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A Good Samaritan







Part of: LUCK
From: Crooked Trails And Straight

Fendrick had told the exact truth. After leaving him Kate had ridden
forward to the canyon and entered it. She did not mean to go much farther,
but she took her time. More than once she slipped from under a fold of her
waist a letter and reread sentences of it. Whenever she did this her eyes
smiled. For it was a love letter from Curly, the first she had ever had.
It had been lying on the inner edge of the threshold of her bedroom door
that morning when she got up, and she knew that her lover had risen early
to put it there unnoticed.

They were to be married soon. Curly had wished to wait till after his
trial, but she had overruled him. Both her father and Sam had sided with
her, for she had made them both see what an advantage it would be with a
jury for Flandrau to have his bride sitting beside him in the courtroom.

Faintly there came to her a wind-swept sound. She pulled up and waited,
but no repetition of it reached her ears. But before her pony had moved a
dozen steps she stopped him again. This time she was almost sure of a far
cry, and after it the bark of a revolver.

With the touch of a rein she guided her horse toward the sound. It might
mean nothing. On the other hand it might be a call for help. Her shout
brought an answer which guided her to the edge of a prospect hole. In the
darkness she made out an indistinct figure.

"Water," a husky voice demanded.

She got her canteen from the saddle and dropped it to him. The man glued
his lips to the mouth as if he could never get enough.

"For God's sake get me out of here," he pleaded piteously.

"How long have you been there?"

"Two days. I fell in at night whilst I was cutting acrost country."

Kate fastened her rope to the horn of the saddle, tightened the cinch
carefully, and dropped the other end to him. She swung to the back of the
horse and braced herself by resting her full weight on the farther
stirrup.

"Now," she told him.

The imprisoned man tried to pull himself up, bracing his feet against the
rough projections of the rock wall to help him. But he could not manage
the climb. At last he gave it up with an oath.

"We'll try another way," the girl told him cheerfully.

At spaces about a foot distant she tied knots in the rope for about the
first six feet.

"This time you'll make it," she promised. "You can get up part way as you
did before. Then I'll start my horse forward. Keep braced out from the
wall so as not to get crushed."

He growled an assent. Once more she got into the saddle and gave the word.
He dragged himself up a few feet and then the cowpony moved forward. The
legs of the man doubled up under the strain and he was crushed against the
wall just as he reached the top. However, he managed to hang on and was
dragged over the edge with one cheek scratched and bleeding.

"Might a-known you'd hurt me if you moved so fast," he complained, nursing
his wounded face in such a way as to hide it.

"I'm sorry. I did my best to go carefully," the girl answered, stepping
forward.

His hand shot forward and caught her wrist Her startled eyes flashed to
his face. The man was the convict Blackwell.

"Got anything to eat with you. I'm starving," he snapped.

"Yes. I shot some quail Let go my hand."

He laughed evilly, without mirth. "Don't try any of your sassy ways on me.
By God, I'm a wolf on the howl."

In spite of her supple slenderness there was strength in her small wrists.
She fought and twisted till she was worn out in her efforts to free
herself. Panting, she faced him.

"Let me go, I tell you."

For answer his open hand struck her mouth. "Not till you learn your boss.
Before I'm through with you a squaw won't be half so tame as you."

He dragged her to the horse, took from its case the rifle that hung by the
saddle, and flung her from him roughly. Then he pulled himself to the
saddle.

"March ahead of me," he ordered.

As soon as they had reached the bed of the canyon lie called a halt and
bade her light a fire and cook him the quail. She gathered ironwood and
catclaw while he watched her vigilantly. Together they roasted the birds
by holding them over the fire with sharpened sticks thrust through the
wings. He devoured them with the voracity of a wild beast.

Hitherto his mind had been busy with the immediate present, but now his
furtive shifting gaze rested on her more thoughtfully. It was as a factor
of his safety that he considered her. Gratitude was a feeling not within
his scope. The man's mind worked just as Fendrick had surmised. He would
not let her go back to the ranch with the news that he was hidden in the
hills so close at hand. He dared not leave her in the prospect hole. He
was not yet ready to do murder for fear of punishment. That was a
possibility to be considered only if he should be hard pressed. The only
alternative left him was to take her to the border as a companion of his
fugitive doublings.

"We'll be going now," he announced, after he had eaten.

"Going where? Don't you see I'll be a drag to you? Take my horse and go.
You'll get along faster."

"Do you think so?"

She opened her lips to answer, but there was something in his
face--something at once so cruel and deadly and wolfish--that made the
words die on her lips. For the first time it came to her that if he did
not take her with him he would kill her to insure his own safety. None of
the arguments that would have availed with another man were of any weight
here. Her sex, her youth, the service she had done him--these would not
count a straw. He was lost to all the instincts of honor that govern even
hard desperate men of his class.

