"I breathe again," he said, and laughed. "I was afraid. Well, I must have missed some sport. I can just fancy what Monty and Nels did to that Englishman. So you went up to the crags. That's a wild place. I'm not surprised at guerrillas falling in with you up there. The crags were a famous rendezvous for Apaches—it's near the border—almost inaccessible—good water and grass. I wonder what the U. S. cavalry would think if they knew these guerrillas crossed the border right under their noses. Well, it's practically impossible to patrol some of that border-line. It's desert, mountain, and canyon, exceedingly wild and broken. I'm sorry to say that there seems to be more trouble in sight with these guerrillas than at any time heretofore. Orozco, the rebel leader, has failed to withstand Madero's army. The Federals are occupying Chihuahua now, and are driving the rebels north. Orozco has broken up his army into guerrilla bands. They are moving north and west, intending to carry on guerrilla warfare in Sonora. I can't say just how this will affect us here. But we're too close to the border for comfort. These guerrillas are night-riding hawks; they can cross the border, raid us here, and get back the same night. Fighting, I imagine, will not be restricted to northern Mexico. With the revolution a failure the guerrillas will be more numerous, bolder, and hungrier. Unfortunately, we happen to be favorably situated for them down here in this wilderness corner of the state."
On the following day Alfred and Florence were married. Florence's sister and several friends from El Cajon were present, besides Madeline, Stillwell, and his men. It was Alfred's express wish that Stewart attend the ceremony. Madeline was amused when she noticed the painfully suppressed excitement of the cowboys. For them a wedding must have been an unusual and impressive event. She began to have a better understanding of the nature of it when they cast off restraint and pressed forward to kiss the bride. In all her life Madeline had never seen a bride kissed so much and so heartily, nor one so flushed and disheveled and happy. This indeed was a joyful occasion. There was nothing of the "effete East" about Alfred Hammond; he might have been a Westerner all his days. When Madeline managed to get through the press of cowboys to offer her congratulations Alfred gave her a bear hug and a kiss. This appeared to fascinate the cowboys. With shining eyes and faces aglow, with smiling, boyish boldness, they made a rush at Madeline. For one instant her heart leaped to her throat. They looked as if they could most shamelessly kiss and maul her. That little, ugly-faced, soft-eyed, rude, tender-hearted ruffian, Monty Price, was in the lead. He resembled a dragon actuated by sentiment. All at once Madeline's instinctive antagonism to being touched by strange hands or lips battled with a real, warm, and fun-loving desire to let the cowboys work their will with her. But she saw Stewart hanging at the back of the crowd, and something—some fierce, dark expression of pain—amazed her, while it froze her desire to be kind. Then she did not know what change must have come to her face and bearing; but she saw Monty fall back sheepishly and the other cowboys draw aside to let her lead the way into the patio.
The dinner began quietly enough with the cowboys divided between embarrassment and voracious appetites that they evidently feared to indulge. Wine, however, loosened their tongues, and when Stillwell got up to make the speech everybody seemed to expect of him they greeted him with a roar.
Stillwell was now one huge, mountainous smile. He was so happy that he appeared on the verge of tears. He rambled on ecstatically till he came to raise his glass.
"An' now, girls an' boys, let's all drink to the bride an' groom; to their sincere an' lastin' love; to their happiness an' prosperity; to their good health an' long life. Let's drink to the unitin' of the East with the West. No man full of red blood an' the real breath of life could resist a Western girl an' a good hoss an' God's free hand—that open country out there. So we claim Al Hammond, an' may we be true to him. An', friends, I think it fittin' that we drink to his sister an' to our hopes. Heah's to the lady we hope to make our Majesty! Heah's to the man who'll come ridin' out of the West, a fine, big-hearted man with a fast hoss an' a strong rope, an' may he win an' hold her! Come, friends, drink."
A heavy pound of horses' hoofs and a yell outside arrested Stillwell's voice and halted his hand in midair.
The patio became as silent as an unoccupied room.
Through the open doors and windows of Madeline's chamber burst the sounds of horses stamping to a halt, then harsh speech of men, and a low cry of a woman in pain.
Rapid steps crossed the porch, entered Madeline's room. Nels appeared in the doorway. Madeline was surprised to see that he had not been at the dinner-table. She was disturbed at sight of his face.
"Stewart, you're wanted outdoors," called Nels, bluntly. "Monty, you slope out here with me. You, Nick, an' Stillwell—I reckon the rest of you hed better shut the doors an' stay inside."
Nels disappeared. Quick as a cat Monty glided out. Madeline heard his soft, swift steps pass from her room into her office. He had left his guns there. Madeline trembled. She saw Stewart get up quietly and without any change of expression on his dark, sad face leave the patio. Nick Steele followed him. Stillwell dropped his wine-glass. As it broke, shivering the silence, his huge smile vanished. His face set into the old cragginess and the red slowly thickened into black. Stillwell went out and closed the door behind him.
Then there was a blank silence. The enjoyment of the moment had been rudely disrupted. Madeline glanced down the lines of brown faces to see the pleasure fade into the old familiar hardness.
"What's wrong?" asked Alfred, rather stupidly. The change of mood had been too rapid for him. Suddenly he awakened, thoroughly aroused at the interruption. "I'm going to see who's butted in here to spoil our dinner," he said, and strode out.
He returned before any one at the table had spoken or moved, and now the dull red of anger mottled his forehead.
"It's the sheriff of El Cajon!" he exclaimed, contemptuously. "Pat Hawe with some of his tough deputies come to arrest Gene Stewart. They've got that poor little Mexican girl out there tied on a horse. Confound that sheriff!"
Madeline calmly rose from the table, eluding Florence's entreating hand, and started for the door. The cowboys jumped up. Alfred barred her progress.
"Alfred, I am going out," she said.
"No, I guess not," he replied. "That's no place for you."
"I am going." She looked straight at him.
"Madeline! Why, what is it? You look—Dear, there's pretty sure to be trouble outside. Maybe there'll be a fight. You can do nothing. You must not go."
"Perhaps I can prevent trouble," she replied.
As she left the patio she was aware that Alfred, with Florence at his side and the cowboys behind, were starting to follow her. When she got out of her room upon the porch she heard several men in loud, angry discussion. Then, at sight of Bonita helplessly and cruelly bound upon a horse, pale and disheveled and suffering, Madeline experienced the thrill that sight or mention of this girl always gave her. It yielded to a hot pang in her breast—that live pain which so shamed her. But almost instantly, as a second glance showed an agony in Bonita's face, her bruised arms where the rope bit deep into the flesh, her little brown hands stained with blood, Madeline was overcome by pity for the unfortunate girl and a woman's righteous passion at such barbarous treatment of one of her own sex.
The man holding the bridle of the horse on which Bonita had been bound was at once recognized by Madeline as the big-bodied, bullet-headed guerrilla who had found the basket of wine in the spring at camp. Redder of face, blacker of beard, coarser of aspect, evidently under the influence of liquor, he was as fierce-looking as a gorilla and as repulsive. Besides him there were three other men present, all mounted on weary horses. The one in the foreground, gaunt, sharp-featured, red-eyed, with a pointed beard, she recognized as the sheriff of El Cajon.
Madeline hesitated, then stopped in the middle of the porch. Alfred, Florence, and several others followed her out; the rest of the cowboys and guests crowded the windows and doors. Stillwell saw Madeline, and, throwing up his hands, roared to be heard. This quieted the gesticulating, quarreling men.
"Wal now, Pat Hawe, what's drivin' you like a locoed steer on the rampage?" demanded Stillwell.
"Keep in the traces, Bill," replied Hawe. "You savvy what I come fer. I've been bidin' my time. But I'm ready now. I'm hyar to arrest a criminal."
The huge frame of the old cattleman jerked as if he had been stabbed. His face turned purple.
"What criminal?" he shouted, hoarsely.
The sheriff flicked his quirt against his dirty boot, and he twisted his thin lips into a leer. The situation was agreeable to him.
"Why, Bill, I knowed you hed a no-good outfit ridin' this range; but I wasn't wise thet you hed more 'n one criminal."
"Cut that talk! Which cowboy are you wantin' to arrest?"
Hawe's manner altered.
"Gene Stewart," he replied, curtly.
"On what charge?"
"Fer killin' a Greaser one night last fall."
"So you're still harpin' on that? Pat, you're on the wrong trail. You can't lay that killin' onto Stewart. The thing's ancient by now. But if you insist on bringin' him to court, let the arrest go to-day—we're hevin' some fiesta hyar—an' I'll fetch Gene in to El Cajon."
"Nope. I reckon I'll take him when I got the chance, before he slopes."
"I'm givin' you my word," thundered Stillwell.
"I reckon I don't hev to take your word, Bill, or anybody else's."
Stillwell's great bulk quivered with his rage, yet he made a successful effort to control it.
"See hyar, Pat Hawe, I know what's reasonable. Law is law. But in this country there always has been an' is now a safe an' sane way to proceed with the law. Mebbe you've forgot that. The law as invested in one man in a wild country is liable, owin' to that man's weaknesses an' onlimited authority, to be disputed even by a decent ole cattleman like myself. I'm a-goin' to give you a hunch. Pat, you're not overliked in these parts. You've rid too much with a high hand. Some of your deals hev been shady, an' don't you overlook what I'm sayin'. But you're the sheriff, an' I'm respectin' your office. I'm respectin' it this much. If the milk of human decency is so soured in your breast that you can't hev a kind feelin', then try to avoid the onpleasantness that'll result from any contrary move on your part to-day. Do you get that hunch?"
"Stillwell, you're threatenin' an officer," replied Hawe, angrily.
"Will you hit the trail quick out of hyar?" queried Stillwell, in strained voice. "I guarantee Stewart's appearance in El Cajon any day you say."
"No. I come to arrest him, an' I'm goin' to."
