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Bucky O'Connor: A Tale of the Unfenced Border By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 18755

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

After all, adventures are to the adventurous. In this prosaic twentieth century the Land of Romance still beckons to eager eyes and gallant hearts. The rutted money-grabber may deny till he is a nerve-racked counting-machine, but youth, even to the end of time, will laugh to scorn his pessimism and venture with elastic heel where danger and mystery offer their dubious hazards.

So it was that Bucky and his little comrade found nothing of dulness in the mission to which they had devoted themselves. In their task of winning freedom for the American immured in the Chihuahua dungeon they already found themselves in the heart of a web of intrigue, the stakes of which were so high as to carry life and death with them in the balance. But for them the sun shone brightly. It was enough that they played the game and shared the risks together. The jocund morning was in their hearts, and brought with it an augury of success based on nothing so humdrum or tangible as reason.

O'Connor carried with him to the grim fortress not only his permit for an inspection, but also a note from O'Halloran that was even more potent in effect. For Colonel Ferdinand Gabilonda, warden of the prison, had a shrewd suspicion that a plot was under way to overthrow the unpopular administration of Megales, and though he was an office-holder under the present government he had no objection to ingratiating himself with the opposition, providing it could be done without compromising himself openly. In other words, the warden was sitting on the fence waiting to see which way the cat would jump. If the insurgents proved the stronger party, he meant to throw up his hat and shout "Viva Valdez." On the other hand, if the government party crushed them he would show himself fussily active in behalf of Megales. Just now he was exerting all his diplomacy to maintain a pleasant relationship with both. Since it was entirely possible that the big Irishman O'Halloran might be the man on horseback within a very few days, the colonel was all suave words and honeyed smiles to his friend the ranger.

Indeed he did him the unusual honor of a personally conducted inspection. Gabilonda was a fat little man, with a soft, purring voice and a pompous manner. He gushed with the courteous volubility of his nation, explaining with great gusto this and that detail of the work. Bucky gave him outwardly a deferent ear, but his alert mind and eyes were scanning the prisoners they saw. The ranger was trying to find in one of these scowling, defiant faces some resemblance to the picture his mind had made of Henderson.

But Bucky looked in vain. If the man he wanted was among these he had changed beyond recognition. In the end he was forced to ask Gabilonda plainly if he would not take him to see David Henderson, as he knew a man in Arizona who was an old friend of his, and he would like to be able to tell him that he had seen his friend.

Henderson was breaking stone when O'Connor got his first glimpse of him. He continued to swing his hammer listlessly, without looking up, when the door opened to let in the warden and his guests. But something in the ranger's steady gaze drew his eyes. They were dull eyes, and sullen, but when he saw that Bucky was an American, the fire of intelligence flashed into them.

"May I speak to him?" asked O'Connor.

"It is against the rules, senor, but if you will be brief-" The colonel shrugged, and turned his back to them, in order not to see. It must be said for Gabilonda that his capacity for blinking what he did not think it judicious to see was enormous.

"You are David Henderson, are you not?" The ranger asked, in a low voice.

Surprise filtered into the dull eyes. "That was my name," the man answered bitterly. "I have a number now."

"I come from Webb Mackenzie to get you out of this," the ranger said.

The man's eyes were no longer dull now, but flaming with hatred. "Curse him, I'll take nothing from his hands. For fifteen years he has let me rot in hell without lifting a hand for me."

"He thought you dead. It can all be explained. It was only last week that the mystery of your disappearance was solved."

"Then why didn't he come himself? It was to save his little girl I got myself into this place. If I had been in his shoes I would have come if I'd had to crawl on my hands and knees."

"He doesn't know yet you are here. I wrote him simply that I knew where you were, and then I came at once." Bucky glanced round warily at the fat colonel gazing placidly out of the barred window. "I mean to rescue you, and I knew if he were here his impulsiveness would ruin everything."

