Daniel Takes Possession

: Desert Dust

I was more than ever convinced of her wisdom in choice of garb when in

early morning I glimpsed her with the two other women at the Adams fire;

for, bright-haired and small, she had been sorrily dulled by the plain

ill-fitting waist and long shapeless skirt in one garment, as adopted by

the feminine contingent of the train. In her particular case these were

worse fitting and longer than common--an artifice that certainly snuffed a<
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portion of her charms for Gentile and Mormon eyes alike.

What further disposition of her was to be made we might not yet know. We

all kept to our own tasks and our own fires, with the exception that

Daniel gawked and strutted in the manner of a silly gander, and made

frequent errands to his father's household.

It was after the red sun-up and the initial signaling by dust cloud to

dust cloud announcing the commencement of another day's desert traffic,

and in response to the orders "Ketch up!" we were putting animals to

wagons (My Lady still in evidence forward), when a horseman bored in at a

gallop, over the road from the east.

"Montoyo, by Gawd!" Jenks pronounced, in a grumble of disgust rather than

with any note of alarm. "Look alive." And--"He don't hang up my pelt; no,

nor yourn if I can help it."

I saw him give a twitch to his holster and slightly loosen the Colt's. But

I was unburthened by guilt in past events, and I conceived no reason for

fearing the future--other than that now I was likely to lose her. Heaven

pity her! Probably she would have to go, even if she managed later to kill

him. The delay in our start had been unfortunate.

It was dollars to doughnuts that every man in the company had had his eye

out for Montoyo, since daylight; and the odds were that every man had

sighted him as quickly as we. Notwithstanding, save by an occasional quick

glance none appeared to pay attention to his rapid approach. We ourselves

went right along hooking up, like the others.

As chanced, our outfit was the first upon his way in. I heard him rein

sharply beside us and his horse fidget, panting. Not until he spoke did we

lift eyes.

"Howdy, gentlemen?"

"Howdy yourself, sir," answered Mr. Jenks, straightening up and meeting

his gaze. I paused, to gaze also. Montoyo was pale as death, his lips hard

set, his peculiar gray eyes and his black moustache the only vivifying

features in his coldly menacing countenance.

He was in white linen shirt, his left arm slung; fine riding boots

encasing his legs above the knees and Spanish spurs at their heels--his

horse's flanks reddened by their jabs. The pearl butt of a six-shooter

jutted from his belt holster. He sat jaunty, excepting for his lips and


He looked upon me, with a trace of recognition less to be seen than felt.

His glance leaped to the wagon--traveled swiftly and surely and returned

to Mr. Jenks.

"You're pulling out, I believe."

"Yes, you bet yuh."

"This is the Adams train?"

"It is."

"I'm looking for my wife, gentlemen. May I ask whether you've seen her?"

"You can."

"You have seen her?"

"Yes, sir. We'll not beat around any bush over that."

He meditated, frowning a bit, eying us narrowly.

"I had the notion," he said. "If you have staked her to shelter I thank

you; but now I aim to play the hand myself. This is a strictly private

game. Where is she?"

"I call yuh, Pedro," my friend answered. "We ain't keepin' cases on her,

or on you. You don't find her in my outfit, that's flat. She spent the

night with the Adams women. You'll find her waitin' for you, on ahead."

He grinned. "She'll be powerful glad to see you." He sobered. "And I'll

say this: I'm kinder sorry I ain't got her, for she'd be interestin'

company on the road."

"The road to hell, yes," Montoyo coolly remarked. "I'd guarantee you quick

passage. Good-day."

With sudden steely glare that embraced us both he jumped his mount into a

gallop and tore past the team, for the front. He must have inquired, once

or twice, as to the whereabouts of the Captain's party; I saw fingers


"Here! You've swapped collars on your lead span, boy," Mr. Jenks

reproved--but he likewise fumbling while he gazed.

I could hold back no longer.

"Just a minute, if you please," I pleaded; and hastened on up, half

running in my anxiety to face the worst; to help, if I might, for the


A little knot of people had formed, constantly increasing by oncomers like

myself and friend Jenks who had lumbered behind me. Montoyo's horse stood

heaving, on the outskirts; and ruthlessly pushing through I found him

inside, with My Lady at bay before him--her eyes brilliant, her cheeks

hot, her two hands clenched tightly, her slim figure dangerously tense

within her absurd garment, and the arm of the brightly flushed but calm

Rachael resting restraintfully around her. The circling faces peered.

