Over the Pass
Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Audrey Longhurst, Mary Meehan, and the Online Distributed
OVER THE PASS
BY FREDERICK PALMER
AUTHOR OF THE VAGABOND, DANBURY RODD, ETC.
PART I--AN EASY TRAVELLER
I YOUTH IN SPURS
II DINOSAUR OR DESPERADO
III JACK RIDES IN COMPANY
IV HE CARRIES THE MAIL
V A SMILE AND A SQUARE CHIN
VI OBLIVION IS NOT EASY
VII WHAT HAPPENED AT LANG'S
VIII ACCORDING TO CODE
IX THE DEVIL IS OUT
X MARY EXPLAINS
XI SENOR DON'T CARE RECEIVES
XII MARY BRINGS TRIBUTE
XIII A JOURNEY ON CRUTCHES
XIV "HOW FAST YOU SEW!"
XV WHEN THE DESERT BLOOMS
XVI A CHANGE OF MIND
XVII THE DOGE SNAPS A RUBBER BAND
XVIII ANOTHER STRANGER ARRIVES
XIX LOOKING OVER PRECIPICES
XX A PUZZLED AMBASSADOR
XXI "GOOD-BY, LITTLE RIVERS!"
XXII "LUCK, JACK, LUCK!"
PART II--HE FINDS HIMSELF
XXIII LABELLED AND SHIPPED
XXIV IN THE CITADEL OF THE MILLIONS
XXV "BUT WITH YOU, YES, SIR!"
XXVII BY RIGHT OF ANCESTRY
XXVIII JACK GETS A RAISE
XXIX A MEETING ON THE AVENUE TRAIL
XXX WITH THE PHANTOMS
XXXI PRATHER WOULD NOT WAIT
XXXII A CRISIS IN THE WINGFIELD LIBRARY
XXXIII PRATHER SEES THE PORTRAIT
XXXIV "JOHN WINGFIELD, YOU--"
PART III--HE FINDS HIS PLACE IN LIFE
XXXV BACK TO LITTLE RIVERS
XXXVI AROUND THE WATER-HOLE
XXXVII THE END OF THE WEAVING
XXXVIII THEIR SIDE OF THE PASS
AN EASY TRAVELLER
YOUTH IN SPURS
Here time was as nothing; here sunset and sunrise were as incidents
of an uncalendared, everlasting day; here chaotic grandeur was that
of the earth's crust when it cooled after the last convulsive
movement of genesis.
In all the region about the Galeria Pass the silence of the dry Arizona
air seemed luminous and eternal. Whoever climbed to the crotch of that V,
cut jagged against the sky for distances yet unreckoned by tourist
folders, might have the reward of pitching the tents of his imagination
at the gateway of the clouds.
Early on a certain afternoon he would have noted to the eastward a speck
far out on a vast basin of sand which was enclosed by a rim of tumbling
mountains. Continued observation at long range would have shown the speck
to be moving almost imperceptibly, with what seemed the impertinence of
infinitesimal life in that dead world; and, eventually, it would have
taken the form of a man astride a pony.
The man was young, fantastically young if you were to judge by his garb,
a flamboyant expression of the romantic cowboy style which might have
served as a sensational exhibit in a shop-window. In place of the
conventional blue wool shirt was one of dark blue silk. The
_chaparejos_, or "chaps," were of the softest leather, with the fringe
at the seams generously long; and the silver spurs at the boot-heels
were chased in antique pattern and ridiculously large. Instead of the
conventional handkerchief at the neck was a dark red string tie; while
the straight-brimmed cowpuncher hat, out of keeping with the general
effect of newness and laundered freshness, had that tint which only
exposure to many dewfalls and many blazing mid-days will produce in
There was vagrancy in the smile of his singularly sensitive mouth and
vagrancy in the relaxed way that he rode. From the fondness with which
his gaze swept the naked peaks they might have been cities _en fete_
calling him to their festivities. If so, he was in no haste to let
realization overtake anticipation. His reins hung loose. He hummed
snatches of Spanish, French, and English songs. Their cosmopolitan
freedom of variety was as out of keeping with the scene as their lilt,
which had the tripping, self-carrying impetus of the sheer joy of living.
Lapsing into silence, his face went ruminative and then sad. With a
sudden indrawing of breath he freed himself from his reverie, and bending
over from his saddle patted a buckskin neck in affectionate tattoo. Tawny
ears turned backward in appreciative fellowship, but without any break in
a plodding dog-trot. Though the rider's aspect might say with the desert
that time was nothing, the pony's expressed a logical purpose. Thus the
speed of their machine-like progress was entirely regulated by the
prospect of a measure of oats at the journey's end.
When they came to the foot-hills and the rider dismounted and led the
way, with a following muzzle at times poking the small of his back, up
the tortuous path, rounding pinnacles and skimming the edge of abysses,
his leg muscles answered with the readiness of familiarity with climbing.
At the top he saw why the pass had received its name of Galeria from the
Spanish. A great isosceles of precipitous walls formed a long, natural
gallery, which the heaving of the earth's crust had rent and time had
eroded. It lay near the present boundary line of two civilizations: in
the neutral zone of desert expanses, where the Saxon pioneer, with his
lips closed on English _s's_, had paused in his progress southward; and
the _conquistadore_, with tongue caressing Castilian vowels, had paused
in his progress northward.
At the other side the traveller beheld a basin which was a thousand
feet higher than the one behind him. It approached the pass at a
gentler slope. It must be cooler than the other, its ozone a little
rarer. A sea of quivering and singing light in the afternoon glow, it
was lost in the horizon.
Not far from the foot-hills floated a patch of foliage, checkered by the
roofs of the houses of an irrigation colony, hanging kitelike at the end
of the silver thread of a river whose waters had set gardens abloom in
sterile expanses. There seemed a refusal of intimacy with the one visible
symbol of its relations with the outer world; for the railroad, with its
lines of steel flashing across the gray levels, passed beyond the outer
edge of the oasis.
"This beats any valley I've seen yet," and the traveller spoke with the
confidence of one who is a connoisseur of Arizona valleys.
He paused for some time in hesitancy to take a farewell of the rapturous
vista. A hundred feet lower and the refraction of the light would present
it in different coloring and perspective. With his spell of visual
intoxication ran the consciousness of being utterly alone. But the egoism
of his isolation in the towering infinite did not endure; for the sound
of voices, a man's and a woman's, broke on his ear.
The man's was strident, disagreeable, persistent. Its timbre was such as
he had heard coming out of the doors of border saloons. The woman's was
quiet and resisting, its quality of youth peculiarly emphasized by its
Now the easy traveller took stock of his immediate surroundings, which
had interested him only as a foothold and vantage-point for the panorama
that he had been breathing in. Here, of all conceivable places, he was in
danger of becoming eavesdropper to a conversation which was evidently
very personal. Rounding the escarpment at his elbow he saw, on a shelf of
decaying granite, two waiting ponies. One had a Mexican saddle of the
cowboy type. The other had an Eastern side-saddle, which struck him as
exotic in a land where women mostly ride astride. And what woman,
whatever style of riding she chose, should care to come to this pass?
Judging by the direction from which the voices came, the speakers were
hidden by still another turn in the defile. A few more steps brought eye
as well as ear back to the living world with the sight of a girl seated
on a bowlder. He could see nothing of her face except the cheek, which
was brown, and the tip of a chin, which he guessed was oval, and her
hair, which was dark under her hatbrim and shimmering with gold where it
was kissed by the rays of the sun. An impression as swift as a flash of
light could not exclude inevitable curiosity as to the full face; a
curiosity emphasized by the poised erectness of her slender figure.
The man was bending over her in a familiar way. He was thirty, perhaps,
in the prime of physical vigor, square-jawed, cocksure, a six-shooter
slung at his hip. Though she was not giving way before him, her attitude,
in its steadiness, reflected distress in a bowstrung tremulousness.
Suddenly, at something he said which the easy traveller could not quite
understand, she sprang up aflame, her hand flying back against the rock
wall behind her for support. Then the man spoke so loud that he was
"When you get mad like that you're prettier'n ever," he said.
It was a peculiar situation. It seemed incredible, melodramatic, unreal,
in sight of the crawling freight train far out on the levels.
"Aren't you overplaying your part, sir?" the easy traveller asked.
The man's hand flew to his six-shooter, while the girl looked around in
swift and eager impulse to the interrupting voice. Its owner, the color
scheme of his attire emphasized by the glare of the low sun, expressed in
his pose and the inquiring flicker of a smile purely the element of the
casual. Far from making any movement toward his own six-shooter, he
seemed oblivious of any such necessity. With the first glimpse of her
face, when he saw the violet flame of her anger go ruddy with surprise
and relief, then fluid and sparkling as a culminating change of emotion,
he felt cheap for having asked himself the question--which now seemed so
superficial--whether she were good-looking or not. She was, undoubtedly,
yes, undoubtedly good-looking in a way of her own.
"What business is it of yours?" demanded the man, evidently under the
impression that he was due to say something, while his fingers still
rested on his holster.
"None at all, unless she says so," the deliverer answered. "Is it?" he
After her first glance at him she had lowered her lashes. Now she raised
them, sending a direct message beside which her first glance had been
dumb indifference. He was seeing into the depths of her eyes in the
consciousness of a privilege rarely bestowed. They gave wing to a
thousand inquiries. He had the thrill of an explorer who is about to
enter on a voyage of discovery. Then the veil was drawn before his ship
had even put out from port. It was a veil woven with fine threads of
appreciative and conventional gratitude.
"It is!" she said decisively.
"I'll be going," said the persecutor, with a grimace that seemed mixed
partly of inherent bravado and partly of shame, as his pulse slowed down
"As you please," answered that easy traveller. "I had no mind to exert
any positive directions over your movements."
