By B. M. Bower
I THE FEVER MANIFESTS ITSELF II TWO MAKE A QUARREL III TEN DOLLARS AND A JOB FOR BUD IV HEAD SOUTH AND KEEP GOING V BUD CANNOT PERFORM MIRACLES VI BUD TAKES TO THE HILLS VII INTO THE DESERT VIII MANY BARREN MONTHS AND MILES IX THE BITE OF MEMORY X EMOTIONS ARE TRICKY THINGS XI THE FIRST STAGES XII MARIE TAKES A DESPERATE CHANCE XIII CABIN FEVER IN ITS WORST FORM XIV CASH GETS A SHOCK XV AND BUD NEVER GUESSED XVI THE ANTIDOTE XVII LOVIN CHILD WRIGGLES IN XVIII THEY HAVE THEIR TROUBLES XIX BUD FACES FACTS XX LOVIN CHILD STRIKES IT RICH XXI MARIE'S SIDE OF IT XXII THE CURE COMPLETE
CHAPTER ONE. THE FEVER MANIFESTS ITSELF
There is a certain malady of the mind induced by too much of one thing. Just as the body fed too long upon meat becomes a prey to that horrid disease called scurvy, so the mind fed too long upon monotony succumbs to the insidious mental ailment which the West calls "cabin fever." True, it parades under different names, according to circumstances and caste. You may be afflicted in a palace and call it ennui, and it may drive you to commit peccadillos and indiscretions of various sorts. You may be attacked in a middle-class apartment house, and call it various names, and it may drive you to cafe life and affinities and alimony. You may have it wherever you are shunted into a backwater of life, and lose the sense of being borne along in the full current of progress. Be sure that it will make you abnormally sensitive to little things; irritable where once you were amiable; glum where once you went whistling about your work and your play. It is the crystallizer of character, the acid test of friendship, the final seal set upon enmity. It will betray your little, hidden weaknesses, cut and polish your undiscovered virtues, reveal you in all your glory or your vileness to your companions in exile—if so be you have any.
If you would test the soul of a friend, take him into the wilderness and rub elbows with him for five months! One of three things will surely happen: You will hate each other afterward with that enlightened hatred which is seasoned with contempt; you will emerge with the contempt tinged with a pitying toleration, or you will be close, unquestioning friends to the last six feet of earth—and beyond. All these things will cabin fever do, and more. It has committed murder, many's the time. It has driven men crazy. It has warped and distorted character out of all semblance to its former self. It has sweetened love and killed love. There is an antidote—but I am going to let you find the antidote somewhere in the story.
Bud Moore, ex-cow-puncher and now owner of an auto stage that did not run in the winter, was touched with cabin fever and did not know what ailed him. His stage line ran from San Jose up through Los Gatos and over the Bear Creek road across the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains and down to the State Park, which is locally called Big Basin. For something over fifty miles of wonderful scenic travel he charged six dollars, and usually his big car was loaded to the running boards. Bud was a good driver, and he had a friendly pair of eyes—dark blue and with a humorous little twinkle deep down in them somewhere—and a human little smiley quirk at the corners of his lips. He did not know it, but these things helped to fill his car.
Until gasoline married into the skylark family, Bud did well enough to keep him contented out of a stock saddle. (You may not know it, but it is harder for an old cow-puncher to find content, now that the free range is gone into history, than it is for a labor agitator to be happy in a municipal boarding house.)
Bud did well enough, which was very well indeed. Before the second season closed with the first fall rains, he had paid for his big car and got the insurance policy transferred to his name. He walked up First Street with his hat pushed back and a cigarette dangling from the quirkiest corner of his mouth, and his hands in his pockets. The glow of prosperity warmed his manner toward the world. He had a little money in the bank, he had his big car, he had the good will of a smiling world. He could not walk half a block in any one of three or four towns but he was hailed with a "Hello, Bud!" in a welcoming tone. More people knew him than Bud remembered well enough to call by name—which is the final proof of popularity the world over.
In that glowing mood he had met and married a girl who went into Big Basin with her mother and camped for three weeks. The girl had taken frequent trips to Boulder Creek, and twice had gone on to San Jose, and she had made it a point to ride with the driver because she was crazy about cars. So she said. Marie had all the effect of being a pretty girl. She habitually wore white middies with blue collar and tie, which went well with her clear, pink skin and her hair that just escaped being red. She knew how to tilt her "beach" hat at the most provocative angle, and she knew just when to let Bud catch a slow, sidelong glance—of the kind that is supposed to set a man's heart to syncopatic behavior. She did not do it too often. She did not powder too much, and she had the latest slang at her pink tongue's tip and was yet moderate in her use of it.
Bud did not notice Marie much on the first trip. She was demure, and Bud had a girl in San Jose who had brought him to that interesting stage of dalliance where he wondered if he dared kiss her good night the next time he called. He was preoccupiedly reviewing the she-said-and-then-I-said, and trying to make up his mind whether he should kiss her and take a chance on her displeasure, or whether he had better wait. To him Marie appeared hazily as another camper who helped fill the car—and his pocket—and was not at all hard to look at. It was not until the third trip that Bud thought her beautiful, and was secretly glad that he had not kissed that San Jose girl.
You know how these romances develop. Every summer is saturated with them the world over. But Bud happened to be a simple-souled fellow, and there was something about Marie—He didn't know what it was. Men never do know, until it is all over. He only knew that the drive through the shady stretches of woodland grew suddenly to seem like little journeys into paradise. Sentiment lurked behind every great, mossy tree bole. New beauties unfolded in the winding drive up over the mountain crests. Bud was terribly in love with the world in those days.
There were the evenings he spent in the Basin, sitting beside Marie in the huge campfire circle, made wonderful by the shadowy giants, the redwoods; talking foolishness in undertones while the crowd sang snatches of songs which no one knew from beginning to end, and that went very lumpy in the verses and very much out of harmony in the choruses. Sometimes they would stroll down toward that sweeter music the creek made, and stand beside one of the enormous trees and watch the glow of the fire, and the silhouettes of the people gathered around it.
In a week they were surreptitiously holding hands. In two weeks they could scarcely endure the partings when Bud must start back to San Jose, and were taxing their ingenuity to invent new reasons why Marie must go along. In three weeks they were married, and Marie's mother—a shrewd, shrewish widow—was trying to decide whether she should wash her hands of Marie, or whether it might be well to accept the situation and hope that Bud would prove himself a rising young man.
But that was a year in the past. Bud had cabin fever now and did not know what ailed him, though cause might have been summed up in two meaty phrases: too much idleness, and too much mother-in-law. Also, not enough comfort and not enough love.
In the kitchen of the little green cottage on North Sixth Street where Bud had built the home nest with much nearly-Mission furniture and a piano, Bud was frying his own hotcakes for his ten o'clock breakfast, and was scowling over the task. He did not mind the hour so much, but he did mortally hate to cook his own breakfast—or any other meal, for that matter. In the next room a rocking chair was rocking with a rhythmic squeak, and a baby was squalling with that sustained volume of sound which never fails to fill the adult listener with amazement. It affected Bud unpleasantly, just as the incessant bawling of a band of weaning calves used to do. He could not bear the thought of young things going hungry.
"For the love of Mike, Marie! Why don't you feed that kid, or do something to shut him up?" he exploded suddenly, dribbling pancake batter over the untidy range.
The squeak, squawk of the rocker ceased abruptly. "'Cause it isn't time yet to feed him—that's why. What's burning out there? I'll bet you've got the stove all over dough again—" The chair resumed its squeaking, the baby continued uninterrupted its wah-h-hah! wah-h-hah, as though it was a phonograph that had been wound up with that record on, and no one around to stop it
Bud turned his hotcakes with a vicious flop that spattered more batter on the stove. He had been a father only a month or so, but that was long enough to learn many things about babies which he had never known before. He knew, for instance, that the baby wanted its bottle, and that Marie was going to make him wait till feeding time by the clock.
"By heck, I wonder what would happen if that darn clock was to stop!" he exclaimed savagely, when his nerves would bear no more. "You'd let the kid starve to death before you'd let your own brains tell you what to do! Husky youngster like that—feeding 'im four ounces every four days—or some simp rule like that—" He lifted the cakes on to a plate that held two messy-looking fried eggs whose yolks had broken, set the plate on the cluttered table and slid petulantly into a chair and began to eat. The squeaking chair and the crying baby continued to torment him. Furthermore, the cakes were doughy in the middle.
"For gosh sake, Marie, give that kid his bottle!" Bud exploded again. "Use the brains God gave yuh—such as they are! By heck, I'll stick that darn book in the stove. Ain't yuh got any feelings at all? Why, I wouldn't let a dog go hungry like that! Don't yuh reckon the kid knows when he's hungry? Why, good Lord! I'll take and feed him myself, if you don't. I'll burn that book—so help me!"
"Yes, you will—not!" Marie's voice rose shrewishly, riding the high waves of the baby's incessant outcry against the restrictions upon appetite imposed by enlightened motherhood. "You do, and see what'll happen! You'd have him howling with colic, that's what you'd do."
"Well, I'll tell the world he wouldn't holler for grub! You'd go by the book if it told yuh to stand 'im on his head in the ice chest! By heck, between a woman and a hen turkey, give me the turkey when it comes to sense. They do take care of their young ones—"
"Aw, forget that! When it comes to sense—-"
Oh, well, why go into details? You all know how these domestic storms arise, and how love washes overboard when the matrimonial ship begins to wallow in the seas of recrimination.
Bud lost his temper and said a good many things should not have said. Marie flung back angry retorts and reminded Bud of all his sins and slights and shortcomings, and told him many of mamma's pessimistic prophecies concerning him, most of which seemed likely to be fulfilled. Bud fought back, telling Marie how much of a snap she had had since she married him, and how he must have looked like ready money to her, and added that now, by heck, he even had to do his own cooking, as well as listen to her whining and nagging, and that there wasn't clean corner in the house, and she'd rather let her own baby go hungry than break a simp rule in a darn book got up by a bunch of boobs that didn't know anything about kids. Surely to goodness, he finished his heated paragraph, it wouldn't break any woman's back to pour a little warm water on a little malted milk, and shake it up.
