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The Queen Wins

From: Desert Dust

She arrived breathless, distraught, instantly to drag me down beside her,
from where I stood stupidly defiant.

"Keep out of sight," she panted. And--"Oh, why did you do it? Why did you?
I think you killed him--they'll never forgive. They'll call it treachery.
You're lost, lost."

"But he sha'n't have you," I gabbled. "Let them kill me if they can. Till
then you're mine. Mine! Don't you understand? I want you."

"I don't understand," she faltered. She turned frightened face upon me.
"You should have let me go. Nothing can save you now; not even I. You've
ruined the one chance you had. I wonder why. It was my own choice--you had
no hand in it, and it was my own chance, too." Her voice broke, her eyes
welled piteously. "But you fired on him."

"That was the only answer left me," I entreated. "You misjudged me, you
shamed me. I tell you----"

Her lips slightly curled.

"Misjudged you? Shamed you? Was that all? You've misjudged and shamed me
for so long----" A burst of savage hoots renewed interrupted. "They're
coming!" She knelt up, to peer; I peered. The Indians had deployed,
leaving the chief lying upon the ground, their fierce countenances glaring
at our asylum. How clear their figures were, in the sunshine, limned
against the lazy yellowish sand, under the peaceful blue! "They'll
surround us. I might parley for myself, but I can do nothing for you."

"Parley, then," I bade. "Save yourself, any way you can."

She drew in, whitening as if I had struck her.

"And you accuse me of having misjudged you! I save myself--merely myself?
What do you intend to do? Fight?"

"As long as you are with me; and after. They'll never take me alive; and
take you they shall not if I can prevent it. Damn them, if they get you I
mean to make them pay for you. You're all I have."

"You'd rather I'd stay? You need me? Could I help?"

"Need you!" I groaned. "I'm just finding out, too late."

"And help? How? Quick! Could I?"

"By staying; by not surrendering yourself--your honor, my honor. By saying
that you'd rather stay with me, for life, for death, here,
anywhere--after I've said that I'm not deaf, blind, dumb, ungrateful. I
love you; I'd rather die for you than live without you."

Such a glory glowed in her haggard face and shone from her brimming eyes.

"We will fight, we will fight!" she chanted. "Now I shall not leave you.
Oh, my man! Had you kissed me last night we would have known this longer.
We have so little time." She turned from my lips. "Not now. They're
coming. Fight first; and at the end, then kiss me, please, and we'll go

The furious yells from that world outside vibrated among our rocks. The
Sioux all were in motion, except the prostrate figure of the chief.
Straight onward they charged, at headlong gallop, to ride over us like a
grotesquely tinted wave, and the dull drumming of their ponies' hoofs beat
a diapason to the shrill clamor of their voices. It was enough to cow, but
she spoke steadily.

"You must fire," she said. "Hurry! Fire once, maybe twice, to split them.
I don't think they'll rush us, yet."

So I rose farther on my knees and fired once--and again, pointblank at
them with the heavy Colt's. It worked a miracle. Every mother's son of
them fell flat upon his pony; they all swooped to right and to left as if
the bullets had cleaved them apart in the center; and while I gaped,
wondering, they swept past at long range, half on either flank, pelting in
bullet and near-spent arrow.

She forced me down.

"Low, low," she warned. "They'll circle. They hold their scalps dearly. We
can only wait. That was three. You have fifteen shots left, for them;
then, one for me, one for you. You understand?"

"I understand," I replied. "And if I'm disabled----?"

She answered quietly.

"It will be the same. One for you, one for me."

The circle had been formed: a double circle, to move in two directions,
scudding ring reversed within scudding ring, the bowmen outermost. Around
and 'round and 'round they galloped, yelling, gibing, taunting, shooting
so malignantly that the air was in a constant hum and swish. The lead
whined and smacked, the shafts streaked and clattered----

"Are you sorry I shot the chief?" I asked. Amid the confusion my blood was
coursing evenly, and I was not afraid. Of what avail was fear?

"I'm glad, glad," she proclaimed. But with sudden movement she was gone,
bending low, then crawling, then whisking from sight. Had she abandoned
me, after all? Had she--no! God be thanked, here she came back, flushed
and triumphant, a canteen in her hand.

"The mules might break," she explained, short of breath. "This canteen is
full. We'll need it. The other mule is frantic. I couldn't touch her."

At the moment I thought how wise and brave and beautiful she was! Mine for
the hour, here--and after? Montoyo should never have her; not in life nor
in death.

"You must stop some of those fiends from sneaking closer," she counseled.
"See? They're trying us out."

More and more frequently some one of the scurrying enemy veered sharply,
tore in toward us, hanging upon the farther side of his horse; boldly
jerked erect and shot, and with demi-volt of his mount was away,

I had been desperately saving the ammunition, to eke out this hour of mine
with her. Every note from the revolver summoned the end a little nearer.
But we had our game to play; and after all, the end was certain. So under
her prompting (she being partner, commander, everything), when the next
painted ruffian--a burly fellow in drapery of flannel-fringed cotton
shirt, with flaunting crimson tassels on his pony's mane--bore down, I
guessed shrewdly, arose and let him have it.

