The Light of Western Stars
Part 7 out of 8
whiteness. Hawe, in a slow, stupid embarrassment beyond his
control, removed his sombrero in a respect that seemed wrenched
"Mr. Hawe, I can prove to you that Stewart was not concerned in
any way whatever with the crime for which you want to arrest
The sheriff's stare underwent a blinking change. He coughed,
stammered, and tried to speak. Manifestly, he had been thrown
completely off his balance. Astonishment slowly merged into
"It was absolutely impossible for Stewart to have been connected
with that assault," went on Madeline, swiftly, "for he was with
me in the waiting-room of the station at the moment the assault
was made outside. I assure you I have a distinct and vivid
recollection. The door was open. I heard the voices of
quarreling men. They grew louder. The language was Spanish.
Evidently these men had left the dance-hall opposite and were
approaching the station. I heard a woman's voice mingling with
the others. It, too, was Spanish, and I could not understand.
But the tone was beseeching. Then I heard footsteps on the
gravel. I knew Stewart heard them. I could see from his face
that something dreadful was about to happen. Just outside the
door then there were hoarse, furious voices, a scuffle, a muffled
shot, a woman's cry, the thud of a falling body, and rapid
footsteps of a man running away. Next, the girl Bonita staggered
into the door. She was white, trembling, terror-stricken. She
recognized Stewart, appealed to him. Stewart supported her and
endeavored to calm her. He was excited. He asked her if Danny
Mains had been shot, or if he had done the shooting. The girl
said no. She told Stewart that she had danced a little, flirted
a little with vaqueros, and they had quarreled over her. Then
Stewart took her outside and put her upon his horse. I saw the
girl ride that horse down the street to disappear in the
While Madeline spoke another change appeared to be working in the
man Hawe. He was not long disconcerted, but his discomfiture
wore to a sullen fury, and his sharp features fixed in an
expression of craft.
"Thet's mighty interestin', Miss Hammond, 'most as interestin' as
a story-book," he sald. "Now, since you're so obligin' a
witness, I'd sure like to put a question or two. What time did
you arrive at El Cajon thet night?"
"It was after eleven o'clock," replied Madeline.
"Nobody there to meet you?"
"The station agent an' operator both gone?"
"Wal, how soon did this feller Stewart show up?" Hawe continued,
with a wry smile.
"Very soon after my arrival. I think--perhaps fifteen minutes,
possibly a little more."
"Some dark an' lonesome around thet station, wasn't it?"
"An' what time was the Greaser shot?" queried Hawe, with his
little eyes gleaming like coals.
"Probably close to half past one. It was two o'clock when I
looked at my watch at Florence Kingsley's house. Directly after
Stewart sent Bonita away he took me to Miss Kingsley's. So,
allowing for the walk and a few minutes' conversation with her, I
can pretty definitely say the shooting took place at about half
Stillwell heaved his big frame a step closer to the sheriff.
"What 're you drivin' at?" he roared, his face black again.
"Evidence," snapped Hawe.
Madeline marveled at this interruption; and as Stewart
irresistibly drew her glance she saw him gray-faced as ashes,
shaking, utterly unnerved.
"I thank you, Miss Hammond," he said, huskily. "But you needn't
answer any more of Hawe's questions. He's--he's-- It's not
necessary. I'll go with him now, under arrest. Bonita will
corroborate your testimony in court, and that will save me from
this--this man's spite."
Madeline, looking at Stewart, seeing a humility she at first took
for cowardice, suddenly divined that it was not fear for himself
which made him dread further disclosures of that night, but fear
for her--fear of shame she might suffer through him.
Pat Hawe cocked his head to one side, like a vulture about to
strike with his beak, and cunningly eyed Madeline.
"Considered as testimony, what you've said is sure important an'
conclusive. But I'm calculatin' thet the court will want to hev
explained why you stayed from eleven-thirty till one-thirty in
thet waitin'-room alone with Stewart."
His deliberate speech met with what Madeline imagined a
remarkable reception from Stewart, who gave a tigerish start;
from Stillwell, whose big hands tore at the neck of his shirt, as
if he was choking; from Alfred, who now strode hotly forward, to
be stopped by the cold and silent Nels; from Monty Price, who
uttered a violent "Aw!" which was both a hiss and a roar.
In the rush of her thought Madeline could not interpret the
meaning of these things which seemed so strange at that moment.
But they were portentous. Even as she was forming a reply to
Hawe's speech she felt a chill creep over her.
"Stewart detained me in the waiting-room," she said, clear-voiced
as a bell. "But we were not alone--all the time."
For a moment the only sound following her words was a gasp from
Stewart. Hawe's face became transformed with a hideous amaze and
"Detained?" he whispered, craning his lean and corded neck.
"Stewart was drunk. He--"
With sudden passionate gesture of despair Stewart appealed to
''Oh, Miss Hammond, don't! don't! DON'T! . . ."
Then he seemed to sink down, head lowered upon his breast, in
utter shame. Stillwell's great hand swept to the bowed shoulder,
and he turned to Madeline.
"Miss Majesty, I reckon you'd be wise to tell all," said the old
cattleman, gravely. "There ain't one of us who could
misunderstand any motive or act of yours. Mebbe a stroke of
lightnin' might clear this murky air. Whatever Gene Stewart did
that onlucky night--you tell it."
Madeline's dignity and self-possession had been disturbed by
Stewart's importunity. She broke into swift, disconnected
"He came into the station--a few minutes after I got there. I
asked-to be shown to a hotel. He said there wasn't any that
would accommodate married women. He grasped my hand--looked for
a wedding-ring. Then I saw he was--he was intoxicated. He told
me he would go for a hotel porter. But he came back with a
padre--Padre Marcos. The poor priest was--terribly frightened.
So was I. Stewart had turned into a devil. He fired his gun at
the padre's feet. He pushed me into a bench. Again he shot--
right before my face. I--I nearly fainted. But I heard him
cursing the padre--heard the padre praying or chanting--I didn't
know what. Stewart tried to make me say things in Spanish. All
at once he asked my name. I told him. He jerked at my veil. I
took it off. Then he threw his gun down--pushed the padre out of
the door. That was just before the vaqueros approached with
Bonita. Padre Marcos must have seen them--must have heard them.
After that Stewart grew quickly sober. He was mortified--
distressed--stricken with shame. He told me he had been drinking
at a wedding--I remember, it was Ed Linton's wedding. Then he
explained--the boys were always gambling--he wagered he would
marry the first girl who arrived at El Cajon. I happened to be
the first one. He tried to force me to marry him. The rest--
relating to the assault on the vaquero--I have already told you."
Madeline ended, out of breath and panting, with her hands pressed
upon her heaving bosom. Revelation of that secret liberated
emotion; those hurried outspoken words had made her throb and
tremble and burn. Strangely then she thought of Alfred and his
wrath. But he stood motionless, as if dazed. Stillwell was
trying to holster up the crushed Stewart.
Hawe rolled his red eyes and threw back his head.
"Ho, ho, ho! Ho, ho, ho! Say, Sneed, you didn't miss any of it,
did ye? Haw, haw! Best I ever heerd in all my born days. Ho,
Then he ceased laughing, and with glinting gaze upon Madeline,
insolent and vicious and savage, he began to drawl:
"Wal now, my lady, I reckon your story, if it tallies with
Bonita's an' Padre Marcos's, will clear Gene Stewart in the eyes
of the court." Here he grew slower, more biting, sharper and
harder of face. "But you needn't expect Pat Hawe or the court to
swaller thet part of your story--about bein' detained unwillin'!"
Madeline had not time to grasp the sense of his last words.
Stewart had convulsively sprung upward, white as chalk. As he
leaped at Hawe Stillwell interposed his huge bulk and wrapped his
arms around Stewart. There was a brief, whirling, wrestling
struggle. Stewart appeared to be besting the old cattleman.
"Help, boys, help!" yelled Stillwell. "I can't hold him. Hurry,
or there's goin' to be blood spilled!"
Nick Steele and several cowboys leaped to Stillwell's assistance.
Stewart, getting free, tossed one aside and then another. They
closed in on him. For an instant a furious straining wrestle of
powerful bodies made rasp and shock and blow. Once Stewart
heaved them from him. But they plunged back upon him--conquered
"Gene! Why, Gene!" panted the old cattleman. "Sure you're
locoed--to act this way. Cool down! Cool down! Why, boy, it's
all right. Jest stand still--give us a chance to talk to you.
It's only ole Bill, you know--your ole pal who's tried to be a
daddy to you. He's only wantin' you to hev sense--to be cool--to
"Let me go! Let me go!" cried Stewart; and the poignancy of that
cry pierced Madeline's heart. "Let me go, Bill, if you're my
friend. I saved your life once--over in the desert. You swore
you'd never forget. Boys, make him let me go! Oh, I don't care
what Hawe's said or done to me! It was that about her! Are you
all a lot of Greasers? How can you stand it? Damn you for a lot
of cowards! There's a limit, I tell you." Then his voice broke,
fell to a whisper. "Bill, dear old Bill, let me go. I'll kill
him! You know I'll kill him!"
"Gene, I know you'd kill him if you hed an even break," replied
Stillwell, soothingly. "But, Gene, why, you ain't even packin' a
gun! An' there's Pat lookin' nasty, with his hand nervous-like.
He seen you hed no gun. He'd jump at the chance to plug you now,
an' then holler about opposition to the law. Cool down, son;
it'll all come right."
Suddenly Madeline was transfixed by a terrible sound.
Her startled glance shifted from the anxious group round Stewart
to see that Monty Price had leaped off the porch. He crouched
down with his bands below his hips, where the big guns swung.
From his distorted lips issued that which was combined roar and
bellow and Indian war-whoop, and, more than all, a horrible
warning cry. He resembled a hunchback about to make the leap of
a demon. He was quivering, vibrating. His eyes, black and hot,
were fastened with most piercing intentness upon Hawe and Sneed.
"Git back, Bill, git back!" he roared. "Git 'em back!" With one
lunge Stillwell shoved Stewart and Nick and the other cowboys up
on the porch. Then he crowded Madeline and Alfred and Florence
to the wall, tried to force them farther. His motions were rapid
and stern. But failing to get them through door and windows, he
planted his wide person between the women and danger. Madeline
grasped his arm, held on, and peered fearfully from behind his
"You, Hawe! You, Sneed!" called Monty, in that same wild voice.
"Don't you move a finger or an eyelash!"
Madeline's faculties nerved to keen, thrilling divination. She
grasped the relation between Monty's terrible cry and the strange
hunched posture he had assumed. Stillwell's haste and silence,
too, were pregnant of catastrophe.
