A Ride From Sunrise To Sunset





Next morning, when Madeline was aroused by her brother, it was not yet

daybreak; the air chilled her, and in the gray gloom she had to feel

around for matches and lamp. Her usual languid manner vanished at a

touch of the cold water. Presently, when Alfred knocked on her door and

said he was leaving a pitcher of hot water outside, she replied, with

chattering teeth, "Th-thank y-you, b-but I d-don't ne-need any now." She

found it necessary, however, to warm her numb fingers before she could

fasten hooks and buttons. And when she was dressed she marked in the dim

mirror that there were tinges of red in her cheeks.



"Well, if I haven't some color!" she exclaimed.



Breakfast waited for her in the dining-room. The sisters ate with her.

Madeline quickly caught the feeling of brisk action that seemed to be

in the air. From the back of the house sounded the tramp of boots and

voices of men, and from outside came a dull thump of hoofs, the rattle

of harness, and creak of wheels. Then Alfred came stamping in.



"Majesty, here's where you get the real thing," he announced, merrily.

"We're rushing you off, I'm sorry to say; but we must hustle back to

the ranch. The fall round-up begins to-morrow. You will ride in the

buck-board with Florence and Stillwell. I'll ride on ahead with the boys

and fix up a little for you at the ranch. Your baggage will follow, but

won't get there till to-morrow sometime. It's a long ride out--nearly

fifty miles by wagon-road. Flo, don't forget a couple of robes. Wrap her

up well. And hustle getting ready. We're waiting."



A little later, when Madeline went out with Florence, the gray gloom was

lightening. Horses were champing bits and pounding gravel.



"Mawnin', Miss Majesty," said Stillwell, gruffly, from the front seat of

a high vehicle.



Alfred bundled her up into the back seat, and Florence after her, and

wrapped them with robes. Then he mounted his horse and started off.

"Gid-eb!" growled Stillwell, and with a crack of his whip the team

jumped into a trot. Florence whispered into Madeline's ear:



"Bill's grouchy early in the mawnin'. He'll thaw out soon as it gets

warm."



It was still so gray that Madeline could not distinguish objects at any

considerable distance, and she left El Cajon without knowing what the

town really looked like. She did know that she was glad to get out of

it, and found an easier task of dispelling persistent haunting memory.



"Here come the cowboys," said Florence.



A line of horsemen appeared coming from the right and fell in behind

Alfred, and gradually they drew ahead, to disappear from sight. While

Madeline watched them the gray gloom lightened into dawn. All about her

was bare and dark; the horizon seemed close; not a hill nor a tree broke

the monotony. The ground appeared to be flat, but the road went up and

down over little ridges. Madeline glanced backward in the direction of

El Cajon and the mountains she had seen the day before, and she saw only

bare and dark ground, like that which rolled before.



A puff of cold wind struck her face and she shivered. Florence noticed

her and pulled up the second robe and tucked it closely round her up to

her chin.



"If we have a little wind you'll sure feel it," said the Western girl.



Madeline replied that she already felt it. The wind appeared to

penetrate the robes. It was cold, pure, nipping. It was so thin she had

to breathe as fast as if she were under ordinary exertion. It hurt her

nose and made her lungs ache.



"Aren't you co-cold?" asked Madeline.



"I?" Florence laughed. "I'm used to it. I never get cold."



The Western girl sat with ungloved hands on the outside of the robe she

evidently did not need to draw up around her. Madeline thought she had

never seen such a clear-eyed, healthy, splendid girl.



"Do you like to see the sun rise?" asked Florence.



"Yes, I think I do," replied Madeline, thoughtfully. "Frankly, I have

not seen it for years."



"We have beautiful sunrises, and sunsets from the ranch are glorious."



Long lines of pink fire ran level with the eastern horizon, which

appeared to recede as day brightened. A bank of thin, fleecy clouds was

turning rose. To the south and west the sky was dark; but every moment

it changed, the blue turning bluer. The eastern sky was opalescent. Then

in one place gathered a golden light, and slowly concentrated till it

was like fire. The rosy bank of cloud turned to silver and pearl, and

behind it shot up a great circle of gold. Above the dark horizon gleamed

an intensely bright disk. It was the sun. It rose swiftly, blazing out

the darkness between the ridges and giving color and distance to the

sweep of land.



