Don Carlos's Vaqueros





Early the following morning Stewart, with a company of cowboys, departed

for Don Carlos's rancho. As the day wore on without any report from

him, Stillwell appeared to grow more at ease; and at nightfall he told

Madeline that he guessed there was now no reason for concern.



"Wal, though it's sure amazin' strange," he continued, "I've been

worryin' some about how we was goin' to fire Don Carlos. But Gene has a

way of doin' things."



Next day Stillwell and Alfred decided to ride over Don Carlos's place,

taking Madeline and Florence with them, and upon the return trip to stop

at Alfred's ranch. They started in the cool, gray dawn, and after three

hours' riding, as the sun began to get bright, they entered a mesquite

grove, surrounding corrals and barns, and a number of low, squat

buildings and a huge, rambling structure, all built of adobe and mostly

crumbling to ruin. Only one green spot relieved the bald red of grounds

and walls; and this evidently was made by the spring which had given

both value and fame to Don Carlos's range. The approach to the house was

through a wide courtyard, bare, stony, hard packed, with hitching-rails

and watering-troughs in front of a long porch. Several dusty, tired

horses stood with drooping heads and bridles down, their wet flanks

attesting to travel just ended.



"Wal, dog-gone it, Al, if there ain't Pat Hawe's hoss I'll eat it,"

exclaimed Stillwell.



"What's Pat want here, anyhow?" growled Alfred.



No one was in sight; but Madeline heard loud voices coming from the

house. Stillwell dismounted at the porch and stalked in at the door.

Alfred leaped off his horse, helped Florence and Madeline down, and,

bidding them rest and wait on the porch, he followed Stillwell.



"I hate these Greaser places," said Florence, with a grimace. "They're

so mysterious and creepy. Just watch now! They'll be dark-skinned,

beady-eyed, soft-footed Greasers slip right up out of the ground!

There'll be an ugly face in every door and window and crack."



"It's like a huge barn with its characteristic odor permeated by tobacco

smoke," replied Madeline, sitting down beside Florence. "I don't think

very much of this end of my purchase. Florence, isn't that Don Carlos's

black horse over there in the corral?"



"It sure is. Then the Don's heah yet. I wish we hadn't been in such a

hurry to come over. There! that doesn't sound encouraging."



From the corridor came the rattling of spurs, tramping of boots, and

loud voices. Madeline detected Alfred's quick notes when he was annoyed:

"We'll rustle back home, then," he said. The answer came, "No!" Madeline

recognized Stewart's voice, and she quickly straightened up. "I won't

have them in here," went on Alfred.



"Outdoors or in, they've got to be with us!" replied Stewart, sharply.

"Listen, Al," came the boom of Stillwell's big voice, "now that we've

butted in over hyar with the girls, you let Stewart run things."



Then a crowd of men tramped pell-mell out upon the porch. Stewart,

dark-browed and somber, was in the lead. Nels hung close to him, and

Madeline's quick glance saw that Nels had undergone some indescribable

change. The grinning, brilliant-eyed Don Carlos came jostling out beside

a gaunt, sharp-featured man wearing a silver shield. This, no doubt,

was Pat Hawe. In the background behind Stillwell and Alfred stood Nick

Steele, head and shoulders over a number of vaqueros and cowboys.



"Miss Hammond, I'm sorry you came," said Stewart, bluntly. "We're in a

muddle here. I've insisted that you and Flo be kept close to us. I'll

explain later. If you can't stop your ears I beg you to overlook rough

talk."



With that he turned to the men behind him: "Nick, take Booly, go back to

Monty and the boys. Fetch out that stuff. All of it. Rustle, now!"



Stillwell and Alfred disengaged themselves from the crowd to take up

positions in front of Madeline and Florence. Pat Hawe leaned against a

post and insolently ogled Madeline and then Florence. Don Carlos pressed

forward. His whole figure filled Madeline's reluctant but fascinated

eyes. He wore tight velveteen breeches, with a heavy fold down the

outside seam, which was ornamented with silver buttons. Round his waist

was a sash, and a belt with fringed holster, from which protruded a

pearl-handled gun. A vest or waistcoat, richly embroidered, partly

concealed a blouse of silk and wholly revealed a silken scarf round his

neck. His swarthy face showed dark lines, like cords, under the surface.

His little eyes were exceedingly prominent and glittering. To Madeline

his face seemed to be a bold, handsome mask through which his eyes

piercingly betrayed the evil nature of the man.



