William MacLeod Raine.

Gunsight Pass How Oil Came to the Cattle Country and Brought a New West online

. (page 11 of 19)
Online LibraryWilliam MacLeod RaineGunsight Pass How Oil Came to the Cattle Country and Brought a New West → online text (page 11 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


short cowpuncher.

"Don't use that word again, Shorty," advised the ranchman in a voice
gently ominous.

"Why not? True, ain't it? Doesn't deny it none, does he?"

"We'll not discuss that. Where were you yesterday?"

"Here, part o' the day. Where was you?" demanded Shorty impudently.
"Seems to me I heard you was right busy."

"What part of the day? Begin at the beginnin' and tell us what you did.
You may put yore hands down."

"Why, I got up in the mo'nin' and put on my pants an' my boots," jeered
Shorty. "I don't recolleck whether I put on my hat or not. Maybe I did. I
cooked breakfast and et it. I chawed tobacco. I cooked dinner and et it.
Smoked and chawed some more. Cooked supper and et it. Went to bed."

"That all?"

"Why, no, I fed the critters and fixed up a busted stirrup."

"Who was with you?"

"I was plumb lonesome yesterday. This any business of yours, by the way,
Em?"

"Think again, Shorty. Who was with you?"

The heavy-set cowpuncher helped himself to a chew of tobacco. "I told you
onct I was alone. Ain't seen anybody but you for a week."

"Then how did you hear yesterday was my busy day?" Crawford thrust at
him.

For a moment Shorty was taken aback. Before he could answer Dave spoke.

"Man coming up from the creek."

Crawford took crisp command. "Back in that corner, Shorty. Dave, you
stand back, too. Cover him soon as he shows up."

Dave nodded.




CHAPTER XXV

MILLER TALKS


A man stood in the doorway, big, fat, swaggering. In his younger days his
deep chest and broad shoulders had accompanied great strength. But fat
had accumulated in layers. He was a mountain of sagging flesh. His breath
came in wheezy puffs.

"Next time you get your own - "

The voice faltered, died away. The protuberant eyes, still cold and
fishy, passed fearfully from one to another of those in the room. It was
plain that the bottom had dropped out of his heart. One moment he had
straddled the world a Colossus, the next he was collapsing like a
punctured balloon.

"Goddlemighty!" he gasped. "Don't shoot! I - I give up."

He was carrying a bucket of water. It dropped from his nerveless fingers
and spilt over the floor.

Like a bullet out of a gun Crawford shot a question at him. "Where have
you hidden the money you got from the stage?"

The loose mouth of the convict opened. "Why, we - I - we - "

"Keep yore trap shut, you durn fool," ordered Shorty.

Crawford jabbed his rifle into the ribs of the rustler. "Yours, too,
Shorty."

But the damage had been done. Miller's flabby will had been braced by
a stronger one. He had been given time to recover from his dismay. He
moistened his lips with his tongue and framed his lie.

"I was gonna say you must be mistaken, Mr. Crawford," he whined.

Shorty laughed hardily, spat tobacco juice at a knot in the floor, and
spoke again. "Third degree stuff, eh? It won't buy you a thing, Crawford.
Miller wasn't in that hold-up any more'n I - "

"Let Miller do his own talkin', Shorty. He don't need any lead from you."

Shorty looked hard at the cattleman with unflinching eyes. "Don't get on
the peck, Em. You got no business coverin' me with that gun. I know you
got reasons a-plenty for tryin' to bluff us into sayin' we held up the
stage. But we don't bluff worth a cent. See?"

Crawford saw. He had failed to surprise a confession out of Miller by the
narrowest of margins. If he had had time to get Shorty out of the room
before the convict's appearance, the fellow would have come through. As
it was, he had missed his opportunity.

A head followed by a round barrel body came in cautiously from the
lean-to at the rear.

"Everything all right, Mr. Crawford? Thought I'd drap on down to see if
you didn't need any help."

