HotFreeBooks.com
Across the Mesa
by Jarvis Hall
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"I hope you ride?" he said, and as she nodded: "that's good. Maybe we can get up a party to ride across the mesa to Casa Grande. That's Herrick's place."

"Herrick?"

"Yes. Queer chap—part German and part English. Artistic, you know—plays the piano and sings."

"What's he doing here if he's an artist?" demanded Polly.

"Runs a ranch and writes music. His wife died suddenly—she used to travel around with him and sing his songs—they made a pile of money, I guess."

"You don't mean Victor Herrick!" gasped the girl.

"Yes, that's him. He went to pieces when she died and packed up his piano and his music and came down here and buried himself on the ranch. Queer customer, but you'll like him."

"And to think that Bob Street never wrote me that Victor Herrick was a neighbor of his—and then wrote pages of stuff about those old Morgans!" said Polly, indignantly. "Why, I've heard the Herricks sing—they were wonderful! Men haven't any sense."

"Oh, well, he likes the Morgans. She's a jolly kind of woman, invites a fellow to dinner and feeds him up, you know," said Jimmy, seriously. "They're real folks, the Morgans are, and Herrick's a sort of a nut, don't you see?" He threw open the door of the office abruptly. "Here's the office, where the manager sits with his feet on the desk while the rest of us work."

Scott, who was standing by the window, turned suddenly.

"Hullo, Jimmy," he said, with a grin. "Do you know whether Johnson's gone yet? Well, go over and tell him to drop in at Mrs. Morgan's and tell her that the young lady got here safely; I can't get Conejo on the wire."

"Oh, yes, Mr. Adams, please do!" said the girl, eagerly. "She meant to be awfully kind but she was worried to death about those children. I was too tired to have any patience and I felt as if I just had to get away from Conejo."

"You're not the first person who's been struck that way," grinned Adams, as he left the office.

"Hard tells me he has been talking to you about Juan Pachuca," said Scott, smiling.

"Well, you wouldn't, so I had to ask somebody else," replied Polly. "I'm interested in him."

"So I noticed. Can't you pick out something a little more like home-folks to be interested in? Remember the fellow who tried to bring up the tiger cub?"

"What happened to him?" Polly smiled up into Scott's face. There was something about Scotty that appealed to you even when you were actively engaged in disliking him.

"It grew up and bit him."

"Oh, and Juan Pachuca seemed so nice and friendly. But I suppose a tiger cub feels soft and furry when it isn't scratching or biting."

"Exactly. You can't tell about these fellows down here. Maybe Pachuca would have brought you over here safe and sound, and maybe he would have taken the south fork of the road down yonder and carried you off to his ranch to hold for a ransom."

"Oh," said Polly, faintly, "what a dreadful country!"

"Well, it's no place for tenderfeet. That's what I'm always telling our neighbor—Herrick, over at Casa Grande. Bob ever write you about him?"

"Bob never writes me about anything—except Emma," said the girl. "But Mr. Adams has been telling me about him. Does he live there all alone?"

"No, he's got a Chinese boy to cook for him and a lot of greasers working on the place, but no white men around."

"I wish I could meet him."

"You can. I'll drive you over there any time you say."

Polly's face hardened. "I won't bother you," she said. "I don't know how long I'll stay here. I want to telegraph Bob."

"I told Johnson to wire him from Conejo," said Scott, a bit coolly on his side. "He may bring the return message back with him to-night."

Polly felt suddenly ashamed of herself. She rose and held out her hand.

"That was awfully thoughtful of you, Mr. Scott," she said. "I'm ever and ever so much obliged to you, both for that and for last night. I suppose if it hadn't been for you Senor Pachuca might have been sending pieces of my fingers to Bob for a ransom."

Scott laughed but he took the hand awkwardly.

"I don't think Pachuca would do anything quite as raw as that—especially with a lady," he said. "But I'm glad I went just the same. I don't take chances with these chaps. Shall we walk down to dinner? Mrs. Van gets pretty peeved if we're late to meals."



CHAPTER VI

LOCAL ACTIVITIES

Johnson did not bring a return message from Chicago.

"Family ain't got its breath yet, I reckon," he said, as he and Scott discussed the matter. "She looks to me like the sort of youngster who could keep a family pretty well stirred up," he added, candidly. "Girls have changed sence you and me was young, Scotty."

"You've said it," was the terse reply.

"If you can believe what these magazine fellers write," went on the engineer, pensively, "the girl of to-day is a sort of mixture of bronc, ostrich, and rattlesnake thrown in. Smokes, drinks—say, Scotty, I wonder do they chew?"

"Search me," responded Scott. "I don't go into society much these days. I reckon, though, you've got to take these writing chaps with a grain of salt. There's probably a few plain, ordinary girls left."

"There's plenty of plain ones, if the newspapers ain't lyin'," said Johnson, opening his home paper at the society page and revealing three emaciated damsels, clad in extremely short skirts, and with huge bird cages over their ears. "Not that Miss Polly's like them," he added, generously. "She's a looker and a lady, too. I like her."

"That's lucky, Tom," remarked Scott. "I'll tell her she can stay on."

Polly did stay on. The next day a telegram came from the happy bridegroom.

"For Heaven's sake stay where you are. Stop racing around the country. Returning shortly. Bob."

In the meantime, the days passed like hours. Polly rode with Scott, walked with Adams, chatted with Hard, and helped Mrs. Van Zandt with the housework when the latter would let her, which wasn't often. Now and then she remembered Joyce Henderson, and when she did, her manner would cool toward Scott; but one couldn't go on holding a grudge long in that climate. The glorious sun, coming after months of dark chilly weather, seemed to melt anything in one's heart that was unfriendly. Joyce Henderson soon faded into half-tones.

There were a dozen interesting things to do everyday. A Mexican saddle with its high pommel and cantle, was fascinating after an English one. Foothills and arroyos were a charming part of one's walk after the boulevards and parks of Chicago. She hugely enjoyed chatting in sign language with the Mexicans and Indians on the place, and before a week had passed she had picked up a number of Spanish phrases which she used with delighted inaccuracy.

She believed that of the men she liked Hard the best. He was the type of man she had always admired; the best type of an American gentleman, a man of good old family traditions, quiet and unassuming and yet full of a pleasant humor. She wondered what had brought him to Mexico—an unhappy love affair with the lady who sang? But Hard was not a man of whom one asked personal questions so she did not find out.

Scott, however, was the man who really interested Polly Street though she did not realize it. Much of that interest was due to the fact that he apparently did not care whether he interested her or not. One moment they would be on excellent terms, and the next he would have forgotten her.

"That young man," said Polly, sagely, "understands the art of making himself popular. He knows it irritates a woman to see a man absolutely indifferent to her. It's more than flesh and blood can stand. So he acts that way, for it's a pose, of course. Just for that I'm going to make him like me—if I can spare the time."

In this she wronged Marc Scott, who was quite innocent of the art of posing, and whose mind was on other things these days than young women.

One day, about a fortnight after Polly's arrival, she and Scott rode over to a little village hidden in the mountains some ten miles away. It was a warm day and they were long on the road. It was nearing sundown when they came within sight of Athens. Polly, as usual, was talking:

"They're such queer people—Mexicans. They can't run their own country and they don't want anybody else to come in and run it for them."

"I wouldn't call that queer," replied Scott. "Chances are that if they let someone else in, there wouldn't be enough country left for them to put in their eye, and they darn well know it."

"Not necessarily," replied the girl, sturdily. "We didn't gobble up Cuba. We just helped them to get on their feet."

"Cuba's a different proposition. Cuba was being coerced by an European power and, of course, we had to stop it. Mexico is in the hands of her own people and if you give them time they may make something of her. Then, there's the oil question. That's sort of soured the native population on us. You'd never persuade a live Mexican that the U. S. came over here for anything in the world but to grab the oil lands—whether the U. S. was innocent or not."

"I suppose not, and a good many of us wouldn't be innocent, would we?"

"Afraid not. You see, the oil business has developed to an importance far beyond everything else down here. When this man, Carranza, went into office, he went in under what they call the Constitution of 1917. It provides that the State is entitled to retain what they call 'subsoil rights.' That is, they don't want to sell oil lands or mines outright, they just lease them.

"Now, if they should decide, and a lot of them want to, that that Constitution is retroactive—and undermines the titles of land that's already owned by foreign capital, there'd be a lot of influence brought to bear to make trouble."

"That would affect our mine, wouldn't it?"

"Yes, but mines are pretty small potatoes compared to oil. People down here will tell you that the Constitution is merely a matter of form and that if the oil men will go on paying their taxes nothing will happen; but, of course, that sort of assurance doesn't go far when a man's putting up his money. If they get a new government down here, and we get a new one at home, the chances are that the United States will demand guarantees of some kind. It's a bad question, take it any way you like.

"The Mexican says: 'These oil lands are mine.' And they are. The American says: 'What good were they to anybody when you had them?' None whatever, and the world needs oil, so there you are."

They rode on for a few minutes in silence. Scott watched, with the mixed pleasure of the horseman and the admiring male, the girl's graceful figure adapt itself to the jog of the horse. He reflected that there was something very clean-cut and alive about her, from the way her hair sprang in its tight little waves away from her firm white neck, to the quick flash of her dark eyes; there was a vividness and a health about her which appealed strongly to the out-of-doors man.

