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Bucky Entertains








From: Bucky O'connor

Bucky began at once to tap the underground wires his official position
made accessible to him. These ran over Southern Arizona, Sonora, and
Chihuahua. All the places to which criminals or frontiersmen with money
were wont to resort were reported upon. For the ranger's experience had
taught him that since the men he wanted had money in their pockets to
burn gregarious impulse would drive them from the far silent places of
the desert to the roulette and faro tables where the wolf and the lamb
disport themselves together.

The photograph from Webb Mackenzie of the cook Anderson reached him at
Tucson the third day after his interview with that gentleman, at the
same time that Collins dropped in on him to inquire what progress he was
making.

O'Connor told him of the Aravaipa episode, and tossed across the table
to him the photograph he had just received.

"If we could discover the gent that sat for this photo it might help us.
You don't by any chance know him, do you, Val?"

The sheriff shook his head. "Not in my rogues' gallery, Bucky."

The ranger again examined the faded picture. A resemblance in it to
somebody he had met recently haunted vaguely his memory. As he looked
the indefinite suggestion grew sharp and clear. It was a photograph
of the showman who had called himself Hardman. All the trimmings were
lacking, to be sure--the fierce mustache, the long hair, the buckskin
trappings, none of them were here. But beyond a doubt it was the same
shifty-eyed villain. Nor did it shake Bucky's confidence that Mackenzie
had seen him and failed to recognize the man as his old cook. The fellow
was thoroughly disguised, but the camera had happened to catch that
curious furtive glance of his. But for that O'Connor would never have
known the two to be the same.

Bucky was at the telephone half an hour. In the middle of the next
afternoon his reward came in the form of a Western Union billet. It
read:

"Eastern man says you don't want what is salable here."

The lieutenant cut out every other word and garnered the wheat of the
message:

"Man you want is here."

The telegram was marked from Epitaph, and for that town the ranger and
the sheriff entrained immediately.

Bucky's eye searched in vain the platform of the Epitaph depot for
Malloy, of the Rangers, whose wire had brought him here. The cause
of the latter's absence was soon made clear to him in a note he found
waiting for him at the hotel:

"The old man has just sent me out on hurry-up orders. Don't know when
I'll get back. Suggest you take in the show at the opera house to-night
to pass the time."

It was the last sentence that caught Bucky's attention. Jim Malloy had
not written it except for a reason. Wherefore the lieutenant purchased
two tickets for the performance far back in the house. From the local
newspaper he gathered that the showman was henceforth to be a resident
of Epitaph. Mr. Jay Hardman, or Signor Raffaello Cavellado, as he was
known the world over by countless thousands whom he had entertained, had
purchased a corral and livery stable at the corner of Main and Boothill
Streets and solicited the patronage of the citizens of Hualpai County.
That was the purport of the announcement which Bucky ringed with a
pencil and handed to his friend.

That evening Signor Raffaello Cavellado made a great hit with his
audience. He swaggered through his act magnificently, and held his
spectators breathless. Bucky took care to see that a post and the
sheriff's big body obscured him from view during the performance.

After it was over O'Connor and the sheriff returned to the hotel, where
also Hardman was for the present staying, and sent word up to his
room that one of the audience who had admired very much the artistic
performance would like the pleasure of drinking a glass of wine with
Signor Cavellado if the latter would favor him with his company in room
seven. The Signor was graciously pleased to accept, and followed his
message of acceptance in person a few minutes later.

Bucky remained quietly in the corner of the room back of the door until
the showman had entered, and while the latter was meeting Collins he
silently locked the door and pocketed the key.

The sheriff acknowledged Hardman's condescension brusquely and without
shaking hands. "Glad to meet you, seh. But you're mistaken in one thing.
I'm not your host. This gentleman behind you is."

The man turned and saw Bucky, who was standing with his back against the
door, a bland smile on his face.

"Yes, seh. I'm your host to-night. Sheriff Collins, hyer, is another
guest. I'm glad to have the pleasure of entertaining you, Signor
Raffaello Cavellado," Bucky assured him, in his slow, gentle drawl,
without reassuring him at all.

