The Big Sky

The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie Jr. Read Free Book Online

Book: The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie Jr. Read Free Book Online
Authors: A. B. Guthrie Jr.
Tags: Fiction, Westerns
picked up the jug.
    "Pap says so."
    "Funny. The cap and ball was hit on more than twenty years ago -by a preacher, so they say. But I suppose there's still more flintlocks. The old boys argue that this kind jumps off the mark."
    "It ain't so -with this rifle, anyhow."
    "No. I say again, it's a beautiful piece."
    "Old Ben Mills made it hisself, at Harrodsburg. She's true as could be. That rabbit, I took the eye right out of him. I reckon you heard of old Ben Mills?"
    Bedwell turned his face toward Boone. It was a sharp face, lined around the eyes and mouth, as if smiles had worn creases in it. "I reckon I have! So Mills made itl Mills himself!"
    "Yep, it's a Mills." Boone took the jug that Bedwell held out to him.
    "You ought to take good care of it, friend. You ought to keep it cleaned and shined up and be careful nobody steals it. There's men would give a pretty lot for that rifle."
    Boone said, "I watch over it, all right."
    Bedwell had taken off his dove coat and let it lie back of him. Boone saw its lining lift and flutter raggedly as the breeze touched it. His gaze swam forward to the beaver hat which Bedwell had placed between his feet, and saw that it was worn and soiled. Bedwell sat with his knees up, the tails of his cutaway spread back from his rump. His legs in their snug casings seemed spindly for the rest of him.
    "So," Bedwell said, "you're bound west."
    "To St. Lo. first, and then on."
    "Here's to good luck!" The jug gurgled as Boone took it. "I aim to trap beaver and shoot buffalo and fight Injuns,
maybe. I kin shoot, all right."
    "I'd take you for a marksman." The bare head moved and the creases deepened into a smile.
    "I taken the eye right out of that rabbit."
    "Light was bad, too, huh?"
    "Dark-like. But I got him through the eye."
    "You'll do." Bedwell got up and put more wood on the fire. "You'll make a mountain man."
    The night closed in. There was the point of fire and Bedwell vague and swimming in its flicker, and close about them the wall of darkness. Boone let himself back and put his head on his arm.
    "Haven't you got a blanket, friend?"
    "No," Boone heard himself say, "nary blanket." He heard the whisper of the tight legs, heard the boots cracking the twigs, heard the small noises of movement. The earth swung with him. Then there were the noises again, the whisper, the crackling, and Bedwell's voice. "You use my blanket." Boone felt it fan the air against his cheek. It settled over him. "I'll keep the fire going. With it and my coat I'll be warm aplenty. Here's your rifle, friend. Best to keep it by your side. How about a nightcap?"
    Boone awakened sick and trembling with cold in the first flush of the morning. He felt for the blanket and, not finding it, sat up slowly. The fire was a gray ash, in which the cook-rock had fallen and lay half buried. The breeze rolled a tuft of rabbit hair across it. He tasted his mouth and made a face and brought his fingers to his eyes to rub the film away. He looked around for Bedwell. He must have gone to see about his horse, he thought. His hand felt at his side, felt and reached out and felt again. Each finger carried its small sharp message to him. Without looking, he knew that Old Sure Shot was gone.
    Chapter VI
    Boone got up quickly. The earth tilted and fell back and tilted again, and he bent over and put his hands to his head and closed his eyes to steady himself. He went over the ground, from creek to campfire to bedding spot, and finally to the place where Bedwell had picketed his horse.
    He found rope marks on a small elm there and saw the grass trampled by hoofs and flattened where the horse had lain. From apile of manure a faint steam lifted.
    He went back to the stream and lay down and drank, feeling the cool touch of the water to the pit of his stomach. He got up slowly, keeping his uneasy balance with the earth, and suddenly his stomach tightened like a squeezed bag. Holding to a bush, he hung over and vomited. The night's whisky was foul in

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