Chapter 16. Juan Valdez Scores
 

The first thing Bucky did after leaving the two young women was to go down in person with one of the guards to the cell of David Henderson. The occupant of the cell was asleep, but he woke up when the two men entered.

"Who is it?" he demanded.

"Webb Mackenzie's man come to release you," answered Bucky.

The prisoner fell to trembling like an aspen. "God, man, do you mean it?" he begged. "You wouldn't deceive an old man who has lived fifteen years in hell?"

"It's true, friend, every word of it. You'll live to ride the range again and count your cattle on the free hillside. Come with me up to the office and we'll talk more of it."

"But may I? Will they let me?" trembled Henderson, fearful lest his cup of joy be dashed from him. "I'm not dreaming, am I? I'll not wake the way I often do and find that it is all a dream, will I?" He caught at the lapel of O'Connor's coat and searched his face.

"No, your dreams are true at last, Dave Henderson. Come, old friend, take a drink of this to steady you. It's all coming out right now."

Tears streamed down the face of the man rescued from a living grave. He dashed them away impatiently with a shaking hand. "I used to be as game as other men, young man, and now you see what a weakling I am. Don't judge me too hard. Happiness is a harder thing to stand than pain or grief. They've tried to break my spirit many a time and they couldn't, but you've done it now with a word."

"You'll be all right as soon as you are able to realize it. I don't wonder the shock unnerves you. Have you anything you want to take out of here with you before you leave forever?"

Pathetically the prisoner looked round on his few belongings. Some of them had become endeared to him by years of use and association, but they had served their time. "No, I want to forget it all. I came in with nothing. I'll take out nothing. I want to blot it all out like a hideous nightmare."

Bucky ordered Colonel Gabilonda to bring up from his cell General Valdez and the other arrested suspects. They reached the office at the same time as Mike O'Halloran, who greeted them with the good news that the day was won. The Megales faction had melted into mist, and all over the city a happy people was shouting for Valdez.

"I congratulate you, general. We have just telegraphed the news over the State that Megales has resigned and fled. There can be no doubt that you will be elected governor to-morrow and that the people's party will win the day with an unprecedented vote. Glory be, Chihuahua is at last free from the heel of tyranny. Viva Valdez! Viva Chihuahua libra!"

Bucky at once introduced to General Valdez the American prisoner who had suffered so long and unjustly. He recited the story of the abduction of the child, of Henderson's pursuit, of the killing of the trooper, and of the circumstantial evidence that implicated the Texan and upon which he was convicted. He then drew from his pocket a signed and attested copy of the confession of the knife thrower and handed it to the general.

Valdez looked it over, asked an incisive question or two of Bucky, heard from Henderson his story, and, after a few moments' discussion of the matter with O'Halloran, promised a free pardon as his first official act after being elected to the governorship, in case he should be chosen.

The vote next day amply justified the hopes of O'Halloran and his friends. The whole ticket, sent out by telegraph and messengers throughout the State, was triumphantly elected by large majorities. Only in one or two out-of-the-way places, where the news of the fall of Megales did not arrive in time to affect the voting, did the old government party make any showing worthy of consideration.

It was after Valdez's election had been made certain by the returns that O'Halloran and Juan Valdez posted to the prison and visited father and daughter. They separated in the lower corridor, one to visit the defeated governor, the other Miss Carmencita. The problem before Juan Valdez was to induce that young woman to remain in Chihuahua instead of accompanying her father in his flight. He was a good fighter, and he meant to win, if it were a possibility. She had tacitly admitted that she loved him, but he knew that she felt that loyalty demanded she stay by her father in his flight.

When O'Halloran was admitted to the cell where the governor and the general were staying he laughed aloud.

"Faith, gentlemen, is this the best accommodation Governor Valdez can furnish his guests? We must petition him to improve the sanitation of his hotel."

"We are being told, one may suppose, that General Valdez is the newly elected governor?"

"Right, your excellency, elected by a large majority to succeed the late Governor Megales."

"Late!" The former governor lifted his eyebrows. "Am I also being told that necessity demands the posting of the suicide bulletin, after all?"

"Not at all. Sure, I gave you me word, excellency. And that is one of the reasons why I am here. We have arranged to run a special down the line to-night, in order to avoid the risk of the news leaking out that you are still here. Can you make your arrangements to take that train, or will it hurry your packing too much?"

Megales laughed. "I have nothing to take with me except my daughter. The rest of my possessions may be forwarded later."

