The Ride





"Stillwell!"



Madeline's cry was more than the utterance of a breaking heart. It was

full of agony. But also it uttered the shattering of a structure built

of false pride, of old beliefs, of bloodless standards, of ignorance

of self. It betrayed the final conquest of her doubts, and out of

their darkness blazed the unquenchable spirit of a woman who had found

herself, her love, her salvation, her duty to a man, and who would not

be cheated.



The old cattleman stood mute before her, staring at her white face, at

her eyes of flame.



"Stillwell! I am Stewart's wife!"



"My Gawd, Miss Majesty!" he burst out. "I knowed somethin' turrible was

wrong. Aw, sure it's a pity--"



"Do you think I'll let him be shot when I know him now, when I'm no

longer blind, when I love him?" she asked, with passionate swiftness.

"I will save him. This is Wednesday morning. I have thirty-six hours to

save his life. Stillwell, send for Link and the car!"



She went into her office. Her mind worked with extraordinary rapidity

and clearness. Her plan, born in one lightning-like flash of thought,

necessitated the careful wording of telegrams to Washington, to New

York, to San Antonio. These were to Senators, Representatives, men high

in public and private life, men who would remember her and who would

serve her to their utmost. Never before had her position meant anything

to her comparable with what it meant now. Never in all her life had

money seemed the power that it was then. If she had been poor! A

shuddering chill froze the thought at its inception. She dispelled

heartbreaking thoughts. She had power. She had wealth. She would set

into operation all the unlimited means these gave her--the wires

and pulleys and strings underneath the surface of political and

international life, the open, free, purchasing value of money or the

deep, underground, mysterious, incalculably powerful influence moved

by gold. She could save Stewart. She must await results--deadlocked in

feeling, strained perhaps almost beyond endurance, because the suspense

would be great; but she would allow no possibility of failure to enter

her mind.



When she went outside the car was there with Link, helmet in hand, a

cool, bright gleam in his eyes, and with Stillwell, losing his haggard

misery, beginning to respond to Madeline's spirit.



"Link, drive Stillwell to El Cajon in time for him to catch the El Paso

train," she said. "Wait there for his return, and if any message comes

from him, telephone it at once to me."



Then she gave Stillwell the telegrams to send from El Cajon and drafts

to cash in El Paso. She instructed him to go before the rebel junta,

then stationed at Juarez, to explain the situation, to bid them expect

communications from Washington officials requesting and advising

Stewart's exchange as a prisoner of war, to offer to buy his release

from the rebel authorities.



When Stillwell had heard her through his huge, bowed form straightened,

a ghost of his old smile just moved his lips. He was no longer young,

and hope could not at once drive away stern and grim realities. As he

bent over her hand his manner appeared courtly and reverent. But either

he was speechless or felt the moment not one for him to break silence.



He climbed to a seat beside Link, who pocketed the watch he had been

studying and leaned over the wheel. There was a crack, a muffled sound

bursting into a roar, and the big car jerked forward to bound over the

edge of the slope, to leap down the long incline, to shoot out upon the

level valley floor and disappear in moving dust.



For the first time in days Madeline visited the gardens, the corrals,

the lakes, the quarters of the cowboys. Though imagining she was calm,

she feared she looked strange to Nels, to Nick, to Frankie Slade, to

those boys best known to her. The situation for them must have been one

of tormenting pain and bewilderment. They acted as if they wanted to

say something to her, but found themselves spellbound. She wondered--did

they know she was Stewart's wife? Stillwell had not had time to tell

them; besides, he would not have mentioned the fact. These cowboys only

knew that Stewart was sentenced to be shot; they knew if Madeline had

not been angry with him he would not have gone in desperate fighting

mood across the border. She spoke of the weather, of the horses and

cattle, asked Nels when he was to go on duty, and turned away from the

wide, sunlit, adobe-arched porch where the cowboys stood silent and

bareheaded. Then one of her subtle impulses checked her.



"Nels, you and Nick need not go on duty to-day," she said. "I may want

you. I--I--"



She hesitated, paused, and stood lingering there. Her glance had fallen

upon Stewart's big black horse prancing in a near-by corral.



"I have sent Stillwell to El Paso," she went on, in a low voice she

failed to hold steady. "He will save Stewart. I have to tell you--I am

Stewart's wife!"



She felt the stricken amaze that made these men silent and immovable.

With level gaze averted she left them. Returning to the house and her

room, she prepared for something--for what? To wait!



Then a great invisible shadow seemed to hover behind her. She essayed

many tasks, to fail of attention, to find that her mind held only

Stewart and his fortunes. Why had he become a Federal? She reflected

that he had won his title, El Capitan, fighting for Madero, the rebel.

But Madero was now a Federal, and Stewart was true to him. In crossing

the border had Stewart any other motive than the one he had implied to

Madeline in his mocking smile and scornful words, "You might have saved

me a hell of a lot of trouble!" What trouble? She felt again the cold

shock of contact with the gun she had dropped in horror. He meant the

trouble of getting himself shot in the only way a man could seek death

without cowardice. But had he any other motive? She recalled Don Carlos

and his guerrillas. Then the thought leaped up in her mind with gripping

power that Stewart meant to hunt Don Carlos, to meet him, to kill him.

It would be the deed of a silent, vengeful, implacable man driven by

wild justice such as had been the deadly leaven in Monty Price. It was

a deed to expect of Nels or Nick Steel--and, aye, of Gene Stewart.

Madeline felt regret that Stewart, as he had climbed so high, had not

risen above deliberate seeking to kill his enemy, however evil that

enemy.



The local newspapers, which came regularly a day late from El Paso

and Douglas, had never won any particular interest from Madeline;

now, however, she took up any copies she could find and read all the

information pertaining to the revolution. Every word seemed vital to

her, of moving significant force.





