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Judith Of The Plains
by Marie Manning
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Warren Rodney took down a gun from the wall and began to clean it. His hands had the fumbling, indefinite movements, the obscure action, directed by a brain already begun to crumble. His industry with the gun was of a part with the impotent dawdling in the garden. His eyes would seek for the rag or the bottle of oil in a dull, glazed way, and, having found them, he would forget the reason of his quest. Not once that evening had they rested on his wife or any member of his family. He had shown no interest in any of the small happenings of home, the frank rivalry of Eudora's suitors, the bickerings of the girls and boys over the division of household labor. The one thing that had momentarily aroused his somnolent intelligence was a revival of his wife's plaint anent the unbuilt bird-house. That, and a certain furtive anxiety during supper lest his daughter Eudora should forget to keep his plate piled high, were the only signs of a participation in the life about him.

From one of the rooms that opened to the world like a stage to the audience, Mrs. Rodney kept her evening vigil. The last faint amethystine haze on the mountains was deepening. They towered about the valley where the house lay, with a challenging immensity, mocking the pitiful grasp of these pygmies on the thousand hills. The snow on the taller of the peaks still held the high lights. But all the valleys and the spaces between the mountains were wrapped in sombre shadows; the crazy house invading the great company of mountains, penetrating brazenly to the very threshold of their silent councils, seemed but a pitiful ant-hill at the mercy of some possible giant tread. The ill-adjusted family, disputing every inch of ground with the wilderness, became invested with a dignity quite out of keeping with its achievements. Their very weaknesses and vanities, old Sally still clinging to her sun-bonnet and her limp rose-colored skirts, an eternal requiem for the dead and gone complexion, lost the picturesqueness of the pioneer and ranked as universal qualities, admissible in the austerest setting. Perhaps in some far distant council of the Daughters of the Pioneers a prospective member of the house of Rodney would unctuously announce: "My great-great-grandmother was a Miss Tumlin of Tennessee; great-great-grandfather's first wife had been a Sioux squaw. Isn't it interesting and romantic?"

Eudora now came to her mother with great news. Hawks had taken the first opportunity of being alone with her to tell her of Jim's release from jail and of his abortive encounter with Simpson in the eating-house. He had not deferred the telling from any feeling of reticence regarding the disclosure of family affairs before strangers. News travels in the desert by some unknown agency. Twenty-four hours after a thing happened it would be safe to assume that every cow and sheep outfit in a radius of three hundred miles would be discussing it over their camp-fires; and this long before there was an inch of telegraph wire or a railroad tire in the country. Hawks had merely reserved the news for Eudora's private ear because he hoped thus to gain an advantage over his three rivals.

"Ai-yi!" said old Sally, sharply, and the chair came to an abrupt stand-still. "In the name o' Heaven, how kem they to let him out?" Mrs. Rodney's knowledge of the law was of the vaguest; and if incarceration would keep a prisoner out of more grievous trouble, she could not understand giving him his freedom. To her the case was analogous to releasing a child from the duress of a corner and turning him loose to play with matches. "How kem they to let him out?" she repeated, the still rocking-chair conveying the impersonal dignity of the pulpit or the justice-seat. "I 'ain't hearn tell of so pearty a couple as the jail an' Jim in years."

The meaning that she put into her words belied their harsh face-value. With Jim in jail, her mind was comparatively at rest about him. She knew he had been branding other men's cattle since the destruction of his sheep, and she knew the fate of cattle-thieves, and that Jim would be no exception to the rule. With her purely instinctive maternity, she had been fond of Jim. He had been one more boy to mother. She harbored no ill-feeling towards him that he was not her own. Moreover, she wanted no gallows-tree intermingled with the annals of her family. It suited her convenience at this particular time that Jim should stay in jail. That he had been given his freedom loosed the phials of her condemnation on the incompetents that released him.

"I 'low they wuz grudgin' him the mouthful they fed to him, that they ack so outdaciously plumb locoed as to tu'n a man out to get hisself hanged. An' Jim never wuz a hearty eater. He never seemed to relish his food, even when he wuz a growin' kid."

A pale, twinkling point of light, faintly glimmering in the vast solitudes above the billowing peaks, suddenly burst into a dazzling constellation before the girl and her mother. "It's a warning!" shivered the old woman. "Some'um's bound to happen." She began to rock herself slowly. The thing she dreaded had already come to pass in her imagination. Jim a free man was Jim a dead man. He was so dead that already his step-mother was going on with a full acceptance of the idea. She reviewed her relationship to him. No, she had nothing to blame herself for. He had been more troublesome than any of her own children and for that reason she had been more liberal with the rod. And yet—the face of the squaw rose before her, wraithlike, accusing! "Ai-yi!" she said; but this time her favorite expletive was hardly more than a sigh.

"I mind Jim when he first kem to us," she said, more to herself than to Eudora, who sat at her feet. The impending tragedy in the family had robbed her of all the joy in her suitors. They sat on a bench on the opposite side of the house, divided by the very nature of their interests yet companions in misery.

"He wuz scarce four, an' yet he had never been broke of the habit of sucking his thumb. Ef he'd ben my child, I'd a lammed it out'n him before he'd a seen two, but seem' he was aged for an infant havin' such practices, I tried to shame him out'n it. But, Lord a massy, men folks is hard to shame even at four. I hissed at him like a gyander every time I seen him do it. Now I'd a knowed better—I'd a sewed it up in a pepper rag."

"What's suckin' his thumb as an infant got to do with his gettin' lynched now?" demanded Eudora, with the scepticism of the second generation.

"Wait till you-uns has children of your own," sniffed her mother, from the assured position of maternal experience, "an' see the infant that's allowed to suck its thumb has the makin's in him of a felon or a unfortunit." She rocked a slow accompaniment to her dismal, prophecy.

Eudora's eyes, big with wonder, were fixed on the crouching flank of a distant mountain. Her mother broke the silence. Not often did they speak thus intimately. Old Sally belonged to that class of mothers who feel a pride in their reticent dealings with their daughters, and who consider the management of all affairs of the heart peculiarly the province of youth and inexperience.

But to-night she was prompted by a force beyond her ken to speak to the girl. "Eudory, in pickin' out one of them men," she jerked her thumb towards the opposite side of the house, "git one tha's clar o' the trick o' stampedin' round other wimming. It's bound to kem back to ye, same as counterfeit money."

Eudora giggled. She was of an age when the fascinations of curiosity as to the unknown male animal prompt lavish conjecture. "I 'lowed they all stampeded."

"Yes," leered the old woman—and she grinned the whole horrid length of her empty gums—"the most of 'em does. But you must shet your eyes to it. The moment they know you swallow it, they's wuthless, like horses that has run away once."

"Hark!" said Eudora. "Ain't that wheels?"

"It be," answered her mother. "It be that old Ma'am Yellett after her gov'ment."



IX

Mrs. Yellett And Her "Gov'ment"

The buckboard drew up to the back or open-faced entrance of the Rodney house with a splendid sweep, terminating in a brilliantly staccato halt, as if to convey to the residents the flattering implication that their house was reached via a gravelled driveway, rather than across lumpish inequalities of prairie overgrown with cactus stumps and clumps of sage-brush. From the buckboard stepped a figure whose agility was compatible with her driving.

No sketchy outline can do justice to Mrs. Yellett or her costume. Like the bee, the ant, and other wonders of the economy of nature, she was not to be disposed of with a glance. And yet there was no attempt at subtlety on her part; on the contrary, no one could have an appearance of greater candor than the lady whose children Mary Carmichael had come West to teach. Her costume was a thing apart, suggesting neither sex, epoch, nor personal vanity, but what it lacked of these more usual sartorial characteristics, it more than made up in a passionate individualism; an excessively short skirt, so innocent of "fit" or "hang" in its wavering, indeterminate outline as to suggest the possible workmanship of teeth rather than of scissors; and riding-boots coming well to the knee, displaying a well-shaped, ample foot, perched aloft on the usual high heel that cow-punchers affect as the expression of their chiefest vanity. But Mrs. Yellett was not wholly mannish in her tastes, and to offset the boots she wore a bodice of the type that a generation ago used to be known as a "basque." It fitted her ample form as a cover fits a pin-cushion, the row of jet buttons down the front looking as if a deep breath might cause them to shoot into space at any moment with the force of Mauser bullets.

Such a garb was not, after all, incongruous with this original lady's weather-beaten face. Her skin was tanned to a fine russet, showing tiny, radiating lines about the eyes when they twinkled with laughter, which was often. No individual feature was especially striking, but the general impression of her countenance was of animation and activity, mingled with geniality and with native shrewdness.

"Howdy, Miz Yellett," called out old Sally, hitching her rocker forward, in an excitement she could ill conceal. "You-uns' gov'ment come, an' she ain't much bigger'n a lettle green gourd. Don't seem to have drawed all the growth comin' to her yit."

"In roundin' up the p'ints of my gov'ment, Mis' Rodney, you don't want to forget that green gourds and green grapes is mighty apt to belong to the sour fambly, when they hangs beyant your reach."

"Ai-yi!" grimaced old Sally. "It's tol'able far to send East for green fruit. We can take our own pep'mint."

The prospective advent of a governess in the Yellett family, moreover, one from that mysterious centre of culture, the East, had not only rent the neighborhood with bitter factions, but had submitted the Yelletts to the reproach of ostentation. In those days there were no schools in that portion of the Wind River country where the Yelletts grazed their flocks and herds. Parents anxious to obtain "educational advantages"—that was the term, irrespective of the age of the student or the school he attended—sent them, often, with parental blindness as to the equivocal nature of the blessing thus conferred, to visit friends in the neighboring towns while they "got their education." Or they went uneducated, or they picked up such crumbs of knowledge as fell from the scant parental board. But never, up to the present moment, had any one flown into the face of neighborly precedent except sturdy Sarah Yellett.

