“It was likely some sheepherder gone clean nutty,” mused Irish.
“Well, the most uh them wouldn’t have far to go,” ventured Happy Jack, thinking of the Swede.
“What we ought to do,” said Pink, keen for the chase, “is for the whole bunch of us to come down here and round him up. Wonder if we couldn’t talk Chip into laying off for a day or so; there’s no herd to hold. I sure would like to get a good look at him.”
“Somebody ought to take him in,” observed Irish longingly. “He ain’t safe, running around loose like that. There’s no telling what he might do. The way them campers read his brand, he’s plumb dangerous to meet up with alone. It’s lucky you didn’t run onto him, Happy.”
“Well, I didn’t,” growled Happy Jack. “And what’s more, I betche there ain’t any such person.”
“Don’t call us liars to our faces, Happy,” Weary reproved. “We told yuh, a dozen times, that we saw him ourselves. Yuh might be polite enough to take our word for it.”
“Aw, gwan!” Happy Jack grunted, still not quite sure of how much—or how little—they knew. While they discussed further the wild man, he watched furtively for the surreptitious lowering of lids that would betray their insincerity. When they appealed to him for an opinion of some phase of the subject, he answered with caution. He tried to turn the talk to his experiences on the Shonkin range, and found the wild man cropping up with disheartening persistency. He shifted often in the saddle, because of the deep sunburns which smarted continually and maddeningly. He wondered if the boys had used all of that big box of carbolic salve which used to be kept in a corner of the mess-box; and was carbolic salve good for sun-blisters? He told himself gloomily that if there was any of it left, and if it were good for his ailment, there wouldn’t be half enough of it, anyway. He estimated unhappily that he would need about two quarts.
When they reached camp, the welcome of Happy Jack was overshadowed and made insignificant by the strange story of the wild man. Happy Jack, mentally and physically miserable, was forced to hear it all told over again, and to listen to the excited comments of the others. He was sick of the subject. He had heard enough about the wild man, and he wished fervently that they would shut up about it. He couldn’t see that it was anything to make such a fuss about, anyway. And he wished he could get his hands on that carbolic salve, without having the whole bunch rubbering around and asking questions about something that was none of their business. He even wished, in that first bitter hour after he had eaten and while they were lying idly in the shady spots, that he was back on the Shonkin range with an alien crew.
It was perhaps an hour later that Pink, always of an investigative turn of mind, came slipping quietly up through the rose bushes from the creek. The Happy Family, lying luxuriously upon the grass, were still discussing the latest excitement. Pink watched his chance and when none but Weary observed him jerked his head mysteriously toward the creek.