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The Crags








From: The Light Of Western Stars

Glad indeed was Madeline to be lifted off her horse beside a roaring
fire--to see steaming pots upon red-hot coals. Except about her
shoulders, which had been protected by the slicker, she was wringing
wet. The Mexican women came quickly to help her change in a tent near
by; but Madeline preferred for the moment to warm her numb feet and
hands and to watch the spectacle of her arriving friends.

Dorothy plumped off her saddle into the arms of several waiting cowboys.
She could scarcely walk. Far removed in appearance was she from her
usual stylish self. Her face was hidden by a limp and lopsided hat.
From under the disheveled brim came a plaintive moan: "O-h-h! what a-an
a-awful ride!" Mrs. Beck was in worse condition; she had to be taken
off her horse. "I'm paralyzed--I'm a wreck. Bobby, get a roller-chair."
Bobby was solicitous and willing, but there were no roller-chairs.
Florence dismounted easily, and but for her mass of hair, wet and
tumbling, would have been taken for a handsome cowboy. Edith Wayne had
stood the physical strain of the ride better than Dorothy; however, as
her mount was rather small, she had been more at the mercy of cactus
and brush. Her habit hung in tatters. Helen had preserved a remnant of
style, as well as of pride, and perhaps a little strength. But her face
was white, her eyes were big, and she limped. "Majesty!" she exclaimed.
"What did you want to do to us? Kill us outright or make us homesick?"
Of all of them, however, Ambrose's wife, Christine, the little French
maid, had suffered the most in that long ride. She was unaccustomed to
horses. Ambrose had to carry her into the big tent. Florence persuaded
Madeline to leave the fire, and when they went in with the others
Dorothy was wailing because her wet boots would not come off, Mrs.
Beck was weeping and trying to direct a Mexican woman to unfasten her
bedraggled dress, and there was general pandemonium.

"Warm clothes--hot drinks and grub--warm blankets," rang out Stewart's
sharp order.

Then, with Florence helping the Mexican women, it was not long until
Madeline and the feminine side of the party were comfortable, except for
the weariness and aches that only rest and sleep could alleviate.

Neither fatigue nor pains, however, nor the strangeness of being packed
sardine-like under canvas, nor the howls of coyotes, kept Madeline's
guests from stretching out with long, grateful sighs, and one by one
dropping into deep slumber. Madeline whispered a little to Florence,
and laughed with her once or twice, and then the light flickering on the
canvas faded and her eyelids closed. Darkness and roar of camp life,
low voices of men, thump of horses' hoofs, coyote serenade, the sense of
warmth and sweet rest--all drifted away.

*****

When she awakened shadows of swaying branches moved on the sunlit canvas
above her. She heard the ringing strokes of an ax, but no other sound
from outside. Slow, regular breathing attested to the deep slumbers of
her tent comrades. She observed presently that Florence was missing from
the number. Madeline rose and peeped out between the flaps.

An exquisitely beautiful scene surprised and enthralled her gaze. She
saw a level space, green with long grass, bright with flowers, dotted
with groves of graceful firs and pines and spruces, reaching to superb
crags, rosy and golden in the sunlight. Eager to get out where she could
enjoy an unrestricted view, she searched for her pack, found it in a
corner, and then hurriedly and quietly dressed.

Her favorite stag-hounds, Russ and Tartar, were asleep before the
door, where they had been chained. She awakened them and loosened them,
thinking the while that it must have been Stewart who had chained
them near her. Close at hand also was a cowboy's bed rolled up in a
tarpaulin.

The cool air, fragrant with pine and spruce and some subtle nameless
tang, sweet and tonic, made Madeline stand erect and breathe slowly
and deeply. It was like drinking of a magic draught. She felt it in
her blood, that it quickened its flow. Turning to look in the other
direction, beyond the tent, she saw the remnants of last night's
temporary camp, and farther on a grove of beautiful pines from which
came the sharp ring of the ax. Wider gaze took in a wonderful park, not
only surrounded by lofty crags, but full of crags of lesser height, many
lifting their heads from dark-green groves of trees. The morning sun,
not yet above the eastern elevations, sent its rosy and golden shafts in
between the towering rocks, to tip the pines.

