"You've had trouble with him before, haven't you?"
"Yes—and no man can say I ever trailed him. But I never stepped out of his way."
"Then that crap game in Antelope meant more than an ordinary crap game?" said Bartley.
"He had his chance," stated Cheyenne.
"Well, we're in a fix," asserted Bartley.
"Yes; we're afoot. But we'll make it. And right here I'm tellin' you that I aim to shoot a game of craps with Panhandle, usin' these here dice, that'll be fast and won't last long."
"How about the law?"
"The law is all right, in spots. But they's a whole lot of country between them spots."
Cheyenne cached the bed-roll, saddles, and cooking-outfit back in the brush, taking only a canteen and a little food. He proffered a pair of moccasins, parfleche-soled and comfortable, to Bartley.
"You wear these. Them new ridin'-boots'll sure kill you dead, walkin'. You can pack 'em along with you."
"How about your feet?"
"Say, you wouldn't call me a tenderfoot, would you?"
"Then slip on them moccasins. But first I aim to make a circle and see just where they caught up our stock."
Bartley drew on the moccasins and, tying his boots together, rolled them in his blanket. Meanwhile, Cheyenne circled the camp far out, examining the scattered tracks of horses. When he returned the morning sun was beginning to make itself felt.
"I'll toss up to see who wears the moccasins," said Bartley. "I'm more used to hiking than you are."
As Bartley tossed the coin, Cheyenne called. The half-dollar dropped and stuck edge-up in the sand.
"You wear 'em the first fifteen miles and then we'll swap," said Cheyenne.
Bartley filled the canteen and scraped dirt over the fire. Cheyenne took a last look around, and turned toward the south.
"You didn't say nothin' about headin' back to Antelope," said Cheyenne.
"Why, no. I started out to visit Senator Brown's ranch."
Cheyenne laughed. "Well, you're out to see the country, anyhow. We'll see lots, to-day."
Once more upon the road Cheyenne's manner changed. He seemed to ignore the fact that he was afoot, in country where there was little prospect of getting a lift from a passing rancher or freighter. And he said nothing about his horses, Filaree and Joshua, although Bartley knew that their loss must have hit him hard.
A mile down the road, and Cheyenne was singing his trail song, bow-legging ahead as though he were entirely alone and indifferent to the journey:
Seems like I don't git anywhere: Git along, cayuse, git along! But I'm leavin' here and I'm goin' there, Git along, cayuse, git along—
He stopped suddenly, pulled his faded black Stetson over one eye, and then stepped out again, singing on:
They ain't no water and they ain't no shade: They ain't no beer or lemonade, But I reckon most like we'll make the grade Git along, cayuse, git along.
"That's the stuff!" laughed Bartley. "A stanza or two of that every few miles, and we'll make the grade all right. That last was improvised, wasn't it?"
"Nope. Just naturalized. I make 'em up when I'm ridin' along, to kind of fit into the scenery. Impervisin' gets my wind."
"Well, if you are singing when we finish, you're a wonder," stated Bartley.
"Oh, I'm a wonder, all right! And mebby I don't feel like a plumb fool, footin' it into Steve's ranch with no hosses and no bed-roll and no reputation. And I sure lose mine this trip. Why, folks all over the country will josh me to death when they hear Panhandle Sears set me afoot on the big mesa. I reckon I'll have to kind of change my route till somethin' happens to make folks forget this here bobble."
Another five miles of hot and monotonous plodding, and Cheyenne stopped and sat down. He pulled off his boots.
Bartley offered the moccasins, but Cheyenne waved the offer aside.
"Just coolin' my feet," he explained. "It ain't so much the kind of boots, because these fit. It's scaldin' your feet that throws you."
They smoked and drank from the canteen. Five minutes' rest, and they were on the road again. The big mesa reached on and on toward the south, seemingly limitless, without sign of fence or civilization save for the narrow road that swung over each slight, rounded rise and ran away into the distance, narrowing to a gray line that disappeared in space.
Occasionally singing, Cheyenne strode along, Bartley striding beside him.
"You got a stride like a unbroke yearlin'," said; Cheyenne, as Bartley unconsciously drew ahead.
Bartley stopped and turned into step as Cheyenne caught up. He held himself to a slower pace, realizing that, while his companion could have outridden him by days and miles, the other was not used to walking.
As they topped a low rise a coyote sprang up and floated away. Bartley flinched as Cheyenne whipped up his gun and fired. The coyote jack-knifed and lay still. Cheyenne punched the empty shell from his gun, slipped in a cartridge, and strode on.
"Pretty fast work," remarked Bartley.
"Huh! I just throwed down on him to see if I was gettin' slow."
"It seems to me that if I could shoot like that, I wouldn't let any man back me down," said Bartley.
"Mebby so. But you're wrong, old-timer. Bein' fast with a gun is just like advertisin' for the coroner. Me, I'm plumb peaceful."
A few miles farther along they nooned in the shade of a pinion. When they started down the road again, Bartley noticed that Cheyenne limped slightly. But Cheyenne still refused to put on the moccasins. Bartley argued that his own feet were getting tender. He was unaccustomed to moccasins. Cheyenne turned this argument aside by singing a stanza of his trail song.
Also, incidentally, Cheyenne had been keeping his eye on the horse-tracks; and just before they left the main road taking a short cut, he pointed to them. "There's Filaree's tracks, and there's Joshua's. Your hoss has been travelin' over here, on the edge. Them hoss-thieves figure to hit into the White Hills and cut down through the Apache forest, most like."
"Will they sell the horses?"
"Yes. Or trade 'em for whiskey. Panhandle's got friends up in them hills."
"How far is it to the ranch?" queried Bartley.
"We done reached her. We're on Steve's ranch, right now. It's about five miles from that first fence over there to his house, by trail. It's fifteen by road."
"Then here is where you take the moccasins."
"Nope. My feet are so swelled you couldn't start my boots with a fence stretcher. They's no use both of us gettin' cripped up."
Bartley's own feet ached from the constant bruising of pebbles.
Presently Cheyenne dropped back and asked Bartley to set the pace.
"I'll just tie to your shadow," said Cheyenne. "Keeps me interested. When I'm drillin' along ahead I can't think of nothin' but my feet."
Because there was now no road and scarcely a trail, Bartley began to choose his footing, dodging the rougher places. The muscles of his calves ached under the unaccustomed strain of walking without heels. Cheyenne dogged along behind, suffering keenly from blistered feet, but centering his attention on Bartley's bobbing shadow. They had made about two miles across country when the faint trail ran round a butte and dipped into a shallow arroyo.
The arroyo deepened to a gulch, narrow and rocky. Up the gulch a few hundred yards they came suddenly upon a bunch of Hereford cattle headed by a magnificent bull. The trail ran in the bottom of the gulch. On either side the walls were steep and rocky. Angling junipers stuck out from the walls in occasional dots of green.
"That ole white-face sure looks hostile," Cheyenne remarked. "Git along, you ole Mormon; curl your tail and drift."
Cheyenne heaved a stone which took the bull fairly between the eyes. The bull shook his head and snapped his tail, but did not move. The cattle behind the bull stared blandly at the invaders of their domain. The bull, being an aristocrat, gave warning of his intent to charge by shaking his head and bellowing. Then he charged.
Cheyenne stooped for another stone, but Bartley had no intention of playing ping-pong with a roaring red avalanche. Bartley made for the side of the gulch and, catching hold of the bole of a juniper, drew himself up. Cheyenne stood to his guns, shied a third stone, scored a bull's-eye, and then decided to evacuate in favor of the enemy. His feet were sore, but he managed to keep a good three jumps ahead of the bull, up the precipitous bank of the gulch. There was no time to swing into the tree where Bartley had taken refuge, so Cheyenne backed into a shallow depression beneath the roots of the juniper.
The bull shook his head and butted at Cheyenne. Cheyenne slapped the bull's nose with his hat. The bull backed part-way down the grade, snapped his tail, and bellowed. Up the grade he charged again. He could not quite reach Cheyenne, who slapped at the bull with his hat and spake eloquently.
Bartley, clinging to his precarious perch, gazed down upon the scene, wondering if he had not better take a shot at the bull. "Shall I let him have it?" he queried.
"Have what?" came the muffled voice of Cheyenne. "He's 'most got what he's after, right now."
"Shall I shoot him?"
"Hell, no! No use beefin' twelve hundred dollars' worth of meat. We don't need that much."
"Look out! He's coming again!" called Bartley.
Cheyenne had suddenly poked his head out of the shallow cave. The bull charged, backed down, and amused himself by tossing dirt over his shoulders and grumbling like distant thunder.
"Perhaps if you stay in that cave and don't show yourself, he'll leave," suggested Bartley.
"Stay nothin'!" answered Cheyenne. "There's a rattler in this here cave. I can hear him singin'. I'm comin' out, right now!"
Bartley leaned forward and glanced down. The branch on which he was straddled snapped.
"Look out below!" he shouted as he felt himself going.
Bartley's surprising evolution was too much for his majesty the bull, who whirled and galloped clumsily down the slope. Bartley rolled to the bottom, still holding to a broken branch of the tree. Cheyenne was also at the bottom of the gulch. The bull was trotting heavily toward his herd.
"Is there anything hooked to the back of my jeans?" queried Cheyenne.
"No. They're torn; that's all."
"Huh! I thought mebby that ole snake had hooked on to my jeans. He sounded right mad, singin' lively, back in there. My laigs feel kind of limp, right now."
Cheyenne felt of his torn overalls, shook his head, and then a slow smile illumined his face. "How do you like this here country, anyhow?"
"Great!" said Bartley.
AT THE BOX-S
When they emerged from the western end of the gulch, they paused to rest. Not over a half-mile south stood the ranch-house, just back of a row of giant cottonwoods.
