without a purpose, and that she was utterly helpless in the hands of a
band of thieves and cutthroats, to whom murder meant little enough, if
it only served their ends. Mendez, no doubt, was brute and monster,
yet it was Juan Cateras whom she really feared - he was cruel, slimy,
seeking to hide his hatefulness behind that hideous smile; and he had
already chosen her for his victim.
Who would save her - Mendez? Lacy?
God, she did not know: and somehow neither of these was the name which
arose to her lips, almost in the form of prayer; the name she whispered
with a faint throb of hope in its utterance - Jim Westcott.
The big miner was all she had to rely upon; he had been in her mind all
through the long ride; he arose before her again now, and she welcomed
the memory with a conscious throb of expectation. Those people back
there could not conceal for long her absence from him; if he lived he
would surely seek her again.
Her womanly instinct had read the message in the man's eyes; she was of
interest to him, he cared; it was no mere ordinary friendliness which
would bring him back; no! not even their mutual connection with the
case of Frederick Cavendish. Her eyes brightened, and a flush of
colour crept into her cheeks. She believed in him, in his courage - he
had appealed to her as a man.
Suddenly she seemed to realise the yearning of her own heart, her utter
faith in him. He would come, he must come; even now he might have
discovered her sudden disappearance, and suspected the cause. He would
never believe any lies they might tell - that she had departed without a
word, without a message - he would find out the truth somehow; he was
not the kind to lie down, to avoid danger when it confronted duty - and,
besides, he cared. She knew this, comprehended without question; there
had been no word spoken, yet she knew.
Once she had accepted this knowledge with a smile, but now it thrilled
her with hope, and set her heart throbbing strangely. Not that she
dreamed love in return, or permitted it to even enter her mind; yet the
very thought that this man would, if necessary, wade into the very
waters of death for her sake, was somehow sweet and consoling. She was
no longer alone; no longer hopeless and unnerved - deep down in her
consciousness she trusted him.
"If" - how often that recurred; how it brought back memory of Lacy, of
Enright, of Beaton, of the La Rue woman. What else could they have
remained behind for, except to hide and close the trail? It was
Westcott they would guard against; he was the only one they now had any
cause to fear. They suspected his connection with her, his knowledge
of their purpose; they knew of his presence the night before at the
shaft-house of Lacy's mine; they would "get" him, if they could, and by
no such simple methods as they got her. If she could only have warned
him; if he was only placed on guard before they were ready to
act - "if" - -
Suddenly the girl's slender body grew taut, and her thin white,
delicate hands clutched the granite wall back of her, and into her grey
eyes crept the light of terror, a terror that was new and strange to
her, a nameless clutching fear that her varied experiences in the city
had never brought her, an insidious, terrible fright for her bodily
safety. Her delicate ears, strained under their spun-brown covering of
hair - there was no doubt of it; she heard footsteps in the passageway.
Juan Cateras with his leering, lustful smile was coming back.
CHAPTER XXV: IN THE DARK PASSAGE
The uncertainty was of scarcely an instant. The open slit above the
door was a perfect conveyer of sound, and a voice pierced the silence.
It was the voice of Juan Cateras, vibrant with anger.
"You sleepy swine," he ejaculated fiercely, "and is this the way you
keep watch? Come out of that!" the command punctuated by the scuffling
of feet. "Damn you, Silva, but I will teach you a lesson for this when
I return. Now go to the hut and stay there until I come. This is a
matter where Mendez shall name the penalty. Get you gone, you sleepy
He either struck or kicked the man, hurrying the fellow down the
passage to the echo of Spanish oaths. Apparently no resistance was
made, for the next instant the key turned in the lock and the door
opened. Cateras, smiling, seemingly unruffled by this encounter,
stepped within, calmly closed the door behind him, and then turned to
greet the lady. She met his bow with eyes of firm resolve, though her
"Why do you come, _señor_?" she asked so quietly that the man in
surprise halted his step forward.
"To keep my word," and his white teeth gleamed in an effort at
pleasantness. "I am always truthful with your sex; and I told you I
would return shortly."
"Yet why?" she insisted, anxious only to keep him away as long as
possible, and yet enchain his interest. "If I am prisoner here, I am
not your prisoner. Do you come, then, to serve me?"