"None, thanks, Mr. Thomas," the cattleman answered dryly.

"Well, you never can tell." The prospector nodded genially to Shorty,
then spoke again to the man with the rifle. "Found any clue to the
hold-up yet?"

"We've found the men who did it," replied Crawford.

"Knew 'em all the time, I reckon," scoffed Shorty with a harsh laugh.

Dave drew his chief aside, still keeping a vigilant eye on the prisoners.
"We've got to play our hand different. Shorty is game. He can't be
bluffed. But Miller can. I found out years ago he squeals at physical
pain. We'll start for home. After a while we'll give Shorty a chance to
make a getaway. Then we'll turn the screws on Miller."

"All right, Dave. You run it. I'll back yore play," his friend said.

They disarmed Miller, made him saddle two of the horses in the corral,
and took the back trail across the valley to the divide. It was here they
gave Shorty his chance of escape. Miller was leading the way up the
trail, with Crawford, Thomas, Shorty, and Dave in the order named. Dave
rode forward to confer with the owner of the D Bar Lazy R. For three
seconds his back was turned to the squat cowpuncher.

Shorty whirled his horse and flung it wildly down the precipitous slope.
Sanders galloped after him, fired his revolver three times, and after a
short chase gave up the pursuit. He rode back to the party on the summit.

Crawford glanced around at the heavy chaparral. "How about off here a
bit, Dave?"

The younger man agreed. He turned to Miller. "We're going to hang you,"
he said quietly.

The pasty color of the fat man ebbed till his face seemed entirely
bloodless. "My God! You wouldn't do that!" he moaned.

He clung feebly to the horn of his saddle as Sanders led the horse into
the brush. He whimpered, snuffling an appeal for mercy repeated over and
over. The party had not left the road a hundred yards behind when a man
jogged past on his way into the valley. He did not see them, nor did they
see him.

Underneath a rather scrubby cedar Dave drew up. He glanced it over
critically. "Think it'll do?" he asked Crawford in a voice the prisoner
could just hear.

"Yep. That big limb'll hold him," the old cattleman answered in the same
low voice. "Better let him stay right on the horse, then we'll lead it
out from under him."

Miller pleaded for his life abjectly. His blood had turned to water.
"Honest, I didn't shoot Harrigan. Why, I'm that tender-hearted I wouldn't
hurt a kitten. I - I - Oh, don't do that, for God's sake."

Thomas was almost as white as the outlaw. "You don't aim to - you
wouldn't - "

Crawford's face was as cold and as hard as steel. "Why not? He's a
murderer. He tried to gun Dave here when the boy didn't have a
six-shooter. We'll jes' get rid of him now." He threw a rope over the
convict's head and adjusted it to the folds of his fat throat.

The man under condemnation could hardly speak. His throat was dry as the
desert dust below. "I - I done Mr. Sanders a meanness. I'm sorry. I was
drunk."

"You lied about him and sent him to the penitentiary."

"I'll fix that. Lemme go an' I'll make that right."

"How will you make it right?" asked Crawford grimly, and the weight of
his arm drew the rope so tight that Miller winced. "Can you give him back
the years he's lost?"

"No, sir, no," the man whispered eagerly. "But I can tell how it
was - that we fired first at him. Doble did that, an' then - accidental - I
killed Doble whilst I was shootin' at Mr. Sanders."

Dave strode forward, his eyes like great live coals. "What? Say that
again!" he cried.

"Yessir. I did it - accidental - when Doble run forward in front of me.
Tha's right. I'm plumb sorry I didn't tell the cou't so when you was on
trial, Mr. Sanders. I reckon I was scairt to."

"Will you tell this of yore own free will to the sheriff down at Malapi?"
asked Crawford.

"I sure will. Yessir, Mr. Crawford." The man's terror had swept away all
thought of anything but the present peril. His color was a seasick green.
His great body trembled like a jelly shaken from a mould.

