A texas ranger, p.15
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       A Texas Ranger, p.15

           William MacLeod Raine
 
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  CHAPTER II -- A COMPACT

  After the jailer had brought his breakfast, Fraser was honored by avisit from the sheriff, a big, rawboned Westerner, with the creases offifty outdoor years stamped on his brown, leathery face.

  He greeted his prisoner pleasantly enough, and sat down on the bed.

  "Treating you right, are they?" he asked, glancing around. "Breakfast upto the mark?"

  "I've got no kick coming, thank you," said Fraser.

  "Good!"

  The sheriff relapsed into sombre silence. There was a troubled look inthe keen eyes that the Texan did not understand. Fraser waited for theofficer to develop the object of his visit, and it was set down tohis credit. A weaker man would have rushed at once into excusesand explanations. But in the prisoner's quiet, steely eyes, in theclose-shut mouth and salient jaw, in the set of his well-knit figure,Sheriff Brandt found small room for weakness. Whoever he was, this manwas one who could hold his own in the strenuous game of life.

  "My friend," said the sheriff abruptly, "you and I are up against it.There is going to be trouble in town to-night."

  The level, gray eyes looked questioningly at the sheriff.

  "You butted into grief a-plenty when you lined up with the cattlemen inthis sheep war. Who do you ride for?"

  "I'm not riding for anybody," responded Fraser. "I just arrived fromTexas. Didn't even know there was a feud on."

  Brandt laughed incredulously. "That will sound good to a jury, ifyour case ever comes to that stage. How do you expect to explain BillyFaulkner's death?"

  "Is there any proof I killed him?"

  "Some. You were recognized by two men last night while you were tryingto escape. You carried a rifle that uses the same weight bullet as theone we dug out of Billy. When you attacked Tom Peake you dropped thatrifle, and in your getaway hadn't time to pick it up again. That isevidence enough for a Wyoming jury, in the present state of publicopinion."

  "What do you mean by 'in the present state of public opinion'?"

  "I mean that this whole country is pretty nearly solid against the CedarMountain cattlemen, since they killed Campeau and Jennings in that raidon their camp. You know what I mean as well as I do."

  Fraser did not argue the point. He remembered now having seen an accountof the Squaw Creek raid on a sheep camp, ending in a battle that hadresulted in the death of two men and the wounding of three others. Hehad been sitting in a hotel at San Antonio, Texas, when he had read thestory over his after-dinner cigar. The item had not seemed even remotelyconnected with himself. Now he was in prison at Gimlet Butte, chargedwith murder, and unless he was very much mistaken the sheriff washinting at a lynching. The Squaw Creek raid had come very near to him,for he knew the fight he had interrupted last night had grown out of it.

  "What do you mean by trouble to-night?" he asked, in an even,conversational tone.

  The sheriff looked directly at him. "You're a man, I reckon. That callsfor the truth. Men are riding up and down this country to-day, stirringup sentiment against your outfit. To-night the people will gather intown, and the jail will be attacked."

  "And you?"

  "I'll uphold the law as long as I can."

  Fraser nodded. He knew Brandt spoke the simple truth. What he had swornto do he would do to the best of his ability. But the Texan knew,too, that the ramshackle jail would be torn to pieces and the sheriffoverpowered.

  From his coat pocket he drew a letter, and presented it to the other. "Ididn't expect to give this to you under these circumstances, Mr. Brandt,but I'd like you to know that I'm on the level when I say I don't knowany of the Squaw Creek cattlemen and have never ridden for any outfit inthis State."

  Brandt tore open the letter, and glanced hurriedly through it. "Why,it's from old Sam Slauson! We used to ride herd together when we wereboys." And he real aloud:

  "Introducing Steve Fraser, lieutenant in the Texas Rangers."

  He glanced up quickly. "You're not the Fraser that ran down Chacon andhis gang of murderers?"

  "Yes, I was on that job."

  Brandt shook hands heartily. "They say it was a dandy piece of work. Iread that story in a magazine. You delivered the goods proper."

  The ranger was embarrassed. "Oh, it wasn't much of a job. The man thatwrote it put in the fancy touches, to make his story sell, I expect."

  "Yes, he did! I know all about that!" the sheriff derided. "I've got toget you out of this hole somehow. Do you mind if I send for Hilliard,the prosecuting attorney? He's a bright young fellow, loaded to theguards with ideas. What I want is to get at a legal way of fixing thisthing up, you understand. I'll call him up on the phone, and have himrun over."

  Hilliard was shortly on the spot--a short, fat little fellow witheyeglasses. He did not at first show any enthusiasm in the prisoner'sbehalf.

  "I don't doubt for a moment that you are the man this letter says youare, Mr. Fraser," he said suavely. "But facts are stubborn things. Youwere seen carrying the gun that killed Faulkner. We can't get away fromthat just because you happen to have a letter of introduction to Mr.Brandt."

  "I don't want to get away from it," retorted. Fraser. "I have explainedhow I got into the fight. A man doesn't stand back and see two people,and one of them a girl, slaughtered by seven or eight."

  The lawyer's fat forefinger sawed the air. "That's how you put it. Mind,I don't for a moment say it isn't the right way. But what the publicwants is proof. Can you give evidence to show that Faulkner and hisfriends attacked Dillon and his daughter? Have you even got them on handhere to support your statement? Have you got a grain of evidence, apartfrom your bare word?"

  "That letter shows--"

  "It shows nothing. You might have written it yourself last night.Anyhow, a letter of introduction isn't quite an excuse for murder."

  "It wasn't murder."

  "That's what you say. I'll be glad to have you prove it."

