 KINGS

Sunday happened to be fair, with not too strong a wind blowing. Before
noon Little Lost ranch was a busy place, and just before dinner it
became busier. Horse-racing seemed to be as popular a sport in the
valley as dancing. Indeed, men came riding in who had not come to the
dance. The dry creek-bed where the horses would run had no road leading
to it, so that all vehicles came to Little Lost and remained there while
the passengers continued on foot to the races.

At the corral fresh shaven men, in clean shirts to distinguish this as a
dress-up occasion, foregathered, looking over the horses and making bets
and arguing. Pop shambled here and there, smoking cigarettes furiously
and keeping a keen ear toward the loudest betting. He came sidling up to
Bud, who was leading Smoky out of the stable, and his sharp eyes took in
every inch of the horse and went inquiringly to Bud\x92s face.

\x93Goin\x92 to run him, young feller--lame as what he is?\x94 he demanded
sharply.

\x93Going to try, anyway,\x94 said Bud. \x93I\x92ve got a bet up on him, dad.\x94

\x93Sho! Fixin\x92 to lose, air ye? You kin call it off, like as not. Jeff
ain\x92t so onreason\x92ble \x91t he\x92d make yuh run a lame horse. Air yuh, Jeff?\x94

Jeff strolled up and looked Smoky over with critical eyes. \x93What\x92s the
matter? Ain\x92t the kid game to run him? Looks to me like a good little
goer.\x94

\x93He\x92s got a limp--but I\x92ll run him anyway.\x94 Bud glanced up. \x93Maybe when
he\x92s warmed up he\x92ll forget about it.\x94

\x93Seen my Skeeter?\x94

\x93Good horse, I should judge,\x94 Bud observed indifferently. \x93But I ain\x92t
worrying any.\x94

\x93Well, neither am I,\x94 Jeff grinned.

Pop stood teetering back and forth, plainly uneasy. \x93I\x92d rub him right
good with liniment,\x94 he advised Bud. \x93I\x92ll git some\x92t I know ought t\x92
help.\x94

\x93What\x92s the matter, Pop? You got money up on that cayuse?\x94 Jeff laughed.

Pop whirled on him. \x93I ain\x92t got money up on him, no. But if he wasn\x92t
lame I\x92d have some! I\x92d show ye \x91t I admire gameness in a kid. I would
so.\x94

Jeff nudged his neighbor into laughter. \x93There ain\x92t a gamer old bird
in the valley than Pop,\x94 Jeff cried. \x93C\x92m awn, Pop, I\x92ll bet yuh ten
dollars the kid beats me!\x94

Pop was shuffling hurriedly out of the corral after the liniment. To
Jeff\x92s challenge he made no reply whatever. The group around Jeff shooed
Smoky gently toward the other side of the corral, thereby convincing
themselves of the limp in his right hind foot. While not so pronounced
as to be crippling, it certainly was no asset to a running horse, and
the wise ones conferred together in undertones.

\x93That there kid\x92s a born fool,\x94 Dave Truman stated positively. \x93The
horse can\x92t run. He\x92s got the look of a speedy little animal--but
shucks! The kid don\x92t know anything about running horses. I\x92ve been
talking to him, and I know. Jeff, you\x92re taking the money away from him
if you run that race.\x94

\x93Well, I\x92m giving the kid a chance to back out,\x94 Jeff hastened to
declare. \x93He can put it off till his horse gits well, if he wants to. I
ain\x92t going to hold him to it. I never said I was.\x94

\x93That\x92s mighty kind of you,\x94 Bud said, coming up from behind with a
bottle of liniment, and with Pop at his heels. \x93But I\x92ll run him just
the same. Smoky has favored this foot before, and it never seemed to
hurt him any. You needn\x92t think I\x92m going to crawfish. You must think
I\x92m a whining cuss--say! I\x92ll bet another ten dollars that I don\x92t come
in more than a neck behind, lame horse or not!\x94

\x93Now, kid, don\x92t git chancey,\x94 Pop admonished uneasily. \x93Twenty-five is
enough money to donate to Jeff.\x94

\x93That\x92s right, kid. I like your nerve,\x94 Jeff cut in, emphasizing his
approval with a slap on Bud\x92s shoulder as he bent to lift Smoky\x92s leg.
\x93I\x92ve saw worse horses than this one come in ahead--it wouldn\x92t be no
sport o\x92 kings if nobody took a chance.\x94

\x93I\x92m taking chance enough,\x94 Bud retorted without looking up. \x93If I don\x92t
win this time I will the next, maybe.\x94

\x93That\x92s right,\x94 Jeff agreed heartily, winking broadly at the others
behind Bud\x92s back.

Bud rubbed Smoky\x92s ankle with liniment, listened to various and sundry
self-appointed advisers and, without seeming to think how the sums would
total, took several other small bets on the race. They were small--Pop
began to teeter back and forth and lift his shoulders and pull his
beard--sure signs of perturbation.

\x93By Christmas, I\x92ll just put up ten dollars on the kid,\x94 Pop finally
cackled. \x93I ain\x92t got much to lose--but I\x92ll show yuh old Pop ain\x92t
going to see the young feller stand alone.\x94 He tried to catch Bud\x92s eye,
but that young man was busy saddling Smoky and returning jibe for jibe
with the men around him, and did not glance toward Pop at all.

\x93I\x92ll take this bottle in my pocket, Pop,\x94 he said with his back toward
the old man, and mounted carelessly. \x93I\x92ll ride him around a little and
give him another good rubbing before we run. I\x92m betting,\x94 he added to
the others frankly, \x93on the chance that exercise and the liniment will
take the soreness out of that ankle. I don\x92t believe it amounts to
anything at all. So if any of you fellows want to bet--\x94

\x93Shucks! Don\x92t go \x91n-\x94 Pop began, and bit the sentence in two, dropping
immediately into a deep study. The kid was getting beyond Pop\x92s
understanding.

A crowd of perhaps a hundred men and women--with a generous sprinkling
of unruly juveniles--lined the sheer bank of the creek-bed and watched
the horses run, and screamed their cheap witticisms at the losers, and
their approval of those who won. The youngster with the mysterious past
and the foolhardiness to bet on a lame horse they watched and discussed,
the women plainly wishing he would win--because he was handsome and
young, and such a wonderful musician. The men were more cold-blooded.
They could not see that Bud\x92s good looks or the haunting melody of his
voice had any bearing whatever upon his winning a race. They called him
a fool, and either refused to bet at all on such a freak proposition as
a lame horse running against Skeeter, or bet against him. A few of the
wise ones wondered if Jeff and his bunch were merely \x93stringing the kid
along \x93; if they might not let him win a little, just to make him more
\x93chancey.\x94 But they did not think it wise to bet on that probability.

While three races were being run Bud rode with the Little Lost men, and
Smoky still limped a little. Jerry Myers, still self-appointed guardian
of Bud, herded him apart and called him a fool and implored him to call
the race off and keep his money in his own pocket.

Bud was thinking just then about a certain little woman who sat on the
creek bank with a wide-brimmed straw hat shading her wonderful eyes, and
a pair of little, high-arched feet tapping heels absently against the
bank wall. Honey sat beside her, and a couple of the valley women whom
Bud had met at the dance. He had ridden close and paused for a few
friendly sentences with the quartette, careful to give Honey the
attention she plainly expected. But it was not Honey who wore the wide
hat and owned the pretty little feet. Bud pulled his thoughts back from
a fruitless wish that he might in some way help that little woman whose
trouble looked from her eyes, and whose lips smiled so bravely. He did
not think of possession when he thought of her; it was the look in her
eyes, and the slighting tones in which Honey spoke of her.

\x93Say, come alive! What yuh going off in a trance for, when I\x92m talking
to yuh for your own good?\x94 Jerry smiled whimsically, but his eyes were
worried.

Bud pulled himself together and reined closer.

\x93Don\x92t bet anything on this race, Jerry,\x94 he advised \x93Or if you do,
don\x92t bet on Skeeter. But--well, I\x92ll just trade you a little advice for
all you\x92ve given me. Don\x92t bet!\x94

\x93What the hell!\x94 surprise jolted out of Jerry.

\x93It\x92s my funeral,\x94 Bud laughed. \x93I\x92m a chancey kid, you see--but I\x92d
hate to see you bet on me.\x94 He pulled up to watch the next race--four
nervy little cow-horses of true range breeding, going down to the
quarter post.

\x93They \x91re going to make false starts aplenty,\x94 Bud remarked after the
first fluke. \x93Jeff and I have it out next. I\x92ll just give Smoke another
treatment.\x94 He dismounted, looked at Jerry undecidedly and slapped him
on the knee. \x93I\x92m glad to have a friend like you,\x94 he said impulsively.
\x93There\x92s a lot of two-faced sinners around here that would steal a man
blind. Don\x92t think I\x92m altogether a fool.\x94

Jerry looked at him queerly, opened his mouth and shut it again so
tightly that his jawbones stood out a little. He watched Bud bathing
Smoky\x92s ankle. When Bud was through and handed Jerry the bottle to keep
for him, Jerry held him for an instant by the hand.

\x93Say, for Gawdsake don\x92t talk like that promiscuous, Bud,\x94 he begged.
\x93You might hit too close--\x94

\x93Ay, Jerry! Ever hear that old Armenian proverb, \x91He who tells the truth
should have one foot in the stirrup\x92? I learned that in school.\x94

Jerry let go Bud\x92s hand and took the bottle, Bud\x92s watch that had his
mother\x92s picture pasted in the back, and his vest, a pocket of which
contained a memorandum of his wagers. Bud was stepping out of his chaps,
and he looked up and grinned. \x93Cheer up, Jerry. You\x92re going to laugh in
a minute.\x94 When Jerry still remained thoughtful, Bud added soberly, \x93I
appreciate you and old Pop standing by me. I don\x92t know just what you\x92ve
got on your mind, but the fact that there\x92s something is hint enough for
me.\x94 Whereupon Jerry\x92s eyes lightened a little.

The four horses came thundering down the track, throwing tiny pebbles
high into the air as they passed. A trim little sorrel won, and there
was the usual confusion of voices upraised in an effort to be heard.
When that had subsided, interest once more centered on Skeeter and
Smoky, who seemed to have recovered somewhat from his lameness.

Not a man save Pop and Bud had placed a bet on Smoky, yet every man
there seemed keenly interested in the race. They joshed Bud, who grinned
and took it good-naturedly, and found another five dollars in--his
pocket to bet--this time with Pop, who kept eyeing him sharply--and it
seemed to Bud warningly. But Bud wanted to play his own game, this time,
and he avoided Pop\x92s eyes.

The two men rode down the hoof-scored sand to the quarter post,
Skeeter dancing sidewise at the prospect of a race, Smoky now and then
tentatively against Bud\x92s steady pressure of the bit.

\x93He\x92s not limping now,\x94 Bud gloated as they rode. But Jeff only laughed
tolerantly and made no reply.

Dave Truman started them with a pistol shot, and the two horses darted
away, Smoky half a jump in the lead. His limp was forgotten, and for
half the distance he ran neck and neck with Skeeter. Then he dropped to
Skeeter\x92s middle, to his flank--then ran with his black nose even
with Skeeter\x92s rump. Even so it was a closer race than the crowd had
expected, and all the cowboys began to yell themselves purple.

But when they were yet a few leaps from the wire clothes-line stretched
high, from post to post, Bud leaned forward until he lay flat alongside
Smoky\x92s neck, and gave a real Indian war-whoop. Smoky lifted and
lengthened his stride, came up again to Skeeter\x92s middle, to his
shoulder, to his ears--and with the next leap thrust his nose past
Skeeter\x92s as they finished.

Well, then there was the usual noise, everyone trying to shout louder
than his fellows. Bud rode to where Pop was sitting apart on a pacing
gray horse that he always rode, and paused to say guardedly,

\x93I pulled him, Pop. But at that I won, so if I can pry another race
out of this bunch to-day, you can bet all you like. And you owe me five
dollars,\x94 he added thriftily.

\x93Sho! Shucks almighty!\x94 spluttered Pop, reaching reluctantly into his
pocket for the money. \x93Jeff, he done some pullin\x92 himself--I wish I
knowed,\x94 he added pettishly, \x93just how big a fool you air.\x94

\x93Hey, come over here!\x94 shouted Jeff. \x93What yuh nagging ole Pop about?\x94

\x93Pop lost five dollars on that race,\x94 Bud called back, and loped over
to the crowd. \x93But he isn\x92t the only one. Seems to me I\x92ve got quite a
bunch of money coming to me, from this crowd!\x94

\x93Jeff, he\x92d a beat him a mile if his bridle rein had busted,\x94 an
arrogant voice shouted recklessly. \x93Jeff, you old fox, you know damn
well you pulled Skeeter. You must love to lose, doggone yuh.\x94

\x93If you think I didn\x92t run right,\x94 Jeff retorted, as if a little
nettled, \x93someone else can ride the horse. That is, if the kid here
ain\x92t scared off with your talk. How about it, Bud? Think you won fair?\x94

Bud was collecting his money, and he did not immediately answer the
challenge. When he did it was to offer them another race. He would not,
he said, back down from anyone. He would bet his last cent on
little Smoky. He became slightly vociferative and more than a little
vain-glorious, and within half an hour he had once more staked all the
money he had in the world. The number of men who wanted to bet with
him surprised him a little. Also the fact that the Little Lost men were
betting on Smoky.

Honey called him over to the bank and scolded him in tones much like her
name, and finally gave him ten dollars which she wanted to wager on
his winning. As he whirled away, Marian beckoned impulsively and leaned
forward, stretching out to him her closed hand.

\x93Here\x92s ten,\x94 she smiled, \x93just to show that the Little Lost stands by
its men--and horses. Put it on Smoky, please.\x94 When Bud was almost out
of easy hearing, she called to him. \x93Oh--was that a five or a ten dollar
bill I gave you?\x94

Bud turned back, unfolding the banknote. A very tightly folded scrap of
paper slid into his palm.

\x93Oh, all right--I have the five here in my pocket,\x94 called Marian, and
laughed quite convincingly. \x93Go on and run! We won\x92t be able to breathe
freely until the race is over.\x94

Wherefore Bud turned back, puzzled and with his heart jumping. For some
reason Marian had taken this means of getting a message into his hands.
What it could be he did not conjecture; but he had a vague, unreasoning
hope that she trusted him and was asking him to help her somehow. He
did not think that it concerned the race, so he did not risk opening the
note then, with so many people about.

A slim, narrow-eyed youth of about Bud\x92s weight was chosen to ride
Skeeter, and together they went back over the course to the quarter
post, with Dave to start them and two or three others to make sure that
the race was fair. Smoky was full now of little prancing steps, and held
his neck arched while his nostrils flared in excitement, showing pink
within. Skeeter persistently danced sidewise, fighting the bit, crazy to
run.

Skeeter made two false starts, and when the pistol was fired, jumped
high into the air and forward, shaking his head, impatient against the
restraint his rider put upon him. Halfway down the stretch he lunged
sidewise toward Smoky, but that level-headed little horse swerved and
went on, shoulder to shoulder with the other. At the very last Skeeter
rolled a pebble under his foot and stumbled--and again Smoky came in
with his slaty nose in the lead.

Pop rode into the centre of the yelling crowd, his whiskers bristling.
\x93Shucks almighty!\x94 he cried. \x93What fer ridin\x92 do yuh call that there?
Jeff Hall, that feller held Skeeter in worse\x92n what you did yourself! I
kin prove it! I got a stop watch, an\x92 I timed \x91im, I did. An\x92 I kin tell
yuh the time yore horse made when he run agin Dave\x92s Boise. He\x92s three
seconds--yes, by Christmas, he\x92s four seconds slower t\x92day \x91n what he\x92s
ever run before! What fer sport d\x92 you call that?\x94 His voice went up and
cracked at the question mark like a boy in his early teens.

Jeff stalked forward to Skeeter\x92s side. \x93Jake, did you pull Skeeter?\x94
 he demanded sternly. \x93I\x92ll swan if this ain\x92t the belly-achiness bunch
I ever seen! How about it, Jake? Did Skeeter do his durndest, or didn\x92t
he?

\x93Shore, he did!\x94 Jake testified warmly. \x93I\x92da beat, too, if he hadn\x92t
stumbled right at the last. Didn\x92t yuh see him purty near go down? And
wasn\x92t he within six inches of beatin\x92? I leave it to the crowd!\x94

The crowd was full of argument, and some bets were paid under protest.
But they were paid, just the same. Burroback Valley insisted that the
main points of racing law should be obeyed to the letter. Bud collected
his winnings, the Scotch in him overlooking nothing whatever in the
shape of a dollar. Then, under cover of getting his smoking material, he
dared bring out Marian\x92s note. There were two lines in a fine, even hand
on a cigarette paper, and Bud, relieved at her cleverness, unfolded the
paper and read while he opened his bag of tobacco. The lines were like
those in an old-fashioned copy book:

\x93Winners may be losers. Empty pockets, safe owner.\x94

And that was all. Bud sifted tobacco into the paper, rolled it into a
cigarette and smoked it to so short a stub that he burnt his lips.
Then he dropped it beside his foot and ground it into the sand while he
talked.

He would run Smoky no more that day, he declared, but next Sunday he
would give them all a chance to settle their minds and win back their
losings, providing his horse\x92s ankle didn\x92t go bad again with to-day\x92s
running. Pop, Dave, Jeff and a few other wise ones examined the weak
ankle and disagreed over the exact cause and nature of the weakness. It
seemed all right. Smoky did not flinch from rubbing, though he did lift
his foot away from strange hands. They questioned Bud, who could offer
no positive information on the subject, except that once he and Smoky
had rolled down a bluff together, and Smoky had been lame for a while
afterwards.

It did not occur to anyone to ask Bud which leg had been lamed, and Bud
did not volunteer the detail. An old sprain, they finally decided, and
Bud replaced his saddle, got his chaps and coat from Jerry, who was
smiling over an extra twenty-five dollars, and rode over to give the
girls their winnings.

He stayed for several minutes talking with them and hoping for a chance
to thank Marian for her friendly warning. But there was none, and he
rode away dissatisfied and wondering uneasily if Marian thought he was
really as friendly with Honey as that young lady made him appear to be.

He was one of the first to ride back to the ranch, and he turned Smoky
in the pasture and caught up Stopper to ride with Honey, who said she
was going for a ride when the races were over, and that if he liked to
go along she would show him the Sinks. Bud had professed an eagerness
to see the Sinks which he did not feel until Marian had turned her head
toward Honey and said in her quiet voice:

\x93Why the Sinks? You know that isn\x92t safe country to ride in, Honey.\x94

\x93That\x92s why I want to ride there,\x94 Honey retorted flippantly. \x93I hate
safe places and safe things.\x94

Marian had glanced at Bud--and it was that glance which he was
remembering now with a puzzled sense that, like the note, it had meant
something definite, something vital to his own welfare if he could only
find the key. First it was Hen, then Jerry, and now Marian, all warning
him vaguely of danger into which he might stumble if he were not
careful.

Bud was no fool, but on the other hand he was not one to stampede
easily. He had that steadfast courage, perhaps, which could face danger
and still maintain his natural calm--just as his mother had corrected
grammatical slips in the very sentences which told her of an impending
outbreak of Indians long ago Bud saddled Stopper and the horse which
Honey was to ride, led them to the house and went inside to wait until
the girl was ready. While he waited he played--and hoped that Marian,
hearing, would know that he played for her; and that she would come and
explain the cryptic message. Whether Marian heard and appreciated the
music or not, she failed to appear and let him know. It seemed to him
that she might easily have come into the room for a minute when she knew
he was there, and let him have a chance to thank her and ask her just
what she meant.

He was just finishing the AVE MARIA which Marian had likened to a breath
of cool air, when Honey appeared in riding skirt and light shirtwaist.
She looked very trim and attractive, and Bud smiled upon her
approvingly, and cut short the last strain by four beats, which was one
way of letting Marian know that he considered her rather unappreciative.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE SINKS

\x93We can go through the pasture and cut off a couple of miles,\x94 said
Honey when they were mounted. \x93I hope you don\x92t think I\x92m crazy, wanting
a ride at this time of day, after all the excitement we\x92ve had. But
every Sunday is taken up with horse-racing till late in the afternoon,
and during the week no one has time to go. And,\x94 she added with a
sidelong look at him, \x93there\x92s something about the Sinks that makes me
love to go there. Uncle Dave won\x92t let me go alone.\x94

Bud dismounted to pull down the two top bars of the pasture gate so that
their horses could step over. A little way down the grassy slope Smoky
and Sunfish fed together, the Little Lost horses grouped nearer the
creek.

\x93I love that little horse of yours--why, he\x92s gone lame again!\x94
 exclaimed Honey. \x93Isn\x92t that a shame! You oughtn\x92t to run him if it does
that to him.\x94

\x93He likes it,\x94 said Bud carelessly as he remounted. \x93And so do I, when I
can clean up the way I did today. I\x92m over three hundred dollars richer
right now than I was this morning.\x94

\x93And next Sunday, maybe you\x92ll be broke,\x94 Honey added significantly.
\x93You never know how you are coming out. I think Jeff let you win to-day
on purpose, so you\x92d bet it all again and lose. He\x92s like that. He don\x92t
care how much he loses one day, because he gets it back some other time.
I don\x92t like it. Some of the boys never do get ahead, and you\x92ll be in
the same fix if you don\x92t look out.\x94

\x93You didn\x92t bring me along to lecture me, I know,\x94 said Bud with a
good-natured smile. \x93What about the Sinks? Is it a dangerous place
as--Mrs. Morris says?\x94

\x93Oh, Marian? She never does want me to come. She thinks I ought to stay
in the house always, the way she does. The Sinks is--is--queer. There
are caves, and then again deep holes straight down, and tracks of
wildcats and lions. And in some places you can hear gurgles and rumbles.
I love to be there just at sundown, because the shadows are spooky and
it makes you feel--oh, you know--kind of creepy up your back. You don\x92t
know what might happen. I--do you believe in ghosts and haunted places,
Bud?\x94

\x93I\x92d need a lot of scaring before I did. Are the Sinks haunted?\x94

\x93No-o--but there are funny noises and people have got lost there. Anyway
they never showed up afterwards. The Indians claim it\x92s haunted.\x94 She
smiled that baring smile of hers. \x93Do you want to turn around and go
back?\x94

\x93Sure. After we\x92ve had our ride, and seen the sights.\x94 And he added with
some satisfaction, \x93The moon \x91s full to-night, and no clouds.\x94

\x93And I brought sandwiches,\x94 Honey threw in as especial blessing. \x93Uncle
Dave will be mad, I expect. But I\x92ve never seen the Sinks at night, with
moonlight.\x94

She was quiet while the horses waded Sunk Creek and picked their way
carefully over a particularly rocky stretch beyond. \x93But what I\x92d rather
do,\x94 she said, speaking from her thoughts which had evidently carried
forward in the silence, \x93is explore Catrock Canyon.\x94

\x93Well, why not, if we have time?\x94 Bud rode up alongside her. \x93Is it
far?\x94

Honey looked at him searchingly. \x93You must be stranger to these parts,\x94
 she said disbelievingly. \x93Do you think you can make me swallow that?\x94

Bud looked at her inquiringly, which forced her to go on.

