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The End Of A Crooked Trail








From: The Fighting Edge

In the grim faces of the Utes Houck read his doom. He had not the least
doubt of it. His trail ended here.

The terror in his heart rose less out of the fact itself than the
circumstances which surrounded it. The gray dawn, the grim,
copper-colored faces, the unknown torment waiting for him, stimulated his
imagination. He could have faced his own kind, the cattlemen of the Rio
Blanco, without this clutching horror that gripped him. They would have
done what they thought necessary, but without any unnecessary cruelty.
What the Utes would do he did not know. They would make sure of their
vengeance, but they would not be merciful about it.

He repressed a shudder and showed his yellow teeth in a grin of defiance.
"I reckon you're right glad to see me," he jeered.

Still they said nothing, only looked at their captive with an aspect that
daunted him.

"Not dumb, are you? Speak up, some of you," Houck snarled, fighting down
the panic within him.

A wrinkled old Ute spoke quietly. "Man-with-loud-tongue die. He kill
Indian--give him no chance. Indians kill him now."

Houck nodded his head. "Sure I killed him. He'd stolen my horse, hadn't
he?"

The old fellow touched his chest. "Black Arrow my son. You kill him. He
take your horse mebbe. You take Ute horse." He pointed to the pinto. "Ute
kill Man-with-loud-tongue."

"Black Arrow reached for his gun. I had to shoot. It was an even break."
Houck's voice pleaded in spite of his resolution not to weaken.

The spokesman for the Indians still showed an impassive face, but his
voice was scornful. "Is Man-with-loud-tongue a yellow coyote? Does he
carry the heart of a squaw? Will he cry like a pappoose?"

Houck's salient jaw jutted out. The man was a mass of vanity. Moreover,
he was game. "Who told you I was yellow? Where did you get that? I ain't
scared of all the damned Utes that ever came outa hell."

And to prove it--perhaps, too, by way of bolstering up his courage--he
cursed the redskins with a string of blistering oaths till he was out of
breath.

The captive needed no explanation of the situation. He knew that the
soldiers had failed to round up and drive back to the reservation a band
of the Utes that had split from the main body and taken to the hills. By
some unlucky chance or evil fate he had come straight from Bear Cat to
their night camp.

The Utes left Houck pegged out to the ground while they sat at a little
distance and held a pow-wow. The outlaw knew they were deciding his fate.
He knew them better than to expect anything less than death. What shook
his nerve was the uncertainty as to the form it would take. Like all
frontiersmen, he had heard horrible stories of Apache torture. In general
the Utes did not do much of that sort of thing. But they had a special
grudge against him. What he had done to one of them had been at least a
contributory cause of the outbreak that had resulted so disastrously for
them. He would have to pay the debt he owed. But how? He sweated blood
while the Indians squatted before the fire and came to a decision.

The council did not last long. When it broke up Houck braced his will to
face what he must. It would not be long now. Soon he would know the
worst.

Two of the braves went up the hill toward the cavvy. The rest came back
to their captive.

They stood beside him in silence. Houck scowled up at them, still
defiant.

"Well?" he demanded.

The Utes said nothing. They stood there stolid. Their victim read in that
voiceless condemnation an awful menace.

"Onload it," he jeered. "I'm no squaw. Shoot it at me. Jake Houck ain't
scared."

Still they waited, the father of Black Arrow with folded arms, a sultry
fire burning in his dark eyes.

The two men who had gone to the cavvy returned. They were leading a horse
with a rope around its neck. Houck recognized the animal with a thrill of
superstitious terror. It was the one about the possession of which he had
shot Black Arrow.

The old chief spoke again. "Man-with-loud-tongue claim this horse. Utes
give it him. Horse his. Man-with-loud-tongue satisfied then maybe."

"What are you aimin' to do, you red devils?" Houck shouted.

Already he guessed vaguely at the truth. Men were arranging a kind of
harness of rope and rawhide on the animal.

Others stooped to drag the captive forward. He set his teeth to keep back
the shriek of terror that rose to his throat.

He knew now what form the vengeance of the savages was to take.





Next: The Kingdom Of Joy

Previous: The Outlaw Gets A Bad Break



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