Old Sally, in her eagerness to convey that she was in no degree impressed with the pedagogical importation, like many another belligerent lost the first round of the battle through an excess of personal feeling. But though down, Sally was by no means out, and after a brief session with the snuff-brush she returned to the field prepared to maintain that the Yellett children, for all their pampering in the matter of having a governess imported for their benefit, were no better off than her own brood, who had taken the learning the gods provided.

"Too bad, Miz Yellett, that you-uns had to hire that gov'ment without lookin' over her p'ints. I've ben takin' her in durin' supper, and she'll never be able to thrash 'em past Clem. She mought be able to thrash Clem if she got plumb mad, these yere slim wimmin is tarrible wiry 'n' active at such times, but she'll never be able to thrash beyant her." And having injected the vitriolic drop in her neighbor's cup of happiness, Old Sally struck a gait on her chair which was the equivalent of a gallop.

But Mrs. Yellett was not the sort of antagonist to be left gaping on the road, awed to silence by the action of a rocking-chair, no matter how brilliant.

"I reckon I can thrash my own children when it's needed, without gettin' in help from the East, or hereabouts either, for that matter. If other folks would only take out their public-spirited reformin' tendencies on their own famblies, there'd be a heap less lynchin' likely to happen round the country in the course of the next ten years."

Old Sally let the home-thrust pass. "Who ever hearn tell of a good teacher that wasn't a fine thrasher in the bargain?" She swung the chair about with a pivotal motion, as if she were addressing an assemblage instead of a single listener, and then, bethinking herself of a clinching illustration, she called aloud to her daughter to bear witness. "Eudory! Eu-do-ry! You-do-ry!"

"Ye-'s ma'am," drawled the daughter, coming most unwillingly from the open-faced room opposite, where she had been inciting all four of the suitors to battle.

"What was it they called that teacher down to Caspar that larruped the hide off'n the boys?"

"A fine dis-a-ply-narian, maw."

"Yes, that's it—a dis-a-ply-narian. What kin a lettle green gourd like her know 'bout dis-apply-in?"

"Your remarks shore remind me of a sayin' that 'the discomfort of havin' to swallow other folks' dust causes a heap of anxiety over their reckless driving.'"

Mrs. Yellett flicked her riding-boot with her whip. Her voice dropped a couple of tones, her accent became one of honeyed sweetness.

"Your consumin' anxiety regardin' my gov'ment and my children shore reminds me of a narrative appertainin' to two dawgs. Them dawgs was neighbors, livin' in adj'inin' yards separated by a fence, and one day one of them got a good meaty bone and settled hisself down to the enj'yment thereof. And his intimate friend and neighbor on the other side of the fence, who had no bone to engage his faculties, he began to fret hisself 'bout the business of his friend. S'pose he was to choke hisself over that bone. S'pose the meat disagreed with him. And he begins to bark warnin's, but the dawg with the bone he keeps right on. But the other dawg he dashes hisself again the fence and he scratches with his claws. He whines pitiful, he's that anxious about his friend. But the dawg with the bone he went right on till he gnawed it down to the last morsel, and, goin' to the hole in the fence whar his friend had kep' that anxious vigil, he says: 'Friend, the only thing that consoled me while having to endure the anguish of eatin' that bone was the thought of your watchful sympathy!' Which bein' the case, I'd thank you to tell me whar I can find my gov'ment."

"Ai-yi!" said old Sally. "I ain't seein' no bone this deal. Just a lettle green gourd 's all I see with my strongest specs."

Mary Carmichael, in one of the inner rooms, was writing a home letter, which was chiefly remarkable for what it failed to relate. It gave long accounts of the scenery, it waxed didactic over the future of the country; but the adventures of the trip, with her incidental acquaintance with the Daxes and Chugg, were not recorded. Eudora announced the arrival of Mrs. Yellett, and Mary, at the news, dropped the contents of her portfolio and started up with much the feeling a marooned sailor might have on hearing a sail has been sighted. At this particular stage of her career Miss Carmichael had not developed the philosophy that later in life was destined to become her most valuable asset. Her sense of humor no longer responded to the vagaries of pioneer life. The comedy element was coming a little too thick and fast. She was getting a bit heart-sick for a glimpse of her own kind, a word with some one who spoke her language. And here, at last, was the woman who had written such a charming letter, who had so graciously intimated that there was room for her at the hearth-stone. Mary was, indeed, eager to make the acquaintance of Mrs. Yellett.

To the end of her life she never forgot that first meeting—the perfect confidence with which she followed Eudora to the open room, the ensuing blank amazement, the utter inability to reconcile the Mrs. Yellett of the letter with the Mrs. Yellett of fact. The lamp on the table, burning feebly, seemed to burst into a thousand shooting-stars as the girl struggled with her tears. Home was so far, and Mrs. Yellett was so different from what she had expected! And yet, as she felt her fingers crush in the grip of that hard but not unkindly hand, there was in the woman's rugged personality a sustaining quality; and, thinking again of Archie's prospects, Mary was not altogether sorry that she had come.

"You be a right smart young maverick not to get lost none on this long trail, and no one to p'int you right if you strayed," commented Mary's patroness, affably. "But we won't roominate here no longer than we can help. It's too hard on old Ma'am Rodney. She's just 'bout the color of withered cabbage now, 'long of me havin' you."

While she talked, Mrs. Yellett picked up Mary's trunk and bags and stowed them in the back of the buckboard with the ease with which another woman might handle pasteboard boxes. One or two of the male Rodneys offered to help, but she waved them aside and lashed the luggage to the buckboard, handling the ropes with the skill of an old sailor. The entire Rodney family and the suitors of Eudora assembled to witness the departure. "It's a heap friendly of you to fret so," was the parting stab of Sarah Yellett to Sally Rodney; and she swung the backboard about, cleared the cactus stumps in the Rodney door-yard, and gained the mountain-road.

"Ai-yi!" said old Sally. "What's this country comin' to?"

"A few more women, thank God!" remarked Ira. Eudora had just snubbed him, and he put a wealth of meaning into his look after the vanishing buckboard.

The night was magnificent. From horizon to horizon the sky was sown with quivering points of light. Each straggling clump of sage-brush, rocky ledge, and bowlder borrowed a beauty not its own from the yellow radiance of the stars.

They had gone a good two miles before Mary's patroness broke the silence with, "Nothing plumb stampedes my temper like that Rodney outfit—old Sally buckin' an' pitchin' in her rockin'-chair same as if she was breakin' a bronco, an' that Eudory always corallin', deceivin', and jiltin' one outfit of men after another. If she was a daughter of mine, I'd medjure her length across my knee, full growed and courted though she is. The only one of the outfit that's wuth while is Judith, an' she ain't old woman Rodney's girl, neither. You hyeard that already, did you? Well, this yere country may be lackin' in population, but it's handy as a sewin'-circle in distributin' news."

Mary mentioned Leander. "Yes," answered Mrs. Yellett, reflectively, "Leander's mouth do run about eight and a half octaves. Sometimes I don't blame his wife for bangin' down the lid."

They talked of Jim Rodney's troubles, and the growing hatred between sheep and cattle men, because of range rights.

"Now that pore Jim had a heap of good citizen in him, before that pestiferous cattle outfit druv' his sheep over the cliff. Relations 'twixt sheep and cattle men in this yere country is strained beyant the goin'-back place, I can tell you. My pistol-eye 'ain't had a wink of sleep for nigh on eighteen months, an' is broke to wakefulness same as a teethin' babe.

"Jim was wild as a coyote 'fore he marries that girl. She come all the way from Topeka, Kansas, thinking she was goin' to find a respectable home, and when she come out hyear and found the place was a dance-hall, she cried all the time. She didn't add none to the hilarity of the place. An' one day Jim he strolled in, an' seem' the girl a-cryin' like a freshet and wishin' she was dead, he inquired the cause. She told him how that old harpy wrote her, an', bein' an orphant, she come out thinkin' she was goin' to a respectable place as waitress, an' Jim he 'lowed it was a case for the law. He was a little shy of twenty at the time, just a young cockerel 'bout br'ilin' size. Some of the old hangers-on 'bout the place they see a heap of fun in Jim's takin' on 'bout the girl, he bein' that young that he had scarce growed a pair of spurs yet. An' one of 'em says to him,' Sonny, if you're afeerd that this yere corral is onjurious to the young lady's morals, we'll call in the gospel sharp, if you'll stand for the brand.' Now Jim hadn't a cent, nor no callin', nor a prospect to his back, but he struts up to the man that was doin' the talkin', game as a bantam, an' he says, 'The lady ain't rakin' in anythin' but a lettle white chip, in takin' me, but if she's willin', here's my hand.'

"At which that pore young thing cried harder than ever. Well, Jim he up an' marries the girl an' it turns out fine. He gets a job herdin' sheep on shares, an' she stays with the Rodney outfit till he saves enough to build a cabin. Things is goin' with Jim like a prairie afire. In a few years he acquires a herd of his own, a fine herd, not a scabby sheep in the bunch. Alida she makes him the best kind of a wife, them kids is the pride of his life, and then, them cursed cattle-men do for him. Of course, he takes to rustlin'; I'd do more'n rustle if they'd touch mine."

