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Title: Brand Blotters
Author: Raine, William MacLeod, 1871-1954
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Brand Blotters" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: "WHO ARE YOU?" "WATER!" HE GASPED. Page 20.]



BRAND BLOTTERS

By

WILLIAM MacLEOD RAINE

Author Of

Wyoming, Bucky O'Connor, Mavericks,
A Texas Ranger, Ridgway Of Montana, Etc.

Illustrations By

CLARENCE ROWE

Grosset & Dunlap

Publishers New York

Made in the United States of America



Copyright, 1909, by J. B. Lippincott Co.

Copyright, 1911, by Street & Smith

Copyright, 1912, by G. W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY

Brand Blotters



TO
FRANK N. SPINDLER

In Memory of Certain Sunday Afternoon Tramps
Long Ago, During Which We Solved the
Problems of the Nation



CONTENTS

PART I

MELISSY OF THE BAR DOUBLE G

 CHAPTER                                            PAGE
      I  A Crossed Trail                              11
     II  Brand Blotting                               18
    III  An Accusation                                35
     IV  The Man with the Chihuahua Hat               49
      V  The Tenderfoot Takes up a Claim              61
     VI  "Hands Up"                                   75
    VII  Watering Sheep                               98
   VIII  The Boone-Bellamy Feud is Renewed           109
     IX  The Danger Line                             121
      X  Jack Goes to the Head of the Class          141
     XI  A Conversation                              156
    XII  The Tenderfoot Makes a Proposition          163
   XIII  Old Acquaintances                           182
    XIV  Concerning the Boone-Bellamy-Yarnell Feud   191

PART II

DEAD MAN'S CACHE

 CHAPTER                                            PAGE
      I  Kidnapped                                   199
     II  A Capture                                   209
    III  The Tables Turned                           217
     IV  The Real Bucky and the False                231
      V  A Photograph                                243
     VI  In Dead Man's Cache                         255
    VII  "Trapped!"                                  266
   VIII  An Escape and a Capture                     276
     IX  A Bargain                                   286
      X  The Price                                   301
     XI  Squire Latimer Takes a Hand                 306
    XII  The Taking of the Cache                     322
   XIII  Melissy Entertains                          334
    XIV  Black MacQueen Cashes his Checks            340



PART I

MELISSY OF THE BAR DOUBLE G



CHAPTER I

A CROSSED TRAIL


The tenderfoot rose from the ledge upon which he had been lying and
stretched himself stiffly. The chill of the long night had set him
shivering. His bones ached from the pressure of his body upon the rock
where he had slept and waked and dozed again with troubled dreams. The
sharpness of his hunger made him light-headed. Thirst tortured him. His
throat was a lime-kiln, his tongue swollen till it filled his mouth.

If the night had been bad, he knew the day would be a hundred times worse.
Already a gray light was sifting into the hollow of the sky. The vague
misty outlines of the mountains were growing sharper. Soon from a crotch
of them would rise a red hot cannon ball to pour its heat into the parched
desert.

He was headed for the Sonora line, for the hills where he had heard a man
might drop out of sight of the civilization that had once known him. There
were reasons why he had started in a hurry, without a horse or food or a
canteen, and these same reasons held good why he could not follow beaten
tracks. All yesterday he had traveled without sighting a ranch or meeting
a human being. But he knew he must get to water soon--if he were to reach
it at all.

A light breeze was stirring, and on it there was borne to him a faint
rumble as of thunder. Instantly the man came to a rigid alertness. Thunder
might mean rain, and rain would be salvation. But the sound did not die
away. Instead, it deepened to a steady roar, growing every instant louder.
His startled glance swept the cañon that drove like a sword cleft into the
hills. Pouring down it, with the rush of a tidal wave, came a wall of
cattle, a thousand backs tossing up and down as the swell of a troubled
sea. Though he had never seen one before, the man on the lip of the gulch
knew that he was watching a cattle stampede. Under the impact of the
galloping hoofs the ground upon which he stood quaked.

A cry diverted his attention. From the bed of the sandy wash a man had
started up and was running for his life toward the cañon walls. Before he
had taken half a dozen steps the avalanche was upon him, had cut him down,
swept over him.

The thud of the hoofs died away. Into the open desert the stampede had
passed. A huddled mass lay motionless on the sand in the track of the
avalanche.

A long ragged breath whistled through the closed lips of the tenderfoot.
He ran along the edge of the rock wall till he found a descent less sharp,
lowered himself by means of jutting quartz and mesquit cropping out from
the crevices, and so came through a little draw to the cañon.

He dropped on a knee beside the sprawling, huddled figure. No second
glance was needed to see that the man was dead. Life had been trampled out
of him almost instantly and his features battered beyond any possible
recognition. Unused to scenes of violence, the stranger stooping over him
felt suddenly sick. It made him shudder to remember that if he could have
found a way down in the darkness he, too, would have slept in the warm
sand of the dry wash. If he had, the fate of this man would have been
his.

Under the doubled body was a canteen. The trembling fingers of the
tenderfoot unscrewed the cork. Tipping the vessel, he drank avidly. One
swallow, a second, then a few trickling drops. The canteen had been almost
empty.

Uncovering, he stood bareheaded before the inert body and spoke gently in
the low, soft voice one instinctively uses in the presence of the dead.

"Friend, I couldn't save your life, but your water has saved mine, I
reckon. Anyhow, it gives me another chance to fight for it. I wish I could
do something for you ... carry a message to your folks and tell them how
it happened."

He dropped down again beside the dead man and rifled the pockets. In them
he found two letters addressed in an illiterate hand to James Diller,
Cananea, Sonora, Mexico. An idea flashed into his brain and for a moment
held him motionless while he worked it out. Why not? This man was about
his size, dressed much like him, and so mutilated that identification was
impossible.

From his own pocket he took a leather bill book and a monogrammed
cigarcase. With a sharp stone he scarred the former. The metal case he
crushed out of shape beneath the heel of his boot. Having first taken one
twenty dollar yellowback from the well-padded book, he slipped it and the
cigarcase into the inner coat pocket of the dead man. Irregularly in a
dozen places he gashed with his knife the derby hat he was wearing, ripped
the band half loose, dragged it in the dust, and jumped on it till the hat
was flat as a pancake. Finally he kicked it into the sand a dozen yards
away.

"The cattle would get it tangled in their hoofs and drag it that far with
them," he surmised.

The soft gray hat of the dead man he himself appropriated. Again he spoke
to the lifeless body, lowering his voice to a murmur.

"I reckon you wouldn't grudge me this if you knew. I'm up against it. If I
get out of these hills alive I'll be lucky. But if I do--well, it won't do
you any harm to be mistaken for me, and it will accommodate me mightily. I
hate to leave you here alone, but it's what I've got to do to save
myself."

He turned away and plodded up the dry creek bed.

                   *       *       *       *       *

The sun was at the meridian when three heavily armed riders drew up at the
mouth of the cañon. They fell into the restful, negligent postures of
horsemen accustomed to take their ease in the saddle.

"Do you figure maybe he's working up to the headwaters of Dry Sandy?" one
suggested.

A squat, bandy-legged man with a face of tanned leather presently
answered. "No, Tim, I expect not. The way I size him up Mr. Richard
Bellamy wouldn't know Dry Sandy from an irrigation ditch. Mr. R. B. hopes
he's hittin' the high spots for Sonora, but he ain't anyways sure. Right
about now he's ridin' the grub line, unless he's made a strike
somewhere."

The third member of the party, a lean, wide-shouldered, sinewy youth, blue
silk kerchief knotted loosely around his neck, broke in with a gesture
that swept the sky. "Funny about all them buzzards. What are they doing
here, sheriff?"

The squat man opened his mouth to answer, but Tim took the word out of his
mouth.

"Look!" His arm had shot straight out toward the cañon. A coyote was
disappearing on the lope. "Something lying there in the wash at the bend,
Burke."

Sheriff Burke slid his rifle from its scabbard. "We'll not take any
chances, boys. Spread out far as you can. Tim, ride close to the left
wall. You keep along the right one, Flatray. Me, I'll take the center.
That's right."

They rode forward cautiously. Once Flatray spoke.

"By the tracks there has been a lot of cattle down here on the jump
recently."

"That's what," Tim agreed.

Flatray swung from his saddle and stooped over the body lying at the bend
of the wash.

"Crushed to death in a cattle stampede, looks like," he called to the
sheriff.

"Search him, Jack," the sheriff ordered.

The young man gave an exclamation of surprise. He was standing with a
cigarcase in one hand and a billbook in the other. "It's the man we're
after--it's Bellamy."

Burke left his horse and came forward. "How do you know?"

"Initials on the cigarcase, R. B. Same monogram on the billbook."

The sheriff had stooped to pick up a battered hat as he moved toward the
deputy. Now he showed the initials stamped on the sweat band. "R. B. here,
too."

"Suit of gray clothes, derby hat, size and weight about medium. We'll
never know about the scar on the eyebrow, but I guess Mr. Bellamy is
identified without that."

"Must have camped here last night and while he was asleep the cattle
stampeded down the cañon," Tim hazarded.

"That guess is as good as any. They ce'tainly stomped the life out of him
thorough. Anyhow, Bellamy has met up with his punishment. We'll have to
pack the body back to town, boys," the sheriff told them.

Half an hour later the party filed out to the creosote flats and struck
across country toward Mesa. Flatray was riding pillion behind Tim. His own
horse was being used as a pack saddle.



CHAPTER II

BRAND BLOTTING


The tenderfoot, slithering down a hillside of shale, caught at a
greasewood bush and waited. The sound of a rifle shot had drifted across
the ridge to him. Friend or foe, it made no difference to him now. He had
reached the end of his tether, must get to water soon or give up the
fight.

No second shot broke the stillness. A swift zigzagged across the cattle
trail he was following. Out of a blue sky the Arizona sun still beat down
upon a land parched by æons of drought, a land still making its brave show
of greenness against a dun background.

Arrow straight the man made for the hill crest. Weak as a starved puppy,
his knees bent under him as he climbed. Down and up again a dozen times,
he pushed feverishly forward. All day he had been seeing things. Cool
lakes had danced on the horizon line before his tortured vision. Strange
fancies had passed in and out of his mind. He wondered if this, too, were
a delusion. How long that stiff ascent took him he never knew, but at
last he reached the summit and crept over its cactus-covered shoulder.

He looked into a valley dressed in its young spring garb. Of all deserts
this is the loveliest when the early rains have given rebirth to the hope
that stirs within its bosom once a year. But the tenderfoot saw nothing of
its pathetic promise, of its fragile beauty so soon to be blasted. His
sunken eyes swept the scene and found at first only a desert waste in
which lay death.

"I lose," he said to himself out loud.

With the words he gave up the long struggle and sank to the ground. For
hours he had been exhausted to the limit of endurance, but the will to
live had kept him going. Now the driving force within had run down. He
would die where he lay.

Another instant, and he was on his feet again eager, palpitant, tremulous.
For plainly there had come to him the bleating of a calf.

Moving to the left, he saw rising above the hill brow a thin curl of
smoke. A dozen staggering steps brought him to the edge of a draw. There
in the hollow below, almost within a stone's throw, was a young woman
bending over a fire. He tried to call, but his swollen tongue and dry
throat refused the service. Instead, he began to run toward her.

Beyond the wash was a dead cow. Not far from it lay a calf on its side,
all four feet tied together. From the fire the young woman took a red-hot
running iron and moved toward the little bleater.

The crackling of a twig brought her around as a sudden tight rein does a
high-strung horse. The man had emerged from the prickly pears and was
close upon her. His steps dragged. The sag of his shoulders indicated
extreme fatigue. The dark hollows beneath the eyes told of days of
torment.

The girl stood before him slender and straight. She was pale to the lips.
Her breath came fast and ragged as if she had been running.

Abruptly she shot her challenge at him. "Who are you?"

"Water," he gasped.

One swift, searching look the girl gave him, then "Wait!" she ordered, and
was off into the mesquit on the run. Three minutes later the tenderfoot
heard her galloping through the brush. With a quick, tight rein she drew
up, swung from the saddle expertly as a _vaquero_, and began to untie a
canteen held by buckskin thongs to the side of the saddle.

He drank long, draining the vessel to the last drop.

From her saddle bags she brought two sandwiches wrapped in oiled paper.

"You're hungry, too, I expect," she said, her eyes shining with tender
pity.

She observed that he did not wolf his food, voracious though he was. While
he ate she returned to the fire with the running iron and heaped live
coals around the end of it.

"You've had a pretty tough time of it," she called across to him gently.

"It hasn't been exactly a picnic, but I'm all right now."

The girl liked the way he said it. Whatever else he was--and already faint
doubts were beginning to stir in her--he was not a quitter.

"You were about all in," she said, watching him.

"Just about one little kick left in me," he smiled.

"That's what I thought."

She busied herself over the fire inspecting the iron. The man watched her
curiously. What could it mean? A cow killed wantonly, a calf bawling with
pain and fear, and this girl responsible for it. The tenderfoot could not
down the suspicion stirring in his mind. He knew little of the cattle
country. But he had read books and had spent a week in Mesa not entirely
in vain. The dead cow with the little stain of red down its nose pointed
surely to one thing. He was near enough to see a hole in the forehead just
above the eyes. Instinctively his gaze passed to the rifle lying in the
sand close to his hand. Her back was still turned to him. He leaned over,
drew the gun to him, and threw out an empty shell from the barrel.

At the click of the lever the girl swung around upon him.

"What are you doing?" she demanded.

He put the rifle down hurriedly. "Just seeing what make it is."

"And what make is it?" she flashed.

He was trapped. "I hadn't found out yet," he stammered.

"No, but you found out there was an empty shell in it," she retorted
quickly.

Their eyes fastened. She was gray as ashes, but she did not flinch. By
chance he had stumbled upon the crime of crimes in Cattleland, had caught
a rustler redhanded at work. Looking into the fine face, nostrils
delicately fashioned, eyes clear and deep, the thing was scarce credible
of her. Why, she could not be a day more than twenty, and in every line of
her was the look of pride, of good blood.

"Yes, I happened to throw it out," he apologized.

But she would have no evasion, would not let his doubts sleep. There was
superb courage in the scornful ferocity with which she retorted.

"Happened! And I suppose you _happened_ to notice that the brand on the
cow is a Bar Double G, while that on the calf is different."

"No, I haven't noticed that."

"Plenty of time to see it yet." Then, with a swift blaze of feeling,
"What's the use of pretending? I know what you think."

"Then you know more than I do. My thoughts don't go any farther than this,
that you have saved my life and I'm grateful for it."

"I know better. You think I'm a rustler. But don't say it. Don't you dare
say it."

Brought up in an atmosphere of semi-barbaric traditions, silken-strong,
with instincts unwarped by social pressure, she was what the sun and wind
and freedom of Arizona had made her, a poetic creation far from
commonplace. So he judged her, and in spite of the dastardly thing she had
done he sensed an innate refinement strangely at variance with the
circumstances.

"All right. I won't," he answered, with a faint smile.

"Now you've got to pay for your sandwiches by making yourself useful. I'm
going to finish this job." She said it with an edge of self-scorn. He
guessed her furious with self-contempt.

Under her directions he knelt on the calf so as to hold it steady while
she plied the hot iron. The odor of burnt hair and flesh was already acrid
in his nostrils. Upon the red flank F was written in raw, seared flesh. He
judged that the brand she wanted was not yet complete. Probably the iron
had got too cold to finish the work, and she had been forced to reheat
it.

The little hand that held the running iron was trembling. Looking up, the
tenderfoot saw that she was white enough to faint.

"I can't do it. You'll have to let me hold him while you blur the brand,"
she told him.

They changed places. She set her teeth to it and held the calf steady,
but the brander noticed that she had to look away when the red-hot iron
came near the flesh of the victim.

"Blur the brand right out. Do it quick, please," she urged.

A sizzle of burning skin, a piteous wail from the tortured animal, an
acrid pungent odor, and the thing was done. The girl got to her feet,
quivering like an aspen.

"Have you a knife?" she asked faintly.

"Yes."

"Cut the rope."

The calf staggered to all fours, shook itself together, and went bawling
to the dead mother.

The girl drew a deep breath. "They say it does not hurt except while it is
being done."

His bleak eyes met hers stonily. "And of course it will soon get used to
doing without its mother. That is a mere detail."

A shudder went through her.

The whole thing was incomprehensible to him. Why under heaven had she done
it? How could one so sensitive have done a wanton cruel thing like this?
Her reason he could not fathom. The facts that confronted him were that
she _had_ done it, and had meant to carry the crime through. Only
detection had changed her purpose.

She turned upon him, plainly sick of the whole business. "Let's get away
from here. Where's your horse?"

"I haven't any. I started on foot and got lost."

"From where?"

"From Mammoth."

Sharply her keen eyes fixed him. How could a man have got lost near
Mammoth and wandered here? He would have had to cross the range, and even
a child would have known enough to turn back into the valley where the
town lay.

"How long ago?"

"Day before yesterday." He added after a moment: "I was looking for a
job."

She took in the soft hands and the unweathered skin of the dark face.
"What sort of a job?"

"Anything I can do."

"But what can you do?"

"I can ride."

She must take him home with her, of course, and feed and rest him. That
went without saying. But what after that? He knew too much to be turned
adrift with the story of what he had seen. If she could get a hold on
him--whether of fear or of gratitude--so as to insure his silence, the
truth might yet be kept quiet. At least she could try.

"Did you ever ride the range?"

"No."

"What sort of work have you done?"

After a scarcely noticeable pause, "Clerical work," he answered.

"You're from the East?" she suggested, her eyes narrowing.

"Yes."

"My name is Melissy Lee," she told him, watching him very steadily.

Once more the least of pauses. "Mine is Diller--James Diller."

"That's funny. I know another man of that name. At least, I know him by
sight."

The man who had called himself Diller grew wary. "It's a common enough
name."

"Yes. If I find you work at my father's ranch would you be too particular
about what it is?"

"Try me."

"And your memory--is it inconveniently good?" Her glance swept as by
chance over the scene of her recent operations.

"I've got a right good forgettery, too," he assured her.

"You're not in the habit of talking much about the things you see." She
put it in the form of a statement, but the rising inflection indicated the
interrogative.

His black eyes met hers steadily. "I can padlock my mouth when it is
necessary," he answered, the suggestion of a Southern drawl in his
intonation.

She wanted an assurance more direct. "When _you_ think it necessary, I
suppose."

"That is what I meant to say."

"Come. One good turn deserves another. What about this?" She nodded toward
the dead cow.

"I have not seen a thing I ought not to have seen."

"Didn't you see me blot a brand on that calf?"

He shook his head. "Can't recall it at all, Miss Lee."

Swiftly her keen glance raked him again. Judged by his clothes, he was one
of the world's ineffectives, flotsam tossed into the desert by the wash of
fate; but there was that in the steadiness of his eye, in the set of his
shoulders, in the carriage of his lean-loined, slim body that spoke of
breeding. He was no booze-fighting grubliner. Disguised though he was in
cheap slops, she judged him a man of parts. He would do to trust,
especially since she could not help herself.

"We'll be going. You take my horse," she ordered.

"And let you walk?"

"How long since you have eaten?" she asked brusquely.

"About seven minutes," he smiled.

"But before that?"

"Two days."

"Well, then. Anybody can see you're as weak as a kitten. Do as I say."

"Why can't we both ride?"

"We can as soon as we get across the pass. Until then I'll walk."

Erect as a willow sapling, she took the hills with an elastic ease that
showed her deep-bosomed in spite of her slenderness. The short corduroy
riding skirt and high-laced boots were made for use, not grace, but the
man in the saddle found even in her manner of walking the charm of her
direct, young courage. Free of limb, as yet unconscious of sex, she had
the look of a splendid boy. The descending sun was in her sparkling hair,
on the lank, undulating grace of her changing lines.

Active as a cat though it was, the cowpony found the steep pass with its
loose rubble hard going. Melissy took the climb much easier. In the way
she sped through the mesquit, evading the clutch of the cholla by supple
dips to right and left, there was a kind of pantherine litheness.

At the summit she waited for the horse to clamber up the shale after her.

"Get down in your collar, you Buckskin," she urged, and when the pony was
again beside her petted the animal with little love pats on the nose.

Carelessly she flung at Diller a question. "From what part of the East did
you say?"

He was on the spot promptly this time. "From Keokuk."

"Keokuk, Indiana?"

"Iowa," he smiled.

"Oh, is it Iowa?" He had sidestepped her little trap, but she did not give
up. "Just arrived?"

"I've been herding sheep for a month."

"Oh, sheep-herding!" Her disdain implied that if he were fit for nothing
better than sheep-herding, the West could find precious little use for
him.

"It was all I could get to do."

"Where did you say you wrangled Mary's little lamb?"

"In the Catalinas."

"Whose outfit?"

Question and answer were tossed back and forth lightly, but both were
watching warily.

"Outfit?" he repeated, puzzled.

"Yes. Who were you working for?"

"Don't remember his name. He was a Mexican."

"Must have been one of the camps of Antonio Valdez."

"Yes, that's it. That's the name."

"Only he runs his sheep in the Galiuros," she demurred.

"Is it the Galiuros? Those Spanish names! I can't keep them apart in my
mind."

She laughed with hard, young cruelty. "It is hard to remember what you
never heard, isn't it?"

The man was on the rack. Tiny beads of perspiration stood out on his
forehead. But he got a lip smile into working order.

"Just what do you mean, Miss Lee?"

"You had better get your story more pat. I've punched a dozen holes in it
already. First you tell me you are from the East, and even while you were
telling me I knew you were a Southerner from the drawl. No man ever got
lost from Mammoth. You gave a false name. You said you had been herding
sheep, but you didn't know what an outfit is. You wobbled between the
Galiuros and the Catalinas."

"I'm not a native. I told you I couldn't remember Spanish names."

"It wasn't necessary to tell me," she countered quickly. "A man that can't
recall even the name of his boss!"

"I'm not in the witness box, Miss Lee," he told her stiffly.

"Not yet, but you're liable to be soon, I reckon."

"In a cattle rustling case, I suppose you mean."

"No, I don't." She went on with her indictment of his story, though his
thrust had brought the color to her cheek. "When I offered you Antonio
Valdez for an employer you jumped at him. If you want to know, he happens
to be our herder. He doesn't own a sheep and never will."

"You know all about it," he said with obvious sarcasm.

"I know you're not who you say you are."

"Perhaps you know who I am then."

"I don't know or care. It's none of my business. But others may think it
is theirs. You can't be so reckless with the truth without folks having
notions. If I were you I'd get a story that will hang together."

"You're such a good detective. Maybe I could get you to invent one for
me," he suggested maliciously.

Her indignation flashed. "I'm no such thing. But I'm not quite a fool. A
babe in arms wouldn't swallow that fairy tale."

Awkward as her knowledge might prove, he could not help admiring the
resource and shrewdness of the girl. She had virtually served notice that
if she had a secret that needed keeping so had he.

They looked down over a desert green with bajadas, prickly pears, and
mesquit. To the right, close to a spur of the hills, were the dwarfed
houses of a ranch. The fans of a windmill caught the sun and flashed it
back to the travelers.

"The Bar Double G. My father owns it," Miss Lee explained.

"Oh! Your father owns it." He reflected a moment while he studied her.
"Let's understand each other, Miss Lee. I'm not what I claim to be, you
say. We'll put it that you have guessed right. What do you intend to do
about it? I'm willing to be made welcome at the Bar Double G, but I don't
want to be too welcome."

"I'm not going to do anything."

"So long as I remember not to remember what I've seen."

The blood burned in her cheeks beneath their Arizona tan. She did not look
at him. "If you like to put it that way."

He counted it to her credit that she was ashamed of the bargain in every
honest fiber of her.

"No matter what they say I've done. You'll keep faith?"

"I don't care what you've done," she flung back bitterly. "It's none of my
affair. I told you that before. Men come out here for all sorts of
reasons. We don't ask for a bill of particulars."

"Then I'll be right glad to go down to the Bar Double G with you, and say
thanks for the chance."

He had dismounted when they first reached the pass. Now she swung to the
saddle and he climbed behind her. They reached presently one of the
nomadic trails of the cattle country which wander leisurely around hills
and over gulches along the line of least resistance. This brought them to
a main traveled road leading to the ranch.

They rode in silence until the pasture fence was passed.

"What am I to tell them your name is?" she asked stiffly.

He took his time to answer. "Tom Morse is a good name, don't you think?
How would T. L. Morse do?"

She offered no comment, but sat in front of him, unresponsive as the
sphinx. The rigor of her flat back told him that, though she might have to
keep his shameful secret for the sake of her own, he could not presume
upon it the least in the world.

Melissy turned the horse over to a little Mexican boy and they were just
mounting the steps of the porch when a young man cantered up to the house.
Lean and muscular and sunbaked, he looked out of cool, gray eyes upon a
man's world that had often put him through the acid test. The plain,
cactus-torn chaps, flannel shirt open at the sinewy throat, dusty,
wide-brimmed hat, revolver peeping from its leather pocket on the thigh:
every detail contributed to the impression of efficiency he created. Even
the one touch of swagger about him, the blue silk kerchief knotted loosely
around his neck, lent color to his virile competency.

He dragged his horse to a standstill and leaped off at the same instant.
"Evenin', 'Lissie."

She was busy lacing her shoe and did not look up. He guessed that he was
being snubbed and into his eyes came a gleam of fun. A day later than he
had promised, Jack Flatray was of opinion that he was being punished for
tardiness.

Casually he explained. "Couldn't make it any sooner. Burke had a hurry-up
job that took us into the hills. Fellow by the name of Bellamy, wanted for
murder at Nemo, Arkansas, had been tracked to Mesa. A message came over
the wires to arrest him. When Burke sent me to his room he had lit out,
taken a swift hike into the hills. Must a-had some warning, for he didn't
even wait for a horse."

The dilated eyes of the girl went past the deputy to the man she had
rescued. He was leaning against one of the porch posts, tense and rigid,
on his face the look of the hunted brought to bay.

"And did you find him?" she asked mechanically of the deputy.

"We found him. He had been trampled to death by a cattle stampede."

Her mind groped blindly for an explanation. Her woman's instinct told her
that the man panting on the porch within six feet of the officer was the
criminal wanted. There must be a mistake somewhere.

"Did you identify him?"

"I guess there is no doubt about it. His papers and belongings all showed
he was our man."

"Oh!" The excitement of his news had for a moment thawed her, but a
dignified aloofness showed again in her manner. "If you want to see father
you'll find him in the corral, Mr. Flatray."

"Well, I don't know as I'm looking for him awful hard," the blue
kerchiefed youth smiled genially. "Anyway, I can wait a few minutes if I
have to."

"Yes." She turned away indifferently. "I'll show you your room, Mr.
Morse."

The deputy watched them disappear into the house with astonishment printed
on his face. He had ridden twenty-seven miles to see Melissy Lee and he
had not quite expected this sort of a greeting.

"If that don't beat the Dutch. Looks like I'll do my callin' on the old
man after all, maybe," he murmured with a grin.



CHAPTER III

AN ACCUSATION


The rescued man ate, drank, and from sheer fatigue fell asleep within five
minutes of the time he was shown his bedroom.

Since he was not of the easily discouraged kind, the deputy stayed to
supper on invitation of Lee. He sat opposite the daughter of his host, and
that young woman treated him with the most frigid politeness. The owner of
the Bar Double G was quite unaware of any change of temperature. Jack and
his little girl had always been the best of friends. So now he discoursed
on the price of cows, the good rains, the outrages of the rustlers, and
kindred topics without suspecting that the attention of the young man was
on more personal matters.

Though born in Arizona, Melissy was of the South. Due westward rolls the
tide of settlement, and Beauchamp Lee had migrated from Tennessee after
the war, following the line of least resistance to the sunburned
territory. Later he had married a woman a good deal younger than himself.
She had borne him two children, the elder of whom was now a young man.
Melissy was the younger, and while she was still a babe in arms the mother
had died of typhoid and left her baby girl to grow up as best she might in
a land where women were few and far. This tiny pledge of her mother's love
Champ Lee had treasured as a gift from Heaven. He had tended her and
nursed her through the ailments of childhood with a devotion the most pure
of his reckless life. Given to heady gusts of passion, there had never
been a moment when his voice had been other than gentle and tender to
her.

Inevitably Melissy had become the product of her inheritance and her
environment. If she was the heiress of Beauchamp Lee's courage and
generosity, his quick indignation against wrong and injustice, so, too,
she was of his passionate lawlessness.

After supper Melissy disappeared. She wanted very much to be alone and
have a good cry. Wherefore she slipped out of the back door and ran up the
Lone Tree trail in the darkness. Jack thought he saw a white skirt fly a
traitorous signal, and at leisure he pursued.

But Melissy was not aware of that. She reached Lone Tree rock and slipped
down from boulder to boulder until she came to the pine which gave the
place its name. For hours she had been forced to repress her emotions, to
make necessary small talk, to arrange for breakfast and other household
details. Now she was alone, and the floods of her bitterness were
unloosed. She broke down and wept passionately, for she was facing her
first great disillusionment. She had lost a friend, one in whom she had
put great faith.

The first gust of the storm was past when Melissy heard a step on the
rocks above. She knew intuitively that Jack Flatray had come in search of
her, and he was the last man on earth she wanted to meet just now.

"'Lissie!" she heard him call softly; and again, "'Lissie!"

Noiselessly she got to her feet, waiting to see what he would do. She knew
he must be standing on the edge of the great rock, so directly above her
that if he had kicked a pebble it would have landed beside her. Presently
he began to clamber down.

She tiptoed along the ledge and slipped into the trough at the farther end
that led to the top. It was a climb she had taken several times, but never
in the dark. The ascent was almost perpendicular, and it had to be made by
clinging to projecting rocks and vegetation. Moreover, if she were to
escape undetected it had to be done in silence.

She was a daughter of the hills, as surefooted as a mountain goat. Handily
she went up, making the most of the footholds that offered. In spite of
the best she could do the rustling of bushes betrayed her.

Jack came to the foot of the trough and looked up.

"So you're there, are you?" he asked.

Her foot loosened a stone and sent it rolling down.

"If I were you I wouldn't try that at night, 'Liss," he advised.

She made sure of the steadiness of her voice before she answered. "You
don't need to try it."

"I said if I were you, girl."

"But you are not. Don't let me detain you here, Mr. Flatray," she told him
in a manner of icy precision.

The deputy began the climb too. "What's the use of being so hostile,
little girl?" he drawled. "Me, I came as soon as I could, burning the
wind, too."

She set her teeth, determined to reach the top in time to get away before
he could join her. In her eagerness she took a chance that proved her
undoing. A rock gave beneath her foot and clattered down. Clinging by one
hand and foot, she felt her body swing around. From her throat a little
cry leaped. She knew herself slipping.

"Jack!"

In time, and just in time, he reached her, braced himself, and gave her
his knee for a foot rest.

"All right?" he asked, and "All right!" she answered promptly.

"We'll go back," he told her.

She made no protest. Indeed, she displayed a caution in lowering herself
that surprised him. Every foothold she tested carefully with her weight.
Once she asked him to place her shoe in the crevice for her. He had never
seen her take so much time in making sure or be so fussy about her
personal safety.

Safely on the ledge again, she attempted a second time to dismiss him.
"Thank you, Mr. Flatray. I won't take any more of your time."

He looked at her steadily before he spoke. "You're mighty high-heeled,
'Lissie. You know my name ain't Mr. Flatray to you. What's it all about?
I've told you twice I couldn't get here any sooner."

She flamed out at him in an upblaze of feminine ferocity. "And I tell
_you_, that I don't care if you had never come. I don't want to see you or
have anything to do with you."

"Why not?" He asked it quietly, though he began to know that her charge
against him was a serious one.

"Because I know what you are now, because you have made us believe in you
while all the time you were living a lie."

"Meaning what?"

"I was gathering poppies on the other side of Antelope Pass this
afternoon."

"What has that got to do with me being a liar and a scoundrel," he wanted
to know.

"Oh, you pretend," she scoffed. "But you know as well as I do."

"I'm afraid I don't. Let's have the indictment."

"If everybody in Papago County had told me I wouldn't have believed it,"
she cried. "I had to see it with my own eyes before I could have been
convinced."

"Yes, well what is it you saw with your eyes?"

"You needn't keep it up. I tell you I saw it all from the time you fired
the shot."

He laughed easily, but without mirth. "Kept tab on me, did you?"

She wheeled from him, gave a catch of her breath, and caught at the rock
wall to save herself from falling.

He spoke sharply. "You hurt yourself in the trough."

"I sprained my ankle a little, but it doesn't matter."

He understood now why she had made so slow a descent and he suspected that
the wrench was more than she admitted. The moon had come out from under a
cloud and showed him a pale, tear-stained face, with a row of even, little
teeth set firm against the lower lip. She was in pain and her pride was
keeping it from him.

"Let me look at your ankle."

"No."

"I say yes. You've hurt it seriously."

"That is my business, I think," she told him with cold finality.

"I'm going to make it mine. Think I don't know you, proud as Lucifer when
you get set. You'll lame yourself for life if you're not careful."

"I don't care to discuss it."

"Fiddlesticks! If you've got anything against me we'll hear what it is
afterward. Right now we'll give first aid to the injured. Sit down here."

She had not meant to give way, but she did. Perhaps it was because of the
faintness that stole over her, or because the pain was sharper than she
could well endure. She found herself seated on the rock shelf, letting him
cut the lace out of her shoe and slip it off. Ever so gently he worked,
but he could tell by the catches of her breath that it was not pleasant to
endure. From his neck he untied the silk kerchief and wrapped it tightly
around the ankle.

"That will have to do till I get you home."

"I'll not trouble you, sir. If you'll stop and tell my father that is all
I'll ask."

"Different here," he retorted cheerfully. "Just so as to avoid any
argument, I'll announce right now that Jack Flatray is going to see you
home. It's his say-so."

She rose. None knew better than she that he was a dominating man when he
chose to be. She herself carried in her slim body a spirit capable of
passion and of obstinacy, but to-night she had not the will to force the
fighting.

Setting her teeth, she took a step or two forward, her hand against the
rock wall to help bear the weight. With narrowed eyes, he watched her
closely, noting the catches of pain that shot through her breathing. Half
way up the boulder bed he interposed brusquely.

"This is plumb foolishness, girl. You've got no business putting your
weight on that foot, and you're not going to do it."

He slipped his arm around her waist in such a way as to support her all he
could. With a quick turn of the body she tried to escape.

"No use. I'm going through with this, 'Lissie. Someone has been lying to
you about me, and just now you hate the ground I walk on. Good enough.
That's got nothing to do with this. You're a woman that needs help, and
any old time J. F. meets up with such a one he's on the job. You don't owe
me 'Thank you,' but you've got to stand for me till you reach the house."

"You're taking advantage of me because I can't help myself. Why don't you
go and bring father," she flung out.

"I'm younger than your father and abler to help. That's why?"

They reached the top of the bluff and he made her sit down to rest. A pale
moon suffused the country, and in that stage set to lowered lights her
pallor was accented. From the colorless face shadowy, troubled eyes spoke
the misery through which she was passing. The man divined that her pain
was more than physical, and the knowledge went to him poignantly by the
heart route.

"What is it, 'Lissie? What have I done?" he asked gently.

"You know. I don't want to talk about it."

"But I don't know."

"What's the use of keeping it up? I caught you this afternoon."

"Caught me doing what?"

"Caught you rustling, caught you branding a calf just after you had shot
the cow."

For an instant her charge struck him dumb. He stared at her as if he
thought she had gone suddenly mad.

"What's that? Say it again," he got out at last.

"And the cow had the Bar Double G brand, belonged to my father, your best
friend," she added passionately.

He spoke very gently, but there was an edge to his voice that was new to
her. "Suppose you tell me all about it."

She threw out a hand in a gesture of despair. "What's the use? Nothing
could have made me believe it but my own eyes. You needn't keep up a
pretense. I saw you."

"Yes, so you said before. Now begin at the start and tell your story."

She had the odd feeling of being put on the defensive and it angered her.
How dared he look at her with those cool, gray eyes that still appeared to
bore a hole through treachery? Why did her heart convict her of having
deserted a friend, when she knew that the desertion was his?

"While I was gathering poppies I heard a shot. It was so close I walked to
the edge of the draw and looked over. There I saw you."

"What was I doing?"

"You were hogtying a calf."

"And then?"

"I didn't understand at first. I thought to slip down and surprise you for
fun. But as I got lower I saw the dead cow. Just then you began to brand
the calf and I cried out to you."

"What did I do?"

"You know what you did," she answered wearily. "You broke for the brush
where your horse was and galloped away."

"Got a right good look at me, did you?"

"Not at your face. But I knew. You were wearing this blue silk
handkerchief." Her finger indicated the one bound around her ankle.

"So on that evidence you decide I'm a rustler, and you've only known me
thirteen years. You're a good friend, 'Lissie."

Her eyes blazed on him like live coals. "Have you forgotten the calf you
left with your brand on it?"

She had startled him at last. "With my brand on it?" he repeated, his
voice dangerously low and soft.

"You know as well as I do. You had got the F just about finished when I
called. You dropped the running iron and ran."

"Dropped it and ran, did I? And what did you do?"

"I reheated the iron and blurred the brand so that nobody could tell what
it had been."

He laughed harshly without mirth. "I see. I'm a waddy and a thief, but
you're going to protect me for old times' sake. That's the play, is it? I
ought to be much obliged to you and promise to reform, I reckon."

His bitterness stung. She felt a tightening of the throat. "All I ask is
that you go away and never come back to me," she cried with a sob.

"Don't worry about that. I ain't likely to come back to a girl that thinks
I'm the lowest thing that walks. You're not through with me a bit more
than I am with you," he answered harshly.

Her little hand beat upon the rock in her distress. "I never would have
believed it. Nobody could have made me believe it. I--I--why, I trusted
you like my own father," she lamented. "To think that you would take that
way to stock your ranch--and with the cattle of my father, too."

His face was hard as chiseled granite. "Distrust all your friends. That's
the best way."

"You haven't even denied it--not that it would do any good," she said
miserably.

There was a sound of hard, grim laughter in his throat. "No, and I ain't
going to deny it. Are you ready to go yet?"

His repulse of her little tentative advance was like a blow on the face to
her.

She made a movement to rise. While she was still on her knees he stooped,
put his arms around her, and took her into them. Before she could utter
her protest he had started down the trail toward the house.

"How dare you? Let me go," she ordered.

"You're not able to walk, and you'll go the way I say," he told her
shortly in a flinty voice.

Her anger was none the less because she realized her helplessness to get
what she wanted. Her teeth set fast to keep back useless words. Into his
stony eyes her angry ones burned. The quick, irregular rise and fall of
her bosom against his heart told him how she was struggling with her
passion.

Once he spoke. "Tell me where it was you saw this rustler--the exact place
near as you can locate it."

She answered only by a look.

The deputy strode into the living room of the ranch with her in his arms.
Lee was reading a newspaper Jack had brought with him from Mesa. At sight
of them he started up hurriedly.

"Goddlemighty, what's the matter, Jack?"

"Only a ricked ankle, Champ. Slipped on a stone," Flatray explained as he
put Melissy down on the lounge.

In two minutes the whole house was upset. Hop Ling was heating water to
bathe the sprain. A rider from the bunkhouse was saddling to go for the
doctor. Another was off in the opposite direction to buy some liniment at
Mammoth.

In the confusion Flatray ran up his horse from the pasture, slapped on the
saddle, and melted into the night.

An hour later Melissy asked her father what had become of him.

"Doggone that boy, I don't know where he went. Reckon he thought he'd be
in the way. Mighty funny he didn't give us a chanct to tell him to stay."

"Probably he had business in Mesa," Melissy answered, turning her face to
the wall.

"Business nothing," retorted the exasperated rancher. "He figured we
couldn't eat and sleep him without extra trouble. Ain't that a fine
reputation for him to be giving the Bar Double G? I'll curl his hair for
him onct I meet up with him again."

"If you would put out the light, I think I could sleep, dad," she told him
in the least of voices.

"Sure, honey. Has the throbbing gone out of the ankle?" he asked
anxiously.

"Not entirely, but it's a good deal better. Good-night, dad."

"If Doc comes I'll bring him in," Lee said after he had kissed her.

"Do, please."

But after she was left alone Melissy did not prepare herself for sleep.
Her wide open eyes stared into the darkness, while her mind stormily
reviewed the day. The man who for years had been her best friend was a
scoundrel. She had proved him unworthy of her trust, and on top of that he
had insulted her. Hot tears stung her eyes--tears of shame, of wounded
self-love, of mortification, and of something more worthy than any of
these.

She grieved passionately for that which had gone out of her life, for the
comradeship that had been so precious to her. If this man were a waddy,
who of all her friends could she trust? She could have forgiven him had he
done wrong in the heat of anger. But this premeditated evil was beyond
forgiveness. To make it worse, he had come direct from the doing of it to
meet her, with a brazen smile on his lips and a lie in his heart. She
would never speak to him again--never so long as she lived.



CHAPTER IV

THE MAN WITH THE CHIHUAHUA HAT


A little dust cloud was traveling up the trail toward the Bar Double G,
the center of which presently defined itself as a rider moving at a road
gait. He wore a Chihuahua hat and with it the picturesque trappings the
Southwest borrows on occasion from across the border. Vanity disclosed
itself in the gold-laced hat, in the silver conchos of the fringed chaps,
in the fine workmanship of the saddle and bit. The man's finery was
overdone, carried with it the suggestion of being on exhibition. But one
look at the man himself, sleek and graceful, black-haired and
white-toothed, exuding an effect of cold wariness in spite of the masked
smiling face, would have been enough to give the lie to any charge of
weakness. His fopperies could not conceal the silken strength of him. One
meeting with the chill, deep-set eyes was certificate enough for most
people.

Melissy, sitting on the porch with her foot resting on a second chair,
knew a slight quickening of the blood as she watched him approach.

"Good evenin', Miss M'lissy," he cried, sweeping his sombrero as low as
the stirrup.

"_Buenos tardes_, _Señor_ Norris," she flung back gayly.

Sitting at ease in the saddle, he leisurely looked her over with eyes that
smoldered behind half-shuttered lids. To most of her world she was in
spirit still more boy than woman, but before his bold, possessive gaze her
long lashes wavered to the cheeks into which the warm blood was beating.
Her long, free lines were still slender with the immaturity of youth, her
soul still hesitating reluctantly to cross the border to womanhood toward
which Nature was pushing her so relentlessly. From a fund of experience
Philip Norris read her shrewdly, knew how to evoke the latent impulses
which brought her eagerly to the sex duel.

"Playing off for sick," he scoffed.

"I'm not," she protested. "Never get sick. It's just a sprained ankle."

"Sho! I guess you're Miss Make Believe; just harrowing the feelings of
your beaux."

"The way you talk! I haven't got any beaux. The boys are just my
friends."

"Oh, just friends! And no beaux. My, my! Not a single sweetheart in all
this wide open country. Shall I go rope you one and bring him in,
_compadre_?"

"No!" she exploded. "I don't want any. I'm not old enough yet." Her
dancing eyes belied the words.

"Now I wouldn't have guessed it. You look to me most ready to be picked."
He rested his weight on the farther stirrup and let his lazy smile mock
her. "My estimate would be sixteen. I'll bet you're every day of that."

"I only lack three months of being eighteen," she came back indignantly.

"You don't say! You'll ce'tainly have to be advertising for a husband
soon, Miss Three-Quarters-Past-Seventeen. Maybe an ad in the Mesa paper
would help. You ain't so awful bad looking."

"I'll let you write it. What would you say?" she demanded, a patch of pink
standing out near the curve of the cheek bone.

He swung from the saddle and flung the reins to the ground. With jingling
spurs he came up the steps and sat on the top one, his back against a
pillar. Boldly his admiring eyes swept her.

