The savory odor of bacon and of coffee came through the open window to Beaudry where he crouched in the chaparral. He heard Meldrum’s brusque “Come and get it,” and the sound of the two men drawing up their chairs to the table.
“What’s the use of being obstinate, Dave?” presently asked Rutherford from amid a pleasant chink of tin cups, knives, and forks. “I’d a heap rather treat you like a white man. This ’Pache business doesn’t make a hit with me. But I’m obeying orders. Anyhow, it’s up to you. The chuck-wagon is ready for you whenever you say the word.”
“I don’t reckon I’ll say it, Ned. Eating is just a habit. One man wants his eggs sunny side up; another is strong for them hard-boiled. But eggs is eggs. When Dan went visitin’ at Santa Fe, he likely changed his diet. For two or three days he probably didn’t like the grub, then—”
With a raucous curse the former convict swung round on him. A revolver seemed to jump to his hand, but before he could fire, young Rutherford was hanging to his wrist.
“Don’t you, Dan. Don’t you,” warned Ned.
Slowly Meldrum’s eyes lost their savage glare. “One o’ these days I’ll pump lead into him unless he clamps that mouth of his’n. I won’t stand for it.” His voice trailed into a string of oaths.
Apparently his host’s fury at this reference to his convict days did not disturb in the least the man on the bed. His good-natured drawl grew slightly more pronounced. “Wall yore eyes and wave yore tail all you’ve a mind to, Dan. I was certainly some indiscreet reminding you of those days when you was a guest of the Government.”
“That’s enough,” growled Meldrum, slamming his big fist down on the table so that the tinware jumped.
“Sure it’s enough. Too much. Howcome I to be so forgetful? If I’d wore a uniform two years for rustling other folks’ calves, I reckon I wouldn’t thank a guy—”
But Meldrum had heard all he could stand. He had to do murder or get out. He slammed the coffee-pot down on the floor and bolted out of the open door. His arms whirled in violent gestures as he strode away. An unbroken stream of profanity floated back to mark his anabasis.
Meldrum did not once look round as he went on his explosive way to the gulch, but Roy Beaudry crouched lower behind the cactus until the man had disappeared. Then he crawled back to the grove, slipped through it, and crept to the shelter of the boulder bed.
It would not do for him to return down the canon during daylight, for fear he might meet one of the Rutherfords coming to relieve Ned. He passed from one boulder to another, always working up toward the wall of the gulch. Behind a big piece of sandstone shaped like a flatiron he lay down and waited for the hours to pass.
It was twilight when he stole down to the trail and began his return journey.