The Happy Family (B M Bower)/Andy, the Liar
Andy, the Liar
Andy Green licked a cigarette into shape the while he watched with unfriendly eyes the shambling departure of their guest. "I believe the darned old reprobate was lyin' to us," he remarked, when the horseman disappeared into a coulee.
"You sure ought to be qualified to recognize the symptoms," grunted Cal Emmett, kicking his foot out of somebody's carelessly coiled rope on the ground. "That your rope, Happy? No wonder you're always on the bum for one. If you'd try tying it on your saddle—"
"Aw, g'wan. That there's Andy's rope—"
"If you look at my saddle, you'll find my rope right where it belongs," Andy retorted. "I ain't sheepherder enough to leave it kicking around under foot. That rope belongs to his nibs that just rode off. When he caught up his horse again after dinner, he throwed his rope down while he saddled up, and then went off and forgot it. He wasn't easy in his mind—that jasper wasn't. I don't go very high on that hard-luck tale he told. I know the boy he had wolfing with him last winter, and he wasn't the kind to pull out with all the stuff he could get his hands on. He was an all-right fellow, and if there's been any rusty work done down there in the breaks, this shifty-eyed mark done it. He was lying—"
Somebody laughed suddenly, and another chuckle helped to point the joke, until the whole outfit was in an uproar; for of all the men who had slept under Flying-U tents and eaten beside the mess-wagon, Andy Green was conceded to be the greatest, the most shameless and wholly incorrigible liar of the lot.
"Aw, yuh don't want to get jealous of an old stiff like that," Pink soothed musically. "There ain't one of us but what knows you could lie faster and farther and more of it in a minute, with your tongue half-hitched around your palate and the deaf-and-dumb language barred, than any three men in Chouteau County. Don't let it worry yuh, Andy."
"I ain't letting it worry me," said Andy, getting a bit red with trying not to show that the shot hit him. "When my imagination gets to soaring, I'm willing to bet all I got that it can fly higher than the rest of you, that have got brains about on a par with a sage-hen, can follow. When I let my fancy soar, I take notice the rest of yuh like to set in the front row, all right—and yuh never, to my knowledge, called it a punk show when the curtain rung down; yuh always got the worth uh your money, and then some.
"But if yuh'd taken notice of the load that old freak was trying to throw into the bunch, you'd suspicion there was something scaley about it; there was, all right. I'd gamble on it."
"From the symptoms," spoke Weary mildly, rising to an elbow, "Andy's about to erupt one of those wide, hot, rushing streams of melted imagination that bursts forth from his think-works ever so often. Don't get us all worked up over it, Andy; what's it going to be this time? A murder in the Badlands?"
Andy clicked his teeth together, thought better of his ill-humor and made reply, though he had intended to remain dignifiedly silent.
"Yuh rung the bell, m'son—but it ain't any josh. By gracious, I mean it!" He glared at those who gurgled incredulously, and went on: "No, sir, you bet it ain't any josh with me this time. That old gazabo had something heavy on his conscience—and knowing the fellow he had reference to, I sure believe he lied a whole lot when he said Dan pulled out with all the stuff they'd got together, and went down river. Maybe he went down river, all right—but if he did, it was most likely to be face-down. Dan was as honest a boy as there is in the country, and he had money on him that he got mining down in the little Rockies last summer. I know, because he showed me the stuff last fall when I met him in Benton, and he was fixing to winter with this fellow that just left.
"Dan was kinda queer about some things, and one of 'em was about money. It never made any difference how much or how little he had, he always packed it in his clothes; said a bank had busted on him once and left him broke in the middle uh winter, and he wasn't going to let it happen again. He never gambled none, nor blowed his money any farther than a couple uh glasses uh beer once in a while. He was one uh these saving cusses—but he was honest; I know that for a fact.
"So he had all this money on him, and went down there with this jasper, that he'd got in with somehow and didn't know much about, and they wolfed all winter, according to all accounts, and must uh made quite a stake, the way the bounty runs up, these days. And here comes this darned Siwash, hiking out uh there fast as he can—and if he hadn't run slap onto us at this crossing, I'll gamble he'd never uh showed up at camp at all, but kept right on going. We didn't ask him no questions, did we? But he goes to all the pains uh telling us his tale uh woe, about how Dan had robbed him and pulled out down river.
