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Bonita








From: The Light Of Western Stars

Florence's story of the lost mine fired Madeline's guests with the
fever for gold-hunting. But after they had tried it a few times and the
glamour of the thing wore off they gave up and remained in camp. Having
exhausted all the resources of the mountain, such that had interest for
them, they settled quietly down for a rest, which Madeline knew would
soon end in a desire for civilized comforts. They were almost tired
of roughing it. Helen's discontent manifested itself in her remark, "I
guess nothing is going to happen, after all."

Madeline awaited their pleasure in regard to the breaking of camp; and
meanwhile, as none of them cared for more exertion, she took her walks
without them, sometimes accompanied by one of the cowboys, always by the
stag-hounds. These walks furnished her exceeding pleasure. And, now
that the cowboys would talk to her without reserve, she grew fonder of
listening to their simple stories. The more she knew of them the more
she doubted the wisdom of shut-in lives. Companionship with Nels and
most of the cowboys was in its effect like that of the rugged pines
and crags and the untainted wind. Humor, their predominant trait when
a person grew to know them, saved Madeline from finding their hardness
trying. They were dreamers, as all men who lived lonely lives in the
wilds were dreamers.

The cowboys all had secrets. Madeline learned some of them. She marveled
most at the strange way in which they hid emotions, except of violence
of mirth and temper so easily aroused. It was all the more remarkable
in view of the fact that they felt intensely over little things to which
men of the world were blind and dead. Madeline had to believe that a
hard and perilous life in a barren and wild country developed great
principles in men. Living close to earth, under the cold, bleak peaks,
on the dust-veiled desert, men grew like the nature that developed
them--hard, fierce, terrible, perhaps, but big--big with elemental
force.

But one day, while out walking alone, before she realized it she had
gone a long way down a dim trail winding among the rocks. It was the
middle of a summer afternoon, and all about her were shadows of the
crags crossing the sunlit patches. The quiet was undisturbed. She went
on and on, not blind to the fact that she was perhaps going too far from
camp, but risking it because she was sure of her way back, and enjoying
the wild, craggy recesses that were new to her. Finally she came out
upon a bank that broke abruptly into a beautiful little glade. Here she
sat down to rest before undertaking the return trip.

Suddenly Russ, the keener of the stag-hounds, raised his head and
growled. Madeline feared he might have scented a mountain-lion or
wildcat. She quieted him and carefully looked around. To each side was
an irregular line of massive blocks of stone that had weathered from
the crags. The little glade was open and grassy, with here a pine-tree,
there a boulder. The outlet seemed to go down into a wilderness of
canyons and ridges. Looking in this direction, Madeline saw the slight,
dark figure of a woman coming stealthily along under the pines. Madeline
was amazed, then a little frightened, for that stealthy walk from tree
to tree was suggestive of secrecy, if nothing worse.

Presently the woman was joined by a tall man who carried a package,
which he gave to her. They came on up the glade and appeared to be
talking earnestly. In another moment Madeline recognized Stewart. She
had no greater feeling of surprise than had at first been hers. But for
the next moment she scarcely thought at all--merely watched the couple
approaching. In a flash came back her former curiosity as to Stewart's
strange absences from camp, and then with the return of her doubt of him
the recognition of the woman. The small, dark head, the brown face,
the big eyes--Madeline now saw distinctly--belonged to the Mexican girl
Bonita. Stewart had met her there. This was the secret of his lonely
trips, taken ever since he had come to work for Madeline. This secluded
glade was a rendezvous. He had her hidden there.

Quietly Madeline arose, with a gesture to the dogs, and went back along
the trail toward camp. Succeeding her surprise was a feeling of sorrow
that Stewart's regeneration had not been complete. Sorrow gave place
to insufferable distrust that while she had been romancing about this
cowboy, dreaming of her good influence over him, he had been merely
base. Somehow it stung her. Stewart had been nothing to her, she
thought, yet she had been proud of him. She tried to revolve the thing,
to be fair to him, when every instinctive tendency was to expel him, and
all pertaining to him, from her thoughts. And her effort at sympathy, at
extenuation, failed utterly before her pride. Exerting her will-power,
she dismissed Stewart from her mind.

