The Mucker by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Part 7 out of 8
would ride, and he has not had sufficient start of us that he
can reach safety before we overhaul him. Forward! March!"
and the detachment moved down the narrow street. "Trot!
March!" And as they passed the store: "Gallop! March!"
Bridge almost ran the length of the street to the corral. His
pony must be rested by now, and a few miles to the north the
gringo whose capture meant a thousand dollars to Bridge was
on the road to liberty.
"I hate to do it," thought Bridge; "because, even if he is a
bank robber, he's an American; but I need the money and in
all probability the fellow is a scoundrel who should have been
hanged long ago."
Over the trail to the north rode Captain Billy Byrne, secure
in the belief that no pursuit would develop until after the
opening hour of the bank in the morning, by which time he
would be halfway on his return journey to Pesita's camp.
"Ol' man Pesita'll be some surprised when I show him what
I got for him," mused Billy. "Say!" he exclaimed suddenly and
aloud, "Why the devil should I take all this swag back to that
yellow-faced yegg? Who pulled this thing off anyway? Why
me, of course, and does anybody think Billy Byrne's boob
enough to split with a guy that didn't have a hand in it at all.
Split! Why the nut'll take it all!
"Nix! Me for the border. I couldn't do a thing with all this
coin down in Rio, an' Bridgie'll be along there most any time.
We can hit it up some in lil' ol' Rio on this bunch o' dough.
Why, say kid, there must be a million here, from the weight of
A frown suddenly clouded his face. "Why did I take it?" he
asked himself. "Was I crackin' a safe, or was I pullin' off
something fine fer poor, bleedin' Mexico? If I was a-doin' that
they ain't nothin' criminal in what I done--except to the guy
that owned the coin. If I was just plain crackin' a safe on my
own hook why then I'm a crook again an' I can't be that--
no, not with that face of yours standin' out there so plain
right in front of me, just as though you were there yourself,
askin' me to remember an' be decent. God! Barbara--why
wasn't I born for the likes of you, and not just a measly,
ornery mucker like I am. Oh, hell! what is that that Bridge
sings of Knibbs's:
There ain't no sweet Penelope somewhere that's longing much for me,
But I can smell the blundering sea, and hear the rigging hum;
And I can hear the whispering lips that fly before the out-bound ships,
And I can hear the breakers on the sand a-calling "Come!"
Billy took off his hat and scratched his head.
"Funny," he thought, "how a girl and poetry can get a
tough nut like me. I wonder what the guys that used to hang
out in back of Kelly's 'ud say if they seen what was goin' on
in my bean just now. They'd call me Lizzy, eh? Well, they
wouldn't call me Lizzy more'n once. I may be gettin' soft in
the head, but I'm all to the good with my dukes."
Speed is not conducive to sentimental thoughts and so Billy
had unconsciously permitted his pony to drop into a lazy
walk. There was no need for haste anyhow. No one knew yet
that the bank had been robbed, or at least so Billy argued. He
might, however, have thought differently upon the subject of
haste could he have had a glimpse of the horseman in his
rear--two miles behind him, now, but rapidly closing up
the distance at a keen gallop, while he strained his eyes across
the moonlit flat ahead in eager search for his quarry.
So absorbed was Billy Byrne in his reflections that his ears
were deaf to the pounding of the hoofs of the pursuer's horse
upon the soft dust of the dry road until Bridge was little more
than a hundred yards from him. For the last half-mile Bridge
had had the figure of the fugitive in full view and his mind
had been playing rapidly with seductive visions of the
one-thousand dollars reward--one-thousand dollars Mex, perhaps,
but still quite enough to excite pleasant thoughts. At the first
glimpse of the horseman ahead Bridge had reined his mount
down to a trot that the noise of his approach might thereby
be lessened. He had drawn his revolver from its holster, and
was upon the point of putting spurs to his horse for a sudden
dash upon the fugitive when the man ahead, finally attracted
by the noise of the other's approach, turned in his saddle and
Neither recognized the other, and at Bridge's command of,
"Hands up!" Billy, lightning-like in his quickness, drew and
fired. The bullet raked Bridge's hat from his head but left him
Billy had wheeled his pony around until he stood broadside
toward Bridge. The latter fired scarce a second after Billy's
shot had pinged so perilously close--fired at a perfect target
but fifty yards away.
At the sound of the report the robber's horse reared and
plunged, then, wheeling and tottering high upon its hind feet,
fell backward. Billy, realizing that his mount had been hit,
tried to throw himself from the saddle; but until the very
moment that the beast toppled over the man was held by his
cartridge belt which, as the animal first lunged, had caught
over the high horn of the Mexican saddle.
The belt slipped from the horn as the horse was falling, and
Billy succeeded in throwing himself a little to one side. One
leg, however, was pinned beneath the animal's body and the
force of the fall jarred the revolver from Billy's hand to drop
just beyond his reach.
His carbine was in its boot at the horse's side, and the
animal was lying upon it. Instantly Bridge rode to his side and
covered him with his revolver.
"Don't move," he commanded, "or I'll be under the painful
necessity of terminating your earthly endeavors right here and
"Well, for the love o' Mike!" cried the fallen bandit
Bridge was off his horse the instant that the familiar voice
sounded in his ears.
"Billy!" he exclaimed. "Why--Billy--was it you who
robbed the bank?"
Even as he spoke Bridge was busy easing the weight of the
dead pony from Billy's leg.
"Anything broken?" he asked as the bandit struggled to
"Not so you could notice it," replied Billy, and a moment
later he was on his feet. "Say, bo," he added, "it's a mighty
good thing you dropped little pinto here, for I'd a sure got
you my next shot. Gee! it makes me sweat to think of it. But
about this bank robbin' business. You can't exactly say that
I robbed a bank. That money was the enemy's resources, an' I
just nicked their resources. That's war. That ain't robbery. I
ain't takin' it for myself--it's for the cause--the cause o' poor,
bleedin' Mexico," and Billy grinned a large grin.
"You took it for Pesita?" asked Bridge.
"Of course," replied Billy. "I won't get a jitney of it. I
wouldn't take none of it, Bridge, honest. I'm on the square
"I know you are, Billy," replied the other; "but if you're
caught you might find it difficult to convince the authorities of
your highmindedness and your disinterestedness."
"Authorities!" scoffed Billy. "There ain't no authorities in
Mexico. One bandit is just as good as another, and from Pesita
to Carranza they're all bandits at heart. They ain't a one of
'em that gives two whoops in hell for poor, bleedin' Mexico--
unless they can do the bleedin' themselves. It's dog eat dog
here. If they caught me they'd shoot me whether I'd robbed
their bank or not. What's that?" Billy was suddenly alert,
straining his eyes back in the direction of Cuivaca.
"They're coming, Billy," said Bridge. "Take my horse
--quick! You must get out of here in a hurry. The whole
post is searching for you. I thought that they went toward
the south, though. Some of them must have circled."
"What'll you do if I take your horse?" asked Billy.
"I can walk back," said Bridge, "it isn't far to town. I'll tell
them that I had come only a short distance when my horse
threw me and ran away. They'll believe it for they think I'm a
rotten horseman--the two vaqueros who escorted me to town
Billy hesitated. "I hate to do it, Bridge," he said.
"You must, Billy," urged the other.
"If they find us here together it'll merely mean that the two
of us will get it, for I'll stick with you, Billy, and we can't
fight off a whole troop of cavalry out here in the open. If you
take my horse we can both get out of it, and later I'll see you
in Rio. Good-bye, Billy, I'm off for town," and Bridge turned
and started back along the road on foot.
Billy watched him in silence for a moment. The truth of
Bridge's statement of fact was so apparent that Billy was
forced to accept the plan. A moment later he transferred the
bags of loot to Bridge's pony, swung into the saddle, and
took a last backward look at the diminishing figure of the
man swinging along in the direction of Cuivaca.
"Say," he muttered to himself; "but you're a right one,
bo," and wheeling to the north he clapped his spurs to his
new mount and loped easily off into the night.
BARBARA RELEASES A CONSPIRATOR
IT was a week later, yet Grayson still was growling about the
loss of "that there Brazos pony." Grayson, the boss, and the
boss's daughter were sitting upon the veranda of the ranchhouse
when the foreman reverted to the subject.
"I knew I didn't have no business hirin' a man thet can't
ride," he said. "Why thet there Brazos pony never did stumble,
an' if he'd of stumbled he'd a-stood aroun' a year waitin'
to be caught up agin. I jest cain't figger it out no ways how
thet there tenderfoot bookkeeper lost him. He must a-shooed
him away with a stick. An' saddle an' bridle an' all gone too.
"I'm the one who should be peeved," spoke up the girl
with a wry smile. "Brazos was my pony. He's the one you
picked out for me to ride while I am here; but I am sure poor
Mr. Bridge feels as badly about it as anyone, and I know that
he couldn't help it. We shouldn't be too hard on him. We
might just as well attempt to hold him responsible for the
looting of the bank and the loss of the pay-roll money."
"Well," said Grayson, "I give him thet horse 'cause I knew
he couldn't ride, an' thet was the safest horse in the cavvy. I
wisht I'd given him Santa Anna instid--I wouldn't a-minded
losin' him. There won't no one ride him anyhow he's thet
"The thing that surprises me most," remarked the boss, "is
that Brazos doesn't come back. He was foaled on this range,
and he's never been ridden anywhere else, has he?"
