Chapter 11. "Stone Walls Do not a Prison Make."
 

The two young Spanish aristocrats rode in advance of the convoy on the return trip, while O'Halloran and Bucky brought up the rear. The roads were too rough to permit of rapid travel, but the teams were pushed as fast as it could safely be done in the dark. It was necessary to get into the city before daybreak, and also before word reached Megales of the coup his enemies had made. O'Halloran calculated that this could be done, but he did not want to run his margin of time too fine.

"When the governor finds we have recaptured the arms, will he not have all your leaders arrested today and thrown into the prison?" asked the ranger.

"He will--if he can lay hands on them. But he had better catch his hare before he cooks it. I'm thinking that none of us will be at home to-day when his men come with a polite invitation to go along with them."

"Then he'll spend all day strengthening his position. With this warning he will be a fool if he can't make himself secure before night, when the army is on his side."

"Oh, the army is on his side, is it? Now, what would you say if most of the officers were ready to come over to us as soon as we declare ourselves? And ye speak of strengthening his position. The beauty of his position, me lad, from our point of view, is that he doesn't know his weak places. He'll be the most undeceived man in the State when the test comes--unless something goes wrong."

"When do you propose to attack the prison?"

"To-night. To-morrow is election day, and we want all the byes we can on hand to help us out."

"Do you expect to throw the prison doors wide open--let every scoundrel in Chihuahua loose on the public."

"We couldn't do that, since half of them are loose already," retorted O'Halloran dryly. "And as for the rest--we expect to make a selection, me son, to weed out a few choice ruffians and keep them behind the bars. But if ye know anything about the prisons of this country, you're informed, sir, that half the poor fellows behind bars don't belong there so much as the folk that put them there. I'm Irish, as ye are yourself, and it's me instinct to fight for the under dog. Why shouldn't the lads rotting behind those walls have another chance at the game? By the mother of Moses! they shall, if Mike O'Halloran has anything to say about it."

"You ce'tainly conduct your lawful elections in a beautifully lawless way," grinned the ranger.

"And why not? Isn't the law made for man?"

"For which man--Megales?"

"In order to give the greatest liberty to each individual man. But here comes young Valdez riding back as if he were in a bit of a hurry."

The filibuster rode forward and talked with the young man for a few minutes in a low voice. When he rejoined Bucky he nodded his head toward the young man, who was again headed for the front of the column. "There's the best lad in the State of Chihuahua. He's a Mexican, all right, but he has as much sense as a white man. He doesn't mix issues. Now, the lad's in love with Carmencita Megales, the prettiest black-eyed lass in Mexico, and, by the same token, so is our friend Chaves, who just gave us the guns a little while ago. But Valdez is a man from the heel of him to the head. Miss Carmencita has her nose in the air because Juan doesn't snuggle up to ould Megales and flatter him the same way young Chaves does. So the lad is persona non grata at court with the lady, and that tin soldier who gave up the guns without a blow gets the lady's smiles. But it's my opinion that, for all her haughty ways, miss would rather have our honest fighting lad than a roomful of the imitation toy kind."

A couple of miles from the outskirts of the city the wagons separated, and each was driven to the assigned place for the hiding of the rifles till night. At the edge of the town Bucky made arrangements to join his friend again at the monument in the centre of the plaza within fifteen minutes. He was to bring his little partner with him, and O'Halloran was to take them to a place where they might lie in hiding till the time set for the rising.

"I would go with ye, but I want to take charge of the unloading. Don't lose any time, lad, for as soon as Megales learns of what has happened his fellows will scour the town for every mother's son of us. Of course you have been under surveillance, and it's likely he'll try to bag you with the rest of us. It was a great piece of foolishness me forgetting about the line of the Chihuahua Northern and its telegraph. But there's a chance Chaves has forgot, too. Anyway, get back as soon as you can; after we're hidden, it will be like looking for a needle in a haystack to put his fat finger on us."

Bucky went singing up the stairway of the hotel to his room. He was keen to get back to his little friend after the hazards of the night, eager to see the brown eyes light up with joy at sight of him and to hear the soft voice with the trailing inflection drawl out its shy questions. So he took the stairs three at a time, with a song on his lips and in his heart.

 "'Tis you shall reign, shall reign alone
 My dark Rosaleen! My own Rosaleen!
 'Tis you shall have the golden throne,
 'Tis you shall reign, and reign alone
 My dark Rosaleen!"

