Part 2 out of 6
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, lieutenant."
"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
"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
"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 the country."
"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
"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
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 was making.
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 read:
"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
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
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
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
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 calmly.
"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
"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 choose."
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
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 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
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 time.
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
"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 sobs.
"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
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. Good.
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. Anderson."
"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
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
"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
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 avoid stiffness.
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 the boy.
"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 your life."
"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 life."
"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. Savvy?"
"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
"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 protecting.
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 gamer."
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 simple.
"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
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
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
"Two can always work better than one. Try me, Bucky," pleaded the
boy, the last word slipping out with a trailing upward inflection
that was irresistible.
"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 cutting-out expedition."
"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
"Time to get up, Curly. The nigger just gave the first call for
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
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 swindle."
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 feeling.
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 chances.
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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, too."
"You ce'tainly should have been a girl, the way you take to
"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 old newspaper."
"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 incredulous.
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 of masculinity?
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 hand.
"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 them.
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 from him.
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 grave silence.
"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 emphasis.
"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 as accompaniment.
"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
"Before ladies, Mick! Haven't you forgot your manners, Red-haid?"
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 Mike O'Halloran."
"Keep your shirt on, old fire-eater. Who told you I was wronging
"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 tell
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
"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 institution.
"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,
"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
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
"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, my friend?"
"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
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 days."
"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 Frank."
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
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 aware.
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 violets.
"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
"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 something good?"
"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
"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
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
"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 lasts."
"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 another, Del?"
"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
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, ain't it?"
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
"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
"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
"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 man.
"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 proposition.
"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 pasear."
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
"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 needed.
"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 distance.
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 signals later.
"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
"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 words:
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
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
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
Went twenty yards strate for big rock. Eight feet direckly west.
Fifty yards in direcksion of suthern Antelope Peke. Then eighteen
to nerest cotonwood.
All this was plain enough, but the last sentence was the puzzler.
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
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 of town.
"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, long-haired
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. What luck!
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 along?"
"You bet I do, Val"--from Del Hawkes.
"You mustn't walk on that leg for a week or two yet, Mr.