THE GHOST HORSES
by Dave Creek
Dr. Allenby would never have believed that people would try to kill him, no matter how valuable the treasure he carried.
Heıd dedicated his life to facing tough facts, though, and the shots echoing across the cold Montana badlands told him he and his companions were about to be murdered.
One rider was directly behind Allenby's wagon, with another on his left. So far they were only shooting into the air, but that was enough to spook both horses pulling the wagon, sending them out of control across the broken, rock-strewn ground. Pull as he might on the reins, the horses refused to slow. It was all Allenby could do to keep from being bounced off his seat as he futilely attempted to steer the beasts around the largest of the obstacles ahead.
The scout Allenby had hired, William Jones, had already proven himself useless. At the first sign of trouble, heıd quickly drawn his revolver--then fallen off his horse as it reared at the sound of gunfire.
Arthur Heath, the teacher sitting to Allenby's right, was yelping in fear, and a quick glance back into the wagon's uncovered bed revealed that the cook (named, inevitably, "Cookie,") was desperately trying to restrain their precious cargo. Cookie was succeeding, though, only in being thrown helplessly around the rickety prairie schooner's bed, as if he were himself cargo rather than a passenger.
Allenby saw the big boulder ahead, and pulled on the reins with all his strength.
To no effect. The left front wheel splintered. Allenby was tossed out of the wagon. He hit the ground and tumbled. The rushing hooves of one rider's horse almost bashed in his head. He looked up just in time to see Heath jump out of the wagon seconds before it flipped over. The boxes containing their cargo spilled across the hard winter landscape, some bursting open. Allenby raised himself up on hands and knees, but couldn't see what became of Cookie in the mishap.
The horses' energy seemed to be spent--it was too difficult for them to drag the wagon, now lying on its side. They calmed, shaking their heads and huffing.
One of the riders circled the wagon, pointing his gun at Heath, who struggled to his feet, tried to raise his hands, then fell back to the ground. Allenby couldn't spare a thought for the teacher, or for Cookie now, though--the other rider was reining in his horse just inches from him, throwing a shower of dust and rock into his face. Allenby covered his eyes with the back of one hand, his other hand quivering from exertion and fear.
To Allenby, this man was of a type heıd seen too often since coming to Montana from back east. Dirty, unshaven, far too enamored of the power of his revolver--hatred warred with fear as his dominant emotion.
The rider spoke in a husky growl that combined equal parts humor and contempt. "I reckon I don't hafta kill you, Doc. You think a bullet in both knees might get the idea across?"
When the expected shot came, though, it was from behind Allenby, and the rider dropped his gun and grabbed his shoulder, staring in disbelief at the blood flowing between his fingers. Had the scout Jones caught up with them?
He hadnıt. It was an unfamiliar voice who shouted, "That'll be enough!" Allenby turned to see a tall grizzled man, fiftyish, whoıd ridden up unnoticed. Though the newcomer wore no badge, Allenby felt he had the demeanor of a lawman--someone confident in his own abilities and in the force of the law to back him up.
The other rider was already showing his true mettle; he was hightailing it for the horizon, abandoning his partner. The newcomer addressed the wounded man. "You'd best be at his heels, friend. I'm of no mind to deal with a prisoner. Take this as a lesson well learned."
The wounded man spat through gritted teeth, grasped the reins with his good hand, and spurred his horse onward.
The newcomer dismounted. "You okay, mister?" he asked, taking Allenby's elbow and helping his to his feet.
"I'm not sure," Allenby said. "I've barely had a chance to give it a thought. Nothing serious, I believe. Just badly bruised." Allenby hoped, though, that no one noticed his knees still quaked and that he fought to keep his voice steady. Such violence! How dare those men try to harm them, possibly kill them, for the sake of science! He wished he'd been armed himself, had been able to see those men in his own gunsights--and those feelings disturbed him.