Nothing could have been further from his idea of a rich man's daughter; a pampered being, all nerves and affectations, helpless and parasitic. Of course she was spoiled—used to being waited upon a good deal, and with rather a good opinion of herself. One could see that. On the other hand, it did not seem to go very deep; seemed, rather, the sort of thing that might rub off when it came in contact with life. Even the rich sometimes came into contact with life, he reflected, with a feeling of satisfaction. They dodged a good many rough knocks that the poor couldn't dodge, but something usually came along to even up the score, if nothing else—the old boy with the scythe.

"Mr. Scott, when are you going to take me over to see Casa Grande?" said the object of his meditations, suddenly.

"Me?" Scott turned on her in well simulated surprise. "Thought you didn't want to go last time we talked about it."

"Well," Polly blushed, "I've changed my mind. I want to meet the celebrity."

"Who? Victor Herrick? I don't think you'll care much for him if you go over there looking for a celebrity. He's not that kind."

"I don't understand."

"He's not the kind that likes to go to pink teas and have a lot of women hanging around him," explained Scott, promptly. "Not a society woman's pet. Too good a musician, I guess."

"You don't like society people very much, do you?"

"Not much," candidly. "And I guess they wouldn't care much for me, so that squares it."

"I suppose the sort of people you mean by 'society' wouldn't care for you," said the girl, frankly. "But there are people, you know, even among the rich who have sense enough to know a worth-while man when they meet him."

It was Scott's turn to show confusion. "I don't mean that there aren't any decent rich folks. I'm not such a blamed idiot as that," he said. "You, yourself, have a lot more sense than an heiress has any right to," he added, with a smile.

"Me? I'm not an heiress. Father has a big salary, of course, but we spend every cent of it. We don't mean to but we always do. Somehow, our expenses crawl up every time the salary crawls. Of course, there's insurance, but that would go to Mother. You see, they've educated both Bob and me well enough so that we can support ourselves; I could be athletic instructor in a girls' college to-morrow if I wanted to; and Father's invested a good deal in this mine on Bob's account. He thinks he's done his duty by us and I do, too."

"So do I," said Scott, soberly. "I don't believe in these handed-down fortunes—money tied up for generations."

"I think," said Polly, shyly, "that you're a bit of a socialist."

"So do I—only I've never found exactly the brand of socialism that I believe in. Maybe they haven't discovered it yet. But I do believe that we've got to do better by each other than we're doing now if we're ever going to make a success of living. Whether it's got to come by individual reform or by some new system of government, I don't know, but things have got to improve, and, by gum, I believe they will! We're too good, all of us, to be wasted the way most of us are."

He spoke with a fire that Polly had never seen in him before. She had thought him phlegmatic, but here was something temperamental—something that kindled enthusiasm in her. She was too hampered by her own inexperience of life to know what to say to him; she felt helpless in the presence of feelings that she had never had and could not feel sure that she understood; and she feared to say the wrong thing—she, Polly Street, who had always said what she liked to men and let them take it as they chose! It was a queer feeling and she wondered——

"Hold on, what's that?" Scott stopped his horse suddenly.

"What's what?" demanded the girl, startled. Then as he did not answer, but continued to stare in the direction of Athens, she cried impatiently: "What are you looking at? Tell me now—this minute!"

Scott took a pair of field-glasses from a case on his saddle. He handed them to the girl.

"Does that look to you like Juan Pachuca's car down by the store?"

Polly looked. "It does, doesn't it?" she said. "But it's too far to be sure. Who do you suppose those men are on horseback?"

"I don't know," said Scott, shortly, as he took the glasses and looked again. "But I don't like the looks of it. Let's whip up and get to that arroyo that runs back of the camp. We'll ride the rest of the way in it."

They descended into the arroyo which was a deep one with sheltering sides that rose above them fully ten feet.

"It doesn't go all the way," objected the girl, who was beginning to know the geography of the place already.

"I don't want it to," replied Scott. "It turns off and runs at an angle—just above the dining-room. I'm going to leave you and the horses there out of sight."

"Leave us!"

"You didn't think I was going to turn tail and run when the boys were being held up, did you?"

Polly's eyes shone with a mixture of fear and excitement.

"Do you mean it's a real hold-up?" she gasped.

"Haven't the least idea, but it sure does look like one, especially if that's Pachuca, himself, on that sorrel. Then, again, it may be the Federal Government quartering men on us. In either case ladies and horse-flesh are better out of the way."

"But I'm not afraid," cried the girl, her teeth chattering with excitement. "At least, I don't think I am—much. Anyhow, I'll be lots more scared down here in this hole alone."

"You won't be alone; you've got two good horses to take care of. Thank the Lord, Hard is out of it—that's three horses we can save."

Hard had ridden to Conejo the day before and had not returned.

"I'm going to leave you this." Scott took his revolver from the holster and handed it to the girl, who took it reluctantly.

"I'm more afraid of it than I am of Juan Pachuca," she pleaded.

"You've no call to be," was the reply. "Don't be a baby—brace up and stay here with these horses. They're not looking for you and they'll never come down here. These are the two best horses we've got and I'm cussed if I'm going to hand 'em over to a bunch of greasers."

"Oh!" Polly gasped again. No one had ever spoken to her quite like this before. "You can't go unarmed, can you?"

"Never mind me. You stay here till I come for you. If anybody bothers you, you shoot. Understand?"

"Yes, I do."

Scott proceeded to climb cautiously out of the arroyo and in a moment was out of Polly's sight. He looked back once and saw the girl standing where he had left her, holding the reins of the two horses, her eyes big with excitement, watching his every movement. He waved his hand, then turned his back upon her.

"That's a good youngster," he said to himself. "Plenty of spunk but knows when to mind. I'm afraid that if I was ten years younger I might make a fool of myself—for she'd never look at me."

The spot at which he had left the sheltering arroyo was two or three hundred feet from the cabin in which he was living with Hard and Adams. His idea was to steal into the house from the rear, arm himself, and then see what he could do, though, of course, he realized that their small force could do little against Pachuca, who not only had some twenty-five or thirty men of his own, but who could easily count on the Mexicans who worked on the place.

As he walked quickly in the direction of the house, he noticed Pachuca, for he it was on the sorrel horse, giving orders loudly in Spanish to his men who were scattered around the place—many of them down at the corral. He did not see any of his own people, which puzzled him a little. As he entered his cabin and crossed the living-room to go to the bedroom, where he kept an extra gun, he nearly stumbled over the body of a man.

It was Adams, lying in the middle of the room, dead—or had the boy only fainted? Scott rummaged in the cupboard for the whiskey bottle and poured a bit of the liquor down his throat. Jimmy opened his eyes and stared dizzily around. Scott saw that the floor around him was covered with blood.

"What is it, boy? Those hounds shoot you?" he demanded. Adams grinned shakily.

"You've hit it, brainy one," he muttered. "Help me into a chair, Scotty, I ain't dead, only winged in the left hin' leg."

Scott lifted him gently and placed him in the chair, then went into his room and secured the gun. He brought a towel back with him and staunched the flow of blood from the leg with a clumsily fashioned bandage.

"He busted in on us while we were taking our afternoon naps," said Jimmy, weakly. "I happened to be taking mine in the office as per usual. I saw Pachuca riding up so I grabbed my gun and beat it for the door. They had me covered, about ten of them before I could show my face. They asked for the cash box and when I said we hadn't one, one of 'em blazed away and hit me in the leg. When I toppled over they made a rush for the office—most of 'em over me."

"The safe?"

"I thought of that and it occurred to me that I'd better clear out before it struck them that I might know the combination. So while they were enjoying themselves inside, I crawled down here. I hadn't gone half-way before I heard 'em blow it up. Oh, yes, they got the pay chest all right, all right."

"Well, what then?" grunted Scott.

"Part of the crowd had gone down to the corral and the rest were down at the store. Just as I crawled in here, I saw Williams come out of the store and get it in the gun arm—the train gang were caught without their guns, and they've got 'em all lined up outside the store. They've looted the store and the corral and they've got all our greasers stirred up to join 'em. Say, there's no use your mixing in—you can't do anything."

"I can spoil Don Juan's pretty looks, I guess!" snarled Scott. "That'll be something."

"Hold on—give me some more of that whiskey before you go. Thanks. Now go and get your fool head shot off if you want to."

With a growl of rage, Scott flung out of the house. He strode in the direction of the store where the prisoners still stood helplessly. They had seen firearms, dry-goods, canned food, and Williams' cash box carried out and deposited in the automobile which stood at the side of the store. Now they awaited the next move. Pachuca was evidently gathering his forces for departure. The Athens Mexicans had collected their families, their household goods, and whatever else they could lay their hands on and were ready to follow.

These preparations for a general exodus were the first things to strike Scott as he came out of the cabin. It was exasperating, but what could you expect? There was no knowing what rosy tale Pachuca had told them; more than likely that the American army had crossed the border and that they were striking for their altars and their fires. He saw women, babies, and household goods loaded upon his good horse-flesh and disappearing down the road.

Scott's blood boiled. His impulse was to shoot Juan Pachuca without warning. He raised his arm and then he paused. One does not shoot men in the back easily unless one is used to doing it. At that moment a Mexican saw him and yelled. Instantly everyone saw him. Pachuca whirled his horse about. It reared and plunged. Its rider laughed loudly.

"Ah, there you are, friend Scott!" he called. "I told you——" He brought his gun from his hip with a sudden twist. The two men fired simultaneously. Scott thought—hoped—that he saw Pachuca waver, but the air was full of smoke and he was dazed. He fired again.

