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The Sheriff Of El Cajon








From: The Light Of Western Stars

About the middle of the forenoon of that day Madeline reached the ranch.
Her guests had all arrived there late the night before, and wanted only
her presence and the assurance of her well-being to consider the last of
the camping trip a rare adventure. Likewise, they voted it the cowboys'
masterpiece of a trick. Madeline's delay, they averred, had been only
a clever coup to give a final effect. She did not correct their
impression, nor think it needful to state that she had been escorted
home by only one cowboy.

Her guests reported an arduous ride down the mountain, with only one
incident to lend excitement. On the descent they had fallen in with
Sheriff Hawe and several of his deputies, who were considerably under
the influence of drink and very greatly enraged by the escape of the
Mexican girl Bonita. Hawe had used insulting language to the ladies
and, according to Ambrose, would have inconvenienced the party on some
pretext or other if he had not been sharply silenced by the cowboys.

Madeline's guests were two days in recovering from the hard ride. On the
third day they leisurely began to prepare for departure. This period was
doubly trying for Madeline. She had her own physical need of rest, and,
moreover, had to face a mental conflict that could scarcely be postponed
further. Her sister and friends were kindly and earnestly persistent in
their entreaties that she go back East with them. She desired to go.
It was not going that mattered; it was how and when and under what
circumstances she was to return that roused in her disturbing emotion.
Before she went East she wanted to have fixed in mind her future
relation to the ranch and the West. When the crucial hour arrived she
found that the West had not claimed her yet. These old friends had
warmed cold ties.

It turned out, however, that there need be no hurry about making the
decision. Madeline would have welcomed any excuse to procrastinate;
but, as it happened, a letter from Alfred made her departure out of the
question for the present. He wrote that his trip to California had been
very profitable, that he had a proposition for Madeline from a large
cattle company, and, particularly, that he wanted to marry Florence soon
after his arrival home and would bring a minister from Douglas for that
purpose.

Madeline went so far, however, as to promise Helen and her friends that
she would go East soon, at the very latest by Thanksgiving. With that
promise they were reluctantly content to say good-by to the ranch and
to her. At the last moment there seemed a great likelihood of a hitch
in plans for the first stage of that homeward journey. All of Madeline's
guests held up their hands, Western fashion, when Link Stevens appeared
with the big white car. Link protested innocently, solemnly, that he
would drive slowly and safely; but it was necessary for Madeline to
guarantee Link's word and to accompany them before they would enter the
car. At the station good-bys were spoken and repeated, and Madeline's
promise was exacted for the hundredth time.

Dorothy Coombs's last words were: "Give my love to Monty Price. Tell him
I'm--I'm glad he kissed me!"

Helen's eyes had a sweet, grave, yet mocking light as she said:

"Majesty, bring Stewart with you when you come. He'll be the rage."

Madeline treated the remark with the same merry lightness with which it
was received by the others; but after the train had pulled out and
she was on her way home she remembered Helen's words and looks with
something almost amounting to a shock. Any mention of Stewart, any
thought of him, displeased her.

"What did Helen mean?" mused Madeline. And she pondered. That mocking
light in Helen's eyes had been simply an ironical glint, a cynical gleam
from that worldly experience so suspicious and tolerant in its wisdom.
The sweet gravity of Helen's look had been a deeper and more subtle
thing. Madeline wanted to understand it, to divine in it a new relation
between Helen and herself, something fine and sisterly that might lead
to love. The thought, however, revolving around a strange suggestion of
Stewart, was poisoned at its inception, and she dismissed it.

Upon the drive in to the ranch, as she was passing the lower lake, she
saw Stewart walking listlessly along the shore. When he became aware of
the approach of the car he suddenly awakened from his aimless sauntering
and disappeared quickly in the shade of the shrubbery. This was not by
any means the first time Madeline had seen him avoid a possible meeting
with her. Somehow the act had pained her, though affording her a relief.
She did not want to meet him face to face.

It was annoying for her to guess that Stillwell had something to say in
Stewart's defense. The old cattleman was evidently distressed. Several
times he had tried to open a conversation with Madeline relating to
Stewart; she had evaded him until the last time, when his persistence
had brought a cold and final refusal to hear another word about the
foreman. Stillwell had been crushed.

As days passed Stewart remained at the ranch without his old
faithfulness to his work. Madeline was not moved to a kinder frame of
mind to see him wandering dejectedly around. It hurt her, and because
it hurt her she grew all the harder. Then she could not help hearing
snatches of conversation which strengthened her suspicions that Stewart
was losing his grip on himself, that he would soon take the downward
course again. Verification of her own suspicion made it a belief, and
belief brought about a sharp conflict between her generosity and some
feeling that she could not name. It was not a question of justice
or mercy or sympathy. If a single word could have saved Stewart from
sinking his splendid manhood into the brute she had recoiled from at
Chiricahua, she would not have spoken it. She could not restore him to
his former place in her regard; she really did not want him at the
ranch at all. Once, considering in wonder her knowledge of men, she
interrogated herself to see just why she could not overlook Stewart's
transgression. She never wanted to speak to him again, or see him, or
think of him. In some way, through her interest in Stewart, she had come
to feel for herself an inexplicable thing close to scorn.