He bowed low with elaborate and sinuous grace. His smile revealed

brilliant teeth, enhanced the brilliance of his eyes. He slowly spread

deprecatory hands.



"Senoritas, I beg a thousand pardons," he said. How strange it was for

Madeline to hear English spoken in a soft, whiningly sweet accent! "The

gracious hospitality of Don Carlos has passed with his house."



Stewart stepped forward and, thrusting Don Carlos aside, he called,

"Make way, there!"



The crowd fell back to the tramp of heavy boots. Cowboys appeared

staggering out of the corridor with long boxes. These they placed side

by side upon the floor of the porch.



"Now, Hawe, we'll proceed with our business," said Stewart. "You see

these boxes, don't you?"



"I reckon I see a good many things round hyar," replied Hawe, meaningly.



"Well, do you intend to open these boxes upon my say-so?"



"No!" retorted Hawe. "It's not my place to meddle with property as come

by express an' all accounted fer regular."



"You call yourself a sheriff!" exclaimed Stewart, scornfully.



"Mebbe you'll think so before long," rejoined Hawe, sullenly.



"I'll open them. Here, one of you boys, knock the tops off these boxes,"

ordered Stewart. "No, not you, Monty. You use your eyes. Let Booly

handle the ax. Rustle, now!"



Monty Price had jumped out of the crowd into the middle of the porch.

The manner in which he gave way to Booly and faced the vaqueros was not

significant of friendliness or trust.



"Stewart, you're dead wrong to bust open them boxes. Thet's ag'in' the

law," protested Hawe, trying to interfere.



Stewart pushed him back. Then Don Carlos, who had been stunned by the

appearance of the boxes, suddenly became active in speech and person.

Stewart thrust him back also. The Mexican's excitement increased. He

wildly gesticulated; he exclaimed shrilly in Spanish. When, however, the

lids were wrenched open and an inside packing torn away he grew rigid

and silent. Madeline raised herself behind Stillwell to see that the

boxes were full of rifles and ammunition.



"There, Hawe! What did I tell you?" demanded Stewart. "I came over here

to take charge of this ranch. I found these boxes hidden in an unused

room. I suspected what they were. Contraband goods!"



"Wal, supposin' they are? I don't see any call fer sech all-fired fuss

as you're makin'. Stewart, I calkilate you're some stuck on your new job

an' want to make a big show before--"



"Hawe, stop slinging that kind of talk," interrupted Stewart. "You

got too free with your mouth once before! Now here, I'm supposed to

be consulting an officer of the law. Will you take charge of these

contraband goods?"



"Say, you're holdin' on high an' mighty," replied Hawe, in astonishment

that was plainly pretended. "What 're you drivin' at?"



Stewart muttered an imprecation. He took several swift strides across

the porch; he held out his hands to Stillwell as if to indicate the

hopelessness of intelligent and reasonable arbitration; he looked at

Madeline with a glance eloquent of his regret that he could not handle

the situation to please her. Then as he wheeled he came face to face

with Nels, who had slipped forward out of the crowd.



Madeline gathered serious import from the steel-blue meaning flash

of eyes whereby Nels communicated something to Stewart. Whatever that

something was, it dispelled Stewart's impatience. A slight movement of

his hand brought Monty Price forward with a jump. In these sudden jumps

of Monty's there was a suggestion of restrained ferocity. Then Nels

and Monty lined up behind Stewart. It was a deliberate action, even to

Madeline, unmistakably formidable. Pat Hawe's face took on an ugly look;

his eyes had a reddish gleam. Don Carlos added a pale face and extreme

nervousness to his former expressions of agitation. The cowboys edged

away from the vaqueros and the bronzed, bearded horsemen who were

evidently Hawe's assistants.



"I'm driving at this," spoke up Stewart, presently; and now he was slow

and caustic. "Here's contraband of war! Hawe, do you get that? Arms and

ammunition for the rebels across the border! I charge you as an officer

to confiscate these goods and to arrest the smuggler--Don Carlos."



These words of Stewart's precipitated a riot among Don Carlos and his

followers, and they surged wildly around the sheriff. There was an

upflinging of brown, clenching hands, a shrill, jabbering babel of

Mexican voices. The crowd around Don Carlos grew louder and denser

with the addition of armed vaqueros and barefooted stable-boys and

dusty-booted herdsmen and blanketed Mexicans, the last of whom suddenly

slipped from doors and windows and round comers. It was a motley

assemblage. The laced, fringed, ornamented vaqueros presented a sharp

contrast to the bare-legged, sandal-footed boys and the ragged herders.