AMERICANS ROBBED BY MEXICAN REBELS



MADERA, STATE OF CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO, July 17.--Having looted the Madera

Lumber Company's storehouses of $25,000 worth of goods and robbed scores

of foreigners of horses and saddles, the rebel command of Gen. Antonio

Rojas, comprising a thousand men, started westward to-day through the

state of Sonora for Agnaymas and Pacific coast points.



The troops are headed for Dolores, where a mountain pass leads into

the state of Sonora. Their entrance will be opposed by 1,000 Maderista

volunteers, who are reported to be waiting the rebel invasion.



The railroad south of Madera is being destroyed and many Americans who

were traveling to Chihuahua from Juarez are marooned here.



General Rojas executed five men while here for alleged offenses of a

trivial character. Gen. Rosalio y Hernandez, Lieut. Cipriano Amador, and

three soldiers were the unfortunates.



WASHINGTON, July 17.--Somewhere in Mexico Patrick Dunne, an American

citizen, is in prison under sentence of death. This much and no more

the State Department learned through Representative Kinkaid of Nebraska.

Consular officers in various sections of Mexico have been directed to

make every effort to locate Dunne and save his life.



JUAREZ, MEXICO, July 31.--General Orozco, chief of the rebels, declared

to-day:



"If the United States will throw down the barriers and let us have

all the ammunition we can buy, I promise in sixty days to have peace

restored in Mexico and a stable government in charge."



CASAS GRANDES, CHIHUAHUA, July 31.--Rebel soldiers looted many homes

of Mormons near here yesterday. All the Mormon families have fled to

El Paso. Although General Salazar had two of his soldiers executed

yesterday for robbing Mormons, he has not made any attempt to stop his

men looting the unprotected homes of Americans.



Last night's and to-day's trains carried many Americans from Pearson,

Madera, and other localities outside the Mormon settlements. Refugees

from Mexico continued to pour into El Paso. About one hundred came last

night, the majority of whom were men. Heretofore few men came.





Madeline read on in feverish absorption. It was not a real war, but a

starving, robbing, burning, hopeless revolution. Five men executed for

alleged offenses of a trivial nature! What chance had, then, a Federal

prisoner, an enemy to be feared, an American cowboy in the clutches of

those crazed rebels?



Madeline endured patiently, endured for long interminable hours while

holding to her hope with indomitable will.



No message came. At sunset she went outdoors, suffering a torment

of accumulating suspense. She faced the desert, hoping, praying for

strength. The desert did not influence her as did the passionless,

unchangeable stars that had soothed her spirit. It was red, mutable,

shrouded in shadows, terrible like her mood. A dust-veiled sunset

colored the vast, brooding, naked waste of rock and sand. The grim

Chiricahua frowned black and sinister. The dim blue domes of the

Guadalupes seemed to whisper, to beckon to her. Beyond them somewhere

was Stewart, awaiting the end of a few brief hours--hours that to her

were boundless, endless, insupportable.



Night fell. But now the white, pitiless stars failed her. Then she

sought the seclusion and darkness of her room, there to lie with wide

eyes, waiting, waiting. She had always been susceptible to the somber,

mystic unrealities of the night, and now her mind slowly revolved round

a vague and monstrous gloom. Nevertheless, she was acutely sensitive to

outside impressions. She heard the measured tread of a guard, the rustle

of wind stirring the window-curtain, the remote, mournful wail of a

coyote. By and by the dead silence of the night insulated her with

leaden oppression. There was silent darkness for so long that when the

window casements showed gray she believed it was only fancy and that

dawn would never come. She prayed for the sun not to rise, not to begin

its short twelve-hour journey toward what might be a fatal setting for

Stewart. But the dawn did lighten, swiftly she thought, remorselessly.

Daylight had broken, and this was Thursday!



Sharp ringing of the telephone bell startled her, roused her into

action. She ran to answer the call.



"Hello--hello--Miss Majesty!" came the hurried reply. "This is Link

talkin'. Messages for you. Favorable, the operator said. I'm to ride out

with them. I'll come a-hummin'."



That was all. Madeline heard the bang of the receiver as Stevens threw

it down. She passionately wanted to know more, but was immeasurably

grateful for so much! Favorable! Then Stillwell had been successful.

Her heart leaped. Suddenly she became weak and her hands failed of their

accustomed morning deftness. It took her what seemed a thousand years to

dress. Breakfast meant nothing to her except that it helped her to pass

dragging minutes.



Finally a low hum, mounting swiftly to a roar and ending with a sharp

report, announced the arrival of the car. If her feet had kept pace with

her heart she would have raced out to meet Link. She saw him, helmet

thrown back, watch in hand, and he looked up at her with his cool,

bright smile, with his familiar apologetic manner.



"Fifty-three minutes, Miss Majesty," he said, "but I hed to ride round a

herd of steers an' bump a couple off the trail."



He gave her a packet of telegrams. Madeline tore them open with shaking

fingers, began to read with swift, dim eyes. Some were from Washington,

assuring her of every possible service; some were from New York; others

written in Spanish were from El Paso, and these she could not wholly

translate in a brief glance. Would she never find Stillwell's message?

It was the last. It was lengthy. It read:





Bought Stewart's release. Also arranged for his transfer as prisoner

of war. Both matters official. He's safe if we can get notice to his

captors. Not sure I've reached them by wire. Afraid to trust it. You go

with Link to Agua Prieta. Take the messages sent you in Spanish. They

will protect you and secure Stewart's freedom. Take Nels with you. Stop

for nothing. Tell Link all--trust him--let him drive that car.



STILLWELL.



*****



The first few lines of Stillwell's message lifted Madeline to the

heights of thanksgiving and happiness. Then, reading on, she experienced

a check, a numb, icy, sickening pang. At the last line she flung off

doubt and dread, and in white, cold passion faced the issue.