Madeline, with the hounds beside her, walked through the nearest grove.
The ground was soft and springy and brown with pine-needles. Then
she saw that a clump of trees had prevented her from seeing the most
striking part of this natural park. The cowboys had selected a campsite
where they would have the morning sun and afternoon shade. Several
tents and flies were already up; there was a huge lean-to made of spruce
boughs; cowboys were busy round several camp-fires; piles of packs lay
covered with tarpaulins, and beds were rolled up under the trees. This
space was a kind of rolling meadow, with isolated trees here and there,
and other trees in aisles and circles; and it mounted up in low, grassy
banks to great towers of stone five hundred feet high. Other crags rose
behind these. From under a mossy cliff, huge and green and cool, bubbled
a full, clear spring. Wild flowers fringed its banks. Out in the meadow
the horses were knee-deep in grass that waved in the morning breeze.

Florence espied Madeline under the trees and came running. She was like
a young girl, with life and color and joy. She wore a flannel blouse,
corduroy skirt, and moccasins. And her hair was fastened under a band
like an Indian's.

"Castleton's gone with a gun, for hours, it seems," said Florence.
"Gene just went to hunt him up. The other gentlemen are still asleep. I
imagine they sure will sleep up heah in this air."

Then, business-like, Florence fell to questioning Madeline about details
of camp arrangement which Stewart, and Florence herself, could hardly
see to without suggestion.

Before any of Madeline's sleepy guests awakened the camp was completed.
Madeline and Florence had a tent under a pine-tree, but they did not
intend to sleep in it except during stormy weather. They spread a
tarpaulin, made their bed on it, and elected to sleep under the light
of the stars. After that, taking the hounds with them, they explored. To
Madeline's surprise, the park was not a little half-mile nook nestling
among the crags, but extended farther than they cared to walk, and was
rather a series of parks. They were no more than small valleys between
gray-toothed peaks. As the day advanced the charm of the place grew upon
Madeline. Even at noon, with the sun beating down, there was comfortable
warmth rather than heat. It was the kind of warmth that Madeline liked
to feel in the spring. And the sweet, thin, rare atmosphere began
to affect her strangely. She breathed deeply of it until she felt
light-headed, as if her body lacked substance and might drift away
like a thistledown. All at once she grew uncomfortably sleepy. A dreamy
languor possessed her, and, lying under a pine with her head against
Florence, she went to sleep. When she opened her eyes the shadows of
the crags stretched from the west, and between them streamed a red-gold
light. It was hazy, smoky sunshine losing its fire. The afternoon had
far advanced. Madeline sat up. Florence was lazily reading. The two
Mexican women were at work under the fly where the big stone fireplace
had been erected. No one else was in sight.

Florence, upon being questioned, informed Madeline that incident about
camp had been delightfully absent. Castleton had returned and was
profoundly sleeping with the other men. Presently a chorus of merry
calls attracted Madeline's attention, and she turned to see Helen
limping along with Dorothy, and Mrs. Beck and Edith supporting each
other. They were all rested, but lame, and delighted with the place, and
as hungry as bears awakened from a winter's sleep. Madeline forthwith
escorted them round the camp, and through the many aisles between the
trees, and to the mossy, pine-matted nooks under the crags.

Then they had dinner, sitting on the ground after the manner of Indians;
and it was a dinner that lacked merriment only because everybody was too
busily appeasing appetite.

Later Stewart led them across a neck of the park, up a rather steep
climb between towering crags, to take them out upon a grassy promontory
that faced the great open west--a vast, ridged, streaked, and reddened
sweep of earth rolling down, as it seemed, to the golden sunset end of
the world. Castleton said it was a jolly fine view; Dorothy voiced her
usual languid enthusiasm; Helen was on fire with pleasure and wonder;
Mrs. Beck appealed to Bobby to see how he liked it before she ventured,
and she then reiterated his praise; and Edith Wayne, like Madeline and
Florence, was silent. Boyd was politely interested; he was the kind of
man who appeared to care for things as other people cared for them.