"So that's your game!" shouted Stillwell. "We-all are glad to get you straight, Pat. Now listen, you cheap, red-eyed coyote of a sheriff! You don't care how many enemies you make. You know you'll never get office again in this county. What do you care now? It's amazin' strange how earnest you are to hunt down the man who killed that particular Greaser. I reckon there's been some dozen or more killin's of Greasers in the last year. Why don't you take to trailin' some of them killin's? I'll tell you why. You're afraid to go near the border. An' your hate of Gene Stewart makes you want to hound him an' put him where he's never been yet—in jail. You want to spite his friends. Wal, listen, you lean-jawed, skunk-bitten coyote! Go ahead an' try to arrest him!"
Stillwell took one mighty stride off the porch. His last words had been cold. His rage appeared to have been transferred to Hawe. The sheriff had begun to stutter and shake a lanky red hand at the cattleman when Stewart stepped out.
"Here, you fellows, give me a chance to say a word."
As Stewart appeared the Mexican girl suddenly seemed vitalized out of her stupor. She strained at her bonds, as if to lift her hands beseechingly. A flush animated her haggard face, and her big dark eyes lighted.
"Senor Gene!" she moaned. "Help me! I so seek. They beat me, rope me, 'mos' keel me. Oh, help me, Senor Gene!"
"Shut up, er I'll gag you," said the man who held Bonita's horse.
"Muzzle her, Sneed, if she blabs again," called Hawe. Madeline felt something tense and strained working in the short silence. Was it only a phase of her thrilling excitement? Her swift glance showed the faces of Nels and Monty and Nick to be brooding, cold, watchful. She wondered why Stewart did not look toward Bonita. He, too, was now dark-faced, cool, quiet, with something ominous about him.
"Hawe, I'll submit to arrest without any fuss," he said, slowly, "if you'll take the ropes off that girl."
"Nope," replied the sheriff. "She got away from me onct. She's hawg-tied now, an' she'll stay hawg-tied."
Madeline thought she saw Stewart give a slight start. But an unaccountable dimness came over her eyes, at brief intervals obscuring her keen sight. Vaguely she was conscious of a clogged and beating tumult in her breast.
"All right, let's hurry out of here," said Stewart. "You've made annoyance enough. Ride down to the corral with me. I'll get my horse and go with you."
"Hold on!" yelled Hawe, as Stewart turned away. "Not so fast. Who's doin' this? You don't come no El Capitan stunts on me. You'll ride one of my pack-horses, an' you'll go in irons."
"You want to handcuff me?" queried Stewart, with sudden swift start of passion.
"Want to? Haw, haw! Nope, Stewart, thet's jest my way with hoss-thieves, raiders, Greasers, murderers, an' sich. See hyar, you Sneed, git off an' put the irons on this man."
The guerrilla called Sneed slid off his horse and began to fumble in his saddle-bags.
"You see, Bill," went on Hawe, "I swore in a new depooty fer this particular job. Sneed is some handy. He rounded up thet little Mexican cat fer me."
Stillwell did not hear the sheriff; he was gazing at Stewart in a kind of imploring amaze.
"Gene, you ain't goin' to stand fer them handcuffs?" he pleaded.
"Yes," replied the cowboy. "Bill, old friend, I'm an outsider here. There's no call for Miss Hammond and—and her brother and Florence to be worried further about me. Their happy day has already been spoiled on my account. I want to get out quick."
"Wal, you might be too damn considerate of Miss Hammond's sensitive feelin's." There was now no trace of the courteous, kindly old rancher. He looked harder than stone. "How about my feelin's? I want to know if you're goin' to let this sneakin' coyote, this last gasp of the old rum-guzzlin' frontier sheriffs, put you in irons an' hawg-tie you an' drive you off to jail?"
"Yes," replied Stewart, steadily.
"Wal, by Gawd! You, Gene Stewart! What's come over you? Why, man, go in the house, an' I'll 'tend to this feller. Then to-morrow you can ride in an' give yourself up like a gentleman."
"No. I'll go. Thanks, Bill, for the way you and the boys would stick to me. Hurry, Hawe, before my mind changes."
His voice broke at the last, betraying the wonderful control he had kept over his passions. As he ceased speaking he seemed suddenly to become spiritless. He dropped his head.
Madeline saw in him then a semblance to the hopeless, shamed Stewart of earlier days. The vague riot in her breast leaped into conscious fury—a woman's passionate repudiation of Stewart's broken spirit. It was not that she would have him be a lawbreaker; it was that she could not bear to see him deny his manhood. Once she had entreated him to become her kind of a cowboy—a man in whom reason tempered passion. She had let him see how painful and shocking any violence was to her. And the idea had obsessed him, softened him, had grown like a stultifying lichen upon his will, had shorn him of a wild, bold spirit she now strangely longed to see him feel. When the man Sneed came forward, jingling the iron fetters, Madeline's blood turned to fire. She would have forgiven Stewart then for lapsing into the kind of cowboy it had been her blind and sickly sentiment to abhor. This was a man's West—a man's game. What right had a woman reared in a softer mold to use her beauty and her influence to change a man who was bold and free and strong? At that moment, with her blood hot and racing, she would have gloried in the violence which she had so deplored: she would have welcomed the action that had characterized Stewart's treatment of Don Carlos; she had in her the sudden dawning temper of a woman who had been assimilating the life and nature around her and who would not have turned her eyes away from a harsh and bloody deed.
But Stewart held forth his hands to be manacled. Then Madeline heard her own voice burst out in a ringing, imperious "Wait!"
In the time it took her to make the few steps to the edge of the porch, facing the men, she not only felt her anger and justice and pride summoning forces to her command, but there was something else calling—a deep, passionate, mysterious thing not born of the moment.
Sneed dropped the manacles. Stewart's face took on a chalky whiteness. Hawe, in a slow, stupid embarrassment beyond his control, removed his sombrero in a respect that seemed wrenched from him.
"Mr. Hawe, I can prove to you that Stewart was not concerned in any way whatever with the crime for which you want to arrest him."
The sheriff's stare underwent a blinking change. He coughed, stammered, and tried to speak. Manifestly, he had been thrown completely off his balance. Astonishment slowly merged into discomfiture.
"It was absolutely impossible for Stewart to have been connected with that assault," went on Madeline, swiftly, "for he was with me in the waiting-room of the station at the moment the assault was made outside. I assure you I have a distinct and vivid recollection. The door was open. I heard the voices of quarreling men. They grew louder. The language was Spanish. Evidently these men had left the dance-hall opposite and were approaching the station. I heard a woman's voice mingling with the others. It, too, was Spanish, and I could not understand. But the tone was beseeching. Then I heard footsteps on the gravel. I knew Stewart heard them. I could see from his face that something dreadful was about to happen. Just outside the door then there were hoarse, furious voices, a scuffle, a muffled shot, a woman's cry, the thud of a falling body, and rapid footsteps of a man running away. Next, the girl Bonita staggered into the door. She was white, trembling, terror-stricken. She recognized Stewart, appealed to him. Stewart supported her and endeavored to calm her. He was excited. He asked her if Danny Mains had been shot, or if he had done the shooting. The girl said no. She told Stewart that she had danced a little, flirted a little with vaqueros, and they had quarreled over her. Then Stewart took her outside and put her upon his horse. I saw the girl ride that horse down the street to disappear in the darkness."
While Madeline spoke another change appeared to be working in the man Hawe. He was not long disconcerted, but his discomfiture wore to a sullen fury, and his sharp features fixed in an expression of craft.
"Thet's mighty interestin', Miss Hammond, 'most as interestin' as a story-book," he said. "Now, since you're so obligin' a witness, I'd sure like to put a question or two. What time did you arrive at El Cajon thet night?"
"It was after eleven o'clock," replied Madeline.
"Nobody there to meet you?"
"The station agent an' operator both gone?"
"Wal, how soon did this feller Stewart show up?" Hawe continued, with a wry smile.
"Very soon after my arrival. I think—perhaps fifteen minutes, possibly a little more."
"Some dark an' lonesome around thet station, wasn't it?"
"An' what time was the Greaser shot?" queried Hawe, with his little eyes gleaming like coals.
"Probably close to half past one. It was two o'clock when I looked at my watch at Florence Kingsley's house. Directly after Stewart sent Bonita away he took me to Miss Kingsley's. So, allowing for the walk and a few minutes' conversation with her, I can pretty definitely say the shooting took place at about half past one."
Stillwell heaved his big frame a step closer to the sheriff. "What 're you drivin' at?" he roared, his face black again.
"Evidence," snapped Hawe.
Madeline marveled at this interruption; and as Stewart irresistibly drew her glance she saw him gray-faced as ashes, shaking, utterly unnerved.
"I thank you, Miss Hammond," he said, huskily. "But you needn't answer any more of Hawe's questions. He's—he's—It's not necessary. I'll go with him now, under arrest. Bonita will corroborate your testimony in court, and that will save me from this—this man's spite."
Madeline, looking at Stewart, seeing a humility she at first took for cowardice, suddenly divined that it was not fear for himself which made him dread further disclosures of that night, but fear for her—fear of shame she might suffer through him.
Pat Hawe cocked his head to one side, like a vulture about to strike with his beak, and cunningly eyed Madeline.
"Considered as testimony, what you've said is sure important an' conclusive. But I'm calculatin' thet the court will want to hev explained why you stayed from eleven-thirty till one-thirty in thet waitin'-room alone with Stewart."
His deliberate speech met with what Madeline imagined a remarkable reception from Stewart, who gave a tigerish start; from Stillwell, whose big hands tore at the neck of his shirt, as if he was choking; from Alfred, who now strode hotly forward, to be stopped by the cold and silent Nels; from Monty Price, who uttered a violent "Aw!" which was both a hiss and a roar.
In the rush of her thought Madeline could not interpret the meaning of these things which seemed so strange at that moment. But they were portentous. Even as she was forming a reply to Hawe's speech she felt a chill creep over her.
"Stewart detained me in the waiting-room," she said, clear-voiced as a bell. "But we were not alone—all the time."
