So much for his past. As for his present. His only friends were treacherous savages and some few settlers and cow-boys. They would none of them miss him if he were to be laid under a pile of stones with a board cross at his head anywhere by the roadside, in the plains or among the hills. Some of them were honest men, some were desperadoes; none were his equals, not one understood the things that meant life to him. He had no abode, not so much as the coyote over there on the top of the little swell. He made his living in divers and uncertain ways. Sometimes he sent pictures to the East, studies of the things about him.[Pg 165] They sold well. Sometimes he was a scout or a guide. Sometimes he prospected and located claims with more or less good luck. Sometimes he hired himself out as a cow-boy at round-ups, as he was doing now. On the whole, he was, from the financial standpoint, more of a success than from any other.
Cairness sat across him and held a revolver to his mouth. The life of the plains teaches agility of various sorts, but chiefly in the matter of drawing a six-shooter. "You fired the corrals," Cairness gasped.
A mule put its head over the wall of a corral and pricked interrogative ears. Then two children, as unmistakably Angles as those of Gregory the Great, came around the corner, hand in hand, and stood looking at him. And at length a man, unmistakably an Angle too, for all his top boots and flannel shirt and cartridge belt, came striding down to the gate. He opened it and said, "Hullo, Cairness, old chap," and Cairness said, "How are you, Kirby?" which answered to the falling upon each other's neck and weeping, of a more effusive race. The man, still running, dodged from the road and started across country. Cairness wheeled and followed him. It was open ground, with not so much as a scrub oak or a rock in sight. The thick darkness offered the only chance of escape. But Cairness had chased yearlings in nights as black, and had brought them back to the herd. Down by the creek where the trees were thick, there would have been a good chance for escape, almost a certainty indeed, but there was little here. The man dodged again. It was just to that very thing that the pony had been trained. Habit got the better of stampede with it. It, too, dodged sharply.
They halted in front of him, and the woman swayed again, so much that he ran to her side. But she righted herself fiercely. Cairness was dismounted and was beside her, too, in an instant. He lifted her from the horse, pulled her down, more or less; she was much too ungainly to handle with any grace.
The friend swore earnestly that he would take what he was told to.