AT SWEET WATER CREEK
Before a fire of buffalo chips Constable Beresford and his prisoner smoked the pipe of peace. Morse sat on his heels, legs crossed, after the manner of the camper. The officer lounged at full length, an elbow dug into the sand as a support for his head. The Montanan was on parole, so that for the moment at least their relations were forgotten.
“After the buffalo—what?” asked the American. “The end of the Indian—is that what it means? And desolation on the plains. Nobody left but the Hudson’s Bay Company trappers, d’you reckon?”
The Canadian answered in one word. “Cattle.”
“Some, maybe,” Morse assented. “But, holy Moses, think of the millions it would take to stock this country.”
“Bet you the country’s stocked inside of five years of the time the buffalo are cleared out. Look at what the big Texas drives are doing in Colorado and Wyoming and Montana. Get over the idea that this land up here is a desert. That’s a fool notion our school geographies are responsible for. Great American Desert? Great American fiddlesticks! It’s a man’s country, if you like; but I’ve yet to see the beat of it.”
Morse had ceased to pay attention. His head was tilted, and he was listening.
“Some one ridin’ this way,” he said presently. “Hear the hoofs click on the shale. Who is it? I wonder. An’ what do they want? When folks’ intentions hasn’t been declared it’s a good notion to hold a hand you can raise on.”
Without haste and without delay Beresford got to his feet. “We’ll step back into the shadow,” he announced.
“Looks reasonable to me,” agreed the smuggler.
They waited in the semi-darkness back of the camp-fire.
Some one shouted. “Hello, the camp!” At the sound of that clear, bell-like voice Morse lifted his head to listen better.
The constable answered the call.
Two riders came into the light. One was a girl, the other a slim, straight young Indian in deerskin shirt and trousers. The girl swung from the saddle and came forward to the camp-fire. The companion of her ride shadowed her.
Beresford and his prisoner advanced from the darkness.
“Bully West’s after you. He’s sworn to kill you,” the girl called to the constable.
“How do you know?”
“Onistah heard him.” She indicated with a wave of her hand the lithe-limbed youth beside her. “Onistah was passing the stable—behind it, back of the corral. This West was gathering a mob to follow you—said he was going to hang you for destroying his whiskey.”
“He is, eh?” Beresford’s salient jaw set. His light blue eyes gleamed hard and chill. He would see about that.
“They’ll be here soon. This West was sure you’d camp here at Sweet Water Creek, close to the ford.” A note of excitement pulsed in the girl’s voice. “We heard ’em once behind us on the road. You’d better hurry.”