A Gift And A Purchase
: The Light Of Western Stars
For a week the scene of the round-up lay within riding-distance of
the ranch-house, and Madeline passed most of this time in the saddle,
watching the strenuous labors of the vaqueros and cowboys. She
overestimated her strength, and more than once had to be lifted from her
horse. Stillwell's pleasure in her attendance gave place to concern. He
tried to persuade her to stay away from the round-up, and Florence grew
Madeline, however, was not moved by their entreaties. She grasped only
dimly the truth of what it was she was learning--something infinitely
more than the rounding up of cattle by cowboys, and she was loath to
lose an hour of her opportunity.
Her brother looked out for her as much as his duties permitted; but for
several days he never once mentioned her growing fatigue and the strain
of excitement, or suggested that she had better go back to the house
with Florence. Many times she felt the drawing power of his keen blue
eyes on her face. And at these moments she sensed more than brotherly
regard. He was watching her, studying her, weighing her, and the
conviction was vaguely disturbing. It was disquieting for Madeline to
think that Alfred might have guessed her trouble. From time to time
he brought cowboys to her and introduced them, and laughed and jested,
trying to make the ordeal less embarrassing for these men so little used
Before the week was out, however, Alfred found occasion to tell her that
it would be wiser for her to let the round-up go on without gracing it
further with her presence. He said it laughingly; nevertheless, he was
serious. And when Madeline turned to him in surprise he said, bluntly:
"I don't like the way Don Carlos follows you around. Bill's afraid
that Nels or Ambrose or one of the cowboys will take a fall out of the
Mexican. They're itching for the chance. Of course, dear, it's absurd to
you, but it's true."
Absurd it certainly was, yet it served to show Madeline how intensely
occupied she had been with her own feelings, roused by the tumult and
toil of the round-up. She recalled that Don Carlos had been presented to
her, and that she had not liked his dark, striking face with its bold,
prominent, glittering eyes and sinister lines; and she had not liked his
suave, sweet, insinuating voice or his subtle manner, with its slow
bows and gestures. She had thought he looked handsome and dashing on
the magnificent black horse. However, now that Alfred's words made her
think, she recalled that wherever she had been in the field the noble
horse, with his silver-mounted saddle and his dark rider, had been
always in her vicinity.
"Don Carlos has been after Florence for a long time," said Alfred. "He's
not a young man by any means. He's fifty, Bill says; but you can seldom
tell a Mexican's age from his looks. Don Carlos is well educated and a
man we know very little about. Mexicans of his stamp don't regard women
as we white men do. Now, my dear, beautiful sister from New York, I
haven't much use for Don Carlos; but I don't want Nels or Ambrose to
make a wild throw with a rope and pull the Don off his horse. So you had
better ride up to the house and stay there."
"Alfred, you are joking, teasing me," said Madeline. "Indeed not,"
replied Alfred. "How about it, Flo?" Florence replied that the cowboys
would upon the slightest provocation treat Don Carlos with less ceremony
and gentleness than a roped steer. Old Bill Stillwell came up to be
importuned by Alfred regarding the conduct of cowboys on occasion, and
he not only corroborated the assertion, but added emphasis and evidence
of his own.
"An', Miss Majesty," he concluded, "I reckon if Gene Stewart was ridin'
fer me, thet grinnin' Greaser would hev hed a bump in the dust before
Madeline had been wavering between sobriety and laughter until
Stillwell's mention of his ideal of cowboy chivalry decided in favor of
"I am not convinced, but I surrender," she said. "You have only some
occult motive for driving me away. I am sure that handsome Don Carlos
is being unjustly suspected. But as I have seen a little of cowboys'
singular imagination and gallantry, I am rather inclined to fear their
possibilities. So good-by."
Then she rode with Florence up the long, gray slope to the ranch-house.
