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Watering Sheep







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

The deputy glanced quietly round, nodded here and there at sight of the
familiar face of an acquaintance, and spoke to the driver.

"Let's hear you say your little piece again, Jose."

The Mexican now had it by heart, and he pattered off the thing from
beginning to end without a pause. Melissy, behind the counter, leaned her
elbows on it and fastened her eyes on the boyish face of the officer. In
her heart she was troubled. How much did he know? What could he discover
from the evidence she had left? He had the reputation of being the best
trailer and the most fearless officer in Arizona. But surely she had
covered her tracks safely.

From Jose the ranger turned to Alan. "We'll hear your account of it now,
seh," he said gently.

While Alan talked, Jack's gaze drifted through the window to the flock of
sheep that were being driven up from the ditch by Lee and Norris. That
little pastoral scene had its significance for him. He had arrived at the
locality of the hold-up a few minutes after they had left, and his keen
intelligence had taken in some of the points they had observed. A rapid
circuit of the spot at the distance of thirty yards had shown him no
tracks leading from the place except those which ran up the lateral on
either side of it. It was possible that these belonged to the horses of
the robbers, but if so the fellows were singularly careless of detection.
Moreover, the booty must be accounted for. They had not carried it with
them, since no empty box remained to show that they had poured the gold
into sacks, and it would have been impossible to take the box as it was on
a horse. Nor had they buried it, unless at the bottom of the irrigating
ditch, for some signs of their work must have remained.

Balancing probabilities, it had seemed to Flatray that these might be the
tracks of ranchmen who had arrived after the hold-up and were following
the escaping bandits up the lateral. For unless these were the robber's,
there was no way of escape except either up or down the bottom of the
ditch. His search had eliminated the possibility of any other but the
road, and this was travelled too frequently to admit of even a chance of
escape by it without detection. Jack filed away one or two questions in
his brain for future reference. The most important of these was to
discover whether there had been any water in the ditch at the time of the
hold-up.

He had decided to follow the tracks leading up the ditch and found no
difficulty in doing so at a fast walk. Without any hesitation they
paralleled the edge of the lateral. Nor had the deputy travelled a quarter
of a mile before he made a discovery. The rider on the right hand side of
the stream had been chewing tobacco, and he had a habit of splashing his
mark on boulders he passed in the form of tobacco juice. Half a dozen
times before he reached the Lee ranch the ranger saw this signature of
identity writ large on smooth rocks shining in the sun. The last place he
saw it was at the point where the two riders deflected from the lateral
toward the ranch house, following tracks which led up from the bottom of
the ditch.

An instant later Flatray had dodged back into the chaparral, for somebody
was driving a flock of sheep down to the ditch. He made out that there
were two riders behind them, and that they had no dog. For the present his
curiosity was satisfied. He thought he knew why they were watering sheep
in this odd fashion. Swiftly he had made a circuit, drawn rein in front of
the store, and dropped in just in time to hear his name. Now, as with one
ear he listened to Alan's account of the hold-up, with his subconscious
mind he was with the sheep-herders who were driving the flock back into
the pasture.

"Looks like our friend the bad man was onto his job all right," was the
deputy's only comment when Alan had finished.

"I'll bet he's making his getaway into the hills mighty immediate,"
chuckled Baker. "He can't find a bank in the mountainside to deposit that
gold any too soon to suit him."

"Sho! I'll bet he ain't worried a mite. He's got his arrangements all
made, and likely they'll dovetail to suit him. He's put his brand on that
gold to stay," answered Farnum confidently.

Jack's mild blue eyes rested on him amiably. "Think so, Bob?"

"I ain't knockin' you any, Jack. You're all right. But that's how I figure
it out, and, by Gad! I'm hopin' it too," Farnum made answer recklessly.

Flatray laughed and strolled from the crowded room to the big piazza. A
man had just cantered up and flung himself from his saddle. The ranger,
looking at him, thought he had never seen another so strikingly handsome
an Apollo. Black eyes looked into his from a sun-tanned face perfectly
modelled. The pose of the head and figure would have delighted a
sculptor.