"If that was the case, wouldn't he be apt to hike out after him and try and get back his stuff? And wouldn't—"
"How much money did this friend uh yours have?" queried Jack Bates innocently.
"Well, when I seen him in Benton, he had somewhere between six and seven hundred dollars. He got it all changed into fifty-dollar bills—"
"Oh, golly!" Jack Bates rolled over in disgust. "Andy's losing his grip. Why, darn yuh, if you was in a normal, lying condition, you'd make it ten thousand, at the lowest—and I've seen the time when you'd uh said fifty thousand; and you'd uh made us swallow the load, too! Buck up and do a good stunt, Andy, or else keep still. Why, Happy Jack could tell that big a lie!"
"Aw, gwan!" Happy Jack rose up to avenge the insult. "Yuh needn't compare me to Andy Green. I ain't a liar, and I can lick the darned son-of-a-gun that calls me one. I ain't, and yuh can't say I am, unless yuh lie worse'n Andy."
"Calm down," urged Weary pacifically. "Jack said yuh could lie; he didn't say—"
"By gracious, you'd think I was necked up with a whole bunch uh George Washingtons!" growled Andy, half-indignantly. "And what gets me is, that I tell the truth as often as anybody in the outfit; oftener than some I could mention. But that ain't the point. I'm telling the truth now, when I say somebody ought to hike down to their camp and see what this old skunk has done with Dan. I'd bet money you'd find him sunk in the river, or cached under a cut-bank, or something like that. If he'd kept his face closed I wouldn't uh give it a second thought, but the more I think uh the story he put up, the more I believe there's something wrong. He's made way with Dan somehow, and—"
"Yes. Sure thing," drawled Pink wickedly. "Let's organize a searching party and go down there and investigate. It's only about a three or four days' trip, through the roughest country the Lord ever stood on end to cool and then forgot till it crumpled down in spots and got set that way, so He just left it go and mixed fresh mud for the job He was working on. Andy'd lead us down there, and we'd find—"
"His friend Dan buried in a tomato can, maybe," supplied Jack Bates.
"By golly, I'll bet yuh could put friend Dan into one," Slim burst out. "By golly, I never met up with no Dan that packed fifty-dollar bills around in his gun-pocket—"
"Andy's telling the truth. He says so," reproved Weary. "And when Andy says a thing is the truth, yuh always know—"
"It ain't." Cal Emmett finished the sentence, but Weary paid no attention.
"—what to expect. Cadwolloper's right, and we ought to go down there and make a hunt for friend Dan and his fifty-dollar bills. How many were there, did yuh say?"
"You go to the devil," snapped Andy, getting up determinedly. "Yuh bite quick enough when anybody throws a load at yuh that would choke a rhinoscerous, but plain truth seems to be too much for the weak heads of yuh. I guess I'll have to turn loose and lie, so yuh'll listen to me. There is something crooked about this deal—"
"We all thought it sounded that way," Weary remarked mildly.
"And if yuh did go down to where them two wintered, you'd find out I'm right. But yuh won't, and that old cutthroat will get off with the murder—and the money."
"Don't he lie natural?" queried Jack Bates solemnly.
That was too much. Andy glared angrily at the group, picked up the wolfer's rope, turned on his heel and walked off to where his horse was tied; got on him and rode away without once looking back, though he knew quite well that they were watching every move he made. It did not help to smooth his temper that the sound of much laughing followed him as he swung into the trail taken by the man who had left not long before.
Where he went, that afternoon when for some reason sufficient for the foreman—who was Chip Bennett—the Flying U roundup crew lay luxuriously snoring in the shade instead of riding hurriedly and hotly the high divides, no one but Andy himself knew. They talked about him after he left, and told one another how great a liar he was, and how he couldn't help it because he was born that way, and how you could hardly help believing him. They recalled joyously certain of his fabrications that had passed into the history of the Flying U, and wondered what josh he was trying to spring this time.
"What we ought to do," advised Cal, "is to lead him on and let him lie his darndest, and make out we believe him. And then we can give him the laugh good and plenty—and maybe cure him."
"Cure nothing!" exclaimed Jack Bates, getting up because the sun had discovered him, and going over to the mess-wagon where a bit of shade had been left unoccupied. "About the only way to cure Andy of lying, is to kill him. He was working his way up to some big josh, and if yuh let him alone you'll find out what it is, all right. I wouldn't worry none about it, if I was you." To prove that he did not worry, Jack immediately went to sleep.