Captain Adams, at one side apart, was replying to the gambler. His small

china-blue eyes had begun to glint; otherwise he maintained an air of

stolidity as if immune to the outcome.

"You see her," he said. "She has had the care of my own household, for I

turn nobody away. She came against my will, and she shall go of her will.

I am not her keeper."

"You Mormons have the advantage of us white men, sir," Montoyo sneered.

"No one of the sex seems to be denied bed and board in your


"By the help of the Lord we of the elect can manage our establishments

much better than you do yours," big Hyrum responded; and his face

sombered. "Who are you? A panderer to the devil, a thief with painted

card-boards, a despoiler of the ignorant, and a feeder to hell--yea, a

striker of women and a trafficker in flesh! Who are you, to think the name

of the Lord's anointed? There she is, your chattel. Take her, or leave

her. This train starts on in ten minutes."

"I'll take her or kill her," Montoyo snarled. "You call me a feeder, but

she shall not be fed to your mill, Adams. You'll get on that horse pronto,

madam," he added, stepping forward (no one could question his nerve), "and

we'll discuss our affairs in private."

She cast about with swift beseeching look, as if for a friendly face or

sign of rescue. And that agonized quest was enough. Whether she saw me or

not, here I was. With a spring I had burst in.

But somebody already had drawn fresh attention. Daniel Adams was standing

between her and her husband.

"Say, Mister, will yu fight?" he drawled, breathing hard, his broad

nostrils quivering.

A silence fell. Singularly, the circle parted right and left in a jostle

and a scramble.

Montoyo surveyed him.


"For her, o' course."

The gambler smiled--a slow, contemptuous smile while his gray eyes focused


"It's a case where I have nothing to gain," said he. "And you've nothing

to lose. I never bet in the teeth of a pat hand. Sabe? Besides, my young

Mormon cub, when did you enter this game? Where's your ante? For the sport

of it, now, what do you think of putting up, to make it interesting? One

of your mammies? Tut, tut!"

Daniel's freckled bovine face flushed muddy red; in the midst of it his

faulty eyes were more pronounced than ever--beady, twinkling, and so at

cross purposes that they apparently did not center upon the gambler at

all. But his right hand had stiffened at his side--extended there flat and

tremulous like the vibrant tail of a rattlesnake. He blurted harshly:

"I 'laow to kill yu for that. Draw, yu----!"

We caught breath. Montoyo's hand had darted down, and up, with motion too

smooth and elusive for the eye, particularly when our eyes had to be upon

both. His revolver poised half-way out of the scabbard, held there

rigidly, frozen in mid course; for Daniel had laughed loudly over leveled


How he had achieved so quickly no man of us knew. Yet there it was--his

Colt's, out, cocked, wicked and yearning and ready.

He whirled it with tempting carelessness, butt first, muzzle first, his

discolored teeth set in a yellow grin. The breath of the spectators vented

in a sigh.

"Haow'll yu take it, Mister?" he gibed. "I could l'arn an old caow to beat

yu on the draw. Aw, shucks! I 'laow yu'd better go back to yore

pasteboards. Naow git!"

Montoyo, his eyes steady, scarcely changed expression. He let his revolver

slip down into its scabbard. Then he smiled.

"You have a pretty trick," he commented, relaxing. "Some day I'd like to

test it out again. Just now I pass. Madam, are you coming?"

"You know I'm not," she uttered clearly.

"Your choice of company is hardly to your credit," he sneered. "Or, I

should say, to your education. Saintliness does not set well upon you,

madam. Your clothes are ill-fitting already. Of your two champions----"

And here I realized that I was standing out, one foot advanced, my fists

foolishly doubled, my presence a useless factor.

"--I recommend the gentleman from New York as more to your tastes. But you

are going of your own free will. You will always be my wife. You can't get

away from that, you devil. I shall expect you in Benton, for I have the

hunch that your little flight will fetch you back pretty well tamed, to

the place where damaged goods are not so heavily discounted." He ignored

Daniel and turned upon me. "As for you," he said, "I warn you you are

playing against a marked deck. You will find fists a poor hand. Ladies and

gentlemen, good-morning." With that he strode straight for his horse,

climbed aboard (a trifle awkwardly by reason of his one arm disabled) and

galloped, granting us not another glance.

