Chapter X. Bud Proctor Lends a Hand




After the doctor had dressed the wounded shoulder he ordered Clanton to go to bed at once and stay there. "What he needs is rest, proper food, and sleep. See he gets them."

"I'll try," said Billie dryly. "Sometimes a fellow can't sleep when he's got a lead pill in him, doctor. Could you give me something to help him forget the pain an' the fever?"

The doctor made up some powders. "One every two hours till he gets to sleep. I'll come and see him in the morning. You're at the Proctor House, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"Is Roush goin' to live?" asked Jim.

The professional man looked at the boy speculatively. He wondered whether the young fellow was suffering qualms of conscience. Since he did not believe in the indiscriminate shooting in vogue on the frontier, he was willing this youngster should worry a bit.

"Not one chance for him in a hundred," he replied brusquely.

"That's good. I'd hate to have to do it all over again. Have you got the makin's with you, Billie?" Clanton asked evenly.

"I've got a plain and simple word for such killings," the doctor said, flushing. "I find it in my Bible."

"That's where my dad found it too, doctor."

With which cryptic utterance Clanton led the way out of the office to the hotel.

Jimmie lay down dressed on the bed of their joint room while his friend went down to the porch to announce to sundry loafers, from whom the news would spread over town shortly, that Clanton had gone to sleep and was on no account to be disturbed till morning.

Later in the afternoon Billie might have been seen fixing a stirrup leather for Bud Proctor, the fourteen-year-old heir of the hotel proprietor. He and the youngster appeared to be having a bully time on the porch, but it was noticeable that the cowpuncher, for all his manner of casual carelessness, sat close to the wall in the angle of an L so that nobody could approach him unobserved.

In an admiring trance Bud had followed the two friends from the office of the doctor. Now he was in the seventh heaven at being taken into friendship by one of these heroes. At last he screwed up his courage to refer to the affair at Tolleson's.

"Say, Daniel Boone ain't got a thing on yore friend, has he? Jiminy, I'd like to go with you both when you leave town."

Billie spoke severely. "Get that notion right out of your haid, Bud. You're goin' to stay right here at home. I'll tell you another thing while we're on that subject. Don't you get to thinkin' that killers are fine people. They ain't. Some of 'em aren't even game. They take all kinds of advantage an' they're a cruel, cold-blooded lot. Never forget that. I'm not talkin' about Jim Clanton, understand. He did what he thought he had to do. I don't say he was right. I don't say he was wrong. But I will say that this country would be a whole lot better off if we'd all put our guns away."

Bud sniffed. "If you hadn't had yore guns this mornin' I'd like to know where you'd 'a' been."

"True enough. I can't travel unarmed because of Indians an' bad men. What I say is that some day we'll all be brave enough to go without our hog-legs. I'll be glad when that day comes."

"An' when you two went up Escondido Canon after the Mescaleros that had captured Miss Roubideau? I heard Dad Wrayburn tellin' all about it at supper here one night. Well, what if you hadn't had any guns?" persisted Bud.

"That would have been tough luck," admitted Prince, holding up the leather to examine his work. "Learn to shoot if you like, Bud, but remember that guns aren't made to kill folks with. They're for buffaloes an' antelope an' coyotes."

"Didn't you ever kill any one?"

"Haven't you had any bringin' up?" Billie wanted to know indignantly "I've a good mind to put you across my knee an' whale you with this leather. I've a notion to quit you here an' now. Don't you know better than to ask such questions?"

"It--it slipped out," whimpered Bud. "I'll never do it again."

"See you don't. Now I'm goin' to give you a chance to make good with me an' my friend, Bud. Can you keep a secret?"

The eyes of the boy began to shine. "Crickey. You just try me, Mr. Prince."

"All right. I will. But first I must know that you are our friend."

"Cross my heart an' hope to die. Honest, I am."

"I believe you, Bud. Well, the Snaith-McRobert outfit intend to lynch me an' my friend to-night."

