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CHAPTER XII
For a minute which seemed like an hour Scott stared at Roberts with every nerve on edge and every muscle tense. He had not the least idea what would happen when they were recognized, but he felt pretty sure that something would happen and he was prepared for any emergency. Murphy also was watching him keenly. He had not liked Scott’s caution in hiding up there at the camp or his failure to attack these two men when they first met them up on the railroad. He had recognized that they were virtually prisoners when these men had started to lead them back to their camp and he had wanted to fight then, but he had not wanted to cross Scott’s plans. Now he had decided that he would wait no longer. If he saw a good opportunity he was going to try to fight his way out. He did not expect to get very much help in that line from Scott. He recognized his ability in many things, but he did not consider that fighting was one of his accomplishments.

In a moment Roberts’ eyes had become accustomed to the light and the next instant he recognized Scott. His lip curled in a malicious sneer and his hand stole up toward the holster on his belt. He glanced from Scott to Murphy.

“So the kid was right,” he snarled. “He said there were a couple of sneaks in the canal this afternoon and we all thought that he was dreaming.”

“Seems to me you are quite a ways from home yourself, Mr. Roberts,” Scott remarked quietly. He saw they were in for it now and he thought that he might as well anger Roberts to see what he would say. He also watched him keenly to see what he would do. He remembered the frog he had seen this man shoot at the turpentine camp and he did not want to give him too good an opportunity to display his skill now.

Roberts glared at him with a fierce hatred which he did not try to disguise. “Not so far away from home as you will go when you leave here,” he hissed.

“You don’t seem to be as glad to see visitors here as you do at the turpentine camp,” Scott mocked. “It must have spoiled your temper to have to work so hard reloading that stolen lumber.”

Murphy saw the blood surge through the swollen veins of Roberts’ neck and saw his hand spring convulsively toward his automatic. He saw the time for action had come and gathered himself for a spring.

But Scott was ahead of him. He had long ago prepared himself for just such a situation. He shot from the ground as though he had been sitting on a spring. Just as Roberts had drawn his revolver from its holster Scott struck him a tremendous blow on the point of the chin and knocked him sprawling. He had struck blows like that before and knew that there was no need to waste any more time on Roberts who would not be in a condition to do any damage for some time to come, so he turned his attention to the man beside him who had been doing all the talking before Roberts came.

The attack on Roberts had been so sudden and unexpected that it had somewhat dazed the rest of the party. Murphy had been so astonished by Scott’s sudden action that he had lost a valuable instant and in that instant the man beside him had hurled himself upon him bearing him to the ground.

“Go for ’em, Murphy,” Scott shouted, as he turned to the second man who was scrambling to his feet with his rifle in his hand. But the man never had a chance to use the rifle. Just as he straightened up Scott caught him with an upper cut that sent him spinning. His rifle fell at his feet. Scott saw the other two men of the crew rushing upon him. He waited till the last instant as though he was watching the man on the ground and then side-stepped the first of the two with the agility of a cat, tripped him as he went past and met the second one with a terrific blow between the eyes, and followed it with a right swing which felled him like an ox. The man Scott had tripped had picked himself up now and was returning to the fight with renewed fury.

There was no time to lose. Scott dropped suddenly on the rifle at his feet and let the man trip over him again. Then grasping the rifle by the end of the barrel he ran to Murphy’s assistance. He saw the gleam of a knife in the firelight and it almost sickened him. He swung wildly with the butt of the rifle and struck the man’s wrist, sending the knife flying. The rifle swung on through a second circle and came down on the man’s neck with a sickening thud.

Murphy was unhurt and furious. He sprang to his feet and tore at the only remaining one of the crew who was rushing at Scott once more, armed with a stick of firewood. Maddened by the knowledge that he had been blocked out of the fight by a man half his size and largely by his own fault because he had allowed that man to get the jump on him, Murphy paid no more attention to the club which the man had than if it had been a straw. He brushed it aside and literally bore the man to the earth under the fury of his onslaught. He was proceeding to pound him in true Irish fashion when Scott interfered.

“Let him go, Murphy!” he shouted. “Grab Roberts’ revolver and come ahead. We’ve got to get out of here, there is no telling how soon those fellows may come from the mill with that lumber.” He snatched up the other rifle and started down the beach.

A little time before Murphy might have accused Scott of cowardice for running away from the fighting field in this way, but he had no such notion now. He obediently left the man whom he had been pounding with such satisfaction, caught up the automatic from the ground beside Roberts and joined Scott. Except when Scott had spoken and a single roar of rage from Murphy when the man had unexpectedly thrown himself upon him, they had fought in utter silence.

Loaded down with their captured arms, they hurried along the beach toward the east. Looking back they could see some crumpled figures beginning to move painfully about the fire. They had not gone very far when they came to the railroad track and they had not much more than crossed it when they heard the creak of the cars of lumber. They had gotten away just in time. If they had waited five minutes more, four men would have been added to their opponents and the odds would have been hopeless.

“Shall we stick around a while and see what happens?” Scott whispered, “or do you think we better get a little farther away while the getting is good?”

