The Light of Western Stars
Part 5 out of 8
feminine guests as they dismounted and went into the house.
Madeline lingered behind to speak with Stillwell and Stewart.
"Now, Stillwell, out with it," she said, briefly.
The cattleman stared, and then he laughed, evidently pleased with
"Wal, Miss Majesty, there's goin' to be a fight somewhere, an'
Stewart wanted to get you-all in before it come off. He says the
valley's overrun by vaqueros an' guerrillas an' robbers, an' Lord
knows what else."
He stamped off the porch, his huge spurs rattling, and started
down the path toward the waiting men.
Stewart stood in his familiar attentive position, erect, silent,
with a hand on pommel and bridle.
"Stewart, you are exceedingly--thoughtful of my interests," she
said, wanting to thank him, and not readily finding words. "I
would not know what to do without you. Is there danger?"
"I'm not sure. But I want to be on the safe side."
She hesitated. It was no longer easy for her to talk to him, and
she did not know why.
"May I know the special orders you gave Nels and Nick and Monty?"
"Who said I gave those boys special orders?"
"I heard Stillwell tell them so."
"Of course I'll tell you if you insist. But why should you worry
over something that'll likely never happen?"
"I insist, Stewart," she replied, quietly.
"My orders were that at least one of them must be on guard near
you day and night--never to be out of hearing of your voice."
"I thought as much. But why Nels or Monty or Nick? That seems
rather hard on them. For that matter, why put any one to keep
guard over me? Do you not trust any other of my cowboys?"
"I'd trust their honesty, but not their ability."
"Ability? Of what nature?"
"Stewart!" she exclaimed.
"Miss Hammond, you have been having such a good time entertaining
your guests that you forget. I'm glad of that. I wish you had
not questioned me."
"Don Carlos and his guerrillas."
"Indeed I have not forgotten. Stewart, you still think Don
Carlos tried to make off with me--may try it again?"
"I don't think. I know."
"And besides all your other duties you have shared the watch with
these three cowboys?"
"It has been going on without my knowledge?"
"Since I brought you down from the mountains last month."
"How long is it to continue?"
"That's hard to say. Till the revolution is over, anyhow."
She mused a moment, looking away to the west, where the great
void was filling with red haze. She believed implicitly in him,
and the menace hovering near her fell like a shadow upon her
"What must I do?" she asked.
"I think you ought to send your friends back East--and go with
them, until this guerrilla war is over."
"Why, Stewart, they would be broken-hearted, and so would I."
He had no reply for that.
"If I do not take your advice it will be the first time since I
have come to look to you for so much," she went on. "Cannot you
suggest something else? My friends are having such a splendid
visit. Helen is getting well. Oh, I should be sorry to see them
go before they want to."
"We might take them up into the mountains and camp out for a
while," he said, presently. "I know a wild place up among the
crags. It's a hard climb, but worth the work. I never saw a
more beautiful spot. Fine water, and it will be cool. Pretty
soon it'll be too hot here for your party to go out-of-doors."
"You mean to hide me away among the crags and clouds?" replied
Madeline, with a laugh.
"Well, it'd amount to that. Your friends need not know. Perhaps
in a few weeks this spell of trouble on the border will be over
"You say it's a hard climb up to this place?"
"It surely is. Your friends will get the real thing if they make
"That suits me. Helen especially wants something to happen. And
they are all crazy for excitement."
"They'd get it up there. Bad trails, canons to head, steep
climbs, wind-storms, thunder and lightning, rain, mountain-lions
"Very well, I am decided. Stewart, of course you will take
charge? I don't believe I--Stewart, isn't there something more
you could tell me--why you think, why you know my own personal
liberty is in peril?"
"Yes. But do not ask me what it is. If I hadn't been a rebel
soldier I would never have known."
"If you had not been a rebel soldier, where would Madeline
Hammond be now?" she asked, earnestly.
He made no reply.
"Stewart," she continued, with warm impulse, "you once mentioned
a debt you owed me--" And seeing his dark face pale, she
wavered, then went on. "It is paid."
"No, no," he answered, huskily.
"Yes. I will not have it otherwise."
"No. That never can be paid."
Madeline held out her hand.
"It is paid, I tell you," she repeated.
Suddenly he drew back from the outstretched white hand that
seemed to fascinate him.
"I'd kill a man to touch your hand. But I won't touch it on the
terms you offer."
His unexpected passion disconcerted her.
"Stewart, no man ever before refused to shake hands with me, for
any reason. It--it is scarcely flattering," she said, with a
little laugh. "Why won't you? Because you think I offer it as
mistress to servant--rancher to cowboy?"
"Then why? The debt you owed me is paid. I cancel it. So why
not shake hands upon it, as men do?"
"I won't. That's all."
"I fear you are ungracious, whatever your reason," she replied.
"Still, I may offer it again some day. Good night."
He said good night and turned. Madeline wonderingly watched him
go down the path with his hand on the black horse's neck.
She went in to rest a little before dressing for dinner, and,
being fatigued from the day's riding and excitement, she fell
asleep. When she awoke it was twilight. She wondered why her
Mexican maid had not come to her, and she rang the bell. The
maid did not put in an appearance, nor was there any answer to
the ring. The house seemed unusually quiet. It was a brooding
silence, which presently broke to the sound of footsteps on the
porch. Madeline recognized Stillwell's tread, though it appeared
to be light for him. Then she heard him call softly in at the
open door of her office. The suggestion of caution in his voice
suited the strangeness of his walk. With a boding sense of
trouble she hurried through the rooms. He was standing outside
her office door.
"Stillwell!" she exclaimed.
"Anybody with you?" he asked, in a low tone.
"Please come out on the porch," he added.
She complied, and, once out, was enabled to see him. His grave
face, paler than she had ever beheld it, caused her to stretch an
appealing hand toward him. Stillwell intercepted it and held it
in his own.
"Miss Majesty, I'm amazin' sorry to tell worrisome news." He
spoke almost in a whisper, cautiously looked about him, and
seemed both hurried and mysterious. "If you'd heerd Stewart cuss
you'd sure know how we hate to hev to tell you this. But it
can't be avoided. The fact is we're in a bad fix. If your
guests ain't scared out of their skins it'll be owin' to your
nerve an' how you carry out Stewart's orders."
"You can rely upon me," replied Madeline, firmly, though she
"Wal, what we're up against is this: that gang of bandits Pat
Hawe was chasin'--they're hidin' in the house!"
"In the house?" echoed Madeline, aghast.
"Miss Majesty, it's the amazin' truth, an' shamed indeed am I to
admit it. Stewart--why, he's wild with rage to think it could
hev happened. You see, it couldn't hev happened if I hedn't
sloped the boys off to the gol-lof-links, an' if Stewart hedn't
rid out on the mesa after us. It's my fault. I've hed too much
femininity around fer my old haid. Gene cussed me--he cussed me
sure scandalous. But now we've got to face it--to figger."
"Do you mean that a gang of hunted outlaws--bandits--have
actually taken refuge somewhere in my house?" demanded Madeline.
"I sure do. Seems powerful strange to me why you didn't find
somethin' was wrong, seem' all your servants hev sloped."
"Gone? Ah, I missed my maid! I wondered why no lights were lit.
Where did my servants go?"
"Down to the Mexican quarters, an' scared half to death. Now
listen. When Stewart left you an hour or so ago he follered me
direct to where me an' the boys was tryin' to keep Pat Hawe from
tearin' the ranch to pieces. At that we was helpin' Pat all we
could to find them bandits. But when Stewart got there he made a
difference. Pat was nasty before, but seein' Stewart made him
wuss. I reckon Gene to Pat is the same as red to a Greaser bull.
Anyway, when the sheriff set fire to an old adobe hut Stewart
called him an' called him hard. Pat Hawe hed six fellers with
him, an' from all appearances bandit-huntin' was some fiesta.
There was a row, an 'it looked bad fer a little. But Gene was
cool, an' he controlled the boys. Then Pat an' his tough
de-pooties went on huntin'. That huntin', Miss Majesty, petered
out into what was only a farce. I reckon Pat could hev kept on
foolin' me an' the boys, but as soon as Stewart showed up on the
scene--wal, either Pat got to blunderin' or else we-all shed our
blinders. Anyway, the facts stood plain. Pat Hawe wasn't lookin'
hard fer any bandits; he wasn't daid set huntin' anythin', unless
it was trouble fer Stewart. Finally, when Pat's men made fer our
storehouse, where we keep ammunition, grub, liquors, an' sich,
then Gene called a halt. An' he ordered Pat Hawe off the ranch.
It was hyar Hawe an' Stewart locked horns.
An' hyar the truth come out. There was a gang of bandits hid
somewheres, an' at fust Pat Hawe hed been powerful active an'
earnest in his huntin'. But sudden-like he'd fetched a pecooliar
change of heart. He had been some flustered with Stewart's eyes
a-pryin' into his moves, an' then, mebbe to hide somethin', mebbe
jest nat'rul, he got mad. He hollered law. He pulled down off
the shelf his old stock grudge on Stewart, accusin' him over
again of that Greaser murder last fall. Stewart made him look
like a fool--showed him up as bein' scared of the bandits or
hevin' some reason fer slopin' off the trail. Anyway, the row
started all right, an' but fer Nels it might hev amounted to a
fight. In the thick of it, when Stewart was drivin' Pat an' his
crowd off the place, one of them de-pooties lost his head an'
went fer his gun. Nels throwed his gun an' crippled the feller's
arm. Monty jumped then an' throwed two forty-fives, an' fer a
second or so it looked ticklish. But the bandit-hunters crawled,
an' then lit out."
Stillwell paused in the rapid delivery of his narrative; he still
retained Madeline's hand, as if by that he might comfort her.
"After Pat left we put our haids together," began the old
cattleman, with a long respiration. "We rounded up a lad who hed
seen a dozen or so fellers--he wouldn't to they was Greasers--
breakin' through the shrubbery to the back of the house. That
was while Stewart was ridin' out to the mesa. Then this lad seen
your servants all runnin' down the hill toward the village. Now,
heah's the way Gene figgers. There sure was some deviltry down
along the railroad, an' Pat Hawe trailed bandits up to the ranch.
