B. M. Bower
Part 3 out of 5
"That's right, kid. I like your nerve," Jeff cut in,
emphasizing his approval with a slap on Bud's shoulder as he
bent to lift Smoky's leg. "I've saw worse horses than this
one come in ahead--it wouldn't be no sport o' kings if nobody
took a chance."
"I'm taking chance enough," Bud retorted without looking up.
"If I don't win this time I will the next, maybe."
"That's right," Jeff agreed heartily, winking broadly at the
others behind Bud's back.
Bud rubbed Smoky's ankle with liniment, listened to various
and sundry self-appointed advisers and, without seeming to
think how the sums would total, took several other small bets
on the race. They were small--Pop began to teeter back and
forth and lift his shoulders and pull his beard--sure signs
"By Christmas, I'll just put up ten dollars on the kid," Pop
finally cackled. "I ain't got much to lose--but I'll show yuh
old Pop ain't going to see the young feller stand alone." He
tried to catch Bud's eye, but that young man was busy
saddling Smoky and returning jibe for jibe with the men
around him, and did not glance toward Pop at all.
"I'll take this bottle in my pocket, Pop," he said with his
back toward the old man, and mounted carelessly. "I'll ride
him around a little and give him another good rubbing before
we run. I'm betting," he added to the others frankly, "on the
chance that exercise and the liniment will take the soreness
out of that ankle. I don't believe it amounts to anything at
all. So if any of you fellows want to bet--"
"Shucks! Don't go 'n-" Pop began, and bit the sentence in
two, dropping immediately into a deep study. The kid was
getting beyond Pop's understanding.
A crowd of perhaps a hundred men and women--with a generous
sprinkling of unruly juveniles--lined the sheer bank of the
creek-bed and watched the horses run, and screamed their
cheap witticisms at the losers, and their approval of those
who won. The youngster with the mysterious past and the
foolhardiness to bet on a lame horse they watched and
discussed, the women plainly wishing he would win--because he
was handsome and young, and such a wonderful musician. The
men were more cold-blooded. They could not see that Bud's
good looks or the haunting melody of his voice had any
bearing whatever upon his winning a race. They called him a
fool, and either refused to bet at all on such a freak
proposition as a lame horse running against Skeeter, or bet
against him. A few of the wise ones wondered if Jeff and his
bunch were merely "stringing the kid along "; if they might
not let him win a little, just to make him more "chancey."
But they did not think it wise to bet on that probability.
While three races were being run Bud rode with the Little
Lost men, and Smoky still limped a little. Jerry Myers, still
self-appointed guardian of Bud, herded him apart and called
him a fool and implored him to call the race off and keep his
money in his own pocket.
Bud was thinking just then about a certain little woman who
sat on the creek bank with a wide-brimmed straw hat shading
her wonderful eyes, and a pair of little, high-arched feet
tapping heels absently against the bank wall. Honey sat
beside her, and a couple of the valley women whom Bud had met
at the dance. He had ridden close and paused for a few
friendly sentences with the quartette, careful to give Honey
the attention she plainly expected. But it was not Honey who
wore the wide hat and owned the pretty little feet. Bud
pulled his thoughts back from a fruitless wish that he might
in some way help that little woman whose trouble looked from
her eyes, and whose lips smiled so bravely. He did not think
of possession when he thought of her; it was the look in her
eyes, and the slighting tones in which Honey spoke of her.
"Say, come alive! What yuh going off in a trance for, when
I'm talking to yuh for your own good?" Jerry smiled
whimsically, but his eyes were worried.
Bud pulled himself together and reined closer.
"Don't bet anything on this race, Jerry," he advised "Or if
you do, don't bet on Skeeter. But--well, I'll just trade you
a little advice for all you've given me. Don't bet!"
"What the hell!" surprise jolted out of Jerry.
"It's my funeral," Bud laughed. "I'm a chancey kid, you see--
but I'd hate to see you bet on me." He pulled up to watch the
next race--four nervy little cow-horses of true range
breeding, going down to the quarter post.
"They 're going to make false starts aplenty," Bud remarked
after the first fluke." Jeff and I have it out next. I'll
just give Smoke another treatment." He dismounted, looked at
Jerry undecidedly and slapped him on the knee. "I'm glad to
have a friend like you," he said impulsively. "There's a lot
of two-faced sinners around here that would steal a man
blind. Don't think I'm altogether a fool."
Jerry looked at him queerly, opened his mouth and shut it
again so tightly that his jawbones stood out a little. He
watched Bud bathing Smoky's ankle. When Bud was through and
handed Jerry the bottle to keep for him, Jerry held him for
an instant by the hand.
"Say, for Gawdsake don't talk like that promiscuous, Bud," he
begged. "You might hit too close--"
"Ay, Jerry! Ever hear that old Armenian proverb, 'He who
tells the truth should have one foot in the stirrup'? I
learned that in school."
Jerry let go Bud's hand and took the bottle, Bud's watch that
had his mother's picture pasted in the back, and his vest, a
pocket of which contained a memorandum of his wagers. Bud was
stepping out of his chaps, and he looked up and grinned.
"Cheer up, Jerry. You're going to laugh in a minute." When
Jerry still remained thoughtful, Bud added soberly, "I
appreciate you and old Pop standing by me. I don't know just
what you've got on your mind, but the fact that there's
something is hint enough for me." Whereupon Jerry's eyes
lightened a little.
The four horses came thundering down the track, throwing tiny
pebbles high into the air as they passed. A trim little
sorrel won, and there was the usual confusion of voices
upraised in an effort to be heard. When that had subsided,
interest once more centered on Skeeter and Smoky, who seemed
to have recovered somewhat from his lameness.
Not a man save Pop and Bud had placed a bet on Smoky, yet
every man there seemed keenly interested in the race. They
joshed Bud, who grinned and took it good-naturedly, and found
another five dollars in--his pocket to bet--this time with
Pop, who kept eyeing him sharply--and it seemed to Bud
warningly. But Bud wanted to play his own game, this time,
and he avoided Pop's eyes.
The two men rode down the hoof-scored sand to the quarter
post, Skeeter dancing sidewise at the prospect of a race,
Smoky now and then tentatively against Bud's steady pressure
of the bit.
"He's not limping now," Bud gloated as they rode. But Jeff
only laughed tolerantly and made no reply.
Dave Truman started them with a pistol shot, and the two
horses darted away, Smoky half a jump in the lead. His limp
was forgotten, and for half the distance he ran neck and neck
with Skeeter. Then he dropped to Skeeter's middle, to his
flank--then ran with his black nose even with Skeeter's rump.
Even so it was a closer race than the crowd had expected, and
all the cowboys began to yell themselves purple.
But when they were yet a few leaps from the wire clothes-line
stretched high, from post to post, Bud leaned forward until
he lay flat alongside Smoky's neck, and gave a real Indian
war-whoop. Smoky lifted and lengthened his stride, came up
again to Skeeter's middle, to his shoulder, to his ears--and
with the next leap thrust his nose past Skeeter's as they
Well, then there was the usual noise, everyone trying to
shout louder than his fellows. Bud rode to where Pop was
sitting apart on a pacing gray horse that he always rode, and
paused to say guardedly,
"I pulled him, Pop. But at that I won, so if I can pry
another race out of this bunch to-day, you can bet all you
like. And you owe me five dollars," he added thriftily.
"Sho! Shucks almighty!" spluttered Pop, reaching reluctantly
into his pocket for the money. "Jeff, he done some pullin'
himself--I wish I knowed," he added pettishly, "just how big
a fool you air."
"Hey, come over here!" shouted Jeff. "What yuh nagging ole
"Pop lost five dollars on that race," Bud called back, and
loped over to the crowd. "But he isn't the only one. Seems
to me I've got quite a bunch of money coming to me, from this
"Jeff, he'd a beat him a mile if his bridle rein had busted,"
an arrogant voice shouted recklessly. "Jeff, you old fox, you
know damn well you pulled Skeeter. You must love to lose,
"If you think I didn't run right," Jeff retorted, as if a
little nettled, "someone else can ride the horse. That is, if
the kid here ain't scared off with your talk. How about it,
Bud ? Think you won fair?"
Bud was collecting his money, and he did not immediately
answer the challenge. When he did it was to offer them
another race. He would not, he said, back down from anyone.
He would bet his last cent on little Smoky. He became
slightly vociferative and more than a little vain-glorious,
and within half an hour he had once more staked all the money
he had in the world. The number of men who wanted to bet with
him surprised him a little. Also the fact that the Little
Lost men were betting on Smoky.
Honey called him over to the bank and scolded him in tones
much like her name, and finally gave him ten dollars which
she wanted to wager on his winning. As he whirled away,
Marian beckoned impulsively and leaned forward, stretching
out to him her closed hand.
"Here's ten," she smiled, "just to show that the Little Lost
stands by its men--and horses. Put it on Smoky, please." When
Bud was almost out of easy hearing, she called to him. "Oh--
was that a five or a ten dollar bill I gave you?"
Bud turned back, unfolding the banknote. A very tightly
folded scrap of paper slid into his palm.
"Oh, all right--I have the five here in my pocket," called
Marian, and laughed quite convincingly. "Go on and run! We
won't be able to breathe freely until the race is over."
Wherefore Bud turned back, puzzled and with his heart
jumping. For some reason Marian had taken this means of
getting a message into his hands. What it could be he did not
conjecture; but he had a vague, unreasoning hope that she
trusted him and was asking him to help her somehow. He did
not think that it concerned the race, so he did not risk
opening the note then, with so many people about.
A slim, narrow-eyed youth of about Bud's weight was chosen to
ride Skeeter, and together they went back over the course to
the quarter post, with Dave to start them and two or three
others to make sure that the race was fair. Smoky was full
now of little prancing steps, and held his neck arched while
his nostrils flared in excitement, showing pink within.
Skeeter persistently danced sidewise, fighting the bit, crazy
Skeeter made two false starts, and when the pistol was fired,
jumped high into the air and forward, shaking his head,
impatient against the restraint his rider put upon him.
