From: Shoe Bar Stratton
How long she stood there staring fearfully at the empty window of the
shed, Mary Thorne had no idea. She seemed frozen and incapable of
movement. But at last, with a shiver, she came to herself, and bending
out, drew in the heavy wooden, shutters and fumbled with the catch. The
bolt was stiff from disuse, and her hands shook so that she was scarcely
able to thrust it into the socket. Still trembling, she closed and bolted
the door and made fast the other windows. Then she paused in the middle of
the room, slim fingers clenched tightly together, and heart beating loudly
"What shall I do?" she said aloud in a strained whisper. "What shall I
Her glance sought the short passage, and, through it, the cozy brightness
of the living-room.
"I mustn't let her know," she murmured.
After a moment more of indecision she stepped into the small room opening
off the kitchen, which had been occupied by Pedro and his wife. Having
bolted the shutters of the single window, she came back into the kitchen
and stood beside the table, making a determined effort for self-control.
Suddenly the sound of her aunt's voice came from the living-room.
"What are you doing, Mary? Can I help you?"
For a second the girl hesitated, nails digging painfully into her palms.
Then she managed to find her voice.
"No thanks, dear. I'll be there in just a minute." Resolutely she took up
the saucepan and caddy and walked slowly toward the lighted doorway. She
felt that a glance at her face would probably tell Mrs. Archer that
something was wrong, and so, entering the living-room, she went straight
over to the fireplace. Kneeling on the hearth, she took the poker and made
a little hollow amongst the burning sticks in which she placed the covered
saucepan. When she stood up the heat had burned a convincingly rosy flush
into her cheeks.
"I was closing the shutters," she explained in a natural tone. "While the
water's boiling I think I'll do the same in the other rooms. Then we'll
feel quite safe and snug."
Mrs. Archer, who was arranging their supper on one end of the big table,
agreed briefly but made no other comment. When Mary had secured the
living-room door and windows, she took the four bedrooms in turn, ending
in the one whose incongruously masculine appointments had once aroused
the curiosity of Buck Green.
How long ago that seemed! She set her candle on the dresser and stared
around the room. If only she wasn't such a helpless little ninny!
"And I'm such a fool I wouldn't know how to use a revolver if I had it,"
thought the girl forlornly. "I don't even know what I did with Dad's."
Then, of a sudden, her glance fell upon the cartridge-belt hanging on
the wall, from whose pendant holster protruded the butt of an
efficient-looking six-shooter--Stratton's weapon, which, like everything
else in the room, she had left religiously as she found it.
Stepping forward, she took hold of it gingerly and managed to draw it
forth--a heavy, thirty-eight Colt, the barrel rust-pitted in a few places,
but otherwise in excellent condition. She had no idea how to load it, but
presently discovered by peering into the magazine that the shells seemed
to be already in place. Then all at once her eyes filled and a choking
little sob rose in her throat.
"Oh, if you were only here!" she whispered unevenly.
It would be hard to determine whether she was thinking of Stratton, that
dreamlike hero of hers, whose tragic death she had felt so keenly, or of
another man who was very much alive indeed. Perhaps she scarcely knew
herself. At all events it was only a momentary little breakdown. Pulling
herself together, she returned to the living-room, carrying the big
six-shooter half hidden by her skirts, and managed to slip it, apparently
unseen, on a little stand above which hung the telephone to Las Vegas
camp. By this time the water was boiling, and having made tea, she carried
the pot back to the big table and sat down opposite Mrs. Archer.
For a minute or two she was busy with the cups and had no occasion to
observe her aunt's expression. Then, chancing to glance across the table,
she was dismayed to find the older woman regarding her with searching
"Well?" questioned Mrs. Archer briefly. "What is it?"
Mary stared at her guiltily. "What's--what?" she managed to parry.
"Why beat about the bush?" retorted her aunt. "Something's happened to
frighten you. I can see that perfectly well. You know how I detest being
kept in the dark, so you may as well tell me at once."
Mary hesitated. "But it--it may not--come to anything," she stammered. "I
didn't want to--to frighten you--"
"Rubbish!" An odd, delicately grim expression came into the little old
lady's face. "I'd rather be frightened unnecessarily than have something
drop on me out of a clear sky. Out with it!"
Then Mary gave in and was conscious of a distinct relief in having a
"It's only this," she said briefly. "When I went to close the back kitchen
window a little while ago, I saw a--a face looking out of that little
window above the harness-room. Some one's--hiding there."
For an instant Mrs. Archer's delicately pretty, faded face turned quite
pale. Then she rallied bravely.
"Who--who was it?" she asked in a voice not altogether steady.
"I--don't know. It disappeared at once. But I'm sure it wasn't
For a moment or two her aunt sat thinking. Then she glanced quickly across
the room. "Is that gun loaded?" she asked.
The girl nodded; she had ceased to be surprised at anything. For a space
Mrs. Archer regarded her untouched cup of tea thoughtfully. When she
looked up a bright spot of pink was glowing in each wrinkled cheek.
