: The Light Of Western Stars
Stewart took Nels, Monty, and Nick Steele aside out of earshot, and they
evidently entered upon an earnest colloquy. Presently the other cowboys
were called. They all talked more or less, but the deep voice of Stewart
predominated over the others. Then the consultation broke up, and the
"Rustle, you Indians!" ordered Stewart.
The ensuing scene of action was not reassuring
o Madeline and her
friends. They were quiet, awaiting some one to tell them what to do. At
the offset the cowboys appeared to have forgotten Madeline. Some of them
ran off into the woods, others into the open, grassy places, where they
rounded up the horses and burros. Several cowboys spread tarpaulins
upon the ground and began to select and roll small packs, evidently for
hurried travel. Nels mounted his horse to ride down the trail. Monty
and Nick Steele went off into the grove, leading their horses. Stewart
climbed up a steep jumble of stone between two sections of low, cracked
cliff back of the camp.
Castleton offered to help the packers, and was curtly told he would
be in the way. Madeline's friends all importuned her: Was there real
danger? Were the guerrillas coming? Would a start be made at once for
the ranch? Why had the cowboys suddenly become so different? Madeline
answered as best she could; but her replies were only conjecture, and
modified to allay the fears of her guests. Helen was in a white glow of
Soon cowboys appeared riding barebacked horses, driving in others and
the burros. Some of these horses were taken away and evidently hidden
in deep recesses between the crags. The string of burros were packed
and sent off down the trail in charge of a cowboy. Nick Steele and Monty
returned. Then Stewart appeared, clambering down the break between the
His next move was to order all the baggage belonging to Madeline and her
guests taken up the cliff. This was strenuous toil, requiring the need
of lassoes to haul up the effects.
"Get ready to climb," said Stewart, turning to Madelines party.
"Where?" asked Helen.
He waved his hand at the ascent to be made. Exclamations of dismay
followed his gesture.
"Mr. Stewart, is there danger?" asked Dorothy; and her voice trembled.
This was the question Madeline had upon her lips to ask Stewart, but she
could not speak it.
"No, there's no danger," replied Stewart, "but we're taking precautions
we all agreed on as best."
Dorothy whispered that she believed Stewart lied. Castleton asked
another question, and then Harvey followed suit. Mrs. Beck made a timid
"Please keep quiet and do as you're told," said Stewart, bluntly.
At this juncture, when the last of the baggage was being hauled up the
cliff, Monty approached Madeline and removed his sombrero. His black
face seemed the same, yet this was a vastly changed Monty.
"Miss Hammond, I'm givin' notice I resign my job," he said.
"Monty! What do you mean? What does Nels mean now, when danger
"We jest quit. Thet's all," replied Monty, tersely. He was stern and
somber; he could not stand still; his eyes roved everywhere.
Castleton jumped up from the log where he had been sitting, and his face
was very red.
"Mr. Price, does all this blooming fuss mean we are to be robbed or
attacked or abducted by a lot of ragamuffin guerrillas?"
"You've called the bet."
Dorothy turned a very pale face toward Monty.
"Mr. Price, you wouldn't--you couldn't desert us now? You and Mr.
"Desert you?" asked Monty, blankly.
"Yes, desert us. Leave us when we may need you so much, with something
Monty uttered a short, hard laugh as he bent a strange look upon the
"Me an' Nels is purty much scared, an' we're goin' to slope. Miss
Dorothy, bein' as we've rustled round so much; it sorta hurts us to see
nice young girls dragged off by the hair."
Dorothy uttered a little cry and then became hysterical. Castleton for
once was fully aroused.
"By Gad! You and your partner are a couple of blooming cowards. Where
now is that courage you boasted of?"
Monty's dark face expressed extreme sarcasm.
"Dook, in my time I've seen some bright fellers, but you take the
cake. It's most marvelous how bright you are. Figger'n' me an' Nels so
correct. Say, Dook, if you don't git rustled off to Mexico an' roped to
a cactus-bush you'll hev a swell story fer your English chums. Bah
Jove! You'll tell 'em how you seen two old-time gun-men run like scared
jack-rabbits from a lot of Greasers. Like hell you will! Unless you
lie like the time you told about proddin' the lion. That there story
"Monty, shut up!" yelled Stewart, as he came hurriedly up. Then Monty
slouched away, cursing to himself.
Madeline and Helen, assisted by Castleton, worked over Dorothy, and
with some difficulty quieted her. Stewart passed several times without
noticing them, and Monty, who had been so ridiculously eager to pay
every little attention to Dorothy, did not see her at all. Rude it
seemed; in Monty's ease more than that. Madeline hardly knew what to
make of it.
Stewart directed cowboys to go to the head of the open place in the
cliff and let down lassoes. Then, with little waste of words, he urged
the women toward this rough ladder of stones.
"We want to hide you," he said, when they demurred. "If the guerrillas
come we'll tell them you've all gone down to the ranch. If we have to
fight you'll be safe up there."