"It's too late now," cut in Dave savagely. "We came up about this stage
robbery. Unless he'll clear that up, I vote to finish the job."

"Maybe we'd better," agreed the cattleman. "I'll tie the rope to the
trunk of the tree and you lead the horse from under him, Dave."

Miller broke down. He groveled. "I'll tell. I'll tell all I know. Dug
Doble and Shorty held up the stage. I don' know who killed the driver.
They didn't say when they come back."

"You let the water into the ditch," suggested Crawford.

"Yessir. I did that. They was shelterin' me and o' course I had to do
like they said."

"When did you escape?"

"On the way back to the penitentiary. A fellow give the deputy sheriff
a drink on the train. It was doped. We had that fixed. The keys to the
handcuffs was in the deputy's pocket. When he went to sleep we unlocked
the cuffs and I got off at the next depot. Horses was waitin' there for
us."

"Who do you mean by us? Who was with you?"

"I don' know who he was. Fellow said Brad Steelman sent him to fix things
up for me."

Thomas borrowed the field-glasses of Crawford. Presently he lowered them.
"Two fellows comin' hell-for-leather across the valley," he said in a
voice that expressed his fears.

The cattleman took the glasses and looked. "Shorty's found a friend. Dug
Doble likely. They're carryin' rifles. We'll have trouble. They'll see we
stopped at the haid of the pass," he said quietly.

Much shaken already, the oil prospector collapsed at the prospect before
him. He was a man of peace and always had been, in spite of the valiant
promise of his tongue.

"None of my funeral," he said, his lips white. "I'm hittin' the trail for
Malapi right now."

He wheeled his horse and jumped it to a gallop. The roan plunged through
the chaparral and soon was out of sight.

"We'll fix Mr. Miller so he won't make us any trouble during the rookus,"
Crawford told Dave.

He threw the coiled rope over the heaviest branch of the cedar, drew it
tight, and fastened it to the trunk of the tree.

"Now you'll stay hitched," he went on, speaking to their prisoner. "And
you'd better hold that horse mighty steady, because if he jumps from
under you it'll be good-bye for one scalawag."

"If you'd let me down I'd do like you told me, Mr. Crawford," pleaded
Miller. "It's right uncomfortable here."

"Keep still. Don't say a word. Yore friends are gettin' close. Let a
chirp outa you, and you'll never have time to be sorry," warned the
cattleman.

The two men tied their horses behind some heavy mesquite and chose their
own cover. Here they crouched down and waited.

They could hear the horses of the outlaws climbing the hill out of the
valley to the pass. Then, down in the cañon, they caught a glimpse of
Thomas in wild flight. The bandits stopped at the divide.

"They'll be headin' this way in a minute," Crawford whispered.

His companion nodded agreement.

They were wrong. There came the sound of a whoop, a sudden clatter of
hoofs, the diminishing beat of horses' feet.

"They've seen Thomas, and they're after him on the jump," suggested Dave.

His friend's eyes crinkled to a smile. "Sure enough. They figure he's the
tail end of our party. Well, I'll bet Thomas gives 'em a good run for
their money. He's right careless sometimes, but he's no foolhardy idiot
and he don't aim to argue with birds like these even though he's a
rip-snorter when he gets goin' good and won't stand any devilin'."

"He'll talk them to death if they catch him," Dave answered.

"Back to business. What's our next move, son?"

"Some more conversation with Miller. Probably he can tell us where the
gold is hidden."

"Whoopee! I'll bet he can. You do the talkin'. I've a notion he's more
scared of you."

The fat convict tried to make a stand against them. He pleaded ignorance.
"I don' know where they hid the stuff. They didn't tell me."

"Sounds reasonable, and you in with them on the deal," said Sanders.
"Well, you're in hard luck. We don't give two hoots for you, anyhow, but
we decided to take you in to town with us if you came through clean.
If not - " He shrugged his shoulders and glanced up at the branch above.