"He was foaled right here on this ranch," Grayson corrected
him, "and he ain't never been more'n a hundred mile from
it. If he ain't dead or stolen he'd a-ben back afore the
bookkeeper was. It's almighty queer."
"What sort of bookkeeper is Mr. Bridge?" asked the girl.
"Oh, he's all right I guess," replied Grayson grudgingly. "A
feller's got to be some good at something. He's probably one
of these here paper-collar, cracker-fed college dudes thet don't
know nothin' else 'cept writin' in books."
The girl rose, smiled, and moved away.
"I like Mr. Bridge, anyhow," she called back over her
shoulder, "for whatever he may not be he is certainly a well-bred
gentleman," which speech did not tend to raise Mr.
Bridge in the estimation of the hard-fisted ranch foreman.
"Funny them greasers don't come in from the north range
with thet bunch o' steers. They ben gone all day now," he
said to the boss, ignoring the girl's parting sally.
Bridge sat tip-tilted against the front of the office building
reading an ancient magazine which he had found within. His
day's work was done and he was but waiting for the gong
that would call him to the evening meal with the other
employees of the ranch. The magazine failed to rouse his
interest. He let it drop idly to his knees and with eyes closed
reverted to his never-failing source of entertainment.
And then that slim, poetic guy he turned and looked me in the eye,
"....It's overland and overland and overseas to--where?"
"Most anywhere that isn't here," I says. His face went kind of queer.
"The place we're in is always here. The other place is there."
Bridge stretched luxuriously. "'There,'" he repeated. "I've
been searching for THERE for many years; but for some reason
I can never get away from HERE. About two weeks of any
place on earth and that place is just plain HERE to me, and I'm
longing once again for THERE."
His musings were interrupted by a sweet feminine voice
close by. Bridge did not open his eyes at once--he just sat
As I was hiking past the woods, the cool and sleepy summer woods,
I saw a guy a-talking to the sunshine in the air,
Thinks I, "He's going to have a fit--I'll stick around and watch a bit,"
But he paid no attention, hardly knowing I was there.
Then the girl broke into a merry laugh and Bridge opened
his eyes and came to his feet.
"I didn't know you cared for that sort of stuff," he said.
"Knibbs writes man-verse. I shouldn't have imagined that it
would appeal to a young lady."
"But it does, though," she replied; "at least to me. There's a
swing to it and a freedom that 'gets me in the eye.'"
Again she laughed, and when this girl laughed, harder-headed
and much older men than Mr. L. Bridge felt strange
emotions move within their breasts.
For a week Barbara had seen a great deal of the new
bookkeeper. Aside from her father he was the only man of
culture and refinement of which the rancho could boast, or, as
the rancho would have put it, be ashamed of.
She had often sought the veranda of the little office and
lured the new bookkeeper from his work, and on several
occasions had had him at the ranchhouse. Not only was he an
interesting talker; but there was an element of mystery about
him which appealed to the girl's sense of romance.
She knew that he was a gentleman born and reared, and she
often found herself wondering what tragic train of circumstances
had set him adrift among the flotsam of humanity's
wreckage. Too, the same persistent conviction that she had
known him somewhere in the past that possessed her father
clung to her mind; but she could not place him.
"I overheard your dissertation on HERE AND THERE," said the
girl. "I could not very well help it--it would have been rude
to interrupt a conversation." Her eyes sparkled mischievously
and her cheeks dimpled.
"You wouldn't have been interrupting a conversation,"
objected Bridge, smiling; "you would have been turning a
monologue into a conversation."
"But it was a conversation," insisted the girl. "The
wanderer was conversing with the bookkeeper. You are a victim of
wanderlust, Mr. L. Bridge--don't deny it. You hate bookkeeping,
or any other such prosaic vocation as requires permanent
residence in one place."
"Come now," expostulated the man. "That is hardly fair.
Haven't I been here a whole week?"
They both laughed.
"What in the world can have induced you to remain so
long?" cried Barbara. "How very much like an old timer you
must feel--one of the oldest inhabitants."
"I am a regular aborigine," declared Bridge; but his heart
would have chosen another reply. It would have been glad to
tell the girl that there was a very real and a very growing
inducement to remain at El Orobo Rancho. The man was too
self-controlled, however, to give way to the impulses of his
At first he had just liked the girl, and been immensely glad
of her companionship because there was so much that was
common to them both--a love for good music, good pictures,
and good literature--things Bridge hadn't had an opportunity
to discuss with another for a long, long time.
And slowly he had found delight in just sitting and looking
at her. He was experienced enough to realize that this was a
dangerous symptom, and so from the moment he had been
forced to acknowledge it to himself he had been very careful
to guard his speech and his manner in the girl's presence.
He found pleasure in dreaming of what might have been as
he sat watching the girl's changing expression as different
moods possessed her; but as for permitting a hope, even, of
realization of his dreams--ah, he was far too practical for
that, dreamer though he was.
As the two talked Grayson passed. His rather stern face
clouded as he saw the girl and the new bookkeeper laughing
"Ain't you got nothin' to do?" he asked Bridge.
"Yes, indeed," replied the latter.
"Then why don't you do it?" snapped Grayson.
"I am," said Bridge.
"Mr. Bridge is entertaining me," interrupted the girl, before
Grayson could make any rejoinder. "It is my fault--I took
him from his work. You don't mind, do you, Mr. Grayson?"
Grayson mumbled an inarticulate reply and went his way.
"Mr. Grayson does not seem particularly enthusiastic about
me," laughed Bridge.
"No," replied the girl, candidly; "but I think it's just
because you can't ride."
"Can't ride!" ejaculated Bridge. "Why, haven't I been riding
ever since I came here?"
"Mr. Grayson doesn't consider anything in the way of
equestrianism riding unless the ridden is perpetually seeking
the life of the rider," explained Barbara. "Just at present he is
terribly put out because you lost Brazos. He says Brazos never
stumbled in his life, and even if you had fallen from his back
he would have stood beside you waiting for you to remount
him. You see he was the kindest horse on the ranch--
especially picked for me to ride. However in the world DID
you lose him, Mr. Bridge?"
The girl was looking full at the man as she propounded her
query. Bridge was silent. A faint flush overspread his face. He
had not before known that the horse was hers. He couldn't
very well tell her the truth, and he wouldn't lie to her, so he
made no reply.
Barbara saw the flush and noted the man's silence. For the
first time her suspicions were aroused, yet she would not
believe that this gentle, amiable drifter could be guilty of any
crime greater than negligence or carelessness. But why his
evident embarrassment now? The girl was mystified. For a
moment or two they sat in silence, then Barbara rose.
"I must run along back now," she explained. "Papa will be
wondering what has become of me."
"Yes," said Bridge, and let her go. He would have been
glad to tell her the truth; but he couldn't do that without
betraying Billy. He had heard enough to know that Francisco
Villa had been so angered over the bold looting of the bank
in the face of a company of his own soldiers that he would
stop at nothing to secure the person of the thief once his
identity was known. Bridge was perfectly satisfied with the
ethics of his own act on the night of the bank robbery. He
knew that the girl would have applauded him, and that
Grayson himself would have done what Bridge did had a like
emergency confronted the ranch foreman; but to have admitted
complicity in the escape of the fugitive would have been to
have exposed himself to the wrath of Villa, and at the same
time revealed the identity of the thief. "Nor," thought Bridge,
"would it get Brazos back for Barbara."
It was after dark when the vaqueros Grayson had sent to
the north range returned to the ranch. They came empty-handed
and slowly for one of them supported a wounded
comrade on the saddle before him. They rode directly to the
office where Grayson and Bridge were going over some of the
business of the day, and when the former saw them his brow
clouded for he knew before he heard their story what had
"Who done it?" he asked, as the men filed into the office,
half carrying the wounded man.
"Some of Pesita's followers," replied Benito.
"Did they git the steers, too?" inquired Grayson.
"Part of them--we drove off most and scattered them. We
saw the Brazos pony, too," and Benito looked from beneath
heavy lashes in the direction of the bookkeeper.
"Where?" asked Grayson.
"One of Pesita's officers rode him--an Americano. Tony
and I saw this same man in Cuivaca the night the bank was
robbed, and today he was riding the Brazos pony." Again the
dark eyes turned toward Bridge.
Grayson was quick to catch the significance of the Mexican's
meaning. The more so as it was directly in line with
suspicions which he himself had been nursing since the robbery.
During the colloquy the boss entered the office. He had
heard the returning vaqueros ride into the ranch and noting
that they brought no steers with them had come to the office
to hear their story. Barbara, spurred by curiosity, accompanied
"You heard what Benito says?" asked Grayson, turning
toward his employer
The latter nodded. All eyes were upon Bridge.
"Well," snapped Grayson, "what you gotta say fer yourself?
I ben suspectin' you right along. I knew derned well that that
there Brazos pony never run off by hisself. You an' that other
crook from the States framed this whole thing up pretty slick,
didn'tcha? Well, we'll--"
"Wait a moment, wait a moment, Grayson," interrupted the
boss. "Give Mr. Bridge a chance to explain. You're making a
rather serious charge against him without any particularly
strong proof to back your accusation."
