A Texas Ranger by William MacLeod Raine
Part II. The Girl of Lost Valley
Chapter V. Jed Briscoe Takes a Hand
Suddenly a footfall, and a voice:
"Hello, Arlie! I been looking for you everywhere."
The Texan's gaze took in a slim dark man, goodlooking after a fashion, but with dissipation written on the rather sullen face.
"Well, you've found me," the girl answered coolly.
"Yes, I've found you," the man answered, with a steady, watchful eye on the Texan.
Miss Dillon was embarrassed at this plain hostility, but indignation too sparkled in her eye. "Anything in particular you want?"
The newcomer ignored her question. His hard gaze challenged the Southerner; did more than challenge-- weighed and condemned.
But this young woman was not used to being ignored. Her voice took on an edge of sharpness.
"What can I do for you, Jed?"
"Who's your friend?" the man demanded bluntly, insolently.
Arlie's flush showed the swift, upblazing resentment she immediately controlled. "Mr. Fraser-- just arrived from Texas. Mr. Fraser, let me introduce to you Mr. Briscoe."
The Texan stepped forward to offer his hand, but Briscoe deliberately put both of his behind him.
"Might I ask what Mr. Fraser, just arrived from Texas, is doing here?" the young man drawled, contriving to make an insult of every syllable.
The girl's eyes flashed dangerously. "He is here as my guest."
"Oh, as your guest!"
"Doesn't it please you, Jed?"
"Have I said it didn't please me?" he retorted smoothly.
"Your looks say it."
He let out a sudden furious oath. "Then my looks don't lie any."
Fraser was stepping forward, but with a gesture Arlie held him back. This was her battle, not his.
"What have you got to say about it?" she demanded.
"You had no right to bring him here. Who is he anyhow?"
"I think that is his business, and mine."
"I make it mine," he declared hotly. "I've heard about this fellow from your father. You met up with him on the trail. He says his name is Fraser. You don't even know whether that is true. He may be a spy. How do you know he ain't?"
"How do I know you aren't?" she countered swiftly.
"You've known me all my life. Did you ever see him before?"
"He risked his life to save ours."
"Risked nothing! It was a trick, I tell you."
"It makes no difference to me what you tell me. Your opinion can't affect mine."
"You know the feeling of the valley just now about strangers," said Briscoe sullenly.
"It depends on who the stranger is."
"Well, I object to this one."
"So it seems; but I don't know any law that makes me do whatever you want me to." Her voice, low and clear, cut like a whiplash.
Beneath the dust of travel the young man's face burned with anger. "We're not discussing that just now. What I say is that you had no right to bring him here-- not now, especially. You know why," he added, almost in a whisper.
"If you had waited and not attempted to brow-beat me, I would have shown you that that is the very reason I had to bring him."
"How do you mean?"
"Never mind what I mean. You have insulted my friend, and through him, me. That is enough for one day." She turned from him haughtily and spoke to the Texan. "If you are ready, Mr. Fraser, we'll be going now."
The ranger, whose fingers had been itching to get at the throat of this insolent young man, turned without a word and obediently brought the girl's pony, then helped her to mount. Briscoe glared, in a silent tempest of passion.
"I think I have left a glove and my anemones where we were sitting," the girl said sweetly to the Texan.
Fraser found them, tightened the saddle girth, and mounted Teddy. As they cantered away, Arlie called to him to look at the sunset behind the mountains.
From the moment of her dismissal of Briscoe the girl had apparently put him out of her thoughts. No fine lady of the courts could have done it with more disdainful ease. And the Texan, following her lead, played his part in the little comedy, ignoring the other man as completely as she did.
The young cattleman, furious, his teeth set in impotent rage, watched it all with the lust to kill in his heart. When they had gone, he flung himself into the saddle and rode away in a tumultuous fury.
Before they had covered two hundred yards Arlie turned to her companion, all contrition. "There! I've done it again. My fits of passion are always getting me into trouble. This time one of them has given you an enemy, and a bad one, too."
"No. He would have been my enemy no rnatter what you said. Soon as he put his eyes on me, I knew it."
"Because I brought you here, you mean?"
"I don't mean only that. Some folks are born to be enemies, just as some are born to be friends. They've only got to look in each other's eyes once to know it."
"That's strange. I never heard anybody else say that. Do you really mean it?"
"And did you ever have such an enemy before? Don't answer me if I oughtn't to ask that," she added quickly.
