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   Chapter 32 No.32

A Man Four-Square By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 12472

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Jim Takes a Prisoner

After Goodheart left the room where his prisoner was confined, Clanton waited a few moments till the sound of his footsteps had died away. He rose, moved noiselessly across the floor, and raised the trapdoor slowly. The creaking of the rusty hinges seemed to Jim to be shouting aloud the news of his escape. The young fellow descended into the cellar and stood there without moving till his eyes became accustomed to the darkness. He groped his way to the door, which Pauline had left open an inch or two. Carefully he edged through and crouched in the gloom at the foot of the steps.

Not far away some one was whistling cheerfully. Clanton recognized the tune as the usual musical offertory of Brad. He was giving "Uncle Ned" to an unappreciative world.

The fugitive crept up the steps and peered over the top. Brad was sitting on a bench against the wall. Evidently he was quite comfortable and had no intention of moving. The guard was so near that it would not be a fair risk to try to make a dash across the moonlit open for the aspen grove. He was so far that before the prisoner could reach him his gun would be in action. There was nothing to do but wait. Jim huddled against the sustaining wall while with the passing minutes his chance of escape dipped away.

Pierre Roubideau came round the corner of the house and joined Brad. The guard made room for him on the bench. If Roubideau sat down, the man in the shadow knew he was lost. They would sit there and chat till Goodheart came back and discovered his absence.

The rancher hesitated while he felt for his pipe. "Reckon I left it in the kitchen," he said.

Brad followed him round the corner of the house. Clanton waited no longer. They might return, or they might not. He did not intend to stay to find out.

Swiftly he ran toward the aspens. Half the distance he had covered when a voice called sharply to halt. The guard had turned and caught sight of him.

The feet of the running man slapped the ground faster. As he dodged into the trees a bullet flew past him. Yet a moment, and he had flung himself astride the bronco waiting there and had electrified that sleepy animal into life.

The pony struck its stride immediately. It took the rising ground at a gallop, topped the hill, and disappeared over the brow. The rider plunged into the thick mesquite. He knew that Goodheart would pursue, but he knew, too, that the odds were a hundred to one against capture if he could put a mile or two between him and the Roubideau ranch. A man could vanish in any one of fifty draws. He could find a temporary hiding-place up any gulch under cover of the matted brush. Therefore he turned toward the mountains.

Since he was unarmed, it was essential that Clanton should get into touch with his associates of the chaparral at once. Until he had a six-gun strapped to his side and a carbine under his leg he would not feel comfortable. All night he traveled, winding in and out of ca?ons, crossing divides, and dipping down into little mountain parks. He knew exactly where he wanted to go, and he moved toward his destination in the line of greatest economy.

Morning found him descending from a mountain pass to the Ruidosa.

"Breakfast soon, you wall-faced old Piute," Jim told his mount. "You're sure a weary caballo, but we got to keep hitting the trail till we cross that hogback."

A thin film of smoke rose from a little valley to the left. Clanton drew up abruptly. He had no desire to meet now any strangers whose intentions had not been announced.

Swiftly, with a pantherish smoothness of motion, he slid from the cowpony and moved to the edge of a bluff that looked down into the arroyo below. He crept forward and peered through a clump of cactus growing at the edge of the escarpment.

The camp-fire was at the very foot of the bluff. A man was stooped over it cooking breakfast.

The heart of the fugitive lost a beat, then raced wildly. The camper was Devil Dave Roush. A rifle lay beside him. His revolver was in a cartridge belt that had been tossed on a boulder within reach of his hand.

Clanton wriggled back without a sound from the edge of the cliff and rose to his feet. A savage light of triumph blazed in his eyes. The enemy for whom he had long sought was delivered into his hands. He ran back to the bronco and untied the reata from the tientos. Deftly he coiled the rope and adjusted the loop to suit him. Again he stole to the rim rock and waited with the stealthy, deadly patience of the crouched cougar.

Roush rose. His arms fell to his sides. Instantly the rope dropped, uncoiling as it flew. With perfect accuracy the loop descended upon its victim and tightened about his waist, pinning the arms close to the body.

Clanton, hauled in the rawhide swiftly. Dragged from his feet, Roush could make no resistance. Before he could gather his startled wits, he found himself dangling in midair against the face of the rock wall.

The man above fastened the end of the rope to the roots of a scrub oak and ran down the slope at full speed. In less than half a minute he was standing breathless in front of his prisoner.

Already shaken with dread, Roush gave way to panic fear at sight of him.

"Goddlemighty! It's Clanton!" he cried.

Jim buckled on the belt and appropriated the rifle. His grim face told

Roush all he needed to know.

There had been a time when Roush, full of physical life and energy, had boasted that he feared no living man. In his cups he still bragged of his bad record, of his accuracy as a gunman, of his gameness. But he knew, and his associates suspected, that Devil Dave had long since drunk up his courage. His nerves were jumpy and his heart bad. Now he begged for his life abjectly. If he had been free from the rope that held him dangling against the wall, he would have crawled like a whipped cur to the feet of his enemy.

At a glance Clanton saw Roush had been camping alone. The hobbled horse, the blankets, the breakfast dishes, all told him this. But he took no chances. First he saddled the horse and brought it close to the camp-fire. When he sat down to eat the breakfast the rustler had cooked, it was with his back to the

bluff and the rifle across his knees.