“Don’t see what more we can learn here,” Murphy replied, “unless we sneak back there and shoot the whole bunch. We have guns enough here now to do it.”

“Nothing to be gained by that now. But I would like to hear what those fellows have got to say and what their plans are. It will be a lot easier for us if we know what they are going to do.”

“Seems to me that we better beat it back as fast as we can and get out some warrants for these fellows before they can get out of the country,” Murphy suggested.

“Can’t do it,” Scott replied with decision. “If they are going to leave the country at all—as they certainly will—they will be gone long before we can get to town and there will be no way to trace them. Besides there may be other people mixed up in this thing whom we ought to get, and unless we find out from these men who they are there will be no way of getting them. The other fellows will lie mighty low when they find out that their little scheme has been discovered. No, we can’t leave them now. You stay here and wait while I sneak back there and see if I can find out what they are planning.”

“Nothing doing,” Murphy cried emphatically. “If you go back there I am going with you. Do you think I would let you go back there among that bunch of cutthroats alone?”

“I know it is too bad to miss it, Murphy, but that would not do at all. Two of us could not hear any more than one and if anything happened to us there would not be any one to take back the news and these men could go right on with their little business just as they have been doing for the past two years.”

“It would not take Graham long to find out that we were missing,” Murphy grumbled, “and, believe me, he would turn this outfit inside out in pretty short order when he got started.”

“Judging from the looks of him I guess you are right,” Scott agreed, “but he does not know where we went, does not know anything about this outfit, and would not have a clue to guide him. We have been two years finding this place and he might be two more in finding it again. No, Murphy, my plan is the only sensible thing to do. I know how you feel and I am sorry that you cannot go. If it were just for fun it would be all right, but we are trying to clean this up for the government and it would not be right to risk losing all the advantage we have gained.”

Murphy was forced to admit that it was the only safe thing to do and grudgingly consented to stay behind. He made a plea to go in Scott’s place, but, of course, Scott could not agree to that. He felt that he was directly responsible for the capture of these timber thieves and he could not very well turn it over to any one else.

“That’s the way to look at it,” he said, trying to comfort Murphy, “and now let’s make sure that we understand each other. I am going back there to see if I can find out what they are planning to do. You are going to wait right here till I come back or you are sure that I am not coming back. Remember you are not to come over there no matter what kind of a row you hear or what you may think has happened to me.”

“That is asking a good deal of a fellow,” Murphy objected, “and I don’t know whether I can do it or not.”

“You must do it,” Scott insisted. “We cannot take the risk of having them pot both of us. That is just what they want. If for any reason you feel sure that anything has happened to me, beat it for headquarters as fast as you can go and notify Mr. Graham. Then he will know where to come and where to look. He can probably trace them with hounds or some other way if he knows just where to begin and can get on the trail right away.”

“All right,” Murphy agreed, “but it will be the hardest job I ever had to do.”

“Then it is all settled,” Scott said quickly, without giving Murphy time to think anything more about it or to raise any more objections. “It may be a long time before I can get back, but unless you hear an awful rumpus, wait for me. So long.”

The two men shook hands earnestly and Scott turned back toward the camp fire which they could still see—a dull red spark in the distance.

“Hold on,” Murphy whispered, “you haven’t any gun. Better take my automatic; it is handier than one of those rifles, and they might not be in shape anyway.”

Scott shook his head. “I’ve never learned to use a gun and would be almost as apt to shoot myself as the other fellow.”

Murphy looked at him in amazement. “Well, I’ll admit that you seem to be able to take pretty good care of yourself without one, but I suppose you know that any one of those fellows back there would not think any more of shooting you in the back than they would of shooting a yellow dog, and it is tempting Providence to go down there without a gun of some kind. Take one of the rifles then, you can shoot that.”

“It would only be in my way. I’ve just got to keep out of sight. If they should see me one gun would not do me much good against so many.”

“Then let me go along and have two guns,” Murphy begged.

Scott saw that he would simply have the whole argument to do over again if he stayed there so he simply shook his head and moved off into the night. He had been brought up in the East in the atmosphere of an old New England town where the use of a gun in a fight was never heard of and he had developed a dislike for it which he had never overcome even after a year of life in the Southwest. At one time out there when he had looked for an instant into the barrel of a .45 and had realized with sickening force how helpless an unarmed man was in the face of a deadly weapon he had decided to arm himself. But the shock of that encounter had hardly worn off when he changed his mind. It seemed to him such a cowardly way to fight. He had boxed all his life and was not afraid to stand up to any man, but to shoot a human being and possibly kill him had always seemed beyond him. There were times like the present when he wished that he could use a gun, but as soon as the excitement was over and he had a chance to consider the question calmly he revolted against it.

To Murphy who had always lived in a society where nearly every one “toted” a gun, Scott’s position was altogether incomprehensible. It seemed to him that Scott was simply courting death to go into such a place as that unarmed, and he was strongly tempted to break his promise and go after him. He thought a whole lot more of Scott since he had seen him in that fight there at the camp fire. It was the most wonderful fight he had ever seen. This man whose courage he had doubted had overcome four men and rescued him from the fifth. He sat in the sand with his back against a tree and thought it over.



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