Madeline watched the slow transformation of the changing west, with its
haze of desert dust, through which mountain and cloud and sun slowly
darkened. She watched until her eyes ached, and scarcely had a thought
of what she was watching. When her eyes shifted to encounter the tall
form of Stewart standing motionless on the rim, her mind became active
again. As usual, he stood apart from the others, and now he seemed aloof
and unconscious. He made a dark, powerful figure, and he fitted that
wild promontory.

She experienced a strange, annoying surprise when she discovered both
Helen and Dorothy watching Stewart with peculiar interest. Edith, too,
was alive to the splendid picture the cowboy made. But when Edith smiled
and whispered in her ear, "It's so good to look at a man like that,"
Madeline again felt the surprise, only this time the accompaniment was a
vague pleasure rather than annoyance. Helen and Dorothy were flirts, one
deliberate and skilled, the other unconscious and natural. Edith
Wayne, occasionally--and Madeline reflected that the occasions were
infrequent--admired a man sincerely. Just here Madeline might have
fallen into a somewhat revealing state of mind if it had not been for
the fact that she believed Stewart was only an object of deep interest
to her, not as a man, but as a part of this wild and wonderful West
which was claiming her. So she did not inquire of herself why Helen's
coquetry and Dorothy's languishing allurement annoyed her, or why
Edith's eloquent smile and words had pleased her. She got as far,
however, as to think scornfully how Helen and Dorothy would welcome and
meet a flirtation with this cowboy and then go back home and forget him
as utterly as if he had never existed. She wondered, too, with a curious
twist of feeling that was almost eagerness, how the cowboy would meet
their advances. Obviously the situation was unfair to him; and if by
some strange accident he escaped unscathed by Dorothy's beautiful eyes
he would never be able to withstand Helen's subtle and fascinating and
imperious personality.

They returned to camp in the cool of the evening and made merry round
a blazing camp-fire. But Madeline's guests soon succumbed to the
persistent and irresistible desire to sleep.

Then Madeline went to bed with Florence under the pine-tree. Russ lay
upon one side and Tartar upon the other. The cool night breeze swept
over her, fanning her face, waving her hair. It was not strong enough
to make any sound through the branches, but it stirred a faint, silken
rustle in the long grass. The coyotes began their weird bark and howl.
Russ raised his head to growl at their impudence.

Madeline faced upward, and it seemed to her that under those wonderful
white stars she would never be able to go to sleep. They blinked down
through the black-barred, delicate crisscross of pine foliage, and they
looked so big and so close. Then she gazed away to open space, where an
expanse of sky glittered with stars, and the longer she gazed the larger
they grew and the more she saw.

It was her belief that she had come to love all the physical things
from which sensations of beauty and mystery and strength poured into her
responsive mind; but best of all she loved these Western stars, for they
were to have something to do with her life, were somehow to influence
her destiny.

*****

For a few days the prevailing features of camp life for Madeline's
guests were sleep and rest. Dorothy Coombs slept through twenty-four
hours, and then was so difficult to awaken that for a while her friends
were alarmed. Helen almost fell asleep while eating and talking. The
men were more visibly affected by the mountain air than the women.
Castleton, however, would not succumb to the strange drowsiness while he
had a chance to prowl around with a gun.

This languorous spell disappeared presently, and then the days were full
of life and action. Mrs. Beck and Bobby and Boyd, however, did not go in
for anything very strenuous. Edith Wayne, too, preferred to walk through
the groves or sit upon the grassy promontory. It was Helen and Dorothy
who wanted to explore the crags and canyons, and when they could not get
the others to accompany them they went alone, giving the cowboy guides
many a long climb.

Necessarily, of course, Madeline and her guests were now thrown much in
company with the cowboys. And the party grew to be like one big family.
Her friends not only adapted themselves admirably to the situation, but
came to revel in it. As for Madeline, she saw that outside of a certain
proclivity of the cowboys to be gallant and on dress-parade and alive
to possibilities of fun and excitement, they were not greatly different
from what they were at all times. If there were a leveling process here
it was made by her friends coming down to meet the Westerners. Besides,
any class of people would tend to grow natural in such circumstances and
environment.

Madeline found the situation one of keen and double interest for her.
If before she had cared to study her cowboys, particularly Stewart, now,
with the contrasts afforded by her guests, she felt by turns she was
amused and mystified and perplexed and saddened, and then again subtly
pleased.

