Bucky O'Connor - 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
in our thoughts because you have heard and answered again the call of
the frozen North, have for the time disappeared, swallowed in some of
its untrodden wilds. As in those old days of 59 Below On Bonanza, the
long Winter night will be of interminable length. Armed with this note
of introduction then, Bucky O'Connor offers himself, with the best bow
of one Adventurer to another, as a companion to while away some few of
those lonely hours.
March, 1910, Denver.
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 vivid that it would have been difficult not to feel his presence
anywhere, let alone on a journey so monotonous as this was proving to
It had been at a water-tank, near Socorro, that the Limited,
churning furiously through brown Arizona in pursuit of a lost
half-hour, jarred to a sudden halt that shook sleep from the drowsy
eyes of bored passengers. Through the window of her Pullman the young
woman in Section 3 had glimpsed a bevy of angry train officials eddying
around a sturdy figure in the center, whose strong, lean head rose
confidently above the press. There was the momentary whirl of a
scuffle, out of the tangle of which shot a brakeman as if propelled
from a catapult. The circle parted, 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 to the vacant section opposite her a
procession whose tail was composed of protesting trainmen.
"You had no right to flag the train, Sheriff Collins, and you'll
have to get off; that's all there is to it," the conductor was
"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 its
bill. 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
"Didn't I hear you say the train was late? Don't you think you'd
arrive earlier at the end of your run if your choo-choo got to
"You'll have to get off, sir."
"I hate to disoblige," murmured the owner of the jingling spurs, the
dusty corduroys, and the big, gray hat, putting his feet leisurely on
the cushion in front of him. "But doesn't it occur to you that you are
a man of one idea?"
"This is the Coast Limited. It doesn't stop for anybody--not even
for the president of the road."
"You don't say! Well, I ce'tainly appreciate the honor you did me in
stopping to take me on." His slight drawl was quite devoid of
"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 the
official's flow of protest.
"Well--well! Disrupted the whole transcontinental traffic, didn't I?
And me so innocent, too. Now, this is how I figured it out. Here's me
in a hurry to get to Tucson. Here comes your train a-foggin'--also and
likewise hittin' the high spots for Tucson. Seemed like we ought to
travel in company, and I was some dubious she'd forget to stop unless I
flagged her. Wherefore, I aired my bandanna in the summer breeze."
"But you don't understand." The conductor began to explain anew as
to a dull 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't mind me. Free your mind proper."
The conductor, glancing about nervously, noticed that passengers
were smiling 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. Out of a holster attached to the sagging belt that circled
the corduroy trousers above his hips gleamed the butt of a revolver.
But in the last analysis the weapon of the occasion was purely a moral
one. The situation was one not covered in the company's rule book, and
in the absence of explicit orders the trainman felt himself unequal to
that unwavering gaze and careless poise. Wherefore, he retreated,
muttering threats of what the company would do.
"Now, if I had only known it was against the law. My thick haid's
always roping trouble for me," the plainsman confided to the Pullman
conductor, with twinkling eyes.
That official unbent. "Talking about thick heads, I'm glad my porter
has one. If it weren't iron-plated and copper-riveted he'd be needing a
doctor now, the way you stood him on it."
"No, did I? Ce'tainly an accident. The nigger must have been in my
way as 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 at him. "Do you reckon this is big enough to plaster your injured
The white smile flashed at him by the porter was a receipt for
indemnity paid in full.
Sheriff Collins' perception of his neighbor across the aisle was
more frank in its interest than the girl's had been of him. The level,
fearless gaze of the outdoors West looked at her unabashed,
appreciating swiftly her points as they impinged themselves upon his
admiration. The long, lithe lines of the slim, supple body, the languid
grace missing hauteur only because that seemed scarce worth while, the
unconscious pride of self that fails to be offensive only in a young
woman so well equipped with good looks as this one indubitably was the
rider of the plains had appraised them all before his eyes dismissed
her from his consideration and began a casual inspection of the other
Inside of half an hour he had made himself persona grata to
everybody in the car except his dark-eyed neighbor across the way. That
this dispenser of smiles and cigars decided to leave her out in the
distribution of his attentions perhaps spoke well for his discernment.
Certainly responsiveness to the geniality of casual fellow passengers
did not impress Mr. Collins as likely to be an outstanding, quality in
her. But with the drummer from Chicago, the young mining engineer going
to Sonora, the two shy little English children just in front of him
traveling to meet their father in California, he found intuitively
common ground of interest. Even Major Mackenzie, the engineer in charge
of the large irrigation project being built by a company in southern
Arizona, relaxed at one of the plainsman's humorous tales.
It was after Collins had half-depopulated the car by leading the
more jovial spirits back in search of liquid refreshments that an
urbane clergyman, now of Boston but formerly of Pekin, Illinois,
professedly much interested in the sheriff's touch-and-go manner as
presumably quite characteristic of the West, dropped into the vacant
seat beside Major Mackenzie.
"And who might our energetic friend be?" he asked, with an
The young woman in front of them turned her head ever so slightly to
"Val Collins is his name," said the major. "Sometimes called
'Bear-trap Collins.' He has always lived on the frontier. At least, I
met him twelve years ago when he was riding mail between Aravaipa and
Mesa. He was a boy then, certainly not over eighteen, but in a
desperate fight he had killed two men who tried to hold up the mail.
Cow-puncher, stage-driver, miner, trapper, sheriff, rough rider,
politician--he's past master at them all."
"And why the appellation of 'Bear-trap,' may I ask?" The smack of
pulpit oratory was not often missing in the edifying discourse of the
Reverend Peter Melancthon Brooks.
"Well, sir, that's a story. He was trapping in the Tetons about five
years ago thirty miles from the nearest ranch-house. One day, while he
was setting a bear-trap, a slide of snow plunged down from the tree
branches 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
four hours, without the slightest success. There was not one chance in
a million of help from outside. In point of fact, Collins had not seen
a human being for a month. There was only one thing to do, and he did
"And that was?"
"You probably noticed that he wears a glove over his left hand. The
reason, sir, is that he has an artificial hand."
"You mean--" The Reverend Peter paused to lengthen his delicious
thrill of horror.
"Yes, sir. That's just what I mean. He hacked his hand off at the
wrist with 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
out here. He's game, if that's what you mean. And able, too. Bucky
O'Connor himself 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-book the story of the beartrap, to be used later as a sermon
illustration. This may have been the reason he did not catch the quick
look that passed without the slightest flicker of the eyelids between
Major Mackenzie and the young woman in Section 3. It was as if the old
officer had wired her a message in some code the cipher of which was
known only to them.
But the sheriff, returning at the head of his cohorts, caught it,
and wondered what meaning might lie back of that swift glance. Major
Mackenzie and this dark-eyed beauty posed before others as strangers,
yet between them lay some freemasonry of understanding to which he had
not the key.
Collins did not know that the aloofness in the eyes of Miss
Wainwright--he had seen the name on her suit-case--gave way to horror
when her glance fell on his gloved hand. She had a swift, shuddering
vision of a grim-faced man, jaws set like a vise, hacking at his wrist
with a hunting-knife. But the engaging impudence of his eye, the
rollicking laughter in his voice, shut out the picture instantly.
The young man resumed his seat, and Miss Wainwright her listless
inspection of the flying stretches of brown desert. Dusk was beginning
to fall, and the porter presently lit the lamps. Collins bought a
magazine from the newsboy and relapsed into it, but before he was well
adjusted to reading the Limited pounded to a second unscheduled
Instantly the magazine was thrown aside and Collins' curly head
thrust out of the window. Presently the head reappeared, simultaneously
with the crack of a revolver, the first of a detonating fusillade.
"Another of your impatient citizens eager to utilize the unspeakable
convenience of rapid transit," suggested the clergyman, with ponderous
"No, sir; nothing so illegal," smiled the cattleman, a whimsical
light in his daredevil eyes. He leaned forward and whispered a word to
the little girl in front of him, who at once led her younger brother
back to his section.
"I had hoped it would prove to be more diverting experience for a
tenderfoot," condescended the gentleman of the cloth.
"It's ce'tainly a pleasure to be able to gratify you, sir. You'll be
right pleased to know that it is a train hold-up." He waved his hand
toward the door, and at the word, as if waiting for his cue, a masked
man appeared at the end of the passage with a revolver in each
CHAPTER 2. TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION
There was a ring of crisp menace in the sinister voice that was a
spur to obedience. The unanimous show of hands voted "Aye" with a hasty
precision that no amount of drill could have compassed.
It was a situation that might have made for laughter had there been
spectators to appreciate. But of whatever amusement was to be had one
of the victims seemed to hold a monopoly. Collins, his arm around the
English children by way of comfort, offered a sardonic smile at the
consternation his announcement and its fulfillment had created, but
none of his fellow passengers were in the humor to respond.
The shock of an earthquake could not have blanched ruddy faces more
surely. The Chicago drummer, fat and florid, had disappeared completely
behind a buttress of the company's upholstery.
"God bless my soul!" gasped the Pekin-Bostonian, dropping his
eyeglass and his accent at the same moment. The dismay in his face
found a reflection all over the car. Miss Wainwright's hand clutched at
her breast for an instant, and her color ebbed till her lips were
ashen, but her neighbor across the aisle noticed that her eyes were
steady and her figure tense.
"Scared stiff, but game," was his mental comment.
"Gents to the right and ladies to the left; line up against the
walls; everybody waltz." called the man behind the guns, with grim
The passengers fell into line as directed, Collins with the
"You're calling this dance, son; it's your say-so, I guess," he
"Keep still, or I'll shoot you full of holes," growled the autocrat
of the artillery.
"Why, sure! Ain't you the real thing in Jesse Jameses?" soothed the
At the sound of Collins' voice, the masked man had started
perceptibly, and his right hand had jumped forward an inch or two to
cover the speaker more definitely. Thereafter, no matter what else
engaged his attention, the gleaming eyes behind the red bandanna never
wandered for a moment from the big plainsman. He was taking no risks,
for he remembered the saying current in Arizona, that after Collins'
hardware got into action there was nothing left to do but plant the
deceased and collect the insurance. He had personal reasons to know the
fundamental accuracy of the colloquialism.
The train-conductor fussed up to the masked outlaw with a ludicrous
attempt at authority. "You can't rob the passengers on this train. I'm
not responsible for the express-car, but the coaches--"
A bullet almost grazed his ear and shattered a window on its way to
"Drift, you red-haired son of a Mexican?" ordered the man behind the
red bandanna. "Git back to that seat real prompt. This here's taxation
The conductor drifted as per suggestion.
The minutes ticked themselves away in a tense strain marked by
pounding hearts. The outlaw stood at the end of the aisle, watching the
"Why doesn't the music begin?" volunteered Collins, by way of
conversation, and quoted: "On with the dance. Let joy be
A dull explosion answered his question. The bandits were blowing
open the safe in the express-car with dynamite, pending which the
looting of the passengers was at a standstill.
A second masked figure joined his companion at the end of the
passage and held a hurried conversation with him. Fragments of their
low-voiced talk came to Collins.
"Only thirty thousand in the express-car. Not a red cent on the old
"Where's the rest?" The irritation in the newcomer's voice was
Collins slewed his head and raked him with keen eyes that missed not
a detail. He was certain that he had never seen the man before, yet he
knew at once that the trim, wiry figure, so clean of build and so
gallant of bearing, could belong only to Wolf Leroy, the most ruthless
outlaw of the Southwest. It was written in his jaunty insolence, in the
flashing eyes. He was a handsome fellow, white-toothed, black-haired,
lithely tigerish, with masterful mouth and eyes of steel, so far as one
might judge behind the white mask he wore. Alert, cruel, fearless from
the head to the heel of him, he looked the very devil to lead an
enterprise so lawless and so desperate as this. His vigilant eyes swept
contemptuously up and down the car, rested for a moment on the young
woman in Section 3, and came back to his partner.
"Bah! A flock of sheep--tamest bunch of spring lambs we ever struck.
I'll send Scott in to go through them. If anybody gets gay, drop him."
And the outlaw turned on his heel.
Another of the highwaymen took his place, a stout, squat figure in
the flannel shirt, spurs, and chaps of a cow-puncher. It took no second
glance to tell Collins this bandy-legged fellow had been a rider of the
"Come, gentlemen, get a move on you," Collins implored. "This
train's due at Tucson by eight o'clock. We're more than an hour late
now. I'm holding down the job of sheriff in that same town, and I'm
awful anxious to get a posse out after a bunch of train-robbers. So
burn the wind, and go through the car on the jump. Help yourself to
anything you find. Who steals my purse takes trash. 'Tis something,
nothing. 'Twas mine; 'tis his. That's right, you'll find my roll in
that left-hand pocket. I hate to have you take that gun, though. I
meant to run you down with that same old Colt's reliable. Oh, well,
just as you say. No, those kids get a free pass. They're going out to
meet papa at Los Angeles, boys. See?"
Collins' running fire of comment had at least the effect of
restoring the color to some cheeks that had been washed white and of
snatching from the outlaws some portion of their sense of dominating
the situation. But there was a veiled vigilance in his eyes that belied
his easy impudence.
"That lady across the aisle gets a pass, too, boys," continued the
sheriff. "She's scared stiff now, and you won't bother her, if you're
white men. Her watch and purse are on the seat. Take them, if you want
them, and let it go at that."
Miss Wainwright listened to this dialogue silently. She stood before
them cool and imperious and unwavering, but her face was bloodless and
the pulse in her beautiful soft throat fluttered like a caged bird.
"Who's doing this job?" demanded one of the hold-ups, wheeling
savagely on the impassive officer "Did I say we were going to bother
the lady? Who's doing this job, Mr. Sheriff?"
"You are. I'd hate to be messing the job like you--holding up the
wrong train by mistake." This was a shot in the dark, and it did not
quite hit the bull's-eye. "I wouldn't trust you boys to rob a
hen-roost, the amateur way you go at it. When you get through, you'll
all go to drinking like blue blotters. I know your kind--hell-bent to
spend what you cash in, and every mother's son of you in the pen or
with his toes turned up inside of a month."
"Who'll put us there?" gruffly demanded the bowlegged one.
Collins smiled at him with confidence superb "Mebbe I will--and if I
don't Bucky O'Connor will--those of you that are left alive when you go
through shooting each other in the back. Oh, I see your finish to a
"Cheese it, or I'll bump you off." The first out law drove his gun
into the sheriff's ribs.
"That's all right. You don't need to punctuate that remark. I line
up with the sky-pilot and chew the cud of silence. I merely wanted to
frame up to you how this thing's going to turn out. Don't come back at
me and say I didn't warn you, sonnie."
"You make my head ache," snarled the bandy-legged outlaw sourly, as
he passed down with his sack, accumulating tribute as he passed down
the aisle with his sack, accumulating tribute as he went.
The red-kerchiefed robber whooped when they came to the car
conductor. "Dig up, Mr. Pullman. Go way down into your jeans. It's a
right smart pleasure to divert the plunder of your bloated corporation
back to the people. What! Only fifty-seven dollars. Oh, dig deeper, Mr.
The drummer contributed to the sack eighty-four dollars, a diamond
ring, and a gold watch. His hands were trembling so that they played a
tattoo on the sloping ceiling above him.
"What's the matter, Fatty? Got a chill?" inquired one of the
robbers, as he deftly swept the plunder into the sack.
"For--God's sake--don't shoot. I have--a wife--and five children,"
he stammered, with chattering teeth.
"No race suicide for Fatty. But whyfor do they let a sick man like
you travel all by his lone?"
"I don't know--I--Please turn that weapon another way."
"Plumb chuck full of malaria," soliloquized the owner of the weapon,
playfully running its business end over the Chicago man's anatomy.
"Shakes worse'n a pair of dice. Here, Fatty. Load up with quinine and
whisky. It's sure good for chills." The man behind the bandanna gravely
handed his victim back a dollar. "Write me if it cures you. Now for the
sky-pilot. No white chips on this plate, parson. It's a contribution to
the needy heathen. You want to be generous. How much do you say?
The man of the cloth reluctantly said thirty dollars, a Lincoln
penny, and a silver-plated watch inherited from his fathers. The watch
was declined with thanks, the money accepted without.
The Pullman porter came into the car under compulsion of a revolver
in the hand of a fourth outlaw, one in a black mask. His trembling
finger pointed out the satchel and suit-case of Major Mackenzie, and
under orders he carried out the baggage belonging to the irrigation
engineer. Collin observed that the bandit in the black mask was so
nervous that the revolver in his hand quivered like an aspen in the
wind. He was slenderer and much shorter than the Mexican, so that the
sheriff decided he was a mere boy.
It was just after he had left that three shots in rapid succession
rang out in the still night air.
The red-bandannaed one and his companion, who had apparently been
waiting for the signal, retreated backward to the end of the car, still
keeping the passengers covered. They flung rapidly two or three bullets
through the roof, and under cover of the smoke slipped out into the
night. A moment later came the thud of galloping horses, more shots,
and, when the patter of hoofs had died away--silence.
The sheriff was the first to break it. He thrust his brown hands
deep into his pockets and laughed--laughed with the joyous, rollicking
abandon of a tickled schoolboy.
"Hysterics?" ventured the mining engineer sympathetically.
Collins wiped his eyes. "Call 'em anything you like. What pleases me
is that the reverend gentleman should have had this diverting
experience so prompt after he was wishing for it." He turned, with
concern, to the clergyman. "Satisfied, sir? Did our little
entertainment please, or wasn't it up to the mark?"
But the transported native of Pekin was game. "I'm quite satisfied,
if you are. I think the affair cost you a hundred dollars or so more
than it did me."
"That's right," agreed the sheriff heartily. "But I don't grudge
it--not a cent of it. The show was worth the price of admission."
The car conductor had a broadside ready for him. "Seems to me you
shot off your mouth more than you did that big gun of yours, Mr.
Collins laughed, and clapped him on the back. "That's right. I'm a
regular phonograph, when you wind me up." He did not think it necessary
to explain that he had talked to make the outlaws talk, and that he had
noted the quality of their voices so carefully that he would know them
again among a thousand. Also he had observed--other things--the garb of
each of the men he had seen, their weapons, their manner, and their
The clanking car took up the rhythm of the rails as the delayed
train plunged forward once more into the night. Again the clack of
tongues, set free from fear, buzzed eagerly. The glow of the afterclap
of danger was on them, and in the warm excitement each forgot the
paralyzing fear that had but now padlocked his lips. Courage came
flowing back into flabby cheeks and red blood into hearts of water.
At the next station the Limited stopped, and the conductor swung
from a car before the wheels had ceased rolling and went running into
the telegraph office.
"Fire a message through for me, Pat. The Limited has been held up,"
"Held up?" gasped the operator.
"That's right. Get this message right through to Sabin. I'm not
going to wait for an answer. Tell him I'll stop at Apache for further
With which the conductor was out again waving his lantern as a
signal for the train to start. Sheriff Collins and Major Mackenzie had
entered the office at his heels. They too had messages to send, but it
was not until the train was already plunging into the night that the
station agent read the yellow slips they had left and observed that
both of them went to the same person.
"Lieutenant Bucky O'Connor, Douglas, Arizona," was the address he
read at the top of each. His comment serves to show the opinion
generally in the sunburned territory respecting one of its
"You're wise guys, gents, both of yez. This is shure a case for the
leftenant. It's send for Bucky quick when the band begins to play," he
Sitting down, he gave the call for Tucson, preparatory to
transmitting the conductor's message to the division superintendent.
His fingers were just striking the first tap when a silken voice
"One moment, friend. No use being in a hurry."
The agent looked up and nearly fell from his stool. He was gazing
into the end of a revolver held carelessly in the hand of a masked man
leaning indolently on the counter.
"Whe--where did you come from?" the operator gasped.
"Kaintucky, but I been here a right smart spell. Why? You takin' the
census?" came the drawling answer.
"I didn't hear youse come in."
"I didn't hear you come in, either," the man behind the mask mocked.
But even as he spoke his manner changed, and crisp menace rang in his
voice. "Have you sent those messages yet?"
"Those lying on your desk. I say, have you sent them?"
"Hand them over here."
The operator passed them across the counter without demur.
"Now reach for the roof."
Up shot the station agent's hands. The bandit glanced over the
written sheets and commented aloud:
"Huh! One from the conductor and one from Mackenzie. I expected
those. But this one from Collins is ce'tainly a surprise party. I
didn't know he was on the train. Lucky for him I didn't, or mebbe I'd
a-put his light for good and all. Friend, I reckon we'll suppress these
messages. Military necessity, you understand." And with that he lightly
tore up the yellow sheets and tossed them away.
"The conductor will wire when he reaches Apache," the operator
suggested, not very boldly.
The outlaw rolled a cigarette deftly and borrowed a match. "He most
surely will. But Apache is seventy miles from here. That gives us an
extra hour and a half, and with us right now time is a heap more
valuable than money. You may tell Bucky O'Connor when you see him that
that extra hour and a half cinches our escape, and we weren't on the
anxious seat any without it."
It may have been true, as the train robber had just said, that time
was more valuable to him then than money, but if so he must have held
the latter of singularly little value. For he sat him down on the
counter with his back against the wall and his legs stretched full
length in front of him and glanced over the Tucson Star in leisurely
fashion, while Pat's arms still projected roofward.
The operator, beginning to get over his natural fright, could not
withhold a reluctant admiration of this man's aplomb. There was a
certain pantherish lightness about the outlaw's movements, a trim grace
of figure which yet suggested rippling muscles perfectly under control,
and a quiet wariness of eye more potent than words at repressing
insurgent impulses. Certainly if ever there was a cool customer and one
perfectly sure of himself, this was he.
"Not a thing in the Star to-day," Pat's visitor commented, as he
flung it away with a yawn. "I'll let a thousand dollars of the express
company's money that there will be something more interesting in it
"That's right," agreed the agent.
"But I won't be here to read it. My engagements take me south. I'll
make a present to the great Lieutenant O'Connor of the information.
We're headed south, tell him. And tell Mr. Sheriff Collins, too--happy
to entertain him if he happens our way. If it would rest your hands any
there's no law against putting them in your trousers pockets, my
From outside there came a short sharp whistle. The man on the
counter answered it, and slipped at once to the floor. The door opened,
to let in another masked form, but one how different from the first!
Here was no confidence almost insolent in its nonchalance. The figure
was slight and boyish, the manner deprecating, the brown eyes shy and
shrinking He was so obviously a novice at outlawry that fear sat heavy
upon his shoulders. When he spoke, almost in a whisper, his teeth
"All ready, sir."
"The wires are cut?" demanded his leader crisply.
"On both sides?"
"On both sides."
His chief relieved the operator of the revolver in his desk, broke
it, emptied out the shells, and flung them through the window, then
tossed the weapon back to its owner.
"You'll not shoot yourself by accident now," he explained, and with
that he had followed his companion into the night.
There came to the station agent the sound of galloping horses,
growing fainter, until a heavy silence seemed to fill the night. He
stole to the door and locked it, pulled down the window blinds, and
then reloaded his revolver with feverish haste. This done, he sat down
before his keys with the weapon close at hand and frantically called
for Tucson over and over again. No answer came to him, nor from the
other direction when he tried that. The young bandit had told the
truth. His companions had cut the wires and so isolated from the world
for the time the scene of the hold-up. The agent understood now why the
leader of the outlaws had honored him with so much of his valuable
time. He had stayed to hold back the telegrams until he knew the wires
CHAPTER 3. THE SHERIFF INTRODUCES HIMSELF
Bear-trap Collins, presuming on the new intimacy born of an exciting
experience shared in common, stepped across the aisle, flung aside Miss
Wainwright's impedimenta, and calmly seated himself beside her. She was
a young woman capable of a hauteur chillier than ice to undue
familiarity, but she did not choose at this moment to resent his
assumption of a footing that had not existed an hour ago. Picturesque
and unconventional conduct excuses itself when it is garbed in
picturesque and engaging manners. She had, besides, other reasons for
wanting to meet him, and they had to do with a sudden suspicion that
flamed like tow in her brain. She had something for which to thank
him--much more than he would be likely to guess, she thought--and she
was wondering, with a surge of triumph, whether the irony of fate had
not made his pretended consideration for her the means of his
"I am sorry you lost so much, Miss Wainwright," he told her.
"But, after all, I did not lose so much as you. Her dark,
deep-pupiled eyes, long-lashed as Diana's, swept round to meet his
"That's a true word. My reputation has gone glimmering for fair, I
guess." He laughed ruefully. "I shouldn't wonder, ma'am, when election
time comes round, if the boys ain't likely to elect to private life the
sheriff that lay down before a bunch of miscreants."
"Why did you do it?"
His humorous glance roamed round the car. "Now, I couldn't think it
proper for me to shoot up this sumptuous palace on wheels. And wouldn't
some casual passenger be likely to get his lights put out when the band
began to play? Would you want that Boston church to be shy a preacher,
Her lips parted slightly in a curve of scorn. "I suppose you had
your reasons for not interfering."
"Surely, ma'am. I hated to have them make a sieve of me."
"Were you afraid?"
"Most men are when Wolf Leroy's gang is on the war path."
"That was Wolf who came in to see they were doing the job right.
He's the worst desperado on the border--a sure enough bad proposition,
I reckon. They say he's part Spanish and part Indian, but all pisen.
Others say he's a college man of good family. I don't know about that,
for nobody knows who he really is. But the name is a byword in the
country. People lower their voices when they speak of him and his
"I see. And you were afraid of him?"
Her narrowed eyes looked over the strong lines of his lean face and
were unconvinced. "I expect you found a better reason than that for not
He turned to her with frank curiosity. "I'd like real well to have
you put a name to it."
But he was instantly aware that her interest had been side tracked.
Major Mackenzie had entered the car and was coming down the aisle.
Plainer than words his eyes asked a question, and hers answered it.
The sheriff stopped him with a smiling query: "Hit hard, major?"
Mackenzie frowned. "The scoundrels took thirty thousand from the
express car, I understand. Twenty thousand of it belonged to our
company. I was expecting to pay off the men next Tuesday."
"Hope we'll be able to run them down for you," returned Collins
cheerfully. "I suppose you lay it to Wolf Leroy's gang?"
"Of course. The work was too well done to leave any doubt of that."
The major resumed his seat behind Miss Wainwright.
To that young woman the sheriff repeated his unanswered question in
the form of a statement. "I'm waiting to learn that better reason,
She was possessed of that spice of effrontery more to be desired
than beauty. "Shall we say that you had no wish to injure your
Her untender eyes mocked his astonishment. "Do I choose the wrong
word?" she asked, with an audacity of a courage that delighted him.
"Perhaps they are not your friends--these train robbers? Perhaps they
are mere casual acquaintances?"
His bold eyes studied with a new interest her superb, confident
youth--the rolling waves of splendid Titian hair, the lovely, subtle
eyes with the depths of shadowy pools in them, the alluring lines of
long and supple loveliness. Certainly here was no sweet, ingenuous
youth all prone to blushes, but the complex heir of that world-old
wisdom the weaker sex has shaped to serve as a weapon against the
strength that must be met with the wit of Mother Eve.
"You ce'tainly have a right vivid imagination, ma'am," he said
"You are quite sure you have never seen them before?" her velvet
He laughed. "Well, no--I can't say I am."
"Aren't you quite sure you have seen them?'
Her eyes rested on him very steadily.
"You're smart as a whip, Miss Wainwright. I take off my hat to a
young lady so clever. I guess you're right. About the identity of one
of those masked gentlemen I'm pretty well satisfied."
She drew a long breath. "I thought so."
"Yes," he went on evenly, "I once earmarked him so that I'd know him
again in case we met."
"I beg pardon. You--what?"
"Earmarked him. Figure of speech, ma'am. You may not have observed
that the curly-headed person behind the guns was shy the forefinger of
his right hand. We had a little difficulty once when he was resisting
arrest, and it just happened that my gun fanned away his trigger
finger." He added reminiscently:
"A good boy, too, Neil was once. We used to punch together on the
Hashknife. A straight-up rider, the kind a fellow wants when Old Man
Trouble comes knocking at the door. Well, I reckon he's a miscreant
now, all right."
"They knew YOU--at least two of them did."
"I've been pirootin' around this country, boy and man, for fifteen
years. I ain't responsible for every yellow dog that knows me," he
"And I noticed that when you told them not to rob the children and
not to touch me they did as you said."
"Hypnotism," he suggested, with a smile.
"So, not being a child, I put two and two together and draw an
He seemed to be struggling with his mirth. "I see you do. Well,
ma'am, I've been most everything since I hit the West, but this is the
first time I've been taken for a train robber."
"I didn't say that," she cried quickly.
"I think you mentioned an inference." The low laugh welled out of
him and broke in his face. "I've been busy on one, too. It's a heap
nearer the truth than yours, Miss Mackenzie."
Her startled eyes and the swift movement of her hand toward her
heart showed him how nearly he had struck home, how certainly he had
shattered her cool indifference of manner.
He leaned forward, so close that even in the roar of the train his
low whisper reached her. "Shall I tell you why the hold-ups didn't find
more money on your father or in the express car, Miss Mackenzie?"
She was shaken, so much so that her agitation trembled on her
"Shall I tell you why your hand went to your breast when I first
mentioned that the train was going to be held up, and again when your
father's eyes were firing a mighty pointed question at you?"
"I don't know what you mean," she retorted, again mistress of
Her gallant bearing compelled his admiration. The scornful eyes, the
satirical lift of the nostrils, the erect, graceful figure, all flung a
challenge at him. He called himself hard names for putting her on the
rack, but the necessity to make her believe in him was strong within
"I noticed you went right chalky when I announced the hold-up, and I
thought it was because you were scared. That was where I did you an
injustice, ma'am, and you can call this an apology. You've got sand. If
it hadn't been for what you carry in the chamois skin hanging on the
chain round your neck you would have enjoyed every minute of the little
entertainment. You're as game as they make them."
"May I ask how you arrived at this melodramatic conclusion?" she
asked, her disdainful lip curling.
"By using my eyes and my ears, ma'am. I shouldn't have noticed your
likeness to Major Mackenzie, perhaps, if I hadn't observed that there
was a secret understanding between you. Now, whyfor should you be
passing as strangers? I could guess one reason, and only one. There
have twice been attempted hold-ups of the paymaster of the Yuba
reservoir. It was to avoid any more of these that Major Mackenzie took
charge personally of paying the men. He has made good up till now. But
there have been rumors for months that he would be held up either
before leaving the train or while he was crossing the desert. He didn't
want to be seen taking the boodle from the express company at Tucson.
He would rather have the impression get out that this was just a casual
visit. It occurred to him to bring along some unsuspected party to help
him out. The robbers would never expect to find the money on a woman.
That's why the major brought his daughter with him. Doesn't it make you
some uneasy to be carrying fifty thousand in small bills sewed in your
clothes and hung round your neck?"
She broke into musical laughter, natural and easy. "I don't happen
to have fifty thousand with me."
"Oh, well, say forty thousand. I'm no wizard to guess the exact
Her swift glance at him was almost timid.
"Nor forty thousand," she murmured.
"I should think, ma'am, you'd crinkle more than a silk-lined lady
sailing down a church aisle on Sunday."
A picture in the magazine she was toying with seemed to interest
"I expect that's the signal for 'Exit Collins.' I'll say good-by
till next time, Miss Mackenzie."
"Oh, is there going to be a next time?" she asked, with elaborate
"Several of them."
He took a notebook from his pocket and wrote.
"I ain't the son of a prophet, but I'm venturing a prediction," he
She had nothing to say, and she said it competently.
"Concerning an investment in futurities I'm making," he
Her magazine article seemed to be beginning, well.
"It's a little guess about how this train robbery is coming out. If
you don't mind, I'll leave it with you." He tore the page out, put it
in an empty envelope, sealed the flap, and handed it to her.
"Open it in a month, and see whether my guess is a good one."
The dusky lashes swept round indolently. "Suppose I were to open it
"I'll risk it," smiled the blue eyes.
"On honor, am I?"
"That's it." He held out a big, brown hand.
"You're going to try to capture the robbers, are you?"
"I've been thinking that way--with the help of Lieutenant Bucky
O'Connor, I mean."
"And I suppose you've promised yourself success."
"It's on the knees of chance, ma'am. We may get them. They may get
"But this prediction of yours?" She held up the sealed envelope.
"That's about another matter."
"But I don't understand. You said--" She gave him a chance to
"It ain't meant you should. You'll understand plenty at the proper
He offered her his hand again. "We're slowing down for Apache.
Good-by--till next time."
The suede glove came forward, and was buried in his handshake.
He understood it to be an unvoiced apology of its owner for her
suspicions, and his instinct was correct. For how could her doubts hold
their ground when he had showed himself a sharer in her secret and a
guardian of it? And how could anything sinister lie behind those frank,
unwavering eyes or consist with that long, clean stride that was
carrying him so forcefully to the vestibule?
At Apache no telegrams were found waiting for those who had been
expecting them. Communication with the division superintendent at
Tucson uncovered the fact that no message of the hold-up had yet
reached him. It was an easy guess for Collins to find the reason.
"We're in the infant class, major," he told Mackenzie, with a
sardonic laugh. "Leroy must have galloped down the line direct to the
station after the hold-up. Likely enough he went into the depot just as
we went out. That gives him the other hour or two he needs to make his
getaway with the loot. Well, it can't be helped now. If I can only
reach Bucky there's one chance in fifty he can head them off from
crossing into Sonora. Soon as I can get together a posse I'll take up
the trail from the point of the hold-up. But they'll have a whole
night's start on me. That's a big handicap."
From Apache Collins sent three dispatches. One was to his deputy,
Dillon, at Tucson. It read:
"Get together at once posse of four and outfit same for four
Another went to Sabin, the division superintendent:
"Order special to carry posse with horses from Tucson to Big Gap.
Must leave by midnight. Have track clear."
The third was a notification to Lieutenant O'Connor, of the Arizona
Rangers, of the hold-up, specifying time and place of the occurrence.
The sheriff knew it was not necessary to add that the bandits were
probably heading south to get into Sonora. Bucky would take that for
granted and do his best to cover the likely spots of the frontier.
It was nearly eleven when the Limited drew in to Tucson. Sabin was
on the platform anxiously awaiting their arrival. Collins reached him
even before the conductor.
"Ordered the special, Mr. Sabin?" he asked, in a low voice.
The railroad man was chewing nervously on an unlit cigar. "Yes,
sheriff. You want only an engine and one car, I suppose."
"That will be enough. I've got to go uptown now and meet Dillon.
Midnight sharp, please."
"Do you know how much they got?" Sabin whispered.
"Thirty thousand, I hear, besides what they took from the
passengers. The conductor will tell you all about it. I've got to jump
to be ready."
A disappointment awaited him in the telegrapher's room at the depot.
He found a wire, but not from the person he expected. The ranger in
charge at Douglas said that Lieutenant O'Connor was at Flag staff, but
pending that officer's return he would put himself under the orders of
Sheriff Collins and wait for instructions.
The sheriff whistled softly to himself and scratched his head. Bucky
would not have waited for instructions. By this time that live wire
would have finished telephoning all over Southern Arizona and would
himself have been in the saddle. But Bucky in Flagstaff, nearly three
hundred miles from the battlefield, so far as the present emergency
went, might just as well be in Calcutta. Collins wired instructions to
the ranger and sent a third message to the lieutenant.
"I expect I'll hear this time he's skipped over to Winslow," he told
himself, with a rueful grin.
The special with the posse on board drew out at midnight sharp. It
reached the scene of the holdup before daybreak. The loading board was
lowered and the horses led from the car and picketed. Meanwhile two of
the men lit a fire and made breakfast while the others unloaded the
outfit and packed for the trail. The first faint streaks of gray dawn
were beginning to fleck the sky when Collins and Dillon, with a
lantern, moved along the railroad bed to the little clump of
cottonwoods where the outlaws had probably lain while they waited for
the express. They scanned this ground inch by inch. The coals where
their camp-fire had been were still alive. Broken bits of food lay
scattered about. Half-trampled into the ground the sheriff picked up a
narrow gold chain and locket. This last he opened, and found it to
contain a tiny photograph of a young mother and babe, both laughing
happily. A close search failed to disclose anything else of
They returned to their companions, ate breakfast, and saddled. It
was by this time light enough to be moving. The trail was easy as a
printed map, for the object of the outlaws had been haste rather than
secrecy. The posse covered it swiftly and without hesitation.
"Now, I wonder why this trail don't run straight south instead of
bearing to the left into the hills. Looks like they're going to cache
their stolen gold up in the mountains before they risk crossing into
Sonora. They figure Bucky'll be on the lookout for them," the sheriff
said to his deputy.
"I believe you've guessed it, Val. Stands to reason they'll want to
get rid of the loot soon as they can. Oh, hell!"
Dillon's disgust proved justifiable, for the trail had lost itself
in a mountain stream, up or down which the outlaws must have filed. A
month later and the creek would have been dry. But it was still spring.
The mountain rains had not ceased feeding the brook, and of this the
outlaws had taken advantage to wipe out their trail.
The sheriff looked anxiously at the sky. "It's fixin' to rain, Jim.
Don't that beat the Dutch? If it does, that lets us out plenty."
The men they were after might have gone either upstream or down. It
was impossible to know definitely which, nor was there time to follow
both. Already big drops of rain were splashing down.
"We'll take a chance, and go up. They're probably up in the hills
somewhere right now," said Collins, with characteristic decision.
He had guessed right. A mile farther upstream horses had clambered
to the bank and struck deeper into the hills. But already rain was
falling in a brisk shower. The posse had not gone another quarter of a
mile before the trail was washed out. They were now in a rough and
rocky country getting every minute steeper.
"It's going to be like lookin' for a needle in a haystack, Val,"
Collins nodded. "We ain't got one chance in a hundred, Jim, but I
reckon we'll take that chance."
For three days they blundered around in the hills before they gave
it up. The first night, about dusk, the pursuers were without knowing
it so warm that one of the bandits lay with his rifle on a rock rim not
a stone's throw above them as they wound through a little ravine. But
Collins got no glimpse of the robbers. At last he reluctantly gave the
word to turn back. Probably the men he wanted had already slipped down
to the plains and across to Mexico. If not, they might play hide and
seek with him a month in the recesses of these unknown mountains.
Next morning the sheriff struck a telephone wire, tapped it, got
Sabin on the line, told him of his failure and that he was returning to
Tucson. About the middle of the afternoon the dispirited posse reached
its sidetracked special.
A young man lay stretched full length on the loading board, with a
broad-brimmed felt hat over his eyes. He wore a gray flannel shirt and
corduroy trousers thrust into half-leg laced boots. At the sound of
voices he turned lazily on his side and watched the members of the
posse swing wearily from their saddles. An amiable smile, not wholly
free of friendly derision, lit his good-looking face.
"Oh, you sheriff," he drawled.
Collins swung round, as if he had been pricked with a knife point.
He stared an instant before he let out a shout of welcome and fell upon
"Bucky, by thunder!"
The latter got up nimbly in time to be hospitably thumped and
punched. He was a lithe, slender young fellow, of medium height, and he
carried himself lightly with that manner of sunburned competency given
only by the rough-and-tumble life of the outdoors West.
While the men reloaded the car he and the sheriff stood apart and
talked in low tones. Collins told what he knew, both what he had seen
and inferred, and Bucky heard him to the end.
"Yes, it ce'tainly looks like one of Wolf Leroy's jobs," he agreed.
"Nobody else but Leroy would have had the nerve to follow you right up
to the depot and put the kibosh on sending those wires. He's surely
game from the toes up. Think of him sittin' there reading the newspaper
half an hour after he held up the Limited!"
"Did he do that, Bucky?" The sheriff's tone conceded admiration.
"He did. He's the only train robber ever in the business that could
have done it. Oh, the Wolf's tracks are all over this job."
"No doubt about that. I told you I recognized York Neil by him being
shy that trigger finger I fanned off down at Tombstone. Well, they say
he's one of the Wolf's standbys."
"Yes. I warned him two months ago that if he didn't break away he'd
die sudden. Somehow I couldn't persuade him he was an awful sick man
right then. You saw four of these hold-ups in all, didn't you,
"Four's right. First off Neil, then the fellow I took to be the
Wolf. After he went out a bowlegged fellow came in, and last a slim
little kid that was a sure enough amateur, the way his gun shook."
"Any notion how many more there were?"
"I figured out two more. A big gazabo in a red wig held up Frost,
the engineer. He knew it was a wig because he saw long black hair
peeping out around his neck. Then there must 'a' been another in charge
of blowing up the express car, a Mexican, from the description the
messenger gives of him."
Bucky nodded. "Looks like you got it figured about right, Val. The
Mexican is easy to account for. The Wolf spends about half his time
down in Chihuahua and trains with some high-class greasers down there.
Well, we'll see what we'll see. I'll set my rangers at rounding up the
border towns a bit, and if I don't start anything there I'll hike down
into Mexico and see what's doing. I'll count on you to run the Arizona
end of it while I'm away, Val. The Wolf's outfit is a pretty wild one,
and it won't be long till something begins to howl. We'll keep an eye
on the gambling halls and see who is burning up money. Oh, they'll
leave plenty of smoke behind them," the ranger concluded
"There will be plenty of smoke if we ever do round 'em up, not to
mention a heap of good lead that will be spilled," the sheriff agreed
placidly. "Well, all I got to say is the sooner the quicker. The bunch
borrowed a mighty good .45 of mine I need in my biz. I kinder hanker to
get it back muy pronto."
"Here's hoping," Bucky nodded gayly. "I bet there will be a right
lively wolf hunt. Hello! The car's loaded. All aboard for Tucson."
The special drew out from the side track and gathered speed. Soon
the rhythmic chant of the rails sounded monotonously, and the plains on
either side of the track swam swiftly to the rear.
CHAPTER 4. A BLUFF IS CALLED
Torpid lay Aravaipa in a coma of sunheat. Its adobe-lined streets
basked in the white glare of an Arizona spring at midday. One or two
Papago Indians, with their pottery wares, squatted in the shade of the
buildings, but otherwise the plaza was deserted. Not even a moving dog
or a lounging peon lent life to the drowsy square. Silence profound and
peace eternal seemed to brood over the land.
Such was the impression borne in upon the young man riding townward
on a wiry buckskin that had just topped the rise which commanded the
valley below. The rider presented a striking enough appearance to take
and hold the roving eye of any young woman in search of romance. He was
a slender, lithe young Adonis of medium height. His hair and eyebrows
left one doubtful whether to pronounce them black or brown, but the
eyes called for an immediate verdict of Irish blue. Every inch of him
spoke of competency--promised mastership of any situation likely to
arise. But when the last word is said it was the eyes that dominated
the personality. They could run the whole gamut of emotions, or they
could be impervious as a stone wall. Now they were deep and innocent as
a girl's, now they rollicked with the buoyant youth in them. Comrades
might see them bubbling with fun, and the next moment enemies find them
opague as a leaden sky. Not the least wonder of them was that they
looked out from under long lashes, soft enough for any maiden, at a
world they appraised with the shrewdness of a veteran.
The young man drew rein above the valley, sitting his horse in the
easy, negligent fashion of one that lives in the saddle. A thumb was
hitched carelessly in the front pocket of his chaps, which pocket
served also as a holster for the .45 that protruded.
Even in the moment that he sat there a change came over Aravaipa. As
a summer shower sweeps across a lake so something had ruffled the town
to sudden life. From stores and saloons men dribbled, converging toward
a common centre hurriedly.
"I reckon, Bucky, the band has begun to play," the rider told
himself aloud. "Mebbe we better move on down in time for the
But no half-expected revolver shots shattered the stillness, even
though interest did not abate.
"There's ce'tainly something doing at the Silver Dollar this glad
mo'ning. Chinks, greasers, and several other kinds of citizens driftin'
that way, not to mention white men. I expect there will be room for
you, Bucky, if you hurry before the seats are all sold out."