"In Texas. Why, here we are at a ranch!"
"Yes. It's ours, and yours as long as you want to stay. Did you feel that you were enemies the moment you saw this man in Texas?"
"I knew we were going to have trouble as soon as we looked at each other. I had no feeling toward him, but he had toward me."
"And did you have trouble?"
"Some, before I landed him. The way it turned out he had most of it."
She glanced quickly at him. "What do you mean by 'landed'?"
"I am an officer in the Texas Rangers."
"What are they? Something like our forest rangers?"
"No. The duty of a Texas Ranger is to enforce the law against desperadoes. We prevent crime if we can. When we can't do that, we hunt down the criminals."
Arlie looked at him in a startled silence.
"You are an officer of the law-- a sort of sheriff?" she said, at last.
"Yes, in Texas. This is Wyoming." He made his distinction, knowing it was a false one. Somehow he had the feeling of a whipped cur.
"I wish I had known. If you had only told me earlier," she said, so low as to be almost a whisper.
"I'm sorry. If you like, I'll go away again," he offered.
"No, no. I'm only thinking that it gives Jed a hold, gives him something to stir up his friends with, you know. That is, it would if he knew. He mustn't find out."
"Be frank. Don't make any secret of it. That's the best way," he advised.
She shook her head. "You don't know Jed's crowd. They'd be suspicious of any officer, no matter where he came from."
"Far as I can make out, that young man is going to be loaded with suspicions of me anyhow," he laughed.
"It isn't anything to laugh at. You don't know him," she told him gravely.
"And can't say I'm suffering to," he drawled.
She looked at him a little impatiently, as if he were a child playing with gunpowder and unaware of its potentialities.
"Can't you understand? You're not in Texas with your friends all around you. This is Lost Valley-- and Lost Valley isn't on the map. Men make their own law here. That is, some of them do. I wouldn't give a snap of my fingers for your life if the impression spread that you are a spy. It doesn't matter that I know you're not. Others must feel it, too."
"I see. And Mr. Briscoe will be a molder of public opinion?"
"So far as he can he will. We must forestall him."
"Beat him to it, and give me a clean bill of moral health, eh?"
She frowned. "This is serious business, my friend."
"I'm taking it that way," he said smilingly.
"I shouldn't have guessed it."
Yet for all his debonair ease the man had an air of quiet competence. His strong, bronzed face and neck, the set of his shoulders, the light poise of him in the saddle, the steady confidence of the gray eyes, all told her as much. She was aware of a curiosity about what was hidden behind that stone-wall face of his.
"You didn't finish telling me about that enemy in Texas," she suggested suddenly.
"Oh, there ain't much to tell. He broke out from the pen, where I had put him when I was a kid. He was a desperado wanted by the authorities, so I arrested him again."
"He made some trouble, shot up two or three men first." Fraser lifted his hand absently.
"Is that scar on your hand where he shot you?" Arlie asked.
He looked up in quick surprise. "Now, how did you know that?"
"You were talking of the trouble he made and you looked at your hand," she explained. "Where is he now? In the penitentiary?"
"No. He broke away before I got him there."
She had another flash of inspiration. "And you came to Wyoming to get him again."
"Good gracious, ma'am, but you're ce'tainly a wizard! That's why I came, though it's a secret."
"What is he wanted for?"
"Robbing a train, three murders and a few other things."
As she swung from her pony in front of the old-fashioned Southern log house, Artie laughed at him over her shoulder.
"You're a fine officer! Tell all you know to the first girl you meet!"
"Well, you see, the girl happened to be-- you!"
After the manner of the old-fashioned Southern house a wide "gallery" bisected it from porch to rear. Saddles hung from pegs in the gallery. Horse blankets and bridles, spurs and saddlebags, lay here and there in disarray. A disjointed rifle which some one had started to clean was on the porch. Swiftly Arlie stripped saddle, bridle, and blanket from her pony and flung them down as a contribution to the general disorder, and at her suggestion Fraser did the same. A half-grown lad came running to herd the horses into a corral close at hand.
"I want you when you've finished feeding, Bobbie," Arlie told the lad. Then briefly to her guest: "This way, please."
