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"It's a case of murder."

"Phew! Apparently he is one of the best men on the force."

"Only apparently; I know him well."

Mr. Alford's brow clouded with anxiety, and after a moment he said,
"Mr. - how shall I address you?"

"You had better continue to call me by the name under which I was
introduced - Brown."

"Well, Mr. Brown, you have a very difficult and hazardous task, and you
must be careful how you involve me in your actions. I shall not lay a
straw in your way, but I cannot openly help you. It is difficult for me
to get labor here at best; and it is understood that I ask no questions
and deal with men on the basis simply of their relations to me. As long
as I act on this understanding, I can keep public sentiment with me and
enforce some degree of discipline. If it were known that I was aiding
or abetting you in the enterprise you have in hand, my life would not
be worth a rush. There are plenty in camp who would shoot me, just as
they would you, should they learn of your design. I fear you do not
realize what you are attempting. A man like yourself, elderly and
alone, has no better chance of taking such a fellow as you describe
Bute to be than of carrying a ton of ore on his back down the mountain.
In all sincerity, sir, I must advise you to depart quietly and
expeditiously, and give no one besides myself a hint of your errand."

"Will you please step into the outer office and make sure that no one
is within earshot?" said Brandt, quietly.

When Mr. Alford returned, the elderly man apparently had disappeared,
and a smiling smooth-faced young fellow with short brown hair sat in
his place. His host stared, the transformation was so great.

"Mr. Alford," said the detective, "I understand my business and the
risks it involves. All I ask of you is that I may not be interfered
with so far as you are concerned; and my chief object in calling is to
prevent you being surprised by anything you may see or hear. About
three miles or thereabouts from here, on the road running east, there
is a fellow who keeps a tavern. Do you know him?"

"I know no good of him. He's the worst nuisance I have to contend with,
for he keeps some of my men disabled much of the time."

"Well, I knew Bute years ago, and I can make him think I am now what I
was then, only worse; and I will induce him to go with me to raid that
tavern. If this plan fails, I shall try another, for I am either going
to take Bute alive or else get ample proof that he is dead. There may
be some queer goings-on before I leave, and all I ask is that you will
neither interfere nor investigate. You may be as ignorant and
non-committal as you please. I shall report progress to you, however,
and may need your testimony, but will see to it that it is given by you
as one who had nothing to do with the affair. Now please show me your
quarters, so that I can find you at night if need be; also Bute's
sleeping-place and the lay of the land to some extent. You'll find that
I can take everything in mighty quick. See, I'm the elderly gentleman
again," and he resumed his disguise with marvellous celerity.

Mr. Alford led the way through the outer office; and the two clerks
writing there saw nothing to awaken the slightest suspicion. The
superintendent's cottage stood on the road leading to the mine and
somewhat apart from the other buildings. On the opposite side of the
highway was a thicket of pines which promised cover until one plunged
into the unbroken forest that covered the mountain-side.

Brandt observed this, and remarked, "I've studied the approaches to
your place a little at I came along; but I suppose I shall have to give
a day or two more to the work before making my attempt."

"Well," rejoined Mr. Alford, who was of rather a social turn and felt
the isolation of his life, "why not be my guest for a time? I'll take
the risk if you will remain incog., and keep aloof from the men."

"That I should do in any event till ready to act. Thank you for your
kindness, for it may simplify my task very much. I will see to it that
I do not compromise you. When I'm ready to snare my bird, you can
dismiss me a little ostentatiously for New York."

Brandt's horse was now ordered to the stable. The two men entered the
cottage, and soon afterward visited the different points of interest,
Mr. Alford giving the natural impression that he was showing an
interested stranger the appliances for working the mine. At one point
he remarked in a low tone, "That's Bute's lodging-place. A half-breed,
named Apache Jack, who speaks little English lives with him."

Brandt's seemingly careless and transitory glance rested on a little
shanty and noted that it was separated from others of its class by a
considerable interval.

"Bute, you say, is on the day-shift."

"Yes, he won't be up till six o'clock."

"I'll manage to see him then without his knowing it."

"Be careful. I take my risk on the ground of your good faith and
prudence."

"Don't fear."