For a moment the only sound following her words was a gasp from Stewart. Hawe's face became transformed with a hideous amaze and joy.
"Detained?" he whispered, craning his lean and corded neck. "How's thet?"
"Stewart was drunk. He—"
With sudden passionate gesture of despair Stewart appealed to her:
"Oh, Miss Hammond, don't! don't! DON'T!..."
Then he seemed to sink down, head lowered upon his breast, in utter shame. Stillwell's great hand swept to the bowed shoulder, and he turned to Madeline.
"Miss Majesty, I reckon you'd be wise to tell all," said the old cattleman, gravely. "There ain't one of us who could misunderstand any motive or act of yours. Mebbe a stroke of lightnin' might clear this murky air. Whatever Gene Stewart did that onlucky night—you tell it."
Madeline's dignity and self-possession had been disturbed by Stewart's importunity. She broke into swift, disconnected speech:
"He came into the station—a few minutes after I got there. I asked-to be shown to a hotel. He said there wasn't any that would accommodate married women. He grasped my hand—looked for a wedding-ring. Then I saw he was—he was intoxicated. He told me he would go for a hotel porter. But he came back with a padre—Padre Marcos. The poor priest was—terribly frightened. So was I. Stewart had turned into a devil. He fired his gun at the padre's feet. He pushed me into a bench. Again he shot—right before my face. I—I nearly fainted. But I heard him cursing the padre—heard the padre praying or chanting—I didn't know what. Stewart tried to make me say things in Spanish. All at once he asked my name. I told him. He jerked at my veil. I took it off. Then he threw his gun down—pushed the padre out of the door. That was just before the vaqueros approached with Bonita. Padre Marcos must have seen them—must have heard them. After that Stewart grew quickly sober. He was mortified—distressed—stricken with shame. He told me he had been drinking at a wedding—I remember, it was Ed Linton's wedding. Then he explained—the boys were always gambling—he wagered he would marry the first girl who arrived at El Cajon. I happened to be the first one. He tried to force me to marry him. The rest—relating to the assault on the vaquero—I have already told you."
Madeline ended, out of breath and panting, with her hands pressed upon her heaving bosom. Revelation of that secret liberated emotion; those hurried outspoken words had made her throb and tremble and burn. Strangely then she thought of Alfred and his wrath. But he stood motionless, as if dazed. Stillwell was trying to holster up the crushed Stewart.
Hawe rolled his red eyes and threw back his head.
"Ho, ho, ho! Ho, ho, ho! Say, Sneed, you didn't miss any of it, did ye? Haw, haw! Best I ever heerd in all my born days. Ho, ho!"
Then he ceased laughing, and with glinting gaze upon Madeline, insolent and vicious and savage, he began to drawl:
"Wal now, my lady, I reckon your story, if it tallies with Bonita's an' Padre Marcos's, will clear Gene Stewart in the eyes of the court." Here he grew slower, more biting, sharper and harder of face. "But you needn't expect Pat Hawe or the court to swaller thet part of your story—about bein' detained unwillin'!"
Madeline had not time to grasp the sense of his last words. Stewart had convulsively sprung upward, white as chalk. As he leaped at Hawe Stillwell interposed his huge bulk and wrapped his arms around Stewart. There was a brief, whirling, wrestling struggle. Stewart appeared to be besting the old cattleman.
"Help, boys, help!" yelled Stillwell. "I can't hold him. Hurry, or there's goin' to be blood spilled!"
Nick Steele and several cowboys leaped to Stillwell's assistance. Stewart, getting free, tossed one aside and then another. They closed in on him. For an instant a furious straining wrestle of powerful bodies made rasp and shock and blow. Once Stewart heaved them from him. But they plunged back upon him—conquered him.
"Gene! Why, Gene!" panted the old cattleman. "Sure you're locoed—to act this way. Cool down! Cool down! Why, boy, it's all right. Jest stand still—give us a chance to talk to you. It's only ole Bill, you know—your ole pal who's tried to be a daddy to you. He's only wantin' you to hev sense—to be cool—to wait."
"Let me go! Let me go!" cried Stewart; and the poignancy of that cry pierced Madeline's heart. "Let me go, Bill, if you're my friend. I saved your life once—over in the desert. You swore you'd never forget. Boys, make him let me go! Oh, I don't care what Hawe's said or done to me! It was that about her! Are you all a lot of Greasers? How can you stand it? Damn you for a lot of cowards! There's a limit, I tell you." Then his voice broke, fell to a whisper. "Bill, dear old Bill, let me go. I'll kill him! You know I'll kill him!"
"Gene, I know you'd kill him if you hed an even break," replied Stillwell, soothingly. "But, Gene, why, you ain't even packin' a gun! An' there's Pat lookin' nasty, with his hand nervous-like. He seen you hed no gun. He'd jump at the chance to plug you now, an' then holler about opposition to the law. Cool down, son; it'll all come right."
Suddenly Madeline was transfixed by a terrible sound.
Her startled glance shifted from the anxious group round Stewart to see that Monty Price had leaped off the porch. He crouched down with his bands below his hips, where the big guns swung. From his distorted lips issued that which was combined roar and bellow and Indian war-whoop, and, more than all, a horrible warning cry. He resembled a hunchback about to make the leap of a demon. He was quivering, vibrating. His eyes, black and hot, were fastened with most piercing intentness upon Hawe and Sneed.
"Git back, Bill, git back!" he roared. "Git 'em back!" With one lunge Stillwell shoved Stewart and Nick and the other cowboys up on the porch. Then he crowded Madeline and Alfred and Florence to the wall, tried to force them farther. His motions were rapid and stern. But failing to get them through door and windows, he planted his wide person between the women and danger. Madeline grasped his arm, held on, and peered fearfully from behind his broad shoulder.
"You, Hawe! You, Sneed!" called Monty, in that same wild voice. "Don't you move a finger or an eyelash!"
Madeline's faculties nerved to keen, thrilling divination. She grasped the relation between Monty's terrible cry and the strange hunched posture he had assumed. Stillwell's haste and silence, too, were pregnant of catastrophe.
"Nels, git in this!" yelled Monty; and all the time he never shifted his intent gaze as much as a hair's-breadth from Hawe and his deputy. "Nels, chase away them two fellers hangin' back there. Chase 'em, quick!"
These men, the two deputies who had remained in the background with the pack-horses, did not wait for Nels. They spurred their mounts, wheeled, and galloped away.
"Now, Nels, cut the gurl loose," ordered Monty.
Nels ran forward, jerked the halter out of Sneed's hand, and pulled Bonita's horse in close to the porch. As he slit the rope which bound her she fell into his arms.
"Hawe, git down!" went on Monty. "Face front an' stiff!"
The sheriff swung his leg, and, never moving his hands, with his face now a deathly, sickening white, he slid to the ground.
"Line up there beside your guerrilla pard. There! You two make a damn fine pictoor, a damn fine team of pizened coyote an' a cross between a wild mule an' a Greaser. Now listen!"
Monty made a long pause, in which his breathing was plainly audible.
Madeline's eyes were riveted upon Monty. Her mind, swift as lightning, had gathered the subtleties in action and word succeeding his domination of the men. Violence, terrible violence, the thing she had felt, the thing she had feared, the thing she had sought to eliminate from among her cowboys, was, after many months, about to be enacted before her eyes. It had come at last. She had softened Stillwell, she had influenced Nels, she had changed Stewart; but this little black-faced, terrible Monty Price now rose, as it were, out of his past wild years, and no power on earth or in heaven could stay his hand. It was the hard life of wild men in a wild country that was about to strike this blow at her. She did not shudder; she did not wish to blot out from sight this little man, terrible in his mood of wild justice. She suffered a flash of horror that Monty, blind and dead to her authority, cold as steel toward her presence, understood the deeps of a woman's soul. For in this moment of strife, of insult to her, of torture to the man she had uplifted and then broken, the passion of her reached deep toward primitive hate. With eyes slowly hazing red, she watched Monty Price; she listened with thrumming ears; she waited, slowly sagging against Stillwell.
"Hawe, if you an' your dirty pard hev loved the sound of human voice, then listen an' listen hard," said Monty. "Fer I've been goin' contrary to my ole style jest to hev a talk with you. You all but got away on your nerve, didn't you? 'Cause why? You roll in here like a mad steer an' flash yer badge an' talk mean, then almost bluff away with it. You heerd all about Miss Hammond's cowboy outfit stoppin' drinkin' an' cussin' an' packin' guns. They've took on religion an' decent livin', an' sure they'll be easy to hobble an' drive to jail. Hawe, listen. There was a good an' noble an be-ootiful woman come out of the East somewheres, an' she brought a lot of sunshine an' happiness an' new idees into the tough lives of cowboys. I reckon it's beyond you to know what she come to mean to them. Wal, I'll tell you. They-all went clean out of their heads. They-all got soft an' easy an' sweet-tempered. They got so they couldn't kill a coyote, a crippled calf in a mud-hole. They took to books, an' writin' home to mother an' sister, an' to savin' money, an' to gittin' married. Onct they was only a lot of poor cowboys, an' then sudden-like they was human bein's, livin' in a big world thet hed somethin' sweet even fer them. Even fer me—an ole, worn-out, hobble-legged, burned-up cowman like me! Do you git thet? An' you, Mister Hawe, you come along, not satisfied with ropin' an' beatin', an' Gaw knows what else, of thet friendless little Bonita; you come along an' face the lady we fellers honor an' love an' reverence, an' you—you—Hell's fire!"
With whistling breath, foaming at the mouth, Monty Price crouched lower, hands at his hips, and he edged inch by inch farther out from the porch, closer to Hawe and Sneed. Madeline saw them only in the blurred fringe of her sight. They resembled specters. She heard the shrill whistle of a horse and recognized Majesty calling her from the corral.
