The Mucker by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Part 6 out of 8
through the doorway into the room beyond. He saw the
revolver gleam in the policeman's hand and then it became
evident why Billy had clung so tenaciously to his schooner of
beer. Left-handed and hurriedly he threw it; but even Flannagan
must have been constrained to admit that it was a good
shot. It struck the detective directly in the midst of his
features, gave him a nasty cut on the cheek as it broke and filled
his eyes full of beer--and beer never was intended as an eye
Spluttering and cursing, Flannagan came to a sudden stop,
and when he had wiped the beer from his eyes he found that
Billy Byrne had passed through the doorway and closed the
door after him.
The room in which Billy and Bridge found themselves was
a small one in the center of which was a large round table at
which were gathered a half-dozen men at poker. Above the
table swung a single arc lamp, casting a garish light upon the
Billy looked quickly about for another exit, only to find
that besides the doorway through which he had entered there
was but a single aperture in the four walls-a small window,
heavily barred. The place was a veritable trap.
At their hurried entrance the men had ceased their play,
and one or two had risen in profane questioning and protest.
Billy ignored them. He was standing with his shoulder against
the door trying to secure it against the detective without; but
there was neither bolt nor bar.
Flannagan hurtling against the opposite side exerted his
noblest efforts to force an entrance to the room; but Billy
Byrne's great weight held firm as Gibraltar. His mind revolved
various wild plans of escape; but none bade fair to offer the
slightest foothold to hope.
The men at the table were clamoring for an explanation of
the interruption. Two of them were approaching Billy with the
avowed intention of "turning him out," when he turned his
head suddenly toward them.
"Can de beef, you poor boobs," he cried. "Dere's a bunch
o' dicks out dere--de joint's been pinched."
Instantly pandemonium ensued. Cards, chips, and money
were swept as by magic from the board. A dozen dog-eared
and filthy magazines and newspapers were snatched from a
hiding place beneath the table, and in the fraction of a second
the room was transformed from a gambling place to an
Billy grinned broadly. Flannagan had ceased his efforts to
break down the door, and was endeavoring to persuade Billy
that he might as well come out quietly and submit to arrest.
Byrne had drawn his revolver again. Now he motioned to
Bridge to come to his side.
"Follow me," he whispered. "Don't move 'til I move--then
move sudden." Then, turning to the door again, "You big
stiff," he cried, "you couldn't take a crip to a hospital, let
alone takin' Billy Byrne to the still. Beat it, before I come out
an' spread your beezer acrost your map."
If Billy had desired to arouse the ire of Detective Sergeant
Flannagan by this little speech he succeeded quite as well as
he could have hoped. Flannagan commenced to growl and
threaten, and presently again hurled himself against the door.
Instantly Byrne wheeled and fired a single shot into the arc
lamp, the shattered carbon rattled to the table with fragments
of the globe, and Byrne stepped quickly to one side. The door
flew open and Sergeant Flannagan dove headlong into the
darkened room. A foot shot out from behind the opened
door, and Flannagan, striking it, sprawled upon his face
amidst the legs of the literary lights who held dog-eared
magazines rightside up or upside down, as they chanced to have
picked them up.
Simultaneously Billy Byrne and Bridge dodged through the
open doorway, banged the door to behind them, and sped
across the barroom toward the street.
As Flannagan shot into their midst the men at the table
leaped to their feet and bolted for the doorway; but the
detective was up and after them so quickly that only two
succeeded in getting out of the room. One of these generously
slammed the door in the faces of his fellows, and there they
pulled and hauled at each other until Flannagan was among
In the pitch darkness he could recognize no one; but to be
on the safe side he hit out promiscuously until he had driven
them all from the door, then he stood with his back toward
it--the inmates of the room his prisoners.
Thus he remained for a moment threatening to shoot at the
first sound of movement in the room, and then he opened the
door again, and stepping just outside ordered the prisoners to
file out one at a time.
As each man passed him Flannagan scrutinized his face,
and it was not until they had all emerged and he had reentered
the room with a light that he discovered that once
again his quarry had eluded him. Detective Sergeant Flannagan
The sun smote down upon a dusty road. A heat-haze lay
upon the arid land that stretched away upon either hand
toward gray-brown hills. A little adobe hut, backed by a few
squalid outbuildings, stood out, a screaming high-light in its
coat of whitewash, against a background that was garish with
Two men plodded along the road. Their coats were off, the
brims of their tattered hats were pulled down over eyes closed
to mere slits against sun and dust
One of the men, glancing up at the distant hut, broke into
Yet then the sun was shining down, a-blazing on the little town,
A mile or so 'way down the track a-dancing in the sun.
But somehow, as I waited there, there came a shiver in the air,
"The birds are flying south," he said. "The winter has begun."
His companion looked up at him who quoted.
"There ain't no track," he said, "an' that 'dobe shack don't
look much like a town; but otherwise his Knibbs has got our
number all right, all right. We are the birds a-flyin' south, and
Flannagan was the shiver in the air. Flannagan is a reg'lar
frost. Gee! but I betcha dat guy's sore."
"Why is it, Billy," asked Bridge, after a moment's silence,
"that upon occasion you speak king's English after the manner
of the boulevard, and again after that of the back alley?
Sometimes you say 'that' and 'dat' in the same sentence. Your
conversational clashes are numerous. Surely something or
someone has cramped your original style."
"I was born and brought up on 'dat,'" explained Billy.
"SHE taught me the other line of talk. Sometimes I forget. I
had about twenty years of the other and only one of hers,
and twenty to one is a long shot--more apt to lose than
"'She,' I take it, is PENELOPE," mused Bridge, half to
himself. "She must have been a fine girl."
"'Fine' isn't the right word," Billy corrected him. "If a
thing's fine there may be something finer, and then something
else finest. She was better than finest. She--she was--why,
Bridge, I'd have to be a walking dictionary to tell you what
Bridge made no reply, and the two trudged on toward the
whitewashed hut in silence for several minutes. Then Bridge
And you, my sweet Penelope, out there somewhere you wait for me
With buds of roses in your hair and kisses on your mouth.
Billy sighed and shook his head.
"There ain't no such luck for me," he said. "She's married
to another gink now."
They came at last to the hut, upon the shady side of which
they found a Mexican squatting puffing upon a cigarette, while
upon the doorstep sat a woman, evidently his wife, busily
engaged in the preparation of some manner of foodstuff
contained in a large, shallow vessel. About them played a
couple of half-naked children. A baby sprawled upon a blanket
just within the doorway.
The man looked up, suspiciously, as the two approached.
Bridge saluted him in fairly understandable Spanish, asking for
food, and telling the man that they had money with which to
pay for a little--not much, just a little.
The Mexican slowly unfolded himself and arose, motioning
the strangers to follow him into the interior of the hut. The
woman, at a word from her lord and master, followed them,
and at his further dictation brought them frijoles and tortillas.
The price he asked was nominal; but his eyes never left
Bridge's hands as the latter brought forth the money and
handed it over. He appeared just a trifle disappointed when
no more money than the stipulated purchase price was revealed to sight.
"Where you going?" he asked.
"We're looking for work," explained Bridge. "We want to
get jobs on one of the American ranches or mines."
"You better go back," warned the Mexican. "I, myself,
have nothing against the Americans, senor; but there are
many of my countrymen who do not like you. The Americans
are all leaving. Some already have been killed by bandits. It is
not safe to go farther. Pesita's men are all about here. Even
Mexicans are not safe from him. No one knows whether he is
for Villa or Carranza. If he finds a Villa ranchero, then Pesita
cries Viva Carranza! and his men kill and rob. If, on the
other hand, a neighbor of the last victim hears of it in time,
and later Pesita comes to him, he assures Pesita that he is for
Carranza, whereupon Pesita cries Viva Villa! and falls upon
the poor unfortunate, who is lucky if he escapes with his life.
But Americans! Ah, Pesita asks them no questions. He hates
them all, and kills them all, whenever he can lay his hands
upon them. He has sworn to rid Mexico of the gringos."
"Wot's the Dago talkin' about?" asked Billy.
Bridge gave his companion a brief synopsis of the Mexican's
"Only the gentleman is not an Italian, Billy," he concluded.
"He's a Mexican."
"Who said he was an Eyetalian?" demanded Byrne.
As the two Americans and the Mexican conversed within
the hut there approached across the dusty flat, from the
direction of the nearer hills, a party of five horsemen.
They rode rapidly, coming toward the hut from the side
which had neither door nor window, so that those within had
no warning of their coming. They were swarthy, ragged
ruffians, fully armed, and with an equipment which suggested
that they might be a part of a quasi-military organization.
Close behind the hut four of them dismounted while the
fifth, remaining in his saddle, held the bridle reins of the
horses of his companions. The latter crept stealthily around
the outside of the building, toward the door--their carbines
ready in their hands.
It was one of the little children who first discovered the
presence of the newcomers. With a piercing scream she bolted
into the interior and ran to cling to her mother's skirts.
