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And Rides Again In Vain








From: 'firebrand' Trevison

Rosalind's reflections as she rode toward the Bar B convinced her that
there had been much truth in Corrigan's arraignment of Trevison. Out of
her own knowledge of him, and from his own admission to her on the day
they had ridden to Blakeley's the first time, she adduced evidence of his
predilection for fighting, of his utter disregard for accepted
authority--when that authority disagreed with his conception of justice;
of his lawlessness when his desires were in question. His impetuosity was
notorious, for it had earned him the sobriquet "Firebrand," which he could
not have acquired except through the exhibition of those traits that she
had enumerated.

She was disappointed and spiritless when she reached the ranchhouse, and
very tired, physically. Agatha's questions irritated her, and she ate
sparingly of the food set before her, eager to be alone. In the isolation
of her room she lay dumbly on the bed, and there the absurdity of Levins'
story assailed her. It must be as Corrigan had said--her father was too
great a man to descend to such despicable methods. She dropped off to
sleep.

When she awoke the sun had gone down, and her room was cheerless in the
semi-dusk. She got up, washed, combed her hair, and much refreshed, went
downstairs and ate heartily, Agatha watching her narrowly.

"You are distraught, my dear," ventured her relative. "I don't think this
country agrees with you. Has anything happened?"

The girl answered evasively, whereat Agatha compressed her lips.

"Don't you think that a trip East--"

"I shall not go home this summer!" declared Rosalind, vehemently. And
noting the flash in the girl's eyes, belligerent and defiant; her swelling
breast, the warning brilliance of her eyes, misty with pent-up emotion,
Agatha wisely subsided and the meal was finished in a strained silence.

Later, Rosalind went out, alone, upon the porch where, huddled in a big
rocker, she gazed gloomily at the lights of Manti, dim and distant.
Something of the turmoil and the tumult of the town in its young strength
and vigor, assailed her, contrasting sharply with the solemn peace of her
own surroundings. Life had been a very materialistic problem to her,
heretofore. She had lived it according to her environment, a mere
onlooker, detached from the scheme of things. Something of the meaning of
life trickled into her consciousness as she sat there watching the
flickering lights of the town--something of the meaning of it all--the
struggle of these new residents twanged a hidden chord of sympathy and
understanding in her. She was able to visualize them as she sat there.
Faces flashed before her--strong, stern, eager; the owner of each a-thrill
with his ambition, going forward in the march of progress with definite
aim, planning, plotting, scheming--some of them winning, others losing,
but all obsessed with a feverish desire of success. The railroad, the
town, the ranches, the new dam, the people--all were elements of a
conflict, waged ceaselessly. She sat erect, her blood tingling. Blows were
being struck, taken.

"Oh," she cried, sharply; "it's a game! It's the spirit of the nation--to
fight, to press onward, to win!" And in that moment she was seized with a
throbbing sympathy for Trevison, and filled with a yearning that he might
win, in spite of Corrigan, Hester Harvey, and all the others--even her
father. For he was a courageous player of this "game." In him was typified
the spirit of the nation.

* * * * *

Rosalind might have added something to her thoughts had she known of the
passions that filled Trevison when, while she sat on the porch of the Bar
B ranchhouse, he mounted Nigger and sent him scurrying through the mellow
moonlight toward Manti. He was playing the "game," with justice as his
goal. The girl had caught something of the spirit of it all, but she had
neglected to grasp the all-important element of the relations between men,
without which laws, rules, and customs become farcical and ridiculous. He
was determined to have justice. He knew well that Judge Graney's mission
to Washington would result in failure unless the deed to his property
could be recovered, or the original record disclosed. Even then, with a
weak and dishonest judge on the bench the issue might be muddled by a mass
of legal technicalities. The court order permitting Braman to operate a
mine on his property goaded him to fury.

He stopped at Hanrahan's saloon, finding Lefingwell there and talking with
him for a few minutes. Lefingwell's docile attitude disgusted him--he said
he had talked the matter over with a number of the other owners, and they
had expressed themselves as being in favor of awaiting the result of his
appeal. He left Lefingwell, not trusting himself to argue the question of
the man's attitude, and went down to the station, where he found a
telegram awaiting him. It was from Judge Graney:

Coming home. Case sent back to Circuit Court for hearing. Depend on
you to get evidence.

