Don Carlos





Stewart took Nels, Monty, and Nick Steele aside out of earshot, and they

evidently entered upon an earnest colloquy. Presently the other cowboys

were called. They all talked more or less, but the deep voice of Stewart

predominated over the others. Then the consultation broke up, and the

cowboys scattered.



"Rustle, you Indians!" ordered Stewart.



The ensuing scene of action was not reassuring to Madeline and her

friends. They were quiet, awaiting some one to tell them what to do. At

the offset the cowboys appeared to have forgotten Madeline. Some of them

ran off into the woods, others into the open, grassy places, where they

rounded up the horses and burros. Several cowboys spread tarpaulins

upon the ground and began to select and roll small packs, evidently for

hurried travel. Nels mounted his horse to ride down the trail. Monty

and Nick Steele went off into the grove, leading their horses. Stewart

climbed up a steep jumble of stone between two sections of low, cracked

cliff back of the camp.



Castleton offered to help the packers, and was curtly told he would

be in the way. Madeline's friends all importuned her: Was there real

danger? Were the guerrillas coming? Would a start be made at once for

the ranch? Why had the cowboys suddenly become so different? Madeline

answered as best she could; but her replies were only conjecture, and

modified to allay the fears of her guests. Helen was in a white glow of

excitement.



Soon cowboys appeared riding barebacked horses, driving in others and

the burros. Some of these horses were taken away and evidently hidden

in deep recesses between the crags. The string of burros were packed

and sent off down the trail in charge of a cowboy. Nick Steele and Monty

returned. Then Stewart appeared, clambering down the break between the

cliffs.



His next move was to order all the baggage belonging to Madeline and her

guests taken up the cliff. This was strenuous toil, requiring the need

of lassoes to haul up the effects.



"Get ready to climb," said Stewart, turning to Madelines party.



"Where?" asked Helen.



He waved his hand at the ascent to be made. Exclamations of dismay

followed his gesture.



"Mr. Stewart, is there danger?" asked Dorothy; and her voice trembled.



This was the question Madeline had upon her lips to ask Stewart, but she

could not speak it.



"No, there's no danger," replied Stewart, "but we're taking precautions

we all agreed on as best."



Dorothy whispered that she believed Stewart lied. Castleton asked

another question, and then Harvey followed suit. Mrs. Beck made a timid

query.



"Please keep quiet and do as you're told," said Stewart, bluntly.



At this juncture, when the last of the baggage was being hauled up the

cliff, Monty approached Madeline and removed his sombrero. His black

face seemed the same, yet this was a vastly changed Monty.



"Miss Hammond, I'm givin' notice I resign my job," he said.



"Monty! What do you mean? What does Nels mean now, when danger

threatens?"



"We jest quit. Thet's all," replied Monty, tersely. He was stern and

somber; he could not stand still; his eyes roved everywhere.



Castleton jumped up from the log where he had been sitting, and his face

was very red.



"Mr. Price, does all this blooming fuss mean we are to be robbed or

attacked or abducted by a lot of ragamuffin guerrillas?"



"You've called the bet."



Dorothy turned a very pale face toward Monty.



"Mr. Price, you wouldn't--you couldn't desert us now? You and Mr.

Nels--"



"Desert you?" asked Monty, blankly.



"Yes, desert us. Leave us when we may need you so much, with something

dreadful coming."



Monty uttered a short, hard laugh as he bent a strange look upon the

girl.



"Me an' Nels is purty much scared, an' we're goin' to slope. Miss

Dorothy, bein' as we've rustled round so much; it sorta hurts us to see

nice young girls dragged off by the hair."



Dorothy uttered a little cry and then became hysterical. Castleton for

once was fully aroused.



"By Gad! You and your partner are a couple of blooming cowards. Where

now is that courage you boasted of?"



Monty's dark face expressed extreme sarcasm.



"Dook, in my time I've seen some bright fellers, but you take the

cake. It's most marvelous how bright you are. Figger'n' me an' Nels so

correct. Say, Dook, if you don't git rustled off to Mexico an' roped to

a cactus-bush you'll hev a swell story fer your English chums. Bah

Jove! You'll tell 'em how you seen two old-time gun-men run like scared

jack-rabbits from a lot of Greasers. Like hell you will! Unless you

lie like the time you told about proddin' the lion. That there story

allus--"



"Monty, shut up!" yelled Stewart, as he came hurriedly up. Then Monty

slouched away, cursing to himself.



Madeline and Helen, assisted by Castleton, worked over Dorothy, and

with some difficulty quieted her. Stewart passed several times without

noticing them, and Monty, who had been so ridiculously eager to pay

every little attention to Dorothy, did not see her at all. Rude it

seemed; in Monty's ease more than that. Madeline hardly knew what to

make of it.



Stewart directed cowboys to go to the head of the open place in the

cliff and let down lassoes. Then, with little waste of words, he urged

the women toward this rough ladder of stones.



