Part 2 out of 5
humpy shoulders of rock to the foot of a platter-shaped
valley brought him to a halt again in sheer astonishment.
From behind a low hill still farther to the right, where the
road forked again, a bluish haze of smoke indicated that
there was a town of some sort, perhaps. Farther up the valley
a brownish cloud hung low-a roundup, Bud knew at a glance. He
hesitated. The town, if it were a town, could wait; the
roundup might not. And a job he must have soon, or go hungry.
He turned and rode toward the dust-cloud, came shortly to a
small stream and a green grass-plot, and stopped there long
enough to throw the pack off Sunfish, unsaddle Smoky and
stake them both out to graze. Stopper he saddled, then knelt
and washed his face, beat the travel dust off his hat, untied
his rope and coiled it carefully, untied his handkerchief and
shook it as clean as he could and knotted it closely again.
One might have thought he was preparing to meet a girl; but
the habit of neatness dated back to his pink-apron days and
beyond, the dirt and dust meant discomfort.
When he mounted Stopper and loped away toward the dust-cloud,
he rode hopefully, sure of himself, carrying his range
credentials in his eyes, in his perfect saddle-poise, in the
tan on his face to his eyebrows, and the womanish softness of
his gloved hands, which had all the sensitive flexibility of
His main hope was that the outfit was working short-handed;
and when he rode near enough to distinguish the herd and the
riders, he grinned his satisfaction.
"Good cow-country, by the look of that bunch of cattle," He
observed to himself. "And eight men is a small crew to work
a herd that size. I guess I'll tie onto this outfit. Stopper,
you'll maybe get a chance to turn a cow this afternoon."
Just how soon the chance would come, Bud had not realized. He
had no more than come within shouting distance of the herd
when a big, rollicky steer broke from the milling cattle and
headed straight out past him, running like a deer. Stopper,
famed and named for his prowess with just such cattle,
wheeled in his tracks and lengthened his stride to a run.
"Tie 'im down!" someone yelled behind Bud. And "Catch 'im and
tie 'im down!" shouted another.
For answer Bud waved his hand, and reached in his pocket for
his knife. Stopper was artfully circling the steer, forcing
it back toward the herd, and in another hundred yards or so
Bud must throw his loop He sliced off a saddle-string and
took it between his teeth, jerked his rope loose, flipped
open the loop as Stopper raced up alongside, dropped the
noose neatly, and took his turns while Stopper planted his
forefeet and braced himself for the shock. Bud's right leg
was over the cantle, all his weight on the left stirrup when
the jerk came and the steer fell with a thump. By good luck--
so Bud afterwards asserted--he was off and had the steer tied
before it had recovered its breath to scramble up. He
remounted, flipped off the loop and recoiled his rope while
he went jogging up to meet a rider coming out to him.
If he expected thanks for what he had done, he must have
received a shock. Other riders had left their posts and were
edging up to hear what happened, and Bud reined up in
astonishment before the most amazing string of unseemly
epithets he had ever heard. It began with: "What'd you throw
that critter for?"--which of course is putting it mildly--and
ended in a choked phrase which one man may not use to
another's face and expect anything but trouble afterwards.
Bud unbuckled his gun and hung the belt on his saddle horn,
and dismounted. "Get off your horse and take the damnedest
licking you ever had in your life, for that!" He invited
vengefully. "You told me to tie down that steer, and I tied
him down. You've got no call to complain--and there isn't a
man on earth I'll take that kinda talk from. Crawl down, you
parrot-faced cow-eater--and leave your gun on the saddle."
The man remained where he was and looked Bud over
uncertainly. "Who are you, and where'd yuh come from?" he
demanded more calmly. "I never saw yuh before."
"Well, I never grew up with your face before me, either!" Bud
snapped. "If I had I'd probably be cross-eyed by now. You
called me something! Get off that horse or I'll pull you
"Aw, yuh don't want to mind--" began a tall, lean man
pacifically; but he of the high nose stopped him with a wave
of the hand, his eyes still measuring the face, the form and
the fighting spirit of one Bud Birnie, standing with his coat
off, quivering with rage.
"I guess I'm in the wrong, young fellow--I DID holler 'Tie
'im down.' But if you'd ever been around this outfit any
you 'd have known I didn't mean it literal." He stopped and
suddenly he laughed. "I've been yellin' 'Tie 'im down' for
two years and more, when a critter breaks outa the bunch, and
nobody was ever fool enough to tackle it before. "It's just a
sayin' we've got, young man. We--"
"What about the name you called me?" Bud was still advancing
slowly, not much appeased by the explanation. "I don't give a
darn about the steer. You said tie him, and he's tied. But
when you call me--"
"My mistake, young feller. When I get riled up I don't pick
my words." He eyed Bud sharply. "You're mighty quick to obey
orders," He added tentatively.
"I was brought up to do as I'm told, "Bud retorted stiffly. "Any
objections to make?"
"Not one in the world. Wish there was more like yuh. You
ain't been in these parts long?"His tone made a question of
"Not right here." Bud had no reason save his temper for not
giving more explicit information, but Bart Nelson--as Bud
knew him afterwards--continued to study him as if he
suspected a blotched past.
"Hunh. That your horse?"
"I've got a bill of sale for him."
"You don't happen to be wanting a job, I s'pose?"
"I wouldn't refuse to take one." And then the twinkle came
back to Bud's eyes, because all at once the whole incident
struck him as being rather funny. "I'd want a boss that
expected to have his orders carried out, though. I lack
imagination, and I never did try to read a man's mind. What
he says he'd better mean--when he says it to me."
Bart Nelson gave a short laugh, turned and sent his riders
back to their work with oaths tingling their ears. Bud judged
that cursing was his natural form of speech.
"Go let up that steer, and I'll put you to work," he said to
Bud afterwards. "That's a good rope horse you're riding. If
you want to use him, and if you can hold up to that little
sample of roping yuh gave us, I'll pay yuh sixty a month. And
that's partly for doing what you're told," he added with a
quick look into Bud's eyes. "You didn't say where you're
"I was born and raised in cow-country, and nobody's looking
for me," Bud informed him over his shoulder while he
remounted, and let it go at that. From southern Wyoming to
Idaho was too far, he reasoned, to make it worth while
stating his exact place of residence. If they had never heard
of the Tomahawk outfit it would do no good to name it. If
they had heard of it, they would wonder why the son of so
rich a cowman as Bob Birnie should be hiring out as a common
cowpuncher so far from home. He had studied the matter on his
way north, and had decided to let people form their own
conclusions. If he could not make good without the name of
Bob Birnie behind him, the sooner he found it out the better.
He untied the steer, drove it back into the herd and rode
over to where the high-nosed man was helping hold the "Cut."
"Can you read brands? We're cuttin' out AJ and AJBar stuff;
left ear-crop on the AJ, and undercut on the AJBar."
Bud nodded and eased into the herd, spied an AJ two-year-old
and urged it toward the outer edge, smiling to himself when
he saw how Stopper kept his nose close to the animal's rump.
Once in the milling fringe of the herd, Stopper nipped it
into the open, rushed it to the cut herd, wheeled and went
back of his own accord. From the corner of his eye, as he
went, Bud saw that Bart Nelson and one or two others were
watching him. They continued to eye him covertly while he
worked the herd with two other men. He was glad that he had
not travelled far that day, and that he had ridden Smoky and
left Stopper fresh and eager for his favorite pastime, which
was making cattle do what they particularly did not want to
do. In that he was adept, and it pleased Bud mightily to see
how much attention Stopper was attracting.
Not once did it occur to him that it might be himself who
occupied the thoughts of his boss. Buddy--afterwards Bud--had
lived his whole life among friends, his only enemies the
Indians who preyed upon the cowmen. White men he had never
learned to distrust, and to be distrusted had never been his
portion. He had always been Bud Birnie, son and heir of Bob
Birnie, as clean-handed a cattle king as ever recorded a
brand. Even at the University his position had been accepted
without question. That the man he mentally called Parrotface
was puzzled and even worried about him was the last thing he
would think of.
But it was true. Bart Nelson watched Bud, that afternoon. A
man might ride up to Bart and assert that he was an old hand
with cattle, and Bart would say nothing, but set him to work,
as he had Bud. Then he would know just how old a "Hand" the
fellow was. Fifteen minutes convinced him that Bud had
"growed up in the saddle", as he would have put it. But that
only mystified him the more. Bart knew the range, and he knew
every man in the country, from Burroback Valley, which was
this great valley's name, to the Black Rim, beyond the
mountain range, and beyond the Black Rim to the Sawtooth
country. He knew their ways and he knew their past records.
He knew that this young fellow came from farther ranges, and
he would have been at a loss to explain just how he knew it.
He would have said that Bud did not have the "earmarks" of
an Idaho rider. Furthermore, the small Tomahawk brand on the
left flank of the horse Bud rode was totally unknown to Bart.
Yet the horse did not bear the marks of long riding. Bud
himself looked as if he had just ridden out from some nearby
ranch--and he had refused to say where he was from.
Bart swore under his breath and beckoned to him a droopy-
mustached, droopy-shouldered rider who was circling the herd
in a droopy, spiritless manner and chewing tobacco with much
"Dirk, you know brands from the Panhandle to Cypress Hills.
What d' yuh make of that horse? Where does he come from?" Bart
stopped abruptly and rode forward then to receive and drive
farther back a galloping AJBar cow which Bud and Stopper had just
hazed out of the herd. Dirk squinted at Stopper's brand which
showed cleanly in the glossy, new hair of early summer. He spat
carefully with the wind and swung over to meet his boss when the
cow was safely in the cut herd.
"New one on me, Bart. They's a hatchet brand over close to
Jackson's Hole, somewhere. Where'd the kid say he was from?"
"He wouldn't say, but he's a sure-enough cowhand."
"That there horse ain't been rode down on no long journey,"
Dirk volunteered after further scrutiny. And he added with
the unconscious impertinence of an old and trusted employee,
"Yuh goin' to put him on?"
"Already done it--sixty a month," Bart confided. "That'll
bring out what's in him; he's liable to turn out good for the
outfit. Showed he'll do what he's told first, and think it
over afterwards. I like that there trait in a man."