Halfway down the stretch he lunged sidewise toward Smoky, but
that level-headed little horse swerved and went on, shoulder
to shoulder with the other. At the very last Skeeter rolled a
pebble under his foot and stumbled--and again Smoky came in
with his slaty nose in the lead.
Pop rode into the centre of the yelling crowd, his whiskers
bristling. "Shucks almighty!" he cried. "What fer ridin' do
yuh call that there? Jeff Hall, that feller held Skeeter in
worse'n what you did yourself! I kin prove it! I got a stop
watch, an' I timed 'im, I did. An' I kin tell yuh the time
yore horse made when he run agin Dave's Boise. He's three
seconds--yes, by Christmas, he's four seconds slower t'day 'n
what he's ever run before! What fer sport d' you call that?"
His voice went up and cracked at the question mark like a boy
in his early teens.
Jeff stalked forward to Skeeter's side. "Jake, did you pull
Skeeter?" he demanded sternly. "I'll swan if this ain't the
belly-achiness bunch I ever seen! How about it, Jake? Did
Skeeter do his durndest, or didn't he?
"Shore, he did!" Jake testified warmly. "I'da beat, too, if
he hadn't stumbled right at the last. Didn't yuh see him
purty near go down? And wasn't he within six inches of
beatin'? I leave it to the crowd!"
The crowd was full of argument, and some bets were paid under
protest. But they were paid, just the same. Burroback Valley
insisted that the main points of racing law should be obeyed
to the letter. Bud collected his winnings, the Scotch in him
overlooking nothing whatever in the shape of a dollar. Then,
under cover of getting his smoking material, he dared bring
out Marian's note. There were two lines in a fine, even hand
on a cigarette paper, and Bud, relieved at her cleverness,
unfolded the paper and read while he opened his bag of
tobacco. The lines were like those in an old-fashioned copy
"Winners may be losers.
Empty pockets, safe owner."
And that was all. Bud sifted tobacco into the paper, rolled
it into a cigarette and smoked it to so short a stub that he
burnt his lips. Then he dropped it beside his foot and ground
it into the sand while he talked.
He would run Smoky no more that day, he declared, but next
Sunday he would give them all a chance to settle their minds
and win back their losings, providing his horse's ankle
didn't go bad again with to-day's running. Pop, Dave, Jeff
and a few other wise ones examined the weak ankle and
disagreed over the exact cause and nature of the weakness. It
seemed all right. Smoky did not flinch from rubbing, though
he did lift his foot away from strange hands. They questioned
Bud, who could offer no positive information on the subject,
except that once he and Smoky had rolled down a bluff
together, and Smoky had been lame for a while afterwards.
It did not occur to anyone to ask Bud which leg had been
lamed, and Bud did not volunteer the detail. An old sprain,
they finally decided, and Bud replaced his saddle, got his
chaps and coat from Jerry, who was smiling over an extra
twenty-five dollars, and rode over to give the girls their
He stayed for several minutes talking with them and hoping
for a chance to thank Marian for her friendly warning. But
there was none, and he rode away dissatisfied and wondering
uneasily if Marian thought he was really as friendly with
Honey as that young lady made him appear to be.
He was one of the first to ride back to the ranch, and he
turned Smoky in the pasture and caught up Stopper to ride
with Honey, who said she was going for a ride when the races
were over, and that if he liked to go along she would show
him the Sinks. Bud had professed an eagerness to see the
Sinks which he did not feel until Marian had turned her head
toward Honey and said in her quiet voice:
"Why the Sinks? You know that isn't safe country to ride in,
"That's why I want to ride there," Honey retorted flippantly.
"I hate safe places and safe things."
Marian had glanced at Bud--and it was that glance which he
was remembering now with a puzzled sense that, like the note,
it had meant something definite, something vital to his own
welfare if he could only find the key. First it was Hen, then
Jerry, and now Marian, all warning him vaguely of danger into
which he might stumble if he were not careful.
Bud was no fool, but on the other hand he was not one to
stampede easily. He had that steadfast courage, perhaps,
which could face danger and still maintain his natural calm--
just as his mother had corrected grammatical slips in the
very sentences which told her of an impending outbreak of
Indians long ago Bud saddled Stopper and the horse which
Honey was to ride, led them to the house and went inside to
wait until the girl was ready. While he waited he played--and
hoped that Marian, hearing, would know that he played for
her; and that she would come and explain the cryptic message.
Whether Marian heard and appreciated the music or not, she
failed to appear and let him know. It seemed to him that she
might easily have come into the room for a minute when she
knew he was there, and let him have a chance to thank her and
ask her just what she meant.
He was just finishing the AVE MARIA which Marian had likened
to a breath of cool air, when Honey appeared in riding skirt
and light shirtwaist. She looked very trim and attractive,
and Bud smiled upon her approvingly, and cut short the last
strain by four beats, which was one way of letting Marian
know that he considered her rather unappreciative.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE SINKS
"We can go through the pasture and cut off a couple of
miles," said Honey when they were mounted. "I hope you don't
think I'm crazy, wanting a ride at this time of day, after
all the excitement we've had. But every Sunday is taken up
with horse-racing till late in the afternoon, and during the
week no one has time to go. And," she added with a sidelong
look at him, "there's something about the Sinks that makes me
love to go there. Uncle Dave won't let me go alone."
Bud dismounted to pull down the two top bars of the pasture
gate so that their horses could step over. A little way down
the grassy slope Smoky and Sunfish fed together, the Little
Lost horses grouped nearer the creek.
"I love that little horse of yours--why, he's gone lame
again!" exclaimed Honey. "Isn't that a shame! You oughtn't
to run him if it does that to him."
"He likes it," said Bud carelessly as he remounted. "And so
do I, when I can clean up the way I did today. I'm over three
hundred dollars richer right now than I was this morning."
"And next Sunday, maybe you'll be broke," Honey added
significantly. "You never know how you are coming out. I
think Jeff let you win to-day on purpose, so you'd bet it all
again and lose. He's like that. He don't care how much he
loses one day, because he gets it back some other time. I
don't like it. Some of the boys never do get ahead, and
you'll be in the same fix if you don't look out."
"You didn't bring me along to lecture me, I know," said Bud
with a good-natured smile. "What about the Sinks ? Is it a
dangerous place as--Mrs. Morris says?"
"Oh, Marian? She never does want me to come. She thinks I
ought to stay in the house always, the way she does. The
Sinks is--is--queer. There are caves, and then again deep
holes straight down, and tracks of wildcats and lions. And in
some places you can hear gurgles and rumbles. I love to be
there just at sundown, because the shadows are spooky and it
makes you feel--oh, you know--kind of creepy up your back.
You don't know what might happen. I--do you believe in ghosts
and haunted places, Bud?"
"I'd need a lot of scaring before I did. Are the Sinks
"No-o--but there are funny noises and people have got lost
there. Anyway they never showed up afterwards. The Indians
claim it's haunted." She smiled that baring smile of hers.
"Do you want to turn around and go back?"
"Sure. After we've had our ride, and seen the sights." And he
added with some satisfaction, "The moon 's full to-night, and
"And I brought sandwiches," Honey threw in as especial
blessing. "Uncle Dave will be mad, I expect. But I've never
seen the Sinks at night, with moonlight."
She was quiet while the horses waded Sunk Creek and picked
their way carefully over a particularly rocky stretch beyond.
"But what I'd rather do," she said, speaking from her
thoughts which had evidently carried forward in the silence,
"is explore Catrock Canyon."
"Well, why not, if we have time?" Bud rode up alongside her. "Is
Honey looked at him searchingly. "You must be stranger to
these parts," she said disbelievingly. "Do you think you can
make me swallow that?"
Bud looked at her inquiringly, which forced her to go on.
"You must know about Catrock Canyon, Bud Birnie. Don't try to
make me believe you don't."
"I don't. I never heard of it before that I remember. What is
it makes you want to explore it?"
Honey studied him. "You're the queerest specimen I ever did
see," she exclaimed pettishly. "Why, it's not going to hurt
you to admit you know Catrock Canyon is--unexplorable."
"Oh. So you want to explore it because it's unexplorable.
Well, why is it unexplorable?"
Honey looked around her at the dry sageland they were
crossing. "Oh, you make me TIRED!" she said bluntly, with
something of the range roughness in her voice. "Because it
is, that's all."
"Then I'd like to explore it myself," Bud declared.
"For one thing," Honey dilated, "there's no way to get in there.
Up on the ridge this side, where the rock is that throws a
shadow like a cat's head on the opposite wall, you can look
down a ways. But the two sides come so close together at the
top that you can't see the bottom of the canyon at all. I've
been on the ridge where I could see the cat's head."
Bud glanced speculatively up at the sun, and Honey, catching
his meaning, shook her head and smiled.
"If we get into the Sinks and back to-day, they will do
enough talking about it; or Uncle Dave will, and Marian. I--I
thought perhaps you'd be able to tell me about--Catrock
"I'm able to say I don't know a thing about it. If no one can
get into it, I should think that's about all, isn't it?"
"Yes--you'd think so," Honey agreed enigmatically, and began
to talk of the racing that day, and of the dance, and of
other dances and other races yet to come. Bud discussed these
subjects for a while and then asked boldly, "When's Lew
"Lew?" Honey shot a swift glance at him. "Why?" She looked
ahead at the forbidding, craggy hills toward which she had
glanced when she spoke of Catrock. "Why, I don't know. How
Bud saw that he had spoken unwisely. "I was thinking he'd
maybe hate to miss another running match like to-day," he
explained guilelessly. "Everybody and his dog seemed to be
there to-day, and everybody had money up. All," he modified,
"except the Muleshoe boys. I didn't see any of them."
"You won't," Honey told him with some emphasis. "Uncle Dave
and the Muleshoe are on the outs. They never come around
except for mail and things from the store. And most always
they send Hen. Uncle Dave and Dirk Tracy had an awful row
last winter. It was next thing to a killing. So of course the
outfits ain't on friendly terms."
This was more than Pop had gossiped to Bud, and since the
whole thing was of no concern to him, and Honey plainly
objected to talking about Marian's husband, he was quite
ready to fix his interest once more upon the Sinks. He was
surprised when they emerged from a cluster of small, sage-
covered knolls, directly upon the edge of what at first sight
seemed to be another dry river bed--sprawled wider, perhaps,
with irregular arms thrust back into the less sterile land.