Cheyenne pointed out the stables, corrals, and bunk-house. "A mighty neat little outfit," he remarked, as they started on again.
"Senator Steve's only got about sixty thousand acres under fence."
"Then I'd like to see a big ranch," laughed Bartley.
"You can't. They ain't nothin' to see more'n you see right now. Why, I know a outfit down in Texas that would call this here ranch their north pasture—and they got three more about the same size, besides the regular range. But standin' in any one place you can't see any more than you do right now. Steve just keeps up this here ranch so he can have elbow-room. Yonder comes one of his boys. Reckon he seen us."
A rider had just reined his horse round and was loping toward them.
"He seen we was afoot," said Cheyenne.
"Mighty decent of him—" began Bartley, but Cheyenne waved the suggestion aside. "Decent nothin'! A man afoot looks as queer to a waddie as we did to that ole bull."
The puncher loped up, recognized Cheyenne, nodded to Bartley, and seemed to hesitate. Cheyenne made no explanation of their plight, so the puncher simply turned back and loped toward the ranch-house.
"Just steppin' over to tell Steve we're here," said Cheyenne, as Bartley's face expressed astonishment.
They plodded on, came to a gate, limped down a long lane, came to another gate, and there Senator Steve met them.
"I'd 'a' sent a man with a buckboard if I had known you planned to walk over from Antelope," he asserted, and his eyes twinkled.
Cheyenne frowned prodigiously. "Steve," he said slowly, "you can lovin'ly and trustfully go plumb to hell!"
Cheyenne turned and limped slowly toward the bunk-house.
Mrs. Brown welcomed Bartley as the Senator ushered him into the living-room. The Senator half-filled a tumbler from a cold, dark bottle and handed it to Bartley.
"'Green River,'" he said.
"Mrs. Brown," said Bartley as he bowed.
Then the Senator escorted Bartley to the bathroom. The tub was already filled with steaming water. A row of snow-white towels hung on the rack. The Senator waved his hand and, stepping out, closed the door.
A few minutes later he knocked at the bathroom door. "There's a spare razor in the cabinet, and all the fixings. And when you're ready there's a pair of clean socks on the doorknob."
Bartley heard the Senator's heavy, deliberate step as he passed down the hallway.
"A little 'Green River,' a hot bath, and clean socks," murmured Bartley. "Things might be worse."
His tired muscles relaxed under the beneficent warmth of the bath. He shaved, dressed, and stepped out into the hall. He sniffed. "Chicken!" he murmured soulfully.
Mrs. Senator Brown was supervising the cooking of a dinner that Bartley never forgot. Boiled chicken, dumplings, rich gravy, mashed potatoes, creamed carrots, sliced tomatoes—to begin with. And then the pie! Bartley furnished the appetite.
But that was not until after the Senator had returned from the bunk-house. He had seen to it that Cheyenne had had a bucket of hot water, soap, and towels and grease for his sore feet. In direct and effectual kindliness, without obviously expressed sympathy, the Westerner is peculiarly supreme.
Back in the living-room Bartley made himself comfortable, admiring the generous proportions of the house, the choice Indian blankets, the wide fireplace, and the general solidity of everything, which reflected the personality of his hosts.
Presently the Senator came in. "Cheyenne tells me that somebody set you afoot, down at the water-hole."
"Did he also tell you about your bull?"
"No! Is that how he came to tear his jeans?"
Bartley nodded. And he told the Senator of their recent experience in the gulch.
The Senator chuckled. "Don't say a word to Mrs. Brown about it. I'll have Cheyenne in, after dinner, and sweat it out of him. You see, Cheyenne won't eat with us. He always eats with the boys. No use asking him to eat in here. And, say, Bartley, we've got a little surprise for you. One of my boys caught up your horse, old Dobe. Dobe was dragging a rope. Looks like he broke away from some one. I had him turned into the corral. Dobe was raised on this range."
"Broke loose and came back!" exclaimed Bartley. "That's good news, Senator. I like that horse."
"But Cheyenne is out of luck," said the Senator. "He thought more of those horses, Filaree and Joshua, than he did of anything on earth. I'll send one of the boys back to the water-hole to-morrow, for your saddles and outfit. But now you're here, how do you like the country?"
"Almost as much as I like some of the people living in it," stated Bartley.
"Not including Panhandle Sears, eh?"
"I'm pretty well fed up on walking," and Bartley smiled.
"Sears is a worthless hombre," stated the Senator. "He's one of a gang that steal stock, and generally live by their wits and never seem to get caught. But he made a big mistake when he lifted Cheyenne's horses. Cheyenne already has a grievance against Sears. Some day Cheyenne will open up—and that will be the last of Mr. Sears."
"I had an idea there was something like that in the wind," said Bartley. "Cheyenne hasn't said much about Sears, but I was present at that crap game."
The Senator chuckled. "I heard about it. Heard you offered to take on Sears if he would put his gun on the table."
Bartley flushed. "I must have been excited."
The Senator leaned forward in his big, easy-chair. "Cheyenne wants me to let him take a couple of horses to trail Panhandle. And, judging from what Cheyenne said, he thinks you are going along with him. There's lots of country right round here to see, without taking any unnecessary risks."
"I understand," said Bartley.
"And this is your headquarters, as long as you want to stay," continued the Senator.
"Thank you. It's a big temptation to stay, Senator."
"Well, it was rather understood, without anything being said, that I would help Cheyenne find his horses and mine. Dobe came back; but that hardly excuses me from going with Cheyenne."
"But your horse is here; and you seem to be in pretty fair health, right now."
"I appreciate the hint, Senator."
"But you don't agree with me a whole lot."
"Well, not quite. Chance rather chucked us together, Cheyenne and me, and I think I'll travel with him for a while. I like to hear him sing."
"He likes to hear him sing!" scoffed the Senator, frowning. He sat back in his chair, blew smoke-rings, puffed out his cheeks, and presently rose. "Bartley, I see that you're set on chousin' around the country with that warbling waddie—just to hear him sing, as you say. I say you're a dam' fool.
"But you're the kind of a dam' fool I want to shake hands with. You aren't excited and you don't play to the gallery; so if there's anything you want on this ranch, from a posse to a pack-outfit, it's yours. And if either of you get Sears, I'll sure chip in my share to buy his headstone."
"I wouldn't have it inscribed until we get back," laughed Bartley.
"No; I don't think I will. Trailin' horse-thieves on their own stamping ground ain't what an insurance company would call a good risk."
TO TRY HIM OUT
Two days later Cheyenne was able to get his feet into his boots, but even then he walked as though he did not care to let his left foot know what his right foot was doing. Lon Pelly, just in from a ride out to the line shack, remarked to the boys in the bunk-house that Cheyenne walked as though his brains were in his feet and he didn't want to get stone bruises stepping on them.
Cheyenne made no immediate retort, but later he delivered himself of a new stanza of his trail song, wherein the first line ended with "Pelly" followed by the rhymed assertion that the gentleman who bore that peculiar name had slivers in his anatomy due to a fondness for leaning against the bar of the Blue Front Saloon.
The boys were mightily pleased with the stanza, and they also improvised until, according to their versions, Long Lon bore a marked resemblance to a porcupine. Lon, being a real person, felt that Cheyenne's retaliation was just. Moreover, Lon, who never did anything hastily, let it be known casually that he had seen three riders west of the line shack some two days past, and that the riders were leading two horses, a buckskin and a gray. They were too far away to be distinguished absolutely, but he could tell the color of the horses.
"Panhandle?" queried a puncher.
"And two riders with him," said Long Lon.
"Goin' to trail him, Cheyenne?" came presently.
"Then let's pass the hat," suggested the first speaker.
"Wait!" said Cheyenne, drawing a pair of dice from his pocket. "Somehow, and sometime, I aim to shoot Panhandle a little game. Then you guys can pass the hat for the loser. Panhandle left them dice on the flat rock, by the water-hole. My pardner, Bartley, found them."
"Kind of sign talk that Pan pulled one on you," said Lon Pelly.
"He sure left his brains behind him when he left them dice," asserted Cheyenne. "I suspicioned that it was him—but the dice told me, plain."
"So you figure to walk up to Pan and invite him to shoot a little game, when you meet up with him?" queried a puncher.
"The tenderfoot"—he referred to Bartley—"is he goin' along with you?"
"He ain't so tender as you might think," said Cheyenne. "He's green, but not so dam' tender."
"Well, it's right sad. He looks like a pretty decent hombre."
"What's sad?" queried Cheyenne belligerently.
"Why, gettin' that tenderfoot all shot up, trailin' a couple of twenty-dollar cayuses. They ain't worth it."
"They ain't, eh?"
"Course, they make a right good audience, when you're singin'. They do all the listenin'," said another puncher.
"Huh! They ain't one of you got a hoss that can listen to you, without blushin'. You fellas think you're a hard-ridin'—"
"Ridin' beats walkin'," suggested Long Lon.
"Keep a-joshin'. I like it. Shows how much you don't know. I—hello, Mr. Bartley! Shake hands with Lon Pelly—but I guess you met him, over to Antelope. You needn't to mind the rest of these guys. They're harmless."
"I don't want to interrupt—" began Bartley.
"Set right in!" they invited in chorus. "We're just listenin' to Cheyenne preachin' his own funeral sermon."
Bartley seated himself in the doorway of the bunk-house. The joshing ceased. Cheyenne, who could never keep his hands still, toyed with the dice. Presently one of the boys suggested that Cheyenne show them some fancy work with a six-gun—"just to keep your wrist limber," he concluded.
Cheyenne shook his head. But, when Bartley intimated that he would like to see Cheyenne shoot, Cheyenne rose.