Dirk pulled his droopy mustache away from his lips as if he
wanted to make sure that his smile would show; though it was
not a pretty smile, on account of his tobacco-stained teeth.
"'S your fun'ral, Bart. I'd say he's from Jackson's Hole, on
a rough guess--but I wouldn't presume to guess what he's here
fur. Mebby he come across from Black Rim. I can find out, if
you say so."
Bud was weaving in and out through the herd, scanning the
animals closely. While the two talked he singled out a
yearling heifer, let Stopper nose it out beyond the bunch and
drove it close to the boss.
"Better look that one over," He called out. "One way, it
looks like AJ, and another way I couldn't name it. And the
ear looks as if about half of it had been frozen off. Didn't
want to run it into the cut until you passed on it."
Bart looked first at Bud, and he looked hard. Then he rode
over and inspected the yearling, Dirk close at his heels.
"Throw 'er back with the bunch," He ordered.
"That finishes the cut, then," Bud announced, rubbing his
hand along Stopper's sweaty neck. "I kept passing this
critter up, and I guess the other boys did the same. But it's
the last one, and I thought I'd run her out for you to look
Bart grunted. "Dirk, you take a look and see if they've got
'em all. And you, Kid, can help haze the cut up the Flat--the
boys'll show you what to do."
Bud, remembering Smoky and Sunfish and his camp, hesitated.
"I've got a camp down here by the creek," He said. "If it's
all the same to you, I'll report for work in the morning, if
you'll tell me where to head for. And I'll have to arrange
somehow to pasture my horses; I've got a couple more at
Bart studied him for a minute, and Bud thought he was going
to change his mind about the job, or the sixty dollars a
month. But Bart merely told him to ride on up the Flat next
morning, and take the first trail that turned to the left. "The
Muleshoe ranch is up there agin that pine mountain," he
explained. "Bring along your outfit. I guess we can take care
of a couple of horses, all right."
That suited Bud very well, and he rode away thinking how
lucky he was to have taken the right fork in the road, that
day. He had ridden straight into a job, and while he was not
very enthusiastic over the boss, the other boys seemed all
right, and the wages were a third more than he had expected
to get just at first. It was the first time, he reminded
himself, that he had been really tempted to locate, and he
certainly had struck it lucky.
He did not know that when he left the roundup his going had
been carefully noted, and that he was no sooner out of sight
than Dirk Tracy was riding cautiously on his trail. While he
fed his horses the last bit of grain he had, and cooked his
supper over what promised to be his last camp-fire, he did
not dream that the man with the droopy mustache was lying
amongst the bushes on the other bank of the creek, watching
every move he made.
He meant to be up before daylight so that he could strike the
ranch of the Muleshoe outfit in time for breakfast, wherefore
he went to bed before the afterglow had left the mountain-
tops around him. And being young and carefree and healthfully
weary, he was asleep and snoring gently within five minutes
of his last wriggle into his blankets. But Dirk Tracy watched
him for fully two hours before he decided that the kid was
not artfully pretending, but was really asleep and likely to
remain so for the night
Dirk was an extremely cautious man, but he was also tired,
and the cold food he had eaten in place of a hot supper had
not been satisfying to his stomach. He crawled carefully out
of the brush, stole up the creek to where he had left his
horse, and rode away.
He was not altogether sure that he had done his full duty to
the Muleshoe, but it was against human nature for a man
nearing forty to lie uncovered in the brush, and let a
numerous family of mosquitoes feed upon him while he listened
to a young man snoring comfortably in a good camp bed a
hundred feet away.
Dirk, because his conscience was not quite clear, slept in
the stable that night and told his boss a lie next morning.
CHAPTER EIGHT: THE MULESHOE
The riders of the Muleshoe outfit were eating breakfast when
Bud rode past the long, low-roofed log cabin to the corral
which stood nearest the clutter of stables and sheds. He
stopped there and waited to see if his new boss was anywhere
in sight and would come to tell him where to unpack his
belongings. A sandy complexioned young man with red eyelids
and no lashes presently emerged from the stable and came
toward him, his mouth sagging loosely open, his eye; vacuous.
He was clad in faded overalls turned up a foot at the bottom
and showing frayed, shoddy trousers beneath and rusty, run-
down shoes that proved he was not a rider. His hat was
peppered with little holes, as if someone had fired a charge
of birdshot at him and had all but bagged him.
The youth's eyes became fixed upon the guitar and mandolin
cases roped on top of Sunfish's pack, and he pointed and
gobbled something which had the sound speech without being
intelligible. Bud cocked an ear toward him inquiringly, made
nothing of the jumble and rode off to the cabin, leading
Sunfish after him. The fellow might or might not be the idiot
he looked, and he might or might not keep his hands off the
pack. Bud was not going to take any chance.
He heard sounds within the cabin, but no one appeared until
he shouted, "Hello!" twice. The door opened then and Bart
Nelson put out his head, his jaws working over a mouthful of
food that seemed tough.
"Oh, it's you. C'm awn in an' eat," he invited, and Bud
dismounted, never guessing that his slightest motion had been
carefully observed from the time he had forded the creek at
the foot of the slope beyond the cabin.
Bart introduced him to the men by the simple method of waving
his hand at the group around the table and saying, "Guess you
know the boys. What'd yuh say we could call yuh?"
"Bud--ah--Birnie," Bud answered, swiftly weighing the
romantic idea of using some makeshift name until he had made
his fortune, and deciding against it. A false name might mean
future embarrassment, and he was so far from home that his
father would never hear of him anyway. But his hesitation
served to convince every man there that Birnie was not his
name, and that he probably had good cause for concealing his
own. Adding that to Dirk Tracy's guess that he was from
Jackson's Hole, the sum spelled outlaw.
The Muleshoe boys were careful not to seem curious about
Bud's past. They even refrained from manifesting too much
interest in the musical instruments until Bud himself took
them out of their cases that evening and began tuning them.
Then the half-baked, tongue-tied fellow came over and gobbled
at him eagerly.
"Hen wants yuh to play something," a man they called Day
interpreted. "Hen's loco on music. If you can sing and play
both, Hen'll set and listen till plumb daylight and never
move an eyewinker."
Bud looked up, smiled a little because Hen had no eyewinkers
to move, and suddenly felt pity because a man could be so
altogether unlikeable as Hen. Also because his mother's face
stood vividly before him for an instant, leaving him with a
queer tightening of the throat and the feeling that he had
been rebuked. He nodded to Hen, laid down the mandolin and
picked up the guitar, turned up the a string a bit, laid a
booted and spurred foot across the other knee, plucked a
minor chord sonorously and began abruptly:
"Yo' kin talk about you coons a-havin' trouble--
Well, Ah think Ah have enough-a of mah oh-own--"
Hen's high-pointed Adam's apple slipped up and down in one
great gulp of ecstasy. He eased slowly down upon the edge of
the bunk beside Bud and gazed at him fascinatedly, his
lashless eyes never winking, his jaw dropped so that his
mouth hung half open. Day nudged Dirk Tracy, who parted his
droopy mustache and smiled his unlovely smile, lowering his
left eyelid unnecessarily at Bud. The dimple in Bud's chin
wrinkled as he bent his head and plunked the interlude with a
swing that set spurred boots tapping the floor rhythmically.
"Bart, he's went and hired a show-actor, looks like." Dirk
confided behind his hand to Shorty McGuire. "That's real
singin', if yuh ask me!"
"Shut up!" grunted Shorty, and prodded Dirk into silence so
that he would miss none of the song.
Since Buddy had left the pink-apron stage of his adventurous
life behind him, singing songs to please other people had
been as much a part of his life as riding and roping and
eating and sleeping. He had always sung or played or danced
when he was asked to do so--accepting without question his
mother's doctrine that it was unkind and ill-bred to refuse
when he really could do those things well, because on the
cattle ranges indoor amusements were few, and those who could
furnish real entertainment were fewer. Even at the
University, coon songs and Irish songs and love songs had
been his portion; wherefore his repertoire seemed endless,
and if folks insisted upon it he could sing from dark to
dawn, providing his voice held out.
Hen sat with his big-jointed hands hanging loosely over his
knees and listened, stared at Bud and grinned vacuously when
one song was done, gulped his Adam's apple and listened again
as raptly to the next one. The others forgot all about having
fun watching Hen, and named old favorites and new ones, heard
them sung inimitably and called for more. At midnight Bud
blew on his blistered fingertips and shook the guitar gently,
"I guess that's all the music there is in the darned thing
to-night," he lamented. "She's made to keep time, and she
always strikes, along about midnight."
"Huh-huh!" chortled Hen convulsively, as if he understood the
joke. He closed his mouth and sighed deeply, as one who has
just wakened from a trance.
After that, Hen followed Bud around like a pet dog, and found
time between stable chores to groom those astonished horses,
Stopper and Smoky and Sunfish, as if they were stall-kept
thoroughbreds. He had them coming up to the pasture gate
every day for the few handfuls of grain he purloined for
them, and their sleekness was a joy to behold.
"Hen, he's adopted yuh, horses and all, looks like," Dirk
observed one day to Bud when they were riding together. And
he tempered the statement by adding that Hen was trusty
enough, even if he didn't have as much sense as the law
allows. "He sure is takin' care of them cayuses of your'n.
D'you tell him to?"
Bud came out of a homesick revery and looked at him
inquiringly. "No, I didn't tell him anything."
"I believe that, all right," Dirk retorted. "You don't go
around tellin' all yuh know. I like that in a feller. A man
never got into trouble yet by keepin' his mouth shut; but
there's plenty that have talked themselves into the pen. Me,
I've got no use for a talker."
Bud sent him a sidelong glance of inquiry, and Dirk caught
him at it and grinned.
"Yuh been here a month, and you ain't said a damn word about
where you come from or anything further back than throwin'
and tyin' that critter. You said cow-country, and that has
had to do some folks that might be curious. Well, she's a
tearin' big place--cow-country. She runs from Canady to
Mexico, and from the corn belt to the Pacific Ocean, mighty
near takes in Jackson's Hole, and a lot uh country I know."
He parted his mustache and spat carefully into the sand.
