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The Sinks








From: Cow-country

"We can go through the pasture and cut off a couple of miles," said
Honey when they were mounted. "I hope you don't think I'm crazy, wanting
a ride at this time of day, after all the excitement we've had. But
every Sunday is taken up with horse-racing till late in the afternoon,
and during the week no one has time to go. And," she added with a
sidelong look at him, "there's something about the Sinks that makes me
love to go there. Uncle Dave won't let me go alone."

Bud dismounted to pull down the two top bars of the pasture gate so that
their horses could step over. A little way down the grassy slope Smoky
and Sunfish fed together, the Little Lost horses grouped nearer the
creek.

"I love that little horse of yours--why, he's gone lame again!"
exclaimed Honey. "Isn't that a shame! You oughtn't to run him if it does
that to him."

"He likes it," said Bud carelessly as he remounted. "And so do I, when I
can clean up the way I did today. I'm over three hundred dollars richer
right now than I was this morning."

"And next Sunday, maybe you'll be broke," Honey added significantly.
"You never know how you are coming out. I think Jeff let you win to-day
on purpose, so you'd bet it all again and lose. He's like that. He don't
care how much he loses one day, because he gets it back some other time.
I don't like it. Some of the boys never do get ahead, and you'll be in
the same fix if you don't look out."

"You didn't bring me along to lecture me, I know," said Bud with a
good-natured smile. "What about the Sinks? Is it a dangerous place
as--Mrs. Morris says?"

"Oh, Marian? She never does want me to come. She thinks I ought to stay
in the house always, the way she does. The Sinks is--is--queer. There
are caves, and then again deep holes straight down, and tracks of
wildcats and lions. And in some places you can hear gurgles and rumbles.
I love to be there just at sundown, because the shadows are spooky and
it makes you feel--oh, you know--kind of creepy up your back. You don't
know what might happen. I--do you believe in ghosts and haunted places,
Bud?"

"I'd need a lot of scaring before I did. Are the Sinks haunted?"

"No-o--but there are funny noises and people have got lost there. Anyway
they never showed up afterwards. The Indians claim it's haunted." She
smiled that baring smile of hers. "Do you want to turn around and go
back?"

"Sure. After we've had our ride, and seen the sights." And he added with
some satisfaction, "The moon 's full to-night, and no clouds."

"And I brought sandwiches," Honey threw in as especial blessing. "Uncle
Dave will be mad, I expect. But I've never seen the Sinks at night, with
moonlight."

She was quiet while the horses waded Sunk Creek and picked their way
carefully over a particularly rocky stretch beyond. "But what I'd rather
do," she said, speaking from her thoughts which had evidently carried
forward in the silence, "is explore Catrock Canyon."

"Well, why not, if we have time?" Bud rode up alongside her. "Is it
far?"

Honey looked at him searchingly. "You must be stranger to these parts,"
she said disbelievingly. "Do you think you can make me swallow that?"

Bud looked at her inquiringly, which forced her to go on.

"You must know about Catrock Canyon, Bud Birnie. Don't try to make me
believe you don't."

"I don't. I never heard of it before that I remember. What is it makes
you want to explore it?"

Honey studied him. "You're the queerest specimen I ever did see," she
exclaimed pettishly. "Why, it's not going to hurt you to admit you know
Catrock Canyon is--unexplorable."

"Oh. So you want to explore it because it's unexplorable. Well, why is
it unexplorable?"

Honey looked around her at the dry sageland they were crossing. "Oh, you
make me TIRED!" she said bluntly, with something of the range roughness
in her voice. "Because it is, that's all."

"Then I'd like to explore it myself," Bud declared.

"For one thing," Honey dilated, "there's no way to get in there. Up on
the ridge this side, where the rock is that throws a shadow like a cat's
head on the opposite wall, you can look down a ways. But the two sides
come so close together at the top that you can't see the bottom of the
canyon at all. I've been on the ridge where I could see the cat's head."

Bud glanced speculatively up at the sun, and Honey, catching his
meaning, shook her head and smiled.

