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Enter Bear-trap Collins








From: Bucky O'connor

She had been aware of him from the moment of his spectacular entrance,
though no slightest sign of interest manifested itself in her indolent,
incurious eyes. Indeed, his abundant and picturesque area was so vivid
that it would have been difficult not to feel his presence anywhere, let
alone on a journey so monotonous as this was proving to be.

It had been at a water-tank, near Socorro, that the Limited, churning
furiously through brown Arizona in pursuit of a lost half-hour,
jarred to a sudden halt that shook sleep from the drowsy eyes of bored
passengers. Through the window of her Pullman the young woman in Section
3 had glimpsed a bevy of angry train officials eddying around a sturdy
figure in the center, whose strong, lean head rose confidently above the
press. There was the momentary whirl of a scuffle, out of the tangle
of which shot a brakeman as if propelled from a catapult. The circle
parted, brushed aside by a pair of lean shoulders, muscular and broad.
Yet a few moments and the owner of the shoulders led down the aisle to
the vacant section opposite her a procession whose tail was composed of
protesting trainmen.

"You had no right to flag the train, Sheriff Collins, and you'll have
to get off; that's all there is to it," the conductor was explaining
testily.

"Oh, that's all right," returned the offender with easy good nature,
making himself at home in Section 4. "Tell the company to send in its
bill. No use jawing about it."

"You'll have to get off, sir."

"That's right--at Tucson."

"No, sir. You'll have to get off here. I have no authority to let you
ride."

"Didn't I hear you say the train was late? Don't you think you'd arrive
earlier at the end of your run if your choo-choo got to puffing?"

"You'll have to get off, sir."

"I hate to disoblige," murmured the owner of the jingling spurs, the
dusty corduroys, and the big, gray hat, putting his feet leisurely on
the cushion in front of him. "But doesn't it occur to you that you are a
man of one idea?"

"This is the Coast Limited. It doesn't stop for anybody--not even for
the president of the road."

"You don't say! Well, I ce'tainly appreciate the honor you did me in
stopping to take me on." His slight drawl was quite devoid of concern.

"But you had no right to flag the train. Can't you understand ANYTHING?"
groaned the conductor.

"You explain it again to me, sonny. I'm surely thick in the haid,"
soothed the intruder, and listened with bland good-humor to the
official's flow of protest.

"Well--well! Disrupted the whole transcontinental traffic, didn't I? And
me so innocent, too. Now, this is how I figured it out. Here's me in
a hurry to get to Tucson. Here comes your train a-foggin'--also and
likewise hittin' the high spots for Tucson. Seemed like we ought to
travel in company, and I was some dubious she'd forget to stop unless I
flagged her. Wherefore, I aired my bandanna in the summer breeze."

"But you don't understand." The conductor began to explain anew as to a
dull child. "It's against the law. You'll get into trouble."

"Put me in the calaboose, will they?"

"It's no joke."

"Well, it does seem to be worrying you," Mr. Collins conceded. "Don't
mind me. Free your mind proper."

The conductor, glancing about nervously, noticed that passengers were
smiling broadly. His official dignity was being chopped to mince-meat.
Back came his harassed gaze to the imperturbable Collins with the brown,
sun-baked face and the eyes blue and untroubled as an Arizona sky. Out
of a holster attached to the sagging belt that circled the corduroy
trousers above his hips gleamed the butt of a revolver. But in the
last analysis the weapon of the occasion was purely a moral one. The
situation was one not covered in the company's rule book, and in the
absence of explicit orders the trainman felt himself unequal to that
unwavering gaze and careless poise. Wherefore, he retreated, muttering
threats of what the company would do.

"Now, if I had only known it was against the law. My thick haid's always
roping trouble for me," the plainsman confided to the Pullman conductor,
with twinkling eyes.

That official unbent. "Talking about thick heads, I'm glad my porter
has one. If it weren't iron-plated and copper-riveted he'd be needing a
doctor now, the way you stood him on it."

"No, did I? Ce'tainly an accident. The nigger must have been in my way
as I climbed into the car. Took the kink out of his hair, you say? Here,
Sam!" He tossed a bill to the porter, who was rolling affronted eyes at
him. "Do you reckon this is big enough to plaster your injured feelings,
boy?"

The white smile flashed at him by the porter was a receipt for indemnity
paid in full.

Sheriff Collins' perception of his neighbor across the aisle was more
frank in its interest than the girl's had been of him. The level,
fearless gaze of the outdoors West looked at her unabashed, appreciating
swiftly her points as they impinged themselves upon his admiration. The
long, lithe lines of the slim, supple body, the languid grace missing
hauteur only because that seemed scarce worth while, the unconscious
pride of self that fails to be offensive only in a young woman so well
equipped with good looks as this one indubitably was the rider of the
plains had appraised them all before his eyes dismissed her from his
consideration and began a casual inspection of the other passengers.

