The End Of A Crooked Trail

: 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 clutchin
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


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


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


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


"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


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.