"I'm willin' to tie to a man, specially a young feller, that
can play the game the way you been playin' it, Bud. Most
always," he complained vaguely, "they carry their brand too
damn main. They either pull their hats down past their
eyebrows and give everybody the bad eye, or else they're too
damn ready to lie about themselves. You throw in with the
boys just fine--but you ain't told a one of 'em where you
come from, ner why, ner nothin'."
"I'm here because I'm here," Bud chanted softly, his eyes
stubborn even while he smiled at Dirk.
"I know--yuh sung that the first night yuh come, and yuh
looked straight at the boss all the while you was singin'
it," Dirk interrupted, and laughed slyly. "The boys, they
took that all in, too. And Bart, he wasn't asleep, neither.
You sure are smooth as they make 'em, Bud. I guess," he
leaned closer to predict confidentially, "you've just about
passed the probation time, young feller. If I know the signs,
the boss is gittin' ready to raise yuh."
He looked at Bud rather sharply. Instantly the training of
Buddy rose within Bud. His memory flashed back unerringly to
the day when he had watched that Indian gallop toward the
river, and had sneered because the Indian evidently expected
him to follow into the undergrowth.
Dirk Tracy did not in the least resemble an Indian, nor did
his rambling flattery bear any likeness to a fleeing enemy;
yet it was plain enough that he was trying in a bungling way
to force Bud's confidence, and for that reason Bud stared
straight ahead and said nothing.
He did not remember having sung that particular ditty during
his first evening at the Muleshoe, nor of staring at the boss
while he sung. He might have done both, he reflected; he had
sung one song after another for about four hours that night,
and unless he sang with his eyes shut he would have to look
somewhere. That it should be taken by the whole outfit as a
broad hint to ask no questions seemed to him rather
Nor did he see why Dirk should compliment him on keeping his
mouth shut, or call him smooth. He did not know that he had
been on probation, except perhaps as that applied to his
ability as a cow-hand. And he could see no valid reason why
the boss should contemplate "raising" him. So far, he had
been doing no more than the rest of the boys, except when
there was roping to be done and he and Stopper were called
upon to distinguish themselves by fast rope-work, with never
a miss. Sixty dollars a month was as good pay as he had any
right to expect.
Dirk, he decided, had given him one good tip which he would
follow at once. Dirk had said that no man ever got into
trouble by keeping his mouth shut. Bud closed his for a good
half hour, and when he opened it again he undid all the good
he had accomplished by his silence.
"Where does that trail go, that climbs up over the mountains
back of that peak?" he asked. "Seems to be a stock trail.
Have you got grazing land beyond the mountains?"
Dirk took time to pry off a fresh chew of tobacco before he
replied. "You mean Thunder Pass? That there crosses over into
the Black Rim country. Yeah--There's a big wide range country
over there, but we don't run any stock on it. Burroback
Valley's big enough for the Muleshoe."
Bud rolled a cigarette. "I didn't mean that main trail;
that's a wagon road, and Thunder Pass cuts through between
Sheepeater peak and this one ahead of us--Gospel, you call
it. What I referred to is that blind trail that takes off up
the canyon behind the corrals, and crosses into the mountains
the other side of Gospel."
Dirk eyed him. "I dunno 's I could say, right offhand, what
trail yuh mean," he parried. "Every canyon 's got a trail
that runs up a ways, and there's canyons all through the
mountains; they all lead up to water, or feed, or something
like that, and then quit, most gen'rally; jest peter out,
like." And he added with heavy sarcasm, "A feller that's
lived on the range oughta know what trails is for, and how
they're made. Cowcritters are curious-same as humans."
To this Bud did not reply. He was smoking and staring at the
brushy lower slopes of the mountain ridge before them. He had
explained quite fully which trail he meant. It was, as he had
said, a "blind" trail; that is, the trail lost itself in the
creek which watered a string of corrals. Moreover, Bud had
very keen eyes, and he had seen how a panel of the corral
directly across the shale-rock bed of a small stream was
really a set of bars. The round pole corral lent itself
easily to hidden gateways, without any deliberate attempt at
disguising their presence.
The string of four corrals running from this upper one--
which, he remembered, was not seen from nearer the stables-
was perhaps a convenient arrangement in the handling of
stock, although it was unusual. The upper corral had been
built to fit snugly into a rocky recess in the base of the
peak called Gospel. It was larger than some of the others,
since it followed the contour of the basin-like recess.
Access to it was had from the fourth corral (which from the
ranch appeared to be the last) and from the creekbed that
filled the narrow mouth of the canyon behind.
Dirk might not have understood him, Bud thought. He certainly
should have recognized at once the trail Bud meant, for there
was no other canyon back of the corrals, and even that one
was not apparent to one looking at the face of the steep
slope. Stock had been over that canyon trail within the last
month or so, however; and Bud's inference that the Muleshoe
must have grazing ground across the mountains was natural;
the obvious explanation of its existence.
"How 'd you come to be explorin' around Gospel, anyway?"
Dirk quizzed finally. "A person'd think, short-handed as the
Muleshoe is this spring, 't you'd git all the ridin' yuh want
without prognosticatin' around aimless."
Now Bud was not a suspicious young man, and he had been no
more than mildly inquisitive about that trail. But neither
was he a fool; he caught the emphasis which Dirk had placed
on the word aimless, and his thoughts paused and took another
look at Dirk's whole conversation. There was something queer
about it, something which made Bud sheer off from his usual
unthinking assurance that things were just what they seemed.
Immediately, however, he laughed--at himself as well as at
"We've been feeding on sour bread and warmed-over coffee ever
since the cook disappeared and Bart put Hen in the kitchen,"
he said. "If I were you, Dirk, I wouldn't blister my hands
shovelling that grub into myself for a while. You're bilious,
old-timer. No man on earth would talk the way you've been
talking to-day unless his whole digestive apparatus were out
Dirk spat angrily at a dead sage bush. "They shore as hell
wouldn't talk the kinda talk you've been talkie' unless they
was a born fool or else huntin' trouble," he retorted
"The doctor said I'd be that way if I lived," Bud grinned,
amiably, although his face had flushed at Dirk's tone. "He
said it wouldn't hurt me for work."
"Yeah--and what kinda work?" Dirk rode so close that his
horse shouldered Bud's leg discomfortingly. "I been edgin'
yuh along to see what-f'r brand yuh carried. And I've got ye
now, you damned snoopin' kioty. Bart, he hired yuh to work-
and not to go prowling around lookin' up trails that ain't
"You're a dim-brand reader, I don't think! Why you--!"
Oh, well--remember that Bud was only Buddy grown bigger, and
he had never lacked the spirit to look out for himself.
Remember, too, that he must have acquired something of a
vocabulary, in the course of twenty-one years of absorbing
everything that came within his experience.
Dirk reached for his gun, but Bud was expecting that. Dirk
was not quite quick enough, and his hand therefore came
forward with a jerk when he saw that he was "covered." Bud
leaned, pulled Dirk's six-shooter from its holster and sent it
spinning into a clump of bushes. He snatched a wicked-looking
knife from Dirk's boot where he had once seen Dirk slip it
sheathed when he dressed in the bunk-house, and sent that
after the gun.
"Now, you long-eared walrus, you're in a position to play
fair. What are you going to do about it?" He reined away, out
of Dirk's reach, took his handkerchief and wrapped his own
gun tightly to protect it from sand, and threw it after
Dirk's gun and the knife. "Am I a snooping coyote?" he
demanded watching Dirk.
"You air. More 'n all that, you're a damned spy! And I kin
lick yuh an' lass' yuh an' lead yuh to Bart like a sheep!"
They dismounted, left their horses to stand with reins
dropped, threw off their coats and fought until they were too
tired to land another blow. There were no fatalities. Bud did
not come out of the fray unscathed and proudly conscious of
his strength and his skill and the unquestionable
righteousness of his cause. Instead he had three bruised
knuckles and a rapidly swelling ear, and when his anger had
cooled a little he felt rather foolish and wondered what had
started them off that way. They had ridden away from the
ranch in a very good humor, and he had harbored no conscious
dislike of Dirk Tracy, who had been one individual of a type
of rangemen which he had known all his life and had accepted
as a matter of course.
Dirk, on his part, had some trouble in stopping the bleeding
of his nose, and by the time he reached the ranch his left
eye was closed completely. He was taller and heavier than
Bud, and he had not expected such a slugging strength behind
He was badly shaken, and when Bud recovered the two guns and
the knife and returned his weapons to him, Dirk was half
tempted to shoot. But he did not--perhaps because Bud had
unwrapped his own six-shooter and was looking it over with the
muzzle slanting a wicked eye in Dirk's direction.
Late that afternoon, when the boys were loafing around the
cabin waiting for their early supper, Bud packed his worldly
goods on Sunfish and departed from the Muleshoe--"by special
request", he admitted to himself ruefully--with his wages in
gold and silver in his pocket and no definite idea of what he
would do next.
He wished he knew exactly why Bart had fired him. He did not
believe that it was for fighting, as Bart had declared. He
thought that perhaps Dirk Tracy had some hold on the Muleshoe
not apparent to the outsider, and that he had lied about him
to Bart as a sneaking kind of revenge for being whipped. But
that explanation did not altogether satisfy him, either.
In his month at the Muleshoe he had gained a very fair
general idea of the extent and resources of Burroback Valley,
but he had not made any acquaintances and he did not know
just where to go for his next job. So for want of something
better, he rode down to the little stream which he now knew
was called One Creek, and prepared to spend the night there.
In the morning he would make a fresh start--and because of
the streak of stubbornness he had, he meant to make it in
Burroback Valley, under the very nose of the Muleshoe outfit.
CHAPTER NINE: LITTLE LOST
Little Lost--somehow the name appealed to Bud, whose instinct
for harmony extended to words and phrases and, for that
matter, to everything in the world that was beautiful. From
the time when he first heard Little Lost mentioned, he had
felt a vague regret that chance had not led him there instead
of to the Muleshoe. Brands he had heard all his life as the
familiar, colloquial names for ranch headquarters. The
Muleshoe was merely a brand name. Little Lost was something
else, and because Buddy had been taught to "wait and find out"
and to ask questions only as a last resort, Bud was still in
ignorance of the meaning of Little Lost. He knew, from careless
remarks made in his presence, that the mail came to Little Lost,
and that there was some sort of store where certain everyday
necessities were kept, for which the store-keeper charged "two
prices." But there was also a ranch, for he sometimes heard the
boys mention the Little Lost cattle, and speak of some man as a
rider for the Little Lost.