Such being the attitude of the Happy Family, when Andy rode hurriedly into camp at sundown, his horse wet to the tips of his ears with sweat, they sat up, expectancy writ large upon their faces. No one said anything, however, while Andy unsaddled and came over to beg a belated supper from the cook; nor yet while he squatted on his heels beside the cook-tent and ate hungrily. He seemed somewhat absorbed in his thoughts, and they decided mentally that Andy was a sure-enough good actor, and that if they were not dead next to him and his particular weakness, they would swallow his yarn whole—whatever it was. A blood-red glow was in the sky to the west, and it lighted Andy's face queerly, like a vivid blush on the face of a girl.
Andy scraped his plate thoughtfully with his knife, looked into his coffee-cup, stirred the dregs absently and dipped out half a spoonful of undissolved sugar, which he swallowed meditatively. He tossed plate, cup and spoon toward the dishpan, sent knife and fork after them and got out his smoking material. And the Happy Family, grouped rather closely together and watching unobtrusively, stirred to the listening point. The liar was about to lie.
"Talk about a guilty conscience giving a man dead away," Andy began, quite unconscious of the mental attitude of his fellows, and forgetting also his anger of the afternoon, "it sure does work out like that, sometimes. I followed that old devil, just out uh curiosity, to see if he headed for Dry Lake like he said he was going. We didn't have any reason for keeping cases on him, or suspicioning anything—but he acted like we was all out on his trail, the fool!
"I kinda had a hunch that if he had been up to any deviltry, it would show on him when he left here, and I was plumb right about it. He went all straight enough till he got down into Black Coulee; and right there it looked like he got kinda panicky and suspicious, for he turned square off the trail and headed up the coulee."
"He must uh had 'em," Weary commented, quite as if he believed.
"Yuh wait till I'm through," Andy advised, still wholly unconscious of their disbelief. "Yuh was all kinda skeptical when I told yuh he had a guilty conscience, but I was right about it, and come mighty near laying out on the range to-night with my toes pointing straight up, just because you fellows wouldn't—"
"Sun-stroke?" asked Pink, coming closer, his eyes showing purple in the softened light.
"No—yuh wait, now, till I tell yuh." Whereupon Andy smoked relishfully and in silence, and from the tail of his eye watched his audience squirm with impatience. "A man gets along a whole lot better without any conscience," he began at last, irrelevantly, "'specially if he wants to be mean. I trailed this jasper up the coulee and out on the bench, across that level strip between Black Coulee and Dry Spring Gulch, and down the gulch a mile or so. He was fogging right along, and seemed as if he looked back every ten rods—I know he spotted me just as I struck the level at the head uh Black Coulee, because he acted different then.
"I could see he was making across country for the trail to Chinook, but I wanted to overhaul him and have a little casual talk about Dan. I don't suppose yuh noticed I took his rope along; I wanted some excuse for hazing after him like that, yuh see."
"Uh course, such accommodating cusses as you wouldn't be none strange to him," fleered Cal.
"Well, he never found out what I was after," sighed Andy. "It wasn't my fault I didn't come up with him, and my intentions were peaceful and innocent. But do yuh know what happened? He got out uh sight down Dry Spring Gulch—yuh know where that elephant-head rock sticks out, and the trail makes a short turn around it—that's where I lost sight of him. But he wasn't very far in the lead, and I was dead anxious to give him his rope, so I loped on down—"
"You were taking long chances, old-timer; that's mighty rough going, along there," hinted Chip, gravely.
"Sure, I was," Andy agreed easily. "But yuh recollect, I was in a hurry. So I'd just rounded the elephant's head, when bing! something spats the rock, just over my right shoulder, and my horse squatted down on his rump and said he'd gone far enough. I kinda felt the same way about it, so when he wheeled and humped himself back up the trail, I didn't argue none with him."
There was silence so deep one could hear the saddle-bunch cropping the thick grasses along the creek. If this were true—this tale that Andy was telling—The Happy Family, half tempted to believe, glanced furtively at one another.
"Aw, gwan!" It was the familiar, protesting croak of Happy Jack. "What did yuh turn tail for? Why didn't yuh have it out with him?" The Happy Family drew a long breath, and the temptation to believe was pushed aside.
