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Bandits








From: The Light Of Western Stars

When Madeline and her party recovered composure they sat up to watch the
finish of the match. It came with spectacular suddenness. A sharp yell
pealed out, and all the cowboys turned attentively in its direction. A
big black horse had surmounted the rim of the mesa and was just breaking
into a run. His rider yelled sharply to the cowboys. They wheeled to
dash toward their grazing horses.

"That's Stewart. There is something wrong," said Madeline, in alarm.

Castleton stared. The other men exclaimed uneasily. The women sought
Madeline's face with anxious eyes.

The black got into his stride and bore swiftly down upon them.

"Oh, look at that horse run!" cried Helen. "Look at that fellow ride!"

Helen was not alone in her admiration, for Madeline divided her
emotions between growing alarm of some danger menacing and a thrill and
quickening of pulse-beat that tingled over her whenever she saw Stewart
in violent action. No action of his was any longer insignificant, but
violent action meant so much. It might mean anything. For one moment she
remembered Stillwell and all his talk about fun, and plots, and tricks
to amuse her guest. Then she discountenanced the thought. Stewart might
lend himself to a little fun, but he cared too much for a horse to run
him at that speed unless there was imperious need. That alone sufficed
to answer Madeline's questioning curiosity. And her alarm mounted to
fear not so much for herself as for her guests. But what danger could
there be? She could think of nothing except the guerrillas.

Whatever threatened, it would be met and checked by this man Stewart,
who was thundering up on his fleet horse; and as he neared her, so that
she could see the dark gleam of face and eyes, she had a strange feeling
of trust in her dependence upon him.

The big black was so close to Madeline and her friends that when Stewart
pulled him the dust and sand kicked up by his pounding hoofs flew in
their faces.

"Oh, Stewart, what is it?" cried Madeline.

"Guess I scared you, Miss Hammond," he replied. "But I'm pressed for
time. There's a gang of bandits hiding on the ranch, most likely in a
deserted hut. They held up a train near Agua Prieta. Pat Hawe is with
the posse that's trailing them, and you know Pat has no use for us. I'm
afraid it wouldn't be pleasant for you or your guests to meet either the
posse or the bandits."

"I fancy not," said Madeline, considerably relieved. "We'll hurry back
to the house."

They exchanged no more speech at the moment, and Madeline's guests were
silent. Perhaps Stewart's actions and looks belied his calm words. His
piercing eyes roved round the rim of the mesa, and his face was as hard
and stern as chiseled bronze.

Monty and Nick came galloping up, each leading several horses by the
bridles. Nels appeared behind them with Majesty, and he was having
trouble with the roan. Madeline observed that all the other cowboys had
disappeared.

One sharp word from Stewart calmed Madeline's horse; the other horses,
however, were frightened and not inclined to stand. The men mounted
without trouble, and likewise Madeline and Florence. But Edith Wayne
and Mrs. Beck, being nervous and almost helpless, were with difficulty
gotten into the saddle.

"Beg pardon, but I'm pressed for time," said Stewart, coolly, as with
iron arm he forced Dorothy's horse almost to its knees. Dorothy, who was
active and plucky, climbed astride; and when Stewart loosed his hold on
bit and mane the horse doubled up and began to buck. Dorothy screamed
as she shot into the air. Stewart, as quick as the horse, leaped forward
and caught Dorothy in his arms. She had slipped head downward and, had
he not caught her, would have had a serious fall. Stewart, handling her
as if she were a child, turned her right side up to set her upon her
feet. Dorothy evidently thought only of the spectacle she presented, and
made startled motions to readjust her riding-habit. It was no time
to laugh, though Madeline felt as if she wanted to. Besides, it was
impossible to be anything but sober with Stewart in violent mood. For
he had jumped at Dorothy's stubborn mount. All cowboys were masters of
horses. It was wonderful to see him conquer the vicious animal. He was
cruel, perhaps, yet it was from necessity. When, presently, he led the
horse back to Dorothy she mounted without further trouble. Meanwhile,
Nels and Nick had lifted Helen into her saddle.

"We'll take the side trail," said Stewart, shortly, as he swung upon
the big black. Then he led the way, and the other cowboys trotted in the
rear.

