Part 1 out of 5
Scanned By Mary Starr with Omnipage Pro software
by B. M. BOWER
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' KINGS
13. THE SINKS
14. EVEN MUSHROOMS HELP
15. WHY BUD MISSED A DANCE
16. WHILE THE GOING'S GOOD
17. GUARDIAN ANGELS ARE RIDING "POINT"
18. THE CATROCK GANG
19. BUD RIDES THROUGH CATROCK AND LOSES MARIAN
20. "PICK YOUR FOOTING!"
21. TRAILS END
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.
"Call your master, Ezra," directed a quiet woman voice gone
weary and toneless with the heat and two restless children.
"Don't beat the poor brute. He can't go any farther and carry
the yoke, much less pull the wagon."
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's 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's family.
Bob Birnie and another man turned and came trotting back, and
at the call a scrambling youngster peered over his mother's
shoulder in the forward opening of the prairie schooner.
"O-oh, Dulcie! We gonna git a wile cow agin!"
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. "Stay in the wagon, Buddy.
Mustn't 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."
"Not s'eepy!" 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
"Robert, if we had another wagon, I could drive it and make
the load less for these four oxen," she suggested when her
husband came up. "A 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." She pushed back
her sun-bonnet and with it a mass of red-brown hair that
curled damply on her forehead, and smiled disarmingly. "Buddy
would be the happiest baby boy alive if I could let him drive
now and then!" she added humorously.
"Can't make a wagon and an extra yoke of oxen out of this
cactus patch," Bob Birnie grinned good humoredly. "Not even
to tickle Buddy. I'll see what I can do when we reach Olathe.
But you won't have to take a man's place and drive, Lassie."
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.
"Aren't you thirsty, Frank Davis? I think a cup of water will
do you good," 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's wife was worth a gallon from the barrel slip-
slopping along in the lurching chuck-wagon.
"How's the kids makin' out, Mis' Birnie?" Frank inquired
politely when he had swallowed the last drop and had wiped
his mouth with the back of his hand. "It's right warm and
"They're asleep at last, thank goodness," she answered,
glancing back at a huddle of pink calico that showed just
over the crest of a pile of crumpled quilts. "Buddy has a
hard time of it. He's all man in his disposition, and all
baby in size. He's been teasing to walk with the niggers and
help drive the drag. Is my husband calling?"
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's 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's 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.
"L'k-out-dah!" 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 "Run-to-mother-now" 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
"Not s'eepy," 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't 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's
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's 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
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 "Drag" 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's 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's 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's 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't 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
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.
"Snakes like Injuns. Dead'ns is good 'ens," 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 "Outfit", 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's 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.
"OOO-EE! Whah y'all, Buddy? OOO-EEE!"
"I'm a-comin'," Buddy shrilled impatiently. "What y' all
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's 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', but Ezra shouted just the
same: "OOO-EE! WHAH Y' ALL, BUDDY? OOO-EE!"
Imperceptibly dusk deepened to darkness. A gust of anger
swept Buddy's 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
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.
"I'm HUNGRY!" he announced accusingly, gripping the toad that
had begun to squirm at the heat and light. I kilt a snake an'
"Good gorry!" swore Step-and-a-Half, and whipped out his
six-shooter and fired three shots into the air.
Footsteps came scurrying. Buddy's mother swept him into her
arms, laughing with a little whimpering sound of tears in the
laughter. Buddy wriggled protestingly in her arms.
"L'kout! Y' all SKUCSH 'im! I got a HAWN-toe; wight here."
He patted his chest gloatingly. "An' I got a snake. I kilt
'im. An' I'm HUNGRY."
Mother of Buddy though she was, Lassie set him down hurriedly
and surveyed her man-child from a little distance.
"Buddy! Drop that snake instantly'"
Buddy obeyed, but he planted a foot close to his kill and
pouted his lips. "'S my snake. I kilt 'im," He said firmly.
He pulled the horned toad from his waist-front and held it
tightly in his two hands. "An's my hawn-toe. I ketche'd'm.
