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A Photograph







Part of: DEAD MAN'S CACHE
From: Brand Blotters

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.





Next: In Dead Man's Cache

Previous: The Real Bucky And The False



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