KAY WHITE stood for a moment looking at the man unsaddling the horses in the corral. “Buck Mason,” she murmured, and then turning to Olga, “He may be Buck Mason,” she said; “but no one can ever make me believe that he is a murderer.”
“It is immaterial to me what you believe,” snapped Olga; “and if your father won’t arrest him, Cory Blaine will.” As she spoke she started down the veranda steps and walked rapidly toward the bunkhouse.
Kay White followed her. “Don’t,” she cried. “You don’t know what you are doing. They will kill him. They want to kill him. All they want is the excuse.”
“I pray to God that they will kill him,” said Olga, “for he killed my father.”
As Olga hurried on toward the bunkhouse, Kay White broke into a run and, passing her, hastened to the corral, where Mason was just turning the horses into pasture. As he fastened the gate and turned back he saw her.
“I thought I told you to go to bed,” he said.
“Oh, Bruce,” she cried. “Hurry and get away from here. That girl, I suppose she is Miss Gunderstrom from what she said, has gone to get Cory Blaine to arrest you.”
“Why should I run away, Kay?” he asked. “Don’t tell me that you think I done it.”
“Oh, I don’t care whether you did or not. I don’t want them to kill you, and I know that they will kill you. They won’t give you a chance, Bruce.”
“It’s worth being killed a dozen times for, Kay, to hear you say that,” he said; “but don’t you worry. You get back to the house quick in case there’s goin’ to be any shootin’. I can take care of myself, now that you’ve warned me.”
Breathlessly, Olga Gunderstrom broke into the bunkhouse. Butts was sitting on the edge of his bunk rolling a cigarette, and Blaine was already stretched out on his asleep.
“Buck Mason is here,” she cried, “the man who murdered my father.” Blaine sat upon his bunk.
“What’s that?” he demanded.
“The man who murdered my father is here,” she cried, “and there’s five thousand dollars reward for him dead or alive.”
“Where is he?” demanded Blaine, leaping to his feet.
The girl pointed through the window to the corral. “There he is,” she said.
The two men looked. “My God!” exclaimed Butts. “If it aint the damn dude.”
The two men hastily buckled on their cartridge belts and guns. “You beat it back to the house in a hurry, Miss,” said Blaine.
“Be careful,” said Olga. “He’s a dangerous character.”
“Shucks,” scoffed Butts, as the girl left the bunkhouse and hastened toward the ranch house, “that dude couldn’t even hit a tree at fifty feet.”
Kay White reached the house a moment after Olga. “What did you do? Did you warn him?” demanded the latter.
“Of course I did,” replied Kay.
“Then you ought to be killed, too,” cried Olga. “You are as bad as the murderer.”
John White, hearing the girls’ voices, came from the office where he had deposited Eddie and taken the further precaution of binding the man’s ankles together. “Come, Kay,” he said. “You girls are both nervous and distraught. Please go to your rooms, both of you. If they try to take Marvel, or Mason, or whatever his name is, there will unquestionably be shooting and it will not be safe for you out here.”
Olga was pacing up and down the veranda like a caged tigress as Kay entered the house and went to her room. In the doorway she turned. “I wish that you would come with me, father,” she said. “You must listen to me. You must know the truth.” And then suddenly, “Where is Eddie?”
“Eddie! Who is Eddie?” demanded White. “You mean the prisoner?”
“He’s tied up as tight as a Scotchman’s pursestrings and stowed away in the office,” replied her father, as he followed Kay to her room.
Eddie, sitting upon a chair in the office, saw Olga pacing up and down the veranda, back and forth past the office window. He had heard the girl accuse Marvel as the murderer of her father. He had heard her call him Buck Mason; and now a faint light burst upon his dull intellect, so that he understood much that he had not understood before. He saw not only the immediate necessity for escape but something that held out a hope for its accomplishment; and so as Olga approached the office window again, he hailed her.
“Hey, Miss,” he cried.
The girl stopped and looked into the office. “What do you want?” she asked.
“Let me loose,” he said, “and I’ll help Blaine and Butts get that fellow, Mason. I got it in for him myself, and two of ’em aint enough.”
She hesitated. “Why not?” she thought, for her mind was obsessed only with revenge. She stepped quickly into the office and, after some difficulty, untied the knot that secured Eddie’s wrists. His hands free, the man quickly loosened the cords about his ankles. Then he sprang through the doorway, vaulted over the rail and started diagonally across the valley toward the hills on the opposite side.
“Come back!” cried Olga Gunderstrom. “You are going the wrong way.”
