The Rules of the Game by Stewart Edward White
Pollock took his hands, but stared at him puzzled. "Surely!" he said at last. His clear blue eyes slowly widened and became bigger. "Honest! Didn't you know me! Is that what ailed you, Bobby? I thought you'd done clean gone back on me; and I sure always remembered you for a friend!"
"Know you!" shouted Bob. "Why, you eternal old fool, how should I know you?"
"You might have made a plumb good guess."
"Oh, sure!" said Bob; "easiest thing in the world. Guess that the first shadow you see in the woods is a man you thought was in Mexico."
"Didn't you know I was here?" demanded Pollock earnestly. "Sure pop?"
"How should I know?" asked Bob again.
George Pollock's blue eyes smouldered with anger.
"I'll sure tan that promising nephew of mine!" he threatened; "I've done sent you fifty messages by him. Didn't he never give you none of them?"
"That's the whelp."
"That's a joke," said he; "I've been bunking with him for a year. Nary message!"
"I told Carroll and Martin and one or two more to tell you."
"I guess they're suspicious of any but the mountain people," said Bob. "They're right. How could they know?"
"That's right, they couldn't," agreed George reluctantly. "But I done told them you was my friend. And I thought you'd gone back on me sure."
"Not an inch!" cried Bob, heartily.
George kicked the logs of the fire together, filled the coffee pot at the creek, hung it over the blaze, and squatted on his heels. Bob tossed him a sack of tobacco which he caught.
"Thought you were bound for Mexico," hazarded Bob at length.
"I went," said Pollock shortly, "and I came back."
"Yes," said Bob after a time.
"Homesick," said Pollock; "plain homesick. Wasn't so bad that-a-way at first. I was desp'rit. Took a job punching with a cow outfit near Nogales. Worked myself plumb out every day, and slept hard all night, and woke up in the morning to work myself plumb out again."
He fished a coal from the fire and deftly flipped it atop his pipe bowl. After a dozen deep puffs, he continued:
"Never noticed the country; had nothing to do with the people. All I knew was brands and my bosses. Did good enough cow work, I reckon. For a fact, it was mebbe half a year before I begun to look around. That country is worse than over Panamit way. There's no trees; there's no water; there's no green grass; there's no folks; there's no nothin'! The mountains look like they're made of paper. After about a half year, as I said, I took note of all this, but I didn't care. What the hell difference did it make to me what the country was like? I hadn't no theories to that. I'd left all that back here."
He looked at Bob questioningly, unwilling to approach nearer his tragedy unless it was necessary. Bob nodded.
"Then I begun to dream. Things come to me. I'd see places plain--like the falls at Cascadell--and smell things. For a fact, I smelt azaleas plain and sweet once; and woke up in the damndest alkali desert you ever see. I thought I'd never want to see this country again; the farther I got away, the more things I'd forget. You understand."
Again Bob nodded.
"It wasn't that way. The farther off I got, the more I remembered. So one day I cashed in and come back."
He paused for some time, gazing meditatively on the coffee pot bubbling over the fire.
"It's good to get back!" he resumed at last. "It smells good; it tastes good. For a while that did me well enough.... I used to sneak down nights and look at my old place.... In summer I go back to Jim and the cattle, but it's dangerous these days. The towerists is getting thicker, and you can't trust everybody, even among the mountain folks."
"How many know you are back here?" asked Bob.
"Mighty few; Jim and his family knows, of course, and Tom Carroll and Martin and a few others. They ride up trail to the flat rock sometimes bringing me grub and papers. But it's plumb lonesome. I can't go on livin' this way forever, and I can't leave this yere place. Since I have been living here it seems like--well, I ain't no call as I can see it to desert my wife dead or alive!" he declared stoutly.
"You needn't explain," said Bob.
George Pollock turned to him with sudden relief.
"Well, you know about such things. What am I to do?"
"There are only two courses that I can see," answered Bob, after reflection, "outside the one you're following now. You can give yourself up to the authorities and plead guilty. There's a chance that mitigating circumstances will influence the judge to give you a light sentence; and there's always a possibility of a pardon. When all the details are made known there ought to be a good show for getting off easy."
