Ah, the good car! Pachuca sang with joy as it leaped ahead into the darkness. They would be awake in a moment, the lazy Gringos, but what of it? He would be out of their reach. He laughed as he flew past the house where Polly slept.
"Adieu, pretty American! I kiss your hand—until we meet again!"
Something struck the back of the car with a sharp, tearing sound. Pachuca turned with a grin. A light had sprung up in the house into which he had seen Scott go. With another chuckle, the young Mexican bent over the wheel and whirled down the road toward freedom.
Marc Scott was slow in falling asleep on the night of Pachuca's escape. He was in the habit of rolling over a few times and losing himself; but on this particular night he was tormented by half a dozen ugly little worries. He was worried about Adams, whose leg had a nasty look to the unprofessional eye; he was worried about Pachuca, whose case was going to require a good deal of finesse; and he was worried about Polly Street, who had to be conveyed to the border, revolution or no revolution.
The most pressing danger on his horizon, Scott did not worry about because he did not recognize it. He was like one of those patients in whose system a deadly disease has started, but who remains in perfect health to all outward appearances. He was in happy ignorance of his feelings for Polly Street. He had been in love times enough, he would have told you, to know the symptoms; all of which was quite true, but the fact remained that this time he did not know them.
Polly Street was so exactly the sort of girl that Marc Scott had not the faintest idea of falling in love with, much less marrying, that he would have dismissed the possibility with a shrug. He, who valued his freedom above everything, to throw it away for exactly the kind of woman who would take the greatest pleasure in trampling on it? As for his jealousy of Juan Pachuca, which should have opened his eyes, he put it aside easily. He didn't like the fellow—never had—and it annoyed him to see a decent girl allowing herself to be humbugged by his good looks and oily tongue.
It was a pity, for she was a plucky young thing. She had done well to bring back the prisoner and his car; mighty few girls would have had the courage to try it. It was foolish, of course, a regular kid trick—wouldn't have succeeded once in a dozen times, but nevertheless, she had shown pluck. It was at this stage in his reflections that he had been disturbed by Yellow's barking and had gone out to investigate. The air and the action had changed his circulation and his thought and when he went to bed the second time he dropped off easily.
This time he was aroused by the noise of the engine started by Pachuca on his escape. At first he hardly realized what it was that had wakened him, but as it dawned on his consciousness, he jumped to his feet and rushed to the window in time to see the car tear down the road. With a muttered exclamation, Scott seized his gun and sent a bullet wildly in the direction of the escaping prisoner. Then he drew on his trousers, calling to Hard at the same time.
"What's wrong? Another raid?" growled the sleepy Bostonian, who had dozed peacefully through Pachuca's first attempt.
"No. The guy's got away," snapped Scott, angrily.
"Well, we didn't particularly need him, did we?" observed Hard, sitting up reluctantly.
"We needed his car and needed it bad," said Scott, viciously. He tramped out of the room, while Hard reached drowsily for his clothes.
"By George, he must have made it through the window!" he muttered as he crossed the street, then as he came upon the body of the dog, thrown aside behind the open door, "The dirty butcher!" he growled, furiously. "And I didn't have sense enough to search him for a knife!"
Outside, he met O'Grady and Johnson, sketchily dressed and wrathful.
"You heard him, too, did you?" he growled. "He got out by the window. This is some of his work," he continued, pointing to Yellow.
"He did not," said O'Grady, promptly. "Did you ever hear of a guy jumping out of a second-story winder and shutting it after him?"
"Sure—it's shut," grinned Johnson. "He come out of the door all right. It's wide open, and not hurt, either."
"Who let him out? Where's the key? You had it, O'Grady."
"I did not—you handed it to the girl, yourself. She locked him in all right; I heard her do it," replied O'Grady quickly.
"That explains it," said Scott, shortly. "She came over here and let him out. Might have expected it, I suppose, with a flighty youngster and a smooth talker like Pachuca." He turned away in the direction of the house.
"He's mad!" murmured Johnson, admiringly. He liked a little excitement himself.
"Mad? He's jealous, the fool!" Matt offered, disgustedly.
"Jealous? Who of? The greaser?"
"Sure. Good-looking, Juan is, and a winner with the dames."
"Scott's one of them woman haters. What d'ye mean—jealous?"
"Woman haters?" Matt spat disdainfully. "There ain't no such thing as a woman hater, Tommy, in the whole animal kingdom. Don't you fall for none of that stuff. But, believe me, that girl never opened that door. She's a straight, honest, smart girl, if she is flighty."
"Well, if she didn't, who did?"
"I don't know. I ain't sleuthed around enough yet to find out. Hullo, here's Boston—half asleep, too."
Scott was angry clear through. He did not stop to analyze his emotions—he was not of an analytical mind—and he did not care why he was angry. He felt that Polly Street, a girl of whom he was beginning to think rather highly, had done an unsportsmanlike thing; a thing that Bob's sister ought to have been ashamed to do; had disgraced the family, so to speak, and had seriously inconvenienced him into the bargain.
Scott had depended on that automobile for various things. He wanted it to fetch a doctor for Jimmy, and to take Polly, herself, to the border in comfort. Both these important things she had jeopardized because she had been coaxed into it by a soft-spoken young man with dark eyes. The treasure story he put aside. Even a girl from the East would hardly have taken that stuff seriously, he thought.
He would have felt just the same, he reasoned, had the culprit been Bob instead of Bob's sister. There was, thank Heaven, nothing soft about him! He could see and hear and even enjoy a good-looking girl without making a fool of himself. That was the beauty of being on the way to forty—one saw things in their right light—and did not make a fool of one's self over girls.
"Marc Scott, are we being raided again or what? Did I hear a shot and a machine going by or was I dreaming?" demanded Mrs. Van, who, clad in a blanket kimono, her feet thrust into moccasins, and a gay-looking pink boudoir cap on her head, came to the door before Scott reached it. In her rear could be dimly seen another figure, wrapped in a gray blanket.
"You ought to know," said Scott, rudely; focussing his attention on the pink cap and ignoring the blanketed figure in the rear.
"What do you mean—I ought to know?" indignantly.
"Somebody has unlocked the office door and let that half-breed get away and he's taken his car with him," said Scott. "The key's in your house—that's all."
"Of course it's in this house. It's in the pocket of my sweater," answered Polly, indignantly. "If you think I let him out——" She was too angry to continue.
"Well, he didn't get out by the window because it's shut, and there's no chimney for him to melt out of."
"Look here, Marc Scott, ain't you ashamed of yourself? Coming here and talking to ladies like that—and in the middle of the night, too." Mrs. Van Zandt was as angry as the other two. "That key couldn't get out of this house to-night without my knowing it. He's brainy enough to get out without help, that fellow."
"He may be brainy, but he's hardly brilliant enough to go through a locked door," said Scott, obstinately. "Somebody let him out, that's all. If you'll be kind enough to look for the key, Miss Street, and see if it's been taken away——"
"How could it be? From my room?" demanded Polly, angrily.
"Are you going to hold an inquest over it?" asked Mrs. Van, cuttingly. "I see the jury coming along."
Johnson, O'Grady and Hard were coming across the street. Polly drew her blanket closely around her and tucked one bare foot behind the other. Her reddish colored braids gave her a squaw-like appearance in the darkness.
"It's all right, Scotty, don't stir up the community," called Hard, cheerfully. "I'm the guilty party."
"It never dawned on me till I saw the unlocked door," confessed Hard, with a chuckle. "The chap must have found that old bunch of keys that's been knocking around in the pocket of my old office coat. I'm afraid that's where he got the knife that did for poor Yellow, too."
"Do you mean there was a duplicate key?" demanded Scott.
"There must have been. Clever chap to ferret it out," replied Hard, breezily.
"Mighty clever. I could open a door myself with a key in my hand," muttered Scott, as he turned away. "Well, he's gone and the car's gone and we might as well go back to bed."
"Just one moment." Polly's voice was clear and firm. "I think you owe me an apology, Mr. Scott."
There was a suppressed chuckle from the rear where the train gang still lingered. Scott stiffened and cleared his throat consciously.
"I apologize," he said; then, as he saw the others disappear down the street, "Will you shake hands?"
"Not right now; I'm going to think it over," said the girl, coolly. "I think you should have known that I wouldn't do a thing like that."
"Well, I did know it, of course," confessed Scott, helplessly. "But——"
"But you didn't believe it." Polly's voice was cutting. "Well, next time have a little more faith in your friends, Mr. Scott," and the blanketed figure disappeared into the house.
"She had you there," observed Mrs. Van. "Well, go home to bed before you wake up Jimmy—it's a wonder he's slept through this all right."
She went into the house and knocked softly at the girl's door—after listening a moment and assuring herself that Adams had not wakened. Polly's room was dark and she was standing, still wrapped in the blanket, by the window in the moonlight.
"Well?" she said, rather curtly.
"Nothing—only——" Mrs. Van's usually glib tongue faltered. "I was just going to say that you mustn't take Marc Scott too—too—I mean, you mustn't be too hard on him."
"Yes. It's just his way; he don't mean to be ugly. He's queer, Scotty is, kind of—oh, I don't know how to put it, but he didn't mean to be rude to you."
"He was, though, very rude."
"Yes, that's what I mean. It sort of shocked him to think you'd do a thing like that and he didn't stop to think."
"Maybe he'll stop to think next time."