She cried out, clapping her hands.

"Good! Good!"

The pony was sprawling and kicking; the rider had hurtled free, and went
jumping and dodging like a jack-rabbit.

"To the right! Watch!"

Again I needs must fire, driving the rascals aside with the report of the
Colt's. That was five. Not sparing my wounded arm I hastily reloaded, for
by custom of the country the hammer had rested over an empty chamber. I
filled the cylinder.

"They're killing the mules," she said. "But we can't help it."

The two mules were snorting and plunging; their hoofs rang against the
rocks. Sioux to rear had dismounted and were shooting carefully. There was
exultant shout--one mule had broken loose. She galloped out, reddened,
stirrups swinging, canteen bouncing, right into the waiting line; and down
she lunged, abristle with feathered points launched into her by sheer
spiteful joy.

The firing was resumed. We heard the other mule scream with note
indescribable; we heard him flounder and kick; and again the savages

Now they all charged recklessly from the four sides; and I had to stand
and fire, right, left, before, behind, emptying the gun once more ere they
scattered and fled. I sensed her fingers twitching at my belt, extracting
fresh cartridges. We sank, breathing hard. Her eyes were wide, and bluer
than any deepest summer sea; her face aflame; her hair of purest gold--and
upon her shoulder a challenging oriflamme of scarlet, staining a rent in
the faded calico.

"You're hurt!" I blurted, aghast.

"Not much. A scratch. Don't mind it. And you?"

"I'm not touched."

"Load, sir. But I think we'll have a little space. How many left? Nine."
She had been counting. "Seven for them."

"Seven for them," I acknowledged. I tucked home the loads; the six-shooter
was ready.

"Now let them come," she murmured.

"Let them come," I echoed. We looked one upon the other, and we smiled. It
was not so bad, this place, our minds having been made up to it. In fact,
there was something sweet. Our present was assured; we faced a future
together, at least; we were in accord.

The Sioux had retired, mainly to sit dismounted in close circle, for a
confab. Occasionally a young brave, a vidette, exuberantly galloped for
us, dared us, shook hand and weapon at us, no doubt spat at us, and gained
nothing by his brag.

"What will they do next?" I asked.

"I don't know," said she. "We shall see, though."

So we lay, gazing, not speaking. The sun streamed down, flattening the
desert with his fervent beams until the uplifts cringed low and in the
horizons the mountain peaks floated languidly upon the waves of heat. And
in all this dispassionate land, from horizon to horizon, there were only
My Lady and I, and the beleaguering Sioux. It seemed unreal, a fantasy;
but the rocks began to smell scorched, a sudden thirst nagged and my
wounded arm pained with weariness as if to remind that I was here, in the
body. Yes, and here she was, also, in the flesh, as much as I, for she
stirred, glanced at me, and smiled. I heard her, saw her, felt her
presence. I placed my hand over hers.

"What is it?" she queried.

"Nothing. I wanted to make sure."

"Of yourself?"

"Of you, me--of everything."

"There can be no doubt," she said. "I wish there might, for your sake."

"No," I thickly answered. "If you were only out of it--if we could find
some way."

"I'd rather be in here, with you," said she.

"And I, with you, then," I replied honestly. The thought of water
obsessed. She must have read, for she inquired:

"Aren't you thirsty?"

"Are you?"

"Yes. Why don't we drink?"

"Should we?"

"Why not? We might as well be as comfortable as we can." She reached for
the canteen lying in a fast dwindling strip of rock shade. We drank
sparingly. She let me dribble a few drops upon her shoulder. Thenceforth
by silent agreement we moistened our tongues, scrupulously turn about,
wringing the most from each brief sip as if testing the bouquet of
exquisite wine. Came a time when we regretted this frugalness; but just
now there persisted within us, I suppose, that germ of hope which seems to
be nourished by the soul.

The Sioux had counciled and decided. They faced us, in manner determined.
We waited, tense and watchful. Without even a premonitory shout a pony
bolted for us, from their huddle. He bore two riders, naked to the sun,
save for breech clouts. They charged straight in, and at her mystified,
alarmed murmur I was holding on them as best I could, finger crooked
against trigger, coaxing it, praying for luck, when the rear rider dropped
to the ground, bounded briefly and dived headlong, worming into a little
hollow of the sand.

He lay half concealed; the pony had wheeled to a shrill, jubilant chorus;
his remaining rider lashed him in retreat, leaving the first digging
lustily with hand and knife.

That was the system, then: an approach by rushes.

"We mustn't permit it," she breathed. "We must rout him out--we must keep
them all out or they'll get where they can pick you off. Can you reach

"I'll try," said I.

