BEFORE they reached the mouth of the cañon, Dave was supporting the slack body of his friend. When the party came to the aspens, Beulah hurried forward, and by the time the two men emerged she was waiting for them with Blacky.
Roy protested at taking the horse, but the girl cut short his objections imperiously.
"Do you think we 've only your silly pride to consider? I want you out of the park—where my people can't reach you. I'm going to see you get out. After that I don't care what you do."
Moonlight fell upon the sardonic smile on the pitifully white face of the young man. "I'm to be personally conducted by the Queen of Huerfano. That's great. I certainly appreciate the honor."
With the help of Dingwell he pulled himself to the saddle. The exertion started a spurt of warm blood at the shoulder, but Roy clenched his teeth and clung to the pommel to steady himself. The cattleman led the horse and Beulah walked beside him.
"I can get another pony for you at Cameron's," she explained. "Just above there is a short cut by way of Dolores Sinks. You ought to be across the divide before morning. I 'll show you the trail."
What story she told to get the horse from Cameron her companions did not know, but from where they waited in the pines they saw the flickering light of a lantern cross to the stable. Presently Beulah rode up to them on the hillside above the ranch.
By devious paths she led them through chaparral and woodland. Sometimes they followed her over hills and again into gulches. The girl "spelled" Dingwell at riding the second horse, but whether in the saddle or on foot her movements showed such swift certainty that Dave was satisfied she knew where she was going.
Twice she stopped to rest the wounded man, who was now clinging with both hands to the saddle-horn. But the hard gleam of her dark eyes served notice that she was moved by expediency and not sympathy.
It was midnight when at last she stopped near the entrance to the pass.
"The road lies straight before you over the divide. You can't miss it. Once on the other side keep going till you get into the foothills. All trails will take you down," she told Dingwell.
"We 're a heap obliged to you, Miss Rutherford," answered Dingwell. "I reckon neither one of us is liable to forget what you've done for us."
She flamed. "I 've nothing against you, Mr. Dingwell, but you might as well know that what I 've done was for my people. I don't want them to get into trouble. If it had n't been for that—"
"You'd 'a' done it just the same," the cattleman finished for her with a smile. "You can't make me mad to-night after going the limit for us the way you have."
Beaudry, sagging over the horn of the saddle, added his word timidly, but the Rutherford girl would have none of his thanks.
"You don't owe me anything, I tell you. How many times have I got to say that it is nothing to me what becomes of you?" she replied, flushing angrily. "All I ask is that you don't cross my path again. Next time I 'll let Jess Tighe have his way."
"I did n't go into the park to spy on your people, Miss Rutherford. I went to—"
"I care nothing about why you came." The girl turned to Dingwell, her chin in the air. "Better let him rest every mile or two. I don't want him breaking down in our country after all the trouble I 've taken."
"You may leave him to me. I 'll look out for him," Dave promised.
"Just so that you don't let him get caught again," she added.
Her manner was cavalier, her tone almost savage. Without another word she turned and left them.
Dingwell watched her slim form disappear into the night.
"Did you ever see such a little thoroughbred?" he asked admiringly. "I take off my hat to her. She's the gamest kid I ever met—and pretty as they grow. Just think of her pulling off this getaway to-night. It was a man-size job, and that little girl never turned a hair from start to finish. And loyal! By Gad! Hal Rutherford has n't earned fidelity like that, even if he has been father and mother to her since she was a year old. He'd ought to send her away from that hell-hole and give her a chance."
"What will they do to her when she gets back?"
Dave chuckled. "They can't do a thing. That's the beauty of it. There 'll be a lot of tall cussing in Huerfano for a while, but after Hal has onloaded what's on his chest he 'll stand between her and the rest."
"Sure of that?"
"It's a cinch." The cattleman laughed softly. "But ain't she the little spitfire? I reckon she sure hates you thorough."
Roy did not answer. He was sliding from the back of his horse in a faint.
When Beaudry opened his eyes again, Dingwell was pouring water into his mouth from a canteen that had been hanging to the pommel of Miss Rutherford's saddle.
"Was I unconscious?" asked the young man in disgust.
"That's whatever. Just you lie there, son, whilst I fix these bandages up for you again."