O'Connor, somewhat out of breath, was humming the last line when he passed through the gypsy apartments and opened his own door, to meet one of the surprises of his life. Yet he finished the verse, though he was looking down the barrels of two revolvers in the hands of a pair of troopers, and though Lieutenant Chaves, very much at his ease, sat on the table dangling his feet.

Bucky's sardonic laughter rang out gayly. "I ce'tainly didn't expect to meet you here, lieutenant. May I ask if you have wings?"

"Not exactly, senor. But it is quite possible you may have before twenty-four hours," came the swift retort.

"Interesting, if true," remarked the ranger carelessly, tossing his gloves on the bed. "And may I ask to what I am indebted for the pleasure of a visit from you?"

"I am returning your call, sir, and at the very earliest opportunity. I assure you that I have been in the city less than ten minutes, Senor whatever-you-choose-to-call-yourself. My promptness I leave you to admire."

"Oh, you're prompt enough, lieutenant. I noticed that when you handed over your gun to me so lamblike." He laughed it out flippantly, buoyantly, though it was on his mind to wonder whether the choleric little officer might not kill him out of hand for it.

But Chaves merely folded his arms and looked sternly at the American with a manner very theatrical. "Miguel, disarm the prisoner," he ordered.

"So I'm a prisoner," mused Bucky aloud. "And whyfor, lieutenant?"

"Stirring up insurrection against the government. The prisoner will not talk," decreed his captor, a frowning gaze attempting to quell him.

But here the popinjay officer reckoned without his host, for that gentleman had the most indomitable eyes in Arizona. It was not necessary for him to stiffen his will to meet the other's attack. His manner was still lazy, his gaze almost insolent in its indolence, but somewhere in the blue eyes was that which told Chaves he was his master. The Mexican might impotently rebel--and did; he might feed his vanity with the swiftness of his revenge, but in his heart he knew that the moment was not his, after all, or that it was his at least with no pleasure unalloyed.

"The prisoner will not talk," repeated Bucky, with drawling mockery. "Sure he will, general. There's several things he's awful curious to know. One of them is how you happen to be Johnnie-on-the-spot so opportune."

The lieutenant's dignity melted before his vanity. Having so excellent a chance to sun the latter, he delivered himself of an oration. After all, silent contempt did not appear to be the best weapon to employ with this impudent fellow.

"Senor, no Chaves ever forgets an insult. Last night you, a common American, insulted me grossly--me, Lieutenant Ferdinand Chaves, me, of the bluest Castilian blood." He struck himself dramatically on the breast. "I submit, senor, but I vow revenge. I promised myself to spit on you, to spit on your Stars and Stripes, the flag of a nation of dirty traders. Ha! I do so now in spirit. The hour I have longed for is come."

Bucky took one step forward. His eyes had grown opaque and flinty. "Take care, you cur."

Swiftly Chaves hurried on without pressing the point. He had a prophetic vision of his neck in the vise grip of those brown, sinewy hands, and, though his men would afterward kill the man, small good would he get from that if the life were already squeezed out of him.

"And so what do I do? I think, and having thought I act with the swiftness of a Chaves. How? I ride across country. I seize a hand car. My men pump me to town on the roadbed of the Northern. I telephone to the hotels and find where Americans are staying. Then I come here like the wind, arrest your friend, and send him to prison, arrest you also and send you to the gallows."

"That's real kind of you, general," replied Bucky, in irony sportive. "But you really are putting yourself out too much for me. I reckon I'll not trouble you to go so far. By the way, did I understand you to say you had arrested a friend of mine?"

Indifferently he flung out the question, if his voice were index of his feeling, but his heart was pumping faster than it normally ought.

"He is in prison, where you will shortly join him. Soldiers, to the commandant with your captive."

If Bucky had had any idea of attempting escape, he now abandoned it at once. The place of all places where he most ardently desired to be at that moment was in the prison with his little comrade. His desire marched with that of Chaves so far, and the latter could not hurry him there too fast to suit him.

One feature of the situation made him chuckle, and that was this: The fiery lieutenant, intent first of all on his revenge, had given first thought to the capture of the man who had made mincemeat of his vanity and rendered him a possible subject of ridicule to his fellow officers. So eager had he been to accomplish this that he had failed as yet to notify his superiors of what had happened, with the result that the captured guns had been safely smuggled in and hidden. Bucky thought he could trust O'Halloran to see that he did not stay long behind bars and bolts, unless indeed the game went against that sanguine and most cheerful plotter. In which event--well, that was a contingency that would certainly prove embarrassing to the ranger. It might indeed turn out to be a good deal more than embarrassing in the end. The thing that he had done would bear a plain name if the Megales faction won the day--and the punishment for it would be easy to guess. But it was not of himself that O'Connor was thinking. He had been in tight places before and squeezed safely out. But his little friend, the one he loved better than his life, must somehow be extricated, no matter how the cards fell.

