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قراءة كتاب Brand Blotters

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Brand Blotters

Brand Blotters

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 5

common enough name.”

“Yes. If I find you work at my father’s ranch would you be too particular about what it is?”

“Try me.”

“And your memory—is it inconveniently good?” Her glance swept as by chance over the scene of her recent operations.

“I’ve got a right good forgettery, too,” he assured her.

“You’re not in the habit of talking much about the things you see.” She put it in the form of a statement, but the rising inflection indicated the interrogative.

His black eyes met hers steadily. “I can padlock my mouth when it is necessary,” he answered, the suggestion of a Southern drawl in his intonation.

She wanted an assurance more direct. “When you think it necessary, I suppose.”

“That is what I meant to say.” 27

“Come. One good turn deserves another. What about this?” She nodded toward the dead cow.

“I have not seen a thing I ought not to have seen.”

“Didn’t you see me blot a brand on that calf?”

He shook his head. “Can’t recall it at all, Miss Lee.”

Swiftly her keen glance raked him again. Judged by his clothes, he was one of the world’s ineffectives, flotsam tossed into the desert by the wash of fate; but there was that in the steadiness of his eye, in the set of his shoulders, in the carriage of his lean-loined, slim body that spoke of breeding. He was no booze-fighting grubliner. Disguised though he was in cheap slops, she judged him a man of parts. He would do to trust, especially since she could not help herself.

“We’ll be going. You take my horse,” she ordered.

“And let you walk?”

“How long since you have eaten?” she asked brusquely.

“About seven minutes,” he smiled.

“But before that?”

“Two days.”

“Well, then. Anybody can see you’re as weak as a kitten. Do as I say.”

“Why can’t we both ride?”

“We can as soon as we get across the pass. Until then I’ll walk.” 28

Erect as a willow sapling, she took the hills with an elastic ease that showed her deep-bosomed in spite of her slenderness. The short corduroy riding skirt and high-laced boots were made for use, not grace, but the man in the saddle found even in her manner of walking the charm of her direct, young courage. Free of limb, as yet unconscious of sex, she had the look of a splendid boy. The descending sun was in her sparkling hair, on the lank, undulating grace of her changing lines.

Active as a cat though it was, the cowpony found the steep pass with its loose rubble hard going. Melissy took the climb much easier. In the way she sped through the mesquit, evading the clutch of the cholla by supple dips to right and left, there was a kind of pantherine litheness.

At the summit she waited for the horse to clamber up the shale after her.

“Get down in your collar, you Buckskin,” she urged, and when the pony was again beside her petted the animal with little love pats on the nose.

Carelessly she flung at Diller a question. “From what part of the East did you say?”

He was on the spot promptly this time. “From Keokuk.”

“Keokuk, Indiana?”

“Iowa,” he smiled.

“Oh, is it Iowa?” He had sidestepped her little trap, but she did not give up. “Just arrived?”

“I’ve been herding sheep for a month.” 29

“Oh, sheep-herding!” Her disdain implied that if he were fit for nothing better than sheep-herding, the West could find precious little use for him.

“It was all I could get to do.”

“Where did you say you wrangled Mary’s little lamb?”

“In the Catalinas.”

“Whose outfit?”

Question and answer were tossed back and forth lightly, but both were watching warily.

“Outfit?” he repeated, puzzled.

“Yes. Who were you working for?”

“Don’t remember his name. He was a Mexican.”

“Must have been one of the camps of Antonio Valdez.”

“Yes, that’s it. That’s the name.”

“Only he runs his sheep in the Galiuros,” she demurred.

“Is it the Galiuros? Those Spanish names! I can’t keep them apart in my mind.”

She laughed with hard, young cruelty. “It is hard to remember what you never heard, isn’t it?”

The man was on the rack. Tiny beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead. But he got a lip smile into working order.

“Just what do you mean, Miss Lee?”

“You had better get your story more pat. I’ve punched a dozen holes in it already. First you tell me you are from the East, and even while you were telling me I knew you were a Southerner from the 30 drawl. No man ever got lost from Mammoth. You gave a false name. You said you had been herding sheep, but you didn’t know what an outfit is. You wobbled between the Galiuros and the Catalinas.”

“I’m not a native. I told you I couldn’t remember Spanish names.”

“It wasn’t necessary to tell me,” she countered quickly. “A man that can’t recall even the name of his boss!”

“I’m not in the witness box, Miss Lee,” he told her stiffly.

“Not yet, but you’re liable to be soon, I reckon.”

“In a cattle rustling case, I suppose you mean.”

“No, I don’t.” She went on with her indictment of his story, though his thrust had brought the color to her cheek. “When I offered you Antonio Valdez for an employer you jumped at him. If you want to know, he happens to be our herder. He doesn’t own a sheep and never will.”

“You know all about it,” he said with obvious sarcasm.

“I know you’re not who you say you are.”

“Perhaps you know who I am then.”

“I don’t know or care. It’s none of my business. But others may think it is theirs. You can’t be so reckless with the truth without folks having notions. If I were you I’d get a story that will hang together.”

“You’re such a good detective. Maybe I could 31 get you to invent one for me,” he suggested maliciously.

Her indignation flashed. “I’m no such thing. But I’m not quite a fool. A babe in arms wouldn’t swallow that fairy tale.”

Awkward as her knowledge might prove, he could not help admiring the resource and shrewdness of the girl. She had virtually served notice that if she had a secret that needed keeping so had he.

They looked down over a desert green with bajadas, prickly pears, and mesquit. To the right, close to a spur of the hills, were the dwarfed houses of a ranch. The fans of a windmill caught the sun and flashed it back to the travelers.

“The Bar Double G. My father owns it,” Miss Lee explained.

“Oh! Your father owns it.” He reflected a moment while he studied her. “Let’s understand each other, Miss Lee. I’m not what I claim to be, you say. We’ll put it that you have guessed right. What do you intend to do about it? I’m willing to be made welcome at the Bar Double G, but I don’t want to be too welcome.”

“I’m not going to do anything.”

“So long as I remember not to remember what I’ve seen.”

The blood burned in her cheeks beneath their Arizona tan. She did not look at him. “If you like to put it that way.” 32

He counted it to her credit that she was ashamed of the bargain in every honest fiber of her.

“No matter what they say I’ve done. You’ll keep faith?”

“I don’t care what you’ve done,” she flung back bitterly. “It’s none of my affair. I told you that before. Men come out here for all sorts of reasons. We don’t ask for a bill of particulars.”

“Then I’ll be right

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