Madeline did not think of him again till late that afternoon, when, as
she was leaving her tent to join several of her guests, Stewart appeared
suddenly in her path.

"Miss Hammond, I saw your tracks down the trail," he began, eagerly, but
his tone was easy and natural. "I'm thinking--well, maybe you sure got
the idea--"

"I do not wish for an explanation," interrupted Madeline.

Stewart gave a slight start. His manner had a semblance of the old, cool
audacity. As he looked down at her it subtly changed.

What effrontery, Madeline thought, to face her before her guests with
an explanation of his conduct! Suddenly she felt an inward flash of fire
that was pain, so strange, so incomprehensible, that her mind whirled.
Then anger possessed her, not at Stewart, but at herself, that anything
could rouse in her a raw emotion. She stood there, outwardly cold,
serene, with level, haughty eyes upon Stewart; but inwardly she was
burning with rage and shame.

"I'm sure not going to have you think--" He began passionately, but he
broke off, and a slow, dull crimson blotted over the healthy red-brown
of his neck and cheeks.

"What you do or think, Stewart, is no concern of mine."

"Miss--Miss Hammond! You don't believe--" faltered Stewart.

The crimson receded from his face, leaving it pale. His eyes were
appealing. They had a kind of timid look that struck Madeline even in
her anger. There was something boyish about him then. He took a step
forward and reached out with his hand open-palmed in a gesture that was
humble, yet held a certain dignity.

"But listen. Never mind now what you--you think about me. There's a good
reason--"

"I have no wish to hear your reason."

"But you ought to," he persisted.

"Sir!"

Stewart underwent another swift change. He started violently. A dark
tide shaded his face and a glitter leaped to his eyes. He took two long
strides--loomed over her.

"I'm not thinking about myself," he thundered. "Will you listen?"

"No," she replied; and there was freezing hauteur in her voice. With a
slight gesture of dismissal, unmistakable in its finality, she turned
her back upon him. Then she joined her guests.

Stewart stood perfectly motionless. Then slowly he began to lift his
right hand in which he held his sombrero. He swept it up and up high
over his head. His tall form towered. With fierce suddenness he flung
his sombrero down. He leaped at his black horse and dragged him to where
his saddle lay. With one pitch he tossed the saddle upon the horse's
back. His strong hands flashed at girths and straps. Every action was
swift, decisive, fierce. Bounding for his bridle, which hung over
a bush, he ran against a cowboy who awkwardly tried to avoid the
onslaught.

"Get out of my way!" he yelled.

Then with the same savage haste he adjusted the bridle on his horse.

"Mebbe you better hold on a minnit, Gene, ole feller," said Monty Price.

"Monty, do you want me to brain you?" said Stewart, with the short, hard
ring in his voice.

"Now, considerin' the high class of my brains, I oughter be real careful
to keep 'em," replied Monty. "You can betcher life, Gene, I ain't goin'
to git in front of you. But I jest says--Listen!"

Stewart raised his dark face. Everybody listened. And everybody heard
the rapid beat of a horse's hoofs. The sun had set, but the park was
light. Nels appeared down the trail, and his horse was running. In
another moment he was in the circle, pulling his bay back to a sliding
halt. He leaped off abreast of Stewart.

Madeline saw and felt a difference in Nels's presence.

"What's up, Gene?" he queried, sharply.

"I'm leaving camp," replied Stewart, thickly. His black horse began to
stamp as Stewart grasped bridle and mane and kicked the stirrup round.

Nels's long arm shot out, and his hand fell upon Stewart, holding him
down.

"Shore I'm sorry," said Nels, slowly. "Then you was goin' to hit the
trail?"

"I am going to. Let go, Nels."

"Shore you ain't goin', Gene?"

