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A Woman Rides In Vain








From: 'firebrand' Trevison

Out of Rosalind Benham's resentment against Trevison for the Hester Harvey
incident grew a sudden dull apathy--which presently threatened to become
an aversion--for the West. Its crudeness, the uncouthness of its people;
the emptiness, the monotony, began to oppress her. Noticing the waning of
her enthusiasm, Agatha began to inject energetic condemnations of the
country into her conversations with the girl, and to hint broadly of the
contrasting allurements of the East.

But Rosalind was not yet ready to desert the Bar B. She had been hurt, and
her interest in the country had dulled, but there were memories over which
one might meditate until--until one could be certain of some things. This
was hope, insistently demanding delay of judgment. The girl could not
forget the sincere ring in Trevison's voice when he had told her that he
would never go back to Hester Harvey. Arrayed against this declaration was
the cold fact of Hester's visit, and Hester's statement that Trevison had
sent for her. In this jumble of contradiction hope found a fertile field.

If Corrigan had anticipated that the knowledge of Hester's visit to
Trevison would have the effect of centering Rosalind's interest on him, he
had erred. Corrigan was magnetic; the girl felt the lure of him. In his
presence she was continually conscious of his masterfulness, with a
dismayed fear that she would yield to it. She knew this sensation was not
love, for it lacked the fire and the depth of the haunting, breathless
surge of passion that she had felt when she had held Trevison off the day
when he had declared his love for her--that she felt whenever she thought
of him. But with Trevison lost to her--she did not know what would happen,
then. For the present her resentment was sufficient to keep her mind
occupied.

She had a dread of meeting Corrigan this morning. Also, Agatha's continued
deprecatory speeches had begun to annoy her, and at ten o'clock she
ordered one of the men to saddle her horse.

She rode southward, following a trail that brought her to Levins' cabin.
The cabin was built of logs, smoothly hewn and tightly joined, situated at
the edge of some timber in a picturesque spot at a point where a shallow
creek doubled in its sweep toward some broken country west of Manti.

Rosalind had visited Mrs. Levins many times. The warmth of her welcome on
her first visit had resulted in a quick intimacy which, with an immediate
estimate of certain needs by Rosalind, had brought her back in the role of
Lady Bountiful. "Chuck" and "Sissy" Levins welcomed her vociferously as
she splashed across the river to the door of the cabin this morning.

"You're clean spoilin' them, Miss Rosalind!" declared the mother, watching
from the doorway; "they've got so they expect you to bring them a present
every time you come."

Sundry pats and kisses sufficed to assuage the pangs of disappointment
suffered by the children, and shortly afterward Rosalind was inside the
cabin, talking with Mrs. Levins, and watching Clay, who was painstakingly
mending a breach in his cartridge belt.

Rosalind had seen Clay once only, and that at a distance, and she stole
interested glances at him. There was a certain attraction in Clay's lean
face, with its cold, alert furtiveness, but it was an attraction that bred
chill instead of warmth, for his face revealed a wild, reckless,
intolerant spirit, remorseless, contemptuous of law and order. Several
times she caught him watching her, and his narrowed, probing glances
disconcerted her. She cut her visit short because of his presence, and
when she rose to go he turned in his chair.

"You like this country, ma'am?"

"Well--yes. But it is much different, after the East."

"Some smoother there, eh? Folks are slicker?"

She eyed him appraisingly, for there was an undercurrent of significance
in his voice. She smiled. "Well--I suppose so. You see, competition is
keener in the East, and it rather sharpens one's wits, I presume."

"H'm. I reckon you're right. This railroad has brought some mighty slick
ones here. Mighty slick an' gally." He looked at her truculently.
"Corrigan's one of the slick ones. Friend of yours, eh?"

"Clay!" remonstrated his wife, sharply.

He turned on her roughly. "You keep out of this! I ain't meanin' nothin'
wrong. But I reckon when anyone's got a sneakin' coyote for a friend an'
don't know it, it's doin' 'em a good turn to spit things right out, frank
an' fair.