A telegram from Douglas, heralding the coming of Alfred and a minister,
put an end to Madeline's brooding, and she shared something of Florence
Kingsley's excitement. The cowboys were as eager and gossipy as girls.
It was arranged to have the wedding ceremony performed in Madeline's
great hall-chamber, and the dinner in the cool, flower-scented patio.

Alfred and his minister arrived at the ranch in the big white car. They
appeared considerably wind-blown. In fact, the minister was breathless,
almost sightless, and certainly hatless. Alfred, used as he was to wind
and speed, remarked that he did not wonder at Nels's aversion to riding
a fleeting cannon-ball. The imperturbable Link took off his cap and
goggles and, consulting his watch, made his usual apologetic report to
Madeline, deploring the fact that a teamster and a few stray cattle on
the road had held him down to the manana time of only a mile a minute.

Arrangements for the wedding brought Alfred's delighted approval. When
he had learned all Florence and Madeline would tell him he expressed
a desire to have the cowboys attend; and then he went on to talk about
California, where he was going take Florence on a short trip. He was
curiously interested to find out all about Madeline's guests and what
had happened to them. His keen glance at Madeline grew softer as she
talked.

"I breathe again," he said, and laughed. "I was afraid. Well, I must
have missed some sport. I can just fancy what Monty and Nels did to that
Englishman. So you went up to the crags. That's a wild place. I'm not
surprised at guerrillas falling in with you up there. The crags were
a famous rendezvous for Apaches--it's near the border--almost
inaccessible--good water and grass. I wonder what the U. S. cavalry
would think if they knew these guerrillas crossed the border right under
their noses. Well, it's practically impossible to patrol some of that
border-line. It's desert, mountain, and canyon, exceedingly wild and
broken. I'm sorry to say that there seems to be more trouble in sight
with these guerrillas than at any time heretofore. Orozco, the rebel
leader, has failed to withstand Madero's army. The Federals are
occupying Chihuahua now, and are driving the rebels north. Orozco has
broken up his army into guerrilla bands. They are moving north and west,
intending to carry on guerrilla warfare in Sonora. I can't say just how
this will affect us here. But we're too close to the border for comfort.
These guerrillas are night-riding hawks; they can cross the border, raid
us here, and get back the same night. Fighting, I imagine, will not
be restricted to northern Mexico. With the revolution a failure the
guerrillas will be more numerous, bolder, and hungrier. Unfortunately,
we happen to be favorably situated for them down here in this wilderness
corner of the state."

On the following day Alfred and Florence were married. Florence's
sister and several friends from El Cajon were present, besides Madeline,
Stillwell, and his men. It was Alfred's express wish that Stewart
attend the ceremony. Madeline was amused when she noticed the painfully
suppressed excitement of the cowboys. For them a wedding must have
been an unusual and impressive event. She began to have a better
understanding of the nature of it when they cast off restraint and
pressed forward to kiss the bride. In all her life Madeline had never
seen a bride kissed so much and so heartily, nor one so flushed and
disheveled and happy. This indeed was a joyful occasion. There was
nothing of the "effete East" about Alfred Hammond; he might have been a
Westerner all his days. When Madeline managed to get through the press
of cowboys to offer her congratulations Alfred gave her a bear hug and
a kiss. This appeared to fascinate the cowboys. With shining eyes
and faces aglow, with smiling, boyish boldness, they made a rush at
Madeline. For one instant her heart leaped to her throat. They looked
as if they could most shamelessly kiss and maul her. That little,
ugly-faced, soft-eyed, rude, tender-hearted ruffian, Monty Price, was
in the lead. He resembled a dragon actuated by sentiment. All at once
Madeline's instinctive antagonism to being touched by strange hands or
lips battled with a real, warm, and fun-loving desire to let the cowboys
work their will with her. But she saw Stewart hanging at the back of the
crowd, and something--some fierce, dark expression of pain--amazed her,
while it froze her desire to be kind. Then she did not know what change
must have come to her face and bearing; but she saw Monty fall back
sheepishly and the other cowboys draw aside to let her lead the way into
the patio.

The dinner began quietly enough with the cowboys divided between
embarrassment and voracious appetites that they evidently feared to
indulge. Wine, however, loosened their tongues, and when Stillwell got
up to make the speech everybody seemed to expect of him they greeted him
with a roar.

Stillwell was now one huge, mountainous smile. He was so happy that he
appeared on the verge of tears. He rambled on ecstatically till he came
to raise his glass.

