Her father came to her support radiantly. “You bet yore boots they will, honey. Shake hands on it, Mr. Fraser. I reckon yore satisfied too, Jed. Eh, boy?”
Briscoe viewed the scene with cynical malice. “Quite a hero, ain’t he? If you want to know, I stand pat. Mr. Fraser from Texas don’t draw the wool over my eyes none. Right now I serve notice to that effect. Meantime, since I don’t aim to join the happy circle of his admirers, I reckon I’ll duck.”
He nodded impudently at Arlie, turned on his heel, and went trailing off with jingling spur. They heard him cursing at his horse as he mounted. The cruel swish of a quirt came to them, after which the swift pounding of a horse’s hoofs. The cow pony had found its gallop in a stride.
The Texan laughed lightly. “Exit Mr. Briscoe, some disappointed,” he murmured.
He noticed that none of the others shared his mirth.
A sure enough wolf
Briscoe did not return at once to the scene of the round-up. He followed the trail toward Jackson’s Pocket, but diverged after he had gone a few miles and turned into one of the hundred blind gulches that ran out from the valley to the impassable mountain wall behind. It was known as Jack Rabbit Run, because its labyrinthine trails offered a retreat into which hunted men might always dive for safety. Nobody knew its recesses better than Jed Briscoe, who was acknowledged to be the leader of that faction in the valley which had brought it the bad name it held.
Long before Jed’s time there had been such a faction, then the dominant one of the place, now steadily losing ground as civilization seeped in, but still strong because bound by ties of kindred and of interest to the honest law-abiding majority. Of it were the outlaws who came periodically to find shelter here, the hasty men who had struck in heat and found it necessary to get beyond the law’s reach for a time, and reckless cowpunchers, who foregathered with these, because they were birds of a feather. To all such, Jack Rabbit Run was a haven of rest.
By devious paths the cattleman guided his horse until he came to a kind of pouch, guarded by a thick growth of aspens. The front of these he skirted, plunged into them at the farther edge, and followed a narrow trail which wound among them till the grove opened upon a saucer-shaped valley in which nestled a little log cabin. Lights gleamed from the windows hospitably and suggested the comfortable warmth of a log fire and good-fellowship. So many a hunted man had thought as he emerged from that grove to look down upon the valley nestling at his feet.
Jed turned his horse into a corral back of the house, let out the hoot of an owl as he fed and watered, and returning to the cabin, gave the four knocks that were the signal for admission.
Bolts were promptly withdrawn and the door thrown open by a slender, fair-haired fellow, whose features looked as if they had been roughed out and not finished. He grinned amiably at the newcomer and greeted him with: “Hello, Jed.”