“He’s my prisoner, gentlemen. I came in here and took him— that is, with the help of my friend Siegfried. I reckon if you mill it over a spell, you’ll find you don’t want him half as bad as we do,” he said mildly.
“What’s the matter with all of us going in on this thing, lieutenant?” proposed Yorky.
“I never did see such a fellow for necktie parties as you are, Yorky. Not three weeks ago, you was invitin’ me to be chief mourner at one of your little affairs, and your friend Johnson was to be master of ceremonies. Now you’ve got the parts reversed. No, I reckon we’ll have to disappoint you this trip.”
“What are you going to do with him?” asked Yorky, with plain dissatisfaction.
“I’m going to take him down to Gimlet Butte. Arizona and Wyoming and Texas will have to scrap it out for him there.” “When, you get him there,” Yorky said significantly.
“Yes, when I get him there,” answered the Texan blandly, carefully oblivious of the other’s implication.
The moon was beginning to show itself over a hill before the Texan and Siegfried took the road with their captive. Fraser had carelessly let drop a remark to the effect that they would spend the night at the Dillon ranch.
His watch showed eleven o’clock before they reached the ranch, but he pushed on without turning in and did not stop until they came to the Howard place.
They roused Alec from sleep, and he cooked them a post-midnight supper, after which he saddled his cow pony, buckled on his belt, and took down his old rifle from the rack.
“I’ll jog along with you lads and see the fun,” he said.
Their prisoner had not eaten. The best he could do was to gulp down some coffee, for he was in a nervous chill of apprehension. Every gust of wind seemed to carry to him the patter of pursuit. The hooting of an owl sent a tremor through him.
“Don’t you reckon we had better hurry?” he had asked with dry lips more than once, while the others were eating.
He asked it again as they were setting off.
Howard looked him over with rising disgust, without answering. Presently, he remarked, apropos of nothing: “Are all your Texas wolves coyotes, Steve?”
He would have liked to know at least that it was a man whose life he was protecting, even though the fellow was also a villain. But this crumb of satisfaction was denied him.
On the road to Gimlet butte
“We’ll go out by the river way,” said Howard tentatively. “Eh, what think, Sig? It’s longer, but Yorky will be expecting us to take the short cut over the pass.”
The Norwegian agreed. “It bane von chance, anyhow.”
By unfrequented trails they traversed the valley till they reached the cañon down which poured Squaw Creek on its way to the outside world. A road ran alongside this for a mile or two, but disappeared into the stream when the gulch narrowed. The first faint streaks of gray dawn were lightening the sky enough for Fraser to see this. He was riding in advance, and commented upon it to Siegfried, who rode with him.