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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 2 (May 1, 1936)

Limited Night Entertainments

page 37

Limited Night Entertainments

(Continued from P. 31.)

Fumblingly, for the morse did not come readily to his mind, he spelled out his message to the train despatcher at Espada. “Northbound train,” he did not know its number, “ditched by bandits about five miles east of Maguey. Send engine and troops at once.” The despatcher replied with a flood of feverish morse, most of which Herrick, damning his excitability, missed, but he caught the word Espada again, and decided that that must be the division point; he tried to remember its position on the map and figure how long they must hold their audience before help could come. Then he locked the telegraph key and straightening the roof thatch, returned once more to the stage.

Half-an-hour passed, an hour; the “General” yawned and signed to one of his guards who fired a shot into the air.

“It is enough,” he cried, “you are wasting my time; it is unwise to delay here.”

He rose and stretched himself, and at a word of command his guards began driving the bullion-laden pack mules out of the cutting. Herrick came forward, “You will give us transportation to Mexico City?”

The “General” looked at him beneath lowered lids, “Si, senor,” he said oilily, “all except that one,” he indicated Barbara Craven, “she rides with Zapata.”

Herrick's jaw stiffened; they had lost after all, then. The strain of the past hour snapped in a surge of blind fury. He was about to leap upon his evilsmelling captor, when above the sound of the crackling flames and the cries of the muleteers, the rumble of distant wheels came faintly to his ears.

“The senorita will be honoured, General,” he said in a tone that matched the “General's” for suavity, “but may I ask a favour?”

He laid a hand on the half-breed's arm, and inclined his head away from the group who surrounded them. The “General” hesitated, then nodded, and Herrick drew him nearer to the flames, the crackling of which for the moment might drown the sounds of those wheels.

“General,” he said, playing desperately for every second, “you are taking our little sister from us, she will be honoured, but one thing I would—”

The silver ornaments of the “General's headgear flashed, details of the wreckage and the cutting walls leaped into high relief in the white glare of a headlight; Herrick drove both fists in rapid succession into the bandit's face, and as he staggered back, raised his rifle, and clubbed him. By a miracle not one of the bullets which the “General's” bodyguard sprayed in his direction struck him. Doubtless the sudden turn of events spoiled their aim. They had no chance to fire again, for coupled in front of the engine was a gondola filled with Federales who opened fire immediately. Herrick, dodging across the tracks hustled his companions into the shelter of the adobe shack.

The operatic quartette, and the other surviving passengers, were housed and fed that night in the caboose of the wrecking train which had followed the troops. At daylight a spare engine and two cars would take them on to Espada. It was a period of irksome inactivity when over-taxed nerves relaxing gave no peace.

Barbara Craven pushed away her coffee cup and listened a moment to the restless clang of steel and the staccato shouted orders that came from the wrecking crew down in the cutting. Then her glance rested on Herrick thoughtfully filling his pipe, and she smiled faintly.

“What's the next thing, partner?”

He looked up and for answer thrust a hand into his pocket withdrawing a bundle of American and Maduro currency bills.

“For you people,” he said, “Mexico City. The ‘General’ kept his promise to furnish you with transportation—post-humously.”

“But what about you?” There was dismay as well as surprise in Barbara's voice.

Herrick smiled and shook his head. “I don't think I have any future in grand opera,” he said. Turning towards the door he jerked his pipe in the direction of the dull red glow which still pulsed above the cutting. “As a matter of fact, the Captain of the Federales thinks I should make a good trooper.”

“Better than a trouper, with the ‘u’,” suggested Lorado Tait.

“Exactly. We are going on to Maguey as soon as the line is clear. When you are singing at the Mexicana I shall be in the front row of the stalls, third seat to the left of the gangway with a chestful of medals.”

He held out his hand to Barbara, “Adios, partner,” he said gently, “I wonder what the next thing will be?”

You don't ‘arf enjoy yer pipe de yer?” said the bus driver with a grin to the chap alongside. The “fare” smiled. “You can gamble on that,” he said, “and you'll win.” Smoke a lot, don'tcher? queried the bus driver. “Oh, about half-a-pound a week.” “Lumme,” said the driver, “if I smoked that much I reckon I'd soon be where they don't smoke. Three ounces does me.” “It's not so much the quantity as the quality that matters,” said the “fare,” “I smoke toasted myself—Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), and you can smoke toasted all you want. It can't hurt you. The toasting cleans up the nicotine. Oh yes, there's several brands. There's five: Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold. The two last make the best cigarettes you ever smoked.” “I've often heard tell of this here toasted,” said the driver, “and blow me if I don't git some. I want a change, anyhow.” “You'll never change again once you've tried toasted,” said the “fare” as he got down.*

page 38