He hunts hard an' then all to onct he quits. Stewart says Pat
Hawe wasn't scared, but he discovered signs or somethin', or got
wind in some strange way that there was in the gang of bandits
some fellers he didn't want to ketch. Sabe? Then Gene, quicker
'n a flash, springs his plan on me. He'd go down to Padre Marcos
an' hev him help to find out all possible from your Mexican
servants. I was to hurry up hyar an' tell you--give you orders,
Miss Majesty. Ain't that amazin' strange? Wal, you're to
assemble all your guests in the kitchen. Make a grand bluff an'
pretend, as your help has left, that it'll be great fun fer your
guests to cook dinner. The kitchen is the safest room in the
house. While you're joshin' your party along, makin' a kind of
picnic out of it, I'll place cowboys in the long corridor, an'
also outside in the corner where the kitchen joins on to the main
house. It's pretty sure the bandits think no one's wise to where
they're hid. Stewart says they're in that end room where the
alfalfa is, an' they'll slope in the night. Of course, with me
an' the boys watchin', you-all will be safe to go to bed. An'
we're to rouse your guests early before daylight, to hit the
trail up into the mountains. Tell them to pack outfits before
goin' to bed. Say as your servants hev sloped, you might as well
go campin' with the cowboys. That's all. If we hev any luck
your' friends'll never know they've been sittin' on a
"Stillwell, do you advise that trip up into the mountains?" asked
"I reckon I do, considerin' everythin'. Now, Miss Majesty, I've
used up a lot of time explainin'. You'll sure keep your nerve?"
"Yes," Madeline replied, and was surprised at herself. "Better
tell Florence. She'll be a power of comfort to you. I'm goin'
now to fetch up the boys."
Instead of returning to her room Madeline went through the office
into the long corridor. It was almost as dark as night. She
fancied she saw a slow-gliding figure darker than the surrounding
gloom; and she entered upon the fulfilment of her part of the
plan in something like trepidation. Her footsteps were
noiseless. Finding the door to the kitchen, and going in, she
struck lights. Upon passing out again she made certain she
discerned a dark shape, now motionless, crouching along the wall.
But she mistrusted her vivid imagination. It took all her
boldness to enable her unconcernedly and naturally to strike the
corridor light. Then she went on through her own rooms and
thence into the patio.
Her guests laughingly and gladly entered into the spirit of the
occasion. Madeline fancied her deceit must have been perfect,
seeing that it deceived even Florence. They trooped merrily into
the kitchen. Madeline, delaying at the door, took a sharp but
unobtrusive glance down the great, barnlike hall. She saw
nothing but blank dark space. Suddenly from one side, not a rod
distant, protruded a pale, gleaming face breaking the even
blackness. Instantly it flashed back out of sight. Yet that
time was long enough for Madeline to see a pair of glittering
eyes, and to recognize them as Don Carlos's.
Without betraying either hurry or alarm, she closed the door. It
had a heavy bolt which she slowly, noiselessly shot. Then the
cold amaze that had all but stunned her into inaction throbbed
into wrath. How dared that Mexican steal into her home! What
did he mean? Was he one of the bandits supposed to be hidden in
her house? She was thinking herself into greater anger and
excitement, and probably would have betrayed herself had not
Florence, who had evidently seen her bolt the door and now read
her thoughts, come toward her with a bright, intent, questioning
look. Madeline caught herself in time.
Thereupon she gave each of her guests a duty to perform. Leading
Florence into the pantry, she unburdened herself of the secret in
one brief whisper. Florence's reply was to point out of the
little open window, passing which was a file of stealthily moving
cowboys. Then Madeline lost both anger and fear, retaining only
the glow of excitement.
Madeline could be gay, and she initiated the abandonment of
dignity by calling Castleton into the pantry, and, while
interesting him in some pretext or other, imprinting the outlines
of her flour-covered hands upon the back of his black coat.
Castleton innocently returned to the kitchen to be greeted with a
roar. That surprising act of the hostess set the pace, and there
followed a merry, noisy time. Everybody helped. The
miscellaneous collection of dishes so confusingly contrived made
up a dinner which they all heartily enjoyed. Madeline enjoyed it
herself, even with the feeling of a sword hanging suspended over
The hour was late when she rose from the table and told her
guests to go to their rooms, don their riding-clothes, pack what
they needed for the long and adventurous camping trip that she
hoped would be the climax of their Western experience, and to
snatch a little sleep before the cowboys roused them for the
Madeline went immediately to her room, and was getting out her
camping apparel when a knock interrupted her. She thought
Florence had come to help her pack. But this knock was upon the
door opening out in the porch. It was repeated.
"Who's there?" she questioned.
"Stewart," came the reply.
She opened the door. He stood on the threshold. Beyond him,
indistinct in the gloom, were several cowboys.
"May I speak to you?" he asked.
"Certainly." She hesitated a moment, then asked him in and
closed the door. "Is--is everything all right?"
"No. These bandits stick to cover pretty close. They must have
found out we're on the watch. But I'm sure we'll get you and
your friends away before anything starts. I wanted to tell you
that I've talked with your servants. They were just scared.
They'll come back to-morrow, soon as Bill gets rid of this gang.
You need not worry about them or your property."
"Do you have any idea who is hiding in the house?"
"I was worried some at first. Pat Hawe acted queer. I imagined
he'd discovered he was trailing bandits who might turn out to be
his smuggling guerrilla cronies. But talking with your servants,
finding a bunch of horses upon hidden down in the mesquite behind
the pond--several things have changed my mind. My idea is that a
cowardly handful of riffraff outcasts from the border have hidden
in your house, more by accident than design. We'll let them go--
get rid of them without even a shot. If I didn't think so--well,
I'd be considerably worried. It would make a different state of
"Stewart, you are wrong," she said.
He started, but his reply did not follow swiftly. The expression
of his eyes altered. Presently he spoke:
"I saw one of these bandits. I distinctly recognized him."
One long step brought him close to her.
"Who was he?" demanded Stewart.
He muttered low and deep, then said, "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. I saw his figure twice in the hall, then his face
in the light. I could never mistake his eyes."
"Did he know you saw him?"
"I am not positive, but I think so. Oh, he must have known! I
was standing full in the light. I had entered the door, then
purposely stepped out. His face showed from around a corner, and
swiftly flashed out of sight."
Madeline was tremblingly conscious that Stewart underwent a
transformation. She saw as well as felt the leaping passion that
"Call your friends--get them in here!" he ordered, tersely, and
wheeled toward the door.
"Stewart, wait!" she said.
He turned. His white face, his burning eyes, his presence now
charged with definite, fearful meaning, influenced her strangely,
"What will you do?" she asked.
"That needn't concern you. Get your party in here. Bar the
windows and lock the doors. You'll be safe."
"Stewart! Tell me what you intend to do."
"I won't tell you," he replied, and turned away again.
"But I will know," she said. With a hand on his arm she detained
him. She saw how he halted--felt the shock in him as she touched
him. "Oh, I do know. You mean to fight!"
"Well, Miss Hammond, isn't it about time?" he asked. Evidently he
overcame a violent passion for instant action. There was
weariness, dignity, even reproof in his question. "The fact of
that Mexican's presence here in your house ought to prove to you
the nature of the case. These vaqueros, these guerrillas, have
found out you won't stand for any fighting on the part of your
men. Don Carlos is a sneak, a coward, yet he's not afraid to
hide in your own house. He has learned you won't let your
cowboys hurt anybody. He's taking advantage of it. He'll rob,
burn, and make off with you. He'll murder, too, if it falls his
way. These Greasers use knives in the dark. So I ask--isn't it
about time we stop him?"
"Stewart, I forbid you to fight, unless in self-defense. I
"What I mean to do is self-defense. Haven't I tried to explain
to you that just now we've wild times along this stretch of
border? Must I tell you again that Don Carlos is hand and glove
with the revolution? The rebels are crazy to stir up the United
States. You are a woman of prominence. Don Carlos would make
off with you. If he got you, what little matter to cross the
border with you! Well, where would the hue and cry go? Through
the troops along the border! To New York! To Washington! Why,
it would mean what the rebels are working for--United States
intervention. In other words, war!"
"Oh, surely you exaggerate!" she cried.
"Maybe so. But I'm beginning to see the Don's game. And, Miss
Hammond, I--It's awful for me to think what you'd suffer if Don
Carlos got you over the line. I know these low-caste Mexicans.
I've been among the peons--the slaves."
"Stewart, don't let Don Carlos get me," replied Madeline, in
She saw him shake, saw his throat swell as he swallowed hard, saw
the hard fierceness return to his face.
"I won't. That's why I'm going after him."
"But I forbade you to start a fight deliberately."
"Then I'll go ahead and start one without your permission," he
replied shortly, and again he wheeled.
This time, when Madeline caught his arm she held to it, even
after he stopped.
"No," she said, imperiously.
He shook off her hand and strode forward.
"Please don't go!" she called, beseechingly. But he kept on.
She ran ahead of him, intercepted him, faced him with her back
against the door. He swept out a long arm as if to brush her
aside. But it wavered and fell. Haggard, troubled, with working
face, he stood before her.
"It's for your sake," he expostulated.
"If it is for my sake, then do what pleases me."
"These guerrillas will knife somebody. They'll burn the house.
They'll make off with you. They'll do something bad unless we
"Let us risk all that," she importuned.
"But it's a terrible risk, and it oughtn't be run," he exclaimed,
passionately. "I know best here. Stillwell upholds me. Let me
out, Miss Hammond. I'm going to take the boys and go after these
"Good Heavens!" exclaimed Stewart. "Why not let me go? It's the
thing to do. I'm sorry to distress you and your guests. Why not
put an end to Don Carlos's badgering? Is it because you're
afraid a rumpus will spoil your friends' visit?"
"It isn't--not this time."
"Then it's the idea of a little shooting at these Greasers?"
"You're sick to think of a little Greaser blood staining the
halls of your home?"
"Well, then, why keep me from doing what I know is best?"
"Stewart, I--I--" she faltered, in growing agitation. "I'm
frightened--confused. All this is too--too much for me. I'm not
a coward. If you have to fight you'll see I'm not a coward. But
your way seems so reckless--that hall is so dark--the guerrillas
would shoot from behind doors. You're so wild, so daring, you'd
rush right into peril. Is that necessary? I think--I mean--I
don't know just why I feel so--so about you doing it. But I
believe it's because I'm afraid you--you might be hurt."