They struck into the mountains, following a cattle trail that wound upward
with devious twists. The man rode, and the girl walked in front with the
elastic lightness, the unconscious flexuous grace of poise given her body
by an outdoor life. After a time they left the gulch. Steadily they
traveled, up dark arroyos bristling with mesquite, across little valleys
leading into timbered stretches through which broken limbs and uprooted
trees made progress almost impossible, following always untrodden ways
that appalled with their lonely desolation.

By dusk they were up in the headwaters of the creeks. The resilient
muscles of the girl had lost their spring. She moved wearily, her feet
dragging heavily so that sometimes she staggered when the ground was
rough. Not once had the man offered her the horse. He meant to be fresh,
ready for any emergency that might come. Moreover, it pleased his small
soul to see the daughter of Luck Cullison fagged and exhausted but still
answering the spur of his urge.

The moon was up before they came upon a tent shining in the cold silvery
light. Beside it was a sheetiron stove, a box, the ashes of a camp fire,
and a side of bacon hanging from the limb of a stunted pine. Cautiously
they stole forward.

The camp was for the time deserted. No doubt its owner, a Mexican
sheepherder in the employ of Fendrick and Dominguez, was out somewhere
with his flock.

Kate cooked a meal and the convict ate. The girl was too tired and anxious
to care for food, but she made herself take a little. They packed the
saddlebags with bacon, beans, coffee and flour. Blackwell tightened again
the cinches and once more the two took the trail.

They made camp in a pocket opening from a gulch far up in the hills. With
her own reata he fastened her hands behind her and tied the girl
securely to the twisted trunk of a Joshua tree. To make sure of her he lay
on the rope, both hands clinched to the rifle. In five minutes he was
asleep, but it was long before Kate could escape from wakefulness. She was
anxious, her nerves were jumpy, and the muscles of arms and shoulders were
cramped. At last she fell into troubled catnaps.

From one of these she awoke to see that the morning light was sifting
through the darkness. Her bones and muscles ached from the constraint of
the position in which the rope held them. She was shivering with the chill
of an Arizona mountain night. Turning her body, the girl's eyes fell upon
her captor. He was looking at her in the way that no decent man looks at a
woman. Her impulse was to scream, to struggle to her feet and run. What
did he mean? What was he going to do?

But something warned her this would precipitate the danger. She called
upon her courage and tried to still the fearful tumult in her heart.
Somehow she succeeded. A scornful, confident pride flashed from her eyes
into his. It told him that for his life he dared not lay a finger upon her
in the way of harm. And he knew it was true, knew that if he gave way to
his desire no hole under heaven would be deep enough to hide him from the
vengeance of her friends.

He got sullenly to his feet. "Come. We'll be going."

Within the hour they saw some of his hunters. The two were sweeping around
the lip of a mountain park nestling among the summits. A wisp of smoke
rose from the basin below. Grouped about it were three men eating
breakfast.

"Don't make a sound," warned Blackwell.

His rifle covered her. With all her soul she longed to cry for help. But
she dared not take the risk. Even as the two on the edge of the bowl
withdrew from sight one of the campers rose and sauntered to a little
grove where the ponies were tethered. The distance was too far to make
sure, but something in the gait made the girl sure that the man was Curly.
Her hands went out to him in a piteous little gesture of appeal.

She was right. It was Curly. He was thinking of her at that moment
despairingly, but no bell of warning rang within to tell him she was so
near and in such fearful need of him.

Twice during the morning did the refugee attempt to slip down into the
parched desert that stretched toward Sonora and safety. But the cordon set
about him was drawn too close. Each time a loose-seated rider lounging in
the saddle with a rifle in his hands drove them back. The second attempt
was almost disastrous, for the convict was seen. The hum of a bullet
whistled past his ears as he and his prisoner drew back into the chaparral
and from thence won back to cover.

Kate, drooping with fatigue, saw that fear rode Blackwell heavily. He was
trapped and he knew that by the Arizona code his life was forfeit and
would be exacted of him should he be taken. He had not the hardihood to
game it out in silence, but whined complaints, promises and threats. He
tried to curry favor with her, to work upon her pity, even while his
furtive glances told her that he was wondering whether he would have a
better chance if he sacrificed her life.

From gulch to arroyo, from rock-cover to pine-clad hillside he was driven
in his attempts to break the narrowing circle of grim hunters that hemmed
him. And with each failure, with every passing hour, the terror in him
mounted. He would have welcomed life imprisonment, would have sold the
last vestige of manhood to save the worthless life that would soon be
snuffed out unless he could evade his hunters till night and in the
darkness break through the line.