"_Nina_, I couldn't do the subject justice. Honest, I haven't got the
vocabulary."

"Oh, you!" Laughter was in the eyes that studied him with a side tilt of
the chin. "That's a fine way to get out of it when your bluff is called."

He leaned back against the post comfortably and absorbed the beauty of the
western horizon. The sun had just set behind a saddle of the Galiuros in a
splash of splendor. All the colors of the rainbow fought for supremacy in
a brilliant-tinted sky that blazed above the fire-girt peaks. Soon dusk
would slip down over the land and tone the hues to a softer harmony. A
purple sea would flow over the hills, to be in turn displaced by a deep,
soft violet. Then night, that night of mystery and romance which
transforms the desert to a thing of incredible wonder!

"Did your father buy this sunset with the ranch? And has he got a
guarantee that it will perform every night?" he asked.

"Did you ever see anything like it?" she cried. "I have looked at them all
my life and I never get tired."

He laughed softly, his indolent, sleepy look on her. "Some things I would
never get tired of looking at either."

Without speaking she nodded, still absorbing the sunset.

"But it wouldn't be that kind of scenery," he added. "How tall are you,
_muchacha_?"

Her glance came around in surprise. "I don't know. About five foot five, I
think. Why?"

"I'm working on that ad. How would this do? 'Miss
Three-Quarters-Past-Seventeen wants to meet up with gentleman between
eighteen and forty-eight. Object, matrimony. Description of lady: Slim,
medium height, brunette, mop of blue-black hair, the prettiest dimple you
ever saw----'"

"Now I know you're making fun of me. I'm mad." And the dimple flashed into
being.

"'--mostly says the opposite of what she means, has a----'"

"I don't. I don't"

"'--has a spice of the devil in her, which----'"

"Now, I _am_ mad," she interrupted, laughing.

"'--which is excusable, since she has the reddest lips for kissing in
Arizona.'"

He had gone too far. Her innocence was in arms. Norris knew it by the
swiftness with which the smile vanished from her face, by the flash of
anger in the eyes.

"I prefer to talk about something else, Mr. Norris," she said with all the
prim stiffness of a schoolgirl.

Her father relieved the tension by striding across from the stable. With
him came a bowlegged young fellow in plain leathers. The youngster was
Charley Hymer, one of the riders for the Bar Double G.

"You're here at the right time, Norris," Lee said grimly. "Charley has
just come down from Antelope Pass. He found one of my cows dead, with a
bullet hole through the forehead. The ashes of a fire were there, and in
the brush not far away a running iron."

The eyes of Norris narrowed to slits. He was the cattle detective of the
association and for a year now the rustlers had outgeneraled him. "I'll
have you take me to the spot, Charley. Get a move on you and we'll get
there soon as the moon is up."

Melissy gripped the arms of her chair tightly with both hands. She was
looking at Norris with a new expression, a kind of breathless fear. She
knew him for a man who could not be swerved from the thing he wanted. For
all his easy cynicism, he had the reputation of being a bloodhound on the
trail. Moreover, she knew that he was no friend to Jack Flatray. Why had
she left that running iron as evidence to convict its owner? What folly
not to have removed it from the immediate scene of the crime!

The cattle detective and her father had moved a few steps away and were
talking in low tones. Melissy became aware of a footfall. The man who
called himself Morse came around the corner of the house and stopped at
the porch steps.

"May I speak to you a moment, Miss Lee?" he said in a low voice.

"Of course."

The voice of Norris rose to an irritated snarl. "Tell you I've got
evidence, Lee. Mebbe it's not enough to convict, but it satisfies me
a-plenty that Jack Flatray's the man."

Melissy was frozen to a tense attention. Her whole mind was on what passed
between the detective and her father. Otherwise she would have noticed the
swift change that transformed the tenderfoot.

The rancher answered with impatient annoyance. "You're 'way off, Norris. I
don't care anything about your evidence. The idea is plumb ridiculous.
Twenty odd years I've known him. He's the best they make, a pure through
and through. Not a crooked hair in his head. I've eat out of the same
frying pan too often with that boy not to know what he is. You go bury
those suspicions of yours immediate. There's nothing to them."

Norris grumbled objections as they moved toward the stable. Melissy drew a
long breath and brought herself back to the tenderfoot.

He stood like a coiled spring, head thrust far forward from the shoulders.
The look in his black eyes was something new to her experience. For hate,
passion, caution were all mirrored there.

"You know Mr. Norris," she said quickly.

He started. "What did you say his name was?" he asked with an assumption
of carelessness.

"Norris--Philip Norris. He is a cattle detective."

"Never heard of Mr. Norris before in my life," he answered, but it was
observable that he still breathed deep.

She did not believe him. Some tie in their buried past bound these two men
together. They must have known each other in the South years ago, and one
of them at least was an enemy of the other. There might come a day when
she could use this knowledge to save Jack Flatray from the punishment
dogging his heels. Melissy filed it away in her memory for future
reference.

"You wanted to speak to me," she suggested.

"I'm going away."

"What for?"

"Because I'm not a hound. I can't blackmail a woman."

"How do you mean?"

"I mean that you've found work here for me because I saw what you did over
by Antelope Pass. We made a bargain. Oh, not in words, but a bargain just
the same! You were to keep my secret because I knew yours. I release you
from your part of it. Give me up if you think it is your duty. I'll not
tell what I know."

"That wasn't how you talked the other day."

"No. It's how I talk now. I'm a hunted man, wanted for murder. I make you
a present of the information."

"You make me a present of what I already know, Mr. Diller, alias Morse,
alias Bellamy."

"You guessed it the first day?"

"Yes."

"And meant to keep quiet about it?"

"Yes, I meant to shelter you from the punishment you deserve." She added
with a touch of bitter self-scorn: "I was doing what I had to do."

"You don't have to do it any longer." He looked straight at her with his
head up. "And how do you know what I deserve? Who made you a judge about
these facts? Grant for the sake of argument I killed him. Do you know I
wasn't justified?"

His fierce boldness put her on the defense. "A man sure of his cause does
not run away. The paper said this Shep Boone was shot from ambush.
Nothing could justify such a thing. When you did that----"

"I didn't. Don't believe it, Miss Lee."

"He was shot from behind, the paper said."

"Do I look like a man who would kill from ambush?"

She admitted to herself that this clear-eyed Southerner did not look like
an assassin. Life in the open had made her a judge of such men as she had
been accustomed to meet, but for days she had been telling herself she
could no longer trust her judgment. Her best friend was a rustler. By a
woman's logic it followed that since Jack Flatray was a thief this man
might have committed all the crimes in the calendar.

"I don't know." Then, impulsively, "No, you don't, but you may be for all
that."

"I'm not asking anything for myself. You may do as you please after I've
gone. Send for Mr. Flatray and tell him if you like."

A horse cantered across the plaza toward the store. Bellamy turned quickly
to go.

"I'm not going to tell anyone," the girl called after him in a low voice.

Norris swung from the saddle. "Who's our hurried friend?" he asked
carelessly.

"Oh, a new rider of ours. Name of Morse." She changed the subject. "Are
you--do you think you know who the rustler is?"

His cold, black eyes rested in hers. She read in them something cruel and
sinister. It was as if he were walking over the grave of an enemy.

"I'm gathering evidence, a little at a time."

"Do I know him?"

"Maybe you do."

"Tell me."

He shook his head. "Wait till I've got him cinched."

"You told father," she accused.

He laughed in a hard, mirthless fashion. "That cured me. The Lee family is
from Missouri. When I talk next time I'll have the goods to show."

"I know who you mean. You're making a mistake." Her voice seemed to plead
with him.

"Not on your life, I ain't. But we'll talk about that when the subject is
riper. There will be a showdown some day, and don't you forget it. Well,
Charley is calling me. So long, Miss Three-Quarters-Past-Seventeen." He
went jingling down the steps and swung to the saddle. "I'll not forget the
ad, and when I find the right man I'll ce'tainly rope and bring him to
you."

"The rustler?" she asked innocently.

"No, not the rustler, the gent between eighteen and forty-eight, object
matrimony."

"I don't want to trouble you," she flung at him with her gay smile.

"No trouble at all. Fact is, I've got him in mind already," he assured her
promptly.

"Oh!" A pulse of excitement was beating in her throat.

"You don't ask me who he is," suggested Norris boldly, crouched in the
saddle with his weight on the far stirrup.

She had brought it upon herself, but now she dodged the issue. "'Most
anyone will do, and me going on eighteen."

"You're wrong, girl. Only one out of a thousand will do for your master."

"Master, indeed! If he comes to the Bar Double G he'll find he is at the
wrong address. None wanted, thank you."

"Most folks don't want what's best for them, I allow. But if they have
luck it sometimes comes to them."

"Luck!" she echoed, her chin in the air.

"You heard me right. What you need is a man that ain't afraid of you, one
to ride close herd on you so as to head off them stampede notions of
yours. Now this lad is the very one. He is a black-haired guy, and when he
says a thing----"

Involuntarily she glanced at his sleek black head. Melissy felt a sudden
clamor of the blood, a pounding of the pulses.

"--he most generally means it. I've wrangled around a heap with him and
there's no manner of doubt he's up to specifications. In appearance he
looks like me. Point of fact, he's a dead ringer for me."

She saw her chance and flashed out. "Now you're flattering him. There
can't be two as--as fascinating as Señor Norris," she mocked.

His smoldering eyes had the possessive insolence she resented and yet
found so stimulating.

"Did I say there were two?" he drawled.

It was his parting shot. With a touch of the spur he was off, leaving her
no time for an adequate answer.

There were no elusions and inferences about Philip Norris when he wanted
to be direct. He had fairly taken her breath away. Melissy's instinct told
her there was something humiliating about such a wooing. But picturesque
and unconventional conduct excuse themselves in a picturesque personality.
And this man had that if nothing else.

She told herself she was angry at him, that he took liberties far beyond
those of any of the other young men. Yet, somehow, she went into the house
smiling. A color born of excitement burned beneath her sparkling eyes. She
had entered into her heritage of womanhood and the call of sex was
summoning her to the adventure that is old as the garden where Eve met
Adam.



CHAPTER V

THE TENDERFOOT TAKES UP A CLAIM


Mr. Diller, alias Morse, alias Bellamy, did not long remain at the Bar
Double G as a rider. It developed that he had money, and, tenderfoot
though he was, the man showed a shrewd judgment in his investments. He
bought sheep and put them on the government forest reserve, much to the
annoyance of the cattlemen of the district.

Morse, as he now called himself, was not the first man who had brought
sheep into the border country. Far up in the hills were several camps of
them. But hitherto these had been there on sufferance, and it had been
understood that they were to be kept far from the cattle range. The
extension of the government reserves changed the equation. A good slice of
the range was cut off and thrown open to sheep. When Morse leased this and
put five thousand bleaters upon the feeding ground the sentiment against
him grew very bitter.

Lee had been spokesman of a committee appointed to remonstrate with him.
Morse had met them pleasantly but firmly. This part of the reserve had
been set aside for sheep. If it were not leased by him it would be by
somebody else. Therefore, he declined to withdraw his flocks. Champ lost
his temper and swore that he for one would never submit to yield the
range. Sharp bitter words were passed. Next week masked men drove a small
flock belonging to Morse over a precipice.

The tenderfoot retaliated by jumping a mining claim staked out by Lee upon
which the assessment work had not been kept up. The cattleman contested
this in the courts, lost the decision, and promptly appealed. Meanwhile,
he countered by leasing from the forest supervisor part of the run
previously held by his opponent and putting sheep of his own upon it.

"I reckon I'll play Mr. Morse's own game and see how he likes it," the
angry cattleman told his friends.

But the luck was all with Morse. Before he had been working his new claim
a month the Monte Cristo (he had changed the name from its original one of
Melissy) proved a bonanza. His men ran into a rich streak of dirt that
started a stampede for the vicinity.

Champ indulged in choice profanity. From his point of view he had been
robbed, and he announced the fact freely to such acquaintances as dropped
into the Bar Double G store.

"Dad gum it, I was aimin' to do that assessment work and couldn't jest
lay my hands on the time. I'd been a millionaire three years and didn't
know it. Then this damned Morse butts in and euchres me out of the claim.
Some day him and me'll have a settlement. If the law don't right me, I
reckon I'm most man enough to 'tend to Mr. Morse."

It was his daughter who had hitherto succeeded in keeping the peace. When
the news of the relocation had reached Lee he had at once started to
settle the matter with a Winchester, but Melissy, getting news of his
intention, had caught up a horse and ridden bareback after him in time to
avert by her entreaties a tragedy. For six months after this the men had
not chanced to meet.

Why the tenderfoot had first come West--to hide what wounds in the great
baked desert--no man knew or asked. Melissy had guessed, but she did not
breathe to a soul her knowledge. It was a first article of Arizona's creed
that a man's past belonged to him alone, was a blotted book if he chose to
have it so. No doubt many had private reasons for their untrumpeted
migration to that kindly Southwest which buries identity, but no wise
citizen busied himself with questions about antecedents. The present
served to sift one, and by the way a man met it his neighbors judged him.

And T. L. Morse met it competently. In every emergency with which he had
to cope the man "stood the acid." Arizona approved him a man, without
according him any popularity. He was too dogmatic to win liking, but he
had a genius for success. Everything he touched turned to gold.

The Bar Double G lies half way between Mammoth and Mesa. Its position
makes it a central point for ranchers within a radius of fifteen miles.
Out of the logical need for it was born the store which Beauchamp Lee ran
to supply his neighbors with canned goods, coffee, tobacco, and other
indispensables; also the eating house for stage passengers passing to and
from the towns. Young as she was, Melissy was the competent manager of
both of these.

It was one afternoon during the hour the stage stopped to let the
passengers dine that Melissy's wandering eye fell upon Morse seated at one
of the tables. Anger mounted within her at the cool impudence of the man.
She had half a mind to order him out, but saw he was nearly through dinner
and did not want to make a scene. Unfortunately Beauchamp Lee happened to
come into the store just as his enemy strolled out from the dining-room.

The ranchman stiffened. "What you been doing in there, seh?" he demanded
sharply.

"I've been eating a very good dinner in a public café. Any objections?"

"Plenty of 'em, seh. I don't aim to keep open house for Mr. Morse."

"I understand this is a business proposition. I expect to pay seventy-five
cents for my meal."

The eyes of the older man gleamed wrathfully. "As for yo' six bits, if you
offer it to me I'll take it as an insult. At the Bar Double G we're not
doing friendly business with claim jumpers. Don't you evah set yo' legs
under my table again, seh."

Morse shrugged, turned away to the public desk, and addressed an envelope,
the while Lee glared at him from under his heavy beetling brows. Melissy
saw that her father was still of half a mind to throw out the intruder and
she called him to her.

"Dad, José wants you to look at the hoof of one of his wheelers. He asked
if you would come as soon as you could."

Beauchamp still frowned at Morse, rasping his unshaven chin with his hand.
"Ce'tainly, honey. Glad to look at it."

"Dad! Please."

The ranchman went out, grumbling. Five minutes later Morse took his seat
on the stage beside the driver, having first left seventy-five cents on
the counter.

The stage had scarce gone when the girl looked up from her bookkeeping to
see the man with the Chihuahua hat.

"_Buenos tardes, señorita_," he gave her with a flash of white teeth.

"_Buenos_," she nodded coolly.

But the dancing eyes of her could not deny their pleasure at sight of him.
They had rested upon men as handsome, but upon none who stirred her blood
so much.

He was in the leather chaps of a cowpuncher, gray-shirted, and a polka dot
kerchief circled the brown throat. Life rippled gloriously from every
motion of him. Hermes himself might have envied the perfect grace of the
man.

She supplied his wants while they chatted.

"Jogged off your range quite a bit, haven't you?" she suggested.

"Some. I'll take two bits' worth of that smokin', _nina_."

She shook her head. "I'm no little girl. Don't you know I'm now half past
eighteen?"

"My--my. That ad didn't do a mite of good, did it?"

"Not a bit."

"And you growing older every day."

"Does my age show?" she wanted to know anxiously.

The scarce veiled admiration of his smoldering eyes drew the blood to her
dusky cheeks. Something vigilant lay crouched panther-like behind the
laughter of his surface badinage.

"You're standing it well, honey."

The color beat into her face, less at the word than at the purring caress
in his voice. A year ago she had been a child. But in the Southland
flowers ripen fast. Adolescence steals hard upon the heels of infancy,
and, though the girl had never wakened to love, Nature was pushing her
relentlessly toward a womanhood for which her unschooled impulses but
scantily safeguarded her.

She turned toward the shelves. "How many air-tights did you say?"

"I didn't say." He leaned forward across the counter. "What's the hurry,
little girl?"

"My name is Melissy Lee," she told him over her shoulder.

"Mine is Phil Norris. Glad to give it to you, Melissy Lee," the man
retorted glibly.

"Can't use it, thank you," came her swift saucy answer.

"Or to lend it to you--say, for a week or two."

She flashed a look at him and passed quickly from behind the counter. Her
father was just coming into the store.

"Will you wait on Mr. Norris, dad? Hop wants to see me in the kitchen."

Norris swore softly under his breath. The last thing he had wanted was to
drive her away. It had been nearly a year since he had seen her last, but
the picture of her had been in the coals of many a night camp fire.

The cattle detective stayed to dinner and to supper. He and her father had
their heads together for hours, their voices pitched to a murmur. Melissy
wondered what business could have brought him, whether it could have
anything to do with the renewed rustling that had of late annoyed the
neighborhood. This brought her thoughts to Jack Flatray. He, too, had
almost dropped from her world, though she heard of him now and again. Not
once had he been to see her since the night she had sprained her ankle.

Later, when Melissy was watering the roses beside the porch, she heard the
name of Morse mentioned by the stock detective. He seemed to be urging
upon her father some course of action at which the latter demurred. The
girl knew a vague unrest. Lee did not need his anger against Morse
incensed. For months she had been trying to allay rather than increase
this. If Philip Norris had come to stir up smoldering fires, she would
give him a piece of her mind.

The men were still together when Melissy told her father good-night. If
she had known that a whisky bottle passed back and forth a good many times
in the course of the evening, the fears of the girl would not have been
lightened. She knew that in the somber moods following a drinking bout the
lawlessness of Beauchamp Lee was most likely to crop out.

As for the girl, now night had fallen--that wondrous velvet night of
Arizona, which blots out garish day with a cloak of violet, purple-edged
where the hills rise vaguely in the distance, and softens magically all
harsh details beneath the starry vault--she slipped out to the summit of
the ridge in the big pasture, climbing lightly, with the springy ease
born of the vigor her nineteen outdoor years had stored in the strong
young body. She wanted to be alone, to puzzle out what the coming of this
man meant to her. Had he intended anything by that last drawling remark of
his in the store? Why was it that his careless, half insulting familiarity
set the blood leaping through her like wine? He lured her to the sex duel,
then trampled down her reserves roughshod. His bold assurance stung her to
anger, but there was a something deeper than anger that left her flushed
and tingling.

Both men slept late, but Norris was down first. He found Melissy
superintending a drive of sheep which old Antonio, the herder, was about
to make to the trading-post at Three Pines. She was on her pony near the
entrance to the corral, her slender, lithe figure sitting in a boy's
saddle with a businesslike air he could not help but admire. The gate bars
had been lifted and the dog was winding its way among the bleating gray
mass, which began to stir uncertainly at its presence. The sheep dribbled
from the corral by ones and twos until the procession swelled to a swollen
stream that poured forth in a torrent. Behind them came Antonio in his
sombrero and blanket, who smiled at his mistress, shouted an "_Adios,
señorita_," and disappeared into the yellow dust cloud which the herd left
in its wake.

"How does Champ like being in the sheep business," Norris said to the
girl.

Melissy did not remove her eyes from the vanishing herd, but a slight
frown puckered her forehead. She chose to take this as a criticism of her
father and to resent it.

"Why shouldn't he be?" she said quietly, answering the spirit of his
remark.

"I didn't mean it that way," he protested, with his frank laugh.

"Then if you didn't mean it so, I shan't take it that way;" and her smile
met his.

"Here's how I look at this sheep business. Some ranges are better adapted
for sheep than cattle, and you can't keep Mary's little lamb away from
those places. No use for a man to buck against the thing that's bound to
be. Better get into the band-wagon and ride."

"That's what father thought," the girl confessed. "He never would have
been the man to bring sheep in, but after they got into the country he saw
it was a question of whether he was going to get the government reserve
range for his sheep, or another man, some new-comer like Mr. Morse, for
his. It was going to be sheep anyhow."

"Well, I'm glad your father took the chance he saw." He added
reminiscently: "We got to be right good friends again last night before we
parted."

She took the opening directly. "If you're so good a friend of his, you
must not excite him about Mr. Morse. You know he's a Southerner, and he
is likely to do something rash--something we shall all be sorry for
afterward."

"I reckon that will be all right," he said evasively.

Her eyes swept to his. "You won't get father into trouble will you?"

The warm, affectionate smile came back to his face, so that as he looked
at her he seemed a sun-god. But again there was something in his gaze that
was not the frankness of a comrade, some smoldering fire that strangely
stirred her blood and yet left her uneasy.

"I'm not liable to bring trouble to those you love, girl. I stand by my
friends."

Her pony began to move toward the house, and he strode beside, as debonair
and gallant a figure as ever filled the eye and the heart of a woman. The
morning sun glow irradiated him, found its sparkling reflection in the
dark curls of his bare head, in the bloom of his tanned cheeks, made a fit
setting for the graceful picture of lingering youth his slim, muscular
figure and springy stride personified. Small wonder the untaught girl
beside him found the merely physical charm of him fascinating. If her
instinct sometimes warned her to beware, her generous heart was eager to
pay small heed to the monition except so far as concerned her father.

After breakfast he came into the office to see her before he left.

"Good-by for a day or two," he said, offering his hand.

"You're coming back again, are you?" she asked quietly, but not without a
deeper dye in her cheeks.

"Yes, I'm coming back. Will you be glad to see me?"

"Why should I be glad? I hardly know you these days."

"You'll know me better before we're through with each other."

She would acknowledge no interest in him, the less because she knew it was
there. "I may do that without liking you better."

And suddenly his swift, winning smile flashed upon her. "But you've got to
like me. I want you to."

"Do you get everything you want?" she smiled back.

"If I want it enough, I usually do."

"Then since you get so much, you'll be better able to do without my
liking."

"I'm going to have it too."

"Don't be too sure." She had a feeling that things were moving too fast,
and she hailed the appearance of her father with relief. "Good morning,
dad. Did you sleep well? Mr. Norris is just leaving."

"Wait till I git a bite o' breakfast and I'll go with you, Phil," promised
Lee. "I got to ride over to Mesa anyhow some time this week."

The girl watched them ride away, taking the road gait so characteristic of
the Southwest. As long as they were in sight her gaze followed them, and
when she could see nothing but a wide cloud of dust travelling across the
mesa she went up to her room and sat down to think it out. Something new
had come into her life. What, she did not yet know, but she tried to face
the fact with the elemental frankness that still made her more like a boy
than a woman. Sitting there before the looking-glass, she played absently
with the thick braid of heavy, blue-black hair which hung across her
shoulder to the waist. It came to her for the first time to wonder if she
was pretty, whether she was going to be one of the women that men desire.
Without the least vanity she studied herself, appraised the soft brown
cheeks framed with ebon hair, the steady, dark eyes so quick to passion
and to gaiety, the bronzed throat full and rounded, the supple, flowing
grace of the unrestrained body.

Gradually a wave of color crept into her cheeks as she sat there with her
chin on her little doubled hand. It was the charm of this Apollo of the
plains that had set free such strange thoughts in her head. Why should she
think of him? What did it matter whether she was good-looking? She shook
herself resolutely together and went down to the business of the day.

It was not long after midnight the next day that Champ Lee reached the
ranch. His daughter came out from her room in her night-dress to meet
him.

"What kept you, Daddy?" she asked.

But before he could answer she knew. She read the signs too clearly to
doubt that he had been drinking.



CHAPTER VI

"HANDS UP"


Melissy had been up the Cañ del Oro for wild poppies in her runabout and
had just reached the ranch. She was disposing of her flowers in ollas when
Jim Budd, waiter, chambermaid, and odd jobs man at the Bar Double G,
appeared in the hall with a frightened, mysterious face.

"What's the matter, Jim? You and Hop Ling been quarrelling again?" she
asked carelessly.

"No'm, that ain't it. It's wusser'n that. I got to tell you-all su'thin' I
hearn yore paw say."

The girl looked up quickly at him. "What do you mean, Jim?"

"That Mistah Norris he come back whilst you wus away, and him and yore paw
wus in that back room a-talkin' mighty confidential."

"Yes, and you listened. Well?"

Jim swelled with offended dignity. "No'm, I didn't listen neither. I des
natcherally hearn, 'count of that hole fer the stovepipe what comes
through the floor of my room."

"But what was it you heard?" she interrupted impatiently.

"I wus a-comin' to that. Plum proverdenshul, I draps into my room des as
yore paw wus sayin', 'Twenty thousand dollars goin' down to the Fort on
the stage to-day?' 'Cose I pricks up my ears then and tuk it all in. This
yere Norris had foun' out that Mistah Morse was shippin' gold from his
mine to-day on the Fort Allison stage, and he gits yore paw to go in with
him an' hold it up. Yore paw cussed and said as how 't wus his gold anyhow
by rights."

The girl went white and gave a little broken cry. "Oh, Jim! Are you
sure?"

"Yas'm, 'cose I'm suah. Them's his ve'y words. Hope to die if they ain't.
They wus drinkin', and when 't wus all fixed up that 't wus to be at the
mouth of the Box Cañon they done tore an old black shirt you got for a
dust-rag and made masks out of it and then rode away."

"Which way did they go?"

"Tow'ds the Box Cañon Miss M'lissy."

A slender, pallid figure of despair, she leaned against the wall to
support the faintness that had so suddenly stolen the strength from her
limbs, trying desperately to think of some way to save her father from
this madness. She was sure he would bungle it and be caught eventually,
and she was equally sure he would never let himself be taken alive. Her
helplessness groped for some way out. There must be some road of escape
from this horrible situation, and as she sought blindly for it the path
opened before her.

"Where is Hop?" she asked quickly.

"A-sleepin' in his room, ma'am."

"Go to the store and tend it till I come back, Jim. I may be an hour, or
mebbe two, but don't you move out of it for a moment. And don't ever speak
of any of this, not a word, Jim."

"No'm, 'cose I won't."

His loyalty she did not doubt an instant, though she knew his simple wits
might easily be led to indiscretion. But she did not stay to say more now,
but flew upstairs to the room that had been her brother's before he left
home. Scarce five minutes elapsed before she reappeared transformed. It
was a slim youth garbed as a cowpuncher that now slipped along the passage
to the rear, softly opened the door of the cook's room, noiselessly
abstracted the key, closed the door again as gently, and locked it from
the outside. She ran into her own room, strapped on her revolver belt, and
took her empty rifle from its case. As she ran through the room below the
one Jim occupied, she caught sight of a black rag thrown carelessly into
the fireplace and stuffed it into her pocket.

"That's just like Dad to leave evidence lying around," she said to
herself, for even in the anxiety that was flooding her she kept her quiet
commonsense.

After searching the horizon carefully to see that nobody was in sight,
she got into the rig and drove round the corral to the irrigating ditch.
This was a wide lateral of the main canal, used to supply the whole lower
valley with water, and just now it was empty. Melissy drove down into its
sandy bed and followed its course as rapidly as she could. If she were
only in time! If the stage had not yet passed! That was her only fear, the
dread of being too late. Not once did the risk of the thing she intended
occur to her. Physical fear had never been part of her. She had done the
things her brother Dick had done. She was a reckless rider, a good shot,
could tramp the hills or follow the round-up all day without knowing
fatigue. If her flesh still held its girlish curves and softness, the
muscles underneath were firm and compact. Often for her own amusement and
that of her father she had donned her brother's chaps, his spurs,
sombrero, and other paraphernalia, to masquerade about the house in them.
She had learned to imitate the long roll of the vaquero's stride, the
mannerisms common to his class, and even the heavy voice of a man. More
than once she had passed muster as a young man in the shapeless garments
she was now wearing. She felt confident that the very audacity of the
thing would carry it off. There would be a guard for the treasure box, of
course, but if all worked well he could be taken by surprise. Her rifle
was not loaded, but the chances were a hundred to one that she would not
need to use it.

For the first time in his life the roan got the whip from his mistress.

"Git up, Bob. We've got to hurry. It's for dad," she cried, as they raced
through the sand and sent it flying from the wheels.

The Fort Allison stage passed within three miles of the Lee ranch on its
way to Mesa. Where the road met in intersection with the ditch she had
chosen as the point for stopping it, and no veteran at the business could
have selected more wisely, for a reason which will hereafter appear. Some
fifty yards below this point of intersection the ditch ran through a grove
of cottonwoods fringing the bank. Here the banks sloped down more
gradually, and Melissy was able to drive up one side, turn her rig so that
the horse faced the other way, and draw down into the ditch again in order
that the runabout could not be seen from the road. Swiftly and skilfully
she obliterated the track she had made in the sandy bank.

She was just finishing this when the sound of wheels came to her. Rifle in
hand, she ran back along the ditch, stooping to pass under the bridge, and
waited at the farther side in a fringe of bushes for the coming of the
stage.

Even now fear had no place in the excitement which burned high in her. The
girl's wits were fully alert, and just in time she remembered the need of
a mask. Her searching fingers found the torn black shirt in a pocket and a
knife in another. Hastily she ripped the linen in half, cut out eyeholes,
and tied the mask about her head. With perfectly steady hands she picked
up the rifle from the ground and pushed the muzzle of it through the
bushes.

Leisurely the stage rolled up-grade toward the crossing. The Mexican
driver was half asleep and the "shotgun messenger" was indolently rolling
a cigarette, his sawed-off gun between his knees. Alan McKinstra was the
name of this last young gentleman. Only yesterday he had gone to work for
Morse, and this was the first job that had been given him. The stage never
had been held up since the "Monte Cristo" had struck its pay-streak, and
there was no reason to suppose it would be. Nevertheless, Morse proposed
to err on the side of caution.

"I reckon the man that holds down this job don't earn his salt, José. It's
what they call a sinecure," Alan was saying at the very instant the
summons came.

"Throw up your hands!"

Sharp and crisp it fell on Alan's ears. He sat for a moment stunned, the
half-rolled cigarette still between his fingers. The driver drew up his
four horses with a jerk and brought them to a huddled halt.

"Hands up!" came again the stinging imperative.

Now, for the first time, it reached Alan's consciousness that the stage
was actually being held up. He saw the sun shining on the barrel of a
rifle and through the bushes the masked face of a hidden cowpuncher. His
first swift instinct was to give battle, and he reached for the shotgun
between his knees. Simultaneously the driver's foot gave it a push and
sent the weapon clattering to the ground. José at least knew better than
to let him draw the road agent's fire while he sat within a foot of the
driver. His hands went into the air, and after his Alan's and those of the
two passengers.

"Throw down that box."

Alan lowered his hands and did as directed.

"Now reach for the stars again."

McKinstra's arms went skyward. Without his weapon, he was helpless to do
otherwise. The young man had an odd sense of unreality about the affair, a
feeling that it was not in earnest. The timbre of the fresh young voice
that came from the bushes struck a chord in his memory, though for the
life of him he could not place its owner.

"Drive on, José. Burn the wind and keep a-rollin' south."

The Mexican's whip coiled over the head of the leaders and the broncos
sprang forward with a jump. It was the summit of a long hill, on the edge
of which wound the road. Until the stage reached the foot of it there
would be no opportunity to turn back. Round a bend of the road it swung at
a gallop, and the instant it disappeared Melissy leaped from the bushes,
lifted the heavy box, and carried it to the edge of the ditch. She flew
down the sandy bottom to the place where the rig stood, drove swiftly
back again, and, though it took the last ounce of strength in her, managed
to tumble the box into the trap.

Back to the road she went, and from the place where the box had fallen
made long strides back to the bushes where she had been standing at the
moment of the hold-up. These tracks she purposely made deep and large,
returning in her first ones to the same point, but from the marks where
the falling treasure box had struck into the road she carefully
obliterated with her hand the foot-marks leading to the irrigation ditch,
sifting the sand in carefully so as to leave no impression. This took
scarcely a minute. She was soon back in her runabout, driving homeward
fast as whip and voice could urge the horse.

She thought she could reason out what McKinstra and the stage-driver would
do. Mesa was twenty-five miles distant, the "Monte Cristo" mine seventeen.
Nearer than these points there was no telephone station except the one at
the Lee ranch. Their first thought would be to communicate with Morse,
with the officers at Mammoth, and with the sheriff of Mesa County. To do
this as soon as possible they would turn aside and drive to the ranch
after they reached the bottom of the hill and could make the turn. It was
a long, steep hill, and Melissy estimated that this would give her a start
of nearly twenty minutes. She would save about half a mile by following
the ditch instead of the road, but at best she knew she was drawing it
very fine.

She never afterward liked to think of that drive home. It seemed to her
that Bob crawled and that the heavy sand was interminable. Feverishly she
plied the whip, and when at length she drew out of the ditch she sent her
horse furiously round the big corral. Though she had planned everything to
the last detail, she knew that any one of a hundred contingencies might
spoil her plan. A cowpuncher lounging about the place would have ruined
everything, or at best interfered greatly. But the windmill clicked over
sunlit silence, empty of life. No stir or movement showed the presence of
any human being.

Melissy drove round to the side door, dumped out the treasure-box, ran
into the house, and quickly returned with a hammer and some tacks, then
fell swiftly to ripping the oilcloth that covered the box which stood
against the wall to serve as a handy wash-stand for use by dusty
travellers before dining. The two boxes were of the same size and shape,
and she draped the treasure chest with the cloth, tacked it in place,
restored to the top of it the tin basin, and tossed the former wash-stand
among a pile of old boxes from the store, that were to be used for
kindling. After this she ran upstairs, scudded softly along the corridor,
and silently unlocked the cook's door, dropping the key on the floor to
make it appear as if something had shaken it from the keyhole. Presently
she was in her brother's room, doffing his clothes and dressing herself in
her own.

A glance out of the window sapped the color from her cheek, for she saw
the stage breasting the hill scarce two hundred yards from the house. She
hurried downstairs, pinning her belt as she ran, and flashed into the
store, where Jim sat munching peanuts.

"The stage is coming, Jim. Remember, you're not to know anything about it
at all. If they ask for Dad, say he's out cutting trail of a bunch of hill
cows. Tell them I started after the wild flowers about fifteen minutes
ago. Don't talk much about it, though. I'll be back inside of an hour."

With that she was gone, back to her trap, which she swung along a trail
back of the house till it met the road a quarter of a mile above. Her
actions must have surprised steady old Bob, for he certainly never before
had seen his mistress in such a desperate hurry as she had been this day
and still was. Nearly a mile above, a less well defined track deflected
from the main road. Into this she turned, following it until she came to
the head-gates of the lateral which ran through their place. The main
canal was full of water, and after some effort she succeeded in opening
the head-gates so as to let the water go pouring through.

Returning to the runabout, the girl drove across a kind of natural meadow
to a hillside not far distant, gathered a double handful of wild flowers,
and turned homeward again. The stage was still there when she came in
sight of the group of buildings at the ranch.

As she drew up and dismounted with her armful of flowers, Alan McKinstra
stepped from the store to the porch and came forward to assist her.

"The Fort Allison stage has been robbed," he blurted out.

"What nonsense! Who would want to rob it?" she retorted.

"Morse had a gold shipment aboard," he explained in a low voice, and added
in bitter self-condemnation: "He sent me along to guard it, and I never
even fired a shot to save it."

"But--do you mean that somebody held up the stage?" she gasped.

"Yes. But whoever it was can't escape. I've 'phoned to Jack Flatray and to
Morse. They'll be right out here. The sheriff of Mesa County has already
started with a posse. They'll track him down. That's a cinch. He can't get
away with the box without a rig. If he busts the box, he's got to carry it
on a horse and a horse leaves tracks."

"But who do you think it was?"

"Don't know. One of the Roaring Fork bunch of bad men, likely. But I don't
know."

The young man was plainly very much excited and disturbed. He walked
nervously up and down, jerking his sentences out piecemeal as he thought
of them.

"Was there only one man? And did you see him?" Melissy asked
breathlessly.

He scarcely noticed her excitement, or if he did, it seemed to him only
natural under the circumstances.

"I expect there were more, but we saw only one. Didn't see much of him. He
was screened by the bushes and wore a black mask. So long as the stage was
in sight he never moved from that place; just stood there and kept us
covered."

"But how could he rob you if he didn't come out?" she asked in wide-eyed
innocence.

"He didn't rob _us_ any. He must 'a' heard of the shipment of gold, and
that's what he was after. After he'd got us to rights he made me throw the
box down in the road. That's where it was when he ordered us to move on
and keep agoing."

"And you went?"

"José handled the lines, but 't would 'a' been the same if I'd held them.
That gun of his was a right powerful persuader." He stopped to shake a
fist in impotent fury in the air. "I wish to God I could meet up with him
some day when he didn't have the drop on me."

"Maybe you will some time," she told him soothingly. "I don't think you're
a bit to blame, Alan. Nobody could think so. Ever so many times I've heard
Dad say that when a man gets the drop on you there's nothing to do but
throw up your hands."

"Do you honest think so, Melissy? Or are you just saying it to take the
sting away? Looks like I ought to 'a' done something mor'n sit there like
a bump on a log while he walked off with the gold."

His cheerful self-satisfaction was under eclipse. The boyish pride of him
was wounded. He had not "made good." All over Cattleland the news would be
wafted on the wings of the wind that Alan McKinstra, while acting as
shotgun messenger to a gold shipment, had let a road agent hold him up for
the treasure he was guarding.

"Very likely they'll catch him and get the gold back," she suggested.

"That won't do me any good," he returned gloomily. "The only thing that
can help me now is for me to git the fellow myself, and I might just as
well look for a needle in a haystack."

"You can't tell. The robber may be right round here now." Her eyes,
shining with excitement, passed the crowd moving in and out of the store,
for already the news of the hold-up had brought riders and ranchmen
jogging in to learn the truth of the wild tale that had reached them.

"More likely he's twenty miles away. But whoever he is, he knows this
county. He made a slip and called José by his name."

Melissy's gaze was turned to the dust whirl that advanced up the road that
ran round the corral. "That doesn't prove anything, Alan. Everybody knows
José. He's lived all over Arizona--at Tucson and Tombstone and Douglas."

"That's right too," the lad admitted.

The riders in advance of the dust cloud resolved themselves into the
persons of her father and Norris. Her incautious admission was already
troubling her.

"But I'm sure you're right. No hold-up with any sense would stay around
here and wait to be caught. He's probably gone up into the Galiuros to
hide."

"Unless he's cached the gold and is trying to throw off suspicion."

The girl had moved forward to the end of the house with Alan to meet her
father. At that instant, by the ironic humor of chance, her glance fell
upon a certain improvised wash-stand covered with oilcloth. She shook her
head decisively. "No, he won't risk waiting to do that. He'll make sure of
his escape first."

"I reckon."

"Have you heard, Daddy?" Melissy called out eagerly. She knew she must
play the part expected of her, that of a young girl much interested in
this adventure which had occurred in the community.

He nodded grimly, swinging from the saddle. She observed with surprise
that his eye did not meet hers. This was not like him.

"What do you think?"

His gaze met that of Norris before he answered, and there was in it some
hint of a great fear. "Beats me, 'Lissy."

He had told the simple truth, but not the whole truth. The men had waited
at the entrance to the Box Cañon for nearly two hours without the arrival
of the stage. Deciding that something must have happened, they started
back, and presently met a Mexican who stopped to tell them the news. To
say that they were dazed is to put it mildly. To expect them to believe
that somebody else had heard of the secret shipment and had held up the
stage two miles from the place they had chosen, was to ask a credulity too
simple. Yet this was the fact that confronted them.

Arrived at the scene of the robbery both men had dismounted and had
examined the ground thoroughly. What they saw tended still more to
bewilder them. Neither of them was a tenderfoot, and the little table at
the summit of the long hill told a very tangled tale to those who had eyes
to read. Obvious tracks took them at once to the spot where the bandit had
stood in the bushes, but there was something about them that struck both
men as suspicious.

"Looks like these are worked out on purpose," commented Lee. "The guy's
leaving too easy a trail to follow, and it quits right abrupt in the
bushes. Must 'a' took an airship from here, I 'low."

"Does look funny. Hello! What's this?"

Norris had picked up a piece of black cloth and was holding it out. A
startled oath slipped from the lips of the Southerner. He caught the rag
from the hands of his companion and studied it with a face of growing
astonishment.

"What's up?"

Lee dived into his pocket and drew forth the mask he had been wearing.
Silently he fitted it to the other. The pieces matched exactly, both in
length and in the figure of the pattern.

When the Southerner looked up his hands were shaking and his face ashen.

"For God's sake, Phil, what does this mean?" he cried hoarsely.

"Search me."

"It must have been--looks like the hold-up was somebody--my God, man, we
left this rag at the ranch when we started!" the rancher whispered.

"That's right."

"We planned this thing right under the nigger's room. He must 'a' heard
and---- But it don't look like Jim Budd to do a thing like that."

Norris had crossed the road again and was standing on the edge of the
lateral.

"Hello! This ditch is full of water. When we passed down it was empty," he
said.

Lee crossed over and stood by his side, a puzzled frown on his face.
"There hadn't ought to be water running hyer now," he said, as if to
himself. "I don't see how it could 'a' come hyer, for Bill Weston--he's
the ditch rider--went to Mesa this mo'ning, and couldn't 'a' got back to
turn it in."

The younger man stooped and examined a foot-print at the edge of the
ditch. It was the one Melissy had made just as she stepped into the rig.

"Here's something new, Lee. We haven't seen this gentleman's track before.
Looks like a boy's. It's right firm and deep in this soft ground. I'll bet
a cooky your nigger never made that track."

The Southerner crouched down beside him, and they looked at it together,
head to head.

"No, it ain't Jim's. I don't rightly _savez_ this thing at all," the old
man muttered, troubled at this mystery which seemed to point to his
household.

"By Moses, I've got it! The guy who did the holding up had his horse down
here. He loaded the sack on its back and drove off up the ditch. All we
got to do is follow the ditch up or down till we come to the place where
he climbed out and struck across country."

"That's right, Phil. He must have had a pardner up at the head-gates. They
had some kind of signal arranged, and when Mr. Hold-up was ready down come
the water and washed out his tracks. It's a blame' smooth piece of
business if you ask me."

"The fellow made two bad breaks, though. That piece of shirt is one. This
foot-print is another. They may land him in the pen yet."

"I don't think it," returned the old man with composure, and as he spoke
his foot erased the telltale print. "I 'low there won't anybody go to the
pen for he'pin himself to Mr. Morse's gold dust. I don't give a cuss who
it was."

Norris laughed in his low, easy way. "I'm with you, Mr. Lee. We'll make a
thorough job while we're at it and mess up these other tracks. After that
we'll follow the ditch up and see if there's anything doing."

They remounted their broncos and rode them across the tracks several
times, then followed the lateral up, one on either side of the ditch,
their eyes fastened to the ground to see any evidence of a horse having
clambered over the bank. They drew in sight of the ranch house without
discovering what they were looking for. Lee's heart was in his mouth, for
he knew that he would see presently what his eye sought.

"I reckon the fellow went down instead of up," suggested Norris.

"No, he came up."

Lee had stopped and was studying wheel tracks that ran up from the ditch
to his ranch house. His face was very white and set. He pointed to them
with a shaking finger.

"There's where he went in the ditch, and there's where he came out."