"We want to hide you," he said, when they demurred. "If the guerrillas

come we'll tell them you've all gone down to the ranch. If we have to

fight you'll be safe up there."



Helen stepped boldly forward and let Stewart put the loop of a lasso

round her and tighten it. He waved his hand to the cowboys above.



"Just walk up, now," he directed Helen.



It proved to the watchers to be an easy, safe, and rapid means of

scaling the steep passage. The men climbed up without assistance. Mrs.

Beck, as usual, had hysteria; she half walked and was half dragged up.

Stewart supported Dorothy with one arm, while with the other he held to

the lasso. Ambrose had to carry Christine. The Mexican women required

no assistance. Edith Wayne and Madeline climbed last; and, once up,

Madeline saw a narrow bench, thick with shrubs, and overshadowed by

huge, leaning crags. There were holes in the rock, and dark fissures

leading back. It was a rough, wild place. Tarpaulins and bedding were

then hauled up, and food and water. The cowboys spread comfortable beds

in several of the caves, and told Madeline and her friends to be as

quiet as possible, not to make a light, and to sleep dressed, ready for

travel at a moment's notice.



After the cowboys had gone down it was not a cheerful group left there

in the darkening twilight. Castleton prevailed upon them to eat.



"This is simply great," whispered Helen.



"Oh, it's awful!" moaned Dorothy. "It's your fault, Helen. You prayed

for something to happen."



"I believe it's a horrid trick those cowboys are playing," said Mrs.

Beck.



Madeline assured her friends that no trick was being played upon them,

and that she deplored the discomfort and distress, but felt no real

alarm. She was more inclined to evasive kindness here than to sincerity,

for she had a decided uneasiness. The swift change in the manner and

looks of her cowboys had been a shock to her. The last glance she had of

Stewart's face, then stern, almost sad, and haggard with worry, remained

to augment her foreboding.



Darkness appeared to drop swiftly down; the coyotes began their

haunting, mournful howls; the stars showed and grew brighter; the wind

moaned through the tips of the pines. Castleton was restless. He walked

to and fro before the overhanging shelf of rock, where his companions

sat lamenting, and presently he went out to the ledge of the bench. The

cowboys below had built a fire, and the light from it rose in a huge,

fan-shaped glow. Castleton's little figure stood out black against this

light. Curious and anxious also, Madeline joined him and peered down

from the cliff. The distance was short, and occasionally she could

distinguish a word spoken by the cowboys. They were unconcernedly

cooking and eating. She marked the absence of Stewart, and mentioned it

to Castleton. Silently Castleton pointed almost straight down, and there

in the gloom stood Stewart, with the two stag-hounds at his feet.



Presently Nick Steele silenced the camp-fire circle by raising a warning

hand. The cowboys bent their heads, listening. Madeline listened with

all her might. She heard one of the hounds whine, then the faint beat of

horse's hoofs. Nick spoke again and turned to his supper, and the other

men seemed to slacken in attention. The beat of hoofs grew louder,

entered the grove, then the circle of light. The rider was Nels. He

dismounted, and the sound of his low voice just reached Madeline.



"Gene, it's Nels. Somethin' doin'," Madeline heard one of the cowboys

call, softly.



"Send him over," replied Stewart.



Nels stalked away from the fire.



"See here, Nels, the boys are all right, but I don't want them to know

everything about this mix-up," said Stewart, as Nels came up. "Did you

find the girl?"



Madeline guessed that Stewart referred to the Mexican girl Bonita.



"No. But I met"--Madeline did not catch the name--"an' he was wild. He

was with a forest-ranger. An' they said Pat Hawe had trailed her an' was

takin' her down under arrest."



Stewart muttered deep under his breath, evidently cursing.



"Wonder why he didn't come on up here?" he queried, presently. "He can

see a trail."



"Wal, Gene, Pat knowed you was here all right, fer thet ranger said

Pat hed wind of the guerrillas, an' Pat said if Don Carlos didn't kill

you--which he hoped he'd do--then it 'd be time enough to put you in

jail when you come down."



"He's dead set to arrest me, Nels."



"An' he'll do it, like the old lady who kept tavern out West. Gene, the

reason thet red-faced coyote didn't trail you up here is because he's

scared. He allus was scared of you. But I reckon he's shore scared to

death of me an' Monty."



"Well, we'll take Pat in his turn. The thing now is, when will that

Greaser stalk us, and what'll we do when he comes?"



"My boy, there's only one way to handle a Greaser. I shore told you

thet. He means rough toward us. He'll come smilin' up, all soci'ble

like, insinuatin' an' sweeter 'n a woman. But he's treacherous; he's

wuss than an Indian. An', Gene, we know for a positive fact how his gang

hev been operatin' between these hills an' Agua Prieta. They're no nervy

gang of outlaws like we used to hev. But they're plumb bad. They've

raided and murdered through the San Luis Pass an' Guadalupe Canyon.

