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Ain't She The Gamest Little Thoroughbred?







Part of: LUCK
From: Crooked Trails And Straight

Kate galloped into the ranch plaza around which the buildings were set,
slipped from her pony, and ran at once to the telephone. Bob was on a side
porch mending a bridle.

"Have you heard anything from dad?" she cried through the open door.

"Nope," he answered, hammering down a rivet.

Kate called up the hotel where Maloney was staying at Saguache, but could
not get him. She tried the Del Mar, where her father and his friends
always put up when in town. She asked in turn for Mackenzie, for Yesler,
for Alec Flandrau.

While she waited for an answer, the girl moved nervously about the room.
She could not sit down or settle herself at anything. For some instinct
told her that Fendrick's taunt was not a lie cut out of whole cloth.

The bell rang. Instantly she was at the telephone. Mackenzie was at the
other end of the line.

"Oh, Uncle Mac." She had called him uncle ever since she could remember.
"What is it they are saying about dad? Tell me it isn't true," she
begged.

"A pack of lees, lassie." His Scotch idiom and accent had succumbed to
thirty years on the plains, but when he became excited it rose triumphant
through the acquired speech of the Southwest.

"Then is he there--in Saguache, I mean."

"No-o. He's not in town."

"Where is he?"

"Hoots! He'll just have gone somewhere on business."

He did not bluff well. Through the hearty assurance she pierced to the
note of trouble in his voice.

"You're hiding something from me, Uncle Mac. I won't have it. You tell me
the truth--the whole truth."

In three sentences he sketched it for her, and when he had finished he
knew by the sound of her voice that she was greatly frightened.

"Something has happened to him. I'm coming to town."

"If you feel you'd rather. Take the stage in to-morrow."

"No. I'm coming to-night. I'll bring Bob. Save us two rooms at the
hotel."

"Better wait till to-morrow. Forty miles is a long ride, lass."

"No, I can't wait. Have Curly Flandrau come to the Del Mar if he's in
town--and Dick Maloney, too. That's all. Good-by."

She turned to her cousin, who was standing big-eyed at her elbow.

"What is it, Kate? Has anything happened to Uncle Luck?"

She swallowed a lump in her throat. "Dad's gone, Bob. Nobody knows where.
They say--the liars--that he robbed the W. & S. Express Company."

Suddenly her face went down into her forearm on the table and sobs began
to rack her body. The boy, staggered at this preposterous charge, could
only lay his hand on her shoulder and beg her not to cry.

"It'll be all right, Kate. Wait till Uncle Luck comes back. He'll make 'em
sick for talking about him."

"But suppose he--suppose he----" She dared not complete what was in her
mind, that perhaps he had been ambushed by some of his enemies and
killed.

"You bet they'll drop into a hole and pull it in after them when Uncle
Luck shows up," the boy bragged with supreme confidence.

His cousin nodded, choking down her sobs. "Of course. It--it'll come out
all right--as soon as he finds out what they're saying. Saddle two horses
right away, Bob."

"Sure. We'll soon find where he is, I bet you."

The setting sun found their journey less than half done. The brilliant
rainbow afterglow of sunset faded to colder tints, and then disappeared.
The purple saw-toothed range softened to a violet hue. With the coming of
the moon the hard, dry desert lost detail, took on a loveliness of tone
and outline that made it an idealized painting of itself. Myriads of stars
were out, so that the heavens seemed sown with them as an Arizona hillside
is in spring with yellow poppies.

Kate was tortured with anxiety, but the surpassing beauty that encompassed
them was somehow a comfort to her. Deep within her something denied that
her father could be gone out of a world so good. And if he were alive,
Curly Flandrau would find him--Curly and Dick between them. Luck Cullison
had plenty of good friends who would not stand by and see him wronged.

Any theory of his disappearance that accepted his guilt did not occur to
her mind for an instant. The two had been very close to each other. Luck
had been in the habit of saying smilingly that she was his majordomo, his
right bower. Some share of his lawless temperament she inherited, enough
to feel sure that this particular kind of wrongdoing was impossible for
him. He was reckless, sometimes passionate, but she did not need to
reassure herself that he was scrupulously honest.

