Friday, July 01, 2005
CHAPTER XXXIV -- Conclusion
WEIGHT OF EVIDENCE
KURTZ squirmed wrathfully and managed to sit up.
“You're pretty smart, Robbins,” he snarled, “but you'll have a hard time proving anything against me!”
The cowboy smiled mockingly in the rays of the flash light.
“That's rather a broad statement, Kurtz. I can prove that yo're a rustler, that you had a hand in the Del Rio Bank robbery, that you blew up the cave and almost killed Larry, that you killed Larry's horse after you escaped from me because it had found you and was following you for companionship, and I can prove that you persuaded or ordered the business men in Del Rio and Morgan City not to buy Crimins' meat!”
A gasp of surprise escaped June. Crimins and Craig stared in unbelief. The two cowboys behind them goggled wonderingly.
“You can like blazes!” cried Kurtz hoarsely. “Most everybody knows that it was Whortle who robbed the bank, or had it done so you'd lose your money. He did a lot of other things, too.”
“But only because you ordered him to, Kurtz!”
“Bill, do yuh mean that?” queried Crimins sharply.
“I certainly do! Kurtz owns the T Square. Whortle was only runnin' it for him, and actin' under his orders to ruin you. He had Whortle buy up the mortgage on the C Bar so he could add yore place to the T Square. Yet he appeared to be buckin' Whortle for it, but if you'd sold to the Big Bear Cattle Company he'd have transferred it to his own ranch somehow, probably cheated his employers out of it as he did with their cattle.”
Kurtz sneered contemptuously.
“Bah! What proof have you got?”
“Plenty, Kurtz. You didn't want to be seen talk-in' to Whortle, ever, and tried to make out you didn't have anything to do with him. That was clever, but yuh made the mistake of writin' him what yuh wanted him to do. I found several of those letters on Whortle's body, and they only substantiate what I already knew. What's more, yore signature on those letters is identical with the one on the bill of sale that Davids' partner, Harris, gave with the two hundred Big Bear cattle he tried to sell to that buyer in Morgan City along with the Barred 0's you had stolen from Crimins by Whortle's gang.
“That bill of sale, by the way, is the same one you tried to get when you attacked me in the Del Rio Hotel after I'd refused to give it to you in Kelson's office. When you signed it, yuh never thought any one else would see it, did yuh? Except yore men, I mean. You were afraid I'd do just what I did—compare that signature with every handwriting I could get samples of, so yuh tried to kill me and get it back.”
Craig edged forward. This information was a surprise to him.
“How about that warnin' you got to leave the country, Bill? Did Kurtz send you that?”
“Yeah. I was gettin' too close to the truth for his comfort, and he was afraid of what I'd find out. He tried pretty hard to get me killed off, several times, in fact, but somehow I came through all right. June, you remember when Whortle and his gang attacked us after we killed that bear? Well, Mr. Kurtz was hidin' back in the rocks watchin' things. He'd ordered Whortle to kill me, but not to hurt you. But Whortle and his gang got sore - because yore shootin' dropped one or two of them, and Kurtz fired at them—purposely missing them, though Whortle didn't know that till afterward—and then came down to play the rescuer and worm himself into your good graces.
“Just before he reached us he stooped and picked up the knife I had dropped and put it in his pocket. Later”—his words came like a whiplash—”when he killed the bank cashier durin' the robbery, he left my knife there to incriminate me.”
“That's a lie!” Kurtz cried hoarsely. “I wasn't even in town when that happened!”
Robbins bent over and quickly inserted a hand in his pockets until he found an article he was searching for. He held it up for all to see. It was a small, cardboard match box.
“There's proof enough,” he said quietly. “My knife had a broken blade, and in carryin' it in yore pocket, one of these little matches—a kind I've never seen anybody else use around here, they're awful short, folks—got into the empty groove. The sheriff didn't notice it, but I did. The other day when you were at the ranch you lit a cigarette and threw one of these same short match sticks away. After you'd gone I picked it up.”
The silence that followed was broken by Craig's awed gasp.
“Well, I'm danged! And here I was - thinkin' it was Whortle all the time! Funny how things work out, ain't it?”
“Yeah, isn't it? Kurtz was very clever in usin' Whortle to shield himself, but he wasn't quite clever enough to guess somethin' else, or he'd have tried harder than ever to kill me.”
It was the manager of the Big Bear who spoke then.
“You don't say? And what was that, may I ask?”
“You might have guessed that the name ‘Robbins' was so close to ‘Roberts' as to be suspicious.”
Kurtz abruptly broke into vitriolic swearing, which Craig stopped by jerking him to his feet and threatening to knock him down if he didn't know how to talk in the presence of a lady. Crimins was puzzled by Robbins' remark.
“What's the meanin' of that?” he inquired.
“Well, you see, I'm one of the owners of the Big Bear. My dad is Dan Roberts. When Kurtz reported havin' trouble here I decided to come down and investigate. We never thought when we told him to buy the C Bar that he'd do anythin' like this. I'm danged sorry, Crimins, and I promise you right now that you'll either be paid for every head of stock yuh lost, or they'll be replaced.”
Crimins was astonished. Then he stuck out his hand warmly, while June smiled.
“That's right handsome of yuh, Bill. That'll help a heap.”
Craig grinned at all of them and pushed his sombrero on the back of his head. June had put the flash light on the top of a rock so that its rays covered quite a space, and lighted up Craig's features.
“This seems to be a confession party,” he said, “so I might as well speak my piece. Yuh remember yuh sent for a range detective a long time ago, Crimins? Well, the Cattle Association finally got around to yore case—we've been awfully busy—and sent me down here. If yuh want. I'll take charge of Mr. Kurtz, Bill, and then I want to get in touch with the sheriff and round up the rest of his and Whortle's men.”
Robbins was just as surprised as the rest. “Gosh, no,” he said heartily. “Take him along.” “I'll help yuh sling him on a horse,” offered Crimins. ‘Danged if I can see through this muddle yet. First thing I know that grinnin' idiot there, Windy Williams, will be confidin' to me that he's the King of England.”
They carried and pushed Kurtz away, leaving June and Robbins alone.
“You're awfully good to replace dad's cattle, Bill,” the girl said, not looking at the tall figure beside her. “I—I hope you won't send another manager like Kurtz down here.”
Robbins glanced sideways at her.
“Why, I think I'll take that job myself. That is, if a certain person would like me to stay in the country.”
He took her by the shoulders and turned her so that her eyes looked into his.
“Do yuh?” he asked softly.
“I—I think I do,” she answered.
Crimins came back, appearing not to notice that they were talking earnestly together. Robbins turned to him, but held June's hand in his behind his back.
“Say, Bill,” the rancher asked in a puzzled tone. “There's somethin' else I want to know. I always was a plumb good shot with a rifle. How come I missed Kurtz with all three shots?”
“Oh, that? Why, yuh see, I figured Mr. Bear would look nicer behind bars or danglin' on a rope than he would in a coffin, so I changed the sights on yore gun so you couldn't hit anything.”