"You're afraid I--I might be hurt?" he echoed, wonderingly, the
hard whiteness of his face warming, flushing, glowing.
The single word, with all it might mean, with all it might not
mean, softened him as if by magic, made him gentle, amazed, shy
as a boy, stifling under a torrent of emotions.
Madeline thought she had persuaded him--worked her will with him.
Then another of his startlingly sudden moves told her that she
had reckoned too quickly. This move was to put her firmly aside
so he could pass; and Madeline, seeing he would not hesitate to
lift her out of the way, surrendered the door. He turned on the
threshold. His face was still working, but the flame-pointed
gleam of his eyes indicated the return of that cowboy
"I'm going to drive Don Carlos and his gang out of the house,"
declared Stewart. "I think I may promise you to do it without a
fight. But if it takes a fight, off he goes!"
XV The Mountain Trail
As Stewart departed from one door Florence knocked upon another;
and Madeline, far shaken out of her usual serenity, admitted the
cool Western girl with more than gladness. Just to have her near
helped Madeline to get back her balance. She was conscious of
Florence's sharp scrutiny, then of a sweet, deliberate change of
manner. Florence might have been burning with curiosity to know
more about the bandits hidden in the house, the plans of the
cowboys, the reason for Madeline's suppressed emotion; but
instead of asking Madeline questions she introduced the important
subject of what to take on the camping trip. For an hour they
discussed the need of this and that article, selected those
things most needful, and then packed them in Madeline's
That done, they decided to lie down, fully dressed as they were
in riding-costume, and sleep, or at least rest, the little
remaining time left before the call to saddle. Madeline turned
out the light and, peeping through her window, saw dark forms
standing sentinel-like in the gloom. When she lay down she heard
soft steps on the path. This fidelity to her swelled her heart,
while the need of it presaged that fearful something which, since
Stewart's passionate appeal to her, haunted her as inevitable.
Madeline did not expect to sleep, yet she did sleep, and it
seemed to have been only a moment until Florence called her. She
followed Florence outside. It was the dark hour before dawn.
She could discern saddled horses being held by cowboys. There
was an air of hurry and mystery about the departure. Helen, who
came tip-toeing out with Madeline's other guests, whispered that
it was like an escape. She was delighted. The others were
amused. To Madeline it was indeed an escape.
In the darkness Madeline could not see how many escorts her party
was to have. She heard low voices, the champing of bits and
thumping of hoofs, and she recognized Stewart when he led up
Majesty for her to mount. Then came a pattering of soft feet and
the whining of dogs. Cold noses touched her hands, and she saw
the long, gray, shaggy shapes of her pack of Russian wolf-hounds.
That Stewart meant to let them go with her was indicative of how
he studied her pleasure. She loved to be out with the hounds and
Stewart led Majesty out into the darkness past a line of mounted
"Guess we're ready?" he said. "I'll make the count." He went
back along the line, and on the return Madeline heard him say
several times, "Now, everybody ride close to the horse in front,
and keep quiet till daylight." Then the snorting and pounding of
the big black horse in front of her told Madeline that Stewart
"All right, we're off," he called.
Madeline lifted Majesty's bridle and let the roan go. There was a
crack and crunch of gravel, fire struck from stone, a low whinny,
a snort, and then steady, short, clip-clop of iron hoofs on hard
ground. Madeline could just discern Stewart and his black
outlined in shadowy gray before her. Yet they were almost within
touching distance. Once or twice one of the huge stag-hounds
leaped up at her and whined joyously. A thick belt of darkness
lay low, and seemed to thin out above to a gray fog, through
which a few wan stars showed. It was altogether an unusual
departure from the ranch; and Madeline, always susceptible even
to ordinary incident that promised well, now found herself
thrillingly sensitive to the soft beat of hoofs, the feel of
cool, moist air, the dim sight of Stewart's dark figure. The
caution, the early start before dawn, the enforced silence--these
lent the occasion all that was needful to make it stirring.
Majesty plunged into a gully, where sand and rough going made
Madeline stop romancing to attend to riding. In the darkness
Stewart was not so easy to keep close to even on smooth trails,
and now she had to be watchfully attentive to do it. Then
followed a long march through dragging sand. Meantime the
blackness gradually changed to gray. At length Majesty climbed
out of the wash, and once more his iron shoes rang on stone. He
began to climb. The figure of Stewart and his horse loomed more
distinctly in Madeline's sight. Bending over, she tried to see
the trail, but could not. She wondered how Stewart could follow
a trail in the dark. His eyes must be as piercing as they
sometimes looked. Over her shoulder Madeline could not see the
horse behind her, but she heard him.
As Majesty climbed steadily Madeline saw the gray darkness grow
opaque, change and lighten, lose its substance, and yield the
grotesque shapes of yucca and ocotillo. Dawn was about to break.
Madeline imagined she was facing east, still she saw no
brightening of sky. All at once, to her surprise, Stewart and
his powerful horse stood clear in her sight. She saw the
characteristic rock and cactus and brush that covered the
foothills. The trail was old and seldom used, and it zigzagged
and turned and twisted. Looking back, she saw the short, squat
figure of Monty Price humped over his saddle. Monty's face was
hidden under his sombrero. Behind him rode Dorothy Coombs, and
next loomed up the lofty form of Nick Steele. Madeline and the
members of her party were riding between cowboy escorts.
Bright daylight came, and Madeline saw the trail was leading up
through foothills. It led in a round-about way through shallow
gullies full of stone and brush washed down by floods. At every
turn now Madeline expected to come upon water and the waiting
pack-train. But time passed, and miles of climbing, and no water
or horses were met. Expectation in Madeline gave place to
desire; she was hungry.
Presently Stewart's horse went splashing into a shallow pool.
Beyond that damp places in the sand showed here and there, and
again more water in rocky pockets. Stewart kept on. It was eight
o'clock by Madeline's watch when, upon turning into a wide
hollow, she saw horses grazing on spare grass, a great pile of
canvas-covered bundles, and a fire round which cowboys and two
Mexican women were busy.
Madeline sat her horse and reviewed her followers as they rode up
single file. Her guests were in merry mood, and they all talked
"Breakfast--and rustle," called out Stewart, without ceremony.
"No need to tell me to rustle," said Helen. "I am simply
ravenous. This air makes me hungry."
For that matter, Madeline observed Helen did not show any marked
contrast to the others. The hurry order, however, did not
interfere with the meal being somewhat in the nature of a picnic.
While they ate and talked and laughed the cowboys were packing
horses and burros and throwing the diamond-hitch, a procedure so
interesting to Castleton that he got up with coffee-cup in hand
and tramped from one place to another.
"Heard of that diamond-hitch-up," he observed to a cowboy.
"Bally nice little job!"
As soon as the pack-train was in readiness Stewart started it off
in the lead to break trail. A heavy growth of shrub interspersed
with rock and cactus covered the slopes; and now all the trail
appeared to be uphill. It was not a question of comfort for
Madeline and her party, for comfort was impossible; it was a
matter of making the travel possible for him. Florence wore
corduroy breeches and high-top boots, and the advantage of this
masculine garb was at once in evidence. The riding-habits of the
other ladies suffered considerably from the sharp spikes. It
took all Madeline's watchfulness to save her horse's legs, to
pick the best bits of open ground, to make cut-offs from the
trail, and to protect herself from outreaching thorny branches,
so that the time sped by without her knowing it. The pack-train
forged ahead, and the trailing couples grew farther apart. At
noon they got out of the foothills to face the real ascent of the
mountains. The sun beat down hot. There was little breeze, and
the dust rose thick and hung in a pall. The view was restricted,
and what scenery lay open to the eye was dreary and drab, a
barren monotony of slow-mounting slopes ridged by rocky canons.
Once Stewart waited for Madeline, and as she came up he said:
"We're going to have a storm."
"That will be a relief. It's so hot and dusty," replied
"Shall I call a halt and make camp?"
"Here? Oh no! What do you think best?"
"Well, if we have a good healthy thunder-storm it will be
something new for your friends. I think we'd be wise to keep on
the go. There's no place to make a good camp. The wind would
blow us off this slope if the rain didn't wash us off. It'll
take all-day travel to reach a good camp-site, and I don't
promise that. We're making slow time. If it rains, let it rain.
The pack outfit is well covered. We will have to get wet."
"Surely," replied Madeline; and she smiled at his inference. She
knew what a storm was in that country, and her guests had yet to
experience one. "If it rains, let it rain."
Stewart rode on, and Madeline followed. Up the slope toiled and
nodded the pack-animals, the little burros going easily where the
horses labored. Their packs, like the humps of camels, bobbed
from side to side. Stones rattled down; the heat-waves wavered
black; the dust puffed up and sailed. The sky was a pale blue,
like heated steel, except where dark clouds peeped over the
mountain crests. A heavy, sultry atmosphere made breathing
difficult. Down the slope the trailing party stretched out in
twos and threes, and it was easy to distinguish the weary riders.
Half a mile farther up Madeline could see over the foothills to
the north and west and a little south, and she forgot the heat
and weariness and discomfort for her guests in wide, unlimited
prospects of sun-scorched earth. She marked the gray valley and
the black mountains and the wide, red gateway of the desert, and
the dim, shadowy peaks, blue as the sky they pierced. She was
sorry when the bleak, gnarled cedar-trees shut off her view.
Then there came a respite from the steep climb, and the way led
in a winding course through a matted, storm-wrenched forest of
stunted trees. Even up to this elevation the desert reached with
its gaunt hand. The clouds overspreading the sky, hiding the
sun, made a welcome change. The pack-train rested, and Stewart
and Madeline waited for the party to come up. Here he briefly
explained to her that Don Carlos and his bandits had left the
ranch some time in the night. Thunder rumbled in the distance,
and a faint wind rustled the scant foliage of the cedars. The
air grew oppressive; the horses panted.
"Sure it'll be a hummer," said Stewart. "The first storm almost
always is bad. I can feel it in the air."
The air, indeed, seemed to be charged with a heavy force that was
waiting to be liberated.
