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Back To God's Country








From: Bucky O'connor

To minimize the risk, Megales and Carlo left the prison by the secret
passage, following the fork to the river bank and digging at the
piled-up sand till they had forced an exit. O'Halloran met them here
with horses, and the three men followed the riverwash beyond the limits
of the town and cut across by a trail to a siding on the Central Mexican
Pacific tracks. The Irishman was careful to take no chances, and kept
his party in the mesquit till the headlight of an approaching train was
visible.

It drew up at the siding, and the three men boarded one of the two cars
which composed it. The coach next the engine was occupied by a dozen
trusted soldiers, who had formerly belonged to the bodyguard of Megales.
The last car was a private one, and in it the three found Henderson,
Bucky O'Connor, and his little friend, the latter still garbed as a boy.

Frances was exceedingly eager to don again the clothes proper to her
sex, and she had promised herself that, once habited as she desired,
nothing could induce her ever to masquerade again. Until she met and
fell in love with the ranger she had thought nothing of it, since it
had been merely a matter of professional business to which she had been
forced. Indeed, she had sometimes enjoyed the humor of the deception.
It had lent a spice o enjoyment to a life not crowded with it. But after
she met Bucky there had grown up in her a new sensitiveness. She wanted
to be womanly, to forget her turbid past and the shifts to which she
had sometimes been put. She had been a child; she was now a woman. She
wanted to be one of whom he need be in no way ashamed.

When their train began to pull out of the depot at Chihuahua she drew a
deep sigh of relief.

"It's good to get away from here back to the States. I'm tired of plots
and counterplots. For the rest of my life I want to be just a woman,"
she said to Bucky.

The young man smiled. "I reckon I must quit trying to make you a
gentleman. Fact is, I don't want you to be one any more."

She slanted a look at him to see what that might mean and another up the
car to make sure that Henderson was out of hearing.

"It was rather hopeless, wasn't it?" she smiled. "We'll do pretty well
if we succeed in making me a lady in course of time. I've a lot to
learn, you know."

"Well, you got lots of time to learn it," he replied cheerfully. "And
I've got a notion tucked away in the back of my haid that you haven't
got such a heap to study up. Mrs. Mackenzie will put you next to the
etiquette wrinkles where you are shy."

A shadow fell on the piquant, eager face beside him. "Do you think she
will love me?"

"I don't think. I know. She can't help it."

"Because she is my mother? Oh, I hope that is true."

"No, not only because she is your mother."

She decided to ask for no more reasons. Henderson, pleased at the wide
stretch of plain as only one who had missed the open air for many years
could be, was on the observation platform in the rear of the car, one
glance at his empty seat showed her. There was no safety for her shyness
in the presence of that proverbial three which makes a crowd, and she
began to feel her heart again in panic as once before. She took at once
the opening she had given.

"I do need a mother so much, after growing up like Topsy all these
years. And mine is the dearest woman in the world. I fell in love with
her before, and I did not know who she was when I was at he ranch."

"I'll agree to the second dearest in the world, but I reckon you shoot
too high when you say the plumb dearest."

"She is. We'll quarrel if you don't agree," trying desperately to divert
him from the topic she knew he meant to pursue. For in the past two
days he had been so busy helping O'Halloran that he had not even had a
glimpse of her. As a consequence of which each felt half-dubious of the
other's love, and Frances felt wholly shy about expressing her own or
even listening to his.

"Well, we're due for a quarrel, I reckon. But we'll postpone it till we
got more time to give it." He drew a watch from his pocket and glanced at
it "In less than fifteen minutes Mike and our two friends who are making
their getaway will come in that door Henderson just went out of. That
means we won't get a chance to be alone together, for about two days.
I've got something to say to you, Curly Haid, that won't keep that long
with out running my temperature clear up. So I'm allowing to say it
right now immediate. No, you don't need to turn them brown appealers on
me. It won't do a mite of good. It's Bucky to the bat and he's bound to
make a hit or strike out."

"I think I hear Mr. Henderson coming," murmured Frances, for lack of
something more effective to say.

"Not him. He's hogtied to the scenery long enough to do my business.
Now, it won't take me long if I get off right foot first. You read my
letter, you said?"

