That made a difference! Not so easy to reach Sunk Creek in good order by the 30th! Balaam had drifted three sunrises behind the progress of the month. Days look alike, and often lose their very names in the quiet depths of Cattle Land. The horses were not even here at the ranch. Balaam was ready to be very disagreeable now. Suddenly he perceived the date of the Judge’s letter. He held it out to the Virginian, and struck the paper.

“What’s your idea in bringing this here two weeks late?” he said.

Now, when he had struck that paper, Shorty looked at the Virginian. But nothing happened beyond a certain change of light in the Southerner’s eyes. And when the Southerner spoke, it was with his usual gentleness and civility. He explained that the letter had been put in his hands just now by Shorty.

“Oh,” said Balaam. He looked at Shorty. How had he come to be a messenger? “You working for the Sunk Creek outfit again?” said he.

“No,” said Shorty.

Balaam turned to the Virginian again. “How do you expect me to get those horses to Sunk Creek by the 30th?” The Virginian levelled a lazy eye on Balaam. “I ain’ doin’ any expecting,” said he. His native dialect was on top to-day. “The Judge has friends goin’ to arrive from New Yawk for a trip across the Basin,” he added. “The hawsses are for them.” Balaam grunted with displeasure, and thought of the sixty or seventy days since he had told the Judge he would return the horses at once. He looked across at Shorty seated in the shade, and through his uneasy thoughts his instinct irrelevantly noted what a good pony the youth rode. It was the same animal he had seen once or twice before. But something must be done. The Judge’s horses were far out on the big range, and must be found and driven in, which would take certainly the rest of this day, possibly part of the next.

Balaam called to one of his men and gave some sharp orders, emphasizing details, and enjoining haste, while the Virginian leaned slightly against his horse, with one arm over the saddle, hearing and understanding, but not smiling outwardly. The man departed to saddle up for his search on the big range, and Balaam resumed the unhitching of his team.

“So you’re not working for the Sunk Creek outfit now?” he inquired of Shorty. He ignored the Virginian. “Working for the Goose Egg?” “No,” said Shorty.

“Sand Hill outfit, then?” “No,” said Shorty.

Balaam grinned. He noticed how Shorty’s yellow hair stuck through a hole in his hat, and how old and battered were Shorty’s overalls. Shorty had been glad to take a little accidental pay for becoming the bearer of the letter which he had delivered to the Virginian. But even that sum was no longer in his possession. He had passed through Drybone on his way, and at Drybone there had been a game of poker. Shorty’s money was now in the pocket of Trampas. But he had one valuable possession in the world left to him, and that was his horse Pedro.

“Good pony of yours,” said Balaam to him now, from across Butte Creek. Then he struck his own horse in the jaw because he held back from coming to the water as the other had done.

“Your trace ain’t unhitched,” commented the Virginian, pointing.

Balaam loosed the strap he had forgotten, and cut the horse again for consistency’s sake. The animal, bewildered, now came down to the water, with its head in the air, and snuffing as it took short, nervous steps.

The Virginian looked on at this, silent and sombre. He could scarcely interfere between another man and his own beast. Neither he nor Balaam was among those who say their prayers. Yet in this omission

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