"Can you doubt that, _señorita_?" still endeavouring to retain the mask
he had first assumed. "Because circumstances make me defy the law - a
mere love of adventure, no more - is no reason why I should be devoid of
heart and sympathy." He took a step nearer. "Since leaving here I
have questioned the men who brought you, and learned why you were made
prisoner. I care nothing for this Bill Lacy - nothing," and he snapped
his fingers derisively. "Why should I? But, instead, I would be your
"You mean your purpose is to aid me to escape?"
He bowed low.
"It would be my great happiness to do so. There is danger, yet what is
danger to Juan Cateras? 'Tis only part of my life. The _señorita_ is
an American, and to her one of my race may not appeal, yet I would
prove my devotion with my life."
"Your devotion, _señor_!"'
"Is not the word expressive! Though I have seen you but once before,
my heart is already devoted to your interest. I am of a Southern race,
_señorita_, and we do not calculate - we feel. Why, then, should I
conceal my eagerness? It is love which causes me to thus defy all and
offer you freedom."
"Love!" she laughed. "Why, that is impossible. Surely you only jest,
The smile deserted his lips, and with a quick, unexpected movement he
grasped her hand.
"Jest! You would call it a jest. You will not think so for long.
Why, what can you do? No; stop shrinking back from me. It will be
well that you listen. This is no parlour where you can turn me away
with a word of scorn," and his eyes swept the bare walls. "I come to
you with a chance of escape; I will take the risk and pledge you my
aid. I alone can save you; there is no other to whom you can turn. In
return I but ask my reward."
She hesitated, her eyes lifting to his face.
"You promise me your assistance?"
"Within the hour."
"How? What plan have you?"
"That I will not tell; you must trust me. I am the lieutenant of
Pasqual Mendez," a touch of pride in his voice. "And my word alone
will open the way. You will come?"
"Wait; I must know more. You say it is love which prompts your offer,
_señor_. I cannot understand; and even if this be true, I must be
frank and honest in my answer - I do not return your love."
"Bah! That is nothing. I know women; they learn love quickly when the
way opens. I am not so ill to look at, _señorita_. A kiss now will
seal the bargain! I will wait the rest."
"You ask no pledge, then, of me?"
"Only your consent to accompany me, and the kiss. Beyond that I take
the gambler's chance. Only you must say yes or no; for it will require
time for me to clear the road."
"It must be to-night?"
"The sooner the better; they tell me Lacy will be here himself soon,
and after he comes the one chance is over with. You will give the
"Do not ask it, _señor_!"
"Oh, but I will - aye, more, I'll take it. A dozen will do no harm, and
no scream from those lips will be heard. You may as well be nice, my
She was against the wall, helpless, and the grip of his hands was like
steel. She made no sound, although struggling to break free. His
breath was on her cheek; his eyes burning with lust gazing straight
into her own.
Slowly, remorselessly, he bent her head backward until she feared her
neck would snap. A sob started in her throat, but she silenced it with
the will of a superwoman. Into her terror-stricken mind leaped the
sudden conclusion that resistance with this beast was futile; she must
outwit him with her brains. Suddenly relaxing herself, she slipped to
the granite floor on her knees.
"Please, please," she begged. "I give in, _señor_, I give in."
But as she spoke her right hand closed about a square jagged bit of
"So, my pretty," sneered Cateras, "you have learned that Juan Cateras
is not a man to trifle with. It is well." And, releasing his grip
upon her, he allowed the girl to rise.
As she stood there in the half light, her grey eyes flashing, her young
bosom rising and falling, she was a vaguely defined but alluring
figure. So Juan Cateras thought, and he took a step nearer, his thick,
red lips curling with lust, eager to claim their rich reward. As they
came closer Stella Donovan stiffened.
"Look, _señor_," she whispered - "behind you!"
The Mexican in his eagerness was off his guard. He turned to look, and
at that instant the girl drew back her sturdy arm and then brought it
forward again with all her vigour. _Cluk_! She heard the rock sound
against her oppressor's head, heard a low moan escape his lips, and saw
him sink slowly to the floor at her feet.
