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The New Foreman








From: The Light Of Western Stars

Toward the end of the week Stillwell informed Madeline that Stewart had
arrived at the ranch and had taken up quarters with Nels.

"Gene's sick. He looks bad," said the old cattleman. "He's so weak an'
shaky he can't lift a cup. Nels says that Gene has hed some bad spells.
A little liquor would straighten him up now. But Nels can't force him
to drink a drop, an' has hed to sneak some liquor in his coffee. Wal, I
think we'll pull Gene through. He's forgotten a lot. I was goin' to tell
him what he did to me up at Rodeo. But I know if he'd believe it he'd
be sicker than he is. Gene's losin' his mind, or he's got somethin'
powerful strange on it."

From that time Stillwell, who evidently found Madeline his most
sympathetic listener, unburdened himself daily of his hopes and fears
and conjectures.

Stewart was really ill. It became necessary to send Link Stevens for a
physician. Then Stewart began slowly to mend and presently was able to
get up and about. Stillwell said the cowboy lacked interest and seemed
to be a broken man. This statement, however, the old cattleman modified
as Stewart continued to improve. Then presently it was a good augury
of Stewart's progress that the cowboys once more took up the teasing
relation which had been characteristic of them before his illness. A
cowboy was indeed out of sorts when he could not vent his peculiar humor
on somebody or something. Stewart had evidently become a broad target
for their badinage.

"Wal, the boys are sure after Gene," said Stillwell, with his huge
smile. "Joshin' him all the time about how he sits around an' hangs
around an' loafs around jest to get a glimpse of you, Miss Majesty. Sure
all the boys hev a pretty bad case over their pretty boss, but none
of them is a marker to Gene. He's got it so bad, Miss Majesty, thet he
actooly don't know they are joshin' him. It's the amazin'est strange
thing I ever seen. Why, Gene was always a feller thet you could josh.
An' he'd laugh an' get back at you. But he was never before deaf to
talk, an' there was a certain limit no feller cared to cross with him.
Now he takes every word an' smiles dreamy like, an' jest looks an'
looks. Why, he's beginnin' to make me tired. He'll never run thet bunch
of cowboys if he doesn't wake up quick."

Madeline smiled her amusement and expressed a belief that Stillwell
wanted too much in such short time from a man who had done body and mind
a grievous injury.

It had been impossible for Madeline to fail to observe Stewart's
singular behavior. She never went out to take her customary walks and
rides without seeing him somewhere in the distance. She was aware that
he watched for her and avoided meeting her. When she sat on the porch
during the afternoon or at sunset Stewart could always be descried at
some point near. He idled listlessly in the sun, lounged on the porch
of his bunk-house, sat whittling the top bar of the corral fence, and
always it seemed to Madeline he was watching her. Once, while going
the rounds with her gardener, she encountered Stewart and greeted
him kindly. He said little, but he was not embarrassed. She did not
recognize in his face any feature that she remembered. In fact, on each
of the few occasions when she had met Stewart he had looked so different
that she had no consistent idea of his facial appearance. He was now
pale, haggard, drawn. His eyes held a shadow through which shone a soft,
subdued light; and, once having observed this, Madeline fancied it was
like the light in Majesty's eyes, in the dumb, worshiping eyes of her
favorite stag-hound. She told Stewart that she hoped he would soon be in
the saddle again, and passed on her way.

