A texas ranger, p.16
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       A Texas Ranger, p.16

           William MacLeod Raine
 
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  CHAPTER III -- INTO LOST VALLEY

  It was one-twenty when Fraser slipped the iron bar from the masonry intowhich it had been fixed and began to lower himself from the window.The back of the jail faced on the bank of a creek; and into the aspens,which ran along it at this point in a little grove, the fugitive pushedhis way. He descended to the creek edge and crossed the mountain streamon bowlders which filled its bed. From here he followed the trail for ahundred yards that led up the little river. On the way he passed a boyfishing and nodded a greeting to him.

  "What time is it, mister?" the youngster asked.

  A glance at his watch showed the Texan that it was one-twenty-five.

  "The fish have quit biting. Blame it all, I'm going home. Say, mister,Jimmie Spence says they're going to lynch that fellow who killed BillyFaulkner--going to hang him to-night, Jimmie says. Do you reckon theywill?"

  "No, I reckon not."

  "Tha's what I told him, but Jimmie says he heard Tom Peake say so.Jimmie says this town will be full o' folks by night."

  Without waiting to hear any more of Jimmie's prophecies, Fraser followedthe trail till it reached a waterfall Brandt bad mentioned, then strucksharply to the right. In a little bunch of scrub oaks he found a saddledhorse tied to a sapling. His instructions were to cross the road, whichran parallel with the stream, and follow the gulch that led to theriver. Half an hour's travel brought him to another road. Into this heturned, and followed it.

  In a desperate hurry though he was, Steve dared not show it. He held hispiebald broncho to the ambling trot a cowpony naturally drops into. Fromhis coat pocket he flashed a mouthharp for use in emergency.

  Presently he met three men riding into town. They nodded at him, in thefriendly, casual way of the outdoors West. The gait of the pony was aleisurely walk, and its rider was industriously executing, "I Met MyLove In the Alamo."

  "Going the wrong way, aren't you?" one of the three suggested.

  "Don't you worry, I'll be there when y'u hang that guy they caught lastnight," he told them with a grin.

  From time to time he met others. All travel seemed to be headedtownward. There was excitement in the air. In the clear atmospherevoices carried a long way, and all the conversation that came to himwas on the subjects of the war for the range, the battle of the previousevening, and the lynching scheduled to take place in a few hours. Herealized that he had escaped none too soon, for it was certain thatas the crowd in town multiplied, they would set a watch on the jail toprevent Brandt from slipping out with his prisoner.

  About four miles from town he cut the telephone wires, for he knew thatas soon as his escape became known to the jailer, the sheriff would benotified, and he would telephone in every direction the escape of hisprisoner, just the same as if there had been no arrangement betweenthem. It was certain, too, that all the roads leading from Gimlet Buttewould be followed and patrolled immediately. For which reason he leftthe road after cutting the wires, and took to the hill trail marked outfor him in the map furnished by Brandt.

  By night, he was far up in the foothills. Close to a running stream,he camped in a little, grassy park, where his pony could find forage.Brandt had stuffed his saddlebags with food, and had tied behind a sack,with a feed or two of oats for his horse. Fraser had ridden therange too many years to risk lighting a fire, even though he had putthirty-five miles between him and Gimlet Butte. The night was chill, asit always is in that altitude, but he rolled up in his blanket, got whatsleep he could, and was off again by daybreak.

  Before noon he was high in the mountain passes, from which he couldsometimes look down into the green parks where nested the little ranchesof small cattlemen. He knew now that he was beyond the danger of thefirst hurried pursuit, and that it was more than likely that any ofthese mountaineers would hide him rather than give him up. Nevertheless,he had no immediate intention of putting them to the test.

  The second night came down on him far up on Dutchman Creek, in the CedarMountain district. He made a bed, where his horse found a meal, in ahaystack of a small ranch, the buildings of which were strung along thecreek. He was weary, and he slept deep. When he awakened next morning,it was to hear the sound of men's voices. They drifted to him from theroad in front of the house.

