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life meant to me.
We had come to this western country with hopes of our own place, a place
where we could build, raise a family, and have the land of home we'd never
had. She had never had a real home at all, and I'd not had one since I was a
youngster, and it was little enough I'd seen of my folks. There were Sacketts
scattered all over the country, but I'd seen none of them until I came down to
Mora to see Ma and the boys. It had been a long spell ... since before the
war.
There was not one chance in a thousand that I would live beyond the death of
the man I meant to kill. Not one chance that I could escape after the job was
done, and at the moment I did not care.
Swandle and Allen ... Swandle or Allen? I had to know which was the guilty
man, and I had no idea how to find out, except that I had the feeling that
when I found him I would know him.
I thought it was a wonder they had not posted a man up on this butte, for
from here a body could watch the entire layout and see every move that was
made. I hunkered down to wait, and I kept my rifle down so it would reflect no
sunlight, nor was I wearing anything that would.
Of course, not many cowhands wore such truck on the range. Some of them had
town outfits they wore to dances and the like. Most of them wore the best they
could afford. I even had a broadcloth suit one time, myself.
The next thing they measured me for would probably be a wooden overcoat. But
before they did that, I was going to get me a man.
Waiting up there on the butte, I got to thinking further on this thing that
filled my mind. Up to now I'd been supposing whoever had done it had just
happened on Ange there alone, but supposing it was that man we saw down in
Globe, and he followed us?
Supposing, even, this wasn't the first woman he'd left dead behind him?
chapter eleven
About mid-morning four riders rode in from the west and dismounted. They
stripped their gear from their horses and, leaving them to the wrangler,
strolled over to the chuck wagon. One of the four was a man I recognized from
Montana, where he had been riding for a cow outfit.
Al Zabrisky was a gunman, a warrior with a gun for hire. He was the sort of
man a cow outfit hired when trouble was expected from jayhawkers,
homesteaders, or herd-cutters, and he was good at his job.
He was tall, slightly stooped, and sour-looking. Sober, he was a shrewd and
calculating enemy, but when drinking he was apt to go completely berserk. At
such times he was mean, and a trouble-hunter. The other men were all strangers
to me, but they were of much the same sort, the way I figured.
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After a bit the wrangler returned with four fresh horses, all saddled up and
ready for riding.
Just then the flap of the guarded tent was thrown back and that square-jawed
man whom I'd talked to in O'Leary's saloon in Globe came out. He ignored
Zabrisky and the others, but crossed over to where the man sat with the rifle
across his knees. The guard stood up and they talked together.
All of a sudden, I began to feel uneasy. The two men looked all around, the
guard pointed toward the far-off rim, but never once did they look toward
Diamond Butte ... and in another instant, I was moving.
When the notion took me I was squatting on my heels. I did not straighten up,
but just turned on the balls of my feet and scooted into the brush behind me.
Once hidden, I hesitated, taking time to listen, but there was no sound.
Skirting the top of the butte, I came to the trail I'd made coming up. There I
crouched among the rocks and waited.
It just didn't stand to reason that two men could look all around and ignore
the biggest thing there was nearby. They had been discussing terrain, and if
they ignored that butte it was because they had a reason for it. The only
reason that came to mind was that they knew I was up there and they were
fixing to surround me.
My horse was down below there, and they had found it. Hat out on my belly, I
eased up behind a rock, then inched my head over to where I could look past it
without outlining myself against the sky.
From where I lay I could see both my horses, but even as I located them a
magpie swooped in for a landing in some brush near them. The magpie darted
down, then suddenly swung sharply away. Somebody was hiding in that brush.
All right, so they knew where I was. My brain started to figure it out, and I
knew they would have the butte surrounded. It was not so large but that a
bunch of men could stake out every inch of it. So they had me.
But did they? What about the side where the camp was? It was dollars to
doughnuts they never figured I would try that, and the chances were it was
unguarded. There were men down there. There were horses, too, and saddles.
So I crawled around, looked the camp over for a minute or two, and then went
over the edge. At that point the butte was not so steep, and there was cover
here and there. I went down fast, running in short, quick spurts, keeping
under cover when possible, crossing gaps as quickly as possible.
At the bottom of the slope I hunkered down behind a clump of brush and gave
study to the lay-out before me. The four riders, including Zabrisky, had
ridden off. The guard remained at his post, the wrangler was standing
alongside the chuck wagon drinking coffee and talking to the cooks. The
square-jawed man I'd seen in Globe had gone back into the tent I now figured
him for either Swandle or Allen.
Moving off to the right where my approach was covered by a tent, I came out
of the brush, my rifle hung to my hand and easy to use. I crossed behind the
big tent and edged up behind the small one. Inside I could hear somebody
scratching away with a pen.
Well, I taken a long chance. I wanted that man in there, and I wanted him
bad. So I slung my Winchester to my shoulder and snaked out my Colt. I held
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the Colt in my right hand, and with my left I out with my bowie knife. Now,
that big knife was honed like a razor-I'd shaved with it many a time - and I
was counting on surprise. The last thing that man figured would be me right in
the middle of his camp, so I stuck my knife into the back of the tent and
slashed it wide with one quick sweep, and my Colt had that sitting man as its
target. It had him, and it held him right like he was pinned.
"You could call out," I said, "but you don't size up like a man who'd want
his last words to be yellin' for help."
He just sat there. At first, he just couldn't believe his eyes, but if he
doubted them, he had no doubt at all about either that pistol or my
intentions.
"I am not the man you want," he said.
"Maybe," I said. "If you are, I'll take you apart. Right now we're going to
settle a little business.
"Some of your boys," I went on, "have my horse and pack outfit staked out
over t'other side of the butte. I just naturally was of no mind to go fetch
it, so I'll need a saddled horse, and a pack horse with four days' grub on it.
"You call that guard over here," I said, "and you tell him to have a horse
saddled and a pack made up. Tell him to do it fast.
"Now, I know there's signals you could give that man, and I could be took ...
taken, I mean. I could be taken right here and now. But when they take me,
they would take me with you dead at my feet. If you're the man I want, you
know you'll die anyway, but if you ain't, you'd be an awful fool to die for
what somebody else did."
"You're a fool, Sackett. Why don't you take the horse and ride out of the
country? You haven't a chance."
"You order that horse. The only chance I want is to kill a man, the man who
killed my Ange."
"I am sorry for that."
"Order the horse." [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]