greeting, but none of them answered this; and as I began to be sure that I recognized several of their strangely imperturbable faces, the Virginian came from the stable; and at that welcome sight my relief spoke out instantly.

“I am here, you see!” “Yes, I do see.” I looked hard at him, for in his voice was the same strangeness that I felt in everything around me. But he was looking at his companions. “This gentleman is all right,” he told them.

“That may be,” said one whom I now knew that I had seen before at Sunk Creek; “but he was not due to-night.” “Nor to-morrow,” said another.

“Nor yet the day after,” a third added.

The Virginian fell into his drawl. “None of you was ever early for anything, I presume.” One retorted, laughing, “Oh, we’re not suspicioning you or complicity.” And another, “Not even when we remember how thick you and Steve used to be.” Whatever jokes they meant by this he did not receive as jokes. I saw something like a wince pass over his face, and a flush follow it. But he now spoke to me. “We expected to be through before this,” he began. “I’m right sorry you have come to-night. I know you’d have preferred to keep away.” “We want him to explain himself,” put in one of the others. “If he satisfies us, he’s free to go away.” “Free to go away!” I now exclaimed. But at the indulgence in their frontier smile I cooled down. “Gentlemen,” I said, “I don’t know why my movements interest you so much. It’s quite a compliment! May I get under shelter while I explain?” No request could have been more natural, for the rain had now begun to fall in straight floods. Yet there was a pause before one of them said, “He might as well.” The Virginian chose to say nothing more; but he walked beside me into the stable. Two men sat there together, and a third guarded them. At that sight I knew suddenly what I had stumbled upon; and on the impulse I murmured to the Virginian, “You’re hanging them to-morrow.” He kept his silence.

“You may have three guesses,” said a man behind me.

But I did not need them. And in the recoil of my insight the clump of cottonwoods came into my mind, black and grim. No other trees high enough grew within ten miles. This, then, was the business that the Virginian’s letter had so curtly mentioned. My eyes went into all corners of the stable, but no other prisoners were here I half expected to see Trampas, and I half feared to see Shorty; for poor stupid Shorty’s honesty had not been proof against frontier temptations, and he had fallen away from the company of his old friends. Often of late I had heard talk at Sunk Creek of breaking up a certain gang of horse and cattle thieves that stole in one Territory and sold in the next, and knew where to hide in the mountains between. And now it had come to the point; forces had been gathered, a long expedition made, and here they were, successful under the Virginian’s lead, but a little later than their calculations. And here was I, a little too early, and a witness in consequence. My presence seemed a simple thing to account for; but when I had thus accounted for it, one of them said with good nature:- “So you find us here, and we find you here. Which is the most surprised, I wonder?” “There’s no telling,” said I, keeping as amiable as I could; “nor any telling which objects the most.” “Oh, there’s no objection here. You’re welcome to stay. But not welcome to go, I expect. He ain’t welcome to go, is he?” By the answers that their faces gave him it was plain that I was not. “Not till we are through,” said one.

“He needn’t to see anything,”’ another added. “Better sleep late to-morrow morning,” a third suggested to me.

I did not wish to stay here. I could have made some sort of camp apart from them before dark; but in the face of their needless caution I was helpless. I made no attempt to inquire what kind of spy they imagined I could be, what sort of rescue I could bring in this lonely country; my too early appearance seemed to be all that they looked at. And again my eyes sought the prisoners. Certainly there were only two. One was chewing tobacco, and talking now and then to his guard as if nothing were the matter. The other sat dull in silence, not moving his eyes; but his face worked, and I noticed how he continually

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.