Chapter 14. Le Roi est Mort; Vive le Roi
 

When the news reached O'Halloran that Megales had scored on the opposition by arresting Bucky O'Connor, the Irishman swore fluently at himself for his oversight in forgetting the Northern Chihuahua. So far as the success of the insurgents went, the loss of the ranger was a matter of no importance, since O'Halloran knew well that nothing in the way of useful information could be cajoled or threatened out of him. But, personally, it was a blow to the filibuster, because he knew that the governor would not hesitate to execute his friend if his fancy or his fears ran that way, and the big, red-headed Celt would not have let Bucky go to death for a dozen teapot revolutions if he could help it.

"And do you think you're fit to run even a donation party, you great, blundering gumph?" Mike asked himself, in disgust. "You a conspirator! You a leader of a revolution! By the ghost of Brian Boru, you had better run along back to the kindergarten class."

But he was not the man to let grass grow under his feet while he hesitated how to remedy his mistake. Immediately he got in touch with Valdez and a few of his party, and decided on a bold counterstroke that, if successful, would oppose a checkmate to the governor's check and would also make unnecessary the unloosing of the State prisoners on the devoted heads of the people.

"But mind, gentlemen," said Juan Valdez plainly, "the governor must not be injured personally. I shall not consent to any violence, no matter what the issue. Furthermore, I should like to be given charge of the palace, in order to see that his wants are properly provided for. We cannot afford to have our movement discredited at the outset by unnecessary bloodshed or by any wanton outrages."

O'Halloran smothered a smile. "Quite right, senor. Success at all hazards, but, if possible, success with peace. And, faith, subject to the approval of the rest of those present, I do hereby appoint you keeper of the governor's person and his palace, as well as all that do dwell therein, including his man servants, his maid servants, and his daughter. We hold you personally responsible for their safe keeping. See that none of them cherish the enemy or give aid and comfort to them." The Irishman finished, with a broad smile that seemed to say: "Begad, there's a clear field. Go in and win, me bye."

Nothing could be done in broad daylight, while the troops of the government party patrolled the streets and were prepared to pounce on the first suspects that poked their noses out of the holes where they were hidden. Nevertheless, their spies were busy all day, reporting to the opposition leaders everything that happened of interest. In the course of the day General Valdez, the father of Juan, was arrested on suspicion of complicity and thrown into prison, as were a score of others thought to be in touch with the Valdez faction. All day the troops of the governor were fussily busy, but none of the real leaders of the insurgents was taken. For General Valdez, though he had been selected on account of his integrity and great popularity to succeed Megales, was unaware of the plot on foot to retire the dictator from power.

It was just after nightfall that a farmer drove into Chihuahua with a wagonload of alfalfa. He was halted once or twice by guards on the streets, but, after a very cursory inspection, was allowed to pass. His route took him past the back of the governor's palace, an impressive stone affair surrounded by beautiful grounds. Here he stopped, as if to fasten a tug. Out of the hay tumbled fifteen men armed with rifles and revolvers, all of them being careful to leave the wagon on the side farthest from the palace.

"Now, me lads, we're all heroes by our talk. It's up to us to make good. I can promise one thing: by this time to-morrow we'll all be live patriots or dead traitors. Which shall it be?"

O'Halloran's concluding question was a merely rhetorical one, for without waiting for an answer he started at the double toward the palace, taking advantage of the dense shrubbery that offered cover up to the last twenty yards. This last was covered with a rush so rapid that the guard was surprised into a surrender without a protest.

Double guard was on duty on account of the strained situation, but the officer in charge, having been won over to the Valdez side, had taken care to pick them with much pains. As a consequence, the insurgents met friends in place of enemies, and within three minutes controlled fully the palace. Every entrance was at once closed and guarded, so that no news of the reversal could reach the military barracks.

So silently had the palace been taken that, except the guards and one or two servants held as prisoners, not even those living within it were aware of anything unusual.