He told Marie other things, and in return, Marie informed him that he was just a big-mouthed, lazy brute, and she could curse the day she ever met him. That was going pretty far. Bud reminded her that she had not done any cursing at the time, being in his opinion too busy roping him in to support her.
By that time he had gulped down his coffee, and was into his coat, and looking for his hat. Marie, crying and scolding and rocking the vociferous infant, interrupted herself to tell him that she wanted a ten-cent roll of cotton from the drug store, and added that she hoped she would not have to wait until next Christmas for it, either. Which bit of sarcasm so inflamed Bud's rage that he swore every step of the way to Santa Clara Avenue, and only stopped then because he happened to meet a friend who was going down town, and they walked together.
At the drug store on the corner of Second Street Bud stopped and bought the cotton, feeling remorseful for some of the things he had said to Marie, but not enough so to send him back home to tell her he was sorry. He went on, and met another friend before he had taken twenty steps. This friend was thinking of buying a certain second-hand automobile that was offered at a very low price, and he wanted Bud to go with him and look her over. Bud went, glad of the excuse to kill the rest of the forenoon.
They took the car out and drove to Schutzen Park and back. Bud opined that she didn't bark to suit him, and she had a knock in her cylinders that shouted of carbon. They ran her into the garage shop and went deep into her vitals, and because she jerked when Bud threw her into second, Bud suspected that her bevel gears had lost a tooth or two, and was eager to find out for sure.
Bill looked at his watch and suggested that they eat first before they got all over grease by monkeying with the rear end. So they went to the nearest restaurant and had smothered beefsteak and mashed potato and coffee and pie, and while they ate they talked of gears and carburetors and transmission and ignition troubles, all of which alleviated temporarily Bud's case of cabin fever and caused him to forget that he was married and had quarreled with his wife and had heard a good many unkind things which his mother-in-law had said about him.
By the time they were back in the garage and had the grease cleaned out of the rear gears so that they could see whether they were really burred or broken, as Bud had suspected, the twinkle was back in his eyes, and the smiley quirk stayed at the corners of his mouth, and when he was not talking mechanics with Bill he was whistling. He found much lost motion and four broken teeth, and he was grease to his eyebrows—in other words, he was happy.
When he and Bill finally shed their borrowed overalls and caps, the garage lights were on, and the lot behind the shop was dusky. Bud sat down on the running board and began to figure what the actual cost of the bargain would be when Bill had put it into good mechanical condition. New bearings, new bevel gear, new brake, lining, rebored cylinders—they totalled a sum that made Bill gasp.
By the time Bud had proved each item an absolute necessity, and had reached the final ejaculation: "Aw, forget it, Bill, and buy yuh a Ford!" it was so late that he knew Marie must have given up looking for him home to supper. She would have taken it for granted that he had eaten down town. So, not to disappoint her, Bud did eat down town. Then Bill wanted him to go to a movie, and after a praiseworthy hesitation Bud yielded to temptation and went. No use going home now, just when Marie would be rocking the kid to sleep and wouldn't let him speak above a whisper, he told his conscience. Might as well wait till they settled down for the night.
CHAPTER TWO. TWO MAKE A QUARREL
At nine o'clock Bud went home. He was feeling very well satisfied with himself for some reason which he did not try to analyze, but which was undoubtedly his sense of having saved Bill from throwing away six hundred dollars on a bum car; and the weight in his coat pocket of a box of chocolates that he had bought for Marie. Poor girl, it was kinda tough on her, all right, being tied to the house now with the kid. Next spring when he started his run to Big Basin again, he would get a little camp in there by the Inn, and take her along with him when the travel wasn't too heavy. She could stay at either end of the run, just as she took a notion. Wouldn't hurt the kid a bit—he'd be bigger then, and the outdoors would make him grow like a pig. Thinking of these things, Bud walked briskly, whistling as he neared the little green house, so that Marie would know who it was, and would not be afraid when he stepped up on the front porch.
He stopped whistling rather abruptly when he reached the house, for it was dark. He tried the door and found it locked. The key was not in the letter box where they always kept it for the convenience of the first one who returned, so Bud went around to the back and climbed through the pantry window. He fell over a chair, bumped into the table, and damned a few things. The electric light was hung in the center of the room by a cord that kept him groping and clutching in the dark before he finally touched the elusive bulb with his fingers and switched on the light.
The table was set for a meal—but whether it was dinner or supper Bud could not determine. He went into the little sleeping room and turned on the light there, looked around the empty room, grunted, and tiptoed into the bedroom. (In the last month he had learned to enter on his toes, lest he waken the baby.) He might have saved himself the bother, for the baby was not there in its new gocart. The gocart was not there, Marie was not there—one after another these facts impressed themselves upon Bud's mind, even before he found the letter propped against the clock in the orthodox manner of announcing unexpected departures. Bud read the letter, crumpled it in his fist, and threw it toward the little heating stove. "If that's the way yuh feel about it, I'll tell the world you can go and be darned!" he snorted, and tried to let that end the matter so far as he was concerned. But he could not shake off the sense of having been badly used. He did not stop to consider that while he was working off his anger, that day, Marie had been rocking back and forth, crying and magnifying the quarrel as she dwelt upon it, and putting a new and sinister meaning into Bud's ill-considered utterances. By the time Bud was thinking only of the bargain car's hidden faults, Marie had reached the white heat of resentment that demanded vigorous action. Marie was packing a suitcase and meditating upon the scorching letter she meant to write.
Judging from the effect which the letter had upon Bud, it must have been a masterpiece of its kind. He threw the box of chocolates into the wood-box, crawled out of the window by which he had entered, and went down town to a hotel. If the house wasn't good enough for Marie, let her go. He could go just as fast and as far as she could. And if she thought he was going to hot-foot it over to her mother's and whine around and beg her to come home, she had another think coming.
He wouldn't go near the darn place again, except to get his clothes. He'd bust up the joint, by thunder. He'd sell off the furniture and turn the house over to the agent again, and Marie could whistle for a home. She had been darn glad to get into that house, he remembered, and away from that old cat of a mother. Let her stay there now till she was darn good and sick of it. He'd just keep her guessing for awhile; a week or so would do her good. Well, he wouldn't sell the furniture—he'd just move it into another house, and give her a darn good scare. He'd get a better one, that had a porcelain bathtub instead of a zinc one, and a better porch, where the kid could be out in the sun. Yes, sir, he'd just do that little thing, and lay low and see what Marie did about that. Keep her guessing—that was the play to make.
Unfortunately for his domestic happiness, Bud failed to take into account two very important factors in the quarrel. The first and most important one was Marie's mother, who, having been a widow for fifteen years and therefore having acquired a habit of managing affairs that even remotely concerned her, assumed that Marie's affairs must be managed also. The other factor was Marie's craving to be coaxed back to smiles by the man who drove her to tears. Marie wanted Bud to come and say he was sorry, and had been a brute and so forth. She wanted to hear him tell how empty the house had seemed when he returned and found her gone. She wanted him to be good and scared with that letter. She stayed awake until after midnight, listening for his anxious footsteps; after midnight she stayed awake to cry over the inhuman way he was treating her, and to wish she was dead, and so forth; also because the baby woke and wanted his bottle, and she was teaching him to sleep all night without it, and because the baby had a temper just like his father.
His father's temper would have yielded a point or two, the next day, had it been given the least encouragement. For instance, he might have gone over to see Marie before he moved the furniture out of the house, had he not discovered an express wagon standing in front of the door when he went home about noon to see if Marie had come back. Before he had recovered to the point of profane speech, the express man appeared, coming out of the house, bent nearly double under the weight of Marie's trunk. Behind him in the doorway Bud got a glimpse of Marie's mother.
That settled it. Bud turned around and hurried to the nearest drayage company, and ordered a domestic wrecking crew to the scene; in other words, a packer and two draymen and a dray. He'd show 'em. Marie and her mother couldn't put anything over on him—he'd stand over that furniture with a sheriff first.
He went back and found Marie's mother still there, packing dishes and doilies and the like. They had a terrible row, and all the nearest neighbors inclined ears to doors ajar—getting an earful, as Bud contemptuously put it. He finally led Marie's mother to the front door and set her firmly outside. Told her that Marie had come to him with no more than the clothes she had, and that his money had bought every teaspoon and every towel and every stick of furniture in the darned place, and he'd be everlastingly thus-and-so if they were going to strong-arm the stuff off him now. If Marie was too good to live with him, why, his stuff was too good for her to have.
Oh, yes, the neighbors certainly got an earful, as the town gossips proved when the divorce suit seeped into the papers. Bud refused to answer the proceedings, and was therefore ordered to pay twice as much alimony as he could afford to pay; more, in fact, than all his domestic expense had amounted to in the fourteen months that he had been married. Also Marie was awarded the custody of the child and, because Marie's mother had represented Bud to be a violent man who was a menace to her daughter's safety—and proved it by the neighbors who had seen and heard so much—Bud was served with a legal paper that wordily enjoined him from annoying Marie with his presence.
That unnecessary insult snapped the last thread of Bud's regret for what had happened. He sold the furniture and the automobile, took the money to the judge that had tried the case, told the judge a few wholesome truths, and laid the pile of money on the desk.