Billy, Bridge, and the Mexican wheeled toward the doorway
simultaneously to learn the cause of the girl's fright, and as
they did so found themselves covered by four carbines in the
hands of as many men.
As his eyes fell upon the faces of the intruders the
countenance of the Mexican fell, while his wife dropped to the floor
and embraced his knees, weeping.
"Wotinell?" ejaculated Billy Byrne. "What's doin'?"
"We seem to have been made prisoners," suggested Bridge;
"but whether by Villistas or Carranzistas I do not know."
Their host understood his words and turned toward the
"These are Pesita's men," he said.
"Yes," spoke up one of the bandits, "we are Pesita's men,
and Pesita will be delighted, Miguel, to greet you, especially
when he sees the sort of company you have been keeping.
You know how much Pesita loves the gringos!"
"But this man does not even know us," spoke up Bridge.
"We stopped here to get a meal. He never saw us before. We
are on our way to the El Orobo Rancho in search of work.
We have no money and have broken no laws. Let us go our
way in peace. You can gain nothing by detaining us, and as
for Miguel here--that is what you called him, I believe--I
think from what he said to us that he loves a gringo about as
much as your revered chief seems to."
Miguel looked his appreciation of Bridge's defense of him;
but it was evident that he did not expect it to bear fruit. Nor
did it. The brigand spokesman only grinned sardonically.
"You may tell all this to Pesita himself, senor," he said.
"Now come--get a move on--beat it!" The fellow had once
worked in El Paso and took great pride in his "higher
As he started to herd them from the hut Billy demurred. He
turned toward Bridge.
"Most of this talk gets by me," he said. "I ain't jerry to all
the Dago jabber yet, though I've copped off a little of it in the
past two weeks. Put me wise to the gink's lay."
"Elementary, Watson, elementary," replied Bridge. "We are
captured by bandits, and they are going to take us to their
delightful chief who will doubtless have us shot at sunrise."
"Bandits?" snapped Billy, with a sneer. "Youse don't call
dese little runts bandits?"
"Baby bandits, Billy, baby bandits," replied Bridge.
"An' you're goin' to stan' fer lettin' 'em pull off this rough
stuff without handin' 'em a come-back?" demanded Byrne.
"We seem to be up against just that very thing," said
Bridge. "There are four carbines quite ready for us. It would
mean sudden death to resist now. Later we may find an
opportunity--I think we'd better act simple and wait." He
spoke in a quick, low whisper, for the spokesman of the
brigands evidently understood a little English and was on the
alert for any trickery.
Billy shrugged, and when their captors again urged them
forward he went quietly; but the expression on his face might
have perturbed the Mexicans had they known Billy Byrne of
Grand Avenue better--he was smiling happily.
Miguel had two ponies in his corral. These the brigands
appropriated, placing Billy upon one and Miguel and Bridge
upon the other. Billy's great weight rendered it inadvisable to
double him up with another rider.
As they were mounting Billy leaned toward Bridge and
"I'll get these guys, pal--watch me," he said.
"I am with thee, William!--horse, foot, and artillery,"
"Which reminds me," said Billy, "that I have an ace-in-the-hole
--the boobs never frisked me."
"And I am reminded," returned Bridge, as the horses started
off to the yank of hackamore ropes in the hands of the
brigands who were leading them, "of a touching little thing of
Just think! Some night the stars will gleam
Upon a cold gray stone,
And trace a name with silver beam,
And lo! 'twill be your own.
"You're a cheerful guy," was Billy's only comment.
IN PESITA'S CAMP
PESITA was a short, stocky man with a large, dark mustache.
He attired himself after his own ideas of what should constitute
the uniform of a general--ideas more or less influenced
and modified by the chance and caprice of fortune.
At the moment that Billy, Bridge, and Miguel were dragged
into his presence his torso was enwrapped in a once resplendent
coat covered with yards of gold braid. Upon his shoulders
were brass epaulets such as are connected only in one's
mind with the ancient chorus ladies of the light operas of
fifteen or twenty years ago. Upon his legs were some rusty
and ragged overalls. His feet were bare.
He scowled ferociously at the prisoners while his lieutenant
narrated the thrilling facts of their capture--thrilling by
"You are Americanos?" he asked of Bridge and Billy.
Both agreed that they were. Then Pesita turned toward
"Where is Villa?" he asked.
"How should I know, my general?" parried Miguel. "Who
am I--a poor man with a tiny rancho--to know of the
movements of the great ones of the earth? I did not even
know where was the great General Pesita until now I am
brought into his gracious presence, to throw myself at his feet
and implore that I be permitted to serve him in even the
meanest of capacities."
Pesita appeared not to hear what Miguel had said. He
turned his shoulder toward the man, and addressed Billy in
"You were on your way to El Orobo Rancho, eh? Are you
acquainted there?" he asked.
Billy replied that they were not--merely looking for
employment upon an American-owned ranch or in an American
"Why did you leave your own country?" asked Pesita.
"What do you want here in Mexico?"
"Well, ol' top," replied Billy, "you see de birds was flyin'
south an' winter was in de air, an a fat-head dick from Chi
was on me trail--so I ducks."
"Ducks?" queried Pesita, mystified. "Ah, the ducks--they
fly south, I see."
"Naw, you poor simp--I blows," explained Billy.
"Ah, yes," agreed Pesita, not wishing to admit any
ignorance of plain American even before a despised gringo. "But
the large-faced dick--what might that be? I have spend much
time in the States, but I do not know that"
"I said 'fat-head dick'--dat's a fly cop," Billy elucidated.
"It is he then that is the bird." Pesita beamed at this
evidence of his own sagacity. "He fly."
"Flannagan ain't no bird--Flannagan's a dub."
Bridge came to the rescue.
"My erudite friend means," he explained, "that the police
chased him out of the United States of America."
Pesita raised his eyebrows. All was now clear to him.
"But why did he not say so?" he asked.
"He tried to," said Bridge. "He did his best."
"Quit yer kiddin'," admonished Billy.
A bright fight suddenly burst upon Pesita. He turned upon
"Your friend is not then an American?" he asked. "I
guessed it. That is why I could not understand him. He speaks
the language of the gringo less well even than I. From what
country is he?"
Billy Byrne would have asserted with some show of asperity
that he was nothing if not American; but Bridge was quick to
see a possible loophole for escape for his friend in Pesita's
belief that Billy was no gringo, and warned the latter to
silence by a quick motion of his head.
"He's from 'Gran' Avenoo,'" he said. "It is not exactly in
Germany; but there are a great many Germans there. My
friend is a native, so he don't speak German or English
either--they have a language of their own in 'Gran' Avenoo'."
"I see," said Pesita--"a German colony. I like the
Germans--they furnish me with much ammunition and rifles.
They are my very good friends. Take Miguel and the gringo
away"--this to the soldiers who had brought the prisoners to
him--"I will speak further with this man from Granavenoo."
When the others had passed out of hearing Pesita addressed
"I am sorry, senor," he said, "that you have been put to so
much inconvenience. My men could not know that you were
not a gringo; but I can make it all right. I will make it all
right. You are a big man. The gringos have chased you from
their country as they chased me. I hate them. You hate them.
But enough of them. You have no business in Mexico except
to seek work. I give you work. You are big. You are strong.
You are like a bull. You stay with me, senor, and I make you
captain. I need men what can talk some English and look like
gringo. You do fine. We make much money--you and I. We
make it all time while we fight to liberate my poor Mexico.
When Mexico liberate we fight some more to liberate her
again. The Germans they give me much money to liberate
Mexico, and--there are other ways of getting much money
when one is riding around through rich country with soldiers
liberating his poor, bleeding country. Sabe?"
"Yep, I guess I savvy," said Billy, "an' it listens all right to
me's far's you've gone. My pal in on it?"
"You make my frien' a captain, too?"
Pesita held up his hands and rolled his eyes in holy horror.
Take a gringo into his band? It was unthinkable.
"He shot," he cried. "I swear to kill all gringo. I become
savior of my country. I rid her of all Americanos."
"Nix on the captain stuff fer me, then," said Billy, firmly.
"That guy's a right one. If any big stiff thinks he can croak
little ol' Bridge while Billy Byrne's aroun' he's got anudder
t'ink comin'. Why, me an' him's just like brudders."
"You like this gringo?" asked Pesita.
"You bet," cried Billy.
Pesita thought for several minutes. In his mind was a
scheme which required the help of just such an individual as
this stranger--someone who was utterly unknown in the surrounding
country and whose presence in a town could not by
any stretch of the imagination be connected in any way with
the bandit, Pesita.
"I tell you," he said. "I let your friend go. I send him under
safe escort to El Orobo Rancho. Maybe he help us there after
a while. If you stay I let him go. Otherwise I shoot you both
"Wot you got it in for Mig fer?" asked Billy. "He's a
harmless sort o' guy."
"He Villista. Villista with gringos run Mexico--gringos and
the church. Just like Huerta would have done it if they'd given
him a chance, only Huerta more for church than for gringos."