"Because my gun was rolled up in my bed," Andy replied simply. "I ain't as brave as you are, Happy. I ain't got the nerve to ride right up on a man that's scared plumb silly and pumping lead my way fast as he can work the lever on his rifle, and lick him with my fists till he howls, and then throw him and walk up and down his person and flap my wings and crow. It's awful to have to confess it, but I'm willing to run from any man that's shooting at me when I can't shoot back. I'd give a lot to be as brave as you are, Happy."
Happy Jack growled and subsided.
"Well, by golly, there's times when we'd be justified in shooting yuh, but I don't see what he'd want to do it for," objected Slim.
"Guilty conscience, I told yuh," retorted Andy. "He seen I was chasing him up, and I guess he thought it was somebody that had got next to what happened—Lord, I wish I knew what did happen, down there in the breaks! Boys," Andy got up and stood looking earnestly down at them in the twilight, "you can't make me believe that there hasn't been a murder done! That fellow has been up to something, or he wouldn't be acting so damn' queer. And if it was just plain stealing, Dan would sure be hot on his trail—because Dan thought more of his money than most men do of their wives. It was about all he lived for, and he wasn't any coward. That old man never would get it off him without a big ruction, and if he did, Dan would be right after him bigger'n a wolf. There's something wrong, you take my word."
"What do yuh want us to do about it?" It was Chip who asked the question, and his tone was quite calm and impersonal.
Andy looked at him reproachfully. "Do? What is there to do, except go down there and see? If we can find that out, we can put the sheriff wise and let him do the rest. It sure does seem kinda tough, if a man can do a murder and robbery and get off with it, just because nobody cares enough about it to head him off."
The Happy Family stirred uneasily. Of course, it was all just a josh of Andy's—but he was such a convincing liar! Almost they felt guilty of criminal negligence that they did not at once saddle up and give chase to the murderer, who had tried to kill Andy for following him, and who was headed for Chinook after unnecessarily proclaiming himself bound for Dry Lake.
"Do you want the whole outfit to turn out?" asked Chip calmly at last.
"Say, is it anywheres near that prehistoric castle you found once?" Ping asked maliciously, unbelief getting strong hold of him again.
Andy turned toward him, scowling. "No, Angel-child, it ain't," he snapped. "And you fellows can back up and snort all yuh darn please, and make idiots of yourselves. But yuh can't do any business making me out a hot-air peddler on this deal. I stand pat, just where I stood at first, and it'll take a lot uh cackling to make me back down. That old devil did lie about Dan, and he did take a shot at me—"
"He took yuh for a horse-thief, most likely," explained Jack Bates.
"He didn't need no field glass to see you was a suspicious character, by golly," chortled Slim.
"He thought yuh was after what little your friend Dan had overlooked, chances is," added Cal Emmett.
"Did the fog roll down and hide the horrible sight?" asked Jack Bates.
That, and much more, brought about a distinct coldness between the Happy Family and one Andy Green, so that the sun went down upon Andy's wrath, and rose to find it still bubbling hotly in the outraged heart of him.
It was Jack Bates who precipitated an open war by singing an adapted version of "Massa's In the Cold, Cold Ground," just when they were eating breakfast. As an alleged musical effort it was bad enough, but as a personal insult it was worse. One hesitates to repeat the doggerel, even in an effort to be exact. However, the chorus, bellowed shamelessly by Jack, was this:
"Down in the Bad-lands, hear that awful sound.
Andy Green is there a-weeping—"
Jack Bates got no further than that, for Andy first threw his plate at Jack and then landed upon him with much force and venom, so that Jack went backwards and waved long legs convulsively in the air, and the Happy Family stood around and howled their appreciation of the spectacle.
When it dawned upon them that Andy was very much in earnest, and that his fist was landing with unpleasant frequency just where it was most painful to receive it, they separated the two by main strength and argued loudly for peace. But Andy was thoroughly roused and would have none of it, and hurled at them profanity and insulting epithets, so that more than Jack Bates looked upon him with unfriendly eyes and said things which were not calculated to smooth roughened tempers.
"That's a-plenty, now," quelled Chip, laying detaining hand upon the nearest, who happened to be Andy himself. "You sound like a bunch of old women. What do you want to do the worst and quickest, Andy?—and I don't mean killing off any of these alleged joshers, either."
Andy clicked his teeth together, swallowed hard and slowly unclenched his hands and grinned; but the grin was not altogether a pleasant one, and the light of battle still shone in the big, gray eyes of him.