Norris forded the stream, cast a casual eye on the double track, and
nodded. He was still in a fog of mystery, but the old man was already
fearing the worst.

He gulped out his fears tremblingly. For himself, he was of a flawless
nerve, but this touched nearer home than his own danger.

"Them wheel-tracks was made by my little gyurl's runabout, Phil."

"Good heavens!" The younger man drew rein sharply and stared at him. "You
don't think----"

He broke off, recalling the sharp, firm little foot-print on the edge of
the ditch some miles below.

"I don't reckon I know what to think. If she was in this, she's got some
good reason." A wave of passion suddenly swept the father. "By God! I'd
like to see the man that dares mix her name up in this."

Norris met this with his friendly smile. "You can't pick a row with me
about that, old man. I'm with you till the cows come home. But that ain't
quite the way to go at this business. First thing, we've got to wipe out
these tracks. How? Why, sheep! There's a bunch of three hundred in that
pasture. We'll drive the bunch down to the ditch and water them here.
_Savez?_"

"And wipe out the wheel-marks in the sand. Bully for you, Phil."

"That's the idea. After twelve hundred chisel feet have been over this
sand I reckon the wheel-tracks will be missing."

They rode up to the house, and the first thing that met them was the
candid question of the girl:

"Have you heard, Daddy?"

And out of his troubled heart he had answered, "Beats me, 'Lissie."

"They've sent for the officers. Jack Flatray is on the way himself. So is
Sheriff Burke," volunteered Alan gloomily.

"Getting right busy, ain't they?" Norris sneered.

Again Lee glanced quickly at Norris. "I reckon, Phil, we better drive that
bunch of sheep down to water right away. I clean forgot them this
mo'ning."

"Sure." The younger man was not so easily shaken. He turned to McKinstra
naturally. "How many of the hold-ups were there?"

"I saw only one, and didn't see him very good. He was a slim fellow in a
black mask."

"You don't say. Were you the driver?"

Alan felt the color suffuse his face. "No, I was the guard."

"Oh, you were the guard."

Alan felt the suave irony that covered this man's amusement, and he
resented it impotently. When Melissy came to his support he was the more
grateful.

"And we all think he did just right in using his common sense, Mr.
Norris," the girl flashed.

"Oh, certainly."

And with that he was gone after her father to help him water the sheep.

"I don't see why those sheep have to be watered right now," she frowned
to Alan. "Dad _did_ water them this morning. I helped him."

Together they went into the store, where José was telling his story for
the sixth time to a listening circle of plainsmen.

"And right then he come at you and ree-quested yore whole outfit to poke a
hole in the scenery with yore front feet?" old Dave Ellis asked just as
Melissy entered.

"_Si, Señor._"

"One of MacQueen's Roaring Fork gang did it, I'll bet," Alan contributed
sourly.

"What kind of a lookin' guy was he?" spoke up a dark young man known as
Bob Farnum.

"A big man, _señor_, and looked a ruffian."

"They're always that way until you run 'em down," grinned Ellis. "Never
knew a hold-up wasn't eight foot high and then some--to the fellow at the
wrong end of the gun."

"If you mean to say, Dave Ellis, that I lay down to a bluff----" Alan was
beginning hotly when the old frontiersman interrupted.

"Keep your shirt on, McKinstra. I don't mean to say it. Nobody but a darn
fool makes a gun-play when the cards are stacked that-a-way. Yore bad play
was in reaching for the gun at all."

"Well, Jack Flatray will git him. I'll bet a stack of blues on that,"
contributed a fat ranchman wheezily.

"Unless you mussed up the trail coming back," said Ellis to the
stage-driver.

"We didn't. I thought of that, and I had José drive clear round the place.
Jack will find it all right unless there's too much travel before he gets
here," said Alan.

Farnum laughed malevolently. "Mebbe he'll get him and mebbe he won't.
Jack's human, like the rest of us, if he is the best sheriff in Arizona.
Here's hoping he don't get him. Any man that waltzes out of the cactus and
appropriates twenty thousand dollars belonging to Mr. Morse is welcome to
it for all of me. I don't care if he is one of MacQueen's bad men. I wish
it had been forty thousand."

Farnum did not need to explain the reasons for his sentiments. Everybody
present knew that he was the leader of that bunch of cattlemen who had
bunched themselves together to resist the encroachments of sheep upon the
range. Among these the feeling against Morse was explosively dangerous. It
had found expression in more than one raid upon his sheep. Many of them
had been destroyed by one means or another, but Morse, with the obstinacy
characteristic of him, had replaced them with others and continually
increased his herds. There had been threats against his life, and one of
his herders had been wounded. But the mine-owner went his way with quiet
fearlessness and paid no attention to the animosity he had stirred up. The
general feeling was that the trouble must soon come to a head. Nobody
expected the rough and ready vaqueros, reckless and impulsive as they
were, to submit to the loss of the range, which meant too the wiping out
of their means of livelihood, without a bitter struggle that would be both
lawless and bloody.

Wherefore there was silence after Farnum had spoken, broken at length by
the amiable voice of the fat ranchman, Baker.

"Well, we'll see what we'll see," he wheezed complacently. "And anyways I
got to have some horseshoe plug, Melissy."

The girl laughed nervously as she reached for what he wanted. "You're a
safe prophet, Mr. Baker," she said.

"He'd be a safe one if he'd prophesy that Jack Flatray would have Mr.
Hold-up in the calaboose inside of three days," put in a half-grown lad in
leathers.

"I ain't so sure about that. You'll have to show me, and so will Mr.
Deputy Sheriff Flatray," retorted Farnum.

A shadow darkened the doorway.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen all--and Miss Lee," a pleasant voice drawled.

The circle of eyes focused on the new-comer and saw a lean, muscular,
young fellow of medium height, cool and alert, with the dust of the desert
on every sunbaked inch of him.

"I'm damned if it ain't Jack here already!" gasped Baker.



CHAPTER VII

WATERING SHEEP


The deputy glanced quietly round, nodded here and there at sight of the
familiar face of an acquaintance, and spoke to the driver.

"Let's hear you say your little piece again, José."

The Mexican now had it by heart, and he pattered off the thing from
beginning to end without a pause. Melissy, behind the counter, leaned her
elbows on it and fastened her eyes on the boyish face of the officer. In
her heart she was troubled. How much did he know? What could he discover
from the evidence she had left? He had the reputation of being the best
trailer and the most fearless officer in Arizona. But surely she had
covered her tracks safely.

From José the ranger turned to Alan. "We'll hear your account of it now,
seh," he said gently.

While Alan talked, Jack's gaze drifted through the window to the flock of
sheep that were being driven up from the ditch by Lee and Norris. That
little pastoral scene had its significance for him. He had arrived at the
locality of the hold-up a few minutes after they had left, and his keen
intelligence had taken in some of the points they had observed. A rapid
circuit of the spot at the distance of thirty yards had shown him no
tracks leading from the place except those which ran up the lateral on
either side of it. It was possible that these belonged to the horses of
the robbers, but if so the fellows were singularly careless of detection.
Moreover, the booty must be accounted for. They had not carried it with
them, since no empty box remained to show that they had poured the gold
into sacks, and it would have been impossible to take the box as it was on
a horse. Nor had they buried it, unless at the bottom of the irrigating
ditch, for some signs of their work must have remained.

Balancing probabilities, it had seemed to Flatray that these might be the
tracks of ranchmen who had arrived after the hold-up and were following
the escaping bandits up the lateral. For unless these were the robber's,
there was no way of escape except either up or down the bottom of the
ditch. His search had eliminated the possibility of any other but the
road, and this was travelled too frequently to admit of even a chance of
escape by it without detection. Jack filed away one or two questions in
his brain for future reference. The most important of these was to
discover whether there had been any water in the ditch at the time of the
hold-up.

He had decided to follow the tracks leading up the ditch and found no
difficulty in doing so at a fast walk. Without any hesitation they
paralleled the edge of the lateral. Nor had the deputy travelled a quarter
of a mile before he made a discovery. The rider on the right hand side of
the stream had been chewing tobacco, and he had a habit of splashing his
mark on boulders he passed in the form of tobacco juice. Half a dozen
times before he reached the Lee ranch the ranger saw this signature of
identity writ large on smooth rocks shining in the sun. The last place he
saw it was at the point where the two riders deflected from the lateral
toward the ranch house, following tracks which led up from the bottom of
the ditch.

An instant later Flatray had dodged back into the chaparral, for somebody
was driving a flock of sheep down to the ditch. He made out that there
were two riders behind them, and that they had no dog. For the present his
curiosity was satisfied. He thought he knew why they were watering sheep
in this odd fashion. Swiftly he had made a circuit, drawn rein in front of
the store, and dropped in just in time to hear his name. Now, as with one
ear he listened to Alan's account of the hold-up, with his subconscious
mind he was with the sheep-herders who were driving the flock back into
the pasture.

"Looks like our friend the bad man was onto his job all right," was the
deputy's only comment when Alan had finished.

"I'll bet he's making his getaway into the hills mighty immediate,"
chuckled Baker. "He can't find a bank in the mountainside to deposit that
gold any too soon to suit him."

"Sho! I'll bet he ain't worried a mite. He's got his arrangements all
made, and likely they'll dovetail to suit him. He's put his brand on that
gold to stay," answered Farnum confidently.

Jack's mild blue eyes rested on him amiably. "Think so, Bob?"

"I ain't knockin' you any, Jack. You're all right. But that's how I figure
it out, and, by Gad! I'm hopin' it too," Farnum made answer recklessly.

Flatray laughed and strolled from the crowded room to the big piazza. A
man had just cantered up and flung himself from his saddle. The ranger,
looking at him, thought he had never seen another so strikingly handsome
an Apollo. Black eyes looked into his from a sun-tanned face perfectly
modelled. The pose of the head and figure would have delighted a
sculptor.

There was a vigor, an unspoken hostility, in the gaze of both men.

"Mo'nin", Mr. Deputy Sheriff, one said; and the other, "Same to you, Mr.
Norris."

"You're on the job quick," sneered the cattle detective.

"The quicker the sooner, I expect."

"And by night you'll have Mr. Hold-up roped and hog-tied?"

"Not so you could notice it. Are you a sheep-herder these days, Mr.
Norris?"

The gentle irony of this was not lost on its object, for in the West a
herder of sheep is the next remove from a dumb animal.

"No, I'm riding for the Quarter Circle K Bar outfit. This is the first
time I ever took the dust of a sheep in my life. I did it to oblige Mr.
Lee."

"Oh! To oblige Mr. Lee?"

"He wanted to water them, and his herder wasn't here."

"Must 'a' been wanting water mighty bad, I reckon," commented Jack
amiably.

"You bet! Lee feels better satisfied now he's watered them."

"I don't doubt it."

Norris changed the subject. "You must have burnt the wind getting here. I
didn't expect to see you for some hours."

"I happened to be down at Yeager's ranch, and one of the boys got me on
the line from Mesa."

"Picked up any clues yet?" asked the other carelessly, yet always with
that hint of a sneer; and innocently Flatray answered, "They seem to be
right seldom."

"Didn't know but you'd happened on the fellow's trail."

"I guess I'm as much at sea as you are," was the equivocal answer.

Lee came over from the stable, still wearing spurs and gauntlets.

"Howdy, Jack!" he nodded, not quite so much at his ease as usual. "Got
hyer on the jump, didn't you?"

"I kept movin'."

"This shorely beats hell, don't it?" Lee glanced around, selected a smooth
boulder, and fired his discharge of tobacco juice at it true to the inch.
"Reminds me of the old days. You boys ain't old enough to recall them, but
stage hold-ups were right numerous then."

Blandly the deputy looked from one to the other. "I don't suppose either
of you gentlemen happen to have been down and looked over the ground where
the hold-up was? The tracks were right cut up before I got there."

This center shot silenced Lee for an instant, but Norris was on the spot
with smiling ease.

"No, Mr. Lee and I have been hunting strays on the mesa. We didn't hear
about it till a few minutes ago. We're at your service, though, Mr.
Sheriff, to join any posses you want to send out."

"Much obliged. I'm going to send one out toward the Galiuros in a few
minutes now. I'll be right glad to have you take charge of it, Mr.
Norris."

The derisive humor in the newly appointed deputy's eyes did not quite
reach the surface.

"Sure. Whenever you want me."

"I'm going to send Alan McKinstra along to guide you. He knows that
country like a book. You want to head for the lower pass, swing up Diable
Cañon, and work up in the headquarters of the Three Forks."

Within a quarter of an hour the posse was in motion. Flatray watched it
disappear in the dust of the road without a smile. He had sent them out
merely to distract the attention of the public and to get rid of as many
as possible of the crowd. For he was quite as well aware as the leader of
the posse that this search in the Galiuros was a wild-goose chase.
Somewhere within three hundred yards of the place he stood both the robber
and his booty were in all probability to be found.

Flatray was quite right in his surmise, since Melissy Lee, who had come
out to see the posse off, was standing at the end of the porch with her
dusky eyes fastened on him, the while he stood beside the house with one
foot resting negligently on the oilcloth cover of the wash-stand.

She had cast him out of her friendship because of his unworthiness, but
there was a tumult in her heart at sight of him. No matter how her
judgment condemned him as a villain, some instinct in her denied the
possibility of it. She was torn in conflict between her liking for him and
her conviction that he deserved only contempt. Somehow it hurt her too
that he accepted without protest her verdict, appeared so willing to be a
stranger to her.

Now that the actual physical danger of her adventure was past, Melissy was
aware too of a chill dread lurking at her heart. She was no longer buoyed
up by the swiftness of action which had called for her utmost nerve. There
was nothing she could do now but wait, and waiting was of all things the
one most foreign to her impulsive temperament. She acknowledged too some
fear of this quiet, soft-spoken frontiersman. All Arizona knew not only
the daredevil spirit that fired his gentleness, but the competence with
which he set about any task he assigned himself. She did not see how he
_could_ unravel this mystery. She had left no clues behind her, she felt
sure of that, and yet was troubled lest he guessed at her secret behind
that mask of innocence he wore. He did not even remotely guess it as yet,
but he was far closer to the truth than he pretended. The girl knew she
should leave him and go about her work. Her rôle was to appear as
inconspicuous as possible, but she could not resist the fascination of
trying to probe his thoughts.

"I suppose your posse will come back with the hold-ups in a few hours.
Will it be worth while to wait for them?" she asked with amiable
derision.

The ranger had been absorbed in thought, his chin in his hand, but he
brought his gaze back from the distance to meet hers. What emotion lay
behind those cold eyes she could not guess.

"You're more hopeful than I am, Miss Lee."

"What are you sending them out for, then?"

"Oh, well, the boys need to work off some of their energy, and there's
always a show they might happen onto the robbers."

"Do you think some of the Roaring Fork gang did it?"

"Can't say."

"I suppose you are staying here in the hope that they will drop in and
deliver themselves to you."

He looked at her out of an expressionless face. "That's about it, I
reckon. But what I tell the public is that I'm staying so as to be within
telephone connection. You see, Sheriff Burke is moving up to cut them off
from the Catalinas, Jackson is riding out from Mammoth to haid them off
that way, these anxious lads that have just pulled out from here are
taking care of the Galiuros. I'm supposed to be sitting with my fingers on
the keys as a sort of posse dispatcher."

"Well, I hope you won't catch them," she told him bluntly.

"That seems to be a prevailing sentiment round here. You say it right
hearty too; couldn't be more certain of your feelings if it had been your
own father."

He said it carelessly, yet with his keen blue eyes fixed on her.
Nevertheless, he was totally unprepared for the effect of his words. The
color washed from her bronzed cheeks, and she stood staring at him with
big, fear-filled eyes.

"What--what do you mean?" she gasped. "How dare you say that?"

"I ain't said anything so terrible. You don't need to take it to heart
like that." He gave her a faint smile for an instant. "I'm not really
expecting to arrest Mr. Lee for holding up that stage."

The color beat back slowly into her face. She knew she had made a false
move in taking so seriously his remark.

"I don't think you ought to joke about a thing like that," she said
stiffly.

"All right. I'll not say it next time till I'm in earnest," he promised as
he walked away.

"I wonder if he really meant anything," the girl was thinking in terror,
and he, "she knows something; now, I would like to know what."

Melissy attended to her duties in the postoffice after the arrival of the
stage, and looked after the dining-room as usual, but she was all the time
uneasily aware that Jack Flatray had quietly disappeared. Where had he
gone? And why? She found no answer to that question, but the ranger
dropped in on his bronco in time for supper, imperturbable and
self-contained as ever.

"Think I'll stay all night if you have a room for me," he told her after
he had eaten.

"We have a room," she said. "What more have you heard about the stage
robbery?"

"Nothing, Miss Lee."

"Oh, I thought maybe you had," she murmured tremulously, for his blue
eyes were unwaveringly upon her and she could not know how much or how
little he might mean.

Later she saw him sitting on the fence, holding genial converse with Jim
Budd. The waiter was flashing a double row of white teeth in deep laughter
at something the deputy had told him. Evidently they were already friends.
When she looked again, a few minutes later, she knew Jack had reached the
point where he was pumping Jim and the latter was disseminating
misinformation. That the negro was stanch enough, she knew, but she was on
the anxious seat lest his sharp-witted inquisitor get what he wanted in
spite of him. After he had finished with Budd the ranger drifted around to
the kitchen in time to intercept Hop Ling casually as he came out after
finishing his evening's work. The girl was satisfied Flatray could not
have any suspicion of the truth. Nevertheless, she wished he would let the
help alone. He might accidentally stumble on something that would set him
on the right track.



CHAPTER VIII

THE BOONE-BELLAMY FEUD IS RENEWED


"Here's six bits on the counter under a seed catalogue. Did you leave it
here, daddy?"

Champ Lee, seated on the porch just outside the store door, took the pipe
from his mouth and answered:

"Why no, honey, I don't reckon I did, not to my ricollection."

"That's queer. I know I didn't----"

Melissy broke her sentence sharply. There had come into her eyes a spark
of excitement, simultaneous with the brain-flash which told her who had
left the money. No doubt the quarter and the half dollar had been lying
there ever since the day last week when Morse had eaten at the Bar Double
G. She addressed an envelope, dropped the money in, sealed the flap, and
put the package beside a letter addressed to T. L. Morse.

Lee, full of an unhappy restlessness which he could not control, presently
got up and moved away to the stables. He was blaming himself bitterly for
the events of the past few days.

It was perhaps half an hour later that Melissy looked up to see the
sturdy figure of Morse in the doorway. During the past year he had filled
out, grown stronger and more rugged. His deep tan and heavy stride
pronounced him an outdoor man no less surely than the corduroy suit and
the high laced miners' boots.

He came forward to the postoffice window without any sign of recognition.

"Is Mr. Flatray still here?"

"No!" Without further explanation Melissy took from the box the two
letters addressed to Morse and handed them to him.

The girl observed the puzzled look that stole over his face at sight of
the silver in one envelope. A glance at the business address printed on
the upper left hand corner enlightened him. He laid the money down in the
stamp window.

"This isn't mine."

"You heard what my father said?"

"That applies to next time, not to this."

"I think it does apply to this time."

"I can't see how you're going to make me take it back. I'm an obstinate
man."

"Just as you like."

A sudden flush of anger swept her. She caught up the silver and flung it
through the open window into the dusty road.

His dark eyes met hers steadily and a dull color burned in his tanned
cheeks. Without a word he turned away, and instantly she regretted what
she had done. She had insulted him deliberately and put herself in the
wrong. At bottom she was a tender-hearted child, even though her father
and his friends had always spoiled her, and she could not but reproach
herself for the hurt look she had brought into his strong, sad face. He
was their enemy, of course, but even enemies have rights.

Morse walked out of the office looking straight before him, his strong
back teeth gripped so that the muscles stood out on his salient jaw.
Impulsively the girl ran around the counter after him.

He looked up from untying his horse to see her straight and supple figure
running toward him. Her eager face was full of contrition and the color of
pink rose petals came and went in it.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Morse. I oughtn't to have done that. I hurt your
feelings," she cried.

At best he was never a handsome man, but now his deep, dark eyes lit with
a glow that surprised her.

"Thank you. Thank you very much," he said in a low voice.

"I'm so tempery," she explained in apology, and added: "I suppose a nice
girl wouldn't have done it."

"A nice girl did do it," was all he could think to say.

"You needn't take the trouble to say that. I know I've just scrambled up
and am not ladylike and proper. Sometimes I don't care. I like to be able
to do things like boys. But I suppose it's dreadful."

"I don't think it is at all. None of your friends could think so. Not that
I include myself among them," he hastened to disclaim. "I can't be both
your friend and your enemy, can I?"

The trace of a sardonic smile was in his eyes. For the moment as she
looked at him she thought he might. But she answered:

"I don't quite see how."

"You hate me, I suppose," he blurted out bluntly.

"I suppose so." And more briskly she added, with dimples playing near the
corners of her mouth: "Of course I do."

"That's frank. It's worth something to have so decent an enemy. I don't
believe you would shoot me in the back."

"Some of the others would. You should be more careful," she cried before
she could stop herself.

He shrugged. "I take my fighting chance."

"It isn't much of a one. You'll be shot at from ambush some day."

"It wouldn't be a new experience. I went through it last week."

"Where?" she breathed.

"Down by Willow Wash."

"Who did it?"

He laughed, without amusement. "I didn't have my rifle with me, so I
didn't stay to inquire."

"It must have been some of those wild vaqueros."

"That was my guess."

"But you have other enemies, too."

"Miss Lee," he smiled.

"I mean others that are dangerous."

"Your father?" he asked.

"Father would never do that except in a fair fight. I wasn't thinking of
him."

"I don't know whom you mean, but a few extras don't make much difference
when one is so liberally supplied already," he said cynically.

"I shouldn't make light of them if I were you," she cautioned.

"Who do you mean?"

"I've said all I'm going to, and more than I ought," she told him
decisively. "Except this, that it's your own fault. You shouldn't be so
stiff. Why don't you compromise? With the cattlemen, for instance. They
have a good deal of right on their side. They _did_ have the range
first."

"You should tell that to your father, too."

"Dad runs sheep on the range to protect himself. He doesn't drive out
other people's cattle and take away their living."

"Well, I might compromise, but not at the end of a gun."

"No, of course not. Here comes dad now," she added hurriedly, aware for
the first time that she had been holding an extended conversation with her
father's foe.

"We started enemies and we quit enemies. Will you shake hands on that,
Miss Lee?" he asked.

She held out her hand, then drew it swiftly back. "No, I can't. I forgot.
There's another reason."

"Another reason! You mean the Arkansas charge against me?" he asked
quietly.

"No. I can't tell you what it is." She felt herself suffused in a crimson
glow. How could she explain that she could not touch hands with him
because she had robbed him of twenty thousand dollars?

Lee stopped at the steps, astonished to see his daughter and this man in
talk together. Yesterday he would have resented it bitterly, but now the
situation was changed. Something of so much greater magnitude had occurred
that he was too perturbed to cherish his feud for the present. All night
he had carried with him the dreadful secret he suspected. He could not
look Melissy in the face, nor could he discuss the robbery with anybody.
The one fact that overshadowed all others was that his little girl had
gone out and held up a stage, that if she were discovered she would be
liable to a term in the penitentiary. Laboriously his slow brain had
worked it all out. A talk with Jim Budd had confirmed his conclusions. He
knew that she had taken this risk in order to save him. He was bowed down
with his unworthiness, with shame that he had dragged her into this
horrible tangle. He was convinced that Jack Flatray would get at the
truth, and already he was resolved to come forward and claim the whole
affair as his work.

"I've been apologizing to Mr. Morse for insulting him, dad," the girl said
immediately.

Her father passed a bony hand slowly across his unshaven chin. "That's
right, honey. If you done him a meanness, you had ought to say so."

"She has said so very handsomely, Mr. Lee," spoke up Morse.

"I've been warning him, dad, that he ought to be more careful how he rides
around alone, with the cattlemen feeling the way they do."

"It's a fact they feel right hot under the collar. You're ce'tainly a
temptation to them, Mr. Morse," the girl's father agreed.

The mine owner shifted the subject of conversation. He was not a man of
many impulses, but he yielded to one now.

"Can't we straighten out this trouble between us, Mr. Lee? You think I've
done you an injury. Perhaps I have. If we both mean what's right, we can
get together and fix it up in a few minutes."

The old Southerner stiffened and met him with an eye of jade. "I ain't
asking any favors of you, Mr. Morse. We'll settle this matter some day,
and settle it right. But you can't buy me off. I'll not take a bean from
you."

The miner's eyes hardened. "I'm not trying to buy you off. I made a fair
offer of peace. Since you have rejected it, there is nothing more to be
said." With that he bowed stiffly and walked away, leading his horse.

Lee's gaze followed him and slowly the eyes under the beetled brows
softened.

"Mebbe I done wrong, honey. Mebbe I'd ought to have given in. I'm too
proud to compromise when he's got me beat. That's what's ailin' with me.
But I reckon I'd better have knuckled under."

The girl slipped her arm through his. "Sometimes I'm just like that too,
daddy. I've just _got_ to win before I make up. I don't blame you a mite,
but, all the same, we should have let him fix it up."

It was characteristic of them both that neither thought of reversing the
decision he had made. It was done now, and they would abide by the
results. But already both of them half regretted, though for very
different reasons. Lee was thinking that for Melissy's sake he should have
made a friend of the man he hated, since it was on the cards that within a
few days she might be in his power. The girl's feeling, too, was
unselfish. She could not forget the deep hunger for friendship that had
shone in the man's eyes. He was alone in the world, a strong man
surrounded by enemies who would probably destroy him in the end. There was
stirring in her heart a sweet womanly pity and sympathy for the enemy
whose proffer of friendship had been so cavalierly rejected.

The sight of a horseman riding down the trail from the Flagstaff mine
shook Melissy into alertness.

"Look, dad. It's Mr. Norris," she cried.

Morse, who had not yet recognized him, swung to the saddle, his heart full
of bitterness. Every man's hand was against his, and every woman's. What
was there in his nature that turned people against him so inevitably?
There seemed to be some taint in him that corroded all natural human
kindness.

A startled oath brought him from his somber reflections. He looked up, to
see the face of a man with whom in the dead years of the past he had been
in bitter feud.

Neither of them spoke. Morse looked at him with a face cold as chiselled
marble and as hard. The devil's own passion burned in the storm-tossed one
of the other.

Norris was the first to break the silence.

"So it was all a lie about your being killed, Dick Bellamy."

The mine owner did not speak, but the rigor of his eyes did not relax.

"Gave it out to throw me off your trail, did you? Knew mighty well I'd cut
the heart out of the man who shot poor Shep." The voice of the cattle
detective rang out in malignant triumph. "You guessed it c'rect, seh.
Right here's where the Boone-Bellamy feud claims another victim."

The men were sitting face to face, so close that their knees almost
touched. As Norris jerked out his gun Bellamy caught his wrist. They
struggled for an instant, the one to free his arm, the other to retain his
grip. Bellamy spurred his horse closer. The more powerful of the two, he
slowly twisted around the imprisoned wrist. Inch by inch the revolver
swung in a jerky, spasmodic circle. There was a moment when it pointed
directly at the mine owner's heart. His enemy's finger crooked on the
trigger, eyes passionate with the stark lust to kill. But the pressure on
the wrist had numbed the hand. The weapon jumped out of line, went
clattering down into the dust from the palsied fingers.

Lee ran forward and pushed between the men.

"Here. Ain't you boys got ary bettah sense than to clinch like wildcats?"
he demanded, jerking one of the horses away by the bridle. "No, you don't,
Phil. I'll take keer of this gun for the present." It was noticeable that
Beauchamp Lee's speech grew more after the manner of the plantations when
he became excited.

The cowpuncher, white with anger, glared at his enemy and poured curses at
him, the while he nursed his strained wrist. For the moment he was
impotent, but he promised himself vengeance in full when they should meet
again.

"That'll be enough from you now, Phil," said the old ex-Confederate
good-naturedly, leading him toward the house and trying to soothe his
malevolent chagrin.

Bellamy turned and rode away. At the corner of the corral he met Jack
Flatray riding up.

"Been having a little difference of opinion with our friend, haven't you,
seh?" the deputy asked pleasantly.

"Yes." Bellamy gave him only the crisp monosyllable and changed the
subject immediately. "What about this stage robbery? Have you been able to
make anything of it, Mr. Flatray?"

"Why, yes. I reckon we'll be able to land the miscreant mebbe, if things
come our way," drawled the deputy. "Wouldn't it be a good idea to offer a
reward, though, to keep things warm?"

"I thought of that. I made it a thousand dollars. The posters ought to be
out to-day on the stage."

"Good enough!"

"Whom do you suspect?"

Jack looked at him with amiable imperturbability. "I reckon I better
certify my suspicions, seh, before I go to shouting them out."

"All right, sir. Since I'm paying the shot, it ought to entitle me to some
confidence. But it's up to you. Get back the twenty thousand dollars,
that's all I ask, except that you put the fellow behind the bars of the
penitentiary for a few years."

Flatray gave him an odd smile which he did not understand.

"I hope to be able to accommodate you, seh, about this time to-morrow, so
far as getting the gold goes. You'll have to wait a week or two before
the rest of your expectations get gratified."

"Any reasonable time. I want to see him there eventually. That's all."

Jack laughed again, without giving any reason for his mirth. That ironic
smile continued to decorate his face for some time. He seemed to have some
inner source of mirth he did not care to disclose.



CHAPTER IX

THE DANGER LINE


Though Champ Lee had business in Mesa next day that would not be denied,
he was singularly loath to leave the ranch. He wanted to stay close to
Melissy until the dénouement of the hunt for the stage robber. On the
other hand, it was well known that his contest with Morse for the Monte
Cristo was up for a hearing. To stay at home would have been a confession
of his anxiety that he did not want to make. But it was only after
repeated charges to his daughter to call him up by telephone immediately
if anything happened that he could bring himself to ride away.

He was scarcely out of sight when a Mexican vaquero rode in with the
information that old Antonio, on his way to the post at Three Pines with a
second drove of sheep, had twisted his ankle badly about fifteen miles
from the ranch. After trying in vain to pick up a herder at Mesa by
telephone, Melissy was driven to the only feasible course left her, to
make the drive herself in place of Antonio. There were fifteen hundred
sheep in the bunch, and they must be taken care of at once by somebody
competent for the task. She knew she could handle them, for it had amused
her to take charge of a herd often for an hour or two at a time. The long
stretch over the desert would be wearisome and monotonous, but she had the
slim, muscular tenacity of a half-grown boy. It did not matter what she
wanted to do. The thing to which she came back always was that the sheep
must be taken care of.

She left directions with Jim for taking care of the place, changed to a
khaki skirt and jacket, slapped a saddle on her bronco, and disappeared
across country among the undulations of the sandhills. A tenderfoot would
have been hopelessly lost in the sameness of these hills and washes, but
Melissy knew them as a city dweller does his streets. Straight as an arrow
she went to her mark. The tinkle of distant sheep-bells greeted her after
some hours' travel, and soon the low, ceaseless bleating of the herd.

The girl found Antonio propped against a piñon tree, solacing himself
philosophically with cigarettes. He was surprised to see her, but made
only a slight objection to her taking his place. His ankle was paining him
a good deal, and he was very glad to get the chance to pull himself to her
saddle and ride back to the ranch.

A few quick words sent the dog Colin out among the sheep, by now
scattered far and wide over the hill. They presently came pouring toward
her, diverged westward, and massed at the base of a butte rising from a
dry arroyo. The journey had begun, and hour after hour it continued
through the hot day, always in a cloud of dust flung up by the sheep,
sometimes through the heavy sand of a wash, often over slopes of shale,
not seldom through thick cactus beds that shredded her skirt and tore like
fierce, sharp fingers at her legging-protected ankles. The great gray
desert still stretched before her to the horizon's edge, and still she
flung the miles behind her with the long, rhythmic stride that was her
birthright from the hills. A strong man, unused to it, would have been
staggering with stiff fatigue, but this slender girl held the trail with
light grace, her weight still carried springily on her small ankles.

Once she rested for a few minutes, flinging herself down into the sand at
length, her head thrown back from the full brown throat so that she could
gaze into the unstained sky of blue. Presently the claims of this planet
made themselves heard, for she, too, was elemental and a creature of
instinct. The earth was awake and palpitating with life, the low,
indefatigable life of creeping things and vegetation persisting even in
this waste of rock and sand.

But she could not rest long, for Diablo Cañon must be reached before dark.
The sheep would be very thirsty by the time they arrived, and she could
not risk letting them tear down the precipitous edge among the sharp rocks
in the dark. Already over the sand stretches a peculiar liquid glow was
flooding, so that the whole desert seemed afire. The burning sun had
slipped behind a saddle of the purple peaks, leaving a brilliant horizon
of many mingled shades.

It was as she came forward to the cañon's edge in this luminous dusk that
Melissy became aware of a distant figure on horseback, silhouetted for a
moment against the skyline. One glance was all she got of it, for she was
very busy with the sheep, working them leisurely toward the black chasm
that seemed to yawn for them. High rock walls girt the cañon, gigantic and
bottomless in the gloom. A dizzy trail zigzagged back and forth to the
pool below, and along this she and the collie skilfully sent the eager,
thirsty animals.

The mass of the sheep were still huddled on the edge of the ravine when
there came the thud of horses' hoofs and the crack of revolvers,
accompanied by hoarse, triumphant yells and cries. Melissy knew instantly
what it was--the attack of cattlemen upon her defenseless flock. They had
waited until the sheep were on the edge of the precipice, and now they
were going to drive the poor creatures down upon the rocks two hundred
feet below. Her heart leaped to her throat, but scarce more quickly than
she upon a huge boulder bordering the trail.

"Back! Keep back!" she heard herself crying, and even as she spoke a
bullet whistled through the rim of her felt hat.

Standing there boldly, unconscious of danger, the wind draped and defined
the long lines of her figure like those of the Winged Victory.

The foremost rider galloped past, waving his sombrero and shooting into
the frightened mass in front of him. Within a dozen feet of her he turned
his revolver upon the girl, then, with an oath of recognition, dragged his
pony back upon its haunches. Another horse slithered into it, and a
third.

"It's 'Lissie Lee!" a voice cried in astonishment; and another, with a
startled oath, "You're right, Bob!"

The first rider gave his pony the spur, swung it from the trail in a
half-circle which brought it back at the very edge of the ravine, and
blocked the forward pour of terror-stricken sheep. Twice his revolver rang
out. The girl's heart stood still, for the man was Norris, and it seemed
for an instant as if he must be swept over the precipice by the stampede.
The leaders braced themselves to stop, but were slowly pushed forward
toward the edge. One of the other riders had by this time joined the
daring cowpuncher, and together they stemmed the tide. The pressure on the
trail relaxed and the sheep began to mill around and around.

It was many minutes before they were sufficiently quieted to trust upon
the trail again, but at last the men got them safely to the bottom, with
the exception of two or three killed in the descent.

Her responsibility for the safety of the sheep gone, the girl began to
crawl down the dark trail. She could not see a yard in front of her, and
at each step the path seemed to end in a gulf of darkness. She could not
be sure she was on the trail at all, and her nerve was shaken by the
experience through which she had just passed. Presently she stopped and
waited, for the first time in her life definitely and physically afraid.
She stood there trembling, a long, long time it seemed to her, surrounded
by the impenetrable blackness of night.

Then a voice came to her.

"Melissy!"

She answered, and the voice came slowly nearer.

"You're off the trail," it told her presently, just before a human figure
defined itself in the gloom.

"I'm afraid," she sobbed.

A strong hand came from nowhere and caught hers. An arm slipped around her
waist.

"Don't be afraid, little girl. I'll see no harm comes to you," the man
said to her with a quick, fierce tenderness.

The comfort of his support was unspeakable. It stole into her heart like
water to the roots of thirsty plants. To feel her head against his
shoulder, to know he held her tight, meant safety and life. He had told
her not to be afraid, and she was so no longer.

"You shot at me," she murmured in reproach.

"I didn't know. We thought it was Bellamy's herd. But it's true, God
forgive me! I did."

There was in his voice the warm throb of emotion, and in his eyes
something she had never seen before in those of any human being. Like
stars they were, swimming in light, glowing with the exultation of the
triumph he was living. She was a splendid young animal, untaught of life,
generous, passionate, tempestuous, and as her pliant, supple body lay
against his some sex instinct old as creation stirred potently within her.
She had found her mate. It came to her as innocently as the same impulse
comes to the doe when the spring freshets are seeking the river, and as
innocently her lips met his in their first kiss of surrender. Something
irradiated her, softened her, warmed her. Was it love? She did not know,
but as yet she was still happy in the glow of it.

Slowly, hand in hand, they worked back to the trail and down it to the
bottom of the cañon. The soft velvet night enwrapped them. It shut them
from the world and left them one to one. From the meeting palms strange
electric currents tingled through the girl and flushed her to an ecstasy
of emotion.

A camp fire was already burning cheerfully when they reached the base of
the descent. A man came forward to meet them. He glanced curiously at the
girl after she came within the circle of light. Her eyes were shining as
from some inner glow, and she was warm with a soft color that vitalized
her beauty. Then his gaze passed to take in with narrowed lids her
companion.

"I see you found her," he said dryly.

"Yes, I found her, Bob."

He answered the spirit of Farnum's words rather than the letter of them,
nor could he keep out of his bearing and his handsome face the exultation
that betrayed success.

"H'mp!" Farnum turned from him and addressed the girl: "I suppose Norris
has explained our mistake and eaten crow for all of us, Miss Lee. I don't
see how come we to make such a blame' fool mistake. It was gitting dark,
and we took your skirt for a greaser's blanket. It's ce'tainly on us."

"Yes, he has explained."

"Well, there won't any amount of explaining square the thing. We might 'a'
done you a terrible injury, Miss Lee. It was gilt-edged luck for us that
you thought to jump on that rock and holler."

"I was thinking of the sheep," she said.

"Well, you saved them, and I'm right glad of it. We ain't got any use for
Mary's little trotter, but your father's square about his. He keeps them
herded up on his own range. We may not like it, but we ce'tainly aren't
going to the length of attackin' his herd." Farnum's gaze took in her
slender girlishness, and he voiced the question in his mind. "How in time
do you happen to be sheep-herding all by your lone a thousand miles from
nowhere, Miss Lee?"

She explained the circumstances after she had moved forward to warm
herself by the fire. For already night was bringing a chill breeze with
it. The man cooking the coffee looked up and nodded pleasantly, continuing
his work. Norris dragged up a couple of saddle blankets and spread them on
the ground for her to sit upon.

"You don't have to do a thing but boss this outfit," he told her with his
gay smile. "You're queen of the range to-night, and we're your herders or
your punchers, whichever you want to call us. To-morrow morning two of us
are going to drive these sheep on to the trading post for you, and the
other one is going to see you safe back home. It's all arranged."

They were as good as his word. She could not move from her place to help
herself. It was their pleasure to wait upon her as if she had really been
a queen and they her subjects. Melissy was very tired, but she enjoyed
their deference greatly. She was still young enough to find delight in the
fact that three young and more or less good-looking men were vying with
each other to anticipate her needs.

Like them, she ate and drank ravenously of the sandwiches and the strong
coffee, though before the meal was over she found herself nodding
drowsily. The tactful courtesy of these rough fellows was perfect. They
got the best they had for her of their blankets, dragged a piñon root to
feed the glowing coals, and with cheerful farewells of "_Buenos Noches_"
retired around a bend in the cañon and lit another fire for themselves.

The girl snuggled down into the warmth of the blankets and stretched her
weary limbs in delicious rest. She did not mean to go to sleep for a long
time. She had much to think about. So she looked up the black sheer cañon
walls to the deep blue, starry sky above, and relived her day in memory.

A strange excitement tingled through her, born of shame and shyness and
fear, and of something else she did not understand, something which had
lain banked in her nature like a fire since childhood and now threw forth
its first flame of heat. What did it mean, that passionate fierceness with
which her lips had clung to his? She liked him, of course, but surely
liking would not explain the pulse that her first kiss had sent leaping
through her blood like wine. Did she love him?

Then why did she distrust him? Why was there fear in her sober second
thought of him? Had she done wrong? For the moment all her maiden defenses
had been wiped out and he had ridden roughshod over her reserves. But
somewhere in her a bell of warning was ringing. The poignant sting of sex
appeal had come home to her for the first time. Wherefore in this frank
child of the wilderness had been born a shy shame, a vague trembling for
herself that marked a change. At sunrise she had been still treading gayly
the primrose path of childhood; at sunset she had entered upon her
heritage of womanhood.

The sun had climbed high and was peering down the walls of the gulch when
she awoke. She did not at once realize where she was, but came presently
to a blinking consciousness of her surroundings. The rock wall on one side
was still shadowed, while the painted side of the other was warm with the
light which poured upon it. The Gothic spires, the Moorish domes, the
weird and mysterious caves, which last night had given more than a touch
of awe to her majestic bedchamber, now looked a good deal less like the
ruins of mediæval castles and the homes of elfin sprites and gnomes.

"_Buenos dios, muchacha,_" a voice called cheerfully to her.

She did not need to turn to know to whom it belonged. Among a thousand she
would have recognized its tone of vibrant warmth.

"_Buenos,_" she answered, and, rising hurriedly, she fled to rearrange her
hair and dress.

It was nearly a quarter of an hour later that she reappeared, her thick
coils of ebon-hued tresses shining in the sun, her skirt smoothed to her
satisfaction, and the effects of feminine touches otherwise visible upon
her fresh, cool person.

"Breakfast is served," Norris sang out.

"Dinner would be nearer it," she laughed. "Why in the world didn't you
boys waken me? What time is it, anyhow?"

"It's not very late--a little past noon maybe. You were all tired out with
your tramp yesterday. I didn't see why you shouldn't have your sleep
out."

He was pouring a cup of black coffee for her from the smoky pot, and she
looked around expectantly for the others. Simultaneously she remembered
that she had not heard the bleating of the sheep.

"Where are the others--Mr. Farnum and Sam? And have you the sheep all
gagged?" she laughed.

He gave her that odd look of smoldering eyes behind half-shut lids.

"The boys have gone on to finish the drive for you. They started before
sun-up this morning. I'm elected to see you back home safely."

"But----"

Her protest died unspoken. She could not very well frame it in words, and
before his bold, possessive eyes the girl's long, dark lashes wavered to
the cheeks into which the hot blood was beating. Nevertheless, the feeling
existed that she wished one of the others had stayed instead of him. It
was born, no doubt, partly of the wave of shyness running through her,
but partly too of instinctive maidenly resistance to something in his
look, in the assurance of his manner, that seemed to claim too much. Last
night he had taken her by storm and at advantage. Something of shame
stirred in her that he had found her so easy a conquest, something too of
a new vague fear of herself. She resented the fact that he could so move
her, even though she still felt the charm of his personal presence. She
meant to hold herself in abeyance, to make sure of herself and of him
before she went further.

But the cowpuncher had no intention of letting her regain so fully control
of her emotions. Experience of more than one young woman had taught him
that scruples were likely to assert themselves after reflection, and he
purposed giving her no time for that to-day.

He did not count in vain upon the intimacy of companionship forced upon
them by the circumstances, nor upon the skill with which he knew how to
make the most of his manifold attractions. His rôle was that of the
comrade, gay with good spirits and warm with friendliness, solicitous of
her needs, but not oppressively so. If her glimpse of him at breakfast had
given the girl a vague alarm, she laughed her fears away later before his
open good humor.

There had been a time when he had been a part of that big world "back in
the States," peopled so generously by her unfettered imagination. He knew
how to talk, and entertainingly, of books and people, of events and
places he had known. She had not knowledge enough of life to doubt his
stories, nor did she resent it that he spoke of this her native section
with the slighting manner of one who patronized it with his presence.
Though she loved passionately her Arizona, she guessed its crudeness, and
her fancy magnified the wonders of that southern civilization from which
it was so far cut off.