The ranger was taken at once before General Carlo, the ranking army officer at Chihuahua, and, after a sharp preliminary examination, was committed to prison. The impression that O'Connor got of Carlo was not a reassuring one. The man was a military despot, apparently, and a stickler for discipline. He had a hanging face, and, in the Yaqui war, had won the nickname of "the butcher' for his merciless treatment of captured natives. If Bucky were to get the same short shrift as they did--and he began to suspect as much when his trial was set for the same day before a military tribunal--it was time for him to be setting what few worldly affairs he had in order. Technically, Megales had a legal right to have him put to death and the impression lingered with Bucky that the sly old governor would be likely to do that very thing and later be full of profuse regrets to the United States Government that inadvertently a citizen of the great republic had been punished by mistake.

Bucky was registered and receipted for at the prison office, after which he was conducted to his cell. The corridors dripped as he followed under ground the guide who led the way with a flickering lantern. It was a gruesome place to contemplate as a permanent abode. But the young American knew that his stay here would be short, whether the termination of it were liberty or the gallows.

Reaching the end of a narrow, crooked corridor that sloped downward, the turnkey unlocked a ponderous iron door with a huge key, and one of the guards following at Bucky's heels, pushed him forward. He fell down two or three steps and came to a sprawling heap on the floor of the cell.

From the top of the steps came a derisive laugh as the door swung to and left him in utter darkness.

Stiffly the ranger got to his knees and was about to rise when a sound stopped him. Something was panting in deep breaths at the other side of the cell. A shiver of terror went goose-quilling down O'Connor's back. Had they locked him up with some wild beast, to be torn to pieces? Or was this the ghost of some previous occupant? In such blackness of gloom it was easy to believe, or, at least, to imagine impossible conceptions that the light of day would have scattered in an instant. He was afraid--afraid to the marrow.

And then out of the darkness came a small, trembling voice: "Are you a prisoner, too, sir?"

Bucky wanted to shout aloud his relief--and his delight. The sheer joy of his laughter told him how badly he had been frightened. That voice--were he sunk in twice as deep and dark an inferno--he would know it among a thousand. He groped his way forward toward it.

"Oh, little pardner, I'm plumb tickled to death you ain't a ghost," he laughed.

"It is--Bucky?" The question joyfully answered itself.

"Right guess. Bucky it is."

He had hold of her hands by this time, was trying to peer down into the happy-brown eyes he knew were scanning him. "I can't see you yet, Curly Haid, but it's sure you, I reckon. I'll have to pass my hand over your face the way a blind man does," he laughed, and, greatly daring, he followed his own suggestion, and let his fingers wander across her crisp, thick hair, down her soft, warm cheeks, and over the saucy nose and laughing mouth he had often longed to kiss.

Presently she drew away shyly, but the lilt of happiness in her voice told him she was not offended. "I can see you, Bucky." The last word came as usual, with that sweet, hesitating, upward inflection that made her familiarity wholly intoxicating, even while the comradeship of it left room for an interpretation either of gay mockery or something deeper. "Yes, I can see you. That's because I have been here longer and am more used to the darkness. I think I've been here about a year." He felt her shudder. "You don't know how glad I am to see you."

"No gladder than I am to feel you," he answered gayly. "It's worth the price of admission to find you here, girl o'mine."

He had forgotten the pretense that still lay between them, so far as words went when they had last parted. Nor did it yet occur to him that he had swept aside the convention of her being a boy. But she was vividly aware of it, and aware, too, of the demand his last words had made for a recognition of the relationship that existed in feeling between them.

"I knew you knew I was a girl," she murmured.

"You knew more than that," he challenged joyfully.

But, in woman's way, she ignored his frontal attack. He was going at too impetuous a speed for her reluctance. "How long have you known that I wasn't a boy--not from the first, surely?"

"I don't know why I didn't, but I didn't. I was sure locoed," he confessed. "It was when you came out dressed as a gypsy that I knew. That explained to me a heap of things I never had understood before about you."