His politeness, his disinterestedness, and his evident disinclination to
any kind of vehemence carried an implication more exasperating than an
open challenge. They changed melodrama into comedy. They made his
protagonist appear a negligible quantity.
"There's some things I don't do when women are around," the persecutor
returned, grudgingly, and went for his horse; while oppressive silence
prevailed. The easy traveller was not looking at the girl or she at him.
He was regarding the other man idly, curiously, though not contemptuously
as he mounted and started down the trail toward the valley, only to draw
rein as he looked back over his shoulder with a glare which took the easy
traveller in from head to foot.
"Huh! You near-silk dude!" he said chokingly, in his rancor which had
grown with the few minutes he had had for self-communion.
"If you mean my shirt, it was sold to me for pure silk," the easy
traveller returned, in half-diffident correction of the statement.
"We'll meet again!" came the more definite and articulate defiance.
"Perhaps. Who can tell? Arizona, though a large place, has so few people
that it is humanly very small."
Now the other man rose in his stirrups, resting the weight of his body on
the palm of the hand which was on the back of his saddle. He was rigid,
his voice was shaking with very genuine though dramatic rage drawn to a
fine point of determination.
"When we do meet, you better draw! I give you warning!" he called.
There was no sign that this threat had made the easy traveller tighten a
single muscle. But a trace of scepticism had crept into his smile.
"Whew!" He drew the exclamation out into a whistle.
"Whistle--whistle while you can! You won't have many more chances! Draw,
you tenderfoot! But it won't do any good--I'll get you!"
With this challenge the other settled back into the saddle and proceeded
on his way.
"Whew!" The second whistle was anything but truculent and anything but
apologetic. It had the unconscious and spontaneous quality of the delight
of the collector who finds a new specimen in wild places.
From under her lashes the girl had been watching the easy traveller
rather than her persecutor; first, studiously; then, in the confusion of
embarrassment that left her speechless.
"Well, well," he concluded, "you must take not only your zoology, but
your anthropology as you find it!"
His drollness, his dry contemplation of the specimen, and his
absurdly gay and unpractical attire, formed a combination of elements
suddenly grouped into an effect that touched her reflex nerves after
the strain with the magic of humor. She could not help herself: she
burst out laughing. At this, he looked away from the specimen; looked
around puzzled, quizzically, and, in sympathetic impulse, began
laughing himself. Thus a wholly unmodern incident took a whimsical
turn out of a horror which, if farcical in the abstract, was no less
potent in the concrete.
"Quite like the Middle Ages, isn't it?" he said.
"But Walter Scott ceased writing in the thirties!" she returned, quick to
fall in with his cue.
"The swooning age outlasted him--lasted, indeed, into the era of
hoop-skirts; but that, too, is gone."
"They do give medals," she added.
"For rescuing the drowning only; and they are a great nuisance to carry
around in one's baggage. Please don't recommend me!"
Both laughed again softly, looking fairly at each other in
understanding, twentieth-century fashion. She was not to play the
classic damsel or he the classic rescuer. Yet the fact of a young man
finding a young woman brutally annoyed on the roof of the world, five
or six miles from a settlement--well, it was a fact. Over the bump of
their self-introduction, free of the serious impression of her
experience, she could think for him as well as for herself. This struck
her with sudden alarm.
"I fear I have made you a dangerous enemy," she said. "Pete Leddy is the
prize ruffian of our community of Little Rivers."
"I thought that this would be an interesting valley," he returned, in
bland appreciation of her contribution of information about the habits of
DINOSAUR OR DESPERADO
She faced a situation irritating and vitalizing, and inevitably, under
its growing perplexity, her observation of his appearance and
characteristics had been acute with feminine intuition, which is so
frequently right, that we forget that it may not always be. She imagined
him with a certain amiable aimlessness turning his pony to one side so as
not to knock down a danger sign, while he rode straight over a precipice.
What would have happened if Leddy had really drawn? she asked herself.
Probably her deliverer would have regarded the muzzle of Leddy's gun in
studious vacancy before a bullet sent him to kingdom come. All
speculation aside, her problem was how to rescue her rescuer. She felt
almost motherly on his account, he was so blissfully oblivious to
realities. And she felt, too, that under the circumstances, she ought to
"Now, Mister--" she began; and the Mister sounded odd and stilted in her
ears in relation to him.
"Jack is my name," he said simply.
"Mine is Mary," she volunteered, giving him as much as he had given
and no more. "Now, sir," she went on, in peremptory earnestness, "this
"It _was_," he answered. "At least, unpleasant."
"It is, _now_. Pete Leddy meant what he said when he said that he
"He ought to, from his repeated emphasis," answered Jack, in agreeable
"He has six notches on his gun-handle--six men that he has killed!"
Mary went on.
"Whew!" said Jack. "And he isn't more than thirty! He seems a hard worker
who keeps right on the job."
She pressed her lips together to control her amusement, before she asked
categorically, with the precision of a school-mistress:
"Do you know how to shoot?"
He was surprised. He seemed to be wondering if she were not making
sport of him.
"Why should I carry a six-shooter if I did not?" he asked.
This convinced her that his revolver was a part of his play cowboy
costume. He had come out of the East thinking that desperado etiquette of
the Bad Lands was _opera bouffe_.
"Leddy is a dead shot. He will give you no chance!" she insisted.
"I should think not," Jack mused. "No, naturally not; otherwise there
might have been no sixth notch. The third or the fourth, even the second
object of his favor might have blasted his fair young career as a
wood-carver. Has he set any limit to his ambition? Is he going to make it
an even hundred and then retire?"
"I don't know!" she gasped.
"I must ask," he added, thoughtfully.
Was he out of his head? Certainly his eye was not insane. Its bluish-gray
was twinkling enjoyably into hers.
"You exasperated him with that whistle. It was a deadly insult to his
desperado pride. You are marked--don't you see, marked?" she persisted.
"And I brought it on! I am responsible!"
He shook his head in a denial so unmoved by her appeal that she was sure
he would send Job into an apoplectic frenzy.
"Pardon me, but you're contradicting your own statement. You just said it
was the whistle," he corrected her. "It's the whistle that gives me Check
Number Seven. You haven't the least bit of responsibility. The whistle
gets it all, just as you said."
This was too much. Confuting her with her own words! Quibbling with his
own danger in order to make her an accomplice of murder! She lost her
temper completely. That fact alone could account for the audacity of her
"I wonder if you really know enough to come in out of the rain!"
"That's the blessing of living in Arizona," he returned. "It is such a
She caught herself laughing; and this only made her the more intense a
second later, on a different tack. Now she would plead.
"Please--please promise me that you will not go to Little Rivers
to-night. Promise that you will turn back over the pass!"
"You put me between the devil and the dragon. What you ask is impossible.
I'll tell you why," he went on, confidentially. "You know this is the
land of fossil dinosaurs."
"I had a brute on my hands," she thought; "now I have the Mad Hatter and
the March Hare in collaboration!"
"There is a big dinosaur come to life on the other side," he proceeded.
"I just got through the pass in time. I could feel his breath on my
back--a hot, gun-powdery breath! It was awful, simply awful and horrible,
too. And just as I had resigned myself to be his entree, by great luck
his big middle got wedged in the bottom of the V, and his scales scraped
like the plates of a ship against a stone pier!"
To her disgust she was laughing again.
"If I went back now out of fear of Pete Leddy," he continued, "that
dinosaur would know that I was such insignificant prey he would not even
take the trouble to knock me down with a forepaw. He would swallow me
alive and running! Think of that slimy slide down the red upholstery of
his gullet, not to mention the misery of a total loss of my dignity and
He had spoken it all as if he believed it true. He made it seem
"I like nonsense as much as anybody," she began, "and I do not forget
that you did me a great kindness."
"Which any stranger, any third person coming at the right moment might
have done," he interrupted. "Sir Walter's age has passed."
"Yes, but Pete Leddy belongs still farther back. We may laugh at his
ruffianly bravado, but no one may laugh at a forty-four calibre bullet!
Think what you are going to make me pay for your kindness! I must pay
with memory of the sound of a shot and the fall of a body there in the
streets of Little Rivers--a nightmare for life! Oh, I beg of you, though
it is fun for you to be killed, consider me! Don't go down into that
valley! I beg of you, go back over the pass!"
There was no acting, no suspicion of a gesture. She stood quite still,
while all the power of her eyes reflected the misery which she pictured
for herself. The low pitch of her voice sounded its depths with that
restraint which makes for the most poignant intensity. As she reached her
climax he had come out of his languid pose. He was erect and rigid. She
saw him as some person other than the one to whom she had begun her
appeal. He was still smiling, but his smile was of a different sort.
Instead of being the significant thing about him in expression of his
casualness, it seemed the softening compensation for his stubbornness.
"I'd like to, but it is hardly in human nature for me to do that. I
can't!" And he asked if he might bring up her pony.
"Yes," she consented.
She thought that the faint bow of courtesy with which he had accompanied
the announcement of his decision he would have given, in common
politeness, to anyone who pointed at the danger sign before he rode over
"May I ride down with you, or shall I go ahead?" he inquired, after he
had assisted her to mount.
"With me!" she answered, quickly. "You are safe while you are with me."
The decisive turn to her mobile lips and the faint wrinkles of a frown,
coming and going in various heraldry, formed a vividly sentient and
versatile expression of emotions while she watched his silhouette against
the sky as he turned to get his own pony.
"Come, P.D.--come along!" he called.
In answer to his voice an equine face, peculiarly reflective of trail
wisdom, bony and large, particularly over the eyes, slowly turned toward
its master. P.D. was considering.
"Come along! The trail, P.D.!" And P.D. came, but with democratic
independence, taking his time to get into motion. "He is never fast,"
Jack explained, "but once he has the motor going, he keeps at it all day.
So I call him P.D. without the Q., as he is never quick."