"Read," she said, briefly, handing the telegram to Link. He scanned it

and then looked blankly up at her.



"Link, do you know the roads, the trails--the desert between here and

Agua Prieta?" she asked.



"Thet's sure my old stampin'-ground. An' I know Sonora, too."



"We must reach Agua Prieta before sunset--long before, so if Stewart is

in some near-by camp we can get to it in--in time."



"Miss Majesty, it ain't possible!" he exclaimed. "Stillwell's crazy to

say thet."



"Link, can an automobile be driven from here into northern Mexico?"



"Sure. But it 'd take time."



"We must do it in little time," she went on, in swift eagerness.

"Otherwise Stewart may be--probably will be--be shot."



Link Stevens appeared suddenly to grow lax, shriveled, to lose all his

peculiar pert brightness, to weaken and age.



"I'm only a--a cowboy, Miss Majesty." He almost faltered. It was a

singular change in him. "Thet's an awful ride--down over the border. If

by some luck I didn't smash the car I'd turn your hair gray. You'd never

be no good after thet ride!"



"I am Stewart's wife," she answered him and she looked at him, not

conscious of any motive to persuade or allure, but just to let him know

the greatness of her dependence upon him.



He started violently--the old action of Stewart, the memorable action of

Monty Price. This man was of the same wild breed.



Then Madeline's words flowed in a torrent. "I am Stewart's wife. I love

him; I have been unjust to him; I must save him. Link, I have faith in

you. I beseech you to do your best for Stewart's sake--for my sake. I'll

risk the ride gladly--bravely. I'll not care where or how you drive. I'd

far rather plunge into a canyon--go to my death on the rocks--than not

try to save Stewart."



How beautiful the response of this rude cowboy--to realize his absolute

unconsciousness of self, to see the haggard shade burn out of his face,

the old, cool, devil-may-care spirit return to his eyes, and to feel

something wonderful about him then! It was more than will or daring or

sacrifice. A blood-tie might have existed between him and Madeline. She

sensed again that indefinable brother-like quality, so fine, so almost

invisible, which seemed to be an inalienable trait in these wild

cowboys.



"Miss Majesty, thet ride figgers impossible, but I'll do it!" he

replied. His cool, bright glance thrilled her. "I'll need mebbe half an

hour to go over the car an' to pack on what I'll want."



She could not thank him, and her reply was merely a request that he tell

Nels and other cowboys off duty to come up to the house. When Link had

gone Madeline gave a moment's thought to preparations for the ride. She

placed what money she had and the telegrams in a satchel. The gown she

had on was thin and white, not suitable for travel, but she would not

risk the losing of one moment in changing it. She put on a long coat

and wound veils round her head and neck, arranging them in a hood so

she could cover her face when necessary. She remembered to take an extra

pair of goggles for Nels's use, and then, drawing on her gloves, she

went out ready for the ride.



A number of cowboys were waiting. She explained the situation and left

them in charge of her home. With that she asked Nels to accompany her

down into the desert. He turned white to his lips, and this occasioned

Madeline to remember his mortal dread of the car and Link's driving.





"Nels, I'm sorry to ask you," she added. "I know you hate the car. But I

need you--may need you, oh! so much."



"Why, Miss Majesty, thet's shore all a mistaken idee of yours about me

hatin' the car," he said, in his slow, soft drawl. "I was only jealous

of Link; an' the boys, they made thet joke up on me about bein' scared

of ridin' fast. Shore I'm powerful proud to go. An' I reckon if you

hedn't asked me my feelin's might hev been some hurt. Because if you're

goin' down among the Greasers you want me."



His cool, easy speech, his familiar swagger, the smile with which he

regarded her did not in the least deceive Madeline. The gray was still

in his face. Incomprehensible as it seemed, Nels had a dread, an uncanny

fear, and it was of that huge white automobile. But he lied about it.

Here again was that strange quality of faithfulness.



Madeline heard the buzz of the car. Link appeared driving up the slope.

He made a short, sliding turn and stopped before the porch. Link had

tied two long, heavy planks upon the car, one on each side, and in every

available space he had strapped extra tires. A huge cask occupied one

back seat, and another seat was full of tools and ropes. There was

just room in this rear part of the car for Nels to squeeze in. Link put

Madeline in front beside him, then bent over the wheel. Madeline waved

her hand at the silent cowboys on the porch. Not an audible good-by was

spoken.



The car glided out of the yard, leaped from level to slope, and started

swiftly down the road, out into the open valley. Each stronger rush of

dry wind in Madeline's face marked the increase of speed. She took one

glance at the winding cattle-road, smooth, unobstructed, disappearing

in the gray of distance. She took another at the leather-garbed,

leather-helmeted driver beside her, and then she drew the hood of veils

over her face and fastened it round her neck so there was no possibility

of its blowing loose.



Harder and stronger pressed the wind till it was like sheeted

lead forcing her back in her seat. There was a ceaseless, intense,

inconceivably rapid vibration under her; occasionally she felt a long

swing, as if she were to be propelled aloft; but no jars disturbed the

easy celerity of the car. The buzz, the roar of wheels, of heavy body

in flight, increased to a continuous droning hum. The wind became an

insupportable body moving toward her, crushing her breast, making the

task of breathing most difficult. To Madeline the time seemed to

fly with the speed of miles. A moment came when she detected a faint

difference in hum and rush and vibration, in the ceaseless sweeping of

the invisible weight against her. This difference became marked. Link

was reducing speed. Then came swift change of all sensation, and she

realized the car had slowed to normal travel.



Madeline removed her hood and goggles. It was a relief to breathe

freely, to be able to use her eyes. To her right, not far distant, lay

the little town of Chiricahua. Sight of it made her remember Stewart in

a way strange to her constant thought of him. To the left inclined the

gray valley. The red desert was hidden from view, but the Guadalupe

Mountains loomed close in the southwest.