"It explained, I suppose, why I never had licked the stuffing out of any other kid, and why you did not get very far in making a man out of me as you promised," she mocked.

"Yes, and it explained how you happened to say you were eighteen. By mistake you let the truth slip out. Course I wouldn't believe it."

"I remember you didn't. I think you conveyed the impression to me diplomatically that you had doubts."

"I said it was a lie," he laughed. "I sure do owe you a heap of apologies for being so plumb dogmatic when you knew best. You'll have to sit down on me hard once in a while, or there won't be any living with me."

Blushingly she did some more ignoring. "That was the first time you threatened to give me a whipping," she recalled aloud.

"My goodness! Did I ever talk so foolish?"

"You did, and meant it."

"But somehow I never did it. I wonder why I didn't."

"Perhaps I was so frail you were afraid you would break me."

"No, that wasn't it. In the back of my haid somewhere there was an instinct that said: 'Bucky, you chump, if you don't keep your hands off this kid you'll be right sorry all your life.' Not being given to many ideas, I paid a heap of respect to that one."

"Well, it's too bad, for I probably needed that whipping, and now you'll never be able to give it to me."

"I shan't ever want to now."

Saucily her merry eyes shot him from under the long lashes. "I'm not so sure of that. Girls can be mighty aggravating."

"That's the way girls are meant to be, I expect," he laughed. "But fifteen-year-old boys have to be herded back into line. There's a difference."

She rescued her hands from him and led the way to a bench that served for a seat. "Sit down here, sir. There are one or two things that I have to explain." She sat down beside him at the farther end of the bench.

"This light is so dim, I can't see you away over there," he pleaded, moving closer.

"You don't need to see me. You can hear me, can't you?"

"I reckon."

She seemed to find a difficulty in beginning, even though the darkness helped her by making it impossible for him to see her embarrassment. Presently he chuckled softly. "No, ma'am, I can't even hear you. If you're talking, I'll have to come closer."

"If you do, I'll get up. I want you to be really earnest."

"I never was more earnest in my life, Curly."

"Please, Bucky? It isn't easy to say it, and you mustn't make it harder."

"Do you have to say it, pardner?" he asked, more seriously.

"Yes, I have to say it." And swiftly she blurted it out. "Why do you suppose I came with you to Mexico?"

"I don't know." He grappled with her suggestion for a moment. "I suppose--you said it was because you were afraid of Hardman."

"Well, I wasn't. At least, I wasn't afraid that much. I knew that I would have been quite safe next time with the Mackenzies at the ranch."

"Then why was it?"

"You can't think of any reason?" She leaned forward and looked directly into his eyes--eyes as honest and as blue as an Arizona sky.

But he stood unconvicted--nay, acquitted. The one reason she had dreaded he might offer to himself had evidently never entered his head. Whatever guesses he might have made on the subject, he was plainly guiltless of thinking she might have come with him because she was in love with him.

"No, I can't think of any other reason, if the one you gave isn't the right one."

"Quite sure?"

"Quite sure, pardner."

"Think! Why did you come to Chihuahua?"

"To run down Wolf Leroy's gang and to get Dave Henderson out of prison."

"Perhaps there is a reason why I should want him out of prison, a better reason than you could possibly have."

"I don't savvy it. How can there be? You don't know him, do you? He's been in prison almost ever since you were born." And on top of his last statement Bucky's eyes began to open with a new light. "Good heavens! It can't be possible. You're not Webb Mackenzie's little girl, are you?"

She did not answer him in words, but from her neck she slipped a chain and handed it to him. On the chain hung a locket.

The ranger struck a match and examined the trinket. "It's the very missing locket. See! Here's the other one. Compare them together." He touched the spring and it opened, but the match was burned out and he had to light another. "Here's the mine map that has been lost all these years. How did you get this? Have you always had it? And how long have you known that you were Frances Mackenzie?"

His questions tumbled out one upon another in his excitement.

She laughed, answering him categorically. "I don't know, for sure. Yes, at least a great many years. Less than a week."

"But--I don't understand--"

"And won't until you give me a chance to do some of the talking," she interrupted dryly.

"That's right. I reckon I am getting off left foot first. It's your powwow now," he conceded.

"So long as I can remember exactly I have always lived with the man Hardman and his wife. But before that I can vaguely recall something different. It has always seemed like a kind of fairyland, for I was a very little tot then. But one of the things I seem to remember was a sweet, kind-eyed mother and a big, laughing father. Then, too, there were horses and lots of cows. That is about all, except that the chain around my neck seemed to have some connection with my early life. That's why I always kept it very carefully, and, after one of the lockets broke, I still kept it and the funny-looking paper inside of it."