"That cleans me out, Judge," he said stolidly. "I wasn't such a bad husband, at that. I got sore—but I'll bet you get sore yourself and tell your wife what-for, now and then. I didn't get a square deal, but that's all right. I'm giving a better deal than I got. Now you can keep that money and pay it out to Marie as she needs it, for herself and the kid. But for the Lord's sake, Judge, don't let that wildcat of a mother of hers get her fingers into the pile! She framed this deal, thinking she'd get a haul outa me this way. I'm asking you to block that little game. I've held out ten dollars, to eat on till I strike something. I'm clean; they've licked the platter and broke the dish. So don't never ask me to dig up any more, because I won't—not for you nor no other darn man. Get that."
This, you must know, was not in the courtroom, so Bud was not fined for contempt. The judge was a married man himself, and he may have had a sympathetic understanding of Bud's position. At any rate he listened unofficially, and helped Bud out with the legal part of it, so that Bud walked out of the judge's office financially free, even though he had a suspicion that his freedom would not bear the test of prosperity, and that Marie's mother would let him alone only so long as he and prosperity were strangers.
CHAPTER THREE. TEN DOLLARS AND A JOB FOR BUD
To withhold for his own start in life only one ten-dollar bill from fifteen hundred dollars was spectacular enough to soothe even so bruised an ego as Bud Moore carried into the judge's office. There is an anger which carries a person to the extreme of self-sacrifice, in the subconscious hope of exciting pity for one so hardly used. Bud was boiling with such an anger, and it demanded that he should all but give Marie the shirt off his back, since she had demanded so much—and for so slight a cause.
Bud could not see for the life of him why Marie should have quit for that little ruction. It was not their first quarrel, nor their worst; certainly he had not expected it to be their last. Why, he asked the high heavens, had she told him to bring home a roll of cotton, if she was going to leave him? Why had she turned her back on that little home, that had seemed to mean as much to her as it had to him?
Being kin to primitive man, Bud could only bellow rage when he should have analyzed calmly the situation. He should have seen that Marie too had cabin fever, induced by changing too suddenly from carefree girlhood to the ills and irks of wifehood and motherhood. He should have known that she had been for two months wholly dedicated to the small physical wants of their baby, and that if his nerves were fraying with watching that incessant servitude, her own must be close to the snapping point; had snapped, when dusk did not bring him home repentant.
But he did not know, and so he blamed Marie bitterly for the wreck of their home, and he flung down all his worldly goods before her, and marched off feeling self-consciously proud of his martyrdom. It soothed him paradoxically to tell himself that he was "cleaned"; that Marie had ruined him absolutely, and that he was just ten dollars and a decent suit or two of clothes better off than a tramp. He was tempted to go back and send the ten dollars after the rest of the fifteen hundred, but good sense prevailed. He would have to borrow money for his next meal, if he did that, and Bud was touchy about such things.
He kept the ten dollars therefore, and went down to the garage where he felt most at home, and stood there with his hands in his pockets and the corners of his mouth tipped downward—normally they had a way of tipping upward, as though he was secretly amused at something—and his eyes sullen, though they carried tiny lines at the corners to show how they used to twinkle. He took the ten-dollar bank note from his pocket, straightened out the wrinkles and looked at it disdainfully. As plainly as though he spoke, his face told what he was thinking about it: that this was what a woman had brought him to! He crumpled it up and made a gesture as though he would throw it into the street, and a man behind him laughed abruptly. Bud scowled and turned toward him a belligerent glance, and the man stopped laughing as suddenly as he had begun.
"If you've got money to throw to the birds, brother, I guess I won't make the proposition I was going to make. Thought I could talk business to you, maybe—but I guess I better tie a can to that idea."
Bud grunted and put the ten dollars in his pocket.
"What idea's that?"
"Oh, driving a car I'm taking south. Sprained my shoulder, and don't feel like tackling it myself. They tell me in here that you aren't doing anything now—" He made the pause that asks for an answer.
"They told you right. I've done it."
The man's eyebrows lifted, but since Bud did not explain, he went on with his own explanation.
"You don't remember me, but I rode into Big Basin with you last summer. I know you can drive, and it doesn't matter a lot whether it's asphalt or cow trail you drive over."
Bud was in too sour a mood to respond to the flattery. He did not even grunt.
"Could you take a car south for me? There'll be night driving, and bad roads, maybe—"
"If you know what you say you know about my driving, what's the idea—asking me if I can?"
"Well, put it another way. Will you?"
"You're on. Where's the car? Here?" Bud sent a seeking look into the depths of the garage. He knew every car in there. "What is there in it for me?" he added perfunctorily, because he would have gone just for sake of getting a free ride rather than stay in San Jose over night.
"There's good money in it, if you can drive with your mouth shut. This isn't any booster parade. Fact is—let's walk to the depot, while I tell you." He stepped out of the doorway, and Bud gloomily followed him. "Little trouble with my wife," the man explained apologetically. "Having me shadowed, and all that sort of thing. And I've got business south and want to be left alone to do it. Darn these women!" he exploded suddenly.
Bud mentally said amen, but kept his mouth shut upon his sympathy with the sentiment.
"Foster's my name. Now here's a key to the garage at this address." He handed Bud a padlock key and an address scribbled on a card. "That's my place in Oakland, out by Lake Merritt. You go there to-night, get the car, and have it down at the Broadway Wharf to meet the 11:30 boat—the one the theater crowd uses. Have plenty of gas and oil; there won't be any stops after we start. Park out pretty well near the shore end as close as you can get to that ten-foot gum sign, and be ready to go when I climb in. I may have a friend with me. You know Oakland?"
"Fair to middling. I can get around by myself."
"Well, that's all right. I've got to go back to the city—catching the next train. You better take the two-fifty to Oakland. Here's money for whatever expense there is. And say! put these number plates in your pocket, and take off the ones on the car. I bought these of a fellow that had a smash—they'll do for the trip. Put them on, will you? She's wise to the car number, of course. Put the plates you take off under the seat cushion; don't leave 'em. Be just as careful as if it was a life-and-death matter, will you? I've got a big deal on, down there, and I don't want her spilling the beans just to satisfy a grudge—which she would do in a minute. So don't fail to be at the ferry, parked so you can slide out easy. Get down there by that big gum sign. I'll find you, all right."
"I'll be there." Bud thrust the key and another ten dollars into his pocket and turned away.
"And don't say anything—"
"Do I look like an open-faced guy?"
The man laughed. "Not much, or I wouldn't have picked you for the trip." He hurried down to the depot platform, for his train was already whistling, farther down the yards.
Bud looked after him, the corners of his mouth taking their normal, upward tilt. It began to look as though luck had not altogether deserted him, in spite of the recent blow it had given. He slid the wrapped number plates into the inside pocket of his overcoat, pushed his hands deep into his pockets, and walked up to the cheap hotel which had been his bleak substitute for a home during his trouble. He packed everything he owned—a big suitcase held it all by squeezing—paid his bill at the office, accepted a poor cigar, and in return said, yes, he was going to strike out and look for work; and took the train for Oakland.
A street car landed him within two blocks of the address on the tag, and Bud walked through thickening fog and dusk to the place. Foster had a good-looking house, he observed. Set back on the middle of two lots, it was, with a cement drive sloping up from the street to the garage backed against the alley. Under cover of lighting a cigarette, he inspected the place before he ventured farther. The blinds were drawn down—at least upon the side next the drive. On the other he thought he caught a gleam of light at the rear; rather, the beam that came from a gleam of light in Foster's dining room or kitchen shining on the next house. But he was not certain of it, and the absolute quiet reassured him so that he went up the drive, keeping on the grass border until he reached the garage. This, he told himself, was just like a woman—raising the deuce around so that a man had to sneak into his own place to get his own car out of his own garage. If Foster was up against the kind of deal Bud had been up against, he sure had Bud's sympathy, and he sure would get the best help Bud was capable of giving him.
The key fitted the lock, and Bud went in, set down his suitcase, and closed the door after him. It was dark as a pocket in there, save where a square of grayness betrayed a window. Bud felt his way to the side of the car, groped to the robe rail, found a heavy, fringed robe, and curtained the window until he could see no thread of light anywhere; after which he ventured to use his flashlight until he had found the switch and turned on the light.
There was a little side door at the back, and it was fastened on the inside with a stout hook. Bud thought for a minute, took a long chance, and let himself out into the yard, closing the door after him. He walked around the garage to the front and satisfied himself that the light inside did not show. Then he went around the back of the house and found that he had not been mistaken about the light. The house was certainly occupied, and like the neighboring houses seemed concerned only with the dinner hour of the inmates. He went back, hooked the little door on the inside, and began a careful inspection of the car he was to drive.
It was a big, late-modeled touring car, of the kind that sells for nearly five thousand dollars. Bud's eyes lightened with satisfaction when he looked at it. There would be pleasure as well as profit in driving this old girl to Los Angeles, he told himself. It fairly made his mouth water to look at her standing there. He got in and slid behind the wheel and fingered the gear lever, and tested the clutch and the foot brake—not because he doubted them, but because he had a hankering to feel their smoothness of operation. Bud loved a good car just as he had loved a good horse in the years behind him. Just as he used to walk around a good horse and pat its sleek shoulder and feel the hard muscles of its trim legs, so now he made love to this big car. Let that old hen of Foster's crab the trip south? He should sa-a-ay not!
There did not seem to be a thing that he could do to her, but nevertheless he got down and, gave all the grease cups a turn, removed the number plates and put them under the rear seat cushion, inspected the gas tank and the oil gauge and the fanbelt and the radiator, turned back the trip-mileage to zero—professional driving had made Bud careful as a taxi driver about recording the mileage of a trip—looked at the clock set in the instrument board, and pondered.
What if the old lady took a notion to drive somewhere? She would miss the car and raise a hullabaloo, and maybe crab the whole thing in the start. In that case, Bud decided that the best way would be to let her go. He could pile on to the empty trunk rack behind, and manage somehow to get off with the car when she stopped. Still, there was not much chance of her going out in the fog—and now that he listened, he heard the drip of rain. No, there was not much chance. Foster had not seemed to think there was any chance of the car being in use, and Foster ought to know. He would wait until about ten-thirty, to play safe, and then go.