Opposite Chiricahua, where the road forked, Link Stevens headed the car

straight south and gradually increased speed. Madeline faced another

endless gray incline. It was the San Bernardino Valley. The singing of

the car, the stinging of the wind warned her to draw the hood securely

down over her face again, and then it was as if she was riding at night.

The car lurched ahead, settled into that driving speed which wedged

Madeline back as in a vise. Again the moments went by fleet as the

miles. Seemingly, there was an acceleration of the car till it reached a

certain swiftness--a period of time in which it held that pace, and then

a diminishing of all motion and sound which contributed to Madeline's

acute sensation. Uncovering her face, she saw Link was passing another

village. Could it be Bernardino? She asked Link--repeated the question.



"Sure," he replied. "Eighty miles."



Link did not this time apologize for the work of his machine. Madeline

marked the omission with her first thrill of the ride. Leaning over, she

glanced at Link's watch, which he had fastened upon the wheel in front

of his eyes. A quarter to ten! Link had indeed made short work of the

valley miles.



Beyond Bernardino Link sheered off the road and put the car to a long,

low-rising slope. Here the valley appeared to run south under the dark

brows of the Guadalupes. Link was heading southwest. Madeline observed

that the grass began to fail as they climbed the ridge; bare, white,

dusty spots appeared; there were patches of mesquite and cactus and

scattering areas of broken rock.



She might have been prepared for what she saw from the ridge-top.

Beneath them the desert blazed. Seen from afar, it was striking enough,

but riding down into its red jaws gave Madeline the first affront to her

imperious confidence. All about her ranch had been desert, the valleys

were desert; but this was different. Here began the red desert,

extending far into Mexico, far across Arizona and California to the

Pacific. She saw a bare, hummocky ridge, down which the car was

gliding, bounding, swinging, and this long slant seemed to merge into a

corrugated world of rock and sand, patched by flats and basins, streaked

with canyons and ranges of ragged, saw-toothed stone. The distant Sierra

Madres were clearer, bluer, less smoky and suggestive of mirage than she

had ever seen them. Madeline's sustaining faith upheld her in the

face of this appalling obstacle. Then the desert that had rolled its

immensity beneath her gradually began to rise, to lose its distant

margins, to condense its varying lights and shades, at last to hide its

yawning depths and looming heights behind red ridges, which were only

little steps, little outposts, little landmarks at its gates.



The bouncing of the huge car, throwing Madeline up, directed her

attention and fastened it upon the way Link Stevens was driving and upon

the immediate foreground. Then she discovered that he was following an

old wagon-road. At the foot of that long slope they struck into rougher

ground, and here Link took to a cautious zigzag course. The wagon-road

disappeared and then presently reappeared. But Link did not always hold

to it. He made cuts, detours, crosses, and all the time seemed to be

getting deeper into a maze of low, red dunes, of flat canyon-beds lined

by banks of gravel, of ridges mounting higher. Yet Link Stevens kept on

and never turned back. He never headed into a place that he could not

pass. Up to this point of travel he had not been compelled to back the

car, and Madeline began to realize that it was the cowboy's wonderful

judgment of ground that made advance possible. He knew the country;

he was never at a loss; after making a choice of direction, he never

hesitated.



Then at the bottom of a wide canyon he entered a wash where the wheels

just barely turned in dragging sand. The sun beat down white-hot, the

dust arose, there was not a breath of wind; and no sound save the

slide of a rock now and then down the weathered slopes and the labored

chugging of the machine. The snail pace, like the sand at the wheels,

began to drag at Madeline's faith. Link gave over the wheel to Madeline,

and, leaping out, he called Nels. When they untied the long planks and

laid them straight in front for the wheels to pass over Madeline saw

how wise had been Link's forethought. With the aid of those planks they

worked the car through sand and gravel otherwise impossible to pass.



This canyon widened and opened into space affording an unobstructed view

for miles. The desert sloped up in steps, and in the morning light, with

the sun bright on the mesas and escarpments, it was gray, drab, stone,

slate, yellow, pink, and, dominating all, a dull rust-red. There was

level ground ahead, a wind-swept floor as hard as rock. Link rushed the

car over this free distance. Madeline's ears filled with a droning hum

like the sound of a monstrous, hungry bee and with a strange, incessant

crinkle which she at length guessed to be the spreading of sheets of

gravel from under the wheels. The giant car attained such a speed that

Madeline could only distinguish the colored landmarks to the fore, and

these faded as the wind stung her eyes.



Then Link began the ascent of the first step, a long, sweeping, barren

waste with dunes of wonderful violet and heliotrope hues. Here were

well-defined marks of an old wagon-road lately traversed by cattle. The

car climbed steadily, surmounted the height, faced another long bench

that had been cleaned smooth by desert winds. The sky was an intense,

light, steely blue, hard on the eyes. Madeline veiled her face, and did

not uncover it until Link had reduced the racing speed. From the summit

of the next ridge she saw more red ruin of desert.



A deep wash crossing the road caused Link Stevens to turn due south.

There was a narrow space along the wash just wide enough for the

car. Link seemed oblivious to the fact that the outside wheels were

perilously close to the edge. Madeline heard the rattle of loosened

gravel and earth sliding into the gully. The wash widened and opened out

into a sandy flat. Link crossed this and turned up on the opposite side.

Rocks impeded the progress of the car, and these had to be rolled out

of the way. The shelves of silt, apparently ready to slide with the

slightest weight, the little tributary washes, the boulder-strewn

stretches of slope, the narrow spaces allowing no more than a foot for

the outside wheels, the spear-pointed cactus that had to be avoided--all

these obstacles were as nothing to the cowboy driver. He kept on, and

when he came to the road again he made up for the lost time by speed.