The pair of broncos that Mrs. Yellett was driving humped their backs like cats as they climbed the steep mountain-road. With her, driving was an exact science. It was a treat to see her handle the ribbons. Mary asked some trifling question about the children and it elicited the information that one of the girls was named Cacta. "Yes," she said, "I like new names for children, not old ones that is all frazzled out and folks has suffered an' died to. It seems to start 'em fair, like playin' cards with a new deck. Cacta's my oldest daughter, and I named her after the flowers that blooms all over the desert spite of everything, heat, cold, an' rain an' alkali dust—the cactus blooms right through it all. Even its own thorns don't seem to fret it none. I called her plain Cactus till she was three, and along came a sharp studyin' the flowers an' weeds out here, and he 'lowed that Cactus was a boy's name an' Cacta was for girls—called it a feeminin tarnation, or somethin' like that, so we changed it. My second daughter 'ain't got quite so much of a name. She's called Clematis. That holds its own out here pretty well, 'long by the willows on the creek. Paw 'lowed he was terrible afraid that I'd name the youngest girl Sage-brush, so he spoke to call her Lessie Viola, an' I giv' in. The boys is all plain named, Ben, Jack, and Ned. Paw wouldn't hear of a fancy brand bein' run onto 'em."

The temperature fell perceptibly as they climbed the heights, and the air had the heady quality of wine. It was awesome, this entering into the great company of the mountains. Presently Mary caught the glimmer of something white against the dark background of the hills. It gleamed like a snow-bank, though they were far below the snow-line on the mountain-side they were climbing.

"Well, here be camp," announced Mrs. Yellett. What Mary had taken for a bank of snow was a huge, canvas-covered wagon. Several dogs ran down to greet the buckboard, barking a welcome. In the background was a shadowy group, huge of stature, making its way down the mountain-path. "And here's all the children come to meet teacher." Mrs. Yellett's tone was tenderly maternal, as if it was something of a feat for the children to walk down the mountain-path to meet their teacher. But Mary, straining her eyes to catch a glimpse of her little pupils, could discover nothing but a group of persons that seemed to be the sole survivors of some titanic race. Not one among them but seemed to have reached the high-water mark of six feet. Was it an optical illusion, a hallucination born of the wonderful starlight? Or were they as huge as they seemed? The young men looked giants, the girls as if they had wandered out of the first chapters of Genesis. Their mother introduced them. They all had huge, warm, perspiring hands, with grips like bears. Mary looked about for a house into which she could escape to gather her scattered faculties, but the starlight, yellow and luminous, revealed none. There was the huge covered wagon that she had taken for a snow-bank, there was a small tent, there were two light wagons, there were dogs innumerable, but there was no sign of a house.

"What do you think of it?" inquired Mrs. Yellett, smilingly, anticipating a favorable answer.

"It's almost too beautiful to leave." Mary innocently supposed that Mrs. Yellett referred to the starlit landscape. "But I'm so tired, Mrs. Yellett, and so glad to get to a real home at last, that I'm going to ask if you will not show me the way to the house so that I may go to bed right away."

This apparently reasonable request was greeted by a fine chorus of titanic laughter from Mary's pupils. Mrs. Yellett waved her hand over the surrounding landscape in comprehensive gesture.

"Ain't all this large enough for you?" she asked, gayly.

"You mean the mountains? They're wonderful. But—I really think I'd like to go in the house."

"I shore hope you ain't figgerin' on goin' into no house, 'cause there ain't no house to go into." She laughed merrily, as if the idea of such an effete luxury as a house were amusing. "This yere family 'ain't ever had a house—it camps."

Mary gasped. The real meaning of words no longer had the power of making an impression on her. If Mrs. Yellett had announced that they were in the habit of sleeping in the moon, it would not have surprised her.

"If you are tired, an' want to go to bed, you can shuck off and lie down any time. Ben, Jack, Ned, go an' set with paw in the tent while the gov'ment gets ready for bed. Cacta and Clem, you help me with them quilts."

Mary stood helpless in the wilderness while quilts and pillows were fetched somewhere from the adjacent scenery, and Mrs. Yellett asked her, with the gravity of a Pullman porter interrogating a passenger as to the location of head and foot, if she liked to sleep "light or dark." She chose "dark" at random, hating to display her ignorance of the alternatives, with the happy result that her bed was made up to leeward of the great sheep-wagon, in a nice little corner of the State of Wyoming. Mary was grateful that she had chosen dark.

As she dozed off, she was reminded of a certain magazine illustration that Archie had pinned over his bed after the aunts had given a grudging consent to this westward journey. There was a line beneath the pictorial decoy which read: "Ranch Life in the New West." And there were piazzas with fringed Mexican hammocks, wild-grass cushions, a tea-table with a samovar, and, last, a lady in white muslin pouring tea. The stern reality apparently consisted in scorching alkali plains, with houses of the packing-box school of architecture at a distance of seventy or eighty miles apart. No ladies in white muslin poured tea; they garbed themselves in simple gunny-sacking, and their repartee had an acrid, personal note. But Mary was glad to know that Archie had that picture, and that he thought of her in such ideal surroundings.



X

On Horse-thief Trail

Judith, on her black mare, Dolly, left the Dax ranch after the mid-day meal to go in quest of her brother. He had left his comfortable cabin on the Bear Creek, when he had turned rustler, and moved into the "bad man's country," one of those remote mountain fastnesses that abound in Wyoming and furnish a natural protection to the fugitive from justice. Judith took the left fork of the road even as Peter Hamilton had chosen the right, the day she had watched him gallop towards Kitty Colebrooke with never a glance backward. Judith strove now to put him and the memory of that day from her mind by turning towards the open country without a glance in the direction he had taken. But her thoughts were weary of journeying over that trail that she would not look towards; in imagination she had travelled it with Peter a hundred times, saw each dip and turn of the yellow road, each feature of the landscape as he rode exultant to Kitty, to be turned, tried, taken or left as her mood should prompt. But Judith was more woman than saint, and in her heart there was a blending of joy and pain. For she knew—such skill has love in inference from detail—that the mysterious far-away girl, who was so powerful that she could have whatever she wanted, even to Peter, loved her own ambitions better than she did Peter or Peter's happiness, and that she would not marry him except as a makeshift. For Miss Colebrooke wrote verses; Peter had a white-and-gold volume of them that Judith fancied he said his prayers to.

As for Peter himself, he had never been able to explain the magic Kitty had brewed for him. There was a heady quality in the very ring of her name. His first glimpse of her, on Class Day, in a white gown and a hat that to his manly indiscrimination looked as guileless as a sheaf of poppies nodding above the pale-yellow hair that had the sheen of corn-silk, had been a vision that stirred in him heroic promptings. He had no difficulty in securing an introduction. She was a connection of the Wetmores, as was he, though through opposite sides of the house. In the few minutes' talk that followed, he had the disconcerting sensation of being "talked down to." There was the indulgent tolerance of the woman of the world to the "nice boy" about this amazing young woman, who might have been eighteen. Hamilton had repudiated the very suggestion of being a "nice boy." But he felt himself blushing, groping for words, saying stupid things, supplying every requisite of the "nice boy" as if he were acting the part. Her chaperon bore her away presently, and he was left with a radiant impression of corn-silk hair and a complexion that justified Bouguereau's mother-of-pearl flesh tints. And when she had tilted the ruffled lace parasol over her shoulder, so that it framed her head like a fleecy halo, he had seen that her eyes were green as jade. Withal he had a sense of having acquitted himself stupidly.

Later, when he ran the gamut of some friends, they had chaffed him on his hardihood. By Jove! He had nerve to look at her! Didn't he know she was "the" Miss Colebrooke? Now Hamilton was absolutely ignorant of Miss Colebrooke's right of way to the definite article, but it was characteristic of him to make no inquiries. On the whole, he found the situation meeting with a greater number of the artistic requirements than such situations usually presented. He was still dallying with this pleasant vagueness of sensation when he picked up a copy of a magazine, and the name Katherine Colebrooke caught his eye and held it like the flight of a comet. Her contribution was a sonnet entitled "The Miracle." As a naive emotional confession, "The Miracle" interested him; as a sonnet, he rent it unmercifully.

Peter was to learn, however, that this sonnet was but a solitary flake in a poetic fall of more or less magnitude. He rather conspicuously avoided a reference to her poetry when they met again. To him it was the very least of her gifts. Her hair, that had the tender yellow of ripening corn, was worthy a cycle of sonnets, but pray leave the making of them to some one else! By daylight the jade-colored eyes seemed to shut out the world. The pupils shrank to pin-points. The green looked deep—as many fathoms as the sea. She was all Diana by daylight, a huntress, if you will, of the elusive epithet, but essentially a maiden goddess, who would add no sprightly romance to the chronicles of Olympus. By lamp-light she suggested quite another divinity. The pin-points expanded; they burned black, like coals newly breaking into flame.

When Hamilton knew her better, he did not like to think that he had thought her eighteen at their first meeting. It impugned his judgment as a man of the world. Young ladies of eighteen could not possibly be contributors of several years' standing to the various magazines. Disconcerting scraps of gossip floated to him. He heard of her as bridesmaid at a famous wedding of six years back, when she had deflected the admiration from the bride and remained the central figure of the picture. Her portrait by Sargent had been the sensation of the Salon when he had been a grubby-faced boy with his nose in a Latin grammar. An unusual situation was abhorrent to him. That he should marry an older woman, one, moreover, who had gained her public in a field to which he had not gained admission, was doubly distasteful by reason of his deference to the conventional. If she had flirted with him, his midsummer madness would have evaporated into thin air; but she kept him at arm's-length, ostensibly took him seriously, and the boy proposed.