Trevison crumpled the paper and shoved it savagely into a pocket. He stood
for a long time on the station platform, in the dark, glowering at the
lights of the town, then started abruptly and made his way into the
gambling room of the Plaza, where he somberly watched the players. The
rattle of chips, the whir of the wheel, the monotonous drone of the faro
dealer, the hum of voices, some eager, some tense, others exultant or
grumbling, the incessant jostling, irritated him. He went out the front
door, stepped down into the street, and walked eastward. Passing an open
space between two buildings he became aware of the figure of a woman, and
he wheeled as she stepped forward and grasped his arm. He recognized her
and tried to pass on, but she clung to him.

"Trev!" she said, appealingly; "I want to talk with you. It's very
important--really. Just a minute, Trev. Won't you talk that long! Come
to my room--where--"

"Talk fast," he admonished, holding her off,"--and talk here."

She struggled with him, trying to come closer, twisting so that her body
struck his, and the contact brought a grim laugh out of him. He seized her
by the shoulders and held her at arm's length. "Talk from there--it's
safer. Now, if you've anything important--"

"O Trev--please--" She laughed, almost sobbing, but forced the tears back
when she saw derision blazing in his eyes.

"I told you it was all over!" He pushed her away and started off, but he
had taken only two steps when she was at his side again.

"I saw you from my window, Trev. I--I knew it was you--I couldn't mistake
you, anywhere. I followed you--saw you go into the Plaza. I came to warn
you. Corrigan has planned to goad you into doing some rash thing so that
he will have an excuse to jail or kill you!"

"Where did you hear that?"

"I--I just heard it. I was in the bank today, and I overheard him talking
to a man--some officer, I think. Be careful, Trev--very careful, won't
you?"

"Careful as I can," he laughed, lowly. "Thank you." He started on again,
and she grasped his arm. "Trev," she pleaded.

"What's the use, Hester?" he said; "it can't be."

"Well, God bless you, anyway, dear," she said chokingly.

He passed on, leaving her in the shadows of the buildings, and walked far
out on the plains. Making a circuit to avoid meeting the woman again, he
skirted the back yards, stumbling over tin cans and debris in his
progress. When he got to the shed where he had hitched Nigger he mounted
and rode down the railroad tracks toward the cut, where an hour later he
was joined by Clay Levins, who came toward him, riding slowly and
cautiously.

* * * * *

Patrick Carson had wooed sleep unsuccessfully. For hours he lay on his cot
in the tent, staring out through the flap at the stars. A vague unrest had
seized him. He heard the hilarious din of Manti steadily decrease in
volume until only intermittent noises reached his ears. But even when
comparative peace came he was still wide awake.

"I'll be gettin' the willies av I lay here much longer widout slape," he
confided to his pillow. "Mebbe a turn down the track wid me dujeen wud do
the thrick." He got up, lighted his pipe and strode off into the
semi-gloom of the railroad track. He went aimlessly, paying little
attention to objects around him. He passed the tents wherein the laborers
lay--and smiled as heavy snores smote his ears. "They slape a heap harder
than they worruk, bedad!" he observed, grinning. "Nothin' c'ud trouble a
ginney's conscience, annyway," he scoffed. "But, accordin' to that they
must be a heap on me own!" Which observation sent his thoughts to
Corrigan. "Begob, there's a man! A domned rogue, if iver they was one!"

He passed the tents, smoking thoughtfully. He paused when he came to the
small buildings scattered about at quite a distance from the tents, then
left the tracks and made his way through the deep alkali dust toward
them.

"Whativer wud Corrigan be askin' about the dynamite for? 'How much do ye
kape av it?' he was askin'. As if it was anny av his business!"

He stopped puffing at his pipe and stood rigid, watching with bulging
eyes, for he saw the door of the dynamite shed move outward several
inches, as though someone inside had shoved it. It closed again, slowly,
and Carson was convinced that he had been seen. He was no coward, but a
cold sweat broke out on him and his knees doubled weakly. For any man who
would visit the dynamite shed around midnight, in this stealthy manner,
must be in a desperate frame of mind, and Carson's virile imagination drew
lurid pictures of a gun duel in which a stray shot penetrated the wall of
the shed. He shivered at the roar of the explosion that followed; he even
drew a gruesome picture of stretchers and mangled flesh that brought a
groan out of him.

But in spite of his mental stress he lunged forward, boldly, though his
breath wheezed from his lungs in great gasps. His body lagged, but his
will was indomitable, once he quit looking at the pictures of his
imagination. He was at the door of the shed in a dozen strides.