"An' now, girls an' boys, let's all drink to the bride an' groom; to
their sincere an' lastin' love; to their happiness an' prosperity; to
their good health an' long life. Let's drink to the unitin' of the East
with the West. No man full of red blood an' the real breath of life
could resist a Western girl an' a good hoss an' God's free hand--that
open country out there. So we claim Al Hammond, an' may we be true to
him. An', friends, I think it fittin' that we drink to his sister an' to
our hopes. Heah's to the lady we hope to make our Majesty! Heah's to the
man who'll come ridin' out of the West, a fine, big-hearted man with a
fast hoss an' a strong rope, an' may he win an' hold her! Come, friends,
drink."

A heavy pound of horses' hoofs and a yell outside arrested Stillwell's
voice and halted his hand in midair.

The patio became as silent as an unoccupied room.

Through the open doors and windows of Madeline's chamber burst the
sounds of horses stamping to a halt, then harsh speech of men, and a low
cry of a woman in pain.

Rapid steps crossed the porch, entered Madeline's room. Nels appeared in
the doorway. Madeline was surprised to see that he had not been at the
dinner-table. She was disturbed at sight of his face.

"Stewart, you're wanted outdoors," called Nels, bluntly. "Monty, you
slope out here with me. You, Nick, an' Stillwell--I reckon the rest of
you hed better shut the doors an' stay inside."

Nels disappeared. Quick as a cat Monty glided out. Madeline heard his
soft, swift steps pass from her room into her office. He had left
his guns there. Madeline trembled. She saw Stewart get up quietly and
without any change of expression on his dark, sad face leave the patio.
Nick Steele followed him. Stillwell dropped his wine-glass. As it broke,
shivering the silence, his huge smile vanished. His face set into the
old cragginess and the red slowly thickened into black. Stillwell went
out and closed the door behind him.

Then there was a blank silence. The enjoyment of the moment had been
rudely disrupted. Madeline glanced down the lines of brown faces to see
the pleasure fade into the old familiar hardness.

"What's wrong?" asked Alfred, rather stupidly. The change of mood had
been too rapid for him. Suddenly he awakened, thoroughly aroused at
the interruption. "I'm going to see who's butted in here to spoil our
dinner," he said, and strode out.

He returned before any one at the table had spoken or moved, and now the
dull red of anger mottled his forehead.

"It's the sheriff of El Cajon!" he exclaimed, contemptuously. "Pat Hawe
with some of his tough deputies come to arrest Gene Stewart. They've got
that poor little Mexican girl out there tied on a horse. Confound that
sheriff!"

Madeline calmly rose from the table, eluding Florence's entreating
hand, and started for the door. The cowboys jumped up. Alfred barred her
progress.

"Alfred, I am going out," she said.

"No, I guess not," he replied. "That's no place for you."

"I am going." She looked straight at him.

"Madeline! Why, what is it? You look--Dear, there's pretty sure to be
trouble outside. Maybe there'll be a fight. You can do nothing. You must
not go."

"Perhaps I can prevent trouble," she replied.

As she left the patio she was aware that Alfred, with Florence at his
side and the cowboys behind, were starting to follow her. When she got
out of her room upon the porch she heard several men in loud, angry
discussion. Then, at sight of Bonita helplessly and cruelly bound upon
a horse, pale and disheveled and suffering, Madeline experienced the
thrill that sight or mention of this girl always gave her. It yielded to
a hot pang in her breast--that live pain which so shamed her. But almost
instantly, as a second glance showed an agony in Bonita's face, her
bruised arms where the rope bit deep into the flesh, her little
brown hands stained with blood, Madeline was overcome by pity for the
unfortunate girl and a woman's righteous passion at such barbarous
treatment of one of her own sex.

The man holding the bridle of the horse on which Bonita had been bound
was at once recognized by Madeline as the big-bodied, bullet-headed
guerrilla who had found the basket of wine in the spring at camp.
Redder of face, blacker of beard, coarser of aspect, evidently under
the influence of liquor, he was as fierce-looking as a gorilla and as
repulsive. Besides him there were three other men present, all mounted
on weary horses. The one in the foreground, gaunt, sharp-featured,
red-eyed, with a pointed beard, she recognized as the sheriff of El
Cajon.

Madeline hesitated, then stopped in the middle of the porch. Alfred,
Florence, and several others followed her out; the rest of the cowboys
and guests crowded the windows and doors. Stillwell saw Madeline,
and, throwing up his hands, roared to be heard. This quieted the
gesticulating, quarreling men.

"Wal now, Pat Hawe, what's drivin' you like a locoed steer on the
rampage?" demanded Stillwell.

"Keep in the traces, Bill," replied Hawe. "You savvy what I come fer.
I've been bidin' my time. But I'm ready now. I'm hyar to arrest a
criminal."