"Thet's all!" roared Monty, in a voice now strangling. Lower and lower he bent, a terrible figure of ferocity. "Now, both you armed ocifers of the law, come on! Flash your guns! Throw 'em, an' be quick! Monty Price is done! There'll be daylight through you both before you fan a hammer! But I'm givin' you a chanst to sting me. You holler law, an' my way is the ole law."
His breath came quicker, his voice grew hoarser, and he crouched lower. All his body except his rigid arms quivered with a wonderful muscular convulsion.
"Dogs! Skunks! Buzzards! Flash them guns, er I'll flash mine! Aha!"
To Madeline it seemed the three stiff, crouching men leaped into instant and united action. She saw streaks of fire—streaks of smoke. Then a crashing volley deafened her. It ceased as quickly. Smoke veiled the scene. Slowly it drifted away to disclose three fallen men, one of whom, Monty, leaned on his left hand, a smoking gun in his right. He watched for a movement from the other two. It did not come. Then, with a terrible smile, he slid back and stretched out.
In waking and sleeping hours Madeline Hammond could not release herself from the thralling memory of that tragedy. She was haunted by Monty Price's terrible smile. Only in action of some kind could she escape; and to that end she worked, she walked and rode. She even overcame a strong feeling, which she feared was unreasonable disgust, for the Mexican girl Bonita, who lay ill at the ranch, bruised and feverish, in need of skilful nursing.
Madeline felt there was something inscrutable changing her soul. That strife—the struggle to decide her destiny for East or West—held still further aloof. She was never spiritually alone. There was a step on her trail. Indoors she was oppressed. She required the open—the light and wind, the sight of endless slope, the sounds of corral and pond and field, physical things, natural things.
One afternoon she rode down to the alfalfa-fields, round them, and back up to the spillway of the lower lake, where a group of mesquite-trees, owing to the water that seeped through the sand to their roots, had taken on bloom and beauty of renewed life. Under these trees there was shade enough to make a pleasant place to linger. Madeline dismounted, desiring to rest a little. She liked this quiet, lonely spot. It was really the only secluded nook near the house. If she rode down into the valley or out to the mesa or up on the foothills she could not go alone. Probably now Stillwell or Nels knew her whereabouts. But as she was comparatively hidden here, she imagined a solitude that was not actually hers.
Her horse, Majesty, tossed his head and flung his mane and switched his tail at the flies. He would rather have been cutting the wind down the valley slope. Madeline sat with her back against a tree, and took off her sombrero. The soft breeze, fanning her hot face, blowing strands of her hair, was refreshingly cool. She heard the slow tramp of cattle going in to drink. That sound ceased, and the grove of mesquites appeared to be lifeless, except for her and her horse. It was, however, only after moments of attention that she found the place was far from being dead. Keen eyes and ears brought reward. Desert quail, as gray as the bare earth, were dusting themselves in a shady spot. A bee, swift as light, hummed by. She saw a horned toad, the color of stone, squatting low, hiding fearfully in the sand within reach of her whip. She extended the point of the whip, and the toad quivered and swelled and hissed. It was instinct with fight. The wind faintly stirred the thin foliage of the mesquites, making a mournful sigh. From far up in the foothills, barely distinguishable, came the scream of an eagle. The bray of a burro brought a brief, discordant break. Then a brown bird darted down from an unseen perch and made a swift, irregular flight after a fluttering winged insect. Madeline heard the sharp snapping of a merciless beak. Indeed, there was more than life in the shade of the mesquites.
Suddenly Majesty picked up his long ears and snorted. Then Madeline heard a slow pad of hoofs. A horse was approaching from the direction of the lake. Madeline had learned to be wary, and, mounting Majesty, she turned him toward the open. A moment later she felt glad of her caution, for, looking back between the trees, she saw Stewart leading a horse into the grove. She would as lief have met a guerrilla as this cowboy.
Majesty had broken into a trot when a shrill whistle rent the air. The horse leaped and, wheeling so swiftly that he nearly unseated Madeline, he charged back straight for the mesquites. Madeline spoke to him, cried angrily at him, pulled with all her strength upon the bridle, but was helplessly unable to stop him. He whistled a piercing blast. Madeline realized then that Stewart, his old master, had called him and that nothing could turn him. She gave up trying, and attended to the urgent need of intercepting mesquite boughs that Majesty thrashed into motion. The horse thumped into an aisle between the trees and, stopping before Stewart, whinnied eagerly.
Madeline, not knowing what to expect, had not time for any feeling but amaze. A quick glance showed her Stewart in rough garb, dressed for the trail, and leading a wiry horse, saddled and packed. When Stewart, without looking at her, put his arm around Majesty's neck and laid his face against the flowing mane Madeline's heart suddenly began to beat with unwonted quickness. Stewart seemed oblivious to her presence. His eyes were closed. His dark face softened, lost its hardness and fierceness and sadness, and for an instant became beautiful.
Madeline instantly divined what his action meant. He was leaving the ranch; this was his good-by to his horse. How strange, sad, fine was this love between man and beast! A dimness confused Madeline's eyes; she hurriedly brushed it away, and it came back wet and blurring. She averted her face, ashamed of the tears Stewart might see. She was sorry for him. He was going away, and this time, judging from the nature of his farewell to his horse, it was to be forever. Like a stab from a cold blade a pain shot through Madeline's heart. The wonder of it, the incomprehensibility of it, the utter newness and strangeness of this sharp pain that now left behind a dull pang, made her forget Stewart, her surroundings, everything except to search her heart. Maybe here was the secret that had eluded her. She trembled on the brink of something unknown. In some strange way the emotion brought back her girlhood. Her mind revolved swift queries and replies; she was living, feeling, learning; happiness mocked at her from behind a barred door, and the bar of that door seemed to be an inexplicable pain. Then like lightning strokes shot the questions: Why should pain hide her happiness? What was her happiness? What relation had it to this man? Why should she feel strangely about his departure? And the voices within her were silenced, stunned, unanswered.
"I want to talk to you," said Stewart.
Madeline started, turned to him, and now she saw the earlier Stewart, the man who reminded her of their first meeting at El Cajon, of that memorable meeting at Chiricahua.
"I want to ask you something," he went on. "I've been wanting to know something. That's why I've hung on here. You never spoke to me, never noticed me, never gave me a chance to ask you. But now I'm going over—over the border. And I want to know. Why did you refuse to listen to me?"
At his last words that hot shame, tenfold more stifling than when it had before humiliated Madeline, rushed over her, sending the scarlet in a wave to her temples. It seemed that his words made her realize she was actually face to face with him, that somehow a shame she would rather have died than revealed was being liberated. Biting her lips to hold back speech, she jerked on Majesty's bridle, struck him with her whip, spurred him. Stewart's iron arm held the horse. Then Madeline, in a flash of passion, struck at Stewart's face, missed it, struck again, and hit. With one pull, almost drawing her from the saddle, he tore the whip from her hands. It was not that action on his part, or the sudden strong masterfulness of his look, so much as the livid mark on his face where the whip had lashed that quieted, if it did not check, her fury.
"That's nothing," he said, with something of his old audacity. "That's nothing to how you've hurt me."
Madeline battled with herself for control. This man would not be denied. Never before had the hardness of his face, the flinty hardness of these desert-bred men, so struck her with its revelation of the unbridled spirit. He looked stern, haggard, bitter. The dark shade was changing to gray—the gray to ash-color of passion. About him now there was only the ghost of that finer, gentler man she had helped to bring into being. The piercing dark eyes he bent upon her burned her, went through her as if he were looking into her soul. Then Madeline's quick sight caught a fleeting doubt, a wistfulness, a surprised and saddened certainty in his eyes, saw it shade and pass away. Her woman's intuition, as keen as her sight, told her Stewart in that moment had sustained a shock of bitter, final truth.
For the third time he repeated his question to her. Madeline did not answer; she could not speak.
"You don't know I love you, do you?" he continued, passionately. "That ever since you stood before me in that hole at Chiricahua I've loved you? You can't see I've been another man, loving you, working for you, living for you? You won't believe I've turned my back on the old wild life, that I've been decent and honorable and happy and useful—your kind of a cowboy? You couldn't tell, though I loved you, that I never wanted you to know it, that I never dared to think of you except as my angel, my holy Virgin? What do you know of a man's heart and soul? How could you tell of the love, the salvation of a man who's lived his life in the silence and loneliness? Who could teach you the actual truth—that a wild cowboy, faithless to mother and sister, except in memory, riding a hard, drunken trail straight to hell; had looked into the face, the eyes of a beautiful woman infinitely beyond him, above him, and had so loved her that he was saved—that he became faithful again—that he saw her face in every flower and her eyes in the blue heaven? Who could tell you, when at night I stood alone under these Western stars, how deep in my soul I was glad just to be alive, to be able to do something for you, to be near you, to stand between you and worry, trouble, danger, to feel somehow that I was a part, just a little part of the West you had come to love?"
Madeline was mute. She heard her heart thundering in her ears.
Stewart leaped at her. His powerful hand closed on her arm. She trembled. His action presaged the old instinctive violence.
"No; but you think I kept Bonita up in the mountains, that I went secretly to meet her, that all the while I served you I was—Oh, I know what you think! I know now. I never knew till I made you look at me. Now, say it! Speak!"
White-hot, blinded, utterly in the fiery grasp of passion, powerless to stem the rush of a word both shameful and revealing and fatal, Madeline cried:
He had wrenched that word from her, but he was not subtle enough, not versed in the mystery of woman's motive enough, to divine the deep significance of her reply.
For him the word had only literal meaning confirming the dishonor in which she held him. Dropping her arm, he shrank back, a strange action for the savage and crude man she judged him to be.
"But that day at Chiricahua you spoke of faith," he burst out. "You said the greatest thing in the world was faith in human nature. You said the finest men had been those who had fallen low and had risen. You said you had faith in me! You made me have faith in myself!"
