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El Capitan








From: The Light Of Western Stars

Stillwell's interest in the revolution across the Mexican line had
manifestly increased with the news that Gene Stewart had achieved
distinction with the rebel forces. Thereafter the old cattleman sent
for El Paso and Douglas newspapers, wrote to ranchmen he knew on the big
bend of the Rio Grande, and he would talk indefinitely to any one
who would listen to him. There was not any possibility of Stillwell's
friends at the ranch forgetting his favorite cowboy. Stillwell always
prefaced his eulogy with an apologetic statement that Stewart had gone
to the bad. Madeline liked to listen to him, though she was not always
sure which news was authentic and which imagination.

There appeared to be no doubt, however, that the cowboy had performed
some daring feats for the rebels. Madeline found his name mentioned in
several of the border papers. When the rebels under Madero stormed and
captured the city of Juarez, Stewart did fighting that won him the
name of El Capitan. This battle apparently ended the revolution. The
capitulation of President Diaz followed shortly, and there was a feeling
of relief among ranchers on the border from Texas to California. Nothing
more was heard of Gene Stewart until April, when a report reached
Stillwell that the cowboy had arrived in El Cajon, evidently hunting
trouble. The old cattleman saddled a horse and started post-haste for
town. In two days he returned, depressed in spirit. Madeline happened to
be present when Stillwell talked to Alfred.

"I got there too late, Al," said the cattleman. "Gene was gone. An' what
do you think of this? Danny Mains hed jest left with a couple of burros
packed. I couldn't find what way he went, but I'm bettin' he hit the
Peloncillo trail."

"Danny will show up some day," replied Alfred. "What did you learn about
Stewart? Maybe he left with Danny."

"Not much," said Stillwell, shortly. "Gene's hell-bent fer election! No
mountains fer him."

"Well tell us about him."

Stillwell wiped his sweaty brow and squared himself to talk.

"Wal, it's sure amazin' strange about Gene. Its got me locoed. He
arrived in El Cajon a week or so ago. He was trained down like as if
he'd been ridin' the range all winter. He hed plenty of money--Mex, they
said. An' all the Greasers was crazy about him. Called him El Capitan.
He got drunk an' went roarin' round fer Pat Hawe. You remember that
Greaser who was plugged last October--the night Miss Majesty arrived?
Wal, he's daid. He's daid, an' people says thet Pat is a-goin' to lay
thet killin' onto Gene. I reckon thet's jest talk, though Pat is mean
enough to do it, if he hed the nerve. Anyway, if he was in El Cajon he
kept mighty much to hisself. Gene walked up an' down, up an' down, all
day an' night, lookin' fer Pat. But he didn't find him. An', of course,
he kept gettin' drunker. He jest got plumb bad. He made lots of trouble,
but there wasn't no gun-play. Mebbe thet made him sore, so he went an'
licked Flo's brother-in-law. Thet wasn't so bad. Jack sure needed a good
lickin'. Wal, then Gene met Danny an' tried to get Danny drunk. An'
he couldn't! What do you think of that? Danny hedn't been
drinkin'--wouldn't touch a drop. I'm sure glad of thet, but it's amazin'
strange. Why, Danny was a fish fer red liquor. I guess he an' Gene had
some pretty hard words, though I'm not sure about thet. Anyway, Gene
went down to the railroad an' he got on an engine, an' he was in the
engine when it pulled out. Lord, I hope he doesn't hold up the train! If
he gets gay over in Arizona he'll go to the pen at Yuma. An' thet pen
is a graveyard fer cowboys. I wired to agents along the railroad to look
out fer Stewart, an' to wire back to me if he's located."

"Suppose you do find him, Stillwell, what can you do?" inquired Alfred.

The old man nodded gloomily.