They've murdered women, an' wuss than thet, both north an' south of Agua

Prieta. Mebbe the U. S. cavalry don't know it, an' the good old States;

but we, you an' me an' Monty an' Nick, we know it. We know jest about

what thet rebel war down there amounts to. It's guerrilla war, an' shore

some harvest-time fer a lot of cheap thieves an' outcasts."



"Oh, you're right, Nels. I'm not disputing that," replied Stewart. "If

it wasn't for Miss Hammond and the other women, I'd rather enjoy seeing

you and Monty open up on that bunch. I'm thinking I'd be glad to meet

Don Carlos. But Miss Hammond! Why, Nels, such a woman as she is would

never recover from the sight of real gun-play, let alone any stunts

with a rope. These Eastern women are different. I'm not belittling our

Western women. It's in the blood. Miss Hammond is--is--"



"Shore she is," interrupted Nels; "but she's got a damn sight more spunk

than you think she has, Gene Stewart. I'm no thick-skulled cow. I'd hate

somethin' powerful to hev Miss Hammond see any rough work, let alone me

an' Monty startin' somethin'. An' me an' Monty'll stick to you, Gene, as

long as seems reasonable. Mind, ole feller, beggin' your pardon, you're

shore stuck on Miss Hammond, an' over-tender not to hurt her feelin's or

make her sick by lettin' some blood. We're in bad here, an' mebbe we'll

hev to fight. Sabe, senor? Wal, we do you can jest gamble thet Miss

Hammond'll be game. An' I'll bet you a million pesos thet if you got

goin' onct, an' she seen you as I've seen you--wal, I know what she'd

think of you. This old world ain't changed much. Some women may be

white-skinned an' soft-eyed an' sweet-voiced an' high-souled, but they

all like to see a man! Gene, here's your game. Let Don Carlos come

along. Be civil. If he an' his gang are hungry, feed 'em. Take even a

little overbearin' Greaser talk. Be blind if he wants his gang to steal

somethin'. Let him think the women hev mosied down to the ranch. But

if he says you're lyin'--if he as much as looks round to see the

women--jest jump him same as you jumped Pat Hawe. Me an' Monty'll hang

back fer thet, an' if your strong bluff don't go through, if the Don's

gang even thinks of flashin' guns, then we'll open up. An' all I got to

say is if them Greasers stand fer real gun-play they'll be the fust I

ever seen."



"Nels, there are white men in that gang," said Stewart.



"Shore. But me an' Monty'll be thinkin' of thet. If they start anythin'

it'll hev to be shore quick."



"All right, Nels, old friend, and thanks," replied Stewart. Nels

returned to the camp-fire, and Stewart resumed his silent guard.



Madeline led Castleton away from the brink of the wall.



"By Jove! Cowboys are blooming strange folk!" he exclaimed. "They are

not what they pretend to be."



"Indeed, you are right," replied Madeline. "I cannot understand them.

Come, let us tell the others that Nels and Monty were only talking and

do not intend to leave us. Dorothy, at least, will be less frightened if

she knows."



Dorothy was somewhat comforted. The others, however, complained of the

cowboys' singular behavior. More than once the idea was advanced that

an elaborate trick had been concocted. Upon general discussion this idea

gained ground. Madeline did not combat it, because she saw it tended to

a less perturbed condition of mind among her guests. Castleton for once

proved that he was not absolutely obtuse, and helped along the idea.



They sat talking in low voices until a late hour. The incident now began

to take on the nature of Helen's long-yearned-for adventure. Some of the

party even grew merry in a subdued way. Then, gradually, one by one they

tired and went to bed. Helen vowed she could not sleep in a place where

there were bats and crawling things. Madeline fancied, however, that

they all went to sleep while she lay wide-eyed, staring up at the black

bulge of overhanging rock and beyond the starry sky.



To keep from thinking of Stewart and the burning anger he had caused her

to feel for herself, Madeline tried to keep her mind on other things.

But thought of him recurred, and each time there was a hot commotion

in her breast hard to stifle. Intelligent reasoning seemed out of her

power. In the daylight it had been possible for her to be oblivious to

Stewart's deceit after the moment of its realization. At night, however,

in the strange silence and hovering shadows of gloom, with the speaking

stars seeming to call to her, with the moan of the wind in the pines,

and the melancholy mourn of coyotes in the distance, she was not able to

govern her thought and emotion. The day was practical, cold; the night

was strange and tense. In the darkness she had fancies wholly unknown to

her in the bright light of the sun. She battled with a haunting thought.

She had inadvertently heard Nels's conversation with Stewart; she had

listened, hoping to hear some good news or to hear the worst; she had

learned both, and, moreover, enlightenment on one point of Stewart's

complex motives. He wished to spare her any sight that might offend,

frighten, or disgust her. Yet this Stewart, who showed a fineness of

feeling that might have been wanting even in Boyd Harvey, maintained a

secret rendezvous with that pretty, abandoned Bonita. Here always

the hot shame, like a live, stinging, internal fire, abruptly ended

Madeline's thought. It was intolerable, and it was the more so because

she could neither control nor understand it. The hours wore on, and at

length, as the stars began to pale and there was no sound whatever, she

fell asleep.