"Pretty Damn, you mean!" she exclaimed, with a certain spontaneous pride
of understanding. Then she flushed in confusion.
"Oh, thank you! It was so human of you to translate it out loud! It isn't
profane. Look at him now. Don't you think it is a good name for him?"
Jack asked, seriously.
She was laughing again, oblivious of the impending tragedy.
JACK RIDES IN COMPANY
Let not the Grundy woman raise an eyebrow of deprecation at the informal
introduction of Jack and Mary, or we shall refute her with her own
precepts, which make the steps to a throne the steps of the social
pyramid. If she wishes a sponsor, we name an impeccable majesty of the
very oldest dynasty of all, which is entirely without scandal. We remind
her of the ancient rule that people who meet at court, vouched for by
royal favor, need no introduction.
These two had met under the roof of the Eternal Painter. His palette is
somewhere in the upper ether and his head in the interplanetary spaces.
His heavy eyebrows twinkle with star-dust. Dodging occasional flying
meteors, which harass him as flies harass a landscapist out of doors on a
hot day, he is ever active, this mighty artist of the changing desert
sky. So fickle his moods, so versatile his genius, so quick to creation
his fancy, that he never knows what his next composition will be till the
second that it is begun.
No earthly rival need be jealous of him. He will never clog the
galleries. He always paints on the same canvas, scraping off one picture
to make room for another. And you do not mind the loss of the old. You
live for the new.
His Majesty has no artistic memory. He is as young as he was the day
that he flung out his first tentative lunette after chaos. He is the
patron saint of all pilgrims from the city's struggle, where they found
no oases of rest. He melts "pasts" and family skeletons and hidden
stories of any kind whatsoever into the blue as a background with the
abandoned preoccupation of his own brushwork. His lieges, who seek
oblivion in the desert, need not worry about the water that will never
run over the millwheel again, or dwell in prophecy on floods to come. The
omnipotence of the moment transports and soothes them.
"Time is nothing!" says the Eternal Painter. "If you feel important,
remember that man's hectic bustling makes but worm-work on the planet.
Live and breathe joyfully and magnificently! Do not strain your eyes over
embroidery! Come to my open gallery! And how do you like the way I set
those silver clouds a-tumbling? Do you know anything better under the
dome of any church or capitol? Shall I bank them? Line them with purple?
It is done! But no! Let us wipe it all out, change the tint of our
background, and start afresh!"
With his eleven hundred million billionth sunset, or thereabouts, His
Majesty held a man and a woman who had met on the roof of the world in
thrall. He was lurid at the outset, dipping his camel's hair in at the
round furnace door sinking toward the hills, whose red vortex shot
tongues of flame into canyons and crevasses and drove out their lurking
shadows with the fire of its inquisition. The foliage of Little Rivers
became a grove of quivering leaves of gold, set on a vast beaten platter
of gold. And the man and the woman, like all things else in the
landscape, were suffused in this still, Parnassian, penetrating
brilliancy, which ought to make even a miser feel that his hoarded eagles
and sovereigns are ephemeral dross.
"I love it all--all the desert!" said Mary Ewold.
"And I, too!"
"I have for six years."
"I for five."
The sentences had struck clearly as answering chimes, impersonally, in
their preoccupied gazing.
"It gave me life!" he added.
"And it gave me life!"
Then they looked at each other in mutual surprise and understanding; each
in wonder that the other had ever been anything but radiant of
out-of-doors health. That fleck on the lungs which brought a doctor's
orders had long ago been healed by the physician of the ozone they were
"And you remained," he said.
"And you, also," she answered.
Their own silence seemed to become a thing apart from the silence of the
infinite. It was as if both recognized a common thought that even the
Eternal Painter could not compel oblivion of the past to which they did
not return; of the faith of cities to which they had been bred. But it is
one of the Eternal Painter's rules that no one of his subjects should ask
another of his subjects why he stays on the desert. Jack was the first to
speak, and his voice returned to the casual key.
"Usually I watch the sunset while we make camp," he said. "I am very late
to-night--late beyond all habit; and sunset and sunrise do make one a
creature of habit out here. Firio and my little train will grow impatient
waiting for me."
"You mean the Indian and the burro with the silver bells that came over
the pass some time before you?"
Of course they belonged to him, she was thinking, even as she made the
inquiry. This play cowboy, with his absurdly enormous silver spurs, would
naturally put bells on his burro.
"Yes, I sent Firio with Wrath of God and Jag Ear on ahead and told him to
wait at the foot of the descent. Wrath of God will worry--he is of a
worrying nature. I must be going."
In view of the dinosaur nonsense she was already prepared for a variety
of inventional talk from him. As they started down from the pass in
single file, she leading, the sun sank behind the hills, leaving the
Eternal Painter, unhindered by a furnace glare in the centre of the
canvas, to paint with a thousand brushes in the radiant tints of the
"You don't like that one, O art critics!" we hear him saying. "Well, here
is another before you have adjusted your _pince-nez,_ and I will brush it
away before you have emitted your first Ah! I do not criticise. I
paint--I paint for the love of it. I paint with the pigments of the
firmament and the imagination of the universe."
The two did not talk of that sky which held their averted glances, while
knowing hoofs that bore their weight kept the path. For how can you talk
of the desert sky except in the banality of exclamations? It is _lese
majeste_ to the Eternal Painter to attempt description.
At times she looked back and their eyes met in understanding, as true
subjects of His Majesty, and then they looked skyward to see what changes
the Master's witchery had wrought. In supreme intoxication of the
senses, breathing that dry air which was like cool wine coming in long
sips to the palate, they rode down the winding trail, till, after a
surpassing outburst, the Eternal Painter dropped his brush for the night.
It was dusk. Shadows returned to the crevasses. Free of the magic of the
sky, with the curtains of night drawing in, the mighty savagery of the
bare mountains in their disdain of man and imagination reasserted itself.
It dropped Mary Ewold from the azure to the reality of Pete Leddy. She
was seeing, the smoking end of a revolver and a body lying in a pool of
blood; and there, behind her, rode this smiling stranger, proceeding so
genially and carelessly to the fate which she had provided for him.
With the last turn, which brought them level with the plain, they came
upon an Indian, a baggage burro, and a riding-pony. The Indian sprang up,
grinning: his welcome and doffing a Mexican steeple-hat.
"I must introduce you all around," Jack told Mary.
She observed in his manner something new!--a positive enthusiasm for his
three retainers, which included a certain well-relished vanity in their
loyalty and character.
"Firio has Sancho Panza beaten to a frazzle," Jack said. "Sancho was fat
and unresourceful; even stupid. Fancy him broiling a quail on a spit!
Fancy what a lot of trouble Firio could have saved Don Quixote de la
Mancha! Why, confound it, he would have spoiled the story!"
Firio was a solid grain, to take Jack's view, winnowed out of bushels of
aboriginal chaff; an Indian, all Indian, without any strain of Spanish
blood in the primitive southern strain.
"And Firio rides Wrath of God," Jack continued, nodding to a pony with a
low-hung head and pendant lip, whose lugubrious expression was
exaggerated by a scar. "He looks it, don't you think?--always miserable,
whether his nose is in the oats or we run out of water. He is our sad
philosopher, who has just as dependable a gait as P.D. I have many
theories about the psychology of his ego. Sometimes I explain it by a
desire both to escape and to pursue unhappiness, which amounts to a
solemn kind of perpetual motion. But he has a positively sweet nature.
There is no more malice in his professional mournfulness than in the
cheerful humor of Jag Ear."
"It is plain to see which is Jag Ear," she observed, "and how he earned
Every time a burro gets into the corn, an Indian master cuts off a bit
of long, furry ear as a lesson. Before Jag Ear passed into kindlier
hands he had been clipped closer than a Boston terrier. Only a single
upstanding fragment remained in token of a graded education which had
availed him nothing.
"There's no curtailing Jag Ear's curiosity," said Jack. "To him,
everything is worth trying. That is why he is a born traveller. He
has been with me from Colorado to Chihuahua, on all my wanderings
back and forth."
While he spoke, Firio mounted Wrath of God and, with Jag Ear's bells
jingling, the supply division set out on the road. Jack and Mary
followed, this time riding side by side, pony nose to pony nose, in an
intimacy of association impossible in the narrow mountain trail. It was
an intimacy signalized by silence. There was an end to the mighty
transports of the heights; the wells of whimsicality had dried up. The
weight of the silence seemed balancing on a brittle thread. All the
afternoon's events aligned themselves in a colossal satire. In the half
light Jack became a gaunt and lonely figure that ought to be confined in
some Utopian kindergarten.
Mary could feel her temples beating with the fear of what was waiting for
him in Little Rivers, now a dark mass on the levels, just dark, without
color or any attraction except the mystery that goes with the shroud of
night. She knew how he would laugh at her fears; for she guessed that he
was unafraid of anything in the world which, however, was no protection
from Pete Leddy's six-shooter.
"I--I have a right to know--won't you tell me how you are going to defend
yourself against Pete Leddy?" she demanded, in a sudden outburst.
"I hadn't thought of that. Certainly, I shall leave it to Pete himself to
open hostilities. I hadn't thought of it because I have been too busy
thinking out how I was going to break a piece of news to Firio. I have
been an awful coward about it, putting it off and putting it off. I had
planned to do it on my birthday two weeks ago, and then he gave me these
big silver spurs--spent a whole month's wages on them, think of that! I
bought this cowboy regalia to go with them. You can't imagine how that
pleased him. It certainly was great fun."
Mary could only shake her head hopelessly.
"Firio and Jag Ear and Wrath of God and old P.D. here--we've sort of
grown used to one another's foolishness. Now I can't put it off any
longer, and I'd about as soon be murdered as tell him that I am going
East in the morning."