There was a vigor, an unspoken hostility, in the gaze of both men.

"Mo'nin", Mr. Deputy Sheriff, one said; and the other, "Same to you, Mr.
Norris."

"You're on the job quick," sneered the cattle detective.

"The quicker the sooner, I expect."

"And by night you'll have Mr. Hold-up roped and hog-tied?"

"Not so you could notice it. Are you a sheep-herder these days, Mr.
Norris?"

The gentle irony of this was not lost on its object, for in the West a
herder of sheep is the next remove from a dumb animal.

"No, I'm riding for the Quarter Circle K Bar outfit. This is the first
time I ever took the dust of a sheep in my life. I did it to oblige Mr.
Lee."

"Oh! To oblige Mr. Lee?"

"He wanted to water them, and his herder wasn't here."

"Must 'a' been wanting water mighty bad, I reckon," commented Jack
amiably.

"You bet! Lee feels better satisfied now he's watered them."

"I don't doubt it."

Norris changed the subject. "You must have burnt the wind getting here. I
didn't expect to see you for some hours."

"I happened to be down at Yeager's ranch, and one of the boys got me on
the line from Mesa."

"Picked up any clues yet?" asked the other carelessly, yet always with
that hint of a sneer; and innocently Flatray answered, "They seem to be
right seldom."

"Didn't know but you'd happened on the fellow's trail."

"I guess I'm as much at sea as you are," was the equivocal answer.

Lee came over from the stable, still wearing spurs and gauntlets.

"Howdy, Jack!" he nodded, not quite so much at his ease as usual. "Got
hyer on the jump, didn't you?"

"I kept movin'."

"This shorely beats hell, don't it?" Lee glanced around, selected a smooth
boulder, and fired his discharge of tobacco juice at it true to the inch.
"Reminds me of the old days. You boys ain't old enough to recall them, but
stage hold-ups were right numerous then."

Blandly the deputy looked from one to the other. "I don't suppose either
of you gentlemen happen to have been down and looked over the ground where
the hold-up was? The tracks were right cut up before I got there."

This center shot silenced Lee for an instant, but Norris was on the spot
with smiling ease.

"No, Mr. Lee and I have been hunting strays on the mesa. We didn't hear
about it till a few minutes ago. We're at your service, though, Mr.
Sheriff, to join any posses you want to send out."

"Much obliged. I'm going to send one out toward the Galiuros in a few
minutes now. I'll be right glad to have you take charge of it, Mr.
Norris."

The derisive humor in the newly appointed deputy's eyes did not quite
reach the surface.

"Sure. Whenever you want me."

"I'm going to send Alan McKinstra along to guide you. He knows that
country like a book. You want to head for the lower pass, swing up Diable
canyon, and work up in the headquarters of the Three Forks."

Within a quarter of an hour the posse was in motion. Flatray watched it
disappear in the dust of the road without a smile. He had sent them out
merely to distract the attention of the public and to get rid of as many
as possible of the crowd. For he was quite as well aware as the leader of
the posse that this search in the Galiuros was a wild-goose chase.
Somewhere within three hundred yards of the place he stood both the robber
and his booty were in all probability to be found.

Flatray was quite right in his surmise, since Melissy Lee, who had come
out to see the posse off, was standing at the end of the porch with her
dusky eyes fastened on him, the while he stood beside the house with one
foot resting negligently on the oilcloth cover of the wash-stand.

She had cast him out of her friendship because of his unworthiness, but
there was a tumult in her heart at sight of him. No matter how her
judgment condemned him as a villain, some instinct in her denied the
possibility of it. She was torn in conflict between her liking for him and
her conviction that he deserved only contempt. Somehow it hurt her too
that he accepted without protest her verdict, appeared so willing to be a
stranger to her.

