The Light of Western Stars
Part 3 out of 8
The old cattleman ended huskily.
"Stillwell, by all means find Stewart, and do not wait to
straighten him up. Bring him to the ranch," replied Madeline.
Thanking her, Stillwell led his horse away.
"Strange how he loves that cowboy!" murmured Madeline.
"Not so strange, Majesty," replied her brother. "Not when you
know. Stewart has been with Stillwell on some hard trips into
the desert alone. There's no middle course of feeling between
men facing death in the desert. Either hey hate each other or
love each other. I don't know, but I imagine Stewart did
something for Stillwell--saved us life, perhaps. Besides,
Stewart's a lovable chap when he's going straight. I hope
Stillwell brings him back. We do need him, Majesty. He's a born
leader. Once I saw him ride into a bunch of Mexicans whom we
suspected of rustling. It was fine to see him. Well, I'm sorry
to tell you that we are worried about Don Carlos. Some of his
vaqueros came into my yard the other day when I had left Flo
alone. She had a bad scare. These vaqueros have been different
since Don Carlos sold the ranch. For that matter, I never would
have trusted a white woman alone with them. But they are bolder
now. Something's in the wind. They've got assurance. They can
ride off any night and cross the border."
During the succeeding week Madeline discovered that a good deal
of her sympathy for Stillwell in his hunt for the reckless
Stewart had insensibly grown to be sympathy for the cowboy. It
was rather a paradox, she thought, that opposed to the continual
reports of Stewart's wildness as he caroused from town to town
were the continual expressions of good will and faith and hope
universally given out by those near her at the ranch. Stillwell
loved the cowboy; Florence was fond of him; Alfred liked and
admired him, pitied him; the cowboys swore their regard for him
the more he disgraced himself. The Mexicans called him El Gran
Capitan. Madeline's personal opinion of Stewart had not changed
in the least since the night it had been formed. But certain
attributes of his, not clearly defined in her mind, and the gift
of his beautiful horse, his valor with the fighting rebels, and
all this strange regard for him, especially that of her brother,
made her exceedingly regret the cowboy's present behavior.
Meanwhile Stillwell was so earnest and zealous that one not
familiar with the situation would have believed he was trying to
find and reclaim his own son. He made several trips to little
stations in the valley, and from these he returned with a gloomy
face. Madeline got the details from Alfred. Stewart was going
from bad to worse--drunk, disorderly, savage, sure to land in the
penitentiary. Then came a report that hurried Stillwell off to
Rodeo. He returned on the third day, a crushed man. He bad been
so bitterly hurt that no one, not even Madeline, could get out of
him what had happened. He admitted finding Stewart, failing to
influence him; and when the old cattleman got so far he turned
purple in the face and talked to himself, as if dazed: "But Gene
was drunk. He was drunk, or he couldn't hev treated old Bill
Madeline was stirred with an anger toward the brutal cowboy that
was as strong as her sorrow for the loyal old cattleman. And it
was when Stillwell gave up that she resolved to take a hand. The
persistent faith of Stillwell, his pathetic excuses in the face
of what must have been Stewart's violence, perhaps baseness,
actuated her powerfully, gave her new insight into human nature.
She honored a faith that remained unshaken. And the strange
thought came to her that Stewart must somehow be worthy of such a
faith, or he never could have inspired it. Madeline discovered
that she wanted to believe that somewhere deep down in the most
depraved and sinful wretch upon earth there was some grain of
good. She yearned to have the faith in human nature that
Stillwell had in Stewart.
She sent Nels, mounted upon his own horse, and leading Majesty,
to Rodeo in search of Stewart. Nels had instructions to bring
Stewart back to the ranch. In due time Nels returned, leading
the roan without a rider.
"Yep, I shore found him," replied Nels, when questioned. "Found
him half sobered up. He'd been in a scrap, an' somebody hed put
him to sleep, I guess. Wal, when he seen thet roan hoss he let
out a yell an' grabbed him round the neck. The hoss knowed him,
all right. Then Gene hugged the hoss an' cried--cried like--I
never seen no one who cried like he did. I waited awhile, an'
was jest goin' to say somethin' to him when he turned on me
red-eyed, mad as fire. 'Nels,' he said, 'I care a hell of a lot
fer thet boss, an' I liked you pretty well, but if you don't take
him away quick I'll shoot you both.' Wal, I lit out. I didn't
even git to say howdy to him."
Nels, you think it useless--any attempt to see him--persuade
him?" asked Madeline.
"I shore do, Miss Hammond," replied Nels, gravely. "I've seen a
few sun-blinded an' locoed an' snake-poisoned an' skunk-bitten
cow-punchers in my day, but Gene Stewart beats 'em all. He's
shore runnin' wild fer the divide."
Madeline dismissed Nels, but before he got out of earshot she
heard him speak to Stillwell, who awaited him on the porch.
"Bill, put this in your pipe an' smoke it--none of them scraps
Gene has hed was over a woman! It used to be thet when he was
drank he'd scrap over every pretty Greaser girl he'd run across.
Thet's why Pat Hawe thinks Gene plugged the strange vaquero who
was with little Bonita thet night last fall. Wal, Gene's
scrappin' now jest to git shot up hisself, for some reason thet
only God Almighty knows."
Nels's story of how Stewart wept over his horse influenced
Madeline powerfully. Her next move was to persuade Alfred to see
if he could not do better with this doggedly bent cowboy. Alfred
needed only a word of persuasion, for he said he had considered
going to Rodeo of his own accord. He went, and returned alone.
"Majesty, I can't explain Stewart's singular actions," said
Alfred. "I saw him, talked with him. He knew me, but nothing I
said appeared to get to him. He has changed terribly. I fancy
his once magnificent strength is breaking. It--it actually hurt
me to look at him. I couldn't have fetched him back here--not as
he is now. I heard all about him, and if he isn't downright out
of his mind he's hell-bent, as Bill says, on getting killed.
Some of his escapades are--are not for your ears. Bill did all
any man could do for another. We've all done our best for
Stewart. If you'd been given a chance perhaps you could have
saved him. But it's too late. Put it out of mind now, dear."
Madeline, however, did not forget nor give it up. If she had
forgotten or surrendered, she felt that she would have been
relinquishing infinitely more than hope to aid one ruined man.
But she was at a loss to know what further steps to take. Days
passed, and each one brought additional gossip of Stewart's
headlong career toward the Yuma penitentiary. For he had crossed
the line into Cochise County, Arizona, where sheriffs kept a
stricter observance of law. Finally a letter came from a friend
of Nels's in Chiricahua saying that Stewart had been hurt in a
brawl there. His hurt was not serious, but it would probably
keep him quiet long enough to get sober, and this opportunity,
Nels's informant said, would be a good one for Stewart's friends
to take him home before he got locked up. This epistle inclosed a
letter to Stewart from his sister. Evidently, it had been found
upon him. It told a story of illness and made an appeal for aid.
Nels's friend forwarded this letter without Stewart's knowledge,
thinking Stillwell might care to help Stewart's family. Stewart
had no money, he said.
The sister's letter found its way to Madeline. She read it,
tears in her eyes. It told Madeline much more than its brief
story of illness and poverty and wonder why Gene had not written
home for so long. It told of motherly love, sisterly love,
brotherly love--dear family ties that had not been broken. It
spoke of pride in this El Capitan brother who had become famous.
It was signed "your loving sister Letty."
Not improbably, Madeline revolved in mind, this letter was one
reason for Stewart's headstrong, long-continued abasement. It
had been received too late--after he had squandered the money
that would have meant so much to mother and sister. Be that as
it might, Madeline immediately sent a bank-draft to Stewart's
sister with a letter explaining that the money was drawn in
advance on Stewart's salary. This done, she impulsively
determined to go to Chiricahua herself.
The horseback-rides Madeline had taken to this little Arizona
hamlet had tried her endurance to the utmost; but the journey by
automobile, except for some rocky bits of road and sandy
stretches, was comfortable, and a matter of only a few hours.
The big touring-car was still a kind of seventh wonder to the
Mexicans and cowboys; not that automobiles were very new and
strange, but because this one was such an enormous machine and
capable of greater speed than an express-train. The chauffeur
who had arrived with the car found his situation among the
jealous cowboys somewhat far removed from a bed of roses. He had
been induced to remain long enough to teach the operating and
mechanical technique of the car. And choice fell upon Link
Stevens, for the simple reason that of all the cowboys he was the
only one with any knack for mechanics. Now Link had been a
hard-riding, hard-driving cowboy, and that winter he had
sustained an injury to his leg, caused by a bad fall, and was
unable to sit his horse. This had been gall and wormwood to him.
But when the big white automobile came and he was elected to
drive it, life was once more worth living for him. But all the
other cowboys regarded Link and his machine as some correlated
species of demon. They were deathly afraid of both.
It was for this reason that Nels, when Madeline asked him to
accompany her to Chiricahua, replied, reluctantly, that he would
rather follow on his horse. However, she prevailed over his
hesitancy, and with Florence also in the car they set out. For
miles and miles the valley road was smooth, hard-packed, and
slightly downhill. And when speeding was perfectly safe,
Madeline was not averse to it. The grassy plain sailed backward
in gray sheets, and the little dot in the valley grew larger and
larger. From time to time Link glanced round at unhappy Nels,
whose eyes were wild and whose hands clutched his seat. While
the car was crossing the sandy and rocky places, going slowly,
Nels appeared to breathe easier. And when it stopped in the wide,
dusty street of Chiricahua Nels gladly tumbled out.
"Nels, we shall wait here in the car while you find Stewart,"
"Miss Hammond, I reckon Gene'll run when he sees us, if he's able
to run," replied Nels. "Wal, I'll go find him an' make up my
mind then what we'd better do."
Nels crossed the railroad track and disappeared behind the low,
flat houses. After a little time he reappeared and hurried up to
the car. Madeline felt his gray gaze searching her face.
"Miss Hammond, I found him," said Nels. "He was sleepin'. I
woke him. He's sober an' not bad hurt; but I don't believe you
ought to see him. Mebbe Florence -"
"Nels, I want to see him myself. Why not? What did he say when
you told him I was here?"
"Shore I didn't tell him that. I jest says, 'Hullo, Gene!' an'
he says, 'My Gawd! Nels! mebbe I ain't glad to see a human
bein'.' He asked me who was with me, an' I told him Link an'
some friends. I said I'd fetch them in. He hollered at thet.