It was only a short distance to the rim of the mesa, and when Madeline
saw the steep trail, narrow and choked with weathered stone, she felt
that her guests would certainly flinch.

"That's a jolly bad course," observed Castleton.

The women appeared to be speechless.

Stewart checked his horse at the deep cut where the trail started down.

"Boys, drop over, and go slow," he said, dismounting. "Flo, you follow.
Now, ladies, let your horses loose and hold on. Lean forward and hang to
the pommel. It looks bad. But the horses are used to such trails."

Helen followed closely after Florence; Mrs. Beck went next, and then
Edith Wayne. Dorothy's horse balked.

"I'm not so--so frightened," said Dorothy. "If only he would behave!"

She began to urge him into the trail, making him rear, when Stewart
grasped the bit and jerked the horse down.

"Put your foot in my stirrup," said Stewart. "We can't waste time."

He lifted her upon his horse and started him down over the rim.

"Go on, Miss Hammond. I'll have to lead this nag down. It'll save time."

Then Madeline attended to the business of getting down herself. It was a
loose trail. The weathered slopes seemed to slide under the feet of the
horses. Dust-clouds formed; rocks rolled and rattled down; cactus spikes
tore at horse and rider. Mrs. Beck broke into laughter, and there was
a note in it that suggested hysteria. Once or twice Dorothy murmured
plaintively. Half the time Madeline could not distinguish those ahead
through the yellow dust. It was dry and made her cough. The horses
snorted. She heared Stewart close behind, starting little avalanches
that kept rolling on Majesty's fetlocks. She feared his legs might be
cut or bruised, for some of the stones cracked by and went rattling down
the slope. At length the clouds of dust thinned and Madeline saw the
others before her ride out upon a level. Soon she was down, and Stewart
also.

Here there was a delay, occasioned by Stewart changing Dorothy from his
horse to her own. This struck Madeline as being singular, and made her
thoughtful. In fact, the alert, quiet manner of all the cowboys was not
reassuring. As they resumed the ride it was noticeable that Nels and
Nick were far in advance, Monty stayed far in the rear, and Stewart rode
with the party. Madeline heard Boyd Harvey ask Stewart if lawlessness
such as he had mentioned was not unusual. Stewart replied that, except
for occasional deeds of outlawry such as might break out in any isolated
section of the country, there had been peace and quiet along the border
for years. It was the Mexican revolution that had revived wild times,
with all the attendant raids and holdups and gun-packing. Madeline knew
that they were really being escorted home under armed guard.

When they rounded the head of the mesa, bringing into view the
ranch-house and the valley, Madeline saw dust or smoke hovering over a
hut upon the outskirts of the Mexican quarters. As the sun had set
and the light was fading, she could not distinguish which it was. Then
Stewart set a fast pace for the house. In a few minutes the party was in
the yard, ready and willing to dismount.

Stillwell appeared, ostensibly cheerful, too cheerful to deceive
Madeline. She noted also that a number of armed cowboys were walking
with their horses just below the house.

"Wal, you-all had a nice little run," Stillwell said, speaking
generally. "I reckon there wasn't much need of it. Pat Hawe thinks he's
got some outlaws corralled on the ranch. Nothin' at all to be fussed
up about. Stewart's that particular he won't have you meetin' with any
rowdies."

Many and fervent were the expressions of relief from Madeline's feminine
guests as they dismounted and went into the house. Madeline lingered
behind to speak with Stillwell and Stewart.

"Now, Stillwell, out with it," she said, briefly.

The cattleman stared, and then he laughed, evidently pleased with her
keenness.

"Wal, Miss Majesty, there's goin' to be a fight somewhere, an' Stewart
wanted to get you-all in before it come off. He says the valley's
overrun by vaqueros an' guerrillas an' robbers, an' Lord knows what
else."

He stamped off the porch, his huge spurs rattling, and started down the
path toward the waiting men.

Stewart stood in his familiar attentive position, erect, silent, with a
hand on pommel and bridle.

"Stewart, you are exceedingly--thoughtful of my interests," she said,
wanting to thank him, and not readily finding words. "I would not know
what to do without you. Is there danger?"

"I'm not sure. But I want to be on the safe side."

She hesitated. It was no longer easy for her to talk to him, and she did
not know why.

"May I know the special orders you gave Nels and Nick and Monty?" she
asked.