Helen stepped boldly forward and let Stewart put the loop of a lasso
round her and tighten it. He waved his hand to the cowboys above.
"Just walk up, now," he directed Helen.
It proved to the watchers to be an easy, safe, and rapid means of
scaling the steep passage. The men climbed up without assistance. Mrs.
Beck, as usual, had hysteria; she half walked and was half dragged up.
Stewart supported Dorothy with one arm, while with the other he held to
the lasso. Ambrose had to carry Christine. The Mexican women required
no assistance. Edith Wayne and Madeline climbed last; and, once up,
Madeline saw a narrow bench, thick with shrubs, and overshadowed by
huge, leaning crags. There were holes in the rock, and dark fissures
leading back. It was a rough, wild place. Tarpaulins and bedding were
then hauled up, and food and water. The cowboys spread comfortable beds
in several of the caves, and told Madeline and her friends to be as
quiet as possible, not to make a light, and to sleep dressed, ready for
travel at a moment's notice.
After the cowboys had gone down it was not a cheerful group left there
in the darkening twilight. Castleton prevailed upon them to eat.
"This is simply great," whispered Helen.
"Oh, it's awful!" moaned Dorothy. "It's your fault, Helen. You prayed
for something to happen."
"I believe it's a horrid trick those cowboys are playing," said Mrs.
Madeline assured her friends that no trick was being played upon them,
and that she deplored the discomfort and distress, but felt no real
alarm. She was more inclined to evasive kindness here than to sincerity,
for she had a decided uneasiness. The swift change in the manner and
looks of her cowboys had been a shock to her. The last glance she had of
Stewart's face, then stern, almost sad, and haggard with worry, remained
to augment her foreboding.
Darkness appeared to drop swiftly down; the coyotes began their
haunting, mournful howls; the stars showed and grew brighter; the wind
moaned through the tips of the pines. Castleton was restless. He walked
to and fro before the overhanging shelf of rock, where his companions
sat lamenting, and presently he went out to the ledge of the bench. The
cowboys below had built a fire, and the light from it rose in a huge,
fan-shaped glow. Castleton's little figure stood out black against this
light. Curious and anxious also, Madeline joined him and peered down
from the cliff. The distance was short, and occasionally she could
distinguish a word spoken by the cowboys. They were unconcernedly
cooking and eating. She marked the absence of Stewart, and mentioned it
to Castleton. Silently Castleton pointed almost straight down, and there
in the gloom stood Stewart, with the two stag-hounds at his feet.
Presently Nick Steele silenced the camp-fire circle by raising a warning
hand. The cowboys bent their heads, listening. Madeline listened with
all her might. She heard one of the hounds whine, then the faint beat of
horse's hoofs. Nick spoke again and turned to his supper, and the other
men seemed to slacken in attention. The beat of hoofs grew louder,
entered the grove, then the circle of light. The rider was Nels. He
dismounted, and the sound of his low voice just reached Madeline.
"Gene, it's Nels. Somethin' doin'," Madeline heard one of the cowboys
"Send him over," replied Stewart.
Nels stalked away from the fire.
"See here, Nels, the boys are all right, but I don't want them to know
everything about this mix-up," said Stewart, as Nels came up. "Did you
find the girl?"
Madeline guessed that Stewart referred to the Mexican girl Bonita.
"No. But I met"--Madeline did not catch the name--"an' he was wild. He
was with a forest-ranger. An' they said Pat Hawe had trailed her an' was
takin' her down under arrest."
Stewart muttered deep under his breath, evidently cursing.
"Wonder why he didn't come on up here?" he queried, presently. "He can
see a trail."
"Wal, Gene, Pat knowed you was here all right, fer thet ranger said
Pat hed wind of the guerrillas, an' Pat said if Don Carlos didn't kill
you--which he hoped he'd do--then it 'd be time enough to put you in
jail when you come down."
"He's dead set to arrest me, Nels."
"An' he'll do it, like the old lady who kept tavern out West. Gene, the
reason thet red-faced coyote didn't trail you up here is because he's
scared. He allus was scared of you. But I reckon he's shore scared to
death of me an' Monty."
"Well, we'll take Pat in his turn. The thing now is, when will that
Greaser stalk us, and what'll we do when he comes?"
"My boy, there's only one way to handle a Greaser. I shore told you
thet. He means rough toward us. He'll come smilin' up, all soci'ble
like, insinuatin' an' sweeter 'n a woman. But he's treacherous; he's
wuss than an Indian. An', Gene, we know for a positive fact how his gang
hev been operatin' between these hills an' Agua Prieta. They're no nervy
gang of outlaws like we used to hev. But they're plumb bad. They've
raided and murdered through the San Luis Pass an' Guadalupe Canyon.