But I went, anyway. Now, if you really will see him, Miss
Hammond, it's a good chance. But shore it's a touchy matter, an'
you'll be some sick at sight of him. He's layin' in a Greaser
hole over here. Likely the Greasers hev been kind to him. But
they're shore a poor lot."
Madeline did not hesitate a moment.
"Thank you, Nels. Take me at once. Come, Florence."
They left the car, now surrounded by gaping-eyed Mexican
children, and crossed the dusty space to a narrow lane between
red adobe walls. Passing by several houses, Nels stopped at the
door of what appeared to be an alleyway leading back. I was
"He's in there, around thet first corner. It's a patio, open an'
sunny. An', Miss Hammond, if you don't mind, I'll wait here for
you. I reckon Gene wouldn't like any fellers around when he sees
It was that which made Madeline hesitate then and go forward
slowly. She had given no thought at all to what Stewart might
feel when suddenly surprised by her presence.
"Florence, you wait also," said Madeline, at the doorway, and
turned in alone.
And she had stepped into a broken-down patio littered with
alfalfa straw and debris, all clear in the sunlight. Upon a
bench, back toward her, sat a man looking out through the rents
in the broken wall. He had not heard her. The place was not
quite so filthy and stifling as the passages Madeline had come
through to get there. Then she saw that it had been used as a
corral. A rat ran boldly across the dirt floor. The air swarmed
with flies, which the man brushed at with weary hand. Madeline
did not recognize Stewart. The side of his face exposed to her
gaze was black, bruised, bearded. His clothes were ragged and
soiled. There were bits of alfalfa in his hair. His shoulders
sagged. He made a wretched and hopeless figure sitting there.
Madeline divined something of why Nels shrank from being present.
"Mr. Stewart. It is I, Miss Hammond, come to see you," she said.
He grew suddenly perfectly motionless, as if he had been changed
to stone. She repeated her greeting.
His body jerked. He moved violently as if instinctively to turn
and face this intruder; but a more violent movement checked him.
Madeline waited. How singular that this ruined cowboy had pride
which kept him from showing his face! And was it not shame more
"Mr. Stewart, I have come to talk with you, if you will let me."
"Go away," he muttered.
"Mr. Stewart!" she began, with involuntary hauteur. But instantly
she corrected herself, became deliberate and cool, for she saw
that she might fail to be even heard by this man. "I have come
to help you. Will you let me?"
"For God's sake! You--you--" he choked over the words. "Go
"Stewart, perhaps it was for God's sake that I came," said
Madeline, gently. "Surely it was for yours--and your sister's -"
Madeline bit her tongue, for she had not meant to betray her
knowledge of Letty.
He groaned, and, staggering up to the broken wall, he leaned
there with his face hidden. Madeline reflected that perhaps the
slip of speech had been well.
"Stewart, please let me say what I have to say?"
He was silent. And she gathered courage and inspiration.
"Stillwell is deeply hurt, deeply grieved that he could not turn
you back from this--this fatal course. My brother is also. They
wanted to help you. And so do I. I have come, thinking somehow
I might succeed where they have failed. Nels brought your
sister's letter. I--I read it. I was only the more determined
to try to help you, and indirectly help your mother and Letty.
Stewart, we want you to come to the ranch. Stillwell needs you
for his foreman. The position is open to you, and you can name
your salary. Both Al and Stillwell are worried about Don Carlos,
the vaqueros, and the raids down along the border. My cowboys
are without a capable leader. Will you come?"
"No," he answered.
"But Stillwell wants you so badly."
"Stewart, I want you to come."
His replies had been hoarse, loud, furious. They disconcerted
Madeline, and she paused, trying to think of a way to proceed.
Stewart staggered away from the wall, and, falling upon the
bench, he hid his face in his hands. All his motions, like his
speech, had been violent.
"Will you please go away?" he asked.
"Stewart, certainly I cannot remain here longer if you insist
upon my going. But why not listen to me when I want so much to
help you? Why?"
"I'm a damned blackguard," he burst out. "But I was a gentleman
once, and I'm not so low that I can stand for you seeing me
"When I made up my mind to help you I made it up to see you
wherever you were. Stewart, come away, come back with us to the
ranch. You are in a bad condition now. Everything looks black
to you. But that will pass. When you are among friends again
you will get well. You will he your old self. The very fact that
you were once a gentleman, that you come of good family, makes
you owe so much more to yourself. Why, Stewart, think how young
you are! It is a shame to waste your life. Come back with me."
"Miss Hammond, this was my last plunge," he replied,
despondently. "It's too late."
"Oh no, it is not so bad as that."
"It's too late."
"At least make an effort, Stewart. Try!"
"No. There's no use. I'm done for. Please leave me--thank you
He had been savage, then sullen, and now he was grim. Madeline
all but lost power to resist his strange, deadly, cold finality.
No doubt he knew he was doomed. Yet something halted her--held
her even as she took a backward step. And she became conscious
of a subtle change in her own feeling. She had come into that
squalid hole, Madeline Hammond, earnest enough, kind enough in
her own intentions; but she had been almost imperious--a woman
habitually, proudly used to being obeyed. She divined that all
the pride, blue blood, wealth, culture, distinction, all the
impersonal condescending persuasion, all the fatuous philanthropy
on earth would not avail to turn this man a single hair's-breadth
from his downward career to destruction. Her coming had terribly
augmented his bitter hate of himself. She was going to fail to
help him. She experienced a sensation of impotence that amounted
almost to distress. The situation assumed a tragic keenness.
She had set forth to reverse the tide of a wild cowboy's
fortunes; she faced the swift wasting of his life, the damnation
of his soul. The subtle consciousness of change in her was the
birth of that faith she had revered in Stillwell. And all at once
she became merely a woman, brave and sweet and indomitable.
"Stewart, look at me," she said.
He shuddered. She advanced and laid a hand on his bent shoulder.
Under the light touch he appeared to sink.
"Look at me," she repeated.
But he could not lift his head. He was abject, crushed. He
dared not show his swollen, blackened face. His fierce, cramped
posture revealed more than his features might have shown; it
betrayed the torturing shame of a man of pride and passion, a man
who had been confronted in his degradation by the woman he had
dared to enshrine in his heart. It betrayed his love.
"Listen, then," went on Madeline, and her voice was unsteady.
"Listen to me, Stewart. The greatest men are those who have
fallen deepest into the mire, sinned most, suffered most, and
then have fought their evil natures and conquered. I think you
can shake off this desperate mood and be a man."
"No!" he cried.
"Listen to me again. Somehow I know you're worthy of Stillwell's
love. Will you come back with us--for his sake?"
"No. It's too late, I tell you."
"Stewart, the best thing in life is faith in human nature. I
have faith in you. I believe yen are worth it."
"You're only kind and good--saying that. You can't mean it."
"I mean it with all my heart," she replied, a sudden rich warmth
suffusing her body as she saw the first sign of his softening.
"Will you come back--if not for your own sake or Stillwell's--
then for mine?"
"What am I to such a woman as you?"
"A man in trouble, Stewart. But I have come to help you, to show
my faith in you."
"If I believed that I might try," he said.
"Listen," she began, softly, hurriedly. "My word is not lightly
given. Let it prove my faith in you. Look at me now and say you
He heaved up his big frame as if trying to cast off a giant's
burden, and then slowly he turned toward her. His face was a
blotched and terrible thing. The physical brutalizing marks were
there, and at that instant all that appeared human to Madeline
was the dawning in dead, furnace-like eyes of a beautiful light.
"I'll come," he whispered, huskily. "Give me a few days to
straighten up, then I'll come."
IX The New Foreman
Toward the end of the week Stillwell informed Madeline that
Stewart had arrived at the ranch and had taken up quarters with
"Gene's sick. He looks bad," said the old cattleman. "He's so
weak an' shaky he can't lift a cup. Nels says that Gene has hed
some bad spells. A little liquor would straighten him up now.
But Nels can't force him to drink a drop, an' has hed to sneak
some liquor in his coffee. Wal, I think we'll pull Gene through.
He's forgotten a lot. I was goin' to tell him what he did to me
up at Rodeo. But I know if he'd believe it he'd be sicker than
he is. Gene's losin' his mind, or he's got somethin' powerful
strange on it."
From that time Stillwell, who evidently found Madeline his most
sympathetic listener, unburdened himself daily of his hopes and
fears and conjectures.
Stewart was really ill. It became necessary to send Link Stevens
for a physician. Then Stewart began slowly to mend and presently
was able to get up and about. Stillwell said the cowboy lacked
interest and seemed to be a broken man. This statement, however,
the old cattleman modified as Stewart continued to improve. Then
presently it was a good augury of Stewart's progress that the
cowboys once more took up the teasing relation which had been
characteristic of them before his illness. A cowboy was indeed
out of sorts when he could not vent his. peculiar humor on
somebody or something. Stewart had evidently become a broad
target for their badinage.
"Wal, the boys are sure after Gene," said Stillwell, with his
huge smile. "Joshin' him all the time about how he sits around
an' hangs around an' loafs around jest to get a glimpse of you,
Miss Majesty. Sure all the boys hev a pretty bad case over their
pretty boss, but none of them is a marker to Gene. He's got it
so bad, Miss Majesty, thet he actooly don't know they are joshin'
him. It's the amazin'est strange thing I ever seen. Why, Gene
was always a feller thet you could josh. An' he'd laugh an' get
back at you. But he was never before deaf to talk, an' there was
a certain limit no feller cared to cross with him. Now he takes
every word an' smiles dreamy like, an' jest looks an' looks.
Why, he's beginnin' to make me tired. He'll never run thet bunch
of cowboys if he doesn't wake up quick."
Madeline smiled her amusement and expressed a belief that
Stillwell wanted too much in such short time from a man who had
done body and mind a grievous injury.
It had been impossible for Madeline to fail to observe Stewart's
singular behavior. She never went out to take her customary
walks and rides without seeing him somewhere in the distance.
She was aware that he watched for her and avoided meeting her.
When she sat on the porch during the afternoon or at sunset
Stewart could always be descried at some point near. He idled
listlessly in the sun, lounged on the porch of his bunk-house,
sat whittling the top bar of the corral fence, and always it
seemed to Madeline he was watching her. Once, while going the
rounds with her gardener, she encountered Stewart and greeted him
kindly. He said little, but he was not embarrassed. She did not
recognize in his face any feature that she remembered. In fact,
on each of the few occasions when she had met Stewart he had
looked so different that she had no consistent idea of his facial
appearance. He was now pale, haggard, drawn. His eyes held a
shadow through which shone a soft, subdued light; and, once
having observed this, Madeline fancied it was like the light in
Majesty's eyes, in the dumb, worshiping eyes of her favorite
stag-hound. She told Stewart that she hoped he would soon be in
the saddle again, and passed on her way.