  Carefully he looked down from the top of his stack upon three horsementalking to the bare-headed ranchman whom they had called out from hisbreakfast.

  "No, I ain't seen a thing of him. Shot Billy Faulkner, you say? What intime for?" the rancher was innocently asking.

  "You know what for, Hank Speed," the leader of the posse made sullenanswer. "Well, boys, we better be pushing on, I expect."

  Fraser breathed freer when they rode out of sight. He had overslept, andhad had a narrow shave; for his pony was grazing in the alfalfa fieldwithin a hundred yards of them at that moment. No sooner had the possegone than Hank Speed stepped across the field without an instant'shesitation and looked the animal over, after which he returned to thehouse and came out again with a rifle in his hands.

  The ranger slid down the farther side of the stack and slipped hisrevolver from its holster. He watched the ranchman make a tour of theout-buildings very carefully and cautiously, then make a circuit of thehaystack at a safe distance. Soon the rancher caught sight of the mancrouching against it.

  "Oh, you're there, are you? Put up that gun. I ain't going to do you anyharm."

  "What's the matter with you putting yours up first?" asked the Texanamiably.

  "I tell you I ain't going to hurt you. Soon as I stepped out of thehouse I seen your horse. All I had to do was to say so, and they wouldhave had you slick."

  "What did you get your gun for, then?"

  "I ain't taking any chances till folks' intentions has been declared.You might have let drive at me before I got a show to talk to you."

  "All right. I'll trust you." Fraser dropped his revolver, and the othercame across to him.

  "Up in this country we ain't in mourning for Billy Faulkner. Old manDillon told me what you done for him. I reckon we can find cover for youtill things quiet down. My name is Speed."

  "Call me Fraser."

  "Glad to meet you, Mr. Fraser. I reckon we better move you back into thetimber a bit. Deputy sheriffs are some thick around here right now.If you have to lie hid up in this country for a spell, we'll make anarrangement to have you taken care of."

  "I'll have to lie hid. There's no doubt about that. I made my jail breakjust in time to keep from being invited as chief guest to a necktieparty."

  "Well, we'll put you where the whole United States Army couldn't findyou."

  They had been walking across the field and now crawled between thestrands of fence wire.

  "I left my saddle on top of the stack," the ranger explained.

  "I'll take care of it. You better take cover on top of this ridge till Iget word to Dillon you're here. My wife will fix you up some breakfast,and I'll bring it out."

  "I've ce'tainly struck the good Samaritan," the Texan smiled.

  "Sho! There ain't a man in the hills wouldn't do that much for afriend."

  "I'm glad I have so many friends I never saw."

  "Friends? The hills are full of them. You took a hand when old manDillon and his girl were sure up against it. Cedar Mountain standstogether these days. What you did for them was done for us all," Speedexplained simply.

  Fraser waited on the ridge till his host brought breakfast of bacon,biscuits, hard-boiled eggs, and coffee. While he ate, Speed sat down ona bowlder beside him and talked.

  "I sent my boy with a note to Dillon. It's a good thirty miles fromhere, and the old man won't make it back till some time to-morrow.Course, you're welcome at the house, but I judge it wouldn't be best foryou to be seen there. No knowing when some of Brandt's deputies mightbutt in with a warrant. You can slip down again after dark and burrow inthe haystack. Eh? What think?"

  "I'm in your hands, but I don't want to put you and your friends to somuch trouble. Isn't there some mountain trail off the
beaten road that Icould take to Dillon's ranch, and so save him from the trip after me?"

  Speed grinned. "Not in a thousand years, my friend. Dillon's ranch ain'tto be found, except by them that know every pocket of these hills liketheir own back yard. I'll guarantee you couldn't find it in a month,unless you had a map locating it."

  "Must be in that Lost Valley, which some folks say is a fairy tale," theranger said carelessly, but with his eyes on the other.