'Way ova dere," 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.
"Buddy," He demanded sternly, "where have you been?"
"Out dere. Kilt a snake. Ants was trailing a herd. I got a
HAWN-toe. An' I'm hungry!"
"You know better than to leave the wagon, young man. Didn't
you know we had to get out and hunt you, and mother was
scared the wolves might eat you? Didn't you hear us calling
you? Why didn't you answer?"
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. "I was comin',"
he said. "I WASN'T los'. I bringed my snake and my hawn-toe.
An' dey--WASN'T--any--woluffs!" The last word came muffled,
buried in his mother's 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
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 "point" 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's singing and the monotonous bellowing of
a herd reminded Buddy of one mysteriously terrible time when
there weren't 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's
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
"We'll hold 'em, all right, Lassie. And there's water ahead.
It's marked on the trail map. Don't you worry--I'll stay up
and help the boys. The cattle are uneasy--but we'll hold
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 " W is water ", mother made a funny sound
and said right out loud,"0h God, please!" 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 "Drag." 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't
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.
"That old scoundrel has got two ten-gallon kegs that haven't
been touched!" he told mother. "Yo' all mustn't water any
more horses out of your barrel Send the boys to Step-and-a-
Half. Yo' all keep what you've got. The horses have got to
have water- to-night it's going to be hell to hold the herd,
and if anybody goes thirsty it'll be the men, not the horses
But yo' all send them to the other wagon, Lassie Mind, now!
Not a drop to anyone."
After father rode away, Buddy crept up and put his two short
arms around mother. "Don't cry. I don't have to drink any
water," he soothed her. He waited a minute and added
optimistically, "Dere's a BI--IG wiver comin' pitty soon.
Oxes smells water a hunerd miles. Ezra says so. An' las'
night Crumpy was snuffin' an' snuffin'. I saw 'im do it. He
smelt a BIG wiver. THAT bi-ig!" He spread his short arms as
wide apart as they would reach, and smiled tremulously.
Mother squeezed Buddy so hard that he grunted.
"Dear little man, of course there is. WE don't mind, do we?
I-was feeling sorry for the poor cattle."
"De're firsty," Buddy stated solemnly, his eyes big. "De're
bawlin' fer a drink of water. I guess de're AWFUL firsty.
Dere's a big wiver comin' now Crumpy smelt a big wiver."
Buddy's mother stared across the arid plain parched into
greater barrenness by the heat that had been unremitting for
the past week. Buddy's 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
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's eyes were red, like Dulcie's 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's wagon was
almost upset before the maddened cattle could be driven back
to the main herd.
"No use camping," Bob Birnie told the boys gathered around
Step-and-a-Half's Dutch ovens. "The cattle won't stand. We'll
wear ourselves and them out trying to hold 'em-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' all pack up
and pull out. We'll turn the cattle loose and follow. If
there's any water in this damned country they'll find it."
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.
"You oughta kept your horses as thirsty as the cattle was,
and I bet they'd a' found that water," 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's arms. Buddy sat up wide-eyed and watched for the
big river, and tried not to be a 'fraid-cat and cry like
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 "M-baw-aw-aw-mm!"
They swung sharply so that the wind blew straight into the
front of the wagon, which lurched forward with a new impetus.
"Glo-ory t' Gawd, Missy! dey smells watah, sho 's yo' bawn!"
sobbed Ezra as he broke into a trot beside the wheelers "
'Tain't fur--lookit dat-ah huhd a-goin' it! No 'm, Missy, DEY
ain't woah out--dey smellin' watah an' dey'm gittin' TO it!
'Tain't fur, Missy."
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's 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's shouting as he ran alongside the wagon and called to
Missy that it was "Dat ole Crumpy actin' the fool", and that
the wagon wouldn't upset. "No'm, dey's jest in a hurry to git
dere fool haids sunk to de eyes in dat watah. Dey ain't
aimin' to run away--no'm, dish yer ain't no stampede!"