They've murdered women, an' wuss than thet, both north an' south of Agua
Prieta. Mebbe the U. S. cavalry don't know it, an' the good old States;
but we, you an' me an' Monty an' Nick, we know it. We know jest about
what thet rebel war down there amounts to. It's guerrilla war, an' shore
some harvest-time fer a lot of cheap thieves an' outcasts."
"Oh, you're right, Nels. I'm not disputing that," replied Stewart. "If
it wasn't for Miss Hammond and the other women, I'd rather enjoy seeing
you and Monty open up on that bunch. I'm thinking I'd be glad to meet
Don Carlos. But Miss Hammond! Why, Nels, such a woman as she is would
never recover from the sight of real gun-play, let alone any stunts
with a rope. These Eastern women are different. I'm not belittling our
Western women. It's in the blood. Miss Hammond is--is--"
"Shore she is," interrupted Nels; "but she's got a damn sight more spunk
than you think she has, Gene Stewart. I'm no thick-skulled cow. I'd hate
somethin' powerful to hev Miss Hammond see any rough work, let alone me
an' Monty startin' somethin'. An' me an' Monty'll stick to you, Gene, as
long as seems reasonable. Mind, ole feller, beggin' your pardon, you're
shore stuck on Miss Hammond, an' over-tender not to hurt her feelin's or
make her sick by lettin' some blood. We're in bad here, an' mebbe we'll
hev to fight. Sabe, senor? Wal, we do you can jest gamble thet Miss
Hammond'll be game. An' I'll bet you a million pesos thet if you got
goin' onct, an' she seen you as I've seen you--wal, I know what she'd
think of you. This old world ain't changed much. Some women may be
white-skinned an' soft-eyed an' sweet-voiced an' high-souled, but they
all like to see a man! Gene, here's your game. Let Don Carlos come
along. Be civil. If he an' his gang are hungry, feed 'em. Take even a
little overbearin' Greaser talk. Be blind if he wants his gang to steal
somethin'. Let him think the women hev mosied down to the ranch. But
if he says you're lyin'--if he as much as looks round to see the
women--jest jump him same as you jumped Pat Hawe. Me an' Monty'll hang
back fer thet, an' if your strong bluff don't go through, if the Don's
gang even thinks of flashin' guns, then we'll open up. An' all I got to
say is if them Greasers stand fer real gun-play they'll be the fust I
"Nels, there are white men in that gang," said Stewart.
"Shore. But me an' Monty'll be thinkin' of thet. If they start anythin'
it'll hev to be shore quick."
"All right, Nels, old friend, and thanks," replied Stewart. Nels
returned to the camp-fire, and Stewart resumed his silent guard.
Madeline led Castleton away from the brink of the wall.
"By Jove! Cowboys are blooming strange folk!" he exclaimed. "They are
not what they pretend to be."
"Indeed, you are right," replied Madeline. "I cannot understand them.
Come, let us tell the others that Nels and Monty were only talking and
do not intend to leave us. Dorothy, at least, will be less frightened if
Dorothy was somewhat comforted. The others, however, complained of the
cowboys' singular behavior. More than once the idea was advanced that
an elaborate trick had been concocted. Upon general discussion this idea
gained ground. Madeline did not combat it, because she saw it tended to
a less perturbed condition of mind among her guests. Castleton for once
proved that he was not absolutely obtuse, and helped along the idea.
They sat talking in low voices until a late hour. The incident now began
to take on the nature of Helen's long-yearned-for adventure. Some of the
party even grew merry in a subdued way. Then, gradually, one by one they
tired and went to bed. Helen vowed she could not sleep in a place where
there were bats and crawling things. Madeline fancied, however, that
they all went to sleep while she lay wide-eyed, staring up at the black
bulge of overhanging rock and beyond the starry sky.
To keep from thinking of Stewart and the burning anger he had caused her
to feel for herself, Madeline tried to keep her mind on other things.
But thought of him recurred, and each time there was a hot commotion
in her breast hard to stifle. Intelligent reasoning seemed out of her
power. In the daylight it had been possible for her to be oblivious to
Stewart's deceit after the moment of its realization. At night, however,
in the strange silence and hovering shadows of gloom, with the speaking
stars seeming to call to her, with the moan of the wind in the pines,
and the melancholy mourn of coyotes in the distance, she was not able to
govern her thought and emotion. The day was practical, cold; the night
was strange and tense. In the darkness she had fancies wholly unknown to
her in the bright light of the sun. She battled with a haunting thought.
She had inadvertently heard Nels's conversation with Stewart; she had
listened, hoping to hear some good news or to hear the worst; she had
learned both, and, moreover, enlightenment on one point of Stewart's
complex motives. He wished to spare her any sight that might offend,
frighten, or disgust her. Yet this Stewart, who showed a fineness of
feeling that might have been wanting even in Boyd Harvey, maintained a
secret rendezvous with that pretty, abandoned Bonita. Here always
the hot shame, like a live, stinging, internal fire, abruptly ended
Madeline's thought. It was intolerable, and it was the more so because
she could neither control nor understand it. The hours wore on, and at
length, as the stars began to pale and there was no sound whatever, she
She was called out of her slumber. Day had broken bright and cool.