So to Little Lost Bud rode blithely next morning, riding
Stopper and leading Smoky, Sunfish and the pack following as
a matter of course. Again his trained instinct served him
faithfully. He had a very good general idea of Burroback
Valley, he knew that the Muleshoe occupied a fair part of the
south side, and guessed that he must ride north, toward the
Gold Gap Mountains, to find the place he wanted.
The trail was easy, his horses were as fat as was good for
them. In two hours of riding at his usual trail pace he came
upon another stream which he knew must be Sunk Creek grown a
little wider and deeper in its journey down the valley. He
forded that with a great splashing, climbed the farther bank,
followed a stubby, rocky bit of road that wound through dense
willow and cottonwood growth, came out into a humpy meadow
full of ant hills, gopher holes and soggy wet places where
the water grass grew, crossed that and followed the road
around a brushy ridge and found himself squarely confronting
There could be no mistake, for "Little Lost Post Office" was
unevenly painted on the high cross-bar of the gate that stood
wide open and permanently warped with long sagging. There was
a hitch-rail outside the gate, and Bud took the hint and left
his horses there. From the wisps of fresh hay strewn along
the road, Bud knew that haying had begun at Little Lost.
There were at least four cabins and a somewhat pretentious,
story-and-a-half log house with vines reaching vainly to the
high window sills, and coarse lace curtains. One of these
curtains moved slightly, and Bud's sharp eyes detected the
movement and knew that his arrival was observed in spite of
the emptiness of the yard.
The beaten path led to a screen door which sagged with much
slamming, leaving a wide space at the top through which flies
passed in and out quite comfortably. Bud saw that, also, and
his fingers itched to reset that door, just as he would have
done for his mother--supposing his mother would have
tolerated the slamming which had brought the need. Bud lifted
his gloved knuckles to knock, saw that the room within was
grimy and bare and meant for public use, very much like the
office of a country hotel, with a counter and a set of
pigeon-holes at the farther end. He walked in.
No one appeared, and after ten minutes or so Bud guessed why,
and went back to the door, pushed it wide open and permitted
it to fly shut with a bang. Whereupon a girl opened the door
behind the counter and came in, glancing at Bud with frank
Bud took off his hat and clanked over to the counter and
asked if there was any mail for Bud Birnie--Robert Wallace
The girl looked at him again and smiled, and turned to
shuffle a handful of letters. Bud employed the time in trying
to guess just what she meant by that smile.
It was not really a smile, he decided, but the beginning of
one. And if that were the beginning, he would very much like
to know what the whole smile would mean. The beginning hinted
at things. It was as if she doubted the reality of the name
he gave, and meant to conceal her doubt, or had heard
something amusing about him, or wished to be friends with
him, or was secretly timorous and trying to appear merely
indifferent. Or perhaps----
She replaced the letters and turned, and rested her hands on
the counter. She looked at him and again her lips turned at
the corners in that faint, enigmatical beginning of a smile.
"There isn't a thing," she said. "The mail comes this noon
again. Do you want yours sent out to any of the outfits? Or
shall I just hold it?"
"Just hold it, when there is any. At least, until I see
whether I land a job here. I wonder where I could find the
boss?" Bud was glancing often at her hands. For a ranch girl
her hands were soft and white, but her fingers were a bit too
stubby and her nails were too round and flat.
"Uncle Dave will be home at noon. He's out in the meadow with
the boys. You might sit down and wait."
Bud looked at his watch. Sitting down and waiting for four
hours did not appeal to him, even supposing the girl would
keep him company. But he lingered awhile, leaning with his
elbows on the counter near her; and by those obscure little
conversational trails known to youth, he progressed
considerably in his acquaintance with the girl and made her
smile often without once feeling quite certain that he knew
what was in her mind.
He discovered that her name was Honora Krause, and that she
was called Honey "for short." Her father had been Dutch and
her mother a Yankee, and she lived with her uncle, Dave
Truman, who owned Little Lost ranch, and took care of the
mail for him, and attended to the store--which was nothing
more than a supply depot kept for the accommodation of the
neighbors. The store, she said, was in the next room.
Bud asked her what Little Lost meant, and she replied that
she did not know, but that it might have something to do with
Sunk Creek losing itself in The Sinks. There was a Little
Lost river, farther across the mountains, she said, but it
did not run through Little Lost ranch, nor come anywhere near
After that she questioned him adroitly. Perversely Bud
declined to become confidential, and Honey Krause changed the
"There's going to be a dance here next Friday night. It'll be
a good chance to get acquainted with everybody--if you go.
There'll be good music, I guess. Uncle Dave wrote to Crater
for the Saunders boys to come down and play. Do you know
anybody in Crater?"
The question was innocent enough, but perverseness still held
Bud. He smiled and said he did not know anybody anywhere, any
more. He said that if Bobbie Burns had asked him "Should auld
acquaintance be forgot," he'd have told him yes, and he'd
have made it good and strong. But he added that he was just
as willing to make new acquaintance, and thought the dance
would be a good place to begin.
Honey gave him a provocative glance from under her lashes,
and Bud straightened and stepped back.
"You let folks stop here, I take it. I've a pack outfit and a
couple of saddle horses with me. Will it be all right to turn
them in the corral? I hate to have them eat post hay all day.
Or I could perhaps go back to the creek and camp."
"Oh, just turn your horses in the corral and make yourself at
home till uncle comes," she told him with that tantalizing
half-smile. "We keep people here--just for accommodation.
There has to be some place in the valley where folks can
stop. I can't promise that uncle will give you a job, but
There's going to be chicken and dumplings for dinner. And the
mail will be in, about noon--you'll want to wait for that."
She was standing just within the screen door, frankly
watching him as he came past the house with the horses, and
she came out and halted him when she spied the top of the
"You'd better leave those things here," she advised him
eagerly. "I'll put them in the sitting-room by the piano. My
goodness, you must be a whole orchestra! If you can play,
maybe you and I can furnish the music for the dance, and save
Uncle Dave hiring the Saunders boys. Anyway, we can play
together, and have real good times."
Bud had an odd feeling that Honey was talking one thing with
her lips, and thinking an entirely different set of thoughts.
He eyed her covertly while he untied the cases, and he could
have sworn that he saw her signal someone behind the lace
curtains of the nearest window. He glanced carelessly that
way, but the curtains were motionless. Honey was holding out
her hands for the guitar and the mandolin when he turned,
so Bud surrendered them and went on to the corrals.
He did not return to the house. An old man was pottering
around a machine shed that stood backed against a thick
fringe of brush, and when Bud rode by he left his work and
came after him, taking short steps and walking with his back
bent stiffly forward and his hands swinging limply at his
He had a long black beard streaked with gray, and sharp blue
eyes set deep under tufted white eyebrows. He seemed a
friendly old man whose interest in life remained keen as in
his youth, despite the feebleness of his body. He showed Bud
where to turn the horses, and went to work on the pack rope,
his crooked old fingers moving with the sureness of lifelong
habit. He was eager to know all the news that Bud could tell
him, and when he discovered that Bud had just left the
Muleshoe, and that he had been fired because of a fight with
Dirk Tracy, the old fellow cackled gleefully
"Well, now, I guess you just about had yore hands full, young
man," he commented shrewdly. "Dirk ain't so easy to lick."
Bud immediately wanted to know why it was taken for granted
that he had whipped Dirk, and grandpa chortled again. "Now if
you hadn't of licked Dirk, you wouldn't of got fired," he
retorted, and proceeded to relate a good deal of harmless
gossip which seemed to bear out the statement. Dirk Tracy,
according to grandpa, was the real boss of the Muleshoe, and
Bart was merely a figure-head.
All of this did not matter to Bud, but grandpa was garrulous.
A good deal of information Bud received while the two
attended to the horses and loitered at the corral gate.
Grandpa admired Smoky, and looked him over carefully, with
those caressing smoothings of mane and forelock which betray
the lover of good horseflesh.
"I reckon he's purty fast," he said, peering shrewdly into
Bud's face." The boys has been talking about pulling off some
horse races here next Sunday--we got a good, straight, hard-
packed creek-bed up here a piece that has been cleaned of
rocks fer a mile track, and they're goin' to run a horse er
two. Most generally they do, on Sunday, if work's slack. You
might git in on it, if you're around in these parts." He
pushed his back straight with his palms, turned his head
sidewise and squinted at Smoky through half-closed lids while
he fumbled for cigarette material.
"I dunno but what I might be willin' to put up a few dollars
on that horse myself," he observed, "if you say he kin run.
You wouldn't go an' lie to an old feller like me, would yuh,
Bud offered him the cigarette he had just rolled. "No, I
won't lie to you, dad," he grinned. "You know horses too
"Well, but kin he run? I want yore word on it."
"Well-yes, he's always been able to turn a cow," Bud admitted
"Ever run him fer money?" The old man began teetering from
his toes to his heels, and to hitch his shoulders forward and
"Well, no, not for money. I've run him once or twice for fun,
just trying to beat some of the boys to camp, maybe."
"Sho! That's no way to do! No way at all!" The old man spat
angrily into the dust of the corral. Then he thought of
something. "Did yuh BEAT 'em?" he demanded sharply.
"Why, sure, I beat them!" Bud looked at him surprised, seemed
about to say more, and let the statement stand unqualified.
Grandpa stared at him for a minute, his blue eyes blinking
with some secret excitement. "Young feller," he began
abruptly, "lemme tell yuh something. Yuh never want to do a
thing like that agin. If you got a horse that can outrun the
other feller's horse, figure to make him bring yuh in
something--if it ain't no more'n a quarter! Make him BRING
yuh a little something. That's the way to do with everything
yuh turn a hand to; make it bring yuh in something! It ain't
what goes out that'll do yuh any good--it's what comes in.