One by one the couples mounted to the cedar forest, and the
feminine contingent declaimed eloquently for rest. But there was
to be no permanent rest until night and then that depended upon
reaching the crags. The pack-train wagged onward, and Stewart
fell in behind. The storm-center gathered slowly around the
peaks; low rumble and howl of thunder increased in frequence;
slowly the light shaded as smoky clouds rolled up; the air grew
sultrier, and the exasperating breeze puffed a few times and then
An hour later the party had climbed high and was rounding the
side of a great bare ridge that long had hidden the crags. The
last burro of the pack-train plodded over the ridge out of
Madeline's sight. She looked backward down the slope, amused to
see her guests change wearily from side to side in their saddles.
Far below lay the cedar flat and the foothills. Far to the west
the sky was still clear, with shafts of sunlight shooting down
from behind the encroaching clouds.
Stewart reached the summit of the ridge and, though only a few
rods ahead, he waved to her, sweeping his hand round to what he
saw beyond. It was an impressive gesture, and Madeline, never
having climbed as high as this, anticipated much.
Majesty surmounted the last few steps and, snorting, halted
beside Stewart's black. To Madeline the scene was as if the
world had changed. The ridge was a mountain-top. It dropped
before her into a black, stone-ridged, shrub-patched,
many-canoned gulf. Eastward, beyond the gulf, round, bare
mountain-heads loomed up. Upward, on the right, led giant steps
of cliff and bench and weathered slope to the fir-bordered and
pine-fringed crags standing dark and bare against the stormy sky.
Massed inky clouds were piling across the peaks, obscuring the
highest ones. A fork of white lightning flashed, and, like the
booming of an avalanche, thunder followed.
That bold world of broken rock under the slow mustering of
storm-clouds was a grim, awe-inspiring spectacle. It had beauty,
but beauty of the sublime and majestic kind. The fierce desert
had reached up to meet the magnetic heights where heat and wind
and frost and lightning and flood contended in everlasting
strife. And before their onslaught this mighty upflung world of
rugged stone was crumbling, splitting, wearing to ruin.
Madeline glanced at Stewart. He had forgotten her presence.
Immovable as stone, he sat his horse, dark-faced, dark-eyed, and,
like an Indian unconscious of thought, he watched and watched.
To see him thus, to divine the strange affinity between the soul
of this man, become primitive, and the savage environment that
had developed him, were powerful helps to Madeline Hammond in her
strange desire to understand his nature.
A cracking of iron-shod hoofs behind her broke the spell. Monty
had reached the summit.
"Gene, what it won't all be doin' in a minnut Moses hisself
couldn't tell," observed Monty.
Then Dorothy climbed to his side and looked.
"Oh, isn't it just perfectly lovely!" she exclaimed. "But I wish
it wouldn't storm. We'll all get wet."
Once more Stewart faced the ascent, keeping to the slow heave of
the ridge as it rose southward toward the looming spires of rock.
Soon he was off smooth ground, and Madeline, some rods behind
him, looked back with concern at her friends. Here the real toil,
the real climb began, and a mountain storm was about to burst in
all its fury.
The slope that Stewart entered upon was a magnificent monument to
the ruined crags above. It was a southerly slope, and therefore
semi-arid, covered with cercocarpus and yucca and some shrub that
Madeline believed was manzanita. Every foot of the trail seemed
to slide under Majesty. What hard ground there was could not be
traveled upon, owing to the spiny covering or masses of shattered
rocks. Gullies lined the slope.
Then the sky grew blacker; the slow-gathering clouds appeared to
be suddenly agitated; they piled and rolled and mushroomed and
obscured the crags. The air moved heavily and seemed to be laden
with sulphurous smoke, and sharp lightning flashes began to play.
A distant roar of wind could be heard between the peals of
Stewart waited for Madeline under the lee of a shelving cliff,
where the cowboys had halted the pack-train. Majesty was
sensitive to the flashes of lightning. Madeline patted his neck
and softly called to him. The weary burros nodded; the Mexican
women covered their heads with their mantles. Stewart untied the
slicker at the back of Madeline's saddle and helped her on with
it. Then he put on his own. The other cowboys followed suit.
Presently Madeline saw Monty and Dorothy rounding the cliff, and
hoped the others would come soon.
A blue-white, knotted rope of lightning burned down out of the
clouds, and instantly a thunder-clap crashed, seeming to shake
the foundations of the earth. Then it rolled, as if banging from
cloud to cloud, and boomed along the peaks, and reverberated from
deep to low, at last to rumble away into silence. Madeline felt
the electricity in Majesty's mane, and it seemed to tingle
through her nerves. The air had a weird, bright cast. The
ponderous clouds swallowed more and more of the eastern domes.
This moment of the breaking of the storm, with the strange
growing roar of wind, like a moaning monster, was pregnant with a
heart-disturbing emotion for Madeline Hammond. Glorious it was
to be free, healthy, out in the open, under the shadow of the
mountain and cloud, in the teeth of the wind and rain and storm.
Another dazzling blue blaze showed the bold mountain-side and the
storm-driven clouds. In the flare of light Madeline saw
"Are you afraid?" she asked.
"Yes," he replied, simply.
Then the thunderbolt racked the heavens, and as it boomed away in
lessening power Madeline reflected with surprise upon Stewart's
answer. Something in his face had made her ask him what she
considered a foolish question. His reply amazed her. She loved
a storm. Why should he fear it--he, with whom she could not
"How strange! Have you not been out in many storms?"
A smile that was only a gleam flitted over his dark face.
"In hundreds of them. By day, with the cattle stampeding. At
night, alone on the mountain, with the pines crashing and the
rocks rolling--in flood on the desert."
"It's not only the lightning, then?" she asked.
"No. All the storm."
Madeline felt that henceforth she would have less faith in what
she had imagined was her love of the elements. What little she
knew! If this iron-nerved man feared a storm, then there was
something about a storm to fear.
And suddenly, as the ground quaked under her horse's feet, and
all the sky grew black and crisscrossed by flaming streaks, and
between thunderous reports there was a strange hollow roar
sweeping down upon her, she realized how small was her knowledge
and experience of the mighty forces of nature. Then, with that
perversity of character of which she was wholly conscious, she
was humble, submissive, reverent, and fearful even while she
gloried in the grandeur of the dark, cloud-shadowed crags and
canons, the stupendous strife of sound, the wonderful driving
lances of white fire.
With blacker gloom and deafening roar came the torrent of rain.
It was a cloud-burst. It was like solid water tumbling down.
For long Madeline sat her horse, head bent to the pelting rain.
When its force lessened and she heard Stewart call for all to
follow, she looked up to see that he was starting once more. She
shot a glimpse at Dorothy and as quickly glanced away. Dorothy,
who would not wear a hat suitable for inclement weather, nor one
of the horrid yellow, sticky slickers, was a drenched and
disheveled spectacle. Madeline did not trust herself to look at
the other girls. It was enough to hear their lament. So she
turned her horse into Stewart's trail.
Rain fell steadily. The fury of the storm, however, had passed,
and the roll of thunder diminished in volume. The air had
wonderfully cleared and was growing cool. Madeline began to feel
uncomfortably cold and wet. Stewart was climbing faster than
formerly, and she noted that Monty kept at her heels, pressing
her on. Time had been lost, and the camp-site was a long way
off. The stag-hounds began to lag and get footsore. The sharp
rocks of the trail were cruel to their feet. Then, as Madeline
began to tire, she noticed less and less around her. The ascent
grew rougher and steeper--slow toil for panting horses. The
thinning rain grew colder, and sometimes a stronger whip of wind
lashed stingingly in Madeline's face. Her horse climbed and
climbed, and brush and sharp corners of stone everlastingly
pulled and tore at her wet garments. A gray gloom settled down
around her. Night was approaching. Majesty heaved upward with a
snort, the wet saddle creaked, and an even motion told Madeline
she was on level ground. She looked up to see looming crags and
spires, like huge pipe-organs, dark at the base and growing light
upward. The rain had ceased, but the branches of fir-trees and
juniper were water-soaked arms reaching out for her. Through an
opening between crags Madeline caught a momentary glimpse of the
west. Red sun-shafts shone through the murky, broken clouds.
The sun had set.
Stewart's horse was on a jog-trot now, and Madeline left the
trail more to Majesty than to her own choosing. The shadows
deepened, and the crags grew gloomy and spectral. A cool wind
moaned through the dark trees. Coyotes, scenting the hounds,
kept apace of them, and barked and howled off in the gloom. But
the tired hounds did not appear to notice.
As black night began to envelop her surroundings, Madeline marked
that the fir-trees had given place to pine forest. Suddenly a
pin-point of light pierced the ebony blackness. Like a solitary
star in dark sky it twinkled and blinked. She lost sight of it--
found it again. It grew larger. Black tree-trunks crossed her
line of vision. The light was a fire. She heard a cowboy song
and the wild chorus of a pack of coyotes. Drops of rain on the
branches of trees glittered in the rays of the fire. Stewart's
tall figure, with sombrero slouched down, was now and then
outlined against a growing circle of light. And by the aid of
that light she saw him turn every moment or so to look back,
probably to assure himself that she was close behind.
With a prospect of fire and warmth, and food and rest, Madeline's
enthusiasm revived. What a climb! There was promise in this
wild ride and lonely trail and hidden craggy height, not only in
the adventure her friends yearned for, but in some nameless joy
and spirit for herself.
XVI The Crags
Glad indeed was Madeline to be lifted off her horse beside a
roaring fire--to see steaming pots upon red-hot coals. Except
about her shoulders, which had been protected by the slicker, she
was wringing wet. The Mexican women came quickly to help her
change in a tent near by; but Madeline preferred for the moment
to warm her numb feet and hands and to watch the spectacle of her
Dorothy plumped off her saddle into the arms of several waiting
cowboys. She could scarcely walk. Far removed in appearance was
she from her usual stylish self. Her face was hidden by a limp
and lopsided hat. From under the disheveled brim came a
plaintive moan: "O-h-h! what a-an a-awful ride!" Mrs. Beck was
in worse condition; she had to be taken off her horse. "I'm
paralyzed--I'm a wreck. Bobby, get a roller-chair." Bobby was
solicitous and willing, but there were no roller-chairs.