This brought her back to the only other tenable hypothesis--foul play. And
from this she shrank with a quaking heart. For surely if his enemies
wished to harm him they would destroy him, and this was a conclusion
against which she fought desperately.

The plaza clock boomed ten strokes as they rode into Saguache. Mackenzie
was waiting for them on the steps of the hotel.

"Have they--has anything been----?"

The owner of the Fiddleback shook his grizzled head. "Not yet. Didn't you
meet Curly?"

"No."

"He rode out to come in with you, but if he didn't meet you by ten he was
to come back. You took the north road, I reckon?"

"Yes."

His warm heart was wrung for the young woman whose fine eyes stared with
dumb agony from a face that looked very white in the shining moonlight. He
put an arm around her shoulders, and drew her into the hotel with cheerful
talk.

"Come along, Bob. We're going to tuck away a good supper first off. While
you're eating, I'll tell you all there is to be told."

Kate opened her lips to say that she was not hungry and could not possibly
eat a bite, but she thought better of it. Bob had tasted nothing since
noon, and of course he must be fed.

The lad fell to with an appetite grief had not dulled. His cousin could at
first only pick at what was set before her. It seemed heartless to be
sitting down in comfort to so good a supper while her father was in she
knew not how great distress. Grief swelled in her throat, and forced back
the food she was trying to eat.

Mackenzie broke off his story to remonstrate. "This won't do at all, Kate.
If you're going to help find Luck, you've got to keep yourself fit. Now,
you try this chicken, honey."

"I--just can't, Uncle Mac."

"But you need it."

"I know," the girl confessed, and as she said it broke down again into
soft weeping.

Mac let her have her cry out, petting her awkwardly. Presently she dried
her eyes, set at her supper in a businesslike way, heard the story to an
end quietly, and volunteered one heartbroken comment.

"As if father could do such a thing."

The cattleman agreed eagerly. There were times when he was full of doubt
on that point, but he was not going to let her know it.

Curly came into the room, and the girl rose to meet him. He took her
little hand in his tanned, muscular one, and somehow from his grip she
gathered strength. He would do all that could be done to find her father,
just as he had done so much to save her brother.

"I'm so glad you've come," she said simply.

"I'm glad you're glad," he smiled cheerfully.

He knew she had been crying, that she was suffering cruelly, but he
offered her courage rather than maudlin sympathy. Hope seemed to flow
through her veins at the meeting of the eyes. Whatever a man could do for
her would be done by Curly.

They talked the situation over together.

"As it looks to me, we've got to find out two things--first, what has
become of your father, and, second, who did steal that money."

"Now you're talking," Mackenzie agreed. "I always did say you had a good
head, Curly."

"I don't see it yet, but there's some link between the two things. I mean
between the robbery and his disappearance."

"How do you mean?" Kate asked.

"We'll say the robbers were his enemies--some of the Soapy Stone outfit
maybe. They have got him out of the way to satisfy their grudge and to
make people think he did it. Unfortunately there is evidence that makes it
look as if he might have done it--what they call corroborating
testimony."

Billie Mackenzie scratched his gray poll. "Hold on, Curly. This notion of
a link between the hold-up and Luck's leaving is what the other side is
tying to. Don't we want to think different from them?"

"We do. They think he is guilty. We know he isn't."

"What does Sheriff Bolt think?"

Curly waved the sheriff aside. "It don't matter what he thinks, Miss Kate.
He says he thinks Luck was mixed up in the hold-up. Maybe that's what he
thinks, but we don't want to forget that Cass Fendrick made him sheriff
and your father fought him to a fare-you-well."

"Then we can't expect any help from him."

"Not much. He ain't a bad fellow, Bolt ain't. He'll be square, but his
notions are liable to be warped."

"I'd like to talk with him," the young woman announced.

"All right," Mackenzie assented. "To-morrow mo'ning----"

"No, to-night, Uncle Mac."