Shrill cries, evidently from Don Carlos, somewhat quieted the commotion.

Then Don Carlos could be heard addressing Sheriff Hawe in an exhortation

of mingled English and Spanish. He denied, he avowed, he proclaimed,

and all in rapid, passionate utterance. He tossed his black hair in

his vehemence; he waved his fists and stamped the floor; he rolled

his glittering eyes; he twisted his thin lips into a hundred different

shapes, and like a cornered wolf showed snarling white teeth.



It seemed to Madeline that Don Carlos denied knowledge of the boxes of

contraband goods, then knowledge of their real contents, then knowledge

of their destination, and, finally, everything except that they were

there in sight, damning witnesses to somebody's complicity in the

breaking of neutrality laws. Passionate as had been his denial of all

this, it was as nothing compared to his denunciation of Stewart.



"Senor Stewart, he keel my Vaquero!" shouted Don Carlos, as, sweating

and spent, he concluded his arraignment of the cowboy. "Him you must

arrest! Senor Stewart a bad man! He keel my vaquero!"



"Do you hear thet?" yelled Hawe. "The Don's got you figgered fer thet

little job at El Cajon last fall."



The clamor burst into a roar. Hawe began shaking his finger in Stewart's

face and hoarsely shouting. Then a lithe young vaquero, swift as

an Indian, glided under Hawe's uplifted arm. Whatever the action he

intended, he was too late for its execution. Stewart lunged out,

struck the vaquero, and knocked him off the porch. As he fell a dagger

glittered in the sunlight and rolled clinking over the stones. The man

went down hard and did not move. With the same abrupt violence, and a

manner of contempt, Stewart threw Hawe off the porch, then Don Carlos,

who, being less supple, fell heavily. Then the mob backed before

Stewart's rush until all were down in the courtyard.



The shuffling of feet ceased, the clanking of spurs, and the shouting.

Nels and Monty, now reinforced by Nick Steele, were as shadows of

Stewart, so closely did they follow him. Stewart waved them back and

stepped down into the yard. He was absolutely fearless; but what struck

Madeline so keenly was his magnificent disdain. Manifestly, he knew the

nature of the men with whom he was dealing. From the look of him it was

natural for Madeline to expect them to give way before him, which they

did, even Hawe and his attendants sullenly retreating.



Don Carlos got up to confront Stewart. The prostrate vaquero stirred and

moaned, but did not rise.



"You needn't jibber Spanish to me," said Stewart. "You can talk

American, and you can understand American. If you start a rough-house

here you and your Greasers will be cleaned up. You've got to leave this

ranch. You can have the stock, the packs and traps in the second corral.

There's grub, too. Saddle up and hit the trail. Don Carlos, I'm dealing

more than square with you. You're lying about these boxes of guns and

cartridges. You're breaking the laws of my country, and you're doing

it on property in my charge. If I let smuggling go on here I'd be

implicated myself. Now you get off the range. If you don't I'll have the

United States cavalry here in six hours, and you can gamble they'll get

what my cowboys leave of you."



Don Carlos was either a capital actor and gratefully relieved at

Stewart's leniency or else he was thoroughly cowed by references to the

troops. "Si, Senor! Gracias, Senor!" he exclaimed; and then, turning

away, he called to his men. They hurried after him, while the fallen

vaquero got to his feet with Stewart's help and staggered across the

courtyard. In a moment they were gone, leaving Hawe and his several

comrades behind.



Hawe was spitefully ejecting a wad of tobacco from his mouth and

swearing in an undertone about "white-livered Greasers." He cocked his

red eye speculatively at Stewart.



"Wal, I reckon as you're so hell-bent on doin' it up brown thet you'll

try to fire me off'n the range, too?"



"If I ever do, Pat, you'll need to be carried off," replied Stewart.

"Just now I'm politely inviting you and your deputy sheriffs to leave."



"We'll go; but we're comin' back one of these days, an' when we do we'll

put you in irons."



"Hawe, if you've got it in that bad for me, come over here in the corral

and let's fight it out."



"I'm an officer, an' I don't fight outlaws an' sich except when I hev to

make arrests."



"Officer! You're a disgrace to the county. If you ever did get irons on

me you'd take me some place out of sight, shoot me, and then swear you

killed me in self-defense. It wouldn't be the first time you pulled that

trick, Pat Hawe."



