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Another Woman Lies

From: 'firebrand' Trevison

Shortly before midnight Aunt Agatha Benham laid her book down, took off
her glasses, wiped her eyes and yawned. She sat for a time stretched out
in her chair, her hands folded in her lap, meditatively looking at the
flicker of the kerosene lamp, thinking of the conveniences she had given
up in order to chaperon a wilful girl who did not appreciate her services.
It was the selfishness of youth, she decided--nothing less. But still
Rosalind might understand what a sacrifice her aunt was making for her.
Thrilling with self-pity, she got up, blew out the light and ascended the
stairs to her room. She plumped herself in a chair at one of the front
windows before beginning to undress, that she might again feel the
delicious thrill, for that was the only consolation she got from a
contemplation of her sacrifice, Rosalind never offered her a word of

The thrill she anticipated was not the one she experienced--it was a
thrill of apprehension that seized her--for a glowing midnight sky met her
gaze as she stared in the direction of Manti, vast, extensive. In its
center, directly over the town, was a fierce white glare with off-shoots
of licking, leaping tongues of flame that reached skyward hungrily.

Agatha watched for one startled instant, and then she was in Rosalind's
room, leaning over the bed, shaking her. The girl got up, dressed in her
night clothes, and together they stood at one of the windows in the girl's
room, watching.

The fierce white center of the fire seemed to expand.

"It's a fire--in Manti!" said the girl. "See! Another building has caught!
Oh, I do hope they can put it out!"

They stood long at the window. Once, when the glow grew more brilliant,
the girl exclaimed sharply, but after a time the light began to fade, and
she drew a breath of relief.

"They have it under control," she said.

"Well, come to bed," advised Agatha.

"Wait!" said the girl. She pressed her face against the window and peered
intently into the darkness. Then she threw up the sash, stuck her head out
and listened. She drew back, her face slowly whitening.

"Some one is coming, Aunty--and riding very fast!"

A premonition of tragedy, associated with the fire, had seized the girl at
her first glimpse of the light, though she had said nothing. The
appearance of a rider, approaching the house at breakneck speed had added
strength to her fears, and now, driven by the urge of apprehension that
had seized her she flitted out of the room before Agatha could restrain
her, and was down in the sitting-room in an instant, applying a match to
the lamp. As the light flared up she heard the thunder of hoofs just
outside the door, and she ran to it, throwing it open. She shrank back,
drawing her breath gaspingly, for the rider had dismounted and stepped
toward her, into the dim light of the open doorway.

"You!" she said.

A low laugh was her answer, and Trevison stepped over the threshold and
closed the door behind him. From the foot of the stairs Agatha saw him,
and she stood, nerveless and shaking with dread over the picture he made.

He had been more than forty-eight hours without sleep, the storm-center of
action had left its impression on him, and his face was gaunt and haggard,
with great, dark hollows under his eyes. The three or four days' growth of
beard accentuated the bold lines of his chin and jaw; his eyes were
dancing with the fires of passion; he held a Winchester rifle under his
right arm, the left, hanging limply at his side, was stained darkly. He
swayed as he stood looking at the girl, and smiled with faint derision at
the naked fear and wonder that had leaped into her eyes. But the derision
was tinged with bitterness, for this girl with both hands pressed over her
breast, heaving with the mingled emotions of modesty and dismay, was one
of the chief factors in the scheme to rob him. The knowledge hurt him
worse than the bullet which had passed through his arm. She had been
uppermost in his thoughts during his reckless ride from Manti, and he
would have cheerfully given his land, his ten years of labor, for the
assurance that she was innocent. But he knew guilt when he saw it, and
proof of it had been in her avoidance of him, in her ride to save
Corrigan's mining machinery, in her subsequent telling of his presence at
the butte on the night of the dynamiting, in her bitter declaration that
he ought to be punished for it. The case against her was strong. And yet
on his ride from Manti he had been irresistibly drawn toward the Bar B
ranchhouse. He had told himself as he rode that the impulse to visit her
this night was strong within him because on his way to the pueblo he was
forced to pass the house, but he knew better--he had lied to himself. He
wanted to talk with her again; he wanted to show her the land record,
which proved her fiance's guilt; he wanted to watch her as she looked at
the record, to learn from her face--what he might find there.

