Chapter 7. In the Land of Revolutions
 

The knock that sounded on the door was neither gentle nor apologetic. It sounded as if somebody had flung a baseball bat at it.

O'Connor smiled, remembering that soft tap of yore. "I reckon--" he was beginning, when the door opened to admit a visitor.

This proved to be a huge, red-haired Irishman, with a face that served just now merely as a setting for an irresistible smile. The owner of the flaming head looked round in surprise on the pair of Romanies and began an immediate apology to which a sudden blush served as accompaniment.

"Beg pardon. I didn't know The damned dago told me " He stopped in confusion, with a scrape and a bow to the lady.

"Sir, I demand an explanation of this most unwarrantable intrusion," spoke the ranger haughtily, in his best Spanish.

A patter of soft foreign vowels flowed from the stranger's embarrassment.

"You durned old hawss-stealing greaser, cayn't you talk English?" drawled the gipsy, with a grin.

The other's mouth fell open with astonishment He stared at the slim, dusky young Spaniard for an instant before he fell upon him and began to pound his body with jovial fists.

"You would, would you, you old pie-eating fraud! Try to fool your Uncle Mick and make him think you a greaser, would you? I'll learn yez to play horse with a fullgrown, able-bodied white man." He punctuated his points with short-arm jolts that Bucky laughingly parried.

"Before ladies, Mick! Haven't you forgot your manners, Red-haid?"

Swiftly Mr. O'Halloran came to flushed rigidity. "Madam, I must still be apologizing. The surprise of meeting me friend went to me head, I shouldn't wonder."

Bucky doubled up with apparent mirth. "Get into the other room, Curly, and get your other togs on," he ordered. "Can't you see that Mick is going to fall in love with you if he sees you a minute longer, you young rascal? Hike!"

"Don't you talk that way to a lady, Bucky," warned O'Halloran, again blushing vividly, after she had disappeared into the next room. "And I want to let yez have it right off the bat that if you've been leading that little Mexican senorita into trouble you've got a quarrel on with Mike O'Halloran."

"Keep your shirt on, old fire-eater. Who told you I was wronging her any?"

"Are you married to her?"

"You bet I ain't. You see, Mick, that handsome lady you're going to lick the stuffing out of me about is only a plumb ornery sassy young boy, after all."

"No!" denied Mick, his eyes two excited interrogation-points. "You can't stuff me with any such fairy-tale, me lad."

"All right. Wait and see," suggested the ranger easily. "Have a smoke while you're falling out of love."

"You young limb, I want you to tell me all about it this very minute, before I punch holes in yez."

Bucky lit his cigar, leaned back, and began to tell the story of Frank Hardman and the knife-thrower. Only one thing he omitted to tell, and that was the conviction that had come home to him a few moments ago that his little comrade was no boy, but a woman. O'Halloran was a chivalrous Irishman, a daredevil of an adventurer, with a pure love of freedom that might very likely in the end bring him to face a row of loaded carbines with his back to a wall, but Bucky had his reticencies that even loyal friendship could not break down. This girl's secret he meant to guard until such time as she chose of her own free will to tell it.

Frank returned just as he finished the tale of the knife episode, and Mick's frank open eyes accused him of idiocy for ever having supposed that this lad was a woman. Why, he was a little fellow not over fifteen--not a day past fifteen, he would swear to that. He was, to be sure, a slender, girlish young fellow, a good deal of a sissy by the look of him, but none the less a sure enough boy. Convinced of this, the big Irishman dismissed him promptly from his thoughts and devoted himself to Bucky.

"And what are yez doing down in greaser land? Thought you was rustling cows for a living somewheres in sunburnt Arizona," he grinned amiably.

"Me? Oh, I came down on business. We'll talk about that presently. How's your one-hawss revolution getting along, Reddy? I hope it's right peart and healthy."

O'Halloran's eyes flashed a warning, with the slightest nod in the world toward the boy.

"Don't worry about him. He's straight as a string and knows how to keep his mouth shut. You can tell him anything you would me." He turned to the boy sitting quietly in an inconspicuous corner. "Mum's the word, Frank. You understand that, of course?"