Her rejection of him was a matter of such consummate skill that Hamilton did not realize the keenness of his disappointment till he was swinging westward over the prairies. She had confided to him that her work claimed her and that she must renounce those sweet responsibilities that made the happiness of other women. It was with the protective mien of one who sought to shield him from an adverse destiny that she declined his suit.

This had all happened seven years ago. In the mean time he had adjusted his disappointment to the new life of the West. To say that he had fallen in love with the situation would be to misrepresent him. But the role of lonely cow-puncher loyally wedded to the thought of his first love was not without charm to Peter. How long his constancy would have survived the test of propinquity to a woman of Judith Rodney's compelling personality, other things being equal, it would be difficult to hazard a guess. The coming of Judith from the convent increased the perspective into which Kitty was retreating. With the vivid plainswoman in the foreground, the pale-haired writer of verse dwindled almost to reminiscence. But the reverence for the usual, that made up the underlying motive for so much of Hamilton's conduct, presented barriers alongside of which his previous quandary regarding Miss Colebrooke's seniority shrank to insignificance. He might marry a woman older than himself and swallow the grimace of it, but by no conceivable system of argument could he persuade himself to marry into a family like that of the Rodneys—the girl herself, for all her beauty and rare womanliness, a quarter Indian, her father the synonyme for obloquy, her brother a cattle thief. Hamilton preferred that other men should make the heroic marriages of a new country. He was prepared to applaud their hardihood of temperament, but in his own case such a thing was inconceivable. Similar arguments have ensnared multitudes in the web of caution and provided a rich feast for the arch-spider, convention, the shrivelled flies dangling in the web conveying no significance, apparently, beyond that of advertising the system.

When Peter went East, he had expected to find Kitty worn by the pursuit of epithets, haunted by the phantom of a career, resigned to the slings and arrows of remorseful spinsterhood. An obvious regret, or, at least, resignation tempered with remembrance, was the unguent he anticipated at the hands of Kitty. But alas for sanctuaries built to refuge wounded pride! He found Kitty the pivot of an adoring coterie, the magazines flowing with the milk and honey of her verse and she looking younger, if possible, than when he had first known her. Time, experience, even the pangs of literary parturition had not writ a single character on that alabaster brow. The very atrophy of the forces of time which she had accomplished by unknown necromancy seemed to endow her with an elfin youth, making her seem smaller, more childlike, more radiantly elusive than when she had worn the poppy hat at Cambridge.

The tan and hardship of the prairie had adjusted the blunder of their ages. Stark conditions had overdrawn his account perhaps a decade; she retained a surplus it would be rude to estimate. Her greeting of him was radiant, her welcome panoplied in words that verged close to inspiration. A woman would have scented warning instantly, deep feeling and the curled and perfumed phrase being suspicious cronies and sure to rouse those lightly slumbering watch-dogs, the feminine wits. But Peter only turned the other cheek. More than once, in the days that followed, he devoutly thanked his patron saint, caution, that his relations with Judith had been governed by characteristic prudence. Kitty admitted him to her coterie, but he had lost nothing of his attitude of grand Turk towards her verses. The sin be upon the heads of whomever took such things seriously! The irony of fate that compelled a class poet to punch cows may have tinctured his judgment.

A telegram recalled him to the ranch and prevented a final leave-taking with Miss Colebrooke. He made his adieux by letter, and they were frankly regretful. Miss Colebrooke's reply mingled sorrow in parting from her old friend with joy in having found him. Her letter, a masterpiece of phrase-spinning, presented to Peter the one significant fact that she would not be averse to the renewal of his suit. In reading her letter he made no allowance for the fact that the lady had made a fine art of saying things, and that her joy and regret at their meeting and parting might have been reminiscent of the printed passion that was so prominent a feature of magazinedom. Her letters—the like of them he had never seen outside printed volumes of letters that had achieved the distinction of classics—culminated in the one that Judith had given him that morning, announcing that unexpectedly she had decided to join the Wetmore girls and would be glad to see him at the ranch.

That he had flown at her bidding, Judith knew. What she would least have suspected was that Miss Colebrooke had received her visitor as if his breakneck ride across the desert had been in the nature of an afternoon call. If Judith, knowing what she did of this long-drawn-out romance, could have known likewise of her knight's chagrin, would she have pitied him?

Ignorant of the recent anticlimax, and with a burden of many heavy thoughts, Judith was penetrating a world of unleavened desolation. Beneath the scourge of the noon-day sun the desert lay, stripped of every illusion. Vegetation had almost ceased, nothing but sun-scorched, dust-choked sage-brush could spring from such sterility. The fruit of desolation, it gave back to desolation a quality more melancholy than utter barrenness. Glittering in the sunlight, the beds of alkali gleamed leper white; above them the agitated air was like the hot waves that dance and quiver about iron at white heat. From horizon to horizon the curse of God seemed to have fallen on the land; it was as if, cursing it, He had forgotten it, and left it as the abomination of desolation. Judith scarce heeded, her thoughts straying after first one then another of the group that made up her little world—Peter Hamilton, Kitty Colebrooke, Jim, his family—thoughts inconsequent as the dancing dust-devils that whirled over that infinity of space, and, whirling, disappeared and reappeared at some new corner of the compass.

The trail that she must take to Jim's camp in the mountain was known to but few honest men. Fugitives from justice—the grave, impersonal justice of the law, or the swift justice of the plains—found there an asylum. And while they sometimes suffered, in death by thirst or hunger, a sentence more dreadful than the law of the land or the law of the rope would have given them, the desert, like the sea, seldom gave up her own. It was more than probable that no woman except Alida Rodney had ever taken that trail before, and reasonably certain that no woman had ever taken it alone. Dolly, when she saw the beds of alkali grow more frequent, and that the trails of the range cattle turned back, sniffed the lack of water in the air, slackened her pace, and turned an interrogatory ear towards her mistress.

"It's all right, old girl"; the gauntleted hand patted the satin neck. "We're in for"—Judith flung her head up and confronted the infinite desolation yawning to the sky-line—"God knows what."

Dolly broke into a light canter; this evidently was not an occasion for dawdling. There was a touch of business about the way the reins were held that made the mare settle down to work. But her flying hoofs made little apparent progress against the space and silence of the desert. Five, ten, fifteen miles and the curving shoulder of the mountain, that she must cross, still mocked in the distance. Only the sun moved in that vast world of seemingly immutable forces.

There was no stoic Sioux in Judith now. The girl that breasted the crests of the foot-hills shrank in terror from the loneliness and the suggestion of foes lurking in ambush. The sun dropped behind the mountain, leaving a blood-red pool in his wake, like fugitive Cain. Already night was sweeping over the earth from mountain shadows that flowed imperceptibly together like blackened pools. To the girl following the trail the silence was more dreadful than a chorus of threatening voices. She listened till the stillness beat at her ears like the stamping of ten thousand hoofs, then pulled up her horse, and the desert was as still as the chamber of death.

"Ah, Dolly, my dear, a house is the place for women folk when the night comes—a house, the fire burning clear, the kettle singing, and—" Dolly whinnied an affirmative without waiting for the picture to be completed. The wilderness was being gradually swallowed by the shadows, as deliberately as a snake swallows its victim. They were nearing the mountains. The hot blasts of air from the desert blew more and more intermittently. The breeze swept keen from the hills, towering higher and higher, and Judith breathed deep of the piny fragrance and felt the tension of things loosen a little.

Whitening cattle bones gleamed from the darkness, tragic reminders of hard winters and scant pasturage, and Judith, with the Indian superstition that was in the marrow of her bones, read ghostly warnings in the empty eye-sockets of the grinning skulls that stared up at her. She dared not think of the dangers that the looming darkness might conceal, or of what she might find at her journey's end, or—"Whoa, Dolly! softly, girl. Is it my foolish, white-blood nerves, or is some one following?"

The mare had been trained to respond to the slightest touch on her mouth, and stopped instantly. Judith swayed slightly in the saddle with the heaving of the sweating horse. The blood beat at her temples, confusing what she actually heard with what her imagination pictured. She was half-way up a towering spur of the Wind River when she slid from the saddle, and putting her ear to the ground listened, Indian fashion. Above the throbbing stillness of the desert night, that came to her murmurously, like the imprisoned roar of the sea from a shell, she could hear the regular beat of horse's hoofs following up the steep mountain grade. She scrambled up with the desperate nimbleness of a hunted thing, but when she attempted to vault to the saddle her limbs failed and she sank clinging to the pommel. Twice she tried and twice the trembling of her limbs held her captive. With the loss of each moment the beat of the hoofs on the trail below became more distinct. The very desperation of her plight kept her clinging to the pommel, incapable of thought, so that when she finally flung herself to the saddle she was surprised to find herself there. To the left the trail dropped sharply to a precipice, choked by the close crowding of many scrub pines. To the right the snow-clad spires of the Wind River kept their eternal vigil. If she should call aloud for help, these white, still mountains would echo the anguish of her woman's cry and give no further heed to her plight.

The trail had begun to widen. The horse behind her again stumbled, loosening a stone that rolled with crashes and echoings down to the precipice below. She took advantage of the widening of the trail to urge Dolly forward. Her impulse was to put spurs to the mare and run, to take chances with loose stones, a narrowing trail, and the possibility of Dolly's stumbling and breaking a leg; but discretion prompted the showing of a brave front, the pleasantries of the road, with flight as the last resource of desperation.

Suddenly gaining what seemed to be a plateau, she wheeled and waited the coming of this possible friend or foe. The thudding of hoofs through the inferno of darkness stopped, as the rider below considered the latest move of the horseman above. They were so near that Judith could hear the labored breathing of the sweating horse. The blackness of the night had become a tangible thing. The towering mountains were one piece with the gaping precipice, the trail, the scrub pines, the gauntlet on her hand. The horse below resumed its stumbling gait. Judith crowded Dolly close to the rocky wall. If the chance comrade of the wilderness should pass her by in the darkness—God speed him!

