ABOVE THE LAW + ALCATRAZ + THE RANGELAND AVENGER (Wild West Trilogy) - Max Brand - ebook


Max Brand



This carefully crafted ebook: "ABOVE THE LAW + ALCATRAZ + THE RANGELAND AVENGER (Wild West Trilogy)" is formatted for your eReader with a functional and detailed table of contents. Frederick Schiller Faust (1892-1944) was an American author known primarily for his thoughtful and literary Westerns under the pen name Max Brand. Brand also created the popular fictional character of young medical intern Dr. James Kildare in a series of pulp fiction stories. Prolific in many genres he wrote historical novels, detective mysteries, pulp fiction stories and many more. His love for mythology was a constant source of inspiration for his fiction, and it has been speculated that these classical influences accounted in some part for his success as a popular writer. Many of his stories would later inspire films.

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Max Brand / Frederick Schiller Faust


(Wild West Trilogy)

Adventure Classics
e-artnow, 2016 Contact: [email protected]
ISBN 978-80-268-6445-5

Table of Contents



Table of Contents

Table of Contents



Table of Contents

Her eyes were like the sky on a summer night, a color to be dreamed of but never reproduced. From the golden hair to the delicate hands which cupped her chin a flower-like loveliness kept her aloof from her surroundings, like a rare pearl set in base metal. Her companion, young and darkly handsome, crumpled in a hand, scarcely less white than hers, the check which the waiter had left. In the mean time he gazed with some concern at his companion. Her lips stirred; she sighed.

“Two dollars for ham,” she murmured. “Can you beat it, Freddie?”

“He sort of sagged when we slipped him the order,” answered the dark and distinguished youth. “I guess the hens are only making one-night stands in this country.”

“They’ve got an audience, anyway,” she returned, “and that’s more than we could draw!”

She opened her purse and passed two bills to him under the table.

“Why the camouflage?” he asked, as he took the money.

“Freddie,” she said, “run your glass eye over the men in this joint. If they see you pay for the eats with my money, they’d take you for a skirt in disguise.”

A light twinkled for an instant far back in her eyes.

“Take me for a skirt?” said Frederick Montgomery, in his most austere manner. “Say, cutie, lay off on the rough stuff and get human. The trouble with you, La Belle Geraldine, is that you forget your real name is Annie Kerrigan.”

Her lazy smile caressed him.

“Freddie,” she purred, “you do your dignity bit, the way Charlie Chaplin would do Hamlet.”

Mr. Montgomery scowled upon her, but the dollar bills in the palm of his hand changed the trend of his thoughts at once.

“Think of it, Jerry,” he groaned, “if we hadn’t listened to that piker Delaney, we’d be doing small big-time over the R. and W.!”

“Take it easy, deary,” answered La Belle Geraldine, “I’ve still got a hundred iron men; but that isn’t enough to take both of us to civilization.”

Montgomery cleared his throat, frowned, and raised his head like a patriot making a death-speech in the third act.

“Geraldine,” he said solemnly, “it ain’t right for me to sponge on you now. You take the money. It’ll get you back to Broadway. As for me—I—I—can go to work in one of the mines with these ruffians!”

La Belle Geraldine chuckled.

“You couldn’t do it without make-up, Freddie. And besides, think of spoiling those hands with a pick-handle!”

Mr. Montgomery regarded his tender palms with a rather sad complacency.

“There’s no other way out, Jerry. Besides, I can, I can—”

His voice trailed away drearily, and La Belle Geraldine regarded him with the familiar twinkle far back in her eyes.

“You’re a born hero, Freddie—on the stage. But we’re minus electric lights out here, and the play’s no good.”

“We’re minus everything,” declared Freddie with heat, overlooking the latter part of her speech. “This joint hasn’t even got a newspaper in it, unless you call this rag one!”

He pulled out a crumpled paper, a single sheet poorly printed on both sides. Geraldine took it and regarded it with languid interest.

“The funny thing,” she muttered, as she read, “is that I sort of like this rube gang out here, Freddie.”

“Like them?” snorted her companion, as he shook down his cuffs and tightened his necktie. “Say, Jerry, you’re talking in your sleep. Wake up and get next to yourself! Pipe the guy in the corner piling fried potatoes on his knife with a chunk of bread.”

She turned her head.

“Kind of neat action, all right,” she said critically. “That takes real courage, Freddie. If his hand slipped, he’d cut his throat. Don’t be so sore on them. As parlor snakes, they aren’t in your class, but don’t spend all your time looking at the stage set. Watch the show and forget the background, Freddie. These boys may eat with knives and get a little too familiar with their revolvers, but they strike me as being a hundred percent men.”

“You always were a nut, Jerry,” yawned Montgomery. “For my part, give me the still small voice, but not the wilderness. I can see all the rough nature I want in the Central Park Zoo.”

He pushed back his chair.

“Wait a minute, Freddie. Hold the curtain while I play the overture. I’ve got an idea. Listen to this!”

She spread out the Snider Gulch Clarion and read:

“Attention, men of Snider Gulch, it’s up to us! The citizens of Three Rivers have organized to rid the mountains of Black Jim. Prominent miners of that town have placed two thousand dollars on deposit, and offered it for the capture of the bandit, dead or alive. Men, is Snider Gulch going to be left behind by a jerk-water shanty village like Three Rivers? No! Let’s get together. If Three Rivers can offer two thousand dollars for the capture of Black Jim, Snider Gulch can offer three thousand easy. We’ve got to show Three Rivers that we’re on the map!”

“How’s that for a line of talk, Freddie?”

“What’s the point?” he queried. “What do you get out of that monologue?”

“Wait a minute, the drums are still going out in the orchestra and your cue hasn’t come yet; but before I get through I’m going to ring up the curtain on a three-act melodrama that’ll fill the house and give the box office insomnia.”

She went on with the reading.

“We can’t expect to land Black Jim in a hurry. The reward money will probably get covered with cobwebs before it’s claimed. The men who get it will have their hands full, that’s certain. If they can even find his hiding-place, they will be doing their share of work.

