TONIGHT they were later than usual in coming, and only Bud and Butts put in an appearance.
“Where’s the dude with the panties?” inquired Bud, noting Marvel’s absence.
“He is out looking for a horse’s tooth,” explained Dora.
“The poor nut,” said Butts disgustedly, “hoofin’ it around at night looking for a horse’s tooth.”
“He is not on foot and he started out in the daytime,” said Kay White. “Don’t you think someone ought to go out and look for him, Cory?”
“What’s he ridin’?” asked Bud.
“The sorrel colt,” said Blaine.
Butts whistled. “Sure we better go out and look for him,” he said, “and we better take a basket or some blotting paper.”
“Why?” asked Kay.
“That there sorrel’s probably killed the dude by this time and spread him all over the landscape,” explained Butts. “He sure is some ornery bronc.”
“Oh, Cory, you shouldn’t have let him take a bad horse like that,” said Kay.
“I warned him,” said Blaine, “but he wanted to take the horse anyway.”
“You sure better send out a search party, Cory,” said Butts. “That colt has the makin’s of a good horse in him. It would be too bad to lose him.”
“Here comes someone now,” exclaimed Dora Crowell; and as all eyes turned in the direction of the road they saw a horseman approaching.
He rode up to the veranda. “Is Butts here?” he asked, and they recognized the voice as Marvel’s.
“Yea,” said Butts. “What do you want?”
Marvel dismounted. “Take my horse, my man,” he said.
If there is anything that will wreck a cowman’s equanimity it is to be treated like a menial; and no carefully studied insult would have been more effective than the use of “my man” in addressing the puncher; but Cory Blaine, who was sitting next to Butts, nudged him with his elbow before the man could make an angry reply; and Butts arose, boiling with rage, and taking the reins from Marvel led the colt away toward the stables.
“Where you been so long?” asked Blaine.
“I guess I must have got lost,” exclaimed Marvel.
“Did you have any trouble with the colt?” asked Bud.
“Not a bit,” said Marvel. “He was just like a kitten.”
“Didn’t he pitch at all?” asked Blaine.
“Not a pitch,” replied Marvel.
“And you didn’t find a horse’s tooth?” asked Birdie.
“No,” replied Marvel, “I didn’t; but I’m going to get Bud to take me down tomorrow to where he knows there is a dead horse. Will you do that, Bud?”
“What dead horse?” demanded Blaine.
“I heard somebody say something about a horse dropping dead here a few weeks ago,” explained Bruce.
“Sure I’ll take you down tomorrow,” said Bud.
“You must be hungry,” said Kay. “You haven’t had any supper; have you?”
“It won’t hurt me any to miss a meal,” said Bruce.
“Come on, I’ll get you a sandwich,” said Kay. “I guess the cook won’t murder me.” She arose and led the way into the kitchen.
“This is mighty good of you, Kay,” said Marvel; “but I didn’t want to put anyone to any trouble. I should not have been late.”
The darkness hid the scowl upon Blaine’s face. He muttered something under his breath.
“What was that, Cory?” asked Dora.
“There’s something fishy about that bozo,” said Blaine, recalling Marvel’s statement that the colt had not pitched with him.
“Oh, any tenderfoot might get lost here after dark,” contended the girl.
“Tenderfoot, my hat!” mumbled Blaine.
“The colt would have come back by himself, if he’d given him his head,” said Bud. “He’s raised right here on the ranch.”
By the time Kay and Bruce had returned from the kitchen, Butts had come back from the stables. “You must have rid that horse pretty hard, Mister,” he said to Marvel.
“Must I?” inquired Bruce.
“That’s what I said, Mister,” snapped Butts in an ugly tone.
“I heard you, my man,” replied Marvel. “I aint deaf.”
Butts started to rise. It was evident to him, as it was to some of the others, that Marvel was deliberately baiting him. His voice had been soft and low, but he had put just the right inflection on certain words to raise them to the dignity of insults.
Blaine laid a hand upon Butts’ leg. “Sit down,” he said in a low voice.
“I aint goin’ to let no ”
“Sit down,” said Blaine sharply, “and shut up.” And Butts did as he was bid.
“What’s new?” asked Marvel. “It seems almost like I’ve been gone a week.”
“I got a letter from my father,” said Kay. “He may be along here any day.”
“Is that so,” said Bruce. “Well that surely is nice.”
“When did he say he’d get here?” asked Cory.
“He didn’t say exactly; in fact, he didn’t know when he could start; but from what he did write I imagine that he may be here any time now.”
“Well, he’d wire you, wouldn’t he?” asked Blaine; “so that we could meet the train.”
“He is not coming by train,” replied Kay. “He’s driving on.”
“Oh,” said Blaine; and then, “When was the letter dated?”
“About four days ago. You see it came while we were on the lion hunt.”