"Wal, wal," drawled Stillwell, and stretched his huge arms as if he had

just awakened, "thet's somethin' like."



Florence nudged Madeline and winked at her.



"Fine mawnin', girls," went on old Bill, cracking his whip. "Miss

Majesty, it'll be some oninterestin' ride all mawnin'. But when we get

up a bit you'll sure like it. There! Look to the southwest, jest over

thet farthest ridge."



Madeline swept her gaze along the gray, sloping horizon-line to where

dark-blue spires rose far beyond the ridge.



"Peloncillo Mountains," said Stillwell. "Thet's home, when we get

there. We won't see no more of them till afternoon, when they rise up

sudden-like."



Peloncillo! Madeline murmured the melodious name. Where had she heard

it? Then she remembered. The cowboy Stewart had told the little Mexican

girl Bonita to "hit the Peloncillo trail." Probably the girl had ridden

the big, dark horse over this very road at night, alone. Madeline had a

little shiver that was not occasioned by the cold wind.



"There's a jack!" cried Florence, suddenly.



Madeline saw her first jack-rabbit. It was as large as a dog, and its

ears were enormous. It appeared to be impudently tame, and the horses

kicked dust over it as they trotted by. From then on old Bill and

Florence vied with each other in calling Madeline's attention to many

things along the way. Coyotes stealing away into the brush; buzzards

flapping over the carcass of a cow that had been mired in a wash; queer

little lizards running swiftly across the road; cattle grazing in the

hollows; adobe huts of Mexican herders; wild, shaggy horses, with heads

high, watching from the gray ridges--all these things Madeline looked

at, indifferently at first, because indifference had become habitual

with her, and then with an interest that flourished up and insensibly

grew as she rode on. It grew until sight of a little ragged Mexican boy

astride the most diminutive burro she had ever seen awakened her to

the truth. She became conscious of faint, unmistakable awakening of

long-dead feelings--enthusiasm and delight. When she realized that, she

breathed deep of the cold, sharp air and experienced an inward joy. And

she divined then, though she did not know why, that henceforth there was

to be something new in her life, something she had never felt before,

something good for her soul in the homely, the commonplace, the natural,

and the wild.



Meanwhile, as Madeline gazed about her and listened to her companions,

the sun rose higher and grew warm and soared and grew hot; the horses

held tirelessly to their steady trot, and mile after mile of rolling

land slipped by.



From the top of a ridge Madeline saw down into a hollow where a few of

the cowboys had stopped and were sitting round a fire, evidently busy at

the noonday meal. Their horses were feeding on the long, gray grass.



"Wal, smell of thet burnin' greasewood makes my mouth water," said

Stillwell. "I'm sure hungry. We'll noon hyar an' let the hosses rest.

It's a long pull to the ranch."



He halted near the camp-fire, and, clambering down, began to unharness

the team. Florence leaped out and turned to help Madeline.



"Walk round a little," she said. "You must be cramped from sitting still

so long. I'll get lunch ready."



Madeline got down, glad to stretch her limbs, and began to stroll about.

She heard Stillwell throw the harness on the ground and slap his horses.

"Roll, you sons-of-guns!" he said. Both horses bent their fore legs,

heaved down on their sides, and tried to roll over. One horse succeeded

on the fourth try, and then heaved up with a satisfied snort and shook

off the dust and gravel. The other one failed to roll over, and gave it

up, half rose to his feet, and then lay down on the other side.



"He's sure going to feel the ground," said Florence, smiling at

Madeline. "Miss Hammond, I suppose that prize horse of yours--White

Stockings--would spoil his coat if he were heah to roll in this

greasewood and cactus."



During lunch-time Madeline observed that she was an object of manifestly

great interest to the three cowboys. She returned the compliment,

and was amused to see that a glance their way caused them painful

embarrassment. They were grown men--one of whom had white hair--yet

they acted like boys caught in the act of stealing a forbidden look at a

pretty girl.



