On the afternoon of the following day Ladd unexpectedly appeared leading a lame and lathered horse into the yard. Belding and Gale, who were at work at the forge, looked up and were surprised out of speech. The legs of the horse were raw and red, and he seemed about to drop. Ladd's sombrero was missing; he wore a bloody scarf round his head; sweat and blood and dust had formed a crust on his face; little streams of powdery dust slid from him; and the lower half of his scarred chaps were full of broken white thorns.
"Howdy, boys," he drawled. "I shore am glad to see you all."
"Where'n hell's your hat?" demanded Belding, furiously. It was a ridiculous greeting. But Belding's words signified little. The dark shade of worry and solicitude crossing his face told more than his black amaze.
The ranger stopped unbuckling the saddle girths, and, looking at Belding, broke into his slow, cool laugh.
"Tom, you recollect that whopper of a saguaro up here where Carter's trail branches off the main trail to Casita? Well, I climbed it an' left my hat on top for a woodpecker's nest."
"You've been running--fighting?" queried Belding, as if Ladd had not spoken at all.
"I reckon it'll dawn on you after a while," replied Ladd, slipping the saddle.
"Laddy, go in the house to the women," said Belding. "I'll tend to your horse."