CHAPTER III

THWARTED


Brandt maintained his disguise admirably. His presence caused little
comment, and he was spoken of as a visiting stockholder of the mine.
During his walk with Mr. Alford he appeared interested only in
machinery, ores, etc., but his trained eyes made a topographical map of
surroundings, and everything centred about Bute's shanty. In the
evening, he amply returned his host's hospitality by comic and tragic
stories of criminal life. The next day he began to lay his plans
carefully, and disappeared soon after breakfast with the ostensible
purpose of climbing a height at some distance for the sake of the
prospect. He soon doubled round, noting every covert approach to Bute's
lodgings. His eye and ear were as quick as an Indian's; but he still
maintained, in case he was observed, the manner of an elderly stranger
strolling about to view the region.

By noon he felt that he had the immediate locality by heart. His
afternoon task was to explore the possibilities of a stream that
crossed the mine road something over a mile away, and for this purpose
he mounted his horse. He soon reached the shallow ford, and saw that
the water was backed up for a considerable distance, and that the
shallows certainly extended around a high, jutting rock which hid the
stream from that point and beyond from the road. The bed appeared
smooth, firm, and sandy, and he waded his horse up the gentle current
until he was concealed from the highway. A place, however, was soon
reached where the water came tumbling down over impassable rocks; and
he was compelled to ascend the wooded shore. This he did on the side
nearest to the mine house, and found that with care he could lead his
horse to a point that could not be, he thought, over half a mile from
the superintendent's cottage. Here there was a little dell around which
the pines grew so darkly and thickly that he determined to make it his
covert should he fail in his first attempt. His object now was to see
if his estimate of proximity to the mine was correct; and leaving his
horse, he pushed up the mountain-side. At last he reached a precipitous
ledge. Skirting this a short distance, he found a place of
comparatively easy ascent, and soon learned with much satisfaction that
he was not over two hundred yards from the thicket opposite Mr.
Alford's quarters. These discoveries all favored possible future
operations; and he retraced his steps, marking his returning path by
bits of white paper, held in place by stones against the high
prevailing winds. Near the spot where he had left his horse he found a
nook among the rocks in which a fire would be well hidden. Having
marked the place carefully with his eye and obtained his bearings, he
led his horse back to the stream and reached the unfrequented road
again without being observed.

His next task was to discover some kind of a passageway from the mine
road to a point on the main highway, leading to the west and out of the
mountains. He found no better resource than to strike directly into the
forest and travel by points of the compass. Fortunately, the trees were
lofty and comparatively open, and he encountered no worse difficulties
than some steep and rugged descents, and at last emerged on the post
road at least a mile to the west of the tavern, which stood near its
intersection with the mine road; Returning, he again marked out a path
with paper as he had before. The sun was now low in the sky; and as he
trotted toward the mine, he had but one more precaution to take, and
that was to find a place where the trees were sufficiently open to
permit him to ride into their shade at night in case he wished to avoid
parties upon the road. Having indicated two or three such spots by a
single bit of paper that would glimmer in the moonlight, he joined Mr.
Alford at supper, feeling that his preparations were nearly complete.
When they were alone, he told his host that it would be best not to
gratify his curiosity, for then he could honestly say that he knew
nothing of any detective's plans or whereabouts.

"I cannot help feeling," said Mr. Alford, "that you are playing with
fire over a powder magazine. Now that I know you better, I hate to
think of the risk that you are taking. It has troubled me terribly all
day. I feel as if we were on the eve of a tragedy. You had better leave
quietly in the morning and bring a force later that would make
resistance impossible, or else give it up altogether. Why should you
throw away your life? I tell you again that if the men get a hint of
your character or purpose they will hunt you to death."

"It's a part of my business to incur such risks," replied Brandt,
quietly. "Besides, I have a motive in this case which would lead me to
take a man out of the jaws of hell."

"That's what you may find you are attempting here. Well, we're in for
it now, I suppose, since you are so determined."

"I don't think you will appear involved in the affair at all. In the
morning you give me a sack of grain for my horse and some provisions
for myself, and then bid farewell to Mr. Brown in the most open and
natural manner possible. You may not see me again. It is possible I may
have to borrow a horse of you it my scheme to-night don't work. It will
be returned or paid for very soon."