Miller swallowed a lump in his throat. "You wouldn't treat me thataway,
Mr. Sanders. I'm gittin' to be an old man now. I done wrong, but I'm sure
right sorry," he whimpered.

The eyes of the man who had spent years in prison at Cañon City were hard
as jade. The fat man read a day of judgment in his stern and somber face.

"I'll tell!" The crook broke down, clammy beads of perspiration all over
his pallid face. "I'll tell you right where it's at. In the lean-to of
the shack. Southwest corner. Buried in a gunnysack."

They rode back across the valley to the cabin. Miller pointed out the
spot where the stolen treasure was cached. With an old axe as a spade
Dave dug away the dirt till he came to a bit of sacking. Crawford scooped
out the loose earth with his gauntlet and dragged out a gunnysack. Inside
it were a number of canvas bags showing the broken wax seals of the
express company. These contained gold pieces apparently fresh from the
mint.

A hurried sum in arithmetic showed that approximately all the gold taken
from the stage must be here. Dave packed it on the back of his saddle
while Crawford penciled a note to leave in the cache in place of the
money.

The note said:

This is no safe place to leave seventeen thousand dollars, Dug. I'm
taking it to town to put in the bank. If you want to make inquiries about
it, come in and we'll talk it over, you and me _and Applegate_.

EMERSON CRAWFORD

Five minutes later the three men were once more riding rapidly across the
valley toward the summit of the divide. The loop of Crawford's lariat
still encircled the gross neck of the convict.




CHAPTER XXVI

DAVE ACCEPTS AN INVITATION


Crawford and Dave, with their prisoner, lay out in the chaparral for an
hour, then made their way back to Malapi by a wide circuit. They did not
want to meet Shorty and Doble, for that would result in a pitched battle.
They preferred rather to make a report to the sheriff and let him attempt
the arrest of the bandits.

Reluctantly, under the pressure of much prodding, Miller repeated his
story to Sheriff Applegate. Under the circumstances he was not sorry that
he was to be returned to the penitentiary, for he recognized that his
life at large would not be safe so long as Shorty and Doble were ranging
the hills. Both of them were "bad men," in the usual Western acceptance
of the term, and an accomplice who betrayed them would meet short shrift
at their hands.

The sheriff gave Crawford a receipt for the gold after they had counted
it and found none missing.

The old cattleman rose from the table and reached for his hat.

"Come on, son," he said to Dave. "I'll say we've done a good day's work.
Both of us were under a cloud. Now we're clear. We're goin' up to the
house to have some supper. Applegate, you'll get both of the confessions
of Miller fixed up, won't you? I'll want the one about George Doble's
death to take with me to the Governor of Colorado. I'm takin' the train
to-morrow."

"I'll have the district attorney fix up the papers," the sheriff
promised.

Emerson Crawford hooked an arm under the elbow of Sanders and left the
office.

"I'm wonderin' about one thing, boy," he said. "Did Miller kill George
Doble accidentally or on purpose?"

"I'm wondering about that myself. You remember that Denver bartender said
they had been quarreling a good deal. They were having a row at the very
time when I met them at the gate of the corral. It's a ten-to-one shot
that Miller took the chance to plug Doble and make me pay for it."

"Looks likely, but we'll never know. Son, you've had a rotten deal handed
you."

The younger man's eyes were hard as steel. He clamped his jaw tight, but
he made no comment.

"Nobody can give you back the years of yore life you've lost," the
cattleman went on. "But we'll get yore record straightened out, anyhow,
so that won't stand against you. I know one li'l' girl will be tickled to
hear the news. Joy always has stuck out that you were treated shameful."

"I reckon I'll not go up to your house to-night," Dave said in a
carefully modulated voice. "I'm dirty and unshaven, and anyhow I'd rather
not go to-night."