Card shark and desperado that he was, his consummate aplomb nobody could

deny, except Daniel, now capering and swaggering and twirling his


"I showed him. I made him take water. I 'laow I'm 'bout the best man with

a six-shooter in these hyar parts."

"Ketch up and stretch out," Captain Adams ordered, disregarding. "We've no

more time for foolery."

My eyes met My Lady's. She smiled a little ruefully, and I responded,

shamed by the poor role I had borne. With that still jubilating lout to

the fore, certainly I cut small figure.

This night we made camp at Rawlins' Springs, some twelve miles on. The

day's march had been, so to speak, rather pensive; for while there were

the rough jokes and the talking back and forth, it seemed as though the

scene of early morning lingered in our vista. The words of Montoyo had

scored deeply, and the presence of our supernumerary laid a kind of

incubus, like an omen of ill luck, upon us. Indeed the prophecies darkly

uttered showed the current of thought.

"It's a she Jonah we got. Sure a woman the likes o' her hain't no place in

a freightin' outfit. We're off on the wrong fut," an Irishman declared to

wagging of heads. "Faith, she's enough to set the saints above an' the

saints below both by the ears." He paused to light his dudeen. "There'll

be a Donnybrook Fair in Utah, if belike we don't have it along the way."

"No Mormon'll need another wife if he takes her," laughed somebody else.

"She'll be promised to Dan'l 'fore ever we cross the Wasatch." And they

all in the group looked slyly at me. "Acts as if she'd been sealed to him

already, he does."

This had occurred at our nooning hour, amidst the dust and the heat, while

the animals drooped and dozed and panted and in the scant shade of the

hooded wagons we drank our coffee and crunched our hardtack. Throughout

the morning My Lady had ridden upon the seat of Daniel's wagon, with him

sometimes trudging beside, in pride of new ownership, cracking his whip,

and again planted sidewise upon one of the wheel animals, facing backward

to leer at her.

Why I should now have especially detested him I would not admit to myself.

At any rate the dislike dated before her arrival. That was one sop to

conscience when I remembered that she was a wife.

Friend Jenks must have read my thoughts, inasmuch as during the course of

the afternoon he had uttered abruptly:

"These Mormons don't exactly recognize Gentile marriages. Did you know

that?" He flung me a look from beneath shaggy brows.

"What?" I exclaimed. "How so?"

"Meanin' to say that layin' on of hands by the Lord's an'inted is

necessary to reel j'inin' in marriage."

"But that's monstrous!" I stammered.

"Dare say," said he. "It's the way white gospelers look at Injuns, ain't

it? Anyhow, to convert her out of sin, as they'd call it, and put her over

into the company of the saints wouldn't be no bad deal, by their kind o'

thinkin'. It's been done before, I reckon. Jest thought I'd warn you.

She's made her own bed and if it's a Mormon bed she's well quit of

Montoyo, that's sartin. Did you ever see the beat of that young feller on

the draw?"

"No," I admitted. "I never did."

"And you never will."

"He says his name's Bonnie Bravo. Where did he find that?"

"Haw haw." Friend Jenks spat. "Must ha' heard it in a play-house or got it

read to him out a book. Sounds to him like he was some punkins. Anyhow, if

you've any feelin's in the matter keep 'em under your hat. I don't know

what there's been between you and her, but the Mormon church is between

you now and it's got the dead-wood on you. It's either that for her, or

Montoyo. He knows; he's no fool and he'll take his time. So you'd better

stick to mule-whacking and sowbelly."

Still it was only decent that I should inquire after her. No Daniel and no

"Bonnie Bravo" was going to shut me from my duty. Therefore this evening

after we had formed corral, watered our animals at the one good-water

spring, staked them out in the bottoms of the ravine here, and eaten our

supper, I went with clean hands and face and, I resolved, a clean heart,

to pay my respects at the Hyrum Adams fire.

A cheery sight it was, too, for one bred as I had been to the company of

women. Whereas during the day and somewhat in the evenings we Gentiles and

the Mormon men fraternized without conflict of sect save by long-winded

arguments, at nightfall the main Mormon gathering centered about the Adams

quarters, where the men and women sang hymns in praise of their

pretensions, and listened to homilies by Hyrum himself.

They were singing now, as I approached--every woman busy also with her

hands. The words were destined to be familiar to me, being from their

favorite lines:

Cheer, saints, cheer! We're bound for peaceful Zion!

Cheer, saints, cheer! For that free and happy land!