"Ho, ho!" laughed Hawe, derisively. Then he started toward the horses.



Stewart's long arm shot out, his hand clapped on Hawe's shoulder,

spinning him round like a top.



"You're leaving, Pat, but before you leave you'll come out with your

play or you'll crawl," said Stewart. "You've got it in for me, man to

man. Speak up now and prove you're not the cowardly skunk I've always

thought you. I've called your hand."



Pat Hawe's face turned a blackish-purple hue.



"You can jest bet thet I've got it in fer you," he shouted, hoarsely.

"You're only a low-down cow-puncher. You never hed a dollar or a decent

job till you was mixed up with thet Hammond woman--"



Stewart's hand flashed out and hit Hawe's face in a ringing slap. The

sheriff's head jerked back, his sombrero fell to the ground. As he bent

over to reach it his hand shook, his arm shook, his whole body shook.



Monty Price jumped straight forward and crouched down with a strange,

low cry.



Stewart seemed all at once rigid, bending a little.



"Say Miss Hammond, if there's occasion to use her name," said Stewart,

in a voice that seemed coolly pleasant, yet had a deadly undernote.



Hawe did a moment's battle with strangling fury, which he conquered in

some measure.



"I said you was a low-down, drunken cow-puncher, a tough as damn near a

desperado as we ever hed on the border," went on Hawe, deliberately. His

speech appeared to be addressed to Stewart, although his flame-pointed

eyes were riveted upon Monty Price. "I know you plugged that vaquero

last fall, an' when I git my proof I'm comin' after you."



"That's all right, Hawe. You can call me what you like, and you can come

after me when you like," replied Stewart. "But you're going to get in

bad with me. You're in bad now with Monty and Nels. Pretty soon you'll

queer yourself with all the cowboys and the ranchers, too. If that don't

put sense into you--Here, listen to this. You knew what these boxes

contained. You know Don Carlos has been smuggling arms and ammunition

across the border. You know he is hand and glove with the rebels. You've

been wearing blinders, and it has been to your interest. Take a hunch

from me. That's all. Light out now, and the less we see of your handsome

mug the better we'll like you."



Muttering, cursing, pallid of face, Hawe climbed astride his horse.

His comrades followed suit. Certain it appeared that the sheriff

was contending with more than fear and wrath. He must have had an

irresistible impulse to fling more invective and threat upon Stewart,

but he was speechless. Savagely he spurred his horse, and as it snorted

and leaped he turned in his saddle, shaking his fist. His comrades led

the way, with their horses clattering into a canter. They disappeared

through the gate.



* * *



When, later in the day, Madeline and Florence, accompanied by Alfred and

Stillwell, left Don Carlos's ranch it was not any too soon for

Madeline. The inside of the Mexican's home was more unprepossessing and

uncomfortable than the outside. The halls were dark, the rooms huge,

empty, and musty; and there was an air of silence and secrecy and

mystery about them most fitting to the character Florence had bestowed

upon the place.



On the other hand, Alfred's ranch-house, where the party halted to spend

the night, was picturesquely located, small and cozy, camplike in its

arrangement, and altogether agreeable to Madeline.



The day's long rides and the exciting events had wearied her. She rested

while Florence and the two men got supper. During the meal Stillwell

expressed satisfaction over the good riddance of the vaqueros, and with

his usual optimism trusted he had seen the last of them. Alfred, too,

took a decidedly favorable view of the day's proceedings. However, it

was not lost upon Madeline that Florence appeared unusually quiet and

thoughtful. Madeline wondered a little at the cause. She remembered

that Stewart had wanted to come with them, or detail a few cowboys to

accompany them, but Alfred had laughed at the idea and would have none

of it.



After supper Alfred monopolized the conversation by describing what he

wanted to do to improve his home before he and Florence were married.



Then at an early hour they all retired.



Madeline's deep slumbers were disturbed by a pounding upon the wall, and

then by Florence's crying out in answer to a call:



"Get up! Throw some clothes on and come out!"



It was Alfred's voice.



"What's the matter?" asked Florence, as she slipped out of bed.



"Alfred, is there anything wrong?" added Madeline, sitting up.



The room was dark as pitch, but a faint glow seemed to mark the position

of the window.



"Oh, nothing much," replied Alfred. "Only Don Carlos's rancho going up

in smoke."



"Fire!" cried Florence, sharply.



"You'll think so when you see it. Hurry out. Majesty, old girl, now you

won't have to tear down that heap of adobe, as you threatened. I don't

believe a wall will stand after that fire."