"Oh, your daughter! Well, that's pat, too. What about the lad, Valdez?"

"Are you his representative, senor?"

"Oh, he can talk for himself. " O'Halloran grinned. "He's doing it right now, by the same token. Shall we interrupt a tete-a-tete and go pay our compliments to Miss Carmencita? You will want to find out whether she goes with you or stays here."

"Assuredly. Anything to escape this cave."

Miss Carmencita was at that moment reiterating her everlasting determination to go wherever her father went. "If you think, sir, that your faithlessness to him is a recommendation of your promised faithfulness to me, I can only wish you more light on the feelings of a daughter," she was informing Valdez, when her father slipped through the panel door and stood before her.

"Brava, senorita!" he applauded, with subtle irony, clapping his hands. "Brava, brava!"

That young woman swam blushingly toward him and let her face disappear in an embrace.

"You see, one can't have everything, Senor Valdez," continued Megales lightly. "For me, I cannot have both Chihuahua and my life; you, it seems, cannot have both your successful revolution and my daughter. "

"Your excellency, she loves me. Of that I am assured. It rests with you to say whether her life will be spoiled or not. You know what I can offer her in addition to a heart full of devotion. It is enough. Shall she be sacrificed to her loyalty to you?" the young man demanded, with all the ardor of his warm-blooded race.

"It is no sacrifice to love and obey my father," came a low murmur from the former governor's shoulder.

"Since the world began it has been the law of life that the young should leave their parents for a home of their own," Juan protested.

"So the Scripture says," agreed Megales sardonically. "It further counsels to love one's enemies, but, I think, omits mention of the enemies of one's father."

"Sir, I am not your enemy. Political exigencies have thrown us into different camps, but we are not so small as to let such incidentals come between us as a vital objection in such a matter."

"You argue like a lawyer," smiled the governor. "You forget that I am neither judge nor jury. Tyrant I may have been to a fickle people that needed a firm hand to rule them, but tyrant I am not to my only daughter."

"Then you consent, your excellency?" cried Valdez joyously.

"I neither consent nor refuse. You must go to a more final authority than mine for an answer, young man."

"But you are willing she should follow where her heart leads?"

"But certainly."

"Then she is mine," cried Valdez.

"I am not," replied the girl indignantly over her shoulder.

Megales turned her till her unconsenting eyes met his. "Do you want to marry this young man, Carmencita?"

"I never told him anything of the sort," she flamed.

"I didn't quite ask what you had told him. The question is whether you love him."

"But no; I love you," she blushed.

"I hope so," smiled her father. "But do you love him? An honest answer, if you please."

"Could I love a rebel?"

"No Yankee answers, muchacha. Do you love Juan Valdez?"

It was Valdez that broke triumphantly the moment's silence that followed. "She does. She does. I claim the consent of silence."

But victory spoke too prematurely in his voice. Cried the proud Spanish girl passionately: "I hate him!"

Megales understood the quality of her hate, and beckoned to his future son-in-law. "I have some arrangements to make for our journey to-night. Would it distress you, senor, if I were to leave you for a while?"

He slipped out and left them alone.

"Well?" asked O'Halloran, who had remained in the corridor.

"I think, Senor Dictator, I shall have to make the trip with only General Carlo for a companion," answered the Spaniard.

The Irishman swung his hat. "Hip, hip, hurrah! You're a gentleman I could find it in me heart to both love and hate, governor."

"And you're a gentleman," returned the governor, with a bow, "I could find it in my heart to hang high as Haman without love or hate."

Michael linked his arm in that of his excellency.

"Sure, you're a broth of a lad, Senor Megales," he said irreverently, in good, broad Irish brogue. "Here, me bye, where are you hurrying?" he added, catching at the sleeve of Frances Mackenzie, who was slipping quietly past.

"Please, Mr. O'Halloran, I've been up to the office after water. I'm taking it to Senorita Carmencita."

"She doesn't want water just now. You go back to the office, son, and stay there thirty minutes. Then you take her that water," ordered O'Halloran.

"But she wanted it as soon as I could get it, sir."

"Forget it, kid, just as she has. Water! Why, she's drinking nectar of the gods. Just you do as I tell ye."

Frances was puzzled, but she obeyed, even though she could not understand his meaning. She understood better when she slid back the panel at the expiration of the allotted time and caught a glimpse of Carmencita Megales in the arms of Juan Valdez.