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she said. "Come down off your high horse, Miss Margaritty, there's a
dear; and help me to see to things. Here's Captain Delmonty coming
to-night, and them chicken-thieves of Gringos have carried off every
living thing there was to eat in the house."




CHAPTER XI.

CAPTAIN JACK.


When Jack Delmonte appeared, late in the evening, he was puzzled at the
change which had come over the pretty Grand Duchess, as he had mentally
nicknamed Rita. In the afternoon she had appeared, he could not imagine
why, to regard him as a portion of the scum of the earth. He thought her
extremely pretty, and full of charm, yet he could not help feeling
provoked, in spite of his amusement, at the disdainful curl at the
corners of her mouth when she addressed him. Now, he was equally at a
loss to understand why or how the Grand Duchess was replaced by a gentle
and tender-voiced maiden, who looked up at him from under her long
curved lashes with timid and deprecatory glances. She insisted on
mixing his _granita_ herself, and brought it in the one valuable cup
Marm Prudence possessed, a beautiful old bit of Lowestoft. She begged to
hear from his own lips about his last raid - about all his raids. She had
heard about some of them; the one where he had swum the river under fire
to rescue the little lame boy; the other, when he had chased five
Spaniards for half a mile, with no other weapon than a banana pointed at
full cock. She even knew of some exploits that he had never heard of;
and the honest captain found himself blushing under his tan, and finally
changed the subject by main force. It was very pleasant, of course, to
have this lovely creature hanging on his words, and supplementing them
with others of her own, only too extravagantly laudatory; but a fellow
must tell the truth; and - and after all, what was the meaning of it? She
wouldn't look at him, three hours ago.

Had they had a gay winter in Havana? he asked. He hadn't been to a dance
for forty years. Was she fond of dancing? of course she was. What a pity
they couldn't - here he happened to glance at Rita's black dress, and
stopped short.

"Miss Montfort, I beg your pardon! It was very stupid of me. I ran on
without thinking. You are in mourning. What a brute I am!"

The tears had gathered in Rita's eyes, but now she smiled through them.
"It is six months since my father died," she said. "He was the kindest
of fathers, though, alas! Spanish in his sympathies."

"Your mother?" hazarded Jack, full of sympathy.

"My mother died three years ago. My stepmother - " then followed the tale
of her persecution, her escape, and subsequent adventures. Captain Jack
was delighted with the story.

"Hurrah!" he exclaimed. "That was tremendously plucky, you know, going
off in that way. That was fine! and you got to your brother all right? I
wonder - is he - are you any relation of Carlos Montfort? Not his sister?
You don't mean it. Why, I was at school with Carlos, the first school I
ever went to. An old priest kept it, in Plaza Nero. Carlos was a good
fellow, and gave me the biggest licking once - I'm very glad we met, Miss
Montfort. And - I don't mean to be impertinent, I'm sure you know that;
but - what are you going to do now?"

Alas! Rita did not know. "I thought I was safe here," she said. "I was
to stay here with these good people till word came from my uncle in the
States, or till there was a good escort that might take me to some port
whence I could sail to New York. Now - I do not know; I begin to tremble,
Señor Delmonte. To-day, while Donna Prudencia and I were in the forest,
a Spanish _guerrilla_ came here, looking for me. Don Diego Moreno was in
command. He is a friend of my stepmother's. I know him, a cold, hateful
man. If he had found me - " she shuddered.

"I know Diego Moreno, too," said Delmonte; and his brow darkened. "He is
not fit to look at you, much less to speak to you. Never mind, Miss
Montfort! don't be afraid; we'll manage somehow. If no better way turns
up, I'll take you to Puerto Blanco myself. Trouble is, these fellows are
rather down on me just now; but we'll manage somehow, never fear! Hark!
what's that?"

He leaned forward, listening intently. A faint sound was heard, hardly
more than a breathing. Some night-bird, was it? It came from the fringe
of forest across the road. Again it sounded, two notes, a long and a
short one, soft and plaintive. A bird, certainly, thought Rita. She
started as Captain Delmonte imitated the call, repeating it twice.

"Juan," he said, briefly. "Reporting for orders. Here he comes!"

A burly figure crossed the road in three strides. Three more brought him
to the verandah, where he saluted and stood at attention.

"Well, Juan, where are the rest of you?"

"In the usual place, Señor Captain, four miles from here," said the
orderly. "I have brought Aquila; he is here in the thicket, my own horse
also. Will you ride to-night?"