The next instant she was beside him, in terror lest she had killed him;
but a hurried glance, supplemented by her fingers which reached for his
pulse, assured her that she had only stunned her assailant. Her heart
beat less rapidly now, and she again had control of her mental
processes. With deft hands that worked speedily in the darkness she
unstrapped from around his waist the belt with its thirty-six
cartridges and revolver, then pulled from his pocket the keys, not only
to her cell, but, she judged, to others.
The feel of their bronze coldness in her hot hands brought a quick
message to her brain; beyond a question of doubt, the missing Cavendish
was concealed in one of the dark, dank cells in the immediate vicinage,
if not actually in this same passage, then in another one perhaps not
greatly distant. The speculation gave her determination and decision.
Reaching beneath her outer skirt, she jerked loose her white petticoat,
and then began tearing it into long strips which she knotted together.
This done, she bound Juan Cateras's hand and foot, and, with some
difficulty, turned him over on his face after first thrusting into his
half-open mouth a gag, which she had fashioned from stray ends of the
Then leaping to her feet and strapping the ammunition belt and revolver
about her waist, she stole on tiptoe to the doorway and peered out; the
silent, cavernous passage was empty.
Lithely, like a young panther, she slipped out of the cell and began
making down the passageway to a spot of light which she judged to be
its opening. She had scarcely gone ten feet, however, before she
stopped short - somewhere in the dark she heard a voice.
Flattening herself against the sides of the passage, she thought
quickly; to return to the cell in which lay Juan Cateras would be
unwise, for he might break the bonds, which were none too strong, and,
in his fury at having been so easily duped, subject her to unknown but
anyway horrible indignities, if not death itself. But what other
course was there?
As she stood there a fraction of a second against the wall, knowing not
which way to turn, the girl wished with all her heart that big Jim
Westcott, strong, cool, collected, the master of any situation
requiring force, tact, and acumen, were there by her side to take her
arm and guide her out of this terrible predicament. But Jim was
elsewhere - where, she could hardly guess.
What was to be done? Her temples throbbed as the voices sounded
nearer. Then it came home to her - why not try one of the other cells?
Possibly she would be lucky enough to find an empty one; the chances
were, she felt, that most of them were.
Suiting action to the thought, she stepped quietly from the niche in
the wall, moved noiselessly along its surface, and came at length to
another dungeon similar to She one she had occupied, except that it had
no window in its oaken door. Fumbling with the bunch of keys, she took
the first one around which her fingers fell and thrust it hurriedly
into the lock. Would it open the haven to temporary safety? She
struggled with it - turning it first to the left and then to the right.
The footsteps were sounding nearer and nearer every minute, the voices
were growing louder.
Frantic, she gave the key a final desperate twist, and as a sigh of
relief escaped her lips the door swung open. Slipping through the
aperture, she closed it softly after her and, panting from excitement
and her exertions, turned and faced the recesses of her hiding-place.
It was black, pitch-black, except for a long ray of light that
struggled in between the heavy door and its casing, but as Stella
Donovan stood there in the gloom she was aware that she was not the
only occupant of the cell. She crouched back, gripped in the hands of
another fear, but the next moment her alarm was lessened somewhat by
the sound of a soft, well-modulated voice.
"Who's that?" it said faintly.
Then followed the repeated scratching of a wet match, a flame of yellow
light, which was immediately carried to a short tallow candle, and in
the aura of its sickly flame Stella Donovan saw the face of a man with
long, unkempt beard and feverish eyes that stared at her as though she
were an apparition.
CHAPTER XXVI: THE REAPPEARANCE OF CAVENDISH
As her eyes became more accustomed to the light she saw that the
stranger was a man of approximately thirty, of good robust health. His
hair was sandy of colour and thin, and his beard, which was of the same
hue, had evidently gone untrimmed for days, perhaps weeks; yet for all
of his unkempt appearance, for all the strangeness of his presence
there, he was a gentleman, that was plain. And as she scrutinised him
Miss Donovan thought she beheld a mild similarity in the contour of the
man's head, the shape of his face, the lines of his body, to the man
whom, several weeks before, she had seen lying dead upon the floor of
his rooms in the Waldron apartments.