The face of the boy became all eyes. He was too astonished to speak.

"Our only chance is to get out of town. Jim is supposed to be so bad I can't move him. But if you can find an' saddle horses for us we'll slip out the back door at dusk an' make our get-away. Do you think you can get us horses an' some food without tellin' anybody what for?" asked the cowboy.

"I'll get yore own horses from the corral."

"No. That won't do. If you saddled them, that would arouse suspicion at once. You must bring two horses an' tie 'em to the back fence just as if you were goin' ridin' yourself. Then we'll take 'em when you come into the house. Make the tie with a slip knot. We may be in a hurry."

"Gee! This beats 'Hal Hiccup, the Boy Demon,'" crowed Bud, referring to a famous hero of Nickel Library fame. "I'll sure get you horses all right."

"I'll make arrangements to have the horses sent back. Bring 'em round just as it begins to get dark an' whistle a bar of 'Yankee Doodle' when you get here. Now cut your stick, Bud. Don't be seen near me any more."

The boy decamped. His face, unable to conceal his excitement at this blessed adventure which had fallen from heaven upon him, was trying to say "Golly!" without the use of words.

During the next hour or two Bud was a pest. Twenty times he asked different men mysteriously what o'clock it was. When he was sent to the store for pickles he brought back canned tomatoes. Set to weeding onions, he pulled up weeds and vegetables impartially. A hundred times he cast a longing glance at the westering sun.

So impatient was he that he could not quite wait till dusk. He slipped around to the Elephant Corral by a back way and picked out two horses that suited him. Then he went boldly to the owner of the stable.

"Mr. Sanders sent me to bring to him that sorrel and the white-foot bay. Said you'd know his saddle. It doesn't matter which of the other saddles you use."

Ten minutes later Bud was walking through the back yard of the hotel whistling shrilly "Yankee Doodle." It happened that his father was an ex-Confederate and "Dixie" was more to the boy's taste, but he enjoyed the flavor of the camouflage he was employing. It fitted into his new role of Bud Proctor, Scout of the Pecos.

The fugitives slipped down the back stairway of the Proctor House and into the garden. In another moment they were astride and moving out to the sparsely settled suburbs of town.

"Did you notice the brand on the horse you're ridin', Jim?" asked Prince with a grin.

"Same brand's on your bay, Billie--the Lazy S M. Did you tell that kid to steal us two horses?"

"No, but you've said it. I'm on the bronc Sanders rides, and you an' I are horse-thieves now as well as killers. This certainly gets us in bad."

"I've a notion to turn back yet," said Jim, with the irritability of a sick man. "How in Mexico did he happen to light on Snaith-McRobert stock? Looks like he might have found somethin' else for us."

"Bud has too much imagination," admitted Prince ruefully. "I'd bet a stack of blues he picked these hawsses on purpose--probably thought it would be a great joke on Sanders an' his crew."

"Well, I don't like it. They've got us where they want us now."

Billie did not like it either. To kill a man on the frontier then in fair fight was a misdemeanor. To steal a horse was a capital offense. Many a bronco thief ended his life at the end of a rope in the hands of respectable citizens who had in the way of business snuffed out the lives of other respectable citizens. Both of the Flying VY riders knew that if they were caught with the stock, it would be of no avail with Sanders to plead that they had no intention of stealing. Possession would be prima facie evidence of guilt.

"It's too late to go back now," Prince decided.

"We'll travel night an' day till we reach the old man an' have him send the bones back. I hate to do it, but we have no choice. Anyhow, we might as well be hanged for stealin' a horse as for anything else."

They topped a hill and came face to face with a rider traveling town ward. His gaze took in the animals carrying the fugitives and jumped to the face of Billie. In the eyes of the man was an expression blended of suspicion and surprise. He passed with a nod and a surly "'Evenin'."

"Fine luck we're havin', Billie," commented his friend with a little laugh. "I give Sanders twenty minutes to be on our trail."



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