He knew now that it had been a fatal mistake to bring the girl with him.
He might have evaded Bolt's posses, but now every man within fifty miles
was on the lookout for him. His rage turned against Kate because of it.
Yet even in those black outbursts he felt that he must cling to her as his
only hope of saving himself. He had made another mistake in lighting a
campfire during the morning. Any fool ought to have known that the smoke
would draw his hunters as the smell of carrion does a buzzard.

Now he made a third error. Doubling back over an open stretch of hillside,
he was seen again and forced into the first pocket that opened. It proved
to be a blind gulch, one offering no exit at the upper end but a stiff
rock climb to a bluff above.

He whipped off his coat and gave it to Kate.

"Put it on. Quick."

Surprised, she slipped it on.

"Now ride back out and cut along the edge of the hill. You've got time to
make it all right before they close in if you travel fast. Stop once--just
once--and I'll drop you in your tracks. Now git!"

She saw his object in a flash. Wearing his gray felt hat and his coat, the
pursuers would mistake her for him. They would follow her--perhaps shoot
her down. Anyhow, it would be a diversion to draw them from him. Meanwhile
he would climb the cliff and slip away unnoticed.

The danger of what she had to do stood out quite clearly, but as a chance
to get away from him she welcomed it gladly. She swung the pony with a
touch of the rein and set him instantly at the canter. It was rough going,
but she took it almost blindly.

From the lip of the gulch she swung abruptly to the right. Her horse
stumbled and went down just as a bullet flew over her head. Before she was
free of the stirrups strong hands pinned her shoulders to the ground. She
heard a glad startled cry. The rough hands became immediately gentle. Then
things grew black. The last she remembered was that the mountains were
dancing up and down in an odd fashion.

Her eyes opened to see Curly. She was in his arms and his face was broken
with emotions of love and tenderness.

"You're not hurt," he implored.

"No."

"He didn't--mistreat you?" His voice was trembling as he whispered it.

"No--No."

And at that she broke down. A deep sob shook her body--and another. She
buried her head on his shoulder and wept.

* * * * *

Without losing an instant the convict set himself at the climb. His haste,
the swift glances shot behind him, the appalling dread that made his
nerves ragged, delayed his speed by dissipating the singleness of his
energy. His face and hands were torn with catclaw, his knee bruised by a
slip against a sharp jut of quartz.

When he reached the top he was panting and shaken. Before he had moved a
dozen steps a man came out of the brush scarce seventy-five yards away and
called to him to surrender. He flung his rifle to place and fired twice.

The man staggered and steadied himself. A shell had jammed and Blackwell
could not throw it out. He turned to run as the other fired. But he was
too late. He stumbled, tripped, and went down full length.

The man that had shot him waited for him to rise. The convict did not
move. Cautiously the wounded hunter came forward, his eyes never lifting
from the inert sprawling figure. Even now he half expected him to spring
up, life and energy in every tense muscle. Not till he stood over him,
till he saw the carelessly flung limbs, the uncouth twist to the neck,
could he believe that so slight a crook of the finger had sent swift death
across the plateau.

The wounded man felt suddenly sick. Leaning against a rock, he steadied
himself till the nausea was past. Voices called to him from the plain
below. He answered, and presently circled down into the gulch which led to
the open.

At the gulch mouth he came on a little group of people. One glance told
him all he needed to know. Kate Cullison was crying in the arms of Curly
Flandrau. Simultaneously a man galloped up, flung himself from his horse,
and took the young woman from her lover.

"My little girl," he cried in a voice that rang with love.

Luck had found his ewe lamb that was lost.

It was Curly who first saw the man approaching from the gulch. "Hello,
Cass! Did you get him?"

Fendrick nodded wearily.

"Dead sure?"

"Yep. He's up there." The sheepman's hand swept toward the bluff.

"You're wounded."

"Got me in the shoulder. Nothing serious, I judge."

Cullison swung around. "Sure about that, Cass?" It was the first time for
years that he had called the other by his first name except in irony.

"Sure."

"Let's have a look at the shoulder."

After he had done what he could for it Luck spoke bluffly. "This dashed
feud is off, Cass. You've wiped the slate clean. When you killed Blackwell
you put me out of a hostile camp."

"I'm glad--so glad. Now we'll all be friends, won't we?" Kate cried.

Cass looked at her and at Curly, both of them radiant with happiness, and
his heart ached for what he had missed. But he smiled none the less.

"Suits me if it does you."

He gave one hand to Luck and the other to his daughter.

Curly laughed gaily. "Everybody satisfied, I reckon,"





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Previous: Cutting Trail



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