While The Going's Good





At supper Bud noticed that Marian, standing at his right side, set down

his cup of coffee with her right hand, and at the same instant he felt

her left hand fumble in his pocket and then touch his elbow. She went

on, and Bud in his haste to get outside drank his coffee so hot that it

scalded his mouth. Jerry rose up and stepped backward over the bench as

Bud passed him, and went out at his heels.



"Go play the piano for half an hour and then meet me where you got them

mushrooms. And when you quit playing, duck quick. Tell Honey you'll be

back in a minute. Have her hunt for music for yuh while you're out--or

something like that. Don't let on."



Bud might have questioned Jerry, but that cautious young man was already

turning back to call something--to Dave, so Bud went around the corner,

glancing into the pantry window as he passed. Marian was not in sight,

nor was Honey at the moment when he stood beside the step of the

post-office.



Boldness carries its own talisman against danger. Bud went in--without

slamming the door behind him, you may be sure--and drew his small

notebook from his inside pocket. With that to consult frequently, he sat

down by the window where the failing light was strongest, and proceeded

to jot down imaginary figures on the paper he pulled from his coat

pocket and unfolded as if it were of no value whatever to him. The piano

playing ordered by Jerry could wait.



What Marian had to say on this occasion could not be written upon a

cigarette paper. In effect her note was a preface to Jerry's commands.

Bud saw where she had written words and erased them so thoroughly that

the cheap paper was almost worn through. She had been afraid, poor lady,

but her fear could not prevent the writing.



"You must leave to-night for Crater and cash the checks given you to pay

the bets. Go to Crater. If you don't know the way, keep due north after

you have crossed Gold Gap. There's the stage road, but they'll watch

that, I'm afraid. They mean to stop payment on the checks. But

first they will kill you if they can. They say you cheated with that

thoroughbred horse. They took their losses so calmly--I knew that they

meant to rob you. To show you how I know, it was Lew you shot on the

ridge that night. His rheumatism was caused by your bullet that nicked

his shoulder. So you see what sort we are--go. Don't wait--go now."



Bud looked up, and there was Honey leaning over the counter, smiling at

him.



"Well, how much is it?" she teased when she saw he had discovered her.



Bud drew a line across the note and added imaginary columns of figures,

his hat-brim hiding his face.



"Over eleven thousand dollars," he announced, and twisted the paper

in his fingers while he went over to her. "Almost enough to start

housekeeping!"



Honey blushed and leaned to look for something which she pretended to

have dropped and Bud seized the opportunity to tuck the paper out of

sight. "I feel pretty much intoxicated to-night, Honey," he said. "I

think I need soothing, or something--and you know what music does to the

savage breast. Let 's play."



"All right. You've been staying away lately till I thought you were

mad," Honey assented rather eagerly, and opened the little gate in the

half partition just as Bud was vaulting the counter, which gave her

a great laugh and a chance for playful scuffling. Bud kissed her and

immediately regretted the caress.



Jerry had told him to play the piano, but Bud took his mandolin and

played that while Honey thumped out chords for him. As he had half

expected, most of the men strayed in and perched here and there

listening just as if there had not been a most unusual horserace to

discuss before they slept. Indeed, Bud had never seen the Little Lost

boys so thoughtful, and this silence struck him all at once as something

sinister, like a beast of prey stalking its kill.



Two waltzes he played--and then, in the middle of a favorite two-step,

a mandolin string snapped with a sharp twang, and Bud came as close to

swearing as a well-behaved young man may come in the presence of a lady.



"Now I'll have to go get a new E string," he complained. "You play the

Danube for the boys--the way I taught you--while I get this fixed. I've

an extra string down in the bunk-house; it won't take five minutes to

get it." He laid the mandolin down on his chair, bolted out through the

screen door which he slammed after him to let Jerry know that he was

coming, and walked halfway to the bunk-house before he veered off around

the corner of the machine shed and ran.



Jerry was waiting by the old shed, and without a word he led Bud behind

it where Sunfish was standing saddled and bridled.



"You got to go, Bud, while the going's good. I'd go with yuh if I

dared," Jerry mumbled guardedly. "You hit for Crater, Bud, and put that

money in the bank. You can cut into the stage road where it crosses

Oldman Creek, if you go straight up the race track to the far end, and

follow the trail from there. You can't miss it--there ain't but one way

to go. I got yuh this horse because he's worth more'n what the other two

are, and he's faster. And Bud, if anybody rides up on yuh, shoot. Don't

monkey around about it. And you RIDE!"