Could this be Frederick Cavendish? By all that had gone before, he
should be; but the longer she looked at him the less certain she was of
the correctness of this surmise. Of course the face of the man in the
Waldron apartments had been singed by fire so that it was virtually
unrecognisable, thus making comparisons in the present instance
difficult. At any rate, she dismissed the speculation temporarily from
her mind, and resolved to divulge nothing for the time, but merely to
draw the man out. Her thoughts, rapid as they had been, were
interrupted by the fellow's sudden exclamation.
"My God!" he cried in a high voice, "I - I thought I was seeing things.
You are really a woman - and alive?"
Miss Donovan hesitated a moment before she answered, wondering whether
to tell him of her narrow escape. This she decided to do.
"Alive, but only by luck," she said in a friendly voice, and then
recounted the insults of Cateras, her struggle with him, and capture of
his cartridge belt and revolver, and how finally she had left him bound
and gagged in the adjoining cell. The man listened attentively, though
his mind seemed slow to grasp details.
"But," he insisted, unable to clear his brain, "why are you here?
Surely you are not one of this gang of outlaws?"
"I am inclined to think," she answered soberly, "that much the same
cause must account for the presence of both of us. I am a prisoner.
That is true of you also, is it not?"
"Yes," his voice lowered almost to a whisper. "But do not speak so
loud, please; there is an opening above the door, so voices can be
heard by any guard in the corridor. I - I am a prisoner, although I do
not in the least know why. When did you come?"
"Not more than two hours ago. Two men brought me across the desert
"I do not know how I came. I was unconscious until I woke up in that
cell. I was on the platform of an observation car the last I
remember," his utterance slow, as though his mind struggled with a
vague memory, "talking with a gentleman whom I had met on the train.
There - there must have been an accident, I think, for I never knew
anything more until I woke up here."
"Do you know how long ago that was?"
He shook his head.
"It was a long while. There has been no light, so I could not count
the days, but, if they have fed me twice every twenty-hours, it is
certainly a month since I came."
"A month! Do you recall the name of the man you were conversing with
on the observation car?"
He pressed his hand against his forehead, a wrinkle appearing straight
between his eyes.
"I've tried to remember that," he admitted regretfully, "but it doesn't
quite come to me."
"Was it Beaton?"
"Yes. Why, how strange! Of course, he was Edward Beaton, of New York.
He told me he was a broker. Why, how did you know?"
She hesitated for an instant, uncertain just how far it was best to
confide in him. Unquestionably, the man's mind was not entirely clear,
and he might say and do things to the injury of them both if he once
became aware of the whole truth. Besides, the meeting him there alive
was in itself a shock. She had firmly believed him dead - murdered in
New York. No, she would keep that part of the story to herself for the
present; let it be told to him later by others.
"It is not so strange," she said at last, "for your disappearance is
indirectly the occasion of my being here also. I believe I can even
call you by name. You are Mr. Cavendish?"
"Yes," he admitted, his hands gripping the back of the bench nervously,
his eyes filled with amazement "But - but I do not know you."
"For the best of reasons," she answered smilingly, advancing and
extending her hand - "because we have never met before. However
mysterious all this must seem to you, Mr. Cavendish, it is extremely
simple when explained. I am Stella Donovan, a newspaperwoman. Your
strange disappearance about a month ago aroused considerable interest,
and I chanced to be detailed on the case. My investigations led me to
visit Haskell, where unfortunately my mission became known to those who
were responsible for your imprisonment here. So, to keep me quiet, I
was also abducted and brought to this place."
"You - you mean it was not an accident - that I was brought here
"Exactly; you were trailed from New York by a gang of thieves having
confederates in this country. I am unable to give you all the details;
but this man Beaton, whom you met on the train, is a notorious gunman
and gambler. His being on the same train with you was a part of a
well-laid plan, and I have no doubt but what he deliberately slugged
you while you two were alone on the observation platform. As I
understand, that is exactly his line of work."
"But - but," he stammered, "what was his object? Why did those people
scheme to get me?"
"Why! Money, no doubt; you are wealthy, are you not?"
"Yes, to an extent. I inherited property, but I had no considerable
sum with me that day; not more than a few hundred dollars."
