“Guess I’ve been badly fooled. I came up with him outside the bluff when it was getting light, and he stopped his team. Said he was quietly driving home when he heard somebody riding after him, and as he’d once been roughly handled by mean whites, he tried to get away. Then as I didn’t know what to do, I allowed I’d keep him in sight until Constable Flett turned up, and by and by we came to a deserted shack. There’s a well in the bluff behind it, and the buck said his team wanted a drink; they certainly looked a bit played out, and my mare was thirsty. He found an old bucket and asked me to fill it.”
“You didn’t leave him with the horses!”
“No, sir; but what I did was most as foolish. I let him go and he didn’t come back. See how I was fixed? If I’d gone into the bluff to look for him, he might have slipped out and driven off, so I stood by the beasts quite a while. It strikes me that team wasn’t his. At last Flett rode up with another trooper. It seems Steve met them on the trail.”
George nodded. Flett had arrived before he was expected, because Grant’s messenger had been saved a long ride to his station.
“Well?” he said.
“When we couldn’t find the buck, Flett sent his partner off to pick up his trail, and then said we’d better take the team along and look for you. I left where the trail forks; he was to wait a bit. Now, do you think you can get up?”
George did so, and managed with some assistance to climb the slope, where his companion left him and went off for the constable. Flett arrived presently, and made George tell his story.
“The thing’s quite plain,” he said. “The fellow you saw jumped off with the liquor, though one wouldn’t expect him to carry it far. You say he was tall; did he walk a little lame?”
“It was too dark to tell. I’m inclined to think I would know him again.”
“Well,” explained Flett, “this is the kind of thing Little Ax is likely to have a hand in, and he’s the tallest buck in the crowd. I’ll stick to the team until we come across somebody who knows its owner. The first thing we have to do is to find that case of liquor.”
Half an hour later the teamster came back carrying it, and set it down before the constable with a grin.
“Guess it’s your duty to see what’s in these bottles,” he remarked. “Shall I get one out?”
“You needn’t; I’ve a pretty good idea,” answered Flett; adding meaningly, “besides, it’s the kind of stuff a white man can’t drink.” Then he turned to George. “I’d better take you home. You look kind of shaky.”
“What about my horse?” George asked.
“Guess he’s made for home,” said the teamster. “I struck his trail, and it led right out of the woods.”
George got into the wagon with some trouble, and the teamster rode beside it when they set off.
“You haven’t much to put before a court,” he said to Flett.