“There are a number of theories about the way he works. Some people think that he lives either in Snider Gulch or Three Rivers and does his hold-ups on the side. No man has ever seen his face because of the black mask he wears over his eyes. All we know is that his hair is black and that he always rides a roan horse. But that ought to be enough to identify him.

“Some hold that he hides in some gulch with a lot of other outlaws. They don’t think he leads a gang, because he always works alone, but they believe that other gunmen have found his hiding-place and are living near him. If that is the case, and Black Jim can be found in his home, we will clean out the bandits who have given our town a black name.

“If Black Jim is caught, he will surely hang. He hasn’t killed anyone yet, but he’s wounded nine or ten, and if he’s ever pressed hard, there’s sure to be a lot of bloodshed. However, it’s up to the brave men of Snider Gulch to take the chance. If they get him they’ll probably get the rest of the gun-fighters who have been sticking up stages (which is Black Jim’s specialty), and robbing and killing lone miners and prospectors, which is the long suit of the rest of the crowd.

“In conclusion, all we have to say is that the men who gets the money for Black Jim’s capture will earn it, and our respect along with it.”

She dropped the paper.

“Now do you see, Freddie?”

“I’m no psychic wonder, Jerry,” he answered with some irritation. “How can I tell what act you’re thinking of? Wait a minute!”

He gaped at her with sudden astonishment.

“Say, Jerry,” he growled, “have you got a hunch that I’m going to go out and catch this man-eating Black Jim?”

She broke into musical laughter.

“Freddie,” she said, when she could speak again. “I’d as soon send you to capture the bandit as I’d send a baby with a paper knife to capture a machine gun. No, deary, I know you want to get out of here, but I don’t want you to start east in a coffin. It costs too much!”

“Slip it to me easy, Jerry,” he said, “or I’ll get peeved.”

“Don’t make me nervous,” she mocked. “I don’t ask you to do anything rough except to put on clothes like the ones these fellows around here are wearing—heavy boots, overalls, broad-brimmed hat, red bandanna around the neck.”

He stared at her without comprehension.

“Do you think they’ll pay to see me in an outfit like that?”

“They ought to, and it’s my idea to make them. It’s a nice little bit for us both, Freddie. First act starts like this. Stage set: A western mining town, Three Rivers. Enter the lead—a girl, stunning blonde, wears corduroy walking skirt.”

Montgomery grinned but still looked baffled.

“You hate yourself all right,” he said, “but lead on the action.”

“Nobody knows why the girl is there, and nobody cares, because they don’t ask questions in a mining town.”

“Not even about the theater,” groaned Montgomery.

“Shut up, Freddie,” cut in La Belle Geraldine, “you spoil the scene with your monologue stunts. I say, the swell blonde appears and buys a seat on the stage which starts that afternoon, running towards Truckee. She kids the driver along a little and he lets her sit on the seat beside him. As soon as she gets planted there she begins to talk—let me see—yes, she begins to hand out a swift line of chatter about what she can do with a revolver. Then she shows him a little nickel-plated revolver which she carries with her. He asks her to show off her skill, but she says ‘Nothing stirring, Oscar.’ Finally they go around a curve and out rides a masked bandit on a roan horse. Everybody on the stage holds up their arms as soon as he comes out with his gun leveled.”

“How do you know they would?” said Montgomery.

“Because they always do,” answered Geraldine. “Nobody thinks of making a fight when a masked man on a roan horse appears, because they know it’s Black Jim, who can shoot the core out of an apple at five hundred yards, or something like that. Well, they all hold up their hands except the girl, who raises her revolver and fires, and though she used a blank cartridge the gun jumps out of the grip of the bandit as if a bullet hit it. Then he holds up his hands and everybody in the stage cheers, and the girl takes the bandit prisoner. The stage turns around and carries them back to Three Rivers.

“The people of the town come to look at Black Jim—”

“And they see I’m not the guy they want. Then the game’s blown.”

“Not a hope,” said Jerry. “They don’t know anything about this man-killer except the color of his horse. They’ll take you for granted.”

“Sure,” groaned Montgomery, “and hang me to the nearest tree, what?”

“Take it easy, Freddie. There’s some law around here. You just keep your face shut after they take you. They’ll wait to try you the next day, anyway. That’ll give me time to cash in the reward. I’ll be fifty miles east before they get wise. The next morning when they come in to stick a rope on your neck, you simply light a cigarette and tell them it’s all a mistake. Let ‘em go to Snider Gulch to the hotel and they can find a hundred people to recognize you as a ham actor. Tell them you were merely trying a little act of your own when you stuck up the stage, and that your partner flashed the gun from the driver’s seat. Say, kid, the people of Three Rivers will see the laugh is on them, and they’ll buy you a ticket to Denver just to get rid of you. I’ll meet you there, and then we’ll trot on to Broadway, savvy? It’s a dream!”

“A nightmare,” growled Montgomery, though light entered his face; “but still—”


“Jerry, I begin to think it wouldn’t be such a hard thing to get away with this! But what if you couldn’t get me out of the town? What if they started to lynch me without waiting for the law?”

“That’s easy,” smiled Geraldine. “Then I step out and tell them it’s simply one grand joke. All we would have to be sorry about is the money we spent on your horse and clothes and gun. It’s a chance, Freddie, but it’s a chance that’s worth taking. Two thousand dollars reward!”

Montgomery’s eyes hardened.

“Jerry,” he whispered, “every stage that leaves Three Rivers has a lot of pure gold in the boot. Why not play the bandit part legitimate and grab the gold? It’s a lot simpler, and there’s no more risk.”

Geraldine studied him curiously.

“You’ve got the makings of a fine crook, Freddie. It’s in your eye now.”

He colored and glanced away.

“It’s no go, deary. If we cheat these miners with my little game, at least we know that the money comes only from the rich birds who can afford to put up a reward. But if we grab the cash in the boot, how can we tell we aren’t taking the bread and jam out of the mouth of some pick-swinger with a family to support?”

She finished with a smile, but there was a suggestion of hardness in her voice.