Pachuca's horse began to pitch violently; it took all its rider's famous horsemanship to keep in the saddle. At the same moment, two men stole up behind Scott, who was rushing forward, seized him, threw him to the ground, and disarmed him. One of them took his rope and bound the American, while both of them grinned and muttered in Spanish.

By this time, Pachuca had defeated the evident intentions of the sorrel to buck himself through the store window, and uttering a cry dashed off in the direction of the automobile.

"Adios, Senor Scott!" he cried, as he went. "Next time you will take a neighbor's good word, eh?"

"Next time I'll take a soft-nosed bullet and get you back of the ear, you rotten little half-breed!" yelled Scott, maddened with helplessness and rage, rolling in the dust.

"Marc Scott, ain't you got any sense? Keep your mouth shut!" screamed Mrs. Van Zandt in terror as they gathered around the prostrate man and untied him while the last of the raiders rode off.

"Did they get everything?" he demanded as he got to his feet.

"All except honor and they didn't leave enough of that to stick in your eye," responded Mrs. Van, bitterly. "They got Adams in the leg and Williams in the arm and took off the whole greaser population. Here, wipe your face off with this handkerchief before you rub all that sand in your eyes."

Scott obeyed meekly.

"Where's the girl?" demanded Williams.

"Down the arroyo with the horses," replied Scott. "We saw the outfit in time or Pachuca'd have had her, too."

"He asked me where she was and I told him she'd gone home," said Mrs. Van. "I was awful scared Dolores would give me away but I reckon she didn't hear."

They stared malevolently at the vanishing auto. Pachuca had turned the sorrel over to another man and was driving the car himself. Suddenly, they saw him stop and give an order. Several of the men dismounted and were laying something along the track. Then with a yell, they all bolted, the auto in the lead, the horsemen following. A few seconds and they had disappeared around a curve in the road.

"Now, what the ——" began Williams, when he was answered—there was a crash, the sight of rocks and sand flying, and a thunderous reverberation.

"The mutts have blown up the track!" burst from the engineer, furiously.

"They would," replied Scott, sourly. "Want to cut us off from Conejo till they've made their getaway! Probably cut the wires, too. Go and see, Miller. If they haven't, get Morgan and tell him Pachuca's on the rampage. Did he say what was up? What he was doing this for?" he asked.

"Not him," said O'Grady, disgustedly. "Bring out your dead—that's Johnny Pachuca—no flourishes about him."

"You come in here with me and look at Joe Williams' arm," commanded Mrs. Van. "It don't look to me as if it was broke, do you think so?"

"I'll see to Adams," said Scott. "Johnson, you go down to the arroyo and get the girl." And he went down the street to the cabin.

"Well, did he get everything?" demanded Adams, as Scott entered.

"All he could carry. He left the victrola for you, Jimmy, and the stove for Mrs. Van."

"Gosh! What did you do with Miss Polly?"

"Left her with the horses in the arroyo."

"That was smart of you, Scotty. I'll bet she wanted to come?"

"I'll bet she did, but she didn't get to come. Let's have another look at the leg, Jimmy."

They bathed it as well as they could. It had stopped bleeding and they bandaged it carefully with another towel.

"I don't believe the bone's broke, Jimmy, but I don't like the looks of it," said the amateur surgeon. "You need a doctor."

"There ain't any except that greaser over at Conejo," said Adams, gloomily. "Morgan says he's so dirty he won't let him touch his kids. I don't want blood poisoning, you bet. Did they blow up the track?"

Scott nodded. "There's Johnson," he exclaimed, looking out of the window. "He's got the horses but not the girl. Hey, there, Tom, where's Miss Polly?" he cried as the engineer dismounted and came into the house.

"She wasn't there, Scotty. I found the horses tied to a branch of a tree that grew out of the side of the arroyo but there wasn't no sign of the girl anywhere."

Scott's face darkened. "She was scared and went further up," he said. "Did you look?"

"Looked and hollered and then some, but she was clean gone."

Scott muttered something, flung out of the house and threw himself on his horse. In a moment he was tearing up the road.

"Where's that ugly devil going?" said Johnson, disgustedly. "Didn't I tell him she'd gone? Is he going to try to chase Johnny Pachuca into the mountains after her?"

"Gone clean nuts!" remarked Adams, gloomily.

"I knew that when I seen him rolling in the dirt and yelling 'half-breed,'" replied Johnson. "You might as well poison a Mexican as to call him 'half-breed.' According to them they're all second cousins to the King of Spain. Does your leg hurt much, Jimmy?"

"Well, I've had legs that felt better," said Adams, cheerfully. "Where you going, Tom?" as the long, lank engineer swung out of the room.

"To see the boss get his throat cut," was the reply. "Pachuca's got the money, the guns and the girl; it don't seem very good sense to hand him the whole office force but if the boss says so, here goes."



CHAPTER VII

MISS CHICAGO

Polly stood where Scott left her, gazing after him with a mixture of horror and excitement; horror at the thought that one of the terrible raids of which she had so often heard was taking place scarce two hundred yards from where she stood, and excitement because she was there—she, Polly Street, who had so far in her life never met with any adventure more thrilling than a punctured tire or a lost golf match.

Then, suddenly, it dawned upon her that Scott had left her his only weapon; had gone empty-handed into the trouble! The thought carried a double meaning. He had told her that she was safe, but he had left her his gun. Then there was danger—the Mexicans might come and find her; secondly, he had gone unarmed for her sake. He, the indifferent, the uncaring, the man who didn't mind whether she smiled on him or snubbed him! Was it only because she was a girl and he a man, or did he, after all, care a little bit?

She had threatened, boastingly, to make him care, but she realized that she was beginning to care a little herself; that she could not stay quietly in the arroyo without knowing what was happening to him; that she must see and hear no matter what the risk.

She looked about her in some perplexity. She had been told that a western horse would stand contentedly if his reins were thrown over his head; but she doubted the universal truth of this statement.

"They might if there was grass for them to nibble," she decided. "But they never would in this hole. Come on, ponies, let's see what we can do." And gathering up the reins she led the horses in the direction Scott had gone. She saw the place where he had scrambled out of the arroyo, and, oh, good luck, a clump of mesquite growing out of the crumbling wall further down. She fastened the bridle reins to the mesquite and left the horses contentedly chewing at it.

Very cautiously she crept up the incline and took a peek at the situation. She was just in time to see Scott disappear into the cabin where Adams lay wounded. Polly's face fell. That didn't look very heroic—crawling in by the back door! No wonder he didn't want her to see him. Then she took another look. She saw the crowd down by the corral, catching and saddling unwilling horses. Women were hurrying in and out of cabins, dragging household goods and children with them.

The little crowd before the store she could not see as the building itself prevented, but she saw Pachuca with several of his men riding up and down, and she also saw several unmounted Mexicans who had been looting the store, carry the goods out and throw them in the car which stood at the side of the building. Instinctively the girl reconstructed the action of the bandits.

"A lot of them came on horseback and the rest in the car. They're going to carry what they've taken in the car and they're taking the horses for the extra men. Our Mexicans and their women are going with them and are helping themselves to whatever they want. But where are our men? I didn't think they'd sit down and be plundered without putting up some kind of a fight."

She saw the crowd which had been looting the store start for the corral. The car stood alone. Without doubt they had stopped it a little way from the street and made a dash on horseback. Polly's eyes shone.

She glanced at the sun; it was going down rapidly. It would soon be dusk. She crept cautiously out of the arroyo. If only none of the men on horseback saw her she might manage it, wild as her plan was. She shook with fear but she did not falter; a girl does not have an obstinate chin for nothing. She glanced both ways; Pachuca was still riding up and down, issuing orders which were obeyed noisily but cheerfully. She saw him point toward the corral and saw the men who had been loading the car with plunder start toward the corral on a run.

"Going after more horses," thought the girl, stopping and crouching back of one of the cabins. If they should see her—she held her breath. The next moment she was running for the car, still sheltered by the cabins. It was this moment that Scott chose to walk down the street and draw the attention of the raiders. Polly saw him and her heart warmed.

"I knew he wasn't a coward!" she almost sobbed. "Oh, I'm glad—but he needn't be such an idiot as that. He'll be shot as sure as I'm here."

Panic stricken, she increased her pace and in a minute had reached the shelter of the car. Then the shots burst upon her ears. She turned white and clung to the door of the car. If they had killed him! She saw Scott's face as he had left her—friendly, ugly, determined—and she knew that if they had killed him nothing else would matter—anything might happen and she would not care. Mechanically, she opened the door of the car and hastily moved some of the plunder from the floor to the seat. The Mexicans had tossed in canned goods, blankets, rifles, a couple of cash boxes and even a box of victrola records. Then she crawled into the space she had made and seizing one of the blankets, drew it over herself and over a part of the loot, giving the tonneau of the car the appearance of being full of plunder which was protected from the dust by a blanket.

There was a clatter of hoofs and Polly heard Scott's parting yell. It brought a glorious relief to her mind for surely no one who was badly hurt could be as mad as that! She heard the answering yells of the Mexicans, then she felt and heard the door of the car flung open; someone had jumped in and was starting the engine. Something struck her—a man had thrown his bundle into the car that he might take a howling youngster on his saddle. Polly's teeth chattered with fear; she was realizing with every throb of the engine the awful risk she was taking.

Suddenly the car moved. Polly cowered in her uncomfortable position. Cold with terror she clutched the revolver Scott had given her. Suppose at the last minute some of the other men should decide to get into the car?