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's sharp command to Ezra:
"Stand back, Ezra! We're not going to be caught in that
terrible trap. They're piling over the bank ahead of us. Get
away from the leaders. I am going to shoot."
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's yoke-
mate pitched forward. The wagon stopped so abruptly that
Buddy sprawled helplessly on his back like an overturned
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 "jockey box" 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.
"Unyoke the wheelers, Ezra, and let the poor creatures have
their chance at the water," 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
"Ezra!" cried mother fiercely. "It's Frank Davis--they've got him
down, somehow. Climb over the backs of the cattle--There's no
other way--and GET HIM!"
"Yas'm, Missy!" 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's 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's 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,
"We shall meet beyond the river", which Buddy thought was a
very queer song, because they were all there but Frank Davis;
then she sang "Nearer, My God, to Thee." 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 "Our Father Who Art in Heaven ",
with Buddy repeating it uncertainly after her and pausing to
say "TRETHpatheth" 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's
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't 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's 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's 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's shoulders, held
him aloft like a puppy, leaned far over and deposited him on
Buddy rolled over twice and got up, a little dizzy and very
indignant, and shouted to father, "Shoot a sunsyguns!"
From that time Buddy added hatred to his distrust of Indians.
From the time when he was four until he was thirteen Buddy's
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
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
"broken out",--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 "run" in father's 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's 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
He wondered what mother would think of it. Mother's 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
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
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's 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.
"The Utes are having a war-dance, mother," he announced when
he had closed the stout door of the kitchen behind him. "They
mean it this time. I lay in the brush and watched them last
night." He stood looking at his mother speculatively, a
little grin on his face. "I told you, you can't change an
Injun by learning him to eat with a knife and fork," he
added. "Colorou ain't any whiter than he was before you set
out to learn him manners. He was hoppin' higher than any of
"Teach, Buddy, not learn. You know better than to say 'learn
"Teach him manners," Buddy corrected himself obediently. "I
was thinking more about what I saw than about grammar.
Where's father? I guess I'd better tell him. He'll want to
get the stock out of the mountains, I should think."
"Colorou will send me word before they take the warpath,"
mother observed reassuringly. "He always has. I gave him a
whole pound of tea and a blue ribbon the last time he was
"Yes, and the last time they broke out they got away with
more 'n a hundred head of cattle. You got to Laramie, all
right, but he didn't tell father in time to make a roundup
back in the foothills. They're DANCING, mother!"
"Well, I suppose We're due for an outbreak," sighed mother.
"Colorou says he can't hold his young men off when some of
the tribe have been killed. He himself doesn't countenance
the stealing and the occasional killing of white men. There
are bad Indians and good ones."
"I know a couple of good ones," Buddy murmured as he made for
the wash basin. "It's the bad ones that were doing the
dancing, mother," he flung over his shoulder. "And if I was
you I'd take Dulcie and the cats and hit for Laramie. Colorou
might get busy and forget to send word!"
"If I WAS you?" Mother came up and nipped his ear between
thumb and finger. "Robert, 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."
Buddy wiped his face with an up-and-down motion on the roller
towel and clanked across to the cupboard which he opened
investigatively. "Any pie?" he questioned as he peered into
the corners. "Say, if I had the handling of those Utes,
mother, I'd fix 'em so they wouldn't be breaking out every
few months and making folks leave their homes to be pawed
over and burnt, maybe." He found a jar of fresh doughnuts and
"They'll tromp around on your flower-beds--it just makes me
SICK when I think how they'll muss things up around here! I
wish now," He blurted unthinkingly, "that I hadn't killed the
Injun that stole Rattler."
"Buddy! Not YOU." His mother made a swift little run across
the kitchen and caught him on his lean, hard-muscled young
shoulders. "You--you baby! What did you do? You didn't harm
an Indian, did you, laddie?"
Buddy tilted his head downward so that she could not look
into his eyes. "I dunno as I harmed him--much," he said,
wiping doughnut crumbs from his mouth with one hasty sweep of
his forearm. "But 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," 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.