That Stewart loved her Madeline could not help but see. She endeavored
to think of him as one of the many who, she was glad to know, liked
her. But she could not regulate her thoughts to fit the order her
intelligence prescribed. Thought of Stewart dissociated itself from
thought of the other cowboys. When she discovered this she felt a little
surprise and annoyance. Then she interrogated herself, and concluded
that it was not that Stewart was so different from his comrades, but
that circumstances made him stand out from them. She recalled her
meeting with him that night when he had tried to force her to marry him.
This was unforgettable in itself. She called subsequent mention of him,
and found it had been peculiarly memorable. The man and his actions
seemed to hinge on events. Lastly, the fact standing clear of all others
in its relation to her interest was that he had been almost ruined,
almost lost, and she had saved him. That alone was sufficient to explain
why she thought of him differently. She had befriended, uplifted the
other cowboys; she had saved Stewart's life. To be sure, he had been a
ruffian, but a woman could not save the life of even a ruffian without
remembering it with gladness. Madeline at length decided her interest in
Stewart was natural, and that her deeper feeling was pity. Perhaps the
interest had been forced from her; however, she gave the pity as she
gave everything.

Stewart recovered his strength, though not in time to ride at the spring
round-up; and Stillwell discussed with Madeline the advisability of
making the cowboy his foreman.

"Wal, Gene seems to be gettin' along," said Stillwell. "But he ain't
like his old self. I think more of him at thet. But where's his spirit?
The boys'd ride rough-shod all over him. Mebbe I'd do best to wait
longer now, as the slack season is on. All the same, if those vaquero of
Don Carlos's don't lay low I'll send Gene over there. Thet'll wake him
up."

A few days afterward Stillwell came to Madeline, rubbing his big hands
in satisfaction and wearing a grin that was enormous.

"Miss Majesty, I reckon before this I've said things was amazin'
strange. But now Gene Stewart has gone an' done it! Listen to me. Them
Greasers down on our slope hev been gettin' prosperous. They're growin'
like bad weeds. An' they got a new padre--the little old feller from
El Cajon, Padre Marcos. Wal, this was all right, all the boys thought,
except Gene. An' he got blacker 'n thunder an' roared round like a
dehorned bull. I was sure glad to see he could get mad again. Then Gene
haids down the slope fer the church. Nels an' me follered him, thinkin'
he might hev been took sudden with a crazy spell or somethin'. He hasn't
never been jest right yet since he left off drinkin'. Wal, we run into
him comin' out of the church. We never was so dumfounded in our lives.
Gene was crazy, all right--he sure hed a spell. But it was the kind of
a spell he hed thet paralyzed us. He ran past us like a streak, an' we
follered. We couldn't ketch him. We heerd him laugh--the strangest laugh
I ever heerd! You'd thought the feller was suddenly made a king. He was
like thet feller who was tied in a bunyin'-sack an' throwed into the
sea, an' cut his way out, an' swam to the island where the treasures
was, an' stood up yellin', 'The world is mine.' Wal, when we got up to
his bunk-house he was gone. He didn't come back all day an' all night.
Frankie Slade, who has a sharp tongue, says Gene hed gone crazy for
liquor an' thet was his finish. Nels was some worried. An' I was sick.

"Wal' this mawnin' I went over to Nels's bunk. Some of the fellers was
there, all speculatin' about Gene. Then big as life Gene struts round
the corner. He wasn't the same Gene. His face was pale an' his eyes
burned like fire. He had thet old mockin', cool smile, an' somethin'
besides thet I couldn't understand. Frankie Slade up an' made a
remark--no wuss than he'd been makin' fer days--an' Gene tumbled him out
of his chair, punched him good, walked all over him. Frankie wasn't hurt
so much as he was bewildered. 'Gene,' he says, 'what the hell struck
you?' An' Gene says, kind of sweet like, 'Frankie, you may be a nice
feller when you're alone, but your talk's offensive to a gentleman.'

"After thet what was said to Gene was with a nice smile. Now, Miss
Majesty, it's beyond me what to allow for Gene's sudden change. First
off, I thought Padre Marcos had converted him. I actooly thought thet.
But I reckon it's only Gene Stewart come back--the old Gene Stewart an'
some. Thet's all I care about. I'm rememberin' how I once told you thet
Gene was the last of the cowboys. Perhaps I should hev said he's the
last of my kind of cowboys. Wal, Miss Majesty, you'll be apprecatin' of
what I meant from now on."