"Nels, git in this!" yelled Monty; and all the time he never
shifted his intent gaze as much as a hair's-breadth from Hawe and
his deputy. "Nels, chase away them two fellers hangin' back
there. Chase 'em, quick!"
These men, the two deputies who had remained in the background
with the pack-horses, did not wait for Nels. They spurred their
mounts, wheeled, and galloped away.
"Now, Nels, cut the gurl loose," ordered Monty.
Nels ran forward, jerked the halter out of Sneed's hand, and
pulled Bonita's horse in close to the porch. As he slit the rope
which bound her she fell into his arms.
"Hawe, git down!" went on Monty. "Face front an' stiff!"
The sheriff swung his leg, and, never moving his hands, with his
face now a deathly, sickening white, he slid to the ground.
"Line up there beside your guerrilla pard. There! You two make
a damn fine pictoor, a damn fine team of pizened coyote an' a
cross between a wild mule an' a Greaser. Now listen!"
Monty made a long pause, in which his breathing was plainly
Madeline's eyes were riveted upon Monty. Her mind, swift as
lightning, had gathered the subtleties in action and word
succeeding his domination of the men. Violence, terrible
violence, the thing she had felt, the thing she had feared, the
thing she had sought to eliminate from among her cowboys, was,
after many months, about to be enacted before her eyes. It had
come at last. She had softened Stillwell, she had influenced
Nels, she had changed Stewart; but this little black-faced,
terrible Monty Price now rose, as it were, out of his past wild
years, and no power on earth or in heaven could stay his hand. It
was the hard life of wild men in a wild country that was about to
strike this blow at her. She did not shudder; she did not wish
to blot out from sight this little man, terrible in his mood of
wild justice. She suffered a flash of horror that Monty, blind
and dead to her authority, cold as steel toward her presence,
understood the deeps of a woman's soul. For in this moment of
strife, of insult to her, of torture to the man she had uplifted
and then broken, the passion of her reached deep toward primitive
hate. With eyes slowly hazing red, she watched Monty Price; she
listened with thrumming ears; she waited, slowly sagging against
"Hawe, if you an' your dirty pard hev loved the sound of human
voice, then listen an' listen hard," said Monty. "Fer I've been
goin' contrary to my ole style jest to hev a talk with you. You
all but got away on your nerve, didn't you? 'Cause why? You roll
in here like a mad steer an' flash yer badge an' talk mean, then
almost bluff away with it. You heerd all about Miss Hammond's
cowboy outfit stoppin' drinkin' an' cussin' an' packin' guns.
They've took on religion an' decent livin', an' sure they'll be
easy to hobble an' drive to jail. Hawe, listen. There was a good
an' noble an be-ootiful woman come out of the East somewheres,
an' she brought a lot of sunshine an' happiness an' new idees
into the tough lives of cowboys. I reckon it's beyond you to
know what she come to mean to them. Wal, I'll tell you.
They-all went clean out of their heads. They-all got soft an'
easy an' sweet-tempered. They got so they couldn't kill a coyote,
a crippled calf in a mud-hole. They took to books, an' writin'
home to mother an' sister, an' to savin' money, an' to gittin'
married. Onct they was only a lot of poor cowboys, an' then
sudden-like they was human bein's, livin' in a big world thet hed
somethin' sweet even fer them. Even fer me--an ole, worn-out,
hobble-legged, burned-up cowman like me! Do you git thet? An'
you, Mister Hawe, you come along, not satisfied with ropin' an'
beatin', an' Gaw knows what else, of thet friendless little
Bonita; you come along an' face the lady we fellers honor an'
love an' reverence, an' you--you-- Hell's fire!"
With whistling breath, foaming at the mouth, Monty Price crouched
lower, hands at his hips, and he edged inch by inch farther out
from the porch, closer to Hawe and Sneed. Madeline saw them only
in the blurred fringe of her sight. They resembled specters. She
heard the shrill whistle of a horse and recognized Majesty
calling her from the corral.
"Thet's all!" roared Monty, in a voice now strangling. Lower and
lower he bent, a terrible figure of ferocity. "Now, both you
armed ocifers of the law, come on! Flash your guns! Throw 'em,
an' be quick! Monty Price is done! There'll be daylight through
you both before you fan a hammer! But I'm givin' you a chanst to
sting me. You holler law, an' my way is the ole law."
His breath came quicker, his voice grew hoarser, and he crouched
lower. All his body except his rigid arms quivered with a
wonderful muscular convulsion.
"Dogs! Skunks! Buzzards! Flash them guns, er I'll flash mine!
To Madeline it seemed the three stiff, crouching men leaped into
instant and united action. She saw streaks of fire--streaks of
smoke. Then a crashing volley deafened her. It ceased as
quickly. Smoke veiled the scene. Slowly it drifted away to
disclose three fallen men, one of whom, Monty, leaned on his left
hand, a smoking gun in his right. He watched for a movement from
the other two. It did not come. Then, with a terrible smile, he
slid back and stretched out.
In waking and sleeping hours Madeline Hammond could not release
herself from the thralling memory of that tragedy. She was
haunted by Monty Price's terrible smile. Only in action of some
kind could she escape; and to that end she worked, she walked and
rode. She even overcame a strong feeling, which she feared was
unreasonable disgust, for the Mexican girl Bonita, who lay ill at
the ranch, bruised and feverish, in need of skilful nursing.
Madeline felt there was something inscrutable changing her soul.
That strife--the struggle to decide her destiny for East or West-
-held still further aloof. She was never spiritually alone.
There was a step on her trail. Indoors she was oppressed. She
required the open--the light and wind, the sight of endless
slope, the sounds of corral and pond and field, physical things,
One afternoon she rode down to the alfalfa-fields, round them,
and back up to the spillway of the lower lake, where a group of
mesquite-trees, owing to the water that seeped through the sand
to their roots, had taken on bloom and beauty of renewed life.
Under these trees there was shade enough to make a pleasant place
to linger. Madeline dismounted, desiring to rest a little. She
liked this quiet, lonely spot. It was really the only secluded
nook near the house. If she rode down into the valley or out to
the mesa or up on the foothills she could not go alone. Probably
now Stillwell or Nels knew her whereabouts. But as she was
comparatively hidden here, she imagined a solitude that was not
Her horse, Majesty, tossed his head and flung his mane and
switched his tail at the flies. He would rather have been
cutting the wind down the valley slope. Madeline sat with her
back against a tree, and took off her sombrero. The soft breeze,
fanning her hot face, blowing strands of her hair, was
refreshingly cool. She heard the slow tramp of cattle going in
to drink. That sound ceased, and the grove of mesquites appeared
to be lifeless, except for her and her horse. It was, however,
only after moments of attention that she found the place was far
from being dead. Keen eyes and ears brought reward. Desert
quail, as gray as the bare earth, were dusting themselves in a
shady spot. A bee, swift as light, hummed by. She saw a horned
toad, the color of stone, squatting low, hiding fearfully in the
sand within reach of her whip. She extended the point of the
whip, and the toad quivered and swelled and hissed. It was
instinct with fight. The wind faintly stirred the thin foliage
of the mesquites, making a mournful sigh. From far up in the
foothills, barely distinguishable, came the scream of an eagle.
The bray of a burro brought a brief, discordant break. Then a
brown bird darted down from an unseen perch and made a swift,
irregular flight after a fluttering winged insect. Madeline
heard the sharp snapping of a merciless beak. Indeed, there was
more than life in the shade of the mesquites.
Suddenly Majesty picked up his long ears and snorted. Then
Madeline heard a slow pad of hoofs. A horse was approaching from
the direction of the lake. Madeline had learned to be wary, and,
mounting Majesty, she turned him toward the open. A moment later
she felt glad of her caution, for, looking back between the
trees, she saw Stewart leading a horse into the grove. She would
as lief have met a guerrilla as this cowboy.
Majesty had broken into a trot when a shrill whistle rent the
air. The horse leaped and, wheeling so swiftly that he nearly
unseated Madeline, he charged back straight for the mesquites.
Madeline spoke to him, cried angrily at him, pulled with all her
strength upon the bridle, but was helplessly unable to stop him.
He whistled a piercing blast. Madeline realized then that
Stewart, his old master, had called him and that nothing could
turn him. She gave up trying, and attended to the urgent need of
intercepting mesquite boughs that Majesty thrashed into motion.
The horse thumped into an aisle between the trees and, stopping
before Stewart, whinnied eagerly.
Madeline, not knowing what to expect, had not time for any
feeling but amaze. A quick glance showed her Stewart in rough
garb, dressed for the trail, and leading a wiry horse, saddled
and packed. When Stewart, without looking at her, put his arm
around Majesty's neck and laid his face against the flowing mane
Madeline's heart suddenly began to beat with unwonted quickness.
Stewart seemed oblivious to her presence. His eyes were closed.
His dark face softened, lost its hardness and fierceness and
sadness, and for an instant became beautiful.
Madeline instantly divined what his action meant. He was leaving
the ranch; this was his good-by to his horse. How strange, sad,
fine was this love between man and beast! A dimness confused
Madeline's eyes; she hurriedly brushed it away, and it came hack
wet and blurring. She averted her face, ashamed of the tears
Stewart might see. She was sorry for him. He was going away, and
this time, judging from the nature of his farewell to his horse,
it was to be forever. Like a stab from a cold blade a pain shot
through Madeline's heart. The wonder of it, the
incomprehensibility of it, the utter newness and strangeness of
this sharp pain that now left behind a dull pang, made her forget
Stewart, her surroundings, everything except to search her heart.
Maybe here was the secret that had eluded her. She trembled on
the brink of something unknown. In some strange way the emotion
brought back her girlhood. Her mind revolved swift queries and
replies; she was living, feeling, learning; happiness mocked at
her from behind a barred door, and the bar of that door seemed to
be an inexplicable pain. Then like lightning strokes shot the
questions: Why should pain hide her happiness? What was her
happiness? What relation had it to this man? Why should she
feel strangely about his departure? And the voices within her
were silenced, stunned, unanswered.
"I want to talk to you," said Stewart.
Madeline started, turned to him, and now she saw the earlier
Stewart, the man who reminded her of their first meeting at El
Cajon, of that memorable meeting at Chiricahua.
"I want to ask you something," he went on. "I've been wanting to
know something. That's why I've hung on here. You never spoke
to me, never noticed me, never gave me a chance to ask you. But
now I'm going over--over the border. And I want to know. Why
did you refuse to listen to me?"
At his last words that hot shame, tenfold more stifling than when
it had before humiliated Madeline, rushed over her, sending the
scarlet in a wave to her temples. It seemed that his words made
her realize she was actually face to face with him, that somehow
a shame she would rather have died than revealed was being
liberated. Biting her lips to hold back speech, she jerked on
Majesty's bridle, struck him with her whip, spurred him.