That Stewart loved her Madeline could not help but see. She
endeavored to think of him as one of the many who, she was glad
to know, liked her. But she could not regulate her thoughts to
fit the order her intelligence prescribed. Thought of Stewart
dissociated itself from thought of the other cowboys. When she
discovered this she felt a little surprise and annoyance. Then
she interrogated herself, and concluded that it was not that
Stewart was so different from his comrades, but that
circumstances made him stand out from them. She recalled her
meeting with him that night when he bad tried to force her to
marry him. This was unforgetable in itself. She called
subsequent mention of him, and found it had been peculiarly
memorable. The man and his actions seemed to hinge on events.
Lastly, the fact standing clear of all others in its relation to
her interest was that he had been almost ruined, almost lost, and
she had saved him. That alone was sufficient to explain why she
thought of him differently. She had befriended, uplifted the
other cowboys; she had saved Stewart's life. To be sure, he had
been a ruffian, but a woman could not save the life of even a
ruffian without remembering it with gladness. Madeline at length
decided her interest in Stewart was natural, and that her deeper
feeling was pity. Perhaps the interest had been forced from her;
however, she gave the pity as she gave everything.
Stewart recovered his strength, though not in time to ride at the
spring round-up; and Stillwell discussed with Madeline the
advisability of making the cowboy his foreman.
"Wal, Gene seems to be gettin' along," said Stillwell. "But he
ain't like his old self. I think more of him at thet. But
where's his spirit? The boys'd ride rough-shod all over him.
Mebbe I'd do best to wait longer now, as the slack season is on.
All the same, if those vaquero of Don Carlos's don't lay low I'll
send Gene over there. Thet'll wake him up."
A few days afterward Stillwell came to Madeline, rubbing his big
hands in satisfaction and wearing a grin that was enormous.
"Miss Majesty, I reckon before this I've said things was amazin'
strange. But now Gene Stewart has gone an' done it! Listen to
me. Them Greasers down on our slope hev been gettin' prosperous.
They're growin' like bad weeds. An' they got a new padre--the
little old feller from El Cajon, Padre Marcos. Wal, this was all
right, all the boys thought, except Gene. An' he got blacker 'n
thunder an' roared round like a dehorned bull. I was sure glad
to see he could get mad again. Then Gene haids down the slope fer
the church. Nels an' me follered him, thinkin' he might hev been
took sudden with a crazy spell or somethin'. He hasn't never
been jest right yet since he left off drinkin'. Wal, we run into
him comin' out of the church. We never was so dumfounded in our
lives. Gene was crazy, all right--he sure hed a spell. But it
was the kind of a spell he hed thet paralyzed us. He ran past us
like a streak, an' we follered. We couldn't ketch him. We heerd
him laugh--the strangest laugh I ever heerd! You'd thought the
feller was suddenly made a king. He was like thet feller who was
tied in a bunyin'-sack an' throwed into the sea, an' cut his way
out, an' swam to the island where the treasures was, an' stood up
yellin', 'The world is mine.' Wal, when we got up to his
bunk-house he was gone. He didn't come back all day an' all
night. Frankie Slade, who has a sharp tongue, says Gene hed gone
crazy for liquor an' thet was his finish. Nels was some worried.
An' I was sick.
"Wal. this mawnin' I went over to Nels's bunk. Some of the
fellers was there, all speculatin' about Gene. Then big as life
Gene struts round the corner. He wasn't the same Gene. His face
was pale an' his eyes burned like fire. He had thet old mockin',
cool smile, an' somethin' besides thet I couldn't understand.
Frankie Slade up an' made a remark--no wuss than he'd been makin'
fer days--an' Gene tumbled him out of his chair, punched him
good, walked all over him. Frankie wasn't hurt so much as he was
bewildered. 'Gene,' he says, 'what the hell struck you?' An'
Gene says, kind of sweet like, 'Frankie, you may be a nice feller
when you're alone, but your talk's offensive to a gentleman.'
"After thet what was said to Gene was with a nice smile. Now,
Miss Majesty, it's beyond me what to allow for Gene's sudden
change. First off, I thought Padre Marcos had converted him. I
actooly thought thet. But I reckon it's only Gene Stewart come
back--the old Gene Stewart an' some. Thet's all I care about.
I'm rememberin' how I once told you thet Gene was the last of the
cowboys. Perhaps I should hev said he's the last of my kind of
cowboys. Wal, Miss Majesty, you'll be apprecatin' of what I
meant from now on."
It was also beyond Madeline to account for Gene Stewart's antics,
and, making allowance for the old cattle-man's fancy, she did not
weigh his remarks very heavily. She guessed why Stewart might
have been angry at the presence of Padre Marcos. Madeline
supposed that it was rather an unusual circumstance for a cowboy
to be converted to religious belief. But it was possible. And
she knew that religious fervor often manifested itself in
extremes of feeling and action. Most likely, in Stewart's case,
his real manner had been both misunderstood and exaggerated.
However, Madeline had a curious desire, which she did not wholly
admit to herself, to see the cowboy and make her own deductions.
The opportunity did not present itself for nearly two weeks.
Stewart had taken up his duties as foreman, and his activities
were ceaseless. He was absent most of the time, ranging down
toward the Mexican line. When he returned Stillwell sent for
This was late in the afternoon of a day in the middle of April.
Alfred and Florence were with Madeline on the porch. They saw the
cowboy turn his horse over to one of the Mexican boys at the
corral and then come with weary step up to the house, beating the
dust out of his gauntlets. Little streams of gray sand trickled
from his sombrero as he removed it and bowed to the women.
Madeline saw the man she remembered, but with a singularly
different aspect. His skin was brown; his eyes were piercing and
dark and steady; he carried himself erect; he seemed preoccupied,
and there was not a trace of embarrassment in his manner.
"Wal, Gene, I'm sure glad to see you," Stillwell was saying.
"Where do you hail from?"
"Guadaloupe Canon," replied the cowboy.
"Way down there! You don't mean you follered them hoss tracks
"All the way from Don Carlos's rancho across the Mexican line. I
took Nick Steele with me. Nick is the best tracker in the
outfit. This trail we were on led along the foothill valleys.
First we thought whoever made it was hunting for water. But they
passed two ranches without watering. At Seaton's Wash they dug
for water. Here they met a pack-train of burros that came down
the mountain trail. The burros were heavily loaded. Horse and
burro tracks struck south from Seaton's to the old California
emigrant road. We followed the trail through Guadelope Canon and
across the border. On the way back we stopped at Slaughter's
ranch, where the United States cavalry are camping. There we met
foresters from the Peloncillo forest reserve. If these fellows
knew anything they kept it to themselves. So we hit the trail
"Wal, I reckon you know enough?" inquired Stillwell, slowly.
"I reckon," replied Stewart.
"Wal, out with it, then," said Stillwell, gruffly. "Miss Hammond
can't be kept in the dark much longer. Make your report to her."
The cowboy shifted his dark gaze to Madeline. He was cool and
"We're losing a few cattle on the open range. Night-drives by the
vaqueros. Some of these cattle are driven across the valley,
others up to the foothills. So far as I can find out no cattle
are being driven south. So this raiding is a blind to fool the
cowboys. Don Carlos is a Mexican rebel. He located his rancho
here a few years ago and pretended to raise cattle. All that
time he has been smuggling arms and ammunition across the border.
He was for Madero against Diaz. Now he is against Madero because
he and all the rebels think Madero failed to keep his promises.
There will be another revolution. And all the arms go from the
States across the border. Those burros I told about were packed
with contraband goods."
"That's a matter for the United States cavalry. They are
patrolling the border," said Alfred.
"They can't stop the smuggling of arms, not down in that wild
corner," replied Stewart.
"What is my--my duty? What has it to do with me?" inquired
Madeline, somewhat perturbed.
"Wal, Miss Majesty, I reckon it hasn't nothing to do with you,"
put in Stillwell. "Thet's my bizness an' Stewart's. But I jest
wanted you to know. There might be some trouble follerin' my
"I want to send Stewart over to fire Don Carlos an' his vaqueros
off the range. They've got to go. Don Carlos is breakin' the
law of the United States, an' doin' it on our property an' with
our hosses. Hev I your permission, Miss Hammond?"
"Why, assuredly you have! Stillwell, you know what to do.
Alfred, what do you think best?"
"It'll make trouble, Majesty, but it's got to be done," replied
Alfred. "Here you have a crowd of Eastern friends due next
month. We want the range to ourselves then. But, Stillwell, if
you drive those vaqueros off, won't they hang around in the
foothills? I declare they are a bad lot."
Stillwell's mind was not at ease. He paced the porch with a
frown clouding his brow.
"Gene, I reckon you got this Greaser deal figgered better'n me,"
said Stillwell. "Now what do you say?"
"He'll have to be forced off," replied Stewart, quietly. The
Don's pretty slick, but his vaqueros are bad actors. It's just
this way. Nels said the other day to me, 'Gene, I haven't packed
a gun for years until lately, and it feels good whenever I meet
any of those strange Greasers.' You see, Stillwell, Don Carlos
has vaqueros coming and going all the time. They're guerrilla
bands, that's all. And they're getting uglier. There have been
several shooting-scrapes lately. A rancher named White, who
lives up the valley, was badly hurt. It's only a matter of time
till something stirs up the boys here. Stillwell, you know Nels
and Monty and Nick."
"Sure I know 'em. An' you're not mentionin' one more particular
cowboy in my outfit," said Stiliwell, with a dry chuckle and a
glance at Stewart.
Madeline divined the covert meaning, and a slight chill passed
over her, as if a cold wind had blown in from the hills.
"Stewart, I see you carry a gun," she said, pointing to a black
handle protruding from a sheath swinging low along his leather
"Why do you carry it?" she asked.
"Well," he said, "it's not a pretty gun--and it's heavy." She
caught the inference. The gun was not an ornament. His keen,
steady, dark gaze caused her vague alarm. What had once seemed
cool and audacious about this cowboy was now cold and powerful
and mystical. Both her instinct and her intelligence realized
the steel fiber of the man's nature. As she was his employer,
she had the right to demand that he should not do what was so
chillingly manifest that he might do. But Madeline could not
demand. She felt curiously young and weak, and the five months
of Western life were as if they had never been. She now had to
do with a question involving human life. And the value she
placed upon human life and its spiritual significance was a
matter far from her cowboy's thoughts. A strange idea flashed
up. Did she place too much value upon all human life? She
checked that, wondering, almost horrified at herself. And then
her intuition told her that she possessed a far stronger power to
move these primitive men than any woman's stern rule or order.
