Guile Against The Wily

: Cow-country

Bud liked to have his life run along accustomed lines with a more or

less perfect balance of work and play, friendships and enmities. He

had grown up with the belief that any mystery is merely a synonym for

menace. He had learned to be wary of known enemies such as Indians

and outlaws, and to trust implicitly his friends. To feel now, without

apparent cause, that his friends might be enemies in disguise, was a new

ience that harried him.

He had come to Little Lost on Tuesday, straight from the Muleshoe

where his presence was no longer desired for some reason not yet

satisfactorily explained to him. You know what happened on Tuesday. That

night the land crouched under a terrific electric storm, with crackling

swords of white death dazzling from inky black clouds, and ear-splitting

thunder close on the heels of it. Bud had known such storms all his

life, yet on this night he was uneasy, vaguely disturbed. He caught

himself wondering if Lew Morris's wife was frightened, and the

realization that he was worrying about her fear worried him more than

ever and held him awake long after the fury of the storm had passed.

Next day, when he came in at noon, there was Hen, from the Muleshoe,

waiting for dinner before he rode back with the mail. Hen's jaw dropped

when he saw Bud riding on a Little Lost hay-wagon, and his eyes bulged

with what Bud believed was consternation. All through the meal Bud had

caught Hen eyeing him miserably, and looking stealthily from him to the

others. No one paid any attention, and for that Bud was rather thankful;

he did not want the Little Lost fellows to think that perhaps he had

done something which he knew would hang him if it were discovered,

which, he decided, was the mildest interpretation a keen observer would

be apt to make of Hen's behavior.

When he went out, Hen was at his heels, trying to say something in his

futile, tongue-tied gobble. Bud stopped and looked at him tolerantly.

"Hen, It's no use--you might as well be talking Chinese, for all I

know. If it's important, write it down or I'll never know what's on your


He pulled a note-book and a pencil from his vest-pocket and gave them

to Hen, who looked at him dumbly, worked his Adam's apple violently and

retreated to his horse, fumbled the mail which was tied in the bottom of

a flour sack for safe keeping, sought a sheltered place where he could

sit down, remained there a few minutes, and then returned to his horse

He beckoned to Bud, who was watching him curiously; and when Bud went

over to him said something unintelligible and handed back the note-book,

motioning for caution when Bud would have opened the book at once.

So Bud thanked him gravely, but with a twinkle in his eyes, and waited

until Hen had gone and he was alone before he read the message. It was

mysterious enough, certainly. Hen had written in a fine, cramped, uneven


"You bee carful. bern this up and dent let on like you no anything but

i warn you be shure bern this up."

Bud tore out the page and burned it as requested, and since he was not

enlightened by the warning he obeyed Hen's instructions and did not "let

on." But he could not help wondering, and was unconsciously prepared to

observe little things which ordinarily would have passed unnoticed.

At the dance on Friday night, for instance, there was a good deal of

drinking and mighty little hilarity. Bud had been accustomed to loud

talk and much horseplay outside among the men on such occasions, and

even a fight or two would be accepted as a matter of course. But though

several quart bottles were passed around during the night and thrown

away empty into the bushes, the men went in and danced and came out

again immediately to converse confidentially in small groups, or to

smoke without much speech. The men of Burroback Valley were not running

true to form.

The women were much like all the women of cow-country: mothers with

small children who early became cross and sleepy and were hushed under

shawls on the most convenient bed, a piece of cake in their hands;

mothers whose faces were lined too soon with work and ill-health, and

with untidy hair that became untidier as the dance progressed. There

were daughters--shy and giggling to hide their shyness--Bud knew their

type very well and made friends with them easily, and immediately became

the centre of a clamoring audience after he had sung a song or two.

There was Honey, with her inscrutable half smile and her veiled eyes,

condescending to graciousness and quite plainly assuming a proprietary

air toward Bud, whom she put through whatever musical paces pleased her

fancy. Bud, I may say, was extremely tractable. When Honey said sing,

Bud sang; when she said play, Bud sat down to the piano and played

until she asked him to do something else. It was all very pleasant for

Honey--and Bud ultimately won his point--Honey decided to extend her

graciousness a little.

