Read CHAPTER XX - SOMEBODY NEW TURNS UP of The Free Range , free online book, by Francis William Sullivan, on ReadCentral.com.

Utterly exhausted with his day’s riding and the stress of his other labors, Bud Larkin, driving his captive, arrived at the sheep camp shortly before sundown. Faint with hunger for he had not eaten since morning he turned Stelton over to the eager sheepmen who rode out to meet him.

Things had gone well that day with the drive, for the animals, under pressure, had made fifteen miles. The cattle, at first hard to manage, had finally been induced to lead and flank the march, but neither they nor the sheep had grazed much.

When Larkin arrived they had just reached a stream and had been separated from the sheep that both might drink untainted water. Sims had set his night watchers, and these were beginning to circle the herd. The sheep were bedding down on a near-by rise of ground.

Larkin, having eaten, cooled and bathed himself in the stream and returned to the camp for rest. Shortly thereafter a single horseman, laden with a bulky apparatus, was seen approaching from a distance. Immediately men mounted and rode out to meet him, and returned with him to camp when he had proved himself harmless and expressed a desire to remain all night in the camp.

It was Ed Skidmore, the photographer, who had just completed a profitable day at Red Tarken’s ranch, the M Square.

Larkin, who was lying on the ground, heard the excitement as the newcomer rode into camp, and got up to inspect him. Skidmore had dismounted, and had his back turned when Bud approached, but suddenly turned so that the two came face to face.

As their eyes met, both started back as though some terrible thing had come between them.

“Bud! My Heavens!” cried Skidmore, turning pale under his tan.

“Lester!” was all that Larkin said as he stared with starting eyes and sagging jaw at the man before him. Then, as one in a dream, he put out his hand, and the other, with a cry of joy, seized and wrung it violently.

For a moment the two stood thus looking amazedly at each other, while the sheepmen, suddenly stricken into silence, gazed curiously at the episode. Then, one by one, they turned and walked away, leaving the two together.

It was Bud who found his voice first.

“What under heaven are you doing out here, Lester?” he asked at last.

“Earning a living making pictures,” returned the other with a short laugh. “It must be quite a shock to you to see me actually working.”

“I can’t deny it,” said Bud as he smiled a bit. “But when did you come out?”

“Six months after you did.”

“But why on earth didn’t you let me know? I would have given you a job on the ranch.”

“That’s just why I didn’t let you know. I didn’t want a job on the ranch. I wanted to do something for myself. I concluded I had been dependent on other people about long enough. I’m not mushy, or converted, or anything like that, Bud, but I figured that when the governor died and left me without a cent I had deserved everything I got and was a disgrace to the family and myself.”

“Same with me, Lester,” acknowledged Bud. “If you had only told me how you felt about things we could have struck out here together.”

“And you with all the money? I guess not,” and Lester spoke bitterly.

“I’d have divided with you in a minute, if you had talked to me the way you’re doing now. We always used to divide things when we were kids, you know.”

“That’s square of you, Bud, but I really don’t want the money now. I’m making a good go of my pictures; I don’t owe anybody, and I haven’t an enemy that I know of. What have you done with your money?”

Larkin turned around and motioned toward the thousands of sheep dotted over the hills.

“There’s all my available cash. Of course there was some in securities I couldn’t realize on by the terms of father’s will, and if I go to the wall I can always get enough to live on out of that. But my idea is to get a living out of this, and just now I am in the very devil of a fix.”

“How?”

Bud narrated briefly the stormy events that had led up to this final stroke by which he hoped to defeat the cowmen and save his own fortune; and as he did so he observed his brother closely.

Lester Larkin was three years younger than Bud, was smaller, and had grown up with a weak and vacillating character. The youngest child in the wealthy Larkin family, he had been spoiled and indulged until when a youth in his teens he had become the despair of them all.

Even now, despite the tanned look of health he had acquired, it could still be seen that he was by no means the strong, virile young man that Bud had become. His face was rather delicate than rugged in outline; his brown hair was inclined to curl, and his blue eyes were large and beautiful.

The sensitive mouth was still wilful, though character was beginning to show there. He was, in fact, a grand mistake in upbringing. With all the instincts of a lover of beauty he had been raised by a couple of dull parents to a rule-of-thumb existence that started in a business office late one morning and ended in a cafe early the next.

It was the kind of life to which the poor laborer looks up with consuming envy, and which makes him what he thinks is a socialist. Given a couple of sharp pencils and some blocks of paper, along with sympathy and encouragement, Lester Larkin might have become a writer or an artist of no mean ability.

But the elder Larkin, believing that what had made one generation would make another, had started young Lester on a high stool in his office with a larger percentage of dire results than he had ever imagined could accrue to the employment of one individual. With the high stool went a low wage and a lot of wholesome admonitions and this, after a boyhood and early youth spent in the very lap of luxury.

Thus, when the father died, the boy, at nineteen, knew more ways to spend a dollar than his father had at thirty-nine, and less ways to earn it than his father at nine. So much for Lester.

“Well, if I can help you in any way, Bud, let me know,” he said when his brother had finished his story of the range war that was now reaching its climax. “I rather imagine I would like a jolly good fight for a change.”

“I don’t want you to get hurt, kid,” replied Bud, smiling at the other’s enthusiasm, “but I have an idea that I can use you somehow. Just stick around for a day or two and I’ll show you how to ‘walk’ sheep so your eyes’ll pop out.”

“It’s purely a matter of business with me,” rejoined Lester. “Pictures of seventy men at five dollars apiece, selling only one to each, will be three hundred and fifty dollars. I think I’ll stick.”

“Suppose I get ’em all in one group so you can’t take individuals, then what will you do?”

“I’ll make more money still,” retorted the other promptly. “I’ll sell seventy copies of the same picture at five apiece and only have to do one developing. What are you tryin’ to do, kid me?”

Bud laughed and gave up the attempt to confuse the boy.

During the next two days Bud saw more sheep-walking than he had seen since going into the business, and Lester amused himself profitably by taking pictures of the embarrassed plainsmen, many of whom would not believe it possible that an exact image of them could be reproduced in the twinkling of an eye, but who were willing to pay the price if the feat were accomplished.

When he had filled all his private orders, the picturesqueness of the life and outfit with which he traveled so appealed to Lester that he made nearly a hundred plates depicting the daily events of the drive and the camp. And these hundred plates, three-quarters of which were excellent, form by far the best collection of actual Western scenes of that time and are still preserved in the old Larkin ranch house in Montana.

At the end of the two days the Gray Bull River was still twenty miles away and would require an equal amount of time to be reached and crossed. During this period Bud Larkin knew nothing whatever of the fate of Jimmie Welsh and his companions, believing that they still held the repentant cowmen captive, and that the punchers in pursuit were still searching the bad lands for them an almost endless task.

He was in a state of high good humor that his plans had carried out so well, and looked forward with almost feverish impatience to the glorious hour when the last of his bawling mérinos should stand dripping, but safe, on the other side of the Gray Bull. The nearer approach to the stream brought a greater nervous tension and scouts at a five-mile radius rode back and forth all day searching for any signs of spying cowpunchers.

The thought that he might effect the passage without hindrance or loss was stretching the improbable in Bud’s mind, and he devoted much time every day to an inspection of his supplies and accouterments.