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Kidnapped







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

As a lake ripples beneath a summer breeze, so Mesa was stirred from its
usual languor by the visit of Simon West. For the little Arizona town was
dreaming dreams. Its imagination had been aroused; and it saw itself no
longer a sleepy cow camp in the unfeatured desert, but a metropolis, in
touch with twentieth-century life.

The great Simon West, pirate of finance, empire builder, molder of the
destinies of the mighty Southwestern Pacific system, was to touch the
adobe village with his transforming wand and make of it a hive of
industry. Rumors flew thick and fast.

Mesa was to be the junction for the new spur that would run to the big
Lincoln dam. The town would be a division point; the machine shops of the
system would be located there. Its future, if still a trifle vague, was
potentially immense. Thus, with cheerful optimism, did local opinion
interpret the visit of the great man.

Whatever Simon West may have thought of Mesa and its prospects, he kept
behind his thin, close-shut lips. He was a dry, gray little man of
fifty-five, with sharp, twinkling eyes that saw everything and told
nothing. Certainly he wore none of the visible signs of greatness, yet at
his nod Wall Street trembled. He had done more to change the map of
industrial America than any other man, alive or dead. Wherefore, big
Beauchamp Lee, mayor of Mesa, and the citizens on the reception committee
did their very best to impress him with the future of the country, as they
motored out to the dam.

"Most promising spot on earth. Beats California a city block on oranges
and citrons. Ever see an Arizona peach, Mr. West? It skins the world," the
big cattleman ran on easily.

The financier's eye took in the girl sitting beside the chauffeur in the
front seat, and he nodded assent.

Melissy Lee bloomed. She was vivid as a wild poppy on the hillsides past
which they went flashing. But she had, too, a daintiness, a delicacy of
coloring and contour, that suggested the fruit named by her father.

"You bet we raise the best here," that simple gentleman bragged
patriotically. "All we need is water, and the Lincoln dam assures us of
plenty. Yes, sir! It certainly promises to be an Eden."

West unlocked his lips long enough to say: "Any country can promise. I'm
looking for one that will perform."

"You're seeing it right now, seh," the mayor assured him, and launched
into fluent statistics.

West heard, saw the thing stripped of its enthusiasm, and made no comment
either for or against. He had plenty of imagination, or he could never
have accomplished the things he had done. However, before any proposition
appealed to him he had to see money in the deal. Whether he saw it in this
particular instance, nobody knew; and only one person had the courage to
ask him point-blank what his intentions were. This was Melissy.

Luncheon was served in the pleasant filtered sunlight, almost under the
shadow of the great dam.

On the way out Melissy had sat as demure and dovelike as it was possible
for her to be. But now she showed herself to be another creature.

Two or three young men hovered about her; notable among them was a young
fellow of not many words, good-humored, strong, with a look of power about
him which the railroad king appreciated. Jack Flatray they called him. He
was the newly-elected sheriff of the county.

The great man watched the girl without appearing to do so. He was rather
at a loss to account for the exotic, flamelike beauty into which she had
suddenly sparkled; but he was inclined to attribute it to the arrival of
Flatray.

Melissy sat on a flat rock beside West, swinging her foot occasionally
with the sheer active joy of life, the while she munched sandwiches and
pickles. The young men bantered her and each other, and she flashed back
retorts which gave them alternately deep delight at the discomfiture of
some other. Toward the close of luncheon, she turned her tilted chin from
Flatray, as punishment for some audacity of his, and beamed upon the
railroad magnate.

"It's very good of you to notice me at last," he said, with his dry
smile.

"I was afraid of you," she confided cheerfully.

"Am I so awesome?"

"It's your reputation, you know. You're quite a dragon. I'm told you
gobble a new railroad every morning for breakfast."

"'Lissie," her father warned.

"Let her alone," the great man laughed. "Miss Lee is going to give me the
privilege of hearing the truth about myself."

"But I'm asking. I don't know what the truth is," she protested.

"Well, what you think is the truth."

"It doesn't matter what we think about you. The important thing to know is
what you think about us."

"Am I to tell you what I think of you--with all these young men here?" he
countered.

She was excited by her own impudence. The pink had spilled over her creamy
cheeks. She flashed a look of pretended disdain at her young men.
Nevertheless, she made laughing protest.

"It's not me, but Mesa, that counts," she answered ungrammatically. "Tell
me that you're going to help us set orchards blossoming in these deserts,
and we'll all love you."

"You offer an inducement, Miss Lee. Come--let us walk up to the Point and
see this wonderful country of yours."

She clapped her hands. "Oh, let's! I'm tired of boys, anyhow. They know
nothing but nonsense." She made a laughing moue at Flatray, and turned to
join the railroad builder.

The young sheriff arose and trailed to his pony. "My marching orders, I
reckon."

They walked up the hill together, the great man and the untutored girl. He
still carried himself with the lightness of the spare, wiry man who has
never felt his age. As for her, she moved as one on springs, her slender,
willowy figure beautiful in motion.

"You're loyal to Mesa. Born and brought up there?" West asked Melissy.

"No. I was brought up on the Bar Double G ranch. Father sold it not long
since. We're interested in the Monte Cristo mine, and it has done so well
that we moved to town," she explained.

At the first bend in the mountain road Jack had turned in his saddle to
look at her as she climbed the steep. A quarter of a mile farther up there
was another curve, which swept the trail within sight of the summit. Here
Flatray pulled up and got out his field glasses. Leisurely the man and the
maid came into sight from the timber on the shoulder of the hill, and
topped the last ascent. Jack could discern Melissy gesturing here and
there as she explained the lay of the land.

