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One Put Over On The Bunch

From: The Heritage Of The Sioux

"Sounds to me," volunteered the irrepressible Big Medicine after a heavy
silence, "like as if you'd gone to sleep on your hawse, Little One, and
dreamed that there tinkle-tinkle stuff. By cripes, I'd like to see the
bell-hawse that could walk away from ME 'nless I was asleep an' dreamin'
about it. Sounds like--"

"Sounds like Navvy work," Applehead put in, eyeing the surrounding rim
of sun-gilded mesa, where little brown birds fluttered in short, swift
flights and chirped with exasperating cheerfulness.

"If it was anybody, it was Ramon Chavez," Luck declared with the
positiveness of his firm conviction. "By the tracks here, we're crowding
up on him. And no man that's guilty of a crime, Applehead, is going to
ride day after day without wanting to take a look over his shoulder
to see if be's followed. He's probably seen us from some of these
ridges--yesterday, most likely. And do you think he wouldn't know this
bunch as far as he could see us, even without glasses? The chances are
he has them, though. He'd be a fool if he didn't stake himself to a

"Say, by gracious," Andy observed somewhat irrelevantly, his eyes going
over the group, "this would sure make great picture dope, wouldn't it?
Why didn't we bring Pete along, darn it? Us all standing around here,
plumb helpless because we're afoot--"

"Aw, shut up!" snapped Pink, upon whom the burden of responsibility
lay heavy. "I oughta be hung for laying around the fire here instead of
being out there on guard! I oughta--"

"It ain't your fault," Weary championed him warmly. "We all heard the

"Yes--and damn it,I heard the bell from then on till daylight!" Pink's
lips quivered perceptibly with the mortification that burned within him.
"If I'd been on guard--"

"Well, I calc'late you'd a been laid out now with a knife-cut in yuh
som'ers," Applehead stopped twisting his sunburnt mustache to say
bluntly. "'S a dang lucky thing fer you, young man, 't you WASN'T on
guard, 'n' the only thing't looks queer to me is that you wasn't potted
las' night when yuh got out away from here. Musta been only one of 'em
stayed behind, an' he had t' keep out in front uh yuh t' tinkle that
dang bell. Figgered on wearin' out yer hoss, I reckon, 'n' didn't
skurcely dare t' take the risk uh killin' you off 'nless they was a
bunch around t' handle us." His bright blue eyes with their range squint
went from one to another with a certain speculative pride in the glance.
"'N' they shore want t' bring a crowd along when they tie into this yere
outfit, now I'm tellin' yuh!"

Lite Avery, who had gone prowling down the draw by himself, came back
to camp, tilting stiff-leggedly along in his high-heeled boots and
betraying, in every step he took, just how handicapped a cowpuncher is
when set afoot upon the range and forced to walk where he has always
been accustomed to ride. He stopped to give Pink's exhausted horse a
sympathetic pat on the shoulder, and came on, grinning a little with the
comers of his mouth tipped down.

"Here's what's left of the hobbles the buckskin wore," he said, holding
up the cut loops of a figure-eight rope hobble. "Kinda speaks for
itself, don't it?"

They crowded around to inspect this plain evidence of stealing.
Afterwards they stood hard-eyed and with a flush on their cheek-bones,
considering what was the best and wisest way to meet this emergency. As
to hunting afoot for their horses, the chance of success was almost
too small to be considered at all, Pink's horse was not fit for further
travel until he had rested. There was one pair of field glasses--and
there were nine irate men to whom inaction was intolerable.

"One thing we can do, if we have to," Luck said at last, with the
fighting look in his face which moving-picture people had cause to
remember. "We can help ourselves to any horses we run across. Applehead,
how's the best way to go about it?"

Applehead, thus pushed into leadership, chewed his mustache and eyed the
mesa sourly. "Well, seein' they've set us afoot, I calc'late we're
jest about entitled to any dang thing we run across that's ridable," he
acceded. "'N' the way I'd do, would be to git on high groun' with them
glasses 'n' look fer hosses. 'N' then head fer 'em 'n' round 'em up
afoot 'n' rope out what we want. They's enough of us t' mebby git a
mount apiece, but it shore ain't goin' t' be no snap, now I'm tellin'
ye. 'N' if yuh do that," he added, "yuh want t' leave a man er two in
camp--'n' they want to keep their dang eyes peeled, lemme tell yuh! Ef
we was t' find ourselves afoot an' our grub 'n' outfit stole--"

"We won't give them that chance at us." Luck was searching with his eyes
for the nearest high point that was yet not too far from camp. "I think
I'll just take Andy up on that pinnacle there, and camp down by that
pile of boulders. The rest of you stay around camp and rest yourselves
while you've got the chance. In a couple of hours, Applehead, you and
Lite come up and take our place; then Miguel and Bud, and after that
Weary and Happy. Pink, you go and bed down in the shade somewhere and go
to sleep--and quit worrying over last night. Nobody could have done
any better than you did. It was just one put over on the bunch, and you
happened to be the particular goat, that's all.

