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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBrand Blotters - Part 2. Dead Man's Cache - Chapter 12. The Taking Of The Cache
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Brand Blotters - Part 2. Dead Man's Cache - Chapter 12. The Taking Of The Cache Post by :Leadmaster Category :Long Stories Author :William Macleod Raine Date :May 2012 Read :717

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Brand Blotters - Part 2. Dead Man's Cache - Chapter 12. The Taking Of The Cache

PART II. DEAD MAN'S CACHE
CHAPTER XII. THE TAKING OF THE CACHE

It was understood that in the absence of the sheriff Richard Bellamy should have charge of the posse, and after the disappearance of Flatray he took command.

With the passing years Bellamy had become a larger figure in the community. The Monte Cristo mine had made him independently wealthy, even though he had deeded one-third of it to Melissy Lee. Arizona had forgiven him his experiment at importing sheep and he was being spoken of as a territorial delegate to Congress, a place the mine owner by no means wanted. For his interests were now bound up in the Southwest. His home was there. Already a little toddler's soft fat fist was clinging to the skirt of Ferne.

At first Bellamy, as well as Farnum, McKinstra, young Yarnell and the rest of the posse looked expectantly for the return of the sheriff. It was hard to believe that one so virile, so competent, so much a dominant factor of every situation he confronted, could have fallen a victim to the men he hunted. But as the days passed with no news of him the conviction grew that he had been waylaid and shot. The hunt went on, but the rule now was that no move should be made singly. Not even for an hour did the couples separate.

One evening a woman drifted into camp just as they were getting ready to roll into their blankets. McKinstra was on sentry duty, but she got by him unobserved and startled Farnum into drawing his gun.

Yet all she said was: "_Buenos tardes, senor_."

The woman was a wrinkled Mexican with a close-shut, bitter mouth and bright, snappy eyes.

Farnum stared at her in surprise. "Who in Arizona are you?"

It was decidedly disturbing to think what might have happened if MacQueen's outfit had dropped in on them, instead of one lone old woman.

"Rosario Chaves."

"Glad to meet you, ma'am. Won't you sit down?"

The others had by this time gathered around.

Rosario spoke in Spanish, and Bob Farnum answered in the same language. "You want to find the way into Dead Man's Cache, senor?"

"Do we? I reckon yes!"

"Let me be your guide."

"You know the way in?"

"I live there."

"Connected with MacQueen's outfit, maybe?"

"I cook for him. My son was one of his men."

"Was?"

"Yes. He was killed--shot by Lieutenant O'Connor, the same man who was a prisoner at the Cache until yesterday morning."

"Killed lately, ma'am?"

"Two years ago. We swore revenge. MacQueen did not keep his oath, the oath we all swore together."

Bellamy began to understand the situation. She wanted to get back at MacQueen, unless she were trying to lead them into a trap.

"Let's get this straight. MacQueen turned O'Connor loose, did he?" Bellamy questioned.

"No. He escaped. This man--what you call him?--the sheriff, helped him and Senor West to break away."

The mine owner's eye met Farnum's. They were being told much news.

"So they all escaped, did they?"

"_Si, senor_, but MacQueen took West and the sheriff next morning. They could not find their way out of the valley."

"But O'Connor escaped. Is that it?"

Her eyes flashed hatred. "He escaped because the sheriff helped him. His life was forfeit to me. So then was the sheriff's. MacQueen he admit it. But when the girl promise to marry him he speak different."

"What girl?"

"_Senorita Lee."

"Not Melissy Lee."

"_Si, senor_."

"My God! Melissy Lee a prisoner of that infernal villain. How did she come there?"

The Mexican woman was surprised at the sudden change that had come over the men. They had grown tense and alert. Interest had flamed into a passionate eagerness.

Rosario Chaves told the story from beginning to end, so far as she knew it; and every sentence of it wrung the big heart of these men. The pathos of it hit them hard. Their little comrade, the girl they had been fond of for years--the bravest, truest lass in Arizona--had fallen a victim to this intolerable fate! They could have wept with the agony of it if they had known how.

"Are you sure they were married? Maybe the thing slipped up," Alan suggested, the hope father to the thought.

But this hope was denied him; for the woman had brought with her a copy of the Mesa _Sentinel_, with an account of the marriage and the reason for it. This had been issued on the morning after the event, and MacQueen had brought it back with him to the Cache.

