Bucky O'Connor: A Tale of the Unfenced Border, Page 1William MacLeod Raine
Produced by Mary Starr
A Tale of the Unfenced Border
By William MacLeod Raine
To My Brother
EDGAR C. RAINE
MY DEAR WANDERER:
I write your name on this page that you may know we hold you not less inour thoughts because you have heard and answered again the call of thefrozen North, have for the time disappeared, swallowed in some of itsuntrodden wilds. As in those old days of 59 Below On Bonanza, the longWinter night will be of interminable length. Armed with this note ofintroduction then, Bucky O'Connor offers himself, with the best bowof one Adventurer to another, as a companion to while away some few ofthose lonely hours.
March, 1910, Denver.
1. Enter "Bear-Trap" Collins 2. Taxation Without Representation 3. The Sheriff Introduces Himself 4. A Bluff is Called 5. Bucky Entertains 6. Bucky Makes a Discovery 7. In the Land of Revolutions 8. First Blood! 9. "Adore Has Only One D" 10. The Hold-Up of the M. C. P. Flyer 11. "Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make" 12. A Clean White Man's Option 13. Bucky's First-Rate Reasons 14. Le Roi Est Mort; Vive Le Roi 15. In the Secret Chamber 16. Juan Valdez Scores 17. Hidden Valley 18. A Dinner for Three 19. A Villon of the Desert 20. Back to God's Country 21. The Wolf Pack 22. For a Good Reason
CHAPTER 1. ENTER "BEAR-TRAP" COLLINS
She had been aware of him from the moment of his spectacular entrance,though no slightest sign of interest manifested itself in her indolent,incurious eyes. Indeed, his abundant and picturesque area was so vividthat it would have been difficult not to feel his presence anywhere, letalone on a journey so monotonous as this was proving to be.
It had been at a water-tank, near Socorro, that the Limited, churningfuriously through brown Arizona in pursuit of a lost half-hour,jarred to a sudden halt that shook sleep from the drowsy eyes of boredpassengers. Through the window of her Pullman the young woman in Section3 had glimpsed a bevy of angry train officials eddying around a sturdyfigure in the center, whose strong, lean head rose confidently above thepress. There was the momentary whirl of a scuffle, out of the tangleof which shot a brakeman as if propelled from a catapult. The circleparted, brushed aside by a pair of lean shoulders, muscular and broad.Yet a few moments and the owner of the shoulders led down the aisle tothe vacant section opposite her a procession whose tail was composed ofprotesting trainmen.
"You had no right to flag the train, Sheriff Collins, and you'll haveto get off; that's all there is to it," the conductor was explainingtestily.
"Oh, that's all right," returned the offender with easy good nature,making himself at home in Section 4. "Tell the company to send in itsbill. No use jawing about it."
"You'll have to get off, sir."
"That's right--at Tucson."
"No, sir. You'll have to get off here. I have no authority to let youride."
"Didn't I hear you say the train was late? Don't you think you'd arriveearlier at the end of your run if your choo-choo got to puffing?"
"You'll have to get off, sir."
"I hate to disoblige," murmured the owner of the jingling spurs, thedusty corduroys, and the big, gray hat, putting his feet leisurely onthe cushion in front of him. "But doesn't it occur to you that you are aman of one idea?"
"This is the Coast Limited. It doesn't stop for anybody--not even forthe president of the road."
"You don't say! Well, I ce'tainly appreciate the honor you did me instopping to take me on." His slight drawl was quite devoid of concern.
"But you had no right to flag the train. Can't you understand ANYTHING?"groaned the conductor.
"You explain it again to me, sonny. I'm surely thick in the haid,"soothed the intruder, and listened with bland good-humor to theofficial's flow of protest.
"Well--well! Disrupted the whole transcontinental traffic, didn't I? Andme so innocent, too. Now, this is how I figured it out. Here's me ina hurry to get to Tucson. Here comes your train a-foggin'--also andlikewise hittin' the high spots for Tucson. Seemed like we ought totravel in company, and I was some dubious she'd forget to stop unless Iflagged her. Wherefore, I aired my bandanna in the summer breeze."
"But you don't understand." The conductor began to explain anew as to adull child. "It's against the law. You'll get into trouble."
"Put me in the calaboose, will they?"
"It's no joke."
"Well, it does seem to be worrying you," Mr. Collins conceded. "Don'tmind me. Free your mind proper."
The conductor, glancing about nervously, noticed that passengers weresmiling broadly. His official dignity was being chopped to mince-meat.Back came his harassed gaze to the imperturbable Collins with the brown,sun-baked face and the eyes blue and untroubled as an Arizona sky. Outof a holster attached to the sagging belt that circled the corduroytrousers above his hips gleamed the butt of a revolver. But in thelast analysis the weapon of the occasion was purely a moral one. Thesituation was one not covered in the company's rule book, and in theabsence of explicit orders the trainman felt himself unequal to thatunwavering gaze and careless poise. Wherefore, he retreated, mutteringthreats of what the company would do.
"Now, if I had only known it was against the law. My thick haid's alwaysroping trouble for me," the plainsman confided to the Pullman conductor,with twinkling eyes.
That official unbent. "Talking about thick heads, I'm glad my porterhas one. If it weren't iron-plated and copper-riveted he'd be needing adoctor now, the way you stood him on it."
"No, did I? Ce'tainly an accident. The nigger must have been in my wayas I climbed into the car. Took the kink out of his hair, you say? Here,Sam!" He tossed a bill to the porter, who was rolling affronted eyes athim. "Do you reckon this is big enough to plaster your injured feelings,boy?"