Florence dismounted easily, and but for her mass of hair, wet and
tumbling, would have been taken for a handsome cowboy. Edith
Wayne had stood the physical strain of the ride better than
Dorothy; however, as her mount was rather small, she had been
more at the mercy of cactus and brush. Her habit hung in
tatters. Helen had preserved a remnant of style, as well as of
pride, and perhaps a little strength. But her face was white,
her eyes were big, and she limped. "Majesty!" she exclaimed.
"What did you want to do to us? Kill us outright or make us
homesick?" Of all of them, however, Ambrose's wife, Christine,
the little French maid, had suffered the most in that long ride.
She was unaccustomed to horses. Ambrose had to carry her into the
big tent. Florence persuaded Madeline to leave the fire, and
when they went in with the others Dorothy was wailing because her
wet boots would not come off, Mrs. Beck was weeping and trying to
direct a Mexican woman to unfasten her bedraggled dress, and
there was general pandemonium.
"Warm clothes--hot drinks and grub--warm blankets," rang out
Stewart's sharp order.
Then, with Florence helping the Mexican women, it was not long
until Madeline and the feminine side of the party were
comfortable, except for the weariness and aches that only rest
and sleep could alleviate.
Neither fatigue nor pains, however, nor the strangeness of being
packed sardine-like under canvas, nor the howls of coyotes, kept
Madeline's guests from stretching out with long, grateful sighs,
and one by one dropping into deep slumber. Madeline whispered a
little to Florence, and laughed with her once or twice, and then
the light flickering on the canvas faded and her eyelids closed.
Darkness and roar of camp life, low voices of men, thump of
horses' hoofs, coyote serenade, the sense of warmth and sweet
rest--all drifted away.
When she awakened shadows of swaying branches moved on the sunlit
canvas above her. She heard the ringing strokes of an ax, but no
other sound from outside. Slow, regular breathing attested to
the deep slumbers of her tent comrades. She observed presently
that Florence was missing from the number. Madeline rose and
peeped out between the flaps.
An exquisitely beautiful scene surprised and enthralled her gaze.
She saw a level space, green with long grass, bright with
flowers, dotted with groves of graceful firs and pines and
spruces, reaching to superb crags, rosy and golden in the
sunlight. Eager to get out where she could enjoy an unrestricted
view, she searched for her pack, found it in a corner, and then
hurriedly and quietly dressed.
Her favorite stag-hounds, Russ and Tartar, were asleep before the
door, where they had been chained. She awakened them and
loosened them, thinking the while that it must have been Stewart
who had chained them near her. Close at hand also was a cowboy's
bed rolled up in a tarpaulin.
The cool air, fragrant with pine and spruce and some subtle
nameless tang, sweet and tonic, made Madeline stand erect and
breathe slowly and deeply. It was like drinking of a magic
draught. She felt it in her blood, that it quickened its flow.
Turning to look in the other direction, beyond the tent, she saw
the remnants of last night's temporary camp, and farther on a
grove of beautiful pines from which came the sharp ring of the
ax. Wider gaze took in a wonderful park, not only surrounded by
lofty crags, but full of crags of lesser height, many lifting
their heads from dark-green groves of trees. The morning sun,
not yet above the eastern elevations, sent its rosy and golden
shafts in between the towering rocks, to tip the pines.
Madeline, with the hounds beside her, walked through the nearest
grove. The ground was soft and springy and brown with
pine-needles. Then she saw that a clump of trees had prevented
her from seeing the most striking part of this natural park. The
cowboys had selected a campsite where they would have the morning
sun and afternoon shade. Several tents and flies were already
up; there was a huge lean-to made of spruce boughs; cowboys were
busy round several camp-fires; piles of packs lay covered with
tarpaulins, and beds were rolled up under the trees. This space
was a kind of rolling meadow, with isolated trees here and there,
and other trees in aisles and circles; and it mounted up in low,
grassy banks to great towers of stone five hundred feet high.
Other crags rose behind these. From under a mossy cliff, huge
and green and cool, bubbled a full, clear spring. Wild flowers
fringed its banks. Out in the meadow the horses were knee-deep
in grass that waved in the morning breeze.
Florence espied Madeline under the trees and came running. She
was like a young girl, with life and color and joy. She wore a
flannel blouse, corduroy skirt, and moccasins. And her hair was
fastened under a band like an Indian's.
"Castleton's gone with a gun, for hours, it seems," said
Florence. "Gene just went to hunt him up. The other gentlemen
are still asleep. I imagine they sure will sleep up heah in this
Then, business-like, Florence fell to questioning Madeline about
details of camp arrangement which Stewart, and Florence herself,
could hardly see to without suggestion.
Before any of Madeline's sleepy guests awakened the camp was
completed. Madeline and Florence had a tent under a pine-tree,
but they did not intend to sleep in it except during stormy
weather. They spread a tarpaulin, made their bed on it, and
elected to sleep under the light of the stars. After that,
taking the hounds with them, they explored. To Madeline's
surprise, the park was not a little half-mile nook nestling among
the crags, but extended farther than they cared to walk, and was
rather a series of parks. They were no more than small valleys
between gray-toothed peaks. As the day advanced the charm of the
place grew upon Madeline. Even at noon, with the sun beating
down, there was comfortable warmth rather than heat. It was the
kind of warmth that Madeline liked to feel in the spring. And
the sweet, thin, rare atmosphere began to affect her strangely.
She breathed deeply of it until she felt light-headed, as if her
body lacked substance and might drift away like a thistledown.
All at once she grew uncomfortably sleepy. A dreamy languor
possessed her, and, lying under a pine with her head against
Florence, she went to sleep. When she opened her eyes the
shadows of the crags stretched from the west, and between them
streamed a red-gold light. It was hazy, smoky sunshine losing
its fire. The afternoon had far advanced. Madeline sat up.
Florence was lazily reading. The two Mexican women were at work
under the fly where the big stone fireplace had been erected. No
one else was in sight.
Florence, upon being questioned, informed Madeline that incident
about camp had been delightfully absent. Castleton had returned
and was profoundly sleeping with the other men. Presently a
chorus of merry calls attracted Madeline's attention, and she
turned to see Helen limping along with Dorothy, and Mrs. Beck and
Edith supporting each other. They were all rested, but lame, and
delighted with the place, and as hungry as bears awakened from a
winter's sleep. Madeline forthwith escorted them round the camp,
and through the many aisles between the trees, and to the mossy,
pine-matted nooks under the crags.
Then they had dinner, sitting on the ground after the manner of
Indians; and it was a dinner that lacked merriment only because
everybody was too busily appeasing appetite.
Later Stewart led them across a neck of the park, up a rather
steep climb between towering crags, to take them out upon a
grassy promontory that faced the great open west--a vast, ridged,
streaked, and reddened sweep of earth rolling down, as it seemed,
to the golden sunset end of the world. Castleton said it was a
jolly fine view; Dorothy voiced her usual languid enthusiasm;
Helen was on fire with pleasure and wonder; Mrs. Beck appealed to
Bobby to see how he liked it before she ventured, and she then
reiterated his praise; and Edith Wayne, like Madeline and
Florence, was silent. Boyd was politely interested; he was the
kind of man who appeared to care for things as other people cared
Madeline watched the slow transformation of the changing west,
with its haze of desert dust, through which mountain and cloud
and sun slowly darkened. She watched until her eyes ached, and
scarcely had a thought of what she was watching. When her eyes
shifted to encounter the tall form of Stewart standing motionless
on the rim, her mind became active again. As usual, he stood
apart from the others, and now he seemed aloof and unconscious.
He made a dark, powerful figure, and he fitted that wild
She experienced a strange, annoying surprise when she discovered
both Helen and Dorothy watching Stewart with peculiar interest.
Edith, too, was alive to the splendid picture the cowboy made.
But when Edith smiled and whispered in her ear, "It's so good to
look at a man like that," Madeline again felt the surprise, only
this time the accompaniment was a vague pleasure rather than
annoyance. Helen and Dorothy were flirts, one deliberate and
skilled, the other unconscious and natural. Edith Wayne,
occasionally--and Madeline reflected that the occasions were
infrequent--admired a man sincerely. Just here Madeline might
have fallen into a somewhat revealing state of mind if it had not
been for the fact that she believed Stewart was only an object of
deep interest to her, not as a man, but as a part of this wild
and wonderful West which was claiming her. So she did not
inquire of herself why Helen's coquetry and Dorothy's languishing
allurement annoyed her, or why Edith's eloquent smile and words
had pleased her. She got as far, however, as to think scornfully
how Helen and Dorothy would welcome and meet a flirtation with
this cowboy and then go back home and forget him as utterly as if
he had never existed. She wondered, too, with a curious twist of
feeling that was almost eagerness, how the cowboy would meet
their advances. Obviously the situation was unfair to him; and
if by some strange accident he escaped unscathed by Dorothy's
beautiful eyes he would never be able to withstand Helen's subtle
and fascinating and imperious personality.
They returned to camp in the cool of the evening and made merry
round a blazing camp-fire. But Madeline's guests soon succumbed
to the persistent and irresistible desire to sleep.
Then Madeline went to bed with Florence under the pine-tree.
Russ lay upon one side and Tartar upon the other. The cool night
breeze swept over her, fanning her face, waving her hair. It was
not strong enough to make any sound through the branches, but it
stirred a faint, silken rustle in the long grass. The coyotes
began their weird bark and howl. Russ raised his head to growl
at their impudence.
Madeline faced upward, and it seemed to her that under those
wonderful white stars she would never be able to go to sleep.
They blinked down through the black-barred, delicate crisscross
of pine foliage, and they looked so big and so close. Then she
gazed away to open space, where an expanse of sky glittered with
stars, and the longer she gazed the larger they grew and the more
It was her belief that she had come to love all the physical
things from which sensations of beauty and mystery and strength
poured into her responsive mind; but best of all she loved these
Western stars, for they were to have something to do with her
life, were somehow to influence her destiny.
For a few days the prevailing features of camp life for
Madeline's guests were sleep and rest. Dorothy Coombs slept
through twenty-four hours, and then was so difficult to awaken
that for a while her friends were alarmed. Helen almost fell
asleep while eating and talking. The men were more visibly
affected by the mountain air than the women. Castleton, however,
would not succumb to the strange drowsiness while he had a chance
to prowl around with a gun.