"Well, I'm glad of it," said Madeline. "A good healthy fire will purify

the atmosphere over there and save me expense. Ugh! that haunted rancho

got on my nerves! Florence, I do believe you've appropriated part of my

riding-habit. Doesn't Alfred have lights in this house?"



Florence laughingly helped Madeline to dress. Then they hurriedly

stumbled over chairs, and, passing through the dining-room, went out

upon the porch.



Away to the westward, low down along the horizon, she saw leaping red

flames and wind-swept columns of smoke.



Stillwell appeared greatly perturbed.



"Al, I'm lookin' fer that ammunition to blow up," he said. "There was

enough of it to blow the roof off the rancho."



"Bill, surely the cowboys would get that stuff out the first thing,"

replied Alfred, anxiously.



"I reckon so. But all the same, I'm worryin'. Mebbe there wasn't time.

Supposin' thet powder went off as the boys was goin' fer it or carryin'

it out! We'll know soon. If the explosion doesn't come quick now we can

figger the boys got the boxes out."



For the next few moments there was a silence of sustained and painful

suspense. Florence gripped Madeline's arm. Madeline felt a fullness in

her throat and a rapid beating of her heart. Presently she was relieved

with the others when Stillwell declared the danger of an explosion

needed to be feared no longer.



"Sure you can gamble on Gene Stewart," he added.



The night happened to be partly cloudy, with broken rifts showing the

moon, and the wind blew unusually strong. The brightness of the fire

seemed subdued. It was like a huge bonfire smothered by some great

covering, penetrated by different, widely separated points of flame.

These corners of flame flew up, curling in the wind, and then died down.

Thus the scene was constantly changing from dull light to dark.

There came a moment when a blacker shade overspread the wide area of

flickering gleams and then obliterated them. Night enfolded the scene.

The moon peeped a curved yellow rim from under broken clouds. To all

appearances the fire had burned itself out. But suddenly a pinpoint of

light showed where all had been dense black. It grew and became long and

sharp. It moved. It had life. It leaped up. Its color warmed from white

to red. Then from all about it burst flame on flame, to leap into a

great changing pillar of fire that climbed high and higher. Huge funnels

of smoke, yellow, black, white, all tinged with the color of fire,

slanted skyward, drifting away on the wind.



"Wal, I reckon we won't hev the good of them two thousand tons of

alfalfa we was figgerin' on," remarked Stillwell.



"Ah! Then that last outbreak of fire was burning hay," said Madeline.

"I do not regret the rancho. But it's too bad to lose such a quantity of

good feed for the stock."



"It's lost, an' no mistake. The fire's dyin' as quick as she flared

up. Wal, I hope none of the boys got risky to save a saddle or blanket.

Monty--he's hell on runnin' the gantlet of fire. He's like a hoss that's

jest been dragged out of a burnin' stable an' runs back sure locoed.

There! She's smolderin' down now. Reckon we-all might jest as well turn

in again. It's only three o'clock."



"I wonder how the fire originated?" remarked Alfred. "Some careless

cowboy's cigarette, I'll bet."



Stillwell rolled out his laugh.



"Al, you sure are a free-hearted, trustin' feller. I'm some doubtin' the

cigarette idee; but you can gamble if it was a cigarette it belonged to

a cunnin' vaquero, an' wasn't dropped accident-like."



"Now, Bill, you don't mean Don Carlos burned the rancho?" ejaculated

Alfred, in mingled amaze and anger.



Again the old cattleman laughed.



"Powerful strange to say, my friend, ole Bill means jest thet."



"Of course Don Carlos set that fire," put in Florence, with spirit. "Al,

if you live out heah a hundred years you'll never learn that Greasers

are treacherous. I know Gene Stewart suspected something underhand.

That's why he wanted us to hurry away. That's why he put me on the black

horse of Don Carlos's. He wants that horse for himself, and feared the

Don would steal or shoot him. And you, Bill Stillwell, you're as bad as

Al. You never distrust anybody till it's too late. You've been singing

ever since Stewart ordered the vaqueros off the range. But you sure

haven't been thinking."



"Wal, now, Flo, you needn't pitch into me jest because I hev a natural

Christian spirit," replied Stillwell, much aggrieved. "I reckon I've

hed enough trouble in my life so's not to go lookin' fer more. Wal, I'm

sorry about the hay burnin'. But mebbe the boys saved the stock. An'

as fer that ole adobe house of dark holes an' under-ground passages, so

long's Miss Majesty doesn't mind, I'm darn glad it burned. Come, let's

all turn in again. Somebody'll ride over early an' tell us what's what."