\x93You must know about Catrock Canyon, Bud Birnie. Don\x92t try to make me
believe you don\x92t.\x94

\x93I don\x92t. I never heard of it before that I remember. What is it makes
you want to explore it?\x94

Honey studied him. \x93You\x92re the queerest specimen I ever did see,\x94 she
exclaimed pettishly. \x93Why, it\x92s not going to hurt you to admit you know
Catrock Canyon is--unexplorable.\x94

\x93Oh. So you want to explore it because it\x92s unexplorable. Well, why is
it unexplorable?\x94

Honey looked around her at the dry sageland they were crossing. \x93Oh, you
make me TIRED!\x94 she said bluntly, with something of the range roughness
in her voice. \x93Because it is, that\x92s all.\x94

\x93Then I\x92d like to explore it myself,\x94 Bud declared.

\x93For one thing,\x94 Honey dilated, \x93there\x92s no way to get in there. Up on
the ridge this side, where the rock is that throws a shadow like a cat\x92s
head on the opposite wall, you can look down a ways. But the two sides
come so close together at the top that you can\x92t see the bottom of the
canyon at all. I\x92ve been on the ridge where I could see the cat\x92s head.\x94

Bud glanced speculatively up at the sun, and Honey, catching his
meaning, shook her head and smiled.

\x93If we get into the Sinks and back to-day, they will do enough talking
about it; or Uncle Dave will, and Marian. I--I thought perhaps you\x92d be
able to tell me about--Catrock Canyon.\x94

\x93I\x92m able to say I don\x92t know a thing about it. If no one can get into
it, I should think that\x92s about all, isn\x92t it?\x94

\x93Yes--you\x92d think so,\x94 Honey agreed enigmatically, and began to talk
of the racing that day, and of the dance, and of other dances and other
races yet to come. Bud discussed these subjects for a while and then
asked boldly, \x93When\x92s Lew coming back?\x94

\x93Lew?\x94 Honey shot a swift glance at him. \x93Why?\x94 She looked ahead at the
forbidding, craggy hills toward which she had glanced when she spoke of
Catrock. \x93Why, I don\x92t know. How should I?\x94

Bud saw that he had spoken unwisely. \x93I was thinking he\x92d maybe hate
to miss another running match like to-day,\x94 he explained guilelessly.
\x93Everybody and his dog seemed to be there to-day, and everybody had
money up. All,\x94 he modified, \x93except the Muleshoe boys. I didn\x92t see any
of them.\x94

\x93You won\x92t,\x94 Honey told him with some emphasis. \x93Uncle Dave and the
Muleshoe are on the outs. They never come around except for mail and
things from the store. And most always they send Hen. Uncle Dave and
Dirk Tracy had an awful row last winter. It was next thing to a killing.
So of course the outfits ain\x92t on friendly terms.\x94

This was more than Pop had gossiped to Bud, and since the whole thing
was of no concern to him, and Honey plainly objected to talking about
Marian\x92s husband, he was quite ready to fix his interest once more upon
the Sinks. He was surprised when they emerged from a cluster of small,
sage-covered knolls, directly upon the edge of what at first sight
seemed to be another dry river bed--sprawled wider, perhaps, with
irregular arms thrust back into the less sterile land. They rode down a
steep, rocky trail and came out into the Sinks.

It was an odd, forbidding place, and the farther up the gravelly bottom
they rode, the more forbidding it became. Bud thought that in the time
when Indians were dangerous as she-bears the Sinks would not be a place
where a man would want to ride. There were too many jutting crags, too
many unsuspected, black holes that led back--no one knew just where.

Honey led the way to an irregular circle of waterwashed cobbles and
Bud peered down fifty feet to another dry, gravelly bottom seemingly a
duplicate of the upper surface. She rode on past other caves, and let
him look down into other holes. There were faint rumblings in some of
these, but in none was there any water showing save in stagnant pools in
the rock where the rain had fallen.

\x93There\x92s one cave I like to go into,\x94 said Honey at last. \x93It\x92s a little
farther on, but we have time enough. There\x92s a spring inside, and we
can eat our sandwiches. It isn\x92t dark-there are openings to the top, and
lots of funny, winding passages. That,\x94 she finished thrillingly, \x93is
the place the Indians claim is haunted.\x94

Bud did not shudder convincingly, and they rode slowly forward, picking
their way among the rocks. The cave yawned wide open to the sun, which
hung on the top of Catrock Peak. They dismounted, anchored the reins
with rocks and went inside.

When Bud had been investigative Buddy, he had explored more caves than
he could count. He had filched candles from his mother and had crept
back and back until the candle flame flickered warning that he was
nearing the \x93damps\x94 Indians always did believe caves were haunted,
probably because they did not understand the \x93damps\x94, and thought evil
spirits had taken those who went in and never returned. Buddy had once
been lost in a cave for four harrowing hours, and had found his way out
by sheer luck, passing the skeleton of an Indian and taking the tomahawk
as a souvenir.

Wherefore this particular cave, with a spring back fifty feet from the
entrance where a shaft of sunlight struck the rock through some obscure
slit in the rock, had no thrill for him. But the floor was of fine,
white sand, and the ceiling was knobby and grotesque, and he was quite
willing to sit there beside the spring and eat two sandwiches and talk
foolishness with Honey, using that part of his mind which was not busy
with the complexities of winning money on the speed of his horses when
three horses represented his entire business capital, and with wondering
what was wrong with Burroback Valley, that three persons of widely
different viewpoints had felt it necessary to caution him,--and had
couched their admonitions in such general terms that he could not feel
the force of their warning.

He was thinking back along his life to where false alarms of Indian
outbreaks had played a very large part in the Tomahawk\x92s affairs, and
how little of the ranch work would ever have been done had they listened
to every calamity howler that came along. Honey was talking, and he was
answering partly at random, when she suddenly laughed and got up.

\x93You must be in love, Bud Birnie. You just said \x91yes\x92 when I asked you
if you didn\x92t think water snakes would be coming out this fall with
their stripes running round them instead of lengthwise! You didn\x92t hear
a word--now, did you?\x94

\x93I heard music,\x94 Bud lied gallantly, \x93and I knew it was your voice. I\x92d
probably say yes if you asked me whether the moon wouldn\x92t look better
with a ruffle around it.\x94

\x93I\x92ll say the moon will be wondering where we are, if we don\x92t start
back. The sun\x92s down.\x94

Bud got up from sitting cross-legged like a Turk, helped Honey to her
feet--and felt her fingers clinging warmly to his own. He led the way
to the cave\x92s mouth, not looking at her. \x93Great sunset,\x94 he observed
carelessly, glancing up at the ridge while he held her horse for her to
mount.

Honey showed that she was perfectly at home in the saddle. She rode on
ahead, leaving Bud to mount and follow. He was just swinging leisurely
into the saddle when Stopper threw his head around, glancing back
toward the level just beyond the cave. At the same instant Bud heard the
familiar, unmistakable swish of a rope headed his way.

He flattened himself along Stopper\x92s left shoulder as the loop settled
and tightened on the saddle horn, and dropped on to the ground as
Stopper whirled automatically to the right and braced himself against
the strain. Bud turned half kneeling, his gun in his hand ready for the
shot he expected would follow the rope. But Stopper was in action-the
best ropehorse the Tomahawk had ever owned. For a few seconds he stood
braced, his neck arched, his eyes bright and watchful. Then he leaped
forward, straight at the horse and the rider who was in the act of
leveling his gun. The horse hesitated, taken unaware by the onslaught.
When he started to run Stopper was already passing him, turning sharply
to the right again so that the rope raked the horse\x92s front legs. Two
jumps and Stopper had stopped, faced the horse and stood braced again,
his ears perked knowingly while he waited for the flop.

It came--just as it always did come when Stopper got action on the end
of a rope. Horse and rider came down together. They would not get up
until Bud wished it--he could trust Stopper for that--so Bud walked over
to the heap, his gun ready for action--and that, too, could be trusted
to perform with what speed and precision was necessary. There would be
no hasty shooting, however; Buddy had learned to save his bullets for
real need when ammunition was not to be had for the asking, and grown-up
Bud had never outgrown the habit.

He picked up the fellow\x92s six-shooter which he had dropped when he fell,
and stood sizing up the situation.

By the neckerchief drawn across his face it was a straight case of
holdup. Bud stooped and yanked off the mask and looked into the glaring
eyes of one whom he had never before seen.

\x93Well, how d\x92yuh like it, far as you\x92ve got?\x94 Bud asked curiously.
\x93Think you were holding up a pilgrim, or what?\x94

Just then, BING-GG sang a rifle bullet from the ridge above the cave.
Bud looked that way and spied a man standing half revealed against the
rosy clouds that were already dulling as dusk crept up from the low
ground. It was a long shot for a six-shooter, but Buddy used to shoot
antelope almost that far, so Bud lifted his arm and straightened it,
just as if he were pointing a finger at the man, and fired. He had the
satisfaction of seeing the figure jerk backward and go off over the
ridge in a stooping kind of run.

\x93He\x92d better hurry back if he wants another shot at me,\x94 Bud grinned.
\x93It\x92ll be so dark down here in a minute he couldn\x92t pick me up with his
front sight if I was--as big a fool as you are. How about it? I\x92ll just
lead you into camp, I think--but you sure as hell couldn\x92t get a job
roping gateposts, on the strength of this little exhibition.\x94

He went over to Stopper and untied his own rope, giving an approving pat
to that business-like animal. \x93Hope your leg isn\x92t broken or anything,\x94
 he said to the man when he returned and passed the loop over the
fellow\x92s head and shoulders, drawing it rather snugly around his body
and pinning his arms at the elbows. \x93It would be kind of unpleasant if
they happen to take a notion to make you walk all the way to jail.\x94

He beckoned Stopper, who immediately moved up, slackening the rope. The
thrown horse drew up his knees, gave a preliminary heave and scrambled
to his feet, Bud taking care that the man was pulled free and safe. The
fellow stood up sulkily defiant, unable to rest much of his weight on
his left leg.

Bud had ten busy minutes, and it was not until they were both mounted
and headed for Little Lost, the captive with his arms tied behind him,
his feet tied together under the horse, which Bud led, that Bud had time
to wonder what it was all about. Then he began to look for Honey, who
had disappeared. But in the softened light of the rising moon mingling
with the afterglow of sunset, he saw the deep imprints of her horse\x92s
hoofs where he had galloped homeward. Bud did not think she ran away
because she was frightened; she had seemed too sure of herself for that.
She had probably gone for help.

A swift suspicion that the attack might have been made from jealousy
died when Bud looked again at his prisoner. The man was swarthy, low of
brow--part Indian, by the look of him. Honey would never give the fellow
a second thought. So that brought him to the supposition that robbery
had been intended, and the inference was made more logical when Bud
remembered that Marian had warned him against something of the sort.
Probably he and Honey had been followed into the Sinks, and even though
Bud had not seen this man at the races, his partner up on the ridge
might have been there. It was all very simple, and Bud, having arrived
at the obvious conclusion, touched Stopper into a lope and arrived at
Little Lost just as Dave Truman and three of his men were riding down
into Sunk Creek ford on their way to the Sinks. They pulled up, staring
hard at Dave and his captive. Dave spoke first.

\x93Honey said you was waylaid and robbed or killed--both, we took it, from
her account. How\x92d yuh come to get the best of it so quick?\x94

\x93Why, his horse got tangled up in the rope and fell down, and fell on
top of him,\x94 Bud explained cheerfully. \x93I was bringing him in. He\x92s
a bad citizen, I should judge, but he didn\x92t do me any damage, as it
turned out, so I don\x92t know what to do with him. I\x92ll just turn him over
to you, I think.\x94

\x93Hell! I don\x92t want him,\x94 Dave protested. \x93I\x92ll pass him along to the
sheriff--he may know something about him. Nelse and Charlie, you take
and run him in to Crater and turn him over to Kline. You tell Kline what
he done--or tried to do. Was he alone, Bud?\x94

\x93He had a partner up on the ridge, so far off I couldn\x92t swear to him if
I saw him face to face. I took a shot at him, and I think I nicked him.
He ducked, and there weren\x92t any more rifle bullets coming my way.\x94

\x93You nicked him with your six-shooter? And him so far off you couldn\x92t
recognize him again?\x94 Dave looked at Bud sharply. \x93That\x92s purty good
shootin\x92, strikes me.\x94

\x93Well, he stood up against the sky-line, and he wasn\x92t more than
seventy-five yards,\x94 Bud explained. \x93I\x92ve dropped antelope that far,
plenty of times. The light was bad, this evening.\x94

\x93Antelope,\x94 Dave repeated meditatively, and winked at his men. \x93All
right, Bud--we\x92ll let it stand at antelope. Boys, you hit for Crater
with this fellow. You ought to make it there and back by tomorrow noon,
all right.\x94

Nelse took the lead rope from Bud and the two started off up the creek,
meaning to strike the road from Little Lost to Crater, the county seat
beyond Gold Gap mountains. Bud rode on to the ranch with his boss, and
tried to answer Dave\x92s questions satisfactorily without relating his own
prowess or divulging too much of Stopper\x92s skill; which was something of
a problem for his wits.

Honey ran out to meet him and had to be assured over and over that he
was not hurt, and that he had lost nothing but his temper and the ride
home with her in the moonlight. She was plainly upset and anxious that
he should not think her cowardly, to leave him that way.

\x93I looked back and saw a man throwing his rope, and you--it looked as if
he had dragged you off the horse. I was sure I saw you falling. So I ran
my horse all the way home, to get Uncle Dave and the boys,\x94 she told
him tremulously. And then she added, with her tantalizing half smile, \x93I
believe that horse of mine could beat Smoky or Skeeter, if I was scared
that bad at the beginning of a race.\x94

Bud, in sheer gratitude for her anxiety over him, patted Honey\x92s hand
and told her she must have broken the record, all right, and that she
had done exactly the right thing. And Honey went to bed happy that
night.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN: EVEN MUSHROOMS HELP

Bud wanted to have a little confidential talk with Marian. He hoped that
she would be willing to tell him a great deal more than could be written
on one side of a cigarette paper, and he was curious to hear what it
was. On the other hand, he wanted somehow to let her know that he was
anxious to help her in any way possible. She needed help, of that he was
sure.

Lew returned on Tuesday, with a vile temper and rheumatism in his left
shoulder so that he could not work, but stayed around the house and too
evidently made his wife miserable by his presence. On Wednesday morning
Marian had her hair dressed so low over her ears that she resembled a
lady of old Colonial days--but she did not quite conceal from Bud\x92s
keen eyes the ugly bruise on her temple. She was pale and her lips were
compressed as if she were afraid to relax lest she burst out in tears or
in a violent denunciation of some kind. Bud dared not look at her, nor
at Lew, who sat glowering at Bud\x92s right hand. He tried to eat, tried to
swallow his coffee, and finally gave up the attempt and left the table.

In getting up he touched Lew\x92s shoulder with his elbow, and Lew let out
a bellow of pain and an oath, and leaned away from him, his right hand
up to ward off another hurt.

\x93Pardon me. I forgot your rheumatism,\x94 Bud apologized perfunctorily, his
face going red at the epithet. Marian, coming toward him with a plate
of biscuits, looked him full in the eyes and turned her glance to her
husband\x92s back while her lips curled in the bitterest, the most scornful
smile Bud had ever seen on a woman\x92s face. She did not speak--speech
was impossible before that tableful of men--but Bud went out feeling as
though she had told him that her contempt for Lew was beyond words, and
that his rheumatism brought no pity whatever.

Wednesday passed, Thursday came, and still there was no chance to speak
a word in private. The kitchen drudge was hedged about by open ears and
curious eyes, and save at meal-time she was invisible to the men unless
they glimpsed her for a moment in the kitchen door.

Thursday brought a thunder storm with plenty of rain, and in the drizzle
that held over until Friday noon Bud went out to an old calf shed
which he had discovered in the edge of the pasture, and gathered his
neckerchief full of mushrooms. Bud hated mushrooms, but he carried them
to the machine shed and waited until he was sure that Honey was in the
sitting room playing the piano--and hitting what Bud called a blue note
now and then--and that Lew was in the bunk-house with the other men, and
Dave and old Pop were in Pop\x92s shack. Then, and then only, Bud took long
steps to the kitchen door, carrying his mushrooms as tenderly as though
they were eggs for hatching.

Marian was up to her dimpled elbows in bread dough when he went in.
Honey was still groping her way lumpily through the Blue Danube Waltz,
and Bud stood so that he could look out through the white-curtained
window over the kitchen table and make sure that no one approached the
house unseen.

\x93Here are some mushrooms,\x94 he said guardedly, lest his voice should
carry to Honey. \x93They\x92re just an excuse. Far as I\x92m concerned you can
feed them to the hogs. I like things clean and natural and wholesome,
myself. I came to find out what\x92s the matter, Mrs. Morris. Is there
anything I can do? I took the hint you gave me in the note, Sunday, and
I discovered right away you knew what you were talking about. That was a
holdup down in the Sinks. It couldn\x92t have been anything else. But
they wouldn\x92t have got anything. I didn\x92t have more than a dollar in my
pocket.\x94

Marian turned her head, and listened to the piano, and glanced up at
him.

\x93I also like things clean and natural and wholesome,\x94 she said quietly.
\x93That\x92s why I tried to put you on your guard. You don\x92t seem to fit in,
somehow, with--the surroundings. I happen to know that the races held
here every Sunday are just thinly veiled attempts to cheat the unwary
out of every cent they have. I should advise you, Mr. Birnie, to be very
careful how you bet on any horses.\x94

\x93I shall,\x94 Bud smiled. \x93Pop gave me some good advice, too, about running
horses. He says, \x91It\x92s every fellow for himself, and mercy toward none.\x92
I\x92m playing by their rule, and Pop expects to make a few dollars, too.
He said he\x92d stand by me.\x94

\x93Oh! He did?\x94 Marian\x92s voice puzzled Bud. She kneaded the bread
vigorously for a minute. \x93Don\x92t depend too much on Pop. He\x92s--variable.
And don\x92t go around with a dollar in your pocket--unless you don\x92t mind
losing that dollar. There are men in this country who would willingly
dispense with the formality of racing a horse in order to get your
money.\x94

\x93Yes--I\x92ve discovered one informal method already. I wish I knew how I
could help YOU.\x94

\x93Help me--in what way?\x94 Marian glanced out of the window again as if
that were a habit she had formed.

\x93I don\x92t know. I wish I did. I thought perhaps you had some trouble
that--My mother had the same look in her eyes when we came back to
the ranch after some Indian trouble, and found the house burned and
everything destroyed but the ground itself. She didn\x92t say anything
much. She just began helping father plan how we\x92d manage until we could
get material and build another cabin, and make our supplies hold out.
She didn\x92t complain. But her eyes had the same look I\x92ve seen in yours,
Mrs. Morris. So I feel as if I ought to help you, just as I\x92d help
mother.\x94 Bud\x92s face had been red and embarrassed when he began, but his
earnestness served to erase his selfconsciousness.

\x93You\x92re different--just like mother,\x94 he went on when Marian did not
answer. \x93You don\x92t belong here drudging in this kitchen. I never saw a
woman doing a man\x92s work before. They ought to have a man cooking for
all these hulking men.\x94

\x93Oh, the kitchen!\x94 Marian exclaimed impatiently. \x93I don\x92t mind the
cooking. That\x92s the least--\x94

\x93It isn\x92t right, just the same. I--I don\x92t suppose that\x92s it altogether.
I\x92m not trying to find out what the trouble is--but I wish you\x92d
remember that I\x92m ready to do anything in the world that I can. You
won\x92t misunderstand that, I\x92m sure.\x94

\x93No-o,\x94 said Marian slowly. \x93But you see, there\x92s nothing that you can
do--except, perhaps, make things worse for me.\x94 Then, to lighten that
statement, she smiled at him. \x93Just now you can help me very much if you
will go in and play something besides the Blue Danube Waltz. I\x92ve had
to listen to that ever since Honora sent away for the music with the
winter\x92s grocery order, last October. Tell Honora you got her some
mushrooms. And don\x92t trust anyone. If you must bet on the horses, do so
with your eyes open. They\x92re cheats--and worse, some of them.\x94

Bud\x92s glance followed hers through the window that overlooked the
corrals and the outbuildings. Lew was coming up to the house with a
slicker over his head to keep off the drizzle.

\x93Well, remember I\x92d do anything for you that I\x92d do for my mother or my
sister Dulcie. And I wish you\x92d call on me just as they would, if you
get in a pinch and need me. If I know you\x92ll do that I\x92ll feel a lot
better satisfied.\x94

\x93If I need you be sure that I shall let you know. And I\x92ll say
that \x91It\x92s a comfort to have met one white man,\x92\x94 Marian assured him
hurriedly, her anxious eyes on her approaching husband.

She need not have worried over his coming, so far as Bud was concerned.
For Bud was in the sitting-room and had picked Honey off the piano
stool, had given her a playful shake and was playing the Blue Danube
as its composer intended that it should be played, when Lew entered the
kitchen and kicked the door shut behind him.

Bud spent the forenoon conscientiously trying to teach Honey that the
rests are quite as important to the tempo of a waltz measure as are the
notes. Honey\x92s talent for music did not measure up to her talent for
coquetry; she received about five dollars\x92 worth of instruction and no
blandishments whatever, and although she no doubt profited thereby, at
last she balked and put her lazy white hands over her ears and refused
to listen to Bud\x92s inexorable \x93One, two, three, one, two, three-and one,
two, three.\x94 Whereupon Bud laughed and returned to the bunk-house.

He arrived in the middle of a heated argument over Jeff Hall\x92s tactics
in racing Skeeter, and immediately was called upon for his private,
personal opinion of Sunday\x92s race. Bud\x92s private, personal opinion
being exceedingly private and personal, he threw out a skirmish line of
banter.

Smoky could run circles around that Skeeter horse, he boasted, and
Jeff\x92s manner of riding was absolutely unimportant, non-essential and
immaterial. He was mighty glad that holdup man had fallen down, last
Sunday, before he got his hands on any money, because that money was
going to talk long and loud to Jeff Hall next Sunday. Now that Bud had
started running his horse for money, working for wages looked foolish
and unprofitable. He was now working merely for healthful exercise and
to pass the time away between Sundays. His real mission in life, he had
discovered, was to teach Jeff\x92s bunch that gambling is a sin.

