Ten minutes later Bud was walking through the back yard of the hotel whistling shrilly “Yankee Doodle.” It happened that his father was an ex-Confederate and “Dixie” was more to the boy’s taste, but he enjoyed the flavor of the camouflage he was employing. It fitted into his new role of Bud Proctor, Scout of the Pecos.
The fugitives slipped down the back stairway of the Proctor House and into the garden. In another moment they were astride and moving out to the sparsely settled suburbs of town.
“Did you notice the brand on the horse you’re ridin’, Jim?” asked Prince with a grin.
“Same brand’s on your bay, Billie—the Lazy S M. Did you tell that kid to steal us two horses?”
“No, but you’ve said it. I’m on the bronc Sanders rides, and you an’ I are horse-thieves now as well as killers. This certainly gets us in bad.”
“I’ve a notion to turn back yet,” said Jim, with the irritability of a sick man. “How in Mexico did he happen to light on Snaith-McRobert stock? Looks like he might have found somethin’ else for us.”
“Bud has too much imagination,” admitted Prince ruefully. “I’d bet a stack of blues he picked these hawsses on purpose—probably thought it would be a great joke on Sanders an’ his crew.”
“Well, I don’t like it. They’ve got us where they want us now.”
Billie did not like it either. To kill a man on the frontier then in fair fight was a misdemeanor. To steal a horse was a capital offense. Many a bronco thief ended his life at the end of a rope in the hands of respectable citizens who had in the way of business snuffed out the lives of other respectable citizens. Both of the Flying Vy riders knew that if they were caught with the stock, it would be of no avail with Sanders to plead that they had no intention of stealing. Possession would be prima facie evidence of guilt.
“It’s too late to go back now,” Prince decided.
“We’ll travel night an’ day till we reach the old man an’ have him send the bones back. I hate to do it, but we have no choice. Anyhow, we might as well be hanged for stealin’ a horse as for anything else.”
They topped a hill and came face to face with a rider traveling town ward. His gaze took in the animals carrying the fugitives and jumped to the face of Billie. In the eyes of the man was an expression blended of suspicion and surprise. He passed with a nod and a surly “’Evenin’.”
“Fine luck we’re havin’, Billie,” commented his friend with a little laugh. “I give Sanders twenty minutes to be on our trail.”
Through the gathering darkness Prince watched the figure of his companion droop. The slim, lithe body sagged and the shoulders were heavy with exhaustion. Both small hands clung to the pommel of the saddle. It took no prophet to see that in his present condition the wounded man would never travel the gun-barrel road as far as the dust of the Flying V Y herd. Even by easy stages he could not do it, and with pursuit thundering at their heels the ride would be a cruel, grilling one.