"Who said I gave those boys special orders?"

"I heard Stillwell tell them so."

"Of course I'll tell you if you insist. But why should you worry over
something that'll likely never happen?"

"I insist, Stewart," she replied, quietly.

"My orders were that at least one of them must be on guard near you day
and night--never to be out of hearing of your voice."

"I thought as much. But why Nels or Monty or Nick? That seems rather
hard on them. For that matter, why put any one to keep guard over me? Do
you not trust any other of my cowboys?"

"I'd trust their honesty, but not their ability."

"Ability? Of what nature?"

"With guns."

"Stewart!" she exclaimed.

"Miss Hammond, you have been having such a good time entertaining your
guests that you forget. I'm glad of that. I wish you had not questioned
me."

"Forget what?"

"Don Carlos and his guerrillas."

"Indeed I have not forgotten. Stewart, you still think Don Carlos tried
to make off with me--may try it again?"

"I don't think. I know."

"And besides all your other duties you have shared the watch with these
three cowboys?"

"Yes."

"It has been going on without my knowledge?"

"Yes."

"Since when?"

"Since I brought you down from the mountains last month."

"How long is it to continue?"

"That's hard to say. Till the revolution is over, anyhow."

She mused a moment, looking away to the west, where the great void was
filling with red haze. She believed implicitly in him, and the menace
hovering near her fell like a shadow upon her present happiness.

"What must I do?" she asked.

"I think you ought to send your friends back East--and go with them,
until this guerrilla war is over."

"Why, Stewart, they would be broken-hearted, and so would I."

He had no reply for that.

"If I do not take your advice it will be the first time since I have
come to look to you for so much," she went on. "Cannot you suggest
something else? My friends are having such a splendid visit. Helen is
getting well. Oh, I should be sorry to see them go before they want to."

"We might take them up into the mountains and camp out for a while," he
said, presently. "I know a wild place up among the crags. It's a hard
climb, but worth the work. I never saw a more beautiful spot. Fine
water, and it will be cool. Pretty soon it'll be too hot here for your
party to go out-of-doors."

"You mean to hide me away among the crags and clouds?" replied Madeline,
with a laugh.

"Well, it'd amount to that. Your friends need not know. Perhaps in a few
weeks this spell of trouble on the border will be over till fall."

"You say it's a hard climb up to this place?"

"It surely is. Your friends will get the real thing if they make that
trip."

"That suits me. Helen especially wants something to happen. And they are
all crazy for excitement."

"They'd get it up there. Bad trails, canyons to head, steep climbs,
wind-storms, thunder and lightning, rain, mountain-lions and wildcats."

"Very well, I am decided. Stewart, of course you will take charge? I
don't believe I--Stewart, isn't there something more you could tell
me--why you think, why you know my own personal liberty is in peril?"

"Yes. But do not ask me what it is. If I hadn't been a rebel soldier I
would never have known."

"If you had not been a rebel soldier, where would Madeline Hammond be
now?" she asked, earnestly.

He made no reply.

"Stewart," she continued, with warm impulse, "you once mentioned a debt
you owed me--" And seeing his dark face pale, she wavered, then went on.
"It is paid."

"No, no," he answered, huskily.

"Yes. I will not have it otherwise."

"No. That never can be paid."

Madeline held out her hand.

"It is paid, I tell you," she repeated.

Suddenly he drew back from the outstretched white hand that seemed to
fascinate him.

"I'd kill a man to touch your hand. But I won't touch it on the terms
you offer."

His unexpected passion disconcerted her.

"Stewart, no man ever before refused to shake hands with me, for any
reason. It--it is scarcely flattering," she said, with a little
laugh. "Why won't you? Because you think I offer it as mistress to
servant--rancher to cowboy?"

"No."

"Then why? The debt you owed me is paid. I cancel it. So why not shake
hands upon it, as men do?"

"I won't. That's all."

"I fear you are ungracious, whatever your reason," she replied. "Still,
I may offer it again some day. Good night."

He said good night and turned. Madeline wonderingly watched him go down
the path with his hand on the black horse's neck.