“Jerry,” he answered, “you’re certainly fast in the bean. I’d go a ten-spot to a Canadian dime that you could make up with one hand and darn stockings with the other. We’ll do it your way if you insist. It’ll be a great show,”

“Right you are, Freddie. You’ve got the face for the act.”

They had to spread a hundred dollars over a horse, a revolver, and Montgomery’s clothes. He spent most of the day shopping and at night came home with the necessary roan, a tall animal which was cheapened by bad ring-bones. His clothes; except the hat and boots, were very inexpensive, and he managed to buy a secondhand revolver for six dollars.

While he made these purchases, La Belle Geraldine, now registered at the “hotel” as Annie Kerrigan, opened a conversation with the girl who worked in the store. She proved diffident at first, with an envious eye upon Jerry’s hat with its jaunty feather curled along the side; but in the end La Belle’s smile thawed the cold.

“She handed me the frosty eye,” reported Jerry to Montgomery that evening, “until I put her wise on some millinery stunts. After that it was easy. She told me all she knew about Black Jim, and a lot more. People say he’s a big chap—so are you, Freddie. His complexion is dark—so is yours. One queer thing is that he has never killed any one. The paper said that and the girl said it, too. It seems he’s a big-time guy with a gun, and when he shoots he can pick a man in the arm or the leg, just as he pleases. I don’t suppose you can hit a house at ten yards, Freddie, but it’s a cinch they aren’t going to try you out with a revolver—not as long as they have a hunch you’re Black Jim.”

That night Montgomery learned all that could be told about the stage route and the time it left Three Rivers. By dawn of the next day he and Jerry were on the road toward Three Rivers by different routes.


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The happiness of women, say the moralists, depends upon their ability to preserve illusions. Annie Kerrigan punched so many holes in that rule that she made it look like a colander.

Illusions and gloom filled her earlier girlhood in her little Illinois hometown. Those illusions chiefly concerned men. They made the masculine sex appear vast in strength and illimitable in mystery.

She remembered saying to a youth who wore a white flower in his lapel and parted his hair in the middle and curled it on the sides: “When I talk to you, I feel as if I were poking at a man in armor. I never find the real you. What is it?”

The youth occupied two hours in telling her about the real you. He was so excited that he held her hand as he proceeded in the revelation. When he left she boiled down everything he had said. It was chiefly air, and all that wasn’t air was surrounded with quotation marks so large that even Annie Kerrigan could see them. So she revised her opinion of men a little.

In place of part of the question marks she substituted quotations. As she grew older and prettier she learned more. In fact she learned a good deal more than she wished to know about every attractive youth in her town.

So Annie Kerrigan started out to conquer new worlds of knowledge.

Her family balked, but Annie was firm. She went to Chicago, where she found the stockyards—and more men. They smiled at her in the streets. They stared at her in restaurants. They accosted her at corners. So the mystery wore off.

About this time Annie was left alone in the world to support herself. She starved for six months in a department store. Then an enterprising theatrical manager offered her a chance in a third-rate vaudeville circuit.

Before that season ended she had completed her definition of men. In her eyes they were one-half quotation marks and the other half bluff. Every one of them had his pet mystery and secret. Annie Kerrigan found that if she could get them to tell her that secret, they forged their own chains of slavery and gave her the key to the lock.

In time she held enough keys to open the doors of a whole city full of masculine souls. But she never used those keys, because, as she often said to herself, she wasn’t interested in interior decoration. The exceptions were when she wanted a raise in salary or a pleasure excursion.

In this manner Annie Kerrigan of many illusions and more woes developed into La Belle Geraldine with no illusions: a light heart and a conscience that defied insomnia. She loved no one in particular—not even herself—but she found the world a tolerably comfortable place. To be sure, it was not a dream world. La Belle Geraldine was so practical that she knew cigarettes stain the fingers yellow and increase the pulse. She even learned that Orange Pekoe tea is pleasanter than cocktails, and that men are more often foolish than villainous.

Without illusions, the mental courage of Jerry equaled that of a man. Therefore she commenced this adventure without fear or doubt of the result.

It was a long journey, but her lithe, strong body, never weakened by excess, never grown heavy with idleness, shook off the fatigue of the labor, as a coyote that has traveled all day and all night shakes off its weariness and trots on, pointing its keen nose against the wind. So she went on, sometimes humming” an air, sometimes pausing an instant to look across the valley at the burly peaks—and far beyond these, range after range of purple-clad monsters, like a great hierarchy whose heads rise closer and closer to heaven itself. She found herself smiling in spite of herself, and for no cause whatever.

She had estimated the distance to Three Rivers at about ten miles. Yet it seemed to her that she had covered scarcely a third of that space when the road twisted down and she was in the village. It was even smaller than Snider Gulch. The type of man to which she had grown accustomed during the past few weeks swarmed the street. They paid little attention to her, even as she had expected. Mountains discourage personal curiosity.

The six horses were already hitched to the stage and baggage was piled in the boot. After she bought a passage to Truckee, her money was exhausted. If she failed, the prospect was black indeed. She could not even telegraph for help, particularly since there was not a telegraph line within two days’ journey. She shrugged this thought away as unworthy.

When the passengers climbed up to select their seats, Geraldine remained on the ground to talk with the driver about his near leader, a long barreled bay with a ragged mane and a wicked eye. The driver as he went from horse to horse, examining tugs and other vital parts of the harness, informed her that the bay was the best mountain horse he had ever driven, and that with this team he could make two hours’ better time than on any of the other relays between Three Rivers and Truckee.

She showed such smiling interest in this explanation that he asked her to sit up on his seat while he detailed the other points of interest about this team.

Her heart quickened. The first point in the game was won.

As they swung out onto the shadowed road—for the canons were already half dark, though it was barely sunset—she made a careful inventory of the passengers. There were nine besides herself and all were men. Two of them sitting just behind the driver, held sawed off shotguns across their knees and stared with frowning sagacity into the trees on either side of the road, as if they already feared an attack. Their tense expectancy satisfied La Belle Geraldine that the first appearance of her bandit would take the fight out of them. The others were mostly young fellows who hailed each other in loud voices and broke into an immediate exchange of mining gossip. She feared nothing from any of these.