Stewart's iron arm held the horse. Then Madeline, in a flash of
passion, struck at Stewart's face, missed it, struck again, and
hit. With one pull, almost drawing her from the saddle, he tore
the whip from her hands. It was not that action on his part, or
the sudden strong masterfulness of his look, so much as the livid
mark on his face where the whip had lashed that quieted, if it
did not check, her fury.
That's nothing," he said, with something of his old audacity.
"That's nothing to how you've hurt me."
Madeline battled with herself for control. This man would not be
denied. Never before had the hardness of his face, the flinty
hardness of these desert-bred men, so struck her with its
revelation of the unbridled spirit. He looked stern, haggard,
bitter. The dark shade was changing to gray--the gray to
ash-color of passion. About him now there was only the ghost of
that finer, gentler man she had helped to bring into being. The
piercing dark eyes he bent upon her burned her, went through her
as if he were looking into her soul. Then Madeline's quick sight
caught a fleeting doubt, a wistfulness, a surprised and saddened
certainty in his eyes, saw it shade and pass away. Her woman's
intuition, as keen as her sight, told her Stewart in that moment
had sustained a shock of bitter, final truth.
For the third time he repeated his question to her. Madeline did
not answer; she could not speak.
"You don't know I love you, do you?" he continued, passionately.
"That ever since you stood before me in that hole at Chiricahua
I've loved you? You can't see I've been another man, loving you,
working for you, living for you? You won't believe I've turned
my back on the old wild life, that I've been decent and honorable
and happy and useful--your kind of a cowboy? You couldn't tell,
though I loved you, that I never wanted you to know it, that I
never dared to think of you except as my angel, my holy Virgin?
What do you know of a man's heart and soul? How could you tell
of the love, the salvation of a man who's lived his life in the
silence and loneliness? Who could teach you the actual truth--
that a wild cowboy, faithless to mother and sister, except in
memory, riding a hard, drunken trail straight to hell; had looked
into the face, the eyes of a beautiful woman infinitely beyond
him, above him, and had so loved her that he was saved--that he
became faithful again--that he saw her face in every flower and
her eyes in the blue heaven? Who could tell you, when at night I
stood alone under these Western stars, how deep in my soul I was
glad just to be alive, to be able to do something for you, to be
near you, to stand between you and worry, trouble, danger, to
feel somehow that I was a part, just a little part of the West
you had come to love?"
Madeline was mute. She heard her heart thundering in her ears.
Stewart leaped at her. His powerful hand closed on her arm. She
trembled. His action presaged the old instinctive violence.
"No; but you think I kept Bonita up in the mountains, that I went
secretly to meet her, that all the while I served you I was-- Oh,
I know what you think! I know now. I never knew till I made you
look at me. Now, say it! Speak!"
White-hot, blinded, utterly in the fiery grasp of passion,
powerless to stem the rush of a word both shameful and revealing
and fatal, Madeline cried:
He had wrenched that word from her, but he was not subtle enough,
not versed in the mystery of woman's motive enough, to divine the
deep significance of her reply.
For him the word had only literal meaning confirming the dishonor
in which she held him. Dropping her arm, he shrank back, a
strange action for the savage and crude man she judged him to be.
"But that day at Chiricahua you spoke of faith," he burst out.
"You said the greatest thing in the world was faith in human
nature. You said the finest men had been those who had fallen
low and had risen. You said you had faith in me! You made me
have faith in myself!"
His reproach, without bitterness or scorn, was a lash to her old
egoistic belief in her fairness. She had preached a beautiful
principle that she had failed to live up to. She understood his
rebuke, she wondered and wavered, but the affront to her pride
had been too great, the tumult within her breast had been too
startlingly fierce; she could not speak, the moment passed, and
with it his brief, rugged splendor of simplicity.
"You think I am vile," he said. "You think that about Bonita!
And all the time I've been . . . I could make you ashamed--I
could tell you--"
His passionate utterance ceased with a snap of his teeth. His
lips set in a thin, bitter line. The agitation of his face
preceded a convulsive wrestling of his shoulders. All this swift
action denoted an inner combat, and it nearly overwhelmed him.
"No, no!" he panted. Was it his answer to some mighty
temptation? Then, like a bent sapling released, he sprang erect.
"But I'll be the man--the dog--you think me!"
He laid hold of her arm with rude, powerful clutch. One pull drew
her sliding half out of the saddle into his arms. She fell with
her breast against his, not wholly free of stirrups or horse, and
there she hung, utterly powerless. Maddened, writhing, she tore
to release herself. All she could accomplish was to twist
herself, raise herself high enough to see his face. That almost
paralyzed her. Did he mean to kill her? Then he wrapped his
arms around her and crushed her tighter, closer to him. She felt
the pound of his heart; her own seemed to have frozen. Then he
pressed his burning lips to hers. It was a long, terrible kiss.
She felt him shake.
"Oh, Stewart! I--implore--you--let--me--go!" she whispered.
His white face loomed over hers. She closed her eyes. He rained
kisses upon her face, but no more upon her mouth. On her closed
eyes, her hair, her cheeks, her neck he pressed swift lips--lips
that lost their fire and grew cold. Then he released her, and,
lifting and righting her in the saddle, he still held her arm to
keep her from falling.
For a moment Madeline sat on her horse with shut eyes. She
dreaded the light.
"Now you can't say you've never been kissed," Stewart said. His
voice seemed a long way off. "But that was coming to you, so be
She felt something hard and cold and metallic thrust into her
hand. He made her fingers close over it, hold it. The feel of
the thing revived her. She opened her eyes. Stewart had given
her his gun. He stood with his broad breast against her knee,
and she looked up to see that old mocking smile on his face.
"Go ahead! Throw my gun on me! Be a thoroughbred!"
Madeline did not yet grasp his meaning.
"You can put me down in that quiet place on the hill--beside
Madeline dropped the gun with a shuddering cry of horror. The
sense of his words, the memory of Monty, the certainty that she
would kill Stewart if she held the gun an instant longer,
tortured the self-accusing cry from her.
Stewart stooped to pick up the weapon.
"You might have saved me a hell of a lot of trouble," he said,
with another flash of the mocking smile. "You're beautiful and
sweet and proud, but you're no thoroughbred! Majesty Hammond,
Stewart leaped for the saddle of his horse, and with the flying
mount crashed through the mesquites to disappear.
XXII The Secret Told
In the shaded seclusion of her room, buried face down deep among
the soft cushions on her couch, Madeline Hammond lay prostrate
and quivering under the outrage she had suffered.
The afternoon wore away; twilight fell; night came; and then
Madeline rose to sit by the window to let the cool wind blow upon
her hot face. She passed through hours of unintelligible shame
and impotent rage and futile striving to reason away her
The train of brightening stars seemed to mock her with their
unattainable passionless serenity. She had loved them, and now
she imagined she hated them and everything connected with this
wild, fateful, and abrupt West.
She would go home.
Edith Wayne had been right; the West was no place for Madeline
Hammond. The decision to go home came easily, naturally, she
thought, as the result of events. It caused her no mental
strife. Indeed, she fancied she felt relief. The great stars,
blinking white and cold over the dark crags, looked down upon
her, and, as always, after she had watched them for a while they
enthralled her. "Under Western stars," she mused, thinking a
little scornfully of the romantic destiny they had blazed for her
idle sentiment. But they were beautiful; they were speaking;
they were mocking; they drew her. "Ah!" she sighed. "It will
not be so very easy to leave them, after all."
Madeline closed and darkened the window. She struck a light. It
was necessary to tell the anxious servants who knocked that she
was well and required nothing. A soft step on the walk outside
arrested her. Who was there--Nels or Nick Steele or Stillwell?
Who shared the guardianship over her, now that Monty Price was
dead and that other--that savage--? It was monstrous and
unfathomable that she regretted him.
The light annoyed her. Complete darkness fitted her strange
mood. She retired and tried to compose herself to sleep. Sleep
for her was not a matter of will. Her cheeks burned so hotly
that she rose to bathe them. Cold water would not alleviate this
burn, and then, despairing of forgetfulness, she lay down again
with a shameful gratitude for the cloak of night. Stewart's
kisses were there, scorching her lips, her closed eyes, her
swelling neck. They penetrated deeper and deeper into her blood,
into her heart, into her soul--the terrible farewell kisses of a
passionate, hardened man. Despite his baseness, he had loved her.
Late in the night Madeline fell asleep. In the morning she was
pale and languid, but in a mental condition that promised composure.
It was considerably after her regular hour that Madeline repaired
to her office. The door was open, and just outside, tipped back
in a chair, sat Stillwell.
"Mawnin', Miss Majesty," he said, as he rose to greet her with
his usual courtesy. There were signs of trouble in his lined
face. Madeline shrank inwardly, fearing his old lamentations
about Stewart. Then she saw a dusty, ragged pony in the yard and
a little burro drooping under a heavy pack. Both animals bore
evidence of long, arduous travel.
"To whom do they belong?" asked Madeline.
"Them critters? Why, Danny Mains," replied Stillwell, with a
cough that betrayed embarrassment.
"Danny Mains?" echoed Madeline, wonderingly.
"Wal, I said so."
Stillwell was indeed not himself.
Is Danny Mains here?" she asked, in sudden curiosity.
The old cattleman nodded gloomily.
"Yep, he's hyar, all right. Sloped in from the hills, an' he
hollered to see Bonita. He's locoed, too, about that little
black-eyed hussy. Why, he hardly said, 'Howdy, Bill,' before he
begun to ask wild an' eager questions. I took him in to see
Bonita. He's been there more 'n a half-hour now."
Evidently Stillwell's sensitive feelings had been ruffled,
Madeline's curiosity changed to blank astonishment, which left
her with a thrilling premonition. She caught her breath. A
thousand thoughts seemed thronging for clear conception in her
Rapid footsteps with an accompaniment of clinking spurs sounded
in the hallway. Then a young man ran out upon the porch. He
resembled a cowboy in his lithe build, his garb and action, in
the way he wore his gun, but his face, instead of being red, was
clear brown tan. His eyes were blue; his hair was light and
curly. He was a handsome, frank-faced boy. At sight of Madeline
he slammed down his sombrero and, leaping at her, he possessed
himself of her hands. His swift violence not only alarmed her,
but painfully reminded her of something she wished to forget.
This cowboy bent his head and kissed her hands and wrung them,
and when he straightened up he was crying.
"Miss Hammond, she's safe an' almost well, an' what I feared most
ain't so, thank God," he cried. "Sure I'll never be able to pay
you for all you've done for her. She's told me how she was
dragged down here, how Gene tried to save her, how you spoke up
for Gene an' her, too, how Monty at the last throwed his guns.
