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Chapter 38

Within the "Pocket"

The remainder of that day and the following night were spent in fruitless efforts to determine the whereabouts of the fugitive. Telegrams were sent along the various railway lines into every part of the State; messengers were despatched to neighboring towns and camps, but all in vain. For the first thirty-six hours it seemed as though the earth must have opened and swallowed him up; there was not even a clue as to the direction in which he had gone.

The second morning after his disappearance reports began to come in from a dozen different quarters of as many different men, all answering the description given of the fugitive, who had been identified as the criminal. Four or five posses, averaging a dozen men each, all armed, set forth in various directions to follow the clews which seemed most worthy of credence. For the next few days reports were constantly received from one posse or another, to the effect that they were on the right trail, the fugitive had been seen only the preceding night at a miners' cabin where he had forced two men at the point of a revolver to surrender their supper of pork and beans; or some lonely ranchman and his wife had entertained him at dinner the day before. He was always reported as only about ten hours ahead, footsore and weary, but at the end of ten days they returned, disorganized, dilapidated, and disgusted, without even having had a sight of their man.

Other bands were sent out with instructions to separate into squads of three or four and search the ground thoroughly. Some of them were more successful, in that they did, occasionally, get sight of the fugitive, but always under circumstances disadvantageous to themselves. Three of them stood one day talking with a rancher, who only two hours before had furnished the man, under protest, with a hearty dinner and a fine rifle. The rancher pointed out the direction in which he had gone, over a rocky road leading down a steep, rough ravine; as he did so, his guest appeared on the other side of the ravine, within good rifle range. A mutual recognition followed; the men started to raise their rifles, but the other was too quick for them. Covering them with the rifle which he carried, he walked backward a distance of about forty yards and then, with a mocking salute, disappeared. Bloodhounds were next employed, but the man swam and waded streams and doubled back on his own trail till men and dogs were alike baffled. This continued for about two months; then all reports regarding the man ceased; nothing was heard of him, it was surmised that he had reached the "Pocket," and all efforts at further search were for the time abandoned.

Of all those concerned in the efforts for his capture there was not one more thoroughly disgusted with the outcome than Mr. Britton. For months he had had this man under surveillance, convinced that he was a criminal and planning to bring about his capture. Through his own efforts he had been identified, and by his coolness and presence of mind he had accomplished his arrest when nine out of ten others would have failed, and all seemed now to have been effort thrown away. He regretted the man's escape the more especially as he felt that his own life, as well as that of his son, was endangered so long as he was at liberty.

About a month after the search was abandoned Mr. Britton was one day surprised by a call from the wife of Martinez. He had not seen her since his one interview with her months before.

He was sitting in Mr. Underwood's office, looking over the books brought in for his inspection, when she entered, alone and unannounced.

She seated herself in the chair indicated by Mr. Britton and proceeded at once to the object of her visit.

"Señor, you told me when I last saw you that my secret would one day come out. You were right; it has. It is my secret no longer and José Martinez fears me no longer. You have been kind to me. You saved his life once; you fed me when I was hungry and asked no return. I will show you I do not forget. Señor, there is twenty-five thousand dollars reward for that man. The officers will never find him; but I will take you to him, the reward is then yours, and justice overtakes José Martinez, as you said it would. Do you accept?"

"Do you know where he is?" Mr. Britton queried, somewhat surprised by the woman's proposition.

"Yes, Señor; I have just come from there."

"He is in the Pocket, is he not?"

"Yes, Señor, but neither you nor your men could find the Pocket without a guide. I know it well; I have lived there."

"What is your proposition?" Mr. Britton inquired, after a brief silence; "how do you propose to do this?"

"I will start to-morrow for the Pocket. You come with me and bring the dogs. I will take you to a cabin where you can stay over night while I go on alone to the Pocket to see that all is right. I will leave you my veil for a scent. The next morning you will set the dogs on my trail and follow them till you come to a certain place I will tell you of. From there you will see me; I will watch for you and give you the signal that all is right. The dogs will bring you to the Pocket in half an hour. The rest will be easy work, Señor, I promise you."

"But isn't the place constantly guarded?"

"Not now, Señor; the men have gone away on another expedition, but José does not dare go out with them at present. Only one man is there beside José; I know him well; he will be asleep when you come."

"I shall need men with me to help in bringing him back," said Mr. Britton.

"Bring them, but I think he will give you little trouble, Señor."

As Mr. Britton cared nothing for the reward himself, he chose five men to accompany him to whom he thought the money would be particularly acceptable, and the following morning, with two blood-hounds, they started forth in three separate detachments to attract as little attention as possible. The first part of their journey was by rail, the men taking the same train as the woman herself. On their arrival at the little station which she had designated, conveyances, for which Mr. Britton had privately wired a personal friend living in that vicinity, were waiting to take them to their next stopping-place.

They reached the cabin of which the woman had spoken, late in the afternoon. Here they picketed their horses and prepared to stay over night, while she went on to the Pocket. Before leaving she gave Mr. Britton the lace scarf which she wore about her head.