He cantered down the plaza, swung from the saddle, threw the rein
over the pony's head to the ground, and jingled across the sidewalk
into the gambling house. It was filled with a motley crowd of miners,
vaqueros, tourists, cattlemen, Mexicans, Chinese, and a sample of the
rest of the heterogeneous population of the Southwest. Behind this
assemblage the newcomer tiptoed in vain to catch a glimpse of the cause
of the excitement. Wherefore, he calmly removed an almond-eyed Oriental
from a chair on which he was standing, tipped the ex-Cantonese a half
dollar, and appropriated the point of vantage himself.
There was a cleared space in the corner by the roulette table, and
here, his chair tipped back against the wall and a glass of whisky in
front of him, sat a sufficiently strange specimen of humanity. He was a
man of about fifty years, large boned and gaunt. Dressed in fringed
buckskin trousers and a silver-laced Mexican sombrero, he affected the
long hair, the sweeping mustache, and the ferocious aspect that are the
custom of the pseudo-Westerners who do business in the East with fake
medical remedies. Around his waist was a belt garnished with knives by
the dozen. These were long and pointed, sharpened to a razor edge. One
of them was in his hand poised for a throw at the instant Bucky mounted
the chair and looked over the densely packed mass of heads in front of
The ranger's keen glance swept to the wall and took in the target. A
slim lad of about fifteen stood against it with his arms outstretched.
Above and below each hand and on either side of the swelling throat
knives quivered in the frame wall. There was a flash of steel, and the
seventh knife sank into the wood so close to the crisp curls that a
lock hung by a hair, almost completely severed by the blade. The boy
choked back a scream, his big brown eyes dilating with terror.
The bully sipped at his highball and deliberately selected another
knife. To Bucky's swift inspection it was plain he had drunk too much
and that a very little slip might make an end of the boy. The
fascinated horror in the lad's gaze showed that he realized his
"Now, f'ler cit'zens, I will continue for your 'musement by puttin'
next two knives on right and lef' sides of his cheek. Observe, pleash,
that these will land less than an inch from hish eyes. As the champion
knife thrower in the universe I claim--"
What he claimed his audience had to guess, for at this instant
another person took a part in the act. Bucky had stepped lightly across
the intervening space on the shoulders of the tightly packed crowd and
had dropped as lightly to the ground in front of the astonished
champion of the universe.
"I reckon you've about wore out that target. What's the matter with
trying a brand new one drawled the ranger, his quiet, unwavering eye
fixed on the bloated, mottled face of the imitation "bad man."
The bully, half seas over, leaned forward and gripped his knife. He
was sober enough to catch the jeer running through the other's words
without being sufficiently master of himself to appreciate the menace
that underlay them.
"Wha's that? Say that again!" he burst out, purple to the collar
line. He was not used to having beardless boys with long, soft
eyelashes interfering with his amusements, and a blind rage flooded his
"I allowed that a change of targets would vary the entertainment, if
you haven't any objections, seh," the blue-eyed stranger explained
"Who is this kid?" demanded the bully, with a sweep of his arm
toward the intruder.
Nobody seemed to know, wherefore the ranger himself gave the
"Bucky O'Connor they call me."
A faint murmur of surprise soughed through the crowd, for Bucky
O'Connor of the Arizona Rangers was by way of being a public hero just
now on account of his capture of Fernendez, the stage robber. But the
knife thrower had but lately arrived in the country. The youth carried
with him none of the earmarks of his trade, unless it might be that
quiet, steady gaze that seemed to search the soul. His voice was soft
and drawling, his manner almost apologetic. In the smile that came and
went was something sweet and sunny, in his bearing a gay charm that did
not advertise the recklessness that bubbled from his daredevil spirit.
Surely here was an easy victim upon whom to vent his spleen, thought
the other in his growing passion.
"You want to be my target, do you?" he demanded, tugging ferociously
at his long mustache.
"If you please, seh."
The fellow swore a vile oath. "Just as you say. Line up beside the
With three strides Bucky reached the wall, and turned.
"Let 'er go," his gentle voice murmured.
He was leaning back easily against the wall, his thumb hitched
carelessly in the revolver pocket of his worn leather chaps. He looked
at ease, every jaunty inch of him, but a big bronzed cattleman who had
just pushed his way in noticed that the frosty blue eyes never released
for an instant those of the enemy.
The bully at the table passed an uncertain hand over his face to
clear his blurred vision, poised the cruel blade in his hand, and sent
it flashing forward with incredible swiftness. The steel buried itself
two inches deep in the soft pine beside Bucky's head. So close had it
shaved him that a drop of blood gathered and dropped from his ear to
"Good shot," commented the ranger quietly, and on the instant his
revolver seemed to leap from its holster to his hand. Without raising
or moving his arm in the least, Bucky fired.
Again a murmur eddied through the crowd. The bullet had neatly bored
the bully's ear. He raised his hand in dazed fashion and brought it
away covered with blood. With staring eyes he looked at his moist red
fingers, then at his latest victim, who was proving such an unexpected
The big cattleman, who by this time had pushed a way with his broad
shoulders to the front, observed the two men attentively with a
derisive smile on his frank face. He was seeing a bluff called, and he
"You'll be able to wear earrings, Mr. Champion of the Universe,
after I have ventilated the other," suggested the ranger affably. "Come
But his opponent had had enough, and more than enough. It was one
thing to browbeat a harmless boy, quite another to measure courage with
a young gamecock like this. He had all the advantage of the first move.
He was an expert and could drive his first throw into the youth's
heart. But at bottom he was a coward and lacked the nerve, if not the
inclination, to kill. If he took up that devil-may-care challenge he
must fight it out alone. Moreover, as his furtive glance went round the
ring of faces, he doubted whether a rope and the nearest telegraph pole
might not be his fate if he went the limit. Sourly he accepted defeat,
raging in his craven spirit at the necessity.
"Hell! I don't fight with boys," he snarled,
Bucky moved forward with the curious lightness of a man
spring-footed. His gaze held the other's shifting eyes as he plucked
the knife from his opponent's hand.
"Unbuckle that belt," he ordered.
All said, the eye is a prince of weapons. It is a moral force more
potent than the physical, and by it men may measure strength to a
certainty. So now these two clinched and battled with it till the best
man won. The showman's look gave way before the stark courage of the
other. His was no match for the inscrutable, unwavering eye that
commanded him. His fingers began to twitch, edged slowly toward his
waist. For an instant they fumbled at the buckle of the belt, which
presently fell with a rattle to the floor.
"Now, roll yore trail to the wall. Face this way! Arms out! That's
good! You rest there comfortable while I take these pins down and let
the kid out."
He removed the knives that hemmed in the boy and supported the
half-fainting figure to a chair beside the roulette table. But always
he remained in such a position as to keep the big bully he was baiting
in view. The boy dropped into the chair and covered his face with his
hands, sobbing with deep, broken breaths. The ranger touched
caressingly the crisp, fair hair that covered the head in short
"Don't you worry, bub. Now, don't you. It's all over with now. That
coyote won't pester you any more. Will you, Mr. False Alarm Bad
At the last words he wheeled suddenly to the showman. "You're right
sorry already you got so gay, ain't you? Come! Speak yore little piece,
He waited for an answer, and his gaze held fast to the bloated face
that cringed before his attack.
"What's your name?"
"Jay Hardman," quavered the now thoroughly sobered bad man.
"Dead easy jay, I reckon you mean. Now, chirp, up and tell the boy
how sorry you are you got fresh with your hardware."
"He's my boy. I guess I can do what I like with him," the man burst
out angrily. "I wasn't hurting him any, either. That's part of our
Bucky fondled suggestively the revolver in his hand. A metallic
click came to his victim.
"Don't you shoot at me again," the man broke off to scream.
The Colt clipped the sentence and the man's other ear.
"You can put in your order now for them earrings we were mentionin',
Mr. Deadeasy. You see, I had to puncture this one so folks would know
they were mates."
"I'll put you in the pen for this," the fellow whined, in
"Funny how you will get off the subject. We were discussin' an
apology when you got to wandering in yore haid."
The mottled face showed white in patches. Beads of perspiration
stood out on the forehead of Hardman. "I didn't aim to hurt him any.
I'll be right glad to explain to you "
A bullet plowed a path through the long hair that fell to the
showman's shoulders and snipped a lock from it.
"You don't need to explain a thing to me, seh. I'm sure resting easy
in my mind. But as you were about to re-mark you're fair honin' for a
chance to ask the kid's pardon. Now, ain't I a mind reader, seh?"
A trembling voice stammered huskily an apology.
"Better late than too late. Now, I've a good mind to take a vote
whether I'd better unload the rest of the pills in this old reliable
medicine box at you. Mebbe I ought to pump one into that coyote heart
The fellow went livid. "My God, you wouldn't kill an unarmed man,
For answer the ranger tossed the weapon on the table with a scornful
laugh and strode up to the other. The would-be bad man towered six
inches above him, and weighed half as much again. But O'Connor whirled
him round, propelled him forward to the door, and kicked him into the
"I'd hate to waste a funeral on him," he said, as he sauntered back
to the boy at the table.
The lad was beginning to recover, though his breath still came with
a catch. His rag of a handkerchief was dabbing tears out of his eyes.
O'Connor noticed how soft his hands and how delicate his features.
"This kid ain't got any more business than a rabbit going around in
the show line with that big scoundrel. He's one of these gentle,
rock-me-to-sleep-mother kids that ought to stay in the home nest and
not go buttin' into this hard world. I'll bet a doughnut he's an
Bucky had been brought up in the school of experience, where every
student keeps his own head or goes to the wall. All his short life he
had played a lone hand, as he would have phrased it. He had campaigned
in Cuba as a mere boy. He had ridden the range and held his own on the
hurricane deck of a bucking broncho. From cowpunching he had graduated
into the tough little body of territorial rangers at the head of which
was "Hurry Up" Millikan. This had brought him a large and turbulent
experience in the knack of taking care of himself under all
circumstances. Naturally, a man of this type, born and bred to the code
of the outdoors West, could not fail of a certain contempt for a boy
that broke down and cried when the game was going against him.
But Bucky's contempt was tolerant, after all. He could not deny his
sympathy to a youngster in trouble. Again he touched gently the lad's
crisp curls of burnished gold.
"Brace up, bub. The worst is yet to come," he laughed awkwardly. "I
reckon there's no use spillin' any more emotion over it. He ain't your
dad, is he?"
The lad's big brown eyes looked up into the serene blue ones and
found comfort in their strength. "No, he's my uncle--and my
"This is a free country, son. We don't have masters if we're good
Americans, though we all have to take orders from our superior
officers. You don't need to serve this fellow unless you want to.
That's a cinch."
The boy's troubled eyes were filmed with reminiscent terror. "You
don't know him. He is terrible when he is angry," he murmured.
"I don't think it," returned Bucky contemptuously. "He's the worst
blowhard ever. Say the word and I'll run the piker out of town for
The boy whipped up the sleeve of the fancy Mexican jacket he wore
and showed a long scar on his arm. "He did that one day when he was
angry at me. He pretended to others that it was an accident, but I knew
better. This morning I begged him to let me leave him. He beat me, but
he was still mad; and when he took to drinking I was afraid he would
work himself up to stick me again with one of his knives."
Bucky looked at the scar in the soft, rounded arm and swept the boy
with a sudden puzzled glance that was not suspicion but wonder.
"How long have you been with him, kid?"
"Oh, for years. Ever since I was a little fellow. He took me after
my father and mother died of yellow fever in New Orleans. His wife
hates me too, but they have to have me in the show."
"Then I guess you had better quit their company. What's your
"Frank Hardman. On the show bills I have all sorts of names."
"Well, Frank, how would you like to go to live on a ranch?"
"Where he wouldn't know I was?" whispered the boy eagerly.
"If you like. I know a ranch where you'd be right welcome."
"I would work. I would do anything I could. Really, I would try to
pay my way, and I don't eat much," Frank cried, his eyes as appealing
as a homeless puppy's.
Bucky smiled. "I expect they can stand all you eat without going to
the poorhouse. It's a bargain then. I'll take you out there
"You're so good to me. I never had anybody be so good before." Tears
stood in the big eyes and splashed over.
"Cut out the water works, kid. You want to take a brace and act like
a man," advised his new friend brusquely.
"I know. I know. If you knew what I have done maybe you wouldn't ask
me to go with you. I--I can't tell you anything more than that," the
"Oh, well. What's the diff? You're making a new start to-day. Ain't
"Call me Bucky."
"Yes, sir. Bucky, I mean."
A hand fell on the ranger's shoulder and a voice in his ear. "Young
man, I want you."
The lieutenant whirled like a streak of lightning, finger on trigger
already. "I'll trouble you for yore warrant, seh," he retorted.
The man confronting him was the big cattleman who had entered the
Silver Dollar in time to see O'Connor's victory over the showman. Now
he stood serenely under Bucky's gun and laughed.
"Put up your .45, my friend. It's a peaceable conference I want with
The level eyes of the young man fastened on those of the cattleman,
and, before he spoke again, were satisfied. For both of these men
belonged to the old West whose word is as good as its bond, that West
which will go the limit for a cause once under taken without any
thought of retreat, regardless of the odds or the letter of the law.
Though they had never met before, each knew at a glance the manner of
man the other was.
"All right, seh. If you want me I reckon I'm here large as life,"
the ranger said,
"We'll adjourn to the poker room upstairs then, Mr. O'Connor"
Bucky laid a hand on the shoulder of the boy. "This kid goes with
me. I'm keeping an eye on him for the present."
"My business is private, but I expect that can be arranged. We'll
take the inner room and let him have the outer."
"Good enough. Break trail, seh. Come along, Frank."
Having reached the poker room upstairs, that same private room which
had seen many a big game in its day between the big cattle kings and
mining men of the Southwest, Bucky's host ordered refreshments and then
unfolded his business.
"You don't know me, lieutenant, do you?"
"I haven't that pleasure, seh."
"I am Major Mackenzie's brother."
"Webb Mackenzie, who came from Texas last year and bought the
Rocking Chair Ranch?"
"I'm right glad to meet you, seh."
"And I can say the same."
Webb Mackenzie was so distinctively a product of the West that no
other segment of the globe could have produced him. Big, raw-boned,
tanned to a leathery brick-brown, he was as much of the frontier as the
ten thousand cows he owned that ran the range on half as many hills and
draws. He stood six feet two and tipped the beam at two hundred twelve
pounds, not an ounce of which was superfluous flesh. Temperamentally,
he was frank, imperious, free-hearted, what men call a prince. He wore
a loose tailor-made suit of brown stuff and a broad-brimmed light-gray
Stetson. For the rest, you may see a hundred like him at the yearly
stock convention held in Denver, but you will never meet a man even
among them with a sounder heart or better disposition.
"I've got a story to tell you, Lieutenant O'Connor," he began. "I've
been meaning to see you and tell it ever since you made good in that
Fernendez matter. It wasn't your gameness. Anybody can be game. But it
looked to me like you were using the brains in the top of your head,
and that happens so seldom among law officers I wanted to have a talk
with you. Since yesterday I've been more anxious. For why? I got a
letter from my brother telling me Sheriff Collins showed him a locket
he found at the place of the T. P. Limited hold-up. That locket has in
it a photograph of my wife and little girl. For fifteen years I haven't
seen that picture. When I saw it last 'twas round my little baby's
neck. What's more, I haven't seen her in that time, either."
Mackenzie stopped, swallowed hard, and took a drink of water.
"You haven't seen your little girl in fifteen years," exclaimed
"Haven't seen or heard of her. So far as I know she may not be alive
now. This locket is the first hint I have had since she was taken away,
the very first news of her that has reached me, and I don't know what
to make of that. One of the robbers must have been wearing it, the way
I figure it out. Where did he get it? That's what I want to know."
"Suppose you tell me the story, seh," suggested the ranger
The cattleman offered O'Connor a cigar and lit one himself. For a
minute he puffed slowly at his Havana, leaning far back in his chair
with eyes reminiscent and half shut. Then he shook himself back into
the present and began his tale.
"I don't reckon you ever heard tell of Dave Henderson. It was back
in Texas I knew him, and he's been missing sixteen years come the
eleventh of next August. For fifteen years I haven't mentioned his
name, because Dave did me the dirtiest wrong that one man ever did
another. Back in the old days he and I used to trail together. We was
awful thick, and mostly hunted in couples. We began riding the same
season back on the old Kittredge Ranch, and we went in together for all
the kinds of spreeing that young fellows who are footloose are likely
to do. Fact is, we suited each other from the ground up. We frolicked
round a-plenty, like young colts will, and there was nothing on this
green earth Dave could have asked from me that I wouldn't have done for
him. Nothing except one, I reckon, and Dave never asked that of
Mackenzie puffed at his cigar a silent moment before resuming. "It
happened we both fell in love with the same girl, little Frances Clark,
of the Double T Ranch. Dave was a better looker than me and a more
taking fellow, but somehow Frances favored me from the start. Dave
stayed till the finish, and when he seen he had lost he stood up with
me at the wedding. We had agreed, you see, that whoever won it wasn't
to break up our friendship.
"Well, Frankie and I were married, and in course of time we had two
children. My boy, Tom, is the older. The other was a little girl, named
after her mother." The cattleman waited a moment to steady his voice,
and spoke through teeth set deep in his Havana. "I haven't seen her, as
I said, since she was two years and ten months old--not since the night
Bucky looked up quickly with a question on his lips, but he did not
need to word it.
Mackenzie nodded. "Yes, Dave took her with him when he lit out
across the line for Mexico"
But I'll have to go back to something that happened earlier. About
three months before this time Dave and me were riding through a cut in
the Sierra Diablo Mountains, when we came on a Mexican who had been
wounded by the Apaches. I reckon we had come along just in time to
scare them off before they finished him. We did our best for him, but
he died in about two hours. Before dying, he made us a present of a map
we found in his breast pocket. It showed the location of a very rich
mine he had found, and as he had no near kin he turned it over to us to
do with as we pleased.
"Just then the round-up came on, and we were too busy to pay much
attention to the mine. Each of us would have trusted the other with his
life, or so I thought. But we cut the paper in half, each of us keeping
one part, in order that nobody else could steal the secret from the one
that held the paper. The last time I had been in El Paso I had bought
my little girl a gold chain with two lockets pendent. These lockets
opened by a secret spring, and in one of them I put my half of the map.
It seemed as safe a place as I could devise, for the chain never left
the child's neck, and nobody except her mother, Dave, and I knew that
it was placed there. Dave hid his half under a rock that was known to
both of us. The strange thing about the story is that my false friend,
in the hurry of his flight, forgot to take his section of the map with
him. I found it under the rock next day, so that his vile treachery
availed him nothing from a mercenary point of view."
"Didn't take his half of the map with him. That's right funny,"
Bucky mused aloud.
"We never could understand why he didn't."
"Mebbe if you understood that a heap of things might be clear that
are dark now."
"Mebbe. Knowing Dave Henderson as I did, or, rather, as I thought I
did, such treachery as his was almost unbelievable. He was the
sweetest, sunniest soul I ever knew, and no two brothers could have
been as fond of each other as we seemed to be. But there was no chance
of mistake. He had gone, and taken our child with him, likely in
accordance with a plan of revenge long cherished by him. We never heard
of him or the child again. They disappeared as completely as if the
earth had swallowed them up. Our cook, too, left with him that evil
"Your cook?" It was the second comment Bucky had ventured, and it
came incisively. "What manner of man was he?"
"A huge, lumbering braggart. I could never understand why Dave took
the man with him."
"If he did."
"But I tell you he did. They disappeared the same night, and the
trail showed they went the same road. We followed them for about an
hour next day, but a heavy rain came up and blotted out the
"What was the cook's name?"
"Have you a picture of him, or one of your friend?"
"Back at the ranch I had pictures of Dave, but I burned them after
he left. Yes, I reckon we have one of Anderson, standing in front of
the chuck wagon."
"Send it to me, please."
The ranger asked a few questions that made clearer the situation on
the day of the kidnapping, and some more concerning Anderson, then fell
again into the role of a listener while Mackenzie concluded his
"All these years I have kept my eyes open, confident that at last I
would discover something that would help me to discover the whereabouts
of my child, or, at least, give me a chance to punish the scoundrel who
betrayed my confidence. Yesterday my brother's letter gave the first
clue we have had. I want that lead worked. Ferret this thing out to the
bottom, lieutenant. Get me something definite to go on. That's what I
want you to do. Run the thing to earth, get at the facts, and find my
child for me. I'll give you carte blanche up to a hundred thousand
dollars. All I ask of you is to make good. Find the little girl, or
else bring me face to face with that villain Henderson. Can you do
O'Connor was strangely interested in this story of treachery and
mystery. He rose with shining eyes and held out his hand. "I don't
know, seh. but I'll try damned hard to do three things: find out what
has become of the little girl, of Dave Henderson, and of the scoundrel
who stole your baby because he thought the map was in the pocket."
"You mean that you don't think Dave--"
"That is exactly what I mean. Your cook, Anderson, kidnapped the
child, looks like to me. I saw that locket Collins found. My guess was
that the marks on the end of the chain were deep teeth marks. The man
that stole your baby tried first to cut the chain with his teeth so as
to steal the chain. You see, he could not find the clasp in the dark.
Then the child wakened and began to cry. He clapped a hand over its
mouth and carried the little girl out of the room. Then he heard
somebody moving about, lost his nerve, and jumped on the horse that was
waiting, saddled, at the door. He took the child along simply because
he had to in order to get the chain and the secret he thought it
"Perhaps; but that does not prove it was not Dave."
"It's contributory evidence, seh. Your friend could have slipped the
chain from her neck any day, or he could have opened the locket and
taken the map. No need for him to steal in at night. Do you happen to
remember whether your little girl had any particular aversion to the
The cattleman's forehead frowned in thought. "I do remember, now,
that she was afraid of him. She always ran screaming to her mother when
he tried to be friendly with her. He was a sour sort of fellow."
"That helps out the case a heap, for it shows that he wanted to make
friends with her and she refused. He was thus forced to take the chain
when she was asleep instead of playing with her till he had discovered
the spring and could simply take the map."
"But he didn't know anything about the map. He was not in our
"You and your friend talked it over evenings when he was at the
ranch, and other places, too, I expect."
"Yes, our talk kind of gravitated that way whenever we got
"Well, this fellow overheard you. That's probable, at least."
"But you're ignoring the important fact. Dave disappeared too that
night, with my little girl."
Bucky cut in sharply with a question. "Did he? How do you know he
disappeared WITH her? Why not AFTER? That's the theory my mind is
groping on just now."
"That's a blind trail to me. Why AFTER? And what difference does it
"All the difference in the world. If he left after the cook, you
have been doing him an injustice for fifteen years, seh."
Mackenzie leaned forward, excitement burning in his eyes. "Prove
that, young man, and I'll thank you to the last day of my life. It's
for my wife's sake more than my own I want my little girl back. She
jes' pines for her every day of her life. But for my friend--if you can
give me back the clean memory of Dave you'll have done a big thing for
me, Mr. O'Connor."
"It's only a working theory, but this is what I'm getting at. You
and Henderson had arranged to take an early start on a two days' deer
hunt next mo'ning. That's what you told me, isn't it?"
"We were to start about four. Yes, sir."
"Well, let's suppose a case. Along comes Dave before daybreak, when
the first hooters were beginning to call. Just as he reaches your ranch
he notices a horse slipping away in the darkness. Perhaps he hears the
little girl cry out. Anyhow, instead of turning in at the gate, he
decides to follow. Probably he isn't sure there's anything wrong, but
when he finds out how the horse he's after is burning the wind his
suspicions grow stronger. He settles down to a long chase. In the
darkness, we'll say, he loses his man, but when it gets lighter he
picks up the trail again. The tracks lead south, across the line into
Mexico. Still he keeps plodding on. The man in front sees him behind
and gets scared because he can't shake him off. Very likely he thinks
it is you on his track. Anyhow, while the child is asleep he waits in
ambush, and when Henderson rides up he shoots him down. Then he pushes
on deeper into Chihuahua, and proceeds to lose himself there by
changing his name."
"You think he murdered Dave?" The cattleman got up and began to pace
up and down the floor.
"I think it possible."
Webb Mackenzie's face was pallid, but there was a new light of hope
in it. "I believe you're right. God knows I hope so. That may sound a
horrible thing to say of my best friend, but if it has got to be one or
the other--if it is certain that my old bunkie came to his death foully
in Chihuahua while trying to save my baby, or is alive to-day, a
skulking coward and villain--with all my heart I hope he is dead." He
spoke with a passionate intensity which showed how much he had cared
for his early friend, and how much the latter's apparent treachery had
cut him. "I hope you'll never have a friend go back on you, Mr.
O'Connor, the one friend you would have banked on to a finish. Why,
Dave Henderson saved my life from a bunch of Apaches once when it was
dollars to doughnuts he would lose his own if he tried it. We were
prospecting in the Galiuros together, and one mo'ning when he went down
to the creek to water the hawsses he sighted three of the red devils
edging up toward the cabin. There might have been fifty of them there
for all he knew, and he had a clear run to the plains if he wanted to
back one of the ponies and take it. Most any man would have saved his
own skin, but not Dave. He hoofed it back to the cabin, under fire
every foot of the way, and together we made it so hot for them that
they finally gave up getting us. We were in the Texas Rangers together,
and pulled each other through a lot of close places. And then at the
end-- Why, it hurt me more than it did losing my own little girl."
Bucky nodded. Since he was a man and not a father, he could
understand how the hurt would rankle year after year at the defalcation
of his comrade.
"That's another kink we have got to unravel in this tangle. First
off, there's your little girl, to find if she is still alive. Second,
we must locate Dave Henderson or his grave. Third, there's something
due the scoundrel who is responsible for this. Fourthly, brethren,
there's that map section to find. And lastly, we've got to find just
how this story you've told me got mixed with the story of the holdup of
the Limited. For it ce'tainly looks as if the two hang together. I take
it that the thing to do is to run down the gang that held up the
Limited. Once we do that, we ought to find the key to the mystery of
your little girl's disappearance. Or, at least, there is a chance we
shall. And it's chances we've got to gamble on in this thing."
"Good enough. I like the way you go at this. Already I feel a heap
better than I did."
"If the cards fall our way you're going to get this thing settled
once for all. I can't promise my news will be good news when I get it,
but anything will be better than the uncertainty you've been in, I take
it," said Bucky, rising from his chair.
"You're right there. But, wait a moment. Let's drink to your
"I'm not much of a sport," Bucky smiled. "Fact is, I never drink,
"Of course. I remember, now. You're the good bad man of the West,"
Mackenzie answered amiably. "Well, I drink to you. Here's good hunting,
"I suppose you'll get right at this thing?"
"I've got to take that kid in the next room out to my ranch first. I
won't stand for that knife thrower making a slave of him."
"What's the matter with me taking the boy out to the Rocking Chair
with me? My wife and I will see he's looked after till you return."
"That would be the best plan, if it won't trouble you too much. We'd
better keep his whereabouts quiet till this fellow Hardman is out of
"Yes, though I hardly think he'd be fool enough to show up at the
Rocking Chair. If my vaqueros met up with him prowling around they
might show him as warm a welcome as you did half an hour ago."
"A chapping would sure do him a heap of good," grinned Bucky, and so
dismissed the Champion of the World from his mind.
CHAPTER 5. BUCKY ENTERTAINS
Bucky began at once to tap the underground wires his official
position made accessible to him. These ran over Southern Arizona,
Sonora, and Chihuahua. All the places to which criminals or
frontiersmen with money were wont to resort were reported upon. For the
ranger's experience had taught him that since the men he wanted had
money in their pockets to burn gregarious impulse would drive them from
the far silent places of the desert to the roulette and faro tables
where the wolf and the lamb disport themselves together.
The photograph from Webb Mackenzie of the cook Anderson reached him
at Tucson the third day after his interview with that gentleman, at the
same time that Collins dropped in on him to inquire what progress he
O'Connor told him of the Aravaipa episode, and tossed across the
table to him the photograph he had just received.
"If we could discover the gent that sat for this photo it might help
us. You don't by any chance know him, do you, Val?"
The sheriff shook his head. "Not in my rogues' gallery, Bucky."
The ranger again examined the faded picture. A resemblance in it to
somebody he had met recently haunted vaguely his memory. As he looked
the indefinite suggestion grew sharp and clear. It was a photograph of
the showman who had called himself Hardman. All the trimmings were
lacking, to be sure--the fierce mustache, the long hair, the buckskin
trappings, none of them were here. But beyond a doubt it was the same
shifty-eyed villain. Nor did it shake Bucky's confidence that Mackenzie
had seen him and failed to recognize the man as his old cook. The
fellow was thoroughly disguised, but the camera had happened to catch
that curious furtive glance of his. But for that O'Connor would never
have known the two to be the same.
Bucky was at the telephone half an hour. In the middle of the next
afternoon his reward came in the form of a Western Union billet. It
"Eastern man says you don't want what is salable here."
The lieutenant cut out every other word and garnered the wheat of
"Man you want is here."
The telegram was marked from Epitaph, and for that town the ranger
and the sheriff entrained immediately.
Bucky's eye searched in vain the platform of the Epitaph depot for
Malloy, of the Rangers, whose wire had brought him here. The cause of
the latter's absence was soon made clear to him in a note he found
waiting for him at the hotel:
"The old man has just sent me out on hurry-up orders. Don't know
when I'll get back. Suggest you take in the show at the opera house
to-night to pass the time."
It was the last sentence that caught Bucky's attention. Jim Malloy
had not written it except for a reason. Wherefore the lieutenant
purchased two tickets for the performance far back in the house. From
the local newspaper he gathered that the showman was henceforth to be a
resident of Epitaph. Mr. Jay Hardman, or Signor Raffaello Cavellado, as
he was known the world over by countless thousands whom he had
entertained, had purchased a corral and livery stable at the corner of
Main and Boothill Streets and solicited the patronage of the citizens
of Hualpai County. That was the purport of the announcement which Bucky
ringed with a pencil and handed to his friend.
That evening Signor Raffaello Cavellado made a great hit with his
audience. He swaggered through his act magnificently, and held his
spectators breathless. Bucky took care to see that a post and the
sheriff's big body obscured him from view during the performance.
After it was over O'Connor and the sheriff returned to the hotel,
where also Hardman was for the present staying, and sent word up to his
room that one of the audience who had admired very much the artistic
performance would like the pleasure of drinking a glass of wine with
Signor Cavellado if the latter would favor him with his company in room
seven. The Signor was graciously pleased to accept, and followed his
message of acceptance in person a few minutes later.
Bucky remained quietly in the corner of the room back of the door
until the showman had entered, and while the latter was meeting Collins
he silently locked the door and pocketed the key.
The sheriff acknowledged Hardman's condescension brusquely and
without shaking hands. "Glad to meet you, seh. But you're mistaken in
one thing. I'm not your host. This gentleman behind you is."
The man turned and saw Bucky, who was standing with his back against
the door, a bland smile on his face.
"Yes, seh. I'm your host to-night. Sheriff Collins, hyer, is another
guest. I'm glad to have the pleasure of entertaining you, Signor
Raffaello Cavellado," Bucky assured him, in his slow, gentle drawl,
without reassuring him at all.
For the fellow was plainly disconcerted at recognition of his host.
He turned with a show of firmness to Collins. "If you're a sheriff, I
demand to have that door opened at once," he blustered.
Val put his hands in his pockets and tipped back his chair. "I ain't
sheriff of Hualpai County. My jurisdiction don't extend here," he said
"I'm an unarmed man," pleaded Cavellado.
"Come to think of it, so am I."
"I reckon I'm holding all the aces, Signor Cavellado," explained the
ranger affably. "Or do you prefer in private life to be addressed as
Hardman--or, say, Anderson?"
The showman moistened his lips and offered his tormentor a blanched
"Anderson--a good plain name. I wonder, now, why you changed it?"
Bucky's innocent eyes questioned him blandly as he drew from his pocket
a little box and tossed it on the table. "Open that box for me, Mr.
Anderson. Who knows? It might explain a heap of things to us."
With trembling fingers the big coward fumbled at the string. With
all his fluent will he longed to resist, but the compelling eyes that
met his so steadily were not to be resisted. Slowly he unwrapped the
paper and took the lid from the little box, inside of which was coiled
up a thin gold chain with locket pendant.
"Be seated," ordered Bucky sternly, and after the man had found a
chair the ranger sat down opposite him.
From its holster he drew a revolver and from a pocket his watch. He
laid them on the table side by side and looked across at the
white-lipped trembler whom he faced.
"We had better understand each other, Mr. Anderson. I've come here
to get from you the story of that chain, so far as you know it. If you
don't care to tell it I shall have to mess this floor up with your
remains. Get one proposition into your cocoanut right now. You don't
get out of this room alive with your secret. It's up to you to
Quite without dramatics, as placidly as if he were discussing
railroad rebates, the ranger delivered his ultimatum. It seemed plain
that he considered the issue no responsibility of his.
Anderson stared at him in silent horror, moistening his dry lips
with the tip of his tongue. Once his gaze shifted to the sheriff but
found small comfort there. Collins had picked up a newspaper and was
absorbed in it.
"Are you going to let him kill me?" the man asked him hoarsely.
He looked up from his newspaper in mild protest at such unreason.
"Me? I ain't sittin' in this game. Seems like I mentioned that
"Better not waste your time, signor, on side issues," advised the
man behind the gun. "For I plumb forgot to tell you I'm allowing only
three minutes to begin your story, half of which three has already
slipped away to yesterday's seven thousand years. Without wantin' to
hurry you, I suggest the wisdom of a prompt decision."
"Would he do it?" gasped the victim, with a last appeal to
"Would he what? Oh, shoot you up. Cayn't tell till I see. If he says
he will he's liable to. He always was that haidstrong."
"Yes, it's sure a heap against the law, but then Bucky ain't a
lawyer. I don't reckon he cares sour grapes for the law--as law. It's a
right interesting guess as to whether he will or won't."
"There's a heap of cases the law don't reach prompt. This is one of
them," contributed the ranger cheerfully. He pocketed his watch and
picked up the .45. "Any last message or anything of that sort, signor?
I don't want to be unpleasant about this, you understand."
The whilom bad man's teeth chattered. "I'll tell you anything you
want to know."
"Now, that's right sensible. I hate to come into another man's house
and clutter it up. Reel off your yarn."
"I don't know--what you want."
"I want the whole story of your kidnapping of the Mackenzie child,
how came you to do it, what happened to Dave Henderson, and full
directions where I may locate Frances Mackenzie. Begin at the
beginning, and I'll fire questions at you when you don't make any point
clear to me. Turn loose your yarn at me hot off the bat."
The man told his story sullenly. While he was on the round-up as
cook for the riders he had heard Mackenzie and Henderson discussing
together the story of their adventure with the dying Spaniard and their
hopes of riches from the mine he had left them. From that night he had
set himself to discover the secret of its location, had listened at
windows and at keyholes, and had once intercepted a letter from one to
the other. By chance he had discovered that the baby was carrying the
secret in her locket, and he had set himself to get it from her.
But his chance did not come. He could not make friends with her, and
at last, in despair of finding a better opportunity, he had slipped
into her room one night in the small hours to steal the chain. But it
was wound round her neck in such a way that he could not slip it over
her head. She had awakened while he was fumbling with the clasp and had
begun to cry. Hearing her mother moving about in the next room, he had
hastily carried the child with him, mounted the horse waiting in the
yard, and ridden away.
In the road he became aware, some time later, that he was being
pursued. This gave him a dreadful fright, for, as Bucky had surmised,
he thought his pursuer was Mackenzie. All night he rode southward
wildly, but still his follower kept on his trail till near morning,
when he eluded him. He crossed the border, but late that afternoon got
another fright. For it was plain he was still being followed. In the
endless stretch of rolling hills he twice caught sight of a rider
picking his way toward him. The heart of the guilty man was like water.
He could not face the outraged father, nor was it possible to escape so
dogged a foe by flight. An alternative suggested itself, and he
accepted it with sinking courage. The child was asleep in his arms now,
and he hastily dismounted, picketed his horse, and stole back a quarter
of a mile, so that the neighing of his bronco might not betray his
presence. Then he lay down in a dense mesquit thicket and waited for
his foe. It seemed an eternity till the man appeared at the top of a
rise fifty yards away. Hastily Anderson fired, and again. The man
toppled from his horse, dead before he struck the ground. But when the
cook reached him he was horrified to see that the man he had killed was
a member of the Rurales, or Mexican border police. In his guilty terror
he had shot the wrong man.
He fled at once, pursued by a thousand fears. Late the next night he
reached a Chihuahua village, after having been lost for many hours. The
child he still carried with him, simply because he had not the heart to
leave it to die in the desert alone. A few weeks later he married an
American woman he met in Sonora. They adopted the child, but it died
within the year of fever.
Meanwhile, he was horrified to learn that Dave Henderson, following
hard on his trail, had been found bending over the spot where the dead
soldier lay, had been arrested by a body of Rurales, tried hurriedly,
and convicted to life imprisonment. The evidence had been purely
circumstantial. The bullet found in the dead body of the trooper was
one that might have come from his rifle, the barrel of which was empty
and had been recently fired. For the rest, he was a hated Americano,
and, as a matter of course, guilty. His judges took pains to see that
no message from him reached his friends in the States before he was
buried alive in the prison. In that horrible hole an innocent man had
been confined for fifteen years, unless he had died during that
That, in substance, was the story told by the showman, and Bucky's
incisive questions were unable to shake any portion of it. As to the
missing locket, the man explained that it had been broken off by
accident and lost. When he discovered that only half the secret was
contained on the map section he had returned the paper to the locket
and let the child continue to carry it. Some years after the death of
the child, Frances, his wife had lost the locket with the map.
"And this chain and locket--when did you lose them?" demanded Bucky
"It must have been about two months ago, down at Nogales, that I
sold it to a fellow. I was playing faro and losing. He gave me five
dollars for it."
And to that he stuck stoutly, nor could he be shaken from it. Both
O'Connor and the sheriff believed he was lying, for they were convinced
that he was the bandit with the red wig who had covered the engineer
while his companions robbed the train. But of this they had no proof.
Nor did Bucky even mention his suspicion to Hardman, for it was his
intention to turn him loose and have him watched. Thus, perhaps, he
would be caught corresponding or fraternizing with some of the other
outlaws. Collins left the room before the showman, and when the latter
came from the hotel he followed him into the night.
Meanwhile, Bucky went out and tapped another of his underground
wires. This ran directly to the Mexican consul at Tucson, to whom Bucky
had once done a favor of some importance, and from him to Sonora and
Chihuahua. It led to musty old official files, to records already
yellowed with age, to court reports and prison registers. In the end it
flashed back to Bucky great news. Dave Henderson, arrested for the
murder of the Rurales policeman, was still serving time in a Mexican
prison for another man's crime. There in Chihuahua for fifteen years he
had been lost to the world in that underground hole, blotted out from
life so effectually that few now remembered there had been such a
person. It was horrible, unthinkable, but none the less true.
CHAPTER 6. BUCKY MAKES A DISCOVERY
For a week Bucky had been in the little border town of Noches,
called there by threats of a race war between the whites and the
Mexicans. Having put the quietus on this, he was returning to Epitaph
by way of the Huachuca Mountains. There are still places in Arizona
where rapid transit can be achieved more expeditiously on the back of a
bronco than by means of the railroad, even when the latter is
available. So now Bucky was taking a short cut across country instead
of making the two train changes, with the consequent inevitable delays
that would have been necessary to travel by rail.
He traveled at night and in the early morning, to avoid the heat of
the midday sun, and it was in the evening of the second and last day
that the skirts of happy chance led him to an adventure that was to
affect his whole future life. He knew a waterhole on the Del Oro, where
cows were wont to frequent even in the summer drought, and toward this
he was making in the fag-end of the sultry day. While still some
hundred yards distant he observed a spiral of smoke rising from a
camp-fire at the spring, and he at once made a more circumspect
approach. For it might be any one of a score of border ruffians who
owed him a grudge and would be glad to pay it in the silent desert that
tells no tales and betrays no secrets to the inquisitive.
He flung the bridle-rein over his pony's neck and crept forward on
foot, warily and noiselessly. While still some little way from the
water-hole he was arrested by a sound that startled him. He could make
out a raucous voice in anger and a pianissimo accompaniment of womanish
"You're mine to do with as I like. I'm your uncle. I've raised you
from a kid, and, by the great mogul! you can't sneak off with the first
good-for nothing scoundrel that makes eyes at you. Thought you had
slipped away from me, you white-faced, sniveling little idiot, but I'll
show you who is master."
The lash of a whip rose and fell twice on quivering flesh before
Bucky leaped into the fireglow and wrested the riding-whip from the
hands of the angry man who was plying it.
"Dare to touch a woman, would you?" cried the ranger, swinging the
whip vigorously across the broad shoulders of the man. "Take that--and
that--and that, you brute!"
But when Bucky had finished with the fellow and flung him a limp,
writhing huddle of welts to the ground, three surprises awaited him.
The first was that it was not a woman he had rescued at all, but a boy,
and, as the flickering firelight played on his face, the ranger came to
an unexpected recognition. The slim lad facing him was no other than
Frank Hardman, whom he had left a few days before at the Rocking Chair
under the care of motherly Mrs. Mackenzie. The young man's eyes went
back with instant suspicion to the fellow he had just punished, and his
suspicions were verified when the leaping light revealed the face of
the showman Anderson.
Bucky laughed. "I ce'tainly seem to be interfering in your affairs a
good deal, Mr. Anderson. You may take my word for it that you was the
last person in the world I expected to meet here, unless it might be
this boy. I left him safe at a ranch fifty miles from here, and I left
you a staid business man of Epitaph. But it seems neither of you stayed
hitched. Why for this yearning to travel?"
"He found me where I was staying. I was out riding alone on an
errand for Mrs. Mackenzie when he met me and made me go with him. He
has arranged to have me meet his wife in Mexico. The show wouldn't draw
well without me. You know I do legerdemain," Frank explained, in his
low, sweet voice.
"So you had plans of your own, Mr. Anderson. Now, that was right
ambitious of you. But I reckon I'll have to interfere with them again.
Go through him, kid, and relieve him of any guns he happens to be
garnished with. Might as well help yourself to his knives, too. He's so
fond of letting them fly around promiscuous he might hurt himself.
Now we can sit down and have a friendly talk. Where did you say you
was intending to spend the next few weeks before I interrupted so
unthinking and disarranged your plans? I'm talking to you, Mr.
"I was heading for Sonora," the man whined.
What Bucky thought was: "Right strange direction to be taking for
Sonora. I'll bet my pile you were going up into the hills to meet some
of Wolf Leroy's gang. But why you were taking the kid along beats me,
unless it was just cussedness." What he said was:
"Oh, you'll like Epitaph a heap better. I allow you ought to stay at
that old town. It's a real interesting place. Finished in the adobe
style and that sort of thing. The jail's real comfy, too."
"Would you like something to eat, sir?" presently asked Frank
"Would I? Why, I'm hungry enough to eat a leather mail-sack. Trot on
your grub, young man, and watch my smoke."
Bucky did ample justice to the sandwiches and lemonade the lad set
in front of him, but he ate with a wary eye on a possible insurrection
on the part of his prisoner.
"I'm a new man," he announced briskly, when he had finished. "That
veal loaf sandwich went sure to the right spot. If you had been a young
lady instead of a boy you couldn't fix things up more appetizing."
The lad's face flushed with embarrassment, apparently at the
ranger's compliment, and the latter, noticed how delicate the small
face was. It made an instinctive, wistful appeal for protection, and
Bucky felt an odd little stirring at his tender Irish heart.
"Might think I was the kid's father to see what an interest I take
in him," the young man told himself reprovingly. "It's all tommyrot,
too. A boy had ought to have more grit. I expect he needed that licking
all right I saved him from."
When Bucky had eaten, the camp things were repacked for travel.
Epitaph was only twenty-three miles away, and the ranger preferred to
ride in the cool of the night rather than sit up till daybreak with his
prisoner. Besides, he could then catch the morning train from that town
and save almost a day.