Rain spelled skid chains to Bud. He looked in the tool box, found a set, and put them on. Then, because he was not going to take any chances, he put another set, that he found hanging up, on the front wheels. After that he turned out the light, took down the robe and wrapped himself in it, and laid himself down on the rear seat to wait for ten-thirty.
He dozed, and the next he knew there was a fumbling at the door in front, and the muttering of a voice. Bud slid noiselessly out of the car and under it, head to the rear where he could crawl out quickly. The voice sounded like a man, and presently the door opened and Bud was sure of it. He caught a querulous sentence or two.
"Door left unlocked—the ignorant hound—Good thing I don't trust him too far—" Some one came fumbling in and switched on the light. "Careless hound—told him to be careful—never even put the robe on the rail where it belongs—and then they howl about the way they're treated! Want more wages—don't earn what they do get—"
Bud, twisting his head, saw a pair of slippered feet beside the running board. The owner of the slippers was folding the robe and laying it over the rail, and grumbling to himself all the while. "Have to come out in the rain—daren't trust him an inch—just like him to go off and leave the door unlocked—" With a last grunt or two the mumbling ceased. The light was switched off, and Bud heard the doors pulled shut, and the rattle of the padlock and chain. He waited another minute and crawled out.
"Might have told me there was a father-in-law in the outfit," he grumbled to himself. "Big a butt-in as Marie's mother, at that. Huh. Never saw my suit case, never noticed the different numbers, never got next to the chains—huh! Regular old he-hen, and I sure don't blame Foster for wanting to tie a can to the bunch."
Very cautiously he turned his flashlight on the face of the automobile clock. The hour hand stood a little past ten, and Bud decided he had better go. He would have to fill the gas tank, and get more oil, and he wanted to test the air in his tires. No stops after they started, said Foster; Bud had set his heart on showing Foster something in the way of getting a car over the road.
Father-in-law would holler if he heard the car, but Bud did not intend that father-in-law should hear it. He would much rather run the gauntlet of that driveway then wait in the dark any longer. He remembered the slope down to the street, and grinned contentedly. He would give father-in-law a chance to throw a fit, next morning.
He set his suit case in the tonneau, went out of the little door, edged around to the front and very, very cautiously he unlocked the big doors and set them open. He went in and felt the front wheels, judged that they were set straight, felt around the interior until his fingers touched a block of wood and stepped off the approximate length of the car in front of the garage, allowing for the swing of the doors, and placed the block there. Then he went back, eased off the emergency brake, grabbed a good handhold and strained forward.
The chains hindered, but the floor sloped to the front a trifle, which helped. In a moment he had the satisfaction of feeling the big car give, then roll slowly ahead. The front wheels dipped down over the threshold, and Bud stepped upon the running board, took the wheel, and by instinct more than by sight guided her through the doorway without a scratch. She rolled forward like a black shadow until a wheel jarred against the block, whereupon he set the emergency brake and got off, breathing free once more. He picked up the block and carried it back, quietly closed the big doors and locked them, taking time to do it silently. Then, in a glow of satisfaction with his work, he climbed slowly into the car, settled down luxuriously in the driver's seat, eased off the brake, and with a little lurch of his body forward started the car rolling down the driveway.
There was a risk, of course, in coasting out on to the street with no lights, but he took it cheerfully, planning to dodge if he saw the lights of another car coming. It pleased him to remember that the street inclined toward the bay. He rolled past the house without a betraying sound, dipped over the curb to the asphalt, swung the car townward, and coasted nearly half a block with the ignition switch on before he pushed up the throttle, let in his clutch, and got the answering chug-chug of the engine. With the lights on full he went purring down the street in the misty fog, pleased with himself and his mission.
CHAPTER FOUR. HEAD SOUTH AND KEEP GOING
At a lunch wagon down near the water front, Bud stopped and bought two "hot dog" sandwiches and a mug of hot coffee boiled with milk in it and sweetened with three cubes of sugar. "O-oh, boy!" he ejaculated gleefully when he set his teeth into biscuit and hot hamburger. Leaning back luxuriously in the big car, he ate and drank until he could eat and drink no more. Then, with a bag of bananas on the seat beside him, he drove on down to the mole, searching through the drizzle for the big gum sign which Foster had named. Just even with the coughing engine of a waiting through train he saw it, and backed in against the curb, pointing the car's radiator toward the mainland. He had still half an hour to wait, and he buttoned on the curtains of the car, since a wind from across the bay was sending the drizzle slantwise; moreover it occurred to him that Foster would not object to the concealment while they were passing through Oakland. Then he listlessly ate a banana while he waited.
The hoarse siren of a ferryboat bellowed through the murk. Bud started the engine, throttled it down to his liking, and left it to warm up for the flight. He ate another banana, thinking lazily that he wished he owned this car. For the first time in many a day his mind was not filled and boiling over with his trouble. Marie and all the bitterness she had come to mean to him receded into the misty background of his mind and hovered there, an indistinct memory of something painful in his life.
A street car slipped past, bobbing down the track like a duck sailing over ripples. A local train clanged down to the depot and stood jangling its bell while it disgorged passengers for the last boat to the City whose wall of stars was hidden behind the drizzle and the clinging fog. People came straggling down the sidewalk—not many, for few had business with the front end of the waiting trains. Bud pushed the throttle up a little. His fingers dropped down to the gear lever, his foot snuggled against the clutch pedal.
Feet came hurrying. Two voices mumbled together. "Here he is," said one. "That's the number I gave him." Bud felt some one step hurriedly upon the running board. The tonneau door was yanked open. A man puffed audibly behind him. "Yuh ready?" Foster's voice hissed in Bud's ear.
"R'aring to go." Bud heard the second man get in and shut the door, and he jerked the gear lever into low. His foot came gently back with the clutch, and the car slid out and away.
Foster settled back on the cushions with a sigh. The other man was fumbling the side curtains, swearing under his breath when his fingers bungled the fastenings.
"Everything all ready?" Foster's voice was strident with anxiety.
"Well, head south—any road you know best. And keep going, till I tell you to stop. How's the oil and gas?"
"Full up. Gas enough for three hundred miles. Extra gallon of oil in the car. What d'yah want—the speed limit through town?"
"Nah. Side streets, if you know any. They might get quick action and telephone ahead."
"Leave it to me, brother."
Bud did not know for sure, never having been pursued; but it seemed to him that a straightaway course down a main street where other cars were scudding homeward would be the safest route, because the simplest. He did not want any side streets in his, he decided—and maybe run into a mess of street-improvement litter, and have to back trail around it. He held the car to a hurry-home pace that was well within the law, and worked into the direct route to Hayward. He sensed that either Foster or his friend turned frequently to look back through the square celluloid window, but he did not pay much attention to them, for the streets were greasy with wet, and not all drivers would equip with four skid chains. Keeping sharp lookout for skidding cars and unexpected pedestrians and street-car crossings and the like fully occupied Bud.
For all that, an occasional mutter came unheeded to his ears, the closed curtains preserving articulate sounds like room walls.
"He's all right," he heard Foster whisper once. "Better than if he was in on it." He did not know that Foster was speaking of him.
"—if he gets next," the friend mumbled.
"Ah, quit your worrying," Foster grunted. "The trick's turned; that's something."
Bud was under the impression that they were talking about father-in-law, who had called Foster a careless hound; but whether they were or not concerned him so little that his own thoughts never flagged in their shuttle-weaving through his mind. The mechanics of handling the big car and getting the best speed out of her with the least effort and risk, the tearing away of the last link of his past happiness and his grief; the feeling that this night was the real parting between him and Marie, the real stepping out into the future; the future itself, blank beyond the end of this trip, these were quite enough to hold Bud oblivious to the conversation of strangers.
At dawn they neared a little village. Through this particular county the road was unpaved and muddy, and the car was a sight to behold. The only clean spot was on the windshield, where Bud had reached around once or twice with a handful of waste and cleaned a place to see through. It was raining soddenly, steadily, as though it always had rained and always would rain.
Bud turned his face slightly to one side. "How about stopping; I'll have to feed her some oil—and it wouldn't hurt to fill the gas tank again. These heavy roads eat up a lot of extra power. What's her average mileage on a gallon, Foster?"
"How the deuce should I know?" Foster snapped, just coming out of a doze.
"You ought to know, with your own car—and gas costing what it does."
"Oh!—ah—what was it you asked?" Foster yawned aloud. "I musta been asleep."
"I guess you musta been, all right," Bud grunted. "Do you want breakfast here, or don't you? I've got to stop for gas and oil; that's what I was asking?"
The two consulted together, and finally told Bud to stop at the first garage and get his oil and gas. After that he could drive to a drug store and buy a couple of thermos bottles, and after that he could go to the nearest restaurant and get the bottles filled with black coffee, and have lunch put up for six people. Foster and his friend would remain in the car.
Bud did these things, revising the plan to the extent of eating his own breakfast at the counter in the restaurant while the lunch was being prepared in the kitchen.
From where he sat he could look across at the muddy car standing before a closed millinery-and-drygoods store. It surely did not look much like the immaculate machine he had gloated over the evening before, but it was a powerful, big brute of a car and looked its class in every line. Bud was proud to drive a car like that. The curtains were buttoned down tight, and he thought amusedly of the two men huddled inside, shivering and hungry, yet refusing to come in and get warmed up with a decent breakfast. Foster, he thought, must certainly be scared of his wife, if he daren't show himself in this little rube town. For the first time Bud had a vagrant suspicion that Foster had not told quite all there was to tell about this trip. Bud wondered now if Foster was not going to meet a "Jane" somewhere in the South. That terrifying Mann Act would account for his caution much better than would the business deal of which Foster had hinted.