"To-morrow, at daybreak, Juan. I have promised Señora Carreno to sleep
one night under her roof, and convince her that my foot is entirely
well. Bring Aquila into the courtyard. All is quiet in the
neighbourhood?"

"All quiet, Señor Captain. Good; I bring Aquila and return to the troop.
You will be with us, then, before sunrise?"

"Before sunrise without fail," said Captain Jack. "_Buenos noches,
Juanito!_"

The trooper saluted again, and slipped back across the road; next moment
he reappeared leading a long, lean, brown horse, who walked as if he
were treading on eggshells. They passed into the courtyard and were seen
no more, Juan making his way back to the thicket by some unseen path.

"You do not stay with us through the day then, Mr. Delmonte? I am
sorry!" said Rita.

"I wish I could, indeed I do; but I must get to my fellows as soon as
possible. I shall come back, though, in a day or two, and put myself and
my troop at your orders, Miss Montfort. How would you like to lead a
troop, like Madame Hernandez?" He laughed, but Rita's eyes flashed.

"But I would die to do it!" she cried. "Ah! Señor Delmonte, once to
fight for my country, and then to die - that is my ambition."

"And you'd do it well, I am sure!" said Delmonte, warmly; "the fighting
part, I mean. But nobody would let you die, Miss Montfort, it would
spoil the prospect."

He spoke lightly, for heroics embarrassed him, as they did Carlos.

Soon after, Donna Prudencia appeared, with bedroom candles, and stood
looking benevolently at the two young people.

"I expect you've been having a good visit," she said. "Well, there's an
end to all, and it's past ten o'clock, Miss Margaritty."

Rita rose with some reluctance; nor did Captain Delmonte seem
enthusiastic on the subject of going to bed.

"Such a beautiful night!" he said. "Must you go, Miss Montfort? I
mustn't keep you up, of course. Good-bye, then, for a few days! I shall
be gone before daybreak. I'm very glad we have met."

They shook hands heartily. Rita somehow did not find words so readily as
usual. "I too am glad," she said. "It is something - I have always
wished to meet the 'Star of Horsemen!'"

"Oh, _please_ don't!" cried Jack, in distress. "That was just a joke of
those idiots of mine. Good gracious! if you go to calling names, Miss
Montfort, I shall not dare to come back again. Good night!"

It was long before Rita could sleep. She lay with wide-open eyes,
conjuring up one scene after another, in all of which Captain Delmonte
played the hero's part, and she the heroine's. He was rescuing her
single-handed from a regiment of Spaniards; they were galloping together
at the head of a troop, driving the Gringos like sheep before them. Or,
he was wounded on the field of battle, and she was kneeling beside him,
holding water to his lips, and blessing the good Cuban surgeon who had
taught her bandaging in the camp among the hills. At length, hero and
heroine, Cuban and Spaniard, faded away, and she slept peacefully.

"What is it? what is the matter?" Rita sprang up in her bed and
listened. The sound that had awakened her was repeated: a knock at the
door; a voice, low but imperative; the voice of Jack Delmonte.

"Miss Montfort! are you awake?"

"Yes; what has happened?"

"The Gringos! Dress yourself quickly, and come out. You can dress in the
dark?"

"Yes; oh, yes! I will come. Manuela! wake! wake! don't speak, but dress
yourself; the Spaniards are here."

Hastily, with trembling hands, the two girls put on their clothes. No
thought now of how or what; anything to cover them, and that quickly.
They hurried out into the passage; Delmonte stood there, carbine in
hand. He spoke almost in a whisper, yet every word fell clearly on their
strained ears.

"It's not Moreno; it's Velaya's _guerrilla_: we must get away before
they fire the house. Give me your hand, Miss Montfort; you will be
quiet, I know. Your maid?"

"Manuela, you will not speak!"

"No, señorita!" said poor Manuela, with a stifled sob.

"My horse is ready saddled," Delmonte went on. "If I can get you away
before they see us - "

"Me! but what will become of the others?" cried Rita, under her breath.
"I cannot desert Manuela and Marm Prudence - Donna Prudencia."

"I am going to save you," said Jack Delmonte, quietly. "If for no other
reason, I have just given my word to Donna Prudencia. The rest - I'll get
back as soon as I can, that's all I can say. Follow me! hark!"

A shot rang out; another, and another. A hubbub of voices rose within
and without the house; and at the same instant a bright light sprang up,
and they saw each other's faces.