She went in to rest a little before dressing for dinner, and, being
fatigued from the day's riding and excitement, she fell asleep. When she
awoke it was twilight. She wondered why her Mexican maid had not come to
her, and she rang the bell. The maid did not put in an appearance, nor
was there any answer to the ring. The house seemed unusually quiet. It
was a brooding silence, which presently broke to the sound of footsteps
on the porch. Madeline recognized Stillwell's tread, though it appeared
to be light for him. Then she heard him call softly in at the open
door of her office. The suggestion of caution in his voice suited the
strangeness of his walk. With a boding sense of trouble she hurried
through the rooms. He was standing outside her office door.

"Stillwell!" she exclaimed.

"Anybody with you?" he asked, in a low tone.

"No."

"Please come out on the porch," he added.

She complied, and, once out, was enabled to see him. His grave face,
paler than she had ever beheld it, caused her to stretch an appealing
hand toward him. Stillwell intercepted it and held it in his own.

"Miss Majesty, I'm amazin' sorry to tell worrisome news." He spoke
almost in a whisper, cautiously looked about him, and seemed both
hurried and mysterious. "If you'd heerd Stewart cuss you'd sure know how
we hate to hev to tell you this. But it can't be avoided. The fact is
we're in a bad fix. If your guests ain't scared out of their skins it'll
be owin' to your nerve an' how you carry out Stewart's orders."

"You can rely upon me," replied Madeline, firmly, though she trembled.

"Wal, what we're up against is this: that gang of bandits Pat Hawe was
chasin'--they're hidin' in the house!"

"In the house?" echoed Madeline, aghast.

"Miss Majesty, it's the amazin' truth, an' shamed indeed am I to admit
it. Stewart--why, he's wild with rage to think it could hev happened.
You see, it couldn't hev happened if I hedn't sloped the boys off to the
gol-lof-links, an' if Stewart hedn't rid out on the mesa after us. It's
my fault. I've hed too much femininity around fer my old haid. Gene
cussed me--he cussed me sure scandalous. But now we've got to face
it--to figger."

"Do you mean that a gang of hunted outlaws--bandits--have actually taken
refuge somewhere in my house?" demanded Madeline.

"I sure do. Seems powerful strange to me why you didn't find somethin'
was wrong, seem' all your servants hev sloped."

"Gone? Ah, I missed my maid! I wondered why no lights were lit. Where
did my servants go?"

"Down to the Mexican quarters, an' scared half to death. Now listen.
When Stewart left you an hour or so ago he follered me direct to where
me an' the boys was tryin' to keep Pat Hawe from tearin' the ranch to
pieces. At that we was helpin' Pat all we could to find them bandits.
But when Stewart got there he made a difference. Pat was nasty before,
but seein' Stewart made him wuss. I reckon Gene to Pat is the same as
red to a Greaser bull. Anyway, when the sheriff set fire to an old adobe
hut Stewart called him an' called him hard. Pat Hawe hed six fellers
with him, an' from all appearances bandit-huntin' was some fiesta. There
was a row, an 'it looked bad fer a little. But Gene was cool, an' he
controlled the boys. Then Pat an' his tough de-pooties went on huntin'.
That huntin', Miss Majesty, petered out into what was only a farce. I
reckon Pat could hev kept on foolin' me an' the boys, but as soon as
Stewart showed up on the scene--wal, either Pat got to blunderin' or
else we-all shed our blinders. Anyway, the facts stood plain. Pat
Hawe wasn't lookin' hard fer any bandits; he wasn't daid set huntin'
anythin', unless it was trouble fer Stewart. Finally, when Pat's men
made fer our storehouse, where we keep ammunition, grub, liquors, an'
sich, then Gene called a halt. An' he ordered Pat Hawe off the ranch. It
was hyar Hawe an' Stewart locked horns.

"An' hyar the truth come out. There was a gang of bandits hid
somewheres, an' at fust Pat Hawe hed been powerful active an' earnest in
his huntin'. But sudden-like he'd fetched a pecooliar change of heart.
He had been some flustered with Stewart's eyes a-pryin' into his moves,
an' then, mebbe to hide somethin', mebbe jest nat'rul, he got mad.
He hollered law. He pulled down off the shelf his old stock grudge
on Stewart, accusin' him over again of that Greaser murder last fall.
Stewart made him look like a fool--showed him up as bein' scared of the
bandits or hevin' some reason fer slopin' off the trail. Anyway, the row
started all right, an' but fer Nels it might hev amounted to a fight.
In the thick of it, when Stewart was drivin' Pat an' his crowd off the
place, one of them de-pooties lost his head an' went fer his gun. Nels
throwed his gun an' crippled the feller's arm. Monty jumped then an'
throwed two forty-fives, an' fer a second or so it looked ticklish. But
the bandit-hunters crawled, an' then lit out."