"If we get into the Sinks and back to-day, they will do enough talking
about it; or Uncle Dave will, and Marian. I--I thought perhaps you'd be
able to tell me about--Catrock Canyon."

"I'm able to say I don't know a thing about it. If no one can get into
it, I should think that's about all, isn't it?"

"Yes--you'd think so," Honey agreed enigmatically, and began to talk
of the racing that day, and of the dance, and of other dances and other
races yet to come. Bud discussed these subjects for a while and then
asked boldly, "When's Lew coming back?"

"Lew?" Honey shot a swift glance at him. "Why?" She looked ahead at the
forbidding, craggy hills toward which she had glanced when she spoke of
Catrock. "Why, I don't know. How should I?"

Bud saw that he had spoken unwisely. "I was thinking he'd maybe hate
to miss another running match like to-day," he explained guilelessly.
"Everybody and his dog seemed to be there to-day, and everybody had
money up. All," he modified, "except the Muleshoe boys. I didn't see any
of them."

"You won't," Honey told him with some emphasis. "Uncle Dave and the
Muleshoe are on the outs. They never come around except for mail and
things from the store. And most always they send Hen. Uncle Dave and
Dirk Tracy had an awful row last winter. It was next thing to a killing.
So of course the outfits ain't on friendly terms."

This was more than Pop had gossiped to Bud, and since the whole thing
was of no concern to him, and Honey plainly objected to talking about
Marian's husband, he was quite ready to fix his interest once more upon
the Sinks. He was surprised when they emerged from a cluster of small,
sage-covered knolls, directly upon the edge of what at first sight
seemed to be another dry river bed--sprawled wider, perhaps, with
irregular arms thrust back into the less sterile land. They rode down a
steep, rocky trail and came out into the Sinks.

It was an odd, forbidding place, and the farther up the gravelly bottom
they rode, the more forbidding it became. Bud thought that in the time
when Indians were dangerous as she-bears the Sinks would not be a place
where a man would want to ride. There were too many jutting crags, too
many unsuspected, black holes that led back--no one knew just where.

Honey led the way to an irregular circle of waterwashed cobbles and
Bud peered down fifty feet to another dry, gravelly bottom seemingly a
duplicate of the upper surface. She rode on past other caves, and let
him look down into other holes. There were faint rumblings in some of
these, but in none was there any water showing save in stagnant pools in
the rock where the rain had fallen.

"There's one cave I like to go into," said Honey at last. "It's a little
farther on, but we have time enough. There's a spring inside, and we
can eat our sandwiches. It isn't dark-there are openings to the top, and
lots of funny, winding passages. That," she finished thrillingly, "is
the place the Indians claim is haunted."

Bud did not shudder convincingly, and they rode slowly forward, picking
their way among the rocks. The cave yawned wide open to the sun, which
hung on the top of Catrock Peak. They dismounted, anchored the reins
with rocks and went inside.

When Bud had been investigative Buddy, he had explored more caves than
he could count. He had filched candles from his mother and had crept
back and back until the candle flame flickered warning that he was
nearing the "damps" Indians always did believe caves were haunted,
probably because they did not understand the "damps", and thought evil
spirits had taken those who went in and never returned. Buddy had once
been lost in a cave for four harrowing hours, and had found his way out
by sheer luck, passing the skeleton of an Indian and taking the tomahawk
as a souvenir.

Wherefore this particular cave, with a spring back fifty feet from the
entrance where a shaft of sunlight struck the rock through some obscure
slit in the rock, had no thrill for him. But the floor was of fine,
white sand, and the ceiling was knobby and grotesque, and he was quite
willing to sit there beside the spring and eat two sandwiches and talk
foolishness with Honey, using that part of his mind which was not busy
with the complexities of winning money on the speed of his horses when
three horses represented his entire business capital, and with wondering
what was wrong with Burroback Valley, that three persons of widely
different viewpoints had felt it necessary to caution him,--and had
couched their admonitions in such general terms that he could not feel
the force of their warning.