"I straightened him up once. Mebbe I can do it again." Then, brightening
somewhat, he turned to Madeline. "I jest hed an idee, Miss Majesty. If
I can get him, Gene Steward is the cowboy I want fer my foreman. He
can manage this bunch of cow-punchers thet are drivin' me dotty. What's
more, since he's fought fer the rebels an' got that name El Capitan,
all the Greasers in the country will kneel to him. Now, Miss Majesty, we
hevn't got rid of Don Carlos an' his vaqueros yet. To be sure, he sold
you his house an' ranch an' stock. But you remember nothin' was put
in black and white about when he should get out. An' Don Carlos ain't
gettin' out. I don't like the looks of things a little bit. I'll tell
you now thet Don Carlos knows somethin' about the cattle I lost, an'
thet you've been losin' right along. Thet Greaser is hand an' glove with
the rebels. I'm willin' to gamble thet when he does get out he an'
his vaqueros will make another one of the bands of guerrillas thet
are harassin' the border. This revolution ain't over' yet. It's jest
commenced. An' all these gangs of outlaws are goin' to take advantage
of it. We'll see some old times, mebbe. Wal, I need Gene Stewart. I
need him bad. Will you let me hire him, Miss Majesty, if I can get him
straightened up?"

The old cattleman ended huskily.

"Stillwell, by all means find Stewart, and do not wait to straighten him
up. Bring him to the ranch," replied Madeline.

Thanking her, Stillwell led his horse away.

"Strange how he loves that cowboy!" murmured Madeline.

"Not so strange, Majesty," replied her brother. "Not when you know.
Stewart has been with Stillwell on some hard trips into the desert
alone. There's no middle course of feeling between men facing death
in the desert. Either they hate each other or love each other. I don't
know, but I imagine Stewart did something for Stillwell--saved us life,
perhaps. Besides, Stewart's a lovable chap when he's going straight.
I hope Stillwell brings him back. We do need him, Majesty. He's a born
leader. Once I saw him ride into a bunch of Mexicans whom we suspected
of rustling. It was fine to see him. Well, I'm sorry to tell you that we
are worried about Don Carlos. Some of his vaqueros came into my yard the
other day when I had left Flo alone. She had a bad scare. These vaqueros
have been different since Don Carlos sold the ranch. For that matter,
I never would have trusted a white woman alone with them. But they are
bolder now. Something's in the wind. They've got assurance. They can
ride off any night and cross the border."

During the succeeding week Madeline discovered that a good deal of
her sympathy for Stillwell in his hunt for the reckless Stewart had
insensibly grown to be sympathy for the cowboy. It was rather a paradox,
she thought, that opposed to the continual reports of Stewart's wildness
as he caroused from town to town were the continual expressions of good
will and faith and hope universally given out by those near her at the
ranch. Stillwell loved the cowboy; Florence was fond of him; Alfred
liked and admired him, pitied him; the cowboys swore their regard for
him the more he disgraced himself. The Mexicans called him El Gran
Capitan. Madeline's personal opinion of Stewart had not changed in the
least since the night it had been formed. But certain attributes of his,
not clearly defined in her mind, and the gift of his beautiful horse,
his valor with the fighting rebels, and all this strange regard for him,
especially that of her brother, made her exceedingly regret the cowboy's
present behavior.

Meanwhile Stillwell was so earnest and zealous that one not familiar
with the situation would have believed he was trying to find and reclaim
his own son. He made several trips to little stations in the valley, and
from these he returned with a gloomy face. Madeline got the details from
Alfred. Stewart was going from bad to worse--drunk, disorderly, savage,
sure to land in the penitentiary. Then came a report that hurried
Stillwell off to Rodeo. He returned on the third day, a crushed man. He
had been so bitterly hurt that no one, not even Madeline, could get
out of him what had happened. He admitted finding Stewart, failing to
influence him; and when the old cattleman got so far he turned purple in
the face and talked to himself, as if dazed: "But Gene was drunk. He was
drunk, or he couldn't hev treated old Bill like thet!"

