"And don't forget to stop by when you come back," said Aunt Jane, bidding farewell to Bartley.
Dorothy shook hands with the Easterner and wished him a pleasant journey, rather coolly, Bartley thought. She was much more animated when bidding farewell to Cheyenne.
"And I won't forget to send you that rifle," said Bartley as he nodded to Little Jim.
Uncle Frank helped them haze Sneed's horses out of the yard on to the road, where Cheyenne waited to head them from taking the hill trail, again.
Just as he left, Bartley turned to Dorothy who stood twisting a pomegranate bud in her fingers. "May I have it?" he asked, half in jest.
She tossed the bud to him and he caught it. Then he spurred out after Cheyenne who was already hazing the horses down the road. Occasionally one of the horses tried to break out and take to the hills, but Cheyenne always headed it back to the bunch, determined, for some reason unknown to Bartley, to keep the horses together and going south.
The road climbed gradually, winding in and out among the foothills. As the going became stiffer, the rock outcropped and the dust settled.
The horses slowed to a walk. Bartley wondered why his companion seemed determined to drive Sneed's stock south. He thought it would be just as well to let them break for the hills, and not bother with them. But Cheyenne offered no explanation. He evidently knew what he was about.
To their right lay the San Andreas Valley across which the long, slanting shadows of sunset crept slowly. Still Cheyenne kept the bunch of horses going briskly, when the going permitted speed. Just over a rise they came suddenly upon an Apache, riding a lean, active paint horse. Cheyenne pulled up and talked with the Indian. The latter grinned, nodded, and, jerking his pony round, rode after the horses as they drifted ahead. Bartley saw the Apache bunch the animals again, and turn them off the road toward the hills.
"Didn't expect to meet up with luck, so soon," declared Cheyenne. "I figured to turn Sneed's hosses loose when I'd got 'em far enough from the ranch. But that Injun'll take care of 'em. Sneed ain't popular with the Apaches. Sneed's cabin is right clost to the res'avation line."
"What will the Indian do with the horses?" queried Bartley.
"Most like trade 'em to his friends."
Bartley gestured toward a spot of green far across the valley. "Looks like a town," he said.
"San Andreas—and that's where we stop, to-night. No campin' in the brush for me while Sneed is ridin' the country lookin' for his stock. It wouldn't be healthy."
SAN ANDREAS TOWN
A sleepy town, that paid little attention to the arrival or departure of strangers, San Andreas in the valley merely rubbed its eyes and dozed again as Cheyenne and Bartley rode in, put up their horses at the livery, and strolled over to the adobe hotel where they engaged rooms for the night.
Bartley was taken by the picturesque simplicity of the place, and next morning he suggested that they stay a few days and enjoy the advantage of having some one other than themselves cook their meals and make their beds. The hotel, a relic of old times, with its patio and long portal, its rooms whose lower floors were on the ground level, its unpretentious spaciousness, appealed strongly to Bartley as something unusual in the way of a hostelry. It seemed restful, romantic, inviting. It was a place where a man might write, dream, loaf, and smoke. Then, incidentally, it was not far from the Lawrence ranch, which was not far from the home of a certain young woman whom Little Jim called "Dorry."
Bartley thought that Dorothy was rather nice—in fact, singularly interesting. He had not imagined that a Western girl could be so thoroughly domestic, natural, charming, and at the same time manage a horse so well. He had visioned Western girls as hard-voiced horse-women, masculine, bold, and rather scornful of a man who did not wear chaps and ride broncos. True, Dorothy was not like the girls in the East. She seemed less sophisticated—less inclined to talk small talk just for its own sake; yet, concluded Bartley, she was utterly feminine and quite worth while.
Cheyenne smiled as Bartley suggested that they stay in San Andreas a few days; and Cheyenne nodded in the direction from which they had come.
"I kinda like this part of the country, myself," he said, "but I hate to spend all my money in one place."
Bartley suddenly realized that his companion, was nothing more than a riding hobo, a vagrant, without definite means of support, and disinclined to stay in any one place long.
"I'll take care of the expenses," said Bartley.
Cheyenne smiled, but shook his head. "It ain't that, right now. Me, I got to shoot that there game of craps with Panhandle, and I figure he won't ride this way."
"But you have recovered your horses," argued Bartley.
Cheyenne gestured toward the south. "I reckon I'll keep movin', pardner. And that game of craps is as good a excuse as I want."
"I had hoped that it would be plain sailing, from now on," declared Bartley. "I thought of stopping here only three or four days. This sort of town is new to me."
"They's lots like it, between here and the border," said Cheyenne. "But I don't want no 'dobe walls between me and the sky-line, reg'lar. I can stand it for a day, mebby."
"Well, perhaps we may agree to dissolve partnership temporarily," suggested Bartley. "I think I'll stay here a few days, at least."
"That's all right, pardner. I don't aim to tell no man how to live. But me, I aim to live in the open."
"Do you think that man Sneed will ride down this way?" queried Bartley, struck by a sudden idea.
"That ain't why I figure to keep movin'," said Cheyenne. "But seein' as you figure to stay, I'll stick around to-day, and light out to-morrow mornin'. Mebby you'll change your mind, and come along."
Bartley spent the forenoon with Cheyenne, prowling about the old town, interested in its quaint unusualness. The afternoon heat drove him to the shade of the hotel veranda, and, feeling unaccountably drowsy, he finally went to his room, and, stretching out on the bed, fell asleep. He was awakened by Cheyenne's knock at the door. Supper was ready.
After supper they strolled out to the street and watched the town wake up. From down the street a ways came the sound of a guitar and singing. A dog began to howl. Then came a startled yelp, and the howl died away in the dusk. The singing continued. A young Mexican in a blue serge suit, tan shoes, and with a black sombrero set aslant on his head, walked down the street beside a Mexican girl, young, fat, and giggling. They passed the hotel with all the self-consciousness of being attired in their holiday raiment.
A wagon rattled past and stopped at the saloon a few doors down the street. Then a ragged Mexican, hazing two tired burros, appeared in the dim light cast from a window—a quaint silhouette that merged in the farther shadows. Cheyenne moved his feet restlessly.
Bartley smiled. "The road for mine," he quoted.
Cheyenne nodded. "Reckon I'll go see how the hosses are makin' it."
"I'll walk over with you," said Bartley.
As they came out of the livery barn again, Bartley happened to glance at the lighted doorway of the cantina opposite. From within the saloon came the sound of glasses clinking occasionally, and voices engaged in lazy conversation. Cheyenne fingered the dice in his pocket and hummed a tune. Slowly he moved toward the lighted doorway, and Bartley walked beside him.
"I got a thirst," stated Cheyenne.
Bartley laughed. "Well, as we are about to dissolve partnership, I don't mind taking one myself."
"Tough joint," declared Cheyenne as he stepped up to the doorway.
"All the better," said Bartley.
A young rancher, whose team stood at the hitch-rail, nodded pleasantly as they entered.
"Mescal," said Cheyenne, and he laid a silver dollar on the bar.
Bartley glanced about the low-ceilinged room. The place, poorly lighted with oil lamps, looked sinister enough to satisfy the most hardy adventurer, although it was supposed to be a sort of social center for the enjoyment of vino and talk. The bar was narrow, made of some kind of soft wood, and painted blue. The top of it was almost paintless in patches.
Back of the bar a narrow shelf, also painted blue, offered a lean choice of liquors. Several Mexicans lounged at the side tables along the wall. The young American rancher stood at the bar, drinking. The proprietor, a fat, one-eyed Mexican whose face was deeply pitted from smallpox, served Bartley and Cheyenne grudgingly. The mescal was fiery stuff. Bartley coughed as he swallowed it.
"Why not just whiskey, and have it over with?" he queried, grinning at Cheyenne.
"Whiskey ain't whiskey, here," Cheyenne replied. "But mescal is just what she says she is. I like to know the kind of poison I'm drinkin'."
Bartley began to experience an inner glow that was not unpleasant. Once down, this native Mexican drink was not so bad. He laid a coin on the bar and the glasses were filled again.
Cheyenne nodded and drank Bartley's health. Bartley suggested that they sit at one of the side tables and study the effects of mescal on the natives present.
"Let joy be unconfined," said Cheyenne.
"Where in the world did you get that?"
"Oh, I can read," declared Cheyenne. "Before I took to ramblin', I used to read some, nights. I reckon that's where I got the idea of makin' up po'try, later."
"I really beg your pardon," said Bartley.
"The mescal must of told you."
"I don't quite get that," said Bartley.
"No? Well, you ain't the first. Josh and Filaree is the only ones that sabes me. Let's sit in this corner and watch the mescal work for a livin'."
It was a hot night. Sweat prickled on Bartley's forehead. His nose itched. He lit a cigar. It tasted bitter, so he asked Cheyenne for tobacco and papers, and rolled a cigarette. He inhaled a whiff, and felt more comfortable. The Mexicans, who had ceased to talk when Bartley and Cheyenne entered, were now at it again, making plenty of noise.
Cheyenne hummed to himself and tapped the floor with his boot-heel. "She's a funny old world," he declared.
Bartley nodded and blew a smoke-ring.
"Miss Dorry's sure a interestin' girl," asserted Cheyenne.
Bartley nodded again.
"Kind of young and innocent-like."
Again Bartley nodded.
"It ain't a bad country to settle down in, for folks that likes to settle," said Cheyenne.
Bartley glanced sharply at his companion. Cheyenne was gazing straight ahead. His face was unreadable.
"Now if I was the settlin' kind—" He paused and slowly turned toward Bartley. "A man could raise alfalfa and chickens and kids."
"Go ahead," laughed Bartley.
"I'm goin'—to-morrow mornin'. And you say you figure to stay here a spell?"
"Oh, just a few days. I imagine I shall grow tired of it. But to-night, I feel pretty well satisfied to stay right where I am."
Cheyenne rose and strode to the bar. After a short argument with the proprietor, he returned with a bottle and glasses. Bartley raised his eyebrows questioningly.
"Once in a while—" And Cheyenne gestured toward the bottle.
"It's powerful stuff," said Bartley.
"We ain't far from the hotel," declared Cheyenne. And he filled their glasses.
"This ought to be the last, for me," said Bartley, drinking. "But don't let that make any difference to you."