Of course, Bud told himself while the waiter refilled his coffee cup, it was none of his business what Foster had up his sleeve. He wanted to get somewhere quickly and quietly, and Bud was getting him there. That was all he need to consider. Warmed and once more filled with a sense of well-being, Bud made himself a cigarette before the lunch was ready, and with his arms full of food he went out and across the street. Just before he reached the car one of the thermos bottles started to slide down under his elbow. Bud attempted to grip it against his ribs, but the thing had developed a slipperiness that threatened the whole load, so he stopped to rearrange his packages, and got an irritated sentence or two from his passengers.
"Giving yourself away like that! Why couldn't you fake up a mileage? Everybody lies or guesses about the gas—"
"Aw, what's the difference? The simp ain't next to anything. He thinks I own it."
"Well, don't make the mistake of thinking he's a sheep. Once he—"
Bud suddenly remembered that he wanted something more from the restaurant, and returned forth-with, slipping thermos bottle and all. He bought two packages of chewing gum to while away the time when he could not handily smoke, and when he returned to the car he went muttering disapproving remarks about the rain and the mud and the bottles. He poked his head under the front curtain and into a glum silence. The two men leaned back into the two corners of the wide seat, with their heads drawn down into their coat collars and their hands thrust under the robe. Foster reached forward and took a thermos bottle, his partner seized another.
"Say, you might get us a bottle of good whisky, too," said Foster, holding out a small gold piece between his gloved thumb and finger. "Be quick about it though—we want to be traveling. Lord, it's cold!"
Bud went into a saloon a few doors up the street, and was back presently with the bottle and the change. There being nothing more to detain them there, he kicked some of the mud off his feet, scraped off the rest on the edge of the running board and climbed in, fastening the curtain against the storm. "Lovely weather," he grunted sarcastically. "Straight on to Bakersfield, huh?"
There was a minute of silence save for the gurgling of liquid running out of a bottle into an eager mouth. Bud laid an arm along the back of his seat and waited, his head turned toward them. "Where are you fellows going, anyway?" he asked impatiently.
"Los An—" the stranger gurgled, still drinking.
"Yuma!" snapped Foster. "You shut up, Mert. I'm running this."
"Yuma. You hit the shortest trail for Yuma, Bud. I'm running this."
Foster seemed distinctly out of humor. He told Mert again to shut up, and Mert did so grumblingly, but somewhat diverted and consoled, Bud fancied, by the sandwiches and coffee—and the whisky too, he guessed. For presently there was an odor from the uncorked bottle in the car.
Bud started and drove steadily on through the rain that never ceased. The big car warmed his heart with its perfect performance, its smooth, effortless speed, its ease of handling. He had driven too long and too constantly to tire easily, and he was almost tempted to settle down to sheer enjoyment in driving such a car. Last night he had enjoyed it, but last night was not to-day.
He wished he had not overheard so much, or else had overheard more. He was inclined to regret his retreat from the acrimonious voices as being premature. Just why was he a simp, for instance? Was it because he thought Foster owned the car? Bud wondered whether father-in-law had not bought it, after all. Now that he began thinking from a different angle, he remembered that father-in-law had behaved very much like the proud possessor of a new car. It really did not look plausible that he would come out in the drizzle to see if Foster's car was safely locked in for the night. There had been, too, a fussy fastidiousness in the way the robe had been folded and hung over the rail. No man would do that for some other man's property, unless he was paid for it.
Wherefore, Bud finally concluded that Foster was not above helping himself to family property. On the whole, Bud did not greatly disapprove of that; he was too actively resentful of his own mother-in-law. He was not sure but he might have done something of the sort himself, if his mother-in-law had possessed a six-thousand-dollar car. Still, such a car generally means a good deal to the owner, and he did not wonder that Foster was nervous about it.
But in the back of his mind there lurked a faint dissatisfaction with this easy explanation. It occurred to him that if there was going to be any trouble about the car, he might be involved beyond the point of comfort. After all, he did not know Foster, and he had no more reason for believing Foster's story than he had for doubting. For all he knew, it might not be a wife that Foster was so afraid of.
Bud was not stupid. He was merely concerned chiefly with his own affairs—a common enough failing, surely. But now that he had thought himself into a mental eddy where his own affairs offered no new impulse toward emotion, he turned over and over in his mind the mysterious trip he was taking. It had come to seem just a little too mysterious to suit him, and when Bud Moore was not suited he was apt to do something about it.
What he did in this case was to stop in Bakersfield at a garage that had a combination drugstore and news-stand next door. He explained shortly to his companions that he had to stop and buy a road map and that he wouldn't be long, and crawled out into the rain. At the open doorway of the garage he turned and looked at the car. No, it certainly did not look in the least like the machine he had driven down to the Oakland mole—except, of course, that it was big and of the same make. It might have been empty, too, for all the sign it gave of being occupied. Foster and Mert evidently had no intention whatever of showing themselves.
Bud went into the drugstore, remained there for five minutes perhaps, and emerged with a morning paper which he rolled up and put into his pocket. He had glanced through its feature news, and had read hastily one front-page article that had nothing whatever to do with the war, but told about the daring robbery of a jewelry store in San Francisco the night before.
The safe, it seemed, had been opened almost in plain sight of the street crowds, with the lights full on in the store. A clever arrangement of two movable mirrors had served to shield the thief—or thieves. For no longer than two or three minutes, it seemed, the lights had been off, and it was thought that the raiders had used the interval of darkness to move the mirrors into position. Which went far toward proving that the crime had been carefully planned in advance. Furthermore, the article stated with some assurance that trusted employees were involved.
Bud also had glanced at the news items of less importance, and had been startled enough—yet not so much surprised as he would have been a few hours earlier—to read, under the caption: DARING THIEF STEALS COSTLY CAR, to learn that a certain rich man of Oakland had lost his new automobile. The address of the bereaved man had been given, and Bud's heart had given a flop when he read it. The details of the theft had not been told, but Bud never noticed their absence. His memory supplied all that for him with sufficient vividness.
He rolled a cigarette, lighted it, and with the paper stuffed carelessly into his pocket he went to the car, climbed in, and drove on to the south, just as matter-of-factly as though he had not just then discovered that he, Bud Moore, had stolen a six-thousand-dollar automobile the night before.
CHAPTER FIVE. BUD CANNOT PERFORM MIRACLES
They went on and on, through the rain and the wind, sometimes through the mud as well, where the roads were not paved. Foster had almost pounced upon the newspaper when he discovered it in Bud's pocket as he climbed in, and Bud knew that the two read that feature article avidly. But if they had any comments to make, they saved them for future privacy. Beyond a few muttered sentences they were silent.
Bud did not care whether they talked or not. They might have talked themselves hoarse, when it came to that, without changing his opinions or his attitude toward them. He had started out the most unsuspecting of men, and now he was making up for it by suspecting Foster and Mert of being robbers and hypocrites and potential murderers. He could readily imagine them shooting him in the back of the head while he drove, if that would suit their purpose, or if they thought that he suspected them.
He kept reviewing his performance in that garage. Had he really intended to steal the car, he would not have had the nerve to take the chances he had taken. He shivered when he recalled how he had slid under the car when the owner came in. What if the man had seen him or heard him? He would be in jail now, instead of splashing along the highway many miles to the south. For that matter, he was likely to land in jail, anyway, before he was done with Foster, unless he did some pretty close figuring. Wherefore he drove with one part of his brain, and with the other he figured upon how he was going to get out of the mess himself—and land Foster and Mert deep in the middle of it. For such was his vengeful desire.
After an hour or so, when his stomach began to hint that it was eating time for healthy men, he slowed down and turned his head toward the tonneau. There they were, hunched down under the robe, their heads drawn into their collars like two turtles half asleep on a mud bank.
"Say, how about some lunch?" he demanded. "Maybe you fellows can get along on whisky and sandwiches, but I'm doing the work; and if you notice, I've been doing it for about twelve hours now without any let-up. There's a town ahead here a ways—"
"Drive around it, then," growled Foster, lifting his chin to stare ahead through the fogged windshield. "We've got hot coffee here, and there's plenty to eat. Enough for two meals. How far have we come since we started?"
"Far enough to be called crazy if we go much farther without a square meal," Bud snapped. Then he glanced at the rumpled newspaper and added carelessly, "Anything new in the paper?"
"No!" Mert spoke up sharply. "Go on. You're doing all right so far—don't spoil it by laying down on your job!"
"Sure, go on!" Foster urged. "We'll stop when we get away from this darn burg, and you can rest your legs a little while we eat."
Bud went on, straight through the middle of the town without stopping. They scurried down a long, dismal lane toward a low-lying range of hills pertly wooded with bald patches of barren earth and rock. Beyond were mountains which Bud guessed was the Tehachapi range. Beyond them, he believed he would find desert and desertion. He had never been over this road before, so he could no more than guess. He knew that the ridge road led to Los Angeles, and he did not want anything of that road. Too many travelers. He swung into a decent-looking road that branched off to the left, wondering where it led, but not greatly caring. He kept that road until they had climbed over a ridge or two and were in the mountains. Soaked wilderness lay all about them, green in places where grass would grow, brushy in places, barren and scarred with outcropping ledges, pencilled with wire fences drawn up over high knolls.
In a sequestered spot where the road hugged close the concave outline of a bushy bluff, Bud slowed and turned out behind a fringe of bushes, and stopped.
"This is safe enough," he announced, "and my muscles are kinda crampy. I'll tell the world that's been quite some spell of straight driving."
Mert grunted, but Foster was inclined to cheerfulness. "You're some driver, Bud. I've got to hand it to you."
Bud grinned. "All right, I'll take it—half of it, anyway, if you don't mind. You must remember I don't know you fellows. Most generally I collect half in advance, on a long trip like this." Foster's eyes opened, but he reached obediently inside his coat. Mert growled inaudible comments upon Bud's nerve.