"You mean you are going to leave here for good?" She mistrusted her
own hearing. She was dazzled by this sudden burst of light through
"Yes, by the first train. This is my last desert ride."
Why had he not said so at first? It would not only have saved her from
worry, but from the humiliation of pleading with a stranger. Doubtless he
had enjoyed teasing her. But no matter. The affair need not last much
longer, now. She told herself that, if necessary, she would mount guard
over him for the remaining twelve hours of his stay. Once he was aboard
the Pullman he would be out of danger; her responsibility would be over
and the whole affair would become a bizarre memory; an incident closed.
"Back to New York," he said, as one who enters a fog without a
compass. "Back to fight pleosaurs, dinosaurs, and all kinds of
monsters," he added, with a cheeriness which rang with the first false
note she had heard from him. "I don't care," he concluded, and broke
into a Spanish air, whose beat ran with the trickling hoof-beats of
the ponies in the sand.
"That is it!" she thought. "That explains. He just does not care about
Ahead, the lamps were beginning to twinkle in the little settlement which
had sent such a contrast in citizenship as Mary Ewold and Pete Leddy out
to the pass. They were approaching a single, isolated building, from the
door of which came a spray of light and the sound of men's voices.
"That is Bill Lang's place," Mary explained. "He keeps a store, with a
bar in the rear. He also has the post-office, thanks to his political
influence, and this is where I have to stop for the mail when I return
from the pass."
She had not spoken with any sense of a hint which it was inevitable he
"Let me get it for you;" and before she had time to protest, he had
dismounted, drawing rein at the edge of the wooden steps.
She rode past where his pony was standing. When he entered the door, his
tallness and lean ease of posture silhouetted in the light, she could
look in on the group of idling male gossips.
It was a half cry from her, hardly audible in an intensity which she knew
was futile in the surge of her torturing self-incrimination. Why had she
not thought that it would be here that Pete Leddy was bound to wait for
anyone coming in by the trail from Galeria? The loungers suddenly dropped
to the cover of boxes and barrels, as a flicker of steel shot upward, and
behind the gleaming rim of a revolver muzzle held rigid was a brown hand
and Leddy's hard, unyielding face.
What matter if the easy traveller could shoot? He was caught like a man
coming out of an alley. He had no chance to draw in turn. In the click of
a second-hand the thing would be over. Mary's eyes involuntarily closed,
to avoid seeing the flash from the revolver. She listened for the report;
for the fall of a body which should express the horror she had visualized
for the hundredth time. A century seemed to pass and there was no sound
except the beat of her heart, which ran in a cataract throb to her
temples; no sound except that and what seemed to be soft, regular steps
on the bare floor of the store.
"Coward!" she told herself, with the agony of her suspense
breaking. "He saved you from inexpressible humiliation and you are
afraid even to look!"
She opened her eyes, prepared for the worst. Had she gone out of her
head? Could she no longer trust her own eyesight? What she saw was
inconceivable. The startled faces of the loungers were rising from
behind the boxes and barrels. Pete Leddy's gun had dropped to his side
and his would-be victim had a hand on Pete's shoulder. Jack was talking
apparently in a kindly and reasoning tone, but she could not make out
One man alone evidently had not taken cover. It was Jim Galway, a
rancher, who had been standing at the mail counter. To judge by his
expression, what Jack was saying had his approval.
With a nod to Leddy and then a nod to the others, as if in amicable
conclusion of the affair, Jack wheeled around to the counter, disclosing
Leddy's face wry with insupportable chagrin. His revolver was still in
his hand. In the swift impulse of one at bay who finds himself released,
he brought it up. There was murder, murder from behind, in the catlike
quickness of his movement; but Jim Galway was equally quick. He threw his
whole weight toward Leddy in a catapult leap, as he grasped Leddy's wrist
and bore it down. Jack faced about in alert readiness. Seeing that Galway
had the situation pat, he put up his hand in a kind of questioning,
puzzled remonstrance; but Mary noticed that he was very erect. He spoke
and Galway spoke in answer. Evidently he was asking that Leddy be
released. To this Galway consented at length, but without drawing back
until he had seen Leddy's gun safe in the holster.
Then Leddy raised himself challengingly on tiptoes to Jack, who turned to
Galway in the manner of one extending an invitation. On his part, Leddy
turned to Ropey Smith, another of Little Rivers' ruffians. After this,
Leddy went through the door at the rear; the loungers resumed their seats
on the cracker barrels and gazed at one another with dropped jaws, while
Bill Lang proceeded with his business as postmaster.
HE CARRIES THE MAIL
When the suspense was over for Mary, the glare of the store lamp went
dancing in grotesque waves, and abruptly, uncannily, fell away into the
distant, swimming glow of a lantern suffused with fog. She swayed. Only
the leg-rest kept her from slipping off the pony. Her first returning
sense of her surroundings came with the sound of a voice, the same
careless, pleasant voice which she had heard at Galeria asking Pete Leddy
if he were not overplaying his part.
"You were right," said the voice. "It was the whistle that made him
Indistinctly she associated a slowly-shaping figure with the voice and
realized that she had been away in the unknown for a second. Yes, it was
all very well to talk about Sir Walter being out of fashion, but she had
been near to fainting, and in none of the affectation of the hoop-skirt
age, either. Had she done any foolish thing in expression of a weakness
that she had never known before? Had she extended her hand for support?
Had he caught her as she wobbled in the saddle? No. She was relieved to
see that he was not near enough for that.
"By no stretch of ethics can you charge yourself with further
responsibility or fears," he continued. "Pete and I understand each other
But in his jocularity ran something which was plain, if unspoken. It was
that he would put an end to a disagreeable subject. His first words to
her had provided a bridge--and burned it--from the bank of the
disagreeable to the bank of agreeable. Her own desire, with full mastery
of her faculties coming swiftly, fell in with his. She wanted to blot out
that horror and scotch a sudden uprising of curiosity as to the exact
nature of the gamble in death through which he had passed. It was enough
that he was alive.
The blurry figure became distinct, smiling with inquiry in a glance from
her to the stack of papers, magazines, and pamphlets which crowded his
circling arms. He seemed to have emptied the post-office. There had not
been any Pete Leddy; there had been no display of six-shooters. He had
gone in after the mail. Here he was ready to deliver it by the bushel,
while he waited for orders. She had to laugh at his predicament as he
lowered his chin to steady a book on the top of the pile.
"Oh, I meant to tell you that you were not to bring the second-class
matter!" she told him. "We always send a servant with a basket for that.
You see what comes of having a father who is not only omnivorous, but has
a herbivorous capacity."
He saw that the book had a row of Italian stamps across the wrapper.
Unless that popular magazine stopped slipping, both the book and a heavy
German pamphlet would go. He took two hasty steps toward her, in mock
distress of appeal.
"I'll allow salvage if you act promptly!" he said.
She lifted the tottering apex just in time to prevent its fall.
"I'll take the book," she said. "Father has been waiting months for
it. We can separate the letters and leave the rest in the store to be
"The railroad station is on the other side of the town, isn't it?" he
"I shall camp nearby, so it will be no trouble to leave my burden at your
door as I pass."
"He does have the gift of oiling the wheels in either, big or little
moments," she thought, as she realized how simple and considerate had
been his course from the first. He was a stranger going on his way,
stopping, however, to do her or any other traveller a favor _en route_.
"Firio, we're ready to hear Jag Ear's bells!" he called.
"_Si_!" answered Firio.
All the while the Indian had kept in the shadow, away from the spray of
light from the store lamp, unaware of the rapid drama that had passed
among the boxes and barrels. He had observed nothing unusual in the young
lady, whose outward manifestation of what she had, witnessed was the
closing of her eyes.
It was out of the question that Jack should mount a horse when both
arms were crowded with their burden. He walked beside Mary's stirrup
leather in the attitude of that attendant on royalty who bears a crown
on a cushion.
"Little Rivers is a new town, isn't it?" he asked.
"Yes, the Town Wonderful," she answered. "Father founded it."
She spoke with an affection which ran as deep into the soil as young
roots after water. If on the pass she had seemed a part of the desert,
of great, lonely distances and a far-flung carpet of dreams, here she
seemed to belong to books and gardens.
"I wish I had time to look over the Town Wonderful in the morning, but my
train goes very early, I believe."
After his years of aimless travelling, to which he had so readily
confessed, he had tied himself to a definite hour on a railroad
schedule as something commanding and inviolable. Such inconsistency
did not surprise her. Had she not already learned to expect
inconsistencies from him?
"Oh, it is all simple and primitive, but it means a lot to us," she said.
"What one's home and people mean to him is pretty well all of one's own
human drama," he returned, seriously.
The peace of evening was in the air and the lights along the single
street were a gentle and persistent protest of human life against the
mighty stretch of the enveloping mantle of night. From the cottages of
the ranchers came the sound of voices. The twang of a guitar quivering
starward made medley with Jag Ear's bells.
Here, for a little distance, the trail, in its long reach on the desert,
had taken on the dignity of the urban name of street. On either side,
fronting the cottages, ran the slow waters of two irrigation ditches,
gleaming where lamp-rays penetrated the darkness. The date of each
rancher's settlement was fairly indicated by the size of the
quick-growing umbrella and pepper-trees which had been planted for shade.
Thus all the mass of foliage rose like a mound of gentle slope toward the
centre of the town, where Jack saw vaguely the outlines of a rambling
bungalow, more spacious if no more pretentious than its neighbors in its
architecture. At a cement bridge over the ditch, leading to a broad
veranda under the soft illumination of a big, wrought-iron lantern, Mary
"This is home," she said; "and--and thank you!"
He could not see her face, which was in the shadow turned toward him, as
he looked into the light of the lantern from the other side of her pony.