Another height was reached, and here Madeline fancied that Link had

driven the car to the summit of a high pass between two mountain ranges.

The western slope of that pass appeared to be exceedingly rough and

broken. Below it spread out another gray valley, at the extreme end of

which glistened a white spot that Link grimly called Douglas. Part

of that white spot was Agua Prieta, the sister town across the line.

Madeline looked with eyes that would fain have pierced the intervening

distance.



The descent of the pass began under difficulties. Sharp stones and

cactus spikes penetrated the front tires, bursting them with ripping

reports. It took time to replace them. The planks were called into

requisition to cross soft places. A jagged point of projecting rock had

to be broken with a sledge. At length a huge stone appeared to hinder

any further advance. Madeline caught her breath. There was no room to

turn the car. But Link Stevens had no intention of such a thing. He

backed the car to a considerable distance, then walked forward. He

appeared to be busy around the boulder for a moment and returned down

the road on the run. A heavy explosion, a cloud of dust, and a rattle of

falling fragments told Madeline that her indomitable driver had cleared

a passage with dynamite. He seemed to be prepared for every emergency.

Madeline looked to see what effect the discovery of Link carrying

dynamite would have upon the silent Nels.



"Shore, now, Miss Majesty, there ain't nothin' goin' to stop Link," said

Nels, with a reassuring smile. The significance of the incident had

not dawned upon Nels, or else he was heedless of it. After all, he was

afraid only of the car and Link, and that fear was an idiosyncrasy.

Madeline began to see her cowboy driver with clearer eyes and his spirit

awoke something in her that made danger of no moment. Nels likewise

subtly responded, and, though he was gray-faced, tight-lipped, his eyes

took on the cool, bright gleam of Link's.



Cactus barred the way, rocks barred the way, gullies barred the way, and

these Nels addressed in the grim humor with which he was wont to view

tragic things. A mistake on Link's part, a slip of a wheel, a bursting

of a tire at a critical moment, an instant of the bad luck which might

happen a hundred times on a less perilous ride--any one of these might

spell disaster for the car, perhaps death to the occupants. Again and

again Link used the planks to cross washes in sand. Sometimes the wheels

ran all the length of the planks, sometimes slipped off. Presently

Link came to a ditch where water had worn deep into the road. Without

hesitation he placed them, measuring distance carefully, and then

started across. The danger was in ditching the machine. One of the

planks split, sagged a little, but Link made the crossing without a

slip.



The road led round under an overhanging cliff and was narrow, rocky, and

slightly downhill. Bidding Madeline and Nels walk round this hazardous

corner, Link drove the car. Madeline expected to hear it crash down

into the canyon, but presently she saw Link waiting to take them aboard

again. Then came steeper parts of the road, places that Link could run

down if he had space below to control the car, and on the other hand

places where the little inclines ended in abrupt ledges upon one side

or a declivity upon the other. Here the cowboy, with ropes on the wheels

and half-hitches upon the spurs of rock, let the car slide down.



Once at a particularly bad spot Madeline exclaimed involuntarily,

"Oh, time is flying!" Link Stevens looked up at her as if he had been

reproved for his care. His eyes shone like the glint of steel on

ice. Perhaps that utterance of Madeline's was needed to liberate his

recklessness to its utmost. Certainly he put the car to seemingly

impossible feats. He rimmed gullies, he hurdled rising ground, he leaped

little breaks in the even road. He made his machine cling like a goat

to steep inclines; he rounded corners with the inside wheels higher

than the outside; he passed over banks of soft earth that caved in the

instant he crossed weak places. He kept on and on, threading tortuous

passages through rock-strewn patches, keeping to the old road where it

was clear, abandoning it for open spaces, and always going down.



At length a mile of clean, brown slope, ridged and grooved like a

washboard, led gently down to meet the floor of the valley, where the

scant grama-grass struggled to give a tinge of gray. The road appeared

to become more clearly defined, and could be seen striking straight

across the valley.



To Madeline's dismay, that road led down to a deep, narrow wash. It

plunged on one side, ascended on the other at a still steeper angle. The

crossing would have been laborsome for a horse; for an automobile it was

unpassable. Link turned the car to the right along the rim and drove as

far along the wash as the ground permitted. The gully widened, deepened

all the way. Then he took the other direction. When he made this turn

Madeline observed that the sun had perceptibly begun its slant westward.

It shone in her face, glaring and wrathful. Link drove back to the road,

crossed it, and kept on down the line of the wash. It was a deep cut in

red earth, worn straight down by swift water in the rainy seasons. It

narrowed. In some places it was only five feet wide. Link studied these

points and looked up the slope, and seemed to be making deductions. The

valley was level now, and there were nothing but little breaks in the

rim of the wash. Link drove mile after mile, looking for a place to

cross, and there was none. Finally progress to the south was obstructed

by impassable gullies where the wash plunged into the head of a canyon.

It was necessary to back the car a distance before there was room to

turn. Madeline looked at the imperturbable driver. His face revealed no

more than the same old hard, immutable character. When he reached the

narrowest points, which had so interested him, he got out of the car and

walked from place to place. Once with a little jump he cleared the wash.

Then Madeline noted that the farther rim was somewhat lower. In a flash

she divined Link's intention. He was hunting a place to jump the car

over the crack in the ground.



Soon he found one that seemed to suit him, for he tied his red scarf

upon a greasewood-bush. Then, returning to the car, he clambered in,

and, muttering, broke his long silence: "This ain't no air-ship, but

I've outfiggered thet damn wash." He backed up the gentle slope and

halted just short of steeper ground. His red scarf waved in the wind.

