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The Ride








From: The Light Of Western Stars

"Stillwell!"

Madeline's cry was more than the utterance of a breaking heart. It was
full of agony. But also it uttered the shattering of a structure built
of false pride, of old beliefs, of bloodless standards, of ignorance
of self. It betrayed the final conquest of her doubts, and out of
their darkness blazed the unquenchable spirit of a woman who had found
herself, her love, her salvation, her duty to a man, and who would not
be cheated.

The old cattleman stood mute before her, staring at her white face, at
her eyes of flame.

"Stillwell! I am Stewart's wife!"

"My Gawd, Miss Majesty!" he burst out. "I knowed somethin' turrible was
wrong. Aw, sure it's a pity--"

"Do you think I'll let him be shot when I know him now, when I'm no
longer blind, when I love him?" she asked, with passionate swiftness.
"I will save him. This is Wednesday morning. I have thirty-six hours to
save his life. Stillwell, send for Link and the car!"

She went into her office. Her mind worked with extraordinary rapidity
and clearness. Her plan, born in one lightning-like flash of thought,
necessitated the careful wording of telegrams to Washington, to New
York, to San Antonio. These were to Senators, Representatives, men high
in public and private life, men who would remember her and who would
serve her to their utmost. Never before had her position meant anything
to her comparable with what it meant now. Never in all her life had
money seemed the power that it was then. If she had been poor! A
shuddering chill froze the thought at its inception. She dispelled
heartbreaking thoughts. She had power. She had wealth. She would set
into operation all the unlimited means these gave her--the wires
and pulleys and strings underneath the surface of political and
international life, the open, free, purchasing value of money or the
deep, underground, mysterious, incalculably powerful influence moved
by gold. She could save Stewart. She must await results--deadlocked in
feeling, strained perhaps almost beyond endurance, because the suspense
would be great; but she would allow no possibility of failure to enter
her mind.

When she went outside the car was there with Link, helmet in hand, a
cool, bright gleam in his eyes, and with Stillwell, losing his haggard
misery, beginning to respond to Madeline's spirit.

"Link, drive Stillwell to El Cajon in time for him to catch the El Paso
train," she said. "Wait there for his return, and if any message comes
from him, telephone it at once to me."

Then she gave Stillwell the telegrams to send from El Cajon and drafts
to cash in El Paso. She instructed him to go before the rebel junta,
then stationed at Juarez, to explain the situation, to bid them expect
communications from Washington officials requesting and advising
Stewart's exchange as a prisoner of war, to offer to buy his release
from the rebel authorities.

When Stillwell had heard her through his huge, bowed form straightened,
a ghost of his old smile just moved his lips. He was no longer young,
and hope could not at once drive away stern and grim realities. As he
bent over her hand his manner appeared courtly and reverent. But either
he was speechless or felt the moment not one for him to break silence.

He climbed to a seat beside Link, who pocketed the watch he had been
studying and leaned over the wheel. There was a crack, a muffled sound
bursting into a roar, and the big car jerked forward to bound over the
edge of the slope, to leap down the long incline, to shoot out upon the
level valley floor and disappear in moving dust.

For the first time in days Madeline visited the gardens, the corrals,
the lakes, the quarters of the cowboys. Though imagining she was calm,
she feared she looked strange to Nels, to Nick, to Frankie Slade, to
those boys best known to her. The situation for them must have been one
of tormenting pain and bewilderment. They acted as if they wanted to
say something to her, but found themselves spellbound. She wondered--did
they know she was Stewart's wife? Stillwell had not had time to tell
them; besides, he would not have mentioned the fact. These cowboys only
knew that Stewart was sentenced to be shot; they knew if Madeline had
not been angry with him he would not have gone in desperate fighting
mood across the border. She spoke of the weather, of the horses and
cattle, asked Nels when he was to go on duty, and turned away from the
wide, sunlit, adobe-arched porch where the cowboys stood silent and
bareheaded. Then one of her subtle impulses checked her.

"Nels, you and Nick need not go on duty to-day," she said. "I may want
you. I--I--"

She hesitated, paused, and stood lingering there. Her glance had fallen
upon Stewart's big black horse prancing in a near-by corral.

"I have sent Stillwell to El Paso," she went on, in a low voice she
failed to hold steady. "He will save Stewart. I have to tell you--I am
Stewart's wife!"

She felt the stricken amaze that made these men silent and immovable.
With level gaze averted she left them. Returning to the house and her
room, she prepared for something--for what? To wait!

Then a great invisible shadow seemed to hover behind her. She essayed
many tasks, to fail of attention, to find that her mind held only
Stewart and his fortunes. Why had he become a Federal? She reflected
that he had won his title, El Capitan, fighting for Madero, the rebel.
But Madero was now a Federal, and Stewart was true to him. In crossing
the border had Stewart any other motive than the one he had implied to
Madeline in his mocking smile and scornful words, "You might have saved
me a hell of a lot of trouble!" What trouble? She felt again the cold
shock of contact with the gun she had dropped in horror. He meant the
trouble of getting himself shot in the only way a man could seek death
without cowardice. But had he any other motive? She recalled Don Carlos
and his guerrillas. Then the thought leaped up in her mind with gripping
power that Stewart meant to hunt Don Carlos, to meet him, to kill him.
It would be the deed of a silent, vengeful, implacable man driven by
wild justice such as had been the deadly leaven in Monty Price. It was
a deed to expect of Nels or Nick Steel--and, aye, of Gene Stewart.
Madeline felt regret that Stewart, as he had climbed so high, had not
risen above deliberate seeking to kill his enemy, however evil that
enemy.

The local newspapers, which came regularly a day late from El Paso
and Douglas, had never won any particular interest from Madeline;
now, however, she took up any copies she could find and read all the
information pertaining to the revolution. Every word seemed vital to
her, of moving significant force.


