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Morse ambled out at a road gait to take his turn at guard duty. He was following the principle that the longest way round is the shortest road to a given place. The reason for this was to ward off any suspicion that might have arisen if the watchers had always come and gone by the same trail. Therefore they started for any point of the compass, swung round in a wide detour, and in course of time arrived at the cache.
There wasn't any hurry anyhow. Each day had twenty-four hours, and a fellow lived just as long if he didn't break his neck galloping along with his tail up like a hill steer on a stampede.
To-day Morse dropped in toward the cache from due west. His eyes were open, even if the warmth of the midday sun did make him sleepy. Something he saw made him slip from the saddle, lead his horse into a draw, and move forward very carefully through the bunch grass.
What he had seen was a man crouched behind some brush, looking down into the little gorge where the whiskey cache was--a man in leather boots, tight riding-breeches, scarlet jacket, and jaunty forage cap. It needed no second glance to tell Tom Morse that the police had run down the place where they had hidden their cargo.
From out of the little canon a man appeared. He was carrying a keg of whiskey. The man was Barney. West had no doubt sent word to him that he would shortly bring a buyer with him to the rendezvous.
The man in the scarlet jacket rose and stepped out into the open. He was a few feet from Barney. In his belt there was a revolver, but he did not draw it.
Barney stopped and stared at him, his mouth open, eyes bulging. "Where in Heligoland you come from?" he asked.
"From Sarnia, Ontario," the red-coat answered. "Glad to meet you, friend. I've been looking for you several days."
"For me!" said Barney blankly.
"For you--and for that keg of forty-rod you're carrying. No, don't drop it. We can talk more comfortably while both your hands are busy." The constable stepped forward and picked from the ground a rifle. "I've been lying in the brush two hours waiting for you to get separated from this. Didn't want you making any mistakes in your excitement."
"Mistakes!" repeated Barney.
"Yes. You're under arrest, you know, for whiskey-smuggling."
"You're one of these here border police." Barney used the rising inflection in making his statement.
"Constable Winthrop Beresford, North-West Mounted, at your service," replied the officer jauntily. He was a trim, well-set-up youth, quick of step and crisp of speech.
"What you gonna do with me?"
"Take you to Fort Macleod."
It was perhaps because his eyes were set at not quite the right angles and because they were so small and wolfish that Barney usually aroused distrust. He suggested now, with an ingratiating whine in his voice, that he would like to see a man at Whoop-Up first.
"Jes' a li'l' matter of business," he added by way of explanation.
The constable guessed at his business. The man wanted to let his boss know what had taken place and to give him a chance to rescue him if he would. Beresford's duty was to find out who was back of this liquor running. It would be worth while knowing what man Barney wanted to talk with. He could afford to take a chance on the rescue.
"Righto," he agreed. "You may put that barrel down now."
Barney laid it down, end up. With one sharp drive of the rifle butt the officer broke in the top of the keg, He kicked the barrel over with his foot.
This was the moment Morse chose for putting in an appearance.
"Hello! What's doin'?" he asked casually.
Beresford, cool and quiet, looked straight at him. "I'll ask you that."
"Kinda expensive to irrigate the prairie that way, ain't it?"
"Doesn't cost me anything. How about you?"
Morse laughed at the question fired back at him so promptly. This young man was very much on the job. "Not a bean," the Montanan said.
"Good. Then you'll enjoy the little show I'm putting on--five thousand dollars' worth of liquor spilt all at one time."
"Holy Moses! Where is this blind tiger you're raidin'?"
"Down in the gully. Lucky you happened along just by chance. You'll be able to carry the good news to Whoop-Up and adjacent points."
"You're not really aimin' to spill all that whiskey."
"That's my intention. Any objections?" The scarlet-coated officer spoke softly, without any edge to his voice. But Tom began to understand why the clerk at the trading-post had called the Mounted Police go-getters. This smooth-shaven lad, so easy and carefree of manner, had a gleam in his eye that meant business. His very gentleness was ominous.