Hunching low over the wheel, he started, slowly at first, then faster,

and then faster. The great car gave a spring like a huge tiger. The

impact of suddenly formed wind almost tore Madeline out of her seat. She

felt Nels's powerful hands on her shoulders. She closed her eyes. The

jolting headway of the car gave place to a gliding rush. This was broken

by a slight jar, and then above the hum and roar rose a cowboy yell.

Madeline waited with strained nerves for the expected crash. It did not

come. Opening her eyes, she saw the level valley floor without a break.

She had not even noticed the instant when the car had shot over the

wash.



A strange breathlessness attacked her, and she attributed it to the

celerity with which she was being carried along. Pulling the hood down

over her face, she sank low in the seat. The whir of the car now seemed

to be a world-filling sound. Again the feeling of excitement, the

poignancy of emotional heights, the ever-present impending sense of

catastrophe became held in abeyance to the sheer intensity of physical

sensations. There came a time when all her strength seemed to unite in

an effort to lift her breast against the terrific force of the wind--to

draw air into her flattened lungs. She became partly dazed. The darkness

before her eyes was not all occasioned by the blood that pressed like a

stone mask on her face. She had a sense that she was floating, sailing,

drifting, reeling, even while being borne swiftly as a thunderbolt. Her

hands and arms were immovable under the weight of mountains. There was

a long, blank period from which she awakened to feel an arm supporting

her. Then she rallied. The velocity of the car had been cut to the speed

to which she was accustomed. Throwing back the hood, she breathed freely

again, recovered fully.



The car was bowling along a wide road upon the outskirts of a city.

Madeline asked what place it could be.



"Douglas," replied Link. "An' jest around is Agua Prieta!"



That last name seemed to stun Madeline. She heard no more, and saw

little until the car stopped. Nels spoke to some one. Then sight of

khaki-clad soldiers quickened Madeline's faculties. She was on the

boundary-line between the United States and Mexico, and Agua Prieta,

with its white and blue walled houses, its brown-tiled roofs, lay before

her. A soldier, evidently despatched by Nels, returned and said an

officer would come at once. Madeline's attention was centered in the

foreground, upon the guard over the road, upon the dry, dusty town

beyond; but she was aware of noise and people in the rear. A cavalry

officer approached the car, stared, and removed his sombrero.



"Can you tell me anything about Stewart, the American cowboy who was

captured by rebels a few days ago?" asked Madeline.



"Yes," replied the officer. "There was a skirmish over the line between

a company of Federals and a large force of guerrillas and rebels. The

Federals were driven west along the line. Stewart is reported to have

done reckless fighting and was captured. He got a Mexican sentence. He

is known here along the border, and the news of his capture stirred

up excitement. We did all we could to get his release. The guerrillas

feared to execute him here, and believed he might be aided to escape. So

a detachment departed with him for Mezquital."



"He was sentenced to be shot Thursday at sunset--to-night?"



"Yes. It was rumored there was a personal resentment against Stewart. I

regret that I can't give you definite information. If you are friends of

Stewart--relatives--I might find--"



"I am his wife," interrupted Madeline. "Will you please read these." She

handed him the telegrams. "Advise me--help me, if you can?"



With a wondering glance at her the officer received the telegrams. He

read several, and whistled low in amaze. His manner became quick, alert,

serious.



"I can't read these written in Spanish, but I know the names signed."

Swiftly he ran through the others.



"Why, these mean Stewart's release has been authorized. They explain

mysterious rumors we have heard here. Greaser treachery! For some

strange reason messages from the rebel junta have failed to reach their

destination. We heard reports of an exchange for Stewart, but nothing

came of it. No one departed for Mezquital with authority. What an

outrage! Come, I'll go with you to General Salazar, the rebel chief in

command. I know him. Perhaps we can find out something."



Nels made room for the officer. Link sent the car whirring across

the line into Mexican territory. Madeline's sensibilities were now

exquisitely alive. The white road led into Agua Prieta, a town of

colored walls and roofs. Goats and pigs and buzzards scattered before

the roar of the machine. Native women wearing black mantles peeped

through iron-barred windows. Men wearing huge sombreros, cotton shirts

and trousers, bright sashes round their waists, and sandals, stood

motionless, watching the car go by. The road ended in an immense plaza,

in the center of which was a circular structure that in some measure

resembled a corral. It was a bull-ring, where the national sport of

bull-fighting was carried on. Just now it appeared to be quarters for a

considerable army. Ragged, unkempt rebels were everywhere, and the whole

square was littered with tents, packs, wagons, arms. There were horses,

mules, burros, and oxen.



The place was so crowded that Link was compelled to drive slowly up

to the entrance to the bull-ring. Madeline caught a glimpse of tents

inside, then her view was obstructed by a curious, pressing throng.

The cavalry officer leaped from the car and pushed his way into the

entrance.



"Link, do you know the road to this Mezquital?" asked Madeline.



"Yes. I've been there."



"How far is it?"



"Aw, not so very far," he mumbled.



"Link! How many miles?" she implored.



"I reckon only a few."



Madeline knew that he lied. She asked him no more; nor looked at him,

nor at Nels. How stifling was this crowded, ill-smelling plaza! The sun,

red and lowering, had sloped far down in the west, but still burned

with furnace heat. A swarm of flies whirled over the car. The shadows of

low-sailing buzzards crossed Madeline's sight. Then she saw a row of the

huge, uncanny black birds sitting upon the tiled roof of a house. They

had neither an air of sleeping nor resting. They were waiting. She

fought off a horrible ghastly idea before its full realization. These

rebels and guerrillas--what lean, yellow, bearded wretches! They

curiously watched Link as he went working over the car. No two were

alike, and all were ragged. They had glittering eyes sunk deep in their

heads. They wore huge sombreros of brown and black felt, of straw, of

cloth. Every man wore a belt or sash into which was thrust some kind of

weapon. Some wore boots, some shoes, some moccasins, some sandals, and

many were barefooted. They were an excited, jabbering, gesticulating

mob. Madeline shuddered to think how a frenzy to spill blood could run

through these poor revolutionists. If it was liberty they fought for,

they did not show the intelligence in their faces. They were like wolves

upon a scent. They affronted her, shocked her. She wondered if their

officers were men of the same class. What struck her at last and stirred

pity in her was the fact that every man of the horde her swift glance

roamed over, however dirty and bedraggled he was, wore upon him some

ornament, some tassel or fringe or lace, some ensign, some band,

bracelet, badge, or belt, some twist of scarf, something that betrayed

the vanity which was the poor jewel of their souls. It was in the race.



