Chapter 5. Bucky Entertains
 

Bucky began at once to tap the underground wires his official position made accessible to him. These ran over Southern Arizona, Sonora, and Chihuahua. All the places to which criminals or frontiersmen with money were wont to resort were reported upon. For the ranger's experience had taught him that since the men he wanted had money in their pockets to burn gregarious impulse would drive them from the far silent places of the desert to the roulette and faro tables where the wolf and the lamb disport themselves together.

The photograph from Webb Mackenzie of the cook Anderson reached him at Tucson the third day after his interview with that gentleman, at the same time that Collins dropped in on him to inquire what progress he was making.

O'Connor told him of the Aravaipa episode, and tossed across the table to him the photograph he had just received.

"If we could discover the gent that sat for this photo it might help us. You don't by any chance know him, do you, Val?"

The sheriff shook his head. "Not in my rogues' gallery, Bucky."

The ranger again examined the faded picture. A resemblance in it to somebody he had met recently haunted vaguely his memory. As he looked the indefinite suggestion grew sharp and clear. It was a photograph of the showman who had called himself Hardman. All the trimmings were lacking, to be sure--the fierce mustache, the long hair, the buckskin trappings, none of them were here. But beyond a doubt it was the same shifty-eyed villain. Nor did it shake Bucky's confidence that Mackenzie had seen him and failed to recognize the man as his old cook. The fellow was thoroughly disguised, but the camera had happened to catch that curious furtive glance of his. But for that O'Connor would never have known the two to be the same.

Bucky was at the telephone half an hour. In the middle of the next afternoon his reward came in the form of a Western Union billet. It read:

"Eastern man says you don't want what is salable here."

The lieutenant cut out every other word and garnered the wheat of the message:

"Man you want is here."

The telegram was marked from Epitaph, and for that town the ranger and the sheriff entrained immediately.

Bucky's eye searched in vain the platform of the Epitaph depot for Malloy, of the Rangers, whose wire had brought him here. The cause of the latter's absence was soon made clear to him in a note he found waiting for him at the hotel:

"The old man has just sent me out on hurry-up orders. Don't know when I'll get back. Suggest you take in the show at the opera house to-night to pass the time."

It was the last sentence that caught Bucky's attention. Jim Malloy had not written it except for a reason. Wherefore the lieutenant purchased two tickets for the performance far back in the house. From the local newspaper he gathered that the showman was henceforth to be a resident of Epitaph. Mr. Jay Hardman, or Signor Raffaello Cavellado, as he was known the world over by countless thousands whom he had entertained, had purchased a corral and livery stable at the corner of Main and Boothill Streets and solicited the patronage of the citizens of Hualpai County. That was the purport of the announcement which Bucky ringed with a pencil and handed to his friend.

That evening Signor Raffaello Cavellado made a great hit with his audience. He swaggered through his act magnificently, and held his spectators breathless. Bucky took care to see that a post and the sheriff's big body obscured him from view during the performance.

After it was over O'Connor and the sheriff returned to the hotel, where also Hardman was for the present staying, and sent word up to his room that one of the audience who had admired very much the artistic performance would like the pleasure of drinking a glass of wine with Signor Cavellado if the latter would favor him with his company in room seven. The Signor was graciously pleased to accept, and followed his message of acceptance in person a few minutes later.

Bucky remained quietly in the corner of the room back of the door until the showman had entered, and while the latter was meeting Collins he silently locked the door and pocketed the key.

The sheriff acknowledged Hardman's condescension brusquely and without shaking hands. "Glad to meet you, seh. But you're mistaken in one thing. I'm not your host. This gentleman behind you is."

The man turned and saw Bucky, who was standing with his back against the door, a bland smile on his face.

"Yes, seh. I'm your host to-night. Sheriff Collins, hyer, is another guest. I'm glad to have the pleasure of entertaining you, Signor Raffaello Cavellado," Bucky assured him, in his slow, gentle drawl, without reassuring him at all.

