A texas ranger, p.30
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       A Texas Ranger, p.30

           William MacLeod Raine
 
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  CHAPTER XVII -- ON THE ROAD TO GIMLET BUTTE

  "We'll go out by the river way," said Howard tentatively. "Eh, whatthink, Sig? It's longer, but Yorky will be expecting us to take theshort cut over the pass."

  The Norwegian agreed. "It bane von chance, anyhow."

  By unfrequented trails they traversed the valley till they reached thecanyon down which poured Squaw Creek on its way to the outside world.A road ran alongside this for a mile or two, but disappeared into thestream when the gulch narrowed. The first faint streaks of gray dawnwere lightening the sky enough for Fraser to see this. He was riding inadvance, and commented upon it to Siegfried, who rode with him.

  The Norwegian laughed. "Ay bane t'ink we do some wadin'."

  They swung off to the right, and a little later splashed through thewater for a few minutes and came out into a spreading valley beyond thesheer walls of the retreat they had left. Taking the road again, theytraveled faster than they had been able to do before.

  "Who left the valley yesterday for Gimlet Butte, Sig?" Howard asked,after it was light enough to see. "I notice tracks of two horses."

  "Ay bane vondering. Ay t'ink mebbe West over----"

  "I reckon not. This ain't the track of his big bay. Must 'a' beenyesterday, too, because it rained the night before."

  For some hours they could see occasionally the tracks of the two horses,but eventually lost them where two trails forked.

  "Taking the Sweetwater cutout to the Butte, I reckon," Howard surmised.

  They traveled all day, except for a stop about ten o'clock forbreakfast, and another late in the afternoon, to rest the horses. Atnight, they put up at a ranch house, and were in the saddle again earlyin the morning. Before noon, they struck a telephone line, and Frasercalled up Brandt at a ranch.

  "Hello! This Sheriff Brandt? Lieutenant Fraser, of the Texas Rangers, istalking. I'm on my way to town with a prisoner. We're at Christy's, now.There will, perhaps, be an attempt to take him from us. I'll explain thecircumstances later.... Yes.... Yes.... We can hold him, I think, butthere may be trouble.... Yes, that's it. We have no legal right todetain him, I suppose.... That's what I was going to suggest. Bettersend about four men to meet us. We'll come in on the Blasted Pine road.About nine to-night, I should think."

  As they rode easily along the dusty road, the Texan explained his planto his friends.

  "We don't want any trouble with Yorky's crowd. We ain't any of usdeputies, and my commission doesn't run in Wyoming, of course. My notionis to lie low in the hills two or three hours this afternoon, and giveBrandt a chance to send his men out to meet us. The responsibility willbe on them, and we can be sworn in as deputies, too."

  They rested in a grassy draw, about fifteen miles from town, and tookthe trail again shortly after dark. It was an hour later that Fraser,who had an extraordinary quick ear, heard the sound of men riding towardthem. He drew his party quickly into the shadows of the hills, a littledistance from the road.

  They could hear voices of the advancing party, and presently could makeout words.

  "I tell you, they've got to come in on this road, Slim," one of the menwas saying dogmatically. "We're bound to meet up with them. That's allthere is to it."

  "Yorky," whispered Howard, in the ranger's ear.

  They rode past in pairs, six of them in all. As chance would have it,Siegfried's pony, perhaps recognizing a friend among those passing,nickered shrilly its greeting. Instantly, the riders drew up.

  "Where did that come from?" Yorky asked, in a low voice.

  "From over to the right. I see men there now See! Up against that hill."Slim pointed toward the group in the shadow.

  Yorky hailed them. "That you, Sig?"

  "Yuh bane von good guesser," answered the Norwegian.

  "How many of you are there?"

  "Four, Yorky," Fraser replied.

  "There are six of us. We've got you outnumbered, boys."

  Very faintly there came to the lieutenant the beat of horses' feet. Hesparred for time.

  "What do you want, Yorky?"

  "You know what we want. That murderer you've got there--that's what wewant."

  "We're taking him in to be tried, Yorky. Justice will be done to him."

  "Not at Gimlet Butte it won't. No jury will convict him for killing JedBriscoe, from Lost Valley. We're going to hang him, right now."

  "You'll have to fight for him, my friend, and before you do that I wantyou to understand the facts."

  "We understand all the facts we need to, right now."

  The lieutenant rode forward alone. He knew that soon they too would hearthe rhythmic beat of the advancing posse.

  "We've got all night to settle this, boys. Let's do what is fair andsquare. That's all I ask."

  "Now you're shouting, lieutenant. That's all we ask."

  "It depends on what you mean by fair and square," another one spoke up.

  The ranger nodded amiably at him. "That you, Harris? Well, let's look atthe facts right. Here's Lost Valley, that's had a bad name ever sinceit was inhabited. Far as I can make out its settlers are honest men,regarded outside as miscreants. Just as folks were beginning to forgetit, comes the Squaw Creek raid. Now, I'm not going into that, and I'mnot going to say a word against the man that lies dead up in the hills.But I'll say this: His death solves a problem for a good many of theboys up there. I'm going to make it my business to see that the factsare known right down in Gimlet Butte. I'm going to lift the blame fromthe boys that were present, and couldn't help what happened."

  Yorky was impressed, but suspicion was not yet banished from his mind."You seem to know a lot about it, lieutenant."

  "No use discussing that, Yorky. I know what I know. Here's the great bigpoint: If you lynch the man that shot Jed, the word will go out that thevalley is still a nest of lawless outlaws. The story will be that theSquaw Creek raiders and their friends did it. Just as the situation isclearing up nicely, you'll make it a hundred times worse by seeming toindorse what Jed did on Squaw Creek."

  "By thunder, that's right," Harris blurted.