Stillwell paused in the rapid delivery of his narrative; he still
retained Madeline's hand, as if by that he might comfort her.

"After Pat left we put our haids together," began the old cattleman,
with a long respiration. "We rounded up a lad who hed seen a dozen or
so fellers--he wouldn't to they was Greasers--breakin' through the
shrubbery to the back of the house. That was while Stewart was ridin'
out to the mesa. Then this lad seen your servants all runnin' down the
hill toward the village. Now, heah's the way Gene figgers. There sure
was some deviltry down along the railroad, an' Pat Hawe trailed bandits
up to the ranch. He hunts hard an' then all to onct he quits. Stewart
says Pat Hawe wasn't scared, but he discovered signs or somethin', or
got wind in some strange way that there was in the gang of bandits some
fellers he didn't want to ketch. Sabe? Then Gene, quicker 'n a flash,
springs his plan on me. He'd go down to Padre Marcos an' hev him help to
find out all possible from your Mexican servants. I was to hurry up hyar
an' tell you--give you orders, Miss Majesty. Ain't that amazin' strange?
Wal, you're to assemble all your guests in the kitchen. Make a grand
bluff an' pretend, as your help has left, that it'll be great fun fer
your guests to cook dinner. The kitchen is the safest room in the house.
While you're joshin' your party along, makin' a kind of picnic out of
it, I'll place cowboys in the long corridor, an' also outside in the
corner where the kitchen joins on to the main house. It's pretty sure
the bandits think no one's wise to where they're hid. Stewart says
they're in that end room where the alfalfa is, an' they'll slope in the
night. Of course, with me an' the boys watchin', you-all will be safe to
go to bed. An' we're to rouse your guests early before daylight, to hit
the trail up into the mountains. Tell them to pack outfits before goin'
to bed. Say as your servants hev sloped, you might as well go campin'
with the cowboys. That's all. If we hev any luck your' friends'll never
know they've been sittin' on a powder-mine."

"Stillwell, do you advise that trip up into the mountains?" asked
Madeline.

"I reckon I do, considerin' everythin'. Now, Miss Majesty, I've used up
a lot of time explainin'. You'll sure keep your nerve?"

"Yes," Madeline replied, and was surprised at herself. "Better tell
Florence. She'll be a power of comfort to you. I'm goin' now to fetch up
the boys."

Instead of returning to her room Madeline went through the office into
the long corridor. It was almost as dark as night. She fancied she saw
a slow-gliding figure darker than the surrounding gloom; and she
entered upon the fulfilment of her part of the plan in something like
trepidation. Her footsteps were noiseless. Finding the door to the
kitchen, and going in, she struck lights. Upon passing out again she
made certain she discerned a dark shape, now motionless, crouching along
the wall. But she mistrusted her vivid imagination. It took all her
boldness to enable her unconcernedly and naturally to strike the
corridor light. Then she went on through her own rooms and thence into
the patio.

Her guests laughingly and gladly entered into the spirit of the
occasion. Madeline fancied her deceit must have been perfect, seeing
that it deceived even Florence. They trooped merrily into the kitchen.
Madeline, delaying at the door, took a sharp but unobtrusive glance down
the great, barnlike hall. She saw nothing but blank dark space. Suddenly
from one side, not a rod distant, protruded a pale, gleaming face
breaking the even blackness. Instantly it flashed back out of sight. Yet
that time was long enough for Madeline to see a pair of glittering eyes,
and to recognize them as Don Carlos's.

Without betraying either hurry or alarm, she closed the door. It had a
heavy bolt which she slowly, noiselessly shot. Then the cold amaze that
had all but stunned her into inaction throbbed into wrath. How dared
that Mexican steal into her home! What did he mean? Was he one of the
bandits supposed to be hidden in her house? She was thinking herself
into greater anger and excitement, and probably would have betrayed
herself had not Florence, who had evidently seen her bolt the door
and now read her thoughts, come toward her with a bright, intent,
questioning look. Madeline caught herself in time.