"Stewart, I do not fully understand what you hint that Nels and
his comrades might do. Please be frank with me. Do you mean
Nels would shoot upon little provocation?"
"Miss Hammond, as far as Nels is concerned, shooting is now just
a matter of his meeting Don Carlos's vaqueros. It's wonderful
what Nels has stood from them, considering the Mexicans he's
"Already killed! Stewart, you are not in earnest?" cried
"I am. Nels has seen hard life along the Arizona border. He
likes peace as well as any man. But a few years of that doesn't
change what the early days made of him. As for Nick Steele and
Monty, they're just bad men, and looking for trouble."
"How about yourself, Stewart? Stillwell's remark was not lost
upon me," said Madeline, prompted by curiosity.
Stewart did not reply. He looked at her in respectful silence.
In her keen earnestness Madeline saw beneath his cool exterior
and was all the more baffled. Was there a slight, inscrutable,
mocking light in his eyes, or was it only her imagination?
However, the cowboy's face was as hard as flint.
"Stewart, I have come to love my ranch," said Madeline, slowly,
"and I care a great deal for my--my cowboys. It would be
dreadful if they were to kill anybody, or especially if one of
them should be killed."
"Miss Hammond, you've changed things considerable out here, but
you can't change these men. All that's needed to start them is a
little trouble. And this Mexican revolution is bound to make
rough times along some of the wilder passes across the border.
We're in line, that's all. And the boys are getting stirred up."
"Very well, then, I must accept the inevitable. I am facing a
rough time. And some of my cowboys cannot be checked much
longer. But, Stewart, whatever you have been in the past, you
have changed." She smiled at him, and her voice was singularly
sweet and rich. "Stillwell has so often referred to you as the
last of his kind of cowboy. I have just a faint idea of what a
wild life you have led. Perhaps that fits you to be a leader of
such rough men. I am no judge of what a leader should do in this
crisis. My cowboys are entailing risk in my employ; my property
is not safe; perhaps my life even might be endangered. I want to
rely upon you, since Stillwell believes, and I, too, that you are
the man for this place. I shall give you no orders. But is it
too much to ask that you be my kind of a cowboy?"
Madeline remembered Stewart's former brutality and shame and
abject worship, and she measured the great change in him by the
contrast afforded now in his dark, changeless, intent face.
"Miss Hammond, what kind of a cowboy is that?" he asked.
"I--I don't exactly know. It is that kind which I feel you might
be. But I do know that in the problem at hand I want your
actions to be governed by reason, not passion. Human life is not
for any man to sacrifice unless in self-defense or in protecting
those dependent upon him. What Stillwell and you hinted makes me
afraid of Nels and Nick Steele and Monty. Cannot they be
controlled? I want to feel that they will not go gunning for Don
Carlos's men. I want to avoid all violence. And yet when my
guests come I want to feel that they will be safe from danger or
fright or even annoyance. May I not rely wholly upon you,
Stewart? Just trust you to manage these obstreperous cowboys and
protect my property and Alfred's, and take care of us--of me,
until this revolution is ended? I have never had a day's worry
since I bought the ranch. It is not that I want to shirk my
responsibilities; it is that I like being happy. May I put so
much faith in you?"
"I hope so, Miss Hammond," replied Stewart. It was an instant
response, but none the less fraught with consciousness of
responsibility. He waited a moment, and then, as neither
Stillwell nor Madeline offered further speech, he bowed and
turned down the path, his long spurs clinking in the gravel.
"Wal, wal," exclaimed Stillwell, "thet's no little job you give
him, Miss Majesty."
"It was a woman's cunning, Stillwell," said Alfred. "My sister
used to be a wonder at getting her own way when we were kids.
Just a smile or two, a few sweet words or turns of thought, and
she had what she wanted."
"Al, what a character to give me!" protested Madeline. "Indeed, I
was deeply in earnest with Stewart. I do not understand just
why, but I trust him. He seems like iron and steel. Then I was
a little frightened at the prospect of trouble with the vaqueros.
Both you and Stillwell have influenced me to look upon Stewart as
invaluable. I thought it best to confess my utter helplessness
and to look to him for support."
"Majesty, whatever actuated you, it was a stroke of diplomacy,"
replied her brother. "Stewart has got good stuff in him. He was
down and out. Well, he's made a game fight, and it looks as if
he'd win. Trusting him, giving him responsibility, relying upon
him, was the surest way to strengthen his hold upon himself.
Then that little touch of sentiment about being your kind of
cowboy and protecting you--well, if Gene Stewart doesn't develop
into an Argus-eyed knight I'll say I don't know cowboys. But,
Majesty, remember, he's a composite of tiger breed and forked
lightning, and don't imagine he has failed you if he gets into a
"I'll sure tell you what Gene Stewart will do," said Florence.
"Don't I know cowboys? Why, they used to take me up on their
horses when I was a baby. Gene Stewart will be the kind of
cowboy your sister said he might be, whatever that is. She may
not know and we may not guess, but he knows."
"Wal, Flo, there you hit plumb center," replied the old
cattleman. "An' I couldn't be gladder if he was my own son."
X Don Carlos's Vaqueros
Early the following morning Stewart, with a company of cowboys,
departed for Don Carlos's rancho. As the day wore on without any
report from him, Stillwell appeared to grow more at ease; and at
nightfall he told Madeline that he guessed there was now no
reason for concern.
"Wal, though it's sure amazin' strange," he continued, "I've been
worryin' some about how we was goin' to fire Don Carlos. But
Gene has a way of doin' things."
Next day Stillwell and Alfred decided to ride over Don Carlos's
place, taking Madeline and Florence with them, and upon the
return trip to stop at Alfred's ranch. They started in the cool,
gray dawn, and after three hours' riding, as the sun began to get
bright, they entered a mesquite grove, surrounding corrals and
barns, and a number of low, squat buildings and a huge, rambling
structure, all built of adobe and mostly crumbling to ruin. Only
one green spot relieved the bald red of grounds and walls; and
this evidently was made by the spring which had given both value
and fame to Don Carlos's range. The approach to the house was
through a wide courtyard, bare, stony, hard packed, with
hitching-rails and watering-troughs in front of a long porch.
Several dusty, tired horses stood with drooping heads and bridles
down, their wet flanks attesting to travel just ended.
"Wal, dog-gone it, Al, if there ain't Pat Hawe's hoss I'll eat
it," exclaimed Stillwell.
"What's Pat want here, anyhow?" growled Alfred.
No one was in sight; but Madeline heard loud voices coming from
the house. Stillwell dismounted at the porch and stalked in at
the door. Alfred leaped off his horse, helped Florence and
Madeline down, and, bidding them rest and wait on the porch, he
"I hate these Greaser places," said Florence, with a grimace.
"They're so mysterious and creepy. Just watch now! They'll be
dark-skinned, beady-eyed, soft-footed Greasers slip right up out
of the ground! There'll be an ugly face in every door and window
"It's like a huge barn with its characteristic odor permeated by
tobacco smoke," replied Madeline, sitting down beside Florence.
"I don't think very much of this end of my purchase. Florence,
isn't that Don Carlos's black horse over there in the corral?"
"It sure is. Then the Don's heah yet. I wish we hadn't been in
such a hurry to come over. There! that doesn't sound
From the corridor came the rattling of spurs, tramping of boots,
and loud voices. Madeline detected Alfred's quick notes when he
was annoyed: "We'll rustle back home, then," he said. The answer
came, "No!" Madeline recognized Stewart's voice, and she quickly
straightened up. "I won't have them in here," went on Alfred.
"Outdoors or in, they've got to be with us!" replied Stewart,
sharply. "Listen, Al," came the boom of Stillwell's big voice,
"now that we've butted in over hyar with the girls, you let
Stewart run things."
Then a crowd of men tramped pell-mell out upon the porch.
Stewart, dark-browed and somber, was in the lad. Nels hung close
to him, and Madeline's quick glance saw that Nels had undergone
some indescribable change. The grinning, brilliant-eyed Don
Carlos came jostling out beside a gaunt, sharp-featured man
wearing a silver shield. This, no doubt, was Pat Hawe. In the
background behind Stillwell and Alfred stood Nick Steele, head
and shoulders over a number of vaqueros and cowboys.
"Miss Hammond, I'm sorry you came," said Stewart, bluntly.
"We're in a muddle here. I've insisted that you and Flo be kept
close to us. I'll explain later. If you can't stop your ears I
beg you to overlook rough talk."
With that he turned to the men behind him: "Nick, take Booly, go
back to Monty and the boys. Fetch out that stuff. All of it.
Stillwell and Alfred disengaged themselves from the crowd to take
up positions in front of Madeline and Florence. Pat Hawe leaned
against a post and insolently ogled Madeline and then Florence.
Don Carlos pressed forward. His whole figure filled Madeline's
reluctant but fascinated eyes. He wore tight velveteen breeches,
with a heavy fold down the outside seam, which was ornamented
with silver buttons. Round his waist was a sash, and a belt with
fringed holster, from which protruded a pearl-handled gun. A
vest or waistcoat, richly embroidered, partly concealed a blouse
of silk and wholly revealed a silken scarf round his neck. His
swarthy face showed dark lines, like cords, under the surface.
His little eyes were exceedingly prominent and glittering. To
Madeline his face seemed to be a bold, handsome mask through
which his eyes piercingly betrayed the evil nature of the man.
He bowed low with elaborate and sinuous grace. His smile
revealed brilliant teeth, enhanced the brillance of his eyes. He
slowly spread deprecatory hands.
"Senoritas, I beg a thousand pardons," he said. How strange it
was for Madeline to hear English spoken in a soft, whiningly
sweet accent! "The gracious hospitality of Don Carlos has passed
with his house."
Stewart stepped forward and, thrusting Don Carlos aside, he
called, "Make way, there!"
The crowd fell back to the tramp of heavy boots. Cowboys appeared
staggering out of the corridor with long boxes. These they
placed side by side upon the floor of the porch.
"Now, Hawe, we'll proceed with our business," said Stewart. "You
see these boxes, don't you?"
"I reckon I see a good many things round hyar," replied Hawe,
"Well, do you intend to open these boxes upon my say-so?"
"No!" retorted Hawe. "It's not my place to meddle with property
as come by express an' all accounted fer regular."
"You call yourself a sheriff!" exclaimed Stewart, scornfully.