"You're the boss," he said, "but if yuh don't like my plans you'll just have one less to pay wages to. What I'm going to do is throw my saddle on my private horse and ride down into the Bad-lands and see for myself how the cards lay. Maybe it's awful funny to the rest of yuh, but I'm takin' it kinda serious, myself, and I'm going to find out how about it before I'm through. I can't seem to think it's a josh when some old mark makes a play like that fellow did, and tries to put a bullet into my carcass for riding the same trail he took. It's me for the Bad-lands—and you can think what yuh damn' please about it."
Chip stood quite still till he was through, and eyed him sharply. "You better take old Buck to pack your blankets and grub," he told him, in a matter-of-fact tone. "We'll be swinging down that way in two or three days; by next Saturday you'll find us camped at the mouth of Jump-off Coulee, if nothing happens. That'll give you four days to prowl around. Come on, boys—we've got a big circle ahead of us this morning, and it's going to be hot enough to singe the tails off our cayuses by noon."
That, of course, settled the disturbance and set the official seal of approval upon Andy's going; for Chip was too wise to permit the affair to grow serious, and perhaps lose a man as good as Andy; family quarrels had not been entirely unknown among the boys of the Flying U, and with tact they never had been more than a passing unpleasantness. So that, although Jack Bates swore vengeance and nursed sundry bruised spots on his face, and though Andy saddled, packed old Buck with his blankets and meager camp outfit and rode off sullenly with no word to anyone and only a scowling glance or two for farewell, Chip mounted and rode cheerfully away at the head of his Happy Family, worrying not at all over the outcome.
"I've got half a notion that Andy was telling the truth, after all," he remarked to Weary when they were well away from camp. "It's worth taking a chance on, anyhow—and when he comes back things will be smooth again."
When Saturday came and brought no Andy to camp, the Happy Family began to speculate upon his absence. When Sunday's circle took them within twelve or fifteen miles of the camp in the Bad-lands, Pink suddenly proposed that they ride down there and see what was going on. "He won't be looking for us," he explained, to hide a secret uneasiness. "And if he's there we can find out what the josh is. If he ain't, we'll have it on him good and strong."
"I betche Andy just wanted a lay-off, and took that way uh getting it," declared Happy Jack pessimistically. "I betche he's in town right now, tearing things wide open and tickled to think he don't have to ride in this hot sun. Yuh can't never tell what Andy's got cached up his sleeve."
"Chip thinks he was talking on the level," Weary mused. "Maybe he was; as Happy says, yuh can't tell."
As always before, this brought the Happy Family to argument which lasted till they neared the deep, lonely coulee where, according to Andy, "friend Dan" had wintered with the shifty-eyed old man.
"Now, how the mischief do we get down?" questioned Jack Bates complainingly. "This is bound to be the right place—there's the cabin over there against the cottonwoods."
"Aw, come on back," urged Happy Jack, viewing the steep bluff with disfavor. "Chances is, Andy's in town right now. He ain't down—"
"There's old Buck, over there by the creek," Pink announced. "I'd know him far as I could see him. Let's ride around that way. There's sure to be a trail down." He started off, and they followed him dispiritedly, for the heat was something to remember afterwards with a shudder.
"Here's the place," Pink called back to them, after some minutes of riding. "Andy's horse is down there, too, but I don't see Andy—"
"Chances is—" began Happy Jack, but found no one listening.
It would be impossible to ride down, so they dismounted and prepared for the scramble. They could see Buck, packed as if for the homeward trail, and they could see Andy's horse, saddled and feeding with reins dragging. He looked up at them and whinnied, and the sound but accentuated the loneliness of the place. Buck, too, saw them and came toward them, whinnying wistfully; but, though they strained eyes in every direction, they could see nothing of the man they sought.
It was significant of their apprehension that not even Happy Jack made open comment upon the strangeness of it. Instead, they dug bootheels deep where the slope was loose gravel, and watched that their horses did not slide down upon them; climbed over rocks where the way was barred, and prayed that horse and man might not break a leg. They had been over rough spots, and had climbed in and out of deep coulees, but never had they travelled a rougher trail than that.
"My God! boys, look down there!" Pink cried, when yet fifty perpendicular feet lay between them and the level below.