She was called out of her slumber. Day had broken bright and cool.

The sun was still below the eastern crags. Ambrose, with several other

cowboys, had brought up buckets of spring-water, and hot coffee and

cakes. Madeline's party appeared to be none the worse for the night's

experience. Indeed, the meager breakfast might have been as merrily

partaken of as it was hungrily had not Ambrose enjoined silence.



"They're expectin' company down below," he said.



This information and the summary manner in which the cowboys soon led

the party higher up among the ruined shelves of rock caused a recurrence

of anxiety. Madeline insisted on not going beyond a projection of

cliff from which she could see directly down into the camp. As the

vantage-point was one affording concealment, Ambrose consented, but

he placed the frightened Christine near Madeline and remained there

himself.



"Ambrose, do you really think the guerrillas will come?" asked Madeline.



"Sure. We know. Nels just rode in and said they were on their way up.

Miss Hammond, can I trust you? You won't let out a squeal if there's a

fight down there? Stewart told me to hide you out of sight or keep you

from lookin'."



"I promise not to make any noise," replied Madeline. Madeline arranged

her coat so that she could lie upon it, and settled down to wait

developments. There came a slight rattling of stones in the rear. She

turned to see Helen sliding down a bank with a perplexed and troubled

cowboy. Helen came stooping low to where Madeline lay and said: "I am

going to see what happens, if I die in the attempt! I can stand it

if you can." She was pale and big-eyed. Ambrose promptly swore at the

cowboy who had let her get away from him. "Take a half-hitch on her

yourself an' see where you end up," replied the fellow, and disappeared

in the jumble of rocks. Ambrose, finding words useless, sternly and

heroically prepared to carry Helen back to the others. He laid hold of

her. In a fury, with eyes blazing, Helen whispered:



"Let go of me! Majesty, what does this fool mean?"



Madeline laughed. She knew Helen, and had marked the whisper, when

ordinarily Helen would have spoken imperiously, and not low. Madeline

explained to her the exigency of the situation. "I might run, but I'll

never scream," said Helen. With that Ambrose had to be content to let

her stay. However, he found her a place somewhat farther back from

Madeline's position, where he said there was less danger of her being

seen. Then he sternly bound her to silence, tarried a moment to comfort

Christine, and returned to where Madeline lay concealed. He had been

there scarcely a moment when he whispered:



"I hear hosses. The guerrillas are comin'."



Madeline's hiding-place was well protected from possible discovery from

below. She could peep over a kind of parapet, through an opening in the

tips of the pines that reached up to the cliff, and obtain a commanding

view of the camp circle and its immediate surroundings. She could not,

however, see far either to right or left of the camp, owing to the

obstructing foliage. Presently the sound of horses' hoofs quickened the

beat of her pulse and caused her to turn keener gaze upon the cowboys

below.



Although she had some inkling of the course Stewart and his men were to

pursue, she was not by any means prepared for the indifference she saw.

Frank was asleep, or pretended to be. Three cowboys were lazily and

unconcernedly attending to camp-fire duties, such as baking biscuits,

watching the ovens, and washing tins and pots. The elaborate set of

aluminum plates, cups, etc., together with the other camp fixtures that

had done service for Madeline's party, had disappeared. Nick Steele

sat with his back to a log, smoking his pipe. Another cowboy had just

brought the horses closer into camp, where they stood waiting to be

saddled. Nels appeared to be fussing over a pack. Stewart was rolling

a cigarette. Monty had apparently nothing to do for the present except

whistle, which he was doing much more loudly than melodiously. The whole

ensemble gave an impression of careless indifference.



The sound of horses' hoofs grew louder and slowed its beat. One of the

cowboys pointed down the trail, toward which several of his comrades

turned their heads for a moment, then went on with their occupations.



Presently a shaggy, dusty horse bearing a lean, ragged, dark rider rode

into camp and halted. Another followed, and another. Horses with Mexican

riders came in single file and stopped behind the leader.



The cowboys looked up, and the guerrillas looked down. "Buenos dias,

senor," ceremoniously said the foremost guerrilla.



By straining her ears Madeline heard that voice, and she recognized

it as belonging to Don Carlos. His graceful bow to Stewart was also

familiar. Otherwise she would never have recognized the former elegant

vaquero in this uncouth, roughly dressed Mexican.



Stewart answered the greeting in Spanish, and, waving his hand toward

the camp-fire, added in English, "Get down and eat."



The guerrillas were anything but slow in complying. They crowded to

the fire, then spread in a little circle and squatted upon the ground,

laying their weapons beside them. In appearance they tallied with the

band of guerrillas that had carried Madeline up into the foothills, only

this band was larger and better armed. The men, moreover, were just as

hungry and as wild and beggarly. The cowboys were not cordial in their

reception of this visit, but they were hospitable. The law of the desert

had always been to give food and drink to wayfaring men, whether lost or

hunted or hunting.