"All right. I'll shoot any fella here for ten bucks—him to name the target."
"No, you don't," said a puncher. "We ain't givin' our dough away, just to git rid of it."
"And right recent they was talkin' big," said Cheyenne. "I'll shoot the spot of a playin'-card, if you'll hold it," he asserted, indicating Bartley.
The boys glanced at Bartley and then lowered their eyes, wondering what the Easterner would do. Bartley felt that this was a test of his nerve, and, while he didn't like the idea of engaging in a William Tell performance he realized that Cheyenne must have had a reason for choosing him, out of the men present, and that Cheyenne knew his business.
"Cheyenne wants to git out of shootin'," suggested a puncher.
That settled it with Bartley. "He won't disappoint you," he stated quietly. "Give me the card."
One of the boys got up and fetched an old deck of cards. Bartley chose the ace of spades. Back of the corrals, with nothing but mesa in sight, he took up his position, while Cheyenne stepped off fifteen paces. Bartley's hand trembled a little. Cheyenne noticed it and turned to the group, saying something that made them laugh. Bartley's fingers tensed. He forgot his nervousness. Cheyenne whirled and shot, apparently without aim. Bartley drew a deep breath, and glanced at the card. The black pip was cut clean from the center.
"That's easy," asserted Cheyenne. Then he took a silver dollar from his pocket, laid it in the palm of his right hand, hung the gun, by its trigger guard on his right forefinger, lowered his hand and tossed the coin up. As the coin went up the gun whirled over. Then came the whiz of the coin as it cut through space.
"About seventy-five shots like that and I'm broke," laughed Cheyenne. "Anybody's hat need ventilatin'?"
"Not this child's," asserted Lon Pelly. "I sailed my hat for him onct. It was a twenty-dollar J.B., when I sailed it. When it hit it sure wouldn't hold water. Six holes in her—and three shots."
"Six?" exclaimed Bartley.
"The three shots went clean through both sides," said Lon.
Cheyenne reloaded his gun and dropped it into the holster.
Later, Bartley had a talk with Cheyenne about the proposed trailing of the stolen horses. Panhandle's name was mentioned. And the name of another man—Sneed. Cheyenne seemed to know just where he would look, and whom he might expect to meet.
Bartley and Cheyenne were in the living-room that evening talking with the Senator and his wife. Out in the bunk-house those of the boys who had not left for the line shack were discussing horse-thieves in general and Panhandle and Sneed in particular. Bill Smalley, a saturnine member of the outfit, who seldom said anything, and who was a good hand but a surly one, made a remark.
"That there Cheyenne is the fastest gun artist—and the biggest coward that ever come out of Wyoming. Ain't that right, Lon?"
"I never worked in Wyoming," said Long Lon.
Mrs. Senator Brown did not at all approve of Bartley's determination to accompany Cheyenne in search of the stolen horses. Late that night, long after Cheyenne had ceased to sing for the boys in the bunk-house, and while Bartley was peacefully slumbering in a comfortable bed, Mrs. Brown took the Senator to task for not having discouraged the young Easterner from attempting such a wild-goose chase. The Senator, whose diameter made the task of removing his boots rather difficult, puffed, and tugged at a tight riding-boot, but said nothing.
"Yes'm. I 'most got it off. Wild-goose chase? Madam, the wild goose is a child that shuns this element. You mean wild-horse chase."
"That sort of talk may amuse your constituents, but you are talking to me."
Off came the stubborn boot. The Senator puffed, and tugged at the other boot.
"No, ma'am. You're talking to me. There! Now go ahead and I'll listen."
"Why didn't you discourage Mr. Bartley's idea of making such a journey?'
"I did, Nelly. I told him he was a dam' fool."
Mrs. Senator Brown, who knew her husband's capabilities in dodging issues when he was cornered,—both at home and abroad,—peered at him over her glasses. "What else did you tell him?"
"Well, your honor," chuckled the Senator, "I also told him he was the kind of dam' fool I liked to shake hands with."
"I knew it! And what else?"
"I challenge the right of the attorney for the plaintiff to introduce any evidence that may—"
"The attorney for the defense may proceed," said Mrs. Brown, smiling.
"Why, shucks, Nelly! When you smile like that—why, I told Bartley he could have anything on this ranch that would help him get a rope on Sears."
"I knew it!"
"Then why did you ask me?"
Mrs. Brown ignored the question. "Very well, Stephen. Mr. Bartley gave me his sister's address, in case anything happened. She is his only living relative and I'm going to write to her at once and tell her what her brother is up to."
"And most like she'll head right for this ranch."
"Well, suppose she does? If she is anything like her brother she will be welcome."
"You bet! Just leave that to me!"
"It's a shame!" asserted Mrs. Brown.
"It is! With her good looks and inexperience she'll sure need somebody to look after her."
"How do you know she is good-looking?"
"I don't. I was just hoping."
"I shall write, just the same."
"I reckon you will. I'm going to bed."
Just as the sun rounded above the mesa next morning, Bartley stepped out to the veranda. He was surprised to find the Senator up and about, inspecting the details of Cheyenne's outfit, for Cheyenne had the horses saddled and packed. Bartley was still more surprised to find that Mrs. Brown had breakfast ready. Evidently the good Senator and his wife had a decided interest in the welfare of the expedition.
After breakfast the Senator's wife came out to the bunk-house with a mysterious parcel which she gave to Bartley. He sniffed at it.
"Cold chicken sandwiches!" he said, smiling broadly.
"And some doughnuts. It will save you boys fussing with a lunch."
Long Lon Pelly was also up and ready to start. The air was still cool and the horses were a bit snuffy. Lon mounted and rode toward the west gate where he waited for Cheyenne and Bartley.
"Now don't forget where you live," said the Senator as Bartley mounted.
With a cheery farewell to their hosts, Cheyenne and Bartley rode away. The first warmth of the sun touched them as they headed into the western spaces. Long Lon closed the big gate, stepped up on his horse, and jogged along beside them.
Bartley felt as though he had suddenly left the world of reality and was riding in a sort of morning dream. He could feel the pleasant warmth of the sun on his back. He sniffed the thin dust cast up by the horses. On either side of him the big mesa spread to the sky-line. Cattle were scattered in the brush, some of them lying down, some of them grazing indolently.
Presently Cheyenne began to sing, and his singing seemed to fit into the mood of the morning. He ceased, and nothing but the faint jingle of rein chains and the steady plod of hoofs disturbed the vast silence. A flicker of smoke drifted back as Cheyenne lighted a cigarette. Long Lon drilled on, wrapped in his reflections. Their moving shadows shortened. Occasionally a staring-eyed cow strayed directly in their way and stood until Long Lon struck his chaps with his quirt, when the cow, swinging its head, would whirl and bounce off to one side, stiff-legged and ridiculous.
Bartley unbuttoned his shirt-collar and pushed back his hat. Far across the mesa a dust devil spun up and writhed away toward the distant hills. As the horses slowed to cross a sandy draw, Bartley turned and glanced back. The ranch buildings—a dot of white in a clump of green—shimmered vaguely in the morning sunlight.
Thus far, Bartley felt that he had been leaving the ranch and the cheerful companionship of the Senator and his wife. But as Lon Pelly reined up—it was something like two hours since they had started—and pointed to a cross-trail leading south, Bartley's mental attitude changed instantly. Hitherto he had been leaving a pleasant habitation. Now he was going somewhere. He felt the distinction keenly. Cheyenne's verse came back to him.
Seems like I don't git anywhere, Git along, cayuse, git along; But we're leavin' here and we're goin' there, Git along, cayuse, git along—
"Just drop a line when you get there," said Long Lon as he reined round and set off toward the far western sky-line. That was his casual farewell.
Cheyenne now turned directly toward the south and a range of hills that marked the boundary of the mesa level. Occasionally he got off his horse and stooped to examine tracks. Once he made a wide circle, leaving Bartley to haze the pack-horse along. Slowly they drew nearer to the hills. During the remainder of that forenoon, Cheyenne said nothing, but rode, slouched forward, his hand on the horn, his gaze on the ground.
They nooned in the foothills. The horses grazed along the edge of a tiny stream while Cheyenne and Bartley ate the cold chicken sandwiches. In half an hour they were riding again, skirting the foothills, and, it seemed to Bartley, simply meandering about the country, for now they were headed west again.
Presently Cheyenne spoke. "I been makin' a plan."
"I didn't say a word," laughed Bartley.
"You didn't need to. I kind of got what you were thinkin'. This here is big country. When you're ridin' this kind of country with some fella, you can read his mind almost as good as a horse can. You was thinkin' I was kind of twisted and didn't know which way to head. Now take that there hoss, Joshua. Plenty times I've rode him up to a fork in the trail, and kep' sayin' to myself, 'We'll take the right-hand fork.' And Joshua always took the fork I was thinkin' about. You try it with Dobe, sometime."
"I have read of such things," said Bartley.
"Well, I know 'em. What would you say if I was to tell you that Joshua knowed once they was a fella ridin' behind me, five miles back, and out of sight—and told me, plain?"
"I wouldn't say anything."
"There's where you're wise. I can talk to you about such things. But when I try to talk to the boys like that, they just josh, till I git mad and quit. They ain't takin' me serious."
"What is your plan?" queried Bartley.
Cheyenne reined up and dismounted. "Step down, and take a look," he suggested.
Bartley dismounted. Cheyenne pointed out horse-tracks on the trail along the edge of the hills.
"Five hosses," he asserted. "Two of 'em is mine. That leaves three that are carryin' weight. But we're makin' a mistake for ourselves, trailin' Panhandle direct. He figures mebby I'd do that. I got to outfigure him. I don't want to git blowed out of my saddle by somebody in the brush, just waitin' for me to ride up and git shot. I got the way he's headed, and by to-morrow mornin' I'll know for sure.
