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Daniel Takes Possession








From: Desert Dust

I was more than ever convinced of her wisdom in choice of garb when in
early morning I glimpsed her with the two other women at the Adams fire;
for, bright-haired and small, she had been sorrily dulled by the plain
ill-fitting waist and long shapeless skirt in one garment, as adopted by
the feminine contingent of the train. In her particular case these were
worse fitting and longer than common--an artifice that certainly snuffed a
portion of her charms for Gentile and Mormon eyes alike.

What further disposition of her was to be made we might not yet know. We
all kept to our own tasks and our own fires, with the exception that
Daniel gawked and strutted in the manner of a silly gander, and made
frequent errands to his father's household.

It was after the red sun-up and the initial signaling by dust cloud to
dust cloud announcing the commencement of another day's desert traffic,
and in response to the orders "Ketch up!" we were putting animals to
wagons (My Lady still in evidence forward), when a horseman bored in at a
gallop, over the road from the east.

"Montoyo, by Gawd!" Jenks pronounced, in a grumble of disgust rather than
with any note of alarm. "Look alive." And--"He don't hang up my pelt; no,
nor yourn if I can help it."

I saw him give a twitch to his holster and slightly loosen the Colt's. But
I was unburthened by guilt in past events, and I conceived no reason for
fearing the future--other than that now I was likely to lose her. Heaven
pity her! Probably she would have to go, even if she managed later to kill
him. The delay in our start had been unfortunate.

It was dollars to doughnuts that every man in the company had had his eye
out for Montoyo, since daylight; and the odds were that every man had
sighted him as quickly as we. Notwithstanding, save by an occasional quick
glance none appeared to pay attention to his rapid approach. We ourselves
went right along hooking up, like the others.

As chanced, our outfit was the first upon his way in. I heard him rein
sharply beside us and his horse fidget, panting. Not until he spoke did we
lift eyes.

"Howdy, gentlemen?"

"Howdy yourself, sir," answered Mr. Jenks, straightening up and meeting
his gaze. I paused, to gaze also. Montoyo was pale as death, his lips hard
set, his peculiar gray eyes and his black moustache the only vivifying
features in his coldly menacing countenance.

He was in white linen shirt, his left arm slung; fine riding boots
encasing his legs above the knees and Spanish spurs at their heels--his
horse's flanks reddened by their jabs. The pearl butt of a six-shooter
jutted from his belt holster. He sat jaunty, excepting for his lips and
eyes.

He looked upon me, with a trace of recognition less to be seen than felt.
His glance leaped to the wagon--traveled swiftly and surely and returned
to Mr. Jenks.

"You're pulling out, I believe."

"Yes, you bet yuh."

"This is the Adams train?"

"It is."

"I'm looking for my wife, gentlemen. May I ask whether you've seen her?"

"You can."

"You have seen her?"

"Yes, sir. We'll not beat around any bush over that."

He meditated, frowning a bit, eying us narrowly.

"I had the notion," he said. "If you have staked her to shelter I thank
you; but now I aim to play the hand myself. This is a strictly private
game. Where is she?"

"I call yuh, Pedro," my friend answered. "We ain't keepin' cases on her,
or on you. You don't find her in my outfit, that's flat. She spent the
night with the Adams women. You'll find her waitin' for you, on ahead."
He grinned. "She'll be powerful glad to see you." He sobered. "And I'll
say this: I'm kinder sorry I ain't got her, for she'd be interestin'
company on the road."

"The road to hell, yes," Montoyo coolly remarked. "I'd guarantee you quick
passage. Good-day."

With sudden steely glare that embraced us both he jumped his mount into a
gallop and tore past the team, for the front. He must have inquired, once
or twice, as to the whereabouts of the Captain's party; I saw fingers
pointing.

"Here! You've swapped collars on your lead span, boy," Mr. Jenks
reproved--but he likewise fumbling while he gazed.

I could hold back no longer.

"Just a minute, if you please," I pleaded; and hastened on up, half
running in my anxiety to face the worst; to help, if I might, for the
best.

A little knot of people had formed, constantly increasing by oncomers like
myself and friend Jenks who had lumbered behind me. Montoyo's horse stood
heaving, on the outskirts; and ruthlessly pushing through I found him
inside, with My Lady at bay before him--her eyes brilliant, her cheeks
hot, her two hands clenched tightly, her slim figure dangerously tense
within her absurd garment, and the arm of the brightly flushed but calm
Rachael resting restraintfully around her. The circling faces peered.

