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We Wait The Summons

From: Desert Dust

The Sioux had quieted. They let the hollow alone, tenanted as it was with
death; there was for us a satisfaction in that tribute to our defense.
Quite methodically, and with cruel show of leisure they distributed
themselves by knots, in a half-encircling string around our asylum; they
posted a sentry, ahorse, as a lookout; and lolling upon the bare ground in
the sun glare they chatted, laughed, rested, but never for an instant were
we dismissed from their eyes and thoughts.

"They will wait, too. They can afford it," she murmured. "It is cheaper
for them than losing lives."

"If they knew we had only the two cartridges----?"

"They don't, yet."

"And they will find out too late," I hazarded.

"Yes, too late. We shall have time." Her voice did not waver; it heartened
with its vengeful, determined mien.

Occasionally a warrior invoked us by brandishing arm or weapon in surety
of hate and in promise of fancied reprisal. What fools they were! Now and
again a warrior galloped upon the back trail; returned gleefully, perhaps
to flourish an army canteen at us.

"There probably is water where we heard the frogs last night," she

"I'm glad we didn't try to reach it, for camp," said I.

"So am I," said she. "We might have run right into them. We are better
here. At least, I am."

"And I," I confirmed.

Strangely enough we seemed to have little to say, now in this precious
doldrums where we were becalmed, between the distant past and the unlogged
future. We had not a particle of shade, not a trace of coolness: the sun
was high, all our rocky recess was a furnace, fairly reverberant with the
heat; the flies (and I vaguely pondered upon how they had existed,
previously, and whence they had gathered) buzzed briskly, attracted by the
dead mule, unseen, and captiously diverted to us also. We lay tolerably
bolstered, without much movement; and as the Sioux were not firing upon
us, we might wax careless of their espionage.

Her eyes, untroubled, scarcely left my face; I feared to let mine leave
hers. Of what she was thinking I might not know, and I did not seek to
know--was oddly yielding and content, for our decisions had been made. And
still it was unreal, impossible: we, in this guise; the Sioux, watching;
the desert, waiting; death hovering--a sudden death, a violent death, the
end of that which had barely begun; an end suspended in sight like the
Dionysian sword, with the single hair already frayed by the greedy shears
of the Fate. A snap, at our own signal; then presto, change!

It simply could not be true. Why, somewhere my father and mother busied,
mindless; somewhere Benton roared, mindless; somewhere the wagon train
toiled on, mindless; the stage road missed us not, nor wondered; the
railroad graders shoveled and scraped and picked as blithely as if the
same desert did not contain them, and us; cities throbbed, people worked
and played, and we were of as little concern to them now as we would be a
year hence.

Then it all pridefully resolved to this, like the warming tune of a fine
battle chant: That I was here, with my woman, my partner woman, the much
desirable woman whom I had won; which was more than Daniel, or Montoyo, or
the Indian chief, or the wide world of other men could boast.

Soon she spoke, at times, musingly.

"I did make up to you, at first," she said. "In Omaha, and on the train."

"Did you?" I smiled. She was so childishly frank.

"But that was only passing. Then in Benton I knew you were different. I
wondered what it was; but you were different from anybody that I had met
before. There's always such a moment in a woman's life."

I soberly nodded. Nothing could be a platitude in such a place and such an

"I wished to help you. Do you believe that now?"

"I believe you, dear heart," I assured.

"But it was partly because I thought you could help me," she said, like a
confession. And she added: "I had nothing wrong in mind. You were to be a
friend, not a lover. I had no need of lovers; no, no."

We were silent for an interval. Again she spoke.

"Do you care anything about my family? I suppose not. That doesn't matter,
here. But you wouldn't be ashamed of them. I ran away with Montoyo. I
thought he was something else. How could I go home after that? I tried to
be true to him, we had plenty of money, he was kind to me at first, but he
dragged me down and my father and mother don't know even yet. Yes, I tried
to help him, too. I stayed. It's a life that gets into one's blood. I
feared him terribly, in time. He was a breed, and a devil--a gentleman
devil." She referred in the past tense, as to some fact definitely bygone.
"I had to play fair with him, or---- And when I had done that, hoping,
why, what else could I do or where could I go? So many people knew me."
She smiled. "Suddenly I tied to you, sir. I seemed to feel--I took the

"Thank God you did," I encouraged.

"But I would not have wronged myself, or you, or him," she eagerly
pursued. "I never did wrong him." She flushed. "No man can convict me. You
hurt me when you refused me, dear; it told me that you didn't understand.
Then I was desperate. I had been shamed before you, and by you. You were
going, and not understanding, and I couldn't let you. So I did follow you
to the wagon train. You were my star. I wonder why. I did feel that you'd
get me out--you see, I was so madly selfish, like a drowning person. I
clutched at you; might have put you under while climbing up, myself."

"We have climbed together," said I. "You have made me into a man."

"But I forced myself on you. I played you against Daniel. I foresaw that
you might have to kill him, to rid me of him. You were my weapon. And I
used you. Do you blame me that I used you?"