AMERICANS ROBBED BY MEXICAN REBELS

MADERA, STATE OF CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO, July 17.--Having looted the Madera
Lumber Company's storehouses of $25,000 worth of goods and robbed scores
of foreigners of horses and saddles, the rebel command of Gen. Antonio
Rojas, comprising a thousand men, started westward to-day through the
state of Sonora for Agnaymas and Pacific coast points.

The troops are headed for Dolores, where a mountain pass leads into
the state of Sonora. Their entrance will be opposed by 1,000 Maderista
volunteers, who are reported to be waiting the rebel invasion.

The railroad south of Madera is being destroyed and many Americans who
were traveling to Chihuahua from Juarez are marooned here.

General Rojas executed five men while here for alleged offenses of a
trivial character. Gen. Rosalio y Hernandez, Lieut. Cipriano Amador, and
three soldiers were the unfortunates.

WASHINGTON, July 17.--Somewhere in Mexico Patrick Dunne, an American
citizen, is in prison under sentence of death. This much and no more
the State Department learned through Representative Kinkaid of Nebraska.
Consular officers in various sections of Mexico have been directed to
make every effort to locate Dunne and save his life.

JUAREZ, MEXICO, July 31.--General Orozco, chief of the rebels, declared
to-day:

"If the United States will throw down the barriers and let us have
all the ammunition we can buy, I promise in sixty days to have peace
restored in Mexico and a stable government in charge."

CASAS GRANDES, CHIHUAHUA, July 31.--Rebel soldiers looted many homes
of Mormons near here yesterday. All the Mormon families have fled to
El Paso. Although General Salazar had two of his soldiers executed
yesterday for robbing Mormons, he has not made any attempt to stop his
men looting the unprotected homes of Americans.

Last night's and to-day's trains carried many Americans from Pearson,
Madera, and other localities outside the Mormon settlements. Refugees
from Mexico continued to pour into El Paso. About one hundred came last
night, the majority of whom were men. Heretofore few men came.


Madeline read on in feverish absorption. It was not a real war, but a
starving, robbing, burning, hopeless revolution. Five men executed for
alleged offenses of a trivial nature! What chance had, then, a Federal
prisoner, an enemy to be feared, an American cowboy in the clutches of
those crazed rebels?

Madeline endured patiently, endured for long interminable hours while
holding to her hope with indomitable will.

No message came. At sunset she went outdoors, suffering a torment
of accumulating suspense. She faced the desert, hoping, praying for
strength. The desert did not influence her as did the passionless,
unchangeable stars that had soothed her spirit. It was red, mutable,
shrouded in shadows, terrible like her mood. A dust-veiled sunset
colored the vast, brooding, naked waste of rock and sand. The grim
Chiricahua frowned black and sinister. The dim blue domes of the
Guadalupes seemed to whisper, to beckon to her. Beyond them somewhere
was Stewart, awaiting the end of a few brief hours--hours that to her
were boundless, endless, insupportable.

Night fell. But now the white, pitiless stars failed her. Then she
sought the seclusion and darkness of her room, there to lie with wide
eyes, waiting, waiting. She had always been susceptible to the somber,
mystic unrealities of the night, and now her mind slowly revolved round
a vague and monstrous gloom. Nevertheless, she was acutely sensitive to
outside impressions. She heard the measured tread of a guard, the rustle
of wind stirring the window-curtain, the remote, mournful wail of a
coyote. By and by the dead silence of the night insulated her with
leaden oppression. There was silent darkness for so long that when the
window casements showed gray she believed it was only fancy and that
dawn would never come. She prayed for the sun not to rise, not to begin
its short twelve-hour journey toward what might be a fatal setting for
Stewart. But the dawn did lighten, swiftly she thought, remorselessly.
Daylight had broken, and this was Thursday!

Sharp ringing of the telephone bell startled her, roused her into
action. She ran to answer the call.

"Hello--hello--Miss Majesty!" came the hurried reply. "This is Link
talkin'. Messages for you. Favorable, the operator said. I'm to ride out
with them. I'll come a-hummin'."

That was all. Madeline heard the bang of the receiver as Stevens threw
it down. She passionately wanted to know more, but was immeasurably
grateful for so much! Favorable! Then Stillwell had been successful.
Her heart leaped. Suddenly she became weak and her hands failed of their
accustomed morning deftness. It took her what seemed a thousand years to
dress. Breakfast meant nothing to her except that it helped her to pass
dragging minutes.

Finally a low hum, mounting swiftly to a roar and ending with a sharp
report, announced the arrival of the car. If her feet had kept pace with
her heart she would have raced out to meet Link. She saw him, helmet
thrown back, watch in hand, and he looked up at her with his cool,
bright smile, with his familiar apologetic manner.

"Fifty-three minutes, Miss Majesty," he said, "but I hed to ride round a
herd of steers an' bump a couple off the trail."

He gave her a packet of telegrams. Madeline tore them open with shaking
fingers, began to read with swift, dim eyes. Some were from Washington,
assuring her of every possible service; some were from New York; others
written in Spanish were from El Paso, and these she could not wholly
translate in a brief glance. Would she never find Stillwell's message?
It was the last. It was lengthy. It read:


Bought Stewart's release. Also arranged for his transfer as prisoner
of war. Both matters official. He's safe if we can get notice to his
captors. Not sure I've reached them by wire. Afraid to trust it. You go
with Link to Agua Prieta. Take the messages sent you in Spanish. They
will protect you and secure Stewart's freedom. Take Nels with you. Stop
for nothing. Tell Link all--trust him--let him drive that car.

STILLWELL.

*****

The first few lines of Stillwell's message lifted Madeline to the
heights of thanksgiving and happiness. Then, reading on, she experienced
a check, a numb, icy, sickening pang. At the last line she flung off
doubt and dread, and in white, cold passion faced the issue.