For the fellow was plainly disconcerted at recognition of his host.
He turned with a show of firmness to Collins. "If you're a sheriff, I
demand to have that door opened at once," he blustered.

Val put his hands in his pockets and tipped back his chair. "I ain't
sheriff of Hualpai County. My jurisdiction don't extend here," he said
calmly.

"I'm an unarmed man," pleaded Cavellado.

"Come to think of it, so am I."

"I reckon I'm holding all the aces, Signor Cavellado," explained the
ranger affably. "Or do you prefer in private life to be addressed as
Hardman--or, say, Anderson?"

The showman moistened his lips and offered his tormentor a blanched
face.

"Anderson--a good plain name. I wonder, now, why you changed it?"
Bucky's innocent eyes questioned him blandly as he drew from his pocket
a little box and tossed it on the table. "Open that box for me, Mr.
Anderson. Who knows? It might explain a heap of things to us."

With trembling fingers the big coward fumbled at the string. With all
his fluent will he longed to resist, but the compelling eyes that met
his so steadily were not to be resisted. Slowly he unwrapped the paper
and took the lid from the little box, inside of which was coiled up a
thin gold chain with locket pendant.

"Be seated," ordered Bucky sternly, and after the man had found a chair
the ranger sat down opposite him.

From its holster he drew a revolver and from a pocket his watch. He laid
them on the table side by side and looked across at the white-lipped
trembler whom he faced.

"We had better understand each other, Mr. Anderson. I've come here to
get from you the story of that chain, so far as you know it. If you
don't care to tell it I shall have to mess this floor up with your
remains. Get one proposition into your cocoanut right now. You don't get
out of this room alive with your secret. It's up to you to choose."

Quite without dramatics, as placidly as if he were discussing railroad
rebates, the ranger delivered his ultimatum. It seemed plain that he
considered the issue no responsibility of his.

Anderson stared at him in silent horror, moistening his dry lips with
the tip of his tongue. Once his gaze shifted to the sheriff but found
small comfort there. Collins had picked up a newspaper and was absorbed
in it.

"Are you going to let him kill me?" the man asked him hoarsely.

He looked up from his newspaper in mild protest at such unreason. "Me? I
ain't sittin' in this game. Seems like I mentioned that already."

"Better not waste your time, signor, on side issues," advised the man
behind the gun. "For I plumb forgot to tell you I'm allowing only three
minutes to begin your story, half of which three has already slipped
away to yesterday's seven thousand years. Without wantin' to hurry you,
I suggest the wisdom of a prompt decision."

"Would he do it?" gasped the victim, with a last appeal to Collins.

"Would he what? Oh, shoot you up. Cayn't tell till I see. If he says he
will he's liable to. He always was that haidstrong."

"But--why--why--"

"Yes, it's sure a heap against the law, but then Bucky ain't a lawyer.
I don't reckon he cares sour grapes for the law--as law. It's a right
interesting guess as to whether he will or won't."

"There's a heap of cases the law don't reach prompt. This is one of
them," contributed the ranger cheerfully. He pocketed his watch and
picked up the .45. "Any last message or anything of that sort, signor? I
don't want to be unpleasant about this, you understand."

The whilom bad man's teeth chattered. "I'll tell you anything you want
to know."

"Now, that's right sensible. I hate to come into another man's house and
clutter it up. Reel off your yarn."

"I don't know--what you want."

"I want the whole story of your kidnapping of the Mackenzie child, how
came you to do it, what happened to Dave Henderson, and full directions
where I may locate Frances Mackenzie. Begin at the beginning, and I'll
fire questions at you when you don't make any point clear to me. Turn
loose your yarn at me hot off the bat."

The man told his story sullenly. While he was on the round-up as cook
for the riders he had heard Mackenzie and Henderson discussing together
the story of their adventure with the dying Spaniard and their hopes
of riches from the mine he had left them. From that night he had set
himself to discover the secret of its location, had listened at windows
and at keyholes, and had once intercepted a letter from one to the
other. By chance he had discovered that the baby was carrying the secret
in her locket, and he had set himself to get it from her.