"All right," Bud muttered. "But I'll have to go down in the pasture

and get my money, first. I've got my own private bank down there, and I

haven't enough in my pockets to play penny ante more than one round."



"Hell!" Jerry's hand lifted to Bud's shoulder and gripped it for a

minute. "That's right on the road to the Sinks, man!" He stood biting

his lips, thinking deeply, turning his head now and then as little

sounds came from the house: the waltz Honey was playing, the post-office

door slamming shut.



"You tell me where that money's cached, Bud, and I'll go after it. I

guess you'll have to trust me--I sure wouldn't let yuh go down to the

pasture yourself right now. Where is it?"



"Look under that flat rock right by the gate post, where the top bars

hit the ground. It's wrapped up in a handkerchief, so just bring

the package. It's been easy to tuck things under the rock when I was

putting up the bars. I'll wait here."



"Good enough--I'd sure have felt easier if I'd known you wasn't carrying

all that money." Whereupon Jerry disappeared, and his going made no

sound.



Bud stood beside Sunfish, wondering if he had been a fool to trust

Jerry. By his own admission Jerry was living without the law, and this

might easily be a smooth scheme of robbery. He turned and strained his

eyes into the dusk, listening, trying to hear some sound that would

show which way Jerry had gone. He was on the point of following

him--suspicion getting the better of his faith--when Sunfish moved his

head abruptly to one side, bumping Bud's head with his cheek. At the

same instant a hand touched Bud's arm.



"I saw you from the kitchen window," Marian whispered tensely. "I was

afraid you hadn't read my note, or perhaps wouldn't pay any attention to

it. I heard you and Jerry--of course he won't dare go with you and show

you the short-cut, even if he knows it. There's a quicker way than

up the creek-bed. I have Boise out in the bushes, and a saddle. I was

afraid to wait at the barn long enough to saddle him. You go--he's

behind that great pile of rocks, back of the corrals. I'll wait for

Jerry." She gave him a push, and Bud was so astonished that he made no

reply whatever, but did exactly as she had told him to do.



Boise was standing behind the peaked outcropping of rock, and beside

him was a stock-saddle which must have taxed Marian's strength to carry.

Indeed, Bud thought she must have had wings, to do so much in so short a

space of time; though when he came to estimate that time he decided that

he must have been away from the house ten minutes, at least. If Marian

followed him closely enough to see him duck behind the machine shed and

meet Jerry, she could run behind the corral and get Boise out by way of

the back door of the stable. There was a path, screened from the corral

by a fringe of brush, which went that way. The truth flashed upon him

that one could ride unseen all around Little Lost.



He was just dropping the stirrup down from the saddle horn when Marian

appeared with Jerry and Sunfish close behind her. Jerry held out the

package.



"She says she'll show you a short cut," he whispered. "She says I don't

know anything about it. I guess she's right--there's a lot I don't know.

Lew 's gone, and she says she'll be back before daylight. If they miss

Boise they'll think you stole him. But they won't look. Dave wouldn't

slam around in the night on Boise--he thinks too much of him. Well--beat

it, and I sure wish yuh luck. You be careful, Marian. Come back this

way, and if you see a man's handkerchief hanging on this bush right here

where I'm standing, it'll mean you've been missed."



"Thank you, Jerry," Marian whispered. "I'll look for it. Come, Bud--keep

close behind me, and don't make any noise."



Bud would have protested, but Marian did not give him a chance. She

took up the reins, grasped the saddle horn, stuck her slipper toe in

the stirrup and mounted Boise as quickly as Bud could have done it--as

easily, too, making allowance for the difference in their height. Bud

mounted Sunfish and followed her down the trail which led to the race

track; but when they had gone through the brush and could see starlight

beyond, she turned sharply to the left, let Boise pick his way carefully

over a rocky stretch and plunged into the brush again, leaning low in

the saddle so that the higher branches would not claw at her hair and

face.



When they had once more come into open ground with a shoulder of Catrock

Peak before them, Marian pulled up long enough to untie her apron and

bind it over her hair like a peasant woman. She glanced back at Bud,

and although darkness hid the expression on her face, he saw her eyes

shining in the starlight. She raised her hand and beckoned, and Bud

reined Sunfish close alongside.



"We're going into a spooky place now," she leaned toward him to whisper.

"Boise knows the way, and your horse will follow."



"All right," Bud whispered back. "But you'd better tell me the way and

let me go on alone. I'm pretty good at scouting out new trails. I don't

want you to get in trouble--"



She would not listen to more of that, but pushed him back with the flat

of her bare hand and rode ahead of him again. Straight at the sheer

bluff, that lifted its huge, rocky shape before them, she led the way.

