Occultism.ca - Download the EBook Witch CraftInformational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


The Tenderfoot Makes A Proposition







Part of: MELISSY OF THE BAR DOUBLE G
From: Brand Blotters

Melissy waited in dread expectancy to see what would happen. Of quick,
warm sympathies, always ready to bear with courage her own and others'
burdens, she had none of that passive endurance which age and experience
bring. She was keyed to the heroism of an occasion, but not yet to that
which life lays as a daily burden upon many without dramatic emphasis.

All next day nothing took place. On the succeeding one her father returned
with the news that the "Monte Cristo" contest had been continued to
another term of court. Otherwise nothing unusual occurred. It was after
mail time that she stepped to the porch for a breath of fresh air and
noticed that the reward placard had been taken down.

"Who did that?" she asked of Alan McKinstra, who was sitting on the steps,
reading a newspaper and munching an apple.

"Jack Flatray took it down. He said the offer of a reward had been
withdrawn."

"When did he do that?"

"About an hour ago. Just before he rode off."

"Rode off! Where did he go?"

"Heard him say he was going to Mesa. He told your father that when he
settled the bill."

"He's gone for good, then?"

"That's the way I took it. Say, Melissy, Farnum says Jack told him the
gold had been found and turned back to Morse. Is that right?"

"How should I know?"

"Well, it looks blamed funny they could get the bullion back without
getting the hold-up."

"Maybe they'll get him yet," she consoled him.

"I wish I could get a crack at him," the boy murmured vengefully.

"You had one chance at him, didn't you?"

"Jose spoiled it. Honest, I wasn't going to lie down, 'Lissie."

Again the days followed each other uneventfully. Bellamy himself never
came for his mail now, but sent one of the boys from the mine for it.
Melissy wondered whether he despised her so much he did not ever want to
see her again. Somehow she did not like to think this. Perhaps it might be
delicacy on his part. He was going to drop the whole thing magnanimously
and did not want to put upon her the obligation of thanking him by
presenting himself to her eyes.

But though he never appeared in person, he had never been so much in her
mind. She could not rid herself of a growing sympathy and admiration for
this man who was holding his own against many. A story which was being
whispered about reached her ears and increased this. A bunch of his sheep
had been found poisoned on their feeding ground, and certain cattle
interests were suspected of having done the dastardly thing.

When she could stand the silence no longer Melissy called up Jack Flatray
on the telephone at Mesa.

"You caught me just in time. I'm leaving for Phoenix to-night," he told
her. "What can I do for you, Miss Lee?"

"I want to know what's being done about that Fort Allison stage hold-up."

"The money has been recovered."

"I know that, but--what about the--the criminals?"

"They made their getaway all right."

"Aren't you looking for them?"

"No."

"Did Mr. Morse want you to drop it?"

"Yes. He was very urgent about it."

"Does he know who the criminals are?"

"Yes."

"And isn't going to prosecute?"

"So he told me."

"What did Mr. Morse say when you made your report?"

"Said, 'Thank you.'"

"Oh, yes, but--you know what I mean."

"Not being a mind-reader----"

"About the suspect. Did he say anything?"

"Said he had private reasons for not pushing the case. I didn't ask him
what they were."

This was all she could get out of him. It was less than she had hoped.
Still, it was something. She knew definitely what Bellamy had done.
Wherefore she sat down to write him a note of thanks. It took her an hour
and eight sheets of paper before she could complete it to her
satisfaction. Even then the result was not what she wanted. She wished she
knew how he felt about it, so that she could temper it to the right degree
of warmth or coolness. Since she did not know, she erred on the side of
stiffness and made her message formal.

"Mr. Thomas L. Morse,
"Monte Cristo Mine.
"Dear Sir:

"Father and I feel that we ought to thank you for your considerate
forbearance in a certain matter you know of. Believe me, sir, we are
grateful.

"Very respectfully,
"Melissy Lee."
She could not, however, keep herself from one touch of sympathy, and as a
postscript she naively added:

"I'm sorry about the sheep."

Before mailing it she carried this letter to her father. Neither of them
had ever referred to the other about what each knew of the affair of the
robbery. More than once it had been on the tip of Champ Lee's tongue to
speak of it, but it was not in his nature to talk out what he felt, and
with a sigh he had given it up. Now Melissy came straight to the point.