The driver worried her more. To be sure his only weapon was a rifle which lay along the seat just behind him, with its muzzle pointing out to the side, a clumsy position for rapid work. But his lean face with the small, sad eye made her guess at qualities of quiet fearlessness. However, it was useless to speculate on the chances for or against Montgomery! The event could be scarcely more than half an hour away.

They had scarcely left Three Rivers behind when she produced the small revolver from her pocket. The driver grinned and asked if it were loaded. It was a sufficient opening for Geraldine. She sketched briefly for his benefit a life in the wilds during which she had been brought up with a rifle in one hand and a revolver in the other. The stage driver heard her with grim amusement, while she detailed her skill in knocking squirrels out of a treetop.

“The top of a tree like that one, lady?” he asked, pointing out a great sugar pine.

“You don’t believe me?” asked Jerry, with a convincing assumption of pique, “I wish there was a chance for me to show you.”

“H-m!” said the driver. “There’s a tolerable lot of things for you to aim at along the road. Take a whirl at anything you want to. The horses won’t bolt when they, hear the gun.”

“If I did hit it,” said Jerry, with truly feminine logic, “you would think it was luck.”

She dropped the pistol back into the pocket of her dress. They were swinging round a curve which brought them to the foot of the long slope, at the top of which Montgomery must be waiting.

“I hope something happens,” she assured the driver, “and then I’ll show you real shooting.”

“Maybe,” he nodded, “I’ve lived so long, nothin’ surprises me, lady.”

She smiled into the fast-growing night and made no answer. Then she broke out into idle chatter again, asking the names of all the horses and a thousand other questions, for a childish fear came to her that he might hear the beating of her heart and learn its meaning. Up they drudged on the long slope, the harness creaking rhythmically as the horses leaned into the collars, and the traces stiff and quivering with the violence of the pull. The driver with his reins gathered in one hand and the long whip poised in the other, flicked the laggards with the lash.

“Look at them lug all together as if they was tryin’ to keep time!” he said to Geraldine? “I call that a team; but this grade here keeps them winded for a half an hour after we hit the top.”

The rank odor of the sweating horses rose to her. A silence, as if their imaginations labored with the team, fell upon the passengers. Even Geraldine found herself leaning forward in the seat, as though this would lessen the load.

“Yo ho, boys!” shouted the driver.

“Get into that collar, Dixie, you wall-eyed excuse for a hoss! Yea, Queen, good girl!”

His whip snapped and hummed through the air.

“One more lug altogether and we’re there!”

They lurched up onto the level ground and the horses, still leaning forward to the strain of the pull, stumbled into a feeble trot. Jerry sat a little side-wise in the seat so that from the corner of her eye she could watch the rest of the passengers. One of the guards was lighting a cigarette for the other!

“Hands up!” called a voice.

The driver cursed softly, and his arms went slowly into the air; the hands of the two guards shot up even more rapidly. Not three yards from the halted leaders, a masked man sat on a roan horse, reined across the road: and covered the stage with his revolver.

“Keep those hands up!” ordered the bandit. “Now get out of that stage—and don’t get your hands down while you’re doin’ it! You—all there by the driver, get up your hands damned quick!”


Table of Contents

A great tide of mirth swelled in Jerry’s throat. She recognized in these deep and ringing tones, the stage voice of Freddie Montgomery. Truly he played his part well!

She crouched a little toward the stage driver, whipped out the revolver, and fired,—but a louder explosion blended with the very sound of her shot. The revolver spun out of her fingers and exquisite pain burned her hand.

Her rage kept her from screaming. She groaned between her set teeth. This was an ill day for Frederick Montgomery!

“For God’s sake!” breathed a voice from the stage behind her. “He’ll kill us all now! It’s Black Jim!”

“Down to the road with you,” cried the bandit, in the same deep voice, “and the next of you-all that tries a fancy trick, I’ll drill you clean!”

Warm blood poured out over her hands and the pain set her shuddering, but the white-hot fury gave her strength. Jerry was the first to touch the ground.

“You fool!” she moaned. “You big, clumsy, square-headed, bat-eyed, fool! They’ll stick you in the pen for life for this!”

“Shut up!” advised a cautious voice from the stage, where the passengers stood bolt upright, willing enough to descend, but each afraid to move. “Shut up or you’ll have him murdering us all!”

“Sorry, lady,” said the masked man, and still he maintained that heavy voice. “If I had seen you was a girl I wouldn’t have fired!”

“Aw, tell that to the judge,” cried Geraldine, “You’ve shot my hand off! I’ll bleed to death and you’ll hang for it! I tell you you’ll hang for it!”

He had reined his horse from his position in front of the leaders and now he swung from his saddle to the ground, a sudden motion during which he kept his revolver steadily leveled.

“Steady in there!” he ordered, “and get the hell out of that stage or I’ll blow you out!”

He gestured with his free hand to Jerry.

“Tear off a strip from your skirt and tie that hand up as tight as you can! Here, one of you, get down here and help the lady. You can take your hands down to do that!”

But there was another thought than that of La Bella Geraldine in the mind of the practical stage driver. His leaders stood now without obstruction. He had lost one passenger, indeed, but the gold in the boot of his stage was worth a hundred passengers to him. He shouted a warning, dropped flat on his seat and darted his whip out over the horses. At his call the other passengers groveled flat, which put the thickness of the boot between them and the bullets of the bandit. The horses hit the collars and the stage whirled into the dusk of the evening.

To pursue them was folly, for it would be a running fight with two deadly shotguns handled by men concealed and protected. The masked man fired a shot over the heads of the fugitives and turned on Jerry. She was weak with excitement and loss of blood and even her furious anger could not give her strength for long. She staggered.

“I’m done for, all right—” she gasped, “As a bandit, you’re the biggest cheese ever. My hand—blood—help—”

Red night swam before Jerry’s eyes, and as utter dark came, she felt an arm pass round her. When she woke from the swoon her entire right arm ached grimly. She was being carried on horseback up a steep mountainside. The trees rose sheer above her. She strove to speak, but the intolerable weakness flooded back on her and she fainted again.

