A Texas Ranger by William MacLeod Raine
Part II. The Girl of Lost Valley
Chapter IV. The Warning of Mantrap Gulch
They followed the trail down into the caņon. As the ponies slowly picked their 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. A hunted man came to Lost Caņon, a murderer wanted by the law for more crimes than one. He was well treated by the settlers. They gave him shelter and work. He was safe, and he knew it. But he tried to make his peace with the law outside by breaking the law of the valley. He knew that two men were lying hid in a pocket gulch, opening from the valley-- men who were wanted for train robbery. He wrote to the company offering to betray these men if they would pay him the reward and see that he was not punished for his crimes.
"It seems he was suspected. His letter was opened, and the exits from the valley were both guarded. Knowing he was discovered, he tried to slip out by the river way. He failed, sneaked through the settlement at night, and slipped into the caņon here. At this end of it he found armed men on guard. He ran back and found the entrance closed. He was in a trap. He tried to climb one of the walls. Do you see that point where the rock juts out?"
"About five hundred feet up? Yes."
"He managed to climb that high. Nobody ever knows how he did it, but when morning broke there he was, like a fly on a wall. His hunters came and saw him. I suppose he could hear them laughing as their voices came echoing up to him. They shot above him, below him, on either side of him. He knew they were playing with him, and that they would finish him when they got ready. He must have been half crazy with fear. Anyhow, he lost his hold and fell. He was dead before they reached him. From that day 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 the gulch; his dreadful discovery that it was closed; his desperate attempt to climb by moonlight the impossible cliff, and the tragedy that overtook him.
The girl spoke again softly, almost as if she were in the presence of that far-off Nemesis. "I suppose he deserved,it. It's an awful thing to be a traitor; to sell the people who have befriended you. We can't put ourselves in his place and know why he did it. All we can say is that we're glad-- glad that we have never known men who do such things. Do you think people always felt a sort of shrinking when they were near him, or did he seem just like other men?"
Glancing at the man who rode beside her, she cried out at the stricken look on his face. "It's your heart again. You're worn out with anxiety and privations. I should have remembered and come slower," she reproached 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 till you are better."
There was nothing for it but to obey. He dismounted, feeling himself a humbug and a scoundrel. He sat down on a mossy rock, his back against another, while she trailed the reins and joined him.
"You are better now, aren't you?" she asked, as she seated herself on an adjacent bowlder.
Gruffly he answered: "I'm all right."
She thought she understood. Men do not like to be coddled. She began to talk cheerfully of the first thing that came into her head. He made the necessary monosyllabic responses when her speech put it up to him, but she saw that his mind was brooding over something else. Once she saw his gaze 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, but whenever I think of it, I feel sorry for him."
Despite the quietness of the monosyllable, she divined an eager interest back of his question.
"He must have suffered so. He wasn't a brave man, they say. And he was one against many. They didn't hunt him. They just closed the trap and let him wear himself out trying to get through. Think of that awful week of hunger and exposure in the hills before the end!"
"It must have been pretty bad, especially if he wasn't a game man. But he had no legitimate kick coming. He took his chance and lost. It was up to him to pay."
"His name was David Burke. When he was a little boy I suppose his mother used to call him Davy. He wasn't bad then; just a little boy to be cuddled and petted. Perhaps he was married. Perhaps he had a sweetheart waiting for him outside, and praying for him. And they snuffed his life out as if he had been a rattlesnake."
"Because he was a miscreant and it was best he shouldn't live. Yes, they did 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 chill walls to the warm sunshine of the valley beyond. Among the rocks above the trail, she glimpsed some early anemones blossoming bravely.
She drew up with a little cry of pleasure. "They're the first I have seen. I must have them."
Fraser swung from the saddle, but he was not quick enough. She reached them before he did, and after they had gathered them she insisted upon sitting down again.
He had his suspicions, and voiced them. "I believe you got me off just to make me sit down."
She laughed with deep delight. "I didn't, but since we are here we shall." And she ended debate by sitting down tailor-fashion, and beginning to arrange her little bouquet.
A meadow lark, troubadour of spring, trilled joyously somewhere in the pines above. The man looked up, then down at the vivid creature busy with 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 of anemone blossoms she was arranging.
He sank down beside her, aware vaguely of something new and poignant in his life.