  The cattleman made no comment. It occurred to Fraser that his remark hadstirred some suspicion of him. At least, it suggested caution.

  "If you're through with your breakfast, I'll take back the dishes,"Speed said dryly.

  The day wore to sunset. After dark had fallen the Texan slipped throughthe alfalfa field again and bedded in the stack. Before the morning wasmore than gray he returned to the underbrush of the ridge. His breakfastfinished, and Speed gone, he lay down on a great flat, sun-dappled rock,and looked into the unflecked blue sky. The season was spring, and theearth seemed fairly palpitating with young life. The low, tireless humof insects went on all about him. The air was vocal with the notes ofnesting birds. Away across the valley he could see a mountain slope,with snow gulches glowing pink in the dawn. Little checkerboard squaresalong the river showed irrigated patches. In the pleasant warmth he grewdrowsy. His eyes closed, opened, closed again.

  He was conscious of no sound that awakened him, yet he was aware ofa presence that drew him from drowsiness to an alert attention.Instinctively, his hand crept to his scabbarded weapon.

  "Don't shoot me," a voice implored with laughter--a warm, vivid voice,that struck pleasantly on his memory.

  The Texan turned lazily, and leaned on his elbow. She came smiling outof the brush, light as a roe, and with much of its slim, supple grace.Before, he had seen her veiled by night; the day disclosed her a dark,spirited young creature. The mass of blue-black hair coiled at thenape of the brown neck, the flash of dark eyes beneath straight, darkeyebrows, together with a certain deliberation of movement that wasnot languor, made it impossible to doubt that she was a Southerner byinheritance, if not by birth.

  "I don't reckon I will," he greeted, smiling. "Down in Texas it ain'tcounted right good manners to shoot up young ladies."

  "And in Wyoming you think it is."

  "I judge by appearances, ma'am."

  "Then you judge wrong. Those men did not know I was with dad that night.They thought I was another man. You see, they had just lost their suitfor damages against dad and some more for the loss of six hundred sheepin a raid last year. They couldn't prove who did it." She flamed into asudden passion of resentment. "I don't defend them any. They are a lotof coyotes, or they wouldn't have attacked two men, riding alone."

  He ventured a rapier thrust. "How about the Squaw Creek raid? Don't yourfriends sometimes forget to fight fair, too?"

  He had stamped the fire out of her in an instant. She drooped visibly."Yes--yes, they do," she faltered. "I don't defend them, either. Dad hadnothing to do with that. He doesn't shoot in the back."

  "I'm glad to hear it," he retorted cheerfully. "And I'm glad tohear that your friends the enemy didn't know it was a girl they wereattacking. Fact is, I thought you were a boy myself when first Ihappened in and you fanned me with your welcome."

  "I didn't know. I hadn't time to think. So I let fly. But I was soexcited I likely missed you a mile."

  He took off his felt hat and examined with interest a bullet holethrough the rim. "If it was a mile, I'd hate to have you miss me ahundred yards," he commented, with a little ripple of laughter.

  "I didn't! Did I? As near as that?" She caught her hands together in asudden anguish for what might have been.

  "Don't you care, ma'am. A miss is as good as a mile. It ain't the firsttime I've had my hat ventilated. I mentioned it, so you wouldn't getdiscouraged at your shooting. It's plenty good. Good enough to suit me.I wouldn't want it any better."

  "What about the man I wounded." she asked apprehensively. "Is he--is itall right?"

  "Haven't you heard?"

  "Heard what?" He could see the terror in her eyes.

  "How it all came out?"

  He could not tell why he did it, any more than he could tell why he hadattempted no denial to the sheriff of responsibility for the death ofFaulkner, but as he looked at this girl he shifted the burden from hershoulders to his. "You got your man in the ankle. I had worse luck afteryou left. They buried mine."

  "Oh!" From her lips a little cry of pain forced itself. "It wasn't yourfault. It was for us you did it. Oh, why did they attack us?"