"If he'd been goin' to swing back, to fool me, he'd 'a' done it before he hit the timber, up yonder. Once he gits in them hills he'll head straight south, for they ain't no other trail to ride on them ridges. But mebby he cut along the foothills, first. I got to make sure."
Late that afternoon and close to the edge of the foothills, Cheyenne lost the tracks. He spent over an hour finding them again. Bartley could discern nothing definite, even when Cheyenne pointed to a queer, blurred patch in some loose earth.
"It looks like the imprint of some coarse cloth," said Bartley.
"Gunnysack. They pulled the shoes off my hosses and sacked their feet."
"How about their own horses?"
"They been ridin' hard ground, and the tracks don't show, plain. Panhandle figured, when I seen that only the tracks of three horses showed, I'd think he had turned my hosses loose on the big mesa. He stops, pulls their shoes, sacks their feet, and leads 'em over there. Whoever done it was afoot, and steppin' careful. Hell, I could learn that yella-bellied hoss-thief how to steal hosses right, if I was in the business."
"Looks like a pretty stiff drill up those hills," remarked Bartley.
"That's why he turned, right here. 'Tain't just the stealin' of my hosses that's interestin' him. He's takin' trouble to run a whizzer on me—get me guessin'. Here is where we quit trailin' him. I got my plan workin' like a hen draggin' fence rails. We ain't goin' to trail Panhandle. We're goin' to ride 'round and meet him."
"Not a bad idea," said Bartley.
"It won't be—if I see him first."
JIMMY AND THE LUGER GUN
Two days of riding toward the west, along the edge of the hills, and Bartley and Cheyenne found themselves approaching the high country. The trail ran up a wide valley, on either side of which were occasional ranches reaching back toward the slopes. In reality they were gradually climbing the range on an easy grade and making good time.
Their course now paralleled the theoretical course of Panhandle and his fellows. Dodging the rugged land to the south, Cheyenne had swung round in a half-circle, hoping to head off Panhandle on the desert side of the range. Since abandoning the tracks of the stolen horses, Cheyenne had resumed his old habit of singing as he rode. He seemed to know the name of every ranch, and of every person they met.
Once or twice some acquaintance expressed surprise that Cheyenne did not stop and spend the night with him. But Cheyenne jokingly declined all invitations, explaining to Bartley that in stopping to visit they would necessarily waste hours in observing the formalities of arrival and departure, although Cheyenne did not put it just that way.
They found water and plenty of feed, made their camps early, broke camp early, and rode steadily. With no visible incentive to keep going, Bartley lost his first keen interest in the hunt, and contented himself with listening to Cheyenne's yarns about the country and its folk, or occasionally chatting with some wayfarer. But never once did Cheyenne hint, to those they met, just why he was riding south.
There were hours at a stretch, when the going was level, when Cheyenne did nothing but roll his gun, throw down on different objects, toss up his gun, and catch it by the handle; and once he startled Bartley by making a quick fall from the saddle and shooting from the ground. Cheyenne explained to Bartley that often, when riding alone, he had spent hour after hour figuring out the possibilities of gun-play, till it became evident to the Easterner that, aside from being naturally quick, there was a very good reason for Cheyenne's proficiency with the six-gun. He practiced continually. And yet, thought Bartley, one of the Box-S punchers had said that Cheyenne had never killed anything bigger than a coyote, and never would—intimating that he was too good-natured ever to take advantage of his own proficiency with a gun.
Bartley wondered just how things would break if they did happen to meet Panhandle unexpectedly. Panhandle would no doubt dispose of the stolen horses as soon as he could. What excuse would Cheyenne have to call Panhandle to account? And when it came to a show-down, would Cheyenne call him to account?
Bartley was thinking of this when they made an early camp, the afternoon of the third day out. After the horses were hobbled and the packs arranged, Bartley decided to experiment a little with his new Luger automatic. Cheyenne declined to experiment with the gun.
"It's a mean gat," he asserted, "and it's fast. But I'll bet you a new hat I can empty my old smoke-wagon quicker than you can that pocket machine gun."
For the fun of the thing, Bartley took him up. He selected as target a juniper stump, and blazed away.
"I'm leavin' the decision to you," said Cheyenne, as he braced his right arm against his body and fanned the Colt, emptying it before Bartley could realize that he had fired three shots—and Cheyenne had fired five.
"I'll buy you that hat when we get to town," laughed Bartley. "You beat me, hands down."
"Hands down is right, old-timer. Fannin' a gun is show stuff, but it's wicked, at close range."
Meanwhile, Bartley had been experimenting further with the Luger. When he got through he had a hat full of pieces and Cheyenne was staring at what seemed to be the wreck of a once potent weapon.
"Why, you done pulled that little lead sprinkler all to bits!" exclaimed Cheyenne, "and you didn't have no tools to do it with."
"You can take down and assemble this gun without tools," stated Bartley. "All you need is your fingers."
"But what in Sam Hill did you pull her apart for?"
"Just to see if I could put her together again."
Cheyenne scratched his head, and stepped over to inspect the juniper stump. He stooped, whistled, and turned to Bartley. "Man, you like to sawed that stub in two. Why didn't you say you could shoot?"
"I can't, in your class. But tell me why you Westerners always seem to think it strange that an Easterner can sit a horse or shoot fairly well? Is it because you consider that the average tourist represents the entire East?"
"I dunno. But, then, I've met up with Easterners that weren't just like you."
Bartley was busy, assembling the Luger, and Cheyenne was watching him, when they glanced up simultaneously. A shadow drifted between them.
Cheyenne hesitated and then stepped forward. "I'll be dinged if it ain't Jimmy! What you doin' up here in the brush, anyhow?"
The boy, who rode a well-mannered gray pony, kicked one foot out of the stirrup and hooked his small leg over the horn. He nodded to Cheyenne, but his interest was centered on Bartley and the Luger.
"It's Jimmy—my boy," said Cheyenne. "His Aunt Jane lives over yonder, a piece."
"Why, hello!" exclaimed Bartley, laying the pistol aside. And he stepped up and shook hands with the boy, who grinned.
"How's the folks?" queried Cheyenne.
"All right. That there is a Luger gun, ain't it?"
"Yes," said Bartley. "Would you like to try it?"
The boy scrambled down from the saddle. "Honest?"
"Ain't you goin' to say hello to your dad?" queried Cheyenne.
"Sure! Only I was lookin' at that Luger gun—"
Jimmy shook hands perfunctorily with his father and turned to Bartley, expectancy in his gaze.
Bartley reloaded the gun and handed it to the boy, who straightaway selected the juniper stump and blazed away. Bartley watched him, a sturdy youngster, brown-fisted, blue-eyed, with sandy hair, and dressed in jeans and a rowdy—a miniature cow-puncher, even to his walk.
"Ever shoot one before?" queried Bartley as the boy gave back the pistol.
"Nope. There's one like it, over to the store in San Andreas. It's in the window. I never got to look at it right close."
"Try it again," said Bartley.
The boy grinned. "I reckon you're rich?"
"'Cause you got a heap of ca'tridges. They cost money."
"Never mind. Go ahead and shoot."
Jimmy blazed away again and ran to see where his bullets had hit the stump. "She's a pretty fair gun," he said as he handed it back. "But I reckon I'll have to stick to my ole twenty-two rifle. She's gettin' wore out, but I can hit things with her, yet. I git rabbits."
"Now, mebby you got time to tell us something about Aunt Jane and Uncle Frank and Dorry," suggested Cheyenne.
"Why, they're all right," said the boy. "Why didn't you stop by to our place instead of bushin' way up here?"
Cheyenne hesitated. "I reckon I'll be comin' over," he said finally.
Bartley put the Luger away. The boy turned to his father. Cheyenne's face expressed happiness, yet Bartley was puzzled. The boy was not what could be termed indifferent in any sense, yet he had taken his father's presence casually, showing no special interest in their meeting. And why had Cheyenne never mentioned the boy? Bartley surmised that there was some good reason for Cheyenne's silence on that subject—and because it was obvious that there was a good reason, Bartley accepted the youngster's presence in a matter-of-fact manner, as though he had known all along that Cheyenne had a son. In fact, Cheyenne had not stopped to think about it at all. If he had, he would have reasoned that Bartley had heard about it. Almost every one in Arizona knew that Cheyenne had been married and had separated from his wife.
"That would be a pretty good gun to git hoss-thieves with," asserted the boy, still thinking of the Luger.
"What do you know about hoss-thieves?" queried Cheyenne.
"You think I didn't see you was ridin' different hosses!" said Jimmy. "Mebby you think I don't know where Josh and Filaree are."
"You quit joshin' your dad," said Cheyenne.
"I ain't joshin' nobody. Ole 'Clubfoot' Sneed, over by the re'savation's got Josh and Filaree. I seen 'em in his corral, yesterday. I was up there, huntin'."
"Did you talk to him?" queried Cheyenne.
"Nope. He just come out of his cabin an' told me to fan it. I wasn't doin' nothin'. He said it was against the law to be huntin' up there. Mebby he don't hunt when he feels like it!"
"Did you tell Uncle Frank?"
"Yep. Wish I hadn't. He says for me to stay away from the high country—and not to ride by Sneed's place any more."
Cheyenne turned to Bartley. "I done made one guess right," he said.
"You goin' to kill Sneed?" queried young Jim enthusiastically.
"Nobody's goin' to get killed. But I aim to git my hosses."
Cheyenne turned to Jimmy. "You ride over and tell Uncle Frank and Aunt Jane that me and Mr. Bartley'll be over after we eat."