Cheyenne drank and shrugged his shoulders. He leaned back and gazed at the opposite wall. Bartley vaguely realized that the Mexicans were chattering, that two or three persons had come in, and that the atmosphere was heavy with tobacco smoke. He unbuttoned his shirt-collar.
Presently Cheyenne twisted round in his chair. "Remember Little Jim, back at the Hastings ranch?"
"I should say so! It would be difficult to forget him."
"Miss Dorry thinks a heap of that kid."
"She seems to."
"Now, I ain't drunk," Cheyenne declared solemnly. "I sure wish I was. You know Little Jim is my boy. Well, his ma is livin' over to Laramie. She writ to me to come back to her, onct. I reckon Sears got tired of her. She lived with him a spell after she quit me. Folks say Sears treated her like a dog. I guess I wasn't man enough, when I heard that—"
"You mean Panhandle Sears—at Antelope?"
"Oh, I see!" said Bartley slowly. "And that crap game, at Antelope—I see!"
"If Panhandle had a-jumped me, instead of you, that night, I'd 'a' killed him. Do you know why Wishful stepped in and put Sears down? Wishful did that so that there wouldn't be a killin'. That's the second time Sears has had his chance to git me, but he won't take that chance. That's the second time we met up since—since my wife left me. The third time it'll be lights out for somebody. I ain't drunk."
"Then Sears has got a yellow streak?"
"Any man that uses a woman rough has. When Jimmy's ma left us, I reckon I went loco. It wa'n't just her leavin' us. But when I heard she had took up with Sears, and knowin' what he was—I just quit. I was workin' down here at the ranch, then. I went up North, figurin' to kill him. Folks thought I was yellow, for not killin' him. They think so right now. Mebby I am.
"I worked up North a spell, but I couldn't stay. So I lit out and come down South again. First time I met up with Sears was over on the Tonto. He stepped up and slapped my face, in front of a crowd, in the Lone Star. And I took it. But I told him I'd sure see him again, and give him another chance to slap my face.
"You see, Panhandle Sears is that kind—he's got to work himself up to kill a man. And over there at Antelope, that night, he just about knowed that if he lifted a finger, I'd git him. He figured to start a ruckus, and then git me in the mix-up. Wishful was on, and he stopped that chance. Folks think that because I come ridin' and singin' and joshin' that I ain't no account. Mebby I ain't."
Cheyenne poured another drink for himself. Bartley declined to drink again. He was thinking of this squalid tragedy and of its possible outcome. The erstwhile sprightly Cheyenne held a new significance for the Easterner. That a man could ride up and down the trails singing, and yet carry beneath it all the grim intent some day to kill a man—
Bartley felt that Cheyenne had suddenly become a stranger, an unknown quantity, a sinister jester, in fact, a dangerous man. He leaned forward and touched Cheyenne's arm.
"Why not give up the idea of—er—getting Sears; and settle down, and make a home for Little Jim?"
"When Aunt Jane took him, the understandin' was that Jimmy was to be raised respectable, which is the same as tellin' me that I don't have nothin' to do with raisin' him. Me, I got to keep movin'."
Bartley turned toward the doorway as a tall figure loomed through the haze of tobacco smoke: a gaunt, heavy-boned man, bearded and limping slightly. With him were several companions, booted and spurred; evidently just in from a hard ride.
Cheyenne turned to Bartley. "That's Bill Sneed—and his crowd. I ain't popular with 'em—right now."
"The man who had your horses?" queried Bartley.
Cheyenne nodded. "The one at the end of the bar. The hombre next to him is Lawson, who claims he bought my hosses from a Mexican, down here. Lawson is the one that is huntin' trouble. Sneed don't care nothin' about a couple of cayuses. He won't start anything. He's here just to back up Lawson if things git interestin'."
"But what can they do? We're here, in town, minding our own business. They know well enough that Panhandle stole your horses. And you said the people in San Andreas don't like Sneed a whole lot."
"Because they're scared of him and his crowd. And we're strangers here. It's just me and Lawson, this deal. Sneed is sizin' you up, back of his whiskers, right now. He's tryin' to figure out who you are. Sneed ain't one to run into the law when they's anybody lookin' on. He works different.
"Now, while he is figurin', you just git up easy and step out and slip over to the barn and saddle up Joshua. I'm goin' to need him. Take the tie-rope off Filaree and leave him loose in his stall. Just say 'Adios' to me when you git up, like you was goin' back to the hotel. And if you'll settle what we owe—"
"That's all right. But my feet aren't cold, yet."
"You figure to stay in town a spell, don't you? Well, I figure to leave, right soon. I'm tryin' to dodge trouble. It's your chanct to help out."
"Why can't we both walk out?"
"'Cause they'd follow us. They won't follow you."
Bartley glanced at the men ranged along the bar, rose, and, shaking hands with Cheyenne, strode out, nodding pleasantly to the one-eyed proprietor as he went.
Sneed eyed the Easterner sharply, and nudged one of his men as Bartley passed through the doorway.
"Just step out and see where he goes, Hull," he ordered in an undertone. "Keep him in sight."
The man spoken to hitched up his chaps, and, turning to finish his drink, strolled out casually.
Bartley saw a row of saddle-horses tied at the rail. He noticed the slickers on the saddles and the carbines under the stirrup leathers. It was evident that the riders were not entirely on pleasure bent. He crossed the street, wakened the stableman, paid the bill, and saddled Joshua. Then he took the tie-rope off Filaree, as Cheyenne had directed. Bartley led Joshua through the barn to the back, where he was tying him to a wagon wheel when a figure loomed up in the semi-darkness.
The figure struck a match and lighted a cigarette. Bartley at once recognized him as one of Sneed's men. Resenting the other's question and his attitude of easy familiarity, Bartley ignored his presence.
"Hard of hearin'?" queried Hull.
"I said: Was you ridin'?"
"Yesterday," replied Bartley.
Hull blew a whiff of smoke in Bartley's face. It seemed casual, but was intended as an insult. Bartley flushed, and realizing that the other was there to intercept any action on his part to aid Cheyenne, he dropped Joshua's reins, and without the slightest warning of his intent—in fact, Hull thought the Easterner was stooping to pick up the reins—Bartley launched a haymaker that landed with a loud crack on Hull's unguarded chin, and Hull's head snapped back. Bartley jumped forward and shot another one to the same spot. Hull's head hit the edge of the doorway as he went down.
He lay there, inert, a queer blur in the half-light. Bartley licked his skinned knuckles.
"He may resent this, when he wakes up," he murmured. "I believe I'll tie him."
Bartley took Joshua's tie-rope and bound Mr. Hull's arms and legs, amateurishly, but securely.
Then he strode through to the front of the barn. He could hear loud talking in the saloon opposite and thought he could distinguish Cheyenne's voice. Bartley wondered what would happen in there, and when things would begin to pop, if there was to be any popping. He felt foolishly helpless and inefficient—rather a poor excuse for a partner, just then. Yet there was that husky rider, back there in the straw. He was even more helpless and inefficient. Bartley licked his knuckles, and grinned.
"There must have been a little mescal in that second punch," he thought. "I never hit so hard in my life."
The stableman had retired to his bunk—a habit of night stablemen. The stable was dark and still, save for the munching of the horses. In the saloon across the way Cheyenne was facing Sneed and his men, alone. Bartley felt like a quitter. Indecision irritated him, and curiosity urged him to do something other than to stand staring at the saloon front. He recalled his plan to sojourn in San Andreas a few days, and incidently to ride over to the Lawrence ranch—frankly, to have another visit with Dorothy. He shrugged his shoulders. That idea now seemed insignificant, compared with the present possibilities.
"I'm a free agent," he soliloquized. "I think I'll take a hand in this, myself."
He snapped his fingers as he turned and hastened to Dobe's stall. He led Dobe out to the stable floor, got his saddle from the office, told the sleepy stableman that he was going to take a little ride, and saddled Dobe. And he led Dobe back to where Joshua was tied. He had forgotten his victim on the floor, for a moment, but was aware of him when he stumbled over him in the dark. The other mumbled and struggled faintly.
"I left your gun in the wagon-box," said Bartley. "I wouldn't move around much, if I were you. One of the horses might step on your face and hurt his foot."
Mr. Hull was not pleased at this, and he said as much. Bartley tied Dobe to the back of the wagon.
"Just keep your eye on the horses a minute," he told Hull. "I'll be back soon."
Bartley felt unusually and inexplicably elated. He had not realized the extreme potency of mescal. The proprietor of the hotel was mildly surprised when Bartley, remarking that he had been called away unexpectedly, paid the hotel bill. Bartley hastened back to the stable. Across the way the horses of the mountain men drowsed in the faint lamplight. Turning, Bartley saw Joshua and Dobe dimly silhouetted in the opening at the far end of the stable. Cheyenne was still in the saloon.
Bartley grinned. "It might help," he said as he stepped across the street. Taking down the rope from the nearest horse, he tied the end of the rope in the horse's bridle and threaded the end through the bridles of all five horses, tying the loose end to the last horse's bridle. "Just like stringing fish!" he murmured soulfully. "When those gentlemen from the interior try to mount, there'll be something doing."
He had just turned to walk back to the stable when he heard a shot, and the lighted doorway of the saloon became suddenly dark. Without waiting to see what would happen next, Bartley ran to the rear of the stable and untied the horses. Behind him he heard the quick trample of feet. He turned. A figure appeared in the front doorway of the stable, a figure that dashed toward him, and, with a leap and a swing, mounted Joshua and spurred out and down the alley back of the building.
Bartley grabbed for his own stirrup, missed it, grabbed again and swung up. Dobe leaped after the other horse, turned at the end of the alley, and, reaching into a long, swinging gallop, pounded across the night-black open. San Andreas had but one street. The backs of its buildings opened to space.
Ahead, Cheyenne thundered across a narrow bridge over an arroyo. Dobe lifted and leaped forward, as though in a race. From behind came the quick patter of hoofs. One of Sneed's men had evidently managed to get his horse loose from the reata. A solitary house, far out on the level, flickered past. Bartley glanced back. The house door opened. A ray of yellow light shot across the road.
"Hey, Cheyenne!" called Bartley.