"Oh, we can't kick, Mert," Foster smoothed him down diplomatically. "He's delivered the goods, so far. And he certainly does know how to put a car over the road. He don't know us, remember!"
Mert grunted again and subsided. Foster extracted a bank note from his bill-folder, which Bud observed had a prosperous plumpness, and held it out to Bud.
"I guess fifty dollars won't hurt your feelings, will it, brother? That's more than you'd charge for twice the trip, but we appreciate a tight mouth, and the hurry-up trip you've made of it, and all that It's special work, and we're willing to pay a special price. See?"
"Sure. But I only want half, right now. Maybe," he added with the lurking twinkle in his eyes, "I won't suit yuh quite so well the rest of the way. I'll have to go b'-guess and b'-gosh from here on. I've got some change left from what I bought for yuh this morning too. Wait till I check up."
Very precisely he did so, and accepted enough from Foster to make up the amount to twenty-five dollars. He was tempted to take more. For one minute he even contemplated holding the two up and taking enough to salve his hurt pride and his endangered reputation. But he did not do anything of the sort, of course; let's believe he was too honest to do it even in revenge for the scurvy trick they had played him.
He ate a generous lunch of sandwiches and dill pickles and a wedge of tasteless cocoanut cake, and drank half a pint or so of the hot, black coffee, and felt more cheerful.
"Want to get down and stretch your legs? I've got to take a look at the tires, anyway. Thought she was riding like one was kinda flat, the last few miles."
They climbed out stiffly into the rain, stood around the car and stared at it and at Bud testing his tires, and walked off down the road for a little distance where they stood talking earnestly together. From the corner of his eye Bud caught Mert tilting his head that way, and smiled to himself. Of course they were talking about him! Any fool would know that much. Also they were discussing the best means of getting rid of him, or of saddling upon him the crime of stealing the car, or some other angle at which he touched their problem.
Under cover of testing the rear wheel farthest from them, he peeked into the tonneau and took a good look at the small traveling bag they had kept on the seat between them all the way. He wished he dared—But they were coming back, as if they would not trust him too long alone with that bag. He bent again to the tire, and when they climbed back into the curtained car he was getting the pump tubing out to pump up that particular tire a few pounds.
They did not pay much attention to him. They seemed preoccupied and not too friendly with each other, Bud thought. Their general air of gloom he could of course lay to the weather and the fact that they had been traveling for about fourteen hours without any rest; but there was something more than that in the atmosphere. He thought they had disagreed, and that he was the subject of their disagreement.
He screwed down the valve cap, coiled the pump tube and stowed it away in the tool box, opened the gas tank, and looked in—and right there he did something else; something that would have spelled disaster if either of them had seen him do it. He spilled a handful of little round white objects like marbles into the tank before he screwed on the cap, and from his pocket he pulled a little paper box, crushed it in his hand, and threw it as far as he could into the bushes. Then, whistling just above his breath, which was a habit with Bud when his work was going along pleasantly, he scraped the mud off his feet, climbed in, and drove on down the road.
The big car picked up speed on the down grade, racing along as though the short rest had given it a fresh enthusiasm for the long road that wound in and out and up and down and seemed to have no end. As though he joyed in putting her over the miles, Bud drove. Came a hill, he sent her up it with a devil-may-care confidence, swinging around curves with a squall of the powerful horn that made cattle feeding half a mile away on the slopes lift their startled heads and look.
"How much longer are you good for, Bud?" Foster leaned forward to ask, his tone flattering with the praise that was in it.
"Me? As long as this old boat will travel," Bud flung back gleefully, giving her a little more speed as they rocked over a culvert and sped away to the next hill. He chuckled, but Foster had settled back again satisfied, and did not notice.
Halfway up the next hill the car slowed suddenly, gave a snort, gasped twice as Bud retarded the spark to help her out, and, died. She was a heavy car to hold on that stiff grade, and in spite of the full emergency brake helped out with the service brake, she inched backward until the rear wheels came full against a hump across the road and held.
Bud did not say anything; your efficient chauffeur reserves his eloquence for something more complex than a dead engine. He took down the curtain on that side, leaned out into the rain and inspected the road behind him, shifted into reverse, and backed to the bottom.
"What's wrong?" Foster leaned forward to ask senselessly.
"When I hit level ground, I'm going to find out," Bud retorted, still watching the road and steering with one hand. "Does the old girl ever cut up with you on hills?"
"Why—no. She never has," Foster answered dubiously.
"Reason I asked, she didn't just choke down from the pull. She went and died on me."
"That's funny," Foster observed weakly.
On the level Bud went into neutral and pressed the self-starter with a pessimistic deliberation. He got three chugs and a backfire into the carburetor, and after that silence. He tried it again, coaxing her with the spark and throttle. The engine gave a snort, hesitated and then, quite suddenly, began to throb with docile regularity that seemed to belie any previous intention of "cutting up."
Bud fed her the gas and took a run at the hill. She went up like a thoroughbred and died at the top, just when the road had dipped into the descent. Bud sent her down hill on compression, but at the bottom she refused to find her voice again when he turned on the switch and pressed the accelerator. She simply rolled down to the first incline and stopped there like a balky mule.
"Thunder!" said Bud, and looked around at Foster. "Do you reckon the old boat is jinxed, just because I said I could drive her as far as she'd go? The old rip ain't shot a cylinder since we hit the top of the hill."
"Maybe the mixture—"
"Yeah," Bud interrupted with a secret grin, "I've been wondering about that, and the needle valve, and the feed pipe, and a few other little things. Well, we'll have a look."
Forthwith he climbed out into the drizzle and began a conscientious search for the trouble. He inspected the needle valve with much care, and had Foster on the front seat trying to start her afterwards. He looked for short circuit. He changed the carburetor adjustment, and Foster got a weary chug-chug that ceased almost as soon as it had begun. He looked all the spark plugs over, he went after the vacuum feed and found that working perfectly. He stood back, finally, with his hands on his hips, and stared at the engine and shook his head slowly twice.
Foster, in the driver's seat, swore and tried again to start it. "Maybe if you cranked it," he suggested tentatively.
"What for? The starter turns her over all right. Spark's all right too, strong and hot. However—" With a sigh of resignation Bud got out what tools he wanted and went to work. Foster got out and stood around, offering suggestions that were too obvious to be of much use, but which Bud made it a point to follow as far as was practicable.
Foster said it must be the carburetor, and Bud went relentlessly after the carburetor. He impressed Foster with the fact that he knew cars, and when he told Foster to get in and try her again, Foster did so with the air of having seen the end of the trouble. At first it did seem so, for the engine started at once and worked smoothly until Bud had gathered his wrenches off the running board and was climbing it, when it slowed down and stopped, in spite of Foster's frantic efforts to keep it alive with spark and throttle.
"Good Glory!" cried Bud, looking reproachfully in at Foster. "What'd yuh want to stop her for?"
"I didn't!" Foster's consternation was ample proof of his innocence. "What the devil ails the thing?"
"You tell me, and I'll fix it," Bud retorted savagely. Then he smoothed his manner and went back to the carburetor. "Acts like the gas kept choking off," he said, "but it ain't that. She's O.K. I know, 'cause I've tested it clean back to tank. There's nothing the matter with the feed—she's getting gas same as she has all along. I can take off the mag. and see if anything's wrong there; but I'm pretty sure there ain't. Couldn't any water or mud get in—not with that oil pan perfect. She looks dry as a bone, and clean. Try her again, Foster; wait till I set the spark about right. Now, you leave it there, and give her the gas kinda gradual, and catch her when she talks. We'll see—"
They saw that she was not going to "talk" at all. Bud swore a little and got out more tools and went after the magneto with grim determination. Again Foster climbed out and stood in the drizzle and watched him. Mert crawled over into the front seat where he could view the proceedings through the windshield. Bud glanced up and saw him there, and grinned maliciously. "Your friend seems to love wet weather same as a cat does," he observed to Foster. "He'll be terrible happy if you're stalled here till you get a tow in somewhere."
"It's your business to see that we aren't stalled," Mert snapped at him viciously. "You've got to make the thing go. You've got to!"
"Well, I ain't the Almighty," Bud retorted acidly. "I can't perform miracles while yuh wait."
"Starting a cranky car doesn't take a miracle," whined Mert. "Anybody that knows cars—"
"She's no business to be a cranky car," Foster interposed pacifically. "Why, she's practically new!" He stepped over a puddle and stood beside Bud, peering down at the silent engine. "Have you looked at the intake valve?" he asked pathetically.
"Why, sure. It's all right. Everything's all right, as far as I can find out." Bud looked Foster straight in the eye—and if his own were a bit anxious, that was to be expected.
"Everything's all right," he added measuredly. "Only, she won't go." He waited, watching Foster's face.
Foster chewed a corner of his lip worriedly. "Well, what do you make of it?" His tone was helpless.
Bud threw out his two hands expressively, and shook his head. He let down the hood, climbed in, slid into the driver's seat, and went through the operation of starting. Only, he didn't start. The self-starter hummed as it spun the flywheel, but nothing whatever was elicited save a profane phrase from Foster and a growl from Mert. Bud sat back flaccid, his whole body owning defeat.
"Well, that means a tow in to the nearest shop," he stated, after a minute of dismal silence. "She's dead as a doornail."
Mert sat back in his corner of the seat, muttering into his collar. Foster looked at him, looked at Bud, looked at the car and at the surrounding hills. He seemed terribly depressed and at the same time determined to make the best of things. Bud could almost pity him—almost.
"Do you know how far it is back to that town we passed?" he asked Bud spiritlessly after a while. Bud looked at the speedometer, made a mental calculation and told him it was fifteen miles. Towns, it seemed, were rather far apart in this section of the country.
"Well, let's see the road map. How far is it to the next one?"
"Search me. They didn't have any road maps back there. Darned hick burg."