This languorous spell disappeared presently, and then the days
were full of life and action. Mrs. Beck and Bobby and Boyd,
however, did not go in for anything very strenuous. Edith Wayne,
too, preferred to walk through the groves or sit upon the grassy
promontory. It was Helen and Dorothy who wanted to explore the
crags and canons, and when they could not get the others to
accompany them they went alone, giving the cowboy guides many a
Necessarily, of course, Madeline and her guests were now thrown
much in company with the cowboys. And the party grew to be like
one big family. Her friends not only adapted themselves
admirably to the situation, but came to revel in it. As for
Madeline, she saw that outside of a certain proclivity of the
cowboys to be gallant and on dress-parade and alive to
possibilities of fun and excitement, they were not greatly
different from what they were at all times. If there were a
leveling process here it was made by her friends coming down to
meet the Westerners. Besides, any class of people would tend to
grow natural in such circumstances and environment.
Madeline found the situation one of keen and double interest for
her. If before she had cared to study her cowboys, particularly
Stewart, now, with the contrasts afforded by her guests, she felt
by turns she was amused and mystified and perplexed and saddened,
and then again subtly pleased.
Monty, once he had overcome his shyness, became a source of
delight to Madeline, and, for that matter, to everybody. Monty
had suddenly discovered that he was a success among the ladies.
Either he was exalted to heroic heights by this knowledge or he
made it appear so. Dorothy had been his undoing, and in justice
to her Madeline believed her innocent. Dorothy thought Monty
hideous to look at, and, accordingly, if he had been a hero a
hundred times and had saved a hundred poor little babies' lives,
he could not have interested her. Monty followed her around,
reminding her, she told Madeline, of a little adoring dog one
moment and the next of a huge, devouring gorilla.
Nels and Nick stalked at Helen's heels like grenadiers on duty,
and if she as much as dropped her glove they almost came to blows
to see who should pick it up.
In a way Castleton was the best feature of the camping party. He
was such an absurd-looking little man, and his abilities were at
such tremendous odds with what might have been expected of him
from his looks. He could ride, tramp, climb, shoot. He liked to
help around the camp, and the cowboys could not keep him from it.
He had an insatiable desire to do things that were new to him.
The cowboys played innumerable tricks upon him, not one of which
he ever discovered. He was serious, slow in speech and action,
and absolutely imperturbable. If imperturbability could ever be
good humor, then he was always good-humored. Presently the
cowboys began to understand him, and then to like him. When they
liked a man it meant something. Madeline had been sorry more
than once to see how little the cowboys chose to speak to Boyd
Harvey. With Castleton, however, they actually became friends.
They did not know it, and certainly such a thing never occurred
to him; all the same, it was a fact. And it grew solely out of
the truth that the Englishman was manly in the only way cowboys
could have interpreted manliness. When, after innumerable
attempts, he succeeded in throwing the diamond-hitch on a
pack-horse the cowboys began to respect him. Castleton needed
only one more accomplishment to claim their hearts, and he kept
trying that--to ride a bucking bronco. One of the cowboys had a
bronco that they called Devil. Every day for a week Devil threw
the Englishman all over the park, ruined his clothes, bruised
him, and finally kicked him. Then the cowboys solicitously tried
to make Castleton give up; and this was remarkable enough, for
the spectacle of an English lord on a bucking bronco was one that
any Westerner would have ridden a thousand miles to see.
Whenever Devil threw Castleton the cowboys went into spasms. But
Castleton did not know the meaning of the word fail, and there
came a day when Devil could not throw him. Then it was a
singular sight to see the men line up to shake hands with the
cool Englishman. Even Stewart, who had watched from the
background, came forward with a warm and pleasant smile on his
dark face. When Castleton went to his tent there was much
characteristic cowboy talk, and this time vastly different from
the former persiflage.
"By Gawd!" ejaculated Monty Price, who seemed to be the most
amazed and elated of them all. "Thet's the fust Englishman I
ever seen! He's orful deceivin' to look at, but I know now why
England rules the wurrld. Jest take a peek at thet bronco. His
spirit is broke. Rid by a leetle English dook no bigger 'n a
grasshopper! Fellers, if it hain't dawned on you yit, let Monty
Price give you a hunch. There's no flies on Castleton. An' I'll
bet a million steers to a rawhide rope thet next he'll be
throwin' a gun as good as Nels."
It was a distinct pleasure for Madeline to realize that she liked
Castleton all the better for the traits brought out so forcibly
by his association with the cowboys. On the other hand, she
liked the cowboys better for something in them that contact with
Easterners brought out. This was especially true in Stewart's
case. She had been wholly wrong when she had imagined he would
fall an easy victim to Dorothy's eyes and Helen's lures. He was
kind, helpful, courteous, and watchful. But he had no sentiment.
He did not see Dorothy's charms or feel Helen's fascination. And
their efforts to captivate him were now so obvious that Mrs. Beck
taunted them, and Edith smiled knowingly, and Bobby and Boyd made
playful remarks. All of which cut Helen's pride and hurt
Dorothy's vanity. They essayed open conquest of Stewart.
So it came about that Madeline unconsciously admitted the cowboy
to a place in her mind never occupied by any other. The instant
it occurred to her why he was proof against the wiles of the
other women she drove that amazing and strangely disturbing
thought from her. Nevertheless, as she was human, she could not
help thinking and being pleased and enjoying a little the
discomfiture of the two coquettes.
Moreover, from this thought of Stewart, and the watchfulness
growing out of it she discovered more about him. He was not
happy; he often paced up and down the grove at night; he absented
himself from camp sometimes during the afternoon when Nels and
Nick and Monty were there; he was always watching the trails, as
if he expected to see some one come riding up. He alone of the
cowboys did not indulge in the fun and talk around the camp-fire.
He remained preoccupied and sad, and was always looking away into
distance. Madeline had a strange sense of his guardianship over
her; and, remembering Don Carlos, she imagined he worried a good
deal over his charge, and, indeed, over the safety of all the
But if he did worry about possible visits from wandering
guerrillas, why did he absent himself from camp? Suddenly into
Madeline's inquisitive mind flashed a remembrance of the
dark-eyed Mexican girl, Bonita, who had never been heard of since
that night she rode Stewart's big horse out of El Cajon. The
remembrance of her brought an idea. Perhaps Stewart had a
rendezvous in the mountains, and these lonely trips of his were
to meet Bonita. With the idea hot blood flamed into Madeline's
cheek. Then she was amazed at her own feelings--amazed because
her swiftest succeeding thought was to deny the idea--amazed that
its conception had fired her cheek with shame. Then her old
self, the one aloof from this red-blooded new self, gained
control over her emotions.
But Madeline found that new-born self a creature of strange power
to return and govern at any moment. She found it fighting
loyally for what intelligence and wisdom told her was only her
romantic conception of a cowboy. She reasoned: If Stewart were
the kind of man her feminine skepticism wanted to make him, he
would not have been so blind to the coquettish advances of Helen
and Dorothy. He had once been--she did not want to recall what
he had once been. But he had been uplifted. Madeline Hammond
declared that. She was swayed by a strong, beating pride, and
her instinctive woman's faith told her that he could not stoop to
such dishonor. She reproached herself for having momentarily
thought of it.
One afternoon a huge storm-cloud swooped out of the sky and
enveloped the crags. It obscured the westering sun and laid a
mantle of darkness over the park. Madeline was uneasy because
several of her party, including Helen and Dorothy, had ridden off
with the cowboys that afternoon and had not returned. Florence
assured her that even if they did not get back before the storm
broke there was no reason for apprehension. Nevertheless,
Madeline sent for Stewart and asked him to go or send some one in
search of them.
Perhaps half an hour later Madeline heard the welcome pattering
of hoofs on the trail. The big tent was brightly lighted by
several lanterns. Edith and Florence were with her. It was so
black outside that Madeline could not see a rod before her face.
The wind was moaning in the trees, and big drops of rain were
pelting upon the canvas.
Presently, just outside the door, the horses halted, and there
was a sharp bustle of sound, such as would naturally result from
a hurried dismounting and confusion in the dark. Mrs. Beck came
running into the tent out of breath and radiant because they had
beaten the storm. Helen entered next, and a little later came
Dorothy, but long enough to make her entrance more noticeable.
The instant Madeline saw Dorothy's blazing eyes she knew
something unusual had happened. Whatever it was might have
escaped comment had not Helen caught sight of Dorothy.
"Heavens, Dot, but you're handsome occasionally!" remarked Helen.
"When you get some life in your face and eyes!"
Dorothy turned her face away from the others, and perhaps it was
only accident that she looked into a mirror hanging on the tent
wall. Swiftly she put her hand up to feel a wide red welt on her
cheek. Dorothy had been assiduously careful of her soft, white
skin, and here was an ugly mark marring its beauty.
"Look at that!" she cried, in distress. "My complexion's ruined!"
"How did you get such a splotch?" inquired Helen, going closer.
"I've been kissed!" exclaimed Dorothy, dramatically.
"What?" queried Helen, more curiously, while the others laughed.
"I've been kissed--hugged and kissed by one of those shameless
cowboys! It was so pitch-dark outside I couldn't see a thing.
And so noisy I couldn't hear. But somebody was trying to help me
off my horse. My foot caught in the stirrup, and away I went--
right into somebody's arms. Then he did it, the wretch! He
hugged and kissed me in a most awful bearish manner. I couldn't
budge a finger. I'm simply boiling with rage!"
When the outburst of mirth subsided Dorothy turned her big,
dilated eyes upon Florence.
"Do these cowboys really take advantage of a girl when she's
helpless and in the dark?"
"Of course they do," replied Florence, with her frank smile.
"Dot, what in the world could you expect?" asked Helen. "Haven't
you been dying to be kissed?"
"Well, you acted like it, then. I never before saw you in a rage
over being kissed."
"I--I wouldn't care so much if the brute hadn't scoured the skin
off my face. He had whiskers as sharp and stiff as sandpaper.
And when I jerked away he rubbed my cheek with them."
This revelation as to the cause of her outraged dignity almost
prostrated her friends with glee.
"Dot, I agree with you; it's one thing to be kissed, and quite
another to have your beauty spoiled," replied Helen, presently.
"Who was this particular savage?"
"I don't know!" burst out Dorothy. "If I did I'd--I'd--"
Her eyes expressed the direful punishment she could not speak.