The cattleman looked at her in surprise. Her voice rang with decision. Her
slight figure seemed compact of energy and resolution. Was this the girl
who had been in helpless tears not ten minutes before?

"I'll see if he's at his office. Maybe he'll come up," Curly said.

"No. I'll go down to the courthouse if he's there."

Flandrau got Bolt on the telephone at his room. After a little grumbling
he consented to meet Miss Cullison at his office.

"Bob, you must go to bed. You're tired out," his cousin told him.

"I ain't, either," he denied indignantly. "Tired nothing. I'm going with
you."

Curly caught Kate's glance, and she left the boy to him.

"Look here, Bob. We're at the beginning of a big job. Some of us have to
keep fresh all the time. We'll work in relays. To-night you sleep so as to
be ready to-morrow."

This way of putting it satisfied the boy. He reluctantly consented to go
to bed, and was sound asleep almost as soon as his head struck the
pillow.

At the office of the sheriff, Kate cut to essentials as soon as
introductions were over.

"Do you think my father robbed the W. & S. Express Company, Mr. Bolt?" she
asked.

Her plainness embarrassed the officer.

"Let's took at the facts, Miss Cullison," he began amiably. "Then you tell
me what you would think in my place. Your father needed money mighty bad.
There's no doubt at all about that. Here's an envelope on which he had
written a list of his debts. You'll notice they run to just a little more
than twenty thousand. I found this in his bedroom the day he
disappeared."

She took the paper, glanced at it mechanically, and looked at the sheriff
again. "Well? Everybody wants money. Do they all steal it?"

"Turn that envelope over, Miss Cullison. Notice how he has written there
half a dozen times in a row, '$20,000,' and just below it twice, 'W. & S.
Ex. Co.' Finally, the one word, 'To-night.'"

She read it all, read it with a heart heavy as lead, and knew that there
he had left in his own strong, bold handwriting convincing evidence
against himself. Still, she did not doubt him in the least, but there
could be no question now that he knew of the intended shipment, that
absent-mindedly he had jotted down this data while he was thinking about
it in connection with his own debts.

The sheriff went on tightening the chain of evidence in a voice that for
all its kindness seemed to her remorseless as fate. "It turns out that Mr.
Jordan of the Cattleman's National Bank mentioned this shipment to your
father that morning. Mr. Cullison was trying to raise money from him, but
he couldn't let him have it. Every bank in the city refused him a loan.
Yet next morning he paid off two thousand dollars he owed from a poker
game."

"He must have borrowed the money from some one," she said weakly.

"That money he paid in twenty-dollar bills. The stolen express package was
in twenties. You know yourself that this is a gold country. Bills ain't so
plentiful."

The girl's hand went to her heart. Faith in her father was a rock not to
be washed away by any amount of evidence. What made her wince was the
amount of circumstantial testimony falling into place so inexorably
against him.

"Is that all?" she asked despairingly.

"I wish it were, Miss Cullison. But it's not. A man came round the corner
and shot at the robber as he was escaping. His hat fell off. Here it is."

As Kate took the hat something seemed to tighten around her heart. It
belonged to her father. His personality was stamped all over it. She even
recognized a coffee stain on the under side of the brim. There was no need
of the initials L. C. to tell her whose it had been. A wave of despair
swept over her. Again she was on the verge of breaking down, but
controlled herself as with a tight curb.

Bolt's voice went on. "Next day your father disappeared, Miss Cullison. He
was here in town all morning. His friends knew that suspicion was
fastening on him. The inference is that he daren't wait to have the truth
come out. Mind, I don't say he's guilty. But it looks that way. Now,
that's my case. If you were sheriff in my place, what would you do?"

Her answer flashed back instantly. "If I knew Luck Cullison, I would be
sure there was a mistake somewhere, and I would look for foul play. I
would believe anything except that he was guilty--anything in the world.
You know he has enemies."

The sheriff liked her spirited defense no less because he could not agree
with her. "Yes, I know that. The trouble is that these incriminating facts
don't come in the main from his enemies."

"You say the robber had on his hat, and that somebody shot at him. Whoever
it was must know the man wasn't father."