She recovered again in less pain, lying in a low-roofed room, propped up on blankets. A lantern hung against the wall from a nail, and by its light she made out the form of the man who stooped over her and poured steaming hot water over her hand. He still wore the mask. She closed her eyes again and lay gathering her wrath, her energy, and her vocabulary, for the supreme effort which confronted her.

“So you did your little bandit bit, did you?” she said at last with keen irony, as she opened her eyes again, “You had to pull the grand-stand stunt with a fine audience of ten to watch you? You had to—”

“Lie still; don’t talk!” he commanded, still in that deep, and melodramatic bass which enraged her. “You have a fever, kind of; it ain’t much. Just keep quiet an’ you’ll be all right.”

It was the crowning touch! He was still playing his part!

“Deary,” she said fiercely, “this is the first time in my life I ever wished I was Shakespeare. Nobody, but the old boy himself could do you justice—but I’m not Billy S. and I can only hint around sort of vague at what I think of you. But of all the tinhorn sports—the ham-fat, small-time actors, you’re the prize bonehead. Honey, does that begin to percolate? Does that begin to get through the armor plate down to that dwarfed bean you’re in the habit of calling your brain?”

He went on calmly pouring the hot water over her hand. She had not credited him with such self-control. He did not even blush as far as she could make out. It made her throat dry with impotence.

“An old woman’s home, that’s where you belong,” she went on. “Say, you’re wise to keep that mask on. You’d need a disguise to get by as a property man on small-time. Deary, you haven’t got enough bean to be number-two man in a monologue,”

He stared at her a moment and then went on with the work of cleansing the bullet wound in her hand. Evidently he did not trust himself to speak. It was not a severe cut, but it had bled freely, the bullet cutting the fleshy part between the thumb and forefinger. To look at it made her head reel. She lay back on the pile of blankets and closed her eyes.

When she opened them again he was approaching with a small bottle half full of a brownish-black fluid, iodine. She started, for she knew the burn of the antiseptic. She tucked her wounded hand under her other arm and glared at him.

“Nothing doing with that stuff, cutie,” she said, shaking her head. “This isn’t my first season, even if I’m not on the big-time. You can give that bottle to the marines. Go pour that on the daisies, Alexander W. Flathead, it’ll kill the insects. But not for mine!”

She saw his forehead pucker into a frown above the mask. He stopped, hesitated.

“Take it away and rock it to sleep, Oscar,” she went on, “because there’s no cue for that in this act. It won’t get across—not even with a make-up. Oh, this will make a lovely story when I get back to Broadway. I’m going to spill the beans, deary. Yep, I’m going to give this spiel to the papers. It’ll make a great ad for you—all scare-heads. You can run the last musical comedy scandal onto the back page with a play like this. Here! Let go my arm, you big simp—do you think—”

He caught her wrist and drew out the injured hand firmly. She struggled weakly, but the pain in the hand unnerved her.

“Go ahead—turn on the fireworks, Napoleon! Honey, they’ll write this on your tombstone for an epitaph.”

He spread her thumb and forefinger apart, poured some of the iodine onto a clean rag, and swabbed out the wound. The burning pain brought her close to a faint, but her fury kept her mind from oblivion. She clenched her teeth so that a tortured scream became merely a moan. When she recovered he was making the last turn of a rather skilful bandage. She sat up on the blankets.

“All right, honey, now you’ve played the music and I’ll dance. What’s the way to town from here?”

He shook his head.

“Won’t tell me, eh? I suppose you think I’ll stay up here till I get well? Think again, janitor.”

She rose and started a bit unsteadily to the door. Before she reached it his step caught up with her. She was swung up in strong arms and carried back to the blankets. While she sat dumb with hate and rage, he took a piece of rope and tied her ankles fast with an intricate knot which she could never hope to untie with her one sound hand.

“You’ll stay here,” he explained curtly.

“Listen, deary,” she answered between her teeth, “I’m going to do you for this. I’m going to make you a bum draw on every circuit in the little old U. S. I’m going to make you the card that doesn’t fill the straight, that’s all. Get your shingle ready, cutie, because after this all you can get across will be a chop-house in the Bowery.”

“Lie still,” growled the deep voice. “There ain’t any chance of you getting away. Savvy?”

He turned.

“Deary,” she cried after him, “if you don’t cut out that ghost-voice stunt, I’ll—”

The rickety door at the back of the shack closed upon him.

“I never knew,” said Jerry to herself, “that that big Swede could do such a swell mystery bit. He ought to be in the heavies, that’s all.”

She settled herself back on the blankets again more comfortably. The last sting of the iodine died away and left a pleasant sense of warmth in her injured hand. Now she set about surveying her surroundings in detail. It was the most clumsily built house she had ever seen, made of rudely trimmed logs so loosely set together that the night air whistled through a thousand chinks.

Two boards placed upon saw horses represented a table. A crazily constructed fireplace of large dimensions was the only means of heating the shack. Here and there from pegs and nails driven into the wall hung overalls, deeply wrinkled at the knees, heavy mackintoshes, and two large hats of broad brim. On the floor were several pairs of heavy shoes in various states of dilapidation. In the corner next to the hearth the walls were garnished with a few pots and pans. On the table she saw a heavy hunting knife. There were three doors. Perhaps one of them led to a second room. To know which it was, was of vital significance to her. If it was the door through which the masked man had disappeared then he was still within hearing distance. If that were true she could hardly succeed in reaching that knife upon the table unheard, for she would make a good deal of noise dragging herself across the floor to the table. She determined to make the experiment. If she could cut the bonds and escape she made no doubt that she could find the road to Three Rivers again, and even to wander across the mountains at night with a wounded hand was better than to stay with this bungler. Moreover, there was something in his sustained acting which made her uneasy. She knew his code of morals was as limited as the law of the Medes and the Persians and of an exactly opposite nature. On the stage, in the city, she had no fear of him. He was an interesting type and his vices were things at which she could afford to shrug her shoulders. But in the wilderness of the silent mountains even the least of men borrows a significance, and the meaning he gave her was wholly evil.