"I have to pack a gun when I ride anywhere," he reminded her
defensively. "It ain't to balance me on the horse, either. If
Injuns take in after me, the gun's so I can shoot. And a
feller don't 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't want me to just run and let them
catch me, would you?"
Mother's 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't afraid--never, never!
"I know--it's the dreadful necessity of defending our lives.
But you're so young--just mother's baby man!
Buddy looked up at her then, a laugh twinkling in his eyes.
After all, mother understood.
"I'm going to be your baby man always if you want me to,
mother," He whispered, closing his arms around her neck in a
sturdy hug. "But I'm father's horse-wrangler, too. And a
horse-wrangler has got to hold up his end. I--I didn't want
to kill anybody, honest. But Injuns are different. You kill
rattlers, and they ain't 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."
"I know--I know," 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. "Buddy, 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're so LITTLE!" she wailed. "But father will need you, and
he'll 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--"
"I'll promise, mother. And don't you go and trust old Colorou
an inch. He was jumping higher than any of 'em, and shaking
his tomahawk and yelling--he'd have scalped me right there if
he'd seen me watching 'em. Mother, I'm going to find father
and tell him. And you may as well be packing up, and--don't
leave my guitar for them to smash, will you, mother?"
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
At the stable, Buddy looked back and saw her talking
earnestly to Ezra, who stood nodding his head in complete
approval. Buddy's 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's 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's driving, were easily
corralled. The other horses were fat and "sassy" and resented
his coming among them with the shrill whoop of authority.
They gave him a hot hour's 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.
"They're war-dancing, father," Buddy shouted eagerly,
slipping off his horse and wiping away the trickles of
perspiration with a handkerchief not much redder than his
face. "I drove all the horses down, so they'd be handy. Them
range horses are pretty wild. There was two I couldn't get.
What'll I do now?"
Bob Birnie looked at his youngest rider and smoothed his
beard with one hand. "You're an ambitious lad, Buddy. It's
the Utes you're meaning--or is it the horses?"
Buddy lifted his head and stared at his father disapprovingly.
"Colorou is going to break out. I know. They've got their war
paint all on and they're dancing. I saw them myself. I was
going after the gloves Colorou s squaw was making for
me,--but I didn't get 'em. I laid in the brush and watched
'em dance." He stopped and looked again doubtfully at his
father. "I thought you might want to get the cattle outa the
way, he added. "I thought I could save some time--"
"You're sure about the paint?"
"Yes, I'm sure. And Colorou was just a-going it with his war
bonnet on and shaking his tomahawk and yelling--"
"Ye did well, lad. We'll be leaving for Big Creek to-night,
so run away now and rest yourself."
"Oh, and can I go?" Buddy's voice was shrill with eagerness.
"I'll 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."
Buddy walked stiffly away to the cook's 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
"O 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."
"You're going to hear a discouraging word right now," 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's 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's 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's vituperations could be
heard above the clatter of pots and pans as he made ready for
That night's ride up the pass through the narrow range of
high-peaked hills to the Tomahawk's 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's 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'clocks
which were just beginning to branch out and look nice and
bushy, and to blossom. The scent of the four o'clocks 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's 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'd 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
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 "Circle." 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's 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't they stopped Colorou from going on the warpath? It
would have been simpler, in Buddy's 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.
"I'll go see for myself," said Bob Birnie. "You boys saddle
up and be ready to start. If it's Indians, we'll head for
Laramie and drive everything before us as we go. But the lad
may be wrong." He took the reins from Buddy, mounted, and
rode away, his booted feet hanging far below Buddy's short
Speedily he was back, and the scowl on his face told plainly
enough that Buddy had not been mistaken.
"They're coming off the ridge already," he announced grimly.
"I heard their horses among the rocks up there. They think to
come down on us at sunrise. There'll be too many for us to
hold off, I'm thinking. Get ye a fresh horse, Buddy, and
drive the horses down the creek fast as ye can."
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's back. Dick
Grimes called to him, to know if he wanted any help, and
Buddy yelled, "No!"
