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قراءة كتاب Brand Blotters

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‏اللغة: English
Brand Blotters

Brand Blotters

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 3

something for you ... carry a message to your folks and tell them how it happened.” 14

He dropped down again beside the dead man and rifled the pockets. In them he found two letters addressed in an illiterate hand to James Diller, Cananea, Sonora, Mexico. An idea flashed into his brain and for a moment held him motionless while he worked it out. Why not? This man was about his size, dressed much like him, and so mutilated that identification was impossible.

From his own pocket he took a leather bill book and a monogrammed cigarcase. With a sharp stone he scarred the former. The metal case he crushed out of shape beneath the heel of his boot. Having first taken one twenty dollar yellowback from the well-padded book, he slipped it and the cigarcase into the inner coat pocket of the dead man. Irregularly in a dozen places he gashed with his knife the derby hat he was wearing, ripped the band half loose, dragged it in the dust, and jumped on it till the hat was flat as a pancake. Finally he kicked it into the sand a dozen yards away.

“The cattle would get it tangled in their hoofs and drag it that far with them,” he surmised.

The soft gray hat of the dead man he himself appropriated. Again he spoke to the lifeless body, lowering his voice to a murmur.

“I reckon you wouldn’t grudge me this if you knew. I’m up against it. If I get out of these hills alive I’ll be lucky. But if I do—well, it won’t do you any harm to be mistaken for me, and it will accommodate me mightily. I hate to leave you 15 here alone, but it’s what I’ve got to do to save myself.”

He turned away and plodded up the dry creek bed.

The sun was at the meridian when three heavily armed riders drew up at the mouth of the cañon. They fell into the restful, negligent postures of horsemen accustomed to take their ease in the saddle.

“Do you figure maybe he’s working up to the headwaters of Dry Sandy?” one suggested.

A squat, bandy-legged man with a face of tanned leather presently answered. “No, Tim, I expect not. The way I size him up Mr. Richard Bellamy wouldn’t know Dry Sandy from an irrigation ditch. Mr. R. B. hopes he’s hittin’ the high spots for Sonora, but he ain’t anyways sure. Right about now he’s ridin’ the grub line, unless he’s made a strike somewhere.”

The third member of the party, a lean, wide-shouldered, sinewy youth, blue silk kerchief knotted loosely around his neck, broke in with a gesture that swept the sky. “Funny about all them buzzards. What are they doing here, sheriff?”

The squat man opened his mouth to answer, but Tim took the word out of his mouth.

“Look!” His arm had shot straight out toward the cañon. A coyote was disappearing on the lope. 16 “Something lying there in the wash at the bend, Burke.”

Sheriff Burke slid his rifle from its scabbard. “We’ll not take any chances, boys. Spread out far as you can. Tim, ride close to the left wall. You keep along the right one, Flatray. Me, I’ll take the center. That’s right.”

They rode forward cautiously. Once Flatray spoke.

“By the tracks there has been a lot of cattle down here on the jump recently.”

“That’s what,” Tim agreed.

Flatray swung from his saddle and stooped over the body lying at the bend of the wash.

“Crushed to death in a cattle stampede, looks like,” he called to the sheriff.

“Search him, Jack,” the sheriff ordered.

The young man gave an exclamation of surprise. He was standing with a cigarcase in one hand and a billbook in the other. “It’s the man we’re after—it’s Bellamy.”

Burke left his horse and came forward. “How do you know?”

“Initials on the cigarcase, R. B. Same monogram on the billbook.”

The sheriff had stooped to pick up a battered hat as he moved toward the deputy. Now he showed the initials stamped on the sweat band. “R. B. here, too.”

“Suit of gray clothes, derby hat, size and weight 17 about medium. We’ll never know about the scar on the eyebrow, but I guess Mr. Bellamy is identified without that.”

“Must have camped here last night and while he was asleep the cattle stampeded down the cañon,” Tim hazarded.

“That guess is as good as any. They ce’tainly stomped the life out of him thorough. Anyhow, Bellamy has met up with his punishment. We’ll have to pack the body back to town, boys,” the sheriff told them.

Half an hour later the party filed out to the creosote flats and struck across country toward Mesa. Flatray was riding pillion behind Tim. His own horse was being used as a pack saddle.




The tenderfoot, slithering down a hillside of shale, caught at a greasewood bush and waited. The sound of a rifle shot had drifted across the ridge to him. Friend or foe, it made no difference to him now. He had reached the end of his tether, must get to water soon or give up the fight.

No second shot broke the stillness. A swift zigzagged across the cattle trail he was following. Out of a blue sky the Arizona sun still beat down upon a land parched by æons of drought, a land still making its brave show of greenness against a dun background.

Arrow straight the man made for the hill crest. Weak as a starved puppy, his knees bent under him as he climbed. Down and up again a dozen times, he pushed feverishly forward. All day he had been seeing things. Cool lakes had danced on the horizon line before his tortured vision. Strange fancies had passed in and out of his mind. He wondered if this, too, were a delusion. How long that 19 stiff ascent took him he never knew, but at last he reached the summit and crept over its cactus-covered shoulder.

He looked into a valley dressed in its young spring garb. Of all deserts this is the loveliest when the early rains have given rebirth to the hope that stirs within its bosom once a year. But the tenderfoot saw nothing of its pathetic promise, of its fragile beauty so soon to be blasted. His sunken eyes swept the scene and found at first only a desert waste in which lay death.

“I lose,” he said to himself out loud.

With the words he gave up the long struggle and sank to the ground. For hours he had been exhausted to the limit of endurance, but the will to live had kept him going. Now the driving force within had run down. He would die where he lay.

Another instant, and he was on his feet again eager, palpitant, tremulous. For plainly there had come to him the bleating of a calf.

Moving to the left, he saw rising above the hill brow a thin curl of smoke. A dozen staggering steps brought him to the edge of a draw. There in the hollow below, almost within a stone’s throw, was a young woman bending over a fire. He tried to call, but his swollen tongue and dry throat refused the service. Instead, he began to run toward her.

Beyond the wash was a dead cow. Not far from it lay a calf on its side, all four feet tied together. 20 From the fire the young woman took a red-hot running iron and moved toward the little bleater.

The crackling of a twig brought her around as a sudden tight rein does a high-strung horse. The man had emerged from the prickly pears and was close upon her. His steps dragged. The sag of his shoulders indicated extreme fatigue. The dark hollows beneath the eyes told of days of torment.

The girl stood before him slender and straight. She was pale to the lips. Her breath came fast and ragged as if she had been