Now that the actual physical danger of her adventure was past, Melissy was
aware too of a chill dread lurking at her heart. She was no longer buoyed
up by the swiftness of action which had called for her utmost nerve. There
was nothing she could do now but wait, and waiting was of all things the
one most foreign to her impulsive temperament. She acknowledged too some
fear of this quiet, soft-spoken frontiersman. All Arizona knew not only
the daredevil spirit that fired his gentleness, but the competence with
which he set about any task he assigned himself. She did not see how he
could unravel this mystery. She had left no clues behind her, she felt
sure of that, and yet was troubled lest he guessed at her secret behind
that mask of innocence he wore. He did not even remotely guess it as yet,
but he was far closer to the truth than he pretended. The girl knew she
should leave him and go about her work. Her role was to appear as
inconspicuous as possible, but she could not resist the fascination of
trying to probe his thoughts.

"I suppose your posse will come back with the hold-ups in a few hours.
Will it be worth while to wait for them?" she asked with amiable
derision.

The ranger had been absorbed in thought, his chin in his hand, but he
brought his gaze back from the distance to meet hers. What emotion lay
behind those cold eyes she could not guess.

"You're more hopeful than I am, Miss Lee."

"What are you sending them out for, then?"

"Oh, well, the boys need to work off some of their energy, and there's
always a show they might happen onto the robbers."

"Do you think some of the Roaring Fork gang did it?"

"Can't say."

"I suppose you are staying here in the hope that they will drop in and
deliver themselves to you."

He looked at her out of an expressionless face. "That's about it, I
reckon. But what I tell the public is that I'm staying so as to be within
telephone connection. You see, Sheriff Burke is moving up to cut them off
from the Catalinas, Jackson is riding out from Mammoth to haid them off
that way, these anxious lads that have just pulled out from here are
taking care of the Galiuros. I'm supposed to be sitting with my fingers on
the keys as a sort of posse dispatcher."

"Well, I hope you won't catch them," she told him bluntly.

"That seems to be a prevailing sentiment round here. You say it right
hearty too; couldn't be more certain of your feelings if it had been your
own father."

He said it carelessly, yet with his keen blue eyes fixed on her.
Nevertheless, he was totally unprepared for the effect of his words. The
color washed from her bronzed cheeks, and she stood staring at him with
big, fear-filled eyes.

"What--what do you mean?" she gasped. "How dare you say that?"

"I ain't said anything so terrible. You don't need to take it to heart
like that." He gave her a faint smile for an instant. "I'm not really
expecting to arrest Mr. Lee for holding up that stage."

The color beat back slowly into her face. She knew she had made a false
move in taking so seriously his remark.

"I don't think you ought to joke about a thing like that," she said
stiffly.

"All right. I'll not say it next time till I'm in earnest," he promised as
he walked away.

"I wonder if he really meant anything," the girl was thinking in terror,
and he, "she knows something; now, I would like to know what."

Melissy attended to her duties in the postoffice after the arrival of the
stage, and looked after the dining-room as usual, but she was all the time
uneasily aware that Jack Flatray had quietly disappeared. Where had he
gone? And why? She found no answer to that question, but the ranger
dropped in on his bronco in time for supper, imperturbable and
self-contained as ever.

"Think I'll stay all night if you have a room for me," he told her after
he had eaten.

"We have a room," she said. "What more have you heard about the stage
robbery?"

"Nothing, Miss Lee."

"Oh, I thought maybe you had," she murmured tremulously, for his blue
eyes were unwaveringly upon her and she could not know how much or how
little he might mean.

Later she saw him sitting on the fence, holding genial converse with Jim
Budd. The waiter was flashing a double row of white teeth in deep laughter
at something the deputy had told him. Evidently they were already friends.
When she looked again, a few minutes later, she knew Jack had reached the
point where he was pumping Jim and the latter was disseminating
misinformation. That the negro was stanch enough, she knew, but she was on
the anxious seat lest his sharp-witted inquisitor get what he wanted in
spite of him. After he had finished with Budd the ranger drifted around to
the kitchen in time to intercept Hop Ling casually as he came out after
finishing his evening's work. The girl was satisfied Flatray could not
have any suspicion of the truth. Nevertheless, she wished he would let the
help alone. He might accidentally stumble on something that would set him
on the right track.





Next: The Boone-bellamy Feud Is Renewed

Previous: Hands Up



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