"Oh, that's all right," exclaimed Bridge, with a smile. "I
have known that Mr. Grayson suspected me of implication in
the robbery; but who can blame him--a man who can't ride
might be guilty of almost anything."
Grayson sniffed. Barbara took a step nearer Bridge. She
had been ready to doubt him herself only an hour or so ago;
but that was before he had been accused. Now that she found
others arrayed against him her impulse was to come to his
"You didn't do it, did you, Mr. Bridge?" Her tone was
"If you mean robbing the bank," he replied; "I did not
Miss Barbara. I knew no more about it until after it was over
than Benito or Tony--in fact they were the ones who discovered
it while I was still asleep in my room above the bank."
"Well, how did the robber git thet there Brazos pony
then?" demanded Grayson savagely. "Thet's what I want to
"You'll have to ask him, Mr. Grayson," replied Bridge.
"Villa'll ask him, when he gits holt of him," snapped
Grayson; "but I reckon he'll git all the information out of you
thet he wants first. He'll be in Cuivaca tomorrer, an' so will
"You mean that you are going to turn me over to General
Villa?" asked Bridge. "You are going to turn an American
over to that butcher knowing that he'll be shot inside of
"Shootin's too damned good fer a horse thief," replied
Barbara turned impulsively toward her father. "You won't
let Mr. Grayson do that?" she asked.
"Mr. Grayson knows best how to handle such an affair as
this, Barbara," replied her father. "He is my superintendent,
and I have made it a point never to interfere with him."
"You will let Mr. Bridge be shot without making an effort
to save him?" she demanded.
"We do not know that he will be shot," replied the ranch
owner. "If he is innocent there is no reason why he should be
punished. If he is guilty of implication in the Cuivaca bank
robbery he deserves, according to the rules of war, to die, for
General Villa, I am told, considers that a treasonable act.
Some of the funds upon which his government depends for
munitions of war were there--they were stolen and turned
over to the enemies of Mexico."
"And if we interfere we'll turn Villa against us," interposed
Grayson. "He ain't any too keen for Americans as it is. Why,
if this fellow was my brother I'd hev to turn him over to the
"Well, I thank God," exclaimed Bridge fervently, "that in
addition to being shot by Villa I don't have to endure the
added disgrace of being related to you, and I'm not so sure
that I shall be hanged by Villa," and with that he wiped the
oil lamp from the table against which he had been leaning,
and leaped across the room for the doorway.
Barbara and her father had been standing nearest the exit,
and as the girl realized the bold break for liberty the man was
making, she pushed her father to one side and threw open the
Bridge was through it in an instant, with a parting, "God
bless you, little girl!" as he passed her. Then the door was
closed with a bang. Barbara turned the key, withdrew it from
the lock and threw it across the darkened room.
Grayson and the unwounded Mexicans leaped after the
fugitive only to find their way barred by the locked door.
Outside Bridge ran to the horses standing patiently with
lowered heads awaiting the return of their masters. In an
instant he was astride one of them, and lashing the others
ahead of him with a quirt he spurred away into the night.
By the time Grayson and the Mexicans had wormed their
way through one of the small windows of the office the new
bookkeeper was beyond sight and earshot.
As the ranch foreman was saddling up with several of his
men in the corral to give chase to the fugitive the boss strolled
in and touched him on the arm.
"Mr. Grayson," he said, "I have made it a point never to
interfere with you; but I am going to ask you now not to
pursue Mr. Bridge. I shall be glad if he makes good his
escape. Barbara was right--he is a fellow-American. We cannot
turn him over to Villa, or any other Mexican to be murdered."
Grumblingly Grayson unsaddled. "Ef you'd seen what I've
seen around here," he said, "I guess you wouldn't be so keen
to save this feller's hide."
"What do you mean?" asked the boss.
"I mean that he's ben tryin' to make love to your daughter."
The older man laughed. "Don't be a fool, Grayson," he
said, and walked away.
An hour later Barbara was strolling up and down before
the ranchhouse in the cool and refreshing air of the Chihuahua
night. Her mind was occupied with disquieting reflections
of the past few hours. Her pride was immeasurably hurt by
the part impulse had forced her to take in the affair at the
office. Not that she regretted that she had connived in the
escape of Bridge; but it was humiliating that a girl of her
position should have been compelled to play so melodramatic
a part before Grayson and his Mexican vaqueros.
Then, too, was she disappointed in Bridge. She had looked
upon him as a gentleman whom misfortune and wanderlust
had reduced to the lowest stratum of society. Now she feared
that he belonged to that substratum which lies below the
lowest which society recognizes as a part of itself, and which is
composed solely of the criminal class.
It was hard for Barbara to realize that she had associated
with a thief--just for a moment it was hard, until recollection
forced upon her the unwelcome fact of the status of another
whom she had known--to whom she had given her love. The
girl did not wince at the thought--instead she squared her
shoulders and raised her chin.
"I am proud of him, whatever he may have been," she
murmured; but she was not thinking of the new bookkeeper.
When she did think again of Bridge it was to be glad that he
had escaped--"for he is an American, like myself."
"Well!" exclaimed a voice behind her. "You played us a
pretty trick, Miss Barbara."
The girl turned to see Grayson approaching. To her
surprise he seemed to hold no resentment whatsoever. She
greeted him courteously.
"I couldn't let you turn an American over to General
Villa," she said, "no matter what he had done."
"I liked your spirit," said the man. "You're the kind o' girl
I ben lookin' fer all my life--one with nerve an' grit, an' you
got 'em both. You liked thet bookkeepin' critter, an' he wasn't
half a man. I like you an' I am a man, ef I do say so myself."
The girl drew back in astonishment.
"Mr. Grayson!" she exclaimed. "You are forgetting yourself."
"No I ain't," he cried hoarsely. "I love you an' I'm goin' to
have you. You'd love me too ef you knew me better."
He took a step forward and grasped her arm, trying to
draw her to him. The girl pushed him away with one hand,
and with the other struck him across the face.
Grayson dropped her arm, and as he did so she drew
herself to her full height and looked him straight in the eyes.
"You may go now," she said, her voice like ice. "I shall
never speak of this to anyone--provided you never attempt to
The man made no reply. The blow in the face had cooled
his ardor temporarily, but had it not also served another
purpose?--to crystallize it into a firm and inexorable resolve.
When he had departed Barbara turned and entered the
BILLY TO THE RESCUE
IT WAS nearly ten o'clock the following morning when Barbara,
sitting upon the veranda of the ranchhouse, saw her father
approaching from the direction of the office. His face wore a
troubled expression which the girl could not but note.
"What's the matter, Papa?" she asked, as he sank into a
chair at her side.
"Your self-sacrifice of last evening was all to no avail," he
replied. "Bridge has been captured by Villistas."
"What?" cried the girl. "You can't mean it--how did you
"Grayson just had a phone message from Cuivaca," he
explained. "They only repaired the line yesterday since Pesita's
men cut it last month. This was our first message. And do
you know, Barbara, I can't help feeling sorry. I had hoped
that he would get away."
"So had I," said the girl.
Her father was eyeing her closely to note the effect of his
announcement upon her; but he could see no greater concern
reflected than that which he himself felt for a fellow-man and
an American who was doomed to death at the hands of an
alien race, far from his own land and his own people.
"Can nothing be done?" she asked.
"Absolutely," he replied with finality. "I have talked it over
with Grayson and he assures me that an attempt at intervention
upon our part might tend to antagonize Villa, in which
case we are all as good as lost. He is none too fond of us as it
is, and Grayson believes, and not without reason, that he
would welcome the slightest pretext for withdrawing the
protection of his favor. Instantly he did that we should become
the prey of every marauding band that infests the mountains.
Not only would Pesita swoop down upon us, but those
companies of freebooters which acknowledge nominal loyalty
to Villa would be about our ears in no time. No, dear, we
may do nothing. The young man has made his bed, and now
I am afraid that he will have to lie in it alone."
For awhile the girl sat in silence, and presently her father
arose and entered the house. Shortly after she followed him,
reappearing soon in riding togs and walking rapidly to the
corrals. Here she found an American cowboy busily engaged
in whittling a stick as he sat upon an upturned cracker box
and shot accurate streams of tobacco juice at a couple of
industrious tumble bugs that had had the great impudence to
roll their little ball of provender within the whittler's range.
"O Eddie!" she cried.
The man looked up, and was at once electrified into action.
He sprang to his feet and whipped off his sombrero. A broad
smile illumined his freckled face.
"Yes, miss," he answered. "What can I do for you?"
"Saddle a pony for me, Eddie," she explained. "I want to
take a little ride."
"Sure!" he assured her cheerily. "Have it ready in a jiffy,"
and away he went, uncoiling his riata, toward the little group
of saddle ponies which stood in the corral against necessity for
In a couple of minutes he came back leading one, which he
tied to the corral bars.
"But I can't ride that horse," exclaimed the girl. "He
"Sure," said Eddie. "I'm a-goin' to ride him."
"Oh, are you going somewhere?" she asked.
"I'm goin' with you, miss," announced Eddie, sheepishly.
"But I didn't ask you, Eddie, and I don't want you--
today," she urged.
"Sorry, miss," he threw back over his shoulder as he
walked back to rope a second pony; "but them's orders.
You're not to be allowed to ride no place without a escort.