The boy nodded. "I'll go into the next room, if you like."

"It isn't necessary. Fire ahead, Mike."

The latter got up, tiptoed to each door in turn, flung it suddenly open to see that nobody was spying behind it, and then turned the lock. "I have use for me head for another year or two, and it's just as well to see that nobody is spying. You understand, Bucky, that I'm risking me life in telling you what I'm going to. If you have any doubts about this lad--" He stopped, keen eyes fixed on Frank.

"He's as safe as I am, Mike. Is it likely I would take any risks about a thing of that sort with my old bunkie's tough neck inviting the hangman?" asked O'Connor quietly.

"Good enough. The kid looks stanch, and, anyhow, if you guarantee him that's enough for me." He accepted another of the ranger's cigars, puffed it to a red glow, and leaned back to smile at his friend. "Glory, but it's good to see ye, Bucky, me bye. You'll never know how a man's eyes ache to see a straight-up white man in this land of greasers. It's the God's truth I'm telling ye when I say that I haven't had a scrimmage with me hands since I came here. The only idea this forsaken country has of exchanging compliments is with a knife in the dark." He shook his flaming head regretfully at the deplorably lost condition of a country where the shillalah was unknown as a social institution.

"If I wasn't tied up with this Valdez bunch I'd get out to-morrow, and sometimes I have half a mind to pull out anyhow. If you've never been associated, me lad, with half a dozen most divilishly polite senors, each one of them watching the others out of the corner of his slant eyes for fear they are going to betray him or assassinate him first, you'll never know the joys of life in this peaceful and contented land of indolence. Life's loaded to the guards with uncertainties, so eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow you hang, or your friend will carve ye in the back with a knife, me old priest used to say, or something like it. 'Tis certain he must have had in mind the Spanish-American, my son."

"Which is why you're here, you old fraud," smiled Bucky. "You've got to grumble, of course, but you couldn't be dragged away while there's a chance of a row. Don't I know you of old, Reddy?"

"Anyway, here I am, with me neck so near to the rope it fairly aches sometimes. If you have any inclinations toward suicide, I'll be glad to introduce ye to me revolutionary friends."

"Thank you, no. The fact is that we have a little private war of our own on hand, Mike. I was thinking maybe you'd like to enlist, old filibuster."

"Is the pay good?"

"Nothing a day and find yourself," answered Bucky promptly.

"No reasonable man could ask fairer than that," agreed O'Halloran, his grin expanding. "Well, then, what's the row? Would ye like to be dictator of Chihuahua or Emperor of Mexico?"

"There's an American in the government prison here under a life sentence. He is not guilty, and he has already served fifteen years."

"He is like to serve fifteen more, if he lives that long."

"Wrong guess. I mean to get him out."

"And I'm meaning to go to Paradise some day, but will I?"

"You're going to help me get him out, Mike."

"Who told ye that, me optimistic young friend?"

"I didn't need to be told."

"Well, I'll not lift a finger, Bucky--not a finger."

"I knew you wouldn't stand to see a man like Henderson rot in a dungeon. No Irishman would."

"You needn't blarney me. I'm too old a bird to be caught with chaff. It's a dirty shame, of course, about this man Henderson, but I'm not running the criminal jurisprudence of Mexico meself."

"And I said to Webb Mackenzie: 'Mickey O'Halloran is the man to see; he'll know the best way to do it as nobody else would.' I knew I could depend on you."

"You've certainly kissed the blarney stone, Mr. O'Connor," returned the revolutionist dryly. "Well, then, what do you want me to do?"

"Nothing much. Get Henderson out and help us to get safely from the country whose reputation you black-eye so cheerfully."

"Mercy of Hiven! Bring me the moon and a handful of stars, says he, as cool as you please."

The ranger told the story of Henderson and Mackenzie's lost child in such a way that it lost nothing in the telling. O'Halloran was moved. "'Tis a damned shame about this man Henderson," he blurted out.

Bucky leaned back comfortably and waved airily his brown hand. "It's up to you," his gay, impudent eyes seemed to say.