"Read," she said, briefly, handing the telegram to Link. He scanned it
and then looked blankly up at her.

"Link, do you know the roads, the trails--the desert between here and
Agua Prieta?" she asked.

"Thet's sure my old stampin'-ground. An' I know Sonora, too."

"We must reach Agua Prieta before sunset--long before, so if Stewart is
in some near-by camp we can get to it in--in time."

"Miss Majesty, it ain't possible!" he exclaimed. "Stillwell's crazy to
say thet."

"Link, can an automobile be driven from here into northern Mexico?"

"Sure. But it 'd take time."

"We must do it in little time," she went on, in swift eagerness.
"Otherwise Stewart may be--probably will be--be shot."

Link Stevens appeared suddenly to grow lax, shriveled, to lose all his
peculiar pert brightness, to weaken and age.

"I'm only a--a cowboy, Miss Majesty." He almost faltered. It was a
singular change in him. "Thet's an awful ride--down over the border. If
by some luck I didn't smash the car I'd turn your hair gray. You'd never
be no good after thet ride!"

"I am Stewart's wife," she answered him and she looked at him, not
conscious of any motive to persuade or allure, but just to let him know
the greatness of her dependence upon him.

He started violently--the old action of Stewart, the memorable action of
Monty Price. This man was of the same wild breed.

Then Madeline's words flowed in a torrent. "I am Stewart's wife. I love
him; I have been unjust to him; I must save him. Link, I have faith in
you. I beseech you to do your best for Stewart's sake--for my sake. I'll
risk the ride gladly--bravely. I'll not care where or how you drive. I'd
far rather plunge into a canyon--go to my death on the rocks--than not
try to save Stewart."

How beautiful the response of this rude cowboy--to realize his absolute
unconsciousness of self, to see the haggard shade burn out of his face,
the old, cool, devil-may-care spirit return to his eyes, and to feel
something wonderful about him then! It was more than will or daring or
sacrifice. A blood-tie might have existed between him and Madeline. She
sensed again that indefinable brother-like quality, so fine, so almost
invisible, which seemed to be an inalienable trait in these wild
cowboys.

"Miss Majesty, thet ride figgers impossible, but I'll do it!" he
replied. His cool, bright glance thrilled her. "I'll need mebbe half an
hour to go over the car an' to pack on what I'll want."

She could not thank him, and her reply was merely a request that he tell
Nels and other cowboys off duty to come up to the house. When Link had
gone Madeline gave a moment's thought to preparations for the ride. She
placed what money she had and the telegrams in a satchel. The gown she
had on was thin and white, not suitable for travel, but she would not
risk the losing of one moment in changing it. She put on a long coat
and wound veils round her head and neck, arranging them in a hood so
she could cover her face when necessary. She remembered to take an extra
pair of goggles for Nels's use, and then, drawing on her gloves, she
went out ready for the ride.

A number of cowboys were waiting. She explained the situation and left
them in charge of her home. With that she asked Nels to accompany her
down into the desert. He turned white to his lips, and this occasioned
Madeline to remember his mortal dread of the car and Link's driving.


"Nels, I'm sorry to ask you," she added. "I know you hate the car. But I
need you--may need you, oh! so much."

"Why, Miss Majesty, thet's shore all a mistaken idee of yours about me
hatin' the car," he said, in his slow, soft drawl. "I was only jealous
of Link; an' the boys, they made thet joke up on me about bein' scared
of ridin' fast. Shore I'm powerful proud to go. An' I reckon if you
hedn't asked me my feelin's might hev been some hurt. Because if you're
goin' down among the Greasers you want me."

His cool, easy speech, his familiar swagger, the smile with which he
regarded her did not in the least deceive Madeline. The gray was still
in his face. Incomprehensible as it seemed, Nels had a dread, an uncanny
fear, and it was of that huge white automobile. But he lied about it.
Here again was that strange quality of faithfulness.

Madeline heard the buzz of the car. Link appeared driving up the slope.
He made a short, sliding turn and stopped before the porch. Link had
tied two long, heavy planks upon the car, one on each side, and in every
available space he had strapped extra tires. A huge cask occupied one
back seat, and another seat was full of tools and ropes. There was
just room in this rear part of the car for Nels to squeeze in. Link put
Madeline in front beside him, then bent over the wheel. Madeline waved
her hand at the silent cowboys on the porch. Not an audible good-by was
spoken.

The car glided out of the yard, leaped from level to slope, and started
swiftly down the road, out into the open valley. Each stronger rush of
dry wind in Madeline's face marked the increase of speed. She took one
glance at the winding cattle-road, smooth, unobstructed, disappearing
in the gray of distance. She took another at the leather-garbed,
leather-helmeted driver beside her, and then she drew the hood of veils
over her face and fastened it round her neck so there was no possibility
of its blowing loose.

Harder and stronger pressed the wind till it was like sheeted
lead forcing her back in her seat. There was a ceaseless, intense,
inconceivably rapid vibration under her; occasionally she felt a long
swing, as if she were to be propelled aloft; but no jars disturbed the
easy celerity of the car. The buzz, the roar of wheels, of heavy body
in flight, increased to a continuous droning hum. The wind became an
insupportable body moving toward her, crushing her breast, making the
task of breathing most difficult. To Madeline the time seemed to
fly with the speed of miles. A moment came when she detected a faint
difference in hum and rush and vibration, in the ceaseless sweeping of
the invisible weight against her. This difference became marked. Link
was reducing speed. Then came swift change of all sensation, and she
realized the car had slowed to normal travel.

Madeline removed her hood and goggles. It was a relief to breathe
freely, to be able to use her eyes. To her right, not far distant, lay
the little town of Chiricahua. Sight of it made her remember Stewart in
a way strange to her constant thought of him. To the left inclined the
gray valley. The red desert was hidden from view, but the Guadalupe
Mountains loomed close in the southwest.