The white smile flashed at him by the porter was a receipt for indemnitypaid in full.
Sheriff Collins' perception of his neighbor across the aisle was morefrank in its interest than the girl's had been of him. The level,fearless gaze of the outdoors West looked at her unabashed, appreciatingswiftly her points as they impinged themselves upon his admiration. Thelong, lithe lines of the slim, supple body, the languid grace missinghauteur only because that seemed scarce worth while, the unconsciouspride of self that fails to be offensive only in a young woman so wellequipped with good looks as this one indubitably was the rider of theplains had appraised them all before his eyes dismissed her from hisconsideration and began a casual inspection of the other passengers.
Inside of half an hour he had made himself persona grata to everybodyin the car except his dark-eyed neighbor across the way. That thisdispenser of smiles and cigars decided to leave her out in thedistribution of his attentions perhaps spoke well for his discernment.Certainly responsiveness to the geniality of casual fellow passengersdid not impress Mr. Collins as likely to be an outstanding, quality inher. But with the drummer from Chicago, the young mining engineer goingto Sonora, the two shy little English children just in front of himtraveling to meet their father in California, he found intuitivelycommon ground of interest. Even Major Mackenzie, the engineer in chargeof the large irrigation project being built by a company in southernArizona, relaxed at one of the plainsman's humorous tales.
It was after Collins had half-depopulated the car by leading the morejovial spirits back in search of liquid refreshments that an urbaneclergyman, now of Boston but formerly of Pekin, Illinois, professedlymuch interested in the sheriff's touch-and-go manner as presumably quitecharacteristic of the West, dropped into
the vacant seat beside MajorMackenzie.
"And who might our energetic friend be?" he asked, with an ingratiatingsmile.
The young woman in front of them turned her head ever so slightly tolisten.
"Val Collins is his name," said the major. "Sometimes called 'Bear-trapCollins.' He has always lived on the frontier. At least, I met himtwelve years ago when he was riding mail between Aravaipa and Mesa. Hewas a boy then, certainly not over eighteen, but in a desperate fighthe had killed two men who tried to hold up the mail. Cow-puncher,stage-driver, miner, trapper, sheriff, rough rider, politician--he'spast master at them all."
"And why the appellation of 'Bear-trap,' may I ask?" The smack of pulpitoratory was not often missing in the edifying discourse of the ReverendPeter Melancthon Brooks.
"Well, sir, that's a story. He was trapping in the Tetons about fiveyears ago thirty miles from the nearest ranch-house. One day, whilehe was setting a bear-trap, a slide of snow plunged down from the treebranches above and freed the spring, catching his hand between its jaws.With his feet and his other hand he tried to open that trap for fourhours, without the slightest success. There was not one chance in amillion of help from outside. In point of fact, Collins had not seen ahuman being for a month. There was only one thing to do, and he did it."
"And that was?"
"You probably noticed that he wears a glove over his left hand. Thereason, sir, is that he has an artificial hand."
"You mean--" The Reverend Peter paused to lengthen his delicious thrillof horror.
"Yes, sir. That's just what I mean. He hacked his hand off at the wristwith his hunting-knife."
"Why, the man's a hero!" cried the clergyman, with unction.
Mackenzie flung him a disgusted look. "We don't go much on heroes outhere. He's game, if that's what you mean. And able, too. Bucky O'Connorhimself isn't any smarter at following a trail."
"And who is Bucky O'Connor?"
"He's the man that just ran down Fernendez. Think I'll have a smoke,sir. Care to join me?"
But the Pekin-Bostonian preferred to stay and jot down in his note-bookthe story of the bear-trap, to be used later as a sermon illustration.This may have been the reason he did not catch the quick look thatpassed without the slightest flicker of the eyelids between MajorMackenzie and the young woman in Section 3. It was as if the old officerhad wired her a message in some code the cipher of which was known onlyto them.
But the sheriff, returning at the head of his cohorts, caught it,and wondered what meaning might lie back of that swift glance. MajorMackenzie and this dark-eyed beauty posed before others as strangers,yet between them lay some freemasonry of understanding to which he hadnot the key.
Collins did not know that the aloofness in the eyes of MissWainwright--he had seen the name on her suit-case--gave way to horrorwhen her glance fell on his gloved hand. She had a swift, shudderingvision of a grim-faced man, jaws set like a vise, hacking at hiswrist with a hunting-knife. But the engaging impudence of his eye, therollicking laughter in his voice, shut out the picture instantly.
The young man resumed his seat, and Miss Wainwright her listlessinspection of the flying stretches of brown desert. Dusk was beginningto fall, and the porter presently lit the lamps. Collins bought amagazine from the newsboy and relapsed into it, but before he was welladjusted to reading the Limited pounded to a second unscheduled halt.
Instantly the magazine was thrown aside and Collins' curly head thrustout of the window. Presently the head reappeared, simultaneously withthe crack of a revolver, the first of a detonating fusillade.
"Another of your impatient citizens eager to utilize the unspeakableconvenience of rapid transit," suggested the clergyman, with ponderousjocosity.
"No, sir; nothing so illegal," smiled the cattleman, a whimsical lightin his daredevil eyes. He leaned forward and whispered a word to thelittle girl in front of him, who at once led her younger brother back tohis section.
"I had hoped it would prove to be more diverting experience for atenderfoot," condescended the gentleman of the cloth.
"It's ce'tainly a pleasure to be able to gratify you, sir. You'll beright pleased to know that it is a train hold-up." He waved his handtoward the door, and at the word, as if waiting for his cue, a maskedman appeared at the end of the passage with a revolver in each hand.