The huge frame of the old cattleman jerked as if he had been stabbed.
His face turned purple.

"What criminal?" he shouted, hoarsely.

The sheriff flicked his quirt against his dirty boot, and he twisted his
thin lips into a leer. The situation was agreeable to him.

"Why, Bill, I knowed you hed a no-good outfit ridin' this range; but I
wasn't wise thet you hed more 'n one criminal."

"Cut that talk! Which cowboy are you wantin' to arrest?"

Hawe's manner altered.

"Gene Stewart," he replied, curtly.

"On what charge?"

"Fer killin' a Greaser one night last fall."

"So you're still harpin' on that? Pat, you're on the wrong trail. You
can't lay that killin' onto Stewart. The thing's ancient by now. But
if you insist on bringin' him to court, let the arrest go to-day--we're
hevin' some fiesta hyar--an' I'll fetch Gene in to El Cajon."

"Nope. I reckon I'll take him when I got the chance, before he slopes."

"I'm givin' you my word," thundered Stillwell.

"I reckon I don't hev to take your word, Bill, or anybody else's."

Stillwell's great bulk quivered with his rage, yet he made a successful
effort to control it.

"See hyar, Pat Hawe, I know what's reasonable. Law is law. But in this
country there always has been an' is now a safe an' sane way to proceed
with the law. Mebbe you've forgot that. The law as invested in one
man in a wild country is liable, owin' to that man's weaknesses an'
onlimited authority, to be disputed even by a decent ole cattleman like
myself. I'm a-goin' to give you a hunch. Pat, you're not overliked in
these parts. You've rid too much with a high hand. Some of your deals
hev been shady, an' don't you overlook what I'm sayin'. But you're the
sheriff, an' I'm respectin' your office. I'm respectin' it this much. If
the milk of human decency is so soured in your breast that you can't hev
a kind feelin', then try to avoid the onpleasantness that'll result from
any contrary move on your part to-day. Do you get that hunch?"

"Stillwell, you're threatenin' an officer," replied Hawe, angrily.

"Will you hit the trail quick out of hyar?" queried Stillwell, in
strained voice. "I guarantee Stewart's appearance in El Cajon any day
you say."

"No. I come to arrest him, an' I'm goin' to."

"So that's your game!" shouted Stillwell. "We-all are glad to get you
straight, Pat. Now listen, you cheap, red-eyed coyote of a sheriff! You
don't care how many enemies you make. You know you'll never get office
again in this county. What do you care now? It's amazin' strange how
earnest you are to hunt down the man who killed that particular Greaser.
I reckon there's been some dozen or more killin's of Greasers in the
last year. Why don't you take to trailin' some of them killin's? I'll
tell you why. You're afraid to go near the border. An' your hate of Gene
Stewart makes you want to hound him an' put him where he's never
been yet--in jail. You want to spite his friends. Wal, listen, you
lean-jawed, skunk-bitten coyote! Go ahead an' try to arrest him!"

Stillwell took one mighty stride off the porch. His last words had been
cold. His rage appeared to have been transferred to Hawe. The sheriff
had begun to stutter and shake a lanky red hand at the cattleman when
Stewart stepped out.

"Here, you fellows, give me a chance to say a word."

As Stewart appeared the Mexican girl suddenly seemed vitalized out
of her stupor. She strained at her bonds, as if to lift her hands
beseechingly. A flush animated her haggard face, and her big dark eyes
lighted.

"Senor Gene!" she moaned. "Help me! I so seek. They beat me, rope me,
'mos' keel me. Oh, help me, Senor Gene!"

"Shut up, er I'll gag you," said the man who held Bonita's horse.

"Muzzle her, Sneed, if she blabs again," called Hawe. Madeline felt
something tense and strained working in the short silence. Was it only a
phase of her thrilling excitement? Her swift glance showed the faces of
Nels and Monty and Nick to be brooding, cold, watchful. She wondered why
Stewart did not look toward Bonita. He, too, was now dark-faced, cool,
quiet, with something ominous about him.

"Hawe, I'll submit to arrest without any fuss," he said, slowly, "if
you'll take the ropes off that girl."

"Nope," replied the sheriff. "She got away from me onct. She's hawg-tied
now, an' she'll stay hawg-tied."

Madeline thought she saw Stewart give a slight start. But an
unaccountable dimness came over her eyes, at brief intervals obscuring
her keen sight. Vaguely she was conscious of a clogged and beating
tumult in her breast.

"All right, let's hurry out of here," said Stewart. "You've made
annoyance enough. Ride down to the corral with me. I'll get my horse and
go with you."

"Hold on!" yelled Hawe, as Stewart turned away. "Not so fast. Who's
doin' this? You don't come no El Capitan stunts on me. You'll ride one
of my pack-horses, an' you'll go in irons."

"You want to handcuff me?" queried Stewart, with sudden swift start of
passion.