Monty, once he had overcome his shyness, became a source of delight
to Madeline, and, for that matter, to everybody. Monty had suddenly
discovered that he was a success among the ladies. Either he was exalted
to heroic heights by this knowledge or he made it appear so. Dorothy had
been his undoing, and in justice to her Madeline believed her innocent.
Dorothy thought Monty hideous to look at, and, accordingly, if he had
been a hero a hundred times and had saved a hundred poor little babies'
lives, he could not have interested her. Monty followed her around,
reminding her, she told Madeline, of a little adoring dog one moment and
the next of a huge, devouring gorilla.

Nels and Nick stalked at Helen's heels like grenadiers on duty, and if
she as much as dropped her glove they almost came to blows to see who
should pick it up.

In a way Castleton was the best feature of the camping party. He was
such an absurd-looking little man, and his abilities were at such
tremendous odds with what might have been expected of him from his
looks. He could ride, tramp, climb, shoot. He liked to help around the
camp, and the cowboys could not keep him from it. He had an insatiable
desire to do things that were new to him. The cowboys played innumerable
tricks upon him, not one of which he ever discovered. He was
serious, slow in speech and action, and absolutely imperturbable.
If imperturbability could ever be good humor, then he was always
good-humored. Presently the cowboys began to understand him, and then
to like him. When they liked a man it meant something. Madeline had been
sorry more than once to see how little the cowboys chose to speak to
Boyd Harvey. With Castleton, however, they actually became friends. They
did not know it, and certainly such a thing never occurred to him; all
the same, it was a fact. And it grew solely out of the truth that the
Englishman was manly in the only way cowboys could have interpreted
manliness. When, after innumerable attempts, he succeeded in throwing
the diamond-hitch on a pack-horse the cowboys began to respect him.
Castleton needed only one more accomplishment to claim their hearts, and
he kept trying that--to ride a bucking bronco. One of the cowboys had
a bronco that they called Devil. Every day for a week Devil threw the
Englishman all over the park, ruined his clothes, bruised him, and
finally kicked him. Then the cowboys solicitously tried to make
Castleton give up; and this was remarkable enough, for the spectacle
of an English lord on a bucking bronco was one that any Westerner would
have ridden a thousand miles to see. Whenever Devil threw Castleton the
cowboys went into spasms. But Castleton did not know the meaning of the
word fail, and there came a day when Devil could not throw him. Then it
was a singular sight to see the men line up to shake hands with the
cool Englishman. Even Stewart, who had watched from the background, came
forward with a warm and pleasant smile on his dark face. When Castleton
went to his tent there was much characteristic cowboy talk, and this
time vastly different from the former persiflage.

"By Gawd!" ejaculated Monty Price, who seemed to be the most amazed and
elated of them all. "Thet's the fust Englishman I ever seen! He's orful
deceivin' to look at, but I know now why England rules the wurrld. Jest
take a peek at thet bronco. His spirit is broke. Rid by a leetle English
dook no bigger 'n a grasshopper! Fellers, if it hain't dawned on you
yit, let Monty Price give you a hunch. There's no flies on Castleton.
An' I'll bet a million steers to a rawhide rope thet next he'll be
throwin' a gun as good as Nels."

It was a distinct pleasure for Madeline to realize that she liked
Castleton all the better for the traits brought out so forcibly by his
association with the cowboys. On the other hand, she liked the cowboys
better for something in them that contact with Easterners brought out.
This was especially true in Stewart's case. She had been wholly wrong
when she had imagined he would fall an easy victim to Dorothy's eyes and
Helen's lures. He was kind, helpful, courteous, and watchful. But he
had no sentiment. He did not see Dorothy's charms or feel Helen's
fascination. And their efforts to captivate him were now so obvious that
Mrs. Beck taunted them, and Edith smiled knowingly, and Bobby and Boyd
made playful remarks. All of which cut Helen's pride and hurt Dorothy's
vanity. They essayed open conquest of Stewart.

