The man beside the girl read the situation at a glance. The handcuffed figure groveling on the steps belonged to the murderer Struve, and over him stood lightly the young ranger Steve Fraser. He was standing off a mob that had gathered to lynch his prisoner, and one glance at him was enough to explain how he had won his reputation as the most dashing and fearless member of a singularly efficient force. For plain to be read as the danger that confronted him was the fact that peril was as the breath of life to his nostrils.
Enter Mr. Dunke
“He’s my prisoner and you can’t have him,” the girl heard the ranger say.
The answer came in a roar of rage. “By God, we’ll show you!”
“If you want him, take him. But don’t come unless you are ready to pay the price!” warned the officer.
He was bareheaded and his dark-brown curly hair crisped round his forehead engagingly. Round his right hand was tied a blood-stained handkerchief. A boy he looked, but his record was a man’s, and so the mob that swayed uncertainly below him knew. His gray eyes were steady as steel despite the fire that glowed in them. He stood at ease, with nerve unshaken, the curious lifted look of a great moment about the poise of his graceful figure.
“It is Lieutenant Fraser,” cried Margaret, but as she looked down she missed her escort.
An instant, and she saw him. He was circling the outskirts of the crowd at a run. For just a heart-beat she wondered what he was about, but her brain told her before her eye. He swung in toward the steps, shoulders down, and bored a way through the stragglers straight to the heart of the turmoil. Taking the steps in two jumps, he stood beside the ranger.
“Hello, Tennessee,” grinned that young man. “Come to be a pall-bearer?”
“Hello, Texas! Can’t say, I’m sure. Just dropped in to see what’s doing.”
Steve’s admiring gaze approved him a man from the ground up. But the ranger only laughed and said: “The band’s going to play a right lively tune, looks like.”
The man from the Panhandle had his revolvers out already. “Yes, there will be a hot time in the old town to-night, I shouldn’t wonder.”
But for the moment the attackers were inclined to parley. Their leader stepped out and held up a hand for a suspension of hostilities. He was a large man, heavily built, and powerful as a bear. There was about him an air of authority, as of one used to being obeyed. He was dressed roughly enough in corduroy and miner’s half-leg boots, but these were of the most expensive material and cut. His cold gray eye and thin lips denied the manner of superficial heartiness he habitually carried. If one scratched the veneer of good nature it was to find a hard selfishness that went to his core.
“It’s Mr. Dunke!” the young school-teacher cried aloud in surprise.