It was as if she had been on the point of saying something else and
could not get the form of any sentence except these two words. Was there
anything further to say except "Thank you"? Anything but to repeat
There he stood, this stranger so correctly introduced by the Eternal
Painter, with his burden, waiting instructions in this moment of awkward
diffidence. He looked at her and at the porch and at his bundle of mail
in a quizzical appeal. Then she realized that, in a peculiar lapse of
abstraction, she had forgotten about his encumberment.
Before she could speak there was a sonorous hail from the house; a hail
in keeping with the generous bulk of its owner, who had come through the
door. He was well past middle-age, with a thatch of gray hair half
covering his high forehead. In one hand he held the book that he had been
reading, and in the other a pair of big tortoise-shell glasses.
"Mary, you are late--and what have we here?"
He was beaming at Jack as he came across the bridge and he broke into
hearty laughter as he viewed Jack's preoccupation with the
"At last! At last we have rural free delivery in Little Rivers! We are
the coming town! And your uniform, sir"--Jasper Ewold took in the cowboy
outfit with a sweeping glance which warmed with the picturesque
effect--"it's a great improvement on the regulation; fit for free
delivery in Little Rivers, where nobody studies to be unconventional in
any vanity of mistaking that for originality, but nobody need be
He took some of the cargo in his own hands. With the hearty breeze of his
personality he fairly blew Jack onto the porch, where magazines and
pamphlets were dropped indiscriminately in a pile on a rattan settee.
"You certainly have enough reading matter," said Jack. "And I must be
getting on to camp."
For he had no invitation to stay from Mary and the conventional fact
that he had to recognize is that a postman's call is not a social call.
As he turned to go he faced her coming across the bridge. An Indian
servant, who seemed to have materialized out of the night, had taken
charge of her pony.
"To camp! Never!" said Jasper Ewold. "Sir Knight, slip your lance in the
ring of the castle walls--but having no lance and this being no castle,
well, Sir Knight in _chaparejos_--that is to say, Sir Chaps--let me
inform you"--here Jasper Ewold threw back his shoulders and tossed his
mane of hair, his voice sinking to a serious basso profundo--"yes, inform
you, sir, that there is one convention, a local rule, that no stranger
crosses this threshold at dinner-time without staying to dinner." There
was a resonance in his tone, a liveliness to his expression, that was
"But Firio and Jag Ear and Wrath of God wait for me," Jack said, entering
with real enjoyment into the grandiose style.
"High sounding company, sir! Let me see them!" demanded Jasper Ewold.
Jack pointed to his cavalcade waiting in the half shadows, where the
lamp-rays grew thin. Wrath of God's bony face was pointed lugubriously
toward the door; Jag Ear was wiggling his fragment of ear.
"And Moses on the mountain-top says that you stay!" declared
Jack looked at Mary. She had not spoken yet and he waited on her word.
"Please do!" she said. "Father wants someone to talk to."
"Yes, Sir Chaps, I shall talk; otherwise, why was man given a tongue in
his head and ideas?"
Refusal was out of the question. Accordingly, Firio was sent on to make
"Now, Sir Chaps, now, Mr.--" began Jasper Ewold, pausing blankly. "Why,
Mary, you have not given me his city directory name!"
"Mr.--" and Mary blushed. She could only pass the, blame back to the
Eternal Painter's oversight in their introduction.
"Jack Wingfield!" said Jack, on his own account.
"Jack Wingfield!" repeated Jasper Ewold, tasting the name.
A flicker of surprise followed by a flicker of drawn intensity ran over
his features, and he studied Jack in a long glance, which he masked just
in time to save it from being a stare. Jack was conscious of the
scrutiny. He flushed slightly and waited for some word to explain it;
but none came. Jasper Ewold's Olympian geniality returned in a
"Come inside, Jack Wingfield," he said. "Come inside, Sir Chaps--for that
is how I shall call you."
The very drum-beat of hospitality was in his voice. It was a wonderful
voice, deep and warm and musical; not to be forgotten.
A SMILE AND A SQUARE CHIN
When a man comes to the door book in hand and you have the testimony of
the versatility and breadth of his reading in half a bushel of mail for
him, you expect to find his surroundings in keeping. But in Jasper
Ewold's living-room Jack found nothing of the kind.
Heavy, natural beams supported the ceiling. On the gray cement walls were
four German photographs of famous marbles. The Venus de Milo looked
across to the David of Michael Angelo; the Flying Victory across to
Rodin's Thinker. In the centre was a massive Florentine table, its broad
top bare except for a big ivory tusk paper-knife free from any mounting
of silver. On the shelf underneath were portfolios of the reproductions
An effect which at first was one of quiet spaciousness became impressive
and compelling. Its simplicity was without any of the artificiality that
sometimes accompanies an effort to escape over-ornamentation. No one
could be in the room without thinking through his eyes and with his
imagination. Wherever he sat he would look up to a masterpiece as the
sole object of contemplation.
"This is my room. Here, Mary lets me have my way," said Jasper Ewold.
"And it is not expensive."
"The Japanese idea of concentration," said Jack.
Jasper Ewold, who had been watching the effect of the room on Jack, as he
watched it on every new-comer, showed his surprise and pleasure that this
young man in cowboy regalia understood some things besides camps and
trails; and this very fact made him answer in the vigorous and enjoyed
combatancy of the born controversialist.
"Japanese? No!" he declared. "The little men with their storks and vases
have merely discovered to us in decoration a principle which was Greek in
a more majestic world than theirs. It was the true instinct of the
classic motherhood of our art before collectors mistook their residences
"And the books?" Jack asked, boyishly. "Where are they? Yes, what do you
do with all the second-class matter?"
The question was bait to Jasper Ewold. It gave him an opportunity for
"When I read I want nothing but a paper-cutter close at hand--a good, big
paper-cutter, whose own weight carries it through the leaves. And I want
to be alone with that book. If I am too lazy to go to the library for
another, then it is not worth reading. When I get head-achy with print
and look up, I don't want to stare at the backs of more books. I want
something to rest and fill the eye. I--"
"Father," Mary admonished him, "I fear this is going to be long. Why not
continue after Mr. Wingfield has washed off the dust of travel and we are
"Mary is merely jealous. She wants to hurry you to the dining-room, which
was designed to her taste," answered her father, with an affectation of
grand indignation. "The dust of travel here is clean desert dust--but I
admit that it is gritty. Come with me, Sir Chaps!"
He bade Jack precede him through a door diagonally opposite the one by
which he had entered from the veranda. On the other side Jack found
himself surrounded by walls of books, which formed a parallelogram around
a great deal table littered with magazines and papers. Here, indeed, the
printed word might riot as it pleased in the joyous variety and chaos of
that truly omnivorous reader of herbivorous capacity. Out of the library
Jack passed into Jasper Ewold's bedroom. It was small, with a soldier's
cot of exaggerated size that must have been built for his amplitude of
person, and it was bare of ornament except for an old ivory crucifix.
"There's a pitcher and basin, if you incline to a limited operation for
outward convention," said Jasper Ewold; "and through that door you will
find a shower, if you are for frank, unlimited submersion of the
"Have I time for the altogether?" Jack asked.
"When youth has not in this house, it marks a retrocession toward
barbarism for Little Rivers which I refuse to contemplate. Take your
shower, Sir Chaps, and"--a smile went weaving over the hills and valleys
of Jasper Ewold's face--"and, mind, you take off those grand boots or
they will get full of water! You will find me in the library when you are
through;" and, shaking with subterranean enjoyment of his own joke, he
closed the door.
Cool water from the bowels of the mountains fell on a figure as slender
as that of the great Michael's David pictured in the living-room; a
figure whose muscles ran rippling with leanness and suppleness, without
the bunching over-development of the athlete. He bubbled in shivery
delight with the first frigid sting of the downpour; he laughed in
ecstasy as he pulled the valve wide open, inviting a Niagara.
While he was still glowing with the rough intimacy of the towel, he
viewed the trappings thrown over the chair and his revolver holster on
the bureau in a sense of detachment, as if in the surroundings of
civilization some voice of civilization made him wish for flannels in
which to dine. Then there came a rap at the door, and an Indian appeared
with an envelope addressed in feminine handwriting. On the corner of the
page within was a palm-tree--a crest to which anybody who dwelt on the
desert might be entitled; and Jack read:
"DEAR MR. WINGFIELD:
"Please don't tell father about that horrible business on the pass. It
will worry him unnecessarily and might interfere with my afternoon rides,
which are everything to me. There is not the slightest danger in the
future. After this I shall always go armed.
The shower had put him in such lively humor that his answer was born in a
flash from memory of her own catechising of him on Galeria.
"First, I must ask if you know how to shoot," he scribbled beneath her
The Indian seemed hardly out of the doorway before he was back
with a reply:
"I do, or I would not go armed," it said.
She had capped his satire with satire whose prick was, somehow,
delicious. He regarded the sweep of her handwriting with a lingering
interest, studying the swift nervous strokes before he sent the note back
with still another postscript:
"Of course I had never meant to tell anybody," he wrote. "It is not a
thing to think of in that way."
This, he thought, must be the end of the correspondence; but he was
wrong. The peripatetic go-between reappeared, and under Jack's last
communication was written, "Thank you!" He could hardly write "Welcome!"
in return. It was strictly a case of nothing more to say by either
duelist. In an impulse he slipped the sheet, with its palm symbolic of
desert mystery and oasis luxuriance, into his pocket.
"Here I am in the midst of the shucks and biting into the meat of the
kernel," said Jasper Ewold, as Jack entered the library to find him
standing in the midst of wrappings which he had dropped on the floor;
"yes, biting into very rich meat."
He held up the book which was evidently the one that had balanced
uncertainly on the pile which Jack had brought from the post-office.
"Professor Giuccamini's researches! It is as interesting as a novel. But
come! You are hungry!"