"Aw, let the poor boob go," urged Billy, "an' I'll come
along wit you. Why he's got a wife an' kids--you wouldn't
want to leave them without no one to look after them in this
Pesita grinned indulgently.
"Very well, Senor Captain," he said, bowing low. "I let
Miguel and your honorable friend go. I send safe escort with
"Bully fer you, ol' pot!" exclaimed Billy, and Pesita smiled
delightedly in the belief that some complimentary title had
been applied to him in the language of "Granavenoo." "I'll go
an' tell 'em," said Billy.
"Yes," said Pesita, "and say to them that they will start
early in the morning."
As Billy turned and walked in the direction that the soldiers
had led Bridge and Miguel, Pesita beckoned to a soldier who
leaned upon his gun at a short distance from his "general"--a
barefooted, slovenly attempt at a headquarters orderly.
"Send Captain Rozales to me," directed Pesita.
The soldier shuffled away to where a little circle of men in
wide-brimmed, metal-encrusted hats squatted in the shade of a
tree, chatting, laughing, and rolling cigarettes. He saluted one
of these and delivered his message, whereupon the tall, gaunt
Captain Rozales arose and came over to Pesita.
"The big one who was brought in today is not a gringo,"
said Pesita, by way of opening the conversation. "He is from
Granavenoo. He can be of great service to us, for he is very
friendly with the Germans--yet be looks like a gringo and
could pass for one. We can utilize him. Also he is very large
and appears to be equally strong. He should make a good
fighter and we have none too many. I have made him a
Rozales grinned. Already among Pesita's following of a
hundred men there were fifteen captains.
"Where is Granavenoo?" asked Rozales.
"You mean to say, my dear captain," exclaimed Pesita,
"that a man of your education does not know where Granavenoo is?
I am surprised. Why, it is a German colony."
"Yes, of course. I recall it well now. For the moment it had
slipped my mind. My grandfather who was a great traveler
was there many times. I have heard him speak of it often."
"But I did not summon you that we might discuss European
geography," interrupted Pesita. "I sent for you to tell you
that the stranger would not consent to serve me unless I
liberated his friend, the gringo, and that sneaking spy of a
Miguel. I was forced to yield, for we can use the stranger. So
I have promised, my dear captain, that I shall send them upon
their road with a safe escort in the morning, and you shall
command the guard. Upon your life respect my promise, Rozales;
but if some of Villa's cutthroats should fall upon you,
and in the battle, while you were trying to defend the gringo
and Miguel, both should be slain by the bullets of the
Villistas--ah, but it would be deplorable, Rozales, but it would
not be your fault. Who, indeed, could blame you who had
fought well and risked your men and yourself in the performance
of your sacred duty? Rozales, should such a thing
occur what could I do in token of my great pleasure other
than make you a colonel?"
"I shall defend them with my life, my general," cried
Rozales, bowing low.
"Good!" cried Pesita. "That is all."
Rozales started back toward the ring of smokers.
"Ah, Captain!" cried Pesita. "Another thing. Will you make
it known to the other officers that the stranger from Granavenoo
is a captain and that it is my wish that he be well treated,
but not told so much as might injure him, or his usefulness,
about our sacred work of liberating poor, bleeding unhappy
Again Rozales bowed and departed. This time he was not
Billy found Bridge and Miguel squatting on the ground
with two dirty-faced peons standing guard over them. The
latter were some little distance away. They made no objection
when Billy approached the prisoners though they had looked
in mild surprise when they saw him crossing toward them
without a guard.
Billy sat down beside Bridge, and broke into a laugh.
"What's the joke?" asked Bridge. "Are we going to be
hanged instead of being shot?"
"We ain't goin' to be either," said Billy, "an' I'm a captain.
Whaddaya know about that?"
He explained all that had taken place between himself and
Pesita while Bridge and Miguel listened attentively to his every
"I t'ought it was about de only way out fer us," said Billy.
"We were in worse than I t'ought."
"Can the Bowery stuff, Billy," cried Bridge, "and talk like a
white man. You can, you know."
"All right, bo," cried Billy, good-naturedly. "You see I
forget when there is anything pressing like this, to chew
about. Then I fall back into the old lingo. Well, as I was
saying, I didn't want to do it unless you would stay too, but
he wouldn't have you. He has it in for all gringos, and that
bull you passed him about me being from a foreign country
called Grand Avenue! He fell for it like a rube for the
tapped-wire stuff. He said if I wouldn't stay and help him he'd croak
the bunch of us."
"How about that ace-in-the-hole, you were telling me
about?" asked Bridge.
"I still got it," and Billy fondled something hard that swung
under his left arm beneath his shirt; "but, Lord, man! what
could I do against the whole bunch? I might get a few of
them; but they'd get us all in the end. This other way is
better, though I hate to have to split with you, old man."
He was silent then for a moment, looking hard at the
ground. Bridge whistled, and cleared his throat.
"I've always wanted to spend a year in Rio," he said.
"We'll meet there, when you can make your get-away."
"You've said it," agreed Byrne. "It's Rio as soon as we can
make it. Pesita's promised to set you both loose in the
morning and send you under safe escort--Miguel to his happy
home, and you to El Orobo Rancho. I guess the old stiff isn't
so bad after all."
Miguel had pricked up his ears at the sound of the word
ESCORT. He leaned far forward, closer to the two Americans,
"Who is to command the escort?" he asked.
"I dunno," said Billy. "What difference does it make?"
"It makes all the difference between life and death for your
friend and for me," said Miguel. "There is no reason why I
should need an escort. I know my way throughout all Chihuahua
as well as Pesita or any of his cutthroats. I have
come and gone all my life without an escort. Of course your
friend is different. It might be well for him to have company
to El Orobo. Maybe it is all right; but wait until we learn who
commands the escort. I know Pesita well. I know his methods.
If Rozales rides out with us tomorrow morning you may say
good-bye to your friend forever, for you will never see him in
Rio, or elsewhere. He and I will be dead before ten o'clock."
"What makes you think that, bo?" demanded Billy.
"I do not think, senor," replied Miguel; "I know."
"Well," said Billy, "we'll wait and see."
"If it is Rozales, say nothing," said Miguel. "It will do no
good; but we may then be on the watch, and if possible you
might find the means to obtain a couple of revolvers for us. In
which case--" he shrugged and permitted a faint smile to flex
As they talked a soldier came and announced that they
were no longer prisoners--they were to have the freedom of
the camp; "but," he concluded, "the general requests that you
do not pass beyond the limits of the camp. There are many
desperadoes in the hills and he fears for your safety, now that
you are his guests."
The man spoke Spanish, so that it was necessary that
Bridge interpret his words for the benefit of Billy, who had
understood only part of what he said.
"Ask him," said Byrne, "if that stuff goes for me, too."
"He says no," replied Bridge after questioning the soldier,
"that the captain is now one of them, and may go and come as
do the other officers. Such are Pesita's orders."
Billy arose. The messenger had returned to his post at
headquarters. The guard had withdrawn, leaving the three
"So long, old man," said Billy. "If I'm goin' to be of any
help to you and Mig the less I'm seen with you the better. I'll
blow over and mix with the Dago bunch, an' practice sittin'
on my heels. It seems to be the right dope down here, an' I
got to learn all I can about bein' a greaser seein' that I've
"Good-bye Billy, remember Rio," said Bridge.
"And the revolvers, senor," added Miguel.
"You bet," replied Billy, and strolled off in the direction of
the little circle of cigarette smokers.
As he approached them Rozales looked up and smiled.
Then, rising, extended his hand.
"Senor Captain," he said, "we welcome you. I am Captain
Rozales." He hesitated waiting for Billy to give his name.
"My monacker's Byrne," said Billy. "Pleased to meet you,
"Ah, Captain Byrne," and Rozales proceeded to introduce
the newcomer to his fellow-officers.
Several, like Rozales, were educated men who had been
officers in the army under former regimes, but had turned
bandit as the safer alternative to suffering immediate death at
the hands of the faction then in power. The others, for the
most part, were pure-blooded Indians whose adult lives had
been spent in outlawry and brigandage. All were small of
stature beside the giant, Byrne. Rozales and two others spoke
English. With those Billy conversed. He tried to learn from
them the name of the officer who was to command the escort
that was to accompany Bridge and Miguel into the valley on
the morrow; but Rozales and the others assured him that they
did not know.
When he had asked the question Billy had been looking
straight at Rozales, and he had seen the man's pupils contract
and noticed the slight backward movement of the body which
also denotes determination. Billy knew, therefore, that Rozales
was lying. He did know who was to command the escort, and
there was something sinister in that knowledge or the fellow
would not have denied it.
The American began to consider plans for saving his friend
from the fate which Pesita had outlined for him. Rozales, too,
was thinking rapidly. He was no fool. Why had the stranger
desired to know who was to command the escort? He knew
none of the officers personally. What difference then, did it
make to him who rode out on the morrow with his friend?