She commenced hunching herself slowly and painfully across the floor toward the table. Half, three-quarters of the distance was covered. In another moment she could reach out and take the knife.

A door creaked behind her. She turned. There he stood again, still masked and with his hands behind him. He started. His mouth gaped. She made another effort and caught up the knife. At least it was a measure of defense, even if it were too late for her to free herself.


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“Jerry!” said, in a strange, whispering voice.

She eyed him with infinite disgust.

“Playing a new role, Freddie, aren’t you?” she sneered.

He merely stared.

“You’re versatile, all right,” she went on. “First the grim bandit, and then the astonished friend. Say, deary, do you expect ‘warm applause’? No, cutie, but if I had some spoiled eggs, I’d certainly pass them to you.”

“Jerry, you’re raving!”

She gritted her teeth.

“I’m through with the funny stuff, you one-syllable, lock-jawed baby. Now I mean business. Get me out of this as fast as they hooked you off the boards, the last time you tried out in Manhattan.”

“Do you—have—will—”

“Bah!” she said. “Don’t you get next that I’m through with this one-night stand? Drop the curtain and start the orchestra on ‘Home, Sweet Home.’ Talk sense. Cut this rope. I’m starting and I’m starting alone.”

“For God’s sake, Jerry—”

“Lay off on that stuff, deary. If words made a cradle, you’d rock the world to sleep.”

“How—how did you come here?”

She stared at him a moment and then broke into rather sinister laughter.

“I suppose you’ve been walking in your sleep, what? I suppose I’m to fall for this bum line, Freddie? Not me! You can’t get by even in a mask, Mr. Montgomery.”


“Call me Annie for short.”

“Upon my word of honor—”

“Can the talk, cutie. You can tell the rest to the judge.”

“But how can I help you?” he asked. He turned and she saw his hands tied securely together behind him!

While she still stared at this marvelous revelation, the door opened again and another Montgomery strode into the room. He was the same build as the other man. He wore the same sort of mask. His hair was black. He could not be Montgomery. It was only when they stood together that she felt a significant difference in this man.

Seeing Jerry with the hunting knife in her hand, he crossed the room and learned above her.

“Give me the knife,” boomed the musical bass voice.

She shrank back and clutched the heavy handle more closely.

“Keep away,” she cried hoarsely.

“Give me the knife.”

“Black Jim!” breathed Jerry, for the first time wholly frightened, while her mind whirled in confusion, “Is the whole world made up of doubles or am I losing my brain? Keep off, Mr. Mystery, or I’ll make hash of you with this cleaver!”

She held the knife poised and the man observed her with a critical eye.

“Fighter,” he decided.

He leaned again; his hand darted out with the speed of a striking snake. She cut at him furiously, but the hand caught her wrist and stopped the knife while it was still an inch from his face. He shook her hand, and the numbing grasp made her fingers relax. The knife clattered on the floor and he carried her back to the pile of blankets. When she opened her eyes she saw Black Jim loosing the hands of Montgomery.

“No use in we-all stay in’ masked anymore,” said the bandit, “I’ve been down an’ seen the other boys. I thought maybe they’d vote yes on turnin’ the girl loose agin. I told ‘em she was too sick to see anything when I brought her in. I told ‘em I’d blindfold her when I took her out to the road agin. But they-all sort of figure she’d be able to track back with a posse followin’ jest a sense of direction like a hoss. They vote that she stays here, an’ so it makes no difference what she sees.”

He finished untying Montgomery’s hands, and drew off his mask.

Her faintness left Jerry. She saw a lean-faced man with great, dark eyes, singularly lacking in emotion, and forehead unfurrowed by worries. Montgomery, likewise withdrew his mask and showed a face familiar enough, but drawn and colorless.

“All I’m askin’,” said Black Jim, “is have you got anything against me?”

“I?” queried Montgomery, and he drew a slow hand across his forehead as if he were partially dazed.

“Yes, you,” said the other, and the dark eyes dwelt carefully on Montgomery’s face. “If you’ve got any lingerin’ suspicion that there’s something coming from you to me, we’ll jist nacherally step out an’ make our little play where there’s room.”

“Not a thing against you, my friend,” said Montgomery with a sudden heartiness for which Jerry despised him. “You had the drop on me and I guess you had special reasons for wanting that stage.”

The outlaw shrugged his shoulders. “I got to go out agin,” he said, “an’ I’m goin’ to ask you to watch this girl while I’m gone.”

“Glad to,” said Montgomery.

Black Jim turned, paused, and came back.

“If anything happens to her, my friend.” He hesitated significantly. “The boys seemed to be sort of excited when I told them about her bein’ in my cabin,” he explained. “If they-all come up here, don’t let ‘em come in. You got a gun!”

He stepped to the door and was gone. The eyes of Jerry and Montgomery met.

“Quick!” she ordered. “Talk out and tell me what has happened, Freddie, or I’ll go crazy! I’m half out of my head now!”

“It’s Black Jim!” he said heavily.

“I knew that half an hour ago. Your brains are petrified, Freddie. Start where I’m a blank. How’d you come here?”

“He held me up!”

“Black Jim?”

“Yes. I was waiting behind the rock with my mask on. I heard a horse coming up the road from behind and when I turned I was looking into the mouth of a pistol as big as a cannon. I put up my hands. I just stared at him. I couldn’t speak. He said he was sorry he couldn’t leave the job to me. He said there were two things clear to him. He went on thinking them over while his gun covered me. Then he told me that he couldn’t leave me alive near the road. He had to take me up to his camp. Then he came up behind me and tied my hands behind my back. Jerry, I felt that if he hadn’t thought me one of his own sort, he’d have dropped the curtain on my act forever!”

He shuddered slightly at the thought.

“He made me ride before him up here,” he went on, “and he put me in this cabin. As far as I can make out we’re in a little gulch of the mountains. It’s a sort of bandits’ refuge—the sort of thing that paper told about. When we rode over the edge of the hill and dipped down into the valley, I saw some streaks of smoke down the canon. There must be a half dozen places like this one, and some of the outlaws in every one. What’ll we do, Jerry, for God’s sake, what will we do?”