Book in hand, and without removing his tortoise-shell spectacles, he
passed out into the garden at the rear. There a cloth was laid under
"In a country where it never rains," said the host, "where it is eternal
spring, walls to a house are conventions on which to stack books and hang
pictures. Mary has chosen nature for her decorative effect--cheaper,
even, than mine. In the distance is Galeria; in the foreground, what was
desert six years ago."
The overhead lamp deepened to purple the magenta of the bougainvillea
vines running up the pillars of the pavilion; made the adjacent rows of
peony blossoms a pure, radiant white; while beyond, in the shadows, was a
broad path between rows of young palms.
Mary appeared around a hedge which hid the open-air kitchen. The girl of
the gray riding-habit was transformed into a girl in white. Jack saw her
as a domestic being. He guessed that she had seen that the table was set
right; that she had had a look-in at the cooking; that the hands whose
boast it was that they could shoot, had picked the jonquils in the
slender bronze vase on the table.
"Father, there you are again, bringing a book to the dining-room against
the rules," she warned him; "against all your preachments about reading
"That's so, Mary," said Jasper Ewold, absently, regarding the book as if
some wicked genius had placed it in his hand quite unbeknown to him.
"But, Mary, it is Professor Giuccamini at last! Giuccamini that I have
waited for so long! I beg your pardon, Sir Chaps! When I have somebody to
talk to I stand doubly accused. Books at dinner! I descend into dotage!"
In disgust he started toward the house with the book. But in the very
doorway he paused and, reopening the book, turned three or four pages
with ravenous interest.
"Giuccamini and I agree!" he shouted. "He says there is no doubt that
Burlamacchi and Pico were correct. Cosmo de' Medici did call Savonarola
to his death-bed, and I am glad of it. I like good stories to turn out
true! But here I have a listener--a live listener, and I ramble on about
dead tyrants and martyrs. I apologize--I apologize!" and he disappeared
in the library.
"Father does not let me leave books in the living-room, which is his.
Why should he bring them to the dining-room, which is mine?" Mary
"There must be law in every household," Jack agreed.
"Yes, somebody fresh to talk to, at, around, and through!" called Jasper
Ewold, as he reappeared. "Yes, and over your head; otherwise I shall not
be flattered by my own conversation."
"He glories in being an intellectual snob," Mary said. "Please pretend at
times not to understand him."
"Thank you, Mary. You are the corrective that keeps my paternal
superiority in balance," answered her father, with a comprehending wave
of his hand indicating his sense of humor at the same time as playful
insistence on his role as forensic master of the universe.
How he did talk! He was a mill to which all intellectual grist was
welcome. Over its wheel the water ran now singing, again with the roar of
a cataract. He changed theme with the relish of one who rambles at will,
and the emotion of every opinion was written on the big expanse of his
features and enforced with gestures. He talked of George Washington, of
Andrea del Sarto, of melon-growing, trimming pepper-trees, the Divina
Commedia, fighting rose-bugs, of Schopenhauer and of Florence--a great
deal about Florence, a city that seemed to hang in his mind as a sort of
Renaissance background for everything else, even for melon-growing.
"You are getting over my head!" Jack warned him at times, politely.
"That is the trouble," said Jasper Ewold. "Consider the hardship of
being the one wise man in the world! I find it lonely, inconvenient,
stupefying. Why, I can't even convince Jim Galway that I know more about
dry farming than he!"
Jack listened raptly, his face glowing. Once, when he looked in his
host's direction suddenly, after speaking to Mary, he found that he was
the object of the same inquiring scrutiny that he had been on the porch.
In lulls he caught the old man's face in repose. It had sadness, then,
the sadness of wreckage; sadness against which he seemed to fence in his
wordy feints and thrusts.
"Christian civilization began in the Tuscan valley," the philosopher
proceeded, harking back to the book which had arrived by the evening's
mail. "Florence was a devil--Florence was divine. They raised geniuses
and devils and martyrs: the most cloud-topping geniuses, the worst
devils, the most saintly martyrs. But better than being a drone in a
Florence pension is all this"--with a wave of his hand to the garden and
the stars--"which I owe to Mary and the little speck on her lungs which
brought us here after--after we had found that we had not as much money
as we thought we had and an old fellow who had been an idling student,
mostly living abroad all his life, felt the cramp of the material facts
of board-and-clothes money. It made Mary well. It made me know the
fulness of wisdom of the bee and the ant, and it brought me back to the
spirit of America--the spirit of youth and accomplishment. Instead of
dreaming of past cities, I set out to make a city like a true American.
Here we came to camp in our first travelled delight of desert spaces for
her sake; and here we brought what was left of the fortune and started a
The spectator-philosopher attitude of audience to the world's stage
passed. He became the builder and the rancher, enthusiastically dwelling
on the growth of orchards and gardens in expert fondness. As Jack
listened, the fragrance of flowers was in his nostrils and in intervals
between Jasper Ewold's sentences he seemed to hear the rustle of borning
leaf-fronds breaking the silence. But the narrative was not an idyll.
Toil and patience had been the handmaidens of the fecundity of the soil.
Prosperity had brought an entail of problems. Jasper Ewold mentioned them
briefly, as if he would not ask a guest to share the shadows which they
brought to his brow.
"The honey of our prosperity brings us something besides the bees. It
brings those who would share the honey without work," said he. "It brings
the Bill Lang hive and Pete Leddy."
At the mention of the name, Jack's and Mary's glances met.
"You have promised not to tell," hers was saying.
"I will not," his was answering.
But clearly he had grasped the fact that Little Rivers was getting out of
its patron's hands, and every honest man in that community wanted to be
rid of Pete Leddy.
"I should think your old friend, Cosmo de' Medici, would have found a
way," Jack suggested.
"Cosmo is for talk," said Mary. "At heart father is a Quaker."
"Some are for lynching," said Jasper Ewold, thoughtfully. "Begin to
promote order with disorder and where will you end?" he inquired,
belligerently. "This is not the Middle Ages. This is the Little Rivers
Then, after a quotation from Cardinal Newman, which seemed pretty
far-fetched to deal with desert ruffians, he was away again, setting out
fruit trees and fighting the scale.
"And our Date Tree Wonderful!" he continued. "This year we get our first
fruit, unless the book is wrong. You cannot realize what this first-born
of promise means to Little Rivers. Under the magic of water it completes
the cycle of desert fecundity, from Scotch oats and Irish potatoes to the
Arab's bread. Bananas I do not include. Never where the banana grows has
there been art or literature, a good priesthood, unimpassioned
law-makers, honest bankers, or a noble knighthood. It is just a little
too warm. Here we can build a civilization which neither roasts us in
summer nor freezes us in winter."
There was a fluid magnetism in the rush of Jasper Ewold's junketing
verbiage which carried the listener on the bosom of a pleasant stream.
Jack was suddenly reminded that it must be very late and he had far
overstayed the retiring hour of the desert, where the Eternal Painter
commands early rising.
"Going--going so soon!" protested Jasper Ewold.
"So late!" Jack smiled back.
To prove that it was, he called attention to the fact, when they passed
through the living-room to the veranda, that not a light remained in any
"I have not started my talk yet," said Jasper. "But next time you come I
will really make a beginning--and you shall see the Date Tree Wonderful."
"I go by the morning train," Jack returned.
"So! so!" mused Jasper. "So! so!" he objected, but not gloomily. "I get a
good listener only to lose him!"
But Jack was hardly conscious of the philosopher's words. In that
interval he had still another glimpse of Mary's eyes without the veil and
saw deeper than he had before; saw vast solitudes, inviting yet offering
no invitation, where bright streams seemed to flash and sing under the
sunlight and then disappear in a desert. That was her farewell to the
easy traveller who had stopped to do her a favor on the trail. And he
seemed to ask nothing more in that spellbound second; nor did he after
the veil had fallen, and he acquitted himself of some spoken form of
thanks for an evening of happiness.
"A pleasant journey!" Mary said.
"Luck, Sir Chaps, luck!" called Jasper Ewold.
Jack's easy stride, as he passed out into the night, confirmed the last
glimpse of his smiling, whimsical "I don't care" attitude, which never
minded the danger sign on the precipice's edge.
"He does not really want to go back to New York," Mary remarked, and was
surprised to find that she had spoken her thought aloud.
"I hardly agree with that opinion," said her father absently, his
thoughts far afield from the fetter of his words. "But of one thing I am
sure, John Wingfield! A smile and a square chin!"
OBLIVION IS NOT EASY
"A smile and a square chin!" Mary repeated, as they went back into the
"Yes, hasn't he both, this Wingfield?" asked her father.
"This Wingfield"--on the finish of the sentence there was a halting,
appreciable accent. He moved toward the table with the listlessness of
some enormous automaton of a man to whom every step of existence was a
step in a treadmill. There was a heavy sadness about his features which
rarely came, and always startled her when it did come with a fear that
they had so set in gloom that they would never change. He raised his hand
to the wick screw of the lamp, waiting for her to pass through the room
before turning off the flame which bathed him in its rays, giving him the
effect of a Rodinesque incarnation of memory.
Any melancholy that beset him was her own enemy, to be fought and
cajoled. Mary slipped to his side, dropping her head on his shoulder and
patting his cheek. But this magic which had so frequently rallied him
brought only a transient, hazy smile and in its company what seemed a
"And you and he came down the pass together? Yes, yes!" he said. His tone
had the vagueness of one drawing in from the sea a net that seemed to
have no end.
Had Jack Wingfield been more than a symbol? Had he brought something
more than an expression of culture, manner, and ease of a past which
nothing could dim? Had he suggested some personal relation to that past
which her father preferred to keep unexplained? These questions crowded
into her mind speculatively. They were seeking a form of conveyance when
she realized that she had been adrift with imaginings. He was getting
older. She must expect his preoccupation and his absent-mindedness to
become more exacting.