Tom Morse reflected swiftly. His uncle's firm had taken a chance of this very finale when it had sent a convoy of liquor into forbidden territory. Better to lose the stock than to be barred by the Canadian Government from trading with the Indians at all. This officer was not one to be bribed or bullied. He would go through with the thing he had started.
"Why, no! How could I have any objections?" Morse said.
He shot a swift, slant look at Barney, a look that told the Irishman to say nothing and know nothing, and that he would be protected against the law.
"Glad you haven't," Constable Beresford replied cheerfully--so very cheerfully in fact that Morse suspected he would not have been much daunted if objections had been mentioned. "Perhaps you'll help me with my little job, then."
The trader grinned. He might as well go the limit with the bluff he was playing. "Sure. I'll help you make a fourth o' July outa the kegs. Lead me to 'em."
"You don't know where they are, of course?"
"In the gully, you said," Morse replied innocently
"So I did. Righto. Down you go, then." The constable turned to Barney. "You next, friend."
A well-defined trail led down the steep side of the gulch. It ended in a thick growth of willow saplings. Underneath the roof of this foliage were more than a score of whiskey-casks.
After ten minutes with the rifle butt there was nothing to show for the cache but broken barrels and a trough of wet sand where the liquor had run down the bed of the dry gully.
It was time, Morse thought, to play his own small part in the entertainment.
"After you, gentlemen," Beresford said, stepping aside to let them take the trail up.
Morse too moved back to let Barney pass. The eyes of the two men met for a fraction of a second. Tom's lips framed silently one word. In that time a message was given and received.
The young man followed Barney, the constable at his heels. Morse stumbled, slipped to all fours, and slid back. He flung out his arms to steady himself and careened back against the constable. His flying hands caught at the scarlet coat. His bent head and shoulders thrust Beresford back and down.
Barney started to run.
The officer struggled to hold his footing against the awkward incubus, to throw the man off so that he could pursue Barney. His efforts were vain. Morse, evidently trying to regain his equilibrium, plunged wildly at him and sent him ploughing into the willows. The Montanan landed heavily on top, pinned him down, and smothered him.
The scarlet coat was a center of barrel hoops, bushes, staves, and wildly jerking arms and legs.
Morse made heroic efforts to untangle himself from the clutter. Once or twice he extricated himself almost, only to lose his balance on the slippery bushes and come skating down again on the officer just as he was trying to rise.
It was a scene for a moving-picture comedy, if the screen had been a feature of that day.
When at last the two men emerged from the gulch, Barney was nowhere to be seen. With him had vanished the mount of Beresford.
The constable laughed nonchalantly. He had just lost a prisoner, which was against the unwritten law of the Force, but he had gained another in his place. It would not be long till he had Barney too.
"Pretty work," he said appreciatively. "You couldn't have done it better if you'd done it on purpose, could you?"
"Done what?" asked Morse, with bland naivete.
"Made a pillow and a bed of me, skated on me, bowled me over like a tenpin."
"I ce'tainly was awkward. Couldn't get my footin' at all, seemed like. Why, where's Barney?" Apparently the trader had just made a discovery.
"Ask of the winds, 'Oh, where?'" Beresford dusted off his coat, his trousers, and his cap. When he had removed the evidence of the battle of the gulch, he set his cap at the proper angle and cocked an inquiring eye at the other. "I suppose you know you're under arrest."
"Why, no! Am I? What for? Which of the statues, laws, and ordinances of Queen Vic have I been bustin' without knowin' of them?"
"For aiding and abetting the escape of a prisoner."
"Did I do all that? And when did I do it?"
"While you were doing that war-dance on what was left of my manhandled geography."
"Can you arrest a fellow for slippin'?"
"Depends on how badly he slips. I'm going to take a chance on arresting you, anyhow."
"Gonna take away my six-shooter and handcuff me?"
"I'll take your revolver. If necessary, I'll put on the cuffs."
