The Overlanders
this time they won’t.” He turned back for his horse, finding hers waiting beside it. Moon was pretty far down. Cook threw the rest of the coffee into the fire; dark closed around them while he anchored the pot to one of his saddle strings. They could see each other, that was about all. “Let’s go,” Grete said, and they swung into their saddles.
    • • •
    Near dawn they came into even rougher country. These past two hours had been anything but easy. The black lava rock was gone. This was a region of steep slants and gravel grown to greasewood. Occasionally cedars lifted gnarled branches against the paling stars. Riding the drag, along with Patch, the pack horses, and Barney Olds, Sary began to breathe easier in spite of the roughness of their travel; she began to hope Grete had been wrong about Bill.
    Now and again they dipped into dry washes and plowed through deep sand until rocks or brush forced them out into sight with a clatter of scrambling hoofs as they climbed. Sometimes dust like a swirling fog closed the view, flour-thick and abrasive, until a downdraft of air from cooler heights returned blurred vision.
    Farraday, up at the front now riding point, scanned the terrain closely in the brightening light, studying each lingering tatter of shadow hovering like smoke beneath paloverde and cat-claw, strengthening pitahaya columns and the low-lying studdings of mescal and Spanish bayonet. Behind such cover Bill’s men could be, tawny wolves of the chaparral more deadly than Apaches.
    There was no security in this land. It was a country of violence filled with wildness and terror, with deceptive sleepiness, the rip and blast of gunfire. Nothing was quite as it looked — nor so mild. It scoured the softness out of a man.
    But the thought of her would not leave him. Beset as he was by the flight of time, harried by worries about Crotton and the ever-present dangers surrounding this drive, there was scant room in his itinerary for this kind of thing; yet she was clearer in his head than Swallowfork. He never had to turn to see her. Bright in memory was the way she had of holding herself, still and straight, when she looked at him, the light breaking across the sorrel surface of her hair. He remembered too well, he knew bitterly. This was what lay in the back of every man’s head — the picture of some woman.
    It was now gray day with the last of the shadow pockets breaking up, funneling away in misty stringers as morning advanced with the strides of a giant. The air turned colder with a sparkle of frost, sending the crew hunching into their windbreakers, this swift building up of light bringing out in sharpest focus every scarp and scallop of the ragged rims. Grete, standing up in his stirrups, peered around till his glance picked out Idaho. “Bring them on!” He swung a hurrying arm.
    He pulled off to the side to let them pass, narrowing his eyes against the churned-up dust, irascibly swearing. Crotton by this time could have that meadow so commanded with guns the devil himself would be hard put to find toe-room. This was just one of the things gnawing Grete; another was the fellow who’d taken Grete’s place with Crotton — a man whose memory might cause more trouble than all of Swallowfork’s gunslingers. And Sary, Grete thought bitterly, had been right about these mares. Most of them already were showing sore-footed. They would have to lay over at Willcox. Someone would be sure to carry word to Crotton.
    Bays, buckskins, sorrels, and roans, with a scattering of grays and blacks, stumbled past, pushed by the calls of the rope-swinging riders. They were traveling a natural trough through these hills, twisting and turning enough to break a snake’s back. Now their dust would be flung up like a flag. He cursed that too.
    Suddenly the sun was knifing into their backs, hurling its golden flood over everything, driving their shadows grotesquely ahead, miles long where they crossed a straight open. At once the

Similar Books

Love in Disguise

Nina Coombs Pykare

Looking Good Dead

Peter James

Island of the Lost

Joan Druett


Jessamyn Hope