Farnum had left his horse for the girl, and after breakfast the cowpuncher
saddled the broncos and brought them up. Melissy had washed the dishes,
filled his canteen, and packed the saddle bags. Soon they were off,
climbing slowly the trail that led up the cañon wall. She saw the carcass
of a dead sheep lying on the rocks half way down the cliff, and had spoken
of it before she could stop herself.

"What is that? Isn't it----?"

"Looks to me like a boulder," lied her escort unblushingly. There was no
use, he judged, in recalling unpleasant memories.

Nor did she long remember. The dry, exhilarating sunshine and the sting of
gentle, wide-swept breezes, the pleasure of swift motion and the ring of
that exultingly boyish voice beside her, combined to call the youth in her
to rejoice. Firm in the saddle she rode, as graceful a picture of piquant
girlhood as could be conceived, thrilling to the silent voices of the
desert. They traveled in a sunlit sea of space, under a sky of blue, in
which tenuous cloud lakes floated. Once they came on a small bunch of hill
cattle which went flying like deer into the covert of a draw. A
rattlesnake above a prairie dog's hole slid into the mesquit. A swift
watched them from the top of a smooth rock, motionless so long as they
could see. She loved it all, this immense, deserted world of space filled
with its multitudinous dwellers.

They unsaddled at Dead Cow Creek, hobbled the ponies, and ate supper.
Norris seemed in no hurry to resaddle. He lay stretched carelessly at full
length, his eyes upon her with veiled admiration. She sat upright, her
gaze on the sunset with its splashes of topaz and crimson and saffron,
watching the tints soften and mellow as dusk fell. Every minute now
brought its swift quota of changing beauty. A violet haze enveloped the
purple mountains, and in the crotch of the hills swam a lake of indigo.
The raw, untempered glare of the sun was giving place to a limitless pour
of silvery moonlight.

Her eyes were full of the soft loveliness of the hour when she turned them
upon her companion. He answered promptly her unspoken question.

"You bet it is! A night for the gods--or for lovers."

He said it in a murmur, his eyes full on hers, and his look wrenched her
from her mood. The mask of comradeship was gone. He looked at her
hungrily, as might a lover to whom all spiritual heights were denied.

Her sooty lashes fell before this sinister spirit she had evoked, but were
raised instantly at the sound of him drawing his body toward her.
Inevitably there was a good deal of the young animal in her superbly
healthy body. She had been close to nature all day, the riotous passion of
spring flowing free in her as in the warm earth herself. But the magic of
the mystic hills had lifted her beyond the merely personal. Some sense of
grossness in him for the first time seared across her brain. She started
up, and her face told him she had taken alarm.

"We must be going," she cried.

He got to his feet. "No hurry, sweetheart."

The look in his face startled her. It was new to her in her experience of
men. Never before had she met elemental lust.

"You're near enough," she cautioned sharply.

He cursed softly his maladroitness.

"I was nearer last night, honey," he reminded her.

"Last night isn't to-night."

He hesitated. Should he rush her defenses, bury her protests in kisses? Or
should he talk her out of this harsh mood? Last night she had been his.
There were moments during the day when she had responded to him as a
musical instrument does to skilled fingers. But for the moment his power
over her was gone. And he was impatient of delay.

"What's the matter with you?" he asked roughly.

"We'll start at once."

"No."

"Yes."

Frightened though she was, her gaze held steadily to his. It was the same
instinct in her that makes one look a dangerous wild beast straight in the
eye.

"What's got into you?" he demanded sullenly.

"I'm going home."

"After a while."

"Now."

"I reckon not just yet. It's my say-so."

"Don't you dare stop me."

The passion in him warred with prudence. He temporized. "Why, honey! I'm
the man that loves you."

She would not see his outstretched hands.

"Then saddle my horse."

"By God, no! You're going to listen to me."

His anger ripped out unexpectedly, even to him. Whatever fear she felt,
the girl crushed down. He must not know her heart was drowned in terror.

"I'll listen after we've started."

He cursed her fickleness. "What's ailin' you, girl? I ain't a man to be
put off this way."

"Don't forget you're in Arizona," she warned.

He understood what she meant. In the ranch country no man could with
impunity insult a woman.

Standing defiantly before him, her pliant form very straight, the
underlying blood beating softly under the golden brown of her cheeks, one
of the thick braids of her heavy, blue-black hair falling across the
breast that rose and fell a little fast, she was no less than a challenge
of Nature to him. He looked into a mobile face as daring and as passionate
as his own, warm with the life of innocent youth, and the dark blood
mantled his face.

"Saddle the horses," she commanded.

"When I get good and ready."

"Now."

"No, ma'am. We're going to have a talk first."

She walked across to the place where her pony grazed, slipped on the
bridle, and brought the animal back to the saddle. Norris watched her
fitting the blankets and tightening the cinch without a word, his face
growing blacker every moment. Before she could start he strode forward and
caught the rein.

"I've got something to say to you," he told her rudely. "You're not going
now. So that's all about it."

Her lips tightened. "Let go of my horse."

"We'll talk first."

"Do you think you can force me to stay here?"

"You're going to hear what I've got to say."

"You bully!"

"I'll tell what I know--Miss Hold-up."

"Tell it!" she cried.

He laughed harshly, his narrowed eyes watching her closely. "If you throw
me down now, I'll ce'tainly tell it. Be reasonable, girl."

"Let go my rein!"

"I've had enough of this. Tumble off that horse, or I'll pull you off."

Her dark eyes flashed scorn of him. "You coward! Do you think I'm afraid
of you? Stand back!"

The man looked long at her, his teeth set; then caught at her strong
little wrist. With a quick wrench she freed it, her eyes glowing like live
coals.

"You dare!" she panted.

Her quirt rose and fell, the lash burning his wrist like a band of fire.
With a furious oath he dropped his hand from the rein. Like a flash she
was off, had dug her heels home, and was galloping into the moonlight
recklessly as fast as she could send forward her pony. Stark terror had
her by the throat. The fear of him flooded her whole being. Not till the
drumming hoofs had carried her far did other emotions move her.

She was furious with him, and with herself for having been imposed upon by
him. His beauty, his grace, his debonair manner--they were all hateful to
her now. She had thought him a god among men, and he was of common clay.
It was her vanity that was wounded, not her heart. She scourged herself
because she had been so easily deceived, because she had let herself
become a victim of his good looks and his impudence. For that she had let
him kiss her--yes, and had returned his kiss--she was heartily
contemptuous of herself. Always she had held herself with an instinctive
pride, but in her passion of abandonment the tears confessed now that this
pride had been humbled to the dust.

This gusty weather of the spirit, now of chastened pride and now of bitter
anger, carried her even through the group of live-oaks which looked down
upon the silent houses of the ranch, lying in a sea of splendid moon-beat.
She was so much less confident of herself than usual that she made up her
mind to tell her father the whole story of the hold-up and of what this
man had threatened.

This resolution comforted her, and it was with something approaching
calmness that she rode past the corral fence and swung from the saddle in
front of the house.



CHAPTER X

JACK GOES TO THE HEAD OF THE CLASS


She trailed the bridle reins, went up the porch steps, and drew off her
gauntlets. Her hand was outstretched to open the door when her gaze fell
upon a large bill tacked to the wall. Swiftly she read it through, and,
having read it, remained in suspended motion. For the first time she fully
realized the danger and the penalty that confronted her.

                          ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS
                    Will Be Paid By Thomas L. Morse
  For the arrest and conviction of each of the men who were implicated
  in the robbery of the Fort Allison stage on April twenty-seventh
  last. A further reward of $1000 will be paid for the recovery of the
  bullion stolen.

This was what she read, and her eye was running over it a second time when
she heard the jingle of a spur approaching.

"We're red-hot after them, you see, Miss Lee," a mocking voice drawled.
"If you want to round up a thousand plunks, all you've got to do is to
tell me who Mr. Hold-up is."

He laughed quietly, as if it were a joke, but the girl answered with a
flush. "Is that all?"

"That's all."

"If I knew, do you suppose I would tell for five thousand--or ten
thousand?"

For some reason this seemed to give him sardonic amusement. "No, I don't
suppose you would."

"You'll have to catch him yourself if you want him. I'm not in that
business, Mr. Flatray."

"I am. Sorry you don't like the business, Miss Lee." He added dryly: "But
then you always were hard to please. You weren't satisfied when I was a
rustler."

Her eyes swept him with a look, whether of reproach or contempt he was not
sure. But the hard derision of his gaze did not soften. Mentally as well
as physically he was a product of the sun and the wind, as tough and
unyielding as a greasewood sapling. For a friend he would go the limit,
and he could not forgive her that she had distrusted him.

"But mebbe you'd prefer it if I was rustling stages," he went on, looking
straight at her.

"What do you mean?" she asked breathlessly.

"I want to have a talk with you."

"What about?"

"Suppose we step around to the side of the house. We'll be freer from
interruption there."

He led the way, taking her consent for granted. With him he carried a
chair for her from the porch.

"If you'll be as brief as possible, Mr. Flatray. I've been in the desert
two days and want to change my clothes."

"I'll not detain you. It's about this gold robbery."

"Yes."

She could not take her eyes from him. Something told her that he knew her
secret, or part of it. Her heart was fluttering like a caged thrush.

"Shall we begin at the beginning?"

"If you like."

"Or in the middle, say."

"If only you'll begin anywhere," she said impatiently.

"How will this do for a beginning, then? 'One thousand dollars will be
paid by Thomas L. Morse for the arrest and conviction of each of the men
who were implicated in the robbery of the Fort Allison stage on April
twenty-seventh last.'"

She was shaken, there was no denying it. He could see the ebb of blood
from her cheeks, the sudden stiffening of the slender figure.

She did not speak until she had control of her voice. "Dear me! What has
all that to do with me?"

"A good deal, I'm afraid. You know how much, better than I do."

"Perhaps I'm stupid. You'll have to be a great deal clearer before I can
understand you."

"I've noticed that it's a lot easier to understand what you want to than
what you don't want to."

Sharply a thought smote her. "Have you seen Phil Norris lately?"

"No, I haven't. Do you think it likely that he would confess?"

"Confess?" she faltered.

"I see I'll have to start at the beginning, after all. It's pretty hard to
say just where that is. It might be when Morse got hold of your father's
claim, or another fellow might say it was when the Boone-Bellamy feud
began, and that is a mighty long time ago."

"The Boone-Bellamy feud," echoed the girl.

"Yes. The real name of our friend Norris is Dunc Boone."

"He's no friend of mine." She flamed it out with such intensity that he
was surprised.

"Glad to hear it. I can tell you, then, that he's a bad lot. He was driven
out of Arkansas after a suspected murder. It was a killing from ambush.
They couldn't quite hang it on him, but he lit a shuck to save his skin
from lynchers. At that time he was a boy. Couldn't have been more than
seventeen."

"Who did he kill?"

"One of the Bellamy faction. The real name of T. L. Morse is----"

"--Richard Bellamy."

"How do you know that?" he asked in surprise.

"I've known it since the first day I met him."

"Known that he was wanted for murder in Arkansas?"

"Yes."

"And you protected him?"

"I had a reason." She did not explain that her reason was Jack Flatray,
between whom and the consequences of his rustling she had stood.

He pondered that a moment. "Well, Morse, or Bellamy, told me all about it.
Now that Boone has recognized him, the game is up. He's ready to go back
and stand trial if he must. I've communicated with the authorities in
Arkansas and I'll hear from them in a day or two."

"What has this to do with the hold-up?"

"That's right, the hold-up. Well, this fellow Boone got your father to
drinking, and then sprung it on him to rob the stage when the bullion was
being shipped. Somehow Boone had got inside information about when this
was to be. He had been nosing around up at the mine, and may have
overheard something. O' course we know what your father would have done if
he hadn't been drinking. He's straight as a string, even if he does go off
like powder. But when a man's making a blue blotter of himself, things
don't look the same to him. Anyhow he went in."

"He didn't. I can prove he didn't," burst from Melissy's lips.

"Be glad to hear your proof later. He ce'tainly planned the hold-up. Jim
Budd overheard him."

"Did Jim tell you that?"

"Don't blame him for that. He didn't mean to tell, but I wound him up so
he couldn't get away from it. I'll show you later why he couldn't."

"I'm sure you must have been very busy, spying and everything," she told
him bitterly.

"I've kept moving. But to get back to the point. Your father and Boone
were on the ground where the stage was robbed _either at the time or right
after_. Their tracks were all over there. Then they got on their horses
and rode up the lateral."

"But they couldn't. The ditch was full," broke from the girl.

"You're right it was. You must be some observing to know when that ditch
is full and empty to an hour. I reckon you've got an almanac of tides," he
said ironically.

She bit her lip with chagrin. "I just happened to notice."

"Some folks _are_ more noticing than others. But you're surely right. They
came up the ditch one on each side. Now, why one on each side, do you
reckon?"

Melissy hid the dread that was flooding her heart. "I'm sure I don't
know. You know everything else. I suppose you do that, too, if they really
did."

"They had their reasons, but we won't go into that now. First off when
they reach the house they take a bunch of sheep down to the ditch to water
them. Now, why?"

"Why, unless because they needed water?"

"We'll let that go into the discard too just now. Let's suppose your
father and Boone dumped the gold box down into the creek somewhere after
they had robbed the stage. Suppose they had a partner up at the
head-gates. When the signal is given down comes the water, and the box is
covered by it. Mebbe that night they take it away and bury it somewhere
else."

The girl began to breathe again. He knew a good deal, but he was still off
the track in the main points.

"And who is this partner up at the canal? Have you got him located too?"

"I might guess."

"Well?"--impatiently.

"A young lady hailing from this _hacienda_ was out gathering flowers all
mo'ning. She was in her runabout. The tracks led straight from here to the
head-gates. I followed them through the sands. There's a little break in
one of the rubber tires. You'll find that break mark every eight feet or
so in the sand wash."

"I opened the head-gates, then, did I?"

"It looks that way, doesn't it?"

"At a signal from father?"

"I reckon."

"And that's all the evidence you've got against him and me?" she demanded,
still outwardly scornful, but very much afraid at heart.

"Oh, no, that ain't all, Miss Lee. Somebody locked the Chink in during
this play. He's still wondering why."

"He dreamed it. Very likely he had been rolling a pill."

"Did I dream this too?" From his coat pocket he drew the piece of black
shirting she had used as a mask. "I found it in the room where your father
put me up that first night I stayed here. It was your brother Dick's room,
and this came from the pocket of a shirt hanging in the closet. Now, who
do you reckon put it there?"

For the first time in her life she knew what it was to feel faint. She
tried to speak, but the words would not come from her parched throat. How
could he be so hard and cruel, this man who had once been her best friend?
How could he stand there so like a machine in his relentlessness?

"We--we used to--to play at hold-up when he was a boy," she gasped.

He shook his head. "No, I reckon that won't go. You see, I've found the
piece this was torn from, _and I found it in your father's coat_. I went
into his room on tiptoe that same hour. The coat was on the bed. He had
gone downstairs for a minute and left it there. Likely he hadn't found a
good chance to burn it yet." Taking the two pieces, he fitted them
together and held them up. "They match exactly, you see. Did your father
used to play with you too when he was a boy?"

He asked this with what seemed to her tortured soul like silken cruelty.
She had no answer, none at least that would avail. Desperately she
snatched at a straw.

"All this isn't proof. It's mere surmise. Some one's tracks were found by
you. How do you know they were father's?"

"I've got that cinched too. I took his boots and measured them."

"Then where's the gold, if he took it? It must be somewhere. Where is
it?"

"Now I'm going up to the head of the class, ma'am. The gold--why, that's a
dead easy one. _Near as I can make out, I'm sitting on it right now._"

She gave a startled little cry that died in her throat.

"Yes, it's ce'tainly a valuable wash-stand. Chippendale furniture ain't in
it with this kind. I reckon the king of England's is ace high against a
straight flush when it bucks up against yours."

Melissy threw up her cards. "How did you find out?" she asked hoarsely.

The deputy forced her to commit herself more definitely. "Find out what?"

"Where I put the box."

"I'll go back and answer some of those other questions first. I might as
well own up that I knew all the time your father didn't hold up the
stage."

"You did?"

"He's no fool. He wouldn't leave his tracks all over the place where he
had just held up a stage. He might jest as well have left a signed note
saying he had done it. No, that didn't look like Champ Lee to me. It
seemed more likely he'd arrived after the show than before. It wouldn't be
like him, either, to go plowing up the side of the ditch, with his partner
on the other side, making a trail that a blind man could follow in the
night. Soon as I knew Lee and Boone made those tracks, I had it cinched
that they were following the lateral to see where the robber was going.
They had come to the same conclusion I had, that there wasn't any way of
escape _except by that empty lateral_, _assuming it had been empty_. The
only point was to find out where the hold-up left the lateral. That's why
they rode one on each side of it. They weren't missing any bets, you
see."

"And that's why they drove the sheep down to water--to hide the
wheel-tracks. I couldn't understand that."

"I must 'a' been right on their heels, for they were jest getting the
trotters out of the corral when I reached the place where your rig left
the water. 'Course I fell back into the brush and circled around so as to
hit the store in front."

"But if dad knew all the time, I don't see--surely, he wouldn't have come
right after me and made plain the way I escaped."

"That's the point. He didn't know. I reckon he was sort of guessing around
in the dark, plumb puzzled; couldn't find the switch at all at first. Then
it come to him, and he thought of the sheep to blind the trail. If I'd
been half a hour later he would have got away with it too. No, if he had
guessed that you were in the hold-up, him and Boone would have hiked right
out on a false trail and led us into the Galiuros. Having no notion of it
at first, he trails you down."

"And the gold--how did you find that?"

"I knew it was either right around the place or else you had taken it on
with you when you went to the head-gates and buried it up there somewhere.
Next day I followed your tracks and couldn't find any place where you
might have left it. I knew how clever you were by the way you planned your
getaway. Struck me as mighty likely that you had left it lying around in
plain view somewhere. If you had dumped it out of the box into a sack, the
box must be somewhere. You hadn't had time to burn it before the stage got
back. I drifted back to your kindling pile, where all the old boxes from
the store are lying. I happened to notice a brass tack in one near the
end; then the marks of the tack heads where they had pressed against the
wood. I figured you might have substituted one box for another, and inside
of ten minutes I stumbled against your wash-stand and didn't budge it.
Then I didn't have to look any further."

"I've been trying to get a chance to move it and haven't ever found one.
You were always coming around the corner on me," she explained.

"Sorry I incommoded you," he laughed. "But it's too heavy for a lady to
lift alone, anyhow. I don't see how you managed it this far."

"I'm pretty strong," she said quietly.

She had no hope of escape from the net of evidence in which he had
entangled her. It was characteristic of her that she would not stoop to
tricks to stir his pity. Deep in her heart she knew now that she had
wronged him when she had suspected him of being a rustler. He _could_ not
be. It was not in the man's character. But she would ask no mercy of him.
All her pride rose to meet his. She would show him how game she could be.
What she had sown she would reap. Nor would it have been any use to
beseech him to spare her. He was a hard man, she told herself. Not even a
fool could have read any weakness in the quiet gray eyes that looked so
steadily into hers. In his voice and movements there was a certain
deliberation, but this had nothing to do with indecision of character. He
would do his duty as he saw it, regardless of whom it might affect.

Melissy stood before him in the unconscious attitude of distinction she
often fell into when she was moved, head thrown back so as to bare the
rounded throat column, brown little hands folded in front of her, erectly
graceful in all her slender lines.

"What are you going to do with me?" she asked.

His stone-cold eyes met hers steadily. "It ain't my say-so. I'm going to
put it up to Bellamy. I don't know what he'll do."

But, cold as his manner was, the heart of the man leaped to her courage.
He saw her worn out, pathetically fearful, but she could face him with
that still little smile of hers. He longed to take her in his arms, to
tell her it would be all right--all right.

"There's one thing that troubles me. I don't know how father will take
this. You know how quick-tempered he is. I'm afraid he'll shoot somebody
or do something rash when he finds out. You must let me be alone with him
when I tell him."

He nodded. "I been thinking of that myself. It ain't going to do him any
good to make a gun-play. I have a notion mebbe this thing will unravel
itself if we give it time. It will only make things worse for him to go
off half-cocked."

"How do you mean it may unravel itself?" she asked.

"Bellamy is a whole lot better man than folks give him credit for being.
I expect he won't be hard on you when he knows why you did it."

"And why did I do it?" she asked quietly.

"Sho! I know why you did it. Jim Budd told you what he had heard, and you
figured you could save your father from doing it. You meant to give the
money back, didn't you?"

"Yes, but I can't prove that either in court or to Mr. Bellamy."

"You don't need to prove it to me. If you say so, that's enough," he said
in his unenthusiastic voice.

"But you're not judge and jury, and you're certainly not Mr. Bellamy."

"Scrape Arizona with a fine-tooth comb and you couldn't get a jury to
convict when it's up against the facts in this case."

At this she brightened. "Thank you, Mr. Flatray." And naïvely she added
with a little laugh: "Are you ready to put the handcuffs on me yet?"

He looked with a smile at her outstretched hands. "They wouldn't stay
on."

"Don't you carry them in sizes to fit all criminals?"

"I'll have to put you on parole."

"I'll break it and climb out the window. Then I'll run off with this."

She indicated the box of treasure.

"I need that wash-stand in my room. I'm going to take it up there
to-night," he said.

"This _isn't_ a very good safety deposit vault," she answered, and,
nodding a careless good-night, she walked away in her slow-limbed,
graceful Southern fashion.

She had carried it off to the last without breaking down, but, once in her
own room, the girl's face showed haggard in the moonlight. It was one
thing to jest about it with him; it was another to face the facts as they
stood. She was in the power of her father's enemy, the man whose proffer
of friendship they had rejected with scorn. Her pride cried out that she
could not endure mercy from him even if he wished to extend it. Surely
there must be some other way out than the humiliation of begging him not
to prosecute. She could see none but one, and that was infinitely worse.
Yet she knew it would be her father's first impulsive instinct to seek to
fight her out of her trouble, the more because it was through him that it
had fallen upon her. At all hazards she must prevent this.



CHAPTER XI

A CONVERSATION


Not five minutes after Melissy had left the deputy sheriff, another rider
galloped up the road. Jack, returning from his room, where he had left the
box of gold locked up, waited on the porch to see who this might be.

The horseman proved to be the man Norris, or Boone, and in a thoroughly
bad temper, as Jack soon found out.

"Have you see anything of 'Lissie Lee?" he demanded immediately.

"Miss Lee has just left me. She has gone to her room," answered Flatray
quietly.

"Well, I want to see her," said the other hoarsely.

"I reckon you better postpone it to to-morrow. She's some played out and
needs sleep."

"Well, I'm going to see her now."

Jack turned, still all gentleness, and called to Jim Budd, who was in the
store.

"Oh, Jim! Run upstairs and knock on Miss Melissy's door and tell her Mr.
Norris is down here. Ask if she will see him to-night."

"You're making a heap of formality out of this, Mr. Buttinsky," sneered
the cowpuncher.

Jack made no answer, unless it were one to whistle gently and look out
into the night as if he were alone.

"No, seh. She doan' wan' tuh see him to-night," announced Jim upon his
return.

"That seems to settle it, Mr. Norris," said Jack pleasantly.

"Not by a hell of a sight. I've got something to say to her, and I'm going
to say it."

"To-morrow," amended the officer.

"I said to-night."

"But your say doesn't go here against hers. I reckon you'll wait."

"Not so's you could notice it." The cowpuncher took a step forward toward
the stairway, but Flatray was there before him.

"Get out of the way, you. I don't stand for any butting-in," the cowboy
blustered.

"Don't be a goat, Norris. She's tired, and she says she don't want to see
you. That's enough, ain't it?"

Norris leaped back with an oath to draw his gun, but Jack had the quickest
draw in Arizona. The puncher found himself looking into the business end
of a revolver.

"Better change your mind, seh," suggested the officer amiably. "I take it
you've been drinking and you're some excited. If you were in condition to
_savez_ the situation, you'd understand that the young lady doesn't care
to see you now. Do you need a church to fall on you before you can take a
hint?"

"I reckon if you knew all about her, you wouldn't be so anxious to stand
up for her," Norris said darkly.

"I expect we cayn't any of us stand the great white light on all our acts;
but if any one can, it's that little girl upstairs."

"What would you say if I told you that she's liable to go to Yuma if I
lift my hand?"

"I'd say I was from Missouri and needed showing."

"Put up that gun, come outside with me, and if I take a notion I'll show
you all right."

Jack laughed as his gun disappeared. "I'd be willing to bet high that
there are a good many citizens around here haided straighter for Yuma than
Miss Melissy."

Without answering, Norris led the way out and stopped only when his arm
rested on the fence of the corral.

"Nobody can hear us now," he said brusquely, and the ranger got a whiff of
his hot whisky breath. "You've put it up to me to make good. All right,
I'll do it. That little girl in there, as you call her, is the bad man who
held up the Fort Allison stage."

The officer laughed tolerantly as he lit a cigarette.

"I hear you say it, Norris."

"I didn't expect you to believe it right away, but it's a fact just the
same."

Flatray climbed to the fence and rested his feet on a rail. "Fire ahead.
I'm listenin'."

"The first men on the ground after that hold-up were me and Lee. We
covered the situation thorough and got hold of some points right away."

"That's right funny too. When I asked you if you'd been down there you
both denied it," commented the officer.

"We were protecting the girl. Mind you, we didn't know who had done it
then, but we had reasons to think the person had just come from this
ranch."

"What reasons?" briefly demanded Flatray.

"We don't need to go into them. We had them, anyhow. Then I lit on a
foot-print right on the edge of the ditch that no man ever made. We didn't
know what to make of it, but we wiped it out and followed the ditch, one
on each side. We'd figured that was the way he had gone. You see, though
water was running in the ditch now, it hadn't been half an hour before."

"You don't say!"

"There wasn't a sign of anybody leaving the ditch till we got to the
ranch; then we saw tracks going straight to the house."

"So you got a bunch of sheep and drove them down there to muss things up
some."

Norris looked sharply at him. "You got there while we were driving them
back. Well, that's right. We had to help her out."

"You're helping her out now, ain't you?" Jack asked dryly.

"That's my business. I've got my own reasons, Mr. Deputy. All you got to
do is arrest her."

"Just as soon as you give me the evidence, seh."

"Haven't I given it to you? She was seen to drive away from the house in
her rig. She left footprints down there. She came back up the ditch and
then rode right up to the head-gates and turned on the water. Jim Little
saw her cutting across country from the head-gates hell-to-split."

"Far as I can make out, all the evidence you've given me ain't against
her, but against you. She was out drivin' when it happened, you say, and
you expect me to arrest her for it. It ain't against the law to go
driving, seh. And as for that ditch fairy tale, on your own say-so you
wiped out all chance to prove the story."

"Then you won't arrest her?"

"If you'll furnish the evidence, seh."

"I tell you we know she did it. Her father knows it."

"Is it worryin' his conscience? Did he ask you to lay an information
against her?" asked the officer sarcastically.

"That isn't the point."

"You're right. Here's the point." Not by the faintest motion of the body
had the officer's indolence been lifted, but the quiet ring of his voice
showed it was gone. "You and Lee were overheard planning that robbery the
day after you were seen hanging around the 'Monte Cristo.' You started out
to hold up the stage. It was held up. By your own story you were the first
men on the ground after the robbery. I tracked you straight from there
here along the ditch. I found a black mask in Lee's coat. A dozen people
saw you on that fool sheep-drive of yours. And to sum up, I found the
stolen gold right here where you must have hidden it."

"You found the gold? Where?"

"That ain't the point either, seh. The point is that I've got you where I
want you, Mr. Norris, alias Mr. Boone. You're wound up in a net you cayn't
get away from. You're wanted back East, and you're wanted here. I'm onto
your little game, sir. Think I don't know you've been trying to
manufacture evidence against me as a rustler? Think I ain't wise to your
whole record? You're arrested for robbing the Fort Allison stage."

Norris, standing close in front of him, shot his right hand out and
knocked the officer backward from the fence. Before the latter could get
on his feet again the cowpuncher was scudding through the night. He
reached his horse, flung himself on, and galloped away. Harmlessly a
bullet or two zipped after him as he disappeared.

The deputy climbed over the fence again and laughed softly to himself.
"You did that right well, Jack. He'll always think he did that by his
lone, never will know you was a partner in that escape. It's a fact,
though, I could have railroaded him through on the evidence, but not
without including the old man. No, there wasn't any way for it but that
grandstand escape of Mr. Boone's."

Still smiling, he dusted himself, put up his revolver, and returned to the
house.



CHAPTER XII

THE TENDERFOOT MAKES A PROPOSITION


Melissy waited in dread expectancy to see what would happen. Of quick,
warm sympathies, always ready to bear with courage her own and others'
burdens, she had none of that passive endurance which age and experience
bring. She was keyed to the heroism of an occasion, but not yet to that
which life lays as a daily burden upon many without dramatic emphasis.

All next day nothing took place. On the succeeding one her father returned
with the news that the "Monte Cristo" contest had been continued to
another term of court. Otherwise nothing unusual occurred. It was after
mail time that she stepped to the porch for a breath of fresh air and
noticed that the reward placard had been taken down.

"Who did that?" she asked of Alan McKinstra, who was sitting on the steps,
reading a newspaper and munching an apple.

"Jack Flatray took it down. He said the offer of a reward had been
withdrawn."

"When did he do that?"

"About an hour ago. Just before he rode off."

"Rode off! Where did he go?"

"Heard him say he was going to Mesa. He told your father that when he
settled the bill."

"He's gone for good, then?"

"That's the way I took it. Say, Melissy, Farnum says Jack told him the
gold had been found and turned back to Morse. Is that right?"

"How should I know?"

"Well, it looks blamed funny they could get the bullion back without
getting the hold-up."

"Maybe they'll get him yet," she consoled him.

"I wish I could get a crack at him," the boy murmured vengefully.

"You had one chance at him, didn't you?"

"José spoiled it. Honest, I wasn't going to lie down, 'Lissie."

Again the days followed each other uneventfully. Bellamy himself never
came for his mail now, but sent one of the boys from the mine for it.
Melissy wondered whether he despised her so much he did not ever want to
see her again. Somehow she did not like to think this. Perhaps it might be
delicacy on his part. He was going to drop the whole thing magnanimously
and did not want to put upon her the obligation of thanking him by
presenting himself to her eyes.

But though he never appeared in person, he had never been so much in her
mind. She could not rid herself of a growing sympathy and admiration for
this man who was holding his own against many. A story which was being
whispered about reached her ears and increased this. A bunch of his sheep
had been found poisoned on their feeding ground, and certain cattle
interests were suspected of having done the dastardly thing.

When she could stand the silence no longer Melissy called up Jack Flatray
on the telephone at Mesa.

"You caught me just in time. I'm leaving for Phoenix to-night," he told
her. "What can I do for you, Miss Lee?"

"I want to know what's being done about that Fort Allison stage hold-up."

"The money has been recovered."

"I know that, but--what about the--the criminals?"

"They made their getaway all right."

"Aren't you looking for them?"

"No."

"Did Mr. Morse want you to drop it?"

"Yes. He was very urgent about it."

"Does he know who the criminals are?"

"Yes."

"And isn't going to prosecute?"

"So he told me."

"What did Mr. Morse say when you made your report?"

"Said, 'Thank you.'"

"Oh, yes, but--you know what I mean."

"Not being a mind-reader----"

"About the suspect. Did he say anything?"

"Said he had private reasons for not pushing the case. I didn't ask him
what they were."

This was all she could get out of him. It was less than she had hoped.
Still, it was something. She knew definitely what Bellamy had done.
Wherefore she sat down to write him a note of thanks. It took her an hour
and eight sheets of paper before she could complete it to her
satisfaction. Even then the result was not what she wanted. She wished she
knew how he felt about it, so that she could temper it to the right degree
of warmth or coolness. Since she did not know, she erred on the side of
stiffness and made her message formal.

  "Mr. Thomas L. Morse,
  "Monte Cristo Mine.
  "Dear Sir:

  "Father and I feel that we ought to thank you for your considerate
  forbearance in a certain matter you know of. Believe me, sir, we are
  grateful.

                                               "Very respectfully,
                                                        "Melissy Lee."
She could not, however, keep herself from one touch of sympathy, and as a
postscript she naïvely added:

"I'm sorry about the sheep."

Before mailing it she carried this letter to her father. Neither of them
had ever referred to the other about what each knew of the affair of the
robbery. More than once it had been on the tip of Champ Lee's tongue to
speak of it, but it was not in his nature to talk out what he felt, and
with a sigh he had given it up. Now Melissy came straight to the point.

"I've been writing a letter to Mr. Morse, dad, thanking him for not having
me arrested."

Lee shot at her a glance of quick alarm.

"Does he know about it, honey?"

"Yes. Jack Flatray found out the whole thing and told him. He was very
insistent on dropping it, Mr. Flatray says."

"You say Jack found out all about it, honey?" repeated Lee in surprise.

He was seated in a big chair on the porch, and she nestled on one arm of
it, rumpled his gray hair as she had always done since she had been a
little girl, kissed him, and plunged into her story.

He heard her to the end without a word, but she noticed that he gripped
the chair hard. When she had finished he swept her into his arms and broke
down over her, calling her the pet names of her childhood.

"Honey-bird ... Dad's little honey-bird ... I'm that ashamed of myse'f.
'Twas the whisky did it, lambie. Long as I live I'll nevah touch it again.
I'll sweah that befo' God. All week you been packin' the troubles I
heaped on you, precious, and afteh you-all saved me from being a
criminal...."

So he went on, spending his tempestuous love in endearments and caresses,
and so together they afterward talked it out and agreed to send the letter
she had written.

But Lee was not satisfied with her atonement. He could not rest to let it
go at that, without expressing his own part in it to Bellamy. Next day he
rode up to the mine, and found its owner in workman's slops just stepping
from the cage. If Bellamy were surprised to see him, no sign of it reached
his face.

"If you'll wait a minute till I get these things off, I'll walk up to the
cabin with you, Mr. Lee," he said.

"I reckon you got my daughter's letter," said Lee abruptly as he strode up
the mountainside with his host.

"Yes, I got it an hour ago."

"I be'n and studied it out, Mr. Morse. I couldn't let it go at that, and
so I reckoned I'd jog along up hyer and tell you the whole story."

"That's as you please, Mr. Lee. I'm quite satisfied as it is."

The rancher went on as if he had not heard. "'Course I be'n holding a
grudge at you evah since you took up this hyer claim. I expect that
rankles with me most of the time, and when I take to drinking seems to me
that mine still belongs to me. Well, I heerd tell of that shipment you was
making, and I sets out to git it, for it ce'tainly did seem to belong to
me. Understand, I wasn't drunk, but had be'n settin' pretty steady to the
bottle for several days. Melissy finds it out, no matter how, and
undertakes to keep me out of trouble. She's that full of sand, she nevah
once thought of the danger or the consequences. Anyhow, she meant to git
the bullion back to you afteh the thing had blown over."

"I haven't doubted that a moment since I knew she did it," said Bellamy
quietly.

"Glad to hear it. I be'n misjudgin' you, seh, but you're a white man afteh
all. Well, you know the rest of the story: how she held up the stage, how
Jack drapped in befo' our tracks were covered, how smart he worked the
whole thing out, and how my little gyurl confessed to him to save me."

"Yes, I know all that."

"What kind of a figure do I make in this? First off, I act like a durn
fool, and she has to step in to save me. Then I let her tote the worry of
it around while I ride off to Mesa. When Jack runs me down, she takes the
blame again. To finish up with, she writes you a letter of thanks, jes' as
if the whole fault was hers."

The old soldier selected a smooth rock and splashed it with tobacco juice
before he continued with rising indignation against himself.

"I'm a fine father for a gyurl like that, ain't I? Up to date I always
had an idee I was some sort of a man, but dad gum it! I cayn't see it
hyer. To think of me lettin' my little gyurl stand the consequences of my
meanness. No, Mr. Morse, that's one too much for Champ Lee. He's nevah
going to touch another drop of whisky long as he lives."

"Glad to hear it. That's a square amend to make, one she will
appreciate."

"So I took a _pasear_ up hyer to explain this, and to thank you for yore
kindness. Fac' is, Mr. Morse, it would have jest about killed me if
anything had happened to my little 'Lissie. I want to say that if you had
a-be'n her brother you couldn't 'a' be'n more decent."

"There was nothing else to do. It happens that I am in her debt. She saved
my life once. Besides, I understood the motives for her action when she
broke the law, and I honored them with all my heart. Flatray felt just as
I did about it. So would any right-thinking man."

"Well, you cayn't keep me from sayin' again that you're a white man, seh,"
the other said with a laugh behind which the emotion of tears lay near.

"That offer of a compromise is still open, Mr. Lee."

The Southerner shook his grizzled head. "No, I reckon not, Mr. Morse.
Understand, I got nothin' against you. The feud is wiped out, and I'll
make you no mo' trouble. But it's yore mine, and I don't feel like taking
charity. I got enough anyhow."

"It wouldn't be charity. I've always felt as if you had a moral claim on
an interest in the 'Monte Cristo.' If you won't take this yourself, why
not let me make out the papers to Miss Lee? You would feel then that she
was comfortably fixed, no matter what happened to you."

"Well, I'll lay it befo' her. Anyhow, we're much obliged to you, Mr.
Morse. I'll tell you what, seh," he added as an after-thought. "You come
down and talk it over with 'Lissie. If you can make her see it that way,
good enough."

When Champ Lee turned his bronco's head homeward he was more at peace with
the world than he had been for a long time. He felt that he would be able
to look his little girl in the face again. For the first time in a week he
felt at one with creation. He rode into the ranch plaza humming "Dixie."

On the day following that of Lee's call, the mine-owner saddled his mare
and took the trail to the half-way house. It was not until after the stage
had come and gone that he found the chance for a word with Melissy alone.

"Your father submitted my proposition, did he?" Bellamy said by way of
introducing the subject.

"Let's take a walk on it. I haven't been out of the house to-day," she
answered with the boyish downrightness sometimes uppermost in her.

Calling Jim, she left him in charge of the store, caught up a Mexican
sombrero, and led the way up the trail to a grove of live-oaks perched on
a bluff above. Below them stretched the plain, fold on fold to the blue
horizon edge. Close at hand clumps of cactus, thickets of mesquit,
together with the huddled adobe buildings of the ranch, made up the
details of a scene possible only in the sunburnt territory. The
palpitating heat quivered above the hot brown sand. No life stirred in the
valley except a circling buzzard high in the sky, and the tiny moving
speck with its wake of dust each knew to be the stage that had left the
station an hour before.

Melissy, unconscious of the charming picture she made, stood upon a rock
and looked down on it all.

"I suppose," she said at last slowly, "that most people would think this
pretty desolate. But it's a part of me. It's all I know." She broke off
and smiled at him. "I had a chance to be civilized. Dad wanted to send me
East to school, but I couldn't leave him."

"Where were you thinking of going?"

"To Denver."

Her conception of the East amused him. It was about as accurate as a New
Yorker's of the West.

"I'm glad you didn't. It would have spoiled you and sent you back just
like every other young lady the schools grind out."

She turned curiously toward him. "Am I not like other girls?"

It was on his tongue tip to tell her that she was gloriously different
from most girls he had known, but discretion sealed his lips. Instead, he
told her of life in the city and what it means to society women, its
emptiness and unsatisfaction.

His condemnation was not proof positive to her. "I'd like to go there for
myself some time and see. And anyhow it must be nice to have all the money
you want with which to travel," she said.

This gave him his opening. "It makes one independent. I think that's the
best thing wealth can give--a sort of spaciousness." He waited perceptibly
before he added: "I hope you have decided to be my partner in the mine."

"I've decided not to."

"I'm sorry. But why?"

"It's your mine. It isn't ours."

"That's nonsense. I always in my heart, recognized a moral claim you have.
Besides, the case isn't finished yet. Perhaps your father may win his
contest. I'm all for settling out of court."

"You know we won't win."

"I don't."

She gave him applause from her dark eyes. "That's very fair of you, but
Dad and I can't do it."

"Then you still have a grudge at me," he smiled.

"Not the least little bit of a one."

"I shan't take no for an answer, then. I'll order the papers made out
whether you want me to or not." Without giving her a chance to speak, he
passed to another topic: "I've decided to go out of the sheep business."

"I'm so glad!" she cried.

"Those aren't my feelings," he answered ruefully. "I hate to quit under
fire."

"Of course you do, but your friends will know why you do it."

"Why do I do it?"

"Because you know it's right. The cattlemen had the range first. Their
living is tied up in cattle, and your sheep are ruining the feed for them.
Yesterday when I was out riding I counted the bones of eight dead cows."

He nodded gravely. "Yes, in this country sheep are death to cows. I hate
to be a quitter, but I hate worse to take the bread out of the mouths of a
dozen families. Two days ago I had an offer for my whole bunch, and
to-morrow I'm going to take the first instalment over the pass and drive
them down to the railroad."

"But you'll have to cross the dead line to get over the pass," she said
quickly; for all Cattleland knew that a guard had been watching his herds
to see they did not cross the pass.

"Yes. I'm going to send Alan with a letter to Farnum. I don't think there
will be any opposition to my crossing it when my object is understood," he
smiled.

Melissy watched him ride away, strong and rugged and ungraceful, from the
head to the heel of him a man. Life had gone hard with him. She wondered
whether that were the reason her heart went out to him so warmly.

As she moved about her work that day and the next little snatches of song
broke from her, bubbling forth like laughter, born of the quiet happiness
within, for which she could give no reason.

After the stage had gone she saddled her pony and rode toward the head of
the pass. In an hour or two now the sheep would be pouring across the
divide, and she wanted to get a photograph of them as they emerged from
the pass. She was following an old cattle trail which ran into the main
path just this side of the pass, and she was close to the junction when
the sound of voices stopped her. Some instinct made her wait and listen.

The speakers were in a dip of the trail just ahead of her, and the voice
of the first she recognized as belonging to the man Boone. The tone of it
was jubilantly cruel.

"No, sir. You don't move a step of the way, not a step, Mr. Alan
McKinstra. I've got him right where I want him, and I don't care if you
talk till the cows come home."

Alan's voice rang out indignantly, "It's murder then--just plain, low-down
murder. If you hold me here and let Morse fall into a death trap without
warning him, you're as responsible as if you shot him yourself."

"All right. Suits me down to the ground. We'll let it go at that. I'm
responsible. If you want the truth flat and plain, I don't mind telling
you that I wouldn't be satisfied if I wasn't responsible. I'm evening up
some little things with Mr. Morse to-day."

Melissy needed to hear no more to understand the situation, but if she
had, the next words of Boone would have cleared it up.

"When I met up with you and happened on the news that you was taking a
message to Farnum, and when I got onto the fact that Morse, as you call
him, was moving his sheep across the dead line, _relying on you having got
his letter to the cattlemen to make it safe_, it seemed luck too good to
be true. All I had to do was to persuade you to stay right here with me,
and Mr. Morse would walk into the pass and be wiped out. You get the
beauty of it, my friend, don't you? _I'm_ responsible, but it will be
Farnum and his friends that will bear the blame. There ain't but one flaw
in the whole thing: Morse will never know that it's me that killed him."

"You devil!" cried the boy, with impotent passion.

"I've waited ten years for this day, and it's come at last. Don't you
think for a moment I'm going to weaken. No, sir! You'll sit there with my
gun poked in your face just as you've sat for six hours. It's my say-so
to-day, sir," Boone retorted, malevolence riding triumph in his voice.

Melissy's first impulse was to confront the man, her next to slip away
without being discovered and then give the alarm.