"Which letter?" She was examining attentively the fringe of the sash she
wore.

"Why, honey, that love-letter I wrote you. If there was more than one it
must have been wrote in my sleep, for I ce'tainly disremember it."

He could just hear her confused answer: "Oh, yes, I read that. I told
you that before."

"What did you think? Tell me again."

"I thought you misspelled feelings."

"You don't say. Now, ain't that too bad? But, girl o' mine, I expect
you were able to make it out, even if I did get the letters to milling
around wrong. I meant them feelings all right. Outside of the spelling,
did you have any objections to them,

"How can I remember what you wrote in that letter several days ago?"

"I'll bet you know it by heart, honey, and, if you don't, you'll find it
in your inside vest pocket, tucked away right close to your heart."

"It isn't," she denied, with a blush.

"Sho! Pinned to your shirt then, little pardner. I ain't particular
which. Point is, if you need to refresh that ailin' memory of yours, the
document is--right handy. But you don't need to. It just says one little
sentence over and over again. All you have got to do is to say one
little word, and you don't have to say it but once."

"I don't understand you," her lips voiced.

"You understand me all right. What my letter said was 'I love you,' and
what you have got to say is: 'Yes'."

"But that doesn't mean anything."

"I'll make out the meaning when you say it."

"Do I have to say it?"

"You have to if you feel it."

Slowly the big brown eyes came up to meet his bravely. "Yes, Bucky."

He caught her hands and looked down into her pure, sweet soul.

"I'm in luck," he breathed deeply. "In golden luck to have you look at
me twice. Are you sure?"

"Sure. I loved you that first day I met you. I've loved you every day
since," she confessed simply.

Full on the lips he kissed her.

"Then we'll be married as soon as we reach the Rocking Chair."

"But you once said you didn't want to be my husband," she taunted
sweetly. "Don't you remember? In the days when we were gipsies."

"I've changed my mind. I want to, and I'm in a hurry."

She shook her head. "No, dear. We shall have to wait. It wouldn't be
fair to my mother to lose me just as soon as she finds me. It is her
right to get acquainted with me just as if I belonged to her alone. You
understand what I mean, Bucky. She must not feel as if she never had
found me, as if she never had been first with me. We can love each other
more simply if she doesn't know about you. We'll have it for a secret
for a month or two."

She put her little hand on his arm appealingly to win his consent. His
eyes rested on it curiously, Then he took it in his big brown one and
turned it palm up. Its delicacy and perfect finish moved him, for it
seemed to him that in the contrast between the two hands he saw in
miniature the difference of sex. His showed strength and competency and
the roughness that comes of the struggle of life. But hers was strangely
tender and confiding, compact of the qualities that go to make up the
strength of the weak. Surely he deserved the worst if he was not good to
her, a shield and buckler against the storms that must beat against them
in the great adventure they were soon to begin together.

Reverently he raised the little hand and kissed its palm.

"Sure, sweetheart I had forgotten about your mother's claim. We can
wait, I reckon," he added with a smile. "You must always set me straight
when I lose the trail of what's right, Curly Haid. You are to be a
guiding-star to me."

"And you to me. Oh, Bucky, isn't it good?"

He kissed her again hurriedly, for the train was jarring to a halt.
Before he could answer in words, O'Halloran burst into the coach, at the
head of his little company.

"All serene, Bucky. This is the last scene, and the show went without a
hitch in the performance anywhere."

Bucky smiled at Frances as he answered his enthusiastic friend:

"That's right. Not a hitch anywhere."

"And say, Bucky, who do you think is in the other coach dressed as one
of the guards?"

"Colonel Roosevelt," the ranger guessed promptly.

"Our friend Chaves. He's escaping because he thinks we'll have him
assassinated in revenge," the big Irishman returned gleefully. "You
should have seen his color, me bye, when he caught sight of me. I asked
him if he'd been reduced to the ranks, and he begged me not to tell you
he was here. Go in and devil him."