  "I did what I had to do. There is no blame due either you or me for it,"he said, with quiet conviction.

  "I know. But it seems so dreadful. And then they put you in jail--andyou broke out! Wasn't that it?"

  "That was the way of it, Miss Arlie. How did you know?"

  "Henry Speed's note to father said you had broken jail. Dad wasn't athome. You know, the round-up is on now and he has to be there. So Isaddled, and came right away."

  "That was right good of you."

  "Wasn't it?" There was a softened, almost tender, jeer in her voice."Since you only saved our lives!"

  "I ain't claiming all that, Miss Arlie."

  "Then I'll claim it for you. I suppose you gave yourself up to them andexplained how it was after we left."

  "Not exactly that. I managed to slip away, through the sage. It wasmo'ning before I found the road again. Soon as I did, a deputy taggedme, and said, 'You're mine.' He spoke for me so prompt and seemed sosure about what he was saying, I didn't argue the matter with him." Helaughed gayly.

  "And then?"

  "Then he herded me to town, and I was invited to be the county's guest.Not liking the accommodations, I took the first chance and flew thecoop. They missed a knife in my pocket when they searched me, and Ichipped the cement away from the window bars, let myself down by the bedlinen, and borrowed a cow-pony I found saddled at the edge of town. So,you see, I'm a hawss thief too, ma'am."

  She could not take it so lightly as he did, even though she did not knowthat he had barely escaped with his life. Something about his debonair,smiling hardihood touched her imagination, as did also the virilecompetence of the man. If the cool eyes in his weatherbeaten face couldbe hard as agates, they could also light up with sparkling imps ofmischief. Certainly he was no boy, but the close-cut waves of crisp,reddish hair and the ready smile contributed to an impression of youththat came and went.

  "Willie Speed is saddling you a horse. The one you came on has beenturned loose to go back when it wants to. I'm going to take you homewith me," she told him.

  "Well, I'm willing to be kidnapped."

  "I brought your horse Teddy. If you like, you may ride that, and I'lltake the other."

  "Yore a gentleman, ma'am. I sure would."

  When Arlie saw with what pleasure the friends met, how Teddy nickeredand rubbed his nose up and down his master's coat and how the Texan puthim through his little repertoire of tricks and fed him a lump of sugarfrom his coat pocket, she was glad she had ridden Teddy instead of herown pony to the meeting.

  They took the road without loss of time. Arlie Dillon knew exactly howto cross this difficult region. She knew the Cedar Mountain district asa grade teacher knows her arithmetic. In daylight or in darkness, withor without a trail, she could have traveled almost a bee line to thepoint she wanted. Her life had been spent largely in the saddle--atleast that part of it which had been lived outdoors. Wherefore she wasable to lead her guest by secret trails that wound in and out among thepasses and through unsuspected gorges to hazardous descents possibleonly to goats and cow ponies. No stranger finding his way in would havestood a chance of getting out again unaided.

  Among these peaks lay hidden pockets and caches by hundreds, rockfissures which made the country a very maze to the uninitiated. Theranger, himself one of the best trailers in Texas, doubted whether hecould retrace his steps to the Speed place.

  After several
hours of travel, they emerged from a gulch to a littlevalley known as Beaver Dam Park. The girl pointed out to her companion anarrow brown ribbon that wound through the park.

  "There's the road again. That's the last we shall see of it--or it willbe when we have crossed it. Once we reach the Twin Buttes that are thegateway to French Canon you are perfectly safe. You can see the buttesfrom here. No, farther to the right."

  "I thought I'd ridden some tough trails in my time, but this countryce'tainly takes the cake," Fraser said admiringly, as his gaze swept thehorizon. "It puts it over anything I ever met up with. Ain't that right,Teddy hawss?"

  The girl flushed with pleasure at his praise. She was mountain bred, andshe loved the country of the great peaks.