He was thinking back along his life to where false alarms of Indian
outbreaks had played a very large part in the Tomahawk's affairs, and
how little of the ranch work would ever have been done had they listened
to every calamity howler that came along. Honey was talking, and he was
answering partly at random, when she suddenly laughed and got up.


"You must be in love, Bud Birnie. You just said 'yes' when I asked you
if you didn't think water snakes would be coming out this fall with
their stripes running round them instead of lengthwise! You didn't hear
a word--now, did you?"

"I heard music," Bud lied gallantly, "and I knew it was your voice. I'd
probably say yes if you asked me whether the moon wouldn't look better
with a ruffle around it."

"I'll say the moon will be wondering where we are, if we don't start
back. The sun's down."

Bud got up from sitting cross-legged like a Turk, helped Honey to her
feet--and felt her fingers clinging warmly to his own. He led the way
to the cave's mouth, not looking at her. "Great sunset," he observed
carelessly, glancing up at the ridge while he held her horse for her to
mount.

Honey showed that she was perfectly at home in the saddle. She rode on
ahead, leaving Bud to mount and follow. He was just swinging leisurely
into the saddle when Stopper threw his head around, glancing back
toward the level just beyond the cave. At the same instant Bud heard the
familiar, unmistakable swish of a rope headed his way.

He flattened himself along Stopper's left shoulder as the loop settled
and tightened on the saddle horn, and dropped on to the ground as
Stopper whirled automatically to the right and braced himself against
the strain. Bud turned half kneeling, his gun in his hand ready for the
shot he expected would follow the rope. But Stopper was in action-the
best ropehorse the Tomahawk had ever owned. For a few seconds he stood
braced, his neck arched, his eyes bright and watchful. Then he leaped
forward, straight at the horse and the rider who was in the act of
leveling his gun. The horse hesitated, taken unaware by the onslaught.
When he started to run Stopper was already passing him, turning sharply
to the right again so that the rope raked the horse's front legs. Two
jumps and Stopper had stopped, faced the horse and stood braced again,
his ears perked knowingly while he waited for the flop.

It came--just as it always did come when Stopper got action on the end
of a rope. Horse and rider came down together. They would not get up
until Bud wished it--he could trust Stopper for that--so Bud walked over
to the heap, his gun ready for action--and that, too, could be trusted
to perform with what speed and precision was necessary. There would be
no hasty shooting, however; Buddy had learned to save his bullets for
real need when ammunition was not to be had for the asking, and grown-up
Bud had never outgrown the habit.

He picked up the fellow's six-shooter which he had dropped when he fell,
and stood sizing up the situation.

By the neckerchief drawn across his face it was a straight case of
holdup. Bud stooped and yanked off the mask and looked into the glaring
eyes of one whom he had never before seen.

"Well, how d'yuh like it, far as you've got?" Bud asked curiously.
"Think you were holding up a pilgrim, or what?"

Just then, BING-GG sang a rifle bullet from the ridge above the cave.
Bud looked that way and spied a man standing half revealed against the
rosy clouds that were already dulling as dusk crept up from the low
ground. It was a long shot for a six-shooter, but Buddy used to shoot
antelope almost that far, so Bud lifted his arm and straightened it,
just as if he were pointing a finger at the man, and fired. He had the
satisfaction of seeing the figure jerk backward and go off over the
ridge in a stooping kind of run.

"He'd better hurry back if he wants another shot at me," Bud grinned.
"It'll be so dark down here in a minute he couldn't pick me up with his
front sight if I was--as big a fool as you are. How about it? I'll just
lead you into camp, I think--but you sure as hell couldn't get a job
roping gateposts, on the strength of this little exhibition."

He went over to Stopper and untied his own rope, giving an approving pat
to that business-like animal. "Hope your leg isn't broken or anything,"
he said to the man when he returned and passed the loop over the
fellow's head and shoulders, drawing it rather snugly around his body
and pinning his arms at the elbows. "It would be kind of unpleasant if
they happen to take a notion to make you walk all the way to jail."