"What's the other?" demanded Pollock, who had listened with the closest attention.
"The other is simply to go back home."
"They'd arrest me."
"Let them," said Bob. "Plead not guilty, and take your chances on the trial. Their evidence is circumstantial; you don't have to incriminate yourself; I doubt if a jury would agree on convicting you. Have you ever talked with anybody about--about that morning?"
"About me killing Plant?" supplied Pollock tranquilly. "No. A man don't ask about those things."
"Not even to Jim?"
"No. We just sort of took all that for granted."
"Well, that would be all right. Then if they're called on the stand, they can tell nothing. There are at least no witnesses to the deed itself."
"There's you----" suggested George.
Bob brought up short in his train of reasoning.
"But you won't testify agin me?"
"There's no reason why I should be called. Nobody even knows I was out of bed at that time. If my name happens to be mentioned--which isn't at all likely--Auntie Belle or a dozen others will volunteer that I was in bed, like the rest of the town. There's no earthly reason to connect me with it."
"But if you are called?" persisted the mountaineer.
"Then I'll have to tell the truth, of course," said Bob soberly; "it'll be under oath, you know."
Pollock looked at him strangely askant.
"I didn't much look to hear you talk that-a-way," said he.
"George," said Bob, "this will take money. Have you any?"
"I've some," replied the mountaineer sulkily.
"A hundred dollars or so."
"Not enough by a long patch. You must let me help you on this."
"I don't need no help," said Pollock.
"You let me help you once before," Bob reminded him gently, "if it was only to hold a horse."
"By God, that's right!" burst out George Pollock, "and I'm a fool! If they call you on the stand, don't you lie under oath for me! I don't believe you'd do it for yourself; and that's what I'm going to do for myself. I reckon I'll just plead guilty!"
"Don't be in a hurry," Bob warned him. "It isn't a matter to go off half-cock on. Any man would have done what you did. I'd have done it myself. That's why I stood by you. I'm not sure you aren't right to take advantage of what the law can do for you. Plenty do just that with only the object of acquiring other people's dollars. I don't say it's right in theory; but in this case it may be eternally right in practice. Go slow on deciding."
"You're sure a good friend, Bobby," said Pollock simply.
"Whatever you decide, don't even mention my name to any one," warned Bob. "We don't want to get me connected with the case in any man's mind. Hardly let on you remember to have known me. Don't overdo it though. You'll want a real good lawyer. I'll find out about that. And the money--how'll we fix it?"
George thought for a moment.
"Fix it with Jack," said he at length. "He'll stay put. Tell him not to tell his own father. He won't. He's reliable."
"Well, I'm risking my neck on it."
"I'll simply tell him the name of the lawyer," decided Bob, "and get him actual cash."
"I'll pay that back--the other I can't," said Pollock with sudden feeling. "Here, have a cup of coffee."
Bob swallowed the hot coffee gratefully. Without speaking further, Pollock arose and led the way. When finally they had reached the open forest above the camp, the mountaineer squeezed Bob's fingers hard.
"Good-bye," said the younger man in a guarded voice. "I won't see you again. Remember, even at best it's a long wait in jail. Think it over before you decide!"
"I'm in jail here," replied Pollock.
Bob walked thoughtfully to camp. He found a fire burning and Elliott afoot.
"Thank God, you're here!" cried that young man; "I was getting scared for you. What's up?"
"You are and I am," replied Bob. "Couldn't sleep, so I went for a walk. Think that bogy-man of yours had got me?"
"I surely began to."
"Nothing doing. I guess I can snooze a little now."
"I can't," complained Elliott. "You've got me good and waked up, confound you!"
Bob kicked off his boots, and without further disrobing rolled himself into his gray blanket. As he was dropping asleep two phrases flashed across his brain. They were: "compounding a felony," and "accessory after the fact."
"Don't feel much like a criminal either," murmured Bob to himself; and after a moment: "Poor devil!"