A texas ranger, p.17
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       A Texas Ranger, p.17

           William MacLeod Raine
 
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  CHAPTER IV -- THE WARNING OF MANTRAP GULCH

  They followed the trail down into the canyon. As the ponies slowly pickedtheir footing on the steep narrow path, he asked:

  "Why do they call it Mantrap Gulch?"

  "It got its name before my time in the days when outlaws hid here. Ahunted man came to Lost Canon, a murderer wanted by the law for morecrimes than one. He was well treated by the settlers. They gave himshelter and work. He was safe, and he knew it. But he tried to make hispeace with the law outside by breaking the law of the valley. Heknew that two men were lying hid in a pocket gulch, opening from thevalley--men who were wanted for train robbery. He wrote to the companyoffering to betray these men if they would pay him the reward and seethat he was not punished for his crimes.

  "It seems he was suspected. His letter was opened, and the exits fromthe valley were both guarded. Knowing he was discovered, he tried toslip out by the river way. He failed, sneaked through the settlement atnight, and slipped into the canyon here. At this end of it he found armedmen on guard. He ran back and found the entrance closed. He was in atrap. He tried to climb one of the walls. Do you see that point wherethe rock juts out?"

  "About five hundred feet up? Yes."

  "He managed to climb that high. Nobody ever knows how he did it, butwhen morning broke there he was, like a fly on a wall. His hunters cameand saw him. I suppose he could hear them laughing as their voices cameechoing up to him. They shot above him, below him, on either side ofhim. He knew they were playing with him, and that they would finish himwhen they got ready. He must have been half crazy with fear. Anyhow, helost his hold and fell. He was dead before they reached him. From thatday this has been called Mantrap Gulch."

  The ranger looked up at the frowning walls which shut out the sunlight.His imagination pictured the drama--the hunted man's wild flight up thegulch; his dreadful discovery that it was closed; his desperate attemptto climb by moonlight the impossible cliff, and the tragedy thatovertook him.

  The girl spoke again softly, almost as if she were in the presence ofthat far-off Nemesis. "I suppose he deserved it. It's an awful thing tobe a traitor; to sell the people who have befriended you. We can't putourselves in his place and know why he did it. All we can say is thatwe're glad--glad that we have never known men who do such things. Do youthink people always felt a sort of shrinking when they were near him, ordid he seem just like other men?"

  Glancing at the man who rode beside her, she cried out at the strickenlook on his face. "It's your heart again. You're worn out withanxiety and privations. I should have remembered and come slower," shereproached herself.

  "I'm all right--now. It passes in a moment," he said hoarsely.

  But she had already slipped from the saddle and was at his bridle rein."No--no. You must get down. We have plenty of time. We'll rest here tillyou are better."

  There was nothing for it but to obey. He dismounted, feeling himself ahumbug and a scoundrel. He sat down on a mossy rock, his back againstanother, while she trailed the reins and joined him.

  "You are better now, aren't you?" she asked, as she seated herself on anadjacent bowlder.

  Gruffly he answered: "I'm all right."

  She thought she understood. Men do not like to be coddled. She began totalk cheerfully of the first thing that came into her head. He made thenecessary monosyllabic responses when her speech put it up to him, butshe saw that his mind was brooding over something else. Once she saw hisgaze go up to the point on the cliff reached by the fugitive.

  But it was not until they were again in the saddle that he spoke.

  "Yes, he got what was coming to him. He had no right to complain."

  "That's what my father says. I don't deny the justice of it, butwhenever I think of it, I feel sorry for him."

  "Why?"

  Despite the quietness of the monosyllable, she divined an eager interestback of his question.

  "He must have suffered so. He wasn't a brave man, they say. And he wasone against many. They didn't hunt him. They just closed the trap andlet him wear himself out trying to get through. Think of that awful weekof hunger and exposure in the hills before the end!"

  "It must have been pretty bad, especially if he wasn't a game man. Buthe had no legitimate kick coming. He took his chance and lost. It was upto him to pay."

  "His name was David Burke. When he was a little boy I suppose his motherused to call him Davy. He wasn't bad then; just a little boy to becuddled and petted. Perhaps he was married. Perhaps he had a sweetheartwaiting for him outside, and praying for him. And they snuffed his lifeout as if he had been a rattlesnake."

  "Because he was a miscreant and it was best he shouldn't live. Yes, theydid right. I would have helped do it in their place."

  "My father did," she sighed.

  They did not speak again until they had passed from between the chillwalls to the warm sunshine of the valley beyond. Among the rocks abovethe trail, she glimpsed some early anemones blossoming bravely.

  She drew up with a little cry of pleasure. "They're the first I haveseen. I must have them."

  Fraser swung from the saddle, but he was not quick enough. She reachedthem before he did, and after they had gathered them she insisted uponsitting down again.

  He had his suspicions, and voiced them. "I believe you got me off justto make me sit down."

  She laughed with deep delight. "I didn't, but since we are here weshall." And she ended debate by sitting down tailor-fashion, andbeginning to arrange her little bouquet.

  A meadow lark, troubadour of spring, trilled joyously somewhere in thepines above. The man looked up, then down at the vivid creature busywith her flowers at his feet. There was kinship between the two. She,too, was athrob with the joy note of spring.

  "You're to sit down," she ordered, without looking up from the sheaf ofanemone blossoms she was arranging.

  He sank down beside her, aware vaguely of something new and poignant inhis life.

 
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