"Do you mean it? For God's sake! don't lie to me. If there's no hope for me, don't say there is." The prisoner's voice shook and his hands trembled. He was only the husk of the man he had been, but it did Bucky's heart good to see that the germ of life was still in him. Back in Arizona, on the Rocking Chair Ranch, with the free winds of the plains beating on his face, he would pick up again the old strands of his broken life, would again learn to love the lowing of cattle and the early morning call of the hooter to his mate.

"I mean it. As sure as I stand here I'll get you out, or, if I don't, Webb Mackenzie will. We're calling the matter to the attention of the United States Government, but we are not going to wait till that time to free you. Keep up your courage, man. It is only for a little time now."

Tears leaped to the prisoner's eyes. He had been a game man in the dead years that were past, none gamer in Texas, and he could still face his jailers with an impassive face; but this first kindly word from his native land in fifteen years to the man buried alive touched the fount of his emotions. He turned away and leaned against the grating of his cell, his head resting on his forearm. "My God! man, you don't know what it means to me. Sometimes I think I shall go mad and rave. After all these years But I know you'll fail-It's too good to be true," he finished quietly.

"I'll not fail, though I may be delayed. But I can't say more. Gabilonda is coming back. Next time I see you it will be to take you out to freedom. Think of that always, and believe it."

Gabilonda bowed urbanely. "If the senor has seen all he cares to of this department we will return to the office," he suggested suavely.

"Certainly, colonel. I can't appreciate too much your kindness in allowing me to study your system so carefully."

"Any friend of my friend the Senor O'Halloran is cherished deeply in my heart," came back the smiling colonel, with a wave of his plump, soft hand.

"I am honored, sir, to receive such consideration at the hands of so distinguished a soldier as Colonel Gabilonda," bowed Bucky gravely, in his turn, with the most flowery Spanish he could muster.

There was another half-hour of the mutual exchange of compliments before O'Connor could get away. Alphonse and Gaston were fairly outdone, for the Arizonian, with a smile hidden deep behind the solemnity of his blue eyes, gave as good as he got. When he was at last fairly in the safety of his own rooms he gave way to limp laughter while describing to his little friend that most ceremonious parting.

"He pressed me to his manly bay window, Curly, and allowed he was plumb tickled to death to have met me. Says I, coming back equal strong, 'twas the most glorious day of my life."

"Oh, I know YOU," answered young Hardman, with a smile.

"A friend of his friend O'Halloran-"

"Mr. O'Halloran was here while you were away. He seemed very anxious to see you; said he would call again in an hour. I think it must be important."

Came at that instant O'Halloran's ungentle knock, on the heels of which his red head came through the open door.

"You're the very lad I'm wanting to see, Bucky," he announced, and followed this declaration by locking all the doors and beckoning him to the center of the room.

"Is that tough neck of yours aching again, Reddy?" inquired his friend whimsically.

"It is that, me bye. There's the very divil to pay," he whispered.

"Cough it out, Mike."

"That tyrant Megales is onto our game. Somebody's leaked, or else he has a spy in our councils-as we have in his, the ould scoundrel."

"I see. Your spy has told you that his spy has reported to him-"

"That the guns are to be brought in to-night. He has sent out a guard to bring them in safely to him. If he gets them, our game is up, me son, and you can bet your last nickle on that."

"If he gets them! Is there a chance for us?"

"Glory be! there is. You see, he doesn't know that we know what he has done. For that reason he sent out only a guard of forty men. If he sent more we would suspect what he was doing, ye see. That is the way the old fox reasoned. But forty-they were able to slip out of the city on last night's train in civilian's clothes and their arms in a couple of coffins."

"Why didn't he send a couple of hundred men openly, and at the same time arrest you all?"

