Into lost valley
It was one-twenty when Fraser slipped the iron bar from the masonry into which it had been fixed and began to lower himself from the window. The back of the jail faced on the bank of a creek; and into the aspens, which ran along it at this point in a little grove, the fugitive pushed his way. He descended to the creek edge and crossed the mountain stream on bowlders which filled its bed. From here he followed the trail for a hundred yards that led up the little river. On the way he passed a boy fishing and nodded a greeting to him.
“What time is it, mister?” the youngster asked.
A glance at his watch showed the Texan that it was one-twenty-five.
“The fish have quit biting. Blame it all, I’m going home. Say, mister, Jimmie Spence says they’re going to lynch that fellow who killed Billy Faulkner— going to hang him to-night, Jimmie says. Do you reckon they will?”
“No, I reckon not.”
“Tha’s what I told him, but Jimmie says he heard Tom Peake say so. Jimmie says this town will be full o’ folks by night.”
Without waiting to hear any more of Jimmie’s prophecies, Fraser followed the trail till it reached a waterfall Brandt bad mentioned, then struck sharply to the right. In a little bunch of scrub oaks he found a saddled horse tied to a sapling. His instructions were to cross the road, which ran parallel with the stream, and follow the gulch that led to the river. Half an hour’s travel brought him to another road. Into this he turned, and followed it.
In a desperate hurry though he was, Steve dared not show it. He held his piebald broncho to the ambling trot a cowpony naturally drops into. From his coat pocket he flashed a mouthharp for use in emergency.
Presently he met three men riding into town. They nodded at him, in the friendly, casual way of the outdoors West. The gait of the pony was a leisurely walk, and its rider was industriously executing, “I Met My Love In the Alamo.”
“Going the wrong way, aren’t you?” one of the three suggested.
“Don’t you worry, I’ll be there when y’u hang that guy they caught last night,” he told them with a grin.
From time to time he met others. All travel seemed to be headed townward. There was excitement in the air. In the clear atmosphere voices carried a long way, and all the conversation that came to him was on the subjects of the war for the range, the battle of the previous evening, and the lynching scheduled to take place in a few hours. He realized that he had escaped none too soon, for it was certain that as the crowd in town multiplied, they would set a watch on the jail to prevent Brandt from slipping out with his prisoner.