Captain Adams, at one side apart, was replying to the gambler. His small
china-blue eyes had begun to glint; otherwise he maintained an air of
stolidity as if immune to the outcome.

"You see her," he said. "She has had the care of my own household, for I
turn nobody away. She came against my will, and she shall go of her will.
I am not her keeper."

"You Mormons have the advantage of us white men, sir," Montoyo sneered.
"No one of the sex seems to be denied bed and board in your
establishments."

"By the help of the Lord we of the elect can manage our establishments
much better than you do yours," big Hyrum responded; and his face
sombered. "Who are you? A panderer to the devil, a thief with painted
card-boards, a despoiler of the ignorant, and a feeder to hell--yea, a
striker of women and a trafficker in flesh! Who are you, to think the name
of the Lord's anointed? There she is, your chattel. Take her, or leave
her. This train starts on in ten minutes."

"I'll take her or kill her," Montoyo snarled. "You call me a feeder, but
she shall not be fed to your mill, Adams. You'll get on that horse pronto,
madam," he added, stepping forward (no one could question his nerve), "and
we'll discuss our affairs in private."

She cast about with swift beseeching look, as if for a friendly face or
sign of rescue. And that agonized quest was enough. Whether she saw me or
not, here I was. With a spring I had burst in.

But somebody already had drawn fresh attention. Daniel Adams was standing
between her and her husband.

"Say, Mister, will yu fight?" he drawled, breathing hard, his broad
nostrils quivering.

A silence fell. Singularly, the circle parted right and left in a jostle
and a scramble.

Montoyo surveyed him.

"Why?"

"For her, o' course."

The gambler smiled--a slow, contemptuous smile while his gray eyes focused
watchfully.

"It's a case where I have nothing to gain," said he. "And you've nothing
to lose. I never bet in the teeth of a pat hand. Sabe? Besides, my young
Mormon cub, when did you enter this game? Where's your ante? For the sport
of it, now, what do you think of putting up, to make it interesting? One
of your mammies? Tut, tut!"

Daniel's freckled bovine face flushed muddy red; in the midst of it his
faulty eyes were more pronounced than ever--beady, twinkling, and so at
cross purposes that they apparently did not center upon the gambler at
all. But his right hand had stiffened at his side--extended there flat and
tremulous like the vibrant tail of a rattlesnake. He blurted harshly:

"I 'laow to kill yu for that. Draw, yu----!"

We caught breath. Montoyo's hand had darted down, and up, with motion too
smooth and elusive for the eye, particularly when our eyes had to be upon
both. His revolver poised half-way out of the scabbard, held there
rigidly, frozen in mid course; for Daniel had laughed loudly over leveled
barrel.

How he had achieved so quickly no man of us knew. Yet there it was--his
Colt's, out, cocked, wicked and yearning and ready.

He whirled it with tempting carelessness, butt first, muzzle first, his
discolored teeth set in a yellow grin. The breath of the spectators vented
in a sigh.

"Haow'll yu take it, Mister?" he gibed. "I could l'arn an old caow to beat
yu on the draw. Aw, shucks! I 'laow yu'd better go back to yore
pasteboards. Naow git!"

Montoyo, his eyes steady, scarcely changed expression. He let his revolver
slip down into its scabbard. Then he smiled.

"You have a pretty trick," he commented, relaxing. "Some day I'd like to
test it out again. Just now I pass. Madam, are you coming?"

"You know I'm not," she uttered clearly.

"Your choice of company is hardly to your credit," he sneered. "Or, I
should say, to your education. Saintliness does not set well upon you,
madam. Your clothes are ill-fitting already. Of your two champions----"

And here I realized that I was standing out, one foot advanced, my fists
foolishly doubled, my presence a useless factor.

"--I recommend the gentleman from New York as more to your tastes. But you
are going of your own free will. You will always be my wife. You can't get
away from that, you devil. I shall expect you in Benton, for I have the
hunch that your little flight will fetch you back pretty well tamed, to
the place where damaged goods are not so heavily discounted." He ignored
Daniel and turned upon me. "As for you," he said, "I warn you you are
playing against a marked deck. You will find fists a poor hand. Ladies and
gentlemen, good-morning." With that he strode straight for his horse,
climbed aboard (a trifle awkwardly by reason of his one arm disabled) and
galloped, granting us not another glance.

Card shark and desperado that he was, his consummate aplomb nobody could
deny, except Daniel, now capering and swaggering and twirling his
revolver.