"That doesn't suit his book at all. For one thing, he probably doesn't know all of us, and he doesn't want to bag half of us and throw the rest into immediate rebellion. It's his play not to force the issue until after the election, Bucky. He controls all the election machinery and will have himself declared reelected

, the old scamp, notwithstanding that he's the most unpopular man in the State. To precipitate trouble now would be just foolishness, he argues. So he'll just capture our arms, and after the election give me and my friends quiet hell. Nothing public, you know-just unfortunate assassinations that he will regret exceedingly, me bye. But I have never yit been assassinated, and, on principle, I object to being trated so. It's very destructive to a man's future usefulness."

"And so?" laughed the ranger.

"And so we've arranged to take a few lads up the line and have a train hold-up. I'm the robber-in-chief. Would ye like to be second in command of the lawless ruffians, me son?"

Bucky met his twinkling eye gaily. "Mr. O'Connor is debarred from taking part in such an outrageous affair by international etiquette, but he knows a gypsy lad would be right glad to join, I reckon."

"Bully for him. If you'll kindly have him here I'll come around and collect him this evening at eight-thirty sharp."

"I hope you'll provide a pleasant entertainment for him."

"We'll do our best," grinned the revolutionist. "Music provided by Megales' crack military band. A lively and enjoyable occasion guaranteed to all who attend. Your friend will meet some of the smartest officers in the State. It promises to be a most sumptuous affair."

"Then my friend accepts with pleasure."

After the conspirator had gone, Frank spoke up. "You wouldn't go away with him and leave me here alone, would you?"

"I ce'tainly shouldn't take you with me, kid. I don't want my little friend all shot up by greasers."

"If you're going, I want to go, too. Supposing-if anything were to happen to you, what could I do?"

"Leave the country by the next train. Those are the orders."

"You're always talking about a square deal. Do you think that is one? I might say that I don't want YOU shot. You don't care anything about my feelings." The soft voice had a little break in it that Bucky loved.

He walked across to his partner, that rare, tender smile of his in his eyes. "If I'm always talking about a square deal I reckon I have got to give you one. Now, what would you think a square deal, Curly? Would it be square for me to let my friend O'Halloran stand all the risk of this and then me take the reward when Henderson has been freed by him? Would that be your notion of the right telling?"

"I didn't say that, though I don't see why you have to mix yourself up in his troubles. Why should you go out and kill these soldiers that haven't injured you?"

"I'm not going to kill any of them," he smiled "Besides, that isn't the way I look at it. This fellow Megales is a despot. He has made out to steal the liberty of the people from them. President Diaz can't interfere because the old rascal governor does everything with that smooth, oily way of his under cover of law. It's up to some of the people to put up a good strong kick for themselves. I ain't a bit sorry to give them the loan of my foot while they are doing it."

"Then can't I go, too? I don't want to be left alone here and you away fighting."

Bucky's eyes gleamed. He dared an experiment in an indifferent drawl. "Whyfor don't you want to stay alone, kid? Are you afraid for yourself or for me?"

His partner's cheeks were patched with roses. Shyly the long, thick lashes lifted and let the big brown eyes meet his blue ones. "Maybe I'm afraid for both of us."

"Would you care if one of their pills happened along in the scrimmage and put me out of business? Honest, would you?"

"You haven't any right to talk that way. It's cruel," was the reply that burst from the pretty lips, and he noticed that at his suggestion the roses had died from soft cheeks.

"Well, I won't talk that way any more, little partner," he answered gaily, taking the small hand in his. "For reasons good. I'm fire-proof. The Mexican bullet hasn't been cast yet that can find Bucky O'Connor's heart."

"But you mustn't think that, either, and be reckless," was the next injunction. The shy laugh rang like music. "That's why I want to go along, to see that you behave yourself properly."

"Oh, I'll behave," he laughed; for the young man found it very easy to be happy when those sweet eyes were showing concern for him. "I've got several good reasons why I don't aim to get bumped off just yet. Heaps of first-rate reasons. I'll tell you what some of them are one of these days," he dared to add.

"You had better tell me now." The gaze that fell before his steady eyes was both shy and eager.