Crawford refused to accept this excuse. "No, sir. You're comin' with me,
by gum! I got soap and water and a razor up at the house, if that's
what's troublin' you. We've had a big day and I'm goin' to celebrate by
talkin' it all over again. Dad gum my hide, think of it, you solemn-faced
old owl! This time last night I was 'most a pauper and you sure were.
Both of us were under the charge of havin' killed a man each. To-night
we're rich as that fellow Crocus; anyhow I am, an' you're haided that
way. And both of us have cleared our names to boot. Ain't you got any red
blood in that big body of yore's?"

"I'll drop in to the Delmonico and get a bite, then ride out to the
Jackpot."

"You will not!" protested the cattleman. "Looky here, Dave. It's a
showdown. Have you got anything against me?"

Dave met him eye to eye. "Not a thing, Mr. Crawford. No man ever had a
better friend."

"Anything against Joyce?"

"No, sir."

"Don't hate my boy Keith, do you?"

"How could I?"

"Then what in hell ails you? You're not parlor-shy, are you? Say the
word, and we'll eat in the kitchen," grinned Crawford.

"I'm not a society man," said Sanders lamely.

He could not explain that the shadow of the prison walls was a barrier he
could not cross; that they rose to bar him from all the joy and happiness
of young life.

"Who in Mexico's talkin' about society? I said come up and eat supper
with me and Joy and Keith. If you don't come, I'm goin' to be good and
sore. I'll not stand for it, you darned old killjoy."

"I'll go," answered the invited man.

He went, not because he wanted to go, but because he could not escape
without being an ungracious boor.

Joyce flew to meet her father, eyes eager, hands swift to caress his
rough face and wrinkled coat. She bubbled with joy at his return, and
when he told her that his news was of the best the long lashes of the
brown eyes misted with tears. The young man in the background was struck
anew by the matronly tenderness of her relation to her father. She
hovered about him as a mother does about her son returned from the wars.

"I've brought company for supper, honey," Emerson told her.

She gave Dave her hand, flushed and smiling. "I've been so worried," she
explained. "It's fine to know the news is good. I'll want to hear it
all."

"We've got the stolen money back, Joy," exploded her father. "We know who
took it - Dug Doble and that cowboy Shorty and Miller."

"But I thought Miller - "

"He escaped. We caught him and brought him back to town with us."
Crawford seized the girl by the shoulders. He was as keen as a boy to
share his pleasure. "And Joy - better news yet. Miller confessed he
killed George Doble. Dave didn't do it at all."

Joyce came to the young man impulsively, hand outstretched. She was
glowing with delight, eyes kind and warm and glad. "That's the best yet.
Oh, Mr. Sanders, isn't it good?"

His impassive face gave no betrayal of any happiness he might feel in his
vindication. Indeed, something almost sardonic in its expression chilled
her enthusiasm. More than the passing of years separated them from the
days when he had shyly but gayly wiped dishes for her in the kitchen,
when he had worshiped her with a boy's uncritical adoration.

Sanders knew it better than she, and cursed the habit of repression that
had become a part of him in his prison days. He wanted to give her happy
smile for smile. But he could not do it. All that was young and ardent
and eager in him was dead. He could not let himself go. Even when
emotions flooded his heart, no evidence of it reached his chill eyes and
set face.

After he had come back from shaving, he watched her flit about the room
while she set the table. She was the competent young mistress of the
house. With grave young authority she moved, slenderly graceful. He
knew her mind was with the cook in the kitchen, but she found time to
order Keith crisply to wash his face and hands, time to gather flowers
for the center of the table from the front yard and to keep up a running
fire of talk with him and her father. More of the woman than in the days
when he had known her, perhaps less of the carefree maiden, she was
essentially unchanged, was what he might confidently have expected her to
be. Emerson Crawford was the same bluff, hearty Westerner, a friend to
tie to in sunshine and in storm. Even little Keith, just escaping from
his baby ways, had the same tricks and mannerisms. Nothing was different
except himself. He had become arid and hard and bitter, he told himself
regretfully.