Delmonte ground his teeth. "Wait!" he said; and going a little way along
the passage, he peered from a window. The verandah swarmed with armed
men. The door was locked and barred, but they were smashing the
window-shutters with the butts of their carbines. He glanced along the
passage. Inside the door stood Don Annunzio, in his vast white pajamas,
firing composedly through a wicket; beside him his wife, as quietly
loading and handing him the weapons. Behind them huddled the few house
and farm servants, negroes for the most part, but among them was one
intelligent-looking young Creole. Singling him out, Delmonte led him
apart, and pointed to Manuela. "Your sister!" he said. "Your life for
hers."

The youth nodded, and beckoned the frightened girl to stand beside him.
Rita saw no more, for Delmonte, grasping her hand firmly, led her
through the winding passage and into the inner courtyard. Pausing a
moment on the verandah, they looked through the archway at one side,
through which streamed a red glare. The cane patch was on fire, and
blazing fiercely. The flames tossed and leaped, and in front of them men
were running with torches, setting fire to sheds and out-houses. Their
shouts, the crackling and hissing of the flames, the shots and cries
from the front of the house, turned the quiet night wild with horror. A
crash behind them told that the front door had yielded.

"It's run for it, now!" said Delmonte, quietly. "Now, then,
child, - quick!"

A few steps, and they were beside the brown horse, standing saddled and
bridled, and already quivering and straining to be off. Delmonte lifted
Rita in his arms, - no time now for courtly mounting, - then sprang to the
saddle before her. He spoke to the horse, who stood trembling, but made
no motion to advance.

"Aquila, softly past the gate - then for life! good boy! Miss Montfort,
put your arms around me, and hold fast. Don't let go unless I drop; then
try to catch the reins, and give him his head. He knows the way."

Softly, slowly, Aquila crept to the archway. He might have been shod
with velvet for any sound he made. Could they get away unseen? The men
with the torches were busy at their horrid work; they could not be seen
yet from the front of the house. The horse crept forward, silent as a
phantom. They were clear of the archway. "Now!" whispered Delmonte. "For
life, Aquila!" and Aquila went, for life.




CHAPTER XII.

FOR LIFE.


"If we can put the fire between us and them," said Captain Jack, "we
shall get off."

For a moment it seemed as if they might do it. Already they saw the road
before them, the sand glowing red in the firelight. A few more
strides - Just then, a Spanish soldier came running round the corner of
the burning cane-patch, whirling his blazing torch. He saw them, and
raised a shout. "_Alerta! alerta!_ fugitives! after them! shoot down the
Mambi dogs!"

There was a rush to the corner where a score of horses stood tethered to
the fence. A dozen men leaped into the saddle and came thundering in
pursuit. Aquila gave one glance back; then stretched his long lean
neck, and settled into a gallop.

Before them the road lay straight for some distance, red here in the
crimson light, further on white under a late moon. On one side the woods
rose black and still, on the other lay open fields crossed here and
there by barbed wire fences. No living creature was to be seen on the
road. No sound was heard save the muffled beat of the horse's hoofs on
the sand, and behind, the shouts and cries of their pursuers. Were they
growing louder, those shouts? Were they gaining, or was the distance
between them widening? Rita turned her head once to look back. "I
wouldn't do that!" said Delmonte, quietly. "Do you mind, Miss Montfort,
if I swing you round in front of me? Don't be alarmed, Aquila is all
right."

Before Rita could speak, he had dropped the reins on the horse's neck,
and lifted her bodily round to the peak of the saddle before him. "I'm
sorry!" he said, apologetically. "I fear it is very uncomfortable;
but - I can - a - manage better, don't you see?" But to himself he was
saying, "Lucky I got that done before the beggars began to shoot. Now
they may fire all they like. Stupid duffer I was, not to start right."

He had felt the girl's light figure quiver as he lifted her.

"Don't be frightened, Miss Montfort," he said again. "There isn't a
horse in the country that can touch Aquila when he is roused."

"I am not frightened," said Rita. "I am - excited, I suppose. It is like
riding on wind, isn't it?"

It was true that she felt no fear; neither did she realise the peril of
their position. It was one of the dreams come true, that was all. She
was riding with Delmonte, with the Star of Horsemen. He was saving her
life. They had ridden so before, often and often; only now -

_Pah!_ a short, sharp report was heard, and a little dust whiffed up on
the road beside them. _Pah! pah!_ another puff of dust, and splinters
flew from a tree just beyond them. Aquila twitched his ears and
stretched his long neck, and they felt the stride quicken under them.
The road rushed by; they were half-way to the turn.

"Would you like to hold the reins for a bit?" asked Delmonte. "It isn't
really necessary, but - thanks! that's very nice."