"Maybe, but I don't reckon so. Folks like that you can't change much; you have to take 'em or leave 'em as they are. He's awful square, though. I'd trust him with anything; money, liquor, or women. When you've been around as much as I have, you'll know that means something."
In the meantime, Scott, Hard, and the train gang, going down to the corral to investigate, found Miller lying as Pachuca had left him, in the middle of the road. He was regaining consciousness as they came along, and did not seem to be badly hurt, the knife having entered the fleshy part of the arm near the shoulder.
"Serves me damn right, bein' so slow with my gun," he said. "I suppose the guy got away?"
"Oh, yes, he got away!" muttered Scott, as they helped Miller to bed. "That's the kind of luck we're playing in just now around here."
Breakfast next morning was not a particularly cheerful meal. Adams was still in bed, and Williams was feverish and cross. Miller seemed little the worse for his accident, but he was blue; he had been particularly attached to the dog and felt its death more than his own misadventure.
"Blankets, canned goods, saddles—everything they could grab," muttered Williams, resentfully. "Nice condition to be in with a revolution looming."
"Not looming, loomed," said O'Grady, cheerfully.
"Wish I could get hold of an Omaha Bee," murmured Johnson. "I never somehow feel like I had a grip on a situation till I've seen my home paper."
"I think I'll ride over to Casa Grande this morning and get the doctor," said Hard. "That leg of Jimmy's needs advice."
"I'll go with you." Scott looked at Polly. "Want to go?" he said; then as she hesitated, he looked at her penitently, smiling as Scott did not often smile, and whispered: "Please do!"
"How mean of him! He knows I'm dying to. How's anybody going to stay mad when they want to do things?" said the girl to herself.
"It's too far for her," objected Mrs. Van.
"We'll send the Chink back," said Scott, persuasively, "and we'll stay all night with Herrick. We'll make him play for you," he added, as Polly smiled in spite of herself. "Will you go?"
"She must," said Hard. "It's her last chance to see the country." And so the matter was settled.
"That Chink'll ride the whole twenty miles on a dead run—he'll be here to dinner," said Matt. "Ever see a Chinaman ride?"
"He'll ride his own horse, then," replied Scott, as he left the room. "Perhaps we'll bring Herrick back with us, Mrs. Van."
"He won't leave that piano of his," prophesied Mrs. Van Zandt. "No more than a mother'd leave her baby when there was danger around."
It was ten o'clock when the three riders started on their trip, Scott preserving a reasonably cheerful face, in spite of the fact that he hated late starts. It was a beautiful morning; the sky, blue and cloudless, the air fresh and invigorating with the crispness of early spring, the radiant clearness of the atmosphere making neighbors of the mountains, all combined to make a tonic which showed signs of going to Polly's head. After all, there are few sensations like the starting out upon a horseback trip; the mare's springy trot, the freshness of her own healthy body, even the feel of the bridle reins brought her joy.
"You look mighty happy," commented Hard. "It must be pleasant to be twenty-three."
Polly laughed. "It is," she admitted. "But I'm going to be just as happy at forty-three. I've found the recipe."
"Will you sell it to me? My next one happens to be my forty-second. I'll be needing it soon."
"I'll make you a present of it. Stay out-of-doors and keep on doing things. Of course, I haven't tried it for forty-three years, but I feel in my bones that it will work."
"I never could see, myself, how people could spend twenty-two out of their twenty-four hours under a roof, the way most of them do," said Scott, thoughtfully. "Here, we turn now into the trail."
"That's where Pachuca's men went yesterday," said Polly. "I hope we don't meet them."
"No danger of that. Those fly-by-nights are a long way from here by this time."
"They told me yesterday in Conejo that Obregon had been put under arrest in Mexico City. If that's true it may put a cog in the revolutionary machinery," said Hard.
"I wish we'd managed to keep our hands on that automobile," remarked Scott, wistfully. "I don't half fancy trying to make the border in a wagon, and no one knows how the railroads will be."
The trail debouched from the road, running over ground very slightly elevated. There was for some distance no particular reason as far as Polly could see for its being a trail at all except that it hadn't been sufficiently traveled to make it a road. It was merely a narrow little path leading over some very barren-looking country, but leading ever upward, gradually but surely, toward the hills.
"You see, the regular road runs fairly straight along toward Conejo for maybe twenty miles, and then meets a crossroad which runs past Casa Grande," explained Scott. "Now, with this trail, we cut directly across those foothills, over a couple of ranges of mountains, across a big mesa and down. Casa Grande is almost in a straight line from here and we cut off a lot."
"Casa Grande is an awfully fancy sort of name. Is it a wonderful place?"
"Just a good little ranch. These Latins like big sounding names," replied Scott. "Casa Grande is very common down here."
A dip in the trail took them into an arroyo and out the other side, where they lost sight entirely of Athens. A few moments later, they wound their way through some brush into a narrow canyon, walled on one side by hills and with a drop of some fifteen feet on the other side into a ravine. Out of the ravine grew more brush so densely that it almost crowded the little trail out of existence.
Here it was necessary to go single file and Polly noticed how naturally Scott took the lead, leaving her to follow and Hard to bring up the rear. She noted with some amusement that it seemed characteristic of him to take the lead everywhere, just as it seemed quite in keeping with Hard's easy-going nature to fall into the rear.
"And yet of the two Mr. Hard has the education and the brains," thought the girl. "No, that's not fair. I believe you can have just as good a brain without education—only you're hampered in the use of it. Marc Scott has what the psychologists call 'initiative.' Oh, look!"
High up in the air a bird had flown out from among the tree-tops on the other side of the canyon—a big bird with wide spreading wings.
"It's an eagle."
"An eagle!" Polly was awed.
"There's a nest up there somewhere," said Scott, shading his eyes with his hand and peering upward. "Last year I was riding over this trail with Gomez, an Indian we had working for us. We were just about here when an eagle, a young one, flew out from the trees. Before I could speak, Gomez up with his gun and shot it."
"I wanted to kill the geezer—but Lord, what can you expect of an Indian?"
As they proceeded, Polly found herself riding closer to Scott, while Hard lagged behind. She was not displeased. Scott on horseback and in the woods was Scott at his best as she was beginning to know.
"I'm wondering," she said, as the mare pushed her nose along the big bay's flank, "how you know so much about the country. You aren't a Westerner, are you?"
"Me? No, indeed. Born in New York State and raised in Michigan. Never laid eyes on anything west of the Mississippi until I came out to Colorado to work in the mines. Then I drifted into New Mexico and down here." Scott was riding with his knee around the pommel and talking meditatively over his shoulder.
"You see, I've got mining in my blood. My grandfather was a Forty-Niner."
"Did he get rich?" asked Polly, interestedly.
"Not so's you'd notice it. Spent all he had and died trying to get home."
"Hard luck, wasn't it? My folks went to Detroit when I was a little codger and they both died there. I was adopted by an uncle—an uncle who was the whitest man God ever made," declared Scott, solemnly.
"Why was he—I mean, how was he?" Polly had by nature that healthy capacity for asking questions, which is one of the most flattering characteristics that a woman can have or assume.
"He was always doing decent things. Didn't have much money, either, but somehow he always made it do for a lot of folks who didn't have any. He adopted a girl that wasn't any kin to him, had her educated and then married her. She made him a fine wife, too, thought the world of him. Well, he adopted me and sent me to school and when he saw I had the roving instinct and couldn't stick to the books, he gave me a lift to go West to the mines. He knew that there was no use arguing.
"He was queer, too. Didn't like city folks nor their ways. He owned one of those big farms out near what's now Grosse Pointe—ran down to the river—and when the town began to grow out toward them, instead of holding on to his land as it began to get valuable, he'd sell out and go further away. Died, leaving Aunt Mary just enough to live comfortably on—might have been a millionaire. But Uncle Silas was a wise man.
"Sometimes when I look at these tight-fisted old guys who make their millions and tie 'em up into estates to hand down, and then remember Uncle Silas—not giving a hoot for money and always pulling along a dozen or two poor relations and setting 'em on their feet, living comfortable and happy, leaving a wife that's as fond of him to-day as she was the day he died—well, I sort of wonder if money and success mean as much as folks think they do."
Scott's autobiography was halted by the view which met their eyes as they rounded the turn at the top of the canyon. Turning, the narrow trail wound its way around the mountainside until one looked down upon the tops of foothills, green with scrubby vegetation. Then it stretched in an irregular line down the mountainside, to disappear in their midst. Beyond lay another range of mountains.
"Back of that range and across the mesa is where Herrick's place is," said Scott, as they drew rein and waited for Hard to come along. Polly gazed in silence. It was the first view she had had of the wilder part of the country and it thrilled her.
Hard came up with them. "Don't you think we'd better make a little speed when we hit the level?" he said.
"We've only crossed one stream since we started," observed Polly.
"We cross another just before we get to Herrick's," said Hard, "but it never has much water in it except in the rainy season."
"I've seen plenty in it then," said Scott, laughing. "I was caught on the wrong side once when they'd had a cloudburst in the mountains. Oh boy, you should have seen her come down! Swept away a wagon with two horses and the Mexican who was driving it in just two minutes."
"Oh, how could it—in two minutes?"
"Well, it could and did. Before that there wasn't a foot of water in the river bed. When the water came thundering down there was eight or ten. Picked up trees, bushes, chicken coops, greasers—anything in its way, and whirled 'em down the canyon."