“The hell I am,” said Eddie, bursting into a new spurt of speed.
From the corral Buck Mason had watched Kay White until she reached the safety of the house. Then he stepped inside the stables. He withdrew his guns from their holsters one at a time and examined them carefully. Then he waited.
In the bunkhouse Butts and Cory each satisfied himself likewise that his weapons were in good condition.
Butts was the first to emerge. He wanted that five thousand dollars very badly; but Cory Blaine was more interested in having Mason out of the way; and if Butts wanted to take the risk, he could have the five thousand. Neither man knew that Kay White had been to the corral and warned their quarry; and so it was with considerable confidence that they advanced, Blaine a little to the rear and to Butts’ left.
The latter was a hundred feet from the stable door when Marvel stepped out into the open. Without a word, without warning, Butts drew and fired. Marvel had drawn one of his guns before stepping from the stables, but his arm had been hanging at his right side and the weapon concealed from the two men by his body. As Butts drew, Mason fired from the hip. Then Blaine fired as Butts stumbled forward, a bullet through his forehead. Blaine missed and Mason fired again.
At the sound of the first shot, the guests had poured from their rooms onto the veranda. Birdie Talbot went into hysterics; and as Blaine crumpled to Mason’s second shot, Olga Gunderstrom screamed and fainted. Kay stood tense and white, her hands clenched, her nails biting into her palms. She kept repeating to herself, “He lives! He lives!”
Mason stood now with a gun in each hand. His attitude was defiant as he looked about him for other possible enemies. And then two men rode into the yard. They came at a gallop, for they heard the shots. At a glance they took in the scene by the corral. One of the men was elderly. It was the younger who drew his gun. Buck Mason leaped back into the stables just as the man fired, the bullet burying itself in the door frame in front of which Mason had been standing but an instant before.
“Put up your gun, sheriff,” said the older man. “I’ll get him without no gunplay.” He rode slowly toward the stables. “It’s all up, Buck,” he called. “Limber up your artillery and come on out. I’ll see you get a square deal.”
Instantly Mason stepped from the doorway. “Why the gunplay?” he demanded.
“You’re under arrest, Buck,” said the older man. “Let me have your guns.”
“What you arrestin’ me for, boss?” asked Buck.
“For killin’ old man Gunderstrom,” replied the sheriff of Comanche County; “but I won’t never believe you done it, Buck. How-some-ever I got a warrant for your arrest and the law’s the law.”
Mason unbuckled his cartridge belt and handed it up to the sheriff, the two guns hanging in their holsters.
“Tie up your horses and come up to the house,” said Buck. “I got a long story to tell and there’s others besides you I want to have hear it. Incidental-like, boss, I got the gang that killed Gunderstrom.”
“Who done it?” asked the sheriff of Comanche County.
Mason pointed at Blaine, lying in the dust of the ranch yard.
“You’ll have hard work provin’ that, young feller,” said the other man.
“Who the hell are you anyway?” demanded Buck.
“This is the sheriff of Porico County, Buck,” explained the older man.
“O.K.,” said Mason.
As the three men walked toward the house, a body of horsemen approached the ranch from the south, riding down the Mill Creek trail. Those in the lead saw a man on foot running toward the brush along the river. In a cow country a man on foot is always an object of suspicion. When he is caught running for cover, he is already convicted, even though no one may be aware that a crime has been committed.
The result was that instantly the men rode forward to intercept the lone pedestrian. As they approached him he stopped, for he could not possibly have reached the brush ahead of them. He turned and faced them.
“Who are you and what’s your hurry?” demanded one of the men.
“I come out to meet you fellers,” said Eddie, his brain spurred to unwonted activity by stress of circumstances. “Buck Mason, the guy that killed old man Gunderstrom over in New Mexico, is down at the stables and two of the fellers are tryin’ to get him. There’s been some shootin’, but I couldn’t see what happened.”
“A couple of you fellows bring this guy in,” said the deputy sheriff of Porico County, “and the rest of you come along with me.”
And so it was that the deputy sheriff and his posse galloped into the ranch yard just as Buck and the two sheriffs ascended the steps to the veranda.
“Hello, sheriff,” called the deputy to his chief. “You got your man?”
“You bet,” exclaimed the sheriff of Porico County. “You know me. I always get my man. This is the feller that killed old man Gunderstrom over in Comanche County and run off with Mr. White’s gal here. I reckon he’s the head of this here gang that’s been raisin’ hell in New Mexico and Arizona for the past year.”