"This Corrigan ain't on the level, ma'am. Do you know what he's doin'?
He's skinnin' the folks in this country out of about a hundred thousand
acres of land. He's clouded every damn title. He's got a fake bill of sale
to show that he bought the land years ago--which he didn't--an' he's got a
little beast of a judge here to back him up in his play. They've done away
with the original record of the land, an' rigged up another, which makes
Corrigan's title clear. It's the rankest robbery that any man ever tried
to pull off, an' if he's a friend of yourn you ought to cut him off your
visitin' list!"

"How do you know that? Who told you?" asked the girl, her face whitening,
for the man's vehemence and evident earnestness were convincing.

"'Brand' Trevison told me. It hits him mighty damned hard. He had a deed
to his land. Corrigan broke open his office an' stole it. Trevison's
certain sure his deed was on the record, for he went to Dry Bottom with
Buck Peters--the man he bought the land from--an' seen it wrote down on
the record!" He laughed harshly. "There's goin' to be hell to pay here.
Trevison won't stand for it--though the other gillies are advisin'
caution. Caution hell! I'm for cleanin' the scum out! Do you know what
Corrigan done, yesterday? He got thirty or so deputies--pluguglies that
he's hired--an' hid 'em behind some flat-cars down on the level where
they're erectin' some minin' machinery. He laid a trap for 'Firebrand,'
expectin' him to come down there, rippin' mad because they was puttin' the
minin' machinery up on his land, wi'out his permission. They was goin' to
shoot him--Corrigan put 'em up to it. That Carson fello' heard it an' put
'Firebrand' wise. An' the shootin' didn't come off. But that's only the
beginnin'!"

"Did Trevison tell you to tell me this?" The girl was stunned, amazed,
incredulous. For her father was concerned in this, and if he had any
knowledge that Corrigan was stealing land--if he was stealing it--he was
guilty as Corrigan. If he had no knowledge of it, she might be able to
prevent the steal by communicating with him.

"Trevison tell me?" laughed Levins, scornfully; "'Firebrand' ain't no
pussy-kitten fighter which depends on women standin' between him an'
trouble. I'm tellin' you on my own hook, so's that big stiff Corrigan
won't get swelled up, thinkin' he's got a chance to hitch up with you in
the matrimonial wagon. That guy's got murder in his heart, girl. Did you
hear of me shootin' that sneak, Marchmont?" The girl had heard rumors of
the affair; she nodded, and Levins went on. "It was Corrigan that hired me
to do it--payin' me a thousand, cash." His wife gasped, and he spoke
gently to her. "That's all right, Ma; it wasn't no cold-blooded
affair--Jim Marchmont knowed a sister of mine pretty intimate, when he was
out here years ago, an' I settled a debt that I thought I owed to her,
that's all. I ain't none sorry, neither--I knowed him soon as Corrigan
mentioned his name. But I hadn't no time to call his attention to
things--I had to plug him, sudden. I'm sorry I've said this, ma'am, now
that it's out," he said in a changed voice, noting the girl's distress;
"but I felt you ought to know who you're dealin' with."

Rosalind went out, swaying, her knees shaking. She heard Levins' wife
reproving him; heard the man replying gruffly. She felt that it must be
so. She cared nothing about Corrigan, beyond a certain regret, but a wave
of sickening fear swept over her at the growing conviction that her father
must know something of all this. And if, as Levins said, Corrigan was
attempting to defraud these people, she felt that common justice required
that she head him off, if possible. By defeating Corrigan's aim she would,
of course, be aiding Trevison, and through him Hester Harvey, whom she had
grown to despise, but that hatred should not deter her. She mounted her
horse in a fever of anxiety and raced it over the plains toward Manti,
determined to find Corrigan and force him to tell her the truth.

