They searched the ground thoroughly, and discovered no body hidden in the brush.
“They’ve taken him away. Likely he’s alive,” Yeager decided aloud at last.
“Brill couldn’t have been in this. He was at the Frying Pan before I was.”
“I reckon he ordered it done. If that’s correct they will be holding Larry till Brill gets there to give further orders.”
Phil entered an objection. “That doesn’t look to me like Brill’s way. He’s not scared of any man that lives. When he squares accounts with Keller he’ll be on the job himself.”
“That’s so, too,” admitted Yeager. “Still, I figure this is Healy’s work. Maybe he gave out there was to be no killing. He was at the ranch himself, big as coffee, so as to be sure of his alibi.”
“What does he care about an alibi? When he gets ready to go gunnin’ after Keller he won’t care if the whole Malpais sees him. There’s something in this I don’t sabe.”
“There sure is. We’ve got to run the thing down muy pronto. No use both of us going ahead without arms, Phil. My notion is this: You burn a shuck back to the Frying Pan and round up some of our friends on the q.t. Don’t let Brill get a notion of what’s in the air. Better make straight for Gregory’s Pass. I’m going to follow this trail we’ve cut and see what’s doing. Once I find out I’ll double back to the Pass and meet you. Bring along an extra gun for me.”
“I don’t reckon I will, Jim. What’s the matter with me going on instead of you? I can follow this trail good as you can. I announce right here that I’m not going back. I’ve got first call on this job. Keller went into the fire after me. I’m going to follow this trail to hell if I have to.”
Yeager tried persuasion, argument, appeal. The lad was as fixed as Gibraltar.
“I’m not going to go buttin’ in where I’m not wanted any more than you would, Jim. I’ll play this hand out with a cool head, but I’m going to play it my ownself.”
“All right. It’s your say-so. I’ll admit you’ve got a claim. But you want to remember one thing—if anything happens to you I cayn’t square it with Phyl. Go slow, boy!”
Without more words they parted, Jim to ride swiftly back for help, and young Sanderson to push on up the trail with his eyes glued to it. Ever since he could swing himself to a saddle he had been a vaquero in the cow country.
He was therefore an expert at reading the signs left by travellers. What would have been invisible to a tenderfoot offered evidence to him as plain as the print on a primer. Mile after mile he covered with a minute scrutiny that never wavered.
LARRY TELLS A BEAR STORY
Keller rode blithely down the piney trail while the sun flung its brilliant good-bye over the crotch of the mountains behind which it was slipping. The western sky was a Turner sublimated to the nth degree, a thing magnificent and indescribable. The young man rode with his crisp curls bared to the light, grateful breeze that came like healing from the great peaks. From the joyous, unquenchable youth in him bubbled snatches of song and friendly smiles scattered broadcast over a world that pleased him mightily.