The talk was carried enthusiastically to the dinner table, where Bud
ignored the scowling proximity of Lew and repeated his boasts in a
revised form as an indirect means of letting Marian know that he meant
to play the Burroback game in the Burroback way--or as nearly as he
could--and keep his honesty more or less intact. He did not think she
would approve, but he wanted her to know.

Once, when Buddy was fifteen, four thoroughbred cows and four calves
disappeared mysteriously from the home ranch just before the calves had
reached branding age. Buddy rode the hills and the valleys every spare
minute for two weeks in search of them, and finally, away over the ridge
where an undesirable neighbor was getting a start in cattle, Buddy found
the calves in a fenced field with eight calves belonging--perhaps--to
the undesirable neighbor.

Buddy did not ride down to the ranch and accuse the neighbor of stealing
the calves. Instead, he painstakingly sought a weak place in the fence,
made a very accidental looking hole and drove out the twelve calves,
took them over the ridge to Tomahawk and left them in a high, mountain
meadow pretty well surrounded by matted thickets. There, because there
was good grass and running water, the calves seemed quite as happy as in
the field.

Then Buddy hurried home and brought a branding iron and a fresh horse,
and by working very hard and fast, he somehow managed to plant a deep
tomahawk brand on each one of the twelve calves. He returned home very
late and very proud of himself, and met his father face to face as
he was putting away the iron. Explanations and a broken harness strap
mingled painfully in Buddy\x92s memory for a long time afterwards, but the
full effect of the beating was lost because Buddy happened to hear Bob
Birnie confide to mother that the lad had served the old cattle-thief
right, and that any man who could start with one thoroughbred cow and
in four years have sufficient increase from that cow to produce eight
calves a season, ought to lose them all.

Buddy had not needed his father\x92s opinion to strengthen his own
conviction that he had performed a worthy deed and one of which no man
need feel ashamed. Indeed, Buddy considered the painful incident of
the buggy strap a parental effort at official discipline, and held no
particular grudge against his father after the welts had disappeared
from his person.

Wherefore Bud, the man, held unswervingly to the ethical standard of
Buddy the boy. If Burroback Valley was scheming to fleece a stranger at
their races and rob him by force if he happened to win, then Bud felt
justified in getting every dollar possible out of the lot of them. At
any rate, he told himself, he would do his darndest. It was plain enough
that Pop was trying to make an opportunity to talk confidentially, but
with a dozen men on the place it was easy enough to avoid being alone
without arousing the old man\x92s suspicions. Marian had told him to
trust no one; and Bud, with his usual thoroughness, applied the warning
literally.

Sunday morning he caught up Smoky and rode him to the corral. Smoky
had recovered from his lameness, and while Bud groomed him for the
afternoon\x92s running the men of Little Lost gathered round him and
offered advice and encouragement, and even volunteered to lend him money
if he needed it. But Bud told them to put up their own bets, and never
to worry about him. Their advice and their encouragement, however, he
accepted as cheerfully as they were given.

\x93Think yuh can beat Skeeter, young feller?\x94 Pop shambled up to inquire
anxiously, his beard brushing Bud\x92s shoulder while he leaned close.
\x93Remember what I told ye. You stick by me an\x92 I\x92ll stick by you. You
shook on it, don\x92t forgit that, young feller.\x94

Bud had forgotten, but he made haste to redeem his promise. \x93Last
Sunday, Pop, I had to play it alone. To-day-well, if you want to make an
honest dollar, you know what to do, don\x92t you?\x94

\x93Sho! I\x92m bettin\x92 on yore horse t\x92day, an\x92 mind ye, I want to see my
money doubled! But that there lameness in his left hind ankle--I don\x92t
see but what that kinda changes my opinion a little mite. You shore he
won\x92t quit on ye in the race, now? Don\x92t lie to ole Pop, young feller!\x94

\x93Say! He \x91s the gamest little horse in the state, Pop. He never has
quit, and he never will.\x94 Bud stood up and laid a friendly hand on the
old fellow\x92s shoulder. \x93Pop, I\x92m running him to-day to win. That\x92s the
truth. I\x92m going to put all I\x92ve got on him. Is that good enough?\x94

\x93Shucks almighty! That\x92s good enough fer me,--plenty good fer me,\x94 Pop
cackled, and trotted off to find someone who had little enough faith in
Smoky to wager a two-to-one against him.

It seemed to Bud that the crowd was larger than that of a week ago, and
there was no doubt whatever that the betting was more feverish, and that
Jeff meant that day to retrieve his losses. Bud passed up a very good
chance to win on other races, and centred all his betting on Smoky. He
had been throughout the week boastful and full of confidence, and now he
swaggered and lifted his voice in arrogant challenge to all and sundry.
His three hundred dollars was on the race, and incidentally, he never
left Smoky from the time he led him up from pasture until the time came
when he and Jeff Hall rode side by side down to the quarter post.

They came up in a small whirlwind of speed and dust, and Smoky was under
the wire to his ears when Skeeter\x92s nose showed beyond it. Little Lost
was jubilant. Jeff Hall and his backers were not.

Bud\x92s three hundred dollars had in less than a minute increased to a
little over nine hundred, though all his bets had been moderate. By the
time he had collected, his pockets were full and his cocksureness had
increased to such an unbearable crowing that Jeff Hall\x92s eyes were
venomous as a snake\x92s. Jeff had been running to win, that day, and he
had taken odds on Skeeter that had seemed to him perfectly safe.

\x93I\x92ll run yuh horse for horse!\x94 he bellowed and spat out an epithet that
sent Bud at him white-lipped.

\x93Damn yuh, ride down to the quarter post and I\x92ll show you some
running!\x94 Bud yelled back. \x93And after you\x92ve swallowed dust all the way
up the track, you go with me to where the women can\x92t see and I\x92ll lick
the living tar outa you!\x94

Jeff swore and wheeled Skeeter toward the starting post, beckoning
Bud to follow. And Bud, hastily tucking in a flapping bulge of striped
shirt, went after him. At that moment he was not Bud, but Buddy in one
of his fighting moods, with his plans forgotten while he avenged an
insult.

Men lined up at the wire to judge for themselves the finish, and Dave
Truman rode alone to start them. No one doubted but that the start would
be fair--Jeff and Bud would see to that!

For the first time in months the rein-ends stung Smoky\x92s flanks when he
was in his third jump. Just once Bud struck, and was ashamed of the blow
as it fell. Smoky did not need that urge, but he flattened his ears and
came down the track a full length ahead of Skeeter, and held the pace
to the wire and beyond, where he stopped in a swirl of sand and went
prancing back, ready for another race if they asked it of him.

\x93Guess Dave\x92ll have to bring out Boise and take the swellin\x92 outa that
singin\x92 kid\x92s pocket,\x94 a hardfaced man shouted as Jeff slid off
Skeeter and went over to where his cronies stood bunched and conferring
earnestly together.

\x93Not to-day, he needn\x92t. I\x92ve had all the excitement I want; and I\x92d
like to have time to count my money before I lose it,\x94 Bud retorted.
\x93Next Sunday, if it\x92s a clear day and the sign is right, I might run
against Boise if it\x92s worth my while. Say, Jeff, seeing you\x92re playing
hard luck, I won\x92t lick you for what you called me. And just to show my
heart\x92s right, I\x92ll lend you Skeeter to ride home. Or if you want to buy
him back, you can have him for sixty dollars or such a matter. He \x91s a
nice little horse,--if you aren\x92t in a hurry!\x94



CHAPTER FIFTEEN: WHY BUD MISSED A DANCE

\x93Bud, you\x92re fourteen kinds of a damn fool and I can prove it,\x94 Jerry
announced without prelude of any kind save, perhaps, the viciousness
with which he thrust a pitchfork into a cock of hay. The two were
turning over hay-cocks that had been drenched with another unwelcome
storm, and they had not been talking much. \x93Forking\x94 soggy hay when
the sun is blistering hot and great, long-billed mosquitoes are boring
indefatigably into the back of one\x92s neck is not a pastime conducive to
polite and animated conversation.

\x93Fly at it,\x94 Bud invited, resting his fork while he scratched a smarting
shoulder. \x93But you can skip some of the evidence. I know seven of the
kinds, and I plead guilty. Any able-bodied man who will deliberately
make a barbecue of himself for a gang of blood-thirsty insects ought to
be hanged. What\x92s the rest?\x94

\x93You can call that mild,\x94 Jerry stated severely. \x93Bud, you\x92re playing to
lose the shirt off your back. You\x92ve got a hundred dollar forfeit up
on next Sunday\x92s running match, so you\x92ll run if you have to race Boise
afoot. That\x92s all right if you want the risk--but did it ever occur to
you that if all the coin in the neighborhood is collected in one man\x92s
pocket, there\x92ll be about as many fellows as there are losers, that will
lay awake till sun-up figuring how to heel him and ride off with the
roll? I ain\x92t over-stocked with courage, myself. I\x92d rather be broke in
Burroback Valley than owner of wealth. It\x92s healthier.\x94

He thrust his fork into another settled heap, lifted it clear of the
ground with one heave of his muscular shoulders, and heard within a
strident buzzing. He held the hay poised until a mottled gray
snake writhed into view, its ugly jaws open and its fangs showing
malevolently.

\x93Grab him with your fork, Bud,\x94 Jerry said coolly. \x93A rattler--the
valley\x92s full of \x91em,--some of \x91em \x91s human.\x94

The snake was dispatched and the two went on to the next hay-cock.
Bud was turning over more than the hay, and presently he spoke more
seriously than was his habit with Jerry.

\x93You\x92re full enough of warnings, Jerry. What do you want me to do about
it?\x94

\x93Drift,\x94 Jerry advised. \x93There\x92s moral diseases just as catching as
smallpox. This part of the country has been settled up by men that came
here first because they wanted to hide out. They\x92ve slipped into darn
crooked ways, and the rest has either followed suit or quit. All through
this rough country. It\x92s the same-over in the Black Rim, across Thunder
Mountains, and beyond that to the Sawtooth, a man that\x92s honest is a
man that\x92s off his range. I\x92d like to see you pull out--before you\x92re
planted.\x94

Bud looked at Jerry, studied him, feature by feature. \x93Then what are you
doing here?\x94 he demanded bluntly. \x93Why haven\x92t you pulled out?\x94

\x93Me?\x94 Jerry bit his lip. \x93Bud, I\x92m going to take a chance and tell you
the God\x92s-truth. I dassent. I\x92m protected here because I keep my mouth
shut, and because they know I\x92ve got to or they can hand me over. I had
some trouble. I\x92m on the dodge, and Little Lost is right handy to the
Sinks and--Catrock Canyon. There ain\x92t a sheriff in Idaho that would
have one chance in a thousand of getting me here. But you--say!\x94 He
faced Bud. \x93You ain\x92t on the dodge, too, are yuh?\x94

\x93Nope,\x94 Bud grinned. \x93Over at the Muleshoe they seemed to think I was. I
just struck out for myself, and I want to show up at home some day with
a stake I made myself. It\x92s just a little argument with my dad that I
want to settle. And,\x94 he added frankly, \x93I seem to have struck the
right place to make money quickly. The very fact that they\x92re a bunch of
crooks makes my conscience clear on the point of running my horse. I\x92m
not cheating them out of a cent. If Jeff\x92s horse is faster than Smoky,
Jeff is privileged to let him out and win if he can. It isn\x92t my fault
if he \x91s playing to let me win from the whole bunch in the hope that
he can hold me up afterwards and get the roll. It\x92s straight \x91give and
take\x92--and so far I\x92ve been taking.\x94

Jerry worked for a while, moodily silent. \x93What I\x92d like is to see you
take the trail; while the takin\x92s good,\x94 he said later. \x93I\x92ve got to
keep my mouth shut. But I like yuh, Bud. I hate like hell to see you
walking straight into a trap.\x94

\x93Say, I\x92m as easily trapped as a mountain lion,\x94 Bud told him
confidently.

Whereat Jerry looked at him pityingly. \x93You going to that dance up at
Morgan\x92s?\x94

\x93Sure! I\x92m going to take Honey and--I think Mrs. Morris if she decides
to go. Honey mentioned it last night. Why?\x94

\x93Oh, nothing.\x94 Jerry shouldered his fork and went off to where a jug of
water was buried in the hay beside a certain boulder which marked
the spot. He drank long, stopped for a short gossip with Charley, who
strolled over for a drink, and went to work on another row.

Bud watched him, and wondered if Jerry had changed rows to avoid
further talk with him; and whether Jerry had merely been trying to get
information from him, and had either learned what he wanted to know,
or had given up the attempt. Bud reviewed mentally their desultory
conversation and decided that he had accidentally been very discreet.
The only real bit of information he had given Jerry was the fact that he
was not \x93on the dodge\x94--a criminal in fear of the law--and that surely
could harm no man.

That he intended to run against Boise on Sunday was common knowledge;
also that he had a hundred dollar forfeit up on the race. And that he
was going to a dance with Honey was of no consequence that he could see.

Bud was beginning to discount the vague warnings he had received. Unless
something definite came within his knowledge he would go about his
business exactly as if Burroback Valley were a church-going community.
He would not \x93drift.\x94

But after all he did not go to the dance with Honey, or with anyone. He
came to the supper-table freshly shaved and dressed for the occasion,
ate hungrily and straightway became a very sick young man. He did not
care if there were forty dances in the Valley that night. His head was
splitting, his stomach was in a turmoil. He told Jerry to go ahead with
Honey, and if he felt better after a while he would follow. Jerry at
first was inclined to scepticism, and accused Bud of crawfishing at the
last minute. But within ten minutes Bud had convinced him so completely
that Jerry insisted upon staying with him. By then Bud was too sick to
care what was being done, or who did it. So Jerry stayed.

Honey came to the bunk-house in her dance finery, was met in the doorway
by Jerry and was told that this was no place for a lady, and reluctantly
consented to go without her escort.

A light shone dimly in the kitchen after the dancers had departed,
wherefore Jerry guessed that Marian had not gone with the others,
and that he could perhaps get hold of mustard for an emetic or a
plaster--Jerry was not sure which remedy would be best, and the
patient, wanting to die, would not be finicky. He found Marian measuring
something drop by drop into half a glass of water. She turned, saw who
had entered, and carefully counted three more drops, corked the bottle
tightly and slid it into her apron pocket, and held out the glass to
Jerry.

\x93Give him this,\x94 she said in a soft undertone. \x93I\x92m sorry, but I hadn\x92t
a chance to say a word to the boy, and so I couldn\x92t think of any other
way of making sure he would not go up to Morgan\x92s. I put something into
his coffee to make him sick. You may tell him, Jerry, if you like. I
should, if I had the chance. This will counteract the effects of the
other so that he will be all right in a couple of hours.\x94

Jerry took the glass and stood looking at her steadily. \x93That sure was
one way to do it,\x94 he observed, with a quirk of the lips. \x93It\x92s none of
my business, and I ain\x92t asking any questions, but--\x94

\x93Very sensible, I\x92m sure,\x94 Marian interrupted him. \x93I wish he\x92d leave
the country. Can\x92t you--?\x94

\x93No. I told him to pull out, and he just laughed at me. I knowed they
was figuring on ganging together to-night--\x94

Marian closed her hands together with a gesture of impatience. \x93Jerry, I
wish I knew just how bad you are!\x94 she exclaimed. \x93Do you dare stand by
him? Because this thing is only beginning. I couldn\x92t bear to see him go
up there to-night, absolutely unsuspecting--and so I made him sick. Tell
that to anyone, and you can make me--\x94

\x93Say, I ain\x92t a damned skunk!\x94 Jerry muttered. \x93I\x92m bad enough, maybe.
At any rate you think so.\x94 Then, as usually happened, Jerry decided to
hold his tongue. He turned and lifted the latch of the screen door. \x93You
sure made a good job of it,\x94 he grinned. \x93I\x92ll go an\x92 pour this into Bud
\x91fore he loses his boots!\x94

He did so, and saved Bud\x92s boots and half a night\x92s sleep besides.
Moreover, when Bud, fully recovered, searched his memory of that supper
and decided that it was the sliced cucumbers that had disagreed with
him, Jerry gravely assured him that it undoubtedly was the combination
of cucumber and custard pie, and that Bud was lucky to be alive after
such reckless eating.

Having missed the dance altogether, Bud looked forward with impatience
to Sunday. It is quite possible that others shared with him that
impatience, though we are going to adhere for a while to Bud\x92s point of
view and do no more than guess at the thoughts hidden behind the fair
words of certain men in the Valley.

Pop\x92s state of mind we are privileged to know, for Pop was seen making
daily pilgrimage to the pasture where he could watch Smoky limping
desultorily here and there with Stopper and Sunfish. On Saturday
afternoon Bud saw Pop trying to get his hands on Smoky, presumably to
examine the lame ankle. But three legs were all Smoky needed to keep him
out of Pop\x92s reach. Pop forgot his rheumatism and ran pretty fast for a
man his age, and when Bud arrived Pop\x92s vocabulary had limbered up to a
more surprising activity than his legs.

\x93Want to bet on yourself, Pop?\x94 Bud called out when Pop was running
back and forth, hopefully trying to corner Smoky in a rocky draw. \x93I\x92m
willing to risk a dollar on you, anyway.\x94

Pop whirled upon him and hurled sentences not written in the book of
Parlor Entertainment. The gist of it was that he had been trying all
the week to have a talk with Bud, and Bud had plainly avoided him after
promising to act upon Pop\x92s advice and run so as to make some money.

\x93Well, I made some,\x94 Bud defended. \x93If you didn\x92t, it\x92s just because you
didn\x92t bet strong enough.\x94

\x93I want to look at that horse\x92s hind foot,\x94 Pop insisted.

\x93No use. He\x92s too lame to run against Boise. You can see that yourself.\x94

Pop eyed Bud suspiciously, pulling his beard. \x93Are you fixin\x92 to
double-cross me, young feller?\x94 he wanted to know. \x93I went and made some
purty big bets on this race. If you think yo\x92re goin\x92 to fool ole Pop,
you \x91ll wish you hadn\x92t. You got enemies already in this valley, lemme
tell yuh. The Muleshoe ain\x92t any bunch to fool with, and I\x92m willing
to say \x91t they\x92re laying fer yuh. They think,\x94 he added shrewdly, \x93\x91t
you\x92re a spotter, or something. Air yuh?\x94

\x93Of course I am, Pop! I\x92ve spotted a way to make money and have
fun while I do it.\x94 Bud looked at the old man, remembered Marian\x92s
declaration that Pop was not very reliable, and groped mentally for a
way to hearten the old man without revealing anything better kept to
himself, such as the immediate effect of a horse hair tied just above
a horse\x92s hoof, also the immediate result of removing that hair.
Wherefore, he could not think of much to say, except that he would not
attempt to run a lame horse against Boise.

\x93All I can say is, to-morrow morning you keep your eyes open, Pop, and
your tongue between your teeth. And no matter what comes up, you use
your own judgment.\x94

To-morrow morning Pop showed that he was taking Bud\x92s advice. When the
crowd began to gather--much earlier than usual, by the way, and much
larger than any crowd Bud had seen in the valley--Pop was trotting here
and there, listening and pulling his whiskers and eyeing Bud sharply
whenever that young man appeared in his vicinity.

Bud led Smoky up at noon--and Smoky was still lame. Dave looked at him
and at Bud, and grinned. \x93I guess that forfeit money\x92s mine,\x94 he said in
his laconic way. \x93No use running that horse. I could beat him afoot.\x94

This was but the beginning. Others began to banter and jeer Bud, Jeff\x92s
crowd taunting him with malicious glee. The singin\x92 kid was going to
have some of the swelling taken out of his head, they chortled. He had
been crazy enough to put up a forfeit on to-day\x92s race, and now his
horse had just three legs to run on.

\x93Git out afoot, kid!\x94 Jeff Hall yelled. \x93If you kin run half as fast as
you kin talk, you\x92ll beat Boise four lengths in the first quarter!\x94

Bud retorted in kind, and led Smoky around the corral as if he hoped
that the horse would recover miraculously just to save his master\x92s
pride. The crowd hooted to see how Smoky hobbled along, barely touching
the toe of his lame foot to the ground. Bud led him back to the manger
piled with new hay, and faced the jeering crowd belligerently. Bud
noticed several of the Muleshoe men in the crowd, no doubt drawn to
Little Lost by the talk of Bud\x92s spectacular winnings for two Sundays.
Hen was there, and Day Masters and Cub. Also there were strangers who
had ridden a long way, judging by their sweaty horses. In the midst of
the talk and laughter Dave led out Boise freshly curried and brushed and
arching his neck proudly.

\x93No use, Bud,\x94 he said tolerantly. \x93I guess you\x92re set back that forfeit
money--unless you want to go through the motions of running a lame
horse.\x94

\x93No, sir, I\x92m not going to hand over any forfeit money without making
a fight for it!\x94 Bud told him, anger showing in his voice. \x93I\x92m no such
piker as that. I won\x92t run Smoky, lame as he is \x93--Bud probably nudged
his own ribs when he said that!--\x93but if you\x92ll make it a mile, I\x92ll
catch up my old buckskin packhorse and run the race with him, by
thunder! He\x92s not the quickest horse in the world, but he sure can run a
long while!\x94

They yelled and slapped one another on the back, and otherwise comported
themselves as though a great joke had been told them; never dreaming,
poor fools, that a costly joke was being perpetrated.

\x93Go it, kid. You run your packhorse, and I\x92ll rive yuh five to one on
him!\x94 a friend of Jeff Hall\x92s yelled derisively.

\x93I\x92ll just take you up on that, and I\x92ll make it one hundred dollars,\x94
 Bud shouted back. \x93I\x92d run a turtle for a quarter, at those odds!\x94

The crowd was having hysterics when Bud straddled a Little Lost horse
and, loudly declaring that he would bring back Sunfish, led Smoky
limping back to the pasture. He returned soon, leading the buckskin. The
crowd surged closer, gave Sunfish a glance and whooped again. Bud\x92s face
was red with apparent anger, his eyes snapped. He faced them defiantly,
his hand on Sunfish\x92s thin, straggling mane.

\x93You\x92re such good sports, you\x92ll surely appreciate my feelings when I
say that this horse is mine, and I\x92m going to run him and back him to
win!\x94 he cried. \x93I may be a darn fool, but I\x92m no piker. I know what
this horse can do when I try to catch him up on a frosty morning--and
I\x92m going to see if he can\x92t go just as fast and just as long when I\x92m
on him as he can when I\x92m after him.\x94

\x93We\x92ll go yuh, kid! I\x92ll bet yuh five to one,\x94 a man shouted. \x93You name
the amount yourself.\x94

\x93Fifty,\x94 said Bud, and the man nodded and jotted down the amount.