Ah, but Miguel knew that it would make a difference. Miguel
had spoken to the new captain, and aroused his suspicions.
Rozales excused himself and rose. A moment later he was
in conversation with Pesita, unburdening himself of his suspicions,
and outlining a plan.
"Do not send me in charge of the escort," he advised.
"Send Captain Byrne himself."
Pesita pooh-poohed the idea.
"But wait," urged Rozales. "Let the stranger ride in command,
with a half-dozen picked men who will see that nothing
goes wrong. An hour before dawn I will send two men--they
will be our best shots--on ahead. They will stop at a place we
both know, and about noon the Captain Byrne and his escort
will ride back to camp and tell us that they were attacked by
a troop of Villa's men, and that both our guests were killed.
It will be sad; but it will not be our fault. We will swear
vengeance upon Villa, and the Captain Byrne will hate him as
a good Pesitista should."
"You have the cunning of the Coyote, my captain," cried
Pesita. "It shall be done as you suggest. Go now, and I will
send for Captain Byrne, and give him his orders for the
As Rozales strolled away a figure rose from the shadows at
the side of Pesita's tent and slunk off into the darkness.
BILLY'S FIRST COMMAND
AND so it was that having breakfasted in the morning Bridge
and Miguel started downward toward the valley protected by
an escort under Captain Billy Byrne. An old service jacket
and a wide-brimmed hat, both donated by brother officers,
constituted Captain Byrne's uniform. His mount was the largest
that the picket line of Pesita's forces could produce. Billy
loomed large amongst his men.
For an hour they rode along the trail, Billy and Bridge
conversing upon various subjects, none of which touched
upon the one uppermost in the mind of each. Miguel rode,
silent and preoccupied. The evening before he had whispered
something to Bridge as he had crawled out of the darkness to
lie close to the American, and during a brief moment that
morning Bridge had found an opportunity to relay the Mexican's
message to Billy Byrne.
The latter had but raised his eyebrows a trifle at the time,
but later he smiled more than was usual with him. Something
seemed to please him immensely.
Beside him at the head of the column rode Bridge and
Miguel. Behind them trailed the six swarthy little troopers--
the picked men upon whom Pesita could depend.
They had reached a point where the trail passes through a
narrow dry arroyo which the waters of the rainy season had
cut deep into the soft, powdery soil. Upon either bank grew
cacti and mesquite, forming a sheltering screen behind which a
regiment might have hidden. The place was ideal for an
"Here, Senor Capitan," whispered Miguel, as they neared
the entrance to the trap.
A low hill shut off from their view all but the head of the
cut, and it also hid them from the sight of any possible enemy
which might have been lurking in wait for them farther down
At Miguel's words Byrne wheeled his horse to the right
away from the trail which led through the bottom of the waterway
and around the base of the hill, or rather in that direction,
for he had scarce deviated from the direct way before one
of the troopers spurred to his side, calling out in Spanish
that he was upon the wrong trail.
"Wot's this guy chewin' about?" asked Billy, turning to
"He says you must keep to the arroyo, Senor Capitan,"
explained the Mexican.
"Tell him to go back into his stall," was Byrne's laconic
rejoinder, as he pushed his mount forward to pass the brigand.
The soldier was voluble in his objections. Again he reined
in front of Billy, and by this time his five fellows had spurred
forward to block the way.
"This is the wrong trail," they cried. "Come this other way,
Capitan. Pesita has so ordered it."
Catching the drift of their remarks, Billy waved them to one
"I'm bossin' this picnic," he announced. "Get out o' the
way, an' be quick about it if you don't want to be hurted."
Again he rode forward. Again the troopers interposed their
mounts, and this time their leader cocked his carbine. His
attitude was menacing. Billy was close to him. Their ponies
were shoulder to shoulder, that of the bandit almost broadside
of the trail.
Now Billy Byrne was more than passing well acquainted
with many of the fundamental principles of sudden brawls. it
is safe to say that he had never heard of Van Bibber; but he
knew, as well as Van Bibber knew, that it is well to hit first.
Without a word and without warning he struck, leaning
forward with all the weight of his body behind his blow, and
catching the man full beneath the chin he lifted him as neatly
from his saddle as though a battering ram had struck him.
Simultaneously Bridge and Miguel drew revolvers from their
shirts and as Billy wheeled his pony toward the remaining five
they opened fire upon them.
The battle was short and sweet. One almost escaped but
Miguel, who proved to be an excellent revolver shot, brought
him down at a hundred yards. He then, with utter disregard
for the rules of civilized warfare, dispatched those who were
not already dead.
"We must let none return to carry false tales to Pesita," he
Even Billy Byrne winced at the ruthlessness of the
cold-blooded murders; but he realized the necessity which
confronted them though he could not have brought himself to do the
things which the Mexican did with such sang-froid and even
"Now for the others!" cried Miguel, when he had assured
himself that each of the six were really quite dead.
Spurring after him Billy and Bridge ran their horses over
the rough ground at the base of the little hill, and then
parallel to the arroyo for a matter of a hundred yards, where
they espied two Indians, carbines in hand, standing in evident
consternation because of the unexpected fusillade of shots
which they had just heard and which they were unable to
At the sight of the three the sharpshooters dropped behind
cover and fired. Billy's horse stumbled at the first report,
caught himself, reared high upon his hind legs and then
toppled over, dead.
His rider, throwing himself to one side, scrambled to his feet
and fired twice at the partially concealed men. Miguel and
Bridge rode in rapidly to close quarters, firing as they came.
One of the two men Pesita had sent to assassinate his "guests"
dropped his gun, clutched at his breast, screamed, and sank
back behind a clump of mesquite. The other turned and
leaped over the edge of the bank into the arroyo, rolling and
tumbling to the bottom in a cloud of dry dust.
As he rose to his feet and started on a run up the bed of
the dry stream, dodging a zigzag course from one bit of scant
cover to another Billy Byrne stepped to the edge of the
washout and threw his carbine to his shoulder. His face was
flushed, his eyes sparkled, a smile lighted his regular features.
"This is the life!" he cried, and pulled the trigger.
The man beneath him, running for his life like a frightened
jackrabbit, sprawled forward upon his face, made a single
effort to rise and then slumped limply down, forever.
Miguel and Bridge, dismounted now, came to Byrne's side.
The Mexican was grinning broadly.
"The captain is one grand fighter," he said. "How my dear
general would admire such a man as the captain. Doubtless he
would make him a colonel. Come with me Senor Capitan and
your fortune is made."
"Come where?" asked Billy Byrne.
"To the camp of the liberator of poor, bleeding Mexico--to
General Francisco Villa."
"Nothin' doin'," said Billy. "I'm hooked up with this Pesita
person now, an' I guess I'll stick. He's given me more of a run
for my money in the last twenty-four hours than I've had
since I parted from my dear old friend, the Lord of Yoka."
"But Senor Capitan," cried Miguel, "you do not mean to
say that you are going back to Pesita! He will shoot you
down with his own hand when he has learned what has
"I guess not," said Billy.
"You'd better go with Miguel, Billy," urged Bridge. "Pesita
will not forgive you this. You've cost him eight men today
and he hasn't any more men than he needs at best. Besides
you've made a monkey of him and unless I miss my guess
you'll have to pay for it."
"No," said Billy, "I kind o' like this Pesita gent. I think I'll
stick around with him for a while yet. Anyhow until I've had
a chance to see his face after I've made my report to him.
You guys run along now and make your get-away good, an'
I'll beat it back to camp."
He crossed to where the two horses of the slain marksmen
were hidden, turned one of them loose and mounted the other.
"So long, boes!" he cried, and with a wave of his hand
wheeled about and spurred back along the trail over which
they had just come.
Miguel and Bridge watched him for a moment, then they,
too, mounted and turned away in the opposite direction.
Bridge recited no verse for the balance of that day. His heart
lay heavy in his bosom, for he missed Billy Byrne, and was
fearful of the fate which awaited him at the camp of the
Billy, blithe as a lark, rode gaily back along the trail to
camp. He looked forward with unmixed delight to his coming
interview with Pesita, and to the wild, half-savage life which
association with the bandit promised. All his life had Billy
Byrne fed upon excitement and adventure. As gangster, thug,
holdup man and second-story artist Billy had found food for
his appetite within the dismal, sooty streets of Chicago's great
West Side, and then Fate had flung him upon the savage
shore of Yoka to find other forms of adventure where the
best that is in a strong man may be brought out in the stern
battle for existence against primeval men and conditions. The
West Side had developed only Billy's basest characteristics. He
might have slipped back easily into the old ways had it not
been for HER and the recollection of that which he had read in
her eyes. Love had been there; but greater than that to hold a
man into the straight and narrow path of decency and honor
had been respect and admiration. It had seemed incredible to
Billy that a goddess should feel such things for him--for the
same man her scornful lips once had branded as coward and
mucker; yet he had read the truth aright, and since then Billy
Byrne had done his best according to the fight that had been
given him to deserve the belief she had in him.