Madeline was stirred with an anger toward the brutal cowboy that was
as strong as her sorrow for the loyal old cattleman. And it was when
Stillwell gave up that she resolved to take a hand. The persistent faith
of Stillwell, his pathetic excuses in the face of what must have been
Stewart's violence, perhaps baseness, actuated her powerfully, gave
her new insight into human nature. She honored a faith that remained
unshaken. And the strange thought came to her that Stewart must somehow
be worthy of such a faith, or he never could have inspired it. Madeline
discovered that she wanted to believe that somewhere deep down in the
most depraved and sinful wretch upon earth there was some grain of good.
She yearned to have the faith in human nature that Stillwell had in
Stewart.

She sent Nels, mounted upon his own horse, and leading Majesty, to Rodeo
in search of Stewart. Nels had instructions to bring Stewart back to the
ranch. In due time Nels returned, leading the roan without a rider.

"Yep, I shore found him," replied Nels, when questioned. "Found him half
sobered up. He'd been in a scrap, an' somebody hed put him to sleep, I
guess. Wal, when he seen thet roan hoss he let out a yell an' grabbed
him round the neck. The hoss knowed him, all right. Then Gene hugged the
hoss an' cried--cried like--I never seen no one who cried like he did. I
waited awhile, an' was jest goin' to say somethin' to him when he turned
on me red-eyed, mad as fire. 'Nels,' he said, 'I care a hell of a lot
fer thet boss, an' I liked you pretty well, but if you don't take him
away quick I'll shoot you both.' Wal, I lit out. I didn't even git to
say howdy to him."

"Nels, you think it useless--any attempt to see him--persuade him?"
asked Madeline.

"I shore do, Miss Hammond," replied Nels, gravely. "I've seen a few
sun-blinded an' locoed an' snake-poisoned an' skunk-bitten cow-punchers
in my day, but Gene Stewart beats 'em all. He's shore runnin' wild fer
the divide."

Madeline dismissed Nels, but before he got out of earshot she heard him
speak to Stillwell, who awaited him on the porch.

"Bill, put this in your pipe an' smoke it--none of them scraps Gene has
hed was over a woman! It used to be thet when he was drank he'd scrap
over every pretty Greaser girl he'd run across. Thet's why Pat Hawe
thinks Gene plugged the strange vaquero who was with little Bonita thet
night last fall. Wal, Gene's scrappin' now jest to git shot up hisself,
for some reason thet only God Almighty knows."

Nels's story of how Stewart wept over his horse influenced Madeline
powerfully. Her next move was to persuade Alfred to see if he could not
do better with this doggedly bent cowboy. Alfred needed only a word
of persuasion, for he said he had considered going to Rodeo of his own
accord. He went, and returned alone.

"Majesty, I can't explain Stewart's singular actions," said Alfred. "I
saw him, talked with him. He knew me, but nothing I said appeared to get
to him. He has changed terribly. I fancy his once magnificent strength
is breaking. It--it actually hurt me to look at him. I couldn't have
fetched him back here--not as he is now. I heard all about him, and
if he isn't downright out of his mind he's hell-bent, as Bill says, on
getting killed. Some of his escapades are--are not for your ears.
Bill did all any man could do for another. We've all done our best for
Stewart. If you'd been given a chance perhaps you could have saved him.
But it's too late. Put it out of mind now, dear."

Madeline, however, did not forget nor give it up. If she had forgotten
or surrendered, she felt that she would have been relinquishing
infinitely more than hope to aid one ruined man. But she was at a loss
to know what further steps to take. Days passed, and each one brought
additional gossip of Stewart's headlong career toward the Yuma
penitentiary. For he had crossed the line into Cochise County, Arizona,
where sheriffs kept a stricter observance of law. Finally a letter came
from a friend of Nels's in Chiricahua saying that Stewart had been hurt
in a brawl there. His hurt was not serious, but it would probably
keep him quiet long enough to get sober, and this opportunity, Nels's
informant said, would be a good one for Stewart's friends to take him
home before he got locked up. This epistle inclosed a letter to Stewart
from his sister. Evidently, it had been found upon him. It told a story
of illness and made an appeal for aid. Nels's friend forwarded this
letter without Stewart's knowledge, thinking Stillwell might care to
help Stewart's family. Stewart had no money, he said.