Keith was his slave, a faithful admirer whose eyes fed upon his hero
steadily. He had heard the story of this young man's deeds discussed
until Dave had come to take on almost mythical proportions.

He asked a question in an awed voice. "How did you get this Miller to
confess?"

The guest exchanged a glance with the host. "We had a talk with him."

"Did you - ?"

"Oh, no! We just asked him if he didn't want to tell us all about it, and
it seems he did."

"Maybe you touched his better feelin's," suggested Keith, with memories
of an hour in Sunday School when his teacher had made a vain appeal to
his.

His father laughed. "Maybe we did. I noticed he was near blubberin'. I
expect it's 'Adios, Señor Miller.' He's got two years more to serve, and
after that he'll have another nice long term to serve for robbin' the
stage. All I wish is we'd done the job more thorough and sent some
friends of his along with him. Well, that's up to Applegate."

"I'm glad it is," said Joyce emphatically.

"Any news to-day from Jackpot Number Three?" asked the president of that
company.

"Bob Hart sent in to get some supplies and had a note left for me at the
post-office," Miss Joyce mentioned, a trifle annoyed at herself because a
blush insisted on flowing into her cheeks. "He says it's the biggest
thing he ever saw, but it's going to be awf'ly hard to control. Where
_is_ that note? I must have put it somewhere."

Emerson's eyes flickered mischief. "Oh, well, never mind about the note.
That's private property, I reckon."

"I'm sure if I can find it - "

"I'll bet my boots you cayn't, though," he teased.

"Dad! What will Mr. Sanders think? You know that's nonsense. Bob wrote
because I asked him to let me know."

"Sure. Why wouldn't the secretary and field superintendent of the Jackpot
Company keep the daughter of the president informed? I'll have it read
into the minutes of our next board meetin' that it's in his duties to
keep you posted."

"Oh, well, if you want to talk foolishness," she pouted.

"There's somethin' else I'm goin' to have put into the minutes of the
next meetin', Dave," Crawford went on. "And that's yore election as
treasurer of the company. I want officers around me that I can trust,
son."

"I don't know anything about finance or about bookkeeping," Dave said.

"You'll learn. We'll have a bookkeeper, of course. I want some one for
treasurer that's level-haided and knows how to make a quick turn when he
has to, some one that uses the gray stuff in his cocoanut. We'll fix a
salary when we get goin'. You and Bob are goin' to have the active
management of this concern. Cattle's my line, an' I aim to stick to it.
Him and you can talk it over and fix yore duties so's they won't
conflict. Burns, of course, will run the actual drillin'. He's an A1
man. Don't let him go."

Dave was profoundly touched. No man could be kinder to his own son, could
show more confidence in him, than Emerson Crawford was to one who had no
claims upon him.

He murmured a dry "Thank you"; then, feeling this to be inadequate,
added, "I'll try to see you don't regret this."

The cattleman was a shrewd judge of men. His action now was not based
solely upon humanitarian motives. Here was a keen man, quick-witted,
steady, and wholly to be trusted, one certain to push himself to the
front. It was good business to make it worth his while to stick to
Crawford's enterprises. He said as much to Dave bluntly.

"And you ain't in for any easy time either," he added. "We've got oil.
We're flooded with it, so I hear. Seve-re-al thousand dollars' worth a
day is runnin' off and seepin' into the desert. Bob Hart and Jed Burns
have got the job of puttin' the lid on the pot, but when they do that
you've got a bigger job. Looks bigger to me, anyhow. You've got to get
rid of that oil - find a market for it, sell it, ship it away to make room
for more. Get busy, son." Crawford waved his hand after the manner of one


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryWilliam MacLeod RaineGunsight Pass How Oil Came to the Cattle Country and Brought a New West → online text (page 11 of 19)