"Daniel and I were destined to meet, just as you and I were destined to
meet," said I. "I had to prove myself on him. It would have happened
anyway. Had I not stood up to him you would not have loved me."

"That was not the price," she sighed. "Maybe you don't understand yet. I'm
so afraid you don't understand," she pleaded. "At the last I had resigned
you, I would have left you free, I saw how you felt; but, oh, it happened
just the same--we were fated, and you showed that you hated me."

"I never hated you. I was perplexed. That was a part of love," said I.

"You mean it? You are holding nothing back?" she asked, anxious.

"I am holding nothing back," I answered. "As you will know, I think, in
time to come."

Again we reclined, silent, at peace: a strange peace of mind and body, to
which the demonstrations by the waiting Sioux were alien things.

She spoke.

"Are we very guilty, do you think?"

"In what, dearest?"

"In this, here. I am already married, you know."

"That is another life," I reasoned. "It is long ago and under different

"But if we went back into it--if we escaped?"

"Then we should--but don't let's talk of that."

"Then you should forget and I should return to Benton," she said. "I have
decided. I should return to Benton, where Montoyo is, and maybe find
another way. But I should not live with him; never, never! I should ask
him to release me."

"I, with you," I informed. "We should go together, and do what was best."

"You would? You wouldn't be ashamed, or afraid?"

"Ashamed or afraid of what?"

She cried out happily, and shivered.

"I hope we don't have to. He might kill you. Yes, I hope we don't have to.
Do you mind?"

I shook my head, smiling my response. There were tears in her eyes,
repaying me.

Our conversation became more fitful. Time sped, I don't know how, except
that we were in a kind of lethargy, taking no note of time and hanging
fast to this our respite from the tempestuous past.

Once she dreamily murmured, apropos of nothing, yet apropos of much:

"We must be about the same age. I am not old, not really very old."

"I am twenty-five," I answered.

"So I thought," she mused.

Then, later, in manner of having revolved this idea also, more distinctly
apropos and voiced with a certain triumph:

"I'm glad we drank water when we might; aren't you?"

"You were so wise," I praised; and I felt sorry for her cracked lips. It
is astonishing with what swiftness, even upon the dry desert, amid the dry
air, under the dry burning sun, thirst quickens into a consuming fire
scorching from within outward to the skin.

We lapsed into that remarkable patience, playing the game with the Sioux
and steadily viewing each other; and she asked, casually:

"Where will you shoot me, Frank?"

This bared the secret heart of me.

"No! No!" I begged. "Don't speak of that. It will be bad enough at the
best. How can I? I don't know how I can do it!"

"You will, though," she soothed. "I'd rather have it from you. You must be
brave, for yourself and for me; and kind, and quick. I think it should be
through the temple. That's sure. But you won't wait to look, will you?
You'll spare yourself that?"

This made me groan, craven, and wipe my hand across my forehead to brush
away the frenzy. The fingers came free, damp with cold sticky sweat--a
prodigy of a parchment skin which puzzled me.

We had not exchanged a caress, save by voice; had not again touched each
other. Sometimes I glanced at the Sioux, but not for long; I dreaded to
lose sight of her by so much as a moment. The Sioux remained virtually as
from the beginning of their vigil. They sat secure, drank, probably ate,
with time their ally: sat judicial and persistent, as though depending
upon the progress of a slow fuse, or upon the workings of poison, which
indeed was the case.

Thirst and heat tortured unceasingly. The sun had passed the zenith--this
sun of a culminating summer throughout which he had thrived regal and
lustful. It seemed ignoble of him that he now should stoop to torment only
us, and one of us a small woman. There was all his boundless domain for

But stoop he did, burning nearer and nearer. She broke with sudden passion
of hoarse appeal.

"Why do we wait? Why not now?"

"We ought to wait," I stammered, miserable and pitying.

"Yes," she whispered, submissive, "I suppose we ought. One always does.
But I am so tired. I think," she said, "that I will let my hair down. I
shall go with my hair down. I have a right to, at the last."

Whereupon she fell to loosening her hair and braiding it with hurried

Then after a time I said:

"We'll not be much longer, dear."

"I hope not," said she, panting, her lips stiff, her eyes bright and
feverish. "They'll rush us at sundown; maybe before."

"I believe," said I, blurring the words, for my tongue was getting
unmanageable, "they're making ready now."

She exclaimed and struggled and sat up, and we both gazed. Out there the
Sioux, in that world of their own, had aroused to energy. I fancied that
they had palled of the inaction. At any rate they were upon their feet,
several were upon their horses, others mounted hastily, squad joined squad
as though by summons, and here came their outpost scout, galloping in, his
blanket streaming from one hand like a banner of an Islam prophet.

They delayed an instant, gesticulating.

"It will be soon," she whispered, touching my arm. "When they are
half-way, don't fail. I trust you. Will you kiss me? That is only the

I kissed her; dry cracked lips met dry cracked lips. She laid herself down
and closed her eyes, and smiled.

"I'm all right," she said. "And tired. I've worked so hard, for only this.
You mustn't look."

"And you must wait for me, somewhere," I entreated. "Just a moment."

"Of course," she sighed.