It was the middle of the afternoon when they crossed the second range, which they did by means of a trail which went through a gap, thus cutting off the worst of the ascent. Once through the gap, they came out upon a huge mesa from which they looked down upon the valley in which Casa Grande was located. On the mesa, the tired horses broke into the little easy-going jog which mountain ponies love.
Scott watched Polly's sparkling eyes with real gratification. He had chosen to go by trail rather than by road very largely that she might have this experience. He wanted her to see more of the country before she went back to the city and its ways.
"She's a natural out-of-doors woman, and she's never had the chance to find it out," he mused. "Better than a golf course?" he asked, as they trotted across the broad mesa.
"Oh!" she cried, reproachfully. "It's like the happy hunting grounds! I never understood before why the Indians called their Heaven that. It was because they were thinking of space and openness and freedom. I think it beats our kind of Heaven all hollow," finished the cheerful product of 1920.
Finally they came out on the other side of the little river bed, which lay below the mesa and was entered by means of a rocky staircase, crossed a round-topped hill, and there, in a flat little valley surrounded by hills, the rear view of the Casa Grande ranch-house became visible. Two or three smaller buildings stood near it and a fence marked the corral.
There was a great stillness about the place; the whole panorama suggested a picture rather than an actuality, except for the white clouds sailing slowly about in the blue sky, and an occasional bird flying from one tree or bush to another.
"I don't like things being so still," said Scott. "Let's push on." Riding around to the front of the house—a long, narrow, adobe building, they came upon the first real sign of habitation; a brown hen, who, accompanied by her family, was scratching around the walk with an immense show of industry; while on the veranda sat two men. One was a white man; the other, a Chinese, dressed in the dark blue shirt and trousers of his people. As the newcomers dismounted, the white man came forward.
"Humph, it's you!" he remarked, with evident relief. "Well, here is what is left of a once prosperous household."
He was a little man, thin and wiry, with bushy brown hair and beard, and keen dark eyes. His hands, slender and with long white fingers, played nervously with a quirt which he held, apparently for no purpose than that those nervous members might have occupation.
"What's happened?" demanded Scott. "How do, Li Yow?" as the Chinaman came forward smilingly to take the horses.
"All gone," he said, blandly. "Laided. One hen, some shickens—notting else left."
"Raided! Did that young rascal——" began Hard, when Herrick interrupted impatiently.
"Oh, he has been to you, too? He makes a clean sweep of it! He comes here at noon with a score, perhaps, of men; and if there is anything they do not take, it is because it is broken—like my wagon. Men, money, and stock—our neighbor is thorough and no mistake!"
"I was afraid of it," said Scott. "He's cleaning up the community. Herrick, I want you to know Bob Street's sister, Miss Polly Street." He added a few words of explanation of the girl's presence. Herrick surveyed her with interest.
"You are unlucky to strike this country at such a time," he said. "Unless you like experiences?"
"I do," said Polly, promptly. "That's why they're sending me home."
The little man smiled. "After all, most experience is worth while," he said. "Sit down and rest—you will stay, all of you, won't you? For the night? There is some food left."
Scott and Li Yow walked away with the horses to the barn which stood not a great way from the house, surrounded by a good-sized corral. Polly sank into an easy chair which commanded through a window a view of a part of the living-room. She caught a glimpse of a grand piano, bright colored rugs, bookcases overflowing with books, and other evidences of comfort. Hard gave their host an account of the Athens hold-up, not forgetting the part Polly had played in it.
"I remembered," he said, "that Li was a doctor, and thought perhaps you'd loan him to us for Jimmy. We don't think much of the Conejo medico."
"Himmel, no!" responded Herrick, quickly. "You shall have Li, of course."
Polly leaned back with a little sigh of content. Herrick smiled.
"You are tired," he said, "and by and by you will be chilly. Henry, as Li is busy, suppose you build up a fire in the living-room?"
Polly looked a bit surprised, but Hard laughed as he went into the house.
"Herrick never does any rough work," he said, indulgently. "He has to take care of his hands."
"So!" replied their host, "my fingers are my good friends, consequently I take good care of them. Why not? Some day I may need their services again."
"I hope so," said Polly, frankly. "I think it's rather dreadful for an artist to bury himself in a place like this."
"One does not bury oneself, my child, one rests and creates," said the musician, gently. "Ah, here is Scott! He has been looking at my wagon."
Scott tossed Polly her long cloak which she had left on her saddle.
"Yes, I took a look at the wagon, while Li turned the horses out," he said. "I think I can patch it up so that we can drive to Athens in it. You see, Herrick, we've only got three horses and I have to send Li back on one of them to-night."
"Can he make it—the horse?"
"With a little rest and a feed—if Li takes it easy. Of course, it's not the way I like to treat my horses, but Jimmy's leg is in a bad state."
"Very well. You may have Li and also the wagon," replied Herrick. "The more willingly because I have a favor to ask of you."
"Of course. What is it?"
"I have a guest," said the other, slowly. "A lady, from the South. She has had to leave her plantation and is on her way back to the United States. I had intended taking her to the border, but since you are sending this young lady——" He stopped, and Polly thought she saw a look of understanding pass between them.
"We'll see her through, of course," said Scott, readily. "Can she be ready to go in the morning?"
"I should think so," replied the little man; "we will ask her." To Polly's disappointment, the talk passed on to the revolution and other political subjects, and nothing more was said about the mysterious guest. "If they're going to tack a Mexican refugee to me, they might at least tell me something about her!" she thought.
In the meantime, Hard had entered the living-room and was examining the contents of the wood-box.
"Empty, of course!" he said, with a smile. "The household is quite evidently off its balance." He went out through the kitchen and returned in a few minutes with a basket of logs from the wood-pile. As he re-entered the living-room, a woman—a tall, slender, graceful woman, with black hair and eyes, entered it from the hall. There was a moment's silence and then the basket of wood dropped crashingly from Hard's arms. The woman smiled.
"Henry!" she exclaimed, coming forward, both hands outstretched. "Henry! I heard your voice—I'd have known it anywhere, even if Victor hadn't told me that you lived near here. You haven't changed one bit in—how many years is it since I saw you?"
"Fifteen years, six months, and twenty-seven days, Clara," replied the tall Bostonian, taking her hands and leading her to the light. Something in her easy, friendly manner had softened both the shock of the surprise and the embarrassment of the situation. He looked long into her face and then dropped her hands. She sank into a chair by the fireplace.
"It is a long time, isn't it?" she said, smiling.
"No one would think so to look at you," said Hard, sincerely. "You are the same Clara Mallory who went to Paris fifteen years ago to study music." He picked up the basket of wood and proceeded to build the fire. She watched him, her eyes misty.
"Well, it's odd that I haven't changed for I've been through a lot," she said, with a little smile. "And you?"
"Just the same easy-going, good-for-nothing chap, I reckon," replied Hard.
"But this mining business? But, of course, you were educated for it at the Tech——"
"Yes, without much idea of using it."
"But, being a Hard, you weren't contented with doing nothing," said Mrs. Conrad. "You know why I'm here, I suppose?"
"No. Herrick told me some time ago that you were living down near Mexico City—and that Dick Conrad had died, and how."
Mrs. Conrad was silent for a moment. "Two years ago," she said, quietly. "While he lived, we managed to hold down the plantation fairly well. He got on well with the government, and he organized the peons and fought off the bandits. Since then, things have gone rather badly; it takes a man to handle that kind of a situation. I've been raided six times in two years and my patience is almost gone.
"I wrote up here to Victor; he's always been a good friend of mine—I studied with him in London, you know, and knew his wife well. He advised me to sell and go home. I didn't take his advice about selling; I couldn't get anything decent for the place right now, and I've a fairly good man running it for me. I have faith in this country and I intend to come back some day and go on with my plantation."
"You always were plucky, Clara." Hard touched a match to his fire. "But Mexico's no place for you. Where are you going?"
"I don't know," admitted Clara, frankly. "Back to the States, of course, but where and for what I don't know. But I hope—my music."
"Victor says it's not too late—but—well, perhaps. I'm out of the way of cities, and I've enough so that I don't have to do anything, but—oh, I would love to be at it again!"
Hard smiled. "You will, Clara. You're not an idler—as I am. You'll be in the thick of it in no time."
"Ah, you have found one another! I thought perhaps you would." Herrick's voice broke in upon their talk. He was followed by Polly and Scott, and introductions and explanations came naturally.
"It's not a Mexican refugee, and it is the lady of the photograph!" Polly said to herself, triumphantly. "But it doesn't look to me much like a love affair. They've got over it evidently."
"So you also were raided by Juan Pachuca?" said Mrs. Conrad, as Scott seated himself beside her. The latter nodded.
"I happened to hear him talking to one of my men," said Herrick, "and telling him that he had a rendezvous with Angel Gonzales, somewhere in the vicinity—not too near, I hope. I don't want Angel Gonzales on my place; I'd rather entertain the devil."
"What a queer name—Angel! Who is he?" asked Polly, curiously. She was beginning to realize, since she had gotten off her horse and relaxed into the comfort of an easy chair near the fire, how very tired she was.
"A young ruffian with a price on his head," replied Herrick. "He's half Indian and half Mexican and they tell me that both halves are very bad indeed."
"If Gonzales—by the way, Miss Polly, don't mix him up with Pablo Gonzales who is a general of note and one of the candidates for the next presidency——" said Hard, laughing. "If Gonzales is trying to get in with the new party, he must have inside information that the revolution is going to be a success."
"Well, its first work had better be to line Angel and a few more of his kind up against a wall and settle 'em with a firing squad," said Scott.
"That's what I think," declared Mrs. Conrad. "I don't put much faith in this regiment business. I think Pachuca has simply gone back to first principles and run amuck."
"I don't believe——" Polly stopped, consciously.
"Miss Polly thinks he's a gentleman and that ends it," said Scott, drily.
"She's young, and the wretch has a way with him. I liked him myself when I was young and frivolous," said Mrs. Conrad, cheerfully. "I've entertained him many a time in Mexico City. Suppose you go into my room, my dear, and have a nice rest and clean up while I go and help Li rustle us a dinner out of the remnants?" she continued, taking the girl by the hand.
"If Angel Gonzales is playing around this neighborhood, the sooner we get away the better," said Scott to Hard as the three men were left together. "Come and cast your weather eye over the wagon. For a quiet part of the country, we seem to have struck a bad gait."
It was nearly eight o'clock when they sat down to their dinner; a dinner contrived with Oriental thrift from materials scorned by the marauders.
"Give a Chinaman a handful of rice and a few vegetables and he'll make you a feast, so my husband used to say," remarked Mrs. Conrad. "You simply can't starve them."
"Li wants to start right after dinner," said Scott.
"And ride all night?" asked Herrick.
"He says so. He says he knows the trail, and, of course, he's got the moon."
A little later, as they sat around the fire, they heard the sound of his horse's feet on the stones and knew that the Chinaman had started.
Polly began to feel the charm of the quaint room, with its dim lighting, the low fire, the fantastic patterns of rug and basket showing faintly, and through the windows the mountains and the stars. As the conversation began to yield to the quiet of the place, Herrick went to the piano and played softly. It had never fallen to the lot of the girl to hear such music; the revelation of a man's soul, poured out through an absolute mastery of the art. The little man, with the brown beard and the long nervous hands, sat hunched up in his low chair, knees crossed, eyes half closed, drawing from the keyboard the chords which carried to each one the message of his own heart.
Presently, Clara Conrad rose, and, standing back of the piano, leaning over it, her hands clasped, began to sing—softly and easily—her voice, a rich contralto, blending with Herrick's small but exquisite baritone, in an old song. Polly looked at Hard, seated in a dim corner, his chin resting on his hand, his eyes fixed on the two at the piano. She wondered what he was thinking and what the woman meant to him. There was something almost too intimate about the whole scene and she was glad when Scott rose and went toward the door, speaking to her as he passed her.
"Want to see a pretty sight?" he said. She nodded and followed him out. For miles in front of them stretched the hilly country, dotted here and there in the half light by clumps of trees and bushes showing inky black in the night, while in the distance stretched the mountains, irregular, dark, and mysterious looking. Over all shone the moon, while the stars—but who can describe the stars in a desert country?
"Makes you feel like you'd never seen stars before, doesn't it?" asked Scott, as the girl stood, drinking in the scene.
"Doesn't it? So many, so bright and so twinkly! Do you know, I don't wonder that Mrs. Conrad's rather a wonderful woman—living all the time with this."
"Well, she is, rather. She's had a hard life, too; lots of trouble."
"Wasn't her husband—I mean, weren't they happy together?" asked the girl.
"Why, yes, I guess they were," replied Scott, cautiously. "I reckon they were like most married folks, rubbed along together pretty well."
"But you said she'd had lots of trouble."
Scott smiled. "And you made up your mind right off that it was a love affair, eh? You're a good deal of a kid, aren't you?"
Polly flushed. "I think you're rather inconsiderate," she said, crossly. "You start up my curiosity and then you make fun of me. I don't think I like the way you treat me, most of the time."
"I don't think it's fair, myself," said Scott, penitently. "I suppose a girl brought up as you've been oughtn't to be blamed for seeing a love affair behind every bush."
"Why do you say brought up as I've been?"
"I mean having everything easy; everything done for you. No real hard knocks in life."
"Oh, well, if that's all, I'll probably have hard knocks enough before I get through. Most people do, I've noticed," replied Polly, easily. "I'll probably marry somebody who'll spend all his money and leave me eight children to support, or else I'll die a rheumaticky old maid. Will that satisfy you?"
"Don't talk that way," said Scott, sharply. "It's unlucky."
"Unlucky? Are you superstitious?"
"No, but I've noticed that people who are always expecting bad luck usually get it. I'd hate to have you——" he stopped, and Polly caught a look in his eyes that startled her.
"Die a rheumaticky old maid?" she said, nervously. "Well, I don't want to, either, but it seems to me that the number of people who get out of this world without a lot of trouble of some kind or other is a pretty small one, so you needn't begrudge me a few years of easy going. What was Mrs. Conrad's trouble?"
"She's had a good deal of it first and last, but I was thinking of her husband's death, two years ago."
"Did you know her then?"
"Me? No, indeed, I never met her before to-night, but Hard told me, and so did Herrick. I don't reckon Hard would mind my telling you her story, now you've met her. You see, he and she were young folks together in Boston. I guess they sort of played at being in love with each other, like young folks do. Then her father died, and left her with hardly anything, and that woke 'em up. It made things look more serious.
"Hard wanted to marry her, but she wouldn't. She had a voice and she wanted a career; so she went to Europe. That's where she met Herrick and took lessons of him. Then, suddenly, instead of going on the stage, she married one of those floating Englishmen. Met him in Paris, married him, and came over here with him."
"Didn't she care for Mr. Hard?"
"Well, it's pretty hard sometimes to know who a woman does care for," said Scott, candidly. "But if she did, she must have got over it. Or maybe she got tired of the singing business and took Conrad in a fit of the blues. I've known 'em to do that."
"Men, I suppose, never marry for reasons of that sort!"
"Men? Lord, yes, men'll do anything—most of 'em," grinned Scott, cheerfully. "We're a rum lot. Anyhow, Mrs. Conrad married her Englishman and came over to the coffee plantation with him. I guess they had some trouble like everybody else has had these last few years, but they managed to weather it. Then, about two years ago, they went on a hunting trip, up in the mountains, just the two of them and a Mexican boy. While they were there, Conrad shot himself while he was cleaning his gun."
"It was hopeless from the first and she knew it, but she stayed alone with him and sent the boy back to the ranch for a doctor. He died while they were there alone."
Polly's eyes had tears in them. She was staring wistfully at the mountains. "I'm trying to think what it would mean—being up there, alone, with someone you loved who was dying," she said at last. "No wonder little things don't bother a woman who's been through a thing like that."
"Yes, it's those things that make character, I guess," said Scott, thoughtfully. "Or break it."
"Hasn't Mr. Hard ever been down there to see her?"
"No, there's a proud streak in Hard—or maybe he's got over his feeling for her. He never would let her know he was in the country. I rather guess Herrick planned this."
"I wonder? Oh, what is it? What do you see?" she cried, as she noticed that Scott's attention was no longer on her, but was fastened upon the dark foothills which rose between them and the mountains.
"I don't know; wish I had my glasses! Looks to me like fellows riding—do you see 'em? Over there, coming through that darkish spot between the foothills? Wonder if we're in for another row?"
"No—yes, it is! Coming this way!"
"Go in and tell them to put out the lights and stop that noise quick!" Scott's voice was hard and sharp. Polly darted into the house. Scott strained his eyes to watch the party of riders racking recklessly down the dark roadway from the hills. "It can't be Pachuca!" he muttered. "He wouldn't come back. It must be that damned young Angel. Well, I guess we're in for trouble before daybreak."
"What is it?" Hard was at his elbow. Scott turned and saw that the house was dark.
"It's a bunch on horseback—see, over yonder? They're making good time; they'll be on us in half a minute. Where's Herrick?"
"Getting the rifles. Where are the horses?"
"In the pasture, up by the river. They'll not find them in a hurry."
"Hadn't we better have the women go up there, too?" said Hard, anxiously.
"I don't believe so. If they're bound for us, there's no time. I think——"
"Mr. Scott," Clara Conrad's voice came softly from the dark doorway, "if that's Angel Gonzales why can't we all go——"
"I don't know who it is, and the moon's too strong out there—they'd spot you in a minute."
"But we can't sit here and do nothing!"
"You can do as you please." Scott's voice was ugly with the ugliness of strained nerves. "I say stick to shelter while you've got it." He drew his revolver as he spoke and examined it.
"They're coming fast." Hard's voice was tense. Herrick carrying three rifles came out.
"Get inside—everybody!" ordered Scott. The party had turned in from the road and were dashing toward them. Mrs. Conrad and Polly were already in the house. The men followed. "They ride like Indians, Hard; I believe it's Yaquis on the warpath!" He and Hard stationed themselves at the open windows in the darkness. "I'm for waiting till they attack us; what do you think?"
"Yes. Let them make the first move."
The intruders were at the gate. Now they swept in, a couple of score of them. They whirled and made for the barn.
"They're Indians, all right," whispered Scott. "They're after the horses."
The silence was complete for a few seconds, the women obediently crouching in the darkest corner scarcely seeming to breathe, Scott and Hard, hidden behind the light curtains, keeping their eyes fixed upon the swiftly moving figures outside, Herrick standing just within the doorway. Suddenly, cries broke the stillness. Two of the Yaquis who had entered the barn came out with the news. The yells were of rage.
"No horses!" grinned Scott. "Their feelings are hurt. Here's where the play begins."
"They're firing the barn," said Hard, grimly.
They were. It blazed like a child's bonfire and the shouts and curses of the disappointed Yaquis rose with the flames.
In another moment the Indians had ridden toward the house. Polly, who in spite of orders, had crept toward the window saw them in amazement. Between the moon and the light of the blazing barn, they were distinctly visible.
"But they can't be Indians!" she exclaimed, at Scott's elbow. "They're just like our Mexicans!"
"Did you expect them to wear scalp locks? Get out of range, quick! Hard, cover the second chap, there. I'm going to give the first boy a shock. They'll be in here in half a minute if I don't."
His shot rang out and the bullet flew over the Indian's head. It was close enough to make him pull his horse to its haunches while those behind him did the same.
"While I'm talking to him, you women slide out the back door," muttered Scott, hurriedly. "Make for the stream and the horses while they're watching us. Hello, out there, what do you want?" he said in Spanish.
Mrs. Conrad gripped Polly's arm. "Come!" she said.
"We can't!" demurred the girl. "We can't leave them like this."
"Come!" repeated Clara, angrily. "Do you want to fall into their hands?" Polly, too frightened by her tone to resist, crept softly behind her. They heard the Indian at whom Scott had fired answer. To Polly it meant nothing, but Clara's ears, accustomed to the tongue, caught an angry demand for horses, food and money.
"We haven't any of those things. We've just been raided—cleaned out—we're as poor as you are," was Scott's reply. The Indians conferred together. "It's a question of whether they think we're lying or not," said Scott, drily.
"Exactly. And they have unfortunately every reason to believe that a white man usually is," replied Hard. "What's the play if they come at us?"
"Shoot as many as we can," said Scott. "They'll do the rest. That's why I sent the women off."
"I thought so. Well, here goes. I ought to be able to get a couple before I cash in though I'm not considered very dangerous with firearms," replied Hard, calmly, though his heart was registering something approaching acute blood pressure.
From the leader came in angry Spanish: "We don't believe you! We'll come and get it."
"Come on!" yelled Herrick. Instantly, a dozen Yaquis were off their horses and running toward the house, shooting as they came. As instantly, two of the leaders fell in the path of the others.
"Good boy, Herrick!" cried Scott. "Let 'em have it again!" he yelled, as the Indians, halted for a moment by the fall of their men, came on again. The shots rang out again but this time no one fell. Hard felt something sing by him in the darkness and thanked God that the women were not there. Herrick rushed over for more cartridges.
"They're coming!" he shouted, excitedly.
"Let 'em come. Some of 'em are coming to something they won't like," growled Scott. "Look out—in the doorway!"
Two Indians had burst their way into the house, but disconcerted by its utter darkness after the moonlight outside, paused a moment to get their bearings. Scott, Hard and Herrick shot with one accord. One Indian came on; the other uttered a cry of pain; then both dashed outside for the shelter of the veranda. There was silence; the Indians hesitating in doubt as to their companions' fate, the white men uncertain as to what form the attack would take next.
"Are the women gone?" Herrick called softly.
"Yes," replied Hard. "Are you all right?"
"So. They whistle through my hair but they do not touch me," replied the musician, cheerfully.
"Here they come!" cried Scott, impatiently. "Watch your shots!"
The Indians were coming, and coming in a body.
"Gosh, it's going to be all day with us in half a minute!" gasped Scott. "Let 'em have it as hard as you can, boys. We may be able to hold 'em long enough to give the women a chance to get the horses."
Hard clenched his teeth and bent his eye on his rifle. In another moment the invaders would be upon them—when, sharp and decisive came the sound of shots; shots from among the foothills, followed by yells. There was a cry from the Indian who led the rush; a wavering of the line; and a stop. They broke into loud talk. In the meantime, the shots and yells continued. They seemed to come from two directions.
"There's another crowd back in the hills. They've got another fight on their hands," muttered Scott, listening. "It's a flank attack and these fellows don't like it."
"If it is——"
"It is. Hear that!"
There were more yells; the Yaquis outside flung themselves into their saddles and in another moment the two wounded men lying near the windows were all that remained of the attack.
"By golly, I've heard of luck before, but this is a case of the pure and unadulterated article," said Scott, awed.
Hard did not reply. He was taking a deep breath—the first in several minutes. Herrick whistled cheerfully.
"Unless it's Angel Gonzales," continued Scott, pensively. "In that case it's a question of 'Go it, old woman; go it, b'ar.'"
"Let's go after the horses and the women," said Hard. "The quicker we hit the trail for home the better my circulation's going to be. I think the Hards must have deteriorated considerably since the battle of Lexington. I'm getting to be a regular old woman."
Scott laughed. "You're a pretty good pal in a fight, old man," he said, simply. "I think you winged one of those birds outside. Shall we go and have a look?"
"Not I," replied Hard, decidedly. "It's unpleasant enough to me to kill a man without pawing him over afterward."
Scott went outside and looked over the victims of the fight.
"Dead, both of them," he said, briefly. "Come on, let's get out of this before their friends come back." And to the sounds of yells and shots in the distance they made their way toward the stream.
A NIGHT RIDE
When Li Yow clattered up the trail leading out of the river bed and up the mesa, he was a happy man, in spite of the fact that a horse was to him the last means of locomotion that he would have chosen for an all night trip, with the possible exception of a camel or an elephant. Except as objects for his scientific skill, horses were not dear to his heart. A wagon, a train, an automobile, these were sensible conveyances for an intellectual man of an old and distinguished family going about his business, but a horse, never!
Not that Li would have admitted that his family was old. Distinguished, perhaps, but scarcely old when it only counted its ancestry through some eight or nine hundred years. In China that is to be classed among the blatantly new. He was happy, however, because he was being given a chance to use his skill for that great purpose for which it had been acquired, the alleviation of pain.
Li was a student, and for five years he had had very little opportunity for the work that he loved. With the patience of the Oriental, he had toiled at an inferior art; now opportunity had come, and so eager was he to grasp it, that a twenty-mile ride on an uncongenial animal, in the night, did not deter him. Not that he was afraid of the dark as we like to think the Chinese are. Li Yow had a philosophy, old when the Christian philosophy was born, which amply sufficed to relieve his mind of any superstitious terrors. Mexicans on the rampage, and Yaquis on the warpath, did not, however, come under the category of superstitious fears, and he heartily hoped he might accomplish his journey without meeting either of them.
He rode Scott's big roan, Cochise, a common-sense animal which could be trusted to the tender mercies of what its master called "a crazy Chink." This excellent beast understood thoroughly the art of saving his strength, and curbing any foolish enthusiasm on the part of a rider to race up-hill or to exhaust one's wind too early in the game.
"Spirit and a bit of deviltry are all right in a horse or a woman, I'll grant you," Scott used to say when anyone derided the roan. "But the horse or the woman who lives with me has got to have common sense."
So Li Yow and Cochise trotted placidly along the mesa, one thinking of the joys of surgery, and the other of the pleasure of feeding in one's own corral. They had been out a couple of hours perhaps, and Li, moved by the beauty of the night, quoted a fragment of eighth century poetry and turned in his saddle to see how far he had come—when, suddenly, he gave an exclamation of horror!
Back of him, across the river bed, back of the round-topped hill, from exactly the spot where Casa Grande stood, he saw the tops of flames shooting up against the sky line! Something was being burned. Something sizable, or its flames would not rise so high. It must be either Casa Grande, its barn, or both. Li's heart stood still. He stopped Cochise in sympathy with that important organ. What to do? At Casa Grande was a friend to whom he was attached. Things of a most unpleasant nature might be happening to him—could he ride away and leave him?
On the other hand, what could he do—a lone Chinese, unarmed except for a formidable surgical apparatus? After all, they had two horses and perhaps they had seen the brigands coming and had escaped. Still, if he went back they would have three horses. The women could ride and the men could ride and tie. Li groaned in spirit. He hated walking more than he hated riding.
Obviously his duty was to go back and offer his help such as it was. If they were fighting, it would not be worth much, unless he could persuade a Mexican or two to stand still while he stabbed them with a lancet. With a sigh, Li turned Cochise in the direction of Casa Grande and applied an encouraging dig of the heel.
Cochise, however, saw things differently. He had started for Athens. Athens was home and a good place at that. He saw no reason for going back just to please an ignoramus who didn't know how to ride and who would probably change his mind again before they had gone a mile. Consequently, when Li kicked, Cochise threw his head in the air and made crab-like motions with his legs. Li pulled and Cochise reared. Li, mindful of past instructions, loosed the reins and Cochise whirled. Li leaned over and patted the horse's neck and Cochise bucked.
It was a nice exhibition of obstinacy on the part of both man and beast, and no one there but the moon to witness it. The buck, however, did the business. A bump and a rattle reminded Li Yow of his precious medical chest—absolutely unreplaceable—and with a frightened:
"Whoa, thou son of evil, thou animal of ill omen!" he gave in; and Cochise, secure in his victory, settled down to a trot again. "Ah, well, a sensible man spends no time in weeping over the inevitable," meditated Li. "What is to be, will be. The young man with the injured leg is the gainer by thy obstinacy, oh, vile beast!"
