Part 5 out of 6
because the sun won't ever rise on a day when Val Collins will
drive me out of Arizona."
"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
"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
"I won't have it."
"Afraid, perhaps, he might be the one left for the coyotes and
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
"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 said.
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 chain lightning."
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 Webster."
"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 charming.
"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
"--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
"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 it."
"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
"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 noches."
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,"
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 love.
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 Lover,
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
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 be off."
"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 game, cap."
"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 smart ransom."
"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
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, flashing smiles.
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
"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 recollection.
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
"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 rode.
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 three,"
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 ranch.
"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
"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 soughs.
"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 for them."
"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 read it."
"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
"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
"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
He was still expatiating in a monologue with grave enthusiasm on
the town of his choice, when they came to the pasture fence of
"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
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 she wore.
"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
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
"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
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 night.
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
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, you know."
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
"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 for Henderson.
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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 want."
"I'm no robber. You paid the expenses of my trip. That's all I
want right now."
"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 engagement?"
"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
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 Sheriff Collins.
"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
"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
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 you."
"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
"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 out?"
Somehow Leroy's revolver seemed to jump to his hand without a
motion on his part. It lay loosely in his limp fingers, unaimed
"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 door.
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," explained Neil.
"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
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
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 him.
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
Neil was off his horse in an instant, kneeling beside him. He
lifted him in his arms and carried him behind a great outcropping
"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
"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,
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 back, York."
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
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
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
"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 below.
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
"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
"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 them.
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
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 Mackenzie."
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 hand."
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
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
"He is dead--you killed him," she cried, all the color washed
from her face.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"And instead he became a miscreant. I reckon there was a lack in
"Yes, there was a great lack in him somewhere."
They were silent for a time. She broke it to ask about York Neil.
"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 pleaded.
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
"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
"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 from it.
"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 me."
"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 claim.
"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
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
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
"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