Madeline awakened early, but not so early as the others, who were up and

had breakfast ready when she went into the dining-room. Stillwell was

not in an amiable frame of mind. The furrows of worry lined his broad

brow and he continually glanced at his watch, and growled because

the cowboys were so late in riding over with the news. He gulped his

breakfast, and while Madeline and the others ate theirs he tramped

up and down the porch. Madeline noted that Alfred grew nervous and

restless. Presently he left the table to join Stillwell outside.



"They'll slope off to Don Carlos's rancho and leave us to ride home

alone," observed Florence.



"Do you mind?" questioned Madeline.



"No, I don't exactly mind; we've got the fastest horses in this country.

I'd like to run that big black devil off his legs. No, I don't mind; but

I've no hankering for a situation Gene Stewart thinks--"



Florence began disconnectedly, and she ended evasively. Madeline did

not press the point, although she had some sense of misgiving. Stillwell

tramped in, shaking the floor with his huge boots; Alfred followed him,

carrying a field-glass.



"Not a hoss in sight," complained Stillwell. "Some-thin' wrong over Don

Carlos's way. Miss Majesty, it'll be jest as well fer you an' Flo to hit

the home trail. We can telephone over an' see that the boys know you're

comin'."



Alfred, standing in the door, swept the gray valley with his

field-glass.



"Bill, I see running stock-horses or cattle; I can't make out which. I

guess we'd better rustle over there."



Both men hurried out, and while the horses were being brought up and

saddled Madeline and Florence put away the breakfast-dishes, then

speedily donned spurs, sombreros, and gauntlets.



"Here are the horses ready," called Alfred. "Flo, that black Mexican

horse is a prince."



The girls went out in time to hear Stillwell's good-by as he mounted and

spurred away. Alfred went through the motions of assisting Madeline and

Florence to mount, which assistance they always flouted, and then he,

too, swung up astride.



"I guess it's all right," he said, rather dubiously. "You really must

not go over toward Don Carlos's. It's only a few miles home."



"Sure it's all right. We can ride, can't we?" retorted Florence. "Better

have a care for yourself, going off over there to mix in goodness knows

what."



Alfred said good-by, spurred his horse, and rode away.



"If Bill didn't forget to telephone!" exclaimed Florence. "I declare he

and Al were sure rattled."



Florence dismounted and went into the house. She left the door open.

Madeline had some difficulty in holding Majesty. It struck Madeline that

Florence stayed rather long indoors. Presently she came out with sober

face and rather tight lips.



"I couldn't get anybody on the 'phone. No answer. I tried a dozen

times."



"Why, Florence!" Madeline was more concerned by the girl's looks than by

the information she imparted.



"The wire's been cut," said Florence. Her gray glance swept swiftly

after Alfred, who was now far out of earshot. "I don't like this a

little bit. Heah's where I've got to 'figger,' as Bill says."



She pondered a moment, then hurried into the house, to return presently

with the field-glass that Alfred had used. With this she took a survey

of the valley, particularly in the direction of Madeline's ranch-house.

This was hidden by low, rolling ridges which were quite close by.



"Anyway, nobody in that direction can see us leave heah," she mused.

"There's mesquite on the ridges. We've got cover long enough to save us

till we can see what's ahead."



"Florence, what--what do you expect?" asked Madeline, nervously.



"I don't know. There's never any telling about Greasers. I wish Bill and

Al hadn't left us. Still, come to think of that, they couldn't help us

much in case of a chase. We'd run right away from them. Besides, they'd

shoot. I guess I'm as well as satisfied that we've got the job of

getting home on our own hands. We don't dare follow Al toward Don

Carlos's ranch. We know there's trouble over there. So all that's left

is to hit the trail for home. Come, let's ride. You stick like a Spanish

needle to me."



A heavy growth of mesquite covered the top of the first ridge, and the

trail went through it. Florence took the lead, proceeding cautiously,

and as soon as she could see over the summit she used the field-glass.

Then she went on. Madeline, following closely, saw down the slope of the

ridge to a bare, wide, grassy hollow, and onward to more rolling land,

thick with cactus and mesquite. Florence appeared cautious, deliberate,

yet she lost no time. She was ominously silent. Madeline's misgivings

took definite shape in the fear of vaqueros in ambush.