Why hadn't Bud danced with Marian? He must go right away and ask her

to dance. Just because Lew was gone, Marian need not be slighted--and

besides, there were other fellows who might want a little of Honey's


So Bud went away and found Marian in the pantry, cutting cakes while the

coffee boiled, and asked her to dance. Marian was too tired, and' she

had not the time to spare; wherefore Bud helped himself to a knife

and proceeded to cut cakes with geometrical precision, and ate all

the crumbs. With his hands busy, he found the courage to talk to her a

little. He made Marian laugh out loud and it was the first time he had

ever heard her do that.

Marian disclosed a sense of humor, and even teased Bud a little about

Honey. But her teasing lacked that edge of bitterness which Bud had half

expected in retaliation for Honey's little air of superiority.

"Your precision in cutting cakes is very much like your accurate

fingering of the piano," she observed irrelevantly, surveying his

work with her lips pursed. "A pair of calipers would prove every piece

exactly, the same width; and even when you play a Meditation? I'm

sure the metronome would waggle in perfect unison with your tempo. I

wonder--" She glanced up at him speculatively. "--I wonder if you think

with such mathematical precision. Do you always find that two and two

make four?"

"You mean, have I any imagination whatever?" Bud looked away from her

eyes--toward the uncurtained, high little window. A face appeared there,

as if a tall man had glanced in as he was passing by and halted for a

second to look. Bud's eyes met full the eyes of the man outside, who

tilted his head backward in a significant movement and passed on. Marian

turned her head and caught the signal, looked at Bud quickly, a little

flush creeping into her cheeks.

"I hope you have a little imagination," she said, lowering her voice

instinctively. "It doesn't require much to see that Jerry is right. The

conventions are strictly observed at Little Lost--in the kitchen, at

least," she added, under her breath, with a flash of resentment. "Run

along--and the next time Honey asks you to play the piano, will you

please play Lotusblume? And when you have thrown open the prison windows

with that, will you play Schubert's Ave Maria--the way you play it--to

send a breath of cool night air in?"

She put out the tips of her fingers and pressed them lightly against

Bud's shoulder, turning toward the door. Bud started, stepped into the

kitchen, wheeled about and stood regarding her with a stubborn look in

his eyes.

"I might kick the door down, too," he said. "I don't like prisons


"No-just a window, thank you," she laughed.

Bud thought the laugh did not go very deep. "Jerry wants to talk to

you. He's the whitest of the lot, if you can call that--" she stopped

abruptly, put out a hand to the door, gave him a moment to look into her

deep, troubled eyes, and closed the door gently but inexorably in his


Jerry was standing at the corner of the house smoking negligently. He

waited until Bud had come close alongside him, then led the way slowly

down the path to the corrals.

"I thought I heard the horses fighting," he remarked. "There was a noise

down this way."

"Is that why you called me outside?" asked Bud, who scorned subterfuge.

"Yeah. I saw you wasn't dancing or singing or playing the piano--and

I knew Honey'd likely be looking you up to do one or the other, in a

minute. She sure likes you, Bud. She don't, everybody that comes along."

Bud did not want to discuss Honey, wherefore he made no reply, and they

walked along in silence, the cool, heavy darkness grateful after the oil

lamps and the heat of crowded rooms. As they neared the corrals a stable

door creaked open and shut, yet there was no wind. Jerry halted, one

hand going to Bud's arm. They stood for a minute, and heard the swish of

the bushes behind the corral, as if a horse were passing through. Jerry

turned back, leading Bud by the arm. They were fifty feet away and the

bushes were still again before Jerry spoke guardedly.

"I guess I made a mistake. There wasn't nothing," he said, and dropped

Bud's arm.

Bud stopped. "There was a man riding off in the brush," he said bluntly,

"and all the folks that came to the dance rode in through the front

gate. I reckon I'll just take a look where I left my saddle, anyway."

"That might have been some loose stock," Jerry argued, but Bud went

back, wondering a little at Jerry's manner.

The saddle was all right, and so was everything else, so far as Bud

could determine in the dark, but he was not satisfied. He thought he

understood Jerry's reason for bringing him down to the corrals, but he

could not understand Jerry's attitude toward an incident which any man

would have called suspicious.

Bud quietly counted noses when he returned to the house and found that

supper was being served, but he could not recall any man who was missing

now. Every guest and every man on the ranch was present except old Pop,

who had a little shack to himself and went to bed at dark every night.

Bud was mystified, and he hated mysteries. Moreover, he was working for

Dave Truman, and whatever might concern Little Lost concerned him also.

But the men had begun to talk openly of their various "running horses",

and to exchange jibes and boasts and to bet a little on Sunday's races.