So it came about that Madeline unconsciously admitted the cowboy to a
place in her mind never occupied by any other. The instant it occurred
to her why he was proof against the wiles of the other women she drove
that amazing and strangely disturbing thought from her. Nevertheless,
as she was human, she could not help thinking and being pleased and
enjoying a little the discomfiture of the two coquettes.

Moreover, from this thought of Stewart, and the watchfulness growing out
of it she discovered more about him. He was not happy; he often paced
up and down the grove at night; he absented himself from camp sometimes
during the afternoon when Nels and Nick and Monty were there; he was
always watching the trails, as if he expected to see some one come
riding up. He alone of the cowboys did not indulge in the fun and talk
around the camp-fire. He remained preoccupied and sad, and was always
looking away into distance. Madeline had a strange sense of his
guardianship over her; and, remembering Don Carlos, she imagined he
worried a good deal over his charge, and, indeed, over the safety of all
the party.

But if he did worry about possible visits from wandering guerrillas, why
did he absent himself from camp? Suddenly into Madeline's inquisitive
mind flashed a remembrance of the dark-eyed Mexican girl, Bonita, who
had never been heard of since that night she rode Stewart's big horse
out of El Cajon. The remembrance of her brought an idea. Perhaps Stewart
had a rendezvous in the mountains, and these lonely trips of his were to
meet Bonita. With the idea hot blood flamed into Madeline's cheek.
Then she was amazed at her own feelings--amazed because her swiftest
succeeding thought was to deny the idea--amazed that its conception had
fired her cheek with shame. Then her old self, the one aloof from this
red-blooded new self, gained control over her emotions.

But Madeline found that new-born self a creature of strange power to
return and govern at any moment. She found it fighting loyally for what
intelligence and wisdom told her was only her romantic conception of
a cowboy. She reasoned: If Stewart were the kind of man her feminine
skepticism wanted to make him, he would not have been so blind to the
coquettish advances of Helen and Dorothy. He had once been--she did not
want to recall what he had once been. But he had been uplifted. Madeline
Hammond declared that. She was swayed by a strong, beating pride, and
her instinctive woman's faith told her that he could not stoop to such
dishonor. She reproached herself for having momentarily thought of it.

*****

One afternoon a huge storm-cloud swooped out of the sky and enveloped
the crags. It obscured the westering sun and laid a mantle of darkness
over the park. Madeline was uneasy because several of her party,
including Helen and Dorothy, had ridden off with the cowboys that
afternoon and had not returned. Florence assured her that even if
they did not get back before the storm broke there was no reason for
apprehension. Nevertheless, Madeline sent for Stewart and asked him to
go or send some one in search of them.

Perhaps half an hour later Madeline heard the welcome pattering of hoofs
on the trail. The big tent was brightly lighted by several lanterns.
Edith and Florence were with her. It was so black outside that Madeline
could not see a rod before her face. The wind was moaning in the trees,
and big drops of rain were pelting upon the canvas.

Presently, just outside the door, the horses halted, and there was a
sharp bustle of sound, such as would naturally result from a hurried
dismounting and confusion in the dark. Mrs. Beck came running into the
tent out of breath and radiant because they had beaten the storm. Helen
entered next, and a little later came Dorothy, but long enough to make
her entrance more noticeable. The instant Madeline saw Dorothy's blazing
eyes she knew something unusual had happened. Whatever it was might have
escaped comment had not Helen caught sight of Dorothy.

"Heavens, Dot, but you're handsome occasionally!" remarked Helen. "When
you get some life in your face and eyes!"

Dorothy turned her face away from the others, and perhaps it was only
accident that she looked into a mirror hanging on the tent wall. Swiftly
she put her hand up to feel a wide red welt on her cheek. Dorothy had
been assiduously careful of her soft, white skin, and here was an ugly
mark marring its beauty.

"Look at that!" she cried, in distress. "My complexion's ruined!"

"How did you get such a splotch?" inquired Helen, going closer.

"I've been kissed!" exclaimed Dorothy, dramatically.

"What?" queried Helen, more curiously, while the others laughed.

"I've been kissed--hugged and kissed by one of those shameless cowboys!
It was so pitch-dark outside I couldn't see a thing. And so noisy I
couldn't hear. But somebody was trying to help me off my horse. My foot
caught in the stirrup, and away I went--right into somebody's arms. Then
he did it, the wretch! He hugged and kissed me in a most awful bearish
manner. I couldn't budge a finger. I'm simply boiling with rage!"