What was he doing? He had turned half round in the saddle; something
touched her hair - the butt of his carbine. "I _beg_ your pardon!" said
Captain Jack. "I am very clumsy, I fear."

_Crack!_ went the carbine. Rita's ears rang with the noise; she held the
reins mechanically, only half-conscious of herself. _Pah! pah!_ and
again _crack!_ The blue rifle-smoke was in her eyes and nostrils, the
Mauser bullets pattered like hail on the road; and still Aquila galloped
on, never turning his head, never slackening his mighty stride, and
still the road rushed by, and the turn by the hill grew nearer - nearer -

_Pah!_ Rita felt her companion wince. His left arm relaxed its hold and
dropped at his side. With his right hand he carefully replaced his
carbine in its sling.

"For life, Aquila!" he said softly, in Spanish; and once more Aquila
gathered his great limbs under him, and once more the terrible pace
quickened.

A stone? a hole in the road? who knows? In a moment they were all down,
horse and riders flung in a heap together. The horse struggled to his
knees, then fell again. He screamed, an agonising sound, that in Rita's
excited mind seemed to mingle with the smoke and the dust in a cloud of
horror. Every moment she expected to feel the iron hoofs crashing into
her, as the frenzied creature struggled to regain his footing.

Delmonte had sprung clear, and in an instant he was at Rita's side,
raising her. "You are hurt? no? good! keep behind me, please."

He went to the horse, and tried to lift him, bent to examine him, and
then shook his head. Aquila would not rise again; his leg was shattered.
Delmonte straightened himself and looked about him. If this had happened
a hundred, fifty yards back! but now the woods were gone, and on either
hand stretched a bare savannah, broken only by the hateful barbed wire
fences. He drew his revolver quietly. The healthy brown of his face had
gone gray; his eyes were like blue steel. He looked at Rita, and met her
eyes fixed on him in a mute anguish of entreaty.

"Have no fear!" he said. "It shall be as it would with my own sister. I
know these men; they shall not touch you alive."

He bent once more over the struggling beast, and even in his agony
Aquila knew his master, and turned his eyes lovingly toward him,
expecting help; and help came.

"Good-bye, lad!" The pistol cracked, and the tortured limbs sank into
quiet.

"Lie down behind him!" Delmonte commanded. "So! now, still."

He knelt behind the dead horse, facing the advancing Spaniards. The
revolver cracked again, and the foremost horseman dropped, shot through
the head. The troop was now close upon them; Rita could see the fierce
faces, and the gleam of their wolfish teeth. Delmonte fired again, and
another man dropped, but still the rest came on. There was no help,
then?

Delmonte looked at Rita; she closed her eyes, expecting death. The air
was full of cries and curses. But - what other sound was that? Not from
before, but behind them - round the turn of the road - some one was
singing! In all the hurry of her flying thoughts Rita steadied herself
to listen.

"For it's whoop-la! whoop!
Git along, my little dogies;
For Wyoming shall be your new home! -

"What in the Rockies is going on here, anyhow?"

Rita turned her head. A horseman had come around the bend, and checked
his horse, looking at the scene before him. A giant rider on a giant
horse. The moon shone on his brown uniform, his slouched felt hat, and
the carbine laid across his saddle-bow. Under the slouched hat looked
out a bronzed face, grim and bearded, lighted by eyes blue as Delmonte's
own.

Rita gave one glance. "Help!" she cried, "America, help!"

"America's the place!" said the horseman. He waved his hand to some one
behind him, then put his horse to the gallop. Next instant he was beside
them.

Delmonte started to his feet, revolver in hand. "U. S. A.?" he said.
"You're just in time, uncle. I'm glad to see you."

"Always like to be on time at a party," said the rough rider, levelling
his carbine. "My fellows are - in short, here they are!"

There was a scurry of hoofs, a shout, and thirty horsemen swept around
the curve and came racing up.

"What's up, Cap'n Jim?" cried one. "Have we lost the fun? Gringos, eh?
hooray!"

The Spaniards had checked their horses. Four of them lay dead in the
road, and several others were wounded. At sight of the mounted troop,
they stopped and held a hurried consultation, then turned their horses
and rode away.

The giant looked at Delmonte. "Want to follow?" he asked. "This is your
hand, comrade."

"I want a horse!" said Captain Jack. "Miss Montfort," - he turned to
Rita, who had risen to her feet, and stood pale but quiet, - "these are
our own good country-men. If I leave you with them but a few moments - "

"Hold on!" said the big man. "What did you call the young lady?"

Delmonte stared. "This is Miss Montfort," he said, rather formally.