"What the devil are you blocking the trail for?" sung out a voice from the darkness. At sound of it Judith's heart stopped beating. The voice was Peter Hamilton's.



XI

The Cabin In The Valley

And Judith, taken unawares by the unexpected turn of things, comforted as a lost child that is found, told all her feeling for him in the way she called his name. The easy tenderness of the man awoke; his senses swayed to the magic of her voice, the mystery of the night, the shadow world in which they two, 'twixt earth and sky, were alone. They rode without speaking. Peter's hand sought hers, and all her woman's terror of the desolation, her fear of the vague terrors of the dreadful night, spoke in her answering pressure. It was as if the desert had given them to each other as they groped through the silent darkness. In the great company of earth, sky, silence, and this great-hearted woman, Peter grew conscious of a real thrill. There were depths to life—vast, still depths; this woman's unselfish love for him made him realize them. He felt his soul sweeping out on the great tide of things. Farther and farther it swept; his patron saint, caution, beckoning frantically from the receding shore, was miles behind. "Judith!" he said, and he scarce recognized his own voice. "Judith!" he struggled as a swimmer in a drowning clutch. Then his patron saint threw him a life-line and he saved the situation.

"Judith!" he said, a third time, and now he knew his voice. It was the voice of the man who tilted at life picturesquely in a broad-brimmed hat, who loved his darling griefs and fitted them as a Rembrandt fits its background. And still, in the same voice, the voice he knew, he said: "I feel as if we had died and our souls were meeting. You know Aldrich's exquisite lines:

"Somewhere in desolate, wind-swept space, In twilight land—no man's land— Two hurrying shapes met face to face And bade each other stand.

"'And who are you?' cried one, agape, Shuddering in the gloaming light. I know not,' said the other shape, 'I only died last night.'"

"'I only died last night!'" she repeated the line, slowly, significantly. In her questioning she forgot the night, the desolation, the presence of the man. Had she died last night? Had youth, the joy of living, her infinite capacity for love, had they died when Peter, with the ugly haste of the man without a nice sense of the time that should elapse between the old and the new love, had spurred away cheerfully at the beck of another woman? And now the desert, this earth-mother as she called it, in the Indian way, had given him back to her, thrown them together as driftwood in the still ocean of space. She drew a long breath, the breath of one waking from an anguished dream. A wild, unreasoning gladness woke in her heart, the joy of living swept her back again to life. She had not died last night, she was riding through the wilderness with Peter.

"Look!" she whispered. The sky had lost its forbidding blackness. The sharp notches of the mountains, faintly outlined in white, undulated through an eternity of space. Venus hung in the west, burning softly as a shaded lamp. The trail they climbed seemed to end in her pale yellow light.

Peter had saved the situation, but the wild beauty of the night stirred in him that gift of silvery speech that was ever his tribute to the sex, rather than the woman. He bent towards Judith. A loosened strand of her hair blew across his cheek. The breakneck ride to Kitty was already the madness of a dead and gone incarnation. He pointed to the pale star, and told her it was the omen of their destiny; the formless blackness through which they had groped was the way of life, but for such as were not condemned to eternal darkness Venus held high her lamp and they scaled the heights.

And Judith, listening, found her heart a battle-field of love and hate. "Were women dogs, that men should play with them in idle moods, caress them, and fling them out for other toys?" she demanded of herself, even while the tones of his voice melted her innermost being to thankfulness for this hour that he was wholly hers.

Gayly, with ready turns of speech and snatches of song, trolled in his musical barytone, Peter rode through the night, even as he rode through life, a Sir Knight of the Joyous Heart, unbrushed by the wing of sorrow, loving his pale griefs for the values they gave the picture. And Judith understood by reason of that exquisite perception that was hers in all matters pertaining to him, and, knowing, only loved the more.

Down the valley came the sharp yelp of a coyote, and in a moment the towering crags had taken it up, the echo repeating it and giving it back to the valley, where the coyote barked again at the shadow of his voice. The night was full of the eerie laughter. Peter put a restraining hand on Dolly's bridle, and, waiting for the coyote to stop, called Judith's name, and all the mountains made music of it. The echo sang the old Hebrew name as if it had been a psalm. Peter's voice gave it to the mountains joyously, but the mountains gave it back in the minor. And Judith was reminded of the soft, singing syllables that her mother, in the Indian way, had made of her daughter's Indian name. The remembrance tugged at her heart. In her joy at seeing Peter she had forgotten that the errand that had brought her was an errand of life and death—life and death for her brother!

But Peter's ready enthusiasms pressed him hard. Surely love-making was the business of such a night. "Ah, Judith, goddess of the heights, if I could sing your name like the mountains, would you love me a little?"

For his pains he had a flash of white teeth in a smile that recalled his first acquaintance with Kitty, the sort of smile one would give to a "nice boy" when his manoeuvres were a trifle obvious. "Not if you sang my name as the chorus of all the Himalayas and the Rockies and Andes, and with the fire of all their volcanoes and the beauty of their snows and the strength of all their hills, for it's not my way to love a little!"

He bent towards her; to brush her cheek lightly as they rode was but to imply his appreciation of the scene as a bit of chiaroscuro, the panorama of the desert night, eternal romance typified by the man and woman scaling the heights, the goddess of love lighting them on their way by her flaming torch. But Judith, who said little because she felt much, was in no mood to brook such dalliance, and, urging the mare sharply, she cantered down the divide at peril of life and limb. Peter, cursing the heavy-footed beast he rode, came stumbling after.

Judith rode wildly through the night, leaving Peter laps behind, to beseech, to prophesy dire happening if she should slip, and to scramble after, as best he might, on the heavy-footed beast he repudiated, with all his ancestors, as oxen, to the fourth generation. But the woman kept her pace. She had stern questions to put to herself, and they were likely to have truer answers if Peter were elsewhere than riding beside her. Whither was he going? They had met casually on a trail known to few honest men. It led over a spur of the Wind River to a sort of no man's land, the hiding-place of horse and cattle thieves. She had gone to warn her brother. Could he be going there—She could not bring herself to finish.

Her heart was divided against itself. Within it were fought again the red and the white man's battles, bitterly, and to the finish. And now the white man, with his open warfare, won, and all her love rose up and scourged her little faith. She would wait on the trail for Peter, penitent and ashamed. And while she waited suspicions bred of her Indian blood stirred distrustfully, and she told herself that her mother's daughter made a worthy champion of the ways of white men. Did Hamilton hunt her brother gallowsward, making merry with her the meantime? He had not even been courteously concerned as to where she was going when they met on the divide. They had met and ridden together as casually as if it had been the most natural thing for them both to be taking the horse-thief trail as a summer evening's ride. And she had not thought to wonder at his possible destination, when the man from whom she rode in terror through the night proved to be Peter, because the lesser question of his errand had been swallowed up in the greater miracle of his presence.

She was by this time well down the divide. The temperature had risen perceptibly on the down grade. The heat of the plains had already mingled with the cool hill air; the heights, where Venus kept her love vigil, were already past. Judith gave Dolly a breathing spell, herself lounging easily meanwhile. She knew how to take her ease in the saddle as well as any cow-puncher on the range.

"The Hayoka has dominion over me," she mused, with Indian fatalism. "As well resign myself to sorrow with dignity. Hayoka, Hayo—ka!" and she began to croon softly a hymn of propitiation to the Hayoka, the Sioux god of contrariety. According to the legends, he sat naked and fanned himself in a Dakota blizzard and huddled, shivering, over a fire in the heat of summer. Likewise the Hayoka cried for joy and laughed for sorrow.

She remembered how the nuns at Santa Fe had been shocked at her for praying to Indian gods, and how once she had built a little mound of stones, which was the Sioux way of making petition, in the shadow of the statue of the Virgin Mary, and how Sister Angela had scattered the stones and told her to pray instead to the Blessed Lady. She still prayed to the Blessed Lady every day; but sometimes, too, she reared little mounds of stones in the desert when she was very sad and the kinship between her and the dead gods of her mother's people seemed the closer for their common sorrow.

Peter, coming up with a much-blown horse, found her still chanting the Indian song.

"Sing him a verse for me, Judith. Heaven knows I need something to straighten out my infernal luck. Tell the Hayoka that I'm a good fellow and need only half a chance. Tell him to prosper my present venture."

She had begun to chant the invocation, then stopped suddenly. "I must not; you know I am a Catholic." Suspicion that had been scotched, not killed, raised its head. "What was his present venture?" Her eye had not changed in expression, nor a tone of her voice, but in her heart was a sickening distrust for all things.

A belated moon had come up. The level plain, on which their horses threw grotesque, elongated shadows, was flooded with honey-colored light. Each straggling clump of sage-brush, whitening bone and bowlder, gleamed mysterious, ghostly in the radiant flood-tide. They seemed to be riding through a world that had no kinship with that black, formless void through which they had groped but yet a little while. Then darkness had been upon the face of the deep. Now there was a miracle of light such as only the desert, in its desolation, knows. To Judith, with a soul attuned to every passing expression of nature, there was significance in this transition from darkness to light. The sudden radiance was emblematic of her belated perception, coming as it did after a blindness so dense as to appear almost wilful. Her mind was busy with a multitude of schemes. Fool though she had been, she would not be the instrument of her brother's undoing.

"I've come too far," she cried, in sudden dismay. "I should have stopped at the foot of the divide. I've never been over the trail before."