"Senor Valdez, you are appointed to notify the senorita that she need not be alarmed at what has occurred. Senor Garcia will act as captain of the day, and allow nobody to leave the building under any pretext whatever. I shall personally put the tyrant under arrest. Rodrigo and Jose will accompany me."

O'Halloran left his subordinates at the door when he entered the apartments of the governor. The outer room was empty, and the Irishman passed through it to the inner one, where Megales was accustomed to take his after-dinner siesta.

To-night, however, that gentleman was in no mood for peaceful reflection followed by slumber. He was on the edge of a volcano, and he knew it. The question was whether he could hold the lid on without an eruption. General Valdez he dared not openly kill, on account of his fame and his popularity, but that pestilent Irishman O'Halloran could be assassinated and so could several of his allies--if they only gave him time. That was the rub. The general dissatisfaction at his rule had been no secret, of course, but the activity of the faction opposing him, the boldness and daring with which it had risked all to overthrow him, had come as so complete a surprise that he had been unprepared to meet it. Everywhere to-night his guards covered the city, ready to crush rebellion as soon as it showed its head. Carlo was in personal charge of the troops, and would remain so until after the election to-morrow, at which he would be declared formally reelected. If he could keep his hands on the reins for twenty-four hours more the worst would be past. He would give a good deal to know what that mad Irishman, O'Halloran, was doing just now. If he could once get hold of him, the opposition would collapse like a house of cards.

At that precise moment in walked the mad Irishman pat to the Mexican's thought of him.

"Buenos noches, excellency. I understand yon have been looking for me. I am, senor, yours to command." The big Irishman brought his heels together and gave a mocking military salute.

The governor's first thought was that he was a victim of treachery, his second that he was a dead man, his third that he would die as a Spanish gentleman ought. He was pale to the eyes, but he lost no whit of his dignity.

"You have, I suppose, taken the palace," he said quietly.

"As a loan, excellency, merely as a loan. After to-morrow it will be returned you in the event you still need it," replied O'Halloran blandly.

"You expect to murder me, of course?"

The big Celt looked shocked. "Not at all! The bulletins may perhaps have to report you accidentally killed or a victim of suicide. Personally I hope not."

"I understand; but before this lamentable accident happens I beg leave to assure myself that the palace really is in your hands, senor. A mere formality, of course." The governor smiled his thin-lipped smile and touched a bell beside him.

Twice Megales pressed the electric bell, but no orderly appeared in answer to it. He bowed to the inevitable.

"I grant you victor, Senor O'Halloran. Would it render your victory less embarrassing if I were to give you material immediately for that bulletin on suicide?" He asked the question quite without emotion, as courteously as if he were proposing a stroll through the gardens.

O'Halloran had never liked the man. The Irish in him had always boiled at his tyranny. But he had never disliked him so little as at this moment. The fellow had pluck, and that was one certain passport to the revolutionist's favor.

"On the contrary, it would distress me exceedingly. Let us reserve that bulletin as a regrettable possibility in the event that less drastic measures fail."

"Which means, I infer, that you have need of me before I pass by the Socratic method," he suggested, still with that pale smile set in granite "I shall depend on you to let me know at what precise hour you would like to order an epitaph written for me. Say the word at your convenience, and within five minutes your bulletin concerning the late governor will have the merit of truth."

"Begad, excellency, I like your spirit. If it's my say-so, you will live to be a hundred. Come the cards are against you. Some other day they may fall more pat for you. But the jig's up now."

"I am very much of your opinion, sir," agreed Megales.

"Then why not make terms?"

"Such as--"

"Your life and your friends' lives against a graceful capitulation."

"Our lives as prisoners or as free men?"

"The utmost freedom compatible with the circumstances. Your friends may either leave or remain and accept the new order of things. I'm afraid it will be necessary for you and General Carlo to leave the state for your own safety. You have both many enemies."

"With our personal possessions?"

"Of course. Such property as you cannot well take may be left in the hands of an agent and disposed of later."