They rode down a steep, rocky trail and came out into the
It was an odd, forbidding place, and the farther up the
gravelly bottom they rode, the more forbidding it became. Bud
thought that in the time when Indians were dangerous as she-
bears the Sinks would not be a place where a man would want
to ride. There were too many jutting crags, too many
unsuspected, black holes that led back--no one knew just
Honey led the way to an irregular circle of waterwashed
cobbles and Bud peered down fifty feet to another dry,
gravelly bottom seemingly a duplicate of the upper surface.
She rode on past other caves, and let him look down into
other holes. There were faint rumblings in some of these, but
in none was there any water showing save in stagnant pools in
the rock where the rain had fallen.
"There's one cave I like to go into," said Honey at last.
"It's a little farther on, but we have time enough. There's a
spring inside, and we can eat our sandwiches. It isn't dark-
there are openings to the top, and lots of funny, winding
passages. That," she finished thrillingly, "is the place the
Indians claim is haunted."
Bud did not shudder convincingly, and they rode slowly
forward, picking their way among the rocks. The cave yawned
wide open to the sun, which hung on the top of Catrock Peak.
They dismounted, anchored the reins with rocks and went
When Bud had been investigative Buddy, he had explored more
caves than he could count. He had filched candles from his
mother and had crept back and back until the candle flame
flickered warning that he was nearing the "damps" Indians
always did believe caves were haunted, probably because they
did not understand the "damps", and thought evil spirits had
taken those who went in and never returned. Buddy had once
been lost in a cave for four harrowing hours, and had found
his way out by sheer luck, passing the skeleton of an Indian
and taking the tomahawk as a souvenir.
Wherefore this particular cave, with a spring back fifty feet
from the entrance where a shaft of sunlight struck the rock
through some obscure slit in the rock, had no thrill for him.
But the floor was of fine, white sand, and the ceiling was
knobby and grotesque, and he was quite willing to sit there
beside the spring and eat two sandwiches and talk foolishness
with Honey, using that part of his mind which was not busy
with the complexities of winning money on the speed of his
horses when three horses represented his entire business
capital, and with wondering what was wrong with Burroback
Valley, that three persons of widely different viewpoints had
felt it necessary to caution him,--and had couched their
admonitions in such general terms that he could not feel the
force of their warning.
He was thinking back along his life to where false alarms of
Indian outbreaks had played a very large part in the
Tomahawk's affairs, and how little of the ranch work would
ever have been done had they listened to every calamity
howler that came along. Honey was talking, and he was
answering partly at random, when she suddenly laughed and got
"You must be in love, Bud Birnie. You just said 'yes' when I
asked you if you didn't think water snakes would be coming
out this fall with their stripes running round them instead
of lengthwise! You didn't hear a word--now, did you?"
"I heard music," Bud lied gallantly, "and I knew it was your
voice. I'd probably say yes if you asked me whether the moon
wouldn't look better with a ruffle around it."
"I'll say the moon will be wondering where we are, if we
don't start back. The sun's down."
Bud got up from sitting cross-legged like a Turk, helped
Honey to her feet--and felt her fingers clinging warmly to
his own. He led the way to the cave's mouth, not looking at
her. "Great sunset," he observed carelessly, glancing up at
the ridge while he held her horse for her to mount.
Honey showed that she was perfectly at home in the saddle.
She rode on ahead, leaving Bud to mount and follow. He was
just swinging leisurely into the saddle when Stopper threw
his head around, glancing back toward the level just beyond
the cave. At the same instant Bud heard the familiar,
unmistakable swish of a rope headed his way.
He flattened himself along Stopper's left shoulder as the
loop settled and tightened on the saddle horn, and dropped on
to the ground as Stopper whirled automatically to the right
and braced himself against the strain. Bud turned half
kneeling, his gun in his hand ready for the shot he expected
would follow the rope. But Stopper was in action-the best
ropehorse the Tomahawk had ever owned. For a few seconds he
stood braced, his neck arched, his eyes bright and watchful.
Then he leaped forward, straight at the horse and the rider
who was in the act of leveling his gun. The horse hesitated,
taken unaware by the onslaught. When he started to run
Stopper was already passing him, turning sharply to the right
again so that the rope raked the horse's front legs. Two
jumps and Stopper had stopped, faced the horse and stood
braced again, his ears perked knowingly while he waited for
It came--just as it always did come when Stopper got action
on the end of a rope. Horse and rider came down together.
They would not get up until Bud wished it--he could trust
Stopper for that--so Bud walked over to the heap, his gun
ready for action--and that, too, could be trusted to perform
with what speed and precision was necessary. There would be
no hasty shooting, however; Buddy had learned to save his
bullets for real need when ammunition was not to be had for
the asking, and grown-up Bud had never outgrown the habit.
He picked up the fellow's six-shooter which he had dropped
when he fell, and stood sizing up the situation.
By the neckerchief drawn across his face it was a straight
case of holdup. Bud stooped and yanked off the mask and
looked into the glaring eyes of one whom he had never before
"Well, how d'yuh like it, far as you've got?" Bud asked
curiously. "Think you were holding up a pilgrim, or what?"
Just then, BING-GG sang a rifle bullet from the ridge above
the cave. Bud looked that way and spied a man standing half
revealed against the rosy clouds that were already dulling as
dusk crept up from the low ground. It was a long shot for a
six-shooter, but Buddy used to shoot antelope almost that
far, so Bud lifted his arm and straightened it, just as if he
were pointing a finger at the man, and fired. He had the
satisfaction of seeing the figure jerk backward and go off
over the ridge in a stooping kind of run.
"He'd better hurry back if he wants another shot at me," Bud
grinned. "It'll be so dark down here in a minute he couldn't
pick me up with his front sight if I was--as big a fool as
you are. How about it? I'll just lead you into camp, I
think--but you sure as hell couldn't get a job roping
gateposts, on the strength of this little exhibition."
He went over to Stopper and untied his own rope, giving an
approving pat to that business-like animal. "Hope your leg
isn't broken or anything," he said to the man when he
returned and passed the loop over the fellow's head and
shoulders, drawing it rather snugly around his body and
pinning his arms at the elbows. "It would be kind of
unpleasant if they happen to take a notion to make you walk
all the way to jail."
He beckoned Stopper, who immediately moved up, slackening the
rope. The thrown horse drew up his knees, gave a preliminary
heave and scrambled to his feet, Bud taking care that the man
was pulled free and safe. The fellow stood up sulkily
defiant, unable to rest much of his weight on his left leg.
Bud had ten busy minutes, and it was not until they were both
mounted and headed for Little Lost, the captive with his arms
tied behind him, his feet tied together under the horse,
which Bud led, that Bud had time to wonder what it was all
about. Then he began to look for Honey, who had disappeared.
But in the softened light of the rising moon mingling with
the afterglow of sunset, he saw the deep imprints of her
horse's hoofs where he had galloped homeward. Bud did not
think she ran away because she was frightened; she had seemed
too sure of herself for that. She had probably gone for help.
A swift suspicion that the attack might have been made from
jealousy died when Bud looked again at his prisoner. The man
was swarthy, low of brow--part Indian, by the look of him.
Honey would never give the fellow a second thought. So that
brought him to the supposition that robbery had been
intended, and the inference was made more logical when Bud
remembered that Marian had warned him against something of
the sort. Probably he and Honey had been followed into the
Sinks, and even though Bud had not seen this man at the
races, his partner up on the ridge might have been there. It
was all very simple, and Bud, having arrived at the obvious
conclusion, touched Stopper into a lope and arrived at Little
Lost just as Dave Truman and three of his men were riding
down into Sunk Creek ford on their way to the Sinks. They
pulled up, staring hard at Dave and his captive. Dave spoke
"Honey said you was waylaid and robbed or killed--both, we
took it, from her account. How'd yuh come to get the best of
it so quick?"
"Why, his horse got tangled up in the rope and fell down, and
fell on top of him," Bud explained cheerfully. "I was
bringing him in. He's a bad citizen, I should judge, but he
didn't do me any damage, as it turned out, so I don't know
what to do with him. I'll just turn him over to you, I
"Hell! I don't want him," Dave protested. I'll pass him along
to the sheriff--he may know something about him. Nelse and
Charlie, you take and run him in to Crater and turn him over
to Kline. You tell Kline what he done--or tried to do. Was he
"He had a partner up on the ridge, so far off I couldn't
swear to him if I saw him face to face. I took a shot at him,
and I think I nicked him. He ducked, and there weren't any
more rifle bullets coming my way."
"You nicked him with your six-shooter? And him so far off you
couldn't recognize him again?" Dave looked at Bud sharply.
"That's purty good shootin', strikes me."
"Well, he stood up against the sky-line, and he wasn't more
than seventy-five yards," Bud explained. "I've dropped
antelope that far, plenty of times. The light was bad, this
"Antelope," Dave repeated meditatively, and winked at his
men. "All right, Bud--we'll let it stand at antelope. Boys,
you hit for Crater with this fellow. You ought to make it
there and back by tomorrow noon, all right."
Nelse took the lead rope from Bud and the two started off up
the creek, meaning to strike the road from Little Lost to
Crater, the county seat beyond Gold Gap mountains. Bud rode
on to the ranch with his boss, and tried to answer Dave's
questions satisfactorily without relating his own prowess or
divulging too much of Stopper's skill; which was something of
a problem for his wits.
Honey ran out to meet him and had to be assured over and over
that he was not hurt, and that he had lost nothing but his
temper and the ride home with her in the moonlight. She was
plainly upset and anxious that he should not think her
cowardly, to leave him that way.
"I looked back and saw a man throwing his rope, and you--it
looked as if he had dragged you off the horse. I was sure I
saw you falling. So I ran my horse all the way home, to get
Uncle Dave and the boys," she told him tremulously. And then
she added, with her tantalizing half smile, "I believe that
horse of mine could beat Smoky or Skeeter, if I was scared
that bad at the beginning of a race."