Foster studied awhile. "Well, let's see if we can push her off the middle of the road—and then I guess we'll have to let you walk back and get help. Eh, Mert? There's nothing else we can do—"
"What yuh going to tell 'em?" Mert demanded suspiciously.
Bud permitted a surprised glance to slant back at Mert. "Why, whatever you fellows fake up for me to tell," he said naively. "I know the truth ain't popular on this trip, so get together and dope out something. And hand me over my suit case, will yuh? I want some dry socks to put on when I get there."
Foster very obligingly tilted the suit case over into the front seat. After that he and Mert, as by a common thought impelled, climbed out and went over to a bushy live oak to confer in privacy. Mert carried the leather bag with him.
By the time they had finished and were coming back, Bud had gone through his belongings and had taken out a few letters that might prove awkward if found there later, two pairs of socks and his razor and toothbrush. He was folding the socks to stow away in his pocket when they got in.
"You can say that we're from Los Angeles, and on our way home," Foster told him curtly. It was evident to Bud that the two had not quite agreed upon some subject they had discussed. "That's all right. I'm Foster, and he's named Brown—if any one gets too curious."
"Fine. Fine because it's so simple. I'll eat another sandwich, if you don't mind, before I go. I'll tell a heartless world that fifteen miles is some little stroll—for a guy that hates walkin'."
"You're paid for it," Mert growled at him rudely.
"Sure, I'm paid for it," Bud assented placidly, taking a bite. They might have wondered at his calm, but they did not. He ate what he wanted, took a long drink of the coffee, and started off up the hill they had rolled down an hour or more past.
He walked briskly, and when he was well out of earshot Bud began to whistle. Now and then he stopped to chuckle, and sometimes he frowned at an uncomfortable thought. But on the whole he was very well pleased with his present circumstances.
CHAPTER SIX. BUD TAKES TO THE HILLS
In a little village which he had glimpsed from the top of a hill Bud went into the cluttered little general store and bought a few blocks of slim, evil smelling matches and a couple of pounds of sliced bacon, a loaf of stale bread, and two small cans of baked beans. He stuffed them all into the pocket of his overcoat, and went out and hunted up a long-distance telephone sign. It had not taken him more than an hour to walk to the town, for he had only to follow a country road that branched off that way for a couple of miles down a valley. There was a post office and the general store and a couple of saloons and a blacksmith shop that was thinking of turning into a garage but had gone no further than to hang out a sign that gasoline was for sale there. It was all very sordid and very lifeless and altogether discouraging in the drizzle of late afternoon. Bud did not see half a dozen human beings on his way to the telephone office, which he found was in the post office.
He called up San Francisco, and got the chief of police's office on the wire, and told them where they would find the men who had robbed that jewelry store of all its diamonds and some other unset jewels. Also he mentioned the car that was stolen, and that was now stalled and waiting for some kind soul to come and give it a tow.
He speedily had all the attention of the chief, and having thought out in advance his answers to certain pertinent questions, he did not stutter when they were asked. Yes, he had been hired to drive the ear south, and he had overheard enough to make him suspicious on the way. He knew that they had stolen the car. He was not absolutely sure that they were the diamond thieves but it would be easy enough to find out, because officers sent after them would naturally be mistaken for first aid from some garage, and the cops could nab the men and look into that grip they were so careful not to let out of their sight.
"Are you sure they won't get the car repaired and go on?" It was perfectly natural that the chief should fear that very thing.
"No chance!" Bud chuckled into the 'phone. "Not a chance in the world, chief. They'll be right there where I left 'em, unless some car comes along and gives 'em a tow. And if that happens you'll be able to trace 'em." He started to hang up, and added another bit of advice. "Say, chief, you better tell whoever gets the car, to empty the gas tank and clean out the carburetor and vacuum feed—and she'll go, all right! Adios."
He hung up and paid the charge hurriedly, and went out and down a crooked little lane that led between bushes to a creek and heavy timber. It did not seem to him advisable to linger; the San Francisco chief of police might set some officer in that village on his trail, just as a matter of precaution. Bud told himself that he would do it were he in the chief's place. When he reached the woods along the creek he ran, keeping as much as possible on thick leaf mold that left the least impression. He headed to the east, as nearly as he could judge, and when he came to a rocky canyon he struck into it.
He presently found himself in a network of small gorges that twisted away into the hills without any system whatever, as far as he could see. He took one that seemed to lead straightest toward where the sun would rise next morning, and climbed laboriously deeper and deeper into the hills. After awhile he had to descend from the ridge where he found himself standing bleakly revealed against a lowering, slaty sky that dripped rain incessantly. As far as he could see were hills and more hills, bald and barren except in certain canyons whose deeper shadows told of timber. Away off to the southwest a bright light showed briefly—the headlight of a Santa Fe train, he guessed it must be. To the east, which he faced, the land was broken with bare hills that fell just short of being mountains. He went down the first canyon that opened in that direction, ploughing doggedly ahead into the unknown.
That night Bud camped in the lee of a bank that was fairly well screened with rocks and bushes, and dined off broiled bacon and bread and a can of beans with tomato sauce, and called it a meal. At first he was not much inclined to take the risk of having a fire big enough to keep him warm. Later in the night he was perfectly willing to take the risk, but could not find enough dry wood. His rainproofed overcoat became quite soggy and damp on the inside, in spite of his efforts to shield himself from the rain. It was not exactly a comfortable night, but he worried through it somehow.
At daylight he opened another can of beans and made himself two thick bean sandwiches, and walked on while he ate them slowly. They tasted mighty good, Bud thought—but he wished fleetingly that he was back in the little green cottage on North Sixth Street, getting his own breakfast. He felt as though he could drink about four cups of coffee; and as to hotcakes—! But breakfast in the little green cottage recalled Marie, and Marie was a bitter memory. All the more bitter because he did not know where burrowed the root of his hot resentment. In a strong man's love for his home and his mate was it rooted, and drew therefrom the wormwood of love thwarted and spurned.
After awhile the high air currents flung aside the clouds like curtains before a doorway. The sunlight flashed out dazzlingly and showed Bud that the world, even this tumbled world, was good to look upon. His instincts were all for the great outdoors, and from such the sun brings quick response. Bud lifted his head, looked out over the hills to where a bare plain stretched in the far distance, and went on more briskly.
He did not meet any one at all; but that was chiefly because he did not want to meet any one. He went with his ears and his eyes alert, and was not above hiding behind a clump of stunted bushes when two horsemen rode down a canyon trail just below him. Also he searched for roads and then avoided them. It would be a fat morsel for Marie and her mother to roll under their tongues, he told himself savagely, if he were arrested and appeared in the papers as one of that bunch of crooks!
Late that afternoon, by traveling steadily in one direction, he topped a low ridge and saw an arm of the desert thrust out to meet him. A scooped gully with gravelly sides and rocky bottom led down that way, and because his feet were sore from so much sidehill travel, Bud went down. He was pretty well fagged too, and ready to risk meeting men, if thereby he might gain a square meal. Though he was not starving, or anywhere near it, he craved warm food and hot coffee.
So when he presently came upon two sway-backed burros that showed the sweaty imprint of packsaddles freshly removed, and a couple of horses also sweat roughened, he straightway assumed that some one was making camp not far away. One of the horses was hobbled, and they were all eating hungrily the grass that grew along the gully's sides. Camp was not only close, but had not yet reached suppertime, Bud guessed from the well-known range signs.
Two or three minutes proved him right. He came upon a man just driving the last tent peg. He straightened up and stared at Bud unblinkingly for a few seconds.
"Howdy, howdy," he greeted him then with tentative friendliness, and went on with his work. "You lost?" he added carefully. A man walking down out of the barren hills, and carrying absolutely nothing in the way of camp outfit, was enough to whet the curiosity of any one who knew that country. At the same time curiosity that became too apparent might be extremely unwelcome. So many things may drive a man into the hills—but few of them would bear discussion with strangers.
"Yes. I am, and I ain't." Bud came up and stood with his hands in his coat pockets, and watched the old fellow start his fire.
"Yeah—how about some supper? If you am, and you ain't as hungry as you look—"
"I'll tell the world I am, and then some. I ain't had a square meal since yesterday morning, and I grabbed that at a quick-lunch joint. I'm open to supper engagements, brother."
"All right. There's a side of bacon in that kyack over there. Get it out and slice some off, and we'll have supper before you know it. We will," he added pessimistically, "if this dang brush will burn."
Bud found the bacon and cut according to his appetite. His host got out a blackened coffeepot and half filled it with water from a dented bucket, and balanced it on one side of the struggling fire. He remarked that they had had some rain, to which Bud agreed. He added gravely that he believed it was going to clear up, though—unless the wind swung back into the storm quarter. Bud again professed cheerfully to be in perfect accord. After which conversational sparring they fell back upon the little commonplaces of the moment.
Bud went into a brush patch and managed to glean an armful of nearly dry wood, which he broke up with the axe and fed to the fire, coaxing it into freer blazing. The stranger watched him unobtrusively, critically, pottering about while Bud fried the bacon.
"I guess you've handled a frying pan before, all right," he remarked at last, when the bacon was fried without burning.
Bud grinned. "I saw one in a store window once as I was going by," he parried facetiously. "That was quite a while back."
"Yeah. Well, how's your luck with bannock? I've got it all mixed."
"Dump her in here, ole-timer," cried Bud, holding out the frying pan emptied of all but grease. "Wish I had another hot skillet to turn over the top."
"I guess you've been there, all right," the other chuckled. "Well, I don't carry but the one frying pan. I'm equipped light, because I've got to outfit with grub, further along."