"There are three more of us," he said. Then he noticed a rider heading across the badlands at a right angle to the two fleeing gunmen. Jones. "Make that two more of us. Our scout, it seems, has what I believe they call in this part of the country a 'yellow streak.'" Allenby and the newcomer walked toward the wreckage of the wagon. "Heath! Are you injured?"
Heath raised himself up enough to wave. "Just my ankle, I think. I can walk on it, though. What about Cookie?"
Allenby and the newcomer found the cook lying immobile amidst a pile of splintered boxes. He checked Cookie's pulse at his neck. "He's still with us. Just knocked cold." Cookie stirred at Allenby's touch. "What happened?"
"You were very lucky, is what happened," Allenby said. "I can't tell if the boxes broke your fall or vice versa. We were all very lucky, in fact. We could all have broken our necks. And our savior arrived just in time."
Allenby shook the newcomer's hand. "Dr. George Allenby. Yale University. That's Arthur Heath, he's a high school teacher who's helping me out. You've met Cookie."
"Name's Foster Burnett. Yale, huh? So you ain't a medical doc?"
"I look for old things. Very old things, to find out how people used to live--and what kind of animals used to be around."
"Well, to each his own, Doc. I was lucky too, you know. I see now you three are the decent folk, but I had no way of knowing when I saw them two chasinı you. For all I knew, you was thieves."
Heath said, "They're the thieves, or wouldıve been if they'd had the chance."
Burnett stared at the boxes and their contents scattered across the ground. "If it ain't too personal, I'm damned curious why those fellers would be interested in boxes of bones."
Allenby smiled. "Those are dinosaur bones."
"What the hell--beggin' your pardon--is a di-nar-sar?"
"One of those very old animals I was telling you about." He kneeled and picked up one of the specimens, a fragment of leg bone. "They were giant reptiles, some of them bigger than the largest elephant!"
"It's true. We were closing down a dig we had about twenty miles back, and taking these last finds along to our next camp."
"There's more of you fellers around?"
"Yes, sir, about a dozen of us. And this isn't the first time people have fought over dinosaur bones. Haven't you heard about the rivalry between the scientists O.C. Marsh and Edward Cope?"
"Can't say as I have."
"They once were friends--but recently they've begun to compete with each other--including in the very place we're traveling to--the Judith River Badlands. I fear I cannot compete directly with either of those gentlemen--they have long purses. I must make do without much money, while they are excessively bankrolled. I believe those men that attacked us were hired thugs--whether hired by Cope or Marsh I have no way of knowing." Allenby clenched his fists in anger at the thought of those men, and what they had tried to do. He was a scientist, not a gunslinger!
Burnett shook his head in wonderment. "Seems like a lot of trouble to go through for a mess of bones."
Heath said, "I agree. I'm all for the advancement of knowledge. But this isnıt worth a man's life."
Allenby looked at the wreckage of the wagon. "We're too involved now, though. We're better off headed forward to our encampment than all the way back east. Heath, Cookie--do you think the wagon looks like we could repair it?"
Cookie had managed to stand. He rubbed his head and squinted in pain. "I reckon so, Doc Allenby. There was a couple tools in back. If'n they ain't spilled out, we could start workin' while it's still a little light. I betcha we could get it goin' by mid-mornin' tomorrow."
"Let's get started, then. Mr. Burnett, I'd like to invite you to share a meal with us, if you're willing to help fix it. Bacon and beans, but--"
"Hell--beggin' your pardon again, Doc--I'll do ya better than that. I'll look after all our horses, then go yonder a bit and snag us a rabbit. Just don't you worry."
Burnett was true to his word, and more. He brought back not just one, but two rabbits for their evening meal. The next morning, he helped finish the job of repairing the wagon, then of reloading its cargo of bones. Once that was done, the three men resumed their positions of the day before--Allenby driving, Heath next to him, Cookie in back. Burnett climbed onto his horse and said, "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to see more of these di-nar-sars."
"You're more than welcome, Mr. Burnett." Allenby Allenby told Burnett of his feeling that he had once been a lawman.