"I've been writing a letter to Mr. Morse, dad, thanking him for not having
me arrested."

Lee shot at her a glance of quick alarm.

"Does he know about it, honey?"

"Yes. Jack Flatray found out the whole thing and told him. He was very
insistent on dropping it, Mr. Flatray says."

"You say Jack found out all about it, honey?" repeated Lee in surprise.

He was seated in a big chair on the porch, and she nestled on one arm of
it, rumpled his gray hair as she had always done since she had been a
little girl, kissed him, and plunged into her story.

He heard her to the end without a word, but she noticed that he gripped
the chair hard. When she had finished he swept her into his arms and broke
down over her, calling her the pet names of her childhood.

"Honey-bird ... Dad's little honey-bird ... I'm that ashamed of myse'f.
'Twas the whisky did it, lambie. Long as I live I'll nevah touch it again.
I'll sweah that befo' God. All week you been packin' the troubles I
heaped on you, precious, and afteh you-all saved me from being a
criminal...."

So he went on, spending his tempestuous love in endearments and caresses,
and so together they afterward talked it out and agreed to send the letter
she had written.

But Lee was not satisfied with her atonement. He could not rest to let it
go at that, without expressing his own part in it to Bellamy. Next day he
rode up to the mine, and found its owner in workman's slops just stepping
from the cage. If Bellamy were surprised to see him, no sign of it reached
his face.

"If you'll wait a minute till I get these things off, I'll walk up to the
cabin with you, Mr. Lee," he said.

"I reckon you got my daughter's letter," said Lee abruptly as he strode up
the mountainside with his host.

"Yes, I got it an hour ago."

"I be'n and studied it out, Mr. Morse. I couldn't let it go at that, and
so I reckoned I'd jog along up hyer and tell you the whole story."

"That's as you please, Mr. Lee. I'm quite satisfied as it is."

The rancher went on as if he had not heard. "'Course I be'n holding a
grudge at you evah since you took up this hyer claim. I expect that
rankles with me most of the time, and when I take to drinking seems to me
that mine still belongs to me. Well, I heerd tell of that shipment you was
making, and I sets out to git it, for it ce'tainly did seem to belong to
me. Understand, I wasn't drunk, but had be'n settin' pretty steady to the
bottle for several days. Melissy finds it out, no matter how, and
undertakes to keep me out of trouble. She's that full of sand, she nevah
once thought of the danger or the consequences. Anyhow, she meant to git
the bullion back to you afteh the thing had blown over."

"I haven't doubted that a moment since I knew she did it," said Bellamy
quietly.

"Glad to hear it. I be'n misjudgin' you, seh, but you're a white man afteh
all. Well, you know the rest of the story: how she held up the stage, how
Jack drapped in befo' our tracks were covered, how smart he worked the
whole thing out, and how my little gyurl confessed to him to save me."

"Yes, I know all that."

"What kind of a figure do I make in this? First off, I act like a durn
fool, and she has to step in to save me. Then I let her tote the worry of
it around while I ride off to Mesa. When Jack runs me down, she takes the
blame again. To finish up with, she writes you a letter of thanks, jes' as
if the whole fault was hers."

The old soldier selected a smooth rock and splashed it with tobacco juice
before he continued with rising indignation against himself.

"I'm a fine father for a gyurl like that, ain't I? Up to date I always
had an idee I was some sort of a man, but dad gum it! I cayn't see it
hyer. To think of me lettin' my little gyurl stand the consequences of my
meanness. No, Mr. Morse, that's one too much for Champ Lee. He's nevah
going to touch another drop of whisky long as he lives."

"Glad to hear it. That's a square amend to make, one she will
appreciate."

"So I took a pasear up hyer to explain this, and to thank you for yore
kindness. Fac' is, Mr. Morse, it would have jest about killed me if
anything had happened to my little 'Lissie. I want to say that if you had
a-be'n her brother you couldn't 'a' be'n more decent."

"There was nothing else to do. It happens that I am in her debt. She saved
my life once. Besides, I understood the motives for her action when she
broke the law, and I honored them with all my heart. Flatray felt just as
I did about it. So would any right-thinking man."

"Well, you cayn't keep me from sayin' again that you're a white man, seh,"
the other said with a laugh behind which the emotion of tears lay near.