Poor Monty! We were good friends, Monty an' I. But it wasn't
friendship for me that made Monty stand in there. He would have
saved her, anyway. Monty Price was the whitest man I ever knew.
There's Nels an' Nick an' Gene, he's been some friend to me; but
Monty Price was--he was grand. He never knew, any more than you
or Bill, here, or the boys, what Bonita was to me."
Stillwell's kind and heavy hand fell upon the cowboy's shoulder.
"Danny, what's all this queer gab?" he asked. "An' you're takin'
some liberty with Miss Hammond, who never seen you before. Sure
I'm makin' allowance fer amazin' strange talk. I see you're not
drinkin'. Mebbe you're plumb locoed. Come, ease up now an' talk
The cowboy's fine, frank face broke into a smile. He dashed the
tears from his eyes. Then he laughed. His laugh had a pleasant,
boyish ring--a happy ring.
"Bill, old pal, stand bridle down a minute, will you?" Then he
bowed to Madeline. "I beg your pardon, Miss Hammond, for seemin'
rudeness. I'm Danny Mains. An' Bonita is my wife. I'm so crazy
glad she's safe an' unharmed--so grateful to you that--why, sure
it's a wonder I didn't kiss you outright."
"Bonita's your wife!" ejaculated Stillwell.
"Sure. We've been married for months," replied Danny, happily.
"Gene Stewart did it. Good old Gene, he's hell on marryin'. I
guess maybe I haven't come to pay him up for all he's done for
me! You see, I've been in love with Bonita for two years. An'
Gene--you know, Bill, what a way Gene has with girls--he was--
well, he was tryin' to get Bonita to have me."
Madeline's quick, varying emotions were swallowed up in a
boundless gladness. Something dark, deep, heavy, and somber was
flooded from her heart. She had a sudden rich sense of gratitude
toward this smiling, clean-faced cowboy whose blue eyes flashed
"Danny Mains!" she said, tremulously and smilingly. "If you are
as glad as your news has made me--if you really think I merit
such a reward--you may kiss me outright."
With a bashful wonder, but with right hearty will, Danny Mains
availed himself of this gracious privilege. Stillwell snorted.
The signs of his phenomenal smile were manifest, otherwise
Madeline would have thought that snort an indication of furious
"Bill, straddle a chair," said Danny. "You've gone back a heap
these last few months, frettin' over your bad boys, Danny an'
Gene. You'll need support under you while I'm throwin' my yarn.
Story of my life, Bill." He placed a chair for Madeline. "Miss
Hammond, beggin' your pardon again, I want you to listen, also.
You've the face an' eyes of a woman who loves to hear of other
people's happiness. Besides, somehow, it's easy for me to talk
lookin' at you."
His manner subtly changed then. Possibly it took on a little
swagger; certainly he lost the dignity that he had shown under
stress of feeling; he was now more like a cowboy about to boast
or affect some stunning maneuver. Walking off the porch, he
stood before the weary horse and burro.
"Played out!" he exclaimed.
Then with the swift violence so characteristic of men of his
class he slipped the pack from the burro and threw saddle and
bridle from the horse.
"There! See 'em! Take a look at the last dog-gone weight you
ever packed! You've been some faithful to Danny Mains. An'
Danny Mains pays! Never a saddle again or a strap or a halter or
a hobble so long as you live! So long as you live nothin' but
grass an' clover, an' cool water in shady places, an' dusty
swales to roll in an' rest an' sleep!"
Then he untied the pack and, taking a small, heavy sack from it,
he came back upon the porch. Deliberately he dumped the contents
of the sack at Stillwell's feet. Piece after piece of rock
thumped upon the floor. The pieces were sharp, ragged, evidently
broken from a ledge; the body of them was white in color, with
yellow veins and bars and streaks. Stillwell grasped up one rock
after another, stared and stuttered, put the rocks to his lips,
dug into them with his shaking fingers; then he lay back in his
chair, head against the wall, and as he gaped at Danny the old
smile began to transform his face.
"Lord, Danny if you hevn't been an' gone an' struck it rich!"
Danny regarded Stillwell with lofty condescension.
"Some rich," he said. "Now, Bill, what've we got here, say,
"Oh, Lord, Danny! I'm afraid to say. Look, Miss Majesty, jest
look at the gold. I've lived among prospectors an' gold-mines
fer thirty years, an' I never seen the beat of this."
"The Lost Mine of the Padres!" cried Danny, in stentorian voice.
"An' it belongs to me!"
Stillwell made some incoherent sound as he sat up fascinated,
quite beside himself.
"Bill, it was some long time ago since you saw me," said Danny.
"Fact is, I know how you felt, because Gene kept me posted. I
happened to run across Bonita, an' I wasn't goin' to let her ride
away alone, when she told me she was in trouble. We hit the
trail for the Peloncillos. Bonita had Gene's horse, an' she was
to meet him up on the trail. We got to the mountains all right,
an' nearly starved for a few days till Gene found us. He had got
in trouble himself an' couldn't fetch much with him.
"We made for the crags an' built a cabin. I come down that day
Gene sent his horse Majesty to you. Never saw Gene so
broken-hearted. Well, after he sloped for the border Bonita an'
I were hard put to it to keep alive. But we got along, an' I
think it was then she began to care a little for me. Because I
was decent. I killed cougars an' went down to Rodeo to get
bounties for the skins, an' bought grub an' supplies I needed.
Once I went to El Cajon an' run plumb into Gene. He was back
from the revolution an' cuttin' up some. But I got away from him
after doin' all I could to drag him out of town. A long time
after that Gene trailed up to the crags an' found us. Gene had
stopped drinkin', he'd changed wonderful, was fine an' dandy. It
was then he began to pester the life out of me to make me marry
Bonita. I was happy, so was she, an' I was some scared of
spoilin' it. Bonita had been a little flirt, an' I was afraid
she'd get shy of a halter, so I bucked against Gene. But I was
all locoed, as it turned out. Gene would come up occasionally,
packin' supplies for us, an' always he'd get after me to do the
right thing by Bonita. Gene's so dog-gone hard to buck against!
I had to give in, an' I asked Bonita to marry me. Well, she
wouldn't at first--said she wasn't good enough for me. But I saw
the marriage idea was workin' deep, an' I just kept on bein' as
decent as I knew how. So it was my wantin' to marry Bonita--my
bein' glad to marry her--that made her grow soft an' sweet an'
pretty as--as a mountain quail. Gene fetched up Padre Marcos,
an' he married us."
Danny paused in his narrative, breathing hard, as if the memory
of the incident described had stirred strong and thrilling
feeling in him. Stillwell's smile was rapturous. Madeline leaned
toward Danny with her eyes shining.
"Miss Hammond, an' you, Bill Stillwell, now listen, for this is
strange I've got to tell you. The afternoon Bonita an' I were
married, when Gene an' the padre had gone, I was happy one minute
an' low-hearted the next. I was miserable because I had a bad
name. I couldn't buy even a decent dress for my pretty wife.
Bonita heard me, an' she was some mysterious. She told me the
story of the lost mine of the padres, an' she kissed me an made
joyful over me in the strangest way. I knew marriage went to
women's heads, an' I thought even Bonita had a spell.
"Well, she left me for a little, an' when she came back she wore
some pretty yellow flowers in her hair. Her eyes were big an'
black an' beautiful. She said some queer things about spirits
rollin' rocks down the canon. Then she said she wanted to show
me where she always sat an' waited an' watched for me when I was
She led me around under the crags to a long slope. It was some
pretty there--clear an' open, with a long sweep, an' the desert
yawnin' deep an' red. There were yellow flowers on that slope,
the same kind she had in her hair--the same kind that Apache girl
wore hundreds of years ago when she led the padre to the
"When I thought of that, an' saw Bonita's eyes, an' then heard
the strange crack of rollin' rocks--heard them rattle down an'
roll an' grow faint--I was some out of my head. But not for
long. Them rocks were rollin' all right, only it was the
weatherin' of the cliffs.
"An' there under the crags was a gold pocket.
"Then I was worse than locoed. I went gold-crazy. I worked like
seventeen burros. Bill, I dug a lot of goldbearin' quartz.
Bonita watched the trails for me, brought me water. That was how
she come to get caught by Pat Hawe an' his guerrillas. Sure!
Pat Hawe was so set on doin' Gene dirt that he mixed up with Don
Carlos. Bonita will tell you some staggerin' news about that
outfit. Just now my story is all gold."
Danny Mains got up and kicked back his chair. Blue lightning
gleamed from his eyes as he thrust a hand toward Stillwell.
"Bill, old pal, put her there--give me your hand," he said. "You
were always my friend. You had faith in me. Well, Danny Mains
owes you, an' he owes Gene Stewart a good deal, an' Danny Mains
pays. I want two pardners to help me work my gold-mine. You an'
Gene. If there's any ranch hereabouts that takes your fancy I'll
buy it. If Miss Hammond ever gets tired of her range an stock
an' home I'll buy them for Gene. If there's any railroad or town
round here that she likes I'll buy it. If I see anythin' myself
that I like I'll buy it. Go out; find Gene for me. I'm achin'
to see him, to tell him. Go fetch him; an' right here in this
house, with my wife an' Miss Hammond as witnesses, we'll draw up
a pardnership. Go find him, Bill. I want to show him this gold,
show him how Danny Mains pays! An' the only bitter drop in my
cup to-day is that I can't ever pay Monty Price."
Madeline's lips tremblingly formed to tell Danny Mains and
Stillwell that the cowboy they wanted so much had left the ranch;
but the flame of fine loyalty that burned in Danny's eyes, the
happiness that made the old cattleman's face at once amazing and
beautiful, stiffened her lips. She watched the huge Stillwell
and the little cowboy, both talking wildly, as they walked off
arm in arm to find Stewart. She imagined something of what
Danny's disappointment would be, of the elder man's consternation
and grief, when he learned Stewart had left for the border. At
this juncture she looked up to see a strange, yet familiar figure
approaching. Padre Marcos! Certain it was that Madeline felt
herself trembling. What did his presence mean on this day? He
had always avoided meeting her whenever possible. He had been
exceedingly grateful for all she had done for his people, his
church, and himself; but he had never thanked her in person.
Perhaps he had come for that purpose now. But Madeline did not
Mention of Padre Marcos, sight of him, had always occasioned
Madeline a little indefinable shock; and now, as he stepped to
the porch, a shrunken, stooped, and sad-faced man, she was
The padre bowed low to her.
"Senora, will you grant me audience?" he asked, in perfect
English, and his voice was low-toned and grave.
"Certainly, Padre Marcos," replied Madeline; and she led him into
"May I beg to close the doors?" he asked. "It is a matter of
great moment, which you might not care to have any one hear."