But Cheyenne's little buckskin was drumming down the night road at a pace that astonished the Easterner. Dobe seemed to be doing his best, yet he could not overtake the buckskin. Behind Bartley the patter of hoofs sounded nearer. Bartley thought he heard Cheyenne call back to him. He leaned forward, but the drumming of hoofs deadened all other sound.
They were on a road, now—a road that ran south across the spaces, unwinding itself like a tape flung from a reel. Suddenly Cheyenne pulled to a stop. Bartley raced up, bracing himself as the big cow-horse set up in two jumps.
"I thought you was abidin' in San Andreas," said Cheyenne.
"There's some one coming!" warned Bartley, breathing heavily.
"And his name is Filaree," declared Cheyenne. "You sure done a good job. Let's keep movin'." And Cheyenne let Joshua out as Filaree drew alongside and nickered shrilly.
"Now I reckon we better hold 'em in a little," said Cheyenne after they had gone, perhaps, a half-mile. "We got a good start."
They slowed the horses to a trot. Filaree kept close to Joshua's flank. A gust of warm air struck their faces.
"Ain't got time to shake hands, pardner," said Cheyenne. "Know where you're goin'?"
"South," said Bartley.
"Correc'. And I don't hear no hosses behind us."
"I strung them together on a rope," said Bartley.
"I tied Sneed's horses together, with a rope. Ran it through the bridles—like stringing fish. Not according to Hoyle, but it seems to have worked."
Cheyenne shook his head. He did not quite get the significance of Bartley's statement.
"Any one get hurt?" queried Bartley presently.
"Nope. I spoiled a lamp, and I reckon I hit somebody on the head, in the dark, comin' through. Seems like I stepped on somethin' soft, out there back of the barn. It grunted like a human. But I didn't stop to look."
"I had to do it," declared Bartley ambiguously.
"Had to do what?"
"Punch a fellow that wanted to know what I was doing with your horse. I let him have it twice."
"Then you didn't hit him with your gun?"
"No. I wish I had. I've got a fist like a boiled ham. I can feel it swell, right now."
"That there mescal is sure pow'ful stuff."
"Thanks!" said Bartley succinctly.
"Got a kick like white lightin'," said Cheyenne.
"And I paid our hotel bill," continued Bartley.
"Well, that was mighty thoughtful. I plumb forgot it."
Just before daybreak Cheyenne turned from the road and picked his way through the scattered brush to a gulch in the western foothills. Cheyenne's horses seemed to know the place, when they stopped at a narrow, pole gate across the upper end of the gulch, for on beyond the gate the horses again stopped of their own accord. Bartley could barely discern the outlines of a cabin. Cheyenne hallooed.
A muffled answer from the cabin, then a twinkle of light, then the open doorway framing a gigantic figure.
"That you, Shy?" queried the figure.
"Me and a friend."
"You're kind of early," rumbled the figure as the riders dismounted.
"Shucks! You'd be gettin' up, anyway, right soon. We come early so as not to delay your breakfast."
In the cabin, Cheyenne and the big man shook hands. Bartley was introduced. The man was a miner, named Joe Scott.
"Joe, here, is a minin' man—when he ain't runnin' a all-night lunch-stand," explained Cheyenne. "He can't work his placer when it's dark, but he sure can work a skillet and a coffee-mill."
"What you been up to?" queried the giant slowly, as he made a fire in the stove, and set about getting breakfast.
"Up to Clubfoot Sneed's place, to get a couple of hosses that belonged to me. He was kind of hostile. Followed us down to San Andreas and done spoiled our night's rest. But I got the hosses."
"Hosses seems to be his failin'," said the big man.
"So some folks say. I'm one of 'em."
"How are the folks up Antelope way?"
"Kinda permanent, as usual. I hear Panhandle's drifted south again. Wishful, he shoots craps, reg'lar."
Scott nodded, shifted the coffee-pot and sat down on the edge of his bunk. "Got any smokin'?" he queried presently.
Bartley offered the miner a cigar. "I'm afraid it's broken," apologized Bartley.
"That's all right. I was goin' to town this mornin', to get some tobacco and grub. But this will help." And doubling the cigar Scott thrust it in his mouth and chewed it with evident satisfaction.
The gray edge of dawn crept into the room. Scott blew out the light and opened the door.
Bartley felt suddenly sleepy and he drowsed and nodded, realizing that Scott and Cheyenne were talking, and that the faint aroma of coffee drifted toward him, mingling with the chill, fresh air of morning. He pulled himself together and drank the coffee and ate some bacon. From time to time he glanced at Scott, fascinated by the miner's tremendous forearms, his mighty chest and shoulders. Even Cheyenne, who was a fair-sized man, appeared like a boy beside the miner. Bartley wondered that such tremendous strength should be isolated, hidden back there behind the foothills. Yet Scott himself, easy-going and dryly humorous, was evidently content right where he was.
Later the miner showed Bartley about the diggings, quietly proud of his establishment, and enthusiastic about the unfailing supply of water—in fact, Scott talked more about water than he did about gold. Bartley realized that the big miner would have been a misfit in town, that he belonged in the rugged hills from which he wrested a scant six dollars a day by herculean toil.
In a past age, Scott would have been a master builder of castles or of triremes or a maker of armor, but never a fighting man. It was evident that the miner was, despite his great strength, a man of peace. Bartley rather regretted, for some romantic reason or other, that the big miner was not a fighting man.
Yet when they returned to the shack, where Cheyenne sat smoking, Bartley learned that Big Joe Scott had a reputation in his own country. That was when Scott suggested that they needed sleep. He spread a blanket-roll on the cabin floor for Cheyenne and offered Bartley his bunk. Then Scott picked up his rifle and strode across to a shed. Cheyenne pulled off his boots, stretched out on the blanket-roll, and sighed comfortably. Bartley could see the big miner busily twisting something in his hands, something that looked like a leather bag from which occasional tiny spurts of silver gleamed and trickled. Bartley wondered what Scott was doing. He asked Cheyenne.
"He's squeezin' 'quick.'" And Cheyenne explained the process of squeezing quicksilver through a chamois skin. "And I'm glad it ain't my neck," added Cheyenne. "Joe killed a man, with his bare hands, onct. That's why he never gets in a fight, nowadays. He dassn't. 'Course, he had to kill that man, or get killed."
"I noticed he picked up his rifle," said Bartley.
"Nobody'll disturb our sleep," said Cheyenne drowsily.
* * * * *
The afternoon shadows were long when Bartley awakened. Through the doorway he could see Cheyenne out in the shed, talking with Joe Scott.
"Hello!" called Bartley, sitting up. "Lost any horses, Cheyenne?"
Presently Scott and Cheyenne came over to the cabin.
"I'm cook, this trip," stated Cheyenne as he bustled about the kitchen. "I reckon Joe needs a rest. He ain't lookin' right strong."
An early supper, and the three men forgathered outside the cabin and smoked and talked until long after dark. Cheyenne had told Scott of the happenings since leaving Antelope, and jokingly he referred to San Andreas and Bartley's original plan of staying there awhile.
Bartley nodded. "And now that the smoke has blown away, I think I'll go back and finish my visit," he said.
Cheyenne's face expressed surprise and disappointment. "Honest?" he queried.
"Why not?" asked Bartley, and it was a hard question to answer.
After all, Bartley had stuck to him when trouble seemed inevitable, reasoned Cheyenne.
Now the Easterner felt free to do as he pleased. And why shouldn't he? There had been no definite or even tentative agreement as to when they would dissolve partnership. And Bartley's evident determination to carry out his original plan struck Cheyenne as indicative of considerable spirit. It was plain that Sneed's unexpected presence in San Andreas had not affected Bartley very much. With a tinge of malice, born of disappointment, Cheyenne suggested to Bartley that the man he had knocked out, back of the livery barn, would no doubt be glad to see him again.
Bartley turned to Joe Scott. "He's trying to 'Out-West' me a bit, isn't he?"
Scott laughed heartily. "Cheyenne is getting tired of rambling up and down the country alone. He wants a pardner. Seems he likes your company, from what he says. But you can't take him serious. He'll be singin' that everlastin' trail song of his next."
"He hasn't sung much, recently."
Cheyenne bridled and snorted like a colt. "Huh! Just try this on your piano." And seemingly improvising, he waved his arm toward the burro corral.
One time I had a right good pal, Git along, cayuse, git along; But he quit me cold for a little ranch gal, Git along, cayuse, git along.
And now he's took to pitchin' hay On a rancho down San Andreas way; He's done tied up and he's got to stay; Git along, cayuse, git along.
"I was just learnin' him the ropes, and he quit me cold," complained Cheyenne, appealing to Scott.
"He aims to keep out of trouble," suggested Scott.
"I ain't got no friends," said Cheyenne, grinning.
"Thanks for that," said Scott.
Cheyenne reached in his pocket and drew out the dice. His eyes brightened. He rattled the dice and shot them across the hardpacked ground near the doorstep. Then he struck a match to see what he had thrown. "I'm hittin' the road five minutes after six, to-morrow mornin'," he declared, as he picked up the dice.
DORRY COMES TO TOWN
At six, next morning, Bartley and Scott were on their way to San Andreas, Bartley riding Dobe and Scott hazing two pack-burros. They took a hill trail, which, Scott explained, was shorter by miles than the valley road which Cheyenne and Bartley had taken to the gulch. Cheyenne was forced to stay at the miner's cabin until Scott returned with the pack-saddle and outfit left in the livery. Scott was after supplies and tobacco.
At first Cheyenne had thought of going along with them. But he reconsidered. He did not care to risk being arrested in San Andreas for having disturbed the peace. If the authorities should happen to detain him, there would be one broken head, one broken lamp, and possibly five or six witnesses as evidence that he had been the aggressor in the saloon. Sneed and his men would swear to anything, and the owner of the saloon would add his bit of evidence. Bartley himself was liable to arrest for assault and battery should Hull lodge a complaint against him. Incidentally, Hull had been found by the stableman, curiously roped and tied and his lower jaw somewhat out of plumb.
Bartley and Scott arrived in San Andreas about noon, saw to their stock and had dinner together. Bartley engaged a room at the hotel. Scott bought supplies. Then, unknown to Bartley, Scott hunted up the town marshal and told him that the Easterner was a friend of his. The town marshal took the hint. Scott assured the marshal that, if Sneed or his men made any trouble in San Andreas, he would gladly come over and help the marshal establish peace. Cheyenne's name was not mentioned.
