They rode slowly away from the ranch and made the greater haste when the sound of their galloping could not reach the dulled ears of those who slept. They did not talk much, and when they did it was to tell one another what great fools they were—but even in the telling they urged their horses to greater speed.
“Well,” Pink summed up at last, “if he’s hurt, out here, we’re doing the right thing; and if he ain’t, he won’t be there to have the laugh on us; so it’s all right either way.”
There was black shadow in the grassy swale where they found him. His horse had wandered off and it was only the sure instinct of Irish that led them to the spot where he lay, a blacker shadow in the darkness that a passing cloud had made. Just at first they thought him dead, but when they lifted him he groaned and then spoke.
“It’s one on me, this time,” he said, and the throat of Irish pinched achingly together at the sound of his voice, which had in it the note of pain he had been trying to forget.
After that he said nothing at all, because he was a senseless weight in their arms.
At daylight Irish was pounding vehemently the door of the White House and calling for the Little Doctor. Andy lay stretched unconscious upon the porch beside him, and down in the bunk-house the Happy Family was rubbing eyes and exclaiming profanely at the story Pink was telling.
“And here,” finished Irish a couple of hours later, when he was talking the thing over with the Little Doctor, “here’s a note Take-Notice’s girl gave me for him. I don’t reckon there’s any good news in it, so maybe yuh better hold it out on him till he’s got over the fever. I guess we queered Andy a lot—but I’ll ride over, soon as I can, and fix it up with her and tell her he broke his leg, all right. Maybe,” he finished optimistically, “she’ll come over to see him.”
Irish kept his word, though he delayed until the next day; and the next day it was too late. For the cabin of Take-Notice was closed and empty, and the black lamb and the white were nosing unhappily their over-turned pan of mush, and bleating lonesomely. Irish waited a while and started home again; rode into the trail and met Bert Rogers, who explained:
“Take-Notice was hauling his girl, trunk and all, to the depot,” he told Irish. “I met ’em just this side the lane. They aimed to catch the afternoon train, I reckon. She was going home, Take-Notice told me.”
So Irish rode thoughtfully back to the ranch and went straight to the White House where Andy lay, meaning to break the news as carefully as he knew how.
Andy was lying in bed looking big-eyed at the ceiling, and in his hand was the note. He turned his head and glanced indifferently at Irish.
“Yuh sure made a good job of it, didn’t yuh?” he began calmly, though it was not the calm which meant peace. “I was just about engaged to that girl. If it’ll do yuh any good to know how nice and thorough yuh busted everything up for me, read that.” He held out the paper, and Irish turned a guilty red when he took it.