"That offer of a compromise is still open, Mr. Lee."

The Southerner shook his grizzled head. "No, I reckon not, Mr. Morse.
Understand, I got nothin' against you. The feud is wiped out, and I'll
make you no mo' trouble. But it's yore mine, and I don't feel like taking
charity. I got enough anyhow."

"It wouldn't be charity. I've always felt as if you had a moral claim on
an interest in the 'Monte Cristo.' If you won't take this yourself, why
not let me make out the papers to Miss Lee? You would feel then that she
was comfortably fixed, no matter what happened to you."

"Well, I'll lay it befo' her. Anyhow, we're much obliged to you, Mr.
Morse. I'll tell you what, seh," he added as an after-thought. "You come
down and talk it over with 'Lissie. If you can make her see it that way,
good enough."

When Champ Lee turned his bronco's head homeward he was more at peace with
the world than he had been for a long time. He felt that he would be able
to look his little girl in the face again. For the first time in a week he
felt at one with creation. He rode into the ranch plaza humming "Dixie."

On the day following that of Lee's call, the mine-owner saddled his mare
and took the trail to the half-way house. It was not until after the stage
had come and gone that he found the chance for a word with Melissy alone.

"Your father submitted my proposition, did he?" Bellamy said by way of
introducing the subject.

"Let's take a walk on it. I haven't been out of the house to-day," she
answered with the boyish downrightness sometimes uppermost in her.

Calling Jim, she left him in charge of the store, caught up a Mexican
sombrero, and led the way up the trail to a grove of live-oaks perched on
a bluff above. Below them stretched the plain, fold on fold to the blue
horizon edge. Close at hand clumps of cactus, thickets of mesquit,
together with the huddled adobe buildings of the ranch, made up the
details of a scene possible only in the sunburnt territory. The
palpitating heat quivered above the hot brown sand. No life stirred in the
valley except a circling buzzard high in the sky, and the tiny moving
speck with its wake of dust each knew to be the stage that had left the
station an hour before.

Melissy, unconscious of the charming picture she made, stood upon a rock
and looked down on it all.

"I suppose," she said at last slowly, "that most people would think this
pretty desolate. But it's a part of me. It's all I know." She broke off
and smiled at him. "I had a chance to be civilized. Dad wanted to send me
East to school, but I couldn't leave him."

"Where were you thinking of going?"

"To Denver."

Her conception of the East amused him. It was about as accurate as a New
Yorker's of the West.

"I'm glad you didn't. It would have spoiled you and sent you back just
like every other young lady the schools grind out."

She turned curiously toward him. "Am I not like other girls?"

It was on his tongue tip to tell her that she was gloriously different
from most girls he had known, but discretion sealed his lips. Instead, he
told her of life in the city and what it means to society women, its
emptiness and unsatisfaction.

His condemnation was not proof positive to her. "I'd like to go there for
myself some time and see. And anyhow it must be nice to have all the money
you want with which to travel," she said.

This gave him his opening. "It makes one independent. I think that's the
best thing wealth can give--a sort of spaciousness." He waited perceptibly
before he added: "I hope you have decided to be my partner in the mine."

"I've decided not to."

"I'm sorry. But why?"

"It's your mine. It isn't ours."

"That's nonsense. I always in my heart, recognized a moral claim you have.
Besides, the case isn't finished yet. Perhaps your father may win his
contest. I'm all for settling out of court."

"You know we won't win."

"I don't."

She gave him applause from her dark eyes. "That's very fair of you, but
Dad and I can't do it."

"Then you still have a grudge at me," he smiled.

"Not the least little bit of a one."

"I shan't take no for an answer, then. I'll order the papers made out
whether you want me to or not." Without giving her a chance to speak, he
passed to another topic: "I've decided to go out of the sheep business."

"I'm so glad!" she cried.

"Those aren't my feelings," he answered ruefully. "I hate to quit under
fire."

"Of course you do, but your friends will know why you do it."

"Why do I do it?"

"Because you know it's right. The cattlemen had the range first. Their
living is tied up in cattle, and your sheep are ruining the feed for them.
Yesterday when I was out riding I counted the bones of eight dead cows."

He nodded gravely. "Yes, in this country sheep are death to cows. I hate
to be a quitter, but I hate worse to take the bread out of the mouths of a
dozen families. Two days ago I had an offer for my whole bunch, and
to-morrow I'm going to take the first instalment over the pass and drive
them down to the railroad."