"But I won't suppose! There wouldn't have been any time to suppose if I'd gone to war to drive an ambulance. The boys didn't suppose when they went over the top—they just went! I hope to goodness none of these guns I'm sitting on are loaded."

The car bumped along on the rutty road and the noise of the riders died away.

"I knew it," the girl said triumphantly. "I knew the horseback people would take to the trail as soon as they could, and the automobile can't, of course. I've scored one point——"

The car stopped. Polly's breathing apparatus stopped simultaneously. What was it? Had he seen her? Or was he about to pull the loot to pieces and discover her? She listened with her whole body, but heard nothing from the driver. Instead, came the detonation of the dynamited tracks. The ground beneath the car trembled. Then she heard the man laugh as he started the car again.

"They've blown up something! That sounds like Don Juan's voice, too. If I could only see!"

The car soon moved at its former speed. On and on it went. Sometimes the road would be smooth, the driver having found wagon ruts and stayed in them. Again, it would be full of bumps and jars. It was very uncomfortable, her position being wretchedly cramped. Once she was startled to hear the driver break into song. It sounded like a Spanish love song and his voice was a lyric tenor and very musical. It was Pachuca! She determined to know what was going on.

Pushing aside a corner of the blanket she saw that it was beginning to grow dusky. Cautiously she raised herself until she could see. Pachuca was bent over the wheel. Looking back she saw the road empty of riders.

She looked ahead again. They were in the foothills already. Polly drew a long breath, then leaning over the back of the seat said desperately:

"Senor Pachuca, would you mind turning round a moment?"

If she had exploded the revolver in his ear, Pachuca could not have given a greater start.

"Madre di Dios!" he gasped, as the machine swerved.

"Please, do mind the wheel—that was an awful curve!"

"Where did you come from?" demanded the young man.

"I have been hidden among the stolen goods," replied Polly. "I've heard a lot about you lately, senor, but I honestly didn't believe you were a thief until I saw with my own eyes."

Pachuca stopped the machine and turning glared at the girl, also at the weapon which she pointed with a very unsteady hand in his direction.

"If you'll put that thing down I'll try to explain to you the difference between stealing and requisitioning property in war times," he said, angrily.

"If you'll turn the car around you can explain all the way back to Athens," said Polly, sharply. "I'm awfully tired and stiff and my hand is shaky—the man who gave me this gun told me it was ready to go off. I don't want it to go off but if it does I can't help it. Will you please turn around?"

"No, I won't. The road is too narrow."

"I've turned a Red Cross ambulance around in a lane no wider than this out near Fort Sheridan and I didn't spill anybody either. You're a better driver than I am."

Pachuca shrugged his shoulders but he turned the car. There was an ugly look in his eyes and Polly clutched her weapon tightly. She tried to keep her voice steady but it quavered desperately.

"If you try to do anything mean—upset the car or anything like that, I'm going to fire—I certainly will—as sure as I'm red-headed."

The car sped on. Suddenly Pachuca's shoulders began to shake. He turned a laughing face toward Polly.

"You are so pretty and so disagreeable," he said. "Are all Chicago ladies like you?"

"No. Some of them are not so pretty and are more agreeable," replied the girl, nervously. "Please—you just missed that chuck-hole!"

"Why should I care? I do not want to go to Athens."

"No, but you don't want to go to Heaven, either, do you? Or—well, you know what I mean. I don't know how much of a jar it would take to make this thing go off. A chuck-hole might do it."

Pachuca, evidently depressed, relapsed into silence. It was growing colder and darker—would they never get there? However, she would not have been Polly had she kept still.

"Senor Pachuca, what did you mean by requisitioning goods? You aren't working for the government, are you?"

"No."

"Has another revolution broken out?"

"My dear young lady, Sonora has seceded and other states will follow. Mexico is about to throw off Carranza and his government. Is that clear?"

"Pretty clear—only I don't understand why you should take our things."

"I am raising a regiment. When it is complete I shall lead it into the field to fight for Mexico."

"I see. That's why you wanted our men?"

"A regiment means men, senorita."

"And our blankets and money and guns and victrola records?"

"Why not? You Americans make your profit from us, why should you not share in our obligations? Did your generals spare the South when you had your Civil War? War is not a pretty thing, senorita."

"They were at war with the South and they took——"

"Exactly. They took. An American has but one code of morals, and that is to take. I do not quarrel with it, I like it. I also take."

Polly did not reply. She was tired and cold and she wanted to get home. Her hand was cramped and shaky—her threat had not been an idle one. She realized also that Pachuca for all his docility was only waiting the opportunity to turn the tables on her. He was a young man most fertile in expedients and it behooved her to be extremely vigilant. He would be quite capable of shooting up the wrong road and carrying her miles in a strange direction.

The thought made her feel panicky. She tried to remember the turns in the road, only to realize that she had not seen the road—she had been in the bottom of the car, her head covered with a blanket when she had traveled it so short a time ago. Everything looked ghostly and unreal to her in the half light, while Pachuca, she firmly believed, could see in the dark with those handsome eyes of his quite as well as any family cat out for a run.

"Go faster, please," she said, sharply, for wherever they were going it might be as well to get there before dark. "It's getting late and I'm cold."

Obediently Pachuca swung into the next speed and the car bumped cheerfully along, the big lights casting a bewildering glare before them.

"If I only knew where we were and what he has up his sleeve!" the girl groaned inwardly. "I know he has something because he isn't making any fuss. This road is rougher than it was when we came, too; he has taken a wrong turn—I know he has!"

Pachuca, apparently resigned to his fate, began to hum melodiously.

"Senor!" Polly's voice was sharp with apprehension and weariness.

"Senorita?"

"We are on the wrong road; I am sure of it. Go back to the place where you left it."

"With perfect willingness, dear lady, but where shall I go? The road leads to Athens. Is that not where we want to go—I mean where you want to go?"

"No—I don't know—I think you're tricking me. This isn't the way we came. It doesn't look to me like a road at all—I think you're going over the open country. I——" The girl paused. It was disheartening—to go through so much and then to fail at last. She peered ahead into the dim light, trying to see what lay beyond the bright lights of the car. It did look like open country. Ahead lay a hill—a tall hill. Would Pachuca try to make it or would he climb around the side of it? Something—it looked like a man on horseback—was coming rapidly down the hill. Had she miscalculated and were some of Pachuca's men still on the road? Perhaps the same thought struck the Mexican, for he slowed the car down and peered eagerly ahead. Polly clutched the revolver feverishly.

"If it's one of your men and you stop—I shall fire!" she said, quickly.

Both stared into the dusk in silence. The rider came almost into the glare of the lamps.

"Stop!" cried the girl, loudly. "It's Mr. Scott!"

The car stopped, the horse was drawn to his haunches, and Scott stared at the couple over his gun.

"Game's up, Pachuca," he said, shortly. "You're my prisoner."

"Oh!" cried Polly, jumping out of the car and running to Scott. "I knew he hadn't killed you—but I wouldn't ask him for fear he'd say he had! I knew——" She clutched his stirrup desperately.

Scott stared. "Well. I'm——!" he said, and reaching down he caught the swaying girl by the arm.

"I'm not going to faint—I never do," she cried, clinging to his arm. "Don't let him get away."

"Keep him covered. He's not going to get away." Scott swung himself out of the saddle, wound the bridle reins around the pommel and gave the horse a clap which started him toward home. "Well, old man, I'll take the gun, I reckon. Thanks. What's up? Getting up a revolution?"

"He doesn't have to; it's already got up," said Polly, as she climbed into her place again. "I hid in the car and made him come back," she added. "But I was afraid we were off the road."

"You were," said Scott, briefly. "I saw your lights from the hilltop and came over this way. He was putting one over on you all right." He tossed into the back of the car some of the stuff which was in his way and took the seat beside Pachuca who preserved a sullen silence. "Well, I guess we've had enough of this. Home, James!"

There was not much conversation. Pachuca was in a bad humor and confined his attention to the wheel, a precaution which the increasing darkness rendered highly prudent; Scott was intent upon watching the young Mexican, determined to have no tricks played upon him; while Polly, exhausted by the excitement of the past hour, crouched quietly in the crowded tonneau. A long way in the rear the patient pony trotted on his homeward way, wondering, no doubt, why things that moved on wheels could go so much faster than those traveling on plain, old-fashioned legs.

Out of the dark came a figure on horseback—as unexpectedly as Scott himself had done a few moments ago. Scott tightened his grasp on his revolver.

"If he's a friend of yours, senor, I'm afraid you'll have to go by without recognizing him," he said.

"He is not," replied Pachuca. "My friends are better horsemen than that."

"It's Tom," laughed Scott, suddenly. "He's come after me. Slow down, senor, if you please."

Johnson, riding rapidly, swerved suddenly to one side as the big machine without lights came toward him.

"What the——" he began.

"Yes, it's us," said Scott, drily. "We've made a haul and we're bringing it in. Suppose you wait for that horse of mine, will you, Tom, and see that he gets home all right? Thanks to this gentleman and his friends we've only got three head of cattle left, so we'd best be careful of them."

"You bet," responded Johnson, heartily. "How'd you do it, old man?" he asked.

"I didn't, the lady in the case did it," responded Scott. "She'll tell you about it later. Whoop her up, will you, senor? It's getting chilly around here."



CHAPTER VIII

THE PRISONER

Athens was dark and lonely-looking as the big machine reentered it. There was the usual light in the store and one in the house occupied by Mrs. Van Zandt and Polly. Scott motioned to Pachuca to draw up in front of the cabin. Mrs. Van Zandt came out as the machine stopped; evidently she was in doubt as to whether or not it was another invasion, for she stopped in the doorway and peered out anxiously.