They looked, and drew breath sharply. Huddled at the very foot of the last and worst slope lay Andy, and they needed no words to explain what had happened. It was evident that he had started to climb the bluff and had slipped and fallen to the bottom, And from the way he was lying—The Happy Family shut out the horror of the thought and hurried recklessly to the place.
It was Pink who, with a last slide and a stumbling recovery at the bottom, reached him first. It was Jack Bates who came a close second and helped to turn him—for he had fallen partly on his face. From the way one arm was crumpled back under him, they knew it to be broken. Further than that they could only guess and hope. While they were feeling for heart-beats, the others came down and crowded close. Pink looked up at them strainedly.
"Oh, for God's sake, some of yuh get water," he cried sharply. "What good do yuh think you're doing, just standing around?"
"We ought to be hung for letting him come down here alone," Weary repented. "It ain't safe for one man in this cursed country. Where's he hurt, Cadwolloper?"
"How in hell do I know?" Anxiety ever sharpened the tongue of Pink. "If somebody'd bring some water—"
"Happy's gone. And there ain't a drop uh whisky in the crowd! Can't we get him into the shade? This damned sun is enough to—"
"Look out how yuh lift him, man! You ain't wrassling a calf, remember! You take his shoulder, Jack—easy, yuh damned, awkward—"
"Here comes Happy, with his hat full. Don't slosh it all on at once! A little at a time's better. Get some on his head."
So with much incoherence and with everybody giving orders and each acting independently, they bore him tenderly into the shade of a rock and worked over him feverishly, their faces paler than his. When he opened his eyes and stared at them dully, they could have shouted for very relief. When he closed them again they bent over him solicitously and dripped more water from the hat of Happy Jack. And not one of them but remembered remorsefully the things they had said of him, not an hour before; the things they had said even when he was lying there alone and hurt—hurt unto death, for all they knew.
When he was roused enough to groan when they moved him, however gently, they began to consider the problem of getting him to camp, and they cursed the long, hot miles that lay between. They tried to question him, but if he understood what they were saying he could not reply except by moaning, which was not good to hear. All that they could gather was that when they moved his body in a certain way the pain of it was unbearable. Also, he would faint when his head was lowered, or even lifted above the level. They must guard against that if they meant to get him to camp alive.
"We'll have to carry him up this cussed hill, and then— If he could ride at all, we might make it."
"The chances is he'll die on the road," croaked Happy Jack tactlessly, and they scowled at him for voicing the fear they were trying to ignore. They had been trying not to think that he might die on the road, and they had been careful not to mention the possibility. As it was, no one answered.
How they ever got him to the top of that heartbreaking slope, not one of them ever knew. Twice he fainted outright. And Happy Jack, carefully bearing his hat full of water for just that emergency, slipped and spilled the whole of it just when they needed it most. At the last, it was as if they carried a dead man between them—Jack Bates and Cal Emmett it was who bore him up the last steep climb—and Pink and Weary, coming behind with all the horses, glanced fearfully into each other's eyes and dared not question.
At the top they laid him down in the grass and swore at Happy Jack, because they must do something, and because they dared not face what might be before them. They avoided looking at one another while they stood helplessly beside the still figure of the man they had maligned. If he died, they would always have that bitter spot in their memory—and even with the fear of his dying they stood remorseful.
Of a sudden Andy opened his eyes and looked at them with the light of recognition, and they bent eagerly toward him. "If—yuh could—on—my horse—I—I—could ride—maybe." Much pain it cost him, they knew by the look on his face. But he was game to the last—just as they knew he would be.
"Yuh couldn't ride Twister, yuh know yuh couldn't," Pink objected gently. "But—if yuh could ride Jack's horse—he's dead gentle, and we'd help hold yuh on. Do you think yuh could?"
Andy moved his head uneasily. "I—I've got to," he retorted weakly, and even essayed a smile to reassure them. "I—ain't all—in yet," he added with an evident effort, and the Happy Family gulped sympathetically, and wondered secretly if they would have such nerve under like conditions.
"It's going to be one hell of a trip for yuh," Weary murmured commiseratingly, when they were lifting him into the saddle. Of a truth, it did seem absolutely foolhardy to attempt it, but there was nothing else to do, unless they left him there. For no wagon could possibly be driven within miles of the place.
Andy leaned limply over the saddle-horn, his face working with the agony he suffered. Somehow they had got him upon the horse of Jack Bates, but they had felt like torturers while they did it, and the perspiration on their faces was not all caused by heat.