That night she suffered from excessive weariness, which she attributed
more to the strange working of her mind than to riding and sitting her
horse. Morning, however, found her in no disposition to rest. It was
not activity that she craved, or excitement, or pleasure. An unerring
instinct, rising dear from the thronging sensations of the last few
days, told her that she had missed something in life. It could not have
been love, for she loved brother, sister, parents, friends; it could not
have been consideration for the poor, the unfortunate, the hapless; she
had expressed her sympathy for these by giving freely; it could not have
been pleasure, culture, travel, society, wealth, position, fame, for
these had been hers all her life. Whatever this something was, she
had baffling intimations of it, hopes that faded on the verge of
realizations, haunting promises that were unfulfilled. Whatever it was,
it had remained hidden and unknown at home, and here in the West it
began to allure and drive her to discovery. Therefore she could not
rest; she wanted to go and see; she was no longer chasing phantoms; it
was a hunt for treasure that held aloof, as intangible as the substance
That morning she spoke a desire to visit the Mexican quarters lying at
the base of the foothills. Florence protested that this was no place to
take Madeline. But Madeline insisted, and it required only a few words
and a persuading smile to win Florence over.
From the porch the cluster of adobe houses added a picturesque touch of
color and contrast to the waste of gray valley. Near at hand they proved
the enchantment lent by distance. They were old, crumbling, broken down,
squalid. A few goats climbed around upon them; a few mangy dogs barked
announcement of visitors; and then a troop of half-naked, dirty,
ragged children ran out. They were very shy, and at first retreated in
affright. But kind words and smiles gained their confidence, and then
they followed in a body, gathering a quota of new children at each
house. Madeline at once conceived the idea of doing something to better
the condition of these poor Mexicans, and with this in mind she decided
to have a look indoors. She fancied she might have been an apparition,
judging from the effect her presence had upon the first woman she
encountered. While Florence exercised what little Spanish she had
command of, trying to get the women to talk, Madeline looked about the
miserable little rooms. And there grew upon her a feeling of sickness,
which increased as she passed from one house to another. She had not
believed such squalor could exist anywhere in America. The huts reeked
with filth; vermin crawled over the dirt floors. There was absolutely no
evidence of water, and she believed what Florence told her--that these
people never bathed. There was little evidence of labor. Idle men and
women smoking cigarettes lolled about, some silent, others jabbering.
They did not resent the visit of the American women, nor did they show
hospitality. They appeared stupid. Disease was rampant in these houses;
when the doors were shut there was no ventilation, and even with the
doors open Madeline felt choked and stifled. A powerful penetrating odor
pervaded the rooms that were less stifling than others, and this odor
Florence explained came from a liquor the Mexicans distilled from
a cactus plant. Here drunkenness was manifest, a terrible inert
drunkenness that made its victims deathlike.
Madeline could not extend her visit to the little mission-house. She saw
a padre, a starved, sad-faced man who, she instinctively felt, was
good. She managed to mount her horse and ride up to the house; but, once
there, she weakened and Florence had almost to carry her in-doors. She
fought off a faintness, only to succumb to it when alone in her room.
Still, she did not entirely lose consciousness, and soon recovered to
the extent that she did not require assistance.
Upon the morning after the end of the round-up, when she went out on
the porch, her brother and Stillwell appeared to be arguing about the
identity of a horse.
"Wal, I reckon it's my old roan," said Stillwell, shading his eyes with
"Bill, if that isn't Stewart's horse my eyes are going back on me,"
replied Al. "It's not the color or shape--the distance is too far to
judge by that. It's the motion--the swing."
"Al, mebbe you're right. But they ain't no rider up on thet hoss. Flo,
fetch my glass."
Florence went into the house, while Madeline tried to discover the
object of attention. Presently far up the gray hollow along a foothill
she saw dust, and then the dark, moving figure of a horse. She was
watching when Florence returned with the glass. Bill took a long look,
adjusted the glasses carefully, and tried again.
"Wal, I hate to admit my eyes are gettin' pore. But I guess I'll hev to.
Thet's Gene Stewart's hoss, saddled, an' comin' at a fast clip without
a rider. It's amazin' strange, an' some in keepin' with other things
"Give me the glass," said Al. "Yes, I was right. Bill, the horse is not
frightened. He's coming steadily; he's got something on his mind."
"Thet's a trained hoss, Al. He has more sense than some men I know. Take
a look with the glasses up the hollow. See anybody?"
"Swing up over the foothills--where the trail leads. Higher--along thet
ridge where the rocks begin. See anybody?"
"By Jove! Bill--two horses! But I can't make out much for dust. They are
climbing fast. One horse gone among the rocks. There--the other's gone.
What do you make of that?"
"Wal, I can't make no more 'n you. But I'll bet we know somethin' soon,
fer Gene's hoss is comin' faster as he nears the ranch."