"I don't say I won't be able to help you," conceded O'Halloran. "It happens, me bye, that you've dropped in on me just before the band begins to play." He lowered his voice almost to a whisper. "There's a shipment of pianos being brought down the line this week. The night after they arrive I'm looking for music."

"I see. The piano boxes are filled with rifles and ammunition. "

"You have a mind like a tack, Bucky. Rifles is the alias of them pianos. They'll make merry music once we get them through."

"That's all very well, but have you reckoned with the government at Mexico? Chihuahua isn't the whole country, Mickey. Suppose President Diaz takes a hand in the game and sends troops in on you?"

"He won't," answered the other, with a wink. "He's been seen. The president isn't any too friendly to that old tyrant Megales, who is now governor here. There's an election next week. The man that gets most votes will be elected, and I'm thinking, Bucky, that the man with most rifles will the most votes. Now, says Diaz, in effect, with an official wave of his hand, 'Settle your own rows, gintlemen. I don't give a damn whether Megales or Valdez is governor of Chihuahua, subject, of coorse, to the will of the people.' Then he winks at Valdez wid his off eye as much as to say: 'Go in an' win, me boy; me prayers are supporting ye. But be sure ye do nothing too illegal.' So there ye are, Bucky. If ould Megales was to wake up election morning and find that the polling-places was in our hands, his soldiers disarmed or bought over, and everything contributing smoothly to express the will of the people in electing him to take a swift hike out of Chihuahua, it is likely that he might accept the inevitable as the will of fate and make a strategic retreat to climes more healthy."

"And if in the meantime he should discover those rifles, or one of those slant-eyed senors should turn out a Benedict Arnold, what then, my friend?"

"Don't talk in that cruel way. You make me neck ache in anticipation," returned O'Halloran blithely.

"I think we'll not travel with you in public till after the election, Mr. O'Halloran," reflected Bucky aloud.

"'Twould be just as well, me son. My friends won't be overpopular with Megales if the cards fall his way."

"If you win, I suppose we may count Henderson as good as a free man?"

"It would be a pity if me pull wouldn't do a little thing like that," scoffed the conspirator genially.

"But, win or lose, I may be able to help you. We need musicians to play those pianos we're bringing in. Well, the most dependable men we can set to play some of them are the prisoners in the fortress. There's likely to be a wholesale jail delivery the night before the election. Now, it's just probable that the lads we free will fight to keep their freedom. That's why we use them. They have to be true to us because, if they don't, whichever side wins back they go to jail."

"Of course. I wish I could take a hand myself. But I can't, because I'm a soldier of a friendly power. We'll get Henderson out the night before the election and leave on the late train. You'll have to arrange the program in time for us to catch that train. "

O'Halloran looked drolly at him. "I'm liking your nerve, young man. I pull the chestnuts out of the fire for yez and, likely enough, get burned. You walk off with your chestnut, and never a 'Thank ye' for poor Mickey the catspaw."

"It doesn't look like quite a square deal, does it?" laughed the ranger. "Well, we might vary the program a bit. Bucky O'Connor, Arizona ranger, can't stop and take a hand in such a game, but I don't know anything to prevent a young gipsy from Spain staying over a few days."

"If you stay, I shall," announced the boy Frank.

"You'll do nothing of the kind, seh. You'll do just as I say, according to the agreement you made with me when I let you come," was Bucky's curt answer. "We're not playing this game to please you, Master Frank."

Yet though the ranger spoke curtly, though he still tried to hold toward his comrade precisely the same attitude as he had before discovering her sex, he could not put into his words the same peremptory sting that, he had done before when he found that occasionally necessary. For no matter how severely he must seem to deal with her to avoid her own suspicions as to what he knew, as well as to keep from arousing those of others, his heart was telling a very different story all the time. He could see again the dainty grace with which she had danced for him, heard again that low voice breaking into a merry piping lilt, warmed once more to the living, elusive smile, at once so tender and mocking. He might set his will to preserve an even front to her gay charm, but it was beyond him to control the thrills that shot his pulses.