Cheer, saints, cheer! We'll Israel's God rely on;

We will be led by the power of His hand.

Away, far away to the everlasting mountains,

Away, far away to the valley in the West;

Away, far away to yonder gushing fountains,

Where all the faithful in the latter days are blest.

Into this domestic circle I civilly entered just as they had finished

their hymn. She was seated beside the sleek-haired Rachael, with Daniel

upon her other hand. I sensed her quickly ready smile; and with the same a

surly stare from him, disclosing that by one person at least I was not


"Anything special wanted, stranger?" Hyrum demanded.

"No, sir. I was attracted by your singing," I replied. "Do I intrude?"

"Not at all, not at all." He was more hospitable. "Set if you like, in the

circle of the Saints. You'll get no harm by it, that's certain."

So I seated myself just behind Rachael. A moment of constraint seemed to

fall upon the group. I broke it by my inquiry, addressed to a clean


"I came also to inquire after Mrs. Montoyo," I carefully said. "You have

stood the journey well, this far, madam?"

Daniel turned instantly.

"Thar's no 'Mrs. Montoyo' in this camp, Mister. And I'll thank yu it's a

name yu'd best leave alone."

"How so, sir?"

"Cause that's the right of it. I 'laow I've told yu."

"I'm called Edna now, by my friends," she vouchsafed, coloring. "Yes,

thank you, I've enjoyed the day."

Rachael spoke softly, in her gentle English accents. I learned later that

she was an English girl, convert to Mormonism.

"We Latter Day Saints know that the marriage rites of Gentiles are not

countenanced by the Lord. If you would see the light you would understand.

Sister Edna is being well cared for. Whatever we have is hers."

"You will take her on with you to Salt Lake?"

"That is as Hyrum says. He has spoken of putting her on the stage at the

next crossing. He will decide."

"I think I'd rather stay with the train," My Lady murmured.

"Yu will, too, by gum," Daniel pronounced. "I'll talk with paw. Yu're

goin' to travel on to Zion 'long with me. I 'laow I'm man enough to look

out for ye an' I got plenty room. The hull wagon's yourn. Guess thar won't

nobody have anything to say ag'in that." His tone was pointed,

unmistakable, and I sat fuming with it.

My Lady drily acknowledged.

"You are very kind, Daniel."

"Wall, yu see I'm the best man on the draw in this hyar train. I'm a bad

one, I am. My name's Bonnie Bravo. That gambler--he 'laowed to pop me but

I could ha' killed him 'fore his gun was loose. I kin ride, wrastle, drive

a bull team ag'in ary man from the States, an' I got the gift o' tongues.

Ain't afeared o' Injuns, neither. I'm elected. I foller the Lord an' some

day I'll be a bishop. I hain't been more'n middlin' interested in wimmen,

but I'm gittin' old enough, an' yu an' me'll be purty well acquainted by

the time we reach Zion. Thar's a long spell ahead of us, but I aim to look

out for yu, yu bet."

His blatancy was arrested by the intonation of another hymn. They all

chimed in, except My Lady and me.

There is a people in the West, the world calls Mormonites

in jest,

The only people who can say, we have the truth, and

own its sway.

Away in Utah's valleys, away in Utah's valleys,

Away in Utah's valleys, the chambers of the Lord.

And all ye saints, where'er you be, from bondage try to

be set free,

Escape unto fair Zion's land, and thus fulfil the Lord's


And help to build up Zion, and help to build up Zion,

And help to build up Zion, before the Lord appear.

They concluded; sat with heads bowed while Hyrum, standing, delivered

himself of a long-winded blessing, through his nose. It was the signal for

breaking up. They stood. My Lady arose lithely; encumbered by her trailing

skirt she pitched forward and I caught her. Daniel sprang in a moment,

with a growl.

"None o' that, Mister. I'm takin' keer of her. Hands off."

"Don't bully me, sir," I retorted, furious. "I'm only acting the

gentleman, and you're acting the boor."

I would willingly have fought him then and there, probably to my disaster,

but Hyrum's heavy voice cut in.

"Who quarrels at my fire? Mark you, I'll have no more of it. Stranger, get

you where you belong. Daniel, get you to bed. And you, woman, take

yourself off properly and thank God that you are among his chosen and not

adrift in sin."

"Good-night, sir," I answered. And I walked easily away, a triumphant

warmth buoying me, for ere releasing her strong young body I had felt a

note tucked into my hand.