It was also beyond Madeline to account for Gene Stewart's antics, and,
making allowance for the old cattleman's fancy, she did not weigh his
remarks very heavily. She guessed why Stewart might have been angry at
the presence of Padre Marcos. Madeline supposed that it was rather an
unusual circumstance for a cowboy to be converted to religious belief.
But it was possible. And she knew that religious fervor often manifested
itself in extremes of feeling and action. Most likely, in Stewart's
case, his real manner had been both misunderstood and exaggerated.
However, Madeline had a curious desire, which she did not wholly admit
to herself, to see the cowboy and make her own deductions.

The opportunity did not present itself for nearly two weeks. Stewart had
taken up his duties as foreman, and his activities were ceaseless. He
was absent most of the time, ranging down toward the Mexican line. When
he returned Stillwell sent for him.

This was late in the afternoon of a day in the middle of April. Alfred
and Florence were with Madeline on the porch. They saw the cowboy turn
his horse over to one of the Mexican boys at the corral and then come
with weary step up to the house, beating the dust out of his gauntlets.
Little streams of gray sand trickled from his sombrero as he removed it
and bowed to the women.

Madeline saw the man she remembered, but with a singularly different
aspect. His skin was brown; his eyes were piercing and dark and steady;
he carried himself erect; he seemed preoccupied, and there was not a
trace of embarrassment in his manner.

"Wal, Gene, I'm sure glad to see you," Stillwell was saying. "Where do
you hail from?"

"Guadaloupe Canyon," replied the cowboy.

Stillwell whistled.

"Way down there! You don't mean you follered them hoss tracks thet far?"

"All the way from Don Carlos's rancho across the Mexican line. I took
Nick Steele with me. Nick is the best tracker in the outfit. This trail
we were on led along the foothill valleys. First we thought whoever made
it was hunting for water. But they passed two ranches without watering.
At Seaton's Wash they dug for water. Here they met a pack-train of
burros that came down the mountain trail. The burros were heavily
loaded. Horse and burro tracks struck south from Seaton's to the old
California emigrant road. We followed the trail through Guadelope Canyon
and across the border. On the way back we stopped at Slaughter's ranch,
where the United States cavalry are camping. There we met foresters from
the Peloncillo forest reserve. If these fellows knew anything they kept
it to themselves. So we hit the trail home."

"Wal, I reckon you know enough?" inquired Stillwell, slowly.

"I reckon," replied Stewart.

"Wal, out with it, then," said Stillwell, gruffly. "Miss Hammond can't
be kept in the dark much longer. Make your report to her."

The cowboy shifted his dark gaze to Madeline. He was cool and slow.

"We're losing a few cattle on the open range. Night-drives by the
vaqueros. Some of these cattle are driven across the valley, others up
to the foothills. So far as I can find out no cattle are being driven
south. So this raiding is a blind to fool the cowboys. Don Carlos is a
Mexican rebel. He located his rancho here a few years ago and pretended
to raise cattle. All that time he has been smuggling arms and ammunition
across the border. He was for Madero against Diaz. Now he is against
Madero because he and all the rebels think Madero failed to keep his
promises. There will be another revolution. And all the arms go from
the States across the border. Those burros I told about were packed with
contraband goods."

"That's a matter for the United States cavalry. They are patrolling the
border," said Alfred.

"They can't stop the smuggling of arms, not down in that wild corner,"
replied Stewart.

"What is my--my duty? What has it to do with me?" inquired Madeline,
somewhat perturbed.

"Wal, Miss Majesty, I reckon it hasn't nothing to do with you," put in
Stillwell. "Thet's my bizness an' Stewart's. But I jest wanted you to
know. There might be some trouble follerin' my orders."

"Your orders?"

"I want to send Stewart over to fire Don Carlos an' his vaqueros off the
range. They've got to go. Don Carlos is breakin' the law of the United
States, an' doin' it on our property an' with our hosses. Hev I your
permission, Miss Hammond?"

