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A Message In Cipher







Part of: LUCK
From: Crooked Trails And Straight

While Kate listened to what Curly had to tell her the dark eyes of the
girl were fastened upon the trembling little woman standing near the
door.

"Do you mean that she is going to let my father be killed rather than tell
what she knows?" Her voice was sharply incredulous, touched with a horror
scarcely realized.

"So she says."

Mrs. Wylie wrung her hands in agitation. Her lined face was a mirror of
distress.

"But that's impossible. She must tell. What has Father ever done to hurt
her?"

"I--I don't know anything about it," the harassed woman iterated.

"What's the use of saying that when we know you do? And you'll not get out
of it by sobbing. You've got to talk."

Kate had not moved. None the less her force, the upblaze of feminine
energy in her, crowded the little storekeeper to the wall. "You've got to
tell--you've just got to," she insisted.

The little woman shrank before the energy of a passion so vital. No
strength was in her to fight. But she could and did offer the passive
resistance of obstinate silence.

Curly had drawn from his pocket the newspaper found in the cellar. His
eyes had searched for the date line to use as cumulative evidence, but
they had remained fastened to one story. Now he spoke imperatively.

"Come here, Miss Kate."

She was beside him in an instant. "What is it?"

"I'm not sure yet, but---- Look here. I believe this is a message to us."

"A message?"

"From your father perhaps."

"How could it be?"

"I found the paper in the cellar where he was. See how some of these words
are scored. Done with a finger nail, looks like."

"But how could he know we would see the paper, and if we did see it would
understand?"

"He couldn't. It would be one chance in a million, but all his life he's
been taking chances. This couldn't do any harm."

Her dark head bent beside his fair one with the crisp sun-reddened curls.

"I don't see any message. Where is it?"

"I don't see it myself--not much of it. Gimme time."

This was the paragraph upon which his gaze had fastened, and the words and
letters were scored sharply as shown below, though in the case of single
letters the mark ran through them instead of underneath, evidently that no
mistake might be made as to which was meant.

J. P. Kelley of the ranger force reports

over the telephone that by unexpected good

luck he has succeeded in taking prisoner
---- --------
the notorious Jack Foster of Hermosilla
---- -- -- -
and the Rincons notoriety and is now
- - - ---
bringing him to Saguache where he will be
--------
locked up pending a disposition of his case.
-------------------------------------------
Kelley succeeded in surprising him while
---------------------------
he was eating dinner at a Mexican road-house

just this side of the border.

"Do you make it out?" Maloney asked, looking over their shoulders.

Curly took a pencil and an envelope from his pocket. On the latter he
jotted down some words and handed the paper to his friend. This was what
Maloney read:

........................................
..........................................
luck............................prisoner
the notorious Jack Foster of Hermosilla
..............Jack........of.He.......a
........R.........t............s.now
................Saguache.................
locked up pending a disposition of his case.
.......succeeded in surprising him......
............................................
.............................

"Read that right ahead."

Dick did not quite get the idea, but Kate, tense with excitement, took the
envelope and read aloud.

"Luck----prisoner----Jack of Hearts----now Saguache----locked up pending a
disposition of his case----succeeded in surprising him." She looked up
with shining eyes. "He tells us everything but the names of the people who
did it. Perhaps somewhere else in the paper he may tell that too."

But though they went over it word for word they found no more. Either he
had been interrupted, or he had been afraid that his casual thumb nail
pressures might arouse the suspicion of his guards if persisted in too
long.

"He's alive somewhere. We'll save him now." Kate cried it softly, all warm
with the joy of it.

"Seems to let our friend Fendrick out," Maloney mused.

"Lets him out of kidnapping Uncle Luck but maybe not out of the robbery,"
Bob amended.

"Doesn't let him out of either. Somebody was in this with Blackwell. If it
wasn't Cass Fendrick then who was it?" Kate wanted to know.

"Might have been Soapy Stone," Dick guessed.

"Might have been, but now Sam has gone back into the hills to join Soapy;
the gang would have to keep it from Sam. He wouldn't stand for it."

"No, not for a minute," Kate said decisively.

Curly spoke to her in a low voice. "You have a talk with Mrs. Wylie alone.
We'll pull our freights. She'll tell you what she knows." He smiled in his
gentle winning way. "She's sure had a tough time of it if ever a woman
had. I reckon a little kindness is what she needs. Let her see we're her
friends and will stand by her, that we won't let her come to harm because
she talks. Show her we know everything anyhow but want her to corroborate
details."

It was an hour before Kate joined them, and her eyes, though they were
very bright, told tales, of tears that had been shed.

"That poor woman! She has told me everything. Father has been down in that
cellar for days under a guard. They took him away to-night. She doesn't
know where. It was she sent the warnings to Sheriff Bolt. She wanted him
to raid the place, but she dared not go to him."

"Because of Blackwell?"

"Yes. He came straight to her as soon as he was freed from the
penitentiary. He had her completely terrorized. It seems she has been
afraid to draw a deep breath ever since he returned. Even while he was in
the hills she was always looking for him to come. The man used to keep her
in a hell and he began bullying her again. So she gave him money, and he
came for more--and more."

Curly nodded. He said nothing, but his strong jaw clamped.

"He was there that day," the girl continued. "She plucked up courage to
refuse him what little she had left because she needed it for the rent. He
got hold of her arm and twisted it. Father heard her cry and came in.
Blackwell was behind the door as it opened. He struck with a loaded cane
and Father fell unconscious. He raised it to strike again, but she clung
to his arm and called for help. Before he could shake her off another man
came in. He wrenched the club away."

"Fendrick?" breathed Curly.

"She doesn't know. But the first thing he did was to lock the outer door
and take the key. They carried Father down into the cellar. Before he came
to himself his hands were tied behind his back."

"And then?"

"They watched him day and night. Fendrick himself did not go near the
place--if it was Fendrick. Blackwell swore to kill Mrs. Wylie if she told.
They held him there till to-night. She thinks they were trying to get
Father to sign some paper."

"The relinquishment of course. That means the other man was Fendrick."

Kate nodded. "Yes."

Curly rose. The muscles stood out in his jaw; hard as steel ropes.

"We'll rake the Rincons with a fine tooth comb. Don't you worry. I've
already wired for Bucky O'Connor to come and help. We'll get your Father
out of the hands of those hell hounds. Won't we, Dick?"

The girl's eyes admired him, a lean hard-bitten Westerner with eyes as
unblinking as an Arizona sun and with muscles like wire springs. His face
still held its boyishness, but it had lost forever the irresponsibility of
a few months before. She saw in him an iron will, shrewdness, courage and
resource. All of these his friend Maloney also had. But Curly was the
prodigal son, the sinner who had repented. His engaging recklessness lent
him a charm from which she could not escape. Out of ten thousand men there
were none whose voice drummed on her heart strings as did that of this
youth.





Next: The Friends Of L C Serve Notice

Previous: Anonymous Letters



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