Bellamy arranged with the Mexican woman a plan of attack upon the valley. Camp was struck at once, and she guided them through tortuous ravines and gulches deeper into the Roaring Fork country. She left them in a grove of aspens, just above the lip of the valley, on the side least frequented by the outlaws.

They were to lie low until they should receive from her a signal that most of the gang had left to take West to the place appointed for the exchange. They were then to wait through the day until dusk, slip quietly down, and capture the ranch before the return of the party with the gold. In case anything should occur to delay the attack on the ranch, another signal was to be given by Rosario.

The first signal was to be the hanging of washing upon the line. If this should be removed before nightfall, Bellamy was to wait until he should hear from her again.

Bellamy believed that the Chaves woman was playing square with him, but he preferred to take no chances. As soon as she had left to return to the settlement of the outlaws he moved camp again to a point almost half a mile from the place where she had last seen them. If the whole thing were a "plant," and a night attack had been planned, he wanted to be where he and his men could ambush the ambushers, if necessary.

But the night passed without any alarm. As the morning wore away the scheduled washing appeared on the line. Farnum crept down to the valley lip and trained his glasses on the ranch house. Occasionally he could discern somebody moving about, though there were not enough signs of activity to show the presence of many people. All day the wash hung drying on the line. Dusk came, the blankets still signaling that all was well.

Bellamy led his men forward under cover, following the wooded ridge above the Cache so long as there was light enough by which they might be observed from the valley. With the growing darkness he began the descent into the bowl just behind the corral. A light shone in the larger cabin; and Bellamy knew that, unless Rosario were playing him false, the men would be at supper there. He left his men lying down behind the corral, while he crept forward to the window from which the light was coming.

In the room were two men and the Mexican woman. The men, with elbows far apart, and knives and forks very busy, were giving strict attention to the business in hand. Rosario waited upon them, but with ear and eye guiltily alert to catch the least sound. The mine owner could even overhear fragments of the talk.

"Ought to get back by midnight, don't you reckon? Pass the cow and the sugar, Buck. Keep a-coming with that coffee, Rosario. I ain't a mite afraid but what MacQueen will pull it off all right, you bet."

"Sure, he will. Give that molasses a shove, Tom----"

Bellamy drew his revolver and slipped around to the front door. He came in so quietly that neither of the men heard him. Both had their backs to the door.

"Figure it up, and it makes a right good week's work. I reckon I'll go down to Chihuahua and break the bank at Miguel's," one of them was saying.

"Better go to Yuma and break stones for a spell, Buck," suggested a voice from the doorway.

Both men slewed their heads around as if they had been worked by the same lever. Their mouths opened, and their eyes bulged. A shining revolver covered them competently.

"Now, don't you, Buck--nor you either, Tom!" This advice because of a tentative movement each had made with his right hand. "I'm awful careless about spilling lead, when I get excited. Better reach for the roof; then you won't have any temptations to suicide."

The hard eyes of the outlaws swept swiftly over the cattleman. Had he shown any sign of indecision, they would have taken a chance and shot it out. But he was so easily master of himself that the impulse to "draw" died stillborn.

Bellamy gave a sharp, shrill whistle. Footsteps came pounding across the open, and three armed men showed at the door.

"Darn my skin if the old son of a gun hasn't hogged all the glory!" Bob Farnum complained joyfully. "Won't you introduce us to your friends, Bellamy?"

"This gentleman with the biscuit in his hand is Buck; the one so partial to porterhouse steak is Tom," returned Bellamy gravely.

"Glad to death to meet you, gents. Your hands seem so busy drilling for the ceiling, we won't shake right now. If it would be any kindness to you, I'll unload all this hardware, though. My! You tote enough with you to start a store, boys."

"How did you find your way in?" growled Buck.

"Jest drifted in on our automobiles and airships," Bob told him airily, as he unbuckled the revolver belt and handed it to one of his friends.

The outlaws were bound, after which Rosario cooked the posse a dinner. This was eaten voraciously by all, for camp life had sharpened the appetite for a woman's cooking.

One of the men kept watch to notify them when MacQueen and his gang should enter the valley, while the others played "pitch" to pass the time. In spite of this, the hours dragged. It was a good deal like waiting for a battle to begin. Bellamy and Farnum had no nerves, but the others became nervous and anxious.

"I reckon something is keeping them," suggested Alan, after looking at his watch for the fifth time in half an hour. "Don't you reckon we better go up the trail a bit to meet them?"

"I reckon we better wait here, Alan. Bid three," returned Farnum evenly.

As he spoke, their scout came running in.