"It's all right, Mrs. Van!" cried Scott, cheerfully. "I've brought her back."

Polly jumped out and ran to the astonished woman. "It's all right," she reiterated.

"Yes, I see it is; but where did you get that car?"

"It's Senor Pachuca's and we've got him, too," replied the girl, in an undertone. "And we've brought back some of the things they took."

"Has Hard come back?" demanded Scott, as Mrs. Van came out to the machine.

"No, and I wish he would. I'm worried about Jimmy Adams. Where are you going to put that chap?" asked Mrs. Van, eyeing Pachuca resentfully.

"I think I'll ask him to spend the night in Hard's office," replied Scott, thoughtfully. "It's the only place we've got that isn't on the ground floor, and I guess nobody wants to put in the night doing sentry duty. Just bring over a couple of blankets, will you, Mrs. Van?"

Mrs. Van Zandt and Polly went into the house and Scott with his prisoner walked across to the office where they fell in with O'Grady, who grinned pleasantly when the state of affairs was explained to him.

"Come back to spend the night with us? Sure we can make him comfy! Up-stairs, son. You can have the engineer's office to yourself," he added, hospitably.

"I don't like leaving you here, Pachuca," said Scott, as he threw open the door of Hard's office. "It's not my idea of entertaining the aristocracy, but it's the best I can do for a gentleman of your peculiar habits."

"What is your idea?" remarked Pachuca, surveying the small room nonchalantly. "Don't you think it would be more practical to let me go? I can't do any more harm to-day, you know."

"That's just what I don't know," replied Scott, quietly. "I know you can't do any harm to anyone but yourself while you're locked up here, and I want to turn you over in my mind a little."

"I'll make it worth your while to let me drive that car off the place while you're all asleep," proposed Pachuca, smiling.

"You're a persuasive cuss, but we need that car."

"Going to do a little banditing on our own hook," put in O'Grady, cheerfully.

"Shut up, Matt! We'll send you over some supper, Pachuca, and some bedding by and by," and locking the door behind them, the two men went downstairs.

"You think he can't slide out?" suggested Matt, doubtfully. "He's a crafty devil."

"If he wants to risk breaking a bone or two jumping out of the window, let him try," said Scott, easily. "How's Williams?"

"Pretty good. No bones broke and Mrs. Van bandaged him up. He's sore as the devil about his stuff."

"We got a good deal of it back. We'll run the car down to the store and see just what we did get." And Scott related Polly's adventure with much enjoyment.

"She's a mighty game youngster," declared O'Grady, admiringly. "I didn't know they raised 'em like that in the East."

"I'll swear I didn't. Lucky for His Nobs she didn't let a bullet into him by mistake."

"Oh, I don't know. It's a case of 'eventually, why not now?'"

A search of the machine revealed the more important part of the loot—the money taken from the safe in the office, Williams' cash box, and a good many firearms, blankets and small items. Horses, saddles, bridles, canned goods and innumerable other effects had been carried off by the horseback riders, never to be regained, unless, as Scott suggested, Pachuca could be traded off for them. And, of course, the mine would have to be closed down until more workers could be obtained, rather an improbable thing in the present state of the country.

"What beats me is, how did you happen to think of it?" demanded O'Grady of Polly a little later as they sat around the dining-room table eating a hastily improvised supper.

Polly chuckled. "Well, you see," she said, modestly, "we've been having a lot of auto hold-ups in Chicago this winter and one of them happened to a friend of mine.

"She and a friend were coming home from a party one afternoon, and when she drew up at the house, two young men popped into the car, pointed revolvers at her and told her to drive up the avenue. Well, she drove up the avenue! She said the feel of that cold thing on the back of her neck kept her awake at night for months. Then when they had gone a little way, they stopped, dumped both the women out, and went off with the car."

"Gosh, Chicago must be a great little place!" remarked Matt, admiringly.

"It just came to me when I saw them putting all those things into the car that if anybody could hide in it and make whoever was driving return the goods it would be—well—rather a nice thing to do. Of course, I took an awful chance. The horseback people might not have taken the trail—but even then the machine would have outdistanced them. I felt sure I could get Pachuca alone."

"You took a chance you'd no business to take," growled Scott. "When I told you to stay down in that arroyo, I meant stay."

"I know you did but I couldn't," apologized Polly.

"The only thing you did wrong was not leaving that young reptile in the middle of the road like the thieves did those women," pronounced Mrs. Van Zandt, authoritatively.

"I thought of it but I didn't have the heart," said Polly. "After all, he'd been kind to me, and he is a gentleman."

"Gentleman! My God!" Scott's profanity was innocent with true horror.

"First time I ever heard a hoss-thief called a gentleman," chuckled Matt.

"Well," Polly looked a bit crestfallen. "I mean, he's educated and he comes of good family."

"I don't go much on family," said Mrs. Van, wisely. "I've seen some mighty mean skunks hangin' around stage doors who were as blue-blooded as dogs in a show. Why, even your own family you can't be too sure about! I had an old auntie who used to say she never went back of second cousins—'twasn't safe."

"Well, that's true, too," pronounced Matt. "Some don't feel easy even with seconds." He gathered up his dishes and followed Mrs. Van into the kitchen with them. Polly ate industriously, while Scott stalked to the window and stood lighting a cigarette.

"Mr. Scott," she said, after a long pause, "are you worried about Jimmy Adams?"

"Yes, I am," was the curt reply.

"Isn't there a doctor in Conejo?"

"Yes, but he's a dirty scoundrel; I'd hate to have him handle a case like this. We may have to, though, thanks to your gentleman friend."

"You're rather a rude person, aren't you?"

"I reckon so. Anyhow, if he's a gentleman, I'm afraid I'd never pass muster."

"Still," persisted Polly, pleasantly, "you will admit that he is agreeable?"

"Agreeable nothing!" growled Scott. "He's a disreputable young varmint, and no decent girl ought to speak to him."

Polly smiled and rising, gathered up her plate and cup and carried them to the hole in the wall. Then she walked over to the window and said confidentially:

"I think it would be fun if you would tell me some of the things he's done. Not the yarn about the actress and the man higher up—Mr. Hard told me that—but some other really exciting ones."

"I'm not sufficiently interested in the chap," replied Scott, gruffly. "Perhaps you'd like to carry him his dinner and ask him to tell you himself."

"I would," replied the girl, promptly. "I thought perhaps you were thinking of starving him."

"No, I don't care to starve him. I want to swap him off for our horses, if I can. He ain't worth a dozen or two good horses, but we can try."

"Well, of course, we have the car to make things square."

"Yes, we have the car, in case we have to quit in a hurry."

"Quit? You mean before Bob comes back?" the girl's face was a bit scared.

"We may get orders to close up the mine. You heard what he said—that the state had seceded? Well, that means civil war, and civil war in Mexico can mean a good many things. I'm not sure that I want two women on my hands under the circumstances."

"What are you talking about, Marc Scott? Is it a Yaqui rising?" Mrs. Van Zandt thrust her head through the hole in the wall.

"I don't know what it is. Pachuca says there's a revolution on. I'm hoping to get more news about it when Hard comes back."

"I don't take much stock in these Yaqui yarns," said Matt, coming back with another supply of food.

"Them Indians ain't half as bad as the greasers like to make out. Of course, they feel like they had a right to raise thunder now and then because they know they ain't been treated white. But you take it from me, I've been knockin' around Mexico for some time, and nine times out of ten there's a greaser back of everything that's laid at a Yaqui's door."

"That's true enough," nodded Mrs. Van.

"I made up my mind when I read in that El Paso paper that there was going to be a Yaqui rising and that the gov'ment was orderin' troops into Sonora, that the gov'ment most probably had somethin' up its sleeve."

"Most likely," acceded Scott.

"Well, I don't expect to understand Mexican politics," said Polly, "but why, if Mr. Carranza wants to be president again, doesn't he come out like a little man and say so, instead of trying to stir up things with troops?"

"He can't be president again. The constitution under which he took office forbids a second term," replied Scott. "He might be military dictator, however, if he stirred up a revolution and came out on top. That's what the Sonora people say. But you can't tell; it may be a square deal and there may be a Yaqui rising."

"Even then this ain't the place for women folks," grumbled O'Grady.

"Nor men neither," retorted Mrs. Van Zandt. "I've been trying to get Mr. Herrick on the 'phone to let him know there was trouble on board, but I couldn't even get Central."

"Pachuca would attend to that, of course," said Scott. "We'll drive over there in the morning and see if he doesn't want to come back with us."

"Am I really going to see that fascinating person?" sighed Polly. "I'm beginning to think he's just hot air."

"Mighty little hot air about old Herrick," chuckled Matt. "All wool and a yard wide, I'd say."

"Well, he is. That's more than I'd say about a good many artistic chaps," remarked Mrs. Van. "Most of 'em I hate—they're so crooked. The Lord starts 'em weak and the women finish 'em. He sure can play, though. Regular pictures—some of the things he composes. I can see the cows grazing on the hills in some of 'em."

"How queer of him to stay down here!" said the girl, wonderingly.

"Why?" demanded Scott, warmly. "It seems to me that a country like this has a lot more to offer that kind of man than your cities have. What's New York or Chicago got to give him like these grim old mountains, and the lonesome little canyons with the cows feeding up and down hunting for water holes, and the Mexican folks with their soft voices and fancy manners and all the rest of it?"

