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A Ride From Sunrise To Sunset

From: The Light Of Western Stars

Next morning, when Madeline was aroused by her brother, it was not yet
daybreak; the air chilled her, and in the gray gloom she had to feel
around for matches and lamp. Her usual languid manner vanished at a
touch of the cold water. Presently, when Alfred knocked on her door and
said he was leaving a pitcher of hot water outside, she replied, with
chattering teeth, "Th-thank y-you, b-but I d-don't ne-need any now." She
found it necessary, however, to warm her numb fingers before she could
fasten hooks and buttons. And when she was dressed she marked in the dim
mirror that there were tinges of red in her cheeks.

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

Breakfast waited for her in the dining-room. The sisters ate with her.
Madeline quickly caught the feeling of brisk action that seemed to be
in the air. From the back of the house sounded the tramp of boots and
voices of men, and from outside came a dull thump of hoofs, the rattle
of harness, and creak of wheels. Then Alfred came stamping in.

"Majesty, here's where you get the real thing," he announced, merrily.
"We're rushing you off, I'm sorry to say; but we must hustle back to
the ranch. The fall round-up begins to-morrow. You will ride in the
buck-board with Florence and Stillwell. I'll ride on ahead with the boys
and fix up a little for you at the ranch. Your baggage will follow, but
won't get there till to-morrow sometime. It's a long ride out--nearly
fifty miles by wagon-road. Flo, don't forget a couple of robes. Wrap her
up well. And hustle getting ready. We're waiting."

A little later, when Madeline went out with Florence, the gray gloom was
lightening. Horses were champing bits and pounding gravel.

"Mawnin', Miss Majesty," said Stillwell, gruffly, from the front seat of
a high vehicle.

Alfred bundled her up into the back seat, and Florence after her, and
wrapped them with robes. Then he mounted his horse and started off.
"Gid-eb!" growled Stillwell, and with a crack of his whip the team
jumped into a trot. Florence whispered into Madeline's ear:

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

It was still so gray that Madeline could not distinguish objects at any
considerable distance, and she left El Cajon without knowing what the
town really looked like. She did know that she was glad to get out of
it, and found an easier task of dispelling persistent haunting memory.

"Here come the cowboys," said Florence.

A line of horsemen appeared coming from the right and fell in behind
Alfred, and gradually they drew ahead, to disappear from sight. While
Madeline watched them the gray gloom lightened into dawn. All about her
was bare and dark; the horizon seemed close; not a hill nor a tree broke
the monotony. The ground appeared to be flat, but the road went up and
down over little ridges. Madeline glanced backward in the direction of
El Cajon and the mountains she had seen the day before, and she saw only
bare and dark ground, like that which rolled before.

A puff of cold wind struck her face and she shivered. Florence noticed
her and pulled up the second robe and tucked it closely round her up to
her chin.

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

Madeline replied that she already felt it. The wind appeared to
penetrate the robes. It was cold, pure, nipping. It was so thin she had
to breathe as fast as if she were under ordinary exertion. It hurt her
nose and made her lungs ache.

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

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

The Western girl sat with ungloved hands on the outside of the robe she
evidently did not need to draw up around her. Madeline thought she had
never seen such a clear-eyed, healthy, splendid girl.

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

"Yes, I think I do," replied Madeline, thoughtfully. "Frankly, I have
not seen it for years."

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

Long lines of pink fire ran level with the eastern horizon, which
appeared to recede as day brightened. A bank of thin, fleecy clouds was
turning rose. To the south and west the sky was dark; but every moment
it changed, the blue turning bluer. The eastern sky was opalescent. Then
in one place gathered a golden light, and slowly concentrated till it
was like fire. The rosy bank of cloud turned to silver and pearl, and
behind it shot up a great circle of gold. Above the dark horizon gleamed
an intensely bright disk. It was the sun. It rose swiftly, blazing out
the darkness between the ridges and giving color and distance to the
sweep of land.

"Wal, wal," drawled Stillwell, and stretched his huge arms as if he had
just awakened, "thet's somethin' like."

Florence nudged Madeline and winked at her.

"Fine mawnin', girls," went on old Bill, cracking his whip. "Miss
Majesty, it'll be some oninterestin' ride all mawnin'. But when we get
up a bit you'll sure like it. There! Look to the southwest, jest over
thet farthest ridge."

Madeline swept her gaze along the gray, sloping horizon-line to where
dark-blue spires rose far beyond the ridge.

"Peloncillo Mountains," said Stillwell. "Thet's home, when we get
there. We won't see no more of them till afternoon, when they rise up

Peloncillo! Madeline murmured the melodious name. Where had she heard
it? Then she remembered. The cowboy Stewart had told the little Mexican
girl Bonita to "hit the Peloncillo trail." Probably the girl had ridden
the big, dark horse over this very road at night, alone. Madeline had a
little shiver that was not occasioned by the cold wind.