"Cowboys are sure all flirts," said Florence, as if stating an

uninteresting fact. But Madeline detected a merry twinkle in her clear

eyes. The cowboys heard, and the effect upon them was magical. They

fell to shamed confusion and to hurried useless tasks. Madeline found

it difficult to see where they had been bold, though evidently they were

stricken with conscious guilt. She recalled appraising looks of critical

English eyes, impudent French stares, burning Spanish glances--gantlets

which any American girl had to run abroad. Compared with foreign eyes

the eyes of these cowboys were those of smiling, eager babies.



"Haw, haw!" roared Stillwell. "Florence, you jest hit the nail on the

haid. Cowboys are all plumb flirts. I was wonderin' why them boys nooned

hyar. This ain't no place to noon. Ain't no grazin' or wood wuth burnin'

or nuthin'. Them boys jest held up, throwed the packs, an' waited

fer us. It ain't so surprisin' fer Booly an' Ned--they're young an'

coltish--but Nels there, why, he's old enough to be the paw of both you

girls. It sure is amazin' strange."



A silence ensued. The white-haired cowboy, Nels, fussed aimlessly over

the camp-fire, and then straightened up with a very red face.



"Bill, you're a dog-gone liar," he said. "I reckon I won't stand to be

classed with Booly an' Ned. There ain't no cowboy on this range thet's

more appreciatin' of the ladies than me, but I shore ain't ridin' out

of my way. I reckon I hev enough ridin' to do. Now, Bill, if you've sich

dog-gone good eyes mebbe you seen somethin' on the way out?"



"Nels, I hevn't seen nothin'," he replied, bluntly. His levity

disappeared, and the red wrinkles narrowed round his searching eyes.



"Jest take a squint at these hoss tracks," said Nels, and he drew

Stillwell a few paces aside and pointed to large hoofprints in the dust.

"I reckon you know the hoss thet made them?"



"Gene Stewart's roan, or I'm a son-of-a-gun!" exclaimed Stillwell, and

he dropped heavily to his knees and began to scrutinize the tracks. "My

eyes are sure pore; but, Nels, they ain't fresh."



"I reckon them tracks was made early yesterday mornin'."



"Wal, what if they was?" Stillwell looked at his cowboy. "It's sure as

thet red nose of yourn Gene wasn't ridin' the roan."



"Who's sayin' he was? Bill, its more 'n your eyes thet's gettin' old.

Jest foller them tracks. Come on."



Stillwell walked slowly, with his head bent, muttering to himself.

Some thirty paces or more from the camp-fire he stopped short and again

flopped to his knees. Then he crawled about, evidently examining horse

tracks.



"Nels, whoever was straddlin' Stewart's hoss met somebody. An' they

hauled up a bit, but didn't git down."



"Tolerable good for you, Bill, thet reasonin'," replied the cowboy.



Stillwell presently got up and walked swiftly to the left for some rods,

halted, and faced toward the southwest, then retraced his steps. He

looked at the imperturbable cowboy.



"Nels, I don't like this a little," he growled. "Them tracks make

straight fer the Peloncillo trail."



"Shore," replied Nels.



"Wal?" went on Stillwell, impatiently.



"I reckon you know what hoss made the other tracks?"



"I'm thinkin' hard, but I ain't sure."



"It was Danny Mains's bronc."



"How do you know thet?" demanded Stillwell, sharply. "Bill, the left

front foot of thet little hoss always wears a shoe thet sets crooked.

Any of the boys can tell you. I'd know thet track if I was blind."



Stillwell's ruddy face clouded and he kicked at a cactus plant.



"Was Danny comin' or goin'?" he asked.



"I reckon he was hittin' across country fer the Peloncillo trail. But I

ain't shore of thet without back-trailin' him a ways. I was jest waitin'

fer you to come up."



"Nels, you don't think the boy's sloped with thet little hussy, Bonita?"



"Bill, he shore was sweet on Bonita, same as Gene was, an' Ed Linton

before he got engaged, an' all the boys. She's shore chain-lightnin',

that little black-eyed devil. Danny might hev sloped with her all right.