'Twouldn't be safe neither, miss," he almost pleaded, "an' I
won't hinder you none. I'll ride behind far enough to be there
ef I'm needed."
Directly he came back with another pony, a sad-eyed,
gentle-appearing little beast, and commenced saddling and
bridling the two.
"Will you promise," she asked, after watching him in silence
for a time, "that you will tell no one where I go or whom I
"Cross my heart hope to die," he assured her.
"All right, Eddie, then I'll let you come with me, and you
can ride beside me, instead of behind."
Across the flat they rode, following the windings of the
river road, one mile, two, five, ten. Eddie had long since been
wondering what the purpose of so steady a pace could be.
This was no pleasure ride which took the boss's daughter--
"heifer," Eddie would have called her--ten miles up river at a
hard trot. Eddie was worried, too. They had passed the
danger line, and were well within the stamping ground of
Pesita and his retainers. Here each little adobe dwelling, and
they were scattered at intervals of a mile or more along the
river, contained a rabid partisan of Pesita, or it contained no
one--Pesita had seen to this latter condition personally.
At last the young lady drew rein before a squalid and
dilapidated hut. Eddie gasped. It was Jose's, and Jose was a
notorious scoundrel whom old age alone kept from the active
pursuit of the only calling he ever had known--brigandage.
Why should the boss's daughter come to Jose? Jose was hand
in glove with every cutthroat in Chihuahua, or at least within
a radius of two hundred miles of his abode.
Barbara swung herself from the saddle, and handed her
bridle reins to Eddie.
"Hold him, please," she said. "I'll be gone but a moment."
"You're not goin' in there to see old Jose alone?" gasped
"Why not?" she asked. "If you're afraid you can leave my
horse and ride along home."
Eddie colored to the roots of his sandy hair, and kept
silent. The girl approached the doorway of the mean hovel
and peered within. At one end sat a bent old man, smoking.
He looked up as Barbara's figure darkened the doorway.
"Jose!" said the girl.
The old man rose to his feet and came toward her.
"Eh? Senorita, eh?" he cackled.
"You are Jose?" she asked.
"Si, senorita," replied the old Indian. "What can poor old
Jose do to serve the beautiful senorita?"
"You can carry a message to one of Pesita's officers,"
replied the girl. "I have heard much about you since I came to
Mexico. I know that there is not another man in this part of
Chihuahua who may so easily reach Pesita as you." She raised
her hand for silence as the Indian would have protested. Then
she reached into the pocket of her riding breeches and withdrew
a handful of silver which she permitted to trickle, tinklingly,
from one palm to the other. "I wish you to go to the
camp of Pesita," she continued, "and carry word to the man
who robbed the bank at Cuivaca--he is an American--that
his friend, Senor Bridge has been captured by Villa and is
being held for execution in Cuivaca. You must go at once--
you must get word to Senor Bridge's friend so that help may
reach Senor Bridge before dawn. Do you understand?"
The Indian nodded assent.
"Here," said the girl, "is a payment on account. When I
know that you delivered the message in time you shall have as
much more. Will you do it?"
"I will try," said the Indian, and stretched forth a clawlike
hand for the money.
"Good!" exclaimed Barbara. "Now start at once," and she
dropped the silver coins into the old man's palm.
It was dusk when Captain Billy Byrne was summoned to
the tent of Pesita. There he found a weazened, old Indian
squatting at the side of the outlaw.
"Jose," said Pesita, "has word for you."
Billy Byrne turned questioningly toward the Indian.
"I have been sent, Senor Capitan," explained Jose, "by the
beautiful senorita of El Orobo Rancho to tell you that your
friend, Senor Bridge, has been captured by General Villa, and
is being held at Cuivaca, where he will doubtless be shot--if
help does not reach him before tomorrow morning."
Pesita was looking questioningly at Byrne. Since the gringo
had returned from Cuivaca with the loot of the bank and
turned the last penny of it over to him the outlaw had looked
upon his new captain as something just short of superhuman.
To have robbed the bank thus easily while Villa's soldiers
paced back and forth before the doorway seemed little short
of an indication of miraculous powers, while to have turned
the loot over intact to his chief, not asking for so much as a
peso of it, was absolutely incredible.
Pesita could not understand this man; but he admired him
greatly and feared him, too. Such a man was worth a hundred
of the ordinary run of humanity that enlisted beneath Pesita's
banners. Byrne had but to ask a favor to have it granted, and
now, when he called upon Pesita to furnish him with a
suitable force for the rescue of Bridge the brigand enthusiastically
acceded to his demands.
"I will come," he exclaimed, "and all my men shall ride
with me. We will take Cuivaca by storm. We may even
capture Villa himself."
"Wait a minute, bo," interrupted Billy Byrne. "Don't get
excited. I'm lookin' to get my pal outen' Cuivaca. After that I
don't care who you capture; but I'm goin' to get Bridgie out
first. I ken do it with twenty-five men--if it ain't too late.
Then, if you want to, you can shoot up the town. Lemme
have the twenty-five, an' you hang around the edges with the
rest of 'em 'til I'm done. Whaddaya say?"
Pesita was willing to agree to anything, and so it came that
half an hour later Billy Byrne was leading a choice selection of
some two dozen cutthroats down through the hills toward
Cuivaca. While a couple of miles in the rear followed Pesita
with the balance of his band.
Billy rode until the few remaining lights of Cuivaca shone
but a short distance ahead and they could hear plainly the
strains of a grating graphophone from beyond the open windows
of a dance hall, and the voices of the sentries as they
called the hour.
"Stay here," said Billy to a sergeant at his side, "until you
hear a hoot owl cry three times from the direction of the
barracks and guardhouse, then charge the opposite end of the
town, firing off your carbines like hell an' yellin' yer heads off.
Make all the racket you can, an' keep it up 'til you get 'em
comin' in your direction, see? Then turn an' drop back slowly,
eggin' 'em on, but holdin' 'em to it as long as you can. Do
you get me, bo?"
From the mixture of Spanish and English and Granavenooish
the sergeant gleaned enough of the intent of his commander to
permit him to salute and admit that he understood
what was required of him.
Having given his instructions Billy Byrne rode off to the
west, circled Cuivaca and came close up upon the southern
edge of the little village. Here he dismounted and left his horse
hidden behind an outbuilding, while he crept cautiously forward
He knew that the force within the village had no reason to
fear attack. Villa knew where the main bodies of his enemies
lay, and that no force could approach Cuivaca without word
of its coming reaching the garrison many hours in advance of
the foe. That Pesita, or another of the several bandit chiefs in
the neighborhood would dare descend upon a garrisoned
town never for a moment entered the calculations of the rebel
For these reasons Billy argued that Cuivaca would be
poorly guarded. On the night he had spent there he had seen
sentries before the bank, the guardhouse, and the barracks in
addition to one who paced to and fro in front of the house in
which the commander of the garrison maintained his headquarters.
Aside from these the town was unguarded.
Nor were conditions different tonight. Billy came within a
hundred yards of the guardhouse before he discovered a
sentinel. The fellow lolled upon his gun in front of the
building--an adobe structure in the rear of the barracks. The
other three sides of the guardhouse appeared to be unwatched.
Billy threw himself upon his stomach and crawled slowly
forward stopping often. The sentry seemed asleep. He did not
move. Billy reached the shadow at the side of the structure
and some fifty feet from the soldier without detection. Then he
rose to his feet directly beneath a barred window.
Within Bridge paced back and forth the length of the little
building. He could not sleep. Tomorrow he was to be shot!
Bridge did not wish to die. That very morning General Villa
in person had examined him. The general had been exceedingly
wroth--the sting of the theft of his funds still irritated him;
but he had given Bridge no inkling as to his fate. It had
remained for a fellow-prisoner to do that. This man, a deserter,
was to be shot, so he said, with Bridge, a fact which gave
him an additional twenty-four hours of life, since, he asserted,
General Villa wished to be elsewhere than in Cuivaca when
an American was executed. Thus he could disclaim responsibility
for the act.
The general was to depart in the morning. Shortly after,
Bridge and the deserter would be led out and blindfolded
before a stone wall--if there was such a thing, or a brick wall,
or an adobe wall. It made little difference to the deserter, or to
Bridge either. The wall was but a trivial factor. It might go far
to add romance to whomever should read of the affair later;
but in so far as Bridge and the deserter were concerned it
meant nothing. A billboard, thought Bridge, bearing the slogan:
"Eventually! Why not now?" would have been equally
as efficacious and far more appropriate.
The room in which he was confined was stuffy with the
odor of accumulated filth. Two small barred windows alone
gave means of ventilation. He and the deserter were the only
prisoners. The latter slept as soundly as though the morrow
held nothing more momentous in his destiny than any of the
days that had preceded it. Bridge was moved to kick the
fellow into consciousness of his impending fate. Instead he
walked to the south window to fill his lungs with the free air
beyond his prison pen, and gaze sorrowfully at the star-lit sky
which he should never again behold.
In a low tone Bridge crooned a snatch of the poem that he
and Billy liked best:
And you, my sweet Penelope, out there somewhere you wait for me,
With buds of roses in your hair and kisses on your mouth.
Bridge's mental vision was concentrated upon the veranda
of a white-walled ranchhouse to the east. He shook his head
"It's just as well," he thought. "She's not for me."