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

Madeline saw her first jack-rabbit. It was as large as a dog, and its
ears were enormous. It appeared to be impudently tame, and the horses
kicked dust over it as they trotted by. From then on old Bill and
Florence vied with each other in calling Madeline's attention to many
things along the way. Coyotes stealing away into the brush; buzzards
flapping over the carcass of a cow that had been mired in a wash; queer
little lizards running swiftly across the road; cattle grazing in the
hollows; adobe huts of Mexican herders; wild, shaggy horses, with heads
high, watching from the gray ridges--all these things Madeline looked
at, indifferently at first, because indifference had become habitual
with her, and then with an interest that flourished up and insensibly
grew as she rode on. It grew until sight of a little ragged Mexican boy
astride the most diminutive burro she had ever seen awakened her to
the truth. She became conscious of faint, unmistakable awakening of
long-dead feelings--enthusiasm and delight. When she realized that, she
breathed deep of the cold, sharp air and experienced an inward joy. And
she divined then, though she did not know why, that henceforth there was
to be something new in her life, something she had never felt before,
something good for her soul in the homely, the commonplace, the natural,
and the wild.

Meanwhile, as Madeline gazed about her and listened to her companions,
the sun rose higher and grew warm and soared and grew hot; the horses
held tirelessly to their steady trot, and mile after mile of rolling
land slipped by.

From the top of a ridge Madeline saw down into a hollow where a few of
the cowboys had stopped and were sitting round a fire, evidently busy at
the noonday meal. Their horses were feeding on the long, gray grass.

"Wal, smell of thet burnin' greasewood makes my mouth water," said
Stillwell. "I'm sure hungry. We'll noon hyar an' let the hosses rest.
It's a long pull to the ranch."

He halted near the camp-fire, and, clambering down, began to unharness
the team. Florence leaped out and turned to help Madeline.

"Walk round a little," she said. "You must be cramped from sitting still
so long. I'll get lunch ready."

Madeline got down, glad to stretch her limbs, and began to stroll about.
She heard Stillwell throw the harness on the ground and slap his horses.
"Roll, you sons-of-guns!" he said. Both horses bent their fore legs,
heaved down on their sides, and tried to roll over. One horse succeeded
on the fourth try, and then heaved up with a satisfied snort and shook
off the dust and gravel. The other one failed to roll over, and gave it
up, half rose to his feet, and then lay down on the other side.

"He's sure going to feel the ground," said Florence, smiling at
Madeline. "Miss Hammond, I suppose that prize horse of yours--White
Stockings--would spoil his coat if he were heah to roll in this
greasewood and cactus."

During lunch-time Madeline observed that she was an object of manifestly
great interest to the three cowboys. She returned the compliment,
and was amused to see that a glance their way caused them painful
embarrassment. They were grown men--one of whom had white hair--yet
they acted like boys caught in the act of stealing a forbidden look at a
pretty girl.

"Cowboys are sure all flirts," said Florence, as if stating an
uninteresting fact. But Madeline detected a merry twinkle in her clear
eyes. The cowboys heard, and the effect upon them was magical. They
fell to shamed confusion and to hurried useless tasks. Madeline found
it difficult to see where they had been bold, though evidently they were
stricken with conscious guilt. She recalled appraising looks of critical
English eyes, impudent French stares, burning Spanish glances--gantlets
which any American girl had to run abroad. Compared with foreign eyes
the eyes of these cowboys were those of smiling, eager babies.

"Haw, haw!" roared Stillwell. "Florence, you jest hit the nail on the
haid. Cowboys are all plumb flirts. I was wonderin' why them boys nooned
hyar. This ain't no place to noon. Ain't no grazin' or wood wuth burnin'
or nuthin'. Them boys jest held up, throwed the packs, an' waited
fer us. It ain't so surprisin' fer Booly an' Ned--they're young an'
coltish--but Nels there, why, he's old enough to be the paw of both you
girls. It sure is amazin' strange."

A silence ensued. The white-haired cowboy, Nels, fussed aimlessly over
the camp-fire, and then straightened up with a very red face.

"Bill, you're a dog-gone liar," he said. "I reckon I won't stand to be
classed with Booly an' Ned. There ain't no cowboy on this range thet's
more appreciatin' of the ladies than me, but I shore ain't ridin' out
of my way. I reckon I hev enough ridin' to do. Now, Bill, if you've sich
dog-gone good eyes mebbe you seen somethin' on the way out?"

"Nels, I hevn't seen nothin'," he replied, bluntly. His levity
disappeared, and the red wrinkles narrowed round his searching eyes.

"Jest take a squint at these hoss tracks," said Nels, and he drew
Stillwell a few paces aside and pointed to large hoofprints in the dust.
"I reckon you know the hoss thet made them?"