Bucky glanced at his lover. "No, I'm so plumb contented I haven't the
heart."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

At the Rocking Chair Ranch there was bustle and excitement. Mexicans
scrubbed and scoured under the direction of Alice and Mrs. Mackenzie,
and vaqueros rode hither and thither on bootless errands devised by
their nervous master. For late that morning a telephone call from
Aravaipa had brought Webb to the receiver to listen to a telegram. The
message was from Bucky, then on the train on his way home.

"The best of news. Reach the Rocking Chair tonight."

That was the message which had disturbed the serenity of big Webb
Mackenzie and had given to the motherly heart of his wife an unusual
flutter. The best of news it could not be, for the ranger had already
written them of the confession of Anderson, which included the statement
of the death of their little daughter. But at least he might bring the
next best news, information that David Henderson was free at last and
his long martyrdom ended.

So all day hurried preparations were being made to receive the honored
guests with a fitting welcome. The Rocking Chair was a big ranch,
and its hospitality was famous all over the Southwest. It was quite
unnecessary to make special efforts to entertain, but Webb and his wife
took that means of relieving the strain on them till night.

Higher crept the hot sun of baked Arizona. It passed the zenith and
began to descend toward the purple hills in the west, went behind them
with a great rainbow splash of brilliancy peculiar to that country Dusk
came, and died away in the midst of a love-concert of quails. Velvet
night, with its myriad stars, entranced the land and made magic of its
hills and valleys.

For the fiftieth time Webb dragged out his watch and consulted it.

"I wish that young man had let us know which way he was coming, so I
could go and meet them. If they come by the river they should be in
the Box canyon by this time. But if I was to ride out, like as not they
would come by the mesa," he sputtered.

"What time is it, Webb?" asked his wife, scarcely less excited.

He had to look again, so absent-minded had been his last glance at the
watch. "Nine-fifteen. Why didn't I telephone to Rogers and ask him to
find out which way they were coming? Sometimes I'm mighty thick-headed."

As Mackenzie had guessed, the party was winding its way through the Box
Canyon at that time of speaking. Bucky and Frances led the way, followed
by Henderson and the vaquero whom Mackenzie had telephoned to guide them
from Aravaipa.

"I reckon this night was made for us, Curly Haid. Even good old Arizona
never turned out such a one before. I expect it was ordered for us
ever since it was decided we belonged to each other. That may have been
thousands of years ago." Bucky laughed, to relieve the tension, and
looked up at the milky way above. "We're like those stars, honey. All
our lives we have been drifting around, but all the time it had been
decided by the God-of-things-as-they-are that our orbits were going to
run together and gravitate into the same one when the right time came.
It has come now."

"Yes, Bucky," she answered softly. "We belong, dear."

"Hello, here's the end of the canon. The ranch lies right behind that
spur."

"Does it?" Presently she added: "I'm all a-tremble, Bucky. To think I'm
going to meet my father and my mother for the first time really, for I
don't count that other time when we didn't know. Suppose they shouldn't
like me."

"Impossible. Suppose something reasonable," her lover replied.

"But they might not. You think, you silly boy, that because you do
everybody must. But I'm so glad I'm clothed and in my right mind again.
I couldn't have borne to meet my mother with that boys suit on. Do you
think I look nice in this? I had to take what I could find ready-made,
you know."

Unless his eyes were blinded by the glamour of love, he saw the sweetest
vision of loveliness he had known. Such a surpassing miracle of soft,
dainty curves, such surplusage of beauty in bare throat, speaking eye,
sweet mouth, and dimpled cheeks! But Bucky was a lover, and perhaps no
fair judge, for in that touch of vagueness, of fairy-land, lent by the
moonlight, he found the world almost too beautiful to believe. Did she
look NICE? How beggarly words were to express feelings, after all.

The vaquero with them rode forward and pointed to the valley below,
where the ranch-house huddled in a pellucid sea of moonlight.

"That's the Rocking Chair, sir."

Presently there came a shout from the ranch, and a man galloped toward
them. He passed Bucky with a wave of his hand and made directly for
Henderson.

"Dave! Dave, old partner," he cried, leaping from his horse and catching
the other's hand. "After all these years you've risen from the dead and
come back to me." His voice was broken with emotion.

"Come! Let's canter forward to the ranch," said Bucky to Frances and the
vaquero, thinking it best to leave the two old comrades together for a
while.