Wonderingly Madeline inclined her head. The padre gently closed
one door and then the others.
"Senora, I have come to disclose a secret--my own sinfulness in
keeping it--and to implore your pardon. Do you remember that
night Senor Stewart dragged me before you in the waiting-room at
"Yes," replied Madeline.
"Senora, since that night you have been Senor Stewart's wife!"
Madeline became as motionless as stone. She seemed to feel
nothing, only to hear.
"You are Senor Stewart's wife. I have kept the secret under fear
of death. But I could keep it no longer. Senor Stewart may kill
me now. Ah, Senora, it is very strange to you. You were so
frightened that night, you knew not what happened. Senor Stewart
threatened me. He forced you. He made me speak the service. He
made you speak the Spanish yes. And I, Senora, knowing the deeds
of these sinful cowboys, fearing worse than disgrace to one so
beautiful and so good as you, I could not do less than marry you
truly. At least you should be his wife. So I married you,
truly, in the service of my church."
"My God!" cried Madeline, rising.
"Hear me! I implore you, Senora, hear me out! Do not leave me!
Do not look so--so-- Ah, Senora, let me speak a word for Senor
Stewart. He was drunk that night. He did not know what he was
about. In the morning he came to me, made me swear by my cross
that I would not reveal the disgrace he had put upon you. If I
did he would kill me. Life is nothing to the American vaquero,
Senora. I promised to respect his command. But I did not tell
him you were his wife. He did not dream I had truly married you.
He went to fight for the freedom of my country--Senora, he is one
splendid soldier--and I brooded over the sin of my secret. If he
were killed I need never tell you. But if he lived I knew that I
must some day.
"Strange indeed that Senor Stewart and Padre Marcos should both
come to this ranch together. The great change your goodness
wrought in my beloved people was no greater than the change in
Senor Stewart. Senora, I feared you would go away one day, go
back to your Eastern home, ignorant of the truth. The time came
when I confessed to Stewart--said I must tell you. Senor, the
man went mad with joy. I have never seen so supreme a joy. He
threatened no more to kill me. That strong, cruel vaquero begged
me not to tell the secret--never to reveal it. He confessed his
love for you--a love something like the desert storm. He swore
by all that was once sacred to him, and by my cross and my
church, that he would be a good man, that he would be worthy to
have you secretly his wife for the little time life left him to
worship at your shrine. You needed never to know. So I held my
tongue, half pitying him, half fearing him, and praying for some
"Senora, it was a fool's paradise that Stewart lived in. I saw
him, often. When he took me up into the mountains to have me
marry that wayward Bonita and her lover I came to have respect
for a man whose ideas about nature and life and God were at a
variance with mine. But the man is a worshiper of God in all
material things. He is a part of the wind and sun and desert and
mountain that have made him. I have never heard more beautiful
words than those in which he persuaded Bonita to accept Senor
Mains, to forget her old lovers, and henceforth to he happy. He
is their friend. I wish I could tell you what that means. It
sounds so simple. It is really simple. All great things are so.
For Senor Stewart it was natural to be loyal to his friend, to
have a fine sense of the honor due to a woman who had loved and
given, to bring about their marriage, to succor them in their
need and loneliness. It was natural for him never to speak of
them. It would have been natural for him to give his life in
their defense if peril menaced them. Senora, I want you to
understand that to me the man has the same stability, the same
strength, the same elements which I am in the habit of
attributing to the physical life around me in this wild and
Madeline listened as one under a spell. It was not only that
this soft-voiced, eloquent priest knew how to move the heart,
stir the soul; but his defense, his praise of Stewart, if they
had been couched in the crude speech of cowboys, would have been
a glory to her.
"Senora, I pray you, do not misunderstand my mission. Beyond my
confession to you I have only a duty to tell you of the man whose
wife you are. But I am a priest and I can read the soul. The
ways of God are inscrutable. I am only a humble instrument. You
are a noble woman, and Senor Stewart is a man of desert iron
forged anew in the crucible of love. Quien sabe? Senor Stewart
swore he would kill me if I betrayed him. But he will not lift
his hand against me. For the man bears you a very great and pure
love, and it has changed him. I no longer fear his threat, but I
do fear his anger, should he ever know I spoke of his love, of
his fool's paradise. I have watched his dark face turned to the
sun setting over the desert. I have watched him lift it to the
light of the stars. Think, my gracious and noble lady, think what
is his paradise? To love you above the spirit of the flesh; to
know you are his wife, his, never to be another's except by his
sacrifice; to watch you with a secret glory of joy and pride; to
stand, while he might, between you and evil; to find his
happiness in service; to wait, with never a dream of telling you,
for the hour to come when to leave you free he must go out and
get himself shot! Senora, that is beautiful, it is sublime, it
is terrible. It has brought me to you with my confession. I
repeat, Senora, the ways of God are inscrutable. What is the
meaning of your influence upon Senor Stewart? Once he was merely
an animal, brutal, unquickened; now he is a man--I have not seen
his like! So I beseech you in my humble office as priest, as a
lover of mankind, before you send Stewart to his death, to be
sure there is here no mysterious dispensation of God. Love, that
mighty and blessed and unknown thing, might be at work. Senora,
I have heard that somewhere in the rich Eastern cities you are a
very great lady. I know you are good and noble. That is all I
want to know. To me you are only a woman, the same as Senor
Stewaft is only a man. So I pray you, Senora, before you let
Stewart give you freedom at such cost be sure you do not want his
love, lest you cast away something sweet and ennobling which you
yourself have created."
XXIII The Light of Western Stars
Blinded, like a wild creature, Madeline Hammond ran to her room.
She felt as if a stroke of lightning had shattered the shadowy
substance of the dream she had made of real life. The wonder of
Danny Mains's story, the strange regret with which she had
realized her injustice to Stewart, the astounding secret as
revealed by Padre Marcos--these were forgotten in the sudden
consciousness of her own love.
Madeline fled as if pursued. With trembling hands she locked the
doors, drew the blinds of the windows that opened on the porch,
pushed chairs aside so that she could pace the length of her
room. She was now alone, and she walked with soft, hurried,
uneven steps. She could be herself here; she needed no mask; the
long habit of serenely hiding the truth from the world and from
herself could be broken. The seclusion of her darkened chamber
made possible that betrayal of herself to which she was impelled.
She paused in her swift pacing to and fro. She liberated the
thought that knocked at the gates of her mind. With quivering
lips she whispered it. Then she spoke aloud:
"I will say it--hear it. I--I love him!"
"I love him!" she repeated the astounding truth, but she doubted
"Am I still Madeline Hammond? What has happened? Who am I?"
She stood where the light from one unclosed window fell upon her
image in the mirror. "Who is this woman?"
She expected to see a familiar, dignified person, a quiet,
unruffled figure, a tranquil face with dark, proud eyes and calm,
proud lips. No, she did not see Madeline Hammond. She did not
see any one she knew. Were her eyes, like her heart, playing her
false? The figure before her was instinct with pulsating life.
The hands she saw, clasped together, pressed deep into a swelling
bosom that heaved with each panting breath. The face she saw--
white, rapt, strangely glowing, with parted, quivering lips, with
great, staring, tragic eyes--this could not be Madeline Hammond's
Yet as she looked she knew no fancy could really deceive her,
that she was only Madeline Hammond come at last to the end of
brooding dreams. She swiftly realized the change in her, divined
its cause and meaning, accepted it as inevitable, and straightway
fell back again into the mood of bewildering amaze.
Calmness was unattainable. The surprise absorbed her. She could
not go back to count the innumerable, imperceptible steps of her
undoing. Her old power of reflecting, analyzing, even thinking
at all, seemed to have vanished in a pulse-stirring sense of one
new emotion. She only felt all her instinctive outward action
that was a physical relief, all her involuntary inner strife that
was maddening, yet unutterably sweet; and they seemed to be just
one bewildering effect of surprise.
In a nature like hers, where strength of feeling had long been
inhibited as a matter of training, such a transforming surprise
as sudden consciousness of passionate love required time for its
awakening, time for its sway.
By and by that last enlightening moment came, and Madeline
Hammond faced not only the love in her heart, but the thought of
the man she loved.
Suddenly, as she raged, something in her--this dauntless new
personality--took arms against indictment of Gene Stewart. Her
mind whirled about him and his life. She saw him drunk, brutal;
she saw him abandoned, lost. Then out of the picture she had of
him thus slowly grew one of a different man--weak, sick, changed
by shock, growing strong, strangely, spiritually altered, silent,
lonely like an eagle, secretive, tireless, faithful, soft as a
woman, hard as iron to endure, and at the last noble.
She softened. In a flash her complex mood changed to one wherein
she thought of the truth, the beauty, the wonder of Stewart's
uplifting. Humbly she trusted that she had helped him to climb.
That influence had been the best she had ever exerted. It had
wrought magic in her own character. By it she had reached some
higher, nobler plane of trust in man. She had received
infinitely more than she had given.
Her swiftly flying memory seemed to assort a vast mine of
treasures of the past. Of that letter Stewart had written to her
brother she saw vivid words. But ah! she had known, and if it
had not made any difference then, now it made all in the world.
She recalled how her loosened hair had blown across his lips that
night he had ridden down from the mountains carrying her in his
arms. She recalled the strange joy of pride in Stewart's eyes
when he had suddenly come upon her dressed to receive her Eastern
guests in the white gown with the red roses at her breast.
Swiftly as they had come these dreamful memories departed. There
was to be no rest for her mind. All she had thought and felt
seemed only to presage a tumult.
Heedless, desperate, she cast off the last remnant of
self-control, turned from the old proud, pale, cold,
self-contained ghost of herself to face this strange, strong,
passionate woman. Then, with hands pressed to her beating heart,
with eyes shut, she listened to the ringing trip-hammer voice of
circumstance, of truth, of fatality. The whole story was
revealed, simple enough in the sum of its complicated details,
strange and beautiful in part, remorseless in its proof of great
love on Stewart's side, in dreaming blindness on her own, and,
from the first fatal moment to the last, prophetic of tragedy.
Madeline, like a prisoner in a cell, began again to pace to and
"Oh, it is all terrible!" she cried. "I am his wife. His wife!
That meeting with him--the marriage--then his fall, his love, his
rise, his silence, his pride! And I can never be anything to
him. Could I be anything to him? I, Madeline Hammond? But I am
his wife, and I love him! His wife! I am the wife of a cowboy!
That might be undone. Can my love be undone? Ah, do I want
anything undone? He is gone. Gone! Could he have meant-- I
will not, dare not think of that. He will come back. No, he
never will come back. Oh, what shall I do?"