"Gene Stewart's roan, or I'm a son-of-a-gun!" exclaimed Stillwell, and
he dropped heavily to his knees and began to scrutinize the tracks. "My
eyes are sure pore; but, Nels, they ain't fresh."

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

"Wal, what if they was?" Stillwell looked at his cowboy. "It's sure as
thet red nose of yourn Gene wasn't ridin' the roan."

"Who's sayin' he was? Bill, its more 'n your eyes thet's gettin' old.
Jest foller them tracks. Come on."

Stillwell walked slowly, with his head bent, muttering to himself.
Some thirty paces or more from the camp-fire he stopped short and again
flopped to his knees. Then he crawled about, evidently examining horse

"Nels, whoever was straddlin' Stewart's hoss met somebody. An' they
hauled up a bit, but didn't git down."

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

Stillwell presently got up and walked swiftly to the left for some rods,
halted, and faced toward the southwest, then retraced his steps. He
looked at the imperturbable cowboy.

"Nels, I don't like this a little," he growled. "Them tracks make
straight fer the Peloncillo trail."

"Shore," replied Nels.

"Wal?" went on Stillwell, impatiently.

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

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

"It was Danny Mains's bronc."

"How do you know thet?" demanded Stillwell, sharply. "Bill, the left
front foot of thet little hoss always wears a shoe thet sets crooked.
Any of the boys can tell you. I'd know thet track if I was blind."

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

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

"I reckon he was hittin' across country fer the Peloncillo trail. But I
ain't shore of thet without back-trailin' him a ways. I was jest waitin'
fer you to come up."

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

"Bill, he shore was sweet on Bonita, same as Gene was, an' Ed Linton
before he got engaged, an' all the boys. She's shore chain-lightnin',
that little black-eyed devil. Danny might hev sloped with her all right.
Danny was held up on the way to town, an' then in the shame of it he got
drunk. But he'll shew up soon."

"Wal, mebbe you an' the boys are right. I believe you are. Nels, there
ain't no doubt on earth about who was ridin' Stewart's hoss?"

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

"Wal, it's all amazin' strange. It beats me. I wish the boys would ease
up on drinkin'. I was pretty fond of Danny an' Gene. I'm afraid Gene's
done fer, sure. If he crosses the border where he can fight it won't
take long fer him to get plugged. I guess I'm gettin' old. I don't stand
things like I used to."

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

"I reckon you had, Nels," replied Stillwell. "But don't take more 'n a
couple of days. We can't do much on the round-up without you. I'm short
of boys."

That ended the conversation. Stillwell immediately began to hitch up his
team, and the cowboys went out to fetch their strayed horses. Madeline
had been curiously interested, and she saw that Florence knew it.

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

Madeline thought. And then straightway Florence began brightly to hum a
tune and to busy herself repacking what was left of the lunch. Madeline
conceived a strong liking and respect for this Western girl. She admired
the consideration or delicacy or wisdom--what-ever it was--which kept
Florence from asking her what she knew or thought or felt about the
events that had taken place.

Soon they were once more bowling along the road down a gradual incline,
and then they began to climb a long ridge that had for hours hidden what
lay beyond. That climb was rather tiresome, owing to the sun and the
dust and the restricted view.

When they reached the summit Madeline gave a little gasp of pleasure. A
deep, gray, smooth valley opened below and sloped up on the other side
in little ridges like waves, and these led to the foothills, dotted with
clumps of brush or trees, and beyond rose dark mountains, pine-fringed
and crag-spired.

"Wal, Miss Majesty, now we're gettin' somewhere," said Stillwell,
cracking his whip. "Ten miles across this valley an' we'll be in the
foothills where the Apaches used to run."

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

"Wal, young woman, before you go to ridin' off alone you want to get
your eyes corrected to Western distance. Now, what'd you call them black
things off there on the slope?"

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

"Nope. Jest plain, every-day cactus. An' over hyar--look down the
valley. Somethin' of a pretty forest, ain't thet?" he asked, pointing.

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

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

"Indeed! How beautiful it is!" Madeline strained her gaze on the dark
blot, and it seemed to float in the atmosphere, to have no clearly
defined margins, to waver and shimmer, and then it faded and vanished.

The mountains dropped down again behind the horizon, and presently the
road began once more to slope up. The horses slowed to a walk. There was
a mile of rolling ridge, and then came the foothills. The road ascended
through winding valleys. Trees and brush and rocks began to appear in
the dry ravines. There was no water, yet all along the sandy washes were
indications of floods at some periods. The heat and the dust stifled
Madeline, and she had already become tired. Still she looked with all
her eyes and saw birds, and beautiful quail with crests, and rabbits,
and once she saw a deer.

