Part II. The Girl of Lost Valley
Chapter XVII. On the Road to Gimlet Butte
 

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

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

By unfrequented trails they traversed the valley till they reached the caņon 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 the stream when the gulch narrowed. The first faint streaks of gray dawn were lightening the sky enough for Fraser to see this. He was riding in advance, 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 the water for a few minutes and came out into a spreading valley beyond the sheer walls of the retreat they had left. Taking the road again, they traveled 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' been yesterday, 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 for breakfast, and another late in the afternoon, to rest the horses. At night, they put up at a ranch house, and were in the saddle again early in the morning. Before noon, they struck a telephone line, and Fraser called up Brandt at a ranch.

"Hello! This Sheriff Brandt? Lieutenant Fraser, of the Texas Rangers, is talking. 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 the circumstances later. ... Yes.... Yes.... We can hold him, I think, but there may be trouble.... Yes, that's it. We have no legal right to detain him, I suppose.... That's what I was going to suggest. Better send 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 plan to his friends.

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

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

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

"I tell you, they've got to come in on this road, Slim," one of the men was saying dogmatically. "We're bound to meet up with them. That's all there 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. He sparred for time.

"What do you want, Yorky?"

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

"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 Jed Briscoe, 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 want you 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 hear the rhythmic beat of the advancing posse.

"We've got all night to settle this, boys. Let's do what is fair and square. 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 at the facts right. Here's Lost Valley, that's had a bad name ever since it was inhabited. Far as I can make out its settlers are honest men, regarded outside as miscreants. Just as folks were beginning to forget it, comes the Squaw Creek raid. Now, I'm not going into that, and I'm not 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 the boys up there. I'm going to make it my business to see that the facts are known right down in Gimlet Butte. I'm going to lift the blame from the 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 big point: If you lynch the man that shot Jed, the word will go out that the valley is still a nest of lawless outlaws. The story will be that the Squaw Creek raiders and their friends did it. Just as the situation is clearing up nicely, you'll make it a hundred times worse by seeming to indorse what Jed did on Squaw Creek."

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

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

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

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

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

"It gives you the credit of bringing in the prisoner, sheriff," Steve told him unblushingly, voicing the first explanation that came to his mind.