"Cows are queer," continued Mrs. Van, pursuing her own thought cheerfully. "Ever see the old ones get between you and the calves when you rode by 'em? Awful kind of human, they are."

Scott chuckled. "One summer I was up in New Mexico on a ranch when they were rounding up. They brought in the cattle from all over the place; for days they were getting in strays out of the canyons. Among them were two old bulls. Funny old codgers they were, and as much alike as two peas in a pod—fat, chunky, ragged looking old rascals.

"Well, all during the round-up those old boys stayed together—in the bull pen and out. We named them Tweedledum and Tweedledee. By George, after they'd been turned out on the range again, I was riding down a canyon about a couple of miles from the ranch, and who should I see but those two old pals, hoofing it together as chummy as two old men walking in the park."

"Well, how's the chow?" Johnson's voice came from the doorway. "Not much left, I should say, judging from the happy faces I see around me."

"Come in, Tommy, I'm just gettin' something ready for that Mexican, but there's plenty for you," said Mrs. Van.

"Where'd you put the feller?"

"In Hard's office," said Scott. "Will you cart him his grub, Matt?"

"You said I might. I want to," protested Polly.

"Certainly." Scott handed her the key ceremoniously. "You've earned the right to have your own way to-night, but Matt goes with you. He's not above throttling you to make a getaway."

"It's a funny world," mused Polly, as she walked along beside Matt, who carried the tray balanced aloft on one outstretched palm. "Three weeks ago I was going to teas at the Blackstone; now I'm carrying grub to a Mexican bandit with the assistance of a fireman. How awfully well you carry that tray!" she said, admiringly.

"Sure! Learned to do that one winter in Minneapolis when I was out of a job. Handy sort of thing to know."

"Oh!" gasped the girl. Then to herself: "Why should I think it queer? Cousin Ben put himself through college by waiting on the students at table and we thought he had a lot of pep to do it."

"You go on up and holler to the guy that we're coming but don't you open the door till I get there. He might paste you one."

Polly complied. She sprang up the stairs with a freedom of motion that won O'Grady's silent admiration.

"Some action!" he commented. "Takes them stairs as easy as a pussy-cat goes up a tree. Some girl that! Old Scotty's jealous of the greaser—do him good—he's gettin' to be a regular old settin' hen. Hope she shakes him up a bit."

"Senor Pachuca!" called Polly at the top of the stairs. "We've brought you some supper. May we come in?"

"Gracias, senorita, but that rests with you," was the response.

"I'm going to open it. He won't do anything," said Polly, decidedly.

The room was dimly lighted. In the open window sat Pachuca—outside lay the open country, moonlit and lovely, the grim coloring of the day now touched with silvery softness. Pachuca leaped to his feet and relieved the girl of the tray which he placed on the desk.

"I am obliged," he said, with a touch of a sneer. "The services of a major domo and a beautiful waitress are more than I expected."

"If you ask me, I'd say it was more than you deserve," replied Matt, tersely. "I'm going out to sit on the stairs. If the lady wants to stop and visit with you she can, but don't you try no monkey tricks because they won't go down. I'm heeled."

Pachuca shrugged his shapely shoulders, seated himself and began to eat.

"I am hungry," he admitted. "I have had what you call a hard day's work."

"I wish," said the girl, severely, "that you'd tell me why you do such things? You're a gentleman—not a bandit."

"Of course I'm not a bandit." Pachuca's composure appeared to be deserting him. "You do not seem to understand—you Americans—that Mexico is our country and that we must deal with its political situations independently of you and your affairs."

"Oh," innocently, "I didn't know that political situations demanded blankets and victrola records."

"You must make allowances for my people. They are poor and ignorant."

"It isn't the people we complain about. They only do what you tell them to. Why should you come and tell them to stop working for us?"

"In your country it is only the walking delegate who does that?" grinned Pachuca.

"That's different. This wasn't a strike. These men didn't want to stop work."

"My dear girl, you seem to have lost sight of the fact that a revolution is taking place. It is their duty to stop working and to fight."

"It always seems to be their duty to fight and they never get anything out of it!"

"They do get something out of it. They got their land when they overthrew Diaz. With Carranza, they got a new constitution. With Obregon, they will get peace and a good government."

"Then you are for Obregon?"

"Naturally. But I must have men and horses and munitions. I—Juan Pachuca—cannot fight in the ranks."

"I don't see why not," said Polly, candidly. "My brother fought in the ranks and he's a college man. He didn't mind."

"Oh, well, in America—that is different! You have no ideas as to family. I beg your pardon, what I mean is, that your people are different."

"Well, I hope we are," replied Polly, piously. "But I'm afraid some of us aren't as different as we ought to be."

"Now we are even," said the Mexican, showing his white teeth. "And you know why I took your men and horses. They will be made good to you when the country becomes settled."

"I hope so, but it seems to me you're going to have so many people to settle with that some of us are going to come out at the little end. Of course, your car will help some."

Pachuca frowned. "Senorita," he said, gravely, "I must have the car and I must get away from here to-night. Much depends upon it. Won't you help me?" He leaned toward her as he spoke, his dark eyes luminous, his voice soft and caressing.

"The tiger kitty is purring," thought Polly. "It's a nice kitty but I mustn't pet it. Senor," she said, "I'm sorry, but I can't."

"Say rather that you won't."

Polly fingered the key which she had taken from Matt. Then she put it in the pocket of her sweater.

"It would be easy," said Pachuca, persuasively. "You could throw it into the window there when everyone was asleep."

"It would be easy," agreed Polly, "but it wouldn't be nice."

Pachuca ate for a moment in silence. "I suppose," he said, finally, "that an American girl never does anything that is not nice?"

"Well, I'd hardly go as far as to say that," replied Polly, "but I don't think you'd find many who would be as dishonest as—oh, what's the use? You know I'd like to do it for you because you were kind to me, and I do not believe you meant to kidnap me——"

"Kidnap you!" wrathfully. "Who said I meant to kidnap you?"

"Oh, nobody, only——"

Pachuca began to laugh; gently at first, then wholeheartedly.

"He is jealous—that good Marc Scott! He told you I wanted to kidnap you—like Villa, eh? Does he think a Spanish gentleman so unattractive that he has to kidnap a young lady in order to make love to her?"

"I don't know what he thinks and I don't care," said Polly, angrily. "And I wouldn't have come here if I had thought you were going to be foolish. I wanted to show you that I wasn't ungrateful——"

Pachuca had jumped to his feet and stood between her and the door. His manner was respectful and apologetic.

"Senorita, I beg your pardon! Indeed——"

"It's not necessary," said the girl, coldly, trying to pass him.

"No, no, I beg—do not go." Then, in a lower tone, "I had a double reason for asking your help. I can be of help to you and to your brother."

Polly paused in some surprise. From the stairway came the sound of energetic whistling—a medley of the "Wearin' of the Green" and the "Long, Long Trail." Pachuca continued eagerly.

"Yes, it sounds very extravagant, I know; what my brother-in-law used to call a bit thick. But I can help you—to a treasure."

"A treasure?" incredulously.

"Exactly. You have heard that I was for a time with Villa?"

Polly nodded.

"Well, in his camp I met some very strange people—among them a fellow named Gasca—what you call a bad lot. He told me one night when he was very drunk—you know, senorita, how some people talk about their affairs when they are drunk?"

Polly's eyes were beginning to shine with excitement.

"He told me that he and his brother had hidden a treasure over in New Mexico."

"A treasure! Do you mean pieces-of-eight and Spanish doubloons?"

"Oh, no, I am afraid not. It would be bullion—ore. They took it from one of the Fiske, Doane Co. mines in Chihuahua. That is why your brother would be interested. Perhaps you have heard of the Sant Ynez mine?"

"Bullion!" Polly's face dropped.

"For me, I would not object to bullion if I could get my hands on it, but I can't," said Pachuca, candidly. "Gasca, you understand, had this brother who lived in New Mexico, in a lonely sort of a spot on the border, with an Indian woman that he had stolen from her people. He helped Gasca get the treasure across the border—and they hid it in the canyon where he lived.

"Shortly after that they quarreled and the brother threatened to shoot Gasca if he came near the place. Also, he told the border patrol some things about Gasca so that he was afraid to go over any more. Just after I met Gasca, he had heard, in a roundabout way as my people hear things, that the brother had been killed and the Indian woman had died of a sickness. Gasca wanted me to go over with him to find out if the treasure was still there—he felt sure that it was because he said the brother would be afraid to dispose of it without his help—but I had what you call other fish to fry. Afterward, Gasca himself was shot for disobeying a command of the general. If you will help me to get away I will tell you exactly where that treasure is."

Polly rose suddenly, the light of determination in her eyes.

"No," she said, firmly. "I won't. Mr. O'Grady, will you come and help me with this tray, please?"

"Sure Mike!" In two strides the fireman was in the room, his eyes looking searchingly at both the man and the girl. Pachuca, with a shrug of his shoulders, put his hands in his pockets and strode to the window. The dishes were piled up in silence, the door was locked—the key returning to Polly's sweater pocket, and the two went back to the dining-room.

"Say, was that guy tryin' to get fresh with you?" demanded Matt, as they went along. "I set out there on the steps because I thought mebbe you wanted to chat with the crittur, being acquaintances like, but if I'd of thought that he——"

"No, no, he was trying to bribe me to let him go."