An hour later Scott appeared in front of the hotel with his burros packed. Bartley, loafing on the veranda, rose and stepped out.
"If you got time," said Scott, "you might walk along with me, out to the edge of town."
Bartley wondered what Scott had in mind, but he agreed to the suggestion at once.
Together they trudged through the sleepy town until they reached the open.
"I guess you can find your way back," said Scott, his eyes twinkling. "And, say, it's a good idea not to pack a shootin'-iron—and let folks know you don't pack one."
"I think I understand," said Bartley.
"Ride over to my camp, any time, and if I'm not there, just make yourself to home." And the big miner turned and started his burros toward the hills.
"Give my regards to Cheyenne," called Bartley.
The miner nodded.
On his way back through town, Bartley wondered why the miner had asked him to take that walk. Then suddenly he thought of a reason. They had been seen in San Andreas, walking and talking together. That would intimate that they were friends. And a man would have to be blind, not to realize that it would be a mistake to pick a quarrel with Scott, or one of his friends. Joe Scott never quarreled; but he had the reputation of being a man of whom it was safe to step around.
With his sleeves rolled up, sitting in the quiet of his room, Bartley spent the afternoon jotting down notes for a story. He thought he had experienced enough adventure to make a good beginning. Of course, the love element was lacking, yet he thought that might be supplied, later. He had a heroine in mind. Bartley laid down his pencil, and sat back, shaping daydreams. It was hot in the room. It would be cooler down on the veranda. Well, he would finish his rough sketch of Cheyenne, and then step down to the veranda. He caught himself drowsing over his work. He sat up, scribbled a while, nodded sleepily, and, finally, with his head on his arms, he fell asleep.
The rattle of wagon wheels wakened him. A ranch team had just pulled up to the hitch-rail in front of the hotel and a small boy was tying the horses. The boy's hat seemed familiar to Bartley. Then Bartley heard a voice. Suddenly he was wide awake. Little Jim was down there, talking to some one. Bartley rose and peered down. Little Jim's companion was Dorothy. Bartley could not see her face, because of her wide hat-brim. Stepping back into the room, Bartley picked up his pencil and, leaning out of the window, started it rolling down the gentle slope of the veranda roof. It dropped at Dorothy's feet. She started and glanced up. Bartley waved a greeting and disappeared from the window.
Decently clothed, and, imagining that he was in his right mind, he hastened downstairs.
Little Jim expressed no surprise at seeing Bartley, but the youngster's eyes were eager.
He shook hands, like a grown-up. "Got that twenty-two, yet?"
"Haven't seen one, Jimmy. But I won't forget."
"There's a brand-new twenty-two over to Hodges' store, in the window," declared Little Jim.
"That so? Then we'll have to walk over and look at it."
"I done looked at it already," said Little Jim.
"Well, then, let's go and price it."
"I done priced it. It's twelve-fifty."
"Well, what do you say to going over and buying it?"
"Sure! Is dad gone?"
"Yes. He left here last night. I thought Miss Gray was with you," said Bartley.
"Sure! She had to come to town to buy some things. She's over to Hodges' now."
Dorothy had not waited for him to appear. Bartley was a bit piqued. But he asked himself why should he be? They were the merest acquaintances. True, they had spent several hours together, reading and discussing verse. But no doubt that had been purely impersonal, on her part. With Little Jim as his guide, Bartley entered Hodges' general store. Dorothy was at the back of the store making purchases. Bartley watched her a moment. He felt a tug at his sleeve.
"The guns is over on this side," declared Little Jim.
"We'll have to wait until Mr. Hodges gets through waiting on Miss Gray," said Bartley.
Little Jim scampered across the aisle and stood on tiptoe peering into a showcase. There were pistols, cheap watches, and a pair of spurs.
Little Jim gazed a moment and then shot over to Dorothy. "Say, Dorry, can't you hurry up? Me and Mr. Bartley are waitin' to look at that twenty-two in the window."
"Now, Jimmy! Oh, how do you do!" And Dorothy greeted Bartley with considerable poise for a young woman who was as interested in the Easterner as she was.
"Don't let us interrupt you," said Bartley. "Our business can wait."
Little Jim scowled, and grimaced at Dorothy, who excused herself to Bartley and went on making her purchases. They were really insignificant purchases—some pins, some thread, and a roll of binding tape. Insignificant as they were, Bartley offered to carry them to the wagon for her. Dorothy declined his offer and took them to the wagon herself.
"Now for that rifle," said Bartley.
Little Jim, itching all over to get hold of that new and shining weapon, squirmed as Hodges took it from the window and handed it to Bartley. Bartley examined it and passed it over to Little Jim.
"Is that the kind you wanted?" he asked.
"This is her! Twenty-two, long or short, genuwine repeater." Jimmy pretended to read the tags tied to the trigger guard. "Yep! This is her."
"And some cartridges," suggested Bartley.
"How many?" queried the storekeeper.
"All you got," said Little Jim.
But Bartley's good nature was not to be imposed upon to that extent. "Give us five boxes, Mr. Hodges."
"That cleans me out of twenty-twos," declared Hodges.
Jimmy grinned triumphantly. Dorothy had come in and was viewing the purchase with some apprehension. She knew Little Jim.
Bearing the rifle proudly, Jimmy marched from the store. Dorothy and Bartley followed him, and Bartley briefly outlined Cheyenne's recent sprightly exodus from San Andreas.
"I heard about it, from Mr. Hodges," said Dorothy. "And I also noticed that you have hurt your hand."
Bartley glanced at his right hand—and then at Dorothy, who was gazing at him curiously. It had become common news in town that Cheyenne Hastings and the Easterner had engaged in a free-for-all fight with the Sneed outfit, and that two of the Sneed boys were laid up for repairs. That was Mr. Hodges' version.
"I also heard that you had left town," said Dorothy.
Bartley's egoism was slightly deflated. Then Dorothy had come to town to buy a few trinkets, and not to find out how it fared with him.
"We have to get back before dark," she declared.
"And you got to drive," said Little Jim. "I want to try my new gun!"
"Did you thank Mr. Bartley for the gun?"
Little Jim admitted that he had forgotten to do so. He stuck out his small hand. "Thanks, pardner," he said heartily.
Bartley laughed and patted Jimmy's shoulder—something that Jimmy utterly detested, but suffered nobly, under the circumstances.
"You earned that gun—and thank you for fetching Miss Dorry to town."
"Huh! I didn't fetch her. She fetched me. Uncle Frank was comin', but Dorry said she just had to get some things—"
"Jimmy, please don't point that gun at the horses."
Bartley felt better. He didn't know just why he felt better. Yet he felt more than grateful to Little Jim.
Nevertheless, Dorothy met Bartley's eyes frankly as he said farewell. "I hope you will find time to ride over to the ranch," she said. "I'm sure Aunt Jane would be glad to see you."
"Thanks. Say, day after to-morrow?"
"Oh, it doesn't matter. Aunt Jane is nearly always at home."
"And I got lots of ca'tridges," chirruped Little Jim. "We can shoot all day."
"I wouldn't miss such an opportunity for anything," declared Bartley, yet he was looking at Dorothy when he spoke.
ALONG THE FOOTHILLS
Bartley, enjoying his after-dinner smoke, felt that he wanted to know more about the girl who had invited him to call at the Lawrence ranch again. He told himself that he wanted to study her; to find out her preferences, her ideals, her attitude toward life, and how the thought of always living in the San Andreas Valley, shut away from the world, appealed to her.
With the unconscious intolerance of the city-bred man, he did not realize that her world was quite as interesting to her as his world was to him. Manlike, he also failed to realize that Dorothy was studying him quite as much as he was studying her. While he did not feel in the least superior, he did feel that he was more worldly-wise than this young woman whose horizon was bounded by the hills edging the San Andreas Valley.
True, she seemed to have read much, for one as isolated as she, and she had evidently appreciated what she had read. And then there was something about her that interested him, aside from her good looks. He had known many girls far more beautiful. It was not her manner, which was a bit constrained, at times. Her charm for him was indefinable. Somehow, she seemed different from other girls he had met. Bartley was himself responsible for this romantic hallucination. He saw her with eyes hungry for the sympathetic companionship of youth, especially feminine youth, for he could talk with her seriously about things which the genial Cheyenne could hardly appreciate.
In other words, Bartley, whose aim was to isolate himself from convention, was unconsciously hungry for the very conventions he thought he was fleeing from. And in a measure, Dorothy Gray represented the life he had left behind. Had she been a boy, Bartley would have enjoyed talking with her—or him; but she was a girl, and, concluded Bartley, just the type of girl for the heroine of a Western romance. Bartley's egoism would not allow him to admit that their tentative friendship could become anything more than friendship. And it was upon that understanding with himself that he saddled up, next morning,—why the hurry, with a week to spend in San Andreas,—and set out for the Lawrence ranch, to call on Aunt Jane.
Purposely he timed his arrival to follow the dinner hour—dinner was at noon in the ranch country—and was mildly lectured by Aunt Jane for not arriving earlier. Uncle Frank was at the lower end of the ranch, superintending the irrigating. Little Jim was on the veranda, needlessly cleaning his new rifle, preparatory to a rabbit hunt that afternoon. Bartley was at once invited to participate in the hunt, and he could think of no reason to decline. Dorothy, however, was not at the ranch.
Little Jim scrubbed his rifle with an oily rag, and scowled. "Got both hosses saddled, and lots of ca'tridges—and Dorry ain't here yet! She promised to be here right after dinner."
"Was Miss Dorry going with you?"
Jimmy nodded. "You bet! She's goin' to take my old twenty-two. It's only a single-shot," added Jimmy scornfully. "But it's good enough for a girl."
"Isn't it early to hunt rabbits?" queried Bartley.
"Sure! But we got to get there, clear over to the flats. If Dorry don't come as soon as I get this gun cleaned, I'm goin' anyhow."
But Dorothy appeared before Jimmy could carry out his threat of leaving without her. Jimmy, mounted on his pony, fretted to be gone, while Dorothy chatted a minute or so with Aunt Jane and Bartley. Finally they rode off, with Jimmy in the lead, explaining that there would be no rabbits on the flat until at least five o'clock, and in the meantime they would ride over to the spring and pretend they were starving. That is, Dorothy and Bartley were to pretend they were starving, while Jimmy scouted for meat and incidentally shot a couple of Indians and returned with a noble buck deer hanging across the saddle.