The sun was still below the eastern crags. Ambrose, with several other
cowboys, had brought up buckets of spring-water, and hot coffee and
cakes. Madeline's party appeared to be none the worse for the night's
experience. Indeed, the meager breakfast might have been as merrily
partaken of as it was hungrily had not Ambrose enjoined silence.
"They're expectin' company down below," he said.
This information and the summary manner in which the cowboys soon led
the party higher up among the ruined shelves of rock caused a recurrence
of anxiety. Madeline insisted on not going beyond a projection of
cliff from which she could see directly down into the camp. As the
vantage-point was one affording concealment, Ambrose consented, but
he placed the frightened Christine near Madeline and remained there
"Ambrose, do you really think the guerrillas will come?" asked Madeline.
"Sure. We know. Nels just rode in and said they were on their way up.
Miss Hammond, can I trust you? You won't let out a squeal if there's a
fight down there? Stewart told me to hide you out of sight or keep you
"I promise not to make any noise," replied Madeline. Madeline arranged
her coat so that she could lie upon it, and settled down to wait
developments. There came a slight rattling of stones in the rear. She
turned to see Helen sliding down a bank with a perplexed and troubled
cowboy. Helen came stooping low to where Madeline lay and said: "I am
going to see what happens, if I die in the attempt! I can stand it
if you can." She was pale and big-eyed. Ambrose promptly swore at the
cowboy who had let her get away from him. "Take a half-hitch on her
yourself an' see where you end up," replied the fellow, and disappeared
in the jumble of rocks. Ambrose, finding words useless, sternly and
heroically prepared to carry Helen back to the others. He laid hold of
her. In a fury, with eyes blazing, Helen whispered:
"Let go of me! Majesty, what does this fool mean?"
Madeline laughed. She knew Helen, and had marked the whisper, when
ordinarily Helen would have spoken imperiously, and not low. Madeline
explained to her the exigency of the situation. "I might run, but I'll
never scream," said Helen. With that Ambrose had to be content to let
her stay. However, he found her a place somewhat farther back from
Madeline's position, where he said there was less danger of her being
seen. Then he sternly bound her to silence, tarried a moment to comfort
Christine, and returned to where Madeline lay concealed. He had been
there scarcely a moment when he whispered:
"I hear hosses. The guerrillas are comin'."
Madeline's hiding-place was well protected from possible discovery from
below. She could peep over a kind of parapet, through an opening in the
tips of the pines that reached up to the cliff, and obtain a commanding
view of the camp circle and its immediate surroundings. She could not,
however, see far either to right or left of the camp, owing to the
obstructing foliage. Presently the sound of horses' hoofs quickened the
beat of her pulse and caused her to turn keener gaze upon the cowboys
Although she had some inkling of the course Stewart and his men were to
pursue, she was not by any means prepared for the indifference she saw.
Frank was asleep, or pretended to be. Three cowboys were lazily and
unconcernedly attending to camp-fire duties, such as baking biscuits,
watching the ovens, and washing tins and pots. The elaborate set of
aluminum plates, cups, etc., together with the other camp fixtures that
had done service for Madeline's party, had disappeared. Nick Steele
sat with his back to a log, smoking his pipe. Another cowboy had just
brought the horses closer into camp, where they stood waiting to be
saddled. Nels appeared to be fussing over a pack. Stewart was rolling
a cigarette. Monty had apparently nothing to do for the present except
whistle, which he was doing much more loudly than melodiously. The whole
ensemble gave an impression of careless indifference.
The sound of horses' hoofs grew louder and slowed its beat. One of the
cowboys pointed down the trail, toward which several of his comrades
turned their heads for a moment, then went on with their occupations.
Presently a shaggy, dusty horse bearing a lean, ragged, dark rider rode
into camp and halted. Another followed, and another. Horses with Mexican
riders came in single file and stopped behind the leader.
The cowboys looked up, and the guerrillas looked down. "Buenos dias,
senor," ceremoniously said the foremost guerrilla.
By straining her ears Madeline heard that voice, and she recognized
it as belonging to Don Carlos. His graceful bow to Stewart was also
familiar. Otherwise she would never have recognized the former elegant
vaquero in this uncouth, roughly dressed Mexican.
Stewart answered the greeting in Spanish, and, waving his hand toward
the camp-fire, added in English, "Get down and eat."
The guerrillas were anything but slow in complying. They crowded to
the fire, then spread in a little circle and squatted upon the ground,
laying their weapons beside them. In appearance they tallied with the
band of guerrillas that had carried Madeline up into the foothills, only
this band was larger and better armed. The men, moreover, were just as
hungry and as wild and beggarly. The cowboys were not cordial in their
reception of this visit, but they were hospitable. The law of the desert
had always been to give food and drink to wayfaring men, whether lost or
hunted or hunting.