You mind that. If you let a horse run agin' another feller's
horse, bet on him to come in ahead--and then," he cried
fiercely, pounding one fist into the other palm, " by
Christmas, make 'im come in ahead!" His voice cracked and
went flat with emotion.
He stopped suddenly and let his arms fall slack, his
shoulders sag forward. He waggled his head and muttered into
his beard, and glanced at Bud with a crafty look.
"If I'da took that to m'self, I wouldn't be chorin' around
here now for my own son," he lamented. "I'd of saved the
quarters, an' I'd of had a few dollars now of my own. Uh
course," he made haste to add, "I git holt of a little, now
and agin. Too old to ride--too old to work--jest manage to
pick up a dollar er two now and agin--on a horse that kin
He went over to Smoky again and ran his hand down over the
leg muscles to the hocks, felt for imperfections and
straightened painfully, slapped the horse approvingly between
the forelegs and laid a hand on his shoulder while he turned
slowly to Bud.
"Young feller, there ain't a man on the place right now but
you an' me. What say you throw yore saddle on this horse and
take 'im up to the track? I'd like to see him run. Seems to
me he'd ought to be a purty good quarter-horse."
Bud hesitated. "I wouldn't mind running him, grandpa, if I
thought I could make something on him. I've got my stake to
make, and I want to make it before all my teeth fall out so I
can't chew anything but the cud of reflection on my lost
opportunities. If Smoky can run a few dollars into my pocket,
I'm with you."
Grandpa teetered forward and put out his hand. "Shake on
that, boy!" he cackled. "Pop Truman ain't too old to have
his little joke--and make it bring him in something, by
Christmas! You saddle up and we'll go try him out on a
quarter-mile--mebby a half, if he holds up good."
He poked a cigarette-stained forefinger against Bud's chest
and whispered slyly: "My son Dave, he 's got a horse in the
stable that's been cleanin' everything in the valley. I'll
slip him out and up the creektrail to the track, and you run
that horse of yourn agin him. Dave, he can't git a race outa
nobody around here, no more, so he won't run next Sunday.
We'll jest see how yore horse runs alongside Boise. I kin
tell purty well how you kin run agin the rest--Pop, he
ain't s' thick-headed they kin fool him much. What say we try
Bud stood back and looked him over. "You shook hands with me
on it," he said gravely. "Where I came from, that holds a man
like taking oath on a Bible in court. I'm a stranger here,
but I'm going to expect the same standard of honor, grandpa.
You can back out now, and I'll run Smoky without any tryout,
and you can take your chance. I couldn't expect you to stand
by a stranger against your own folks--"
"Sho! Shucks a'mighty!" Grandpa spat and wagged his head
furiously. "My own forks'd beat me in a horse race if they
could, and I wouldn't hold it agin 'em! Runnin' horses is
like playin' poker. Every feller fer himself an' mercy to-
ward none! I knowed what it meant when I shook with yuh,
young feller, and I hold ye to it. I hold ye to it! You lay
low if I tell ye to lay low, and we'll make us a few dollars,
mebby. C'm on and git that horse outa here b'fore somebuddy
comes. It's mail day."
He waved Bud toward his saddle and took himself off in a
shuffling kind of trot. By the time Bud had saddled Smoky
grandpa hailed him cautiously from the brush-fringe beyond
the corral. He motioned toward a small gate and Bud led Smoky
that way, closing the gate after him.
The old man was mounted on a clean-built bay whose coat shone
with little glints of gold in the dark red. With one sweeping
look Bud observed the points that told of speed, and his eyes
went inquiringly to meet the sharp blue ones, that sparkled
under the tufted white eyebrows of grandpa.
"Do you expect Smoky to show up the same day that horse
arrives?" he inquired mildly. "Pop, you'll have to prove to
me that he won't run Sunday--"
Pop snorted. "Seems to me like you do know a speedy horse
when you see one, young feller. Beats me't you been
overlookin' what you got under yore saddle right now. Boise,
he's the best runnin' horse in the valley--and that's why he
won't run next Sunday, ner no other Sunday till somebuddy
brings in a strange horse to put agin him. Dave, he won't
crowd ye fur a race, boy. You kin refuse to run yore horse
agin him, like the rest has done. I'll jest lope along t'day
and see what yours kin do."
"Well, all right, then." Bud waited for the old man to ride
ahead down the obscure trail that wound through the brush for
half a mile or so before they emerged into the rough border
of the creek bed. Pop reined in close and explained
garrulously to Bud how this particular stream disappeared
into the ground two miles above Little Lost, leaving the
wide, level river bottom bone dry.
Pop was cautious. He rode up to a rise of ground and scanned
the country suspiciously before he led the way into the creek
bed. Even then he kept close under the bank until they had
passed two of the quarter-mile posts that had been planted in
the hard sand.
Evidently he had been doing a good deal of thinking during
the ride; certainly he had watched Smoky. When he stopped
under the bank opposite the half-mile post he dismounted more
spryly than one would have expected. His eyes were bright,
his voice sharp. Pop was forgetting his age.
"I guess I'll ride yore horse m'self," he announced, and they
exchanged horses under the shelter of the bank. "You kin take
an' ride Boise-an' I want you should beat me if you kin." He
looked at Bud appraisingly. "I'll bet a dollar," he cried
suddenly, "that I kin outrun ye, young feller! An' you got
the fastest horse in Burroback Valley and I don't know what I
got under me. I'm seventy years old come September--when I'm
afoot. Are ye afraid to bet?"
"I'm scared a dollar's worth that I'll never see you again
to-day unless I ride back to find you," Bud grinned.
"Any time you lose ole Pop Truman--shucks almighty! Come on,
then--I'll show ye the way to the quarter-post!"
"I'm right with you, Pop. You say so, and I'm gone!"
They reined in with the shadow of the post falling square
across the necks of both horses. Pop gathered up the reins,
set his feet in the stirrups and shrilled, "Go, gol darn ye!"
They went, like two scared rabbits down the smooth, yellow
stretch of packed sand. Pop's elbows stuck straight out, he
held the reins high and leaned far over Smoky's neck, his
eyes glaring. Bud--oh, never worry about Bud! In the years
that lay between thirteen and twenty-one Bud had learned a
good many things, and one of them was how to get out of a
horse all the speed there was in him.
They went past the quarter-post and a furlong beyond before
either could pull up. Pop was pale and triumphant, and
breathing harder than his mount.
"Here 's your dollar, Pop--and don't you talk in your sleep!"
Bud admonished, smiling as he held out the dollar, but with
an anxious tone in his voice. "If this is the best running
horse you've got in the valley, I may get some action, next
Pop dismounted, took the dollar with a grin and mounted
Boise--and that in spite of the fact that Boise was keyed up
and stepping around and snorting for another race. Bud
watched Pop queerly, remembering how feeble had been the old
man whom he had met at the corral.
"Say, Pop, you ought to race a little every day," he
bantered. "You're fifteen years younger than you were an hour
For answer Pop felt of his back and groaned. "Oh, I'll pay
fer it, young feller! I don't look fer much peace with my
back fer a week, after this. But you kin make sure of one
thing, and that is, I ain't goin' to talk in my sleep none.
By Christmas, We'll make this horse of yours bring us in
something! I guess you better turn yore horses all out in the
pasture. Dave, he'll give yuh work all right. I'll fix it
with Dave. And you listen to Pop, young feller. I'll show ye
a thing or two about runnin' horses. You'n me'll clean up a
nice little bunch of money-HE-HE!-beat Boise in a quarter
dash! Tell that to Dave, an' he wouldn't b'lieve ye!"
When Pop got off at the back of the stable he could scarcely
move, he was so stiff. But his mind was working well enough
to see that Bud rubbed the saddle print off Boise and turned
his own horses loose in the pasture, before he let him go on
to the house. The last Bud heard from Pop that forenoon was a
senile chuckle and a cackling, "Outrun Boise in a quarter
dash! Shucks a'mighty! But I knew it--I knew he had the
speed--sho! Ye can't fool ole Pop--shucks!"
CHAPTER TEN: BUD MEETS THE WOMAN
A woman was stooping at the woodpile, filling her arms with
crooked sticks of rough-barked sage. From the color of her
hair Bud knew that she was not Honey, and that she was
therefore a stranger to him. But he swung off the path and
went over to her as naturally as he would go to pick up a
baby that had fallen.
"I'll carry that in for you," he said, and put out his hand
to help her to her feet.
Before he touched her she was on her feet and looking at him.
Bud could not remember afterwards that she had done anything
else; he seemed to have seen only her eyes, and into them and
beyond them to a soul that somehow made his heart tremble.
What she said, what he answered, was of no moment. He could
not have told afterwards what it was. He stooped and filled
his arms with wood, and walked ahead of her up the pathway to
the kitchen door, and stopped when she flitted past him to
show him where the wood-box stood. He was conscious then of
her slenderness and of the lightness of her steps. He dropped
the wood into the box behind the stove on which kettles were
steaming. There was the smell of chicken stewing, and the
odor of fresh-baked pies.
She smiled up at him and offered him a crisp, warn cookie
with sugared top, and he saw her eyes again and felt the same
tremor at his heart. He pulled himself together and smiled
back at her, thanked her and went out, stumbling a little on
the doorstep, the cookie untasted in his fingers.
He walked down to the corral and began fumbling at his pack,
his thoughts hushed before the revelation that had come to
"Her hands--her poor, little, red hands!" he said in a
whisper as the memory of them came suddenly. But it was her
eyes that he was seeing with his mind; her eyes, and what lay
deep within. They troubled him, shook him, made him want to
use his man-strength against something that was hurting her.
He did not know what it could be; he did not know that there
was anything--but oddly the memory of his mother's white face
back in the long ago, and of her tone when she said, "Oh,
God, please!" came back and fitted themselves to the look in
this woman's eyes.
Bud sat down on his canvas-wrapped bed and lifted his hat to
rumple his hair and then smooth it again, as was his habit
when worried. He looked at the cookie, and because he was
hungry he ate it with a foolish feeling that he was being
sentimental as the very devil, thinking how her hands had
touched it. He rolled and smoked a cigarette afterwards, and
wondered who she was and whether she was married, and what
her first name was.
