Chapter 28. As it Turned Out

They found H. J. Owens the next forenoon wandering hopelessly lost in the hills. Since killing him was barred, they tied his arms behind him and turned him toward the Flying U. He was sullen, like an animal that is trapped and will do nothing but lie flattened to the ground and glare red-eyed at its captors. For that matter, the Happy Family themselves were pretty sullen. They had fought fire for hours--and that is killing work; and they had been in the saddle ever since, looking for the Kid and for this man who rode bound in their midst.

Weary and Irish and Pink, who had run across him in a narrow canyon, fired pistol-shot signals to bring the others to the spot. But when the others emerged from various points upon the scene, there was very little said about the capture.

In town, the Old man had been quite as eager to come close to Florence Grace Hallman--but he was not so lucky. Florence Grace had heard the news of the fire a good half hour before the train left for Great Falls.

She would have preferred a train going the other way, but she decided not to wait. She watched the sick woman put aboard the one Pullman coach, and then she herself went into the stuffy day-coach. Florence Grace Hallman was not in the habit of riding in day-coaches in the night-time when there was a Pullman sleeper attached to the train. She did not stop at Great Falls; she went on to Butte--and from there I do not know where she went. Certainly she never came back.

That, of course, simplified matters considerably for Florence Grace--and for the Happy Family as well. For at the preliminary hearing of H. J. Owens for the high crime of kidnapping, that gentleman proceeded to unburden his soul in a way that would have horrified Florence Grace, had she been there to hear. Remember, I told you that his eyes were the wrong shade of blue.

A man of whom you have never heard tried to slip out of the court room during the unburdening process, and was stopped by Andy Green, who had been keeping an eye on him for the simple reason that the fellow had been much in the company of H. J. Owens during the week preceding the fire and the luring away of the Kid. The sheriff led him off somewhere--and so they had the man who had set the prairie afire.

As is the habit of those who confess easily the crimes of others, H. J. Owens professed himself as innocent as he consistently could in the face of the Happy Family and of the Kid's loud-whispered remarks when he saw him there. He knew absolutely nothing about the fire, he said, and had nothing to do with the setting of it. He was two miles away at the time it started.

And then Miss Rosemary Allen took the witness stand and told about the man on the hilltop and the bit of mirror that had flashed sun-signals toward the west.

H.J. Owens crimpled down visibly in his chair. Imagine for yourself the trouble he would have in convincing men of his innocence after that.

Just to satisfy your curiosity, at the trial a month later he failed absolutely to convince the jury that he was anything but what he was--a criminal without the strength to stand by his own friends. He was sentenced to ten years in Deer Lodge, and the judge informed him that he had been dealt with leniently at that, because after all he was only a tool in the hands of the real instigator of the crime. That real instigator, by the way, was never apprehended.

The other man--he who had set fire to the prairie--got six years, and cursed the judge and threatened the whole Happy Family with death when the sentence was passed upon him--as so many guilty men do.

To go back to that preliminary, trial: The Happy Family, when H. J. Owens was committed safely to the county jail, along with the fire-bug, took the next train to Great Falls with witnesses and the Honorable Blake. They filed their answers to the contests two days before the time-limit had expired. You may call that shaving too close the margin of safety. But the Happy family did not worry over that--seeing there was a margin of safety. Nor did they worry over the outcome of the matter. With the Homeseekers' Syndicate in extremely bad repute, and with fully half of the colonists homeless and disgusted, why should they worry over their own ultimate success?

They planned great things with their irrigation scheme.... I am not going to tell any more about them just now. Some of you will complain, and want to know a good many things that have not been told in detail. But if I should try to satisfy you, there would be no more meetings between you and the Happy Family--since there would be no more to tell.

So I am not even going to tell you whether Andy succeeded in persuading Miss Rosemary Allen to go with him to the parson. Nor whether the Happy Family really did settle down to raise families and alfalfa and beards. Not another thing shall you know about them now.

You may take a look at them as they go trailing contentedly away from the land-office, with their hats tilted at various characteristic angles and their well-known voices mingled in more or less joyful converse, and their toes pointed toward Central Avenue and certain liquid refreshments. You need not worry over that bunch, surely. You may safely leave them to meet future problems and emergencies as they have always met them in the past--on their feet, with eyes that do not wave or flinch, shoulder to shoulder, ready alike far grin fate or a frolic.