Thereupon she gave each of her guests a duty to perform. Leading
Florence into the pantry, she unburdened herself of the secret in one
brief whisper. Florence's reply was to point out of the little open
window, passing which was a file of stealthily moving cowboys.
Then Madeline lost both anger and fear, retaining only the glow of
excitement.

Madeline could be gay, and she initiated the abandonment of dignity by
calling Castleton into the pantry, and, while interesting him in some
pretext or other, imprinting the outlines of her flour-covered hands
upon the back of his black coat. Castleton innocently returned to the
kitchen to be greeted with a roar. That surprising act of the hostess
set the pace, and there followed a merry, noisy time. Everybody helped.
The miscellaneous collection of dishes so confusingly contrived made up
a dinner which they all heartily enjoyed. Madeline enjoyed it herself,
even with the feeling of a sword hanging suspended over her.

The hour was late when she rose from the table and told her guests to go
to their rooms, don their riding-clothes, pack what they needed for the
long and adventurous camping trip that she hoped would be the climax
of their Western experience, and to snatch a little sleep before the
cowboys roused them for the early start.

Madeline went immediately to her room, and was getting out her camping
apparel when a knock interrupted her. She thought Florence had come
to help her pack. But this knock was upon the door opening out in the
porch. It was repeated.

"Who's there?" she questioned.

"Stewart," came the reply.

She opened the door. He stood on the threshold. Beyond him, indistinct
in the gloom, were several cowboys.

"May I speak to you?" he asked.

"Certainly." She hesitated a moment, then asked him in and closed the
door. "Is--is everything all right?"

"No. These bandits stick to cover pretty close. They must have found
out we're on the watch. But I'm sure we'll get you and your friends away
before anything starts. I wanted to tell you that I've talked with your
servants. They were just scared. They'll come back to-morrow, soon
as Bill gets rid of this gang. You need not worry about them or your
property."

"Do you have any idea who is hiding in the house?"

"I was worried some at first. Pat Hawe acted queer. I imagined he'd
discovered he was trailing bandits who might turn out to be his
smuggling guerrilla cronies. But talking with your servants, finding
a bunch of horses upon hidden down in the mesquite behind the
pond--several things have changed my mind. My idea is that a cowardly
handful of riffraff outcasts from the border have hidden in your house,
more by accident than design. We'll let them go--get rid of them without
even a shot. If I didn't think so--well, I'd be considerably worried. It
would make a different state of affairs."

"Stewart, you are wrong," she said.

He started, but his reply did not follow swiftly. The expression of his
eyes altered. Presently he spoke:

"How so?"

"I saw one of these bandits. I distinctly recognized him."

One long step brought him close to her.

"Who was he?" demanded Stewart.

"Don Carlos."

He muttered low and deep, then said, "Are you sure?"

"Absolutely. I saw his figure twice in the hall, then his face in the
light. I could never mistake his eyes."

"Did he know you saw him?"

"I am not positive, but I think so. Oh, he must have known! I was
standing full in the light. I had entered the door, then purposely
stepped out. His face showed from around a corner, and swiftly flashed
out of sight."

Madeline was tremblingly conscious that Stewart underwent a
transformation. She saw as well as felt the leaping passion that changed
him.

"Call your friends--get them in here!" he ordered, tersely, and wheeled
toward the door.

"Stewart, wait!" she said.

He turned. His white face, his burning eyes, his presence now charged
with definite, fearful meaning, influenced her strangely, weakened her.

"What will you do?" she asked.

"That needn't concern you. Get your party in here. Bar the windows and
lock the doors. You'll be safe."

"Stewart! Tell me what you intend to do."

"I won't tell you," he replied, and turned away again.

"But I will know," she said. With a hand on his arm she detained him.
She saw how he halted--felt the shock in him as she touched him. "Oh, I
do know. You mean to fight!"