Something moved upon the ground beyond the window.
Bridge became suddenly intent upon the thing. He saw it rise
and resolve itself into the figure of a man, and then, in a low
whisper, came a familiar voice:
"There ain't no roses in my hair, but there's a barker in my
shirt, an' another at me side. Here's one of 'em. They got
kisses beat a city block. How's the door o' this thing fastened?"
The speaker was quite close to the window now, his
face but a few inches from Bridge's.
"Billy!" ejaculated the condemned man.
"Surest thing you know; but about the door?"
"Just a heavy bar on the outside," replied Bridge.
"Easy," commented Billy, relieved. "Get ready to beat it
when I open the door. I got a pony south o' town that'll have
to carry double for a little way tonight."
"God bless you, Billy!" whispered Bridge, fervently.
"Lay low a few minutes," said Billy, and moved away
toward the rear of the guardhouse.
A few minutes later there broke upon the night air the
dismal hoot of an owl. At intervals of a few seconds it was
repeated twice. The sentry before the guardhouse shifted his
position and looked about, then he settled back, transferring
his weight to the other foot, and resumed his bovine meditations.
The man at the rear of the guardhouse moved silently along
the side of the structure until he stood within a few feet of the
unsuspecting sentinel, hidden from him by the corner of the
building. A heavy revolver dangled from his right hand. He
held it loosely by the barrel, and waited.
For five minutes the silence of the night was unbroken,
then from the east came a single shot, followed immediately by
a scattering fusillade and a chorus of hoarse cries.
Billy Byrne smiled. The sentry resumed indications of
quickness. From the barracks beyond the guardhouse came sharp
commands and the sounds of men running. From the opposite
end of the town the noise of battle welled up to ominous
Billy heard the soldiers stream from their quarters and a
moment later saw them trot up the street at the double.
Everyone was moving toward the opposite end of the town
except the lone sentinel before the guardhouse. The moment
seemed propitious for his attempt.
Billy peered around the corner of the guardhouse. Conditions
were just as he had pictured they would be. The sentry
stood gazing in the direction of the firing, his back toward the
guardhouse door and Billy.
With a bound the American cleared the space between
himself and the unsuspecting and unfortunate soldier. The butt
of the heavy revolver fell, almost noiselessly, upon the back of
the sentry's head, and the man sank to the ground without
even a moan.
Turning to the door Billy knocked the bar from its place,
the door swung in and Bridge slipped through to liberty.
"Quick!" said Billy. "Follow me," and turned at a rapid
run toward the south edge of the town. He made no effort
now to conceal his movements. Speed was the only essential,
and the two covered the ground swiftly and openly without
any attempt to take advantage of cover.
They reached Billy's horse unnoticed, and a moment later
were trotting toward the west to circle the town and regain
the trail to the north and safety.
To the east they heard the diminishing rifle fire of the
combatants as Pesita's men fell steadily back before the
defenders, and drew them away from Cuivaca in accordance
with Billy's plan.
"Like takin' candy from a baby," said Billy, when the
flickering lights of Cuivaca shone to the south of them, and
the road ahead lay clear to the rendezvous of the brigands.
"Yes," agreed Bridge; "but what I'd like to know, Billy, is
how you found out I was there."
"Penelope," said Byrne, laughing.
"Penelope!" queried Bridge. "I'm not at all sure that I
follow you, Billy."
"Well, seein' as you're sittin' on behind you can't be leadin'
me," returned Billy; "but cuttin' the kid it was a skirt tipped it
off to me where you was--the beautiful senorita of El Orobo
Rancho, I think Jose called her. Now are you hep?"
Bridge gave an exclamation of astonishment. "God bless
her!" he said. "She did that for me?"
"She sure did," Billy assured him, "an' I'll bet an iron case
she's a-waitin' for you there with buds o' roses in her hair an'
kisses on her mouth, you old son-of-a-gun, you." Billy laughed
happily. He was happy anyway at having rescued Bridge,
and the knowledge that his friend was in love and that the girl
reciprocated his affection--all of which Billy assumed as the
only explanation of her interest in Bridge--only added to his
joy. "She ain't a greaser is she?" he asked presently.
"I should say not," replied Bridge. "She's a perfect queen
from New York City; but, Billy, she's not for me. What she
did was prompted by a generous heart. She couldn't care for
me, Billy. Her father is a wealthy man--he could have the
pick of the land--of many lands--if she cared to marry. You
don't think for a minute she'd want a hobo, do you?"
"You can't most always tell," replied Billy, a trifle sadly. "I
knew such a queen once who would have chosen a mucker, if
he'd a-let her. You're stuck on her, ol' man?"
"I'm afraid I am, Billy," Bridge admitted; "but what's the
use? Let's forget it. Oh, say, is this the horse I let you take
the night you robbed the bank?"
"Yes," said Billy; "same little pony, an' a mighty
well-behaved one, too. Why?"
"It's hers," said Bridge.
"An' she wants it back?"
"She didn't say so; but I'd like to get it to her some way,"
"You ride it back when you go," suggested Billy.
"But I can't go back," said Bridge; "it was Grayson, the
foreman, who made it so hot for me I had to leave. He tried
to arrest me and send me to Villa."
"What for?" asked Billy.
"He didn't like me, and wanted to get rid of me." Bridge
wouldn't say that his relations with Billy had brought him into
"Oh, well, I'll take it back myself then, and at the same
time I'll tell Penelope what a regular fellow you are, and
punch in the foreman's face for good luck."
"No, you mustn't go there. They know you now. It was
some of El Orobo's men you shot up day before yesterday
when you took their steers from them. They recognized the
pony, and one of them had seen you in Cuivaca the night of
the robbery. They would be sure to get you, Billy."
Shortly the two came in touch with the retreating Pesitistas
who were riding slowly toward their mountain camp. Their
pursuers had long since given up the chase, fearing that they
might be being lured into the midst of a greatly superior force,
and had returned to Cuivaca.
It was nearly morning when Bridge and Billy threw themselves
down upon the latter's blankets, fagged.
"Well, well," murmured Billy Byrne; "li'l ol' Bridgie's found
his Penelope," and fell asleep.
CAPTAIN BILLY BYRNE rode out of the hills the following afternoon
upon a pinto pony that showed the whites of its eyes in
a wicked rim about the iris and kept its ears perpetually
At the end of a lariat trailed the Brazos pony, for Billy,
laughing aside Bridge's pleas, was on his way to El Orobo
Rancho to return the stolen horse to its fair owner.
At the moment of departure Pesita had asked Billy to ride
by way of Jose's to instruct the old Indian that he should bear
word to one Esteban that Pesita required his presence.
It is a long ride from the retreat of the Pesitistas to Jose's
squalid hut, especially if one be leading an extra horse, and so
it was that darkness had fallen long before Billy arrived in
sight of Jose's. Dismounting some distance from the hut, Billy
approached cautiously, since the world is filled with dangers
for those who are beyond the law, and one may not be too
Billy could see a light showing through a small window,
and toward this he made his way. A short distance from
Jose's is another, larger structure from which the former
inhabitants had fled the wrath of Pesita. It was dark and
apparently tenantless; but as a matter of fact a pair of eyes
chanced at the very moment of Billy's coming to be looking
out through the open doorway.
The owner turned and spoke to someone behind him.
"Jose has another visitor," he said. "Possibly this one is less
harmless than the other. He comes with great caution. Let us
Three other men rose from their blankets upon the floor
and joined the speaker. They were all armed, and clothed in
the nondescript uniforms of Villistas. Billy's back was toward
them as they sneaked from the hut in which they were
intending to spend the night and crept quietly toward him.
Billy was busily engaged in peering through the little window
into the interior of the old Indian's hovel. He saw an
American in earnest conversation with Jose. Who could the
man be? Billy did not recognize him; but presently Jose
answered the question.
"It shall be done as you wish, Senor Grayson," he said.
"Ah!" thought Billy; "the foreman of El Orobo. I wonder
what business he has with this old scoundrel--and at night."
What other thoughts Billy might have had upon the subject
were rudely interrupted by four energetic gentlemen in his
rear, who leaped upon him simultaneously and dragged him
to the ground. Billy made no outcry; but he fought none the
less strenuously for his freedom, and he fought after the
manner of Grand Avenue, which is not a pretty, however
effective, way it may be.
But four against one when all the advantages lie with the
four are heavy odds, and when Grayson and Jose ran out to
investigate, and the ranch foreman added his weight to that of
the others Billy was finally subdued. That each of his antagonists
would carry mementos of the battle for many days was
slight compensation for the loss of liberty. However, it was
After disarming their captive and tying his hands at his
back they jerked him to his feet and examined him.
"Who are you?" asked Grayson. "What you doin' sneakin'
'round spyin' on me, eh?"
"If you wanna know who I am, bo," replied Billy, "go ask
de Harlem Hurricane, an' as fer spyin' on youse, I wasn't; but
from de looks I guess youse need spyin, yuh tinhorn."
A pony whinnied a short distance from the hut.
"That must be his horse," said one of the Villistas, and
walked away to investigate, returning shortly after with the
pinto pony and Brazos.
The moment Grayson saw the latter he gave an exclamation
"I know him now," he said. "You've made a good catch,
Sergeant. This is the fellow who robbed the bank at Cuivaca.