"Bute has a pony. He brought it with him, and he and Apache Jack
between them manage to keep it. They stable it nights in a little shed
back of their shanty."

"I had discovered this, and hope to take the man away on his pony. I
understand why Bute keeps the animal. He knew that he might have to
travel suddenly and fast."

The next morning Mr. Alford parted with Brandt as had been arranged,
the latter starting ostensibly for the nearest railway station. All day
long the superintendent was nervous and anxious; but he saw no
evidences of suspicion or uneasiness among those in his employ.

Brandt rode at a sharp canter as long as he was in sight, and then
approached the stream slowly and warily. When satisfied that he was
unobserved, he again passed up its shallow bed around the concealing
rock, and sought his hiding-place on the mountain-side. Aware that the
coming nights might require ceaseless activity, his first measure was
to secure a few hours of sound sleep; and he had so trained himself
that he could, as it were, store up rest against long and trying
emergencies. The rocks sheltered him against the wind, and a fire gave
all the comfort his hardy frame required, as he reposed on his couch of
pine-needles. Early in the afternoon he fed his horse, took a hearty
meal himself, and concealed the remaining store so that no wild
creatures could get at it. At early twilight he returned by way of the
stream and hid his horse well back in the woods near the mine. To this
he now went boldly, and inquired for Tim Atkins, Bute's assumed name.
He was directed to the shanty with which he had already made himself so
familiar.

Bute was found alone, and was much surprised at sight of his old
gambling acquaintance of better days, for his better days were those of
robbery before he had added the deeper stain of murder. Brandt soon
allayed active fears and suspicions by giving the impression that in
his descensus he had reached the stage of robbery and had got on the
scent of some rich booty in the mountains. "But how did you know I was
here?" demanded Bute.

"I didn't know it," replied Brandt, adopting his old vernacular; "but I
guessed as much, for I knew there was more'n one shady feller in this
gang, and I took my chances on findin' you, for, says I to myself, if I
can find Bute, I've found the right man to help me crack a ranch when
there's some risk and big plunder."

He then disclosed the fact of hearing that the keeper of the tavern had
accumulated a good sum of hard money, and was looking out for a chance
to send it to a bank. "We can save him the trouble, yer know," he
concluded, facetiously.

"Well," said Bute, musingly, "I'm gittin' tired of this dog's life, and
I reckon I'll go snacks with yer and then put out fer parts unknown. I
was paid t'other day, and there ain't much owin' me here. I guess it'll
be safer fer me ter keep movin' on, too."

"You may well say that, Bute. I heard below that there was goin' to be
some investigations inter this gang, and that there was more'n one
feller here whose pictur was on exhibition."

"That so?" said Bute, hastily. "Well, I'll go with yer ter-night, fer
it's time I was movin'. I kin tell yer one thing, though - there'll be
no investigations here unless a fair-sized regiment makes it. Every man
keeps his shooter handy."

"Hanged if we care how the thing turns out. You and me'll be far enough
away from the shindy. Now make your arrangements prompt, for we must be
on the road by nine o'clock, so we can get through early in the night
and have a good start with the swag. My plan is to ambush the whiskey
shop, go and demand drinks soon after everybody is gone, and then
proceed to business."

"Can't we let my mate, Apache Jack, in with us? I'll stand for him."

"No, no, I don't know anything about Apache Jack; and I can trust you.
We can manage better alone, and I'd rather have one-half than
one-third."

"Trust me, kin you? you - fool," thought Bute. "So ye thinks I'll sit
down and divide the plunder socially with you when I kin give yer a
quiet dig in the ribs and take it all. One more man now won't matter.
I'm a-goin' ter try fer enough ter-night ter take me well out of these
parts."

Bute's face was sinister enough to suggest any phase of evil, and
Brandt well knew that he was capable of what he meditated. It was now
the policy of both parties, however, to be very friendly, and Bute was
still further mellowed by a draught of liquor from Brandt's flask.