The wide hollow sloping up into the foothills lay open to unobstructed
view, and less than half a mile distant Madeline saw the riderless
horse coming along the white trail at a rapid canter. She watched him,
recalling the circumstances under which she had first seen him, and then
his wild flight through the dimly lighted streets of El Cajon out into
the black night. She thrilled again and believed she would never think
of that starry night's adventure without a thrill. She watched the horse
and felt more than curiosity. A shrill, piercing whistle pealed in.
"Wal, he's seen us, thet's sure," said Bill.
The horse neared the corrals, disappeared into a lane, and then,
breaking his gait again, thundered into the inclosure and pounded to a
halt some twenty yards from where Stillwell waited for him.
One look at him at close range in the clear light of day was enough
for Madeline to award him a blue ribbon over all horses, even her
prize-winner, White Stockings. The cowboy's great steed was no lithe,
slender-bodied mustang. He was a charger, almost tremendous of build,
with a black coat faintly mottled in gray, and it shone like polished
glass in the sun. Evidently he had been carefully dressed down for this
occasion, for there was no dust on him, nor a kink in his beautiful
mane, nor a mark on his glossy hide.
"Come hyar, you son-of-a-gun," said Stillwell.
The horse dropped his head, snorted, and came obediently up. He was
neither shy nor wild. He poked a friendly nose at Stillwell, and then
looked at Al and the women. Unhooking the stirrups from the pommel,
Stillwell let them fall and began to search the saddle for something
which he evidently expected to find. Presently from somewhere among the
trappings he produced a folded bit of paper, and after scrutinizing it
handed it to Al.
"Addressed to you; an' I'll bet you two bits I know what's in it," he
Alfred unfolded the letter, read it, and then looked at Stillwell.
"Bill, you're a pretty good guesser. Gene's made for the border. He sent
the horse by somebody, no names mentioned, and wants my sister to have
him if she will accept."
"Any mention of Danny Mains?" asked the rancher.
"Not a word."
"Thet's bad. Gene'd know about Danny if anybody did. But he's a
close-mouthed cuss. So he's sure hittin' for Mexico. Wonder if Danny's
goin', too? Wal, there's two of the best cowmen I ever seen gone to hell
an' I'm sorry."
With that he bowed his head and, grumbling to himself, went into the
house. Alfred lifted the reins over the head of the horse and, leading
him to Madeline, slipped the knot over her arm and placed the letter in
"Majesty, I'd accept the horse," he said. "Stewart is only a cowboy now,
and as tough as any I've known. But he comes of a good family. He was a
college man and a gentleman once. He went to the bad out here, like so
many fellows go, like I nearly did. Then he had told me about his sister
and mother. He cared a good deal for them. I think he has been a source
of unhappiness to them. It was mostly when he was reminded of this in
some way that he'd get drunk. I have always stuck to him, and I would do
so yet if I had the chance. You can see Bill is heartbroken about Danny
Mains and Stewart. I think he rather hoped to get good news. There's
not much chance of them coming back now, at least not in the case of
Stewart. This giving up his horse means he's going to join the rebel
forces across the border. What wouldn't I give to see that cowboy break
loose on a bunch of Greasers! Oh, damn the luck! I beg your pardon,
Majesty. But I'm upset, too. I'm sorry about Stewart. I liked him
pretty well before he thrashed that coyote of a sheriff, Pat Hawe, and
afterward I guess I liked him more. You read the letter, sister, and
accept the horse."
In silence Madeline bent her gaze from her brother's face to the letter:
Friend Al,--I'm sending my horse down to you because I'm going away and
haven't the nerve to take him where he'd get hurt or fall into strange
If you think it's all right, why, give him to your sister with my
respects. But if you don't like the idea, Al, or if she won't have him,
then he's for you. I'm not forgetting your kindness to me, even if I
never showed it. And, Al, my horse has never felt a quirt or a spur, and
I'd like to think you'd never hurt him. I'm hoping your sister will take
him. She'll be good to him, and she can afford to take care of him. And,
while I'm waiting to be plugged by a Greaser bullet, if I happen to have
a picture in mind of how she'll look upon my horse, why, man, it's not
going to make any difference to you. She needn't ever know it. Between
you and me, Al, don't let her or Flo ride alone over Don Carlos's way.
