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I Do The Deed








From: Desert Dust

We had camped well beyond a last bunch of the red-shirted graders, so that
the thread of a trail wended before, lonely, sand-obscured, leading
apparently nowhere, through this desert devoid of human life. Line stakes
of the surveyors denoted the grade; but the surveyors' work was done,
here. Rush orders from headquarters had sent them all westward still, to
set their final stakes across other deserts and across the mountains,
clear to Ogden at the north end of the Salt Lake itself.

Seemingly we had cut loose and were more than ever a world to ourselves.
The country had grown sterile beneath ordinary, if possible; and our
thoughts and talk would have been sterile also were it not for that one
recurrent topic which kept them quick. In these journeyings men seize upon
little things and magnify them; discuss and rediscuss a phase until
launched maybe as an empty joke it returns freighted with tragedy.

However, now that once My Lady had eliminated herself from my field I did
not see but that Daniel and I might taper off into at least an armed
neutrality. If he continued to nag me, it would be wholly of his own free
will. He had no grievance.

Then in case that I did kill him--if kill him I must (and that eventuality
hung over me like the sword of Damocles) I should be not ashamed to tell
even my mother. In this I took what small comfort I might.

I had not spoken at length with Mrs. Montoyo for several days. We had
exchanged merely civil greetings. To-day I did not see her during the
march; did not attempt to see her--did not so much as curiously glance her
way, being content to let well enough alone, although aware that my care
might be misinterpreted as a token of fear. But as to proving the case
against me, Daniel was at liberty to experiment with the status in quo.

Toward evening we climbed a second wide, flat divide. We were leaving the
Red Basin, they said, and about to cross into the Bitter Creek Plains,
which, according to the talk, were "a damned sight wuss!" Somewhere in the
Bitter Creek Plains our course met the course of the Overland Stage road,
trending up from the south for the passage of the Green River at the
farther edge of the Plains.

I had only faint hope that Mrs. Montoyo would be delivered over to the
stage there. It scarcely would be her wish. We were destined to travel on
to Salt Lake City together--she, Daniel and I.

If the Red Basin had been bad and if the Bitter Creek Plains were to be
worse, assuredly this plateau was limbo: a gray, bleak, wind-swept
elevation fairly level and extending, in elevation perceptible mainly by
the vista, as far as eye might see, northward and southward, separating
basin from basin--one Hell, as Jenks declared, from the other.

Nevertheless there was a wild grandeur in the site, flooded all with
crimson as the sun sank in the clear western sky beyond the Plains
themselves, so that our plateau was still bathed in ruddy color when the
Red Basin upon the one hand had deepened to purple and the white blotches
of soda and alkali down in the Plains upon the other hand gleamed evilly
in a tenuous gloaming.

We had corralled adjacent to another tainted pond, of which the animals
refused to drink but which furnished a little rank forage for them and an
oasis for a half dozen ducks. A pretty picture these made, too, as they
lightly sat the open water, burnished to brass by the sunset so that the
surface shimmered iridescent, its ripples from the floating bodies flowing
molten in all directions.

After supper I took the notion to go over there, in the twilight, on idle
exploration. Water of any kind had an appeal; a solitary pond always has;
the ducks brought thoughts of home. Many a teal and widgeon and canvasback
had fallen to my double-barreled Manton, back on the Atlantic coast--very
long ago, before I had got entangled in this confounded web of
misadventure and homicidal tendencies.

To the pond I went, mood subdued. It set slightly in a cup; and when I had
emerged from a little swale or depression that I had followed, attracted
by the laughter of children playing at the marge, whom should I see,
approaching on line diagonal, but Mrs. Montoyo--her very hair and
form--coming in likewise, perhaps with errand similar to mine: simple
inclination.

And that (again perhaps) was a mutual surprise, indeed awkward to me, for
we both were in plain sight from the camp. Certainly I could not turn off,
nor turn back. Not now. It was make or break. Hesitate I did, with
involuntary action of muscles; I thought that she momentarily hesitated;
then I drove on, defiant, and so did she. The fates were resolved that
there should be no dilly-dallying by the principals chosen for this drama
that they had staged.

Our obstinate paths met at the base of a small point white with alkali,
running shortly into the sedges. Had we timed by agreement beforehand we
could not have acted with more precision. So here we halted, in narrow
quarters, either willing but unable to yield to the other.

She smiled. I thought that she looked thinner.

"An unexpected pleasure, Mr. Beeson. At least, for me. It has been some
days."

"I believe it has," I granted. "Shall I pass on?"

"You might have turned aside."

"And so," I reminded, "might you."

"But I didn't care to."

"Neither did I, madam. The pond is free to all."