He stood the rifle against the wall near the door, while the girl and her
aunt watched him, breathlessly. His voice was vibrant and hoarse, but well
under control, and he smiled with straight lips as he set the rifle down
and drew the record from his waistband.

"I've something to show you, Miss Benham. I couldn't pass the house
without letting you know what has happened." He opened the book and
stepped to her side, swinging his left hand up, the index finger
indicating a page on which his name appeared.

"Look!" he said, sharply, and watched her face closely. He saw her cheeks
blanch, and set his lips grimly.

"Why," she said, after she had hurriedly scanned the page; "it seems to
prove your title! But this is a court record, isn't it?" She examined the
gilt lettering on the back of the volume, and looked up at him with wide,
luminous eyes. "Where did you get that book?"

"From the courthouse."

"Why, I thought people weren't permitted to take court records--"

"I've taken this one," he laughed.

She looked at the blood on his hand, shudderingly. "Why," she said;
"there's been violence! The fire, the blood on your hand, the record, your
ride here--What does it mean?"

"It means that I've been denied my rights, and I've taken them. Is there
any crime in that? Look here!" He took another step and stood looking down
at her. "I'm not saying anything about Corrigan. You know what we think of
each other, and we'll fight it out, man to man. But the fact that a woman
is engaged to one man doesn't bar another man from the game. And I'm in
this game to the finish. And even if I don't get you I don't want you to
be mixed up in these schemes and plots--you're too good a girl for that!"

"What do you mean?" She stiffened, looking scornfully at him, her chin
held high, outraged innocence in her manner. His cold grin of frank
disbelief roused her to furious indignation. What right had he to question
her integrity to make such speeches to her after his disgraceful affair
with Hester Harvey?

"I do not care to discuss the matter with you!" she said, her lips stiff.

"Ha, ha!" The bitter derision in his laugh made her blood riot with
hatred. He walked toward the door and took up the rifle, dimly remembering
she had used the same words to him once before, when he had met her as she
had been riding toward Manti. Of course she wouldn't discuss such a
thing--he had been a blind fool to think she would. But it proved her
guilt. Swinging the rifle under his arm, he opened the door, turned when
on the threshold and bowed to her.

"I'm sorry I troubled you, Miss Benham," he said. He essayed to turn,
staggered, looked vacantly around the room, his lips in a queerly cold
half-smile, and then without uttering a sound pitched forward, one
shoulder against the door jamb, and slid slowly to his knees, where he
rested, his head sinking limply to his chest. He heard the girl cry out
sharply and he raised his head with an effort and smiled reassuringly at
her, and when he felt her hands on his arm, trying to lift him, he laughed
aloud in self-derision and got to his feet, hanging to the door jamb.

"I'm sorry, Miss Benham," he mumbled. "I lost some blood, I suppose.
Rotten luck, isn't it. I shouldn't have stopped." He turned to go, lurched
forward and would have fallen out of the door had not the girl seized and
steadied him.

He did not resist when she dragged him into the room and closed the door,
but he waved her away when she tried to take his arm and lead him toward
the kitchen where, she insisted, she would prepare a stimulant and food
for him. He tottered after her, tall and gaunt, his big, lithe figure
strangely slack, his head rocking, the room whirling around him. He had
held to the record and the rifle; the latter by the muzzle, dragging it
after him, the record under his arm.

But his marvelous constitution, a result of his clean living and outdoor
life, responded quickly to the stimulation of food and hot drinks, and in
half an hour he got up, still a little weak, but with some color in his
cheeks, and shame-facedly thanked the girl. He realized now, that he
should not have come here; the past few hours loomed in his thoughts like
a wild nightmare in which he had lost his sense of proportion, yielding to
the elemental passions that had been aroused in his long, sleepless
struggle, making him act upon impulses that he would have frowned
contemptuously away in a normal frame of mind.

"I've been nearly crazy, I think," he said to the girl with a wan smile of
self-accusation. "I want you to forget what I said."

"What happened at Manti?" she demanded, ignoring his words.

He laughed at the recollection, tucking his rifle under his arm,
preparatory to leaving. "I went after the record. I got it. There was a
fight. But I got away."

"But the fire!"

"I was forced to smash a lamp in the courthouse. The wick fell into the
oil, and I couldn't delay to--"

"Was anybody hurt--besides you?"

