Lynch Scores





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

and unevenly.



"What shall I do?" she said aloud in a strained whisper. "What shall I

do?"



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

scrutiny.



"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

confident.



"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

imagination."



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,

quickly!"



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

that?"



With a little cry she rattled the hook and repeatedly pressed the round

button which operated the bell. "Buck! Buck!" she cried into the

receiver.



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

instrument.



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

threshold.



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.





Luis Rojas Talks M'cay's Recruit facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback