“Tha’s what us D Bar Lazy R boys are ridin’ with yore paw’s outfit for, Miss—to be handy when he needs us,” Bob added in his turn. “We’re sure tickled we got a chanct to go to Brad Steelman’s party. I’m ce’tainly glad to ‘a’ met you, Miss Joyce.” He ducked his head and scraped back a foot in what was meant to be a bow.
Emerson Crawford sauntered in, big and bluff and easy-going. “Hittin’ the trail, boys? Good enough. Hope you find the thieves. If you do, play yore cards close. They’re treacherous devils. Don’t take no chances with ’em. I left an order at the store for you to draw on me for another pair of boots in place of those you lost in the brush, Dave. Get a good pair, son. They’re on me. Well, so long. Luck, boys. I’ll look for you-all back with the D Bar Lazy R when you’ve finished this job.”
The punchers rode away without looking back, but many times in the days that followed their hearts turned to that roof which had given the word home a new meaning to them both.
The pursuit took the riders across a wide, undulating plain above which danced the dry heat of the desert. Lizards sunned themselves on flat rocks. A rattlesnake slid toward the cover of a prickly pear. The bleached bones of a cow shone white beside the trail.
The throats of the cowpunchers filled with alkali dust and their eyes grew red and sore from it. Magnificent mirages unfolded themselves: lakes cool and limpid, stretching to the horizon, with inviting forests in the distance; an oasis of lush green fields that covered miles; mesquite distorted to the size of giant trees and cattle transformed into dinosaurs. The great gray desert took on freakish shapes of erosion. Always, hour after hour beneath a copper sky, they rode in palpitating heat through sand drifts, among the salt bushes and the creosote, into cowbacked hills beyond which the stark mountains rose.
Out of the fiery furnace of the plain they came in late afternoon to the uplands, plunging into a land of deep gorges and great chasms. Here manzanita grew and liveoaks flourished. They sent a whitetail buck crashing through the brush into a canon.
When night fell they built a fire of niggerheads and after they had eaten found its glow grateful. For they were well up in the hills now and the night air was sharp.
In the sandy desert they had followed easily the trail of the thieves, but as they had got into the hills the tracks had become fainter and fewer. The young men discussed this while they lay in their blankets in a water-gutted gulch not too near the fire they had built.
“Like huntin’ for a needle in a haystack,” said Bob. “Their trail’s done petered out. They might be in any one of a hundred pockets right close, or they may have bore ’way off to the right. All they got to do is hole up and not build any fires.”