Morse looked at him, not without admiration. The man in the scarlet jacket wasted nothing. There was about him no superfluity of build, of gesture, of voice. Beneath the close-fitting uniform the muscles rippled and played when he moved. His shoulders and arms were those of a college oarsman. Lean-flanked and clean-limbed, he was in the hey-day of a splendid youth. It showed in the steady eyes set wide in the tanned face, in the carriage of the close-cropped, curly head, in the spring of the step. The Montanan recognized in him a kinship of dynamic force.
"Just what would I be doing?" the whiskey-runner asked, smiling.
Beresford met his smile. "I fancy I'll find that out pretty soon. Your revolver, please." He held out his hand, palm up.
"Let's get this straight. We're man to man. What'll you do if I find I've got no time to go to Fort Macleod with you?"
"Take you with me."
"Dead or alive?"
"And if I won't go?" asked Morse.
"Oh, you'll go." The officer's bearing radiated a quiet, imperturbable confidence. His hand was still extended, "If you please."
"No hurry. Do you know what you're up against? When I draw this gun I can put a bullet through your head and ride away?"
"Unless, of course, you plug me first."
"Can't do that. Against the regulations."
"Much obliged for that information. You've got only a dead man's chance then--if I show fight."
"Better not. Game hardly worth the candle. My pals would run you down," the constable advised coolly.
"You still intend to arrest me?"
As Morse looked at him, patient as an animal of prey, steady, fearless, an undramatic Anglo-Saxon who meant to go through with the day's work, he began to understand the power that was to make the North-West Mounted Police such a force in the land. The only way he could prevent this man from arresting him was to kill the constable; and if he killed him, other jaunty red-coated youths would come to kill or be killed. It came to him that he was up against a new order which would wipe Bully West and his kind from the land.
He handed his revolver to Beresford. "I'll ride with you."
"Good. Have to borrow your horse till we reach Whoop-Up. You won't mind walking?"
"Not at all. Some folks think that's what legs were made for," answered Morse, grinning.
As he strode across the prairie beside the horse, Morse was still puzzling over the situation. He perceived that the strength of the officer's position was wholly a moral one. A lawbreaker was confronted with an ugly alternative. The only way to escape arrest was to commit murder. Most men would not go that far, and of those who would the great majority would be deterred because eventually punishment was sure. The slightest hesitation, the least apparent doubt, a flicker of fear on the officer's face, would be fatal to success. He won because he serenely expected to win, and because there was back of him a silent, impalpable force as irresistible as the movement of a glacier.
Beresford must have known that the men who lived at Whoop-Up were unfriendly to the North-West Mounted. Some of them had been put out of business. Their property had been destroyed and confiscated. Fines had been imposed on them. The current whisper was that the whiskey-smugglers would retaliate against the constables in person whenever there was a chance to do so with impunity. Some day a debonair wearer of the scarlet coat would ride out gayly from one of the forts and a riderless horse would return at dusk. There were outlaws who would ask nothing better than a chance to dry-gulch one of these inquisitive riders of the plains.
But Beresford rode into the stockade and swung from the saddle with smiling confidence. He nodded here and there casually to dark, sullen men who watched his movements with implacably hostile eyes.
His words were addressed to Reddy Madden. "Can you let me have a horse for a few days and charge it to the Force? I've lost mine."
Some one sniggered offensively. Barney had evidently reached Whoop-Up and was in hiding.
"Your horse came in a while ago, constable," Madden said civilly. "It's in the corral back of the store."
"Did it come in without a rider?" Beresford asked.
The question was unnecessary. The horse would have gone to Fort Macleod and not have come to Whoop-Up unless a rider had guided it here. But sometimes one found out things from unwilling witnesses if one asked questions.
"Didn't notice. I was in the store myself."
"Thought perhaps you hadn't noticed," the officer said. "None of you other gentlemen noticed either, did you?"
The "other gentlemen" held a dogged, sulky silence. A girl cantered through the gate of the stockade and up to the store. At sight of Morse her eyes passed swiftly to Beresford. His answered smilingly what she had asked. It was all over in a flash, but it told the man from Montana who the informer was that had betrayed to the police the place of the whiskey cache.
To the best of her limited chance, Jessie McRae was paying an installment on the debt she owed Bully West and Tom Morse.
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