WHEN Hampton wakened again, it was to darkness. The reflection of cooking fires outside cast a very faint glow into the bunk-horse, where men were talking and smoking; the slaves of Dias were not supplied with lights, but were given a goodly allowance of tobacco. The guards at the entrance were checking off those who entered, as usual.
Hearing a soft sound of sobbing, Hampton put out his hand and found his brother lying at his side. Eli gripped his fingers quickly, with a low word.
“Dick! I've been half-wild today—to think that it was to help me you came here——”
“Shut up,” said Hampton curtly. “I'm not hurt. Did Hoskins tell you about tonight?”
“Yes.” Eli controlled himself. “You're feeling able to walk?”
“Able to do more than walk, I hope,” said Hampton grimly. “I don't say that I enjoyed myself, but I'm not much hurt. Hoskins got me some grease that helped a lot.”
“He was keeping that to use on himself—Dias threatened to burn him, last week. Well, Dick, you'll have to let me over next the wall; if I'm to finish cutting the hole, it must be now before the noise quiets down. I'll get out first.”
There was no room for Eli to crawl over his brother, so when the bunk was clear, Hampton sat up and swung his feet to the floor, while Eli crept in past him. Much to his own surprize, Hampton found himself in much better condition than he had anticipated. Every movement cost its share of pain, naturally, yet his freedom of movement in general was not restricted; and on that unhappy traverse up from Panama, Hampton had learned anew the admirable results of muscular pain coupled with necessary exertion. All seamen were compelled to learn that lesson at bitter cost—yet Hampton had now learned it in ways not of the sea.
“I'm fit enought,” he muttered to Eli, as he took the outside place. “Once let me get a grip on that Yaqui, and I'll give him something to remember me by! Who else goes with us?”
“Talk later,” grunted Eli, who was head and shoulders inside the wall opening. “Got a foot of adobe yet to cut through.”
Hampton composed himself in patience, thankful now for the noise as the half-drunken men continued to come up from the pulque mill. He could hear the machete busily at work in the four-foot wall, whose adobes crumbled rapidly before it; and presently, by the occasional whiff of fresh air and the sound of falling fragments, knew that Eli was through the wall. He lay breathless, fearful lest some one hear the sounds, but no alarm was raised, and after a bit Eli, breathing hard, was back beside him and stuffing blankets into the opening.
“Now we're fixed,” said Eli, in an inaudible murmur, his lips at Hampton's ear. “I got word to Frenchy—he and Hoskins will be along, and maybe a couple of greasers I've sounded out. Can't trust many. At midnight the guards are changed and they come poking in here and there, so, quick's they've gone, we'll get to work.”
Hampton, not trusting himself to respond, lay quiet, and presently dozed off again.
He wakened to a light before his eyes, blinked into a lantern just above his face, and heard the Yaqui guards exchange a jest; it was midnight, the inspection and change of guard were under way. Beside him, El Bobo flung an oath and an incoherent babble at the guards, who laughed and passed on. Their lantern bobbed a moment at the door, then passed outside.
A dull sound came from the wall, and a breath of cold, clear night air. Then the low voice of Eli.
“Come on. They'll be along any minute.”
“They” referred to Hoskins and the others, no doubt. Hampton rolled over and shoved his legs at the ragged hole. Movement cost him a good deal of pain, of course, though not enough to hamper him in action; he wriggled into the hole, felt his feet gripped from the outside, and presently scraped through into the open air. Eli caught and supported him, helped him find his feet.
“Wait here for the others,” said Eli, his voice athrill with eagerness. “Keep 'em quiet. I'm going to get the guards—they belong to me—I don't calculate to let Pap Hoskins cheat me neither—he'll get his knife in 'em first if he has the chance——”
The dark figure melted away.
Hampton found himself standing alone at the rear of the adobe barracks. Brilliant starlight showed him the cactus-dotted hill side and the black cañon wall behind; all else was cut off by the long adobe building. The night was cold, crystal-clear. Under the blazing stars objects stood out distinctly.
A low scuffling sound—Hampton turned to the hole in the adobe wall, caught a foot as it protruded, and tugged. Came tumbling out a ragged figure with immense black beard; this was the Gaul known as Frenchy, and he emerged sputtering softly and spitting out adobe dust.
“Name of a name, the hole is too small for me! Who is here?”
“Be quiet,” said Hampton. “The others?”
“Are coming. Brr! Freedom! Liberty!” Frenchy slapped himself vigorously.