\x93Bud, you\x92re a damn fool. I\x92ll bet you a hundred and make it ten to
one,\x94 drawled Dave, stroking Boise\x92s face affectionately while he looked
superciliously at Sunfish standing half asleep in the clamor, with his
head sagging at the end of his long, ewe neck. \x93But if you\x92ll take my
advice, go turn that fool horse back in the pasture and run the bay if
you must run something.\x94

\x93The bay\x92s a rope horse. I don\x92t want to spoil him by running him. That
little horse saved my life, down in the Sinks. No, Sunfish has run times
enough from me--now he \x91s got to run for me, by thunder. I\x92ll bet on
him, too!\x94

Jeff pushed his way through to Bud. He was smiling with that crafty
look in his eyes which should have warned a child that the smile went no
deeper than his lips.

\x93Bud, doggone it, I like yore nerve. Besides, you owe me something for
the way you trimmed me last Sunday. I\x92ll just give you fifteen to one,
and you put up Skeeter at seventy-five, and as much money as yo\x92re a
mind to. A pile of it come out of my pocket, so-\x94

\x93Well, don\x92t holler your head off, Jeff. How\x92s two hundred?\x94

\x93Suits me, kid.\x94 He winked at the others, who knew how sure a thing he
had to back his wager. \x93It \x91ll be a lot of money if I should lose--\x94
 He turned suddenly to Dave. \x93How much was that you put up agin the kid,
Dave?\x94

\x93One hundred dollars, and a ten-to-one shot I win,\x94 Dave drawled. \x93That
ought to satisfy yuh it ain\x92t a frame-up. The kid\x92s crazy, that\x92s all.\x94

\x93Oh! Am I?\x94 Bud turned hotly. \x93Well, I\x92ve bet half of all the money
I have in the world. And I\x92m game for the other half--\x94 He stopped
abruptly, cast one look at Sunfish and another at Boise, stepping about
uneasily, his shiny coat rippling, beautiful. He turned and combed
Sunfish\x92s scanty mane with his gloved fingers. Those nearest saw that
his lips were trembling a little and mistook his hidden emotion for
anger.

\x93You got him going,\x94 a man whispered in Jeff\x92s ear. \x93The kid\x92s crazy mad.
He\x92ll bet the shirt off his back if yuh egg him on a little more.\x94

Jeff must have decided to \x93egg\x94 Bud on. By the time the crowd had
reached the course, and the first, more commonplace races were over,
the other half of his money was in the hands of the stake-holder, who
happened on this day to be Jerry. And the odds varied from four to one
up to Jeff Hall\x92s scornful fifteen.

\x93Bet yuh five hundred dollars against your bay horse,\x94 Lew offered when
Bud confessed that he had not another dollar to bet.--

\x93All right, it\x92s a go with me,\x94 Bud answered recklessly. \x93Get his
hundred, Jerry, and put down Stopper.\x94

\x93What\x92s that saddle worth?\x94 another asked meaningly.

\x93One hundred dollars,\x94 snapped Bud. \x93And if you want to go further,
there are my chaps and spurs and this silver-mounted bridle-and my boots
and hat-and I\x92ll throw in Sunfish for whatever you say his hide\x92s worth.
Who wants the outfit?\x94

\x93I\x92ll take \x91em,\x94 said Jeff, and permitted Jerry and Dave to appraise the
outfit, which Bud piled contemptuously in a heap.

He mounted Sunfish bareback with a rope halter. Bud was bareheaded and
in his sock feet. His eyes were terribly blue and bright, and his face
was flushed as a drunken man\x92s. He glanced over to the bank where
the women and children were watching. It seemed to him that one woman
fluttered her handkerchief, and his heart beat unevenly for a minute.

Then he was riding at a walk down the course to the farthest post, and
the crowd was laughing at the contrast between the two horses. Boise
stepped springily, tossing his head, his eyes ablaze with ardor for the
race. Beside him Sunfish walked steadily as if he were carrying a pack.
He was not a pretty horse to look at. His neck was long and thin, his
mane and tail scanty and uneven, a nondescript sorrel. His head looked
large, set on the end of that neck, his nose was dished in and his eyes
had a certain veiled look, as if he were hiding a bad disposition under
those droopy lids. Without a saddle he betrayed his high, thin withers,
the sway in his back, his high hip bones. His front legs were flat, with
long, stringy-looking muscles under his unkempt buckskin hide. Even the
women laughed at Sunfish.

Beside them two men rode, the starter and another to see that the start
was fair. So they receded down the flat, yellow course and dwindled to
mere miniature figures against the sand, so that one could not tell one
horse from another.

The crowd bunched, still laughing at how the singin\x92 kid was going to
feel when he rode again to meet them. It would cure him of racing, they
said. It would be a good lesson; serve him right for coming in there and
thinking, because he had cleaned up once or twice, that he could not be
beaten.

\x93Here they come,\x94 Jeff Hall announced satisfiedly, and spat into the
sand as a tiny blue puff of smoke showed beside one of the dots, and two
other dots began to grow perceptibly larger within a yellow cloud which
rolled along the earth.

Men reined this way and that, or stood on their toes if they were afoot,
the better to see the two rolling dots. In a moment one dot seemed
larger than the other. One could glimpse the upflinging of knees as two
horses leaped closer and closer.

\x93Well-l-he\x92s keepin\x92 Dave in sight--that\x92s more than what I expected
he\x92d do,\x94 Jeff observed.

It was Pop who suddenly gave a whoop that cracked and shrilled into
falsetto.

\x93Shucks a\x92mighty! Dave, he\x92s a-whippin\x92 up to keep the KID in sight!\x94 he
quavered. \x93Shucks--a\x92MIGHTY, he \x91s a-comin\x92!\x94

He was. Lying forward flattened along Sunfish\x92s hard-muscled shoulders,
Bud was gaining and gaining--one length, then two lengths as he shot
under the wire, slowed and rode back to find a silent crowd watching
him.

He was clothed safely again in chaps, boots, spurs, hat--except that I
have named the articles backward; cowpuncher that he was, Bud put on his
hat before he even reached for his boots--and was collecting his wagers
relentlessly as Shylock ever took his toll, before he paid any attention
to the atmosphere around him. Then, because someone shouted a question
three inches from his ear, Bud turned and laughed as he faced them.

\x93Why, sure he\x92s from running stock! I never said he wasn\x92t--because none
of you make-believe horsemen had sense enough to see the speed in him
and get curious. You bush-racers never saw a real race-horse before, I
guess. They aren\x92t always pretty to look at, you know. Sunfish has
all the earmarks of speed if you know how to look for them. He\x92s
thoroughbred; sired by Trump, out of Kansas Chippy--if that means
anything to you fellows.\x94 He looked them over, eyes meeting eyes until
his glance rested on Jeff Hall. \x93I\x92ve got his registration papers in my
grip, if you aren\x92t convinced. And,\x94 he added by way of rubbing it in,
\x93I guess I\x92ve got about all the money there is in this valley.\x94

\x93No, you ain\x92t!\x94 Pop Truman cackled, teetering backward and forward
while he counted his winnings. \x93I bet on ye, young feller. Brought me in
something, too. It did so!\x94



CHAPTER SIXTEEN: WHILE THE GOING\x92S GOOD

At supper Bud noticed that Marian, standing at his right side, set down
his cup of coffee with her right hand, and at the same instant he felt
her left hand fumble in his pocket and then touch his elbow. She went
on, and Bud in his haste to get outside drank his coffee so hot that it
scalded his mouth. Jerry rose up and stepped backward over the bench as
Bud passed him, and went out at his heels.

\x93Go play the piano for half an hour and then meet me where you got them
mushrooms. And when you quit playing, duck quick. Tell Honey you\x92ll be
back in a minute. Have her hunt for music for yuh while you\x92re out--or
something like that. Don\x92t let on.\x94

Bud might have questioned Jerry, but that cautious young man was already
turning back to call something--to Dave, so Bud went around the corner,
glancing into the pantry window as he passed. Marian was not in sight,
nor was Honey at the moment when he stood beside the step of the
post-office.

Boldness carries its own talisman against danger. Bud went in--without
slamming the door behind him, you may be sure--and drew his small
notebook from his inside pocket. With that to consult frequently, he sat
down by the window where the failing light was strongest, and proceeded
to jot down imaginary figures on the paper he pulled from his coat
pocket and unfolded as if it were of no value whatever to him. The piano
playing ordered by Jerry could wait.

What Marian had to say on this occasion could not be written upon a
cigarette paper. In effect her note was a preface to Jerry\x92s commands.
Bud saw where she had written words and erased them so thoroughly that
the cheap paper was almost worn through. She had been afraid, poor lady,
but her fear could not prevent the writing.

\x93You must leave to-night for Crater and cash the checks given you to pay
the bets. Go to Crater. If you don\x92t know the way, keep due north after
you have crossed Gold Gap. There\x92s the stage road, but they\x92ll watch
that, I\x92m afraid. They mean to stop payment on the checks. But
first they will kill you if they can. They say you cheated with that
thoroughbred horse. They took their losses so calmly--I knew that they
meant to rob you. To show you how I know, it was Lew you shot on the
ridge that night. His rheumatism was caused by your bullet that nicked
his shoulder. So you see what sort we are--go. Don\x92t wait--go now.\x94

Bud looked up, and there was Honey leaning over the counter, smiling at
him.

\x93Well, how much is it?\x94 she teased when she saw he had discovered her.

Bud drew a line across the note and added imaginary columns of figures,
his hat-brim hiding his face.

\x93Over eleven thousand dollars,\x94 he announced, and twisted the paper
in his fingers while he went over to her. \x93Almost enough to start
housekeeping!\x94

Honey blushed and leaned to look for something which she pretended to
have dropped and Bud seized the opportunity to tuck the paper out of
sight. \x93I feel pretty much intoxicated to-night, Honey,\x94 he said. \x93I
think I need soothing, or something--and you know what music does to the
savage breast. Let \x91s play.\x94

\x93All right. You\x92ve been staying away lately till I thought you were
mad,\x94 Honey assented rather eagerly, and opened the little gate in the
half partition just as Bud was vaulting the counter, which gave her
a great laugh and a chance for playful scuffling. Bud kissed her and
immediately regretted the caress.

Jerry had told him to play the piano, but Bud took his mandolin and
played that while Honey thumped out chords for him. As he had half
expected, most of the men strayed in and perched here and there
listening just as if there had not been a most unusual horserace to
discuss before they slept. Indeed, Bud had never seen the Little Lost
boys so thoughtful, and this silence struck him all at once as something
sinister, like a beast of prey stalking its kill.

Two waltzes he played--and then, in the middle of a favorite two-step,
a mandolin string snapped with a sharp twang, and Bud came as close to
swearing as a well-behaved young man may come in the presence of a lady.

\x93Now I\x92ll have to go get a new E string,\x94 he complained. \x93You play the
Danube for the boys--the way I taught you--while I get this fixed. I\x92ve
an extra string down in the bunk-house; it won\x92t take five minutes to
get it.\x94 He laid the mandolin down on his chair, bolted out through the
screen door which he slammed after him to let Jerry know that he was
coming, and walked halfway to the bunk-house before he veered off around
the corner of the machine shed and ran.

Jerry was waiting by the old shed, and without a word he led Bud behind
it where Sunfish was standing saddled and bridled.

\x93You got to go, Bud, while the going\x92s good. I\x92d go with yuh if I
dared,\x94 Jerry mumbled guardedly. \x93You hit for Crater, Bud, and put that
money in the bank. You can cut into the stage road where it crosses
Oldman Creek, if you go straight up the race track to the far end, and
follow the trail from there. You can\x92t miss it--there ain\x92t but one way
to go. I got yuh this horse because he\x92s worth more\x92n what the other two
are, and he\x92s faster. And Bud, if anybody rides up on yuh, shoot. Don\x92t
monkey around about it. And you RIDE!\x94

\x93All right,\x94 Bud muttered. \x93But I\x92ll have to go down in the pasture
and get my money, first. I\x92ve got my own private bank down there, and I
haven\x92t enough in my pockets to play penny ante more than one round.\x94

\x93Hell!\x94 Jerry\x92s hand lifted to Bud\x92s shoulder and gripped it for a
minute. \x93That\x92s right on the road to the Sinks, man!\x94 He stood biting
his lips, thinking deeply, turning his head now and then as little
sounds came from the house: the waltz Honey was playing, the post-office
door slamming shut.

\x93You tell me where that money\x92s cached, Bud, and I\x92ll go after it. I
guess you\x92ll have to trust me--I sure wouldn\x92t let yuh go down to the
pasture yourself right now. Where is it?\x94

\x93Look under that flat rock right by the gate post, where the top bars
hit the ground. It\x92s wrapped up in a handkerchief, so just bring
the package. It\x92s been easy to tuck things under the rock when I was
putting up the bars. I\x92ll wait here.\x94

\x93Good enough--I\x92d sure have felt easier if I\x92d known you wasn\x92t carrying
all that money.\x94 Whereupon Jerry disappeared, and his going made no
sound.

Bud stood beside Sunfish, wondering if he had been a fool to trust
Jerry. By his own admission Jerry was living without the law, and this
might easily be a smooth scheme of robbery. He turned and strained his
eyes into the dusk, listening, trying to hear some sound that would
show which way Jerry had gone. He was on the point of following
him--suspicion getting the better of his faith--when Sunfish moved his
head abruptly to one side, bumping Bud\x92s head with his cheek. At the
same instant a hand touched Bud\x92s arm.

\x93I saw you from the kitchen window,\x94 Marian whispered tensely. \x93I was
afraid you hadn\x92t read my note, or perhaps wouldn\x92t pay any attention to
it. I heard you and Jerry--of course he won\x92t dare go with you and show
you the short-cut, even if he knows it. There\x92s a quicker way than
up the creek-bed. I have Boise out in the bushes, and a saddle. I was
afraid to wait at the barn long enough to saddle him. You go--he\x92s
behind that great pile of rocks, back of the corrals. I\x92ll wait for
Jerry.\x94 She gave him a push, and Bud was so astonished that he made no
reply whatever, but did exactly as she had told him to do.

Boise was standing behind the peaked outcropping of rock, and beside
him was a stock-saddle which must have taxed Marian\x92s strength to carry.
Indeed, Bud thought she must have had wings, to do so much in so short a
space of time; though when he came to estimate that time he decided that
he must have been away from the house ten minutes, at least. If Marian
followed him closely enough to see him duck behind the machine shed and
meet Jerry, she could run behind the corral and get Boise out by way of
the back door of the stable. There was a path, screened from the corral
by a fringe of brush, which went that way. The truth flashed upon him
that one could ride unseen all around Little Lost.

He was just dropping the stirrup down from the saddle horn when Marian
appeared with Jerry and Sunfish close behind her. Jerry held out the
package.

\x93She says she\x92ll show you a short cut,\x94 he whispered. \x93She says I don\x92t
know anything about it. I guess she\x92s right--there\x92s a lot I don\x92t know.
Lew \x91s gone, and she says she\x92ll be back before daylight. If they miss
Boise they\x92ll think you stole him. But they won\x92t look. Dave wouldn\x92t
slam around in the night on Boise--he thinks too much of him. Well--beat
it, and I sure wish yuh luck. You be careful, Marian. Come back this
way, and if you see a man\x92s handkerchief hanging on this bush right here
where I\x92m standing, it\x92ll mean you\x92ve been missed.\x94

\x93Thank you, Jerry,\x94 Marian whispered. \x93I\x92ll look for it. Come, Bud--keep
close behind me, and don\x92t make any noise.\x94

Bud would have protested, but Marian did not give him a chance. She
took up the reins, grasped the saddle horn, stuck her slipper toe in
the stirrup and mounted Boise as quickly as Bud could have done it--as
easily, too, making allowance for the difference in their height. Bud
mounted Sunfish and followed her down the trail which led to the race
track; but when they had gone through the brush and could see starlight
beyond, she turned sharply to the left, let Boise pick his way carefully
over a rocky stretch and plunged into the brush again, leaning low in
the saddle so that the higher branches would not claw at her hair and
face.

When they had once more come into open ground with a shoulder of Catrock
Peak before them, Marian pulled up long enough to untie her apron and
bind it over her hair like a peasant woman. She glanced back at Bud,
and although darkness hid the expression on her face, he saw her eyes
shining in the starlight. She raised her hand and beckoned, and Bud
reined Sunfish close alongside.

\x93We\x92re going into a spooky place now,\x94 she leaned toward him to whisper.
\x93Boise knows the way, and your horse will follow.\x94

\x93All right,\x94 Bud whispered back. \x93But you\x92d better tell me the way and
let me go on alone. I\x92m pretty good at scouting out new trails. I don\x92t
want you to get in trouble--\x94

She would not listen to more of that, but pushed him back with the flat
of her bare hand and rode ahead of him again. Straight at the sheer
bluff, that lifted its huge, rocky shape before them, she led the way.
So far as Bud could see she was not following any trail; but was aiming
at a certain point and was sure enough of the ground to avoid detours.

They came out upon the bank of the dry river-bed. Bud knew it by the
flatness of the foreground and the general contour of the mountains
beyond. But immediately they turned at a sharp angle, travelled for a
few minutes with the river-bed at their backs, and entered a narrow slit
in the mountains where two peaks had been rent asunder in some titanic
upheaval when the world was young. The horses scrambled along the rocky
bottom for a little way, then Boise disappeared.

Sunfish halted, threw his head this way and that, gave a suspicious
sniff and turned carefully around the corner of a square-faced boulder.
In front was blackness. Bud urged him a little with rein and soft
pressure of the spurs, and Sunfish stepped forward. He seemed reassured
to find firm, smooth sand under his feet, and hurried a little until
Boise was just ahead clicking his feet now and then against a rock.

\x93Coming?\x94 Marian\x92s voice sounded subdued, muffled by the close walls of
the tunnel-like crevice.

\x93Coming,\x94 Bud assured her quietly \x93At your heels.\x94

\x93I always used to feel spooky when I was riding through here,\x94 Marian
said, dropping back so that they rode side by side, stirrups touching.
\x93I was ten when I first made the trip. It was to get away from Indians.
They wouldn\x92t come into these places. Eddie and I found the way through.
We were afraid they were after us, and so we kept going, and our horses
brought us out. Eddie--is my brother.\x94

\x93You grew up here?\x94 Bud did not know how much incredulity was in his
voice. \x93I was raised amongst the Indians in Wyoming. I thought you were
from the East.\x94

\x93I was in Chicago for three years,\x94 Marian explained. \x93I studied every
waking minute, I think. I wanted to be a singer. Then--I came home to
help bury mother. Father--Lew and father were partners, and I--married
Lew. I didn\x92t know--it seemed as though I must. Father put it that way.
The old story, Bud. I used to laugh at it in novels, but it does happen.
Lew had a hold over father and Eddie, and he wanted me. I married him,
but it did no good, for father was killed just a little more than a
month afterwards. We had a ranch, up here in the Redwater Valley, about
halfway to Crater. But it went--Lew gambled and drank and--so he took me
to Little Lost. I\x92ve been there for two years.\x94

The words of pity--and more--that crowded forward for utterance, Bud
knew he must not speak. So he said nothing at all.

\x93Lew has always held Eddie over my head,\x94 she went on pouring out her
troubles to him. \x93There\x92s a gang, called the Catrock Gang, and Lew is
one of them. I told you Lew is the man you shot. I think Dave Truman
is in with them--at any rate he shuts his eyes to whatever goes on,
and gets part of the stealings, I feel sure. That\x92s why Lew is such a
favorite. You see, Eddie is one--I\x92m trusting you with my life, almost,
when I tell you this.

\x93But I couldn\x92t stand by and not lift a hand to save you. I knew they
would kill you. They\x92d have to, because I felt that you would fight and
never give up. And you are too fine a man for those beasts to murder for
the money you have. I knew, the minute I saw Jeff paying you his losings
with a check, and some of the others doing the same, just what would
happen. Jeff is almost as bad as the Catrockers, except that he is too
cowardly to come out into the open. He gave you a check; and everyone
who was there knew he would hurry up to Crater and stop payment on it,
if he could do it and keep out of your sight. Those cronies of his would
do the same--so they paid with checks.

\x93And the Catrock gang knew that. They mean to get hold of you, rob
and-and-kill you, and forge the endorsement on the checks and let one
man cash them in Crater before payment can be stopped. Indeed, the gang
will see to it that Jeff stays away from Crater. Lew hinted that while
they were about it they might as well clean out the bank. It wouldn\x92t be
the first time,\x94 she added bitterly.

She stopped then and asked for a match, and when Bud gave her one she
lighted a candle and held it up so that she could examine the walls.
\x93It\x92s a natural tunnel,\x94 she volunteered in a different tone. \x93Somewhere
along here there is a branch that goes back into the hill and ends in a
blow-hole. But we\x92re all right so far.\x94

She blew out the candle and urged Boise forward, edging over to the
right.

\x93Wasn\x92t that taking quite a chance, making a light?\x94 Bud asked as they
went on.

\x93It was, but not so great a chance as missing the way. Jerry didn\x92t hear
anything of them when he went to the pasture gate, and they may not come
through this way at all. They may not realize at first that you have
left, and even when they did they would not believe at first that you
had gone to Crater. You see\x94--and in the darkness Bud could picture her
troubled smile--\x93they think you are an awful fool, in some ways. The
way you bet to-day was pure madness.\x94

\x93It would have been, except that I knew I could win.\x94

\x93They never bet like that. They always \x91figure\x92, as they call it, that
the other fellow is going to play some trick on them. Half the time Jeff
bets against his own horse, on the sly. They all do, unless they feel
sure that their own trick is best.\x94

\x93They should have done that to-day,\x94 Bud observed dryly. \x93But you\x92ve
explained it. They thought I\x92m an awful fool.\x94

Out of the darkness came Marian\x92s voice. \x93It\x92s because you\x92re so
different. They can\x92t understand you.\x94

Bud was not interested in his own foolishness just then. Something in
her voice had thrilled him anew with a desire to help her and with the
conviction that he was desperately in need of help. There was a pathetic
patience in her tone when she summarized he whole affair in those last
two sentences. It was as if she were telling him how her whole life
was darkened because she herself was different--because they could not
understand a woman so fine, so true and sweet.

\x93What will happen if you are missed? If you go back and discover Jerry\x92s
handkerchief on that bush, what will you do? You can\x92t go back if they
find out--\x94 There was no need for him to finish that sentence.

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 said Marian, \x93what I shall do. I hadn\x92t thought much
about it.\x94

\x93I haven\x92t thought much about anything else,\x94 Bud told her
straightforwardly. \x93If Jerry flags you, you \x91d better keep going.
Couldn\x92t you go to friends?\x94

\x93I could--if I had any. Bud, you don\x92t understand. Eddie is the only
relative I have on earth, that I know at all. He is--he\x92s with the
Catrockers and Lew dominates him completely. Lew has pushed Ed into
doing things so that I must shield both or neither. And Eddie\x92s just a
boy. So I\x92ve no one at all.\x94

Bud studied this while they rode on through the defile that was more
frequently a tunnel, since the succession of caves always had an outlet
which Marian found. She had stopped now and dismounted, and they were
leading their horses down a steep, scrambling place with the stars
showing overhead.