The cattleman moistened the hot cloths with cold water and rearranged them.
"We ought to be hurrying on," Roy suggested, glancing anxiously down the steep ascent up which they had ridden.
"No rush a-tall," Dave assured him cheerfully. "We got all the time there is. Best thing to do is to loaf along and take it easy."
"But they 'll be on our trail as soon as they know we 've gone. They 'll force Miss Rutherford to tell which way we came."
Dingwell grinned. "Son, did you ever look into that girl's eyes? They look right at you, straight and unafraid. The Huerfano Park outfit will have a real merry time getting her to tell anything she does n't want to. When she gets her neck bowed, I 'll bet she's some sot. Might as well argue with a government mule. She'd make a right interesting wife for some man, but he'd have to be a humdinger to hold his end up—six foot of man, lots of patience, and sense enough to know he'd married a woman out of 'steen thousand."
Young Beaudry was not contemplating matrimony. His interest just now was centered in getting as far from the young woman and her relatives as possible.
"When young Rutherford finds he has been sold, there will be the deuce to pay," urged Roy.
"Will there? I dunno. Old man Rutherford ain't going to be so awfully keen to get us back on his hands. We worried him a heap. Miss Beulah lifted two heavy weights off'n his mind. I'm one and you 're the other. O' course, he 'll start the boys out after us to square himself with Tighe and Meldrum. He's got to do that. They 're sure going to be busy bees down in the Huerfano hive. The Rutherford boys are going to do a lot of night-riding for quite some time. But I expect Hal won't give them orders to bring us in dead or alive. There is no premium on our pelts."
Roy spent a nervous half-hour before his friend would let him mount again—and he showed it. The shrewd eyes of the old cattleman appraised him. Already he guessed some of the secrets of this young man's heart.
Dave swung to the left into the hills so as to get away from the beaten trails after they had crossed the pass. He rode slowly, with a careful eye upon his companion. Frequently he stopped to rest in spite of Roy's protests.
Late in the afternoon they came to a little mountain ranch owned by a nester who had punched cattle for Dave in the old days. Now he was doing a profitable business himself in other men's calves. He had started with a branding-iron and a flexible conscience. He still had both of them, together with a nice little bunch of cows that beat the world's records for fecundity.
It was not exactly the place Dingwell would have chosen to go into hiding, but he had to take what he could get. Roy, completely exhausted, was already showing a fever. He could not possibly travel farther.
With the casual confidence that was one of his assets Dave swung from his horse and greeted the ranchman.
"’Lo, Hart! Can we roost here to-night? My friend got thrown and hurt his shoulder. He's all in."
The suspicious eyes of the nester passed over Beaudry and came back to Dingwell.
"I reckon so," he said, not very graciously. "We 're not fixed for company, but if you 'll put up with what we 've got—"
"Suits us fine. My friend's name is Beaudry. I 'll get him right to bed."
Roy stayed in bed for forty-eight hours. His wound was only a slight one and the fever soon subsided. The third day he was sunning himself on the porch. Dave had gone on a little jaunt to a water-hole to shoot hooters for supper. Mrs. Hart was baking bread inside. Her husband had left before daybreak and was not yet back. He was looking for strays, his wife said.
In the family rocking-chair Roy was reading a torn copy of "Martin Chuzzlewit." How it had reached this haven was a question, since it was the only book in the house except a Big Creek bible, as the catalogue of a mail-order house is called in that country. Beaudry resented the frank, insolent observations of Dickens on the manners of Americans. In the first place, the types were not true to life. In the second place—
The young man heard footsteps coming around the corner of the house. He glanced up carelessly—and his heart seemed to stop beating.
He was looking into the barrel of a revolver pointed straight at him. Back of the weapon was the brutal, triumphant face of Meldrum. It was set in a cruel grin that showed two rows of broken, tobacco-stained teeth.
"By God! I 've got you. Git down on yore knees and beg, Mr. Spy. I'm going to blow yore head off in just thirty seconds."
Not in his most unbridled moments had Dickens painted a bully so appalling as this one. This man was a notorious "killer" and the lust of murder was just now on him. Young Beaudry's brain reeled. It was only by an effort that he pulled himself back from the unconsciousness into which he was swimming.