“That’s why he turned, right here. ‘Tain’t just the stealin’ of my hosses that’s interestin’ him. He’s takin’ trouble to run a whizzer on me—get me guessin’. Here is where we quit trailin’ him. I got my plan workin’ like a hen draggin’ fence rails. We ain’t goin’ to trail Panhandle. We’re goin’ to ride ’round and meet him.”
“Not a bad idea,” said Bartley.
“It won’t be—if I see him first.”
JIMMY AND THE LUGER GUN
Two days of riding toward the west, along the edge of the hills, and Bartley and Cheyenne found themselves approaching the high country. The trail ran up a wide valley, on either side of which were occasional ranches reaching back toward the slopes. In reality they were gradually climbing the range on an easy grade and making good time.
Their course now paralleled the theoretical course of Panhandle and his fellows. Dodging the rugged land to the south, Cheyenne had swung round in a half-circle, hoping to head off Panhandle on the desert side of the range. Since abandoning the tracks of the stolen horses, Cheyenne had resumed his old habit of singing as he rode. He seemed to know the name of every ranch, and of every person they met.
Once or twice some acquaintance expressed surprise that Cheyenne did not stop and spend the night with him. But Cheyenne jokingly declined all invitations, explaining to Bartley that in stopping to visit they would necessarily waste hours in observing the formalities of arrival and departure, although Cheyenne did not put it just that way.
They found water and plenty of feed, made their camps early, broke camp early, and rode steadily. With no visible incentive to keep going, Bartley lost his first keen interest in the hunt, and contented himself with listening to Cheyenne’s yarns about the country and its folk, or occasionally chatting with some wayfarer. But never once did Cheyenne hint, to those they met, just why he was riding south.
There were hours at a stretch, when the going was level, when Cheyenne did nothing but roll his gun, throw down on different objects, toss up his gun, and catch it by the handle; and once he startled Bartley by making a quick fall from the saddle and shooting from the ground. Cheyenne explained to Bartley that often, when riding alone, he had spent hour after hour figuring out the possibilities of gun-play, till it became evident to the Easterner that, aside from being naturally quick, there was a very good reason for Cheyenne’s proficiency with the six-gun. He practiced continually. And yet, thought Bartley, one of the Box-S punchers had said that Cheyenne had never killed anything bigger than a coyote, and never would—intimating that he was too good-natured ever to take advantage of his own proficiency with a gun.
Bartley wondered just how things would break if they did happen to meet Panhandle unexpectedly. Panhandle would no doubt dispose of the stolen horses as soon as he could. What excuse would Cheyenne have to call Panhandle to account? And when it came to a show-down, would Cheyenne call him to account?