\x93A blowhole,\x94 Marian informed him briefly. \x93We\x92ll come into another
cave, soon, and while it\x92s safe if you know it, I\x92ll explain now that
you must walk ahead of your horse and keep your right hand always in
touch with the wall until we see the stars again. There\x92s a ledge-five
feet wide in the narrowest place, if you are nervous about ledges--and
if you should get off that you\x92d have a drop of ten feet or so. We found
that the ledge makes easier travelling, because the bottom is full of
rocks and nasty depressions that are noticeable only with lights.\x94

She started off again, and Bud followed her, his gloved fingers touching
the right wall, his soul humbled before the greatness of this little
woman with the deep, troubled eyes. When they came out into the
starlight she stopped and listened for what seemed to Bud a very long
time.

\x93If they are coming, they are a long way behind us,\x94 she said
relievedly, and remounted. \x93Boise knows his trail and has made
good time. And your horse has proven beyond all doubt that he\x92s a
thoroughbred. I\x92ve seen horses balk at going where we have gone.\x94

\x93And I\x92ve seen men who counted themselves brave as any, who wouldn\x92t do
what you are doing to-night; Jerry, for instance. I wish you\x92d go back.
I can\x92t bear having you take this risk.\x94

\x93I can\x92t go back, Bud. Not if they find I\x92ve gone.\x94 Then he heard her
laugh quietly. \x93I can\x92t imagine now why I stayed and endured it all this
while. I think I only needed the psychological moment for rebellion, and
to-night the moment came. So you see you have really done me a service
by getting into this scrape. It\x92s the first time I have been off the
ranch in a year.\x94

\x93If you call that doing you a service, I\x92m going to ask you to let me
do something also for you.\x94 Bud half smiled to himself in the darkness,
thinking how diplomatic he was. \x93If you\x92re found out, you\x92ll have to
keep on going, and I take it you wouldn\x92t be particular where you went.
So I wish you \x91d take charge of part of this money for me, and if you
leave, go down to my mother, on the Tomahawk ranch, out from Laramie.
Anyone can tell you where it is, when you get down that way If you need
any money use it. And tell mother I sent her the finest cook in the
country. Mother, by the way, is a great musician, Marian. She taught
me all I know of music. You\x92d get along just fine with mother. And she
needs you, honest. She isn\x92t very strong, yet she can\x92t find anyone to
suit, down there--\x94

\x93I might not suit, either,\x94 said Marian, her voice somewhat muffled.

\x93Oh, I\x92m not afraid of that. And--there\x92s a message I want to send--I
promised mother I\x92d--\x94

\x93Oh, hush! You\x92re really an awfully poor prevaricator, Bud. This is to
help me, you\x92re planning.\x94

\x93Well--it\x92s to help me that I want you to take part of the money. The
gang won\x92t hold you up, will they? And I want mother to have it. I want
her to have you, too,--to help out when company comes drifting in there,
sometimes fifteen or twenty strong. Especially on Sunday. Mother has to
wait on them and cook for them, and--as long as you are going to cook
for a bunch, you may as well do it where it will be appreciated, and
where you\x92ll be treated like a--like a lady ought to be treated.\x94

\x93You\x92re even worse--\x94 began Marian, laughing softly, and stopped
abruptly, listening, her head turned behind them. \x93Sh-sh-someone is
coming behind us,\x94 she whispered. \x93We\x92re almost through--come on, and
don\x92t talk!\x94



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: GUARDIAN ANGELS ARE RIDING POINT

They plunged into darkness again, rode at a half trot over smooth, hard
sand, Bud trusting himself wholly to Marian and to the sagacity of the
two horses who could see, he hoped, much better than he himself could.
His keen hearing had caught a faint sound from behind them--far back in
the crevice-like gorge they had just quitted, he believed. For Marian\x92s
sake he stared anxiously ahead, eager for the first faint suggestion of
starlight before them. It came, and he breathed freer and felt of his
gun in its holster, pulling it forward an inch or two.

\x93This way, Bud,\x94 Marian murmured, and swung Boise to the left, against
the mountain under and through which they seemed to have passed. She led
him into another small gorge whose extent he could not see, and stopped
him with a hand pressed against Sunfish\x92s shoulder.

\x93We\x92d better get down and hold our horses quiet,\x94 she cautioned. \x93Boise
may try to whinny, and he mustn\x92t.\x94

They stood side by side at their horses\x92 heads, holding the animals
close. For a time there were no sounds at all save the breathing of the
horses and once a repressed sigh from Marian. Bud remembered suddenly
how tired she must be. At six o\x92clock that morning she had fed twelve
men a substantial breakfast. At noon there had been dinner for several
more than twelve, and supper again at six--and here she was, risking
her life when she should be in bed. He felt for her free hand, found it
hanging listlessly by her side and took it in his own and held it there,
just as one holds the hand of a timid child. Yet Marian was not timid.

A subdued mutter of voices, the click of hoofs striking against stone,
and the pursuers passed within thirty feet of them. Boise had lifted
his head to nicker a salute, but Marian\x92s jerk on the reins stopped him.
They stood very still, not daring so much as a whisper until the sounds
had receded and silence came again.

\x93They took the side-hill trail,\x94 whispered Marian, pushing Boise
backward to turn him in the narrow defile. \x93You\x92ll have to get down
the hill into the creek-bed and follow that until you come to the stage
road. There may be others coming that way, but they will be two or three
miles behind you. This tunnel trail cuts off at least five miles but we
had to go slower, you see.

\x93Right here you can lead Sunfish down the bluff to the creek. It\x92s all
dry, and around the first bend you will see where the road crosses. Turn
to the left on that and ride! This horse of yours will have to show the
stuff that\x92s in him. Get to Crater ahead of these men that took the hill
trail. They\x92ll not ride fast--they never dreamed you had come through
here, but they came to cut off the distance and to head you off. With
others behind, you must beat them all in or you\x92ll be trapped between.\x94

She had left Boise tied hastily to a bush and was walking ahead of Bud
down the steep, rocky hillside to show him the easiest way amongst the
boulders Halfway down, Bud caught her shoulder and stopped her.

\x93I\x92m not a kid,\x94 he said firmly. \x93I can make it from here alone. Not
another step, young lady. If you can get back home You\x92ll be doing
enough. Take this--it\x92s money, but I don\x92t know how much. And watch your
chance and go down to mother with that message. Birnie, of the Tomahawk
outfit--you\x92ll find out in Laramie where to go. And tell mother I\x92m all
right, and she\x92ll see me some day--when I\x92ve made my stake. God bless
you, little woman. You\x92re the truest, sweetest little woman in the
world. There\x92s just one more like you--that\x92s mother. Now go back--and
for God\x92s sake he careful!\x94

He pressed money into her two hands, held them tightly together, kissed
them both hurriedly and plunged down the hill with Sunfish slipping and
sliding after him. For her safety, if not for his own, he meant to get
away from there as quickly as possible.

In the creek bed he mounted and rode away at a sharp gallop, glad that
Sunfish, thoroughbred though he was, had not been raised tenderly in
stall and corral, but had run free with the range horses and had learned
to keep his feet under him in rough country or smooth. When he reached
the crossing of the stage road he turned to the left as Marian had
commanded and put Sunfish to a pace that slid the miles behind him.

With his thoughts clinging to Marian, to the harshness which life had
shown her who was all goodness and sweetness and courage, Bud forgot to
keep careful watch behind him, or to look for the place where the hill
trail joined the road, as it probably did some distance from Crater.
It would be a blind trail, of course--since only the Catrock gang and
Marian knew of it.

They came into the road not far behind him, out of rock-strewn, brushy
wilderness that sloped up steeply to the rugged sides of Gold Gap
mountains. Sunfish discovered them first, and gave Bud warning just
before they identified him and began to shoot.

Bud laid himself along the shoulder of his horse with a handful of mane
to steady him while he watched his chance and fired back at them. There
were four, just the number he had guessed from the sounds as they came
out of the tunnel. A horse ran staggering toward him with the others,
faltered and fell. Bud was sorry for that. It had been no part of his
plan to shoot down the horses.

The three came on, leaving the fourth to his own devices--and that, too,
was quite in keeping with the type of human vultures they were. They
kept firing at Bud, and once he felt Sunfish wince and leap forward as
if a spur had raked him. Bud shot again, and thought he saw one horseman
lurch backward. But he could not be sure--they were going at a terrific
pace now, and Sunfish was leaving them farther and farther behind. They
were outclassed, hopelessly out of pistol range, and they must have
known it, for although they held to the chase they fired no more shots.

Then a dog barked, and Bud knew that he was passing a ranch. He could
smell the fresh hay in the stacks, and a moment later he descried the
black hulk of ranch buildings. Sunfish was running easily, his breath
unlabored. Bud stood in the stirrups and looked back. They were still
coming, for he could hear the pound of hoofs.

The ranch was behind him. Clear starlight was all around, and the bulk
of near mountains. The road seemed sandy, yielding beneath the pound
of Sunfish\x92s hoofs. Bud leaned forward again in the saddle, and planned
what he would do when he reached Crater; found time, also, to hope that
Marian had gone back, and had not heard the shooting.

Another dog barked, this time on the right. Bud saw that they were
passing a picket fence. The barking of this dog started another farther
ahead and to the left. Houses so close together could only mean that
he was approaching Crater. Bud began to pull Sunfish down to a more
conventional pace. He did not particularly want to see heads thrust
from windows, and questions shouted to him. The Catrock gang might have
friends up this way. It would be strange, Bud thought, if they hadn\x92t.

He loped along the road grown broader now and smoother. Many houses he
passed, and the mouths of obscure lanes. Dogs ran out at him. Bud slowed
to a walk and turned in the saddle, listening. Away back, where he had
first met the signs of civilization, the dog he had aroused was barking
again, his deep baying blurred by the distance. Bud grinned to himself
and rode on at a walk, speaking now and then to an inquiring dog and
calling him Purp in a tone that soothed.

Crater, he discovered in a cursory patrol of the place, was no more than
an overgrown village. The court-house and jail stood on the main street,
and just beyond was the bank. Bud rode here and there, examining closely
the fronts of various buildings before he concluded that there was only
the one bank in Crater. When he was quite sure of that he chose place
near by the rear of the bank, where one horse and a cow occupied a
comfortable corral together with hay. He unsaddled Sunfish and turned
him there, himself returning to the bank before those other night-riders
had more than reached the first straggling suburbs of the town.

On the porch of the court-house, behind a jutting corner pillar that
seemed especially designed for the concealment of a man in Bud\x92s
situation, he rolled cigarette which he meant to smoke later on when the
way was clear, and waited for the horsemen to appear.

Presently they came, rode to a point opposite the court-house and bank
with no more than a careless glance that way, and halted in front of an
uninviting hotel across the street. Two remained on their horses while
the third pounded on the door and shook it by the knob and finally
raised the landlord from his sleep. There was a conference which Bud
witnessed with much interest. A lamp had been lighted in the bare
office, and against the yellow glow Bud distinctly saw the landlord nod
his head twice--which plainly betokened some sort of understanding.

He was glad that he had not stopped at the hotel. He felt much more
comfortable on the court-house porch. \x93Mother\x92s guardian angels must be
riding \x91point\x92 to-night,\x94 he mused.

The horsemen rode back to a livery stable which Bud had observed but had
not entered. There they also sought for news of him, it would appear.
You will recall, however, that Bud had ridden slowly into the business
district of Crater, and his passing had been unmarked except by the
barking of dogs that spent their nights in yammering at every sound
and so were never taken seriously. The three horsemen were plainly
nonplussed and conferred together in low tones before they rode on. It
was evident that they meant to find Bud if they could. What they meant
to do with him Bud did not attempt to conjecture. He did not intend to
be found.

After a while the horsemen rode back to the hotel, got the landlord out
with less difficulty than before and had another talk with him.

\x93He stole a horse from Dave Truman,\x94 Bud heard one of the three say
distinctly. \x93That there running horse Dave had.\x94

The landlord tucked in his shirt and exclaimed at the news, and Bud
heard him mention the sheriff. But nothing came of that evidently. They
talked further and reined their horses to ride back whence they came.

\x93He likely\x92s give us the slip outside of town, some place,\x94 one man
concluded. \x93We\x92ll ride back and see. If he shows up, he\x92ll likely want
to eat... And send Dick out to the Stivers place. We\x92ll come a-running.\x94
 He had lowered his voice so that Bud could not hear what was to happen
before the landlord sent Dick, but he decided he would not pry into the
matter and try to fill that gap in the conversation.

He sat where he was until the three had ridden back down the sandy road
which served as a street. Then he slipped behind the court-house and
smoked his cigarette, and went and borrowed hay from the cow and the
horse in the corral and made himself some sort of bed with his saddle
blanket to help out, and slept until morning.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: THE CATROCK GANG

A woman with a checkered apron and a motherly look came to let her
chickens out and milk the cow, and woke Bud so that she could tell him
she believed he had been on a \x93toot\x94, or he never would have taken such
a liberty with her corral. Bud agreed to the toot, and apologized, and
asked for breakfast. And the woman, after one good look at him, handed
him the milk bucket and asked him how he liked his eggs.

\x93All the way from barn to breakfast,\x94 Bud grinned, and the woman
chuckled and called him Smarty, and told him to come in as soon as the
cow was milked.

Bud had a great breakfast with the widow Hanson. She talked, and Bud
learned a good deal about Crater and its surroundings, and when he spoke
of holdup gangs she seemed to know immediately what he meant, and
told him a great deal more about the Catrockers than Marian had done.
Everything from murdering and robbing a peddler to looting the banks at
Crater and Lava was laid to the Catrockers. They were the human buzzards
that watched over the country and swooped down wherever there was money.
The sheriff couldn\x92t do anything with them, and no one expected him to,
so far as Bud could discover.

He hesitated a long time before he asked about Marian Morris. Mrs.
Hanson wept while she related Marian\x92s history, which in substance was
exactly what Marian herself had told Bud. Mrs. Hanson, however, told how
Marian had fought to save her father and Ed, and how she had married Lew
Morris as a part of her campaign for honesty and goodness. Now she was
down at Little Lost cooking for a gang of men, said Mrs. Hanson, when
she ought to be out in the world singing for thousands and her in silks
and diamonds instead of gingham dresses and not enough of them.

\x93Marian Collier is the sweetest thing that ever grew up in this
country,\x94 the old lady sniffled. \x93She\x92s one in a thousand and when she
was off to school she showed that she wasn\x92t no common trash. She wanted
to be an opery singer, but then her mother died and Marian done what
looked to be her duty. A bird in a trap is what I call her.\x94

Bud regretted having opened the subject, and praised the cooking by way
of turning his hostess\x92s thoughts into a different channel. He asked
her if she would accept him as a boarder while he was in town, and was
promptly accepted.

He did not want to appear in public until the bank was opened, and
he was a bit troubled over identification. There could be no harm, he
reflected, in confiding to Mrs. Hanson as much as was necessary of
his adventures. Wherefore he dried the dishes for her and told her his
errand in town, and why it was that he and his horse had slept in her
corral instead of patronizing hotel and livery stable. He showed her the
checks he wanted to cash, and asked her, with flattering eagerness for
her advice, what he should do. He had been warned, he said, that Jeff
and his friends might try to beat him yet by stopping payment, and he
knew that he had been followed by them to town.

\x93What You\x92ll do will be what I tell ye,\x94 Mrs Hanson replied with
decision. \x93The cashier is a friend to me--I was with his wife last month
with her first baby, and they swear by me now, for I gave her good care.
We\x92ll go over there this minute, and have talk with him. He\x92ll do what
he can for ye, and he\x92ll do it for my sake.\x94

\x93You don\x92t know me, remember,\x94 Bud reminded her honestly.

The widow Hanson gave him a scornful smile and toss of her head. \x93And
do I not?\x94 she demanded. \x93Do you think I\x92ve buried three husbands and
thinking now of the fourth, without knowing what\x92s wrote a man\x92s face?
Three I buried, and only one died his bed. I can tell if a man\x92s honest
or not, without giving him the second look. If you\x92ve got them checks
you should get the money on them--for I know their stripe. Come on with
me to Jimmy Lawton\x92s house. He\x92s likely holding the baby while Minie
does the dishes.\x94

Mrs. Hanson guessed shrewdly. The cashier of the Crater County Bank was
doing exactly what she said he would be doing. He was sitting in the
kitchen, rocking a pink baby wrapped in white outing flannel with blue
border, when Mrs. Hanson, without the formality of more than one warning
tap on the screen door, walked in with Bud. She held out her hands for
the baby while she introduced the cashier to Bud. In the next breath she
was explaining what was wanted of the bank.

\x93They\x92ve done it before, and ye know it\x92s plain thievery and ought to be
complained about. So now get your wits to work, Jimmy, for this friend
of mine is entitled to his money and should have it if it is there to be
had.\x94

\x93Oh, it\x92s there,\x94 said Jimmy. He looked at his watch, looked at the
kitchen clock, looked at Bud and winked. \x93We open at nine, in this
town,\x94 he said. \x93It lacks half an hour--but let me see those checks.\x94

Very relievedly Bud produced them, watched the cashier scan each one to
make sure that they were right, and quaked when Jimmy scowled at Jeff
Hall\x92s signature on the largest check of all. \x93He had a notion to use
the wrong signature, but he may have lost his nerve. It\x92s all right, Mr.
Birnie. Just endorse these, and I\x92ll take them into the bank and attend
to them the first thing I do after the door is open. You\x92d better come
in when I open up--\x94

\x93The gang had some talk about cleaning out the bank while they \x91re about
it,\x94 Bud remembered suddenly. \x93Can\x92t you appoint me something, or hire
me as a guard and let me help out? How many men do you have here in this
bank?\x94

\x93Two, except when the president\x92s in his office in the rear. That\x92s fine
of you to offer. We\x92ve been held up, once--and they cleaned us out of
cash.\x94 Jimmy turned to Mrs. Hanson. \x93Mother, can\x92t you run over and
have Jess come and swear Mr. Birnie in as a deputy? If I go, or he goes,
someone may notice it and tip the gang off.\x94

Mrs. Hanson hastily deposited the baby in its cradle and went to call
\x93Jess\x94, her face pink with excitement.

\x93You\x92re lucky you stopped at her house instead of some other place,\x94
 Jimmy observed. \x93She\x92s a corking good woman. As a deputy sheriff, you\x92ll
come in mighty handy if they do try anything, Mr. Birnie--if you\x92re the
kind of a man you look to be. I\x92ll bet you can shoot. Can you?\x94

\x93If you scare me badly enough, I might get a cramp in my trigger
finger,\x94 Bud confessed. Jimmy grinned and went back to considering his
own part.

\x93I\x92ll cash these checks for you the first thing I do. And as deputy you
can go with me. I\x92ll have to unlock the door on time, and if they mean
to stop payment, and clean the bank too, it will probably be done all
at once. It has been a year since they bothered us, so they may need a
little change. If Jess isn\x92t busy he may stick around.\x94

\x93No one expects him to round up the gang, I heard.\x94

\x93No one expects him to go into Catrock Canyon after them. He\x92ll round
them up, quick enough, if he can catch them far enough from their
holes.\x94

Jess returned with Mrs. Hanson, swore in a new deputy, eyed Bud
curiously, and agreed to remain hidden across the road from the bank
with a rifle. He nodded understandingly when Bud warned him that the
looting was a matter of hearsay on his part, and departed with an
awkward compliment to Mrs. Jim about hoping that the baby was going to
look like her.

Jim lived just behind the bank, and a high board fence between the two
buildings served to hide his coming and going. But Bud took off his hat
and walked stooping,--by special request of Mrs. Hanson--to make sure
that he was not observed.

\x93I think I\x92ll stand out in front of the window,\x94 said Bud when they were
inside. \x93It will look more natural, and if any of these fellows show up
I\x92d just as soon not show my brand the first thing.\x94

They showed up, all right, within two minutes of the unlocking of the
bank and the rolling up of the shades. Jeff Hall was the first man
to walk in, and he stopped short when he saw Bud lounging before the
teller\x92s window and the cashier busy within. Other men were straggling
up on the porch, and two of them entered. Jeff walked over to Bud, who
shifted his position enough to bring him facing Jeff, whom he did not
trust at all.

\x93Mr. Lawton,\x94 Jeff began hurriedly, \x93I want to stop payment on a check
this young feller got from me by fraud. It\x92s for five thousand eight
hundred dollars, and I notify you--\x94

\x93Too late, Mr. Hall. I have already accepted the checks. Where did the
fraud come in? You can bring suit, of course, to recover.\x94

\x93I\x92ll tell you, Jimmy. He bet that my horse couldn\x92t beat Dave Truman\x92s
Boise. A good many bet on the same thing. But my horse proved to have
more speed, so a lot of them are sore.\x94 Bud chuckled as other Sunday
losers came straggling in.

\x93Well, it\x92s too late. I have honored the checks,\x94 Jimmy said crisply,
and turned to hand a sealed manila envelope to the bookkeeper with
whispered instructions. The bookkeeper, who had just entered from the
rear of the office, turned on his heel and left again.

Jeff muttered something to his friends and went outside as if their
business were done for the day.

\x93I gave you five thousand in currency and the balance in a cashier\x92s
check,\x94 Jimmy whispered through he wicket. \x93Sent it to the house, We
don\x92t keep a great deal--ten thousand\x92s our limit in cash, and I don\x92t
think you want to pack gold or silver--\x94

\x93No, I didn\x92t. I\x92d rather--\x94

Two men came in, one going over to the desk where he apparently wrote
a check, the other came straight to the window. Bud looked into the
heavily bearded face of a man who had the eyes of Lew Morris. He shifted
his position a little so that he faced the man\x92s right side. The one at
the desk was glancing slyly over his shoulder at the bookkeeper, who had
just returned to his work.

\x93Can you change this twenty so I can get seven dollars and a quarter
out of it?\x94 asked the man at he window. As he slid the bill through the
wicket he started to sneeze, and reached backward--for his handkerchief,
apparently.

\x93Here\x92s one,\x94 said Bud. \x93Don\x92t sneeze too hard, old-timer, or you\x92re
liable to sneeze your whiskers all off. It\x92s happened before.\x94

Someone outside fired a shot in at Bud, clipping his hatband in front.
At the sound of the shot the whiskered one snatched his gun out, and the
cashier shot him. Bud had sent a shot through the outside window and hit
somebody--whom, he did not know, for he had no time to look. The young
fellow at the desk had whirled, and was pointing a gun shakily, first
at he cashier and then at Bud. Bud fired and knocked he gun out of his
hand, then stepped over the man he suspected was Lew and caught the
young fellow by the wrist.

\x93You\x92re Ed Collier--by your eyes and your mouth,\x94 Bud said in a rapid
undertone. \x93I\x92m going to get you out of this, if you\x92ll do what I say.
Will you?\x94

\x93He got me in here, honest,\x94 the young fellow quaked. He couldn\x92t be
more than nineteen, Bud guessed swiftly.