His reproach, without bitterness or scorn, was a lash to her old egoistic belief in her fairness. She had preached a beautiful principle that she had failed to live up to. She understood his rebuke, she wondered and wavered, but the affront to her pride had been too great, the tumult within her breast had been too startlingly fierce; she could not speak, the moment passed, and with it his brief, rugged splendor of simplicity.
"You think I am vile," he said. "You think that about Bonita! And all the time I've been... I could make you ashamed—I could tell you—"
His passionate utterance ceased with a snap of his teeth. His lips set in a thin, bitter line. The agitation of his face preceded a convulsive wrestling of his shoulders. All this swift action denoted an inner combat, and it nearly overwhelmed him.
"No, no!" he panted. Was it his answer to some mighty temptation? Then, like a bent sapling released, he sprang erect. "But I'll be the man—the dog—you think me!"
He laid hold of her arm with rude, powerful clutch. One pull drew her sliding half out of the saddle into his arms. She fell with her breast against his, not wholly free of stirrups or horse, and there she hung, utterly powerless. Maddened, writhing, she tore to release herself. All she could accomplish was to twist herself, raise herself high enough to see his face. That almost paralyzed her. Did he mean to kill her? Then he wrapped his arms around her and crushed her tighter, closer to him. She felt the pound of his heart; her own seemed to have frozen. Then he pressed his burning lips to hers. It was a long, terrible kiss. She felt him shake.
"Oh, Stewart! I—implore—you—let—me—go!" she whispered.
His white face loomed over hers. She closed her eyes. He rained kisses upon her face, but no more upon her mouth. On her closed eyes, her hair, her cheeks, her neck he pressed swift lips—lips that lost their fire and grew cold. Then he released her, and, lifting and righting her in the saddle, he still held her arm to keep her from falling.
For a moment Madeline sat on her horse with shut eyes. She dreaded the light.
"Now you can't say you've never been kissed," Stewart said. His voice seemed a long way off. "But that was coming to you, so be game. Here!"
She felt something hard and cold and metallic thrust into her hand. He made her fingers close over it, hold it. The feel of the thing revived her. She opened her eyes. Stewart had given her his gun. He stood with his broad breast against her knee, and she looked up to see that old mocking smile on his face.
"Go ahead! Throw my gun on me! Be a thoroughbred!"
Madeline did not yet grasp his meaning.
"You can put me down in that quiet place on the hill—beside Monty Price."
Madeline dropped the gun with a shuddering cry of horror. The sense of his words, the memory of Monty, the certainty that she would kill Stewart if she held the gun an instant longer, tortured the self-accusing cry from her.
Stewart stooped to pick up the weapon.
"You might have saved me a hell of a lot of trouble," he said, with another flash of the mocking smile. "You're beautiful and sweet and proud, but you're no thoroughbred! Majesty Hammond, adios!"
Stewart leaped for the saddle of his horse, and with the flying mount crashed through the mesquites to disappear.
XXII. The Secret Told
In the shaded seclusion of her room, buried face down deep among the soft cushions on her couch, Madeline Hammond lay prostrate and quivering under the outrage she had suffered.
The afternoon wore away; twilight fell; night came; and then Madeline rose to sit by the window to let the cool wind blow upon her hot face. She passed through hours of unintelligible shame and impotent rage and futile striving to reason away her defilement.
The train of brightening stars seemed to mock her with their unattainable passionless serenity. She had loved them, and now she imagined she hated them and everything connected with this wild, fateful, and abrupt West.
She would go home.
Edith Wayne had been right; the West was no place for Madeline Hammond. The decision to go home came easily, naturally, she thought, as the result of events. It caused her no mental strife. Indeed, she fancied she felt relief. The great stars, blinking white and cold over the dark crags, looked down upon her, and, as always, after she had watched them for a while they enthralled her. "Under Western stars," she mused, thinking a little scornfully of the romantic destiny they had blazed for her idle sentiment. But they were beautiful; they were speaking; they were mocking; they drew her. "Ah!" she sighed. "It will not be so very easy to leave them, after all."
Madeline closed and darkened the window. She struck a light. It was necessary to tell the anxious servants who knocked that she was well and required nothing. A soft step on the walk outside arrested her. Who was there—Nels or Nick Steele or Stillwell? Who shared the guardianship over her, now that Monty Price was dead and that other—that savage—? It was monstrous and unfathomable that she regretted him.
The light annoyed her. Complete darkness fitted her strange mood. She retired and tried to compose herself to sleep. Sleep for her was not a matter of will. Her cheeks burned so hotly that she rose to bathe them. Cold water would not alleviate this burn, and then, despairing of forgetfulness, she lay down again with a shameful gratitude for the cloak of night. Stewart's kisses were there, scorching her lips, her closed eyes, her swelling neck. They penetrated deeper and deeper into her blood, into her heart, into her soul—the terrible farewell kisses of a passionate, hardened man. Despite his baseness, he had loved her.
Late in the night Madeline fell asleep. In the morning she was pale and languid, but in a mental condition that promised composure.
It was considerably after her regular hour that Madeline repaired to her office. The door was open, and just outside, tipped back in a chair, sat Stillwell.
"Mawnin', Miss Majesty," he said, as he rose to greet her with his usual courtesy. There were signs of trouble in his lined face. Madeline shrank inwardly, fearing his old lamentations about Stewart. Then she saw a dusty, ragged pony in the yard and a little burro drooping under a heavy pack. Both animals bore evidence of long, arduous travel.
"To whom do they belong?" asked Madeline.
"Them critters? Why, Danny Mains," replied Stillwell, with a cough that betrayed embarrassment.
"Danny Mains?" echoed Madeline, wonderingly.
"Wal, I said so."
Stillwell was indeed not himself.
"Is Danny Mains here?" she asked, in sudden curiosity.
The old cattleman nodded gloomily.
"Yep, he's hyar, all right. Sloped in from the hills, an' he hollered to see Bonita. He's locoed, too, about that little black-eyed hussy. Why, he hardly said, 'Howdy, Bill,' before he begun to ask wild an' eager questions. I took him in to see Bonita. He's been there more 'n a half-hour now."
Evidently Stillwell's sensitive feelings had been ruffled. Madeline's curiosity changed to blank astonishment, which left her with a thrilling premonition. She caught her breath. A thousand thoughts seemed thronging for clear conception in her mind.
Rapid footsteps with an accompaniment of clinking spurs sounded in the hallway. Then a young man ran out upon the porch. He resembled a cowboy in his lithe build, his garb and action, in the way he wore his gun, but his face, instead of being red, was clear brown tan. His eyes were blue; his hair was light and curly. He was a handsome, frank-faced boy. At sight of Madeline he slammed down his sombrero and, leaping at her, he possessed himself of her hands. His swift violence not only alarmed her, but painfully reminded her of something she wished to forget.
This cowboy bent his head and kissed her hands and wrung them, and when he straightened up he was crying.
"Miss Hammond, she's safe an' almost well, an' what I feared most ain't so, thank God," he cried. "Sure I'll never be able to pay you for all you've done for her. She's told me how she was dragged down here, how Gene tried to save her, how you spoke up for Gene an' her, too, how Monty at the last throwed his guns. Poor Monty! We were good friends, Monty an' I. But it wasn't friendship for me that made Monty stand in there. He would have saved her, anyway. Monty Price was the whitest man I ever knew. There's Nels an' Nick an' Gene, he's been some friend to me; but Monty Price was—he was grand. He never knew, any more than you or Bill, here, or the boys, what Bonita was to me."
Stillwell's kind and heavy hand fell upon the cowboy's shoulder.
"Danny, what's all this queer gab?" he asked. "An' you're takin' some liberty with Miss Hammond, who never seen you before. Sure I'm makin' allowance fer amazin' strange talk. I see you're not drinkin'. Mebbe you're plumb locoed. Come, ease up now an' talk sense."
The cowboy's fine, frank face broke into a smile. He dashed the tears from his eyes. Then he laughed. His laugh had a pleasant, boyish ring—a happy ring.
"Bill, old pal, stand bridle down a minute, will you?" Then he bowed to Madeline. "I beg your pardon, Miss Hammond, for seemin' rudeness. I'm Danny Mains. An' Bonita is my wife. I'm so crazy glad she's safe an' unharmed—so grateful to you that—why, sure it's a wonder I didn't kiss you outright."
"Bonita's your wife!" ejaculated Stillwell.
"Sure. We've been married for months," replied Danny, happily. "Gene Stewart did it. Good old Gene, he's hell on marryin'. I guess maybe I haven't come to pay him up for all he's done for me! You see, I've been in love with Bonita for two years. An' Gene—you know, Bill, what a way Gene has with girls—he was—well, he was tryin' to get Bonita to have me."
Madeline's quick, varying emotions were swallowed up in a boundless gladness. Something dark, deep, heavy, and somber was flooded from her heart. She had a sudden rich sense of gratitude toward this smiling, clean-faced cowboy whose blue eyes flashed through tears.
"Danny Mains!" she said, tremulously and smilingly. "If you are as glad as your news has made me—if you really think I merit such a reward—you may kiss me outright."
With a bashful wonder, but with right hearty will, Danny Mains availed himself of this gracious privilege. Stillwell snorted. The signs of his phenomenal smile were manifest, otherwise Madeline would have thought that snort an indication of furious disapproval.
"Bill, straddle a chair," said Danny. "You've gone back a heap these last few months, frettin' over your bad boys, Danny an' Gene. You'll need support under you while I'm throwin' my yarn. Story of my life, Bill." He placed a chair for Madeline. "Miss Hammond, beggin' your pardon again, I want you to listen, also. You've the face an' eyes of a woman who loves to hear of other people's happiness. Besides, somehow, it's easy for me to talk lookin' at you."
His manner subtly changed then. Possibly it took on a little swagger; certainly he lost the dignity that he had shown under stress of feeling; he was now more like a cowboy about to boast or affect some stunning maneuver. Walking off the porch, he stood before the weary horse and burro.
"Played out!" he exclaimed.