Megales eyed him narrowly. "Is it your opinion, on honor, that the general and I would reach the boundaries of the State without being assassinated?"

"I pledge you my honor and that of Juan Valdez that you will be safely escorted out of the country if you will consent to a disguise. It is only fair to him to say that he stands strong for your life."

"Then, sir, I accept your terms if you can make it plain to me that you are strong enough to take the city against General Carlo."

From his pocket O'Halloran drew a typewritten list and handed it to the governor, who glanced it over with interest.

"These army officers are all with you?"

"As soon as the word is given."

"You will pardon me if I ask for proof?"

"Certainly. Choose the name of any one of them you like and send for him. You are at liberty to ask him whether he is pledged to us."

The governor drew a pencil-mark through a name. O'Halloran clapped his hands and Rodrigo came into the room.

"Rodrigo, the governor desires you to carry a message to Colonel Onate. He is writing it now. You will give Colonel Onate my compliments and ask him to make as much haste as is convenient."

Megales signed and sealed the note he was writing and handed it to O'Halloran, who in turn passed it to Rodrigo.

"Colonel Onate should be here in fifteen minutes at the farthest. May I in the meantime offer you a glass of wine, Dictator O'Halloran?" At the Irishman's smile, the Mexican governor hastened to add, misunderstanding him purposely: "Perhaps I assume too much in taking the part of host here. May I ask whether you will be governor in person or by deputy, senor?"

"You do me too much honor, excellency. Neither in person nor by deputy, I fear. And, as for the glass of wine--with all my heart. Good liquor is always in order, whether for a funeral or a marriage."

"Or an abdication, you might add. I drink to a successful reign, Senor Dictator: Le roi est mort; vive le roi!"

The Irishman filled a second glass. "And I drink to Governor Megales, a brave man. May the cards fall better for him next time he plays."

The governor bowed ironically. "A brave man certainly, and you might add: 'Who loses his stake without striking one honest blow for it.' "

"We play with stacked cards, excellency. Who can forestall the treachery of trusted associates?"

"Sir, your apology for me is very generous, no less so than the terms you offer," returned Megales sardonically.

O'Halloran laughed. "Well, if you don't like my explanations I shall have to let you make your own. And, by the way, may I venture on a delicate personal matter, your excellency?"

"I can deny you nothing to-night, senor," answered Megales, mocking at himself.

"Young Valdez is in love with your daughter. I am sure that she is fond of him, but she is very loyal to you and flouts the lad. I was thinking, sir, that--"

The Spaniard's eye flashed, but his answer came suavely as he interrupted: "Don't you think you had better leave Senor Valdez and me to arrange our own family affairs? We could not think of troubling you to attend to them."

"He is a good lad and a brave."

Megales bowed. "Your recommendation goes a long way with me, senor, and, in truth, I have known him only a small matter of twenty years longer than you."

"Never a more loyal youngster in the land."

"You think so? A matter of definitions, one may suppose. Loyal to the authorized government of his country, or to the rebels who would illegally overthrow it?"

"Egad, you have me there, excellency. 'Tis a question of point of view, I'm thinking. But you'll never tell me the lad pretended one thing and did another. I'll never believe you like that milksop Chaves better."

"Must I choose either a fool or a knave?"

"I doubt it will be no choice of yours. Juan Valdez is an ill man to deny what he sets his heart on. If the lady is willing--"

"I shall give her to the knave and wash my hands of her. Since treason thrives she may at last come back to the palace as its mistress. Quien sabe?"

"Less likely things have happened. What news, Rodrigo?" This last to the messenger, who at that moment appeared at the door.

"Colonel Onate attends, senor."

"Show him in."

Onate was plainly puzzled at the summons to attend the governor, and mixed with his perplexity was a very evident anxiety. He glanced quickly at O'Halloran as he entered, as if asking for guidance, and then as questioningly at Megales. Had the Irishman played Judas and betrayed them all? Or was the coup already played with success?