\x93Let me through, Jimmy,\x94 Bud ordered hurriedly. \x93You got the man that
put up this job. I\x92ll take the kid out the back way, if you don\x92t mind.\x94

Jimmy opened the steel-grilled door and let them through.

\x93Ed Collier,\x94 he said in a tone of recognition. \x93I heard he was
trailing--\x94

\x93Forget it, Jimmy. If the sheriff asks about him, say he got out. Now,
Ed, I\x92m going to take you over to Mrs. Hanson\x92s. She\x92ll keep an eye on
you for a while.\x94

Eddie was looking at the dead man on the floor, and trembling so that he
did not attempt to reply; and by way of Jimmy\x92s back fence and the widow
Hanson\x92s barn and corral, Bud got Eddie safe into the kitchen just as
that determined lady was leaving home with a shotgun to help defend the
honor of the town.

Bud took her by the shoulder and told her what he wanted her to do.
\x93He\x92s Marian\x92s brother, and too young to be with that gang. So keep him
here, safe and out of sight, until I come. Then I\x92ll want to borrow your
horse. Shall I tie the kid?\x94

\x93And me an able-bodied woman that could turn him acrost my knee?\x94 Mrs.
Hanson\x92s eyes snapped.

\x93It\x92s more likely the boy needs his breakfast. Get along with ye!\x94

Bud got along, slipping into the bank by the rear door and taking a hand
in the desultory firing in the street. The sheriff had a couple of men
ironed and one man down and the landlord of the hotel was doing a great
deal of explaining that he had never seen the bandits before. Just by
way of stimulating his memory Bud threw a bullet close to his heels,
and the landlord thereupon grovelled and wept while he protested his
innocence.

\x93He\x92s a damn liar, sheriff,\x94 Bud called across the hoof-scarred road.
\x93He was talking to them about eleven o\x92clock last night. There were
three that chased me into town, and they got him up out of bed to find
out whether I\x92d stopped there. I hadn\x92t, luckily for me. If I had he\x92d
have showed them the way to my room, and he\x92d have had a dead boarder
this morning. Keep right on shedding tears, you old cut-throat! I was
sitting on the court-house porch, last night, and I heard every word
that passed between you and the Catrockers!\x94

\x93I\x92ve been suspicioning here was where they got their information
right along,\x94 the sheriff commented, and slipped the handcuffs on
the landlord. Investigation proved that Jeff Hall and his friends had
suddenly decided that they had no business with the bank that day, and
had mounted and galloped out of town when the first shot was fired.
Which simplified matters a bit for Bud.

In Jimmy Lawton\x92s kitchen he received his money, and when the prisoners
were locked up he saved himself some trouble with the sheriff by
hunting him up and explaining just why he had taken the Collier boy into
custody.

\x93You know yourself he\x92s just a kid, and if you send him over the road
he\x92s a criminal for life. I believe I can make a decent man of him. I
want to try, anyway. So you just leave me this deputy\x92s badge, and make
my commission regular and permanent, and I\x92ll keep an eye on him. Give
me a paper so I can get a requisition and bring him back to stand trial,
any time he breaks out. I\x92ll be responsible for him, sheriff.\x94

\x93And who in blazes are you?\x94 the sheriff inquired, with a grin to remove
the sting of suspicion. \x93Name sounded familiar, too!\x94

\x93Bud Birnie of the Tomahawk, down near Laramie; Telegraph Laramie if you
like and find out about me.

\x93Good Lord! I know the Tomahawk like a book!\x94 cried the sheriff. \x93And
you\x92re Bob Birnie\x92s boy! Say! D\x92you remember dragging into camp on the
summit one time when you was about twelve years old--been hidin\x92 out
from Injuns about three days? Well, say! I\x92m the feller that packed you
into the tent, and fed yuh when yuh come to. Remember the time I rode
down and stayed over night at yore place, the time Bill Nye come down
from his prospect hole up in the Snowies, bringin\x92 word the Injuns was
up again?\x94 The sheriff grabbed Bud\x92s hand and held it, shaking it up and
down now and then to emphasize his words.

\x93Folks called you Buddy, then. I remember yuh, helpin\x92 your mother cook
\x91n\x92 wash dishes for us fellers. I kinda felt like I had a claim on yuh,
Buddy.

\x93Say, Bill Nye, he\x92s famous now. Writin\x92 books full of jokes, and all
that. He always was a comical cuss. Don\x92t you remember how the bunch
of us laughed at him when he drifted in about dark, him and four
burros--that one he called Boomerang, that he named his paper after in
Laramie? I\x92ve told lots of times what he said when he come stoopin\x92 into
the kitchen--how Colorou had sent him word that he\x92d give Bill just
four sleeps to get outa there. An, \x91Hell!\x92 says Bill. \x91I didn\x92t need
any sleeps!\x92 An\x92 we all turned to and cooked a hull beef yore dad had
butchered that day--and Bill loaded up with the first chunks we had
ready, and pulled his freight. He sure didn\x92t need any sleeps--\x94

\x93Yes, you bet I remember. Jesse Cummings is your name. I sure ought
to remember you, for you and your partner saved my life, I expect. I
thought I\x92d seen you before, when you made me deputy. How about the kid?
Can I have him? Lew Morris, the man that kept him on the wrong side of
the law, is dead, I heard the doctor say. Jimmy got him when he pulled
his gun.\x94

\x93Why, yes--if the town don\x92t git onto me turnin\x92 him loose, I guess you
can have the kid for all I care. He didn\x92t take any part in the holdup,
did he Buddy?\x94

\x93He was over by the customers\x92 desk when Lew started, to hold up the
cashier.\x94

\x93Well I got enough prisoners so I guess he won\x92t be missed. But you look
out how yuh git him outa town. Better wait til kinda late to-night. I
sure would like to see him git a show. Them two Collier kids never did
have a square deal, far as I\x92ve heard. But be careful, youngster. I want
another term off this county if I can get it. Don\x92t go get me in bad.\x94

\x93I won\x92t,\x94 Bud promised and hurried back to Mrs. Hanson\x92s house.

That estimable lady was patting butter in a wooden bowl when Bud went
in. She turned and brushed a wisp of gray hair from her face with her
fore arm and sh-shed him into silent stepping, motioning toward an inner
room. Bud tiptoed and looked, saw Ed Collier fast asleep, swaddled in a
blanket, and grinned his approval.

He made sure that the sleep was genuine, also that the blanket swaddling
was efficient. Moreover, he discovered that Mrs. Hanson had very
prudently attached a thin wire to the foot of the blanket cocoon,
had passed the wire through a knot hole in a cupboard set into the
partition, and to a sheep bell which she no doubt expected to ring upon
provocation--such as a prisoner struggling to release his feet from a
gray blanket fastened with many large safety pins.

\x93He went right to sleep, the minute I\x92d fed him and tied him snug,\x94
 Mrs. Hanson murmured. \x93He was a sulky divvle and wouldn\x92t give a decent
answer to me till he had his stomach filled. From the way he waded into
the ham and eggs, I guess a square meal and him has been strangers for a
long time.\x94

Sleep and Ed Collier must have been strangers also, for Bud attended the
inquest of Lew Morris, visited afterwards with Sheriff Cummings, who
was full of reminiscence and wanted to remind Bud of everything that had
ever happened within his knowledge during the time when they had been
neighbors with no more than forty miles or so between them. The sheriff
offered Bud a horse and saddle, which he promised to deliver to the
widow\x92s corral after the citizens of Crater had gone to bed. And while
he did not say that it would be Ed\x92s horse, Bud guessed shrewdly that
it would. After that, Bud carefully slit the lining of his boots tucked
money and checks into the opening he had made, and did a very neat
repair job.

All that while Ed Collier slept. When Bud returned for his supper Ed had
evidently just awakened and was lying on his back biting his lip while
he eyed the wire that ran from his feet to the parting of a pair of
calico curtains. He did not see Bud, who was watching him through a
crack in the door at the head of the bed. Ed was plainly puzzled at the
wire and a bit resentful. He lifted his feet until the wire was well
slackened, held them poised for a minute and deliberately brought them
down hard on the floor.

The result was all that he could possibly have expected. Somewhere was
a vicious clang, the rattle of a tin pan and the approaching outcry of
a woman. Bud retreated to the kitchen to view the devastation and
discovered that a sheep bell not too clean had been dislodged from a
nail and dragged through one pan of milk into another, where it was
rolling on its edge, stirring the cream that had risen. As Mrs. Hanson
rushed in from the back yard, Bud returned to the angry captive\x92s side.

\x93I\x92ve got him safe,\x94 he soothed Mrs. Hanson and her shotgun. \x93He just
had a nightmare. Perhaps that breakfast you fed him was too hearty.
I\x92ll look after him now, Mrs. Hanson. We won\x92t be bothering you long,
anyway.\x94

Mrs. Hanson was talking to herself when she went to her milk pans, and
Bud released Eddie Collier, guessing how humiliating it must be to be
a young fellow pinned into a blanket with safety pins, and knowing from
certain experiences of his own that humiliation is quite as apt to breed
trouble as any other emotion.

Eddie sat up on the edge of the bed and stared at Bud. His eyes were
like Marian\x92s in shape and color, but their expression was suspicion,
defiance, and watchfulness blended into one compelling stare that
spelled Fear. Or so Bud read it, having trapped animals of various
grades ever since he had caught the \x93HAWNTOAD\x94, and seen that look many,
many times in the eyes of his catch.

\x93How\x92d you like to take a trip with me--as a kind of a partner?\x94 Bud
began carelessly, pulling a splinter off the homemade bed for which Mrs.
Hanson would not thank him--and beginning to whittle it to a sharp point
aimlessly, as men have a way of doing when their minds are at work upon
a problem which requires--much constructive thinking.

\x93Pardner in what?\x94 Eddie countered sullenly.

\x93Pardner in what I am planning to do to make money. I can make money,
you know--and stay on friendly terms with the sheriff, too. That\x92s
better than your bunch has been able to do. I don\x92t mind telling
you--it\x92s stale news, I guess--that I cleaned up close to twelve
thousand dollars in less than a month, off a working capital of three
thoroughbred horses and about sixty dollars cash. And I\x92ll add the
knowledge that I was playing against men that would slip a cold deck
if they played solitaire, they were so crooked. And if that doesn\x92t
recommend me sufficiently, I\x92ll say I\x92m a deputy sheriff of Crater
County, and Jesse Cummings knows my past. I want to hire you to go with
me and make some money, and I\x92ll pay you forty a month and five per cent
bonus on my profits at the end of two years. The first year may not show
any profits, but the second year will. How does it sound to you?\x94

He had been rolling a cigarette, and now he offered the \x93makings\x94 to Ed,
who accepted them mechanically, his eyes still staring hard at Bud. He
glanced toward the door and the one little window where wild cucumber
vines were thickly matted, and Bud interpreted his glance.

\x93Lew and another Catrocker--the one that tried to rope me down in the
Sinks--are dead, and three more are in jail. Business won\x92t be very
brisk with the Catrock gang for a while.\x94

\x93If you\x92re trying to bribe me into squealing on the rest, you\x92re a damn
fool,\x94 said Eddie harshly. \x93I ain\x92t the squealing kind. You can lead me
over to jail first. I\x92d rather take my chances with the others.\x94 He was
breathing hard when he finished.

\x93Rather than work for me?\x94 Bud sliced off the sharp point which he had
so carefully whittled, and began to sharpen a new one. Eddie watched him
fascinatedly.

\x93Rather than squeal on the bunch. There\x92s no other reason in God\x92s world
why you\x92d make me an offer like that. I ain\x92t a fool quite, if my head
does run up to a peak.\x94

Bud chewed his lip, whittled, and finally threw the splinter away. When
he turned toward Eddie his eyes were shiny.

\x93Kid, you\x92re breaking your sister\x92s heart, following this trail. I\x92d
like to see you give her a chance to speak your name without blinking
back tears. I\x92d like to see her smile all the way from her dimples to
her eyes when she thinks of you. That\x92s why I made the offer--that and
because I think you\x92d earn your wages.\x94

Eddie looked at him, looked away, staring vacantly at the wall. His
eyelashes were blinking very fast, his lip began to tremble. \x93You--I--I
never wanted to--I ain\x92t worth saving--oh, hell! I never had a chance
before--\x94 He dropped sidewise on the bed, buried his face in his arms
and sobbed hoarsely, like the boy he was.



CHAPTER NINETEEN: BUD RIDES THROUGH CATROCK AND LOSES MARIAN

\x93You\x92ll have to show me the trail, pardner,\x94 said Bud when they were
making their way cautiously out of town by way of the tin can suburbs.
\x93I could figure out the direction all right, and make it by morning; but
seeing you grew up here, I\x92ll let you pilot.\x94

\x93You\x92ll have to tell me where you want to go, first,\x94 said Eddie with a
good deal of sullenness still in his voice.

\x93Little Lost.\x94 Without intending to do so, Bud put a good deal of
meaning in his voice.

Eddie did not say anything, but veered to the right, climbing higher
on the slope than Bud would have gone. \x93We can take the high trail,\x94 he
volunteered when they stopped to rest the horses. \x93It takes up over the
summit and down Burroback Valley. It\x92s longer, but the stage road
edges along the Sinks and--it might be rough going, after we get down a
piece.\x94

\x93How about the side-hill trail, through Catrock Peak?\x94

Eddie turned sharply. In the starlight Bud was watching him, wondering
what he was thinking.

\x93How\x92d you get next to any side-hill trail?\x94 Eddie asked after a minute.
\x93You been over it?\x94

\x93I surely have. And I expect to go again, to-nigh! A young fellow about
your size is going to act a pilot, and get me to Little Lost as quick as
possible. It\x92ll be daylight at that.\x94

\x93If you got another day coming, it better be before daylight we get
there,\x94 Eddie retorted glumly. H hesitated, turned his horse and led the
way down the slope, angling down away from the well-travelled trail over
the summit of Gold Gap.

That hesitation told Bud, without words, how tenuous was his hold
upon Eddie. He possessed sufficient imagination to know that his own
carefully discipline past, sheltered from actual contact with evil, had
given him little enough by which to measure the soul of a youth like
Eddie Collier.

How long Eddie had supped and slept with thieves and murderers, Bud
could only guess. From the little that Marian had told him, Eddie\x92s
father had been one of the gang. At least, she had plainly stated that
he and Lew had been partners--though Collier might have been ranching
innocently enough, and ignorant of Lew\x92s real nature.

At all events, Eddie was a lad well schooled in inequity such as the
wilderness fosters in sturdy fashion. Wide spaces give room for great
virtues and great wickedness. Bud felt that he was betting large odds on
an unknown quantity. He was placing himself literally in the hands of an
acknowledged Catrocker, because of the clean gaze of a pair of eyes, the
fine curve of the mouth.

For a long time they rode without speech. Eddie in the lead, Bud
following, alert to every little movement in the sage, every little
sound of the night. That was what we rather naively call \x93second
nature\x94, habit born of Bud\x92s growing years amongst dangers which every
pioneer family knows. Alert he was, yet deeply dreaming; a tenuous dream
too sweet to come true, he told himself; a dream which he never dared to
dream until the cool stars, and the little night wind began to whisper
to him that Marian was free from the brute that had owned her. He
scarcely dared think of it yet. Shyly he remembered how he had held
her hand to give her courage while they rode in darkness; her poor
work-roughened little hand, that had been old when he took it first,
and had warmed in his clasp. He remembered how he had pressed her hands
together when they parted--why, surely it was longer ago than last
night!--and had kissed them reverently as he would kiss the fingers of a
queen.

\x93Hell\x92s too good for Lew Morris,\x94 he blurted unexpectedly, the thought
of Marian\x92s bruised cheek coming like a blow.

\x93Want to go and tell him so? If you don\x92t yuh better shut up,\x94 Eddie
whispered fierce warning. \x93You needn\x92t think all the Catrockers are dead
or in jail. They\x92s a few left and they\x92d kill yuh quicker\x92n they\x92d take
a drink.\x94

Bud, embarrassed at the emotion behind his statement, rather than
ashamed of the remark itself, made no reply.

Much as Eddie desired silence, he himself pulled up and spoke again when
Bud had ridden close.

\x93I guess you come through the Gap,\x94 he whispered. \x93They\x92s a shorter way
than that--Sis don\x92t know it. It\x92s one the bunch uses a lot--if they
catch us--I can save my hide by makin\x92 out I led you into a trap. You\x92ll
get yours, anyway. How much sand you got?\x94

Bud leaned and spat into the darkness. \x93Not much. Maybe enough to get
through this scary short-cut of yours.\x94

\x93You tell the truth when you say scary. It\x92s so darn crazy to go down
Catrock Canyon maybe they won\x92t think we\x92d tackle it. And if they catch
us, I\x92ll say I led yuh in--and then--say, I\x92m kinda bettin\x92 on your
luck. The way you cleaned up on them horses, maybe luck\x92ll stay with
you. And I\x92ll help all I can, honest.\x94

\x93Fine.\x94 Bud reached over and closed his fingers around Eddie\x92s thin,
boyish arm. \x93You didn\x92t tell me yet why the other trail isn\x92t good
enough.\x94

\x93I heard a sound in the Gap tunnel, that\x92s why. You maybe didn\x92t
know what it was. I know them echoes to a fare-ye-well. Somebody\x92s
there--likely posted waiting.\x94 He was motionless for a space, listening.

\x93Get off-easy. Take off your spurs.\x94 Eddie was down, whispering eagerly
to Bud. \x93There\x92s a draft of air from the blow-holes that comes this way.
Sound comes outa there a lot easier than it goes in. Sis and I found
that out. Lead your horse--if they jump us, give him a lick with the
quirt and hide in the brush.\x94

Like Indians the two made their way down a rambling slope not far from
where Marian had guided Bud. To-night, however, Eddie led the way to the
right instead of the left, which seemed to Bud a direction that would
bring them down Oldman creek, that dry river bed, and finally, perhaps,
to the race track.

Eddie never did explain just how he made his way through a maze of
water-cut pillars and heaps of sandstone so bewildering that Bud
afterward swore that in spite of the fact that he was leading Sunfish,
he frequently found himself at that patient animal\x92s tail, where they
were doubled around some freakish pillar. Frequently Eddie stopped and
peered past his horse to make sure that Bud had not lost the trail.
And finally, because he was no doubt worried over that possibility, he
knotted his rope to his saddle horn, brought back a length that reached
a full pace behind the tail of the horse, and placed the end in Bud\x92s
hand.

\x93If yuh lose me you\x92re a goner,\x94 he whispered. \x93So hang onto that, no
matter what comes. And don\x92t yuh speak to me. This is hell\x92s corral and
we\x92re walking the top trail right now.\x94 He made sure that Bud had the
loop in his hand, then slipped back past his horse and went on, walking
more quickly.

Bud admitted afterwards that he was perfectly willing to be led like a
tame squirrel around the top of \x93hell\x92s corral\x94, whatever that was. All
that Bud saw was an intricate assembly of those terrific pillars, whose
height he did not know, since he had no time to glance up and estimate
the distance. There was no method, no channel worn through in anything
that could be called a line. Whatever primeval torrent had honeycombed
the ledge had left it so before ever its waters had formed a straight
passage through. How Eddie knew the way he could only conjecture,
remembering how he himself had ridden devious trails down on the
Tomahawk range when he was a boy. It rather hurt his pride to realize
that never had he seen anything approaching this madman\x92s trail.

Without warning they plunged into darkness again. Darkness so black
that Bud knew they had entered another of those mysterious, subterranean
passages which had created such names as abounded in the country:
the \x93Sinks\x94, \x93Little Lost\x94, and Sunk River itself which disappeared
mysteriously. He was beginning to wonder with a grim kind of humor if he
himself was not about to follow the example of the rivers and disappear,
when the soft padding of their footfalls blurred under the whistling of
wind. Fine particles of sand stung him, a blast full against him
halted him for a second. But the rope pulled steadily and he went on,
half-dragged into starlight again.

They were in a canyon; deep, sombre in its night shadows, its width made
known to him by the strip of starlight overhead. Directly before them,
not more than a hundred yards, a light shone through a window.

The rope slackened in his hands, and Eddie slipped back to him shivering
a little as Bud discovered when he laid a hand on his arm.

\x93I guess I better tie yuh--but it won\x92t be so yuh can\x92t shoot. Get on,
and let me tie your feet into the stirrups. I--I guess maybe we can get
past, all right--I\x92ll try--I want to go and take that job you said you\x92d
give me!\x94

\x93What\x92s the matter, son? Is that where the Catrockers hang out?\x94 Bud
swung into the saddle. \x93I trust you, kid. You\x92re her brother.\x94

\x93I--I want to live like Sis wants me to. But I\x92ve got to tie yuh, Mr.
Birnie, and that looks--But they\x92d k--you don\x92t know how they kill
traitors. I saw one--\x94 He leaned against Bud\x92s leg, one hand reaching up
to the saddle horn and gripping it in a passing frenzy. \x93If you say so,\x94
 he whispered rapidly, \x93we\x92ll sneak up and shoot \x91em through the window
before they get a chance--\x94

Bud reached out his hand and patted Eddie on the shoulder. \x93That job of
yours don\x92t call for any killing we can avoid,\x94 he said. \x93Go ahead and
tie me. No use of wasting lead on two men when one will do. It\x92s all
right. I trust you, pardner.\x94

Eddie\x92s shoulders stiffened. He stood up, looked toward the light and
gripped Bud\x92s hand. \x93I thought they\x92d be asleep--what was home,\x94
 he said. \x93We got to ride past the cabin to get out through another
water-wash. But you take your coat and tie your horse\x92s feet, and I\x92ll
tie mine. I--can\x92t tie you, Mr. Birnie. We\x92ll chance it together.\x94

Bud did not say anything at all, for which Eddie seemed grateful. They
muffled eight hoofs, rode across the canyon\x92s bottom and passed the
cabin so closely that the light of a smoky lantern on a table was
plainly visible to Bud, as was the shaggy profile of a man who sat with
his arms folded, glowering over a pipe. He heard nothing. Bud halted
Sunfish and looked again to make sure, while Eddie beckoned frantically.
They went on undisturbed--the Catrockers kept no dogs.

They passed a couple of corrals, rode over springy sod where Bud dimly
discerned hay stubble. Eddie let down a set of bars, replaced them
carefully, and they crossed another meadow. It struck Bud that the
Catrockers were fairly well entrenched in their canyon, with plenty of
horse feed at least.

They followed a twisting trail along the canyon\x92s wall, rode into
another pit of darkness, came out into a sandy stretch that seemed
hazily familiar to Bud. They crossed this, dove into the bushes
following a dim trail, and in ten minutes Eddie\x92s horse backed suddenly
against Sunfish\x92s nose. Bud stood in his stirrups, reins held firmly in
his left hand, and in his right his six-shooter with the hammer lifted,
ready to snap down.