So hour after hour they plodded on, the prisoner in front, O'Connor
in the center, and Frank Hardman bringing up the rear. It was an
Arizona night of countless stars, with that peculiar soft, velvety
atmosphere that belongs to no other land or time. In the distance the
jagged, violet line of mountains rose in silhouette against a sky not
many shades lighter, while nearer the cool moonlight flooded a land
grown magical under its divine touch.
The ranger rode with a limp ease that made for rest, his body
shifting now and again in the saddle, so as to change the weight and
It must have been well past midnight that he caught the long breath
of a sigh behind him. The trail had broadened at that point, for they
were now down in the rolling plain, so that two could ride abreast in
the road. Bucky fell back and put a sympathetic hand on the shoulder of
"Plumb fagged out, kid?" he asked.
"I am tired. Is it far?"
"About four miles. Stick it out, and we'll be there in no time."
"Don't call me sir. Call me Bucky."
Bucky laughed. "You're ce'tainly the queerest kid I've run up
against. I guess you didn't scramble up in this rough-and-tumble West
like I did. You're too soft for this country." He let his firm brown
fingers travel over the lad's curly hair and down the smooth cheek.
"There it is again. Shrinking away as if I was going to hurt you. I'll
bet a biscuit you never licked the stuffing out of another fellow in
"No, sir," murmured the youth, and Bucky almost thought he detected
a little, chuckling laugh.
"Well, you ought to be ashamed of it. When come back from old Mexico
I'm going to teach you how to put up your dukes. You're going to ride
the range with me, son, and learn to stick to your saddle when the
bronc and you disagrees. Oh, I'll bet all you need is training. I'll
make a man out of you yet," the ranger assured his charge cheerfully.
"Will you?" came the innocent reply, but Bucky for a moment had the
sense of being laughed at.
"Yes, I 'will you,' sissy," he retorted, without the least
exasperation. "Don't think you know it all. Right now you're riding
like a wooden man. You want to take it easy in the saddle. There's
about a dozen different positions you can take to rest yourself." And
Bucky put him through a course of sprouts. "Don't sit there laughing at
folks that knows a heap more than you ever will get in your noodle, and
perhaps you won't be so done up at the end of a little jaunt like
this," he concluded. And to his conclusion he presently added a
postscript: "Why, I know kids your age can ride day and night for a
week on the round-up without being all in. How old are you, son?"
"That's a lie," retorted the ranger, with immediate frankness.
"You're not a day over fifteen, I'll bet."
"I meant to say fifteen," meekly corrected the youth.
"That's another of them. You meant to say eighteen, but you found I
wouldn't swallow it. Now, Master Frank, you want to learn one thing
prompt if you and I are to travel together. I can't stand a liar. You
tell the truth, or I'll give you the best licking you ever had in your
"You're as bad a bully as he is," the boy burst out, flushing
"Oh, no, I'm not," came the ranger's prompt unmoved answer. "But
just because you're such a weak little kid that I could break you in
two isn't any reason why I should put up with any foolishness from you.
I mean to see that you act proper, the way an honest kid ought to do.
"I'd like to know who made you my master?" demanded the boy
"You've ce'tainly been good and spoiled, but you needn't ride your
high hawss with me. Here's the long and the short of it. To tell lies
ain't square. If I ask you anything you don't want to answer tell me to
go to hell, but don't lie to me. If you do I'll punish you the same as
if you were my brother, so long as you trail with me. If you don't like
it, cut loose and hit the pike for yourself."
"I've a good mind to go."
Bucky waved a hand easily into space. "That's all right, too, son.
There's a heap of directions you can hit from here. Take any one you
like. But if I was as beat as you are, I think I'd keep on the Epitaph
road." He laughed his warm, friendly laugh, before the geniality of
which discord seemed to melt, and again his arm went round the other's
weary shoulders with a caressing gesture that was infinitely
The boy laughed tremulously. "You're awfully good to me. I know I'm
a cry-baby, sissy boy, but if you'll be patient with me I'll try to be
It certainly was strange the way Bucky's pulse quickened and his
blood tingled when he touched the little fellow and heard that velvet
voice's soft murmur. Yes, it surely was strange, but perhaps the young
Irishman's explanation was not the correct one, after all. The cause he
offered to himself for this odd joy and tender excitement was perfectly
"I'm surely plumb locoed, or else gone soft in the haid," he told
But the reason for those queer little electric shocks that pulsed
through him was probably a more elemental and primeval one than even
Arrived at Epitaph, Bucky turned loose his prisoner with a caution
and made his preparations to leave immediately for Chihuahua. Collins
had returned to Tucson, but was in touch with the situation and ready
to set out for any point where he was needed.
Bucky, having packed, was confronted with a difficulty. He looked at
it, and voiced his perplexity.
"Now, what am I going to do with you, Curly Haid? I expect I had
better ship you back to the Rocking Chair."
"I don't want to go back there. He'll come out again and find me
after you leave."
"Where do you want to go, then? If you were a girl I could put you
in the convent school here," he reflected aloud.
Again that swift, deep blush irradiated the youth's cheeks. "Why
can't I go with you?" he asked shyly.
The ranger laughed. "Mebbe you think I'm going on a picnic. Why, I'm
starting out to knock the chip off Old Man Trouble's shoulder. Like as
not some greaser will collect Mr. Bucky's scalp down in manyana land.
No, sir, this doesn't threaten to be a Y. P. S. C. E. excursion."
"If it is so dangerous as that, you will need help. I'm awful good
at making up, and I can speak Spanish like a native."
"Sho! You don't want to go running your neck into a noose. It's a
jail-break I'm planning, son. There may be guns a-popping before we get
back to God's country--if we ever do. Add to that, trouble and then
some, for there's a revolution scheduled for old Chihuahua just now, as
your uncle happens to know from reliable information."
"Two can always work better than one. Try me, Bucky," pleaded the
boy, the last word slipping out with a trailing upward inflection that
"Sure you won't faint if we get in a tight pinch, Curly?" scoffed
O'Connor, even though in his mind he was debating a surrender. For he
was extraordinarily taken with the lad, and his judgment justified what
the boy had said.
"I shall not be afraid if you are with me."
"But I may not be with you. That's the trouble. Supposing I should
be caught, what would you do?"
"Follow any orders you had given me before that time. If you had not
given any, I would use my best judgment."
"I'll give them now," smiled Bucky. "If I'm lagged, make straight
for Arizona and tell Webb Mackenzie or Val Collins."
"Then you will take me?" cried the boy eagerly.
"Only on condition that you obey orders explicitly. I'm running this
"I wouldn't think of disobeying."
"And I don't want you to tell me any lies."
Bucky's big brown fist caught the little one and squeezed it. "Then
it's a deal, kid. I only hope I'm doing right to take you."
"Of course you are. Haven't you promised to make a man of me?" And
again Bucky caught that note of stifled laughter in the voice, though
the big brown eyes met his quite seriously.
They took the train that night for El Paso, Bucky in the lower berth
and his friend in the upper of section six of one of the Limited's
Pullman cars. The ranger was awake and up with the day. For a couple of
hours he sat in the smoking section and discussed politics with a
Chicago drummer. He knew that Frank was very tired, and he let him
sleep till the diner was taken on at Lordsburg. Then he excused himself
to the traveling man.
"I reckon I better go and wake up my pardner. I see the chuck-wagon
is toddling along behind us."
Bucky drew aside the curtains and shook the boy gently by the
shoulder. Frank's eyes opened and looked at the ranger with that lack
of comprehension peculiar to one roused suddenly from deep sleep.
"Time to get up, Curly. The nigger just gave the first call for the
An understanding of the situation flamed over the boy's face. He
snatched the curtains from the Arizonian and gathered them tightly
together. "I'll thank you not to be so familiar," he said shortly from
behind the closed curtains.
"I beg your pahdon, your royal highness. I should have had myself
announced and craved an audience, I reckon," was Bucky's ironic retort;
and swiftly on the heels of it he added. "You make me tired, kid."
O'Connor was destined to be "made tired" a good many times in the
course of the next few days. In all the little personal intimacies
Frank possessed a delicate fastidiousness outside the experience of the
ranger. He was a scrupulously clean man himself, and rather nice as to
his personal habits, but it did not throw him into a flame of
embarrassment to brush his teeth before his fellow passengers. Nor did
it send him into a fit if a friend happened to drop into his room while
he was finishing his dressing. Bucky agreed with himself that this
excess of shyness was foolishness, and that to indulge the boy was
merely to lay up future trouble for him. A dozen times he was on the
point of speaking his mind on the subject, but some unusual quality of
innocence in the lad tied his tongue.
"Blame it all, I'm getting to be a regular old granny. What Master
Frank needs is a first-class dressing-down, and here the little cuss
has got me bluffed to a fare-you-well so that I'm mum as a hooter on
the nest," he admitted to himself ruefully. "Just when something comes
up that needs a good round damn I catch that big brown Sunday school
eye of his, and it's Bucky back to Webster's unabridged. I've got to
quit trailing with him, or I'll be joining the church first thing I
know. He makes me feel like I want to be good, confound the little
Notwithstanding the ranger's occasional moments of exasperation, the
two got along swimmingly. Each of them found a continued pleasure in
delving into the other's unexplored mental recesses. They drifted into
one of those quick, spontaneous likings that are rare between man and
man. Some subtle quality of affection bubbled up like a spring in the
hearts of each for the other. Young Hardman could perhaps have
explained what lay at the roots of it, but O'Connor admitted that he
was "buffaloed" when he attempted an analysis of his unusual
From El Paso a leisurely run on the Mexican Central Pacific took
them to Chihuahua, a quaint old city something about the size of El
Paso. Both Bucky and his friend were familiar with the manners of the
country, so that they felt at home among the narrow adobe streets, the
lounging, good-natured peons, and the imitation Moorish architecture.
They found rooms at a quiet, inconspicuous hotel, and began making
their plans for an immediate departure in the event that they succeeded
in their object.
At a distance it had seemed an easy thing to plan the escape of
David Henderson and to accomplish it by craft, but a sight of the heavy
stone walls that encircled the prison and of the numerous armed guards
who paced to and fro on the walls, put a more chilling aspect on their
"It isn't a very gay outlook," Bucky admitted cheerfully to his
companion, "but I expect we can pull it off somehow. If these Mexican
officials weren't slower than molasses in January it might have been
better to wait and have him released by process of law on account of
Hardman's confession. But it would take them two or three years to come
to a decision. They sure do hate to turn loose a gringo when they have
got the hog-tie on him. Like as not they would decide against him at
the last, then. Course I've got the law machinery grinding, too, but
I'm not banking on it real heavy. We'll get him out first any old way,
then get the government to O. K. the thing."
"How were you thinking of proceeding?"
"I expect it's time to let you in on the ground floor, son. I reckon
you happen to know that down in these Spanish countries there's usually
a revolution hatching. There s two parties among the aristocrats, those
for the government and those ferninst. The 'ins' stand pat, but the
'outs' have always got a revolution up their sleeves. Now, there's
mostly a white man mixed up in the affair. They have to have him to run
it and to shoot afterward when the government wins. You see, somebody
has to be shot, and it's always so much to the good if they can line up
gringoes instead of natives. Nine times out of ten it's an
Irish-American lad that is engineering the scheme. This time it happens
to be Mickey O'Halloran, an old friend of mine. I'm going to put it up
to Mick to find a way."
"But it isn't any affair of his. He won't do it, will he?"
"Oh, I thought I told you he was Irish."
"And spoiling for trouble, of course. Is it likely he could keep his
fist out of the hive when there's such a gem of a chance to get
It had been Frank's suggestion that they choose rooms at a hotel
which open into each other and also connect with an adjoining pair. The
reason for this had not at first been apparent to the ranger, but as
soon as they were alone Frank explained.
"It is very likely that we shall be under surveillance after a day
or two, especially if we are seen around the prison a good deal. Well,
we'll slip out the back way to-night, disguised in some other rig, come
boldly in by the front door, and rent the rooms next ours. Then we
shall be able to go and come, either as ourselves or as our neighbors.
It will give us a great deal more liberty."
"Unless we should get caught. Then we would have a great deal less.
What's your notion of a rig-up to disguise us, kid?"
"We might have several, in case of emergencies. For one thing, we
could easily be street showmen. You can do fancy shooting and I can do
sleight-of-hand tricks or tell fortunes."
"You would be a gipsy lad?"
The youngster blushed. "A gipsy girl, and you might be my
"I'm no play actor, even if you are," said Bucky. "I don't want to
be your husband, thank you."
"All you would have to do is to be sullen and rough. It is easy
"And you think you could pass for a girl? You're slim and soft
enough, but I'll bet you would give it away inside of an hour."
The boy laughed, and shot a swift glance at O'Connor under his long
lashes. "I appeared as a girl in one of the acts of the show for years.
Nobody ever suspected that I wasn't."
"We might try it, but we have no clothes for the part."
"Leave that to me. I'll buy some to-day while you are looking the
ground over for our first assault an the impregnable fortress."
"I don't know. It seems to me pretty risky. But you might buy the
things, and we'll see how you look in them. Better not get all the
things at the same store. Sort of scatter your purchases around."
They separated at the door of the hotel, Frank to choose the
materials he needed, and O'Connor to look up O'Halloran and get a
permit to visit the prison from the proper authorities. When the latter
returned triumphantly with his permit he found the boy busy with a
needle and thread and surrounded by a litter of dress-making
"I'm altering this to fit me and fixing it up," he explained.
"Holy smoke! Who taught you to sew?" asked Bucky, in surprise.
"My aunt, Mrs. Hardman. I used to do all the plain sewing on my
costumes. Did you see your friend and get your permit?"
"You bet I did, and didn't. Mickey was out, but I left him a note.
The other thing I pulled off all right. I'm to be allowed to visit the
prison and make a careful inspection of it at my leisure There's
nothing like a pull, son."
"Does the permit say you are to be allowed to steal any one of the
prisoners you take a fancy to? asked Frank, with a smile.
"No, it forgot to say that. When do you expect to have that toggery
"A good deal of it is already made, as you see. I'm just making a
few changes. Do you want to try on your suit?"
"Is THIS mine?" asked the ranger, picking up with smiling contempt
the rather gaudy blouse that lay on a chair.
"Yes, sir, that is yours. Go and put it on and we'll see how it
Bucky returned a few minutes later in his gipsy uniform, with a
"I'll have to stain your face. Then you'll do very well," said
Frank, patting and pulling at the clothes here and there. "It's a good
fit, if I do say it that chose it. The first thing you want to do when
you get out in it is to roll in the dust and get it soiled. No
respectable gipsy wears new clothes. Better have a tear or two in it,
"You ce'tainly should have been a girl, the way you take to clothes,
"Making up was my business for a good many years, you know,"
returned the lad quietly. "If you'll step into the other room for about
fifteen minutes I'll show you how well I can do it."
It was a long half-hour later that Bucky thumped on the door between
the rooms. "Pretty nearly ready, kid? Seems to me it is taking you a
thundering long time to get that outfit on."
"How long do you think it ought to take a lady to dress?"
"Ten minutes is long enough, and fifteen, say, if she is going to a
dance. You've been thirty-five by my Waterbury."
"It's plain you never were married, Mr. Innocent. Why, a girl can't
fix her hair in less than half an hour."
"Well, you got a wig there, ain't you? It doesn't take but about
five seconds to stick that on. Hurry up, gringo! I'm clean through this
"Read the advertisements," came saucily through the door.
"I've read the durned things twice."
"Learn them by heart," the sweet voice advised.
"Oh, you go to Halifax!"
Nevertheless, Mr. Bucky had to wait his comrade's pleasure. But when
he got a vision of the result, it was so little what he had expected
that it left him staring in amazement, his jaw fallen and his eyes
The vision swept him a low bow. "How do you like Bonita?" it
Bucky's eyes circled the room, to make sure that the boy was not
hidden somewhere, and came back to rest on his surprise with a look
that was almost consternation. Was this vivid, dazzling creature the
boy he had been patronizing, lecturing, promising to thrash any time
during the past four days? The thing was unbelievable, not yet to be
credited by his jarred brain. How incredibly blind he had been! What an
idiot of sorts! Why, the marks of sex sat on her beyond any possibility
of doubt. Every line of the slim, lissom figure, every curve of the
soft, undulating body, the sweep of rounded arm, of tapering
waist-line, of well-turned ankle, contributed evidence of what it were
folly to ask further proof. How could he have ever seen those lovely,
soft-lashed eyes and the delicate little hands without conviction
coming home to him? And how could he have heard the low murmur of her
voice, the catch of her sobs, without knowing that they were a denial
She was dressed like a Spanish dancing girl, in short kilts, red
sash, and jaunty little cap placed sidewise on her head. She wore a wig
of black hair, and her face was stained to a dusky, gipsy hue. Over her
thumb hung castanets and in her hand was a tambourine. Roguishly she
began to sway into a slow, rhythmic dance, beating time with her
instruments as she moved. Gradually the speed quickened to a faster
time. She swung gracefully to and fro with all the lithe agility of the
race she personified. No part could have been better conceived or
executed. Even physically she displayed the large, brilliant eyes, the
ringleted, coal-black hair, the tawny skin, and the flashing smile that
showed small teeth of dazzling ivory, characteristic of the Romanies he
had met. It was a daring part to play, but the young man watching
realized that she had the free grace to carry it out successfully. She
danced the fandango to a finish, swept him another low bow, and
presented laughingly to him the tambourine for his donation. Then,
suddenly flinging aside the instrument, she curtsied and caught at his
"Will the senor have his fortune told?"
Bucky drew a handful of change from his pocket and selected a gold
eagle. "I suppose I must cross your palm with gold," he said, even
while his subconscious mind was running on the new complication
presented to him by this discovery.
He was very clear about one thing. He must not let her know that he
knew her for a girl. To him she must still be a boy, or their relation
would become impossible. She had trusted in her power to keep her
secret from him. On no other terms would she have come with him; of so
much he was sure, even while his mind groped for a sufficient reason to
account for an impulse that might have impelled her. If she found out
that he knew, the knowledge would certainly drive her at once from him.
For he knew that not the least charm of the extraordinary fascination
she had for him lay in her sweet innocence of heart, a fresh innocence
that consisted with this gay Romany abandon, and even with a mental
experience of the sordid, seamy side of life as comprehensive as that
of many a woman twice her age. She had been defrauded out of her
childish inheritance of innocence, but, somehow, even in her foul
environment the seeds of a rare personal purity had persistently sprung
up and flourished. Some flowers are of such native freshness that no
nauseous surroundings can kill their fragrance. And this was one of
Meanwhile, her voice ran on with the patter of her craft. There was
the usual dark woman to be circumvented and the light one to be
rewarded. Jealousies and rivalries played their part in the nonsense
she glibly recited, and somewhere in the future lay, of course, great
riches and happiness for him.
With a queer little tug at his heart he watched the dainty finger
that ran so lightly over his open palm, watched, too, the bent head so
gracefully fine of outline and the face so mobile of expression when
the deep eyes lifted to his in question of the correctness of her
reading. He would miss the little partner that had wound himself so
tightly round his heart. He wondered if he would find compensating joy
in this exquisite creature whom a few moments had taken worlds distant
Suddenly tiring of her diversion, she dropped his hand. "You don't
say I do it well," she charged, aware suspiciously, at last, of his
"You do it very well indeed. I didn't think you had it in you, kid.
What's worrying me is that I can never live up to such a sure enough
gipsy as you."
"All you have to do is to look sour and frown if anybody gets too
familiar with me. You can do that, can't you?"
"You bet I can," he answered promptly, with unnecessary
"And look handsome," she teased.
"Oh, that will be easy for me--since you are going to make me up. As
a simple child of nature I'm no ornament to the scenery, but art's a
heap improving sometimes."
She thought, but did not say, that art would go a long way before it
could show anything more pleasing than this rider of the plains. It was
not alone his face, with the likable blue eyes that could say so many
things in a minute, but the gallant ease of his bearing. Such a springy
lightness, such sinewy grace of undulating muscle, were rare even on
the frontier. She had once heard Webb Mackenzie say of him that he
could whip his weight in wildcats, and it was easy of belief after
seeing how surely he was master of the dynamic power in him. It is the
emergency that sifts men, and she had seen him rise to several with a
readiness that showed the stuff in him.
That evening they slipped out unobserved in the dusk, and a few
minutes later a young gipsy and his bride presented themselves at the
inn to be put up. The scowling young Romany was particular, considering
that he spent most nights in the open, with a sky for a roof. So the
master of the inn thought when he rejected on one pretense or another
the first two rooms that were shown him. He wanted two rooms, and they
must connect. Had the innkeeper such apartments? The innkeeper had, but
he would very much like to see the price in advance if he was going to
turn over to guests of such light baggage the best accommodations in
the house. This being satisfactorily arranged, the young gipsies were
left to themselves in the room they had rented.
The first thing that the man did when they were alone was to roll a
cigarette, which operation he finished deftly with one hand, while the
other swept a match in a circular motion along his trousers leg. In
very fair English the Spanish gipsy said: "You ce'tainly ought to learn
to smoke, kid. Honest, it's more comfort than a wife."
"How do you know, since you are not married?" she asked archly.
"I been noticing some of my poor unfortunate friends," he
CHAPTER 7. IN THE LAND OF REVOLUTIONS
The knock that sounded on the door was neither gentle nor
apologetic. It sounded as if somebody had flung a baseball bat at
O'Connor smiled, remembering that soft tap of yore. "I reckon--" he
was beginning, when the door opened to admit a visitor.
This proved to be a huge, red-haired Irishman, with a face that
served just now merely as a setting for an irresistible smile. The
owner of the flaming head looked round in surprise on the pair of
Romanies and began an immediate apology to which a sudden blush served
"Beg pardon. I didn't know The damned dago told me " He stopped in
confusion, with a scrape and a bow to the lady.
"Sir, I demand an explanation of this most unwarrantable intrusion,"
spoke the ranger haughtily, in his best Spanish.
A patter of soft foreign vowels flowed from the stranger's
"You durned old hawss-stealing greaser, cayn't you talk English?"
drawled the gipsy, with a grin.
The other's mouth fell open with astonishment He stared at the slim,
dusky young Spaniard for an instant before he fell upon him and began
to pound his body with jovial fists.
"You would, would you, you old pie-eating fraud! Try to fool your
Uncle Mick and make him think you a greaser, would you? I'll learn yez
to play horse with a fullgrown, able-bodied white man." He punctuated
his points with short-arm jolts that Bucky laughingly parried.
"Before ladies, Mick! Haven't you forgot your manners,
Swiftly Mr. O'Halloran came to flushed rigidity. "Madam, I must
still be apologizing. The surprise of meeting me friend went to me
head, I shouldn't wonder."
Bucky doubled up with apparent mirth. "Get into the other room,
Curly, and get your other togs on," he ordered. "Can't you see that
Mick is going to fall in love with you if he sees you a minute longer,
you young rascal? Hike!"
"Don't you talk that way to a lady, Bucky," warned O'Halloran, again
blushing vividly, after she had disappeared into the next room. "And I
want to let yez have it right off the bat that if you've been leading
that little Mexican senorita into trouble you've got a quarrel on with
"Keep your shirt on, old fire-eater. Who told you I was wronging her
"Are you married to her?"
"You bet I ain't. You see, Mick, that handsome lady you're going to
lick the stuffing out of me about is only a plumb ornery sassy young
boy, after all."
"No!" denied Mick, his eyes two excited interrogation-points. "You
can't stuff me with any such fairy-tale, me lad."
"All right. Wait and see," suggested the ranger easily. "Have a
smoke while you're falling out of love."
"You young limb, I want you to tell me all about it this very
minute, before I punch holes in yez."
Bucky lit his cigar, leaned back, and began to tell the story of
Frank Hardman and the knife-thrower. Only one thing he omitted to tell,
and that was the conviction that had come home to him a few moments ago
that his little comrade was no boy, but a woman. O'Halloran was a
chivalrous Irishman, a daredevil of an adventurer, with a pure love of
freedom that might very likely in the end bring him to face a row of
loaded carbines with his back to a wall, but Bucky had his reticencies
that even loyal friendship could not break down. This girl's secret he
meant to guard until such time as she chose of her own free will to
Frank returned just as he finished the tale of the knife episode,
and Mick's frank open eyes accused him of idiocy for ever having
supposed that this lad was a woman. Why, he was a little fellow not
over fifteen--not a day past fifteen, he would swear to that. He was,
to be sure, a slender, girlish young fellow, a good deal of a sissy by
the look of him, but none the less a sure enough boy. Convinced of
this, the big Irishman dismissed him promptly from his thoughts and
devoted himself to Bucky.
"And what are yez doing down in greaser land? Thought you was
rustling cows for a living somewheres in sunburnt Arizona," he grinned
"Me? Oh, I came down on business. We'll talk about that presently.
How's your one-hawss revolution getting along, Reddy? I hope it's right
peart and healthy."
O'Halloran's eyes flashed a warning, with the slightest nod in the
world toward the boy.
"Don't worry about him. He's straight as a string and knows how to
keep his mouth shut. You can tell him anything you would me." He turned
to the boy sitting quietly in an inconspicuous corner. "Mum's the word,
Frank. You understand that, of course?"
The boy nodded. "I'll go into the next room, if you like."
"It isn't necessary. Fire ahead, Mike."
The latter got up, tiptoed to each door in turn, flung it suddenly
open to see that nobody was spying behind it, and then turned the lock.
"I have use for me head for another year or two, and it's just as well
to see that nobody is spying. You understand, Bucky, that I'm risking
me life in telling you what I'm going to. If you have any doubts about
this lad--" He stopped, keen eyes fixed on Frank.
"He's as safe as I am, Mike. Is it likely I would take any risks
about a thing of that sort with my old bunkie's tough neck inviting the
hangman?" asked O'Connor quietly.
"Good enough. The kid looks stanch, and, anyhow, if you guarantee
him that's enough for me." He accepted another of the ranger's cigars,
puffed it to a red glow, and leaned back to smile at his friend.
"Glory, but it's good to see ye, Bucky, me bye. You'll never know how a
man's eyes ache to see a straight-up white man in this land of
greasers. It's the God's truth I'm telling ye when I say that I haven't
had a scrimmage with me hands since I came here. The only idea this
forsaken country has of exchanging compliments is with a knife in the
dark." He shook his flaming head regretfully at the deplorably lost
condition of a country where the shillalah was unknown as a social
"If I wasn't tied up with this Valdez bunch I'd get out to-morrow,
and sometimes I have half a mind to pull out anyhow. If you've never
been associated, me lad, with half a dozen most divilishly polite
senors, each one of them watching the others out of the corner of his
slant eyes for fear they are going to betray him or assassinate him
first, you'll never know the joys of life in this peaceful and
contented land of indolence. Life's loaded to the guards with
uncertainties, so eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow you hang, or
your friend will carve ye in the back with a knife, me old priest used
to say, or something like it. 'Tis certain he must have had in mind the
Spanish-American, my son."
"Which is why you're here, you old fraud," smiled Bucky. "You've got
to grumble, of course, but you couldn't be dragged away while there's a
chance of a row. Don't I know you of old, Reddy?"
"Anyway, here I am, with me neck so near to the rope it fairly aches
sometimes. If you have any inclinations toward suicide, I'll be glad to
introduce ye to me revolutionary friends."
"Thank you, no. The fact is that we have a little private war of our
own on hand, Mike. I was thinking maybe you'd like to enlist, old
"Is the pay good?"
"Nothing a day and find yourself," answered Bucky promptly.
"No reasonable man could ask fairer than that," agreed O'Halloran,
his grin expanding. "Well, then, what's the row? Would ye like to be
dictator of Chihuahua or Emperor of Mexico?"
"There's an American in the government prison here under a life
sentence. He is not guilty, and he has already served fifteen
"He is like to serve fifteen more, if he lives that long."
"Wrong guess. I mean to get him out."
"And I'm meaning to go to Paradise some day, but will I?"
"You're going to help me get him out, Mike."
"Who told ye that, me optimistic young friend?"
"I didn't need to be told."
"Well, I'll not lift a finger, Bucky--not a finger."
"I knew you wouldn't stand to see a man like Henderson rot in a
dungeon. No Irishman would."
"You needn't blarney me. I'm too old a bird to be caught with chaff.
It's a dirty shame, of course, about this man Henderson, but I'm not
running the criminal jurisprudence of Mexico meself."
"And I said to Webb Mackenzie: 'Mickey O'Halloran is the man to see;
he'll know the best way to do it as nobody else would.' I knew I could
depend on you."
"You've certainly kissed the blarney stone, Mr. O'Connor," returned
the revolutionist dryly. "Well, then, what do you want me to do?"
"Nothing much. Get Henderson out and help us to get safely from the
country whose reputation you black-eye so cheerfully."
"Mercy of Hiven! Bring me the moon and a handful of stars, says he,
as cool as you please."
The ranger told the story of Henderson and Mackenzie's lost child in
such a way that it lost nothing in the telling. O'Halloran was moved.
"'Tis a damned shame about this man Henderson," he blurted out.
Bucky leaned back comfortably and waved airily his brown hand. "It's
up to you," his gay, impudent eyes seemed to say.
"I don't say I won't be able to help you," conceded O'Halloran. "It
happens, me bye, that you've dropped in on me just before the band
begins to play." He lowered his voice almost to a whisper. "There's a
shipment of pianos being brought down the line this week. The night
after they arrive I'm looking for music."
"I see. The piano boxes are filled with rifles and ammunition. "
"You have a mind like a tack, Bucky. Rifles is the alias of them
pianos. They'll make merry music once we get them through."
"That's all very well, but have you reckoned with the government at
Mexico? Chihuahua isn't the whole country, Mickey. Suppose President
Diaz takes a hand in the game and sends troops in on you?"
"He won't," answered the other, with a wink. "He's been seen. The
president isn't any too friendly to that old tyrant Megales, who is now
governor here. There's an election next week. The man that gets most
votes will be elected, and I'm thinking, Bucky, that the man with most
rifles will the most votes. Now, says Diaz, in effect, with an official
wave of his hand, 'Settle your own rows, gintlemen. I don't give a damn
whether Megales or Valdez is governor of Chihuahua, subject, of coorse,
to the will of the people.' Then he winks at Valdez wid his off eye as
much as to say: 'Go in an' win, me boy; me prayers are supporting ye.
But be sure ye do nothing too illegal.' So there ye are, Bucky. If ould
Megales was to wake up election morning and find that the
polling-places was in our hands, his soldiers disarmed or bought over,
and everything contributing smoothly to express the will of the people
in electing him to take a swift hike out of Chihuahua, it is likely
that he might accept the inevitable as the will of fate and make a
strategic retreat to climes more healthy."
"And if in the meantime he should discover those rifles, or one of
those slant-eyed senors should turn out a Benedict Arnold, what then,
"Don't talk in that cruel way. You make me neck ache in
anticipation," returned O'Halloran blithely.
"I think we'll not travel with you in public till after the
election, Mr. O'Halloran," reflected Bucky aloud.
"'Twould be just as well, me son. My friends won't be overpopular
with Megales if the cards fall his way."
"If you win, I suppose we may count Henderson as good as a free
"It would be a pity if me pull wouldn't do a little thing like
that," scoffed the conspirator genially.
"But, win or lose, I may be able to help you. We need musicians to
play those pianos we're bringing in. Well, the most dependable men we
can set to play some of them are the prisoners in the fortress. There's
likely to be a wholesale jail delivery the night before the election.
Now, it's just probable that the lads we free will fight to keep their
freedom. That's why we use them. They HAVE to be true to us because, if
they don't, WHICHEVER SIDE WINS back they go to jail."
"Of course. I wish I could take a hand myself. But I can't, because
I'm a soldier of a friendly power. We'll get Henderson out the night
before the election and leave on the late train. You'll have to arrange
the program in time for us to catch that train. "
O'Halloran looked drolly at him. "I'm liking your nerve, young man.
I pull the chestnuts out of the fire for yez and, likely enough, get
burned. You walk off with your chestnut, and never a 'Thank ye' for
poor Mickey the catspaw."
"It doesn't look like quite a square deal, does it?" laughed the
ranger. "Well, we might vary the program a bit. Bucky O'Connor, Arizona
ranger, can't stop and take a hand in such a game, but I don't know
anything to prevent a young gipsy from Spain staying over a few
"If you stay, I shall," announced the boy Frank.
"You'll do nothing of the kind, seh. You'll do just as I say,
according to the agreement you made with me when I let you come," was
Bucky's curt answer. "We're not playing this game to please you, Master
Yet though the ranger spoke curtly, though he still tried to hold
toward his comrade precisely the same attitude as he had before
discovering her sex, he could not put into his words the same
peremptory sting that, he had done before when he found that
occasionally necessary. For no matter how severely he must seem to deal
with her to avoid her own suspicions as to what he knew, as well as to
keep from arousing those of others, his heart was telling a very
different story all the time. He could see again the dainty grace with
which she had danced for him, heard again that low voice breaking into
a merry piping lilt, warmed once more to the living, elusive smile, at
once so tender and mocking. He might set his will to preserve an even
front to her gay charm, but it was beyond him to control the thrills
that shot his pulses.
CHAPTER 8. FIRST BLOOD!
Occasionally Alice Mackenzie met Collins on the streets of Tucson.
Once she saw him at the hotel where she was staying, deep in a
discussion with her father of ways and means of running down the
robbers of the Limited. He did not, however, make the least attempt to
push their train acquaintanceship beyond the give and take of casual
greeting. Without showing himself unfriendly, he gave her no
opportunity to determine how far they would go with each other. This
rather piqued her, though she would probably have rebuffed him if he
had presumed far. Of which probability Val Collins was very well
They met one morning in front of a drug store downtown. She carried
a parasol that was lilac-trimmed, which shade was also the outstanding
note of her dress. She was looking her very best, and no doubt knew it.
To Val her dainty freshness seemed to breathe the sweetness of spring
"Good morning, Miss Mackenzie. Weather like this I'm awful glad I
ain't a mummy," he told her. "The world's mighty full of beautiful
things this glad day."
"Essay on the Appreciation of Nature, by Professor Collins," she
"To be continued in our next," he amended. "Won't you come in and
have a sundae? You look as if you didn't know it, but the rest of us
have discovered it's a right warm morning."
Looking across the little table at him over her sundae, she
questioned him with innocent impudence. "I saw you and dad deep in
plans Tuesday. I suppose by now you have all the train robbers safely
tucked away in the penitentiary?"
"Not yet," he answered cheerfully.
"Not yet!" Her lifted eyebrows and the derisive flash beneath mocked
politely his confidence. "By this time I should think they might be
hunting big game in deepest Africa."
"They might be, but they're not."
"What about that investment in futurities you made on the train? The
month is more than half up. Do you see any chance of realizing?"
"It looks now as if I might be a false prophet, but I feel way down
deep that I won't. In this prophet's business confidence is half the
stock in trade."
"Really. I'm very curious to know what it is you predicted. Was it
"Good for me," he nodded.
"Then I think you'll get it," she laughed. "I have noticed that it
is the people that expect things--and then go out and take them--that
inherit the earth these days. The meek have been dispossessed."
"I'm glad I have your good wishes."
"I didn't say you had, but you'll get along just as well without
them,'' she answered with a cool little laugh as she rose.
"I'd like to discuss that proposition with you more at length. May I
call on you some evening this week, Miss Mackenzie?"
There was a sparkle of hidden malice in her answer. "You're too
late, Mr. Collins. We'll have to leave it undiscussed. I'm going to
leave to-day for my uncle s ranch, the Rocking Chair."
He was distinctly disappointed, though he took care not to show it.
Nevertheless, the town felt empty after her train had gone. He was glad
when later in the day a message came calling him to Epitaph. It took
him at least seventy-five miles nearer her.
Before he had been an hour at Epitaph the sheriff knew he had struck
gold this time. Men were in town spending money lavishly, and at a
rough description they answered to the ones he wanted. Into the Gold
Nugget Saloon that evening dropped Val Collins, big, blond, and jaunty.
He looked far less the vigorous sheriff out for business than the
gregarious cowpuncher on a search for amusement.
Del Hawkes, an old-time friend of his staging days, pounced on him
and dragged him to the bar, whence his glance fell genially on the
roulette wheel and its devotees, wandered casually across the impassive
poker and Mexican monte players, took in the enthroned musicians, who
were industriously murdering "La Paloma," and came to rest for barely
an instant at a distant faro table. In the curly-haired good-looking
young fellow facing the dealer he saw one of the men he had come
seeking. Nor did he need to look for the hand with the missing trigger
finger to be sure it was York Neil--that same gay, merry-hearted York
with whom he used to ride the range, changed now to a miscreant who had
elected to take the short cut to wealth.
But the man beside Neil, the dark-haired, pallid fellow from whose
presence something at once formidable and sinister and yet gallant
seemed to breathe--the very sight of him set the mind of Collins at
work busily upon a wild guess. Surely here was a worthy figure upon
whom to set the name and reputation of the notorious Wolf Leroy.
Yet the sheriff's eyes rested scarce an instant before they went
traveling again, for he wanted to show as yet no special interest in
the object of his suspicions. The gathering was a motley one,
picturesque in its diversity. For here had drifted not only the
stranded derelicts of a frontier civilization, but selected types of
all the turbid elements that go to make up its success. Mexican,
millionaire, and miner brushed shoulders at the roulette-wheel.
Chinaman and cow-puncher, Papago and plainsman, tourist and tailor,
bucked the tiger side by side with a democracy found nowhere else in
the world. The click of the wheel, the monotonous call of the croupier,
the murmur of many voices in alien tongues, and the high-pitched
jarring note of boisterous laughter, were all merged in a medley of
confusion as picturesque as the scene itself.
"Business not anyways slack at the Nugget," ventured Collins, to the
"No, I don't know as 'tis. Nearly always somethin' doing in little
old Epitaph," answered the public quencher of thirsts, polishing the
glass top of the bar with a cloth.
"Playing with the lid off back there, ain't they?" The sheriff's nod
indicated the distant faro-table.
"That's right, I guess. Only blue chips go."
"It's Wolf Leroy--that Mexican-looking fellow there," Hawkes
explained in a whisper. "A bad man with the gun, they say, too. Well,
him and York Neil and Scott Dailey blew in last night from their mine,
up at Saguache. Gave it out he was going to break the bank, Leroy did.
Backing that opinion usually comes high, but Leroy is about two
thousand to the good, they say."
"Scott Dailey? Don't think I know him."
"That shorthorn in chaps and a yellow bandanna is the gentleman; him
that's playing the wheel so constant. You don't miss no world-beater
when you don't know Scott. He's Leroy's Man Friday. Understand they've
struck it rich. Anyway, they're hitting high places while the mazuma
"I can't seem to locate their mine. What's its brand?"
"The Dalriada. Some other guy is in with them; fellow by the name of
Hardman, if I recollect; just bought out a livery barn in town
"Queer thing, luck; strikes about as unexpected as lightning. Have
"Don't care if I do, Val. It always makes me thirsty to see people I
like. Anything new up Tucson way?"
The band had fallen on "Manzanilla," and was rending it with
variations when Collins circled round to the wheel and began playing
the red. He took a place beside the bow-legged vaquero with the yellow
bandanna knotted loosely round his throat. For five minutes the
cow-puncher attended strictly to his bets. Then he cursed softly, and
asked Collins to exchange places with him.
"This place is my hoodoo. I can't win--" The sentence died in the
man's throat, became an inarticulate gurgle of dismay.
He had looked up and met the steady eyes of the sheriff, and the
surprise of it had driven the blood from his heart. A revolver thrust
into his face could not have shaken him more than that serene
Collins took him by the arm with a jovial laugh meant to cover their
retreat, and led him into one of the curtained alcove rooms. As they
entered he noticed out of the corner of his eye that Leroy and Neil
were still intent on their game. Not for a moment, not even while the
barkeeper was answering their call for liquor, did the sheriff release
Scott from the rigor of his eyes, and when the attendant drew the
curtain behind him the officer let his smile take on a new meaning.
"What did I tell you, Scott?"
"Prove it," defied Scott. "Prove it--you can't prove it."
"What can't I prove?"
"Why, that I was in that " Scott stopped abruptly, and watched the
smile broaden on the strong face opposite him. His dull brain had come
to his rescue none too soon.
"Now, ain't it funny how people's thoughts get to running on the
same thing? Last time I met up with you there you was collecting a
hundred dollars and keep-the-change cents from me, and now here you are
spending it. It's ce'tinly curious how both of us are remembering that
little seance in the Pullman car."
Scott took refuge in a dogged silence. He was sweating fear.
"Yes, sir. It comes up right vivid before me. There was you
a-trainin' your guns on me--"
"I wasn't," broke in Scott, falling into the trap.
"That's right. How come I to make such a mistake? Of cou'se you
carried the sack and York Neil held the guns."
The man cursed quietly, and relapsed into silence.
"Always buy your clothes in pairs?"
The sheriff's voice showed only a pleasant interest, but the
outlaw's frightened eyes were puzzled at this sudden turn.
"Wearing a bandanna same color and pattern as you did the night of
our jamboree on the Limited, I see. That's mightily careless of you,
Instinctively a shaking hand clutched at the kerchief. "It don't cut
any ice because a hold-up wears a mask made out of stuff like this
"Did I say it was a mask he wore?" the gentle voice quizzed.
Scott, beads of perspiration on his forehead, collapsed as to his
defense. He fell back sullenly to his first position: "You can't prove
"Can't I?" The sheriff's smile went out like a snuffed candle. Eyes
and mouth were cold and hard as chiseled marble. He leaned forward far
across the table, a confident, dominating assurance painted on his
face. "Can't I? Don't you bank on that. I can prove all I need to, and
your friends will prove the rest. They'll be falling all over
themselves to tell what they know--and Mr.Dailey will be holding the
sack again, while Leroy and the rest are slipping out."
The outlaw sprang to his feet, white to the lips.
"It's a damned lie. Leroy would never--" He stopped, again just in
time to bite back the confession hovering on his lips. But he had told
what Collins wanted to know.
The curtain parted, and a figure darkened the doorway--a slender,
lithe figure that moved on springs. Out of its sardonic, devil-may-care
face gleamed malevolent eyes which rested for a moment on Dailey,
before they came home to the sheriff.
"And what is it Leroy would never do?" a gibing voice demanded
Scott pulled himself together and tried to bluff, but at the look on
his chief's face the words died in his throat.
Collins did not lift a finger or move an eyelash, but with the first
word a wary alertness ran through him and starched his figure to
rigidity. He gathered himself together for what might come.
"Well, I am waiting. What it is Leroy would never do?" The voice
carried a scoff with it, the implication that his very presence had
stricken conspirators dumb.
Collins offered the explanation.
"Mr. Dailey was beginning a testimonial of your virtues just as you
right happily arrived in time to hear it. Perhaps he will now
But Dailey had never a word left. His blunders had been crying ones,
and his chief's menacing look had warned him what to expect. The
courage oozed out of his heart, for he counted himself already a dead
"And who are you, my friend, that make so free with Wolf Leroy's
name?" It was odd how every word of the drawling sentence contrived to
carry a taunt and a threat with it, strange what a deadly menace the
glittering eyes shot forth.
"My name is Collins."
"Sheriff of Pica County?"
The eyes of the men met like rapiers, as steady and as searching as
cold steel. Each of them was appraising the rare quality of his
opponent in this duel to the death that was before him.
"What are you doing here? Ain't Pica County your range?"
"I've been discussing with your friend the late hold-up on the
"Ah!" Leroy knew that the sheriff was serving notice on them of his
purpose to run down the bandits. Swiftly his mind swept up the factors
of the situation. Should he draw now and chance the result, or wait for
a more certain ending? He decided to wait, moved by the consideration
that even if he were victorious the lawyers were sure to draw out of
the fat-brained Scott the cause of the quarrel.
"Well, that don't interest me any, though I suppose you have to
explain a heap how come they to hold you up and take your gun. I'll
leave you and your jelly-fish Scott to your gabfest. Then you better
run back home to Tucson. We don't go much on visiting sheriffs here."
He turned on his heel with an insolent laugh, and left the sheriff
alone with Dailey.