I recognize him from the descriptions I've had of him, and
the fact that he's got the Brazos pony makes it a cinch. Villa
oughter promote you for this."
"Yep," interjected Billy, "he orter make youse an admiral at
least; but youse ain't got me home yet, an' it'll take more'n
four Dagos an' a tin-horn to do it."
"They'll get you there all right, my friend," Grayson
assured him. "Now come along."
They bundled Billy into his own saddle, and shortly after
the little party was winding southward along the river in the
direction of El Orobo Rancho, with the intention of putting
up there for the balance of the night where their prisoner
could be properly secured and guarded. As they rode away
from the dilapidated hut of the Indian the old man stood
silhouetted against the rectangle of dim light which marked the
open doorway, and shook his fist at the back of the departing
"El cochino!" he cackled, and turned back into his hut.
At El Orobo Rancho Barbara walked to and fro outside
the ranchhouse. Within her father sat reading beneath the rays
of an oil lamp. From the quarters of the men came the strains
of guitar music, and an occasional loud laugh indicated the
climax of some of Eddie Shorter's famous Kansas farmer
Barbara was upon the point of returning indoors when her
attention was attracted by the approach of a half-dozen horsemen.
They reined into the ranchyard and dismounted before
the office building. Wondering a little who came so late,
Barbara entered the house, mentioning casually to her father
that which she had just seen.
The ranch owner, now always fearful of attack, was upon
the point of investigating when Grayson rode up to the
veranda and dismounted. Barbara and her father were at the
door as he ascended the steps.
"Good news!" exclaimed the foreman. "I've got the bank
robber, and Brazos, too. Caught the sneakin' coyote up to--
up the river a bit." He had almost said "Jose's;" but caught
himself in time. "Someone's been cuttin' the wire at the north
side of the north pasture, an' I was ridin' up to see ef I could
catch 'em at it," he explained.
"He is an American?" asked the boss.
"Looks like it; but he's got the heart of a greaser," replied
Grayson. "Some of Villa's men are with me, and they're a-goin'
to take him to Cuivaca tomorrow."
Neither Barbara nor her father seemed to enthuse much. To
them an American was an American here in Mexico, where
every hand was against their race. That at home they might
have looked with disgust upon this same man did not alter
their attitude here, that no American should take sides against
his own people. Barbara said as much to Grayson.
"Why this fellow's one of Pesita's officers," exclaimed
Grayson. "He don't deserve no sympathy from us nor from no
other Americans. Pesita has sworn to kill every American that
falls into his hands, and this fellow's with him to help him do
it. He's a bad un."
"I can't help what he may do," insisted Barbara. "He's an
American, and I for one would never be a party to his death
at the hands of a Mexican, and it will mean death to him to
be taken to Cuivaca."
"Well, miss," said Grayson, "you won't hev to be
responsible--I'll take all the responsibility there is and
welcome. I just thought you'd like to know we had him."
He was addressing his employer. The latter nodded, and
Grayson turned and left the room. Outside he cast a sneering
laugh back over his shoulder and swung into his saddle.
In front of the men's quarters he drew rein again and
shouted Eddie's name. Shorter came to the door.
"Get your six-shooter an' a rifle, an' come on over to the
office. I want to see you a minute."
Eddie did as he was bid, and when he entered the little
room he saw four Mexicans lolling about smoking cigarettes
while Grayson stood before a chair in which sat a man with
his arms tied behind his back. Grayson turned to Eddie.
"This party here is the slick un that robbed the bank, and
got away on thet there Brazos pony thet miserable bookkeepin'
dude giv him. The sergeant here an' his men are a-goin' to
take him to Cuivaca in the mornin'. You stand guard over
him 'til midnight, then they'll relieve you. They gotta get a
little sleep first, though, an' I gotta get some supper. Don't
stand fer no funny business now, Eddie," Grayson admonished
him, and was on the point of leaving the office when a
thought occurred to him. "Say, Shorter," he said, "they ain't
no way of gettin' out of the little bedroom in back there
except through this room. The windows are too small fer a
big man to get through. I'll tell you what, we'll lock him up in
there an' then you won't hev to worry none an' neither will
we. You can jest spread out them Navajos there and go to
sleep right plump ag'in the door, an' there won't nobody hev
to relieve you all night."
"Sure," said Eddie, "leave it to me--I'll watch the slicker."
Satisfied that their prisoner was safe for the night the
Villistas and Grayson departed, after seeing him safely locked
in the back room.
At the mention by the foreman of his guard's names--
Eddie and Shorter--Billy had studied the face of the young
American cowpuncher, for the two names had aroused within
his memory a tantalizing suggestion that they should be very
familiar. Yet he could connect them in no way with anyone
he had known in the past and he was quite sure that he never
before had set eyes upon this man.
Sitting in the dark with nothing to occupy him Billy let his
mind dwell upon the identity of his jailer, until, as may have
happened to you, nothing in the whole world seemed equally
as important as the solution of the mystery. Even his impending
fate faded into nothingness by comparison with the momentous
question as to where he had heard the name Eddie
As he sat puzzling his brain over the inconsequential matter
something stirred upon the floor close to his feet, and presently
he jerked back a booted foot that a rat had commenced to
"Helluva place to stick a guy," mused Billy, "in wit a bunch
o' man-eatin' rats. Hey!" and he turned his face toward the
door. "You, Eddie! Come here!"
Eddie approached the door and listened.
"Wot do you want?" he asked. "None o' your funny
business, you know. I'm from Shawnee, Kansas, I am, an'
they don't come no slicker from nowhere on earth. You
can't fool me."
Shawnee, Kansas! Eddie Shorter! The whole puzzle was
cleared in Billy's mind in an instant.
"So you're Eddie Shorter of Shawnee, Kansas, are you?"
called Billy. "Well I know your maw, Eddie, an' ef I had such
a maw as you got I wouldn't be down here wastin' my time
workin' alongside a lot of Dagos; but that ain't what I started
out to say, which was that I want a light in here. The damned
rats are tryin' to chaw off me kicks an' when they're done wit
them they'll climb up after me an' old man Villa'll be sore as
"You know my maw?" asked Eddie, and there was a
wistful note in his voice. "Aw shucks! you don't know her--
that's jest some o' your funny, slicker business. You wanna git
me in there an' then you'll try an' git aroun' me some sort o'
way to let you escape; but I'm too slick for that."
"On the level Eddie, I know your maw," persisted Billy. "I
ben in your maw's house jest a few weeks ago. 'Member the
horsehair sofa between the windows? 'Member the Bible on
the little marble-topped table? Eh? An' Tige? Well, Tige's
croaked; but your maw an' your paw ain't an' they want you
back, Eddie. I don't care ef you believe me, son, or not; but
your maw was mighty good to me, an' you promise me you'll
write her an' then go back home as fast as you can. It ain't
everybody's got a swell maw like that, an' them as has ought
to be good to 'em."
Beyond the closed door Eddie's jaw was commencing to
tremble. Memory was flooding his heart and his eyes with
sweet recollections of an ample breast where he used to pillow
his head, of a big capable hand that was wont to smooth his
brow and stroke back his red hair. Eddie gulped.
"You ain't joshin' me?" he asked. Billy Byrne caught the
tremor in the voice.
"I ain't kiddin' you son," he said. "Wotinell do you take
me fer--one o' these greasy Dagos? You an' I're Americans--
I wouldn't string a home guy down here in this here Godforsaken
neck o' the woods."
Billy heard the lock turn, and a moment later the door was
cautiously opened revealing Eddie safely ensconced behind
"That's right, Eddie," said Billy, with a laugh. "Don't you
take no chances, no matter how much sob stuff I hand you,
fer, I'll give it to you straight, ef I get the chanct I'll make my
get-away; but I can't do it wit my flippers trussed, an' you wit
a brace of gats sittin' on me. Let's have a light, Eddie. That
won't do nobody any harm, an' it may discourage the rats."
Eddie backed across the office to a table where stood a
small lamp. Keeping an eye through the door on his prisoner
he lighted the lamp and carried it into the back room, setting
it upon a commode which stood in one corner.
"You really seen maw?" he asked. "Is she well?"
"Looked well when I seen her," said Billy; "but she wants
her boy back a whole lot. I guess she'd look better still ef he
walked in on her some day."
"I'll do it," cried Eddie. "The minute they get money for
the pay I'll hike. Tell me your name. I'll ask her ef she
remembers you when I get home. Gee! but I wish I was
walkin' in the front door now."
"She never knew my name," said Billy; "but you tell her
you seen the bo that mussed up the two yeggmen who rolled
her an' were tryin' to croak her wit a butcher knife. I guess
she ain't fergot. Me an' my pal were beatin' it--he was on the
square but the dicks was after me an' she let us have money
to make our get-away. She's all right, kid."
There came a knock at the outer office door. Eddie sprang
back into the front room, closing and locking the door after
him, just as Barbara entered.
"Eddie," she asked, "may I see the prisoner? I want to talk
"You want to talk with a bank robber?" exclaimed Eddie.
"Why you ain't crazy are you, Miss Barbara?"
"No, I'm not crazy; but I want to speak with him alone for
just a moment, Eddie--please."