"There's twenty-three in that outfit," whispered Ambrose, "includin'

four white men. Pretty rummy outfit."



"They appear to be friendly enough," whispered Madeline.



"Things down there ain't what they seem," replied Ambrose.



"Ambrose, tell me--explain to me. This is my opportunity. As long as you

will let me watch them, please let me know the--the real thing."



"Sure. But recollect, Miss Hammond, that Gene'll give it to me good if

he ever knows I let you look and told you what's what. Well, decent-like

Gene is seen' them poor devils get a square meal. They're only a lot of

calf-thieves in this country. Across the border they're bandits, some of

them, the others just riffraff outlaws. That rebel bluff doesn't go down

with us. I'd have to see first before I'd believe them Greasers would

fight. They're a lot of hard-ridin' thieves, and they'd steal a fellow's

blanket or tobacco. Gene thinks they're after you ladies--to carry you

off. But Gene--Oh, Gene's some highfalutin in his ideas lately. Most of

us boys think the guerrillas are out to rob--that's all."



Whatever might have been the secret motive of Don Carlos and his men,

they did not allow it to interfere with a hearty appreciation of a

generous amount of food. Plainly, each individual ate all that he was

able to eat at the time. They jabbered like a flock of parrots; some

were even merry, in a kind of wild way. Then, as each and every one

began to roll and smoke the inevitable cigarette of the Mexican, there

was a subtle change in manner. They smoked and looked about the camp,

off into the woods, up at the crags, and back at the leisurely cowboys.

They had the air of men waiting for something.



"Senor," began Don Carlos, addressing Stewart. As he spoke he swept his

sombrero to indicate the camp circle.



Madeline could not distinguish his words, but his gesture plainly

indicated a question in regard to the rest of the camping party.

Stewart's reply and the wave of his hand down the trail meant that his

party had gone home. Stewart turned to some task, and the guerrilla

leader quietly smoked. He looked cunning and thoughtful. His men

gradually began to manifest a restlessness, noticeable in the absence

of former languor and slow puffing of cigarette smoke. Presently a

big-boned man with a bullet head and a blistered red face of evil

coarseness got up and threw away his cigarette. He was an American.



"Hey, cull," he called in loud voice, "ain't ye goin' to cough up a

drink?"



"My boys don't carry liquor on the trail," replied Stewart. He turned

now to face the guerrillas.



"Haw, haw! I heerd over in Rodeo thet ye was gittin' to be shore some

fer temperance," said this fellow. "I hate to drink water, but I guess

I've gotter do it."



He went to the spring, sprawled down to drink, and all of a sudden he

thrust his arm down in the water to bring forth a basket. The cowboys

in the hurry of packing had neglected to remove this basket; and it

contained bottles of wine and liquors for Madeline's guests. They had

been submerged in the spring to keep them cold. The guerrilla fumbled

with the lid, opened it, and then got up, uttering a loud roar of

delight.



Stewart made an almost imperceptible motion, as if to leap forward; but

he checked the impulse, and after a quick glance at Nels he said to the

guerrilla:



"Guess my party forgot that. You're welcome to it." Like bees the

guerrillas swarmed around the lucky finder of the bottles. There was

a babel of voices. The drink did not last long, and it served only to

liberate the spirit of recklessness. The several white outlaws began to

prowl around the camp; some of the Mexicans did likewise; others waited,

showing by their ill-concealed expectancy the nature of their thoughts.



It was the demeanor of Stewart and his comrades that puzzled Madeline.

Apparently they felt no anxiety or even particular interest. Don Carlos,

who had been covertly watching them, now made his scrutiny open, even

aggressive. He looked from Stewart to Nels and Monty, and then to the

other cowboys. While some of his men prowled around the others watched

him, and the waiting attitude had taken on something sinister. The

guerrilla leader seemed undecided, but not in any sense puzzled. When he

turned his cunning face upon Nels and Monty he had the manner of a man

in whom decision was lacking.



In her growing excitement Madeline had not clearly heard Ambrose's low

whispers and she made an effort to distract some of her attention from

those below to the cowboy crouching beside her.



The quality, the note of Ambrose's whisper had changed. It had a slight

sibilant sound.



"Don't be mad if sudden-like I clap my hands over your eyes, Miss

Hammond," he was saying. "Somethin's brewin' below. I never seen Gene

so cool. That's a dangerous sign in him. And look, see how the boys are

workin' together! Oh, it's slow and accident-like, but I know it's sure

not accident. That foxy Greaser knows, too. But maybe his men don't. If

they are wise they haven't sense enough to care. The Don, though--he's

worried. He's not payin' so much attention to Gene, either. It's Nels

and Monty he's watchin'. And well he need do it! There, Nick and Frank

have settled down on that log with Booly. They don't seem to be packin'

guns. But look how heavy their vests hang. A gun in each side! Those

boys can pull a gun and flop over that log quicker than you can think.