"Honestly now, Dot, haven't you the least idea who did it?"
"I hope--I think it was Stewart," replied Dorothy.
"Ah! Dot, your hope is father to the thought. My dear, I'm
sorry to riddle your little romance. Stewart did not--could not
have been the offender or hero."
"How do you know he couldn't?" demanded Dorothy, flushing.
"Because he was clean-shaven to-day at noon, before we rode out.
I remember perfectly how nice and smooth and brown his face
"Oh, do you? Well, if your memory for faces is so good, maybe
you can tell me which one of these cowboys wasn't clean-shaven."
"Merely a matter of elimination," replied Helen, merrily. "It
was not Nick; it was not Nels; it was not Frankie. There was
only one other cowboy with us, and he had a short, stubby growth
of black beard, much like that cactus we passed on the trail."
"Oh, I was afraid of it," moaned Dorothy. "I knew he was going
to do it. That horrible little smiling demon, Monty Price!"
A favorite lounging-spot of Madeline's was a shaded niche under
the lee of crags facing the east. Here the outlook was entirely
different from that on the western side. It was not red and
white and glaring, nor so changeable that it taxed attention.
This eastern view was one of the mountains and valleys, where, to
be sure, there were arid patches; but the restful green of pine
and fir was there, and the cool gray of crags. Bold and rugged
indeed were these mountain features, yet they were companionably
close, not immeasurably distant and unattainable like the desert.
Here in the shade of afternoon Madeline and Edith would often
lounge under a low-branched tree. Seldom they talked much, for
it was afternoon and dreamy with the strange spell of this
mountain fastness. There was smoky haze in the valleys, a fleecy
cloud resting over the peaks, a sailing eagle in the blue sky,
silence that was the unbroken silence of the wild heights, and a
soft wind laden with incense of pine.
One afternoon, however, Edith appeared prone to talk seriously.
"Majesty, I must go home soon. I cannot stay out here forever.
Are you going back with me?"
"Well, maybe," replied Madeline, thoughtfully. "I have
considered it. I shall have to visit home some time. But this
summer mother and father are going to Europe."
"See here, Majesty Hammond, do you intend to spend the rest of
your life in this wilderness?" asked Edith, bluntly.
Madeline was silent.
"Oh, it is glorious! Don't misunderstand me, dear," went on
Edith, earnestly, as she laid her hand on Madeline's. "This trip
has been a revelation to me. I did not tell you, Majesty, that I
was ill when I arrived. Now I'm well. So well! Look at Helen,
too. Why, she was a ghost when we got here. Now she is brown
and strong and beautiful. If it were for nothing else than this
wonderful gift of health I would love the West. But I have come
to love it for other things--even spiritual things. Majesty, I
have been studying you. I see and feel what this life has made
of you. When I came I wondered at your strength, your virility,
your serenity, your happiness. And I was stunned. I wondered at
the causes of your change. Now I know. You were sick of
idleness, sick of uselessness, if not of society--sick of the
horrible noises and smells and contacts one can no longer escape
in the cities. I am sick of all that, too, and I could tell you
many women of our kind who suffer in a like manner. You have
done what many of us want to do, but have not the courage. You
have left it. I am not blind to the splendid difference you have
made in your life. I think I would have discovered, even if your
brother had not told me, what good you have done to the Mexicans
and cattlemen of your range. Then you have work to do. That is
much the secret of your happiness, is it not? Tell me. Tell me
something of what it means to you?"
"Work, of course, has much to do with any one's happiness,"
replied Madeline. "No one can be happy who has no work. As
regards myself--for the rest I can hardly tell you. I have never
tried to put it in words. Frankly, I believe, if I had not had
money that I could not have found such contentment here. That is
not in any sense a judgment against the West. But if I had been
poor I could not have bought and maintained my ranch. Stillwell
tells me there are many larger ranches than mine, but none just
like it. Then I am almost paying my expenses out of my business.
Think of that! My income, instead of being wasted, is mostly
saved. I think--I hope I am useful. I have been of some little
good to the Mexicans--eased the hardships of a few cowboys. For
the rest, I think my life is a kind of dream. Of course my ranch
and range are real, my cowboys are typical. If I were to tell
you how I feel about them it would simply be a story of how
Madeline Hammond sees the West. They are true to the West. It
is I who am strange, and what I feel for them may be strange,
too. Edith, hold to your own impressions."
"But, Majesty, my impressions have changed. At first I did not
like the wind, the dust, the sun, the endless open stretches.
But now I do like them. Where once I saw only terrible wastes of
barren ground now I see beauty and something noble. Then, at
first, your cowboys struck me as dirty, rough, loud, crude,
savage--all that was primitive. I did not want them near me. I
imagined them callous, hard men, their only joy a carouse with
their kind. But I was wrong. I have changed. The dirt was only
dust, and this desert dust is clean. They are still rough, loud,
crude, and savage in my eyes, but with a difference. They are
natural men. They are little children. Monty Price is one of
nature's noblemen. The hard thing is to discover it. All his
hideous person, all his actions and speech, are masks of his real
nature. Nels is a joy, a simple, sweet, kindly, quiet man whom
some woman should have loved. What would love have meant to him!
He told me that no woman ever loved him except his mother, and he
lost her when he was ten. Every man ought to be loved--
especially such a man as Nels. Somehow his gun record does not
impress me. I never could believe he killed a man. Then take
your foreman, Stewart. He is a cowboy, his work and life the
same as the others. But he has education and most of the graces
we are in the habit of saying make a gentleman. Stewart is a
strange fellow, just like this strange country. He's a man,
Majesty, and I admire him. So, you see, my impressions are
developing with my stay out here."
"Edith, I am so glad you told me that," replied Madeline, warmly.
"I like the country, and I like the men," went on Edith. "One
reason I want to go home soon is because I am discontented enough
at home now, without falling in love with the West. For, of
course, Majesty, I would. I could not live out here. And that
brings me to my point. Admitting all the beauty and charm and
wholesomeness and good of this wonderful country, still it is no
place for you, Madeline Hammond. You have your position, your
wealth, your name, your family. You must marry. You must have
children. You must not give up all that for a quixotic life in a
"I am convinced, Edith, that I shall live here all the rest of my
"Oh, Majesty! I hate to preach this way. But I promised your
mother I would talk to you. And the truth is I hate--I hate what
I'm saying. I envy you your courage and wisdom. I know you have
refused to marry Boyd Harvey. I could see that in his face. I
believe you will refuse Castleton. Whom will you marry? What
chance is there for a woman of your position to marry out here?
What in the world will become of you?"
"Quien sabe?" replied Madeline, with a smile that was almost sad.
Not so many hours after this conversation with Edith Madeline sat
with Boyd Harvey upon the grassy promontory overlooking the west,
and she listened once again to his suave courtship.
Suddenly she turned to him and said, "Boyd, if I married you
would you be willing--glad to spend the rest of your life here in
"Majesty!" he exclaimed. There was amaze in the voice usually so
even and well modulated--amaze in the handsome face usually so
indifferent. Her question had startled him. She saw him look
down the iron-gray cliffs, over the barren slopes and cedared
ridges, beyond the cactus-covered foothills to the grim and
ghastly desert. Just then, with its red veils of sunlit
dust-clouds, its illimitable waste of ruined and upheaved earth,
it was a sinister spectacle.
"No," he replied, with a tinge of shame in his cheek. Madeline
said no more, nor did he speak. She was spared the pain of
refusing him, and she imagined he would never ask her again.
There was both relief and regret in the conviction. Humiliated
lovers seldom made good friends.
It was impossible not to like Boyd Harvey. The thought of that,
and why she could not marry him, concentrated her never-satisfied
mind upon the man. She looked at him, and she thought of him.
He was handsome, young, rich, well born, pleasant, cultivated--he
was all that made a gentleman of his class. If he had any vices
she had not heard of them. She knew he had no thirst for drink
or craze for gambling. He was considered a very desirable and
eligible young man. Madeline admitted all this.
Then she thought of things that were perhaps exclusively her own
strange ideas. Boyd Harvey's white skin did not tan even in this
southwestern sun and wind. His hands were whiter than her own,
and as soft. They were really beautiful, and she remembered what
care he took of them. They were a proof that he never worked.
His frame was tall, graceful, elegant. It did not bear evidence
of ruggedness. He had never indulged in a sport more strenuous
than yachting. He hated effort and activity. He rode horseback
very little, disliked any but moderate motoring, spent much time
in Newport and Europe, never walked when he could help it, and
had no ambition unless it were to pass the days pleasantly. If
he ever had any sons they would be like him, only a generation
more toward the inevitable extinction of his race.
Madeline returned to camp in just the mood to make a sharp,
deciding contrast. It happened--fatefully, perhaps--that the
first man she saw was Stewart. He had just ridden into camp, and
as she came up he explained that he had gone down to the ranch
for the important mail about which she had expressed anxiety.
"Down and back in one day!" she exclaimed.
"Yes," he replied. "It wasn't so bad."
"But why did you not send one of the boys, and let him make the
regular two-day trip?"
"You were worried about your mail," he answered, briefly, as he
delivered it. Then he bent to examine the fetlocks of his weary
It was midsummer now, Madeline reflected and exceedingly hot and
dusty on the lower trail. Stewart had ridden down the mountain
and back again in twelve hours. Probably no horse in the outfit,
except his big black or Majesty, could have stood that trip. And
his horse showed the effects of a grueling day. He was caked
with dust and lame and weary.
Stewart looked as if he had spared the horse his weight on many a
mile of that rough ascent. His boots were evidence of it. His
heavy flannel shirt, wet through with perspiration, adhered
closely to his shoulders and arms, so that every ripple of muscle
plainly showed. His face was black, except round the temples and
forehead, where it was bright red. Drops of sweat, running off
his blackened hands dripped to the ground. He got up from
examining the lame foot, and then threw off the saddle. The black
horse snorted and lunged for the watering-pool. Stewart let him
drink a little, then with iron arms dragged him away. In this
action the man's lithe, powerful form impressed Madeline with a
wonderful sense of muscular force. His brawny wrist was bare;
his big, strong hand, first clutching the horse's mane, then
patting his neck, had a bruised knuckle, and one finger was bound
up. That hand expressed as much gentleness and thoughtfulness
for the horse as it had strength to drag him back from too much
drinking at a dangerous moment.