"This here rope hurts tur'ble-seems like my wrists are on fire," whined the man. "You let me down, Mr. Clanton, and I'll explain eve'ything. I want to be yore friend. I sure do. I don't feel noways onfriendly to you. Mebbe I used to be a bad lot, but I'm a changed man now."

Go-Get-'Em Jim said nothing. He had not spoken once, and his silence filled the roped man with terror. The shifting eyes of Devil Dave read doom in the cold, still ones of his enemy.

Sometimes Roush argued in a puling whimper. Sometimes his terror rose to the throat and his entreaties became shrieks. He died a dozen deaths while his foe watched him with a chill stillness more menacing than any threats.

The first impulse of Clanton had been to stamp out the life of this man just as he would that of a diamond-backed rattlesnake; but he meant to take his time about it and to see that the fellow suffered. Not until he was halfway through the meal did the memory of his pledge to Pauline jump to his mind. Quickly he pushed it from him. He had not meant to include Roush in his promise. As soon as he had made an end of this ruffian he would turn over a new leaf. But not yet. Roush was outside the pale. His life belonged to Jim. He would be a traitor to the memory of his sister if he let the villain go.

The lust for vengeance swelled in the young man's blood like a tide. It was his right to kill; more, it was his duty. So he tried to persuade himself. But deep within him a voice was making itself heard. It whispered that if he killed Roush now, he could never look Pauline Roubideau in the face again. She had fought gallantly for his soul, and at last he had pledged his honor to a new course. Not twelve hours ago she had risked her reputation to save his life. If he failed her now, it would be a betrayal of all the desires and purposes that had of late been stirring in him.

Clammy beads of sweat stood on his forehead. He had been given a new chance, and it warred with every inherited instinct of his nature. The fight within was cruel and bitter. But when he rose, his breakfast forgotten, it was won. He would let Roush go unhurt. He would do it for the sake of Polly Roubideau, who had been such a good friend to him.

Devil Dave, ghastly with fear, was still pleading for his life. Clanton, who had heard nothing of what the fellow had been saying in the past ten minutes, came to a sudden alert attention.

"I'll go into court an' swear it if you'll let me be. I'll tell the jedge an' the jury that Joe Yankie told me an' Albeen an' Dumont that he bushwhacked Webb an' then cut his stick so that you-all got the blame. Honest to God, I will, Mr. Clanton. Jest you trust me an' see."

"When did Yankie tell you that?"

"He done told us at the camp-fire one night. He made his brags how you got the blame for it an' would have to hang."

"Albeen heard him say it-an' Dumont too?"

"Tha's right, Mr. Clanton. An' I'll sure take my Bible oath on it."

Go-Get-'Em Jim whipped out the forty-five from its holster and fired. Roush dropped screaming to the ground. He thought he had been shot. The bullet had cut the rope above his head.

"Get up," ordered Clanton in disgust.

Roush rose stiffly.

Jim swung to the saddle of the horse beside him. "Hit the dust," he told his captive.

The rider followed the footman to the top of the bluff. Here Roush was instructed to mount the horse Clanton had been astride all night. Riding behind the tame bad man, Jim cut across the hills to a gulch and followed it till the ravine ran out in a little valley. He crossed this and climbed a stiff pass from the other side of which he looked down on Live-Oaks a thousand feet below.

The young man tied the hands of his prisoner behind him. From a coat pocket he drew a looking-glass, caught the sun's rays, and flung them upon a house in the suburbs of the town.

Out of the house there presently came a man. He stood in the doorway a moment before going down the street. A flash of hot sunlight caught him full in the face. He moved. The light danced after him. Then be woke up. From the cliff far above friends of his had been wont to heliograph signals during the late Washington County War.

He read the light flashes and at once saddled a horse. A few minutes later he might have been seen on the breakneck trail that leads across the mountains to the Ruidosa. After a stiff climb he reached the summit and swung sharply along the ridge to the right. A voice hailed him.

"Hello, Reb!"

"Hello, Go-Get-'Em! Thought Goodheart was bringin' you back a prisoner." Quantrell's old guerrilla looked with unconcealed surprise at the bound man. He knew the story of Clanton's deep-rooted hatred of the Roush clan.

"I didn't sign any bond to stay his prisoner," Jim answered dryly. Then, sharply, he turned upon Roush. "Spill out yore story about Yankie."

Reluctantly Roush told once more his tale. He spoke only under the pressure of imminent peril, for he knew that if this ever got back to the men in the chaparral they would kill him with no more compunction than they would a coyote.

"Take this bird down to Billie Prince, Reb. Tell him I jumped Roush on the Ruidosa, an' he peached to save his hide. This fellow is a born liar, but I reckon he's tellin' the truth this time. If he rues back on his story, tell Billie to put an advertisement in the Live-Oaks 'Round-Up' and I'll drop in to town an' have a stance with Mr. Roush."

Reb scratched his sunburnt head. "I don't aim to be noways inquisitive, Go-Get-'Em, but how come you to wait long enough to take this hawss-thief captive? I'd 'a' bet my best mule team against a dollar Mex that you'd have gunned him on sight."

"I'll tell you why, Reb. He had one rifle an' one six-gun. I didn't have either the one or the other, so I had to borrow his guns before I talked turkey. By that time I'd changed my mind about bumpin' him off right now. When Yankie finds out what he's been sayin' he'll do the trick for me."

"You're right he will. Good job, too. I hate a sneak like I do a side-winder." Reb turned to his prisoner. "Git a move on you, Roush. I want this job over with. I'm no coyote herder."

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