"Yes, sir," continued the cowpuncher; "I scored on Mr. Morse two or three
nights ago, when I played hell with one of his sheep camps, and to-day I
finish up with him. His sheep have been watched for weeks, and at the
first move it's all up with him and them. Farnum's vaqueros will pay my
debt in full. Just as soon as I'm right sure of it I'll be jogging along
to Dead Man's Cache, and you can go order the coffin for your boss."

The venom of the man was something to wonder at. It filled the listening
girl with sick apprehension. She had not known that such hatred could live
in the world.

Quietly she led her pony back, mounted, and made a wide detour until she
struck the trail above. Already she could hear the distant bleat of sheep
which told her that the herd was entering the pass. Recklessly she urged
her pony forward, galloping into the saddle between the peaks without
regard to the roughness of the boulder-strewn path. A voice from above
hailed her with a startled shout as she flew past. Again, a shot rang out,
the bullet whistling close to her ear. But nothing could stop her till she
reached the man she meant to save.

And so it happened that Richard Bellamy, walking at the head of his herd,
saw a horse gallop wildly round a bend almost into his bleating flock. The
rider dragged the bronco to a halt and slipped to the ground. She stood
there ashen-hued, clinging to the saddle-horn and swaying slightly.

"I'm in time.... Thank God!... Thank God!" her parched lips murmured.

"Miss Lee! You here?" he cried.

They looked at each other, the man and the girl, while the wild fear in
her heart began to still. The dust of the drive was thick on his boots,
his clothes, his face, but the soil of travel could not obscure the power
of his carriage, the strong lines of his shoulders, the set of his broad,
flat back, any more than it could tarnish her rarity, the sweetness of
blood in her that under his gaze beat faintly into her dusky cheeks. The
still force of him somehow carried reassurance to her. Such virility of
manhood could not be marked for extinction.

She panted out her story, and his eyes never left her.

"You have risked your life to save mine and my herders," he said very
quietly.

"You must go back," she replied irrelevantly.

"I can't. The entrance is guarded."

This startled her. "Then--what shall we do?"

"You must ride forward at once. Tell the vaqueros that I am moving my
sheep only to take them to the railroad. Explain to them how Alan is
detained with the message I sent Farnum. In a few minutes we shall follow
with the sheep."

"And if they don't believe that you are going out of the sheep
business--what then?"

"I shall have to take my chance of that."

She seemed about to speak, but changed her mind, nodded, swung to the
saddle, and rode forward. After a few minutes Bellamy followed slowly. He
was unarmed, not having doubted that his letter to the cattleman would
make his journey safe. That he should have waited for an answer was now
plain, but the contract called for an immediate delivery of the sheep, as
he had carefully explained in his note to Farnum.

Presently he heard again the clatter of a horse's hoofs in the loose shale
and saw Melissy returning.

"Well?" he asked as she drew up.

"I've told them. I think they believe me, but I'm going through the gorge
with you."

He looked up quickly to protest, but did not. He knew that her thought was
that her presence beside him would protect him from attack. The rough
chivalry of Arizona takes its hat off to a woman, and Melissy Lee was a
favorite of the whole countryside.

So together they passed into the gulch, Bellamy walking by the side of her
horse. Neither of them spoke. At their heels was the soft rustle of many
thousands of padding feet.

Once there came to them the sound of cheering, and they looked up to see
a group of vaqueros waving their hats and shouting down. Melissy shook her
handkerchief and laughed happily at them. It was a day to be remembered by
these riders.

They emerged into a roll of hill-tops upon which the setting sun had cast
a weird afterglow of radiance in which the whole world burned. The cactus,
the stunted shrubbery, the painted rocks, seemed all afire with some magic
light that had touched their commonness to a new wonder.

A sound came to them from below. A man, rifle in hand and leading a horse,
was stealthily crossing the trail to disappear among the large boulders
beyond.

Melissy did not speak, scarce dared to draw breath, for the man beneath
them was Boone. There was something furtive and lupine about him that
suggested the wild beast stalking its kill. No doubt he had become
impatient to see the end of his foe and had ridden forward. He had almost
crossed the path before he looked up and caught sight of them standing
together in the fireglow of the sunset.

Abruptly he came to a standstill.

"By God! you slipped through, did you?" he said in a low voice of
concentrated bitterness.

Bellamy did not answer, but he separated himself from the girl by a step
or two. He knew quite well what was coming, and he looked down quietly
with steady eyes upon his foe.

From far below there came the faint sound of a horse breaking its way
through brush. Boone paused to listen, but his eye never wandered from the
bareheaded, motionless figure silhouetted against the skyline in the ruddy
evening glow. He had shifted his rifle so that it lay in both hands, ready
for immediate action.

Melissy, horror-stricken, had sat silent, but now she found her voice.

"He is unarmed!" she cried to the cowpuncher.

He made no answer. Another sound in the brush, close at hand, was
distracting his attention, though not his gaze.

Just as he whipped up his rifle Melissy sprang forward. She heard the
sound of the explosion fill the draw, saw Bellamy clutch at the air and
slowly sink to the ground. Before the echoes had died away she had flung
herself toward the inert body.

The outlaw took a step or two forward, as if to make sure of his work, but
at the sound of running footsteps he changed his mind, swung to the saddle
and disappeared among the rocks.

An instant later Bob Farnum burst into view.

"What's up?" he demanded.

Melissy looked up. Her face was perfectly ashen. "Phil Norris ... he shot
Mr. Morse."

Farnum stepped forward. "Hurt badly, Mr. Morse?"

The wounded man grinned faintly. "Scared worse, I reckon. He got me in the
fleshy part of the left arm."



CHAPTER XIII

OLD ACQUAINTANCES


"You wanted to see me?"

The voice had the soft, slow intonation of the South, and it held some
quality that haunted the memory. Or so Melissy thought afterward, but that
may have been because of its owner's appeal to sympathy.

"If you are Miss Yarnell."

"Ferne Yarnell is my name."

"Mr. Bellamy asked me to call on you. He sent this letter of
introduction."

A faint wave of color beat into the cheek of the stranger. "You know Mr.
Bellamy then?"

"Yes. He would have been here to meet you, but he met with an accident
yesterday."

"An accident!" There was a quick flash of alarm in the lifted face.

"He told me to tell you that it was not serious. He was shot in the arm."

"Shot. By whom?" She was ashen to the lips.

"By a man called Duncan Boone."

"I know him. He is a dangerous man."

"Yes," Melissy nodded. "I don't think we know how very dangerous he is. We
have all been deceived in him till recently."

"Does he live here?"

"Yes. The strange thing is that he and Mr. Bellamy had never met in this
country until a few days ago. There used to be some kind of a feud between
the families. But you must know more about that than I do."

"Yes. My family is involved in the feud. Mr. Bellamy is a distant cousin
of mine."

"So he told me."

"Have you known him long?"

Melissy thought that there was a little more than curiosity in the quick
look the young woman flung at her.

"I met him when he first came here. He was lost on the desert and I found
him. After that we became very unfriendly. He jumped a mining claim
belonging to my father. But we've made it up and agreed to be friends."

"He wrote about the young lady who saved his life."

Melissy smiled. "Did he say that I was a cattle and a stage rustler?"

"He said nothing that was not good."

"I'm much obliged to him," the Western girl answered breezily. "And now do
tell me, Miss Yarnell, that you and your people have made up your mind to
stay permanently."

"Father is still looking the ground over. He has almost decided to buy a
store here. Yet he has been in the town only a day. So you see he must
like it."

Outside the open second story window of the hotel Melissy heard a voice
that sounded familiar. She moved toward the window alcove, and at the same
time a quick step was heard in the hall. Someone opened the door of the
parlor and stood on the threshold. It was the man called Boone.

Melissy, from the window, glanced round. Her first impulse was to speak;
her second to remain silent. For the Arkansan was not looking at her. His
mocking ribald gaze was upon Ferne Yarnell.

That young woman looked up from the letter of introduction she was reading
and a startled expression swept into her face.

"Dunc Boone," she cried.

The man doffed his hat with elaborate politeness. "Right glad to meet up
with you again, Miss Ferne. You was in short dresses when I saw you last.
My, but you've grown pretty. Was it because you heard I was in Arizona
that you came here?"

She rose, rejecting in every line of her erect figure his impudent
geniality, his insolent pretense of friendliness.

"My brother is in the hotel. If he learns you are here there will be
trouble."

A wicked malice lay in his smiling eyes. "Trouble for him or for me?" he
inquired silkily.

His lash flicked her on the raw. Hal Yarnell was a boy of nineteen. This
man had a long record as a gunfighter to prove him a desperate man.
Moreover, he knew how hopelessly heart sick she was of the feud that for
many years had taken its toll of blood.

"Haven't you done us enough harm, you and yours? Go away. Leave us alone.
That's all I ask of you."

He came in and closed the door. "But you see it ain't all I ask of you,
Ferne Yarnell. I always did ask all I could get of a girl as pretty as
you."

"Will you leave me, sir?"

"When I'm through."

"Now."

"No, I reckon not," he drawled between half shuttered eyes.

She moved toward the door, but he was there before her. With a turn of his
wrist he had locked it.

"This interview quits at my say-so, honey. Think after so many years of
absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder you're going to trample over me like I
was a kid? Guess again."

"Unlock that door," she ordered.

"When I get good and ready. We'll have our talk out first."

Her eyes blazed. She was white as paper though she faced him steadily. But
her heart wavered. She dared not call out for fear her brother might hear
and come to her assistance. This she must forestall at all costs.

A heel clicked in the alcove. For the first time Norris, or Boone as the
Southern girl had called him, became aware of a third party in the room.
Melissy was leaning out of the window. She called down to a man standing
on the street.

"Jack, come up here quick. I want you."

Boone took a step forward. "You here, 'Lissie Lee?"

She laughed scornfully. "Yes, I'm here. An unexpected pleasure, isn't
it?"

"Do you know Ferne Yarnell?" he asked, for once taken aback.

"It looks as if I do."

His quick furtive eye fell upon an envelope on the floor. He picked it up.
Upon it was written, "Miss Ferne Yarnell," and in the corner, "Introducing
Miss Lee."

A muscle twitched in his face. When he looked up there was an expression
of devilish malignity on it.

"Mr. Bellamy's handwriting, looks like." He turned to the Arizona girl.
"Then I didn't put the fellow out of business."

"No, you coward."

The angry color crept to the roots of his hair. "Better luck next time."

The door knob rattled. Someone outside was trying to get in. Those inside
the room paid no obvious attention to him. The venomous face of the
cattle detective held the women fascinated.

"When Dick Bellamy ambushed Shep he made a hell of a bad play of it. My
old mammy used to say that the Boones were born wolves. I can see where
she was right. The man that killed my brother gets his one of these days
and don't you forget it. You just stick around. We're due to shoot this
thing out, him and me," the man continued, his deep-socketed eyes burning
from the grim handsome face.

"Open the door," ordered a voice from the hall, shaking the knob
violently.

"You don't know he killed your brother. Someone else may have done it. And
it may have been done in self defence," the Arkansas girl said to Boone in
a voice so low and reluctant that it appeared the words were wrung from
her by torture.

"Think I'm a buzzard head? Why for did he run away? Why did he jump for
the sandhills soon as the word came to arrest him?" He snapped together
his straight, thin-lipped mouth, much as a trap closes on its prey.

A heavy weight hurtled against the door and shook it to the hinges.
Melissy had been edging to the right. Now with a twist of her lissom body
she had slipped past the furious man and turned the key.

Jack Flatray came into the room. His glance swept the young women and
fastened on the man. In the crossed eyes of the two was the thrust of
rapiers, the grinding of steel on steel, that deadly searching for
weakness in the other that duelists employ.

The deputy spoke in a low soft drawl. "Mornin', Boone. Holding an
executive session, are you?"

The lids of the detective narrowed to slits. From the first there had been
no pretense of friendship between these two. There are men who have only
to look once at each other to know they will be foes. It had been that way
with them. Causes of antagonism had arisen quickly enough. Both dominant
personalities, they had waged silent unspoken warfare for the leadership
of the range. Later over the favor of Melissy Lee this had grown more
intense, still without having ever been put into words. Now they were face
to face, masks off.

"Why yes, until you butted in, Mr. Sheriff."

"This isn't my busy day. I thought I'd just drop in to the meeting."

"You've made a mistake. We're not holding a cattle rustlers' convention."

"There are so many ladies present I can't hear you, but maybe if you said
it outside I could," the deputy suggested gently, a gleam of steely anger
in his eyes.

"Say it anywhere to oblige a friend," sneered Boone.

From the moment of meeting neither man had lowered his gaze by the
fraction of an inch. Red tragedy was in the air. Melissy knew it. The
girl from Arkansas guessed as much. Yet neither of them knew how to avert
the calamity that appeared impending. One factor alone saved the situation
for the moment. Flatray had not yet heard of the shooting of Bellamy. Had
he known he would have arrested Boone on the spot and the latter would
have drawn and fought it out.

Into the room sauntered Lee. "Hello, 'Lissie. Been looking for you an
hour, honey. Mornin', Norris. Howdy, Jack! Dad burn yore ornery hide, I
ain't see you long enough for a good talk in a coon's age."

Melissy seized on her father joyfully as an interposition of Providence.
"Father, this is Miss Yarnell, the young lady I told you about."

The ranchman buried her little hand in his big paw. "Right glad to meet up
with you, Miss Yarnell. How do you like Arizona by this time? I reckon
Melissy has introduced you to her friends. No? Make you acquainted with
Mr. Flatray. Shake hands with Mr. Norris, Miss Yarnell. Where are you,
Norris?"

The owner of the Bar Double G swung round, to discover for the first time
that harmony was not present. Boone stood back with a sullen vindictive
expression on his face.

"Why, what's up, boys?" the rancher asked, his glance passing from one to
another.

"You ain't in this, Lee," Boone informed him. Then, to Flatray: "See you
later."

The deputy nodded carelessly. "Any time you like."

The lank old Confederate took a step forward to call Boone back, but
Melissy caught him by the sleeve.

"Let him go," she whispered emphatically.

"I know my boss," returned Lee with a laugh.

"If you're quite through with me, Miss Lee, I'll not intrude longer,"
Flatray said.

"But I'm not," spoke Melissy quickly.

She did not intend to let him get away to settle his quarrel with Boone.

"I'm rather busy," he suggested.

"Your business will have to wait," she came back decisively.

Lee laughed and clapped Jack on the shoulder. "Might as well know your
boss too, boy."

Melissy flushed with a flash of temper. "I'm nothing of the kind, dad."

"Sho! A joke's a joke, girl. That's twice hand-runnin' I get a call-down.
You're mighty high-heeled to-day, 'pears like."

Jack smiled grimly. He understood some things that were hidden from Lee.



CHAPTER XIV

CONCERNING THE BOONE-BELLAMY-YARNELL FEUD


The story that Ferne Yarnell told them in the parlor of the hotel had its
beginnings far back in the days before the great war. They had been
neighbors, these three families, had settled side by side in this new land
of Arkansas, had hunted and feasted together in amity. In an hour had
arisen the rift between them that was to widen to a chasm into which much
blood had since been spilt. It began with a quarrel between hotheaded
young men. Forty years later it was still running its blind wasteful
course.

Even before the war the Boones had begun to go down hill rapidly. Cad
Boone, dissipated and unprincipled, had found even the lax discipline of
the Confederate army too rigid and had joined the guerrillas, that band of
hangers-on which respected neither flag and developed a cruelty that was
appalling. Falling into the hands of Captain Ransom Yarnell, he had been
tried by drumhead courtmartial and executed within twenty four hours of
his capture.

The boast of the Boones was that they never forgot an injury. They might
wait many years for the chance, but in the end they paid their debts.
Twenty years after the war Sugden Boone shot down Colonel Yarnell as he
was hitching his horse in front of the courthouse at Nemo. Next Christmas
eve a brother of the murdered man--Captain Tom, as his old troopers still
called him--met old Sugden in the postoffice and a revolver duel followed.
From it Captain Tom emerged with a bullet in his arm. Sugden was carried
out of the store feet first to a house of mourning.

The Boones took their time. Another decade passed. Old Richard Bellamy,
father of the young man, was shot through the uncurtained window of his
living rooms while reading the paper one night. Though related to the
Yarnells, he had never taken any part in the feud beyond that of
expressing his opinion freely. The general opinion was that he had been
killed by Dunc Boone, but there was no conclusive evidence to back it.
Three weeks later another one of the same faction met his fate. Captain
Tom was ambushed while riding from his plantation to town and left dead on
the road. Dunc Boone had been seen lurking near the spot, and immediately
after the killing he was met by two hunters as he was slipping through the
underbrush for the swamps. There was no direct evidence against the young
man, but Captain Tom had been the most popular man in the county. Reckless
though he was, Duncan Boone had been forced to leave the country by the
intensity of the popular feeling against him.

Again the feud had slumbered. It was understood that the Yarnells and the
Bellamys were ready to drop it. Only one of the opposite faction remained
on the ground, a twin brother of Duncan. Shep Boone was a drunken
ne'er-do-well, but since he now stood alone nothing more than empty
threats was expected of him. He spent his time idly with a set of gambling
loafers, but he lacked the quality of active malice so pronounced in
Dunc.

A small part of the old plantation, heavily mortgaged, still belonged to
Shep and was rented by him to a tenant, Jess Munro. He announced one day
that he was going to collect the rent due him. Having been drinking
heavily, he was in an abusive frame of mind. As it chanced he met young
Hal Yarnell, just going into the office of his kinsman Dick Bellamy, with
whom he was about to arrange the details of a hunting trip they were
starting upon. Shep emptied his spleen on the boy, harking back to the old
feud and threatening vengeance at their next meeting. The boy was white
with rage, but he shut his teeth and passed upstairs without saying a
word.

The body of Shep Boone was found next day by Munro among the blackberry
bushes at the fence corner of his own place. No less than four witnesses
had seen young Yarnell pass that way with a rifle in his hand about the
same time that Shep was riding out from town. They had heard a shot, but
had thought little of it. Munro had been hoeing cotton in the field and
had seen the lad as he passed. Later he had heard excited voices, and
presently a shot. Other circumstantial evidence wound a net around the
boy. He was arrested. Before the coroner held an inquest a new development
startled the community. Dick Bellamy fled on a night train, leaving a note
to the coroner exonerating Hal. In it he practically admitted the crime,
pleading self defence.

This was the story that Ferne Yarnell told in the parlor of the Palace
Hotel to Jack Flatray and the Lees.

Melissy spoke first. "Did Mr. Bellamy kill the man to keep your brother
from being killed?"

"I don't know. It must have been that. It's all so horrible."

The deputy's eyes gleamed. "Think of it another way, Miss Yarnell. Bellamy
was up against it. Your brother is only a boy. He took his place. A friend
couldn't have done more for another."

The color beat into the face of the Arkansas girl as she looked at him.
"No. He sacrificed his career for him. He did a thing he must have hated
to do."

"He's sure some man," Flatray pronounced.

A young man, slight, quick of step, and erect as a willow sapling, walked
into the room. He looked from one to another with clear level eyes. Miss
Ferne introduced him as her brother.

A thought crossed the mind of the deputy. Perhaps this boy had killed his
enemy after all and Bellamy had shouldered the blame for him. If the mine
owner were in love with Ferne Yarnell this was a hypothesis more than
possible. In either case he acquitted the slayer of blame. In his pocket
was a letter from the sheriff at Nemo, Arkansas, stating that his county
was well rid of Shep Boone and that the universal opinion was that neither
Bellamy nor young Yarnell had been to blame for the outcome of the
difficulty. Unless there came to him an active demand for the return of
Bellamy he intended to let sleeping dogs lie.

No such demand came. Within a month the mystery was cleared. The renter
Munro delivered himself to the sheriff at Nemo, admitting that he had
killed Shep Boone in self defence. The dead man had been drinking and was
exceedingly quarrelsome. He had abused his tenant and at last drawn on
him. Whereupon Munro had shot him down. At first afraid of what might
happen to him, he had stood aside and let the blame be shouldered upon
young Yarnell. But later his conscience had forced him to a confession. It
is enough here to say that he was later tried and acquitted, thus closing
the chapter of the wastrel's tragic death.

The day after the news of Munro's confession reached Arizona Richard
Bellamy called upon Flatray to invite him to his wedding. As soon as his
name was clear he had asked Ferne Yarnell to marry him.



PART II

DEAD MAN'S CACHE



CHAPTER I

KIDNAPPED


As a lake ripples beneath a summer breeze, so Mesa was stirred from its
usual languor by the visit of Simon West. For the little Arizona town was
dreaming dreams. Its imagination had been aroused; and it saw itself no
longer a sleepy cow camp in the unfeatured desert, but a metropolis, in
touch with twentieth-century life.

The great Simon West, pirate of finance, empire builder, molder of the
destinies of the mighty Southwestern Pacific system, was to touch the
adobe village with his transforming wand and make of it a hive of
industry. Rumors flew thick and fast.

Mesa was to be the junction for the new spur that would run to the big
Lincoln dam. The town would be a division point; the machine shops of the
system would be located there. Its future, if still a trifle vague, was
potentially immense. Thus, with cheerful optimism, did local opinion
interpret the visit of the great man.

Whatever Simon West may have thought of Mesa and its prospects, he kept
behind his thin, close-shut lips. He was a dry, gray little man of
fifty-five, with sharp, twinkling eyes that saw everything and told
nothing. Certainly he wore none of the visible signs of greatness, yet at
his nod Wall Street trembled. He had done more to change the map of
industrial America than any other man, alive or dead. Wherefore, big
Beauchamp Lee, mayor of Mesa, and the citizens on the reception committee
did their very best to impress him with the future of the country, as they
motored out to the dam.

"Most promising spot on earth. Beats California a city block on oranges
and citrons. Ever see an Arizona peach, Mr. West? It skins the world," the
big cattleman ran on easily.

The financier's eye took in the girl sitting beside the chauffeur in the
front seat, and he nodded assent.

Melissy Lee bloomed. She was vivid as a wild poppy on the hillsides past
which they went flashing. But she had, too, a daintiness, a delicacy of
coloring and contour, that suggested the fruit named by her father.

"You bet we raise the best here," that simple gentleman bragged
patriotically. "All we need is water, and the Lincoln dam assures us of
plenty. Yes, sir! It certainly promises to be an Eden."

West unlocked his lips long enough to say: "Any country can promise. I'm
looking for one that will perform."

"You're seeing it right now, seh," the mayor assured him, and launched
into fluent statistics.

West heard, saw the thing stripped of its enthusiasm, and made no comment
either for or against. He had plenty of imagination, or he could never
have accomplished the things he had done. However, before any proposition
appealed to him he had to see money in the deal. Whether he saw it in this
particular instance, nobody knew; and only one person had the courage to
ask him point-blank what his intentions were. This was Melissy.

Luncheon was served in the pleasant filtered sunlight, almost under the
shadow of the great dam.

On the way out Melissy had sat as demure and dovelike as it was possible
for her to be. But now she showed herself to be another creature.

Two or three young men hovered about her; notable among them was a young
fellow of not many words, good-humored, strong, with a look of power about
him which the railroad king appreciated. Jack Flatray they called him. He
was the newly-elected sheriff of the county.

The great man watched the girl without appearing to do so. He was rather
at a loss to account for the exotic, flamelike beauty into which she had
suddenly sparkled; but he was inclined to attribute it to the arrival of
Flatray.

Melissy sat on a flat rock beside West, swinging her foot occasionally
with the sheer active joy of life, the while she munched sandwiches and
pickles. The young men bantered her and each other, and she flashed back
retorts which gave them alternately deep delight at the discomfiture of
some other. Toward the close of luncheon, she turned her tilted chin from
Flatray, as punishment for some audacity of his, and beamed upon the
railroad magnate.

"It's very good of you to notice me at last," he said, with his dry
smile.

"I was afraid of you," she confided cheerfully.

"Am I so awesome?"

"It's your reputation, you know. You're quite a dragon. I'm told you
gobble a new railroad every morning for breakfast."

"'Lissie," her father warned.

"Let her alone," the great man laughed. "Miss Lee is going to give me the
privilege of hearing the truth about myself."

"But I'm asking. I don't know what the truth is," she protested.

"Well, what you think is the truth."

"It doesn't matter what we think about you. The important thing to know is
what you think about us."

"Am I to tell you what I think of you--with all these young men here?" he
countered.

She was excited by her own impudence. The pink had spilled over her creamy
cheeks. She flashed a look of pretended disdain at her young men.
Nevertheless, she made laughing protest.

"It's not me, but Mesa, that counts," she answered ungrammatically. "Tell
me that you're going to help us set orchards blossoming in these deserts,
and we'll all love you."

"You offer an inducement, Miss Lee. Come--let us walk up to the Point and
see this wonderful country of yours."

She clapped her hands. "Oh, let's! I'm tired of boys, anyhow. They know
nothing but nonsense." She made a laughing moue at Flatray, and turned to
join the railroad builder.

The young sheriff arose and trailed to his pony. "My marching orders, I
reckon."

They walked up the hill together, the great man and the untutored girl. He
still carried himself with the lightness of the spare, wiry man who has
never felt his age. As for her, she moved as one on springs, her slender,
willowy figure beautiful in motion.

"You're loyal to Mesa. Born and brought up there?" West asked Melissy.

"No. I was brought up on the Bar Double G ranch. Father sold it not long
since. We're interested in the Monte Cristo mine, and it has done so well
that we moved to town," she explained.

At the first bend in the mountain road Jack had turned in his saddle to
look at her as she climbed the steep. A quarter of a mile farther up there
was another curve, which swept the trail within sight of the summit. Here
Flatray pulled up and got out his field glasses. Leisurely the man and the
maid came into sight from the timber on the shoulder of the hill, and
topped the last ascent. Jack could discern Melissy gesturing here and
there as she explained the lay of the land.

Something else caught and held his glasses. Four riders had emerged from a
little gulch of dense aspens which ran up the Point toward the summit. One
of these had with him a led horse.

"Now, I wonder what that means?" the sheriff mused aloud.

He was not left long in doubt. The four men rode swiftly, straight toward
the man and the girl above. One of them swung from the saddle and stepped
forward. He spoke to West, who appeared to make urgent protest. The
dismounted rider answered. Melissy began to run. Very faintly there came
to Flatray her startled cry. Simultaneously he caught the flash of the sun
on bright steel. The leader of the four had drawn a revolver and was
covering West with it. Instantly the girl stopped running. Plainly the
life of the railroad president had been threatened unless she stopped.

The man behind the weapon swept a gesture in the direction of the led
horse. Reluctantly West moved toward it, still protesting. He swung to the
saddle, and four of the horses broke into a canter. Only the man with the
drawn revolver remained on the ground with Melissy. He scabbarded his gun,
took a step or two toward her, and made explanations. The girl stamped her
foot, and half turned from him.

He laughed, stepped still closer to her, and spoke again. Melissy, with
tilted chin, seemed to be unaware that he existed. Another step brought
him to her side. Once more he spoke. No stone wall could have given him
less recognition. Then Jack let out a sudden fierce imprecation, and gave
his pony the spur. For the man had bent forward swiftly, had kissed the
girl on the lips once--twice--three times, had swept his hat off in a low,
mocking bow, and had flung himself on his horse, and galloped off.

Pebbles and shale went flying from the horse's hoofs as the sheriff tore
down the trail toward Melissy. He cut off at an angle and dashed through
cactus and over rain-washed gullies at breakneck speed, pounding up the
stiff slope to the summit. He dragged his pony to a halt, and leaped off
at the same instant.

Melissy came to him with flashing eyes. "Why didn't you get here sooner?"
she panted, as if she had been running; for the blind rage was strong in
her.

His anger burst out to meet hers. "I wish I had!" he cried, with a furious
oath.

"He insulted me. He laughed at me, and taunted me--and kissed me!"

Jack nodded. "I saw. If I had only had my rifle with me! Who was he?"

"He wore a mask. But I knew him. It was Dunc Boone."

"With the Roaring Fork gang?"

"I don't know. Is he one of them?"

"I've been thinking so for years."

"They must have known about our picnic. But what do they want with Mr.
West?"

"He's one of the world's richest men."

"But he doesn't carry his money with him."

"He carries his life."

"They must mean to hold him for a ransom. Is that it?"

"You've guessed it. That's the play." Jack considered, his eyes on the
far-away hills. When he spoke again it was with sharp decision. "Hit the
trail back to town with your motor. Don't lose a minute on the way. Send a
dispatch to Bucky O'Connor. You'd ought to get him at Douglas. If not,
some of his rangers will know where to reach him. Keep the wires hot till
you're in touch with him. Better sign my name. I've been writing him about
this outfit. This job is cut out for Bucky, and we've got to get him on
it."

"And what are _you_ going to do?"

"I can't do much--I'm not armed. First time I've been caught that way
since I've been sheriff. Came out to-day for a picnic and left my gun at
home. But if they're the Roaring Fork outfit, they'll pass through the
Elkhorn Cañon, heading for Dead Man's Cache. I'm going to cut around Old
Baldy and try to beat them to it. Maybe I can recognize some of them."

"But if they see you?"

"I ain't aiming to let them see me."

"Still, they may."

His quiet eyes met hers steadily. "Yes, they may."

They were friends again, though he had never fully forgiven her doubt of
him. It might be on the cards that some day she would be more to him than
a friend. Understanding perfectly the danger of what he proposed, she yet
made no protest. The man who would storm her heart must be one who would
go the limit, for her standards were those of the outdoor West. She, too,
was "game" to the core; and she had never liked him better than she did at
this moment. A man must be a man, and take his fighting chance.

"All right, Jack."

Not for years before had she called him by his first name. His heart
leaped, but he did not let even his look tell what he was feeling.

"I reckon I'll cut right down from here, Melissy. Better not lose any time
getting to town. So-long!" And with that he had swung to the saddle and
was off.

Melissy ran swiftly down to the picnic party and cried out her news. It
fell upon them like a bolt out of a June sky. Some exclaimed and wondered
and deplored; but she was proud to see that her father took instant
command, without an unnecessary word.

"They've caught us in swimming, boys! We've got to burn the wind back to
town for our guns. Dick, you ride around by the Powder Horn and gather up
the boys on the ranch. Get Swain to swing around to the south and comb the
lower gulches of the Roaring Fork. Tell him to get in touch with me soon
as he can. I'll come through by Elkhorn."

Lee helped his daughter into the machine, and took his place beside her.

"Hit the high spots, Jim. I've got an engagement in the hills that won't
wait, prior to which I've got to get back to town immediate," he told the
chauffeur cheerfully; for he was beginning to enjoy himself as in the old
days, when he had been the hard-riding sheriff of a border county which
took the premium for bad men.

The motor car leaped forward, fell into its pace, and began to hum its
song of the road as it ate up swiftly the miles that lay between the dam
and Mesa.



CHAPTER II

A CAPTURE


Flatray swung around Old Baldy through the sparse timber that edged its
roots. He knew this country well; for he had run cattle here, and combed
the draws and ridges on the annual spring and fall round-ups.

There was no trail to follow. Often the lay of the land forced him to a
detour; for it was rough with washes, with matted cactus, and with a thick
growth of netted mesquite and underbrush. But true as the needle of a
compass, he turned back always to the direction he was following. He had
the instinct for direction, sharpened almost to infallibility by the
experience his work had given him.

So, hour after hour, he swung forward, pushing his horse over the ground
in a sort of running walk, common to the plains. Sunset found him climbing
from the foothills into the mountains beyond. Starlight came upon him in a
saddle between the peaks, still plodding up by winding paths to the higher
altitudes that make the ridge of the continent's backbone.

The moon was up long before he struck a gulch spur that led to Elkhorn
Cañon. Whether he would be in time or not--assuming that he had guessed
aright as to the destination of the outlaws--he could not tell. It would
be, at best, a near thing. For, though he had come more directly, they had
followed a trail which made the going much faster. Fast as the cow pony
could pick its way along the rock-strewn gulch, he descended, eye and ear
alert to detect the presence of another human being in this waste of
boulders, of moonlit, flickering shadows, of dark awesome peaks.

His quick ear caught the faintest of sounds. He slipped from the saddle
and stole swiftly forward to the point where the gulch joined the main
cañon. Voices drifted to him--the sound of careless laughter, wafted by
the light night wind. He had missed the outlaws by scarce a hundred yards.
There was nothing for it but to follow cautiously. As he was turning to go
back for his horse the moon emerged from behind a cloud and flooded the
cañon with a cold, silvery light. It showed Jack a man and a horse
standing scarce twenty yards from him. The man had his back to him. He had
dismounted, and was tightening the cinches of his saddle.

Flatray experienced a pang of disappointment. He was unarmed. His second
thought sent him flying noiselessly back to his horse. Deftly he unloosed
the rope which always hung coiled below the saddle horn. On tiptoe he ran
back to the gulch mouth, bearing to the right, so as to come directly
opposite the man he wanted. As he ran he arranged the lariat to his
satisfaction, freeing the loop and making sure that the coil was not
bound. Very cautiously he crept forward, taking advantage for cover of a
boulder which rose from the bed of the gulch.

The man had finished tightening the girth. His foot rose to the stirrup.
He swung up from the ground, and his right leg swept across the flank of
the pony. It did not reach the stirrup; for, even as he rose, Jack's
lariat snaked forward and dropped over his head to his breast. It
tightened sharply and dragged him back, pinioning his arms to his side.
Before he could shake one of them free to reach the revolver in his chaps,
he was lying on his back, with Flatray astride of him. The cattleman's
left hand closed tightly upon his windpipe, while the right searched for
and found the weapon in the holster of the prostrate man.

Not until the steel rim of it pressed against the teeth of the man beneath
him did Jack's fingers loosen. "Make a sound, and you're a dead man."

The other choked and gurgled. He was not yet able to cry out, even had he
any intention of so doing. But defiant eyes glared into those of the man
who had unhorsed and captured him.

"Where are your pals bound for?" Flatray demanded.

He got no answer in words, but sullen eyes flung out an obstinate refusal
to give away his associates.

"I reckon you're one of the Roaring Fork outfit," Jack suggested.

"You know so darn much I'll leave you to guess the rest," growled the
prisoner.

"The first thing I'll guess is that, if anything happens to Simon West,
you'll hang for it, my friend."

"You'll have to prove some things first."

Flatray's hand slid into the man's coat pocket, and drew forth a piece of
black cloth that had been used as a mask.

"Here's exhibit A, to begin with."

The man on the ground suddenly gave an upward heave, grasped at the
weapon, and let out a yell for help that echoed back from the cliff, while
the cattleman let the butt of the revolver crash heavily down upon his
face. The heavy gun came down three times before the struggling outlaw
would subside, and then not before blood streamed from ugly gashes into
his eyes.

"I've had enough, damn you!" the fellow muttered sullenly. "What do you
want with me?"

"You'll go along with me. Let out another sound, and I'll bump you off.
Get a move on you."

Jack got to his feet and dragged up his prisoner. The man was a heavy-set,
bowlegged fellow of about forty, hard-faced, and shifty-eyed--a frontier
miscreant, unless every line of the tough, leathery countenance told a
falsehood. But he had made his experiment and failed. He knew what manner
of man his captor was, and he had no mind for another lesson from him. He
slouched to his horse, under propulsion of the revolver, and led the
animal into the gulch.

Both mounted, Jack keeping the captive covered every moment of the time;
and they began to retrace the way by which the young cattleman had just
come.

After they had ridden about a quarter of a mile Flatray made a
readjustment of the rope. He let the loop lie loosely about the neck of
the outlaw, the other end of it being tied to the horn of his own saddle.
Also, he tied the hands of the man in such a way that, though they were
free to handle the bridle rein, he could not raise them from the saddle as
high as his neck.

"If you make any sudden moves, you'll be committing suicide. If you yell
out, it will amount to about the same thing. It's up to you to be good,
looks like."

The man cursed softly. He knew that the least attempt to escape or to
attract the attention of his confederates would mean his undoing.
Something about this young man's cold eye and iron jaw told him that he
would not hesitate to shoot, if necessary.

Voices came to them from the cañon. Flatray guessed that a reconnaissance
of the gulch would be made, and prepared himself for it by deflecting his
course from the bed of the _arroyo_ at a point where the walls fell back
to form a little valley. A little grove of aspens covered densely the
shoulder of a hillock some fifty yards back, and here he took his stand.
He dismounted, and made his prisoner do the same.

"Sit down," he ordered crisply.

"What for?"

"To keep me from blowing the top of your head off," answered Jack
quietly.

Without further discussion, the man sat down. His captor stood behind him,
one hand on the shoulder of his prisoner, his eyes watching the point of
the gulch at which the enemy would appear.

Two mounted men showed presently in silhouette. Almost opposite the grove
they drew up.

"Mighty queer what has become of Hank," one of them said. "But I don't
reckon there's any use looking any farther. You don't figure he's aiming
to throw us down--do you, Buck?"

"Nope. He'll stick, Hank will. But it sure looks darned strange. Here's
him a-ridin' along with us, and suddenly he's missin'. We hear a yell, and
go back to look for him. Nothin' doin'. You don't allow the devil could
have come for him sudden--do you, Jeff?"

It was said with a laugh, defiantly, but none the less Jack read
uneasiness in the manner of the man. It seemed to him that both were eager
to turn back. Giant boulders, carved to grotesque and ghostly shapes by a
million years' wind and water, reared themselves aloft and threw shadows
in the moonlight. The wind, caught in the gulch, rose and fell in
unearthly, sibilant sounds. If ever fiends from below walk the earth, this
time and place was a fitting one for them. Jack curved a hand around his
mouth, and emitted a strange, mournful, low cry, which might have been the
scream of a lost soul.

Jeff clutched at the arm of his companion. "Did you hear that, Buck?"

"What--what do you reckon it was, Jeff?"

Again Jack let his cry curdle the night.

The outlaws took counsel of their terror. They were hardy, desperate men,
afraid of nothing mortal under the sun. But the dormant superstition in
them rose to their throats. Fearfully they wheeled and gave their horses
the spur. Flatray could hear them crashing through the brush.

He listened while the rapid hoofbeats died away, until even the echoes
fell silent. "We'll be moving," he announced to his prisoner.

For a couple of hours they followed substantially the same way that Jack
had taken, descending gradually toward the foothills and the plains. The
stars went out, and the moon slid behind banked clouds, so that the
darkness grew with the passing hours. At length Flatray had to call a
halt.

"We'll camp here till morning," he announced when they reached a grassy
park.

The horses were hobbled, and the men sat down opposite each other in the
darkness. Presently the prisoner relaxed and fell asleep. But there was no
sleep for his captor. The cattleman leaned against the trunk of a
cottonwood and smoked his pipe. The night grew chill, but he dared not
light a fire. At last the first streaks of gray dawn lightened the sky. A
quarter of an hour later he shook his captive from slumber.

"Time to hit the trail."

The outlaw murmured sleepily, "How's that, Dunc? Twenty-five thousand
apiece!"

"Wake up! We've got to vamose out of here."

Slowly the fellow shook the sleep from his brain. He looked at Flatray
sullenly, without answering. But he climbed into the saddle which Jack had
cinched for him. Dogged and wolfish as he was, the man knew his master,
and was cowed.



CHAPTER III

THE TABLES TURNED


From the local eastbound a man swung to the station platform at Mesa. He
was a dark, slim, little man, wiry and supple, with restless black eyes
which pierced one like bullets.

The depot loungers made him a focus of inquiring looks. But, in spite of
his careless ease, a shrewd observer would have read anxiety in his
bearing. It was as if behind the veil of his indifference there rested a
perpetual vigilance. The wariness of a beast of prey lay close to the
surface.

"Mornin', gentlemen," he drawled, sweeping the group with his eyes.

"Mornin'," responded one of the loafers.

"I presume some of you gentlemen can direct me to the house of Mayor
Lee."

"The mayor ain't to home," volunteered a lank, unshaven native in
butternut jeans and boots.

"I think it was his house I inquired for," suggested the stranger.

"Fust house off the square on the yon side of the postoffice--a big
two-story brick, with a gallery and po'ches all round it."

Having thanked his informant, the stranger passed down the street. The
curious saw him pass in at the mayor's gate and knock at the door. It
opened presently, and disclosed a flash of white, which they knew to be
the skirt of a girl.

"I reckon that's Miss 'Lissie," the others were informed by the unshaven
one. "She's let him in and shet the door."

Inevitably there followed speculation as to who the arrival might be. That
his coming had something to do with the affair of the West kidnapping, all
were disposed to agree; but just what it might have to do with it, none of
them could do more than guess. If they could have heard what passed
between Melissy and the stranger, their curiosity would have been
gratified.

"Good mornin', miss. Is Mayor Lee at home?"

"No--he isn't. He hasn't got back yet. Is there anything I can do for
you?"

Two rows of even white teeth flashed in a smile. "I thought maybe there
was something I could do for you. You are Miss Lee, I take it?"

"Yes. But I don't quite understand--unless you have news."

"I have no news--yet."

"You mean----" Her eager glance swept over him. The brown eyes, which had
been full of questioning, flashed to understanding. "You are not
Lieutenant O'Connor?"

"Am I not?" he smiled.

"I mean--are you?"

"At your service, Miss Lee."

She had heard for years of this lieutenant of rangers, who was the terror
of all Arizona "bad men." Her father, Jack Flatray, the range riders whom
she knew--game men all--hailed Bucky O'Connor as a wonder. For coolness
under fire, for acumen, for sheer, unflawed nerve, and for his skill in
that deadly game he played of hunting down desperadoes, they called him
chief ungrudgingly. He was a daredevil, who had taken his life in his
hands a hundred times. Yet always he came through smiling, and brought
back with him the man he went after. The whisper ran that he bore a
charmed life, so many had been his hairbreadth escapes.

"Come in," the girl invited. "Father said, if you came, I was to keep you
here until he got back or sent a messenger for you. He's hunting for the
criminals in the Roaring Fork country. Of course, he didn't know when you
would get here. At the time he left we hadn't been able to catch you on
the wire. I signed Mr. Flatray's name at his suggestion, because he was in
correspondence with you once about the Roaring Fork outlaws. He is out in
the hills, too. He started half an hour after the kidnappers. But he isn't
armed. I'm troubled about him."

Again the young man's white-toothed smile flashed. "You'd better be.
Anybody that goes hunting Black MacQueen unarmed ought to be right well
insured."

She nodded, a shadow in her eyes. "Yes--but he would go. He doesn't mean
them to see him, if he can help it."

"Black sees a heap he isn't expected to see. He has got eyes all over the
hills, and they see by night as well as by day."

"Yes--I know he has spies everywhere; and he has the hill people
terrorized, they say. You think this is his work?"

"It's a big thing--the kind of job he likes to tackle. Who else would dare
do such a thing?"

"That's what father thinks. If he had stolen the President of the United
States, it wouldn't have stirred up a bigger fuss. Newspaper men and
detectives are hurrying here from all directions. They are sure to catch
him."

"Are they?"

She noticed a curious, derisive contempt in the man's voice, and laid it
to his vanity. "I don't mean that _they_ are. I mean that _you_ are sure
to get him," she hastened to add. "Father thinks you are wonderful."

"I'm much obliged to him," said the man, with almost a sneer.

He seemed to have so good an opinion of himself that he was above praise
even. Melissy was coming to the decision that she did not like him--which
was disappointing, since she had expected to like him immensely.

"I didn't look for you till night. You wired you would be on number
seven," she said. "I understood that was the earliest you could get
here."

His explanation of the change was brief, and invited no further
discussion. "I found I could make an earlier train."

"I'm glad you could. Father says it is always well to start on the trail
while it is fresh."

"Have you ever seen this MacQueen, Miss Lee?" he asked.

"Not unless he was there when Mr. West was kidnapped."

"Did you know any of the men?"

She hesitated. "I thought one was Duncan Boone."

"What made you think so?"

"He was the leader, I think, moved the way he does." Her anger flashed for
an instant. "And acted like him--detestably."