"Well, we'll make out all right, just like this." Bud propped the handle of the frying pan high with a forked stick, and stood up. "Say, my name's Bud Moore, and I'm not headed anywhere in particular. I'm just traveling in one general direction, and that's with the Coast at my back. Drifting, that's all. I ain't done anything I'm ashamed of or scared of, but I am kinda bashful about towns. I tangled with a couple of crooks, and they're pulled by now, I expect. I'm dodging newspaper notoriety. Don't want to be named with 'em at all." He, spread his hands with an air of finality. "That's my tale of woe," he supplemented, "boiled down to essentials. I just thought I'd tell you."
"Yeah. Well, my name's Cash Markham, and I despise to have folks get funny over it. I'm a miner and prospector, and I'm outfitting for a trip for another party, looking up an old location that showed good prospects ten years ago. Man died, and his wife's trying to get the claim relocated. Get you a plate outa that furtherest kyack, and a cup. Bannock looks about done, so we'll eat."
That night Bud shared Cash Markham's blankets, and in the morning he cooked the breakfast while Cash Markham rounded up the burros and horses. In that freemasonry of the wilderness they dispensed with credentials, save those each man carried in his face and in his manner. And if you stop to think of it, such credentials are not easily forged, for nature writes them down, and nature is a truth-loving old dame who will never lead you far astray if only she is left alone to do her work in peace.
It transpired, in the course of the forenoon's travel, that Cash Markham would like to have a partner, if he could find a man that suited. One guessed that he was fastidious in the matter of choosing his companions, in spite of the easy way in which he had accepted Bud. By noon they had agreed that Bud should go along and help relocate the widow's claim. Cash Markham hinted that they might do a little prospecting on their own account. It was a country he had long wanted to get into, he said, and while he intended to do what Mrs. Thompson had hired him to do, still there was no law against their prospecting on their own account. And that, he explained, was one reason why he wanted a good man along. If the Thompson claim was there, Bud could do the work under the supervision of Cash, and Cash could prospect.
"And anyway, it's bad policy for a man to go off alone in this part of the country," he added with a speculative look across the sandy waste they were skirting at a pace to suit the heavily packed burros. "Case of sickness or accident—or suppose the stock strays off—it's bad to be alone."
"Suits me fine to go with you," Bud declared. "I'm next thing to broke, but I've got a lot of muscle I can cash in on the deal. And I know the open. And I can rock a gold-pan and not spill out all the colors, if there is any—and whatever else I know is liable to come in handy, and what I don't know I can learn."
"That's fair enough. Fair enough," Markham agreed. "I'll allow you wages on the Thompson job' till you've earned enough to balance up with the outfit. After that it'll be fifty-fifty. How'll that be, Bud?"
"Fair enough—fair enough," Bud retorted with faint mimicry. "If I was all up in the air a few days ago, I seem to have lit on my feet, and that's good enough for me right now. We'll let 'er ride that way."
And the twinkle, as he talked, was back in his eyes, and the smiley quirk was at the corner of his lips.
CHAPTER SEVEN. INTO THE DESERT
If you want to know what mad adventure Bud found himself launched upon, just read a few extracts from the diary which Cash Markham, being a methodical sort of person, kept faithfully from day to day, until he cut his thumb on a can of tomatoes which he had been cutting open with his knife. Alter that Bud kept the diary for him, jotting down the main happenings of the day. When Cash's thumb healed so that he could hold a pencil with some comfort, Bud thankfully relinquished the task. He hated to write, anyway, and it seemed to him that Cash ought to trust his memory a little more than he did.
I shall skip a good many days, of course—though the diary did not, I assure you.
First, there was the outfit. When they had outfitted at Needles for the real trip, Cash set down the names of all living things in this wise:
Outfit, Cassius B. Markham, Bud Moore, Daddy a bull terrier, bay horse, Mars, Pete a sorrel, Ed a burro, Swayback a jinny, Maude a jack, Cora another jinny, Billy a riding burro & Sways colt & Maude colt a white mean looking little devil.
Sat. Apr. 1.
Up at 7:30. Snowing and blowing 3 ft. of snow on ground. Managed to get breakfast & returned to bed. Fed Monte & Peter our cornmeal, poor things half frozen. Made a fire in tent at 1:30 & cooked a meal. Much smoke, ripped hole in back of tent. Three burros in sight weathering fairly well. No sign of let up everything under snow & wind a gale. Making out fairly well under adverse conditions. Worst weather we have experienced.
Up at 7 A.M. Fine & sunny snow going fast. Fixed up tent & cleaned up generally. Alkali flat a lake, can't cross till it dries. Stock some scattered, brought them all together.
Up 7 A.M. Clear & bright. Snow going fast. All creeks flowing. Fine sunny day.
Up 6 A.M. Clear & bright. Went up on divide, met 3 punchers who said road impassable. Saw 2 trains stalled away across alkali flat. Very boggy and moist.
Up 5 A.M. Clear & bright. Start out, on Monte & Pete at 6. Animals traveled well, did not appear tired. Feed fine all over. Plenty water everywhere.
Not much like Bud's auto stage, was it? But the very novelty of it, the harking back to old plains days, appealed to him and sent him forward from dull hardship to duller discomfort, and kept the quirk at the corners of his lips and the twinkle in his eyes. Bud liked to travel this way, though it took them all day long to cover as much distance as he had been wont to slide behind him in an hour. He liked it—this slow, monotonous journeying across the lean land which Cash had traversed years ago, where the stark, black pinnacles and rough knobs of rock might be hiding Indians with good eyesight and a vindictive temperament. Cash told him many things out of his past, while they poked along, driving the packed burros before them. Things which he never had set down in his diary—things which he did not tell to any one save his few friends.
But it was not always mud and rain and snow, as Cash's meager chronicle betrays.
Up at sunrise. Monte & Pete gone leaving no tracks. Bud found them 3 miles South near Indian village. Bud cut his hair, did a good job. Prospector dropped into camp with fist full of good looking quartz. Stock very thirsty all day. Very hot Tied Monte & Pete up for night.
Up 5:30. Fine, but hot. Left 7:30. Pete walked over a sidewinder & Bud shot him ten ft. in air. Also prior killed another beside road. Feed as usual, desert weeds. Pulled grain growing side of track and fed plugs. Water from cistern & R.R. ties for fuel. Put up tent for shade. Flies horrible.
Up 4. Left 6. Feed as usual. Killed a sidewinder in a bush with 3 shots of Krag. Made 21 m. today. R.R. ties for fuel Cool breeze all day.
Up at sunrise. Bud washed clothes. Tested rock. Fine looking mineral country here. Dressed Monte's withers with liniment greatly reducing swelling from saddle-gall. He likes to have it dressed & came of his own accord. Day quite comfortable.
Up 4. Left 6:30 over desert plain & up dry wash. Daddy suffered from heat & ran into cactus while looking for shade. Got it in his mouth, tongue, feet & all over body. Fixed him up poor creature groaned all evening & would not eat his supper. Poor feed & wood here. Water found by digging 2 ft. in sand in sandstone basins in bed of dry wash. Monte lay down en route. Very hot & all suffered from heat.
Bud has sick headache. Very hot so laid around camp all day. Put two blankets up on tent pols for sun break. Daddy under weather from cactus experience. Papago Indian boy about 18 on fine bay mare driving 4 ponies watered at our well. Moon almost full, lots of mocking birds. Pretty songs.
Up 7:30 Bud some better. Day promises hot, but slight breeze. White gauzy clouds in sky. Daddy better. Monte & Pete gone all day. Hunted twice but impossible to track them in this stony soil Bud followed trail, found them 2 mi. east of here in flat sound asleep about 3 P.M. At 6 went to flat 1/4 mi. N. of camp to tie Pete, leading Monte by bell strap almost stepped on rattler 3 ft. long. 10 rattles & a button. Killed him. To date, 1 Prairie rattler, 3 Diamond back & 8 sidewinders, 12 in all. Bud feels better.
At 4 A. M. Bud woke up by stock passing camp. Spoke to me who half awake hollered, "sic Daddy!" Daddy sicced 'em & they went up bank of wash to right. Bud swore it was Monte & Pete. I went to flat & found M. & P. safe. Water in sink all gone. Bud got stomach trouble. I threw up my breakfast. Very hot weather. Lanced Monte's back & dressed it with creoline. Turned them loose & away they put again.
Soon after this they arrived at the place where Thompson had located his claim. It was desert, of course, sloping away on one side to a dreary waste of sand and weeds with now and then a giant cactus standing gloomily alone with malformed lingers stretched stiffly to the staring blue sky. Behind where they pitched their final camp—Camp 48, Cash Markham recorded it in his diary—the hills rose. But they were as stark and barren almost as the desert below. Black rock humps here and there, with ledges of mineral bearing rock. Bushes and weeds and dry washes for the rest, with enough struggling grass to feed the horses and burros if they rustled hard enough for it.
They settled down quietly to a life of grinding monotony that would have driven some men crazy. But Bud, because it was a man's kind of monotony, bore it cheerfully. He was out of doors, and he was hedged about by no rules or petty restrictions. He liked Cash Markham and he liked Pete, his saddle horse, and he was fond of Daddy who was still paying the penalty of seeking too carelessly for shade and, according to Cash's record, "getting it in his mouth, tongue, feet & all over body." Bud liked it—all except the blistering heat and the "side-winders" and other rattlers. He did not bother with trying to formulate any explanation of why he liked it. It may have been picturesque, though picturesqueness of that sort is better appreciated when it is seen through the dim radiance of memory that blurs sordid details. Certainly it was not adventurous, as men have come to judge adventure.
Life droned along very dully. Day after day was filled with petty details. A hill looks like a mountain if it rises abruptly out of a level plain, with no real mountains in sight to measure it by. Here's the diary to prove how little things came to look important because the days held no contrasts. If it bores you to read it, think what it must have been to live it.
Up at 6:30 Baked till 11. Then unrigged well and rigged up an incline for the stock to water. Bud dressed Daddy's back. Stock did not come in all morning, but Monte & Pete came in before supper. Incline water shaft does not work. Prospected & found 8 ledges. Bud found none.