Suddenly the crowd parted to let the cavalry officer and a rebel of

striking presence get to the car.



"Madam, it is as I suspected," said the officer, quickly. "The

messages directing Stewart's release never reached Salazar. They were

intercepted. But even without them we might have secured Stewart's

exchange if it had not been for the fact that one of his captors

wanted him shot. This guerrilla intercepted the orders, and then was

instrumental in taking Stewart to Mezquital. It is exceedingly sad. Why,

he should be a free man this instant. I regret--"



"Who did this--this thing?" cried Madeline, cold and sick. "Who is the

guerrilla?"



"Senor Don Carlos Martinez. He has been a bandit, a man of influence in

Sonora. He is more of a secret agent in the affairs of the revolution

than an active participator. But he has seen guerrilla service."



"Don Carlos! Stewart in his power! O God!" Madeline sank down, almost

overcome. Then two great hands, powerful, thrilling, clasped her

shoulders, and Nels bent over her.



"Miss Majesty, shore we're wastin' time here," he said. His voice, like

his hands, was uplifting. She wheeled to him in trembling importunity.

How cold, bright, blue the flash of his eyes! They told Madeline she

must not weaken. But she could not speak her thought to Nels--could only

look at Link.



"It figgers impossible, but I'll do it!" said Link Stevens, in answer

to her voiceless query. The cold, grim, wild something about her cowboys

blanched Madeline's face, steeled her nerve, called to the depths of her

for that last supreme courage of a woman. The spirit of the moment was

nature with Link and Nels; with her it must be passion.



"Can I get a permit to go into the interior--to Mezquital?" asked

Madeline of the officer.



"You are going on? Madam, it's a forlorn hope. Mezquital is a hundred

miles away. But there's a chance--the barest chance if your man can

drive this car. The Mexicans are either murderous or ceremonious in

their executions. The arrangements for Stewart's will be elaborate. But,

barring unusual circumstances, it will take place precisely at the hour

designated. You need no permit. Your messages are official papers. But

to save time, perhaps delay, I suggest you take this Mexican, Senor

Montes, with you. He outranks Don Carlos and knows the captain of the

Mezquital detachment."



"Ah! Then Don Carlos is not in command of the forces holding Stewart?"



"No."



"I thank you, sir. I shall not forget your kindness," concluded

Madeline.



She bowed to Senor Montes, and requested him to enter the car. Nels

stowed some of the paraphernalia away, making room in the rear seat.

Link bent over the wheel. The start was so sudden, with such crack and

roar, that the crowd split in wild disorder. Out of the plaza the car

ran, gathering headway; down a street lined by white and blue walls;

across a square where rebels were building barricades; along a railroad

track full of iron flat-cars that carried mounted pieces of artillery;

through the outlying guards, who waved to the officer, Montes.



Madeline bound her glasses tightly over her eyes, and wound veils round

the lower part of her face. She was all in a strange glow, she had begun

to burn, to throb, to thrill, to expand, and she meant to see all that

was possible. The sullen sun, red as fire, hung over the mountain range

in the west. How low it had sunk! Before her stretched a narrow, white

road, dusty, hard as stone--a highway that had been used for centuries.

If it had been wide enough to permit passing a vehicle it would have

been a magnificent course for automobiles. But the weeds and the dusty

flowers and the mesquite boughs and arms of cactus brushed the car as it

sped by.



Faster, faster, faster! That old resistless weight began to press

Madeline back; the old incessant bellow of wind filled her ears. Link

Stevens hunched low over the wheel. His eyes were hidden under leather

helmet and goggles, but the lower part of his face was unprotected. He

resembled a demon, so dark and stone-hard and strangely grinning was he.

All at once Madeline realized how matchless, how wonderful a driver was

this cowboy. She divined that weakening could not have been possible to

Link Stevens. He was a cowboy, and he really was riding that car, making

it answer to his will, as it had been born in him to master a horse. He

had never driven to suit himself, had never reached an all-satisfying

speed until now. Beyond that his motive was to save Stewart--to

make Madeline happy. Life was nothing to him. That fact gave him

the superhuman nerve to face the peril of this ride. Because of his

disregard of self he was able to operate the machine, to choose the

power, the speed, the guidance, the going with the best judgment and

highest efficiency possible. Madeline knew he would get her to Mezquital

in time to save Stewart or he would kill her in the attempt.



The white, narrow road flashed out of the foreground, slipped with

inconceivable rapidity under the car. When she marked a clump of cactus

far ahead it seemed to shoot at her, to speed behind her even the

instant she noticed it. Nevertheless, Madeline knew Link was not putting

the car to its limit. Swiftly as he was flying, he held something in

reserve. But he took the turns of the road as if he knew the way was

cleared before him. He trusted to a cowboy's luck. A wagon in one of

those curves, a herd of cattle, even a frightened steer, meant a wreck.

Madeline never closed her eyes at these fateful moments. If Link could

stake himself, the others, and her upon such chance, what could not she

stake with her motive? So while the great car hummed and thrummed,

and darted round the curves on two wheels, and sped on like a bullet,

Madeline lived that ride, meant to feel it to the uttermost.



But it was not all swift going. A stretch of softer ground delayed

Link, made the car labor and pant and pound and grind through gravel.