He beckoned Stopper, who immediately moved up, slackening the rope. The
thrown horse drew up his knees, gave a preliminary heave and scrambled
to his feet, Bud taking care that the man was pulled free and safe. The
fellow stood up sulkily defiant, unable to rest much of his weight on
his left leg.

Bud had ten busy minutes, and it was not until they were both mounted
and headed for Little Lost, the captive with his arms tied behind him,
his feet tied together under the horse, which Bud led, that Bud had time
to wonder what it was all about. Then he began to look for Honey, who
had disappeared. But in the softened light of the rising moon mingling
with the afterglow of sunset, he saw the deep imprints of her horse's
hoofs where he had galloped homeward. Bud did not think she ran away
because she was frightened; she had seemed too sure of herself for that.
She had probably gone for help.

A swift suspicion that the attack might have been made from jealousy
died when Bud looked again at his prisoner. The man was swarthy, low of
brow--part Indian, by the look of him. Honey would never give the fellow
a second thought. So that brought him to the supposition that robbery
had been intended, and the inference was made more logical when Bud
remembered that Marian had warned him against something of the sort.
Probably he and Honey had been followed into the Sinks, and even though
Bud had not seen this man at the races, his partner up on the ridge
might have been there. It was all very simple, and Bud, having arrived
at the obvious conclusion, touched Stopper into a lope and arrived at
Little Lost just as Dave Truman and three of his men were riding down
into Sunk Creek ford on their way to the Sinks. They pulled up, staring
hard at Dave and his captive. Dave spoke first.

"Honey said you was waylaid and robbed or killed--both, we took it, from
her account. How'd yuh come to get the best of it so quick?"

"Why, his horse got tangled up in the rope and fell down, and fell on
top of him," Bud explained cheerfully. "I was bringing him in. He's
a bad citizen, I should judge, but he didn't do me any damage, as it
turned out, so I don't know what to do with him. I'll just turn him over
to you, I think."

"Hell! I don't want him," Dave protested. "I'll pass him along to the
sheriff--he may know something about him. Nelse and Charlie, you take
and run him in to Crater and turn him over to Kline. You tell Kline what
he done--or tried to do. Was he alone, Bud?"

"He had a partner up on the ridge, so far off I couldn't swear to him if
I saw him face to face. I took a shot at him, and I think I nicked him.
He ducked, and there weren't any more rifle bullets coming my way."

"You nicked him with your six-shooter? And him so far off you couldn't
recognize him again?" Dave looked at Bud sharply. "That's purty good
shootin', strikes me."

"Well, he stood up against the sky-line, and he wasn't more than
seventy-five yards," Bud explained. "I've dropped antelope that far,
plenty of times. The light was bad, this evening."

"Antelope," Dave repeated meditatively, and winked at his men. "All
right, Bud--we'll let it stand at antelope. Boys, you hit for Crater
with this fellow. You ought to make it there and back by tomorrow noon,
all right."

Nelse took the lead rope from Bud and the two started off up the creek,
meaning to strike the road from Little Lost to Crater, the county seat
beyond Gold Gap mountains. Bud rode on to the ranch with his boss, and
tried to answer Dave's questions satisfactorily without relating his own
prowess or divulging too much of Stopper's skill; which was something of
a problem for his wits.

Honey ran out to meet him and had to be assured over and over that he
was not hurt, and that he had lost nothing but his temper and the ride
home with her in the moonlight. She was plainly upset and anxious that
he should not think her cowardly, to leave him that way.

"I looked back and saw a man throwing his rope, and you--it looked as if
he had dragged you off the horse. I was sure I saw you falling. So I ran
my horse all the way home, to get Uncle Dave and the boys," she told
him tremulously. And then she added, with her tantalizing half smile, "I
believe that horse of mine could beat Smoky or Skeeter, if I was scared
that bad at the beginning of a race."

Bud, in sheer gratitude for her anxiety over him, patted Honey's hand
and told her she must have broken the record, all right, and that she
had done exactly the right thing. And Honey went to bed happy that
night.





Next: Even Mushrooms Help

Previous: Sport O' Kings



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