"Braman's dead." The girl gasped and shrank from him, and he saw that she
believed he had killed the banker, and he was about to deny the crime when
Agatha's voice shrilled through the doorway:

"There are some men coming, Rosalind!" And then, vindictively: "I presume
they are desperadoes--too!"

"Deputies!" said Trevison. The girl clasped her hands over her breast in
dismay, which changed to terror when she saw Trevison stiffen and leap
toward the door. She was afraid for him, horrified over this second
lawless deed, dumb with doubt and indecision--and she didn't want them to
catch him!

He opened the door, paused on the threshold and smiled at her with
straight, hard lips.

"Braman was--"

"Go!" she cried in a frenzy of anxiety; "go!"

He laughed mockingly, and looked at her intently. "I suppose I will never
understand women. You are my enemy, and yet you give me food and drink and
are eager to have me escape your accomplice. Don't you know that this
record will ruin him?"

"Go, go!" she panted.

"Well, you're a puzzle!" he said. She saw him leap into the saddle, and
she ran to the lamp, blew out the flame, and returned to the open door, in
which she stood for a long time, listening to rapid hoof beats that
gradually receded. Before they died out entirely there came the sound of
many others, growing in volume and drawing nearer, and she beat her hands
together, murmuring:

"Run, Nigger--run, run, run!"

* * * * *

She closed the door as the hoof beats sounded in the yard, locking it and
retreating to the foot of the stairs, where Agatha stood.

"What does it all mean?" asked the elder woman. She was trembling.

"Oh, I don't know," whispered the girl, gulping hard to keep her voice
from breaking. "It's something about Trevison's land. And I'm afraid,
Aunty, that there is something terribly wrong. Mr. Corrigan says it
belongs to him, and the court in Manti has decided in his favor. But
according to the record in Trevison's possession, he has a clear title
to it."

"There, there," consoled Agatha; "your father wouldn't permit--"

"No, no!" said the girl, vehemently; "he wouldn't. But I can't understand
why Trevison fights so hard if--if he is in the wrong!"

"He is a desperado, my dear; a wild, reckless spirit who has no regard for
law and order. Of course, if these men are after him, you will tell them
he was here!"

"No!" said the girl, sharply; "I shan't!"

"Perhaps you shouldn't," acquiesced Agatha. She patted the girl's
shoulder. "Maybe it would be for the best, dear--he may be in the right.
And I think I understand why you went riding with him so much, dear. He
may be wild and reckless, but he's a man--every inch of him!"

The girl squeezed her relative's hand and went to open the door, upon
which had come a loud knock. Corrigan stood framed in the opening. She
could see his face only dimly.

"There's no occasion for alarm, Miss Benham," he said, and she felt that
he could see her better than she could see him, and thus must have
discerned something of her emotion. "I must apologize for this noisy
demonstration. I believe I'm a little excited, though. Has Trevison passed
here within the last hour or so?"

"No," she said, firmly.

He laughed shortly. "Well, we'll get him. I've split my men up--some have
gone to his ranch, the others have headed for Levins' place."

"What has happened?"

"Enough. Judge Lindman disappeared--the supposition is that he was
abducted. I placed some men around the courthouse, to safeguard the
records, and Trevison broke in and set fire to the place. He also robbed
the safe in the bank, and killed Braman--choked him to death. A most
revolting murder. I'm sorry I disturbed you--good night."

The girl closed the door as he left it, and leaned against it, weak and
shaking. Corrigan's voice had a curious note in it. He had told her he was
sorry to have disturbed her, but the words had not rung true--there had
been too much satisfaction in them. What was she to believe from this
night's events? One thought leaped vividly above the others that rioted in
her mind: Trevison had again sinned against the law, and this time his
crime was murder! She shrank away from the door and joined Agatha at the
foot of the stairs.

"Aunty," she sobbed; "I want to go away. I want to go back East, away from
this lawlessness and confusion!"

"There, there, dear," soothed Agatha. "I am sure everything will come out
all right. But Trevison does look to be the sort of a man who would
abduct a judge, doesn't he? If I were a girl, and felt that he were in
love with me, I'd be mighty careful--"

"That he wouldn't abduct you?" laughed the girl, tremulously, cheered by
the change in her relative's manner.

"No," said Agatha, slyly. "I'd be mighty careful that he got me!"

"Oh!" said the girl, and buried her face in her aunt's shoulder.

Next: In The Dark

Previous: First Principles

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