Moreover, the cactus plants assumed an alarming ability to impede

progress. Long, slender arms of the ocotillo encroached upon the road;

broad, round leaves did likewise; fluted columns, fallen like timbers

in a forest, lay along the narrow margins; the bayonet cactus and the

bisnagi leaned threateningly; clusters of maguey, shadowed by the huge,

looming saguaro, infringed upon the highway to Mezquital. And every

leaf and blade and branch of cactus bore wicked thorns, any one of which

would be fatal to a tire.



It came at length, the bursting report. The car lurched, went on like

a crippled thing, and halted, obedient to the master hand at the wheel.

Swift as Link was in replacing the tire, he lost time. The red sun, more

sullen, duskier as it neared the black, bold horizon, appeared to mock

Madeline, to eye her in derision.



Link leaped in, and the car sprang ahead. The road-bed changed, the

trees changed--all the surroundings changed except the cactus. There

were miles of rolling ridges, rough in the hollows, and short rocky bits

of road, and washes to cross, and a low, sandy swale where mesquites

grouped a forest along a trickling inch-deep sheet of water. Green

things softened the hard, dry aspect of the desert. There were birds and

parrots and deer and wild boars. All these Madeline remarked with clear

eyes, with remarkable susceptibility of attention; but what she strained

to see, what she yearned for, prayed for, was straight, unobstructed

road.



But the road began to wind up; it turned and twisted in tantalizing

lazy curves; it was in no hurry to surmount a hill that began to assume

proportions of a mountain; it was leisurely, as were all things in

Mexico except strife. That was quick, fierce, bloody--it was Spanish.



The descent from that elevation was difficult, extremely hazardous, yet

Link Stevens drove fast. At the base of the hill rocks and sand all but

halted him for good. Then in taking an abrupt curve a grasping spear

ruined another tire. This time the car rasped across the road into the

cactus, bursting the second front-wheel tire. Like demons indeed Link

and Nels worked. Shuddering, Madeline felt the declining heat of the

sun, saw with gloomy eyes the shading of the red light over the desert.



She did not look back to see how near the sun was to the horizon. She

wanted to ask Nels. Strange as anything on this terrible ride was the

absence of speech. As yet no word had been spoken. Madeline wanted to

shriek to Link to hurry. But he was more than humanly swift in all his

actions. So with mute lips, with the fire in her beginning to chill,

with a lifelessness menacing her spirit, she watched, hoped against

hope, prayed for a long, straight, smooth road.



Quite suddenly she saw it, seemingly miles of clear, narrow lane

disappearing like a thin, white streak in distant green. Perhaps Link

Stevens's heart leaped like Madeline's. The huge car with a roar and a

jerk seemed to answer Madeline's call, a cry no less poignant because it

was silent.



Faster, faster, faster! The roar became a whining hum. Then for Madeline

sound ceased to be anything--she could not hear. The wind was now heavy,

imponderable, no longer a swift, plastic thing, but solid, like an

on-rushing wall. It bore down upon Madeline with such resistless weight

that she could not move. The green of desert plants along the road

merged in two shapeless fences, sliding at her from the distance.

Objects ahead began to blur the white road, to grow streaky, like rays

of light, the sky to take on more of a reddening haze.



Madeline, realizing her sight was failing her, turned for one more look

at Link Stevens. It had come to be his ride almost as much as it was

hers. He hunched lower than ever, rigid, strained to the last degree, a

terrible, implacable driver. This was his hour, and he was great. If he

so much as brushed a flying tire against one of the millions of spikes

clutching out, striking out from the cactus, there would be a shock,

a splitting wave of air--an end. Madeline thought she saw that Link's

bulging cheek and jaw were gray, that his tight-shut lips were white,

that the smile was gone. Then he really was human--not a demon. She felt

a strange sense of brotherhood. He understood a woman's soul as Monty

Price had understood it. Link was the lightning-forged automaton, the

driving, relentless, unconquerable instrument of a woman's will. He was

a man whose force was directed by a woman's passion. He reached up to

her height, felt her love, understood the nature of her agony. These

made him heroic. But it was the hard life, the wild years of danger on

the desert, the companionship of ruthless men, the elemental, that made

possible his physical achievement. Madeline loved his spirit then and

gloried in the man.



She had pictured upon her heart, never to be forgotten, this little

hunched, deformed figure of Link's hanging with dauntless, with

deathless grip over the wheel, his gray face like a marble mask.



That was Madeline's last clear sensation upon the ride. Blinded, dazed,

she succumbed to the demands upon her strength. She reeled, fell back,

only vaguely aware of a helping hand. Confusion seized her senses.

All about her was a dark chaos through which she was rushing, rushing,

rushing under the wrathful red eye of a setting sun. Then, as there was

no more sound or sight for her, she felt there was no color. But the

rush never slackened--a rush through opaque, limitless space.

For moments, hours, ages she was propelled with the velocity of a

shooting-star. The earth seemed a huge automobile. And it sped with

her down an endless white track through the universe. Looming, ghostly,

ghastly, spectral forms of cacti plants, large as pine-trees, stabbed

her with giant spikes. She became an unstable being in a shapeless,

colorless, soundless cosmos of unrelated things, but always rushing,

even to meet the darkness that haunted her and never reached her.



But at an end of infinite time that rush ceased. Madeline lost the queer

feeling of being disembodied by a frightfully swift careening through

boundless distance. She distinguished voices, low at first, apparently

far away. Then she opened her eyes to blurred but conscious sight.



The car had come to a stop. Link was lying face down over the wheel.

Nels was rubbing her hands, calling to her. She saw a house with clean

whitewashed wall and brown-tiled roof. Beyond, over a dark mountain

range, peeped the last red curve, the last beautiful ray of the setting

sun.





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