Inside of half an hour he had made himself persona grata to everybody
in the car except his dark-eyed neighbor across the way. That this
dispenser of smiles and cigars decided to leave her out in the
distribution of his attentions perhaps spoke well for his discernment.
Certainly responsiveness to the geniality of casual fellow passengers
did not impress Mr. Collins as likely to be an outstanding, quality in
her. But with the drummer from Chicago, the young mining engineer going
to Sonora, the two shy little English children just in front of him
traveling to meet their father in California, he found intuitively
common ground of interest. Even Major Mackenzie, the engineer in charge
of the large irrigation project being built by a company in southern
Arizona, relaxed at one of the plainsman's humorous tales.

It was after Collins had half-depopulated the car by leading the more
jovial spirits back in search of liquid refreshments that an urbane
clergyman, now of Boston but formerly of Pekin, Illinois, professedly
much interested in the sheriff's touch-and-go manner as presumably quite
characteristic of the West, dropped into the vacant seat beside Major
Mackenzie.

"And who might our energetic friend be?" he asked, with an ingratiating
smile.

The young woman in front of them turned her head ever so slightly to
listen.

"Val Collins is his name," said the major. "Sometimes called 'Bear-trap
Collins.' He has always lived on the frontier. At least, I met him
twelve years ago when he was riding mail between Aravaipa and Mesa. He
was a boy then, certainly not over eighteen, but in a desperate fight
he had killed two men who tried to hold up the mail. Cow-puncher,
stage-driver, miner, trapper, sheriff, rough rider, politician--he's
past master at them all."

"And why the appellation of 'Bear-trap,' may I ask?" The smack of pulpit
oratory was not often missing in the edifying discourse of the Reverend
Peter Melancthon Brooks.

"Well, sir, that's a story. He was trapping in the Tetons about five
years ago thirty miles from the nearest ranch-house. One day, while
he was setting a bear-trap, a slide of snow plunged down from the tree
branches above and freed the spring, catching his hand between its jaws.
With his feet and his other hand he tried to open that trap for four
hours, without the slightest success. There was not one chance in a
million of help from outside. In point of fact, Collins had not seen a
human being for a month. There was only one thing to do, and he did it."

"And that was?"

"You probably noticed that he wears a glove over his left hand. The
reason, sir, is that he has an artificial hand."

"You mean--" The Reverend Peter paused to lengthen his delicious thrill
of horror.

"Yes, sir. That's just what I mean. He hacked his hand off at the wrist
with his hunting-knife."

"Why, the man's a hero!" cried the clergyman, with unction.

Mackenzie flung him a disgusted look. "We don't go much on heroes out
here. He's game, if that's what you mean. And able, too. Bucky O'Connor
himself isn't any smarter at following a trail."

"And who is Bucky O'Connor?"

"He's the man that just ran down Fernendez. Think I'll have a smoke,
sir. Care to join me?"

But the Pekin-Bostonian preferred to stay and jot down in his note-book
the story of the bear-trap, to be used later as a sermon illustration.
This may have been the reason he did not catch the quick look that
passed without the slightest flicker of the eyelids between Major
Mackenzie and the young woman in Section 3. It was as if the old officer
had wired her a message in some code the cipher of which was known only
to them.

But the sheriff, returning at the head of his cohorts, caught it,
and wondered what meaning might lie back of that swift glance. Major
Mackenzie and this dark-eyed beauty posed before others as strangers,
yet between them lay some freemasonry of understanding to which he had
not the key.

Collins did not know that the aloofness in the eyes of Miss
Wainwright--he had seen the name on her suit-case--gave way to horror
when her glance fell on his gloved hand. She had a swift, shuddering
vision of a grim-faced man, jaws set like a vise, hacking at his
wrist with a hunting-knife. But the engaging impudence of his eye, the
rollicking laughter in his voice, shut out the picture instantly.

The young man resumed his seat, and Miss Wainwright her listless
inspection of the flying stretches of brown desert. Dusk was beginning
to fall, and the porter presently lit the lamps. Collins bought a
magazine from the newsboy and relapsed into it, but before he was well
adjusted to reading the Limited pounded to a second unscheduled halt.

Instantly the magazine was thrown aside and Collins' curly head thrust
out of the window. Presently the head reappeared, simultaneously with
the crack of a revolver, the first of a detonating fusillade.

"Another of your impatient citizens eager to utilize the unspeakable
convenience of rapid transit," suggested the clergyman, with ponderous
jocosity.

"No, sir; nothing so illegal," smiled the cattleman, a whimsical light
in his daredevil eyes. He leaned forward and whispered a word to the
little girl in front of him, who at once led her younger brother back to
his section.

"I had hoped it would prove to be more diverting experience for a
tenderfoot," condescended the gentleman of the cloth.

"It's ce'tainly a pleasure to be able to gratify you, sir. You'll be
right pleased to know that it is a train hold-up." He waved his hand
toward the door, and at the word, as if waiting for his cue, a masked
man appeared at the end of the passage with a revolver in each hand.





Next: Taxation Without Representation

Previous: Black Macqueen Cashes His Checks



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