Bud wanted to miss nothing of that, and Jerry's indifference to the

incident at the stable served to reassure him for the time being. He

edged close to the group where the talk was loudest, and listened.

A man they called Jeff was trying to jeer his neighbors into betting

against a horse called Skeeter, and was finding them too cautious for

his liking. He laughed and, happening to catch Bud's eyes upon him,

strode forward with an empty tin cup in his hand and slapped Bud

friendliwise on the shoulder.

"Why, I bet this singin' kid, that don't know wha I got ner what you

fellers has got, ain't scared to take, a chance. Are yuh, kid? What d'

yuh think of this pikin' bunch here that has seen Skeeter come in second

and third more times 'n what he beat, and yet is afraid to take a chance

on rosin' two bits? Whatd' yuh think of 'em? Ain't they an onery bunch?"

"I suppose they hate to lose," Bud grinned.

"That's it--money 's more to 'em than the sport of kings, which is

runnin' horses. This bunch, kid belly-ached till Dave took his horse

Boise outa the game, and now, by gosh, they're backin' up from my

Skeeter, that has been beat more times than he won.'

"When you pulled him, Jeff!" a mocking voice drawled. "And that was when

you wasn't bettin' yourself."

Jeff turned injuredly to Bud. "Now don't that sound like a piker?" he

complained. "It ain't reason to claim I'd pull my own horse. Ain't that

the out doinest way to come back at a man that likes a good race?"

Bud swelled his chest and laid his hand on Jeff's shoulder. "Just

to show you I'm not a piker," he cried recklessly, "I'll bet you

twenty-five dollars I can beat your Skeeter with my Smoky horse that I

rode in here. Is it a go?"

Jeff's jaw dropped a little, with surprise. "What fer horse is this here

Smoky horse of yourn?" he wanted to know.

Bud winked at the group, which cackled gleeful!, "I love the sport of

kings," he said. "I love it so well I don't have to see your Skeeter

horse till Sunday. From the way these boys sidestep him, I guess he's a

sure-enough running horse. My Smoky's a good little horse, too, but he

never scared a bunch till they had cramps in the pockets. Still,"

he added with a grin, "I'll try anything once. I bet you twenty-five

dollars my Smoky can beat your Skeeter."

"Say, kid, honest I hate to take it away from yuh. Honest, I do. The way

you can knock the livin' tar outa that pyanny is a caution to cats. I

c'd listen all night. But when it comes to runnin' horses--"

"Are you afraid of your money?" Bud asked him arrogantly. "You called

this a bunch of pikers--"

"Well, by golly, it'll be your own fault, kid. If I take your money away

from yuh, don't go and blame it onto me. Mebbe these fellers has got

some cause to sidestep--"

"All right, the bet's on. And I won't blame you if I lose. Smoky's

a good little horse. Don't think for a minute I'm giving you my hard

earned coin. You'll have to throw up some dust to get it, old-timer. I

forgot to say I'd like to make it a quarter dash."

"A quarter dash it is," Jeff agreed derisively as Bud turned to answer

the summons of the music which was beginning again.

The racing enthusiasts lingered outside, and Bud smiled to himself while

he whirled Honey twice around in an old-fashioned waltz. He had them

talking about him, and wondering about his horse. When they saw Smoky

they would perhaps call him a chancey kid. He meant to ask Pop about

Skeeter, though Pop seemed confident that Smoky would win against

anything in the valley.

But on the other hand, he had seen in his short acquaintance with Little

Lost that Pop was considered childish--that comprehensive accusation

which belittles the wisdom of age. The boys made it a point to humor him

without taking him seriously. Honey pampered him and called him Poppy,

while in Marian's chill courtesy, in her averted glances, Bud had read

her dislike of Pop. He had seen her hand shrink away from contact with

his hand when she set his coffee beside his plate.

But Bud had heard others speak respectfully of Boise, and regret that

he was too fast to run. Pop might be childish on some subjects, but

Bud rather banked on his judgment of horses--and Pop was penurious and

anxious to win money.

"What are you thinking about?" Honey demanded when the music stopped.

"Something awful important, I guess, to make you want to keep right on


"I was thinking of horse-racing," Bud confessed, glad that he could tell

her the truth.

"Ah, you! Don't let them make a fool of you. Some of the fellows would

bet the shirt off their backs on a horse-race! You look out for them,


"They wouldn't bet any more than I would," Bud boldly declared. "I've

bet already against a horse I've never seen. How 's that?"