"Let him go? Well, if he ain't got a nerve! What'd he offer you—a castle in Spain?"

"No," replied the girl, "a buried treasure in New Mexico."

"What? Well, say, he must have thought you was green to fall for that stuff. A bright, wide-awake girl like you, too. Was it under an elm tree fifty paces off by moonlight?"

"Why? Couldn't there be a buried treasure in New Mexico?"

"Well, I suppose there could if there's been a fool to bury it; but it seems to me I'd of tried something snappier if I'd been him. An oil well, or shares in a gold mine, or somethin' first class in the bunk line."



CHAPTER IX

AT LIBERTY

Polly and Matt continued their walk in silence until they reached the dining-room. They found Scott sitting as they had left him, smoking and thinking; while, through the hole in the wall, Mrs. Van Zandt could be seen and heard busy with the dishes.

"Well, did His Nobs enjoy his tea?" asked Scott.

"He did that! Kicked into it like a little man," replied Matt, cheerfully. "Also he made the young lady a real sporting proposition."

"What?"

"Oh, don't be absurd!" snapped Polly, disgustedly. "Anybody'd suppose you were college boys at the dansant." And she went into the kitchen.

"Well, you see what you get, Matt; you would horn in. What do you mean—a sporting proposition?"

"Oh, a rich one. Buried treasure up in New Mexico—secret chart handed down to Juan Pachuca by a maiden aunt—I don't know what all—just to get the key of the office, but she was too sharp for him."

"I should hope so. Is that Hard?" Scott went to the window as the sound of hoof-beats was heard. Down the street came a man on horseback. Silhouetted against the moonlight, the tall Bostonian acquired a picturesqueness lacking in daylight. "I've got to take Hard out one of these days and teach him how to ride," remarked Scott, meditatively. "Jolt some of that Boston stiffness out of him."

"You can't," replied the Irishman, placidly. "It's in his blood. His ancestors brought it over in the Mayflower with 'em from England. I'll bet you Paul Revere rode just like Hard does."

"Shucks, Matt, those English guys can ride—stands to reason they can. Look at the cross-country stuff they do! And on an English saddle at that."

"Country? The country they ride over's nothing to what the Irish do. A feller told me——"

"Hello, boys, what's up? Why the theatre supper?" demanded Hard, entering.

He listened to the particulars which poured upon him. "Well," he said, finally, "I'm sorry I missed the excitement. 'Twas ever thus. The only time our house ever burned down I was at a matinee of the 'Black Crook.' Well, you saved the cash?"

"Miss Polly did," grinned Scott. "And we've got the boy that made the mischief."

"Jimmy much hurt?"

"Afraid so."

"I was afraid something like this would happen," said Hard. "They told me over in Conejo that there was trouble on. They had an all-night session at Hermosillo and the state seceded."

"That's what Pachuca says."

"Morgan's taken his family up to Douglas."

"Any news from Bob?"

"Just a letter for Miss Polly."

"We won't desert until we have orders, but I'm rather glad to have the car," continued Scott. "I thought we'd run over and see Herrick in the morning."

"I say, Scott, that Chinaman of Herrick's is a doctor. Why not have him take a look at Jimmy's leg?"

"A Chinaman!" Polly had come in with Hard's coffee.

"Sure!" cried Scott. "Just the thing. I'd forgotten about him. When a Chink is scientific, he's as scientific as the devil."

"He came over to practice medicine; you know how the Mexicans feel about the Chinese? His money went and he had to do what he could. Herrick picked him up somewhere and he's been there ever since," said Hard.

"We'll get him over here for Jimmy. He's clean at any rate."

"Listen to this!" Polly had opened her letter. "It's from Mother," she explained. "Poor old Bob's in the hospital—just been operated on for appendicitis! Isn't that the limit? On a honeymoon!"

"Hard luck," commented Scott. "How's he coming on?"

"She says he's doing splendidly. You see, he's been dodging that operation for the last ten years, and now it's got him, poor boy. Mother says they're worried to death about me."

"And well they may be," remarked Mrs. Van Zandt, heartily.

"She says the directors have met but didn't do anything."

"That sounds natural," said Hard. "They've been doing that for the last three years."

"Trying to figure out which costs less; to give up the property, or to pay us our salaries to hold it down," chuckled Scott.

"She says I am to come home at once," continued Polly, "but that I am not to try to travel alone. Either Mr. Scott or Mr. Hard is to go with me to the border."

"I'm glad somebody in your family has got good sense," said Scott, grimly. "It's a pity those things aren't hereditary."

"Thank you. I think I prefer to have Mr. Hard go."

Hard bowed solemnly. "Bob coming back?" he asked.

"As soon as they'll let him," said Bob's sister, promptly.

"Yes, he likes a scrap," remarked Scott. "I hope they keep the papers away from him this next week. Well, it's lucky for you, Miss Polly, that we've got Pachuca's car. Traveling on these railroads is bad enough at any time, but with a brand new revolution on hand, it'll be the deuce."

"I think it's rather horrid of them not to care whether I go home or not," Polly told herself, as she undressed for bed. "They might at least pretend they don't want me to go! I always supposed that the one girl in a mining camp would be dazzlingly popular—but this doesn't look much like it. And yet—he likes me, I know he does! He liked my bringing the car back; I saw it in his eyes, if he did make fun of me.

"He's jealous of Don Juan, too. Well, that won't do him any harm. He's so determined not to fall in love with me that he's going to need a little outside interference to make him change his mind. He's got to change his mind because I—yes, I do care for him—a lot. People may think these things don't come suddenly outside of books, but they do—oh, they do!" And, worn out by the exertions of the day, Polly curled herself in a knot and prepared to sleep.

Juan Baptisto Pachuca had not availed himself of the shakedown made for him by Mrs. Van Zandt's blankets. He had put out his light because he wanted to think and he preferred thinking by moonlight. He sat in Hard's office chair by the window, closed now, for the night was cool, and drummed impatiently upon the arm of it.

Mentally, Pachuca was more than impatient; he was outraged. His plans had been spoiled, his liberty restricted and his dignity impaired. He had been made to look ridiculous. Of all the offenses against him the latter was the most serious. He hated giving up anything he had put his mind on, but he hated a great deal more being made ridiculous.

Nor was it pleasant to be triumphed over by a girl. Juan Pachuca liked girls, especially good-looking ones, but he liked them in their places, not in the larger affairs of life. When they insisted upon mixing themselves up with such affairs, they ceased, in his estimation, to be pretty girls and became merely tiresome members of the other sex.

Had Polly Street given in to his proposals of escape he would have felt in a better temper with her, but he would not have been at all tempted to fall in love with her. He had been in the mood for that once—the night they had come over from Conejo together—but Fate, or the girl herself, or Marc Scott, he had hardly taken the time to decide which, had interfered and that was over.

Pachuca bore Polly no ill will for her part in that affair. That was her province—a love affair. A lady had the privilege of granting or denying her favors; it was not always because she wanted to that she denied them. He knew a good deal about that sort of thing and he was willing to give and take very agreeably in the game of love, without repining if things didn't seem to be going his way.

This, however, was a question of business and Juan Pachuca considered that any woman who could get ahead of him in a matter of business would have to get up exceedingly early in the morning. He would get out of that room or he would know the reason why. It was highly important that he should. In fact, his plans for the next few days depended absolutely upon his so doing.

Pachuca's business head, for all his conceit about it, was exceedingly primitive. His had been rather a primitive career from its beginning. Hard's story of the actress, while not entirely correct, had its foundation in fact. Pachuca had been disgraced; to be disgraced in any manner is bad enough, but to be disgraced for doing something that you know quite well is being done in perfect security by most of the people with whom you are connected is particularly galling.

Aching to thwart the government he hated, Pachuca hastened to ally himself with its particular enemy and to work against it with all the impetuosity of his nature. But Francisco Villa was not an easy man for anyone as heady as Juan Pachuca to get on with. There were quarrels and more quarrels, and finally Pachuca, again disgusted with the world and its people, retired to private life.

He was not, however, built for private life. Some of us are like that. We need the excitement and the stimulus of action to bring out our better points. Also, Pachuca's friends were not of the sort who cared much for the quiet life. In those few months of association with the great Villa, he had met men of various kinds; men who were honestly trying to do something for Mexico; men who were dishonestly trying to do something for themselves; and men who were in such a truly desperate frame of mind after ten years of revolution, banditry, and general upset, that they scarcely knew what they were doing.

Pachuca, who for all his aristocratic blood, was an exceedingly good mixer, had enjoyed these various and sundry associations and in the quiet of private life he yearned for them. Very much as a celebrated actress feels the lure of the footlights after she has left them for matrimony and the fireside, very much as the superannuated fire horse is said to react to the alarm, so Pachuca yearned for the agreeable persons with whom he had foregathered since leaving the army.

When there were rumors of another revolution, he began to think of looking up some of these exceedingly live wires, and seeing what could be done for Freedom, Mexico, and Juan Pachuca. It was with the idea of informing himself as to these matters that he had taken the journey which had resulted in his meeting with Polly Street, and the fortnight which she had spent in Athens had been used to accomplish a number of things.

Himself rather a good judge of which way the political cat might be expected to jump at this particular crisis, Pachuca had decided to throw in his lot with the Obregonistas. He knew Obregon, knew his hold on the people, his popularity with the labor party, and it looked to him very much as though that general of fascinating Irish ancestry had a good chance of being Mexico's next president.