The superb contempt of the man, his readiness to give the sheriff a
chance to pump out of Dailey all he knew, served to warn Collins that
his life was in imminent danger. On no hypothesis save one--that Leroy
had already condemned them both to death in his mind--could he account
for such rashness. And that the blow would fall soon, before he had
time to confer with other officers, was a corollary to the first
"He'll surely kill me on sight," Scott burst out.
"Yes, he'll kill you," agreed the sheriff, "unless you move
"Against him. Protect yourself by lining up with me. It's your only
show on earth."
Dailey's eyes flashed. "Then, by thunder, I ain't taking it! I'm no
coyote, to round on my pardners."
"I give it to you straight. He means murder."
Perspiration poured from the man's face. "I'll light out of the
The sheriff shook his head. "You'd never get away alive. Besides, I
want you for holding up the Limited. The safest place for you is in
jail, and that's where I'm going to put you. Drop that gun! Quick!
That's right. Now, you and I are going out of this saloon by the back
door. I'm going to walk beside you, and we're going to laugh and talk
as if we were the best of friends, but my hand ain't straying any from
the end of my gun. Get that, amigo? All right. Then we'll take a little
As Collins and his prisoner reappeared in the main lobby of the Gold
Nugget, a Mexican slipped out of the back door of the gambling-house.
The sheriff called Hawkes aside.
"I want you to call a hack for me, Del. Bring it round to the back
door, and arrange with the driver to whip up for the depot as soon as
we get in. We ought to catch that 12:20 up-train. When the hack gets
here just show up in the door. If you see Leroy or Neil hanging around
the door, put your hand up to your tie. If the coast is clear, just
move off to the bar and order something."
"Sure," said Hawkes, and was off at once, though just a thought
unsteady from his frequent libations.
Both hands of the big clock on the wall pointed to twelve when
Hawkes appeared again in the doorway at the rear of the Gold Nugget.
With a wink at Collins, he made straight for the cocktail he thought he
"Now," said the sheriff, and immediately he and Dailey passed
through the back door.
Instantly two shots rang out. Collins lurched forward to the ground,
drawing his revolver as he fell. Scott, twisting from his grasp, ran in
a crouch toward the alley along the shadow of the buildings. Shots
spattered against the wall as his pursuers gave chase. When the Gold
Nugget vomited from its rear door a rush of humanity eager to see the
trouble, the noise of their footsteps was already dying in the
Hawkes found his friend leaning against the back of the hack, his
revolver smoking in his hand.
"For God's sake, Val!" screamed Hawkes. "Did they get you?"
"Punctured my leg. That's all. But I expect they'll get Dailey."
"How come you to go out when I signaled you to stay?"
"Signaled me to stay, why--"
Collins stopped, unwilling to blame his friend. He knew now that
Hawkes, having mixed his drinks earlier in the evening, had mixed his
"Get me a horse, Del, and round up two or three of the boys. I've
got to get after those fellows. They are the ones that held up the
Limited last week. Find out for me what hotel they put up at here. I
want their rooms searched. Send somebody round to the corrals, and let
me know where they stabled their horses. If they left any papers or
saddle-bags, get them for me."
Fifteen minutes later Collins was in the saddle ready for the chase,
and only waiting for his volunteer posse to join him. They were just
starting when a frightened Chinaman ran into the plaza with the news
that there had been shooting just back of his laundry on the edge of
town and that a man had been killed.
When the sheriff reached the spot, he lowered himself from the
saddle and limped over to the black mass huddled against the wall in
the bright moonlight. He turned the riddled body over and looked down
into the face of the dead man. I was that of the outlaw, Scott Dailey.
That the body had been thoroughly searched was evident, for all around
him were scattered his belongings. Here an old letter and a sack of
tobacco, its contents emptied on the ground; there his coat and vest,
the linings of each of them ripped out and the pockets emptied. Even
the boots and socks of the man had been removed, so thorough had been
the search. Whatever the murderers had been looking for it was not
money, since his purse, still fairly well lined with greenbacks, was
found behind a cactus bush a few yards away.
"What in time were they after?" frowned Collins. "If it wasn't his
money--and it sure wasn't--what was it? I ce'tainly would like to know
what the Wolf wanted so blamed bad. Guess I'll not follow Mr. Leroy
just now till my leg is in better shape. Maybe I had better investigate
a little bit round town first."
The body was taken back to the Gold Nugget and placed on a table,
pending the arrival of the undertaker. It chanced that Collins, looking
absently over the crowd, glimpsed a gray felt hat that looked familiar
by reason of a frayed silver band found it. Underneath the hat was a
Mexican, and him the sheriff ordered to step forward.
"Where did you get that hat, Manuel?"
"My name is Jose--Jose Archuleta," corrected the olive-hued one.
"I ain't worrying about your name, son. What I want to know is where
you found that hat."
"In the alley off the plaza, senor."
"All right. Chuck it up here."
"Muy bien, senor." And the dusty hat was passed from hand to hand
till it reached the sheriff.
Collins ripped off the silver band and tore out the sweat-pad. It
was an off chance--one in a thousand--but worth trying none the less.
And a moment later he knew it was the chance that won. For sewed to the
inside of the discolored sweat-pad was a little strip of silk. With his
knife he carefully removed the strip, and found between it and the
leather a folded fragment of paper closely covered with writing. He
carried this to the light, and made it out to be a memorandum of
direction of some sort. Slowly he spelled out the poorly written
From Y. N. took Unowhat. Went twenty yards strate for big rock.
Eight feet direckly west. Fifty yards in direcksion of suthern Antelope
Peke. Then eighteen to nerest cotonwood. J. H. begins hear.
Collins read the scrawl twice before an inkling of its meaning came
home to him. Then in a flash his brain was lighted. It was a memorandum
of the place where Dailey's share of the plunder was buried.
His confederates had known that he had it, and had risked capture to
make a thorough search for the paper. That they had not found it was
due only to the fact that the murdered man had lost his hat as he
scurried down the streets before them.
The doctor, having arrived, examined the wound and suggested an
anaesthetic. Collins laughed.
"I reckon not, doc. You round up that lead pill and I'll endure the
grief without knockout drops."
While the doctor was probing for the bullet lodged in his leg, the
sheriff studied the memorandum found in Dailey's hat. He found it
blind, disappointing work, for there was no clearly indicated
starting-point. Bit by bit he took it:
From Y. N. took Unowhat.
This was clear enough, so far as it went. It could only mean that
from York Neil the writer had taken the plunder to hide. But--WHERE did
he take it? From what point? A starting-point must be found somewhere,
or the memorandum was of no use. Probably only Neil could supply the
needed information, now that Dailey was dead.
Went twenty yards strate for big rock. Eight feet direckly west.
Fifty yards in direcksion of suthern Antelope Peke. Then eighteen to
All this was plain enough, but the last sentence was the
J. H. begins hear.
Was J. H. a person? If so, what did he begin. If Dailey had buried
his plunder, what had J. H. left to do?
But had he buried it? Collins smiled. It was not likely he had
handed it over to anybody else to hide for him. And yet--
He clapped his hand down on his knee. "By the jumping California
frog, I've got it!" he told himself. "They hid the bulk of what they
got from the Limited all together. Went out in a bunch to hide it.
Blind-folded each other, and took turn about blinding up the trail. No
one of them can go get the loot without the rest. When they want it,
every one of these memoranda must be Johnny-on-the-spot before they can
dig up the mazuma. No wonder Wolf Leroy searched so thorough for this
bit of paper. I'll bet a stack of blue chips against Wolf's chance of
heaven that he's the sorest train-robber right this moment that ever
punctured a car-window."
Collins laughed softly, nor had the smile died out of his eyes when
Hawkes came into the room with information to the point. He had made a
round of the corrals, and discovered that the outlaws' horses had been
put up at Jay Hardman's place, a tumble-down feed-station on the edge
"Jay didn't take kindly to my questions," Hawkes explained, "but
after a little rock-me-to-sleep-mother talk I soothed him down some,
and cut the trail of Wolf Leroy and his partners. The old man give me
several specimens of langwidge unwashed and uncombed when I told him
Wolf and York was outlaws and train-robbers. Didn't believe a word of
it, he said. 'Twas just like the fool officers to jump an innocent
party. I told Jay to keep his shirt on--he could turn his wolf lose
when they framed up that he was in it. Well, sir! I plumb thought for a
moment he was going to draw on me when I said that. Say he must be the
fellow that's in on that mine, with Leroy and York Neil. He's a big,
Collins' eyes narrowed to slits, as they always did when he was
thinking intensely. Were their suspicions of the showman about to be
justified? Did Jay Hardman's interest in Leroy have its source merely
in their being birds of a feather, or was there a more direct community
of lawlessness between them? Was he a member of Wolf Leroy's murderous
gang? Three men had joined in the chase of Dailey, but the tracks had
told him that only two horses had galloped from the scene of the murder
into the night. The inference left to draw was that a local accomplice
had joined them in the chase of Scott, and had slipped back home after
the deed had been finished.
What more likely than that Hardman had been this accomplice? Hawkes
said he was a big long-haired fellow. So was the man that had held up
the engineer of the Limited. He was--"J. H. begins hear." Like a flash
the ill-written scrawl jumped to his sight. "J. H." was Jay Hardman.
The doctor finished his work, and Collins tested his leg gingerly.
"Del, I'm going over to have a little talk with the old man. Want to go
"You bet I do, Val"--from Del Hawkes.
"You mustn't walk on that leg for a week or two yet, Mr. Collins,"
the doctor explained, shaking his head.
"That so, doctor? And it nothing but a nice clean flesh-wound! Sho!
I've a deal more confidence in you than that. Ready, Del?"
"It's at your risk then, Mr. Collins."
"Sure." The sheriff smiled. "I'm living at my own risk, doctor. But
I'd a heap rather be alive than daid, and take all the risk that's
coming, too. But since you make a point of it, I'll do most of my
walking on a bronco's back."
They found Mr. Hardman just emerging from the stable with a
saddle-pony when they rode into the corral. At a word from Collins,
Hawkes took the precaution to close the corral gate.
The fellow held a wary position on the farther side of his horse,
the while he ripped out a raucous string of invectives.
"Real fluent, ain't he?" murmured Hawkes, as he began to circle
round to flank the enemy.
"Stay right there, Del Hawkes. Move, you redhaided son of a brand
blotter, and I'll pump holes in you!" A rifle leveled across the saddle
emphasized his sentiments.
"Plumb hospitable," grinned Hawkes, coming promptly to a halt.
Collins rode slowly forward, his hand on the butt of the revolver
that still lay in its scabbard. The Winchester covered every step of
his progress, but he neither hastened nor faltered, though he knew his
life hung in the balance. If his steely blue eyes had released for one
moment the wolfish ones of the villain, if he had hesitated or hurried,
he would have been shot through the head.
But the eyes of a brave man are the king of weapons. Hardman's
fingers itched at the trigger he had not the courage to pull. For such
an unflawed nerve he knew himself no match.
"Keep back," he screamed. "Damn it, another step and I'll fire!"
But he did not fire, though Collins rode up to him, dismounted, and
threw the end of the rifle carelessly from him.
"Don't be rash, Hardman. I've come here to put you under arrest for
robbing the T. P. Limited, and I'm going to do it."
The indolent, contemptuous drawl, so free of even a suggestion of
the strain the sheriff must have been under, completed his victory. The
fellow lowered his rifle with a peevish oath.
"You're barkin' up the wrong tree, Mr. Collins."
"I guess not," retorted the sheriff easily. "Del, you better relieve
Mr. Hardman of his ballast. He ain't really fit to be trusted with a
weapon, and him so excitable. That Winchester came awful near going
off, friend. You don't want to be so careless when you're playing with
firearms. It's a habit that's liable to get you into trouble."
Collins had not shaved death so closely without feeling a reaction
of boyish gaiety at his adventure. It bubbled up in his talk like
"Now we'll go into a committee of the whole, gentlemen, adjourn to
the stable, and have a little game of 'Button, button, who's got the
button?' You first, Mr. Hardman. If you'll kindly shuck your coat and
vest, we'll begin button-hunting."
They diligently searched the miscreant without hiding anything
pertaining to "J. H. begins hear."
"He's bound to have it somewhere," asseverated Collins. "It don't
stand to reason he was making his getaway without that paper. We got to
be more thorough, Del."
Hawkes, under the direction of his friend, ripped up linings and
tore away pockets from clothing. The saddle on the bronco and the
saddle-blankets were also torn to pieces in vain.
Finally Hawkes scratched his poll and looked down on the wreckage.
"I hate to admit it, Val, but the old fox has got us beat; it ain't on
"Not unless he's got it under his skin," agreed Collins, with a
"Maybe he ate it. Think we better operate and find out?"
An idea hit the sheriff. He walked up to Hardman and ordered him to
open his mouth.
The jaws set like a vise.
Collins poked his revolver against the closed mouth. "Swear for us,
old bird. Get a move on you."
The mouth opened, and Collins inserted two fingers. When he withdrew
them they brought a set of false teeth. Under the plate was a tiny
rubber bag that stuck to it. Inside the bag was a paper. And on it was
written four lines in Spanish. Those lines told what he wanted to know.
They, too, were part of a direction for finding hidden treasure.
The sheriff wired at once to Bucky, in Chihuahua. Translated into
plain English, his cipher dispatch meant: "Come home at once. Trail
getting red hot."
But Bucky did not come. As it happened, that young man had other
fish to fry.
CHAPTER 9. "ADORE HAS ONLY ONE D."
After all, adventures are to the adventurous. In this prosaic
twentieth century the Land of Romance still beckons to eager eyes and
gallant hearts. The rutted money-grabber may deny till he is a
nerve-racked counting-machine, but youth, even to the end of time, will
laugh to scorn his pessimism and venture with elastic heel where danger
and mystery offer their dubious hazards.
So it was that Bucky and his little comrade found nothing of dulness
in the mission to which they had devoted themselves. In their task of
winning freedom for the American immured in the Chihuahua dungeon they
already found themselves in the heart of a web of intrigue, the stakes
of which were so high as to carry life and death with them in the
balance. But for them the sun shone brightly. It was enough that they
played the game and shared the risks together. The jocund morning was
in their hearts, and brought with it an augury of success based on
nothing so humdrum or tangible as reason.
O'Connor carried with him to the grim fortress not only his permit
for an inspection, but also a note from O'Halloran that was even more
potent in effect. For Colonel Ferdinand Gabilonda, warden of the
prison, had a shrewd suspicion that a plot was under way to overthrow
the unpopular administration of Megales, and though he was an
office-holder under the present government he had no objection to
ingratiating himself with the opposition, providing it could be done
without compromising himself openly. In other words, the warden was
sitting on the fence waiting to see which way the cat would jump. If
the insurgents proved the stronger party, he meant to throw up his hat
and shout "Viva Valdez." On the other hand, if the government party
crushed them he would show himself fussily active in behalf of Megales.
Just now he was exerting all his diplomacy to maintain a pleasant
relationship with both. Since it was entirely possible that the big
Irishman O'Halloran might be the man on horseback within a very few
days, the colonel was all suave words and honeyed smiles to his friend
Indeed he did him the unusual honor of a personally conducted
inspection. Gabilonda was a fat little man, with a soft, purring voice
and a pompous manner. He gushed with the courteous volubility of his
nation, explaining with great gusto this and that detail of the work.
Bucky gave him outwardly a deferent ear, but his alert mind and eyes
were scanning the prisoners they saw. The ranger was trying to find in
one of these scowling, defiant faces some resemblance to the picture
his mind had made of Henderson.
But Bucky looked in vain. If the man he wanted was among these he
had changed beyond recognition. In the end he was forced to ask
Gabilonda plainly if he would not take him to see David Henderson, as
he knew a man in Arizona who was an old friend of his, and he would
like to be able to tell him that he had seen his friend.
Henderson was breaking stone when O'Connor got his first glimpse of
him. He continued to swing his hammer listlessly, without looking up,
when the door opened to let in the warden and his guests. But something
in the ranger's steady gaze drew his eyes. They were dull eyes, and
sullen, but when he saw that Bucky was an American, the fire of
intelligence flashed into them.
"May I speak to him?" asked O'Connor.
"It is against the rules, senor, but if you will be brief--" The
colonel shrugged, and turned his back to them, in order not to see. It
must be said for Gabilonda that his capacity for blinking what he did
not think it judicious to see was enormous.
"You are David Henderson, are you not?" The ranger asked, in a low
Surprise filtered into the dull eyes. "That was my name," the man
answered bitterly. "I have a number now."
"I come from Webb Mackenzie to get you out of this," the ranger
The man's eyes were no longer dull now, but flaming with hatred.
"Curse him, I'll take nothing from his hands. For fifteen years he has
let me rot in hell without lifting a hand for me."
"He thought you dead. It can all be explained. It was only last week
that the mystery of your disappearance was solved."
"Then why didn't he come himself? It was to save his little girl I
got myself into this place. If I had been in his shoes I would have
come if I'd had to crawl on my hands and knees."
"He doesn't know yet you are here. I wrote him simply that I knew
where you were, and then I came at once." Bucky glanced round warily at
the fat colonel gazing placidly out of the barred window. "I mean to
rescue you, and I knew if he were here his impulsiveness would ruin
"Do you mean it? For God's sake! don't lie to me. If there's no hope
for me, don't say there is." The prisoner's voice shook and his hands
trembled. He was only the husk of the man he had been, but it did
Bucky's heart good to see that the germ of life was still in him. Back
in Arizona, on the Rocking Chair Ranch, with the free winds of the
plains beating on his face, he would pick up again the old strands of
his broken life, would again learn to love the lowing of cattle and the
early morning call of the hooter to his mate.
"I mean it. As sure as I stand here I'll get you out, or, if I
don't, Webb Mackenzie will. We're calling the matter to the attention
of the United States Government, but we are not going to wait till that
time to free you. Keep up your courage, man. It is only for a little
Tears leaped to the prisoner's eyes. He had been a game man in the
dead years that were past, none gamer in Texas, and he could still face
his jailers with an impassive face; but this first kindly word from his
native land in fifteen years to the man buried alive touched the fount
of his emotions. He turned away and leaned against the grating of his
cell, his head resting on his forearm. "My God! man, you don't know
what it means to me. Sometimes I think I shall go mad and rave. After
all these years But I know you'll fail--It's too good to be true," he
"I'll not fail, though I may be delayed. But I can't say more.
Gabilonda is coming back. Next time I see you it will be to take you
out to freedom. Think of that always, and believe it."
Gabilonda bowed urbanely. "If the senor has seen all he cares to of
this department we will return to the office," he suggested
"Certainly, colonel. I can't appreciate too much your kindness in
allowing me to study your system so carefully."
"Any friend of my friend the Senor O'Halloran is cherished deeply in
my heart," came back the smiling colonel, with a wave of his plump,
"I am honored, sir, to receive such consideration at the hands of so
distinguished a soldier as Colonel Gabilonda," bowed Bucky gravely, in
his turn, with the most flowery Spanish he could muster.
There was another half-hour of the mutual exchange of compliments
before O'Connor could get away. Alphonse and Gaston were fairly
outdone, for the Arizonian, with a smile hidden deep behind the
solemnity of his blue eyes, gave as good as he got. When he was at last
fairly in the safety of his own rooms he gave way to limp laughter
while describing to his little friend that most ceremonious
"He pressed me to his manly bay window, Curly, and allowed he was
plumb tickled to death to have met me. Says I, coming back equal
strong, 'twas the most glorious day of my life."
"Oh, I know YOU," answered young Hardman, with a smile.
"A friend of his friend O'Halloran--"
"Mr. O'Halloran was here while you were away. He seemed very anxious
to see you; said he would call again in an hour. I think it must be
Came at that instant O'Halloran's ungentle knock, on the heels of
which his red head came through the open door.
"You're the very lad I'm wanting to see, Bucky," he announced, and
followed this declaration by locking all the doors and beckoning him to
the center of the room.
"Is that tough neck of yours aching again, Reddy?" inquired his
"It is that, me bye. There's the very divil to pay," he
"Cough it out, Mike."
"That tyrant Megales is onto our game. Somebody's leaked, or else he
has a spy in our councils--as we have in his, the ould scoundrel."
"I see. Your spy has told you that his spy has reported to
"That the guns are to be brought in to-night. He has sent out a
guard to bring them in safely to him. If he gets them, our game is up,
me son, and you can bet your last nickle on that."
"If he gets them! Is there a chance for us?"
"Glory be! there is. You see, he doesn't know that we know what he
has done. For that reason he sent out only a guard of forty men. If he
sent more we would suspect what he was doing, ye see. That is the way
the old fox reasoned. But forty--they were able to slip out of the city
on last night's train in civilian's clothes and their arms in a couple
"Why didn't he send a couple of hundred men openly, and at the same
time arrest you all?"
"That doesn't suit his book at all. For one thing, he probably
doesn't know all of us, and he doesn't want to bag half of us and throw
the rest into immediate rebellion. It's his play not to force the issue
until after the election, Bucky. He controls all the election machinery
and will have himself declared reelected, the old scamp,
notwithstanding that he's the most unpopular man in the State. To
precipitate trouble now would be just foolishness, he argues. So he'll
just capture our arms, and after the election give me and my friends
quiet hell. Nothing public, you know--just unfortunate assassinations
that he will regret exceedingly, me bye. But I have never yit been
assassinated, and, on principle, I object to being trated so. It's very
destructive to a man's future usefulness."
"And so?" laughed the ranger.
"And so we've arranged to take a few lads up the line and have a
train hold-up. I'm the robber-in-chief. Would ye like to be second in
command of the lawless ruffians, me son?"
Bucky met his twinkling eye gaily. "Mr. O'Connor is debarred from
taking part in such an outrageous affair by international etiquette,
but he knows a gypsy lad would be right glad to join, I reckon."
"Bully for him. If you'll kindly have him here I'll come around and
collect him this evening at eight-thirty sharp."
"I hope you'll provide a pleasant entertainment for him."
"We'll do our best," grinned the revolutionist. "Music provided by
Megales' crack military band. A lively and enjoyable occasion
guaranteed to all who attend. Your friend will meet some of the
smartest officers in the State. It promises to be a most sumptuous
"Then my friend accepts with pleasure."
After the conspirator had gone, Frank spoke up. "You wouldn't go
away with him and leave me here alone, would you?"
"I ce'tainly shouldn't take you with me, kid. I don't want my little
friend all shot up by greasers."
"If you're going, I want to go, too. Supposing-- if anything were to
happen to you, what could I do?"
"Leave the country by the next train. Those are the orders."
"You're always talking about a square deal. Do you think that is
one? I might say that I don't want YOU shot. You don't care anything
about my feelings." The soft voice had a little break in it that Bucky
He walked across to his partner, that rare, tender smile of his in
his eyes. "If I'm always talking about a square deal I reckon I have
got to give you one. Now, what would you think a square deal, Curly?
Would it be square for me to let my friend O'Halloran stand all the
risk of this and then me take the reward when Henderson has been freed
by him? Would that be your notion of the right telling?"
"I didn't say that, though I don't see why you have to mix yourself
up in his troubles. Why should you go out and kill these soldiers that
haven't injured you?"
"I'm not going to kill any of them," he smiled "Besides, that isn't
the way I look at it. This fellow Megales is a despot. He has made out
to steal the liberty of the people from them. President Diaz can't
interfere because the old rascal governor does everything with that
smooth, oily way of his under cover of law. It's up to some of the
people to put up a good strong kick for themselves. I ain't a bit sorry
to give them the loan of my foot while they are doing it."
"Then can't I go, too? I don't want to be left alone here and you
Bucky's eyes gleamed. He dared an experiment in an indifferent
drawl. "Whyfor don't you want to stay alone, kid? Are you afraid for
yourself or for me?"
His partner's cheeks were patched with roses. Shyly the long, thick
lashes lifted and let the big brown eyes meet his blue ones. "Maybe I'm
afraid for both of us."
"Would you care if one of their pills happened along in the
scrimmage and put me out of business? Honest, would you?"
"You haven't any right to talk that way. It's cruel," was the reply
that burst from the pretty lips, and he noticed that at his suggestion
the roses had died from soft cheeks.
"Well, I won't talk that way any more, little partner," he answered
gaily, taking the small hand in his. "For reasons good. I'm fire-proof.
The Mexican bullet hasn't been cast yet that can find Bucky O'Connor's
"But you mustn't think that, either, and be reckless," was the next
injunction. The shy laugh rang like music. "That's why I want to go
along, to see that you behave yourself properly."
"Oh, I'll behave," he laughed; for the young man found it very easy
to be happy when those sweet eyes were showing concern for him. "I've
got several good reasons why I don't aim to get bumped off just yet.
Heaps of first-rate reasons. I'll tell you what some of them are one of
these days," he dared to add.
"You had better tell me now." The gaze that fell before his steady
eyes was both shy and eager.
"No, I reckon I'll wait, Curly," he answered, turning away with a
long breath. "Well, we better go out and get some grub, tortillas and
frijoles, don't you think?"
"Just as you like." The lad's breath was coming a little fast. They
had been on the edge of some moment of intimacy that Bucky's partner
both longed for and dreaded. "But you have not told me yet whether I
can go with you."
"You can't. I'm sorry. I'd like first-rate to take you, if you want
to go, but I can't do it. I hate to disappoint you if you're set on it,
but I've got to, kid. Anything else you want I'll be glad to do."
He added this last because Frank looked so broken. hearted about
"Very well." Swift as a flash came the demand: "Tell me these heaps
of first-rate reasons you were mentioning just now."
Under the sun-tan he flushed. "I reckon I'll have to make another
exception, Curly. Those reasons ain't ripe yet for telling."
"Then if you are--if anything happens--I'll never know them. And you
promised you would tell me--you, who pretend to hate a liar so," she
"Would it do if I wrote those reasons and left them in a sealed
envelope? Then in case anything happened you could open it and satisfy
that robust curiosity of yours." He recognized that he had trapped
himself, and he was making the best bargain left him.
"You may write them, if you like. But I'm going to open the letter,
anyway. The reasons belong to me now. You promised."
"I'll make a new deal with you, then," he smiled. "I'll take awful
good care of myself to-night if you'll promise not to open the envelope
for two weeks unless--well, unless that something happens that we ain't
"Call it a week, and it's a bargain."
"Better say when we're back across the line again. That may be
inside of three days, if everything goes well," he threw in as a
"Done. I'm to open the letter when we cross the line into
Bucky shook the little hand that was offered him and wished mightily
that he had the right to celebrate with more fervent
That afternoon the ranger wrote with a good deal of labor the letter
he had promised. It appeared to be a difficult thing for him to deliver
himself even on paper of those good and sufficient reasons. He made and
destroyed no less than half a dozen openings before at last he was
fairly off. Meanwhile, Master Frank, busy over some alterations in
Bucky's gypsy suit, took pleasure in deriding with that sweet voice the
"It might be a love letter from the pains you take with it. Would
you like me to come and help you with it?" the sewer railed
"I ain't used to letter writing much," apologized the scribe, wiping
his bedewed brow, which had suddenly gone a shade more flushed.
"Apparently not. I expect, from the time you give it, the result
will be a literary classic."
"Don't you disturb me, Curly, or I'll never get done," implored the
"You're doing well. You've only been an hour and a half on six
lines," the tormentor mocked.
Womanlike, she was quite at her ease, since he was very far indeed
from being at his. Yet she had a problem of her own she was trying to
Had he discovered, after all, that she was not a boy, and had his
reasons--the ones he was trying to tell in that disturbing
letter--anything to do with that discovery? Such a theory accounted for
several things she had noticed in him of late. There was an added
respect in his manner for her. He never now invaded the room recognized
as hers without a specific invitation, nor did he seem any longer to
chafe at the little personal marks of fastidiousness that had at first
appeared to annoy him. To be sure, he ordered her about, just as he had
been in the habit of doing at first. But it was conceivable that this
might be a generous blind to cover up his knowledge of her sex.
"How do you spell guessed--one s or two?" he presently asked, out of
the throes of composition.
She spelled it, and added demurely: "Adore has only one d"
Bucky laid down his pen and pretended to glare at him. "You young
rascal, what do you mean by bothering me like that? Act like that, you
young imp, and you'll never grow up to be a gentleman."
Their glances caught and held, the minds of each of them busy over
that last prediction of his. For one long instant masks were off and
both were trying to find an answer to a question in the eyes opposite.
Then voluntarily each gaze released the other in a confusion of sweet
shame. For the beating of a lash, soul had looked into naked soul, all
disguise stripped from them. She knew that he knew. Yet in that instant
when his secret was surprised from him another secret, sweeter than the
morning song of birds, sang its way into both their hearts.
CHAPTER 10. THE HOLD-UP OF THE M. C. P. FLYER
Agua Negra is twelve miles from Chihuahua as the crow flies, but if
one goes by rail one twists round thirty sinuous miles of rough
mountainous country in the descent from the pass to the capital of the
State. The ten men who slipped singly or by twos out of the city in the
darkness that evening and met at the rendezvous of the Santa Dolorosa
mission did not travel by rail to the pass, but followed a horseback
trail which was not more than half the distance.
At the mission O'Halloran and his friend found gathered half a dozen
Mexicans, one or two of them tough old campaigners, the rest young
fellows eager for the excitement of their first active service.
"Is Juan Valdez here yet?" asked O'Halloran, peering around in the
"Not yet; nor Manuel Garcia," answered a young fellow.
Bucky was introduced to those present under the name of Alessandro
Perdoza, and presently also to the two missing members of the party who
arrived together a few moments later. Juan Valdez was the son of the
candidate who was opposing the reelection of Megales, and Manuel Garcia
was his bosom friend, and the young man to whom his sister was engaged.
They were both excellent types of the honorable aristocratic young
Mexican. They were lightly built, swarthy your men, possessed of that
perfect grace and courtesy which can be found at its best in the
Spanish races. Gay, handsome young cavaliers as they were, filled with
the pride of family, Bucky thought them almost ideal companions for
such a harebrained adventure as this. The ranger was a social democrat
to the marrow. He had breathed in with the Southwest breezes the
conviction that every man must stand on his own bottom, regardless of
adventitious circumstance, but he was not fool enough to think all men
equal. It had been his experience that some men, by grace of the
strength in them, were born to be masters and others by their weakness
to be servants. He knew that the best any civilization can offer a man
is a chance. Given that, it is up to every man to find his own
But though he had no sense of deference to what is known as good
blood, Bucky had too much horse sense to resent the careless,
half-indifferent greeting which these two young sprouts of aristocracy
bestowed on the rest of the party. He understood that it was the
natural product of their education and of that of the others.
"Are we all here?" asked Garcia.
"All here," returned O'Halloran briskly. "Rodrigo will guide the
party. I ride next with Senor Garcia. Perdoza and Senor Valdez will
bring up the rear. Forward, gentlemen, and may the Holy Virgin bring a
happy termination to our adventure." He spoke in Mexican, as they all
did, though for the next two hours conversation was largely suspended,
owing to the difficulty of the precipitous trail they were
Coming to a bit of the road where they were able to ride two
abreast, O'Connor made comment on the smallness of their number.
"O'Halloran must have a good deal of confidence in his men. Forty to
ten is rather heavy odds, is it not, senor?"
"There are six more to join us at the pass. The wagons have gone
round by the road and the drivers will assist in the attack."
"Of course it is all in the surprise. I have seen three men hold up
a train with five hundred people on it. Once I knew a gang to stick up
a treasure train with three heavily armed guards protecting the gold.
They got them right, with the drop on them, and it was good-by to the
"Yes, if they have had any warning or if our plans slip a cog
anywhere we shall be repulsed to a certainty."
By the light of a moon struggling out from behind rolling clouds
Bucky read eleven-thirty on his watch when the party reached Agua
Negra. It was still thirty minutes before the Flyer was due, and
O'Halloran disposed his forces with explicit directions as to the
course to be followed by each detail. Very rapidly he sketched his
orders as to the present disposition of the wagons and the groups of
attackers. When the train slowed down to remove the obstacles they
placed on the track, Garcia and another young man were to command
parties covering the train from both sides, while Rodrigo and one of
the drivers were to cover the engineer and the fireman.
O'Halloran himself, with Bucky and young Valdez, rode rapidly in the
direction of the approaching train. At Concho the engine would take on
water for the last stiff climb of the ascent, and here he meant to
board the train unnoticed, just as it was pulling out, in order to
emphasize the surprise at the proper moment and render resistance
useless. If the troopers were all together in the car next the one with
the boxes of rifles, he calculated that they might perhaps be taken
unawares so sharply as to render bloodshed unnecessary.
Concho was two miles from the summit, and when the three men
galloped down to the little station the headlight of the approaching
engine was already visible. They tied their horses in the mesquit and
lurked in the thick brush until the engine had taken water and the
signal for the start was given Then O'Halloran and Bucky slipped across
in the darkness to the train and swung themselves to the platform of
the last car. To Valdez, very much against his will, had fallen the
task of taking the horses back to Agua Negra Since the track wound
round the side of the mountain in such a way as to cover five miles in
making the summit from Concho, the young Mexican had ample time to get
back to the scene of action before the train arrived.
The big Irishman and Bucky rested quietly in the shadows of the back
platform for some time. Then they entered the last car, passed through
it, and on to the next. In the sleeper they met the conductor, but
O'Halloran quietly paid their fares and passed forward. As they had
hoped, the whole detail of forty men were in a special car next to the
one containing the arms consigned to Michael O'Halloran, importer of
Lieutenant Chaves, in charge of the detail sent out to see that the
rifles reached Governor Megales instead of the men who had paid for
them, was finding his assignment exceedingly uninteresting. There was
at Chihuahua a certain black-eyed dona with whom he had expected to
enjoy a pleasant evening's flirtation. It was confounded luck that it
had fallen to him to take charge of the escort for the guns. He had
endured in consequence an unpleasant day of dusty travel and many hours
of boredom through the evening. Now he was cross and sleepy, which
latter might also be said of the soldiers in general.
He was connected with a certain Arizona outfit which of late had
been making money very rapidly. If one more coup like the last could be
pulled off safely by his friend Wolf Leroy he would resign from the
army and settle down. It would then no longer be necessary to bore
himself with such details as this.
There was, of course, no necessity for alertness in his present
assignment. The opposition was scarcely mad enough to attempt taking
the guns from forty armed men. Chaves devoutly hoped they would, in
order that he might get a little glory, at least, out of the affair.
But of course such an expectation would be ridiculous. No, the journey
would continue to be humdrum to the end, he was wearily assured of
that, and consequently attempted to steal a half hour's sleep while
propped against a window with his feet in the seat opposite.
The gallant lieutenant was awakened by a cessation of the drumming
of the wheels. Opening his eyes, he saw that the train was no longer in
motion. He also saw--and his consciousness of that fact was much more
acute--the rim of a revolver about six inches from his forehead. Behind
the revolver was a man, a young Spanish gypsy, and he was offering the
officer very good advice.
"Don't move, sir. No cause for being uneasy. Just sit quiet and
everything will be serene. No, I wouldn't reach for that revolver, if I
Chaves cast a hurried eye down the car, and at the end of it beheld
the huge Irishman, O'Halloran, dominating the situation with a pair of
revolvers. Chaves' lambs were ranged on either side of the car, their
hands in the air. Back came the lieutenant's gaze to the impassive face
in front of him. Taken by and large, it did not seem an auspicious
moment for garnering glory. He decided to take the advice bestowed on
"Better put your hands up and vote with your men. Then you won't be
tempted to play with your gun and commit suicide. That's right, sir.
I'll relieve you of it if you don't object."
Since the lieutenant had no objections to offer, the smiling gypsy
possessed himself of the revolver. At the same instant two more men
appeared at the end of the car. One of them was Juan Valdez and another
one of the mule-skinners. Simultaneously with their entrance rang out a
most disconcerting fusillade of small arms in the darkness without.
Megales' military band, as O'Halloran had facetiously dubbed them to
the ranger, arrived at the impression that there were about a thousand
insurgents encompassing the train. Chaves choked with rage, but the
rest of the command yielded to the situation very tranquilly, with no
desire to offer themselves as targets to this crackling explosion of
Colts. Muy bien! After all, Valdez was a better man to serve than the
Swiftly Valdez and the wagon driver passed down the car and gathered
the weapons from the seats of the troopers. Raising a window, they
passed them out to their friends outside. Meanwhile, the sound of an
axe could be heard battering at the door of the next car, and presently
the crash of splintering wood announced that an entrance had been
"Breaking furniture, I reckon," drawled Bucky, in English, for the
moment forgetful of the part he was playing. "I hope they'll be all
right careful of them pianos and not mishandle them so they'll get out
"So, senor, you are American," said Chaves, in English, with a
O'Connor shrugged, answering in Spanish: "I am Romany. Who shall
say, whether American, or Spanish, or Bohemian? All nations call to me,
but none claim me, senor."
The lieutenant continued to smile his meaning grin. "Yet you are
American," he persisted.
"Oh, as you please. I am what you will, lieutenant."
"You speak the English like a native."
"You are complimentary."
Chaves lifted his eyebrows. "For believing that you are in costume,
that you are wearing a disguise, Mr. American?"
Bucky laughed outright, and offered a gay retort. "Believe me,
lieutenant, I am no more disguised as a gypsy than you are as a
The Mexican officer flushed with anger at the suggestion of contempt
in the careless voice. His generalship was discredited. He had been
outwitted and made to yield without a blow. But to have it flung in his
teeth with such a debonair insolence threw him into a fury.
"If you and I ever meet on equal terms, senor, God pity you," he
ground out between his set jaws.
Bucky bowed, answering the furious anger in the man's face as much
as his words. "I shall try to be careful not to offer myself a sheath
for a knife some dark night," he scoffed.
A whistle blew, and then again. The revolver of Bucky rang out
almost on the same instant as those of O'Halloran. Under cover of the
smoke they slipped out of the car just as Rodrigo leaped down from the
cab of the engine. Slowly the train began to back down the incline in
the same direction from which it had come. The orders given the
engineer were to move back at a snail's pace until he reached Concho
again. There he was to remain for two hours. That Chaves would submit
to this O'Halloran did not for a moment suspect.
But the track would be kept obstructed till six o'clock in the
morning, and a sufficient guard would wait in the underbrush to see
that the right of way was not cleared. In the meantime the wagons would
be pushing toward Chihuahua as fast as they could be hurried, and the
rest of the riders would guard them till they separated on the
outskirts of the town and slipped quietly in. In order to forestall any
telegraphic communication between Lieutenant Chaves and his superiors
in the city, the wires had been cut. On the face of it, the guns seemed
to be safe. Only one thing had O'Halloran forgotten. Eight miles across
the hills from Concho ran the line of the Chihuahua Northern.
CHAPTER 11. "STONE WALLS DO NOT A PRISON
The two young Spanish aristocrats rode in advance of the convoy on
the return trip, while O'Halloran and Bucky brought up the rear. The
roads were too rough to permit of rapid travel, but the teams were
pushed as fast as it could safely be done in the dark. It was necessary
to get into the city before daybreak, and also before word reached
Megales of the coup his enemies had made. O'Halloran calculated that
this could be done, but he did not want to run his margin of time too
"When the governor finds we have recaptured the arms, will he not
have all your leaders arrested today and thrown into the prison?" asked
"He will--if he can lay hands on them. But he had better catch his
hare before he cooks it. I'm thinking that none of us will be at home
to-day when his men come with a polite invitation to go along with
"Then he'll spend all day strengthening his position. With this
warning he will be a fool if he can't make himself secure before night,
when the army is on his side."
"Oh, the army is on his side, is it? Now, what would you say if most
of the officers were ready to come over to us as soon as we declare
ourselves? And ye speak of strengthening his position. The beauty of
his position, me lad, from our point of view, is that he doesn't know
his weak places. He'll be the most undeceived man in the State when the
test comes--unless something goes wrong."
"When do you propose to attack the prison?"
"To-night. To-morrow is election day, and we want all the byes we
can on hand to help us out."
"Do you expect to throw the prison doors wide open--let every
scoundrel in Chihuahua loose on the public."
"We couldn't do that, since half of them are loose already,"
retorted O'Halloran dryly. "And as for the rest--we expect to make a
selection, me son, to weed out a few choice ruffians and keep them
behind the bars. But if ye know anything about the prisons of this
country, you're informed, sir, that half the poor fellows behind bars
don't belong there so much as the folk that put them there. I'm Irish,
as ye are yourself, and it's me instinct to fight for the under dog.
Why shouldn't the lads rotting behind those walls have another chance
at the game? By the mother of Moses! they shall, if Mike O'Halloran has
anything to say about it."
"You ce'tainly conduct your lawful elections in a beautifully
lawless way," grinned the ranger.
"And why not? Isn't the law made for man?"
"For which man--Megales?"
"In order to give the greatest liberty to each individual man. But
here comes young Valdez riding back as if he were in a bit of a
The filibuster rode forward and talked with the young man for a few
minutes in a low voice. When he rejoined Bucky he nodded his head
toward the young man, who was again headed for the front of the column.
"There's the best lad in the State of Chihuahua. He's a Mexican, all
right, but he has as much sense as a white man. He doesn't mix issues.
Now, the lad's in love with Carmencita Megales, the prettiest
black-eyed lass in Mexico, and, by the same token, so is our friend
Chaves, who just gave us the guns a little while ago. But Valdez is a
man from the heel of him to the head. Miss Carmencita has her nose in
the air because Juan doesn't snuggle up to ould Megales and flatter him
the same way young Chaves does. So the lad is persona non grata at
court with the lady, and that tin soldier who gave up the guns without
a blow gets the lady's smiles. But it's my opinion that, for all her
haughty ways, miss would rather have our honest fighting lad than a
roomful of the imitation toy kind."
A couple of miles from the outskirts of the city the wagons
separated, and each was driven to the assigned place for the hiding of
the rifles till night. At the edge of the town Bucky made arrangements
to join his friend again at the monument in the centre of the plaza
within fifteen minutes. He was to bring his little partner with him,
and O'Halloran was to take them to a place where they might lie in
hiding till the time set for the rising.
"I would go with ye, but I want to take charge of the unloading.
Don't lose any time, lad, for as soon as Megales learns of what has
happened his fellows will scour the town for every mother's son of us.
Of course you have been under surveillance, and it's likely he'll try
to bag you with the rest of us. It was a great piece of foolishness me
forgetting about the line of the Chihuahua Northern and its telegraph.
But there's a chance Chaves has forgot, too. Anyway, get back as soon
as you can; after we're hidden, it will be like looking for a needle in
a haystack to put his fat finger on us."
Bucky went singing up the stairway of the hotel to his room. He was
keen to get back to his little friend after the hazards of the night,
eager to see the brown eyes light up with joy at sight of him and to
hear the soft voice with the trailing inflection drawl out its shy
questions. So he took the stairs three at a time, with a song on his
lips and in his heart.
"'Tis you shall reign, shall reign alone My dark Rosaleen! My own
Rosaleen! 'Tis you shall have the golden throne, 'Tis you shall reign,
and reign alone My dark Rosaleen!"
O'Connor, somewhat out of breath, was humming the last line when he
passed through the gypsy apartments and opened his own door, to meet
one of the surprises of his life. Yet he finished the verse, though he
was looking down the barrels of two revolvers in the hands of a pair of
troopers, and though Lieutenant Chaves, very much at his ease, sat on
the table dangling his feet.
Bucky's sardonic laughter rang out gayly. "I ce'tainly didn't expect
to meet you here, lieutenant. May I ask if you have wings?"
"Not exactly, senor. But it is quite possible you may have before
twenty-four hours," came the swift retort.
"Interesting, if true," remarked the ranger carelessly, tossing his
gloves on the bed. "And may I ask to what I am indebted for the
pleasure of a visit from you?"
"I am returning your call, sir, and at the very earliest
opportunity. I assure you that I have been in the city less than ten
minutes, Senor whatever-you-choose-to-call-yourself. My promptness I
leave you to admire."
