“I didn’t do it all,” answered Clanton, flushing. “Billie helped, and the Roubideaus got two of ’em.”
“That’s not the way Billie tells it. Anyhow, you-all made a great gather between you. Six ’Paches that will never smile again ought to give the raiders a pain.”
“Don’t you think we’d better get him to bed?” said Pauline gently.
“You’re shoutin’, ma’am,” agreed Webb. “Roubideau, the little boss says Jimmie-Go-Get-’Em is to be put to bed. I’ll tote him in if you’ll give my boys directions about throwin’ the herd into yore park and loose-herdin’ ’em there.”
The Missourian picked up the wounded boy and followed Pauline into the house. She led the way to her own little bedroom. It was the most comfortable in the house and that was the one she wanted Jim Clanton to have.
Billie Asks a Question
Roubideau rounded up next day his beef stock and sold two hundred head to the drover. During the second day the riders were busy putting the road brand on the cattle just bought.
“Don’t bust yore suspenders on this job, boys,” Webb told his men. “I’d just as lief lie up here for a few days while Uncle Sam is roundin’ up his pets camped out there. Old man Roubideau says we’re welcome to stick around. The feed’s good. Our cattle are some gaunted with the drive. It won’t hurt a mite to let ’em stay right here a spell.”
But on the third day came news that induced the Missourian to change his mind. Jean, who had been out as a scout, returned with the information that a company of cavalry had come down from the fort and that the Apaches had hastily decamped for parts unknown.
“I reckon we’ll throw into the trail again tomorrow, Joe,” the drover told Yankie. “No use wastin’ time here if we don’t have to stay. We’ll mosey along toward the river. Kinder take it easy an’ drift the herd down slow so as to let the cattle put on flesh. Billie an’ the kid can join us soon as they’re fit to travel.”
The decision was announced on the porch of the Roubideau house. Its owner and his daughter were present. So was Dad Wrayburn. The Texan old-timer snorted as he rolled a cigarette.
“Hm! Soft thing those two boys have got sittin’ around an’ bein’ petted by Miss Polly here. I’ve a notion to go an’ bust my laig too. Will you nurse me real tender, ma’am, if I get stove up pullin’ off a grand-stand play like they done?”
“The hospital is full. We haven’t got room for more invalids, Mr. Wrayburn,” laughed the girl.
“Well, you let me know when there’s a vacancy, Miss Polly. My sister gave me a book to read onct. It was ’most twenty years ago. The name of it was ‘Ivanhoe.’ I told her I would save it to read when I broke my laig. Looks like I never will git that book read.”
By daybreak the outfit was on the move. Yankie trailed the cattle out to the plain and started them forward leisurely. Webb had allowed himself plenty of time for the drive. The date set for delivery at the fort was still distant and he wanted the beeves to be in first-class condition for inspection. To reach the Pecos he was allowing three weeks, a programme that would let him bed the herd down early and would permit of drifting it slowly to graze for an hour or two a day.