"I showed him. I made him take water. I 'laow I'm 'bout the best man with
a six-shooter in these hyar parts."

"Ketch up and stretch out," Captain Adams ordered, disregarding. "We've no
more time for foolery."

My eyes met My Lady's. She smiled a little ruefully, and I responded,
shamed by the poor role I had borne. With that still jubilating lout to
the fore, certainly I cut small figure.

This night we made camp at Rawlins' Springs, some twelve miles on. The
day's march had been, so to speak, rather pensive; for while there were
the rough jokes and the talking back and forth, it seemed as though the
scene of early morning lingered in our vista. The words of Montoyo had
scored deeply, and the presence of our supernumerary laid a kind of
incubus, like an omen of ill luck, upon us. Indeed the prophecies darkly
uttered showed the current of thought.

"It's a she Jonah we got. Sure a woman the likes o' her hain't no place in
a freightin' outfit. We're off on the wrong fut," an Irishman declared to
wagging of heads. "Faith, she's enough to set the saints above an' the
saints below both by the ears." He paused to light his dudeen. "There'll
be a Donnybrook Fair in Utah, if belike we don't have it along the way."

"No Mormon'll need another wife if he takes her," laughed somebody else.

"She'll be promised to Dan'l 'fore ever we cross the Wasatch." And they
all in the group looked slyly at me. "Acts as if she'd been sealed to him
already, he does."

This had occurred at our nooning hour, amidst the dust and the heat, while
the animals drooped and dozed and panted and in the scant shade of the
hooded wagons we drank our coffee and crunched our hardtack. Throughout
the morning My Lady had ridden upon the seat of Daniel's wagon, with him
sometimes trudging beside, in pride of new ownership, cracking his whip,
and again planted sidewise upon one of the wheel animals, facing backward
to leer at her.

Why I should now have especially detested him I would not admit to myself.
At any rate the dislike dated before her arrival. That was one sop to
conscience when I remembered that she was a wife.

Friend Jenks must have read my thoughts, inasmuch as during the course of
the afternoon he had uttered abruptly:

"These Mormons don't exactly recognize Gentile marriages. Did you know
that?" He flung me a look from beneath shaggy brows.

"What?" I exclaimed. "How so?"

"Meanin' to say that layin' on of hands by the Lord's an'inted is
necessary to reel j'inin' in marriage."

"But that's monstrous!" I stammered.

"Dare say," said he. "It's the way white gospelers look at Injuns, ain't
it? Anyhow, to convert her out of sin, as they'd call it, and put her over
into the company of the saints wouldn't be no bad deal, by their kind o'
thinkin'. It's been done before, I reckon. Jest thought I'd warn you.
She's made her own bed and if it's a Mormon bed she's well quit of
Montoyo, that's sartin. Did you ever see the beat of that young feller on
the draw?"

"No," I admitted. "I never did."

"And you never will."

"He says his name's Bonnie Bravo. Where did he find that?"

"Haw haw." Friend Jenks spat. "Must ha' heard it in a play-house or got it
read to him out a book. Sounds to him like he was some punkins. Anyhow, if
you've any feelin's in the matter keep 'em under your hat. I don't know
what there's been between you and her, but the Mormon church is between
you now and it's got the dead-wood on you. It's either that for her, or
Montoyo. He knows; he's no fool and he'll take his time. So you'd better
stick to mule-whacking and sowbelly."

Still it was only decent that I should inquire after her. No Daniel and no
"Bonnie Bravo" was going to shut me from my duty. Therefore this evening
after we had formed corral, watered our animals at the one good-water
spring, staked them out in the bottoms of the ravine here, and eaten our
supper, I went with clean hands and face and, I resolved, a clean heart,
to pay my respects at the Hyrum Adams fire.

A cheery sight it was, too, for one bred as I had been to the company of
women. Whereas during the day and somewhat in the evenings we Gentiles and
the Mormon men fraternized without conflict of sect save by long-winded
arguments, at nightfall the main Mormon gathering centered about the Adams
quarters, where the men and women sang hymns in praise of their
pretensions, and listened to homilies by Hyrum himself.

They were singing now, as I approached--every woman busy also with her
hands. The words were destined to be familiar to me, being from their
favorite lines:

Cheer, saints, cheer! We're bound for peaceful Zion!
Cheer, saints, cheer! For that free and happy land!
Cheer, saints, cheer! We'll Israel's God rely on;
We will be led by the power of His hand.