"Want to? Haw, haw! Nope, Stewart, thet's jest my way with hoss-thieves,
raiders, Greasers, murderers, an' sich. See hyar, you Sneed, git off an'
put the irons on this man."

The guerrilla called Sneed slid off his horse and began to fumble in his
saddle-bags.

"You see, Bill," went on Hawe, "I swore in a new depooty fer this
particular job. Sneed is some handy. He rounded up thet little Mexican
cat fer me."

Stillwell did not hear the sheriff; he was gazing at Stewart in a kind
of imploring amaze.

"Gene, you ain't goin' to stand fer them handcuffs?" he pleaded.

"Yes," replied the cowboy. "Bill, old friend, I'm an outsider here.
There's no call for Miss Hammond and--and her brother and Florence to be
worried further about me. Their happy day has already been spoiled on my
account. I want to get out quick."

"Wal, you might be too damn considerate of Miss Hammond's sensitive
feelin's." There was now no trace of the courteous, kindly old rancher.
He looked harder than stone. "How about my feelin's? I want to know
if you're goin' to let this sneakin' coyote, this last gasp of the old
rum-guzzlin' frontier sheriffs, put you in irons an' hawg-tie you an'
drive you off to jail?"

"Yes," replied Stewart, steadily.

"Wal, by Gawd! You, Gene Stewart! What's come over you? Why, man, go in
the house, an' I'll 'tend to this feller. Then to-morrow you can ride in
an' give yourself up like a gentleman."

"No. I'll go. Thanks, Bill, for the way you and the boys would stick to
me. Hurry, Hawe, before my mind changes."

His voice broke at the last, betraying the wonderful control he had kept
over his passions. As he ceased speaking he seemed suddenly to become
spiritless. He dropped his head.

Madeline saw in him then a semblance to the hopeless, shamed Stewart of
earlier days. The vague riot in her breast leaped into conscious fury--a
woman's passionate repudiation of Stewart's broken spirit. It was not
that she would have him be a lawbreaker; it was that she could not bear
to see him deny his manhood. Once she had entreated him to become her
kind of a cowboy--a man in whom reason tempered passion. She had let him
see how painful and shocking any violence was to her. And the idea had
obsessed him, softened him, had grown like a stultifying lichen upon his
will, had shorn him of a wild, bold spirit she now strangely longed
to see him feel. When the man Sneed came forward, jingling the iron
fetters, Madeline's blood turned to fire. She would have forgiven
Stewart then for lapsing into the kind of cowboy it had been her blind
and sickly sentiment to abhor. This was a man's West--a man's game.
What right had a woman reared in a softer mold to use her beauty and
her influence to change a man who was bold and free and strong? At that
moment, with her blood hot and racing, she would have gloried in the
violence which she had so deplored: she would have welcomed the action
that had characterized Stewart's treatment of Don Carlos; she had in her
the sudden dawning temper of a woman who had been assimilating the life
and nature around her and who would not have turned her eyes away from a
harsh and bloody deed.

But Stewart held forth his hands to be manacled. Then Madeline heard her
own voice burst out in a ringing, imperious "Wait!"

In the time it took her to make the few steps to the edge of the porch,
facing the men, she not only felt her anger and justice and pride
summoning forces to her command, but there was something else calling--a
deep, passionate, mysterious thing not born of the moment.

Sneed dropped the manacles. Stewart's face took on a chalky whiteness.
Hawe, in a slow, stupid embarrassment beyond his control, removed his
sombrero in a respect that seemed wrenched from him.

"Mr. Hawe, I can prove to you that Stewart was not concerned in any way
whatever with the crime for which you want to arrest him."

The sheriff's stare underwent a blinking change. He coughed, stammered,
and tried to speak. Manifestly, he had been thrown completely off his
balance. Astonishment slowly merged into discomfiture.

"It was absolutely impossible for Stewart to have been connected with
that assault," went on Madeline, swiftly, "for he was with me in the
waiting-room of the station at the moment the assault was made outside.
I assure you I have a distinct and vivid recollection. The door was
open. I heard the voices of quarreling men. They grew louder. The
language was Spanish. Evidently these men had left the dance-hall
opposite and were approaching the station. I heard a woman's voice
mingling with the others. It, too, was Spanish, and I could not
understand. But the tone was beseeching. Then I heard footsteps on
the gravel. I knew Stewart heard them. I could see from his face that
something dreadful was about to happen. Just outside the door then there
were hoarse, furious voices, a scuffle, a muffled shot, a woman's cry,
the thud of a falling body, and rapid footsteps of a man running away.
Next, the girl Bonita staggered into the door. She was white, trembling,
terror-stricken. She recognized Stewart, appealed to him. Stewart
supported her and endeavored to calm her. He was excited. He asked her
if Danny Mains had been shot, or if he had done the shooting. The girl
said no. She told Stewart that she had danced a little, flirted a little
with vaqueros, and they had quarreled over her. Then Stewart took her
outside and put her upon his horse. I saw the girl ride that horse down
the street to disappear in the darkness."