"Will you sing that 'Git Along' song for me, dad?"
"But why don't you come over and eat to our place? You always stop by, every time you ride down this way," said Jimmy.
"You ride right along, like I told you, or you'll be late for your supper."
Little Jim climbed into the saddle, and, turning to cast a lingering and hopeful glance at Bartley,—a glance which suggested the possibilities of further practice with the Luger gun,—he rode away, a manful figure, despite his size.
"They're bringin' my kid up right," said Cheyenne, as though in explanation of something about which he did not care to talk.
AT AUNT JANE'S
Aunt Jane Lawrence was popular with the young folks of the district, not alone because she was a good cook, but because she was a sort of foster mother to the entire community. The young ladies of the community brought to Aunt Jane their old hats and dresses, along with their love affairs, petty quarrels, and youthful longings. A clever woman at needlework, she was often able to remodel the hats and "turn" the dresses so that they would serve a second season or maybe a third.
The love affairs, petty quarrels, and youthful longings were not always so easy to remodel, even when they needed it: but Aunt Jane managed well. She had much patience and sympathy. She knew the community, and so was often able to help her young friends without conflicting with paternal or maternal views. Hat-trimming and dressmaking were really only incidental to her real purpose in life, which was to help young folks realize their ideals, when such ideals did not lead too far from everyday responsibilities.
Yet, with all her capabilities, her gentle wisdom, and her unobtrusive sympathy, she was unable to influence her Brother Jim—known by every one as "Cheyenne"—toward a settled habit of life. So it became her fondest desire to see that Cheyenne's boy, Little Jim, should be brought up in a home that he would always cherish and respect. Aunt Jane's husband Frank Lawrence, had no patience with Cheyenne's aimless meanderings. Frank Lawrence was a hard-working, silent nonentity. Aunt Jane was the real manager of the ranch, and incidentally of Little Jim, and her husband was more than content that it should be so.
Occasionally Aunt Jane gave a dance at her home. The young folks of the valley came, had a jolly time, and departed, some of them on horseback, some in buckboards, and one or two of the more well-to-do in that small but aggressive vehicle which has since become a universal odor in the nostrils of the world.
Little Jim detested these functions which entailed his best clothes and his best behavior. He did not like girls, and looked down with scorn upon young men who showed any preference for the sex feminine. He made but two exceptions to this hard-baked rule: his Aunt Jane, and her young friend who lived on the neighboring ranch, Dorothy. Little Jim called her Dorry because it sounded like a boy's name. And he liked Dorry because she could ride, and shoot with a twenty-two rifle almost as well as he could. Then, she didn't have a beau, which was the main thing. Once he told her frankly that if she ever got a beau, he—Jimmy—was going to quit.
"Quit what?" asked Dorothy, smiling.
Little Jim did not know just what he was going to quit, but he had imagination.
"Why, quit takin' you out huntin' and campin' and showin' you how to tell deer tracks from goat's tracks—and everything."
"But I have a beau," said Dorothy teasingly.
"Who is he?" demanded Little Jim.
"Promise you won't tell?"
Little Jim hesitated. He did not consider it quite the thing to promise a girl anything. But he was curious. "Uh-huh," he said.
"Jimmy Hastings!" said Dorothy, laughing at his expression.
"That ain't fair!" blurted Little Jim. "I ain't nobody's beau. Shucks! Now you gone and spoiled all the fun."
"I was only teasing you, Jimmy." And she patted Little Jim's tousled head. He wriggled away and smoothed down his hair.
"I can beat you shootin' at tin cans," he said suddenly, to change the subject.
Shooting at tin cans was much more interesting than talking about beaux.
"I have to help Aunt Jane get supper," said Dorothy, who had been invited to stay for supper that evening. In fact, she was often at the Hastings ranch, a more than welcome guest.
Jimmy scowled. Dorry was always helping Aunt Jane make dresses or trim hats, or get supper. A few minutes later Little Jim was out back of the barn, scowling over the sights of his twenty-two at a tomato can a few yards away. He fired and punctured the can.
"Plumb center!" he exclaimed. "You think you're her beau, do you? Well, that's what you get. And if I see you around this here ranch, just even lookin' at her, I'll plug you again." Jimmy was romancing, with the recently discussed subject of beaux in mind.
When Little Jim informed the household that his father and another man were coming over, that evening, Uncle Frank asked who the other man was. Little Jim described Bartley and told about the wonderful Luger gun.
"My dad is huntin' his hosses," he said. "And I know who's got 'em!"
"Was the other man a deputy?" queried Uncle Frank.
"He didn't have a badge on him. He kind of acted like everything was a joke—shootin' at that stump, and everything. He wasn't mad at nobody. And he looked kind of like a dude."
Little Jim meanwhile amused himself by trying to rope the family cat with a piece of clothesline. Uncle Frank, who took everything seriously, asked Little Jim if he had told his father where the horses were.
"Sure I told him. Wouldn't you? They're dad's hosses, Filaree and Josh. I guess he'll make ole Clubfoot Sneed give 'em back!"
"You want to be careful what you say about Mr. Sneed, Jimmy. And don't you go to ridin' over that way again. We aim to keep out of trouble."
Little Jim had succeeded in noosing the cat's neck. That sadly molested animal jumped, rolled over, and clawed at the rope, and left hurriedly with the bit of clothesline trailing in its wake.
"I got to git that cat afore he hangs himself," stated Little Jim, diving out of the house and heading for the barn. Thus he avoided acknowledging his uncle's command to stay away from Sneed's place.
Supper was over and the dishes were washed and put away when Cheyenne and Bartley appeared. Clean-shaven, his dark hair brushed smoothly, a small, dark-blue, silk muffler knotted loosely about his throat, and in a new flannel shirt and whipcord riding-breeches—which he wore under his jeans when on the trail—Bartley pretty well approximated Little Jim's description of him as a dude. And the word "dude" was commonly used rather to differentiate an outlander from a native than in an exactly scornful sense. Without a vestige of self-consciousness, Bartley made himself felt as a distinct entity, physically fit and mentally alert. Cheyenne, with his cow-puncher gait and his general happy-go-lucky attitude, furnished a strong contrast to the trim and well-poised Easterner. Dorothy was quick to appreciate this. She thought that she rather liked Bartley. He was different from the young men whom she knew. Bartley was pleased with her direct and natural manner of answering his many questions about Western life.
Presently he found himself talking about his old home in Kentucky, and the thorough-bred horses of the Blue Grass. The conversation drifted to books and plays, but never once did it approach the subject of guns—and Little Jim, who had hoped that the subject of horse-thieves might be broached, felt altogether out of the running.
He waited patiently, for a while. Then during a lull in the talk he mentioned Sneed's name.
"Jimmy!" reprimanded his Uncle Frank.
Uncle Frank merely gestured, significantly.
Little Jim subsided, frowning, and making a face at Dorothy, who was smiling at him. It seemed mighty queer that, when he "horned in," his Aunt Jane or his uncle always said "Jimmy!" in that particular tone. But when any of the grown-ups interrupted, no one said a word. However, Bartley was not blind to Little Jim's attitude of forced silence, and presently Bartley mentioned the subject of guns, much to Little Jim's joy. Little Jim worked round to the subject of twenty-two rifles, intimating that his own single-shot rifle was about worn out.
Uncle Frank heard and promptly changed the subject. Little Jim was disgusted. A boy just wouldn't talk when other folks were talking, and he couldn't talk when they were not. What was the use of living, anyhow, if you had to go around without talking at all, except when somebody asked you if you had forgotten to close the lane gate and had let the stock get into the alfalfa—and you had to say that you had?
However, Little Jim had his revenge. When Aunt Jane proffered apple pie, later in the evening, Jimmy prefixed his demand for a second piece with the statement that he knew there was another uncut pie in the kitchen, because Aunt Jane had said maybe his dad would eat half a one, and then ask for more.
This gentle insinuation brought forth a sharp reprimand from Uncle Frank. But Jimmy had looked before he leaped.
"Well, Aunt Jane said so. Didn't you, Aunt Jane?"
Whereat every one laughed, including the gentle Aunt Jane. And Jimmy got his second piece of pie.
After the company had found itself, Uncle Frank, Cheyenne, and Bartley forgathered out on the veranda and talked about the missing horses. Little Jim sat silently on the steps, hoping that the talk would swing round to where he could have his say. If he had not discovered the missing horses, how would his father know where they were? It did not seem exactly fair to Little Jim that he should be ignored in the matter.
"I'd just ride over and talk with Sneed," suggested Uncle Frank.
"Oh, I'll do that, all right," asserted Cheyenne.
"But I'd go slow. You might talk like your stock had strayed and you were looking for them. Sneed and Panhandle Sears are pretty thick. I'd start easy, if I was in your boots."
This from the cautious Uncle Frank.
"But you'd go get 'em, if they happened to be your hosses," said Cheyenne. "You're always tellin' me to step light and go slow. I reckon you expect me to sing and laugh and josh and take all the grief that's comin' and forget it."
"No," said Uncle Frank deliberately. "If they was my hosses, I'd ride over and get 'em. But I can't step into your tangle. If I did, Sneed would just nacherally burn us out, some night. There's only two ways to handle a man like Clubfoot Sneed: one is to kill him, and the other is to leave him alone. And it's got to be one or the other when you live as close to the hills as we do. I aim to leave him alone, unless he tries to ride me."
"Which means that you kind of think I ought to let the hosses go, for fear of gettin' you in bad."
Uncle Frank shook his head, but said nothing. Bartley smoked a cigar and listened to the conversation that followed. Called upon by Uncle Frank for his opinion, Bartley hesitated, and then said that, if the horses were his, he would be tempted to go and get them, regardless of consequences. Bartley's stock went up, with Little Jim, right there.