"You foolish child, why should you stop in the middle of the wilderness?"

She wheeled the mare about and faced him, a figure of graven resolution.

"I promised to meet Tom Lorimer there—now you know."

With which she cracked Dolly sharply with her heel and began to retrace her way over the trail. Peter turned his horse and followed, with the feeling of utter helplessness that a man has when confronted with the granite obstinacy of women. Judith had meanwhile expected that the announcement of her mythical appointment with Tom Lorimer would be received differently. Tom Lorimer's reputation was of the worst. An Eastern man formerly, an absconder from justice, rumor was busy with tales of ungodly merrymaking that went on at his ranch, where no woman went except painted wisps from the dance-halls. But Peter was too loyal a friend, despite his shortcomings as a lover, to see in Judith's statement anything more than a sisterly devotion so deeply unselfish that it failed to take into account the danger to which she subjected herself.

However, it was plainly his duty to prevent an unprotected rendezvous with Lorimer, to reason, to plead, and, if he should fail to bring her to a reasonable frame of mind, to go with her, come what would of the result. There were reasons innumerable why he, a cattle-man, should avoid the appearance of dealing with the sheep faction, he reflected, grimly. Lorimer owned sheep, many thousand head. His herds had been allowed to graze unmolested, while smaller owners, like Jim Rodney, had been crowded out because his influence, politically, was a thing to be reckoned with. So Peter followed Judith, pleading Judith's cause; she did not understand, he told her, what she was doing; and while perhaps there was not another man in the country who would not honor her unselfishness in coming to him, Lorimer's chivalry was not a thing to be reckoned with, drunken beast that he was. And Judith, worn with the struggle, tried beyond measure, made reckless by the daily infusion of ill-fortune, pulled up the mare and laughed unpleasantly.

"You think I'm going to see Lorimer about Jim? I'm going with him to a merrymaking. We're old pals, Lorimer and I."

"Judith, dear, has it come to this, that you not only distrust an old friend, but that you try to degrade yourself to hide from him the fact that you are going to your brother's? You've never spoken to Lorimer. I heard him say, not a week ago, that he had never succeeded in making you recognize him. You deceived me at first when you spoke of meeting him—I thought you had a message from Jim—but this talk of merrymaking is beneath you." He shrugged his shoulders in disgust. He felt the torrent of grief that rent her. No sob escaped her lips; there was no convulsive movement of shoulder. She rode beside him, still as the desert before the sand-storm breaks, her soul seared with white-hot iron that knows no saving grace of sob or tear. She rode as Boadicea might have ridden to battle; there was not a yielding line in her body. But over and over in her woman's heart there rang the cry: "I am so tired! If the long night would but come!"

Peter drew out his watch. "It's a quarter to eleven. We'll have a hard bit of riding to reach Blind Creek before midnight."

Then he knew as well as she, perhaps better, the route to Jim's hiding-place; she had never been there as yet. And if Peter knew, doubtless every cattle-man in the country knew. What a fool she had been with her talk of meeting Tom Lorimer! A sense of utter defeat seemed to paralyze her energies. She felt like a trapped thing that after eluding its pursuers again and again finds that it has been but running about a corral. Physical weariness was telling on her. She had been in the saddle since a little past noon and it was now not far from midnight. And still there was the unanswered question of Peter's errand. It was long since either had broken the silence. A delicious coolness had crept into the air with the approach of midnight. Judith, breathing deep draughts of it, reminded herself of the stoicism that was hers by birthright.

"Peter"—her voice lost some of its old ring, but it had a deeper note—"Peter, we make strange comrades, you and I, in a stranger world. We meet on Horse-Thief Trail, and there is reason to suppose that our errands are inimical. You've pierced all my little pretences; you know that I am going to my brother, who is an outlaw—my brother, the rope for whose hanging is already cut. And yet we have been friends these many years, and we meet in this world of desolation and weigh each other's words, and there is no trust in our hearts. Our little faith is more pitiful than the cruel errands that bring us. I take it you, too, are going to my brother's?"

"I'm going there to see that you arrive safe and sound, but I had no intention of going when I left camp. You've brought me a good twenty miles out of my way, not to mention accusing me of ulterior motives. Now, aren't you penitent?" He smiled at her, boyish and irresistible. To Judith it was more reassuring than an oath. "It's like dogs fighting over a picked bone; the meat's all gone. The range is overworked; it needs a good, long rest." He turned towards Judith, speaking slowly. "What you have said is true. We're friends before we're partisans of either faction. I'm on my way to a round-up. There's been an unexpected order to fill a beef contract—a thousand steers. We're going to furnish five hundred, the XXX two hundred and fifty, and the "Circle-Star" two hundred and fifty. Men have been scouring the enemy's country for days rounding up stragglers. It will go hard with the rustlers after this round-up, Judith."

She felt a great wave of penitence and shame sweep over her. She had not trusted him; in her heart she had nourished hideous suspicions of him, and he was telling her, quite simply, of the plans of his own faction, trusting her, as, indeed, he might, but as she never expected to be trusted.

"Peter, do you know that sometimes I think Jim has gone quite mad with these range troubles. He's acted strangely ever since his sheep were driven over the cliff. He's not been home to Alida and the children since he has been out of jail, and you know how devoted to them he has always been! He spends all his time tracking Simpson. Alida wrote me that she expects him to-night, and I'm going there on the chance."

"It's the devil's own hole for desolation that he's come to." Peter looked about the cup-shaped valley that was but a cul-de-sac in the mountains. Its approach was between the high rock walls of a canon. Passing between them, the rise of temperature was almost incredible. The great barrier of mountain-range, that cut it off from the rest of the world, seemed also to cut it off from light and air. The atmosphere hung lifeless, the occasional bellow of range-cattle sounded far-off and muffled. Vegetation was scant, the sage-brush grew close and scrubby, even the brilliant cactus flowers seemed to have abandoned the valley to its fate. A lone group of dead cotton-woods grew like sentinels close to the rocky walls. Their twisted branches, gaunt and bare, writhed upward as if in dumb supplication. There was about them a something that made Judith come closer to Peter as they passed them by. The night wind sang in their leafless branches with a long-drawn, shuddering sigh. The despair of a barren, deserted thing seemed to have settled on them.

"Those frightful trees, how can Alida stand them?" She looked back. "Oh, I wish they were cut down!"

Before them was the cabin, its ruined condition pitifully apparent even by night. It had been deserted ten years before Jim brought his family to it. Rumor said it was haunted. Grim stories were told of the death of a woman who had come there with a man, and had not lived to go away with him. The roof of the adjoining stable had fallen in, the bars of the corral were missing. The house was dark but for a feeble light that glimmered in one window, the beacon that had been lighted, night after night, against Jim's coming. It added a further note of apprehension, peering through the dark, still valley like a wakeful, anxious eye, keeping a long and unrewarded vigil. Judith felt the consummation of the threatening tragedy after her first glimpse of the sentinel trees. She could not explain, but her heart cried, even as the wind in them had sung of death. Perhaps her mother's spirit spoke to her, just as she had said, on that memorable drive, that the Great Mystery spoke to his people in the earth, the sky, and the frowning mountains.

"Peter"—she had slid from her horse and was clinging to his arm—"when it happens, Peter, you will have no part in it?"

"It won't happen, Judith, if I can help it."

She kissed his hand as it held the loose reins.

"Lord, I am not worthy!" was the thought in his heart. He sat graven in the saddle. Sir Knight of the Joyous Heart though he was, the unsought kiss of trust gifted him with a self-reverence that would not soon forsake him.

Judith was rapping on the door and calling to Alida not to be frightened. And presently it was opened. Peter wanted to leave Judith, now that she was safely at the end of her journey, but she would not hear of it till he had eaten.

"You would have had your comfortable supper five hours ago had you not been playing cavalier to me all over the wilderness." And Peter yielded.

Judith busied herself about the kitchen. Her mood of racking apprehension had disappeared. Indian stoicism had again the guiding hand. She waved Peter from the fire that she was kindling, as if he were a blundering incompetent. But she let him slice the bacon and grind the coffee as one lets a child help. Alida came in, white-faced and anxious over the long absence of her husband, but conscientiously hospitable nevertheless. Peter noticed that Judith made a gallant pretence of eating, crumbling her bread and talking the meanwhile. The pale wife, who had little to say at the best of times, was put to the test to say anything at all. But, withal, their intent was so genuinely hospitable that Peter himself could not speak with the pity of it. Accustomed as he was to the roughness of these frontier cabins, never had he seen a human habitation so desolate as this. The mud plaster had fallen away from between the logs, showing cross sections of the melancholy prospect. An atmosphere of tragedy brooded over the place. Whether from its long period of emptiness, or from the vaguely hinted murder of the woman who had died there, or whether it took its character from the prevailing desolation, the cabin in the valley was an unlovely thing. Nor did the cleanliness, the conscientious making the best of things, soften the woful aspect of the place. Rather was the appeal the more poignant to the seeing eye, as the brave makeshift of the self-respecting poor strikes deeper than the beggar's whine. The house was bare but for the few things that Alida could take in the wagon in which they made their flight. And all through the pinch of poverty and grinning emptiness there was visible the woman-touch, the brave making the best of nothing, the pitiful preparation for the coming of the man. Wild roses from the creek bloomed against the gnarled and weather-warped logs of the walls. Sprays of clematis trailed their white bridal beauty from cans rescued from the ashes of a camp-fire. But Alida was a strategist when it came to adorning her home, and the rusty receptacle was hid beneath trailing green leaves. There was at the window a muslin curtain that in its starched and ruffled estate was strongly suggestive of a child's frock hastily converted into a window drapery. The curtain was drawn aside that the lamp might shed its beam farther on the way of the traveller who came not. There was but one other light in the place, a bit of candle. Alida apologized for the poor light by which they must eat, but she did not offer to take the lamp from the window.