If I had time I could tell you something about that slick Greaser. And
tell your sister, if there's ever any reason for her to run away from
anybody when she's up on that roan, just let her lean over and yell in
his ear. She'll find herself riding the wind. So long.
Madeline thoughtfully folded the letter and murmured, "How he must love
"Well, I should say so," replied Alfred. "Flo will tell you. She's the
only person Gene ever let ride that horse, unless, as Bill thinks, the
little Mexican girl, Bonita, rode him out of El Cajon the other night.
Well, sister mine, how about it--will you accept the horse?"
"Assuredly. And very happy indeed am I to get him. Al, you said, I
think, that Mr. Stewart named him after me--saw my nickname in the New
"Well, I will not change his name. But, Al, how shall I ever climb up
on him? He's taller than I am. What a giant of a horse! Oh, look at
him--he's nosing my hand. I really believe he understood what I said.
Al, did you ever see such a splendid head and such beautiful eyes? They
are so large and dark and soft--and human. Oh, I am a fickle woman, for
I am forgetting White Stockings."
"I'll gamble he'll make you forget any other horse," said Alfred.
"You'll have to get on him from the porch."
As Madeline was not dressed for the saddle, she did not attempt to
"Come, Majesty--how strange that sounds!--we must get acquainted. You
have now a new owner, a very severe young woman who will demand loyalty
from you and obedience, and some day, after a decent period, she will
Madeline led the horse to and fro, and was delighted with his
gentleness. She discovered that he did not need to be led. He came at
her call, followed her like a pet dog, rubbed his black muzzle against
her. Sometimes, at the turns in their walk, he lifted his head and with
ears forward looked up the trail by which he had come, and beyond the
foothills. He was looking over the range. Some one was calling to him,
perhaps, from beyond the mountains. Madeline liked him the better for
that memory, and pitied the wayward cowboy who had parted with his only
possession for very love of it.
That afternoon when Alfred lifted Madeline to the back of the big roan
she felt high in the air.
"We'll have a run out to the mesa," said her brother, as he mounted.
"Keep a tight rein on him and ease up when you want him to go faster.
But don't yell in his ear unless you want Florence and me to see you
disappear on the horizon."
He trotted out of the yard, down by the corrals, to come out on the
edge of a gray, open flat that stretched several miles to the slope of a
mesa. Florence led, and Madeline saw that she rode like a cowboy. Alfred
drew on to her side, leaving Madeline in the rear. Then the leading
horses broke into a gallop. They wanted to run, and Madeline felt with a
thrill that she would hardly be able to keep Majesty from running, even
if she wanted to. He sawed on the tight bridle as the others drew away
and broke from pace to gallop. Then Florence put her horse into a run.
Alfred turned and called to Madeline to come along.
"This will never do. They are running away from us," said Madeline, and
she eased up her hold on the bridle. Something happened beneath her just
then; she did not know at first exactly what. As much as she had been on
horseback she had never ridden at a running gait. In New York it was not
decorous or safe. So when Majesty lowered and stretched and changed the
stiff, jolting gallop for a wonderful, smooth, gliding run it required
Madeline some moments to realize what was happening. It did not take
long for her to see the distance diminishing between her and her
companions. Still they had gotten a goodly start and were far advanced.
She felt the steady, even rush of the wind. It amazed her to find how
easily, comfortably she kept to the saddle. The experience was new.
The one fault she had heretofore found with riding was the violent
shaking-up. In this instance she experienced nothing of that kind, no
strain, no necessity to hold on with a desperate awareness of work. She
had never felt the wind in her face, the whip of a horse's mane, the
buoyant, level spring of a tanning gait. It thrilled her, exhilarated
her, fired her blood. Suddenly she found herself alive, throbbing; and,
inspired by she knew not what, she loosened the bridle and, leaning far
forward, she cried, "Oh, you splendid fellow, run!"
She heard from under her a sudden quick clattering roar of hoofs, and
she swayed back with the wonderfully swift increase in Majesty's speed.
The wind stung her face, howled in her ears, tore at her hair. The gray
plain swept by on each side, and in front seemed to be waving toward
her. In her blurred sight Florence and Alfred appeared to be coming
back. But she saw presently, upon nearer view, that Majesty was
overhauling the other horses, was going to pass them. Indeed, he did
pass them, shooting by so as almost to make them appear standing still.