Eddie hesitated. He knew that Grayson would be angry if
he let the boss's daughter into that back room alone with an
outlaw and a robber, and the boss himself would probably be
inclined to have Eddie drawn and quartered; but it was hard
to refuse Miss Barbara anything.
"Where is he?" she asked.
Eddie jerked a thumb in the direction of the door. The key
still was in the lock.
"Go to the window and look at the moon, Eddie," suggested
the girl. "It's perfectly gorgeous tonight. Please, Eddie,"
as he still hesitated.
Eddie shook his head and moved slowly toward the window.
"There can't nobody refuse you nothin', miss," he said;
"'specially when you got your heart set on it."
"That's a dear, Eddie," purred the girl, and moved swiftly
across the room to the locked door.
As she turned the key in the lock she felt a little shiver of
nervous excitement run through her. "What sort of man
would he be--this hardened outlaw and robber--this renegade
American who had cast his lot with the avowed enemies
of his own people?" she wondered.
Only her desire to learn of Bridge's fate urged her to
attempt so distasteful an interview; but she dared not ask
another to put the question for her, since should her complicity
in Bridge's escape--provided of course that he had
escaped--become known to Villa the fate of the Americans
at El Orobo would be definitely sealed.
She turned the knob and pushed the door open, slowly. A
man was sitting in a chair in the center of the room. His back
was toward her. He was a big man. His broad shoulders
loomed immense above the back of the rude chair. A shock of
black hair, rumpled and tousled, covered a well-shaped head.
At the sound of the door creaking upon its hinges he
turned his face in her direction, and as his eyes met hers all
four went wide in surprise and incredulity.
"Billy!" she cried.
"Barbara!--you?" and Billy rose to his feet, his bound
hands struggling to be free.
The girl closed the door behind her and crossed to him.
"You robbed the bank, Billy?" she asked. "It was you,
after the promises you made me to live straight always--for
my sake?" Her voice trembled with emotion. The man could
see that she suffered, and yet he felt his own anguish, too.
"But you are married," he said. "I saw it in the papers.
What do you care, now, Barbara? I'm nothing to you."
"I'm not married, Billy," she cried. "I couldn't marry Mr.
Mallory. I tried to make myself believe that I could; but at last
I knew that I did not love him and never could, and I
wouldn't marry a man I didn't love.
"I never dreamed that it was you here, Billy," she went on.
"I came to ask you about Mr. Bridge. I wanted to know if he
escaped, or if--if--oh, this awful country! They think no
more of human life here than a butcher thinks of the life of
the animal he dresses."
A sudden light illumined Billy's mind. Why had it not
occurred to him before? This was Bridge's Penelope! The
woman he loved was loved by his best friend. And she had
sent a messenger to him, to Billy, to save her lover. She had
come here to the office tonight to question a stranger--a man
she thought an outlaw and a robber--because she could not
rest without word from the man she loved. Billy stiffened. He
was hurt to the bottom of his heart; but he did not blame
Bridge--it was fate. Nor did he blame Barbara because she
loved Bridge. Bridge was more her kind anyway. He was a
college guy. Billy was only a mucker.
"Bridge got away all right," he said. "And say, he didn't
have nothin' to do with pullin' off that safe crackin'. I done it
myself. He didn't know I was in town an' I didn't know he
was there. He's the squarest guy in the world, Bridge is. He
follered me that night an' took a shot at me, thinkin' I was
the robber all right but not knowin' I was me. He got my
horse, an' when he found it was me, he made me take your
pony an' make my get-away, fer he knew Villa's men would
croak me sure if they caught me. You can't blame him fer
that, can you? Him an' I were good pals--he couldn't do
nothin' else. It was him that made me bring your pony back
to you. It's in the corral now, I reckon. I was a-bringin' it
back when they got me. Now you better go. This ain't no
place fer you, an' I ain't had no sleep fer so long I'm most
dead." His tones were cool. He appeared bored by her company;
though as a matter of fact his heart was breaking with
love for her--love that he believed unrequited--and he
yearned to tear loose his bonds and crush her in his arms.
It was Barbara's turn now to be hurt. She drew herself up.
"I am sorry that I have disturbed your rest," she said, and
walked away, her head in the air; but all the way back to the
ranchhouse she kept repeating over and over to herself: "Tomorrow
they will shoot him! Tomorrow they will shoot him!
Tomorrow they will shoot him!"
'TWIXT LOVE AND DUTY
FOR an hour Barbara Harding paced the veranda of the
ranchhouse, pride and love battling for the ascendency within
her breast. She could not let him die, that she knew; but how
might she save him?
The strains of music and the laughter from the bunkhouse
had ceased. The ranch slept. Over the brow of the low bluff
upon the opposite side of the river a little party of silent
horsemen filed downward to the ford. At the bluff's foot a
barbed-wire fence marked the eastern boundary of the ranch's
enclosed fields. The foremost horseman dismounted and cut
the strands of wire, carrying them to one side from the path
of the feet of the horses which now passed through the
opening he had made.
Down into the river they rode following the ford even in the
darkness with an assurance which indicated long familiarity.
Then through a fringe of willows out across a meadow
toward the ranch buildings the riders made their way. The
manner of their approach, their utter silence, the hour, all
contributed toward the sinister.
Upon the veranda of the ranchhouse Barbara Harding
came to a sudden halt. Her entire manner indicated final
decision, and determination. A moment she stood in thought
and then ran quickly down the steps and in the direction of
the office. Here she found Eddie dozing at his post. She did
not disturb him. A glance through the window satisfied her
that he was alone with the prisoner. From the office building
Barbara passed on to the corral. A few horses stood within
the enclosure, their heads drooping dejectedly. As she entered
they raised their muzzles and sniffed suspiciously, ears a-cock,
and as the girl approached closer to them they moved warily
away, snorting, and passed around her to the opposite side of
the corral. As they moved by her she scrutinized them and her
heart dropped, for Brazos was not among them. He must
have been turned out into the pasture.
She passed over to the bars that closed the opening from
the corral into the pasture and wormed her way between two
of them. A hackamore with a piece of halter rope attached to
it hung across the upper bar. Taking it down she moved off
across the pasture in the direction the saddle horses most often
took when liberated from the corral.
If they had not crossed the river she felt that she might find
and catch Brazos, for lumps of sugar and bits of bread had
inspired in his equine soul a wondrous attachment for his
Down the beaten trail the animals had made to the river
the girl hurried, her eyes penetrating the darkness ahead and
to either hand for the looming bulks that would be the horses
she sought, and among which she might hope to discover the
gentle little Brazos.
The nearer she came to the river the lower dropped her
spirits, for as yet no sign of the animals was to be seen. To
have attempted to place a hackamore upon any of the wild
creatures in the corral would have been the height of
foolishness--only a well-sped riata in the hands of a strong
man could have captured one of these.
Closer and closer to the fringe of willows along the river
she came, until, at their very edge, there broke upon her
already taut nerves the hideous and uncanny scream of a
wildcat. The girl stopped short in her tracks. She felt the chill
of fear creep through her skin, and a twitching at the roots of
her hair evidenced to her the extremity of her terror. Should
she turn back? The horses might be between her and the river,
but judgment told her that they had crossed. Should she brave
the nervous fright of a passage through that dark, forbidding
labyrinth of gloom when she knew that she should not find
the horses within reach beyond?
She turned to retrace her steps. She must find another way!
But was there another way? And "Tomorrow they will shoot
him!" She shuddered, bit her lower lip in an effort to command
her courage, and then, wheeling, plunged into the thicket.
Again the cat screamed--close by--but the girl never
hesitated in her advance, and a few moments later she broke
through the willows a dozen paces from the river bank. Her
eyes strained through the night; but no horses were to be
The trail, cut by the hoofs of many animals, ran deep and
straight down into the swirling water. Upon the opposite side
Brazos must be feeding or resting, just beyond reach.
Barbara dug her nails into her palms in the bitterness of her
disappointment. She followed down to the very edge of the
water. It was black and forbidding. Even in the daytime she
would not have been confident of following the ford--by
night it would be madness to attempt it.
She choked down a sob. Her shoulders drooped. Her head
bent forward. She was the picture of disappointment and
"What can I do?" she moaned. "Tomorrow they will shoot
The thought seemed to electrify her.
"They shall not shoot him!" she cried aloud. "They shall
not shoot him while I live to prevent it!"
Again her head was up and her shoulders squared. Tying
the hackamore about her waist, she took a single deep breath
of reassurance and stepped out into the river. For a dozen
paces she found no difficulty in following the ford. It was
broad and straight; but toward the center of the river, as she
felt her way along a step at a time, she came to a place where
directly before her the ledge upon which she crossed shelved
off into deep water. She turned upward, trying to locate the
direction of the new turn; but here too there was no footing.
Down river she felt solid rock beneath her feet. Ah! this was
the way, and boldly she stepped out, the water already above
her knees. Two, three steps she took, and with each one her
confidence and hope arose, and then the fourth step--and
there was no footing. She felt herself lunging into the stream,
and tried to draw back and regain the ledge; but the force of
the current was too much for her, and, so suddenly it seemed
that she had thrown herself in, she was in the channel swimming
for her life.
The trend of the current there was back in the direction of
the bank she had but just quitted, yet so strong was her
determination to succeed for Billy Byrne's sake that she turned
her face toward the opposite shore and fought to reach the
seemingly impossible goal which love had set for her. Again
and again she was swept under by the force of the current.