Peter was no longer Sir Knight of the Joyous Heart as he watched the little, white-faced woman, who went so often to the door to look towards the road that entered the valley that she was no longer aware of what she did. He saw her wide eyes full of fear, the bow of the mouth strained taut with anxiety, her unconscious fear of him as one of the alien faction, and withal her concern for his comfort. Judith's control was far greater, but though she hid it skilfully, he knew the sorrow that consumed her.

There was a cry from the room beyond, and Judith, snatching up the candle, went in to the children. All three of them were sleeping cross-ways in one bed, their small, round arms and legs striking out through the land of dreams as swimmers breasting the waves. She gave a little cry of delight and appreciation, and called Peter to look. Little Jim, who had cried in some passing fear, sat up sleepily. He stretched out his small arms to Peter, whom he had never seen before. Peter took him, and again he settled to sleep, apparently assured that he was in friendly hands.

The warm, small body, giving itself with perfect confidence, strongly affected Peter's heightened susceptibilities. In the very nature of the situation he could be no friend to Jim Rodney, yet here in his arms lay Jim Rodney's son, loving, trusting him instinctively. Judith noticed that his face paled beneath its many coats of tan. He was afraid of the little sleeping boy, afraid that his unaccustomed touch might hurt him, and yet loath to part with the small burden. Judith took the boy from Peter and placed him between the two little girls on the bed.

Through the window they could see Alida's dress glimmering, like a phantom in the darkness, as she strained her eyes towards the path. Peter hated to leave the women and children in this desolate place. The night was far spent. To reach the round-up in season, he could at best snatch a couple of hours' sleep and be again in the saddle while the stars still shone. His saddle and saddle blanket were enough for him. The broad canopy of heaven, the bosom of mother earth, had given him sound, dreamless sleep these many years. He bade the women good-night, and made his bed where the canon gave entrance to the valley. But sleep was slow to come. Now, in that vague, uncertain world where we fall through oceans of space, and the waking is the dream, the dream the waking, Peter caught pale flashes of Kitty's gold head as she ran and ran, ever in the pursuit of something, she knew not what. And as she ran hither and thither, she would turn her head and beckon to Peter, and as he followed he felt the burden of years come upon him. And then he saw Judith's eyes, still and grave. He turned and wakened. No, it was not Judith's eyes, but the stars above the mountain-tops.



XII

The Round-up

The stars were still shining when Peter Hamilton looked at his watch next morning, but he sternly fought the temptation to lie another two minutes by remembering the day's work before him, and went in search of the horse that he had not picketed overnight, as the beast required a full belly after the hard night's ride he had given him. Peter had rolled out of his blankets with a keen anticipatory relish for the day ahead. It was well, he knew, that there was ample work of a definite nature for Peter the cow-puncher; as for Peter the man, he was singularly at sea. Had Judith Rodney been his desert comrade all these cheerful years for him to get his first belated insight into the real Judith only a few little hours back? Or was it, he wondered, her seeming unconsciousness of him, as she rode brave and sorrowful through the night, to avert, if might be, her brother's death—at all events, to comfort and inspirit the frightened woman and her little children—that had freshly tinged the friendship he had so long felt for her? Many were the questions that Peter vaguely put to himself as he started out for his long day in the saddle; and none of them he answered. Indeed, he could not satisfactorily explain to himself why he should think of Judith at all in this way—Judith, whom he had known so long, and upon whom he counted so securely—Judith, who understood things, and was as good a comrade as a man. Surely it was a strange thing that he should discover himself in a sentimental dream of Judith!

For it was in such dreams that Katherine Colebrooke had figured ever since Peter could remember. For years, indeed—and Judith knew it!—he had stood, tame and tractable, waiting for Chloe to throw her dainty lariat. But Chloe had intimated that her graceful fingers were engaged with the inkpot and her head with schemes for further sonneting. Chloe was becoming famous. To Peter, who was unmodern, there was little to be gained in arguing against a state of affairs so crassly absurd as career-getting for women. At such seasons it behooved sane men to pray for patience rather than the gift of tongues. When the disheartened fair should weary of the phantom pursuit, then might the man of patience have his little day. Peter winced at the picture. To the world he knew that his long waiting on the brink of the bog, while his ambitious lady floundered after false lights, was, in truth, no more impressive a spectacle than the anguished squawking of a hen who watches a brood of ducklings, of her own hatching, try their luck in the pond.

And there was Judith the great-hearted, Judith who was as inspiring as a breath of hill air, Judith with no thought of careers beyond the loyal doing of her woman's part, Judith, trusty and loyal—and Judith with that accursed family connection!

Peter tightened his cinch and turned his horse westward. The stars had grown dim in the sky. The world that the night before had seemed to float in a silvery effulgence looked gray and old. The cabin in the valley flaunted its wretched squalor, like a beggar seeking alms on the highway. Riding by, Peter lifted his sombrero. "Sweet dreams, gentle lady!" He dug the rowel into his horse's side and began his day at no laggard pace. Nor did he spare his horse in the miles that lay between him and breakfast. The beast would have no more work to do that day, when once he reached camp, and Peter was not in his tenderest mood as he spurred through the gray of the morning. The pale, chastened world was all his own at this hour. Not a creature was stirring. The mountains, the valleys, the softly huddled hills slept in the deep hush that is just before the dawn. He looked about with questioning eyes. Last night this very road had been a pale silver thread winding from the mountain crests into a world of dreams. To-day it was but a trail across the range. "Where are the snows of yester year?" he quoted, with a certain early-morning grimness. At heart he was half inclined to believe Judith responsible for the vanished world; Judith, Judith—he was riding away from her as fast as his horse could gallop, and yet his thoughts perversely lingered about the cabin in the valley.

After a couple of hours' hard riding he could dimly make out specks moving on that huge background of space, and presently his horse neighed and put fresh spirit into his gait, recognizing his fellows in moving dots on the vast perspective. And being a beast of some intelligence, for all his heavy-footed failings, he reasoned that food and rest would soon be his portion. Peter had no further use for the rowel.

Breakfast was already well under way when he reached camp. The outfit, seated on saddles in a semicircle about the chuck wagon, ate with that peculiar combination of haste and skill that doubtless the life of the saddle counteracts, as digestive troubles are apparently unknown among plainsmen. The cook, in handing Peter his tin plate, cup, spoon, and black-handled fork, asked him if "he would take overland trout or Cincinnati chicken, this morning?" The cook never omitted these jocular inquiries regarding the various camp names for bacon. He seemed to think that a choice of alias was as good as a change of menu. There was little talk at breakfast, and that bearing chiefly on the day's work. Every one was impatient for an early start. The horse wrangler had his string waiting, the cook was scouring his iron pots, saddles were thrown over horses fresh from a long night's good grazing, cinches were tightened, slickers and blankets were adjusted, and camp melted away in a troup of horsemen winding away through the gray of early morning.

The scene of the beef round-up was a mighty plain, affording limitless scope for handling the cattle of a thousand hills. In the distance rose the first undulations of the mountains, that might be likened to the surplusage of space that rolled the length of the sweeping levels, then heaped high to the blue. The specks in the far distance began to grow as if the screw of a field-glass were bringing them nearer, turning them into horsemen, bunches of cattle, "chuck-wagons" of the different outfits, reserves of horses restrained by temporary rope-corrals, all the equipment of a great round-up. Dozens of men, multitudes of horses, hordes of cattle—the mighty plain swallowed all the little, prancing, galloping, bellowing things, and still looked mighty in its loneliness. Fling a handful of toys from a Noah's Ark—if they make such simple toys now—in an ordinary field, and the little, wooden men, horses and cows, will suggest the round-up in relation to its background. Men darted hither and thither, yelling shrilly; cows—born apparently to be leaders—broke from the bunches to which they had been assigned and started at a clumsy run, followed by kindred susceptible to example. Cow-punchers, waiting for just such manifestations of individuality, whirled after them like comets, and soon they were again in the pawing, heaving, sweltering bunch to which they belonged.

Peter Hamilton, whose particular skill as a cow-puncher lay in that branch of the profession known as "cutting out," found that the work of the rustlers had been carried on with no unsparing hand since the early spring round-up. Calves bearing the "H L" brand—that claimed by a company known to be made up of cattle-thieves—followed mothers bearing almost every brand that grazed herds in that part of the State. The Wetmore outfit, that used a "W" enclosed in a square, were apparently the heaviest losers. The cows and calves were herded at the right of the plain, convenient to the branding-pen, the steers well away to the opposite side. As Peter drove a "W-square" cow, followed by a little, white-faced calf, whose brand had plainly been tampered with, he heard one of his associates say:

"There's nothing small about the 'H L' except their methods."

"What's 'H L' stand for, anyway?" the other cow-puncher asked.

"Why, Hell, or, How Long; depends whether you're with 'em or again 'em."

Peter wheeled from the men and headed for the bunch he was cutting out. He fancied that the man had looked at him strangely as he offered a choice of meanings for the "H L"—and yet he could not have known that Peter had gone to Rodney's cabin last night. He flung himself heart and soul into his work, dashing full tilt at the snorting, stamping bedlam, enveloped in clouds of dust that dimmed the very daylight. Calves bleated piteously as they were jammed in the thickening pack. Peter shouted, swung the rope right and left, thinning the bunch about him, and a second later emerged, driving before him a cow, followed by a calf. These were turned over to cow-boys waiting for them. Time after time Hamilton returned to that mass of unconscious power, that with a single rush could have annihilated the little band of horsemen that handled them with the skill of a dealer shuffling, cutting, dealing a pack of cards.