When the outburst of mirth subsided Dorothy turned her big, dilated eyes
upon Florence.

"Do these cowboys really take advantage of a girl when she's helpless
and in the dark?"

"Of course they do," replied Florence, with her frank smile.

"Dot, what in the world could you expect?" asked Helen. "Haven't you
been dying to be kissed?"

"No."

"Well, you acted like it, then. I never before saw you in a rage over
being kissed."

"I--I wouldn't care so much if the brute hadn't scoured the skin off my
face. He had whiskers as sharp and stiff as sandpaper. And when I jerked
away he rubbed my cheek with them."

This revelation as to the cause of her outraged dignity almost
prostrated her friends with glee.

"Dot, I agree with you; it's one thing to be kissed, and quite another
to have your beauty spoiled," replied Helen, presently. "Who was this
particular savage?"

"I don't know!" burst out Dorothy. "If I did I'd--I'd--"

Her eyes expressed the direful punishment she could not speak.

"Honestly now, Dot, haven't you the least idea who did it?" questioned
Helen.

"I hope--I think it was Stewart," replied Dorothy.

"Ah! Dot, your hope is father to the thought. My dear, I'm sorry to
riddle your little romance. Stewart did not--could not have been the
offender or hero."

"How do you know he couldn't?" demanded Dorothy, flushing.

"Because he was clean-shaven to-day at noon, before we rode out. I
remember perfectly how nice and smooth and brown his face looked."

"Oh, do you? Well, if your memory for faces is so good, maybe you can
tell me which one of these cowboys wasn't clean-shaven."

"Merely a matter of elimination," replied Helen, merrily. "It was not
Nick; it was not Nels; it was not Frankie. There was only one other
cowboy with us, and he had a short, stubby growth of black beard, much
like that cactus we passed on the trail."

"Oh, I was afraid of it," moaned Dorothy. "I knew he was going to do it.
That horrible little smiling demon, Monty Price!"

*****

A favorite lounging-spot of Madeline's was a shaded niche under the lee
of crags facing the east. Here the outlook was entirely different from
that on the western side. It was not red and white and glaring, nor so
changeable that it taxed attention. This eastern view was one of the
mountains and valleys, where, to be sure, there were arid patches; but
the restful green of pine and fir was there, and the cool gray of crags.
Bold and rugged indeed were these mountain features, yet they were
companionably close, not immeasurably distant and unattainable like the
desert. Here in the shade of afternoon Madeline and Edith would often
lounge under a low-branched tree. Seldom they talked much, for it was
afternoon and dreamy with the strange spell of this mountain fastness.
There was smoky haze in the valleys, a fleecy cloud resting over the
peaks, a sailing eagle in the blue sky, silence that was the unbroken
silence of the wild heights, and a soft wind laden with incense of pine.

One afternoon, however, Edith appeared prone to talk seriously.

"Majesty, I must go home soon. I cannot stay out here forever. Are you
going back with me?"

"Well, maybe," replied Madeline, thoughtfully. "I have considered it.
I shall have to visit home some time. But this summer mother and father
are going to Europe."

"See here, Majesty Hammond, do you intend to spend the rest of your life
in this wilderness?" asked Edith, bluntly.

Madeline was silent.

"Oh, it is glorious! Don't misunderstand me, dear," went on Edith,
earnestly, as she laid her hand on Madeline's. "This trip has been a
revelation to me. I did not tell you, Majesty, that I was ill when I
arrived. Now I'm well. So well! Look at Helen, too. Why, she was a ghost
when we got here. Now she is brown and strong and beautiful. If it were
for nothing else than this wonderful gift of health I would love the
West. But I have come to love it for other things--even spiritual
things. Majesty, I have been studying you. I see and feel what this life
has made of you. When I came I wondered at your strength, your virility,
your serenity, your happiness. And I was stunned. I wondered at the
causes of your change. Now I know. You were sick of idleness, sick of
uselessness, if not of society--sick of the horrible noises and smells
and contacts one can no longer escape in the cities. I am sick of all
that, too, and I could tell you many women of our kind who suffer in a
like manner. You have done what many of us want to do, but have not the
courage. You have left it. I am not blind to the splendid difference you
have made in your life. I think I would have discovered, even if your
brother had not told me, what good you have done to the Mexicans and
cattlemen of your range. Then you have work to do. That is much the
secret of your happiness, is it not? Tell me. Tell me something of what
it means to you?"

