DAVE RIDES ON HIS SPURS
Hart came up to his friend grinning. “Well, you old horn-toad, we got no kick comin’. Chiquito run a mighty pretty race. Only trouble was his laigs wasn’t long enough.”
The owner of the pony nodded, a lump in his throat. He was not thinking about his thirty-five dollars, but about the futile race into which he had allowed his little beauty to be trapped. Dave would not be twenty-one till coming grass, and it still hurt his boyish pride to think that his favorite had been beaten.
Another lank range-rider drifted up. “Same here, Dave. I’ll kiss my twenty bucks good-bye cheerful. You ‘n’ the li’l hoss run the best race, at that. Chiquito started like a bullet out of a gun, and say, boys! how he did swing round on the turn.”
“Much obliged, Steve. I reckon he sure done his best,” said Sanders gratefully.
The voice of George Doble cut in, openly and offensively jubilant. “Me, I’d ruther show the way at the finish than at the start. You’re more liable to collect the mazuma. I’ll tell you now that broomtail never had a chance to beat Whiskey Bill.”
“Yore hoss can run, seh,” admitted Dave.
“I know it, but you don’t. He didn’t have to take the kinks out of his legs to beat that plug.”
“You get our money,” said Hart quietly. “Ain’t that enough without rubbin’ it in?”
“Sure I get yore money—easy money, at that,” boasted Doble. “Got any more you want to put up on the circus bronc?”
Steve Russell voiced his sentiments curtly. “You make me good and tired, Doble. There’s only one thing I hate more’n a poor loser—and that’s a poor winner. As for putting my money on the pinto, I’ll just say this: I’ll bet my li’l’ pile he can beat yore bay twenty miles, a hundred miles, or five hundred.”
“Not any, thanks. Whiskey Bill is a racer, not a mule team,” Miller said, laughing.
Steve loosened the center-fire cinch of his pony’s saddle. He noted that there was no real geniality in the fat man’s mirth. It was a surface thing designed to convey an effect of good-fellowship. Back of it lay the chill implacability of the professional gambler.
The usual give-and-take of gay repartee was missing at supper that night. Since they were of the happy-go-lucky, outdoor West it did not greatly distress the D Bar Lazy R riders to lose part of their pay checks. Even if it had, their spirits would have been unimpaired, for it is written in their code that a man must take his punishment without whining. What hurt was that they had been tricked, led like lambs to the killing. None of them doubted now that the pack-horse of the gamblers was a “ringer.” These men had deliberately crossed the path of the trail outfit in order to take from the vaqueros their money.
The punchers were sulky. Instead of a fair race they had been up against an open-and-shut proposition, as Russell phrased it. The jeers of Doble did not improve their tempers. The man was temperamentally mean-hearted. He could not let his victims alone.