It was hot and they rode slowly. Far ahead, in the dim southern distances, lay the hills that walled the San Andreas Valley from the desert.
Dorothy noticed that Bartley gazed intently at those hills. "Cheyenne?" she queried, smiling.
"I beg your pardon. I was dreaming. Yes, I was thinking of him, and—" Bartley gestured toward Little Jim.
"Then you know?"
"Cheyenne told me, night before last, in San Andreas."
"Of course, Jimmy is far better off right where he is," asserted Dorothy, although Bartley had said nothing. "I don't think Cheyenne will ever settle down. At least, not so long as that man Sears is alive. Of course, if anything happens to Sears—"
Dorothy was interrupted by Little Jim, who turned in the saddle to address her. "Say, Dorry, if you keep on talkin' out loud, the Injuns is like to jump us! Scoutin' parties don't keep talkin' when they're on the trail."
"Don't be silly, Jimmy," laughed Dorothy.
"Well, they used to be Injuns in these hills, once."
"We'll behave," said Bartley. "But can't we ride toward the foothills and get in the shade?"
"You just follow me," said Little Jim. "I know this country."
It was Little Jim's day. It was his hunt. Dorothy and Bartley were merely his guests. He had allowed them to come with him—possibly because he wanted an audience. Presently Little Jim reined his horse to the left and rode up a dim trail among the boulders. By an exceedingly devious route he led the way to the spring, meanwhile playing the scout with intense concentration on some cattle tracks which were at least a month old. Bartley recognized the spot. Cheyenne and he had camped there upon their quest for the stolen horses. Little Jim assured his charges that all was safe, and he suggested that they "light down and rest a spell."
The contrasting coolness of the shade was inviting. Jimmy explained that there would be no rabbits visible until toward evening. Below and beyond them stretched the valley floor, shimmering in the sun. Behind them the hills rose and dipped, rose and dipped again, finally reaching up to the long slope of the mother range. Far above a thin, dark line of timber showed against the eastern sky.
"Ole Clubfoot Sneed lives up there," asserted Jimmy, pointing toward the distant ridge. "I been up there."
"Yes. And your father saved you from a whipping. Uncle Frank was very angry."
"I got that new rifle, anyhow," declared Little Jim.
"And they lived happily ever afterward," said Bartley.
"Huh! That's just like them fairy stories that Dorry reads to me sometimes. I like stories about Buffalo Bill and Injuns and fights. Fairy stories make me tired."
"Jimmy thinks he is quite grown up," teased Dorothy.
"You ain't growed up yourself, anyhow," retorted Jimmy. "Girls ain't growed up till they git married."
Dorothy turned to Bartley and began to talk about books and writers. Little Jim frowned. Why couldn't they talk about something worth listening to? Jimmy examined his new rifle, sighting it at different objects, and opening and closing the empty magazine. Finally he loaded it. His companions of the hunt were deep in a discussion having to do with Western stories. Jimmy fidgeted under the constant stress of keeping silent. He would have interrupted Dorothy, willingly enough, but Bartley's presence rather awed him.
Jimmy felt that his afternoon was being wasted. However, there was the solace of the new rifle, and plenty of ammunition. While he knew there was no big game in those hills, he could pretend that there was. He debated with himself as to whether he would hunt deer, bear, or mountain lion. Finally he decided he would hunt bear. He waited for an opportunity to leave without being noticed, and, carrying his trusty rifle at the ready, he stealthily disappeared in the brush south of the spring. A young boy, with a new gun and lots of brush to prowl through! Under such circumstances the optimist can imagine anything from rabbits to elephants.
Some time passed before Dorothy missed him. She called. There was no reply. "He won't go far," she assured Bartley who rose to go and look for Jimmy.
Bartley sat down by the spring again. He questioned Dorothy in regard to ranch life, social conditions, local ambitions, and the like. Quite impersonally she answered him, explaining that the folk in the valley were quite content, so long as they were moderately successful. Of course, the advent of that funny little machine, the automobile, would revolutionize ranch life, eventually. Why, a wealthy rancher of San Andreas had actually driven to Los Angeles and back in one of those little machines!
Bartley smiled. "They've come to stay, no doubt. But I can't reconcile automobiles with saddle-horses and buckboards. I shan't have an automobile snorting and snuffing through my story."
"I really didn't mean to speak about it. But the cat is out of the bag. I'm making notes for a Western novel, Miss Gray. I confess it."
"Confession usually implies having done something wrong, doesn't it?"
"Yes. But with you as the heroine of my story, I couldn't go very far wrong."
Dorothy flushed and bit her lip. So that was why Bartley had been so attentive and polite? He had been studying her, questioning her, mentally jotting down what she had said—and he had not told her, until that moment, that he was writing a story. She had not known that he was a writer of stories.
"You might, at least, have asked me if I cared to be a Western heroine in your story."
"Oh, that would have spoiled it all! Can't you see? You would not have been yourself, if you had known. And our visits—"
"I don't think I care to be the heroine of your story, Mr. Bartley."
"You really mean it?"
Dorothy nodded thoughtfully. Bartley knew, intuitively, that she was sincere—that she was not angling for flattery. He had thought that he was rather paying her a compliment in making her the heroine of his first Western book; or, at least, that she would take it as a compliment. He frowned, twisting a spear of dry grass in his fingers.
"Of course—that needn't make any difference about your calling—on Aunt Jane."
"Thank you," laughed Bartley. "And because of the privilege which I really appreciate, I'll agree to look for another heroine."
Dorothy had not expected just such an answer. "In San Andreas?" she queried.
"I can't say. I'll be lucky if I find another, anywhere, to compare—"
"If you had asked me, first," interrupted Dorothy, "I might have said 'yes.'"
"I'm sorry I didn't. Won't you reconsider?"
Dorothy shook her head. Then she looked up at him frankly, steadily. "I think you took me for granted. That is what I didn't like."
"But—I didn't! It didn't occur to me to really begin my story until after I had seen you. Of course I knew I would write a new story sooner or later. I hope you will believe that."
"Yes. But I think I know why you decided to stay in San Andreas, instead of riding south, with Cheyenne. Aunt Jane and Little Jim and your heroine were within easy riding distance."
"I'll admit I intended to write about Aunt Jane and Jimmy. I actually adore Aunt Jane. And Little Jim, he's what one might call an unknown quantity—"
"He seems to be, just now."
"Oh, he won't go far," said Bartley, smiling.
Dorothy tossed her head. "And Cheyenne—"
"Oh, he is the moving figure in the story. That is not a pun, if you please. I had no idea that Cheyenne could actually hate any one, until the other night when he told me about—Laramie, and that man Sears."
"Did he talk much about Sears?"
"Not much—but enough. Frankly, I think Cheyenne will kill Sears if he happens to meet him again."
"And that will furnish the climax for your story!" said Dorothy scornfully.
"Well, if it has to happen—" Bartley paused.
Dorothy's face was troubled. Finally she rose and picked up her gloves and hat.
"I wish some one or something would stop him," she said slowly. "He liked you. All the years he has been riding up and down the country he has ridden alone, until he met you. I'm sorry you didn't go with him."
"He did pretend that he was disappointed when I told him I was going to stay in San Andreas for a while."
"You thought he was joking, but he wasn't. We have all tried to get him to settle down; but he would not listen. If I were a man—"
"Then you think I could have influenced him?" queried Bartley.
"You might have tried, at least."
"Well, he's gone. And I'll have to make the best of it—and also find another heroine," said Bartley lightly, trying to make her smile.
"I'll be the heroine of your story, upon one condition," Dorothy said, finally.
"And that is—"
"If you will try and find Cheyenne and—and just be a friend to him. I suppose it sounds silly, and I would not think of asking you to try and keep him from doing anything he decided to do. But you might happen to be able to say the right word at the right time."
"I hardly took myself as seriously as that, in connection with Cheyenne," declared Bartley. "I suppose, if I should saddle up and ride south to-morrow, I might overtake him along the road, somewhere. He travels slowly."
"But you won't go, just because I spoke as I did?"
"Not altogether because of that. I like Cheyenne."
Impetuously Dorothy stepped close to Bartley and laid her hand on his arm. "I knew you were like that! And what does writing about people amount to, when you can really do something for them? It isn't just Cheyenne. There's Little Jim—"
"Yes. But where is Little Jim?"
Dorothy called in her high, clear voice. There was no answering halloo. "His horse is there. I can't understand—"
"I'll look around a bit," said Bartley. "He's probably ambushing us, somewhere, and expects us to be tremendously surprised."
"I'll catch up my horse," said Dorothy. "No, you had better let me catch him. He knows me."
And Dorothy stepped from the clearing round the spring and walked toward the horses. They were grazing quite a ways off, up the hillside.
Bartley recalled having glimpsed Little Jim crawling through the brush on the south side of the spring. No doubt Jimmy had grown tired of waiting, and had dropped down to the mesa on foot to hunt rabbits. Once clear of the hillside brush, Bartley was able to overlook the mesa below. Presently he discerned a black hat moving along slowly. Evidently the young hunter was stalking game.
Bartley hesitated to call out. He doubted that Jimmy could hear him at that distance. Stepping down the gentle slope of the hillside to the road, Bartley watched Jimmy for a while, hoping that he would turn and see him. But Jimmy was busy. "Might as well go back and get the horses and ride over to him," said Bartley.
He had turned to cross the road, when he heard the sound of quick hoof-beats. Surely Dorothy had not caught up the horses so soon? Bartley turned toward the bend of the road. Presently a rider, his worn chaps flapping, his shapeless hat pulled low, and his quirt swinging at every jump of the horse, pounded up and had almost passed Bartley, when he set up his horse and dismounted. Bartley did not recognize him until he spoke.
"My name's Hull. I was lookin' for you."
"All right, Mr. Hull. What do you want?"
Hull's gaze traveled up and down the Easterner. Hull was looking to see if the other carried a gun. Bartley expected argument and inwardly braced himself. Meanwhile he wondered if he could find Hull's chin again, and as easily as he had found it that night back of the livery barn. Hull loomed big and heavy, and it was evident from the minute he dismounted that he meant business.