Bud, in sheer gratitude for her anxiety over him, patted
Honey's hand and told her she must have broken the record,
all right, and that she had done exactly the right thing. And
Honey went to bed happy that night.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: EVEN MUSHROOMS HELP
Bud wanted to have a little confidential talk with Marian. He
hoped that she would be willing to tell him a great deal more
than could be written on one side of a cigarette paper, and
he was curious to hear what it was. On the other hand, he
wanted somehow to let her know that he was anxious to help
her in any way possible. She needed help, of that he was
Lew returned on Tuesday, with a vile temper and rheumatism in
his left shoulder so that he could not work, but stayed
around the house and too evidently made his wife miserable by
his presence. On Wednesday morning Marian had her hair
dressed so low over her ears that she resembled a lady of old
Colonial days--but she did not quite conceal from Bud's keen
eyes the ugly bruise on her temple. She was pale and her lips
were compressed as if she were afraid to relax lest she burst
out in tears or in a violent denunciation of some kind. Bud
dared not look at her, nor at Lew, who sat glowering at Bud's
right hand. He tried to eat, tried to swallow his coffee, and
finally gave up the attempt and left the table.
In getting up he touched Lew's shoulder with his elbow, and
Lew let out a bellow of pain and an oath, and leaned away
from him, his right hand up to ward off another hurt.
"Pardon me. I forgot your rheumatism," Bud apologized
perfunctorily, his face going red at the epithet. Marian,
coming toward him with a plate of biscuits, looked him full
in the eyes and turned her glance to her husband's back while
her lips curled in the bitterest, the most scornful smile Bud
had ever seen on a woman's face. She did not speak--speech
was impossible before that tableful of men--but Bud went out
feeling as though she had told him that her contempt for Lew
was beyond words, and that his rheumatism brought no pity
Wednesday passed, Thursday came, and still there was no
chance to speak a word in private. The kitchen drudge was
hedged about by open ears and curious eyes, and save at meal-
time she was invisible to the men unless they glimpsed her
for a moment in the kitchen door.
Thursday brought a thunder storm with plenty of rain, and in
the drizzle that held over until Friday noon Bud went out to
an old calf shed which he had discovered in the edge of the
pasture, and gathered his neckerchief full of mushrooms. Bud
hated mushrooms, but he carried them to the machine shed and
waited until he was sure that Honey was in the sitting room
playing the piano--and hitting what Bud called a blue note
now and then--and that Lew was in the bunk-house with the
other men, and Dave and old Pop were in Pop's shack. Then,
and then only, Bud took long steps to the kitchen door,
carrying his mushrooms as tenderly as though they were eggs
Marian was up to her dimpled elbows in bread dough when he
went in. Honey was still groping her way lumpily through the
Blue Danube Waltz, and Bud stood so that he could look out
through the white-curtained window over the kitchen table and
make sure that no one approached the house unseen.
"Here are some mushrooms," he said guardedly, lest his voice
should carry to Honey. "They're just an excuse. Far as I'm
concerned you can feed them to the hogs. I like things clean
and natural and wholesome, myself. I came to find out what's
the matter, Mrs. Morris. Is there anything I can do? I took
the hint you gave me in the note, Sunday, and I discovered
right away you knew what you were talking about. That was a
holdup down in the Sinks. It couldn't have been anything
else. But they wouldn't have got anything. I didn't have more
than a dollar in my pocket."
Marian turned her head, and listened to the piano, and
glanced up at him.
"I also like things clean and natural and wholesome," she
said quietly. "That's why I tried to put you on your guard.
You don't seem to fit in, somehow, with--the surroundings. I
happen to know that the races held here every Sunday are just
thinly veiled attempts to cheat the unwary out of every cent
they have. I should advise you, Mr. Birnie, to be very
careful how you bet on any horses."
"I shall," Bud smiled. "Pop gave me some good advice, too,
about running horses. He says, "It's every fellow for
himself, and mercy toward none. I'm playing by their rule,
and Pop expects to make a few dollars, too. He said he'd
stand by me."
"Oh! He did?" Marian's voice puzzled Bud. She kneaded the
bread vigorously for a minute. "Don't depend too much on Pop.
He's--variable. And don't go around with a dollar in your
pocket--unless you don't mind losing that dollar. There are
men in this country who would willingly dispense with the
formality of racing a horse in order to get your money."
"Yes--I've discovered one informal method already. I wish I
knew how I could help YOU."
"Help me--in what way?" Marian glanced out of the window
again as if that were a habit she had formed.
"I don't know. I wish I did. I thought perhaps you had some
trouble that--My mother had the same look in her eyes when we
came back to the ranch after some Indian trouble, and found
the house burned and everything destroyed but the ground
itself. She didn't say anything much. She just began helping
father plan how we'd manage until we could get material and
build another cabin, and make our supplies hold out. She
didn't complain. But her eyes had the same look I've seen in
yours, Mrs. Morris. So I feel as if I ought to help you, just
as I'd help mother." Bud's face had been red and embarrassed
when he began, but his earnestness served to erase his
"You're different--just like mother," he went on when Marian
did not answer. "You don't belong here drudging in this
kitchen. I never saw a woman doing a man's work before. They
ought to have a man cooking for all these hulking men."
"Oh, the kitchen!" Marian exclaimed impatiently. "I don't
mind the cooking. That's the least--"
"It isn't right, just the same. I--I don't suppose that's it
altogether. I'm not trying to find out what the trouble is--
but I wish you'd remember that I'm ready to do anything in
the world that I can. You won't misunderstand that, I'm
"No-o," said Marian slowly. "But you see, there's nothing
that you can do--except, perhaps, make things worse for me."
Then , to lighten that statement, she smiled at him. "Just
now you can help me very much if you will go in and play
something besides the Blue Danube Waltz. I've had to listen
to that ever since Honora sent away for the music with the
winter's grocery order, last October. Tell Honora you got her
some mushrooms. And don't trust anyone. If you must bet on
the horses, do so with your eyes open. They're cheats--and
worse, some of them."
Bud's glance followed hers through the window that overlooked
the corrals and the outbuildings. Lew was coming up to the
house with a slicker over his head to keep off the drizzle.
"Well, remember I'd do anything for you that I'd do for my
mother or my sister Dulcie. And I wish you'd call on me just
as they would, if you get in a pinch and need me. If I know
you'll do that I'll feel a lot better satisfied."
"If I need you be sure that I shall let you know. And I'll
say that "It's a comfort to have met one white man," Marian
assured him hurriedly, her anxious eyes on her approaching
She need not have worried over his coming, so far as Bud was
concerned. For Bud was in the sitting-room and had picked
Honey off the piano stool, had given her a playful shake and
was playing the Blue Danube as its composer intended that it
should be played, when Lew entered the kitchen and kicked the
door shut behind him.
Bud spent the forenoon conscientiously trying to teach Honey
that the rests are quite as important to the tempo of a waltz
measure as are the notes. Honey's talent for music did not
measure up to her talent for coquetry; she received about
five dollars' worth of instruction and no blandishments
whatever, and although she no doubt profited thereby, at last
she balked and put her lazy white hands over her ears and
refused to listen to Bud's inexorable "One, two, three, one,
two, three-and one, two, three." Whereupon Bud laughed and
returned to the bunk-house.
He arrived in the middle of a heated argument over Jeff
Hall's tactics in racing Skeeter, and immediately was called
upon for his private, personal opinion of Sunday's race.
Bud's private, personal opinion being exceedingly private and
personal, he threw out a skirmish line of banter.
Smoky could run circles around that Skeeter horse, he
boasted, and Jeff's manner of riding was absolutely
unimportant, non-essential and immaterial. He was mighty glad
that holdup man had fallen down, last Sunday, before he got
his hands on any money, because that money was going to talk
long and loud to Jeff Hall next Sunday. Now that Bud had
started running his horse for money, working for wages looked
foolish and unprofitable. He was now working merely for
healthful exercise and to pass the time away between Sundays.
His real mission in life, he had discovered, was to teach
Jeff's bunch that gambling is a sin.
The talk was carried enthusiastically to the dinner table,
where Bud ignored the scowling proximity of Lew and repeated
his boasts in a revised form as an indirect means of letting
Marian know that he meant to play the Burroback game in the
Burroback way--or as nearly as he could--and keep his honesty
more or less intact. He did not think she would approve, but
he wanted her to know.
Once, when Buddy was fifteen, four thoroughbred cows and four
calves disappeared mysteriously from the home ranch just
before the calves had reached branding age. Buddy rode the
hills and the valleys every spare minute for two weeks in
search of them, and finally, away over the ridge where an
undesirable neighbor was getting a start in cattle, Buddy
found the calves in a fenced field with eight calves
belonging--perhaps--to the undesirable neighbor.
Buddy did not ride down to the ranch and accuse the neighbor
of stealing the calves. Instead, he painstakingly sought a
weak place in the fence, made a very accidental looking hole
and drove out the twelve calves, took them over the ridge to
Tomahawk and left them in a high, mountain meadow pretty well
surrounded by matted thickets. There, because there was good
grass and running water, the calves seemed quite as happy as
in the field.
Then Buddy hurried home and brought a branding iron and a
fresh horse, and by working very hard and fast, he somehow
managed to plant a deep tomahawk brand on each one of the
twelve calves. He returned home very late and very proud of
himself, and met his father face to face as he was putting
away the iron. Explanations and a broken harness strap
mingled painfully in Buddy's memory for a long time
afterwards, but the full effect of the beating was lost
because Buddy happened to hear Bob Birnie confide to mother
that the lad had served the old cattle-thief right, and that
any man who could start with one thoroughbred cow and in four
years have sufficient increase from that cow to produce eight
calves a season, ought to lose them all.
Buddy had not needed his father's opinion to strengthen his
own conviction that he had performed a worthy deed and one of
which no man need feel ashamed. Indeed, Buddy considered the
painful incident of the buggy strap a parental effort at
official discipline, and held no particular grudge against
his father after the welts had disappeared from his person.