"Oh, you're prompt enough, lieutenant. I noticed that when you
handed over your gun to me so lamblike." He laughed it out flippantly,
buoyantly, though it was on his mind to wonder whether the choleric
little officer might not kill him out of hand for it.
But Chaves merely folded his arms and looked sternly at the American
with a manner very theatrical. "Miguel, disarm the prisoner," he
"So I'm a prisoner," mused Bucky aloud. "And whyfor,
"Stirring up insurrection against the government. The prisoner will
not talk," decreed his captor, a frowning gaze attempting to quell
But here the popinjay officer reckoned without his host, for that
gentleman had the most indomitable eyes in Arizona. It was not
necessary for him to stiffen his will to meet the other's attack. His
manner was still lazy, his gaze almost insolent in its indolence, but
somewhere in the blue eyes was that which told Chaves he was his
master. The Mexican might impotently rebel--and did; he might feed his
vanity with the swiftness of his revenge, but in his heart he knew that
the moment was not his, after all, or that it was his at least with no
"The prisoner will not talk," repeated Bucky, with drawling mockery.
"Sure he will, general. There's several things he's awful curious to
know. One of them is how you happen to be Johnnie-on-the-spot so
The lieutenant's dignity melted before his vanity. Having so
excellent a chance to sun the latter, he delivered himself of an
oration. After all, silent contempt did not appear to be the best
weapon to employ with this impudent fellow.
"Senor, no Chaves ever forgets an insult. Last night you, a common
American, insulted me grossly--me, Lieutenant Ferdinand Chaves, me, of
the bluest Castilian blood." He struck himself dramatically on the
breast. "I submit, senor, but I vow revenge. I promised myself to spit
on you, to spit on your Stars and Stripes, the flag of a nation of
dirty traders. Ha! I do so now in spirit. The hour I have longed for is
Bucky took one step forward. His eyes had grown opaque and flinty.
"Take care, you cur."
Swiftly Chaves hurried on without pressing the point. He had a
prophetic vision of his neck in the vise grip of those brown, sinewy
hands, and, though his men would afterward kill the man, small good
would he get from that if the life were already squeezed out of
"And so what do I do? I think, and having thought I act with the
swiftness of a Chaves. How? I ride across country. I seize a hand car.
My men pump me to town on the roadbed of the Northern. I telephone to
the hotels and find where Americans are staying. Then I come here like
the wind, arrest your friend, and send him to prison, arrest you also
and send you to the gallows."
"That's real kind of you, general," replied Bucky, in irony
sportive. "But you really are putting yourself out too much for me. I
reckon I'll not trouble you to go so far. By the way, did I understand
you to say you had arrested a friend of mine?"
Indifferently he flung out the question, if his voice were index of
his feeling, but his heart was pumping faster than it normally
"He is in prison, where you will shortly join him. Soldiers, to the
commandant with your captive."
If Bucky had had any idea of attempting escape, he now abandoned it
at once. The place of all places where he most ardently desired to be
at that moment was in the prison with his little comrade. His desire
marched with that of Chaves so far, and the latter could not hurry him
there too fast to suit him.
One feature of the situation made him chuckle, and that was this:
The fiery lieutenant, intent first of all on his revenge, had given
first thought to the capture of the man who had made mincemeat of his
vanity and rendered him a possible subject of ridicule to his fellow
officers. So eager had he been to accomplish this that he had failed as
yet to notify his superiors of what had happened, with the result that
the captured guns had been safely smuggled in and hidden. Bucky thought
he could trust O'Halloran to see that he did not stay long behind bars
and bolts, unless indeed the game went against that sanguine and most
cheerful plotter. In which event--well, that was a contingency that
would certainly prove embarrassing to the ranger. It might indeed turn
out to be a good deal more than embarrassing in the end. The thing that
he had done would bear a plain name if the Megales faction won the
day--and the punishment for it would be easy to guess. But it was not
of himself that O'Connor was thinking. He had been in tight places
before and squeezed safely out. But his little friend, the one he loved
better than his life, must somehow be extricated, no matter how the
The ranger was taken at once before General Carlo, the ranking army
officer at Chihuahua, and, after a sharp preliminary examination, was
committed to prison. The impression that O'Connor got of Carlo was not
a reassuring one. The man was a military despot, apparently, and a
stickler for discipline. He had a hanging face, and, in the Yaqui war,
had won the nickname of "the butcher' for his merciless treatment of
captured natives. If Bucky were to get the same short shrift as they
did--and he began to suspect as much when his trial was set for the
same day before a military tribunal--it was time for him to be setting
what few worldly affairs he had in order. Technically, Megales had a
legal right to have him put to death and the impression lingered with
Bucky that the sly old governor would be likely to do that very thing
and later be full of profuse regrets to the United States Government
that inadvertently a citizen of the great republic had been punished by
Bucky was registered and receipted for at the prison office, after
which he was conducted to his cell. The corridors dripped as he
followed under ground the guide who led the way with a flickering
lantern. It was a gruesome place to contemplate as a permanent abode.
But the young American knew that his stay here would be short, whether
the termination of it were liberty or the gallows.
Reaching the end of a narrow, crooked corridor that sloped downward,
the turnkey unlocked a ponderous iron door with a huge key, and one of
the guards following at Bucky's heels, pushed him forward. He fell down
two or three steps and came to a sprawling heap on the floor of the
From the top of the steps came a derisive laugh as the door swung to
and left him in utter darkness.
Stiffly the ranger got to his knees and was about to rise when a
sound stopped him. Something was panting in deep breaths at the other
side of the cell. A shiver of terror went goose-quilling down
O'Connor's back. Had they locked him up with some wild beast, to be
torn to pieces? Or was this the ghost of some previous occupant? In
such blackness of gloom it was easy to believe, or, at least, to
imagine impossible conceptions that the light of day would have
scattered in an instant. He was afraid--afraid to the marrow.
And then out of the darkness came a small, trembling voice: "Are you
a prisoner, too, sir?"
Bucky wanted to shout aloud his relief--and his delight. The sheer
joy of his laughter told him how badly he had been frightened. That
voice--were he sunk in twice as deep and dark an inferno--he would know
it among a thousand. He groped his way forward toward it.
"Oh, little pardner, I'm plumb tickled to death you ain't a ghost,"
"It is--Bucky?" The question joyfully answered itself.
"Right guess. Bucky it is."
He had hold of her hands by this time, was trying to peer down into
the happy-brown eyes he knew were scanning him. "I can't see you yet,
Curly Haid, but it's sure you, I reckon. I'll have to pass my hand over
your face the way a blind man does," he laughed, and, greatly daring,
he followed his own suggestion, and let his fingers wander across her
crisp, thick hair, down her soft, warm cheeks, and over the saucy nose
and laughing mouth he had often longed to kiss.
Presently she drew away shyly, but the lilt of happiness in her
voice told him she was not offended. "I can see you, Bucky." The last
word came as usual, with that sweet, hesitating, upward inflection that
made her familiarity wholly intoxicating, even while the comradeship of
it left room for an interpretation either of gay mockery or something
deeper. "Yes, I can see you. That's because I have been here longer and
am more used to the darkness. I think I've been here about a year." He
felt her shudder. "You don't know how glad I am to see you."
"No gladder than I am to feel you," he answered gayly. "It's worth
the price of admission to find you here, girl o'mine."
He had forgotten the pretense that still lay between them, so far as
words went when they had last parted. Nor did it yet occur to him that
he had swept aside the convention of her being a boy. But she was
vividly aware of it, and aware, too, of the demand his last words had
made for a recognition of the relationship that existed in feeling
"I knew you knew I was a girl," she murmured.
"You knew more than that," he challenged joyfully.
But, in woman's way, she ignored his frontal attack. He was going at
too impetuous a speed for her reluctance. "How long have you known that
I wasn't a boy--not from the first, surely?"
"I don't know why I didn't, but I didn't. I was sure locoed," he
confessed. "It was when you came out dressed as a gypsy that I knew.
That explained to me a heap of things I never had understood before
"It explained, I suppose, why I never had licked the stuffing out of
any other kid, and why you did not get very far in making a man out of
me as you promised," she mocked.
"Yes, and it explained how you happened to say you were eighteen. By
mistake you let the truth slip out. Course I wouldn't believe it."
"I remember you didn't. I think you conveyed the impression to me
diplomatically that you had doubts."
"I said it was a lie," he laughed. "I sure do owe you a heap of
apologies for being so plumb dogmatic when you knew best. You'll have
to sit down on me hard once in a while, or there won't be any living
Blushingly she did some more ignoring. "That was the first time you
threatened to give me a whipping," she recalled aloud.
"My goodness! Did I ever talk so foolish?"
"You did, and meant it."
"But somehow I never did it. I wonder why I didn't."
"Perhaps I was so frail you were afraid you would break me."
"No, that wasn't it. In the back of my haid somewhere there was an
instinct that said: 'Bucky, you chump, if you don't keep your hands off
this kid you'll be right sorry all your life.' Not being given to many
ideas, I paid a heap of respect to that one."
"Well, it's too bad, for I probably needed that whipping, and now
you'll never be able to give it to me."
"I shan't ever want to now."
Saucily her merry eyes shot him from under the long lashes. "I'm not
so sure of that. Girls can be mighty aggravating."
"That's the way girls are meant to be, I expect," he laughed. "But
fifteen-year-old boys have to be herded back into line. There's a
She rescued her hands from him and led the way to a bench that
served for a seat. "Sit down here, sir. There are one or two things
that I have to explain." She sat down beside him at the farther end of
"This light is so dim, I can't see you away over there," he pleaded,
"You don't need to see me. You can hear me, can't you?"
She seemed to find a difficulty in beginning, even though the
darkness helped her by making it impossible for him to see her
embarrassment. Presently he chuckled softly. "No, ma'am, I can't even
hear you. If you're talking, I'll have to come closer."
"If you do, I'll get up. I want you to be really earnest."
"I never was more earnest in my life, Curly."
"Please, Bucky? It isn't easy to say it, and you mustn't make it
"Do you have to say it, pardner?" he asked, more seriously.
"Yes, I have to say it." And swiftly she blurted it out. "Why do you
suppose I came with you to Mexico?"
"I don't know." He grappled with her suggestion for a moment. "I
suppose--you said it was because you were afraid of Hardman."
"Well, I wasn't. At least, I wasn't afraid that much. I knew that I
would have been quite safe next time with the Mackenzies at the
"Then why was it?"
"You can't think of any reason?" She leaned forward and looked
directly into his eyes--eyes as honest and as blue as an Arizona
But he stood unconvicted--nay, acquitted. The one reason she had
dreaded he might offer to himself had evidently never entered his head.
Whatever guesses he might have made on the subject, he was plainly
guiltless of thinking she might have come with him because she was in
love with him.
"No, I can't think of any other reason, if the one you gave isn't
the right one."
"Quite sure, pardner."
"Think! Why did you come to Chihuahua?"
"To run down Wolf Leroy's gang and to get Dave Henderson out of
"Perhaps there is a reason why I should want him out of prison, a
better reason than you could possibly have."
"I don't savvy it. How can there be? You don't know him, do you?
He's been in prison almost ever since you were born." And on top of his
last statement Bucky's eyes began to open with a new light. "Good
heavens! It can't be possible. You're not Webb Mackenzie's little girl,
She did not answer him in words, but from her neck she slipped a
chain and handed it to him. On the chain hung a locket.
The ranger struck a match and examined the trinket. "It's the very
missing locket. See! Here's the other one. Compare them together." He
touched the spring and it opened, but the match was burned out and he
had to light another. "Here's the mine map that has been lost all these
years. How did you get this? Have you always had it? And how long have
you known that you were Frances Mackenzie?"
His questions tumbled out one upon another in his excitement.
She laughed, answering him categorically. "I don't know, for sure.
Yes, at least a great many years. Less than a week."
"But--I don't understand--"
"And won't until you give me a chance to do some of the talking,"
she interrupted dryly.
"That's right. I reckon I am getting off left foot first. It's your
powwow now," he conceded.
"So long as I can remember exactly I have always lived with the man
Hardman and his wife. But before that I can vaguely recall something
different. It has always seemed like a kind of fairyland, for I was a
very little tot then. But one of the things I seem to remember was a
sweet, kind-eyed mother and a big, laughing father. Then, too, there
were horses and lots of cows. That is about all, except that the chain
around my neck seemed to have some connection with my early life.
That's why I always kept it very carefully, and, after one of the
lockets broke, I still kept it and the funny-looking paper inside of
"I don't understand why Hardman didn't take the paper," he
"I suppose he did, and when he discovered that it held only half the
secret of the mine he probably put it back in the locket. I see you
have the other part."
"It was lost at the place where the robbers waited to hold up the T.
P. Limited. Probably you lost it first and one of the robbers found
"Probably," she said, in a queer voice.
"What was the first clue your father had had for many years about
his little girl. He happened to be at Aravaipa the day you and I first
met. I guess he took a fancy to me, for he asked me to take this case
up for him and see if I couldn't locate you. I ran Hardman down and
made him tell me the whole story. But he lied about some of it, for he
told me you were dead."
"He is a born liar," the girl commented. "Well, to get on with my
story. Anderson, or Hardman, as he now calls himself, except when he
uses his stage name of Cavallado, went into the show business and took
me with him. When I was a little bit of a girl he used to use me for
all sorts of things, such as a target for his knife throwing and to
sell medicine to the audience. Lots of people would buy because I was
such a morsel of a creature, and I suppose he found me a drawing card.
We moved all over the country for years. I hated the life. But what
could I do?"
"You poor little lamb," murmured the man. "And when did you find out
who you were?"
"I heard you talking to him the night you took him back to Epitaph,
and then I began to piece things together. You remember you went over
the whole story with him again just before we reached the town."
"And you knew it was you I was talking about?"
"I didn't know. But when you mentioned the locket and the map, I
knew. Then it seemed to me that since this man Henderson had lost so
many years of his life trying to save me I must do something for him.
So I asked you to take me with you. I had been a boy so long I didn't
think you would know the difference, and you did not. If I hadn't
dressed as a girl that time you would not know yet."
"Maybe, and maybe not," he smiled. "Point is, I do know, and it
makes a heap of difference to me."
"Yes, I know," she said hurriedly. "I'm more trouble now."
"That ain't it," he was beginning, when a thought brought him up
short. As the daughter of Webb Mackenzie this girl was no longer a
penniless outcast, but the heiress of one-half interest in the big
Rocking Chair Ranch, with its fifteen thousand head of cattle. As the
first he had a perfect right to love her and to ask her to marry him,
but as the latter--well, that was quite a different affair. He had not
a cent to bless himself with outside of his little ranch and his
salary, and, though he might not question his own motives under such
circumstances, there would be plenty who would question them for him.
He was an independent young man as one could find in a long day's ride,
and his pride rose up to padlock his lips.
She looked across at him in shy surprise, for all the eagerness had
in an instant been sponged from his face. With a hard, impassive
countenance he dropped the hand he had seized and turned away.
"You were saying--" she suggested.
"I reckon I've forgot what it was. It doesn't matter, anyhow."
She was hurt, and deeply. It was all very well for her to try her
little wiles to delay him, but in her heart she longed to hear the
words he had been about to say. It had been very sweet to know that
this brown, handsome son of Arizona loved her, very restful to know
that for the first time in her life she could trustfully let her
weakness lean on the strength of another. And, more than either, though
she sometimes smilingly pretended to deny it to herself, was the
ultimate fact that she loved him. His voice was music to her, his
presence joy. He brought with him sunshine, and peace, and
He was always so reliable, so little the victim of his moods. What
could have come over him now to change him in that swift instant? Was
she to blame? Had she unknowingly been at fault? Or was there something
in her story that had chilled him? It was characteristic of her that it
was herself she doubted and not him; that it never occurred to her that
her hero had feet of clay like other men.
She felt her heart begin to swell, and choked back a sob. It wrung
him to hear the little breath catch, but he was a man, strong-willed
and resolute. Though he dug his finger nails into his palms till the
flesh was cut he would not give way to his desire.
"You're not angry at me--Bucky?" she asked softly.
"No, I'm not angry at you." His voice was cold because he dared not
trust himself to let his tenderness creep into it.
"I haven't done anything that I ought not to? Perhaps you think it
wasn't--wasn't nice to--to come here with you."
"I don't think anything of the kind," his hard voice answered. "I
think you're a prince, if you want to know."
She smiled a little wanly, trying to coax him back into
friendliness. "Then if I'm a prince you must be a princess," she
"I meant a prince of good fellows" "Oh!" She could be stiff, too, if
it came to that.
And at this inopportune moment the key turned harshly and the door
CHAPTER 12. A CLEAN WHITE MAN'S OPTION
The light of a lantern coming down the steps blinded them for a
moment. Behind the lantern peered the yellow face of the turnkey. "Ho,
there, Americano! They want you up above," the man said. "The generals,
and the colonels, and the captains want a little talk with you before
they hang you, senor."
The two soldiers behind the fellow cackled merrily at his wit, and
the encouraged turnkey tried again.
"We shall trouble you but a little time. Only a few questions,
senor, an order, and then poco tiempo, after a short walk to the
"What--what do you mean?" gasped the girl whitely.
"Never mind, muchacho. This is no affair of yours. Your turn will
come later. Have no fear of that," nodded the wrinkled old parchment
"But--but he hasn't done anything wrong."
"Ho, ho! Let him explain that to the generals and the colonels,"
croaked the old fellow. "And that you may explain the sooner, senor,
hurry--let your feet fly!"
Bucky walked across to the girl he loved and took her hands in
"If I don't come back before three hours read the letter that I
wrote you yesterday, dear. I have left matches on that bench so that
you may have a light. Be brave, pardner. Don't lose your nerve,
whatever you do. We'll both get out of this all right yet."
He spoke in a low voice, so that the guards might not hear, and it
was in kind that she answered.
"I'm afraid, Bucky; afraid away down deep. You don't half believe
yourself what you say. I can't stand it to be here alone and not know
what's going on. They might be--be doing what that man said, and I not
know anything about it till afterward." She broke down and began to
sob. "Oh, I know I'm a dreadful little coward, but I can't be like
you--and you heard what he said."
"Sho! What he says is nothing. I'm an American citizen, and I reckon
that will carry us through all right. Uncle Sam has awful long arms,
and these greasers know it. I'm expecting to come back here again,
little pardner. But if I don't make it, I want you, just as soon as
they turn you loose, to go straight to your father's ranch."
"Come! This won't do. Look alive, senor," the turnkey ordered, and
to emphasize his words reached a hand forward to pluck away the sobbing
lad. Bucky caught his wrist and tightened on it like a vise. "Hands
off, here!" he commanded quietly.
The man gave a howl of pain and nursed his hand gingerly after it
"Oh, Bucky, make him let me go, too," the girl wailed, clinging to
Gently he unfastened her fingers. "You know I would if I could,
Curly; but it isn't my say-so."
And with that he was gone. Ashen-faced she watched him go, and as
soon as the door had closed groped her way to the bench and sank down
on it, her face covered with her hands. He was going to his death. Her
lover was going to his death. Why had she let him go? Why had she not
done something--thought of some way to save him?
The ranger's guards led him to the military headquarters in the next
street from the prison. He observed that nearly a whole company of
Rurales formed the escort, and this led him to conclude that the
government party was very uneasy as to the situation and had taken
precautions against a possible attempt at rescue. But no such attempt
was made. The sunny streets were pretty well deserted, except for a few
lounging peons hardly interested enough to be curious. The air of
peace, of order, sat so incongruously over the plaza that Bucky's heart
fell. Surely this was the last place on earth for a revolution to make
any headway of consequence. His friends were hidden away in holes and
cellars, while Megales dominated the situation with his troops. To
expect a reversal of the situation was surely madness.
Yet even while the thought was in his mind he caught a glimpse in a
doorway of a man he recognized. It was Rodrigo, one of his allies of
the previous night's escapade, and it seemed to him that the man was
trying to tell him something with his eyes. If so, the meaning of his
message failed to carry home, for after the ranger had passed he dared
not look back again.
So far as the trial itself went, O'Connor hoped for nothing and was
the less disappointed. One glance at his judges was enough to convince
him of the futility of expectation. He was tried by a court-martial
presided over by General Carlo. Beside him sat a Colonel Onate and
Lieutenant Chaves. In none of the three did he find any room for hope.
Carlo was a hater of Americans and a butcher by temperament and choice,
Chaves a personal enemy of the prisoner, and Onate looked as grim an
old scoundrel as Jeffreys the hanging judge of James Stuart. Governor
Megales, though not technically a member of the court, was present, and
took an active part in the prosecution. He was a stout, swarthy little
man, with black, beady eyes that snapped restlessly to and fro, and
from his manner to the officers in charge of the trial it was plain
that he was a despot even in his own official family.
The court did not trouble itself with forms of law. Chaves was both
principal witness and judge, notwithstanding the protest of the
prisoner. Yet what the lieutenant had to offer in the way of testimony
was so tinctured with bitterness that it must have been plain to the
veriest novice he was no fit judge of the case.
But Bucky knew as well as the judges that his trial was a merely
perfunctory formality. The verdict was decided ere it began, and,
indeed, so eager was Megales to get the farce over with that several
times he interrupted the proceedings to urge haste.
It took them just fifteen minutes from the time the young American
was brought into the room to find him guilty of treason and to decide
upon immediate execution as the fitting punishment.
General Carlo turned to the prisoner. "Have you anything to say
before I pronounce sentence of death upon you?"
"I have," answered Bucky, looking him straight in the eyes. "I am an
American, and I demand the rights of a citizen of the United
"An American?" Incredulously Megales lifted his eyebrows. "You are a
Spanish gypsy, my friend."
The ranger was fairly caught in his own trap. He had donned the
gypsy masquerade because he did not want to be taken for what he was,
and he had succeeded only too well. He had played into their hands.
They would, of course, claim, in the event of trouble with the United
States, that they had supposed him to be what his costume proclaimed
him, and they would be able to make good their pretense with a very
decent appearance of candor. What an idiot of sorts he had been!
"We understand each other perfectly, governor. I know and you know
that I am an American. As a citizen of the United States I claim the
protection of that flag. I demand that you will send immediately for
the United States consul to this city."
Megales leaned forward with a thin, cruel smile on his face. "Very
well, senor. Let it be as you say. Your friend, Senor O'Halloran, is
the United States consul. I shall be very glad to send for him if you
can tell me where to find him. Having business with him to-day, I have
despatched messengers who have been unable to find him at home. But
since you know where he is, and are in need of him, perhaps you can
assist me with information of value."
Again Bucky was fairly caught. He had no reason to doubt that the
governor spoke truth in saying that O'Halloran was the United States
consul. There were in the city as permanent residents not more than
three or four citizens of the United States. With the political
instinct of the Irish, it would be very characteristic of O'Halloran to
work his "pull" to secure for himself the appointment. That he had not
happened to mention the fact to his friend could be accounted for by
reason of the fact that the duties of the office at that place were few
"We are waiting, senor. If you will tell us where we may send?"
"I do not know any more than you do, if he is not at home."
The governor's eyes glittered. "Take care, senor. Better sharpen
"It's pretty hard to remember what one never knew," retorted the
The Mexican tyrant brought his clinched fist slowly down on the
table in front of him. "It is necessary to remember, sir. It is
necessary to answer a few questions. If you answer them to our
satisfaction you may yet save your life."
"Indeed!" Bucky swept his fat bulk scornfully from head to foot. "If
I were what you think me, do you suppose I would betray my
"You have no option, sir. Answer my questions, or die like a
"You mean that you would not think you had any option if you were in
my place, but since I'm a clean white man there's an option. By God!
sir, it doesn't take me a whole lot of time to make it, either. I'll
see you rot in hell before I'll play Judas."
The words rang like a bell through the room, not loud, but clear and
vibrant. There was a long instant's silence after the American finished
speaking, and as his eyes swept from one to another of the enemy Bucky
met with a surprise. On Colonel Onate's face was a haggard look of
fear--surely it was fear--that lifted in relief at the young man's
brave challenge. He had been dreading something, and the dread was
lifted. Onate! Onate! The ranger's memory searched the past few days to
locate the name. Had O'Halloran mentioned it? Was this man one of the
officers expected to join the opposition when it declared itself
against Megales? He had a vague recollection of the name, and he could
have heard it only through his friend.
"Was Juan Valdez a member of the party that took the rifles from
Lieutenant Chaves and his escort?"
Bucky laughed out his contempt.
"Speak, sir," broke in Chaves. "Answer the governor, you dog."
"If I speak, it will be to tell you what a cur I think you."
Chaves flushed angrily and laid a hand on his revolver. "Who are you
that play dice with death, like a fool?"
"My name, seh, is Bucky O'Connor."
At the words a certain fear, followed by a look of triumph, passed
over the face of Chaves. It was as if he had had an unpleasant shock
that had instantly proved groundless. Bucky did not at the time
"Why don't you shoot? It's about your size, you pinhead, to kill an
"Tell all you know and I promise you your life." It was Megales who
"I'll tell you nothing, except that I'm Bucky O'Connor, of the
Arizona Rangers. Chew on that a while, governor, and see how it tastes.
Kill me, and Uncle Sam is liable to ask mighty loud whyfor; not because
I'm such a mighty big toad in the puddle, but because any man that
stands under that flag has back of him the biggest, best, and gamest
country on God's green footstool." Bucky spoke in English this time,
straight as he could send it.
"In that case, I think sentence may now be pronounced, general."
"I warn you that the United States will exact vengeance for my
"Indeed!" Politely the governor smiled at him with a malice almost
devilish. "If so, it will be after you are dead, Senor Bucky O'Connor,
of the Arizona Rangers."
Colonel Onate leaned forward and whispered something to General
Carlo, who shook his head and frowned. Presently the black head of
Chaves joined them, and the three were in excited discussion. Arms
waved like signals, as is usual among the Latin races who talk with
their hands and expressive shrugs of the shoulders. Outvoted by two to
one, Onate appealed to the governor, who came up and listened,
frowning, to both sides of the debate. In their excitement the voices
raised, and to Bucky came snatches of phrases that told him his life
hung in the balance. Carlo and Chaves were for having him executed out
of hand, at latest, by sunset. The latter was especially vindictive.
Indeed, it seemed to the ranger that ever since he had mentioned his
name this man had set himself more malevolently to compass his death.
Onate maintained, on the other hand, that their prisoner was worth more
to them alive than dead. There was a chance that he might weaken before
morning and tell secrets. At worst they would still have his life as a
card to hold in case of need over the head of the rebels. If it should
turn out that this was not needed, he could be executed in the morning
as well as to-night.
It may be conceived with what anxiety Bucky listened to the
whispered conversation and waited for the decision of the governor. He
was a game man, noted even in a country famous for its courageous
citizens, but he felt strangely weak now as he waited with that
leather-crusted face of his bereft of all expression.
"Give him till morning to weaken. If he still stays obstinate, hang
him in the dawn," decided the governor, his beady eyes fixed on the
Not a flicker of the eyelid betrayed the Arizonian's emotion, but
for an instant the world swam dizzily before him. Safe till morning!
Before then a hundred chances might change the current of the game in
his favor. How brightly the sunshine flooded the room! What a glorious
world it was, after all! Through the open window poured the rich,
full-throated song of a meadow lark, and the burden of its blithe song
was, "How good is this life the mere living."
CHAPTER 13. BUCKY'S FIRST-RATE REASONS
How long Frances Mackenzie gave herself up to despair she never
knew, but when at last she resolutely took herself in hand it seemed
hours later. "Bucky told me to be brave, he told me not to lose my
nerve," she repeated to herself over and over again, drawing comfort
from the memory of his warm, vibrant voice. "He said he would come
back, and he hates a liar. So, of course, he will come." With such
argument she tried to allay her wild fears.
But on top of all her reassurances would come a swift, blinding
vision of gallant Bucky being led to his death that crumpled her
courage as a hammer might an empty egg shell. What was the use of her
pretending all was well when at that very moment they might be
murdering him? Then in her agony she would pace up and down, wringing
her hands, or would beat them on the stone walls till the soft flesh
was bruised and bleeding.
It was in the reaction, after one of these paroxysms of despair,
that in her groping for an anchor to make fast her courage she thought
of his letter.
"He said in three hours I was to read it if he didn't come back. It
must be more than three hours now," she said aloud to herself, and knew
a fresh dread at his prolonged absence beyond the limit he had set.
In point of fact, he had been gone less than three-quarters of an
hour, but in each one of them she had lived a lifetime of pain and died
By snatches she read her letter, a sentence or a fragment of a
sentence at a time as the light served. Luckily he had left a case
nearly full of matches, and one after another of them dropped, charred
and burned out, before she had finished reading. After she had read it,
her first love letter, she must needs go over it again, to learn by
heart the sweet phrases in which he had wooed her. It was a commonplace
note enough, far more neutral than the strong, virile writer who had
lacked the cunning to transmit his feeling to ink and paper. But, after
all, it was from him, and it told the divine message, however
haltingly. No wonder she burned her little finger tips from the flame
of the matches creeping nearer unheeded. No wonder she pressed it to
her lips in the darkness and dreamed her happy dream in those few
moments when she was lost in her love before cruel realities pressed
home on her again.
"I told you, Little Curly Haid, that I had first-rate reasons for
not wanting to be killed by these Mexicans. So I have, the best reasons
going. But they are not ripe to tell you, and so I write them.
"I guessed your secret, little pardner, right away when I seen you
in a girl's outfit. If I hadn't been blind as a bat I would have
guessed it long since, for all the time my feelings were telling me
mighty loud that you were the lovingest little kid Bucky had ever come
"I'll not leave you to guess my secret the way you did me yours,
dear Curly, but right prompt I'll set down adore (with one D) and say
you hit the bull's-eye that time without expecting to. But if I was
saying it I would not use any French words sweetheart, but plain
American. And the word would be l-o-v-e, without any D's. Now you have
got the straight of it, my dear. I love you--love you--love you, from
the crown of that curly hear to the soles of your little feet. What's
more, you have got to love me, too, since I am,
"Your future husband,
"BUCKY O CONNOR.
"P. S.--And now, Curly, you know my first-rate reasons for not
meaning to get shot up by any of these Mexican fellows."
So the letter ran, and it went to her heart directly as rain to the
thirsty roots of flowers. He loved her. Whatever happened, she would
always have that comfort. They might kill him, but they could not take
away that. The words of an old Scotch song that Mrs. Mackenzie sang
came back to her:
"The span o' life's nae large eneugh, Nor deep enough the sea, Nor
braid eneugh this weary warld, To part my love frae me."
No, they could not part their hearts in this world or the next, and
with this sad comfort she flung herself on the rough bed and sobbed.
She would grieve still, but the wildness of her grief and despair was
gone, scattered by the knowledge that however their troubles eventuated
they were now one in heart.
She was roused after a long time by the sound of the huge key
grating in the lock. Through the opened door a figure descended, and by
an illuminating swing of the turnkey's lantern she saw that it was
Bucky. Next moment the door had closed and they were in each other's
arms. Bucky's stubborn pride, the remembrance of the riches which of a
sudden had transformed his little partner into an heiress and set a
high wall of separation between them, these were swept clean away on a
great wave of love which took Bucky off his feet and left him
"I had almost given you up," she cried joyfully.
Again he passed his hand across her face. "You've been crying,
little pardner. Were you crying on account of me?"
"On account of myself, because I was afraid I had lost you. Oh,
Bucky, isn't it too good to be true?"
The ranger smiled, remembering that he had about fourteen hours to
live, if the Megales faction triumphed. "Good! I should think it is.
Bully! I've been famished to see Curly Haid again."
"And to know that everything is going to come out all right and that
we love each other."
"That's right good hearing and most ce'tainly true on my side of it.
But how do you happen to know it so sure?" he laughed gayly.
"Why, your letter, Bucky. It was the dearest letter. I love it."
"But you weren't to read it for three hours," he pretended to
reprove, holding her at arm's length to laugh at her.
"Wasn't it three hours? It seemed ever so much longer."
"You little rogue, you didn't play fair." And to punish her he drew
her soft, supple body to him in a close embrace, and for the first time
kissed the sweet mouth that yielded itself to him.
"Tell me all about what happened to you," she bade him playfully,
after speech was again in order.
"Sure." He caught her hand to lead her to the bench and she winced
"I burned it," she explained, adding, with a ripple of shy laughter:
"When I was reading your letter. It doesn't really hurt, though."
But he had to see for himself and make much over the little blister
that the flame of a match revealed to him. For they were both very much
in love, and, in consequence, bubbling over with the foolishness that
is the greatest inherited wisdom of the ages.
But though her lover had acquiesced so promptly to her demand for a
full account of his adventures since leaving her, that young man had no
intention of offering an unexpurged edition of them. It was his hope
that O'Halloran would storm the prison during the night and effect a
rescue. If so, good; if not, there was no need of her knowing that for
them the new day would usher in fresh sorrow. So he gave her an account
of his trial and its details, told her how he had been convicted, and
how Colonel Onate had fought warily to get the sentence of execution
postponed in order to give their friends a chance to rescue them.
"When Megales remanded me to prison I wanted to let out an Arizona
yell, Curly. It sure seemed too good to be true."
"But he may want the sentence carried out some time, if he changes
his mind. Maybe in a week or two he may take a notion that " She
stopped, plainly sobered by the fear that the good news of his return
might not be final.
"We won't cross that bridge till we come to it. You don't suppose
our friends are going to sit down and fold their hands, do you? Not if
I've got Mike O'Halloran and young Valdez sized up right. Fur is going
to begin to fly pretty soon in this man's country. But it's up to us to
help all we can, and I reckon we'll begin by taking a preliminary
survey of this wickiup."
Wickiup was distinctly good, since the word is used to apply to a
frail Indian hut, and this cell was nothing less than a tomb built in
the solid rock by blowing out a chamber with dynamite and covering the
front with a solid sheet of iron, into which a door fitted. It did not
take a very long investigation to prove to Bucky that escape was
impossible by any exit except the door, which meant the same thing as
impossible at all under present conditions. Yet he did not yield to
this opinion without going over every inch of the walls many times to
make sure that no secret panel opened into a tunnel from the room.
"I reckon they want to keep us, Curly. Mr. Megales has sure got us
real safe this time. I'd be plumb discouraged about breaking jail out
of this cage. It's ce'tainly us to stay hitched a while."
About dark tortillas and frijoles were brought down to them by the
facetious turnkey, who was accompanied as usual by two guards.
"Why don't my little birdies sing?" he asked, with a wink at the
soldiers. "One of them will not do any singing after daybreak
to-morrow. Ho, ho, my larks! Tune up, tune up!"
"What do you mean about one not singing after daybreak?" asked the
girl, with eyes dilating.
"What! Hasn't he told you? Senor the ranger is to be hanged at the
dawn unless he finds his tongue for Governor Megales. Ho, ho! Our
birdie must speak even if he doesn't sing." And with that as a parting
shot the man clanged the door to after him and locked it.
"You never told me, Bucky. You have been trying to deceive me," she
He shrugged his shoulders. "What was the use, girlie? I knew it
would worry you, and do no good. Better let you sleep in peace, I
"While you kept watch alone and waited through the long night. Oh,
Bucky!" She crept close to him and put her arms around his neck,
holding him tight, as if in the hope that she could keep him against
the untoward fate that was reaching for him. "Oh, Bucky, if I could
only die for you!"
"Don't give up, little friend. I don't. Somehow I'll slip out, and
then you'll have to live for me and not die for me."
"What is it that the governor wants you to say that you won't?"
"Oh, he wants me to sell our friends. I told him to go climb a giant
"Of course you couldn't do that," she sighed regretfully.
He laughed. "Well, hardly, and call myself a white man."
"But--" She blanched at the alternative. "Oh, Bucky, we must do
something. We must-- we must."
"It ain't so bad as it looks, honey. You want to remember that Mike
O'Halloran is on deck. What's the matter with him knocking out a home
run and bringing us both in. I put a heap of confidence in that
red-haided Irishman," he answered cheerfully.
"You say that just to--to give me courage. You don't really think he
can do anything," she said wanly.
"That's just what I think, Curly. Some men have a way of getting
things done. When you look at O'Halloran you feel this, the same as you
do when you look at Val Collins. Oh, he'll get us out all right. I've
been in several tighter holes than this one." His mention of Collins
suggested a diversion, and he took up a less distressing theme lightly.
"Wonder what Val is doing at this precise moment. I'll bet he's
beginning to make things warm for Wolf Leroy's bunch of miscreants.
We'll have the robbers of the Limited behind the bars within two weeks
now, or I miss my guess."
He had succeeded in diverting her attention better than he had dared
to hope. Her big eyes fixed on his much as if he had raised for her
some forgotten spectre.
"That's another thing I must tell you. I didn't think to before. But
I want you to know all about me now. Don't think me bad, Bucky. I'm
only a girl. I couldn't help myself," she pleaded.
"What is it you have done that is so awful?" he smiled, and went to
gather her into his arms.
She stayed him with a gesture of her hand. "No, not yet. Mebbe after
you know you won't want to. I was one of the robbers of the
"You--what!" he exclaimed, for once struck dumb with sheer
"Yes, Bucky. I expect you'll hate me now. What is it you called
me--a miscreant? Well, that's what I am."
His arms slipped round her as she began to sob, and he gentled her
till she could again speak. "Tell me all about it, little Curly." he
"I didn't go into it because I wanted to. My master made me. I don't
know much about the others, except that I heard the names they called
"Would you know them again if you saw them? But of course you
"Yes. But that's it, Bucky. I hated them all, and I was in mortal
fear all the time. Still--I can't betray them. They thought I went in
freely with them--all but Hardman. It wouldn't be right for me to tell
what I know. I've got to make you see that, dear."
"You'll not need to argue that with me, honey. I see it. You must
keep quiet. Don't tell anybody else what you've told me."
"And will they put me in the penitentiary when the rest go
"Not while Bucky O'Connor is alive and kicking," he told her
But the form in which he had expressed his feeling was unfortunate.
It brought them back to the menace of their situation. Neither of them
could tell how long he would be alive and kicking. She flung herself
into his arms and wept till she could weep no more.
CHAPTER 14. LE ROI EST MORT; VIVE LE ROI
When the news reached O'Halloran that Megales had scored on the
opposition by arresting Bucky O'Connor, the Irishman swore fluently at
himself for his oversight in forgetting the Northern Chihuahua. So far
as the success of the insurgents went, the loss of the ranger was a
matter of no importance, since O'Halloran knew well that nothing in the
way of useful information could be cajoled or threatened out of him.
But, personally, it was a blow to the filibuster, because he knew that
the governor would not hesitate to execute his friend if his fancy or
his fears ran that way, and the big, red-headed Celt would not have let
Bucky go to death for a dozen teapot revolutions if he could help
"And do you think you're fit to run even a donation party, you
great, blundering gumph?" Mike asked himself, in disgust. "You a
conspirator! You a leader of a revolution! By the ghost of Brian Boru,
you had better run along back to the kindergarten class."
But he was not the man to let grass grow under his feet while he
hesitated how to remedy his mistake. Immediately he got in touch with
Valdez and a few of his party, and decided on a bold counterstroke
that, if successful, would oppose a checkmate to the governor's check
and would also make unnecessary the unloosing of the State prisoners on
the devoted heads of the people.
"But mind, gentlemen," said Juan Valdez plainly, "the governor must
not be injured personally. I shall not consent to any violence, no
matter what the issue. Furthermore, I should like to be given charge of
the palace, in order to see that his wants are properly provided for.
We cannot afford to have our movement discredited at the outset by
unnecessary bloodshed or by any wanton outrages."
O'Halloran smothered a smile. "Quite right, senor. Success at all
hazards, but, if possible, success with peace. And, faith, subject to
the approval of the rest of those present, I do hereby appoint you
keeper of the governor's person and his palace, as well as all that do
dwell therein, including his man servants, his maid servants, and his
daughter. We hold you personally responsible for their safe keeping.
See that none of them cherish the enemy or give aid and comfort to
them." The Irishman finished, with a broad smile that seemed to say:
"Begad, there's a clear field. Go in and win, me bye."
Nothing could be done in broad daylight, while the troops of the
government party patrolled the streets and were prepared to pounce on
the first suspects that poked their noses out of the holes where they
were hidden. Nevertheless, their spies were busy all day, reporting to
the opposition leaders everything that happened of interest. In the
course of the day General Valdez, the father of Juan, was arrested on
suspicion of complicity and thrown into prison, as were a score of
others thought to be in touch with the Valdez faction. All day the
troops of the governor were fussily busy, but none of the real leaders
of the insurgents was taken. For General Valdez, though he had been
selected on account of his integrity and great popularity to succeed
Megales, was unaware of the plot on foot to retire the dictator from
It was just after nightfall that a farmer drove into Chihuahua with
a wagonload of alfalfa. He was halted once or twice by guards on the
streets, but, after a very cursory inspection, was allowed to pass. His
route took him past the back of the governor's palace, an impressive
stone affair surrounded by beautiful grounds. Here he stopped, as if to
fasten a tug. Out of the hay tumbled fifteen men armed with rifles and
revolvers, all of them being careful to leave the wagon on the side
farthest from the palace.
"Now, me lads, we're all heroes by our talk. It's up to us to make
good. I can promise one thing: by this time to-morrow we'll all be live
patriots or dead traitors. Which shall it be?"
O'Halloran's concluding question was a merely rhetorical one, for
without waiting for an answer he started at the double toward the
palace, taking advantage of the dense shrubbery that offered cover up
to the last twenty yards. This last was covered with a rush so rapid
that the guard was surprised into a surrender without a protest.
Double guard was on duty on account of the strained situation, but
the officer in charge, having been won over to the Valdez side, had
taken care to pick them with much pains. As a consequence, the
insurgents met friends in place of enemies, and within three minutes
controlled fully the palace. Every entrance was at once closed and
guarded, so that no news of the reversal could reach the military
So silently had the palace been taken that, except the guards and
one or two servants held as prisoners, not even those living within it
were aware of anything unusual.
"Senor Valdez, you are appointed to notify the senorita that she
need not be alarmed at what has occurred. Senor Garcia will act as
captain of the day, and allow nobody to leave the building under any
pretext whatever. I shall personally put the tyrant under arrest.
Rodrigo and Jose will accompany me."
O'Halloran left his subordinates at the door when he entered the
apartments of the governor. The outer room was empty, and the Irishman
passed through it to the inner one, where Megales was accustomed to
take his after-dinner siesta.
To-night, however, that gentleman was in no mood for peaceful
reflection followed by slumber. He was on the edge of a volcano, and he
knew it. The question was whether he could hold the lid on without an
eruption. General Valdez he dared not openly kill, on account of his
fame and his popularity, but that pestilent Irishman O'Halloran could
be assassinated and so could several of his allies--if they only gave
him time. That was the rub. The general dissatisfaction at his rule had
been no secret, of course, but the activity of the faction opposing
him, the boldness and daring with which it had risked all to overthrow
him, had come as so complete a surprise that he had been unprepared to
meet it. Everywhere to-night his guards covered the city, ready to
crush rebellion as soon as it showed its head. Carlo was in personal
charge of the troops, and would remain so until after the election
to-morrow, at which he would be declared formally reelected. If he
could keep his hands on the reins for twenty-four hours more the worst
would be past. He would give a good deal to know what that mad
Irishman, O'Halloran, was doing just now. If he could once get hold of
him, the opposition would collapse like a house of cards.
At that precise moment in walked the mad Irishman pat to the
Mexican's thought of him.
"Buenos noches, excellency. I understand yon have been looking for
me. I am, senor, yours to command." The big Irishman brought his heels
together and gave a mocking military salute.
The governor's first thought was that he was a victim of treachery,
his second that he was a dead man, his third that he would die as a
Spanish gentleman ought. He was pale to the eyes, but he lost no whit
of his dignity.
"You have, I suppose, taken the palace," he said quietly.
"As a loan, excellency, merely as a loan. After to-morrow it will be
returned you in the event you still need it," replied O'Halloran
"You expect to murder me, of course?"
The big Celt looked shocked. "Not at all! The bulletins may perhaps
have to report you accidentally killed or a victim of suicide.
