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Jack Goes To The Head Of The Class

From: Brand Blotters

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.

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

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

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."


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

"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?"


"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

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

"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

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."


"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

"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

"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

"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 naively 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

"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.

Next: A Conversation

Previous: The Danger Line

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