"Mebbe you'll think so before long," rejoined Hawe, sullenly.
"I'll open them. Here, one of you boys, knock the tops off these
boxes," ordered Stewart. "No, not you, Monty. You use your
eyes. Let Booly handle the ax. Rustle, now!"
Monty Price had jumped out of the crowd into the middle of the
porch. The manner in which he gave way to Booly and faced the
vaqueros was not significant of friendliness or trust.
"Stewart, you're dead wrong to bust open them boxes. Thet's
ag'in' the law," protested Hawe, trying to interfere.
Stewart pushed him back. Then Don Carlos, who had been stunned
by the appearance of the boxes, suddenly became active in speech
and person. Stewart thrust him back also. The Mexican's
excitement increased. He wildly gesticulated; he exclaimed
shrilly in Spanish. When, however, the lids were wrenched open
and an inside packing torn away he grew rigid and silent.
Madeline raised herself behind Stillwell to see that the boxes
were full of rifles and ammunition.
"There, Hawe! What did I tell you?" demanded Stewart. "I came
over here to take charge of this ranch. I found these boxes
hidden in an unused room. I suspected what they were. Contraband
"Wal, supposin' they are? I don't see any call fer sech
all-fired fuss as you're makin'. Stewart, I calkilate you're
some stuck on your new job an' want to make a big show before -"
"Hawe, stop slinging that kind of talk," interrupted Stewart.
"You got too free with your mouth once before! Now here, I'm
supposed to be consulting an officer of the law. Will you take
charge of these contraband goods?"
"Say, you're holdin' on high an' mighty," replied Hawe, in
astonishment that was plainly pretended. "What 're you drivin'
Stewart muttered an imprecation. He took several swift strides
across the porch; he held out his hands to Stillwell as if to
indicate the hopelessness of intelligent and reasonable
arbitration; he looked at Madeline with a glance eloquent of his
regret that he could not handle the situation to please her.
Then as he wheeled he came face to face with Nels, who had
slipped forward out of the crowd.
Madeline gathered serious import from the steel-blue meaning
flash of eyes whereby Nels communicated something to Stewart.
Whatever that something was, it dispelled Stewart's impatience.
A slight movement of his hand brought Monty Price forward with a
jump. In these sudden jumps of Monty's there was a suggestion of
restrained ferocity. Then Nels and Monty lined up behind
Stewart. It was a deliberate action, even to Madeline,
unmistakably formidable. Pat Hawe's face took on an ugly look;
his eyes had a reddish gleam. Don Carlos added a pale face and
extreme nervousness to his former expressions of agitation. The
cowboys edged away from the vaqueros and the bronzed, bearded
horsemen who were evidently Hawe's assistants.
"I'm driving at this," spoke up Stewart, presently; and now he
was slow and caustic. "Here's contraband of war! Hawe, do you
get that? Arms and ammunition for the rebels across the border!
I charge you as an officer to confiscate these goods and to
arrest the smuggler--Don Carlos."
These words of Stewart's precipitated a riot among Don Carlos and
his followers, and they surged wildly around the sheriff. There
was an upflinging of brown, clenching hands, a shrill, jabbering
babel of Mexican voices. The crowd around Don Carlos grew louder
and denser with the addition of armed vaqueros and barefooted
stable-boys and dusty-booted herdsmen and blanketed Mexicans, the
last of whom suddenly slipped from doors and windows and round
comers. It was a motley assemblage. The laced, fringed,
ornamented vaqueros presented a sharp contrast to the
bare-legged, sandal-footed boys and the ragged herders. Shrill
cries, evidently from Don Carlos, somewhat quieted the commotion.
Then Don Carlos could be heard addressing Sheriff Hawe in an
exhortation of mingled English and Spanish. He denied, he
avowed, he proclaimed, and all in rapid, passionate utterance.
He tossed his black hair in his vehemence; he waved his fists and
stamped the floor; he rolled his glittering eyes; he twisted his
thin lips into a hundred different shapes, and like a cornered
wolf showed snarling white teeth.
It seemed to Madeline that Don Carlos denied knowledge of the
boxes of contraband goods, then knowledge of their real contents,
then knowledge of their destination, and, finally, everything
except that they were there in sight, damning witnesses to
somebody's complicity in the breaking of neutrality laws.
Passionate as had been his denial of all this, it was as nothing
compared to his denunciation of Stewart.
"Senor Stewart, he keel my Vaquero!" shouted Don Carlos, as,
sweating and spent, he concluded his arraignment of the cowboy.
"Him you must arrest! Senor Stewart a bad man! He keel my
"Do you hear thet?" yelled Hawe. "The Don's got you figgered fer
thet little job at El Cajon last fall."
The clamor burst into a roar. Hawe began shaking his finger in
Stewart's face and hoarsely shouting. Then a lithe young
vaquero, swift as an Indian, glided under Hawe's uplifted arm.
Whatever the action he intended, he was too late for its
execution. Stewart lunged out, struck the vaquero, and knocked
him off the porch. As he fell a dagger glittered in the sunlight
and rolled clinking over the stones. The man went down hard and
did not move. With the same abrupt violence, and a manner of
contempt, Stewart threw Hawe off the porch, then Don Carlos, who,
being less supple, fell heavily. Then the mob backed before
Stewart's rush until all were down in the courtyard.
The shuffling of feet ceased, the clanking of spurs, and the
shouting. Nels and Monty, now reinforced by Nick Steele, were as
shadows of Stewart, so closely did they follow him. Stewart
waved them back and stepped down into the yard. He was absolutely
fearless; but what struck Madeline so keenly was his magnificent
disdain. Manifestly, he knew the nature of the men with whom he
was dealing. From the look of him it was natural for Madeline to
expect them to give way before him, which they did, even Hawe and
his attendants sullenly retreating.
Don Carlos got up to confront Stewart. The prostrate vaquero
stirred and moaned, but did not rise.
"You needn't jibber Spanish to me," said Stewart. "You can talk
American, and you can understand American. If you start a
rough-house here you and your Greasers will be cleaned up.
You've got to leave this ranch. You can have the stock, the
packs and traps in the second corral. There's grub, too. Saddle
up and hit the trail. Don Carlos, I'm dealing more than square
with you. You're lying about these boxes of guns and cartridges.
You're breaking the laws of my country, and you're doing it on
property in my charge. If I let smuggling go on here I'd be
implicated myself. Now you get off the range. If you don't I'll
have the United States cavalry here in six hours, and you can
gamble they'll get what my cowboys leave of you."
Don Carlos was either a capital actor and gratefully relieved at
Stewart's leniency or else he was thoroughly cowed by references
to the troops. "Si, Senor! Gracias, Senor!" he exclaimed; and
then, turning away, he called to his men. They hurried after
him, while the fallen vaquero got to his feet with Stewart's help
and staggered across the courtyard. In a moment they were gone,
leaving Hawe and his several comrades behind.
Hawe was spitefully ejecting a wad of tobacco from his mouth and
swearing in an undertone about "white-livered Greasers." He
cocked his red eye speculatively at Stewart.
"Wal, I reckon as you're so hell-bent on doin' it up brown thet
you'll try to fire me off'n the range, too?"
"If I ever do, Pat, you'll need to be carried off," replied
Stewart. "Just now I'm politely inviting you and your deputy
sheriffs to leave."
"We'll go; but we're comin' back one of these days, an' when we
do we'll put you in irons."
"Hawe, if you've got it in that bad for me, come over here in the
corral and let's fight it out."
"I'm an officer, an' I don't fight outlaws an' sich except when I
hev to make arrests."
"Officer! You're a disgrace to the county. If you ever did get
irons on me you'd take me some place out of sight, shoot me, and
then swear you killed me in self-defense. It wouldn't be the
first time you pulled that trick, Pat Hawe."
"Ho, ho!" laughed Hawe, derisively. Then he started toward the
Stewart's long arm shot out, his hand clapped on Hawe's shoulder,
spinning him round like a top.
"You're leaving, Pat, but before you leave you'll come out with
your play or you'll crawl," said Stewart. "You've got it in for
me, man to man. Speak up now and prove you're not the cowardly
skunk I've always thought you. I've called your hand."
Pat Hawe's face turned a blackish-purple hue.
"You can jest bet thet I've got it in fer you," he shouted,
hoarsely. "You're only a low-down cow-puncher. You never hed a
dollar or a decent job till you was mixed up with thet Hammond
Stewart's hand flashed out and hit Hawe's face in a ringing slap.
The sheriff's head jerked back, his sombrero fell to the ground.
As he bent over to reach it his hand shook, his arm shook, his
whole body shook.
Monty Price jumped straight forward and crouched down with a
strange, low cry.
Stewart seemed all at once rigid, bending a little.
"Say Miss Hammond, if there's occasion to use her name," said
Stewart, in a voice that seemed coolly pleasant, yet had a deadly
Hawe did a moment's battle with strangling fury, which he
conquered in some measure.
"I said you was a low-down, drunken cow-puncher, a tough as damn
near a desperado as we ever hed on the border," went on Hawe,
deliberately. His speech appeared to be addressed to Stewart,
although his flame-pointed eyes were riveted upon Monty Price.
"I know you plugged that vaquero last fall, an' when I git my
proof I'm comin' after you."
"That's all right, Hawe. You can call me what you like, and you
can come after me when you like," replied Stewart. "But you're
going to get in bad with me. You're in bad now with Monty and
Nels. Pretty soon you'll queer yourself with all the cowboys and
the ranchers, too. If that don't put sense into you-- Here,
listen to this. You knew what these boxes contained. You know
Don Carlos has been smuggling arms and ammunition across the
border. You know he is hand and glove with the rebels. You've
been wearing blinders, and it has been to your interest. Take a
hunch from me. That's all. Light out now, and the less we see of
your handsome mug the better we'll like you."
Muttering, cursing, pallid of face, Hawe climbed astride his
horse. His comrades followed suit. Certain it appeared that the
sheriff was contending with more than fear and wrath. He must
have had an irresistible impulse to fling more invective and
threat upon Stewart, but he was speechless. Savagely he spurred
his horse, and as it snorted and leaped he turned in his saddle,
shaking his fist. His comrades led the way, with their horses
clattering into a canter. They disappeared through the gate.
When, later in the day, Madeline and Florence, accompanied by
Alfred and Stillwell, left Don Carlos's ranch it was not any too
soon for Madeline. The inside of the Mexican's home was more
unprepossessing and uncomfortable than the outside. The halls
were dark, the rooms huge, empty, and musty; and there was an air
of silence and secrecy and mystery about them most fitting to the
character Florence had bestowed upon the place.