For Madeline Hammond the days following that storm of feeling
were leaden-footed, endless, hopeless--a long succession of weary
hours, sleepless hours, passionate hours, all haunted by a fear
slowly growing into torture, a fear that Stewart had crossed the
border to invite the bullet which would give her freedom. The
day came when she knew this to be true. The spiritual tidings
reached her, not subtly as so many divinations had come, but in a
clear, vital flash of certainty. Then she suffered. She burned
inwardly, and the nature of that deep fire showed through her
eyes. She kept to herself, waiting, waiting for her fears to be
At times she broke out in wrath at the circumstances she had
failed to control, at herself, at Stewart.
"He might have learned from Ambrose!" she exclaimed, sick with a
bitterness she knew was not consistent with her pride. She
recalled Christine's trenchant exposition of Ambrose's wooing:
"He tell me he love me; he kees me; he hug me; he put me on his
horse; he ride away with me; he marry me."
Then in the next breath Madeline denied this insistent clamoring
of a love that was gradually breaking her spirit. Like a somber
shadow remorse followed her, shading blacker. She had been blind
to a man's honesty, manliness, uprightness, faith, and striving.
She had been dead to love, to nobility that she had herself
created. Padre Marcos's grave, wise words returned to haunt her.
She fought her bitterness, scorned her intelligence, hated her
pride, and, weakening, gave up more and more to a yearning,
She had shunned the light of the stars as she had violently
dismissed every hinting suggestive memory of Stewart's kisses.
But one night she went deliberately to her window. There they
shone. Her stars! Beautiful, passionless as always, but
strangely closer, warmer, speaking a kinder language, helpful as
they had never been, teaching her now that regret was futile,
revealing to her in their one grand, blazing task the supreme
duty of life--to be true.
Those shining stars made her yield. She whispered to them that
they had claimed her--the West claimed her--Stewart claimed her
forever, whether he lived or died. She gave up to her love. And
it was as if he was there in person, dark-faced, fire-eyed,
violent in his action, crushing her to his breast in that
farewell moment, kissing her with one burning kiss of passion,
then with cold, terrible lips of renunciation.
"I am your wife!" she whispered to him. In that moment,
throbbing, exalted, quivering in her first sweet, tumultuous
surrender to love, she would have given her all, her life, to be
in his arms again, to meet his lips, to put forever out of his
power any thought of wild sacrifice.
And on the morning of the next day, when Madeline went out upon
the porch, Stillwell, haggard and stern, with a husky, incoherent
word, handed her a message from El Cajon. She read:
El Capitan Stewart captured by rebel soldiers in fight at Agua
Prieta yesterday. He was a sharpshooter in the Federal ranks.
Sentenced to death Thursday at sunset.
XXIV The Ride
Madeline's cry was more than the utterance of a breaking heart.
It was full of agony. But also it uttered the shattering of a
structure built of false pride, of old beliefs, of bloodless
standards, of ignorance of self. It betrayed the final conquest
of her doubts, and out of their darkness blazed the unquenchable
spirit of a woman who had found herself, her love, her salvation,
her duty to a man, and who would not be cheated.
The old cattleman stood mute before her, staring at her white
face, at her eyes of flame.
"Stillwell! I am Stewart's wife!"
"My Gawd, Miss Majesty!" he burst out. "I knowed somethin'
turrible was wrong. Aw, sure it's a pity--"
"Do you think I'll let him be shot when I know him now, when I'm
no longer blind, when I love him?" she asked, with passionate
swiftness. "I will save him. This is Wednesday morning. I have
thirty-six hours to save his life. Stillwell, send for Link and
She went into her office. Her mind worked with extraordinary
rapidity and clearness. Her plan, born in one lightning-like
flash of thought, necessitated the careful wording of telegrams
to Washington, to New York, to San Antonio. These were to
Senators, Representatives, men high in public and private life,
men who would remember her and who would serve her to their
utmost. Never before had her position meant anything to her
comparable with what it meant now. Never in all her life had
money seemed the power that it was then. If she had been poor! A
shuddering chill froze the thought at its inception. She
dispelled heartbreaking thoughts. She had power. She had
wealth. She would set into operation all the unlimited means
these gave her--the wires and pulleys and strings underneath the
surface of political and international life, the open, free,
purchasing value of money or the deep, underground, mysterious,
incalculably powerful influence moved by gold. She could save
Stewart. She must await results--deadlocked in feeling, strained
perhaps almost beyond endurance, because the suspense would be
great; but she would allow no possibility of failure to enter her
When she went outside the car was there with Link, helmet in
hand, a cool, bright gleam in his eyes, and with Stillwell,
losing his haggard misery, beginning to respond to Madeline's
"Link, drive Stillwell to El Cajon in time for him to catch the
El Paso train," she said. "Wait there for his return, and if any
message comes from him, telephone it at once to me."
Then she gave Stillwell the telegrams to send from El Cajon and
drafts to cash in El Paso. She instructed him to go before the
rebel junta, then stationed at Juarez, to explain the situation,
to bid them expect communications from Washington officials
requesting and advising Stewart's exchange as a prisoner of war,
to offer to buy his release from the rebel authorities.
When Stillwell had heard her through his huge, bowed form
straightened, a ghost of his old smile just moved his lips. He
was no longer young, and hope could not at once drive away stern
and grim realities. As he bent over her hand his manner appeared
courtly and reverent. But either he was speechless or felt the
moment not one for him to break silence.
He climbed to a seat beside Link, who pocketed the watch he had
been studying and leaned over the wheel. There was a crack, a
muffled sound bursting into a roar, and the big car jerked
forward to bound over the edge of the slope, to leap down the
long incline, to shoot out upon the level valley floor and
disappear in moving dust.
For the first time in days Madeline visited the gardens, the
corrals, the lakes, the quarters of the cowboys. Though imagining
she was calm, she feared she looked strange to Nels, to Nick, to
Frankie Slade, to those boys best known to her. The situation
for them must have been one of tormenting pain and bewilderment.
They acted as if they wanted to say something to her, but found
themselves spellbound. She wondered--did they know she was
Stewart's wife? Stillwell had not had time to tell them;
besides, he would not have mentioned the fact. These cowboys
only knew that Stewart was sentenced to be shot; they knew if
Madeline had not been angry with him he would not have gone in
desperate fighting mood across the border. She spoke of the
weather, of the horses and cattle, asked Nels when he was to go
on duty, and turned away from the wide, sunlit, adobe-arched
porch where the cowboys stood silent and bareheaded. Then one of
her subtle impulses checked her.
"Nels, you and Nick need not go on duty to-day," she said. "I
may want you. I--I--"
She hesitated, paused, and stood lingering there. Her glance had
fallen upon Stewart's big black horse prancing in a near-by
"I have sent Stillwell to El Paso," she went on, in a low voice
she failed to hold steady. "He will save Stewart. I have to
tell you--I am Stewart's wife!"
She felt the stricken amaze that made these men silent and
immovable. With level gaze averted she left them. Returning to
the house and her room, she prepared for something--for what? To
Then a great invisible shadow seemed to hover behind her. She
essayed many tasks, to fail of attention, to find that her mind
held only Stewart and his fortunes. Why had he become a Federal?
She reflected that he had won his title, El Capitan, fighting for
Madero, the rebel. But Madero was now a Federal, and Stewart was
true to him. In crossing the border had Stewart any other motive
than the one he had implied to Madeline in his mocking smile and
scornful words, "You might have saved me a hell of a lot of
trouble!" What trouble? She felt again the cold shock of
contact with the gun she had dropped in horror. He meant the
trouble of getting himself shot in the only way a man could seek
death without cowardice. But had he any other motive? She
recalled Don Carlos and his guerrillas. Then the thought leaped
up in her mind with gripping power that Stewart meant to hunt Don
Carlos, to meet him, to kill him. It would be the deed of a
silent, vengeful, implacable man driven by wild justice such as
had been the deadly leaven in Monty Price. It was a deed to
expect of Nels or Nick Steel--and, aye, of Gene Stewart.
Madeline felt regret that Stewart, as he had climbed so high, had
not risen above deliberate seeking to kill his enemy, however
evil that enemy.
The local newspapers, which came regularly a day late from El
Paso and Douglas, had never won any particular interest from
Madeline; now, however, she took up any copies she could find and
read all the information pertaining to the revolution. Every word
seemed vital to her, of moving significant force.
AMERICANS ROBBED BY MEXICAN REBELS
MADERA, STATE OF CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO, July 17.--Having looted the
Madera Lumber Company's storehouses of $25,000 worth of goods and
robbed scores of foreigners of horses and saddles, the rebel
command of Gen. Antonio Rojas, comprising a thousand men, started
westward to-day through the state of Sonora for Agnaymas and
Pacific coast points.
The troops are headed for Dolores, where a mountain pass leads
into the state of Sonora. Their entrance will be opposed by
1,000 Maderista volunteers, who are reported to be waiting the
The railroad south of Madera is being destroyed and many.
Americans who were traveling to Chihuahua from Juarez are
General Rojas executed five men while here for alleged offenses
of a trivial character. Gen. Rosalio y Hernandez, Lieut.
Cipriano Amador, and three soldiers were the unfortunates.
WASHINGTON, July 17.--Somewhere in Mexico Patrick Dunne, an
American citizen, is in prison under sentence of death. This
much and no more the State Department learned through
Representative Kinkaid of Nebraska. Consular officers in various
sections of Mexico have been directed to make every effort to
locate Dunne and save his life.
JUAREZ, MEXICO, July 31.--General Orozco, chief of the rebels,
"If the United States will throw down the barriers and let us
have all the ammunition we can buy, I promise in sixty days to
have peace restored in Mexico and a stable government in charge."
CASAS GRANDES, CHIHUAHUA, July 31.--Rebel soldiers looted many
homes of Mormons near here yesterday. All the Mormon families
have fled to El Paso. Although General Salazar had two of his
soldiers executed yesterday for robbing Mormons, he has not made
any attempt to stop his men looting the unprotected homes of
Last night's and to-day's trains carried many Americans from
Pearson, Madera, and other localities outside the Mormon
settlements. Refugees from Mexico continued to pour into El
Paso. About one hundred came last night, the majority of whom
were men. Heretofore few men came.
Madeline read on in feverish absorption. It was not a real war,
but a starving, robbing, burning, hopeless revolution. Five men
executed for alleged offenses of a trivial nature! What chance
had, then, a Federal prisoner, an enemy to be feared, an American
cowboy in the clutches of those crazed rebels?
Madeline endured patiently, endured for long interminable hours
while holding to her hope with indomitable will.
No message came. At sunset she went outdoors, suffering a
torment of accumulating suspense. She faced the desert, hoping,
praying for strength. The desert did not influence her as did
the passionless, unchangeable stars that had soothed her spirit.
It was red, mutable, shrouded in shadows, terrible like her mood.