"Well, you done figured me out," Burnett said. "I was the sheriff at Junction City, Kansas until a few weeks ago. The natural truth of it is, I got tired of it. I thought I'd come out west and see what else I could make of myself. Might start a farm or a blacksmith's. Then I run across you fellows and don't even think about it when I see you bein' shot at."
"Well, Mr. Burnett," Allenby said, "I only hope I can give you a tenth, a hundredth, of the pleasure showing you our digs that you gave us when you rescued us."
* * *
The Judith River Badlands was a maze of canyons and ravines near the mouth of the Missouri River. Some cliffs in the area rose hundreds of feet above the river bed. The soil was dry and almost barren, but some shrubs and pine trees managed a marginal existence atop some scattered hills. As they looked out over the area, Allenby told his colleagues, "There've been some marvelous discoveries made here already. Trachodon, Anatosaurus--" Allenby saw Burnett's puzzled expression and laughed. "Those are types of dinosaurs, Mr. Burnett. Anatosaurus, for instance, means 'duck lizard.' It got the name because it had a bill that looked like a duck."
Burnett guffawed. "I gotta say, Doc, you fellers sure talk colorful."
As they made their way toward the encampment, Allenby's workers saw him and all work ceased. Most of the nine men were in their twenties; all were sweaty and dirty from their labors. After greetings, introductions, and a not-too-exaggerated account of their encounter with the hired toughs, Allenby showed Burnett and Heath around the encampment while some of the camp workers helped Cookie retrieve his pots, pans, and utensils from the wagon.
They paused at one of the work sites near the edge of a cliff. Burnett whistled as he took a tentative look down the steep slope. They walked on shale that seemed near to crumbling under the slightest pressure. "You could sure pick nicer places to work."
Allenby shrugged. "We work where the bones are."
Heath kneeled to examine the fossils revealed within the stone. "This biggest one looks to be a leg bone--though I'm not sure of what species."
"A leg bone!" Burnett exclaimed. "It's over five foot long!"
Allenby said, "This is a treasure trove of specimens from the Cretaceous period." Looking at Burnett, he said, "That means these animals lived 65 million years ago."
Burnett spat. "Well, I'll be damned. And you just hammer them out of the rock?"
"We take precautions," Allenby said. He indicated the remains of a small fire set back from the edge of the ridge. A pot of water and several piles of cloth strips lay next to the ashes and charred wood.
Allenby explained, "We boil rice until it turns into a paste. We cut strips of cloth and dip them into the paste, then wrap the strips around the fossils. The paste hardens, and we start to chisel. It protects the fossils from our hammering. Cope used this method when he was here four years ago."
Burnett took off his hat and scratched his head. "What can you figure out about them beasts just from their bones?"
Heath said, "More than you might think, Mr. Burnett. At Como Bluff in Wyoming earlier this very year, Marsh found a stegosaur skeleton that told us wondrous things."
"A--whatever you said--"
"It's one of them--dina-surs?"
Allenby said, "It's a magnificent one. It had a stout body, and two rows of armor plates on its back. It sported more spikes on its tail."
Burnett guffawed. "Like a big lizard porcupine!"
Allenby smiled, nodding. "That's an interesting image, Mr. Burnett, but I suppose it's good as any. Say, I'd like to make you an offer, one that might help you get that farm or blacksmith's started. How'd you like to take our scout's place? I'm willing to pay you for your troubles."
"Well, damn, Doc, I was waitin' for you to ask. I didn't want to be forward-like, but I'd sure appreciate the chance to help you out."
"Very good. We're headed for the Missouri River tomorrow to catch a river steamer. Weıll take all the bones we've gathered, and I expect more trouble on the way--attempts either to steal our bones or destroy them. Also, we're in Indian country--neutral ground between the Sioux and the Crow."
"You'd best hope it stays neutral," Burnett said, "They're natural-born enemies of one another."
"That's why I want someone with us who's a fighter. We've quite far away from any of the army patrols out of either Fort Benton or Fort Belknap."
"I respect ya, Doc. This dinarsar stuff really beats all, as far as I'm concerned. I'm with you all the way. But I'm just one man. I can only do so much."
