“You’ll be missing from the party,” he said, as he handed over the letter, “but the party we have with Perris is apt to be pretty much like a party with a wild-cat. You can thank your stars you’ll be on the road when it comes off!”
And Slim had sense enough to nod in agreement.
THE TRAP SHUTS
In one matter Lew Hervey had acted none too quickly. Shorty and Little Joe arrived at the corral in time to find Marianne in the very act of leading out her pony. They told her firmly and gently that the horse must go back, and when she defied them, they astonished her by simply removing her hand from the lead-rope and taking the horse away. In vain she stormed and threatened. In vain, at length, she broke into tears. Either of them would have given an arm to serve her. But in fact they considered they were at that moment rendering the greatest service possible. They were saving her from herself.
She fled back to the house again, finally, and threw herself face down on her bed in an agony of dread, and helplessness, and shame. Shame because from Little Joe’s brief remarks, she gathered that Hervey had already spread the news of her confession. But shame and fear were suddenly forgotten. She found herself sitting wide-eyed on the edge of the bed repeating over and over in a shaking voice “I have to get there! I have to get there!”
But how utterly Hervey had tied her hands! She could not budge to warn Perris or to join him!
The long night wore away with Marianne crouched at the window straining her eyes towards the corrals. Night was the proper time for such a thing as the murder of Red Perris. They would not dare, she felt, for all their numbers, to face him in the honest sunshine. So she peered eagerly towards the shadowy outlines of the barns and sheds until at length a wan moon rose and gave her blessed light.
But no one approached the corrals from the bunkhouse, and at length, when the dawn began to grow, she fell asleep. It was a sleep filled with nightmares and before the sun was well up she was awake again, and at watch.
Mid-morning came, yet still none of the men rode out to their ordinary work. There could be only one meaning. They were held back to join the expedition. They were at this very moment, perhaps, cleaning their guns in the bunkhouse. Noon brought no action. They trooped cheerfully towards the house in answer to the noon-gong. She heard them laughing and jesting. What cold-blooded fiends they were to be able to conduct themselves in this manner when they intended to do a murder before the day had ended! And indeed, it was only for this meal they seemed to have planned to wait.
Before the afternoon was well begun, there was saddling and mounting and then Hervey, Little Joe, Shorty, Macintosh, and Scotty climbed onto their mounts and jogged out towards the east. Her heart leaped with only a momentary hope when she saw the direction, but instantly she undeceived herself. They would, of course, swing north as soon as they were well out of sight from the house, and then they would head for the shack on the mountain-side, aiming to reach it at about the fall of twilight. And what could she do to stop them?