Gently Bolt took this last prop from her hope. "He is almost sure the man
was your father."

A spark of steel came into her dark eyes. "Who is the man?"

"His name is Fendrick."

"Cass Fendrick?" She whipped the word at him, leaning forward in her chair
rigidly with her hands clenched on the arms of it. One could have guessed
that the sound of the name had unleashed a dormant ferocity in her.

"Yes. I know he and your father aren't friends. They have had some
trouble. For that reason he was very reluctant to give your father's
name."

The girl flamed. "Reluctant! Don't you believe it? He hates Father like
poison." A flash of inspiration came to her. She rose, slim and tall and
purposeful. "Cass Fendrick is the man you want, and he is the man I want.
He robbed the express company, and he has killed my father or abducted
him. I know now. Arrest him to-night."

"I have to have evidence," Bolt said quietly.

"I can give you a motive. Listen. Father expected to prove up yesterday on
his Del Oro claim. If he had done so Cass Fendrick's sheep would have been
cut off from the water. Father had to be got out of the way not later than
Wednesday, or that man would have been put out of business. He was very
bitter about it. He had made threats."

"It would take more than threats to get rid of the best fighting man in
Arizona, right in the middle of the day, in the heart of the town, without
a soul knowing about it." The officer added with a smile: "I'd hate to
undertake the contract, give me all the help I wanted."

"He was trapped somehow, of course," Curly cut in. For he was sure that in
no other way could Luck Cullison have been overcome.

"If you'll only tell me how, Flandrau," Bolt returned.

"I don't know how, but we'll find out."

"I hope so."

Kate felt his doubt, and it was like a spark to powder.

"Fendrick is your friend. You were elected by his influence. Perhaps you
want to prove that Father did this."

"The people elected me, Miss Cullison," answered Bolt, with grave
reproach. "I haven't any friends or any enemies when it comes to doing
what I've sworn to do."

"Then you ought to know Father couldn't have done this. There is such a
thing as character. Luck Cullison simply couldn't be a thief."

Mackenzie's faith had been strengthened by the insistent loyalty of the
girl. "That's right, Nick. Let me tell you something else. Fendrick knew
Luck was going to prove up on Thursday. He heard him tell us at the
Round-Up Club Tuesday morning."

The sheriff summed up. "You've proved Cass had interests that would be
helped if Mr. Cullison were removed. But you haven't shaken the evidence
against Luck."

"We've proved Cass Fendrick had to get Father out of the way on the very
day he disappeared. One day later would have been too late. We've shown
his enmity. Any evidence that rests on his word is no good. The truth
isn't in the man."

"Maybe not, but he didn't make this evidence."

Kate had another inspirational flash. "He did--some of it. Somehow he got
hold of father's hat, and he manufactured a story about shooting it from
the robber's head. But to make his story stick he must admit he was on the
ground at the time of the hold-up. So he must have known the robbery was
going to take place. It's as plain as old Run-A-Mile's wart that he knew
of it because he planned it himself."

Bolt's shrewd eyes narrowed to a smile. "You prove to me that Cass had
your father's hat before the hold-up, and I'll take some stock in the
story."

"And in the meantime," suggested Curly.

"I'll keep right on looking for Luck Cullison, but I'll keep an eye on
Cass Fendrick, too."

Kate took up the challenge confidently. "I'll prove he had the hat--at
least I'll try to pretty hard. It's the truth, and it must come out
somehow."

After he had left her at the hotel, Curly walked the streets with a sharp
excitement tingling his blood. He had lived his life among men, and he
knew little about women and their ways. But his imagination seized avidly
upon this slim, dark girl with the fine eyes that could be both tender and
ferocious, with the look of combined delicacy and strength in every line
of her.

"Ain't she the gamest little thoroughbred ever?" he chuckled to himself.
"Stands the acid every crack. Think of her standing pat so game--just like
she did for me that night out at the ranch. She's the best argument Luck
has got."





Next: Two Hats On A Rack

Previous: Kate Uses Her Quirt



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