"There's twenty-three in that outfit," whispered Ambrose, "includin'
four white men. Pretty rummy outfit."
"They appear to be friendly enough," whispered Madeline.
"Things down there ain't what they seem," replied Ambrose.
"Ambrose, tell me--explain to me. This is my opportunity. As long as you
will let me watch them, please let me know the--the real thing."
"Sure. But recollect, Miss Hammond, that Gene'll give it to me good if
he ever knows I let you look and told you what's what. Well, decent-like
Gene is seen' them poor devils get a square meal. They're only a lot of
calf-thieves in this country. Across the border they're bandits, some of
them, the others just riffraff outlaws. That rebel bluff doesn't go down
with us. I'd have to see first before I'd believe them Greasers would
fight. They're a lot of hard-ridin' thieves, and they'd steal a fellow's
blanket or tobacco. Gene thinks they're after you ladies--to carry you
off. But Gene--Oh, Gene's some highfalutin in his ideas lately. Most of
us boys think the guerrillas are out to rob--that's all."
Whatever might have been the secret motive of Don Carlos and his men,
they did not allow it to interfere with a hearty appreciation of a
generous amount of food. Plainly, each individual ate all that he was
able to eat at the time. They jabbered like a flock of parrots; some
were even merry, in a kind of wild way. Then, as each and every one
began to roll and smoke the inevitable cigarette of the Mexican, there
was a subtle change in manner. They smoked and looked about the camp,
off into the woods, up at the crags, and back at the leisurely cowboys.
They had the air of men waiting for something.
"Senor," began Don Carlos, addressing Stewart. As he spoke he swept his
sombrero to indicate the camp circle.
Madeline could not distinguish his words, but his gesture plainly
indicated a question in regard to the rest of the camping party.
Stewart's reply and the wave of his hand down the trail meant that his
party had gone home. Stewart turned to some task, and the guerrilla
leader quietly smoked. He looked cunning and thoughtful. His men
gradually began to manifest a restlessness, noticeable in the absence
of former languor and slow puffing of cigarette smoke. Presently a
big-boned man with a bullet head and a blistered red face of evil
coarseness got up and threw away his cigarette. He was an American.
"Hey, cull," he called in loud voice, "ain't ye goin' to cough up a
"My boys don't carry liquor on the trail," replied Stewart. He turned
now to face the guerrillas.
"Haw, haw! I heerd over in Rodeo thet ye was gittin' to be shore some
fer temperance," said this fellow. "I hate to drink water, but I guess
I've gotter do it."
He went to the spring, sprawled down to drink, and all of a sudden he
thrust his arm down in the water to bring forth a basket. The cowboys
in the hurry of packing had neglected to remove this basket; and it
contained bottles of wine and liquors for Madeline's guests. They had
been submerged in the spring to keep them cold. The guerrilla fumbled
with the lid, opened it, and then got up, uttering a loud roar of
Stewart made an almost imperceptible motion, as if to leap forward; but
he checked the impulse, and after a quick glance at Nels he said to the
"Guess my party forgot that. You're welcome to it." Like bees the
guerrillas swarmed around the lucky finder of the bottles. There was
a babel of voices. The drink did not last long, and it served only to
liberate the spirit of recklessness. The several white outlaws began to
prowl around the camp; some of the Mexicans did likewise; others waited,
showing by their ill-concealed expectancy the nature of their thoughts.
It was the demeanor of Stewart and his comrades that puzzled Madeline.
Apparently they felt no anxiety or even particular interest. Don Carlos,
who had been covertly watching them, now made his scrutiny open, even
aggressive. He looked from Stewart to Nels and Monty, and then to the
other cowboys. While some of his men prowled around the others watched
him, and the waiting attitude had taken on something sinister. The
guerrilla leader seemed undecided, but not in any sense puzzled. When he
turned his cunning face upon Nels and Monty he had the manner of a man
in whom decision was lacking.
In her growing excitement Madeline had not clearly heard Ambrose's low
whispers and she made an effort to distract some of her attention from
those below to the cowboy crouching beside her.
The quality, the note of Ambrose's whisper had changed. It had a slight
"Don't be mad if sudden-like I clap my hands over your eyes, Miss
Hammond," he was saying. "Somethin's brewin' below. I never seen Gene
so cool. That's a dangerous sign in him. And look, see how the boys are
workin' together! Oh, it's slow and accident-like, but I know it's sure
not accident. That foxy Greaser knows, too. But maybe his men don't. If
they are wise they haven't sense enough to care. The Don, though--he's
worried. He's not payin' so much attention to Gene, either. It's Nels
and Monty he's watchin'. And well he need do it! There, Nick and Frank
have settled down on that log with Booly. They don't seem to be packin'
guns. But look how heavy their vests hang. A gun in each side! Those
boys can pull a gun and flop over that log quicker than you can think.