Allenby clapped Burnett on the shoulder. "That's all any of us can say, isn't it? I can only offer two dollars a day. Marsh gives some of his men three."
"Hell, Doc, that sounds mighty generous to me."
"Good man! Let's go see if Cookieıs gotten a meal started."
* * *
Heath awakened Allenby the next morning before dawn. "I've seen someone spying on us. At the edge of one of our digs. Burnett's out there to look around." Once Allenby would have thought Heath was mistaken. Now his mind flashed back to the rough-hewn man from the day before, and how large a revolver appears when it's pointed at your face. He threw his blanket off and followed Heath, who still limped a bit from his injury of the day before. Others who had awakened straggled along behind.
The chill of the desert night would soon dissipate before the rising sun. Allenby shivered as he and the others neared the edge of the camp. He picked up his pace as he saw Burnett, saw the former lawman had drawn his gun. "Did you see anyone?"
"I sure did, Doc," Burnett said. "Just a head poppin' up from behind those rocks over there. I'd say let's you and me find out who it is."
Allenby hesitated; he wasn't sure he was brave enough to measure himself against Burnett. His growing anger got the better of him though--that, and the desire not to seem cowardly. Besides, the rush of adrenalin coursing through his body had driven away all thought of sleep, and his concern shifted to the bones theyıd start packing today. "Heath, you and everyone else get back to the camp. Make sure no one's trying to sneak behind us and take the fossils." To Burnett, he said, "Let's go."
"Damn right," Burnett said, leading the way. He waved Allenby off toward the right, to flank the man heıd seen. The surrounding darkness was fading quickly, and there was little cover to be found.
Sure enough, only moments later he heard Burnett's cry: "Stop right there, you!" Allenby was at the bottom of a small ridge and couldn't see what was happening. He scrambled up the brief but steep incline, scraping his hands painfully on sharp shale as he ascended.
He had just enough time to see two other men that had sneaked around behind Burnett jump atop him and knock him to the ground. Burnett tried to raise his pistol, but one of his assailants pinned his hand to the ground and forced him to release it. Then all three men began to beat him fiercely.
Fortunately the three men were so intent upon their assault that they didn't notice Allenby. He wasn't a skilled fighter by any means, but he threw his body as hard as he could into two of the men, sending them sprawling. As he tumbled to the ground himself, he cast about for Burnett's gun--saw it! He reached for the weapon, his torn and bleeding fingers fumbling in the dirt that partially buried it. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Burnett get to his feet and give one of the men a powerful blow to the head.
He started to rise, the pistol in his right hand--but a filthy boot smashed down on his wrist--had it broken? He refused to let go of the pistol, but his hand was pinned, he couldnıt raise it against his assailant. He caught a quick glimpse of the brute's face and his smug expression as the man raised his other foot--this blow, Allenby knew, would shatter bones, perhaps maim him for life.
The boot never landed. Burnett threw another of their assailants hard as he could into the man with the upraised foot and they both tumbled into the dirt. Using his left hand, Allenby pulled the pistol from the numb fingers of his right, pointed it (he hoped, menacingly), at the two as they tried to disentangle themselves and stand up. The sight of the pistol froze them in place. "Whoıre you working for?" Allenby demanded.
"Go straight to hell." That from the one who had stomped Allenby's wrist.
"Where's the other one?" Allenby asked Burnett, not daring to look away from the two men.
"Out cold, Doc. Gimme the gun." Allenby relinquished the weapon gladly. Burnett used his thumb to pull back a lever on the rear of the pistol. It set into place with an oddly-reassuring metallic click. "You gotta cock a Peacemaker."
"You're bleeding," Allenby said. Burnett felt the back of his head, which was covered with dried blood, then smiled. "They bushwacked me, that's for sure. I've been hurt worse by a better class of men."
Allenby rubbed his wrist. He still could barely move his fingers, but he didn't feel as if bones were broken. The man Burnett had knocked unconscious sat up, rubbing his head. His eyes widened as Burnett shifted the Peacemaker toward him.