They had several games of cards in which it was managed that Bute's
winnings should be the larger; and at nine in the evening they started
on what was to Bute another expedition of robbery and murder. Mr.
Alford, who was on the alert, saw them depart with a deep sigh of
relief. The night was cloudy, but the moon gave plenty of light for
travelling. Brandt soon secured his horse, and then appeared to give
full rein to his careless, reckless spirit.

As they approached the stream, he remarked, "I say, Bute, it's too bad
we can't use the pasteboards while on the jog; but I can win a five out
of you by an old game of ours. I bet you I can empty my revolver
quicker 'n you can."

"We'd better save our amernition and make no noise."

"Oh, pshaw! I always have better luck when I'm free and careless like.
It's your sneaking fellers that always get caught. Besides, who'll
notice? This little game is common enough all through the mountains,
and everybody knows that there's no mischief in such kind of firing. I
want to win back some of my money."

"Well, then, take you up; go ahead."

Instantly from Brandt's pistol there were six reports following one
another so quickly that they could scarcely be distinguished.

"Now beat that if you can!" cried Brandt, who had a second and
concealed revolver ready for an emergency.

"The fool!" thought Bute, "to put himself at the marcy of any man. I
can pluck him to-night like a winged pa'tridge;" but he too fired
almost as quickly as his companion.

"You only used five ca'tridges in that little game, my friend," said
Brandt.

"Nonsense! I fired so quick you couldn't count 'em."

"Now see here, Bute," resumed Brandt, in an aggrieved tone, "you've got
to play fair with me. I've cut my eye-teeth since you used to fleece
me, and I'll swear you fired only five shots. Let's load and try again."

"What the use of sich - - nonsense? You'll swar that you fired the
quickest; and of course I'll swar the same, and there's nobody here ter
jedge. What's more, Ralph Brandt, I wants you and every man ter know
that I always keeps a shot in reserve, and that I never misses. So
let's load and jog on, and stop foolin'."

"That scheme has failed," thought Brandt, as he replaced the shells
with cartridges.

His purpose was to find a moment when his companion was completely in
his power, and it came sooner than he expected. When they drew near the
brook, it was evident that Bute's pony was thirsty, for it suddenly
darted forward and thrust its nose into the water. Therefore, for an
instant, Bute was in advance with his back toward the detective.
Covering the fellow with his revolver, Brandt shouted:

"Bute, throw up your hands; surrender, or you are a dead man!"

Instantly the truth flashed through the outlaw's mind. Instead of
complying, he threw himself forward over the pony's neck and urged the
animal forward. Brandt fired, and Bute fell with a splash into the
water. At that moment three miners, returning from the tavern, came
shouting to the opposite side of the stream. The frightened pony,
relieved of its burden, galloped homeward. Brandt also withdrew rapidly
toward the mine for some distance, and then rode into the woods. Having
tied his horse well back from the highway, he reconnoitred the party
that had so inopportunely interfered with his plans. He discovered that
they were carrying Bute, who, from his groans and oaths, was evidently
not dead, though he might be mortally wounded. His rescuers were
breathing out curses and threats of vengeance against Brandt, now known
to be an officer of the law.

"The job has become a little complicated now," muttered Brandt, after
they had passed; "and I must throw them off the scent. There will be a
dozen out after me soon."

He remounted his horse, stole silently down the road, crossed the
stream, and then galloped to the tavern, and calling out the keeper,
asked if there was any shorter road out of the mountains than the one
leading to the west. Being answered in the negative, he rode hastily
away. On reaching the place where he had struck this road the previous
day, he entered the woods, followed the rugged trail that he had marked
by bits of paper, and slowly approached the mine road again near the
point where the stream crossed it. He then reconnoitred and learned
that there was evidently a large party exploring the woods between the
stream and the mine.

At last they all gathered at the ford for consultation, and Brandt
heard one say:

"We're wastin' time beatin' round here. He'd naterly put fer the
lowlands as soon as he found he was balked in takin' his man. I move we
call on Whiskey Bob, and see if a man's rode that way ter-night."

A call on Whiskey Bob was apparently always acceptable; and the party
soon disappeared down the road - some on horses and more on foot. Brandt
then quietly crossed the road and gained his retreat on the
mountain-side.