Again and again she rose and battled, not for her own life; but
for the life of the man she once had loathed and whom she
later had come to love. Inch by inch she won toward the shore
of her desire, and inch by inch of her progress she felt her
strength failing. Could she win? Ah! if she were but a man,
and with the thought came another: Thank God that I am a
woman with a woman's love which gives strength to drive me
into the clutches of death for his sake!
Her heart thundered in tumultuous protest against the strain
of her panting lungs. Her limbs felt cold and numb; but she
could not give up even though she was now convinced that
she had thrown her life away uselessly. They would find her
body; but no one would ever guess what had driven her to
her death. Not even he would know that it was for his sake.
And then she felt the tugging of the channel current suddenly
lessen, an eddy carried her gently inshore, her feet touched the
sand and gravel of the bottom.
Gasping for breath, staggering, stumbling, she reeled on a
few paces and then slipped down clutching at the river's bank.
Here the water was shallow, and here she lay until her
strength returned. Then she urged herself up and onward,
climbed to the top of the bank with success at last within
To find the horses now required but a few minutes' search.
They stood huddled in a black mass close to the barbed-wire
fence at the extremity of the pasture. As she approached them
they commenced to separate slowly, edging away while they
faced her in curiosity. Softly she called: "Brazos! Come,
Brazos!" until a unit of the moving mass detached itself and
came toward her, nickering.
"Good Brazos!" she cooed. "That's a good pony," and
walked forward to meet him.
The animal let her reach up and stroke his forehead, while
he muzzled about her for the expected tidbit. Gently she
worked the hackamore over his nose and above his ears, and
when it was safely in place she breathed a deep sigh of relief
and throwing her arms about his neck pressed her cheek to
"You dear old Brazos," she whispered.
The horse stood quietly while the girl wriggled herself to his
back, and then at a word and a touch from her heels moved
off at a walk in the direction of the ford. The crossing this
time was one of infinite ease, for Barbara let the rope lie loose
and Brazos take his own way.
Through the willows upon the opposite bank he shouldered
his path, across the meadow still at a walk, lest they arouse
attention, and through a gate which led directly from the
meadow into the ranchyard. Here she tied him to the outside
of the corral, while she went in search of saddle and bridle.
Whose she took she did not know, nor care, but that the
saddle was enormously heavy she was perfectly aware long
before she had dragged it halfway to where Brazos stood.
Three times she essayed to lift it to his back before she
succeeded in accomplishing the Herculean task, and had it
been any other horse upon the ranch than Brazos the thing
could never have been done; but the kindly little pony stood
in statuesque resignation while the heavy Mexican tree was
banged and thumped against his legs and ribs, until a lucky
swing carried it to his wethers.
Saddled and bridled Barbara led him to the rear of the
building and thus, by a roundabout way, to the back of the
office building. Here she could see a light in the room in
which Billy was confined, and after dropping the bridle reins
to the ground she made her way to the front of the structure.
Creeping stealthily to the porch she peered in at the window.
Eddie was stretched out in cramped though seeming
luxury in an office chair. His feet were cocked up on the desk
before him. In his lap lay his six-shooter ready for any
emergency. Another reposed in its holster at his belt.
Barbara tiptoed to the door. Holding her breath she turned
the knob gently. The door swung open without a sound, and
an instant later she stood within the room. Again her eyes
were fixed upon Eddie Shorter. She saw his nerveless fingers
relax their hold upon the grip of his revolver. She saw the
weapon slip farther down into his lap. He did not move, other
than to the deep and regular breathing of profound slumber.
Barbara crossed the room to his side.
Behind the ranchhouse three figures crept forward in the
shadows. Behind them a matter of a hundred yards stood a
little clump of horses and with them were the figures of more
men. These waited in silence. The other three crept toward the
house. It was such a ranchhouse as you might find by the
scores or hundreds throughout Texas. Grayson, evidently, or
some other Texan, had designed it. There was nothing Mexican
about it, nor anything beautiful. It stood two storied,
verandaed and hideous, a blot upon the soil of picturesque
To the roof of the veranda clambered the three prowlers,
and across it to an open window. The window belonged to
the bedroom of Miss Barbara Harding. Here they paused and
listened, then two of them entered the room. They were gone
for but a few minutes. When they emerged they showed
evidences, by their gestures to the third man who had awaited
outside, of disgust and disappointment.
Cautiously they descended as they had come and made
their way back to those other men who had remained with
the horses. Here there ensued a low-toned conference, and
while it progressed Barbara Harding reached forth a steady
hand which belied the terror in her soul and plucked the
revolver from Eddie Shorter's lap. Eddie slept on.
Again on tiptoe the girl recrossed the office to the locked
door leading into the back room. The key was in the lock.
Gingerly she turned it, keeping a furtive eye upon the sleeping
guard, and the muzzle of his own revolver leveled menacingly
upon him. Eddie Shorter stirred in his sleep and raised a hand
to his face. The heart of Barbara Harding ceased to beat while
she stood waiting for the man to open his eyes and discover
her; but he did nothing of the kind. Instead his hand dropped
limply at his side and he resumed his regular breathing.
The key turned in the lock beneath the gentle pressure of
her fingers, the bolt slipped quietly back and she pushed the
door ajar. Within, Billy Byrne turned inquiring eyes in the
direction of the opening door, and as he saw who it was
who entered surprise showed upon his face; but he spoke no
word for the girl held a silencing finger to her lips.
Quickly she came to his side and motioned him to rise
while she tugged at the knots which held the bonds in place
about his arms. Once she stopped long enough to recross the
room and close the door which she had left open when she
It required fully five minutes--the longest five minutes of
Barbara Harding's life, she thought--before the knots gave to
her efforts; but at last the rope fell to the floor and Billy
Byrne was free.
He started to speak, to thank her, and, perhaps, to scold
her for the rash thing she had undertaken for him; but
she silenced him again, and with a whispered, "Come!" turned
toward the door.
As she opened it a crack to reconnoiter she kept the
revolver pointed straight ahead of her into the adjoining
room. Eddie, however, still slept on in peaceful ignorance of
the trick which was being played upon him.
Now the two started forward for the door which opened
from the office upon the porch, and as they did so Barbara
turned again toward Billy to caution him to silence for his
spurs had tinkled as he moved. For a moment their eyes were
not upon Eddie Shorter and Fate had it that at that very
moment Eddie awoke and opened his own eyes.
The sight that met them was so astonishing that for a
second the Kansan could not move. He saw Barbara Harding,
a revolver in her hand, aiding the outlaw to escape, and in the
instant that surprise kept him motionless Eddie saw, too,
another picture--the picture of a motherly woman in a little
farmhouse back in Kansas, and Eddie realized that this man,
this outlaw, had been the means of arousing within him a
desire and a determination to return again to those loving
arms. Too, the man had saved his mother from injury, and
Eddie shut his eyes quickly and thought hard and fast. Miss
Barbara had always been kind to him. In his boyish heart he
had loved her, hopelessly of course, in a boyish way. She
wanted the outlaw to escape. Eddie realized that he would do
anything that Miss Barbara wanted, even if he had to risk his
life at it.
The girl and the man were at the door. She pushed him
through ahead of her while she kept the revolver leveled upon
Eddie, then she passed out after him and closed the door,
while Eddie Shorter kept his eyes tightly closed and prayed to
his God that Billy Byrne might get safely away.
Outside and in the rear of the office building Barbara
pressed the revolver upon Billy.
"You will need it," she said. "There is Brazos--take him.
God bless and guard you, Billy!" and she was gone.
Billy swallowed bard. He wanted to run after her and take
her in his arms; but he recalled Bridge, and with a sigh turned
toward the patient Brazos. Languidly he gathered up the reins
and mounted, and then unconcernedly as though he were an
honored guest departing by daylight he rode out of the
ranchyard and turned Brazos' head north up the river road.
And as Billy disappeared in the darkness toward the north
Barbara Harding walked slowly toward the ranchhouse, while
from a little group of men and horses a hundred yards away
three men detached themselves and crept toward her, for they
had seen her in the moonlight as she left Billy outside the
office and strolled slowly in the direction of the house.
They hid in the shadow at the side of the house until the
girl had turned the corner and was approaching the veranda,
then they ran quickly forward and as she mounted the steps
she was seized from behind and dragged backward. A hand
was clapped over her mouth and a whispered threat warned
her to silence.
Half dragging and half carrying her the three men bore her
back to where their confederates awaited them. A huge fellow
mounted his pony and Barbara was lifted to the horn of the
saddle before him. Then the others mounted and as silently as
they had come they rode away, following the same path.
Barbara Harding had not cried out nor attempted to, for
she had seen very shortly after her capture that she was in the
hands of Indians and she judged from what she had heard of
the little band of Pimans who held forth in the mountains to
the east that they would as gladly knife her as not.
Jose was a Piman, and she immediately connected Jose with
the perpetration, or at least the planning of her abduction.
Thus she felt assured that no harm would come to her, since
Jose had been famous in his time for the number and size of
the ransoms he had collected.
Her father would pay what was demanded, she would be
returned and, aside from a few days of discomfort and hardship,
she would be none the worse off for her experience.
Reasoning thus it was not difficult to maintain her composure
and presence of mind.
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