"Was he violent to West? Injure him?"

"No--he didn't do him any physical injury that I saw. I wasn't thinking
about Mr. West."

"Surely he didn't lay hands on _you_!"

She looked up, in time to see the flicker of amusement sponged from his
face. It stirred vague anger in her. "He was insolent and ungentlemanly."

"As how?"

"It doesn't matter how." Her manner specifically declined to
particularize.

"Would you recognize him again if you met him? Describe him, if you can."

"Yes. I used to know him well--before he became known as an outlaw," she
added after a perceptible hesitation. "There's something ravenous about
him."

"You mean that he is fierce and bloodthirsty?"

"No--I don't mean that; though, for that matter, I don't think he would
stick at anything. What I mean is that he is pantherine in his
movements--more lithe and supple than most men are."

"Is he a big man?"

"No--medium size, and dark."

"There were four of them, you say?"

"Yes. Jack saw them, too, but at a distance."

"He reached you after they were out of sight?"

"They had been gone about five minutes when I saw him--five or ten. I
couldn't be sure."

"Boone offered no personal indignity to you?"

"Why are you so sure?" she flashed.

"The story is that he is quite the ladies' man."

Melissy laughed scornfully.

At his request, she went over again the story of the abduction, telling
everything save the matter of the ravished kisses. This she kept to
herself. She did not quite know why, except that there was something she
did not like about this Bucky O'Connor. He had a trick of narrowing his
eyes and gloating over her, as a cat gloats over its expected kill.

However, his confidence impressed her. Cocksure he was, and before long
she knew him boastful; but competence sat on him, none the less. She
thought she could see why he was held to be the most deadly bloodhound on
a trail that even Arizona could produce. That he was fearless she did not
need to be told, any more than she needed a certificate that on occasion
he could be merciless. On the other hand, he fitted very badly with the
character of the young lieutenant of rangers, as Jack Flatray had sketched
it for her. Her friend's description of his hero had been enthusiastic.
She decided that the young cattleman was a bad judge of men--though, of
course, he had never actually met O'Connor.

"I reckon I'll not wait for your father's report, Miss Lee. I work
independent of other men. That is how I get the wonderful results I do."

His conceit nettled her; also, it stung her filial loyalty. "My father was
the best sheriff this county ever had," she said stiffly.

He smiled satirically. "Still, I reckon I'll handle this my own
way--unless your father's daughter wants to go partners with me in it."

She gave him a look intended to crush his impudence. "No, thank you."

He ate a breakfast which she had the cook prepare hurriedly for him, and
departed on the horse for which she had telephoned to the nearest livery
stable. Melissy was a singularly fearless girl; yet she watched him go
with a decided relief, for which she could not account. He rode, she
observed, like a centaur--flat-backed, firm in the saddle with the easy
negligence of a plainsman. He turned as he started, and waved a hand
debonairly at her.

"If I have any luck, I'll bring back one of the Roaring Fork bunch with
me--a present for a good girl, Miss Melissy."

She turned on her heel and went inside. Anger pulsed fiercely through her.
He laughed at her, made fun of her, and yet called her by her first name.
How dared he treat her so! Worst of all, she read admiration bold and
unveiled in the eyes that mocked her.

Half an hour later Flatray, riding toward town with his prisoner in front
of him, heard a sudden sharp summons to throw up his hands. A man had
risen from behind a boulder, and held him covered steadily.

Jack looked at the fellow without complying. He needed no second glance to
tell him that this man was not one to be trifled with. "Who are you?" he
demanded quietly.

"Never mind who I am. Reach for the sky."

The captured outlaw had given a little whoop, and was now loosening the
rope from his neck. "You're the goods, Cap! I knew the boys would pull it
off for me, but I didn't reckon on it so durn soon."

"Shut up!" ordered the man behind the gun, without moving his eyes from
Flatray.

"I'm a clam," retorted the other.

"I'm waiting for those hands to go up; but I'll not wait long, seh."

Jack's hands went up reluctantly. "You've got the call," he admitted.

They led him a couple of hundred yards from the trail and tied him hand
and foot. Before they left him the outlaw whom he had captured evened his
score. Three times he struck Flatray on the head with the butt of his
revolver. He was lying on the ground bleeding and senseless when they rode
away toward the hills.

Jack came to himself with a blinding headache. It was some time before he
realized what had happened. As soon as he did he set about freeing
himself. This was a matter of a few minutes. With the handkerchief that
was around his neck he tied up his wounds. Fortunately his hair was very
thick and this had saved him from a fractured skull. Dizzily he got to his
feet, found his horse, and started toward Mesa.

Not many people were on the streets when the sheriff passed through the
suburbs of the little town, for it was about the breakfast hour. One stout
old negro mammy stopped to stare in surprise at his bloody head.

"Laws a mussy, Mistah Flatray, what they done be'n a-doin' to you-all?"
she asked.

The sheriff hardly saw her. He was chewing the bitter cud of defeat and
was absorbed in his thoughts. He was still young enough to have counted on
the effect upon Melissy of his return to town with one of the abductors as
his prisoner.

It happened that she was on the porch watering her flower boxes when he
passed the house.

"Jack!" she cried, and on the heels of her exclamation: "What's the matter
with you? Been hurt?"

A gray pallor had pushed through the tan of her cheeks. She knew her heart
was beating fast.

"Bumped into a piece of bad luck," he grinned, and told her briefly what
had occurred.

She took him into the house and washed his head for him. After she saw how
serious the cuts were she insisted on sending for a doctor. When his
wounds were dressed she fed him and made him lie down and sleep on her
father's bed.

The sun was sliding down the heavens to a crotch in the hills before he
joined her again. She was in front of the house clipping her roses.

"Is the invalid better?" she asked him.

"He's a false alarm. But he did have a mighty thumping headache that has
gone now."

"I've been wondering why you didn't meet Lieutenant O'Connor. He must have
taken the road you came in on."

The young man's eyes lit. "Is Bucky here already?"

"He was. He's gone. I was greatly disappointed in him. He's not half the
man you think he is."

"Oh, but he is. Everybody says so."

"I never saw a more conceited man, or a more hateful one. There's
something about him--oh, I don't know. But he isn't good. I'm sure of
that."

"His reputation isn't of that kind. They say he's devoted to his wife and
kids."

"His wife and children." Melissy recalled the smoldering admiration in his
bold eyes. She laughed shortly. "That finishes him with me. He's married,
is he? Well, I know the kind of husband he is."

Jack flashed a quick look at her. He guessed what she meant. But this did
not square at all with what his friends had told him of O'Connor.

"Did he ask for me?"

"No. He said he preferred to play a lone hand. His manner was unpleasant
all the time. He knows it all. I could see that."

"Anyhow, he's a crackerjack in his line. Have you heard from your father
since he set out?"

"Not yet."

"Well, I'm going to start to-night with a posse for the Cache. If O'Connor
comes back, tell him I'll follow the Roaring Fork."

"You'll not go this time without a gun, Jack," she said with a ghost of a
smile.

"No. I want to make good this trip."

"You did splendidly before. Not one man in a hundred would have done so
well."

"I'm a wonder," he admitted with a grin.

"But you will take care of yourself--not be foolish."

"I don't aim to take up residence in Boot Hill cemetery if I can help
it."

"Boone and his men are dangerous characters. They are playing for high
stakes. They would snuff your life out as quick as they would wink. Don't
forget that."

"You don't want me to lie down before Dunc Boone, do you?"

"No-o. Only don't be reckless. I told father the same."

Her dear concern for him went to Jack's head, but he steadied himself
before he answered. "I've got one real good reason for not being reckless.
I'll tell you what it is some day."

Her shy, alarmed eyes fled his at once. She began an account of how her
father had gathered his posse and where she thought he must have gone.

After dinner Jack went downtown. Melissy did some household tasks and
presently moved out to the cool porch. She was just thinking about going
back in when a barefoot boy ran past and whistled. From the next house a
second youngster emerged.

"That you, Jimmie?"

"Betcherlife. Say, 've you heard about the sheriff?"

"Who? Jack Flatray! Course I have. The Roaring Fork outfit ambushed him,
beat him up, and made him hit the trail for town."

"Aw! That ain't news. He's started back after them again. Left jes' a
little while ago. I saw him go--him 'n' Farnum 'n' Charley Hymer 'n' Hal
Yarnell 'n' Mr. Bellamy."

"Bet they git 'em."

"Bet they don't."

"Aw, course they'll git 'em, Tom."

The other youngster assumed an air of mystery. He swelled his chest and
strutted a step or two nearer. Urbane condescension oozed from him.

"Say, Jimmie. C'n you keep a secret?"

"Sure. Course I can."

"Won't ever snitch?"

"Cross my heart."

"Well, then--I'm Black MacQueen, the captain of the Roaring Fork bad
men."

"You!" Incredulity stared from Jimmie's bulging eyes.

"You betcher. I'm him, here in disguise as a kid."

The magnificent boldness of this claim stole Jimmie's breath for an
instant. He was two years younger than his friend, but he did not quite
know whether to applaud or to jeer. Before he could make up his mind a
light laugh rippled to them from behind the vines on the Lee porch.

The disguised outlaw and his friend were startled. Both fled swiftly, with
all the pretense of desperate necessity young conspirators love to
assume.

Melissy went into the house and the laughter died from her lips. She knew
that either her father's posse or that of Jack Flatray would come into
touch with the outlaws eventually. When the clash came there would be a
desperate battle. Men would be killed. She prayed it might not be one of
those for whom she cared most.



CHAPTER IV

THE REAL BUCKY AND THE FALSE


Number seven was churning its way furiously through brown Arizona. The day
had been hot, with a palpitating heat which shimmered over the desert
waste. Defiantly the sun had gone down beyond the horizon, a great ball of
fire, leaving behind a brilliant splash of bold colors. Now this, too, had
disappeared. Velvet night had transformed the land. Over the distant
mountains had settled a smoke-blue film, which left them vague and
indefinite.

Only three passengers rode in the Pullman car. One was a commercial
traveler, busy making up his weekly statement to the firm. Another was a
Boston lady, in gold-rimmed glasses and a costume that helped the general
effect of frigidity. The third looked out of the open window at the
distant hills. He was a slender young fellow, tanned almost to a coffee
brown, with eyes of Irish blue which sometimes bubbled with fun and
sometimes were hard as chisel steel. Wide-shouldered and lean-flanked he
was, with well-packed muscles, which rippled like those of a tiger.

At Chiquita the train stopped, but took up again almost instantly its
chant of the rail. Meanwhile, a man had swung himself to the platform of
the smoker. He passed through that car, the two day coaches, and on to the
sleeper; his keen, restless eyes inspected every passenger in the course
of his transit. Opposite the young man in the Pullman he stopped.

"May I ask if you are Lieutenant O'Connor?"

"My name, seh."

The young man in the seat had slewed his head around sharply, and made
answer with a crisp, businesslike directness.

The new-comer smiled. "I'll have to introduce myself, lieutenant. My name
is Flatray. I've come to meet you."

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Flatray. I hope that together we can work this
thing out right. MacQueen has gathered a bunch that ought to be cleaned
out, and I reckon now's the time to do it. I've been reading about him for
a year. I've got a notion he's about the ablest thing in bad men this
Territory has seen for a good many years."

Flatray sat down on the seat opposite O'Connor. A smile flicked across his
face, and vanished. "I'm of that opinion myself, lieutenant."

"Tell me all about this affair of the West kidnapping," the ranger
suggested.

The other man told the story while O'Connor listened, alert to catch every
point of the narrative.

The face of the lieutenant of rangers was a boyish one--eager, genial, and
frank; yet, none the less, strength lay in the close-gripped jaw and in
the steady, watchful eye. His lithe, tense body was like a coiled spring;
and that, too, though he seemed to be very much at ease.

With every sentence that the other spoke, O'Connor was judging Flatray,
appraising him for a fine specimen of a hard-bitten breed--a vigilant
frontiersman, competent to the finger tips. Yet he was conscious that, in
spite of the man's graceful ease and friendly smile, he did not like
Flatray. He would not ask for a better man beside him in a tight pinch;
but he could not deny that something sinister which breathed from his
sardonic, devil-may-care face.

"So that's how the land lies," the sheriff concluded. "My deputies have
got the pass to the south blocked; Lee is closing in through Elkhorn; and
Fox, with a strong posse, is combing the hills beyond Dead Man's Cache.
There's only one way out for him, and that is over Powderhorn Pass. Word
has just reached us that MacQueen is moving in that direction. He is
evidently figuring to slip out over the hills during the night. I've
arranged for us to be met at Barker's Tank by a couple of the boys, with
horses. We'll drop off the train quietly when it slows up to water, so
that none of his spies can get word of our movements to him. By hard
riding we'd ought to reach Powderhorn in time to head him off."

The ranger asked incisive questions, had the topography of the country
explained to him with much detail, and decided at last that Flatray was
right. If MacQueen were trying to slip out, they might trap him at the
pass; if not, by closing it they would put the cork in the bottle that
held him.

"We'll try it, seh. Y'u know this country better than I do, and I'll give
y'u a free hand. Unless there's a slip up in your calculations, you'd
ought to be right."

"Good enough, lieutenant. I'm betting on those plans myself," the other
answered promptly, and added, as he looked out into the night: "By that
notch in the hills, we'd ought to be close to the tank now. She's slowing
up. I reckon we can slip out to the vestibule, and get off at the far side
of the track without being noticed much."

This they found easy enough. Five minutes later number seven was steaming
away into the distant desert. Flatray gave a sharp, shrill whistle; and
from behind some sand dunes emerged two men and four horses.

"Anything new?" asked the sheriff as they came nearer.

"Not a thing, cap," answered one of them.

"Boys, shake hands with the famous Lieutenant O'Connor," said Flatray,
with a sneer hid by the darkness. "Lieutenant, let me make you acquainted
with Jeff Jackson and Buck Lane."

"Much obliged to meet you," grinned Buck as he shook hands.

They mounted and rode toward the notch in the hills that had been pointed
out to the ranger. The moon was up; and a cold, silvery light flooded the
plain. Seen in this setting, the great, painted desert held more of
mystery, of beauty, and less of the dead monotony that glared endlessly
from arid, barren reaches. The sky of stars stretched infinitely far, and
added to the effect of magnitude.

The miles slipped behind them as they moved forward, hour after hour,
their horses holding to the running walk that is the peculiar gait of the
cow country. They rode in silence, with the loose seat and straight back
of the vaquero. Except the ranger, all were dressed for riding--Flatray in
corduroys and half-knee laced boots; his men in overalls, chaps, flannel
shirts, and the broad-brimmed sombrero of the Southwest. All four were
young men; but there was an odd difference in the expressions of their
faces.

Jackson and Lane had the hard-lined faces, with something grim and stony
in them, of men who ride far and hard with their lives in their hands. The
others were of a higher type. Flatray's dark eyes were keen, bold, and
restless. One might have guessed him a man of temperament, capable of any
extremes of conduct--often the victim of his own ungovernable whims and
passions. Just as he looked a picture of all the passions of youth run to
seed, so the ranger seemed to show them in flower. There was something
fine and strong and gallant in his debonair manner. His warm smile went
out to a world that pleased him mightily.

They rode steadily, untired and untiring. The light of dawn began to
flicker from one notched summit to another. Out of the sandy waste they
came to a water hole, paused for a drink, and passed on. For the delay of
half an hour might mean the escape of their prey.

They came into the country of crumbling mesas and painted cliffs, of
hillsides where greasewood and giant cactus struggled from the parched
earth. This they traversed until they came to plateaus, terminating in
foothills, crevassed by gorges deep and narrow. The cañons grew steeper,
rock ridges more frequent. Gradually the going became more difficult.

Trails they seldom followed. Washes, with sides like walls, confronted
them. The ponies dropped down and clambered up again like mountain goats.
Gradually they were ascending into the upper country, which led to the
wild stretches where the outlaws lurked. In these watersheds were heavy
pine forests, rising from the gulches along the shoulders of the peaks.

A maze of cañons, hopelessly lost in the hill tangle into which they had
plunged, led deviously to a twisting pass, through which they defiled, to
drop into a vista of rolling waves of forest-clad hills. Among these wound
countless hidden gulches, known only to those who rode from out them on
nefarious night errands.

The ranger noted every landmark, and catalogued in his mind's map every
gorge and peak; from what he saw, he guessed much of which he could not be
sure. It would be hard to say when his suspicions first became aroused.
But as they rode, without stopping, through what he knew must be
Powderhorn Pass, as the men about him quietly grouped themselves so as to
cut off any escape he might attempt, as they dropped farther and farther
into the meshes of that forest-crowned net which he knew to be the Roaring
Fork country, he did not need to be told he was in the power of MacQueen's
gang.

Yet he gave no sign of what he knew. As daylight came, so that they could
see each other distinctly, his face showed no shadow of doubt. It was his
cue to be a simple victim of credulity, and he played it to the finish.

Without warning, through a narrow gulch which might have been sought in
vain for ten years by a stranger, they passed into the rim of a
bowl-shaped valley. Timber covered it from edge to edge, but over to the
left a keen eye could see a thinning of the foliage. Toward this they
went, following the sidehill and gradually dipping down through heavy
underbrush. Before him the officer of rangers saw daylight, and presently
a corral, low roofs, and grazing horses.

"Looks like some one lives here," he remarked amiably.

They were already riding into the open. In front of one of the log cabins
the man who had called himself Flatray swung from his saddle.

"Better 'light, lieutenant," he suggested carelessly. "We'll eat breakfast
here."

"Don't care if we do. I could eat a leather mail sack, I'm that hungry,"
the ranger answered, as he, too, descended.

His guide was looking at him with an expression of open, malevolent
triumph. He could scarce keep it back long enough to get the effect he
wanted.

"Yes, we'll eat breakfast here--and dinner, and supper, and breakfast
to-morrow, and then about two more breakfasts."

"I reckon we'll be too busy to sit around here," laughed his prisoner.

The other ignored his comment. "And after that, it ain't likely you'll do
much more eating."

"I don't quite get the point of that joke."

"You'll get it soon enough! You'd _savez_ it now, if you weren't a
muttonhead. As it is, I'll have to explain it. Do you remember capturing
Tony Chaves two years ago, lieutenant?"

The ranger nodded, with surprise in his round, innocent eyes.

"What happened to him?" demanded the other. A child could have seen that
he was ridden by a leering, savage triumph.

"Killed trying to escape four days later."

"Who killed him?"

"I did. It was necessary. I regretted it."

A sudden spasm of cruelty swept over the face of the man confronting him.
"Tony was my partner."

"Your partner?"

"That's right. I've been wanting to say 'How d'ye do?' ever since,
Lieutenant O'Connor. I'm right glad to meet you."

"But--I don't understand." He did, however.

"It'll soak through, by and by. Chew on this: You've got just ninety-six
hours to live--exactly as long as Tony lived after you caught him! You'll
be killed trying to escape. It will be necessary, just as you say it was
with him; but I reckon I'll not do any regretting to speak of."

"You would murder me?"

"Well, I ain't particular about the word I use." MacQueen leaned against
the side of his horse, his arm thrown across its neck, and laughed in slow
maliciousness. "Execute is the word I use, though--if you want to know."

He had made no motion toward his weapon, nor had O'Connor; but the latter
knew without looking that he was covered vigilantly by both of the other
men.

"And who are you?" the ranger asked, though he was quite sure of the
answer.

"Men call me Black MacQueen," drawled the other.

"MacQueen! But you said----"

"That I was Flatray. Yep--I lied."

O'Connor appeared to grope with this in amazement.

"One has to stretch the truth sometimes in my profession," went on the
outlaw smoothly. "It may interest you to know that yesterday I passed as
Lieutenant O'Connor. When I was O'Connor I arrested Flatray; and now that
I am Flatray I have arrested O'Connor. Turn about is fair play, you
know."

"Interesting, if true," O'Connor retorted easily.

"You can bank on its truth, my friend."

"And you're actually going to kill me in cold blood."

The black eyes narrowed. "Just as I would a dog," said the outlaw, with
savage emphasis.

"I don't believe it. I've done you no harm."

MacQueen glanced at him contemptuously. The famous Bucky O'Connor looked
about as competent as a boy in the pimply age.

"I thought you had better sense. Do you think I would have brought you to
Dead Man's Cache if I had intended you to go away alive? I'm afraid,
Lieutenant Bucky O'Connor, that you're a much overrated man. Your
reputation sure would have blown up, if you had lived. You ought to thank
me for preserving it."

"Preserving it--how?"

"By bumping you off before you've lost it."

"Sho! You wouldn't do that," the ranger murmured ineffectively.

"We'll see. Jeff, I put him in your charge. Search him, and take him to
Hank's cabin. I hold you responsible for him. Bring me any papers you find
on him. When I find time, I'll drop around and see that you're keeping him
safe."

Bucky was searched, and his weapons and papers removed. After being
handcuffed, he was chained to a heavy staple, which had been driven into
one of the log walls. He was left alone, and the door was locked; but he
could hear Jeff moving about outside.

With the closing of the door the vacuous look slipped from his face like a
mask. The loose-lipped, lost-dog expression was gone. He looked once more
alert, competent, fit for the emergency. It had been his cue to let his
adversary underestimate him. During the long night ride he had had chances
to escape, had he desired to do so. But this had been the last thing he
wanted.

The outlaws had chosen to take him to their fastness in the hills. He
would back himself to use the knowledge they were thrusting upon him, to
bring about their undoing. Only one factor in the case had come upon him
as a surprise. He had not reckoned that they would have a personal grudge
against him. And this was a factor that might upset all his calculations.

It meant that he was playing against time, with the chances of the game
all against him. He had forty-eight hours in which to escape--and he was
handcuffed, chained, locked up, and guarded. Truly, the outlook was not
radiant.



CHAPTER V

A PHOTOGRAPH


On the third morning Beauchamp Lee returned to Mesa--unshaven, dusty, and
fagged with hard riding. He brought with him a handbill which he had
picked up in the street. Melissy hung over him and ministered to his
needs. While he was eating breakfast he talked.

"No luck yet, honey. He's hiding in some pocket of the hills, I reckon;
and likely there he'll stay till the hunt is past. They don't make them
any slicker than Dunc, dad gum his ugly hide!"

"What is that paper?" his daughter asked.

Lee curbed a disposition toward bad language, as he viewed it with
disgust. "This here is bulletin number one, girl. It's the cheekiest, most
impudent thing I ever saw. MacQueen serves notice to all the people of
this county to keep out of this fight. Also, he mentions me and Jack
Flatray by name--warning us that, if we sit in the game, hell will be
popping for us."

"What will you do?"

"Do? I'll get back to my boys fast as horseflesh will get me there, once
I've had a talk with that beef buyer from Kansas City I made an
appointment to see before this thing broke loose. You don't allow I'm
going to let any rustler dictate to me what I'll do and what I won't--do
you?"

"Where do you reckon he had this printed?" she asked.

"I don't reckon, I know. Late last night a masked man woke up Jim Snell.
You know, he sleeps in a room at the back of the printing office. Well,
this fellow made him dress, set up this bill, and run off five hundred
copies while he stood over him. I'll swan I never heard of such cheek!"

Melissy told what she had to tell--after which her father shaved, took a
bath, and went out to meet the buyer from Kansas City. His business kept
him until noon. After dinner Melissy's saddle horse was brought around,
and she joined her father to ride back with him for a few miles.

About three o'clock she kissed him good-bye, and turned homeward. After
she had passed the point where the Silver Creek trail ran into the road
she heard the sound of a galloping horse behind. A rider was coming along
the trail toward town. He gained on her rapidly, and presently a voice
hailed her gayly:

"The top o' the mornin' to you, Miss 'Lissie."

She drew up to wait for him. "My name is still Miss Lee," she told him
mildly, by way of correction.

"I'm glad it is, but we can change it in three minutes at any time, my
dear," he laughed.

She had been prepared to be more friendly toward him, but at this she
froze again.

"Did you leave Mrs. O'Connor and the children well?" she asked pointedly,
looking directly at him.

His smile vanished, and he stared at her in a very strange fashion. She
had taken the wind completely out of his sails. It had not occurred to him
that O'Connor might be a married man. Nor did he know but that it might be
a trick to catch him. He did the only thing he could do--made answer in an
ironic fashion, which might mean anything or nothing.

"Very well, thank you."

She saw at once that the topic did not allure him, and pushed home her
advantage. "You must miss Mrs. O'Connor when you are away on duty."

"Must I?"

"And the children, too. By the way, what are their names?"

"You're getting up a right smart interest in my family, all of a sudden,"
he countered.

"One can't talk about the weather all the time."

He boldly decided to slay the illusion of domesticity. "If you want to
know, I have neither wife nor children."

"But I've heard about them all," she retorted.

"You have heard of Mrs. O'Connor, no doubt; but she happens to be the
wife of a cousin of mine."

The look which she flashed at him held more than doubt.

"You don't believe me?" he continued. "I give you my word that I'm not
married."

They had left the road, and were following a short cut which wound down
toward Tonti, in and out among the great boulders. The town, dwarfed to
microscopic size by distance, looked, in the glare of the sunlight, as if
it were made of white chalk. Along the narrow trail they went singly,
Melissy leading the way.

She made no answer, but at the first opportunity he forced his horse to a
level with hers.

"Well--you heard what I said," he challenged.

"The subject is of no importance to me," she said.

"It's important to me. I'm not going to have you doing me an injustice. I
tell you I'm not married. You've got to believe me."

Her mind was again alive with suspicions. Jack had told her Bucky O'Connor
was married, and he must have known what he was talking about.

"I don't know whether you are married or not. I am of the opinion that
Lieutenant O'Connor has a wife and three children. More than once I have
been told so," she answered.

"You seem to know a heap about the gentleman."

"I know what I know."

"More than I do, perhaps," he suggested.

Her eyes dilated. He could see suspicion take hold of her.

"Perhaps," she answered quietly.

"Does that mean you think I'm not Bucky O'Connor?" He had pushed his pony
forward so as to cut off her advance, and both had halted for the moment.

She looked at him with level, fearless eyes. "I don't know who you are."

"But you think I'm not Lieutenant O'Connor of the rangers?"

"I don't know whether you are or not."

"There is nothing like making sure. Just look over this letter, please."

She did so. It was from the governor of the Territory to the ranger
officer. While he was very complimentary as to past services, the governor
made it plain that he thought O'Connor must at all hazards succeed in
securing the release of Simon West. This would be necessary for the good
name of the Territory. Otherwise, a widespread report would go out that
Arizona was a lawless place in which to live.

Melissy folded the letter and handed it back. "I beg your pardon,
Lieutenant O'Connor. I see that I was wrong."

"Forget it, my dear. We all make mistakes." He had that curious mocking
smile which so often hovered about his lips. She felt as though he were
deriding her--as though his words held some hidden irony which she could
not understand.

"The governor seems very anxious to have you succeed. It will be a black
eye for Arizona if this band of outlaws is not apprehended. You don't
think, do you, that they will do Mr. West any harm, if their price is not
paid? They would never dare."

He took this up almost as though he resented it. "They would dare
anything. I reckon you'll have to get up early in the mornin' to find a
gamer man than Black MacQueen."

"I wouldn't call it game to hurt an old man whom he has in his power. But
you mustn't let it come to that. You must save him. Are you making any
progress? Have you run down any of the band? And while I think of it--have
you seen to-day's paper?"

"No--why?"

"The biggest story on the front page is about the West case. It seems that
this MacQueen wired to Chicago to Mr. Lucas, president of one of the lines
on the Southwestern system, that they would release Mr. West for three
hundred thousand dollars in gold. He told him a letter had been mailed to
the agent at Mesa, telling under just what conditions the money was to be
turned over; and he ended with a threat that, if steps were taken to
capture the gang, or if the money were not handed over at the specified
time, Mr. West would disappear forever."

"Did the paper say whether the money would be turned over?"

"It said that Mr. Lucas was going to get into touch with the outlaws at
once, to effect the release of his chief."

A gleam of triumph flashed in the eyes of the man. "That's sure the best
way."

"It won't help your reputation, will it?" she asked. "Won't people say
that you failed on this case?"

He laughed softly, as if at some hidden source of mirth. "I shouldn't
wonder if they did say that Bucky O'Connor hadn't made good this time.
They'll figure he tried to ride herd on a job too big for him."

Her surprised eye brooded over this, too. Here he was defending the outlaw
chief, and rejoicing at his own downfall. There seemed to be no end to the
contradictions in this man. She was to run across another tangled thread
of the puzzle a few minutes later.

She had dismounted to let him tighten the saddle cinch. Owing to the heat,
he had been carrying his coat in front of him. He tossed it on a boulder
by the side of the trail, in such a way that the inside pocket hung down.
From it slid some papers and a photograph. Melissy looked down at the
picture, then instantly stooped and picked it up. For it was a photograph
of a very charming woman and three children, and across the bottom of it
was written a line.

             "To Bucky, from his loving wife and children."

The girl handed it to the man without a word, and looked him full in the
face.

"Bowled out, by ginger!" he said, with a light laugh.

But as she continued to look at him--a man of promise, who had plainly
traveled far on the road to ruin--the conviction grew on her that the
sweet-faced woman in the photograph was no loving wife of his. He was a
man who might easily take a woman's fancy, but not one to hold her love
for years through the stress of life. Moreover, Bucky O'Connor held the
respect of all men. She had heard him spoken of, and always with a meed of
affection that is given to few men. Whoever this graceless scamp was, he
was not the lieutenant of rangers.

The words slipped out before she could stop them: "You're not Lieutenant
O'Connor at all."

"Playing on that string again, are you?" he jeered.

"I'm sure of it this time."

"Since you know who I'm not, perhaps you can tell me, too, who I am."

In that instant before she spoke, while her steady eyes rested on him, she
put together many things which had puzzled her. All of them pointed to
one conclusion. Even now her courage did not fail her. She put it into
words quietly:

"You are that villain Black MacQueen."

He stared at her in surprise. "By God, girl--you're right. I'm MacQueen,
though I don't know how you guessed it."

"I don't know how I kept from guessing it so long. I can see it, now, as
plain as day, in all that you have done."

After that they measured strength silently with their eyes. If the
situation had clarified itself, with the added knowledge of the girl had
come new problems. Let her return to Mesa, and he could no longer pose as
O'Connor; and it was just the audacity of this double play that delighted
him. He was the most reckless man on earth; he loved to take chances. He
wanted to fool the officers to his heart's content, and then jeer at them
afterward. Hitherto everything had come his way.

But if this girl should go home, he could not show his face at Mesa; and
the spice of the thing would be gone. He was greatly taken with her
beauty, her daring, and the charm of high spirits which radiated from her.
Again and again he had found himself drawn back to her. He was not in love
with her in any legitimate sense; but he knew now that, if he could see
her no more, life would be a savorless thing, at least until his fancy had
spent itself. Moreover, her presence at Dead Man's Cache would be a
safeguard. With her in his power, Lee and Flatray, the most persistent of
his hunters, would not dare to move against the outlaws.

Inclination and interest worked together. He decided to take her back with
him to the country of hidden pockets and gulches. There, in time, he would
win her love--so his vanity insisted. After that they would slip away from
the scene of his crimes, and go back to the world from which he had years
since vanished.

The dream grew on him. It got hold of his imagination. For a moment he saw
himself as the man he had been meant for--the man he might have been, if
he had been able to subdue his evil nature. He saw himself respected, a
power in the community, going down to a serene old age, with this woman
and their children by his side. Then he laughed derisively, and brushed
aside the vision.

"Why didn't the real Lieutenant O'Connor arrive to expose you?" she
asked.

"The real Bucky is handcuffed and guarded at Dead Man's Cache. I don't
think he's enjoying himself to-day."

"You're getting quite a collection of prisoners. You'll be starting a
penitentiary on your own account soon," she told him sharply.

"That's right. And I'm taking another one back with me to-night."

"Who is he?"

"It's a lady this time--Miss Melissy Lee."

His words shook her. An icy hand seemed to clamp upon her heart. The blood
ebbed even from her lips, but her brave eyes never faltered from his.

"So you war on women, too!"

He gave her his most ironic bow. "I don't war on you, my dear. You shall
have half of my kingdom, if you ask it--and all my heart."

"I can't use either," she told him quietly. "But I'm only a girl. If you
have a spark of manliness in you, surely you won't take me a prisoner
among those wild, bad men of yours."

"Those wild, bad men of mine are lambs when I give the word. They wouldn't
lift a hand against you. And there is a woman there--the mother of one of
my boys, who was shot. We'll have you chaperoned for fair."

"And if I say I won't go?"

"You'll go if I strap you to your saddle."

It was characteristic of Melissy that she made no further resistance. The
sudden, wolfish gleam in his eyes had told her that he meant what he said.
It was like her, too, that she made no outcry; that she did not shed tears
or plead with him. A gallant spirit inhabited that slim, girlish body; and
she yielded to the inevitable with quiet dignity. This surprised him
greatly, and stung his reluctant admiration. At the same time, it set her
apart from him and hedged her with spiritual barriers. Her body might
ride with him into captivity; she was still captain of her soul.

"You're a game one," he told her, as he helped her to the saddle.

She did not answer, but looked straightforward between her horse's ears,
without seeing him, waiting for him to give the word to start.



CHAPTER VI

IN DEAD MAN'S CACHE


Not since the start of their journey had Melissy broken silence, save to
answer, in few words as possible, the questions put to her by the outlaw.
Yet her silence had not been sullenness. It had been the barrier which she
had set up between them--one which he could not break down short of actual
roughness.

Of this she could not accuse him. Indeed, he had been thoughtful of her
comfort. At sunset they had stopped by a spring, and he had shared with
her such food as he had. Moreover, he had insisted that she should rest
for a while before they took up the last stretch of the way.

It was midnight now, and they had been traveling for many hours over rough
mountain trails. There was more strength than one would look for in so
slender a figure, yet Melissy was drooping with fatigue.

"It's not far now. We'll be there in a few minutes," MacQueen promised
her.

They were ascending a narrow trail which ran along the sidehill through
the timber. Presently they topped the summit, and the ground fell away
from their feet to a bowl-shaped valley, over which the silvery moonshine
played so that the basin seemed to swim in a magic sea of light.

"Welcome to the Cache," he said to her.

She was surprised out of her silence. "Dead Man's Cache?"

"It has been called that."

"Why?"

She knew, but she wanted to see if he would tell a story which showed so
plainly his own ruthlessness.

He hesitated, but only for a moment.

"There was a man named Havens. He had a reputation as a bad man, and I
reckon he deserved it--if brand blotting, mail rustling, and shooting
citizens are the credentials to win that title. Hard pressed on account of
some deviltry, he drifted into this country, and was made welcome by those
living here. The best we had was his. He was fed, outfitted, and kept safe
from the law that was looking for him.

"You would figure he was under big obligations to the men that did this
for him--wouldn't you? But he was born skunk. When his chance came he
offered to betray these men to the law, in exchange for a pardon for his
own sneaking hide. The letter was found, and it was proved he wrote it.
What ought those men to have done to him, Miss 'Lissie?"

"I don't know." She shuddered.

"There's got to be law, even in a place like this. We make our own laws,
and the men that stay here have got to abide by them. Our law said this
man must die. He died."

She did not ask him how. The story went that the outlaws whom the wretched
man had tried to sell let him escape on purpose--that, just as he thought
he was free of them, their mocking laughter came to him from the rocks all
around. He was completely surrounded. They had merely let him run into a
trap. He escaped again, wandered without food for days, and again
discovered that they had been watching him all the time. Turn whichever
way he would, their rifles warned him back. He stumbled on, growing weaker
and weaker. They would neither capture him nor let him go.

For nearly a week the cruel game went on. Frequently he heard their voices
in the hills about him. Sometimes he would call out to them pitifully to
put him out of his misery. Only their horrible laughter answered. When he
had reached the limit of endurance he lay down and died.

And the man who had engineered that heartless revenge was riding beside
her. He had been ready to tell her the whole story, if she had asked for
it, and equally ready to justify it. Nothing could have shown her more
plainly the character of the villain into whose hands she had fallen.

They descended into the valley, winding in and out until they came
suddenly upon ranch houses and a corral in a cleared space.

A man came out of the shadows into the moonlight to meet them. Instantly
Melissy recognized his walk. It was Boone.

"Oh, it's you," MacQueen said coldly. "Any of the rest of the boys up?"

"No."

Not a dozen words had passed between them, but the girl sensed hostility.
She was not surprised. Dunc Boone was not the man to take second place in
any company of riff-raff, nor was MacQueen one likely to yield the
supremacy he had fought to gain.

The latter swung from the saddle and lifted Melissy from hers. As her feet
struck the ground her face for the first time came full into the
moonlight.

Boone stifled a startled oath.

"Melissy Lee!" Like a swiftly reined horse he swung around upon his chief.
"What devil's work is this?"

"My business, Dunc!" the other retorted in suave insult.

"By God, no! I make it mine. This young lady's a friend of mine--or used
to be. _Sabe_?"

"I _sabe_ you'd better not try to sit in at this game, my friend."

Boone swung abruptly upon Melissy. "How come you here, girl? Tell me!"

And in three sentences she explained.

"What's your play? Whyfor did you bring her?" the Arkansan demanded of
MacQueen.

The latter stood balanced on his heels with his feet wide apart. There was
a scornful grin on his face, but his eyes were fixed warily on the other
man.

"What was I to do with her, Mr. Buttinski? She found out who I was. Could
I send her home? If I did how was I to fix it so I could go to Mesa when
it's necessary till we get this ransom business arranged?"

"All right. But you understand she's a friend of mine. I'll not have her
hurt."

"Oh, go to the devil! I'm not in the habit of hurting young ladies."

MacQueen swung on his heel insolently and knocked on the door of a cabin
near.

"Don't forget that I'm here when you need me," Boone told Melissy in a low
voice.

"I'll not forget," the girl made answer in a murmur.

The wrinkled face of a Mexican woman appeared presently at a window.
MacQueen jabbered a sentence or two in her language. She looked at Melissy
and answered.

The girl had not lived in Southern Arizona for twenty years without having
a working knowledge of Spanish. Wherefore, she knew that her captor had
ordered his own room prepared for her.

While they waited for this to be made ready MacQueen hummed a snatch of a
popular song. It happened to be a love ditty. Boone ground his teeth and
glared at him, which appeared to amuse the other ruffian immensely.

"Don't stay up on our account," MacQueen suggested presently with a
malicious laugh. "We're not needing a chaperone any to speak of."

The Mexican woman announced that the bedroom was ready and MacQueen
escorted Melissy to the door of the room. He stood aside with mock
gallantry to let her pass.

"Have to lock you in," he apologized airily. "Not that it would do you any
good to escape. We'd have you again inside of twenty-four hours. This bit
of the hills takes a heap of knowing. But we don't want you running away.
You're too tired. So I lock the door and lie down on the porch under your
window. _Adios, señorita._"

Melissy heard the key turn in the lock, and was grateful for the respite
given her by the night. She was glad, too, that Boone was here. She knew
him for a villain, but she hoped he would stand between her and MacQueen
if the latter proved unruly in his attentions. Her guess was that Boone
was jealous of the other--of his authority with the gang to which they
both belonged, and now of his relationship to her. Out of this division
might come hope for her.

So tired was she that, in spite of her alarms, sleep took her almost as
soon as her head touched the pillow. When she awakened the sun was shining
in at her window above the curtain strung across its lower half.

Some one was knocking at the door. When she asked who was there, in a
voice which could not conceal its tremors, the answer came in feminine
tones:

"'Tis I--Rosario Chaves."

The Mexican woman was not communicative, nor did she appear to be
sympathetic. The plight of this girl might have moved even an unresponsive
heart, but Rosario showed a stolid face to her distress. What had to be
said, she said. For the rest, she declined conversation absolutely.

Breakfast was served Melissy in her room, after which Rosario led her
outdoors. The woman gave her to understand that she might walk about the
cleared space, but must not pass into the woods beyond. To point the need
of obedience, Rosario seated herself on the porch, and began doing some
drawn work upon which she was engaged.

Melissy walked toward the corral, but did not reach it. An old hag was
seated in a chair beside one of the log cabins. From the color of her skin
the girl judged her to be an Indian squaw. She wore moccasins, a dirty and
shapeless one-piece dress, and a big sunbonnet, in which her head was
buried.

Sitting on the floor of the porch, about fifteen feet from her, was a
hard-faced customer, with stony eyes like those of a snake. He was sewing
on a bridle that had given way. Melissy noticed that from the pocket of
his chaps the butt of a revolver peeped. She judged it to be the custom in
Dead Man's Cache to go garnished with weapons.

Her curiosity led her to deflect toward the old woman. But she had not
taken three steps toward the cabin before the man with the jade eyes
stopped her.

"That'll be near enough, ma'am," he said, civilly enough. "This old crone
has a crazy spell whenever a stranger comes nigh. She's nutty. It ain't
safe to come nearer--is it, old Sit-in-the-Sun?"

The squaw grunted. Simultaneously, she looked up, and Miss Lee thought
that she had never seen more piercing eyes.

"Is Sit-in-the-Sun her name?" asked the girl curiously.

"That's the English of it. The Navajo word is a jawbreaker."

"Doesn't she understand English?"

"No more'n you do Choctaw, miss."

A quick step crunched the gravel behind Melissy. She did not need to look
around to know that here was Black MacQueen.

"What's this--what's this, Hank?" he demanded sharply.

"The young lady started to come up and speak to old Sit-in-the-Sun. I was
just explaining to her how crazy the old squaw is," Jeff answered with a
grin.

"Oh! Is that all?" MacQueen turned to Melissy.

"She's plumb loony--dangerous, too. I don't want you to go near her."

The girl's eyes flashed. "Very considerate of you. But if you want to
protect me from the really dangerous people here, you had better send me
home."

"I tell you they do as I say, every man jack of them. I'd flay one alive
if he insulted you."

"It's a privilege you don't sublet then," she retorted swiftly.

Admiration gleamed through his amusement. "Gad, you've got a sharp tongue.
I'd pity the man you marry--unless he drove with a tight rein."

"That's not what we're discussing, Mr. MacQueen. Are you going to send me
home?"

"Not till you've made us a nice long visit, my dear. You're quite safe
here. My men are plumb gentle. They'll eat out of your hand. They don't
insult ladies. I've taught 'em----"

"Pity you couldn't teach their leader, too."

He acknowledged the hit. "Come again, dearie. But what's your complaint?
Haven't I treated you white so far?"

"No. You insulted me grossly when you brought me here by force."

"Did I lay a hand on you?"

"If it had been necessary you would have."

"You're right, I would," he nodded. "I've taken a fancy to you. You're a
good-looking and a plucky little devil. I've a notion to fall in love with
you."

"Don't!"

"Why not? Say I'm a villain and a bad lot. Wouldn't it be a good thing for
me to tie up with a fine, straight-up young lady like you? Me, I like the
way your eyes flash. You've got a devil of a temper, haven't you?"

They had been walking toward a pile of rocks some little way from the
cluster of cabins. Now he sat down and smiled impudently across at her.

"That's my business," she flung back stormily.

Genially he nodded. "So it is. Mine, too, when we trot in double
harness."

Her scornful eyes swept up and down him. "I wouldn't marry you if you were
the last man on earth."

"No. Well, I'm not partial to that game myself. I didn't mention
matrimony, did I?"

The meaning she read in his mocking, half-closed eyes startled the girl.
Seeing this, he added with a shrug:

"Just as you say about that. We'll make you Mrs. MacQueen on the level if
you like."

The passion in her surged up. "I'd rather lie dead at your feet--I'd
rather starve in these hills--I'd rather put a knife in my heart!"

He clapped his hands. "Fine! Fine! That Bernhardt woman hasn't got a
thing on you when it comes to acting, my dear. You put that across bully.
Never saw it done better."