I was conscious that a hush seemed to have gripped the whole camp, so that
even the animals had ceased bawling. The children near us stared, eyes and
mouths open.

"You have kept away from me purposely?" she asked. "I do not blame your
discretion."

"I am not courting trouble. And as long as you are contented yonder----"

"I contented?" She drew up, paling. "Why do you say that, when you must
know." She laughed weakly. "I am still for the Lion's den."

"You have become more reconciled--I've been requested not to interfere."

"You? Without doubt. By Daniel, by Captain Adams, likely by others. More
than requested, I fancy. And you do perfectly right to avoid trouble if
possible. In fact, you can leave me now and continue your walk, sir, with
no reproaches. Believe me, I shall not drag you farther into my affairs."

"Daniel and Captain Adams have no weight with me, madam," I stammered.
"But when you yourself requested----"

"That was merely for the time being. I asked you to leave me at the fire
because I felt sure that Daniel would kill you."

"But yesterday evening--I refer to yesterday," I corrected. "You sent me
word, following my talk with Hyrum."

"I did not."

"Not by Rachael?"

"No, sir."

"I so understood. I thought that she intimated as much. She said that you
were to be happy; were already content. And that I would only be making
you trouble if I continued our acquaintance."

"Oh! Rachael." She smiled with sudden softness. "Rachael cannot
understand, either. I'm sure she intended well, poor soul. Were they all
like Rachael---- But I had no knowledge of her talk with you. Anyway,
please leave me if you feel disposed. Whether I marry Daniel or not should
be no concern of yours. I shall have to find my own trail out. Look! There
go the ducks. I came down to watch them. Now neither of us has any excuse
for staying. Good----"

The hush had tightened into a strange pent stillness like the poise of
earth and sky and beast and bird just before the breaking of a great and
lowering storm. The quick clatter of the ducks' wings somehow alarmed
me--the staring of the children, their eyes directed past us, sharpened my
senses for a new focus. And glancing, I witnessed Daniel nearing--striding
rapidly, straight for the point, a figure portentous in the fading glow,
bringing the storm with him.

She saw, too. Her eyes widened, startled, surveying not him, but me.

"Please go. At once! I'll keep him."

"It is too late now," I asserted, in voice not mine. "I am here first and
I'll go when I get ready."

"You mean to face him?"

"I mean to hear what he has to say, and learn what he intends to do. I
don't see any other way--unless you really wish me to go?"

"No, no!" cried My Lady. "I don't want you to be harmed; but oh, how I
have suffered." All her countenance was suffused--with anger, with shame,
and even with hope. She trembled, gazing at me, and fluctuant.

"So have I, madam," said I, grimly.

"I think," she remarked in quiet tone, "that in a show-down you will best
him. I'm sure of it; yes, I know it. You will play the man. You act cool.
Good! Watch him very close. He'll give you little grace, this time. But
remember this: I'll never, never, never marry him. Rather than be bound to
him I'll deal with him myself."

"It won't be necessary, madam," said I--a catch in my throat; for while I
was all iciness and clamminess, my hands cold and my tongue dry, I felt
that I was going to kill him at last. Something told me; the sheer horror
of it struck through; the inevitable loomed grisly and near indeed.

A panoramic lifetime crowds the brain of a drowning man; that same crowded
my brain during the few moments which swung in to us Daniel, scowling,
masterful, his raw bulk and his long shambling stride never before so
insolent.

From New York and home and peace I traveled clear here to desert, outlawry
and blood--and thence on through a second life as a marked man; but while
I knew very well where I should shoot him (right through the heart), I
turned over and over the one doubtful pass: where would he shoot me? Shoot
me he would--chest, shoulder, arm, head; I could not escape, did not hope
to escape. Yet no matter where his ball ploughed (and I poignantly felt it
enter and sear me) my final bullet would end the match. Also, I argued my
rights in the business; argued them before my father and mother, before
the camp, before the world.

These thoughts which precede a certain duel to the death are not inspiring
thoughts; since then I have learned that other men, even practiced
gun-men, have had the same trepidation to the instant of pulling weapon.

Daniel charged in for us. I did not touch revolver butt; he did not. My
Lady lifted chin, to receive him. My eyes, fastened upon him, noted her,
and noted, beyond us, the spying visages of the camp folk, all turned our
way, transfixed and agog.

He barked first at her.

"Go whar yu belong, yu Jezebel! Then I'll tend to this----" The rabid
epithet leveled at me I shall not repeat.

She straightened whitely.

"Be careful what you say, Daniel. No man on this earth can speak to me
like that."

All his face flushed livid with a sneer, merging together yellow freckles
and tanned skin.