Do you notice how Nels and Monty and Gene are square between them
guerrillas and the trail up here? It doesn't seem on purpose, but it is.
Look at Nels and Monty. How quiet they are confabbin' together, payin'
no attention to the guerrillas. I see Monty look at Gene, then I see
Nels look at Gene. Well, it's up to Gene. And they're goin' to back him.
I reckon, Miss Hammond, there'd be dead Greasers round that camp long
ago if Nels and Monty were foot-loose. They're beholdin' to Gene. That's
plain. And, Lord! how it tickles me to watch them! Both packin' two
forty-fives, butts swingin' clear. There's twenty-four shots in them
four guns. And there's twenty-three guerrillas. If Nels and Monty ever
throw guns at that close range, why, before you'd know what was up
there'd be a pile of Greasers. There! Stewart said something to the Don.
I wonder what. I'll gamble it was something to get the Don's outfit all
close together. Sure! Greasers have no sense. But them white guerrillas,
they're lookin' some dubious. Whatever's comin' off will come soon, you
can bet. I wish I was down there. But maybe it won't come to a scrap.
Stewart's set on avoidin' that. He's a wonderful chap to get his way.
Lord, though, I'd like to see him go after that overbearin' Greaser!
See! the Don can't stand prosperity. All this strange behavior of
cowboys is beyond his pulque-soaked brains. Then he's a Greaser. If
Gene doesn't knock him on the head presently he'll begin to get over his
scare, even of Nels and Monty. But Gene'll pick out the right time. And
I'm gettin' nervous. I want somethin' to start. Never saw Nels in but
one fight, then he just shot a Greaser's arm off for tryin' to draw
on him. But I've heard all about him. And Monty! Monty's the real
old-fashioned gun-man. Why, none of them stories, them lies he told to
entertain the Englishman, was a marker to what Monty has done. What I
don't understand is how Monty keeps so quiet and easy and peaceful-like.
That's not his way, with such an outfit lookin' for trouble. O-ha! Now
for the grand bluff. Looks like no fight at all!"
The guerrilla leader had ceased his restless steps and glances, and
turned to Stewart with something of bold resolution in his aspect.
"Gracias, senor," he said. "Adios." He swept his sombrero in the
direction of the trail leading down the mountain to the ranch; and as he
completed the gesture a smile, crafty and jeering, crossed his swarthy
Ambrose whispered so low that Madeline scarcely heard him. "If the
Greaser goes that way he'll find our horses and get wise to the trick.
Oh, he's wise now! But I'll gamble he never even starts on that trail."
Neither hurriedly nor guardedly Stewart rose out of his leaning posture
and took a couple of long strides toward Don Carlos.
"Go back the way you came," he fairly yelled; and his voice had the ring
of a bugle.
Ambrose nudged Madeline; his whisper was tense and rapid: "Don't miss
nothin'. Gene's called him. Whatever's comin' off will be here quick as
lightnin'. See! I guess maybe that Greaser don't savvy good U. S. lingo.
Look at that dirty yaller face turn green. Put one eye on Nels and
Monty! That's great--just to see 'em. Just as quiet and easy. But
oh, the difference! Bent and stiff--that means every muscle is like a
rawhide riata. They're watchin' with eyes that can see the workin's of
them Greasers' minds. Now there ain't a hoss-hair between them Greasers
Don Carlos gave Stewart one long malignant stare; then he threw back his
head, swept up the sombrero, and his evil smile showed gleaming teeth.
"Senor--" he began.
With magnificent bound Stewart was upon him. The guerrilla's cry was
throttled in his throat. A fierce wrestling ensued, too swift to see
clearly; then heavy, sodden blows, and Don Carlos was beaten to the
ground. Stewart leaped back. Then, crouching with his hands on the butts
of guns at his hips, he yelled, he thundered at the guerrillas. He had
been quicker than a panther, and now his voice was so terrible that
it curdled Madeline's blood, and the menace of deadly violence in his
crouching position made her shut her eyes. But she had to open them. In
that single instant Nels and Monty had leaped to Stewart's side. Both
were bent down, with hands on the butts of guns at their hips. Nels's
piercing yell seemed to divide Monty's roar of rage. Then they ceased,
and echoes clapped from the crags. The silence of those three men
crouching like tigers about to leap was more menacing than the
Then the guerrillas wavered and broke and ran for their horses. Don
Carlos rolled over, rose, and staggered away, to be helped upon his
mount. He looked back, his pale and bloody face that of a thwarted
demon. The whole band got into action and were gone in a moment.
"I knew it," declared Ambrose. "Never seen a Greaser who could face
gun-play. That was some warm. And Monty Price never flashed a gun! He'll
never get over that. I reckon, Miss Harnmond, we're some lucky to avoid
trouble. Gene had his way, as you seen. We'll be makin' tracks for the
ranch in about two shakes."