On the other hand, Alfred's ranch-house, where the party halted
to spend the night, was picturesquely located, small and cozy,
camplike in its arrangement, and altogether agreeable to
The day's long rides and the exciting events had wearied her.
She rested while Florence and the two men got supper. During the
meal Stillwell expressed satisfaction over the good riddance of
the vaqueros, and with his usual optimism trusted he had seen the
last of them. Alfred, too, took a decidedly favorable view of
the day's proceedings. However, it was not lost upon Madeline
that Florence appeared unusually quiet and thoughtful. Madeline
wondered a little at the cause. She remembered that Stewart had
wanted to come with them, or detail a few cowboys to accompany
them, but Alfred had laughed at the idea and would have none of
After supper Alfred monopolized the conversation by describing
what he wanted to do to improve his home before he and Florence
Then at an early hour they all retired.
Madeline's deep slumbers were disturbed by a pounding upon the
wall, and then by Florence's crying out in answer to a call:
"Get up! Throw some clothes on and come out!"
It was Alfred's voice.
"What's the matter?" asked Florence, as she slipped out of bed.
"Alfred, is there anything wrong?" added Madeline, sitting up.
The room was dark as pitch, but a faint glow seemed to mark the
position of the window.
"Oh, nothing much," replied Alfred. "Only Don Carlos's rancho
going up in smoke."
"Fire!" cried Florence, sharply.
"You'll think so when you see it. Hurry out. Majesty, old girl,
now you won't have to tear down that heap of adobe, as you
threatened. I don't believe a wall will stand after that fire."
"Well, I'm glad of it," said Madeline. "A good healthy fire will
purify the atmosphere over there and save me expense. Ugh! that
haunted rancho got on my nerves! Florence, I do believe you've
appropriated part of my riding-habit. Doesn't Alfred have lights
in this house?"
Florence laughingly helped Madeline to dress. Then they
hurriedly stumbled over chairs, and, passing through the
dining-room, went out upon the porch.
Away to the westward, low down along the horizon, she saw leaping
red flames and wind-swept columns of smoke.
Stillwell appeared greatly perturbed.
"Al, I'm lookin' fer that ammunition to blow up," he said.
"There was enough of it to blow the roof off the rancho."
"Bill, surely the cowboys would get that stuff out the first
thing," replied Alfred, anxiously.
"I reckon so. But all the same, I'm worryin'. Mebbe there
wasn't time. Supposin' thet powder went off as the boys was
goin' fer it or carryin' it out! We'll know soon. If the
explosion doesn't come quick now we can figger the boys got the
For the next few moments there was a silence of sustained and
painful suspense. Florence gripped Madeline's arm. Madeline
felt a fullness in her throat and a rapid beating of her heart.
Presently she was relieved with the others when Stillwell
declared the danger of an explosion needed to be feared no
"Sure you can gamble on Gene Stewart," he added.
The night happened to be partly cloudy, with broken rifts showing
the moon, and the wind blew unusually strong. The brightness of
the fire seemed subdued. It was like a huge bonfire smothered by
some great covering, penetrated by different, widely separated
points of flame. These corners of flame flew up, curling in the
wind, and then died down. Thus the scene was constantly changing
from dull light to dark. There came a moment when a blacker shade
overspread the wide area of flickering gleams and then
obliterated them. Night enfolded the scene. The moon peeped a
curved yellow rim from under broken clouds. To all appearances
the fire had burned itself out. But suddenly a pinpoint of light
showed where all had been dense black. It grew and became long
and sharp. It moved. It had life. It leaped up. Its color
warmed from white to red. Then from all about it burst flame on
flame, to leap into a great changing pillar of fire that climbed
high and higher. Huge funnels of smoke, yellow, black, white,
all tinged with the color of fire, slanted skyward, drifting away
on the wind.
"Wal, I reckon we won't hev the good of them two thousand tons of
alfalfa we was figgerin' on," remarked Stillwell.
"Ah! Then that last outbreak of fire was burning hay," said
Madeline. "I do not regret the rancho. But it's too bad to lose
such a quantity of good feed for the stock."
"It's lost, an' no mistake. The fire's dyin' as quick as she
flared up. Wal, I hope none of the boys got risky to save a
saddle or blanket. Monty--he's hell on runnin' the gantlet of
fire. He's like a boss that's jest been dragged out of a burnin'
stable an' runs back sure locoed. There! She's smolderin' down
now. Reckon we-all might jest as well turn in again. It's only
"I wonder how the fire originated?" remarked Alfred. "Some
careless cowboy's cigarette, I'll bet."
Stillwell rolled out his laugh.
"Al, you sure are a free-hearted, trustin' feller. I'm some
doubtin' the cigarette idee; but you can gamble if it was a
cigarette it belonged to a cunnin' vaquero, an' wasn't dropped
"Now, Bill, you don't mean Don Carlos burned the rancho?"
ejaculatcd Alfred, in mingled amaze and anger.
Again the old cattleman laughed.
"Powerful strange to say, my friend, ole Bill means jest thet."
"Of course Don Carlos set that fire," put in Florence, with
spirit. "Al, if you live out heah a hundred years you'll never
learn that Greasers are treacherous. I know Gene Stewart
suspected something underhand. That's why he wanted us to hurry
away. That's why he put me on the black horse of Don Carlos's.
He wants that horse for himself, and feared the Don would steal
or shoot him. And you, Bill Stillwell, you're as bad as Al. You
never distrust anybody till it's too late. You've been singing
ever since Stewart ordered the vaqueros off the range. But you
sure haven't been thinking."
"Wal, now, Flo, you needn't pitch into me jest because I hev a
natural Christian spirit," replied Stillwell, much aggrieved. "I
reckon I've hed enough trouble in my life so's not to go lookin'
fer more. Wal, I'm sorry about the hay burnin'. But mebbe the
boys saved the stock. An' as fer that ole adobe house of dark
holes an' under-ground passages, so long's Miss Majesty doesn't
mind, I'm darn glad it burned. Come, let's all turn in again.
Somebody'll ride over early an' tell us what's what."
Madeline awakened early, but not so early as the others, who were
up and had breakfast ready when she went into the dining-room.
Stillwell was not in an amiable frame of mind. The furrows of
worry lined his broad brow and he continually glanced at his
watch, and growled because the cowboys were so late in riding
over with the news. He gulped his breakfast, and while Madeline
and the others ate theirs he tramped up and down the porch.
Madeline noted that Alfred grew nervous and restless. Presently
he left the table to join Stillwell outside.
"They'll slope off to Don Carlos's rancho and leave us to ride
home alone," observed Florence.
"Do you mind?" questioned Madeline.
"No, I don't exactly mind; we've got the fastest horses in this
country. I'd like to run that big black devil off his legs. No,
I don't mind; but I've no hankering for a situation Gene Stewart
Florence began disconnectedly, and she ended evasively. Madeline
did not press the point, although she had some sense of
misgiving. Stillwell tramped in, shaking the floor with his huge
boots; Alfred followed him, carrying a field-glass.
"Not a hoss in sight," complained Stillwell. "Some-thin' wrong
over Don Carlos's way. Miss Majesty, it'll be jest as well fer
you an' Flo to hit the home trail. We can telephone over an' see
that the boys know you're comin'."
Alfred, standing in the door, swept the gray valley with his
"Bill, I see running stock-horses or cattle; I can't make out
which. I guess we'd better rustle over there."
Both men hurried out, and while the horses were being brought up
and saddled Madeline and Florence put away the breakfast-dishes,
then speedily donned spurs, sombreros, and gauntlets.
"Here are the horses ready," called Alfred. "Flo, that black
Mexican horse is a prince."
The girls went out in time to hear Stillwell's good-by as he
mounted and spurred away. Alfred went through the motions of
assisting Madeline and Florence to mount, which assistance they
always flouted, and then he, too, swung up astride.
"I guess it's all right," he said, rather dubiously. "You really
must not go over toward Don Carlos's. It's only a few miles
"Sure it's all right. We can ride, can't we?" retorted Florence.
"Better have a care for yourself, going off over there to mix in
goodness knows what."
Alfred said good-by, spurred his horse, and rode away.
"If Bill didn't forget to telephone!" exclaimed Florence. "I
declare he and Al were sure rattled."
Florence dismounted and went into the house. She left the door
open. Madeline had some difficulty in holding Majesty. It
struck Madeline that Florence stayed rather long indoors.
Presently she came out with sober face and rather tight lips.
"I couldn't get anybody on the 'phone. No answer. I tried a
"Why, Florence!" Madeline was more concerned by the girl's looks
than by the information she imparted.
"The wire's been cut," said Florence. Her gray glance swept
swiftly after Alfred, who was now far out of earshot. "I don't
like this a little bit. Heah's where I've got to 'figger,' as
She pondered a moment, then hurried into the house, to return
presently with the field-glass that Alfred had used. With this
she took a survey of the valley, particularly in the direction of
Madeline's ranch-house. This was hidden by low, rolling ridges
which were quite close by.
"Anyway, nobody in that direction can see us leave heah," she
mused. "There's mesquite on the ridges. We've got cover long
enough to save us till we can see what's ahead."
"Florence, what--what do you expect?" asked Madeline, nervously.
"I don't know. There's never any telling about Greasers. I wish
Bill and Al hadn't left us. Still, come to think of that, they
couldn't help us much in case of a chase. We'd run right away
from them. Besides, they'd shoot. I guess I'm as well as
satisfied that we've got the job of getting home on our own
hands. We don't dare follow Al toward Don Carlos's ranch. We
know there's trouble over there. So all that's left is to hit
the trail for home. Come, let's ride. You stick like a Spanish
needle to me."
A heavy growth of mesquite covered the top of the first ridge,
and the trail went through it. Florence took the lead,
proceeding cautiously, and as soon as she could see over the
summit she used the field-glass. Then she went on. Madeline,
following closely, saw down the slope of the ridge to a bare,
wide, grassy hollow, and onward to more rolling land, thick with
cactus and mesquite. Florence appeared cautious, deliberate, yet
she lost no time. She was ominously silent. Madeline's
misgivings took definite shape in the fear of vaqueros in ambush.
Upon the ascent of the third ridge, which Madeline remembered was
the last uneven ground between the point she had reached and
home, Florence exercised even more guarded care in advancing.