Presently a lithe, half-naked Mexican came squirming through the hole, followed by a second; Eli had some good reason for trusting the pair, and Hampton helped them clear. Almost at once, Pap Hoskins came along head first, gripping the tattered blankets which he tugged after him.
“Got to close that hole—gettin' right cold in there,” he grunted as he gained his feet. “Don't want to wake 'em up——”
He stuffed the rags into the gaping hole, then turned and grunted as he surveyed the others. A soft laugh broke from him, and he gripped Hampton's hand.
“All right? Where's Eli?”
“Said to wait for him——”
An oath from Frenchy, a low alarmed word from the Mexicans. Hampton turned, to see the glow of a cigarito at the nearer corner of the adobe building. The smoker came toward them. In the bright starlight there could be no mistaking the outline and swagger of that figure, its immense sombrero, its cloaking serape, its rifle.
“A Yaqui—a guard!” said Hoskins, and caught his breath sharply. The others remained silent, huddled against the wall in consternation. Hampton, wondering that the guard had not already seen them and sent out a call, stepped sharply forward.
“We may talk in peace now,” said the Yaqui, and broke into a low laugh. It was the voice of Eli.
In the plot as they were, the others stared in amazement at this metamorphosis of the shambling El Bobo. He came forward and flung down another serape and sombrero, with a rifle, at Hampton's feet.
“There you are. Now, then, who's in command here?”
“I am,” said Hampton. “If you others agree.”
Frenchy uttered a laugh.
“What matter?” he said in Spanish. “You as well as another. We die in any case.”
“Certainly,” said Hampton. “Dias' other schooner got into the harbor tonight, or was sighted. That ends our only chance of getting away by water. Now it's the desert, and one blow at Dias before we go down. Has any one a better project to offer?”
No one had, it appeared. The two Mexicans laughed softly, Frenchy squatted and with them rolled cigaritos from the supplies Eli had captured, and Pap Hoskins profanely told Hampton to go ahead and give orders.
“Can we count on any general rising of these other men?” asked Hampton.
“None,” spoke up Frenchy in disgust. “A few would help, yes, and all would break out if restraint were totally removed—but they have no heart to fight while a single Yaqui is in sight.”
“Can we reach the desert above by any other way than the one path?”
“No, unless we go down the valley several miles to the sea and circle around.”
“What about getting horses or mules away without discovery?”
“Impossible,” said Eli. “Even if we had them, they would be no good to us in the desert. The Yaquis would run us down in no time.”
“Very well.” Hampton, who had flung the serape over his shoulder, donned the sombrero and picked up the rifle. “Eli, you and I will go after Nelly Barnes. Pap Hoskins, you take the others and make for that trail. We must hold it. I'll create an alarm at Dias' house that will draw most of the guards, then we'll join you. As to arms——”
“Don't worry 'bout us,” said Hoskins significantly. “We aims to catch a few o' them Injuns on our way acrost the valley—same's Eli done. So you're goin' for the gal, eh? All right. I don't expect you'll get fur, but go ahead. It don't matter much how we peter out, so long's we go down hard. We'll wait for your rumpus to start. So long.”
He turned to Frenchy and the other two. Eli plucked Hampton's serape, and the two brothers stepped along the wall into the darkness, leaving a murmur of voices behind. Eli held out a cigaret he had rolled, with his own for light.
“Take it easy; we're all right. We'll be taken for guards if any one sees us. That's why I brought along the sombrero and serape for you. If any one comes close—the machete.”
Hampton puffed at his cigaret, swung around the corner, and advanced with Eli toward the upper valley. Here and there lanterns burned, by the entrances of other barracks; a faint whiff of opium lingered on the cold air; nothing stirred in the starlight. They left the adobe buildings behind, heard two guards exchanging jests from some dark corner, and so came to the dark masses of the orchard, the heavy, figs and the scattering of vines and fruit trees, at the elbow of the cañon. No alarm had come from behind them; all the lower valley was dark and empty, and Pap Hoskins was evidently keeping his companions in check.
“What about weapons for them?” asked Hampton, as he tossed away his cigarito.
“That's what Hoskins is after,” and Eli laughed softly. “Those guards have an adobe shack down below, with all kinds of weapons and ammunition. Dias has racks of new revolvers in that house of his, though. We'll see. Nelly Barnes is going with us?”
“Too bad; we'll not go far, then,” said Eli grimly.
“I told her to be ready at midnight, and to come outside if possible. Where would we find her?”