Wherefore Bud, the man, held unswervingly to the ethical
standard of Buddy the boy. If Burroback Valley was scheming
to fleece a stranger at their races and rob him by force if
he happened to win, then Bud felt justified in getting every
dollar possible out of the lot of them. At any rate, he told
himself, he would do his darndest. It was plain enough that
Pop was trying to make an opportunity to talk confidentially,
but with a dozen men on the place it was easy enough to avoid
being alone without arousing the old man's suspicions. Marian
had told him to trust no one; and Bud, with his usual
thoroughness, applied the warning literally.
Sunday morning he caught up Smoky and rode him to the corral.
Smoky had recovered from his lameness, and while Bud groomed
him for the afternoon's running the men of Little Lost
gathered round him and offered advice and encouragement, and
even volunteered to lend him money if he needed it. But Bud
told them to put up their own bets, and never to worry about
him. Their advice and their encouragement, however, he
accepted as cheerfully as they were given.
"Think yuh can beat Skeeter, young feller?" Pop shambled up
to inquire anxiously, his beard brushing Bud's shoulder while
he leaned close. "Remember what I told ye. You stick by me
an' I'll stick by you. You shook on it, don't forgit that,
Bud had forgotten, but he made haste to redeem his promise."
Last Sunday, Pop, I had to play it alone. To-day-well, if you
want to make an honest dollar, you know what to do, don't
"Sho! I'm bettin' on yore horse t'day, an' mind ye, I want to
see my money doubled! But that there lameness in his left
hind ankle--I don't see but what that kinda changes my
opinion a little mite. You shore he won't quit on ye in the
race, now? Don't lie to ole Pop, young feller!"
"Say! He 's the gamest little horse in the state, Pop. He
never has quit, and he never will." Bud stood up and laid a
friendly hand on the old fellow's shoulder. "Pop, I'm running
him to-day to win. That's the truth. I'm going to put all
I've got on him. Is that good enough?"
"Shucks almighty! That's good enough fer me,--plenty good fer
me," Pop cackled, and trotted off to find someone who had
little enough faith in Smoky to wager a two-to-one against
It seemed to Bud that the crowd was larger than that of a
week ago, and there was no doubt whatever that the betting
was more feverish, and that Jeff meant that day to retrieve
his losses. Bud passed up a very good chance to win on other
races, and centred all his betting on Smoky. He had been
throughout the week boastful and full of confidence, and now
he swaggered and lifted his voice in arrogant challenge to
all and sundry. His three hundred dollars was on the race,
and incidentally, he never left Smoky from the time he led
him up from pasture until the time came when he and Jeff Hall
rode side by side down to the quarter post.
They came up in a small whirlwind of speed and dust, and
Smoky was under the wire to his ears when Skeeter's nose
showed beyond it. Little Lost was jubilant. Jeff Hall and his
backers were not.
Bud's three hundred dollars had in less than a minute
increased to a little over nine hundred, though all his bets
had been moderate. By the time he had collected, his pockets
were full and his cocksureness had increased to such an
unbearable crowing that Jeff Hall's eyes were venomous as a
snake's. Jeff had been running to win, that day, and he had
taken odds on Skeeter that had seemed to him perfectly safe.
"I'll run yuh horse for horse!" he bellowed and spat out an
epithet that sent Bud at him white-lipped.
"Damn yuh, ride down to the quarter post and I'll show you
some running!" Bud yelled back. "And after you've swallowed
dust all the way up the track, you go with me to where the
women can't see and I'll lick the living tar outa you!"
Jeff swore and wheeled Skeeter toward the starting post,
beckoning Bud to follow. And Bud, hastily tucking in a
flapping bulge of striped shirt, went after him. At that
moment he was not Bud, but Buddy in one of his fighting
moods, with his plans forgotten while he avenged an insult.
Men lined up at the wire to judge for themselves the finish,
and Dave Truman rode alone to start them. No one doubted but
that the start would be fair--Jeff and Bud would see to that!
For the first time in months the rein-ends stung Smoky's
flanks when he was in his third jump. Just once Bud struck,
and was ashamed of the blow as it fell. Smoky did not need
that urge, but he flattened his ears and came down the track
a full length ahead of Skeeter, and held the pace to the wire
and beyond, where he stopped in a swirl of sand and went
prancing back, ready for another race if they asked it of
"Guess Dave'll have to bring out Boise and take the swellin'
outa that singin' kid's pocket," a hardfaced man shouted as
Jeff slid off Skeeter and went over to where his cronies
stood bunched and conferring earnestly together
"Not to-day, he needn't. I've had all the excitement I want;
and I'd like to have time to count my money before I lose
it," Bud retorted. "Next Sunday, if it's a clear day and the
sign is right, I might run against Boise if it's worth my
while. Say, Jeff, seeing you're playing hard luck, I won't
lick you for what you called me. And just to show my heart's
right, I'll lend you Skeeter to ride home. Or if you want to
buy him back, you can have him for sixty dollars or such a
matter. He 's a nice little horse,--if you aren't in a
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: WHY BUD MISSED A DANCE
"Bud, you're fourteen kinds of a damn fool and I can prove
it," Jerry announced without prelude of any kind save,
perhaps, the viciousness with which he thrust a pitchfork
into a cock of hay. The two were turning over hay-cocks that
had been drenched with another unwelcome storm, and they had
not been talking much. "Forking" soggy hay when the sun is
blistering hot and great, long-billed mosquitoes are boring
indefatigably into the back of one's neck is not a pastime
conducive to polite and animated conversation.
"Fly at it," Bud invited, resting his fork while he scratched
a smarting shoulder. "But you can skip some of the evidence.
I know seven of the kinds, and I plead guilty. Any able-
bodied man who will deliberately make a barbecue of himself
for a gang of blood-thirsty insects ought to be hanged.
What's the rest?"
"You can call that mild," Jerry stated severely. "Bud,
you're playing to lose the shirt off your back. You've got a
hundred dollar forfeit up on next Sunday's running match, so
you'll run if you have to race Boise afoot. That's all right
if you want the risk--but did it ever occur to you that if
all the coin in the neighborhood is collected in one man's
pocket, there'll be about as many fellows as there are
losers, that will lay awake till sun-up figuring how to heel
him and ride off with the roll? I ain't over-stocked with
courage, myself. I'd rather be broke in Burroback Valley than
owner of wealth. It's healthier,"
He thrust his fork into another settled heap, lifted it clear
of the ground with one heave of his muscular shoulders, and
heard within a strident buzzing. He held the hay poised until
a mottled gray snake writhed into view, its ugly jaws open
and its fangs showing malevolently.
"Grab him with your fork, Bud," Jerry said coolly. "A
rattler--the valley's full of 'em,--some of 'em 's human."
The snake was dispatched and the two went on to the next hay-
cock. Bud was turning over more than the hay, and presently
he spoke more seriously than was his habit with Jerry.
"You're full enough of warnings, Jerry. What do you want me
to do about it?"
"Drift," Jerry advised. "There's moral diseases just as
catching as smallpox. This part of the country has been
settled up by men that came here first because they wanted to
hide out. They've slipped into darn crooked ways, and the
rest has either followed suit or quit. All through this rough
country "It's the same-over in the Black Rim, across Thunder
Mountains, and beyond that to the Sawtooth, a man that's
honest is a man that's off his range. I'd like to see you
pull out--before you're planted."
Bud looked at Jerry, studied him, feature by feature. "Then
what are you doing here?" he demanded bluntly. "Why haven't
you pulled out?"
"Me?" Jerry bit his lip. "Bud, I'm going to take a chance
and tell you the God's-truth. I dassent. I'm protected here
because I keep my mouth shut, and because they know I've got
to or they can hand me over. I had some trouble. I'm on the
dodge, and Little Lost is right handy to the Sinks and--
Catrock Canyon. There ain't a sheriff in Idaho that would
have one chance in a thousand of getting me here. But you--
say!" He faced Bud. "You ain't on the dodge, too, are yuh?"
"Nope," Bud grinned. "Over at the Muleshoe they seemed to
think I was. I just struck out for myself, and I want to show
up at home some day with a stake I made myself. "It's just a
little argument with my dad that I want to settle. And," he
added frankly, "I seem to have struck the right place to make
money quickly. The very fact that they're a bunch of crooks
makes my conscience clear on the point of running my horse.
I'm not cheating them out of a cent. If Jeff's horse is
faster than Smoky, Jeff is privileged to let him out and win
if he can. It isn't my fault if he 's playing to let me win
from the whole bunch in the hope that he can hold me up
afterwards and get the roll "It's straight 'give and take'--
and so far I've been taking."
Jerry worked for a while, moodily silent. "What I'd like is
to see you take the trail; while the takin's good," he said
later. "I've got to keep my mouth shut. But I like yuh, Bud.
I hate like hell to see you walking straight into a trap."
"Say, I'm as easily trapped as a mountain lion," Bud told him
Whereat Jerry looked at him pityingly. "You going to that
dance up at Morgan's?"
"Sure! I'm going to take Honey and--I think Mrs. Morris if
she decides to go. Honey mentioned it last night. Why?"
"Oh, nothing." Jerry shouldered his fork and went off to
where a jug of water was buried in the hay beside a certain
boulder which marked the spot. He drank long, stopped for a
short gossip with Charley, who strolled over for a drink, and
went to work on another row.
Bud watched him, and wondered if Jerry had changed rows to
avoid further talk with him; and whether Jerry had merely
been trying to get information from him, and had either
learned what he wanted to know, or had given up the attempt.
Bud reviewed mentally their desultory conversation and
decided that he had accidentally been very discreet. The only
real bit of information he had given Jerry was the fact that
he was not "on the dodge"--a criminal in fear of the law--and
that surely could harm no man.
That he intended to run against Boise on Sunday was common
knowledge; also that he had a hundred dollar forfeit up on
the race. And that he was going to a dance with Honey was of
no consequence that he could see.
Bud was beginning to discount the vague warnings he had
received. Unless something definite came within his knowledge
he would go about his business exactly as if Burroback Valley
were a church-going community. He would not "drift."
But after all he did not go to the dance with Honey, or with
anyone. He came to the supper-table freshly shaved and
dressed for the occasion, ate hungrily and straightway became
a very sick young man. He did not care if there were forty
dances in the Valley that night. His head was splitting, his
stomach was in a turmoil. He told Jerry to go ahead with
Honey, and if he felt better after a while he would follow.