"But you'll have to cross the dead line to get over the pass," she said
quickly; for all Cattleland knew that a guard had been watching his herds
to see they did not cross the pass.

"Yes. I'm going to send Alan with a letter to Farnum. I don't think there
will be any opposition to my crossing it when my object is understood," he
smiled.

Melissy watched him ride away, strong and rugged and ungraceful, from the
head to the heel of him a man. Life had gone hard with him. She wondered
whether that were the reason her heart went out to him so warmly.

As she moved about her work that day and the next little snatches of song
broke from her, bubbling forth like laughter, born of the quiet happiness
within, for which she could give no reason.

After the stage had gone she saddled her pony and rode toward the head of
the pass. In an hour or two now the sheep would be pouring across the
divide, and she wanted to get a photograph of them as they emerged from
the pass. She was following an old cattle trail which ran into the main
path just this side of the pass, and she was close to the junction when
the sound of voices stopped her. Some instinct made her wait and listen.

The speakers were in a dip of the trail just ahead of her, and the voice
of the first she recognized as belonging to the man Boone. The tone of it
was jubilantly cruel.

"No, sir. You don't move a step of the way, not a step, Mr. Alan
McKinstra. I've got him right where I want him, and I don't care if you
talk till the cows come home."

Alan's voice rang out indignantly, "It's murder then--just plain, low-down
murder. If you hold me here and let Morse fall into a death trap without
warning him, you're as responsible as if you shot him yourself."

"All right. Suits me down to the ground. We'll let it go at that. I'm
responsible. If you want the truth flat and plain, I don't mind telling
you that I wouldn't be satisfied if I wasn't responsible. I'm evening up
some little things with Mr. Morse to-day."

Melissy needed to hear no more to understand the situation, but if she
had, the next words of Boone would have cleared it up.

"When I met up with you and happened on the news that you was taking a
message to Farnum, and when I got onto the fact that Morse, as you call
him, was moving his sheep across the dead line, relying on you having got
his letter to the cattlemen to make it safe, it seemed luck too good to
be true. All I had to do was to persuade you to stay right here with me,
and Mr. Morse would walk into the pass and be wiped out. You get the
beauty of it, my friend, don't you? I'm responsible, but it will be
Farnum and his friends that will bear the blame. There ain't but one flaw
in the whole thing: Morse will never know that it's me that killed him."

"You devil!" cried the boy, with impotent passion.

"I've waited ten years for this day, and it's come at last. Don't you
think for a moment I'm going to weaken. No, sir! You'll sit there with my
gun poked in your face just as you've sat for six hours. It's my say-so
to-day, sir," Boone retorted, malevolence riding triumph in his voice.

Melissy's first impulse was to confront the man, her next to slip away
without being discovered and then give the alarm.

"Yes, sir," continued the cowpuncher; "I scored on Mr. Morse two or three
nights ago, when I played hell with one of his sheep camps, and to-day I
finish up with him. His sheep have been watched for weeks, and at the
first move it's all up with him and them. Farnum's vaqueros will pay my
debt in full. Just as soon as I'm right sure of it I'll be jogging along
to Dead Man's Cache, and you can go order the coffin for your boss."

The venom of the man was something to wonder at. It filled the listening
girl with sick apprehension. She had not known that such hatred could live
in the world.

Quietly she led her pony back, mounted, and made a wide detour until she
struck the trail above. Already she could hear the distant bleat of sheep
which told her that the herd was entering the pass. Recklessly she urged
her pony forward, galloping into the saddle between the peaks without
regard to the roughness of the boulder-strewn path. A voice from above
hailed her with a startled shout as she flew past. Again, a shot rang out,
the bullet whistling close to her ear. But nothing could stop her till she
reached the man she meant to save.

And so it happened that Richard Bellamy, walking at the head of his herd,
saw a horse gallop wildly round a bend almost into his bleating flock. The
rider dragged the bronco to a halt and slipped to the ground. She stood
there ashen-hued, clinging to the saddle-horn and swaying slightly.

"I'm in time.... Thank God!... Thank God!" her parched lips murmured.

"Miss Lee! You here?" he cried.