"Now, if one of us waves his hat over his head, all of you but Happy and
Bud and Pink come up with your rifles and your ropes, because we'll have
some horses sighted. If we wave from side to side, like this, about even
with our belts, you boys want to look out for trouble. So one of you
keep an eye on us all the time we're up there. We'll be up outa reach
of any trouble ourselves, if I remember that little pinnacle right."
He hung the strap that held the leather case of the glasses over one
shoulder, picked up his rifle and his rope and started off, with Andy
similarly equipped coming close behind him.

The mesa, when they reached the pinnacle and looked down over the wide
expanse of it, glimmered like clear, running water with the heat waves
that rose from the sand. Away to the southward a scattered band of sheep
showed in a mirage that made them look long-legged as camels and half
convinced them both that they were seeing the lost horses, until the
vision changed and shrunk the moving objects to mere dots upon the mesa.

Often before they had watched the fantastic air-pictures of the desert
mirage, and they knew well enough that what they saw might be one mile
away or twenty. But unless the atmospheric conditions happened to be
just right, what was pictured in the air could not be depended upon
to portray truthfully what was reflected. They sat there and saw the
animals suddenly grow clearly defined and very close, and discovered at
last that they were sheep, and that a man was walking beside the flock;
and even while they watched it and wondered if the sheep were really
as close as they seemed, the vision slowly faded into blank, wavery
distance and the mesa lay empty and quivering under the sun.

"Fine chance we've got of locating anything," Andy grumbled, "if it's
going to be miragy all day. We could run our fool heads off trying to
get up to a bunch that would puff out into nothing. Makes a fellow think
of the stories they tell about old prospectors going crazy trying to
find mirage water-holes. I'm glad we didn't get hung up at a dry camp,
Luck. Yuh realize what that would be like?"

"Oh, I may have some faint idea," Luck drawled whimsically. "Look over
there, Andy over toward Albuquerque. Is that a mirage again, or do you
see something moving?"

Andy, having the glasses, swung them slowly to the southeast. After a
minute or two he shook his head and gave the glasses to Luck. "There
was one square look I got, and I'd been willing to swear it was our
saddle-bunch," he said. "And then they got to wobbling and I couldn't
make out what they are. They might be field mice, or they might be
giraffes--I'm darned if I know which."

Luck focussed the glasses, but whatever the objects had been, they were
no longer to be seen. So the two hours passed and they saw Applehead and
Lite come slowly up the hill from camp bearing their rifles and their
ropes and a canteen of fresh water, as the three things they might find
most use for.

These two settled themselves to watch for horses--their own range
horses. When they were relieved they reported nothing save a continued
inclination on the part of the atmosphere to be what Andy called miragy.
So, the day passed, chafing their spirits worse than any amount of
active trouble would have done. Pink slept and brooded by turns, still
blaming himself for the misfortune. The others moped, or took their
turns on the pinnacle to strain their eyes unavailingly into the four
corners of the earth--or as much as they could in those directions.

With the going of the sun Applehead and Lite, sitting out their second
guard on the pinnacle, discussed seriously the desperate idea of going
in the night to the nearest Navajo ranch and helping themselves to what
horses they could find about the place. The biggest obstacle was their
absolute ignorance of where the nearest ranch lay. Not, surely, that
half-day's ride back towards Albuquerque, where they had seen but one
pony and that a poor specimen of horseflesh. Another obstacle would be
the dogs, which could be quieted only with bullets.

"We might git hold of something to ride," Applehead stated glumly, "an'
then agin the chances is we wouldn't git nothin' more'n a scrap on our
hands. 'N' I'm tellin' yuh right now, Lite, I ain't hankerin' fer no
fuss till I git a hoss under me."

"Me either," Lite testified succinctly. "Say, is that something coming,
away up that draw the camp's in? Seems to me I saw something pass that
line of lava, about half a mile over."

Applehead stood up and peered into the half darkness. In a couple of
minutes he said: "Ye better git down an' tell the boys t' be on the
watch, Lite. They can't see no hat-wavin' this time uh day. They's
somethin' movin' up to-wards camp, but what er who they be I can't make
out in the dark. Tell Luck--"

"What's the matter with us both going?" Lite asked, cupping his hands
around his eyes that he might see better. "It's getting too dark to do
any good up here--"

"Well, I calc'late mebby yore right," Applehead admitted, and began to
pick his way down over the rocks. "Ef them's Injuns, the bigger we stack
up in camp the better. If it's Ramon 'n' his bunch, I want t' git m'
hands on 'im."