Jerry at first was inclined to scepticism, and accused Bud of
crawfishing at the last minute. But within ten minutes Bud
had convinced him so completely that Jerry insisted upon
staying with him. By then Bud was too sick to care what was
being done, or who did it. So Jerry stayed.
Honey came to the bunk-house in her dance finery, was met in
the doorway by Jerry and was told that this was no place for
a lady, and reluctantly consented to go without her escort.
A light shone dimly in the kitchen after the dancers had
departed, wherefore Jerry guessed that Marian had not gone
with the others, and that he could perhaps get hold of
mustard for an emetic or a plaster--Jerry was not sure which
remedy would be best, and the patient, wanting to die, would
not be finicky. He found Marian measuring something drop by
drop into half a glass of water. She turned, saw who had
entered, and carefully counted three more drops, corked the
bottle tightly and slid it into her apron pocket, and held
out the glass to Jerry.
"Give him this," she said in a soft undertone. "I'm sorry,
but I hadn't a chance to say a word to the boy, and so I
couldn't think of any other way of making sure he would not
go up to Morgan's. I put something into his coffee to make
him sick. You may tell him, Jerry, if you like. I should, if
I had the chance. This will counteract the effects of the
other so that he will be all right in a couple of hours."
Jerry took the glass and stood looking at her steadily. "That
sure was one way to do it," he observed, with a quirk of the
lips. "It's none of my business, and I ain't asking any
"Very sensible, I'm sure," Marian interrupted him. "I wish
he'd leave the country. Can't you--?"
"No. I told him to pull out, and he just laughed at me. I
knowed they was figuring on ganging together to-night--"
Marian closed her hands together with a gesture of
impatience. "Jerry, I wish I knew just how bad you are!" she
exclaimed. "Do you dare stand by him? Because this thing is
only beginning. I couldn't bear to see him go up there to-
night, absolutely unsuspecting--and so I made him sick. Tell
that to anyone, and you can make me--"
"Say, I ain't a damned skunk!" Jerry muttered. "I'm bad
enough, maybe. At any rate you think so." Then, as usually
happened, Jerry decided to hold his tongue. He turned and
lifted the latch of the screen door. "You sure made a good
job of it," he grinned. "I'll go an' pour this into Bud 'fore
he loses his boots!"
He did so, and saved Bud's boots and half a night's sleep
besides. Moreover, when Bud, fully recovered, searched his
memory of that supper and decided that it was the sliced
cucumbers that had disagreed with him, Jerry gravely assured
him that it undoubtedly was the combination of cucumber and
custard pie, and that Bud was lucky to be alive after such
Having missed the dance altogether, Bud looked forward with
impatience to Sunday. It is quite possible that others shared
with him that impatience, though we are going to adhere for a
while to Bud's point of view and do no more than guess at the
thoughts hidden behind the fair words of certain men in the
Pop's state of mind we are privileged to know, for Pop was
seen making daily pilgrimage to the pasture where he could
watch Smoky limping desultorily here and there with Stopper
and Sunfish. On Saturday afternoon Bud saw Pop trying to get
his hands on Smoky, presumably to examine the lame ankle. But
three legs were all Smoky needed to keep him out of Pop's
reach. Pop forgot his rheumatism and ran pretty fast for a
man his age, and when Bud arrived Pop's vocabulary had
limbered up to a more surprising activity than his legs.
"Want to bet on yourself, Pop?" Bud called out when Pop was
running back and forth, hopefully trying to corner Smoky in a
rocky draw. "I'm willing to risk a dollar on you, anyway."
Pop whirled upon him and hurled sentences not written in the
book of Parlor Entertainment. The gist of it was that he had
been trying all the week to have a talk with Bud, and Bud had
plainly avoided him after promising to act upon Pop's advice
and run so as to make some money.
"Well, I made some," Bud defended. "If you didn't, it's
just because you didn't bet strong enough."
"I want to look at that horse's hind foot," Pop insisted.
"No use. He's too lame to run against Boise. You can see that
Pop eyed Bud suspiciously, pulling his beard. "Are you fixin'
to double-cross me, young feller?" he wanted to know. "I
went and made some purty big bets on this race. If you think
yo're goin' to fool ole Pop, you 'll wish you hadn't. You
got enemies already in this valley, lemme tell yuh. The
Muleshoe ain't any bunch to fool with, and I'm willing to say
't they're laying fer yuh. They think," he added shrewdly,
"'t you're a spotter, or something. Air yuh?"
"Of course I am, Pop! I've spotted a way to make money and
have fun while I do it." Bud looked at the old man,
remembered Marian's declaration that Pop was not very
reliable, and groped mentally for a way to hearten the old
man without revealing anything better kept to himself, such
as the immediate effect of a horse hair tied just above a
horse's hoof, also the immediate result of removing that
hair. Wherefore, he could not think of much to say, except
that he would not attempt to run a lame horse against Boise.
"All I can say is, to-morrow morning you keep your eyes open,
Pop, and your tongue between your teeth. And no matter what
comes up, you use your own judgment."
To-morrow morning Pop showed that he was taking Bud's advice.
When the crowd began to gather--much earlier than usual, by
the way, and much larger than any crowd Bud had seen in the
valley--Pop was trotting here and there, listening and
pulling his whiskers and eyeing Bud sharply whenever that
young man appeared in his vicinity.
Bud led Smoky up at noon--and Smoky was still lame. Dave
looked at him and at Bud, and grinned. "I guess that forfeit
money's mine," he said in his laconic way. "No use running
that horse. I could beat him afoot."
This was but the beginning. Others began to banter and jeer
Bud, Jeff's crowd taunting him with malicious glee. The
singin' kid was going to have some of the swelling taken out
of his head, they chortled. He had been crazy enough to put
up a forfeit on to-day's race, and now his horse had just
three legs to run on.
"Git out afoot, kid!" Jeff Hall yelled. "If you kin run half
as fast as you kin talk, you'll beat Boise four lengths in
the first quarter!"
Bud retorted in kind, and led Smoky around the corral as if
he hoped that the horse would recover miraculously just to
save his master's pride. The crowd hooted to see how Smoky
hobbled along, barely touching the toe of his lame foot to
the ground. Bud led him back to the manger piled with new
hay, and faced the jeering crowd belligerently. Bud noticed
several of the Muleshoe men in the crowd, no doubt drawn to
Little Lost by the talk of Bud's spectacular winnings for two
Sundays. Hen was there, and Day Masters and Cub. Also there
were strangers who had ridden a long way, judging by their
sweaty horses. In the midst of the talk and laughter Dave led
out Boise freshly curried and brushed and arching his neck
"No use, Bud," he said tolerantly. "I guess you're set back
that forfeit money--unless you want to go through the motions
of running a lame horse."
"No, sir, I'm not going to hand over any forfeit money
without making a fight for it!" Bud told him, anger showing
in his voice. "I'm no such piker as that. I won't run Smoky,
lame as he is "--Bud probably nudged his own ribs when he
said that!--"but if you'll make it a mile, I'll catch up my
old buckskin packhorse and run the race with him, by thunder!
He's not the quickest horse in the world, but he sure can run
a long while!"
They yelled and slapped one another on the back, and
otherwise comported themselves as though a great joke had
been told them; never dreaming, poor fools, that a costly
joke was being perpetrated.
"Go it, kid. You run your packhorse, and I'll rive yuh five
to one on him!" a friend of Jeff Hall's yelled derisively.
"I'll just take you up on that, and I'll make it one hundred
dollars," Bud shouted back. "I'd run a turtle for a quarter,
at those odds!"
The crowd was having hysterics when Bud straddled a Little
Lost horse and, loudly declaring that he would bring back
Sunfish, led Smoky limping back to he pasture. He returned
soon, leading the buckskin. The crowd surged closer, gave
Sunfish a glance and whooped again. Bud's face was red with
apparent anger, his eyes snapped. He faced them defiantly,
his hand on Sunfish's thin, straggling mane.
"You're such good sports, you'll surely appreciate my
feelings when I say that this horse is mine, and I'm going to
run him and back him to win!" he cried. "I may be a darn
fool, but I'm no piker. I know what this horse can do when I
try to catch him up on a frosty morning--and I'm going to see
if he can't go just as fast and just as long when I'm on him
as he can when I'm after him."
"We'll go yuh, kid! I'll bet yuh five to one," a man
shouted. "You name the amount yourself."
"Fifty," said Bud, and the man nodded and jotted down the
"Bud, you're a damn fool. I'll bet you a hundred and make it
ten to one," drawled Dave, stroking Boise's face
affectionately while he looked superciliously at Sunfish
standing half asleep in the clamor, with his head sagging at
the end of his long, ewe neck. "But if you'll take my advice,
go turn that fool horse back in the pasture and run the bay
if you must run something."
"The bay's a rope horse. I don't want to spoil him by running
him. That little horse saved my life, down in the Sinks. No,
Sunfish has run times enough from me--now he 's got to run
for me, by thunder. I'll bet on him, too!"
Jeff pushed his way through to Bud. He was smiling with that
crafty look in his eyes which should have warned a child that
the smile went no deeper than his lips.
"Bud, doggone it, I like yore nerve. Besides, you owe me
something for the way you trimmed me last Sunday. I'll just
give you fifteen to one, and you put up Skeeter at seventy-
five, and as much money as yo're a mind to. A pile of it come
out of my pocket, so-"
"Well, don't holler your head off, Jeff. How's two hundred?"
"Suits me, kid." He winked at the others, who knew how sure a
thing he had to back his wager. "It 'll be a lot of money if
I should lose--" He turned suddenly to Dave. "How much was
that you put up agin the kid, Dave?"
"One hundred dollars, and a ten-to-one shot I win," Dave
drawled. "That ought to satisfy yuh it ain't a frame-up. The
kid's crazy, that's all."
"Oh! Am I?" Bud turned hotly."Well, I've bet half of all the
money I have in the world. And I'm game for the other half--"
He stopped abruptly, cast one look at Sunfish and another at
Boise, stepping about uneasily, his shiny coat rippling,
beautiful. He turned and combed Sunfish's scanty mane with
his gloved fingers. Those nearest saw that his lips were
trembling a little and mistook his hidden emotion for anger.