So far as Bud could see she was not following any trail; but was aiming

at a certain point and was sure enough of the ground to avoid detours.



They came out upon the bank of the dry river-bed. Bud knew it by the

flatness of the foreground and the general contour of the mountains

beyond. But immediately they turned at a sharp angle, travelled for a

few minutes with the river-bed at their backs, and entered a narrow slit

in the mountains where two peaks had been rent asunder in some titanic

upheaval when the world was young. The horses scrambled along the rocky

bottom for a little way, then Boise disappeared.



Sunfish halted, threw his head this way and that, gave a suspicious

sniff and turned carefully around the corner of a square-faced boulder.

In front was blackness. Bud urged him a little with rein and soft

pressure of the spurs, and Sunfish stepped forward. He seemed reassured

to find firm, smooth sand under his feet, and hurried a little until

Boise was just ahead clicking his feet now and then against a rock.



"Coming?" Marian's voice sounded subdued, muffled by the close walls of

the tunnel-like crevice.



"Coming," Bud assured her quietly "At your heels."



"I always used to feel spooky when I was riding through here," Marian

said, dropping back so that they rode side by side, stirrups touching.

"I was ten when I first made the trip. It was to get away from Indians.

They wouldn't come into these places. Eddie and I found the way through.

We were afraid they were after us, and so we kept going, and our horses

brought us out. Eddie--is my brother."



"You grew up here?" Bud did not know how much incredulity was in his

voice. "I was raised amongst the Indians in Wyoming. I thought you were

from the East."



"I was in Chicago for three years," Marian explained. "I studied every

waking minute, I think. I wanted to be a singer. Then--I came home to

help bury mother. Father--Lew and father were partners, and I--married

Lew. I didn't know--it seemed as though I must. Father put it that way.

The old story, Bud. I used to laugh at it in novels, but it does happen.

Lew had a hold over father and Eddie, and he wanted me. I married him,

but it did no good, for father was killed just a little more than a

month afterwards. We had a ranch, up here in the Redwater Valley, about

halfway to Crater. But it went--Lew gambled and drank and--so he took me

to Little Lost. I've been there for two years."



The words of pity--and more--that crowded forward for utterance, Bud

knew he must not speak. So he said nothing at all.



"Lew has always held Eddie over my head," she went on pouring out her

troubles to him. "There's a gang, called the Catrock Gang, and Lew is

one of them. I told you Lew is the man you shot. I think Dave Truman

is in with them--at any rate he shuts his eyes to whatever goes on,

and gets part of the stealings, I feel sure. That's why Lew is such a

favorite. You see, Eddie is one--I'm trusting you with my life, almost,

when I tell you this.



"But I couldn't stand by and not lift a hand to save you. I knew they

would kill you. They'd have to, because I felt that you would fight and

never give up. And you are too fine a man for those beasts to murder for

the money you have. I knew, the minute I saw Jeff paying you his losings

with a check, and some of the others doing the same, just what would

happen. Jeff is almost as bad as the Catrockers, except that he is too

cowardly to come out into the open. He gave you a check; and everyone

who was there knew he would hurry up to Crater and stop payment on it,

if he could do it and keep out of your sight. Those cronies of his would

do the same--so they paid with checks.



"And the Catrock gang knew that. They mean to get hold of you, rob

and-and-kill you, and forge the endorsement on the checks and let one

man cash them in Crater before payment can be stopped. Indeed, the gang

will see to it that Jeff stays away from Crater. Lew hinted that while

they were about it they might as well clean out the bank. It wouldn't be

the first time," she added bitterly.



She stopped then and asked for a match, and when Bud gave her one she

lighted a candle and held it up so that she could examine the walls.

"It's a natural tunnel," she volunteered in a different tone. "Somewhere

along here there is a branch that goes back into the hill and ends in a

blow-hole. But we're all right so far."



She blew out the candle and urged Boise forward, edging over to the

right.



"Wasn't that taking quite a chance, making a light?" Bud asked as they

went on.



"It was, but not so great a chance as missing the way. Jerry didn't hear

anything of them when he went to the pasture gate, and they may not come

through this way at all. They may not realize at first that you have

left, and even when they did they would not believe at first that you

had gone to Crater. You see"--and in the darkness Bud could picture her

troubled smile--"they think you are an awful fool, in some ways. The

way you bet to-day was pure madness."



"It would have been, except that I knew I could win."