The Sioux charged, shrieking, hammering, lashing, all of one purpose:
that, us; she, I; my life, her body; and quickly kneeling beside her (I
was cool and firm and collected) I felt her hand guide the revolver
barrel. But I did not look. She had forbidden, and I kept my eyes upon
them, until they were half-way, and in exultation I pulled the trigger, my
hand already tensed to snatch and cock and deliver myself under their very
grasp. That was a sweetness.

The hammer clicked. There had been no jar, no report. The hammer had only
clicked, I tell you, shocking me to the core. A missed cartridge? An empty
chamber? Which? No matter. I should achieve for her, first; then, myself.
I heard her gasp, they were very near, how they shouted, how the bullets
and arrows spatted and hissed, and I had convulsively cocked the gun, she
had clutched it--when looking through them, agonized and blinded as I
was--looking through them as if they were phantasms I sensed another sound
and with sight sharpened I saw.

Then I wrested the revolver from her. I fired pointblank, I fired again
(the Colt's did not fail); they swept by, hooting, jostling; they thudded
on; and rising I screeched and waved, as bizarre, no doubt, as any
animated scarecrow.

It had been a trumpet note, and a cavalry guidon and a rank of bobbing
figures had come galloping, galloping over an imperceptible swell.

She cried to me, from my feet.

"You didn't do it! You didn't do it!"

"We're saved," I blatted. "Hurrah! We're saved! The soldiers are here."

Again the trumpet pealed, lilting silvery. She tottered up, clinging to
me. She stared. She released me, and to my gladly questing gaze her face
was very white, her eyes struggling for comprehension, like those of one
awakened from a dream.

"I must go back to Benton," she faltered. "I shall never get away from

We stood mute while the blue-coats raced on with hearty cheers and brave
clank of saber and canteen. We were sitting composedly when the lieutenant
scrambled to us, among our rocks; the troopers followed, curiously

His stubbled red face, dust-smeared, queried us keenly; so did his curt

"Just in time?"

"In time," I croaked. "Water! For her--for me."

There was a canteen apiece. We sucked.

"You are the two from the Mormon wagon train?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. You know?" I uttered.

"We came on as fast as we could. The Sioux are raiding again. By God, you
had a narrow squeak, sir," he reproved. "You were crazy to try it--you and
a woman, alone. We'll take you along as soon as my Pawnees get in from
chasing those beggars."

Distant whoops from a pursuit drifted in to us, out of the desert.

"Captain Adams sent you?" I inquired.

"Yes, sir."

"I will go back," I agreed. "I will go back, but there's no need of Mrs.
Montoyo. If you could see her safely landed at a stage station, and for

"We'll land you both. I have to report at Bridger. The train is all right.
It has an escort to Bitter Creek."

"I can overtake it, or join it," said I. "But the lady goes to Benton."

"Yes, yes," he snapped. "That's nothing to me, of course. But you'll do
better to wait for the train at Bridger, Mr. ----? I don't believe I have
your name?"

"Beeson," I informed, astonished.

"And the lady's? Your sister? Wife?"

"Mrs. Montoyo," I informed. And I repeated, that there should be no
misunderstanding. "Mrs. Montoyo, from Benton. No relative, sir."

He passed it over, as a gentleman should.

"Well, Mr. Beeson, you have business with the train?"

"I have business with Captain Adams, and he with me," I replied. "As
probably you know. Since he sent you, I shall consider myself under
arrest; but I will return of my own free will as soon as Mrs. Montoyo is

"Under arrest? For what?" He blankly eyed me.

"For killing that man, sir. Captain Adams' son. But I was forced to it--I
did it in self-defense. I should not have left, and I am ready to face the
matter whenever possible."

"Oh!" said he, with a shrug, tossing the idea aside. "If that's all! I did
hear something about that, from some of my men, but nothing from Adams.
You didn't kill him, I understand; merely laid him out. I saw him, myself,
but I didn't ask questions. So you can rest easy on that score. His old
man seemed to have no grudge against you for it. Fact is, he scarcely
allowed me time to warn him of the Sioux before he told me you and a woman
were out and were liable to lose your scalps, if nothing worse. I think,"
the lieutenant added, narrowing upon me, "that you'll find those Mormons
are as just as any other set, in a show down. The lad, I gathered from the
talk, drew on you after he'd cried quits." He turned hastily. "You spoke,
madam? Anything wanted?"

The trumpeter orderly plucked me by the sleeve. He was a squat,
sun-scorched little man, and his red-rimmed blue eyes squinted at me with
painful interest. He whispered harshly from covert of bronzed hand.

"Beg your pardon, sorr. Mrs. Montoyo, be it--that lady?"


"From Benton City, sorr, ye say?"

"From Benton City."

"Sure, I know the name. It's the same of a gambler the vigilantes strung
up last week; for I was there to see."

I heard a gusty sigh, an exclamation from the lieutenant. My Lady had
fainted again.

"The reaction, sir," I apologized, to the lieutenant, as we worked.

"Naturally," answered he. "You'll both go back to Benton?"

"Certainly," said I.

Next: Star Shine

Previous: The Queen Wins

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