For the fellow was plainly disconcerted at recognition of his host. He turned with a show of firmness to Collins. "If you're a sheriff, I demand to have that door opened at once," he blustered.

Val put his hands in his pockets and tipped back his chair. "I ain't sheriff of Hualpai County. My jurisdiction don't extend here," he said calmly.

"I'm an unarmed man," pleaded Cavellado.

"Come to think of it, so am I."

"I reckon I'm holding all the aces, Signor Cavellado," explained the ranger affably. "Or do you prefer in private life to be addressed as Hardman--or, say, Anderson?"

The showman moistened his lips and offered his tormentor a blanched face.

"Anderson--a good plain name. I wonder, now, why you changed it?" Bucky's innocent eyes questioned him blandly as he drew from his pocket a little box and tossed it on the table. "Open that box for me, Mr. Anderson. Who knows? It might explain a heap of things to us."

With trembling fingers the big coward fumbled at the string. With all his fluent will he longed to resist, but the compelling eyes that met his so steadily were not to be resisted. Slowly he unwrapped the paper and took the lid from the little box, inside of which was coiled up a thin gold chain with locket pendant.

"Be seated," ordered Bucky sternly, and after the man had found a chair the ranger sat down opposite him.

From its holster he drew a revolver and from a pocket his watch. He laid them on the table side by side and looked across at the white-lipped trembler whom he faced.

"We had better understand each other, Mr. Anderson. I've come here to get from you the story of that chain, so far as you know it. If you don't care to tell it I shall have to mess this floor up with your remains. Get one proposition into your cocoanut right now. You don't get out of this room alive with your secret. It's up to you to choose."

Quite without dramatics, as placidly as if he were discussing railroad rebates, the ranger delivered his ultimatum. It seemed plain that he considered the issue no responsibility of his.

Anderson stared at him in silent horror, moistening his dry lips with the tip of his tongue. Once his gaze shifted to the sheriff but found small comfort there. Collins had picked up a newspaper and was absorbed in it.

"Are you going to let him kill me?" the man asked him hoarsely.

He looked up from his newspaper in mild protest at such unreason. "Me? I ain't sittin' in this game. Seems like I mentioned that already."

"Better not waste your time, signor, on side issues," advised the man behind the gun. "For I plumb forgot to tell you I'm allowing only three minutes to begin your story, half of which three has already slipped away to yesterday's seven thousand years. Without wantin' to hurry you, I suggest the wisdom of a prompt decision."

"Would he do it?" gasped the victim, with a last appeal to Collins.

"Would he what? Oh, shoot you up. Cayn't tell till I see. If he says he will he's liable to. He always was that haidstrong."

"But--why--why--"

"Yes, it's sure a heap against the law, but then Bucky ain't a lawyer. I don't reckon he cares sour grapes for the law--as law. It's a right interesting guess as to whether he will or won't."

"There's a heap of cases the law don't reach prompt. This is one of them," contributed the ranger cheerfully. He pocketed his watch and picked up the .45. "Any last message or anything of that sort, signor? I don't want to be unpleasant about this, you understand."

The whilom bad man's teeth chattered. "I'll tell you anything you want to know."

"Now, that's right sensible. I hate to come into another man's house and clutter it up. Reel off your yarn."

"I don't know--what you want."

"I want the whole story of your kidnapping of the Mackenzie child, how came you to do it, what happened to Dave Henderson, and full directions where I may locate Frances Mackenzie. Begin at the beginning, and I'll fire questions at you when you don't make any point clear to me. Turn loose your yarn at me hot off the bat."

The man told his story sullenly. While he was on the round-up as cook for the riders he had heard Mackenzie and Henderson discussing together the story of their adventure with the dying Spaniard and their hopes of riches from the mine he had left them. From that night he had set himself to discover the secret of its location, had listened at windows and at keyholes, and had once intercepted a letter from one to the other. By chance he had discovered that the baby was carrying the secret in her locket, and he had set himself to get it from her.