Do you notice how Nels and Monty and Gene are square between them

guerrillas and the trail up here? It doesn't seem on purpose, but it is.

Look at Nels and Monty. How quiet they are confabbin' together, payin'

no attention to the guerrillas. I see Monty look at Gene, then I see

Nels look at Gene. Well, it's up to Gene. And they're goin' to back him.

I reckon, Miss Hammond, there'd be dead Greasers round that camp long

ago if Nels and Monty were foot-loose. They're beholdin' to Gene. That's

plain. And, Lord! how it tickles me to watch them! Both packin' two

forty-fives, butts swingin' clear. There's twenty-four shots in them

four guns. And there's twenty-three guerrillas. If Nels and Monty ever

throw guns at that close range, why, before you'd know what was up

there'd be a pile of Greasers. There! Stewart said something to the Don.

I wonder what. I'll gamble it was something to get the Don's outfit all

close together. Sure! Greasers have no sense. But them white guerrillas,

they're lookin' some dubious. Whatever's comin' off will come soon, you

can bet. I wish I was down there. But maybe it won't come to a scrap.

Stewart's set on avoidin' that. He's a wonderful chap to get his way.

Lord, though, I'd like to see him go after that overbearin' Greaser!

See! the Don can't stand prosperity. All this strange behavior of

cowboys is beyond his pulque-soaked brains. Then he's a Greaser. If

Gene doesn't knock him on the head presently he'll begin to get over his

scare, even of Nels and Monty. But Gene'll pick out the right time. And

I'm gettin' nervous. I want somethin' to start. Never saw Nels in but

one fight, then he just shot a Greaser's arm off for tryin' to draw

on him. But I've heard all about him. And Monty! Monty's the real

old-fashioned gun-man. Why, none of them stories, them lies he told to

entertain the Englishman, was a marker to what Monty has done. What I

don't understand is how Monty keeps so quiet and easy and peaceful-like.

That's not his way, with such an outfit lookin' for trouble. O-ha! Now

for the grand bluff. Looks like no fight at all!"



The guerrilla leader had ceased his restless steps and glances, and

turned to Stewart with something of bold resolution in his aspect.



"Gracias, senor," he said. "Adios." He swept his sombrero in the

direction of the trail leading down the mountain to the ranch; and as he

completed the gesture a smile, crafty and jeering, crossed his swarthy

face.



Ambrose whispered so low that Madeline scarcely heard him. "If the

Greaser goes that way he'll find our horses and get wise to the trick.

Oh, he's wise now! But I'll gamble he never even starts on that trail."



Neither hurriedly nor guardedly Stewart rose out of his leaning posture

and took a couple of long strides toward Don Carlos.



"Go back the way you came," he fairly yelled; and his voice had the ring

of a bugle.



Ambrose nudged Madeline; his whisper was tense and rapid: "Don't miss

nothin'. Gene's called him. Whatever's comin' off will be here quick as

lightnin'. See! I guess maybe that Greaser don't savvy good U. S. lingo.

Look at that dirty yaller face turn green. Put one eye on Nels and

Monty! That's great--just to see 'em. Just as quiet and easy. But

oh, the difference! Bent and stiff--that means every muscle is like a

rawhide riata. They're watchin' with eyes that can see the workin's of

them Greasers' minds. Now there ain't a hoss-hair between them Greasers

and hell!"



Don Carlos gave Stewart one long malignant stare; then he threw back his

head, swept up the sombrero, and his evil smile showed gleaming teeth.



"Senor--" he began.



With magnificent bound Stewart was upon him. The guerrilla's cry was

throttled in his throat. A fierce wrestling ensued, too swift to see

clearly; then heavy, sodden blows, and Don Carlos was beaten to the

ground. Stewart leaped back. Then, crouching with his hands on the butts

of guns at his hips, he yelled, he thundered at the guerrillas. He had

been quicker than a panther, and now his voice was so terrible that

it curdled Madeline's blood, and the menace of deadly violence in his

crouching position made her shut her eyes. But she had to open them. In

that single instant Nels and Monty had leaped to Stewart's side. Both

were bent down, with hands on the butts of guns at their hips. Nels's

piercing yell seemed to divide Monty's roar of rage. Then they ceased,

and echoes clapped from the crags. The silence of those three men

crouching like tigers about to leap was more menacing than the

nerve-racking yells.



Then the guerrillas wavered and broke and ran for their horses. Don

Carlos rolled over, rose, and staggered away, to be helped upon his

mount. He looked back, his pale and bloody face that of a thwarted

demon. The whole band got into action and were gone in a moment.



"I knew it," declared Ambrose. "Never seen a Greaser who could face

gun-play. That was some warm. And Monty Price never flashed a gun! He'll

never get over that. I reckon, Miss Harnmond, we're some lucky to avoid

trouble. Gene had his way, as you seen. We'll be makin' tracks for the

ranch in about two shakes."



