“That’s far enough,” warned Beresford, not a trace of excitement in manner or speech. His hands hung by his sides. He gave no sign of knowing that he had a revolver strapped to his hip ready for action.
The liquor smuggler stopped to pour out abuse. He was working himself up to a passion that would justify murder. The weapon in his hand swept wildly back and forth. Presently it would focus down to a deadly concentration in which all motion would cease.
The torrent of vilification died on the man’s lips. He stared past the constable with bulging eyes. From the rocks three figures had come. Two of them carried rifles. All three of them he recognized. His astonishment paralyzed the scurrilous tongue. What was McRae’s girl doing at the camp of the officer?
It was characteristic of him that he suspected the worst of her. Either Tom Morse or this red-coat had beaten him to his prey. Jealousy and outraged vanity flared up in him so that discretion vanished.
The barrel of his revolver came down and began to spit flame.
Beresford gave orders. “Back to the rocks.” He retreated, backward, firing as he moved.
The companions of West surged forward. Shots, shouts, the shifting blur of moving figures, filled the night. Under cover of the darkness the defenders reached again the big rocks.
The constable counted noses. “Everybody all right?” he asked. Then, abruptly, he snapped out: “Who was responsible for that crazy business of you coming out into the open?”
“Me,” said the girl. “I wanted that West to know you weren’t alone.”
“Didn’t you know better than to let her do it?” the officer demanded of Morse.
“He couldn’t help it. He tried to keep me back. What right has he to interfere with me?” she wanted to know, stiffening.
“You’ll do as I say now,” the constable said crisply. “Get back of that rock there, Miss McRae, and stay there. Don’t move from cover unless I tell you to.”
Her dark, stormy eyes challenged his, but she moved sullenly to obey. Rebel though she was, the code of the frontier claimed and held her respect. She had learned of life that there were times when her will must be subordinated for the general good.
TOM MAKES A COLLECTION
The attackers drew back and gathered together for consultation. West’s anger had stirred their own smoldering resentment at the police, had dominated them, and had brought them on a journey of vengeance. But they had not come out with any intention of storming a defended fortress. The enthusiasm of the small mob ebbed.
“I reckon we done bit off more’n we can chaw,” Harvey Gosse murmured, rubbing his bristly chin. “I ain’t what you might call noways anxious to have them fellows spill lead into me.”
“Ten of us here. One man, an Injun, an’ a breed girl over there. You lookin’ for better odds, Harv?” jeered the leader of the party.