“My heart’s all right,” he said a little gruffly.
“Yes, it seems to be, lieutenant.”
She trailed the reins and turned away at once to find her father. The girl was disappointed in him. He had, in effect, lied to her. That was bad enough; but she felt that his lie had concealed something, how much she scarce dared say. Her tangled thoughts were in chaos. One moment she was ready to believe the worst; the next, it was impossible to conceive such a man so vile a spy as to reward hospitality with treachery.
Yet she remembered now that it had been while she was telling of the fate of the traitor Burke that she had driven him to his lie. Or had he not told it first when she pointed out Lost Valley at his feet? Yes, it was at that moment she had noticed his pallor. He had, at least, conscience enough to be ashamed of what he was doing. But she recognized a wide margin of difference between the possibilities of his guilt. It was one thing to come to the valley for an escaped murderer; it was quite another to use the hospitality of his host as a means to betray the friends of that host. Deep in her heart she could not find it possible to convict him of the latter alternative. He was too much a man, too vitally dynamic. No; whatever else he was, she felt sure he was not so hopelessly lost to decency. He had that electric spark of self-respect which may coexist with many faults, but not with treachery.
A shot from bald Knob
A bunch of young steers which had strayed from their range were to be driven to the Dillon ranch, and the boss of the rodeo appointed France and Fraser to the task.
“Yo’ll have company home, honey,” he told his daughter, “and yo’ll be able to give the boys a hand if they need it. These hill cattle are still some wild, though we’ve been working them a week. Yo’re a heap better cowboy than some that works more steady at the business.”
Briscoe nodded. “You bet! I ain’t forgot that day Arlie rode Big Timber with me two years ago. She wasn’t sixteen then, but she herded them hill steers like they belonged to a milk bunch.”
He spoke his compliment patly enough, but somehow the girl had an impression that he was thinking of something else. She was right, for as he helped gather the drive his mind was busy with a problem. Presently he dismounted to tighten a cinch, and made a signal to a young fellow known as Slim Leroy. The latter was a new and tender recruit to Jed’s band of miscreants. He drew up beside his leader and examined one of the fore hoofs of his pony.
“Slim, I’m going to have Dillon send you for the mail to-day. When he tells you, that’s the first you know about it. Understand? You’ll have to take the hill cut to Jack Rabbit Run on your way in. At the cabin back of the aspens, inquire for a man that calls himself Johnson. If he’s there, give him this message: ‘This afternoon from Bald Knob.’ Remember! Just those words, and nothing more. If he isn’t there, forget the message. You’ll know the man you want because he is shy his trigger finger and has a ragged scar across his right cheek. Make no mistake about this, Slim.”