A dust-veiled sunset colored the vast, brooding, naked waste of
rock and sand. The grim Chiricahua frowned black and sinister.
The dim blue domes of the Guadalupes seemed to whisper, to beckon
to her. Beyond them somewhere was Stewart, awaiting the end of a
few brief hours--hours that to her were boundless, endless,
Night fell. But now the white, pitiless stars failed her. Then
she sought the seclusion and darkness of her room, there to lie
with wide eyes, waiting, waiting. She had always been
susceptible to the somber, mystic unrealities of the night, and
now her mind slowly revolved round a vague and monstrous gloom.
Nevertheless, she was acutely sensitive to outside impressions.
She heard the measured tread of a guard, the rustle of wind
stirring the window-curtain, the remote, mournful wail of a
coyote. By and by the dead silence of the night insulated her
with leaden oppression. There was silent darkness for so long
that when the window casements showed gray she believed it was
only fancy and that dawn would never come. She prayed for the sun
not to rise, not to begin its short twelve-hour journey toward
what might be a fatal setting for Stewart. But the dawn did
lighten, swiftly she thought, remorselessly. Daylight had
broken, and this was Thursday!
Sharp ringing of the telephone bell startled her, roused her into
action. She ran to answer the call.
"Hello--hello--Miss Majesty!" came the hurried reply. "This is
Link talkin'. Messages for you. Favorable, the operator said.
I'm to ride out with them. I'll come a-hummin'."
That was all. Madeline heard the bang of the receiver as Stevens
threw it down. She passionately wanted to know more, but was
immeasurably grateful for so much! Favorable! Then Stillwell had
been successful. Her heart leaped. Suddenly she became weak and
her hands failed of their accustomed morning deftness. It took
her what seemed a thousand years to dress. Breakfast meant
nothing to her except that it helped her to pass dragging
Finally a low hum, mounting swiftly to a roar and ending with a
sharp report, announced the arrival of the car. If her feet had
kept pace with her heart she would have raced out to meet Link.
She saw him, helmet thrown back, watch in hand, and he looked up
at her with his cool, bright smile, with his familiar apologetic
"Fifty-three minutes, Miss Majesty," he said, "but I hed to ride
round a herd of steers an' bump a couple off the trail."
He gave he' a packet of telegrams. Madeline tore them open with
shaking fingers, began to read with swift, dim eyes. Some were
from Washington, assuring her of every possible service; some
were from New York; others written in Spanish were from El Paso,
and these she could not wholly translate in a brief glance.
Would she never find Stillwell's message? It was the last. It
was lengthy. It read:
Bought Stewart's release. Also arranged for his transfer as
prisoner of war. Both matters official. He's safe if we can get
notice to his captors. Not sure I've reached them by wire.
Afraid to trust it. You go with Link to Agua Prieta. Take the
messages sent you in Spanish. They will protect you and secure
Stewart's freedom. Take Nels with you. Stop for nothing. Tell
Link all--trust him--let him drive that car. STILLWELL
The first few lines of Stillwell's message lifted Madeline to the
heights of thanksgiving and happiness. Then, reading on, she
experienced a check, a numb, icy, sickening pang. At the last
line she flung off doubt and dread, and in white, cold passion
faced the issue.
"Read," she said, briefly, handing the telegram to Link. He
scanned it and then looked blankly up at her.
"Link, do you know the roads, the trails--the desert between here
and Agua Prieta?" she asked.
"Thet's sure my old stampin'-ground. An' I know Sonora, too."
"We must reach Agua Prieta before sunset--long before, so if
Stewart is in some near-by camp we can get to it in--in time."
"Miss Majesty, it ain't possible!" he exclaimed. "Stillwell's
crazy to say thet."
"Link, can an automobile be driven from here into northern
"Sure. But it 'd take time."
"We must do it in little time," she went on, in swift eagerness.
"Otherwise Stewart may be--probably will be--be shot."
Link Stevens appeared suddenly to grow lax, shriveled, to lose
all his peculiar pert brightness, to weaken and age.
"I'm only a--a cowboy, Miss Majesty." He almost faltered. It
was a singular change in him. "Thet's an awful ride--down over
the border. If by some luck I didn't smash the car I'd turn your
hair gray. You'd never be no good after thet ride!"
"I am Stewart's wife," she answered him and she looked at him,
not conscious of any motive to persuade or allure, but just to
let him know the greatness of her dependence upon him.
He started violently--the old action of Stewart, the memorable
action of Monty Price. This man was of the same wild breed.
Then Madeline's words flowed in a torrent. "I am Stewart's wife.
I love him; I have been unjust to him; I must save him. Link, I
have faith in you. I beseech you to do your best for Stewart's
sake--for my sake. I'll risk the ride gladly--bravely. I'll not
care where or how you drive. I'd far rather plunge into a canon-
-go to my death on the rocks--than not try to save Stewart."
How beautiful the response of this rude cowboy--to realize his
absolute unconsciousness of self, to see the haggard shade burn
out of his face, the old, cool, devil-may-care spirit return to
his eyes, and to feel something wonderful about him then! It was
more than will or daring or sacrifice. A blood-tie might have
existed between him and Madeline. She sensed again that
indefinable brother-like quality, so fine, so almost invisible,
which seemed to be an inalienable trait in these wild cowboys.
"Miss Majesty, thet ride figgers impossible, but I'll do it!" he
replied. His cool, bright glance thrilled her. "I'll need mebbe
half an hour to go over the car an' to pack on what I'll want."
She could not thank him, and her reply was merely a request that
he tell Nels and other cowboys off duty to come up to the house.
When Link had gone Madeline gave a moment's thought to
preparations for the ride. She placed what money she had and the
telegrams in a satchel. The gown she had on was thin and white,
not suitable for travel, but she would not risk the losing of one
moment in changing it. She put on a long coat and wound veils
round her head and neck, arranging them in a hood so she could
cover her face when necessary. She remembered to take an extra
pair of goggles for Nels's use, and then, drawing on her gloves,
she went out ready for the ride.
A number of cowboys were waiting. She explained the situation
and left them in charge of her home. With that she asked Nels to
accompany her down into the desert. He turned white to his lips,
and this occasioned Madeline to remember his mortal dread of the
car and Link's driving.
"Nels, I'm sorry to ask you," she added. "I know you hate the
car. But I need you--may need you, oh! so much."
"Why, Miss Majesty, thet's shore all a mistaken idee of yours
about me hatin' the car," he said, in his slow, soft drawl. "I
was only jealous of Link; an' the boys, they made thet joke up on
me about bein' scared of ridin' fast. Shore I'm powerful proud
to go. An' I reckon if you hedn't asked me my feelin's might hev
been some hurt. Because if you're goin' down among the Greasers
you want me."
His cool, easy speech, his familiar swagger, the smile with which
he regarded her did not in the least deceive Madeline. The gray
was still in his face. Incomprehensible as it seemed, Nels had a
dread, an uncanny fear, and it was of that huge white automobile.
But he lied about it. Here again was that strange quality of
Madeline heard the buzz of the car. Link appeared driving up the
slope. He made a short, sliding turn and stopped before the
porch. Link had tied two long, heavy planks upon the car, one on
each side, and in every available space he had strapped extra
tires. A huge cask occupied one back seat, and another seat was
full of tools and ropes. There was just room in this rear part
of the car for Nels to squeeze in. Link put Madeline in front
beside him, then bent over the wheel. Madeline waved her hand at
the silent cowboys on the porch. Not an audible good-by was
The car glided out of the yard, leaped from level to slope, and
started swiftly down the road, out into the open valley. Each
stronger rush of dry wind in Madeline's face marked the increase
of speed. She took one glance at the winding cattle-road,
smooth, unobstructed, disappearing in the gray of distance. She
took another at the leather-garbed, leather-helmeted driver
beside her, and then she drew the hood of veils over her face and
fastened it round her neck so there was no possibility of its
Harder and stronger pressed the wind till it was like sheeted
lead forcing her back in her seat. There was a ceaseless,
intense, inconceivably rapid vibration under her; occasionally
she felt a long swing, as if she were to be propelled aloft; but
no jars disturbed the easy celerity of the car. The buzz, the
roar of wheels, of heavy body in flight, increased to a
continuous droning hum. The wind became an insupportable body
moving toward her, crushing her breast, making the task of
breathing most difficult. To Madeline the time seemed to fly
with the speed of miles. A moment came when she detected a faint
difference in hum and rush and vibration, in the ceaseless
sweeping of the invisible weight against her. This difference
became marked. Link was reducing speed. Then came swift change
of all sensation, and she realized the car had slowed to normal
Madeline removed her hood and goggles. It was a relief to
breathe freely, to be able to use her eyes. To her right, not
far distant, lay the little town of Chiricahua. Sight of it made
her remember Stewart in a way strange to her constant thought of
him. To the left inclined the gray valley. The red desert was
hidden from view, but the Guadalupe Mountains loomed close in the
Opposite Chiricahua, where the road forked, Link Stevens headed
the car straight south and gradually increased speed. Madeline
faced another endless gray incline. It was the San Bernardino
Valley. The singing of the car, the stinging of the wind warned
her to draw the hood securely down over her face again, and then
it was as if she was riding at night. The car lurched ahead,
settled into that driving speed which wedged Madeline back as in
a vise. Again the moments went by fleet as the miles.
Seemingly, there was an acceleration of the car till it reached a
certain swiftness--a period of time in which it held that pace,
and then a diminishing of all motion and sound which contributed
to Madeline's acute sensation. Uncovering her face, she saw Link
was passing another village. Could it be Bernardino? She asked
Link--repeated the question.
"Sure," he replied. "Eighty miles."
Link did not this time apologize for the work of his machine.
Madeline marked the omission with her first thrill of the ride.
Leaning over, she glanced at Link's watch, which he had fastened
upon the wheel in front of his eyes. A quarter to ten! Link had
indeed made short work of the valley miles.
Beyond Bernardino Link sheered off the road and put the car to a
long, low-rising slope. Here the valley appeared to run south
under the dark brows of the Guadalupes. Link was heading
southwest. Madeline observed that the grass began to fail as
they climbed the ridge; bare, white, dusty spots appeared; there
were patches of mesquite and cactus and scattering areas of
She might have been prepared for what she saw from the ridge-top.
Beneath them the desert blazed. Seen from afar, it was striking
enough, but riding down into its red jaws gave Madeline the first
affront to her imperious confidence. All about her ranch had
been desert, the valleys were desert; but this was different.