"Why?" whispered Madeline, breathlessly. She became conscious that she

was weak and shaken.



"Because the guerrillas sure will get their nerve back, and come

sneakin' on our trail or try to head us off by ambushin'," replied

Ambrose. "That's their way. Otherwise three cowboys couldn't bluff

a whole gang like that. Gene knows the nature of Greasers. They're

white-livered. But I reckon we're in more danger now than before, unless

we get a good start down the mountain. There! Gene's callin'. Come!

Hurry!"



Helen had slipped down from her vantage-point, and therefore had not

seen the last act in that little camp-fire drama. It seemed, however,

that her desire for excitement was satisfied, for her face was pale and

she trembled when she asked if the guerrillas were gone.



"I didn't see the finish, but those horrible yells were enough for me."



Ambrose hurried the three women over the rough rocks, down the cliff.

The cowboys below were saddling horses in haste. Evidently all the

horses had been brought out of hiding. Swiftly, with regard only for

life and limb, Madeline, Helen, and Christine were lowered by lassoes

and half carried down to the level. By the time they were safely down

the other members of the party appeared on the cliff above. They were in

excellent spirits, appearing to treat the matter as a huge joke.



Ambrose put Christine on a horse and rode away through the pines;

Frankie Slade did likewise with Helen. Stewart led Madeline's horse up

to her, helped her to mount, and spoke one stern word, "Wait!" Then as

fast as one of the women reached the level she was put upon a horse and

taken away by a cowboy escort. Few words were spoken. Haste seemed to

be the great essential. The horses were urged, and, once in the trail,

spurred and led into a swift trot. One cowboy drove up four pack-horses,

and these were hurriedly loaded with the party's baggage. Castleton

and his companions mounted, and galloped off to catch the others in the

lead. This left Madeline behind with Stewart and Nels and Monty.



"They're goin' to switch off at the holler thet heads near the trail

a few miles down," Nels was saying, as he tightened his saddle-girth.

"Thet holler heads into a big canyon. Once in thet, it'll be every man

fer hisself. I reckon there won't be anythin' wuss than a rough ride."



Nels smiled reassuringly at Madeline, but he did not speak to her. Monty

took her canteen and filled it at the spring and hung it over the pommel

of her saddle. He put a couple of biscuits in the saddle-bag.



"Don't fergit to take a drink an' a bite as you're ridin' along," he

said. "An' don't worry, Miss Majesty. Stewart'll be with you, an' me an'

Nels hangin' on the back-trail."



His somber and sullen face did not change in its strange intensity, but

the look in his eyes Madeline felt she would never forget. Left alone

with these three men, now stripped of all pretense, she realized how

fortune had favored her and what peril still hung in the balance.

Stewart swung astride his big black, spurred him, and whistled. At the

whistle Majesty jumped, and with swift canter followed Stewart. Madeline

looked back to see Nels already up and Monty handing him a rifle. Then

the pines hid her view.



Once in the trail, Stewart's horse broke into a gallop. Majesty changed

his gait and kept at the black's heels. Stewart called back a warning.

The low, wide-spreading branches of trees might brush Madeline out of

the saddle. Fast riding through the forest along a crooked, obstructed

trail called forth all her alertness. Likewise the stirring of her

blood, always susceptible to the spirit and motion of a ride, let alone

one of peril, now began to throb and burn away the worry, the dread, the

coldness that had weighted her down.



Before long Stewart wheeled at right angles off the trail and entered a

hollow between two low bluffs. Madeline saw tracks in the open patches

of ground. Here Stewart's horse took to a brisk walk. The hollow

deepened, narrowed, became rocky, full of logs and brush. Madeline

exerted all her keenness, and needed it, to keep close to Stewart. She

did not think of him, nor her own safety, but of keeping Majesty close

in the tracks of the black, of eluding the sharp spikes in the dead

brush, of avoiding the treacherous loose stones.



At last Madeline was brought to a dead halt by Stewart and his horse

blocking the trail. Looking up, she saw they were at the head of a

canyon that yawned beneath and widened its gray-walled, green-patched

slopes down to a black forest of fir. The drab monotony of the foothills

made contrast below the forest, and away in the distance, rosy and

smoky, lay the desert. Retracting her gaze, Madeline saw pack-horses

cross an open space a mile below, and she thought she saw the

stag-hounds. Stewart's dark eyes searched the slopes high up along the

craggy escarpments. Then he put the black to the descent.