Cheyenne turned to Uncle Frank. "I'm ridin' over to Clubfoot's wikiup to-morrow mornin'. I'll git my hosses, or git him. And I'm ridin' alone."
Little Jim, meanwhile, had been raking his mind for an idea as to how he might attract attention. He disappeared. Presently he appeared in front of the veranda with the end of a long rope in his fist. He blinked and grinned.
"What's on the other end of that rope?" queried Uncle Frank, immediately suspicious.
"Nothin' but High-Tail."
"I thought I told you not to rope that calf," said Uncle Frank, rising.
"I didn't. I jest held my loop in front of some carrots and High-Tail shoves his head into it. Then I says, 'Whoosh!' and he jumps back—and I hung on."
"How in Sam Hill did you get him here?" queried Uncle Frank.
"Jest held a carrot to his nose—and he walked along tryin' to get it."
"Well you shake off that loop and haze him back into the corral."
High-Tail, having eaten the carrot, decided to go elsewhere. He backed away and blatted. Little Jim took a quick dally round a veranda post. High-Tail plunged and fought the rope.
"Turn him loose!" cried Uncle Frank.
"What's the matter?" said Aunt Jane, appearing in the doorway.
Little Jim eased off the dally, but clung to the rope. High-Tail whirled and started for the corral. Little Jim set back on his heels, but Little Jim was a mere item in High-Tail's wild career toward freedom. A patter of hoofs in the dark, and Little Jim and the calf disappeared around the corner of the barn.
Cheyenne laughed and rose, following Uncle Frank to the corral. When they arrived, High-Tail had made his third round of the corral, with Jimmy still attached to the rope. Cheyenne managed to stop the calf and throw off the noose.
Little Jim rose and gazed wildly around. He was one color, from head to foot—and it was a decidedly local color. His jeans were torn and his cotton shirt was in rags, but his grit was unsifted.
"D-didn't I hang to him, dad?" he inquired enthusiastically.
"You sure did!" said Cheyenne.
With a pail of hot water, soap, and fresh raiment, Aunt Jane undertook to make Little Jim's return to the heart of the family as agreeable as possible to all concerned.
"Isn't he hurt?" queried Bartley.
"Not if he doesn't know it," stated Cheyenne.
Cheyenne knew enough about Sneed, by reputation, to make him cautious. He decided to play ace for ace—and, if possible, steal the stolen horses from Sneed. The difficulty was to locate them without being seen. Little Jim had said the horses were in Sneed's corral, somewhere up in the mountain meadows. And because Cheyenne knew little about that particular section of the mountains, he rolled a blanket and packed some provisions to see him through. Bartley and he had returned to their camp after their visit to the ranch, and next morning, as Cheyenne made preparation to ride, Bartley offered to go with him.
Cheyenne dissuaded Bartley from accompanying him, arguing that he could travel faster and more cautiously alone. "One man ridin' in to Sneed's camp wouldn't look as suspicious as two," said Cheyenne. "And if I thought you could help any, I'd say to come along. That's on the square. Me and my little old carbine will make out, I guess."
So Bartley, somewhat against his inclination, stayed in camp, with the understanding that, if Cheyenne did not return in two days, he was to report the circumstance to the authorities in San Andreas, the principal town of the valley.
Meanwhile, the regular routine prevailed at the Lawrence ranch. Uncle Frank had the irrigation plant to look after; and Aunt Jane was immersed in the endless occupation of housekeeping. Little Jim had his regular light tasks to attend to, and that morning he made short work of them. It was not until noon that Aunt Jane missed him. He had disappeared completely, as had his saddle-pony.
At first, Jimmy had thought of riding over to his father's camp, but he was afraid his father would guess his intent and send him back home. So he tied his pony to a clump of junipers some distance from the camp, and, crawling to a rise, he lay and watched Cheyenne saddle up and take the trail that led into the high country. A half-hour later, Jimmy mounted his pony and, riding wide of the camp, he cut into the hill trail and followed it on up through the brush to the hillside timber. He planned to ride until he got so far into the mountains that when he did overtake his father and offer his assistance in locating the stolen horses, it would hardly seem worth while to send him back. Jimmy expected to be ordered back, but he had his own argument ready in that event.
Little Jim's pony carried him swiftly up the grade. Meanwhile, Cheyenne had traveled rather slowly, saving his horse. At a bend in the trail he drew rein to breathe the animal. On the lookout for any moving thing, he glanced back and down—and saw an old black hat bobbing along through the brush below. He leaned forward and peered down. "The little cuss!" he exclaimed, grinning. Then his expression changed. "Won't do, a-tall! His aunt will be havin' fits—and Miss Dorry'll be helpin' her to have 'em, if she hears of it. Dog-gone that boy!"
Nevertheless, Cheyenne was pleased. His boy had sand, and liked adventure. Little Jim might have stayed in camp, with Bartley, and spent a joyous day shooting at a mark, incidentally hinting to the Easterner that "his ole twenty-two was about worn out." But Little Jim had chosen to follow his father into the hills.
"Reckon he figures to see what'll happen," muttered Cheyenne as he led his horse off the trail and waited for Jimmy to come up.
Little Jim's black hat bobbed steadily up the switchbacks. Presently he was on the stretch of trail at the end of which his father waited, concealed in the brush.
As Little Jim's pony approached the bend it pricked its ears and snorted. "Git along, you!" said Jimmy.
"Where you goin'?" queried Cheyenne, stepping out on the trail.
Little Jim gazed blankly at his father. "I'm just a-ridin'. I wa'n't goin' no place."
"Well, you took the wrong trail to get there. You fan it back to the folks."
"Aunt Jane is my boss!" said Jimmy defiantly. "'Course she is," agreed Cheyenne. "You and me, we're just pardners. But, honest, Jimmy, you can't do no good, doggin' along after me. Your Aunt Jane would sure stretch my hide if she knowed I let you come along."
"I won't tell her."
"But she'd find out. You just ride back and wait down at my camp. I'll find them hosses, all right."
Little Jim hesitated, twisting his fingers in his pony's mane. "Suppose," he ventured, "that a bunch of Sneed's riders was to run on to you? You'd sure need help."
"That's just it! Supposin' they did? And supposin' they took a crack at us, they might git you—for you sure look man-size, a little piece off."
Jimmy grinned at the compliment, but compliments could not alter his purpose. "I got my ole twenty-two loaded," he asserted hopefully.
"Then you just ride back and help Mr. Bartley take care of the hosses. He ain't much of a hand with stock."
"Can't I go with you?"
"Not this trip, son. But I'll tell you somethin'. Mr. Bartley, down there, said to me this mornin' that he was goin' to buy you a brand-new twenty-two rifle, one of these days: mebby after we locate the hosses. You better have a talk with him about it."
This was a temptation to ride back: yet Jimmy had set his heart on going with his father. And his father had said that he was simply going to ride up to Sneed's place and have a talk with him. Jimmy wanted to hear that talk. He knew that his father meant business when he had told him to go back.
"All right for you!" said Jimmy finally. And he reined his pony round and rode back down the trail sullenly, his black hat pulled over his eyes, and his small back very straight and stiff.
Cheyenne watched him until the brush of the lower levels intervened. Then Cheyenne began the ascent, his eye alert, his mind upon the task ahead. When Little Jim realized that his father was so far into the timber that the trail below was shut from view, he reined his pony round again and began to climb the grade, slowly, this time, for fear that he might overtake his father too soon.
Riding the soundless upland trail that meandered among the spruce and pine, skirting the edges of the mountain meadows and keeping within the timber, Cheyenne finally reached the main ridge of the range. Occasionally he dismounted and examined the tracks of horses.
It was evident that Sneed had quite a bunch of horses running in the meadows. Presently Cheyenne came to a narrow trail which crossed a meadow. At the far end of the trail, close to the timber, was a spring, fenced with poles. The spring itself was boxed, and roundabout were the marks of high-heeled boots. Cheyenne realized that he must be close to Sneed's cabin. He wondered if he had been seen.
If he had, the only thing to do was to act natural. He was now too close to a habitation—although he could see none—to do otherwise. So he dismounted and, tying his horse to the spring fence, he stepped through the gate and picked up the rusted tin cup and dipped it in the cold mountain water. He had the cup halfway to his lips when his horse nickered. From somewhere in the brush came an answering nicker. Cheyenne, kneeling, threw the water from the cup as though he had discovered dirt in it, and dipped the cup again.
Behind him he heard his horse moving restlessly. As Cheyenne raised the cup to drink, he half closed his eyes, and glancing sideways, caught a glimpse of a figure standing near the upper end of the spring fence. Cheyenne drank, set down the cup, and, rising, turned his back on the figure, and, stretching his arms, yawned heartily. He strode to his horse, untied the reins, mounted, and began to sing:
Seems like I don't get anywhere Git along, cayuse, git along! But we're leavin' here and—
"What's your hurry?" came from behind him.
Cheyenne turned and glanced back. "Hello, neighbor! Now, if I'd 'a' knowed you was around, I'd 'a' asked you to have a drink with me."
A tall, heavy-set mountain man, bearded, and limping noticeably, stepped round the end of the spring fence and strode toward him. From Uncle Frank's description, Cheyenne at once recognized the stranger as Sneed. Across Sneed's left arm lay a rifle. Cheyenne saw him let down the hammer as he drew near.
"Where you headed?" queried Sneed.
"Me, I'm lookin' for Bill Sneed's cabin. You ain't Sneed, are you?"
"Yes, I'm Sneed."
"Well, I'm in luck. I'm Cheyenne Hastings."
"That don't buy you nothin' around here. What do you want to see me about?"