The lock had been forced; the hasp was hanging, suspended from a twisted
staple. Carson had no pistol--it would have been useless, anyway.

Carson hesitated, vacillating between two courses. Should he return for
help, or should he secrete himself somewhere and watch? The utter
foolhardiness of attempting the capture of the prowler single handed
assailed him, and he decided on retreat. He took one step, and then stood
rigid in his tracks, for a voice filtered thinly through the doorway,
hoarse, vibrant:

"Don't forget the fuses."

Carson's lips formed the word: "Trevison!"

Carson's breath came easier; his thoughts became more coherent, his
recollection vivid; his sympathies leaped like living things. When his
thoughts dwelt upon the scene at the butte during Trevison's visit while
the mining machinery was being erected--the trap that Corrigan had
prepared for the man--a grim smile wreathed his face, for he strongly
suspected what was meant by Trevison's visit to the dynamite shed.

He slipped cautiously around a corner of the shed, making no sound in the
deep dust surrounding it, and stole back the way he had come, tingling.

"Begob, I'll slape now--a little while!"

As Carson vanished down the tracks a head was stuck out through the
doorway of the shed and turned so that its owner could scan his
surroundings.

"All clear," he whispered.

"Get going, then," said another voice, and two men, their faces muffled
with handkerchiefs, bearing something that bulked their pockets oddly,
slipped out of the door and fled noiselessly, like gliding shadows, down
the track toward the cut.

* * * * *

Rosalind had been asleep in the rocker. A cool night breeze, laden with
the strong, pungent aroma of sage, sent a shiver over her and she awoke,
to see that the lights of Manti had vanished. An eerie lonesomeness had
settled around her.

"Why, it must be nearly midnight!" she said. She got up, yawning, and
stepped toward the door, wondering why Agatha had not called her. But
Agatha had retired, resenting the girl's manner.

Almost to the door, Rosalind detected movement in the ghostly semi-light
that flooded the plains between the porch and the picturesque spot, more
than a mile away, on which Levins' cabin stood. She halted at the door and
watched, and when the moving object resolved into a horse, loping swiftly,
she strained her eyes toward it. At first it seemed to have no rider, but
when it had approached to within a hundred yards of her, she gasped,
leaped off the porch and ran toward the horse. An instant later she stood
at the animal's head, voicing her astonishment.

"Why, it's Chuck Levins! Why on earth are you riding around at this hour
of the night?"

"Sissy's sick. Maw wants you to please come an' see what you can do--if it
ain't too much trouble."

"Trouble?" The girl laughed. "I should say not! Wait until I saddle my
horse!"

She ran to the porch and stole silently into the house, emerging with a
small medicine case, which she stuck into a pocket of her coat. Once
before she had had occasion to use her simple remedies on Sissy--an
illness as simple as her remedies; but she could feel something of Mrs.
Levins' concern for her offspring, and--and it was an ideal night for a
gallop over the plains.

It was almost midnight by the Levins' clock when she entered the cabin,
and a quick diagnosis of her case with an immediate application of one of
her remedies, brought results. At half past twelve Sissy was sleeping
peacefully, and Chuck had dozed off, fully dressed, no doubt ready to
re-enact his manly and heroic role upon call.

It was not until Rosalind was ready to go that Mrs. Levins apologized for
her husband's rudeness to his guest.

"Clay feels awfully bitter against Corrigan. It's because Corrigan is
fighting Trevison--and Trevison is Clay's friend--they've been like
brothers. Trevison has done so much for us."

Rosalind glanced around the cabin. She had meant to ask Chuck why his
father had not come on the midnight errand, but had forebore. "Mr. Levins
isn't here?"

"Clay went away about nine o'clock." The woman did not meet Rosalind's
direct gaze; she flushed under it and looked downward, twisting her
fingers in her apron. Rosalind had noted a strangeness in the woman's
manner when she had entered the cabin, but she had ascribed it to the
child's illness, and had thought nothing more of it. But now it burst upon
her with added force, and when she looked up again Rosalind saw there was
an odd, strained light in her eyes--a fear, a dread--a sinister something
that she shrank from. Rosalind remembered the killing of Marchmont, and
had a quick divination of impending trouble.

"What is it, Mrs. Levins? What has happened?"

The woman gulped hard, and clenched her hands. Evidently, whatever her
trouble, she had determined to bear it alone, but was now wavering.

"Tell me, Mrs. Levins; perhaps I can help you?"

"You can!" The words burst sobbingly from the woman. "Maybe you can
prevent it. But, oh, Miss Rosalind, I wasn't to say anything--Clay told me
not to. But I'm so afraid! Clay's so hot-headed, and Trevison is so
daring! I'm afraid they won't stop at anything!"

"But what is it?" demanded Rosalind, catching something of the woman's
excitement.

"It's about the machinery at the butte--the mining machinery. My God,
you'll never say I told you--will you? But they're going to blow it up
tonight--Clay and Trevison; they're going to dynamite it! I'm afraid there
will be murder done!"

"Why didn't you tell me before?" The girl stood rigid, white, breathless.

"Oh, I ought to," moaned the woman. "But I was afraid you'd
tell--Corrigan--somebody--and--and they'd get into trouble with the law!"

"I won't tell--but I'll stop it--if there's time! For your sake. Trevison
is the one to blame."

She inquired about the location of the butte; the shortest trail, and then
ran out to her horse. Once in the saddle she drew a deep breath and sent
the animal scampering into the flood of moonlight.

* * * * *

Down toward the cut the two men ran, and when they reached a gully at a
distance of several hundred feet from the dynamite shed they came upon
their horses. Mounting, they rode rapidly down the track toward the butte
where the mining machinery was being erected. They had taken the
handkerchiefs off while they ran, and now Trevison laughed with the hearty
abandon of a boy whose mischievous prank has succeeded.

"That was easy. I thought I heard a noise, though, when you backed against
the door and shoved it open."

"Nobody usually monkeys around a dynamite shed at night," returned Levins.
"Whew! There's enough of that stuff there to blow Manti to Kingdom
Come--wherever that is."

They rode boldly across the level at the base of the butte, for they had
reconnoitered after meeting on the plains just outside of town, and knew
Corrigan had left no one on guard.

"It's a cinch," Levins declared as they dismounted from their horses in
the shelter of a shoulder of the butte, about a hundred yards from where
the corrugated iron building, nearly complete, loomed somberly on the
level. "But if they'd ever get evidence that we done it--"

Trevison laughed lowly, with a grim humor that made Levins look sharply at
him. "That abandoned pueblo on the creek near your shack is built like a
fortress, Levins."

"What in hell has this job got to do with that dobie pile?" questioned the
other.

"Plenty. Oh, you're curious, now. But I'm going to keep you guessing for a
day or two."

"You'll go loco--give you time," scoffed Levins.

"Somebody else will go crazy when this stuff lets go," laughed Trevison,
tapping his pockets.

Levins snickered. They trailed the reins over the heads of their horses,
and walked swiftly toward the corrugated iron building. Halting in the
shadow of it, they held a hurried conference, and then separated, Trevison
going toward the engine, already set up, with its flimsy roof covering it,
and working around it for a few minutes, then darting from it to a small
building filled with tools and stores, and to a pile of machinery and
supplies stacked against the wall of the butte. They worked rapidly,
elusive as shadows in the deep gloom of the wall of the butte, and when
their work was completed they met in the full glare of the moonlight near
the corrugated iron building and whispered again.

* * * * *

Lashing her horse over a strange trail, Rosalind Benham came to a thicket
of gnarled fir-balsam and scrub oak that barred her way completely. She
had ridden hard and her horse breathed heavily during the short time she
spent looking about her. Her own breath was coming sharply, sobbing in her
throat, but it was more from excitement than from the hazard and labor of
the ride, for she had paid little attention to the trail, beyond giving
the horse direction, trusting to the animal's wisdom, accepting the risks
as a matter-of-course. It was the imminence of violence that had aroused
her, the portent of a lawless deed that might result in tragedy. She had
told Mrs. Levins that she was doing this thing for her sake, but she
knew better. She did consider the woman, but she realized that her
dominating passion was for the grim-faced young man who, discouraged,
driven to desperation by the force of circumstances--just or not--was
fighting for what he considered were his rights--the accumulated results
of ten years of exile and work. She wanted to save him from this deed,
from the results of it, even though there was nothing but condemnation in
her heart for him because of it.

