Part II. The Girl of Lost Valley
Chapter XVIII. A Witness in Rebuttal
 

Two hours later, Lieutenant Fraser was closeted with Brandt and Hilliard. He told them his story-- or as much of it as he deemed necessary. The prosecuting attorney heard him to an end before he gave a short, 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 and betray my friends."

Hilliard wagged his fat forefinger. "How about betraying our trust? How about throwing us down? We let you escape, after you had given us your word 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 reason that 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 three witnesses, 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 been fair with you."

Hilliard looked at Brandt, with twinkling eyes. It struck Fraser that they 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 that I'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 are right here. Suppose we find out."

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

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

The ranger saw only Arlie. His gaze was full of deep reproach. "You came down 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 I was 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 was right. Did you think dad and I would sit still and let you pay forfeit for us?"

The lieutenant's spirits rejoiced at the thing she had done, but his mind 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 of good news for both of you. Two of the boys that were in that shooting scrap three miles from town came to my office the other day and admitted that they attacked you. It got noised around that there was a girl in it, and they were anxious to have the thing dropped. I don't think either of you need worry about it any more."

Dillon gave a shout. "Glory, hallelujah!" He had been much troubled, and his relief shone on his face. "I say, gentlemen, that's the best news I'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 eyes met his and held fast. Beneath the olive of her cheeks, a color began to glow.

He held out both his hands. The light in his eyes softened, transfigured his hard face. "You can't help it, honey. It may not be what you would have 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 to a 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 were laughing, because I had just been guying them about how quick they got engaged. She was saying I'd be engaged myself before six months. And I am. Ain't I?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Fifty years. Oh, Steve!"

She gave a happy little sigh, and nestled closer.