"I shall not go in there until night," she said; "then I can watch and find if all is right. You start early to-morrow morning on foot. Set the dogs on my trail and follow them to the fork; then turn to the left and follow them till you come to a small tree standing in the trail, on which I will tie this handkerchief. Straight ahead of you you will see the entrance to the Pocket. Wait by the tree till you see my signal. If everything is right I will wave a white signal. If I wave a black signal, wait till you see the white one, or till I come to you."

Early the next morning Mr. Britton and his men set forth with the hounds in leash, leaving the horses in charge of their drivers. The dogs took the scent at once and started up the trail, the men following. They found it no easy task they had undertaken; the trail was rough and steep and in many places so narrow they were forced to go in single file. Some of the men, in order to be prepared for emergencies, were heavily armed, and progress was necessarily slow, but at last the fork was passed, and then the time seemed comparatively short ere a small tree confronted them, a white handkerchief fluttering among its branches.

They paused and drew back the hounds, then looked about them. Less than ten feet ahead the trail ended. The rocks looked as though they had been cut in two, the half on which they were standing falling perpendicularly a distance of some eighty feet, while across a rocky ravine some forty feet in width, the other half rose, an almost perpendicular wall eighty or ninety feet in height. In this massive wall of rock there was one opening visible, resembling a gateway, and while the men speculated as to what it might be, the woman appeared, waving a white handkerchief, and they knew it to be the entrance to the Pocket.

"She evidently expects us to come over there," said one of the men, "but blamed if I can see a trail wide enough for a cat!"

"Send the dogs ahead!" ordered Mr. Britton.

The dogs on taking the scent plunged downward through the brush on one side, bringing them out into a narrow trail leading down and across the ravine. Just above, on the other side, they could see the woman watching their every move.

"I've always heard," said one of the men, "there was no getting into this place without you had a special invitation, and it looks like it. Just imagine one of those fellows up there with a gun! Holy Moses! he'd hold the place against all the men the State, or the United States, for that matter, could send down here!"

The ascent of the other side was difficult, but the men put forth their best efforts, and ere they were aware found themselves before the gateway in the rocks, where the woman still awaited them. She silently beckoned them to enter.

Emerging from a narrow pass some six feet in length, they found themselves in a circular basin, about two hundred feet in diameter, surrounded by perpendicular walls of rock from one hundred to five hundred feet in height. The bottom of the basin was level as a floor and covered with a luxuriant growth of grass, while in the centre a small lake, clear as crystal, reflecting the blue sky which seemed to rise like a dome from the rocky walls, gleamed like a sapphire in the sunlight. Sheer and dark the walls rose on all sides, but at one end of the basin, where the rocks were more rough and jagged, a silver stream fell in glistening cascades to the bottom, where it disappeared among the rocks.

For a moment the men, lost in admiration of the scene, forgot that they were in the den of a notorious band of outlaws, but a second glance recalled them to the situation, for on all sides of the basin were caves leading into the walls of rock, and evidently used as dwellings.

To one of these the woman now led the way. At the entrance a man lay on the ground, his heavy stertorous breathing proclaiming him a victim of some sleeping potion. The woman regarded him with a smile of amusement.

"I made him sleep, Señor," she said, addressing Mr. Britton, "so he will not trouble you."

Still leading the way into the farther part of the cave, she came to a low couch of skins at the foot of which she paused. Pointing to the figure outlined upon it, she said, calmly,—

"He sleeps also, Señor, but sound; so sound you will need have no fear of waking him!"

Her words aroused a strange suspicion in Mr. Britton's mind. The light was so dim he could not see the sleeper, but a lantern, burning low, hung on the wall above his head. Seizing the lantern, he turned on the light, holding it so it would strike the face of the sleeper. It was the face of José Martinez, but the features were drawn and ghastly. He bent lower, listening for his breath, but no sound came; he laid his hand upon his heart, but it was still.

Raising himself quickly, he threw the rays of the lantern full upon the woman standing before him, a small crucifix clasped in her hands. Under his searching gaze her face grew pale and ghastly as that upon the couch.

"You have killed him!" he said, slowly, with terrible emphasis.

She made the sign of the cross. "Holy Mother, forgive!" she muttered; then, though she still quailed beneath his look, she exclaimed, half defiantly, "I have not wronged you; you have your reward, and justice has overtaken him, as you said it would!"

"That is not justice," said Mr. Britton, pointing to the couch; "it is murder, and you are his murderer. You should have let the law take its course."

"The law!" she laughed, mockingly; "would your law avenge my father's death, or the wrongs I have suffered? No! My father had no son to avenge him, I had no brother, but I have avenged him and myself. I have followed him all these years, waiting till the right time should come, waiting for this, dreaming of it night and day! I have had my revenge, and it was sweet! I did not kill him in his sleep, Señor; I wakened him, just to let him know he was in my power, just to hear him plead for mercy——"

"Hush!" said Mr. Britton, firmly, for the woman seemed to have gone mad. "You do not know what you are saying. You must get ready to return with me."

She grew calm at once and her face lighted with a strange smile.

"I am ready to go with you, Señor," she said, at the same time clasping the crucifix suddenly to her breast.

With the last word she fell to the ground and a slight tremor shook her frame for an instant. Quickly Mr. Britton lifted her and bore her to the light, but life was already extinct. Within her clasped hands, underneath the crucifix, they found the little poisoned stiletto.