“Nature’s gone to flower-gardening for fair on the mountains,” murmured the rider. “What with one thing and another I’ve got a notion I’m going to take a liking to this country.”
The man was plainly very tired with rapid travel, and about the middle of the afternoon the young man unsaddled and picketed the animal near a water-hole. He lay down in the shadow of a cottonwood, flat on his back, face upturned to the deep cobalt sky. Presently the drowse of the afternoon crept over him. The slumberous valley grew hazy to his nodding eyes. The reluctant lids ceased to open and he was fast asleep.
Lieutenant Fraser interferes.
The sun had declined almost to a saddle in the Cuesta del Burro when the sleeper reopened his eyes. Even before he had shaken himself free of sleep he was uneasily aware of something wrong. Hazily the sound of voices drifted to him across an immense space. Blurred figures crossed before his unfocused gaze.
The first thing he saw clearly was the roan, still grazing in the circle of its picket-rope. Beside the bronco were two men looking the animal over critically.
“Been going some,” he heard one remark, pointing at the same time to the sweat-stains that streaked the shoulders and flanks.
“If he had me on his back he’d still be burning the wind, me being in his boots,” returned the second, with a grating laugh, jerking his head toward the sleeper. “Whatever led the durned fool to stop this side of the line beats me.”
“If he was hiking for Chihuahua he’s been hitting a mighty crooked trail. I don’t savvy it, him knowing the country as well as they say he does,” the first speaker made answer.
The traveler’s circling eye now discovered two more men, each of them covering him with a rifle. A voice from the rear assured him there was also a fifth member to the party.
“Look out! He’s awake,” it warned.
The young man’s hand inadvertently moved toward his revolver-butt. This drew a sharp imperative order from one of the men in front.
“Throw up your hands, and damn quick!”
“You seem to have the call, gentlemen,” he smiled. “Would you mind telling me what it’s all about?”
“You know what it’s all about as well as we do. Collect his gun, Tom.”
“This hold-up business seems to be a habit in this section. Second time to-day I’ve been the victim of it,” said the victim easily.
“It will be the last,” retorted one of the men grimly.
“If you’re after the mazuma you’ve struck a poor bank.”
“You’ve got your nerve,” cried one of the men in a rage; and another demanded: “Where did you get that hawss?”
“Why, I got it—” The young man stopped in the middle of his sentence. His jaw clamped and his eyes grew hard. “I expect you better explain what right you got to ask that question.”