Opposite Chiricahua, where the road forked, Link Stevens headed the car
straight south and gradually increased speed. Madeline faced another
endless gray incline. It was the San Bernardino Valley. The singing of
the car, the stinging of the wind warned her to draw the hood securely
down over her face again, and then it was as if she was riding at night.
The car lurched ahead, settled into that driving speed which wedged
Madeline back as in a vise. Again the moments went by fleet as the
miles. Seemingly, there was an acceleration of the car till it reached a
certain swiftness--a period of time in which it held that pace, and then
a diminishing of all motion and sound which contributed to Madeline's
acute sensation. Uncovering her face, she saw Link was passing another
village. Could it be Bernardino? She asked Link--repeated the question.

"Sure," he replied. "Eighty miles."

Link did not this time apologize for the work of his machine. Madeline
marked the omission with her first thrill of the ride. Leaning over, she
glanced at Link's watch, which he had fastened upon the wheel in front
of his eyes. A quarter to ten! Link had indeed made short work of the
valley miles.

Beyond Bernardino Link sheered off the road and put the car to a long,
low-rising slope. Here the valley appeared to run south under the dark
brows of the Guadalupes. Link was heading southwest. Madeline observed
that the grass began to fail as they climbed the ridge; bare, white,
dusty spots appeared; there were patches of mesquite and cactus and
scattering areas of broken rock.

She might have been prepared for what she saw from the ridge-top.
Beneath them the desert blazed. Seen from afar, it was striking enough,
but riding down into its red jaws gave Madeline the first affront to her
imperious confidence. All about her ranch had been desert, the valleys
were desert; but this was different. Here began the red desert,
extending far into Mexico, far across Arizona and California to the
Pacific. She saw a bare, hummocky ridge, down which the car was
gliding, bounding, swinging, and this long slant seemed to merge into a
corrugated world of rock and sand, patched by flats and basins, streaked
with canyons and ranges of ragged, saw-toothed stone. The distant Sierra
Madres were clearer, bluer, less smoky and suggestive of mirage than she
had ever seen them. Madeline's sustaining faith upheld her in the
face of this appalling obstacle. Then the desert that had rolled its
immensity beneath her gradually began to rise, to lose its distant
margins, to condense its varying lights and shades, at last to hide its
yawning depths and looming heights behind red ridges, which were only
little steps, little outposts, little landmarks at its gates.

The bouncing of the huge car, throwing Madeline up, directed her
attention and fastened it upon the way Link Stevens was driving and upon
the immediate foreground. Then she discovered that he was following an
old wagon-road. At the foot of that long slope they struck into rougher
ground, and here Link took to a cautious zigzag course. The wagon-road
disappeared and then presently reappeared. But Link did not always hold
to it. He made cuts, detours, crosses, and all the time seemed to be
getting deeper into a maze of low, red dunes, of flat canyon-beds lined
by banks of gravel, of ridges mounting higher. Yet Link Stevens kept on
and never turned back. He never headed into a place that he could not
pass. Up to this point of travel he had not been compelled to back the
car, and Madeline began to realize that it was the cowboy's wonderful
judgment of ground that made advance possible. He knew the country;
he was never at a loss; after making a choice of direction, he never
hesitated.

Then at the bottom of a wide canyon he entered a wash where the wheels
just barely turned in dragging sand. The sun beat down white-hot, the
dust arose, there was not a breath of wind; and no sound save the
slide of a rock now and then down the weathered slopes and the labored
chugging of the machine. The snail pace, like the sand at the wheels,
began to drag at Madeline's faith. Link gave over the wheel to Madeline,
and, leaping out, he called Nels. When they untied the long planks and
laid them straight in front for the wheels to pass over Madeline saw
how wise had been Link's forethought. With the aid of those planks they
worked the car through sand and gravel otherwise impossible to pass.

This canyon widened and opened into space affording an unobstructed view
for miles. The desert sloped up in steps, and in the morning light, with
the sun bright on the mesas and escarpments, it was gray, drab, stone,
slate, yellow, pink, and, dominating all, a dull rust-red. There was
level ground ahead, a wind-swept floor as hard as rock. Link rushed the
car over this free distance. Madeline's ears filled with a droning hum
like the sound of a monstrous, hungry bee and with a strange, incessant
crinkle which she at length guessed to be the spreading of sheets of
gravel from under the wheels. The giant car attained such a speed that
Madeline could only distinguish the colored landmarks to the fore, and
these faded as the wind stung her eyes.

Then Link began the ascent of the first step, a long, sweeping, barren
waste with dunes of wonderful violet and heliotrope hues. Here were
well-defined marks of an old wagon-road lately traversed by cattle. The
car climbed steadily, surmounted the height, faced another long bench
that had been cleaned smooth by desert winds. The sky was an intense,
light, steely blue, hard on the eyes. Madeline veiled her face, and did
not uncover it until Link had reduced the racing speed. From the summit
of the next ridge she saw more red ruin of desert.

A deep wash crossing the road caused Link Stevens to turn due south.
There was a narrow space along the wash just wide enough for the
car. Link seemed oblivious to the fact that the outside wheels were
perilously close to the edge. Madeline heard the rattle of loosened
gravel and earth sliding into the gully. The wash widened and opened out
into a sandy flat. Link crossed this and turned up on the opposite side.
Rocks impeded the progress of the car, and these had to be rolled out
of the way. The shelves of silt, apparently ready to slide with the
slightest weight, the little tributary washes, the boulder-strewn
stretches of slope, the narrow spaces allowing no more than a foot for
the outside wheels, the spear-pointed cactus that had to be avoided--all
these obstacles were as nothing to the cowboy driver. He kept on, and
when he came to the road again he made up for the lost time by speed.