But his chance did not come. He could not make friends with her, and at last, in despair of finding a better opportunity, he had slipped into her room one night in the small hours to steal the chain. But it was wound round her neck in such a way that he could not slip it over her head. She had awakened while he was fumbling with the clasp and had begun to cry. Hearing her mother moving about in the next room, he had hastily carried the child with him, mounted the horse waiting in the yard, and ridden away.

In the road he became aware, some time later, that he was being pursued. This gave him a dreadful fright, for, as Bucky had surmised, he thought his pursuer was Mackenzie. All night he rode southward wildly, but still his follower kept on his trail till near morning, when he eluded him. He crossed the border, but late that afternoon got another fright. For it was plain he was still being followed. In the endless stretch of rolling hills he twice caught sight of a rider picking his way toward him. The heart of the guilty man was like water. He could not face the outraged father, nor was it possible to escape so dogged a foe by flight. An alternative suggested itself, and he accepted it with sinking courage. The child was asleep in his arms now, and he hastily dismounted, picketed his horse, and stole back a quarter of a mile, so that the neighing of his bronco might not betray his presence. Then he lay down in a dense mesquit thicket and waited for his foe. It seemed an eternity till the man appeared at the top of a rise fifty yards away. Hastily Anderson fired, and again. The man toppled from his horse, dead before he struck the ground. But when the cook reached him he was horrified to see that the man he had killed was a member of the Rurales, or Mexican border police. In his guilty terror he had shot the wrong man.

He fled at once, pursued by a thousand fears. Late the next night he reached a Chihuahua village, after having been lost for many hours. The child he still carried with him, simply because he had not the heart to leave it to die in the desert alone. A few weeks later he married an American woman he met in Sonora. They adopted the child, but it died within the year of fever.

Meanwhile, he was horrified to learn that Dave Henderson, following hard on his trail, had been found bending over the spot where the dead soldier lay, had been arrested by a body of Rurales, tried hurriedly, and convicted to life imprisonment. The evidence had been purely circumstantial. The bullet found in the dead body of the trooper was one that might have come from his rifle, the barrel of which was empty and had been recently fired. For the rest, he was a hated Americano, and, as a matter of course, guilty. His judges took pains to see that no message from him reached his friends in the States before he was buried alive in the prison. In that horrible hole an innocent man had been confined for fifteen years, unless he had died during that time.

That, in substance, was the story told by the showman, and Bucky's incisive questions were unable to shake any portion of it. As to the missing locket, the man explained that it had been broken off by accident and lost. When he discovered that only half the secret was contained on the map section he had returned the paper to the locket and let the child continue to carry it. Some years after the death of the child, Frances, his wife had lost the locket with the map.

"And this chain and locket--when did you lose them?" demanded Bucky sharply.

"It must have been about two months ago, down at Nogales, that I sold it to a fellow. I was playing faro and losing. He gave me five dollars for it."

And to that he stuck stoutly, nor could he be shaken from it. Both O'Connor and the sheriff believed he was lying, for they were convinced that he was the bandit with the red wig who had covered the engineer while his companions robbed the train. But of this they had no proof. Nor did Bucky even mention his suspicion to Hardman, for it was his intention to turn him loose and have him watched. Thus, perhaps, he would be caught corresponding or fraternizing with some of the other outlaws. Collins left the room before the showman, and when the latter came from the hotel he followed him into the night.

Meanwhile, Bucky went out and tapped another of his underground wires. This ran directly to the Mexican consul at Tucson, to whom Bucky had once done a favor of some importance, and from him to Sonora and Chihuahua. It led to musty old official files, to records already yellowed with age, to court reports and prison registers. In the end it flashed back to Bucky great news. Dave Henderson, arrested for the murder of the Rurales policeman, was still serving time in a Mexican prison for another man's crime. There in Chihuahua for fifteen years he had been lost to the world in that underground hole, blotted out from life so effectually that few now remembered there had been such a person. It was horrible, unthinkable, but none the less true.