Before she reached the top of this ridge she dismounted, looped
her bridle round a dead snag, and, motioning Madeline to wait,
she slipped ahead through the mesquite out of sight. Madeline
waited, anxiously listening and watching. Certain it was that she
could not see or hear anything alarming. The sun began to have a
touch of heat; the morning breeze rustled the thin mesquite
foliage; the deep magenta of a cactus flower caught her eye; a
long-tailed, cruel-beaked, brown bird sailed so close to her she
could have touched it with her whip. But she was only vaguely
aware of these things. She was watching for Florence, listening
for some sound fraught with untoward meaning. All of a sudden
she saw Majesty's ears were held straight up. Then Florence's
face, now strangely white, showed round the turn of the trail.
" 'S-s-s-sh!" whispered Florence, holding up a warning finger.
She reached the black horse and petted him, evidently to still an
uneasiness he manifested. "We're in for it," she went on. "A
whole bunch of vaqueros hiding among the mesquite over the ridge!
They've not seen or heard us yet. We'd better risk riding ahead,
cut off the trail, and beat them to the ranch. Madeline, you're
white as death! Don't faint now!"
"I shall not faint. But you frighten me. Is there danger? What
shall we do?"
"There's danger. Madeline, I wouldn't deceive you," went on
Florence, in an earnest whisper. "Things have turned out just as
Gene Stewart hinted. Oh, we should--Al should have listened to
Gene! I believe--I'm afraid Gene knew!"
"Knew what?" asked Madeline.
"Never mind now. Listen. We daren't take the back trail. We'll
go on. I've a scheme to fool that grinning Don Carlos. Get
"Give me your white sweater. Take it off--And that white hat!
"Florence, what on earth do you mean?" cried Madeline.
"Not so loud," whispered the other. Her gray eyes snapped. She
had divested herself of sombrero and jacket, which she held out
to Madeline. "Heah. Take these. Give me yours. Then get up on
the black. I'll ride Majesty. Rustle now, Madeline. This is no
time to talk."
"But, dear, why--why do you want--? Ah! You're going to make
the vaqueros take you for me!"
"You guessed it. Will you--"
"I shall not allow you to do anything of the kind," returned
It was then that Florence's face, changing, took on the hard,
stern sharpness so typical of a cowboy's. Madeline had caught
glimpses of that expression in Alfred's face, and on Stewart's
when he was silent, and on Stillwell's always. It was a look of
iron and fire--unchangeable, unquenchable will. There was even
much of violence in the swift action whereby Florence compelled
Madeline to the change of apparel.
"It 'd been my idea, anyhow, if Stewart hadn't told me to do it,"
said Florence, her words as swift as her hands. "Don Carlos is
after you--you, Miss Madeline Hammond! He wouldn't ambush a
trail for any one else. He's not killing cowboys these days. He
wants you for some reason. So Gene thought, and now I believe
him. Well, we'll know for sure in five minutes. You ride the
black; I'll ride Majesty. We'll slip round through the brush,
out of sight and sound, till we can break out into the open.
Then we'll split. You make straight for the ranch. I'll cut
loose for the valley where Gene said positively the cowboys were
with the cattle. The vaqueros will take me for you. They all
know those striking white things you wear. They'll chase me.
They'll never get anywhere near me. And you'll be on a fast
horse. He can take you home ahead of any vaqueros. But you
won't be chased. I'm staking all on that. Trust me, Madeline.
If it were only my calculation, maybe I'd--It's because I
remember Stewart. That cowboy knows things. Come, this heah's
the safest and smartest way to fool Don Carlos." Madeline felt
herself more forced than persuaded into acquiescence. She
mounted the black and took up the bridle. In another moment she
was guiding her horse off the trail in the tracks of Majesty.
Florence led off at right angles, threading a slow passage
through the mesquite. She favored sandy patches and open aisles
between the trees, and was careful not to break a branch. Often
she stopped to listen. This detour of perhaps half a mile
brought Madeline to where she could see open ground, the
ranch-house only a few miles off, and the cattle dotting the
valley. She had not lost her courage, but it was certain that
these familiar sights somewhat lightened the pressure upon her
breast. Excitement gripped her. The shrill whistle of a horse
made both the black and Majesty jump. Florence quickened the
gait down the slope. Soon Madeline saw the edge of the brush, the
gray-bleached grass and level ground.
Florence waited at the opening between the low trees. She gave
Madeline a quick, bright glance.
"All over but the ride! That'll sure be easy. Bolt now and keep
When Florence wheeled the fiery roan and screamed in his ear
Madeline seemed suddenly to grow lax and helpless. The big horse
leaped into thundering action. This was memorable of Bonita of
the flying hair and the wild night ride. Florence's hair
streamed on the wind and shone gold in the sunlight. Yet
Madeline saw her with the same thrill with which she had seen the
wild-riding Bonita. Then hoarse shouts unclamped Madeline's
power of movement, and she spurred the black into the open.
He wanted to run and he was swift. Madeline loosened the reins--
laid them loose upon his neck. His action was strange to her.
He was hard to ride. But he was fast, and she cared for nothing
else. Madeline knew horses well enough to realize that the black
had found he was free and carrying a light weight. A few times
she took up the bridle and pulled to right or left, trying to
guide him. He kept a straight course, however, and crashed
through small patches of mesquite and jumped the cracks and
washes. Uneven ground offered no perceptible obstacle to his
running. To Madeline there was now a thrilling difference in the
lash of wind and the flash of the gray ground underneath. She
was running away from something; what that was she did not know.
But she remembered Florence, and she wanted to look back, yet
hated to do so for fear of the nameless danger Florence had
Madeline listened for the pounding of pursuing hoofs in her rear.
Involuntarily she glanced back. On the mile or more of gray
level between her and the ridge there was not a horse, a man, or
anything living. She wheeled to look back on the other side,
down the valley slope.
The sight of Florence riding Majesty in zigzag flight before a
whole troop of vaqueros blanched Madeline's cheek and made her
grip the pommel of her saddle in terror. That strange gait of
her roan was not his wonderful stride. Could Majesty be running
wild? Madeline saw one vaquero draw closer, whirling his lasso
round his head, but he did not get near enough to throw. So it
seemed to Madeline. Another vaquero swept across in front of the
first one. Then, when Madeline gasped in breathless expectancy,
the roan swerved to elude the attack. It flashed over Madeline
that Florence was putting the horse to some such awkward flight
as might have been expected of an Eastern girl frightened out of
her wits. Madeline made sure of this when, after looking again,
she saw that Florence, in spite of the horse's breaking gait and
the irregular course, was drawing slowly and surely down the
Madeline had not lost her head to the extent of forgetting her
own mount and the nature of the ground in front. When, presently,
she turned again to watch Florence, uncertainty ceased in her
mind. The strange features of that race between girl and
vaqueros were no longer in evidence. Majesty was in his
beautiful, wonderful stride, low down along the ground,
stretching, with his nose level and straight for the valley.
Between him and the lean horses in pursuit lay an ever-increasing
space. He was running away from the vaqueros. Florence was
indeed "riding the wind," as Stewart had aptly expressed his idea
of flight upon the fleet roan.
A dimness came over Madeline's eyes, and it was not all owing to
the sting of the wind. She rubbed it away, seeing Florence as a
flying dot in a strange blur. What a daring, intrepid girl!
This kind of strength--and aye, splendid thought for a weaker
sister--was what the West inculcated in a woman.
The next time Madeline looked back Florence was far ahead of her
pursuers and going out of sight behind a low knoll. Assured of
Florence's safety, Madeline put her mind to her own ride and the
possibilities awaiting at the ranch. She remembered the failure
to get any of her servants or cowboys on the telephone. To be
sure, a wind-storm had once broken the wire. But she had little
real hope of such being the case in this instance. She rode on,
pulling the black as she neared the ranch. Her approach was from
the south and off the usual trail, so that she went up the long
slope of the knoll toward the back of the house. Under these
circumstances she could not consider it out of the ordinary that
she did not see any one about the grounds.
It was perhaps fortunate for her, she thought, that the climb up
the slope cut the black's speed so she could manage him. He was
not very hard to stop. The moment she dismounted, however, he
jumped and trotted off. At the edge of the slope, facing the
corrals, he halted to lift his head and shoot up his ears. Then
he let out a piercing whistle and dashed down the lane.
Madeline, prepared by that warning whistle, tried to fortify
herself for a new and unexpected situation; but as she espied an
unfamiliar company of horsemen rapidly riding down a hollow
leading from the foothills she felt the return of fears gripping
at her like cold hands, and she fled precipitously into the
IX A Band of Guerrillas
Madeline bolted the door, and, flying into the kitchen, she told
the scared servants to shut themselves in. Then she ran to her
own rooms. It was only a matter of a few moments for her to
close and bar the heavy shutters, yet even as she was fastening
the last one in the room she used as an office a clattering roar
of hoofs seemed to swell up to the front of the house. She
caught a glimpse of wild, shaggy horses and ragged, dusty men.
She had never seen any vaqueros that resembled these horsemen.
Vaqueros had grace and style; they were fond of lace and glitter
and fringe; they dressed their horses in silvered trappings. But
the riders now trampling into the driveway were uncouth. lean,
savage. They were guerrillas, a band of the raiders who had been
harassing the border since the beginning of the revolution. A
second glimpse assured Madeline that they were not all Mexicans.
The presence of outlaws in that band brought home to Madeline her
real danger. She remembered what Stillwell had told her about
recent outlaw raids along the Rio Grande. These flying bands,
operating under the excitement of the revolution, appeared here
and there, everywhere, in remote places, and were gone as quickly
as they came. Mostly they wanted money and arms, but they would
steal anything, and unprotected women had suffered at their
Madeline, hurriedly collecting her securities and the
considerable money she had in her desk, ran out, closed and
locked the door, crossed the patio to the opposite side of the
house, and, entering again, went down a long corridor, trying to
decide which of the many unused rooms would be best to hide in.
And before she made up her mind she came to the last room. Just
then a battering on door or window in the direction of the
kitchen and shrill screams from the servant women increased
She entered the last room. There was no lock or bar upon the
door. But the room was large and dark, and it was half full of
bales of alfalfa hay. Probably it was the safest place in the
house; at least time would be necessary to find any one hidden
there. She dropped her valuables in a dark corner and covered
them with loose hay. That done, she felt her way down a narrow
aisle between the piled-up bales and presently crouched in a
With the necessity of action over for the immediate present,
Madeline became conscious that she was quivering and almost
breathless. Her skin felt tight and cold. There was a weight on
her chest; her mouth was dry, and she had a strange tendency to
swallow. Her listening faculty seemed most acute. Dull sounds
came from parts of the house remote from her. In the intervals
of silence between these sounds she heard the squeaking and
rustling of mice in the hay. A mouse ran over her hand.