A quiet smoke will bring a fellow to his senses sometimes
when nothing else will, and Bud managed, by smoking two
cigarettes in rapid succession, to restore himself to some
degree of sanity.
"Funny how she made me think of mother, back when I was a kid
coming up from Texas," he mused. "Mother'd like her." It was
the first time he had ever thought just that about a girl. "She's
no relation to Honey," he added. "I'd bet a horse on that." He
recalled how white and soft were Honey's hands, and he swore a
little. "Wouldn't hurt her to get out there in the kitchen and
help with the cooking," he criticised. Then suddenly he laughed.
"Shucks a'mighty, as Pop says! with those two girls on the ranch
I'll gamble Dave Truman has a full crew of men that are plumb
willing to work for their board!"
The stage came, and Bud turned to it relievedly. After that,
here came Dave Truman on a deep-cheated roan. Bud knew him by
his resemblance to the old man, who came shuffling bent-
backed from the machine-shed as Dave passed.
Pop beckoned, and Dave reined his horse that way and stopped
at the shed door. The two talked for a minute and Dave rode
on, passing Bud with a curt nod. Pop came over to where Bud
stood leaning against the corral.
"How are you feeling, dad?" Bud grinned absently.
"Purty stiff an' sore, boy--my rheumatics is bad to-day." Pop
winked solemnly. "I spoke to Dave about you wantin' a job,
and I guess likely Dave'll put you on. They's plenty to do--
hayin' comin' on and all that." He lowered his voice
mysteriously, though there was no man save Bud within a
hundred feet of him. "Don't ye go 'n talk horses--not yet.
Don't let on like yore interested much. I'll tell yuh when to
take 'em up."
The men came riding in from the hayfield, some in wagons, two
astride harnessed work-horses, and one long-legged fellow in
chaps on a mower, driving a sweaty team that still had life
enough to jump sidewise when they spied Bud's pack by the
corral. The stage driver sauntered up and spoke to the men.
Bud went over and began to help unhitch the team from the
mower, and the driver eyed him sharply while he grinned his
greeting across the backs of the horses.
"Pop says you're looking for work," Dave Truman observed,
coming up. "Well, if you ain't scared of it, I'll stake yuh
to a hayfork after dinner. Where yuh from?"
"Just right now, I'm from the Muleshoe. Bud Birnie's my name.
I was telling dad why I quit."
"Tell me," Dave directed briefly. "Pop ain't as reliable as
he used to be. He'd never get it out straight."
"I quit," said Bud, "by special request." He pulled off his
gloves carefully and held up his puffed knuckles. "I got that
on Dirk Tracy."
The driver of the mower shot a quick, meaning glance at Dave,
and laughed shortly. Dave grinned a little, but he did not
ask what had been the trouble, as Bud had half expected him
to do. Apparently Dave felt that he had received all the
information he needed, for his next remark had to do with the
heat. The day was a "weather breeder", he declared, and he
was glad to have another man to put at the hauling.
An iron triangle beside the kitchen door clamored then, and
Bud, looking quickly, saw the slim little woman with the big,
troubled eyes striking the iron bar vigorously. Dave glanced
at his watch and led the way to the house, the hay crew
hurrying after him.
Fourteen men sat down to a long table with a great shuffling
of feet and scraping of benches, and immediately began a
voracious attack upon the heaped platters of chicken and
dumplings and the bowls of vegetables. Bud found a place at
the end where he could look into the kitchen, and his eyes
went that way as often as they dared, following the swift
motions of the little woman who poured coffee and filled
empty dishes and said never a word to anyone.
He was on the point of believing her a daughter of the house
when a square-jawed man of thirty, or thereabout, who sat at
Bud's right hand, called her to him as he might have called
his dog, by snapping his fingers.
She came and stood beside Bud while the man spoke to her in
an arrogant undertone.
"Marian, I told yuh I wanted tea for dinner after this.
D'you bring me coffee on purpose, just to be onery? I thought
I told yuh to straighten up and quit that sulkin'. I ain't
going to have folks think----"
"Oh, be quiet! Shame on you, before everyone!" she whispered
fiercely while she lifted the cup and saucer.
Bud went hot all over. He did not look up when she returned
presently with a cup of tea, but he felt her presence
poignantly, as he had never before sensed the presence of a
woman. When he was able to swallow his wrath and meet calmly
the glances of these strangers he turned his head casually
and looked the man over.
Her husband, he guessed the fellow to be. No other
relationship could account for that tone of proprietorship,
and there was no physical resemblance between the two. A mean
devil, Bud called him mentally, with a narrow forehead, eyes
set too far apart and the mouth of a brute. Someone spoke to
the man, calling him Lew, and he answered with rough good
humor, repeating a stale witticism and laughing at it just as
though he had not heard others say it a hundred times.
Bud looked at him again and hated him, but he did not glance
again at the little woman named Marian; for his own peace of
mind he did not dare. He thought that he knew now what it was
he had seen in the depth of her eyes, but there seemed to be
nothing that he could do to help.
That evening after supper Honey Krause called to him when he
was starting down to the bunk-house with the other men. What
she said was that she still had his guitar and mandolin, and
that they needed exercise. What she looked was the challenge
of a born coquette. In the kitchen dishes were rattling, but
after they were washed there would be a little leisure,
perhaps, for the kitchen drudge. Bud's impulse to make his
sore hands an excuse for refusing evaporated. It might not be
wise to place himself deliberately in the way of getting a
hurt--but youth never did stop to consult a sage before
following the lure of a woman's eyes.
He called back to Honey that those instruments ought to have
been put in the hayfield, where there was more exercise than
the men could use. "You boys ought to come and see me safe
through with it," he added to the loitering group around him.
"I'm afraid of women."
They laughed and two or three went with him. Lew went on to
the corral and presently appeared on horseback, riding up to
the kitchen and leaving his horse standing at the corner
while he went inside and talked to the woman he had called
Bud was carrying his guitar outside, where it was cooler,
when he heard the fellow's arrogant voice. The dishes ceased
rattling for a minute, and there was a sharp exclamation,
stifled but unmistakable. Involuntarily Bud made a movement
in that direction, when Honey's voice stopped him with a
"That's only Lew and Mary Ann," she explained carelessly. "They
have a spat every time they come within gunshot of each other."
The lean fellow who had driven the mower, and whose name was
Jerry Myers, edged carelessly close to Bud and gave him a
nudge with his elbow, and a glance from under his eyebrows by
way of emphasis. He turned his head slightly, saw that Honey
had gone into the house, and muttered just above a whisper,
"Don't see or hear anything. It's all the help you can give
her. And for Lord's sake don't let on to Honey like you--give
a cuss whether it rains or not, so long 's it don't pour too
hard the night of the dance."
Bud looked up at the darkening sky speculatively, and tried
not to hear the voices in the kitchen, one of which was
brutally harsh while the other told of hate and fear
suppressed under gentle forbearance. The harsh voice was
almost continuous, the other infrequent, reluctant to speak
at all. Bud wanted to go in and smash his guitar over the
fellow's head, but Jerry's warning held him. There were other
ways, however, to help; if he must not drive off the
tormentor, then he would call him away. He ignored his
bruised knuckles and plucked the guitar strings as if he held
a grudge against them, and then began to sing the first song
that came into his mind--one that started in a rollicky
Men came straggling up from the bunk-house before he had
finished the first chorus, and squatted on their heels to
listen, their cigarettes glowing like red fingertips in the
dusk. But the voice in the kitchen talked on. Bud tried
another--one of those old-time favorites, a "laughing coon"
song, though he felt little enough in the mood for it. In the
middle of the first laugh he heard the kitchen door slam, and
Lew's footsteps coming around the corner. He listened until
the song was done, then mounted and rode away, Bud's laugh
following him triumphantly--though Lew could not have guessed
Bud sang for two hours expectantly, but Marian did not
appear, and Bud went off to the bunk-house feeling that his
attempt to hearten her had been a failure. Of Honey he did
not think at all, except to wonder if the two women were
related in any way, and to feel that if they were Marian was
to be pitied. At that point Jerry overtook him and asked for
a match, which gave him an excuse to hold Bud behind the
"Honey like to have caught me, to-night," Jerry observed
guardedly. "I had to think quick. I'll tell you the lay of
the land, Bud, seeing you're a stranger here. Marian's man,
Lew, he's a damned bully and somebody is going to draw a fine
bead on him some day when he ain't looking. But he stands in,
so the less yuh take notice the better. Marian, she's a fine
little woman that minds her own business, but she's getting a
cold deck slipped into the game right along. Honey's jealous
of her and afraid somebody'll give her a pleasant look. Lew's
jealous, and he watches her like a cat watches a mouse "It's
caught and wants to play with. Between the two of 'em Marian
has a real nice time of it. I'm wising you up so you won't
hand her any more misery by trying to take her part. Us boys
have learned to keep our mouths shut."
"Glad you told me," Bud muttered. "Otherwise----"
"Exactly," Jerry agreed understandingly. "Otherwise any of us
He stopped and then spoke in a different tone. "If Lew stays
off the ranch long enough, maybe you'll get to hear her sing.
Wow-ee, but that lady has sure got the meadow-larks whipped!
But look out for Honey, old-timer."
Bud laughed unmirthfully. "Looks to me as if you aren't crazy
over Honey," he ventured. "What has she done to you?"
"Her?" Jerry inspected his cigarette, listened to the whisper
of prudence in his ear, and turned away. "Forget it. I never
said a word." He swept the whole subject from him with a
comprehensive gesture, and snorted. "I'm gettin' as bad as
Pop," he grinned. "But lemme tell yuh something. Honey Krause
runs more 'n the post-office."
CHAPTER ELEVEN: GUILE AGAINST THE WILY
Bud liked to have his life run along accustomed lines with a
more or less perfect balance of work and play, friendships
and enmities. He had grown up with the belief that any
mystery is merely a synonym for menace. He had learned to be
wary of known enemies such as Indians and outlaws, and to
trust implicitly his friends. To feel now, without apparent
cause, that his friends might be enemies in disguise, was a
new experience that harried him.