She led him into a large, cheerful living room, into which, through big casement windows, the light streamed. It was a pleasant room, despite its barbaric touch. There was a grizzly bear skin before the great open, stone fireplace, and Navajo rugs covered the floor and hung on the walls. The skin of a silver-tip bear was stretched beneath a writing desk, a trophy of Arlie's rifle, which hung in a rack above. Civilization had furnished its quota to the room in a piano, some books, and a few photographs.
The Texan observed that order reigned here, even though it did not interfere with the large effect of comfort.
The girl left him, to return presently with her aunt, to whom she introduced him. Miss Ruth Dillon was a little, bright-eyed old lady, whose hair was still black, and her step light. Evidently she had her instructions, for she greeted their guest with charming cordiality, and thanked him for the service he had rendered her brother and her niece.
Presently the boy Bobbie arrived for further orders. Arlie went to her desk and wrote hurriedly.
"You're to give this note to my father," she directed. "Be sure he gets it himself. You ought to find him down in Jackson's Pocket, if the drive is from Round Top to-day. But you can ask about that along the road."
When the boy had gone, Arlie turned to Fraser.
"I want to tell father you're here before Jed gets to him with his story," she explained. "I've asked him to ride down right away. He'll probably come in a few hours and spend the night here."
After they had eaten supper they returned to the living room, where a great fire, built by Jim the negro horse wrangler, was roaring up the chimney.
It was almost eleven o'clock when horses galloped up and Dillon came into the house, followed by Jed Briscoe. The latter looked triumphant, the former embarrassed as he disgorged letters and newspapers from his pocket.
"I stopped at the office to get the mail as I came down. Here's yore paper, Ruth."
Miss Dillon pounced eagerly upon the Gimlet Butte Avalanche, and disappeared with it to her bedroom. She had formerly lived in Gimlet Butte, and was still keenly interested in the gossip of the town.
Briscoe had scored one against Arlie by meeting her father, telling his side of the story, and returning with him to the house. Nevertheless Arlie, after giving him the slightest nod her duty as hostess would permit, made her frontal attack without hesitation.
"You'll be glad to know, dad, that Mr. Fraser is our guest. He has had rather a stormy time since we saw him last, and he has consented to stay with us a few days till things blow over."
Dillon, very ill at ease, shook hands with the Texan, and was understood to say that he was glad to see him.
"Then you don't look it, dad," Arlie told him, with a gleam of vexed laughter.
Her father turned reproachfully upon her. "Now, honey, yo' done wrong to say that. Yo' know Mr. Fraser is welcome to stay in my house long as he wants. I'm proud to have him stay. Do you think I forgot already what he done for us?"
"Of course not. Then it's all settled," Arlie cut in, and rushed on to another subject. "How's the round-up coming, dad?"
"We'll talk about the round-up later. What I'm saying is that Mr, Fraser has only got to say the word, and I'm there to he'p him till the cows come home."
"That's just what I told him, dad."
"Hold yore hawsses, will yo', honey? But, notwithstanding which, and not backing water on that proposition none, we come to another p'int."
"Which Jed made to you carefully on the way down," his daughter interrupted scornfully.
"It don't matter who made it. The p'int is that there are reasons why strangers ain't exactly welcome in this valley right now, Mr. Fraser. This country is full o' suspicion. Whilst it's onjust, charges are being made against us on the outside. Right now the settlers here have got to guard against furriners. Now I know yo're all right, Mr. Fraser. But my neighbors don't know it."
"It was our lives he saved, not our neighbors'," scoffed Arlie.
"K'rect. So I say, Mr. Fraser, if yo' are out o' funds, I'll finance you. Wherever you want to go I'll see you git there, but I hain't got the right to invite you to stay in Lost Valley."
"Better send him to Gimlet Butte, dad! He killed a man in helping us to escape, and he 's wanted bad! He broke jail to get here! Pay his expenses back to the Butte! Then if there's a reward, you and Jed can divide it!" his daughter jeered.
"What's that? Killed a man, yo' say?"
"Yes. To save us. Shall we send him back under a rifle guard? Or shall we have Sheriff Brandt come and get him?"
"Gracious goodness, gyurl, shet up whilst I think. Killed a man, eh? This valley has always been open to fugitives. Ain't that right, Jed?"
"To fugitives, yes," said Jed significantly. "But that fact ain't proved."
"Jed's getting right important. We'll soon be asking him whether we can stay here," said Arlie, with a scornful laugh. "And I say it is proved. We met the deputies the yon side of the big caņon."