Away, far away to the everlasting mountains,
Away, far away to the valley in the West;
Away, far away to yonder gushing fountains,
Where all the faithful in the latter days are blest.

Into this domestic circle I civilly entered just as they had finished
their hymn. She was seated beside the sleek-haired Rachael, with Daniel
upon her other hand. I sensed her quickly ready smile; and with the same a
surly stare from him, disclosing that by one person at least I was not
welcomed.

"Anything special wanted, stranger?" Hyrum demanded.

"No, sir. I was attracted by your singing," I replied. "Do I intrude?"

"Not at all, not at all." He was more hospitable. "Set if you like, in the
circle of the Saints. You'll get no harm by it, that's certain."

So I seated myself just behind Rachael. A moment of constraint seemed to
fall upon the group. I broke it by my inquiry, addressed to a clean
profile.

"I came also to inquire after Mrs. Montoyo," I carefully said. "You have
stood the journey well, this far, madam?"

Daniel turned instantly.

"Thar's no 'Mrs. Montoyo' in this camp, Mister. And I'll thank yu it's a
name yu'd best leave alone."

"How so, sir?"

"Cause that's the right of it. I 'laow I've told yu."

"I'm called Edna now, by my friends," she vouchsafed, coloring. "Yes,
thank you, I've enjoyed the day."

Rachael spoke softly, in her gentle English accents. I learned later that
she was an English girl, convert to Mormonism.

"We Latter Day Saints know that the marriage rites of Gentiles are not
countenanced by the Lord. If you would see the light you would understand.
Sister Edna is being well cared for. Whatever we have is hers."

"You will take her on with you to Salt Lake?"

"That is as Hyrum says. He has spoken of putting her on the stage at the
next crossing. He will decide."

"I think I'd rather stay with the train," My Lady murmured.

"Yu will, too, by gum," Daniel pronounced. "I'll talk with paw. Yu're
goin' to travel on to Zion 'long with me. I 'laow I'm man enough to look
out for ye an' I got plenty room. The hull wagon's yourn. Guess thar won't
nobody have anything to say ag'in that." His tone was pointed,
unmistakable, and I sat fuming with it.

My Lady drily acknowledged.

"You are very kind, Daniel."

"Wall, yu see I'm the best man on the draw in this hyar train. I'm a bad
one, I am. My name's Bonnie Bravo. That gambler--he 'laowed to pop me but
I could ha' killed him 'fore his gun was loose. I kin ride, wrastle, drive
a bull team ag'in ary man from the States, an' I got the gift o' tongues.
Ain't afeared o' Injuns, neither. I'm elected. I foller the Lord an' some
day I'll be a bishop. I hain't been more'n middlin' interested in wimmen,
but I'm gittin' old enough, an' yu an' me'll be purty well acquainted by
the time we reach Zion. Thar's a long spell ahead of us, but I aim to look
out for yu, yu bet."

His blatancy was arrested by the intonation of another hymn. They all
chimed in, except My Lady and me.

There is a people in the West, the world calls Mormonites
in jest,
The only people who can say, we have the truth, and
own its sway.
Away in Utah's valleys, away in Utah's valleys,
Away in Utah's valleys, the chambers of the Lord.

And all ye saints, where'er you be, from bondage try to
be set free,
Escape unto fair Zion's land, and thus fulfil the Lord's
command,
And help to build up Zion, and help to build up Zion,
And help to build up Zion, before the Lord appear.

They concluded; sat with heads bowed while Hyrum, standing, delivered
himself of a long-winded blessing, through his nose. It was the signal for
breaking up. They stood. My Lady arose lithely; encumbered by her trailing
skirt she pitched forward and I caught her. Daniel sprang in a moment,
with a growl.

"None o' that, Mister. I'm takin' keer of her. Hands off."

"Don't bully me, sir," I retorted, furious. "I'm only acting the
gentleman, and you're acting the boor."

I would willingly have fought him then and there, probably to my disaster,
but Hyrum's heavy voice cut in.

"Who quarrels at my fire? Mark you, I'll have no more of it. Stranger, get
you where you belong. Daniel, get you to bed. And you, woman, take
yourself off properly and thank God that you are among his chosen and not
adrift in sin."

"Good-night, sir," I answered. And I walked easily away, a triumphant
warmth buoying me, for ere releasing her strong young body I had felt a
note tucked into my hand.





Next: Someone Fears

Previous: We Get A Super



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