Mrs. Mackenzie and Alice met them at the gate. "Did you bring him? Did
you bring Dave?" the older lady asked eagerly.

"Yes, we brought him," answered Bucky, helping Frances to dismount.

He led the girl to her mother. "Mrs. Mackenzie, can you stand good
news?"

She caught at the gate. "What news? Who is this lady?"

"Her name is Frances."

"Frances what?"

"Frances Mackenzie. She is your daughter, returned, after all these
years, to love and be loved."

The mother gave a little throat cry, steadied herself, and fell into the
arms of her daughter. "Oh, my baby! My baby! Found at last."

Quietly Bucky slipped away to the stables with the ponies. As quietly
Alice disappeared into the house. This was sacred ground, and not even
their feet should rest on it just now.

When Bucky returned to the house, he found his sweetheart sitting
between her father and mother, each of whom was holding one of her
hands. Henderson had retired to clean himself up. Happy tears were
coursing down the cheeks of the mother, and Webb found it necessary to
blow his nose frequently. He jumped up at sight of the ranger.

"Young man, you're to blame for this. You've found my friend and you've
found my daughter. Brought them both back to us on the same day. What do
you want? Name it, and it's yours, if I can give it."

Bucky looked at Frances with a smile in his eyes. He knew very well what
he wanted, but he was under bonds not to name it yet.

"I'll set you up in the cattle business, sir. I'll buy you sheep, if
you prefer. I'll get you an interest in a mine. Put a name to what you
want."

"I'm no robber. You paid the expenses of my trip. That's all I want
right now."

"It's not all you'll get. Do you think I'm a cheap piker? No, sir.
You've got to let me grub-stake you." Mackenzie thumped a clinched fist
down on the table.

"All right, seh. You're the doctor. Give me an interest in that map and
I'll prospect the mine this summer, if I can locate it."

"Good enough, and I'll finance the proposition. You and Dave can
take half-shares in the property. In the meantime, are you open to an
engagement?"

"Depends what it is," replied Bucky cautiously.

"My foreman's quit on me. Gone into business for himself. I'm looking
for a good man. Will you be my major-domo?"

Bucky's heart leaped. He had been thinking of how he must report almost
immediately to HurryUp Millikan, of the rangers. Now, he could resign
from that body and stay near his love. Certainly things were coming his
way.

"I'd like to try it, seh," he answered. "I may not make good, but I sure
would like to have a chance at it."

"Make good! Of course you'll make good. You're the best man in Arizona,
sir," cried Webb extravagantly. He wheeled on his new-found daughter.
"Don't you think so, Frankie?"

Frances blushed, but answered bravely: "Yes, sir. He makes everything
right when he takes hold of it."

"Good. We're not going to let him get away from us after making us so
happy, are we, mother? This young man is going to stay right here. We
never had but one son, and we are going to treat him as much like one as
we can. Eh, mother?"

"If he will consent, Webb." She went up to the ranger and kissed his
tanned cheek. "You must pardon an old woman whom you've made very
happy."

Again Bucky's laughing blue eyes met the brown ones of his sweetheart.

"Oh, I'll consent, all right, and I reckon, ma'am, it's mighty good of
you to treat me so white. I'll sure try to please you."

Webb thumped him on the back. "Now, you're shouting. We want you to be
one of us, young man."

Once more that happy, wireless message of eyes followed by O'Connor's
assent. "That's what I want myself, seh."

Bucky found a surprise waiting for him at the stables. A heavy hand
descended upon his shoulder. He whirled, and looked up into the face of
Sheriff Collins.

"You here, Val?" he cried in surprise.

"That's what. Any luck, Bucky?"

They went out and sat down on the big rocks back of the corral. Here
each told the other his story, with certain reservations. Collins had
just got back from Epitaph, where he had been to get the fragments of
paper which told the secret of the buried treasure. He was expecting to
set out in the early morning to meet Leroy.

"I'll go with you," said Bucky immediately.

Val shook his head. "No, I'm to go alone. That's the agreement."

"Of course if that's the agreement." Nevertheless, the ranger formed a
private intention not to be far from the scene of action.





Next: The Wolf Pack

Previous: A Villon Of The Desert



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