"Not Rita!" cried the giant. "Pike's Peak and Glory Gulch! Don't tell me
it's Rita!"

"Oh, yes! yes!" cried Rita, running forward with outstretched hands. "It
is - I am! and you - oh, I know, I know. You are Peggy's big brother. You
are Cousin Jim!"

"That's what they said when they christened me!" said Cousin Jim.




CHAPTER XIII.

MEETINGS AND GREETINGS.


It was no time for explanations. Jim Montfort put out a hand like a pine
knot, and gave Rita's fingers a huge shake.

"Glad to find you, cousin," he said. "I've been looking for you. Now,
what's up over there?" He nodded in the direction of the fire.

"A _candela_," said Delmonte, briefly. "I must get back; there are women
there. If one of your men will catch me that horse - "

"But you are wounded!" cried Rita. "Cousin, he is shot in the arm. Do
not let him go!"

Delmonte laughed. "It's nothing, Miss Montfort," he said; "but nothing
at all, I assure you. When we get to camp you shall put some carbolic
acid on it, and tie it up for me; that's field practice in Cuba. I shall
be proud to be your first field patient." He spoke in his usual laughing
way; but suddenly his face changed, and he leaned toward her swiftly,
his hand on the horse's mane. "I shall never forget this time - our ride
together," he said. "I hope you will not forget either - please? And now,
Miss Montfort, I have no further right over you. I would have done my
best, I think you know that; but - I must give you into your cousin's
protection. You will remain here?"

"Of course she will!" said Cousin Jim, who had heard only the last
words. "I'll go with you, comrade. Raynham, Morton, you will mount guard
by the lady."

The troopers saluted, and raised their hats civilly to Rita, inwardly
cursing their luck. Because they owned the next ranch to Jim Montfort,
was that any reason why they should lose all the fun? and why could not
girls stay at home where they belonged?

But Rita herself cried out and clasped her hands, and ran to her cousin.
"Oh, Cousin Jim - Señor Delmonte - let me go with you! Please, please let
me go back. My poor Manuela - Marm Prudence - they may be hurt, wounded.
There can be no danger with all these brave men. Cousin, I have been in
a camp hospital, I know how to dress wounds. I can be quiet - Señor
Delmonte, tell him I can be quiet!"

She looked eagerly at Delmonte.

"I can tell him that you are the bravest girl I ever saw," he said.
"But, you have been through a great deal. I don't like to have you go
back among those rascals."

James Montfort stroked his brown beard thoughtfully.

"Guess it's safe enough," he said at last. "Guess there's enough of us
to handle 'em. Don't know but on the whole she'll be better off with
us. My sister Peggy wouldn't like to miss any circus there was going,
would she, little girl? Catch another of those beasts for the lady,
Bill!"

Rita, with one of her quick gestures, caught his great hand in both
hers. "Oh, you good cousin!" she cried. "You dear cousin! You are the
very best and the very biggest person in the world, and I love you."

"Well, well, well!" said Cousin Jim, somewhat embarrassed. "There,
there! so you shall, my dear; so you shall. But as for being big, you
should see Lanky 'Liph of Bone Gulch. Now there - but here is your horse,
missy."

The horses of the dead Spaniards had been circling about them, more or
less shyly. Two of them were quickly caught by the rough riders, and
Rita and Delmonte mounted. As they did so, both glanced toward the spot
where lay the brave horse that had borne them so well.

"It was for life indeed, Aquila!" said Captain Jack, softly. His eyes
met Rita's, and she saw the brightness of tears in them. Next moment
they were galloping back to the _residencia_.

They came only just in time. Not ten minutes had passed since they left
the courtyard, but in that time the savage Spaniards had done their work
well. The house itself was in flames, and burning fiercely. Good Don
Annunzio lay dead, carbine in hand, on the steps of his ruined home.
Beside him lay the Creole youth in whose charge Delmonte had left
Manuela. The lad was still alive, for as Delmonte bent from the saddle
above him he raised his head.

"I did my best, my captain!" he said. "They were too many."

"Where are they?" asked Delmonte and Montfort in one breath.

The boy pointed down the road; raised his hand to salute, and fell back,
dead.

[Illustration: "NOW AGAIN IT WAS A RIDE FOR LIFE."]

Now again it was a ride for life - not their own life this time. Rita had
clean forgotten herself. The thought of her faithful friend and servant
in the hands of the merciless Spaniards turned her quick blood to fire.
She galloped steadily, her eyes fixed on the cloud of dust only a few
hundred yards ahead of them, which told where the enemy was galloping,


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