Another height was reached, and here Madeline fancied that Link had
driven the car to the summit of a high pass between two mountain ranges.
The western slope of that pass appeared to be exceedingly rough and
broken. Below it spread out another gray valley, at the extreme end of
which glistened a white spot that Link grimly called Douglas. Part
of that white spot was Agua Prieta, the sister town across the line.
Madeline looked with eyes that would fain have pierced the intervening
distance.

The descent of the pass began under difficulties. Sharp stones and
cactus spikes penetrated the front tires, bursting them with ripping
reports. It took time to replace them. The planks were called into
requisition to cross soft places. A jagged point of projecting rock had
to be broken with a sledge. At length a huge stone appeared to hinder
any further advance. Madeline caught her breath. There was no room to
turn the car. But Link Stevens had no intention of such a thing. He
backed the car to a considerable distance, then walked forward. He
appeared to be busy around the boulder for a moment and returned down
the road on the run. A heavy explosion, a cloud of dust, and a rattle of
falling fragments told Madeline that her indomitable driver had cleared
a passage with dynamite. He seemed to be prepared for every emergency.
Madeline looked to see what effect the discovery of Link carrying
dynamite would have upon the silent Nels.

"Shore, now, Miss Majesty, there ain't nothin' goin' to stop Link," said
Nels, with a reassuring smile. The significance of the incident had
not dawned upon Nels, or else he was heedless of it. After all, he was
afraid only of the car and Link, and that fear was an idiosyncrasy.
Madeline began to see her cowboy driver with clearer eyes and his spirit
awoke something in her that made danger of no moment. Nels likewise
subtly responded, and, though he was gray-faced, tight-lipped, his eyes
took on the cool, bright gleam of Link's.

Cactus barred the way, rocks barred the way, gullies barred the way, and
these Nels addressed in the grim humor with which he was wont to view
tragic things. A mistake on Link's part, a slip of a wheel, a bursting
of a tire at a critical moment, an instant of the bad luck which might
happen a hundred times on a less perilous ride--any one of these might
spell disaster for the car, perhaps death to the occupants. Again and
again Link used the planks to cross washes in sand. Sometimes the wheels
ran all the length of the planks, sometimes slipped off. Presently
Link came to a ditch where water had worn deep into the road. Without
hesitation he placed them, measuring distance carefully, and then
started across. The danger was in ditching the machine. One of the
planks split, sagged a little, but Link made the crossing without a
slip.

The road led round under an overhanging cliff and was narrow, rocky, and
slightly downhill. Bidding Madeline and Nels walk round this hazardous
corner, Link drove the car. Madeline expected to hear it crash down
into the canyon, but presently she saw Link waiting to take them aboard
again. Then came steeper parts of the road, places that Link could run
down if he had space below to control the car, and on the other hand
places where the little inclines ended in abrupt ledges upon one side
or a declivity upon the other. Here the cowboy, with ropes on the wheels
and half-hitches upon the spurs of rock, let the car slide down.

Once at a particularly bad spot Madeline exclaimed involuntarily,
"Oh, time is flying!" Link Stevens looked up at her as if he had been
reproved for his care. His eyes shone like the glint of steel on
ice. Perhaps that utterance of Madeline's was needed to liberate his
recklessness to its utmost. Certainly he put the car to seemingly
impossible feats. He rimmed gullies, he hurdled rising ground, he leaped
little breaks in the even road. He made his machine cling like a goat
to steep inclines; he rounded corners with the inside wheels higher
than the outside; he passed over banks of soft earth that caved in the
instant he crossed weak places. He kept on and on, threading tortuous
passages through rock-strewn patches, keeping to the old road where it
was clear, abandoning it for open spaces, and always going down.

At length a mile of clean, brown slope, ridged and grooved like a
washboard, led gently down to meet the floor of the valley, where the
scant grama-grass struggled to give a tinge of gray. The road appeared
to become more clearly defined, and could be seen striking straight
across the valley.

To Madeline's dismay, that road led down to a deep, narrow wash. It
plunged on one side, ascended on the other at a still steeper angle. The
crossing would have been laborsome for a horse; for an automobile it was
unpassable. Link turned the car to the right along the rim and drove as
far along the wash as the ground permitted. The gully widened, deepened
all the way. Then he took the other direction. When he made this turn
Madeline observed that the sun had perceptibly begun its slant westward.
It shone in her face, glaring and wrathful. Link drove back to the road,
crossed it, and kept on down the line of the wash. It was a deep cut in
red earth, worn straight down by swift water in the rainy seasons. It
narrowed. In some places it was only five feet wide. Link studied these
points and looked up the slope, and seemed to be making deductions. The
valley was level now, and there were nothing but little breaks in the
rim of the wash. Link drove mile after mile, looking for a place to
cross, and there was none. Finally progress to the south was obstructed
by impassable gullies where the wash plunged into the head of a canyon.
It was necessary to back the car a distance before there was room to
turn. Madeline looked at the imperturbable driver. His face revealed no
more than the same old hard, immutable character. When he reached the
narrowest points, which had so interested him, he got out of the car and
walked from place to place. Once with a little jump he cleared the wash.
Then Madeline noted that the farther rim was somewhat lower. In a flash
she divined Link's intention. He was hunting a place to jump the car
over the crack in the ground.

Soon he found one that seemed to suit him, for he tied his red scarf
upon a greasewood-bush. Then, returning to the car, he clambered in,
and, muttering, broke his long silence: "This ain't no air-ship, but
I've outfiggered thet damn wash." He backed up the gentle slope and
halted just short of steeper ground. His red scarf waved in the wind.
Hunching low over the wheel, he started, slowly at first, then faster,
and then faster. The great car gave a spring like a huge tiger. The
impact of suddenly formed wind almost tore Madeline out of her seat. She
felt Nels's powerful hands on her shoulders. She closed her eyes. The
jolting headway of the car gave place to a gliding rush. This was broken
by a slight jar, and then above the hum and roar rose a cowboy yell.
Madeline waited with strained nerves for the expected crash. It did not
come. Opening her eyes, she saw the level valley floor without a break.
She had not even noticed the instant when the car had shot over the
wash.