So far there had crept into his consciousness no disquieting
doubts as to the consistency of his recent action in joining
the force of a depredating Mexican outlaw. Billy knew nothing
of the political conditions of the republic. Had Pesita told him
that he was president of Mexico, Billy could not have disputed
the statement from any knowledge of facts which he possessed.
As a matter of fact about all Billy had ever known of Mexico
was that it had some connection with an important place
called Juarez where running meets were held.
To Billy Byrne, then, Pesita was a real general, and Billy,
himself, a bona fide captain. He had entered an army which
was at war with some other army. What they were warring
about Billy knew not, nor did he care. There should be
fighting and he loved that--that much he knew. The ethics of
Pesita's warfare troubled him not. He had heard that some
great American general had said: "War is hell." Billy was
willing to take his word for it, and accept anything which
came in the guise of war as entirely proper and as it should
The afternoon was far gone when Billy drew rein in the
camp of the outlaw band. Pesita with the bulk of his raiders
was out upon some excursion to the north. Only half a dozen
men lolled about, smoking or sleeping away the hot day. They
looked at Billy in evident surprise when they saw him riding
in alone; but they asked no questions and Billy offered no
explanation--his report was for the ears of Pesita only.
The balance of the day Billy spent in acquiring further
knowledge of Spanish by conversing with those of the men
who remained awake, and asking innumerable questions. It
was almost sundown when Pesita rode in. Two riderless
horses were led by troopers in the rear of the little column
and three men swayed painfully in their saddles and their
clothing was stained with blood.
Evidently Pesita had met with resistance. There was much
voluble chattering on the part of those who had remained
behind in their endeavors to extract from their returning
comrades the details of the day's enterprise. By piecing
together the various scraps of conversation he could understand
Billy discovered that Pesita had ridden far to demand tribute
from a wealthy ranchero, only to find that word of his coming
had preceded him and brought a large detachment of Villa's
regulars who concealed themselves about the house and
outbuildings until Pesita and his entire force were well within
"We were lucky to get off as well as we did," said an
Billy grinned inwardly as he thought of the pleasant frame
of mind in which Pesita might now be expected to receive the
news that eight of his troopers had been killed and his two
"guests" safely removed from the sphere of his hospitality.
And even as his mind dwelt delightedly upon the subject a
ragged Indian carrying a carbine and with heavy silver spurs
strapped to his bare feet approached and saluted him.
"General Pesita wishes Senor Capitan Byrne to report to
him at once," said the man.
"Sure Mike!" replied Billy, and made his way through the
pandemonium of the camp toward the headquarters tent.
As he went he slipped his hand inside his shirt and
loosened something which hung beneath his left arm.
"Li'l ol' ace-in-the-hole," he murmured affectionately.
He found Pesita pacing back and forth before his tent--an
energetic bundle of nerves which no amount of hard riding
and fighting could tire or discourage.
As Billy approached Pesita shot a quick glance at his face,
that he might read, perhaps, in his new officer's expression
whether anger or suspicion had been aroused by the killing of
his American friend, for Pesita never dreamed but that Bridge
had been dead since mid-forenoon.
"Well," said Pesita, smiling, "you left Senor Bridge and
Miguel safely at their destination?"
"I couldn't take 'em all the way," replied Billy, "cause I
didn't have no more men to guard 'em with; but I seen 'em
past the danger I guess an' well on their way."
"You had no men?" questioned Pesita. "You had six
"Oh, they was all croaked before we'd been gone two
hours. You see it happens like this: We got as far as that dry
arroyo just before the trail drops down into the valley, when
up jumps a bunch of this here Villa's guys and commenced
takin' pot shots at us.
"Seein' as how I was sent to guard Bridge an' Mig, I makes
them dismount and hunt cover, and then me an' my men
wades in and cleans up the bunch. They was only a few of
them but they croaked the whole bloomin' six o' mine.
"I tell you it was some scrap while it lasted; but I saved
your guests from gettin' hurted an' I know that that's what
you sent me to do. It's too bad about the six men we lost but,
leave it to me, we'll get even with that Villa guy yet. Just lead
me to 'im."
As he spoke Billy commenced scratching himself beneath
the left arm, and then, as though to better reach the point of
irritation, he slipped his hand inside his shirt. If Pesita noticed
the apparently innocent little act, or interpreted it correctly
may or may not have been the fact. He stood looking straight
into Byrne's eyes for a full minute. His face denoted neither
baffled rage nor contemplated revenge. Presently a slow smile
raised his heavy mustache and revealed his strong, white teeth.
"You have done well, Captain Byrne," he said. "You are a
man after my own heart," and he extended his hand.
A half-hour later Billy walked slowly back to his own
blankets, and to say that he was puzzled would scarce have
described his mental state.
"I can't quite make that gink out," he mused. "Either he's a
mighty good loser or else he's a deep one who'll wait a year
to get me the way he wants to get me."
And Pesita a few moments later was saying to Captain
"I should have shot him if I could spare such a man; but it
is seldom I find one with the courage and effrontery he
possesses. Why think of it, Rozales, he kills eight of my men,
and lets my prisoners escape, and then dares to come back
and tell me about it when he might easily have gotten away.
Villa would have made him an officer for this thing, and
Miguel must have told him so. He found out in some way
about your little plan and he turned the tables on us. We can
use him, Rozales, but we must watch him. Also, my dear
captain, watch his right hand and when he slips it into his
shirt be careful that you do not draw on him--unless you
happen to be behind him."
Rozales was not inclined to take his chief's view of Byrne's
value to them. He argued that the man was guilty of disloyalty
and therefore a menace. What he thought, but did not advance
as an argument, was of a different nature. Rozales was
filled with rage to think that the newcomer had outwitted him,
and beaten him at his own game, and he was jealous, too, of
the man's ascendancy in the esteem of Pesita; but he hid his
personal feelings beneath a cloak of seeming acquiescence in
his chief's views, knowing that some day his time would come
when he might rid himself of the danger of this obnoxious
"And tomorrow," continued Pesita, "I am sending him to
Cuivaca. Villa has considerable funds in bank there, and this
stranger can learn what I want to know about the size of the
detachment holding the town, and the habits of the garrison."
BARBARA IN MEXICO
THE manager of El Orobo Rancho was an American named
Grayson. He was a tall, wiry man whose education had been
acquired principally in the cow camps of Texas, where, among
other things one does NOT learn to love nor trust a greaser. As
a result of this early training Grayson was peculiarly unfitted
in some respects to manage an American ranch in Mexico; but
he was a just man, and so if his vaqueros did not love him,
they at least respected him, and everyone who was or possessed
the latent characteristics of a wrongdoer feared him.
Perhaps it is not fair to say that Grayson was in any way
unfitted for the position he held, since as a matter of fact he
was an ideal ranch foreman, and, if the truth be known, the
simple fact that he was a gringo would have been sufficient to
have won him the hatred of the Mexicans who worked under
him--not in the course of their everyday relations; but when
the fires of racial animosity were fanned to flame by some
untoward incident upon either side of the border.
Today Grayson was particularly rabid. The more so
because he could not vent his anger upon the cause of it, who
was no less a person than his boss.
It seemed incredible to Grayson that any man of intelligence
could have conceived and then carried out the fool thing
which the boss had just done, which was to have come from
the safety of New York City to the hazards of warring
Mexico, bringing--and this was the worst feature of it--his
daughter with him. And at such a time! Scarce a day passed
without its rumors or reports of new affronts and even
atrocities being perpetrated upon American residents of Mexico.
Each day, too, the gravity of these acts increased. From
mere insult they had run of late to assault and even to
murder. Nor was the end in sight.
Pesita had openly sworn to rid Mexico of the gringo--to
kill on sight every American who fell into his hands. And
what could Grayson do in case of a determined attack upon
the rancho? It is true he had a hundred men--laborers and
vaqueros, but scarce a dozen of these were Americans, and
the rest would, almost without exception, follow the inclinations
of consanguinity in case of trouble.
To add to Grayson's irritability he had just lost his
bookkeeper, and if there was one thing more than any other that
Grayson hated it was pen and ink. The youth had been a
"lunger" from Iowa, a fairly nice little chap, and entirely
suited to his duties under any other circumstances than those
which prevailed in Mexico at that time. He was in mortal
terror of his life every moment that he was awake, and at last
had given in to the urge of cowardice and resigned. The day
previous he had been bundled into a buckboard and driven
over to the Mexican Central which, at that time, still was
operating trains--occasionally--between Chihuahua and Juarez.
His mind filled with these unpleasant thoughts, Grayson sat
at his desk in the office of the ranch trying to unravel the
riddle of a balance sheet which would not balance. Mixed
with the blue of the smoke from his briar was the deeper
azure of a spirited monologue in which Grayson was engaged.
A girl was passing the building at the moment. At her side
walked a gray-haired man--one of those men whom you just
naturally fit into a mental picture of a director's meeting
somewhere along Wall Street.