"Colonel Onate, I have sent for you at the request of Governor Megales to set his mind at rest on a disturbing point. His health is failing and he considers the advisability of retiring from the active cares of state. I have assured him that you, among others, would, under such circumstances, be in a friendly relation to the next administration. Am I correct in so assuring him?"

Megales pierced him with his beady eyes. "In other words, Colonel Onate, are you one of the traitors involved in this rebellion?"

"I prefer the word patriot, senor," returned Onate, flushing.

"Indeed I have no doubt you do. I am answered," he exclaimed scornfully. "And what is the price of patriotism these days, colonel?"

"Sir!" The colonel laid his hand on his sword.

"I was merely curious to know what position you would hold under the new administration."

O'Halloran choked a laugh, for by chance the governor had hit the nail on the head. Onate was to be Secretary of State under Valdez, and this was the bait that had been dangled temptingly under his nose to induce a desertion of Megales.

"If you mean to reflect upon my honor I can assure you that my conscience is clear," answered Onate blackly.

"Indeed, colonel, I do not doubt it. I have always admired your conscience and its adaptability." The governor turned to O'Halloran. "I am satisfied, Senior Dictator. If you will permit me--"

He walked to his desk, unlocked a drawer, and drew forth a parchment, which he tossed across to the Irishman. "It is my commission as governor. Allow me to place it in your hands and put myself at the service of the new administration."

"If you will kindly write notes, I will send a messenger to General Carlo and another to Colonel Gabilonda requesting their attendance. I think affairs may be quickly arranged."

"You are irresistible, senor. I hasten to obey."

Megales sat down and wrote two notes, which he turned over to O'Halloran. The latter read them, saw them officially sealed, and dispatched them to their destinations.

When Gabilonda was announced, General Carlo followed almost at his heels. The latter glanced in surprise at O'Halloran.

"Where did you catch him, excellency?" he asked.

"I did not catch him. He has caught me, and, incidentally, you, general," answered the sardonic Megales.

"In short, general," laughed the big Irishman, "the game is up. "

"But the army--You haven't surrendered without a fight?"

"That is precisely what I have done. Cast your eye over that paper, general, and then tell me of what use the army would be to us. Half the officers are with the enemy, among them the patriotic Colonel Onate, whom you see present. A resistance would be futile, and would only result in useless bloodshed."

"I don't believe it," returned Carlo bluntly.

"Seeing is believing, general," returned O'Halloran, and he gave a little nod to Onate.

The colonel left the room, and two or three minutes later a bell began to toll.

"What does that mean?" asked Carlo.

"The call to arms, general. It means that the old regime is at an end in Chihuahua. Viva Valdez."

"Not without a struggle," cried the general, rushing out of the room.

O'Halloran laughed. "I'm afraid he will not be able to give the countersign to Garcia. In the meantime, excellency, pending his return, I would suggest that you notify Colonel Gabilonda to turn over the prison to us without resistance."

"You hear your new dictator, colonel," said Megales.

"Pardon me, your excellency, but a written order--"

"Would relieve you of responsibility. So it would. I write once more."

He was interrupted as he wrote by a great shout from the plaza. "Viva Valdez!" came clearly across the night air, and presently another that stole the color from the cheek of Megales.

"Death to the tyrant! Death to Megales!" repeated the governor, after the shouts reached them.

"I fear, Senor Dictator, that your pledge to see me across the frontier will not avail against that mad-dog mob." He smiled, waving an airy hand toward the window.

The Irishman set his bulldog jaw. "I'll get you out safely or, begad! I'll go down fighting with you."

"I think we are likely to have interesting times, my dear dictator. Be sure I shall watch your doings with interest so long as your friends allow me to watch anything in this present world." The governor turned to his desk and continued the letter with a firm hand. "I think this should relieve you of responsibility, colonel."

By this time General Carlo had reentered the room, with a crestfallen face.

