“Not if I can help it, Jim. I want you to be my chief deputy in cleanin’ up the county. If you’ll help me we’ll make such a gather of bad men that it won’t be safe for a crook to show his head here.”
Pauline clapped her hands. “What a splendiferous idea! It’s a great chance for you, Jim. You and Billie can do it too. I know you can.”
The other young woman had recognized Prince only by a casual nod. It was her custom to ignore him as much as possible. Now her dark, velvety eyes jumped to meet his, then passed to Clanton. She recognized the significance of the moment. It was Jim’s last opportunity to line up on the side of law and order. Lee, with Billie and Pauline, had stood his loyal friend against a growing public opinion. Would he justify their faith in him?
After a long silence Jim spoke. “No, I reckon not, Billie. I’ve got interests that will take all my time. Much obliged, old scout. I’d like to ride in couples with you like we used to do. I sure would, but I can’t.”
“That’s all nonsense. It’s no excuse at all,” broke out Lee in her direct fashion. “Mr. Prince has more important affairs than you a good deal. He is dropping his to serve the people. You’ll have to give a better reason than that to convince me.”
Billie knew and Lee suspected what lay back of the spoken word. The duty of the sheriff would be to hunt down the men with whom Clanton had lately been consorting. He felt that he could not desert his friends to line up against them. Some of these were a bad lot, the riff-raff of a wild country, but this would not justify him in his own mind for using his knowledge of their habits to run them to earth.
“No, I can’t talk business with you, Billie,” the young fellow said decisively.
“Why can’t you?” demanded Lee.
Jim Clanton smiled. “You’re certainly a right persistent young lady, but by advice of counsel I decline to answer.”
The Rustlers’ Camp
From Live-Oaks a breakneck trail runs up the side of the mountain, drops down into the valley beyond, and twists among the hills and through canons to the Ruidosa. In the darkness a man followed this precarious path. His horse climbed it like a cat, without the least uncertainty or doubt. Both mount and rider had covered this ground often during the Washington County War. Joe Yankie expected to continue to use it as long as he found a profit in other men’s cattle.
When he had reached the summit he swung to the right, dipped abruptly into a narrow gulch, skirted a clump of junipers, and looked down upon a little basin hidden snugly in the gorge. A wisp of pungent smoke rose to his nostrils. The pony began cautiously the sharp descent. The escarpment was of disintegrated granite which rang beneath the hoofs of the animal. A pebble rolled to the edge of the bluff and dropped into the black pit below.