He remembered once shooting a big, beautiful, blacktail doe. She had dropped limply in her tracks and lain there, and he had sauntered up and stood looking at her stretched before him. He was out of meat, and the doe meant all that hot venison steaks and rich, brown gravy can mean to a man meat-hungry. While he unsheathed his hunting knife, he gloated over the feast he would have, that night. And just when he had laid his rifle against a rock and knelt to bleed her, the deer leaped from under his hand and bounded away over the hill. He had not said a word on that occasion, either.
This night, although the case was altogether different and the disappearance of the girl was in no sense a disaster—rather a relief, if anything—he felt that same wordless rage, the same sense of utter chagrin. She had made a fool of him. After awhile he felt his jaws aching with the vicelike pressure of his teeth together.
They topped the ridge, Rambler hobbling stiffly. Ford had in mind a sheltering rim of sandstone at the nearest point of the coulee he had crossed in searching for the girl’s horse, and made for it. He had noticed a spring there, and while the water might not be good, the shelter would be welcome, at any rate.
He had the saddle off Rambler, the shoulder bathed with cold water from the spring, and was warming his wet hands over a little fire when the first gleam of humor struck through his anger and lighted for a moment the situation.
“Lordy me! I must be a hoodoo, where women are concerned,” he said, kicking the smoking stub of a bush into the blaze. “Soon as one crosses my trail, she goes and disappears off the face of the earth!” He fumbled for his tobacco and papers. It was a “dry camp” he was making that night, and a smoke would have to serve for a supper. He held his book of papers absently while he stared hard at the fire.
“It ain’t such a bad hoodoo,” he mused. “I can spare this particular girl just as easy as not; and the other one, too, for that matter.”
After a minute spent in blowing apart the thin leaves and selecting a paper:
“Queer where she got to—and it’s a darned mean trick to play on a man that was just trying to help her out of a fix. Why, I wouldn’t treat a stray dog that way! Darn these women!”
The Problem of Getting Somewhere
Dawn came tardily after a long, cheerless night, during which the wind whined over the prairie and the stars showed dimly through a shifting veil of low-sweeping clouds. Ford had not slept much, for hunger and cold make poor bedfellows, and all the brush he could glean on that barren hillside, with the added warmth of his saddle-blanket wrapped about him, could no more make him comfortable than could cigarettes still the gnawing of his hunger.