"Sich langwidge!" cried the girl, with a laugh, covering her
ears with her palms.
The man at her side smiled.
"I can't say that I blame him much, Barbara," he replied.
"It was a very foolish thing for me to bring you down here at
this time. I can't understand what ever possessed me to do it."
"Don't blame yourself, dear," remonstrated the girl, "when
it was all my fault. I begged and begged and begged until you
had to consent, and I'm not sorry either--if nothing happens
to you because of our coming. I couldn't stay in New York
another minute. Everyone was so snoopy, and I could just tell
that they were dying to ask questions about Billy and me."
"I can't get it through my head yet, Barbara," said the
man, "why in the world you broke with Billy Mallory. He's
one of the finest young men in New York City today--just
my ideal of the sort of man I'd like my only daughter to
"I tried, Papa," said the girl in a low voice; "but I
couldn't--I just couldn't."
"Was it because--" the man stopped abruptly. "Well, never
mind dear, I shan't be snoopy too. Here now, you run along
and do some snooping yourself about the ranch. I want to
stop in and have a talk with Grayson."
Down by one of the corrals where three men were busily
engaged in attempting to persuade an unbroken pony that a
spade bit is a pleasant thing to wear in one's mouth, Barbara
found a seat upon a wagon box which commanded an excellent
view of the entertainment going on within the corral.
As she sat there experiencing a combination of admiration for
the agility and courage of the men and pity for the horse
the tones of a pleasant masculine voice broke in upon her
"Out there somewhere!" says I to me. "By Gosh, I guess, thats poetry!
"Out there somewhere--Penelope--with kisses on her mouth!"
And then, thinks I, "O college guy! your talk it gets me in the eye,
The north is creeping in the air, the birds are flying south."
Barbara swung around to view the poet. She saw a slender
man astride a fagged Mexican pony. A ragged coat and
ragged trousers covered the man's nakedness. Indian moccasins
protected his feet, while a torn and shapeless felt hat sat
upon his well-shaped head. AMERICAN was written all over
him. No one could have imagined him anything else. Apparently
he was a tramp as well--his apparel proclaimed him
that; but there were two discordant notes in the otherwise
harmonious ensemble of your typical bo. He was clean shaven
and he rode a pony. He rode erect, too, with the easy seat of
an army officer.
At sight of the girl he raised his battered hat and swept it
low to his pony's shoulder as he bent in a profound bow.
"I seek the majordomo, senorita," he said.
"Mr. Grayson is up at the office, that little building to the
left of the ranchhouse," replied the girl, pointing.
The newcomer had addressed her in Spanish, and as he
heard her reply, in pure and liquid English, his eyes widened a
trifle; but the familiar smile with which he had greeted her left
his face, and his parting bow was much more dignified though
no less profound than its predecessor.
And you, my sweet Penelope, out there somewhere you wait for me,
With buds of roses in your hair and kisses on your mouth.
Grayson and his employer both looked up as the words of
Knibbs' poem floated in to them through the open window.
"I wonder where that blew in from," remarked Grayson, as
his eyes discovered Bridge astride the tired pony, looking at
him through the window. A polite smile touched the stranger's
lips as his eyes met Grayson's, and then wandered past him to
the imposing figure of the Easterner.
"Good evening, gentlemen," said Bridge.
"Evenin'," snapped Grayson. "Go over to the cookhouse
and the Chink'll give you something to eat. Turn your pony in
the lower pasture. Smith'll show you where to bunk tonight,
an' you kin hev your breakfast in the mornin'. S'long!" The
ranch superintendent turned back to the paper in his hand
which he had been discussing with his employer at the moment
of the interruption. He had volleyed his instructions at
Bridge as though pouring a rain of lead from a machine gun,
and now that he had said what he had to say the incident
was closed in so far as he was concerned.
The hospitality of the Southwest permitted no stranger to
be turned away without food and a night's lodging. Grayson
having arranged for these felt that he had done all that might
be expected of a host, especially when the uninvited guest was
so obviously a hobo and doubtless a horse thief as well, for
who ever knew a hobo to own a horse?
Bridge continued to sit where he had reined in his pony. He
was looking at Grayson with what the discerning boss judged
to be politely concealed enjoyment.
"Possibly," suggested the boss in a whisper to his aide, "the
man has business with you. You did not ask him, and I am
sure that he said nothing about wishing a meal or a place to
"Huh?" grunted Grayson, and then to Bridge, "Well, what
the devil DO you want?"
"A job," replied Bridge, "or, to be more explicit, I need a
job--far be it from me to WISH one."
The Easterner smiled. Grayson looked a bit mystified--and
"Well, I hain't got none," he snapped. "We don't need
nobody now unless it might be a good puncher--one who
can rope and ride."
"I can ride," replied Bridge, "as is evidenced by the fact
that you now see me astride a horse."
"I said RIDE," said Grayson. "Any fool can SIT on a horse.
NO, I hain't got nothin', an' I'm busy now. Hold on!" he
exclaimed as though seized by a sudden inspiration. He looked
sharply at Bridge for a moment and then shook his head
sadly. "No, I'm afraid you couldn't do it--a guy's got to be
eddicated for the job I got in mind."
"Washing dishes?" suggested Bridge.
Grayson ignored the playfulness of the other's question.
"Keepin' books," he explained. There was a finality in his
tone which said: "As you, of course, cannot keep books the
interview is now over. Get out!"
"I could try," said Bridge. "I can read and write, you
know. Let me try." Bridge wanted money for the trip to Rio,
and, too, he wanted to stay in the country until Billy was
ready to leave.
"Savvy Spanish?" asked Grayson.
"I read and write it better than I speak it," said Bridge,
"though I do the latter well enough to get along anywhere
that it is spoken."
Grayson wanted a bookkeeper worse than he could ever
recall having wanted anything before in all his life. His better
judgment told him that it was the height of idiocy to employ a
ragged bum as a bookkeeper; but the bum was at least as
much of a hope to him as is a straw to a drowning man, and
so Grayson clutched at him.
"Go an' turn your cayuse in an' then come back here," he
directed, "an' I'll give you a tryout."
"Thanks," said Bridge, and rode off in the direction of the
"'Fraid he won't never do," said Grayson, ruefully, after
Bridge had passed out of earshot.
"I rather imagine that he will," said the boss. "He is an
educated man, Grayson--you can tell that from his English,
which is excellent. He's probably one of the great army of
down-and-outers. The world is full of them--poor devils.
Give him a chance, Grayson, and anyway he adds another
American to our force, and each one counts."
"Yes, that's right; but I hope you won't need 'em before
you an' Miss Barbara go," said Grayson.
"I hope not, Grayson; but one can never tell with conditions
here such as they are. Have you any hope that you will
be able to obtain a safe conduct for us from General Villa?"
"Oh, Villa'll give us the paper all right," said Grayson; "but
it won't do us no good unless we don't meet nobody but
Villa's men on the way out. This here Pesita's the critter I'm
leery of. He's got it in for all Americans, and especially for El
Orobo Rancho. You know we beat off a raid of his about six
months ago--killed half a dozen of his men, an' he won't
never forgive that. Villa can't spare a big enough force to give
us safe escort to the border and he can't assure the safety of
the train service. It looks mighty bad, sir--I don't see what in
hell you came for."
"Neither do I, Grayson," agreed the boss; "but I'm here
and we've got to make the best of it. All this may blow over--
it has before--and we'll laugh at our fears in a few weeks."
"This thing that's happenin' now won't never blow over 'til
the stars and stripes blow over Chihuahua," said Grayson with
A few moments later Bridge returned to the office, having
unsaddled his pony and turned it into the pasture.
"What's your name?" asked Grayson, preparing to enter it
in his time book.
"Bridge," replied the new bookkeeper.
"'Nitials," snapped Grayson.
Bridge hesitated. "Oh, put me down as L. Bridge," he said.
"Where from?" asked the ranch foreman.
"El Orobo Rancho," answered Bridge.
Grayson shot a quick glance at the man. The answer
confirmed his suspicions that the stranger was probably a
horse thief, which, in Grayson's estimation, was the worst
thing a man could be.
"Where did you get that pony you come in on?" he
demanded. "I ain't sayin' nothin' of course, but I jest want to
tell you that we ain't got no use for horse thieves here."
The Easterner, who had been a listener, was shocked by the
brutality of Grayson's speech; but Bridge only laughed.
"If you must know," he said, "I never bought that horse,
an' the man he belonged to didn't give him to me. I just took
"You got your nerve," growled Grayson. "I guess you
better git out. We don't want no horse thieves here."
"Wait," interposed the boss. "This man doesn't act like a
horse thief. A horse thief, I should imagine, would scarcely
admit his guilt. Let's have his story before we judge him."
"All right," said Grayson; "but he's just admitted he stole
Bridge turned to the boss. "Thanks," he said; "but really I
did steal the horse."
Grayson made a gesture which said: "See, I told you so."