  Fraser spoke again. "Listen, boys. Do you hear horses galloping? Thatis Sheriff Brandt's deputies, coming to our assistance. You've lostthe game, but you can save your faces yet. Join us, and kelp escort theprisoner to town. Nobody need know why you came out. We'll put it thatit was to guard against a lynching."

  The men looked at each other sheepishly. They had been outwitted, and intheir hearts were glad of it. Harris turned to the ranger with alaugh. "You're a good one, Fraser. Kept us here talking, while yourreenforcements came up. Well, boys, I reckon we better join theSunday-school class."

  So it happened that when Sheriff Brandt and his men came up they foundthe mountain folk united. He was surprised at the size of the force withthe Texan.

  "You're certainly of a cautious disposition, lieutenant. With eight mento help you, I shouldn't have figured you needed my posse," he remarked.

  "It gives you the credit of bringing in the prisoner, sheriff," Stevetold him unblushingly, voicing the first explanation that came to hismind.

  CHAPTER XVIII -- A WITNESS IN REBUTTAL

  Two hours later, Lieutenant Fraser was closeted with Brandt andHilliard. He told them his story--or as much of it as he deemednecessary. The prosecuting attorney heard him to an end before he gave ashort, skeptical laugh.

  "It doesn't seem to me you've quite lived up to your reputation,lieutenant," he commented.

  "I wasn't trying to," retorted Steve.

  "What do you mean by that?"

  "I have told you how I got into the valley. I couldn't go in there andbetray my friends."

  Hilliard wagged his fat forefinger. "How about betraying our trust? Howabout throwing us down? We let you escape, after you had given us yourword to do this job, didn't we?"

  "Yes. I had to throw you down. There wasn't any other way."

  "You tell a pretty fishy story, lieutenant. It doesn't stand to reasonthat one man did all the mischief on that Squaw Creek
raid."

  "It is true. Not a shadow of a doubt of it. I'll bring you threewitnesses, if you'll agree to hold them guiltless."

  "And I suppose I'm to agree to hold you guiltless of Faulkner's death,too?" the lawyer demanded.

  "I didn't say that. I'm here, Mr. Hilliard, to deliver my person,because I can't stand by the terms of our agreement. I think I've beenfair with you."

  Hilliard looked at Brandt, with twinkling eyes. It struck Fraser thatthey had between them some joke in which he was not a sharer.

  "You're willing to assume full responsibility for the death of Faulkner,are you? Ready to plead guilty, eh?"

  Fraser laughed. "Just a moment. I didn't say that. What I said was thatI'm here to stand my trial. It's up to you to prove me guilty."

  "But, in point of fact, you practically admit it."

  "In point of fact, I would prefer not to say so. Prove it, if you can."

  "I have witnesses here, ready to swear to the truth, lieutenant."

  "Aren't your witnesses prejudiced a little?"

  "Maybe." The smile on Hilliard's fat face broadened. "Two of them areright here. Suppose we find out."

  He stepped to the door of the inner office, and opened it. From theroom emerged Dillon and his daughter. The Texan looked at Arlie in blankamazement.

  "This young lady says she was present, lieutenant, and knows who firedthe shot that killed Faulkner."

  The ranger saw only Arlie. His gaze was full of deep reproach. "You camedown here to save me," he said, in the manner of one stating a fact.

  "Why shouldn't I? Ought I to have let you suffer for me? Did you think Iwas so base?"

  "You oughtn't to have done it. You have brought trouble on yourself."

  Her eyes glowed with deep fires. "I don't care. I have done what wasright. Did you think dad and I would sit still and let you pay forfeitfor us?"

  The lieutenant's spirits rejoiced at the thing she had done, but hismind could not forget what she must go through.

  "I'm glad and I'm sorry," he said simply.

  Hilliard came, smiling, to relieve the situation. "I've got a piece ofgood news for both of you. Two of the boys that were in that shootingscrap three miles from town came to my office the other day and admittedthat they attacked you. It got noised around that there was a girlin it, and they were anxious to have the thing dropped. I don't thinkeither of you need worry about it any more."

  Dillon gave a shout. "Glory, hallelujah!" He had been much troubled, andhis relief shone on his face. "I say, gentlemen, that's the best newsI've heard in twenty years. Let's go celebrate it with just one."

  Brandt and Hilliard joined him, but the Texan lingered.

  "I reckon I'll join you later, gentlemen," he said.

  While their footsteps died away he looked steadily at Arlie. Her eyesmet his and held fast. Beneath the olive of her cheeks, a color began toglow.

  He held out both his hands. The light in his eyes softened, transfiguredhis hard face. "You can't help it, honey. It may not be what you wouldhave chosen, but it has got to be. You're mine."

  Almost beneath her breath she spoke. "You forgot--the other girl."

  "What other girl? There is none--never was one."

  "The girl in the picture."

  His eyes opened wide. "Good gracious! She's been married three months toa friend of mine. Larry Neill his name is."

  "And she isn't your sweetheart at all? Never was?"

  "I don't reckon she ever was. Neill took that picture himself. We werelaughing, because I had just been guying them about how quick they gotengaged. She was saying I'd be engaged myself before six months. And Iam. Ain't I?"

  She came to him slowly--first, the little outstretched hands, and thenthe soft, supple, resilient body. Slowly, too, her sweet reluctant lipscame round to meet his.

  "Yes, Steve, I'm yours. I think I always have been, even before I knewyou."

  "Even when you hated me?" he asked presently.

  "Most of all, when I hated you," She laughed happily. "That was justanother way of love."

  "We'll have fifty years to find out all the different ways," the manpromised.

  "Fifty years. Oh, Steve!"

  She gave a happy little sigh, and nestled closer.

 
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