"You--coward!" Her voice broke and she turned to leave him.

"Stop!" The ring of the word brought her feet to a halt. MacQueen padded
across till he faced her. "Don't make any mistake, girl. You're mine. I
don't care how. If it suits you to have a priest mumble words over us,
good enough. But I'm the man you've got to get ready to love."

"I hate you."

"That's a good start, you little catamount."

"I'd rather die--a thousand times rather."

"Not you, my dear. You think you would right now, but inside of a week
you'll be hunting for pet names to give me."

She ran blindly toward the house where her room was. On the way she passed
at a little distance Dunc Boone and did not see him. His hungry eyes
followed her--a slender creature of white and russet and gold, vivid as a
hillside poppy, compact of life and fire and grace. He, too, was a
miscreant and a villain, lost to honor and truth, but just now she held
his heart in the hollow of her tightly clenched little fist. Good men and
bad, at bottom we are all made of the same stuff, once we are down to the
primal emotions that go deeper than civilization's veneer.



CHAPTER VII

"TRAPPED!"


Black MacQueen rolled a cigarette and sauntered toward the other outlaw.

"I reckon you better saddle up and take a look over the Flattops, Dunc.
The way I figure it Lee's posse must be somewhere over there. Swing around
toward the Elkhorns and get back to report by to-morrow evening, say."

Boone looked at him in an ugly manner. "Nothin' doing, MacQueen."

"What's that?"

"I'm no greaser, my friend. Orders don't go with me."

"They don't, eh? Who's major domo of this outfit?"

"I'm going to stay right here in this valley to-night. See?"

"What's eatin' you, man?"

"And every night so long as Melissy Lee stays."

MacQueen watched him with steady, hostile eyes. "So it's the girl, is it?
Want to cut in, do you? Oh, no, my friend. Two's company; three's a
crowd. She's mine."

"No."

"Yes. And another thing, Mr. Boone. I don't stand for any interference in
my plans. Make a break at it and you'll take a hurry up journey to kingdom
come."

"Or you will."

"Don't bank on that off chance. The boys are with me. You're alone. If I
give the word they'll bump you off. _Don't make a mistake, Boone._"

The Arkansan hesitated. What MacQueen said was true enough. His
overbearing disposition had made him unpopular. He knew the others would
side against him and that if it came to a showdown they would snuff out
his life as a man does the flame of a candle. The rage died out of his
eyes and gave place to a look of cunning.

"It's your say-so, Black. But there will be a day when it ain't. Don't
forget that."

"And in the meantime you'll ride the Flattops when I give the word?"

Boone nodded sulkily. "I said you had the call, didn't I?"

"Then ride 'em now, damn you. And don't show up in the Cache till
to-morrow night."

MacQueen turned on his heel and strutted away. He was elated at his easy
victory. If he had seen the look that followed him he might not have been
so quiet in his mind.

But on the surface he had cinched his leadership. Boone saddled and rode
out of the Cache without another word to anybody. Sullen and vindictive he
might be, but cowed he certainly seemed. MacQueen celebrated by frequent
trips to his sleeping quarters, where each time he resorted to a bottle
and a glass. No man had ever seen him intoxicated, but there were times
when he drank a good deal for a few days at a stretch. His dissipation
would be followed by months of total abstinence.

All day the man persecuted Melissy with his attentions. His passion was
veiled under a manner of mock deference, of insolent assurance, but as the
hours passed the fears of the girl grew upon her. There were moments when
she turned sick with waves of dread. In the sunshine, under the open sky,
she could hold her own, but under cover of the night's blackness ghastly
horrors would creep toward her to destroy.

Nor was there anybody to whom she might turn for help. Lane and Jackson
were tools of their leader. The Mexican woman could do nothing even if she
would. Boone alone might have helped her, and he had ridden away to save
his own skin. So MacQueen told her to emphasize his triumph and her
helplessness.

To her fancy dusk fell over the valley like a pall. It brought with it the
terrible night, under cover of which unthinkable things might be done.
With no appetite, she sat down to supper opposite her captor. To see him
gloat over her made her heart sink. Her courage was of no avail against
the thing that threatened.

Supper over, he made her sit with him on the porch for an hour to listen
to his boasts of former conquests. And when he let her take her way to her
room it was not "Good-night" but a mocking "Au revoir" he murmured as he
bent to kiss her hand.

Melissy found Rosario waiting for her, crouched in the darkness of the
room that had been given the young woman. The Mexican spoke in her own
language, softly, with many glances of alarm to make sure they were
alone.

"Hist, señorita. Here is a note. Read it. Destroy it. Swear not to betray
Rosario."

By the light of a match Melissy read:

  "Behind the big rocks. In half an hour.

                                                           "A Friend."
What could it mean? Who could have sent it? Rosario would answer no
questions. She snatched the note, tore it into fragments, chewed them into
a pulp. Then, still shaking her head obstinately, hurriedly left the
room.

But at least it meant hope. Her mind flew from her father to Jack Flatray,
Bellamy, young Yarnell. It might be any of them. Or it might be O'Connor,
who, perhaps, had by some miracle escaped.

The minutes were hours to her. Interminably they dragged. The fear rose in
her that MacQueen might come in time to cut off her escape. At last, in
her stocking feet, carrying her shoes in her hand, she stole into the
hall, out to the porch, and from it to the shadows of the cottonwoods.

It was a night of both moon and stars. She had to cross a space washed in
silvery light, taking the chance that nobody would see her. But first she
stooped in the shadows to slip the shoes upon her feet. Her heart beat
against her side as she had once seen that of a frightened mouse do. It
seemed impossible for her to cover all that moonlit open unseen. Every
moment she expected an alarm to ring out in the silent night. But none
came.

Safely she reached the big rocks. A voice called to her softly. She
answered, and came face to face with Boone. A drawn revolver was in his
hand.

"You made it," he panted, as a man might who had been running hard.

"Yes," she whispered. "But they'll soon know. Let us get away."

"If you hadn't come I was going in to kill him."

She noticed the hard glitter in his eyes as he spoke, the crouched look of
the padding tiger ready for its kill. The man was torn with hatred and
jealousy.

Already they were moving back through the rocks to a dry wash that ran
through the valley. The bed of this they followed for nearly a mile.
Deflecting from it they pushed across the valley toward what appeared to
be a sheer rock wall. With a twist to the left they swung back of a face
of rock, turned sharply to the right, and found themselves in a fissure
Melissy had not at all expected. Here ran a little cañon known only to
those few who rode up and down it on the nefarious business of their
unwholesome lives.

Boone spoke harshly, breaking for the first time in half an hour his moody
silence.

"Safe at last. By God, I've evened my score with Black MacQueen."

And from the cliff above came the answer--a laugh full of mocking deviltry
and malice.

The Arkansan turned upon Melissy a startled face of agony, in which
despair and hate stood out of a yellow pallor.

"Trapped."

It was his last word to her. He swept the girl back against the shelter of
the wall and ran crouching toward the entrance.

A bullet zipped--a second--a third. He stumbled, but did not fall.
Turning, he came back, dodging like a hunted fox. As he passed her,
Melissy saw that his face was ghastly. He ran with a limp.

A second time she heard the cackle of laughter. Guns cracked. Still the
doomed man pushed forward. He went down, struck in the body, but dragged
himself to his feet and staggered on.

All this time he had seen nobody at whom he could fire. Not a shot had
come from his revolver. He sank behind a rock for shelter. The ping of a
bullet on the shale beside him brought the tortured man to his feet. He
looked wildly about him, the moon shining on his bare head, and plunged up
the cañon.

And now it appeared his unseen tormentors were afraid he might escape
them. Half a dozen shots came close together. Boone sank to the ground,
writhed like a crushed worm, and twisted over so that his face was to the
moonlight.

Melissy ran forward and knelt beside him.

"They've got me ... in half a dozen places.... I'm going fast."

"Oh, no ... no," the girl protested.

"Yep.... Surest thing you know.... I did you dirt onct, girl. And I've
been a bad lot--a wolf, a killer."

"Never mind that now. You died to save me. Always I'll remember that."

"Onct you 'most loved me.... But it wouldn't have done. I'm a wolf and
you're a little white lamb. Is Flatray the man?"

"Yes."

"Thought so. Well, he's square. I rigged it up on him about the rustling.
I was the man you liked to 'a' caught that day years ago."

"You!"

"Yep." He broke off abruptly. "I'm going, girl.... It's gittin' black.
Hold my hand till--till----"

He gave a shudder and seemed to fall together. He was dead.

Melissy heard the sound of rubble slipping. Some one was lowering himself
cautiously down the side of the cañon. A man dropped to the wash and
strutted toward her. He kept his eyes fixed on the lifeless form, rifle
ready for action at an instant's notice. When he reached his victim he
pushed the body with his foot, made sure of no trap, and relaxed his
alertness.

"Dead as a hammer."

The man was MacQueen. He turned to Melissy and nodded jauntily.

"Good evening, my dear. Just taking a little stroll?" he asked
ironically.

The girl leaned against the cold wall and covered her face with her arm.
She was sobbing hysterically.

The outlaw seized her by the shoulders and swung her round. "Cut that out,
girl," he ordered roughly.

Melissy caught at her sobs and tried to check them.

"He got what was coming to him, what he's been playing for a long time. I
warned him, but the fool wouldn't see it."

"How did you know?" she asked, getting out her question a word at a time.

"Knew it all the time. Rosario brought his note to me. I told her to take
it to you and keep her mouth shut."

"You planned his death."

"If you like to put it that way. Now we'll go home and forget this
foolishness. Jeff, bring the horses round to the mouth of the gulch."

Melissy felt suddenly very, very tired and old. Her feet dragged like
those of an Indian squaw following her master. It was as though heavy
irons weighted her ankles.

MacQueen helped her to one of the horses Jackson brought to the lip of the
gulch. Weariness rode on her shoulders all the way back. The soul of her
was crushed beneath the misfortunes that oppressed her.

Long before they reached the ranch houses Rosario came running to meet
them. Plainly she was in great excitement.

"The prisoners have escaped," she cried to MacQueen.

"Escaped. How?" demanded Black.

"Some one must have helped them. I heard a window smash and ran out. The
young ranger and another man were coming out of the last cabin with the
old man. I could do nothing. They ran."

They had been talking in her own language. MacQueen jabbed another
question at her.

"Which way?"

"Toward the Pass."

The outlaw ripped out an oath. "We've got 'em. They can't reach it without
horses as quick as we can with them." He whirled upon Melissy. "March into
the house, girl. Don't you dare make a move. I'm leaving Buck here to
watch you." Sharply he swung to the man Lane. "Buck, if she makes a break
to get away, riddle her full of holes. You hear me."

A minute later, from the place where she lay face down on the bed, Melissy
heard him and his men gallop away.



CHAPTER VIII

AN ESCAPE AND A CAPTURE


Far up in the mountains, in that section where head the Roaring Fork, One
Horse Creek, and the Del Oro, is a vast tract of wild, untraveled country
known vaguely as the Bad Lands. Somewhere among the thousand and one
cañons which cleft the huddled hills lay hidden Dead Man's Cache. Here
Black MacQueen retreated on those rare occasions when the pursuit grew hot
on his tracks. So the current report ran.

Whether the abductors of Simon West were to be found in the Cache or at
some other nest in the almost inaccessible ridges Jack Flatray had no
means of knowing. His plan was to follow the Roaring Fork almost to its
headquarters, and there establish a base for his hunt. It might take him a
week to flush his game. It might take a month. He clamped his bulldog jaw
to see the thing out to a finish.

Jack did not make the mistake of underestimating his job. He had followed
the trail of bad men often enough to know that, in a frontier country, no
hunt is so desperate as the man-hunt. Such men are never easily taken,
even if they do not have all the advantage in the deadly game of hide and
seek that is played in the timber and the pockets of the hills.

And here the odds all lay with the hunted. They knew every ravine and
gulch. Day by day their scout looked down from mountain ledges to watch
the progress of the posse.

Moreover, Flatray could never tell at what moment his covey might be
startled from its run. The greatest vigilance was necessary to make sure
his own party would not be ambushed. Yet slowly he combed the arroyos and
the ridges, drawing always closer to that net of gulches in which he knew
Dead Man's Cache must be located.

During the day the sheriff split his party into couples. Bellamy and Alan
McKinstra, Farnum and Charlie Hymer, young Yarnell and the sheriff. So
Jack had divided his posse, thus leaving at the head of each detail one
old and wise head. Each night the parties met at the rendezvous appointed
for the wranglers with the pack horses. From sunrise to sunset often no
face was seen other than those of their own outfit. Sometimes a solitary
sheep herder was discovered at his post. Always the work was hard,
discouraging, and apparently futile. But the young sheriff never thought
of quitting.

The provisions gave out. Jack sent back Hal Yarnell and Hegler, the
wrangler, to bring in a fresh supply. Meanwhile the young sheriff took a
big chance and scouted alone. He parted from the young Arkansan at the
head of a gulch which twisted snakelike into the mountains; Yarnell and
the pack outfit to ride to Mammoth, Flatray to dive still deeper into the
mesh of hills. He had the instinct of the scout to stick to the high
places as much as he could. Whenever it was possible he followed ridges,
so that no spy could look down upon him as he traveled. Sometimes the
contour of the country drove him into the open or down into hollows. But
in such places he advanced with the swift stealth of an Indian.

It was on one of these occasions, when he had been driven into a dark and
narrow cañon, that he came to a sudden halt. He was looking at an empty
tomato can. Swinging down from his saddle, he picked it up without
dismounting. A little juice dripped from the can to the ground.

Flatray needed no explanation. In Arizona men on the range often carry a
can of tomatoes instead of a water canteen. Nothing alleviates thirst like
the juice of this acid fruit. Some one had opened this can within two
hours. Otherwise the sun would have dried the moisture.

Jack took his rifle from its place beneath his legs and set it across the
saddle in front of him. Very carefully he continued on his way, watching
every rock and bush ahead of him. Here and there in the sand were printed
the signs of a horse going in the same direction as his.

Up and down, in and out of a maze of crooked paths, working by ever so
devious a way higher into the chain of mountains, Jack followed his
leader. Now he would lose the hoofmarks; now he would pick them up again.
And, at the last, they brought him to the rim of a basin, a bowl of wooded
ravines, of twisted ridges, of bleak spurs jutting into late pastures
almost green. It was now past sunset. Dusk was filtering down from the
blue peaks. As he looked a star peeped out low on the horizon.

But was it a star? He glimpsed it between trees. The conviction grew on
him that what he saw was the light of a lamp. A tangle of rough country
lay between him and that beacon, but there before him lay his destination.
At last he had found his way into Dead Man's Cache.

The sheriff lost no time, for he knew that if he should get lost in the
darkness on one of these forest slopes he might wander all night. A rough
trail led him down into the basin. Now he would lose sight of the light.
Half an hour later, pushing to the summit of a hill, he might find it.
After a time there twinkled a second beside the first. He was getting
close to a settlement of some kind.

Below him in the darkness lay a stretch of open meadow rising to the
wooded foothills. Behind these a wall of rugged mountains encircled the
valley like a gigantic crooked arm. Already he could make out faintly the
outlines of the huddled buildings.

Slipping from his horse, Jack went forward cautiously on foot. He was
still a hundred yards from the nearest hut when dogs bayed warning of his
approach. He waited, rifle in hand. No sign of human life showed except
the two lights shining from as many windows. Flatray counted four other
cabins as dark as Egypt.

Very slowly he crept forward, always with one eye to his retreat. Why did
nobody answer the barking of the dogs? Was he being watched all the time?
But how could he be, since he was completely cloaked in darkness?

So at last he came to the nearest cabin, crept to the window, and looked
in. A man lay on a bed. His hands and feet were securely tied and a second
rope wound round so as to bind him to the bunk.

Flatray tapped softly on a pane. Instantly the head of the bound man
slewed round.

"Friend?"

The prisoner asked it ever so gently, but the sheriff heard.

"Yes."

"The top part of the window is open. You can crawl over, I reckon."

Jack climbed on the sill and from it through the window. Almost before he
reached the floor his knife was out and he was slashing at the ropes.

"Better put the light out, pardner," suggested the man he was freeing,
and the officer noticed that there was no tremor in the cool, steady
voice.

"That's right. We'd make a fine mark through the window."

And the light went out.

"I'm Bucky O'Connor. Who are you?"

"Jack Flatray."

They spoke together in whispers. Though both were keyed to the highest
pitch of excitement they were as steady as eight-day clocks. O'Connor
stretched his limbs, flexing them this way and that, so that he might have
perfect control of them. He worked especially over the forearm and fingers
of his right arm.

Flatray handed him a revolver.

"Whenever you're ready, Lieutenant."

"All right. It's the cabin next to this."

They climbed out of the window noiselessly and crept to the next hut. The
door was locked, the window closed.

"We've got to smash the window. Nothing else for it," Flatray whispered.

"Looks like it. That means we'll have to shoot our way out."

With the butt of his rifle the sheriff shattered the woodwork of the
window, driving the whole frame into the room.

"What is it?" a frightened voice demanded.

"Friends, Mr. West. Just a minute."

It took them scarce longer than that to free him and to get him into the
open. A Mexican woman came screaming out of an adjoining cabin.

The young men caught each an arm of the capitalist and hurried him
forward.

"Hell'll be popping in a minute," Flatray explained.

But they reached the shelter of the underbrush without a shot having been
fired. Nor had a single man appeared to dispute their escape.

"Looks like most of the family is away from home to-night," Bucky
hazarded.

"Maybe so, but they're liable to drop in any minute. We'll keep covering
ground."

They circled round toward the sheriff's horse. As soon as they reached it
West, still stiff from want of circulation in his cramped limbs, was
boosted into the saddle.

"It's going to be a good deal of a guess to find our way out of the
Cache," Jack explained. "Even in the daytime it would take a 'Pache, but
at night--well, here's hoping the luck's good."

They found it not so good as they had hoped. For hours they wandered in
mesquit, dragged themselves through cactus, crossed washes, and climbed
hills.

"This will never do. We'd better give it up till daylight. We're not
getting anywhere," the sheriff suggested.

They did as he advised. As soon as a faint gray sifted into the sky they
were on the move again. But whichever way they climbed it was always to
come up against steep cliffs too precipitous to be scaled.

The ranger officer pointed to a notch beyond a cowbacked hill. "I wouldn't
be sure, but it looks like that was the way they brought me into the
Cache. I could tell if I were up there. What's the matter with my going
ahead and settling the thing? If I'm right I'll come back and let you
know."

Jack looked at West. The railroad man was tired and drawn. He was not used
to galloping over the hills all night.

"All right. We'll be here when you come back," Flatray said, and flung
himself on the ground.

West followed his example.

It must have been half an hour later that Flatray heard a twig snap under
an approaching foot. He had been scanning the valley with his glasses,
having given West instructions to keep a lookout in the rear. He swung his
head round sharply, and with it his rifle.

"You're covered, you fool," cried the man who was strutting toward them.

"Stop there. Not another step," Flatray called sharply.

The man stopped, his rifle half raised. "We've got you on every side,
man." He lifted his voice. "Jeff--Hank--Steve! Let him know you're
alive."

Three guns cracked and kicked up the dust close to the sheriff.

"What do you want with us?" Flatray asked, sparring for time.

"Drop your gun. If you don't we'll riddle you both."

West spoke to Jack promptly. "Do as he says. It's MacQueen."

Flatray hesitated. He could kill MacQueen probably, but almost certainly
he and West would pay the penalty. He reluctantly put his rifle down. "All
right. It's your call."

"Where's O'Connor?"

The sheriff looked straight at him. "Haven't you enough of us for one
gather?"

The outlaws were closing in on them cautiously.

"Not without that smart man hunter. Where is he?"

"I don't know."

"The devil you don't."

"We separated early this morning--thought it would give us a better chance
for a getaway." Jack gave a sudden exclamation of surprise. "So it was
Black MacQueen himself who posed as O'Connor down at Mesa."

"Guessed it right, my friend. And I'll tell you one thing: you've made the
mistake of your life butting into Dead Man's Cache. Your missing friend
O'Connor was due to hand in his checks to-day. Since you've taken his
place it will be you that crosses the divide, Mr. Sheriff. You'd better
tell where he is, for if we don't get Mr. Bucky it will be God help J.
Flatray."

The dapper little villain exuded a smug, complacent cruelty. It was no use
for the sheriff to remind himself that such things weren't done nowadays,
that the times of Geronimo and the Apache Kid were past forever. Black
MacQueen would go the limit in deviltry if he set his mind to it.

Yet Flatray answered easily, without any perceptible hesitation: "I reckon
I'll play my hand and let Bucky play his."

"Suits me if it does you. Jeff, collect that hardware. Now, while you boys
beat up the hills for O'Connor, I'll trail back to camp with these two
all-night picnickers."



CHAPTER IX

A BARGAIN


Melissy saw the two prisoners brought in, though she could not tell at
that distance who they were. Her watch told her that it was four-thirty.
She had slept scarcely at all during the night, but now she lay down on
the bed in her clothes.

The next she knew, Rosario was calling her to get up for breakfast. The
girl dressed and followed Rosario to the adjoining cabin. MacQueen was not
there, and Melissy ate alone. She was given to understand that she might
walk up and down in front of the houses for a few minutes after breakfast.
Naturally she made the most of the little liberty allowed her.

The old squaw Sit-in-the-Sun squatted in front of the last hut, her back
against the log wall. The man called Buck sat yawning on a rock a few
yards away. What struck Melissy as strange was that the squaw was figuring
on the back of an old envelope with the stub of a lead pencil.

The young woman walked leisurely past the cabin for perhaps a dozen
yards.

"That'll be about far enough. You don't want to tire yourself, Miss Lee,"
Buck Lane called, with a grin.

Melissy stopped, stood looking at the mountains for a few minutes, and
turned back. Sit-in-the-Sun looked quickly at her, and at the same moment
she tore the paper in two and her fingers opened to release one piece of
the envelope upon which she had been writing. A puff of wind carried it
almost directly in front of the girl. Lane was still yawning sleepily, his
gaze directed toward the spot where he presently expected Rosario to step
out and call him to breakfast. Melissy dropped her handkerchief, stooped
to pick it up, and gathered at the same time in a crumpled heap into her
hand the fragment of an envelope. Without another glance at the squaw, the
young woman kept on her way, sauntered to the porch, and lingered there as
if in doubt.

"I'm tired," she announced to Rosario, and turned to her rooms.

"_Si, señorita,_" answered her attendant quietly.

Once inside, Melissy lay down on her bed, with her back to the window, and
smoothed out the torn envelope. On one side were some disjointed memoranda
which she did not understand.

                K. C. & T. 93
                D. & R. B. 87
                Float $10,000,000 Cortes for extension.

That was all, but certainly a strange puzzle for a Navajo squaw to set
her.

She turned the paper over, to find the other side close-packed with
writing.

  Miss Lee:

  In the last cabin but one is a prisoner, your friend Sheriff Flatray.
  He is to be shot in an hour. I have offered any sum for his life and
  been refused. For God's sake save him somehow.

                                                           Simon West.
Jack Flatray here, and about to be murdered! The thing was incredible. And
yet--and yet---- Was it so impossible, after all? Some one had broken into
the Cache and released the prisoners. Who more likely than Jack to have
done this? And later they had captured him and condemned him for what he
had done.

Melissy reconstructed the scene in a flash. The Indian squaw was West. He
had been rigged up in that paraphernalia to deceive any chance mountaineer
who might drop into the valley by accident.

No doubt, when he first saw Melissy, the railroad magnate had been passing
his time in making notes about his plans for the system he controlled. But
when he had caught sight of her, he had written the note, under the very
eyes of the guard, had torn the envelope as if it were of no importance,
and tossed the pieces away. He had taken the thousandth chance that his
note might fall into the hands of the person to whom it was directed.

All this she understood without giving it conscious thought. For her whole
mind was filled with the horror of what she had learned. Jack Flatray, the
man she loved, was to be killed. He was to be shot down in an hour.

With the thought, she was at her door--only to find that it had been
quietly locked while she lay on the bed. No doubt they had meant to keep
her a close prisoner until the thing they were about to do was finished.
She beat upon it, called to Rosario to let her out, wrung her hands in her
desperation. Then she remembered the window. It was a cheap and flimsy
case, and had been jammed so that her strength was not sufficient to raise
it.

Her eye searched the room for a weapon, and found an Indian tom-tom club.
With this she smashed the panes and beat down the wooden cross bars of the
sash. Agile as a forest fawn, she slipped through the opening she had made
and ran toward the far cabin.

A group of men surrounded the door; and, as she drew near, it opened to
show three central figures. MacQueen was one, Rosario Chaves a second; but
the most conspicuous was a bareheaded young man, with his hands tied
behind him. He was going to his death, but a glance was enough to show
that he went unconquered and unconquerable. His step did not drag. There
was a faint, grave smile on his lips; and in his eye was the dynamic spark
that proclaimed him still master of his fate. The woolen shirt had been
unbuttoned and pulled back to make way for the rope that lay loosely about
his neck, so that she could not miss the well-muscled slope of his fine
shoulders, or the gallant set of the small head upon the brown throat.

The man who first caught sight of Melissy spoke in a low voice to his
chief. MacQueen turned his head sharply to see her, took a dozen steps
toward her, then upbraided the Mexican woman, who had run out after
Melissy.

"I told you to lock her door--to make sure of it."

"_Si, señor_--I did."

"Then how----" He stopped, and looked to Miss Lee for an explanation.

"I broke the window."

The outlaw noticed then that her hand was bleeding. "Broke the window!
Why?"

"I had to get out! I had to stop you!"

He attempted no denial of what he was about to do. "How did you know? Did
Rosario tell you?" he asked curtly.

"No--no! I found out--just by chance."

"What chance?" He was plainly disconcerted that she had come to interfere,
and as plainly eager to punish the person who had disclosed to her this
thing, which he would have liked to do quietly, without her knowledge.

"Never mind that. Nobody is to blame. Say I overheard a sentence. Thank
God I did, and I am in time."

There was no avoiding it now. He had to fight it out with her. "In time
for what?" he wanted to know, his eyes narrowing to vicious pin points.

"To save him."

"No--no! He must die," cried the Mexican woman.

Melissy was amazed at her vehemence, at the passion of hate that trembled
in the voice of the old woman.

MacQueen nodded. "It is out of my hands, you see. He has been condemned."

"But why?"

"Tell her, Rosario."

The woman poured her story forth fluently in the native tongue. O'Connor
had killed her son--did not deny that he had done it. And just because
Tony had tried to escape. This man had freed the ranger. Very well. He
should take O'Connor's place. Let him die the death. A life for a life.
Was that not fair?

Flatray turned his head and caught sight of Melissy. A startled cry died
on his lips.

"Jack!" She held out both hands to him as she ran toward him.

The sheriff took her in his arms to console her. For the girl's face was
working in a stress of emotion.

"Oh, I'm in time--I'm in time. Thank God I'm in time."

Jack waited a moment to steady his voice. "How came you here, Melissy?"

"He brought me--Black MacQueen. I hated him for it, but now I'm glad--so
glad--because I can save you."

Jack winced. He looked over her shoulder at MacQueen, taking it all in
with an air of pleasant politeness. And one look was enough to tell him
that there was no hope for him. The outlaw had the complacent manner of a
cat which has just got at the cream. That Melissy loved him would be an
additional reason for wiping him off the map. And in that instant a fierce
joy leaped up in Flatray and surged through him, an emotion stronger than
the fear of death. She loved him. MacQueen could not take that away from
him.

"It's all a mistake," Melissy went on eagerly. "Of course they can't blame
you for what Lieutenant O'Connor did. It is absurd--ridiculous."

"Certainly." MacQueen tugged at his little black mustache and kept his
black eyes on her constantly. "That's not what we're blaming him for. The
indictment against your friend is that he interfered when it wasn't his
business."

"But it was his business. Don't you know he's sheriff? He had to do it."
Melissy turned to the outlaw impetuously.

"So. And I have to play my hand out, too. It wipes out Mr. Flatray. Sorry,
but business is business."

"But--but----" Melissy grew pale as the icy fear gripped her heart that
the man meant to go on with the crime. "Don't you see? He's the sheriff?"

"And I never did love sheriffs," drawled MacQueen.

The girl repeated herself helplessly. "It was his sworn duty. That was how
he looked at it."

A ghost of an ironic smile flitted across the face of the outlaw chief.
"Rosario's sworn duty is to avenge her son's death. That is how she looks
at it. The rest of us swore the oath with her."

"But Lieutenant O'Connor had the law back of him. This is murder!"

"Not at all. It is the law of the valley--a life for a life."

"But---- Oh, no--no--no!"

"Yes."

The finality of it appalled her. She felt as if she were butting her head
against a stone wall. She knew that argument and entreaty were of no
avail, yet she desperately besought first one and then another of them to
save the prisoner. Each in turn shook his head. She could see that none of
them, save Rosario, bore him a grudge; yet none would move to break the
valley oath. At the last, she was through with her promises and her
prayers. She had spent them all, and had come up against the wall of blank
despair.

Then Jack's grave smile thanked her. "You've done what you could,
Melissy."

She clung to him wildly. "Oh, no--no! I can't let you go, Jack. I can't. I
can't."

"I reckon it's got to be, dear," he told her gently.

But her breaking heart could not stand that. There must somehow be a way
to save him. She cast about desperately for one, and had not found it when
she begged the outlaw chief to see her alone.

"No use." He shook his head.

"But just for five minutes! That can't do any harm, can it?"

"And no good, either."

"Yet I ask it. You might do that much for me," she pleaded.

Her despair had moved him; for he was human, after all. That he was
troubled about it annoyed him a good deal. Her arrival on the scene had
made things unpleasant for everybody. Ungraciously he assented, as the
easiest way out of the difficulty.

The two moved off to the corral. It was perhaps thirty yards distant, and
they reached it before either of them spoke. She was the first to break
the silence.

[Illustration: "OH, NO--NO! I CAN'T LET YOU GO, JACK. I CAN'T. I CAN'T."
_Page 294._]

"You won't do this dreadful thing--surely, you won't do it."

"No use saying another word about it. I told you that," he answered
doggedly.

"But---- Oh, don't you see? It's one of those things no white man can do.
Once it's done, you have put the bars up against decency for the rest of
your life."

"I reckon I'll have to risk that--and down in your heart you don't believe
it, because you think I've had the bars up for years."

She had come to an impasse already. She tried another turn. "And you said
you cared for me! Yet you are willing to make me unhappy for the rest of
my life."

"Why, no! I'm willing to make you happy. There's fish in the sea just as
good as any that ever were caught," he smirked.

"But it would help you to free him. Don't you see? It's your chance. You
can begin again, now. You can make him your friend."

His eyes were hard and grim. "I don't want him for a friend, and you're
dead wrong if you think I could make this a lever to square myself with
the law. I couldn't. He wouldn't let me, for one thing--he isn't that
kind."

"And you said you cared for me!" she repeated helplessly, wringing her
hands in her despair. "But at the first chance you fail me."

"Can't you see it isn't a personal matter? I've got nothing against
him--nothing to speak of. I'd give him to you, if I could. But it's not my
say-so. The thing is out of my hands."

"You could save him, if you set yourself to."

"Sure, I could--if I would pay the price. But I won't pay."

"That's it. You would have to give Rosario something--make some
concession," she said eagerly.

"And I'm not willing to pay the price," he told her. "His life's forfeit.
Hasn't he been hunting us for a week?"

"Let me pay it," she cried. "I have money in my own right--seven thousand
dollars. I'll give it all to save him."

He shook his head. "No use. We've turned down a big offer from West. Your
seven thousand isn't a drop in the bucket."

She beat her hands together wildly. "There must be some way to save him."

The outlaw was looking at her with narrowed eyes. He saw a way, and was
working it out in his mind. "You're willing to pay, are you?" he asked.

"Yes--yes! All I have."

He put his arms akimbo on the corral fence, and looked long at her.
"Suppose the price can't be paid in money, Miss Lee."

"What do you mean?"

"Money isn't the only thing in this world. There are lots of things it
won't buy that other things will," he said slowly.

She groped for his meaning, her wide eyes fixed on his, and still did not
find it. "Be plainer, please. What can I do to save him?"

"You might marry me."

"Never!"

"Just as you say. You were looking for a way, and I suggested one. Anyhow,
you're mine."

"I won't do it!"

"You wanted me to pay the price; but you don't want to pay yourself."

"I couldn't do it. It would be horrible!" But she knew she could and
must.

"Why couldn't you? I'm ready to cut loose from this way of living. When I
pull off this one big thing, I'll quit. We'll go somewhere and begin life
again. You said I could. Well, I will. You'll help me to keep straight. It
won't be only his life you are saving. It will be mine, too."

"No--I don't love you! How could a girl marry a man she didn't care for
and didn't respect?"

"I'll make you do both before long. I'm the kind of man women love."

"You're the kind I hate," she flashed bitterly.

"I'll risk your hate, my dear," he laughed easily.

She did not look at him. Her eyes were on the horizon line, where sky and
pine tops met. He knew that she was fighting it out to a decision, and he
did not speak again.

After all, she was only a girl. Right and wrong were inextricably mixed in
her mind. It was not right to marry this man. It was not right to let the
sheriff die while she could save him. She was generous to the core. But
there was something deeper than generosity. Her banked love for Flatray
flooded her in a great cry of protest against his death. She loved him.
She loved him. Much as she detested this man, revolting as she found the
thought of being linked to him, the impulse to sacrifice herself was the
stronger feeling of the two. Deep in her heart she knew that she could not
let Jack go to his death so long as it was possible to prevent it.

Her grave eyes came back to MacQueen. "I'll have to tell you one
thing--I'll hate you worse than ever after this. Don't think I'll ever
change my mind about that. I won't."

He twirled his little mustache complacently.

"I'll have to risk that, as I said."

"You'll take me to Mesa to-day. As soon as we get there a justice of the
peace will marry us. From his house we'll go directly to father's. You
won't lie to me."

"No. I'll play out the game square, if you do."

"And after we're married, what then?"

"You may stay at home until I get this ransom business settled. Then we'll
go to Sonora."

"How do you know I'll go?"

"I'll trust you."

"Then it's a bargain."

Without another word, they turned back to rejoin the group by the cabin.
Before they had gone a dozen steps she stopped.

"What about Mr. Flatray? You will free him, of course."

"Yes. I'll take him right out due north of here, about four miles. He'll
be blindfolded. There we'll leave him, with instructions how to reach
Mesa."

"I'll go with you," she announced promptly.

"What for?"

"To make sure that you do let him go--alive."

He shrugged his shoulders. "All right. I told you I was going to play
fair. I haven't many good points, but that is one of them. I don't give my
word and then break it."

"Still, I'll go."

He laughed angrily. "That's your privilege."

She turned on him passionately. "You've got no right to resent it, though
I don't care a jackstraw whether you do or not. I'm not going into this
because I want to, but to save this man from the den of wolves into which
he has fallen. If you knew how I despise and hate you, how my whole soul
loathes you, maybe you wouldn't be so eager to go on with it! You'll get
nothing out of this but the pleasure of torturing a girl who can't defend
herself."

"We'll see about that," he answered doggedly.



CHAPTER X

THE PRICE


MacQueen lost no time in announcing his new program.

"Boys, the hanging's off. I've decided to accept West's offer for
Flatray's life. It's too good to turn down."

"That's what I told you all the time," growled Buck.

"Well, I'm telling _you_ now. The money will be divided equally among you,
except that Rosario will get my share as well as hers."

Rosario Chaves broke into fierce protests. Finding these unheeded, she
cursed the outlaws furiously and threatened vengeance upon them. She did
not want money; she wanted this man's life. The men accepted this as a
matter of course, and paid little attention to the ravings of the old
woman.

At the first news of his reprieve, Jack saw things through a haze for a
moment. But he neither broke down nor showed undue exultation.

His first thought was of relief, of profound comfort; his next of wonder
and suspicion. How under heaven had Melissy won his life for him? He
looked quickly at her, but the eyes of the girl did not meet his.

"Melissy." Flatray spoke very gently, but something in the way he spoke
compelled the young woman to meet his eyes.

Almost instantly the long lashes went down to her pale cheeks again.

MacQueen cut in suavely: "I reckon this is the time for announcements.
Boys, Miss Lee has promised to marry me."

Before the stir which this produced had died away, Flatray flashed a
question: "In exchange for my life?"

The chief of the outlaws looked at him with insolence smoldering in his
black eyes. "Now, I wonder when you ever will learn to mind your own
business, sheriff! Nobody invited you to sit into this game."

"This _is_ my business. I make it mine. Give me a straight answer,
Melissy. Am I right? Is it for my life?"

"Yes." Her voice was so low he could hardly hear it.

"Then I won't have it! The thing is infamous. I can't hide behind the
skirts of a girl, least of all you. I can die, but, by God, I'll keep my
self-respect."

"It's all arranged," Melissy answered in a whisper.

Flatray laughed harshly. "I guess not. You can't pay my debts by giving
yourself to life-long misery."

"You're right pessimistic, sheriff," sneered MacQueen.

"What do you take me for? I won't have it. I won't have it." The sheriff's
voice was rough and hoarse. "I'd rather die fifty times."

"It's not up to you to choose, as it happens," the leader of the outlaws
suggested suavely.

"You villain! You damned white-livered coward!" The look of the young
sheriff scorched.

"Speaks right out in meeting, don't he?" grinned Lane.

"I know what he is, Jack," Melissy cried. "And he knows I think he's the
lowest thing that crawls. But I've got to save you. Don't you see, I've
got to do it?"

"No, I don't see it," Flatray answered hotly. "I can take what's coming to
me, can't I? But if you save my life that way you make me as low a thing
as he is. I say I'll not have it."

Melissy could stand it no longer. She began to sob. "I--I--Oh, Jack, I've
got to do it. Don't you see? Don't you see? _It won't make any difference
with me if I don't._ No difference--except that you'll be--dead."

She was in his embrace, her arms around his neck, whispering the horrible
truth in his ear brokenly. And as he felt her dear young fragrance of
hair in his nostrils, the warm, soft litheness of her body against his,
the rage and terror in him flooded his veins. Could such things be? Was it
possible a man like that could live? Not if he could help it.

Gently he unfastened her arms from his neck. MacQueen was standing a dozen
feet away, his hands behind his back and his legs wide apart. As Flatray
swung around the outlaw read a warning in the blazing eyes. Just as Jack
tore loose from his guards MacQueen reached for his revolver.

The gun flashed. A red hot blaze scorched through Jack's arm. Next instant
MacQueen lay flat on his back, the sheriff's fingers tight around his
throat. If he could have had five seconds more the man's neck would have
been broken. But they dragged him away, fighting like a wild cat. They
flung him down and tied his hands behind him.

Melissy caught a glimpse of his bleeding arm, his torn and dusty face, the
appalling ferocity of the men who were hammering him into the ground. She
took a step forward blindly. The mountains in front of her tilted into the
sky. She moved forward another step, then stumbled and went down. She had
fainted.

"Just as well," MacQueen nodded. "Here, Rosario, look after the young
lady. Lift Flatray to a horse, boys, after you've blindfolded him. Good
enough. Oh, and one thing more, Flatray. You're covered by a rifle. If you
lift a hand to slip that handkerchief from your eyes, you're giving the
signal for Jeff to turn loose at you. We're going to take you away, but we
don't aim to let you out of the Cache for a few days yet."

"What do you mean?"

MacQueen jeered at his prisoner openly. "I mean, Mr. Sheriff, that you'll
stay with us till the girl does as she has promised. Understand?"

"I think so, you hellhound. You're going to hold me against her so that
she can't change her mind."

"Exactly. So that she can't rue back. You've guessed it."

They rode for hours, but in what direction it was impossible for Flatray
to guess. He could tell when they were ascending, when dropping down hill,
but in a country so rugged this meant nothing.

When at last he dismounted and the kerchief was taken from his eyes he
found himself in a little pocket of the hills in front of an old log
cabin. Jeff stayed with him. The others rode away. But not till they had
him safely tied to a heavy table leg within the hut.



CHAPTER XI

SQUIRE LATIMER TAKES A HAND


"You're to make ready for a trip to town, _señorita_."

"When?"

"At once," Rosario answered. "By orders of _Señor_ MacQueen."

"Then he is back?" the girl flashed.

"Just back."

"Tell him I want to see him--immediately."

"I am to take you to him as soon as you are ready to ride."

"Oh, very well."

In a very few minutes the young woman was ready. Rosario led her to the
cabin in front of which she had seen the old Indian squaw. In it were
seated Simon West and Black MacQueen. Both of them rose at her entrance.

"Please take a chair, Miss Lee. We have some business to talk over," the
outlaw suggested.

Melissy looked straight at him, her lips shut tight. "What have you done
with Jack Flatray?" she presently demanded.

"Left him to find his way back to his friends."

"You didn't hurt him ... any more?"

"No."

"And you left him alone, wounded as he was."

"We fixed up his wound," lied MacQueen.

"Was it very bad?"

"A scratch. I had to do it."

"You needn't apologize to me."

"I'm not apologizing, you little wild-cat."

"What do you want with me? Why did you send for me?"

"We're going to Mesa to see a parson. But before we start there's some
business to fix up. Mr. West and I will need your help to fix up the
negotiations for his release."

"My help!" She looked at him in surprise. "How can I help?"

"I've laid my demands before his friends. They'll come through with the
money, sure. But I want them to understand the conditions right plainly,
so there won't be any mistake. What they have got to get soaked into their
heads is that, if they do make any mistakes, they will not see Simon West
again alive. You put that up to them strong."

"I'm not going to be your agent in robbing people of their money!" she
told him swiftly.

"You don't understand. Mr. West wants you to do it. He wants you to
explain the facts to his friends, so they won't act rash and get off wrong
foot first."

"Oh! If Mr. West wishes it," she conceded.

"I do wish it," the great man added.

Though his face and hands were still stained with the dye that had been
used on them, the railroad builder was now dressed in his own clothes. The
girl thought that he looked haggard and anxious, and she was sure that her
presence brought him relief. In his own way he was an indomitable fighter,
but his experience had not included anything of this nature.

Jack Flatray could look at death level-eyed, and with an even pulse,
because for him it was all in the day's work; but the prospect of it shook
West's high-strung nerves. Nevertheless, he took command of the
explanations, because it had been his custom for years to lead.

MacQueen, his sardonic smile in play, sat back and let West do most of the
talking. Both men were working for the same end--to get the ransom paid as
soon as possible--and the multimillionaire released; and the outlaw
realized that Melissy would coöperate the more heartily if she felt she
were working for West and not for himself.

"This is Tuesday, Miss Lee. You will reach Mesa some time to-night. My
friends ought to be on the ground already. I want you and your father to
get in touch with them right away, and arrange the details along the line
laid down by Mr. MacQueen. In case they agree to everything and understand
fully, have the Stars and Stripes flying from your house all day
to-morrow as a signal. Don't on any account omit this--because, if you do,
my captors will have to hold me longer, pending further negotiations. I
have written a letter to Mr. Lucas, exonerating you completely, Miss Lee;
and I have ordered him to comply with all these demands without parley."

"Our proposition seems to Mr. West very reasonable and fair," grinned
MacQueen impishly, paring his finger nails.

"At any rate, I think that my life is worth to this country a good deal
more than three hundred thousand dollars," West corrected.

"Besides being worth something to Simon West," the outlaw added
carelessly.

West plunged into the details of delivering the money. Once or twice the
other man corrected him or amplified some statement. In order that there
could be no mistake, a map of Sweetwater Cañon was handed to Melissy to be
used by the man who would bring the money to the rendezvous at the Devil's
Causeway.

When it came to saying good-bye, the old man could scarce make up his mind
to release the girl's hand. It seemed to him that she was the visible sign
of his safety, and that with her departure went a safeguard from these
desperate men. He could not forget that she had saved the life of the
sheriff, even though he did not know what sacrifice she had made so to do.