Then with the swift violence so characteristic of men of his class he slipped the pack from the burro and threw saddle and bridle from the horse.
"There! See 'em! Take a look at the last dog-gone weight you ever packed! You've been some faithful to Danny Mains. An' Danny Mains pays! Never a saddle again or a strap or a halter or a hobble so long as you live! So long as you live nothin' but grass an' clover, an' cool water in shady places, an' dusty swales to roll in an' rest an' sleep!"
Then he untied the pack and, taking a small, heavy sack from it, he came back upon the porch. Deliberately he dumped the contents of the sack at Stillwell's feet. Piece after piece of rock thumped upon the floor. The pieces were sharp, ragged, evidently broken from a ledge; the body of them was white in color, with yellow veins and bars and streaks. Stillwell grasped up one rock after another, stared and stuttered, put the rocks to his lips, dug into them with his shaking fingers; then he lay back in his chair, head against the wall, and as he gaped at Danny the old smile began to transform his face.
"Lord, Danny if you hevn't been an' gone an' struck it rich!"
Danny regarded Stillwell with lofty condescension.
"Some rich," he said. "Now, Bill, what've we got here, say, offhand?"
"Oh, Lord, Danny! I'm afraid to say. Look, Miss Majesty, jest look at the gold. I've lived among prospectors an' gold-mines fer thirty years, an' I never seen the beat of this."
"The Lost Mine of the Padres!" cried Danny, in stentorian voice. "An' it belongs to me!"
Stillwell made some incoherent sound as he sat up fascinated, quite beside himself.
"Bill, it was some long time ago since you saw me," said Danny. "Fact is, I know how you felt, because Gene kept me posted. I happened to run across Bonita, an' I wasn't goin' to let her ride away alone, when she told me she was in trouble. We hit the trail for the Peloncillos. Bonita had Gene's horse, an' she was to meet him up on the trail. We got to the mountains all right, an' nearly starved for a few days till Gene found us. He had got in trouble himself an' couldn't fetch much with him.
"We made for the crags an' built a cabin. I come down that day Gene sent his horse Majesty to you. Never saw Gene so broken-hearted. Well, after he sloped for the border Bonita an' I were hard put to it to keep alive. But we got along, an' I think it was then she began to care a little for me. Because I was decent. I killed cougars an' went down to Rodeo to get bounties for the skins, an' bought grub an' supplies I needed. Once I went to El Cajon an' run plumb into Gene. He was back from the revolution an' cuttin' up some. But I got away from him after doin' all I could to drag him out of town. A long time after that Gene trailed up to the crags an' found us. Gene had stopped drinkin', he'd changed wonderful, was fine an' dandy. It was then he began to pester the life out of me to make me marry Bonita. I was happy, so was she, an' I was some scared of spoilin' it. Bonita had been a little flirt, an' I was afraid she'd get shy of a halter, so I bucked against Gene. But I was all locoed, as it turned out. Gene would come up occasionally, packin' supplies for us, an' always he'd get after me to do the right thing by Bonita. Gene's so dog-gone hard to buck against! I had to give in, an' I asked Bonita to marry me. Well, she wouldn't at first—said she wasn't good enough for me. But I saw the marriage idea was workin' deep, an' I just kept on bein' as decent as I knew how. So it was my wantin' to marry Bonita—my bein' glad to marry her—that made her grow soft an' sweet an' pretty as—as a mountain quail. Gene fetched up Padre Marcos, an' he married us."
Danny paused in his narrative, breathing hard, as if the memory of the incident described had stirred strong and thrilling feeling in him. Stillwell's smile was rapturous. Madeline leaned toward Danny with her eyes shining.
"Miss Hammond, an' you, Bill Stillwell, now listen, for this is strange I've got to tell you. The afternoon Bonita an' I were married, when Gene an' the padre had gone, I was happy one minute an' low-hearted the next. I was miserable because I had a bad name. I couldn't buy even a decent dress for my pretty wife. Bonita heard me, an' she was some mysterious. She told me the story of the lost mine of the padres, an' she kissed me an made joyful over me in the strangest way. I knew marriage went to women's heads, an' I thought even Bonita had a spell.
"Well, she left me for a little, an' when she came back she wore some pretty yellow flowers in her hair. Her eyes were big an' black an' beautiful. She said some queer things about spirits rollin' rocks down the canyon. Then she said she wanted to show me where she always sat an' waited an' watched for me when I was away.
"She led me around under the crags to a long slope. It was some pretty there—clear an' open, with a long sweep, an' the desert yawnin' deep an' red. There were yellow flowers on that slope, the same kind she had in her hair—the same kind that Apache girl wore hundreds of years ago when she led the padre to the gold-mine.
"When I thought of that, an' saw Bonita's eyes, an' then heard the strange crack of rollin' rocks—heard them rattle down an' roll an' grow faint—I was some out of my head. But not for long. Them rocks were rollin' all right, only it was the weatherin' of the cliffs.
"An' there under the crags was a gold pocket.
"Then I was worse than locoed. I went gold-crazy. I worked like seventeen burros. Bill, I dug a lot of goldbearin' quartz. Bonita watched the trails for me, brought me water. That was how she come to get caught by Pat Hawe an' his guerrillas. Sure! Pat Hawe was so set on doin' Gene dirt that he mixed up with Don Carlos. Bonita will tell you some staggerin' news about that outfit. Just now my story is all gold."
Danny Mains got up and kicked back his chair. Blue lightning gleamed from his eyes as he thrust a hand toward Stillwell.
"Bill, old pal, put her there—give me your hand," he said. "You were always my friend. You had faith in me. Well, Danny Mains owes you, an' he owes Gene Stewart a good deal, an' Danny Mains pays. I want two pardners to help me work my gold-mine. You an' Gene. If there's any ranch hereabouts that takes your fancy I'll buy it. If Miss Hammond ever gets tired of her range an stock an' home I'll buy them for Gene. If there's any railroad or town round here that she likes I'll buy it. If I see anythin' myself that I like I'll buy it. Go out; find Gene for me. I'm achin' to see him, to tell him. Go fetch him; an' right here in this house, with my wife an' Miss Hammond as witnesses, we'll draw up a pardnership. Go find him, Bill. I want to show him this gold, show him how Danny Mains pays! An' the only bitter drop in my cup to-day is that I can't ever pay Monty Price."
Madeline's lips tremblingly formed to tell Danny Mains and Stillwell that the cowboy they wanted so much had left the ranch; but the flame of fine loyalty that burned in Danny's eyes, the happiness that made the old cattleman's face at once amazing and beautiful, stiffened her lips. She watched the huge Stillwell and the little cowboy, both talking wildly, as they walked off arm in arm to find Stewart. She imagined something of what Danny's disappointment would be, of the elder man's consternation and grief, when he learned Stewart had left for the border. At this juncture she looked up to see a strange, yet familiar figure approaching. Padre Marcos! Certain it was that Madeline felt herself trembling. What did his presence mean on this day? He had always avoided meeting her whenever possible. He had been exceedingly grateful for all she had done for his people, his church, and himself; but he had never thanked her in person. Perhaps he had come for that purpose now. But Madeline did not believe so.
Mention of Padre Marcos, sight of him, had always occasioned Madeline a little indefinable shock; and now, as he stepped to the porch, a shrunken, stooped, and sad-faced man, she was startled.
The padre bowed low to her.
"Senora, will you grant me audience?" he asked, in perfect English, and his voice was low-toned and grave.
"Certainly, Padre Marcos," replied Madeline; and she led him into her office.
"May I beg to close the doors?" he asked. "It is a matter of great moment, which you might not care to have any one hear."
Wonderingly Madeline inclined her head. The padre gently closed one door and then the others.
"Senora, I have come to disclose a secret—my own sinfulness in keeping it—and to implore your pardon. Do you remember that night Senor Stewart dragged me before you in the waiting-room at El Cajon?"
"Yes," replied Madeline.
"Senora, since that night you have been Senor Stewart's wife!"
Madeline became as motionless as stone. She seemed to feel nothing, only to hear.
"You are Senor Stewart's wife. I have kept the secret under fear of death. But I could keep it no longer. Senor Stewart may kill me now. Ah, Senora, it is very strange to you. You were so frightened that night, you knew not what happened. Senor Stewart threatened me. He forced you. He made me speak the service. He made you speak the Spanish yes. And I, Senora, knowing the deeds of these sinful cowboys, fearing worse than disgrace to one so beautiful and so good as you, I could not do less than marry you truly. At least you should be his wife. So I married you, truly, in the service of my church."
"My God!" cried Madeline, rising.
"Hear me! I implore you, Senora, hear me out! Do not leave me! Do not look so—so—Ah, Senora, let me speak a word for Senor Stewart. He was drunk that night. He did not know what he was about. In the morning he came to me, made me swear by my cross that I would not reveal the disgrace he had put upon you. If I did he would kill me. Life is nothing to the American vaquero, Senora. I promised to respect his command. But I did not tell him you were his wife. He did not dream I had truly married you. He went to fight for the freedom of my country—Senora, he is one splendid soldier—and I brooded over the sin of my secret. If he were killed I need never tell you. But if he lived I knew that I must some day.
"Strange indeed that Senor Stewart and Padre Marcos should both come to this ranch together. The great change your goodness wrought in my beloved people was no greater than the change in Senor Stewart. Senora, I feared you would go away one day, go back to your Eastern home, ignorant of the truth. The time came when I confessed to Stewart—said I must tell you. Senor, the man went mad with joy. I have never seen so supreme a joy. He threatened no more to kill me. That strong, cruel vaquero begged me not to tell the secret—never to reveal it. He confessed his love for you—a love something like the desert storm. He swore by all that was once sacred to him, and by my cross and my church, that he would be a good man, that he would be worthy to have you secretly his wife for the little time life left him to worship at your shrine. You needed never to know. So I held my tongue, half pitying him, half fearing him, and praying for some God-sent light.