"You got him going," a man whispered in Jeff's ear."The kid's
crazy mad. He'll bet the shirt off his back if yuh egg him on
a little more."
Jeff must have decided to "egg" Bud on. By the time the crowd
had reached the course, and the first, more commonplace races
were over, the other half of his money was in the hands of
the stake-holder, who happened on this day to be Jerry. And
the odds varied from four to one up to Jeff Hall's scornful
"Bet yuh five hundred dollars against your bay horse,"Lew
offered when Bud confessed that he had not another dollar to
"All right, it's a go with me," Bud answered recklessly.
"Get his hundred, Jerry, and put down Stopper."
"What's that saddle worth?" another asked meaningly.
"One hundred dollars," snapped Bud. "And if you want to go
further, there are my chaps and spurs and this silver-mounted
bridle-and my boots and hat-and I'll throw in Sunfish for
whatever you say his hide's worth. Who wants the outfit?"
"I'll take 'em," said Jeff, and permitted Jerry and Dave to
appraise the outfit, which Bud piled contemptuously in a
He mounted Sunfish bareback with a rope halter. Bud was
bareheaded and in his sock feet. His eyes were terribly blue
and bright, and his face was flushed as a drunken man's. He
glanced over to the bank where the women and children were
watching. It seemed to him that one woman fluttered her
handkerchief, and his heart beat unevenly for a minute.
Then he was riding at a walk down the course to the farthest
post, and the crowd was laughing at the contrast between the
two horses. Boise stepped springily, tossing his head, his
eyes ablaze with ardor for the race. Beside him Sunfish
walked steadily as if he were carrying a pack. He was not a
pretty horse to look at. His neck was long and thin, his mane
and tail scanty and uneven, a nondescript sorrel. His head
looked large, set on the end of that neck, his nose was
dished in and his eyes had a certain veiled look, as if he
were hiding a bad disposition under those droopy lids.
Without a saddle he betrayed his high, thin withers, the sway
in his back, his high hip bones. His front legs were flat,
with long, stringy-looking muscles under his unkempt buckskin
hide. Even the women laughed at Sunfish.
Beside them two men rode, the starter and another to see that
the start was fair. So they receded down the flat, yellow
course and dwindled to mere miniature figures against the
sand, so that one could not tell one horse from another.
The crowd bunched, still laughing at how the singin' kid was
going to feel when he rode again to meet them. It would cure
him of racing, they said. It would be a good lesson; serve
him right for coming in there and thinking, because he had
cleaned up once or twice, that he could not be beaten.
"Here they come," Jeff Hall announced satisfiedly, and spat
into the sand as a tiny blue puff of smoke showed beside one
of the dots, and two other dots began to grow perceptibly
larger within a yellow cloud which rolled along the earth.
Men reined this way and that, or stood on their toes if they
were afoot, the better to see the two rolling dots. In a
moment one dot seemed larger than the other. One could
glimpse the upflinging of knees as two horses leaped closer
"Well-l-he's keepin' Dave in sight--that's more than what I
expected he'd do," Jeff observed.
It was Pop who suddenly gave a whoop that cracked and
shrilled into falsetto.
"Shucks a'mighty! Dave, he's a-whippin' up to keep the KID in
sight!" he quavered. "Shucks--a'MIGHTY, he 's a-comin'!"
He was. Lying forward flattened along Sunfish's hard-muscled
shoulders, Bud was gaining and gaining--one length, then two
lengths as he shot under the wire, slowed and rode back to
find a silent crowd watching him.
He was clothed safely again in chaps, boots, spurs, hat--
except that I have named the articles backward; cowpuncher
that he was, Bud put on his hat before he even reached for
his boots--and was collecting his wagers relentlessly as
Shylock ever took his toll, before he paid any attention to
the atmosphere around him. Then, because someone shouted a
question three inches from his ear, Bud turned and laughed as
he faced them.
"Why, sure he's from running stock! I never said he wasn't--
because none of you make-believe horsemen had sense enough to
see the speed in him and get curious. You bush-racers never
saw a real race-horse before, I guess. They aren't always
pretty to look at, you know. Sunfish has all the earmarks of
speed if you know how to look for them. He's thoroughbred;
sired by Trump, out of Kansas Chippy--if that means anything
to you fellows." He looked them over, eyes meeting eyes until
his glance rested on Jeff Hall."I've got his registration
papers in my grip, if you aren't convinced. And," he added by
way of rubbing it in, "I guess I've got about all the money
there is in this valley."
"No, you ain't!" Pop Truman cackled, teetering backward and
forward while he counted his winnings. "I bet on ye, young
feller. Brought me in something, too. It did so!"
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: WHILE THE GOING'S GOOD
At supper Bud noticed that Marian, standing at his right
side, set down his cup of coffee with her right hand, and at
the same instant he felt her left hand fumble in his pocket
and then touch his elbow. She went on, and Bud in his haste
to get outside drank his coffee so hot that it scalded his
mouth. Jerry rose up and stepped backward over the bench as
Bud passed him, and went out at his heels.
"Go play the piano for half an hour and then meet me where
you got them mushrooms. And when you quit playing, duck
quick. Tell Honey you'll be back in a minute. Have her hunt
for music for yuh while you're out--or something like that.
Don't let on."
Bud might have questioned Jerry, but that cautious young man
was already turning back to call something--to Dave, so Bud
went around the corner, glancing into the pantry window as he
passed. Marian was not in sight, nor was Honey at the moment
when he stood beside the step of the post-office.
Boldness carries its own talisman against danger. Bud went
in--without slamming the door behind him, you may be sure--
and drew his small notebook from his inside pocket. With that
to consult frequently, he sat down by the window where the
failing light was strongest, and proceeded to jot down
imaginary figures on the paper he pulled from his coat pocket
and unfolded as if it were of no value whatever to him. The
piano playing ordered by Jerry could wait.
What Marian had to say on this occasion could not be written
upon a cigarette paper. In effect her note was a preface to
Jerry's commands. Bud saw where she had written words and
erased them so thoroughly that the cheap paper was almost
worn through. She had been afraid, poor lady, but her fear
could not prevent the writing.
"You must leave to-night for Crater and cash the checks given
you to pay the bets. Go to Crater. If you don't know the way,
keep due north after you have crossed Gold Gap. There's the
stage road, but they'll watch that, I'm afraid. They mean to
stop payment on the checks. But first they will kill you if
they can. They say you cheated with that thoroughbred horse.
They took their losses so calmly--I knew that they meant to
rob you. To show you how I know, it was Lew you shot on the
ridge that night. His rheumatism was caused by your bullet
that nicked his shoulder. So you see what sort we are--go.
Don't wait--go now."
Bud looked up, and there was Honey leaning over the counter,
smiling at him.
"Well, how much is it?" she teased when she saw he had
Bud drew a line across the note and added imaginary columns
of figures, his hat-brim hiding his face.
"Over eleven thousand dollars," he announced, and twisted the
paper in his fingers while he went over to her. "Almost
enough to start housekeeping!"
Honey blushed and leaned to look for something which she
pretended to have dropped and Bud seized the opportunity to
tuck the paper out of sight. "I feel pretty much intoxicated
to-night, Honey," he said. "I think I need soothing, or
something--and you know what music does to the savage breast.
Let 's play."
"All right. You've been staying away lately till I thought
you were mad," Honey assented rather eagerly, and opened the
little gate in the half partition just as Bud was vaulting
the counter, which gave her a great laugh and a chance for
playful scuffling. Bud kissed her and immediately regretted
Jerry had told him to play the piano, but Bud took his
mandolin and played that while Honey thumped out chords for
him. As he had half expected, most of the men strayed in and
perched here and there listening just as if there had not
been a most unusual horserace to discuss before they slept.
Indeed, Bud had never seen the Little Lost boys so
thoughtful, and this silence struck him all at once as
something sinister, like a beast of prey stalking its kill.
Two waltzes he played--and then, in the middle of a favorite
two-step, a mandolin string snapped with a sharp twang, and
Bud came as close to swearing as a well-behaved young man may
come in the presence of a lady.
"Now I'll have to go get a new E string," he complained. "You
play the Danube for the boys--the way I taught you--while I
get this fixed. I've an extra string down in the bunk-house;
it won't take five minutes to get it." He laid the mandolin
down on his chair, bolted out through the screen door which
he slammed after him to let Jerry know that he was coming,
and walked halfway to the bunk-house before he veered off
around the corner of the machine shed and ran.
Jerry was waiting by the old shed, and without a word he led
Bud behind it where Sunfish was standing saddled and bridled.
"You got to go, Bud, while the going's good. "I'd go with yuh
if I dared," Jerry mumbled guardedly. "You hit for Crater,
Bud, and put that money in the bank. You can cut into the
stage road where it crosses Oldman Creek, if you go straight
up the race track to the far end, and follow the trail from
there. You can't miss it--there ain't but one way to go. I
got yuh this horse because he's worth more'n what the other
two are, and he's faster. And Bud, if anybody rides up on
yuh, shoot. Don't monkey around about it. And you RIDE!"
"All right," Bud muttered. "But I'll have to go down in the
pasture and get my money, first. I've got my own private bank
down there, and I haven't enough in my pockets to play penny
ante more than one round."
"Hell!" Jerry's hand lifted to Bud's shoulder and gripped it
for a minute. "That's right on the road to the Sinks, man!"
He stood biting his lips, thinking deeply, turning his head
now and then as little sounds came from the house: the waltz
Honey was playing, the post-office door slamming shut.
"You tell me where that money's cached, Bud, and I'll go
after it. I guess you'll have to trust me--I sure wouldn't
let yuh go down to the pasture yourself right now. Where is
"Look under that flat rock right by the gate post, where the
top bars hit the ground. "It's wrapped up in a handkerchief,
so just bring the package. "It's been easy to tuck things
under the rock when I was putting up the bars. I'll wait
"Good enough--I'd sure have felt easier if I'd known you
wasn't carrying all that money." Whereupon Jerry disappeared,
and his going made no sound.