Without a word, Hull swung at Bartley, smashing in with right and left, fighting like a wild-cat, forcing his weight into the fight, and kicking wickedly when he got a chance. Finally, after taking a straight blow in the face, Hull clinched—and the minute Bartley felt those tough-sinewed arms around him he knew that he was in for a licking.
Bartley's only chance, and that a pretty slim one, lay in getting free from the grip of those arms. He used his knee effectively. Hull grunted and staggered back. Bartley jumped forward and bored in, knocking Hull off his feet. The cow-puncher struck the ground, rolled over, and was up and coming like a cyclone. It flashed through Bartley's mind that the only thing to do was to stay with it till the finish. Hull was beating him down slowly, but surely.
Dully conscious that some one was calling, behind him, Bartley struck out, straight and clean, but he might as well have tried to stop a runaway freight with a whisk-broom. He felt the smashing impact of a blow—then suddenly he was on his back in the road—and he had no desire to get up. Free from the hammering of those heavy fists, he felt comparatively comfortable.
"You brute!" It was Dorothy's voice, tense with anger.
Bartley heard another voice, thick with heavy breathing. "That's all right, Miss Gray. But the dude had it comin'."
Then Bartley heard the sound of hoof-beats—and somehow or other, Dorothy was helping him to his feet. He tried to grin—but his lips would not obey his will.
"I'm all right," he mumbled.
"Perhaps," said Dorothy, steady and cool. "But you'll want to wash your face at the spring. I fetched your horse."
"Lord, Miss Gray, let's walk. I'm more used to it."
"It was that man Hull, from the mountain, wasn't it?"
"I don't know his name. I did meet him once, in San Andreas, after dark."
"I'll just tie the horses, here. It's not far to the spring. Feel dizzy?"
"A little. But I can walk without help, thank you. Little Jim is down there, stalking rabbits."
At the spring Bartley knelt and washed the blood from his face and felt tenderly of his half closed eye, twisted his neck round and felt a sharp click—and then his head became clearer. His light shirt was half-torn from his shoulders, and he was scandalously mussed up, to put it mildly. He got to his feet and faced Dorothy.
"There's a formula for this sort of thing, in books," he said. "Just now I can't recall it. First, however, you say you're 'all right,' if you are alive. If you are not, it doesn't matter. Then you say, 'a mere scratch!' But I'm certain of one thing. I never needed a heroine more than I did when you arrived."
Dorothy smiled in spite of herself. "You aren't pretending, are you? I mean—about your condition?"
"I should say not. My eye is closed. My right arm won't work, and my head feels queer—and I am not hungry. But my soul goes marching on."
"Then we'll have to find Jimmy. It's getting late."
"GIT ALONG CAYUSE"
It was dark when Bartley arrived at his hotel in San Andreas. Not caring to parade his black eye and his swollen mouth, he took his evening meal at a little Mexican restaurant, and then went back to his room, where he spent the evening adding a few more pertinent notes to his story; notes that were fresh in his mind. He knew what it felt like to take a good licking. In fact, the man is unfortunate who does not. Bartley thought he could write effectively upon the subject.
He had found Dorothy's quiet sympathy rather soothing. She had made no fuss whatever about the matter. And she had not insisted that he stop at the ranch and get doctored up. Little Jim had promptly asked Bartley, "Who done it?" and Bartley had told him. Little Jim asked more questions and was silenced only by a promise from Dorothy to buy him more cartridges. "That is, if you promise not to say anything about it to Aunt Jane or Uncle Frank," she stipulated. Little Jim gravely shook hands upon the agreement. Dorothy knew that he would keep his word.
This agreement had been made after Bartley had left them. Dorothy had sworn Little Jim to silence, not so much on Bartley's account as on her own. Should the news of the fight become public, there would be much bucolic comment, wherein her name would be mentioned and the whole affair interpreted to suit the crude imaginings of the community. Bartley also realized this and, because of it, stuck close to his room for two days, meanwhile making copious notes for the new story.
But the making of notes for the story was a rather tame occupation compared with the possibilities of actual adventure on the road. He had a good saddle-horse, plenty of optimism, and enough money to pay his way wherever he chose to go. Incidentally he had a notebook and pencil. What more did a man need to make life worth while?
And then, somewhere along the southern highway Cheyenne was jogging with Filaree and Joshua:
Seems like I don't git anywhere: Git along, cayuse, git along.
Bartley rose and stepped to the window. San Andreas drowsed in the noon sun. Far to the north he could see a dot of fresh green—the cottonwoods of the Lawrence rancho. Again he found himself in the grip of indecision. After all, a fellow didn't have to journey up and down the land to find material for a story. There was plenty of material right where he was. All he had to do was to stop, look, and listen. "Hang the story!" he exclaimed peevishly. "I'll just go out and live—and then write the story."
It did not take him long to pack his saddle-bags, nor to get together the few articles of clothing he had had washed by a Mexican woman in town. He wrote a brief note to Dorothy, stating that he was on his way. He paid his hotel bill, stepped round to the livery and paid for Dobe's entertainment, saddled up, and, literally shaking the dust of San Andreas from his feet, rode down the long trail south, headed for Joe Scott's placer, as his first stop.
He would spend the night there and then head south again. The only living thing that seemed interested in Bartley's exodus was a stray dog that seemed determined to follow him. Turning from the road, Bartley took the short cut to Scott's placer. Glancing back he saw that the dog was still following. Bartley told him to go home. The dog, a very ordinary yellow dog, didn't happen to have a home—and he was hungry. So he ignored Bartley's command.
Whether or not he imagined that Bartley was different from the run of townsfolk is a question. Possibly he imagined Bartley might give him something to eat. In any event, the dog stuck to the trail clear up to Scott's placer.
Scott was not at the cabin. Bartley hallooed, glanced round, and dismounted. On the cabin door was a note: "Gone to Phoenix. J. Scott."
Bartley turned from the cabin to find the dog gazing up at him mournfully; his expression seemed to convey the idea that they were both in hard luck. Nobody home and nothing to eat.
"What, you here!" exclaimed Bartley.
The yellow dog wagged his tail. He was young and as yet had some faith in mankind.
Bartley tied his horse and strode up the trail to the workings. Everything had been put in order. The dog helped investigate, sniffing at the wheelbarrow, the buckets, the empty sacks weighted down with rock to keep them from blowing away, the row of tools, picks and shovels and bars. Evidently the owner of the place was not concealed beneath any of these things.
Meanwhile the afternoon shadows warned Bartley that a camp with water and feed was the next thing in order. He strode back to the cabin. There was no problem to solve, although he thought there was. The yellow dog, an old campaigner in the open, though young in years, solved his problem by a suggestion. He was tired. There seemed to be no food in sight. He philosophically trotted to the open shed opposite the cabin and made a bed for himself in a pile of gunny-sacks. Bartley grinned. Why not?
Experience had taught Bartley to carry something else, besides a notebook and pencil, in his saddle-bags. Hence the crackers and can of corned beef came in handy. The mountain water was cold and refreshing. There was hay in the burro stable. Moreover, Bartley now had a happy companion who licked his chops, wagged his tail, and grinned as he finished a bit of corned beef. Bartley tossed him a cracker. The dog caught it and it disappeared. This was something like it! Here was a man who rode a big horse, didn't kick stray dogs, and even shared a meal with a fellow! Such a man was worth following forever.
"It would seem that you have adopted me," declared Bartley. The dog had shown no inclination to leave since being fed. There might possibly be another meal coming, later.
"But what am I going to do with you?" queried Bartley, as the dog curled up on the pile of gunny-sacks. "You don't look as though you habitually stopped at hotels, and I'll have to, until I catch up with Cheyenne. What's the answer?"
The yellow dog, all snuggled down in the sacks, peered at Bartley with unblinking eyes. Bartley laughed. Then he made his own bed with gunny-sacks, and after smoking a cigarette, turned in and slept well.
He did not expect to find the dog there in the morning. But the dog was there, most evidently waiting for breakfast, grinning his delight at not being cursed or kicked at, and frisking round the cabin yard in a mad race after nothing in particular, and indicating in every way possible that he was the happiest dog that ever wagged a tail.
Crackers and corned beef again, and spring water for breakfast. And while Dobe munched his hay, Bartley smoked and roughly planned his itinerary. He would travel south as far as Phoenix and then swing back again, over the old Apache Trail—if he did not overtake Cheyenne.
If he did overtake him, the plan might be changed. It did not matter. He had set out to find his erstwhile traveling companion. If he found him, they could just as well travel together. If he did not, Bartley determined to see much of the country. In so far as influencing Cheyenne in any way—that would have to be determined by chance. Bartley felt that his influence with the sprightly Cheyenne weighed very little against Cheyenne's hatred for Panhandle Sears.
Once more upon the road, with the early morning shadows slanting across the valley, Bartley felt that it was his own fault if he did not enjoy himself. Swinging into an easy trot he turned to see if the yellow dog were following him. At first Bartley thought the dog had shown wisdom and had departed for San Andreas, but, happening to glance down on the other side of his horse, he saw the dog trotting along, close to Dobe's heels.
Bartley felt a pity for the dog's dumb, insistent attachment. Reining in, Bartley told the dog he had better go home. For answer the dog lay down in the horse's shadow, his head on his paws, and his eyes fixed on Bartley's face. He did not seem to know what the words meant. But he did know—only pretended he did not. His rooftree was the Arizona sky, and his home the place where his adopted master camped at night.
"Oh, very well," said Bartley, smiling in spite of himself.
That noon they stopped at a ranch where Bartley had dinner and fed his horse. Cheyenne had passed that way several days ago, the ranch folk told him. It was about twenty miles to the next town. Bartley was invited to stop by and spend the night, but he declined the invitation, even as they had declined to accept money for their hospitality. Meanwhile the dog had disappeared. He had not followed Bartley into the ranch. And it was some twenty minutes or so after Bartley was on the road again that he discovered the dog, coming round a bend on the run. There was no getting rid of him.
The dog, who had often been chased from ranches by other dogs, had at first waited patiently for Bartley to appear. Then, as Bartley did not appear, the dog made a short scout through the near-by brush. Finally he stirred up a rabbit. It was a long, hard chase, but the dog got his dinner. Then, circling, he took up Bartley's trail from the ranch, overtaking him with grim determination not to lose sight of him again.