While Madeline spoke another change appeared to be working in the man
Hawe. He was not long disconcerted, but his discomfiture wore to a
sullen fury, and his sharp features fixed in an expression of craft.

"Thet's mighty interestin', Miss Hammond, 'most as interestin' as a
story-book," he said. "Now, since you're so obligin' a witness, I'd sure
like to put a question or two. What time did you arrive at El Cajon thet
night?"

"It was after eleven o'clock," replied Madeline.

"Nobody there to meet you?"

"No."

"The station agent an' operator both gone?"

"Yes."

"Wal, how soon did this feller Stewart show up?" Hawe continued, with a
wry smile.

"Very soon after my arrival. I think--perhaps fifteen minutes, possibly
a little more."

"Some dark an' lonesome around thet station, wasn't it?"

"Indeed yes."

"An' what time was the Greaser shot?" queried Hawe, with his little eyes
gleaming like coals.

"Probably close to half past one. It was two o'clock when I looked at my
watch at Florence Kingsley's house. Directly after Stewart sent Bonita
away he took me to Miss Kingsley's. So, allowing for the walk and a few
minutes' conversation with her, I can pretty definitely say the shooting
took place at about half past one."

Stillwell heaved his big frame a step closer to the sheriff. "What 're
you drivin' at?" he roared, his face black again.

"Evidence," snapped Hawe.

Madeline marveled at this interruption; and as Stewart irresistibly drew
her glance she saw him gray-faced as ashes, shaking, utterly unnerved.

"I thank you, Miss Hammond," he said, huskily. "But you needn't answer
any more of Hawe's questions. He's--he's--It's not necessary. I'll go
with him now, under arrest. Bonita will corroborate your testimony in
court, and that will save me from this--this man's spite."

Madeline, looking at Stewart, seeing a humility she at first took for
cowardice, suddenly divined that it was not fear for himself which made
him dread further disclosures of that night, but fear for her--fear of
shame she might suffer through him.

Pat Hawe cocked his head to one side, like a vulture about to strike
with his beak, and cunningly eyed Madeline.

"Considered as testimony, what you've said is sure important an'
conclusive. But I'm calculatin' thet the court will want to hev
explained why you stayed from eleven-thirty till one-thirty in thet
waitin'-room alone with Stewart."

His deliberate speech met with what Madeline imagined a remarkable
reception from Stewart, who gave a tigerish start; from Stillwell, whose
big hands tore at the neck of his shirt, as if he was choking; from
Alfred, who now strode hotly forward, to be stopped by the cold and
silent Nels; from Monty Price, who uttered a violent "Aw!" which was
both a hiss and a roar.

In the rush of her thought Madeline could not interpret the meaning
of these things which seemed so strange at that moment. But they were
portentous. Even as she was forming a reply to Hawe's speech she felt a
chill creep over her.

"Stewart detained me in the waiting-room," she said, clear-voiced as a
bell. "But we were not alone--all the time."

For a moment the only sound following her words was a gasp from Stewart.
Hawe's face became transformed with a hideous amaze and joy.

"Detained?" he whispered, craning his lean and corded neck. "How's
thet?"

"Stewart was drunk. He--"

With sudden passionate gesture of despair Stewart appealed to her:

"Oh, Miss Hammond, don't! don't! DON'T!..."

Then he seemed to sink down, head lowered upon his breast, in utter
shame. Stillwell's great hand swept to the bowed shoulder, and he turned
to Madeline.

"Miss Majesty, I reckon you'd be wise to tell all," said the old
cattleman, gravely. "There ain't one of us who could misunderstand any
motive or act of yours. Mebbe a stroke of lightnin' might clear this
murky air. Whatever Gene Stewart did that onlucky night--you tell it."

Madeline's dignity and self-possession had been disturbed by Stewart's
importunity. She broke into swift, disconnected speech:

"He came into the station--a few minutes after I got there. I asked-to
be shown to a hotel. He said there wasn't any that would accommodate
married women. He grasped my hand--looked for a wedding-ring. Then I saw
he was--he was intoxicated. He told me he would go for a hotel
porter. But he came back with a padre--Padre Marcos. The poor priest
was--terribly frightened. So was I. Stewart had turned into a devil. He
fired his gun at the padre's feet. He pushed me into a bench. Again he
shot--right before my face. I--I nearly fainted. But I heard him cursing
the padre--heard the padre praying or chanting--I didn't know what.
Stewart tried to make me say things in Spanish. All at once he asked my
name. I told him. He jerked at my veil. I took it off. Then he threw
his gun down--pushed the padre out of the door. That was just before the
vaqueros approached with Bonita. Padre Marcos must have seen them--must
have heard them. After that Stewart grew quickly sober. He was
mortified--distressed--stricken with shame. He told me he had been
drinking at a wedding--I remember, it was Ed Linton's wedding. Then he
explained--the boys were always gambling--he wagered he would marry the
first girl who arrived at El Cajon. I happened to be the first one. He
tried to force me to marry him. The rest--relating to the assault on the
vaquero--I have already told you."