"Work, of course, has much to do with any one's happiness," replied
Madeline. "No one can be happy who has no work. As regards myself--for
the rest I can hardly tell you. I have never tried to put it in words.
Frankly, I believe, if I had not had money that I could not have found
such contentment here. That is not in any sense a judgment against the
West. But if I had been poor I could not have bought and maintained my
ranch. Stillwell tells me there are many larger ranches than mine,
but none just like it. Then I am almost paying my expenses out of my
business. Think of that! My income, instead of being wasted, is mostly
saved. I think--I hope I am useful. I have been of some little good
to the Mexicans--eased the hardships of a few cowboys. For the rest, I
think my life is a kind of dream. Of course my ranch and range are real,
my cowboys are typical. If I were to tell you how I feel about them it
would simply be a story of how Madeline Hammond sees the West. They are
true to the West. It is I who am strange, and what I feel for them may
be strange, too. Edith, hold to your own impressions."

"But, Majesty, my impressions have changed. At first I did not like the
wind, the dust, the sun, the endless open stretches. But now I do like
them. Where once I saw only terrible wastes of barren ground now I see
beauty and something noble. Then, at first, your cowboys struck me as
dirty, rough, loud, crude, savage--all that was primitive. I did not
want them near me. I imagined them callous, hard men, their only joy a
carouse with their kind. But I was wrong. I have changed. The dirt was
only dust, and this desert dust is clean. They are still rough, loud,
crude, and savage in my eyes, but with a difference. They are natural
men. They are little children. Monty Price is one of nature's noblemen.
The hard thing is to discover it. All his hideous person, all his
actions and speech, are masks of his real nature. Nels is a joy, a
simple, sweet, kindly, quiet man whom some woman should have loved. What
would love have meant to him! He told me that no woman ever loved him
except his mother, and he lost her when he was ten. Every man ought to
be loved--especially such a man as Nels. Somehow his gun record does
not impress me. I never could believe he killed a man. Then take your
foreman, Stewart. He is a cowboy, his work and life the same as the
others. But he has education and most of the graces we are in the habit
of saying make a gentleman. Stewart is a strange fellow, just like this
strange country. He's a man, Majesty, and I admire him. So, you see, my
impressions are developing with my stay out here."

"Edith, I am so glad you told me that," replied Madeline, warmly.

"I like the country, and I like the men," went on Edith. "One reason I
want to go home soon is because I am discontented enough at home now,
without falling in love with the West. For, of course, Majesty, I would.
I could not live out here. And that brings me to my point. Admitting
all the beauty and charm and wholesomeness and good of this wonderful
country, still it is no place for you, Madeline Hammond. You have your
position, your wealth, your name, your family. You must marry. You must
have children. You must not give up all that for a quixotic life in a
wilderness."

"I am convinced, Edith, that I shall live here all the rest of my life."

"Oh, Majesty! I hate to preach this way. But I promised your mother I
would talk to you. And the truth is I hate--I hate what I'm saying. I
envy you your courage and wisdom. I know you have refused to marry
Boyd Harvey. I could see that in his face. I believe you will refuse
Castleton. Whom will you marry? What chance is there for a woman of your
position to marry out here? What in the world will become of you?"

"Quien sabe?" replied Madeline, with a smile that was almost sad.

*****

Not so many hours after this conversation with Edith, Madeline sat with
Boyd Harvey upon the grassy promontory overlooking the west, and she
listened once again to his suave courtship.

Suddenly she turned to him and said, "Boyd, if I married you would you
be willing--glad to spend the rest of your life here in the West?"