Upon the ascent of the third ridge, which Madeline remembered was the

last uneven ground between the point she had reached and home, Florence

exercised even more guarded care in advancing. Before she reached the

top of this ridge she dismounted, looped her bridle round a dead snag,

and, motioning Madeline to wait, she slipped ahead through the mesquite

out of sight. Madeline waited, anxiously listening and watching. Certain

it was that she could not see or hear anything alarming. The sun began

to have a touch of heat; the morning breeze rustled the thin mesquite

foliage; the deep magenta of a cactus flower caught her eye; a

long-tailed, cruel-beaked, brown bird sailed so close to her she could

have touched it with her whip. But she was only vaguely aware of these

things. She was watching for Florence, listening for some sound fraught

with untoward meaning. All of a sudden she saw Majesty's ears were held

straight up. Then Florence's face, now strangely white, showed round the

turn of the trail.



"'S-s-s-sh!" whispered Florence, holding up a warning finger. She

reached the black horse and petted him, evidently to still an uneasiness

he manifested. "We're in for it," she went on. "A whole bunch of

vaqueros hiding among the mesquite over the ridge! They've not seen or

heard us yet. We'd better risk riding ahead, cut off the trail, and beat

them to the ranch. Madeline, you're white as death! Don't faint now!"



"I shall not faint. But you frighten me. Is there danger? What shall we

do?"



"There's danger. Madeline, I wouldn't deceive you," went on Florence, in

an earnest whisper. "Things have turned out just as Gene Stewart hinted.

Oh, we should--Al should have listened to Gene! I believe--I'm afraid

Gene knew!"



"Knew what?" asked Madeline.



"Never mind now. Listen. We daren't take the back trail. We'll go

on. I've a scheme to fool that grinning Don Carlos. Get down,

Madeline--hurry."



Madeline dismounted.



"Give me your white sweater. Take it off--And that white hat! Hurry,

Madeline."



"Florence, what on earth do you mean?" cried Madeline.



"Not so loud," whispered the other. Her gray eyes snapped. She had

divested herself of sombrero and jacket, which she held out to Madeline.

"Heah. Take these. Give me yours. Then get up on the black. I'll ride

Majesty. Rustle now, Madeline. This is no time to talk."



"But, dear, why--why do you want--? Ah! You're going to make the

vaqueros take you for me!"



"You guessed it. Will you--"



"I shall not allow you to do anything of the kind," returned Madeline.



It was then that Florence's face, changing, took on the hard, stern

sharpness so typical of a cowboy's. Madeline had caught glimpses of that

expression in Alfred's face, and on Stewart's when he was silent, and

on Stillwell's always. It was a look of iron and fire--unchangeable,

unquenchable will. There was even much of violence in the swift action

whereby Florence compelled Madeline to the change of apparel.



"It 'd been my idea, anyhow, if Stewart hadn't told me to do it,"

said Florence, her words as swift as her hands. "Don Carlos is after

you--you, Miss Madeline Hammond! He wouldn't ambush a trail for any one

else. He's not killing cowboys these days. He wants you for some reason.

So Gene thought, and now I believe him. Well, we'll know for sure in

five minutes. You ride the black; I'll ride Majesty. We'll slip round

through the brush, out of sight and sound, till we can break out into

the open. Then we'll split. You make straight for the ranch. I'll cut

loose for the valley where Gene said positively the cowboys were with

the cattle. The vaqueros will take me for you. They all know those

striking white things you wear. They'll chase me. They'll never get

anywhere near me. And you'll be on a fast horse. He can take you home

ahead of any vaqueros. But you won't be chased. I'm staking all on that.

Trust me, Madeline. If it were only my calculation, maybe I'd--It's

because I remember Stewart. That cowboy knows things. Come, this heah's

the safest and smartest way to fool Don Carlos." Madeline felt herself

more forced than persuaded into acquiescence. She mounted the black and

took up the bridle. In another moment she was guiding her horse off

the trail in the tracks of Majesty. Florence led off at right angles,

threading a slow passage through the mesquite. She favored sandy patches

and open aisles between the trees, and was careful not to break a

branch. Often she stopped to listen. This detour of perhaps half a mile

brought Madeline to where she could see open ground, the ranch-house

only a few miles off, and the cattle dotting the valley. She had not

lost her courage, but it was certain that these familiar sights somewhat

lightened the pressure upon her breast. Excitement gripped her. The

shrill whistle of a horse made both the black and Majesty jump. Florence

quickened the gait down the slope. Soon Madeline saw the edge of the

brush, the gray-bleached grass and level ground.