"They're here, boys!"

"Good enough! How many of them?"

"Four of 'em, looked like. They were winding down the trail, and I couldn't make out how many."

"All right, boys. Steady, now, till they get down from their horses. Hal, out with the light when I give the word."

It was a minute to shake nerves of steel. They could hear the sound of voices, an echo of jubilant laughter, the sound of iron shoes striking stones in the trail. Then some one shouted:

"Oh, you, Buck!"

The program might have gone through as arranged, but for an unlooked-for factor in the proceedings. Buck let out a shout of warning to his trapped friends. Almost at the same instant the butt of Farnum's revolver smashed down on his head; but the damage was already done.

Bellamy and his friends swarmed out like bees. The outlaws were waiting irresolutely--some mounted, others beside their horses. Among them were two pack horses.

"Hands up!" ordered the mine owner sharply.

The answer was a streak of fire from a rifle. Instantly there followed a fusillade. Flash after flash lit up the darkness. Staccato oaths, cries, a moan of pain, the trampling of frightened horses, filled the night with confusion.

In spite of the shout of warning, the situation had come upon the bandits as a complete surprise. How many were against them, whether or not they were betrayed, the certainty that the law had at last taken them at a disadvantage--these things worked with the darkness for the posse. A man flung himself on his pony, lay low on its back, and galloped wildly into the night. A second wheeled and followed at his heels. Hank Irwin was down, with a bullet from a carbine through his jaw and the back of his head. A wild shot had brought down another. Of the outlaws only MacQueen, standing behind his horse as he fired, remained on the field uninjured.

The cattlemen had scattered as the firing began, and had availed themselves of such cover as was to be had. Now they concentrated their fire on the leader of the outlaws. His horse staggered and went down, badly torn by a rifle bullet. A moment later the special thirty-two carbine he carried was knocked from his hands by another shot.

He crouched and ran to Irwin's horse, flung himself to the saddle, deliberately emptied his revolver at his foes, and put spurs to the broncho. As he vanished into the hills Bob Farnum slowly sank to the ground.

"I've got mine, Bellamy. Blamed if he ain't plumb bust my laig!"

The mine owner covered the two wounded outlaws, while his men disarmed them. Then he walked across to his friend, laid down his rifle, and knelt beside him.

"Did he get you bad, old man?"

"Bad enough so I reckon I'll have a doc look at it one of these days." Bob grinned to keep down the pain.

Once more there came the sound of hoofs beating the trail of decomposed granite. Bellamy looked up and grasped his rifle. A single rider loomed out of the darkness and dragged his horse to a halt, a dozen yards from the mine owner, in such a position that he was directly behind one of the pack horses.

"Up with your hands!" ordered Bellamy on suspicion.

Two hands went swiftly up from beside the saddle. The moonlight gleamed on something bright in the right hand. A flash rent the night. A jagged, red-hot pain tore through the shoulder of Hal Yarnell. He fired wildly, the shock having spoiled his aim.

The attacker laughed exultantly, mockingly, as he swung his horse about.

"A present from Black MacQueen," he jeered.

With that, he was gone again, taking the pack animal with him. He had had the audacity to come back after his loot--and had got some of it, too.

One of the unwounded cowpunchers gave pursuit, but half an hour later he returned ruefully.

"I lost him somehow--darned if I know how. I seen him before me one minute; the next he was gone. Must 'a' known some trail that led off from the road, I reckon."

Bellamy said nothing. He intended to take up the trail in person; but first the wounded had to be looked to, a man dispatched for a doctor, and things made safe against another possible but improbable attack. It was to be a busy night; for he had on hand three wounded men, as well as two prisoners who were sound. An examination showed him that neither of the two wounded outlaws nor Farnum nor Yarnell were fatally shot. All were hardy outdoors men, who had lived in the balsamic air of the hills; if complications did not ensue, they would recover beyond question.

In this extremity Rosario was a first aid to the injured. She had betrayed the bandits without the least compunction, because they had ignored the oath of vengeance against the slayer of her son; but she nursed them all impartially and skillfully until the doctor arrived, late next day.

Meanwhile Bellamy and McKinstra, guided by one of the outlaws, surprised Jeff and released Flatray, who returned with them to camp.

With the doctor had come also four members of the Lee posse. To the deputy in charge Jack turned over his four prisoners and the gold recovered. As soon as the doctor had examined and dressed his wound he mounted and took the trail after MacQueen. With him rode Bellamy.

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