The tawny figure, prone upon the tawny sand, was just visible, lean and
snakish, slightly oscillating as it worked. And I took careful aim, and
fired, and saw the spurt from the bullet.

"A little lower--oh, just a little lower," she pleaded.

The same courier was in leash, posted to bring another fellow; all the
Sioux were gazing, statuesque, to analyze my marksmanship. And I fired
again--"Too low," she muttered--and quickly, with a curse, again.

She cried out joyfully. The snake had flopped from its hollow, plunged at
full length aside; had started to crawl, writhing, dragging its hinder
parts. But with a swoop the pony arrived before we were noting; the
recruit plumped into the hollow; and bending over in his swift circle the
courier snatched the snake from the ground; sped back with him.

The Sioux seized upon the moment of stress. They cavorted, scouring hither
and thither, yelling, shooting, and once more our battered haven seethed
with the hum and hiss and rebound of lead and shaft. That, and my
eagerness, told. The fellow in the foreground burrowed cleverly; he
submerged farther and farther, by rapid inches. I fired twice--we could
not see that I had even inconvenienced him. My Lady clutched my revolver

"No! Wait!" The tone rang dismayed.

Trembling, blinded with heat and powder smoke, and heart sick, I paused,
to fumble and to reload the almost emptied cylinder.

"I can't reach him," said I. "He's too far in."

Her voice answered gently.

"No matter, dear. You're firing too hastily. Don't forget. Please rest a
minute, and drink. You can bathe your eyes. It's hard, shooting across the
hot sand. They'll bring others. We've no need to save water, you know."

"I know," I admitted.

We niggardly drank. I dabbled my burning eyes, cleared my sight. Of the
fellow in the rifle pit there was no living token. The Sioux had ceased
their gambols. They sat steadfast, again anticipative. A stillness,
menaceful and brooding, weighted the landscape.

She sighed.


The pregnant truce oppressed. What was hatching out, now? I cautiously
shifted posture, to stretch and scan; instinctively groped for the
canteen, to wet my lips again; a puff of smoke burst from the hollow, the
canteen clinked, flew from my hand and went clattering among the rocks.

"Oh!" she cried, aghast. "But you're not hurt?" Then--"I saw him. He'll
come up again, in a moment. Be ready."

The Sioux in the background were shrieking. They had accounted for our
mules; by chance shot they had nipped our water. Yet neither event
affected us as they seemed to think it should. Mules, water--these were
inconsequentials in the long-run that was due to be short, at most. We
husbanded other relief in our keeping.

Suddenly, as I craned, the fellow fired again; he was a good shot, had
discovered a niche in our rampart, for the ball fanned my cheek with the
wings of a vicious wasp. On the instant I replied, snapping quick answer.

"I don't think you hit him," she said. "Let me try. It may change the
luck. You're tired. I'll hold on the spot--he'll come up in the same
place, head and shoulders. You'll have to tempt him. Are you afraid, sir?"
She smiled upon me as she took the revolver.

"But if he kills me----?" I faltered.

"What of that?"


"I?" Her face filled. "I should not be long."

She adjusted the revolver to a crevice a little removed from me--"They
will be hunting you, not me," she said--and crouched behind it, peering
earnestly out, intent upon the hollow. And I edged farther, and farther,
as if seeking for a mark, but with all my flesh a-prickle and my breath
fast, like any man, I assert, who forces himself to invite the striking
capabilities of a rattlesnake.

Abruptly it came--the strike, so venomous that it stung my face and
scalded my eyes with the spatter of sandstone and hot lead; at the moment
her Colt's bellowed into my ears, thunderous because even unexpected. I
could not see; I only heard an utterance that was cheer and sob in one.

"I got him! Are you hurt? Are you hurt?"

"No. Hurrah!"

"Hurrah, dear."

The air rocked with the shouts of the Sioux; shouts never before so
welcome in their tidings, for they were shouts of rage and disappointment.
They flooded my eyes with vigor, wiped away the daze of the bullet impact;
the hollow leaped to the fore--upon its low parapet a dull shade where no
shade should naturally be, and garnished with crimson.

He had doubled forward, reflexing to the blow. He was dead, stone dead;
his crafty spirit issued upon the red trail of ball through his brain.

"Thank God," I rejoiced.

She had sunk back wearily.

"That is the last."

"Won't they try again, you think?"

"The last spare shot, I mean. We have only our two left. We must save
those." She gravely surveyed me.

"Yes, we must save those," I assented. The realization broke unbelievable
across a momentary hiatus; brought me down from the false heights, to face
it with her.

A dizzy space had opened before me. I knew that she moved aside. She


It was the canteen, drained dry by a jagged gash from the sharpshooter's

"No matter, dear," she said.

"No matter," said I.

The subject was not worth pursuing.

"We have discouraged their game, again. And in case they rush us----"

This from her.

"In case they rush us----" I repeated. "We can wait a little, and see."

Next: We Wait The Summons

Previous: I Stake Again

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