and those of smaller animals, maybe antelope. When they had ridden out a mile from the cottonwoods he turned in a slow arc toward the south, scanning the country.
"You keep your eyes open," he advised Barda, "and if you see anything movin', anything at all, you tell me. I'll be studying the ground."
For an hour they rode. He saw occasional places where the grass was bent over or pressed down, but nothing he was able to identify. How could a man follow a trail in such a place? Barda after a long time said, despairing, "Will we ever find them?"
"We will. I just hope it isn't too late."
"What can we do?"
"You just let that be, until we find them. What we do will be depending on the situation." That was one of the things his uncle used to say. It all depended on the situation. You learned that in the Army.
The sky was scattered with puffballs of cloud. The day was hot and still. The cottonwoods had faded into the distance behind. Cris Mayo drew rein, removed his derby and wiped the sweat from his brow. Barda came up beside him. Her cheeks were flushed with warmth.
He looked the country over carefully. The prairie seemed level but was not, for it slanted upward to the west, ever so slightly. One could see it in the streams, or rather, the little troughs where rain had run off.
The renegades would have camped near water. He started the colonel's horse again and rode east and south, studying the horizon. He followed a run--off pattern for something like two miles before he found a stream.
It was dry, with caked mud in the bottom. He turned down the stream bed and walked the horses along. He was half asleep when suddenly they came upon tracks. Several horses, ridden at a good speed judging by their marks, had crossed the dry stream bed, and the trail seemed to have been used more than once.
He had no confidence in shooting from the back of a horse, but he took the rifle from the scabbard and held it in his hands for the comfort of it.
The trail, once seen, was not hard to follow. They had gone scarcely a mile when it turned sharply into a fold in the hills. Following a dim path now, probably made by buffalo, they went further, and suddenly the fold opened into a flat, grassy bottom. Down the middle of this was a line of trees. Already in the open, there was nothing for it but to proceed, and they did. The trail dipped down into a stream bed and almost at once came to a deserted camp.
Cris Mayo swung down. "Stay where you are," he said, "and hold my horse."
Leaving her, he walked on to examine the campsite. By the trampled earth and grass and the scuffed scars upon two trees he found where horses had been tied to a rope running between the trees. Judging by the distance and the condition of the ground, there must have been at least a dozen horses, and probably half again that many.
Say eighteen men. It was quite a few, and there might be even more.
There had been three fires... maybe six men to the fire if they did their own fixing. It needed no more than common sense to take him that far. Eighteen was about right, then.
He found three curious circles on the ground that he studied for several minutes before it dawned on him that the men had stacked their rifles, and the broken circles were the marks of the rifle butts in the dust.
He looked next at the fires. Taking up a charred stick, he stirred one of them. A few coals, still faintly alive, appeared. Last night, probably. Certainly no earlier than yesterday afternoon. He looked around, trying to learn more, but he could not.
"Get down, miss, and we'll rest a bit. The horses need it, and so do we." He led both animals to the small stream for a drink, then picketed them on the grass of the meadow just beyond the trees.
The sun was getting high, and the day was hot. She Stretched out on the grass in the shade and he walked about, studying the camp. They had broiled meat over the fire on sharpened sticks, and they had eaten well, for he saw some pieces thrown away and