If there had been a trail left by the leading cowboys, Stewart did

not follow it. He led off to the right, zigzagging an intricate course



through the roughest ground Madeline had ever ridden over. He crashed

through cedars, threaded a tortuous way among boulders, made his horse

slide down slanting banks of soft earth, picked a slow and cautious

progress across weathered slopes of loose rock. Madeline followed,

finding in this ride a tax on strength and judgment. On an ordinary

horse she never could have kept in Stewart's trail. It was dust and

heat, a parching throat, that caused Madeline to think of time; and she

was amazed to see the sun sloping to the west. Stewart never stopped;

he never looked back; he never spoke. He must have heard the horse close

behind him. Madeline remembered Monty's advice about drinking and eating

as she rode along. The worst of that rough travel came at the bottom of

the canyon. Dead cedars and brush and logs were easy to pass compared

with the miles, it seemed, of loose boulders. The horses slipped and

stumbled. Stewart proceeded here with exceeding care. At last, when the

canyon opened into a level forest of firs, the sun was setting red in

the west.



Stewart quickened the gait of his horse. After a mile or so of easy

travel the ground again began to fall decidedly, sloping in numerous

ridges, with draws between. Soon night shadowed the deeper gullies.

Madeline was refreshed by the cooling of the air.



Stewart traveled slowly now. The barks of coyotes seemed to startle

him. Often he stopped to listen. And during one of those intervals the

silence was broken by sharp rifle-shots. Madeline could not tell whether

they were near or far, to right or left, behind or before. Evidently

Stewart was both alarmed and baffled. He dismounted. He went cautiously

forward to listen. Madeline fancied she heard a cry, low and far away.

It was only that of a coyote, she convinced herself, yet it was so

wailing, so human, that she shuddered. Stewart came back. He slipped the

bridles of both horses, and he led them. Every few paces he stopped to

listen. He changed his direction several times, and the last time he got

among rough, rocky ridges. The iron shoes of the horses cracked on the

rocks. That sound must have penetrated far into the forest. It perturbed

Stewart, for he searched for softer ground. Meanwhile the shadows merged

into darkness. The stars shone. The wind rose. Madeline believed hours

passed.



Stewart halted again. In the gloom Madeline discerned a log cabin, and

beyond it pear-pointed dark trees piercing the sky-line. She could just

make out Stewart's tall form as he leaned against his horse. Either he

was listening or debating what to do--perhaps both. Presently he went

inside the cabin. Madeline heard the scratching of a match; then she saw

a faint light. The cabin appeared to be deserted. Probably it was one of

the many habitations belonging to prospectors and foresters who lived in

the mountains. Stewart came out again. He walked around the horses, out

into the gloom, then back to Madeline. For a long moment he stood as

still as a statue and listened. Then she heard him mutter, "If we have

to start quick I can ride bareback." With that he took the saddle and

blanket off his horse and carried them into the cabin.



"Get off," he said, in a low voice, as he stepped out of the door.



He helped her down and led her inside, where again he struck a match.

Madeline caught a glimpse of a rude fireplace and rough-hewn logs.

Stewart's blanket and saddle lay on the hard-packed earthen floor.



"Rest a little," he said. "I'm going into the woods a piece to listen.

Gone only a minute or so."



Madeline had to feel round in the dark to locate the saddle and blanket.

When she lay down it was with a grateful sense of ease and relief. As

her body rested, however, her mind became the old thronging maze for

sensation and thought. All day she had attended to the alert business

of helping her horse. Now, what had already happened, the night, the

silence, the proximity of Stewart and his strange, stern caution, the

possible happenings to her friends--all claimed their due share of her

feeling. She went over them all with lightning swiftness of thought. She

believed, and she was sure Stewart believed, that her friends, owing to

their quicker start down the mountain, had not been headed off in their

travel by any of the things which had delayed Stewart. This conviction

lifted the suddenly returning dread from her breast; and as for herself,

somehow she had no fear. But she could not sleep; she did not try to.



Stewart's soft steps sounded outside. His dark form loomed in the door.

As he sat down Madeline heard the thump of a gun that he laid beside

him on the sill; then the thump of another as he put that down, too.

The sounds thrilled her. Stewart's wide shoulders filled the door; his

finely shaped head and strong, stern profile showed clearly in outline

against the sky; the wind waved his hair. He turned his ear to that wind

and listened. Motionless he sat for what to her seemed hours.



Then the stirring memory of the day's adventure, the feeling of

the beauty of the night, and a strange, deep-seated, sweetly vague

consciousness of happiness portending, were all burned out in hot,

pressing pain at the remembrance of Stewart's disgrace in her eyes.

Something had changed within her so that what had been anger at herself

was sorrow for him. He was such a splendid man. She could not feel the

same; she knew her debt to him, yet she could not thank him, could not

speak to him. She fought an unintelligible bitterness.



Then she rested with closed eyes, and time seemed neither short nor

long. When Stewart called her she opened her eyes to see the gray of

dawn. She rose and stepped outside. The horses whinnied. In a moment she

was in the saddle, aware of cramped muscles and a weariness of limbs.

Stewart led off at a sharp trot into the fir forest. They came to a

trail into which he turned. The horses traveled steadily; the descent

grew less steep; the firs thinned out; the gray gloom brightened.



When Madeline rode out of the firs the sun had arisen and the foothills

rolled beneath her; and at their edge, where the gray of valley began,

she saw a dark patch that she knew was the ranch-house.





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