Madeline ended, out of breath and panting, with her hands pressed upon
her heaving bosom. Revelation of that secret liberated emotion; those
hurried outspoken words had made her throb and tremble and burn.
Strangely then she thought of Alfred and his wrath. But he stood
motionless, as if dazed. Stillwell was trying to holster up the crushed
Stewart.

Hawe rolled his red eyes and threw back his head.

"Ho, ho, ho! Ho, ho, ho! Say, Sneed, you didn't miss any of it, did ye?
Haw, haw! Best I ever heerd in all my born days. Ho, ho!"

Then he ceased laughing, and with glinting gaze upon Madeline, insolent
and vicious and savage, he began to drawl:

"Wal now, my lady, I reckon your story, if it tallies with Bonita's an'
Padre Marcos's, will clear Gene Stewart in the eyes of the court."
Here he grew slower, more biting, sharper and harder of face. "But
you needn't expect Pat Hawe or the court to swaller thet part of your
story--about bein' detained unwillin'!"

Madeline had not time to grasp the sense of his last words. Stewart
had convulsively sprung upward, white as chalk. As he leaped at Hawe
Stillwell interposed his huge bulk and wrapped his arms around Stewart.
There was a brief, whirling, wrestling struggle. Stewart appeared to be
besting the old cattleman.

"Help, boys, help!" yelled Stillwell. "I can't hold him. Hurry, or
there's goin' to be blood spilled!"

Nick Steele and several cowboys leaped to Stillwell's assistance.
Stewart, getting free, tossed one aside and then another. They closed
in on him. For an instant a furious straining wrestle of powerful bodies
made rasp and shock and blow. Once Stewart heaved them from him. But
they plunged back upon him--conquered him.

"Gene! Why, Gene!" panted the old cattleman. "Sure you're locoed--to
act this way. Cool down! Cool down! Why, boy, it's all right. Jest
stand still--give us a chance to talk to you. It's only ole Bill, you
know--your ole pal who's tried to be a daddy to you. He's only wantin'
you to hev sense--to be cool--to wait."

"Let me go! Let me go!" cried Stewart; and the poignancy of that cry
pierced Madeline's heart. "Let me go, Bill, if you're my friend. I saved
your life once--over in the desert. You swore you'd never forget. Boys,
make him let me go! Oh, I don't care what Hawe's said or done to me! It
was that about her! Are you all a lot of Greasers? How can you stand it?
Damn you for a lot of cowards! There's a limit, I tell you." Then his
voice broke, fell to a whisper. "Bill, dear old Bill, let me go. I'll
kill him! You know I'll kill him!"

"Gene, I know you'd kill him if you hed an even break," replied
Stillwell, soothingly. "But, Gene, why, you ain't even packin' a gun!
An' there's Pat lookin' nasty, with his hand nervous-like. He seen you
hed no gun. He'd jump at the chance to plug you now, an' then holler
about opposition to the law. Cool down, son; it'll all come right."

Suddenly Madeline was transfixed by a terrible sound.

Her startled glance shifted from the anxious group round Stewart to see
that Monty Price had leaped off the porch. He crouched down with his
bands below his hips, where the big guns swung. From his distorted lips
issued that which was combined roar and bellow and Indian war-whoop,
and, more than all, a horrible warning cry. He resembled a hunchback
about to make the leap of a demon. He was quivering, vibrating. His
eyes, black and hot, were fastened with most piercing intentness upon
Hawe and Sneed.

"Git back, Bill, git back!" he roared. "Git 'em back!" With one lunge
Stillwell shoved Stewart and Nick and the other cowboys up on the porch.
Then he crowded Madeline and Alfred and Florence to the wall, tried to
force them farther. His motions were rapid and stern. But failing to get
them through door and windows, he planted his wide person between
the women and danger. Madeline grasped his arm, held on, and peered
fearfully from behind his broad shoulder.

"You, Hawe! You, Sneed!" called Monty, in that same wild voice. "Don't
you move a finger or an eyelash!"

Madeline's faculties nerved to keen, thrilling divination. She grasped
the relation between Monty's terrible cry and the strange hunched
posture he had assumed. Stillwell's haste and silence, too, were
pregnant of catastrophe.

"Nels, git in this!" yelled Monty; and all the time he never shifted his
intent gaze as much as a hair's-breadth from Hawe and his deputy. "Nels,
chase away them two fellers hangin' back there. Chase 'em, quick!"