He had come to Little Lost on Tuesday, straight from the
Muleshoe where his presence was no longer desired for some
reason not yet satisfactorily explained to him. You know what
happened on Tuesday. That night the land crouched under a
terrific electric storm, with crackling swords of white death
dazzling from inky black clouds, and ear-splitting thunder
close on the heels of it. Bud had known such storms all his
life, yet on this night he was uneasy, vaguely disturbed. He
caught himself wondering if Lew Morris's wife was frightened,
and the realization that he was worrying about her fear
worried him more than ever and held him awake long after the
fury of the storm had passed.
Next day, when he came in at noon, there was Hen, from the
Muleshoe, waiting for dinner before he rode back with the
mail. Hen's jaw dropped when he saw Bud riding on a Little
Lost hay-wagon, and his eyes bulged with what Bud believed
was consternation. All through the meal Bud had caught Hen
eyeing him miserably, and looking stealthily from him to the
others. No one paid any attention, and for that Bud was
rather thankful; he did not want the Little Lost fellows to
think that perhaps he had done something which he knew would
hang him if it were discovered, which, he decided, was the
mildest interpretation a keen observer would be apt to make
of Hen's behavior.
When he went out, Hen was at his heels, trying to say
something in his futile, tongue-tied gobble. Bud stopped and
looked at him tolerantly. "Hen, "It's no use--you might as
well be talking Chinese, for all I know. If it's important,
write it down or I'll never know what's on your mind."
He pulled a note-book and a pencil from his vest-pocket and
gave them to Hen, who looked at him dumbly, worked his Adam's
apple violently and retreated to his horse, fumbled the mail
which was tied in the bottom of a flour sack for safe
keeping, sought a sheltered place where he could sit down,
remained there a few minutes, and then returned to his horse
He beckoned to Bud, who was watching him curiously; and when
Bud went over to him said something unintelligible and handed
back the note-book, motioning for caution when Bud would have
opened the book at once.
So Bud thanked him gravely, but with a twinkle in his eyes,
and waited until Hen had gone and he was alone before he read
the message. It was mysterious enough, certainly. Hen had
written in a fine, cramped, uneven hand:
"You bee carful. bern this up& and dent let on like you no
anything but i warn you be shure bern this up."
Bud tore out the page and burned it as requested, and since
he was not enlightened by the warning he obeyed Hen's
instructions and did not "let on." But he could not help
wondering, and was unconsciously prepared to observe little
things which ordinarily would have passed unnoticed.
At the dance on Friday night, for instance, there was a good
deal of drinking and mighty little hilarity. Bud had been
accustomed to loud talk and much horseplay outside among the
men on such occasions, and even a fight or two would be
accepted as a matter of course. But though several quart
bottles were passed around during the night and thrown away
empty into the bushes, the men went in and danced and came
out again immediately to converse confidentially in small
groups, or to smoke without much speech. The men of Burroback
Valley were not running true to form.
The women were much like all the women of cow-country: mothers
with small children who early became cross and sleepy and
were hushed under shawls on the most convenient bed, a piece
of cake in their hands; mothers whose faces were lined too
soon with work and ill-health, and with untidy hair that
became untidier as the dance progressed. There were
daughters--shy and giggling to hide their shyness--Bud knew
their type very well and made friends with them easily, and
immediately became the centre of a clamoring audience after
he had sung a song or two.
There was Honey, with her inscrutable half smile and her
veiled eyes, condescending to graciousness and quite plainly
assuming a proprietary air toward Bud, whom she put through
whatever musical paces pleased her fancy. Bud, I may say, was
extremely tractable. When Honey said sing, Bud sang; when she
said play, Bud sat down to the piano and played until she
asked him to do something else. It was all very pleasant for
Honey--and Bud ultimately won his point--Honey decided to
extend her graciousness a little.
Why hadn't Bud danced with Marian? He must go right away and
ask her to dance. Just because Lew was gone, Marian need not
be slighted--and besides, there were other fellows who might
want a little of Honey's time.
So Bud went away and found Marian in the pantry, cutting
cakes while the coffee boiled, and asked her to dance. Marian
was too tired, and' she had not the time to spare; wherefore
Bud helped himself to a knife and proceeded to cut cakes with
geometrical precision, and ate all the crumbs. With his hands
busy, he found the courage to talk to her a little. He made
Marian laugh out loud and it was the first time he had ever
heard her do that.
Marian disclosed a sense of humor, and even teased Bud a
little about Honey. But her teasing lacked that edge of
bitterness which Bud had half expected in retaliation for
Honey's little air of superiority.
"Your precision in cutting cakes is very much like your
accurate fingering of the piano," she observed irrelevantly,
surveying his work with her lips pursed. "A pair of calipers
would prove every piece exactly, the same width; and even
when you play a Meditation? I'm sure the metronome would
waggle in perfect unison with your tempo. I wonder--" She
glanced up at him speculatively. "--I wonder if you think
with such mathematical precision. Do you always find that two
and two make four?"
"You mean, have I any imagination whatever?" Bud looked away
from her eyes--toward the uncurtained, high little window. A
face appeared there, as if a tall man had glanced in as he
was passing by and halted for a second to look. Bud's eyes
met full the eyes of the man outside, who tilted his head
backward in a significant movement and passed on. Marian
turned her head and caught the signal, looked at Bud quickly,
a little flush creeping into her cheeks.
"I hope you have a little imagination," she said, lowering
her voice instinctively. "It doesn't require much to see that
Jerry is right. The conventions are strictly observed at
Little Lost--in the kitchen, at least," she added, under her
breath, with a flash of resentment. "Run along--and the next
time Honey asks you to play the piano, will you please play
Lotusblume? And when you have thrown open the prison windows
with that, will you play Schubert's Ave Maria--the way you
play it--to send a breath of cool night air in?"
She put out the tips of her fingers and pressed them lightly
against Bud's shoulder, turning toward the door. Bud started,
stepped into the kitchen, wheeled about and stood regarding
her with a stubborn look in his eyes.
"I might kick the door down, too," he said. "I don't like
"No-just a window, thank you," she laughed.
Bud thought the laugh did not go very deep. "Jerry wants to
talk to you. He's the whitest of the lot, if you can call
that--" she stopped abruptly, put out a hand to the door,
gave him a moment to look into her deep, troubled eyes, and
closed the door gently but inexorably in his face.
Jerry was standing at the corner of the house smoking
negligently. He waited until Bud had come close alongside
him, then led the way slowly down the path to the corrals.
"I thought I heard the horses fighting," he remarked. "There
was a noise down this way."
"Is that why you called me outside?" asked Bud, who scorned
"Yeah. I saw you wasn't dancing or singing or playing the
piano--and I knew Honey'd likely be looking you up to do one
or the other, in a minute. She sure likes you, Bud. She
don't, everybody that comes along."
Bud did not want to discuss Honey, wherefore he made no
reply, and they walked along in silence, the cool, heavy
darkness grateful after the oil lamps and the heat of crowded
rooms. As they neared the corrals a stable door creaked open
and shut, yet there was no wind. Jerry halted, one hand going
to Bud's arm. They stood for a minute, and heard the swish of
the bushes behind the corral, as if a horse were passing
through. Jerry turned back, leading Bud by the arm. They were
fifty feet away and the bushes were still again before Jerry
"I guess I made a mistake. There wasn't nothing," he said,
and dropped Bud's arm."
Bud stopped. "There was a man riding off in the brush," he
said bluntly, "and all the folks that came to the dance rode
in through the front gate. I reckon I'll just take a look
where I left my saddle, anyway."
"That might have been some loose stock," Jerry argued, but
Bud went back, wondering a little at Jerry's manner.
The saddle was all right, and so was everything else, so far
as Bud could determine in the dark, but he was not satisfied.
He thought he understood Jerry's reason for bringing him down
to the corrals, but he could not understand Jerry's attitude
toward an incident which any man would have called
Bud quietly counted noses when he returned to the house and
found that supper was being served, but he could not recall
any man who was missing now. Every guest and every man on the
ranch was present except old Pop, who had a little shack to
himself and went to bed at dark every night.
Bud was mystified, and he hated mysteries. Moreover, he was
working for Dave Truman, and whatever might concern Little
Lost concerned him also. But the men had begun to talk openly
of their various "running horses", and to exchange jibes and
boasts and to bet a little on Sunday's races. Bud wanted to
miss nothing of that, and Jerry's indifference to the
incident at the stable served to reassure him for the time
being. He edged close to the group where the talk was
loudest, and listened.
A man they called Jeff was trying to jeer his neighbors into
betting against a horse called Skeeter, and was finding them
too cautious for his liking. He laughed and, happening to
catch Bud's eyes upon him, strode forward with an empty tin
cup in his hand and slapped Bud friendliwise on the shoulder.
"Why, I bet this singin' kid, that don't know wha I got ner
what you fellers has got, ain't scared to take, a chance. Are
yuh, kid? What d' yuh think of this pikin' bunch here that
has seen Skeeter come in second and third more times 'n what
he beat, and yet is afraid to take a chance on rosin' two
bits? Whatd' yuh think of 'em? Ain't they an onery bunch?"
"I suppose they hate to lose," Bud grinned.
"That's it--money 's more to 'em than the sport of kings,
which is runnin' horses. This bunch, kid belly-ached till
Dave took his horse Boise outa the game, and now, by gosh,
they're backin' up from my Skeeter, that has been beat more
times than he won.'
"When you pulled him, Jeff!" a mocking voice drawled. "And
that was when you wasn't bettin' yourself."
Jeff turned injuredly to Bud. "Now don't that sound like a
piker?" he complained. "It ain't reason to claim I'd pull my
own horse. Ain't that the out doinest way to come back at a
man that likes a good race?
Bud swelled his chest and laid his hand on Jeff's shoulder.
"Just to show you I'm not a piker," he cried recklessly,
"I'll bet you twenty-five dollars I can beat your Skeeter
with my Smoky horse that I rode in here. Is it a go?"
Jeff's jaw dropped a little, with surprise. "What fer horse
is this here Smoky horse of yourn?" he wanted to know.