A strange breathlessness attacked her, and she attributed it to the
celerity with which she was being carried along. Pulling the hood down
over her face, she sank low in the seat. The whir of the car now seemed
to be a world-filling sound. Again the feeling of excitement, the
poignancy of emotional heights, the ever-present impending sense of
catastrophe became held in abeyance to the sheer intensity of physical
sensations. There came a time when all her strength seemed to unite in
an effort to lift her breast against the terrific force of the wind--to
draw air into her flattened lungs. She became partly dazed. The darkness
before her eyes was not all occasioned by the blood that pressed like a
stone mask on her face. She had a sense that she was floating, sailing,
drifting, reeling, even while being borne swiftly as a thunderbolt. Her
hands and arms were immovable under the weight of mountains. There was
a long, blank period from which she awakened to feel an arm supporting
her. Then she rallied. The velocity of the car had been cut to the speed
to which she was accustomed. Throwing back the hood, she breathed freely
again, recovered fully.

The car was bowling along a wide road upon the outskirts of a city.
Madeline asked what place it could be.

"Douglas," replied Link. "An' jest around is Agua Prieta!"

That last name seemed to stun Madeline. She heard no more, and saw
little until the car stopped. Nels spoke to some one. Then sight of
khaki-clad soldiers quickened Madeline's faculties. She was on the
boundary-line between the United States and Mexico, and Agua Prieta,
with its white and blue walled houses, its brown-tiled roofs, lay before
her. A soldier, evidently despatched by Nels, returned and said an
officer would come at once. Madeline's attention was centered in the
foreground, upon the guard over the road, upon the dry, dusty town
beyond; but she was aware of noise and people in the rear. A cavalry
officer approached the car, stared, and removed his sombrero.

"Can you tell me anything about Stewart, the American cowboy who was
captured by rebels a few days ago?" asked Madeline.

"Yes," replied the officer. "There was a skirmish over the line between
a company of Federals and a large force of guerrillas and rebels. The
Federals were driven west along the line. Stewart is reported to have
done reckless fighting and was captured. He got a Mexican sentence. He
is known here along the border, and the news of his capture stirred
up excitement. We did all we could to get his release. The guerrillas
feared to execute him here, and believed he might be aided to escape. So
a detachment departed with him for Mezquital."

"He was sentenced to be shot Thursday at sunset--to-night?"

"Yes. It was rumored there was a personal resentment against Stewart. I
regret that I can't give you definite information. If you are friends of
Stewart--relatives--I might find--"

"I am his wife," interrupted Madeline. "Will you please read these." She
handed him the telegrams. "Advise me--help me, if you can?"

With a wondering glance at her the officer received the telegrams. He
read several, and whistled low in amaze. His manner became quick, alert,
serious.

"I can't read these written in Spanish, but I know the names signed."
Swiftly he ran through the others.

"Why, these mean Stewart's release has been authorized. They explain
mysterious rumors we have heard here. Greaser treachery! For some
strange reason messages from the rebel junta have failed to reach their
destination. We heard reports of an exchange for Stewart, but nothing
came of it. No one departed for Mezquital with authority. What an
outrage! Come, I'll go with you to General Salazar, the rebel chief in
command. I know him. Perhaps we can find out something."

Nels made room for the officer. Link sent the car whirring across
the line into Mexican territory. Madeline's sensibilities were now
exquisitely alive. The white road led into Agua Prieta, a town of
colored walls and roofs. Goats and pigs and buzzards scattered before
the roar of the machine. Native women wearing black mantles peeped
through iron-barred windows. Men wearing huge sombreros, cotton shirts
and trousers, bright sashes round their waists, and sandals, stood
motionless, watching the car go by. The road ended in an immense plaza,
in the center of which was a circular structure that in some measure
resembled a corral. It was a bull-ring, where the national sport of
bull-fighting was carried on. Just now it appeared to be quarters for a
considerable army. Ragged, unkempt rebels were everywhere, and the whole
square was littered with tents, packs, wagons, arms. There were horses,
mules, burros, and oxen.

The place was so crowded that Link was compelled to drive slowly up
to the entrance to the bull-ring. Madeline caught a glimpse of tents
inside, then her view was obstructed by a curious, pressing throng.
The cavalry officer leaped from the car and pushed his way into the
entrance.

"Link, do you know the road to this Mezquital?" asked Madeline.

"Yes. I've been there."

"How far is it?"

"Aw, not so very far," he mumbled.

"Link! How many miles?" she implored.

"I reckon only a few."

Madeline knew that he lied. She asked him no more; nor looked at him,
nor at Nels. How stifling was this crowded, ill-smelling plaza! The sun,
red and lowering, had sloped far down in the west, but still burned
with furnace heat. A swarm of flies whirled over the car. The shadows of
low-sailing buzzards crossed Madeline's sight. Then she saw a row of the
huge, uncanny black birds sitting upon the tiled roof of a house. They
had neither an air of sleeping nor resting. They were waiting. She
fought off a horrible ghastly idea before its full realization. These
rebels and guerrillas--what lean, yellow, bearded wretches! They
curiously watched Link as he went working over the car. No two were
alike, and all were ragged. They had glittering eyes sunk deep in their
heads. They wore huge sombreros of brown and black felt, of straw, of
cloth. Every man wore a belt or sash into which was thrust some kind of
weapon. Some wore boots, some shoes, some moccasins, some sandals, and
many were barefooted. They were an excited, jabbering, gesticulating
mob. Madeline shuddered to think how a frenzy to spill blood could run
through these poor revolutionists. If it was liberty they fought for,
they did not show the intelligence in their faces. They were like wolves
upon a scent. They affronted her, shocked her. She wondered if their
officers were men of the same class. What struck her at last and stirred
pity in her was the fact that every man of the horde her swift glance
roamed over, however dirty and bedraggled he was, wore upon him some
ornament, some tassel or fringe or lace, some ensign, some band,
bracelet, badge, or belt, some twist of scarf, something that betrayed
the vanity which was the poor jewel of their souls. It was in the race.