  They descended the valley, crossed the road, and in an open grassy spotjust beyond, came plump upon four men who had unsaddled to eat lunch.

  The meeting came too abruptly for Arlie to avoid it. One glance told herthat they were deputies from Gimlet Butte. Without the least hesitationshe rode forward and gave them the casual greeting of cattleland.Fraser, riding beside her, nodded coolly, drew to a halt, and lit acigarette.

  "Found him yet, gentlemen?" he asked.

  "No, nor we ain't likely to, if he's reached this far," one of the menanswered.

  "It would be some difficult to collect him here," the Texan admittedimpartially.

  "Among his friends," one of the deputies put in, with a snarl.

  Fraser laughed easily. "Oh, well, we ain't his enemies, though he ain'tvery well known in the Cedar Mountain country. What might he be like,pardner?"

  "Hasn't he lived up here long?" asked one of the men, busy with somebacon over a fire.

  "They say not."

  "He's a heavy-set fellow, with reddish hair; not so tall as you, Ireckon, and some heavier. Was wearing chaps and gauntlets when hemade his getaway. From the description, he looks something like you, Ishouldn't wonder."

  Fraser congratulated himself that he had had the foresight to discardas many as possible of these helps to identification before he was threemiles from Gimlet Butte. Now he laughed pleasantly.

  "Sure he's heavier than me, and not so tall."

  "It would be a good joke, Bud, if they took you back to town for thisman," cut in Arlie, troubled at the direction the conversation wastaking, but not obviously so.

  "I ain't objecting any, sis. About three days of the joys of town wouldsure agree with my run-down system," the Texan answered joyously.

  "When you cowpunchers do get in, you surely make Rome howl," one of thedeputies agreed, with a grin. "Been in to the Butte lately?"

  The Texan met his grin. "It ain't been so long."

  "Well, you ain't liable to get in again for a while," Arlie saidemphatically. "Come on, Bud, we've got to be moving."

  "Which way is Dead Cow Creek?" one of the men called after them.

  Fraser pointed in the direction from which he had just come.

  After they had ridden a hundred yards, the girl laughed aloud her reliefat their escape. "If they go the way you pointed for Dead Cow Creek,they will have to go clear round the world to get to it. We're headedfor the creek now."

  "A fellow can't always guess right," pleaded the Texan. "If he could,what a fiend he would be at playing the wheel! Shall I go back and tellhim I misremembered for a moment where the creek is?"

  "No, sir. You had me scared badly enough when you drew their attentionto yourself. Why did you do it?"

  "It was the surest way to disarm any suspicion they might have had. Oneof them had just said the man they wanted was like me. Presently, onewould have been guessing that it was me." He looked at her drolly, andadded: "You played up to me fine, sis."

  A touch of deeper color beat into her dusky cheeks. "We'll drop therelationship right now, if you please. I said only what you made mesay," she told him, a little stiffly.

  But presently she relaxed to the note of friendliness, even ofcomradeship, habitual to her. She was a singularly frank creature,having been brought up in a country where women were few and far, andwhere conventions were of the simplest. Otherwise, she would not haveconfessed to him with unconscious naeivete, as she now did, how greatlyshe had been troubled for him before she received the note from Speed.

  "It worried me all the time, and it troubled dad, too. I could see that.We had hardly left you before I knew we had done wrong. Dad did it forme, of course; but he felt mighty bad about it. Somehow, I couldn'tthink of anything but you there, with all those men shooting at you.Suppose you had waited too long before surrendering! Suppose you hadbeen killed for us!" She looked at him, and felt a shiver run over herin the warm sunlight. "Night before last I was worn out. I slept some,but I kept dreaming they were killing you. Oh, you don't know how glad Iwas to get word from Speed that you were alive." Her soft voice had thegift of expressing feeling, and it was resonant with it now.

  "I'm glad you were glad," he said quietly.