Bud winked at the group, which cackled gleeful!, "I love the
sport of kings," he said. "I love it so well I don't have to
see your Skeeter horse till Sunday. From the way these boys
sidestep him, I guess he's a sure-enough running horse. My
Smoky's a good little horse, too, but he never scared a bunch
till they had cramps in the pockets. Still," he added with a
grin, "I'll try anything once. I bet you twenty-five dollars
my Smoky can beat your Skeeter."
"Say, kid, honest I hate to take it away from yuh. Honest, I
do. The way you can knock the livin' tar outa that pyanny is
a caution to cats. I c'd listen all night. But when it comes
to runnin' horses--"
"Are you afraid of your money?" Bud asked him arrogantly.
"You called this a bunch of pikers--"
"Well, by golly, it'll be your own fault, kid. If I take your
money away from yuh, don't go and blame it onto me. Mebbe
these fellers has got some cause to sidestep--"
"All right, the bet's on. And I won't blame you if I lose.
Smoky's a good little horse. Don't think for a minute I'm
giving you my hard earned coin. You'll have to throw up some
dust to get it, old-timer. I forgot to say I'd like to make
it a quarter dash."
"A quarter dash it is," Jeff agreed derisively as Bud turned
to answer the summons of the music which was beginning again.
The racing enthusiasts lingered outside, and Bud smiled to
himself while he whirled Honey twice around in an old-
fashioned waltz. He had them talking about him, and wondering
about his horse. When they saw Smoky they would perhaps call
him a chancey kid. He meant to ask Pop about Skeeter, though
Pop seemed confident that Smoky would win against anything in
But on the other hand, he had seen in his short acquaintance
with Little Lost that Pop was considered childish--that
comprehensive accusation which belittles the wisdom of age.
The boys made it a point to humor him without taking him
seriously. Honey pampered him and called him Poppy, while in
Marian's chill courtesy, in her averted glances, Bud had read
her dislike of Pop. He had seen her hand shrink away from
contact with his hand when she set his coffee beside his
But Bud had heard others speak respectfully of Boise, and
regret that he was too fast to run. Pop might be childish on
some subjects, but Bud rather banked on his judgment of
horses--and Pop was penurious and anxious to win money.
"What are you thinking about?" Honey demanded when the music
stopped. "Something awful important, I guess, to make you
want to keep right on dancing!"
"I was thinking of horse-racing," Bud confessed, glad that he
could tell her the truth.
"Ah, you! Don't let them make a fool of you. Some of the
fellows would bet the shirt off their backs on a horse-race!
You look out for them, Bud."
"They wouldn't bet any more than I would," Bud boldly
declared. "I've bet already against a horse I've never seen.
How 's that?"
"That's crazy. You'll lose, and serve you right." She went
off to dance with someone else, and Bud turned smiling to
find a passable partner amongst the older women--for he was
inclined to caution where strange girls were concerned. Much
trouble could come to a stranger who danced with a girl who
happened to have a jealous sweetheart, and Bud did not court
trouble of that kind. He much preferred to fight over other
things. Besides, he had no wish to antagonize Honey.
But his dance with some faded, heavy-footed woman was not to
be. Jerry once more signalled him and drew him outside for a
little private conference. Jerry was ill at ease and inclined
to be reproachful and even condemnatory.
He wanted first to know why Bud had been such a many kinds of
a fool as to make that bet with Jeff Hall. All the fellows
were talking about it. "They was asking me what kind of a
horse you've got--and I wouldn't put it past Jeff and his
bunch to pull some kind of a dirty trick on you," he
complained. "Bud, on the square, I like you a whole lot. You
seem kinda innocent, in some ways, and in other ways you
don't. I wish you'd tell me just one thing, so I can sleep
comfortable. Have you got some scheme of your own? Or what
the devil ails you?"
"Well, I've just got a notion," Bud admitted. "I'm going to
have some fun watching those fellows perform, whether I win
or lose. I've spent as much as twenty-five dollars on a
circus, before now, and felt that I got the worth of my
money, too. I'm going to enjoy myself real well, next
Jerry glanced behind him and lowered his voice, speaking
close to Bud's ear. "Well, there's something I'd like to say
that it ain't safe to say, Bud. I'd hate like hell to see you
get in trouble. Go as far as you like having fun--but--oh,
hell! What's the use?" He turned abruptly and went inside,
leaving Bud staring after him rather blankly.
Jerry did not strike Bud as being the kind of a man who goes
around interfering with every other man's business. He was a
quiet, good-natured young fellow with quizzical eyes of that
mixed color which we call hazel simply because there is more
brown than gray or green. He did not talk much, but he
observed much. Bud was strongly inclined to heed Jerry's
warning, but it was too vague to have any practical value--"
about like Hen's note," Bud concluded. "Well-meaning but
hazy. Like a red danger flag on a railroad crossing where the
track is torn up and moved. I saw one, once and my horse
threw a fit at it and almost piled me. I figured that the red
flag created the danger, where I was concerned. Still, I'd
like to oblige Jerry and sidestep something or other,
but . . ."
His thoughts grew less distinct, merged into wordless
rememberings and conjectures, clarified again into terse
sentences which never reached the medium of speech.
"Well, I'll just make sure they don't try out Smoke when I'm
not looking," he decided, and slipped away in the dark.
By a roundabout way which avoided the trail he managed to
reach the pasture fence without being seen. No horses grazed
in sight, and he climbed through and went picking his way
across the lumpy meadow in the starlight. At the farther side
he found the horses standing out on a sandy ridge where the
mosquitoes were not quite so pestiferous. The Little Lost
horses ;snorted and took to their heels, his three following
for a short distance.
Bud stopped and whistled a peculiar call invented long ago
when he was just Buddy, and watched over the Tomahawk REMUDA.
Every horse with the Tomahawk brand knew that summons--though
not every horse would obey it. But these three had come when
they were sucking colts, if Buddy whistled; and in their
breaking and training, in the long trip north, they had not
questioned its authority. They turned and trotted back to him
now and nosed Bud's hands which he held out to them.
He petted them all and talked to them in an affectionate
murmur which they answered by sundry lipnibbles and subdued
snorts. Smoky he singled out finally, rubbing his back and
sides with the flat of his hand from shoulder to flank, and
so to the rump and down the thigh to the hock to the scanty
fetlock which told, to those who knew, that here was an
aristocrat among horses.
Smoky stood quiet, and Bud's hand lingered there, smoothing
the slender ankle. Bud's fingers felt the fine-haired tail,
then gave a little twitch. He was busy for a minute, kneeling
in the sand with one knee, his head bent. Then he stood up,
went forward to Smoky's head, and stood rubbing the horse's
"I hate to do it, old boy--but I'm working to make's a home--
we've got to work together. And I'm not asking any more of
you than I'd be willing to do myself, if I were a horse and
you were a man."
He gave the three horses a hasty pat apiece and started back
across the meadow to the fence. They followed him like pet
dogs--and when Bud glanced back over his shoulder he saw in
the dim light that Smoky walked with a slight limp.
CHAPTER TWELVE: SPORT O' KINGS
Sunday happened to be fair, with not too strong a wind
blowing. Before noon Little Lost ranch was a busy place, and
just before dinner it became busier. Horse-racing seemed to
be as popular a sport in the valley as dancing. Indeed, men
came riding in who had not come to the dance. The dry creek-
bed where the horses would run had no road leading to it, so
that all vehicles came to Little Lost and remained there
while the passengers continued on foot to the races.
At the corral fresh shaven men, in clean shirts to
distinguish this as a dress-up occasion, foregathered,
looking over the horses and making bets and arguing. Pop
shambled here and there, smoking cigarettes furiously and
keeping a keen ear toward the loudest betting. He came
sidling up to Bud, who was leading Smoky out of the stable,
and his sharp eyes took in every inch of the horse and went
inquiringly to Bud's face.
"Goin' to run him, young feller--lame as what he is?" he
"Going to try, anyway," said Bud. "I've got a bet up on him,
"Sho! Fixin' to lose, air ye? You kin call it off, like as
not. Jeff ain't so onreason'ble 't he'd make yuh run a lame
horse. Air yuh, Jeff?"
Jeff strolled up and looked Smoky over with critical eyes.
"What's the matter? Ain't the kid game to run him? Looks to
me like a good little goer."
"He's got a limp--but I'll run him anyway." Bud glanced up.
"Maybe when he's warmed up he'll forget about it."
"Seen my Skeeter?"
"Good horse, I should judge," Bud observed indifferently.
"But I ain't worrying any."
"Well, neither am I," Jeff grinned.
Pop stood teetering back and forth, plainly uneasy. "I'd rub
him right good with liniment," he advised Bud. "I'll git
some't I know ought t' help."
"What's the matter, Pop? You got money up on that cayuse?"
Pop whirled on him. "I ain't got money up on him, no. But if
he wasn't lame I'd have some! I'd show ye 't I admire
gameness in a kid. I would so."
Jeff nudged his neighbor into laughter. "There ain't a gamer
old bird in the valley than Pop," Jeff cried. "C'm awn, Pop,
I'll bet yuh ten dollars the kid beats me!"
Pop was shuffling hurriedly out of the corral after the
liniment. To Jeff's challenge he made no reply whatever. The
group around Jeff shooed Smoky gently toward the other side
of the corral, thereby convincing themselves of the limp in
his right hind foot. While not so pronounced as to be
crippling, it certainly was no asset to a running horse, and
the wise ones conferred together in undertones.
"That there kid's a born fool," Dave Truman stated
positively. "The horse can't run. He's got the look of a
speedy little animal--but shucks! The kid don't know anything
about running horses. I've been talking to him, and I know.
Jeff, you're taking the money away from him if you run that
"Well, I'm giving the kid a chance to back out," Jeff
hastened to declare. "He can put it off till his horse gits
well, if he wants to. I ain't going to hold him to it. I
never said I was."
"That's mighty kind of you," Bud said, coming up from behind
with a bottle of liniment, and with Pop at his heels. "But
I'll run him just the same. Smoky has favored this foot
before, and it never seemed to hurt him any. You needn't
think I'm going to crawfish. You must think I'm a whining
cuss--say! I'll bet another ten dollars that I don't come in
more than a neck behind, lame horse or not!"
"Now, kid, don't git chancey," Pop admonished uneasily.
"Twenty-five is enough money to donate to Jeff."