To the left were the steers, pawing and tearing up the earth in a very ecstasy of impotent fury. Picture the giant propeller of an ocean liner thrashing about in the sands of the desert and you will have an approximate knowledge of the dust raised by a thousand steers. Their long-drawn, shrieking bellow had a sinister note. Horns, hoofs, tails beat the air, their bloodshot eyes looked menacingly in every direction; but a handful of cow-boys kept them in check, circling round and round them on ponies who did their work without waiting for quirt or rowel.

The noonday sun looked down upon a scene that to the eye unskilled in these things was as confusion worse confounded. Cow-boys dashed from nowhere in particular and did amazing things with a bit of rope, sending it through the air with snaky undulations after flying cattle. The rope, taking on lifelike coils, would pursue the flying beast like an aerial reptile, then the noose would fall true, and the thing was done. A second later a couple of cow-boys would be examining the disputed brand on the prone animal.

The smell of burning flesh and hair rose from the branding-pen and mingled with the stench of the herds in one noisome compound. The yells of the cow-punchers, each having its different bearing on the work in hand, were all but lost in the dull, steady roar of the cattle, bellowing in a chorus of fear, rage, and pain. And still the work of sorting, branding, cutting-out, went steadily on. Though an outsider would not have perceived it, the work was as crisp-cut and exact in its methods as the work in a counting-house. One of the cow-boys, in hot pursuit of a fractious heifer, encountered a gopher-hole, and horse and rider were down in a heap. In a second a dozen helping hands were dragging him from under the horse. He limped painfully, but stooped to examine his horse. The beast had broken a leg, and turned on the man eyes almost human in their pain.

"Bob, Bob!" The cow-puncher went down on his knees and put his arms about the neck of his pet. "My God!" he said, "me and Bob was just like brothers. Everybody knowed that." He uncinched the saddle with clumsy tenderness; not a man thought a whit less of him because he could not see well at the moment. He turned his head away, that he might not see the well-aimed shot that would release his pet from pain. Then he limped away after another horse—it was all in the day's work.

The beef contract called for a thousand steers, four and five years old, and these having been well and duly counted, and some dozen extra head added in case of accident, they were immediately started on the trail, as they could accomplish some seven or eight miles before being bedded down for the night. Hamilton, who had crossed to the beef side of the round-up to have a necessary word with the "Circle-Star" foreman, was amazed to find Simpson making ready to start with the trail herd. Peter inquired, with a few expletives, "how long he had been a cow-man, in good and regular standing?"

"As far as the regularity is concerned, that would be a pretty hard thing to answer, but he's had an interest in the 'XXX' since—since—"

"He drove Rodney's sheep over the cliff?"

"Ain't you a little hard on the beginning of his cattle career? It usually goes by a more business-like name, but—" he shrugged his shoulders—"it's up to the 'XXX.' We wouldn't have him help to pull bogged cattle out of a creek."

The beeves, hidden in a simoom of their own stamping, were gradually being pressed forward on the trail, a huge pawn, ignorant of its own strength, manipulated by a handful of men and horses. Its bellowing, like the tuning of a thousand bass-fiddles, shook the stillness like the long, sullen roar of the sea, as out of the plain they thundered, to feed the multitude.

"Well, there goes as pretty a bunch of porterhouses as I'd want to put tooth to. If I get away from here within the next two months, as I'm expecting, doubtless I'll meet some of you again with your personality somewhat obscured by reason of fried onions."

The foreman of the "Circle-Star" waved his hand after the slowly moving herd that gradually pressed forward like an army in loose marching order. Outriders galloped ahead, like darting insects, and pointing the lumbering mass that trailed its half-mile length at a snail's-pace. The great column steadily advanced, checked, turned, led as easily as a child trails his little steam-cars after him on the nursery floor, and always by the little force of a handful of men and a few horses.

After supper came general relaxation around the camp-fire. The men, who had all day been strung to a keen pitch of nervous energy, lounged in loose, picturesque uncouthness, while each began to unravel his own lively miscellany of information or invention. There was jest, laughter, spinning of yarns, singing of songs. As Peter lay in the fire-light, smoking his brier-wood, he noticed that the man next him spent a great deal of time poring over a letter, holding it close to the blaze, now at arm's-length, which was hardly surprising, considering the penmanship of the more common variety of billet-doux. The man was plainly disappointed that Peter would not notice or comment. Finally he folded it up, and with sentimental significance returned it to the left side pocket of his flannel shirt, and remarked to Peter, "It's from her."

"Indeed," said Peter, who had not the faintest notion who "her" could be. "Let me congratulate you."

"Yes, sir," and there was conviction in the cow-puncher's tone; "it's from old man Kinson's girl, up to the Basin, and the parson's goin' to give us the life sentence soon. A man gets sick o' helling it all over creation." He rolled a cigarette, lit it, took a puff or two, then turned to Peter, as one whose acquaintance with the broader side of life entitled him to speak with a certain authority. "Is it that, or is it that we're getting on, a little long in the tooth, logy in our movements?"

"I think we're just sick of helling it." Peter looked towards the star that last night had been the beacon towards which he and Judith had scaled the heights. "Yes, we get sick of helling it after we've turned thirty."

"Then I can't be making a mistake. If I thought it was because I was getting on, I'd stampede this here range. It don't seem fair to a girl to allow that you're broke, tamed, and know the way to the corral, when it's just that you're needin' to go to an old man's home."

"Now this is really love," said Peter to himself, with interest. "This is humility." A sympathetic liking for the self-distrustful lover surged hot and generous into Peter's heart, and he continued to himself: "Now that's what Judith would appreciate in a man, some directness, some humility!" Poor Judith! Poor burden-bearer! Who was to love her as she deserved to be loved, even as old man Kinson's girl, of the Basin, was loved? Yet suppose some one did love her in such fashion and she returned it? It was a picture Peter had never conjured up before. Nonsense! he was accustomed to think of Judith a great deal, and that was not the way to think of her. "Dear Judith!" said Peter, half unconsciously to himself, and looked again at the fellow, who had gone back to his dingy letter and continued to reread it in the fire-light as if he hoped to extract some further meaning from the now familiar words. Nature had fitted him out with a rag-bag assortment of features—the nose of a clown, the eyes of a ferret, the mouth that hangs agape like a badly hinged door, the mouth of the incessant talker. And withal, as he lounged in the fire-light, dreamily turning his love-letter, he had a sort of superphysical beauty, reflected of the glow that many waters cannot quench.

Costigan, who had led the merriment against Simpson at Mrs. Clark's eating-house, was playing "mumbly-peg" with Texas Tyler. They had been working like Trojans all day at the round-up, but they pitched their pocket-knives with as keen a zest as school-boys, bickering over points in the game, accusing each other of cheating, calling on the rest of the company to umpire some disputed point.

But presently, from the opposite side of the fire, some one began to sing, in a rich barytone, a dirgelike thing that caught the attention of first one then another of the men, making them stop their yarning and knife-throwing to listen. The tune, in its homely power to evoke the image of the ceremonial of death, was more or less familiar to most of them. There was a conscious funeral pageantry in the ring of its measured phrases that recalled to many burials of the dead that had taken place in their widely scattered homes. Mrs. Barbauld's hymn, "Flee as a Bird to the Mountain," are the words usually sung to the air.

Costigan presently cut across the dirgelike refrain with: "Phwat th' divil is ut about that chune that Oi'm thinkin' of?"

"This," said the man with the barytone voice, "is the tune that Nick Steele saved his neck to."

"Begorra, that's ut. I wasn't there mesilf, but Oi've heard th' story told more times than Oi've years to me credit."

"My father was in that necktie party," spoke up a young cow-puncher, "and I've heard him tell the story scores of times, and he always wondered why the devil they let Steele off. Never could understand it after the thing was done. He was talking of it once to a man who was a sharp on things like mesmerism, and the man called it hypnotic suggestion. Said that Steele got control of the whole outfit and mesmerized 'em so they couldn't do a thing to him."

Several of the men asked for the story, echoes of which had come down through all the forty years since its happening. And the cow-puncher, lighting a cigarette, began:

"It was in the good old forty-nine days in California, when gold was sometimes more plentiful than bread, and women were so scarce that one day when they found a girl's shoe on the trail they fitted a gold heel to it and put it up in camp to worship. But sentiment wasn't exactly their long suit, and any little difficulties that cropped up were straightened out by the vigilance committee—and a rope. One day a saddle, or maybe it was a gun, that didn't belong to him, was found among this man Steele's traps, and though he swore that some one had put it there for a grudge, the committee thought that a hemp necktie was the easiest way out of the argument. And this here Steele party finds himself, at the age of twenty-four, with something like thirty minutes of life to his credit. He don't take on none, nor make a play for mercy, nor try any fancy speech-making. He just waits round, kinder pale, but seemin' indifferent, considerin' it was his funeral that was impendin'. I've heard my father say that he was a tall, slim boy, with a kind of girlish prettiness, and the committee looked some for hysterics and they didn't get none. The noose was made ready and they told Steele he could have five minutes to pray, if he wanted to, or he could take it out in cursing, just as he chose. The boy said he felt that he hadn't quite all that was coming to him in the way of enjoyment, and that while he was far from criticising the vigilance committee, he was not altogether partial to the nature of his demise, and if it was just the same to them, instead of praying or cursing, he'd take that five minutes for a song.

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