At the same time he realized perfectly that his own reputation with the Obregonistas was not good. Various tales current among Mexicans of political standing, in regard to his relations with Villa, would be very much against him, and services rendered the Carranza government would hardly be likely to stand him in good stead. Pachuca wanted to stand well with the new party if he stood with them at all. He intended that the next president of Mexico should confer upon him an office of distinction, and offices of this sort must be earned, not only in Mexico but anywhere. In the great republic near by which Pachuca hoped some day to visit, preferably on a state mission, things were handled in this way also. If he could bring to the revolutionary chiefs of the new party men, arms, and money, he might hope for a warm reception.

During the fortnight referred to he had communicated with one Angel Gonzales, previously mentioned, who had also quarreled with Villa and been rigorously persecuted by him. Gonzales was at the head of a small band which he was quite willing to consolidate with Pachuca's men, and they had agreed to meet and discuss ways and means. It was toward this rendezvous that Pachuca had been journeying when he stopped to raid the Athens mining camp.

To be stopped at such a time was not to be endured. Pachuca looked around the small room angrily. He looked out of the window. It was a bad drop but not an impossible one. An athlete might manage it, he supposed, but he was not an athlete—he was a gentleman and a soldier. It would be a nasty thing to try it and to break a leg. He had never tried breaking a leg but he remembered having heard the family physician say that a broken leg meant a six weeks' vacation and he had no mind for a vacation on those terms.

He went to the door—locked, of course, he had heard the girl turn the key, but one might burst it open. He tried, several times, but the door held maddeningly. There was no transom, no other door—nothing but the plastered walls and the window. He turned again to the window, and threw it open. The cool night air came in refreshingly. In the distance, the dark shapes of the mountains stood out forbiddingly in the moonlight. Millions of stars winked and twinkled. Gaunt cacti reared their ungainly shapes—beautiful because of their very ugliness.

Somewhere over in those mountains Angel Gonzales was wending a torturous path to meet him. Angel would swear and rage when he did not come. Then he would probably annex Pachuca's men and their plunder and go cheerfully on his way. That would be Angel's idea of the philosophical manner of handling the situation. Juan ground his white teeth in a fury. Again he hung out of the window. The moonlight was so glaring that he was easily visible had anyone been watching, but all the lights in Athens were out and the inhabitants in bed.

Pachuca swung lightly out of the window and with a very cattish agility caught the sill with both hands and lowered himself. He looked down. It was the devil of a drop. Ten chances to one he would turn an ankle at the very least. He made a wry face. One does not do things successfully when one does them in this frame of mind. With an effort surprising in one so slight he drew himself back into the window again. There must be another way. It was positively not on the cards for him to be fooled in this stupid manner. He could see his car standing near the corral and the sight urged him to greater efforts.

He paced angrily up and down the floor. It was a very solid floor. As far as he was concerned it might be regarded as an invincible floor. If he had a pick, perhaps—Pachuca's eyes brightened, and a roguish look came into them. He had been thinking as he often did in English, being practically bi-lingual, and the word suggested something to him. Why not pick the lock? He felt eagerly in his pocket for his knife—left, alas, in the pocket of his leather coat in the machine. Still, there might be one somewhere about. In the desk, perhaps. The saints would help a good Spaniard, undoubtedly. Pachuca was not unduly religious, and he could not recall at the moment any saint renowned for picking locks, so he let it go at that and began to hunt. Some sort of tool might be found in the desk.

The desk yielded pencils, pens, erasers, and other harmless implements without number, but nothing even remotely resembling a knife. Pachuca slammed the drawers angrily and resumed his tramping. The night was getting on and he was apparently no nearer freedom than when the girl had left him. He cursed volubly and disgustedly.

"I suppose if I had the shoulders of that abominable Scott I could break the door!" he muttered. "On the other hand," he mused, grimly, "if I had had his brains I would not be here. It was a foolish business—trying to confiscate American property. It rarely pays." Pachuca, like the famous Mr. Pecksniff, believed in keeping up appearances even with one's self. His attempt was confiscation distinctly and not robbery. "It was talking with the American girl that day on the train that put it into my head. She would talk about her brother and his mine. Juan Pachuca, when will you learn to let women alone? Every time a woman comes upon the scene something disagreeable happens—and usually to you."

He paused by the window and surveyed it distastefully. "If I have to go out by that window, I will—but I do not like it. If I could bribe someone to put up a ladder! But they are all asleep—the lazy fools."

He glanced at the shakedown which Mrs. Van Zandt had sent over by Miller, the idea of a rope ladder made of sheets having floated idly through his head. Alas, the shakedown consisted of a small hard mattress and a couple of blankets, army blankets at that. Anyone who can make a rope ladder of army blankets, with nothing more solid to fasten them to than a rickety old desk, must be cleverer than even Juan Pachuca considered himself.

With a sigh of surrender he returned to the window. It was the only way; broken bones or no broken bones, it must be attempted. If he were unlucky enough to meet with disaster, he must crawl as far as the car, and once in the car he defied anyone, white, brown or black to stop him. If only they had left him his gun!

Carefully Pachuca balanced himself once more on the window and swung himself out, still clinging to the sill. The drop looked easier than it had before; he felt almost cheerful about it. Give him five minutes alone in the moonlight and he would have his liberty, his car and his triumph over Gringo carelessness. At the same moment, there arose out of the stillness the loud and penetrating bark of an aroused dog.

Yellow, who slept anywhere, being a tramp dog by nature, had elected to pass the night outside Scott's window, and the cabin in which Scott was sleeping was across the street and only a few feet away from the window from which Pachuca was trying to escape. Not content with barking, the interfering Yellow started on a gallop for the peculiar looking person hanging out of the window. Almost instantly, a light flashed in Scott's room and a head was thrust out of the window.

With an exasperated groan Pachuca drew himself back again and waited. Scott's head was withdrawn, and two seconds later, Scott, himself, clad in pajamas and a bathrobe, dashed out of the cabin and was met by another figure which seemed to spring from nowhere. Pachuca thought the second figure looked like Miller, the man who had brought his blankets, but he was not sure. By this time the dog had stopped barking and was following the two men. Pachuca stood in the window, waiting developments. Scott looked up with evident relief.

"You're there, are you?" he said.

"So it appears," disgustedly. "Am I a cat to scramble out of a window?"

"Well, Yellow was barking at something," replied Scott, with a grin. "Might have been a plain, four-footed one, and it might have been a human puss. If you don't mind, I reckon I'll tie him to the front door down here. He's rough on cats."

"Suit yourself, amigo, I'm going to sleep," was the disdainful reply.

Well, that ended going out by the window. Pachuca, having a Latin dislike for fresh air in the sleeping-room, closed the window angrily and threw himself down on the mattress. It was hard and there was no pillow. The blankets he would need to keep him warm. Pachuca, though used to hardships, dearly loved his comfort. He glanced around the room again; an old office coat hanging on a peg in a corner caught his eye. It would do for a pillow. He took it down and rolled it into a wad. As he did so, a clinking sound became audible. He reached into the pocket—a bunch of keys and an old hunting-knife came to light.

Pachuca grinned. Well, Heaven was looking out for its own; it was not in the nature of things that a Pachuca should be trampled in the dust by the proletariat! Patiently, one after another, he tried the keys—ah, the right one at last! He turned it and the door opened. Pachuca chuckled delightedly; it pleased his whimsicality to think that so apparently unsurmountable a difficulty should be solved in so plain and unromantic a fashion.

He returned to the window and saw Scott and Miller standing outside Scott's cabin; saw Scott go inside and the cabin become dark once more and Miller go on down the street, stopping at the last house near the corral. Pachuca frowned. Was the fellow going in and going to bed like a Christian, or was he going to hang around and keep an eye on the car? This last would be extremely awkward. Miller, however, turned in at the house and disappeared.

Pachuca spent five minutes at the window watching, but he did not reappear. "Ah well, one must risk something!" he mused, and glanced down at the sleeping Yellow. Cautiously and with the soft step of one who has learned the wisdom of a silent tread, the young man slid down the stairway. The door at the foot of the stairs was open; it opened outward and they had tied the dog back of it.

Juan Pachuca opened the hunting-knife and surveyed it in a business-like fashion. There was a sudden movement of his arm and poor Yellow shivered and crumpled up noiselessly. Quietly, the knife still in his hand, Pachuca slipped behind the building and continued his way toward the corral. He reached the car unhindered and breathed a sigh of relief; the rest would be plain sailing. A peep into the tonneau showed him that the plunder had been removed; but that, of course, he had expected. He jumped into the car and started the engine. At the same moment, a burly figure rushed out of the house near by, caught at the car as it started, clung to the running-board and, leaning over, seized Pachuca by the arm.

It was Miller; Miller, who had indeed gone to bed, but whose bed was near the window of the little cabin, and who had been keeping one eye on the car and had emerged, scantily attired in a nightshirt tucked into a pair of trousers, to put a spoke in the Mexican's wheel. Pachuca set his teeth! It was too much—to be so near liberty and then to lose it. A desperate look came into his eyes; he paid no attention to the angry demand of his assailant that he stop the car, but, making a sudden lunge, he drove the hunting-knife into the shoulder of the big man.

"Damn you, put up that knife!" choked Miller, seeing the blow coming but not quickly enough to dodge it. With one hand clutching the car and one holding Pachuca, he was too late to reach his gun. By the time he loosed his hold on the Mexican, the knife had reached its mark; a knife none too sharp, but driven by a practiced hand, it pierced the flesh, and with a groan, Miller dropped off the running-board into the road.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse