Tom chuckled. "Well, I always could walk," he replied. "Never done anything particular with the other end of me, but I could always depend on my feet. Say, folks, Mendoza's got his car outside. How about a quick bite and then beating it for Athens?"
Clara turned eagerly to Herrick.
"You'll come, won't you, Victor? I hate to think of your being here alone when everything is so upset."
Herrick smiled and patted her hand affectionately.
"You will give me no peace until I do, so I will go," he said.
* * * * *
It was a sober little crowd that sat around the dining-room table at Athens that night. Though their joy had been very great at the safe coming of Hard and Clara in Mendoza's car, it had been tinged with gloom at the non-arrival of Scott and Polly. Jimmy Adams was reported much improved.
"That Chinaman doesn't cook any more," confided Mrs. Van to Clara. "He's had a rise in life and he just sits and meditates. Awful people to meditate—the Chinese. What they find to think about I can't see, but it seems to make 'em happy."
Clara's mind, however, was upon the absent. "I can't see what could have happened to them. They didn't fall in with Angel Gonzales, that we know," she said. "I'm dreadfully worried about them."
"Hello!" It was O'Grady's voice. "Here comes horses down the road—two of them. I believe it's our folks." And he bolted out into the moonlight, followed by the others.
It was, and a more exhausted and bedraggled couple it would have been hard to find.
"Look like a pair of forty-niners," said O'Grady, "on the last lap of the trip."
Scott rolled out of the saddle while Hard lifted Polly to her feet.
"Coffee!" whispered the girl. "Is it really coffee that I smell?"
"Gracious, I believe they're starving," gasped Mrs. Van, running into the house.
"All we've had to-day is a cake of chocolate and some lumps of sugar," said Scott, briefly. "Look after the horses, O'Grady, will you? They've had it pretty rough, too."
He was lame and sore from his fall of the day before, and tired and hungry from the day's discomforts, but he managed to say enough to give them an idea of what had happened.
"After I climbed out of the arroyo," he said, "I didn't know which way to go. If those fellows had got Polly I wanted to go after them; if they hadn't—well, I didn't dare take the chance that they hadn't. I was pelting down the trail like a madman when I heard her voice calling me from up the trail.
"We got on the horses and began climbing again, pretty well pleased with our luck, but the horses were all in. They'd been at it since early morning, climbing most of the time, and I saw that they weren't going to make it. So I picked a good-looking spot near the head of the stream that we'd been following, and we camped there for the night, ate the rest of our sandwiches, and rolled up in our blankets. It wasn't very comfortable but it was a case of needs must.
"In the morning I set out to find the trail again. It had pretty well disappeared—choked up by the brush. We fought our way through it all morning and finally lost it; struck out higher up on the mountain and came out on the barren side near the top. That's all, except that we've been going since five this morning on nothing but a cake of chocolate that Polly found in her coat pocket and a few lumps of sugar."
"If I were going back to Chicago to live I believe I'd start soup kitchens for hungry people," declared Polly, suddenly. "It's the worst thing in the world—being hungry."
"If you was——" Mrs. Van Zandt started suddenly and stopped equally so. Polly blushed. Scott came to the rescue.
"We may as well tell 'em while we're telling our other troubles," he suggested, and Polly told them.
"I'm going home because he won't marry me unless Father consents," she said, "and he doesn't seem to think a consent by wire is legal. But I'm coming back."
"Well, I wish you good luck, I'm sure." Mrs. Van Zandt leaned over and kissed Polly impulsively. "He'll browbeat you a bit but he'll stick by you. Guess I'll make some more coffee," and she bounced into the kitchen.
"Gracious! Would you call that a congratulation?" gasped Polly.
"Here's a bona-fide one, my dear," said Clara, gently. "I am sure you'll be happy."
The others laughed and joked while Clara and Hard kept their secret to themselves. Scott followed Mrs. Van Zandt into the kitchen with some empty cups and their voices could be heard talking earnestly.
"Well," said the latter, as she returned, "I'll say I think Mr. Scott's idea a good one." By a psychological process quite her own and quite unconsciously followed, Mrs. Van had promoted Scott to the dignity of the prefix upon hearing that he was engaged to the superintendent's sister. "He's hired Mendoza and that junk-pile of his to take you all to the border so's you can get a train East without traveling on the Mexican railroads."
"It's like this," Scott explained. "Tom says they told him at Conejo that the revolutionary government had taken over all the railroads, both Mexican and American, and is operating them. Now, we might make the trip all right—they say lots of refugees are coming North; but what's the use? I'll run over to Conejo and get them to let us keep Mendoza for a few days and perhaps we can get some sort of a safe conduct for the road from that military guy over there.
"I'd rather have old Villa's safe conduct than any of the rest of them; I think it cuts more ice with the population at large. But perhaps this chap can do something for us. We'll try to hit the border at Chula Vista—the roads that way are pretty fair. Now, Hard, suppose you and I take a turn down the road and have a look at Jimmy before he goes to sleep."
"Scotty," they were outside and Hard spoke frankly, "I didn't want to speak of it before the others, but Mrs. Conrad and I have made up our minds to undo an old mistake. We've going to try life together instead of apart."
"I hoped you would, Hard. She's a fine woman."
"When I say an old mistake, don't misunderstand me," continued Hard, soberly. "She and Dick Conrad were happy together. She loved him when she married him—and she didn't love me. The mistake was mine, in not making her love me when I had the chance. I've got the chance again and I'm going to make good this time."
"You're very lucky, Hard. Most fellows don't get a second chance—with the same woman. Will she come back here with you?"
"I don't know. We're going to be married in Chula Vista and she's going home just as she had planned. I can't go, of course, but as soon as Street comes back I'll either go to her or she'll come to me. She hasn't given up her music and I don't want her to. It's all rather hazy, Scott. I only know that I let her get away from me once, and, selfish brute that I am, I'm going to tie her to me now while she's in the humor."
POLLY MAKES A NEW ACQUAINTANCE
Not far from the Mexican border lies the town of Chula Vista, New Mexico. It is a small town, does not even boast of a railroad connection nearer than twenty-five or thirty miles, being, like Conejo, on a bi-weekly spur; but it is a town of reputation and a not altogether blameable civic pride.
It has borne its part in the border warfare with credit. It has slaughtered and been slaughtered, one might say, and rather enjoyed both proceedings. When, some years ago, a Mexican bandit raided Chula Vista and carried off a young woman, the citizens of the town organized an expedition, followed him across the line, and recovered the lady, none the worse for her experience; which proves not only that Chula Vista is a wide-awake town, but that some bandits are not as black as they are painted.
Chula Vista, on the afternoon when our party entered it, duly chaperoned by the aged Mendoza, presented an everyday appearance. The Chula Vista Trading Company was doing its usual business, and, as this was before the days of prohibition, several saloons were doing what they could to relieve a universal thirst. An ambitious building of brick, the new schoolhouse, witnessed the fact that culture was believed in, even pursued.
The other buildings were less imposing. There was the butcher's place, a small adobe with a fenced-in yard. As Mendoza's car drove past it, the butcher, with sanguinary intentions, was occupied in driving a wise and reluctant young steer around the yard. A little further along was the Roman Catholic Church—a Penitentes church, by the way, and the little house of Father Silva, who officiated. Further still was a long low building which had once been a livery stable, but which had been altered to meet the needs of a moving picture theatre, and the Commonwealth House, kept by Sam Penhallow, who varied the monotony of hotel keeping by exercising the duties of sheriff of the county. He it was who had crossed the line after the kidnapped young lady. The newspapers had featured him as a Texas Ranger, which he was not and never had been, but that was rather a near thing for a newspaper.
Penhallow was a tall, thin, brown-skinned man, who wore checked suits and who had the long drooping mustache which fiction assigns to the calling of a sheriff. Whether fiction is right in this particular, or whether Sam wore the mustache to conform with the best standards, is not important. He was sitting in a tilted chair, on the narrow strip of flooring which served the hotel as a veranda when Mendoza and his party wheezed into view.
Penhallow's conventional welcome expanded into real warmth when he recognized Scott, who was well known in Chula Vista.
"Hullo," he said, his hand outstretched. "If it ain't Marc Scott! Drive you out down there, did they? Well, Mendoza—blamed if I didn't think you was dead long ago! No, I don't guess I know the ladies or your other friend, but any friend of Scott's has got the keys of the city all right." He turned and called into the house: "Mabel, come out here!"
"One of these ladies, Miss Street, is on her way to Chicago," said Scott. Polly, restored to good looks by a few days rest and her prettiest lace blouse, beamed on Mr. Penhallow with the usual result. "Mrs. Conrad," continued Scott, "is a friend of ours and is going back with the young lady. No, we weren't driven out but things are rather bad down yonder."
"Well, you ladies sure have courage, travelin' round at this time," said the admiring Penhallow. A tall pretty girl appeared in the doorway and was introduced as "my daughter, Mabel, who runs the ranch. Mabel, show these ladies the best rooms we've got. Give 'em the bridal soot if you can find it."
Hard, suitcases in hand, followed the women into the hotel, while Mendoza steamed away to a haunt of his own. Scott sank into an armchair and settled himself for a talk with Penhallow.
"That young Street's sister?" demanded the latter.
"I heard Bob Street had married a Douglas girl?"
"He did." Scott explained the situation in regard to Polly. "Her people are anxious about her and wrote her to come back at once, so we're carrying out instructions. The other folks——" Scott paused and surveyed the sheriff with an eye that twinkled. "Are you good at keeping secrets, Sam?" he said.
"Well, I have kept 'em," replied Sam, modestly.
"Well, the lady is a widow, runs a ranch down South, and the tall chap is our chief engineer, a Boston man. They're up here to get spliced before she goes East."
"So! Well, no reason why they shouldn't, I s'pose?"
"None that I know of."
"I kind of had a hunch 'twas her and you when you got out of the car, Marc."
"Yes. You needn't blush. You ain't too old to think of settlin' down if you pick a woman that ain't too young and giddy for you."
"I'm not asking your advice on matrimony, you old fool, I'm asking if you've got anybody in this one-horse place who can marry folks legally," said Marc, touchily.
"The judge could, I guess, but in a case like this there'd be more tone to it if you had the Padre. We haven't got any Protestant fellow here just now," replied Penhallow, meditatively.
"The Padre's the boy. I'll go over and interview him now."
"You can't. He's to a christening at some Mexican's up the creek. Won't be home till late."
"Well, morning's as good a time as any, I reckon, for a wedding," said Scott, philosophically. "We've got to stay over anyhow, to see the women off. Tomorrow's your train day, ain't it? Or have you changed your schedule?"
"No, we haven't changed it," replied Penhallow. "Only we don't run on it much. We will to-morrow, though, because I'm sending a lot of hogs over."
"That's good. Say, what do they think up here of the revolution?"
"Which one?" with a chuckle.
"The new one. Looks like the real thing down yonder."
"Well, of course, we were looking for trouble before the elections. We never expected the old man to keep his hands off the ballot box and everyone knows the man he put up—Bonillas—has got no show. It'll be Obregon, I s'pose?"
"It's hard to say. I was in Conejo a couple of days ago and they said Sinaloa had followed Sonora and a good many of the other states would fall in line in a few days. Obregon's broken away from Mexico City—guess you heard that—and they're talking of De la Huerta for provisional president."
"Know him? De la Huerta?"
"I've seen him. He's a young chap—some folks think he's a radical—I don't know."
"Had any trouble at your place?"
Scott narrated the proceedings of Juan Pachuca at some length and with some heat. "A military guy over in Conejo told me that he'd had orders to clean up the state, so when Tom wised him up to the fact that Pachuca and Angel Gonzales were doping it up to meet somewhere around Pachuca's place, he sent a troop of men down there, cut Angel off and smashed up the whole business."
"Get their men?"
"Got Angel, but Pachuca slid out."
"They let him probably."
"Framed it up for him so's not to hurt the feelings of any of his high-toned friends."
"Shouldn't wonder. What time do you eat around here, Sam?"
"How'll six suit you?"
"Suits me fine. I'll go and break it to Hard that he can't get married till morning. I suppose this Spanish chap won't object to marryin' a couple of Presbyterians? That's what they say they are."
"Gosh, no, the Padre's a regular fellow," replied Penhallow, easily. "You give him his fee and he ain't going to raise no rows."
The dining-room of Sam Penhallow's hotel was a fair-sized room with one long dinner table and three small round ones. These latter were a concession to the habits of certain citizens who brought their sweethearts on the nights that Sam served chicken suppers and who were partial to parties carres. It was to one of these small tables that Scott led his party. Altogether, thanks to the efforts of Mabel and her influence upon a certain invisible person whose identity changed often but who was always to be identified as the "help," things were much better at the Commonwealth than one had a right to expect in a town the size of Chula Vista. Compared to Conejo, it was like entering into the promised land.
Mabel, herself, waited at table, and in the just opinion of most of the boarders, added fifty per cent, to the pleasure of the occasion. On this particular night the room was full and she had the assistance of a smiling young Mexican girl who waited on a company of her compatriots who sat at the farthest of the small tables. They had just ridden in—their horses could be seen outside at the rail. The back of the head of one of these gentlemen interested Polly immensely. There was something about it which reminded her strongly of Juan Pachuca.
"Do those Mexicans live in Chula Vista?" she asked Mabel, under cover of a laugh at one of Hard's stories.
"No, they're strangers," replied the girl. "I think they come from a ranch out of town."
Of course it couldn't be Pachuca! He was in hiding somewhere down yonder, and yet—the party was on her mind and she noticed it as it broke up and the men passed out of the dining-room. She caught a side view of the suspected one—it was Pachuca, without a doubt. Whether he saw her or not she could not say but if he did he avoided showing it.
The girl's first inclination was to call Scott's attention to the Mexican; then she hesitated—it would mean trouble. There would be fighting and someone would be hurt. Scott's back was toward them and he talked along quite innocent of the presence of Pachuca. While she hesitated the moment passed, the Mexicans were out of the room and she saw them mount their horses and ride off. Scott and Hard were still deep in argument. Whether Clara saw or not Polly could not tell.
"Marc," Polly stopped beside him as they left the dining-room, "I've a nasty little headache—shall you mind if I go to bed?"
Scott, a bit surprised, replied in the negative and Polly went on, her hand on his arm coaxingly:
"Did you find out that the train goes to-morrow?"
"Do I have to go on it?"
"There's no other way that I know of for you to go home."
"You won't come with me?"
"I can't leave the property when your brother's away; you know that."
"Well, I suppose you can't. It's very trying, isn't it?"
"It's not what I'd like." Scott, in spite of himself, smiled down into the serious eyes.
"Well, if I were as big as you and didn't like a thing, I'd change it, that's all. Good-night." She ran up the stairs.
Scott shrugged his shoulders and strode into the office of the hotel; the Commonwealth boasted no parlor—guests sat in the office or went to bed. Clara and Hard stood near the desk talking to Penhallow. Scott lit a cigarette and went outside. The narrow strip of veranda was vacant. He walked moodily up and down.
Of course, if she had a headache—but it seemed queer to leave a fellow so early on their last evening together for no one knew how long. Perhaps she wouldn't come back after all and he would wish that he hadn't given the old life a chance to call her and keep her. Then he thought of the parents—never having had any of his own as far as memory went, Scott felt their claims strongly. He wanted the girl; wanted her so badly that his whole being ached to take advantage of her youth and impulsiveness; to make the wedding in the morning a double one.
But Scott had not lived a hard life without learning to do without a thing if he chose to do without it; the thing might be a drink, it might be a horse, it might be a woman. Still, Polly might have stayed down and walked with him a while in the moonlight—it wasn't much to ask. Hard and Clara had come out, the latter muffled in her long cloak, and were walking down Chula Vista's main artery toward the Padre's church. With a muttered exclamation, Scott dug his hands into his pockets and went inside.
"I suppose I can sit in the office and gab with Sam," he growled, but Sam had disappeared. Scott picked up a newspaper and lit another cigarette. Suddenly, the door opened and Clara, visibly excited, appeared, followed by Hard.
"Mr. Scott, what do you think? We've just seen Juan Pachuca," declared Clara.
"Sure enough? I suppose he could slide over the border if he wanted to. Where'd you see him?"
"He was one of those three Mexicans who had dinner at that other small table—so Clara says," replied Hard.
"Your back was toward them," went on Clara. "Henry's never seen him, so of course he wouldn't notice. I thought at the time that the man looked like Pachuca but I didn't get a good view of him. We were going past that little saloon down near the church and they came out and rode off. He pretended not to see us."
"Where'd they go?" demanded Scott, with the dryness in his tone which always appeared when Pachuca was mentioned.
"Out of town—past the church. I'm going up to tell Polly what she's missed," said Clara, as she ran up the narrow little stairway. "Girls have changed—not a doubt about it," she thought, whimsically. "Fancy spending the last evening they have together moping upstairs with a headache! Wonder if anything's gone wrong?"
A few moments later she was back in the office with the two men.
"I can't find Polly," she said, in alarm. "I've been to my room and to hers and she isn't in either. Her hat and coat are gone, too."
Scott came out of his chair with a bound. "I knew that devil was here for no good," he said, starting for the door.
"Don't be a fool, Marc Scott!" Clara's voice was sharp and angry. "We saw Pachuca and those two men go off on horseback. He hasn't carried off Polly!"
"I didn't say he'd carried her off," said Scott, doggedly. "She sat where she could see him at dinner. You saw him—so did she—and he saw her. This riding off is a blind——"
"You're going to be terribly ashamed of yourself for what you're saying. I know that girl. She wouldn't do a thing like that any more than I would. I'm going to see Mabel Penhallow and find out what she knows about it," said Clara, angrily.
"I'm going to find that boy and choke the life out of him. Get out of my way, Hard."
"Look here, Scotty, that's not the way to handle this affair," remonstrated Hard, barring Scott's progress toward the door and speaking with a warmth unusual to him. "Let's get hold of Penhallow and tell him that Pachuca's over on this side——"
"I don't need a sheriff to handle my affairs."
"This isn't your affair, it's the Government's. If this chap's got the nerve to think he can come over here after the way he's acted with American property it's up to the Government to put him right."
"I can't find Mabel." Clara had returned, her face worried. "The Mexican girl said she saw an automobile go by a quarter of an hour ago and that Polly was in it. A Mexican was driving and she thought there was another man in the car. Marc, he has kidnapped her!"
But Scott had burst out of the room, followed by Hard. Clara, pale and frightened, watched them from the window. Scott's blood was boiling. At first, stung with a sense of injury at Polly's treatment of him, he had leaped to the jealous conclusion that she had seen and communicated with Pachuca. Scott was not a model lover. He was not of the type which believes always until convinced by proof. He was a hot-blooded, jealous, none too good tempered man, who lost his head very easily when he believed himself ill-treated. Now that he was beginning to realize that the affair might have a different complexion—that the girl had perhaps been overpowered and carried off—he was furious in another way, this time against Pachuca and against himself.
Mendoza had left his car outside his favorite saloon but the car was gone and so was Mendoza.
"I thought I could trust that old greaser but I guess I was wrong," groaned Scott. "We'll get horses from the stable, Hard, and perhaps they'll know something about it there."
Investigation revealed the fact that Mendoza had succeeded in getting his car out of town without attracting the attention of anyone but his dish-washing compatriot. When it leaked out that there was a kidnapping involved, the chivalrous instincts of Chula Vista were aroused. Horses were eagerly offered and a posse was to be formed as soon as Sam Penhallow could be located. Unfortunately, the only machine in town, owned by the sheriff, had been loaned that morning to Ed Merriam who had driven it over to the railroad junction. In an incredibly short time, Scott and Hard were clattering down the road which the three Mexicans had taken half an hour before.
"It's useless, of course," grunted Scott "They'll meet the car and shake the horses before we can get to them; but, by God, Hard, I'll get that boy if I have to comb New Mexico for him."
Hard was trying to be optimistic, but on a strange horse and with a lame knee, optimism came with difficulty. "I may be wrong, Scott," he said, between jolts; "but Pachuca doesn't seem to me to be just that kind of a scamp. He'd elope with your wife in a second if she gave him an opportunity, but I can't seem to see him carrying off your sweetheart against her will. There is such a thing as type, you know."
"In Boston, maybe. Out here a man's decent or he ain't," growled the other.
Hard relapsed into reflection. The road they were traveling forked at about a mile out of town. Ahead of them, it continued on the flat; to their left it became narrower and wound toward the foothills, remaining, however, a road possible for a car or a wagon.
"Which?" queried Hard, looking ahead as the fork became visible.
"The left," replied Scott. "They'll hit out for the hills. The other road goes along the railroad tracks."
"I don't think so," muttered Hard. "I think they'll stick to a good road." But Scott had spurred his horse. Hard followed him a moment in silence, then he called: "Scott, I hear a machine! By Jove, I see it—it's coming toward us, down the main road."
Scott pulled up his horse. They peered into the dusk ahead of them. The car was coming toward them.
"You brought a gun, I suppose?" he asked.
Hard nodded. "What do we do?"
"Hold 'em up." They pulled their horses down to a walk. "No headlights," observed Scott. "We'll keep this side of that little rise. If they haven't seen us, they won't see us till they're on us."
"We don't shoot, I trust, until we know who they are," suggested Hard, mildly. "It strikes me they're going the wrong way for our men."
"They may be going to turn at the fork. If it's not them, it's someone who can tell us if the Mexicans have gone this way."
The car, a small one, pulled up the hill and started down toward Chula Vista. Scott rode into the middle of the road.
"Stop!" he called, authoritatively. The car stopped. It was driven by a fat man who was its only occupant.
"What's the matter with you fools?" he demanded, angrily. "Don't you know this here's the sheriff's car?"
Scott lowered his gun. "That so?" he said. "Then I suppose you'll be Ed Merriam?"
"What business of yours is it?" replied Merriam, disgustedly, though apparently relieved at the removal of the weapon. Hard rode up quickly.
"Nothing, only we're out after a bunch of Mexicans who have kidnapped a young lady," he explained. "We thought we had them."
"See anything of a Ford car up the road?" demanded Scott.
"No. Say, who——"
"Or any Mexicans on horseback?"
Scott turned to Hard. "I told you they'd taken the other road."
"Look here," demanded the fat man, excitedly. "Is this an honest-to-gosh kidnapping? I say, it ain't Mabel Penhallow?"
"No, it ain't," grunted Scott. "Will you loan us that car for a couple of hours?"
"You bet—pile in. Say, you boys give me an awful start. I'm going to marry that girl." Merriam wiped his brow in relief.
"And I'm going to marry the girl those brutes have carried off," replied Scott, dismounting and turning his horse loose. Hard followed his example.
"Well, why didn't you say so at first?" demanded Merriam, as they got into the car. "Man's a gabby animal, ain't he? Which way'd they go?"
"Up in the hills, we think," replied Hard.
"It ain't much of a road," said the driver, doubtfully. "Still, if they can make it with one car we can with another, I reckon. Goes up Wildcat Canyon after a bit; nobody living up there since that old Mexican died. Say, d'you suppose they'd take her up to that old cabin? Gosh, we'd better hit it up!"
There was silence in the rear of the car. The two men saw in imagination the helpless girl and the tiny remote cabin. Scott leaned forward, devouring the road with despairing eyes. Hard sat beside him, quiet except when he answered Merriam's questions, sparing Scott, whose impatience and irritation made speech unendurable.
The new road led directly into the foothills. It was narrow and very rough. The travelers were shaken about like marbles in a boy's pocket. Wildcat Canyon, into which the road ran, was of a real loneliness—a loneliness that penetrated one's consciousness like an odor or a sound. On either side the foothills rose, dark and forbidding; to the left of the road a deep arroyo ran; on the other, the slope of the hill rose gradually to the sky line. Ahead, the hills seemed to come together as the road became narrower and wound in and out, becoming finally a trail. There was no trace of habitation to be seen, though here and there a few range cattle wandered.
"Cabin's about two miles up the canyon," volunteered Merriam. "Can't see it from here, the road winds too much."
Scott interrupted him suddenly. "There they are!" he cried, pointing up the road. Three horsemen were riding rapidly in the same direction with the car.
"She's not with them, Scott," Hard said, thankfully.
Scott did not answer. In his mind, he still saw the auto with the girl in it, going toward the cabin up the canyon. Well, at all events, Juan Pachuca would not reach that cabin alive! Merriam threw the car into its full speed.
"They've piped us—see 'em cross the arroyo," he said. It was true. The three riders had plunged into the depths of the arroyo and were out on the other side. They did not seem to be running away, but kept to the rapid trot which they had been riding.
"Don't know who we are and aiming to give us the idea that they're out for a little moonlight ride," remarked Merriam. "This car can go, can't she? Sam'd sure be sore if he knew I was runnin' her like this. Why don't we beat it up to the cabin and get the girl and let them mosey along by themselves?"
"Because we don't know that's where they've taken her," said Scott, angrily. He concluded that Merriam had guessed right. Pachuca had no particular reason to believe that the car held his enemies, or even that Scott and Hard knew him guilty of Polly's disappearance. They would safeguard themselves by riding on the other side of the arroyo but they evidently did not intend to be scared out of their road to any further extent.
The car was rapidly catching up with the riders and soon things must come to a showdown. Scott fingered his gun lovingly.
"Hey, you guys, where you heading for?" demanded Merriam, loudly, as the car came almost abreast of the three. They turned as the machine slowed down to their pace. Before they could answer, Scott was out of the car and had them covered.
"Pachuca, it's no use—we've got you," he called. "Hands up!"
The two Mexicans who evidently understood little English, though the magic words, "hands up," probably penetrated their darkness, glanced at Pachuca for orders. The latter turned his horse and rode to the edge of the arroyo. He was his usual jaunty self, a little travel worn, but not dulled.
"Senor Scott?" he asked, peering through the dusk. "What do you want?"
Scott paused for a moment, daunted by the other's impudence.
"We want you, Pachuca," said Hard, peremptorily. "Come quietly and don't force us to use our guns—we don't want to."
Pachuca slid gracefully from his horse and took a few steps nearer the edge. "What's the trouble?" he demanded. "I won't come over till I know what you want. We've got our guns, too."
"He's a cool one!" murmured Merriam, admiringly. While Pachuca had drawn the attention of the Americans by his sudden move in their direction, his two friends had ridden up behind him and stood with their guns ready for action. It looked like a deadlock. Scott dropped his gun to his side.
"All right, put up your guns," he said, his voice dangerously calm. "We'll talk it over."
The Mexicans got the idea if not the words and lowered their weapons.
"You know what I want you for," Scott went on, angrily. "Where is she?"
"She?" Pachuca's assumption of ignorance was masterly. It almost convinced Hard. "Who do you mean?"
"I mean Miss Street. You've kidnapped her or else your friends in Mendoza's car have and you're on your way to join them. We want to know where. Come, you can't get away with it."
"I've not seen the girl since that night at Athens—yes, I saw her to-night for a moment but I did not speak to her. I am here on business of my own with these gentlemen. If you have an officer of the law with you I'll show him my papers. If you haven't, I'll go on. If you shoot, we'll shoot."
"Anyone would think he had papers," murmured Hard to Merriam.
"Well, mebbe he has. They ain't so hard to get. What I want to know is how are we going to get him into the car?"
Scott tried to swallow his desire to choke the slim youth on the other side. "Come, Pachuca," he said, "this won't get you anywhere. Either tell us where the girl is and go your way, or come over here and fight it out."
"I don't know where she is. As for fighting—well, if I kill you what do I get out of it? Also, you might quite possibly kill me."
"If I only knew she was in the cabin, he could go and welcome," was rushing through Scott's brain. "But I don't and I mustn't let him get away."
Suddenly, a sound broke upon their ears—the sound of an automobile. It was coming down the canyon and coming fast. Merriam seized his horn.
"We can't have 'em coming down on us in this narrow place!" he cried, honking furiously. The other car answered. The Mexicans turned at the sound and Pachuca, casting a hurried glance at them over his shoulder, reached for his bridle. Scott raised his gun instantly.
"You stay where you are!" he yelled. "If those are your people we'll get the lot of you; if they're not we've got you, anyhow, sabe?"
Pachuca gave one look at Scott and another at his flying friends. Then he threw himself upon his horse's back, thrust the spur in deep, and as the horse reared, drew his gun. His shot and Scott's rang out together as they had done once before in front of the store at Athens—but with a different result. Pachuca reeled, recovered, spurred the horse again and tore off in the direction taken by the flying Mexicans; Scott stood looking furiously at him for a moment then staggered to the machine.
"He got me, Henry," he muttered, as he toppled over. "Look after the girl."
And the other machine came rumbling on through the dusk.
Polly Street went up to her room after leaving Scott but she did not go to bed. Nor did she behave in any way which suggested an alarming amount of headache. Instead, she opened her window and looked out. Her first glance showed Scott pacing scowlingly up and down the narrow veranda. Further down the street she saw Mendoza's car parked in front of its owner's favorite saloon, next door, in fact, to the butcher's, in whose yard hung the remains of the steer—an unhappy evidence of the truth of the adage that in the midst of life we are in death. Mendoza was not visible, but it needed no stretch of the imagination to locate him.
With a little sigh of satisfaction, Polly withdrew her head and remained a moment in thought; then she ran downstairs again. A cautious peep into the office showed Clara and Hard in conversation with Sam Penhallow. She glided into the dining-room where she found the good-looking Mabel finishing the clearing off of the tables. Polly looked winningly into the tall girl's eyes.
"I want awfully to speak to your father about something; do you suppose you could get him into the dining-room without anyone's knowing? I want to consult him in his official capacity," she added with dignity.
"Oh!" said Mabel, surveying her guest calmly. "Do you mean as the sheriff or as the boss of this hotel? Because if it's that, you can see me. I'm the real boss."
"Oh, as the sheriff, of course," replied Polly, hastily. "Anybody could see that you ran this hotel. It's much too well handled to be a man's job."
"Well," the tall girl unbent a trifle, "I don't mind telling you that I think so myself. Of course, as a sheriff Papa is all right. You wait here and I'll fetch him and look after the office till you're through with him."
In a moment or two Sam Penhallow entered the dining-room, his good-natured face a trifle puzzled.
"Mabel said——" he began.
Polly smiled. "Yes, isn't she clever at managing things? You see, Mr. Penhallow, it's a case of 'Kind Captain, I've important information.' Won't you sit down?"
Sam sat down.
"In the first place, one of those Mexicans who had dinner here to-night is Juan Pachuca—the man who held up our mine a few days ago."
"What? Why didn't you say so before? I'd have——"
"I didn't think quick enough," admitted Polly, "and for another thing I knew that if Mr. Scott saw him there would be trouble. He has reasons for disliking Pachuca—apart from the raid, at least, he thinks he has." Polly blushed in spite of herself.
"I get you," responded Penhallow, instantly.
"I thought you would. You seem to me like that sort of a man. Now, I want to ask you something; did you ever hear of a Mexican named 'Gasca' who lived around here?"
Penhallow, a little mystified, seemed to be thinking.
"A Mexican who had an Indian wife and who was murdered?" went on Polly. Much to her disappointment, this minute description did not seem to clear Sam's mind.
"You see, that fits so many of them," he said, apologetically.
"The wife died after he was killed," hazarded the girl, anxiously.
"Hold on—you mean the old duffer who lived up Wildcat Canyon?" demanded Penhallow. "Woman had a stroke—they found her up there dead. Their name was 'Gasca' or 'Gomez' or something of that kind."
"I knew it!" Polly's voice was triumphant. "If I don't make Marc Scott apologize to me——" Then, calming herself, she continued: "I'm going to spin you a yarn, Mr. Penhallow, and then you've got to help me out."
"Fire away," said the gallant Penhallow and Polly repeated as nearly as she could remember the tale that Juan Pachuca had told her that night in Athens. Penhallow's eyes snapped.
"By gum, I bet you're on the trail! He and those Mexicans are looking up the stuff."
"Of course they are, but why do they come on horseback? They can't carry bullion on their saddles."
"They probably don't more than half believe the yarn themselves," said Sam, meditatively. "They're just snooping round to see if there's anything in it. And automobiles ain't so common round here that you can pick one up every time you feel like hunting treasure, either. I own the only one in town and I loaned it to-day to a good-for-nothing guy that's courtin' Mabel, worse luck!"
"We've got Mendoza and his Ford," said Polly, eagerly. "If I run up and get my hat and coat, will you slip down and pry him out of that saloon and the three of us run out to Wildcat Canyon before those Mexicans can get there?"
"You bet I will," replied the willing Sam.
"Oh, Mr. Penhallow, you're the kind of man that I admire!" Polly's eyes shone. "You've got imagination—it's the only thing Marc Scott hasn't got."
"Well," grinned Penhallow, "I wouldn't worry about that if I was you; it ain't such an awful good quality to marry. My wife used to kick about it a whole lot." But Polly was gone. "I knew it!" chuckled Sam. "I knew Scotty was meditatin' matrimony by the way he jumped me. Fine girl, that. For ten cents I'd give him a run for his money."
Faced with the alternative of driving his car or allowing someone else to do it, Mendoza capitulated and allowed Penhallow to coax him out of the saloon. They drove down the street back of the houses and were joined by Polly who was waiting in the shadow for them. The Mexican girl saw the car as it passed the kitchen window, as she afterward told Clara, but failed to recognize Penhallow who sat on the further side.
"Do we have to pass the Mexicans or can we go another way?" asked Polly.
"We can take another road and beat them to the fork," said Penhallow. "Then we'll have the canyon to ourselves. This way, Mendoza."
"You know, Mr. Penhallow, this gold was stolen from one of the mines owned by our company," said the girl. "That's one reason I'm so anxious to find it. It will mean something to my brother."
"Sure it will."
"There ought to be a reward, oughtn't there? Not that I care about that; the excitement's enough for me."
"Fond of excitement, are you?"
"I'm afraid so. I'll have to get over that, I suppose."
"Not if you marry Marc Scott," said Marc's loyal friend, quite forgetting his sinister intentions. "There's nothing tame about Marc. I'd hate to be the woman who tried to fool him. She would have some job on her hands."
"Well, she'd have to be cleverer than I am to do it," sighed Polly, sadly.
"Well, I don't know. Say, what's your idea of finding this junk, anyhow? Where d'you reckon it'd be? Above ground?"
Polly looked a bit taken back. "I never thought of that," she admitted. "It's the first time I ever hunted treasure. Where do you think it will be?"
"Well, if you want the truth, I ain't looking for it to be there at all. My idea is that Gasca got rid of it and that's why they killed him. And yet——"
"Kind of funny the woman hung around after he died. The natural thing would have been for her to have gone back to her people, wouldn't it?"
"Of course it would. I know it's there."
"If you know it's there it's a pity I didn't bring along a couple of pickaxes," said Sam, with a grin. "All the treasures I ever heard about called for pickaxes, skeletons and an old family chart."
"Oh, have it your own way!" said the aggravated Polly. "But who, I'd like to know, would have come up to this lonely place to look for gold, and how could an ignorant old Mexican like Gasca dispose of it without getting into trouble?"
"Well, mebbe so. Anyhow, here's your cabin."
The cabin was situated up the canyon on the right hand side of the road. It was a little wooden shack, sagging and discolored, its windows broken and its whole appearance denoting that utter desolation to which only a deserted homestead can attain; not even a human wreck can equal this silent abandonment. It had been a fairly decent place once; there were outbuildings which evidenced past association with pigs and chickens, while back of the house stood a wooden cart such as country people use for hauling wood or hay.
In the dusk, that saddest of sad times, between sunset and moonrise, Wildcat Canyon presented an awesome appearance. The hills were outlined sharply and darkly against the sky; the little stream that dribbled past the cabin was so quiet that it seemed the ghost of water; there was no movement—no sound—no suggestion of life.
Polly drew a long breath. "What a dreadful place to live!" she murmured, her spirits dashed for a moment. A woman had lived here—a woman stolen from her people. Had lived—and, stricken and alone, had died here. Polly thought of her own spoiled and sheltered life and her eyes filled.
In the meantime, Sam Penhallow took in the view with intense disfavor. "I never was partial to Wildcat Canyon," he remarked, pessimistically. "I caught a cattle thief up here once. He hid behind that rock and gave us a real nasty time before we got him. Well, since we're here we may as well get busy. Can't you get us a little nearer, Mendoza? This is pretty far to tote gold bars."
"Oh, laugh if you want to," said Polly, indulgently. "Since I've seen the place I'm sure it's here."
"I'll say this," remarked Penhallow, "if I had anything I wanted to hide and didn't want any fools blunderin' into, I couldn't pick a likelier place to hide it in than this one—whether it was gold or a body."
Mendoza ran them within a few yards of the hut and they got out. Gasca's late residence did not improve on closer inspection. The door hung loosely on its hinges and once within, its dark recesses suggested many things not altogether pleasant. There was little furniture and that broken and poor; the hut boasted two rooms and the floor was merely the ground. There was nothing to suggest hidden treasure, and no place where it could be secreted as far as the visitors could see. Even the fireplace yielded no secrets.
"How stupid of us!" declared Polly, determined not to be discouraged. "Of course it wouldn't be in here or they would have found it when they took the poor woman away. Let's go outside and think."
"My idea is that it's either buried or they got rid of it," said Penhallow, promptly. It had suddenly occurred to him that Mendoza was a poor chaperon for a good-looking widower—not old—and a pretty girl engaged to Marc Scott. It was a disturbing idea, for Sam was of a conventional turn of mind. "If he's buried it, we'll have to dig all over the place, and I take it none of us is much on the dig."
"Wait a minute, I've got an idea myself," said Polly, with dignity. "You look in the chicken-house and I'll take a peep into the shed in the corral."
Sam shrugged his shoulders and started for the chicken-house.
"Scott's gettin' his match all right," he muttered, rebelliously. "Goin' to make him toe the chalk line, that girl."
"Mr. Penhallow, come here!" Polly's voice was shrill and excited. "Come here!"
"Comin', lady. Did you find it?"
"Look here." Polly was at the side of an old cart, peering and poking through the sticks of wood and bits of old straw which filled it. "See, down there—doesn't that look to you like something?"
Sam Penhallow felt a sudden thrill; a thrill he had not known the like of since he led the posse across the border after the kidnapping bandit. He bent an excited gray eye over the hole indicated.
"Sure does look like there was somethin' besides wood in there—somethin' bulky, and there's some sacking.—Hi, Mendoza, come here and lend a hand!"
In the meantime he and Polly began throwing the wood out of the wagon.
"My idea is that Gasca hid it in the wagon because he thought no one would suspect anything there," said Polly, "and he could haul it away in a hurry if they did."
"It's more likely he buried it and after he died the woman dug it up and packed it in here meaning to go South with it and then got sick and died before she had the chance."
"Well, I said you had imagination. That's a much better theory than mine," said Polly, generously. "But why didn't somebody take the wagon?"
"Well, it ain't much of a wagon. I reckon they took the horse and the pigs and chickens and let the rest slide. The wood don't amount to much; just sticks she's picked up."
Mendoza, quite of the opinion that the couple whom up to this time he had suspected of nothing more alarming than an elopement, had suddenly gone very mad, stolidly chucked wood out of the wagon lest a worse thing be demanded of him.
"There!" The three gathered around the half-empty wagon in excitement, even Mendoza manifesting a slight degree of zest when through the layer of straw, half covered with sacking, was revealed a number of rough looking blocks, in shape resembling large loaves of bread. Penhallow lifted one with difficulty.
"That's what it is, girl," he cried, his eyes glistening. "It's gold straight from the mine. Why, what's the matter?"
"It's so disappointing," murmured the girl; "it looks like old junk."
"Well, it's pretty good old junk. I only wish it was mine, don't you, Mendoza? This stuff, Mendoza, all belongs to some rich guys who own a lot of mines down yonder. Big, fat chaps who sit in easy chairs back of mahogany tables and let other fellows earn their money for them; fine business, eh?"
Mendoza grinned—a comprehending if not a lovely grin.
"Si," he grunted. "I seen them fat fellers up in San Antone. All got de sickness of de kidney or de stomach. Me, I rather be poor man and live on de outside."
"Well, that ain't bad for an old heathen, eh, Miss Polly?" chuckled Penhallow. "Come on, we've got to load this stuff into the Ford before those greasers get here."
"How much do you think there is?" asked Polly, eagerly.
"Oh, I don't know—a few thousands, I guess. I've a notion old Gasca had to whack up with the fellows who helped him get it across. It's no fortune but it's going to give us lame backs moving it and I reckon the Company will be glad to see it again."
It was a hard load to move and long before the transfer was made Polly acknowledged that she was glad they hadn't made a bigger haul. It was growing darker, too, and Wildcat Canyon began to seem less and less the sort of place for a picnic.
"Well, little lady," observed Penhallow, as they started down the canyon, "you've done a good night's work for your brother. Say, Mendoza, don't that look like a car to you down yonder?"
Polly sat up suddenly. "I thought you said that you owned the only car in town?"
"I do. That's why I've a notion that that's mine, though why Ed Merriam should be flourishin' it around here, I don't know."
"Car, yes," agreed Mendoza. "Make 'em back up. Can't pass there."
At the same moment the other car honked excitedly and Mendoza answered.
"There are some men on horseback there, aren't there?" said Polly, straining her eyes.
"On the other side of the arroyo—yes. Hullo, guns! Say, Ed's in trouble! Shake a leg, Mendoza—we got to look into this. Girlie, you can lie down if they shoot, do you hear?"
"Yes," breathed Polly, excitedly.
They could see plainly now. They saw two of the mounted men dash off and the other, reeling in his saddle, but holding gamely to his seat, dash after them. Then they saw two men from the automobile spring to support the third who had fallen.
"Gosh, I hope that ain't Ed!" said Penhallow. "I don't like the guy much, but Mabel would have my blood if I let him get plugged and me on the spot doing nothing."
"Not Merriam," said Mendoza, darkly. "Merriam and Senor Hard carry the man."
"Hold on!" But Penhallow was too slow. The car was slowing down and Polly was out in the road. Penhallow followed her.
"Is—is he killed?"
Hard looked up from his task of reviving Scott, with the contents of his whiskey flask and saw to his amazement a white-faced Polly Street bending over him.
"Polly!" he gasped. "Then they didn't get you, after all?"
"Is he killed?" The girl's voice was sharp and hard.
"No, he ain't," Penhallow's hearty voice broke in. "It takes more than one bullet to kill a tough bird like Scotty."
Marc opened his eyes, grinned feebly and shut them again, not before he had seen Polly's anxious face bending over him.
"Not a bit of it, old man," Hard broke in. Then to Polly: "We thought Pachuca had carried you off."
Polly stared at him in horror. "Carried me off?" she gasped. "Were those men——" she paused, dazed. Hard explained.
Sam Penhallow in the meantime had tackled his prospective son-in-law.
"Where'd they get him, Ed?"
"Shoulder. Don't look to me like no vital spot."
"Well, we ain't all got our vitals as protected as you have, Ed," replied the sheriff, scathingly. "What was you up here for, anyhow?"
"Scott got it into his head that his girl had been kidnapped by Mexicans and he got us up here after three of 'em. Looks to me, Father-in-law, like he'd picked the wrong kidnapper."
"That'll do, Ed; fat folks was made to look funny, not to talk smart. Here, let's get this boy bandaged up before he bleeds to death."
Polly, white and frightened, looked on as Penhallow's experienced hands tore up a shirt and made it into a bandage. The wound looked very vital to her and she would have given up hope a dozen times if it hadn't been for Penhallow's cheerful monologue.
"That's the idea! Say, you boys better guess what this girl and I got in that Ford. We've been after treasure. Oh, you're waking up, are you?" as Scott opened his eyes. "I thought you would. You won't josh your wife much about Gasca and his hidden gold, I'm thinkin'."
"It's all my fault," wept the girl. "If I'd only told you where I was going this wouldn't have happened. Oh, Marc, I'm so sorry!"
"Well, you ain't the only one that's sorry, I reckon," grinned Merriam. "That Mexican ain't going to do much ridin' for a while by the looks of him."
"Humph!" Penhallow and Hard lifted Scott gently into the car. "Don't worry about him. He's had this coming to him for some time by all accounts and the worst of it is his hide's probably so tough he won't know it's been punctured." Penhallow spat disgustedly.
* * * * *
The return of the two cars, the one with the treasure and the other with the missing girl, made a sensation quite after Chula Vista's own heart. When it became known that the doctor had pronounced Scott's wound not dangerous but requiring care and quiet, the situation was all that could be desired. They would have been happier still could they have heard Polly's ultimatum, delivered the following morning when she and Scott were alone together a few minutes before Clara's wedding. Scott had insisted that the wedding should not be postponed for even a day.
"You're needed in Athens, Hard," he said. "With Bob and me both in the discard, you've got to stand by the ship." So the wedding had been set for ten o'clock, Polly's train leaving for the railroad junction at noon.
"Now, Marc, listen to me," Polly said. Her tone was severe. "I've never been really stern with you since our acquaintance. I've always given in and let you have the biggest piece of cake. Now I mean what I say. I'm not going back and leave you here, sick and alone. Besides, Mrs. Conrad changed her mind last night. She's going to Athens with Mr. Hard."
"There's Mabel Penhallow—she'd look after me," replied Scott, mildly.
"Well, she shan't. Let her look after that fat thing she's going to marry. No, I'm going to stay here until you're well again, and by that time my reputation will be in shreds—perfect shreds."
"Well, I think it will, too, but what can I do?"
"You can let me tell that minister to come right over here and marry us when he's through with the others," said Polly, firmly. Then, with tears in her eyes: "Oh, Marc, don't you see I don't like doing underhand things any more than you do, but I can't go away and leave you like this? I know my people and I know what they'll say. They'll say I did the right thing."
"Well, girlie, I don't know—I'd rather like to see Hard and Mrs. Conrad married, myself. Don't you think maybe you could get the Padre to do both jobs over here?"
Thus it was that a double wedding took place in the small room which the invalid occupied. Chula Vista, or at least those citizens who were allowed to witness the ceremony, were loud in their praises of the brides. Ed Merriam was particularly impressed and begged earnestly that it might be made a triple affair, but, as Mr. Penhallow justly observed, you can overdo even a good thing if you try hard enough. Ed was obliged to content himself with the role of spectator. Mr. Penhallow, himself, was a busy man. He not only acted as best man at both ceremonies, but he also had the gold on his nerves. It was removed immediately after the weddings—in the first spare moment that the best man had—to a near-by town which possessed banking facilities, a full account of its recovery being sent to Robert Street. This arrived in the same mail with a letter from Polly, and Bob celebrated his first sitting up by breaking the news to his parents.
"Tell you what, folks," he said, "while it's a bit of a blow to have our baby cut loose like this, there's something to be said on the other side. Marc Scott's a first-class fellow and he'll make her a much better husband than that Henderson chap ever would."
"But, Bob dear, what sort of a man is he?" Mrs. Street's delicate face expressed alarm neatly blended with horror.
"That," replied her husband, briefly, "is what I am going to find out. There's a train going west in about two hours and if you wish me to carry your blessing to our wayward child I shall be happy to do so."
Mr. and Mrs. Hard went south in Mendoza's Ford. Theirs was a gentle romance, with more poetry in it than the bride suspected. Two people so thoroughly suited to each other do not always have the happiness to meet at just the right time.
"For it is just the right time, Clara," Hard said. "A little earlier and we might not have had the wisdom to fall in love again with each other; a little later and we might have felt too old and dignified to think of it. I consider that we took things in the nick of time."
The success of the revolution, which resulted in the presidency of Alvaro Obregon, made popular a movement against the bandits which have flourished so long in Mexico. The case of Angel Gonzales was handled early one morning by a firing squad in the courtyard of Juan Pachuca's country residence. The evidence against Angel was cumulative, the episode of the Yaqui village being only one of many interesting exploits in which he had figured.
Just how much the escape of Juan Pachuca was due to the connivance of his captors will probably never be known. The general opinion, however, was that while his misdeeds were not to be condoned, in view of the friendly sentiments on the part of the new Government toward the United States; at the same time they were considered hardly of a nature to subject a gentleman to the fate of a bandit. Cared for by his friends on the other side while his wound was healing, Pachuca is still living peacefully and very quietly on our side of the border, waiting, probably, the opportunity to return to his country to help along another revolution.
Scott and Polly will be happy. They are happy at present, and are no longer at Athens; the Fiske, Doane Co. having appointed Scott to a better position in one of its Arizona mines, a delicate compliment, he says, to his wife's services in the little matter of the Gasca treasure.