Personally I hope not."
"I understand; but before this lamentable accident happens I beg
leave to assure myself that the palace really is in your hands, senor.
A mere formality, of course." The governor smiled his thin-lipped smile
and touched a bell beside him.
Twice Megales pressed the electric bell, but no orderly appeared in
answer to it. He bowed to the inevitable.
"I grant you victor, Senor O'Halloran. Would it render your victory
less embarrassing if I were to give you material immediately for that
bulletin on suicide?" He asked the question quite without emotion, as
courteously as if he were proposing a stroll through the gardens.
O'Halloran had never liked the man. The Irish in him had always
boiled at his tyranny. But he had never disliked him so little as at
this moment. The fellow had pluck, and that was one certain passport to
the revolutionist's favor.
"On the contrary, it would distress me exceedingly. Let us reserve
that bulletin as a regrettable possibility in the event that less
drastic measures fail."
"Which means, I infer, that you have need of me before I pass by the
Socratic method," he suggested, still with that pale smile set in
granite "I shall depend on you to let me know at what precise hour you
would like to order an epitaph written for me. Say the word at your
convenience, and within five minutes your bulletin concerning the late
governor will have the merit of truth."
"Begad, excellency, I like your spirit. If it's my say-so, you will
live to be a hundred. Come the cards are against you. Some other day
they may fall more pat for you. But the jig's up now."
"I am very much of your opinion, sir," agreed Megales.
"Then why not make terms?"
"Your life and your friends' lives against a graceful
"Our lives as prisoners or as free men?"
"The utmost freedom compatible with the circumstances. Your friends
may either leave or remain and accept the new order of things. I'm
afraid it will be necessary for you and General Carlo to leave the
state for your own safety. You have both many enemies."
"With our personal possessions?"
"Of course. Such property as you cannot well take may be left in the
hands of an agent and disposed of later."
Megales eyed him narrowly. "Is it your opinion, on honor, that the
general and I would reach the boundaries of the State without being
"I pledge you my honor and that of Juan Valdez that you will be
safely escorted out of the country if you will consent to a disguise.
It is only fair to him to say that he stands strong for your life."
"Then, sir, I accept your terms if you can make it plain to me that
you are strong enough to take the city against General Carlo."
From his pocket O'Halloran drew a typewritten list and handed it to
the governor, who glanced it over with interest.
"These army officers are all with you?"
"As soon as the word is given."
"You will pardon me if I ask for proof?"
"Certainly. Choose the name of any one of them you like and send for
him. You are at liberty to ask him whether he is pledged to us."
The governor drew a pencil-mark through a name. O'Halloran clapped
his hands and Rodrigo came into the room.
"Rodrigo, the governor desires you to carry a message to Colonel
Onate. He is writing it now. You will give Colonel Onate my compliments
and ask him to make as much haste as is convenient."
Megales signed and sealed the note he was writing and handed it to
O'Halloran, who in turn passed it to Rodrigo.
"Colonel Onate should be here in fifteen minutes at the farthest.
May I in the meantime offer you a glass of wine, Dictator O'Halloran?"
At the Irishman's smile, the Mexican governor hastened to add,
misunderstanding him purposely: "Perhaps I assume too much in taking
the part of host here. May I ask whether you will be governor in person
or by deputy, senor?"
"You do me too much honor, excellency. Neither in person nor by
deputy, I fear. And, as for the glass of wine--with all my heart. Good
liquor is always in order, whether for a funeral or a marriage."
"Or an abdication, you might add. I drink to a successful reign,
Senor Dictator: Le roi est mort; vive le roi!"
The Irishman filled a second glass. "And I drink to Governor
Megales, a brave man. May the cards fall better for him next time he
The governor bowed ironically. "A brave man certainly, and you might
add: 'Who loses his stake without striking one honest blow for it.'
"We play with stacked cards, excellency. Who can forestall the
treachery of trusted associates?"
"Sir, your apology for me is very generous, no less so than the
terms you offer," returned Megales sardonically.
O'Halloran laughed. "Well, if you don't like my explanations I shall
have to let you make your own. And, by the way, may I venture on a
delicate personal matter, your excellency?"
"I can deny you nothing to-night, senor," answered Megales, mocking
"Young Valdez is in love with your daughter. I am sure that she is
fond of him, but she is very loyal to you and flouts the lad. I was
thinking, sir, that--"
The Spaniard's eye flashed, but his answer came suavely as he
interrupted: "Don't you think you had better leave Senor Valdez and me
to arrange our own family affairs? We could not think of troubling you
to attend to them."
"He is a good lad and a brave."
Megales bowed. "Your recommendation goes a long way with me, senor,
and, in truth, I have known him only a small matter of twenty years
longer than you."
"Never a more loyal youngster in the land."
"You think so? A matter of definitions, one may suppose. Loyal to
the authorized government of his country, or to the rebels who would
illegally overthrow it?"
"Egad, you have me there, excellency. 'Tis a question of point of
view, I'm thinking. But you'll never tell me the lad pretended one
thing and did another. I'll never believe you like that milksop Chaves
"Must I choose either a fool or a knave?"
"I doubt it will be no choice of yours. Juan Valdez is an ill man to
deny what he sets his heart on. If the lady is willing--"
"I shall give her to the knave and wash my hands of her. Since
treason thrives she may at last come back to the palace as its
mistress. Quien sabe?"
"Less likely things have happened. What news, Rodrigo?" This last to
the messenger, who at that moment appeared at the door.
"Colonel Onate attends, senor."
"Show him in."
Onate was plainly puzzled at the summons to attend the governor, and
mixed with his perplexity was a very evident anxiety. He glanced
quickly at O'Halloran as he entered, as if asking for guidance, and
then as questioningly at Megales. Had the Irishman played Judas and
betrayed them all? Or was the coup already played with success?
"Colonel Onate, I have sent for you at the request of Governor
Megales to set his mind at rest on a disturbing point. His health is
failing and he considers the advisability of retiring from the active
cares of state. I have assured him that you, among others, would, under
such circumstances, be in a friendly relation to the next
administration. Am I correct in so assuring him?"
Megales pierced him with his beady eyes. "In other words, Colonel
Onate, are you one of the traitors involved in this rebellion?"
"I prefer the word patriot, senor," returned Onate, flushing.
"Indeed I have no doubt you do. I am answered," he exclaimed
scornfully. "And what is the price of patriotism these days,
"Sir!" The colonel laid his hand on his sword.
"I was merely curious to know what position you would hold under the
O'Halloran choked a laugh, for by chance the governor had hit the
nail on the head. Onate was to be Secretary of State under Valdez, and
this was the bait that had been dangled temptingly under his nose to
induce a desertion of Megales.
"If you mean to reflect upon my honor I can assure you that my
conscience is clear," answered Onate blackly.
"Indeed, colonel, I do not doubt it. I have always admired your
conscience and its adaptability." The governor turned to O'Halloran. "I
am satisfied, Senior Dictator. If you will permit me--"
He walked to his desk, unlocked a drawer, and drew forth a
parchment, which he tossed across to the Irishman. "It is my commission
as governor. Allow me to place it in your hands and put myself at the
service of the new administration."
"If you will kindly write notes, I will send a messenger to General
Carlo and another to Colonel Gabilonda requesting their attendance. I
think affairs may be quickly arranged."
"You are irresistible, senor. I hasten to obey."
Megales sat down and wrote two notes, which he turned over to
O'Halloran. The latter read them, saw them officially sealed, and
dispatched them to their destinations.
When Gabilonda was announced, General Carlo followed almost at his
heels. The latter glanced in surprise at O'Halloran.
"Where did you catch him, excellency?" he asked.
"I did not catch him. He has caught me, and, incidentally, you,
general," answered the sardonic Megales.
"In short, general," laughed the big Irishman, "the game is up.
"But the army--You haven't surrendered without a fight?"
"That is precisely what I have done. Cast your eye over that paper,
general, and then tell me of what use the army would be to us. Half the
officers are with the enemy, among them the patriotic Colonel Onate,
whom you see present. A resistance would be futile, and would only
result in useless bloodshed."
"I don't believe it," returned Carlo bluntly.
"Seeing is believing, general," returned O'Halloran, and he gave a
little nod to Onate.
The colonel left the room, and two or three minutes later a bell
began to toll.
"What does that mean?" asked Carlo.
"The call to arms, general. It means that the old regime is at an
end in Chihuahua. VIVA VALDEZ."
"Not without a struggle," cried the general, rushing out of the
O'Halloran laughed. "I'm afraid he will not be able to give the
countersign to Garcia. In the meantime, excellency, pending his return,
I would suggest that you notify Colonel Gabilonda to turn over the
prison to us without resistance."
"You hear your new dictator, colonel," said Megales.
"Pardon me, your excellency, but a written order--"
"Would relieve you of responsibility. So it would. I write once
He was interrupted as he wrote by a great shout from the plaza.
"VIVA VALDEZ!" came clearly across the night air, and presently another
that stole the color from the cheek of Megales.
"Death to the tyrant! Death to Megales!" repeated the governor,
after the shouts reached them.
"I fear, Senor Dictator, that your pledge to see me across the
frontier will not avail against that mad-dog mob." He smiled, waving an
airy hand toward the window.
The Irishman set his bulldog jaw. "I'll get you out safely or,
begad! I'll go down fighting with you."
"I think we are likely to have interesting times, my dear dictator.
Be sure I shall watch your doings with interest so long as your friends
allow me to watch anything in this present world." The governor turned
to his desk and continued the letter with a firm hand. "I think this
should relieve you of responsibility, colonel."
By this time General Carlo had reentered the room, with a
O'Halloran had been thinking rapidly. "Governor, I think the safest
place for you and General Carlo, for a day or two, will be in the
prison. I intend to put my friend O'Connor in charge of its defense,
with a trustworthy command. There is no need of word reaching the mob
as to where you are hidden. I confess the quarters will be narrows
"No narrower than those we shall occupy very soon if we do not
accept your suggestion," smiled Megales. "Buertos! Anything to escape
the pressing attentions of your friends outside. I ask only one favor,
the loan of a revolver, in order that we may disappoint the mad dogs if
they overpower the guard of Senor O'Connor."
Hastily O'Halloran rapped out orders, gathered together a little
force of five men, and prepared to start. Both Carlo and Megales he
furnished with revolvers, that they might put an end to their lives in
case the worst happened. But before they had started Juan Valdez and
Carmencita Megales came running toward them.
"Where are you going? It is too late. The palace is surrounded!"
cried the young man. "Look!" He swept an excited arm toward the window.
"There are thousands and thousands of frenzied people calling for the
lives of the governor and General Carlo."
Carlo shook like a leaf, but Megales only smiled at O'Halloran his
wintry smile. "That is the trouble in keeping a mad dog, senor. One
never knows when it may get out of leash and bite perhaps even the hand
that feeds it."
Carmencita flung herself, sobbing, into the arms of her father and
filled the palace with her screams. Megales handed her over promptly to
"To my private office," he ordered briskly. "Come, general, there is
still a chance."
O'Halloran failed to see it, but he joined the little group that
hurried to the private office. Megales dragged his desk from the corner
where it set and touched a spring that opened a panel in the wall.
Carlo, blanched with fear at the threats and curses that filled the
night, sprang toward the passageway that appeared.
Megales plucked him back. "One moment, general. Ladies first.
Carlo followed her, after him the governor, and lastly Gabilonda,
tearing himself from a whispered conversation with O'Halloran. The
panel swung closed again, and Valdez and O'Halloran lifted back the
desk just as Garcia came running in to say that the mob would not be
denied. Immediately O'Halloran threw open a French window and stepped
out to the little railed porch upon which it opened. He had the chance
of his life to make a speech, and that is the one thing that no
Irishman can resist. He flung out from his revolver three shots in
rapid succession to draw the attention of the mob to him. In this he
succeeded beyond his hopes. The word ran like wildfire that the mad
Irishman, O'Halloran, was about to deliver a message to them, and from
all sides of the building they poured to hear it. He spoke in Mexican,
rapidly, his great bull voice reaching to the utmost confines of the
"Fellow lovers of liberty, the hour has struck that we have worked
and prayed for. The glorious redemption of our State has been
accomplished by your patriotic hands. An hour ago the tyrants, Megales
and Carlo, slipped out of the palace, mounted swift horses, and are
galloping toward the frontier."
A roar of rage, such as a tiger disappointed of its kill might give,
rose into the night. Such a terrible cry no man made of flesh and blood
could hear directed at him and not tremble.
"But the pursuit is already on. Swift riders are in chase, with
orders not to spare their horses so only they capture the fleeing
despots. We expect confidently that before morning the tyrants will be
in our hands. In the meantime, let us show ourselves worthy of the
liberty we have won. Let us neither sack nor pillage, but show our
great president in the City of Mexico that not ruffians but an outraged
people have driven out the oppressors."
The huge Celt was swimming into his periods beautifully, but it was
very apparent to him that the mob must have a vent for its stored
excitement. An inspiration seized him.
"But one sacred duty calls to us from heaven, my fellow citizens.
Already I see in your glorious faces that you behold the duty. Then
forward, patriots! To the plaza, and let us tear down, let us destroy
by fire, let us annihilate the statue of the dastard Megales which
defaces our fair city. Citizens, to your patriotic duty!"
Another wild yell rang skyward, and at once the fringes of the crowd
began to vanish plazaward, its centre began to heave, its flanks to
stir. Three minutes later the grounds of the palace were again dark and
empty. The Irishman's oratory had won the day.
CHAPTER 15. IN THE SECRET CHAMBER
The escaping party groped its way along the passage in the wall,
down a rough, narrow flight of stone steps to a second tunnel, and
along this underground way for several hundred yards. Since he was the
only one familiar with the path they were traversing, the governor took
the lead and guided the others. At a distance of perhaps an eighth of a
mile from the palace the tunnel forked. Without hesitation, Megales
kept to the right. A stone's throw beyond this point of divergence
there began to be apparent a perceptible descent which terminated in a
stone wall that blocked completely the way.
Megales reached up and put his weight on a rope suspended from the
roof. Slowly the solid masonry swung on a pivot, leaving room on either
side for a person to squeeze through. The governor found it a tight
fit, as did also Gabilonda.
"I was more slender last time I passed through there. It has been
several years since then," said the governor, giving his daughter a
hand to assist her through.
They found themselves in a small chamber fitted up as a living room
in a simple way. There were three plain chairs, a bed, a table, and a
dresser, as well as a cooking stove.
"This must be close to the prison. We have been coming in that
direction all the time. It is strange that it could be so near and I
not know of it," said the warden, looking around curiously.
Megales smiled. "I am the only person alive that knew of the
existence of this room or of the secret passage until half an hour ago.
I had it built a few years since by Yaquis when I was warden of the
prison. The other end, the one opening from the palace, I had finished
after I became governor."
"But surely the men who built it know of its existence."
Again Megales smiled. "I thought you knew me better, Carlo. The
Yaquis who built this were condemned raiders. I postponed their
execution a few months while they were working on this. It was a
convenience both to them and to me."
"And is also a convenience to me," smiled Carlo, who was beginning
to recover from his terror.
"But I don't quite understand yet how we are to get out of here
except by going back the way we came," said Gabilonda.
"Which for some of us might prove a dangerously unhealthy journey.
True, colonel, and therefore one to be avoided." Megales stepped to the
wall, spanned with his fingers a space from the floor above a joint in
the masonry, and pressed against the concrete. Inch by inch the wall
fell back and opened into a lower corridor of the prison, the very one
indeed which led to the cell in which Bucky and his love were
imprisoned. Cautiously the Spaniard's glance traveled down the passage
to see it was empty before he opened the panel door more than enough to
look through. Then he beckoned to Gabilonda. "Behold, doubting
The warden gasped. "And I never knew it, never had a suspicion of
"But this only brings us from one prison to another," objected the
general. "We might be penned in here as well as at the castle."
"Even that contingency has been provided for. You noticed, perhaps,
where the tunnel forked. The left branch runs down to the river-wash,
and by ten minutes' digging with the tools lying there one can force an
"Your excellency is certainly a wonder, and all this done without
arousing the least suspicion of anybody," admired the warden.
"The wise man, my dear colonel, prepares for emergencies; the fool
trusts to his luck," replied the governor dryly.
"Are we to stay here for the present, colonel?" broke in the
governor's daughter. "And can you furnish accommodations for the rest
of us if we stay all night, as I expect we must?"
"My dear senorita, I have accommodations and to spare. But the
trouble is that your presence would become known. I should be the
happiest' man alive to put my all at the accommodation of Chihuahua's
fairest daughter. But if it should get out that you are here--"
Gabilonda stopped to shrug his fat shoulders at the prospect.
"We shall have to stay here, or, at least, in the lower tier of
cells. I'm sorry, Carmencita, but there is no other course compatible
with safety," decided Megales promptly.
The warden's face cleared. "That is really not a point for me to
decide, governor. This young American, O'Connor, is now in charge of
the prison. I must release him at once, and shall then bring him here
to confer with you as to means of safety."
Bucky's eyes opened wide when Gabilonda and Megales came alone and
without a lantern to his cell. In the darkness it was impossible to
recognize them, but once within the closed cell the warden produced a
dark lantern from under his coat.
"Circumstances have arisen that make the utmost vigilance
necessary," explained the warden. "I may begin my explanations by
congratulating you and your young friend. Let me offer a thousand
felicitations. Neither of you are any longer prisoners."
If he expected either of them to fall on his neck and weep tears of
gratitude at his pompous announcement, the colonel was disappointed.
From the darkness where the ranger's little partner sat on the bed came
a deep sigh of relief, but O'Connor did not wink an eyelash.
"I may conclude, then, that Mike O'Halloran has been getting in his
work?" was his cool reply.
"Exactly, senor. He is the man on horseback and I travel afoot,"
Bucky looked him over coolly from head to foot. "Still I can't quite
understand why your ex-excellency does me the honor of a personal
"Because, senor, in the course of human events Providence has seen
fit to reverse our positions. I am now your prisoner and you my
jailer," explained Megales, and urbanely added a whimsical question.
"Shall you have me hanged at dawn?"
"It would be a pleasure, and, I reckon, a duty too. But I can't
promise till I've seen Mike. Do some more explaining, colonel. I want
to know all about the round-up O'Halloran is boss of. Did he make a
right good gather?"
The subtleties of American humor baffled the little Mexican, but he
appreciated the main drift of the ranger's query, and narrated with
much gesticulation the story of the coup that O'Halloran had pulled off
in capturing the government leaders.
"It was an exceedingly neat piece of strategy," its victim admitted.
"I would give a good deal to have the privilege of hanging your
red-headed friend, but since that is denied me, I must be grateful he
does not take a fancy to hang me."
"In case he doesn't, your excellency," was Bucky's addendum.
"I understand he has decided to deport me," retorted Megales
lightly. "It is perhaps better politics, on the whole, better even than
a knife in the back."
"Unless rumor is a lying jade, you should be a good judge of that,
governor," said the American, eyeing him sternly.
Megales shrugged. "One of the penalties of fame is that one gets
credit for much he does not deserve. There was your immortal General
Lincoln, a wit so famous in your country that every good story is
fathered upon him, I understand. So with your humble servant. Let a man
accomplish his vendetta upon the body of an enemy, and behold! the
world cries: 'A victim of Megales.'"
"Still, if you deserve your reputation as much as our immortal
General Lincoln deserves his, the world may be pardoned for an
occasional error." O'Connor turned to the warden. "What does he mean by
saying that he is my prisoner? Have you a message for me from
"It is his desire, senor, that, pending the present uncertain state
of public opinion, you accept the command of the prison and hold safe
all persons detained here, including his excellency and General Carlo.
He desired me to assure you that as soon as is possible he will arrive
to confer with you in person."
"Good enough, and are you a prisoner, too, colonel?"
"I did not so understand Senor O'Halloran."
"If you're not you have to earn your grub and lodgings. I'll appoint
you my deputy, colonel. And, first off, my orders are to lock up his
excellency and General Carlo in this cell till morning."
"The cell, Senor O'Connor, is damp and badly ventilated," protested
"I know that a heap better than you do, colonel," said Bucky dryly.
"But if it was good enough for me and my pardner, here, I reckon it's
good enough for them. Anyhow, we'll let them try it, won't we,
"If you think best, Bucky."
"You bet I do."
"And what about the governor's daughter?" asked Gabilonda.
"You don't say! Is she a guest of this tavern?"
The colonel explained how they had reached the prison and the
circumstances that had led to their hurried flight, while the ranger
whistled the air of a cowboy song, his mind busy with this new phase of
"She's one of these here Spanish blue-blooded senoritas used to
guitar serenades under her window. Now, what would you do with her in a
jail, Bucky?" he asked himself, in humorous dismay; but even as he
reflected on it his roving eye fell on his friend. "The very thing.
I'll take Curly Haid in to her and let them fall in love with each
other. You're liable to be some busy, Bucky, and shy on leisure to
entertain a lady, let alone two."
And so he arranged it. Leaving the former governor and General Carlo
in the cell just vacated by them, Frances and he accompanied Gabilonda
to the secret room behind the corridor wall.
All three parties to the introduction that followed acknowledged
secretly to a surprise. Miss Carmencita had expected the friend of big,
rough, homely O'Halloran to resemble him in kind, at least. Instead,
she looked on a bronzed young Apollo of the saddle with something of
that same lithe grace she knew and loved in Juan Valdez. And the shy
boy beside him--why, the darling was sweet enough to kiss. The big,
brown, helpless eyes, the blushing, soft cheeks, the crop of thick,
light curls were details of an extraordinarily taking picture. Really,
if these two were fair specimens, Americans were not so bad, after all.
Which conclusion Juan Valdez's fondness for that race may have helped
in part to form.
But if the young Spanish girl found a little current of pleasure in
her surprise, Bucky and his friend were aware of the same sensation.
All the charm of her race seemed summed up in Carmencita Megales. She
was of blue blood, every feature and motion told that. The fine, easy
set of her head, the fire in the dark, heavy-lashed eyes, the sweep of
dusky chin and cheek and throat certified the same story. She had, too,
that coquettish hint of uncertainty, that charm of mystery so fatal in
its lure to questing man. Even physically the contradiction of sex
attracted. Slender and lissom as a fawn, she was yet a creature of
exquisitely rounded curves. Were her eyes brown or black or--in the
sunlight--touched with a gleam of copper? There was always uncertainty.
But much more was there fire, a quality that seemed to flash out from
her inner self. She was a child of whims, a victim of her moods. Yet in
her, too, was a passionate loyalty that made fickleness impossible. She
knew how to love and how to hate, and, despite her impulses, was
capable of surrender complete and irrevocable.
All of this Bucky did not read in that first moment of meeting, but
the shrewd judgment behind the level blue eyes came to an appraisal
roughly just. Before she had spoken three sentences he knew she had all
her sex's reputed capacity for injustice as well as its characteristic
flashes of generosity.
"Are you one of the men who have rebelled against my father and
attempted to murder him?" she flashed.
"I'm the man he condemned to be hanged tomorrow morning at dawn for
helping Juan Valdez take the guns," retorted Bucky, with a laugh.
"You are his enemy, and, therefore, mine."
"I'm a friend of Michael O'Halloran, who stood between him and the
mob that wanted to kill him."
"Who first plotted against him and seduced his officers to betray
him," she quickly replied.
"I reckon, ma'am, we better agree to disagree on politics," said
Bucky good-naturedly. "We're sure liable to see things different from
each other. Castile and Arizona don't look at things with the same
She looked at him just then with very beautiful and scornful ones,
at any rate. "I should hope not."
"You see, we're living in the twentieth century up in the sunburned
State," said Bucky, with smiling aplomb.
"Indeed! And we poor Chihuahuans?"
"When I see the ladies I think you're ce'tainly in the golden age,
but when I break into your politics, I'm some reminded of that Richard
Third fellow in the Shakespeare play."
"Referring, I presume, to my father?" she demanded haughtily.
"In a general way, but eliminating the most objectionable points of
the king fellow."
"You're very kind." She interrupted her scorn to ask him where he
meant her to sleep.
He glanced over the room. "This might do right here, if we had that
"Do you expect to put me in irons?"
"Not right away. Colonel, I'll ask you to go to the office and
notify me as soon as Senor O'Halloran arrives." He waited till the
colonel had gone before adding: "I'm going to leave this boy with you,
senorita, for a while. He'll explain some things to you that I can't.
In about an hour I'll be back, perhaps sooner. So long, Curly. Tell the
lady your secret." And with that Bucky was out of the room.
"Your secret, child! What does he mean?"
The flame of color that swept into the cheeks of Frances, the appeal
in the shamed eyes, held Carmencita's surprised gaze. Then coolly it
traveled over the girl and came back to her burning face.
"So that's it, is it?"
But the scorn in her voice was too much for Frances. She had been
judged and condemned in that cool stare, and all the woman in her
protested at its injustice.
"No, no, no!" she cried, running forward and catching at the other's
hand. "I'm not that. You don't understand."
Coldly Carmencita disengaged her hand and wiped it with her
kerchief. "I understand enough. Please do not touch me."
"May I not tell you my story?"
"I'll not trouble you. It does not interest me."
"But you will listen?" implored the other.
"I must ask to be excused."
"Then you are a heartless, cruel woman," flamed Frances. "I'm
good--as good as you are." The color patched her cheek and ebbed again.
"I wouldn't treat a dog as you do me. Oh, cruel, cruel!"
The surprising extravagance of her protest, the despair that rang in
the fresh young voice, caught the interest of the Mexican girl. Surely
such a heart-broken cry did not consist with guilt. But the facts--when
a young and pretty girl masquerades through the country in the garb of
a boy with a handsome young man, not much room for doubt is left.
Frances was quick to see that the issue was reopened. "Oh, senorita,
it isn't as you think. Do I look like--" She broke off to cover with
her hands a face in which the pink and white warred with alternate
success. "I ought not to have come. I ought never to have come. I see
that now. But I didn't think he would know. You see, I had always
passed as a boy when I wanted to."
"A remarkably pretty one, child," said Miss Carmencita, a smile
dimpling her cheeks. "But how do you mean that you had passed as a
Frances explained, giving a rapid sketch of her life with the
Hardmans during which she had appeared every night on the stage as a
boy without the deception being suspected. She had cultivated the
tricks and ways of boys, had tried to dress to carry out the
impression, and had always succeeded until she had made the mistake of
putting on a gypsy girl's dress a couple of days before.
Carmencita heard her out, but not as a judge. Very early in the
story her doubts fled and she succumbed to the mothering instinct in
her. She took the American girl in her arms and laughed and cried with
her; for her imagination seized on the romance of the story and
delighted in its fresh unconventionality. Since she had been born
Carmencita's life had been ordered for her with precision by the laws
of caste. Her environment wrapped her in so that she must follow a set
and beaten path. It was, to be sure, a flower-strewn one, but often she
impotently rebelled against its very orderliness. And here in her arms
was a victim of that adventurous romance she had always longed so
passionately to know. Was it wonder she found it in her heart to both
love and envy the subject of it?
"And this young cavalier--the Senor Bucky, is it you call
him?--surely you love him, my dear."
"Oh, senorita!" The blushing face was buried on her new friend's
shoulder. "You don't know how good he is."
"Then tell me," smiled the other. "And call me Carmencita."
"He is so brave, and patient, and good. I know there was never a man
Miss Carmencita thought of one and demurred silently. "I'm sure this
paragon of lovers is at least part of what you say. Does he love you?
But I am sure he couldn't help it."
"Sometimes I think he does, but once--" Frances broke off to ask, in
a pink flame: "How does a lover act?"
Miss Carmencita's laughter rippled up. "Gracious me, have you never
had one before."
"Well, he should make verses to you and pretty speeches. He should
sing serenades about undying love under your window. Bonbons should
bombard you, roses make your rooms a bower. He should be ardent as
Romeo, devoted as a knight of old. These be the signs of a true love,"
Frances' face fell. If these were the tokens of true love, her
ranger was none. For not one of the symptoms could fairly be said to
fit him. Perhaps, after all, she had given him what he did not
"Must he do all that? Must he make verses?" she asked blankly, not
being able to associate Bucky with poetasting.
"He must," teased her tormentor, running a saucy eye over her boyish
garb. "And why not with so fair a Rosalind for a subject?" She broke
off to quote in her pretty, uncertain English, acquired at a convent in
the United States, where she had attended school:
"From the east to western Ind, No jewel is like Rosalind. Her worth
being mounted on the wind, Through all the world bears Rosalind.
All the pictures, fairest lin'd, Are but black to Rosalind. Let no
face be kept in mind But the fair of Rosalind."
So your Shakespeare has it, does he not?" she asked, reverting again
to the Spanish language, in which they had been talking. But swift on
the heels of her raillery came repentance. She caught the dispirited
girl to her embrace laughingly. "No, no, child! Nonsense ripples from
my tongue. These follies are but for a carpet lover. You shall tell me
more of your Senor Bucky and I shall make no sport of it."
When Bucky returned at the expiration of the time he had set
himself, he found them with their arms twined about each other's
waists, whispering the confidences that every girl on the threshold of
womanhood has to tell her dearest friend.
"I reckon you like my pardner better than you do me," smiled Bucky
to Miss Carmencita.
"A great deal better, sir, but then I know him better."
Bucky's eyes rested for a moment almost tenderly on Frances. "I
reckon he is better worth knowing," he said.
"Indeed! And you so brave, and patient, and good?" she mocked.
"Oh! Am I all that?" asked Bucky easily.
"So I have been given to understand."
Out of the corner of his eye O'Connor caught the embarrassed,
reproachful look that Frances gave her audacious friend, and he found
it easy to fit quotation marks round the admirable qualities that had
just been ascribed to him. He guessed himself blushing a deux with his
little friend, and also divined Miss Carmencita's roguish merriment at
"I AM all those things you mentioned and a heap more you forgot to
say," claimed the ranger boldly, to relieve the situation. "Only I
didn't know for sure that folks had found it out. My mind's a heap
easier to know I'm being appreciated proper at last."
Under her long, dark lashes Miss Carmencita looked at him in gentle
derision. "I'm of opinion, sir, that you get all the appreciation that
is good for you."
Bucky carried the war into the enemy's country. "Which same, I
expect, might be said of Chihuahua's most beautiful belle. And, talking
of Senor ,Valdez reminds me that I owe a duty to his father, who is
confined here. I'll be saying good night ladies."
"It's high time," agreed Miss Megales. "Talking of Senor Valdez,
"Good night, Curly Haid."
"Good night, Bucky."
To which, in mocking travesty, added, in English, Miss Carmencita,
who seemed to have an acute attack of Shakespeare:
"Good night, good night; parting is such sweet sorrow That I shall
say good night till It be morrow."
CHAPTER 16. JUAN VALDEZ SCORES
The first thing Bucky did after leaving the two young women was to
go down in person with one of the guards to the cell of David
Henderson. The occupant of the cell was asleep, but he woke up when the
two men entered.
"Who is it?" he demanded.
"Webb Mackenzie's man come to release you," answered Bucky.
The prisoner fell to trembling like an aspen. "God, man, do you mean
it?" he begged. "You wouldn't deceive an old man who has lived fifteen
years in hell?"
"It's true, friend, every word of it. You'll live to ride the range
again and count your cattle on the free hillside. Come with me up to
the office and we'll talk more of it."
"But may I? Will they let me?" trembled Henderson, fearful lest his
cup of joy be dashed from him. "I'm not dreaming, am I? I'll not wake
the way I often do and find that it is all a dream, will I?" He caught
at the lapel of O'Connor's coat and searched his face.
"No, your dreams are true at last, Dave Henderson. Come, old friend,
take a drink of this to steady you. It's all coming out right now."
Tears streamed down the face of the man rescued from a living grave.
He dashed them away impatiently with a shaking hand. "I used to be as
game as other men, young man, and now you see what a weakling I am.
Don't judge me too hard. Happiness is a harder thing to stand than pain
or grief. They've tried to break my spirit many a time and they
couldn't, but you've done it now with a word."
"You'll be all right as soon as you are able to realize it. I don't
wonder the shock unnerves you. Have you anything you want to take out
of here with you before you leave forever?"
Pathetically the prisoner looked round on his few belongings. Some
of them had become endeared to him by years of use and association, but
they had served their time. "No, I want to forget it all. I came in
with nothing. I'll take out nothing. I want to blot it all out like a
Bucky ordered Colonel Gabilonda to bring up from his cell General
Valdez and the other arrested suspects. They reached the office at the
same time as Mike O'Halloran, who greeted them with the good news that
the day was won. The Megales faction had melted into mist, and all over
the city a happy people was shouting for Valdez.
"I congratulate you, general. We have just telegraphed the news over
the State that Megales has resigned and fled. There can be no doubt
that you will be elected governor to-morrow and that the people's party
will win the day with an unprecedented vote. Glory be, Chihuahua is at
last free from the heel of tyranny. Viva Valdez! Viva Chihuahua
Bucky at once introduced to General Valdez the American prisoner who
had suffered so long and unjustly. He recited the story of the
abduction of the child, of Henderson's pursuit, of the killing of the
trooper, and of the circumstantial evidence that implicated the Texan
and upon which he was convicted. He then drew from his pocket a signed
and attested copy of the confession of the knife thrower and handed it
to the general.
Valdez looked it over, asked an incisive question or two of Bucky,
heard from Henderson his story, and, after a few moments' discussion of
the matter with O'Halloran, promised a free pardon as his first
official act after being elected to the governorship, in case he should
The vote next day amply justified the hopes of O'Halloran and his
friends. The whole ticket, sent out by telegraph and messengers
throughout the State, was triumphantly elected by large majorities.
Only in one or two out-of-the-way places, where the news of the fall of
Megales did not arrive in time to affect the voting, did the old
government party make any showing worthy of consideration.
It was after Valdez's election had been made certain by the returns
that O'Halloran and Juan Valdez posted to the prison and visited father
and daughter. They separated in the lower corridor, one to visit the
defeated governor, the other Miss Carmencita. The problem before Juan
Valdez was to induce that young woman to remain in Chihuahua instead of
accompanying her father in his flight. He was a good fighter, and he
meant to win, if it were a possibility. She had tacitly admitted that
she loved him, but he knew that she felt that loyalty demanded she stay
by her father in his flight.
When O'Halloran was admitted to the cell where the governor and the
general were staying he laughed aloud.
"Faith, gentlemen, is this the best accommodation Governor Valdez
can furnish his guests? We must petition him to improve the sanitation
of his hotel."
"We are being told, one may suppose, that General Valdez is the
newly elected governor?"
"Right, your excellency, elected by a large majority to succeed the
late Governor Megales."
"Late!" The former governor lifted his eyebrows. "Am I also being
told that necessity demands the posting of the suicide bulletin, after
"Not at all. Sure, I gave you me word, excellency. And that is one
of the reasons why I am here. We have arranged to run a special down
the line to-night, in order to avoid the risk of the news leaking out
that you are still here. Can you make your arrangements to take that
train, or will it hurry your packing too much?"
Megales laughed. "I have nothing to take with me except my daughter.
The rest of my possessions may be forwarded later."
"Oh, your daughter! Well, that's pat, too. What about the lad,
"Are you his representative, senor?"
"Oh, he can talk for himself. " O'Halloran grinned. "He's doing it
right now, by the same token. Shall we interrupt a tete-a-tete and go
pay our compliments to Miss Carmencita? You will want to find out
whether she goes with you or stays here."
"Assuredly. Anything to escape this cave."
Miss Carmencita was at that moment reiterating her everlasting
determination to go wherever her father went. "If you think, sir, that
your faithlessness to him is a recommendation of your promised
faithfulness to me, I can only wish you more light on the feelings of a
daughter," she was informing Valdez, when her father slipped through
the panel door and stood before her.
"Brava, senorita!" he applauded, with subtle irony, clapping his
hands. "Brava, brava!"
That young woman swam blushingly toward him and let her face
disappear in an embrace.
"You see, one can't have everything, Senor Valdez," continued
Megales lightly. "For me, I cannot have both Chihuahua and my life;
you, it seems, cannot have both your successful revolution and my
"Your excellency, she loves me. Of that I am assured. It rests with
you to say whether her life will be spoiled or not. You know what I can
offer her in addition to a heart full of devotion. It is enough. Shall
she be sacrificed to her loyalty to you?" the young man demanded, with
all the ardor of his warm-blooded race.
"It is no sacrifice to love and obey my father," came a low murmur
from the former governor's shoulder.
"Since the world began it has been the law of life that the young
should leave their parents for a home of their own," Juan
"So the Scripture says," agreed Megales sardonically. "It further
counsels to love one's enemies, but, I think, omits mention of the
enemies of one's father."
"Sir, I am not your enemy. Political exigencies have thrown us into
different camps, but we are not so small as to let such incidentals
come between us as a vital objection in such a matter."
"You argue like a lawyer," smiled the governor. "You forget that I
am neither judge nor jury. Tyrant I may have been to a fickle people
that needed a firm hand to rule them, but tyrant I am not to my only
"Then you consent, your excellency?" cried Valdez joyously.
"I neither consent nor refuse. You must go to a more final authority
than mine for an answer, young man."
"But you are willing she should follow where her heart leads?"
"Then she is mine," cried Valdez.
"I am not," replied the girl indignantly over her shoulder.
Megales turned her till her unconsenting eyes met his. "Do you want
to marry this young man, Carmencita?"
"I never told him anything of the sort," she flamed.
"I didn't quite ask what you had told him. The question is whether
you love him."
"But no; I love you," she blushed.
"I hope so," smiled her father. "But do you love him? An honest
answer, if you please."
"Could I love a rebel?"
"No Yankee answers, muchacha. Do you love Juan Valdez?"
It was Valdez that broke triumphantly the moment's silence that
followed. "She does. She does. I claim the consent of silence."
But victory spoke too prematurely in his voice. Cried the proud
Spanish girl passionately: "I hate him!"
Megales understood the quality of her hate, and beckoned to his
future son-in-law. "I have some arrangements to make for our journey
to-night. Would it distress you, senor, if I were to leave you for a
He slipped out and left them alone.
"Well?" asked O'Halloran, who had remained in the corridor.
"I think, Senor Dictator, I shall have to make the trip with only
General Carlo for a companion," answered the Spaniard.
The Irishman swung his hat. "Hip, hip, hurrah! You're a gentleman I
could find it in me heart to both love and hate, governor."
"And you're a gentleman," returned the governor, with a bow, "I
could find it in my heart to hang high as Haman without love or
Michael linked his arm in that of his excellency.
"Sure, you're a broth of a lad, Senor Megales," he said
irreverently, in good, broad Irish brogue. "Here, me bye, where are you
hurrying?" he added, catching at the sleeve of Frances Mackenzie, who
was slipping quietly past.
"Please, Mr. O'Halloran, I've been up to the office after water. I'm
taking it to Senorita Carmencita."
"She doesn't want water just now. You go back to the office, son,
and stay there thirty minutes. Then you take her that water," ordered
"But she wanted it as soon as I could get it, sir."
"Forget it, kid, just as she has. Water! Why, she's drinking nectar
of the gods. Just you do as I tell ye."
Frances was puzzled, but she obeyed, even though she could not
understand his meaning. She understood better when she slid back the
panel at the expiration of the allotted time and caught a glimpse of
Carmencita Megales in the arms of Juan Valdez.
CHAPTER 17. HIDDEN VALLEY
Across the desert into the hills, where the sun was setting in a
great splash of crimson in the saddle between two distant peaks, a
bunch of cows trailed heavily. Their tongues hung out and they panted
for water, stretching their necks piteously to low now and again. For
the heat of an Arizona summer was on the baked land and in the air that
palpitated above it.
But the end of the journey was at hand and the cowpuncher in charge
of the drive relaxed in the saddle after the easy fashion of the
vaquero when he is under no tension. He did not any longer cast swift,
anxious glances behind him to make sure no pursuit was in sight. For he
had reached safety. He knew the 'Open sesame' to that rock wall which
rose sheer in front of him. Straight for it he and his companion took
their gather, swinging the cattle adroitly round a great slab which
concealed a gateway to the secret canon. Half a mile up this defile lay
what was called Hidden Valley, an inaccessible retreat known only to
those who frequented it for nefarious purposes.
It was as the man in charge circled round to head the lead cows in
that a faint voice carried to him. He stopped, listening. It came
again, a dry, parched call for help that had no hope in it. He wheeled
his pony as on a half dollar, and two minutes later caught sight of an
exhausted figure leaning against a cottonwood. He needed no second
guess to surmise that she was lost and had been wandering over the
sandy desert through the hot day. With a shout, he loped toward her,
and had his water bottle at her lips before she had recovered from her
glad surprise at sight of him.
"You'll feel better now," he soothed. "How long you been lost,
"Since ten this morning. I came with my aunt to gather poppies, and
somehow I got separated from her and the rig. These hills look so
alike. I must have got turned round and mistaken one for another."
"You have to be awful careful here. Some one ought to have told
you," he said indignantly.
"Oh, they told me, but of course I knew best," she replied, with
quick scorn of her own self-sufficiency.
"Well, it's all right now," the cowpuncher told her cheerfully. He
would not for a thousand dollars have told her how near it had come to
being all wrong, how her life had probably depended upon that faint
wafted call of hers.
He put her on his horse and led it forward to the spot where the
cattle waited at the gateway. Not until they came full upon them did he
remember that it was dangerous for strange young women to see him with
those cattle and at the gateway to the Hidden canon.
"They are my uncle's cattle. I could tell the brand anywhere. Are
you one of his riders? Are we close to the Rocking Chair Ranch?" she
He flung a quick glance at her. "Not very close. Are you from the
"Yes. I'm Mr. Mackenzie's niece."
"Major Mackenzie's daughter?" demanded the man quickly.
"Yes." She said it with a touch of annoyance, for he looked at her
as a man does who has heard of her before. She knew that the story had
been bruited far and wide of how she had passed through the hands of
the train robbers carrying thirty thousand dollars on her person. She
had no doubt that it was in this connection her rescuer had heard of
He drew off to one side and called his companion to him.
"Hardman, you ride up to the ranch and tell Leroy I've just found
Miss Mackenzie wandering around on the desert, lost. Ask him whether
I'm to bring her up. She's played out and can't travel far, tell
The showman rode on his errand and the other returned to Helen.
"You better light, ma'am. We'll have to wait here a few minutes," he
He helped her dismount. She did not understand why it was necessary
to wait, but that was his business and not hers. Her roving eyes fell
upon the cattle again.
"They ARE my uncle's, aren't they?"
"They were," he corrected. "Cattle change hands a good deal in this
country," he added dryly.
"Then you're not one of his riders?" Her stark eyes passed over him
"Are we far from the Rocking Chair?"
"A right smart distance. You've been traveling, you see, for eight
or nine hours."
It occurred to her that there was something elusive, something not
quite frank, about the replies of this young man. Her glance raked him
again and swept up the details of his person. One of them that
impressed itself upon her mind was the absence of a finger on his right
hand. Another was that he was a walking arsenal. This startled her,
though she was not yet afraid. She relapsed into silence, to which he
seemed willing to consent. Once and again her glance swept him. He
looked a tough, weather-beaten Westerner, certainly not a man whom a
woman need be afraid to meet alone on the plains, but the oftener she
looked the more certain she became that he was not a casual puncher
busy at the legitimate work of his craft.
"Do you--live near here?" she asked presently.
"I live under my hat, ma'am," he told her.
"Sometimes near here, sometimes not so near."
This told her exactly nothing.
"How far did you say it was to the Rocking Chair?"
"I didn't say."
At the sound of a horses footfall she turned, and she saw that
whereas they had been two, now they were three. The newcomer was a
slender, graceful man, dark and lithe, with quick, piercing eyes, set
deep in the most reckless, sardonic face she had ever seen.
The man bowed, with a sweep of his hat almost derisive. "Miss
Mackenzie, I believe."
She met him with level eyes that confessed no fear.
"Who are you, sir?"
"They call me Wolf Leroy."