"It's not pleasant, but we must face it," she said. "It may be Pedro, or
even Maria. Both of them are cowards. On the other hand it may be Lynch.
There's no use shutting one's eyes to possibilities."
Abruptly she rose and walked quickly into her bedroom, returning in a
moment or two with a little chamois case from which she drew a tiny
twenty-two caliber revolver, beautifully etched and silver-mounted, with
a mother-of-pearl stock.
"Your uncle gave it to me many years ago and showed me how to use it," she
explained, laying it beside her plate. "I've never shot it off, but I see
no reason why--"
She broke off with a gasp, and both women started and turned pale, as a
harsh, metallic rattle rang through the room.
"What is it?" whispered Mary, half rising.
"The telephone! I can't get used to that strange rattle. Answer it,
Springing up, Mary flew across the room and took down the receiver.
"Hello," she said tremulously. "Who is--Oh, Buck!" Her eyes widened and
the blood rushed into her face. "I'm so glad! But where are you?... I see.
No, they're not here.... I know I did, but I thought--I wish now I'd told
you. We--we're frightened.... What?.... No, not yet; but--but there's some
one hiding in the loft over the harness-room.... I don't know, but I saw a
face at the window.... Yes, everything's locked up, but--"
Abruptly she broke off and turned her head a little, the blood draining
slowly from her face. A sound had come to her which struck terror to her
heart. Yet it was a sound familiar enough on the range-land--merely the
beat of a horse's hoofs, faint and far away, but growing rapidly nearer.
"Wait!" she called into the receiver, "Just a--minute."
Her frightened eyes sought Mrs. Archer and read confirmation in the elder
woman's strained attitude of listening.
"Some one's coming," the girl breathed. Suddenly she flung herself
desperately at the telephone. "Buck!" she cried. "There's some one riding
up.... I don't know, but I'm--afraid.... Yes, do come quickly.... What's
With a little cry she rattled the hook and repeatedly pressed the round
button which operated the bell. "Buck! Buck!" she cried into the
The thud of hoofs came clearly to her now; it was as if the horse was
galloping up the slope from the lower gate.
"What's the matter?" demanded Mrs. Archer, in a hoarse, dry voice.
With a despairing gesture the girl dropped the receiver and turned a face
drained of every particle of color.
"The wire's--dead," she said hopelessly.
Mrs. Archer caught her breath sharply, but made no other sound. In the
silence that followed they could hear the horse pull up just beyond the
veranda, and the sound of a man dropping lightly to the ground. Then came
very faintly the murmur of voices.
To the two women, standing motionless, with eyes riveted on the door, the
pause that followed lengthened interminably. It seemed as if that low,
stealthy, sibilant whispering was going on forever. Mrs. Archer held her
little pearl-handled toy with a spasmodic grip which brought out a row of
dots across her delicate knuckles, rivaling her face in whiteness. Mary
Thorne's gray eyes, dilated with emotion, stood out against her pallor
like deep wells of black. One clenched hand hung straight at her side; the
other rested on the butt of the Colt, lying on the stand below the useless
Suddenly the tension snapped as the heavy tread of feet sounded across the
porch and a hand rattled the latch.
"Open up!" called a harsh, familiar voice.
There was no answer. Mrs. Archer reached out to steady herself against the
table. Mary's grip on the Colt tightened convulsively.
"Open up, I tell yuh," repeated the voice. "I ain't aimin' to--hurt yuh."
Then apparently a heavy shoulder thrust against the door, which shook and
creaked ominously. Suddenly the girl's slim figure straightened and she
brought her weapon around in front of her, holding it with both hands.
"If--if you try to force that door, I--I'll shoot," she called out.
The only answer was an incredulous laugh, and an instant later the man's
shoulder struck the panels with a crash that cracked one of them and
partly tore the bolt from its insecure fastenings.
Promptly the girl cocked her weapon, shut both eyes, and pulled the
trigger. The recoil jerked the barrel up, and the bullet lodged in the
ceiling. Before she could recover from the shock, there came another
crash, the shattered door swung inward, and Tex Lynch sprang across the
Again Mary lifted the heavy weapon and tried to nerve herself to fire. But
somehow this was different from shooting through a solid wooden door, and
she could not bring herself to do it. Mrs. Archer had no such scruples.
Her small, delicately-chiseled face was no longer soft and gentle. It had
frozen into a white mask of horror, out of which the once-soft eyes blazed
with fierce determination. Bending across the table, she leveled her
toylike weapon at the advancing outlaw, and by the merest chance sent a
bullet flying so close to his head that he ducked instinctively. An
instant later Pedro darted through the passage from the kitchen, snatched
the weapon from her hand, and flung her roughly into a chair.
Her aunt's half-stifled cry stung Mary like a lash and roused her from the
almost hypnotic state in which, wide-eyed and terrified, she had been
watching Lynch's swift advance.
"Oh!" she cried furiously. "You--you beast!"
He was within a few feet of her now, and moved by the double impulse of
fear and anger, her finger pressed the trigger. But there was no response,
and too late the girl realized that she had failed to cock the weapon. In
another moment Lynch had wrenched it from her hand.
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