"That's crazy. You'll lose, and serve you right." She went off to dance

with someone else, and Bud turned smiling to find a passable partner

amongst the older women--for he was inclined to caution where strange

girls were concerned. Much trouble could come to a stranger who danced

with a girl who happened to have a jealous sweetheart, and Bud did

not court trouble of that kind. He much preferred to fight over other

things. Besides, he had no wish to antagonize Honey.

But his dance with some faded, heavy-footed woman was not to be. Jerry

once more signalled him and drew him outside for a little private

conference. Jerry was ill at ease and inclined to be reproachful and

even condemnatory.

He wanted first to know why Bud had been such a many kinds of a fool as

to make that bet with Jeff Hall. All the fellows were talking about it.

"They was asking me what kind of a horse you've got--and I wouldn't put

it past Jeff and his bunch to pull some kind of a dirty trick on you,"

he complained. "Bud, on the square, I like you a whole lot. You seem

kinda innocent, in some ways, and in other ways you don't. I wish you'd

tell me just one thing, so I can sleep comfortable. Have you got some

scheme of your own? Or what the devil ails you?"

"Well, I've just got a notion," Bud admitted. "I'm going to have some

fun watching those fellows perform, whether I win or lose. I've spent as

much as twenty-five dollars on a circus, before now, and felt that I got

the worth of my money, too. I'm going to enjoy myself real well, next


Jerry glanced behind him and lowered his voice, speaking close to Bud's

ear. "Well, there's something I'd like to say that it ain't safe to say,

Bud. I'd hate like hell to see you get in trouble. Go as far as you like

having fun--but--oh, hell! What's the use?" He turned abruptly and went

inside, leaving Bud staring after him rather blankly.

Jerry did not strike Bud as being the kind of a man who goes

around interfering with every other man's business. He was a quiet,

good-natured young fellow with quizzical eyes of that mixed color which

we call hazel simply because there is more brown than gray or green. He

did not talk much, but he observed much. Bud was strongly inclined

to heed Jerry's warning, but it was too vague to have any practical

value--"about like Hen's note," Bud concluded. "Well-meaning but hazy.

Like a red danger flag on a railroad crossing where the track is torn

up and moved. I saw one, once and my horse threw a fit at it and almost

piled me. I figured that the red flag created the danger, where I was

concerned. Still, I'd like to oblige Jerry and sidestep something or

other, but..."

His thoughts grew less distinct, merged into wordless rememberings and

conjectures, clarified again into terse sentences which never reached

the medium of speech.

"Well, I'll just make sure they don't try out Smoke when I'm not

looking," he decided, and slipped away in the dark.

By a roundabout way which avoided the trail he managed to reach the

pasture fence without being seen. No horses grazed in sight, and he

climbed through and went picking his way across the lumpy meadow in the

starlight. At the farther side he found the horses standing out on a

sandy ridge where the mosquitoes were not quite so pestiferous. The

Little Lost horses snorted and took to their heels, his three following

for a short distance.

Bud stopped and whistled a peculiar call invented long ago when he was

just Buddy, and watched over the Tomahawk REMUDA. Every horse with the

Tomahawk brand knew that summons--though not every horse would obey

it. But these three had come when they were sucking colts, if Buddy

whistled; and in their breaking and training, in the long trip north,

they had not questioned its authority. They turned and trotted back to

him now and nosed Bud's hands which he held out to them.

He petted them all and talked to them in an affectionate murmur which

they answered by sundry lipnibbles and subdued snorts. Smoky he singled

out finally, rubbing his back and sides with the flat of his hand from

shoulder to flank, and so to the rump and down the thigh to the hock

to the scanty fetlock which told, to those who knew, that here was an

aristocrat among horses.

Smoky stood quiet, and Bud's hand lingered there, smoothing the slender

ankle. Bud's fingers felt the fine-haired tail, then gave a little

twitch. He was busy for a minute, kneeling in the sand with one knee,

his head bent. Then he stood up, went forward to Smoky's head, and stood

rubbing the horse's nose thoughtfully.

"I hate to do it, old boy--but I'm working to make's a home--we've got

to work together. And I'm not asking any more of you than I'd be willing

to do myself, if I were a horse and you were a man."

He gave the three horses a hasty pat apiece and started back across

the meadow to the fence. They followed him like pet dogs--and when Bud

glanced back over his shoulder he saw in the dim light that Smoky walked

with a slight limp.