She listened, waiting, hoping yet dreading to hear the clattering
approach of her cowboys. There would he fighting--blood--men
injured, perhaps killed. Even the thought of violence of any
kind hurt her. But perhaps the guerrillas would run in time to
avoid a clash with her men. She hoped for that, prayed for it.
Through her mind flitted what she knew of Nels, of Monty, of Nick
Steele; and she experienced a sensation that left her somewhat
chilled and sick. Then she thought of the dark-browed, fire-eyed
Stewart. She felt a thrill drive away the cold nausea. And her
Waiting, listening increased all her emotions. Nothing appeared
to be happening. Yet hours seemed to pass while she crouched
there. Had Florence been overtaken? Could any of those lean
horses outrun Majesty? She doubted it; she knew it could not be
true. Nevertheless, the strain of uncertainty was torturing.
Suddenly the bang of the corridor door pierced her through and
through with the dread of uncertainty. Some of the guerrillas
had entered the east wing of the house. She heard a babel of
jabbering voices, the shuffling of boots and clinking of spurs,
the slamming of doors and ransacking of rooms.
Madeline lost faith in her hiding-place. Morever, she found it
impossible to take the chance. The idea of being caught in that
dark room by those ruffians filled her with horror. She must get
out into the light. Swiftly she rose and went to the window. It
was rather more of a door than window, being a large aperture
closed by two wooden doors on hinges. The iron hook yielded
readily to her grasp, and one door stuck fast, while the other
opened a few inches. She looked out upon a green slope covered
with flowers and bunches of sage and bushes. Neither man nor
horse showed in the narrow field of her vision. She believed she
would be safer hidden out there in the shrubbery than in the
house. The jump from the window would be easy for her. And with
her quick decision came a rush and stir of spirit that warded off
She pulled at the door. It did not budge. It had caught at the
bottom. Pulling with all her might proved to be in vain.
Pausing, with palms hot and bruised, she heard a louder, closer
approach of the invaders of her home. Fear, wrath, and impotence
contested for supremacy over her and drove her to desperation.
She was alone here, and she must rely on herself. And as she
strained every muscle to move that obstinate door and heard the
quick, harsh voices of men and the sounds of a hurried search she
suddenly felt sure that they were hunting for her. She knew it.
She did not wonder at it. But she wondered if she were really
Madeline Hammond, and if it were possible that brutal men would
harm her. Then the tramping of heavy feet on the floor of the
adjoining room lent her the last strength of fear. Pushing with
hands and shoulders, she moved the door far enough to permit the
passage of her body. Then she stepped up on the sill and slipped
through the aperture. She saw no one. Lightly she jumped down
and ran in among the bushes. But these did not afford her the
cover she needed. She stole from one clump to another, finding
too late that she had chosen with poor judgment. The position of
the bushes had drawn her closer to the front of the house rather
than away from it, and just before her were horses, and beyond a
group of excited men. With her heart in her throat Madeline
A shrill yell, followed by running and mounting guerrillas,
roused her hope. They had sighted the cowboys and were in
flight. Rapid thumping of boots on the porch told of men
hurrying from the house. Several horses dashed past her, not ten
feet distant. One rider saw her, for he turned to shout back.
This drove Madeline into a panic. Hardly knowing what she did,
she began to run away from the house. Her feet seemed leaden.
She felt the same horrible powerlessness that sometimes came over
her when she dreamed of being pursued. Horses with shouting
riders streaked past her in the shrubbery. There was a thunder of
hoofs behind her. She turned aside, but the thundering grew
nearer. She was being run down.
As Madeline shut her eyes and, staggering, was about to fall,
apparently right under pounding hoofs, a rude, powerful hand
clapped round her waist, clutched deep and strong, and swung her
aloft. She felt a heavy blow when the shoulder of the horse
struck her, and then a wrenching of her arm as she was dragged
up. A sudden blighting pain made sight and feeling fade from
But she did not become unconscious to the extent that she lost
the sense of being rapidly borne away. She seemed to hold that
for a long time. When her faculties began to return the motion
of the horse was no longer violent. For a few moments she could
not determine her position. Apparently she was upside down.
Then she saw that she was facing the ground, and must be lying
across a saddle with her head hanging down. She could not move a
hand; she could not tell where her hands were. Then she felt the
touch of soft leather. She saw a high-topped Mexican boot,
wearing a huge silver spur, and the reeking flank and legs of a
horse, and a dusty, narrow trail. Soon a kind of red darkness
veiled her eyes, her head swam, and she felt motion and pain only
After what seemed a thousand weary hours some one lifted her from
the horse and laid her upon the ground, where, gradually, as the
blood left her head and she could see, she began to get the right
relation of things.
She lay in a sparse grove of firs, and the shadows told of late
afternoon. She smelled wood smoke, and she heard the sharp
crunch of horses' teeth nipping grass. Voices caused her to turn
her face. A group of men stood and sat round a camp-fire eating
like wolves. The looks of her captors made Madeline close her
eyes, and the fascination, the fear they roused in her made her
open them again. Mostly they were thin-bodied, thin-bearded
Mexicans, black and haggard and starved. Whatever they might be,
they surely were hunger-stricken and squalid. Not one had a
coat. A few had scarfs. Some wore belts in which were scattered
cartridges. Only a few had guns, and these were of diverse
patterns. Madeline could see no packs, no blankets, and only a
few cooking-utensils, all battered and blackened. Her eyes
fastened upon men she believed were white men; but it was from
their features and not their color that she judged. Once she had
seen a band of nomad robbers in the Sahara, and somehow was
reminded of them by this motley outlaw troop.
They divided attention between the satisfying of ravenous
appetites and a vigilant watching down the forest aisles. They
expected some one, Madeline thought, and, manifestly, if it were
a pursuing posse, they did not show anxiety. She could not
understand more than a word here and there that they uttered.
Presently, however, the name of Don Carlos revived keen curiosity
in her and realization of her situation, and then once more dread
possessed her breast.
A low exclamation and a sweep of arm from one of the guerrillas
caused the whole band to wheel and concentrate their attention in
the opposite direction. They heard something. They saw some one.
Grimy hands sought weapons, and then every man stiffened.
Madeline saw what hunted men looked like at the moment of
discovery, and the sight was terrible. She closed her eyes, sick
with what she saw, fearful of the moment when the guns would leap
There were muttered curses, a short period of silence followed by
whisperings, and then a clear voice rang out, "El Capitan!"
A strong shock vibrated through Madeline, and her eyelids swept
open. Instantly she associated the name El Capitan with Stewart
and experienced a sensation of strange regret. It was not
pursuit or rescue she thought of then, but death. These men
would kill Stewart. But surely he had not come alone. The lean,
dark faces, corded and rigid, told her in what direction to look.
She heard the slow, heavy thump of hoofs. Soon into the wide
aisle between the trees moved the form of a man, arms flung high
over his head. Then Madeline saw the horse, and she recognized
Majesty, and she knew it was really Stewart who rode the roan.
When doubt was no longer possible she felt a suffocating sense of
gladness and fear and wonder.
Many of the guerrillas leaped up with drawn weapons. Still
Stewart approached with his hands high, and he rode right into
the camp-fire circle. Then a guerrilla, evidently the chief,
waved down the threatening men and strode up to Stewart. He
greeted him. There was amaze and pleasure and respect in the
greeting. Madeline could tell that, though she did not know what
was said. At the moment Stewart appeared to her as cool and
careless as if he were dismounting at her porch steps. But when
he got down she saw that his face was white. He shook hands with
the guerrilla, and then his glittering eyes roved over the men
and around the glade until they rested upon Madeline. Without
moving from his tracks he seemed to leap, as if a powerful
current had shocked him. Madeline tried to smile to assure him
she was alive and well; but the intent in his eyes, the power of
his controlled spirit telling her of her peril and his, froze the
smile on her lips.
With that he faced the chief and spoke rapidly in the Mexican
jargon Madeline had always found so difficult to translate. The
chief answered, spreading wide his hands, one of which indicated
Madeline as she lay there. Stewart drew the fellow a little
aside and said something for his ear alone. The chief's hands
swept up in a gesture of surprise and acquiescence. Again
Stewart spoke swiftly. His hearer then turned to address the
band. Madeline caught the words "Don Carlos" and "pesos." There
was a brief muttering protest which the chief thundered down.
Madeline guessed her release had been given by this guerrilla and
bought from the others of the band.
Stewart strode to her side, leading the roan. Majesty reared and
snorted when he saw his mistress prostrate. Stewart knelt, still
holding the bridle.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"I think so," she replied, essaying a laugh that was rather a
failure. "My feet are tied."
Dark blood blotted out all the white from his face, and lightning
shot from his eyes. She felt his hands, like steel tongs,
loosening the bonds round her ankles. Without a word he lifted
her upright and then upon Majesty. Madeline reeled a little in
the saddle, held hard to the pommel with one band, and tried to
lean on Stewart's shoulder with the other.
"Don't give up," he said.
She saw him gaze furtively into the forest on all sides. And it
surprised her to see the guerrillas riding away. Putting the two
facts together, Madeline formed an idea that neither Stewart nor
the others desired to meet with some one evidently due shortly in
the glade. Stewart guided the roan off to the right and walked
beside Madeline, steadying her in the saddle. At first Madeline
was so weak and dizzy that she could scarcely retain her seat.
The dizziness left her presently, and then she made an effort to
ride without help. Her weakness, however, and a pain in her
wrenched arm made the task laborsome.
Stewart had struck off the trail, if there were one, and was
keeping to denser parts of the forest. The sun sank low, and the
shafts of gold fell with a long slant among the firs. Majesty's
hoofs made no sound on the soft ground, and Stewart strode on
without speaking. Neither his hurry nor vigilance relaxed until
at least two miles had been covered. Then he held to a straighter
course and did not send so many glances into the darkening woods.
The level of the forest began to be cut up by little hollows, all
of which sloped and widened. Presently the soft ground gave
place to bare, rocky soil. The horse snorted and tossed his
head. A sound of splashing water broke the silence. The hollow
opened into a wider one through which a little brook murmured its
way over the stones. Majesty snorted again and stopped and bent
"He wants a drink," said Madeline. "I'm thirsty, too, and very
Stewart lifted her out of the saddle, and as their hands parted
she felt something moist and warm. Blood was running down her
arm and into the palm of her hand.
"I'm--bleeding," she said, a little unsteadily. "Oh, I remember.
My arm was hurt."
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