"Let go, damn you!" cried Stewart, as he wrestled free.

"What's wrong?" asked Nels, lifting his hand again.

"Man! Don't touch me!"

Nels stepped back instantly. He seemed to become aware of Stewart's
white, wild passion. Again Stewart moved to mount.

"Nels, don't make me forget we've been friends," he said.

"Shore I ain't fergettin'," replied Nels. "An' I resign my job right
here an' now!"

His strange speech checked the mounting cowboy. Stewart stepped down
from the stirrup. Then their hard faces were still and cold while their
eyes locked glances.

Madeline was as much startled by Nels's speech as Stewart. Quick to note
a change in these men, she now sensed one that was unfathomable.

"Resign?" questioned Stewart.

"Shore. What 'd you think I'd do under circumstances sich as has come
up?"

"But see here, Nels, I won't stand for it."

"You're not my boss no more, an' I ain't beholdin' to Miss Hammond,
neither. I'm my own boss, an' I'll do as I please. Sabe, senor?"

Nels's words were at variance with the meaning in his face.

"Gene, you sent me on a little scout down in the mountains, didn't you?"
he continued.

"Yes, I did," replied Stewart, with a new sharpness in his voice.

"Wal, shore you was so good an' right in your figgerin', as opposed to
mine, that I'm sick with admirin' of you. If you hedn't sent me--wal,
I'm reckonin' somethin' might hev happened. As it is we're shore up
against a hell of a proposition!"

How significant was the effect of his words upon all the cowboys!
Stewart made a fierce and violent motion, terrible where his other
motions had been but passionate. Monty leaped straight up into the
air in a singular action as suggestive of surprise as it was of wild
acceptance of menace. Like a stalking giant Nick Steele strode over to
Nels and Stewart. The other cowboys rose silently, without a word.

Madeline and her guests, in a little group, watched and listened, unable
to divine what all this strange talk and action meant.

"Hold on, Nels, they don't need to hear it," said Stewart, hoarsely, as
he waved a hand toward Madeline's silent group.

"Wal, I'm sorry, but I reckon they'd as well know fust as last. Mebbe
thet yearnin' wish of Miss Helen's fer somethin' to happen will come
true. Shore I--"

"Cut out the joshin'," rang out Monty's strident voice.

It had as decided an effect as any preceding words or action. Perhaps
it was the last thing needed to transform these men, doing unaccustomed
duty as escorts of beautiful women, to their natural state as men of the
wild.

"Tell us what's what," said Stewart, cool and grim.

"Don Carlos an' his guerrillas are campin' on the trails thet lead
up here. They've got them trails blocked. By to-morrer they'd hed us
corralled. Mebbe they meant to surprise us. He's got a lot of Greasers
an' outlaws. They're well armed. Now what do they mean? You-all can
figger it out to suit yourselves. Mebbe the Don wants to pay a sociable
call on our ladies. Mebbe his gang is some hungry, as usual. Mebbe they
want to steal a few hosses, or anythin' they can lay hands on. Mebbe
they mean wuss, too. Now my idee is this, an' mebbe it's wrong. I long
since separated from love with Greasers. Thet black-faced Don Carlos has
got a deep game. Thet two-bit of a revolution is hevin' hard times.
The rebels want American intervention. They'd stretch any point to make
trouble. We're only ten miles from the border. Suppose them guerrillas
got our crowd across thet border? The U. S. cavalry would foller.
You-all know what thet'd mean. Mebbe Don Carlos's mind works thet way.
Mebbe it don't. I reckon we'll know soon. An' now, Stewart, whatever the
Don's game is, shore you're the man to outfigger him. Mebbe it's just as
well you're good an' mad about somethin'. An' I resign my job because I
want to feel unbeholdin' to anybody. Shore it struck me long since thet
the old days hed come back fer a little spell, an' there I was trailin'
a promise not to hurt any Greaser."





Next: Don Carlos

Previous: The Lost Mine Of The Padres



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