And he ran on, not breaking his gait till he reached the steep side of
the mesa, where he slowed down and stopped.
"Glorious!" exclaimed Madeline. She was all in a blaze, and every muscle
and nerve of her body tingled and quivered. Her hands, as she endeavored
to put up the loosened strands of hair, trembled and failed of
their accustomed dexterity. Then she faced about and waited for her
Alfred reached her first, laughing, delighted, yet also a little
"Holy smoke! But can't he run? Did he bolt on you?"
"No, I called in his ear," replied Madeline.
"So that was it. That's the woman of you, and forbidden fruit. Flo said
she'd do it the minute she was on him. Majesty, you can ride. See if Flo
doesn't say so."
The Western girl came up then with her pleasure bright in her face.
"It was just great to see you. How your hair burned in the wind! Al, she
sure can ride. Oh, I'm so glad! I was a little afraid. And that horse!
Isn't he grand? Can't he run?"
Alfred led the way up the steep, zigzag trail to the top of the mesa.
Madeline saw a beautiful flat surface of short grass, level as a floor.
She uttered a little cry of wonder and enthusiasm.
"Al, what a place for golf! This would be the finest links in the
"Well, I've thought of that myself," he replied. "The only trouble would
be--could anybody stop looking at the scenery long enough to hit a ball?
And then it seemed that Madeline was confronted by a spectacle too
sublime and terrible for her gaze. The immensity of this red-ridged,
deep-gulfed world descending incalculable distances refused to be
grasped, and awed her, shocked her.
"Once, Majesty, when I first came out West, I was down and
out--determined to end it all," said Alfred. "And happened to climb up
here looking for a lonely place to die. When I saw that I changed my
Madeline was silent. She remained so during the ride around the rim of
the mesa and down the steep trail. This time Alfred and Florence failed
to tempt her into a race. She had been awe-struck; she had been exalted
she had been confounded; and she recovered slowly without divining
exactly what had come to her.
She reached the ranch-house far behind her companions, and at
supper-time was unusually thoughtful. Later, when they assembled on the
porch to watch the sunset, Stillwell's humorous complainings inspired
the inception of an idea which flashed up in her mind swift as
lightning. And then by listening sympathetically she encouraged him to
recite the troubles of a poor cattleman. They were many and long and
interesting, and rather numbing to the life of her inspired idea.
"Mr. Stillwell, could ranching here on a large scale, with up-to-date
methods, be made--well, not profitable, exactly, but to pay--to run
without loss?" she asked, determined to kill her new-born idea at birth
or else give it breath and hope of life.
"Wal, I reckon it could," he replied, with a short laugh. "It'd sure be
a money-maker. Why, with all my bad luck an' poor equipment I've lived
pretty well an' paid my debts an' haven't really lost any money except
the original outlay. I reckon thet's sunk fer good."
"Would you sell--if some one would pay your price?"
"Miss Majesty, I'd jump at the chance. Yet somehow I'd hate to leave
hyar. I'd jest be fool enough to go sink the money in another ranch."
"Would Don Carlos and these other Mexicans sell?"
"They sure would. The Don has been after me fer years, wantin' to sell
thet old rancho of his; an' these herders in the valley with their stray
cattle, they'd fall daid at sight of a little money."
"Please tell me, Mr. Stillwell, exactly what you would do here if you
had unlimited means?" went on Madeline.
"Good Lud!" ejaculated the rancher, and started so he dropped his pipe.
Then with his clumsy huge fingers he refilled it, relighted it, took a
few long pulls, puffed great clouds of smoke, and, squaring round, hands
on his knees, he looked at Madeline with piercing intentness. His hard
face began to relax and soften and wrinkle into a smile.
"Wal, Miss Majesty, it jest makes my old heart warm up to think of sich
a thing. I dreamed a lot when I first come hyar. What would I do if I
hed unlimited money? Listen. I'd buy out Don Carlos an' the Greasers.