"Can't, can't he? I kin an' I do. Why yu--yu--yu reckon yu kin shame me
'fore that hull train? Yu sneak out this-away, meetin' this spindle-shank,
no-'count States greenie who hain't sense enough to swing a bull whip an'
ain't man enough to draw a gun? I've told yu an' I'm done tellin' yu. Now
yu git. I've stood yore fast an' loose plenty. I mean business. Git! Whar
yu'll be safe. I'll not hold off much longer."

"You threaten me?"

Her blue eyes were blazing above a spot of color in either cheek--with a
growl he took a step, so that she shrank from his clutching hand, its
scarred, burly fingers outcurved. And the time, perhaps the very moment
had arrived. I must, I must.

"No more of that, you brute," I uttered, while my pounding heart flooded
me with a cold, tingling stream. "If you have anything to say, say it to
me."

He whirled.

"Yu! Why, yu leetle piece o' nothin'--yu shut up!" By sudden reach he
gripped her arm; to her sharp, short scream he thrust her about.

"Git! I'm boss hyar." And at me: "What yu goin' to do? She's promised to
me. I'm takin' keer of her; she's rode on my wagon; an' naow yu think to
toll her off? Yu meet her ag'in right under my nose arter I've warned yu?
Git, yoreself, or I'll stomp on yu like on a louse."

Absolutely, hot tears of mortification, of bitter injury, showed in his
glaring eyes. He was but a big boy, after all.

"Our meeting here was entirely by accident," I answered. "Mrs. Montoyo had
no expectation of seeing me, nor I of seeing her. You're making a fool of
yourself."

He burst, red, quivering, insensate.

"Yu're a liar! Yu're a sneakin', thievin' liar, like all Gentiles. Yu're
both o' yu liars. What's she?" And he spoke it, raving with insult. "But
I'll tame her. She'll be snatched from yu an' yore kind. We'll settle
naow. Yu're a liar, I say. Yu gonna draw on me? Draw, yu Gentile dog; for
if I lay hands on yu once----"

"Look out!" she gasped tensely. But she had spoken late. That cold blood
which had kept me in a tremor and a wonderment, awaiting his pistol
muzzle, exploded into a seethe of heat almost blinding me. I forgot
instructions, I disregarded every movement preliminary to the onset, I
remembered only the criminations and recriminations culminating here at
last. Bullets were too slow and easy. I did not see his revolver, I saw
but the hulk of him and the intolerable sneer of him, and that his flesh
was ready to my fingers. And quicker than his hand I was upon him, into
him, climbing him, clinging to him, arms binding him, legs twining around
his, each ounce of me greedy to crush him down and master him.

The shock drove him backward. Again My Lady screamed shortly; the children
screamed. He proved very strong. Swelling and tugging and cursing he broke
one grip, but I was fast to him, now with guard against his holstered gun.
We swayed and staggered, grappling hither and thither. I had his arms
pinioned once more, to bend him. He spat into my face; and shifting, set
his teeth into my shoulder so that they champed like the teeth of a horse,
through shirt and hide to the flesh. I raised him; his boots hammered at
my shins, his knee struck me in the stomach and for an instant I sickened.
Now I tripped him; we toppled together, came to the ground with a thump.
Here we churned, while he flung me and still I stuck. The acrid dust of
the alkali enveloped us. Again he spat, fetid--I sprawled upon him,
smothering his flailing arms; gave him all my weight and strength; smelled
the sweat of him, snarled into his snarling face, close beneath mine.

Once he partially freed himself and buffeted me in the mouth with his
fist, but I caught him--while struggling, tossed and upheaved, dimly saw
that as by a miracle we were surrounded by a ring of people, men and
women, their countenances pale, alarmed, intent. Voices sounded in a dull
roar.

Presently I had him crucified: his one outstretched arm under my knees,
his other arm tethered by my two hands, my body across his chest, while
his legs threshed vainly. I looked down into his bulging crooked eyes,
glaring back presumably into my eyes, and might draw breath.

"'Nuf? Cry "Nuf,'" I bade.

"'Nuf! Say "Nuf,'" echoed the crowd.

He strained again, convulsive; and relaxed.

"'Nuf!" he panted through bared teeth. "Lemme up, Mister."

"This settles it?"

"I said "Nuf,'" he growled.

With quick movement I sprang clear of him, to my feet. He lay for a
moment, baleful, and slowly scrambled up. On a sudden, as he faced me, his
hand shot downward--I heard the surge and shout of men and women, to the
stunning report of his revolver ducked aside, felt my left arm jerk and
sting--felt my own gun explode in my hand (and how it came there I did not
know)--beheld him spin around and collapse; an astonishing sight.





Next: The Trail Forks

Previous: The Trail Narrows



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