Arriving at the town of Stacey early that afternoon, Bartley arranged with the local liveryman for the dog's keep that night. From that night on, the dog never let Dobe out of his sight. It was evidently intended that he should sleep in stalls and guard Dobe against the approach of any one save his master.
Bartley learned that Cheyenne had passed through Stacey headed south. He had stopped at the local store to purchase provisions. Estimating roughly, Bartley was making better time than had Cheyenne, yet it would be several days before he could possibly overtake him.
Next day Bartley had ridden better than forty miles, and that night he stayed at a ranch, where he was made welcome. In fact, any one who rode a good horse and appeared to be even halfway civil never suffered for want of a meal or a bed in those days. Gasoline has somewhat diluted such hospitality, yet there are sections of Arizona still unspoiled, where the stranger is made to feel that the word "home" has retained its ancient and honorable significance.
A few days later, Bartley stopped at a small town to have his horse shod. The blacksmith seemed unusually interested in the horse and complimented Bartley upon owning such a good mount.
"Comes from up San Andreas way," said the smith, noticing the brand on Dobe's flank.
"Yes. I picked him up at Antelope. I understand he was raised on Senator Brown's ranch."
"That's Steve Brown's brand, all right. Heard the news from up that way?"
"Seems somebody run off a bunch of Senator Steve's horses, last week. Thought mebby you'd heard."
"Well, thought I'd just tell you. I seen one posse ride through yesterday. They'll be lookin' for strangers along the road."
"Thanks. I bought this horse—and I happen to know Senator Brown."
"No offense, stranger. If I'd 'a' suspicioned you'd stole that horse, you wouldn't take him out of here. Like I said to Cheyenne, last week; he could fetch a whole carload of stock in here and take 'em out again without trouble. He was tellin' me how he lost his horses, and we got to talkin' about some folks bein' blind when they're facin' a brand on a critter. Mebby you heard tell of Cheyenne Hastings?"
"I have traveled with him. You say he stopped here a few days ago?"
"Well, not just stopped; he kind of looked in to see how I was gettin' along. He acted queerlike, for him. I've knowed Cheyenne for years. Said he was feelin' all right. He ast me if I'd seen Panhandle Sears down this way, recent. Seemed kind of disappointed when I told him no. Cheyenne used to be a right-smart man, before he had trouble with that woman of his."
"Yes? He told me about it," said Bartley, not caring to hear any more of the details of Cheyenne's trouble.
"'Most everybody knows it," stated the smith. "And if I was Sears I'd sure leave this country."
"So should I. I've seen Cheyenne handle a gun."
"You got the right idea!" exclaimed the blacksmith, evidently pleased. "All Cheyenne's friends have been waitin' for years for him to clean that slate and start fresh again. He used to be a right-smart hand, before he had trouble."
The blacksmith accompanied his conversation with considerable elbow motion and the rattle and clang of shaping horseshoes. Presently Dobe was new shod and ready for the road. Bartley paid the smith, thanked him for a good job, and rode south. Evidently Cheyenne's open quarrel with Sears was the talk of the countryside. It was expected of Cheyenne that he would "clean the slate and start fresh" some day. And cleaning the slate meant killing Sears. To Bartley it seemed strange that any one should be pleased with the idea of one man killing another deliberately.
In speaking of the recent horse-stealings, the blacksmith had mentioned no names. But Bartley at once drew the conclusion that it had been Sneed's men who had run off the Senator's horses. Sneed was known to be a horse-thief. He had never been convicted, although he had been arrested and tried several times. It was also known that Senator Steve had openly vowed that he would rid the country of Sneed, sooner or later.
Several times, during his journey south, Bartley was questioned, but never interfered with. Thus far he heard of Cheyenne occasionally, but, nearing Phoenix, he lost track of his erstwhile companion. However, he took it for granted that Phoenix had been Cheyenne's destination. And Bartley wanted to see the town for himself, in any event.
* * * * *
Cheyenne, arriving in Phoenix, stabled his horses at the Top-Notch livery, and took a room for himself directly opposite the Hole-in-the-Wall gambling-house. He refused to drink with the occasional acquaintance he met, not because he did not like liquor, but because Colonel Stevenson, the city marshal, had told him that Panhandle Sears and his friends were in town.
"Why don't you tell me to go git him?" queried Cheyenne, looking the marshal in the eye.
"I didn't think it was necessary," said the marshal.
"What? To git him?"
The marshal smiled. Then casually: "I hear that Panhandle and his friends are drinking heavy and spending considerable money. They must have made a strike, somewhere."
"I see by the paper somebody run off a bunch of the Box-S hosses," remarked Cheyenne, also casually.
Then, without further comment, he left the marshal wondering if Panhandle's presence in town had any connection with the recent running-off of the Box-S stock. The sheriff of Antelope had wired Colonel Stevenson to be on the lookout for Bill Sneed and his gang, but had not mentioned Panhandle's name in the telegram.
The following day, Senator Brown and his foreman, Lon Pelly, arrived in Phoenix and had a long talk with the marshal. That afternoon Lon Pelly took the train south. Early in the evening Senator Brown received a telegram from Pelly stating that Sneed and four men had left Tucson, headed north and riding horses.
The stolen horses had been trailed south as far as Phoenix. It was evident that they had been driven to Tucson and disposed of somewhere in that vicinity. Yet there was no conclusive proof that Sneed had stolen the horses. As usual, he had managed to keep a few days ahead of his pursuers. Sneed was known to have left his camp in the hills above San Andreas. The first posse had found the camp abandoned. Sneed had not been identified until Pelly got track of him in Tucson.
During his talk with Senator Brown the marshal mentioned the fact that Panhandle Sears was in Phoenix.
"Did Panhandle come in from the south?" queried the Senator.
"Nobody seems to know."
"Well, if he did, we have got the link that's missing in this chain, Colonel. Pelly is holdin' one end of the chain down in Tucson, and the other end is layin' right here in Phoenix. If we can connect her up—"
"But we haven't located the horses, Senator."
"Colonel, I'll find those horses if I can. But I'm after Sneed, this journey. He has been running things about ten years too long to suit me. I've got a check-book with me. You have the men. I'm out to do a little housecleanin' of my own. If we can get Panhandle to talk, we can find out something."
"He's been on a drunk for a week. I could run him in for disturbing the peace and—"
"And he'd suspect what we're after and freeze up, tight. No, let him run loose, but keep your eye on him. He'll give the deal away, sooner or later."
"I hope it's sooner," said the Colonel. "Cheyenne is holed up down the street, waiting for a chance to get Sears. Cheyenne didn't say so, but it was in his eye. He's changed considerable since I saw him last."
"Was there any one with him: a tall, dark-haired, kind of clean-cut boy, for instance?"
"No, not when I saw him. He rode in with his usual outfit."
"Wonder where he lost young Bartley? Well, I'm glad the boy isn't here. He might get hurt."
"No. Quiet. Writes stories. He's out here to look at the West. Stayed at the ranch a spell. Mrs. Brown likes him."
Colonel Stevenson nodded and offered the Senator a cigar. "Let's step over to the hotel, Steve. It's a long time since—"
* * * * *
That evening Bartley arrived in Phoenix, put up his horse, and, upon inquiry, learned that the Grand Central was the best hotel in town. He was registering when he noticed Senator Brown's name. He made inquiry of the clerk. Yes, the Senator had arrived that morning. And would Mr. Bartley prefer a front room? The front rooms on the north side were cooler. No, the clerk knew nothing about a Mr. Cheyenne. There was no one by that name registered at the hotel. It was past the regular dinner hour, but the dining-room was not yet closed. There was a men's furnishings store just across the street. They carried a complete stock. And did Mr. Bartley wish to be called at any special hour in the morning? Breakfast was served from six-thirty to nine-thirty.
Bartley had dinner, and later strolled around to the Top-Notch livery to see that Dobe was being well cared for. While talking with the stableman, Bartley noticed a gray pony and in the next stall a buckskin—Cheyenne's horses.
"Those are Cheyenne's horses, aren't they?" he queried.
"I dunno. Mebby that's his name. He left 'em here a few days ago. I only seen him once, since then."
"I'll be around in the morning. If a man called Cheyenne should happen to come in, just tell him that Bartley is stopping at the Grand Central."
"I'll tell him, all right," said the stableman.
And as soon as Bartley was out of sight, that worthy called up the city marshal and told him that a stranger had ridden in and stabled a horse bearing the Box-S brand. A big reward had been offered for the stolen horses.
At the hotel Bartley learned that Senator Brown had gone out for the evening. Tired from his long ride, Bartley went to his room. Senator Steve and Cheyenne were in town. Bartley recalled the blacksmith's talk about the stolen horses. No doubt that accounted for Senator Steve's presence in Phoenix. As for Cheyenne—Bartley decided to hunt him up in the morning.
Panhandle Sears, in a back room in the Hole-in-the-Wall, was ugly drunk. The Hole-in-the-Wall had the reputation of running a straight game. Whether or not the game was straight, Panhandle had managed to drop his share of the money from the sale of the Box-S horses. He had had nothing to do with the actual stealing of them, but he had, with the assistance of his Mexican companion Posmo, engineered the sale to a rancher living out of Tucson. It was understood that the horses would find their way across the border.
Now Panhandle was broke again. He stated that unpleasant fact to his companions, Posmo and Shorty,—the latter a town loafer he had picked up in Antelope. Shorty had nothing to say. Panhandle's drunken aggressive cowed him. But Posmo, who had really found the market for the stolen stock, felt that he had been cheated. Panhandle had promised him a third of his share of the money. Panhandle had kept on promising from day to day, liquidating his promises with whiskey. And now there was no money.
Posmo knew Panhandle well enough not to press the matter, just then. But Panhandle, because neither of his companions had said anything when told that he was broke, turned on Posmo.
"What you got to say about it, anyway?" he asked with that curious stubbornness born in liquor.
"I say that you owe me a hundred dollar," declared Posmo.
"Well, go ahead and collect!"
"Yes, go ahead and collect," said Shorty, suddenly siding with Panhandle. "We blowed her in. We're broke, but we ain't cryin' about it."