"They never bet like that. They always 'figure', as they call it, that

the other fellow is going to play some trick on them. Half the time Jeff

bets against his own horse, on the sly. They all do, unless they feel

sure that their own trick is best."



"They should have done that to-day," Bud observed dryly. "But you've

explained it. They thought I'm an awful fool."



Out of the darkness came Marian's voice. "It's because you're so

different. They can't understand you."



Bud was not interested in his own foolishness just then. Something in

her voice had thrilled him anew with a desire to help her and with the

conviction that he was desperately in need of help. There was a pathetic

patience in her tone when she summarized he whole affair in those last

two sentences. It was as if she were telling him how her whole life

was darkened because she herself was different--because they could not

understand a woman so fine, so true and sweet.



"What will happen if you are missed? If you go back and discover Jerry's

handkerchief on that bush, what will you do? You can't go back if they

find out--" There was no need for him to finish that sentence.



"I don't know," said Marian, "what I shall do. I hadn't thought much

about it."



"I haven't thought much about anything else," Bud told her

straightforwardly. "If Jerry flags you, you 'd better keep going.

Couldn't you go to friends?"



"I could--if I had any. Bud, you don't understand. Eddie is the only

relative I have on earth, that I know at all. He is--he's with the

Catrockers and Lew dominates him completely. Lew has pushed Ed into

doing things so that I must shield both or neither. And Eddie's just a

boy. So I've no one at all."



Bud studied this while they rode on through the defile that was more

frequently a tunnel, since the succession of caves always had an outlet

which Marian found. She had stopped now and dismounted, and they were

leading their horses down a steep, scrambling place with the stars

showing overhead.



"A blowhole," Marian informed him briefly. "We'll come into another

cave, soon, and while it's safe if you know it, I'll explain now that

you must walk ahead of your horse and keep your right hand always in

touch with the wall until we see the stars again. There's a ledge-five

feet wide in the narrowest place, if you are nervous about ledges--and

if you should get off that you'd have a drop of ten feet or so. We found

that the ledge makes easier travelling, because the bottom is full of

rocks and nasty depressions that are noticeable only with lights."



She started off again, and Bud followed her, his gloved fingers touching

the right wall, his soul humbled before the greatness of this little

woman with the deep, troubled eyes. When they came out into the

starlight she stopped and listened for what seemed to Bud a very long

time.



"If they are coming, they are a long way behind us," she said

relievedly, and remounted. "Boise knows his trail and has made

good time. And your horse has proven beyond all doubt that he's a

thoroughbred. I've seen horses balk at going where we have gone."



"And I've seen men who counted themselves brave as any, who wouldn't do

what you are doing to-night; Jerry, for instance. I wish you'd go back.

I can't bear having you take this risk."



"I can't go back, Bud. Not if they find I've gone." Then he heard her

laugh quietly. "I can't imagine now why I stayed and endured it all this

while. I think I only needed the psychological moment for rebellion, and

to-night the moment came. So you see you have really done me a service

by getting into this scrape. It's the first time I have been off the

ranch in a year."



"If you call that doing you a service, I'm going to ask you to let me

do something also for you." Bud half smiled to himself in the darkness,

thinking how diplomatic he was. "If you're found out, you'll have to

keep on going, and I take it you wouldn't be particular where you went.

So I wish you 'd take charge of part of this money for me, and if you

leave, go down to my mother, on the Tomahawk ranch, out from Laramie.

Anyone can tell you where it is, when you get down that way If you need

any money use it. And tell mother I sent her the finest cook in the

country. Mother, by the way, is a great musician, Marian. She taught

me all I know of music. You'd get along just fine with mother. And she

needs you, honest. She isn't very strong, yet she can't find anyone to

suit, down there--"



"I might not suit, either," said Marian, her voice somewhat muffled.



"Oh, I'm not afraid of that. And--there's a message I want to send--I

promised mother I'd--"



"Oh, hush! You're really an awfully poor prevaricator, Bud. This is to

help me, you're planning."



"Well--it's to help me that I want you to take part of the money. The

gang won't hold you up, will they? And I want mother to have it. I want

her to have you, too,--to help out when company comes drifting in there,

sometimes fifteen or twenty strong. Especially on Sunday. Mother has to

wait on them and cook for them, and--as long as you are going to cook

for a bunch, you may as well do it where it will be appreciated, and

where you'll be treated like a--like a lady ought to be treated."



"You're even worse--" began Marian, laughing softly, and stopped

abruptly, listening, her head turned behind them. "Sh-sh-someone is

coming behind us," she whispered. "We're almost through--come on, and

don't talk!"





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