Suddenly the crowd parted to let the cavalry officer and a rebel of
striking presence get to the car.

"Madam, it is as I suspected," said the officer, quickly. "The
messages directing Stewart's release never reached Salazar. They were
intercepted. But even without them we might have secured Stewart's
exchange if it had not been for the fact that one of his captors
wanted him shot. This guerrilla intercepted the orders, and then was
instrumental in taking Stewart to Mezquital. It is exceedingly sad. Why,
he should be a free man this instant. I regret--"

"Who did this--this thing?" cried Madeline, cold and sick. "Who is the
guerrilla?"

"Senor Don Carlos Martinez. He has been a bandit, a man of influence in
Sonora. He is more of a secret agent in the affairs of the revolution
than an active participator. But he has seen guerrilla service."

"Don Carlos! Stewart in his power! O God!" Madeline sank down, almost
overcome. Then two great hands, powerful, thrilling, clasped her
shoulders, and Nels bent over her.

"Miss Majesty, shore we're wastin' time here," he said. His voice, like
his hands, was uplifting. She wheeled to him in trembling importunity.
How cold, bright, blue the flash of his eyes! They told Madeline she
must not weaken. But she could not speak her thought to Nels--could only
look at Link.

"It figgers impossible, but I'll do it!" said Link Stevens, in answer
to her voiceless query. The cold, grim, wild something about her cowboys
blanched Madeline's face, steeled her nerve, called to the depths of her
for that last supreme courage of a woman. The spirit of the moment was
nature with Link and Nels; with her it must be passion.

"Can I get a permit to go into the interior--to Mezquital?" asked
Madeline of the officer.

"You are going on? Madam, it's a forlorn hope. Mezquital is a hundred
miles away. But there's a chance--the barest chance if your man can
drive this car. The Mexicans are either murderous or ceremonious in
their executions. The arrangements for Stewart's will be elaborate. But,
barring unusual circumstances, it will take place precisely at the hour
designated. You need no permit. Your messages are official papers. But
to save time, perhaps delay, I suggest you take this Mexican, Senor
Montes, with you. He outranks Don Carlos and knows the captain of the
Mezquital detachment."

"Ah! Then Don Carlos is not in command of the forces holding Stewart?"

"No."

"I thank you, sir. I shall not forget your kindness," concluded
Madeline.

She bowed to Senor Montes, and requested him to enter the car. Nels
stowed some of the paraphernalia away, making room in the rear seat.
Link bent over the wheel. The start was so sudden, with such crack and
roar, that the crowd split in wild disorder. Out of the plaza the car
ran, gathering headway; down a street lined by white and blue walls;
across a square where rebels were building barricades; along a railroad
track full of iron flat-cars that carried mounted pieces of artillery;
through the outlying guards, who waved to the officer, Montes.

Madeline bound her glasses tightly over her eyes, and wound veils round
the lower part of her face. She was all in a strange glow, she had begun
to burn, to throb, to thrill, to expand, and she meant to see all that
was possible. The sullen sun, red as fire, hung over the mountain range
in the west. How low it had sunk! Before her stretched a narrow, white
road, dusty, hard as stone--a highway that had been used for centuries.
If it had been wide enough to permit passing a vehicle it would have
been a magnificent course for automobiles. But the weeds and the dusty
flowers and the mesquite boughs and arms of cactus brushed the car as it
sped by.

Faster, faster, faster! That old resistless weight began to press
Madeline back; the old incessant bellow of wind filled her ears. Link
Stevens hunched low over the wheel. His eyes were hidden under leather
helmet and goggles, but the lower part of his face was unprotected. He
resembled a demon, so dark and stone-hard and strangely grinning was he.
All at once Madeline realized how matchless, how wonderful a driver was
this cowboy. She divined that weakening could not have been possible to
Link Stevens. He was a cowboy, and he really was riding that car, making
it answer to his will, as it had been born in him to master a horse. He
had never driven to suit himself, had never reached an all-satisfying
speed until now. Beyond that his motive was to save Stewart--to
make Madeline happy. Life was nothing to him. That fact gave him
the superhuman nerve to face the peril of this ride. Because of his
disregard of self he was able to operate the machine, to choose the
power, the speed, the guidance, the going with the best judgment and
highest efficiency possible. Madeline knew he would get her to Mezquital
in time to save Stewart or he would kill her in the attempt.

The white, narrow road flashed out of the foreground, slipped with
inconceivable rapidity under the car. When she marked a clump of cactus
far ahead it seemed to shoot at her, to speed behind her even the
instant she noticed it. Nevertheless, Madeline knew Link was not putting
the car to its limit. Swiftly as he was flying, he held something in
reserve. But he took the turns of the road as if he knew the way was
cleared before him. He trusted to a cowboy's luck. A wagon in one of
those curves, a herd of cattle, even a frightened steer, meant a wreck.
Madeline never closed her eyes at these fateful moments. If Link could
stake himself, the others, and her upon such chance, what could not she
stake with her motive? So while the great car hummed and thrummed,
and darted round the curves on two wheels, and sped on like a bullet,
Madeline lived that ride, meant to feel it to the uttermost.