A tall figure stepped away from the peaked rocks and paused at Bud\x92s
side.

\x93I been waiting for Marian,\x94 he said bluntly. \x93You know anything about
her?\x94

\x93She turned back last night after she had shown me the way.\x94 Bud\x92s
throat went dry. \x93Did they miss her?\x94 He leaned aggressively.

\x93Not till breakfast time, they didn\x92t. I was waiting here, most all
night--except right after you folks left. She wasn\x92t missed, and I never
flagged her--and she ain\x92t showed up yet!\x94

Bud sat there stunned, trying to think what might have happened. Those
dark passages through the mountains--the ledge-- \x93Ed, you know that
trail she took me over? She was coming back that way. She could get
lost--\x94

\x93No she couldn\x92t--not Sis. If her horse didn\x92t act the fool--what horse
was it she rode?\x94 Ed turned to Jerry as if he would know.

\x93Boise,\x94 Bud spoke quickly, as though seconds were precious. \x93She said
he knew the way.\x94

\x93He sure ought to,\x94 Eddie replied emphatically. \x93Boise belongs to Sis,
by rights. The mare got killed and Dad gave him to Sis when he was a
suckin\x92 colt, and Sis raised him on cow\x92s milk and broke him herself.
She rode him all over. Lew took and sold him to Dave, and gambled the
money, and Sis never signed no bill of sale. They couldn\x92t make her.
Sis has got spunk, once you stir her up. She\x92ll tackle anything. She\x92s
always claimed Boise is hers. Boise knows the Gap like a book. Sis
couldn\x92t get off the trail if she rode him.\x94

\x93Something happened, then,\x94 Bud muttered stubbornly. \x93Four men came
through behind us, and we waited out in the dark to let them pass. Then
she sent me down to the creek-bottom, and she turned back. If they got
her--\x94 He turned Sunfish in the narrow brush trail. \x93She\x92s hurt, or they
got her--I\x92m going back!\x94 he said grimly.

\x93Hell! you can\x92t do any good alone,\x94 Eddie protested, coming after him.
\x93We\x92ll go look for her, Mr. Birnie, but we\x92ve got to have something so
we can see. If Jerry could dig up a couple of lanterns--\x94

\x93You wait. I\x92m coming along,\x94 Jerry called guardedly. \x93I\x92ll bring
lanterns.\x94

To Bud that time of waiting was torment. He had faced danger and tragedy
since he could toddle, and fear had never overridden the titillating
sense of adventure. But then the danger had been for himself. Now terror
conjured pictures whose horror set him trembling. Twenty-four hours and
more had passed since he had kissed Marian\x92s hand and let her go--to
what? The inky blackness of those tunnelled caverns in the Gap
confronted his mind like a nightmare. He could not speak of it--he dared
not think of it, and yet he must.

Jerry came on horseback, with three unlighted lanterns held in a cluster
by their wire handles. Eddie immediately urged his horse into the brushy
edge of the trail so that he might pass Bud and take the lead. \x93You sure
made quick time,\x94 he remarked approvingly to Jerry.

\x93I raided Dave\x92s cache of whiskey or I\x92d have been here quicker,\x94 Jerry
explained. \x93We might need some.\x94

Bud gritted his teeth. \x93Ride, why don\x92t yuh?\x94 he urged Eddie harshly.
\x93What the hell ails that horse of yours? You got him hobbled?\x94

Eddie glanced back over his bobbing shoulder as his horse trotted along
the blind trail through the brush. \x93This here ain\x92t no race track,\x94 he
expostulated. \x93We\x92ll make it quicker without no broken legs.\x94

There was justice in his protest and Bud said nothing. But Sunfish\x92s
head bumped the tail of Eddie\x92s horse many times during that ride. Once
in the Gap, with a lighted lantern in his rein hand and his six-shooter
in the other--because it was ticklish riding, in there with lights
revealing them to anyone who might be coming through--he was content to
go slowly, peering this way and that as he rode.

Once Eddie halted and turned to speak to them. \x93I know Boise wouldn\x92t
leave the trail. If Sis had to duck off and hide from somebody, he\x92d
come back to the trail. Loose, he\x92d do that. Sis and I used to explore
around in here just for fun, and kept it for our secret till Lew found
out. She always rode Boise. I\x92m dead sure he\x92d bring her out all right.\x94

\x93She hasn\x92t come out--yet. Go on,\x94 said Bud, and Eddie rode forward
obediently.

Three hours it took them to search the various passages where Eddie
thought it possible that Marian had turned aside. Bud saw that the trail
through was safe as any such trail could be, and he wondered at the
nerve and initiative of the girl and the boy who had explored the place
and found where certain queer twists and turns would lead. Afterwards he
learned that Marian was twelve and Eddie ten when first they had hidden
there from Indians, and they had been five years in finding where every
passage led. Also, in daytime the place was not so fearsome, since
sunlight slanted down into many a passageway through the blow-holes high
above.

\x93She ain\x92t here. I knew she wasn\x92t,\x94 Eddie announced when the final
tunnel let them into the graying light of dawn beyond the Peak.

\x93In that case--\x94 Bud glanced from him to Jerry, who was blowing out his
lantern.

Jerry let down the globe carefully, at the same time glancing soberly
at Bud. \x93The kid knows better than we do what would happen if Lew met up
with her and Boise.\x94

Eddie shook his head miserably, his eyes fixed helpessly upon Bud. \x93Lew
never, Mr. Birnie. I was with him every minute from dark till--till the
cashier, shot him. We come up the way I took you through the canyon. Lew
never knew she was gone any more than I did.\x94

Jerry bit his lip. \x93Kid, what if the gang run acrost her, KNOWING Lew
was dead?\x94 he grated. \x93And her on Boise? The word\x92s out that Bud stole
Boise. Dave and the boys rode out to round him up--and they ain\x92t done
it, so they\x92re still riding--we\x92ll hope. Kid, you know damn well your
gang would double-cross Dave in a minute, now Lew\x92s killed. If they got
hold of the horse, do yuh think they\x92d turn him over to Dave?\x94

\x93No, you bet your life they wouldn\x92t!\x94 Eddie retorted.

\x93And what about HER?\x94 Bud cut in with ominous calm. \x93She\x92s your sister,
kid. Would you be worried if you knew they had HER and the horse?\x94

Eddie gulped and looked away. \x93They wouldn\x92t hurt her unless they knew\x92t
Lew was dead,\x94 he said. \x93And them that went to Crater was killed or
jailed, so--\x94 He hesitated. \x93It looked to me like Anse was setting up
waiting for the bunch to get back from Crater. He--he\x92s always jumpy
when they go off and stay, and it\x92d be just like him to set there and
wait till daylight. It looks to me, Mr. Birnie, like him and--and the
rest don\x92t know yet that the Crater job was a fizzle. They wouldn\x92t
think of such a thing as taking Sis, or Boise either, unless they knew
Lew was dead.\x94

\x93Are you sure of that?\x94 Bud had him in a grip that widened the boy\x92s
eyes with something approaching fear.

\x93Yes sir, Mr. Birnie, I\x92m sure. What didn\x92t go to Crater stayed in
camp--or was gone on some other trip. No, I\x92m sure!\x94 He jerked away with
sudden indignation at Bud\x92s disbelief. \x93Say! Do you think I\x92m bad enough
to let my sister get into trouble with the Catrockers? I know they never
got her. More\x92n likely it\x92s Dave.\x94

\x93Dave went up Burroback Valley,\x94 Jerry stated flatly. \x93Him and the boys
wasn\x92t on this side the ridge. They had it sized up that Bud might go
from Crater straight across into Black Rim, and they rode up to catch
him as he comes back across.\x94 Jerry grinned a little. \x93They wanted that
money you peeled off the crowd Sunday, Bud. They was willing you should
get to Crater and cash them checks before they overhauled yuh and strung
yuh up.\x94

\x93You don\x92t suppose they\x92d hurt Marian if they found her with the horse?
She might have followed along to Crater--\x94

\x93She never,\x94 Eddie contradicted. And Jerry declared in the same breath,
\x93She\x92d be too much afraid of Lew. No, if they found her with the horse
they\x92d take him away from her and send her back on another one to do
the kitchen work,\x94 he conjectured with some contempt. \x93If they found YOU
without the horse--well--men have been hung on suspicion, Bud. Money\x92s
something everybody wants, and there ain\x92t a man in the valley but what
has figured your winnings down to the last two-bit piece. It\x92s just a
runnin\x92 match now to see what bunch gets to yuh first.\x94

\x93Oh, the money! I\x92d give the whole of it to anyone that would tell me
Marian \x91s safe,\x94 Bud cried unguardedly in his misery. Whereat Jerry and
Ed looked at each other queerly.



CHAPTER TWENTY: \x93PICK YOUR FOOTING!\x94

The three sat irresolutely on their horses at the tunnel\x92s end of the
Gap, staring out over the valley of the Redwater and at the mountains
beyond. Bud\x92s face was haggard and the lines of his mouth were hard. It
was so vast a country in which to look for one little woman who had not
gone back to see Jerry\x92s signal!

\x93I\x92ll bet yuh Sis cleared out,\x94 Eddie blurted, looking at Bud eagerly,
as if he had been searching for some comforting word. \x93Sis has got lots
of sand. She used to call me a \x91fraid cat all the time when I didn\x92t
want to go where she did. I\x92ll bet she just took Boise and run off with
him. She would, if she made up her mind--and I guess she\x92d had about as
much as she could stand, cookin\x92 at Little Lost--\x94

Bud lifted his head and looked at Eddie like a man newly awakened. \x93I
gave her money to take home for me, to my mother, down Laramie way. I
begged her to go if she was liable to be in trouble over leaving the
ranch. But she said she wouldn\x92t go--not unless she was missed. She knew
I\x92d come back to the ranch. I just piled her hands full of bills in the
dark and told her to use them if she had to--\x94

\x93She might have done it,\x94 Jerry hazarded hopefully. \x93Maybe she did sneak
in some other way and get her things. She\x92d have to take some clothes
along. Women folks always have to pack. By gosh, she could hide Boise
out somewhere and--\x94

For a young man in danger of being lynched by his boss for horse
stealing and waylaid and robbed by a gang notorious in the country,
Bud\x92s appetite for risk seemed insatiable that morning. For he added the
extreme possibility of breaking his neck by reckless riding in the next
hour.

He swung Sunfish about and jabbed him with the spurs, ducking into the
gloom of the Gap as if the two who rode behind were assassins on his
trail. Once he spoke, and that was to Sunfish. His tone was savage.

\x93Damn your lazy hide, you\x92ve been through here twice and you\x92ve got
daylight to help--now pick up your feet and travel!\x94

Sunfish travelled; and the pace he set sent even Jerry gasping now and
then when he came to the worst places, with the sound of galloping hoofs
in the distance before him, and Eddie coming along behind and lifting
his voice warningly now and then. Even the Catrockers had held the Gap
in respect, and had ridden its devious trail cautiously. But caution was
a meaningless word to Bud just then while a small flame of hope burned
steadily before him.

The last turn, where on the first trip Sunfish lost Boise and balked for
a minute, he made so fast that Sunfish left a patch of yellowish hair
on a pointed rock and came into the open snorting fire of wrath. He went
over the rough ground like a bouncing antelope, simply because he was
too mad to care how many legs he broke. At the peak of rocks he showed
an inclination to stop, and Bud, who had been thinking and planning
while he hoped, pulled him to a stand and waited for the others to come
up. They could not go nearer the corrals without incurring the danger of
being overheard, and that must not happen.

\x93You damn fool,\x94 gritted Jerry when he came up with Bud. \x93If I\x92d knowed
you wanted to commit suicide I\x92d a caved your head in with a rock and
saved myself the craziest ride I ever took in m\x92 life!\x94

\x93Oh, shut up!\x94 Bud snapped impatiently. \x93We\x92re here, aren\x92t we? Now
listen to me, boys. You catch up my horses--Jerry, are you coming along
with me? You may as well. I\x92m a deputy sheriff, and if anybody stops you
for whatever you\x92ve done, I\x92ll show a warrant for your arrest. And by
thunder,\x94 he declared with a faint grin, \x93I\x92ll serve it if I have to
to keep you with me. I don\x92t know what you\x92ve done, and I don\x92t care. I
want you. So catch up my horses--and Jerry, you can pack my war-bag and
roll your bed and mine, if I\x92m too busy while I\x92m here.\x94

\x93You\x92re liable to be busy, all right,\x94 Jerry interpolated grimly.

\x93Well, they won\x92t bother you. Ed, you better get the horses. Take
Sunfish, here, and graze him somewhere outa sight. We\x92ll keep going, and
we might have to start suddenly.\x94

\x93How about Sis? I thought--\x94

\x93I\x92m going to turn Little Lost upside down to find her, if she\x92s here.
If she isn\x92t, I\x92m kinda hoping she went down to mother. She said there
was no other place where she could go. And she\x92d feel that she had to
deliver the money, perhaps--because I must have given her a couple of
thousand dollars. It was quite a roll, mostly in fifties and hundreds,
and I\x92m short that much. I\x92m just gambling that the size of made her
feel she must go.\x94

\x93That\x92d be Sis all over, Mr. Birnie.\x94 Eddie glanced around him uneasily.
The sun was shining level in his eyes, and sunlight to Eddie had long
meant danger. \x93I guess we better hurry, then. I\x92ll get the horses down
outa sight, and come back here afoot and wait.\x94

\x93Do that, kid,\x94 said Bud, slipping wearily off Sunfish. He gave the
reins into Eddie\x92s hand, motioned Jerry with his head to follow, and
hurried down the winding path to the corrals. The cool brilliance of the
morning, the cheerful warbling of little, wild canaries in the bushes
as he passed, for once failed to thrill him with joy of life. He was
wondering whether to go straight to the house and search it if necessary
to make sure that she had not been there, or whether Indian cunning
would serve him best. His whole being ached for direct action; his heart
trembled with fear lest he should jeopardize Marian\x92s safety by his
impetuous haste to help her.

Pop, coming from the stable just as Bud was crossing the corral, settled
the question for him. Pop peered at him sharply, put a hand to the small
of his back and came stepping briskly toward him, his jaw working like a
sheep eating hay.

\x93Afoot, air ye?\x94 he exclaimed curiously. \x93What-fer idea yuh got in yore
head now, young feller? Comin\x92 back here afoot when ye rid two fast
horses? Needn\x92t be afraid of ole Pop--not unless yuh lie to \x91im and try
to git somethin\x92 fur nothin\x92. Made off with Lew\x92s wife, too, didn\x92t ye?
Oh, there ain\x92t much gits past ole Pop, even if he ain\x92t the man he used
to be. I seen yuh lookin\x92 at her when yuh oughta been eatin\x92. I seen
yuh! An\x92 her watchin\x92 you when she thought nobuddy\x92d ketch her at it!
Sho! Shucks a\x92mighty! You been playin\x92 hell all around, now, ain\x92t ye?
Needn\x92t lie--I know what my own eyes tells me!\x94

\x93You know a lot, then, that I wish I knew. I\x92ve been in Crater all the
time, Pop. Did you know Lew was mixed up in a bank robbery yesterday,
and the cashier of the bank shot him? The rest of the gang is dead or in
jail. The sheriff did some good work there for a few minutes.\x94

Pop pinched in his lips and stared at Bud unwinkingly for a minute.
\x93Don\x92t lie to me,\x94 he warned petulantly. \x93Went to Crater, did ye? Cashed
them checks, I expect.\x94

Bud pulled his mouth into a rueful grin. \x93Yes, Pop, I cashed the checks,
all right--and here\x92s what\x92s left of the money. I guess,\x94 he went
on while he pulled out a small roll of bills and licked his finger
preparatory to counting them, \x93I might better have stuck to running my
horses. Poker\x92s sure a fright. The way it can eat into a man\x92s pocket--\x94

\x93Went and lost all that money on poker, did ye?\x94 Pop\x92s voice was shrill.
\x93After me tellin\x92 yuh how to git it--and showin\x92 yuh how yuh could beat
Boise--\x94 the old man\x92s rage choked him. He thrust his face close to
Bud\x92s and glared venomously.

\x93Yes, and just to show you I appreciate it, I\x92m going to give you what\x92s
left after I\x92ve counted off enough to see me through to Spokane. I feel
sick, Pop. I want change of air. And as for riding two fast horses to
Crater--\x94 he paused while he counted slowly, Pop licking his lips avidly
as he watched,--\x93why I don\x92t know what you mean. I only ride one horse
at a time, Pop, when I\x92m sober. And I was sober till I hit Crater.\x94

He stopped counting when he reached fifty dollars and gave the rest to
Pop, who thumbed the bank notes in a frenzy of greed until he saw that
he had two hundred dollars in his possession. The glee which he tried
to hide, the crafty suspicion that this was not all of it the returning
conviction that Bud was actually almost penniless, and the cunning
assumption of senility, was pictured on his face. Pop\x92s poor, miserly
soul was for a minute shamelessly revealed. Distraught though he was,
Bud stared and shuddered a little at the spectacle.

\x93I always said \x91t you\x92re a good, honest, well-meaning boy,\x94 Pop cackled,
slyly putting the money out of sight while he patted Bud on the
shoulder. \x93Dave he thought mebby you took and stole Boise--and if I was
you, Bud, I\x92d git to Spokane quick as I could and not let Dave ketch ye.
Dave\x92s out now lookin\x92 for ye. If he suspicioned you\x92d have the gall to
come right back to Little Lost, I expect mebby he\x92d string yuh up, young
feller. Dave\x92s got a nasty temper--he has so!\x94

\x93There\x92s something else, Pop, that I don\x92t like very well to be accused
of. You say Mrs. Morris is gone. I don\x92t know a thing about that, or
about the horse being gone. I\x92ve been in Crater. I\x92d just got my money
out of the bank when it was held up, and Lew was shot.\x94

Pop teetered and gummed his tobacco and grinned foxily. \x93Shucks! I don\x92t
care nothin\x92 about Lew\x92s wife goin\x92, ner I don\x92t care nothin\x92 much about
the horse. They ain\x92t no funral uh mine, Bud. Dave an\x92 Lew, let \x91em look
after their own belongin\x92s.\x94

\x93They\x92ll have to, far as I\x92m concerned,\x94 said Bud. \x93What would I want
of a horse I can beat any time I want to run mine? Dave must think I\x92m
scared to ride fast, since Sunday! And Pop, I\x92ve got troubles enough
without having a woman on my hands. Are you sure Marian\x92s gone?\x94

\x93SURE?\x94 Pop snorted. \x93Honey, she\x92s had to do the cookin\x92 for me an\x92
Jerry--and if I ain\x92t sure--\x94

Bud did not wait to hear him out. There was Honey, whom he would very
much like to avoid meeting; so the sooner he made certain of Marian\x92s
deliberate flight the better, since Honey was not an early riser. He
went to the house and entered by way of the kitchen, feeling perfectly
sure all the while that Pop was watching him. The disorder there was
sufficiently convincing that Marian was gone, so he tip-toed across the
room to a door through which he had never seen any one pass save Lew and
Marian.

It was her bedroom, meagrely furnished, but in perfect order. On the
goods-box dresser with a wavy-glassed mirror above it, her hair brush,
comb and a few cheap toilet necessities lay, with the comb across a
nail file as if she had put it down hurriedly before going out to serve
supper to the men. Marian, then, had not stolen home to pack things
for the journey, as Jerry had declared a woman would do. Bud sent a
lingering glance around the room and closed the door. Hope was still
with him, but it was darkened now with doubts.

In the kitchen again he hesitated, wanting his guitar and mandolin and
yet aware of the foolishness of burdening himself with them now. Food
was a different matter, however. Dave owed him for more than three weeks
of hard work in the hayfield, so Bud collected from the pantry as much
as he could carry, and left the house like a burglar.

Pop was fiddling with the mower that stood in front of the machine shed,
plainly waiting for whatever night transpire. And since the bunk-house
door was in plain view and not so far away as Bud wished it, he went
boldly over to the old man, carrying his plunder on his shoulder.

\x93Dave owes me for work, Pop, so I took what grub I needed,\x94 he explained
with elaborate candor. \x93I\x92ll show you what I\x92ve got, so you\x92ll know I\x92m
not taking anything that I\x92ve no right to.\x94 He set down the sack,
opened it and looked up into what appeared to be the largest-muzzled
six-shooter he had ever seen in his life. Sheer astonishment held him
there gaping, half stooped over the sack.

\x93No ye don\x92t, young feller!\x94 Pop snarled vindictively. \x93Yuh think
I\x92d let a horse thief git off \x91n this ranch whilst I\x92m able to pull a
trigger? You fork her that money you got on ye, first thing yuh do! it\x92s
mine by rights--I told yuh I\x92d help ye to win money off \x91n the valley
crowd, and I done it. An\x92 what does you do? Never pay a mite of
attention to me after I\x92d give ye all the inside workin\x92s of the
game--never offer to give me my share--no, by Christmas, you go steal a
horse of my son\x92s and hide him out somewheres, and go lose mighty near
all I helped yuh win, playin\x92 poker! Think I\x92m goin\x92 to stand for that?
Think two hundred dollars is goin\x92 to even things up when I helped ye to
win a fortune? Hand over that fifty you got on yuh!\x94

Very meekly, his face blank, Bud reached into his pocket and got the
money. Without a word he pulled two or three dollars in silver from his
trousers pockets and added that to the lot. \x93Now what?\x94 he wanted to
know.

\x93Now You\x92ll wait till Dave gits here to hang yuh fer horse-stealing!\x94
 shrilled Pop. \x93Jerry! Oh, Jerry! Where be yuh? I got \x91im, by
Christmas--I got the horse thief--caught him carryin good grub right
outa the house!\x94

\x93Look out, Jerry!\x94 called Bud, glancing quickly toward the bunk-house.

Now, Pop had without doubt been a man difficult to trick in his youth,
but he was old, and he was excited, tickled over his easy triumph. He
turned to see what was wrong with Jerry.

\x93Look out, Pop, you old fool, You\x92ll bust a blood-vessel if you don\x92t
quiet down,\x94 Bud censured mockingly, wresting the gun from the clawing,
struggling old man in his arms. He was surprised at the strength and
agility of Pop, and though he was forcing him backward step by step into
the machine shed, and knew that he was master of the situation, he had
his hands full.

\x93Wildcats is nothing to Pop when he gets riled,\x94 Jerry grinned, coming
up on the run. \x93I kinda expected something like this. What yuh want done
with him, Bud?\x94

\x93Gag him so he can\x92t holler his head off, and then take him along--when
I\x92ve got my money back,\x94 Bud panted. \x93Pop, you\x92re about as appreciative
as a buck Injun.\x94

\x93Going to be hard to pack him so he\x92ll ride,\x94 Jerry observed quizzically
when Pop, bound and gagged, lay glaring at them behind the bunk-house.
\x93He don\x92t quite balance your two grips, Bud. And we do need hat grub.\x94

\x93You bring the grub--I\x92ll take Pop--\x94 Bud stopped in the act of
lifting the old man and listened. Honey\x92s voice was calling Pop, with
embellishments such Bud would never have believed a part of Honey\x92s
vocabulary. From her speech, she was coming after him, and Pop\x92s jaws
worked frantically behind Bud\x92s handkerchief.