"Why, assuredly you have! Stillwell, you know what to do. Alfred, what
do you think best?"

"It'll make trouble, Majesty, but it's got to be done," replied Alfred.
"Here you have a crowd of Eastern friends due next month. We want the
range to ourselves then. But, Stillwell, if you drive those vaqueros
off, won't they hang around in the foothills? I declare they are a bad
lot."

Stillwell's mind was not at ease. He paced the porch with a frown
clouding his brow.

"Gene, I reckon you got this Greaser deal figgered better'n me," said
Stillwell. "Now what do you say?"

"He'll have to be forced off," replied Stewart, quietly. "The Don's
pretty slick, but his vaqueros are bad actors. It's just this way. Nels
said the other day to me, 'Gene, I haven't packed a gun for years
until lately, and it feels good whenever I meet any of those strange
Greasers.' You see, Stillwell, Don Carlos has vaqueros coming and going
all the time. They're guerrilla bands, that's all. And they're getting
uglier. There have been several shooting-scrapes lately. A rancher named
White, who lives up the valley, was badly hurt. It's only a matter of
time till something stirs up the boys here. Stillwell, you know Nels and
Monty and Nick."

"Sure I know 'em. An' you're not mentionin' one more particular cowboy
in my outfit," said Stillwell, with a dry chuckle and a glance at
Stewart.

Madeline divined the covert meaning, and a slight chill passed over her,
as if a cold wind had blown in from the hills.

"Stewart, I see you carry a gun," she said, pointing to a black handle
protruding from a sheath swinging low along his leather chaps.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Why do you carry it?" she asked.

"Well," he said, "it's not a pretty gun--and it's heavy." She caught
the inference. The gun was not an ornament. His keen, steady, dark gaze
caused her vague alarm. What had once seemed cool and audacious about
this cowboy was now cold and powerful and mystical. Both her instinct
and her intelligence realized the steel fiber of the man's nature. As
she was his employer, she had the right to demand that he should not do
what was so chillingly manifest that he might do. But Madeline could
not demand. She felt curiously young and weak, and the five months of
Western life were as if they had never been. She now had to do with a
question involving human life. And the value she placed upon human
life and its spiritual significance was a matter far from her cowboy's
thoughts. A strange idea flashed up. Did she place too much value
upon all human life? She checked that, wondering, almost horrified
at herself. And then her intuition told her that she possessed a far
stronger power to move these primitive men than any woman's stern rule
or order.

"Stewart, I do not fully understand what you hint that Nels and his
comrades might do. Please be frank with me. Do you mean Nels would shoot
upon little provocation?"

"Miss Hammond, as far as Nels is concerned, shooting is now just a
matter of his meeting Don Carlos's vaqueros. It's wonderful what Nels
has stood from them, considering the Mexicans he's already killed."

"Already killed! Stewart, you are not in earnest?" cried Madeline,
shocked.

"I am. Nels has seen hard life along the Arizona border. He likes peace
as well as any man. But a few years of that doesn't change what the
early days made of him. As for Nick Steele and Monty, they're just bad
men, and looking for trouble."

"How about yourself, Stewart? Stillwell's remark was not lost upon me,"
said Madeline, prompted by curiosity.

Stewart did not reply. He looked at her in respectful silence. In her
keen earnestness Madeline saw beneath his cool exterior and was all
the more baffled. Was there a slight, inscrutable, mocking light in his
eyes, or was it only her imagination? However, the cowboy's face was as
hard as flint.

"Stewart, I have come to love my ranch," said Madeline, slowly, "and I
care a great deal for my--my cowboys. It would be dreadful if they were
to kill anybody, or especially if one of them should be killed."