He must have turned the matter over pretty thoroughly in his mind,
for when the two reached camp he had his ideas fixed and his plans all
perfected. He told Luck that somebody was working down the draw in the
dark, and that it looked like a Navvy trick; and that they had better
be ready for them, because they weren't coming just to pass the time of
day--"now I'm tellin' ye!"

The nerves of the Happy Family were raw enough by now to welcome
anything that promised action; even an Indian fight would not be so much
a disaster as a novel way of breaking the monotony. Applehead, with the
experience gathered in the old days when he was a young fellow with a
freighting outfit and old Geronimo was terrorizing all this country,
sent them back in compact half circle just within the shelter of the
trees and several rods away from their campfire and the waterhole.
There, lying crouched behind their saddles with their rifles across the
seat-sides and with ammunition belts full of cartridges, they waited for
whatever might be coming in the dark.

"It's horses," Pink exclaimed under his breath, as faint sounds came
down the draw. "Maybe--"

"Horses--and an Injun laying along the back of every one, most likely,"
Applehead returned grimly. "An old Navvy trick, that is--don't let
'em fool ye, boys! You jest wait, 'n' I'll tell ye 'when t' shoot, er
whether t' shoot at all. They can't fool ME--now I'm tellin' yuh!"

After that they were silent, listening strainedly to the growing sounds
of approach. There was the dull, unmistakable click of a hoof striking
against a rock, the softer sound of treading on yielding soil. Then a
blur of dark objects became visible, moving slowly and steadily toward
the camp.

"Aw, it's just horses," Happy Jack muttered disgustedly.

Applehead stretched a lean leg in his direction and gave Happy Jack a
kick. "They're cunnin'," he hissed warningly. "Don't yuh be fooled--"

"That's Johnny in the lead," Pink whispered excitedly. "I'd know the way
he walks--"

"'N' you THOUGHT yuh knowed how he jingled his dang bell," Applehead
retorted unkindly. "Sh-sh-sh--"

Reminded by the taunt of the clever trick that had been played upon
them the night before, the Happy Family stiffened again into strained,
waiting silence, their rifles aimed straight at the advancing objects.
These, still vague in the first real darkness of early night, moved
steadily in a scattered group behind a leader that was undoubtedly
Johnny of the erstwhile tinkling bell. He circled the campfire just
without its radius of light, so that they could not tell whether an
Indian lay along his back, and beaded straight for the water-hole. The
others followed him, and not one came into the firelight--a detail which
sharpened the suspicions of the men crouched there in the edge of the
bushes, and tingled their nerves with the sense of something sinister in
the very unconcernedness of the animals.

They splashed into the water-hole and drank thirstily and long. They
stood there as though they were luxuriating in the feel of more water
than they could drink, and one horse blew the moisture from his nostrils
with a sound that made Happy Jack jump.

After a few minutes that seemed an hour to those who waited with fingers
crooked upon gun-triggers, the horse that looked vaguely like Johnny
turned away from the water-hole and sneezed while he appeared to be
wondering what to do next. He moved slowly toward the packs that were
thrown down just where they had been taken from the horses, and began
nosing tentatively about.

The others loitered still at the water-hole, save one--the buckskin, by
his lighter look in the dark--that came over to Johnny. The two horses
nosed the packs. A dull sound of clashing metal came to the ears of the
Happy Family.

"Hey! Get outa that grain, doggone your fool hide," Pink called out
impulsively, crawling over his saddle and catching his foot in the
stirrup leather so that he came near going headlong.

Applehead yelled something, but Pink had recovered his balance and
was running to save the precious horsefeed from waste, and Johnny from
foundering. There might have been two Indiana on every horse in sight,
but Pink was not thinking of that possibility just then.

Johnny whirled guiltily away from the grain bag, licking his lips and
blowing dust from his nostrils. Pink went up to him and slipped a rope
around his neck. "Where's that bell?" he called out in his soft treble.
"Or do you think we better tie the old son-of-a-gun up and be sure of

"Aw," said Happy Jack disgustedly a few minutes later, when the Happy
Family had crawled out of their ambush and were feeling particularly
foolish. "Nex' time old granny Furrman says Injuns t' this bunch,
somebody oughta gag him."

"I notice you waited till he'd gone outa hearing before you said that,"
Luck told him drily. "We're going to put out extra guards tonight, just
the same. And I guess you can stand the first shift, Happy, up there on
the ridge--you're so sure of things!"

Next: Now Dang It Ride!

Previous: Set Afoot

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