Allenby asked, "What are we going to do with them?"
"Well, Doc, I guess you don't wanna just shoot 'em where they stand."
Allenby grinned. "That's not as shocking to me as it might have been a few days ago." These men had injured more than his body--theyıd assaulted his spirit. But he told Burnett, "No, I canıt do that.²
"Well, I don't wanna hafta keep an eye on em here on out. I'd say it's let 'em go or tie 'em up."
Allenby raised an eyebrow. "Just leave them here?"
Burnett shrugged his shoulders. "We'll leave 'em in the shade if'n you want. I know how to tie 'em up pretty good so they won't bother us, but they'll get loose after we're on our way."
The commotion had brought some of the men running to them, wanting to know what was going on. Allenby said, "I want at least three of you to help out Mr. Burnett. We're restraining these men right here while we pack up. I also want a man next to each box of fossils already packed. Let's get the rest of them ready for the trip. Hurry now!" Allenby's anger had flared again; how dare their assailants cheapen the search for knowledge?
Within a couple of hours, all the fossils were boxed up and Allenby's workers started the process of loading them aboard four wagons. They raised poles and lashed them together like the skeleton of a tent, forming winches. They threw ropes over those winches and pulled the boxes aboard the wagons.
Allenby himself kept a close eye on the loading operation. Several of the men were grumbling at his insistence that they skip breakfast until the bones were safely aboard the wagons; the sun seemed particularly oppressive this day, as well. He wouldnıt miss the wilderness. But its treasures would make his name the equal of either Cope or Marsh's.
He pushed that idea aside. His name could never equal theirs, theyıd been far more tenacious than he, and had many more financial resources to draw upon. He was, at best, a footnote in history. The search--the discovery!--was its own reward. Why should he compare myself to those preening fools? Knowing humanityıs origins, knowing the nature of the beings who preceeded humans on the Earth, could be the most important question of all. Allenby was not a traditionally religious man, but he believed his mother, a strict Congregationalist, would have approved of his curiosity.
By midday they were on their way. All but Burnett rode aboard the wagons. Allenby asked the former lawman, "How are our 'friends,' Mr. Burnett?"
"Mighty secure, Doc. I figure the canteen I put next to em is a powerful motivator to get loose. And maybe some of their buddiesıll come along to help 'em out."
Allenby nodded, amused, yet troubled by his amusement. How had he come so far, not just in distance but in attitudes? His mind had always been most comfortable considering the events of millions of years before, of events beyond his own mundane concerns, beyond the petty conflicts imposed by others. Now he must live for the moment, and the conflicts he dealt with weren't the everyday ones of university life, of seeking funding for digs or positioning himself for promotion or tenure. This was life and death, and to say he was unaccustomed to such matters was a massive understatement.
This day, though, the only enemy so far was the blazing sun, the need to conserve water, and the rough terrain.
"You know, Doc," Burnett said as they rode, "if'n you'd told me back in Kansas I'd find myself out here helpin' guard a bunch of bones--I'da thought you'd had too much sippin' whiskey."
"Everything changes, Mr. Burnett. You learn that in my business."
"How's that, Doc?"
"Well, I wouldn't want to offend you, Mr. Burnett--I don't know if you're a religious man--"
"More'n some, Doc, but a lot less than many."
"Well, some people think what I'm about to tell you is against God. I think it only shows us in more detail how God created everything. It took a lot longer than we thought--not just four thousand years the way the preachers tell us, but millions. The dinosaurs lived a long time, but now they're all gone. But some animals who lived then are still around now. Have you ever heard of the Sioux legends of the 'ghost horses?'"
"Can't say as I have."
"They had found fossils like the ones you've seen here. But they were of a very small animal, about the size of a sheepdog. But it wasn't any kind of dog. When scientists looked at what the Sioux had found, they realized the teeth and hooves and muzzle were of a small horse. The hooves had three toes--"
"No, really! Horses are much bigger now, of course. That process is called 'evolution.' The Sioux had found horses. But they were horses unlike anything we know of today."