They looked at each other, the man and the girl, while the wild fear in
her heart began to still. The dust of the drive was thick on his boots,
his clothes, his face, but the soil of travel could not obscure the power
of his carriage, the strong lines of his shoulders, the set of his broad,
flat back, any more than it could tarnish her rarity, the sweetness of
blood in her that under his gaze beat faintly into her dusky cheeks. The
still force of him somehow carried reassurance to her. Such virility of
manhood could not be marked for extinction.

She panted out her story, and his eyes never left her.

"You have risked your life to save mine and my herders," he said very
quietly.

"You must go back," she replied irrelevantly.

"I can't. The entrance is guarded."

This startled her. "Then--what shall we do?"

"You must ride forward at once. Tell the vaqueros that I am moving my
sheep only to take them to the railroad. Explain to them how Alan is
detained with the message I sent Farnum. In a few minutes we shall follow
with the sheep."

"And if they don't believe that you are going out of the sheep
business--what then?"

"I shall have to take my chance of that."

She seemed about to speak, but changed her mind, nodded, swung to the
saddle, and rode forward. After a few minutes Bellamy followed slowly. He
was unarmed, not having doubted that his letter to the cattleman would
make his journey safe. That he should have waited for an answer was now
plain, but the contract called for an immediate delivery of the sheep, as
he had carefully explained in his note to Farnum.

Presently he heard again the clatter of a horse's hoofs in the loose shale
and saw Melissy returning.

"Well?" he asked as she drew up.

"I've told them. I think they believe me, but I'm going through the gorge
with you."

He looked up quickly to protest, but did not. He knew that her thought was
that her presence beside him would protect him from attack. The rough
chivalry of Arizona takes its hat off to a woman, and Melissy Lee was a
favorite of the whole countryside.

So together they passed into the gulch, Bellamy walking by the side of her
horse. Neither of them spoke. At their heels was the soft rustle of many
thousands of padding feet.

Once there came to them the sound of cheering, and they looked up to see
a group of vaqueros waving their hats and shouting down. Melissy shook her
handkerchief and laughed happily at them. It was a day to be remembered by
these riders.

They emerged into a roll of hill-tops upon which the setting sun had cast
a weird afterglow of radiance in which the whole world burned. The cactus,
the stunted shrubbery, the painted rocks, seemed all afire with some magic
light that had touched their commonness to a new wonder.

A sound came to them from below. A man, rifle in hand and leading a horse,
was stealthily crossing the trail to disappear among the large boulders
beyond.

Melissy did not speak, scarce dared to draw breath, for the man beneath
them was Boone. There was something furtive and lupine about him that
suggested the wild beast stalking its kill. No doubt he had become
impatient to see the end of his foe and had ridden forward. He had almost
crossed the path before he looked up and caught sight of them standing
together in the fireglow of the sunset.

Abruptly he came to a standstill.

"By God! you slipped through, did you?" he said in a low voice of
concentrated bitterness.

Bellamy did not answer, but he separated himself from the girl by a step
or two. He knew quite well what was coming, and he looked down quietly
with steady eyes upon his foe.

From far below there came the faint sound of a horse breaking its way
through brush. Boone paused to listen, but his eye never wandered from the
bareheaded, motionless figure silhouetted against the skyline in the ruddy
evening glow. He had shifted his rifle so that it lay in both hands, ready
for immediate action.

Melissy, horror-stricken, had sat silent, but now she found her voice.

"He is unarmed!" she cried to the cowpuncher.

He made no answer. Another sound in the brush, close at hand, was
distracting his attention, though not his gaze.

Just as he whipped up his rifle Melissy sprang forward. She heard the
sound of the explosion fill the draw, saw Bellamy clutch at the air and
slowly sink to the ground. Before the echoes had died away she had flung
herself toward the inert body.

The outlaw took a step or two forward, as if to make sure of his work, but
at the sound of running footsteps he changed his mind, swung to the saddle
and disappeared among the rocks.

An instant later Bob Farnum burst into view.

"What's up?" he demanded.

Melissy looked up. Her face was perfectly ashen. "Phil Norris ... he shot
Mr. Morse."

Farnum stepped forward. "Hurt badly, Mr. Morse?"

The wounded man grinned faintly. "Scared worse, I reckon. He got me in the
fleshy part of the left arm."





Next: Old Acquaintances

Previous: A Conversation



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 403