Jerry tilted his head toward the luggage he had made a second trip for,
picked up Pop, clamped his hand over the mouth that was trying to betray
them, and slipped away through the brush glancing once over his shoulder
to make sure that Bud was following him.

They reached the safe screen of branches and stopped there for a minute,
listening to Honey\x92s vituperations and her threats of what she would do
to Pop if he did not come up and start a fire.

She stopped, and hoofbeats sounded from the main road. Dave and his men
were coming.

In his heart Bud thanked Little Lost for that hidden path through the
bushes. He heard Dave asking Honey what was the matter with her, heard
the unwomanly reply of the girl, heard her curse Pop for his neglect
of the kitchen stove at that hour of the morning. Heard, too, her
questioning of Dave. Had they found Bud, or Marian?

\x93If you got \x91em together, and didn\x92t string \x91em both up to the nearest
tree--\x94

Bud bit his lip and went on, his face aflame with rage at the
brutishness of a girl he had half respected. \x93Honey!\x94 he whispered
contemptuously. \x93What a name for that little beast!\x94

At the rocks Eddie was waiting with Stopper, upon whom they hurriedly
packed the beds and Bud\x92s luggage. They spoke in whispers when they
spoke at all, and to insure the horse\x92s remaining quiet Eddie had tied a
cotton rope snugly around its muzzle.

\x93I\x92ll take Pop,\x94 Bud whispered, but Jerry shook his head and once more
shouldered the old fellow as he would carry a bag of grain. So they
slipped back down the trail, took a turn which Bud did not know, and
presently Bud found that Jerry was keeping straight on. Bud made an
Indian sign on the chance that Jerry would understand it, and with his
free hand Jerry replied. He was taking Pop somewhere. They were to wait
for him when they had reached the horses. So they separated for a space.

\x93This is sure a great country for hideouts, Mr. Birnie,\x94 Eddie ventured
when they had put half a mile between themselves and Little Lost, and
had come upon Smoky, Sunfish and Eddie\x92s horse feeding quietly in a
tiny, spring-watered basin half surrounded with rocks. \x93If you know the
country you can keep dodgin\x92 sheriffs all your life--if you just have
grub enough to last.\x94

\x93Looks to me as if there aren\x92t many wasted opportunities here,\x94 Bud
answered with some irony. \x93Is there an honest man in the whole country,
Ed? I\x92d just like to know.\x94

Eddie hesitated, his eyes anxiously trying to read Bud\x92s meaning and his
mood. \x93Not right around the Sinks, I guess,\x94 he replied truthfully. \x93Up
at Crater there are some, and over to Jumpoff. But I guess this valley
would be called pretty tough, all right. It\x92s so full of caves and
queer places it kinda attracts the ones that want to hide out.\x94 Then he
grinned. \x93It\x92s lucky for you it\x92s like that, Mr. Birnie, or I don\x92t see
how you\x92d get away. Now I can show you how to get clear away from here
without getting caught. But I guess we ought to have breakfast first.
I\x92m pretty hungry. Ain\x92t you? I can build a fire against that crack in
the ledge over there, and the smoke will go away back underneath so
it won\x92t show. There\x92s a blow-hole somewhere that draws smoke like a
chimney.\x94

Jerry came after a little, sniffing bacon. He threw himself down beside
the fire and drew a long breath. \x93That old skunk\x92s heavier than what you
might think,\x94 he observed whimsically. \x93I packed him down into one of
them sink holes and untied his feet and left him to scramble out best
way he can. It\x92ll take him longer\x92n it took me. Having the use of your
hands helps quite a lot. And the use of your mouth to cuss a little.
But he\x92ll make it in an hour or two--I\x92m afraid.\x94 He looked at Bud, a
half-shamed tenderness in his eyes. \x93It sure was hard to leave him like
I did. It was like walking on your toes past a rattler curled up asleep
somewhere, afraid you might spoil his nap. Only Pop wasn\x92t asleep.\x94
 He sat up and reached his hand for a cup of coffee which Eddie was
offering. \x93Anyway, I had the fun of telling the old devil what I
thought about him,\x94 he added, and blew away the steam and took another
satisfying nip.

\x93He\x92ll put them on our trail, I suppose,\x94 said Bud, biting into a ragged
piece of bread with a half-burned slice of hot bacon on it.

\x93When he gets to the ranch he will. His poison fangs was sure loaded
when I left. He said he wanted to cut your heart out for robbing him,
and so forth, ad swearum. We\x92d best not leave any trail.\x94

\x93We ain\x92t going to,\x94 Eddie assured him eagerly. \x93I\x92m glad being with
the Catrockers is going to do some good, Mr. Birnie. It\x92ll help you git
away, and that\x92ll help find Sis. I guess she hit down where you live,
maybe. How far can your horse travel to-day--if he has to?\x94

Bud looked across to where Sunfish, having rolled in a wet spot near
the spring and muddied himself to his satisfaction, was greedily at work
upon a patch of grass. \x93If he has to, till he drops in his tracks. And
that won\x92t be for many a mile, kid. He\x92s thoroughbred; a thoroughbred
never knows when to quit.\x94

\x93Well, there ain\x92t any speedy trail ahead of us today,\x94 Eddie vouchsafed
cheeringly. \x93There\x92s half-a mile maybe where we can gallop, and the rest
is a case of picking your footing.\x94

\x93Let\x92s begin picking it, then,\x94 said Bud, and got up, reaching for his
bridle.

By devious ways it was that Eddie led them out of that sinister country
surrounding the Sinks. In the beginning Bud and Jerry exchanged glances,
and looked at their guns, believing that it would be through Catrock
Canyon they would have to ride. Eddie, riding soberly in the lead, had
yet a certain youthful sense of his importance. \x93They\x92ll never think of
following yuh this way, unless old Pop Truman gits back in time to tell
\x91em I\x92m travelling with yuh,\x94 he observed once when they had penetrated
beyond the neighborhood of caves and blow-holes and were riding safely
down a canyon that offered few chances of their being observed save from
the front, which did not concern them.

\x93I guess you don\x92t know old Pop is about the ringeader of the
Catrockers. Er he was, till he began to git kinda childish about
hoarding money, and then Dave stepped in. And Mr. Birnie, I guess you\x92d
have been dead when you first came there, if it hadn\x92t been that Dave
and Pop wanted to give you a chance to get a lot of money off of Jeff\x92s
bunch. Lew was telling how you kept cleaning up, and he said right along
that they was taking too much risk having you around. Lew said he bet
you was a detective. Are you, Mr. Birnie?\x94

Bud was riding with his shoulders sagged forward, his thoughts with
Marian--wherever she was. He had been convinced that she was not at
Little Lost, that she had started for Laramie. But now that he was away
from that evil spot his doubts returned. What if she were still in the
neighborhood--what if they found her? Memory of Honey\x92s vindictiveness
made him shiver, Honey was the kind of woman who would kill.

\x93I am, from now on, kid,\x94 he said despondently. \x93We\x92re going to ride
till we find your sister. And if those hell-hounds got her--\x94

\x93They didn\x92t, from the way Honey talked,\x94 Jerry comforted. \x93We\x92ll find
her at Laramie, don\x92t you ever think we won\x92t!\x94



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: TRAILS END

At the last camp, just north of the Platte, Bud\x92s two black sheep
balked. Bud himself, worn by sleepless nights and long hours in the
saddle, turned furiously when Jerry announced that he guessed he and Ed
wouldn\x92t go any farther.

\x93Well, damn you both for ungrateful hounds!\x94 grated Bud, hurt to the
quick. \x93I hope you don\x92t think I brought you this far to help hold me in
the saddle; I made it north alone, without any mishap. I think I could
have come back all right. But if you want to quit here, all right. You
can high-tail it back to your outlaws--\x94

\x93Well, if you go \x91n put it that way!\x94 Jerry expostulated, lifting both
hands high in the air in a vain attempt to pull the situation toward the
humorous. \x93You\x92re a depity sheriff, and you got the drop.\x94 He grinned,
saw that Bud\x92s eyes were still hard and his mouth unyielding, and
lowered his hands, looking crestfallen as a kicked pup that had tried to
be friendly.

\x93You can see for yourself we ain\x92t fit to go \x91n meet your mother
and your father like we was--like we\x92d went straight,\x94 Eddie put in
explanatorily. \x93You\x92ve been raised good, and--say, it makes a man want
to BE good to see how a feller don\x92t have to be no preacher to live
right. But it don\x92t seem square to let you take us right home with you,
just because you\x92re so darned kind you\x92d do it and never think a thing
about it. We ain\x92t ungrateful--I know I ain\x92t. But--but--\x94

\x93The kid\x92s said it, Bud,\x94 Jerry came to the rescue. \x93We come along
because it was a ticklish trip you had ahead. And I\x92ve knowed as good
riders as you are, that could stand a little holding in the saddle when
some freak had tried to shoot \x91em out of it. But you\x92re close to home
now and you don\x92t need us no more, and so we ain\x92t going to horn in on
the prodigal calf\x92s milkbucket. Marian, She\x92s likely there--\x94

\x93If Sis ain\x92t with your folks we\x92ll hunt her up,\x94 Eddie interrupted
eagerly. \x93Sis is your kind--she--she\x92s good enough for yuh, Bud, and I
hope she--ll--well if she\x92s got any sense she will--well, if it comes to
the narrying point, I--well, darn it, I\x92d like to see Sis git as good a
man as you are!\x94 Eddie, having bluntered that far, went headlong as if
he were afraid to stop. \x93Sis is educated, and she\x92s an awful good singer
and a fine girl, only I\x92m her brother. But I\x92m going to live honest from
now on, Bud, and I hope you won\x92t hold off on account of me. I
ain\x92t going to have sis feel like crying when she thinks about me!
You--you--said something that hurt like a knife, Bud, when you told me
that, up in Crater. And she wasn\x92t to blame for marryn\x92 Lew--and she
done that outa goodness, the kind you showed to Jerry and me. And we
don\x92t want to go spoilin\x92 everything by letting your folks see what
you\x92re bringin\x92 home with yuh! And it might hurt Sis with your folks, if
they found out that I\x92m--\x94

Bud had been standing by his horse, looking from one to the other,
listening, watching their faces, measuring the full depth of their
manhood. \x93Say! you remind me of a story the folks tell on me,\x94 he said,
his eyes shining, while his voice strove to make light of it all. \x93Once,
when I was a kid in pink-aprons, I got lost from the trail-herd my folks
were bringing up from Texas. It was comin\x92 dark, and they had the whole
outfit out hunting me, and everybody scared to death. When they were all
about crazy, they claim I came walking up to the camp-fire dragging
a dead snake by the tail, and carrying a horn toad in my shirt, and
claiming they were mine because I \x91ketched \x91em.\x92 I\x92m not branding that
yarn with any moral--but figure it out for yourself, boys.\x94

The two looked at each other and grinned. \x93I ain\x92t dead yet,\x94 Eddie
made sheepish comment. \x93Mebbe you kinda look on me as being a horn toad,
Bud.\x94

\x93When you bear in mind that my folks raised that kid, You\x92ll realize
that it takes a good deal to stampede mother.\x94 Bud swung into the saddle
to avoid subjecting his emotions to the cramped, inadequate limitations
of speech. \x93Let\x92s go, boys. She\x92s a long trail to take the kinks out of
before supper-time.\x94

They stood still, making no move to follow. Bud reined Smoky around so
that he faced them, reached laboriously into that mysterious pocket of
a cowpuncher\x92s trousers which is always held closed by the belt of his
chaps, and which invariably holds in its depths the things he wants in a
hurry. They watched him curiously, resolutely refusing to interpret his
bit of autobiography, wondering perhaps why he did not go.

\x93Here she is.\x94 Bud had disinterred the deputy sheriff\x92s badge, and began
to polish it by the primitive but effectual method of spitting on it and
then rubbing vigorously on his sleeve. \x93You\x92re outside of Crater County,
but by thunder you\x92re both guilty of resisting an officer, and county
lines don\x92t count!\x94 He had pinned the badge at random on his coat while
he was speaking, and now, before the two realized what he was about, he
had his six-shooter out and aimed straight at them.

Bud had never lived in fear of the law. Instantly was sorry when he
saw the involuntary stiffening of their muscles, the quick wordless
suspicion and defiance that sent their eyes in shifty glances to right
and left before their hands lifted a little. Trust him, love him they
might, there was that latent fear of capture driven deep into their
souls; so deep that even he had not erased it.

Bud saw--and so he laughed.

\x93I\x92ve got to show my folks that I\x92ve made a gathering,\x94 he said. \x93You
can\x92t quit, boys. And I\x92m going to take you to the end of the trail, now
you\x92ve started.\x94 He eyed them, saw that they were still stubborn, and
drew in his breath sharply, manfully meeting the question in their
minds.

\x93We\x92ve left more at the Sinks than the gnashing of teeth,\x94 he said
whimsically. \x93A couple of bad names, for instance. You\x92re two bully
good friends of mine, and--damn it, Marian will want to see both of you
fellows, if she\x92s there. If she isn\x92t--we\x92ll maybe have a big circle
to ride, finding her. I\x92ll need you, no matter what\x92s ahead.\x94 He looked
from one to the other, gave a snort and added impatiently, \x93Aw, fork
your horses and don\x92t stand there looking like a couple of damn fools!\x94

Whereupon Jerry shook his head dissentingly, grinned and gave Eddie so
emphatic an impulse toward his horse that the kid went sprawling.

\x93Guess We\x92re up against it, all right--but I do wish yo \x91d lose that
badge!\x94 Jerry surrendered, and flipped the bridle reins over the neck of
his horse. \x93Horn toad is right, the way you\x92re scabbling around amongst
them rocks,\x94 he called light-heartedly to the kid. \x93Ever see a purtier
sunrise? I never!\x94

I don\x92t know what they thought of the sunset. Gorgeous it was, with many
soft colors blended into unnamable tints and translucencies, and the
songs of birds in the thickets as they passed. Smoky, Sunfish and
Stopper walked briskly, ears perked forward, heads up, eyes eager to
catch the familiar landmarks that meant home. Bud\x92s head was up, also,
his eyes went here and there, resting with a careless affection on those
same landmarks which spelled home. He would have let Smoky\x92s reins have
a bit more slack and would have led his little convoy to the corrals
at a gallop, had not hope begun to tremble and shrink from meeting
certainty face to face. Had you asked him then, I think Bud would have
owned himself a coward. Until he had speech with home-folk he would
merely be hoping that Marian was there; but until he had speech with
them he need not hear that they knew nothing of her. Bud--like, however,
he tried to cover his trepidation with a joke.

\x93We\x92ll sneak up on \x91em,\x94 he said to Ed and Jerry when the roofs of
house and stables came into view.

\x93Here\x92s where I grew up, boys. And in a minute or two more you\x92ll see
the greatest little mother on earth--and the finest dad,\x94 he added,
swallowing the last of his Scotch stubbornness.

\x93And Sis, I hope,\x94 Eddie said wistfully. \x93I sure hope she\x92s here.\x94

Neither Jerry nor Bud answered him at all. Smoky threw up his head
suddenly and gave a shrill whinny, and a horse at the corrals answered
sonorously.

\x93Say! That sounds to me like Boise!\x94 Eddie exclaimed, standing up in his
stirrups to look.

Bud turned pale, then flushed hotly. \x93Don\x92t holler!\x94 he muttered, and
held Smoky back a little. For just one reason a young man\x92s heart pounds
as Bud\x92s heart pounded then. Jerry looked at him, took a deep breath
and bit his lip thoughtfully. It may be that Jerry\x92s heartbeats were not
quite normal just then, but no one would ever know.

They rode slowly to a point near the corner of the table, and there Bud
halted the two with his lifted hand. Bud was trembling a little--but he
was smiling, too. Eddie was frankly grinning, Jerry\x92s face was the face
of a good poker-player--it told nothing.

In a group with their backs to them stood three: Marian, Bud\x92s mother
and his father. Bob Birnie held Boise by the bridle, and the two women
were stroking the brown nose of the horse that moved uneasily, with
little impatient head-tossings.

\x93He doesn\x92t behave like a horse that has made the long trip he has
made,\x94 Bud\x92s mother observed admiringly. \x93You must be a wonderful little
horsewoman, my dear, as well as a wonderful little woman in every other
way. Buddy should never have sent you on such a trip--just to bring home
money, like a bank messenger! But I\x92m glad that he did! And I do wish
you would consent to stay--such an afternoon with music I haven\x92t had
since Buddy left us. You could stay with me and train for the
concert work you intend doing. I\x92m only an old ranch woman in a slat
sunbonnet--but I taught my Buddy--and have you heard him?\x94

\x93An old woman in a slat sunbonnet--oh, how can you? Why, you\x92re the most
wonderful woman in the whole world.\x94 Marian\x92s voice was almost tearful
in its protest. \x93Yes--I have heard--your Buddy.\x94

\x93\x91T is the strangest way to go about selling a horse that I ever saw,\x94
 Bob Birnie put in dryly, smoothing his beard while he looked at them.
\x93We\x92d be glad to have you stay, lass. But you\x92ve asked me to place a
price on the horse, and I should like to ask ye a question or two. How
fast did ye say he could run?\x94

Marian laid an arm around the shoulders of the old lady in a slat
sunbonnet and patted her arm while she answered.

\x93Well, he beat everything in the country, so they refused to race
against him, until Bud came with his horses,\x94 she replied. \x93It took
Sunfish to outrun him. He \x91s terribly fast, Mr. Birnie. I--really, I
think he could beat the world\x92s record--if Bud rode him!\x94

Just here you should picture Ed and Jerry with their hands over their
mouths, and Bud wanting to hide his face with his hat.

Bob Birnie\x92s beard behaved oddly for a minute, while he leaned and
stroked Boise\x92s flat forelegs, that told of speed. \x93Wee-ll,\x94 he
hesitated, soft-heartedness battling with the horse-buyer\x92s keenness,
\x93since Bud is na ere to ride him, he\x92ll make a good horse for the
roundup. I\x92ll give ye \x93--more battling--\x93a hundred and fifty dollars for
him, if ye care to sell--\x94

\x93Here, wait a minute before you sell to that old skinflint!\x94 Bud shouted
exuberantly, dismounting with a rush. The rush, I may say, carried him
to the little old lady in the slat sunbonnet, and to that other little
lady who was staring at him with wide, bright yes. Bud\x92s arms went
around his mother. Perhaps by accident he gathered in Marian also--they
were standing very close, and his arms were very long--and he was slow
to discover his mistake.

\x93I\x92ll give you two hundred for Boise, and I\x92ll throw in one brother, and
one long-legged, good-for-nothing cowpuncher--\x94

\x93Meaning yourself, Buddy?\x94 came teasingly from he slat sunbonnet, whose
occupant had not been told just everything. \x93I\x92ll be surprised if she\x92ll
have you, with that dirty face and no shave for a week and more. But
if she does, you\x92re luckier than you deserve, for riding up on us like
this! We\x92ve heard all about you, Buddy--though you were wise to send
this lassie to gild your faults and make a hero of you!\x94

Now, you want to know how Marian managed to live through that. I will
say that she discovered how tenaciously a young man\x92s arms may cling
when he thinks he is embracing merely his mother; but she freed herself
and ran to Eddie, fairly pulled him off his horse, and talked very
fast and incoherently to him and Jerry, asking question after question
without waiting for a reply to any of them. All this, I suppose, in the
hope that they would not hear, or, hearing, would not understand what
that terrible, wonderful little woman was saying so innocently.

But you cannot faze youth. Eddie had important news for Sis, and he felt
that now was the time to tell it before Marian blushed any redder, so
he pulled her face up to his, put his lips so close to her ear that his
breath tickled, and whispered--without any preface whatever that she
could marry Bud any time now, because she was a widow.

\x93Here! Somebody--Bud--quick! Sis has fainted! Doggone it, I only told
her Lew\x92s dead and she can marry you--shucks! I thought she\x92d be glad!\x94

Down on the Staked Plains, on an evening much like the evening when Bud
came home with his \x93stake\x94 and his hopes and two black sheep who were
becoming white as most of us, a camp-fire began to crackle and wave
smoke ribbons this way and that before it burned steadily under the
supper pots of a certain hungry, happy group which you know.

\x93It\x92s somewhere about here that I got lost from camp when I was a kid,\x94
 Bud observed, tilting back his hat and lifting a knee to snap a dry
stick over it. \x93Mother\x92d know, I bet. I kinda wish we\x92d brought her and
dad along with us. That\x92s about eighteen years ago they trailed a herd
north--and here we are, taking our trail--herd north on the same trail!
I kinda wish now I\x92d picked up a bunch of yearling heifers along with
our two-year-olds. We could have brought another hundred head just as
well as not. They sure drive nice. Mother would have enjoyed this trip.\x94

\x93You think so, do you?\x94 Marian gave him a superior little smile along
with the coffee-boiler. \x93If you\x92d heard her talk about that trip north
when there weren\x92t any men around listening, you\x92d change your mind.
Bud Birnie, you are the SIMPLEST creature! You think, because a woman
doesn\x92t make a fuss over things, she doesn\x92t mind. Your mother told me
that it was a perfect nightmare. She taught you music just in the hope
that you\x92d go back to civilization and live there where there are some
modern improvements, and she could visit you! And here you are--all
rapped up in a bunch of young stock, dirty as pig and your whiskers--ow!
Bud! Stop that immediatly, or I\x92ll go put my face in a cactus just for
relief!\x94

\x93Maybe you\x92re dissatisfied yourself with my bunch of cattle. Maybe you
didn\x92t go in raptures over our aim and make more plans in a day than
four men could carry out in a year. Maybe you wish your husband was a
man that was content to pound piano keys all his life and let his hair
grow long instead of his whiskers. If you hate this, why didn\x92t you say
so?\x94

\x93I was speaking,\x94 said Marian as dignifiedly as was possible, \x93of your
mother. She was raised in civilization, and she has simply made the best
of pioneering all her married life. I was born and raised in cow-country
and I love it. As I said before, you are the SIMPLEST creature! Would
you really bring a father and mother a honeymoon trail--especially when
the bride didn\x92t want them, and they would much rather stay home?\x94

\x93Hey!\x94 cried Eddie disgustedly, coming up from a shallow creek with a
bucket of water and a few dry sticks. \x93The coffee\x92s upset and putting
the fire out. Gee whiz! Can\x92t you folks quit love-makin\x92 and tend to
business long enough to cook a meal?\x94





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