The men looked at each other sheepishly. They had been outwitted, and in their hearts were glad of it. Harris turned to the ranger with a laugh. “You’re a good one, Fraser. Kept us here talking, while your reënforcements came up. Well, boys, I reckon we better join the Sunday-school class.”
So it happened that when Sheriff Brandt and his men came up they found the mountain folk united. He was surprised at the size of the force with the Texan.
“You’re certainly of a cautious disposition, lieutenant. With eight men to help you, I shouldn’t have figured you needed my posse,” he remarked.
“It gives you the credit of bringing in the prisoner, sheriff,” Steve told him unblushingly, voicing the first explanation that came to his mind.
A witness in rebuttal
Two hours later, Lieutenant Fraser was closeted with Brandt and Hilliard. He told them his story— or as much of it as he deemed necessary. The prosecuting attorney heard him to an end before he gave a short, skeptical laugh.
“It doesn’t seem to me you’ve quite lived up to your reputation, lieutenant,” he commented.
“I wasn’t trying to,” retorted Steve.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I have told you how I got into the valley. I couldn’t go in there and betray my friends.”
Hilliard wagged his fat forefinger. “How about betraying our trust? How about throwing us down? We let you escape, after you had given us your word to do this job, didn’t we?”
“Yes. I had to throw you down. There wasn’t any other way.”
“You tell a pretty fishy story, lieutenant. It doesn’t stand to reason that one man did all the mischief on that Squaw Creek raid.”
“It is true. Not a shadow of a doubt of it. I’ll bring you three witnesses, if you’ll agree to hold them guiltless.”
“And I suppose I’m to agree to hold you guiltless of Faulkner’s death, too?” the lawyer demanded.
“I didn’t say that. I’m here, Mr. Hilliard, to deliver my person, because I can’t stand by the terms of our agreement. I think I’ve been fair with you.”
Hilliard looked at Brandt, with twinkling eyes. It struck Fraser that they had between them some joke in which he was not a sharer.
“You’re willing to assume full responsibility for the death of Faulkner, are you? Ready to plead guilty, eh?”
Fraser laughed. “Just a moment. I didn’t say that. What I said was that I’m here to stand my trial. It’s up to you to prove me guilty.”
“But, in point of fact, you practically admit it.”
“In point of fact, I would prefer not to say so. Prove it, if you can.”
“I have witnesses here, ready to swear to the truth, lieutenant.”
“Aren’t your witnesses prejudiced a little?”
“Maybe.” The smile on Hilliard’s fat face broadened. “Two of them are right here. Suppose we find out.”