These men, the two deputies who had remained in the background with the
pack-horses, did not wait for Nels. They spurred their mounts, wheeled,
and galloped away.

"Now, Nels, cut the gurl loose," ordered Monty.

Nels ran forward, jerked the halter out of Sneed's hand, and pulled
Bonita's horse in close to the porch. As he slit the rope which bound
her she fell into his arms.

"Hawe, git down!" went on Monty. "Face front an' stiff!"

The sheriff swung his leg, and, never moving his hands, with his face
now a deathly, sickening white, he slid to the ground.

"Line up there beside your guerrilla pard. There! You two make a damn
fine pictoor, a damn fine team of pizened coyote an' a cross between a
wild mule an' a Greaser. Now listen!"

Monty made a long pause, in which his breathing was plainly audible.

Madeline's eyes were riveted upon Monty. Her mind, swift as lightning,
had gathered the subtleties in action and word succeeding his domination
of the men. Violence, terrible violence, the thing she had felt, the
thing she had feared, the thing she had sought to eliminate from among
her cowboys, was, after many months, about to be enacted before
her eyes. It had come at last. She had softened Stillwell, she had
influenced Nels, she had changed Stewart; but this little black-faced,
terrible Monty Price now rose, as it were, out of his past wild years,
and no power on earth or in heaven could stay his hand. It was the hard
life of wild men in a wild country that was about to strike this blow at
her. She did not shudder; she did not wish to blot out from sight this
little man, terrible in his mood of wild justice. She suffered a flash
of horror that Monty, blind and dead to her authority, cold as steel
toward her presence, understood the deeps of a woman's soul. For in
this moment of strife, of insult to her, of torture to the man she
had uplifted and then broken, the passion of her reached deep toward
primitive hate. With eyes slowly hazing red, she watched Monty Price;
she listened with thrumming ears; she waited, slowly sagging against
Stillwell.

"Hawe, if you an' your dirty pard hev loved the sound of human voice,
then listen an' listen hard," said Monty. "Fer I've been goin' contrary
to my ole style jest to hev a talk with you. You all but got away on
your nerve, didn't you? 'Cause why? You roll in here like a mad steer
an' flash yer badge an' talk mean, then almost bluff away with it.
You heerd all about Miss Hammond's cowboy outfit stoppin' drinkin' an'
cussin' an' packin' guns. They've took on religion an' decent livin',
an' sure they'll be easy to hobble an' drive to jail. Hawe, listen.
There was a good an' noble an be-ootiful woman come out of the East
somewheres, an' she brought a lot of sunshine an' happiness an' new
idees into the tough lives of cowboys. I reckon it's beyond you to know
what she come to mean to them. Wal, I'll tell you. They-all went clean
out of their heads. They-all got soft an' easy an' sweet-tempered. They
got so they couldn't kill a coyote, a crippled calf in a mud-hole. They
took to books, an' writin' home to mother an' sister, an' to savin'
money, an' to gittin' married. Onct they was only a lot of poor cowboys,
an' then sudden-like they was human bein's, livin' in a big world
thet hed somethin' sweet even fer them. Even fer me--an ole, worn-out,
hobble-legged, burned-up cowman like me! Do you git thet? An' you,
Mister Hawe, you come along, not satisfied with ropin' an' beatin', an'
Gaw knows what else, of thet friendless little Bonita; you come
along an' face the lady we fellers honor an' love an' reverence, an'
you--you--Hell's fire!"

With whistling breath, foaming at the mouth, Monty Price crouched lower,
hands at his hips, and he edged inch by inch farther out from the porch,
closer to Hawe and Sneed. Madeline saw them only in the blurred fringe
of her sight. They resembled specters. She heard the shrill whistle of a
horse and recognized Majesty calling her from the corral.

"Thet's all!" roared Monty, in a voice now strangling. Lower and lower
he bent, a terrible figure of ferocity. "Now, both you armed ocifers of
the law, come on! Flash your guns! Throw 'em, an' be quick! Monty Price
is done! There'll be daylight through you both before you fan a hammer!
But I'm givin' you a chanst to sting me. You holler law, an' my way is
the ole law."

His breath came quicker, his voice grew hoarser, and he crouched lower.
All his body except his rigid arms quivered with a wonderful muscular
convulsion.

"Dogs! Skunks! Buzzards! Flash them guns, er I'll flash mine! Aha!"

To Madeline it seemed the three stiff, crouching men leaped into instant
and united action. She saw streaks of fire--streaks of smoke. Then a
crashing volley deafened her. It ceased as quickly. Smoke veiled the
scene. Slowly it drifted away to disclose three fallen men, one of whom,
Monty, leaned on his left hand, a smoking gun in his right. He watched
for a movement from the other two. It did not come. Then, with a
terrible smile, he slid back and stretched out.





Next: Unbridled

Previous: Don Carlos



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