But his chance did not come. He could not make friends with her, and at
last, in despair of finding a better opportunity, he had slipped into
her room one night in the small hours to steal the chain. But it was
wound round her neck in such a way that he could not slip it over her
head. She had awakened while he was fumbling with the clasp and had
begun to cry. Hearing her mother moving about in the next room, he had
hastily carried the child with him, mounted the horse waiting in the
yard, and ridden away.

In the road he became aware, some time later, that he was being pursued.
This gave him a dreadful fright, for, as Bucky had surmised, he thought
his pursuer was Mackenzie. All night he rode southward wildly, but still
his follower kept on his trail till near morning, when he eluded him. He
crossed the border, but late that afternoon got another fright. For it
was plain he was still being followed. In the endless stretch of rolling
hills he twice caught sight of a rider picking his way toward him. The
heart of the guilty man was like water. He could not face the outraged
father, nor was it possible to escape so dogged a foe by flight. An
alternative suggested itself, and he accepted it with sinking courage.
The child was asleep in his arms now, and he hastily dismounted,
picketed his horse, and stole back a quarter of a mile, so that the
neighing of his bronco might not betray his presence. Then he lay down
in a dense mesquit thicket and waited for his foe. It seemed an eternity
till the man appeared at the top of a rise fifty yards away. Hastily
Anderson fired, and again. The man toppled from his horse, dead before
he struck the ground. But when the cook reached him he was horrified to
see that the man he had killed was a member of the Rurales, or Mexican
border police. In his guilty terror he had shot the wrong man.

He fled at once, pursued by a thousand fears. Late the next night he
reached a Chihuahua village, after having been lost for many hours. The
child he still carried with him, simply because he had not the heart
to leave it to die in the desert alone. A few weeks later he married
an American woman he met in Sonora. They adopted the child, but it died
within the year of fever.

Meanwhile, he was horrified to learn that Dave Henderson, following
hard on his trail, had been found bending over the spot where the dead
soldier lay, had been arrested by a body of Rurales, tried hurriedly,
and convicted to life imprisonment. The evidence had been purely
circumstantial. The bullet found in the dead body of the trooper was one
that might have come from his rifle, the barrel of which was empty and
had been recently fired. For the rest, he was a hated Americano, and, as
a matter of course, guilty. His judges took pains to see that no message
from him reached his friends in the States before he was buried alive in
the prison. In that horrible hole an innocent man had been confined for
fifteen years, unless he had died during that time.

That, in substance, was the story told by the showman, and Bucky's
incisive questions were unable to shake any portion of it. As to
the missing locket, the man explained that it had been broken off by
accident and lost. When he discovered that only half the secret was
contained on the map section he had returned the paper to the locket and
let the child continue to carry it. Some years after the death of the
child, Frances, his wife had lost the locket with the map.

"And this chain and locket--when did you lose them?" demanded Bucky
sharply.

"It must have been about two months ago, down at Nogales, that I sold it
to a fellow. I was playing faro and losing. He gave me five dollars for
it."

And to that he stuck stoutly, nor could he be shaken from it. Both
O'Connor and the sheriff believed he was lying, for they were convinced
that he was the bandit with the red wig who had covered the engineer
while his companions robbed the train. But of this they had no proof.
Nor did Bucky even mention his suspicion to Hardman, for it was his
intention to turn him loose and have him watched. Thus, perhaps, he
would be caught corresponding or fraternizing with some of the other
outlaws. Collins left the room before the showman, and when the latter
came from the hotel he followed him into the night.

Meanwhile, Bucky went out and tapped another of his underground wires.
This ran directly to the Mexican consul at Tucson, to whom Bucky
had once done a favor of some importance, and from him to Sonora and
Chihuahua. It led to musty old official files, to records already
yellowed with age, to court reports and prison registers. In the end
it flashed back to Bucky great news. Dave Henderson, arrested for the
murder of the Rurales policeman, was still serving time in a Mexican
prison for another man's crime. There in Chihuahua for fifteen years he
had been lost to the world in that underground hole, blotted out from
life so effectually that few now remembered there had been such a
person. It was horrible, unthinkable, but none the less true.





Next: Bucky Makes A Discovery

Previous: A Bluff Is Called



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