"Senora, it was a fool's paradise that Stewart lived in. I saw him, often. When he took me up into the mountains to have me marry that wayward Bonita and her lover I came to have respect for a man whose ideas about nature and life and God were at a variance with mine. But the man is a worshiper of God in all material things. He is a part of the wind and sun and desert and mountain that have made him. I have never heard more beautiful words than those in which he persuaded Bonita to accept Senor Mains, to forget her old lovers, and henceforth to be happy. He is their friend. I wish I could tell you what that means. It sounds so simple. It is really simple. All great things are so. For Senor Stewart it was natural to be loyal to his friend, to have a fine sense of the honor due to a woman who had loved and given, to bring about their marriage, to succor them in their need and loneliness. It was natural for him never to speak of them. It would have been natural for him to give his life in their defense if peril menaced them. Senora, I want you to understand that to me the man has the same stability, the same strength, the same elements which I am in the habit of attributing to the physical life around me in this wild and rugged desert."
Madeline listened as one under a spell. It was not only that this soft-voiced, eloquent priest knew how to move the heart, stir the soul; but his defense, his praise of Stewart, if they had been couched in the crude speech of cowboys, would have been a glory to her.
"Senora, I pray you, do not misunderstand my mission. Beyond my confession to you I have only a duty to tell you of the man whose wife you are. But I am a priest and I can read the soul. The ways of God are inscrutable. I am only a humble instrument. You are a noble woman, and Senor Stewart is a man of desert iron forged anew in the crucible of love. Quien sabe? Senor Stewart swore he would kill me if I betrayed him. But he will not lift his hand against me. For the man bears you a very great and pure love, and it has changed him. I no longer fear his threat, but I do fear his anger, should he ever know I spoke of his love, of his fool's paradise. I have watched his dark face turned to the sun setting over the desert. I have watched him lift it to the light of the stars. Think, my gracious and noble lady, think what is his paradise? To love you above the spirit of the flesh; to know you are his wife, his, never to be another's except by his sacrifice; to watch you with a secret glory of joy and pride; to stand, while he might, between you and evil; to find his happiness in service; to wait, with never a dream of telling you, for the hour to come when to leave you free he must go out and get himself shot! Senora, that is beautiful, it is sublime, it is terrible. It has brought me to you with my confession. I repeat, Senora, the ways of God are inscrutable. What is the meaning of your influence upon Senor Stewart? Once he was merely an animal, brutal, unquickened; now he is a man—I have not seen his like! So I beseech you in my humble office as priest, as a lover of mankind, before you send Stewart to his death, to be sure there is here no mysterious dispensation of God. Love, that mighty and blessed and unknown thing, might be at work. Senora, I have heard that somewhere in the rich Eastern cities you are a very great lady. I know you are good and noble. That is all I want to know. To me you are only a woman, the same as Senor Stewart is only a man. So I pray you, Senora, before you let Stewart give you freedom at such cost be sure you do not want his love, lest you cast away something sweet and ennobling which you yourself have created."
XXIII. The Light of Western Stars
Blinded, like a wild creature, Madeline Hammond ran to her room. She felt as if a stroke of lightning had shattered the shadowy substance of the dream she had made of real life. The wonder of Danny Mains's story, the strange regret with which she had realized her injustice to Stewart, the astounding secret as revealed by Padre Marcos—these were forgotten in the sudden consciousness of her own love.
Madeline fled as if pursued. With trembling hands she locked the doors, drew the blinds of the windows that opened on the porch, pushed chairs aside so that she could pace the length of her room. She was now alone, and she walked with soft, hurried, uneven steps. She could be herself here; she needed no mask; the long habit of serenely hiding the truth from the world and from herself could be broken. The seclusion of her darkened chamber made possible that betrayal of herself to which she was impelled.
She paused in her swift pacing to and fro. She liberated the thought that knocked at the gates of her mind. With quivering lips she whispered it. Then she spoke aloud:
"I will say it—hear it. I—I love him!"
"I love him!" she repeated the astounding truth, but she doubted her identity.
"Am I still Madeline Hammond? What has happened? Who am I?" She stood where the light from one unclosed window fell upon her image in the mirror. "Who is this woman?"
She expected to see a familiar, dignified person, a quiet, unruffled figure, a tranquil face with dark, proud eyes and calm, proud lips. No, she did not see Madeline Hammond. She did not see any one she knew. Were her eyes, like her heart, playing her false? The figure before her was instinct with pulsating life. The hands she saw, clasped together, pressed deep into a swelling bosom that heaved with each panting breath. The face she saw—white, rapt, strangely glowing, with parted, quivering lips, with great, staring, tragic eyes—this could not be Madeline Hammond's face.
Yet as she looked she knew no fancy could really deceive her, that she was only Madeline Hammond come at last to the end of brooding dreams. She swiftly realized the change in her, divined its cause and meaning, accepted it as inevitable, and straightway fell back again into the mood of bewildering amaze.
Calmness was unattainable. The surprise absorbed her. She could not go back to count the innumerable, imperceptible steps of her undoing. Her old power of reflecting, analyzing, even thinking at all, seemed to have vanished in a pulse-stirring sense of one new emotion. She only felt all her instinctive outward action that was a physical relief, all her involuntary inner strife that was maddening, yet unutterably sweet; and they seemed to be just one bewildering effect of surprise.
In a nature like hers, where strength of feeling had long been inhibited as a matter of training, such a transforming surprise as sudden consciousness of passionate love required time for its awakening, time for its sway.
By and by that last enlightening moment came, and Madeline Hammond faced not only the love in her heart, but the thought of the man she loved.
Suddenly, as she raged, something in her—this dauntless new personality—took arms against indictment of Gene Stewart. Her mind whirled about him and his life. She saw him drunk, brutal; she saw him abandoned, lost. Then out of the picture she had of him thus slowly grew one of a different man—weak, sick, changed by shock, growing strong, strangely, spiritually altered, silent, lonely like an eagle, secretive, tireless, faithful, soft as a woman, hard as iron to endure, and at the last noble.
She softened. In a flash her complex mood changed to one wherein she thought of the truth, the beauty, the wonder of Stewart's uplifting. Humbly she trusted that she had helped him to climb. That influence had been the best she had ever exerted. It had wrought magic in her own character. By it she had reached some higher, nobler plane of trust in man. She had received infinitely more than she had given.
Her swiftly flying memory seemed to assort a vast mine of treasures of the past. Of that letter Stewart had written to her brother she saw vivid words. But ah! she had known, and if it had not made any difference then, now it made all in the world. She recalled how her loosened hair had blown across his lips that night he had ridden down from the mountains carrying her in his arms. She recalled the strange joy of pride in Stewart's eyes when he had suddenly come upon her dressed to receive her Eastern guests in the white gown with the red roses at her breast.
Swiftly as they had come these dreamful memories departed. There was to be no rest for her mind. All she had thought and felt seemed only to presage a tumult.
Heedless, desperate, she cast off the last remnant of self-control, turned from the old proud, pale, cold, self-contained ghost of herself to face this strange, strong, passionate woman. Then, with hands pressed to her beating heart, with eyes shut, she listened to the ringing trip-hammer voice of circumstance, of truth, of fatality. The whole story was revealed, simple enough in the sum of its complicated details, strange and beautiful in part, remorseless in its proof of great love on Stewart's side, in dreaming blindness on her own, and, from the first fatal moment to the last, prophetic of tragedy.
Madeline, like a prisoner in a cell, began again to pace to and fro.
"Oh, it is all terrible!" she cried. "I am his wife. His wife! That meeting with him—the marriage—then his fall, his love, his rise, his silence, his pride! And I can never be anything to him. Could I be anything to him? I, Madeline Hammond? But I am his wife, and I love him! His wife! I am the wife of a cowboy! That might be undone. Can my love be undone? Ah, do I want anything undone? He is gone. Gone! Could he have meant—I will not, dare not think of that. He will come back. No, he never will come back. Oh, what shall I do?"
For Madeline Hammond the days following that storm of feeling were leaden-footed, endless, hopeless—a long succession of weary hours, sleepless hours, passionate hours, all haunted by a fear slowly growing into torture, a fear that Stewart had crossed the border to invite the bullet which would give her freedom. The day came when she knew this to be true. The spiritual tidings reached her, not subtly as so many divinations had come, but in a clear, vital flash of certainty. Then she suffered. She burned inwardly, and the nature of that deep fire showed through her eyes. She kept to herself, waiting, waiting for her fears to be confirmed.
At times she broke out in wrath at the circumstances she had failed to control, at herself, at Stewart.
"He might have learned from Ambrose!" she exclaimed, sick with a bitterness she knew was not consistent with her pride. She recalled Christine's trenchant exposition of Ambrose's wooing: "He tell me he love me; he kees me; he hug me; he put me on his horse; he ride away with me; he marry me."
Then in the next breath Madeline denied this insistent clamoring of a love that was gradually breaking her spirit. Like a somber shadow remorse followed her, shading blacker. She had been blind to a man's honesty, manliness, uprightness, faith, and striving. She had been dead to love, to nobility that she had herself created. Padre Marcos's grave, wise words returned to haunt her. She fought her bitterness, scorned her intelligence, hated her pride, and, weakening, gave up more and more to a yearning, hopeless hope.
She had shunned the light of the stars as she had violently dismissed every hinting suggestive memory of Stewart's kisses. But one night she went deliberately to her window. There they shone. Her stars! Beautiful, passionless as always, but strangely closer, warmer, speaking a kinder language, helpful as they had never been, teaching her now that regret was futile, revealing to her in their one grand, blazing task the supreme duty of life—to be true.
Those shining stars made her yield. She whispered to them that they had claimed her—the West claimed her—Stewart claimed her forever, whether he lived or died. She gave up to her love. And it was as if he was there in person, dark-faced, fire-eyed, violent in his action, crushing her to his breast in that farewell moment, kissing her with one burning kiss of passion, then with cold, terrible lips of renunciation.