"Miss Hammond, you've changed things considerable out here, but you
can't change these men. All that's needed to start them is a little
trouble. And this Mexican revolution is bound to make rough times along
some of the wilder passes across the border. We're in line, that's all.
And the boys are getting stirred up."

"Very well, then, I must accept the inevitable. I am facing a rough
time. And some of my cowboys cannot be checked much longer. But,
Stewart, whatever you have been in the past, you have changed." She
smiled at him, and her voice was singularly sweet and rich. "Stillwell
has so often referred to you as the last of his kind of cowboy. I have
just a faint idea of what a wild life you have led. Perhaps that fits
you to be a leader of such rough men. I am no judge of what a leader
should do in this crisis. My cowboys are entailing risk in my employ; my
property is not safe; perhaps my life even might be endangered. I want
to rely upon you, since Stillwell believes, and I, too, that you are the
man for this place. I shall give you no orders. But is it too much to
ask that you be my kind of a cowboy?"

Madeline remembered Stewart's former brutality and shame and abject
worship, and she measured the great change in him by the contrast
afforded now in his dark, changeless, intent face.

"Miss Hammond, what kind of a cowboy is that?" he asked.

"I--I don't exactly know. It is that kind which I feel you might be. But
I do know that in the problem at hand I want your actions to be governed
by reason, not passion. Human life is not for any man to sacrifice
unless in self-defense or in protecting those dependent upon him. What
Stillwell and you hinted makes me afraid of Nels and Nick Steele and
Monty. Cannot they be controlled? I want to feel that they will not go
gunning for Don Carlos's men. I want to avoid all violence. And yet
when my guests come I want to feel that they will be safe from danger or
fright or even annoyance. May I not rely wholly upon you, Stewart? Just
trust you to manage these obstreperous cowboys and protect my property
and Alfred's, and take care of us--of me, until this revolution is
ended? I have never had a day's worry since I bought the ranch. It is
not that I want to shirk my responsibilities; it is that I like being
happy. May I put so much faith in you?"

"I hope so, Miss Hammond," replied Stewart. It was an instant response,
but none the less fraught with consciousness of responsibility. He
waited a moment, and then, as neither Stillwell nor Madeline offered
further speech, he bowed and turned down the path, his long spurs
clinking in the gravel.

"Wal, wal," exclaimed Stillwell, "thet's no little job you give him,
Miss Majesty."

"It was a woman's cunning, Stillwell," said Alfred. "My sister used to
be a wonder at getting her own way when we were kids. Just a smile
or two, a few sweet words or turns of thought, and she had what she
wanted."

"Al, what a character to give me!" protested Madeline. "Indeed, I was
deeply in earnest with Stewart. I do not understand just why, but I
trust him. He seems like iron and steel. Then I was a little frightened
at the prospect of trouble with the vaqueros. Both you and Stillwell
have influenced me to look upon Stewart as invaluable. I thought it best
to confess my utter helplessness and to look to him for support."

"Majesty, whatever actuated you, it was a stroke of diplomacy," replied
her brother. "Stewart has got good stuff in him. He was down and out.
Well, he's made a game fight, and it looks as if he'd win. Trusting
him, giving him responsibility, relying upon him, was the surest way to
strengthen his hold upon himself. Then that little touch of sentiment
about being your kind of cowboy and protecting you--well, if Gene
Stewart doesn't develop into an Argus-eyed knight I'll say I don't know

cowboys. But, Majesty, remember, he's a composite of tiger breed and
forked lightning, and don't imagine he has failed you if he gets into a
fight.

"I'll sure tell you what Gene Stewart will do," said Florence. "Don't I
know cowboys? Why, they used to take me up on their horses when I was a
baby. Gene Stewart will be the kind of cowboy your sister said he might
be, whatever that is. She may not know and we may not guess, but he
knows."

"Wal, Flo, there you hit plumb center," replied the old cattleman. "An'
I couldn't be gladder if he was my own son."





Next: Don Carlos's Vaqueros

Previous: El Capitan



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