"I know you'll do your best for me," he said, with tears in his eyes.
"Make Lucas see this thing right. Don't let any fool detectives bunco him
into refusing to pay the ransom. Put it to him as strongly as you can,
that it will be either my life or the money. I have ordered him to pay it,
and I want it paid."

Melissy nodded. "I'll tell him how it is, Mr. West. I know it will be all
right. By Thursday afternoon we shall have you with us to dinner again.
Trust us."

"I do." He lowered his voice and glanced at MacQueen, who had been called
aside to speak to one of his men. "And I'm glad you're going away from
here. This is no place for you."

"It isn't quite the place for you, either," she answered, with a faint,
joyless smile.

They started an hour before midday. Rosario had packed a lunch for both of
them in MacQueen's saddlebags, for it was the intention of the latter to
avoid ranches and traveled trails on the way down. He believed that the
girl would go through with what she had pledged herself to do, but he did
not mean to take chances of a rescue.

In the middle of the afternoon they stopped for lunch at Round-up
Spring--a water hole which had not dried up in a dozen years. It was a
somber meal. Melissy's spirits had been sinking lower and lower with every
mile that brought her nearer the destiny into which this man was forcing
her. Food choked her, and she ate but little. Occasionally, with staring
eyes, she would fall into a reverie, from which his least word would
startle her to a shiver of apprehension. This she always controlled after
the first instinctive shudder.

"What's the matter with you, girl? I'm not going to hurt you any. I never
hit a woman in my life," the man said once roughly.

"Perhaps you may, after you're married. It's usually one's wife one beats.
Don't be discouraged. You'll have the experience yet," she retorted, but
without much spirit.

"To hear you tell it, I'm a devil through and through! It's that kind of
talk that drives a man to drink," he flung out angrily.

"And to wife beating. Of course, I'm not your chattel yet, because the
ceremony hasn't been read; but if you would like to anticipate a few hours
and beat me, I don't suppose there is any reason you shouldn't."

"Gad! How you hate me!"

Her inveteracy discouraged him. His good looks, his debonair manner, the
magnetic charm he knew how to exert--these, which had availed him with
other women, did not seem to reach her at all. She really gave him no
chance to prove himself. He was ready to be grave or gay--to be a
light-hearted boy or a blasé man of the world--to adopt any rôle that
would suit her. But how could one play up effectively to a chill silence
which took no note of him, to a depression of the soul which would not
let itself be lifted? He felt that she was living up to the barest letter
of the law in fulfilling their contract, and because of it he steeled
himself against her sufferings.

There was one moment of their ride when she stood on the tiptoe of
expectation and showed again the sparkle of eager life. MacQueen had
resaddled after their luncheon, and they were climbing a long sidehill
that looked over a dry valley. With a gesture, the outlaw checked her
horse.

"Look!"

Some quarter of a mile from them two men were riding up a wash that ran
through the valley. The mesquite and the cactus were thick, and it was for
only an occasional moment that they could be seen. Black and the girl were
screened from view by a live oak in front of them, so that there was no
danger of being observed. The outlaw got out his field glasses and watched
the men intently.

Melissy could not contain the question that trembled on her lips: "Do you
know them?"

"I reckon not."

"Perhaps----"

"Well!"

"May I look--please?"

He handed her the glasses. She had to wait for the riders to reappear, but
when they did she gave a little cry.

"It's Mr. Bellamy!"

"Oh, is it?"

He looked at her steadily, ready to crush in her throat any call she might
utter for help. But he soon saw that she had no intention of making her
presence known. Her eyes were glued to the glasses. As long as the men
were in sight she focused her gaze on them ravenously. At last a bend in
the dry river bed hid them from view. She lowered the binoculars with a
sigh.

"Lucky they didn't see us," he said, with his easy, sinister laugh. "Lucky
for them."

She noticed for the first time that he had uncased his rifle and was
holding it across the saddle-tree.

Night slipped silently down from the hills--the soft, cool, velvet night
of the Arizona uplands. The girl drooped in the saddle from sheer
exhaustion. The past few days had been hard ones, and last night she had
lost most of her sleep. She had ridden far on rough trails, had been
subjected to a stress of emotion to which her placid maiden life had been
unused. But she made no complaint. It was part of the creed she had
unconsciously learned from her father to game out whatever had to be
endured.

The outlaw, though he saw her fatigue, would not heed it. She had chosen
to set herself apart from him. Let her ask him to stop and rest, if she
wanted to. It would do her pride good to be humbled. Yet in his heart he
admired her the more, because she asked no favors of him and forbore the
womanish appeal of tears.

His watch showed eleven o'clock by the moon when the lights of Mesa
glimmered in the valley below.

"We'll be in now in half an hour," he said.

She had no comment to make, and silence fell between them again until they
reached the outskirts of the town.

"We'll get off here and walk in," he ordered; and, after she had
dismounted, he picketed the horses close to the road. "You can send for
yours in the mornin'. Mine will be in the livery barn by that time."

The streets were practically deserted in the residential part of the town.
Only one man they saw, and at his approach MacQueen drew Melissy behind a
large lilac bush.

As the man drew near the outlaw's hand tightened on the shoulder of the
girl. For the man was her father--dusty, hollow-eyed, and haggard. The two
crouching behind the lilacs knew that this iron man was broken by his
fears for his only child, the girl who was the apple of his eye.

Not until he was out of hearing did Melissy open her lips to the stifled
cry she had suppressed. Her arms went out to him, and the tears rolled
down her cheeks. For herself she had not let herself break down, but for
her father's grief her heart was like water.

"All right. Don't break down now. You'll be with him inside of half an
hour," the outlaw told her gruffly.

They stopped at a house not much farther down the street, and he rang the
bell. It took a second ring to bring a head out of the open window
upstairs.

"Well?" a sleepy voice demanded.

"Is this Squire Latimer?"

"Yes."

"Come down. We want to get married."

"Then why can't you come at a reasonable hour?--consarn it!"

"Never mind that. There's a good fee in it. Hurry up!"

Presently the door opened. "Come in. You can wait in the hall till I get a
light."

"No--I don't want a light. We'll step into this room, and be married at
once," MacQueen told him crisply.

"I don't know about that. I'm not marrying folks that can't be looked
at."

"You'll marry us, and at once. I'm Black MacQueen!"

It was ludicrous to see how the justice of the peace fell back in terror
before the redoubtable bad man of the hills.

"Well, I don't know as a light is a legal necessity; but we got to have
witnesses."

"Have you any in the house?"

"My daughter and a girl friend of hers are sleeping upstairs. I'll call
them, Mr. Black--er--I mean Mr. MacQueen."

The outlaw went with the squire to the foot of the stairs, whence Latimer
wakened the girls and told them to dress at once, as quickly as possible.
A few minutes later they came down--towsled, eyes heavy with sleep,
giggling at each other in girlish fashion. But when they knew whose
marriage they were witnessing, giggles and sleep fled together.

They were due for another surprise later. MacQueen and his bride were
standing in the heavy shadows, so that both bulked vaguely in mere
outline. Hitherto, Melissy had not spoken a word. The time came when it
was necessary for the justice to know the name of the girl whom he was
marrying. Her answer came at once, in a low, scarcely audible voice:

"Melissy Lee."

An electric shock could scarce have startled them more. Of all the girls
in Mesa none was so proud as Melissy Lee, none had been so far above
criticism, such a queen in the frontier town. She had spent a year in
school at Denver; she had always been a social leader. While she had
always been friendly to the other girls, they had looked upon her with a
touch of awe. She had all the things they craved, from beauty to money.
And now she was marrying at midnight, in the dark, the most notorious bad
man of Arizona!

Here was a wonder of wonders to tell the other girls to-morrow. The only
pity was that they could not see her face--and his. They had heard that he
was handsome. No doubt that accounted for it. And what could be more
romantic than a love match with such a fascinating villain? Probably he
had stormed her heart irresistibly.

The service proceeded. The responses of the man came clearly and
triumphantly, those of the girl low but distinctly. It was the custom of
the justice to join the hands of the parties he was marrying; but when he
moved to do so this girl put both of hers quickly behind her. It was his
custom also to kiss the bride after pronouncing them man and wife; but he
omitted this, too, on the present occasion. Nor did the groom kiss her.

The voice of the justice died away. They stood before him man and wife.
The witnesses craned forward to see the outlaw embrace his bride. Instead,
he reached into his pocket and handed Latimer a bill. The denomination of
it was one hundred dollars, but the justice did not discover that until
later.

"I reckon that squares us," the bad man said unsentimentally. "Now, all of
you back to bed."

MacQueen and his bride passed out into the night. The girls noticed that
she did not take his arm; that she even drew back, as if to avoid touching
him as they crossed the threshold.

Not until they reached the gate of her father's house did MacQueen speak.

"I'm not all coyote, girl. I'll give you the three days I promised you.
After that you'll join me wherever I say."

"Yes," she answered without spirit.

"You'll stand pat to our agreement. When they try to talk you out of it
you won't give in?"

"No."

She was deadly weary, could scarce hold up her head.

"If you lie to me I'll take it out on your folks. Don't forget that Jack
Flatray will have to pay if you double-cross me."

"No."

"He'll have to pay in full."

"You mean you'll capture him again."

"I mean we won't have to do that. We haven't turned him loose yet."

"Then you lied to me?" She stared at him with wide open eyes of horror.

"I had to keep him to make sure of you."

Her groan touched his vanity, or was it perhaps his pity?

"I'm not going to hurt him--if you play fair. I tell you I'm no cur. Help
me, girl, and I'll quit this hell raising and live decent."

She laughed without joy, bitterly.

"Oh, I know what you think," he continued. "I can't blame you. But what do
you know about my life? What do you know about what I've had to fight
against? All my life there has been some devil in me, strangling all the
good. There has been nobody to give me a helping hand--none to hold me
back. I was a dog with a bad name--good enough for hanging, and nothing
else."

He was holding the gate, and perforce she had to hear him out.

"What do I care about that?" she cried, in a fierce gust of passion. "I
see you are cur and coward! You lied to me. You didn't keep faith and free
Jack Flatray. That is enough."

She was the one person in the world who had power to wound him. Nor did it
hurt the less that it was the truth. He drew back as if the lash of a whip
had swept across his face.

"No man alive can say that to me and live!" he told her. "Cur I may be;
but you're my wife, 'Lissie MacQueen. Don't forget that."

"Go! Go!" she choked. "I hope to God I'll never see your face again!"

She flew along the grass-bordered walk, whipped open the front door, and
disappeared within. She turned the key in the lock, and stood trembling in
the darkness. She half expected him to follow, to attempt to regain
possession of her.

But the creak of his quick step on the porch did not come. Only her
hammering heart stirred in the black silence. She drew a long breath of
relief, and sank down on the stairs. It was over at last, the horrible
nightmare through which she had been living.

Gradually she fought down her fears and took hold of herself. She must
find her father and relieve his anxiety. Quietly she opened the door of
the hall into the living room.

A man sat at the table, with his back to her, in an attitude of utter
dejection. He was leaning forward, with his head buried in his arms. It
was her father. She stepped forward, and put her hands on his bowed
shoulders.

"Daddy," she said softly.

At her touch the haggard, hopeless, unshaven face was lifted toward her.
For a moment Lee looked at her as if she had been a wraith. Then, with a
hoarse cry, he arose and caught her in his arms.

Neither of them could speak for emotion. He tried it twice before he could
get out:

"Baby! Honey!"

He choked back the sobs in his throat. "Where did you come from? I thought
sure MacQueen had you."

"He had. He took me to Dead Man's Cache with him."

"And you escaped. Praise the Lord, honey!"

"No--he brought me back."

"MacQueen did! Goddlemighty--he knows what's best for him!"

"He brought me back to--to----" She broke down, and buried her head in his
shoulder.

Long, dry sobs racked her. The father divined with alarm that he did not
know the worst.

"Tell me--tell me, 'Lissie! Brought you back to do what, honey?" He held
her back from him, his hands on her shoulders.

"To marry me."

"What!"

"To marry me. And he did--fifteen minutes ago, I am Black MacQueen's
wife."

"Black MacQueen's wife! My God, girl!" Big Beauchamp Lee stared at her in
a horror of incredulity.

She told him the whole story, from beginning to end.



CHAPTER XII

THE TAKING OF THE CACHE


It was understood that in the absence of the sheriff Richard Bellamy
should have charge of the posse, and after the disappearance of Flatray he
took command.

With the passing years Bellamy had become a larger figure in the
community. The Monte Cristo mine had made him independently wealthy, even
though he had deeded one-third of it to Melissy Lee. Arizona had forgiven
him his experiment at importing sheep and he was being spoken of as a
territorial delegate to Congress, a place the mine owner by no means
wanted. For his interests were now bound up in the Southwest. His home was
there. Already a little toddler's soft fat fist was clinging to the skirt
of Ferne.

At first Bellamy, as well as Farnum, McKinstra, young Yarnell and the rest
of the posse looked expectantly for the return of the sheriff. It was hard
to believe that one so virile, so competent, so much a dominant factor of
every situation he confronted, could have fallen a victim to the men he
hunted. But as the days passed with no news of him the conviction grew
that he had been waylaid and shot. The hunt went on, but the rule now was
that no move should be made singly. Not even for an hour did the couples
separate.

One evening a woman drifted into camp just as they were getting ready to
roll into their blankets. McKinstra was on sentry duty, but she got by him
unobserved and startled Farnum into drawing his gun.

Yet all she said was: "_Buenos tardes, señor_."

The woman was a wrinkled Mexican with a close-shut, bitter mouth and
bright, snappy eyes.

Farnum stared at her in surprise. "Who in Arizona are you?"

It was decidedly disturbing to think what might have happened if
MacQueen's outfit had dropped in on them, instead of one lone old woman.

"Rosario Chaves."

"Glad to meet you, ma'am. Won't you sit down?"

The others had by this time gathered around.

Rosario spoke in Spanish, and Bob Farnum answered in the same language.
"You want to find the way into Dead Man's Cache, señor?"

"Do we? I reckon yes!"

"Let me be your guide."

"You know the way in?"

"I live there."

"Connected with MacQueen's outfit, maybe?"

"I cook for him. My son was one of his men."

"Was?"

"Yes. He was killed--shot by Lieutenant O'Connor, the same man who was a
prisoner at the Cache until yesterday morning."

"Killed lately, ma'am?"

"Two years ago. We swore revenge. MacQueen did not keep his oath, the oath
we all swore together."

Bellamy began to understand the situation. She wanted to get back at
MacQueen, unless she were trying to lead them into a trap.

"Let's get this straight. MacQueen turned O'Connor loose, did he?" Bellamy
questioned.

"No. He escaped. This man--what you call him?--the sheriff, helped him and
Señor West to break away."

The mine owner's eye met Farnum's. They were being told much news.

"So they all escaped, did they?"

"_Si, señor_, but MacQueen took West and the sheriff next morning. They
could not find their way out of the valley."

"But O'Connor escaped. Is that it?"

Her eyes flashed hatred. "He escaped because the sheriff helped him. His
life was forfeit to me. So then was the sheriff's. MacQueen he admit it.
But when the girl promise to marry him he speak different."

"What girl?"

"_Señorita_ Lee."

"Not Melissy Lee."

"_Si, señor_."

"My God! Melissy Lee a prisoner of that infernal villain. How did she come
there?"

The Mexican woman was surprised at the sudden change that had come over
the men. They had grown tense and alert. Interest had flamed into a
passionate eagerness.

Rosario Chaves told the story from beginning to end, so far as she knew
it; and every sentence of it wrung the big heart of these men. The pathos
of it hit them hard. Their little comrade, the girl they had been fond of
for years--the bravest, truest lass in Arizona--had fallen a victim to
this intolerable fate! They could have wept with the agony of it if they
had known how.

"Are you sure they were married? Maybe the thing slipped up," Alan
suggested, the hope father to the thought.

But this hope was denied him; for the woman had brought with her a copy of
the Mesa _Sentinel_, with an account of the marriage and the reason for
it. This had been issued on the morning after the event, and MacQueen had
brought it back with him to the Cache.

Bellamy arranged with the Mexican woman a plan of attack upon the valley.
Camp was struck at once, and she guided them through tortuous ravines and
gulches deeper into the Roaring Fork country. She left them in a grove of
aspens, just above the lip of the valley, on the side least frequented by
the outlaws.

They were to lie low until they should receive from her a signal that most
of the gang had left to take West to the place appointed for the exchange.
They were then to wait through the day until dusk, slip quietly down, and
capture the ranch before the return of the party with the gold. In case
anything should occur to delay the attack on the ranch, another signal was
to be given by Rosario.

The first signal was to be the hanging of washing upon the line. If this
should be removed before nightfall, Bellamy was to wait until he should
hear from her again.

Bellamy believed that the Chaves woman was playing square with him, but he
preferred to take no chances. As soon as she had left to return to the
settlement of the outlaws he moved camp again to a point almost half a
mile from the place where she had last seen them. If the whole thing were
a "plant," and a night attack had been planned, he wanted to be where he
and his men could ambush the ambushers, if necessary.

But the night passed without any alarm. As the morning wore away the
scheduled washing appeared on the line. Farnum crept down to the valley
lip and trained his glasses on the ranch house. Occasionally he could
discern somebody moving about, though there were not enough signs of
activity to show the presence of many people. All day the wash hung
drying on the line. Dusk came, the blankets still signaling that all was
well.

Bellamy led his men forward under cover, following the wooded ridge above
the Cache so long as there was light enough by which they might be
observed from the valley. With the growing darkness he began the descent
into the bowl just behind the corral. A light shone in the larger cabin;
and Bellamy knew that, unless Rosario were playing him false, the men
would be at supper there. He left his men lying down behind the corral,
while he crept forward to the window from which the light was coming.

In the room were two men and the Mexican woman. The men, with elbows far
apart, and knives and forks very busy, were giving strict attention to the
business in hand. Rosario waited upon them, but with ear and eye guiltily
alert to catch the least sound. The mine owner could even overhear
fragments of the talk.

"Ought to get back by midnight, don't you reckon? Pass the cow and the
sugar, Buck. Keep a-coming with that coffee, Rosario. I ain't a mite
afraid but what MacQueen will pull it off all right, you bet."

"Sure, he will. Give that molasses a shove, Tom----"

Bellamy drew his revolver and slipped around to the front door. He came in
so quietly that neither of the men heard him. Both had their backs to the
door.

"Figure it up, and it makes a right good week's work. I reckon I'll go
down to Chihuahua and break the bank at Miguel's," one of them was
saying.

"Better go to Yuma and break stones for a spell, Buck," suggested a voice
from the doorway.

Both men slewed their heads around as if they had been worked by the same
lever. Their mouths opened, and their eyes bulged. A shining revolver
covered them competently.

"Now, don't you, Buck--nor you either, Tom!" This advice because of a
tentative movement each had made with his right hand. "I'm awful careless
about spilling lead, when I get excited. Better reach for the roof; then
you won't have any temptations to suicide."

The hard eyes of the outlaws swept swiftly over the cattleman. Had he
shown any sign of indecision, they would have taken a chance and shot it
out. But he was so easily master of himself that the impulse to "draw"
died stillborn.

Bellamy gave a sharp, shrill whistle. Footsteps came pounding across the
open, and three armed men showed at the door.

"Darn my skin if the old son of a gun hasn't hogged all the glory!" Bob
Farnum complained joyfully. "Won't you introduce us to your friends,
Bellamy?"

"This gentleman with the biscuit in his hand is Buck; the one so partial
to porterhouse steak is Tom," returned Bellamy gravely.

"Glad to death to meet you, gents. Your hands seem so busy drilling for
the ceiling, we won't shake right now. If it would be any kindness to you,
I'll unload all this hardware, though. My! You tote enough with you to
start a store, boys."

"How did you find your way in?" growled Buck.

"Jest drifted in on our automobiles and airships," Bob told him airily, as
he unbuckled the revolver belt and handed it to one of his friends.

The outlaws were bound, after which Rosario cooked the posse a dinner.
This was eaten voraciously by all, for camp life had sharpened the
appetite for a woman's cooking.

One of the men kept watch to notify them when MacQueen and his gang should
enter the valley, while the others played "pitch" to pass the time. In
spite of this, the hours dragged. It was a good deal like waiting for a
battle to begin. Bellamy and Farnum had no nerves, but the others became
nervous and anxious.

"I reckon something is keeping them," suggested Alan, after looking at his
watch for the fifth time in half an hour. "Don't you reckon we better go
up the trail a bit to meet them?"

"I reckon we better wait here, Alan. Bid three," returned Farnum evenly.

As he spoke, their scout came running in.

"They're here, boys!"

"Good enough! How many of them?"

"Four of 'em, looked like. They were winding down the trail, and I
couldn't make out how many."

"All right, boys. Steady, now, till they get down from their horses. Hal,
out with the light when I give the word."

It was a minute to shake nerves of steel. They could hear the sound of
voices, an echo of jubilant laughter, the sound of iron shoes striking
stones in the trail. Then some one shouted:

"Oh, you, Buck!"

The program might have gone through as arranged, but for an unlooked-for
factor in the proceedings. Buck let out a shout of warning to his trapped
friends. Almost at the same instant the butt of Farnum's revolver smashed
down on his head; but the damage was already done.

Bellamy and his friends swarmed out like bees. The outlaws were waiting
irresolutely--some mounted, others beside their horses. Among them were
two pack horses.

"Hands up!" ordered the mine owner sharply.

The answer was a streak of fire from a rifle. Instantly there followed a
fusillade. Flash after flash lit up the darkness. Staccato oaths, cries, a
moan of pain, the trampling of frightened horses, filled the night with
confusion.

In spite of the shout of warning, the situation had come upon the bandits
as a complete surprise. How many were against them, whether or not they
were betrayed, the certainty that the law had at last taken them at a
disadvantage--these things worked with the darkness for the posse. A man
flung himself on his pony, lay low on its back, and galloped wildly into
the night. A second wheeled and followed at his heels. Hank Irwin was
down, with a bullet from a carbine through his jaw and the back of his
head. A wild shot had brought down another. Of the outlaws only MacQueen,
standing behind his horse as he fired, remained on the field uninjured.

The cattlemen had scattered as the firing began, and had availed
themselves of such cover as was to be had. Now they concentrated their
fire on the leader of the outlaws. His horse staggered and went down,
badly torn by a rifle bullet. A moment later the special thirty-two
carbine he carried was knocked from his hands by another shot.

He crouched and ran to Irwin's horse, flung himself to the saddle,
deliberately emptied his revolver at his foes, and put spurs to the
broncho. As he vanished into the hills Bob Farnum slowly sank to the
ground.

"I've got mine, Bellamy. Blamed if he ain't plumb bust my laig!"

The mine owner covered the two wounded outlaws, while his men disarmed
them. Then he walked across to his friend, laid down his rifle, and knelt
beside him.

"Did he get you bad, old man?"

"Bad enough so I reckon I'll have a doc look at it one of these days." Bob
grinned to keep down the pain.

Once more there came the sound of hoofs beating the trail of decomposed
granite. Bellamy looked up and grasped his rifle. A single rider loomed
out of the darkness and dragged his horse to a halt, a dozen yards from
the mine owner, in such a position that he was directly behind one of the
pack horses.

"Up with your hands!" ordered Bellamy on suspicion.

Two hands went swiftly up from beside the saddle. The moonlight gleamed on
something bright in the right hand. A flash rent the night. A jagged,
red-hot pain tore through the shoulder of Hal Yarnell. He fired wildly,
the shock having spoiled his aim.

The attacker laughed exultantly, mockingly, as he swung his horse about.

"A present from Black MacQueen," he jeered.

With that, he was gone again, taking the pack animal with him. He had had
the audacity to come back after his loot--and had got some of it, too.

One of the unwounded cowpunchers gave pursuit, but half an hour later he
returned ruefully.

"I lost him somehow--darned if I know how. I seen him before me one
minute; the next he was gone. Must 'a' known some trail that led off from
the road, I reckon."

Bellamy said nothing. He intended to take up the trail in person; but
first the wounded had to be looked to, a man dispatched for a doctor, and
things made safe against another possible but improbable attack. It was to
be a busy night; for he had on hand three wounded men, as well as two
prisoners who were sound. An examination showed him that neither of the
two wounded outlaws nor Farnum nor Yarnell were fatally shot. All were
hardy outdoors men, who had lived in the balsamic air of the hills; if
complications did not ensue, they would recover beyond question.

In this extremity Rosario was a first aid to the injured. She had betrayed
the bandits without the least compunction, because they had ignored the
oath of vengeance against the slayer of her son; but she nursed them all
impartially and skillfully until the doctor arrived, late next day.

Meanwhile Bellamy and McKinstra, guided by one of the outlaws, surprised
Jeff and released Flatray, who returned with them to camp.

With the doctor had come also four members of the Lee posse. To the deputy
in charge Jack turned over his four prisoners and the gold recovered. As
soon as the doctor had examined and dressed his wound he mounted and took
the trail after MacQueen. With him rode Bellamy.



CHAPTER XIII

MELISSY ENTERTAINS


The notes of Schumann's "Traümerei" died away. Melissy glanced over her
music, and presently ran lightly into Chopin's "Valse Au Petit Chien." She
was, after all, only a girl; and there were moments when she forgot to
remember that she was wedded to the worst of unhanged villains. When she
drowned herself fathoms deep in her music, she had the best chance of
forgetting.

Chaminade's "The Flatterer" followed. In the midst of this the door opened
quietly and closed again. Melissy finished, fingered her music, and became
somehow aware that she was not alone. She turned unhurriedly on the seat
and met the smiling eyes of her husband.

From his high-heeled boots to his black, glossy hair, Black MacQueen was
dusty with travel. Beside him was a gunny sack, tied in the middle and
filled at both ends. Picturesque he was and always would be, but his
present costume scarce fitted the presence of a lady. Yet of this he gave
no sign. He was leaning back in a morris chair, rakish, debonair, and at
his ease. Evidently, he had been giving appreciative ear to the music, and
more appreciative eye to the musician.

"So it's you," said Melissy, white to the lips.

MacQueen arose, recovered his dusty hat from the floor, and bowed
theatrically. "Your long-lost husband, my dear."

"What are you doing here?"

"I'm visiting my wife. The explanation seems a trifle obvious."

"What do you want?"

"Have I said I wanted anything?"

"Then you had better leave. I'll give you up if I get a chance."

He looked at her with lazy derision. "I like you angry. Your eyes snap
electricity, sweet."

"Oh!" She gave a gesture of impatience. "Do you know that, if I were to
step to that window and call out your name, the whole town would be in
arms against you?"

"Why don't you?"

"I shall, if you don't go."

"Are you alone in the house?"

"Why do you ask?" Her heart was beating fast.

"Because you must hide me till night. Is your father here?"

"Not now. He is hunting you--to kill you if he finds you."

"Servants?"

"The cook is out for the afternoon. She will be back in an hour or two."

"Good! Get me food."

She did not rise. "I must know more. What is it? Are they hunting you?
What have you done now?" A strong suppressed excitement beat in her
pulses.

"It is not what I have done, but what your friends have done. Yesterday I
went to exchange West for the ransom money. Most of my men I had to take
with me, to guard against foul play. We held the cañon from the flat tops,
and everything went all right. The exchange was made. We took the ransom
money back to the Cache. I don't know how it was--whether somebody played
me false and sold us, or whether your friend Flatray got loose and his
posse stumbled in by accident. But there they were in the Cache when we
got back."

"Yes?" The keenest agitation was in Melissy's voice.

"They took us by surprise. We fought. Two of my men ran away. Two were
shot down. I was alone."

"And then?"

The devil of torment moved in him. "Then I shot up one of your friend's
outfit, rode away, changed my mind, and went back, shot your friend, and
hiked off into the hills with a pack horse loaded with gold."

Out of all this one thing stood out terribly to her. "You shot Jack
Flatray--again!"

He laughed. One lie more or less made no difference. "I sure did."

She had to moisten her lips before she could ask the next question:
"You--killed him?"

"No--worse luck!"

"How do you know?"

"He and another man were on the trail after me to-day. I saw them pass up
Moose Creek from a ledge on which I was lying. If I had had a rifle, I
would have finished the job; but my carbine was gone. It was too far for a
six-gun."

"But, if you wounded him last night, how could he be trailing you
to-day?"

"I reckon it was a flesh wound. His shoulder was tied up, I noticed."
Impatiently he waved Flatray out of the conversation. "I didn't come here
to tell you about him. I got to get out on tonight's train. This country
has grown too hot for me. You're going with me?"

"No!"

"Yes, by God!"

"I'll never go with you--never--never!" she cried passionately. "I'm free
of the bargain. You broke faith. So shall I."

She saw his jaw clamp. "So you're going to throw me down, are you?"

Melissy stood before him, slim and straight, without yielding an inch. She
was quite colorless, for he was a man with whose impulses she could not
reckon. But one thing she knew. He could never take her away with him and
escape. And she knew that he must know it, too.

"If you want to call it that. You tricked me into marrying you. You meant
to betray me all the time. Go, while there's still a chance. I don't want
your blood on my hands."

It was characteristic of him that he always wanted more what he could not
get.

"Don't answer so quick, girl. Listen to me. I've got enough in that sack
to start us in the cattle business in Argentina. There's more buried in
the hills, if we need it. Girl, I tell you I'm going to run straight from
to-day!"

She laughed scornfully. "And in the same breath you tell me how much you
have stolen and are taking with you. If you were a Croesus, I wouldn't go
with you." She flamed into sudden, fierce passion. "Will you never
understand that I hate and detest you?"

"You think you do, but you don't. You love me--only you won't let yourself
believe it."

"There's no arguing with such colossal conceit," she retorted, with hard
laughter. "It's no use to tell you that I should like to see you dead at
my feet."

Swiftly he slid a revolver from its holster, and presented it to her, butt
first. "You can have your wish right easy, if you mean it. Go to it.
There's no danger. All you've got to give out is that I frightened you.
You'll be a heroine, too."

She looked at the weapon and at him, and the very thought of it made her
sick. She saw the thing almost as if it were already done--the smoking
revolver in her hand, and the man lying motionless before her.

"Take it away," she said, with a shudder.

"You see, you can't do it! You can't even go to the window there and shout
out that Black MacQueen is with you in the house. You don't hate me at
all, my dear."

"Because I won't kill you with my own hand? You reason logically."

"Then why don't you betray my presence? Why don't you call your friends in
to take me?"

"I'm not sure that I won't; but if I don't, it will be for their sakes,
and not for yours. They could not take you without loss of life."

"You're right there," he agreed, with a flash of his tigerish ferocity.
"They couldn't take me alive at all, and I reckon before I checked in a
few of them would."



CHAPTER XIV

BLACK MACQUEEN CASHES HIS CHECKS


It was part of his supreme audacity to trust her. While he was changing
his dusty, travel-stained clothes for some that belonged to her brother
she prepared a meal for him downstairs. A dozen times the impulse was on
her to fly into the street and call out that Black MacQueen was in the
house, but always she restrained herself. He was going to leave the
country within a few hours. Better let him go without bloodshed.

He came down to his dinner fresh from a bath and a shave, wearing a new
tweed suit, which fitted him a trifle loosely, but was not unbecoming to
his trim, lithe figure. No commercial traveler at a familiar hotel could
have been more jauntily and blithely at home.

"So you didn't run away!" He grinned.

"Not yet. I'm going to later. I owe you a meal, and I wanted to pay it
first."

It was his very contempt of fear that had held her. To fool away half an
hour in dressing, knowing that it was very likely she might be summoning
men to kill him--to come down confident and unperturbed, possibly to meet
his death--was such a piece of dare-deviltry as won reluctant admiration,
in spite of her detestation of him. Even if she did not give him up, his
situation was precarious in the extreme. All the trains were being
watched; and in spite of this he had to walk boldly to the station, buy a
ticket, and pass himself off for an ordinary traveler.

Both knew that the chances were against him, but he gave no sign of
concern or anxiety. Never had Melissy seen him so full of spirits. The
situation would have depressed most men; him it merely stimulated. The
excitement of it ran like wine through his blood. Driven from his hills,
with every man's hand against him, with the avenues of escape apparently
closed, he was in his glory. He would play his cards out to the end,
without whining, no matter how the game might go.

Melissy washed the dishes, in order that the cook might not know that she
had had a guest for luncheon. The two returned to the living room. It was
his whim to have her play for him; and she was glad to comply, because it
interfered with his wooing. She was no longer greatly afraid of him, for
she knew that he was on his good behavior to win her liking.

Fortune favored her. For some time they had heard the cook moving about in
the kitchen. Once she had poked her head in to know whether her young
mistress would like the cherry pie for dinner.

"I didn't know yez had company, Miss 'Lissie," she had apologized.

"This gentleman will stay to dinner," Melissy had announced.

At luncheon Melissy had not eaten with him; but at dinner it was
necessary, on account of the cook, that she sit down, too. The meal had
scarce begun when Kate came beaming in.

"Shure, Miss 'Lissie, there's another young gentleman at the door. It's
Mr. Bellamy. I tould him to come right in. He's washing his face first."

Melissy rose, white as a sheet. "All right, Kate."

But as soon as the cook had left the room she turned to the outlaw. "What
shall I do? What shall I do?"

Little whimsical imps of mischief shone in his eyes. "Have him in and
introduce him to your husband, my dear."

"You must go--quick. If I don't get rid of him, you'll be able to slip out
the back way and get to the depot. He doesn't know you are here."

MacQueen sat back and gave her his easy, reckless smile. "Guess again.
Bellamy can't drive me out."

She caught her hands together. "Oh, go--go! There will be trouble. You
wouldn't kill him before my very eyes!"

"Not unless he makes the first play. It's up to him." He laughed with the
very delight of it. "I'd as lief settle my account with him right now.
He's meddled too much in my affairs."

She broke out in a cry of distress: "You wouldn't! I've treated you fair.
I could have betrayed you, and I didn't. Aren't you going to play square
with me?"

He nodded. "All right. Show him in. He won't know me except as Lieutenant
O'Connor. It was too dark last night to see my face."

Bellamy came into the room.

"How's Jack?" Melissy asked quickly as she caught his hand.

"Good as new. And you?"

"All right."

The outlaw stirred uneasily in his seat. His vanity objected to another
man holding the limelight while he was present.

Melissy turned. "I think you have never met Lieutenant O'Connor, Mr.
Bellamy. Lieutenant--Mr. Bellamy."

They shook hands. MacQueen smiled. He was enjoying himself.

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Bellamy. You and Flatray have won the honors
surely. You beat us all to it, sir. As I rode in this mornin', everybody
was telling how you rounded up the outlaws. Have you caught MacQueen
himself?"

"Not yet. We have reason to believe that he rode within ten miles of town
this morning before he cut across to the railroad. The chances are that
he will try to board a train at some water tank in the dark. We're having
them all watched. I came in to telephone all stations to look out for
him."

"Where's Jack?" Melissy asked.

"He'll be here presently. His arm was troubling him some, so he stopped to
see the doctor. Then he has to talk with his deputy."

"You're sure he isn't badly hurt?"

"No, only a scratch, he calls it."

"Did you happen on Dead Man's Cache by accident?" asked MacQueen with
well-assumed carelessness.

Bellamy had no intention of giving Rosario away to anybody. "You might
call it that," he said evenly. "You know, I had been near there once when
I was out hunting."

"Do you expect to catch MacQueen?" the outlaw asked, a faint hint of irony
in his amused voice.

"I can't tell. That's what I'm hoping, lieutenant."

"We hope for a heap of things we never get," returned the outlaw, in a
gentle voice, his eyes half shuttered behind drooping lids.

Melissy cut into the conversation hurriedly. "Lieutenant O'Connor is going
on the seven-five this evening, Mr. Bellamy. He has business that will
take him away for a while. It is time we were going. Won't you walk down
to the train with us?"

MacQueen swore softly under his breath, but there was nothing he could say
in protest. He knew he could not take the girl with him. Now he had been
cheated out of his good-byes by her woman's wit in dragging Bellamy to the
depot with them. He could not but admire the adroitness with which she had
utilized her friend to serve her end.

They walked to the station three abreast, the outlaw carrying as lightly
as he could the heavy suitcase that held his plunder. Melissy made small
talk while they waited for the train. She was very nervous, and she was
trying not to show it.

"Next time you come, lieutenant, we'll have a fine stone depot to show
you. Mr. West has promised to make Mesa the junction point, and we're sure
to have a boom," she said.

A young Mexican vaquero trailed softly behind them, the inevitable
cigarette between his lips. From under his broad, silver-laced sombrero he
looked keenly at each of the three as he passed.

A whistle sounded clearly in the distance.

The outlaw turned to the girl beside him. "I'm coming back some day soon.
Be sure of that, Mrs. MacQueen."

The audacity of the name used, designed as it was to stab her friend and
to remind Melissy how things stood, made the girl gasp. She looked quickly
at Bellamy and saw him crush the anger from his face.

The train drew into the station. Presently the conductor's "All aboard!"
served notice that it was starting. The outlaw shook hands with Melissy
and then with the mine owner.

"Good-bye. Don't forget that I'm coming back," he said, in a perfectly
distinct, low tone.

And with that he swung aboard the Pullman car with his heavy suitcase. An
instant later the Mexican vaquero pulled himself to the vestibule of the
smoking car ahead.

MacQueen looked back from the end of the train at the two figures on the
platform. A third figure had joined them. It was Jack Flatray. The girl
and the sheriff were looking at each other. With a furious oath, he turned
on his heel. For the evidence of his eyes had told him that they were
lovers.

MacQueen passed into the coach and flung himself down into his section
discontentedly. The savor of his adventure was gone. He had made his
escape with a large share of the plunder, in spite of spies and posses.
But in his heart he knew that he had lost forever the girl whom he had
forced to marry him. He was still thinking about it somberly when a figure
appeared in the aisle at the end of the car.

Instantly the outlaw came to alert attention, and his hand slipped to the
butt of a revolver. The figure was that of the Mexican vaquero whom he had
carelessly noted on the platform of the station. Vigilantly his gaze
covered the approaching man. Surely in Arizona there were not two men with
that elastic tread or that lithe, supple figure.

His revolver flashed in the air. "Stand back, Bucky O'Connor--or, by God,
I'll drill you!"

The vaquero smiled. "Right guess, Black MacQueen. I arrest you in the name
of the law."

Black's revolver spat flame twice before the ranger's gun got into action,
but the swaying of the train caused him to stagger as he rose to his
feet.

The first shot of Bucky's revolver went through the heart of the outlaw;
but so relentless was the man that, even after that, his twitching fingers
emptied the revolver. O'Connor fired only once. He watched his opponent
crumple up, fling wild shots into the upholstery and through the roof, and
sink into the silence from which there is no awakening on this side of the
grave. Then he went forward and looked down at him.

"I reckon that ends Black MacQueen," he said quietly. "And I reckon
Melissy Lee is a widow."

                   *       *       *       *       *

Jack Flatray had met O'Connor at his own office and the two had come down
to the station on the off chance that MacQueen might try to make his
getaway from Mesa in some disguise. But as soon as he saw Melissy the
sheriff had eyes for nobody else except the girl he loved. One sleeve of
his coat was empty, and his shoulder was bandaged. He looked very tired
and drawn; for he had ridden hard more than sixteen hours with a painful
wound. But the moment his gaze met hers she knew that his thoughts were
all for her and her trouble.

His free hand went out to meet hers. She forgot MacQueen and all the
sorrow he had brought her. Her eyes were dewy with love and his answered
eagerly. She knew now that she would love Jack Flatray for better or worse
until death should part them. But she knew, too, that the shadow of
MacQueen, her husband by law, was between them.

Together they walked back from the depot. In the shadow of the vines on
her father's porch they stopped. Jack caught her hands in his and looked
down into her tired, haggard face all lit with love. Tears were in the
eyes of both.

"You're entitled to the truth, Jack," she told him. "I love you. I think I
always have. And I know I always shall. But I'm another man's wife. It
will have to be good-bye between us, Jack," she told him wistfully.

He took her in his arms and kissed her. "You're my sweetheart. I'll not
give you up. Don't think it."

He spoke with such strength, such assurance, that she knew he would not
yield without a struggle.

"I'll never be anything to him--never. But he stands between us. Don't you
see he does?"

"No. Your marriage to him is empty words. We'll have it annulled. It will
not stand in any court. I've won you and I'm going to keep you. There's no
two ways about that."

She broke down and began to sob quietly in a heartbroken fashion, while he
tried to comfort her. It was not so easy as he thought. So long as
MacQueen lived Flatray would walk in danger if she did as he wanted her to
do.

Neither of them knew that Bucky O'Connor's bullet had already annulled the
marriage, that happiness was already on the wing to them.

This hour was to be for their grief, the next for their joy.

The End



NOVELS OF FRONTIER LIFE BY

WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.
MAVERICKS

A tale of the western frontier, where the "rustler" abounds. One of the
sweetest love stories ever told.

A TEXAS RANGER

How a member of the border police saved the life of an innocent man,
followed a fugitive to Wyoming, and then passed through deadly peril to
ultimate happiness.

WYOMING

In this vivid story the author brings out the turbid life of the frontier
with all its engaging dash and vigor.

RIDGWAY OF MONTANA

The scene is laid in the mining centers of Montana, where politics and
mining industries are the religion of the country.

BUCKY O'CONNOR

Every chapter teems with wholesome, stirring adventures, replete with the
dashing spirit of the border.

CROOKED TRAILS AND STRAIGHT

A story of Arizona; of swift-riding men and daring outlaws; of a bitter
feud between cattlemen and sheep-herders.

BRAND BLOTTERS

A story of the turbid life of the frontier with a charming love interest
running through its pages.

STEVE YEAGER

A story brimful of excitement, with enough gun-play and adventure to suit
anyone.

A DAUGHTER OF THE DONS

A Western story of romance and adventure, comprising a vivacious and
stirring tale.

THE HIGHGRADER

A breezy, pleasant and amusing love story of Western mining life.

THE PIRATE OF PANAMA

A tale of old-time pirates and of modern love, hate and adventure.

THE YUKON TRAIL

A crisply entertaining love story in the land where might makes right.

THE VISION SPLENDID

In which two cousins are contestants for the same prizes: political honors
and the hand of a girl.

THE SHERIFF'S SON

The hero finally conquers both himself and his enemies and wins the love
of a wonderful girl.

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD'S

STORIES OF ADVENTURE

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.
THE RIVER'S END

A story of the Royal Mounted Police.

THE GOLDEN SNARE

Thrilling adventures in the Far Northland.

NOMADS OF THE NORTH

The story of a bear-cub and a dog.

KAZAN

The tale of a "quarter-strain wolf and three-quarters husky" torn between
the call of the human and his wild mate.

BAREE, SON OF KAZAN

The story of the son of the blind Grey Wolf and the gallant part he played
in the lives of a man and a woman.

THE COURAGE OF CAPTAIN PLUM

The story of the King of Beaver Island, a Mormon colony, and his battle
with Captain Plum.

THE DANGER TRAIL

A tale of love, Indian vengeance, and a mystery of the North.

THE HUNTED WOMAN

A tale of a great fight in the "valley of gold" for a woman.

THE FLOWER OF THE NORTH

The story of Fort o' God, where the wild flavor of the wilderness is
blended with the courtly atmosphere of France.

THE GRIZZLY KING

The story of Thor, the big grizzly.

ISOBEL

A love story of the Far North.

THE WOLF HUNTERS

A thrilling tale of adventure in the Canadian wilderness.

THE GOLD HUNTERS

The story of adventure in the Hudson Bay wilds.

THE COURAGE OF MARGE O'DOONE

Filled with exciting incidents in the land of strong men and women.

BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY

A thrilling story of the Far North. The great Photoplay was made from this
book.

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York





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