"It was like this," went on Bridge. "The gentleman who
owned the horse, together with some of his friends, had been
shooting at me and my friends. When it was all over there
was no one left to inform us who were the legal heirs of the
late owners of this and several other horses which were left
upon our hands, so I borrowed this one. The law would say,
doubtless, that I had stolen it; but I am perfectly willing to
return it to its rightful owners if someone will find them for
"You been in a scrap?" asked Grayson. "Who with?"
"A party of Pesita's men," replied Bridge.
"You see they are working pretty close," said Grayson, to
his employer, and then to Bridge: "Well, if you took that
cayuse from one of Pesita's bunch you can't call that stealin'.
Your room's in there, back of the office, an' you'll find some
clothes there that the last man forgot to take with him. You
ken have 'em, an' from the looks o' yourn you need 'em."
"Thank you," replied Bridge. "My clothes are a bit rusty. I
shall have to speak to James about them," and he passed
through into the little bedroom off the office, and closed the
door behind him.
"James?" grunted Grayson. "Who the devil does he mean
by James? I hain't seen but one of 'em."
The boss was laughing quietly.
"The man's a character," he said. "He'll be worth all you
pay him--if you can appreciate him, which I doubt, Grayson."
"I ken appreciate him if he ken keep books," replied
Grayson. "That's all I ask of him."
When Bridge emerged from the bedroom he was clothed in
white duck trousers, a soft shirt, and a pair of tennis shoes,
and such a change had they wrought in his appearance that
neither Grayson nor his employer would have known him
had they not seen him come from the room into which they
had sent him to make the exchange of clothing.
"Feel better?" asked the boss, smiling.
"Clothes are but an incident with me," replied Bridge. "I
wear them because it is easier to do so than it would be to
dodge the weather and the police. Whatever I may have upon
my back affects in no way what I have within my head. No, I
cannot say that I feel any better, since these clothes are not as
comfortable as my old ones. However if it pleases Mr. Grayson
that I should wear a pink kimono while working for him
I shall gladly wear a pink kimono. What shall I do first, sir?"
The question was directed toward Grayson.
"Sit down here an' see what you ken make of this bunch of
trouble," replied the foreman. "I'll talk with you again this
As Grayson and his employer quitted the office and walked
together toward the corrals the latter's brow was corrugated
by thought and his facial expression that of one who labors to
fasten upon a baffling and illusive recollection.
"It beats all, Grayson," be said presently; "but I am sure
that I have known this new bookkeeper of yours before. The
moment he came out of that room dressed like a human being
I knew that I had known him; but for the life of me I can't
place him. I should be willing to wager considerable, however,
that his name is not Bridge."
"S'pect you're right," assented Grayson. "He's probably one
o' them eastern dude bank clerks what's gone wrong and
come down here to hide. Mighty fine place to hide jest now,
"And say, speakin' of banks," he went on, "what'll I do
'bout sendin' over to Cuivaca fer the pay tomorrow. Next
day's pay day. I don't like to send this here bum, I can't trust
a greaser no better, an' I can't spare none of my white men
thet I ken trust."
"Send him with a couple of the most trustworthy Mexicans
you have," suggested the boss.
"There ain't no sich critter," replied Grayson; "but I guess
that's the best I ken do. I'll send him along with Tony an'
Benito--they hate each other too much to frame up anything
together, an' they both hate a gringo. I reckon they'll hev a
"But they'll get back with the money, eh?" queried the
"If Pesita don't get 'em," replied Grayson.
BILLY CRACKS A SAFE
BILLY BYRNE, captain, rode into Cuivaca from the south. He
had made a wide detour in order to accomplish this; but
under the circumstances he had thought it wise to do so. In
his pocket was a safe conduct from one of Villa's generals
farther south--a safe conduct taken by Pesita from the body
of one of his recent victims. It would explain Billy's presence
in Cuivaca since it had been intended to carry its rightful
possessor to Juarez and across the border into the United
He found the military establishment at Cuivaca small and ill
commanded. There were soldiers upon the streets; but the
only regularly detailed guard was stationed in front of the
bank. No one questioned Billy. He did not have to show his
"This looks easy," thought Billy. "A reg'lar skinch."
He first attended to his horse, turning him into a public
corral, and then sauntered up the street to the bank, which he
entered, still unquestioned. Inside he changed a bill of large
denomination which Pesita had given him for the purpose of
an excuse to examine the lay of the bank from the inside. Billy
took a long time to count the change. All the time his eyes
wandered about the interior while he made mental notes of
such salient features as might prove of moment to him later.
The money counted Billy slowly rolled a cigarette.
He saw that the bank was roughly divided into two sections
by a wire and wood partition. On one side were the customers,
on the other the clerks and a teller. The latter sat behind
a small wicket through which he received deposits and cashed
checks. Back of him, against the wall, stood a large safe of
American manufacture. Billy had had business before with
similar safes. A doorway in the rear wall led into the yard
behind the building. It was closed by a heavy door covered
with sheet iron and fastened by several bolts and a thick,
strong bar. There were no windows in the rear wall. From
that side the bank appeared almost impregnable to silent
Inside everything was primitive and Billy found himself
wondering how a week passed without seeing a bank robbery
in the town. Possibly the strong rear defenses and the armed
guard in front accounted for it.
Satisfied with what he had learned he passed out onto the
sidewalk and crossed the street to a saloon. Some soldiers and
citizens were drinking at little tables in front of the bar. A
couple of card games were in progress, and through the open
rear doorway Billy saw a little gathering encircling a cock
In none of these things was Billy interested. What he had
wished in entering the saloon was merely an excuse to place
himself upon the opposite side of the street from the bank that
he might inspect the front from the outside without arousing
Having purchased and drunk a bottle of poor beer, the
temperature of which had probably never been below eighty
since it left the bottling department of the Texas brewery
which inflicted it upon the ignorant, he sauntered to the front
window and looked out.
There he saw that the bank building was a two-story affair,
the entrance to the second story being at the left side of the
first floor, opening directly onto the sidewalk in full view of
the sentry who paced to and fro before the structure.
Billy wondered what the second floor was utilized for. He
saw soiled hangings at the windows which aroused a hope
and a sudden inspiration. There was a sign above the entrance
to the second floor; but Billy's knowledge of the language had
not progressed sufficiently to permit him to translate it,
although he had his suspicions as to its meaning. He would
learn if his guess was correct.
Returning to the bar he ordered another bottle of beer, and
as he drank it he practiced upon the bartender some of his
recently acquired Spanish and learned, though not without
considerable difficulty, that he might find lodgings for the
night upon the second floor of the bank building.
Much elated, Billy left the saloon and walked along the
street until he came to the one general store of the town. After
another heart rending scrimmage with the language of Ferdinand
and Isabella he succeeded in making several purchases--
two heavy sacks, a brace, two bits, and a keyhole saw. Placing
the tools in one of the sacks he wrapped the whole in the
second sack and made his way back to the bank building.
Upon the second floor he found the proprietor of the
rooming-house and engaged a room in the rear of the building,
overlooking the yard. The layout was eminently satisfactory
to Captain Byrne and it was with a feeling of great
self-satisfaction that he descended and sought a restaurant.
He had been sent by Pesita merely to look over the ground
and the defenses of the town, that the outlaw might later ride
in with his entire force and loot the bank; but Billy Byrne, out
of his past experience in such matters, had evolved a much
simpler plan for separating the enemy from his wealth.
Having eaten, Billy returned to his room. It was now dark
and the bank closed and unlighted showed that all had left
it. Only the sentry paced up and down the sidewalk in front.
Going at once to his room Billy withdrew his tools from
their hiding place beneath the mattress, and a moment later
was busily engaged in boring holes through the floor at the
foot of his bed. For an hour he worked, cautiously and
quietly, until he had a rough circle of holes enclosing a space
about two feet in diameter. Then he laid aside the brace and
bit, and took the keyhole saw, with which he patiently sawed
through the wood between contiguous holes, until, the circle
completed, he lifted out a section of the floor leaving an
aperture large enough to permit him to squeeze his body
through when the time arrived for him to pass into the bank
While Billy had worked three men had ridden into Cuivaca.
They were Tony, Benito, and the new bookkeeper of El
Orobo Rancho. The Mexicans, after eating, repaired at once
to the joys of the cantina; while Bridge sought a room in the
building to which his escort directed him.
As chance would have it, it was the same building in which
Billy labored and the room lay upon the rear side of it
overlooking the same yard. But Bridge did not lie awake to
inspect his surroundings. For years he had not ridden as many
miles as he had during the past two days, so that long unused
muscles cried out for rest and relaxation. As a result, Bridge
was asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow, and
so profound was his slumber that it seemed that nothing short
of a convulsion of nature would arouse him.
As Bridge lay down upon his bed Billy Byrne left his room
and descended to the street. The sentry before the bank paid
no attention to him, and Billy passed along, unhindered, to
the corral where he had left his horse. Here, as he was
saddling the animal, he was accosted, much to his disgust, by
in broken English the man expressed surprise that Billy
rode out so late at night, and the American thought that he
detected something more than curiosity in the other's manner
and tone--suspicion of the strange gringo.