"Here they come--damn 'em--turn the bunch loose and ride!" called
Bob Birnie as a shrill, yelling war-whoop, like the yapping of
many coyotes, sounded from the cottonwoods that bordered the
creek. "Yuh all right, Buddy?"
"Yeah--I'm a-comin'," 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's 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.
"Angels NOTHING!" 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's 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's 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
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's 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
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's.
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
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 "selling their
lives dearly ", 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's 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 "dead
rest" 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's 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
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
"second" teeth together, clenched his fist and said "Damn it!"
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's 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 "Oh, God,
please!" 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, "Oh, shucks! You don't want to pay
any attention to a fellow cussing a little when he's mad. I
could easy make that up if you helped me out some way."
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'd 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'd snore, maybe; and anyway,
he said, he'd 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's. 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.
"I ain't as hungry as I was at first," He grinned
tremulously. "But I guess I better--eat. I don' want--to lose
the--habit--" Then he went slack and a man swearing to hide
his pity picked him up in his arms and carried him into the
CHAPTER SIX: THE YOUNG EAGLE MUST FLY
"You're of age," said Bob Birnie, sucking hard at his pipe.
"You've had your schooling as your mother wished that you
should have it. You've got the music in your head and your
fingers and your toes, and that's as your mother wished that
you should have.
"Your 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'll not say what I think of that--your
mother is an angel among women, and she has taught you the
things she loves herself.
"But my business is with the cattle, and I've had you out
with me since you could climb on the back of a horse. I've
watched you, with the rope and the irons and in the saddle
and all. You've been in tight places that would try the
mettle of a man grown--I mind the time ye escaped Colorou's
band, and we thought ye dead 'til ye came to us in Laramie.
You've showed that you're able to hold your own on the range,
lad. Your mother's all for the music--but I leave it to you.
"Ten thousand dollars I'll give ye, if that's 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'll 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's a man grown, and I'm not to
the age where I can sit with the pipe from morning to night
and let another run my outfit. I've talked it over with your
mother, and she'll bide by your decision, as I shall do.
"So I put it in a nutshell, Robert. You're twenty-one to-day;
a man grown, and husky as they're made. 'Tis time you faced
the world and lived your life. You've been a good
lad--as lads go." He stopped there to rub his jaw
thoughtfully, perhaps remembering certain incidents in
Buddy's 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.
"You're of legal age to be called a man, and the future's
before ye. I'll give ye five hundred cows with their calves
beside them--you can choose them yourself, for you've a
sharp eye for stock--and you can go where ye will. Or I'll
give ye ten thousand dollars and ye can go to Europe and make
tunes if you're a mind to. And whatever ye choose it'll be
make or break with ye. Ye can sleep on the decision, for
I've no wish that ye should choose hastily and be sorry
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
"There's no need to sleep on it," he said after a minute.
"You've raised me, and spent some money on me--but I've
saved you a man's wages ever since I was ten. If you think
I've evened things up, all right. If you don't, make out your
bill and I'll pay it when I can. There's no reason why you
should give me anything I haven't earned, just because
you're my father. You earned all you've got, and I guess I
can do the same. As you say, I'm a man. I'll go at the future
man fashion. And," he added with a slight flare of the
nostrils, "I'll start in the morning."
"And is it to make tunes for other folks to play?"Bob Birnie
asked after a silence, covertly eyeing him.
"No, sir. There's more money in cattle. I'll make my stake in
the cow-country, same as you've done." He looked up and
grinned a little. "To the devil with your money and your
she-stock! I'll get out all right--but I'll make my own way."
"You're 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'm not ashamed of it. A thousand pounds--and I
brought it to America and to Texas, and got cattle."
Bud laughed and got up, hiding how the talk had struck deep
into the soul of him. "Then I'll go you one better, dad.
I'll get my own start."
"You'll be back home in six months, lad, saying you've
changed your mind," Bob Birnie predicted sharply, stung by
the tone of young Bud. "That," he added grimly, "or for a
full belly and a clean bed to crawl into."