Stewart was a combination of fire, strength, and action. These
attributes seemed to cling about him. There was something vital
and compelling in his presence. Worn and spent and drawn as he
was from the long ride, he thrilled Madeline with his potential
youth and unused vitality and promise of things to be,
red-blooded deeds, both of flesh and spirit. In him she saw the
strength of his forefathers unimpaired. The life in him was
marvelously significant. The dust, the dirt, the sweat, the
soiled clothes, the bruised and bandaged hand, the brawn and
bone--these had not been despised by the knights of ancient days,
nor by modern women whose eyes shed soft light upon coarse and
Madeline Hammond compared the man of the East with the man of the
West; and that comparison was the last parting regret for her old
XVII The Lost Mine of the Padres
In the cool, starry evenings the campers sat around a blazing
fire and told and listened to stories thrillingly fitted to the
dark crags and the wild solitude.
Monty Price had come to shine brilliantly as a storyteller. He
was an atrocious liar, but this fact would not have been evident
to his enthralled listeners if his cowboy comrades, in base
jealousy, had not betrayed him. The truth about his remarkable
fabrications, however, had not become known to Castleton, solely
because of the Englishman's obtuseness. And there was another
thing much stranger than this and quite as amusing. Dorothy
Coombs knew Monty was a liar; but she was so fascinated by the
glittering, basilisk eyes he riveted upon her, so taken in by his
horrible tales of blood, that despite her knowledge she could not
help believing them.
Manifestly Monty was very proud of his suddenly acquired gift.
Formerly he had hardly been known to open his lips in the
presence of strangers. Monty had developed more than one
singular and hitherto unknown trait since his supremacy at golf
had revealed his possibilities. He was as sober and vain and
pompous about his capacity for lying as about anything else.
Some of the cowboys were jealous of him because he held the
attention and, apparently, the admiration of the ladies; and Nels
was jealous, not because Monty made himself out to be a wonderful
gun-man, but because Monty could tell a story. Nels really had
been the hero of a hundred fights; he had never been known to
talk about them; but Dorothy's eyes and Helen's smile had somehow
upset his modesty. Whenever Monty would begin to talk Nels would
growl and knock his pipe on a log, and make it appear he could
not stay and listen, though he never really left the charmed
circle of the camp-fire. Wild horses could not have dragged him
One evening at twilight, as Madeline was leaving her tent, she
encountered Monty. Evidently, he had way-laid her. With the most
mysterious of signs and whispers he led her a little aside.
"Miss Hammond, I'm makin' bold to ask a favor of you," he said.
Madeline smiled her willingness.
"To-night, when they've all shot off their chins an' it's
quiet-like, I want you to ask me, jest this way, 'Monty, seein'
as you've hed more adventures than all them cow-punchers put
together, tell us about the most turrible time you ever hed.'
Will you ask me, Miss Hammond, jest kinda sincere like?"
"Certainly I will, Monty," she replied.
His dark, seared face had no more warmth than a piece of cold,
volcanic rock, which it resembled. Madeline appreciated how
monstrous Dorothy found this burned and distorted visage, how
deformed the little man looked to a woman of refined
sensibilities. It was difficult for Madeline to look into his
face. But she saw behind the blackened mask. And now she saw in
Monty's deep eyes a spirit of pure fun.
So, true to her word, Madeline remembered at an opportune moment,
when conversation had hushed and only the long, dismal wail of
coyotes broke the silence, to turn toward the little cowboy.
"Monty," she said, and paused for effect--"Monty, seeing that you
have had more adventures than all the cowboys together, tell us
about the most terrible time you ever had."
Monty appeared startled at the question that fastened all eyes
upon him. He waved a deprecatory hand.
"Aw, Miss Hammond, thankin' you all modest-like fer the
compliment, I'll hev to refuse," replied Monty, laboring in
distress. "It's too harrowin' fer tender-hearted gurls to listen
"Go on?" cried everybody except the cowboys. Nels began to nod
his head as if he, as well as Monty, understood human nature.
Dorothy hugged her knees with a kind of shudder. Monty had
fastened the hypnotic eyes upon her. Castleton ceased smoking,
adjusted his eyeglass, and prepared to listen in great
Monty changed his seat to one where the light from the blazing
logs fell upon his face; and he appeared plunged into melancholy
and profound thought.
"Now I tax myself, I can't jest decide which was the orfulest
time I ever hed," he said, reflectively.
Here Nels blew forth an immense cloud of smoke, as if he desired
to hide himself from sight. Monty pondered, and then when the
smoke rolled away he turned to Nels.
"See hyar, old pard, me an' you seen somethin' of each other in
the Panhandle, more 'n thirty years ago--"
"Which we didn't," interrupted Nels, bluntly. "Shore you can't
make me out an ole man."
"Mebbe it wasn't so darn long. Anyhow, Nels, you recollect them
three hoss-thieves I hung all on one cottonwood-tree, an'
likewise thet boo-tiful blond gurl I rescooed from a band of
cutthroats who murdered her paw, ole Bill Warren, the
buffalo-hunter? Now, which of them two scraps was the
turriblest, in your idee?"
"Monty, my memory's shore bad," replied the unimpeachable Nels.
"Tell us about the beautiful blonde," cried at least three of the
ladies. Dorothy, who had suffered from nightmare because of a
former story of hanging men on trees, had voicelessly appealed to
Monty to spare her more of that.
"All right, we'll hev the blond gurl," said Monty, settling back,
"though I ain't thinkin' her story is most turrible of the two,
an' it'll rake over tender affections long slumberin' in my
As he paused there came a sharp, rapping sound. This appeared to
be Nels knocking the ashes out of his pipe on a stump--a true
indication of the passing of content from that jealous cowboy.
"It was down in the Panhandle, 'way over in the west end of thet
Comanche huntin'-ground, an' all the redskins an' outlaws in thet
country were hidin' in the river-bottoms, an' chasin' some of the
last buffalo herds thet hed wintered in there. I was a young
buck them days, an' purty much of a desperado, I'm thinkin'.
Though of all the seventeen notches on my gun--an' each notch
meant a man killed face to face--there was only one thet I was
ashamed of. Thet one was fer an express messenger who I hit on
the head most unprofessional like, jest because he wouldn't hand
over a leetle package. I hed the kind of a reputashun thet made
all the fellers in saloons smile an' buy drinks.
"Well, I dropped into a place named Taylor's Bend, an' was
peaceful standin' to the bar when three cow-punchers come in,
an', me bein' with my hack turned, they didn't recognize me an'
got playful. I didn't stop drinkin', an' I didn't turn square
round; but when I stopped shootin' under my arm the saloon-keeper
hed to go over to the sawmill an' fetch a heap of sawdust to
cover up what was left of them three cow-punchers, after they was
hauled out. You see, I was rough them days, an' would shoot ears
off an' noses off an' hands off; when in later days I'd jest kill
a man quick, same as Wild Bill.
"News drifts into town thet night thet a gang of cut-throats hed
murdered ole Bill Warren an' carried off his gurl. I gathers up
a few good gun-men, an' we rid out an' down the river-bottom, to
an ole log cabin, where the outlaws hed a rondevoo. We rid up
boldlike, an' made a hell of a racket. Then the gang began to
throw lead from the cabin, an' we all hunted cover. Fightin'
went on all night. In the mornin' all my outfit was killed but
two, an' they was shot up bad. We fought all day without eatin'
or drinkin', except some whisky I hed, an' at night I was on the
job by my lonesome.
"Bein' bunged up some myself, I laid off an' went down to the
river to wash the blood off, tie up my wounds, an' drink a
leetle. While I was down there along comes one of the cutthroats
with a bucket. Instead of gettin' water he got lead, an' as be
was about to croak he tells me a whole bunch of outlaws was
headin' in there, doo to-morrer. An' if I wanted to rescoo the
gurl I hed to be hurryin'. There was five fellers left in the
I went hack to the thicket where I hed left my hoss, an' loaded
up with two more guns an' another belt, an' busted a fresh box of
shells. If I recollect proper, I got some cigarettes, too.
Well, I mozied back to the cabin. It was a boo-tiful moonshiny
night, an' I wondered if ole Bill's gun was as purty as I'd
heerd. The grass growed long round the cabin, an' I crawled up
to the door without startin' anythin'. Then I figgered. There
was only one door in thet cabin, an' it was black dark inside. I
jest grabbed open the door an' slipped in quick. It worked all
right. They heerd me, but hedn't been quick enough to ketch me
in the light of the door. Of course there was some shots, but I
ducked too quick, an' changed my position.
"Ladies an' gentlemen, thet there was some dool by night. An' I
wasn't often in the place where they shot. I was most wonderful
patient, an' jest waited until one of them darned ruffians would
get so nervous he'd hev to hunt me up. When mornin' come there
they was all piled up on the floor, all shot to pieces. I found
the gurl. Purty! Say, she was boo-tiful. We went down to the
river, where she begun to bathe my wounds. I'd collected a dozen
more or so, an' the sight of tears in her lovely eyes, an' my
blood a-stainin' of her little hands, jest nat'rally wakened a
trembly spell in my heart. I seen she was took the same way, an'
thet settled it.
"We was comin' up from the river, an' I hed jest straddled my
hoss, with the gurl behind, when we run right into thet cutthroat
gang thet was doo about then. Bein' some handicapped, I couldn't
drop more 'n one gun-round of them, an' then I hed to slope. The
whole gang follered me, an' some miles out chased me over a ridge
right into a big herd of buffalo. Before I knowed what was what
thet herd broke into a stampede, with me in the middle. Purty
soon the buffalo closed in tight. I knowed I was in some peril
then. But the gurl trusted me somethin' pitiful. I seen again
thet she hed fell in love with me. I could tell from the way she
hugged me an' yelled. Before long I was some put to it to keep
my boss on his feet. Far as I could see was dusty, black,
bobbin', shaggy humps. A huge cloud of dust went along over our
heads. The roar of tramplin' hoofs was turrible. My hoss
weakened, went down, an' was carried along a leetle while I
slipped off with the gurl on to the backs of the buffalo.
"Ladies, I ain't denyin' that then Monty Price was some scairt.
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