“How long would it take him to drive here?” persisted Cory.
“He likes to take it easy; so I imagine it would take him three or four days.”
“Oh, by the way,” exclaimed Dora Crowell, “there’s a friend of mine coming up, Cory. I want you to save a room for her.”
“’When is she coming?” asked Blaine.
“Well, I don’t know that, either. She said she would come just as soon as she could get away. It’s Olga Gunderstrom, you know. You heard me speak of her before. She said she had a few more matters to settle up; and then she could get away for a week or ten days, and she wants to come up here with me and rest. I imagine it has been pretty hard for her.”
“The poor child,” said Miss Pruell sympathetically.
“Did she say whether they found the murderer yet or not?” asked Cory.
“No, but they are pretty sure now that it was Buck Mason. They can’t find trace of him anywhere.”
“Is that the only reason they got for suspecting him?” asked Marvel.
“What more reason do you want?” asked Butts. “Who else could it have been?”
“Well, maybe you’re right,” said Marvel; “but that’s sort of slim evidence to hang a man on.”
“They have more than that,” said Dora.
“Oh, have they?” asked Marvel.
“An Indian turned up two or three weeks after the murder who said that he saw Buck Mason riding away from Mr. Gunderstrom’s cabin late in the afternoon of the murder.”
“I guess they got that guy hogtied all right,” said Butts.
“It certainly looks like it,” agreed Marvel.
“There aint no doubt but what he done it,” said Butts.
“They are trying to find the man who telephoned the sheriff’s office and gave the clew,” said Dora. “They can’t imagine who it could have been; but now they are commencing to think that Mason was one of the gang that has been robbing banks and paymasters all around there for the last year, and that one of his own men, who had it in for him, tipped off the sheriff.”
“That certainly sounds like a good theory,” said Marvel, “but how are they going to find the fellow that called up?”
“That’s where the trouble comes in,” said Dora. “Olga wrote me that the only clew that they have to him is that an old man by the name of Cage, who received the message, said that the man talked as though he had a harelip.”
“That’s not much of a clew,” said Blaine. “There’s a lot of men in the country with harelips.”
“Well, if they’re going to hang all the men with harelips and all the men that haven’t been seen around Comanche County for the last three or four weeks, they’ve got some wholesale job cut out for themselves,” said Bruce with a laugh. “When did you say Miss Gunderstrom was coming, Dora?”
“I may get a telegram most any time,” replied Dora.
“I’ll save a room for her,” said Blaine. “I’m expecting a party of four or five on from Detroit, but we’ll make room some way for Kay’s father and Miss Gunderstrom.”
Birdie Talbot suppressed a yawn. “My gracious,” she said, “I’m nearly dead. I think we should all go to bed.”
“That’s the first really bright remark anyone has made this evening,” said Dora.
The suggestion seemed to meet with general approval; and as the guests rose to go to their rooms, Cory motioned to Marvel. “I want to see you a minute,” he said. “See you fellows in the morning,” he said to Butts and Bud; and then when the two were alone, he turned back to Marvel. “How much longer you figurin’ on bein’ here?” he asked.
“I like it first rate here,” replied Marvel. “I was planning on staying awhile.”
“Well, I got all these people comin’ now,” said Blaine, “and I’ll be needin’ your room pronto.”
“When do you expect the people from Detroit?” asked Marvel.
“They may be along any day now,” replied Blaine.
“Then I’ll wait ’till they come,” said Marvel; and turning, he entered the house.
“Wait,” said Blaine, “there’s one more thing.”
Marvel turned in the doorway. “What is it?” he asked.
“I’m sort of responsible for these girls here,” said Blaine. “I got to look after ’em. It’s just hands off, do you understand?”
“I hear, but I don’t understand,” replied Marvel.
“If you know what’s good for your health, you will understand,” snapped Cory.
For a moment the two men stood looking at each other, and the air was charged with hostility. Then Blaine walked down the porch to the entrance to his own room, and Bruce Marvel disappeared within the interior of the ranch house.
“So,” thought Marvel, as he entered his room and lighted his oil lamp, “Mr. Blaine is jealous. I’m glad that it isn’t anything else. He sure had me guessing though at first.”
After he had taken off his outer clothing, Marvel opened his trunk and extracted a suit of silk pajamas. They were brand new and had never been worn. He examined them critically as he had upon several other similar occasions and then he replaced them carefully in the trunk and slipped into bed in his underclothing. “I suppose I’ll have to learn to wear ’em some day,” he murmured; “but, Lord, what if the house would get on fire when a fellow was wearing things like that?” And he was still shuddering at the thought as he fell asleep, to dream of a blonde head and blue denim overalls.
Late that night a fire burned upon the summit of a rocky hill below the ranch house, but none of the sleeping inmates saw it, and by morning it was only cold ashes.