"Why, I done lost a couple of hosses the other night. I reckon somethin' stampeded 'em, for they never strayed far from camp before. I trailed 'em up to the hills and then lost their tracks on the rocks. Thought I'd ride up and see if you had seen 'em—a little ole buckskin and a gray."
Sneed waved his hand toward the east. "My corrals are over there. You're welcome to look my stock over."
"Thanks. This way, you said?"
Cheyenne hesitated, hoping that Sneed would take the lead. But the mountain man merely gestured again and followed Cheyenne through a patch of timber, and across another meadow—and Cheyenne caught a glimpse of the ridge of a cabin roof, and smoke above it. Close to the cabin was a large pole corral. Cheyenne saw the backs of Filaree and Joshua, among the other horses, long before he came to the corral. Yet, not wishing to appear too eager, he said nothing until he arrived at the corner of the fence.
Then he turned and pointed. "Them's my hosses—the gray and the buckskin. I'm mighty glad you caught 'em up."
Sneed nodded. "One of my boys found them in with a bunch of my stock and run them in here."
A few rods from the corral stood the cabin, larger than Cheyenne had imagined, and built of heavy logs, with a wide-roofed porch running across the entire front. On the veranda lay several saddles. Tied to the hitch rail stood two chunky mountain ponies that showed signs of recent hard use.
Cheyenne smiled as he turned toward Sneed. "You got a mighty snug homestead up here, neighbor."
"Tie your horse and step in," invited Sneed.
"He'll stand," said Cheyenne, dismounting and dropping the reins.
Cheyenne was in the enemy's country. But he trusted to his ability to play up to his reputation for an easy-going hobo to get him out again, without trouble. He appeared unaware of the covert suspicion with which Sneed watched his every movement.
"Meet the boys," said Sneed as they entered the cabin.
Cheyenne nodded to the four men who sat playing cards at a long table in the main room. They returned his nod indifferently and went on with their game. Cheyenne pretended an interest in the game, meanwhile studying the visible characteristics of the players. One and all they were hard-boiled, used to the open, rough-spoken, and indifferent to Cheyenne's presence.
Sneed stepped to the kitchen and pulled the coffee-pot to the front of the stove. Finally Cheyenne strolled out to the veranda and seated himself on the long bench near the doorway. He picked up a stick and began to whittle, and as he whittled his gaze traveled from the log stable to the corral, and from there to the edge of the clearing. He heard Sneed speak to one of the men in a low voice. Cheyenne slipped his knife into his pocket and his fingers touched the pair of dice.
He drew out the dice and rattled them. "Go 'way, you snake eyes!" he chanted as he threw the dice along the bench. "Little Jo, where you bushin' out? You sure are bashful!" He threw again. "Roll on, you box-car! I don't like you, nohow! Nine? Nine? Five and a four! Six and a three! Just as easy!"
Sneed came to the doorway and glanced at Cheyenne, who continued shooting craps with himself, oblivious to Sneed's muttered comment. Sneed turned and stepped in. "Crazy as a hoot owl," he said as one of the card-players glanced up.
Cheyenne picked up the dice and listened. He heard Sneed stepping heavily about the kitchen, and he heard an occasional and vivid exclamation from one of the card-players. He glanced at the distant edge of timber. He shook his head. "Can't make it!" he declared, and again he threw the dice.
One of the cubes rolled off the bench. He stooped and picked it up. As he straightened, he stared. Just at the edge of the timber he saw Little Jim's pony, and Little Jim's black hat. Some one in the cabin pushed back a chair. Evidently the card game was finished.
Then Cheyenne heard Sneed's voice: "Just lay off that game, if you want to eat. Come and get it."
Wondering what Little Jim was up to, Cheyenne turned and walked into the cabin. "Guess I'll wash up, first," he said, gazing about as though looking for the wherewithal to wash. He knew well enough where the basin was. He had noticed it out by the kitchen door, when he rode up to the cabin. Sneed told him where to find the basin. Cheyenne stepped round the cabin. Covertly he glanced toward the edge of the timber. Little Jim had disappeared.
Entering the cabin briskly, Cheyenne took his place at the table and ate heartily.
Lawson, who seemed to be Sneed's right-hand man, was the first to speak to him. "Bill tells me you are huntin' hosses."
"Yep! That little gray and the buckskin, out in your corral, are my hosses. They strayed—"
"Didn't see no brand on 'em," declared Lawson.
"Nope. They never was branded. I raised 'em both, when I was workin' for Senator Steve, over to the Box-S."
"That sounds all right. But you got to show me. I bought them cayuses from a Chola, down in the valley."
Cheyenne suspected that Lawson was trying to create argument and, in so doing, open up a way to make him back down and leave or take the consequences of his act in demanding the horses.
"Honest, they're my hosses," declared Cheyenne, turning to Sneed.
"You'll have to talk to Lawson," said Sneed.
Cheyenne frowned and scratched his head. Suddenly his face brightened. "Tell you what I'll do! I'll shoot you craps for 'em."
"That's all right, but what'll you put up against 'em?" asked Lawson.
"What did you pay for 'em?" queried Cheyenne.
"You got 'em cheap. They're worth that much to me." Cheyenne pushed back his chair and, fishing in his jeans, dug up a purse. "Here's my fifty. As soon as you get through eatin' we'll shoot for the ponies."
Lawson, while finishing his meal, made up his mind that Cheyenne would not get away with that fifty dollars, game or no game; and, also, that he would not get the horses. Cheyenne knew this—knew the kind of man he was dealing with. But he had a reason to keep the men in the cabin. Little Jim was out there somewhere, and up to something. If any of the men happened to catch sight of Little Jim, they would suspect Cheyenne of some trickery. Moreover, if Little Jim were caught—but Cheyenne refused to let himself think of what might happen in that event.
Cheyenne threw the dice on the table as Lawson got up. "Go ahead and shoot."
"Show me what I got to beat," said Lawson.
"All right. Watch 'em close."
Cheyenne gathered up the dice and threw. Calling his point, he snapped his fingers and threw again. The men crowded round, momentarily interested in Cheyenne's sprightly monologue. Happening to glance through the doorway as he gathered up the dice for another throw, Cheyenne noticed that his horse had turned and was standing, with ears and eyes alert, looking toward the corral.
Cheyenne tossed up the dice, caught them and purposely made a wild throw. One of the little cubes shot across the table and clattered on the floor. Cheyenne barely had time to glance through the kitchen doorway and the window beyond as he recovered the cube. But he had seen that the corral bars were down and that the corral was empty. Quickly he resumed his place at the table and threw again, meanwhile talking steadily. He had not made his point nor had he thrown a seven. Sweat prickled on his forehead. Little Jim had seen his father's horses and knew that the men were in the cabin. With the rashness of boyhood he had sneaked up to the corral, dropped the bars, and had then flung pine cones at the horses, starting them to milling and finally to a dash through the gateway and out into the meadow.
Cheyenne brushed his arm across his face. "Come on you, Filaree!" he chanted.
Somebody would be mightily surprised when the ownership of Filaree and Joshua was finally decided. Unwittingly, Little Jim had placed his father in a still more precarious position. Sneed and his men, finding the corral empty, would naturally conclude that Cheyenne had kept them busy while some friend had run off the horses. Cheyenne knew the risks he ran; but, above all, he wanted to prolong the game until Little Jim got safely beyond reach of Sneed's men. As for himself—
Again Cheyenne threw, but he did not make his point, nor throw a seven. He threw several times; and still he did not make his point. Finally he made his point. Smiling, he gathered up his money and tucked it in his pocket.
"I reckon that settles it," he said cheerfully.
Sneed and Lawson exchanged glances. Cheyenne, rolling a cigarette, drew a chair toward them and sat down. He seemed at home, and altogether friendly. One of the men picked up a deck of cards and suggested a game. Sneed lighted his pipe and stepped to the kitchen to get a drink of water. Cheyenne glanced casually round the cabin, drew his feet under himself, and jumped for the doorway. He heard Sneed drop the dipper and knew that Sneed would pick up something else, and quickly.
Cheyenne made the saddle on the run, reined toward the corral, and, passing it on the run, turned in the saddle to glance back. Sneed was in the doorway. Cheyenne jerked his horse to one side and dug in the spurs. Sneed's rifle barked and a bullet whined past Cheyenne's head. He crouched in the saddle. Again a bullet whistled across the sunlit clearing. The cow-horse was going strong. A tree flicked past, then another and another.
Cheyenne straightened in the saddle and glanced back through the timber. He saw a jumble of men and horses in front of the cabin. "They got just two hosses handy, and they're rode down," he muttered as he sped through the shadows of the forest.
Across another sun-swept meadow he rode, and into the timber again—and before he realized it he was back on the mountain trail that led to the valley. He took the first long, easy grade on the run, checked at the switchback, and pounded down the succeeding grade, still under cover of the hillside timber, but rapidly nearing the more open country of brush and rock.
As he reined in at the second switchback he saw, far below, and going at a lively trot, seven or eight horses, and behind them, hazing them along as fast as the trail would permit, Little Jim.
"If Sneed's outfit gets to the rim before he makes the next turn, they'll get him sure," reasoned Cheyenne.
He thought of turning back and trying to stop Sneed's men. He thought of turning his horse loose and ambushing the mountainmen, afoot. But Cheyenne did not want to kill. His greatest fear was that Little Jim might get hurt. As he hesitated, a rifle snarled from the rim above, and he saw Little Jim's horse flinch and jump forward.
"I reckon it's up to us, old Steel Dust," he said to his horse.
Hoping to draw the fire of the men above, he eased his horse round the next bend and then spurred him to a run. Below, Little Jim was jogging along, within a hundred yards or so of the bend that would screen him from sight. Realizing that he could never make the next turn on the run, Cheyenne gripped with his knees, and leaned back to meet the shock as Steel Dust plunged over the end of the turn and crashed through the brush below. A slug whipped through the brush and clipped a twig in front of the horse.