"Yes, yes!" His voice had risen to its customary sonority; his eyes were
twinkling; all the hard lines had become benignant wrinkles of Olympian
charm. "Yes, yes! You and this funny tourist! What a desert it is! I
wonder--now, I wonder if he will go aboard the Pullman in that stage
costume. But come, come, Mary! It's bedtime for all pastoral workers and
subjects of the Eternal Painter. Off you go, or we shall be playing
blind-man's-buff in the dark!" He was chuckling as he turned down the
wick. "His enormous spurs, and Jag Ear and Wrath of God!" he said.
Her fancy ran dancing rejoicingly with his mood.
"Don't forget the name of his pony!" she called merrily from the stairs.
"P.D.!" said her father, with the disappointment of one tempted by a good
morsel which he finds tasteless. "There he seems to have descended to
alphabetic commonplace. No imagery in that!"
"He is a slow, reliable pony," put in Mary, "without the Q."
"Pretty Damn, without the Quick! Oh, I know slang!"
Jasper Ewold burst into laughter. It was still echoing through the house
when she entered her room. As it died away it seemed to sound hollow and
veiled, when the texture of sunny, transparent solidity in his laugh was
its most pronounced characteristic.
Probably this, too, was imagination, Mary thought. It had been an
overwrought day, whose events had made inconsiderable things supreme over
logic. She always slept well; she would sleep easily to-night, because it
was so late. But she found herself staring blankly into the darkness and
her thoughts ranging in a shuttle play of incoherency from the moment
that Leddy had approached her on the pass till a stranger, whom she never
expected to see again, walked away into the night. What folly! What folly
to keep awake over an incident of desert life! But was it folly? What
sublime egoism of isolated provincialism to imagine that it had been
anything but a great event! Naturally, quiet, desert nerves must still be
quivering after the strain. Inevitably, they would not calm instantly,
particularly as she had taken coffee for supper. She was wroth about the
coffee, though she had taken less than usual that evening.
She heard the clock strike one; she heard it strike two, and three. And
he, on his part--this Sir Chaps who had come so abruptly into her life
and evidently set old passions afire in her father's mind--of course he
was sleeping! That was the exasperating phlegm of him. He would sleep on
horseback, riding toward the edge of a precipice!
"A smile and a square chin--and dreamy vagueness," she kept repeating.
The details of the scene in the store recurred with a vividness which
counting a flock of sheep as they went over a stile or any other trick
for outwitting insomnia could not drive from her mind. Then Pete Leddy's
final look of defiance and Jack Wingfield's attitude in answer rose out
of the pantomime in merciless clearness.
All the indecisiveness of the interchange of guesses and rehearsed
impressions was gone. She got a message, abruptly and convincingly. This
incident of the pass was not closed. An ultimatum had been exchanged.
Death lay between these two men. Jack had accepted the issue.
The clock struck four and five. Before it struck again daylight would
have come; and before night came again, what? To lie still in the torment
of this new experience of wakefulness with its peculiar, half-recognized
forebodings, had become unbearable. She rose and dressed and went down
stairs softly, candle in hand, aware only that every agitated fibre of
her being was whipping her to action which should give some muscular
relief from the strain of her overwrought faculties. She would go into
the garden and walk there, waiting for sunrise. But at the edge of the
path she was arrested by a shadow coming from the servants'
sleeping-quarters. It was Ignacio, the little Indian who cared for her
horse, ran errands, and fought garden bugs for her--Ignacio, the
"Senorita! senorita!" he exclaimed, and his voice, vibrant with something
stronger than surprise, had a certain knowing quality, as if he
understood more than he dared to utter. "Senorita, you rise early!"
"Sometimes one likes to look at the morning stars," she remarked.
But there were no stars; only a pale moon, as Ignacio could see
"Senorita, that young man who was here and Pete Leddy--do you know,
"The young man who came down from the pass with me, you mean?" she asked,
inwardly shamed at her simulation of casual curiosity.
"Yes, he and Leddy--bad blood between them'" said Ignacio. "You no know,
senorita? They fight at daybreak."
The pantomime in the store, Jack's form disappearing with its easy step
into the night, analyzed in the light of this news became the natural
climax of a series of events all under the spell of fatality.
"Come, Ignacio!" she said. "We must hurry!" And she started around the
house toward the street.
WHAT HAPPENED AT LANG'S
While Jack had been playing the pioneer of rural free delivery in Little
Rivers, Pete Leddy, in the rear of Bill Lang's store, was refusing all
stimulants, but indulging in an unusually large cud of tobacco.
"Liquor ain't no help in drawing a bead," he explained to the loungers
who followed him through the door after Jack had gone.
If Pete did not want to drink it was not discreet to press him,
considering the mood he was in. The others took liberal doses, which
seemed only to heighten the detail of the drama which they had witnessed.
To Mary it had been all pantomime; to them it was dynamic with language.
It was something beyond any previous contemplation of possibility in
The store had been enjoying an average evening. All present were
expressing their undaunted faith in the invincibility of James J.
Jeffries, when a smiling stranger appeared in the doorway. He was dressed
like a regular cowboy dude. His like might have appeared on the stage,
but had never been known to get off a Pullman in Arizona. And the instant
he appeared, up flashed Pete Leddy's revolver.
The gang had often discussed when and how Pete would get his seventh
victim, and here they were about to be witnesses of the deed. Instinct
taught them the proper conduct on such occasions. The tenderfoot was as
good as dead; but, being a tenderfoot and naturally a bad shot and prone
to excitement, he might draw and fire wild. They ducked with the avidity
of woodchucks into their holes--all except Jim Galway, who remained
leaning against the counter.
"I gin ye warning!" they heard Pete say, and closed their eyes
involuntarily--all except Jim Galway--with their last impression the
tenderfoot's ingenuous smile and the gleam on Pete's gun-barrel. They
waited for the report, as Mary had, and then they heard steps and looked
up to see that dude tenderfoot, still smiling, going straight toward the
muzzle pointed at his head, his hands at his side in no attempt to draw.
The thing was incredible and supernatural.
"Pete is letting him come close first," they thought.
But there, unbelievable as it was, Pete was lowering his revolver and
the tenderfoot's hand was on his shoulder in a friendly, explanatory
position. Pete seemed in a trance, without will-power over his trigger
finger, and Pete was the last man in the world that you would expect
to lose his nerve. Jim Galway being the one calm observer, whose
vision had not been disturbed by precipitancy in taking cover, let us
have his version.
"He just walked over to Pete--that's all I can say--walked over to him,
simple and calm, like he was going to ask for a match. All I could think
of and see was his smile right into that muzzle and the glint in his
eyes, which were looking into Pete's. Someway you couldn't shoot into
that smile and that glint, which was sort of saying, 'Go ahead! I'm
leaving it to you and I don't care!'--just as if a flash of powder was
all the same to him as a flash of lightning."
The desert had given Jack life; and it would seem as if what the desert
had given, it might take away. He was not going to humble himself by
throwing up his arms or standing still for execution. He was on his way
into the store and he continued on his way. If something stopped him,
then he would not have to take the train East in the morning.
"Now if you want to kill me, Pete Leddy," the astonished group heard this
stranger say, "why, I'm not going to deny you the chance. But I don't
want you to do it just out of impulse, and I know that is not your own
reasoned way. You certainly would want sporting rules to prevail and that
I should have an equal chance of killing you. So we will go outside,
stand off any number of paces you say, let our gun-barrels hang down even
with the seams of our trousers, and wait for somebody to say 'one, two,
Not once had that peculiar smile faded from Jack's lips or the glint in
his eyes diverted from its probe of Leddy's eyes. His voice went well
with the smile and with an undercurrent of high voltage which seemed the
audible corollary of the glint. Every man knew that, despite his gay
adornment, he was not bluffing. He had made his proposition in deadly
earnest and was ready to carry it out. Pete Leddy shuffled and bit the
ends of his moustache, and his face was drawn and white and his shoulder
burning under the easy grip of Jack's hand. From the bore of the
unremitting glance that had confounded him he shifted his gaze
"Oh, h--l!" he said, and the tone, in its disgust and its attempt to
laugh off the incident, gave the simplicity of an exclamation from his
limited vocabulary its character. "Oh, h--l! I was just trying you out as
a tenderfoot--a little joke!"
At this, all the crowd laughed in an explosive breath of relief. The
inflection of the laugh made Pete go red and look challengingly from face
to face, with the result that all became piously sober.
"Then it is all right? I meant in no way to wound your feelings or even
your susceptibilities," said Jack; and, accepting the incident as closed,
he turned to the counter and asked for the Ewold mail.
Free from that smile and the glint of the eyes, Pete came to in a torrent
of reaction. He, with six notches on his gun-handle, had been trifled
with by a grinning tenderfoot. Rage mounted red to his brow. No man who
had humiliated him should live. He would have shot Jack in the back if it
had not been for Jim Galway, lean as a lath, lantern-jawed, with deep-set
blue eyes, his bearing different from that of the other loungers. Jim had
not joined in the laugh over Pete's explanation; he had remained
impassive through the whole scene; but the readiness with which he
knocked Leddy's revolver down showed that this immovability had let
nothing escape his quiet observation.
When Jack looked around and understood what had passed, his face
was without the smile. It was set and his body had stiffened free
of the counter.
"I'll take the gun away from him. It's high time somebody did,"
"I think you had better, if that is the only way that he knows how to
fight," said Jack. "I have wondered how he got the six. Presumably he
"To their faces, as I'll get you!" Leddy answered. "I'll play your way
now, one, two, three--fire!"
Galway, convinced that this stranger did not know how to shoot,
turned to Jack:
"It's not worth your being a target for a dead shot," he said.
"In the morning, yes," answered Jack; and he was smiling again in a way
that swept the audience with uncanniness. "But to-night I am engaged.