The sister's letter found its way to Madeline. She read it, tears in
her eyes. It told Madeline much more than its brief story of illness and
poverty and wonder why Gene had not written home for so long. It told of
motherly love, sisterly love, brotherly love--dear family ties that had
not been broken. It spoke of pride in this El Capitan brother who had
become famous. It was signed "your loving sister Letty."

Not improbably, Madeline revolved in mind, this letter was one reason
for Stewart's headstrong, long-continued abasement. It had been received
too late--after he had squandered the money that would have meant so
much to mother and sister. Be that as it might, Madeline immediately
sent a bank-draft to Stewart's sister with a letter explaining that
the money was drawn in advance on Stewart's salary. This done, she
impulsively determined to go to Chiricahua herself.

The horseback-rides Madeline had taken to this little Arizona hamlet had
tried her endurance to the utmost; but the journey by automobile, except
for some rocky bits of road and sandy stretches, was comfortable, and
a matter of only a few hours. The big touring-car was still a kind of
seventh wonder to the Mexicans and cowboys; not that automobiles were
very new and strange, but because this one was such an enormous machine
and capable of greater speed than an express-train. The chauffeur who
had arrived with the car found his situation among the jealous cowboys
somewhat far removed from a bed of roses. He had been induced to remain
long enough to teach the operating and mechanical technique of the car.
And choice fell upon Link Stevens, for the simple reason that of all the
cowboys he was the only one with any knack for mechanics. Now Link
had been a hard-riding, hard-driving cowboy, and that winter he had
sustained an injury to his leg, caused by a bad fall, and was unable to
sit his horse. This had been gall and wormwood to him. But when the big
white automobile came and he was elected to drive it, life was once more
worth living for him. But all the other cowboys regarded Link and his
machine as some correlated species of demon. They were deathly afraid of
both.

It was for this reason that Nels, when Madeline asked him to accompany
her to Chiricahua, replied, reluctantly, that he would rather follow on
his horse. However, she prevailed over his hesitancy, and with Florence
also in the car they set out. For miles and miles the valley road
was smooth, hard-packed, and slightly downhill. And when speeding was
perfectly safe, Madeline was not averse to it. The grassy plain sailed
backward in gray sheets, and the little dot in the valley grew larger
and larger. From time to time Link glanced round at unhappy Nels, whose
eyes were wild and whose hands clutched his seat. While the car was
crossing the sandy and rocky places, going slowly, Nels appeared
to breathe easier. And when it stopped in the wide, dusty street of
Chiricahua Nels gladly tumbled out.

"Nels, we shall wait here in the car while you find Stewart," said
Madeline.

"Miss Hammond, I reckon Gene'll run when he sees us, if he's able to
run," replied Nels. "Wal, I'll go find him an' make up my mind then what
we'd better do."

Nels crossed the railroad track and disappeared behind the low, flat
houses. After a little time he reappeared and hurried up to the car.
Madeline felt his gray gaze searching her face.

"Miss Hammond, I found him," said Nels. "He was sleepin'. I woke him.
He's sober an' not bad hurt; but I don't believe you ought to see him.
Mebbe Florence--"

"Nels, I want to see him myself. Why not? What did he say when you told
him I was here?"

"Shore I didn't tell him that. I jest says, 'Hullo, Gene!' an' he says,
'My Gawd! Nels! mebbe I ain't glad to see a human bein'.' He asked me
who was with me, an' I told him Link an' some friends. I said I'd fetch
them in. He hollered at thet. But I went, anyway. Now, if you really
will see him, Miss Hammond, it's a good chance. But shore it's a touchy
matter, an' you'll be some sick at sight of him. He's layin' in a
Greaser hole over here. Likely the Greasers hev been kind to him. But
they're shore a poor lot."

