One Put Over On The Bunch





"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

pair."



"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

bell--"



"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

him?"



"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!"





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