Her heart sank. "You and he are the men that held up the
"If we are, you are the young lady that beat us out of thirty
thousand dollars. We'll collect now," he told her, with a silky smile
and a glitter of white, even teeth.
"What do you mean? Do you think I carry money about with me?"
"I didn't say that. We'll put it up to your father."
"He'll have to raise thirty thousand dollars to redeem his
daughter." He let his bold eyes show their admiration. "And she's worth
every cent of it."
"Do you mean--" She read the flash of triumph in his ribald eyes and
broke off. There was no need to ask him what he meant.
"That's what I mean exactly, ma'am. You're welcome to the
hospitality of Hidden Valley. What's ours is yours. You're welcome to
stay as long as you like, but I reckon YOU'RE NOT WELCOME TO GO
WHENEVER YOU WANT TO--not till we get that thirty thousand."
"You talk as if he were a millionaire," she told him scornfully.
"The major's got friends that are. If it's a showdown he'll dig the
dough up. I ain't a bit worried about that. His brother, Webb, will
"Why should he?" She stood as straight and unbending as a young
pine, courage regnant in the very poise of the fine head. "You daren't
harm a hair of my head, and he knows it. For your life, you
His eyes glittered. Wolf Leroy was never a safe man to fling a
challenge at. "Don't you be too sure of that, my dear. There ain't one
thing on this green earth I daren't do if I set my mind to it. And your
friends know it."
The other man broke in, easy and unmoved. "Hold yore hawses, cap. We
got no call to be threatening this young lady. We keep her for a ransom
because that's business. But she's as safe here as she would be at the
Rocking Chair. She's got York Neil's word for that."
The Wolf snarled. "The word of a miscreant. That'll comfort her a
heap. And York Neil's word don't always go up here."
The cowpuncher's steady eyes met him. "It'll go this time."
The girl gave her champion a quiet little nod and a low "Thank you."
It was not much, but enough. For on the frontier "white men" do not war
on women. Her instinct gave just the right manner of treating his help.
It assumed that since he was what he was he could do no less. Moreover,
it had the unexpected effect of spurring the Wolf's vanity, or
something better than his vanity. She could see the battle in his face,
and the passing of its evil, sinister expression.
"Beg your pardon, Miss Mackenzie. York's right. I'll add my word to
his about your safety. I'm a wolf, they'll tell you. But when I give my
word I keep it."
They turned and followed through the gateway the cattle which
Hardman and another rider were driving up the canon. Presently the
walls fell back, the gulch opened to a saucer-shaped valley in which
nestled a little ranch.
Leroy indicated it with a wave of his hand. "Welcome to Hidden
Valley, Miss Mackenzie," he said cynically.
"Afraid I'm likely to wear my welcome out if you keep me here until
my father raises thirty thousand dollars," she said lightly.
"Don't you worry any about that. We need the refining influences of
ladies' society here. I can see York's a heap improved already. Just to
teach us manners you're worth your board and keep." Then hardily, with
a sweeping gesture toward the weary cattle: "Besides, your uncle has
sent up a contribution to help keep you while you visit with us."
York laughed. "He sent it, but he didn't know he was sending
Leroy surrendered his room to Miss Mackenzie and put at her service
the old Mexican woman who cooked for him. She was a silent, taciturn
creature, as wrinkled as leather parchment and about as handsome, but
Alice found safety in the very knowledge of the presence of another
woman in the valley. She was among robbers and cutthroats, but old
Juanita lent at least a touch of domesticity to a situation that would
otherwise have been impossible. The girl was very uneasy in her mind. A
cold dread filled her heart, a fear that was a good deal less than
panic-terror, however. For she trusted the man Neil even as she
distrusted his captain. Miscreant he had let himself be called, and
doubtless was, but she knew no harm could befall her from his
companions while he was alive to prevent it. A reassurance of this came
to her that evening in the fragment of a conversation she overheard.
They were passing her window which she had raised on account of the
heat when the low voices of two men came to her.
"I tell you I'm not going, Leroy. Send Hardman," one said.
"Are you running this outfit, or am I, Neil?"
"You are. But I gave her my word. That's all there's to it."
Alice was aware that they had stopped and were facing each other
"Go slow, York. I gave her my word, too. Do you think I'm allowing
to break it while you're away?"
"No, I don't. Look here, Phil. I'm not looking for trouble. You're
major-domo of this outfit What you say goes--except about this girl.
I'm a white man, if I'm a scoundrel."
"And I'm not?"
"I tell you I'm not sayin' that," the other answered doggedly.
"You're hinting it awful loud. I stand for it this time, York, but
never again. You butt in once more and you better reach for your
hardware simultaneous. Stick a pin in that."
They had moved on again, and she did not hear Neil's answer.
Nevertheless, she was comforted to know she had one friend among these
desperate outlaws, and that comfort gave her at least an hour or two of
broken, nappy sleep.
In the morning when she had dressed she found her room door
unlocked, and she stepped outside into the sunshine. York Neil was
sitting on the porch at work on a broken spur strap. Looking up, he
nodded a casual good morning. But she knew why he was there, and
gratitude welled up in her heart. Not a young woman who gave way to
every impulse, she yielded to one now, and shook hands with him. Their
eyes met for a moment and he knew she was thanking him.
An eye derisive witnessed the handshake. "An alliance against the
teeth of the wolf, I'll bet. Good mo'ning, Miss Mackenzie," drawled
"Good morning," she answered quietly, her hands behind her.
"Would you expect me to?"
"Why not, with York here doing the virgin-knight act outside your
Her puzzled eyes discovered that Neil's face was one blush of
"He slept here on the po'ch," explained Leroy, amused. "It's a great
fad, this outdoor sleeping. The doctors recommend it strong for sick
people. You wouldn't think to look at him York was sick. He looks plumb
husky. But looks are right deceptive. It's a fact, Miss Mackenzie, that
he was so sick last night I wasn't dead sure he'd live till
The eyes of the men met like rapiers. Neil said nothing, and Leroy
dropped him from his mind as if he were a trifle and devoted his
attention to Alice.
"Breakfast is ready, Miss Mackenzie. This way, please."
The outlaw led her to the dining room, where the young woman met a
fresh surprise. The table was white with immaculate linen and shone
with silver. She sat down to breakfast food with cream, followed by
quail on toast, bacon and eggs, and really good coffee. Moreover, she
discovered that this terror of the border knew how to handle his knife
and fork, was not deficient in the little niceties of table decorum. He
talked, and talked well, ignoring, like a perfect host, the relation
that existed between them. They sat opposite each other and ate alone,
waited upon by the Mexican woman. Alice wondered if he kept solitary
state when she was not there or ate with the other men.
It was evening before Hardman returned from the mission upon which
he had been sent in place of the obstinate Neil. He reported at once to
Leroy, who came smilingly to the place where she was sitting on the
porch to tell her his news.
"Webb Mackenzie's going to raise that thirty thousand, all right.
He's promised to raise it inside of three days," he told her
"And shall I have to stay here three whole days?"
He looked with half-shut, smoldering eyes at her slender
exquisiteness, compact of a strange charm that was both well-bred and
gypsyish. There was a scarce-veiled passion in his gaze that troubled
her. More than once that day she had caught it.
"Three days ain't so long. I could stand three months of you and
wish for more," he told her.
Lightly she turned the subject, but not without a chill of fear.
Three days was a long time. Much might happen if this wolf slipped the
leash of his civilization.
It was next day that an incident occurred which was to affect the
course of events more than she could guess at the time. A bunch of wild
hill steers had been driven down by Hardman, Reilly, and Neil in the
afternoon and were inclosed in the corral with the cows from the
Rocking Chair Ranch. Just before sunset Leroy, who had been away all
day, returned and sauntered over from the stable to join Alice. It
struck the girl from his flushed appearance that he had been drinking.
In his eye she found a wild devil of lawlessness that set her heart
pounding. If Neil and he clashed now there would be murder done. Of
that she felt sure.
That she set herself to humor the Wolf's whims was no more for her
own safety than for that of the man who had been her friend. She curbed
her fears, clamped down her startled maiden modesty, parried his
advances with light words and gay smiles. Once Neil passed, and his
eyes asked a question. She shook her head, unnoticed by Leroy. She
would fight her own battle as long as she could. It was to divert him
that she proposed they go down to the corral and look at the wild
cattle the men had driven down. She told him she had heard a great deal
about them, but had never seen any. If he would go with her she would
like to look at them.
The outlaw was instantly at her service, and they sauntered across.
In her hand the girl carried a closed umbrella she had been using to
keep off the sun.
They stood at the gate of the corral looking at the long-legged,
shaggy creatures, as wild and as active almost as hill deer. On
horseback one could pass to and fro among them without danger, but in a
closed corral a man on foot would have taken a chance. Nobody knew this
better than Leroy. But the liquor was still in his head, and even when
sober he was reckless beyond other men.
"They need water," he said, and with that opened the gate and
started for the windmill.
He sauntered carelessly across, with never a glance at the dangerous
animals among which he was venturing. A great bull pawed the ground
lowered its head, and made a rush at the unconscious man. Alice called
to him to look out, then whipped open the gate and ran after him. Leroy
turned, and, in a flash, saw that which for an instant filled him with
a deadly paralysis. Between him and the bull, directly in the path of
its rush, stood this slender girl, defenseless.
Even as his revolver flashed out from the scabbard the outlaw knew
he was too late to save her, for she stood in such a position that he
could not hit a vital spot. Suddenly her umbrella opened in the face of
the animal. frightened, it set its feet wide and slithered to a halt so
close to her that its chorus pierced the silk of the umbrella. With one
hand Leroy swept the girl behind him; with the other he pumped three
bullets into the forehead of the bull. Without a groan it keeled over,
dead before it reached the ground.
Alice leaned against the iron support of the windmill. She was so
white that the man expected her to sink down. One glance showed him
other cattle pawing the ground angrily.
"Come!" he ordered, and, putting an arm round her waist, he ran with
her to the gate. Yet a moment, and they were through in safety.
She leaned against him helpless for an instant before she had
strength to disengage herself. "Thank you. I'm all right now."
"I thought you were going to faint," he explained.
She nodded. "I nearly did."
His face was colorless. "You saved my life."
"Then we're quits, for you saved mine," she answered, with a shaken
attempt at a smile.
He shook his head. "That's not the same at all. I had to do that,
and there was no risk to it. But you chose to save me, to risk your
life for mine."
She saw that he was greatly moved, and that his emotion had swept
away the effects of the liquid as a fresh breeze does a fog.
"I didn't know I was risking my life. I saw you didn't see."
"I didn't think there was a woman alive had the pluck to do it--and
for me, your enemy. That what you count me, isn't it--an enemy?"
"I don't know. I can't quite think of you as friend, can I?"
"And yet I would have protected you from any danger at any
"Except the danger of yourself," she said, in low voice, meeting him
eye to eye.
He accepted her correction with a groan, an wheeled away, leaning
his arms on the corral fence and looking away to that saddle between
the peak which still glowed with sunset light.
"I haven't met a woman of your kind before in ten years," he said
presently. "I've lived on you looks, your motions, the inflections of
your voice. I suppose I've been starved for that sort of thing and
didn't know it till you came. It's been like a glimpse of heaven to
me." He laughed bitterly: and went on: "Of course, I had to take to
drinking and let you see the devil I am. When I'm sober you would be as
safe with me as with York. But the excitement of meeting you-- I have
to ride my emotions to death so as to drain them to the uttermost.
Drink stimulates the imagination, and I drank."
Her voice said more than the words. He looked at her curiously.
"You're only a girl. What do you know about men of my sort? You have
been wrappered and sheltered all your life. And yet you understand me
better than any of the people I meet. All my life I have fought with
myself. I might have been a gentleman and I'm only a wolf. My appetites
and passions, stronger than myself dragged me down. It was Kismet, the
destiny ordained for me from my birth."
"Isn't there always hope for a man who knows his weaknesses and
fights against them?" she asked timidly.
"No, there is not," came the harsh answer. "Besides, I don't fight.
I yield to mine. Enough of that. It is you we have to consider, not me.
You have saved my life, and I have got to pay the debt."
"I didn't think who you were," her honesty compelled her to say.
"That doesn't matter. you did it. I'm going to take you back to your
father and straight as I can."
Her eyes lit. "Without a ransom?"
"You pay your debts like a gentleman, sir."
"I'm not coyote all through."
She could only ignore the hunger that stared out of his eyes for
her. "What about your friends? Will they let me go?"
"They'll do as I say. What kicking they do will be done mostly in
private, and when they're away from me."
"I don't want to make trouble for you."
"You won't make trouble for me. If there's any trouble it Will be
for them," he said grimly.
Neither of them made any motion toward the house. The girl felt a
strange impulse of tenderness toward this man who had traveled so fast
the road to destruction. She had seen before that deep hunger of the
eyes, for she was of the type of woman that holds a strong attraction
for men. It told her that he had looked in the face of his happiness
too late--too late by the many years of a misspent life that had
decreed inexorably the character he could no longer change.
"I am sorry," she said again. "I didn't see that in you at first. I
misjudged you. One can't label men just good or bad, as the novelists
used to. You have taught me that--you and Mr. Neil."
His low, sardonic laughter rippled out. "I'm bad enough. Don't make
any mistake about that, Miss Mackenzie. York's different. He's just a
good man gone wrong. But I'm plain miscreant."
"Oh, no," she protested.
"As bad as they make them, but not wolf clear through," he said
again. "Something's happened to me to-day. It won't change me. I've
gone too far for that. But some morning when you read in the papers
that Wolf Leroy died with his boots on and everybody in sight registers
his opinion of the deceased you'll remember one thing. He wasn't a wolf
to you--not at the last."
"I'll not forget," she said, and the quick tears were in her
York Neil came toward them from the house. It was plain from his
manner he had a joke up his sleeve.
"You're wanted, Phil," he announced.
"You got a visitor in there," Neil said, with a grin and a jerk of
his thumb toward the house. "Came blundering into the draw sorter
accidental-like, but some curious. So I asked him if he wouldn't light
and stay a while. He thought it over, and figured he would."
"Who is it?" asked Leroy.
"You go and see. I ain't giving away what your Christmas presents
are. I aim to let Santa surprise you a few.
Miss Mackenzie followed the outlaw chief into the house, and over
his shoulder glimpsed two men. One of them was the Irishman, Cork
Reilly, and he sat with a Winchester across his knees. The other had
his back toward them, but he turned as they entered, and nodded
casually to the outlaw. Helen's heart jumped to her throat when she saw
it was Val Collins.
The two men looked at each other steadily in a long silence. Wolf
Leroy was the first to speak.
"You damn fool!" The swarthy face creased to an evil smile of
"I ce'tainly do seem to butt in considerable, Mr. Leroy," admitted
Collins, with an answering smile.
Leroy's square jaw set like a vise. "It won't happen again, Mr.
"I'd hate to gamble on that heavy," returned Collins easily. Then he
caught sight of the girl's white face, and rose to his feet with
"Sit down," snapped out Reilly.
"Oh, that's all right I'm shaking hands with the lady. Did you think
I was inviting you to drill a hole in me, Mr. Reilly?"
CHAPTER 18. A DINNER FOR THREE
"I thought we bumped you off down at Epitaph," Leroy said.
"Along with Scott? Well, no. You see, I'm a regular cat to kill, Mr.
Leroy, and I couldn't conscientiously join the angels with so lame a
story as a game laig to explain my coming," said Collins
"In that case--"
"Yes, I understand. You'd be willing to accommodate with a hole in
the haid instead of one in the laig. But I'll not trouble you."
"What are you doing here? Didn't I warn you to attend to your own
business and leave me alone?"
"Seems to me you did load me up with some good advice, but I plumb
forgot to follow it."
The Wolf cursed under his breath. "You came here at your own risk,
"Well, I did and I didn't," corrected the sheriff easily. "I've got
a five-thousand policy in the Southeastern Life Insurance Company, so I
reckon it's some risk to them. And, by the way, it's a company I can
"Does it insure against suicide?" asked Leroy, his masked, smiling
face veiling thinly a ruthless purpose.
"And against hanging. Let me strongly urge you to take out a policy
at once," came the prompt retort.
"You think it necessary?"
"Quite. When you and York Neil and Hardman made an end of Scott you
threw ropes round your own necks. Any locoed tenderfoot would know
The sheriff's unflinching look met the outlaw's black frown serene
"And would he know that you had committed suicide when you ran this
place down and came here?" asked Leroy, with silken cruelty.
"Well, he ought to know it. The fact is, Mr. Leroy, that it hadn't
penetrated my think-tank that this was your hacienda when I came
"Just out riding for your health?"
"Not exactly. I was looking for Miss Mackenzie. I cut her trail
about six miles from the Rocking Chair and followed it where she
wandered around. The trail led directly away from the ranch toward the
mountains. That didn't make me any easy in my mind. So I just jogged
along and elected myself an investigating committee. I arrived some
late, but here I am, right side up--and so hearty welcome that my
friend Cork won't hear of my leaving at all. He don't do a thing but
entertain me--never lets his attention wander. Oh, I'm the welcome
guest, all right. No doubt about that."
Wolf Leroy turned to Alice. "I think you had better go to your
room," he said gently.
"Oh, no, no; let me stay," she implored. "You would never--you would
never--" The words died on her white lips, but the horror in her eyes
finished the question.
He met her gaze fully, and answered her doggedly. "You're not in
this, Miss Mackenzie. It's between him and me. I shan't allow even you
"But--oh, it is horrible! for two minutes."
He shook his head.
"You must! Please."
Let me see you alone
Her troubled gaze shifted to the strong, brown, sun-baked face of
the man who had put himself in this deadly peril to save her. His keen,
blue-gray eyes, very searching and steady, met hers with a courage she
thought splendid, and her heart cried out passionately against the
"You shall not do it. Oh, please let me talk it over with you."
"Have you forgotten already?--and you said you would always
remember." She almost whispered it.
She had stung his consent at last. "Very well," he said, and opened
the door to let her pass into the inner room.
But she noticed that his eyes were hard as jade.
"Don't you see that he came here to save me?" she cried, when they
were alone. "Don't you see it was for me? He didn't come to spy out
your place of hiding."
"I see that he has found it. If I let him go, he will bring back a
posse to take us."
"You could ride across the line into Mexico."
"I could, but I won't."
"Because, Miss Mackenzie, the money we took from the express car of
the Limited is hidden here, and I don't know where it is; because the
sun won't ever rise on a day when Val Collins will drive me out of
"I don't know what you mean about the money, but you must let him
go. You spoke of a service I had done you. This is my pay."
"To turn him loose to hunt us down?"
"He'll not trouble you if you let him go."
A sardonic smile touched his face. "A lot you know of him. He thinks
it his duty to rid the earth of vermin like us. He'd never let up till
he got us or we got him. Well, we've got him now, good and plenty. He
took his chances, didn't he? It isn't as if he didn't know what he was
up against. He'll tell you himself it's a square deal. He's game, and
he won't squeal because we win and he has to pay forfeit."
The girl wrung her hands despairingly.
"It's his life or mine--and not only mine, but my men's," continued
the outlaw. "Would you turn a wolf loose from your sheep pen to lead
the pack to the kill?"
"But if he were to promise "
"We're not talking about the ordinary man--he'd promise anything and
lie to-morrow. But Sheriff Collins won't do it. If you think you can
twist a promise out of him not to take advantage of what he has found
out you're guessing wrong. When you think he's a quitter, just look at
that cork hand of his, and remember how come he to get it. He'll take
his medicine proper, but he'll never crawl."
"There must be some way," she cried desperately,
"Since you make a point of it, I'll give him his chance."
"You'll let him go?" The joy in her voice was tremulously plain.
He laughed, leaning carelessly against the mantelshelf. But his
narrowed eyes watched her vigilantly. "I didn't say I would let him go.
What I said was that I'd give him a chance."
"They say he's a dead shot. I'm a few with a gun myself. We'll ride
down to the plains together, and find a good lonely spot suitable for a
graveyard. Then one of us will ride away, and the other will stay, or
perhaps both of us will stay."
She shuddered. "No--no--no. I won't have it."
"Afraid something might happen to me, ma'am?" he asked, with a queer
"I won't have it."
"Afraid, perhaps, he might be the one left for the coyotes and the
She was white to the lips, but at his next word the blood came
flaming back to her cheeks.
"Why don't you tell the truth? Why don't you; say you love him, and
be done with it? Say it and I'll take him back to Tucson with you safe
as if he were a baby."
She covered her face with her hands, but with two steps he had
reached her and captured he hands.
"The truth," he demanded, and his eyes compelled.
"It is to save his life?"
He laughed harshly. "Here's melodrama for you! Yes--to save your
She lifted her eyes to his bravely. "What you say is true. I love
Leroy bowed ironically. "I congratulate Mr. Collins, who is now
quite safe, so far as I am concerned. Meanwhile, lest he be jealous of
your absense, shall we return now?"
Some word of sympathy for the reckless scamp trembled on her lips,
but her instinct told her would hold it insult added to injury, and she
left her pity unvoiced.
"If you please."
But as he heeled away she laid a timid hand on his arm. He turned
and looked grimly down at the working face, at the sweet, soft, pitiful
eyes brimming with tears. She was pure woman now, all the caste pride
dissolved in yearning pity.
"Oh, you lamb--you precious lamb," he groaned, and clicked his teeth
shut on the poignant pain of his loss.
"I think you're splendid," she told him. "Oh, I know what you've
done--that you are not good. I know you've wasted your life and lived
with your hand against every man's. But I can't help all that. I look
for the good in you, and I find it. Even in your sins you are not
petty. You know how to rise to an opportunity."
This man of contradictions, forever the creature of his impulses,
gave the lie to her last words by signally failing to rise to this one.
He snatched her to him, and looked down hungry-eyed at her sweet
beauty, as fresh and fragrant as the wild rose in the copse.
"Please," she cried, straining from him with shy, frightened
For answer he kissed her fiercely on the cheeks, and eyes, and
"The rest are his, but these are mine," he laughed mirthlessly.
Then, flinging her from him, he led the way into the next room.
Flushed and disheveled, she followed. He had outraged her maiden
instincts and trampled down her traditions of caste, but she had no
time to think of this now.
"If you're through explaining the mechanism of that Winchester to
Sheriff Collins we'll reluctantly dispense with your presence, Mr.
Reilly. We have arranged a temporary treaty of peace," the chief outlaw
Reilly, a huge lout of a fellow with a lowering countenance,
ventured to expostulate. "Ye want to be careful of him. He's quicker'n
His chief exploded with low-voiced fury. "When I ask your advice,
give it, you fat-brained son of a brand blotter. Until then padlock
that mouth of yours. Vamos."
Reilly vanished, his face a picture of impotent malice, and Leroy
"We're going to the Rocking Chair in the morning, Mr. Collins--at
least, you and Miss Mackenzie are going there. I'm going part way.
We've arranged a little deal all by our lones, subject to your
approval. You get away without that hole in your head. Miss Mackenzie
goes with you, and I get in return the papers you took off Scott and
"You mean I am to give up the hunt?" asked Collins.
"Not at all. I'll be glad to death to see you blundering in again
when Miss Mackenzie isn't here to beg you off. The point is that in
exchange for your freedom and Miss Mackenzie's I get those papers you
left in a safety-deposit vault in Epitaph. It'll save me the trouble of
sticking up the First National and winging a few indiscreet citizens of
that burgh. Savvy?"
"That's all you ask?" demanded the surprised sheriff.
"All I ask is to get those papers in my hand and a four-hour start
before you begin the hunt. Is it a deal?"
"It's a deal, but I give it to you straight that I'll be after you
as soon as the four hours are up," returned Collins promptly. "I don't
know what magic Miss Mackenzie used. Still, I must compliment her on
getting us out mighty easy."
But though the sheriff looked smilingly at Alice, that young woman,
usually mistress of herself in all emergencies, did not lift her eyes
to meet his. Indeed, he thought her strangely embarrassed. She was as
flushed and tongue-tied as a country girl in unaccustomed company. She
seemed another woman than the self-possessed young beauty he had met a
month before on the Limited, but he found her shy abashment
"I guess you thought you had come to the end of the passage, Mr.
Collins," suggested the outlaw, with listless curiosity.
"I didn't know whether to order the flowers or not, but 'way down in
my heart I was backing my luck," Collins told him.
"Of course it's understood that you are on parole until we
separate," said Leroy curtly.
"Then we'll have supper at once, for we'll have to be on the road
early." He clapped his hands together, and the Mexican woman appeared.
Her master flung out a command or two in her own language.
"--poco tiempo,--" she answered, and disappeared.
In a surprisingly short time the meal was ready, set out on a table
white with Irish linen and winking with cut glass and silver.
"Mr. Leroy does not believe at all in doing when in Rome as the
Romans do," Alice explained to Collins, in answer to his start of
amazement. "He's a regular Aladdin. I shouldn't be a bit surprised to
see electric lights come on next."
"One has to attempt sometimes to blot out the forsaken desert," said
Leroy. "Try this cut of slow elk, Miss Mackenzie. I think you'll like
"Slow elk! What is that?" asked the girl, to make talk.
"Mr. Collins will tell you," smiled Leroy.
She turned to the sheriff, who first apologized, with a smile, to
his host. "Slow elk, Miss Mackenzie, is veal that has been rustled. I
expect Mr. Leroy has pressed a stray calf into our Service "
"I see," she flashed. "Pressed veal."
The outlaw smiled at her ready wit, and took on himself the burden
of further explanation. "And this particular slow elk comes from a
ranch on the Aravaipa owned by Mr. Collins. York shot it up in the
hills a day or two ago."
"Shouldn't have been straying so far from its range," suggested
Collins, with a laugh. "But it's good veal, even if I say it that
"Thank you," burlesqued the bandit gravely, with such an ironic
touch of convention that Alice smiled.
After dinner Leroy produced cigars, and with the permission of Miss
Mackenzie the two men smoked while the conversation ran on a topic as
impersonal as literature. A criticism of novels and plays written to
illustrate the frontier was the line into which the discussion fell,
and the girl from the city, listening with a vivid interest, was
pleased to find that these two real men talked with point and a sense
of dexterous turns. She felt a sort of proud proprietorship in their
power, and wished that some of the tailors' models she had met in
society, who held so good a conceit of themselves, might come under the
spell of their strong, tolerant virility. Whatever the difference
between them, it might be truly said of both that they had lived at
first hand and come in touch closely with all the elemental realities.
One of them was a romantic villain and the other an unromantic hero,
but her pulsing emotions morally condemned one no more than the
This was the sheer delight of her esthetic sense of fitness, that
strong men engaged in a finish fight could rise to so perfect a
courtesy that an outsider could not have guessed the antagonism that
ran between them, enduring as life.
Leroy gave the signal for breaking up by looking at his watch.
"Afraid I must say 'Lights out.' It's past eleven. We'll have to be up
and on our way with the hooters. Sleep well, Miss Mackenzie. You don't
need to worry about waking. I'll have you called in good time. Buenos
He held the door for her as she passed out; and, in passing, her
eyes rose to meet his.
"--Buenos noches, senor;--I'm sure I shall sleep well to-night," she
It had been the day of Alice Mackenzie' life. Emotions and
sensations, surging through her, had trodden on each other's heels.
Woman-like, she welcomed the darkness to analyze and classify the
turbid chaos of her mind. She had been swept into sympathy with an
outlaw, to give him no worse name. She had felt herself nearer to him
than to some honest men she could name who had offered her their
Surely, that had been bad enough, but worse was to follow. This
discerning scamp had torn aside her veils of maiden reserve and exposed
the secret fancy of her heart, unknown before even to herself. She had
confessed love for this big-hearted sheriff and frontiersman. Here she
could plead an ulterior motive. To save his life any deception was
permissible. Yes, but where lay the truth? With that insistent demand
of the outlaw had rushed over her a sudden wave of joy. What could it
mean unless it meant what she would not admit that it could mean? Why,
the man was impossible. He was not of her class. She had scarce seen
him a half-dozen times. Her first meeting with him had been only a
month ago. One month ago--
A remembrance flashed through her that brought her from the bed in a
barefoot search for matches. When the candle was relit he slipped a
chamoisskin pouch from her neck and from it took a sealed envelope. It
was the note in which the sheriff on the night of the train robbery had
written his prediction of how the matter would come out. She was to
open the envelope in a month, and the month was up to-night.
As she tore open the flap it came to her with one of her little
flashing smiles that she could never have guessed under what
circumstances she would read it. By the dim flame of a guttering
candle, in a cotton nightgown borrowed from a Mexican menial, a
prisoner of the very man who had robbed her and the recipient of a
practical confession of love from him not three hours earlier! Surely
here was a situation to beggar romance. But before she had finished
reading the reality was still more unbelievable.
I have just met for the first time the woman I am going to marry if
God is good to one. I am writing this because I want her to know it as
soon as I decently can. Of course, I am not worthy of her, but then I
don't know any man that is.
So the fact goes--I'm bound to marry her if there's nobody else in
the way. This isn't conceit. It is a deep-seated certainty I can't get
away from, and don't want to. When she reads this, she will think it a
piece of foolish presumption. My hope is she will not always think so.
Her swift-pulsing heart was behaving very queerly. It seemed to hang
delightfully still, and then jump forward with odd little beats of joy.
She caught a glimpse of her happy face, and blew out the light for
shame, groping her way back to bed with the letter carefully guarded
against crumpling by her hand.
Foolish presumption indeed. Why, he had only seen her once, and he
said he would marry her with never a by-your-leave! Wasn't that what he
had said? She had to strike another match to learn the lines that had
not stuck word for word in her mind, and after that another match to
get a picture of the scrawl to visualize in the dark.
How dared he take her for granted? But what a masterly way of wooing
for the right man! What idiotic folly if he had been the wrong one! Was
he, then, the right one? She questioned herself closely, but came to no
more definite answer than this--that her heart went glad with a sweet
joy to know he wanted to marry her.
She resolved to put him from her mind, and in this resolve she fell
at last into smiling sleep.
CHAPTER 19. A VILLON OF THE DESERT
When Alice Mackenzie looked back in after years upon the incidents
connected with that ride to the Rocking Chair, it was always with a
kind of glorified pride in her villain-hero. He had his moments, had
this twentieth-century Villon, when he represented not unworthily the
divinity in man; and this day held more than one of them. Since he was
what he was, it also held as many of his black moods.
The start was delayed, owing to a cause Leroy had not foreseen. When
York went, sleepy-eyed, to the corral to saddle the ponies, he found
the bars into the pasture let clown, and the whole remunda kicking up
its heels in a paddock large as a goodsized city. The result was that
it took two hours to run up the bunch of ponies and another half-hour
to cut out, rope, and saddle the three that were wanted. Throughout the
process Reilly sat on the fence and scowled.
Leroy, making an end of slapping on and cinching the last saddle,
wheeled suddenly on the Irishman. "What's the matter, Reilly?"
"Was I saying anything was the matter?"
"You've been looking it right hard. Ain't you man enough to say it
instead of playing dirty little three-for-a-cent tricks--like letting
down the corral-bars?"
Reilly flung a look at Neil that plainly demanded support, and then
descended with truculent defiance from the fence.
"Who says I let down the bars? You bet I am man enough to say what I
think; and if ye think I ain't got the nerve--"
His master encouraged him with ironic derision. "That's right,
Reilly. Who's afraid? Cough it up and show York you're game."
"By thunder, I AM game. I've got a kick coming, sorr."
"Yes?" Leroy rolled and lit a cigarette, his black eyes fixed
intently on the malcontent. "Well, register it on the jump. I've got to
"That's the point." The curly-headed Neil had lounged up to his
comrade's support. "Why have you got to be off? We don't savvy your
"Perhaps you would like to be major-domo of this outfit, Neil?"
scoffed his chief, eying him scornfully.
"No, sir. I ain't aimin' for no such thing. But we don't like the
way things are shaping. What does all this here funny business mean,
anyhow?" His thumb jerked toward Collins, already mounted and waiting
for Leroy to join him. "Two days ago this world wasn't big enough to
hold him and you. Well, I git the drop on him, and then you begin to
cotton up to him right away. Big dinner last night--champagne corks
popping, I hear. What I want to know is what it means. And here's this
Miss Mackenzie. She's good for a big ransom, but I don't see it ambling
our way. It looks darned funny."
"That's the ticket, York," derided Leroy. "Come again. Turn your
"Oh! I ain't afraid to say what I think."
"I see you're not. You should try stump-speaking, my friend. There's
a field fox you there."
"I'm asking you a question, Mr. Leroy."
"That's whatever," chipped in Reilly.
"Put a name to it."
"Well, I want to know what's the game, and where we come in."
"Think you're getting the double-cross?" asked Leroy pleasantly, his
vigilant eyes covering them like a weapon.
"Now you're shouting. That's what I'd like right well to know. There
he sits"--with another thumbjerk at Collins--"and I'm a Chink if he
ain't carryin' them same two guns I took offen him, one on the train
and one here the other day. I ain't sayin' it ain't all right, cap. But
what I do say is--how about it?"
Leroy did some thinking out loud. "Of course I might tell you boys
to go to the devil. That's my right, because you chose me to run this
outfit without any advice from the rest of you. But you're such
infants, I reckon I had better explain. You're always worrying those
fat brains of yours with suspicions. After we stuck up the Limited you
couldn't trust me to take care of the swag. Reilly here had to cook up
a fool scheme for us all to hide it blindfold together. I told you
straight what would happen, and it did. When Scott crossed the divide
we were in a Jim Dandy of a hole. We had to have that paper of his to
find the boodle. Then Hardman gets caught, and coughs up his little
recipe for helping to find hidden treasure. Who gets them both? Mr.
Sheriff Collins, of course. Then he comes visiting us. Not being a
fool, he leaves the documents behind in a safety-deposit vault. Unless
I can fix up a deal with him, Mr. Reilly's wise play buncoes us and
himself out of thirty thousand dollars."
"Why don't you let him send for the papers first?"
"Because he won't do it. Threaten nothing! Collins ain't that kind
of a hairpin. He'd tell us to shoot and be damned."
"So you've got it fixed with him?" demanded Neil.
"You've a head like a sheep, York," admired Leroy. "YOU don't need
any brick-wall hints to hit you. As your think-tank has guessed, I have
come to an understanding with Collins."
"But the gyurl--I allow the old major would come down with a right
"Wrong guess, York. I allow he would come down with a right smart
posse and wipe us off the face of the earth. Collins tells me the major
has sent for a couple of Apache trailers from the reservation. That
means it's up to us to hike for Sonora. The only point is whether we
take that buried money with us or leave it here. If I make a deal with
Collins, we get it. If I don't, it's somebody else's gold-mine.
Anything more the committee of investigation would like to know?"
concluded Leroy, as his cold eyes raked them scornfully and came to
rest on Reilly.
"Not for mine," said Neil, with an apologetic laugh. "I'm satisfied.
I just wanted to know. And I guess Cork corroborates."
Reilly growled something under his breath, and turned to hulk
"One moment. You'll listen to me, now. You have taken the liberty to
assume I was going to sell you out. I'll not stand that from any man
alive. To-morrow night I'll get back from Tucson. We'll dig up the loot
and divide it. And right then we quit company. You go your way and I go
mine." And with that as a parting shot, Leroy turned on his heel and
went direct to his horse.
Alice Mackenzie might have searched the West with a fine-tooth comb
and not found elsewhere two such riders for an escort as fenced her
that day. Physically they were a pair of superb animals, each perfect
after his fashion. If the fair-haired giant, with his lean, broad
shoulders and rippling flow of muscles, bulked more strikingly in a
display of sheer strength, the sinewy, tigerish grace of the dark
Apollo left nothing to be desired to the eye. Both of them had been
brought up in the saddle, and each was fit to the minute for any
emergency likely to appear.
But on this pleasant morning no test of their power seemed likely to
arise, and she could study them at her ease without hindrance. She had
never seen Leroy look more the vagabond enthroned. For dress, he wore
the common equipment of Cattleland--jingling spurs, fringed chaps,
leather cuffs, gray shirt, with kerchief knotted loosely at the neck,
and revolver ready to his hand. But he carried them with an air, an
inimitable grace, that marked him for a prince among his fellows.
Something of the kind she hinted to him in jesting paradoxical fashion,
making an attempt to win from his sardonic gloom one of his quick,
He countered by telling her what he had heard York say to Reilly of
her. "She's a princess, Cork," York had said. "Makes my Epitaph gyurl
look like a chromo beside her. Somehow, when she looks at a fellow, he
feels like a whitewashed nigger."
All of them laughed at that, but both Leroy and the sheriff tried to
banter her by insisting that they knew exactly what York meant.
"You can be very splendid when you want to give a man that
whitewashed feeling; he isn't right sure whether he's on the map or
not," reproached the train-robber.
She laughed in the slow, indolent way she had, taking the straw hat
from her dark head to catch better the faint breath of wind that was
soughing across the plains.
"I didn't know I was so terrible. I don't think yon ever had any awe
of anybody, Mr. Leroy." Her soft cheek flushed in unexpected memory of
that moment when he had brushed aside all her maiden reserves and
ravished mad kisses from her. "And Mr. Collins is big enough to take
care of himself," she added hastily, to banish the unwelcome
Collins, with his eyes on the light-shot waves that crowned her
vivid face, wondered whether he was or not. If she had been a woman to
desire in the queenly, half-insolent indifference of manner with which
she had first met him, how much more of charm lay in this piquant
gaiety, in the warm sweetness of her softer and more pliant mood! It
seemed to him she had the gift of comradeship to perfection.
They unsaddled and ate lunch in the shade of the live-oaks at El
Dorado Springs, which used to be a much-frequented watering-hole in the
days when Camp Grant thrived and mule-skinners freighted supplies in to
feed Uncle Sam's pets. Two hours later they stopped again at the edge
of the Santa Cruz wash, two miles from the Rocking Chair Ranch.
It was while they were resaddling that Collins caught sight of a
cloud of dust a mile or two away. He unslung his field-glasses, and
looked long at the approaching dust-swirl. Presently he handed the
binoculars to Leroy.
"Five of them; and that round-bellied Papago pony in front belongs
to Sheriff Forbes, or I'm away wrong."
Leroy lowered the glasses, after a long, unflurried inspection.
"Looks that way to me. Expect I'd better be burning the wind."
In a few sentences he and Collins arranged a meeting for next day up
in the hills. He trailed his spurs through the dust toward Alice
Mackenzie, and offered her his brown hand and wistful smile
irresistible. "Good-by. This is where you get quit of me for good."
"Oh, I hope not," she told him impulsively. "We must always be
He laughed ruefully. "Your father wouldn't indorse those unwise
sentiments, I reckon--and I'd hate to bet your husband would," he added
audaciously, with a glance at Collins. "But I love to hear you say it,
even though we never could be. You're a right game, stanch little
pardner. I'll back that opinion with the lid off."
"You should be a good judge of those qualities. I'm only sorry you
don't always use them in a good cause."
He swung himself to his saddle. "Good-by."
"Good-by--till we meet again."
"And that will be never. So-long, sheriff. Tell Forbes I've got a
particular engagement in the hills, but I'll be right glad to meet him
when he comes."
He rode up the draw and disappeared over the brow of the hillock.
She caught another glimpse of him a minute later on the summit of the
hill beyond. He waved a hand at her, half-turning in his saddle as he
Presently she lost him, but faintly the wind swept back to her a
haunting snatch of uncouth song:
"Oh, bury me out on the lone prairee, In my narrow grave just six by
Were the words drifted to her by the wind. She thought it
pathetically likely he might get the wish of his song.
To Sheriff Forbes, dropping into the draw a few minutes later with
his posse, Collins was a well of misinformation literally true. Yes, he
had followed Miss Mackenzie's trail into the hills and found her at a
mountain ranch-house. She had been there a couple of days, and was
about to set out for the Rocking Chair with the owner of the place,
when he arrived and volunteered to see her as far as her uncle's
"I reckon there ain't any use asking you if you seen anything of
Wolf Leroy's outfit," said Forbes, a weather-beaten Westerner with a
shrewd, wrinkled face.
"No, I reckon there's no use asking me that," returned Collins, with
a laugh that deceptively seemed to include the older man in the
"We're after them for rustling a bunch of Circle 33 cows. Well, I'll
be moving. Glad you found the lady, Val. She don't look none played out
from her little trek across the desert. Funny, ain't it, how she could
have wandered that far and her afoot?"
The Arizona sun was setting in its accustomed blaze of splendor,
when Val Collins and Alice Mackenzie put their horses again toward the
ranch and the rainbow-hued west. In his contented eyes were reflected
the sunshine and a serenity born of life in the wide, open spaces. They
rode in silence for long, the gentle evening breeze blowing in
"Did you ever meet a man of such promises gone wrong so utterly? He
might have been anything--and it has come to this, that he is hunted
like a wild beast. I never saw anything so pitiful. I would give
anything to save him."
He had no need to ask to whom she was referring. "Can't be done.
Good qualities bulge out all over him, but they don't count for
anything. 'Unstable as water.' That's what's the matter with him. He is
the slave of his own whims. Hence he is only the splendid wreck of a
man, full of all kinds of rich outcropping pay-ore that pinch out when
you try to work them. They don't raise men gamer, but that only makes
him a more dangerous foe to society. Same with his loyalty and his
brilliancy. He's got a haid on him that works like they say old J. E.
B. Stuart's did. He would run into a hundred traps, but somehow he
always worked his men out of them. That's Leroy, too. If he had been an
ordinary criminal he would have been rounded up years ago. It's his
audacity, his iron nerve, his ,good horse-sense judgment that saves his
skin. But he's ce'tainly up against it at last."
"You think Sheriff Forbes will capture him?"
He laughed. "I think it more likely he'll capture Forbes. But we
know now where he hangs out, and who he is. He has always been a
mystery till now. The mystery is solved, and unless he strikes out for
Sonora, Leroy is as good as a dead man."
"A dead man?"
"Does he strike you as a man likely to be taken alive? I look to see
a dramatic exit to the sound of cracking Winchesters."
"Yes, that would be like him," she confessed with shudder. "I think
he was made to lead a forlorn hope. Pity it won't be one worthy of the
best in him."
"I guess he does have more moments set to music than most of us, and
I'll bet, too, he has hidden way in him a list of 'Thou shalt nots.' I
read a book once by a man named Stevenson that was sure virgin gold. He
showed how every man, no matter how low he falls, has somewhere in him
a light that burns, some rag of honor for which he is still fighting
I'd hate to have to judge Leroy. Some men, I reckon, have to buck
against so much in themselves that even failure is a kind of success
"Yet you will go out to hunt him down?" she' said, marveling at the
broad sympathy of the man.
"Sure I will. My official duty is to look out for society. If
something in the machine breaks loose and goes to ripping things to
pieces, the engineer has to stop the damage, even if he has to smash
the rod that's causing the trouble."
The ponies dropped down again into the bed of the wash, and plowed
across through the heavy sand. After they had reached the solid road,
Collins resumed conversation at a new point.
"It's a month and a day since I first met you Miss Mackenzie," he
said, apparently apropos of nothing.
She felt her blood begin to choke. "Indeed!"
"I gave you a letter to read when I was on the train."
"A letter!" she exclaimed, in well-affected surprise.
"Did you think it was a book of poems? No, ma'am, it was a letter.
You were to read it in a month. Time was up last night. I reckon you
"Could I read a letter I left at Tucson, when it was a hundred miles
away?" she smiled with sweet patronage.
"Not if you left it at Tucson," he assented, with an answering
"Maybe I DID lose it." She frowned, trying to remember.
"Then I'll have to tell you what was in it."
"Any time will do. I dare say it wasn't important."
"Then we'll say THIS time."
"Don't be stupid, Mr. Collins. I want to talk about our desert
"I said in that letter--"
She put her pony to a canter, and they galloped side by side in
silence for half a mile. After she had slowed down to a walk, he
continued placidly, as if oblivious of an interruption:
"I said in that letter that I had just met the young lady I was
expecting to marry."
"Dear me, how interesting! Was she in the smoker?"
"No, she was in Section 3 of the Pullman."