"I must camp here now till the fellow dies, and I can prove it, or
until I can get another chance," was his conclusion as he rubbed down
and fed his horse.




CHAPTER IV

TAKEN ALIVE


After taking some refreshment himself, Brandt decided to go to the
thicket opposite the superintendent's house for a little observation.
He soon reached this outlook, and saw that something unusual was
occurring in the cottage. At last the door opened, and Bute was
assisted to his shanty by two men. They had scarcely disappeared before
Brandt darted across the road and knocked for admittance.

"Great Scott! you here?" exclaimed Mr. Alford.

"Yes, and here I'm going to stay till I take my man," replied the
detective, with a laugh. "Don't be alarmed. I shall not remain in your
house, but in the neighborhood."

"You are trifling with your life, and, I may add, with mine."

"Not at all. Come up to your bedroom. First draw the curtains close,
and we'll compare notes. I won't stay but a few moments."

Mr. Alford felt that it was best to comply, for some one might come and
find them talking in the hall. When Brandt entered the apartment, he
threw himself into a chair and laughed in his low careless style as he
said, "Well, I almost bagged my game to-night, and would have done so
had not three of your men, returning from the tavern, interfered."

"There's a party out looking for you now."

"I know it; but I've put them on the wrong trail. What I want to learn
is, will Bute live?"

"Yes; your shot made a long flesh-wound just above his shoulders. A
little closer, and it would have cut his vertebrae and finished him. He
has lost a good deal of blood, and could not be moved for some days
except at some risk."

"You are sure of that?"

"Yes."

"Well, he may have to incur the risk. I only wish to be certain that he
will not take it on his own act at once. You'll soon miss him in any
event."

"The sooner the better. I wish your aim had been surer."

"That wasn't my good luck. Next time I'll have to shoot closer or else
take him alive."

"But you can't stay in this region. They will all be on the alert now."

"Oh, no. The impression will be general to-morrow that I've made for
the lowlands as fast as my horse could carry me. Don't you worry. Till
I move again, I'm safe enough. All I ask of you now is to keep Bute in
his own shanty, and not to let him have more than one man to take care
of him if possible. Good-night. You may not see me again, and then
again you may."

"Well, now that you are here," said the superintendent, who was
naturally brave enough, "spend an hour or two, or else stay till just
before daylight. I confess I am becoming intensely interested in your
adventure, and would take a hand in it if I could; but you know well
enough that if I did, and it became known, I would have to find
business elsewhere very suddenly - that is, if given the chance."

"I only wish your passive co-operation. I should be glad, however, if
you would let me take a horse, if I must."

"Certainly, as long as you leave my black mare."

Brandt related what had occurred, giving a comical aspect to
everything, and then, after reconnoitring the road from a darkened
window, regained his cover in safety. He declined to speak of his
future plans or to give any clew to his hiding-place, to which he now
returned.

During the few remaining hours of darkness and most of the next day, he
slept and lounged about his fire. The next night was too bright and
clear for anything beyond a reconnoissance, and he saw evidences of an
alertness which made him very cautious. He did not seek another
interview with Mr. Alford, for now nothing was to be gained by it.

The next day proved cloudy, and with night began a violent storm of
wind and rain. Brandt cowered over his fire till nine o'clock, and then
taking a slight draught from his flask, chuckled, "This is glorious
weather for my work. Here's to Clara's luck this time!"

In little over an hour he started for the mine, near which he concealed
his horse. Stealing about in the deep shadows, he soon satisfied
himself that no one was on the watch, and then approaching the rear of
Bute's shanty, found to his joy that the pony was in the shed. A chink
in the board siding enabled him to look into the room which contained
his prey; he started as he saw Apache Jack, instantly recognizing in
him another criminal for whom a large reward was offered.

"Better luck than I dreamed of," he thought. "I shall take them both;
but I now shall have to borrow a horse of Alford;" and he glided away,
secured an animal from the stable, and tied it near his own. In a short
time he was back at his post of observation. It had now become evident
that no one even imagined that there was danger while such a storm was
raging. The howling wind would drown all ordinary noises; and Brandt
determined that the two men in the shanty should be on their way to
jail that night. When he again put his eye to the chink in the wall,



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