"My God, I'd rather be hung than go through this again," muttered Cal, white under the tan. "I—"
"I'll tackle—it now," gasped Andy, with a pitiful attempt to sit straight in the saddle. "Get on—boys—"
Reluctantly they started to obey, when the horse of Jack Bates gave a sudden leap ahead. Many hands reached out to grasp him by the bridle, but they were a shade too late, and he started to run, with Andy swaying in the saddle. While they gazed horrified, he straightened convulsively, turned his face toward them and raised a hand; caught his hat by the brim and swung it high above his head.
"Much obliged, boys," he yelled derisively. "I sure do appreciate being packed up that hill; it was too blamed hot to walk. Say! if you'd gone around that bend, you'd uh found a good trail down. Yuh struck about the worst place there is. So-long—I ain't all in yet!" He galloped away, while the Happy Family stared after him with bulging eyes.
"The son-of-a-gun!" gasped Weary weakly, and started for his horse.
"Darn yuh, you'll be all in when we get hold of yuh!" screamed Jack Bates, and gave chase.
It was when they were tearing headlong after him down the coulee's rim and into a shallow gully which seamed unexpectedly the level, that they saw his horse swerve suddenly and go bounding along the edge of the slope with Andy "sawing" energetically upon the bit.
"What trick's he up to now?" cried Cal Emmett resentfully, feeling that, in the light of what had gone before, Andy could not possibly make a single motion in good faith.
Andy brought his horse under control and turned back to meet them, and the Happy Family watched him guardedly until they reached the gulley and their own horses took fright at a dark, shambling object that scuttled away down toward the coulee-head. Andy was almost upon them before they could give him any attention.
"Did you see it?" he called excitedly. "It was a bear, and he was digging at something under that shelving rock. Come on and let's take a look."
"Aw, gwan!" Happy Jack adjured crossly. He was thinking of all the water he had carried painstakingly in his hat, for the relief of this conscienceless young reprobate, and he was patently suspicious of some new trick.
"Well, by gracious!" Andy rode quite close—dangerously close, considering the mood they were in—and eyed them queerly. "I sure must have a horrible rep, when yuh won't believe your own eyes just because I happen to remark that a bear is a bear. I'll call it a pinto hog, if it'll make yuh feel any better. And I'll say it wasn't doing any digging; only, I'm going down there and take a look. There's an odor—"
There was, and they could not deny it, even though Andy did make the assertion. And though they had threatened much that was exceedingly unpleasant, and what they would surely do to Andy if they ever got him within reach, they followed him quite peaceably.
They saw him get off his horse and stand looking down at something—and there was that in his attitude which made them jab spurs against their horses' flanks. A moment later they, too, were looking down at something, and they were not saying a word.
"It's Dan, all right," said Andy at last, and his tone was hushed. "I hunted the coulee over—every foot of it—and looked up some of the little draws, and went along the river; but I couldn't find any trace of him. I never thought about coming up here.
"Look there. His head was smashed in with a rock or something—ugh! Here, let me away, boys.
This thing—" He walked uncertainly away and sat down upon a rock with his face in his hands, and what they could see of his face was as white as the tan would permit. Somehow, not a man of them doubted him then. And not a man of them but felt much the same. They backed away and stood close to where Andy was sitting.
"You wouldn't believe me when I told yuh," he reproached, when the sickness had passed and he could lift his head and look at them. "You thought I was lying, and yuh made yourselves pretty blamed obnoxious to me—but I got even for that." There was much satisfaction in his tone, and the Happy Family squirmed. "Yuh see, I was telling the truth, all right—and now I'm going to get even some more. I'm going to take—er—Pink along for a witness, and notify the outfit that yuh won't be back for a day or two, and send word to the sheriff. And you jaspers can have the pleasure uh standing guard over—that." He shivered a little and turned his glance quickly away. "And I hope," he added maliciously, as he mounted his own horse, "you'll make Jack Bates stand an all-night guard by his high lonesome. He's sure got it coming to him!"
With Pink following close at his heels he rode away up the ridge.
"Say, there's grub enough on old Buck to do yuh to-night," he called down to them, "in case Chip don't send yuh any till to-morrow." He waved a subdued farewell and turned his face again up the ridge, and before they had quite decided what to do about it, he was gone.