Steel Dust swerved and lunged on down through the heavy brush. A naked creek-bed showed white and shimmering at the bottom of the slope. Again a slug whined through the sunlight and Cheyenne's hat spun from his head and settled squarely on a low bush. It was characteristic of Cheyenne that he grabbed for his hat—and got it as he dashed past.
"Keep the change," said Cheyenne as he ducked beneath a branch and straightened up again. He was almost to the creek-bed, naked to the sunlight, and a bad place to cross with guns going from above. He pulled up, slipped from his horse, and slapped him on the flank.
The pony leaped forward, dashed across the creek-bed, and cut into the trail beyond. A bullet flattened to a silver splash on a boulder. Another bullet shot a spurt of sand into the air. Cheyenne crouched tense, and then made a rush. A slug sang past his head. Heat palpitated in the narrow draw. He gained the opposite bank, dropped, and crawled through the brush and lay panting, close to the trail. From above him somewhere came the note of a bird: Chirr-up! Chirr-up! Again a slug tore through the brush scattering twigs and tiny leaves on Cheyenne's hat.
"That one didn't say, 'Cheer up!'" murmured Cheyenne.
When he had caught his breath he crawled out and into the narrow trail. The shooting had ceased. Evidently the men were riding. Stepping round the shoulder of the next bend, he peered up toward the rim of the range. A tiny figure appeared riding down the first long grade, and then another figure. Turning, he saw his own horse quietly nipping at the grass in the crevices of the rocks along the trail.
He walked down to the horse slowly and caught him up. Loosening his carbine from the scabbard, and deeming himself lucky to have it, after that wild ride down the mountain, he stepped back to the angle of the bend, rested the carbine against a rocky shoulder and dropped a shot in front of the first rider, who stopped suddenly and took to cover.
"That'll hold 'em for a spell," said Cheyenne, stepping back. He mounted and rode on down the trail, eyeing the tracks of the horses that Little Jim was hazing toward the valley below. Cheyenne shook his head. "He's done run off the whole dog-gone outfit! There's nothin' stingy about that kid."
Striking to the lower level, Cheyenne cut across country to his camp. He found Bartley leaning comfortably back against a saddle, reading aloud, and opposite him sat Dorry, so intent upon the reading that she did not hear Cheyenne until he spoke.
"Evenin', folks! Seen anything of Jimmy?"
"Oh—Cheyenne! No, have you?" It was Dorothy who spoke, as Bartley closed the book and got to his feet.
"Was you lookin' for Jimmy's address in that there book?" queried Cheyenne, grinning broadly.
Dorothy flushed and glanced at Bartley, who immediately changed the subject by calling attention to Cheyenne's hat. Cheyenne also changed the subject by stating that Jimmy had recently ridden down the trail toward the ranch—with some horses.
"Then you got your horses?" said Bartley.
"I reckon they're over to the ranch about now."
"Jimmy has been gone all day," said Dorothy. "Aunt Jane is terribly worried about him."
"Jimmy and me took a little ride in the hills," said Cheyenne casually. "But you needn't to tell Aunt Jane that Jimmy was with me. It turned out all right."
"I rode over to your camp to look for Jimmy," said Dorothy, "but Mr. Bartley had not seen him."
Cheyenne nodded and reined his horse round.
"Why, your shirt is almost ripped from your back!" said Bartley.
"My hoss shied, back yonder, and stepped off into the brush. We kept on through the brush. It was shorter."
Dorothy mounted her horse, and, nodding farewell to Bartley, accompanied Cheyenne to the ranch. When they were halfway there, Dorothy, who had been riding thoughtfully along, saying nothing, turned to her companion: "Cheyenne, you had trouble up there. You might at least tell me about it."
"Well, Miss Dorry—" And Cheyenne told her how Jimmy had followed him, how he had sent Jimmy back, and the unexpected appearance of that young hopeful in the timber near Sneed's cabin. "I was in there, figurin' hard how to get my hosses and get away, when, somehow, Jimmy got to the corral and turned Sneed's stock loose and hazed 'em down the trail. But where he run 'em to is the joke. I figured he would show up at our camp. It would be just like him to run the whole bunch into the ranch corral. And I reckon he done it."
"But, Mr. Sneed!" exclaimed Dorothy. "If he finds out we had anything to do with running off his horses—"
"He never saw Jimmy clost enough to tell who he was. 'Course, Sneed knows Aunt Jane is my sister, and most he'll suspicion is that I got help from some of my folks. But so far he don't know who helped me turn the trick."
"You don't seem to be very serious about it," declared Dorothy.
"Serious? Me? Why, ain't most folks serious enough without everybody bein' took that way?"
"Perhaps. But I knew something had happened the minute you rode into camp."
"So did I," asserted Cheyenne, and he spoke sharply to his horse.
Dorothy flushed. "Cheyenne, I rode over to find Jimmy. You needn't—Oh, there's Aunt Jane now! And there's Jimmy, and the corral is full of horses!"
"Reckon we better step along," and Cheyenne put Steel Dust to a lope.
MORE PONY TRACKS
Summoned from the west end of the ranch, where he had been irrigating the alfalfa, Uncle Frank arrived at the house just as Cheyenne and Dorothy rode up. Little Jim was excitedly endeavoring to explain to Aunt Jane how the corral came to be filled with strange horses.
Uncle Frank nodded to Cheyenne and turned to Jimmy. "Where you been?"
"I was over on the mountain."
"How did these horses get here?"
Uncle Frank's eye was stern. Jimmy hesitated. He had been forbidden to go near Sneed's place; and he knew that all that stood between a harness strap and his small jeans was the presence of Dorothy and Cheyenne. It was pretty tough to have recovered the stolen horses single-handed, and then to take a licking for it.
Little Jim gazed hopefully at his father.
"Why, I was chousin' around up there," he explained, "and I seen dad's hosses, and—and I started 'em down the trail and the whole blame bunch followed 'em. They was travelin' so fast I couldn't cut 'em out, so I just let 'em drift. Filaree and Josh just nacherally headed for the corral and the rest followed 'em in."
Uncle Frank gazed sternly at Jimmy. "Who told you to help your father get his horses?"
"Did your Aunt Jane tell you you could go over to the mountain?"
"I never asked her."
"You trot right into the house and stay there," said Uncle Frank.
Little Jim cast an appealing glance at Cheyenne and walked slowly toward the house, incidentally and unconsciously rubbing his hand across his jeans with a sort of anticipatory movement. He bit his lip, and the tears started to his eyes. But he shook them away, wondering what he might do to avert the coming storm. Perhaps his father would interpose between him and the dreaded harness strap. Yet Jimmy knew that his father had never interfered when a question of discipline arose.
Suddenly Little Jim's face brightened. He marched through the house to the wash bench, and, unsolicited, washed his hands and face and soaped his hair, after which he slicked it down carefully, so that there might be no mistake about his having brushed and combed it. He rather hoped that Uncle Frank or Aunt Jane would come in just then and find him at this unaccustomed task. It might help.
Meanwhile, Cheyenne and his brother-in-law had a talk, outside. Dorothy and Aunt Jane retired to the veranda, talking in low tones. Presently Little Jim, who could stand the strain no longer,—the jury seemed a long time at arriving at a verdict,—appeared on the front veranda, hatless, washed, and his hair fearfully and wonderfully brushed and combed.
"Why, Jimmy!" exclaimed Dorothy.
Jimmy fidgeted and glanced away bashfully. Presently he stole to his Aunt Jane's side.
"Am I goin' to get a lickin'?" he queried.
Aunt Jane shook her head, and patted his hand. Entrenched beside Aunt Jane, Jimmy watched his father and Uncle Frank as they talked by the big corral. Uncle Frank was gesturing toward the mountains. Cheyenne was arguing quietly.
"It ain't just the runnin' off of Sneed's hosses," said Uncle Frank. "That's bad enough. But I told Jimmy to keep away from Sneed's."
"So did I," declared Cheyenne. "And seein' as I'm his dad, it's up to me to lick him if he's goin' to get licked."
"Sneed is like to ride down some night and set fire to the barns," asserted Uncle Frank.
"Sneed don't know yet who run off his stock. And he can't say that I did, and prove it. Now, Frank, you just hold your hosses. I'll ride over to camp and get my outfit together and come over here. Then we'll throw Steve Brown's hosses into your pasture, and I'll see that Sneed's stock is out of here, pronto."
"That's all right. But Sneed will trail his stock down here."
"But he won't find 'em here. And he'll never know they was in your corral."
Uncle Frank shook his head doubtfully. He was a pessimist and always argued the worst of a possible situation.
"And before I'll see Jimmy take a lickin'—this trip—I'll ride back and shoot it out with Sneed and his outfit," stated Cheyenne.
"I reckon you're fool enough to do it," said Uncle Frank.
* * * * *
An hour later Bartley and Cheyenne were at the Lawrence ranch, where they changed packs, saddled Filaree and Joshua, and turned the horses borrowed from Steve Brown into Uncle Frank's back pasture.
Little Jim watched these operations with keen interest. He wanted to help, but refrained for fear that he would muss up his hair—and he wanted Uncle Frank to notice his hair as it was.
Aunt Jane hastily prepared a meal and Dorothy helped.
In a few minutes Cheyenne and Bartley had eaten, and were ready for the road. Cheyenne stepped up and shook hands with Jimmy, as though Jimmy were a grown-up. Jimmy felt elated. There was no one just like his father, even if folks did say that Cheyenne Hastings could do better than ride around the country singing and joking with everybody.