Bud stood licking the cigarette he had rolled to hide an
unaccountable trembling of his fingers. "When I come back
I'll be in a position to buy you out! I'll borrow Skate and
Maverick, if you don't mind, till I get located somewhere."
He paused while he lighted the cigarette. "It's the custom,"
He reminded his father unnecessarily, "to furnish a man a
horse to ride and one to pack his bed, when he's fired."
"Ye've horses of yer own," Bob Birnie retorted, "and you've
no need to borrow."
Bud stood looking down at his father, plainly undecided. "I
don't know whether they're mine or not," he said after a
minute. "I don't know what it cost you to raise me. Figure it
up, if you haven't already, and count the time I've worked
for you. Since you've put me on a business basis, like
raising a calf to shipping age, let's be businesslike about
it. You are good at figuring your profits--I'll leave it to
you. And if you find I've anything coming to me besides my
riding outfit and the clothes I've got, all right; I'll take
horses for the balance."
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's 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's hopes and had learned to make
music. He had lived up to his father's unspoken standards of
a cowman. He had made a "Hand" 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
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.
"Dad put it straight enough, and it's no good arguing. I'd
starve before I'd take anything from him. I'm entitled to my
clothes, and maybe a horse or two for the work I've done for
him while I was growing up. I've figured out pretty close
what it cost to put me through the University, and what I was
worth to him during the summers. Father's Scotch--but he
isn't a darned bit more Scotch than I am, mother. Putting it
all in dollars and cents, I think I've 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've
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 'til 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't believe I owe dad a cent, when it's all figured out.
"But you've done for me what money can't repay, mother. I'll
always be in debt to you--and I'll square it by being the
kind of a man you've 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'm going to make you glad I know
there's a debt. I believe there's 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." 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.
"If I ever have a wife, she's going to have her work cut out
for her," He laughed unsteadily. "She'll have to live up to
you, mother, if she wants me to love her."
"If you have a wife she'll be well-spoiled, young man!
Perhaps it is wise that you should go--but don't you forget
your music, Buddy--and be a good boy, and remember, mother's
going to follow you with her love and her faith in you, and
It may have been that Buddy's 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's 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's 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's best three horses out of the REMUDA corralled for
him by his father's 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's guitar and a mandolin in their cases he tied securely
on top of the pack. Smoky, the second horse, a deep-chested
"mouse" 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's best rope-horse
and one that would be missed when fast work was wanted in
"He sure as hell picked himself three top hawses," a tall
puncher murmured to another. "Wonder where he's headed for?
Not repping--this late in the season."
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.
"I'm going till I stop," He explained, with a squeeze of her
shoulders to reassure her. "I guess it's the way you felt,
mother, when you left Texas behind. You couldn't 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's going to hit the right range
before it stops for good. And I'll write."
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. "Ah shoah do
wish yo' all good fawtune an' health, Marse Buddy," Ezra
quavered. "Ah shoah do. It ain' goin' seem lak de same place--
and Ah shoah do hopes yo' all writes frequent lettahs to yo'
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.
"Ye've good weather for travelling," said Bob Birnie
tentatively. "I 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've
no wish to shirk a duty to my family."
Bud pressed his lips together while he listened. "If you keep
your ten thousand till it's called for, you'll be drawing
interest a long time on it," He said. "It's going to be hot
to-day. I'll be getting along."
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
"I don't think it matters so much where we light, it's
what we do when we get there," 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. "This trail straddles the butte and takes on
up two different valleys. It's all cow-country--so what do
yuh say, Smoke? Which trail looks the best to you?"
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. "They're going fast--we'll just naturally have
to stop pretty soon, or we don't eat," He observed. "Smoke,
you're a quitter. What you want to do is go back--but you
won't get the chance. Heads, we take the right hand trail. I
like it better, anyway--it angles more to the north."
Heads it was, and Bud leaned from the saddle and recovered
the coin, Smoky turning his head to regard his rider
tolerantly. "Right 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'wan,
Smoke, and don't act so mournful."
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's bank and led straight between two