"No, I reckon I'll wait, Curly," he answered, turning away with a long breath. "Well, we better go out and get some grub, tortillas and frijoles, don't you think?"

"Just as you like." The lad's breath was coming a little fast. They had been on the edge of some moment of intimacy that Bucky's partner both longed for and dreaded. "But you have not told me yet whether I can go with you."

"You can't. I'm sorry. I'd like first-rate to take you, if you want to go, but I can't do it. I hate to disappoint you if you're set on it, but I've got to, kid. Anything else you want I'll be glad to do."

He added this last because Frank looked so broken-hearted about it.

"Very well." Swift as a flash came the demand: "Tell me these heaps of first-rate reasons you were mentioning just now."

Under the sun-tan he flushed. "I reckon I'll have to make another exception, Curly. Those reasons ain't ripe yet for telling."

"Then if you are-if anything happens-I'll never know them. And you promised you would tell me-you, who pretend to hate a liar so," she scoffed.

"Would it do if I wrote those reasons and left them in a sealed envelope? Then in case anything happened you could open it and satisfy that robust curiosity of yours." He recognized that he had trapped himself, and he was making the best bargain left him.

"You may write them, if you like. But I'm going to open the letter, anyway. The reasons belong to me now. You promised."

"I'll make a new deal with you, then," he smiled. "I'll take awful good care of myself to-night if you'll promise not to open the envelope for two weeks unless-well, unless that something happens that we ain't expecting."

"Call it a week, and it's a bargain."

"Better say when we're back across the line again. That may be inside of three days, if everything goes well," he threw in as a bait.

"Done. I'm to open the letter when we cross the line into Texas."

Bucky shook the little hand that was offered him and wished mightily that he had the right to celebrate with more fervent demonstrations.

That afternoon the ranger wrote with a good deal of labor the letter he had promised. It appeared to be a difficult thing for him to deliver himself even on paper of those good and sufficient reasons. He made and destroyed no less than half a dozen openings before at last he was fairly off. Meanwhile, Master Frank, busy over some alterations in Bucky's gypsy suit, took pleasure in deriding with that sweet voice the harassed correspondent.

"It might be a love letter from the pains you take with it. Would you like me to come and help you with it?" the sewer railed merrily.

"I ain't used to letter writing much," apologized the scribe, wiping his bedewed brow, which had suddenly gone a shade more flushed.

"Apparently not. I expect, from the time you give it, the result will be a literary classic."

"Don't you disturb me, Curly, or I'll never get done," implored the tortured ranger.

"You're doing well. You've only been an hour and a half on six lines," the tormentor mocked.

Womanlike, she was quite at her ease, since he was very far indeed from being at his. Yet she had a problem of her own she was trying to decide.

Had he discovered, after all, that she was not a boy, and had his reasons-the ones he was trying to tell in that disturbing letter-anything to do with that discovery? Such a theory accounted for several things she had noticed in him of late. There was an added respect in his manner for her. He never now invaded the room recognized as hers without a specific invitation, nor did he seem any longer to chafe at the little personal marks of fastidiousness that had at first appeared to annoy him. To be sure, he ordered her about, just as he had been in the habit of doing at first. But it was conceivable that this might be a generous blind to cover up his knowledge of her sex.

"How do you spell guessed-one s or two?" he presently asked, out of the throes of composition.

She spelled it, and added demurely: "Adore has only one d"

Bucky laid down his pen and pretended to glare at him. "You young rascal, what do you mean by bothering me like that? Act like that, you young imp, and you'll never grow up to be a gentleman."

Their glances caught and held, the minds of each of them busy over that last prediction of his. For one long instant masks were off and both were trying to find an answer to a question in the eyes opposite. Then voluntarily each gaze released the other in a confusion of sweet shame. For the beating of a lash, soul had looked into naked soul, all disguise stripped from them. She knew that he knew. Yet in that instant when his secret was surprised from him another secret, sweeter than the morning song of birds, sang its way into both their hearts.

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