Florence waited at the opening between the low trees. She gave Madeline

a quick, bright glance.



"All over but the ride! That'll sure be easy. Bolt now and keep your

nerve!"



When Florence wheeled the fiery roan and screamed in his ear Madeline

seemed suddenly to grow lax and helpless. The big horse leaped into

thundering action. This was memorable of Bonita of the flying hair and

the wild night ride. Florence's hair streamed on the wind and shone gold

in the sunlight. Yet Madeline saw her with the same thrill with which

she had seen the wild-riding Bonita. Then hoarse shouts unclamped

Madeline's power of movement, and she spurred the black into the open.



He wanted to run and he was swift. Madeline loosened the reins--laid

them loose upon his neck. His action was strange to her. He was hard

to ride. But he was fast, and she cared for nothing else. Madeline knew

horses well enough to realize that the black had found he was free and

carrying a light weight. A few times she took up the bridle and pulled

to right or left, trying to guide him. He kept a straight course,

however, and crashed through small patches of mesquite and jumped the

cracks and washes. Uneven ground offered no perceptible obstacle to his

running. To Madeline there was now a thrilling difference in the lash of

wind and the flash of the gray ground underneath. She was running away

from something; what that was she did not know. But she remembered

Florence, and she wanted to look back, yet hated to do so for fear of

the nameless danger Florence had mentioned.



Madeline listened for the pounding of pursuing hoofs in her rear.

Involuntarily she glanced back. On the mile or more of gray level

between her and the ridge there was not a horse, a man, or anything

living. She wheeled to look back on the other side, down the valley

slope.



The sight of Florence riding Majesty in zigzag flight before a whole

troop of vaqueros blanched Madeline's cheek and made her grip the pommel

of her saddle in terror. That strange gait of her roan was not his

wonderful stride. Could Majesty be running wild? Madeline saw one

vaquero draw closer, whirling his lasso round his head, but he did not

get near enough to throw. So it seemed to Madeline. Another vaquero

swept across in front of the first one. Then, when Madeline gasped in

breathless expectancy, the roan swerved to elude the attack. It flashed

over Madeline that Florence was putting the horse to some such awkward

flight as might have been expected of an Eastern girl frightened out of

her wits. Madeline made sure of this when, after looking again, she saw

that Florence, in spite of the horse's breaking gait and the irregular

course, was drawing slowly and surely down the valley.



Madeline had not lost her head to the extent of forgetting her own mount

and the nature of the ground in front. When, presently, she turned again

to watch Florence, uncertainty ceased in her mind. The strange features

of that race between girl and vaqueros were no longer in evidence.

Majesty was in his beautiful, wonderful stride, low down along the

ground, stretching, with his nose level and straight for the valley.

Between him and the lean horses in pursuit lay an ever-increasing space.

He was running away from the vaqueros. Florence was indeed "riding the

wind," as Stewart had aptly expressed his idea of flight upon the fleet

roan.



A dimness came over Madeline's eyes, and it was not all owing to the

sting of the wind. She rubbed it away, seeing Florence as a flying

dot in a strange blur. What a daring, intrepid girl! This kind of

strength--and aye, splendid thought for a weaker sister--was what the

West inculcated in a woman.



The next time Madeline looked back Florence was far ahead of her

pursuers and going out of sight behind a low knoll. Assured of

Florence's safety, Madeline put her mind to her own ride and the

possibilities awaiting at the ranch. She remembered the failure to

get any of her servants or cowboys on the telephone. To be sure, a

wind-storm had once broken the wire. But she had little real hope of

such being the case in this instance. She rode on, pulling the black as

she neared the ranch. Her approach was from the south and off the usual

trail, so that she went up the long slope of the knoll toward the back

of the house. Under these circumstances she could not consider it out of

the ordinary that she did not see any one about the grounds.



It was perhaps fortunate for her, she thought, that the climb up the

slope cut the black's speed so she could manage him. He was not very

hard to stop. The moment she dismounted, however, he jumped and trotted

off. At the edge of the slope, facing the corrals, he halted to lift

his head and shoot up his ears. Then he let out a piercing whistle and

dashed down the lane.



Madeline, prepared by that warning whistle, tried to fortify herself for

a new and unexpected situation; but as she espied an unfamiliar company

of horsemen rapidly riding down a hollow leading from the foothills she

felt the return of fears gripping at her like cold hands, and she fled

precipitously into the house.





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