I'd give a job to every good cowman in this country. I'd make them
prosper as I prospered myself. I'd buy all the good horses on the
ranges. I'd fence twenty thousand acres of the best grazin'. I'd drill
fer water in the valley. I'd pipe water down from the mountains. I'd dam
up that draw out there. A mile-long dam from hill to hill would give me
a big lake, an' hevin' an eye fer beauty, I'd plant cottonwoods around
it. I'd fill that lake full of fish. I'd put in the biggest field of
alfalfa in the South-west. I'd plant fruit-trees an' garden. I'd tear
down them old corrals an' barns an' bunk-houses to build new ones. I'd
make this old rancho some comfortable an' fine. I'd put in grass an'
flowers all around an' bring young pine-trees down from the mountains.
An' when all thet was done I'd sit in my chair an' smoke an' watch the
cattle stringin' in fer water an' stragglin' back into the valley. An'
I see the cowboys ridin' easy an' heah them singin' in their bunks. An'
thet red sun out there wouldn't set on a happier man in the world than
Bill Stillwell, last of the old cattlemen."
Madeline thanked the rancher, and then rather abruptly retired to her
room, where she felt no restraint to hide the force of that wonderful
idea, now full-grown and tenacious and alluring.
Upon the next day, late in the afternoon, she asked Alfred if it would
be safe for her to ride out to the mesa.
"I'll go with you," he said, gaily.
"Dear fellow, I want to go alone," she replied.
"Ah!" Alfred exclaimed, suddenly serious. He gave her just a quick
glance, then turned away. "Go ahead. I think it's safe. I'll make it
safe by sitting here with my glass and keeping an eye on you. Be careful
coming down the trail. Let the horse pick his way. That's all."
She rode Majesty across the wide flat, up the zigzag trail, across the
beautiful grassy level to the far rim of the mesa, and not till then did
she lift her eyes to face the southwest.
Madeline looked from the gray valley at her feet to the blue Sierra
Madres, gold-tipped in the setting sun. Her vision embraced in that
glance distance and depth and glory hitherto unrevealed to her. The gray
valley sloped and widened to the black sentinel Chiricahuas, and beyond
was lost in a vast corrugated sweep of earth, reddening down to the
west, where a golden blaze lifted the dark, rugged mountains into bold
relief. The scene had infinite beauty. But after Madeline's first swift,
all-embracing flash of enraptured eyes, thought of beauty passed away.
In that darkening desert there was something illimitable. Madeline saw
the hollow of a stupendous hand; she felt a mighty hold upon her heart.
Out of the endless space, out of silence and desolation and mystery and
age, came slow-changing colored shadows, phantoms of peace, and they
whispered to Madeline. They whispered that it was a great, grim,
immutable earth; that time was eternity; that life was fleeting. They
whispered for her to be a woman; to love some one before it was too
late; to love any one, every one; to realize the need of work, and in
doing it to find happiness.
She rode back across the mesa and down the trail, and, once more upon
the flat, she called to the horse and made him run. His spirit seemed to
race with hers. The wind of his speed blew her hair from its fastenings.
When he thundered to a halt at the porch steps Madeline, breathless and
disheveled, alighted with the mass of her hair tumbling around her.
Alfred met her, and his exclamation, and Florence's rapt eyes shining
on her face, and Stillwell's speechlessness made her self-conscious.
Laughing, she tried to put up the mass of hair.
"I must--look a--fright," she panted.
"Wal, you can say what you like," replied the old cattleman, "but I know
what I think."
Madeline strove to attain calmness.
"My hat--and my combs--went on the wind. I thought my hair would go,
too.... There is the evening star.... I think I am very hungry."
And then she gave up trying to be calm, and likewise to fasten up her
hair, which fell again in a golden mass.
"Mr. Stillwell," she began, and paused, strangely aware of a hurried
note, a deeper ring in her voice. "Mr. Stillwell, I want to buy your
ranch--to engage you as my superintendent. I want to buy Don Carlos's
ranch and other property to the extent, say, of fifty thousand acres.
I want you to buy horses and cattle--in short, to make all those
improvements which you said you had so long dreamed of. Then I have
ideas of my own, in the development of which I must have your advice and
Alfred's. I intend to better the condition of those poor Mexicans in the
valley. I intend to make life a little more worth living for them and
for the cowboys of this range. To-morrow we shall talk it all over, plan
all the business details."
Madeline turned from the huge, ever-widening smile that beamed down upon
her and held out her hands to her brother.
"Alfred, strange, is it not, my coming out to you? Nay, don't smile. I
hope I have found myself--my work--my happiness--here under the light of
that western star."