  Across Dead Cow Creek they rode, following the stream up French Canonto what was known as the Narrows. Here the great rock walls, nearly twothousand feet high, came so close together as to leave barely room fora footpath beside the creek which boiled down over great bowlders.Unexpectedly, there opened in the wall a rock fissure, and through thisArlie guided her horse.

  The Texan wondered where she could be taking him, for the fissureterminated in a great rock slide some two hundred yards ahead of them.Before reaching this she turned sharply to the left, and began windingin and out among the big bowlders which had fallen from the summit farabove.

  Presently Fraser observed with astonishment that they were followinga path that crept up the very face of the bluff. Up--up--up they wentuntil they reached a rift in the wall, and into this the trail wentprecipitously. Stones clattered down from the hoofs of the horses asthey clambered up like mountain goats. Once the Texan had to throwhimself to the ground to keep Teddy from falling backward.

  Arlie, working her pony forward with voice and body and knees, so thatfrom her seat in the saddle she seemed literally to lift him up, reachedthe summit and looked back.

  "All right back there?" she asked quietly.

  "All right," came the cheerful answer. "Teddy isn't used to climbing upa wall, but he'll make it or know why."

  A minute later, man and horse were beside her.

  "Good for Teddy," she said, fondling his nose.

  "Look out! He doesn't like strangers to handle him."

  "We're not strangers. We're tillicums. Aren't we, Teddy?"

  Teddy said "Yes" after the manner of a horse, as plain as words couldsay it.

  From their feet the trail dropped again to another gorge, beyond whichthe ranger could make out a stretch of valley through which ran thegleam of a silvery thread.

  "We're going down now into Mantrap Gulch. The patch of green you seebeyond is Lost Valley," she told him.

  "Lost Valley," he repeated, in amazement. "Are we going to Lost Valley?"

  "You've named our destination."

  "But--you don't live in Lost Valley."

  "Don't I?"

  "Do you?"

  "Yes," she answered, amused at his consternation, if it were that.

  "I wish I had known," he said, as if to himself.

  "You know now. Isn't that soon enough? Are you afraid of the place,because people make a mystery of it?" she demanded impatiently.

  "No. It isn't that." He looked across at the valley again, and askedabruptly: "Is this the only way in?"

  "No. There is another, but this is the quickest."

  "Is the other as difficult as this?"

  "In a way, yes. It is very much more round-about. It isn't known much bythe public. Not many outsiders have business in the valley."

  She volunteered no explanation in detail, and the man beside her said,with a grim laugh:

  "There isn't any general admission to the public this way, is there?"

  "No. Oh, folks can come if they want to."

  He looked full in her face, and sai
d significantly: "I thought the wayto Lost Valley was a sort of a secret--one that those who know are notexpected to tell."

  "Oh, that's just talk. Not many come in but our friends. We've had to becareful lately. But you can't call a secret what a thousand folks know."

  It was like a blow in the face to him. Not many but their friends! Andshe was taking him in confidently because he was her friend. What sortof a friend was he? he asked himself. He could not perform the task towhich he was pledged without striking home at her. If he succeeded inferreting out the Squaw Creek raiders he must send to the penitentiary,perhaps to death, her neighbors, and possibly her relatives. She hadtold him her father was not implicated, but a daughter's faith in herparent was not convincing proof of his innocence. If not her father, abrother might be involved. And she was innocently making it easy for himto meet on a friendly footing these hospitable, unsuspecting savages,who had shed human blood because of the unleashed passions in them!

  In that moment, while he looked away toward Lost Valley, he sickened ofthe task that lay before him. What would she think of him if she knew?

  Arlie, too, had been looking down the gulch toward the valley. Now hergaze came slowly round to him and caught the expression of his face.

  "What's the matter?" she cried.

  "Nothing. Nothing at all. An old heart pain that caught me suddenly."

  "I'm sorry. We'll soon be home now. We'll travel slowly."

  Her voice was tender with sympathy; so, too, were her eyes when he metthem.

  He looked away again and groaned in his heart.

 
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