Make it early to-morrow, as I have to take the first train East."
"Well, are you going to let me go?" Leddy asked Jim, while he looked in
appeal to the loungers, who were his men.
"Yes, by all means," Jack told Galway. "And as I shall want a man with
me, may I rely on you? Four of us will be enough, with a fifth to give
"Ropey Smith can go with me," said Leddy.
It scarcely occurred to them to give the name of duel to this meeting,
which Jack held was the only fair way when one felt that he must have
satisfaction from an adversary in the form of death. An _arroyo_ a mile
from town was chosen and the time dawn, for a meeting which was to
reverse the ethics of that boasted fair-play in which the man who first
gets a bead is the hero.
"It seems a mediaeval day for me," Jack said, when the details were
concluded. "Good-night, gentlemen," he added, after Bill Lang, with
fingers that bungled from agitation, had filled his arms with
Jim Galway resumed his position, leaning against the counter watchfully
as the gang filed out to the rear to wet up, and in his right hand, which
was in his pocket, nestled an automatic pistol.
"I'd shot Pete Leddy dead--'twas the first real fair chance within the
law--so help me, God! I would," he thought, "if there had been time to
spare, and save that queer tenderfoot's life. And me a second in a
regular duel! Well, I'll be--but it ain't no regular duel. One of 'em is
going to drop--that is, the tenderfoot is. I don't just know how to line
him up. He beats me!"
ACCORDING TO CODE
It was the supreme moment of night before dawn. A violet mist shrouded
everything. The clamminess of the dew touched Mary's forehead and her
hand brushed the moisture-laden hedge as she left the Ewold yard. She
remembered that Jack had said that he would camp near the station, so
there was no doubt in which direction she should go. Hastening along the
silent street, it was easy for her to imagine that she and Ignacio were
the only sentient beings, abroad in a world that had stopped breathing.
Softly, impalpably, with both the graciousness of a host and the
determinedness of an intruder who will not be gainsaid, the first rays of
morning light filtered into the mist. The violet went pink. From pale
pink it turned to rose-pink; to the light of life which was as yet as
still as the light of the moon. The occasional giant cactus in the open
beyond the village outskirts ceased to be spectral.
For the first time Mary Ewold was in the presence of the wonder of
daybreak on the desert without watching for the harbinger of gold in the
V of the pass, with its revelation of a dome of blue where unfathomable
space had been. For the first time daybreak interested her only in
broadening and defining her vision of her immediate surroundings.
When the permeating softness suddenly yielded to full transparency,
spreading from the fanfare of the rising sun come bolt above the range,
and the mist rose, she left the road at sight of two ponies and a burro
in a group, their heads together in drooping fellowship. She knew them at
once for P.D., Wrath of God, and Jag Ear. Nearby rose a thin spiral of
smoke and back of it was a huddled figure, Firio, preparing the morning
meal. Animals and servant were as motionless as the cactus. Evidently
they did not hear her footsteps. They formed a picture of nightly
oblivion, unconscious that day had come. Firio's face was hidden by his
big Mexican hat; he did not look up even when she was near. She noted the
two blanket-rolls where the two comrades of the trail had slept. She saw
that both were empty and knew that Jack had already gone.
"Where is Mr. Wingfield?" she demanded, breathlessly.
Firio was not startled. To be startled was hardly in his Indian nature.
The hat tipped upward and under the brim-edge his black eyes gleamed, as
the sandy soil all around him gleamed in the dew. He shrugged his
shoulders when he recognized the lady speaking as the one who had delayed
him at the foot of the pass the previous afternoon. Thanks to her, he had
been left alone without his master the whole evening.
"He go to stretch his legs," answered Firio.
Apparently, Sir Chaps had been disinclined to disturb the routine of camp
by telling Firio anything about the duel.
"Where did he go? In which direction?" Mary persisted.
Firio moved the coffee-pot closer to the fire. This seemed to require
the concentration of all his faculties, including that of speech. He was
a fit servant for one who took duels so casually.
"Where? Where?" she repeated.
"Where? Have you no tongue?" snapped Ignacio.
Firio gazed all around as if looking for Jack; then nodded in the
direction of rising ground which broke at the edge of a depression about
fifty yards away. Her impatience had made the delay of a minute seem
hours, while the brilliance of the light had now become that of broad
day. She forgot all constraint. She ran, and as she ran she listened for
a shot as if it were something inevitable, past due.
And then she uttered a muffled cry of relief, as the scene in a
depression which had been the bed of an ancient river flashed before her
with theatric completeness. In the bottom of it were five men, two
moving and three stationary. Jim Galway and Ropey Smith were walking
side by side, keeping a measured step as they paced off a certain
distance, while Bill Lang and Pete Leddy and Jack stood by. Leddy and
Lang were watching the process inflexibly. Jack was in the costume which
had flushed her curiosity so vividly on the pass and he appeared the
same amused, disinterested and wondering traveller who had then come
upon strange doings.
She stopped, her temples throbbing giddily, her breaths coming in gasps;
stopped to gain mastery of herself before she decided what she would do
next. On the opposite bank of the _arroyo_ was a line of heads, like
those of infantry above a parapet, and she comprehended that, in the
same way that news of a cock-fight travels, the gallery gods of Little
Rivers had received a tip of a sporting event so phenomenal that it
changed the sluggards among them into early risers. They were making
themselves comfortable lying flat on their stomachs and exposing as
little as possible of their precious bodies to the danger of that
tenderfoot firing wild.
It was a great show, of which they would miss no detail; and all had
their interest whetted by some possible new complication of the plot when
they saw the tall, familiar figure of Jasper Ewold's daughter standing
against the skyline. She felt the greedy inquiry of their eyes; she
guessed their thoughts.
This new element of the situation swept her with a realization of the
punishment she must suffer for that chance meeting on Galeria and then
with resentful anger, which transformed Jack Wingfield's indifference to
Must she face that battery of leers from the town ruffians while she
implored a stranger, who had been nothing to her yesterday and would be
nothing tomorrow, to run away from a combat which was a creation of his
own stubbornness? She was in revolt against herself, against him, and
against the whole miserable business. If she proceeded, public opinion
would involve her in a sentimental interest in a stranger. She must live
with the story forever, while to an idle traveller it was only an
adventure at a way-station on his journey.
She had but to withdraw in feigned surprise from the sight of a scene
which she had come upon unawares and she would be free of any association
with it. For all Little Rivers knew that she was given to random walks
and rides. No one would be surprised that she was abroad at this early
hour. It would be ascribed to the nonsense which afflicted the Ewolds,
father and daughter, about sunrises.
Yes, she had been in a nightmare. With the light of day she was seeing
clearly. Had she not warned him about Leddy? Had not she done her part?
Should she submit herself to fruitless humiliation? Go to him in as much
distress as if his existence were her care? If he would not listen to her
yesterday, why should she expect him to listen to her now?
She would return to her garden. Its picture of content and isolation
called her away from the stare of the faces on the other bank. She turned
on her heel abruptly, took two or three spasmodic steps and stopped
suddenly, confronted with another picture--one of imagination--that of
Jack Wingfield lying dead. The recollection of a voice, the voice that
had stopped the approach of Leddy's passion-inflamed face to her own on
the pass, sounded in her ears.
She faced around, drawn by something that will and reason could not
overcome, to see that Jim Galway and Ropey Smith had finished their task
of pacing off the distance. The two combatants were starting for their
stations, their long shadows in the slant of the morning sunlight
travelling over the sand like pursuing spectres. Leddy went with the
quick, firm step which bespoke the keenness of his desire; Jack more
slowly, at a natural gait. His station was so near her that she could
reach him with a dozen steps. And he was whistling--the only sound in a
silence which seemed to stretch as far as the desert--whistling gaily in
apparent unconsciousness that the whole affair was anything but play.
The effect of this was benumbing. It made her muscles go limp. She sank
down for very want of strength to keep erect; and Ignacio, hardly
observed, keeping close to her dropped at her side.
"Ignacio, tell the young man, the one who was our guest last evening,
that I wish to see him!" she gasped.
With flickering, shrewd eyes Ignacio had watched her distress. He craved
the word that should call him to service and was off with a bound. His
rushing, agitated figure was precipitated into a scene hard set as men on
a chess-board in deadly serenity. Leddy and Jack, were already facing
"Senor! Senor!" Ignacio shouted, as he ran. "Senor Don't Care of the Big
The message which he had to give was his mistress's and, therefore,
nobody else's business. He rose on tiptoes to whisper it into Jack's
ear. Jack listened, with head bent to catch the words. He looked over to
Mary for an instant of intent silence and then raised his empty left
hand in signal.
"Sorry, but I must ask for a little delay!" he called to Leddy. His tone
was wonderful in its politeness and he bowed considerately to his
"I thought it was all bluff!" Leddy answered. "You'll get it,
though--you'll get it in the old way if you haven't the nerve to take it
"Really, I am stubbornly fond of my way," Jack said. "I shall be only a
minute. That will give you time to steady your nerves," he added, in the
encouraging, reassuring strain of a coach to a man going to the bat.
He was coming toward Mary with his easy, languid gait, radiant of casual
inquiry. The time of his steps seemed to be reckoned in succeeding
hammer-beats in her brain. He was coming and she had to find reasons to
keep him from going back; because if it had not been for her he would be
quite safe. Oh, if she could only be free of that idea of obligation to
him! All the pain, the confusion, the embarrassment was on her side. His
very manner of approach, in keeping with the whole story of his conduct
toward her, showed him incapable of such feelings. She had another
reaction. She devoutly wished that she had not sent for him.
Had not his own perversity taken his fate out of her hands? If he
preferred to die, why should it be her concern? Should she volunteer
herself as a rescuer of fools? The gleaming sand of the _arroyo_ rose in
a dazzling mist before her eyes, obscuring him, clothing him with the
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