O'Halloran had been thinking rapidly. "Governor, I think the safest place for you and General Carlo, for a day or two, will be in the prison. I intend to put my friend O'Connor in charge of its defense, with a trustworthy command. There is no need of word reaching the mob as to where you are hidden. I confess the quarters will be narrows but--"

"No narrower than those we shall occupy very soon if we do not accept your suggestion," smiled Megales. "Buertos! Anything to escape the pressing attentions of your friends outside. I ask only one favor, the loan of a revolver, in order that we may disappoint the mad dogs if they overpower the guard of Senor O'Connor."

Hastily O'Halloran rapped out orders, gathered together a little force of five men, and prepared to start. Both Carlo and Megales he furnished with revolvers, that they might put an end to their lives in case the worst happened. But before they had started Juan Valdez and Carmencita Megales came running toward them.

"Where are you going? It is too late. The palace is surrounded!" cried the young man. "Look!" He swept an excited arm toward the window. "There are thousands and thousands of frenzied people calling for the lives of the governor and General Carlo."

Carlo shook like a leaf, but Megales only smiled at O'Halloran his wintry smile. "That is the trouble in keeping a mad dog, senor. One never knows when it may get out of leash and bite perhaps even the hand that feeds it."

Carmencita flung herself, sobbing, into the arms of her father and filled the palace with her screams. Megales handed her over promptly to her lover.

"To my private office," he ordered briskly. "Come, general, there is still a chance."

O'Halloran failed to see it, but he joined the little group that hurried to the private office. Megales dragged his desk from the corner where it set and touched a spring that opened a panel in the wall. Carlo, blanched with fear at the threats and curses that filled the night, sprang toward the passageway that appeared.

Megales plucked him back. "One moment, general. Ladies first. Carmencita, enter."

Carlo followed her, after him the governor, and lastly Gabilonda, tearing himself from a whispered conversation with O'Halloran. The panel swung closed again, and Valdez and O'Halloran lifted back the desk just as Garcia came running in to say that the mob would not be denied. Immediately O'Halloran threw open a French window and stepped out to the little railed porch upon which it opened. He had the chance of his life to make a speech, and that is the one thing that no Irishman can resist. He flung out from his revolver three shots in rapid succession to draw the attention of the mob to him. In this he succeeded beyond his hopes. The word ran like wildfire that the mad Irishman, O'Halloran, was about to deliver a message to them, and from all sides of the building they poured to hear it. He spoke in Mexican, rapidly, his great bull voice reaching to the utmost confines of the crowd.

"Fellow lovers of liberty, the hour has struck that we have worked and prayed for. The glorious redemption of our State has been accomplished by your patriotic hands. An hour ago the tyrants, Megales and Carlo, slipped out of the palace, mounted swift horses, and are galloping toward the frontier."

A roar of rage, such as a tiger disappointed of its kill might give, rose into the night. Such a terrible cry no man made of flesh and blood could hear directed at him and not tremble.

"But the pursuit is already on. Swift riders are in chase, with orders not to spare their horses so only they capture the fleeing despots. We expect confidently that before morning the tyrants will be in our hands. In the meantime, let us show ourselves worthy of the liberty we have won. Let us neither sack nor pillage, but show our great president in the City of Mexico that not ruffians but an outraged people have driven out the oppressors."

The huge Celt was swimming into his periods beautifully, but it was very apparent to him that the mob must have a vent for its stored excitement. An inspiration seized him.

"But one sacred duty calls to us from heaven, my fellow citizens. Already I see in your glorious faces that you behold the duty. Then forward, patriots! To the plaza, and let us tear down, let us destroy by fire, let us annihilate the statue of the dastard Megales which defaces our fair city. Citizens, to your patriotic duty!"

Another wild yell rang skyward, and at once the fringes of the crowd began to vanish plazaward, its centre began to heave, its flanks to stir. Three minutes later the grounds of the palace were again dark and empty. The Irishman's oratory had won the day.