"Majesty!" he exclaimed. There was amaze in the voice usually so even
and well modulated--amaze in the handsome face usually so indifferent.
Her question had startled him. She saw him look down the iron-gray
cliffs, over the barren slopes and cedared ridges, beyond the
cactus-covered foothills to the grim and ghastly desert. Just then, with
its red veils of sunlit dust-clouds, its illimitable waste of ruined and
upheaved earth, it was a sinister spectacle.

"No," he replied, with a tinge of shame in his cheek. Madeline said no
more, nor did he speak. She was spared the pain of refusing him, and she
imagined he would never ask her again. There was both relief and regret
in the conviction. Humiliated lovers seldom made good friends.

It was impossible not to like Boyd Harvey. The thought of that, and why
she could not marry him, concentrated her never-satisfied mind upon the
man. She looked at him, and she thought of him.

He was handsome, young, rich, well born, pleasant, cultivated--he was
all that made a gentleman of his class. If he had any vices she had
not heard of them. She knew he had no thirst for drink or craze for
gambling. He was considered a very desirable and eligible young man.
Madeline admitted all this.

Then she thought of things that were perhaps exclusively her own strange
ideas. Boyd Harvey's white skin did not tan even in this southwestern
sun and wind. His hands were whiter than her own, and as soft. They were
really beautiful, and she remembered what care he took of them. They
were a proof that he never worked. His frame was tall, graceful,
elegant. It did not bear evidence of ruggedness. He had never indulged
in a sport more strenuous than yachting. He hated effort and activity.
He rode horseback very little, disliked any but moderate motoring, spent
much time in Newport and Europe, never walked when he could help it, and
had no ambition unless it were to pass the days pleasantly. If he ever
had any sons they would be like him, only a generation more toward the
inevitable extinction of his race.

Madeline returned to camp in just the mood to make a sharp, deciding
contrast. It happened--fatefully, perhaps--that the first man she
saw was Stewart. He had just ridden into camp, and as she came up he
explained that he had gone down to the ranch for the important mail
about which she had expressed anxiety.

"Down and back in one day!" she exclaimed.

"Yes," he replied. "It wasn't so bad."

"But why did you not send one of the boys, and let him make the regular
two-day trip?"

"You were worried about your mail," he answered, briefly, as he
delivered it. Then he bent to examine the fetlocks of his weary horse.

It was midsummer now, Madeline reflected and exceedingly hot and dusty
on the lower trail. Stewart had ridden down the mountain and back again
in twelve hours. Probably no horse in the outfit, except his big black
or Majesty, could have stood that trip. And his horse showed the effects
of a grueling day. He was caked with dust and lame and weary.

Stewart looked as if he had spared the horse his weight on many a mile
of that rough ascent. His boots were evidence of it. His heavy flannel
shirt, wet through with perspiration, adhered closely to his shoulders
and arms, so that every ripple of muscle plainly showed. His face was
black, except round the temples and forehead, where it was bright red.
Drops of sweat, running off his blackened hands dripped to the ground.
He got up from examining the lame foot, and then threw off the saddle.
The black horse snorted and lunged for the watering-pool. Stewart let
him drink a little, then with iron arms dragged him away. In this action
the man's lithe, powerful form impressed Madeline with a wonderful sense
of muscular force. His brawny wrist was bare; his big, strong hand,
first clutching the horse's mane, then patting his neck, had a bruised
knuckle, and one finger was bound up. That hand expressed as much
gentleness and thoughtfulness for the horse as it had strength to drag
him back from too much drinking at a dangerous moment.

Stewart was a combination of fire, strength, and action. These
attributes seemed to cling about him. There was something vital and
compelling in his presence. Worn and spent and drawn as he was from
the long ride, he thrilled Madeline with his potential youth and unused
vitality and promise of things to be, red-blooded deeds, both of flesh
and spirit. In him she saw the strength of his forefathers unimpaired.
The life in him was marvelously significant. The dust, the dirt, the
sweat, the soiled clothes, the bruised and bandaged hand, the brawn and
bone--these had not been despised by the knights of ancient days, nor by
modern women whose eyes shed soft light upon coarse and bloody toilers.

Madeline Hammond compared the man of the East with the man of the West;
and that comparison was the last parting regret for her old standards.





Next: The Lost Mine Of The Padres

Previous: The Mountain Trail



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