Danny was held up on the way to town, an' then in the shame of it he got

drunk. But he'll shew up soon."



"Wal, mebbe you an' the boys are right. I believe you are. Nels, there

ain't no doubt on earth about who was ridin' Stewart's hoss?"



"Thet's as plain as the hoss's tracks."



"Wal, it's all amazin' strange. It beats me. I wish the boys would ease

up on drinkin'. I was pretty fond of Danny an' Gene. I'm afraid Gene's

done fer, sure. If he crosses the border where he can fight it won't

take long fer him to get plugged. I guess I'm gettin' old. I don't stand

things like I used to."



"Bill, I reckon I'd better hit the Peloncillo trail. Mebbe I can find

Danny."



"I reckon you had, Nels," replied Stillwell. "But don't take more 'n a

couple of days. We can't do much on the round-up without you. I'm short

of boys."



That ended the conversation. Stillwell immediately began to hitch up his

team, and the cowboys went out to fetch their strayed horses. Madeline

had been curiously interested, and she saw that Florence knew it.



"Things happen, Miss Hammond," she said, soberly, almost sadly.



Madeline thought. And then straightway Florence began brightly to hum a

tune and to busy herself repacking what was left of the lunch. Madeline

conceived a strong liking and respect for this Western girl. She admired

the consideration or delicacy or wisdom--what-ever it was--which kept

Florence from asking her what she knew or thought or felt about the

events that had taken place.



Soon they were once more bowling along the road down a gradual incline,

and then they began to climb a long ridge that had for hours hidden what

lay beyond. That climb was rather tiresome, owing to the sun and the

dust and the restricted view.



When they reached the summit Madeline gave a little gasp of pleasure. A

deep, gray, smooth valley opened below and sloped up on the other side

in little ridges like waves, and these led to the foothills, dotted with

clumps of brush or trees, and beyond rose dark mountains, pine-fringed

and crag-spired.



"Wal, Miss Majesty, now we're gettin' somewhere," said Stillwell,

cracking his whip. "Ten miles across this valley an' we'll be in the

foothills where the Apaches used to run."



"Ten miles!" exclaimed Madeline. "It looks no more than half a mile to

me."



"Wal, young woman, before you go to ridin' off alone you want to get

your eyes corrected to Western distance. Now, what'd you call them black

things off there on the slope?"



"Horsemen. No, cattle," replied Madeline, doubtfully.



"Nope. Jest plain, every-day cactus. An' over hyar--look down the

valley. Somethin' of a pretty forest, ain't thet?" he asked, pointing.



Madeline saw a beautiful forest in the center of the valley toward the

south.



"Wal, Miss Majesty, thet's jest this deceivin' air. There's no forest.

It's a mirage."



"Indeed! How beautiful it is!" Madeline strained her gaze on the dark

blot, and it seemed to float in the atmosphere, to have no clearly

defined margins, to waver and shimmer, and then it faded and vanished.



The mountains dropped down again behind the horizon, and presently the

road began once more to slope up. The horses slowed to a walk. There was

a mile of rolling ridge, and then came the foothills. The road ascended

through winding valleys. Trees and brush and rocks began to appear in

the dry ravines. There was no water, yet all along the sandy washes were

indications of floods at some periods. The heat and the dust stifled

Madeline, and she had already become tired. Still she looked with all

her eyes and saw birds, and beautiful quail with crests, and rabbits,

and once she saw a deer.



"Miss Majesty," said Stillwell, "in the early days the Indians made this

country a bad one to live in. I reckon you never heerd much about them

times. Surely you was hardly born then. I'll hev to tell you some day

how I fought Comanches in the Panhandle--thet was northern Texas--an' I

had some mighty hair-raisin' scares in this country with Apaches."



He told her about Cochise, chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, the most

savage and bloodthirsty tribe that ever made life a horror for the

pioneer. Cochise befriended the whites once; but he was the victim of

that friendliness, and he became the most implacable of foes. Then,

Geronimo, another Apache chief, had, as late as 1885, gone on the

war-path, and had left a bloody trail down the New Mexico and Arizona

line almost to the border. Lone ranchmen and cowboys had been killed,

and mothers had shot their children and then themselves at the approach

of the Apache. The name Apache curdled the blood of any woman of the

Southwest in those days.