Briscoe looked at her out of dogged, half-shuttered eyes. He said nothing, but he looked the picture of malice.
Dillon rasped his stubbly chin and looked at the Texan. Far from an alert-minded man, he came to conclusions slowly. Now he arrived at one.
"Dad burn it, we'll take the 'fugitive' for granted. Yo' kin lie up here long as yo' like, friend. I'll guarantee yo' to my neighbors. I reckon if they don't like it they kin lump it. I ain't a-going to give up the man that saved my gyurl's life."
The door opened and let in Miss Ruth Dillon. The little old lady had the newspaper in her hand, and her beady eyes were shining with excitement.
"It's all in here, Mr. Fraser-- about your capture and escape. But you didn't tell us all of it. Perhaps you didn't know, though, that they had plans to storm the jail and hang you?"
"Yes, I knew that," the Texan answered coolly. "The jailer told me what was coming to me. I decided not to wait and see whether he was lying. I wrenched a bar from the window, lowered myself by my bedding, flew the coop, and borrowed a horse. That's the whole story, ma'am, except that Miss Arlie brought me here to hide me."
"Read aloud what the paper says," Dillon ordered.
His sister handed the Avalanche to her niece. Arlie found the article and began to read:
"A dastardly outrage occurred three miles from Gimlet Butte last night. While on their way home from the trial of the well-known Three Pines sheep raid case, a small party of citizens were attacked by miscreants presumed to be from the Cedar Mountain country. How many of these there were we have no means of knowing, as the culprits disappeared in the mountains after murdering William Faulkner, a well-known sheep man, and wounding Tom Long."
There followed a lurid account of the battle, written from the point of view of the other side. After which the editor paid his respects to Fraser, though not by name.
"One of the ruffians, for some unknown reason-- perhaps in the hope of getting a chance to slay another victim-- remained too long near the scene of the atrocity and was apprehended early this morning by that fearless deputy, James Schilling. He refused to give his name or any other information about himself. While the man is a stranger to Gimlet Butte, there can be no doubt that he is one of the Lost Valley desperadoes implicated in the Squaw Creek raid some months ago. Since the bullet that killed Faulkner was probably fired from the rifle carried by this man, it is safe to assume that the actual murderer was apprehended. The man is above medium height, well built and muscular, and carries all the earmarks of a desperate character."
Arlie glanced up from her reading to smile at Fraser. "Dad and I are miscreants, and you are a ruffian and a desperate character," she told him gayly.
"Go on, honey," her father urged.
The account told how the prisoner had been confined in the jail, and how the citizens, wrought up by the continued lawlessness of the Lost Valley district, had quietly gathered to make an example of the captured man. While condemning lynching in general, the Avalanche wanted to go on record as saying that if ever it was justifiable this was the occasion. Unfortunately, the prisoner, giving thus further evidence of his desperate nature, had cut his way out of prison with a pocketknife and escaped from town by means of a horse he found saddled and did not hesitate to steal. At the time of going to press he had not yet been recaptured, though Sheriff Brandt had several posses on his trail. The outlaw had cut the telephone wires, but it was confidently believed he would be captured before he reached his friends in the mountains.
Arlie's eyes were shining. She looked at Briscoe and handed him the paper triumphantly. This was her vindication for bringing the hunted man to Lost Valley. He had been fighting their battles and had almost lost his life in doing it. Jed might say what he liked while she had this to refute him.
"I guess that editor doesn't believe so confidently as he pretends," she said. "Anyhow, he has guessed wrong. Mr. Fraser has reached his friends, and they'll look out for him."
Her father came to her support radiantly. "You bet yore boots they will, honey. Shake hands on it, Mr. Fraser. I reckon yore satisfied too, Jed. Eh, boy?"
Briscoe viewed the scene with cynical malice. "Quite a hero, ain't he? If you want to know, I stand pat. Mr. Fraser from Texas don't draw the wool over my eyes none. Right now I serve notice to that effect. Meantime, since I don't aim to join the happy circle of his admirers, I reckon I'll duck."
He nodded impudently at Arlie, turned on his heel, and went trailing off with jingling spur. They heard him cursing at his horse as he mounted. The cruel swish of a quirt came to them, after which the swift pounding of a horse's hoofs. The cow pony had found its gallop in a stride.
The Texan laughed lightly. "Exit Mr. Briscoe, some disappointed," he murmured.
He noticed that none of the others shared his mirth.