At daybreak a tired man and a stiff horse arrived at Athens. Mrs. Van Zandt saw them because she was up attending to Adams who was suffering. She hailed the Chinaman from her doorway, bathrobed and boudoir capped as she was.
"Is that you, Marc Scott?" she called anxiously, as she recognized Cochise.
"No, lady," replied Li, in his professional manner. "This not Mr. Scott, this Li Yow from Casa Grande. I come see sick boy," and he rolled off the horse.
"Well, that's good, he needs you! Leave the horse and come in." Li complied and Cochise, released, started wearily for the corral. "See here," Mrs. Van Zandt led the way to the bedroom, "I guess you're pretty well used up, ain't you? I'm going to get you something to eat in a minute. Did you have a hard ride?" She had got a light and looked at him curiously. Li Yow did look very much used up.
"I hurry a great lot," he said, simply. "I want go back but the horse he want come on."
"What did you want to go back for?"
"Fire. I see big fire at Casa Grande," replied the Chinaman, gravely. "I much afraid the bandits burn the house."
Mrs. Van Zandt pulled him suddenly from the bedroom door.
"Good land, man, don't let the boy hear you! He's half out of his head now. What do you mean? Has Casa Grande been raided?"
"Yes. He come morning, take everything—horses, chow, money, everything! Then Mr. Scott's folks they come in afternoon. Only thlee horse for everybody. Mr. Scott say he mend wagon and they come over to-morrow. I come to-night to see sick boy. When I get up on mesa I see fire—don't know who make him but mebbe bandits."
Mrs. Van Zandt turned pale. Clutching her bathrobe tightly she made for the door. "Look here," she called, over her shoulder, "you look after the boy and mind you don't spill any of that news before him. I'll get you some breakfast and see what's to be done."
Then she came back. "They were all right when you left them? The young lady, too?" she queried, anxiously.
"Yes, they all light. Both them ladies all light."
"Both! Who's the other?" demanded Mrs. Van Zandt, instantly.
"Mr. Hellick got flend—Mrs. Conlad," said Li, wearily. "She come day before yest'day—from Mexico City. Mr. Hard's flend, too."
"Good Heavens, now what do you suppose the heathen means by that?" gasped the astonished woman. "Come here," she added, sternly, and seizing the Chinaman by the sleeve of his blouse, she led him into the room occupied by Polly. Dramatically, she pointed to the photograph on the wall. "Is that the woman you're talking about?"
Li examined the face gravely and nodded. "Yes," he said, "only younger here."
Mrs. Van released him suddenly. "All right, go on in and see the boy," she said, and hurried down the street. "Fire and bandits—and I let that poor girl go over there with those men!" she gasped. "And what on earth is that woman doing at Casa Grande? It's either a scandal or a romance, that's a cinch!"
"What's the matter? Whose horse was that? Great snakes, Mrs. Van, what the devil——" Johnson, hastily and scantily attired, came down the street, followed by the others. Cochise had waked up the camp. Mrs. Van looked at them tragically.
"It's the Casa Grande Chinaman come over to see Jimmy. He rode Cochise," she sobbed.
"What'd he ride Cochise for? What's come over Marc Scott, lendin' Cochise to a Chink?"
"Tom, something awful has happened," and she burst into the story.
"Didn't the heathen go back to help?"
"I guess he tried to, but Cochise got scared and wouldn't go. What do you suppose it is ?"
"Gosh, I dunno! Don't sound like Pachuca; he wouldn't come back a second time. Sure looks bad."
"And the feller says Mrs. Conrad's there. What's he mean by that, do you think?"
"Mr. Hard's friend; the widow woman that lives down South. Upon my word, Tom Johnson, I do believe that's the woman and the trouble that the ouija meant and I thought all the time it was talking about Polly Street!"
"Dunno, I'm sure. Where's Cochise?"
"Gone down to the corral."
"Guess I'd better go down and give him the once over. They've probably rode him to death between 'em. Gosh, I'm sorry to hear that news!" and Tom strode off, sadly, followed by the others. "Poor old chap," he murmured, a few minutes later, as he took the saddle off Cochise. "Can't do nothin' for your boss, so I'll do what I can for you. Pretty well petered out, ain't you?"
"Say, Tom, what are we going to do about this Casa Grande business, anyhow?" demanded O'Grady.
"Well, with a dynamited track, a busted auto, a smashed 'phone connection and a foundered horse, what would you suggest doing?" demanded Johnson, pessimistically. "Walkin' ain't so durned good in this country."
"If we could get to Conejo we could get Mendoza to drive us over to Casa Grande," hazarded Williams.
"Well, that ain't a bad idea for you, Jack," said Tom, patronizingly. "I reckon I'll stretch my legs in that direction after breakfast. Suppose we go up and see what the Doc says about Jimmy?"
In the meantime, the doctor had examined his patient's leg, quietly ignoring the flood of excited questions hurled at him by the boy.
"Him velly bad," he declared at length. "You keep him still while I get bullet out, mebbe he get well. You talk a heap and mebbe I cut him off."
"You cut him off and I'll cut your liver out, Li, you sabe?" grinned Adams, gamely. "Anyhow, it's blamed good of you to ride over here. I'll bet you're sore, eh?"
Mrs. Van Zandt coming up the road with the tray in her arms met the men coming up from the corral.
"I never did suppose I'd see myself carrying breakfast to a Chinese," she said, wearily, "but you can't tell these days what'll come your way. I know exactly how that poor guy feels. I rode over to Casa Grande once on Cochise. He's wide and he's rough and anyone who wants to ride him twenty miles is welcome to him as far as I'm concerned."
The train gang hung around to hear the verdict on Jimmy Adams. They were much relieved to hear that the operation was to be one of probing rather than of cutting. They had had some gloomy discussions on that point which had ended in consulting the mail order catalogue in order to see whether it advertised artificial limbs.
"He wants one of you to help," said Mrs. Van, coming out of the room. "I wisht you would. I feel that nasty this morning that the sight of blood would just about finish me. Go on in, Tom." Tom went in. Mrs. Van set the tray on the table. "Seems funny to be waiting on a cook, don't it? But I suppose it's different when he's tending the sick, and I'll say he's clean. He washed his hands before he touched Jimmy. I watched him."
"Well, that's more than old Estrada over in Conejo does," said O'Grady. "He pulled a tooth for me last winter and he come in from feedin' his pigs to do it. Right plumb into my mouth he started to put his dirty fist. 'No,' says I, 'you wash that mitt first. Afterward you can suit yourself.'"
"You better get a swig of whiskey ready for Tom," suggested the brakeman, solicitously. "Them operations is ugly things."
"I will," said Mrs. Van, hurrying to the cabinet and taking down the bottle.
Herrick stopped before they had gone a dozen yards from the house.
"Go on and find the women," he said, curtly. "I have something to do before they come."
"Something——" Scott stared at the little man uncomprehendingly.
"So. Do you want them to see those ugly bodies?" he pointed to the two dead Yaquis, stretched ghastly and plain in the moonlight. "I shall pull them into the shadow of the bushes."
"Well, he's nervy for a piano player, ain't he?" murmured Scott, as he and Hard turned the corner of the house.
"I think, myself, that there's a lot of rot talked about the artistic temperament," replied Hard, drily. "The war showed us that poets could fight as courageously as plumbers, and I've always thought that when you got the real unadulterated article in artistic temperament, you usually got with it a distinctly cruel streak. I believe that you and I hated killing those Indians a lot more than Herrick did, though he'll probably throw a nervous chill over it after a while and compose a piece about it."
"Well, maybe so," assented Scott. "He's the only artistic chap I ever got real close to and I don't mind admitting he's mighty queer—but he ain't yellow. I'll say that for him after to-night."
They were passing a clump of bushes as he spoke and two dark figures started forth. Scott instinctively put his hand on his gun.
"Oh," gasped the shorter figure, "what has happened? Are you shot? Who is running away—you or they?" She seized Scott's wrists with a clutching hold.
Scott laughed. "That's how you obey orders, is it? Where are the horses?"
"I don't know. We stayed right here," faltered Polly. "I want to know if you're hurt!"
"No, not if I know it, and I usually recognize bullets when they hit me."
"What happened?" insisted the other woman. "Have they gone?"
"They're fighting somebody over in the hills—we don't know who it is," replied Hard. "Probably Angel Gonzales. These fellows were evidently an advance guard."
"We ought to get out of here before they come back," said Scott. "You can't tell how long that will last—and whoever licks, we don't want to be hanging around here."
"They'll burn the place, I suppose," said Mrs. Conrad, wearily. "May I go back and get some things?"
Scott hesitated. "I think we ought to get away," he said. "But one of us will have to go back to get Herrick and the saddles—if you can hurry—go with her, Hard, and I'll go after the horses."
"Saddles?" Polly spoke suddenly. "Weren't they in the barn?"
"No; luckily I put them in the wagon when I was tinkering with it," said Scott. "We've only two horses, you know, and I want you women to ride them."
"By—by ourselves?" Mrs. Conrad's usually cheerful voice sounded a little frightened. "I couldn't find that trail in the dark; I'm not Li Yow, you know."
"The horses will take you."
"Oh, please let's keep together!" pleaded Polly. "Why can't we all go in the wagon the way you planned?"
"Well, for one reason, the harness was in the barn and was burned," said Scott, with some irritation.
"Herrick has a lot of old junk of that sort in his storeroom," volunteered Hard. "I believe you could patch up one. Those sounds have died away—the fight's over," he added. "Let's go back and have a look, and see what Herrick says."