"To the left of the thicket is a slope," Mrs. Levins had told her. She
stopped only long enough to get her bearings, and at her panting, "Go!"
the horse leaped. They were at the crest of the slope quickly, facing the
bottom, yawning, deep, dark. She shut her eyes as the horse took it,
leaning back to keep from falling over the animal's head, holding tightly
to the pommel of the saddle. They got down, someway, and when she felt the
level under them she lashed the horse again, and urged him around a
shoulder of the precipitous wall that loomed above her, frowning and
somber.

She heard a horse whinny as she flashed past the shoulder, her own beast
tearing over the level with great catlike leaps, but she did not look
back, straining her eyes to peer into the darkness along the wall of the
butte for sight of the buildings and machinery.

She saw them soon after passing the shoulder, and exclaimed her thanks
sharply.

* * * * *

"All set," said one of the shadowy figures near the corrugated iron
building. A match flared, was applied to a stick of punk in the hands of
each man, and again they separated, each running, applying the glowing
wand here and there.

Trevison's work took him longest, and when he leaped from the side of a
mound of supplies Levins was already running back toward the shoulder
where they had left their horses. They joined, then split apart, their
weapons leaping into their hands, for they heard the rapid drumming of
horse's hoofs.

"They're coming!" panted Trevison, his jaws setting as he plunged on
toward the shoulder of the butte. "Run low and duck at the flash of their
guns!" he warned Levins.

A wide swoop brought the oncoming horse around the shoulder of the butte
into full view. As the moonlight shone, momentarily, on the rider,
Trevison cried out, hoarsely:

"God, it's a woman!"

He leaped, at the words, out of the shadow of the butte into the moonlight
of the level, straight into the path of the running horse, which at sight
of him slid, reared and came to a halt, snorting and trembling. Trevison
had recognized the girl; he flung himself at the horse, muttering:
"Dynamite!" seized the beast by the bridle, forced its head around despite
the girl's objections and incoherent pleadings--some phrases of which sank
home, but were disregarded.

"Don't!" she cried, fiercely, as he struck the animal with his fist to
accelerate its movements. She was still crying to him, wildly,
hysterically, as he got the animal's head around and slapped it sharply on
the hip, his pistol crashing at its heels.

The frightened animal clattered over the back trail, Trevison running
after it. He reached Nigger, flung himself into the saddle, and raced
after Levins, who was already far down the level, following Rosalind's
horse. At a turn in the butte he came upon them both, their horses halted,
the girl berating Levins, the man laughing lowly at her.

"Don't!" she cried to Trevison as he rode up. "Please, Trevison--don't let
that happen! It's criminal; it's outlawry!"

"Too late," he said grimly, and rode close to her to grasp the bridle of
her horse. Standing thus, they waited--an age, to the girl, in reality
only a few seconds. Then the deep, solemn silence of the night was split
by a hollow roar, which echoed and re-echoed as though a thousand thunder
storms had centered over their heads. A vivid flash, extended, effulgent,
lit the sky, the earth rocked, the canyon walls towering above them seemed
to sway and reel drunkenly. The girl covered her face with her hands.
Another blast smote the night, reverberating on the heels of the other;
there followed another and another, so quickly that they blended; then
another, with a distinct interval between. Then a breathless, unreal calm,
through which distant echoes rumbled; then a dead silence, shattered at
last by a heavy, distant clatter, as though myriad big hailstones were
falling on a pavement. And then another silence--the period of reeling
calm after an earthquake.

"O God!" wailed the girl; "it is horrible!"

"You've got to get out of here--the whole of Manti will be here in a few
minutes! Come on!"

He urged Nigger farther down the canyon, and up a rocky slope that brought
them to the mesa. The girl was trembling, her breath coming gaspingly. He
faced her as they came to a halt, pityingly, with a certain dogged
resignation in his eyes.

"What brought you here? Who told you we were here?" he asked, gruffly.

"It doesn't matter!" She faced him defiantly. "You have outraged the laws
of your country tonight! I hope you are punished for it!"

He laughed, derisively. "Well, you've seen; you know. Go and inform your
friends. What I have done I did after long deliberation in which I
considered fully the consequences to myself. Levins wasn't concerned in
it, so you don't need to mention his name. Your ranch is in that
direction, Miss Benham." He pointed southeastward, Nigger lunged, caught
his stride in two or three jumps, and fled toward the southwest. His rider
did not hear the girl's voice; it was drowned in clatter of hoofs as he
and Levins rode.





Next: Another Woman Rides

Previous: A Woman Rides In Vain



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