But it was not all swift going. A stretch of softer ground delayed
Link, made the car labor and pant and pound and grind through gravel.
Moreover, the cactus plants assumed an alarming ability to impede
progress. Long, slender arms of the ocotillo encroached upon the road;
broad, round leaves did likewise; fluted columns, fallen like timbers
in a forest, lay along the narrow margins; the bayonet cactus and the
bisnagi leaned threateningly; clusters of maguey, shadowed by the huge,
looming saguaro, infringed upon the highway to Mezquital. And every
leaf and blade and branch of cactus bore wicked thorns, any one of which
would be fatal to a tire.

It came at length, the bursting report. The car lurched, went on like
a crippled thing, and halted, obedient to the master hand at the wheel.
Swift as Link was in replacing the tire, he lost time. The red sun, more
sullen, duskier as it neared the black, bold horizon, appeared to mock
Madeline, to eye her in derision.

Link leaped in, and the car sprang ahead. The road-bed changed, the
trees changed--all the surroundings changed except the cactus. There
were miles of rolling ridges, rough in the hollows, and short rocky bits
of road, and washes to cross, and a low, sandy swale where mesquites
grouped a forest along a trickling inch-deep sheet of water. Green
things softened the hard, dry aspect of the desert. There were birds and
parrots and deer and wild boars. All these Madeline remarked with clear
eyes, with remarkable susceptibility of attention; but what she strained
to see, what she yearned for, prayed for, was straight, unobstructed
road.

But the road began to wind up; it turned and twisted in tantalizing
lazy curves; it was in no hurry to surmount a hill that began to assume
proportions of a mountain; it was leisurely, as were all things in
Mexico except strife. That was quick, fierce, bloody--it was Spanish.

The descent from that elevation was difficult, extremely hazardous, yet
Link Stevens drove fast. At the base of the hill rocks and sand all but
halted him for good. Then in taking an abrupt curve a grasping spear
ruined another tire. This time the car rasped across the road into the
cactus, bursting the second front-wheel tire. Like demons indeed Link
and Nels worked. Shuddering, Madeline felt the declining heat of the
sun, saw with gloomy eyes the shading of the red light over the desert.

She did not look back to see how near the sun was to the horizon. She
wanted to ask Nels. Strange as anything on this terrible ride was the
absence of speech. As yet no word had been spoken. Madeline wanted to
shriek to Link to hurry. But he was more than humanly swift in all his
actions. So with mute lips, with the fire in her beginning to chill,
with a lifelessness menacing her spirit, she watched, hoped against
hope, prayed for a long, straight, smooth road.

Quite suddenly she saw it, seemingly miles of clear, narrow lane
disappearing like a thin, white streak in distant green. Perhaps Link
Stevens's heart leaped like Madeline's. The huge car with a roar and a
jerk seemed to answer Madeline's call, a cry no less poignant because it
was silent.

Faster, faster, faster! The roar became a whining hum. Then for Madeline
sound ceased to be anything--she could not hear. The wind was now heavy,
imponderable, no longer a swift, plastic thing, but solid, like an
on-rushing wall. It bore down upon Madeline with such resistless weight
that she could not move. The green of desert plants along the road
merged in two shapeless fences, sliding at her from the distance.
Objects ahead began to blur the white road, to grow streaky, like rays
of light, the sky to take on more of a reddening haze.

Madeline, realizing her sight was failing her, turned for one more look
at Link Stevens. It had come to be his ride almost as much as it was
hers. He hunched lower than ever, rigid, strained to the last degree, a
terrible, implacable driver. This was his hour, and he was great. If he
so much as brushed a flying tire against one of the millions of spikes
clutching out, striking out from the cactus, there would be a shock,
a splitting wave of air--an end. Madeline thought she saw that Link's
bulging cheek and jaw were gray, that his tight-shut lips were white,
that the smile was gone. Then he really was human--not a demon. She felt
a strange sense of brotherhood. He understood a woman's soul as Monty
Price had understood it. Link was the lightning-forged automaton, the
driving, relentless, unconquerable instrument of a woman's will. He was
a man whose force was directed by a woman's passion. He reached up to
her height, felt her love, understood the nature of her agony. These
made him heroic. But it was the hard life, the wild years of danger on
the desert, the companionship of ruthless men, the elemental, that made
possible his physical achievement. Madeline loved his spirit then and
gloried in the man.

She had pictured upon her heart, never to be forgotten, this little
hunched, deformed figure of Link's hanging with dauntless, with
deathless grip over the wheel, his gray face like a marble mask.

That was Madeline's last clear sensation upon the ride. Blinded, dazed,
she succumbed to the demands upon her strength. She reeled, fell back,
only vaguely aware of a helping hand. Confusion seized her senses.
All about her was a dark chaos through which she was rushing, rushing,
rushing under the wrathful red eye of a setting sun. Then, as there was
no more sound or sight for her, she felt there was no color. But the
rush never slackened--a rush through opaque, limitless space.
For moments, hours, ages she was propelled with the velocity of a
shooting-star. The earth seemed a huge automobile. And it sped with
her down an endless white track through the universe. Looming, ghostly,
ghastly, spectral forms of cacti plants, large as pine-trees, stabbed
her with giant spikes. She became an unstable being in a shapeless,
colorless, soundless cosmos of unrelated things, but always rushing,
even to meet the darkness that haunted her and never reached her.

But at an end of infinite time that rush ceased. Madeline lost the queer
feeling of being disembodied by a frightfully swift careening through
boundless distance. She distinguished voices, low at first, apparently
far away. Then she opened her eyes to blurred but conscious sight.

The car had come to a stop. Link was lying face down over the wheel.
Nels was rubbing her hands, calling to her. She saw a house with clean
whitewashed wall and brown-tiled roof. Beyond, over a dark mountain
range, peeped the last red curve, the last beautiful ray of the setting
sun.





Next: At The End Of The Road

Previous: The Light Of Western Stars



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