"Why?" whispered Madeline, breathlessly. She became conscious that she
was weak and shaken.
"Because the guerrillas sure will get their nerve back, and come
sneakin' on our trail or try to head us off by ambushin'," replied
Ambrose. "That's their way. Otherwise three cowboys couldn't bluff
a whole gang like that. Gene knows the nature of Greasers. They're
white-livered. But I reckon we're in more danger now than before, unless
we get a good start down the mountain. There! Gene's callin'. Come!
Helen had slipped down from her vantage-point, and therefore had not
seen the last act in that little camp-fire drama. It seemed, however,
that her desire for excitement was satisfied, for her face was pale and
she trembled when she asked if the guerrillas were gone.
"I didn't see the finish, but those horrible yells were enough for me."
Ambrose hurried the three women over the rough rocks, down the cliff.
The cowboys below were saddling horses in haste. Evidently all the
horses had been brought out of hiding. Swiftly, with regard only for
life and limb, Madeline, Helen, and Christine were lowered by lassoes
and half carried down to the level. By the time they were safely down
the other members of the party appeared on the cliff above. They were in
excellent spirits, appearing to treat the matter as a huge joke.
Ambrose put Christine on a horse and rode away through the pines;
Frankie Slade did likewise with Helen. Stewart led Madeline's horse up
to her, helped her to mount, and spoke one stern word, "Wait!" Then as
fast as one of the women reached the level she was put upon a horse and
taken away by a cowboy escort. Few words were spoken. Haste seemed to
be the great essential. The horses were urged, and, once in the trail,
spurred and led into a swift trot. One cowboy drove up four pack-horses,
and these were hurriedly loaded with the party's baggage. Castleton
and his companions mounted, and galloped off to catch the others in the
lead. This left Madeline behind with Stewart and Nels and Monty.
"They're goin' to switch off at the holler thet heads near the trail
a few miles down," Nels was saying, as he tightened his saddle-girth.
"Thet holler heads into a big canyon. Once in thet, it'll be every man
fer hisself. I reckon there won't be anythin' wuss than a rough ride."
Nels smiled reassuringly at Madeline, but he did not speak to her. Monty
took her canteen and filled it at the spring and hung it over the pommel
of her saddle. He put a couple of biscuits in the saddle-bag.
"Don't fergit to take a drink an' a bite as you're ridin' along," he
said. "An' don't worry, Miss Majesty. Stewart'll be with you, an' me an'
Nels hangin' on the back-trail."
His somber and sullen face did not change in its strange intensity, but
the look in his eyes Madeline felt she would never forget. Left alone
with these three men, now stripped of all pretense, she realized how
fortune had favored her and what peril still hung in the balance.
Stewart swung astride his big black, spurred him, and whistled. At the
whistle Majesty jumped, and with swift canter followed Stewart. Madeline
looked back to see Nels already up and Monty handing him a rifle. Then
the pines hid her view.
Once in the trail, Stewart's horse broke into a gallop. Majesty changed
his gait and kept at the black's heels. Stewart called back a warning.
The low, wide-spreading branches of trees might brush Madeline out of
the saddle. Fast riding through the forest along a crooked, obstructed
trail called forth all her alertness. Likewise the stirring of her
blood, always susceptible to the spirit and motion of a ride, let alone
one of peril, now began to throb and burn away the worry, the dread, the
coldness that had weighted her down.
Before long Stewart wheeled at right angles off the trail and entered a
hollow between two low bluffs. Madeline saw tracks in the open patches
of ground. Here Stewart's horse took to a brisk walk. The hollow
deepened, narrowed, became rocky, full of logs and brush. Madeline
exerted all her keenness, and needed it, to keep close to Stewart. She
did not think of him, nor her own safety, but of keeping Majesty close
in the tracks of the black, of eluding the sharp spikes in the dead
brush, of avoiding the treacherous loose stones.
At last Madeline was brought to a dead halt by Stewart and his horse
blocking the trail. Looking up, she saw they were at the head of a
canyon that yawned beneath and widened its gray-walled, green-patched
slopes down to a black forest of fir. The drab monotony of the foothills
made contrast below the forest, and away in the distance, rosy and
smoky, lay the desert. Retracting her gaze, Madeline saw pack-horses
cross an open space a mile below, and she thought she saw the
stag-hounds. Stewart's dark eyes searched the slopes high up along the
craggy escarpments. Then he put the black to the descent.