Madeline shuddered, and was glad when the old frontiersman changed

the subject and began to talk of the settling of that country by the

Spaniards, the legends of lost gold-mines handed down to the Mexicans,

and strange stories of heroism and mystery and religion. The Mexicans

had not advanced much in spite of the spread of civilization to the

Southwest. They were still superstitious, and believed the legends of

treasures hidden in the walls of their missions, and that unseen hands

rolled rocks down the gullies upon the heads of prospectors who dared to

hunt for the lost mines of the padres.



"Up in the mountains back of my ranch there's a lost mine," said

Stillwell. "Mebbe it's only a legend. But somehow I believe it's there.

Other lost mines hev been found. An' as fer' the rollin' stones, I sure

know thet's true, as any one can find out if he goes trailin' up the

gulch. Mebbe thet's only the weatherin' of the cliffs. It's a sleepy,

strange country, this Southwest, an', Miss Majesty, you're a-goin' to

love it. You'll call it ro-mantic, Wal, I reckon ro-mantic is correct. A

feller gets lazy out hyar an' dreamy, an' he wants to put off work till

to-morrow. Some folks say it's a land of manana--a land of to-morrow.

Thet's the Mexican of it.



"But I like best to think of what a lady said to me onct--an eddicated

lady like you, Miss Majesty. Wal, she said it's a land where it's always

afternoon. I liked thet. I always get up sore in the mawnin's, an' don't

feel good till noon. But in the afternoon I get sorta warm an' like

things. An' sunset is my time. I reckon I don't want nothin' any finer

than sunset from my ranch. You look out over a valley that spreads wide

between Guadalupe Mountains an' the Chiricahuas, down across the red

Arizona desert clear to the Sierra Madres in Mexico. Two hundred miles,

Miss Majesty! An' all as clear as print! An' the sun sets behind all

thet! When my time comes to die I'd like it to be on my porch smokin' my

pipe an' facin' the west."



So the old cattleman talked on while Madeline listened, and Florence

dozed in her seat, and the sun began to wane, and the horses climbed

steadily. Presently, at the foot of the steep ascent, Stillwell got out

and walked, leading the team. During this long climb fatigue claimed

Madeline, and she drowsily closed her eyes, to find when she opened them

again that the glaring white sky had changed to a steel-blue. The sun

had sunk behind the foothills and the air was growing chilly. Stillwell

had returned to the driving-seat and was chuckling to the horses.

Shadows crept up out of the hollows.



"Wal, Flo," said Stillwell, "I reckon we'd better hev the rest of thet

there lunch before dark."



"You didn't leave much of it," laughed Florence, as she produced the

basket from under the seat.



While they ate, the short twilight shaded and gloom filled the hollows.

Madeline saw the first star, a faint, winking point of light. The sky

had now changed to a hazy gray. Madeline saw it gradually clear and

darken, to show other faint stars. After that there was perceptible

deepening of the gray and an enlarging of the stars and a brightening of

new-born ones. Night seemed to come on the cold wind. Madeline was glad

to have the robes close around her and to lean against Florence. The

hollows were now black, but the tops of the foothills gleamed pale in

a soft light. The steady tramp of the horses went on, and the creak of

wheels and crunching of gravel. Madeline grew so sleepy that she could

not keep her weary eyelids from falling. There were drowsier spells in

which she lost a feeling of where she was, and these were disturbed by

the jolt of wheels over a rough place. Then came a blank interval, short

or long, which ended in a more violent lurch of the buckboard. Madeline

awoke to find her head on Florence's shoulder. She sat up laughing and

apologizing for her laziness. Florence assured her they would soon reach

the ranch.



Madeline observed then that the horses were once more trotting. The wind

was colder, the night darker, the foot-hills flatter. And the sky was

now a wonderful deep velvet-blue blazing with millions of stars. Some

of them were magnificent. How strangely white and alive! Again Madeline

felt the insistence of familiar yet baffling associations. These white

stars called strangely to her or haunted her.





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