"That is all right," said Posmo quietly. "If the money is gone, she is gone; yes?"
"That's the way to say it!" asserted Panhandle, changing front and slapping Posmo on the shoulder. "We're broke, and who the hell cares?"
"Let's have a drink," suggested Shorty. "I got a couple of beans left."
They slouched out from the back room and stood at the bar. Panhandle immediately became engaged in noisy argument with one of the frequenters of the place. Senator Brown's name was mentioned by the other, but mentioned casually, with no reference whatever to stolen horses.
Panhandle laughed. "So old Steve is down here lookin' for his hosses, eh?"
The question, spoken by no one knew whom, chilled the group to silence.
Panhandle saw that he had made a blunder. "Who wants to know?" he queried, gazing round the barroom.
"Why, it's in all the papers," declared the bartender conciliatingly. "The Box-S horses was run off a couple of weeks ago."
Panhandle turned his back on the group and called for a drink.
Shorty was tugging gently at his sleeve. "Posmo's beat it, Pan."
"To hell with him! Beat it yourself if you feel like it."
"I'll stick Pan," declared Shorty, yet his furtive eyes belied his assertion.
* * * * *
For three days Bartley had tried to find where Cheyenne was staying, but without success, chiefly because Cheyenne kept close to his room during the daytime, watching the entrance to the Hole-in-the-Wall, waiting for Panhandle to step out into the daylight, when there would be folk on the street who could witness that Panhandle had drawn his gun first. Cheyenne determined to give his enemy that chance, and then kill him. But thus far Panhandle had not appeared on the street in the daytime, so far as Cheyenne knew.
Incidentally, Senator Steve had warned Bartley to keep away from the Hole-in-the-Wall district after dark, intimating that there was more in the wind than Cheyenne's feud with Panhandle Sears. So Bartley contented himself with acting as a sort of private secretary for the Senator, a duty that was a pleasure. The hardest thing Bartley did was to refuse bottled entertainment, at least once out of every three times it was offered.
On the evening of the fourth day after Pelly had wired the Senator that Sneed and his men had ridden north from Tucson, Posmo, hanging about the eastern outskirts of Phoenix, saw a small band of horsemen against the southern sky-line. Knowing the trail they would take, north, Posmo had timed their arrival almost to the hour. They would pass to the east of Phoenix, and take the old Apache Trail, North. Posmo had his horse saddled and hidden in a draw. He mounted and rode directly toward the oncoming horsemen.
He sang as he rode. It was safer to do that, when it was growing dark. The riders would know he was a Mexican, and that he did not wish to conceal his identity on the road. He did not care to be mistaken for an enemy, especially so near Phoenix.
Sneed, a giant in the dusk, reined in as Posmo hailed the group. Sneed asked his name. Posmo replied, and was told to ride up. Sneed, separating himself from his men, rode a little ahead and met Posmo.
"Panhandle is give the deal away," stated Posmo.
"He drunk and spend all the money. He do not give me anything for that I make the deal—over there," and Posmo gestured toward the south.
"Double-crossed you, eh? And now you're sore and want his scalp."
"He talk too much of the Box-S horses in that cantina," stated Posmo deliberately. "He say that you owe him money." This was an afterthought, and an invention.
"Who did he say that to?" queried Sneed.
"He tell everybody in that place that you turn the good trick and then throw him hard."
"Either you're lyin', or Panhandle's crazy." Sneed turned and called to his men, a few paces off. They rode up on tired horses. "What do you say, boys? Panhandle is talkin', over there in Phoenix. Posmo, here, says Panhandle is talkin' about us. Now nobody's got a thing on us. We been south lookin' at some stock we're thinkin' of buyin'. Want to ride over with me and have a little talk with Panhandle?"
"Ain't that kind of risky, Cap?"
"Every time! But it ain't necessary to ride right into the marshal's office. We put our little deal through clean. The horses we're ridin' belong to us. And who's goin' to stop us from ridin' in, or out, of town? I aim to talk to Panhandle into ridin' north with us. It's safer to have him along. If you all don't want to ride with me, I'll go in alone."
"We're with you, Cap," said one of the men.
"Mebby it's safer to ride through the towns from now on than to keep dodgin' 'em," suggested Lawson.
"Come on, then," and Sneed indicated Posmo.
"And don't make any mistakes," threatened Lawson, riding close to the Mexican. "If you do—you won't last."
Posmo had not counted on this turn of affairs. He had supposed that his news would send Sneed and his men in to have it out with Panhandle, or that one of them would ride in and persuade Panhandle to join them. But he now knew that he would have to ride with Sneed, or he would be suspected of double-dealing.
At the fork of the road leading into Phoenix, Sneed reined in. "We're ridin' tired horses, boys. And we ain't lookin' for trouble. All we want is Panhandle. We'll get him."
Sitting his big horse like a statue, his club foot concealed by the long tapadero, his physical being dominating his followers, Sneed headed the group that rode slowly down the long open stretch bordering on the east of the town. They entered town quietly and stopped a few doors below the lighted front of the Hole-in-the-Wall.
"Just step in and tell Panhandle I want to see him," and Sneed indicated one of his riders.
The man went in and came out again with the information that Panhandle had left the saloon about an hour ago; that he had told the bartender he was going out to get some money and come back and play the wheel.
"Get on your horse," said Sneed, who had been gazing up the street while listening to the other. "Here comes Panhandle now. I'll do the talking."
CHEYENNE PLAYS BIG
Watching from his darkened window, Cheyenne had seen Panhandle leave the Hole-in-the-Wall, and stride up the street alone. It was the first time Cheyenne had seen Sears since he had taken the single room opposite the gambling-house. Cheyenne stepped back, drew down the curtain, and turned on the light. The bare board floor was littered with cigarette stubs. A pair of saddle-bags hung on the iron bedstead. Other furniture was a chair, a scratched and battered washstand, a cracked mirror. Standing by the washstand Cheyenne took his gun from its holster, half-cocked it, and punched out the loaded cartridges. He pulled the pin, pushed the cylinder out with his thumb, and examined it against the light. Carefully he cleaned and replaced the cylinder, reloaded it, held the hammer back, and spun the cylinder with his hand. Finally he thrust the gun in the holster and, striding to the bed, sat down, his chin in his hands.
Somewhere out there on the street, or in the Hole-in-the-Wall, he would meet his enemy—in a few minutes, perhaps. There would be no wordy argument. They understood each other, and had understood each other, since that morning, long ago when they had passed each other on the road—Panhandle riding in to Laramie and Cheyenne and Little Jim riding from the abandoned home. Cheyenne thought of Little Jim, of his wife, and, by some queer trick of mind, of Bartley. He knew that the Easterner was in town. The stableman at the Top-Notch had told him. Well, he had seen Panhandle. Now he would go out and meet him, or overtake him.
Some one turned from the street into the hall below and rapidly climbed the stairs. Cheyenne heard a knock at the door opposite his. That room was unoccupied. Then came a brisk knock at his own door.
"What do you want?"
"Is that you, Cheyenne?"
"Who wants to know?"
"Bartley. I just found out from Colonel Stevenson where you were camping."
Cheyenne stepped to the door and unlocked it.
Bartley entered, glanced round the room, and then shook hands with Cheyenne. "Been a week trying to find you. How are you and how are the horses? Man, but it was a long, lonesome ride from San Andreas! If it hadn't been for that dog that adopted me—by the way, Colonel Stevenson was telling Senator Brown that Panhandle is in town. I suppose you know it."
"I seen him, this evenin'."
"So did I. Just passed him as I came down here. The Colonel said you were camping somewhere opposite the Hole-in-the-Wall. How is everything?"
"Were you going anywhere?"
"No place in particular."
Bartley sat down on the edge of the bed and lighted a cigarette. Cheyenne stood as though waiting for him to leave. There was something queer about Cheyenne. His eyes were somber, his manner stiff and unnatural. His greeting had been cool.
"About that man Panhandle—" Bartley began, but Cheyenne interrupted with a gesture.
"You say you saw him, on your way down here?"
"Yes. He didn't seem to recognize me. He was walking fast."
"How was Little Jim when you left?"
"And the folks?"
"Same as ever. Miss Gray—"
"Well, I reckon I'll be steppin' along. Glad I saw you again."
"Going to leave town to-night?"
"I aim to."
Bartley could no longer ignore Cheyenne's attitude. He knew that something had happened or was about to happen. Cheyenne's manner did not invite question or suggestion. Yet Bartley had promised Dorothy that he would exert what influence he had—and it seemed a critical time, just at that moment.
"I'd like to talk with you a minute, if you have time," said Bartley.
"Won't do no good, pardner." And without waiting for Bartley to say anything more, Cheyenne stepped up to him and held out his hand. "So long," he said.
"Well, good luck!" replied Bartley, and shook hands with him heartily. "I hope you win."
Cheyenne gestured toward the door. Bartley stepped out into the hallway. The light in the room flickered out.
"I reckon you'll be goin' back to your hotel," said Cheyenne. "Wait. I'll just step down first."
At the foot of the stairs Cheyenne paused and glanced up and down the street. Directly across the way the Hole-in-the-Wall was ablaze with light. A few doors east of the gambling-hall an indistinct group of riders sat their horses as though waiting for some one. Cheyenne drew back into the shadows of the hallway.
Bartley peered out over Cheyenne's shoulder. From up the street in the opposite direction came the distant click of boot-heels. A figure strode swiftly toward the patch of white light in front of the gambling-hall.
"Just stand back a little, pardner," said Cheyenne.
Bartley felt his heart begin to thump as Cheyenne gently loosened his gun in the holster.
"It's Panhandle!" whispered Bartley, as the figure of Sears was silhouetted against the lighted windows of the place opposite.
Out of the shadows where the riders waited came a single, abrupt word, peremptory, incisive: "Panhandle!"
Panhandle, about to turn into the lighted doorway, stopped short.
Sneed had called to Panhandle; but it was Posmo the Mexican who rode forward to meet him. Sneed, close behind Posmo, watched to see that the Mexican carried out his instructions, which were simply to tell Panhandle to get his horse and leave town with them. Seeing the group behind the Mexican, Panhandle's first thought was that Posmo had betrayed him to the authorities. It was Posmo. Panhandle recognized the Mexican's pinto horse.