It would never do to leave the fellow in that state of mind,
and so Billy leaned close to the other's ear, and with a broad
grin and a wink whispered: "Senorita," and jerked his thumb
toward the south. "I'll be back by mornin'," he added.
The Mexican's manner altered at once. He laughed and
nodded, knowingly, and poked Billy in the ribs. Then he
watched him mount and ride out of the corral toward the
south--which was also in the direction of the bank, to the
rear of which Billy rode without effort to conceal his movements.
There he dismounted and left his horse standing with the
bridle reins dragging upon the ground, while he removed the
lariat from the pommel of the saddle, and, stuffing it inside his
shirt, walked back to the street on which the building stood,
and so made his way past the sentry and to his room.
Here he pushed back the bed which he had drawn over the
hole in the floor, dropped his two sacks through into the
bank, and tying the brace to one end of the lariat lowered it
through after the sacks.
Looping the middle of the lariat over a bedpost Billy
grasped both strands firmly and lowered himself through the
aperture into the room beneath. He made no more noise in
his descent than he had made upon other similar occasions in
his past life when he had practiced the gentle art of
porch-climbing along Ashland Avenue and Washington Boulevard.
Having gained the floor he pulled upon one end of the
lariat until he had drawn it free of the bedpost above, when
it fell into his waiting hands. Coiling it carefully Billy placed it
around his neck and under one arm. Billy, acting as a
professional, was a careful and methodical man. He always saw that
every little detail was properly attended to before he went on
to the next phase of his endeavors. Because of this ingrained
caution Billy had long since secured the tops of the two sacks
together, leaving only a sufficient opening to permit of their
each being filled without delay or inconvenience.
Now he turned his attention to the rear door. The bar and
bolts were easily shot from their seats from the inside, and
Billy saw to it that this was attended to before he went further
with his labors. It were well to have one's retreat assured at
the earliest possible moment. A single bolt Billy left in place
that he might not be surprised by an intruder; but first he had
tested it and discovered that it could be drawn with ease.
These matters satisfactorily attended to Billy assaulted the
combination knob of the safe with the metal bit which he had
inserted in the brace before lowering it into the bank.
The work was hard and progressed slowly. It was necessary
to withdraw the bit often and lubricate it with a piece of soap
which Billy had brought along in his pocket for the purpose;
but eventually a hole was bored through into the tumblers of
the combination lock.
From without Billy could hear the footsteps of the sentry
pacing back and forth within fifty feet of him, all unconscious
that the bank he was guarding was being looted almost
beneath his eyes. Once a corporal came with another soldier
and relieved the sentry. After that Billy heard the footfalls no
longer, for the new sentry was barefoot.
The boring finished, Billy drew a bit of wire from an inside
pocket and inserted it in the hole. Then, working the wire
with accustomed fingers, he turned the combination knob this
way and that, feeling with the bit of wire until the tumblers
should all be in line.
This, too, was slow work; but it was infinitely less liable to
attract attention than any other method of safe cracking with
which Billy was familiar.
It was long past midnight when Captain Byrne was rewarded
with success--the tumblers clicked into position, the handle
of the safe door turned and the bolts slipped back.
To swing open the door and transfer the contents of the
safe to the two sacks was the work of but a few minutes. As
Billy rose and threw the heavy burden across a shoulder he
heard a challenge from without, and then a parley. Immediately
after the sound of footsteps ascending the stairway to the
rooming-house came plainly to his ears, and then he had
slipped the last bolt upon the rear door and was out in the
Now Bridge, sleeping the sleep of utter exhaustion that the
boom of a cannon might not have disturbed, did that inexplicable
thing which every one of us has done a hundred times
in our lives. He awakened, with a start, out of a sound sleep,
though no disturbing noise had reached his ears.
Something impelled him to sit up in bed, and as he did so
he could see through the window beside him into the yard at
the rear of the building. There in the moonlight he saw a man
throwing a sack across the horn of a saddle. He saw the man
mount, and he saw him wheel his horse around about and
ride away toward the north. There seemed to Bridge nothing
unusual about the man's act, nor had there been any indication
either of stealth or haste to arouse the American's suspicions.
Bridge lay back again upon his pillows and sought to
woo the slumber which the sudden awakening seemed to have
banished for the remainder of the night.
And up the stairway to the second floor staggered Tony
and Benito. Their money was gone; but they had acquired
something else which appeared much more difficult to carry
and not so easily gotten rid of.
Tony held the key to their room. It was the second room
upon the right of the hall. Tony remembered that very distinctly.
He had impressed it upon his mind before leaving the
room earlier in the evening, for Tony had feared some such
contingency as that which had befallen.
Tony fumbled with the handle of a door, and stabbed
vainly at an elusive keyhole.
"Wait," mumbled Benito. "This is not the room. It was the
second door from the stairway. This is the third."
Tony lurched about and staggered back. Tony reasoned:
"If that was the third door the next behind me must be the
second, and on the right;" but Tony took not into consideration
that he had reversed the direction of his erratic wobbling.
He lunged across the hall--not because he wished to but
because the spirits moved him. He came in contact with a
door. "This, then, must be the second door," he soliloquized,
"and it is upon my right. Ah, Benito, this is the room!"
Benito was skeptical. He said as much; but Tony was
obdurate. Did he not know a second door when he saw one?
Was he, furthermore, not a grown man and therefore entirely
capable of distinguishing between his left hand and his right?
Yes! Tony was all of that, and more, so Tony inserted the key
in the lock--it would have turned any lock upon the second
floor--and, lo! the door swung inward upon its hinges.
"Ah! Benito," cried Tony. "Did I not tell you so? See! This
is our room, for the key opens the door."
The room was dark. Tony, carried forward by the weight
of his head, which had long since grown unaccountably
heavy, rushed his feet rapidly forward that he might keep
them within a few inches of his center of equilibrium.
The distance which it took his feet to catch up with his
head was equal to the distance between the doorway and the
foot of the bed, and when Tony reached that spot, with
Benito meandering after him, the latter, much to his astonishment,
saw in the diffused moonlight which pervaded the room,
the miraculous disappearance of his former enemy and erstwhile
friend. Then from the depths below came a wild scream
and a heavy thud.
The sentry upon the beat before the bank heard both. For
an instant he stood motionless, then he called aloud for the
guard, and turned toward the bank door. But this was locked
and he could but peer in through the windows. Seeing a dark
form within, and being a Mexican he raised his rifle and fired
through the glass of the doors.
Tony, who had dropped through the hole which Billy had
used so quietly, heard the zing of a bullet pass his head, and
the impact as it sploshed into the adobe wall behind him.
With a second yell Tony dodged behind the safe and besought
Mary to protect him.
From above Benito peered through the hole into the blackness
below. Down the hall came the barefoot landlord, awakened by
the screams and the shot. Behind him came Bridge,
buckling his revolver belt about his hips as he ran. Not having
been furnished with pajamas Bridge had not thought it necessary
to remove his clothing, and so he had lost no time in
When the two, now joined by Benito, reached the street
they found the guard there, battering in the bank doors.
Benito, fearing for the life of Tony, which if anyone took
should be taken by him, rushed upon the sergeant of the
guard, explaining with both lips and hands the remarkable
accident which had precipitated Tony into the bank.
The sergeant listened, though he did not believe, and when
the doors had fallen in, he commanded Tony to come out
with his hands above his head. Then followed an investigation
which disclosed the looting of the safe, and the great hole in
the ceiling through which Tony had tumbled.
The bank president came while the sergeant and the landlord
were in Billy's room investigating. Bridge had followed
"It was the gringo," cried the excited Boniface. "This is his
room. He has cut a hole in my floor which I shall have to pay
to have repaired."
A captain came next, sleepy-eyed and profane. When he
heard what had happened and that the wealth which he had
been detailed to guard had been taken while he slept, he tore
his hair and promised that the sentry should be shot at dawn.
By the time they had returned to the street all the male
population of Cuivaca was there and most of the female.
"One-thousand dollars," cried the bank president, "to the
man who stops the thief and returns to me what the villain
A detachment of soldiers was in the saddle and passing the
bank as the offer was made.
"Which way did he go?" asked the captain. "Did no one
see him leave?"
Bridge was upon the point of saying that he had seen him
and that he had ridden north, when it occurred to him that a
thousand dollars--even a thousand dollars Mex--was a great
deal of money, and that it would carry both himself and Billy
to Rio and leave something for pleasure beside.
Then up spoke a tall, thin man with the skin of a coffee
"I saw him, Senor Capitan," he cried. "He kept his horse in
my corral, and at night he came and took it out saying that
he was riding to visit a senorita. He fooled me, the scoundrel;
but I will tell you--he rode south. I saw him ride south with
my own eyes."
"Then we shall have him before morning," cried the captain,
"for there is but one place to the south where a robber
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