"Miss Majesty," said Stillwell, "in the early days the Indians made this
country a bad one to live in. I reckon you never heerd much about them
times. Surely you was hardly born then. I'll hev to tell you some day
how I fought Comanches in the Panhandle--thet was northern Texas--an' I
had some mighty hair-raisin' scares in this country with Apaches."

He told her about Cochise, chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, the most
savage and bloodthirsty tribe that ever made life a horror for the
pioneer. Cochise befriended the whites once; but he was the victim of
that friendliness, and he became the most implacable of foes. Then,
Geronimo, another Apache chief, had, as late as 1885, gone on the
war-path, and had left a bloody trail down the New Mexico and Arizona
line almost to the border. Lone ranchmen and cowboys had been killed,
and mothers had shot their children and then themselves at the approach
of the Apache. The name Apache curdled the blood of any woman of the
Southwest in those days.

Madeline shuddered, and was glad when the old frontiersman changed
the subject and began to talk of the settling of that country by the
Spaniards, the legends of lost gold-mines handed down to the Mexicans,
and strange stories of heroism and mystery and religion. The Mexicans
had not advanced much in spite of the spread of civilization to the
Southwest. They were still superstitious, and believed the legends of
treasures hidden in the walls of their missions, and that unseen hands
rolled rocks down the gullies upon the heads of prospectors who dared to
hunt for the lost mines of the padres.

"Up in the mountains back of my ranch there's a lost mine," said
Stillwell. "Mebbe it's only a legend. But somehow I believe it's there.
Other lost mines hev been found. An' as fer' the rollin' stones, I sure
know thet's true, as any one can find out if he goes trailin' up the
gulch. Mebbe thet's only the weatherin' of the cliffs. It's a sleepy,
strange country, this Southwest, an', Miss Majesty, you're a-goin' to
love it. You'll call it ro-mantic, Wal, I reckon ro-mantic is correct. A
feller gets lazy out hyar an' dreamy, an' he wants to put off work till
to-morrow. Some folks say it's a land of manana--a land of to-morrow.
Thet's the Mexican of it.

"But I like best to think of what a lady said to me onct--an eddicated
lady like you, Miss Majesty. Wal, she said it's a land where it's always
afternoon. I liked thet. I always get up sore in the mawnin's, an' don't
feel good till noon. But in the afternoon I get sorta warm an' like
things. An' sunset is my time. I reckon I don't want nothin' any finer
than sunset from my ranch. You look out over a valley that spreads wide
between Guadalupe Mountains an' the Chiricahuas, down across the red
Arizona desert clear to the Sierra Madres in Mexico. Two hundred miles,
Miss Majesty! An' all as clear as print! An' the sun sets behind all
thet! When my time comes to die I'd like it to be on my porch smokin' my
pipe an' facin' the west."

So the old cattleman talked on while Madeline listened, and Florence
dozed in her seat, and the sun began to wane, and the horses climbed
steadily. Presently, at the foot of the steep ascent, Stillwell got out
and walked, leading the team. During this long climb fatigue claimed
Madeline, and she drowsily closed her eyes, to find when she opened them
again that the glaring white sky had changed to a steel-blue. The sun
had sunk behind the foothills and the air was growing chilly. Stillwell
had returned to the driving-seat and was chuckling to the horses.
Shadows crept up out of the hollows.

"Wal, Flo," said Stillwell, "I reckon we'd better hev the rest of thet
there lunch before dark."

"You didn't leave much of it," laughed Florence, as she produced the
basket from under the seat.

While they ate, the short twilight shaded and gloom filled the hollows.
Madeline saw the first star, a faint, winking point of light. The sky
had now changed to a hazy gray. Madeline saw it gradually clear and
darken, to show other faint stars. After that there was perceptible
deepening of the gray and an enlarging of the stars and a brightening of
new-born ones. Night seemed to come on the cold wind. Madeline was glad
to have the robes close around her and to lean against Florence. The
hollows were now black, but the tops of the foothills gleamed pale in
a soft light. The steady tramp of the horses went on, and the creak of
wheels and crunching of gravel. Madeline grew so sleepy that she could
not keep her weary eyelids from falling. There were drowsier spells in
which she lost a feeling of where she was, and these were disturbed by
the jolt of wheels over a rough place. Then came a blank interval, short
or long, which ended in a more violent lurch of the buckboard. Madeline
awoke to find her head on Florence's shoulder. She sat up laughing and
apologizing for her laziness. Florence assured her they would soon reach
the ranch.

Madeline observed then that the horses were once more trotting. The wind
was colder, the night darker, the foot-hills flatter. And the sky was
now a wonderful deep velvet-blue blazing with millions of stars. Some
of them were magnificent. How strangely white and alive! Again Madeline
felt the insistence of familiar yet baffling associations. These white
stars called strangely to her or haunted her.

Next: The Round-up

Previous: Sister And Brother

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