There was a pause and the two men consulted anxiously together. It was very still—not a sound from the direction of the hills. It really did look as though the attack had been followed by flight. Scott, against what he afterward called his better judgment, but what was really only a disinclination to change his mind, gave in, and the two men walked on ahead.
"If we're going in the wagon, Hard, we've got to go by the road, and I don't stir a step on that road till I know whether this deviltry is over for the night or not. We'll camp down here for a few hours, and start by daybreak."
"Why not? The horses need the rest and so do we. I say camp, by all means."
Everything seemed harmless at the ranch house. Herrick, who had performed his unpleasant task, was studying the extent of the damage, which seemed to be confined to broken windows. When consulted, he approved of the idea of an early morning start in the wagon and believed that out of the odds and ends of harness in the storeroom something could be patched up and made to do.
"All right then." Scott's voice was emphatic. "I'll fix the wagon first thing in the morning. And now, let's all turn in and catch a few winks before daybreak."
"I don't believe I'll sleep a minute," said Polly, as the two women were left alone in the room which Clara Conrad had been occupying. "I'll throw my cloak around me and lie down on the couch. I feel awfully strung up, don't you?"
"Yes," said the older woman. "But I'm going to try to sleep, and so must you."
As a matter of fact, Clara did not expect to sleep. The meeting with Henry Hard had brought up old memories—memories both happy and sad. He had changed little, the tall, thin, sandy-haired man. It was good, oh so good, to have something back again from the old life! As she closed her eyes and put away from her the events of the day, old scenes came back with a clearness that they had not worn for many years. The old houses; the quiet, cultured, elderly men and women, the gayer young ones, herself and Hard among them; the dinners, dances, concerts; the summer days on the water, and the rides—all came back as though they had been but yesterday, and all on account of this one man who had played so important a part in them.
She realized, as she lay there in the darkness, that without putting the thought clearly, she had had deeply imbedded in her mind the idea that she would see him or hear something about him when she went back to Boston. She was not in love with him, but she had never forgotten him and she would never feel about him as she did about so many of the others who had played parts in her old life. Soothed by the thought, she drifted into a calm and restful sleep.
Polly, however, was too unskilled in the management of her thoughts to be able to relax at will. She lay quietly, so as not to disturb the other woman, but her mind was whirling. She lived again each event of the past two days; the raid on the mine, the ride with Pachuca, his escape, the trip to Casa Grande, and the growing companionship with Scott—the look she had surprised in his eyes only an hour ago when she had stood with him on the veranda, looking at the distant mountains; and then the dreadful minutes spent behind the bushes, listening to the guns of the attacking Yaquis.
"And I thought a golf tournament was exciting!" she said, smiling in the dark. Softly she rose and crept to the window. It was very beautiful out there; mountains, hills, bushes, all a study in absolute stillness. The only sound that came to her ears was the howl of a wolf in the distance.
"Coming in at just the right moment," smiled the girl. "What a country for effects! Oh dear, I believe I could sleep out there in the hammock if it wasn't too chilly."
Taking the couch cover over her arm she crept softly out of the door and out on to the veranda where the hammock swayed gently in the breeze. Polly adjusted herself in it with care; a fall would bring all the occupants of the house out with a bound.
"First they'd bound and then they'd fuss," she said to herself. "I don't want to be fussed at, I just want to snatch a few winks out under this gorgeous sky. I don't understand how when skies and stars and mountains are all laid out for them, artists want to do the red and green futurist horrors that they love so. Now, what's that noise?"
A queer kind of noise it was. Polly sat up quite suddenly. It seemed to come from behind a clump of bushes some distance to the right. It was a pounding, scraping sort of noise, not very loud, but distinctly disconcerting. You got the impression that whoever was doing it was trying not to make any more noise than he could help. Polly's heart beat rapidly. She must call one of the men. She rose unsteadily and at the same moment the noise stopped. A tall figure stepped out from behind the bushes and came toward the house.
Polly stepped back into the shadow of the porch. She was about to dive into the open window when another sound caught her ear. The man was whistling softly—whistling the Slumber Motif from Die Walkuere! Polly laughed aloud. She had taken Henry Hard for a bandit.
"Hello, what are you doing up on deck?" he said, whimsically. "I thought we'd sent the passengers below and battened down the hatches."
"I couldn't sleep, so I came out here. What are you doing with that pick? Was it you I heard digging?"
"Scott and me. I came up for a match."
"But what can you be digging for at this time of night? Not buried treasure?" eagerly.
"My dear child, I hate to disappoint you, knowing your feelings on the subject. If you must know, we killed a couple of Yaquis and we're burying them on what we'd call at home 'the lawn.' It's rather awful, but we can't help it."
"Killed them!" Polly's eyes were wide with horror.
"It's a rotten business, if you ask me, both killing and burying. I'm just beginning to form a faint idea of the sort of thing the youngsters we sent abroad had to face. I was keeping up my courage by whistling. Won't you go to bed like a nice girl?"
"No. I couldn't stand it in there in the dark. It doesn't seem so bad out here. Go on—don't bother about me."
After Hard had got his match and joined Scott again behind the bushes, Polly sat and listened to the ominous sounds, her pleasant reflections quite at an end.
"That's how it always goes. You begin to feel comfortable and pleased with your philosophy and yourself and then reality comes along and swats you one in the eye. I will not think of those Indians! I'll think of Bob and Emma. Wonder what kind of a nurse Emma makes? Not that she'll have a chance to try, poor lamb. Those trained ones will shoo her off and flirt with Bob themselves."
It was some time before the two men finished their ugly job. Polly saw them come out from behind the bushes and go into the house by the back door. She stretched herself sleepily—it was beginning to be a bit chilly, even when wrapped in a coat and a serape. Perhaps it would be wiser to go in. She folded the serape and started for the door, only to stop midway as Scott came out.
"Oh," she said, "I thought you'd all gone to bed."
"And you know you ought to," said he. "I don't blame you for not wanting to. Those mountains get one, don't they?"
They were standing exactly where they had stood so short a time ago, but so much had happened since that it seemed hours gone by. It wasn't to be expected, the girl thought, that they could go on from where they had left off. She looked up. He was staring at the mountains. She felt a ridiculous mixture of relief and disappointment.
"They get me," she answered. "I never knew I was so fond of mountains."
"It's the mystery of them. You have the feeling that things are going on in and about them that you don't know—that nobody'll ever know. I remember the first time I climbed a big mountain—up in Colorado. When I was about three-quarters of the way up I looked down on one of those little mountain lakes—just as blue as that ring of yours—set in the brown of the mountain. It made me feel as if I'd struck gold. I couldn't believe that anybody but the Indians and I had ever seen that lake."
Scott was leaning against the post of the veranda, still looking at the mountains. Suddenly he turned.
"Little girl, I think you'd better be going in and getting a few hours of sleep," he said. "Four o'clock comes along awfully early in the morning."
Polly said nothing. She picked up the serape again and turned to go. Then she came back again, holding out her hand.
"Mr. Scott, I haven't said a word to show that I'm grateful for what you did to-night. You saved my life, didn't you?"
Scott took the hand and smiled down into the serious eyes.
"I wouldn't go that far," he said. "Those fellows who horned into our fight did that, I reckon. I sure tried to, though, if you'd like to shake hands on that."
"You risked your own life, anyhow, so please don't spoil my story."
"Well, put it that I'll be delighted to save your life any time you say, even if I get my hide full of holes for doing it. How's that?"
"That's all right," agreed Polly, heartily. "You may call me at twenty minutes of four, if you please," and she disappeared into the house.
Scott stood a moment after she was gone, an odd little smile on his lips.
"I wonder if she'd care—or would it be another case of Joyce Henderson?" he said. "Well, serve me right for a fool if it was!" He kicked a stick out of his way as he made for the wagon. "What have you got to offer a girl, anyhow?" He took a pocket torch out and examined the wheel of the wagon. "I've seen better looking wheels and then again I've seen worse," he decided, pessimistically. "If our luck holds we'll make it. Doggone it, being civilized makes an awful idiot of a man. I'm going to dream of those poor Yaquis we've just buried, sure as shoe leather."
Four o'clock does indeed come along early when you have not closed your eyes before midnight. It also comes along chilly and dark and generally uncomfortable. The women were awakened by Hard, who had to knock loudly on their door in order to accomplish it. They tumbled to their feet and performed the necessary dressing operations in the dark, except for a candle which Clara lighted cautiously.
"And to think that people once lived by candlelight!" murmured Polly, sleepily. "Were born, married, and finally died by it. Well, the race has come up a peg, I'll say that for it."
Mrs. Conrad was ready first. She was very rapid, in a quiet, unhurried fashion. In her corduroy skirt and jacket, she looked very girlish. Polly mentally took five years off her estimate of her new acquaintance's age.
"Awfully natural looking woman, too," she commented, silently. "Most of the pretty women I know at home are always doing things to themselves—fussing over their looks; but she just seems to keep herself fresh and neat and let it go at that, and she manages to look young and handsome. As for me, I'm a rag and I look it, but perhaps as there are no tremendous beauties around, I'll pass."
She followed Mrs. Conrad into the kitchen, where she found her busy with Herrick over the breakfast. The pleasant odors of burning wood and boiling coffee had already made themselves noticed. Scott, in a corner of the kitchen, was working over the harness which he was getting into a condition possible for use. He looked up and nodded as Polly entered.