Half way to town she saw a rider coming, and she slowed her own horse,
taking the rider to be Corrigan, coming to the Bar B. She saw her mistake
when the rider was within a hundred feet of her. She blushed, then paled,
and started to pass the rider without speaking, for it was Trevison. She
looked up when he urged Nigger against her animal, blocking the trail,
frowning.

"Look here," he said; "what's wrong? Why do you avoid me? I saw you on the
Diamond K range the other day, and when I started to ride toward you you
whipped up your horse. You tried to pass me just now. What have I done to
deserve it?"

She could not tell him about Hester Harvey, of course, and so she was
silent, blushing a little. He took her manner as an indication of guilt,
and gritted his teeth with the pain that the discovery caused him, for he
had been hoping, too--that his suspicions of her were groundless.

"I do not care to discuss the matter with you." She looked fairly at him,
her resentment flaming in her eyes, fiercely indignant over his effrontery
in addressing her in that manner, after his affair with Hester Harvey. She
was going to help him, but that did not mean that she was going to blind
herself to his faults, or to accept them mutely. His bold confidence in
himself--which she had once admired--repelled her now; she saw in it the
brazen egotism of the gross sensualist, seeking new victims.

"I am in a hurry," she said, stiffly; "you will pardon me if I proceed."

He jumped Nigger off the trail and watched with gloomy, disappointed eyes,
her rapid progress toward Manti. Then he urged Nigger onward, toward
Levins' cabin. "I'll have to erect another monument to my faith in women,"
he muttered. And certain reckless, grim thoughts that had rioted in his
mind since the day before, now assumed a definiteness that made his blood
leap with eagerness.

Later, when Rosalind sat opposite Corrigan at his desk, she found it hard
to believe Levins' story. The big man's smooth plausibility made Levins'
recital seem like the weird imaginings of a disordered mind, goaded to
desperation by opposition. And again, his magnetism, his polite
consideration for her feelings, his ingenuous, smiling deference--so
sharply contrasted with Trevison's direct bluntness--swayed her, and she
sat, perplexed, undecided, when he finished the explanation she had coldly
demanded of him.

"It is the invariable defense of these squatters," he added; "that they
are being robbed. In this case they have embellished their hackneyed tale
somewhat by dragging the court into it, and telling you that absurd story
about the shooting of Marchmont. Could you tell me what possible interest
I could have in wanting Marchmont killed? Don't you think, Miss Rosalind,
that Levins' reference to his sister discloses the real reason for the
man's action? Levins' story that I paid him a thousand dollars is a
fabrication, pure and simple. I paid Jim Marchmont a thousand dollars that
morning, which was the balance due him on our contract. The transaction
was witnessed by Judge Lindman. After Marchmont was shot, Levins took the
money from him."

"Why wasn't Levins arrested?"

"It seems that public opinion was with Levins. A great many people here
knew of the ancient trouble between them." He passed from that, quickly.
"The tale of the robbery of Trevison's office is childlike, for the reason
that Trevison had no deed. Judge Lindman is an honored and respected
official. And--" he added as a last argument "--your father is the
respected head of a large and important railroad. Is it logical to suppose
that he would lend his influence and his good name to any such ridiculous
scheme?"

She sighed, almost convinced. Corrigan went on, earnestly:

"This man Trevison is a disturber--he has always been that. He has no
respect for the law or property. He associates with the self-confessed
murderer, Levins. He is a riotous, reckless, egotistical fool who, because
the law stands in the way of his desires, wishes to trample it under foot
and allow mob rule to take its place. Do you remember you mentioned that
he once loved a woman named Hester Keyes? Well, he has brought Hester
here--"

She got up, her chin at a scornful angle. "I do not care to hear about his
personal affairs." She went out, mounted her horse, and rode slowly out
the Bar B trail. From a window Corrigan watched her, and as she vanished
into the distance he turned back to his desk, meditating darkly.

"Trevison put Levins up to that. He's showing yellow."





Next: And Rides Again In Vain

Previous: Law Invoked And Defied



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