Burnett nodded in appreciation. "Y'all sure are smart fellers. Damned if I know how you can figure this stuff out. But you're right, Doc. Everything changes. I was a lawman all these years, but I gave it all up to come further west. Is that called--wha'd you say?"
"Evolution. I guess it is, in a manner of speaking."
* * *
The rest of the 40-mile journey to the steamboat was uneventful. Allenby's heart soared, though, when he and his party finally traversed the final bluffs and ravines of the Judith River badlands and found themselves at the shores of the Missouri River.
The big stern-wheeler Montana was waiting at the Cow Island landing. It could carry 350 tons of cargo, yet the flat-bottomed craft drew only 31 inches. It slid across the water rather than sailing through it. Such vessels, larger than earlier side-wheelers, were vital to trade on the often-treacherous waters of the Big Muddy, the Missouri River. Frequent hazards such as sandbars and trees that had been uprooted in the waterway's twice-yearly floods made such designs necessary.
Allenby's men whooped it up as they approached the wharf--steamers on the Missouri often kept erratic schedules, and they couldn't have been certain the Montana would be waiting for them until they actually saw it. Several of the wagon drivers were so excited, they urged their horses onward with snaps of their reins. Allenby shouted, "Hold on, you men--the fossils are bouncing around like jumping beans! Take it slow!"
The Montana's captain, Gavin Torrey, was ready to leave. The steamer's engines were huffing rhythmically, eager to send the craft down the Big Muddy. Allenby pleaded with Torrey, eventually had to slip him a few pieces of silver to convince him to delay his departure long enough to give them time to load their prehistoric cargo. Allenby suspected such recompense had been Torrey's true concern all along.
Allenby waved the wagons forward as he stood on the Montana's boarding ramp. He reveled in the curious stares of the steamer's passengers as they lined its rails. The worst part of this journey was over. Then he started at one of his men's desperate shout.
It was already too late. Four thieves had walked right up to the steamer using nearby brush and trees as cover; about a hundred yards away, he glimpsed a youngster not more than twelve years old holding the reins of five horses.
Two of the men placed themselves between the wagons and the Montana. Allenby himself was stuck on the steamer's ramp as a man brandished his pistol at him. It was the man whoıd tried so hard to smash his wrist. The gunman stepped up to Allenby, reversed his weapon, and struck Allenby across the face. Allenby fell against the hard wood of the ramp, his hands clasped to his face, blood flowing down his cheeks. He feared he might throw up. He heard orders being given for his men to get down from the wagons and line up before the steamer.
>From behind and above, Allenby could hear the loud, furious protestations of the Montana's captain: "You men!" Torrey shouted. "Get away from my vessel! I have innocent people on board. I won't have you endanger them." Allenby had to give Torrey credit; corrupt as he was, he had backbone when his ship and passengers were endangered.
Allenby raised his head just as the man whoıd struck him aimed his pistol at Torrey. "You'd best build up a good head of steam and start down the river. You can take these here sine-tists with ya if they want to go, but the bones are ours."
Allenby struggled to his feet and squinted against his blurred vision as Captain Torrey disappeared, presumably to follow the thug's advice. He saw the Montanaıs crew scrambling for a quick departure.
Allenby looked around for Burnett. He forced down the thought that Burnett might have followed the example of the scout, Jones. He walked on shaky legs down the boarding ramp. The bone thieves were clambering aboard Allenby's four wagons. ³Donıt resist them,² Allenby urged his own men. ³Itıs not worth getting killed.² Allenby's people were herded onto the Montana. Few of them met his eyes as they filed past.
Dimly, Allenby also realized his inventory lists were fastened up within the boxes themselves. Even if he might recognize a particular piece in another's collection, he could never prove it was stolen from him.
The Montana's crew was taking up the ramp. Allenby took one last look at the treasure he would forever be denied, then turned, intending to head up the ramp.