"Your gentleman friend left a few things; we won't have to starve on the road," he said, drily. "There's a side of bacon—wonder why he left that?"
"Perhaps he didn't see it," suggested Polly, sweetly.
"I guess that's the answer. There, I reckon that harness will take us as far as Athens, if we have a bit of luck. If you'll bring out what you want to take, Mrs. Conrad, we'll pack it in the wagon."
"I've only a couple of suitcases. My trunks went by rail to the border—that is, they started."
"How about you, Herrick? Afraid we can't take the piano."
Herrick looked up in some surprise. "Me?" he said. "I am not going with you, my friend."
"Not going with us? But, Victor, you can't stay here alone." Mrs. Conrad's voice had real solicitude in it.
"Why not? Li will return and you shall send him first to Conejo to buy provisions. When things settle down, my men will come back and we shall go to work again."
"You're going to stick by the ranch?" demanded Scott.
"It is my home. What else have I?" The little man's voice was sad.
"Well, maybe you're right," said Scott, after a moment. "The best way to hang on to property just now is to sit down on it. We'll send Li over to Conejo with the wagon and he can load up. If you get into trouble, remember you've got friends in this country." And the two men shook hands heartily as Scott tramped off to the wagon.
Polly did not see the parting between the musician and Clara Conrad, but the latter looked, when she came out of the house, as though she had been crying, and the little man looked more pathetic than ever as he stood alone in the doorway waving them good-bye.
"Do you think he ought to say there?" demanded Polly, as Scott helped her into the wagon.
"No, I don't, but he's obstinate and you can't move him once he makes up his mind. There's a lot of the woman in every artistic man, I believe," grunted Scott, disgustedly.
A little later, with the two Athens horses hitched to the mountain wagon, the party started out, Hard driving. The road led out through the hills where the fighting had been only a few hours ago. There was no sign of what had happened. It was a poor road, narrow, rough and little used. There were ruts in it and chuck-holes, turns and an occasional arroyo. It was rather ghostly, too, driving at this hour; the chill, early morning feel of the air, the fading moon, the faint pinkness hanging over the mountains suggesting the coming dawn.
"One thing you miss around here is the cattle," said Scott. "Up in New Mexico you'd be starting out this time in the morning and you'd see the range cattle looking at you, sort of surprised to see folks around so early in the morning; some of 'em still lying down and napping. Around here raising cattle hasn't been very popular the last few years—too hazardous."
"Miss Polly, I want you to notice that funny little house over there," said Hard, pointing to his right.
Indeed, there was reason for the question. The little cabin had been built tightly against a hill, with the hill scooped out to make the back part. A closer look revealed a burro standing on the roof beside the chimney.
"Well, that's the first time I ever saw a burro on a roof!" declared Polly. "Who lives there?"
"A Mexican family named Soria," replied Hard. "I'll go over and see if they know anything about the fighting last night."
"You won't need to," said Scott. "Here comes the whole population."
So it seemed. There was an old woman—very old, very thin and very brown; a younger one, half a dozen youngsters, several dogs and finally the burro. The family were clad in every sort of decrepit garment. Polly thought she had rarely seen so pitiful an assemblage; and yet they did not look particularly unhappy, except the younger woman, who hung back and seemed to have been crying. They had seen the wagon and had come out to find out what was going on. The older woman came directly to the wagon, while the younger one stood a little way off, a baby in her arms, and the other children hanging around her. She was rather a pretty woman, or would have been with half a chance. It is difficult to be pretty when your hair hangs in straggling locks, your too plump figure festoons itself around you in bags, and your clothes look as though you had never had them off since you first became acquainted with them. Poor things, they lead an awful life.
"I'll let you speak to her, Clara," Hard said, with a smile. "I think your Spanish is in better working order than mine. Ask after the daughter's husband; he's in the army and it may open the way for a little information."
Mrs. Conrad spoke in rapid and soft-sounding Spanish to the old woman who stood listening, her wrinkled face set in the monotony of hopelessness.
"How beautifully she speaks Spanish!" thought Polly, enviously. "I don't understand a word of it, but even I can tell the difference between hers and the kind that both the men speak."
"Good-morning, my friend." Clara's voice was cheerful and pleasant. "How is the family?"
"Badly, senora, very badly. My son Manuel joined the army last night and with him his wife and two little ones. Now we have no man in the house—we shall starve."
"But your daughter's husband?"
"Francisco was killed last week in a fight. The soldiers brought the news. Carlotta has four little ones now and no man."
"That is very bad. I am sorry. What soldiers do you mean?"
"Last night. The soldiers who came from the north."
"D'you mean that the crowd that was fighting up here in the hills were soldiers?" broke in Scott, eagerly. "Federal soldiers?"
"No, no, the soldiers of the revolution—Sonora troops. They march south against Sinaloa." Carlotta had crept nearer and was taking part in the conversation.
"I don't get you. Who was doing the fighting?" demanded Scott.
The old woman burst into rapid speech, leaving Scott in the lurch immediately. Clara came to his rescue.
"The poor old thing is more Indian than Mexican and she doesn't talk very clearly," she said. "She says that the party which came along the road last night was a regiment of cavalry from up north. They saw the barn burning and thought that the bandits were on the march; so they started over that way. They fell in with the stragglers of the Yaqui crowd and started to fight. As near as I can tell, each party seems to have thought that the other was Angel Gonzales' band. The Yaquis had been rooted out of their village by Gonzales and were on the warpath, poor creatures.
"Fortunately, there were a lot of Yaquis in the troop and by the time the fellows who were trying to loot us came along they began to understand the situation and the lot of them joined the troops. This old lady's son, Manuel, joined too, and his wife and babies went along. That explains why they let us alone last night."
"It does," said Scott. "And it shows that Angel is around somewhere bent on deviltry. Here, old lady, is something to buy chow for the babies for a few days—better luck to you!" He handed her some money and they drove away amid loud thanks and happy smiles.
"What in the world do you mean by the wife and babies going, too?" demanded Polly, excitedly.
"Why, here in Mexico war is a family affair," replied Scott. "There's no such thing as the girl I left behind me. The Missus goes along and so do the youngsters. She does most of the foraging for food on the march."
"The Mexican believes in equality of the sexes," said Hard. "He believes that the woman has just as much right to do manual labor, to provide a living for the family, to fight, and to perform all the other unpleasant functions of living as he has. If there are not enough to go around, he generously allows her to do his share."
"It's great to be a wife in Mexico," observed Scott, drily. "Think of that, Miss Polly, next time you meet a fascinating Spaniard."
"Don't be disagreeable," said Mrs. Conrad, "and don't tell fibs. It's the women of the lower classes who have the hard time down here just as they do in every country."
"Except the U. S. A.," replied Scott, stoutly. "A woman may have hard luck in our country because she's sick or poor or married to a no-account; but not because the general opinion of the female sex is so darned low that any loafer who comes along feels that he's got a right to treat her as he pleases."
"How you like to argue every point, don't you?" observed Polly. "Were you born like that or did it grow on you? Oh!"
The "oh" was literally jolted out of her. Turning rather a sudden curve at a pretty good clip, the wagon slipped over the edge of a chuck-hole a little deeper than the ordinary. Happening as it did in just the right place, it caught the weakened wheel and wrenched it off as neatly and as suddenly as a dentist wrenches a tooth out of the jaw of an unwilling patient.
There was a crash and a jar as the wagon sank on its side, and the frightened horses struggling to pull the dragging load, snapped the harness where Scott had patched it. The occupants were jumbled into the bottom of the wagon, except Hard, who was pitched out into the road. Scott was out in a minute and at the horses' heads; the women righted themselves just in time to see Hard pull himself to his feet, staggering as he did so.
"Hurt, Henry?" asked Scott, who was trying to calm the horses.
"No, just bent my knee under me."
"Here, hold these critturs while I pull the ladies out!"
"We're all right—that is, I'm all right. Look after Mrs. Conrad," said Polly, as Scott lifted her from the debris. "What was it? The wheel?"
Mrs. Conrad gladly availed herself of Scott's ready arm. "What did Henry do?" she said. By this time, Scott was loosing the horses from the harness and Hard had hobbled over to the edge of the road, where he sat down.
"It's my bad knee," he explained. "I did this once, only much worse, playing football in college. Fell, you know, with it doubled under me. I was laid up for six months."
"Oh, I shan't be this time. It always lames me for a few hours, though, when I do anything to it. Knees are great chaps for bearing malice."
"Well, you certainly shan't walk to Athens," said Polly, with decision. "You must ride one horse and Mrs. Conrad the other, while Mr. Scott and I walk. I'd love to!"
"Dear child, you couldn't," exclaimed Clara. "Could you ride, Henry, do you think? You and Polly could ride to Athens and send somebody back for us with the other wagon."
"I could," said Hard, "but I'd rather not. I'd like to rest it for a couple of hours if I could. Scott, suppose you walk and let them ride and leave me here. There's a shady-looking spot over in those cottonwoods and I'll just rest there till I'm able to hobble back to the Soria place. You can send for me there."
"There's a trail just above here that goes over and strikes the one we came on about eight miles from Athens," said Scott, doubtfully. "I've never traveled it, but Gomez told me about it last year. Rough, he said, but navigable. I guess that's what we'd better do, Hard, leave you here and I'll walk."