Bud stood beside Sunfish, wondering if he had been a fool to
trust Jerry. By his own admission Jerry was living without
the law, and this might easily be a smooth scheme of robbery.
He turned and strained his eyes into the dusk, listening,
trying to hear some sound that would show which way Jerry had
gone. He was on the point of following him--suspicion getting
the better of his faith--when Sunfish moved his head abruptly
to one side, bumping Bud's head with his cheek. At the same
instant a hand touched Bud's arm.
"I saw you from the kitchen window," Marian whispered
tensely. "I was afraid you hadn't read my note, or perhaps
wouldn't pay any attention to it. I heard you and Jerry--of
course he won't dare go with you and show you the short-cut,
even if he knows it. There's a quicker way than up the creek-
bed. I have Boise out in the bushes, and a saddle. I was
afraid to wait at the barn long enough to saddle him. You
go--he's behind that great pile of rocks, back of the
corrals. I'll wait for Jerry." She gave him a push, and Bud
was so astonished that he made no reply whatever, but did
exactly as she had told him to do.
Boise was standing behind the peaked outcropping of rock, and
beside him was a stock-saddle which must have taxed Marian's
strength to carry. Indeed, Bud thought she must have had
wings, to do so much in so short a space of time; though when
he came to estimate that time he decided that he must have
been away from the house ten minutes, at least. If Marian
followed him closely enough to see him duck behind the
machine shed and meet Jerry, she could run behind the corral
and get Boise out by way of the back door of the stable.
There was a path, screened from the corral by a fringe of
brush, which went that way. The truth flashed upon him that
one could ride unseen all around Little Lost.
He was just dropping the stirrup down from the saddle horn
when Marian appeared with Jerry and Sunfish close behind her.
Jerry held out the package.
"She says she'll show you a short cut," he whispered. "She
says I don't know anything about it. I guess she's right--
there's a lot I don't know. Lew 's gone, and she says she'll
be back before daylight. If they miss Boise they'll think you
stole him. But they won't look. Dave wouldn't slam around in
the night on Boise--he thinks too much of him. Well--beat it,
and I sure wish yuh luck. You be careful, Marian. Come back
this way, and if you see a man's handkerchief hanging on this
bush right here where I'm standing, it'll mean you've been
"Thank you, Jerry," Marian whispered."I'll look for it. Come,
Bud--keep close behind me, and don't make any noise."
Bud would have protested, but Marian did not give him a
chance. She took up the reins, grasped the saddle horn, stuck
her slipper toe in the stirrup and mounted Boise as quickly
as Bud could have done it--as easily, too, making allowance
for the difference in their height. Bud mounted Sunfish and
followed her down the trail which led to the race track; but
when they had gone through the brush and could see starlight
beyond, she turned sharply to the left, let Boise pick his
way carefully over a rocky stretch and plunged into the brush
again, leaning low in the saddle so that the higher branches
would not claw at her hair and face.
When they had once more come into open ground with a shoulder
of Catrock Peak before them, Marian pulled up long enough to
untie her apron and bind it over her hair like a peasant
woman. She glanced back at Bud, and although darkness hid the
expression on her face, he saw her eyes shining in the
starlight. She raised her hand and beckoned, and Bud reined
Sunfish close alongside.
"We're going into a spooky place now," she leaned toward him
to whisper. "Boise knows the way, and your horse will
"All right," Bud whispered back. "But you'd better tell me
the way and let me go on alone. I'm pretty good at scouting
out new trails. I don't want you to get in trouble--"
She would not listen to more of that, but pushed him back
with the flat of her bare hand and rode ahead of him again.
Straight at the sheer bluff, that lifted its huge, rocky
shape before them, she led the way. So far as Bud could see
she was not following any trail; but was aiming at a certain
point and was sure enough of the ground to avoid detours.
They came out upon the bank of the dry river-bed. Bud knew it
by the flatness of the foreground and the general contour of
the mountains beyond. But immediately they turned at a sharp
angle, travelled for a few minutes with the river-bed at
their backs, and entered a narrow slit in the mountains where
two peaks had been rent asunder in some titanic upheaval when
the world was young. The horses scrambled along the rocky
bottom for a little way, then Boise disappeared.
Sunfish halted, threw his head this way and that, gave a
suspicious sniff and turned carefully around the corner of a
square-faced boulder. In front was blackness. Bud urged him a
little with rein and soft pressure of the spurs, and Sunfish
stepped forward. He seemed reassured to find firm, smooth
sand under his feet, and hurried a little until Boise was
just ahead clicking his feet now and then against a rock.
"Coming?" Marian's voice sounded subdued, muffled by the
close walls of the tunnel-like crevice.
"Coming," Bud assured her quietly "At your heels."
"I always used to feel spooky when I was riding through
here," Marian said, dropping back so that they rode side by
side, stirrups touching. "I was ten when I first made the
trip. It was to get away from Indians. They wouldn't come
into these places. Eddie and I found the way through. We were
afraid they were after us, and so we kept going, and our
horses brought us out. Eddie--is my brother."
"You grew up here?" Bud did not know how much incredulity was
in his voice. "I was raised amongst the Indians in Wyoming. I
thought you were from the East."
"I was in Chicago for three years," Marian explained. "I
studied every waking minute, I think. I wanted to be a
singer. Then--I came home to help bury mother. Father--Lew
and father were partners, and I--married Lew. I didn't know--
it seemed as though I must. Father put it that way. The old
story, Bud. I used to laugh at it in novels, but it does
happen. Lew had a hold over father and Eddie, and he wanted
me. I married him, but it did no good, for father was killed
just a little more than a month afterwards. We had a ranch,
up here in the Redwater Valley, about halfway to Crater. But
it went--Lew gambled and drank and--so he took me to Little
Lost. I've been there for two years."
The words of pity--and more--that crowded forward for
utterance, Bud knew he must not speak. So he said nothing at
"Lew has always held Eddie over my head," she went on pouring
out her troubles to him. "There's a gang, called the Catrock
Gang, and Lew is one of them. I told you Lew is the man you
shot. I think Dave Truman is in with them--at any rate he
shuts his eyes to whatever goes on, and gets part of the
stealings, I feel sure. That's why Lew is such a favorite.
You see, Eddie is one--I'm trusting you with my life, almost,
when I tell you this.
"But I couldn't stand by and not lift a hand to save you. I
knew they would kill you. They'd have to, because I felt that
you would fight and never give up. And you are too fine a man
for those beasts to murder for the money you have. I knew,
the minute I saw Jeff paying you his losings with a check,
and some of the others doing the same, just what would
happen. Jeff is almost as bad as the Catrockers, except that
he is too cowardly to come out into the open. He gave you a
check; and everyone who was there knew he would hurry up to
Crater and stop payment on it, if he could do it and keep out
of your sight. Those cronies of his would do the same--so
they paid with checks.
"And the Catrock gang knew that. They mean to get hold of
you, rob and-and-kill you, and forge the endorsement on the
checks and let one man cash them in Crater before payment can
be stopped. Indeed, the gang will see to it that Jeff stays
away from Crater. Lew hinted that while they were about it
they might as well clean out the bank. It wouldn't be the
first time," she added bitterly.
She stopped then and asked for a match, and when Bud gave her
one she lighted a candle and held it up so that she could
examine the walls. "It's a natural tunnel," she volunteered
in a different tone. "Somewhere along here there is a branch
that goes back into the hill and ends in a blow-hole. But
we're all right so far."
She blew out the candle and urged Boise forward, edging over
to the right.
"Wasn't that taking quite a chance, making a light?" Bud
asked as they went on.
"It was, but not so great a chance as missing the way. Jerry
didn't hear anything of them when he went to the pasture
gate, and they may not come through this way at all. They may
not realize at first that you have left, and even when they
did they would not believe at first that you had gone to
Crater. You see "--and in the darkness Bud could picture her
troubled smile--" they think you are an awful fool, in some
ways. The way you bet to-day was pure madness."
"It would have been, except that I knew I could win."
"They never bet like that. They always 'figure', as they call
it, that the other fellow is going to play some trick on
them. Half the time Jeff bets against his own horse, on the
sly. They all do, unless they feel sure that their own trick
"They should have done that to-day," Bud observed dryly. "But
you've explained it. They thought I'm an awful fool."
Out of the darkness came Marian's voice. "It's because you're
so different. They can't understand you.
Bud was not interested in his own foolishness just then.
Something in her voice had thrilled him anew with a desire to
help her and with the conviction that he was desperately in
need of help. There was a pathetic patience in her tone when
she summarized he whole affair in those last two sentences.
It was as if she were telling him how her whole life was
darkened because she herself was different--because they
could not understand a woman so fine, so true and sweet.
"What will happen if you are missed? If you go back and
discover Jerry's handkerchief on that bush, what will you do?
You can't go back if they find out--" There was no need for
him to finish that sentence.
"I don't know," said Marian, "what I shall do. I hadn't
thought much about it."
"I haven't thought much about anything else," Bud told her
straightforwardly. "If Jerry flags you, you 'd better
keep going. Couldn't you go to friends?"
"I could--if I had any. Bud, you don't understand. Eddie is
the only relative I have on earth, that I know at all. He
is--he's with the Catrockers and Lew dominates him
completely. Lew has pushed Ed into doing things so that I
must shield both or neither. And Eddie's just a boy. So I've
no one at all."
Bud studied this while they rode on through the defile that
was more frequently a tunnel, since the succession of caves
always had an outlet which Marian found. She had stopped now
and dismounted, and they were leading their horses down a
steep, scrambling place with the stars showing overhead.
"A blowhole," Marian informed him briefly. "We'll come into
another cave, soon, and while it's safe if you know it, I'll
explain now that you must walk ahead of your horse and keep
your right hand always in touch with the wall until we see
the stars again. There's a ledge-five feet wide in the
narrowest place, if you are nervous about ledges--and if you
should get off that you'd have a drop of ten feet or so. We
found that the ledge makes easier travelling, because the
bottom is full of rocks and nasty depressions that are
noticeable only with lights."
She started off again, and Bud followed her, his gloved
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