"I wish I had happened to go into the other Pullman, but, of course,
I couldn't know the young lady you were interested in was riding
"But you've just told me "
"That I said in the letter you took so much trouble to lose that I
expected to marry the young woman passing under the name of Miss
"That I expected--"
"Really, I am not deaf, Mr. Collins."
"--expected to marry her, just as soon as she was willing."
"Oh, she is to be given a voice in the matter, is she?"
"Well, I had been thinking now was a right good time."
"It can't be too soon for me," she flashed back, sweeping him with
proud, indignant eyes.
"But I ain't so sure. I rather think I'd better wait."
"No, no! Let us have it done with once and for all."
He relapsed into a serene, abstracted silence.
"Aren't you going to speak?" she flamed.
"I've decided to wait."
"Well, I haven't. Ask me this minute, sir, to marry you."
"Ce'tainly, if you cayn't wait. Miss Mackenzie, will you--"
"No, sir, I won't--not if you were the last man on earth," she
interrupted hotly, whipping herself into a genuine rage. "I never was
so insulted in my life. It would be ridiculous if it weren't so--so
outrageous. You EXPECT, do you? And it isn't conceit, but a deep-seated
certainty you can't get away from."
He had her fairly. "Then you DID read the letter."
"Yes, sir, I read it--and for sheer, unmatched impudence I have
never seen its like."
"Now, I wish you would tell me what you REALLY think," he
Not being able, for reasons equestrian, to stamp her foot, she gave
her bronco the spur.
When Collins again found conversation practicable, the Rocking
Chair, a white adobe huddle in the moonlight, lay peacefully beneath
them in the alley.
"It's a right quaint old ranch, and it's seen a heap of
rough-and-tumble life in its day. If those old adobe bricks could tell
stories, I expect they could put some of these romances out of
business." Miss Mackenzie's covert glance questioned suspiciously what
this diversion might mean.
"All this country's interesting. Take Tucson now that burg is loaded
to the roofs with live stories. It's an all-right business town,
too--the best in the territory," he continued patriotically. "She ain't
so great as Douglas on ore or as Phoenix on lungers, but when it comes,
to the git-up-and-git hustle, she's there rounding up the trade from
early morn till dine."
He was still expatiating in a monologue with grave enthusiasm on the
town of his choice, when they came to the pasture fence of the
"Some folks don't like it--call it adobe-town, and say it's full of
greasers. Everybody to his taste, I say. Little old Tucson is good
enough for me."
She gave a queer little laugh as he talked. She had put a taboo on
his love story herself, but she resented the perfectly unmoved good
humor with which he seemed to be accepting her verdict. She made up her
mind to punish him, but he gave her no chance. As he helped her to
dismount, he said:
"I'll take the horses round to the stable, Miss Mackenzie. Probably
I won't see you again before I leave, but I'm hoping to meet you again
in Tucson one of these days. Good-by."
She nodded a curt good-by and passed into the house. She was vexed
and indignant, but had too strong a sense of humor not to enjoy a joke
even when it was against herself.
"I forgot to ask him whether he loves me or Tucson more, and as one
of the subjects seems to be closed I'll probably never find out," she
told herself, but with a queer little tug of pain in her laughter.
Next moment she was in the arms of her father.
CHAPTER 20. BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY
To minimize the risk, Megales and Carlo left the prison by the
secret passage, following the fork to the river bank and digging at the
piled-up sand till they had forced an exit. O'Halloran met them here
with horses, and the three men followed the riverwash beyond the limits
of the town and cut across by a trail to a siding on the Central
Mexican Pacific tracks. The Irishman was careful to take no chances,
and kept his party in the mesquit till the headlight of an approaching
train was visible.
It drew up at the siding, and the three men boarded one of the two
cars which composed it. The coach next the engine was occupied by a
dozen trusted soldiers, who had formerly belonged to the bodyguard of
Megales. The last car was a private one, and in it the three found
Henderson, Bucky O'Connor, and his little friend, the latter still
garbed as a boy.
Frances was exceedingly eager to don again the clothes proper to her
sex, and she had promised herself that, once habited as she desired,
nothing could induce her ever to masquerade again. Until she met and
fell in love with the ranger she had thought nothing of it, since it
had been merely a matter of professional business to which she had been
forced. Indeed, she had sometimes enjoyed the humor of the deception.
It had lent a spice o enjoyment to a life not crowded with it. But
after she met Bucky there had grown up in her a new sensitiveness. She
wanted to be womanly, to forget her turbid past and the shifts to which
she had sometimes been put. She had been a child; she was now a woman.
She wanted to be one of whom he need be in no way ashamed.
When their train began to pull out of the depot at Chihuahua she
drew a deep sigh of relief.
"It's good to get away from here back to the States. I'm tired of
plots and counterplots. For the rest of my life I want to be just a
woman," she said to Bucky.
The young man smiled. "I reckon I must quit trying to make you a
gentleman. Fact is, I don't want you to be one any more."
She slanted a look at him to see what that might mean and another up
the car to make sure that Henderson was out of hearing.
"It was rather hopeless, wasn't it?" she smiled. "We'll do pretty
well if we succeed in making me a lady in course of time. I've a lot to
learn, you know."
"Well, you got lots of time to learn it," he replied cheerfully.
"And I've got a notion tucked away in the back of my haid that you
haven't got such a heap to study up. Mrs. Mackenzie will put you next
to the etiquette wrinkles where you are shy."
A shadow fell on the piquant, eager face beside him. "Do you think
she will love me?"
"I don't think. I know. She can't help it."
"Because she is my mother? Oh, I hope that is true."
"No, not only because she is your mother."
She decided to ask for no more reasons. Henderson, pleased at the
wide stretch of plain as only one who had missed the open air for many
years could be, was on the observation platform in the rear of the car,
one glance at his empty seat showed her. There was no safety for her
shyness in the presence of that proverbial three which makes a crowd,
and she began to feel her heart again in panic as once before. She took
at once the opening she had given.
"I do need a mother so much, after growing up like Topsy all these
years. And mine is the dearest woman in the world. I fell in love with
her before, and I did not know who she was when I was at he ranch."
"I'll agree to the second dearest in the world, but I reckon you
shoot too high when you say the plumb dearest."
"She is. We'll quarrel if you don't agree," trying desperately to
divert him from the topic she knew he meant to pursue. For in the past
two days he had been so busy helping O'Halloran that he had not even
had a glimpse of her. As a consequence of which each felt half-dubious
of the other's love, and Frances felt wholly shy about expressing her
own or even listening to his.
"Well, we're due for a quarrel, I reckon. But we'll postpone it till
we got more time to give it. He drew a watch from his pocket and
glanced at it "In less than fifteen minutes Mike and our two friends
who are making their getaway will come in that door Henderson just went
out of. That means we won't get a chance to be alone together, for
about two days. I've got something to say to you, Curly Haid, that
won't keep that long with out running my temperature clear up. So I'm
allowing to say it right now immediate. No, you don't need to turn them
brown appealers on me. It won't do a mite of good. It's Bucky to the
bat and he's bound to make a hit or strike out."
"I think I hear Mr. Henderson coming," murmured Frances, for lack of
something more effective to say.
"Not him. He's hogtied to the scenery long enough to do my business.
Now, it won't take me long if I get off right foot first. You read my
letter, you said?"
"Which letter?" She was examining attentively the fringe of the sash
"Why, honey, that love-letter I wrote you. If there was more than
one it must have been wrote in my sleep, for I ce'tainly disremember
He could just hear her confused answer: "Oh, yes, I read that. I
told you that before."
"What did you think? Tell me again."
"I thought you misspelled feelings."
"You don't say. Now, ain't that too bad? But, girl o' mine, I expect
you were able to make it out, even if I did get the letters to milling
around wrong. I meant them feelings all right. Outside of the spelling,
did you have any objections to them,
"How can I remember what you wrote in that letter several days
"I'll bet you know it by heart, honey, and, if you don't, you'll
find it in your inside vest pocket, tucked away right close to your
"It isn't," she denied, with a blush.
"Sho! Pinned to your shirt then, little pardner. I ain't particular
which. Point is, if you need to refresh that ailin' memory of yours,
the document is--right handy. But you don't need to. It just says one
little sentence over and over again. All you have got to do is to say
one little word, and you don't have to say it but once."
"I don't understand you," her lips voiced.
"You understand me all right. What my letter said was 'I love you,'
and what you have got to say is: 'Yes'"
"But that doesn't mean anything."
"I'll make out the meaning when you say it."
"Do I have to say it?"
"You have to if you feel it."
Slowly the big brown eyes came up to meet his bravely. "Yes,
He caught her hands and looked down into her pure, sweet soul.
"I'm in luck," he breathed deeply. "In golden luck to have you look
at me twice. Are you sure?"
"Sure. I loved you that first day I met you. I've loved you every
day since," she confessed simply.
Full on the lips he kissed her.
"Then we'll be married as soon as we reach the Rocking Chair."
"But you once said you didn't want to be my husband," she taunted
sweetly. "Don't you remember? In the days when we were gipsies."
"I've changed my mind. I want to, and I'm in a hurry."
She shook her head. "No, dear. We shall have to wait. It wouldn't be
fair to my mother to lose me just as soon as she finds me. It is her
right to get acquainted with me just as if I belonged to her alone. You
understand what I mean, Bucky. She must not feel as if she never had
found me, as if she never had been first with me. We can love each
other more simply if she doesn't know about you. We'll have it for a
secret for a month or two."
She put her little hand on his arm appealingly to win his consent.
His eyes rested on it curiously, Then he took it in his big brown one
and turned it palm up. Its delicacy and perfect finish moved him, for
it seemed to him that in the contrast between the two hands he saw in
miniature the difference of sex. His showed strength and competency and
the roughness that comes of the struggle of life. But hers was
strangely tender and confiding, compact of the qualities that go to
make up the strength of the weak. Surely he deserved the worst if he
was not good to her, a shield and buckler against the storms that must
beat against them in the great adventure they were soon to begin
Reverently he raised the little hand and kissed its palm.
"Sure, sweetheart I had forgotten about your mother's claim. We can
wait, I reckon," he added with a smile. "You must always set me
straight when I lose the trail of what's right, Curly Haid. You are to
be a guiding-star to me."
"And you to me. Oh, Bucky, isn't it good?"
He kissed her again hurriedly, for the train was jarring to a halt.
Before he could answer in words, O'Halloran burst into the coach, at
the head of his little company.
"All serene, Bucky. This is the last scene, and the show went
without a hitch in the performance anywhere. "
Bucky smiled at Frances as he answered his enthusiastic friend:
"That's right. Not a hitch anywhere."
"And say, Bucky, who do you think is in the other coach dressed as
one of the guards?"
"Colonel Roosevelt," the ranger guessed promptly.
"Our friend Chaves. He's escaping because he thinks we'll have him
assassinated in revenge," the big Irishman returned gleefully. "You
should have seen his color, me bye, when he caught sight of me. I asked
him if he'd been reduced to the ranks, and he begged me not to tell you
he was here. Go in and devil him."
Bucky glanced at his lover. "No, I'm so plumb contented I haven't
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
At the Rocking Chair Ranch there was bustle and excitement. Mexicans
scrubbed and scoured under the direction of Alice and Mrs. Mackenzie,
and vaqueros rode hither and thither on bootless errands devised by
their nervous master. For late that morning a telephone call from
Aravaipa had brought Webb to the receiver to listen to a telegram. The
message was from Bucky, then on the train on his way home.
"The best of news. Reach the Rocking Chair tonight."
That was the message which had disturbed the serenity of big Webb
Mackenzie and had given to the motherly heart of his wife an unusual
flutter. The best of news it could not be, for the ranger had already
written them of the confession of Anderson, which included the
statement of the death of their little daughter. But at least he might
bring the next best news, information that David Henderson was free at
last and his long martyrdom ended.
So all day hurried preparations were being made to receive the
honored guests with a fitting welcome. The Rocking Chair was a big
ranch, and its hospitality was famous all over the Southwest. It was
quite unnecessary to make special efforts to entertain, but Webb and
his wife took that means of relieving the strain on them till
Higher crept the hot sun of baked Arizona. It passed the zenith and
began to descend toward the purple hills in the west, went behind them
with a great rainbow splash of brilliancy peculiar to that country Dusk
came, and died away in the midst of a love-concert of quails. Velvet
night, with its myriad stars, entranced the land and made magic of its
hills and valleys.
For the fiftieth time Webb dragged out his watch and consulted
"I wish that young man had let us know which way he was coming, so I
could go and meet them. If they come by the river they should be in the
Box canyon by this time. But if I was to ride out, like as not they
would come by the mesa," he sputtered.
"What time is it, Webb?" asked his wife. scarcely less excited.
He had to look again, so absent-minded had been his last glance at
the watch. "Nine-fifteen. Why didn't I telephone to Rogers and ask him
to find out which way they were coming? Sometimes I'm mighty
As Mackenzie had guessed, the party was winding its way through the
Box Canyon at that time of speaking. Bucky and Frances led the way,
followed by Henderson and the vaquero whom Mackenzie had telephoned to
guide them from Aravaipa.
"I reckon this night was made for us, Curly Haid. Even good old
Arizona never turned out such a one before. I expect it was ordered for
us ever since it was decided we belonged to each other. That may have
been thousands of years ago." Bucky laughed, to relieve the tension,
and looked up at the milky way above. "We're like those stars, honey.
All our lives we have been drifting around, but all the time it had
been decided by the God-of-things-as-they-are that our orbits were
going to run together and gravitate into the same one when the right
time came. It has come now."
"Yes, Bucky," she answered softly. "We belong, dear."
"Hello, here's the end of the canon. The ranch lies right behind
"Does it?" Presently she added: "I'm all a-tremble, Bucky. To think
I'm going to meet my father and my mother for the first time really,
for I don't count that other time when we didn't know. Suppose they
shouldn't like me."
"Impossible. Suppose something reasonable," her lover replied.
"But they might not. You think, you silly boy, that because you do
everybody must. But I'm so glad I'm clothed and in my right mind again.
I couldn't have borne to meet my mother with that boys suit on. Do you
think I look nice in this? I had to take what I could find ready-made,
Unless his eyes were blinded by the glamour of love, he saw the
sweetest vision of loveliness he had known. Such a surpassing miracle
of soft, dainty curves, such surplusage of beauty in bare throat,
speaking eye, sweet mouth, and dimpled cheeks! But Bucky was a lover,
and perhaps no fair judge, for in that touch of vagueness, of
fairy-land, lent by the moonlight, he found the world almost too
beautiful to believe. Did she look NICE? How beggarly words were to
express feelings, after all.
The vaquero with them rode forward and pointed to the valley below,
where the ranch-house huddled in a pellucid sea of moonlight.
"That's the Rocking Chair, sir."
Presently there came a shout from the ranch, and a man galloped
toward them. He passed Bucky with a wave of his hand and made directly
"Dave! Dave, old partner," he cried, leaping from his horse and
catching the other's hand. "After all these years you've risen from the
dead and come back to me." His voice was broken with emotion.
"Come! Let's canter forward to the ranch," said Bucky to Frances and
the vaquero, thinking it best to leave the two old comrades together
for a while.
Mrs. Mackenzie and Alice met them at the gate. "Did you bring him?
Did you bring Dave?" the older lady asked eagerly.
"Yes, we brought him," answered Bucky, helping Frances to
He led the girl to her mother. "Mrs. Mackenzie, can you stand good
She caught at the gate. "What news? Who is this lady?"
"Her name is Frances."
"Frances Mackenzie. She is your daughter, returned, after all these
years, to love and be loved."
The mother gave a little throat cry, steadied herself, and fell into
the arms of her daughter. "Oh, my baby! My baby! Found at last."
Quietly Bucky slipped away to the stables with the ponies. As
quietly Alice disappeared into the house. This was sacred ground, and
not even their feet should rest on it just now.
When Bucky returned to the house, he found his sweetheart sitting
between her father and mother, each of whom was holding one of her
hands. Henderson had retired to clean himself up. Happy tears were
coursing down the cheeks of the mother, and Webb found it necessary to
blow his nose frequently. He jumped up at sight of the ranger.
"Young man, you're to blame for this. You've found my friend and
you've found my daughter. Brought them both back to us on the same day.
What do you want? Name it, and it's yours, if I can give it."
Bucky looked at Frances with a smile in his eyes. He knew very well
what he wanted, but he was under bonds not to name it yet.
"I'll set you up in the cattle business, sir. I'll buy you sheep, if
you prefer. I'll get you an interest in a mine. Put a name to what you
"I'm no robber. You paid the expenses of my trip. That's all I want
"It's not all you'll get. Do you think I'm a cheap piker? No, sir.
You've got to let me grub-stake you." Mackenzie thumped a clinched fist
down on the table.
"All right, seh. You're the doctor. Give me an interest in that map
and I'll prospect the mine this summer, if I can locate it."
"Good enough, and I'll finance the proposition. You and Dave can
take half-shares in the property. In the meantime, are you open to an
"Depends what it is," replied Bucky cautiously.
"My foreman's quit on me. Gone into business for himself. I'm
looking for a good man. Will you be my major-domo?"
Bucky's heart leaped. He had been thinking of how he must report
almost immediately to HurryUp Millikan, of the rangers. Now, he could
resign from that body and stay near his love. Certainly things were
coming his way.
"I'd like to try it, seh," he answered. "I may not make good, but I
sure would like to have a chance at it."
"Make good! Of course you'll make good. You're the best man in
Arizona, sir," cried Webb extravagantly. He wheeled on his new-found
daughter. "Don't you think so, Frankie?"
Frances blushed, but answered bravely: "Yes, sir. He makes
everything right when he takes hold of it."
"Good. We're not going to let him get away from us after making us
so happy, are we, mother? This young man is going to stay right here.
We never had but one son, and we are going to treat him as much like
one as we can. Eh, mother?"
"If he will consent, Webb." She went up to the ranger and kissed his
tanned cheek. "You must pardon an old woman whom you've made very
Again Bucky's laughing blue eyes met the brown ones of his
"Oh, I'll consent, all right, and I reckon, ma'am, it's mighty good
of you to treat me so white. I'll sure try to please you."
Webb thumped him on the back. "Now, you're shouting. We want you to
be one of us, young man."
Once more that happy, wireless message of eyes followed by
O'Connor's assent. "That's what I want myself, seh."
Bucky found a surprise waiting for him at the stables. A heavy hand
descended upon his shoulder. He whirled, and looked up into the face of
"You here, Val?" he cried in surprise.
"That's what. Any luck, Bucky?"
They went out and sat down on the big rocks back of the corral. Here
each told the other his story, with certain reservations. Collins had
just got back from Epitaph, where he had been to get the fragments of
paper which told the secret of the buried treasure. He was expecting to
set out in the early morning to meet Leroy.
"I'll go with you," said Bucky immediately.
Val shook his head. "No, I'm to go alone. That's the agreement."
"Of course if that's the agreement." Nevertheless, the ranger formed
a private intention not to be far from the scene of action.
CHAPTER 21. THE WOLF PACK
"Good evening, gentlemen. Hope I don't intrude on the
Leroy smiled down ironically on the four flushed, startled faces
that looked up at him. Suspicion was alive in every rustle of the men's
clothes. It breathed from the lowering countenances. It itched at the
fingers longing for the trigger. The unending terror of a bandit's life
is that no man trusts his fellow. Hence one betrays another for fear of
betrayal, or stabs him in the back to avoid it.
The outlaw chief had slipped into the room so silently that the
first inkling they had of his presence was that gentle, insulting
voice. Now, as he lounged easily before them, leg thrown over the back
of a chair and thumbs sagging from his trouser pockets, they looked the
picture of schoolboys caught by their master in a conspiracy. How long
had he been there? How much had he heard? Full of suspicion and bad
whisky as they were, his confident contempt still cowed the very men
who were planning his destruction. A minute before they had been full
of loud threats and boastings; now they could only search each other's
faces sullenly for a cue.
"Celebrating Chaves' return from manana land, I reckon. That's the
proper ticket. I wonder if we couldn't afford to kill another of
Collins' fatted calves."
Mr. Hardman, not enjoying the derisive raillery, took a hand in the
game. "I expect the boys hadn't better touch the sheriff's calves, now
you and him are so thick."
"We're thick, are we?" Leroy's indolent eyes narrowed slightly as
they rested on him.
"Ain't you? It sure seemed that way to me when I looked out of that
mesquit wash just above Eldorado Springs and seen you and him eating
together like brothers and laughing to beat the band. You was so clost
to him I couldn't draw a bead on him without risking its hitting
"If that's the word you want to use, cap. And you were enjoying
"Laughing, were we? That must have been when he told me how funny
you looked in the 'altogether' shedding false teeth and information
about hidden treasure."
"Told you that, did he?" Mr. Hardman incontinently dropped repartee
as a weapon too subtle, and fell back on profanity.
"That's right pat to the minute, cap, what you say about the
information he leaks," put in Neil. "How about that information? I'll
be plumb tickled to death to know you're carrying it in you vest
"And if I'm not?"
"Then ye are a bigger fool than I had expected sorr, to come back
here at all," said the Irishman truculently.
"I begin to think so myself, Mr. Reilly. Why keep faith with a set
of swine like you?"
"Are you giving it to us that you haven't got those papers?"
Leroy nodded, watching them with steady, alert eyes. He knew he
stood on the edge of a volcano that might explode at any moment.
"What did I tell yez?" Reilly turned savagely to the other
disaffected members of the gang. "Didn't I tell yez he was selling us
Somehow Leroy's revolver seemed to jump to his hand without a motion
on his part. It lay loosely in his limp fingers, unaimed and
"SAY THAT AGAIN, PLEASE."
Beneath the velvet of Leroy's voice ran a note more deadly than any
threat could have been. It rang a bell for a silence in which the clock
of death seemed to tick. But as the seconds fled Reilly's courage oozed
away. He dared not accept the invitation to reach for his weapon and
try conclusions with this debonair young daredevil. He mumbled a
retraction, and flung, with a curse, out of the room.
Leroy slipped the revolver back in his holster and quoted, with a
"To every coward safety, And afterward his evil hour."
"What's that?" demanded Neil. "I ain't no coward, even if Jay is. I
don't knuckle under to any man. You got a right to ante up with some
information. I want to know why you ain't got them papers you promised
to bring back with you."
"And I, too, senor. I desire to know what it means," added Chaves,
his eyes glittering.
"That's the way to chirp, gentlemen. I haven't got them because
Forbes blundered on us, and I had to take a pasear awful sudden. But I
made an appointment to meet Collins to-morrow."
"And you think he'll keep it?" scoffed Neil.
"I know he will."
"You seem to know a heap about him," was the significant retort.
"Take care, York."
"I'm not Hardman, cap. I say what I think.
"And you think?" suggested Leroy gently.
"I don't know what to think yet. You're either a fool or a traitor.
I ain't quite made up my mind. When I find out you'll ce'tainly hear
from me straight. Come on, boys." And Neil vanished through the
An hour later there came a knock at Leroy's door. Neil answered his
permission to enter, followed by the other trio of flushed beauties. To
the outlaw chief it was at once apparent with what Dutch courage they
had been fortifying themselves to some resolve. It was characteristic
of him, though he knew on how precarious a thread his life was hanging,
that disgust at the foul breaths with which they were polluting the
atmosphere was his first dominant emotion.
"I wish, Lieutenant Chaves, next time you emigrate you'd bring
another brand of poison out to the boys. I can't go this stuff. Just
remember that, will you?"
The outlaw chief's hard eye ran over the rebels and read them like a
primer They had come to depose him certainly, to kill him perhaps.
Though this last he doubted. It wouldn't be like Neil to plan his
murder, and it wouldn't be like the others to give him warning and meet
him in the open. Warily he stood behind the table, watching their
awkward embarrassment with easy assurance. Carefully he placed face
downward on the table the Villon he had been reading, but he did it
without lifting his eyes from them.
"You have business with me, I presume."
"That's what we have," cried Reilly valiantly, from the rear.
"Then suppose we come to it and get the room aired as soon as
possible," Leroy said tartly.
"You're such a slap-up dude you'd ought to be a hotel clerk, cap.
You're sure wasted out here.
So we boys got together and held a little election. Consequence is,
we--fact is, we--"
Neil stuck, but Reilly came to his rescue.
"We elected York captain of this outfit."
"To fill the vacancy created by my resignation. Poor York! You're
the sacrifice, are you? On the whole, I think you fellows have made a
wise choice. York's game, and he won't squeal on you, which is more
than I could say of Reilly, or the play actor, or the gentlemen from
Chihuahua. But you want to watch out for a knife in the dark, York.
'Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,' you know."
"We didn't come here to listen to a speech, cap, but to notify you
we was dissatisfied, and wouldn't have you run the outfit any longer,"
"In that event, having heard the report of the committee, if there's
no further new business, I declare this meeting adjourned sine die.
Kindly remove the perfume tubs, Captain Neil, at your earliest
The quartette retreated ignominiously. They had come prepared to
gloat over Leroy's discomfiture, and he had mocked them with that
insolent ease of his that set their teeth in helpless rage.
But the deposed chief knew they had not struck their last blow.
Throughout the night he could hear the low-voiced murmur of their
plottings, and he knew that if the liquor held out long enough there
would be sudden death at Hidden Valley before twenty-four hours were
up. He looked carefully to his rifle and his revolvers, testing several
shells to make sure they had not been tampered with in his absence.
After he had made all necessary preparations, he drew the blinds of his
window and moved his easy-chair from its customary place beside the
fire. Also he was careful not to sit where an shadow would betray his
position. Then back he went to his Villon, a revolver lying on the
table within reach.
But the night passed without mishap, and with morning he ventured
forth to his meeting with the sheriff. He might have slipped out from
the back door of his cabin and gained the canyon, by circling
unobserved, up the draw and over the hogback, but he would not show by
these precautions any fear of the cutthroats with whom he had to deal.
As was his scrupulous custom, he shaved and took his morning bath
before appearing outdoors. In all Arizona no trimmer, more graceful
figure of jaunty recklessness could be seen than this one stepping
lightly forth to knock at the bunk-house door behind which he suspected
were at least two men determined on his death by treachery.
Neil came to the door in answer to his knock and within he could see
the villainous faces at bloodshot eyes of two of the others peering at
"Good mo'ning, Captain Neil. I'm on my way to keep that appointment
I mentioned last night I'd ce'tainly be glad to have you go along.
Nothing like being on the spot to prevent double-crossing."
"I'm with you in the fling of a cow's tail. Come on, boys."
"I think not. You and I will go alone."
"Just as you say. Reilly, I guess you better saddle Two-step and the
Lazy B roan."
"I ain't saddling ponies for Mr. Leroy," returned Reilly, with thick
Neil was across the room in two strides. "When I tell you to do a
thing, jump! Get a move on and saddle those broncs."
"I don't know as--"
Reilly sullenly slouched out.
"I see you made them jump," commented the former captain audibly,
seating himself comfortably on a rock. "It's the only way you'll get
along with them. See that they come to time or pump lead into them.
You'll find there's no middle way."
Neil and Leroy had hardly passed beyond the rock-slide before the
others, suspicion awake in their sodden brains, dodged after them on
foot. For three miles they followed the broncos as the latter picked
their way up the steep trail that led to the Dalriada Mine.
"If Mr. Collins is here, he's lying almighty low," exclaimed Neil,
as he swung from his pony at the foot of the bluff from the brow of
which the gray dump of the mine straggled down like a Titan's
"Right you are, Mr. Neil."
York whirled, revolver in hand, but the man who had risen from
behind the big boulder beside the trail was resting both hands on the
rock before him.
"You're alone, are you?" demanded York.
Neil's revolver slid back into its holster. "Mornin', Val. What's
new down at Tucson?" he said amiably.
"I understood I was to meet you alone, Mr. Leroy," said the sheriff
quickly, his blue-gray eyes on the former chief.
"That was the agreement, Mr. Collins, but it seems the boys are on
the anxious seat about these little socials of ours. They've embraced
the notion that I'm selling them. I hated to have them harassed with
doubts, so I invited the new majordomo of the ranch to come with me. Of
cou'se, if you object--"
"I don't object in the least, but I want him to understand the
agreement. I've got a posse waiting at Eldorado Springs, and as soon as
I get back there we take the trail after you. Bucky O'Connor is at the
head of the posse."
York grinned. "We'll be in Sonora then, Val. Think I'm going to wait
and let you shoot off my other fingers?"
Collins fished from his vest pocket the papers he had taken from
Scott hat and from Webster. "I think I'll be jogging along back to the
springs. I reckon these are what you want."
Leroy took them from him and handed them to Neil. "Don't let us
detain you any longer, Mr. Collins. I know you're awful busy these
The sheriff nodded a good day, cut down the hill on the slant, and
disappeared in a mesquit thicket, from the other side of which he
presently emerged astride a bay horse.
The two outlaws retraced their way to the foot of the hill and
remounted their broncos.
"I want to say, cap, that I'm eating humble-pie in big chunks right
this minute," said Neil shamefacedly, scratching his curly poll and
looking apologetically at his former chief. "I might 'a' knowed you was
straight as a string, all I've seen of you these last two years. If
those coyotes say another word, cap--"
An exploding echo seemed to shake the mountain, and then another.
Leroy swayed in the saddle, clutching at his side. He pitched forward,
his arms round the horse's neck, and slid slowly to the ground.
Neil was off his horse in an instant, kneeling beside him. He lifted
him in his arms and carried him behind a great outcropping boulder.
"It's that hound Collins," he muttered, as he propped the wounded
man's head on his arm. "By God, I didn't think it of Val."
Leroy opened his eyes and smiled faintly. "Guess again, York."
"You don't mean "
He nodded. "Right this time--Hardman and Chaves and Reilly. They
shot to get us both. With us out of the way they could divide the
treasure between them."
Neil choked. "You ain't bad hurt, old man. Say you ain't bad hurt,
"More than I can carry, York; shot through and through. I've been
doubtful of Reilly for a long time;"
"By the Lord, if I don't get the rattlesnake for this!" swore Neil
between his teeth. "Ain't there nothin' I can do for you, old
In sharp succession four shots rang out. Neil grasped his rifle,
leaning forward and crouching for cover. He turned a puzzled face
toward Leroy. "I don't savvy. They ain't shooting at us."
"The sheriff," explained Leroy. "They forgot him, and he doubled
back on them."
"I'll bet Val got one of them," cried Neil, his face lighting.
"He's got one--or he's quit living. That's a sure thing. Why don't
you circle up on them from behind, York?"
"I hate to leave you, cap--and you so bad. Can't I do a thing for
Leroy smiled faintly. "Not a thing. I'll be right here when you get
The curly-headed young puncher took Leroy's hand in his, gulping
down a boyish sob. "I ain't been square with you, cap. I reckon after
this-- when you git well--I'll not be such a coyote any more."
The dying man's eyes were lit with a beautiful tenderness. "There's
one thing you can do for me, York. . . . I'm out of the game, but I
want you to make a new start. . . . I got you into this life, boy. Quit
it, and live straight. There's nothing to it, York."
The cowboy-bandit choked. "Don't you worry about me, cap. I'm all
right. I'd just as lief quit this deviltry, anyhow."
"I want you to promise, boy." A whimsical, half-cynical smile
touched Leroy's eyes. "You see, after living like a devil for thirty
years, I want to die like a Christian. Now, go, York."
After Neil had left him, Leroy's eyes closed. Faintly he heard two
more shots echoing down the valley, but the meaning of them was already
lost to his wandering mind.
Neil dodged rapidly round the foot of the mountain with intent to
cut off the bandits as they retreated. He found the sheriff crouching
behind a rock scarce two hundred yards from the scene of the murder. At
the same moment another shot echoed from well over to the left.
"Who can that be?" Neil asked, very much puzzled.
"That's what's worrying me, York," the sheriff returned.
Together they zigzagged up the side of the mountain. Twice from
above there came sounds of rifle shots. Neil was the first to strike
the trail to the mine. None too soon for as he stepped upon it,
breathing heavily from his climb, Reilly swung round a curve and
whipped his weapon to his shoulder. The man fired before York could
interfere and stood watching tensely the result of his shot. He was
silhouetted against the skyline, a beautiful mark, but Neil did not
cover him. Instead, he spoke quietly to the other.
"Was it you that killed Phil, Reilly?"
The man whirled and saw Neil for the first time. His answer was
instant. Flinging up his rifle, he pumped a shot at York.
Neil's retort came in a flash. Reilly clutched at his heart and
toppled backward from the precipice upon which he stood. Collins joined
the cowpuncher and together they stepped forward to the point from
which Reilly had plunged down two hundred feet to the jagged rocks
At the curve they came face to face with Bucky O'Connor. Three
weapons went up quicker than the beating of an eyelash. More slowly
each went down again
"What are you doing here, Bucky?" the sheriff asked.
"Just pirootin' around, Val. It occurred to me Leroy might not mean
to play fair with you, so I kinder invited myself to the party. When I
heard shooting I thought it was you they had bushwhacked, so I sat in
to the game "
"You guessed wrong, Bucky. Reilly and the others rounded on Leroy.
While they were at it they figured to make a clean job and bump off
York, too. From what York says Leroy has got his.
The ranger turned a jade eye on the outlaw. Has Mr. Neil turned
honest man, Val? Taken him into your posse, have you?" he asked, with
an edge of irony in his voice.
The sheriff laid a hand on the shoulder of the man who had been his
friend before he turned miscreant.
"Don't you worry about Neil, Bucky," he advised gently. "It was York
shot Reilly, after York had cut loose at him, and I shouldn't wonder if
that didn't save your life. Neil has got to stand the gaff for what
he's done, but I'll pull wires to get his punishment made light."
"Killed Reilly, did he?" repeated O'Connor. "I got Anderson back
"That makes only one left to account for. I wonder who he is?"
Collins turned absent-mindedly to Neil. The latter looked at him out of
an expressionless face. Even though his confederate had proved traitor
he would not betray him.
"I wonder," he said.
Bucky laughed. "Made a mistake that time, Val."
"I plumb forgot the situation for a moment," the sheriff grinned.
"Anyhow, we better be hittin' his trail."
"How about Phil?" Neil suggested.
"That's right. One of us has ce'tainly got to go back and attend to
"You and Neil go back. I'll follow up this gentleman who is
escaping," the ranger said.
And so it was arranged. The two men returned from their grim work of
justice to the place where the outlaw chief had been left. His eyes lit
feebly at sight of them.
"What news, York?" he asked.
"Reilly and Hardman are killed. How are you feelin', cap?" The
cow-puncher knelt beside the dying outlaw and put an arm under his
"Shot all to pieces, boy. No, I got no time to have you play doctor
with me." He turned to Collins with a gleam of his unconquerable
spirit. "You came pretty near making a clean round-up, sheriff. I'm the
fourth to be put out of business. You'd ought to be content with that.
Let York here go."
"I can't do that, but I'll do my best to see he gets off light."
"I got him into this, sheriff. He was all right before he knew me. I
want him to get a chance now. "
"I wish I could give him a pardon, but I can't do it. I'll see the
governor for him though."
The wounded man spoke to Collins alone for a few minutes, then began
to wander in his mind He babbled feebly of childhood days back in his
Kentucky home. The word most often on his lips was "Mother." So, with
his head resting on Neil's arm and his hand in that of his friend, he
slipped away to the Great Beyond.
CHAPTER 22. FOR A GOOD REASON
The young ladies, following the custom of Arizona in summer, were
riding by the light of the stars to avoid the heat of the day. They
rode leisurely, chatting as their ponies paced side by side. For though
they were cousins they were getting acquainted with each other for the
first time. Both of them found this a delightful process, not the less
so because they were temperamentally very different. Each of them knew
already that they were going to be great friends. They had exchanged
the histories of their lives, lying awake girl fashion to talk into the
small hours, each omitting certain passages, however, that had to do
with two men who were at that moment approaching nearer every minute to
Bucky O'Connor and Sheriff Collins were returning to the Rocking
Chair Ranch from Epitaph, where they had just been to deposit
twenty-seven thousand dollars and a prisoner by the name of Chaves.
Just at the point where the road climbed from the plains and reached
the summit of the first stiff hill the two parties met and passed. The
ranger and the sheriff reined in simultaneously. Yet a moment and all
four of them were talking at once.
They turned toward the ranch, Bucky and Frances leading the way.
Alice, riding beside her lover in the darkness, found the defenses upon
which she had relied begin to fail her. Nevertheless, she summoned them
to her support and met him full armed with the evasions and
complexities of her sex.
"This is a surprise, Mr. Collins," he was informed in her best
"And a pleasure?"
"Of course. But I'm sorry that father has been called to Phoenix. I
suppose you came to tell him about your success."
"To brag about it," he corrected. "But not to your father--to his
"That's very thoughtful of you. Will you begin now?"
"Not yet. There is something I have to tell you, Miss
At the gravity in his voice the lightness slipped from her like a
"Yes. Tell me your news. Over the telephone all sorts of rumors have
come to us. But even these were hearsay."
"I thought of telephoning you the facts. Then I decided to ride out
and tell you at once. I knew you would want to hear the story at first
Her patrician manner was gone. Her eyes looked their thanks at him.
"That was good of you. I have been very anxious to get the facts.
One rumor was that you have captured Sir. Leroy. Is it true?"
It seemed to her that his look was one of grave tenderness. "No,
that is not true. You remember what we said of him--of how he might
"He is dead--you killed him," she cried, all the color washed from
"He is dead, but I did not kill him."
"Tell me," she commanded.
He told her, beginning at the moment of his meeting with the outlaws
at the Dalriada dump and continuing to the last scene of the tragedy.
It touched her so nearly that she could not hear him through
"And he spoke of me?" She said it in a low voice, to herself rather
than to him.
"It was just before his mind began to wander--almost his last
conscious thought. He said that when you heard the news you would
remember. What you were to remember he didn't say. I took it you would
"Yes. I was to remember that he was not all wolf to me." She told it
with a little break of tears in her voice.
"Then he told me to tell you that it was the best way out for him.
He had come to the end of the road, and it would not have been possible
for him to go back." Presently Collins added gently: "If you don't mind
my saying so, I think he was right. He was content to go, quite game
and steady in his easy way. If he had lived, there could have been no
going back for him. It was his nature to go the limit. The tragedy is
in his life, not in his death."
"Yes, I know that, but it hurts one to think it had to be--that all
his splendid gifts and capabilities should end like this, and that we
are forced to see it is best. He might have done so much."
"And instead he became a miscreant. I reckon there was a lack in him
"Yes, there was a great lack in him somewhere."
They were silent for a time. She broke it to ask about York
"You wouldn't send him to prison after doing what he did, would
"You say yourself he helped you against the other outlaws. Then he
showed you where to start in finding the buried money. He isn't a bad
man. You know how he stood by me when I was a prisoner," she
He nodded. "That goes a long way with me, Miss Mackenzie. The
governor is a right good friend of mine. I meant to ask him for a
pardon. I reckon Neil means to live straight from now on. He promised
Leroy he would. He's only a wild cow-puncher gone wrong, and now he's
haided right he'll pull up and walk the narrow trail."
"But can you save him from the penitentiary?"
Collins smiled. "He saved me the trouble. Coming through the Canon
Del Oro in the night, he ducked. I reckon he's in Mexico now."
"Well, I ain't sorry myself, though I helped Bucky hunt real
thorough for him."
"Father will be pleased to know you got the treasure back," Alice
said presently, after they had ridden a bit in silence.
"And your father's daughter, Miss Alice--is she pleased?"
"What pleases father pleases me." Her voice, cool as the plash of
ice water, might have daunted a less resolute man. But this one had
long since determined the manner of his wooing and was not to be driven
"I'm glad of that. Your father's right friendly to me," he
announced, with composure.
"Sho! I ain't going to run away and hide because you look like you
don't know I'm in Arizona. What kind of a lover would I be if I broke
for cover every time you flashed those dark eyes at me?"
"My friends call me Val," he suggested, smiling.
"I was going to ask, Mr. Collins, if you think you can bully
"It might be a first rate thing for you if I did, Miss Mackenzie.
All your life you haven't done anything but trample on sissy boys. Now,
I expect I'm not a sissy boy, but a fair imitation of a man, and I
shouldn't wonder but you'd find me some too restless for a door-mat."
His maimed hand happened to be resting on the saddle horn as he spoke,
and the story of the maiming emphasized potently the truth of his
"Don't you assume a good deal, Mr. Collins, when you imply that I
have any desire to master you?"
"Not a bit," he assured her cheerfully. "Every woman wants to boss
the man she's going to marry, but if she finds she can't she's glad of
it, because then she knows she's got a man."
"You are quite sure I am going to marry you?" she asked gently--too
gently, he thought.
"I'm only reasonably sure," he informed her. "You see, I can't tell
for certain whether your pride or your good sense is the stronger."
She caught a detached glimpse of the situation, and it made for
"That's right, I want you should enjoy it," he said placidly.
"I do. It's the most absurd proposal--I suppose you call it a
proposal--that ever I heard."
"I expect you've heard a good many in your time.
"We'll not discuss that, if you please."
"I AM more interested in this one," he agreed.
"Isn't it about time to begin on Tucson?"
"Not to-day, ma'am. There are going to be a lot of to-morrows for
you and me, and Tucson will have to wait till then."
"Didn't I give you an answer last week?"
"You did, but I didn't take it. Now I'm ready for your sure-enough
She flashed a look at him that mocked his confidence. "I've heard
about the vanity of girls, but never in my experience have I met any so
colossal as this masculine vanity now on exhibit. Do you really think,
Mr. Collins, that all you have to do to win a woman is to look
impressive and tell her that you have decided to marry her?"
"Do I look as if I thought that?" he asked her.
"It is perfectly ridiculous--your absurd attitude of taking
everything for granted. Well, it may be the Tucson custom, but where I
come from it is not in vogue."
"No, I reckon not. Back there a boy persuades girl he loves her by
ruining her digestion with candy and all sorts of ice arrangements from
soda-fountain. But I'm uncivilized enough to assume you're a woman of
sense and not a spoiled schoolgirl."
The velvet night was attuned to the rhythm of her love. She felt
herself, in this sea of moon romance, being swept from her moorings.
Star-eyed, she gazed at him while she still fought again his
"You ARE uncivilized. Would you beat me when I didn't obey?" she
He laughed in slow contentment. "Perhaps; but I'd love you while I
"Oh, you would love me." She looked across under her long lashes,
not as boldly as she would have liked, and her gaze fell before his. "I
haven t heard before that that was in the compact you proposed. I don't
think you have remembered to mention it."
He swung from the saddle and put a hand to her bridle rein.
"Get down," he ordered.
"Because I say so. Get down."
She looked down at him, a man out of a thousand and for her one out
of a hundred million. Before she was conscious of willing it she stood
beside him. He trailed the reins of the ponies, and in two strides came
back to her.
"I want you. girl." His arm swept round her, and he held her while
he looked down into her shining eyes. "So I haven't told you that I
love you. Did you need to be told?"
"We must go on," she murmured weakly. "Frances and Lieutenant
"--Have their own love-affairs to attend to.
"We'll manage ours and not intrude."
"They might think--"
He laughed in deep delight. "--that we love each other. They're
welcome to the thought. I haven't told you that I love you, eh? I tell
you now. It's my last trump, and right here I table it. I'm no desert
poet, but I love you from that dark crown of yours to those little feet
that tap the floor so impatient sometimes. I love you all the time, no
matter what mood you're in--when you flash dark angry eyes at me and
when you laugh in that slow, understanding way nobody else in God's
world has the trick of. Makes no difference to me whether you're glad
or mad, I want you just the same. That's the reason why I'm going to
make you love me."
"You can't do it." Her voice was very low and not quite steady.
"Why not--I'll show you."
"But you can't--for a good reason."
"Put a name to it."
"Because. Oh, you big blind man--because I love you already." She
burlesqued his drawl with a little joyous laugh: "I reckon if you're
right set on it I'll have to marry you, Val Collins."
His arm tightened about her as if he would hold her against the
whole world. His ardent eyes possessed hers. She felt herself grow
faint with a poignant delight. Her lips met his slowly in their first