“Probably by the left side of the house, toward the creek, where that big pepper-tree stands,” said Eli. “There's usually a guard around there, and another by the corral where the Chinos live. I want a crack at Dias while we're there.”
“You won't get it,” said Hampton. “You'll take Nelly in charge and lead her across to that trail by the quickest way. I'll stay to raise a fuss, then I'll find my way across. No arguments, lad. Your time comes soon enough.”
Eli grunted, but forbore to protest, as they were advancing toward the house. From somewhere far beyond, in the desert out above the cañon wall, rose the sobbing wail of a coyote to the stars. A voice in the shadow of the giant pepper-tree mimicked it perfectly, and flung out a laugh. A match flamed, and the red glow of a cigarito became visible.
“Quien es?” came the careless voice of the guard. “You've been down to the pulque mill, Pablo? I hope you brought——”
The words ended in a startled silence. From somewhere far down the valley rose a shrill astonished cry in words that echoed high and far. “Porque me tires? Why do you strike me?” One of the guards, perhaps, caught by Hoskins. Silence followed instantly, no further cry was heard, but Hampton walked straight in upon the figure beneath the pepper-tree. There could be no hesitation now. The cigaret point guided his fingers to the brown throat; the thought of action after these weeks of helpless torture maddened him, caused a furious access of savagery in his grip; like steel talons, his fingers ripped the life out of that brown throat before the cigaret had been extinguished in the dust. Without a sound, without a movement, the guard was dead. Eli, too late with his machete, stood aghast and horrified.
“Get his rifle and caps,” said Hampton quietly. He straightened up, and sent his voice into the darkness in a guarded call. "Nelly! Nelly! Are you here?”
An instant of silence, the fluttering sound of a breath sharply caught, then the girl's voice sounded softly.
“Here, Dick, at the window, but there are bars.”
Hampton was already following the sound of that voice. It conducted him to a window in the side wall of hewn stone—not a window of glass, but in the ancient fashion of the country framed solidly in wood and barred by heavily carved wooden grille. Against this, as he came close, Hampton made out the figure of Nelly Barnes, one hand thrust through the openings.
“Stand back,” he ordered, and thrust his rifle-barrel into the grill-bars, and then flung his weight on it. There was a sharp crash of dried wood, and half the barrier came away.
As the girl emerged, Hampton caught her, heard a startled call ring out from somewhere, and then held Nelly to him for an instant. Careless of the pain, he crushed her against his breast, touched his lips to hers—then thrust her at his brother.
“Eli! Take her quickly. Go with him, Nelly—I'm coming presently. Steal off, now, both of you! Not an instant to waste.”
Bewildered, daring no protest, the girl was swept off into the darkness by Eli, and Hampton turned to the window. A guard was approaching from somewhere, drawn by the crunch of shattered wood. Hampton threw the fragments of the grill inside and then followed them with a swift and silent leap.
Once inside the place, he caught a faint thread of light—a dim radiance that led him to an open doorway. He found himself looking out upon the patio, where, along the cloistered wall, little night lamps of oil flickered in niches. Hampton, smiling grimly, stepped to the nearest, took the lamp, and with it returned to the room he had just quitted. He set it on the floor and glanced around.
He was in one of the luxuriously furnished rooms, crowded with fine furniture and precious loot of all kinds, and a doorway led into an adjoining room which was racked with rifles, revolvers and pistols of all descriptions. Hampton seized half a dozen Colt revolvers, strung them together by the chin-thong of his sombrero, filled the sombrero itself with caps and prepared cartridges from the neat piles. He clapped the sombrero on his head again, hung the revolvers about his neck and behind him, then loaded two more revolvers for himself. With these, he returned to the former room.
No alarm seemed to have sounded—from the window he could discern nothing, could hear nothing; he realized that only a few moments had passed since that guard had perished beneath the pepper-tree. Now he heard the voice of another guard calling softly, knew that the second had approached and was searching. Smiling, Hampton turned back into the room, seized the brittle fragments of the grating he had flung inside, and went to the lamp. In two minutes a heap of furniture was dimly illumined by the creeping bluish flames of spilled oil. Once those flames reached the plastered reeds and timbers of the ceiling, they would not easily be quenched.
“Que es?” came the startled cry from outside. “What fire is that?”
The figure of a Yaqui came to the window opening, peering into the room. Hampton raised his revolver and fired; then, struggling under his load, he climbed from the window, caught up the dead guard's rifle, and emptied it in the direction of the corrals.
The alarm was given.