  "They followed Dillon--if that is his name--out of town."

  "They put it that they were on their way home, when they were attacked."

  "By an old man and his daughter," the Texan added significantly.

  "There again we have only your statement for it. Half a dozen men hadbeen in town during the day from the Cedar Mountain district. These menwere witnesses in the suit that rose over a sheep raid. They may allhave been on the spot, to ambush Faulkner's crowd."

  Brandt broke in: "Are you personally convinced that this gentleman isLieutenant Fraser of the Rangers?"

  "Personally, I am of opinion that he is, but--"

  "Hold your horses, Dave. Believing that, do you think that we ought toleave him here to be lynched to-night by Peake's outfit?"

  "That isn't my responsibility, but speaking merely as a private citizen,I should say, No."

  "What would you do with him then?"

  "Why not take him up to your house?"

  "Wouldn't be safe a minute, or in any other house in town."

  "Then get out of town with him."

  "It can't be done. I'm watched."

  Hilliard shrugged.

  The ranger's keen eyes went from one to another. He saw that what thelawyer needed was some personal interest to convert him into a partisan.From his pocket he drew another letter and some papers.

  "If you doubt that I am Lieutenant Fraser you can wire my captain atDallas. This is a letter of congratulation to me from the Governor ofTexas for my work in the Chacon case. Here's my railroad ticket, andmy lodge receipt. You gentlemen are the officers in charge. I hold youpersonally responsible for my safety--for the safety of a man whosename, by chance, is now known all over this country."

  This was a new phase of the situation, and it went home to the lawyer'smind at once. He had been brought into the case willy nilly, and hewould be blamed for anything that happened to this young Texan, whosedeeds had recently been exploited broadcast in the papers. He stood foran instant in frowning thought, and as he did so a clause in the letterfrom the Governor of Texas caught and held his eye.

&nbs
p; which I regard as the ablest, most daring, and, at the same time, the most difficult and most successful piece of secret service that has come to my knowledge....

  Suddenly, Hilliard saw the way out--a way that appealed to him none theless because it would also serve his own ambitions.

  "Neither you nor I have any right to help this gentleman to escape,sheriff. The law is plain. He is charged with murder. We haven't anyright to let our private sympathies run away with us. But there is onething we can do."

  "What is that?" the sheriff asked.

  "Let him earn his freedom."

  "Earn it! How?"

  "By serving the State in this very matter of the Squaw Creek raid. Asprosecuting attorney, it is in my discretion to accept the service ofan accomplice to a crime in fixing the guilt upon the principals. Beforethe law, Lieutenant Fraser stands accused of complicity. We believe himnot guilty, but that does not affect the situation. Let him go up intothe Cedar Mountain country and find out the guilty parties in the SquawCreek raid."

  "And admit my guilt by compromising with you?" the Texan scoffed.

  "Not at all. You need not go publicly. In point of fact, you couldn'tget out of town alive if it were known. No, we'll arrange to let youbreak jail on condition that you go up into the Lost Canyon district,and run down the murderers of Campeau and Jennings, That gives us anexcuse for letting you go. You see the point--don't you?"

  The Texan grinned. "That isn't quite the point, is it?" he drawled. "IfI should be successful, you will achieve a reputation, without any costto yourself. That's worth mentioning."

  Hilliard showed a momentary embarrassment.

  "That's incidental. Besides, it will help your reputation more than mine."

  Brandt got busy at once with the details of the escape. "We'll loosen upthe mortar round the bars in the south room. They are so rickety anyhowI haven't kept any prisoners there for years. After you have squeezedthrough you will find a horse saddled in the draw, back here. You'llwant a gun of course."

  "Always providing Lieutenant Fraser consents to the arrangement," thelawyer added smoothly.

  "Oh, I'll consent," laughed Fraser wryly. "I have no option. Of course,if I win I get the reward--whatever it is."

  "Oh, of course."

  "Then I'm at your service, gentlemen, to escape whenever you say theword."

  "The best time would be right after lunch. That would give you fivehours before Nichols was in here again," the sheriff suggested.

  "Suppose you draw a map, showing the route I'm to follow to reach CedarMountain. I reckon I had better not trouble folks to ask them the way."And the Texan grinned.

  "That's right. I'll fix you up, and tell you later just where you'llfind the horse," Brandt answered.

  "You're an officer yourself, lieutenant," said the lawyer. "You knowjust how much evidence it takes to convict. Well, that's just how muchwe want. If you have to communicate with us, address 'T. L. Meredith,Box 117.' Better send your letter in cipher. Here's a little codeI worked out that we sometimes use. Well, so-long. Good hunting,lieutenant."

  Fraser nodded farewell, but did not offer to shake hands.

  Brandt lingered for an instant. "Don't make any mistake, Fraser, aboutthis job you've bit off. It's a big one, and don't you forget it. Peopleare sore on me because I have fallen down on it. I can't help it. I justcan't get the evidence. If you tackle it, you'll be in danger from startto finish. There are some bad men in this country, and the worst of themare lying low in Lost Valley."

  The ranger smiled amiably. "Where is this Lost Valley?"

  "Somewhere up in the Cedar Mountain district. I've never been there. Fewmen have, for it is not easy to find; and even if it were strangers arenot invited."

  "Well, I'll have to invite myself."

  "That's all right. But remember this. There are men up there who woulddrill holes in a dying man. I guess Lost Valley is the country Godforgot."

  "Sounds right interesting."

  "You'll find it all that, and don't forget that if they find out whatyou are doing there, it will be God help Steve Fraser!"

  The ranger's eyes gleamed. "I'll try to remember it."

 
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