“Shut up!” she said fiercely, and her face was whiter than mere exhaustion could make it. “Lemme think; lemme think!”

Montgomery had no eye for her. He strode up, and down the room with a wild eye. He seemed to think of her as an aftermath.

“What happened to you? Was it Black Jim again?”

“I pulled my gun and shot in the air. He shot the pistol out of my fingers and put my hand on the blink. I fainted. He brought me up here. That’s all.”

Her thoughts were not for her troubles.

“I’m going to make a break for it!” he cried at last. “Maybe I can get free!”

She recognized him without emotion.

“And leave me here?” she asked.

He flushed, stammered, and avoided her eyes.

“It doesn’t make any difference,” he muttered, “I couldn’t find my way out, and maybe they’d take a pot shot at me as I tried to get away. It’s better to die quick than starve in the mountains. But, my God, Jerry, what’ll he do when he finds out that I’m not an outlaw like himself?”

“Stop crying like a baby,” she said. “I’ve got to think.”

“There’s only one thing for you to do,” she said at last, raising her head, “and that’s for you to play your part as he sees it. You can act rough. Go down and mix with them—but be here with me when Black Jim is here. They can only kill you, Freddie, but me—”

Her eyes were roving again.

“Maybe I can do it,” he said rapidly, half to himself. “Pray God I can do it!”


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Her upper lip curled. “You’re in a blue funk—a blue funk,” she said. “Freddie, here’s your one chance in a life to play the man.

Do you see my condition? Do you see the little act that’s mapped out ahead for me? It’s as clear as the palm of your hand. He brought me up here because he thought I’d die if he left me in the road. Even his heart was not black enough for that! But once he had me here it wasn’t in his power to send me away again. That’s what he meant when he said he had talked to the ‘boys.’ They wouldn’t let me go because they thought I might be able to find the way back and bring a posse after them. Don’t you see? They have me a prisoner. And you’re all that I have to protect me.”

She stopped and moaned softly.

“Why was I ever born a woman?”

He moistened his lips.

“I’ll do what I can,” he mumbled, “but—did you see that devil’s eye? He isn’t human, Jerry!”

“I might have known,” she murmured to herself, “I might have known he was only a stage man.” She said aloud: “There’s one chance in a thousand left to me, Freddie, but there’s no chance at all unless you’ll help me. Will you?”

“All that I can—in reason,” he stammered miserably.

“It’s this,” she went on, trying to sweep him along with her. “You had your eyes open when you came up here. Maybe you could find the way out again. Freddie, you said on the road today that you loved me. Freddie, I’ll go to hell and slave for you as long as I live, if you’ll fight for me now. Tell me again that you love me and you’ll be a man!”

His lips were so stiff that he could hardly speak in answer.

“I didn’t tell you one thing,” he said. “When we came over the top of the lull, at the edge of the valley, we passed an armed man. They keep a sentry there.”

She pointed with frantic eagerness.

“You have your gun at your belt! That will free us, I tell you. “It is only one man you have to fight.”

He could not answer. His eyes wandered rapidly around the room like a boy already late for school and striving miserably to find his necessary book.

“Then if you won’t do that, cut the rope that holds my feet and I’ll go myself!” she cried. “I’ll go! I’d rather a thousand times die of starvation than wait for the time when the eyes of that fiend light up with hell-fire.”

“Black Jim,” he answered, and stopped.

She loosened her dress at the throat as if she stifled.

“For God’s sake, Freddie. You have a sister. I’ve seen her picture. For her sake!”

He was utterly white and striving to speak.

“He would know it was me who did it,” he said at last, “and then—”

Voices sounded far away. They listened with great eyes that stared at each other but saw only their own imaginings.

The voices drew closer.

“The door! The door!” she whispered. “Lock the door! They’re coming—the men he warned us about!”

He was frozen to the spot on which he stood.

“Hello!” called a voice from without.

“Montgomery!” she moaned, wringing her hands.

At last he walked hastily to the door.

“You can’t come in here,” he answered.

“Why the hell not?” roared one of them.

“Because of Black Jim.”

A silence followed.

“Is he in there?”

“No, but he wants no one else to come in while he’s gone.”

They parleyed.

“Shall we chance it?”

“Not me!”

“Why not?”

“Let’s see his woman.”

“Sure. Seein’ her doesn’t do no harm.”

“Who’s in there?”

“It’s the pal he brought up.”

“Are we goin’ to act like a bunch of short horns?” asked a deeper voice. “I’m goin’ in!”

A dozen men broke into the room. At the first stir of the door Jerry dropped prone to the blankets and feigned sleep. The crowd gathered first about Montgomery, searching him with curious eyes.

“Here’s the new lamb,” said a lithe white-faced man, and he grinned over yellow teeth. “Here’s another roped for the brandin’. Let pass on him now, boys!”

A chuckle which rang heavily on the heart of Montgomery ran around the circle, but though his soul was lead in him, his art came to his rescue. After all, this was merely a part to be played. It was a dangerous part, indeed, but with a little effort he should be able to pass before an uncritical audience. He leaned back against the wall and smiled at the group. It required every ounce of his courage to manage that smile.

“Look me over, boys,” he responded, “take a good long look, and in case you’re curious, maybe you’ll find something interesting on my right hip!”

He broke off the smile again. For one instant the scales hung in the balance. What he said might have been construed as a threat, but the smile took the sting out of his words. After all, a man who had been passed by Black Jim himself had some rights among them.

“You’re a cool one, all right,” grinned a man who was bearded like a Russian, with his shirt open, and a great black, hairy chest partially exposed, “but where’d you get that color? Been doing inside work?”

“Mac,” said Montgomery, easily, for the last remark gave him courage, “and some of the boys call me ‘Silent Mac.’ I’m a bit off color, all right. That’s because some legal gents got interested in me. They got so damned interested in me that they thought I shouldn’t be out in the sun so much. They thought maybe it was spoiling my complexion, see? They fixed a plant and sent me up the river to a little joint the government runs for restless people. Yep, I’ve just had a long rest cure, and now I’m ready for business!”