Thatıs when the commotion began. Burnett! The former sheriff was leaping into the rearmost wagon and snapping its reins furiously with a shouted ³Hee-yah!² The wagon lurched away from the wharf, and the thieves were caught flat-footed. Allenby saw the youngster whoıd been holding the reins of the menıs horses staggering toward the wharf rubbing his head, and in the distance Allenby caught a glimpse of the five horses as they scattered, spooked, in all directions.
The first to recover was the man whoıd struck Allenby down. Allenby charged him from behind as the man was raising his pistol. A hard tackle, and the man went sprawling. Allenby grabbed up the thiefıs dropped gun, more to keep it from being used against him than with any intention of shooting anyone himself.
Burnettıs wagon barreled toward him. Burnett freed one arm to wave him on: ³Get on!² Allenbyıs stumbling gait nearly sent him beneath the wagon wheels, but he managed to grab the rear of the wagon bed and hold on tight, then hitch his legs over. A bullet whistled past his ear, then another splintered a box of bones behind his head. He hunkered down into the wagon bed.
The Montana's whistle blew. The steamer was pulling away from shore. Through the dust behind the wagon, Allenby could see the bone robbers trying to retrieve their horses. They werenıt having much luck.
Burnett was too busy keeping the wagon on the rough road ahead to spare a glance back. ³At least they quit shootinı. If any of em had the sense God gave a goose theyıd unhitch a couple mounts from the wagons. Though theyıd have a tough time ridinı bareback.² Burnett pulled back on the reins some. ³I canıt keep runninı these horses like this.²
Allenby stepped over into the seat next to Burnett. ³Is this anything other than a futile gesture?²
³If youıre meaninı do we have a chance to get away with all these bones, Iım afraid not. I spooked their horses pretty good, but with this load weıre carryinı they can walk and catch up to us within a day. Itıs for certain they could unload a wagon and get to us. These horses were tuckered out already. I got to rest em or theyıll just lay down and die on us.²
³What if we lightened the load?²
³Whatta ya mean?²
³We stop and put down a bone box. Weıve resigned ourselves to losing all the bones. We put one box down, right here, say. Then we take the horses a few more miles down the road and place another box in the road.²
³Well, thatıs damn clever. So then weıre gettinı lighter, and soon theyıre carryinı everything. Unless they leave them bones in the road and come back to get em later.²
³These bones are like gold to them. You think theyıd leave a box of bullion out there for anyone to pick up?²
³Well, itıs for certain theyıd jaw about it awhile, wouldnıt they? Thatıll slow em down. But theyıre your bones, theyıre all you got left of what you spent all that time digginı out of the ground.²
³Iıll save one box.² Allenby turned to look into the wagon bed. ³Lemme see. There it is. Anatosaurus.²
³The...duck lizard, right?²
³Exactly right, Mr. Burnett. I dedicate the contents of that box to you, for your brave efforts.²
³Well, I sure preciate that. But weıd best be gettinı them other bones put behind us pretty quick. Then we can keep goinı and outrun them fellers. I think we have a pretty good chance of hookinı up with the Montana downriver.² Burnett pulled the reins and the horses halted, snorting and huffing. The former lawman jumped from the wagon and ran to its rear.
Allenby tried to remember what else was in that one box he would hold onto--perhaps a few pounds of bones, minor pieces like those already part of any basic dinosaur collection. Or it could be packed with rare finds of a type that the average paleontologist would wait a lifetime to find.
Allenby jumped down and stepped toward the rear of the wagon. Burnett was already puffing worse than the horses as he tried to lift the first heavy box of bones they would leave behind.
At one time Allenby might have hesitated to discard his last hope of recognition, power, fame.
The hell with it. His men were getting away alive, and he and Burnett had at least managed to vex their ³competition² a little.
He was himself, he mused, a "ghost horse." Heıd evolved into a different man, a better man than he wouldıve believed he could be before this journey began. He knew what the real treasure was. Life, exploring, learning.
Allenby went to Burnett and put his back into the chore of helping his friend lift the first of the treasures they would abandon.