"I am your wife!" she whispered to him. In that moment, throbbing, exalted, quivering in her first sweet, tumultuous surrender to love, she would have given her all, her life, to be in his arms again, to meet his lips, to put forever out of his power any thought of wild sacrifice.
And on the morning of the next day, when Madeline went out upon the porch, Stillwell, haggard and stern, with a husky, incoherent word, handed her a message from El Cajon. She read:
El Capitan Stewart captured by rebel soldiers in fight at Agua Prieta yesterday. He was a sharpshooter in the Federal ranks. Sentenced to death Thursday at sunset.
XXIV. The Ride
Madeline's cry was more than the utterance of a breaking heart. It was full of agony. But also it uttered the shattering of a structure built of false pride, of old beliefs, of bloodless standards, of ignorance of self. It betrayed the final conquest of her doubts, and out of their darkness blazed the unquenchable spirit of a woman who had found herself, her love, her salvation, her duty to a man, and who would not be cheated.
The old cattleman stood mute before her, staring at her white face, at her eyes of flame.
"Stillwell! I am Stewart's wife!"
"My Gawd, Miss Majesty!" he burst out. "I knowed somethin' turrible was wrong. Aw, sure it's a pity—"
"Do you think I'll let him be shot when I know him now, when I'm no longer blind, when I love him?" she asked, with passionate swiftness. "I will save him. This is Wednesday morning. I have thirty-six hours to save his life. Stillwell, send for Link and the car!"
She went into her office. Her mind worked with extraordinary rapidity and clearness. Her plan, born in one lightning-like flash of thought, necessitated the careful wording of telegrams to Washington, to New York, to San Antonio. These were to Senators, Representatives, men high in public and private life, men who would remember her and who would serve her to their utmost. Never before had her position meant anything to her comparable with what it meant now. Never in all her life had money seemed the power that it was then. If she had been poor! A shuddering chill froze the thought at its inception. She dispelled heartbreaking thoughts. She had power. She had wealth. She would set into operation all the unlimited means these gave her—the wires and pulleys and strings underneath the surface of political and international life, the open, free, purchasing value of money or the deep, underground, mysterious, incalculably powerful influence moved by gold. She could save Stewart. She must await results—deadlocked in feeling, strained perhaps almost beyond endurance, because the suspense would be great; but she would allow no possibility of failure to enter her mind.
When she went outside the car was there with Link, helmet in hand, a cool, bright gleam in his eyes, and with Stillwell, losing his haggard misery, beginning to respond to Madeline's spirit.
"Link, drive Stillwell to El Cajon in time for him to catch the El Paso train," she said. "Wait there for his return, and if any message comes from him, telephone it at once to me."
Then she gave Stillwell the telegrams to send from El Cajon and drafts to cash in El Paso. She instructed him to go before the rebel junta, then stationed at Juarez, to explain the situation, to bid them expect communications from Washington officials requesting and advising Stewart's exchange as a prisoner of war, to offer to buy his release from the rebel authorities.
When Stillwell had heard her through his huge, bowed form straightened, a ghost of his old smile just moved his lips. He was no longer young, and hope could not at once drive away stern and grim realities. As he bent over her hand his manner appeared courtly and reverent. But either he was speechless or felt the moment not one for him to break silence.
He climbed to a seat beside Link, who pocketed the watch he had been studying and leaned over the wheel. There was a crack, a muffled sound bursting into a roar, and the big car jerked forward to bound over the edge of the slope, to leap down the long incline, to shoot out upon the level valley floor and disappear in moving dust.
For the first time in days Madeline visited the gardens, the corrals, the lakes, the quarters of the cowboys. Though imagining she was calm, she feared she looked strange to Nels, to Nick, to Frankie Slade, to those boys best known to her. The situation for them must have been one of tormenting pain and bewilderment. They acted as if they wanted to say something to her, but found themselves spellbound. She wondered—did they know she was Stewart's wife? Stillwell had not had time to tell them; besides, he would not have mentioned the fact. These cowboys only knew that Stewart was sentenced to be shot; they knew if Madeline had not been angry with him he would not have gone in desperate fighting mood across the border. She spoke of the weather, of the horses and cattle, asked Nels when he was to go on duty, and turned away from the wide, sunlit, adobe-arched porch where the cowboys stood silent and bareheaded. Then one of her subtle impulses checked her.
"Nels, you and Nick need not go on duty to-day," she said. "I may want you. I—I—"
She hesitated, paused, and stood lingering there. Her glance had fallen upon Stewart's big black horse prancing in a near-by corral.
"I have sent Stillwell to El Paso," she went on, in a low voice she failed to hold steady. "He will save Stewart. I have to tell you—I am Stewart's wife!"
She felt the stricken amaze that made these men silent and immovable. With level gaze averted she left them. Returning to the house and her room, she prepared for something—for what? To wait!
Then a great invisible shadow seemed to hover behind her. She essayed many tasks, to fail of attention, to find that her mind held only Stewart and his fortunes. Why had he become a Federal? She reflected that he had won his title, El Capitan, fighting for Madero, the rebel. But Madero was now a Federal, and Stewart was true to him. In crossing the border had Stewart any other motive than the one he had implied to Madeline in his mocking smile and scornful words, "You might have saved me a hell of a lot of trouble!" What trouble? She felt again the cold shock of contact with the gun she had dropped in horror. He meant the trouble of getting himself shot in the only way a man could seek death without cowardice. But had he any other motive? She recalled Don Carlos and his guerrillas. Then the thought leaped up in her mind with gripping power that Stewart meant to hunt Don Carlos, to meet him, to kill him. It would be the deed of a silent, vengeful, implacable man driven by wild justice such as had been the deadly leaven in Monty Price. It was a deed to expect of Nels or Nick Steel—and, aye, of Gene Stewart. Madeline felt regret that Stewart, as he had climbed so high, had not risen above deliberate seeking to kill his enemy, however evil that enemy.
The local newspapers, which came regularly a day late from El Paso and Douglas, had never won any particular interest from Madeline; now, however, she took up any copies she could find and read all the information pertaining to the revolution. Every word seemed vital to her, of moving significant force.
AMERICANS ROBBED BY MEXICAN REBELS
MADERA, STATE OF CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO, July 17.—Having looted the Madera Lumber Company's storehouses of $25,000 worth of goods and robbed scores of foreigners of horses and saddles, the rebel command of Gen. Antonio Rojas, comprising a thousand men, started westward to-day through the state of Sonora for Agnaymas and Pacific coast points.
The troops are headed for Dolores, where a mountain pass leads into the state of Sonora. Their entrance will be opposed by 1,000 Maderista volunteers, who are reported to be waiting the rebel invasion.
The railroad south of Madera is being destroyed and many Americans who were traveling to Chihuahua from Juarez are marooned here.
General Rojas executed five men while here for alleged offenses of a trivial character. Gen. Rosalio y Hernandez, Lieut. Cipriano Amador, and three soldiers were the unfortunates.
WASHINGTON, July 17.—Somewhere in Mexico Patrick Dunne, an American citizen, is in prison under sentence of death. This much and no more the State Department learned through Representative Kinkaid of Nebraska. Consular officers in various sections of Mexico have been directed to make every effort to locate Dunne and save his life.
JUAREZ, MEXICO, July 31.—General Orozco, chief of the rebels, declared to-day:
"If the United States will throw down the barriers and let us have all the ammunition we can buy, I promise in sixty days to have peace restored in Mexico and a stable government in charge."
CASAS GRANDES, CHIHUAHUA, July 31.—Rebel soldiers looted many homes of Mormons near here yesterday. All the Mormon families have fled to El Paso. Although General Salazar had two of his soldiers executed yesterday for robbing Mormons, he has not made any attempt to stop his men looting the unprotected homes of Americans.
Last night's and to-day's trains carried many Americans from Pearson, Madera, and other localities outside the Mormon settlements. Refugees from Mexico continued to pour into El Paso. About one hundred came last night, the majority of whom were men. Heretofore few men came.
Madeline read on in feverish absorption. It was not a real war, but a starving, robbing, burning, hopeless revolution. Five men executed for alleged offenses of a trivial nature! What chance had, then, a Federal prisoner, an enemy to be feared, an American cowboy in the clutches of those crazed rebels?
Madeline endured patiently, endured for long interminable hours while holding to her hope with indomitable will.
No message came. At sunset she went outdoors, suffering a torment of accumulating suspense. She faced the desert, hoping, praying for strength. The desert did not influence her as did the passionless, unchangeable stars that had soothed her spirit. It was red, mutable, shrouded in shadows, terrible like her mood. A dust-veiled sunset colored the vast, brooding, naked waste of rock and sand. The grim Chiricahua frowned black and sinister. The dim blue domes of the Guadalupes seemed to whisper, to beckon to her. Beyond them somewhere was Stewart, awaiting the end of a few brief hours—hours that to her were boundless, endless, insupportable.
Night fell. But now the white, pitiless stars failed her. Then she sought the seclusion and darkness of her room, there to lie with wide eyes, waiting, waiting. She had always been susceptible to the somber, mystic unrealities of the night, and now her mind slowly revolved round a vague and monstrous gloom. Nevertheless, she was acutely sensitive to outside impressions. She heard the measured tread of a guard, the rustle of wind stirring the window-curtain, the remote, mournful wail of a coyote. By and by the dead silence of the night insulated her with leaden oppression. There was silent darkness for so long that when the window casements showed gray she believed it was only fancy and that dawn would never come. She prayed for the sun not to rise, not to begin its short twelve-hour journey toward what might be a fatal setting for Stewart. But the dawn did lighten, swiftly she thought, remorselessly. Daylight had broken, and this was Thursday!
Sharp ringing of the telephone bell startled her, roused her into action. She ran to answer the call.
"Hello—hello—Miss Majesty!" came the hurried reply. "This is Link talkin'. Messages for you. Favorable, the operator said. I'm to ride out with them. I'll come a-hummin'."