Madeline did not hesitate a moment.

"Thank you, Nels. Take me at once. Come, Florence."

They left the car, now surrounded by gaping-eyed Mexican children,
and crossed the dusty space to a narrow lane between red adobe walls.
Passing by several houses, Nels stopped at the door of what appeared to
be an alleyway leading back. It was filthy.

"He's in there, around thet first corner. It's a patio, open an' sunny.
An', Miss Hammond, if you don't mind, I'll wait here for you. I reckon
Gene wouldn't like any fellers around when he sees you girls."

It was that which made Madeline hesitate then and go forward slowly.
She had given no thought at all to what Stewart might feel when suddenly
surprised by her presence.

"Florence, you wait also," said Madeline, at the doorway, and turned in
alone.

And she had stepped into a broken-down patio littered with alfalfa straw
and debris, all clear in the sunlight. Upon a bench, back toward her,
sat a man looking out through the rents in the broken wall. He had
not heard her. The place was not quite so filthy and stifling as the
passages Madeline had come through to get there. Then she saw that it
had been used as a corral. A rat ran boldly across the dirt floor.
The air swarmed with flies, which the man brushed at with weary hand.
Madeline did not recognize Stewart. The side of his face exposed to her
gaze was black, bruised, bearded. His clothes were ragged and soiled.
There were bits of alfalfa in his hair. His shoulders sagged. He made a
wretched and hopeless figure sitting there. Madeline divined something
of why Nels shrank from being present.

"Mr. Stewart. It is I, Miss Hammond, come to see you," she said.

He grew suddenly perfectly motionless, as if he had been changed to
stone. She repeated her greeting.

His body jerked. He moved violently as if instinctively to turn and face
this intruder; but a more violent movement checked him.

Madeline waited. How singular that this ruined cowboy had pride which
kept him from showing his face! And was it not shame more than pride?

"Mr. Stewart, I have come to talk with you, if you will let me."

"Go away," he muttered.

"Mr. Stewart!" she began, with involuntary hauteur. But instantly she
corrected herself, became deliberate and cool, for she saw that she
might fail to be even heard by this man. "I have come to help you. Will
you let me?"

"For God's sake! You--you--" he choked over the words. "Go away!"

"Stewart, perhaps it was for God's sake that I came," said Madeline,
gently. "Surely it was for yours--and your sister's--" Madeline bit her
tongue, for she had not meant to betray her knowledge of Letty.

He groaned, and, staggering up to the broken wall, he leaned there with
his face hidden. Madeline reflected that perhaps the slip of speech had
been well.

"Stewart, please let me say what I have to say?"

He was silent. And she gathered courage and inspiration.

"Stillwell is deeply hurt, deeply grieved that he could not turn you
back from this--this fatal course. My brother is also. They wanted to
help you. And so do I. I have come, thinking somehow I might succeed
where they have failed. Nels brought your sister's letter. I--I read it.
I was only the more determined to try to help you, and indirectly
help your mother and Letty. Stewart, we want you to come to the ranch.
Stillwell needs you for his foreman. The position is open to you, and
you can name your salary. Both Al and Stillwell are worried about Don
Carlos, the vaqueros, and the raids down along the border. My cowboys
are without a capable leader. Will you come?"

"No," he answered.

"But Stillwell wants you so badly."

"No."

"Stewart, I want you to come."

"No."

His replies had been hoarse, loud, furious. They disconcerted Madeline,
and she paused, trying to think of a way to proceed. Stewart staggered

away from the wall, and, falling upon the bench, he hid his face in his
hands. All his motions, like his speech, had been violent.

"Will you please go away?" he asked.