"Well, Miss Hammond, isn't it about time?" he asked. Evidently he
overcame a violent passion for instant action. There was weariness,
dignity, even reproof in his question. "The fact of that Mexican's
presence here in your house ought to prove to you the nature of the
case. These vaqueros, these guerrillas, have found out you won't stand
for any fighting on the part of your men. Don Carlos is a sneak, a
coward, yet he's not afraid to hide in your own house. He has learned
you won't let your cowboys hurt anybody. He's taking advantage of it.
He'll rob, burn, and make off with you. He'll murder, too, if it falls
his way. These Greasers use knives in the dark. So I ask--isn't it about
time we stop him?"

"Stewart, I forbid you to fight, unless in self-defense. I forbid you."

"What I mean to do is self-defense. Haven't I tried to explain to you
that just now we've wild times along this stretch of border? Must I tell
you again that Don Carlos is hand and glove with the revolution? The
rebels are crazy to stir up the United States. You are a woman of
prominence. Don Carlos would make off with you. If he got you, what
little matter to cross the border with you! Well, where would the
hue and cry go? Through the troops along the border! To New York! To
Washington! Why, it would mean what the rebels are working for--United
States intervention. In other words, war!"

"Oh, surely you exaggerate!" she cried.

"Maybe so. But I'm beginning to see the Don's game. And, Miss Hammond,
I--It's awful for me to think what you'd suffer if Don Carlos got you
over the line. I know these low-caste Mexicans. I've been among the
peons--the slaves."

"Stewart, don't let Don Carlos get me," replied Madeline, in sweet
directness.

She saw him shake, saw his throat swell as he swallowed hard, saw the
hard fierceness return to his face.

"I won't. That's why I'm going after him."

"But I forbade you to start a fight deliberately."

"Then I'll go ahead and start one without your permission," he replied
shortly, and again he wheeled.

This time, when Madeline caught his arm she held to it, even after he
stopped.

"No," she said, imperiously.

He shook off her hand and strode forward.

"Please don't go!" she called, beseechingly. But he kept on. "Stewart!"

She ran ahead of him, intercepted him, faced him with her back against
the door. He swept out a long arm as if to brush her aside. But it
wavered and fell. Haggard, troubled, with working face, he stood before
her.

"It's for your sake," he expostulated.

"If it is for my sake, then do what pleases me."

"These guerrillas will knife somebody. They'll burn the house. They'll
make off with you. They'll do something bad unless we stop them."

"Let us risk all that," she importuned.

"But it's a terrible risk, and it oughtn't be run," he exclaimed,
passionately. "I know best here. Stillwell upholds me. Let me out, Miss
Hammond. I'm going to take the boys and go after these guerrillas."

"No!"

"Good Heavens!" exclaimed Stewart. "Why not let me go? It's the thing to
do. I'm sorry to distress you and your guests. Why not put an end to Don
Carlos's badgering? Is it because you're afraid a rumpus will spoil your
friends' visit?"

"It isn't--not this time."

"Then it's the idea of a little shooting at these Greasers?"

"No."

"You're sick to think of a little Greaser blood staining the halls of
your home?"

"No!"

"Well, then, why keep me from doing what I know is best?"

"Stewart, I--I--" she faltered, in growing agitation. "I'm
frightened--confused. All this is too--too much for me. I'm not a
coward. If you have to fight you'll see I'm not a coward. But your way
seems so reckless--that hall is so dark--the guerrillas would shoot from
behind doors. You're so wild, so daring, you'd rush right into peril.
Is that necessary? I think--I mean--I don't know just why I feel so--so
about you doing it. But I believe it's because I'm afraid you--you might
be hurt."

"You're afraid I--I might be hurt?" he echoed, wonderingly, the hard
whiteness of his face warming, flushing, glowing.

"Yes."

The single word, with all it might mean, with all it might not mean,
softened him as if by magic, made him gentle, amazed, shy as a boy,
stifling under a torrent of emotions.

Madeline thought she had persuaded him--worked her will with him. Then
another of his startlingly sudden moves told her that she had reckoned
too quickly. This move was to put her firmly aside so he could pass;
and Madeline, seeing he would not hesitate to lift her out of the way,
surrendered the door. He turned on the threshold. His face was still
working, but the flame-pointed gleam of his eyes indicated the return of
that cowboy ruthlessness.

"I'm going to drive Don Carlos and his gang out of the house," declared
Stewart. "I think I may promise you to do it without a fight. But if it
takes a fight, off he goes!"





Next: The Mountain Trail

Previous: Cowboy Golf



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