If there had been a trail left by the leading cowboys, Stewart did
not follow it. He led off to the right, zigzagging an intricate course
through the roughest ground Madeline had ever ridden over. He crashed
through cedars, threaded a tortuous way among boulders, made his horse
slide down slanting banks of soft earth, picked a slow and cautious
progress across weathered slopes of loose rock. Madeline followed,
finding in this ride a tax on strength and judgment. On an ordinary
horse she never could have kept in Stewart's trail. It was dust and
heat, a parching throat, that caused Madeline to think of time; and she
was amazed to see the sun sloping to the west. Stewart never stopped;
he never looked back; he never spoke. He must have heard the horse close
behind him. Madeline remembered Monty's advice about drinking and eating
as she rode along. The worst of that rough travel came at the bottom of
the canyon. Dead cedars and brush and logs were easy to pass compared
with the miles, it seemed, of loose boulders. The horses slipped and
stumbled. Stewart proceeded here with exceeding care. At last, when the
canyon opened into a level forest of firs, the sun was setting red in
Stewart quickened the gait of his horse. After a mile or so of easy
travel the ground again began to fall decidedly, sloping in numerous
ridges, with draws between. Soon night shadowed the deeper gullies.
Madeline was refreshed by the cooling of the air.
Stewart traveled slowly now. The barks of coyotes seemed to startle
him. Often he stopped to listen. And during one of those intervals the
silence was broken by sharp rifle-shots. Madeline could not tell whether
they were near or far, to right or left, behind or before. Evidently
Stewart was both alarmed and baffled. He dismounted. He went cautiously
forward to listen. Madeline fancied she heard a cry, low and far away.
It was only that of a coyote, she convinced herself, yet it was so
wailing, so human, that she shuddered. Stewart came back. He slipped the
bridles of both horses, and he led them. Every few paces he stopped to
listen. He changed his direction several times, and the last time he got
among rough, rocky ridges. The iron shoes of the horses cracked on the
rocks. That sound must have penetrated far into the forest. It perturbed
Stewart, for he searched for softer ground. Meanwhile the shadows merged
into darkness. The stars shone. The wind rose. Madeline believed hours
Stewart halted again. In the gloom Madeline discerned a log cabin, and
beyond it pear-pointed dark trees piercing the sky-line. She could just
make out Stewart's tall form as he leaned against his horse. Either he
was listening or debating what to do--perhaps both. Presently he went
inside the cabin. Madeline heard the scratching of a match; then she saw
a faint light. The cabin appeared to be deserted. Probably it was one of
the many habitations belonging to prospectors and foresters who lived in
the mountains. Stewart came out again. He walked around the horses, out
into the gloom, then back to Madeline. For a long moment he stood as
still as a statue and listened. Then she heard him mutter, "If we have
to start quick I can ride bareback." With that he took the saddle and
blanket off his horse and carried them into the cabin.
"Get off," he said, in a low voice, as he stepped out of the door.
He helped her down and led her inside, where again he struck a match.
Madeline caught a glimpse of a rude fireplace and rough-hewn logs.
Stewart's blanket and saddle lay on the hard-packed earthen floor.
"Rest a little," he said. "I'm going into the woods a piece to listen.
Gone only a minute or so."
Madeline had to feel round in the dark to locate the saddle and blanket.
When she lay down it was with a grateful sense of ease and relief. As
her body rested, however, her mind became the old thronging maze for
sensation and thought. All day she had attended to the alert business
of helping her horse. Now, what had already happened, the night, the
silence, the proximity of Stewart and his strange, stern caution, the
possible happenings to her friends--all claimed their due share of her
feeling. She went over them all with lightning swiftness of thought. She
believed, and she was sure Stewart believed, that her friends, owing to
their quicker start down the mountain, had not been headed off in their
travel by any of the things which had delayed Stewart. This conviction
lifted the suddenly returning dread from her breast; and as for herself,
somehow she had no fear. But she could not sleep; she did not try to.
Stewart's soft steps sounded outside. His dark form loomed in the door.
As he sat down Madeline heard the thump of a gun that he laid beside
him on the sill; then the thump of another as he put that down, too.
The sounds thrilled her. Stewart's wide shoulders filled the door; his
finely shaped head and strong, stern profile showed clearly in outline
against the sky; the wind waved his hair. He turned his ear to that wind
and listened. Motionless he sat for what to her seemed hours.
Then the stirring memory of the day's adventure, the feeling of
the beauty of the night, and a strange, deep-seated, sweetly vague
consciousness of happiness portending, were all burned out in hot,
pressing pain at the remembrance of Stewart's disgrace in her eyes.
Something had changed within her so that what had been anger at herself
was sorrow for him. He was such a splendid man. She could not feel the
same; she knew her debt to him, yet she could not thank him, could not
speak to him. She fought an unintelligible bitterness.
Then she rested with closed eyes, and time seemed neither short nor
long. When Stewart called her she opened her eyes to see the gray of
dawn. She rose and stepped outside. The horses whinnied. In a moment she
was in the saddle, aware of cramped muscles and a weariness of limbs.
Stewart led off at a sharp trot into the fir forest. They came to a
trail into which he turned. The horses traveled steadily; the descent
grew less steep; the firs thinned out; the gray gloom brightened.
When Madeline rode out of the firs the sun had arisen and the foothills
rolled beneath her; and at their edge, where the gray of valley began,
she saw a dark patch that she knew was the ranch-house.