"Stewart, certainly I cannot remain here longer if you insist upon my
going. But why not listen to me when I want so much to help you? Why?"

"I'm a damned blackguard," he burst out. "But I was a gentleman once,
and I'm not so low that I can stand for you seeing me here."

"When I made up my mind to help you I made it up to see you wherever you
were. Stewart, come away, come back with us to the ranch. You are in a
bad condition now. Everything looks black to you. But that will pass.
When you are among friends again you will get well. You will be your
old self. The very fact that you were once a gentleman, that you come of
good family, makes you owe so much more to yourself. Why, Stewart, think
how young you are! It is a shame to waste your life. Come back with me."

"Miss Hammond, this was my last plunge," he replied, despondently. "It's
too late."

"Oh no, it is not so bad as that."

"It's too late."

"At least make an effort, Stewart. Try!"

"No. There's no use. I'm done for. Please leave me--thank you for--"

He had been savage, then sullen, and now he was grim. Madeline all but
lost power to resist his strange, deadly, cold finality. No doubt he
knew he was doomed. Yet something halted her--held her even as she took
a backward step. And she became conscious of a subtle change in her own
feeling. She had come into that squalid hole, Madeline Hammond, earnest
enough, kind enough in her own intentions; but she had been almost
imperious--a woman habitually, proudly used to being obeyed. She divined
that all the pride, blue blood, wealth, culture, distinction, all the
impersonal condescending persuasion, all the fatuous philanthropy on
earth would not avail to turn this man a single hair's-breadth from his
downward career to destruction. Her coming had terribly augmented
his bitter hate of himself. She was going to fail to help him. She
experienced a sensation of impotence that amounted almost to distress.
The situation assumed a tragic keenness. She had set forth to reverse
the tide of a wild cowboy's fortunes; she faced the swift wasting of his
life, the damnation of his soul. The subtle consciousness of change in
her was the birth of that faith she had revered in Stillwell. And all at
once she became merely a woman, brave and sweet and indomitable.

"Stewart, look at me," she said.

He shuddered. She advanced and laid a hand on his bent shoulder. Under
the light touch he appeared to sink.

"Look at me," she repeated.

But he could not lift his head. He was abject, crushed. He dared not
show his swollen, blackened face. His fierce, cramped posture revealed
more than his features might have shown; it betrayed the torturing shame
of a man of pride and passion, a man who had been confronted in his
degradation by the woman he had dared to enshrine in his heart. It
betrayed his love.

"Listen, then," went on Madeline, and her voice was unsteady. "Listen to
me, Stewart. The greatest men are those who have fallen deepest into
the mire, sinned most, suffered most, and then have fought their evil
natures and conquered. I think you can shake off this desperate mood and
be a man."

"No!" he cried.

"Listen to me again. Somehow I know you're worthy of Stillwell's love.
Will you come back with us--for his sake?"

"No. It's too late, I tell you."

"Stewart, the best thing in life is faith in human nature. I have faith
in you. I believe you are worth it."

"You're only kind and good--saying that. You can't mean it."

"I mean it with all my heart," she replied, a sudden rich warmth
suffusing her body as she saw the first sign of his softening. "Will you
come back--if not for your own sake or Stillwell's--then for mine?"

"What am I to such a woman as you?"

"A man in trouble, Stewart. But I have come to help you, to show my
faith in you."

"If I believed that I might try," he said.

"Listen," she began, softly, hurriedly. "My word is not lightly given.
Let it prove my faith in you. Look at me now and say you will come."

He heaved up his big frame as if trying to cast off a giant's burden,
and then slowly he turned toward her. His face was a blotched and
terrible thing. The physical brutalizing marks were there, and at that
instant all that appeared human to Madeline was the dawning in dead,
furnace-like eyes of a beautiful light.

"I'll come," he whispered, huskily. "Give me a few days to straighten
up, then I'll come."





Next: The New Foreman

Previous: Her Majesty's Rancho



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