Here began the red desert, extending far into Mexico, far across
Arizona and California to the Pacific. She saw a bare, hummocky
ridge, down which the car was gliding, bounding, swinging, and
this long slant seemed to merge into a corrugated world of rock
and sand, patched by flats and basins, streaked with canons and
ranges of ragged, saw-toothed stone. The distant Sierra Madres
were clearer, bluer, less smoky and suggestive of mirage than she
had ever seen them. Madeline's sustaining faith upheld her in
the face of this appalling obstacle. Then the desert that had
rolled its immensity beneath her gradually began to rise, to lose
its distant margins, to condense its varying lights and shades,
at last to hide its yawning depths and looming heights behind red
ridges, which were only little steps, little outposts, little
landmarks at its gates.
The bouncing of the huge car, throwing Madeline up, directed her
attention and fastened it upon the way Link Stevens was driving
and upon the immediate foreground. Then she discovered that he
was following an old wagon-road. At the foot of that long slope
they struck into rougher ground, and here Link took to a cautious
zigzag course. The wagon-road disappeared and then presently
reappeared. But Link did not always hold to it. He made cuts,
detours, crosses, and all the time seemed to be getting deeper
into a maze of low, red dunes, of flat canon-beds lined by banks
of gravel, of ridges mounting higher. Yet Link Stevens kept on
and never turned back. He never headed into a place that he
could not pass. Up to this point of travel he had not been
compelled to back the car, and Madeline began to realize that it
was the cowboy's wonderful judgment of ground that made advance
possible. He knew the country; he was never at a loss; after
making a choice of direction, he never hesitated.
Then at the bottom of a wide canon he entered a wash where the
wheels just barely turned in dragging sand. The sun beat down
white-hot, the dust arose, there was not a breath of wind; and no
sound save the slide of a rock now and then down the weathered
slopes and the labored chugging of the machine. The snail pace,
like the sand at the wheels, began to drag at Madeline's faith.
Link gave over the wheel to Madeline, and, leaping out, he called
Nels. When they untied the long planks and laid them straight in
front for the wheels to pass over Madeline saw how wise had been
Link's forethought. With the aid of those planks they worked the
car through sand and gravel otherwise impossible to pass.
This canon widened and opened into space affording an
unobstructed view for miles. The desert sloped up in steps, and
in the morning light, with the sun bright on the mesas and
escarpments, it was gray, drab, stone, slate, yellow, pink, and,
dominating all, a dull rust-red. There was level ground ahead, a
wind-swept floor as hard as rock. Link rushed the car over this
free distance. Madeline's ears filled with a droning hum like
the sound of a monstrous, hungry bee and with a strange,
incessant crinkle which she at length guessed to be the spreading
of sheets of gravel from under the wheels. The giant car
attained such a speed that Madeline could only distinguish the
colored landmarks to the fore, and these faded as the wind stung
Then Link began the ascent of the first step, a long, sweeping,
barren waste with dunes of wonderful violet and heliotrope hues.
Here were well-defined marks of an old wagon-road lately
traversed by cattle. The car climbed steadily, surmounted the
height, faced another long bench that had been cleaned smooth by
desert winds. The sky was an intense, light, steely blue, hard
on the eyes. Madeline veiled her face, and did not uncover it
until Link had reduced the racing speed. From the summit of the
next ridge she saw more red ruin of desert.
A deep wash crossing the road caused Link Stevens to turn due
south. There was a narrow space along the wash just wide enough
for the car. Link seemed oblivious to the fact that the outside
wheels were perilously close to the edge. Madeline heard the
rattle of loosened gravel and earth sliding into the gully. The
wash widened and opened out into a sandy flat. Link crossed this
and turned up on the opposite side. Rocks impeded the progress of
the car, and these had to be rolled out of the way. The shelves
of silt, apparently ready to slide with the slightest weight, the
little tributary washes, the boulder-strewn stretches of slope,
the narrow spaces allowing no more than a foot for the outside
wheels, the spear-pointed cactus that had to be avoided--all
these obstacles were as nothing to the cowboy driver. He kept
on, and when he came to the road again he made up for the lost
time by speed.
Another height was reached, and here Madeline fancied that Link
had driven the car to the summit of a high pass between two
mountain ranges. The western slope of that pass appeared to be
exceedingly rough and broken. Below it spread out another gray
valley, at the extreme end of which glistened a white spot that
Link grimly called Douglas. Part of that white spot was Agua
Prieta, the sister town across the line. Madeline looked with
eyes that would fain have pierced the intervening distance.
The descent of the pass began under difficulties. Sharp stones
and cactus spikes penetrated the front tires, bursting them with
ripping reports. It took time to replace them. The planks were
called into requisition to cross soft places. A jagged point of
projecting rock had to be broken with a sledge. At length a huge
stone appeared to hinder any further advance. Madeline caught
her breath. There was no room to turn the car. But Link Stevens
had no intention of such a thing. He backed the car to a
considerable distance, then walked forward. He appeared to be
busy around the boulder for a moment and returned down the road
on the run. A heavy explosion, a cloud of dust, and a rattle of
falling fragments told Madeline that her indomitable driver had
cleared a passage with dynamite. He seemed to be prepared for
every emergency. Madeline looked to see what effect the discovery
of Link carrying dynamite would have upon the silent Nels.
"Shore, now, Miss Majesty, there ain't nothin' goin' to stop
Link," said Nels, with a reassuring smile. The significance of
the incident had not dawned upon Nels, or else he was heedless of
it. After all, he was afraid only of the car and Link, and that
fear was an idiosyncrasy. Madeline began to see her cowboy
driver with clearer eyes and his spirit awoke something in her
that made danger of no moment. Nels likewise subtly responded,
and, though he was gray-faced, tight-lipped, his eyes took on the
cool, bright gleam of Link's.
Cactus barred the way, rocks barred the way, gullies barred the
way, and these Nels addressed in the grim humor with which he was
wont to view tragic things. A mistake on Link's part, a slip of
a wheel, a bursting of a tire at a critical moment, an instant of
the bad luck which might happen a hundred times on a less
perilous ride--any one of these might spell disaster for the car,
perhaps death to the occupants. Again and again Link used the
planks to cross washes in sand. Sometimes the wheels ran all the
length of the planks, sometimes slipped off. Presently Link came
to a ditch where water had worn deep into the road. Without
hesitation he placed them, measuring distance carefully, and then
started across. The danger was in ditching the machine. One of
the planks split, sagged a little, but Link made the crossing
without a slip.
The road led round under an overhanging cliff and was narrow,
rocky, and slightly downhill. Bidding Madeline and Nels walk
round this hazardous corner, Link drove the car. Madeline
expected to hear it crash down into the canon, but presently she
saw Link waiting to take them aboard again. Then came steeper
parts of the road, places that Link could run down if he had
space below to control the car, and on the other hand places
where the little inclines ended in abrupt ledges upon one side or
a declivity upon the other. Here the cowboy, with ropes on the
wheels and half-hitches upon the spurs of rock, let the car slide
Once at a particularly bad spot Madeline exclaimed involuntarily,
"Oh, time is flying!" Link Stevens looked up at her as if he had
been reproved for his care. His eyes shone like the glint of
steel on ice. Perhaps that utterance of Madeline's was needed to
liberate his recklessness to its utmost. Certainly he put the
car to seemingly impossible feats. He rimmed gullies, he hurdled
rising ground, he leaped little breaks in the even road. He made
his machine cling like a goat to steep inclines; he rounded
corners with the inside wheels higher than the outside; he passed
over banks of soft earth that caved in the instant he crossed
weak places. He kept on and on, threading tortuous passages
through rock-strewn patches, keeping to the old road where it was
clear, abandoning it for open spaces, and always going down.
At length a mile of clean, brown slope, ridged and grooved like a
washboard, led gently down to meet the floor of the valley, where
the scant grama-grass struggled to give a tinge of gray. The
road appeared to become more clearly defined, and could be seen
striking straight across the valley.
To Madeline's dismay, that road led down to a deep, narrow wash.
It plunged on one side, ascended on the other at a still steeper
angle. The crossing would have been laborsome for a horse; for
an automobile it was unpassable. Link turned the car to the
right along the rim and drove as far along the wash as the ground
permitted. The gully widened, deepened all the way. Then he
took the other direction. When he made this turn Madeline
observed that the sun had perceptibly begun its slant westward.
It shone in her face, glaring and wrathful. Link drove back to
the road, crossed it, and kept on down the line of the wash. It
was a deep cut in red earth, worn straight down by swift water in
the rainy seasons. It narrowed. In some places it was only five
feet wide. Link studied these points and looked up the slope,
and seemed to be making deductions. The valley was level now,
and there were nothing but little breaks in the rim of the wash.
Link drove mile after mile, looking for a place to cross, and
there was none. Finally progress to the south was obstructed by
impassable gullies where the wash plunged into the head of a
canon. It was necessary to back the car a distance before there
was room to turn. Madeline looked at the imperturbable driver.
His face revealed no more than the same old hard, immutable
character. When he reached the narrowest points, which had so
interested him, he got out of the car and walked from place to
place. Once with a little jump he cleared the wash. Then
Madeline noted that the farther rim was somewhat lower. In a
flash she divined Link's intention. He was hunting a place to
jump the car over the crack in the ground.
Soon he found one that seemed to suit him, for he tied his red
scarf upon a greasewood-bush. Then, returning to the car, he
clambered in, and, muttering, broke his long silence: "This ain't
no air-ship, hut I've outfiggered thet damn wash." He backed up
the gentle slope and halted just short of steeper ground. His
red scarf waved in the wind. Hunching low over the wheel, he
started, slowly at first, then faster, and then faster. The
great car gave a spring like a huge tiger. The impact of
suddenly formed wind almost tore Madeline out of her seat. She
felt Nels's powerful hands on her shoulders. She closed her
eyes. The jolting headway of the car gave place to a gliding
rush. This was broken by a slight jar, and then above the hum
and roar rose a cowboy yell. Madeline waited with strained
nerves for the expected crash. It did not come. Opening her
eyes, she saw the level valley floor without a break. She had
not even noticed the instant when the car had shot over the wash.
A strange breathlessness attacked her, and she attributed it to
the celerity with which she was being carried along. Pulling the
hood down over her face, she sank low in the seat. The whir of
the car now seemed to be a world-filling sound. Again the
feeling of excitement, the poignancy of emotional heights, the
ever-present impending sense of catastrophe became held in
abeyance to the sheer intensity of physical sensations. There
came a time when all her strength seemed to unite in an effort to
lift her breast against the terrific force of the wind--to draw
air into her flattened lungs. She became partly dazed. The
darkness before her eyes was not all occasioned by the blood that
pressed like a stone mask on her face. She had a sense that she
was floating, sailing, drifting, reeling, even while being borne
swiftly as a thunderbolt. Her hands and arms were immovable
under the weight of mountains. There was a long, blank period
from which she awakened to feel an arm supporting her. Then she
Back to Full Books