A low laugh of understanding ran around the group. A jailbird has standing in the shadow of the law.

“You’ll do, pal,” said the yellow-toothed one.

“You can enter the baby show, all right,” said another. “I’m the Doctor.”

“I’ve heard of you,” said Montgomery, as the crowd passed him to examine Jerry.

“Know anything about the calico?” asked one of Montgomery.

“Not a thing,” answered the latter carelessly, “except that Jim picked it off the stage.”

“And a damned bad job, too,” growled he of the beard. “Where’s he goin’ to fence her up in a corral like this?”

“Bad job your eye!” answered one who leaned far over to glance at her partially concealed face. “She’s a looker, boys—she’s a regular Cleopatra.”

They grouped closely around her.

“Wake her,” suggested one, “so’s we can size her up.”

One who stood closer stirred her rudely with his foot. She sat up yawning, rubbing her eyes, and smiled up to their faces.

“Turn me into a wall-eyed cayuse!” muttered one of them, but the others were silent while their eyes drank.

Montana Pete, with a mop of tawny hair falling low down on his forehead, dropped to a squatting position, the better to look into her eyes.

“Well, baby blue-eyes,” he grinned, “what d’you think of your new pals?”

“Oh,” she cried, with a semblance of pretty confusion, “I—I—where am I? Oh, I remember!”

“Boys,” said Montana Pete rising, “we ain’t the kind to have a king, but I’m all for a queen! What?”

“Sure,” said the Doctor. “There ain’t nothing like the woman’s touch to make a home.”

They roared with laughter.

“Look out! She’s remembering some more and here comes the waterfall!” called another.

Jerry, in order to get time to plan her campaign, broke into heart-rending sobs. The bearded man, who rejoiced in the name of Porky Martin, now came forward again.

“Lemme take care of her,” he said. “I had two mothers, six sisters, an’ fourteen sweethearts. I know all about women!”

He dropped to one knee and put his arm around her.

“Take it easy, kid. You’re runnin’ loose now an’ we’ll give you all the rope you want, except enough for hangin’ yourself. Look around you, kid, here’s enough men to make a jury and you got a home with every one. Am I right, boys?”

“Let me—alone!” wailed Jerry, and she shuddered under the caress.

“Huh!” growled Porky Martin. “She’s proud, damn her.”

“Give her time, give her time,” said the Doctor. “The kid’s hurt. She don’t savvy yet, boys, that she’s in a real democracy where everything’s common property.”

“No more foolin’,” advised Montana Pete. “Jim’ll be coming back any time. He’ll sure be glad to find us here, I guess not.”

“Who’s Black Jim?” snarled Porky Martin. “I’ve stood for enough of his nutty ideas. I say to hell with Black Jim. We’ve had enough of him!”

“Say that to him,” said Montana easily. “I won’t hold your hands, Porky. Take it easy, kid “—this to Jerry—” we ain’t all swine!”

“Wha’ d’ya mean?” said Porky in a rising voice.

Jerry trembled, for she knew that if the men began fighting over her, her fate was sealed.

“You ain’t deer, I reckon,” said Montana Pete, with obvious scorn.

“Let me go!” cried Jerry, not that she hoped for freedom, but because she thought there was some chance of changing the issue. “Let me go! I won’t tell about you! I swear I won’t!”

She extended her hands, one slender and white, and then the other in its ominously stained bandage, first to Porky Martin and them to Pete.

“Look at that,” said Pete. “We’re a fine gang to stand around makin’ life hell for the kid.”

He dropped to one knee beside her.

“We’ll give you a square deal, you lay to that, but we can’t let you go. There ain’t a hope of that, understand.”

She shrank against the wall, her sobs coming heavily at intervals.

“What I say is this,” orated Porky Martin. “What do you make out of Jim bringin’ in two people in one day—and one of them a woman?”

“Why, you poor fat head,” said the Doctor soothingly, “Mac over there was blockin’ one of Jim’s plays an’ to get him out of the way Jim took him up here. Anyway, Mac’s one of us. What’s bitin’ you? She was hurt. Besides, maybe Jim wanted that woman’s touch around his house.”

“Aye,” said Porky, “but there’s a lot more to be said about that. As far as I go I’m sick of this feller who stays away from the rest of us—never even gets drunk with us—and now he gets a woman!”

“Look out!” warned a voice, “I think—”

Several heads turned to the open door which framed Black Jim. His eyes ran slowly from face to face until they settled on Montgomery. The men stirred uneasily.

“I told you-all to keep these out,” he said calmly. By his contemptuous gesture he might have been referring to dogs of the street.

“They said you’d changed your mind,” explained Montgomery.

“I ain’t ever done that yet,” said the bandit. “Hope you’ve enjoyed yourselves, boys.”

“Look here,” said Porky Martin, blustering. “What we want to know is about the calico here—we—”

“I told you about her before,” said Black Jim softly, “and you sat around am’ hollered an’ said she was to stay here. It’s too late to get rid of her now. She’s seen us all. She could identify every one of us.”

“We ain’t askin’ you to send her off,” said Porky, “but as long as she’s goin’ to stay here we don’t see no nacheral reason why she has to hang around here in one cabin. We’re boostin’ for a lot of changes of scenery,”

“We?” asked Black Jim and he frowned.

“You heard me before, damn you!”

He was half crouched with the fighting fury in his face. The rest of the men moved quickly back, leaving an open space between the two. Porky’s hand tugged and writhed about the handle of his revolver as though he found difficulty in drawing it, but Black Jim made no movement toward his weapon. His soft, dark eyes dwelt without change on the face of his opponent. Jerry watched, utterly fascinated. She saw Montgomery staring in the background. The rest of the men stood closer to Porky, as if they sympathized with him, and their eyes were fixed with a sort of mute horror on Black Jim. An instinct told her that the moment he made a motion toward his revolver every gun in that room would be out and leveled at him. Yet when the strange sympathy troubled her throat, it was not for the bandit who faced the roomful of enemies, but for the crouched, tense figure of Porky Martin.

His big beard quivered. She saw his jaws stir. A strange, gurgling sound came in his throat, and yet he could not draw his revolver.