“Well, you don’t want to make any mistake next time. Get him right.”
“I sure will.” Hitherto Struve had been absorbed in his own turbid emotions, but he came back from them now with a new-born suspicion in his eyes. “Where do you come in, Mr. Briscoe? Why are you so plumb anxious I should load him up with lead? If it’s a showdown, I’d some like to see your cards too.”
Jed shrugged. “My reasons ain’t urgent like yours. I don’t favor spies poking their noses in here. That’s all there’s to it.”
Jed had worked out a plot as he rode through the night from the Dillon ranch— one so safe and certain that it pointed to sure success. Jed was no coward, but he had a spider-like cunning that wove others as dupes into the web of his plans.
The only weakness in his position lay in himself, in that sudden boiling up of passion in him that was likely to tear through his own web and destroy it. Three months ago he had given way to one of these outbursts, and he knew that any one of four or five men could put a noose around his neck. That was another reason why such a man as this Texas ranger must not be allowed to meet and mix with them.
It was his cue to know as much as he could of every man that came into the valley. Wherefore he had run down the record of Struve from the reward placard which a detective agency furnished him of hundreds of criminals who were wanted. What could be more simple than to stir up the convict, in order to save himself, to destroy the ranger who had run him down before? There would be a demand so insistent for the punishment of the murderer that it could not be ignored. He would find some pretext to lure Struve from the valley for a day or two, and would arrange it so that he would be arrested while he was away. Thus he would be rid of both these troublesome intruders without making a move that could be seen.
It was all as simple as A B C. Already Struve had walked into the trap. As Jed sat down to take a hand in the poker game that was in progress, he chuckled quietly to himself. He was quite sure that he was already practically master of the situation.
“Would you like to take in the round-up to-day?”
Arlie flung the question at Fraser with a frank directness of sloe-black eyes that had never known coquetry. She was washing handkerchiefs, and her sleeves were rolled to the elbows of the slender, but muscular, coffee-brown arms.
“If you like you may ride out with me to Willow Spring. I have some letters to take to dad.”
“Suits me down to the ground, ma’am.”
It was a morning beautiful even for Wyoming. The spring called potently to the youth in them. The fine untempered air was like wine, and out of a blue sky the sun beat pleasantly down through a crystal-clear atmosphere known only to the region of the Rockies. Nature was preaching a wordless sermon on the duty of happiness to two buoyant hearts that scarce needed it.