"I don't understand why Hardman didn't take the paper," he interrupted.

"I suppose he did, and when he discovered that it held only half the secret of the mine he probably put it back in the locket. I see you have the other part."

"It was lost at the place where the robbers waited to hold up the T. P. Limited. Probably you lost it first and one of the robbers found it."

"Probably," she said, in a queer voice.

"What was the first clue your father had had for many years about his little girl. He happened to be at Aravaipa the day you and I first met. I guess he took a fancy to me, for he asked me to take this case up for him and see if I couldn't locate you. I ran Hardman down and made him tell me the whole story. But he lied about some of it, for he told me you were dead."

"He is a born liar," the girl commented. "Well, to get on with my story. Anderson, or Hardman, as he now calls himself, except when he uses his stage name of Cavallado, went into the show business and took me with him. When I was a little bit of a girl he used to use me for all sorts of things, such as a target for his knife throwing and to sell medicine to the audience. Lots of people would buy because I was such a morsel of a creature, and I suppose he found me a drawing card. We moved all over the country for years. I hated the life. But what could I do?"

"You poor little lamb," murmured the man. "And when did you find out who you were?"

"I heard you talking to him the night you took him back to Epitaph, and then I began to piece things together. You remember you went over the whole story with him again just before we reached the town."

"And you knew it was you I was talking about?"

"I didn't know. But when you mentioned the locket and the map, I knew. Then it seemed to me that since this man Henderson had lost so many years of his life trying to save me I must do something for him. So I asked you to take me with you. I had been a boy so long I didn't think you would know the difference, and you did not. If I hadn't dressed as a girl that time you would not know yet."

"Maybe, and maybe not," he smiled. "Point is, I do know, and it makes a heap of difference to me."

"Yes, I know," she said hurriedly. "I'm more trouble now."

"That ain't it," he was beginning, when a thought brought him up short. As the daughter of Webb Mackenzie this girl was no longer a penniless outcast, but the heiress of one-half interest in the big Rocking Chair Ranch, with its fifteen thousand head of cattle. As the first he had a perfect right to love her and to ask her to marry him, but as the latter--well, that was quite a different affair. He had not a cent to bless himself with outside of his little ranch and his salary, and, though he might not question his own motives under such circumstances, there would be plenty who would question them for him. He was an independent young man as one could find in a long day's ride, and his pride rose up to padlock his lips.

She looked across at him in shy surprise, for all the eagerness had in an instant been sponged from his face. With a hard, impassive countenance he dropped the hand he had seized and turned away.

"You were saying--" she suggested.

"I reckon I've forgot what it was. It doesn't matter, anyhow."

She was hurt, and deeply. It was all very well for her to try her little wiles to delay him, but in her heart she longed to hear the words he had been about to say. It had been very sweet to know that this brown, handsome son of Arizona loved her, very restful to know that for the first time in her life she could trustfully let her weakness lean on the strength of another. And, more than either, though she sometimes smilingly pretended to deny it to herself, was the ultimate fact that she loved him. His voice was music to her, his presence joy. He brought with him sunshine, and peace, and happiness.

He was always so reliable, so little the victim of his moods. What could have come over him now to change him in that swift instant? Was she to blame? Had she unknowingly been at fault? Or was there something in her story that had chilled him? It was characteristic of her that it was herself she doubted and not him; that it never occurred to her that her hero had feet of clay like other men.

She felt her heart begin to swell, and choked back a sob. It wrung him to hear the little breath catch, but he was a man, strong-willed and resolute. Though he dug his finger nails into his palms till the flesh was cut he would not give way to his desire.

"You're not angry at me--Bucky?" she asked softly.

"No, I'm not angry at you." His voice was cold because he dared not trust himself to let his tenderness creep into it.

"I haven't done anything that I ought not to? Perhaps you think it wasn't--wasn't nice to--to come here with you."

"I don't think anything of the kind," his hard voice answered. "I think you're a prince, if you want to know."

She smiled a little wanly, trying to coax him back into friendliness. "Then if I'm a prince you must be a princess," she teased.

"I meant a prince of good fellows" "Oh!" She could be stiff, too, if it came to that.

And at this inopportune moment the key turned harshly and the door swung open.