Something else caught and held his glasses. Four riders had emerged from a
little gulch of dense aspens which ran up the Point toward the summit. One
of these had with him a led horse.

"Now, I wonder what that means?" the sheriff mused aloud.

He was not left long in doubt. The four men rode swiftly, straight toward
the man and the girl above. One of them swung from the saddle and stepped
forward. He spoke to West, who appeared to make urgent protest. The
dismounted rider answered. Melissy began to run. Very faintly there came
to Flatray her startled cry. Simultaneously he caught the flash of the sun
on bright steel. The leader of the four had drawn a revolver and was
covering West with it. Instantly the girl stopped running. Plainly the
life of the railroad president had been threatened unless she stopped.

The man behind the weapon swept a gesture in the direction of the led
horse. Reluctantly West moved toward it, still protesting. He swung to the
saddle, and four of the horses broke into a canter. Only the man with the
drawn revolver remained on the ground with Melissy. He scabbarded his gun,
took a step or two toward her, and made explanations. The girl stamped her
foot, and half turned from him.

He laughed, stepped still closer to her, and spoke again. Melissy, with
tilted chin, seemed to be unaware that he existed. Another step brought
him to her side. Once more he spoke. No stone wall could have given him
less recognition. Then Jack let out a sudden fierce imprecation, and gave
his pony the spur. For the man had bent forward swiftly, had kissed the
girl on the lips once--twice--three times, had swept his hat off in a low,
mocking bow, and had flung himself on his horse, and galloped off.

Pebbles and shale went flying from the horse's hoofs as the sheriff tore
down the trail toward Melissy. He cut off at an angle and dashed through
cactus and over rain-washed gullies at breakneck speed, pounding up the
stiff slope to the summit. He dragged his pony to a halt, and leaped off
at the same instant.

Melissy came to him with flashing eyes. "Why didn't you get here sooner?"
she panted, as if she had been running; for the blind rage was strong in
her.

His anger burst out to meet hers. "I wish I had!" he cried, with a furious
oath.

"He insulted me. He laughed at me, and taunted me--and kissed me!"

Jack nodded. "I saw. If I had only had my rifle with me! Who was he?"

"He wore a mask. But I knew him. It was Dunc Boone."

"With the Roaring Fork gang?"

"I don't know. Is he one of them?"

"I've been thinking so for years."

"They must have known about our picnic. But what do they want with Mr.
West?"

"He's one of the world's richest men."

"But he doesn't carry his money with him."

"He carries his life."

"They must mean to hold him for a ransom. Is that it?"

"You've guessed it. That's the play." Jack considered, his eyes on the
far-away hills. When he spoke again it was with sharp decision. "Hit the
trail back to town with your motor. Don't lose a minute on the way. Send a
dispatch to Bucky O'Connor. You'd ought to get him at Douglas. If not,
some of his rangers will know where to reach him. Keep the wires hot till
you're in touch with him. Better sign my name. I've been writing him about
this outfit. This job is cut out for Bucky, and we've got to get him on
it."

"And what are you going to do?"

"I can't do much--I'm not armed. First time I've been caught that way
since I've been sheriff. Came out to-day for a picnic and left my gun at
home. But if they're the Roaring Fork outfit, they'll pass through the
Elkhorn canyon, heading for Dead Man's Cache. I'm going to cut around Old
Baldy and try to beat them to it. Maybe I can recognize some of them."

"But if they see you?"

"I ain't aiming to let them see me."

"Still, they may."

His quiet eyes met hers steadily. "Yes, they may."

They were friends again, though he had never fully forgiven her doubt of
him. It might be on the cards that some day she would be more to him than
a friend. Understanding perfectly the danger of what he proposed, she yet
made no protest. The man who would storm her heart must be one who would
go the limit, for her standards were those of the outdoor West. She, too,
was "game" to the core; and she had never liked him better than she did at
this moment. A man must be a man, and take his fighting chance.

"All right, Jack."

Not for years before had she called him by his first name. His heart
leaped, but he did not let even his look tell what he was feeling.

"I reckon I'll cut right down from here, Melissy. Better not lose any time
getting to town. So-long!" And with that he had swung to the saddle and
was off.

Melissy ran swiftly down to the picnic party and cried out her news. It
fell upon them like a bolt out of a June sky. Some exclaimed and wondered
and deplored; but she was proud to see that her father took instant
command, without an unnecessary word.

"They've caught us in swimming, boys! We've got to burn the wind back to
town for our guns. Dick, you ride around by the Powder Horn and gather up
the boys on the ranch. Get Swain to swing around to the south and comb the
lower gulches of the Roaring Fork. Tell him to get in touch with me soon
as he can. I'll come through by Elkhorn."

Lee helped his daughter into the machine, and took his place beside her.

"Hit the high spots, Jim. I've got an engagement in the hills that won't
wait, prior to which I've got to get back to town immediate," he told the
chauffeur cheerfully; for he was beginning to enjoy himself as in the old
days, when he had been the hard-riding sheriff of a border county which
took the premium for bad men.

The motor car leaped forward, fell into its pace, and began to hum its
song of the road as it ate up swiftly the miles that lay between the dam
and Mesa.





Next: A Capture

Previous: Concerning The Boone-bellamy-yarnell Feud



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