"As I told you, Mr. Cavendish, I do not know all the details, but I
think these men - one of whom is a lawyer - planned to gain possession of
your fortune, possibly by means of a forged will; and, in order to
accomplish this, it was necessary to get you out of the way. It looks
as though they were afraid to resort to actual murder, but ready enough
to take any other desperate chance. Do you see what I mean?"
"They will rob me! While holding me here a prisoner they propose
robbing me through the courts?"
"That is undoubtedly their object, but, I happen to know, it has not
yet been fully accomplished. If either of us can make escape from this
place we shall be in time to foil them completely."
"But how," he questioned, still confused and with only the one thought
dominating his mind, "could they hope to obtain possession of my
fortune unless I was dead?"
"They are prepared to prove you dead. I believed so myself. The only
way to convince the courts otherwise will be your appearance in person.
After they once get full possession of the money they do not care what
becomes of you. Living or dead, you can never get it back again."
He sank down on the bench and buried his face in his hands, thoroughly
unnerved. The girl looked at him a moment in silence, then touched his
"Look here, Mr. Cavendish," she said firmly, "there is no use losing
your nerve. Surely there must be some way of getting out of here. For
one, I am going to try."
He looked up at her, but with no gleam of hope in his eyes.
"I have tried," he replied despondently, "but it is no use. We are
"Yet there must be ways out," she insisted. "The air in that passage
was perfectly pure; do you know anything about it?"
"Yes; it leads to the top of the cliff, up a steep flight of steps.
But it is impossible to reach the passage, and since these Mexicans
came I have reason to believe they keep a guard."
"They were not here, then, at first?"
"Only for a few days; before that two rough-looking fellows, but
Americans, were all I saw. Now they have gone, and Mexicans have taken
their places - they are worse than the others. Do you know what it
"Only partially. I have overheard some talk. It seems this is a
rendezvous for a band of outlaws headed by one known as Pasqual Mendez.
I have not seen their leader; but his lieutenant had charge of me."
"Miss Donovan," he said with gravity, "we are in the hands of desperate
men. We will have to take desperate measures to outwit them, and we
will have to make desperate breaks to obtain our freedom."
The girl nodded.
"Mr. Cavendish," she said with womanly courage, "you will not find me
wanting. I am ready for anything, even shooting. I do hope you're a
"I have had some experience," he said.
"Then," the girl added, "you had better take the revolver. I never
fired one except on the Fourth of July, and I would not want to trust
to my marksmanship in a pinch. Not that we will meet any such
situation, Mr. Cavendish - I hope we do not - but in case we do I want to
depend upon you."
"I am glad you said that, Miss Donovan; it gives me courage."
The girl handed the revolver over to him without a word and then held
out the cartridge belt. He snapped open the weapon to assure himself
it was loaded and then ran his fingers over the belt pockets.
"Thirty-six rounds," adjusting the belt to his waist; "that ought to
promise a good fight. Do you feel confidence in me again?"
"Yes," she answered, her eyes lifting to meet his. "I trust you."
"Good. I am not a very desperate character, but will do the best I
can. Shall we try the passage?"
"Yes. It is the only hope."
"All right then; I'll go first, and you follow as close as possible.
There mustn't be the slightest sound made."
Cavendish thrust his head cautiously through the door, the revolver
gripped in his hand; Miss Donovan, struggling to keep her nerves
steady, touched the coat of her companion, fearful of being alone. The
passage-way was dark, except for the little bars of light streaming out
through the slits in the stone above the cell doors. These, however,
were sufficient to convince Cavendish that no guards were in the
immediate neighbourhood. He felt the grip of the girl's fingers on his
coat, and reached back to clasp her hand.
"All clear," he whispered. "Hurry, and let's get this door closed."
They slipped through, crouching in the shadow as the door shut behind
them, eagerly seeking to pierce the mystery of the gloom into which the
narrow corridor vanished. Beyond the two cells and their dim rays all
was black silence, yet both felt a strange relief at escaping from the
confines of their prison. The open passage was cool, and the fugitives
felt fresh air upon their cheeks; nowhere did any sound break the
silence. Stella had a feeling as though they were buried alive.
"That - that is the way, is it not?" she asked. "I was brought from